quinoa puttanesca

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Based on whether it leaves a bunch of half-used ingredients leftover, this may not be the best single-person dinner, but it’s one of my favorite meals for when Dave is out of town anyway. For years, Dave didn’t like anchovies or olives, so those were the things I ate when he traveled. He’s come around to both, but the tradition has stuck, and this has become a treat for myself while he’s gone.

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It’s very similar to the pasta version, but I like to think quinoa is a little healthier than pasta. Certainly, quinoa has a stronger, earthier flavor, which required adjustments in the other ingredients. More briny olives, more salty capers, and more bitter parsley were all necessary to stand out next to the quinoa.

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Even if it doesn’t fulfill my no-leftover-bits-of-ingredients rule for single-person dinners, it meets the rest of my criteria – easy, healthy, minimal dishes. Fortunately, I like it so much that I’m willing to make it twice in one week while Dave travels, which is the perfect way to use up the half cans of tomatoes and tuna leftover from one serving. That puts this back on the list of great meals for cooking for one.

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Quinoa Puttanesca (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Spaghetti Puttanesca)

4 servings

I use the higher amount of anchovies, because I love them, but I understand that not everyone shares that opinion. The tuna is not at all traditional in puttanesca, but it increases the protein of this one-pot dish.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6-8 anchovies, minced
8 ounces (1⅓ cups) quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, coarsely diced in the can with scissors
2 (5-ounce) cans solid white tuna in water, drained and flaked into bite-sized pieces (optional)
¼ cup capers, drained
1 cup kalamata olives, finely chopped
¼ cup minced parsley

In the medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, and anchovies until sizzling and fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the quinoa, tomatoes with their juice, and tuna (if using). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the mixture simmers, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir once, then replace the cover, remove the pot from the heat, and let set for another 15 minutes. Stir in the capers, olives, and parsley; serve immediately.

strawberry rhubarb crisp bars

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I never make pies anymore. Most of what I bake is meant to be easily shared by a large crowd, either at work or at a party. That’s fine, but pies are fine too.

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This was part of my annual frenzy to use rhubarb as much as possible during its short season. When the grocery store has it, I buy it, whether I have a plan for it or not. That’s easy when you have a bunch of coworkers who will eat anything – preferably anything handheld, easy to grab along with a cup of coffee.

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Until I find a small gathering – with plates and even forks – to make a pie for, these bars are a good stand in. The balance of tart, juicy fruit to buttery flour is spot on, and although the crispness isn’t like a flaky pie crust, the oaty crunch is a good stand-in. Best of all, I actually had an opportunity to share them, unlike a silverware-demanding pie.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars (adapted from Yvonne Rupert’s One Bowl Baking via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 9 to 16 bars

I un-one bowled this. I’m spoiled by my dishwasher and would rather mix things conveniently than use less dishes.

1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
¾ cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1½ medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 inch square pan with cooking spray.

2. In a medium bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and stir until clumps form. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture and press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan.

3. In a medium bowl (you could even use the same bowl; see, one less dish to wash!), combine the rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Evenly distribute the fruit over the crust, then scatter the reserved crumbs over the fruit.

4. Bake the bars until the fruit is bubbling and the crisp portion is golden, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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corn tortillas

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I don’t want to get melodramatic here, but these are almost life-changing. Certainly dinner-changing, and especially taco-changing.

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I have told you before about my quest for the best way to soften store-bought corn tortillas. My favorite method had to be effective and easy without adding a ton of fat. Fried tortillas are so good, but a significant amount of work, and obviously not healthy.

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I tried heating them under a damp kitchen towel, which worked okay, but the tortillas could get soggy and limp. The best I’d found was to spray both sides of the tortillas with oil and bake them until pliable but not crisp. Besides the addition of some, although not a lot, of fat, my biggest problem with this was that the tortillas would occasionally get too crisp to fold, and sometimes would just get chewy.

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Okay, so making fresh tortillas isn’t all that easy. But they’re so good – even as good as real deep-fried tortillas – and so healthy (no fat, whole grains), that I’ll spend the extra 15 minutes making them, even on a weeknight. If I only make enough for one meal, for the two of us, it isn’t so bad – just mix up two ingredients, maybe three if you want to add a pinch of salt, let it rest for a few minutes while you chop some taco fillings, roll it into balls, smash it with a tortilla press, sear it on a hot comal (or skillet) for a minute.

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As soon as you mix the masa harina with water, the dough will smell like the best corn tortillas, before you even cook them. Once you add some smoky char from the hot pan, then wrap them around fillings while they bend without breaking, you’ll see what I mean about a dinner-changing experience. But considering how often we make tacos now and how much better they are, life-changing isn’t too far of a stretch for me.

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Corn Tortillas (adapted from Serious Eats)

Makes 8 tortillas

I confess I have some specialized tools for tortillas. The cleaning lady at my office gave me the comal; she had two and hates to cook. I’m sure a cast-iron skillet will work just fine. I haven’t tried making tortillas without a press, but supposedly you can smash them under a skillet. They won’t get as thin, but a thicker fresh tortilla is still better than anything you can buy. The last item isn’t so special – just a scale – but I’ve had much more consistent results with getting the dough to the right hydration with a scale than I did with measuring cups.

4 ounces (about ¾ cup) masa harina
5 ounces water
pinch salt

1. In a medium bowl, mix the three ingredients until large crumbles form, then bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for ten minutes. Meanwhile, cut both sides of a gallon zip-top bag. Transfer the bag to a tortilla press with the crease of the bag at the hinge of the press.

2. Heat a not-nonstick skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat for at least 5 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball.

4. Place a ball onto the plastic-lined tortilla press, slightly off-center toward the hinge of the press. Press the tortilla just until it shows around the edges of the tortilla press. Open the press, peel the plastic wrap off the top of the tortilla, and invert the tortilla, still on the plastic, onto a towel. Slowly peel the plastic off of the tortilla. Replace the plastic in the tortilla press and repeat with the remaining balls of dough.

5. Transfer one tortilla to the hot pan; cook, without moving, until the tortilla bubbles and smokes, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Using a thin spatula, flip the tortilla; cook for another 15 to 30 seconds. Transfer the tortilla to a kitchen towel, wrapping it loosely. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, stacking them in the towel.

6. Let the tortillas sit in the towel to steam for a few minutes after the last tortilla is cooked, then serve. Kept wrapped, the tortillas will stay warm for about half an hour.

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shrimp tortilla soup

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Hominy. It just isn’t one of my favorites. It’s no green pepper – blech – but I struggle with the texture. I don’t want soggy popcorn in my soup. I’ve never cooked with it myself, and I almost left it out of this soup – until I saw that it was pureed. That seemed safe enough.

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When I opened the can to make dinner, I noticed that hominy smells like one of my favorite foods – fresh corn tortillas. It’s the same nixtamalization process that it used for masa harina, and I love that intensely corny aroma.

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It was great in this soup; pureeing the hominy binds the broth together and makes it thick but not starchy or gloppy. And now that I know how good hominy tastes, I might try it whole. I could learn to like hominy after all…unlike green peppers, which are a lost cause.

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Shrimp Tortilla Soup (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Simple Weeknight Favorites via Pink Parsley)

4 main course servings

4 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for spraying the tortillas
salt
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15-ounce) cans hominy, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed, halved crosswise
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray the tortilla strips with oil (or nonstick spray) and season with salt. Halve and cut crosswise into ¼-inch strips. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook until deep-golden brown and crispy, 10 to 12 minutes, tossing halfway through.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder, and chipotle chile; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth, hominy, and tomatoes. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Puree the soup, either with an immersion blender or by transferring it in batches to a standup blender. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are just cooked through and opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Serve immediately, topping each portion with tortilla strips.

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shrimp and andouille over green chile cheese grits

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For breakfast on Saturday, we had waffles and a fantastic sausage we picked up on a recent Texas wine-tasting trip. We had dinner at a friend’s cookout, and there were so many great side dishes there that I really didn’t need any grilled meat, but there were homegrown tomatoes and green chile for toppings, so I grabbed a hot dog anyway. For breakfast Sunday, migas with chorizo. For lunch, BLT salads. For dinner, andouille and shrimp over green chile cheese grits. We like our cured pork products.

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I’ve ordered shrimp and grits several times in restaurants, but it was never so good as this. These grits are enriched with butter and cheese, and if your andouille isn’t spicy enough, a jalapeno is added to the grits (I used Hatch green chiles). The shrimp is browned in butter and andouille drippings, then cooked through in beer and broth. As if there isn’t enough going on, the whole thing is topped with a fried egg.

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For as rich as it tastes and as full as I was afterward, it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. For two servings plus some leftover grits, I used 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 ounces of cheese, no cream (I was out), and…okay, significantly more andouille than the recipe calls for. It was worth every greasy calorie, like cured meats always are.

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Shrimp and Andouille over Green Chile Cheese Grits (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 4 generously

I replaced the jalapeno with about ½ cup of roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced Hatch green chiles. Anaheim or poblano would be a good substitute, but I’m sure the jalapeno is good too. I used smaller shrimp (60-70 per pound) and skipped the tarragon.

Grits:
4 cups water
salt
1 cup yellow grits (not instant)
1 cup (4 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 jalapeño, seeded, diced
¼ cup heavy cream or milk
freshly ground pepper

Shrimp:
8 ounces andouille sausage
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ cup beer
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
4 large eggs
salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. While continuously stirring, add the grits. Reduce to the heat to low to maintain a very slow simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally in the beginning and more frequently as the mixture thickens, for about 30 minutes, until the grits are softened. Stir in the butter, jalapenos, cheese, heavy cream or milk, and pepper. Cover and set aside.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the shrimp, beer, and stock; cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs and season with salt. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the whites are set and the yolks are soft, about 5 minutes.

4. Serve the shrimp mixture over the grits, topped with an egg and sprinkled with tarragon.

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cornmeal pancakes with cherry compote

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I haven’t forgotten my New Year’s resolution this year. I haven’t done a very good job following it, but at least I haven’t forgotten.

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I simply wanted to use my cookbooks more often. I love buying cookbooks, and I love looking through them, and I love the cookbook shelf I had built in my kitchen, but when it comes time to choose recipes, I default to my database and the internet all too often. The spreadsheet I made to track cookbook usage this year was neglected.

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Until one night recently when, for no special reason, I sat down with a pile of cookbooks and started flipping. Other favorites got set aside as I put breakfasts, dinners, and snacks on the menu, all from one book, Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen. Something snagged me about her cookbook that night, probably the healthy, quick, interesting meal ideas. Interesting, like adding thyme to cherry compote. Interesting, like making pancakes with cornmeal and honey.

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I should let this be a reminder of why I need to pull out my cookbooks more often. Such undiscovered treasures are hidden on those shelves! I loved the extra cornmeal crunch in these pancakes, along with the honey notes. The cherries make these a summer reminder of a winter promise I made to myself.

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Cornmeal Pancakes with Cherry Compote (slightly adapted from Sara Forte’s Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook)

Cherry compote:
1 pound Bing cherries, seeded and quartered
2 sprigs thyme
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
pinch salt

Pancakes:
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup boiling water
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 tablespoons brown or turbinado sugar
¾ cup buttermilk (or ½ cup plain yogurt and ¼ cup milk)
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for cooking the pancakes

1. For the compote: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cherries, thyme, and water, stirring occasionally, until the cherries start to break down, about 3 minutes. Stir in the honey and salt; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal, honey, and boiling water. Let sit 5 minutes to soften the cornmeal. Meanwhile, in a separate small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together, the egg, sugar, buttermilk, and oil. Whisk the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture until thoroughly combined, then gently fold in the flour mixture. Let set 5 minutes.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle. When the pancakes are golden brown, after about 2-3 minutes, flip to cook the other side another 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven heated to 200 degrees.

4. While the pancakes are cooking, warm the compote; remove the sprigs of thyme. Serve the pancakes topped with compote.

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whole wheat biscotti with pistachios, apricots, chocolate, and lavender

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Sometimes you want the comfortable and familiar. You want brownies. You want vanilla or strawberry ice cream. And who am I to begrudge you a good ol’ chocolate chip cookie craving?

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Sometimes, though, maybe you want something more interesting, maybe even a bit challenging. You want something more adult. But you should keep the chocolate. This is dessert we’re talking about here, a treat, not a chore.

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For those times, you can add fruit. Nuts, maybe. Use whole grains and unrefined sugar. Add…flowers?  Why not?

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I made a half batch of these for a gathering of myself, Dave, and two of our guy friends. They were all gone (except one, which was perfect with coffee the next morning) by the end of the evening, and I swear I didn’t eat them all myself! Grown-up food isn’t so bad.

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One year ago: Ginger Fried Rice
Two years ago: Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth
Three years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Four years ago: Pan-Roasted Asparagus
Five years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Whole Wheat Biscotti with Pistachios, Apricots, Chocolate, and Lavender
(adapted from 5 Second Rule)

Makes 72 1-inch bites

You can probably choose one type of sugar and one type of flour. I was hedging my bets on the healthier additions.

I used 6 ounces of chocolate, and it was delicious but too much for the dough to hold onto, so I’ve reduced it slightly.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) turbinado sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces (¾ cup) semisweet chocolate chips, chopped
½ cup finely diced dried apricots
½ cup pistachios, rough-chopped
1 teaspoon dried lavender

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined, then add the olive oil and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to stir the ingredients until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate, apricots, pistachios, and lavender.

3. On a dry work surface, knead the dough until it’s no longer sticky. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet and press into a ½-inch thick rectangle measuring about 10 by 6 inches. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the top no longer looks raw. Transfer the baking sheet with the dough to a cooling rack. Let dough cool for at least 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board. Cut each block into 6 long strips, then cut each strip at 1-inch intervals to form squares. Transfer the pieces back to the baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the squares just begin to brown at the edges. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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brisket and brie tacos

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My stubbornness knows no bounds or logic, as was evident in the cooking of this brisket. First, I refused to buy Dr. Pepper to use as a braising liquid. Dave and I don’t drink soda, and I’m not really into the whole high fructose corn syrup thing, so I didn’t want to buy a bottle only to use a fraction of it. Beer and honey would provide all the acidity and sweetness the brisket needed.

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I’m also not all that into the crockpot. I like it for certain things, particularly broth, but if I’m home anyway, usually I like the firmer texture and added browning of braising meats in the oven. This has always worked great for pot roast and stews, but I’m not sure it was the best method for much leaner brisket, which can more easily dry out.

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Not that I have any complaints though. Topping the tacos with brie certainly solves any potential problems the low fat content of the meat might have introduced. With a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, stretchy Monterey jack cheese, and slices of creamy avocado, these tacos had plenty going on, despite or because of my stubborn changes.

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One year ago: Pizza with Prosciutto, Goat Cheese, and Roasted Tomatoes
Two years ago: Strawberry Daiquiri Ice Cream
Three years ago: Chicken Fajitas
Four years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Five years ago: Blueberry Poppy Seed Brunch Cake

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Brie and Brisket Tacos (adapted from Rebecca Rather’s Pastry Queen via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Serves 4, with leftover brisket

No one seems to brown brisket. I don’t know why that is, but I browned mine.

Brisket:
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
1 (3-pound) brisket
salt
ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 (12-ounce) medium-dark beer
2 tablespoons honey

Raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
½ cup ketchup
1 chipotle chile in adobe sauce, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Toppings:
12 corn tortillas, warmed
4 ounces brie, thinly sliced
1 cup (4 ounces) Monterey jack cheese

1. For the brisket: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt, pepper, and the chili powder. Transfer the brisket to the Dutch oven and cook, without moving, for about 3 minutes, until deeply browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. Add the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the beer into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the honey, then add the meat. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 3 hours, turning every hour or so.

3. For the sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it runs like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ketchup, chile, lemon juice, raspberries, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Puree, either with an immersion blender in the saucepan or by transferring the sauce to a blender.

4. When the brisket is tender, either slice it or shred it, leaving behind large chunks of fat. Layer brisket, sauce, brie, and Monterey jack cheese in the tortillas (plus Hatch green chile and avocado if you can’t imagine tacos with them). Serve immediately.

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crescent rolls

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I want my crescent rolls to bridge the gap between a regular dinner roll and a croissant. I want them intensely buttery, soft in the middle, with a slight crackle to the crust. I want the rolled layers to come apart when you bite into a browned edge. I don’t want them to be flaky; that’s too far down the croissant path. Basically, I want what you get when you pop open one of those tubes from the grocery store, except those tend to be soft to the point of mushy and too pale on the outside. It’s been surprisingly hard to find this ideal.

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Most recipes turn out rolls that are too similar to dinner rolls, without enough butter and without distinct layers. The recipe I started from for these rolls looked like they’d go too far the other direction, with flaky layers of dough separated by butter, like a croissant. You get those layers through folding butter into the dough and rolling it flat, then folding the dough into thirds and rolling again. In a croissant, this process is repeated to make hundreds of alternating paper-thin dough and butter layers.

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By reducing the number of turns, I was able to create the layers I wanted without making them so thin they’d turn flaky, so the dough layers were distinctly bread-like. The bread needed to be tender, which I guaranteed by adding a couple tablespoons of oil. The butter layers would add plenty of butter flavor, but the oil would keep the bread soft and moist. At last – the perfect crescent roll, halfway between a dinner roll and a croissant.

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One year ago: Yogurt Hollandaise Sauce
Two years ago: Yellow Cake (comparison of 3 recipes)
Three years ago: Jalapeno Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
Four years ago: Pot Roast
Five years ago: Salmon Cakes, Flaky Biscuits, Hashed Brussels Sprouts

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Crescent Rolls (adapted from eat live run)

Makes 16 rolls

I made these slightly whole wheat by using this trick, but if you’d rather they were made completely with white flour, just skip step one, adding the pre-dough ingredients (white flour instead of whole wheat) with the rest of the dough ingredients.

Pre-dough:
4 ounces (about ¾ cup) whole wheat flour
⅓ cup (2.67 ounces) water
¼ teaspoon salt

Dough:
2½ cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup milk plus 1 tablespoon
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
6 tablespoons butter, softened
egg wash

1. For the pre-dough: Combine the flour, salt, and water, mixing until a shaggy dough forms. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.

2. Combine the pre-dough, flour, yeast, sugar, salt, ¾ cup milk, egg, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer. Knead about 4 minutes. (You can mix and knead the dough by hand in a large bowl.) Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thick. Starting at a short end, spread the softened butter over two-thirds of the dough. Fold the unbuttered third of dough over the buttered middle. Fold the other buttered side over the middle. You’ve just folded the dough in thirds, like a letter, with the butter trapped inside between layers of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to ¼-inch thick again; fold in thirds again; chill another 30 minutes.

4. Roll the dough to ¼-inch thick to a rectangle about 10 by 14-inches. Slice in half lengthwise, creating two 5 by 14-inch rectangles, then alternate diagonal cuts to make 8 triangles from each half of dough. Cut a 1-inch slit in the wide end of each triangle (the side opposite the point). Roll up the triangles, starting at the wide end and pulling the corners away from the slit in the middle. Arrange the rolls on parchment- or silicone-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Spray with nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

5. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. About 5 minutes before baking, remove the plastic wrap and brush the rolls with the egg wash; leave them uncovered. Bake until golden brown, about 18 minutes.

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cornmeal molasses pancakes

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I’m not sure what made these pancakes so perfect – was it the combination of ingredients, with the crunch of cornmeal and depth of molasses, or was it being cooked in a cast-iron skillet? I’ve had a cast-iron skillet for almost a year, and I would say that I use it occasionally, but not often.

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The main reason I don’t use it more is because, no matter what anyone says, washing a pan by hand, without soup, is not as easy as throwing it in the dishwasher. But the cast-iron undoubtedly forms a better crust on food, from meat to, yes, pancakes, so there are times when it is absolutely worth the extra cleaning step.

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I was a little worried about these pancakes though. There’s no sugar in the batter except for molasses. That couldn’t possibly be sweet enough, right?

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It actually was, with a distinct but not overwhelming bitter molasses flavor. And of course I added more sugar in the form of maple syrup on top anyway. The result was perfect pancakes, with a crisply browned exterior and tender middle, all thanks to just the right combination of ingredients – or just the right skillet choice.

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One year ago: Salted Herbed Roast Turkey
Two years ago: Green Chile Mayonnaise
Three years ago: Wheat Berries with Caramelized Onions, Feta, and Lentils
Four years ago: Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Cornmeal Molasses Pancakes (adapted from recipezaar via Joy the Baker)

Serves 2

If you don’t keep buttermilk around, my favorite substitution is a mixture of plain yogurt and milk; for this recipe, use ¾ cup milk and ½ cup yogurt. You can also use regular milk, adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to the wet ingredients.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup yellow or blue cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1¼ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon dark molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for cooking the pancakes

1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg until thoroughly combined, then add the buttermilk, molasses, vanilla, and oil. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk gently until the batter is mostly mixed but still contains small lumps. Let the batter rest while the pan heats, at least 5 minutes.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet or a griddle over medium heat. Add a few drops of oil and spread it over the bottom of the pan. Using a ¼ cup measure, pour the pancake batter onto the hot griddle. When the pancakes are golden brown, after about 2-3 minutes, flip to cook the other side another 2-3 minutes. Keep warm in oven heated to 200 degrees.

cornmeal molasses pancakes 8