Bacon, Bean, and Egg Skillet.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m eating a little bit differently now than I have in the past. One of the big changes I’ve made is cutting way down on grains and sugars, and completely eliminating them at breakfast time. It’s been kind of hard, given that a lot of the most delicious breakfasts in the world involve both of these things. So I’ve had to get a little bit creative, especially when I’m in the mood for something more dramatic than simple eggs or yogurt. That’s what this is. I don’t really have a story for this bacon, bean, and egg skillet, other than that it was delicious. I had been craving a recipe from Rachel Khoo that is similar but involves béchamel sauce and white bread, so I altered it a bit and created this dish. Yum. And if you’re making this, please see my note about bacon – it definitely makes an improvement on my original recipe.

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INGREDIENTS

3 slices of turkey bacon or regular bacon* (or however many it takes to line your skillet or baking dish)
1/4 cup refried beans (or, again, however much it takes to spread in the dish)
2 eggs
salt and pepper, to taste
shredded cheese, for sprinkling

*A note about bacon: Cook your bacon halfway before you use it in the recipe. I didn’t pre-cook mine, and when the whole thing was done, the bacon was just barely cooked. Still delicious, but it would have been even better if I had given it a few minutes on the stove or in the microwave. It just won’t get the cooking love it needs when it’s covered up by the beans and eggs. Do yourself a favor and pre-cook it.*

Just the Recipe link: Bacon, Bean, and Egg Skillet

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cook your bacon about 50% of the way. Then lay your pre-cooked bacon in the bottom of the pan, forming a base for the beans.

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Watch out for little bacon-lovers, who may be drawn to you at this point.

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Spread the beans in a smooth layer all over the bacon, a little higher toward the sides of the pan and a little shallower in the center, where the eggs will go.

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Crack the eggs into the center of the dish.

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Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cheese.

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Bake until the eggs are set but the yolks are still runny. Watch them carefully so as not to overcook. Be sure to cut right into those yolks and let them run all over. Oh yeah.

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And watch out, in case the little bacon-lover returns to beg.

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Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese.

I went to college about 1000 miles away from home, and at times it was rough for a homebody like me! Home is comforting and safe and easy—and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to go far, far away. To stretch myself a bit, get uncomfortable, and try something a little bit scary.

But not every experience needs to be new and unknown; sometimes safe and comfortable is just what the doctor ordered. And without any of my own family nearby, college-me found it especially thrilling to get to spend a weekend at the homes of some of my friends. It was so much fun to hang out with their families, pet their dogs, and see what it was like in the towns where they grew up. Visiting my beloved roommate Maura’s family was always a lot of fun for many reasons, not the least of which was the amazing FOOD! Maura’s mom and dad are awesome cooks and never failed to whip up something absolutely delicious whenever I came to visit; I have droolingly fond memories of her mom Gail’s key lime pie, and her mac ‘n’ cheese was always out of this world. I was overcome with a craving for it this past weekend, and they were nice enough to share the recipe with me. And, no surprise, it was the best mac ‘n’ cheese I’ve ever home-made myself. Check it out – this is the amazing Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese!

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INGREDIENTS (this served 3 people 2 BIG helpings each, with leftovers)

1 lb (1 box) cavatappi or your favorite pasta
4 tbsp butter
olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 tbsp flour
3 cups milk (approximately – you’re just going for the right sauce consistency, so eyeball it a bit)
1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
1 tbsp or more Sriracha or other hot sauce
3/4 tsp Dijon mustard
panko bread crumbs

Just the Recipe link: Gail’s Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until slightly underdone. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water (it’s nice and starchy and is great to have on hand to add to the sauce later), and then drain the pasta and set it aside. It will finish cooking in the oven later.

Heat butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium high, and add the onions. Cook until softened and translucent.

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Add the flour and stir as it forms a paste. Let it cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the whole time.

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Then grab your whisk and slowly pour in 1 cup milk, whisking vigorously to avoid creating any lumps. Once this first addition of milk is incorporated, whisk in the rest of the milk. once all the milk is incorporated, you can trade in your whisk for a spoon if you like, and keep stirring as the sauce thickens.

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Once the sauce has thickened and coats the spoon thickly, stir in the cheese.

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Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, Sriracha, and Dijon mustard at this point, tasting and adjusting to get the flavor you want. I ended up adding a lot more Sriracha than I initially planned. It’s just so good in here.

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By this time, the sauce had thickened a little more than I wanted it to. To get it back to that gooey creamy sauciness, I added a bit of the pasta water that I had set aside earlier. When the sauce consistency is to your liking, stir in the pasta and coat it completely in beautiful cheesy goodness.

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Pour the whole thing into a greased baking dish and spread it out evenly. Top with bread crumbs and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

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Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sides are bubbling and the topping is browned and crunchy.

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Devour!

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza.

This recipe is a tribute to a friend who so generously acted as beauty consultant / hair colorist for me yesterday. To thank her, I made these gluten-free pizzas, which are completely delicious whether g-free is your lifestyle (hers) or not (mine). Though gluten is fine by me, I’ve found that a lot of the things I love to cook (and eat) are already gluten-free. So when I find a recipe, like this one, that is totally dreamy and healthy AND fits in with the g-free life, I love to share it. This is one of those! I came upon essentially the same ingenious recipe on 3 of my favorite blogs, and this is my version of that awesomely tasty and healthy pizza. Yum! And thanks Jeni!

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INGREDIENTS

for crust:
2 cups cauliflower stems and florets, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
oregano and granulated garlic to taste
1 egg
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp cottage cheese, to hold it together

topping ideas:
1/2 cubed chicken breast, sauteed with salt, pepper, and paprika
shredded mozzarella
grape tomatoes, quartered
green onions, chopped

Just the Recipe link: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450 F.

First, put the grated cauliflower into a bowl and microwave for 7 minutes, covered with a washcloth or paper towel. When it’s cooked, mix all the crust ingredients in a bowl. Use more or less cottage cheese, depending on how dry the mixture is and how it’s holding together.

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On a greased baking pan, shape the cauliflower mixture into two flat discs, as thick or thin as you like.

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Bake them for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the top is flecked with bits of golden melted cheese. The thickness of the crusts will affect baking time, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

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Once the crusts come out of the oven, I use a spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan and make sure they come off in one piece, because this will be a lot harder to do once they’re topped with cheese and other wonderful things.

Before you start with the toppings, turn up your oven to broil (or to very, very hot!). The pizzas only have a few minutes left to cook, and we want to do it at a high heat.

On to the beautiful toppings. They can truly be whatever you want – we went with chicken, green onion, tomato, and cheese, and they were fantastic!

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Stick back in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and has started to turn a little golden. Sprinkle with some more green onion or some oregano and dig in!

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Bean and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas.

If I ever had to sit down and make a master list of favorite foods, quesadillas would definitely make the top ten, if not the top 5. I just love how versatile they are – any kind of meat, any and all kinds of veggies, and of course, beautiful wonderful cheese. While a good quesadilla can be made with any number of cheeses, my money is on chihuahua cheese for spot numero uno. It’s perfectly melty, and its flavor isn’t overpowering but instead makes an awesome background flavor to whatever the “meat” of the quesadilla is. I say “meat” with quotes around it because this recipe actually doesn’t have any meat in it! Instead, it has flavor-packed sweet caramelized onions and pinto beans, with just a bit of cilantro. So simple, but so good. And some avocado on the side, to do what it does best: make everything better.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 white onion, sliced thin
olive oil
butter
salt
tortillas (I use flour, but use corn or other gluten-free tortillas if you like)
chihuahua cheese, grated (this is my favorite, but any good melting cheese will work)
1/2 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
cilantro, chopped
sliced avocado

Just the Recipe link: Bean and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas

DIRECTIONS

First, heat a drizzle of olive oil and a pat of butter over high heat. Add the sliced onions and a bit of salt to help them release some moisture, and stir to coat.

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Once they’ve started to soften, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes. You can let them caramelize as log as you like – anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour.

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Once the onions are done to your liking, start assembling the quesadillas. I like to make my quesadillas with one tortilla folded in half, rather than with two tortillas one on top of the other. So I fill just half – first a layer of cheese, and then the onions.

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Next come the beans, and a sprinkle of cilantro. I only had dried so you can barely see it –  but it’s there!

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Now fold the tortillas over so that they form a little envelope, and cook them in a hot pan or quesadilla maker, if you’re lucky enough to have one of these awesome machines. When one side is browned, turn them over and brown the other side. You want the fillings hot and the cheese good and melty.

When they’re done, that’s it! Enjoy with avocado, sour cream, salsa – whatever you like.

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I wish I hadn’t eaten these earlier, so I could eat them right now.

Spinach and Tomato Tart with Bleu Cheese.

Most of the time, I like recipes that are quick and easy, require minimum dish-washing, and have an ingredient list that’s more like a haiku than a novel. Most of the time. But every once in a while, I am overcome with a sort of culinary patience and concentration that allows me to make a recipe like this one. There are a few separate characters in this play: the tart shell, buttery and crumbly-good; the creamy filling, eggy and spicy; and the veggies themselves, that make this whole thing totally worth it. So if you’ve got a good 2 hours or so and you really want to spoil yourself with something rich and beautiful, this is your guy. Of course, you can always use a store-bought tart crust, which would cut the prep time down, well, a lot. Either way, this dish combines the best of the tart and quiche worlds into one mega-brunch food.

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for tart shell:
12 tbsp cold butter, cubed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
water, if needed

for filling:
4 cups fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1/3 cup ham, cut into lardons, or strips
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp dried parlsey
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
3 small tomatoes, de-seeded and sliced
crumbled bleu cheese, to taste, for sprinkling (feta or goat cheese would be delicious here, too)

Just the Recipe Link: Spinach and Tomato Tart with Bleu Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Get the crust going first. In a food processor, blitz together the butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper until the dough is the consistency of wet sand. You’re looking for the dough to just hold together, so check to see if it does. If it’s a bit too dry, add a splash or two of water at a time and pulse the food processor until the dough reaches the right consistency.

Turn the dough out on to a sheet of wax paper. Form it into a flat disc, wrap in the wax paper, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

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While the dough chills, get the fillings going. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute, careful not to let it burn.

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Add spinach. It will look like a ton of spinach, but it will cook down a lot.

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Cook the spinach, stirring, until nearly wilted. Turn off the heat and continue to stir until completely wilted.

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Put spinach in a bowl lined with paper towels or a washcloth (it will stain green, so use one you don’t care about).

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When it’s cool enough to touch, squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the spinach. I usually start with my hands and then realize that I can get more liquid out if I squeeze it between two dishes. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten enough water out, set aside.

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Heat the same pan over medium high and cook the ham, just to give it a bit of color on each side. Set aside.

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Finally, cook the onions. They’re best cooked last because they can soak up all that flavor goodness leftover in the pan after the ham! Add a bit of olive oil and cook until softened. Set aside.

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When 30 minutes have passed, take the tart dough out of the fridge. Let it sit 5 minutes before you roll it out on a floured surface. Then roll it to the general shape of the pie dish you’re using (I used a spring-form cake pan because I left my tart shell at my apartment – whoops).

Drape the dough over the pan and use your fingers to press it into shape. This step always take me a while because I’m not very good at getting the dough to stay in one piece while I’m moving it! Notice how I have no photos of this; I get distracted. A good trick is to roll the dough onto your rolling pin and move it that way, but even this doesn’t make my life much easier. Look at it this way – it’s food. Who cares if your tart shell is a little uneven?

After you’ve gotten the tart shell into the pan, put it back in the fridge for 15 more minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

When the shell is chilled, put a sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough and fill the shell with dried beans, or something else heavy. When I don’t have my baking beans on hand, I use another smaller pie pan.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes, until just starting to turn golden. Remove from oven and remove the beans and parchment paper.

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While the shell bakes, mix up the liquid part of the filling. Whisk together the yolks, egg, yogurt, and stock. Add parsley, paprika, mustard powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the onions and ham, and set aside.

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Pour the filling into the baked shell. Scatter the spinach evenly over the top.

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Lay the tomato slices on top in a circular fan pattern, and top with bleu cheese. Be careful not to use too much cheese; the other flavors are delicate, and too much bleu could easily overwhelm the tart. See this picture? I used just a bit too much, so learn from my mistake!

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Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, season with a bit more salt and pepper if you like, and pop it back in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the filling has set. Serve immediately; also good at room temperature.

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Baked Italian Macaroni and Cheese.

As I’ve mentioned before, I came back from my trip to Scotland with crisps, chocolate bars, and Nigellissima, Nigella Lawson’s latest cookbook. On Sunday, in honor of Nigella’s birthday and our hungry stomachs, my sister and I cracked open this wonderful tome and made her Italian-inspired mac and cheese. After switching up a couple of things and converting all of the measurements from metric to standard (and laughing as we tried and failed to guess how much 60 ml and 125 g of things were….metric, it just doesn’t work for me), we got to dig in and enjoy this stuff. So good! We’re thinking that maybe next time we make this, we’ll stir in some caramelized onions, and bacon or pancetta or something nice and salty would be a good addition too. Either way, yum. Happy Birthday, beloved Lady Lawson!

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INGREDIENTS

4 cups macaroni
1 cup whole milk
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups cheddar, grated
3/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 1/2 tbsp corn starch
generous dash of dry mustard powder
generous dash of paprika
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Baked Italian Macaroni and Cheese

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook the pasta to a still-firm al dente (it’s going in the oven, so it should still be slightly undercooked). When you drain the pasta, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, to add to the sauce later if needed.

Now, the cheese sauce. In a large saucepan that’ll be big enough to hold all the pasta, heat the milk, stock, and bay leaves and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the cheddar in a bowl and toss it with the corn starch, mustard powder, and paprika (we had a brick of yellow cheddar about to run out, and then we started a new brick of white cheddar; hence the yellow and white. In mac and cheese as in life, color doesn’t matter).

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Then remove the bay leaves from the milk and stir in the cheddar. Turn the heat down to low, stirring as the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.

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In a separate bowl, add a spoonful of the hot cheese sauce to the beaten egg to temper, and use a fork to stir.

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Take the sauce off the heat and whisk in the egg, mozzarella, butter, and salt and pepper. You’ll probably need a bit more salt and pepper than you think you’ll need, but be careful not to oversalt. Just try a bite after your first addition, and add seasoning as needed. Stir until melt-ily incorporated.

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Toss the pasta in the sauce to coat, and then pour into a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with a handful of cheddar and/or parmesan, if you like.

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Bake about 15 minutes, until the top just starts to brown. Leave it to cool and firm up a bit for 5-10 minutes and dig in!

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