Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

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During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I find it very easy to get into a dinner recipe rut. With all of the Christmas cookies, festive parties, and overall chaos this time of year brings, cooking a meal is pretty low on my list.  That’s where the incredible folks at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) come in. I can’t stop my feelings of passionate adoration for these people. I have several of their cookbooks and I recently discovered their podcast. Between visits to patients’ homes, I have been binge-listening (is that a thing?) to their amazing weekly programs and I stumbled upon a recipe for their Mexican pulled pork, often known as carnitas. Perhaps it was just my deeply-rooted love of rolling the “r” when saying Spanish words (thanks to my lovely high school profesora, Señora  Antequera); but caRRRRRRRRRRRnitas sounded like a perfect change up to our mundane weeknight rotation.

The prep for this dish is pretty simple and the seasonings are readily available. However, the inactive cooking time involves some planning ahead just because it requires 2 hours of baking in a low oven. I had a lot of stuff to get done on the day I made this and it was so nice to throw everything in my Dutch oven, pop it in the oven, and go about my business. If you don’t have the ability to be at home early enough to make this, I suspect it could be made a day in advance or even in a slow cooker. Perhaps I will have to try one of those methods the next time I make it because I absolutely will be making it again. The flavors are refreshing and not too overpowering and Robert loved it so much he used the leftovers to make some super crazy nachos.

If you are looking for something to jazz up your meal planning, look no further. I love you, ATK. So much that I may get your name tattooed on my arm.

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Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (3 1/2-4lb) boneless pork butt roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 orange, halved

For serving:

  • Flour tortillas
  • Minced bell peppers
  • Minced onions
  • Freshly shredded cheese
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Lime wedges

Directions

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about ⅓ cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Place lid on pot and move to the oven. Cook until meat is soft and falls apart when poked with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.

2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy, about 10-12 minutes. There should be about 1 cup of reduced liquid at the end of the process.

3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not burnt) and edges are slightly crisp, around 6-8 minutes.  Carefully flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, another 6-8 minutes. Serve immediately with toppings and warm tortillas. Enjoy!

Source: Directly from America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook (Page 281-282)

 

Butternut Squash, Bacon, Onion, and Spinach Quiche

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I have a horrible habit of buying butternut or acorn squash and then letting it decompose on our kitchen countertop without ever using it. Grandiose ideas always dance in my head when I happily add it to my shopping cart at the grocery store. “I will carve this butternut squash into a festive turkey, roast it, and drizzle it with a balsamic reduction,” I tell myself. “It will serve as the centerpiece for our thanksgiving meal and it will become so beloved, that it will evolve into a tradition that I pass down to my children’s children and we will call it the Gobbler Gourd.” The voice narrating the regal scene I am imagining suddenly develops a hybrid accent of British/Australian/West Virginian because I have never been good with linguistics, even in my dreams. And then I make it through the checkout line, struggle to find my car keys, load a crying and hungry Smith into his car seat, pull in the garage, and drop half of the groceries on the floor before I see the butternut squash again and wonder if our sheep or chickens will eat the rotting blob it will surely become. “Surely the grocery store used some sort of trickery to force me to buy it,” I surmise. In the moment, I second guess whether or not we actually enjoy the taste of squash.

The particular butternut squash I used in this recipe was destined for a similar fate of those before it, but I decided it was time to stop being so wasteful and find some new ways to incorporate this ingredient into our weeknight meals. The idea for a quiche quickly came to my mind as we had a surplus of eggs from our hens and I needed to make a few batches of pie dough for the upcoming Turkey Day celebration. I turned to my new favorite book, America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School, and followed the guidelines for making quiche and then added some extra jazziness to it. By the way- if you don’t have this book and would like to learn some classic cooking techniques, I highly recommend it. I adore everything ATK produces and this publication did not disappoint.

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In addition to the butternut squash, I used ingredients that I had on hand that I thought would go well together. Because I was going to be serving this for dinner, I added bacon to it to appeal to some of the other members of my household. I like to think the new reports on the health risks of cured meat are mitigated if one consumes good quality bacon and makes sure to incorporate plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables in one’s diet. But maybe that’s just me.

Soapbox aside, the quiche was a surprising hit for our family. Though Robert is always very kind and gracious when I make new recipes, I could see the flash of what I like to call “meat insecurity” shoot across his eyes when he saw what was for dinner. It only took a single bite to reassure him. Poor guy.  I only wish I would have thought of this sooner, but I was so glad I was able to at least save this butternut squash from a sad ending.

Happy Saturday, all!

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Butternut Squash, Bacon, Onion, and Spinach Quiche

Yield: 1 9″ quiche

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups butternut squash, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 6 strips bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise in thin strips
  • 1 cup loosely packed spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 single layer pie crust
  • Olive oil, butter

Directions

  1. Press pie dough into 9 inch pie pan. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for 30 minutes.  While the dough chills, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large, nonstick sauté pan over medium heat.  Once heated, add the squash and onions and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add in the garlic and heat until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Add the spinach and cook until wilted, for about 1 more minute. Remove from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together the milk, eggs, salt, and pepper. Add the shredded cheese and sautéed vegetables to the custard mix. Set aside.
  2. After the dough has been chilled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place aluminum foil over pie crust and secure down with pie weights. Blind bake crust just until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Reduce the heat of the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the aluminum foil and pie weights and transfer pie pan to a rimmed baking sheet. Place the baking sheet back in the oven and carefully pour the custard mix into the pie crust, making sure to leave 1/2 room between top of the custard and edges of the pie crust. Moving the baking sheet to the oven before adding the custard prevents the custard from spilling all over the place if you add it before you move the baking sheet to the oven.
  3. Bake the quiche until puffed and lightly golden brown, about 40-50 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack and allow to set for 1-3 hours before serving.

Note: You may have extra custard depending on the depth of your pie pan. I used the extra I had to bake egg cups in standard muffin tins (I baked these for about 18 minutes) and they were great for breakfasts on the go.

Source: Method for preparing quiche from America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School

Chicken Shawarma

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Because I grew up in the country, I didn’t have a large variety of cuisine to sample from. The standard spices in the recipes of my Midwestern region tend to be salt, pepper, and sugar. Lots of sugar. While I love the delicious food I grew up with, and I still make a lot of those traditional recipes, I didn’t really know beauty of other cuisine until Robert and I moved to Columbus. As with most larger cities in America, Columbus is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. This means there is a plethora of ethnic restaurants just waiting to inspire the taste buds of diners. I was introduced to spices like turmeric, saffron, and garam masala. It was educational and delicious all in one.

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Perhaps our favorite discovery, though, was The Olive Tree in Hilliard. It was at this Mediterranean restaurant that we found the magic of chicken shawarma. Shawarma, by definition (thanks to a quick, highly technical google search), refers to the method of preparing meat by roasting it in a vertical, rotisserie-type of device called a spit.  It’s also often served with hummus or tahini and eaten with pita. I think I originally ordered this because it reminded me of the post-credits scene in the movie The Avengers, but not even the acting skills or Robert Downey Jr. could have prepared me for the deliciousness that was served. A gorgeous medley of amazingly-seasoned chicken and vegetables were sitting atop a silky swirl of creamy homemade hummus and accompanied by pillowy soft pita. Robert and I were both hooked and there was a fabulous stretch of time when we ordered take-out from The Olive Tree about once a week because we had shawarma fever.

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It’s fun and exciting to try new foods. It adds to a richer experience in life and it broadens one’s worldview. Just as we have the ability to evolve and mature as individuals, we have the ability to allow our tastebuds to do the same. Now more than ever, we have access to previously hard-to-find ingredients and there are millions and millions of incredible recipes at our fingertips thanks to the Internet. I’ve happily added this chicken shawarma recipe to our family’s rotation of meals. It’s a great way to shake up the classics and it has actually become a meal that I would classify as a comfort food. It reminds me of many convivial moments dining with friends and family and it nourishes both the body and the soul.

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Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 bell peppers, julienned
  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 teaspoons cumin
  • 4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Hummus
  • Pita bread
  • Feta cheese, optional
  • Fresh basil/cilantro, optional

Directions

  1. Make two separate batches of the marinade: in 2 separate small bowls, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2teaspoons cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon all spice, 3/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, pinch of cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken in a zip-loc bag or bowl and pour one of the bowls over the chicken. Ensure the pieces are coated evenly and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Cover other bowl of marinade and set aside to used for vegetables.
  2. Grill the chicken: heat grill to medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Transfer chicken to a plate and cover with aluminum foil and allow meat to rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Sauté the vegetablesAdd about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. When skillet is hot, add the peppers and onion and the other bowl of marinade. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to ensure vegetables are evenly coated. Turn down the heat of the stove to medium and cook until peppers and onions are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Plate and enjoy: After the chicken rests, cut into strips. Swirl a generous amount of hummus on a plate or bowl. Add a scoop of the sautéed vegetables and then a few pieces of chicken. Top with feta cheese and fresh basil or cilantro. Serve with pita bread. Enjoy!

Source: Tori Avey

 

Savory Butternut Squash Bisque

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That distinct Ohio Autumn crispness has floated into the morning air the past two days and it has sparked in me a fierce urge to cook and bake. The summer humidity always dampens my desire to be in my kitchen, but my oven and stove were working overtime this past Sunday afternoon.  Our house temperature rose to a stifling 76 degrees, but whatever. It was fun, albeit steamy.

One of my weekend projects was this soup.  I had scooped up a hefty butternut squash at the grocery store without any recipe in mind last week. This, unfortunately, tends to result in me throwing out a rotting squash because no plans come to fruition and I always vow to waste less “next time.” But then the vision of a silky and earthy butternut squash soup danced in my head and I was researching recipes in no time.

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I have a personal preference for savory spices with starchier vegetables like sweet potatoes or butternut squash. They are already sweet to begin with and I think adding spices like cinnamon and nutmeg makes these types of dishes seem more like a dessert. As a result, I added thyme to this bisque instead. The addition of flavorful leeks and sherry really make this soup extra lovely. Sherry is one of the best ways to take a creamy soup up about 50 notches. It adds a whole new dimension and richness. I highly recommend using it if you can; plus- it lasts forever! I think the sherry I have was originally my great grandmother’s and my mom gave it to me when my parents were moving.

If you are in the mood for soups and you are in the autumn spirit, I highly recommend making this soup. It makes a great side dish and is wonderful topped with crème fraiche and good balsamic vinegar. You could also make it a main dish and jazz it up with a few crumbles of thick bacon. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

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Looking for more soup recipes? Here are a few of our favorite soup recipes from the archives:

Wedding Crab (or Lobster) Bisque- the beloved soup recipe served at our wedding (sherry is in this recipe, too!)

Sweet Potato Chili– a healthy and hearty soup with no added sugar

Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheese– creamy and rich

Corn Chowder– all of the flavor of summer before we say goodbye

Crab and Corn Chowder– shellfish and corn go together like peas and carrots

Sweet and Spicy Chili– a little sweet and a little heat make for a classic soup

Cream of Mushroom– earthy and satisfying

French Onion Soup– let’s be real, the best part is the cheesy bread on top

Chicken Tortilla Soup– for those who want a little extra spice in their lives

P.S. We have three new ladies in our family: Ruth, Idgie, and Sipsey. They are Rhode Island Red laying hens and we love getting fresh eggs every day. Fresh eggs are so much richer and more flavorful than those found in the grocery store and one of our girls is a double-yolk-laying machine.

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Savory Butternut Squash Bisque

Yield: About 6 side dish servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large leek, white and light green part only, chopped and rinsed well (about 1 cup total)
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 3cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Crème fraiche and balsamic vinegar for topping, optional

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add in the leaks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add in the squash, thyme, black pepper, and salt. Stir and cook for an additional 5 minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Add in the sherry and cook for about 2 minutes longer to allow the liquid to reduce.
  3. Pour in the chicken stock, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce hit to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 20 minutes or until squash is tender.
  4. Using a hand blender or regular blender, blend the soup until desired texture is achieved  (I personally like a few chunks and bits left). Return the soup mixture to the Dutch oven. Add in the milk, cream, and any additional salt or sherry as your personal taste indicates. Stir to combine and reheat to desired temperature.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with a dollop of crème fraiche and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

 

Source: Slightly adapted from Merrill Stubbs at Food52

Oven-Roasted Salmon Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

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I made this salad a few months ago when my friend Jamie came over for lunch and I have been meaning to share the recipe for several weeks. My father travels to Alaska about once every two months to help provide orthodontic services at a local clinic. One of the clinic coordinators is a big time fisherman and he invited my dad, who is also a seasoned fisherman, along on an excursion. This resulted in a large haul of King and Coho salmon being shipped back to our midwestern homestead and we have been reaping the benefits ever since.

This salad is highly adaptable. On the particular day I made it, I was in the mood to dress it with pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, fresh strawberries, and roasted pecans; but I would recommend jazzing it up with whatever is in season. We still have a surplus of salmon in our freezer right now (and we enjoyed another great salmon recipe over the weekend), so there is some more salmon coming your way!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend.

Happy Monday!

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Smith sure loves our buddy, Jamie. 

  
  
Honey Dijon Vinaigrette 

Ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled & minced
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Mix or shake all ingredients together until well-blended.

Oven-Roasted Salmon 

Ingredients

  • 1 to 3 pounds skin-on salmon fillets (8 ounces per person)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a roasting pan or baking sheet with foil.
  2. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel. Transfer to the foil-lined baking sheet. Rub the top of the salmon with oil so that it’s lightly coated. Sprinkle each fillet generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the salmon in the oven and roast for 4-6 minutes per half inch thickness of fillet. The salmon will easily flake with a fork when finished (the USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 145°F at the thickest part of the fillet).
  4. Remove from oven and place over bed of greens. Garnish the salad with dried cherries, fresh strawberries, goat cheese and pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with honey dijon vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Source: Dressing: adapted from Food Network; Salmon: The Kitchn 

 

Food Memory Friday: Blackened Chicken with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

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The summer Robert and I were married, I was finishing up my physics pre-requisite for graduate school and my schedule allowed me extra time to cook for us each night. Those were the days. I was able to work out every morning and I happily perused cookbooks and magazines for menu ideas. I also consulted with my mother a lot as I tried to figure out my way around the kitchen and she introduced me to this recipe. She’d made it a few times before and it was a delicious hit. Feeling confident, I collected the ingredients I needed. I was happy to find that I already had everything in our apartment. The chicken breasts I was using were frozen, but I figured if I allowed them to thaw for a few hours, I would be in good shape by the time I was ready to make dinner.

Fast forward a few hours and I followed the recipe to a tee. The kitchen smelled wonderful as the food baked in the oven and it looked gorgeous as I ceremoniously placed dinner on our table. We each served ourselves a piece of chicken and dug in. A few bites in, Robert turned his fork upside down and examined the piece of chicken pierced through its prongs closely. “This chicken is really chewy,” he said, “is there something different about it?” I assured him that it was the usual chicken I always purchased and I took his plate to check it out myself. I cut the chicken in half and scraped the salsa away to reveal a delightfully raw piece of chicken. The center was still cold and nowhere near the safe temperature recommended. My heart sank and I apologized profusely. Bert reassured me we could just pop the chicken in the microwave, which we did, but we both had not-surprisingly lost our appetites by that point. On the bright side- neither of us ended up with any food-borne illnesses and I learned a very valuable lesson in defrosting chicken that day.

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Here we are nearly eight years later and I still make this dish a few times a year. Every time I do,  it seems like one of us will bring up that chewy chicken I served just a few weeks after we became a family. We laugh and then we both furtively check our chicken to make sure it is indeed cooked through.

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Blackened Chicken with Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

  • 15 oz can (1 1/2 cups) black beans, drained
  • 15 oz can (1 1/2 cups) corn, drained
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Olive or coconut oil
  • Sour cream, green onions, avocado, tortilla chips (optional)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the black beans, corn, and salsa in a 9×13 inch casserole dish. Set aside.

2. Combine the chili powder, garlic, salt, and cumin in a bowl and pour into a thin layer on a plate. Dip each of the chicken breasts in the spice mixture and use your fingers to “massage” the rub evenly on each piece of chicken.

3. Heat olive or coconut over medium-high heat in a large saucepan until hot. Carefully add each piece of chicken to the pan and sear the chicken on each side, until blackened, about 2-3 minutes each. Transfer the pieces of chicken to the casserole dish with the black bean and corn salsa. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and top with shredded cheese and other toppings, as desired.

Source: Taste of Home

 

Sweet Potato Chili

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I love the above picture. Little Smee is so curious these days and he couldn’t let me snap a quick photo of dinner without checking out why I was pulling the window blinds up and grabbing my camera. Luckily, my reflexes have sharpened and I was able to quickly snatch the soup away from his curious hands (don’t worry- the soup was already pretty cool at this point due to a toddler meltdown distracting me).

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I’ve been on a big sweet potato kick as of late. In particular, savory sweet potato dishes. My new favorite breakfast consists of a sweet potato hash topped with two eggs and my current preferred work lunch is this delightful chili. It’s loaded with a healthy dose of vegetables, it’s flavorful, and it prevents me from turning into a hangry grouch by late afternoon. This recipe is highly adaptable and can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish if that is what is desired. Another bonus is that this chili freezes really well and is a great option for a last minute dinner.

If you’re looking to mix up your lunch routine or are in the mood for one final round of soup before the warm weather is here to stay (maybe?), look no further.

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Sweet Potato Chili

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lean ground beef or turkey
  • 2 sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 28oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 quart (4 cups) low sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups (about 1 can) black beans
  • 2 cups (about 1 can) corn

Directions

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook until brown. Drain to remove excess grease. Place the cooked beef into a separate sale and set aside.

2. Add the sweet potatoes, onion, and green pepper to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Next stir in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute longer.

3. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, bay leaves, tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, beans, and corn. Bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2-3 hours to allow flavors to fully develop.

4. Top with sour cream, cheese, and green onions, if desired.

Source: Adapted from A Couple Cooks