Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trying New Things

So, last week was our big snow event. I love being snowed in as long as I am prepared for it! We knew the snow was coming so I had a few days to think about all the things I wanted to cook while being stuck in the house. I had a few packages of stew beef from the farm that I wanted to try. As I have mentioned before, the pastured, grass-fed beef we get from the farm has a completely different texture than commercially raised beef. It is very lean and chewy because the cows actually get to walk around all day if they feel like it. It takes some getting used to and the hubs doesn't really dig it. I wanted to try the stew beef to see how slow cooking worked to get the texture more akin to what he was accustomed to. IT WORKED! In fact it worked GREAT! The texture is exactly as you would expect stew beef to be. And bonus, it was ethically farmed and hormone free. WIN! As an added bonus, I used the meat to try something new. I had already made beef stew and chili and was feeling a little adventurous. So, I made Korean Beef Tacos with Asian Slaw! OMG was it good. The recipe called for a special ingredient that I didn't have - a fermented hot pepper paste with a name I am sure I cannot pronounce correctly. I subbed sriracha and it worked out just fine, so don't sweat it if you don't have it and don't go thinking you need to buy it special - you don't. At first, I was a little leery of the slaw. When I tasted it right after I made it it didn't really knock my socks off. It was kind of salty and I thought maybe I had overdone it with the sesame oil.  The flavor improved after I let it set for a while and the flavors melded a bit. But, I will admit I still wasn't super excited about it. However, when paired with the sweet/spicy stewed beef it was delicious. I got the recipe over on the Foodie With Family blog and seriously recommend that you give it a try next time you are snow bound and looking for a delicious, hearty meal to keep you warm!

Link To Slow Cooker Korean Beef Tacos

UPDATE:  So, the Asian slaw has been sitting in my fridge for a couple of days now and I have to admit that it is really good. It definitely improves over time. The hubs finally tried some of these tacos last night and really liked them a lot. He ate three giant ones, so that is saying something!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Shelling it Out!

So, this weekend we were blessed with our first snowstorm of the year. Normally, I prefer them to hit during the week so I can work from home and avoid the office. This time it hit us on Saturday evening and, as luck would have it, we had no plans to do anything! This is a very rare occasion! So, I got to sit back and hang with the doggies while outside the snow just piled up. It's times like this I am so grateful to be fortunate enough to have things like a warn home to reside in and nourishing food to eat. Being home bound for a day and a half provided me the perfect opportunity to try out some new recipes and get creative with last weeks leftovers. Hubs was getting tired of all those chicken cutlets that I had baked off last week for his lunches so using those up was first and foremost on my mind. Waste not, want not! After a quick perusal through the back of the fridge and the cupboards I had an idea. I had left over Italian seasoned chicken cutlets in the fridge. I also had leftover roasted onions and mushrooms from our steak dinner and half a container of ricotta cheese and the ever present mozzarella and Parmesan (get where I am going here). In the cupboard I had 1/4 box of jumbo shells and a half a box of lasagna noodles. My stores of home canned tomatoes was still healthy as well! With all of this I came up with: Chicken Parmesan Stuffed Shells! Here is how it came together! First I prepared a quick marinara using 2 jars of tomatoes, olive oil, a bunch or garlic and basil, and some salt. While that was simmering away I got busy with the filling. First I put the leftover roasted onions and mushrooms in the food processor and whizzed them up until they were finely chopped. I mixed this in with the ricotta cheese along with a handful of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. I added some Italian spice blend and salt to the mixture and set that aside. On to the chicken. I cut up the chicken cutlets and added them to the food processor. They got finely chopped up as well and added to the ricotta mixture. That was my filling. I boiled the shells and lasagna noodles until they were pliable but not cooked through and stuffed them up. When I ran out of shells, I spread the filling on the lasagna noodles and rolled them up. These all got placed in a sauce lined baking dish and baked, covered, at 350F for 20 minutes. After 20 minuted I removed the covering and topped the shells/lasagna rolls with grated mozzarella and baked another 10 minutes until melted. Once everything was done I removed the pan and let it sit for a bit before hubs and I devoured nearly the entire pan. It was good! I will admit I liked the lasagna rolls a little better than the shells. I like them being more noodley - It added more texture. In the future, I would chop the chicken more coarsely for the shells to add texture to the dish. But flavorwise both were great. Look, I even remembered to take pictures!

Chicken Parmesan Stuffed Shells

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cooking from the Heart

That's FROM the heart, not WITH the heart. For the record - organ meat - EW!. Well except for liverwurst. I love that shit. Boudin too. I just never, ever, ever want to see it being made. But that's got nothing to do with todays recipe. it seems hubs and I have been so busy with work lately that we barely get to see each other. It's just work, eat, sleep, repeat. Tuesday was no different but we were both home early (relatively speaking) so we had time to actually sit down at the table and eat a meal together. And what a meal it was. We had hanger steaks over mashed cauliflower with balsamic roasted cippolini onions and portobello mushrooms and roasted broccoli with parmesan. So today I'll give you the rundown for the onions and mushrooms. I have always wanted to try roasting cippolini onions (i.e. tiny vidalias) so when I decided to burn my whole foods gift card and saw them in the store, I had to get them. The worst part of making these is peeling them. You need to blanch them for a couple minutes to loosen up the skins just like you do with pearl onions. It's tedious, I won't lie. But they make such a nice presentation and are so sweet and yummy that I think it is worth it on occasion. Next I rinsed and sliced 5-6 medium sized portobello mushrooms. Now let me mention that my onions were exceptionally small so I roasted them in the same pan at the same time as the mushrooms. Larger onions may need a head start.Once the mushrooms and onions were prepped I tossed them with salt and olive oil with a good splash of balsamic vinegar. I roasted them at 425 for about 20 minutes. When the onions were softened I pulled them out of the oven and noticed that all the vinegar seem to have disappeared! It was so strange since I was expecting a syrup-like reduction. Apparently, most of the vinegar was absorbed by the mushrooms (making them exceptionally delicious, I might add)! So I gave it another quick splash and let the residual heat in the pan cook it down. That's it. It was a great topper to a nicely cooked steak!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bulking Up

So, for this new year I an attempting to make my life a little easier by cooking things in larger quantities when I can in order to reduce meal time stress and effort later in the week. My first foray was yesterday and it began with chicken breasts. In reality I just didn't feel like breaking out the vacuum sealer to freeze all the chicken so I figured that now was as good a time as any to try out the bulk cooking thing. I had never been a fan of it because I loathe the idea of eating the same freaking thing all week long. I figured that if I seasoned the chicken a couple of different ways, then the meals I make with it during the week wouldn't seem so monotonous. I wanted to season the meat so that it would be compatible with salads and sandwiches and be good by itself. I also wanted to bake the chicken so it could all go in the oven at once and I wouldn't have to tend to it while it cooked. The fact that I used a disposable aluminum pan also made clean up a breeze. Since I was going for salad and sandwich applications I filleted the breasts. This was probably not the greatest idea unless you are meticulous about getting everything relatively the same thickness. I had a few very thin pieces that came out dry and tough. The thicker fillets were much better texture-wise. So, important lesson. Keep the fillets of equal thickness. Finally the last thing that probably would have improved these is to give them a quick blast under the broiler to crisp up the cheeses in the seasonings. I have a shitty circa 1982 gas range with the broiler drawer on the bottom so the disposable pan I was using didn't fit. Man, do I hate my oven. Hopefully, that no interest loan I gave the government last year will have a return on it that will allow me to buy something newer and a HELL of a lot better. But I digress. Back to the food! I have a feeling that the final product will not go to waste this week and we wont get too tired of eating chicken. I have included the recipes for the two flavor combinations that I used. You simply arrange your chicken in a baking dish in a single layer, spread the seasoning mix over the top of the meat, and bake it until its done. If you wanted to let it sit overnight and bake it the next day I am sure that would work well too.

4 chicken breast halves, filleted to equal thickness

Cheddar Ranch Seasoning

1/2-3/4 C mayonnaise (I eyeballed it)
3 Tbs Ranch seasoning
1/2 C shredded cheddar cheese

Italian Parmesan Seasoning

1/2-3/4 C mayonnaise
1 packet good seasons Italian dressing
1/2T garlic powder
1/2 c Parmesan cheese

Mix seasoning ingredients into a thick paste. Arrange chicken breasts in a single layer in a baking dish. Spread seasoning mix over the top of the chicken. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes until done. If broiling (recommended) remove chicken when slightly underdone and place under hot broiler until tops are crispy and chicken is done.

Serve hot with rice and veggies and use leftovers in salads and sandwiches.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday. The hubs and I certainly did, although we are both probably 5 pounds heavier now. Yep, we are both resolving to eat lighter in the upcoming months. I actually started back on my exercise regime last week and have been constantly sore ever since. No pain, no gain, right. I had taken a break due to sciatic issues but am feeling much better now that I have incorporated some targeted stretches into my regime. No more excuses now. Anyway, one of the things that I am trying to do to help eat leaner and lighter is to cook up proteins in bulk over the weekends and freeze them in small portions so that when we get busy during the week I can just thaw them for use in salads, wraps, or stir fry's. This weekend I noticed I had a LOT of pork in my freezer. I buy it on sale but then never seem to cook it. Hubs never gets excited to eat pork so that is probably why. I know he likes breaded pork chops but I was looking for something leaner. I decided carnitas. The pork can be put into taco/burritos or on salads or just tossed with some sauteed vegetables. When it comes to Mexican food, I have 2 go-to recipe sources. Rick Bayless and Pati Jinich. Since I was using pork odds and ends rather than pork shoulder (traditional cut for carnitas), I opted for Pati's recipe. I have to tell you, I was a little leery about using orange juice and sweetened condensed milk, but once it started cooking the smell was so good that all my reservations went out the window. I followed her recipe as written and found the end result to be flavorful but not what I would normally consider for Mexican food. My Americanized palate anticipates Mexican food to be strongly seasoned with hot peppers, tomato, cilantro and cumin, whereas, these carnitas were very mild with subtle flavors. In my book this is fantastic as now they are a perfect canvas to be further seasoned for whatever application I choose to use them. When they were done, I quickly used some for a test taco with queso fresco, cilantro, pickled onions, hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. Delicious. I think the addition of some fresh salsa verde would definitely elevate them as the taco seemed a tad dry. I let the meat cool in the pan with the juices so that they could be reabsorbed. When cooled, I picked out the fat; shredded the meat; and placed it in ziplocks with some of the juices and froze them for later use. I am sure they will come in habdly later in the week when things get back to their normal level of crazy!

Pati's Pork Carnitas

Half a white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups water
6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cumin
4 whole cloves, stems removed
1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon lard, vegetable shortening or oil
4 to 5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt, cut into 4-inch chunks, fat on! (I used a mix of country style ribs and assorted chops)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

In the jar of a blender, place the water, onion, garlic cloves, marjoram, thyme, black pepper, cumin, stemmed whole cloves and 1 tablespoon salt. Puree until smooth. 

Set a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Add the lard (or vegetable shortening or oil), and once it has heated up, add the pork chunks and sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Brown the meat on all sides, stirring and flipping as each side browns, about 10 minutes. 

Pour the onion mixture over the meat, let it come to a simmer and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Pour in the orange juice and sweetened condensed milk, add the 2 bay leaves, and give it a good stir. Let it come to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low to low and cover. 

Cook covered, stirring and scrapping the bottom of the casserole 2 to 3 times along the way, until the meat is completely cooked and coming easily apart if you pull one piece, about one hour and a half. Remove the lid, cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Scoop out the carnitas with a slotted spoon, leaving any fat behind, and serve in a bowl or platter. Shred with a fork, if desired, before tucking into tacos. Or do like we do, serve straight from the pot. 

Serve with warm corn tortillas and pickled jalapeƱos or salsa verde cruda on the side.