tuscan-style couscous salad


Food generally tastes better outside. Even more so after you’ve hiked eight miles while carrying a 25-pound pack. Since Dave and I almost always eat this couscous salad while we’re backpacking, it’s no wonder we like it so much. But last time we went camping, we got driven home early by, um, we’ll just say fear of Lyme disease and spare you the creepy details. We ate this salad when we got home that night, and it tasted just as good while sitting on the couch watching a movie as it does when we’re eating it out of zip-top bags in the woods.

What’s so great about this salad is that it’s a perfectly balanced complete meal – a couscous base, both beans and nuts, and plenty of tomatoes, onions, and basil. There’s no real cooking involved and not much chopping.

I have tweaked the original recipe slightly – while it’s basically the same list of ingredients, I’ve doubled the amount of pine nuts, tomatoes, basil, and onion. I’ve also reduced to the olive oil in the dressing, which I do with most vinaigrettes recipes.

One final change I make to the original recipe is to toast the unpeeled garlic cloves before adding them to the dressing. Lately I’ve been unhappy with the sharpness of raw garlic, and toasting it mellows its flavor a bit. It’s still garlicky and good, but it won’t burn your tongue. And since the pine nuts are already being toasted, it’s no problem to add the garlic cloves to the skillet as well.

Between the vivid colors of this dish, its healthfulness, the ease with which it comes together, and of course, its flavorful mix of ingredients, this salad is well worth eating at home and in the woods.

Tuscan-Style Couscous Salad (adapted from Vegetarian Classics, by Jeanne Lemlin)

Serves 4 as a main course

1½ cups couscous
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups boiling water
½ cup pine nuts
1 (15-ounce) can small white beans such as navy or Great Northern, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
¾ cup shredded fresh basil
1 small red onion, slivered

The dressing:
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Generous seasoning freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the couscous and turmeric in a large bowl and mix. Pour on the boiling water, stir, and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff the couscous with a fork. Let cool.

2. Place the pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully because they can easily burn. Let the pine nuts cool, then mix them into the couscous along with the beans, tomatoes, basil, and red onion.

3. Mince the garlic. Place the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously. Pour over the couscous mixture and toss well. Let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving. Cover and chill if longer than 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

soba salad with feta and peas

Apparently I can’t always predict when a dish is going to be good. The only reason I made this was to use up some soba noodles and scallions. Then I found two opened bags of peas in the freezer and half a lemon in the refrigerator, so the meal seemed worth making even if it ended up being no better than edible.

There are some unusual ingredient combinations in this recipe. Soba noodles and feta? Soy sauce and lemon juice? This is why I had my doubts.

I was really surprised when the meal wasn’t just edible, but I loved it. Between the lemon juice and the feta, I was expecting it to be too sour, but the tartness was nicely balanced by the soy sauce and sugar.

Not only was this delicious, it’s one of the easiest meals I’ve made recently. Only one ingredient needs to be chopped, which is a such a welcome change from the meals I normally cook. It’s nutritionally balanced on its own, requiring no side dishes to be a full meal. It can be served warm or cold. I had it ready as soon as Dave got home from work, but when he decided to work out and shower before eating, it was no problem to set the salad aside until we were ready.

Really, this might be the perfect dish – tasty, healthy and easy. I’m already looking for the next opportunity to make it.

Soba Salad with Feta and Peas (adapted from Gourmet July 2006)

Makes 4 servings

1 (10- to 12-ounce) package soba noodles*
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
6 oz feta, crumbled (¾ cup)
4 scallions, finely chopped

1. Cook noodles and peas together in a 6- to 8-quart pot of lightly salted boiling water until noodles are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

2. While noodles cook, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Drain noodles and peas well in a colander, then rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain well again, then add to dressing along with feta and scallions. Grind more black pepper to taste over salad.

crockpot pulled pork

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Updated photo 5/31/12

My brother has a habit of giving out remarkably vague “recipes.” For example: “Put some pig or cow in the slow cooker with some liquid. Use a spice rub if you want. Cook until you get home from work, then give the fat to the dog and shred the meat.”

Um. Right.

I needed more information. Does the size of the roast matter? Whether it has a bone? I used pork shoulder, and Cooks Illustrated has a recipe for barbecue pulled pork, so I adapted some of their instructions – the ingredients and method for the spice rub – for this slow cooker version. I was reluctant to add liquid to the slow cooker liner with the meat, because I had some idea that it would dilute the flavor in the meat, so I added just a bit of water and some liquid smoke. I cooked it for about 10 hours, added some barbecue sauce, then cooked it for 1 hour longer.

Oh my gosh, it’s so good. I almost didn’t want to add barbecue sauce, because the meat tastes so good without it, but of course it was that much better once I added it. And it makes a ton of food. I’m going to guess that the pork shoulder I used, which was probably the smallest I could find, was about twenty servings. I froze most of it, and it reheats really well.

I learned a few things from this. For one, there’s no need to worry about liquid diluting the flavor of the meat – the meat exudes a surprising amount of liquid anyway. It’s best to add just a bit of water to help the slow cooker get the cooking started. Also, as far as cooking times go, longer seems to be better. So, as my brother said, start dinner cooking before you go to work, and when you get home 9 or 10 hours later, you’ll be just in time to shred the meat, add the barbecue sauce, and let that all cook together for a bit.

Overall, served with coleslaw, this makes for a fantastic meal. I know that crockpot pulled pork recipes are a dime a dozen, but trust me that this spice rub adds far more flavor than root beer ever could. Plus, it’s not much work at all, so with minimal effort you can stock your freezer with multiple nights’ worth of easy and tasty meals.

Update 9.21.08: Last time I made this, I used a pork shoulder that just barely fit in my crockpot; I think it was in the 7.5 pound range.  After 8.5 hours, the pork wasn’t tender enough to be pulled, at least on the inside.  So I recommend erring on the longer side of this cooking range, especially if you’re using a large roast.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (spice rub from Cooks Illustrated)

Spice Rub:
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 (6-8 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
2 cups barbecue sauce

1. Mix all spice rub ingredients in small bowl.

2. Massage spice rub into meat. Wrap tightly in double layer of plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 3 hours. (For stronger flavor, the roast can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

3. Unwrap roast and place it in slow cooker liner. Add liquid smoke, if using, and ¼ cup water. Turn slow cooker to low and cook for 8-10 hours, until meat is fork-tender.

4. Transfer roast to cutting board; discard liquid in liner. “Pull” by tearing meat into thin shreds with two forks or your fingers. Discard fat.

5. Place shredded meat back in slow cooker liner; toss with 1 cup barbecue sauce, and heat on low for 30-60 minutes, until hot. Serve with additional barbecue sauce.

asparagus and arugula salad with cannellini beans and balsamic vinegar

The combination of my upcoming beach trip and Tuesdays With Dorie has prompted a series of main dish salads for dinner. I’m surprising myself by how much I’m enjoying it. I was especially surprised by this salad, which I expected to be edible but not special. I’m so glad I chose the recipe even though I wasn’t excited about it, because it was so good that now I’m waiting for an opportunity to make it again.

The salad is composed of two rather distinct parts. The base is a bed of arugula, dressed with a very simple balsamic vinaigrette. This is topped with a mixture of red onions that have been browned, asparagus that is sautéed just until tender, and cannellini beans, all of which is dressed with the same vinaigrette. It’s an unusual but delicious combination.

I did drastically reduce the arugula. The recipe calls for 14 ounces (although I’m unsure if this is before or after it’s stemmed), but even one whole 5-ounce bag of pre-washed arugula seemed like a lot. Five ounces ended up being the perfect amount. That’s the only change I made, and I even used a cheapo balsamic vinegar, with no noticeable adverse affects on the salad.

Last time I made salad, I flaked out on the meal-planning and made bread to go with it, even though croutons are a primary feature of Caesar salads. This time, I didn’t serve anything else with the salad and realized half-way through eating it that there was no carbs involved anywhere. Next time I swear I’ll get it right.

Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar (from Cooks Illustrated May 2003)

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course or 2 to 3 as a main dish

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed of tough ends and cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (about 1½ cups)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus 2 teaspoons
14 ounces arugula (1 large bunch), washed, dried, and stemmed (about 6 cups lightly packed)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until beginning to smoke; stir in onion and cook until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add asparagus, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook until asparagus is browned and tender-crisp, about 4 minutes, stirring once every minute. Off heat, stir in beans; transfer to large plate and cool 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl until combined. In large bowl, toss arugula with 2 tablespoons dressing and divide among salad plates. Toss asparagus mixture with remaining dressing, place a portion over arugula, and serve.

caesar salad

I almost never make salads. Not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t like them as a side dish. To me, salad doesn’t coordinate well with other dinner items. I do like when it’s served before a meal, or as a meal.

I went the route of serving Caesar salad as a meal the day that I made the peanut butter torte. I figured that if I was going to eat peanut butter and cream cheese and oreos and chocolate and whipped cream for dessert, something was going to have to give.

In one of Alton Brown’s first Good Eats episodes (um, before the show was very good), he discussed the original Caesar salad recipe, which was built tableside at a restaurant by chef Cesar Cardini. The recipe starts with a thin coating of oil on the lettuce, then salt, pepper, more oil, lemon juice, and a coddled egg. I’m not all about this method. I like to at least attempt to emulsify my salad dressing ingredients, and I also think that putting oil directly on the leaves keeps the other ingredients from flavoring the lettuce. Instead, I whisked the dressing ingredients thoroughly, then dressed the leaves with the mixture.

The only ingredient in this recipe that struck me as unusual was the coddled egg. Coddled eggs are cooked in boiling water for about one minute, so, yeah, they’re still mostly raw. I didn’t tell Dave about the raw-ish egg in the salad, and I tried not to think about it myself. I’m not worried about salmonella, I’m just grossed out by eating raw egg white. But I really don’t think the salad would have been as good without it. The egg gives the dressing not only smoothness and body, but a pleasant rich, but not overwhelmingly eggy, flavor.

Alton’s croutons are really exceptional. I had my doubts that grinding the garlic into the oil and then straining the oil to toast the bread in would add enough garlic flavor, but they were extremely garlicky and delicious.

Because I’m a flake, and I forgot while planning this meal that one of the key parts of Caesar salad is the croutons, I made Deb’s pizza bianca to go with the salad. I used my pizza dough recipe instead of the one she gives (although they’re very similar) and followed the directions in the recipe for forming the dough. (Keep in mind that Deb rolled her dough out much thinner.) Also, because Peter Reinhart’s constant reminders that a slow rise is better for artisan breads has stuck with me, I made the dough the day before (with less yeast) and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I took it out and let it come to room temperature, then shaped it and put it back in the fridge until I wanted to bake it. It was very good. The only thing I’ll change next time is to use less olive oil on the top, because “Oh my god, there’s a fire in the oven!” aren’t words Dave likes to hear from me when I’m cooking.

Hail Caesar Salad (from Alton Brown’s Good Eats)

Bridget note: I made a few changes to the recipe. I dried the bread as slices instead of cut up into bite-size pieces, because they were easier to cut once they were dried. I didn’t use kosher salt. I found 2 cups of water to be far too little to be able to cover the eggs. I probably used a bit more Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.

1 loaf day old Italian bread
3 garlic cloves, mashed
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
2 eggs
2 heads romaine lettuce, inner leaves only
7 grinds black pepper
1 lemon, juiced
6 drops Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut ½ to ¾-inch croutons from the loaf of bread and place on a baking sheet and put into the oven until dry but not browned.

Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with 4 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Strain the oil into a skillet over medium heat. Add the dried croutons and fry, tossing constantly until all of the oil is absorbed and the croutons turn gold. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the eggs and cook for 1 minute. Chill in ice water to halt cooking. Set aside.

In a very large bowl, tear lettuce and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining kosher salt and the black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil. Toss well. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Break in the eggs. Toss until a creamy dressing forms. Toss in Parmesan cheese and serve with croutons.

rice and beans

I love beans. This is a recent revelation, as the only beans I remember eating as a kid were refried or mixed with hot dogs. (And just like that, pork and beans has been added to my “To Cook” list.) I’m not sure if it’s the beans that are so good, or the type of recipes that beans tend to be in – mishmashes of various flavors and textures blended together so each bite is just a little bit different from the last, but equally delicious.

Rice and beans is beans at their simplest. I have a Puerto Rican friend who makes fantastic rice and beans, and I’m kicking myself for not getting the recipe from him before I moved away. However, I’m finding that rice and beans is completely adaptable to personal tastes and availability of ingredients. The first time I made it, I used a recipe, but I don’t find myself following it very closely these days.

The original recipe uses sausage, onions, garlic, beans, chicken broth, and some seasoning. It’s a great recipe, but the beauty of rice and beans is that you can ignore the recipe and still get something fantastic. This time I used a bit of celery, a chipotle chile, and as many tomatoes as beans. Last time I used red pepper and less tomatoes. Any number of additions would be great – green pepper, squash, maybe even sweet potatoes. The only requirement is beans, although I admit that I wouldn’t make it without onions, and now I’m loving the tomatoes. I also love the sausage, even though I prefer not to use meat in my staple weeknight meals. If you can think of a great substitute, let me know!

I’ve linked to the original recipe above, and I’ll provide a recipe for what the pictures show, but keep in mind that this is a fun meal to adapt to your own preferences.

Rice and Beans

Serves 4

8 ounces cooked sausage, such as kielbasa (I used salami this time)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 stalk celery, minced (red pepper would be great too)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin (I’ve also used Old Bay)
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes (I used 2 cans, but it was admittedly very tomatoey)
1 cup chicken broth (I didn’t use this, but I should have)

6 cups cooked long-grain white rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the sausage until it begins to brown and fat begins to render. Add the onions and celery/pepper/whatever and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and spice(s) and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the flavors have blended, about 45 minutes (or as long as you want actually – I’m not sure I’ve ever cooked it for the full 45 minutes). Serve over rice.

sichuan green beans

I’m not very good at mise en place. I know that isn’t a sign of a particularly good cook, but I must be getting better lately because the kitchen isn’t so messy when I’m done cooking. I didn’t do a good job with this recipe though. I read “cook beans for 5-8 minutes” and I think Perfect! I’ll have just enough time to mince garlic, chop ginger, get the pork out of the fridge, measure out 3 liquids and 5 powders for the sauce, and slice the scallions! While stirring frequently. Dork.

Sichuan green beans was one of my favorite meals to make when I lived alone, and I still make it fairly often for me and Dave. It’s a quick, easy, balanced, healthy one pot meal. The recipe (according the Cooks Illustrated article) is based on a traditional Chinese meal involving deep-fried green beans. This recipe gets the same effect with just a couple tablespoons of oil over very high heat. The beans are cooked until they’re shriveled and blackened. It sounds like they’d be overcooked and soggy, but I swear they’re not. They’re crisp and sweet. It’s similar to what you get when you roast vegetables.

I did a quick scan on the internet of similar recipes, but I can see immediately that they’re not going to get the same sweet crunchiness out of the green beans. One steams the beans separately, one adds water to the pan to steam/boil them in the pan, one sautés them for a few minutes over medium heat. Bland (and extra work and dishes), boring, raw. No good. The high heat searing is necessary to get the most flavor out of the beans. I tried using Chinese long beans for this recipe once, but I actually didn’t like it as much. Besides costing far more than regular green beans, they weren’t as sweet.

The rest of the recipe is no problem. Cook some ground pork, add garlic and ginger, stir in some sauce ingredients, serve over white rice. You can leave the pork out and add shiitakes instead. This would make a nice side dish, but doesn’t have any protein source for a full meal. Either way, just make sure you do your chopping and measuring before you do your cooking. Otherwise you’ll be scrambling around like a dork, like I was.

Stir-Fried Sichuan Green Beans (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

CI note: To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced, for the pork. If using mushrooms, you will need to add a teaspoon of oil to the pan in step 3 before adding the mushrooms. The cooking of this dish goes very quickly, so be sure to have all of the ingredients prepped before you start. Serve this dish with steamed white rice.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ pound ground pork
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. In small bowl, stir together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, pepper flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5 to 8 minutes (reduce heat to medium-high if beans darken too quickly). Transfer beans to large plate.

3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add pork to now-empty skillet. Cook, breaking pork into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir sauce to recombine and return beans to pan with sauce. Toss and cook until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Per Serving:
Cal 200; Fat 14 g; Sat fat 3 g; Chol 20 mg; Carb 12 g; Protein 8 g; Fiber 4 g; Sodium 680 mg

whole wheat pasta with greens, beans, tomatoes, and garlic chips

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Dave recently told me that he’d prefer to eat less meat. Because I do all of the meal planning and cooking, we generally have an understanding that I get control over what we eat. On the other hand, Dave is so open-minded about what we eat that it’s fair for him to offer up some opinions.

And our meat intake has increased in the last few months. We used to eat meat around 1-3 times per week, and lately we’ve been eating vegetarian around 1-3 times per week. Because I have more free time lately, I’ve been more adventurous with my cooking, and because I don’t have as much experience cooking with meat, it’s more challenging for me. (In other words, I’m not very good at it.)

But Dave’s right, we should eat less meat. For our health, for our budget, for the environment.

This recipe for whole wheat pasta with greens, beans, tomatoes, and garlic chips is definitely Dave’s type of meal.

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This is only a quarter of the kale the recipe calls for, or just under one serving. (I cut the recipe in half, and accidentally only bought half as much kale as I needed.) Hey, he asked for more vegetables…

The pasta, wholesome though it is, is surprisingly flavorful. A dish like this lends itself well to personalization. I left out the olives, because they’re one of Dave’s few food hang-ups. Because I only made half the recipe for the two of us, I’m left with half a can of beans and half a can of tomatoes leftover. I plan on doubling those ingredients in the future so I can use the whole can. I only used half the amount of kale the recipe calls for, which was convenient because it was one bunch. I could see how more would be good, although I don’t know if I’d want twice as much.

The recipe did take longer to prepare than I prefer for a weeknight pasta dish. Using bags of pre-washed spinach would cut down on prep time and cooking time. The garlic chips are a nice addition, but could also be skipped to save time.

All in all, this was a great tasting dish with lots of vegetables and no meat, as per Dave’s request.

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Whole Wheat Pasta with Greens, Beans, Tomatoes, and Garlic Chips (from Cooks Illustrated November 2005)

Serves 4 to 6

CI note: If you can’t find a 13.25-ounce package of Ronzoni, the winner of our tasting, use ¾ pound of a whole wheat pasta of your choice. If you like, pass extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling over the finished pasta. For a vegetarian dish, substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth.

Variation: Spinach can be substituted for the greens. Replace kale or collards with two 10-ounce bags of crinkly-leaf spinach, trimmed, chopped into 1-inch pieces, and rinsed, water still clinging to leaves (about 16 cups), and reducing chicken broth to ¾ cup. After adding second half of spinach to pan, cook for 2 minutes, until spinach is completely wilted. Continue with recipe as directed.

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic, 5 cloves sliced thin lengthwise, 3 cloves minced or pressed through garlic press (1 tablespoon)
Table salt
1 medium onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
14 cups kale (loosely packed) or collard greens (1 to 1½ pounds), thick stems trimmed, leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces and rinsed, water still clinging to leaves
1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
¾ cup pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
13¼ ounces whole wheat spaghetti
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup), plus additional for serving
Ground black pepper

1. Heat oil and sliced garlic in 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and turning frequently, until light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic to plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

2. Add onion to pan; cook until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add half of greens to pan; using tongs, toss occasionally, until starting to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add remaining greens, broth, and ¾ teaspoon salt; cover (pan will be very full); increase heat to high and bring to strong simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, tossing occasionally, until greens are tender, about 15 minutes (mixture will be somewhat soupy). Stir in beans and olives.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add spaghetti and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is just shy of al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add greens mixture to pasta, set over medium-high heat, and toss to combine. Cook until pasta absorbs most of liquid, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup Parmesan; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing garlic chips, extra-virgin olive oil, and Parmesan separately.

smitten kitchen recipes

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Smitten Kitchen is my new favorite cookbook. In the past month since discovering Deb’s blog, I’ve made seven of her recipes. When I’m trying to come up with cooking ideas, I just scan through her recipe page. Rather than rehash each dish in detail, I’m combining them into one entry.

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Boozy Baked French Toast

Of all of Deb’s recipes that I’ve made recently, this is my and Dave’s favorite. For one thing, it takes all of 10 minutes to put together, and that can be done the night before. In the morning, just cook it in the oven for half an hour, and voila – a great breakfast. The recipe is supposedly adaptable to whatever flavors you’re in the mood for or you have available, but I’ve only made it one way. I was planning to follow Deb’s recent favorite, with triple sec and orange zest, but I use “planning” loosely, as I didn’t actually bother to get either triple sec or orange zest. Instead, I used Grand Marnier as the alcohol, the zest of one grapefruit, and a splash of vanilla extract. It was fantastic. It was like Creamsicle French Toast. I made it again a week later, exactly the same way. This is why I have a loaf of challah in my freezer right now, and a grapefruit languishing in my crisper drawer, waiting for me to get back from New Mexico and make this great and easy dish for my friends who will be visiting.

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Artichoke Ravioli

I love the idea of homemade ravioli. I enjoy working with fresh pasta, and I like the option of customizing my ravioli filling to whatever strikes my interest – mushrooms, squash, seafood, and in this case, artichokes. The problem is, I sort of suck at making it. Both times I’ve tried, the pasta has been too watery after being boiled. This particular recipe is baked after being boiled, which helped dry it out somewhat, but clearly I need to work on my technique. Ravioli is too much tedious work to get anything less than amazing results. I’m not ready to give up yet. This filling was, fortunately, very good. The simple sauce was good too, although I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh, it being February and all.

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Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I already have a macaroni and cheese recipe that I love, but Deb’s photos of a crispy cheesy crust and creamy cheesy sauce had me intrigued to try a new recipe. Did I mention that it’s cheesy? This recipe uses twice as much cheese per pasta as my other favorite recipe. So I made it, and it was delicious, but Dave and I couldn’t decide if it was as good as my other favorite. So I made them side-by-side, which was, well, confusing. Neither recipe is particularly difficult, but I was making half recipes of each sauce, then storing half of that in the fridge so we could have an easy but fresh meal a few days later, which means that each sauce was topping only a quarter recipe of pasta. There was a screw-up here and there, but nothing vital. We weren’t able to pick a favorite. I know they’re both macaroni and cheese, but it felt like comparing apples and oranges. The Cooks Illustrated recipe is creamy and smooth, both in texture and flavor, while the new recipe was far sharper (did I mention that it has twice as much cheese as the other?) and a bit grainy, but oh, that crisp crust was fun. I think I’ll be combining the two in the future. I know Cooks Illustrated uses half cheddar because of its great flavor, and half Monterey jack because of its smooth melting qualities, but I’m going to try using 75% cheddar and 25% Monterey jack next time to get some more of that sharp flavor. I’m also going to skip the bread crumb topping and use more cheese instead, then put that under the broiler to brown the cheese. I think this will combine my favorite aspects of each recipe. (I was also just reminded of a recipe I used to love that uses smoked gouda, so I need to revisit that one. Hey, I love cheesy pasta.)

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Hoisin and Honey Pork Ribs

When I was a kid, pork ribs were my favorite meal, and I requested them for every birthday. I grew out of that when I decided that ribs were too much effort and mess to eat when there was so little meat. But these ribs were certainly worth the effort. I wanted to make them because I recently tried hoisin sauce for the first time and loved it. This was my first time cooking pork ribs, plus I’m not usually very good with the broiler, but everything worked out great. Because the ribs are boiled first, the broiler is just to crisp them and caramelize the sauce, so it was easy.

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares

This recipe called to me as soon as Deb posted it. Cheesecake filling, graham cracker crust, chocolate glaze, all mixed up with dulce de leche. I’m not really familiar with dulce de leche, but caramelized milk certainly sounds great. But wow, these were rich. I can usually handle rich foods without a problem, but these were too much even for me. It helped when I thought of them like candy instead of like a bar cookie and started cutting them into the 1-inch squares that the recipe recommends. I did enjoy them, but I don’t think I’ll be making them again.

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Truffles

It sounds like Valentine’s Day is becoming mostly an excuse for couples to enjoy a good meal together, which I think is great. Dave and I weren’t even going to do that (we were having the second day of mac and chz comparison on V-Day), and I was okay with that. I found out on February 13th that Dave wanted to do something extra, so I surprised him by making truffles the next day. I loosely followed the recipe for Robert Linxe’s truffles, except, less fancy. I didn’t use Volrhona chocolate, I didn’t wear gloves, and I didn’t simmer the cream multiple times. It wasn’t worried about details this time. It was my first time making truffles, and I think they came out well. I want to try them again, but comparing a number of different quality chocolates to see how much it really matters.

Pizza Dough

Deb discussed a recipe for pizza dough that replaced some of the water with white wine and added a little honey. I tried it, and while the dough wasn’t sweet and the wine flavor wasn’t obvious, it made a really good pizza crust. Even Dave, who didn’t know that I had changed the recipe, pointed out that it was particularly good. I forgot that this recipe was related to this entry in my blog, so I didn’t think to take a picture, which is unfortunate because the crust was really crisp and light.

Next on the list is Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake. Flourless chocolate cakes are usually dense confections, so I’m interested in this very light version. And then, who knows? World Peace Cookies? Pretzel rolls? Risotto alla Barolo? There’s so many great recipes to choose from, all beautifully photographed and enticingly described.

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salmon pesto pasta

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This is Dave’s most-requested meal, and it’s gotten to the point where I purposefully don’t make it so that it will always be a treat. Yeah, I’m a bad wife. Also, I think making pesto is sort of a pain in this ass. Back in the old days, before I took over the kitchen and we actually cooked together on occasion, Dave would prepare the fish while I worked on the pesto. Over time, I tweaked the recipe here and there without writing it down, and it became easier to just do it myself. And now I complain that Dave doesn’t like to cook with me…

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I’ve found that if I allow my life to be easy and just buy pesto, this recipe is actually a quick weeknight-appropriate meal. We’re picky about pesto, but I’ve found that my grocery store stocks some good stuff in their olive bar. But…this was for Dave’s birthday, so I went all out and made it from scratch.

(Wait a minute…wasn’t Dave’s birthday last month? Yes yes, the problem is, I didn’t like the picture I took of the final dish, so I wanted to make it again and hope for a better picture. I made it again last weekend, but the pictures from that night aren’t any better, so I’m sticking with the original. Sorry the colors are all funky. We eat dinner at night. There’s no natural light at night. My pictures of dinner tend be funky colors.)

I am, of course, a big fan of my homemade pesto. My trick (okay, Cooks Illustrated’s trick that I stole) is to squeeze the maximum amount of flavor out of each ingredient. I toast the pine nuts, I toast the garlic so that it loses that sharpness that raw garlic has, and I bruise the basil leaves. Before I did all this, I would often end up with grassy-smelling pesto, but now I make basily-smelling pesto. Gotta love that.

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The salmon, brushed with oil and sprinkled with lemon zest, is broiled. The sauce is made from evaporated milk that’s boiled to reduce it even further. The pasta is mixed with the milk, then the salmon, and finally, off the heat to preserve the basil’s delicate flavor (Marcella Hazan is getting to me), the pesto is stirred in. Top with a little more parmesan, and you’ve got my and Dave’s favorite way to eat salmon. And Dave’s favorite way to eat pesto…and pasta…

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Salmon Pesto Pasta (substantially adapted from the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook)

Serves 2

8 ounces pasta
12 ounces salmon
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 ounces evaporated milk
½ cup pesto (recipe follows)
grated parmesan, for serving

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; stir to separate pasta. Cook pasta until al dente; drain. Pour evaporated milk into empty pot and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup. Add cooked pasta to pot and stir to combine.

2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Season skinless side of salmon liberally with salt and pepper, sprinkle with zest, then rub with olive oil. Broil until salmon is no longer translucent and is firm when pressed, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler and sprinkle with lemon juice. Use fork to flake into bite-sized pieces. Skin will stick to foil and can be discarded.

3. Add salmon to pasta mixture and stir over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Top with parmesan.

Pesto (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I haven’t found a good way to measure basil leaves by volume. I just add all of the leaves from a hydroponic basil plant or a large herb container from the grocery store.

CI note: Basil usually darkens in homemade pesto, but you can boost the green color a little by adding the optional parsley.

Update 6/18/08 – After flipping through Jamie’s Dinners, I have found a far easier and just as effective method for bruising the basil leaves.  Simply add the unbruised basil leaves to the food processor bowl and process with the plastic dough hook until they’re thoroughly bruised.  Switch back to the blade and continue with the recipe as written.

Makes ½ cup

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (or substitute almonds or walnuts)
5 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, Italian (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch table salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Toast nuts in small heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.

2. Add the unpeeled garlic to empty skillet and toast until, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and add to food processor bowl.

3. Place basil and parsley in heavy-duty, quart-size, zipper-lock bag; pound with flat side of meat pounder until all leaves are bruised.

4. Process nuts and garlic until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients except cheese; process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down bowl with flexible spatula.

5. Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in cheese(s) and adjust salt. (Can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly over the surface or filmed with oil and refrigerated up to 5 days.)