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*stovetop red beans and rice with pimiento cheese.

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Look at that teeny tiny skillet! Isn't she terrific? She's one of a short stack of cast iron pans of varying sizes (including an awesome griddle pan) that my grandmother gave me. They sit in the corner of my kitchen unused for the most part, because they're beautifully seasoned and I'm terrified of ruining them somehow. As a rule I get about halfway through the instructions for seasoning cast iron and think, "Nope! Definitely would screw that up!" and hope my sweet gramma isn't somewhere rolling her eyes at me.

She is definitely somewhere rolling her eyes at me.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a friend's house to watch Breaking Bad. (Because from a television standpoint it's the best thing this side of The Golden Girls—only, you know, with harder drugs. Rose only went to rehab because she was addicted to muscle relaxers.) I never think much about other people cooking for me because I so enjoy being the cook-er that I rarely considering being the cooked-for. But Julie made this amazing, can't-get-it-off-my-mind red beans and rice. It was perfectly spicy, and the texture was spot on: creamy and smooth but chock-full of beans (yum) and Cajun sausage (double yum).

Red beans and rice is the kind of dish that hits you in all the right comfort food spots—it's akin to a casserole, which wins because it has that little-bit-of-everything feel. In this case, there is thick, starchy broth, bright heat, meaty bits, and fragrant carbs.

I do believe that's everything. 

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Julie made hers in a slow cooker, and trust me when I tell you that's the ideal way to go. But if you are like me and have fewer mouths to feed and an inability to think beyond five minutes from whatever time it is, this is an easy one to simmer on your stovetop and come out with a delicious weeknight facsimile. You also get the benefit of browning off the sausage, which I love because it gives it a crispy exterior that's a lovely contrast to the rice and beans.

One thing Julie did that I forgot to do but highly suggest, is to mash up some of the beans. This thickens and silkifies (sure, could be a word) the "stew" part of the mix but leaves whole beans, too, for stick-to-your-ribs toothsomeness.

One thing Julie did NOT do but that I also highly suggest, is to top the whole thing off with a sensible (ahem) dollop of pimiento cheese.

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It was mentioned to me that this could be considered "weird," but try it try it try it I promise it's a lovely marriage. Think of it as putting cheese on your chili, but then remember that this mixture introduces a vinegary tang from the pimientos. I scooped it out when it was well chilled, so that it slowly melted into the beans and became sort of a cheesy surprise in every bite.

The easiest way to accomplish this feat of strangeness is to use your favorite prepared pimiento cheese, but please make sure it was made by hands that freshly grated it, if you can. Store-bought pimiento cheese probably isn't going to give you the same payoff as the more artisan variety. (This here was given to me by my sister-in-law, who purchased it from a local vegetarian restaurant/dive bar in town. It was just right.)

So here's to being weird!

OK, that's enough eye-rolling, Grandma.

Enjoy!

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Stovetop Red Beans and Rice with Pimiento Cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces andouille sausage
1 small green bell pepper, diced
½ medium onion, diced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cajun seasoning
3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 (16-ounce) cans low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Hot cooked rice
Prepared pimiento cheese
Garnish: chopped green onions

1. Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add sausage; cook 5 minutes or until well browned. Remove sausage from pot with a slotted spoon, reserving drippings in pot. Stir in bell pepper and onion; cook until vegetables are softened. Stir in salt and next 3 ingredients; cook 1 minute or until spices are fragrant. Add chicken brought and tomato sauce, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of pot. Stir in beans; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

2. Bring mixture to a boil and cook, uncovered, 20 more minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened. Stir in sausage, and cook until heated through.

3. Divide rice among serving bowls; top with bean mixture, and dollop with pimiento cheese. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 
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*chicken burgers with avocado-tomatillo sauce.

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It's a brilliantly cool August Saturday in Alabama (what?), and I'm sitting on the couch watching Ina make grilled cheese sandwiches. "I've got just a very simple Pullman loaf ... Good bakery loaf—not, like, the stuff from the grocery store."

She's the most cheerful snob I know.

I have always loved my neighborhood Winn-Dixie grocery store, thank you very much, but I have to admit that when it underwent a floor-to-ceiling overhaul about a year ago, I wasn't terribly thrilled. I didn't want to lose the great Asian food stocks, my treasured self-checkout lanes (no human interaction! my favorite!), and my beloved solitude (a theme develops). I was quite often, at any time of day, absolutely the only person in there, which may tell you a little something about why the powers that be at the W-D decided the place needed a spruce-up in the first place. Everyone was flocking to Publix, that vast wasteland of crowded produce sections and employees too intensely fascinated with WHAT ARE YOU MAKING WITH THIS?, and that was A-OK by me. More quiet browsing for me around the corner. The Winn-Dixie aisles became my hallowed library halls.

But when the store decided it just had to bring itself into this decade, I was nervous. Our relationship was going so well; why did things have to change??

Like any good stubborn person, I found that the results were just (SNIFF!) as I expected. The parking lot began to fill, nobody ever stocked the fish sauce, and why in the world was the bread aisle now frozen-section-adjacent?

But over time, I've come around. (And it only took a year! Who's flexible and easygoing?) For one thing, the self-checkout remains, so I didn't have to entertain a deal breaker. For another, I've recently discovered the benefits of having access to an honest-to-god bakery. (Yes, Ina, in my grocery store.)

If there's one thing you should know about me, besides that I can write six or seven paragraphs in praise of supermarkets, it's that I am not a person who should keep bread in the house. If I have bread, and I have cheese, and (god forbid) I have mayonnaise, things can go pretty chubby pretty fast.

My people are from the Midwest. Bread and cheese run through my veins. (Probably literally.)

But the terrific thing about the Winn-Dixie having a bakery is that I can purchase only the amount of bread a normal person should eat in one sitting at a time. This here is a Portuguese roll, and it cost (no lie) 39 cents.

It's been a little light on the meat around the Woodside here lately, which is just fine with me—eating vegetarian, even sort of accidentally, is healthy and cheap, and I am just not a person who misses the meat when there are beans and eggs and cheese to be had.

But every once in a while I do hear my body say BIG DOSE OF PROTEIN, PLEASE and it's insistent that tofu or quinoa is not the proper vehicle. In this case I used ground chicken, mostly because I wanted that cooked-through texture. I really wanted to bite into something meaty. The tomato is a little bit of an affront to the state of Alabama, but I may have chosen it too hastily. It was certainly not the valedictorian of the 2013 summer semester.

The whole shebang, though, is mostly about that chunky avocado-tomatillo sauce. It soaks into the toasty bread (please please toast the bread next to the burger as it finishes) and makes an ordinary weeknight chicken burger something to look forward to.

I got off work the night I made this at 7:45 and spent a happy little decompressing half hour or so in the kitchen putting this together—there's no rocket science here, just a lovely sandwich dinner that will help you forget you worked until 7:45.

The citrus in the sauce is the wild card here—you want the avocado and cilantro to give it good balance, so it's good to get a nice, big, ripe avocado and add the lime juice a bit at a time, tasting until it's as tangy as you like—tomatillos can be unpredictable. I like it on the creamier side, so if your avocado isn't pulling its weight you can stir in a glug of sour cream or (ahem) ranch dressing. (I won't tell.)

Enjoy!

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Chicken Burgers with Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce

1 pound ground chicken
1 teaspoon garlic salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
4 Portuguese rolls, kaiser rolls, or hamburger buns, halved
4 tomato slices
4 red onion slices
Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce (recipe below)

1. Combine chicken, garlic salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl. Divide mixture into four equal portions, and form into thin patties.

2. Cook chicken patties in a greased grill pan over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until completely cooked through. During last minute of cooking, place rolls, cut sides down, on grill pan to toast.

3. Top toasted rolls with tomato slices, onion slices, and Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Avocado-Tomatillo Sauce

5 medium tomatillos, husks removed and scrubbed
¼ small red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove
1 jalapeƱo, seeded and chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 large avocado, chopped
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1. Chop tomatillos, and place in a food processor. Add red onion and next 4 ingredients; pulse until coarsely chopped.

2. Add avocado and salt; pulse until smooth. Makes 1½ cups.

 
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*pasta with fresh tomato sauce and 6-minute egg.

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A couple of weeks ago I cleaned out the condiments in my refrigerator door. Well that's not entirely true; I weeded out just the salad dressings because I am only one woman and I certainly do not have the time to wade through every sticky bottle of mustard, curry paste, fish sauce, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and heaven only knows what else in a single evening.

I should note that of the eight bottles of salad dressing in my refrigerator, only one passed the expiration date test. One that ended up in the bin had not even been opened.

Shame. I feel shame.

The good news is that now I can just indiscriminately sweep the whole lot into the garbage, because come a-summertime, this raw tomato sauce is the only condiment I need.

All of the ingredients go into the food processor, which means that it takes 4 minutes to make. I've been eating it on EVERYTHING this week. Breakfast is crostini cut from a whole-grain baguette topped with melty mozzarella and scrambled eggs. Know what tastes great slathered all over that? This sauce.

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Noodles sprinkled with fresh basil and topped with a beautiful, sunny 6-minute egg. Know what tastes great with that? This sauce.

The last time I made this sauce it was as an accompaniment to meatloaf, but none of the sauce actually made it to the table, because my family couldn't keep their focaccia-dipping fingers out of it. 

A long slab of crusty bread, a hunk of Parmesan, and this sauce will make you the most popular person at your next potluck.

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It's very close to what Giada de Laurentiis taught me is "checca sauce," although naturally I had to make some adjustments for my own taste and the quantities available in my market.

Garlic is a heavy-hitter here, so I'd start with 1 or 2 cloves and then taste to see if it's to your liking. (Personally I like my raw garlic levels somewhere around vampire-killing potency, but that's not for everyone.) Throw in a little dried crushed red pepper if you want things spicy, but even I of the five-alarm taste buds didn't need it here.

Please do try a 6-minute egg when you can. It's the perfect marriage of sunny-side up and hardboiled, although my hardboiled eggs don't turn out this beautifully. (Thank you, Rachael Ray.) The whites are totally cooked, but the yolk stays velvety and runny.

I feel the need to point out that when you are a single lady with a dozen eggs, you are going to find yourself putting eggs on top of a lot of foodstuffs. (You are also going to find yourself opening your spaghetti canister to find that it only has soba noodles in it, but that's another story for another day.) I promise this won't become the Egg on Top Chronicles forever.

Use all those beautiful, perfect, late-summer tomatoes while you can!

Enjoy!

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Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce and 6-Minute Egg

2 ounces spaghetti or other long pasta
1 egg, at room temperature
Kosher salt, to taste
½ cup Fresh Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
Garnish: fresh basil

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

2. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with ice, and place in the freezer. Bring a medium saucepan half filled with water to a rolling boil over high heat; carefully lower egg into boiling water. Cook egg 6 minutes. With 1 minute remaining in egg cook time, remove bowl of ice from freezer and fill bowl with water. Transfer egg to ice bath with a slotted spoon, let cool, and carefully peel.

3. Transfer hot cooked noodles to a plate, and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Top with Checca Sauce and egg. Sprinkle egg with additional kosher salt. Garnish, if desired. Makes 1 serving.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onion (white and pale green parts only), coarsely chopped
2 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
10 fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Place first 5 ingredients in a food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Stir in kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Makes 2 cups.


 
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*TEA (tomato, egg, and avocado) breakfast sandwiches.

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This is what I've been eating for breakfast this week, which is mostly notable because I'm actually willing to wake up earlier in the morning to prepare it.

Anyone who knows me knows it takes a forklift to get me out of bed on an average weekday morning, because I like to stay up late watching four (two-hour) episodes in a row of MasterChef while yelling at the TV about how much I am not enjoying watching MasterChef this season.

(It's a misnomer anyway, right? The premise is that these are home cooks? I don't think making very bad eclairs while Joe Bastianich raises his eyebrow at you really promotes you to the level of "master." Anyone competing on Top Chef Masters might agree with me.)

But! For this breakfast I am willing to make the sacrifice. The dog, however, stays firmly tucked into the covers until I crowbar his tiny butt out of bed, because don't nobody want to be outside, in August, in Alabama. It's slightly difficult to tell in the picture below, but those eggs are sweating like a whore in church. And I had to do quite a bit of work to these pictures to eliminate the curtain of fog that settled contentedly onto my camera lens.

A nice, hearty bread works best here, for the sopping up of lovely yolkiness. Cautionary tale, though: You would be wise to invest in full-fat Cheddar. I thought reduced-fat would make me somehow virtuous, but it came out slightly rubbery and flavorless. Do as I say, not as I do.

One thing I've learned along the way is that after the first day with your avocado, when you've put the remainder in the fridge, it's good to place the avocado on the bread and layer the cheese over it, so that the short toast in the oven takes the chill off. To season the avocado I use garlic salt with flecks of dried parsley in it for a little extra oomph, but regular s&p will do just fine—you don't all have to be as fancee as we are here on the Woodside.

I serve this up with a side of berries (because my mother tells me they'll keep me from dying) and curl into the couch in my robe while my hair dries, checking the weather forecast (dog in yard or in house?) and listening to Morning Edition.

So there you have it! Now you know how to make a fast and delicious breakfast sandwich, and way too many details about my mornings.

Enjoy! 

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TEA (Tomato, Egg, and Avocado) Breakfast Sandwiches

4 slices whole wheat bread
4 slices Cheddar cheese
1 avocado, sliced
Garlic salt
1 tomato, sliced
Cooking spray
4 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place bread slices in a toaster oven and toast just until golden brown. Place toasted bread on a baking sheet, and top with cheese slices. Bake just until cheese melts.

2. Top cheese with avocado slices. Sprinkle with garlic salt, and top with tomato slices.

3. Cook eggs in a skillet coated with cooking spray until whites are set and yolk is still runny. Top tomato slices with eggs. Makes 4 servings.

 
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*kale, cauliflower, and chickpea curry.

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Yesterday I got an e-mail that I had a comment on my blog. (Thanks, Tim!)

Unfortunately, the comment was to very gently inform me that my fractions were a mess. (They were.)

But Tim had perfect timing, because it turns out I'd been looking for a nudge to return to my little corner of the Internet. There's a reason I still renew the domain every year even when I've been abysmal about tidying up the place.

I'd also recently made this curry, which I loved, and read an inspiring blog post at Souvlaki for the Soul about shooting with artificial light (dark backgrounds! fun!), and I was reintroduced to everything I love about posting to on the woodside.

I love the cooking, of course—though less so my inevitable forgetfulness, which always requires a second trip to the grocery store, a phenomenon that somehow never occurs when I'm not show-off cooking—and I love the cerebral solitude. I like being creative and easing off the pressures (no, I do not have to post every single day; yes, brown rice can suck it because basmati rice is better always always always do not let health nuts tell you lies).

This peppy little curry is chock-full of vegetables—cauliflower, chickpeas, kale—but you can change them up to whatever you like. (I'm thinking lentils, potato, and spinach would be lovely, too.) I roast the veggies first because I like the way it softens the cauliflower and gives it a pretty golden glow, and I love the crackling pages of kale melting into the sauce.

The aromatics—onion, garlic, ginger—are a must, as is the smooth coconut milk and smattering of cilantro. The chickpeas and curry paste give the whole thing life, with just-right texture and heat. (Though you'll notice that tall drink of Huy Fong in the background, because I can't help myself.)

And with all that nutritious goodness rocking around in the bowl, please make yourself some basmati rice. It's fragrant and sticky and brilliant, and it will make you happy. Brown rice is for sad people.

Let me know what you think!

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Kale, Cauliflower, and Chickpea Curry

1 bunch kale
1 small head cauliflower
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Dried crushed red pepper
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, minced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 (13.66-ounce) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium garbanzo beans 
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cilantro
Hot cooked basmati rice
Garnish: sriracha

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Strip leaves from kale, discarding stems. Core cauliflower and break into bite-size florets. Place kale leaves and cauliflower florets on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and dried crushed red pepper. Bake 20 to 30 minutes or until cauliflower are tender and browned, and kale is crispy.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add onions; cook 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and ginger; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add broth, stirring to deglaze pan. Stir in coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, and chickpeas.

3. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Stir into broth mixture, and bring to a boil. Stir in roasted kale and cauliflower; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro, and serve with basmati rice. Garnish, if desired. Makes 4 servings.


 

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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