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Mexican Rice

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I think one of the most challenging quests I’ve conquered as a home cook has been finding a decent Mexican Rice recipe (or Spanish Rice recipe [anyone know what the difference between the two are?]). The first time I made Carnitas I made a Mexican Rice recipe so awful I would have preferred something from a box. The 6 or 7recipes I tried after that were all so sucky that I had almost given up. Far too often I made recipes that were mushy, had an abundance of unnecessary vegetables, greasy texture, and lacked any kick.

Thankfully, the wonderful people at America’s Test Kitchen must have read my mind (well, they must have predicted my predicament because this recipe came out a while ago) and published an impeccable recipe for Mexican Rice that manages to be packed with flavor and was in no way mushy or greasy. While this recipe was a bit fussy for a simple rice side dish, I promise it’s worth it.

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Mexican Rice

From America’s Test Kitchen

  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces) cored and quartered
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 medium jalapenos
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (you can use veggie broth to make this vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Lime wedges for serving
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (optional, if you’re a weirdo who likes cilantro)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position in oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse tomato and onion until smooth. You should have two cups (discard excess if you have more than 2 cups).

Remove the ribs and seeds from 2 of the jalapenos and finely mince; set aside. Finely mince the third jalapeno and set aside. The logic behind removing the seeds and ribs in 2 out of the 3 jalapenos is that the majority of the heat are in the seeds and ribs. If you’re really averse to heat, remove the seeds and ribs of all three.

Place the rice in a large, fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cold water until the water runs clear, about a minute (this removes the starch and results in a non-mushy rice). Shake vigorously and remove all excess water.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or 12-inch oven proof sauté pan. Drop 3 or 4 grain of rice into the oil. You want the rice to sizzle, and if it does, the oil is sufficiently hot. Add remaining rice and stir frequently until lightly golden brown and mostly translucent (about 6 to 8 minutes).

Reduce heat to medium, add the garlic, and seeded minced jalapenos, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1.5 minutes. Stir in the pureed tomato mixture, chicken broth, tomato paste, and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover the pan tightly and transfer to oven.

Bake 15 minutes and stir the rice. Cover and return to oven and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Fluff with fork, stir in the third reserved jalapeno and optional cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

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No-Knead Dinner Rolls

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Who out there has found a recipe, followed it to the letter, and thought part way through that it would be a total disaster?

When I made a no-knead roll (perfect for Thanksgiving) I was positive it was doomed to failure. The initial dough mixture resembled paste and was impossibly sticky. I was hoping to make a dinner roll that was flaky and delicate, but I was left with dough that was so sticky all I could do was messily plop it into a greased muffin tin. While I felt incredibly defeated, certain I had made one flop of a bread, I just tried to finish and make a roll that was at the very least edible.

I’m so incredibly happy I followed through with the recipe instead of tossing it, as I ended up with a roll so delicate, slightly crusty, buttery, and flaky it completely melted in my mouth. My initial misgivings about the recipe entirely disappeared as I enjoyed a roll, fresh out of the oven, which was one of best carbs I’ve had in months. Best of all, these rolls are great to make ahead, then freeze, then let defrost before serving.

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Dinner Rolls

Adapted from Pioneer Woman

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 9-10 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 Tsp.) active dry yeast (be sure you don’t use the instant or rapid rise kind)
  • 1 teaspoon (heaping) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (scant) baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (if using table salt, use 1 heaping tablespoon)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter

Pour 4 cups of milk into a large saucepan, stock pot, or Dutch oven. Add one cup of sugar and 1 cup of vegetable oil. Stir to combine, cooking over medium to medium-high heat, until simmering, but before reaching the boiling point. Remove from heat, and let mixture cool.

When mixture has cooled to approximately 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit, add 4 cups of flour and yeast. Stir to combine (I used a wooden spoon). Once mixture has partially come together (don’t worry, it will still look very clumpy), slowly mix in 4 more cups of flour (again, don’t worry, it will look like a disaster). Let rest in a warm spot, lightly covered with a lid or dish towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, divide stick of butter in half. Use half of the butter to generously grease 24 muffin tins. Set aside the remaining half of butter.

Once dough has doubled in size (the top of the mixture will look poofy and slightly bubbly), vigorously stir in 1 additional cup of flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. At this point your dough may still be impossibly sticky. If so, slowly stir in additional flour, up to 1 cup more. The dough may still be very wet and sticky, but that’s okay.

Divide dough evenly between the muffin tins (you’ll want the dough to come close to coming level to the top of the muffin tin) (again, don’t worry if you have to messily plop the dough in, it will be lovely once it’s risen and baked), lightly cover with a dish towel or lightly greased saran wrap, and let rise for and additional hour, or until rolls have puffed.

Right before baking, melt remaining half stick of butter, and lightly brush over the top of the rolls.

Bake in a 400-degree oven until golden brown, about 17 to 20 minutes. Rotate the pans 10 minutes into baking.

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Pepper and Orange Cranberry Sauce

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Cranberry sauce has to be one of my favorite condiments. On Thanksgiving, a holiday full of delicious, but often rich food, the tartness of cranberries does a great job of cutting the heaviness of turkey, stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. I’m still a bit obsessed with the lime and ginger cranberry sauce I made last year, but wanted to spice things up a bit this year.

The spiciness and savory aspect jalapeno and pepper bring to this cranberry sauce is most welcome at the dinner table. Extra bite and spice further enhances the cranberries’ ability to lighten up Thanksgiving dinner. Just enough sugar balances out the spice and tartness, but this is still a very bright and fresh tasting condiment. I promise this isn’t excessively spicy, but if you’re worried about too much heat feel free to reduce to just one jalapeno. And if spice really isn’t your thing at all, removing the pepper and jalapeno entirely results in a very pleasant traditional cranberry sauce.

Pepper and Orange Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 16 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen (if using frozen, let defrost)
  • Pinch of salt

Seed bell pepper and jalapenos; chop the pepper into a small dice and finely mince the jalapenos. Add to a large sauce pan, pour in water and sugar, cook over medium-high heat for approximately 8-10 minutes, until peppers have softened. Meanwhile, zest the orange, then juice the orange. Rinse the cranberries then pick through and discard any all white cranberries or mushy or shriveled cranberries.

Once peppers have softened, add the orange zest, orange juice, ginger, cranberries and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid has dissolved and the cranberries have mostly burst, with a few remaining whole. Let cool before serving.

This is a great make ahead recipe. If covered tightly and refrigerated it should stay for a minimum of two weeks.

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Mushroom and Leek Stuffing

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Many of you may already know, but for anyone that doesn’t know, I am totally and madly in love with carbs. I want to marry carbs. I want to spend my life with carbs.

I cannot get enough of carbs. They’re probably my favorite food group and whether I’m chowing down on a crusty baguette, eating bowl after bowl of pasta, or enjoying each and every grain in a huge bowl of rice, I cannot resist carbs.

It should come as no surprise that my favorite part of Thanksgiving is stuffing (aka dressing). How could anyone not be crazy about a dish that celebrates bread? I would be completely okay with simply eating cubes of plain bread goodness, but I know most people like their stuffing/dressing to have a bit more substance.

This Mushroom and Leek stuffing is absolutely delicious. An abundance of mushrooms makes this a substantial and almost meaty dish, while leeks give a delicate onion flavor and pancetta gives a salty bite. You can’t go wrong with any form of stuffing/dressing, but I highly recommend this one.

Just a few notes:

  • Stuffing deserves good bread! Cubes of generic, white bread are nowhere near as good as a loaf of rustic style bread. Treat yo self!
  • Serving stuffing in a large casserole dish (or 9 x 13 dish) is probably the most common, but why not divide into individual ramekins?
  • Feel free to cube bread into 1 inch pieces, but I like ripping the bread into comparable sizes. It looks more rustic and I think has superior texture than a cube.

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Mushroom and Leek Stuffing

  • 1 lb rustic bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 lb pancetta, chopped into a small dice
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 lbs crimini mushrooms, chopped into quarters
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing pan(s)
  • 1 tablespoon minced sage
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rip up a 1 lb loaf of rustic bread into approximately 1 inch pieces (you want about 8-10 cups). I don’t even bother removing the crust as I think leaving the crust adds a greater variety of texture. Spread bread pieces on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until nice and dry.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Add pancetta and cook for 8-10 minutes, until fat has rendered and pancetta is nice and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove pancetta and place into a large bowl.

In the same skillet used to cook pancetta (leaving the rendered fat from the pancetta), add prepped leeks, and cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the same bowl the pancetta is in.

In the same skillet, add in quartered mushrooms and butter. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until mushrooms are tender and have released any liquid. Add to the large bowl containing pancetta and leeks.

Once bread is done baking and is pale but very crispy, add to the large bowl of pancetta, leek, and mushrooms and stir in chicken broth, sage, and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well (and taste again for seasoning!). Crank up oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using additional butter, lightly grease 8-10 individual ramekins (depends on how big yours are, mine are slightly larger than 1 cup), or one large casserole dish/9×13 pan. Divide stuffing between ramekins or pour in the stuffing mixture into casserole dish.

If using individual ramekins, bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, or until top has crisped up. If baking in a large casserole dish, cover with aluminum foil, bake for 25 minutes, then remove foil and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

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Sweet Potato Gnocchi

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A few months ago a bunch of friends and I took a cooking class together. It was a really fun, laid-back night that involved various work stations where we helped prepare everything from gnocchi to roasted pork to caramelized apple tart. After 90% of the meal was done being prepared, we all sat back with a cocktail, let the professionals finish up the cooking, and ate family style. Best of all we left with all of the recipes and instructions for what we made, including sweet potato gnocchi.

While I had made gnocchi before, I had never made sweet potato gnocchi. I fell in love with the taste and texture and I knew I would be making these babies at home.

Really, there’s nothing difficult about making gnocchi, it can just be a slightly tedious process. One step I’ve taken to quicken up the process of making gnocchi is to forgo rolling gnocchi on either a gnocchi board or fork (this is the step that gives gnocchi ridges). The rationality behind giving gnocchi ridges is that it helps sauce stick. While I can’t argue with that logic, it’s honestly a step I don’t find to be entirely necessary. Sauce tends to stick well enough and who minds sopping up leftover sauce with a crusty piece of warm bread (that’s my favorite part)?

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Adapted from Blue Ribbon Cooking Classes

  • 2 pounds of sweet potatoes (or yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with a fork
  • 1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese (that has been drained in a sieve for 2 hours [to ensure excess moisture has been expelled])
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting surface)

Bake sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until potatoes are cooked through and tender.

Once potatoes are done, let cool slightly, cut in half, and scoop flesh into a medium bowl. In class I was told that you could just mash sweet potato. Something about the gluten in russet potatoes is different and it’s recommended you not mash those, but mashing sweet potatoes is fine… alternatively you could process them in a food mill or rice them using a potato ricer. You should have 3 cups.

Add strained ricotta, parmesan, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.

Turn dough onto a floured surface, divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolloing between palms and floured work surface, form each of the 6 pieces into a 20-inch long rope (approximately 1 inch thick), sprinkling with additional flour as needed if dough becomes to sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces (I used a bench scraper but a knife works just as well).

Do ahead: At this point you can flash freeze the gnocchi on a baking sheet before placing in a ziplock bag and freezing for several months (no need to defrost when you’re ready to cook). It’s important to note that these should be cooked as soon as possible or frozen immediately. I didn’t find that they held at room temperature or in the refrigerator very well.

To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. In batches, cook gnocchi for a few minutes until they float and rise to the top (about 5 minutes). If cooking frozen gnocchi, they will take closer to 6 or 7 minutes to cook.

These are quite delicious served with a simple sauce of brown butter and sage but I mainly made these to serve with ragu. The sweetness and pillow-like consistency was a great juxtaposition with the rich, meaty, hearty profile of a ragu.

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Mashed “Potatoes” (Mashed Cauliflower)

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I think at some point in the past few weeks or so I knocked my head and lost all sense of judgment. See, I decided to go on this ridiculous diet where I can’t eat carbs, sugar, fat… basically the good things in life. Why would I do that to myself?

Don’t get me wrong, I love veggies and healthy food but when potatoes and bread are eliminated from your diet you can really start to miss them and begin to loath another bite of salad. Why can’t I have a slice of pizza or a steak taco?

A quick Google search will show a ton of healthier alternatives to things like tortillas and pizza crust (both made out of cauliflower), and while they’ve turned out okay, neither were solid replicas of the foods I’ve come to love. They just didn’t quite satisfy.

Given my adequate track record of using cauliflower as a substitute, I was dubious when I read recipes and rave reviews for mashed “potatoes” made out of cauliflower. Could anything really replace the perfection of tender Yukon gold potatoes that have been mashed with copious amounts of butter and cream? Why yes, you can replace all those carbs and fat with something that tastes delicious and is much healthier for you. I was pleasantly shocked at how satisfying these were. Really.

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Mashed “Potatoes”

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into small florets
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I used a few more, because I really like garlic and the cloves I was using were tiny)
  • 1/3 cup non-fat yogurt
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chives (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add chopped cauliflower and cook for approximately 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Once cooked, drain and lightly pat dry with a paper towel.

Add peeled cloves of garlic to a food processor and pulse until minced. Add yogurt and cauliflower and pulse a few times before fully pureeing. If you were cooking actual potatoes you would never want to use a food processor (they get really gummy in texture), but you really can’t over mash cauliflower. Once the texture is silky smooth, add salt and pepper to taste.

If desired, sprinkle chives on top.

Garlicky, Lemony Green Beans

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Do any of you have recipes that are so simple and easy that you can eat the finished product within 10 minutes of opening starting? While I have no qualms spending hours in the kitchen to make a dish, everyone needs a few recipes in their arsenal that require few ingredients and can be whipped up in minutes.

For me, sautéed green beans with garlic and lemon are a go-to recipe when I don’t have much time and want a tasty vegetable. While fresh green beans are ideal, I’ve made these countless times with frozen green beans (no need to thaw; right from the freezer is a-ok). Besides green beans, you only need garlic, lemon, and olive oil (and perhaps some crushed red pepper flakes, if so desired). Seeing as I usually cook for just two people, the following will serve two, but it can very easily be doubled, tripled, etcetera.

These are intensely lemony and garlicky and they pair nicely with a steak but somehow are delicate and light enough to work well with a poultry or fish dish or lean protein. If you’re not a fan of overwhelming garlic and lemon (I promise it’s overwhelming in a good way), feel free to cut back a bit (although I don’t recommend it).

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Garlicky, Lemony Green Beans

  • 1/2 lb fresh green beans
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Fill a large sautee pan with an inch of water. Bring to boil and add salt (you want to add enough salt so that the water tastes of the sea, similar to what you would do with pasta water). Meanwhile, trim the stems of the green beans.

Once water has come to a boil (it should boil quickly), add green beans and blanche for approximately 2 minutes. Drain green beans and immediately rinse in the coldest tap water (the goal is to stop the cooking and ensure the beans stay a vibrant green [you can also place them in a bowl of ice water, but I find my tap water is cold enough]).

Meanwhile, using the same sautee pan you used to blanche the green beans, drizzle in approximately a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sautee for a few minutes, until fragrant, but not browned. Add green beans and cook for 3 minutes, until heated through. Add lemon juice and cook for an additional minute. Before serving, mix in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste.