Hurricane Preparedness: Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

As everyone on earth was made aware, NYC almost got hit with a hurricane! Thankfully, Irene was downgraded to a Tropical storm as it hit the city and we didn’t sustain much damage in my area of town. Parts of Long Island and Staten Island did, as did a lot of this coast however, and we’re not out of it entirely quite yet. While the media hoopla annoyed the hell out of me (Hello, Libya anyone? It’s just a damn storm not a revolution. And then the whole people getting flooded thing.) I am glad that the city took the precautions it did. I’ve lived through one mishandled hurricane and have no desire to do that again. In the places that did get hit with Irene’s hurricane strength (looking at you Puerto Rico) I hope recovery goes well and swiftly.

Anyhow, as part of prep for the storm I wanted to put something together that could be made ahead of time, was easy to prepare and would keep. Comfort food was also a factor. Yay cheese! This is the least “sophisticated” recipe I will ever post and that’s alright. Food doesn’t have to be fancy all the time. Nor do photographs. In the spirit of the moment, I dealt with what was at hand, in this case my iPhone. This was delicious and quick and pretty much exactly what you need from a made-like-grandma casserole. I got this recipe online, but added some bits from my grandmother’s recipes. I took the task of going through my grandma’s recipe files a bit ago and guess what a significant number were. You guessed it, casseroles. I swear she has a casserole for everything: enchiladas, chicken kiev, tuna, beef stroganoff, EVERYTHING. And most of them contained some sort of condensed soup or another. This does not. There are canned things however.

Anyhow, this is super simple and super quick to put together. It is also delicious. If you have a sensitivity to peppers like I do (bell peppers or any sort of chili….) omit the green chiles. I kept them in and only kind of regretted it, because they are so delicious. I think this took about 45 minutes all told. This does require the use of a stove and the oven so is best prepared while you have the use of both. Otherwise it’s just a sad layering of ingredients. And raw meat. Yeah, don’t do that.

Cheesy Enchilada Casserole

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans,drained
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 1 can (10oz)  enchilada sauce
  • 1 package taco seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 6 flour tortillas (I used 2- small container)
  • 2 cups (4 ounces) Mexican cheese blend. Add another cup if you want.
  • ¼ c. salsa (optional)
  • 1 small can of drained corn, or about 1 1/4 cups of frozen corn (optional)
  • 1/4 c. minced fresh cilantro (optional)

In a large skillet, heat a small amount of oil and cook the onion. When they’re about halfway to being soft, throw in the beef and brown. Drain the mixture.

Stir in the enchilada sauce, beans, taco seasoning, cumin, corn and salsa. Make sure this is really mixed together well. Taste and spice if necessary (should not be necessary) .

Spoon a generous layer of meat mixture on bottom of 2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese. No, more that that. More. Yeah, that’s enough.

Place a flour tortilla or two on top of  the meat mixture.  If you want more to the layers, use two, but really this is just a filler. Cover with half of the meat mixture, and more cheese. Repeat as often as you have room (I did 2 layers). On top of final layer of tortilla, cover with cheese. When in doubt? More cheese.

Cover with foil that has been sprayed with cooking spray and bake at 400° for 25 minutes, or until hot & bubbly.

Let stand for 5 minutes before topping with lettuce, tomato and cilantro.  Eat by candlelight. Or by regular light if you don’t lose power.

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Charcutepalooza: Chicken Liver and Shallot Terrine

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, as I’m sure you can tell. This summer has been…weird. Not that I haven’t been cooking, but not much really. But it looks like my life is returning to something resembling normal (whatever that is) so I’ll be updating more regularly. I’ve got a handful of things queued up here, photos and all, so it should be a fun ride.

July’s Challenge was Binding. Meaning mousselines, terrines and headcheese. It was also July so as tempting as the head (or feet!) cheese sounded, I was not going to subject my ill-cooled apartment (and self) to that process. Instead, I stuck with the Apprentice challenge and found a recipe for a Chicken Liver and Shallot Terrine. Yeah, it turned out pretty well, even if it was a surprising amount of food. I halved the recipe and it filled a 1.5 quart terrine mold. So there we go. Next time I’ll quarter the thing and have a manageable amount of pate. Too much of this batch had to be tossed. Never again!

I sourced everything from the farmer’s market, as usual. Ingredients like offal are better bought at the farmer’s market, I think. Like with most meat from local, sustainable farmer, it just tastes better. These livers were so rich and meaty. Not that pâté is known to be a light dish to start with, but these livers had deep flavor I haven’t tasted in conventional organ meats.

That said, holy crap this is a rich pâté . So many livers! So many shallots! So much butter. This is not a health food, but it’s damn good.  The shallots give a nice sweetness to what could otherwise be an overwhelmingly rich dish. I plan on making a smaller amount of this for parties–it’s definitely an entertaining dish. Consumed with some nice wine and good bread and conversation? Perfect.

But enough of the talking! More food porn!

Chicken Liver Terrine with Shallots by Jean-Louis Palladin


  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 10 medium shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons Cognac
  • 3 sticks (3/4 pound) plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into tablespoons
  • 2 pounds chicken livers, cleaned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until an amber caramel forms, about 8 minutes. Add the shallots and stir well, then add the Cognac. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel dissolves and the shallots are soft, about 10 minutes. Spread the mixture in a large dish and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
In a large skillet, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the chicken livers and season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat until firm on both sides and deep pink in the center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the livers and their juices to a shallow dish and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the livers for 20 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the livers with the shallot mixture and process until pureed. With the machine running, gradually add the remaining 3 sticks of butter until thoroughly incorporated. Strain the puree through a fine sieve set over a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Line a 4-cup terrine or loaf pan with sheets of plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang all around. [PROTIP: Moisten the container before putting in the plastic wrap to help the wrap adhere]  Scrape the puree into the container and cover tightly with the overhanging plastic wrap. Refrigerate until very firm, at least overnight and for up to 5 days. Unwrap the terrine and turn it out on a platter. Serve chilled, with cornichons and sourdough toasts or country bread.

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Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

I have a weakness for cheese. Thankfully, this weakness is shared by my roommate. In fact, she’s a bit of a cheese fiend. I read the other day that cheese naturally contains a bit of morphine. So it’s addictive and you know what? Awesome. For it. Bring on the cheese. All of it. Now. No, really. Gimme.

Stuffed shells are kind of a tradition in my family. My uncle’s shells are legendary– every year my cousin requested them for her birthday. Those, however, are not the shells in this recipe. These are healthy- with greens and everything. See? (sweet little lies we tell ourselves). I made these for a dinner with a good friend who is mostly vegetarian and really this is the only version of stuffed shells I’d eat in the summertime. They’re surprisingly light and really filling in all the right ways and make great left overs. I might have eaten a few for breakfast this morning.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells

  • 1 package (10oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed drained
  • 1 package jumbo shells (I only used about half of them and just stuffed the shells really full.)
  • 15 oz. part skim ricotta
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/4 t. oregano
  • 1/4 t. onion powder
  • 1/8 t. fresh grated nutmeg
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1c. fresh grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese

Defrost and drain the frozen spinach. Set a large pot of water to boil and cook the shells according to the package. I only used half the shells, so about 18-20 of them, and just stuffed them really full. This way a meal is about 3 shells and there is enough for leftovers, but not so many that I’d get bored or they go bad. Drain the pasta and set aside. This allows the pasta to cool to a handling temperature

In a large bowl, combine spinach, ricotta, 3/4 c. Parmesan, mozzarella, egg, and all the spices and herbs. Make sure the spinach is equally distributed through the cheese mixture as it has a tendency to clump.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Take a 9×13 baking dish and lubricate with a little olive oil. Spread about ½ c. of your tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Fill the shells with the spinach mixture and arrange on top of the sauce. Don’t  skimp on the filling! Spoon the remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle with the remaining  Parmesan and a little mozzarella.

If you want to serve these later, the shells can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours before cooking. Otherwise, bake covered for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook until the shells are heated and the sauce is bubbling slightly, another 10 or 20 minutes.

Serve with some salad and a crisp wine and pretend it’s not 88 degrees with 70% humidity out.

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Bundle of Joy

I mentioned in my last post that as of tomorrow I will be a Master of Arts. Fancy right? Well, that goes hand in hand with a graduation which also tends to go hand in hand with presents. I love me some presents. Who doesn’t?

My dad wins at present giving. Both of my parents are pretty good at it––they know me pretty well. But man, Dad hit the nail on the head this time. Friday evening there’s a knock on the door and the UPS man gives me a smile and a rather heavy package with a rather familiar name emblazoned across the side. A little shellshocked, I set it down in the middle of my floor and sat across from it, staring. Now, I am rarely speechless. I don’t think I said a word for almost five minutes as I sat across the room from a box staring at the name.

Kitchen Aid

Then I tore into the packaging and hugged the machine (so pretty!) and called my dad and then my best friend, squealing.

Some of you might wonder why a stand mixer would send me into gales of glee. Growing up, my mom’s best friend’s mom, Granny, had a Kitchen Aid that Steven, Kevin and I grew up learning to bake with. When Granny passed away, my mom inherited the mixer. Working with Granny in the kitchen those summers is some of what made me come to love cooking. She had a deft hand in the kitchen that spilled into other aspects of her life ––she mainly designed, painted and clothed porcelain dolls, an art she tried to teach us. Kevin was best at painting eyelashes. I had the best hand-stitching. Anyhow, I’ve loved that white Kitchen Aid mixer since I was a kid and have always wanted one of my own. I was told “When you get married”. Apparently earning my MA is equal to getting married in the gift giving book. Excellent.

Her name is Delilah. Isn’t she pretty?

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Charcutepalooza: Grinding

Hello, loves. I apologize again for being absent. But you will be happy to know that my thesis was passed by my advisor and my department and, except for the walking across stage bit, I now hold a Master’s degree. Swanky right?

Of more interest, this month’s challenge was grinding! This challenge could not come at a better time. Not a handful of days before it was announced, I was griping about how it was impossible to find Mexican chorizo here in NYC. And then I was invited ( nay, challenged!) to make my own. Joy of joys. I just needed to get my hands on a grinder. Fortunately, it was also my birthday and my mom offered to buy me a grinder as a gift. Score!

So, as usual, I made my way down to the Union Square Farmer’s Market and bought some pork butt from Flying Pigs Farm . The guys working the booth are always interested in hearing about the monthly challenges.

I took on both of the challenges this month, as usual. The breakfast sausage turned out really well, after I finally figured out how to get the grinder to work. I used Alton Brown’s recipe and it was pretty much perfect. My test patty was amazing, if a little heavy on the sage. I’ll cut back on that next time. I stored the sausage as both 2oz patties and a roll. Options are never a bad idea. Looking forward to making biscuits and gravy for breakfast here sometime. Yum.

The chorizo was a little harder to deal with.  I was dealing with different amounts and tried to work with both scaling down the recipe and not being able to find the right peppers. I’m not going to post the recipe I made up because it’s a not quite right. It’s got a delightful sweetness thanks to the apple cider vinegar (that’s what makes it crumbly) but it doesn’t quite have the heat or depth of flavor I’m looking for. Back to the drawing (grinding!) board. I did make some chorizo and eggs this morning, though. Made me a little homesick for LA. But not that homesick.

After doing both of these challenges in a single day, my arms hated me for a while. The grinder i have also didn’t attach to the counter and it’s hand cranked so I had to hold it down while still trying to crank the damn thing. I’ve got bruises. Totally worth it.

Looking forward to next month’s challenge!

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Not Dead! (mostly)


I just wanted to pop in and let you guys know that I’m not dead, nor have I given up on this project  (or cooking!). I did, however, just finish and turn in my Master’s Thesis which has taken up the last year of my life and completely consumed the last few months. Now, I turned it in a week and change ago, but I the aftermath of the near-all-nighters and literally-week-long stint at my desk has left me disinclined to write anything at all. Ask my roomates- I can’t even form full sentences all the time. I resort to pointing and saying  “thing!” a lot.

I think I’m better now.

I’ve got a few posts in the works so you’ll be hearing from me shortly. Promise!

Thanks for sticking with me. You’re the best (yes, you).

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Charcutepalooza: We’re Smokin’

Yeah, you read right.  This month’s challenge was smoking. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when the challenge was first announced, because I was. Smoking + apartment did not sound like a friendly match to me. I had two images in my head of the smoking process: 1) Papa Wilder from Little House on the Prairie when he fills the dead tree with wood and hangs the meat inside of it to smoke (which Ruhlman references) and 2)the big old smokers used in BBQ competitions.  Neither of them are really apartment safe, if you know what I mean.

Then Mrs.Wheelbarrow posted a link to this NYTimes Mag video of how to make an indoor smoker. My mind? Blown. I struggled for about half a second about whether to buy either a wok or an indoor smoker and the wok won out– it’ll get more use. Sure, there will be lots of foil involved and yeah, I’ll probably smoke meat more often than I think I will, but there’s no room in this apartment for a unitasker like the smoker. Wok it is!

Wok smoker

And then, dear friends, came the decision for wood chips. Because smoking is just that easy: enclosed container+ wood chips +meat+ fire– Voila! I went with the Cameron 4 pack sampler on Amazon because it offered both hard and fruit woods…and I got free shipping. the hardest decision was what type of wood to use for each protein!  I went with Alder for the salmon since that seems to be the traditional wood. But for the bacon I was stumped. I’d done a sweet rub for the meat so it seemed logical to do maple, but that didn’t come in my pack so I had to decide between Hickory (stronger, more savory) and Cherry (lighter, frutier). The decision was so hard I almost did them both since I had two pieces of belly to work with, but I wanted to roast one of the bellies so that wasn’t an option. I decided to go with hickory because, well, why not.

Raw and beautiful



Oh my god, guys. While the roasted bacon was delicious and unlike any bacon I’d had, the smoked stuff was out of this world. I had cracklins (yay!) and just…salty, bacon awesome. I didn’t add much other than the basic cure to the meat and it turned out just so layered with flavor. The hickory was a really great choice since I did have a little bit of brown sugar in the original cure. I would like to try cherry next time just to see how the more sublte flavor would work. But wow. WOW. Made for Epic eggs and bacon. And just eating whenever.

2.5lbs of awesomeness

You cannot tell me you do not want to eat that right now. See?

The pork loin for Canandian bacon went similarly. It took a couple hours to cook (3ish?) and I went with hickory again, but I think next time I’d want to do a lighter smoke. I haven’t done much with it yet other than just eat pieces during breaks from writing my thesis (gah). But we have plans.

Oh, fishy fishy fishy, how I love thee. In my tummy.

And then the salmon. Because I got carried away with this challenge. Just a bit. The salmon turned out really well. I definitely wish I had a way to cold smoke, but hot smoked salmon is also really delicious. As a born west-coaster, though not PNW-er, I’m about equally familiar with hot and cold smoked salmon. Such different textures and tastes. The salmon took all of about 15 minutes to smoke. I had some right after I made it just by itself. So good. And then I paired it with some delicious greens from the farmer’s market for a few lunches. Local, delicious and healthy! Far and away the healthiest meals I had during the thesis-writing jag.

If you do decide to pick up a smoker, or make one like I did, definitely consult a recipe on how to prepare the protein. I can definitely see this not going well if one just throws an unprepared piece of meat in the smoker and that would be so very sad. Smoking meat is a very distinctly flavor profile and one, again, I never thought I’d be able to find at home. I feel like a broken record saying this each month, but this process is really making me rethink what is possible in a home kitchen and realize how much say we give to other people about what goes into our own bodies .

And if you don’t believe how good this stuff is? It’s steal worthy.

Ophelia has her eye on the prize

What next? Well, we’re going to make eggs benedict soon so check back for that! And I definitely want to make some tea-smoked duck. A monster has been created. A delicious, delicious Smoke Monster*.

*I think I get +10 for the Lost reference, no?

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Charcutepalooza Challenge: Corned Beef

It’s Meat Day again! The most frabjous day of the month! Ok, so it’s a day late, but I’m smack in the middle of writing my Master’s thesis so I’m allowing for a bit of leeway.  Corned Beef is seen here, or at least in my understanding, as an Irish-American thing. While you’ll get the best stuff in Jewish delis around the city, Pastrami has been relegated as the pinnacle of Jewish eats, Corned Beef as the Irish. At least, that’s how it seems to me. That being said, I live in New York and they are both plentiful and delicious and I don’t care who people think ‘owns’ them. Fact is, people have been salting meat and serving it different ways forever. And I freaking love both and when this month’s challenge came up I was very excited.

When I saw the options for this month I knew corned beef was a shoe in – it’s one of my favorite things ever. I love me some Pastrami (mmmm Katz’s…) but I’m a little scared of trying to set up a smoker in my apartment. I might have to get over that for this next month’s challenge. I had a really good time with this though and it was surprisingly easy, except for losing a good chunk of the fridge for a few days.

And as this month’s challenge was brining, I made pickles too. The first batch of pickles was done a few days ago, but the rest won’t be done for a bit yet. I’m pickling green beans and have every intention of putting them in a Bloody Mary. But I really just want to talk to you about my meat. Because it’s hands-down the best corned beef I’ve ever had. Not falling apart like at Katz’s, but the most flavorful thing I’ve ever made. Seriously. I mean, look at that. That is why you want to date me.

I cooked the meat pretty simply- just in some water for about 3 hours and let it cool. What color! What flavor! I renounce my plan to get a Master’s degree and want to wallow in the deliciousness forever. Ok, so maybe that last part isn’t true,but it’s close. It’s seriously worth buying a good piece of meat (from the farmer’s market if you can! I did. And oxtails…but that’s a story for a different day) and making this on your own. It’s likely much cheaper than buying it at the store and you can do it. I promise. You just have to be willing to sacrifice some fridge space. Tomorrow this delicious meat is going on some bread with homemade mustard and I’m having epic sandwiches of awesome. Unless I eat all of it right now, which is unlikely but entirely possible. And you should head over to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day and check out the bread I’ve been playing around with. It’s quite good.

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Happy Half-Tau (π) Day Chocolate Pudding Pie

Most people know today as  ‘pi’ day, celebrated by baking pies.  3.14(and so on) turned into 3-14 (March 14)– clever, right? I’m all about nerdy holidays that involve baked goods. However (and it’s about to get real geeky right here) π isn’t necessarily the best constant to use and while important, is overstated in importance by high school math teachers. In his Tau Manifesto , Michael Hartl (who just happens to be my super smart physicist cousin) lays out why Tau (τ) should be celebrated/used over π.  I happen to agree, and not because he’s my cousin, but because the math makes sense even to me. I promise he’s legit- see? Also, I’ll just take any excuse to throw the Greek alphabet around a bit.

But really, I wanted a break from writing my thesis and decided to make a pie. I didn’t make the dough from scratch (my grandma Dee is shaking her head at me right now, I’m sure) because of said thesis writing, but it’s pretty simple to do in a regular flaky pie crust. If you’re feeling like you love lots of chocolate, get crazy and make an Oreo one. It’s really a simple equation: pudding+crust=pi(e). You can even use Jell-o pudding for the pie and I promise I won’t tell. I will say that this home made pudding is like a jillion times better than any box. It so is.

Chocolate Pudding Pie

From Smitten Kitchen


  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • Bittersweet chocolate shavings, sprinkles, whatever for garnish (optional)

Pre-bake a pie crust in a 9in. pan.

Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes or until mixture thickens. This will take longer than you think- Do not despair.  Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill until cold, at least two hours. If you want to keep a skin from forming on the top of the filling, press some waxed paper on top.

Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie. Top with sprinkles or some chocolate shavings. Hoard from roommates.

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Bread and Butter Pickles

This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was pickling or brining. While this is not charcuterie, it is brining, so I made these along with the corned beef that is currently brining in the fridge. Bread and Butter pickles are sweet. Different than sweet pickles, but definitely no stranger to sugar. That one cup of sugar in the recipe doesn’t lie. I cut the sugar to 3/4c. like Deb did at Smitten Kitchen, just so it’s not too overwhelming. These pickles here are the ultimate summer picnic pickles- sweet, but with a hint of saltiness. Or you could, you know, just eat them out of the jar with a fork before bed.

Bread and Butter Pickles
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 cups of pickles, filling a 1-quart jar

  • 1 pound cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick – I used kirbys, the ‘pickling’ cukes
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup Kosher Salt (slightly less if using Morton’s)
  • 1 c. sugar (I used 3/4 c)
  • 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (if ground, use 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed

In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, onion and salt. Mix well. Cover the mixture with ice. Let stand at room temperature for two hours.

In a pot, bring sugar, vinegar and spices to a boil. Drain cucumbers and onions. Add to vinegar mixture and bring almost back to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. Pack into an airtight container (jar, tupperware- whatever).  They will begin tasting pickled in just a couple hours. You can decide whether you want to share them or not. They’ll last about three weeks in the fridge, if you don’t eat them before then.

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