A Study in Meh: Lasagna-Style Baked Pennette with Meat Sauce

I’ve been obsessed with lasagna my entire life. It’s safe to say that I’ve eaten and cooked thousands of variations.

Yes, thousands. I’m dedicated.

I found this recipe for Lasagna-Style Baked Pennette on Food & Wine magazine years ago, back when I was still a subscriber and an omnivore.  Apparently I was less discerning then because all I needed was to see the word “lasagna” and that meant I was going to cook it.

A lasagna, it ain’t.

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Spaghetti & Meatballs: Top 25 Vegetarian Weeknight Meals

Spaghetti and meatballs fall into the category of “discomfort” cooking. This one-pot meal itself is comforting and everyone loves to eat it, but the cooking process involves extra steps like shaping meatballs into pleasing sphere shapes and then cooking them in the best way possible–bake, fry, cook them directly in the sauce–hoping that they maintain their spherical shape during the cooking process otherwise the dish will look ridiculous and all that hard work is for naught. Meanwhile, you still have to make a delicious sauce and cook spaghetti and then clean up your kitchen but you have to hurry because the dish still needs to be hot when you serve it–

And then you decide, screw it, I’ll just make goulash.

Here on AwK, we’re no strangers to meatballs (Barefoot Contessa & James Beard = Love 4 Ever, Mini Meatball Heroes, and that time Citizen Chef baked an entire lasagna made of meatballs and forgot to take pictures) so we understand the struggle. Though the end result is a one-pot meal, it takes a bit to get there.

Unless you’re a vegetarian and you can whip up your meatless meatballs in a mere five minutes via a food processor.

Spaghetti & Meatballs
Be-cause that’s the way (uh huh, uh huh) we like it (uh huh, uh huh)!

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dinner plate with a baked chicken breast and some roasted broccoli

Baked Chicken and Broccoli

I like to try at least one new recipe every week.  As an experiment, I decided to try making a post about the experience.  I had fun doing it.

This week, I tried roasted broccoli using a technique I found in The Homestead Kitchen, a cookbook written by my friend Heather Jackson.  I knew the Jacksons for nearly three years before I found out she had written a book.  I ordered it and it’s awesome.  It’s mostly comfort food, and a few that I can’t wait to try for a special occasion. There are also some delicious-looking healthy options like this roasted broccoli, too.  Usually, my house eats light, so I made a roast chicken to pair the broccoli with and I thought I’d throw the recipe for that in, too.

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Chicken Pot Pie with Savory Crumble Topping

My schedule ended up being a little off this week since my evenings have been hectic, which is why the Monday/Thursday update was interrupted. Next week we will be returning to our regularly scheduled program. I promise.

In the meantime, I wanted to revisit the potluck discussion we touched on last week. Best potluck main dishes — what are they?

When my mom and I were discussing potluck dishes, the chili wasn’t the only one that sprang to mind. I also thought of this Chicken Pot Pie recipe that was recently published from, of course, Cook’s Illustrated.

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Bobby Flay’s Throwdown Sloppy Joes, aka Neat Joes

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I had fallen in love with Bobby Flay’s Southwestern style. His smoky flavors and love of chiles spruced up with tangy ingredients are appropriate for the summer season and, since I’ve failed utterly at making some of his more artful dishes (that require a certain finesse I do not possess) I took a trip over to his website and found a recipe from his Throwdown series: Sloppy Joes.

The premise of the TV series goes like this: Bobby finds some dude or chick who allegedly makes the best of something. Bobby and his team of assistants then come up with their own version, arrive on the scene with a camera crew, and do a big cookoff (aka a “throwdown”) to see who makes the better dish. Kind of like West Side Story, but with cooking. (When you’re a Flay, you’re a Flay all the way, from your first poblano to your last dyin’ day?) Typically the dishes are really fun, homespun foods like spaghetti, lasagna, cookies, mac and cheese, the kind of food any American could get behind, and you can find the recipes either at the Food Network website or on Bobby Flay’s website.

I didn’t see the sloppy joe throwdown on television, but it looked good when I was perusing his website. Bobby’s version is actually called “Neat Joes” because they’re more of an open-faced sandwich set atop toasted, garlic-butter-smothered sourdough bread. My bread was cut into very thick slices so I could just pick it up with my hand and shovel it into my mouth, rather than negotiating with a fork. This format also makes it a great option for picnic food. Serve with some red wine and you’ve got a winner. And you’ll have to forgive the photos — it’s not easy taking a refined photograph of a sloppy joe.

Throwdown Sloppy Joes 3

I really liked the smoky flavors in this. My fear was that it was going to be really spicy, but it was actually a mix of savory and sweet. To ramp up the spice, add more chipotle to the BBQ sauce and some of the inside rib of the poblano to the meat. I didn’t really know what to expect so I only put in one minced chipotle and the sweet parts of the poblano chile.

One note before we get into this recipe. First, I didn’t cook this on a grill, I cooked this in an oven. In order to roast my chile and pepper, I did it in the oven on a cookie sheet lined with foil. I put that into the instructions in case anyone else needs to oven-roast theirs as well — it only takes a couple of minutes to do and clean up is a snap.

Throwdown Sloppy Joes, AKA Neat Joes
Adapted from Bobby Flay’s Throwdown

BBQ Sauce (or you can use 1 jar Mesa Grill BBQ Sauce)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 cups ketchup
½ cup water
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 diced chipotles (depending on how spicy you want it)
¼ teaspoon chile de arbol or cayenne
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons molasses
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Add the onions and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the ketchup and water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 10 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.

2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool at room temperature. Sauce will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator stored in a tightly sealed container.

Sloppy Joes, AKA Neat Joes
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 lbs ground chuck (80/20)
1 cup red onion, small dice
1/2 cup small dice roasted poblano chile
2/3 cup small dice roasted red bell pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 1/4 cups Bobby’s Mesa Grill BBQ Sauce (recipe below)
1/4 cup water
1/4 ketchup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or cilantro, plus more for garnish
8 pieces of buttered, garlic bread (recipe below)

1. Place oven rack in upper third and turn oven on to broil. On a lined cookie sheet, place the whole poblano chile and red bell pepper. Every 1 1/2 – 2 minutes (or when the sides of the vegetables start to roast up by turning a little brown), turn them about a quarter or third of a turn, and repeat until the outsides are roasted. Remove from the oven, turn the oven off and let the vegetables rest. As they cool, they will soften. Dice into small pieces.

2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large high-sided sauté pan until the oil begins to smoke. Add the beef, breaking it up into small pieces using a metal spatula or wooden spoon, season with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.

3. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano, bell peppers and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the ancho powder and cook for 30 seconds. Add the BBQ sauce, ½ cup of water and the ketchup, bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the mustard, Worcestershire, honey, brown sugar and molasses, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Return the beef to the pan. Remove the cover and continue cooking until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Add the vinegar, season with salt and pepper and stir in the cilantro.

4. Top slices of the garlic bread with some of the sloppy joe mixture, sprinkle with cilantro or parsley.

Okay, I know this looks like a lot of instructions — it’s a little deceiving. Start by making the BBQ sauce. All you do is throw it into a pot, let it cook, then give it a whirl in your processor. Then leave it sitting in the processor to cool while you get the beef ready. In the very end, while the beef is simmering for the last 15 minutes, you’ll toast up your bread. I did mine in the oven on the same cookie sheet I used to roast my vegetables. All in all, these joes took about 45 – 60 minutes to put together from start to finish, and was a really fun dish for a summer evening. I will definitely make this again.

Bobby Flay's Throwdown Sloppy Joes

Garlic Toast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices sourdough bread, cut ½-inch slices

1. Combine the butter and garlic in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the butter is melted, season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let sit 5 minutes.

2. Preheat broiler. Put the bread on a baking sheet and broil until both sides until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Remove from the oven and brush with the garlic butter.

Thomas Keller’s Macaroni Gratin

I have yet to share my trip to Bouchon restaurant in Las Vegas, a visit that left quite an impression on me. Lately, my culinary viewpoint has been shifting — I’ve been wanting so much more in my food, but have been too scared to attempt anything that calls for a little work.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but I’m certain it’s obvious from the things I usually cook. I’ve said it before, but I feel it’s worth restating: After a full day at work, the last thing I want to do is get into a long and detailed cooking project. I’m hungry right then and there, and don’t want to wait. I know I’m not alone.

Whether or not you can blame me for being phobic about complicated meals is neither here nor there, because it’s finally caught up with me. I’ve been searching for a challenge and better food.

Macaroni Gratin - Plated #3

But how to define “better”? Everyone has their own idea of what that should mean and rightfully so, as food is such a personal experience. For me, I simply wanted a dish I could relate to, but also gave me a foodgasm (for lack of better wording, I make them up). I wanted something that tasted delicious, and I needed to get over my fear of cooking something fussy.

Thomas Keller is most famous for the fabulously fussy, high class restaurant, the French Laundry. CC could tell you all about the experience, I’ve never been. It looks interesting… but I can tell it’s just not for me. So when I walked into Bouchon, clad in mirrors, white linens, dim lighting, and a laid back atmosphere with refined comfort food, I felt like I had found my soul mate in dining. Keller often jokes that he opened Bouchon so he’d have somewhere to eat after cooking at the French Laundry all day. French bistro dishes are something he’s had a passion for all his life, and is the kind of food he also gravitates to. Our dining experience was fantastic and as soon as I got home from my trip, I ordered the Bouchon book.

And then it sat on my shelf looking really sad and pathetic for about another month. That’s how long it took me to psych myself up to actually make something out of it.

Macaroni Gratin

I’ve had lots of macaroni and cheese, and I believe I’ve eaten the boxed kind once. Maybe twice. I don’t care for it. The kind my mom used to make has a lot of onion, pepper and, dare I say, Velveeta “cheese”. Yes, with the quotation marks. The funny thing is that I actually really like it (we liked weird things in the 70’s — don’t even get me started on architecture and interior design of that era). What makes mom’s so delicious and wonderful was not just the sauciness, but the onion and pepper. Keller’s Macaroni Gratin capitalizes on that and takes it to a whole new level.

The base of the dish is a white Mornay Sauce, which is a pretty common sauce with cheese added. Most surprising is that there’s more cream than cheese. For a macaroni and cheese dish, you’d think it was the other way around. I spent a half hour just letting the cream simmer, then added only 1/2 cup of grated Emmenthaler at the very end.

Mornay Sauce

Mornay Sauce
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon

4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup diced Spanish onion
Kosher Salt
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 2/3 cups milk
1 1/3 cups cream
1/2 tsp freshly ground peppercorns
3 cloves
1/2 cup Emmenthaler cheese

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 – 3 minutes or so the onion is translucent. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the roux doesn’t burn or color. Whisking constantly, add the milk and cream and whisk until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer, whisking, then add the bay leaf, peppercorns and cloves. Bring back to a very gentle simmer. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, reaching into the corners of the pan for about 30 minutes. If the sauce begins to scorch, pour it into a clean pan – don’t scrape the bottom of the pan.

Remove the sauce from the heat and season to taste with salt, a grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of white pepper. Strain the sauce, add the cheese and whisk to melt.

Makes 3 cups.

Even those of us who have only enjoyed boxed mac and cheese know what to do at this point: Assemble!

Macaroni Gratin

Macaroni Gratin
Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon

8 ounces small elbow macaroni
3 cups Mornay Sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup grated Emmenthaler cheese
3 tablespoons panko

Put a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender; drain. Rinse under cold water and drain on paper towels.

Add macaroni to Mornay Sauce and mix well. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour into an 8-cup gratin dish, 9×15 inch oval, or individual baking dishes. Sprinkle the top with cheese and panko.

Place the gratin dish on a baking sheet in order to catch any sauce that may bubble over, then place in the oven. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees F and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and bubbling around the edges. If the gratin has not browned, turn on the broiler to brown the top.

I made a few other things for our 4th of July celebration, but this was the clear winner. The creaminess was unbeatable and I love the way the pepper and onion are brought out. Crisping up the panko and cheese on top gives the dish that fantastic texture — if you don’t do that, you’ll just have lots of cream and it may come off as goopy after a while. The next day, we reheated this in the oven on 300 degrees F for about 20 minutes and it retained the creaminess.

Macaroni Gratin - Plated #1

Dish rating: A

Pork Tenderloin with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit, and Thyme: French Chefs never burn anything, they caramelize!

I wanted to get this in ASAP since I believe MM cooked this over the weekend too, and I want to beat her to the punch.  The recipe is from Peter Kaminski by way of Ruhlman’s blog.  The witty French chef comment is from me by way of Chef Tory.  This is going to turn out looking burned, but trust me, that’s the good stuff.  I will also say that making the orange confit is not the easiest thing in the world, or rather getting all the pith (and I mean ALL of it) off the oranges is a pain in the ass.  I also took out some insurance and finished the pork in a 350 degree oven for about 10 mins.  And cooking it outside is the way to go, ’cause it smokes like a mofo.

Pork Tenderloin with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit, and Thyme
Courtesy of Peter Kaminsky, and Michael Ruhlman

2 boneless pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each
6 pieces orange confit, about 2 inches each
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon coarse salt (or to taste)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons oil from the orange confit

Lay the pork tenderloins on a work surface. Flatten with the palm of your hand. Tear the orange confit into 1/2 inch pieces and distribute over the top surface of the meat. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and half the salt. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top and pat it down firmly with your hand. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil from the orange confit.

Preheat the chapa or a large square cast iron griddle over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles.

Using a wide spatula, lift the pork tenderloins one by one and invert them sugar side down onto the griddle. Do not move them for 5 minutes. If the sugar begins to smell unpleasantly burned, adjust the heat by moving the griddle and lowering the flame. When the sugar side is well browned, turn the tenderloins. Cook on all sides for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until done to taste. The internal temperature should be 135 degrees for a rosy pink. Remove the meat to a carving board and allow to rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing.

Orange Confit

4 oranges
3 bay leaves
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup white wine
2 teaspoons coarse salt

Cut the oranges in half. Squeeze the juice and reserve for another use.

Place the squeezed orange halves in a 3 quart saucepan. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, 3 tablespoons olive oil, white wine and water to cover. Add salt and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until the orange peel is tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.

When cool enough to handle, drain the oranges. Tear the peel into rough strips about 1 inch wide. Place a strip of orange peel skin side down on a work surface and, using a very sharp paring knife, scrape away every bit of the white pith.

Place the strips of orange zest in a bowl and cover completely with extra virgin olive oil. This will keep, covered tightly in the refrigerator, for at least a week.

I kept my orange confit in a Gladware container, because Padma told me to.  This is what mine turned out like, with wilted spinach (again) and a Devil’s Tower of Mashed Potatoes with Bleu Cheese and Garlic Scapes.

Word count before Chef Tory reference:  48.

~Citizen Chef

Bobby Flay’s Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Prior to my trip to Las Vegas, I knew two things about Bobby Flay: He’s the barbecue guy and he makes a million different sauces. My ideas of grilling is fairly basic, so I could only assume that all you needed to do to get on Iron Chef America is just pop out a bunch of hamburgers with interesting sauces. How hard is a freaking hamburger? Not very, I’m thinkin’.

Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

So when my spouse and I crossed paths with his Southwestern style restaurant, Mesa Grill, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when my spouse said he wanted to try it out. He takes a bit of time to warm up to certain kinds of food and I was pretty darn sure he had never eaten Southwestern style, so I was leery.

The menu was blown up quite proudly outside, so I quickly skimmed it over. At first I was surprised that it wasn’t a low-class hamburger joint as I had expected, but something so much more.

The food looked dangerous — racy with spice and lots of ingredients we had never tried before. There wasn’t even a single burger on the dinner menu. I was always up for an adventure, but I didn’t want to get in there and watch my spouse get served up something he didn’t like, because then I’d just be bummed out. So I decided for the both of us that we weren’t going.

Instead, we went a couple of restaurants down to a hibachi/sushi place — that absolutely sucked. The grilled asparagus starter was so over-salted that the tips were inedible. I got a beef teriyaki that was grilled to the consistency of shoe leather. Tom’s sushi was apparently not that great, either. Chalking it up to food karma for snubbing Bobby Flay, we left a poor tip and made plans to visit Mesa Grill the next night.

Bobby Flay Burgers - Assembly

We had an amazing dinner. I can’t find our appetizer on the menu now, but it was small, homemade tortillas with grilled chicken on skewers, caramelized onion and fresh cilantro served as a tiny, build-your-own-fajita type of deal. They were amazing and simple and I could have eaten an entire plate of them. Next, we shared an entree. (By the time we got in to eat it was 12:30am Eastern time, and I was too tired to eat much, which is why we shared.) We had the Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. If you want to see a photo of the dish, I found one here, taken by another happy diner. You’ll have to scroll down the page just a little bit to see it.

The pork came to us medium rare, as ordered, with one savory sauce and a second sauce that brought a little bit of heat. We scarfed this down and walked out of there with our eyes opened to a whole new style of cuisine.

When I got home, I was chatting with Citizen Chef about my Vegas trip, and the one thing I kept coming back to was our dinner at Mesa Grill. Sure, Bouchon was amazing, but I had expected it to be. Mesa Grill, on the other hand, was eye opening and gave me a whole new respect for Bobby Flay and his style of food. CC made a comment that I thought was appropriate: “It’s nice to know that at the heart of (the fame, the hype, the television, etc.) is a real chef.”

He’s right. I picked up the Mesa Grill cookbook and started making some of Bobby Flay’s food. So far I’ve totally mangled everything I’ve touched (LOL) but I’m not giving up. I’m very interested in this whole new world of Southwestern flavors and I’m determined to get good at it.

My new Food and Wine magazine hit my mailbox this week (and their freaking website) and I was thrilled to see they had a feature on Bobby Flay, who provided them with a few of his recipes…

…for hamburgers.

Okay, I’ve learned that it’s a lot harder making Bobby Flay’s food than I originally thought, but I can definitely make a hamburger. 😉

Bobby Flay’s Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons pure ancho chile powder
1 canned chipotle in adobo, minced
1/2 cup water
3 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 hamburger buns, split
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (3 ounces)
1 scallion, finely chopped
Lettuce and tomato slices, for serving

In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the tomato puree, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, molasses, ancho chile powder, chipotle and water. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the peanut butter and puree until smooth. Season the barbecue sauce with salt and pepper.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the cut sides of the buns with oil and grill until toasted, about 30 seconds. Spread some of the barbecue sauce on the buns.

Form the meat into four 1-inch-thick patties and brush with oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat, turning once, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Brush the burgers with some of the sauce and grill until lightly glazed, about 2 minutes. Top with the cheddar and scallion, close the grill and cook just until the cheese is completely melted, about 1 minute. Set the burgers on the buns, top with lettuce and tomato and serve right away.

Make Ahead
The barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.

My only real beef (get it?) is the amount of barbecue sauce this makes. Even halving the ingredient list gives you enough for dozens of burgers. I think the thought process behind it is that because it can be kept for up to 2 months, you’ll be bringing it out and using it on other meats for the rest of the summer. In defense of this thought process, the sauce is quite delicious. I could best imagine it going on grilled chicken. By itself it is incredibly spicy, but spread only on the buns and the burgers, mounded with cheese, vine ripened tomatoes and crisp lettuce, an overbearing spiciness wasn’t a factor. In fact, I didn’t really even get the spiciness when eating it. It also wasn’t overbearingly barbecue-y — okay, not a word. What I mean by that is, with any other barbecue sauce, especially jarred, I’m always railroaded by an overbearing tangy zing that dominates the meat. In the case of store-bought sauces, the sauce becomes the star and the meat is sort of an afterthought. With this little bit of added sauce, everything is complimented and the flavors of the meat and vegetables really shine through.

Nice work, Chef.

As if you had any doubts as to my cooking method, I made this on my George Foreman and it came out beautifully. The grill was set to high heat and I toasted the buns first, then I put a bit of vegetable oil on the grilling plates before adding the patties.

Flay - Burger Patties

During the cooking process, I kept the Foreman open, not closed. This meant a longer cooking time, but I was fine with that. I actually think it came out better this way, because compacting your hamburger can often lead to poor results.

Flay Patties with BBQ Sauce

Cooking these on an open Foreman actually worked out well. I used a beef with 20% fat, which both Bobby Flay and America’s Test Kitchen recommends.

Of course, off the top of my head I can’t remember why, but I’m pretty sure it’s a good reason. It ended up being one delicious burger, so they’re definitely on to something.

Flay - Patties with Cheddar and Scallions

I served my burgers with a glass of red wine from Francis Coppola’s vineyard and baked onion rings by Alexis, which are typically found in the organic section.

Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Cocoa-Banana Bread

I know, I know, I said I was on a hunt for healthy breakfasts I could take to work in the morning. In my defense, this has bananas and eggs and flour. That’s three out of the four food groups, right?

Chocolate Banana Loaf

I had bananas and wanted to make a little bread with it. Over the years, a lot of the banana breads I’ve tried have ended up very dry. The only one that didn’t called for an 8-ounce block of cream cheese and I didn’t have that on hand. So, I went searching for something new.

This loaf is surprisingly moist and incredibly dense. At first I was a little disappointed because I used an extra-dark chocolate which made the first few bites ultra-chocolatey.

It’s okay, though. I got over it.

Next time, though, I’ll use regular cocoa. Also, for anyone who usually puts in baking shortcuts like me, I wrote this with my methodology that skips sifting all of the dry ingredients except for the cocoa, which I dumped into a strainer and shook out. I prefer strainers over sifters because they’re a lot easier to clean. (Hello, Mr. Dishwasher!)

After the batter came together, I was very worried because it’s a lot of batter for a small baking dish. My fear was the dough was going to rise and double. But it doesn’t, which is where the moistness and denseness comes in. On the back end of your bite, the banana flavor kicks in, creating a subtle, tasty treat. Maybe you won’t feel good about eating this for breakfast, but maybe later with a small cup of coffee…

Me? Oh, I had no qualms eating this and licking it off my fingers when I was done.

Sliced Chocolate Banana Loaf

Cocoa-Nana Bread
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking – From My Home to Yours

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips

Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×5 inch loaf pan and place it on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked on top of one another. This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from overbaking.

In a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for one minute, until softened. (My butter had been sitting out overnight, so I skipped this.) Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Reduce the mixer to low speed and mix in the mashed bananas.

Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl, and add the salt and baking soda. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add each cup of flour one at a time, mixing until just combined. Add the buttermilk, mixing on low speed until incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate and scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a foil tent to keep the top from getting too dark and continue to bake for another 40 – 45 minutes or until a thin knife in the center comes out clean.

(Note: My loaf pan was 8.5×4.5, so my loaf of bread required another 10 – 12 minutes of baking.)

Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding it. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.