Refried Beans.

I never ate refried beans as a kid. They just looked so…gross. Ugh. And while I love them now, I have to admit that they’re one of the homeliest side dishes around. Their puree-like texture, the way they just kind of plop, free-form, onto your plate, and that unappetizing pink-beige color, reminiscent of cafeteria lunches on The Simpsons. Sorry, I’m sure you don’t even want to read the rest of this post after that description. But folks, those bean-hating days are long gone, and today I don’t care how ugly refried beans are, because they taste great. So I made them for dinner, and in spite of their homeliness, they were pretty fantastic. Rock on, refried beans, and don’t go changin’!

PS – I made these to go with my Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork, and I cooked my beans in some of the pork cooking juices. If you’re thinking this was a good idea…you are correct. Do it. Of course, they can be made vegan as well – just use water or vegetable stock instead of chicken stock or pulled pork juices.

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INGREDIENTS

olive oil or bacon fat
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
pinch of red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 cans pinto beans, drained
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup water or stock (or, if you’re making these with my Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork, as I did, skim off 1/4 cup of the pork juices and use water/stock for the other 1/4 cup)
salt and pepper
optional: shredded cheddar cheese

Just the Recipe link: Refried Beans

DIRECTIONS

These are really easy. Heat the oil or bacon fat over medium low and add the garlic. When it’s softened, add the cumin and red pepper flakes and stir. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.

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Then add the beans, the oregano, and the water or stock. I HIGHLY recommend making these while a pot of pulled pork is cookin’ in the oven, because if you do, you can replace half (or all) of the water/stock in this recipe with the glorious cooking juices from the pork. It would be a really good decision, but it’s not a mandatory one. Stir and bring to a simmer.

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When the beans are heated through and some of the liquid has cooked away, grab a potato masher (or even a fork) and mash the beans to your heart’s content. I like my beans on the smoother side, so I work the masher quite a bit. But do whatever floats your boat.

If the beans are how you like them, turn off the heat. If you want to cook away a bit more of the liquid, turn the heat up to medium high and cook, stirring consistently, until the beans reach desired consistency. Stir in some shredded cheddar cheese if you like.

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That’s all, folks. Refried beans from scratch: they’re ugly on the plate, but beautiful in your mouth.

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And may I plug my own recipe again by suggesting that you serve these with Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork? Yes I may.

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Eggs in Purgatory Soup.

This is one of those magical dinners that happen sometimes. You aren’t sure what to make, so you just start cooking, and about halfway through the meal prep, it comes to you. The night I made this, I had set out to make a vegetable-packed egg drop soup. But when I saw that the fresh veg we had at hand weren’t particularly thrilling, I raided the pantry. There, I found some inspiring cans of things, tomatoes among them, and altered our course to tomato soup, a la this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. But lo, as I was opening the can of tomatoes, I had a culinary-spiritual-visitation from Nigella Lawson, who in her intervening wisdom reminded me of her eggs in purgatory recipe that I’ve been wanting to try. And so, long story long, this spiced Eggs in Purgatory Soup was born, and it was a delicious surprise. I had two big helpings and as I write this, I am stuffed. No regrets. Make this soon, folks.

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INGREDIENTS

olive oil
butter
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp red pepper flake
1 can (28 oz) canned tomato (crushed, diced, whatever – if you use whole, give them a chop first)
14 oz water
3 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
4 eggs
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Eggs in Purgatory Soup

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot (or if you have them, individual skillets), heat olive oil and butter over medium and add onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and just starting to brown.

Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder, and red pepper flake. Stir in and cook a minute or two, until fragrant.

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Pour in the entire can of tomatoes and juice. Then fill the can up halfway with water and swirl to make sure you get all the juices out of the can, and pour in. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for 15 minutes.

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When the tomatoes have simmered, stir in the Greek yogurt and turn the heat down nearly as low as it can go – you want to see just the tiniest bubbles floating to the surface.

Gently crack in the eggs, nestling them into the soup so that no eggs are touching. Don’t stir or agitate the soup as the eggs poach for a few minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny.

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Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs to their bowls, and ladle the soup over the eggs.

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Sprinkle with Parmesan and, if you have it, fresh parsley (I was out, boo). Enjoy!

And here is my second bowl. I’m a big fan of the Parmesan.

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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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Roasted Spiced Chickpeas.

Lately at work, I’ve been hanging around a lot of talk about snack foods. Normally I’m not really much of a snacker; I never buy chips or pretzels or anything like that, because I generally don’t crave them. But for the past week, I’ve been taking a lot of notes about people’s snacking habits, and as a result, I found myself really craving salty snack foods. This led me to two thoughts: 1) I have a reaffirmed belief in the power of advertising to get people interested in products they never would have cared about before (i.e., me craving snack foods), and 2) I wanted to give these roasted chickpeas a go, after having seen them on a handful of blogs over the past month or so. Roasted chickpeas make a fantastic replacement for chips. They’re crunchy, salty, spicy, and come in any flavor you can make. So make some!

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INGREDIENTS

1 can chickpeas
olive oil
salt
extra virgin olive oil
seasonings of your choice (I used Ukrainian Village Seasoning from the Spice House)

Just the Recipe link: Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 F.

The chickpeas require quite a bit of prep: Drain them. Rinse them off. Remove the skin from each little bean, pretending you’re a rabbi conducting a hundred brises. Lay them out on a towel and gently pat them dry. In a bowl, toss them with a drizzle of olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt.

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Lay the salted, oiled chickpeas out on a baking sheet.

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Bake about 50 minutes, until they’re crunchy and browned.

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Now, the seasoning part. There are so many flavor combos that I want to try! Paprika and cumin, parsley and granulated garlic, honey and cayenne pepper, and good old salt and pepper – all yummy pairings. For this batch, I used one of the Spice House‘s awesome Chicago neighborhoods spice blends – the Ukrainian Village seasoning – which has a great blend of onion and pepper flavors. I topped it off with a little sprinkle of truffle salt, just because I was feelin’ fancy.

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That’s it! I love these. They’re a great, substantial snack to munch on when you need a crunch but don’t want to go the chips or nuts route. Enjoy! And be sure to let them cool completely before you put them in any kind of container, or else the heat/condensation will make the chickpeas soggy.

Lebanese Meatballs.

As with so many of the amazing recipes I find all over the internet, I’ve had this one saved in my “want to make” folder for at least a year. And for my family’s Christmas Eve party this year, I finally had an occasion to make it! Wow, are these good. Thanks to Chico’s Kitchen for the recipe, which I’ve used as the perfect base and altered a bit to include some of my favorite flavors (read: garlic garlic garlic). They were also very portable in my mama’s crock pot, but if I had had my Dutch oven handy, that would have done the trick as well. These meatballs are the perfect easy appetizer for mini-munching, and they’re relatively guilt free if you use lean meat. I definitely popped a few in my mouth while I stood at the stove, and stirred them in the crock pot, and walked them around the party….I defy you not to do the same!

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INGREDIENTS

for the meatballs:
1 1/2 large onions, finely chopped
2 1/2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp granulated garlic
4 lbs ground meat (I used half beef, half turkey, but if you can get your hands on anything fancy like veal sausage or ground lamb, they would be awesome here too)

for the sauce:
1 1/2 large onions, sliced
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 cans crushed tomato
1 1/2 cups stock or water (I used beef stock)

DIRECTIONS

Combine all ingredients for meat in a large bowl.

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Form into balls and brown in a skillet with olive oil over medium high heat. Brown them in batches, careful not to crowd the pan; we don’t want the meatballs to braise or steam. They do not need to be cooked through at this point; we just want to get some color on ’em.
*NOTE: I HIGHLY recommend having a partner in crime to help with this. My mama rolled the meatballs while I browned them and it went so much faster!

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While the meatballs are browning, cook the onions for the sauce in a separate pan. Put them in a bowl and add the balsamic vinegar and the sugar and stir. Set aside.

When the meatballs are browned, put them in a crock pot or Dutch oven. In the pan where we cooked the meatballs, add the balsamic onions, the crushed tomato, and the stock or water. Slowly bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Then pour the sauce over the meatballs and cook on low for 2-3 hours.

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Serve with toothpicks for easy munching. These also make amazing leftovers: serve a big scoop of the sauce and a couple meatballs over a bed of rice. Merry Christmas!

Cream Potatoes Anna.

Pommes Anna is a classic potato dish in French cuisine. It’s usually made with butter, but, taking a page out of chef Laura Calder’s book, I used half and half. It’s melty and creamy. It’s herby and warm. It’s the perfect side to any kind of meat, but especially pork chops. Or chicken breasts. Or steak. Or buffalo. Or zebra filets. Okay fine, everything! And pommes Anna is fun to make too. Lots of layering and a bit of flexibility with herbs and spices. These were very calming to make, and the finished product proved a satisfying reward after having spent the morning tiring out a new puppy. Please welcome Penny the Black Lab Puppy, a much-loved new addition to our family!

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She tried her hardest to get at these potato goodies while I was shooting them, but only managed to snag my red and white checked towel in her little mouth, prancing away as she tripped over the dragging ends of it. What a little troublemaker.

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INGREDIENTS

4 potatoes (small-ish – this recipe makes 2 ramekins, so adjust accordingly), peeled and thinly sliced into discs
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
rosemary and thyme, chopped
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper
butter or non-stck spray

Just the Recipe link: Cream Potatoes Anna

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place the potatoes in a large dish and toss them in the half and half. Let them soak about 15 minutes.

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Meanwhile, break out the parchment paper. You’ll need to trace a sheet of paper that will fit into the bottom of whatever baking dish you’re using (I used two ramekins, so I cut two circles to fit into the bottom). Then, you’ll need a slightly larger sheet of parchment paper to fit on top of the dish, covering the assembled potatoes. I find it easier to just cut all the parchment paper pieces at once and then set the top pieces aside. Butter or spray the bottom piece(s) and place into the bottom of the pan, butter side up.

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Next, take the potatoes out of the cream and start layering them into your dish. Make a single layer of potatoes, then sprinkle with a bit of the salt, pepper, paprika, rosemary, and thyme. Keep alternating potatoes and seasonings until you use up all the potatoes.

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Butter the top piece(s) of parchment paper and place firmly on top of the potatoes. If you’re using ramekins, place them in another larger pan.

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Place a heavy pan on top of the potatoes; this weighs them down and bakes them into a creamy potato cake. Yum. Bake until super tender and let cool before turning out into a beautiful, delectably melty potato cake.

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Enjoy! Oh and P.S. – happy Mayan end of the world day! See you all tomorrow….or not?!

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