Radicchio mellows paired with pork fat, pasta

A weekend away left me with little in the way of fresh produce in the refrigerator. Such times usually are when I turn to sun-dried tomatoes, brine-cured olives, capers and smoked fish in the pantry to bulk up pasta, brightened with a few fresh herbs gleaned from the garden.

But anticipating a busy couple of weeks with little time to shop, I had strategically purchased a few items that would stay vibrant and crisp for the duration. Belgian endive, a favorite with chopped apples, dried cranberries and blue-cheese dressing, is one of those.

The other, radicchio is more often seen in salad but mellows marvelously when wilted in a skillet, particularly with some pork fat. Over the past few years, I’ve taken to sautéing radicchio with prosciutto, pancetta or plain, old bacon for pasta carbonara.

This recipe from the Chicago Tribune makes similar use of radicchio, minus carbonara’s egg, and can be assembled for a quick, weeknight supper or cupboard’s-almost-bare meal. Fresh, flat-leaf parsley is a fine substitute for arugula.

Tribune News Service photo

Linguine With Prosciutto, Radicchio and Arugula

In a large pot of well-salted, boiling water, cook 8 ounces linguine until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 1 ounce prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch thick lardons; cook until fat renders a bit, for 5 minutes. Add 1 onion, peeled and chopped, 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced, and salt to taste. Cook until onion softens, for 5 minutes.

Stir in 1/2 cup white wine, 4 canned plum tomatoes, chopped, and 1 head radicchio, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons. Cover; simmer until radicchio wilts, for 10 minutes.

Stir pasta into sauce. Serve sprinkled with baby arugula. Makes 2 servings.

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In sweets or with meat, cardamom a must-have

Cardamom gets its due in this week’s food-section spread on Indian cooking. The pods filled with black seeds are an essential component of India’s iconic spice blend garam masala and innumerable other dishes from the subcontinent.

The pods’ popularity ranges far and wide, however. Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisines feature plenty of cardamom. Closer to home, pears often are spiced with cardamom. And if the Rogue Valley’s original “gift fruit,” didn’t furnish reason enough, holiday baking recipes, particularly those originating in Scandinavia, make cardamom the season’s must-have spice.

I’ve been experimenting for about a decade with cardamom in sweet and savory dishes alike. It adds that je ne sais quoi in everything from raspberry vinaigrette and rhubarb compote to Moroccan-spiced oatmeal with apricots and dates. I often compound an iteration of the North African spice blend Ras el Hanout when roasting lamb shanks or any other meat for tagine.

Applying a yogurt marinade to meat for oven roasting is another common technique in Indian cooking. But it easily transfers to the home kitchen, particularly with the addition of fresh herbs and lemon zest. Yogurt-baked chicken tickled the taste buds of participants in a cooking class that I presented last year for ACCESS. They said they couldn’t believe how easy it was to coat chicken in yogurt, which imparts big flavor and retains the meat’s moisture.

Try the method in this recipe, highlighting cardamom, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Tribune News Service photo

Yogurt Spiced Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut up, or 3 to 4 pounds of chicken pieces

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly ground is best)

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse the chicken and pat dry.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, allspice, nutmeg and cardamom. Add chicken pieces and mix until chicken is thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Arrange grill for indirect heat or preheat oven to 400 F.

Knock or brush off as much yogurt marinade as you can. Liberally sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.

If using a grill, place chicken skin-side-down on grate away from coals or flames, and close lid. Cook white meat for 25 to 30 minutes, turning once. Cook dark meat for 45 to 55 minutes, turning once.

If using an oven, heat a grill pan or heavy, ovenproof skillet very hot on stovetop. Spray with nonstick spray (or add a little oil), then place chicken skin-side-down onto pan. Cook until seared and brown, but do not let it burn, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip chicken and place pan in oven. Cook white meat for 25 minutes or until done; cook dark meat for 45 minutes or until done.

Makes 4 servings.

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Skip taters, serve tots some cauliflower ‘bites’

Suggestions for cauliflower, riced for a potato substitute or — well — “rice,” are the stuff of this blog’s latest podcast.

Making these swaps an even simpler endeavor, pre-riced cauliflower increasingly is available fresh and frozen at many grocers. Trader Joe’s version transforms cauliflower into “tater tots” in this recipe from the Kansas City Star.

With 30 calories and 2 grams of fat apiece, cauliflower bites are billed as a “waistline winner.” I’d call them another clever way to coerce kids into eating more veggies.

Slightly underbaked to accommodate reheating, cauliflower bites would freeze well, offering just as much as convenience as bagged tater tots or oven fries.

Tribune News Service photo

Crispy Cauliflower Bites

Cooking spray, as needed

1/2 medium head cauliflower

2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a mini muffin tin generously with some of the nonstick cooking spray.

Remove leaves from the cauliflower. You can use inner core for this recipe. Coarsely chop cauliflower and place in bowl of a food processor with steel chopping blade. Pulse food processor until cauliflower is finely chopped. Do not overprocess or cauliflower will turn into a puree.

Place finely chopped cauliflower into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to blend well. Place a rounded tablespoon of mixture into each mini muffin well. Pat down to form a nugget. Bake, uncovered, in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Carefully turn each cauliflower bite over and continue to bake for 12 to 15 additional minutes or until bites are crispy brown on both sides.

Serve hot or warm for best flavor. Makes 24 cauliflower bites.

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Retro cauliflower casserole makes one-dish meal

Cauliflower and casseroles both factored into this blog’s previous post.

The question was which type of casserole to make for friends who could use a little mealtime help. Cauliflower came under consideration but didn’t make the cut for lack of ingredients to combine in a hearty main dish. So I used the cauliflower in a gratin, based on a recipe for “loaded cauliflower bake” posted earlier this year, to accompany some smoked chicken drumsticks for my family’s dinner.

Omitting the recipe’s bacon, I tweaked the other ingredients slightly to accommodate what I had on hand: whole milk, instead of reduced-fat; crème fraiche, instead of cream cheese; and the addition of some Swiss cheese to the quantity of shredded cheddar. I also liberally seasoned the cheese sauce with dry mustard, freshly grated nutmeg and white pepper, my go-to blend for béchamel.

Predictably, my husband raved over the dish’s creaminess and savor. And it wasn’t such a stretch for my 4- and 2-year-old sons to eat.

Since the success of that dish, I spied this cauliflower casserole, enhanced with ham, mushrooms and a breadcrumb topping. Given the massive ham in my freezer, a guaranteed source of leftovers, this recipe is bound to come into play over the next month. I’d also use any fresh mushroom, preferably wild-foraged, although this dish is unapologetically retro with its inclusion of canned mushrooms. Old-school American cheese may lend a distinctive flavor, but I think it would be delicious with Gruyere and Parmesan.

From Chicago Tribune food writer Jennifer Day’s repository of family recipes, cauliflower casserole is essential at the holidays. I’d make it a weeknight treat.

Tribune News Service photo

Cauliflower Casserole

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets

2 cups cubed ham, about 8 ounces

4 to 5 ounces sliced mushrooms, or 1 can (7 ounces) sliced mushrooms, drained

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3 slices American cheese, cut into narrow strips

3 slices sharp cheddar, cut into narrow strips

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground white pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 2-quart shallow gratin dish.

In a saucepan of well-salted boiling water, cook the cauliflower until just tender; drain. Toss in a bowl with the ham and mushrooms.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; stir in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until light golden-brown, for about 8 minutes. Whisk in the milk; cook, stirring continuously, until thickened, for about 10 minutes.

Take sauce off heat; add half of the cheese, plus the sour cream, salt and white pepper to taste. Return to heat; stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth, for about 3 minutes.

In a bowl, toss together the breadcrumbs and olive oil until well-combined. Stir sauce into cauliflower mixture until well-combined. Scrape into prepared gratin dish. Layer remaining cheese on top; sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake in preheated oven until bubbly and golden, for 30 to 35 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

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Tamale pie spices up leftover turkey in casserole

The Whole Dish podcast: Southwest-inspired dish also uses leftover gravy

I’ve never been a casserole type of cook.

My less-than-favorable view of “hot dishes,” as they’re known in the Midwest, probably is a product of my upbringing. Coming of age in high-school home-economics classes of the 1970s, my mom should have been a casserole queen. But my dad, infamously, was not a fan. After nearly 40 years of marriage, my mom still can’t quite believe that her newlywed husband told her to feed a freshly baked tuna casserole to the cat before taking her out to dinner.

So when courtesy and concern call for bringing friends or family members a meal during times of hardship, my casserole repertoire comes up short. Why not some other genre of dish?

The concept behind casseroles in a crisis, of course, is that they’re usually a complete meal in one recipe, meaning no other food preparation is required, and preparation couldn’t be easier: from fridge to oven in one maneuver. And casseroles will feed a crowd of people coming or going for a couple of days, or can be stashed away in the freezer until needed.

That’s why I spent part of a recent weekend morning racking my brains for what to bring friends recovering from a medical procedure with three young children to care for. I didn’t have any meat thawed but needed to drop off the dish within just a couple of hours.

Chicken Divan would have been easy enough, but I didn’t have a green vegetable, just cauliflower, which would make for anemic presentation. A cauliflower gratin could have been amped up with bacon, but my husband had just eaten all of it for breakfast. Ground lamb was a bit too foreign for this family, and we didn’t have any ground beef or turkey for a meat-enriched pasta sauce.

Then it hit me: tamale pie. I had enough coarse-ground cornmeal and buttermilk for my Southern-style cornbread, layered with a green chili-sauced mixture of canned pinto beans and chicken. Fortunately, the slim package of organic chicken thigh fillets in the freezer would thaw fast enough in water for me to chop them, and I could pry a few roasted chilies from a large brick of them in the freezer.

In about half an hour of hands-on time, I managed to mix up the cornbread, enriched with grated cheddar cheese, and blend up the thawed chilies with ½ cup of milk, a few ounces of cream cheese and half an avocado, lightly seasoned with some cumin, onion and garlic powder. Make no mistake: If I’d had canned enchilada sauce, I would have used it instead.

Turkey enchiladas always were a Thanksgiving-leftover staple when I was a kid. But we haven’t had them in years, since my grandparents hosted our extended family for the holiday. But tamale pie strikes me as the sort of Americanized Mexican fare that my grandmother, who grew up in Colorado, would enjoy with leftover turkey. She raved over the turkey posole that my husband and I concocted a couple of years back.

Instead of baking with a layer of cornbread on top, this iteration of tamale pie keeps the corn, polenta actually, on the bottom. If I really wanted to tempt my grandma’s taste buds, I’d replace the red bell pepper with her beloved green.

Turkey Tamale Pie

Tribune News Service photo

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

1 cup polenta or cornmeal

2 to 4 tablespoons butter

8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese shredded, divided

1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

1 1/4 teaspoons pepper, divided

2 cups leftover turkey, shredded

1 cup leftover gravy

1 1/2 cups red enchilada sauce

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 red bell pepper, cored and diced

1 1/2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained

Diced avocado, for serving

Chopped, fresh cilantro, for garnish

4 ounces queso fresco or cotija cheese, crumbled, for garnish

Salsa, for serving

Tortilla chips, for serving

Pomegranate arils, for garnish (optional)

Pour the chicken broth and milk into a high-sided, ovenproof skillet and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook, stirring frequently, until polenta is soft and thick, for about 15 to 20 minutes. Keep warm and then just before serving, stir in the butter and half of the cheddar cheese. Season with ¼ teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. If polenta seems a little thick, you can add a tablespoon of butter or extra milk.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

While polenta is cooking, combine in a mixing bowl the turkey, gravy, red enchilada sauce, chili powder, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin and remaining salt and pepper. Stir in the bell pepper and black beans.

Once polenta is done cooking, smooth it out into a single layer and then pour turkey mixture over, spreading it in an even layer. Top with remaining shredded cheese.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until pie is bubbling and cheese is melted. Allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes, and then serve with the avocado, cilantro, salsa, queso fresco or cotija cheese, tortilla chips and pomegranate arils, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

— Recipe from Halfbakedharvest.com

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Talking turkey: Pick duck for smaller gatherings

The Whole Dish podcast: Memories tie festive dishes to familiar faces

Making holidays memorable, without a truckload of food on hand, is the talking point of an upcoming “Jefferson Exchange” episode.

Hosting yours truly the day before Thanksgiving, the popular show on Jefferson Public Radio also will bring my cooking kindred spirit, Tod Davies, into the discussion. A local food writer, editor and book publisher, Tod invited me to join her in cooking from a “mystery bag” at last month’s Ashland Literary Arts Festival. Our repartee was so seamless that John Baxter, who volunteered to emcee, never got his chance to cut in.

Not to be denied, John, senior producer for the “Exchange,” asked us to meet on his turf to talk turkey. Tune in at 8:30 a.m. for a taste of what Tod and I cook up for the holidays.

John’s concept for the show seems to indicate a very small group of holiday diners. So I would suggest a smaller bird as the centerpiece. Duck isn’t exactly a pantry staple, although it’s widely available frozen, even at Food 4 Less in Medford.

Although their small size suits ducks to everyday preparation, they’re offbeat enough to constitute special-occasion fare. I blogged nearly a decade ago about choosing duck for a scaled-down family celebration.

If it’s a memorable meal you’re after, duck is the gift that keeps on giving. Saving a roast duck’s gorgeous fat for other dishes guarantees that you’ll remember that first dinner weeks or months down the road.

If it’s a dinner for just one other guest, duck breast is right on target. Make two breasts to feed four people.

Duck breast cooks quickly, slices seamlessly without bones to dismember and makes for an artful presentation fanned out on plates and garnished with a wine-and-butter sauce like this one from the Chicago Tribune. I would hazard that duck’s rich flavor and ruddy hue makes it an even better companion to Thanksgiving’s traditional cranberry sauce.

Tribune News Service photo

Duck Breast

1 duck breast, about 8 ounces

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up

Rinse and pat dry the duck breast. Turn it skin-side up on a cutting board. With a long sharp knife, cut through skin and fat (but not meat) in a series of parallel stokes, forming a pattern of small squares or diamonds. Season all over with the salt and pepper, rubbing seasonings into meat.

Heat oven to 350 F. Keep handy a small saucepan for collecting duck fat. Heat a medium, cast-iron skillet over medium. When good and hot, settle in duck, skin-side down (big sizzle), pressing to make sure skin is flat against hot surface. Cook until skin is beautifully crisp, for about 8 minutes. Every 2 minutes, lift duck with tongs and pour off accumulated fat.

Pour off fat again. Turn duck meat-side down in skillet; slide it into hot oven. Cook until duck reaches 135 F inside, for about 15 minutes (see note). Set duck on a carving board, uncovered, let rest.

Set skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, scraping up browned bits, until shallots turn soft, for about 1 minute. Pour in the wine, and cook until sauce begins to thicken, for about 4 minutes. Stir in the butter. Pull pan off heat.

Thinly slice duck on diagonal. Mix juices from carving board into sauce. Pour sauce onto each of 2 plates; fan duck slices over sauce. Enjoy. Makes 2 servings.

Later, strain reserved duck fat into a small jar and chill. This will come in handy for crisping potatoes, seasoning chicken and other delicious projects. You’ll see.

NOTE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 F. If you have health concerns about rare meat, skip duck.

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Precooked, frozen beans as convenient as canned

A variety of preparations and serving suggestions for made-from-scratch beans filled the previous post to this blog.

Beans’ economy and health benefits also were highlighted in my latest podcast. Tune in for more on how to take the $10 Meal Challenge.

There’s no dispute that beans have long been a key means of feeding anyone on a budget. This recipe from the Chicago Tribune is a quick and easy take on the Cajun classic red beans with rice. Consider cooking a pot of dried beans and then freezing them in smaller portions, as mentioned in my podcast. When several servings of beans are needed, simply thaw the freezer bag of beans in warm water for a few minutes.

If using plain, precooked beans, rather than the chili-seasoned beans indicated in this recipe, add a teaspoon of chili powder, a bit more cayenne and maybe some dried mustard and thyme.

Tribune News Service photo

Beans and Rice With Andouille

In a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons canola oil; add 4 peeled and chopped garlic cloves and 1 peeled and chopped onion. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add 1 1/4 cups long-grain rice; cook, stirring, until rice is lightly colored. Pour in 1 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup water; stir in 1 teaspoon thyme. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook until rice is tender, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown 12 ounces sliced andouille sausage in a skillet. Add 1 (16-ounce) can chili beans or 1 ½ cups precooked beans, a pinch cayenne and salt and pepper to taste; cook until hot. Serve over rice, sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

Makes 6 servings.

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Simmer dried beans instead of reaching for cans

The Whole Dish podcast: Dried beans are top contenders in ‘$10 Meal Challenge’

After another four-session stint of teaching whole-foods cooking and how to make healthful choices, I shed my apron last week to lead Ashland High School students on a tour of Safeway.

The grocery-store tour is my favorite lesson in the Cooking Matters curriculum, devised by a handful of chefs and government nutrition-guideline gurus. And it isn’t actually geared toward young adults learning how to shop. The section-by-section look at grocery stores opens the eyes of many adults, even longtime cooks and shoppers. It was this tour that sparked educators’ interested in offering Cooking Matters to Ashland School District’s Aspire Program participants.

The tour dedicates the majority of time and attention to the fresh produce section. The current MyPlate model implores Americans to fill half of their plates with fruits and vegetables, a bit less of the former, more of the latter.

But the tour also emphasizes that fruits and vegetables don’t have to be fresh to “count” toward mealtime quotas. Stops in grocers’ frozen and canned sections point out that convenience, seasonality, storage and price all can play roles in choosing frozen and canned items.

Which items do we purchase most often in cans? My co-instructor and fellow ACCESS volunteer, Steve, and I agree that canned tomato products are pantry essentials, along with canned beans.

Yes, we’ll admit that canned beans largely represent convenience, compared with tomatoes’ off-season preservation in cans. And yes, beans are many times more economical and healthful when prepared from scratch, i.e. dried. They just take a bit of time. And when my family pops open a couple of cans of beans for burritos, nachos, tostadas or taco salads, it’s because we didn’t plan far enough ahead to thaw out some meat and we need a fast protein fix.

Because I know that’s bound to happen, though, I need to treat cooking beans like I do stock. When I have a lazy, weekend day at home, I should put a pot of beans on the stove and, after several hours, portion the beans into freezer bags. They’ll take just a few minutes to thaw when I need them in short order.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune makes cooking beans from scratch even more appealing. Turns out that soaking beans isn’t really necessary. Yes, soaking decreases cooking time, but beans take so long anyway, just start them a bit sooner if you’re planning on it being a daylong process. And no, soaking them doesn’t really improve their digestibility all that much. Sorry.

Another myth that the Tribune dispelled is salting before beans become soft. The newspaper’s recipe calls for seasoning the cooking liquid with about half a tablespoon of kosher salt per quart, as soon as it comes to the simmer. The liquid should taste properly seasoned.

To ensure versatility, however, keep the flavor profile simple, limiting it to aromatic vegetables (onions, peppers, garlic, etc.), and fairly neutral herbs and spices. Tomatoes work with almost every cuisine. And pork products (bacon, salt pork, ham hocks, etc.) deepen flavor, and the extra fat gives beans a creamier mouth feel.

Tribune News Service photo

Here’s the Tribune’s method for making a pound of dried beans:

1. Crisp up half a pound of bacon lardons.

2. When they’re halfway there, add aromatics, and sweat for a few minutes.

3. Add beans and enough liquid to cover them by about an inch. Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

4, Add salt until the liquid tastes perfectly seasoned, then cover the beans and simmer until they’re soft and creamy.

Depending on the kind of beans and how old they are (beans continue to dry out on the shelf), and depending on whether you soaked or not, this could take anywhere from an hour to three or more. Leave yourself plenty of time, and you can’t go wrong. Check the liquid frequently; if the level drops below the beans, add more as necessary.

When the beans are done, taste for salt, and finish flavoring with whatever you’re using: spices or fresh herbs, vinegar and sugar, barbecue sauce, you name it. Then, consider several more options: Serve beans immediately with rice. Add more liquid and turn it into bean soup. Pass them through a food mill to make bean puree.

Variations:

Cuban/Latin American-style: Render bacon. Sweat onions, green pepper, garlic and jalapeno, if you like. Use black beans with chicken stock or water. When done, flavor with cilantro, oregano, cider vinegar, sugar and optional sliced pimento-stuffed olives.

French-style: Render bacon. Sweat mirepoix (a 2-1-1 mix of chopped onions, carrot and celery). Use white beans with stock and a bay leaf. When done, flavor with thyme or herbes de Provence. A poached egg on top of these is wonderful.

Tex-Mex: Render bacon. (See the pattern?) Sweat onions, green pepper, garlic and optional jalapeno. Use kidney beans and/or pintos in water or stock. When done, flavor with cumin, chili powder and optional barbecue sauce.

 

Perfect Pinto Beans

1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 pound dry pinto beans

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth

Water, as needed

Salt, as needed

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 jalapeno, split in half (optional)

Cilantro, minced, for serving

Mexican cheese, like cotija or queso fresco, crumbled, for serving

In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat, saute the bacon until fat is rendered but bacon is still soft, for about 5 minutes.

Add the onion and continue cooking until bacon is slightly crispy, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, for about 30 seconds.

Add the beans and stock. Add water until beans are covered by about an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Season liquid with salt to taste, about 1/2 tablespoon per quart of liquid.

Add the bay leaf, spices and jalapeno, if using; cover and simmer until beans are soft and creamy, for 90 minutes to 3 hours.

Serve warm in bowls, topped with the cilantro and cheese.

Makes 12 half-cup servings.

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Buffalo-wing seasonings perk up ground chicken

Ground chicken got a bad rap in my latest podcast, chronicling the trials and successes of cooking from a “mystery bag” of ingredients.

My cooking compatriot, Tod Davies, likened her ground chicken mixture, despite sautéing with garlic, shallots and carrots, to Styrofoam. Of course, she was employing a bit of hyperbole, but we all knew what she was getting at.

The problem with ground chicken, particularly ground chicken breast, is that it lacks flavor and quickly becomes dry and tough. That’s because, as I’m always fond of reiterating, all of a chicken’s flavor is in the bones and skin.

Now, pasture-raised, heritage-breed birds have more deeply flavored meat. But that’s exactly the flavor that the modern-day, mainstream American public doesn’t want. So commercially produced chickens have bland, lean meat that even more closely resembles protein pellets in the absence of their skin and bones.

One way to make ground chicken more palatable, of course, is to add lots of seasonings and prepare it in a way that preserves moisture. Accomplishing both is this recipe for meatloaf, courtesy of foodnetwork.com, that plays up the flavors of Buffalo wings.

I’m not usually a fan of recipe gimmicks. But I will concede that the trifecta of hot sauce, blue cheese and celery has a lot going for it. And I think I can confidently recommend this recipe after my family enjoyed “Buffalo chicken burgers” last month. We did use ground turkey, which we almost always substitute for chicken, with a bit juicier, more savory results.

We didn’t need a recipe to baste our burger patties with hot-wings sauce, then top them with blue cheese crumbles between a brioche bun. Celery leaves fresh from our garden stood in for the lettuce, along with a sweet slab of garden tomato.

The piece de resistance was a layer of french-fried onions (yes, the kind from a canister!) that my husband shook out right onto the griddle, figuring that, greasy as they are, they’d crisp up beautifully. And so they did! I don’t think we’ll ever eat french-fried onions any other way.

In fact, I think I’d substitute them for the crunchy topping on this meatloaf. You also could use a favorite hot-wings sauce instead of the ketchup-hot sauce mixture called for in the recipe. And feel free to substitute ground turkey. For its additional fat, the reward is richer flavor.

I explain a technique in my debut podcast for mixing meatloaf to keep the finished dish light and tender.

Tribune News Service photo

Buffalo Chicken Meatloaf

4 tablespoons hot sauce, divided

3 tablespoons ketchup

Nonstick spray, for preparing loaf pan

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 stalks celery, small diced (about 1 cup)

1/2 medium onion, small diced (about 1 cup)

1 1/2 pounds ground chicken

1 cup blue cheese crumbles

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

2 large eggs

2 cups panko breadcrumbs, divided

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

In a small bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon of the hot sauce with the ketchup; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a standard (9-by-5-by-3-inch) loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Saute the celery and onion in melted butter until softened, for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture, with drippings, to a large bowl. Add remaining 3 tablespoons hot sauce to bowl and stir to combine. Add the chicken, blue cheese, salt, pepper, eggs and 1 1/2 cups of the panko and mix until well-combined.

Press mixture into prepared loaf pan, pressing more in center of loaf to create a divot. This will allow meatloaf to bake evenly and not create a mound after it is baked. Spread sauce over top of meatloaf. Mix the Parmesan with remaining 1/2 cup panko and sprinkle mixture on top of sauce.

Bake in preheated oven until center is set and top is golden-brown, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Or use a meat thermometer and let meatloaf reach 165 F. Let rest for about 15 minutes before cutting to serve.

Makes 8 slices.

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Prize beets for their lovely leaves, not just roots

Fellow food writer Tod Davies and I seasoned a recent “mystery bag” cooking demonstration with plenty of anecdotes.

One of Tod’s favorites, gleaned from a recent shopping trip to Food 4 Less, involved advocating the consumption of not just beets, but the root vegetable’s greens. She attested that beet greens are delicious in response to a fellow shopper wondering aloud why the store didn’t do customers a favor and trim off all the beets’ bothersome stems and leaves.

Why would they do that when greens are the best part of a bunch of beets? Tod replied.

I’m inclined, as in many food-related assertions, to agree with Tod. Beet greens offer a plethora of vitamins and minerals, not to mention fiber, in a gorgeous, magenta-veined package. And they’re also far milder in flavor than their appearance suggests, compared with chard, kale and other greens that enjoy wider appeal.

I love to excise the tiniest leaves from inside the beet bundle to toss with salad greens and then roughly chop the larger leaves for sautéing. I’ve tossed them into pad Thai and pasta carbonara, soup and stew and I’ve even topped pizza off with garlic-seasoned beet leaves.

Here’s a recipe that takes roasted beets out of the restaurateur’s realm, where they’ve become a salad unto themselves with goat cheese. Quesadillas confer casual status on the trendy root vegetable, particularly paired with their greens. Or skip roasting the beets if you’re in a hurry and simply saute their leaves for this dish, courtesy of Tribune News Service, and save the beets for another meal.

Tribune News Service photo

Beet Green, Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese Quesadillas

2 bunches small beets with greens attached (about 12)

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large sprig rosemary

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

8 (6-inch) corn tortillas

11 ounces soft goat cheese, or to taste

Hot sauce, for serving

Heat oven to 400 F. Remove greens from the beets, coarsely chop greens and reserve.

Place beets on a double layer of foil and drizzle over 3 tablespoons oil. Sprinkle over the salt and add the rosemary. Seal foil around beets, making a pouch, place on a baking sheet and bake until beets are tender, for about an hour (a knife should pierce beets easily). Set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel and thinly slice.

In a skillet heated over medium-high heat until hot, add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir in the garlic, cooking for a minute or so until it begins to color, then add chopped greens. Cook, stirring frequently, until greens are wilted and stems are tender, for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat until hot and coat with a thin layer of olive oil. Place a couple of the tortillas in pan and top with some of the goat cheese, beet greens and sliced beets. Top with tortillas, flattening each to spread filling evenly.

Cook quesadillas until cheese is melted and tortillas are golden, carefully flipping to cook filling and tortillas evenly. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Halve quesadillas and serve while warm, with hot sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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