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*stir-fry beef and broccoli.

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I have what amounts to a love-hate relationship with leftovers: My brain loves that they're cost-effective and ideal for lazy people; my heart thinks they are boring boring boring (and don't taste that great).

Even though I can admit that there are even some dishes that do manage to taste good the next day or cold—pizza, these wraps—I simply don't have the taste bud attention span to want That Same Thing for my next meal.

All of that, combined with my distaste for eating out of styrofoam containers (boo! all the food just steams in there! also the environment! probably in that order ... ), means that I don't eat takeout very often. 

I do, however, love the way the simplicity of this stir-fry—rice, beef, broccoli—plays with the complexity of the flavors. Those ingredients are simple, too, but they're just such wonderful friends: ginger, garlic, soy, fish sauce, hoisin. (I probably would have gilded the lily with a drop or two of sesame oil, but my grocer doesn't carry it.)

So far I've made the meal, eaten it, gone back for seconds, and twice (!) partaken of the leftovers. Two separate times! It's a leftover miracle. Even if once I slathered it in sriracha and draped a fried egg over it because That Is How I Do.

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Although let's be serious—can you blame me?
 
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A little leftovers note here: If you're going to go this route, put a couple of tablespoons of water in the pan with the rice and reheat it gently on the stovetop. Place the beef and broccoli in a dry skillet and kind of angrily crank up the heat—you want that hoisin to remember to redevelop a caramelized crust on the beef. And please, for the love of all things that taste good, don't put it in the microwave unless you absolutely have to. Microwaves were invented by people who thought flavor was an evil that had to be eradicated. I'm convinced it's half the reason frozen foods have so much salt in them—compensatory sodium!

I love the addition of the prepared Chinese hot mustard. (My grocery store sells this one.) I think it and the fish sauce really elevate this beyond the sweeter or blander versions you may have tried before. The mustard has something of a nasal, horseradish-style heat, so feel free to lather it all up with sriracha or chile flakes if you need a more focused kick to the tongue.

Simple, satisfying, and styrofoam-free—so much better than takeout.

Enjoy!

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Stir-fry Beef and Broccoli

1½ pounds flank steak, trimmed
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup prepared hoisin sauce
½ white onion, finely chopped
1 (1- to 2-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium, fat-free beef broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons prepared hot mustard
1 large bunch broccoli florets
Hot cooked basmati or long-grain rice
Garnishes: chopped green onion, sesame seeds

1. Cut flank steak in half lengthwise; cut each half crosswise into very thin slices. Toss steak with salt, pepper, and just enough cornstarch to coat.

2. Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add beef, in batches, and sauté 5 minutes or until edges are deeply browned. Place in a bowl and toss with hoisin; set aside.

3. Add onion to skillet, and cook 3 to 4 minutes or until softened and lightly browned; add ginger and garlic, and cook 1 more minute. Stir in beef broth, scraping to remove browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in fish sauce and next 3 ingredients.  

4. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add broccoli florets. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in beef; cover and cook 10 more minutes or until broccoli is tender and beef is heated through. Serve over rice; garnish, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

 
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*tuna salad niçoise.

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I posted a version of these photographs over on Instagram (look me up!) with the caption "trying to get my mojo back."

And it's true—while I could tell tall tales of action-packed holidays and busy work schedules and many too many meals out, the simple fact is that some time in November my wonderful sister and brother-in-law gave me a session with a house cleaner for my birthday, which led me to put my photo lights in the closet and ... well, that's pretty much all it takes to leave me thoroughly distracted.

So how have I fed myself the past couple of months? Mostly with spoonfuls of cottage cheese straight from the container for breakfast, brick-sized turkey sandwiches grabbed out of deli cases for lunch, and convenience foods for dinner. I dabbled in the kitchen here and there, but my efforts felt for the most part clumsy and disappointing and unsatisfying. 

And you know what? It started to really get me down. Granted, I know about the extent to which our heads are in the game when it comes to food more than most, but I realized I was feeling listless and off track. Putting mystery meat, other assorted blech, and much of the world's supply of potatoes into my body day after day was affecting my waistline and my psyche.

I knew that if I wanted to regain my footing, I was going to need an absolute bolt out of the blue.

And here she be:

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Beautiful. Fresh. Colorful. "Taste the rainbow" doesn't have to mean Skittles, friends. These are all healthy, unadulterated ingredients, but they're also delicious and indulgent.

For this little jump start, I went to the fancy market and bought all organic ingredients. That's truly not necessary—I find I can't afford to eat that way all the time, in funds or in time—but it went a long way toward making this meal feel like a treat I was giving myself. In all, I spent about $35 on everything you see here (with potatoes and tomatoes and eggs and olives and onion and greens left over), and got four good-size portions out of the deal. That's better bang for your buck than I generally get from eating out.

In the end, this is a salad. Some people just can't get all that excited about a salad, and I totally understand that. Sometimes I am some people, too. But the beauty of this salad is that there are so many components that each bite can taste a little bit different than the last, which makes your taste buds ever so happy. Especially if you save the olives for last.

There are a few tips to making this work as a quick meal, as opposed to feeling like you're making seven different dishes:

1. Cook the potatoes first. Blanch the green beans during the last few minutes of the potato cooking time.

2. Slice the onion, halve the tomatoes, trim the beans, and make the dressing while the potatoes cook. Also set your eggs out on the counter to come to room temperature.

3. Once the green beans and potatoes come out of the boiling water, add the eggs—fewer pots to wash!

4. Grill the tuna first, and slice the cooked potatoes in half; then add the potatoes, cut-side down, to the grill to pick up a little of that charred flavor (OK and maybe also so they'll look pretty.)

5. Set aside some dressing, and toss the warm potatoes in it the minute they come off the grill. FYI this does nothing to make the process easier or more efficient, it's just delicious.

6. Remember to have some ice on hand if at all possible for shocking the eggs. This makes the water cold-cold, so that egg whites gasp in horror and shrink from the shells, which makes peeling ever so much easier. I did not have ice, and ... well, you'll see there are three eggs here instead of four. (RIP fourth egg.)

Enjoy!

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Tuna Salad Niçoise

8 fingerling potatoes
10 ounces haricots vert or fresh green beans
½ 10-ounce package mixed baby lettuces
8 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
¼ large red onion, thinly sliced
16 pitted kalamata or niçoise olives
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 (8-ounce) tuna steak
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, at room temperature

1. Cook potatoes in boiling water to cover 15 minutes or until just tender. Add haricots vert to boiling water during last 3 minutes of cooking time. Remove haricots vert and potatoes from boiling water with tongs; place haricots vert in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Set aside.

2. Whisk together mustard, vinegar, 2 tablespoons oil, and 1 garlic clove in a medium bowl. Set aside.

3. Season tuna on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat grill pan over medium-high heat, and brush lightly with olive oil. Cook tuna 3 minutes on one side; turn, and cook 1 to 2 minutes (for rare) or until desired degree of doneness. Set aside.

4. Place potatoes, cut sides down, on grill pan; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until potatoes are well marked. Remove to a bowl, and toss with about 2 tablespoons reserved dressing. Set aside.

5. Add eggs to boiling water; cook exactly 6 minutes, and remove to a bowl of ice water.

6. Heat remaining 1 garlic clove in remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add haricots vert, and toss until lightly heated through. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cut tuna into thin slices. Carefully peel eggs, and gently cut in half crosswise.

7. Line a platter with baby lettuces; top with tomatoes, onion, olives, haricots vert, tuna, eggs, and potatoes. Serve with remaining dressing. 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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