Category Archives: From the Cookbook

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa and Ground Beef

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Growing up, Sundays used to be my mom’s cooking day. She’d start by chopping up a big mess of vegetables, then slowly cook most of the food we’d eat that week, working through each recipe one by one until, by dinnertime, she’d made six days’ worth of lunch and dinner for four people. We’d “help” by keeping her company, aka watching football and getting in her way.

Obviously, I’m not nearly with it enough to plan and make that much food in one sitting. (Also, I don’t have the patience.) But sometimes, I kind of love day-long “cooking projects.” Most days, I don’t have a ton of time to spend slaving away in the kitchen, so on those occasions when I do, it’s nice to spend a few hours chopping vegetables, turning on the oven, stirring multiple pots and pans and just generally working towards creating a real meal. It’s my version of my mom’s cooking days, only the only person getting in my way is me (not hard to do — I have basically one square foot of usable counter space) and no one yells at me for cheering too loudly when my team scores.

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These stuffed peppers with quinoa and ground beef can be a project, or, if you don’t have the time, something that can be assembled in parts over multiple days. You could cook the ground beef in 20 minutes one day, the quinoa in 15 on another day and then spend 30 minutes assembling and baking on a third. Start to finish, the recipe takes a little over an hour, so it’s not a terribly difficult endeavor regardless, though there will be a lot of dishwashing involved. You’ve been warned.

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Is it worth it? Totally. Every day that I’ve brought these peppers to work, my co-workers have raved over them, and they’re just going off how good they smell. They have a nice crunch from the nuts and from the quinoa, which gets toasty when the stuffed peppers go in the oven for the final time. The raisins, which I added because they were in the back of my pantry and needed to be used up, actually taste good here (shocking, I know!), adding a slight sweetness to balance all of the savory, spicy notes. If only all of my cooking projects turned out this delicious … Continue reading

Whole Wheat Roasted Banana Bread

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I eat a TON of bananas. Like at least one per day. Like this diet would be no sweat for me, if it didn’t also involve eating only uncooked food. But I have a very short shelf-life for them — no green spots and definitely no brown spots. (I freeze any “about to turn” bananas before they can get too spotty, which is why my freezer looks like this.)

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So what to do faced with a craving for banana bread, but without the requisite almost-black-and-attracting-flies specimens needed for delicious banana baked goods? In two words: roast them. Sticking the bananas, still in their peels, in the oven caramelizes their sugars and turns them into soft, sweet piles of concentrated banana-y goodness.

While I could have used the roasted bananas in my always perfect banana bread recipe, I wanted to try something with whole wheat flour, since its nuttiness is delicious in quick breads and breakfasty sweets. The Kitchn’s original recipe was pretty perfect, though of course I had to make it a one-bowler and used oil instead of butter and brown sugar instead of maple syrup because that’s what I had at home. And then I threw in chocolate chips because … well why not?

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I made this early on a Saturday morning, while home for a very lazy Labor Day weekend. It was ready just as we were starting our second cups of coffee, after teasing us for almost an hour with an impossibly delicious aroma. Obviously it was good straight out of the oven, but it really shone the next morning, after the flavors had some time to deepen and blend together. There was no Day 3.  Continue reading

Greek-Style Orzo Salad

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I should have made this pasta salad a few months ago. Pasta salads are resolutely picnic fare, and well, the season for picnics is kind of over. But pasta salads fall into the broader “grain salad” category, and as evidenced by the numerous quinoa, farro, barley, wild rice (and more quinoa) salads on this site, I love a good grain salad.

They’re especially perfect for packed lunches, since they can be made the night before and then eaten hot, cold or at room temperature. They also travel easily, and are filling enough to keep you out of the vending machine come 3 p.m. And since fall is the start of “serious” time, that weird three-month gap between summer and the holidays in which school and work and commitments and schedules and productivity seem to take on increased importance, a go-to collection of recipes for good packed lunches is essential. I’ve already gone through my tips for packing lunch here and here, but a few more:

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1) Keep things interesting. Eating a sandwich five days a week is pretty boring, even if you switch up the sandwich fillings every day. (A Chipotle burrito sounds especially amazing when you’re tired of eating the same lame thing day in and day out.) Try salads one week, soups the next, pasta the week after — add new recipes to your rotation of old faves.

2) Don’t forget snacks. I get to work pretty early, so I pack my breakfast, lunch and at least one snack on a regular basis. I can’t make it through the day without at least one mini-meal, whether it’s apples and cheddar, bananas and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, sliced apricots and almonds, yogurt and granola, etc. Without one, I’d buy peanut M&Ms every day, and neither my wallet nor my waistline could handle that.

3) Vary your diet. If you eat eggs for breakfast every day, don’t pack a frittata for lunch. You’ll get bored (see: “Keep things interesting.”) and health-wise, it’s not ideal to eat a dozen eggs a day. (Unless you’re Gaston.) If I have peanut butter with my breakfast, I’ll pack apples and cheese for a snack, if I have a spinach smoothie in the morning, I won’t pack a spinach salad for lunch, and if I have a carb-heavy lunch, I’ll take chia pudding in the morning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more how important it is to eat a balanced nutrient-heavy diet, and varying what you eat with each meal is essential to that.

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This orzo salad takes all of the delicious components of a Greek salad (cucumbers, olives, red onions, dill, feta [plus tomatoes]) and tosses them with a bit of olive oil, vinegar and orzo, which makes the salad hearty enough to keep you full throughout the day. You could add white beans, toasted pine nuts, a teaspoon of pesto or tapenade, or you could leave it as is. Either way, I guarantee it’ll convert you to a “lunch packer.” Continue reading

Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

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I had a hard time writing this post. I wasn’t sure if I should go the travel angle (you know, “this dark chocolate cherry granola is great to pack on trips because it’s healthy, easy to transport, delicious to snack on, will save you from making unnecessary rest-stop-chicken-nugget purchases [or is that just a me problem?] or buying a $17 turkey and Swiss airplane sandwich, etc. etc.”) or the back-to-school angle (“now that you’re back on the grind, make sure you’re a) eating breakfast; b) that that breakfast is actually fueling you properly and not setting you up for an 11 a.m. crash; c) said breakfast is actually delicious and doesn’t taste like weird bran-cardboard”).

Is it too late for a travel-related post? Do people still take vacays on Labor Day weekend? Or has school already started and am I just so out of the loop that I don’t even know these things anymore? These are the things I think about when I’m not marveling over Blue Ivy’s “Flawless” dance or that kiss between Elaine Benes and Tim Whatley.

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So instead of having an angle, I’m just going to talk about this granola. It features dark chocolate and cherries, two of my favorite things, and I threw in pecans for good measure. The inspiration came from a KIND bar, which float around our office as “healthy snacks” and I devour as a substitute for candy bars. (No really, their dark chocolate sea salt one with almonds basically is a candy bar. With only 5 grams of sugar. It’s a magic candy bar.) This one, with dark chocolate, dried cherries and cashews (+antioxidants, whatever that means) was pretty good, but I wanted pecans, a bit more crunch and a little less sweet, and more spices. I found a granola version at Whole Foods, but at $5 a bag, I knew I’d eventually be forced to make my own.

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In my head, even though I’ve made it before, the prospect of making my own granola seems daunting. All those ingredients! There’s a reason this stuff is so expensive, right? That’s where the bulk section of your grocery store is a godsend, since you can buy as little or much of any ingredient you need. And then when you consider that the only steps here are “stir,” “dump” and “bake,” well … why aren’t I (and you) making homemade granola all the time??

And as it turns out, the recipe is fail proof. I somehow graduated from an oven knob
whose temperature markings are all wrong
to one that has no temperature markings whatsoever (asdfk;sdkfj;sdf;asdf), so my granola got a bit burned before I realized what was what. But it was still delicious — loaded with toasted nuts and tart cherries and spiced oats and dark chocolate chips.

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It’s less sweet than store-bought granola, which is a big plus for me, but you may want to add a tablespoon or two of honey if you like your granola sweet. And I’m not so into clumps, but if you are, Food52 has some tips for creating big granola clusters. I used olive oil since that’s all I had, which added a fruity, slightly savory note to the granola that I liked. But you could always use a more neutral oil like canola, or go the coconut oil route.

Regardless of how you tweak it, you should make this. Because as it turns out, dark chocolate cherry granola is perfect, either as a back-to-school breakfast or a road-trip snack, or even as an afternoon pick-me-up during a busy week. Continue reading

Nutella Cheesecake Dip

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Guys, it’s time to get serious. There are two weekends left before the unofficial end of summer, this weekend and next. Soak up all that summer has to offer between now and then: lazy days by the pool or beach, picnics in the park and backyard barbecues, dinners al fresco with a cold glass of rose … once fall hits, life will be a little less “chill.”

And if you’re in search of an easy put-together-in-two-seconds dessert to bring to the beach or the park or your friend’s backyard, look no further. I managed to throw this Nutella cheesecake dip together in 5 minutes, 3 of which were used to clean the bowl and beaters once I was done. (It helps that my sister sat there and hulled strawberries for me, and broke all the graham crackers because I inevitably can only break them like this.)

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I’d never really explored the world of sweet dips (once again, very late to the party), and had no idea how easy they could be. It makes sense of course: mixing together softened cream cheese, Nutella, a wee bit of sugar, a teeny amount of milk and an even smaller bit of vanilla extract always seems like a good idea. But a creamy, slightly tangy, barely sweet dip that pairs perfectly with strawberries, bananas, pretzels, graham crackers, etc. etc., so delicious that 10 people devoured it in less than 2 hours? Who knew?

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You could, of course, make a quick graham cracker or chocolate wafer crust, pour the dip into the crust and then freeze it, to make a quick no-bake Nutella cheesecake. But keep it simple. Summer’s almost over. Get out of the kitchen and soak up those last few rays of sunshine, preferably with a big bowl of Nutella cheesecake dip and a pint of summer’s last glorious strawberries. Continue reading