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Monday, October 12, 2009

Tacostacostacos

There are quite a few ways to feed a crowd, but I almost always go with TACOS. We had visitors on Saturday and here's the filling that I made, served along with the usual toppings.

Pineapple Chipotle Carnitas


5# pork picnic shoulder or butt
2 cans diced tomatoes with chiles
12 oz beer, or hard cider, or regular cider
1/2 - 1 can chipotle sauce (depending how spicy you like it)
1 can pineapple tidbits
1 small onion, diced
1 head garlic, chopped
ground cumin
Adobo all purpose seasoning

How I did it:


Trim all the big chunks of fat off of the pork. Sprinkle Adobo and cumin all over the pork, and rub it on in. Set aside. Heat a big pan or wok on med-high, add about 1T oil, then saute' the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Remove the onions and garlic from the pan and return to heat. Add another 2T of oil, the sear the pork on all sides.

Transfer pork to roasting pan or crockpot. Add all of the other ingredients. If cooking in the oven, cover with foil. Cook on 350F for 3-4 hours, or in the crock pot on low for 8-10. The longer that this cooks, the softer the meat will get. You want to be able to shred it easily with a fork.

The easiest way to do that is the two-fork method, holding the meat with one fork and shredding with the grain with the other fork. If you've cooked the meat long enough, this is super easy. If you have to fight with the meat, you need to cook it longer. You can do this right in the pan, and mix it with all of the chunky bits and cooking juice before serving.

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I actually did a 10# shoulder - it fed 10 of us and I have an insane amount of leftovers. We should have had them for dinner last night, but someone was drinking drinks that taste like candy and someone really needed Chinese food while she lay on the couch watching Dollhouse and regretting her folly.

Someone = me

Friday, October 9, 2009

Curry In A Hurry

(That was the name of the restaurant where I first had Indian food. It was on Thayer St. in Providence. We may have gone the same day I got my nose pierced in a sketchy loft with a skate ramp built up one wall....I can't remember and that is a story for another day, anyway.)

Keely was invited for dinner last night, and as of 11 o'clock yesterday morning I had no idea what I was going to cook. Years ago we used to have weekly dinner parties, where we would drink a bunch of wine and spend four hours trying out Jamie Oliver recipes and stuffing our own raviolis before finally eating at 9 or 10 at night. Good times. I was thinking about that, which made me remember this amazing rice pudding with cardamom and pistachios, which made me want Indian food. I poked around in the cabinets and came up with Curried Tomato Soup and Roasted Squash with Cardamom. (I also made rice pudding, but it was from a hippie mix I had sitting around.) I put too much olive oil on the squash, which was sad. I've made it a few times before and it's usually very good.

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Curried Tomato Soup

2 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes - Tuttorosso brand "New World Style w/ Basil" is good for soups, because it's more of a puree'.
1 small red onion, finely minced
1/4 c. minced garlic
1/4 c. grated fresh ginger
2T curry powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 c chopped cilantro leaves
1 can coconut milk
2 c. broth (chicken or veg)
1/2 bag of frozen peas
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp sugar
salt to taste

How I did it;

Saute' the onion, garlic and ginger in a large pot until onions are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add broth and peas, come to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and stir in the tomatoes, bring to a simmer. Stir in curry powder, coriander, and sugar. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes to blend all flavors.
Gently stir in the coconut milk and heat through. Remove from heat, add cilantro and lime zest and salt to taste.

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Everyone liked this! Even Eliza, who normally does not care for curry. This makes a good amount of soup - five of us each had a bowl, I froze a quart for later, and Liza and I are both taking it for lunch today. The recipe can easily be halved.

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Roasted Squash w/ Cardamom


1 large butternut squash, peeled & cubed
1 small red onion, halved and sliced
1 T ground cardamom (I would go for coarse ground over powder)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1T sugar
seeds of 1 pomegranate
salt/pepper to taste
1-2 T olive oil

How I did it;

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl, transfer to roasting pan. Roast at 375F for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your squash cubes and how your oven runs. Stir halfway through, so that nothing sticks to the pan and you get a more even roast.

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Cardamom smells GORGEOUS. It's one of my absolute favorite scents. If you want to get crazy you can also add a tiny pinch of ground cloves to the mix. This is a nice side dish for roast meats, like lamb or chicken or pork, as well. Feel free to sub dried currants or cranberries for the pomegranate seeds, or to leave out the onion. The squash is really the star here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A brisket, a brasket.....or something.

The brisket that was intended for Sunday's dinner was re-heated for Mondays dinner, to a resounding chorus of, "Eh." I will do it again, because I love slow cooked shredded meat, but will definitely mess around with the seasonings.

I saw this recipe and I happened to have a bottle of liquid smoke (Kaliis uses it in her collards and often cooks at my house on holidays). Now The Crockpot Lady is not kidding when she says that a little liquid smoke goes a long way, and I was not thrilled at the prospect of "wet beef jerky", so I only used two tablespoons. I also used fresh garlic, as that is what I do. It really does make the house smell amazing while it's cooking, garlicky and smoky and oh my god good. I shredded it, mixed it with apple cider and bottled bbq sauce, and left in in the crock for another hour.

Verdict; it was not smoky enough for me. I'll add more liquid smoke next time. Other than that, it's hard to go wrong with slow-cooked beef.

I served it with seared greens and mashed celeriac. Celeriac is a delicious sub for mashed potatoes and abundant this time of year. We get them through our CSA. They are delighfully wierd looking and subtly flavored - I mashed mine up with cream, butter, rosemary and roasted garlic. The only thing to watch out for is that sometimes they are really starchy and won't get creamy when you mash them. A lot of people will throw in a couple potatoes to the mash, and that's really nice too.

Almost forgot - I roasted garlic in the crock-pot! When I cooked the brisket, I put a layer of foil on top to reduce the cooking area so that it wouldn't dry out. Then I prepped the garlic like you would for the oven, wrapped it in the foil packet, and just tossed it in on top of the other foil. It was perfect! I actually have a small crock and will be roasting garlic in that from now on.

Speaking of smoked foods, Jeffrey and I had a Business Dinner at Apollo Grill last night. (I'm serious you guys, there were spreadsheets and everything.) They are running a gnocchi special that is de-friggin-licious. Gnocchi with smoked chicken, cranberries, walnuts and winter squash in a light gravy-like pan sauce. It took all my willpower not to lick the bowl. I'm going to try to figure out the pan sauce part and make this at home, because when they take it off the menu I'm going to be a sad girl. I had a dirty martini with organic tomato vodka - so yummy. Hayes makes a damn good martini.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekend wrap-up

I did not cook this weekend. Well, I cooked once but I'll give you that at the end of the post.

On Thursday night we took a couple of friends out to the newest place in town, Venus. Venus is partially owned and partially chef-ed by my friend Casey, and it is my new favorite restaurant. Absolutely amazing meal.
We started with a round of drinks and appetizers for the table. My Hendricks martini was perfect. My friend Sarah says that you can judge a place by the quality of their martini and I have found this to be true. The Escargot was out of the shell and done with mushrooms, a rich reduction, and butter foam. It was a perfect flavor balance and the snails were perfectly cooked, not at all rubbery. You really have to be careful not to overcook snails and they got it on the nose. The mussels were done simply in a tomato-garlic-wine broth, but did not suffer for the simplicity. The ricotta gnocchi was outstanding. Each bite literally melted once it hit the tongue. We actually asked for extra bread (grainy, chewy inside, crusty outside) to sop up the sauces.
After the first course we were treated to a sample of 'Deconstructed Corn Chowder'. It was basically a corn chowder, but instead of finishing it with cream, it's finished with a cream foam.

Say what you will about the showiness of molecular gastronomy, but it was so delicious.

For the main course, Jeffrey had the Cornish Game Hen, Bob had the Cassoulet, Sarah had the Filet Mignon and I had the duck special. It was a pan seared duck breast with cranberry compote, duck confit "latkes" (I can't think of the proper word right now), and a brussel sprout/fingerling potato/winter squash hash. I want this meal every day for a year. It was incredible, everyone was extremely happy with the food, the service and the atmosphere. If you're in the area and want to splurge - go to Venus. They have a very nice, reasonably priced wine list and craft beers on tap, and the Cellar Bar downstairs is cozy and warm. I look forward to dropping in there this winter and sitting by the fireplace in the corner.

Friday was Kid Free Friday, for the evening, and Lloyd Cole was playing at Apollo Grill. We were excited to see Lloyd live - he lives in our town and I've been saying hi to him for about four years now, but I hadn't actually seen him play. It was fantastic.
For the sake of full disclosure, I will tell you that I cooked at Apollo for a couple years. It's owned by the aforementioned Casey (of Venus). It's conveniently located downstairs from our office. None of these things effect what I'm about to say; Apollo has great food. When we're not rocking the lunchovers it's always our first choice for lunch at work, and Jeffrey and I like to go sit at the bar, grab a burger and a drink, and verbally process business. We eat here a lot, and I've never had a bad meal. On this night, Jeffrey went with the burger and I was thrilled to discover the Bratwurst back on the menu. Apollo changes the menu seasonally, and the bratwurst is a fall/winter dish. The links are split and grilled, then served with cider-braised red cabbage, a mushroom gravy, and whole grain mustard mashed potatoes. I had it with a pint of Rapscallion. It was a good night.

It was such a good night that I was completely useless the next day and spent most of it blobbing it out on the couch. The kids took off, and Jeffrey and I were left to our own devices. So we went out for tacos.
La Casita Azteca is the only taco place in town. (I say this to mean that if we drove four more miles we could get to Northampton where there are three taco places, but we were dirty and lazy and it was raining out.) We had tried it right after it opened (in 2008) and were hugely disappointed. The prices were high, the portions were small, nothing had flavor, and everything was soggy. We didn't bother going back.
Then, a couple months ago, I was going for lunch with a friend and she suggested La Casita Azteca. When I told her about my bad experience she looked at me like I was crazy, and then took me there anyway. (This lady actually briefly lived in Mexico, so I trust her opinion.) I have to tell you, it was great. Two weeks ago, different lunch date, she wants tacos, we go here, also great. Saturday night, go with Jeffrey - still great. He had a giant burrito, I had a giant torta. Definitely going back. It's a cute little place, brightly colored inside and out. They even have a pretty courtyard with picnic tables and fairy lights for when the weather is nice. Bonus - beer & wine license, so you can have a Tecate' with your meal.

Sunday I started feeling guilty that we had take-out three days in a row, so I made brunch. Pumpkin muffins (from a box, thanks Trader Joe), bacon, and Shirred Eggs. This was actually my first time making my own shirred eggs. I first had them a few years ago at Cafe Gitane in Manhattan, and I don't know why I don't make them all the time. Super easy, super yummy, and you can use whatever you have in the house!

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Shirred Eggs

(serves 2 or 3)

6 eggs
1 tomato, chopped
chopped garlic to taste
1/4 c of chopped onion
a couple handfuls of chopped spinach
1/2 cup cheese (I used cheddar & parm this time)
1/4 c olive oil
1 T butter
cream or milk (about 1/3 c)

How I did it:

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat (does that make sense? maybe). Add the oil to the skillet, then the butter. Melt the butter in the olive oil, then add the onions and garlic. Cook until translucent (1-2 minutes). Saute' the tomato and spinach in with the onions and garlic, until the spinach is wilted and the tomatoes are heated through.

Remove from heat, and crack the eggs onto the vegetable mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Pop it into the oven for about five minutes. Pull it out, sprinkle with cheese. Back into the oven for about five more minutes.

Those times are estimated. I actually "overcooked" ours, because we like our eggs runny and at a total of 15 minutes, ours were solid. I am guessing that 10 gives you runnier eggs, but I'm no scientist. Whatever, they were yummy and may become a weekend staple.

Yesterday I visited friends who live about an hour and a half away. I had a brisket waiting for us in the crock pot but we got too hungry during the trip, said eff it, and got Chinese. No regrets.

I'm re-heating the brisket as I type, and will report back tomorrow.

"Why are there still no photos?", you ask. Well, it's because children are horrible and my child deleted all of my food photos off the memory card and took pictures of THE CAT.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Teriyaki? More like TeriYUCKY, amiright?

I came to a sad realization yesterday - I do not like bottled teriyaki sauce. It's only sad to me because it was a staple in the house when I was a kid. Sweet and salty, it was the best thing since ranch dressing and we used to use it as a condiment on anything plain that my mother served up.

As an adult, I don't really use it very much. It has a ton of sodium for one thing, and I did go through a long period of making almost everything from scratch. However, the kids like it (of course) and so once it a while it comes into play. Hibachi at our favorite Japanese place, for example. I just can't eat it any more. It just tastes like salt to me, no matter what I do with it or whatever small amount I use.

Last night's dinner was supposed to be Teriyaki Chicken Kabobs w/ Rice Balls, but things got a little hectic after school and I just didn't feel like taking the time to make the kabobs and the rice balls, or to stand at the grill and wait for the kabobs to be done. So, I deconstructed the planned meal and made Teryaki Chicken with Pineapple and Broccoli, and Sushi Rice. The kids loved it, and I ate it because I was hungry. I think this goes into the repetoire under Things I Cook For The Kids On Nights When I Have Alternate Dinner Plans.

This is super easy. We had leftovers, so I guess it would probably serve 6 depending on how big your family's average portion is.

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Teriyaki Chicken With Pineapple & Broccoli

2# Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cubed
1 lg can chunk pineapple -or- 1 fresh pineapple, cubed
2 crowns broccoli, chopped - or- 1 bag pre-cut
1 bottle teriyaki sauce (I like Trader Joe's Island Soyaki, or any other pineapple teriyaki)
1T cornstarch
1/4 c water
1 bunch scallions, sliced
cooking oil (2 - 3 T)

How I did it;

Marinate the chicken in about 1/2 the bottle of teriyaki. I put it together in the morning and it was perfect by the time I started cooking at 6. Drain the marinade right before cooking the chicken, and discard.

Get a wok or a large skillet REALLY hot. The best thing that pro kitchen work ever taught me was that if you don't get the pan super-hot for a stir fry, you end up with a soggy mess instead. When the pan is smoking hot, add the oil and then quickly add the chicken cubes. Brown the chicken on all sides, then add the broccoli. Add a splash of water and cover for 1 minute to steam the broccoli a little. Uncover, then add the pineapple. Allow the chicken to cook through, stirring a couple of times. Add the rest of the bottle of teriyaki. It should come to an almost immediate boil.

Whisk the cornstarch into the 1/4 water to make a slurry, then stir the slurry into the wok. Keep stirring, this will thicken the sauce and you don't want it to stick and burn. (about 1 minute)

Toss in the scallions, remove from heat, and serve with rice.

I made sushi rice, with black sesame seeds. It looked pretty.

Someday I will find my camera cord and add photos to the blog. Someday.