Stuffed Zucchini with Ground Beef and Rice

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Let’s keep it short and sweet today, since you’re really just here for the meaty, cheesy goodness that is this stuffed zucchini.

Faced with only minuscule opportunities to cook over the past few weeks, my dinners consisted of Seamless, my mom’s frozen dinners,* and quick slices of pizza in between apartment viewings. The rare nights I got home before 9:30, I whipped up 20-minutes-or-less meals: fish tacos, corn salad, etc. I even had a bar for dinner … you know that’s rock bottom.

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But in between, I found a recipe for stuffed zucchini that approached “must make this now” territory. (Well, after I changed most of the ingredients to what I wanted the recipe to be.) The best part: I could make the recipe ahead of time, cooking various components when I had time, and assembling and eating it all when I found a respite from the madness.

So I cooked the rice one evening (aka it cooked while I caught up on Suits). I made the bolognese-style sauce another night, stirring in the cooked rice at the end. And then, in a fit of packing procrastination, I finally halved and scooped out the zucchini, filled and topped it with a pile of mozzarella and then baked it for 30 minutes until it was gooey perfection. And it reheats nicely, which means I can finally give my Seamless app a rest.

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*For years, my mom has cooked up double-batches of all of my favorite Indian dishes and frozen them in individual Tupperware so that I basically have frozen dinners that are 100% homemade, preservative-free, perfectly portion-sized and you know, delicious. Your mom is probably great, but mine is better. Continue reading

Blackened Fish Tacos

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I like to think that I handle stressful situations well. In my head, when faced with a challenge, I tackle it rationally, come up with a plan of attack and keep my cool throughout. In reality, I look a little bit more like this, running around like a crazy person until finally, I explode in a burst of anger and frustration, usually at my parents (but they have to talk to me anyway).

Things have been rough around here: in addition to the day-to-day busy-ness of work, two breaking news stories in the span of a few hours made for a crazy week. On top of that, my roommate and I are moving on July 31, and have yet to find a place to live (#notideal) so we traversed Manhattan looking at multiple “meh” apartments night after night. And you know, I leave for Chicago in a few days and need to get ready for that …

Because it’s been so crazy, I haven’t spent a ton of time cooking. And when I am in the kitchen, it’s mostly been to throw random fridge items together haphazardly and label it “salad,” a thoroughly uninteresting, unappetizing meal.

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The lone exception? These blackened fish tacos. Though they take no time to make (seriously, the longest part of the recipe is waiting for the fish to marinate), they’re incredibly delicious, the kind of “zero work + immense reward” situation that is ideal for busy weeks. Topped with my favorite no-mayo slaw (also super easy and ridiculously good), avocado, red onion, cilantro and a hefty squeeze of lime, they’re perfect for summer, a light dinner that leaves you with plenty of time to enjoy the evening. (Or in my case, see yet another apartment.)  Continue reading

Fresh Corn Salad

Lest you think I spend all of my time eating cookies and cake, a little reminder that I sometimes eat salad too …

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Year after year, whenever summer hits, I somehow wind up spending zero time in the kitchen. I find myself traveling more frequently, enjoying more happy hours and dinners al fresco, searching once again for an apartment (UGH.) … In short, doing anything and everything besides cooking.

It’s a shame, because I love me some summer produce. The peaches, the berries, the watermelon — I’m even coming around on eggplant and zucchini and the occasional tomato. But above all, there is corn.

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Nothing beats summer corn, candy-like in its sweetness, perfect for grilling or sauteeing or even eating straight, which is what I do in this fresh corn salad. Tossing a mixture of bell peppers, cucumbers, diced red onion and fresh dill creates a crunchy, vibrant base upon which kernels of impossibly sweet fresh corn shine. Crumbles of bacon and blue cheese add a bit of luxury, but they’re not necessary (and any salad that doesn’t need bacon is a keeper). Toss in a bit of apple cider vinegar for a tangy finish, and voila, a salad made for summer — for your many potlucks and picnics, for your afternoons on the boat or your weekends at the shore.

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Or even just for your lunches at work, as a welcome reminder that summer really does exist outside the confines of your overly air-conditioned cube. Continue reading

Condensed Milk Cookies

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One of my (many) annoying habits is my inability to leave a recipe as it is. Of the hundreds of recipes I’ve used while blogging on this site, maybe a handful have been followed to a T. Most get tweaked, if not completely overhauled, in a million ways: a bit more of this, a little less of that, this herb instead of that one, adding cheese because well, duh. Even the easiest of recipes often gets altered into something delicious (usually) but a bit more complex than it really needs to be.

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But sometimes, simple is the best solution. While trying to find a way to use up extra sweetened condensed milk last week, I found a number of recipes that kept things basic — but none, aside from the “stating the obvious” how-to’s for dulce de leche, were as easy as this.

Five-ingredient, one-bowl, two-step condensed milk cookies? You’d think I’d be doing a happy dance. But instead I wondered what it would be like to cook the condensed milk into dulce de leche, and then make cookies from that. And then add some toasted pecans, and a hefty pinch of cinnamon, and maybe some salted butter too. Or what about coating the cookies in chocolate, rather than adding chocolate chips? Or using salted butter, or ooooh browned butter … all of a sudden, these easy-as-pie soda bread cookies had turned into a multi-process adventure that would take hours to put together.

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Thankfully, a dose of much-needed reality (in the form of a busy Thursday night) forced me to stick to the original recipe on these cookies. And so I produced these buttery, almost shortbread-like condensed milk cookies: crumbly, light and pillowy soft, barely sweet and laden with chocolate chips. They’re the delicate “teatime” version of chocolate chip cookies, a daintier cousin of these loaded whole wheat beauties. And when simple is this delicious, why bother making things complicated?  Continue reading

Banana Icebox Cake

I made this banana icebox cake for my uncle on Father’s Day. It was part of a feast (an annual tradition) that included beer-braised brisket tacos, red cabbage slaw and esquites. The cake was fabulous and was completely demolished within 20 minutes of serving it. But amid all of the eating and the NBA Finals-watching and the Game of Thrones finale drama, I never got a chance to take a picture of any slices.

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And so, every day since June 15, I’ve debated posting this recipe. It would be a total food blogger fail, I thought, to tell rather than show how the banana “pudding” layer — made with extremely ripe bananas, sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese and copious amounts of cream (aka everything delicious) — softens the graham crackers into a cake-like consistency. Or to describe how gloriously light the layers of fresh banana and whipped cream were, rather than adding a picture. Or even to omit a photo of all the forks and plates after the carnage, a sign of how quickly and thoroughly this cake was devoured.

My b.

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I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures of this banana icebox cake once it’s served, but I’m going to share the recipe anyway because I’d be even sorrier if the rest of the world never got to try this life-changing dessert.

What is an icebox cake anyway? It’s a layered dessert, traditionally made with wafers or graham crackers and either whipped cream or pudding, which is then refrigerated overnight. The cake originated during World War I, back when a fridge was called an “icebox,” hence the name. They’re perfect for picnics or barbecues (like say, a Fourth of July one?) because you have to make them ahead of time, so that’s one less thing to worry about when having a bunch of people over. And needless to say, they’re so delicious, so refreshing and cool, that they’re the perfect end to any summer day.

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(I know these pictures suck, sorry!) Continue reading