Smoky Jalapeño Baked Beans

One of the down sides to being a creative home cook is, well, the pressure to be creative all the time. It’s a self-imposed expectation, I know. But more than a few times in the recent couple of months, I’ve hit a brick wall on getting new ideas on the table. We have eaten well, but I have mostly pulled out familiar, favorite recipes because we’ve had too much going on. And a good many of our meals have been takeout, which is far more exception than rule at our house. This is not easy for me.

Last month, I had an epiphany—OK, it was more a reluctant acceptance of something my husband has been trying to tell me, and I finally gave in—and what a relief: I don’t have to make a rock star meal every night, and I don’t have to make everything from scratch. Sometimes it’s OK to take it easy. And that’s what I did with this baked bean recipe, which is begging to be part of someone’s July 4th table.


Sure, it’s special, with the salty bacon, slices of fiery jalapeno and a shot of charred oak barrel-rested whiskey, but here’s a secret I’m eager to share— I cheated! I dressed up a can of store-bought baked beans. And they were awesome.

Whew. It feels good to let that go, and I’m not going to pretend that I discovered the can of beans in the back of the cabinet and just whipped up a fun spin on them. Nope, I had every intention of taking a shortcut when I made my grocery list, and let me tell ya, it was just as much fun jazzing up a pre-made can of baked beans as it would have been if I’d made them from scratch. I chose the most basic variety of beans I could find, without too much embellishment. They only had a touch of brown sugar, and this made it easy to spin the beans in the savory direction my palate was craving.

Elevating a store-bought product can be just as rewarding as making a dish from scratch!

Dressing up the store-bought beans was easy, and they got a big flavor boost from two very thick slices of savory bacon, cooked up to just-shy-of-crispy with half of a sweet onion (I reserved the other half for the top). I didn’t want the beans to dry out in the oven, so I enhanced the sauce with a few tablespoons of ketchup, a splash of vinegar, some smoked paprika and a few shakes of cumin. Then, just for fun, I stirred in a shot of whiskey, the same one I used in the Kickass Whiskey-Braised Collards that we enjoyed a few months ago.


After dumping the beans into the same skillet, I stirred in the smoky sauce and topped the baked beans with the remaining onion slivers and jalapeno slices and slid it into the oven. Baking the smoky beans in the same skillet meant that I also saved time and energy on cleanup, which was a welcome relief. And, there’s just something cool about taking the skillet right to the table.


This dinner was easy all around, as we served the smoky jalapeno baked beans with an All-American favorite—grilled, all-beef hot dogs with (gasp!) store-bought buns. Don’t worry, there is no danger of me permanently trading in my “do-it-yourself” personality in the kitchen, but occasionally, I could get used to this.


By the way, are you already doing this with your hot dogs? It only takes a few seconds, and you end up with so many crispy crevices to support your favorite toppings. 🙂


Smoky Jalapeño Baked Beans

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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This recipe builds on the flavors of store-bought canned baked beans (or pork and beans). For best flavor results, purchase a simple flavor, such as Bush’s “original” baked beans with bacon and brown sugar, or Bush’s vegetarian baked beans. You can kick up this recipe in multiple ways—for big, bold flavor, keep some of the jalapeno seeds and use the whiskey. For milder flavor, substitute green bell pepper and skip the whiskey.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices thick smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (omit for a vegetarian version)
  • 1 medium sweet or yellow onion, half chopped, and half slivered into crescents
  • 1 medium fresh jalapeno, half diced, and half sliced into thin rings
  • 3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 oz. smoky whiskey (optional, but heck yeah!)
  • 28 oz. can Bush’s “original” or “vegetarian” baked beans, or equivalent substitute
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in center position.
  2. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium flame. Add bacon and onion, and season it a bit with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, to soften onions and render some of the fat off the bacon. If a great deal of fat results, drain off as much as you wish.
  3. Combine the ketchup, vinegar, paprika and cumin in a small bowl. Stir in the whiskey (if using) and set the mixture aside.
  4. When bacon is slightly crisp, add the canned beans to the skillet, including all the sauce. Stir in the diced jalapenos and the sauce mixture. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Top the baked beans with the remaining onion slivers and slices of jalapeno. Twist some freshly ground black pepper all over the top. Bake for 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbly all around.



Green Curry Shrimp

It has been an interesting week at our house, between the saga of our bathroom remodel, which included some high drama that nearly wrecked me (more on that another day), and an unfortunate, middle-of-the-night accident that occurred in the rear corner of our raised bed garden. It’s been going gangbusters, thanks to the vigilant security provided by this little fella:

The Yard Defender!!!

The “Yard Defender” has restored my hope for a vegetable garden, after several (literally) fruitless years of battle against the herd of deer that resides in the woods behind our cul-de-sac. We’ve tried all the home remedy stuff—Irish Spring soap, garlic hung on strings that spanned the tomato cages, human hair, commercial potions with a nasty rotten egg odor, ALL of it—and last year, well, I didn’t even bother. But with grocery prices soaring, I wanted to try again and so I splurged on this motion sensor device, advertised with the slogan, “don’t hurt ‘em, just squirt ‘em!”

The thing has peripheral vision to spot deer (or other critters, or unsuspecting neighbors) when they approach the garden, and launches a hearty spray of water to chase them off. My garden looks better than ever! Yesterday morning, though, our neighbor texted to tell me that “something had happened” to one of my zucchini plants, and when I went out to investigate, I discovered what appears to be a hit-and-run.

YIKES!

First of all, this trellis is heavy duty, so this was a serious accident. I was trying to train my zucchini to grow upward on both sides of it, to make more space in the garden and encourage more fruit. It was looking so healthy and I’ve just begun to see blossoms forming. My assumption is that a good-sized deer was already standing in the garden when the sensor detected its movement, and the precious thing got so spooked by the abrupt noise and spray, it panicked and fell onto the trellis. I have since moved the Yard Defender to the rear of the garden, where the tomatoes grow (it’s what they are after anyway), and hopefully we can avoid another dangerous incident. For sure, at least one of my zucchini plants is doomed (it was crushed, along with the trellis), but I hope that the other three endure so I can join the chorus of those who are sick to death of zucchini recipes, come August. Until then, I will continue to harvest what is growing out of control on the inside of my house, in the Aerogarden.

Here we go again, with the Thai basil!


I’ve been scrambling to come up with interesting ways to work this herb into “the rotation,” which is an inside joke for me and my husband, who swears we have not eaten the same thing twice since 2016. This is his fault, I say, for marrying a woman who loves to experiment in the kitchen. But using what is local and plentiful is part of what I do, and it doesn’t get more “local” than the dining room. I have in mind to substitute it for mint in a Mojito this weekend, and I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, let’s talk about what went into this bowlful of goodness.


Some of the vegetables in this recipe were the same as in the Thai Basil Chicken I shared last week, but there were plenty of swaps that make this dish different. I used carrots and red bell pepper again, swapped in scallions for regular onions, and cut up the first fruit of my 2022 garden, a wonky eggplant!


Shrimp was my protein and I shifted the sauce to a green curry-coconut vibe. Green curry is a vibrant blend of warm spices mixed with lemongrass, kaffir lime, green Thai chile and galangal, a rhizome that looks like ginger but tastes more herbal. It would be quite complex to make green curry from scratch, but a store-bought paste makes this recipe very simple. The aroma of the paste is pleasantly intoxicating, especially when it first hits the oil in your pan. Coconut milk is a natural companion for the flavor of any curry, and for this recipe, I used a “light” version to reduce the overall fat, but a full-fat coconut milk is fine and would lend more of the coconut flavor.


My first taste of green curry (circa 2005) was a pleasant surprise, and I was introduced to it by an unexpected culinary expert—my then-quite-young stepdaughter. She became a foodie at an early age, in part by my influence, but also that of her mother, who introduced her to Thai food when she was still in elementary school. Yes, when other kiddos were clamoring for fried chicken fingers at chain restaurants, our global flavor-savvy girl was scouting out the nearest sushi joint or Indian restaurant. When I had mentioned to her on a family dinner out in a Thai restaurant that I didn’t care for curry, she asked, incredulously, “not even green curry?” She offered me a taste of her favorite green curry chicken, and I was hooked. I’ve made it at home a few times in recent years, but this was my first time with shrimp. Delicious!


There is a bit of heat in my rendition of this dish, not only from the green curry paste, which leans spicier than red and yellow curries, but amped up by a few shakes of another fun ingredient in my pantry—Asian Reds hot chile blend, available online from the Flatiron Pepper Co. website. To be clear, I don’t get paid to brag about them, but I probably should, given that we own a bottle of darn-near every variety they make. What sets this company apart from others is that it offers region-specific blends of peppers that are otherwise hard to find. The Asian Reds includes Thai chile and ghost pepper, both of which are damn hot. I heartily recommend it for adding heat to any Asian-inspired dish, but a quick shake of the red pepper flakes you probably already have will work in a pinch for this recipe, or you could mince up half of a red jalapeno into the veggie mix for similar heat effect.

You won’t find these varieties of peppers just anywhere. Use it sparingly because it is HOT.

My advice for making this dish is the same as most every Asian-inspired recipe, and that is to get all your ingredients lined up and ready before you begin because things move quickly once the oil hits the pan. That means chop up your vegetables, clean and de-vein your shrimp and get your rice cooking (you’ll want that, for soaking up every last drop of the flavorful green curry sauce). Place a heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of high-heat oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut. Give a quick stir-fry to the carrots and peppers first, because they take longer to cook. Then, add the scallions and garlic and toss long enough for the initial steam to dissipate. Move the vegetables to the outer edges the pan, drop another tablespoon of oil to the center and plop the green curry paste onto it. Prepare to be entranced by the aroma!


When the oil sizzles around the green curry paste, use a utensil to break it up and toss it with all the vegetable ingredients, so that everything is covered in a light film of the curry paste. The eggplant should go in last, given its tendency to instantly absorb oil. Toss everything just enough to coat the pieces, then add the entire can of coconut milk and stir to blend. Sprinkle in hot pepper flakes (if you want the extra heat), reduce the heat to low and cover the pan to simmer for 3 minutes. This gives the vegetables time to soften, and allows the green curry flavor to permeate everything.


Add the shrimp to the pan and stir to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Depending on the size of your shrimp, it should only take 3 to 5 minutes for them to lose their pink color, so watch them closely. Add a handful of Thai basil and stir to wilt it into the dish. Serve immediately with a portion of jasmine rice.

Garnish with a pretty Thai basil leaf if you want to be fancy. 😉


Green Curry Shrimp

  • Servings: 2, plus leftovers for one lunch
  • Difficulty: average
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This recipe comes together quickly and with ease, thanks to a store-bought paste that captures all the important flavors of Thai green curry. Substitute chicken or tofu if you wish. If you don’t have Thai basil, you could substitute regular basil or omit it altogether.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. high-heat cooking oil, such as canola, peanut or coconut (you will divide this for cooking the vegetables and blooming the curry paste)
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and halved
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut on a bias
  • 3 scallions, cut on bias (white and green parts)
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium Japanese eggplant, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 Tbsp. prepared green curry paste
  • 1 can light coconut milk (this is the culinary variety, not cartons for drinking)
  • a few shakes hot red pepper flakes, for extra heat
  • 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves (optional but delicious); substitute regular basil if desired
  • hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving (I used brown jasmine rice for extra flavor and nutrition)

Directions

  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and stir-fry the carrots and red peppers for about two minutes to give them a head start. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add scallions and garlic and toss to coat and wilt the scallions.
  2. Move the vegetables to the outer edge of the pot. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the center and spoon the green curry paste onto the oil. This will “bloom” all the flavors of the paste. Break it up a bit with your cooking utensil, then stir it together with the cooked vegetables. Add the eggplant and toss to coat.
  3. Pour the entire can of light coconut milk into the pot and gently stir to blend. Sprinkle on hot pepper flakes (if using) and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cover the pot, simmering for about three minutes, or until the mixture reaches a slight boil.
  4. Add the shrimp pieces. tossing lightly to submerge them beneath the simmering liquid. Keep a close eye on them, as they will cook in as few as 3 minutes, depending on their size and original temperature.
  5. Stir in Thai basil leaves until wilted. Serve immediately with hot cooked jasmine rice.



Thai Basil Chicken

To say that I’ve been under stress lately would be a gross understatement. I know that many of you feel the same angst related to the stories that plague our newsfeeds, and that alone is enough to make anyone shaky. On top of the stressors of life, things at home have been a little, um, hectic.

Besides the uncharacteristically high pressure of late in my day job (which is usually quiet in June), and beyond the fact that we are now past the 90-day mark since the start of our master bath remodel (with issues still happening every day), I had an unwelcome bit of news this week at my first primary care visit in nearly a decade. It’s nothing serious—at least, not yet—but I am considering the results of my blood workup to be an important wake-up call.

At the risk of TMI, I’ll summarize to say that several key markers are out of whack, and I need to get my act together quickly as it relates to my diet and my overall health. As luck would have it, going through menopause, starting a food blog, and signing up for not one, but two major home renovations during a world pandemic did not have positive effect on my body. I should have seen it coming.

For the first time in my life, a doctor told me that I must make changes, and that was a little scary. There’s plenty of time to turn things around, and I am truly thankful for that, but it means healthier options will be my first choice and decadence is on the bench for a while. I need to embrace regular exercise, too, but that’s another post entirely. Today, I’m focusing on healthier eating. It does not mean that we can’t have pizza or ice cream or some of the other fun things my husband and I love; rather, it only means that I must be more mindful of what goes into those dishes in the first place. Luckily, I do love experimenting!

For me, what makes a meal truly satisfying is variety of texture, big flavor and interesting spices. I’m not suddenly turning vegan or entirely giving up any food groups—I have never been one for a total elimination diet. I can move toward better health with a few lightened-up favorites, more meatless dishes and plenty of vegetables, and that’s what I intend to do. Truth be told, part of the reason I’m telling y’all this is that it builds in an extra level of accountability. Now that you know, I’ve painted myself into a bit of a corner. So here comes the first of several fresh and healthy meals served up at our house recently.

It smells even more delicious than it looks!

Thai basil chicken meets all the criteria I mentioned for a satisfying meal. The texture is amazing and packed with crunchy vegetables, including carrots, broccoli and red bell pepper. The flavor is phenomenal, with a complex blend of spicy ingredients in the Thai-inspired sauce that gently coats the vegetables and lean ground chicken. The signature flavor that gives this dish a little extra “zhuzh” is Thai basil, a fresh herb in the mint family that is similar to the Genovese basil you’d recognize in Italian food, but with a spicy undernote and a hint of anise or licorice. I’ve had an abundance of this ingredient lately, since my husband and I reinstated the Aerogarden that he gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago. This gorgeous herb has taken over the whole dining room, even visible from outside the window because it’s growing through the blinds (which, I suspect, is causing the neighbors to whisper). I prune the plants every couple of days, which only makes them grow faster, and so I needed a dish that uses a lot of Thai basil at once. This recipe is perfect for it!


The prep for Thai basil chicken is easy; it’s just a bit of chopping and slicing of fresh vegetables that have plenty of texture, color and nutrition. The other essential prep is making the sauce. My recipe includes chili-garlic paste for heat, soy sauce and coconut aminos for an umami burst, oyster and fish sauces for a little funky depth, rice vinegar for a slight acidity and a touch of coconut sugar to round it all out. There’s also a bit of corn starch in the mix to keep it silky. If you like Asian flavors even a little bit, you won’t regret having these ingredients in the door of your fridge, and in no time at all, you’ll be mixing and matching them to come up with your own amazing recipes. One final note on the point of these Asian sauces, and this is not a joke. There is an imminent shortage of both sriracha sauce and chili-garlic paste, so you may want to grab a jar of each now to avoid the drought that’s coming on these ingredients. Now, let’s get cooking on this dish!


I used carrots, red bell pepper, onions and broccoli in my recipe, but there are other veggies that would feel right at home here, including scallions, cauliflower, celery, crunchy green beans or snow peas. Sliced fennel would also be terrific, and if you can only find Genovese basil, having fresh fennel in the mix would help fill the gap of the licorice flavor that Thai basil offers. Basically, aim for lots of color and texture and you’ll have a winning dish. The only vegetable I wouldn’t recommend is tomato, which is too soft, and hardly ever used in Asian cuisine.

Cooking the dish is simple, beginning with a little bit of oil in a large, fairly deep skillet or wok. Because this recipe is cooked over medium-high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, coconut or canola oil, but you won’t need more than a few tablespoons. Extra-virgin olive oil is not best for this kind of cooking because it overheats easily and turns bitter.


You’ll cook the veggies first, only a few minutes until they begin to soften, then move them to the outside edges of the pan and cook the ground chicken, half at a time. You could use cut-up pieces of chicken breast, also, but I find that ground chicken cooks more quickly and evenly. I normally use a wok when I make this dish, but that is one of the few tools that didn’t earn prime kitchen real estate after our remodel, and the overflow of stuff in the garage is a bit of a nightmare right now. If you have a wok, of course it would be the best vessel for cooking, but any large, sturdy skillet or pan with deep sides will work fine.


After the chicken has lost its pink color, whisk the sauce to mix it up again, and pour it all at once over the pan ingredients. Toss a few times to coat, and you should see the sauce thicken quickly, thanks to the cornstarch in the mix. Add the Thai basil at the very end, and when it wilts down and turns darker green (which takes no more than 30 seconds), this meal is ready to serve!

I’ll be looking for other fun ways to use my Thai basil, and I’m already planning to do something with the shrimp we have in the freezer—maybe a drunken noodle kind of thing? Oh, aaand, I don’t think I have mentioned that I planted a vegetable garden this year, and we have found a new weapon against deer invasion. More on that next time. 🙂

Fingers crossed, we will have fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant soon. Stay tuned!


Thai Basil Chicken

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: average
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This recipe moves quickly, so it’s best to have your fresh ingredients and sauce ready before you begin. If you have a favorite store-bought, spicy Thai sauce, you could substitute that, using about 2/3 cup. If you cannot find fresh Thai basil, a regular Italian basil can be substituted but the flavor will not be quite as authentic. As long as we are talking substitutions, the chicken could also be swapped out for shrimp or even extra firm tofu cubes. Go on, make it yours!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 small onion, halved and cut into slivers
  • 1 large broccoli crown, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 3 small carrots, peeled and cut on bias into thin slices
  • a fat handful fresh Thai basil leaves
  • 3-4 Tbsp. high-heat oil, such as coconut, peanut or canola (you will divide this to cook the vegetables and the chicken)
  • Spicy Thai basil sauce (ingredients listed below)
  • Cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a glass measuring cup or other bowl that is suitable for pouring. Have it ready before you begin cooking.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. garlic chili paste
  • 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut aminos
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. corn starch
  • 2 Tbsp. COLD water

Directions

  1. Place a large, high-side pan over medium-high heat. Add half of the oil, and when it shimmers, add all vegetables to the pan. Sprinkle with a slight pinch of salt (not too much, because the sauce has plenty), and toss in the pan until they begin to soften, or about 7 minutes.
  2. Push the vegetables toward the outside edge of the pan. Add half of the remaining oil in the center of the pan, and add half the ground chicken, tossing to cook just until it’s no longer pink. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  3. Whisk the sauce to reincorporate ingredients that have settled. Pour the sauce all over the pan mixture and stir or toss to coat. The sauce should begin to thicken very quickly.
  4. Add the Thai basil to the skillet all at once and toss to wilt it into the recipe. This will happen very quickly.
  5. Spoon the Thai basil chicken over portions of hot cooked rice, and enjoy it while it’s hot!



Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

My intention for this post and recipe was to introduce you to my new food processor; I’m excited about my choice of machines and still learning how to use some of the features that are new to me. But I’ll save that for another day, because what this post is really about is a new trick I’ve learned in the kitchen—one that has very little to do with my food processor and everything to do with trying something new with an old tried-and-true: cole slaw.

There are so many ways one can make cole slaw, and it’s usually the dressing that makes each version special, whether it’s sweet and creamy like a KFC-style slaw or refined and elegant with a lime and poppy seed vinaigrette. I shared those when Comfort du Jour was brand new, and they are delicious, just like the tangy apple cole slaw from last summer.

This time, I’ve changed the dressing again (and I think you’ll love its delicate Dijon flavor), but I’ve also dabbled in a new technique that I read about from one of my newest kitchen idols, J. Kenji López-Alt. I love the way this guy approaches food, always with a “what if” attitude, and after his exhaustive experiments in what he calls “The Food Lab,” Kenji is great about sharing his culinary discoveries with home cooks like you and me. You will find a ton of his recipes on the Serious Eats website, but also on his own YouTube channel, which a basically a rabbit hole of exciting kitchen experiments.

His method for making cole slaw produces a perfectly textured salad that is soft, yet pleasantly crunchy. It has all the right flavor but doesn’t get soggy in the bowl. That has always been the bummer, hasn’t it—to load up your plate with all your summer favorites, only to have everything turn milky and soggy because the cole slaw dressing runs everywhere? Well, friends, Kenji has fixed that! And this game changer is so darn simple. Rather than just adding dressing to freshly shredded cabbage and carrots, there’s an intermediate step of extracting most of the moisture from the vegetables first. Under Kenji’s guidance, I tossed the cabbage and carrots with a very generous scoop each of kosher salt and cane sugar, then rinsed it under cold water (which seemed counterproductive with the intention of removing excess water, but stay with me), and then I dried it before proceeding with the dressing. The results were outstanding, and the fine strands of cabbage held exactly enough dressing for flavor, but not so much to drown it.

The extraction of extra moisture results in a cole slaw that feels almost like sauerkraut, with a squeezed-dry texture, but with all the familiar crunch and flavor you expect.

The dressing is a departure from other cole slaw recipes I’ve made, as it has only a slight hint of sugar (a lovely balance to the apple cider vinegar in the recipe). Dijon mustard lends a little sass to the creamy mayo, and I mixed in a dash of celery seed along with drained, finely shredded sweet onion and about two dozen twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Here’s how it goes, beginning with about 8 cups of shredded cabbage and carrots in a very large bowl:


At the point that I noticed all that liquid resting in the bowl after the salt-and-sugar bath, it occurred to me that Kenji’s technique for cole slaw is basically the same one I use for making homemade giardiniera, and the outcome is similar, too—crunchy and firm, despite being soaked in a pickling liquid.

My inspiration for both the technique and dressing on this cole slaw comes directly from Kenji, and if you want to get geeked about the science behind it (as I already have), you may do so by linking to this article:

How To Make the Best Creamy Coleslaw | The Food Lab

Otherwise, just get straight to making it. 🙂


Creamy, Crunchy Dijon Cole Slaw

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: average
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If you’ve never had cole slaw that didn’t water down your entire plate, then this recipe is for you! The intermediate step of “purging” the moisture from the shredded cabbage is changing the game on this favorite summer salad.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups total, shredded green and red cabbage (fresh is best)
  • 3 average sized carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (for purging)
  • 1/3 cup cane sugar (for purging)

Ingredients

  • scant 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. cane sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, finely shredded and drained


To make this cole slaw, you will need a large colander for draining the cabbage, and a salad spinner or clean, unscented towels for eliminating the excess moisture.

Directions

  1. Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl, with extra room for tossing. Pour the kosher salt and cane sugar all over the shreds and toss with salad forks or your clean hands to distribute throughout the cabbage mixture. Allow it to rest at least 5 minutes, or up to 15 minutes. The salt-sugar blend will coax the excess moisture from the cabbage.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a colander placed in the sink. You should notice a significant volume of liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the mixture really well under cold, running water. Toss it thoroughly as you rinse, and continue for about two minutes to get all the excess salt removed. Taste a piece or two. If they are too salty, rinse another couple of minutes.
  3. To dry the cabbage, use a salad spinner (in batches) or line a baking sheet with a clean kitchen towel or layers of paper towels. Place the cabbage on the towels, cover with another towel (or more layers of paper towels) and press heartily to soak up the moisture. I used kitchen towels and gently rolled up the cabbage to squeeze out the excess water. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl for dressing.
  4. Combine the dressing ingredients, stirring in the drained, shredded onion after mixing. Pour over the cabbage blend and toss to coat.


Have a safe Memorial Day weekend! And if you’re wondering what happened to my tie-dyed towels, never fear:



Almond Joy Brownie Bites

My taste for chocolate has evolved exponentially since childhood. The candy bars I loved back then—Kit Kat, Snickers, Mounds and Almond Joy were some of my favorites—all fall a little flat now that I have experienced fine, artisan chocolates. After you develop a palate for high quality, single-origin chocolate, it’s tough to go back. But occasionally, nostalgia sneaks in and makes me crave a taste of yesteryear, and that’s what happened when I had to reach past a jar of unsweetened coconut to get to my go-to brownie mix.

Why couldn’t I turn my brownies into a play on an Almond Joy candy bar, I thought, but with an elevated presentation and more texture? I reached for almonds, too, and had only one dilemma—how to incorporate the coconut so that it didn’t get lost into the brownies. I didn’t just want the flavors of an Almond Joy to be present, I wanted it to look kind of like an Almond Joy candy bar, too, and that meant I could not just add coconut to the brownie mix. No, I needed to create a filling that would be enveloped inside the brownie, and I wanted it to be bite size with two almonds, just like the candy bar.

These miniature, two-bite brownies were a home run!

I found a recipe on Pinterest for a coconut filling intended for layer cakes, and as I considered the steps of cooking the milk and sugar together until it was dissolved and thickened, it occurred to me: isn’t that basically sweetened condensed milk, and why not just use that? It was perfect for transforming plain, shredded coconut into a thick, sticky, coconutty filling.


My brownie mix got an extra boost of dark chocolate from a spoonful of dark cocoa powder. I did this because I always wished that the candy company had made a dark chocolate version of the Almond Joy—sort of a Mounds-Almond Joy combination thing. I also gave the almond flavor a boost with a touch of almond extract added to the liquid ingredients used to make the brownie batter.


A few more notes worth mentioning before I dive into a visual walk-through of how I put these fun little treats together:

To keep this from being too sweet, I combined equal amounts of sweetened and unsweetened shredded coconut. The latter is sometimes labeled “dessicated” coconut, and you can find it in the baking aisle of a well-stocked supermarket or online from Bob’s Red Mill (where I get it). This is my preferred coconut for most recipes—cookies, smoothies, muffins, etc.—and I chose to use some of it here because I knew the filling would be sweet enough with the addition of the condensed milk and the amount of sweetened coconut. I pulsed the coconut in the food processor, too, to knock down some of the shaggy texture.

My go-to brownie mix is Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate, but (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) the chocolate chunks included in the mix may not be right for this recipe. If you are making this as mini muffins, as I did, you will find that the melted chocolate bits hinder the work of loosening and removing the brownie bites from the pan. The dark chocolate flavor is great but consider using a brownie mix that doesn’t have chips or pieces of chocolate in it; you’ll have an easier time removing the brownie bites without breaking them.

Finally, and this is important, the amounts of brownie batter and coconut filling exceed what is needed in the 24-count mini muffin pan. I had enough of both left over to make a small skillet brownie, and trust me when I tell you, that was not a bad decision either. If you decide to do this, I’d like to suggest that you eat it warm. Mmm…

Yes, really.

OK, preheat the oven to the temperature suggested on your brownie mix, and let’s get this started!

So, was all this necessary? Couldn’t I have just chopped up some Almond Joy candies and added them to the brownies, the way I did with the Leftover Snickers Brownies I made at Halloween a few years ago? Sure, and that would have been tasty, too, but this was a lot more fun. 😊


Almond Joy Brownie bites

  • Servings: 24 brownie bites
  • Difficulty: average
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This is a fun way to dress up a box mix, bringing together the flavors of a classic candy bar with fudgy, soft and chewy brownies.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 box brownie mix plus ingredients on package to make them
  • 1 Tbsp. dark cocoa powder, optional
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract, optional
  • 24 whole raw almonds
  • a few pinches flaky sea salt, optional

Note that this recipe will yield more batter and coconut filling than you will need for a single pan of mini muffin-size brownie bites. Plan ahead to use up the rest in a small baking dish or extra mini muffin pan.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F, or whatever temperature is recommended for the brownie mix. Generously butter the inside of every cup on a mini muffin pan.
  2. Combine sweetened and unsweetened coconuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to make a finer texture. Transfer the coconut to a bowl. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir until evenly blended. This will be a thick, sticky mixture.
  3. Prepare brownie batter, adding the dark cocoa to the dry mix and the almond extract to the liquids. Fill the mini muffin cups about halfway. Scoop out a small amount of coconut filling and roll it between your hands into a ball about the size of a marble. Press the coconut ball into a muffin cup, letting the batter come up the sides around it. Repeat with the remaining muffin cups, then drop a slight spoonful of batter on top to fully enclose the coconut ball. You will have a significant amount of batter left over. See Step 5 for suggestions.
  4. Place two almonds on each brownie bite and scatter a few small pinches of flaky sea salt over the pan. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes. Allow brownie bites to cool in the pan until they are easy to handle. Run a thin rounded knife around the edges of the brownie bites to aid in releasing them. Let them cool completely on a plate or tray.
  5. With the remaining batter and filling, we made a warm miniature skillet brownie for two. This could also be baked up in a small glass baking dish, or make a second batch of mini brownie bites when the pan is fully cooled. Use the same method of layering coconut filling over about half of the batter, then pour the last of the batter over to cover it. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and bake for 30 minutes. Enjoy warm!



Blender Buttermilk-Feta Dressing

Let’s get this out of the way; today’s post is less about the salad dressing (which was just OK, and I’ll offer my ideas for making it better) and far more about my excitement in finding the new appliance I used to make it. What can I say? —I don’t take my decisions lightly.

We are approaching the six-month mark since the completion of our beautifully remodeled kitchen, and I am still on the hunt for the right tools to help equip me for success. You know how it is—you improve one thing, and suddenly everything in and around it seems outdated. My husband, Les, and I gave every countertop gadget we own a once-over when we did our update, and though a few appliances were deemed worthy, I have decided to replace my tired, old food processor (more to come on that one) and to purchase a real, honest-to-goodness blender. It’s about time!

I’ve had a Nutri-Bullet personal blender for a few years, and it’s great for breakfast smoothies and small amounts of things that I want to puree into oblivion, but not so good for anything that requires finesse, because the Nutri-Bullet has only one setting. It is also inconvenient for making anything that requires adding or adjusting ingredients halfway through, because once you open the wide, jar-like lid, the blended mixture gets all over everything and makes a mess. I needed a blender that opened at the top and had multiple settings and functions to help me with more than just smoothies.

When I had lamented to Les a few years ago that it was difficult to find a quality blender “like they used to make,” you know, with a sturdy glass carafe, he disappeared to our garage and returned with a dusty relic that had been gifted to him many years ago (for his first wedding, as he recalls). It was tall and heavy, with real glass! Unfortunately, when we finally found replacement gaskets for the ones that had dry rotted, we discovered that the blender didn’t have much oomph. It was mostly good for, well, stirring things.

After months of intense research, and reading reviews on every website imaginable, I have finally found the best blender for us. It’s tall, attractive, powerful and versatile enough to handle whatever role I give it. In other words, it’s the George Clooney of countertop appliances. The first challenge I had with it was deciding what to make first, and so far, I’ve only used it to make coconut martini cocktails and this buttermilk feta salad dressing, which was included in the little recipe cards that came with the machine. Regardless of your blender brand, I’m confident that you can make this dressing, and it only requires five ingredients, plus salt and pepper.

This dressing can’t help being tangy, with feta, buttermilk and lemon! Garlic and olive oil round out the ingredients list.

Part of the appeal of this recipe was that I already had all the ingredients, and the dressing wasn’t bad but I would recommend a few tweaks to improve the texture and balance the tang. Just about any kind of fresh, tender herb would be good here; basil, cilantro or dill would add a zesty punch. In the texture department, I would recommend addition of a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise to produce a creamier dressing that will cling better to your salad greens. If you do stick to the recipe offered by Breville, I recommend using a buttermilk with a thicker consistency so it doesn’t turn out watery.

Here’s how things went for me.


But enough about the dressing. 😉

I am very pleased with our new Breville blender, which has a pre-programmed setting for smoothies, and eventually I will get around to making one. I especially appreciate the self-clean function, which makes cleanup a snap, even after making a creamy salad dressing like this one. It’s so easy, I literally put two drops of dish liquid into it with about one cup of water and touch the “auto-clean” button. The blender does the rest, switching between speeds and settings until the pitcher is clean. Quick rinse, and done. I should have bought it years ago. Did I mention that I paid full price for this appliance, and nobody is paying me for my opinion? Just thought I’d mention that, in case this sounds like an advertisement.

Besides the debut of our fab new blender, I am also excited to apply a new way of sharing the details of my recipes with you. When I first started my blog, my sister-in-law, Andrea, suggested adding a “print” feature to make it easier for a reader to save a recipe for later. It was a great idea, and up to this point, I have accomplished it by formatting the recipe into a PDF that I upload at the end of a post. Today, I’m doing something different.

After an hour-long chat session with WordPress support (which left me as confused as ever), and then a few friendly emails and helpful coaching by one of my blog buddies about something called “shortcode,” I have finally figured out how to apply my recipe ingredients and instructions to my posts, including a quick “print” option, without so much background work.

I first spotted this feature on a post by Maylee at BeyondGumbo.com, and when I reached out to ask about it, Maylee graciously walked me through how she uses the feature. As you’ve probably guessed, her blog is all about the regional cuisine of Louisiana (which is so much more than gumbo!), including a beautiful bibb salad with luscious Louisiana strawberries, which she just posted on Sunday. And if you think that sounds delicious, wait until she surprises us with something that she casually whips up from the satsuma trees growing in her backyard. 😊


Let’s see how this goes!

Easy Buttermilk Feta Dressing

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
  • Print

This recipe is simple and versatile, and it can be made in any blender. Consider tweaking it by adding other ingredients, such as your favorite fresh herbs, for a twist of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cultured buttermilk
  • Approximately 1/2 cup feta, crumbled
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • The juice of one organic lemon
  • 1 small clove garlic, rough-chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. organic lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Place buttermilk, feta, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into the jug of a blender. Puree 15 seconds, or longer if needed to achieve smooth texture.
  2. Add lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Mix on a low speed for 5 seconds, to incorporate seasonings. Transfer dressing to a jar and refrigerate until ready to serve.



Vegan Black Bean Burger

At our house, we enjoy doing Meatless Monday—for the good of the environment, yes—but mostly for the health benefit of eating more vegetables and whole grains, and to test recipes that I’d like to serve when my husband’s vegan daughter visits. When I set out several years ago to “make a better black bean burger,” I tried every which way to make it flavorful and simple, but I kept running into the same problem: the burger looked great on the bun until I bit into it, at which point it just squished. The black beans must be smashed or processed to hold together in a patty, but once they are, the texture is just, well, lost.

This time, however, I turned to a new ingredient that I’ve seen and tasted before but had never employed in my own kitchen—textured vegetable protein. With the increased popularity of and demand for plant-based foods, it has become easier to find ingredients such as  this one in a regular supermarket, rather than trudging to a health food store or taking a chance with an online purchase.

TVP is a true blank canvas of vegan foods.

This product, known to plant-based eaters as “TVP,” is a defatted soy product, with a pleasant, chewy texture after rehydrating, and a neutral, almost sweet flavor that can be shifted to the cuisine of your choice. In this recipe, my first-ever shot at cooking with TVP, I wanted to boost the protein content of my Southwest-inspired black bean burgers, but I was also looking for an assist with the texture. The TVP packs a whopping 12 grams of protein per serving, and it only takes a few minutes to soften up with water or broth, but it holds its shape after rehydrating. In other words, it’s exactly what my smashed black beans needed to keep their composure. I found this product in one of our larger supermarkets, but you can also find it online from Bob’s Red Mill.

The other trick I used to give my burgers more heft was oven-roasting the beans before pulsing them into bits. This technique has worked for me in the past, but at that time, I was still using egg as a binder, which made it vegetarian but obviously doesn’t fly for a burger claiming to be vegan. This time, to keep it truly plant based, I further modified my old recipe and substituted a “flax egg,” which was nothing more than ground flax meal combined with the reduced liquid from the can of beans (I could have used water, but I’m always looking for a way to add one more bit of flavor). The flavor boosts came from a generous spoonful of my spicy coffee rub, a few sun-dried tomatoes and the last tablespoon of chipotle puree lingering in the fridge, left over from my pollo chipotle.

The color was right, the texture was good, and the flavor was totally on-point for the burger lovers in this house. Which is both of us, of course!

The textured vegetable protein and oven-roasted black beans gave these all the texture I crave in a burger!

Ingredients (makes about 5 burger patties)

2 cans organic black beans, drained and rinsed (reserve liquid from one can)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle on beans before roasting

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and rough chopped

1/2 cup roasted salted cashews (from a can is fine, or roast them yourself)

1/2 cup textured vegetable protein, dry from the package

About 5 sun-dried tomatoes, cut up into bits* (see recipe notes)

1/2 cup water or vegetable broth*

1 Tbsp. milled flax seed*

1 Tbsp. spicy coffee rub or other favorite smoky-spicy seasoning*

Medium-grind corn meal, for crusting the burgers before frying

Canola oil, for trying the burgers

Soft vegan buns and favorite toppings, for serving


*Recipe Notes

I learn many things from my trials in the kitchen, and one shortcut occurred to me a moment too late. My photo steps reveal that I rehydrated both the sun-dried tomatoes and the textured vegetable protein with low-sodium vegetable broth. Eventually, I combined them, so my recommendation is doing them together in one bowl to save time and dirty dishes.

Low-sodium vegetable broth is one of my core pantry items and I frequently use it for rehydrating ingredients or cooking dry goods such as rice or quinoa. My philosophy is, why use water if you have an opportunity to elevate flavor?

Flax seed is a nutritional powerhouse, but dieticians are quick to point out that our bodies can only benefit from it when it has been milled. You can buy flax “meal” pre-packaged, but it turns rancid rather quickly. If you buy a bag of seeds, you can keep them fresh longer and mill them in a blade-style coffee grinder as you need them. To make a flax “egg,” combine a tablespoon of the meal with an equal part of warm liquid. The mixture will thicken into a gel-like substance that works great as a binder.

My spicy coffee rub was excellent for flavoring these burgers, and I’ve included the recipe for it on the downloadable PDF if you’d like to try it. Otherwise, use any spice blend you like for grilling. If you are committed to making the burgers vegan, confirm the ingredients of your spices. You might be surprised at some of the stuff they sneak in there. 😉


Instructions

There are several components of these burgers, and most of them can be prepared concurrently, or the day before. My instructions are broken out into each component, and I trust that you’ll manage the prep however it works best for you.


Prepping the black beans

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat. Spread black beans out in a single layer and let them air dry while the oven heats. When it comes to temperature, drizzle olive oil lightly over the beans and roll them around to lightly coat them. Season with salt and pepper, and then roast the beans for 30 minutes or until they have a dry, slightly crumbly exterior.


Making the flax egg

Reduce the reserved black bean liquid in a small saucepan until it’s reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Let it cool slightly. Sprinkle the milled flax into the liquid and stir to blend. Let this mixture rest for about 15 minutes until it’s a thick, gelled mixture.


Rehydrating the TVP

Heat vegetable broth in a small saucepan or the microwave. It should be at least the temperature of hot bath water. I hydrated the sun-dried tomatoes separately, but I could have added them to the bowl with the TVP. I’m still learning here! Pour the hot broth over the mixture, stir to moisten and let it rest at least 10 minutes to fully rehydrate. Refrigerate this if you are working ahead.


Prepping the veggies

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onions, peppers and garlic until softened and slightly caramelized. I usually judge this not by time, but by appearance. When the steam rising from the skillet is replaced by the sound of oil sizzling, they are done. If you still see a lot of steam, that moisture will come back to cause trouble when the burgers are in the skillet. Divide the mixture (at least visually) into halves.


Putting it all together

All ingredients should be cooled to approximately room temperature before mixing. It’s OK if they are cold or lukewarm, but do not process the beans and veggies if they are still hot because this will result in a mushy mixture that won’t hold together well in patties.

To the large bowl of a food processor, add all the roasted black beans, half the sauteed veggies and cashews. Add the spicy coffee rub (or substitute) and chipotle puree. Pulse a few times, just until the beans are about 1/3 their original size and the mixture looks uniform in texture. Don’t process it to the point of being smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Add the remaining vegetables and TVP mixture to the processed bean mixture and fold to combine. Add the flax egg and fold to blend. Shape the mixture into burger-shaped discs that are the same size as your burger buns (they will not shrink during cooking as meat does). Sprinkle both sides of the burgers with cornmeal and press on them to adhere it. Put the burgers on a plate or cookie sheet, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for an hour or two so the patties set up for cooking. Remove from fridge about 30 minutes before frying.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Add canola oil to a depth of about 1/4” and place the burgers in the skillet, keeping enough distance between them for easy access to turn them. Cook each side until crispy and browned, about 5 or 6 minutes. Take care when turning, as they will fall apart if you “flip” them as you would a meat burger.

Serve with your favorite plant-based toppings and enjoy!


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


Pollo Chipotle

There’s a time and place for the numbered dishes on a Mexican restaurant menu—you know what I mean, the #11 combo platter of one crunchy taco, one burrito and one enchilada, with a side of rice and flavorless refried beans. For me, the time was in my younger years, before I learned to appreciate the Mexican specialty dishes as I do today, and the place was (obviously) an actual restaurant, which I don’t frequent as much as I did in those days because, frankly, we prefer the food we make at home. It has only been recently that I started considering how to make some of our favorite Mexican meals, and those favorites seldom include items from the numbered combo section, and never any crunchy, from-a-box taco shells that I used to associate with Mexican “cuisine.” It’s funny how much has changed.

At one of our favorite local places, called Señor Bravo, the pollo chipotle is the special menu item that always wins over my husband, Les. The chicken (or pollo, if you wish) is tender and bite sized, and it’s drenched in a spicy sauce that has enough smoky chipotle to warrant being part of the dish’s name, but also enough rich cream to soften the edges and give the dish a special flair. I have tried several times to make this dish at home, and on previous attempts found it difficult to replicate the flavor and texture. It seemed something was missing so I fiddled with the cooking process, added ingredients and spices, tried different types of cream—from half and half to heavy cream—and every addition made it less and less like the restaurant dish. Finally, I dialed it all back and kept it simple. Turns out, simplicity was exactly and only what it needed.


Besides being simple and delicious, this dish is also relatively healthy, as I used cream cheese rather than heavy cream to thicken the spicy sauce. This eliminated the need for flour as a thickening agent. And for our at-home pollo chipotle, I jazzed up a simple pot of brown rice with a shake of cumin and a small handful of chopped cilantro and served it alongside a simple salad with fresh tomato and slices of ripe avocado.


Ingredients

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbsp. expeller-pressed canola oil

1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and sliced

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

Several twists of freshly ground black pepper

1 or 2 Tbsp. pureed chipotle with adobo sauce* (see recipe notes)

1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth*

A couple of pinches of dried Mexican oregano*

4 Tbsp. cream cheese, room temperature


*Recipe Notes

The chipotle puree is best prepared in advance, and you may want to start with one tablespoon and adjust up to taste. To make the puree, empty the entire contents of a small can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a food processor or blender. If your processor has a small bowl insert, that will be the perfect size. Pulse a few times, then run the machine continuously until the sauce is completely smooth.


I prefer the more complex flavor of vegetable broth in most recipes, but for this dish, you could certainly use chicken broth. I would still recommend a low-sodium version, as this helps with controlling the overall amount of sodium in the dish.

Low-sodium vegetable broth is one of the most versatile ingredients in my pantry. If you prefer, use chicken broth.

Mexican oregano is very different from the easier-to-find Mediterranean oregano you are probably accustomed to using. It’s part of the verbena family, with a citrusy, slightly floral flavor. Search it out in an ethnic supermarket, at Whole Foods or the international spice section of World Market. If you can’t get Mexican oregano, dried marjoram would be a better substitute than regular oregano.

To make the cilantro rice, simply cook a batch of your favorite brown rice according to package instructions. Use vegetable broth rather than water for more flavor. Stir in salt, pepper, a few shakes of ground cumin and a small handful of fresh, chopped cilantro leaves before serving.

Why serve ordinary rice, if you can make it more flavorful with so little effort?

Instructions



Looking for ways to use the rest of the chipotle puree?



Sunset Margarita

This weekend, I will have the privilege of introducing my husband to live music by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. Despite being an avid music lover and concertgoer, Les has somehow managed to miss seeing the Son of a Son of a Sailor on stage (not to mention the pre-show tailgating), but that will all change on Saturday.

It may be difficult for me to make these fabulous margaritas in the parking lot of the Buffett concert, and it certainly would not display its layers of color through a red plastic cup, but it will taste as wonderful, and at least we enjoyed it at home a few times in all its beautiful, grown-up-cocktail glory.

The raspberry “sinker” has a way of stealing the show.

I created this drink from memory after a getaway weekend Les and I had back in February. We had a mouthwatering Mexican meal in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was intrigued by the descriptions (and the flavors) of the restaurant’s specialty margaritas. This one was called “1800 Sunset,” and the highlight—besides the 1800 reposado tequila that is the star spirit—was the Grand Marnier float and something the menu called a “raspberry sinker.” A float, I understand, and I’ve done it before by slowly pouring a spirit over the back of a bar spoon on top of the finished drink. But a sinker? How in the world do you get an ingredient to stay put in the bottom of the glass? After much searching on Pinterest, YouTube and a few of my favorite professional cocktail sites, I finally learned two ways to achieve this feat, one of which I’ll share with you in the slideshow (hint: I was seriously overthinking it).

A little sweet, a little heat, a little tart and a whole lot of fun!

For the rest of the drink, I wanted pure tropical bliss, so added a few twists of my own. I mixed the tequila with freshly squeezed lime, a splash of pineapple juice and a bar spoonful of jalapeno-infused simple syrup to shake things up. Raspberry on the bottom, orange on the top, and no sign of any “shaker of salt” —no, this pretty drink is rimmed with pink sea salt. These are no ordinary margaritas. Jimmy Buffett, eat your heart out!

You don’t need special “margarita” glasses to make this drink, but it is prettiest in a clear glass that is wider at the top than the bottom. Even a martini glass would work, if that’s what you have. Make up to two drinks at a time in your shaker.


Ingredients, per cocktail

2.0 oz. 1800 reposado tequila

1.0 oz. pineapple juice (canned or fresh)

0.5 oz. jalapeno-infused simple syrup (recipe below)

Juice of 1/2 lime

0.5 oz. Chambord raspberry liqueur (for sinker)

0.25 oz. Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueur (for floater)

1 tablespoon pink sea salt (for rimming the glass)


Instructions

Prepare the glasses first by swiping a lime wedge around the rim. Pour a couple of spoonfuls of Himalayan sea salt onto a paper towel. Roll only the outside of the glass on the salted towel, so that the rim is evenly salted, but the salt will not fall into the cocktail. Place the glasses in the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Slice thin wheels of fresh lime, one for each drink. Place them on a paper towel to absorb excess juice and sprinkle them lightly with sea salt, if desired. Measure out the Grand Marnier into a shot glass or small measuring cup. This will aid in “floating” the liqueur over the drink without overdoing it.

Here comes the “sinker” part of the recipe, and you may be surprised how easy it is. Remove the glasses from the freezer and measure the Chambord into the bottom of the glass. Add several ice cubes (or one giant one) to the glass so the Chambord cools down while you shake up the rest of the cocktail.

The drink begins with a pour of Chambord, topped immediately with ice. I use my digital scale for measuring; it’s less sticky! 🙂

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, pineapple juice, jalapeno syrup and lime juice over one cup of ice cubes. Shake about 20 seconds to blend the ingredients. Strain the cocktail over the ice in the glass, pouring slowly to avoid disturbing the raspberry sinker underneath.

Finally, turn a bar spoon or teaspoon upside-down over the drink, resting the tip of it on one of the ice cubes. Pour the Grand Marnier slowly over the curved back of the spoon—easy does it! Garnish the drink with a lime wheel and enjoy!

I missed getting a picture of the Grand Marnier float, but it really is as easy as it sounds!

Jalapeno-infused Simple Syrup

1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 cup cane sugar

1/2 red jalapeno, thinly sliced (seeds included, if you dare)

Simple syrup can be infused with just about anything. This time, I used a red jalapeno for heat to balance the sweet pineapple and raspberry.

Bring water to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the jalapeno slices and allow the syrup to steep until completely cooled. Strain out the jalapeno slices. Transfer the syrup to a sealed jar or squeeze bottle. Keep syrup in the fridge for up to two weeks.



Matzo Brei Florentine

Make something off limits, and that’ll be exactly what you crave, right? We only started Passover on Friday evening, and I can’t stop thinking about wanting a big, fat sandwich. To be clear, my husband does not expect me to adhere strictly to this Jewish custom of his—heck, he’s the first to admit that he is not religious himself about this requirement when he is out and about—but he does not eat bread at home during the Passover week. His choice is not about strict religious mandates, but tradition that helps him feel connection with his ancestors, and especially his late father. I am not Jewish myself, but I respect the tradition and so I am making an effort to accommodate this food called matzo.

Iconic, yes. But matzo needs a whole lot of help to become flavorful or interesting.

If you have never had the anti-joy of eating matzo, allow me to describe it for you— try to remember the driest, most bland, and perhaps even stalest, saltine cracker you’ve ever eaten. It may have been a cellophane-wrapped packet that a diner waitress fished out of her apron pocket for your bowl of chili in 1974. Maybe you got stuck in traffic on the interstate during a blizzard and had to resort to eating whatever random things you found in the glove compartment. Or perhaps you found some old takeout crackers in the back of your desk drawer when you finally made it back to the office after two years of COVID shutdown. Whatever memory you conjured, hang onto that for a moment and try to remember the taste. Yep, matzo is like that. But not as good. And without salt.

You could search the entire world and not find a less interesting cracker. Or is it considered bread? The Jewish people developed matzo as a reference to the unleavened bread their ancestors were forced to eat when they fled Egypt in a hurry. There was no time for the bread to rise, so they baked the dough as it was and took it on the run. Whatever category you put matzo in (bread or crackers), this stuff is undeniably boring, but a common sight in my home now—at least during Passover. My goal, as the primary meal maker, is to find ways to make matzo more palatable because eating it from the box can only be described as “choking it down.” And I won’t even mention what it does to the digestive system (it ain’t pretty).

Thank goodness for the New York Times Cooking e-letter, which is always brimming with menu ideas, including a classic, basic version of this dish, called matzo brei. According to Melissa Clark, the author of the recipe, brei rhymes with “fry,” which is exactly what you do with the matzo before scrambling it into eggs. As written, the recipe sounded dull, but as I started working at the stove, I asked Les if there was any reason that I couldn’t jazz up this humble dish just a bit—maybe with addition of onions and some spinach? Sure, was his response, and this was the result.

My first attempt at matzo brei got my gears turning about other possible flavor twists. What do you think would be good?

I liked this dish! Spinach is nothing new with eggs at our house, as I incorporate it often into omelets. Onions were a no-brainer, and some matzo is even onion-flavored, though that variety is not usually considered kosher for Passover. And the matzo pieces, fried in butter and mingled throughout the scrambled egg mixture, reminded me a little bit of a baked pasta, especially for the crispy, buttered edges. I don’t know what prompted me to top the dish with sour cream, but it was a good call, and the fresh dill I had picked up at the market was a perfect finish for this savory, ready-in-15-minutes breakfast. As Les and I scarfed down our matzo brei with spinach (Florentine, if you will), we began brainstorming other flavor combinations— maybe peppers and mushrooms, or feta and asparagus. Wait, how many days of Passover do we have left?

The recipe was not without challenges, despite its simplicity. I messed up the beginning of the recipe by commencing to fry the matzo in butter straight from the box, and it wasn’t until my common sense began to question the technique that I noticed in the recipe’s steps that I was supposed to rinse and soak the matzo first. Why it was not listed as such in the ingredients, I’ll never know, but I’ll add the oversight to my list of what I call the problem with recipes. The ingredients of the NYT Cooking recipe did not include water, so it didn’t occur to me until it was (almost) too late.

All’s well that ends well, and I’ll describe in my recipe notes how I recovered from my mistake (it was easy). Regardless of whether I ever make matzo brei again, I discovered for sure that I always want to have sour cream and fresh dill on my scrambled eggs now. And with five days of Passover left to go, we are least down two more sheets of matzo.


Ingredients (serves 2)

2 sheets plain matzo, rinsed under warm water and set aside to soften* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. salted butter

1/4 cup chopped sweet onion

Good handful fresh baby spinach, rough-chopped

Kosher salt and ground black pepper (to taste)

3 eggs*, room temperature, beaten with a splash of water or milk

A hefty dollop of sour cream (for serving)

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (for garnish)


*Notes

My mistake led me to an alternate method of softening the matzo. Since I had missed the step of rinsing and resting the matzo ahead of time, I simply poured about 1/4 cup warm water from my tea kettle right into the skillet with the butter and matzo pieces. The dry matzo soaked up the water and fried in the butter with no issues. This may truly be a better method than the original because I didn’t have to wash an extra “soaking” dish or clean up a soggy matzo mess from the counter. Do what works for you!

The original recipe that inspired me suggested using four eggs, but I followed my instinct and used three, as I always do for an omelet-for-two. If you have an extra hearty appetite, go with four eggs.


Instructions

I’ll walk you through it in pictures, and keep scrolling to find it ready to print or save for your recipe files!