Sunday, December 7, 2014

Browned Butter Banana Bread

If you're like me, you never manage to use up all your bananas before they turn brown and mushy. I think it's just a rule for life: no matter how few bananas one purchases, at least one of them will be destined for banana bread (or for the freezer for banana bread later). And you know what? I'm okay with it . . . because who doesn't love a good loaf of banana bread?

This recipe is particularly lovable. The browned butter adds a warm, cozy depth of flavor. It tastes sufficiently banana-y, and has just the right amount of sweetness for my taste. The topping adds a nice crunch and lets you alternate sweeter bites (with topping) and less sweet bites (without topping).

This banana bread uses only one banana, and thus less of the rest of the ingredients. So it yields a slightly shorter loaf than most quick breads, which also means it's easier to cook it all the way through without the outside being overly cooked and dry.

Also, happy Christmas!

Browned Butter Banana Bread
Adapted from The Faux Martha
Yield: 1 loaf

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup milk**
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ripe banana

1 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2-4 Tbsp. chopped pecans and/or walnuts

Brown the butter: Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook until it's golden brown and smells like heaven, swirling the pan periodically.*** Allow to cool completely.

While the butter cools, make the crumb topping: In a small bowl (I used a cereal bowl), combine 1 Tbsp. softened butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Use a fork or knives to combine the ingredients until they're crumbly. Add the chopped pecans and walnuts and stir to combine well. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 300. Spray a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the bread: flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: cooled browned butter, milk, egg, and vanilla until well combined. Add banana, mash, and whisk well. At this point, my butter decided to solidify again because my milk was pretty cold, but my bread still turned out just fine. Just whisk it well so you have small clumps of butter instead of giant globs.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Don't work it too much. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack, and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan. Then loosen the loaf from the pan, and turn out onto a cutting board to cut and serve.

*The original recipe called for 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 white whole wheat. Use whatever combination strikes your fancy and fits with what you have on hand.

**Original recipe called for 1/3 cup liquid comprised of 1 part milk and 1 part plain yogurt. I didn't have yogurt on hand so went with all milk, and it was fine. If I'd added a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, I may have gotten a slightly fluffier loaf, but I'm completely happy with how mine turned out.

***If you're tight on time, you can simply melt the butter in the microwave. But do try it at least once with the browned butter--it tastes wonderful! Also, it'll splatter quite a bit. I recommend using a pan that's bigger than what you need, so the taller sides will help contain the splatter. Or use a splatter screen if you have one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness

Thanksgiving week is upon us and ample hours for hanging out at home or with friends is just around the corner, so it's time for this year's edition of a tradition I like to call Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness (see similar posts from 2013 and 2012).

This year's Thanksgiving tastiness was actually inaugurated with my house church's Thanksgiving feast on Friday, and I'm including my contributions to that with the rest of the recipes below.

This year, it looks like my brother will be here for at least part of this week, which means I theoretically can make even more food since there will be two of us to eat it. :) Without further ado, here's what I've got on my list to make this week:

Mains and Sides:
Desserts and Drinks:
What are you eating this week?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Introducing the recipe index page

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to introduce you to my fresh and shiny recipe index page! You can easily access it via the Recipe Index tab at the top of the page, right below the header image. It categorizes all 79 (and counting) recipes currently on the blog, and I'll keep updating it as I add more recipes.

I kept it text-based rather than adding pictures for every recipe, because text-based recipe indexes are generally my preference on other food blogs I read. I find it easier to glance through all the recipes, search by key word, etc. And text-based is better for people (like me!) who live in the country and are limited to slower internet connections with stingy data allowances.

At some point I ought to add sub-categories within the Main Dishes category, but I'm still figuring out which sub-categories make the most sense. Let me know if you think of more enhancements or other changes that would be helpful!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pumpquinoa, Version 2.0

For this year's pumpkin party, I wanted to carry on the Pumpquinoa tradition, but also wanted to change it up a bit. After reading through many stuffed pumpkin recipes, I settled on adding chopped apples, celery, and cranberries in place of the carrots. For the cheeses, I used Gruyere and Parmesan instead of monterey jack and pepper jack--and since Gruyere and Parmesan have a stronger flavor than the jack cheeses, I ended up using less cheese in order to let all the ingredients shine. Havarti would also be good, and I wonder how Brie would have tasted.

This year I also really wanted to use a Cinderella pumpkin, since I'd heard that they have much better flavor than the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins I've used before. Miss Cinderella definitely did have a fuller flavor than old Jack, and she was quite lovely! On the other hand, she was a little more expensive, and my guests have always seemed perfectly happy with Jack in the past. So use whichever type of pumpkin strikes your fancy.

Overall, I really liked this fruited version of the filling, though I think I like the original a tiny bit better. While the cranberries and apples added a pleasant sweetness, I missed the carrots and the slight kick from the pepper jack cheese.

One final note. I'm not usually a big fan of kitchen gadgets that do only one thing. However, late last fall I spotted this pumpkin scraper/scooper in the store and bought it. Lemme tell ya' . . . it came in really handy while scooping all the seeds and stringiness out of this big pumpkin! The toothed edge scraped and scooped much more efficiently than the basic small soup spoons I normally use. The scoop is large enough that it probably won't fit inside a smaller pumpkin or other winter squash, but several weeks ago I used it on an acorn squash that I'd quartered, and it worked nicely.

Stuffed Pumpkin with Quinoa, Sausage, and Apples
Adapted from my pumpquinoa recipe and many other stuffed pumpkin recipes
Yield: 12+ servings

1 Cinderella pumpkin
2-2/3 cups quinoa (uncooked)
1 lb. ground pork sausage
1 lb. ground turkey sausage
2 cups finely chopped onion
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped Granny Smith apples
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup white wine
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Pinch of cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, shredded
5 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided

Cut the lid off the pumpkin, being sure to cut at an angle so that, when the pumpkin shrinks while it bakes, the lid will still stay on. Clean out the seeds and stringy parts and set the pumpkin aside. (Keep the seeds and roast them!)

Cook the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa well unless it's pre-rinsed. In a saucepan, bring quinoa, 4 cups water, and a small pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until quinoa is tender but still chewy. For this recipe, I think it's best to slightly undercook the quinoa since it will cook for quite a bit longer inside the pumpkin.

In a large skillet, brown the turkey sausage; drain and set the sausage aside. Return the skillet to the stove, and cook the onion. When it's starting to get tender, add the garlic, apples, celery, and white wine. Increase heat so the wine will evaporate more quickly; cook until the wine is mostly evaporated and the apples and celery are starting to get tender. Remove from heat.

Adjust your oven racks to accommodate a large pumpkin. Preheat oven to 350.

Add the following to a large bowl: cooked quinoa, dried cranberries, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Add the cooked sausage and the onion mixture, then stir well to combine. Reserve a couple handfuls of Parmesan (for topping) then stir in the Gruyere and most of the Parmesan.

Taste; add more seasonings and cheese if desired.

Place your pumpkin on a good-sized baking sheet or pan (it will almost certainly leak some moisture while it cooks, and there's a chance it will collapse and spill its filling while cooking). Scoop the quinoa filling into the cavity of the pumpkin. Top with reserved Parmesan. Place the pumpkin lid on top.

Bake for 1-2 hours, until the pumpkin flesh is soft enough to scoop out and serve, but not so soft that the pumpkin collapses. My Cinderella pumpkin was well done in an hour; previous years' jack-o-lantern pumpkins have taken up to 2 hours. So check it at least after an hour, by poking it with a fork. If desired, remove the pumpkin lid for the last 15-30 minutes of baking time to let the cheese toast a little bit.

Carefully remove from the oven (this may be a two-person job). Transfer to a serving platter if desired (and if the pumpkin flesh is solid enough to be transferred). Serve directly from the pumpkin, scraping out some of the pumpkin flesh to go with each serving.

Note: A lot of the prep can be done ahead of time so that assembly the day of is less of a marathon. I usually brown the meat, cook the quinoa, and chop the onions and celery/carrots the night before. Just warm the meat and quinoa a bit before mixing up all the filling components, and you'll be good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vacation Day 2: Three churches and a village

Day 2 (Monday, October 13)

Before coming on this trip, I looked up things to do in and around Annapolis, and what appealed to me more than the city life were the claims of beautiful countryside south of the city, along the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, this countryside played host to an "annual, international, noncompetitive October birding event hosted by Bird Watcher's Digest" called the Big Sit. I ask you, how on earth would bird watching not be noncompetitive? Maybe it's like BINGO--each person gets a card full of bird varieties, and the first person to get five in a row wins. Or maybe it's a competition to see who can see each bird first (or for the longest duration). "I saw it first!" "No, I did!" "Who cares about first. I've been watching it longer than either of you."

Regardless, I did not work the Big Sit into my itinerary, but I did visit one of the three maritime villages advertised on the Visit Annapolis website. I went to Galesville, established in the 1650s, current population around 600. It was a cute little town nestled on the Chesapeake. I parked and wandered around taking pictures of the bay, sailboats, cat crossing signs, and the like. 

Around lunchtime, it started to rain, and fortuitously I was right next to a restaurant (called Thursday's) when that happened. So in I went, and I ordered a crab cake with onion rings and a baked sweet potato. Sadly, the crab cake was disappointing. It boasted no fillers, but it was mealy with only okay flavor. But the sweet potato and onion rings were great! 

From there I headed back toward D.C. The woman I met Sunday at Delia's had recommended a couple churches to visit. And although Wiki Travel had warned me to never even think about driving in D.C. or I would surely get in a wreck, she said I'd be fine, particularly in the part of town where these churches were. So off I went!

The first stop was Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America: An Oasis of Peace, and it was probably my favorite of the three churches I visited Monday. Bordering a section of their grounds were some outdoor corridors (would they be called porticos?) lined with arches. Along the walkways, there were plaques with Ave Maria and the Lord's Prayer in many languages, as well as mosaics of various biblical scenes/stories. Inside the area surrounded by the corridors was a massive rose garden as well as a driveway. Beyond the corridors was a large garden . . . or grounds . . . lots of area to walk and think and pray. They had replicas of various shrines from the Holy Land, statues, ponds, trees, flowers, and generally beautiful things. There weren't a lot of people there besides me, so it was really serene and wonderful.

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America: An Oasis of Peace

From there I decided to skip the second church my Delia's friend had told me about, in the interest of getting to the Washington National Cathedral (and figuring out parking) in time for the Evensong service. But as I was driving along, I looked over to my right, and there was a massive cathedral that was just too pretty not to explore! Fortuitously, I was in the correct lane to pull right into their parking lot--and lo and behond!--it was the second church my Delia's friend had told me about, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. What's with these long names, Christians of D.C.? 

This was a quicker stop, partly because of the time constraint due to Evensong, and partly because the Basilica didn't have massive, inviting grounds for wandering around. But it was lovely. Coming from a church tradition that doesn't put a lot of focus into creating elaborate sacred spaces, it's always a little awe-inspiring to step into a place that is elaborately ornate and very "other." The ceilings were covered in mosaics, with many of the tiles being gold (or gold-colored), so the ceilings literally sparkled. Fun fact: this basilica is the largest Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest in the world. 

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Then I really did go to the National Cathedral, and it, too, was gorgeous! Sadly, though, they weren't having Evensong that night. The choristers each night come from the neighboring Catholic school, and it was Columbus Day and thus a school holiday. But the helpful woman at the information desk promised that they would have Evensong the following evening.

Washington National Cathedral
So I set out in search of 2 Amys, a Neapolitan pizzeria that had come highly recommended by a friend. A perk of traveling alone: even at the most bustling restaurants, you get seated rather quickly and easily when you're a party of one. Since they boast authentic Neapolitan pizza (apparently there are strict guidelines, detailed in their menu and on their website), I decided to go with the simple classic margherita pizza and let these fresh basic ingredients shine. And shone, they did! The pizza they brought me was probably enough for two people, but I definitely at the whole thing. And got a bowl of delicious poached pear sorbet for dessert.

As I was leaving the restaurant, I got a call from a friend, which lasted longer than the two-block walk back to the cathedral parking garage. So I took a seat on one of the benches in the lawn/park surrounding the cathedral while we kept chatting. It had been overcast all day, and the night was foggy and chilly. The cathedral was all lit up, and the tops of the towers were only barely visible through the mist. It looked like something out of a dream.

While wrapping up this post, I'd like to take this moment to say that I successfully drove in D.C. And I did not get in a wreck like Wiki Travel guaranteed I would. Granted, I didn't go all the way to the White House or the mall area, and I did my best to avoid highways during rush hour. But the places I drove weren't nearly as congested as the parts of Atlanta I drive in once a year, and it wasn't as fast-paced as many places in Dallas or any other big city. What was nerve-wracking was that so many of the streets are super narrow, with street parking making them feel narrower. Even with a small rental car, I frequently felt like I was going to sideswipe the parked cars or oncoming traffic. Also there are a lot of pedestrians. So I wouldn't recommend driving in D.C. without Siri or a skilled navigator guiding the way. Between watching for pedestrians, trying not to scrape against parked cars, and trying to go faster than 20 mph so the people behind me wouldn't hate me, I didn't have much focus available to do things like read street signs. I just turned when Siri said to turn, and I was okay. Take that, Wiki Travel!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vacation Begins

Aside from Christmas travels, it's been a little over two years since I actually went on vacation. So when my job took me to Fairfax, Virginia, for the weekend, I decided to take a few extra days for myself. 

This morning I slept in, had a leisurely morning at the hotel, sleeping in and lounging around with the Food Network and a cup of hotel coffee. Then I hopped in my rental car and headed toward Maryland! Because when you live in Texas and are 6 or more hours from any other state border, it's exceedingly exciting to drive for just under an hour and be in another state! 

It was around noon when I checked out of the hotel, so I looked for good restaurants along the route from Fairfax to Annapolis. Urbanspoon recommended Delia's Pizzeria and Grille, which serves Italian, Greek, and Peruvian food. Wait . . . Peruvian? Yep. Why not throw some South American cuisine in with the Mediterranean? I was intrigued, so to Delia's I went! 

It. Was. Delightful. 

I was greeted by Nick/Niko, the uber-friendly restaurant host with a heavy Greek accent, who showed me to a table and checked on me frequently throughout my time there. Since it was my first time at Delia's, Niko also brought me a complimentary appetizer of tzatziki and fresh pita. So nice, and so tasty! One of my dining strategies while traveling is to order things that are most unlike what I could get from the restaurants at home . . . so I went straight to the Peruvian section of the menu and ordered chicharron con yucca, which the menu described as "marinated pieces of fried pork, served with yucca, onions, and green garnish." And just for kicks, I also got a Peruvian drink called chica morada, which is made from purple corn and pineapple, with some cinnamon and cloves thrown in for good measure. 

Everything was so good! The yucca (which I'd never had before) was cubed and fried. It tasted kind of like a cross between a white potato and a plantain--very starchy, with a hint of sweetness. The spices on the pork were just wonderful. The small bowls of green and creamy yellow stuff were sauces for the meat and yucca--a jalapeno/lime/cilantro sauce and a honey-mustard mayo sauce. The chica morada was sweet, yummy, and unlike anything I've ever had before. Corn and pineapple sounds strange, but if you think about it, corn is kinda sweet and creamy, which complements the sweet tanginess of pineapple. The corn-pineapple combo reminded me a bit of eating a corn and pineapple salsa/relish, and the pineapple-cinnamon-clove combo was reminiscent of wassail. 

While I was attempting to eat the vast amount of food before me, a woman sat at the table next to me, and we struck up a conversation and chatted throughout the rest of my meal and all of her meal. She's from the area and suggested some places to visit while I'm in the area--including some restaurants, a basilica, and a monastery. She also told me the story of why there's Peruvian food on Delia's menu. Delia's used to just be Italian and Greek, and there was a Peruvian restaurant next door. Well, I guess the Peruvian restaurant had to close, and Delia's acquired that space and expanded their own restaurant into the former Peruvian restaurant. But they hired several of the Peruvian cooks and added a handful of their dishes to their own menu!

Between the amazing food, the delightful conversation with my dining companion, and the friendly banter with the waitresses and Niko, it was unquestionably my favorite dining experience in a long time.

With a very full belly, I continued on my merry way. The highways there (at least the ones I drove on) were lined with trees that were starting to change colors for fall. So pretty! After getting checked into my hotel in Annapolis, I headed downtown and just walked around, took pictures, and in general looked like an oblivious tourist. The best word I can think of to describe downtown Annapolis is charming. It's preserved a lot of its historic character, many of the buildings are red brick and look so classy, and a number of the streets are cobbled rather than paved. There's apparently a sailboat show going on this weekend, so downtown was bustling. 

I had already picked out a place to eat dinner, but was still really full from lunch. But dinner was really my best bet for going there, and I didn't want to wander around downtown after dark (that whole being alone thing), so I decided to head toward the restaurant and order something small and light. 

On the way, I drove over this wonderfully scenic bridge. While driving over, I thought, "I need to find a place to park so I can come back up onto this bridge and take pictures!" I went back and forth across the bridge a couple times looking for parking on either side, and landed in a great little park right at the base of the bridge. The bridge was breezy and beautiful, stretching over the Severn River which branches off the Chesapeake Bay. The park was serene, with lots of folks out fishing or just sitting quietly.

From there I went to Cantler's Riverside Inn, about which I was excited for two reasons: 1) they're right on the Chesapeake Bay and serve very fresh seafood, and 2) Wiki Travel described them as a family style restaurant "where you sit at park benches and eat shoulder to shoulder with everyone." Now, on my Santa Fe vacation two years ago, my friend L and I ate at a restaurant with a communal table, and it was so much fun--we met people from Austin, Portland, and New Zealand, had a grand old time, and one woman and I were even sampling bites off each other's plates. 

So that was my expectation for Cantler's, but sadly that was not how it went at Cantler's--or at least with my tablemates at Cantler's. My table consisted of a girl attending the Naval Academy, her parents who were visiting her for the weekend, and me. After an awkward interchange where I eagerly sat down with them, then learned very quickly that they had no desire to chat it up with a random stranger during their special night out and their limited time together as a family, I scooted down to the far end of the table and pulled out my iPad to do a little reading. 

I ordered a crab caprese salad because it sounded light and had crab meat in it. But the balsamic dressing really overwhelmed the crab and mozzarella, and the greens and tomatoes were unimpressive. Upon the waitress' recommendation, I tried a bowl of soup--actually a mixture of a tomato-based Maryland crab soup and a cream of crab soup. It was far tastier than the caprese, and much more appropriate fare for sitting outside on the patio in the 63-degree night air.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies! They combine all my favorite cookie element into one amazing cookie. They're pretty filling thanks to the oats and peanut butter. And they're less unhealthy than a lot of cookies out there--sweetened with maple syrup instead of refined sugar, full of oaty goodness, gluten-free if you care about that, and using dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet.

I may or may not eat these for breakfast sometimes. Because oatmeal and maple syrup are breakfast food, right? Please don't judge me.

And please make these cookies.

That is all.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 28 cookies (more or less depending on the size of your cookies)

2/3 cup natural peanut butter
2/3 cup real maple syrup
4 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil, melted
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2-3/4 cup rolled oats, divided (or use 1-1/4 cups oat flour plus 1-1/2 cups rolled oats)
1 to 1-1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
2-4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour or oat flour (optional)

To a medium-large bowl, add the peanut butter, maple syrup, butter/coconut oil, vanilla extract, and egg. Using a mixer, blend until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the salt, baking soda, and baking powder; mix again until well blended.

Measure 1-1/4 cups oats into a small food processor. Blend until the oats resemble a coarse flour. Add ground oats and remaining 1-1/2 cup rolled oats to the bowl with the wet ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, stir the dough until it's mostly combined; add the dark chocolate chips; stir until well combined. If the dough seems too wet, add 2-4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour, as needed.

Move oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop cookie dough into balls/heaps (they don't have to be tidy) and arrange on baking sheets. I used a cookie scoop that's about 1-1/2 Tbsp. For a flatter cookie, smoosh each mound/ball down a bit; for taller cookies, don't smoosh them.

Bake for 12-15 minutes total, switching the upper and lower pans with each other about halfway through the baking time. They're done when they starting to brown around the edges and on the bottom, but are still pretty soft to the touch. When they're done, remove both pans from the oven and allow the cookies to cool fully on the baking sheets (they'll keep cooking while they cool, which is why it's important to pull them out of the oven while they're still pretty soft).

These cookies taste great right away while they're still warm and gooey. They also store well in Tupperware for a few days. Whatever you can't eat or share within a few days, put in a Ziploc bag and toss into the freezer; retrieve 1 or 2 whenever you need a quick cookie fix!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Basic, Traditional, Wonderful Lasagna

I use the terms basic and traditional because this lasagna features the classic elements of tomato-based meat sauce, with pasta (as opposed to sliced veggies) and lots of cheese. However, please don't take basic to mean this is just a boring run-of-the-mill lasagna recipe. Because this lasagna was terrific, got rave reviews from my dinner guests, and is--hands down--my new go-to lasagna recipe.

photo credit: Heather, as posted on
I hadn't made a traditional lasagna since I was a kid and my mom requested it for her birthday dinner. (At which time I had to call her at work many times during the making of her lasagna in order to pester her with questions. Sorry, Mom!) Over the years, I've remarked to numerous people that I actually like Stouffer's better than my own homemade lasagna. Well, Stouffer's. You'd best move over, 'cause there's a new lasagna recipe in town! This lasagna was just really good all around. It had a lot of flavor, with a good balance and depth of flavors, and was plenty saucy and plenty cheesy without being over the top.

The recipe (which I've only slightly adapted) has a five-star rating with over 8,000 reviews on All Recipes. Just sayin'.

Also worth mentioning, I can now check goal #1 off my list of 2014 food goals!

Finally, a note before diving into the recipe: Please plan ahead for making this, as it's not the kind of thing you can just throw together at the last minute. For best flavor, the sauce needs to simmer for at least an hour or so (the longer, the better!). I recommend making the sauce and assembling the lasagna the night before, then refrigerating overnight and throughout the next day to let the flavors deepen even more. Pull it out of the fridge 30-60 minutes before baking to let it get closer to room temperature.

Wonderful Classic Lasagna
Adapted slightly from All Recipes
Yield: one 9x13 pan, or 12 servings

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. ground sausage (see notes)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6.5-oz.) cans tomato sauce
2 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar (more or less to taste)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1-1/2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
Kosher salt, to taste

16 oz. part-skim ricotta cheese
4-6 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
3/4 to 1 cup shredded 3-cheese Italian blend (Asiago, Romano, and Parmesan)
12 lasagna noodles
Additional fresh basil, chopped or torn, for garnish (optional)

In a medium to large pot, brown the beef and sausage over medium heat. If there's a fair amount of fat, soak it up with paper towels and discard. Add the onion and cook until somewhat tender. Add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes more, stirring frequently.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, sugar, pepper, and Italian seasoning. If using dried basil, stir that in now, too. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. Taste it after about 30 minutes and adjust salt, sugar, and pepper if needed (mine didn't need any extra salt since my sausage was pretty salty). Right before assembling the lasagna, stir the fresh basil into the sauce.

To make the ricotta filling, stir together the ricotta, fresh parsley, egg, and 1/2 tsp. salt.

To prepare the noodles, fill a large bowl or pan with hot tap water. Add the lasagna noodles to the water, and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Shoot for the lower end of that spectrum if allowing your lasagna to sit overnight before baking, and the higher end of the spectrum if planning to bake the lasagna right away. Drain the noodles and set aside until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Spray a 9x13-inch glass baking pan with cooking spray, get your mozzarella and 3-cheese Italian blend ready, then assemble the lasagna! You can do your layers any number of ways; here's how I did mine:

  • layer 1: meat sauce + noodles + mozzarella slices + Italian cheese blend
  • layer 2: meat sauce + noodles + ricotta mixture + Italian cheese blend
  • layer 3: meat sauce + noodles + meat sauce 
  • top layer: mozzarella slices + Italian cheese blend

For each round of meat sauce, use about 1-1/2 cups, and for each round of noodles, use 4 (or 3.75 if your pan is shaped like mine). If you have extra sauce toward the end, add extra with layer 3, or reserve and freeze for the next time you need a quick spaghetti meal.

Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray (to prevent cheeses and sauce from sticking to it), then use it to cover the lasagna and refrigerate until ready to bake. Remove from fridge 30 minutes to an hour before baking. Preheat oven to 375. Bake, still covered with the foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 more minutes, until cheese is melty and lasagna is bubbly and toasted. Allow to cool/rest for 15 minutes before serving. If desired, sprinkle with more chopped or torn fresh basil immediately before serving (the basil will darken as it sits).


  • For the sausage, use whatever flavor profile strikes your fancy. Obviously an Italian sausage makes sense, a spicier sausage would add some heat, etc. All Recipes calls for sweet Italian sausage, and I actually used wild boar sausage that my neighbors shared with me!
  • Fresh mozzarella really is lovely. For a less expensive alternative, you could use basic shredded mozzarella, but be sure to use more of it. Fresh mozzarella has a much higher water content, which makes it more gooey and wonderful. 
  • If you don't have time to let the sauce simmer for so long, the world will not end. But the flavors will be better if you let it simmer at least an hour while you go do other things in other parts of your house.
  • Reviewers on All Recipes said this recipe freezes really well. After assembling the lasagna, cover well, then freeze. Thaw in your fridge (probably for at least 8 hours or overnight), then proceed with baking. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup

As you saw in my last post, I recently got the chance to harvest and process a whole lot of prickly pears. Which means I now have the exciting challenge of figuring out how to use up 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice! To kick things off, I whipped up a simple but stunning syrup to adorn some citrusy pancakes. The flavors paired beautifully together, creating a sweet, bright, fluffy, sticky breakfast. And aren't the colors just so inviting and energetic?

If you don't have access to prickly pears (or the inclination to process them yourself for juice), I would recommend using raspberries or blackberries for the syrup. Raspberries are probably the closest in flavor (and color) to the prickly pear. For suggested directions, see my notes in the syrup recipe.

I admit I was a little weirded out by the ricotta in these pancakes. I associate ricotta with lasagna, and I definitely don't associate lasagna with pancakes. But ricotta is actually pretty neutral-flavored, so it added some substance to the pancakes, and they turned out fluffy and delightful.

Lemon-Orange Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted slightly from Prevention RD
Yield: 4 servings (3 pancakes each)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup low-fat ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 navel orange (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Whisk together all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl--flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, ricotta, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and lemon juice. Add the melted butter, whisking as you add it. It may curdle a little as bits of the butter re-solidify. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and whisk to combine, being careful not to overmix.

Toward the end of measuring and adding ingredients, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. If desired, spray lightly with a neutral-flavored cooking spray.

Scoop a scant 1/3 cup of batter onto the skillet for each pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes or until bubbles develop on the surface of the pancakes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through and nicely browned.

Tip: As you finish each skillet of pancakes, stick your plate of finished pancakes in the microwave to keep them warm. Don't turn on the microwave or anything--but the small enclosed space will keep the pancakes nice and warm.

Prickly Pear Syrup
Yield: About 2/3 cup syrup

1/3 cup prickly pear juice
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cornstarch

Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes at a relatively low boil (my burner was probably on medium), whisking fairly often. The goal is for the syrup to reduce in volume and thicken without scorching. The flavors will develop as it it thickens and reduces. Remove from heat and serve.

This syrup would also be great on waffles or french toast. The prickly pear and lemon make this a very brightly flavored syrup, and I could see it pairing beautifully with the kinds of flavors that would go well with raspberries. Perhaps with some slight modification, this could be lovely as a glaze on blueberry or lemon poppy seed muffins.

If you don't have access to prickly pears, try this syrup with raspberries or blackberries. I'd suggest starting with 2/3 to a full 1 cup of fruit. Puree it well, then strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp from the juice. Then use 1/3 cup of that juice in the recipe above.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

If Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Prickly Pears . . .

I've lived in Texas for 21 years and, as of this weekend, 11 of those years have been in west Texas. In those 21 years, I cannot tell you how many prickly pear cacti I've seen. Only within the last few years did I learn that both the fruit and the cactus pad are edible (for humans). And earlier this week, I got to help pick and process fresh prickly pear fruit for the first time in my life!

Some of my friends own a good chunk of land that is bursting with prickly pears. They've harvested and processed several batches, and this week invited me to come along and pick with them.

It was so much fun! For this gal who is much better at driving to the grocery store than growing or hunting her own food, there was something so invigorating about harvesting produce from the earth's bounty. I felt industrious and accomplished. And the juice I brought home seems all the more special because it was mine and my friends' hands who picked, chopped, boiled, mashed, and strained the fruit that produced it.

So today I bring you a prickly pear photo story / instructions for making your own prickly pear juice. At the bottom, I'll provide some ideas for ways to use prickly pear juice.

1. Gather up your tools. For harvesting, you'll need bucket(s) and long-handled tongs. Sturdy rubber gloves will also come in handy (no pun intended). For processing, you'll need a rake (like you use to rake leaves), at least two large pots, cutting board and knife, a colander, a potato masher, a ladle, a funnel with a strainer (or a funnel plus a small fine strainer), and jars to hold and store the juice.

2. Use the tongs to pick the fruit. Look for fruit that is darker in color--deep purpley red more so than bright pink.

3. Fill up as many buckets as your heart desires. Each gallon of fruit will yield roughly a gallon of juice.

4. I didn't get a picture of this step. To remove the small hair-like prickles from the fruit, dump them in batches onto your lawn. Use a rake to rake over them, jumble them up, etc. The idea is to knock most of the prickles off the fruit in the process. Some people recommend removing the prickles by burning them off with propane, but that sounds quite complicated. Also, just know that you're probably not going to get ALL of the prickles off. So wearing gloves in the next steps will result in fewer prickles going into your hands. Return the fruit to a bucket, trying to minimize the amount of grass and dirt that wind up mixed in with the fruit.

5. Rinse off the fruit, and cut it in half long-ways. Isn't it purty?

6. Fill up a pot with the halved fruit, then add enough water to just cover the fruit.

7. Bring to a boil over high heat, then boil for 10 minutes.

8. Toward the end of the 10 minutes of boiling, use a potato masher to mash up the fruit

9. Place a colander over a second large pot, and pour the fruit/water/juice into the colander. (As you can see, we used a large bucket since all of our pots were full of fruit.)

10. Use the potato masher to press the fruit well, squeezing out as much juicy goodness as possible. Discard the solids. You'll end up with some seeds in your juice; that's okay because we're about to strain them out.

11. Use a ladle and funnel (and fine strainer) to transfer juice into jars while straining out the seeds. If you plan to use the juice right away, feel free to fill each jar to the brim. However, if you plan to can or freeze the juice, be sure to leave about an inch at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.

So! Now for some ideas on what to do with the 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice currently hanging out in my fridge and freezer.
  • Frozen treats like sorbet and popsicles
  • Today for breakfast I made Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup (recipe coming soon!).
  • Various prickly pear-infused beverages, whether spiked or not. I've tasted prickly pear lemonade, and am told the juice is also excellent in iced tea, margaritas, and mimosas.
  • Smoothies--paired with fruits like orange and banana
  • Jelly
  • Glazed roasted pheasant from this site (could easily be made with chicken or Cornish game hens)
  • Salad dressing
  • I found a wealth of prickly pear juice recipes on Yummly. Two of the recipes there that most intrigue me are the Prickly Pear Lemon Bars and the Coconut Tarts with Prickly Pear Sauce.
How about you? Got any favorite prickly pear recipes you'd be willing to share?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Smoked Paprika Potato Breakfast Bowl

I don't have a whole lot to say, but here's a yummy breakfast recipe! This could be easily adapted--use a whole grain other than bulgur, throw in some black beans or bacon, add some onion before roasting, change up the cheese, leave out the eggs . . . you get the idea. Enjoy!

Smoked Paprika Potato Breakfast Bowl

Adapted from Naturally Ella
Yield: 1-2 servings

1/2 to 1 lb. red potatoes
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 Tbsp. half and half
1 cup cooked bulgur
1-2 eggs
1 oz. feta cheese crumbles
2 Tbsp. sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 400. Wash the potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes. Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray (or line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper). Combine the potatoes, garlic, paprika, sugar, turmeric, salt, and half and half; toss to coat well. Spread the potatoes evenly in the baking dish or cookie sheet, and bake until tender, about 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway. When the potatoes are done, toss them with the cooked bulgur so it all gets nicely coated with the spices.

Toward the end of the potatoes' baking time, boil your eggs: Place eggs in a pan and submerge with cold water. Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the burner, cover it snugly, and set a timer

  • 4 minutes for slightly runny yolks, 
  • 6 minutes for firmer yolks but still soft boiled, 
  • 10 minutes for hard boiled. 

Then submerge the eggs in ice water to stop the cooking process (you can do this by either pulling them out with a slotted spoon and sticking them in a bowl of ice water, or by draining the hot water out of the pot and filling the pot with cold tap water and ice). Let them chill out for at least a minute. Peel the eggs.

To serve, dish some potato and bulgur mixture into each bowl. Top with an egg, cheese, and green onions.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad with Lemon Citronette

summer squash salad recipe
photo from
Can we not talk about how long it's been since I last posted? Life has been a little crazy, cooking hasn't been happening as much as I'd like for it to, and when it does happen it's usually for a meal I'm sharing with others. I know other food bloggers manage to photograph their food AND eat with people, but I haven't quite mastered that art yet.

Case in point: I'm borrowing this photo from the recipe author Cookie and Kate, because I didn't take pictures of my own creation.

I really liked this salad, and it got an overwhelmingly positive response from my friends who ate it. I liked the zing of the lemony dressing, the crunch of the toasted almonds, the creamy saltiness of the Feta, the cheerful yellow and green colors of the squash ribbons, and the overall freshness and brightness of the salad.

When I tasted the dressing on its own, the garlic seemed strong enough ward off a small army of vampires, but once it got mixed in with the rest of the salad components, it was fine. Still very garlicky, but much more balanced. However, if you're not a huge fan of garlic, I'd suggest using less--or sauteing it first to tame its bite.

My only mild complaint about the recipe is that it required getting quite a few dishes dirty--skillet, cookie sheet, colander, serving bowl, and cutting implements. But in the grand scheme of things, that's not a huge deal. And it went together fairly quickly--while the squash ribbons undergo their salt treatment, you can do most of the rest of the prep.

Fun fact: citronette is the same thing as a vinaigrette, but with citrus instead of vinegar as the acidic component.

Summer Squash Ribbon Salad with Lemon Citronette
Adapted from Cookie and Kate
Yield: 4 servings

Salad Ingredients
1 lb. zucchini
1 lb. yellow summer squash
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup Feta cheese crumbles

Citronette Ingredients
Zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon (about 1/2 tsp. zest and 1 Tbsp. juice)
1 large garlic clove, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Squirt of agave nectar or honey (I didn't measure but probably used 1-2 tsp.)
1-2 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
1-2 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

Prep the squash: Rinse and trim the zucchini and yellow squash, then use a veggie peeler to shave them into ribbons. It works best to start on one side, shave until you start to get to the seeds, then rotate the squash a quarter turn and repeat with the next side. Reserve seedy cores for another use. Spread the squash ribbons on a cookie sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt, and toss slightly, then let them sit for 20 minutes (this draws out excess moisture). At the end of 20 minutes, transfer to a colander, rinse well, then drain well.

Toast the almonds: Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the slivered almonds and toast, stirring frequently, until they're toasty and fragrant. Remove from skillet and allow to cool.

Make the citronette: Add the lemon zest and juice, garlic, olive oil, and agave to a mini food processor. Process until the garlic is finely minced. Add the mint and parsley and pulse until they're finely minced but not completely liquefied. Alternatively, mince the garlic and herbs by hand, then combine all citronette ingredients in a mason jar; shake or whisk well.

Assemble: If not serving right away, store components separately. When ready to serve, whisk/shake the citronette, then toss with the squash ribbons, almonds, and feta.


- Leftovers actually kept pretty well. The squash was a little more limp and the almonds less crunchy the next day, but the flavors and colors were still great.
- Kate also calls for fresh thyme. I didn't have that (my plant died!) so I left it out of the recipe, but I think it'd be great added back in. I could also see basil being a nice addition.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


My parents gave me fresh herbs for my birthday! Have I already told you this was happening? Well, Mom was in town last weekend, so we went shopping for plants and pots, and ended up with a nice little windowsill herb garden featuring dill, German thyme, sweet mint, and chives. In the week I've had them, I've managed to use the mint, chives, and dill, and I have another meal planned for tomorrow that uses more mint and dill. While I like thyme and thought I used it a lot, I'm not having trouble coming up with recipes to use the lovely fresh thyme that's hanging out on my windowsill. If any of you have ideas, please share them!

A great way to use fresh mint is in tabbouleh, a terrific middle-eastern side dish made with bulgur, mint, parsley, lemon juice, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Tabbouleh is filling but light, and tastes incredibly fresh and bright thanks to the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Because of all the chopping, it can take a little while to make, but it's not hard at all--just chop things, cook bulgur, and stir it all up. 

Tabbouleh tastes best when it can sit for a few hours to let the flavors blend together. I prepped my ingredients Thursday night, stirred it all together Friday morning, served it Friday night, and it was great. The leftovers were also great today (Saturday) for lunch. Though the herbs darkened (as in the pictures here), the flavor and texture were still quite lovely. 

The recipe below calls for 1-1/2 cups each of parsley, mint, and scallions/green onions. I used closer to 1 cup of each but think it would be excellent with the full 1-1/2 cups. Some recipes I saw called for far more parsley than mint, but I like this ratio, especially since the cost of store-bought fresh mint is no longer a consideration.

Adapted from Ina Garten
Yield: 12 servings

1-1/2 cups bulgur
2-1/4 cups water
4 roma tomatoes, diced (2-3 cups)
Juice from 3 lemons (about 3/8 cup juice)
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup olive oil, divided
3-5 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 cups sliced scallions (both white and green parts)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh mint leaves (stems removed)
1-1/2 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 medium to large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 to 1-1/2 tsp. black pepper

Cook bulgur in water according to package directions.* When cooked, stir, remove from heat, and allow to cool completely. Chop the tomatoes and set them in a colander to drain while you chop the rest of the vegetables and herbs.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except 1/8 cup olive oil, and starting with just 3 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. (I used a 4-quart Pyrex bowl, and it was the perfect size.) Use a rubber spatula to mix gently but very well. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Before serving, add the last 1/8 cup oil. Taste; add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Serve chilled or at room temperature. Leftovers keep very well.

*Most tabbouleh recipes I read said to pour boiling water over the bulgur, then let it stand (off the stove) for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I wasn't sure why, and the bulgur I buy only takes 15 minutes to cook, so I opted to follow the package directions.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Coconut Rice

A couple weeks ago, a friend brought me these stunning shiitake mushrooms from a bigger city with more Asian markets than where we live. When I saw how giant and utterly gorgeous they were, I knew I needed to use them in a dish where they could shine. So I adapted a beef stir-fry from the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook, subbing in shiitakes for the beef.

This stir-fry was quick, simple, and wonderfully delicious with a delightfully balanced flavor. The brown sugar made it slightly sweet and sticky, the fish sauce added just a hint of funk, and the shiitakes were meaty and earthy. If you don't have access to shiitakes, I'd recommend portobellos, baby bellas, or crimini, as they tend to be meatier and earthier than the basic white mushrooms.

I also highly recommend making coconut rice instead of plain rice. It doesn't take any longer to make, but the coconut milk puts the rice on a whole 'nother playing field. As I've written the recipe below, the coconut flavor is fairly pronounced. But if you prefer a more subtle coconut flavor, use less coconut milk and more water.

My green beans were a little on the crunchy side. I'm keeping the recipe with the steps I followed. But for more well-done green beans, either toss them in with the mushrooms and shallots, or steam them for a bit in the microwave before adding them to the skillet.

I think this stir-fry would be great with beef or chicken--perhaps switch out half the mushrooms. For beef, follow the directions exactly as they're written; for chicken, you may need to add a bit extra cooking time in the first step to ensure it gets fully cooked. For added crunch and protein, some sliced toasted almonds would be lovely sprinkled on top at the end.

This dish reheated well, but be careful not to cook it too long in the microwave, as the mushrooms can get kinda rubbery if they get zapped too long.

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry
Adapted from Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

Coconut rice (recipe below)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lbs. shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 medium or 1 large shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 birds eye chili, thinly sliced (optional; more or less to taste)
10 oz. fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 dashes fish sauce
3 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced

Start the coconut rice. If it finishes before the stir-fry is done, simply remove it from the heat, fluff with a fork, and re-cover. Then prep all the veggies. For a stir-fry like this where you add ingredients every couple of minutes, I find it helpful to pre-measure everything, including the sauces and spices, and line them up on my counter in the order that they'll go into the skillet.

Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, salt, pepper, and bird's eye chili (if using; I didn't). Stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the green beans and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 10-30 seconds.

Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce; stir to coat evenly. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or two, until everything is cooked through. If needed, add water 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Serve with coconut rice and garnish with green onions.

Coconut Rice
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
Pinch salt
1 cup basmati rice

In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. As soon as it returns to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir, and re-cover until ready to serve.

Some varieties of basmati recommend rinsing the rice before cooking it (to remove extra starch) and/or adding the rice to the liquid(s) before bringing it to a boil. Also cooking times may vary. So check the instructions on your rice and adjust my directions accordingly. The main thing is to use coconut milk for a hefty portion of the water measurement.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese
Adapted from Eats Well With Others
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 loaf fancy bread of choice (I used a rustic french bread)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only
2 oz. gruyere, shredded
1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter, softened, for pan and for spreading on bread
Swirl of olive oil

Prepare the leeks: Chop off the dark green tops; discard or reserve for another use. Remove the very end of the bulb. Cut the white/light green stalk in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Fill a large bowl with water and place the sliced leeks into it. Swirl them around with your fingers to help loosen any dirt on them. Remove the leeks to a colander, then dump out the dirt-infused water and rinse out the bowl. Repeat until you're not getting any dirt in the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks drain in a colander while you grate the cheese and slice the apple.*

Heat a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until leeks are softened. Add the apples and cook for a few minutes more, until apples are also soft. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, set bread slices in pairs, and butter the outsides of what will be each sandwich. When apple and leek mixture is ready, build each sandwich: Lay apple slices on the un-buttered side of a slice of bread. Top with some leeks, then sprinkle on some gruyere, then top with the other piece of bread (buttered side out).**

Transfer any leftover apple-leek mixture into a bowl or storage container; wipe out the skillet. Return skillet to medium-low heat. Once it's hot, carefully add sandwiches to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning carefully, until each side is crusty and golden. Remove each sandwich to a cutting board and, using a good bread knife, slice each sandwich in half.

Joanne (the original recipe writer) called for 4 large leeks for 4 servings. I used 2 large leeks and got 5-6 servings. Perhaps my leeks were bigger than hers, or her bread slices were bigger than mine? Her pictures don't look like she filled her sandwiches fuller than I did.

*At this point, Joanne said to blanch the leeks (boil for two minutes, then dunk in ice water). I did that, but didn't think it accomplished much other than getting another pan dirty and making the process more complicated, so I'm leaving that step out of my instructions.

**On this step, it's best to use your fingers so you have maximum control over your ingredients. Just let the apple-leek mixture cool enough for you to handle it. For more cheese throughout the sandwich, do apple, cheese, leek, cheese. I tried it both ways and liked them about equally.