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Dinner Rush! Cauliflower Steaks with Beans and Tomatoes

I’ll be the first to admit that cauliflower isn’t taking home first place for sexiest vegetable in your cart. It’s stark white, oddly bulbous and belongs to a family of vegetables classified as cruciferous. Woof. But, hidden inside those dense ivory florets is a ton of flavor with a gilding of abundant vitamins and minerals. So go ahead, embrace the cauliflower. Put a little lipstick on it and try serving cauliflower steaks (now that sounds sexy.)

When I say “steak,” what we’re going for here is a cross-section slice taken from the center of the vegetable. Since cutting through the core along with some florets is key to keeping the steak intact, you’re only going to get about four of them out of a large head of cauliflower. The florets that fall away are still perfectly good for whatever other cauliflower preparations you may dream up, so hang onto those for later use. I find it most effective to cut any green leaves away from the bottom and put the vegetable on the cutting board stem side up. Now that you can see where the center actually is, it’ll be much easier to slice through it, ensuring you get a nice core sample to keep each steak intact.

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Dinner Rush! Cold Ginger Soba Noodles

There’s a hole in my heart left behind by the recent closure of my favorite local Chinese restaurant. The Mill House Panda was a Poughkeepsie, NY, institution for decades, with cold sesame noodles unrivaled across three counties. While these aren’t exactly its version (not even close, in fact), a yearning for my long-lost Tuesday night take-out has inspired me to pick myself up, dust myself off and create a new cold Asian noodle to call my own.

A sneak peek down the page to the photos and ingredients listed below should raise eyebrows (and hopefully pique interest) that these aren’t your run of the mill cold sesame noodle. Being the fan of fiber that I am, these noodles are doubled down with shredded kale and a surprise kick from some chopped dried plums — which, as an aside, sound so much more pleasant than a bowl full of prunes, don’t they?

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Dinner Rush! Bacon Crab Cakes with Pimiento-Corn Relish

I always forget about crab. It’s a shame, really, considering how delicious and easy it is to work with. My market keeps it all tucked away in some stray corner of the seafood cooler case, escaping my radar. Plus when you’re married to someone who won’t eat anything that grew up in water, occasions are few and far between to crack them claws open.

Wanting to gussy up my offerings for a 4th of July BBQ recently, I went big. I went bold. I went for crab cakes — and (I’ll pat myself on the back here) I nailed it. Like most memorable things in life, bacon has the assist and — with such a clean palate of ingredients employed — the smokier the better.

While crab cakes may sound like a budget-busting endeavor for a plastic, gingham-tablecloth day in the sun, they don’t have to be. Crab comes in different grades usually labeled (in ascending order of quality) special, claw and lump. The texture of the lump meat is certainly lovely, but I like to reserve it for a simple presentation — like a crab salad, for instance — where its pricey texture can really shine. In this case, since we’re mixing the crab with all sorts of other things and then frying it, reach for “special” grade — the flavor is the same. They won’t, however, last very long. Get your “cook’s-spoils” bites in early.

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Dinner Rush! Beet Salad With Crispy Goat Cheese

I resorted to blowing the dust off from one of my old culinary schoolbooks the other night while canvassing for confirmation of a culinary fact in dispute. Welcome to my world. As I cracked the spine and thumbed through pages of notes (I’m a big advocate of writing in my books), an unexpected kick of nostalgia provided inspiration for that night’s dinner plans.

One of my culinary school’s go-to “beginner” recipes was a super simple but amazingly satisfying beet salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette and topped with a crispy round of goat cheese. It’s a salad with a bit of everything going on: roasted vegetables, a basic vinaigrette and a warm and crispy garnish. It was a total benchmark of achievement to go from having it served to you as a freshman to preparing it for others as a sophomore.

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Dinner Rush! Picnic Pizza Rolls

This is it, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Memorial Day has passed and summer is officially here!  I think it’s only fitting to celebrate the advent of summer with a bit of al fresco dining (what’s all this beautiful weather for, anyway, if not to enjoy?)  This week’s Dinner Rush! is heading outside with a picnic basket in hand.

OK, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a picnic — the point is these pizza rolls are great to make in advance for dinner anywhere from the front porch to the city park.  Like any good pizza, you can pretty much fill them with whatever you want, then just pack them up and get out for some fun in the sun!

Most stores offer pizza dough that is already prepared and can be picked up from the refrigerated case (or even the freezer).  If your market seems to be out, give your corner pizza shop a call — they’ll usually sell you a ball of dough no problem.

Happy Summer!

Picnic Pizza Rolls

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Dinner Rush! Moroccan Chicken Stew With Green Beans

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an entry encouraging you guys to make your own tandoori spice at home, inspired by a delicious one I found at my local market. Not being that guy who is going to leave you hanging with a rogue jar of “what do I do with that now?” spice blend, this week’s Dinner Rush is putting it back in action to create a quick and delicious Moroccan-inspired stew.

The flavors of Morocco are known for rather closely treading the line between sweet and savory. Lots of the spices in our tandoori blend — cumin, ginger and turmeric, for instance — are blended with cinnamon, lemon and dried fruits to produce simply composed and intricately flavored dishes. For ease of preparation, I’ve borrowed only a few of those ideas. If you’ve got the time to get a bit crazy, though, see how a pinch of saffron and a handful each of chopped prunes and chopped green olives completely will take this dish to a new level.

This stew is a great idea to keep on hand, too, for a Meatless Monday inspiration. You can easily swap the chicken stock for veggie stock or water, and trade the shredded chicken for a can of chickpeas. Do me a huge favor, though, and don’t skimp on the cilantro at the end. It cuts through the spice in the tandoori powder and gives the dish a great balance. Plus, it’s one of my top-three favorite herbs, for those curious.

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Dinner Rush! Steak House Chopped Salad

We’re keeping the math pretty simple this week, folks. I am such a sucker for a classic, stuffy, old-fashioned iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, and a big ol’ steak dinner also happens to make me weak in the knees. What happens when we put these two wondrous creations together? BOOM! Steak House Chopped Salad night, baby!

Blue cheese dressing can do no wrong, in my eyes. It’s such a nostalgic thing for me, bringing me back to my days working on the cold prep station at my first-ever restaurant job (it was the house’s most-popular dressing). My husband, however, is not the biggest blue cheese advocate in all the land. If he had his way, we’d be enjoying a nice sharp cheddar — and a delicious salad dressing that does not make. In our house, we met in the middle with a Danish-style mild blue, but feel free to crank it up with something more pungent — like a Stilton or Roquefort — if you prefer.

As you probably already gleaned from the picture, a few key players of the quintessential steak dinner lineup are missing: namely the baked potato and heaping pile of creamed spinach. To make up for their absence — and still leave us feeling satisfied at the end of the meal — I’ve subbed in crunchy radishes, creamy avocado and sweet grape tomatoes. As always, feel free to swap out whatever vegetables you like, just keep those textures and taste sensations in mind.

All we’re missing is a hearty glass of red wine to wash it all down. Was that the sound of a popping cork I just heard?

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Dinner Rush! Tandoori Spiced Chicken With Tahini Carrots

I do hope you’re sitting down for this one, because this post is so loaded with delicious, time-saving “do-ahead” ideas that it’ll make you weak in the knees (please, hold your applause). I know that a cursory glance at this post may incline one to believe there’s a lot of work ahead just to get a simple chicken dinner on the table. Be not deceived — read on with empowered optimism.

One of my favorite spice blends available at my local market is billed simply as tandoori powder. Borrowing inspiration from the famous Indian chicken dish bearing the name tandoori, this creation is bright, aromatic, pleasantly spicy and seriously amazing on everything from meat to fish to tofu to vegetables. If your market doesn’t have this available (or if you’re one of these awesome people who’d rather get all DIY on it), make some of your own and keep it close by — you’ll want to put it on everything. In a small bowl stir together 3 tablespoons ground coriander, 3 tablespoons ground cumin, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons garam masala or curry powder. Store the mixture in an airtight container at room temperature (makes about 3/4 cup; you won’t need all of it for this recipe).

What pantry of sound being is complete without a staple salad dressing, too, right? I love having a hearty tahini dressing on hand to toss with shredded kale, grilled romaine or — in this case — a raw carrot salad. In a medium bowl whisk together 3 tablespoons tahini, juice of 1 lemon, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 finely grated clove garlic, salt and pepper and 3 to 4 tablespoons warm water. Adjust the dressing’s consistency with more or less water and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week (makes about 3/4 cup).

See, not so tough, right? Plus you’re two steps ahead of the game for dinner the rest of the week! Alright, enough do-aheads — let’s make this into a meal!

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Farro Salad With Greek Yogurt

Since I discovered farro a few years ago, it’s become a weekly lunch staple. Because it’s easy to prepare and can be made in large batches, I normally make a full bag of farro at the beginning of the week so I can take it to work for lunch every day. This week I decided to use something other than olive oil in my go-to farro salad, so I picked up Greek yogurt. To complete the Mediterranean-inspired taste, I also shopped for cucumbers, lemons, garlic, dill and feta cheese.

With just seven ingredients, I was able to make filling lunch salad.

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Eating Well When You Feel Lazy

Penne Aglio-olio-Anything

Put down the mac and cheese, and back away from that can opener. I know the terrifying depths laziness can take a person, but don’t take it out on your stomach. A Doritos panino topped with Brie cheese and pickles isn’t creative — it’s a cry for help. Here are some foods that taste awesome and don’t require much effort.

Penne Aglio-olio-Anything

No excuse, folks. Pasta practically cooks itself. And this recipe doesn’t call for a trip to the store or to your neighbor’s house to ask for missing ingredients. Just throw in whatever you’ve got and it’s totally good enough.

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