Sunday, December 21, 2014

slow cooker roasted pork shoulder

Hallelujah.  Pulled pork in the slow cooker.

I know it's not smoked, and there are no cracklins to be had, so I don't claim any Southern miracle, but this basic pork recipe makes a phenomenally easy BBQ plate, taco filling, sandwich stuffer, thai rice bowl feature.  And it is so good. 

There are really three ingredients.  Plus water.  I am serious.

The challenge is to find a good-quality, preferably pasture-raised pork butt that's big enough for everyone to have seconds, thirds, and fourths when you make it.

Every couple of weeks, I notice that Whole Foods offers generously sized, bone-in pork shoulders (also known as a Boston butt).  That's exactly what you are looking for.  If you find it, buy it, and make this.  It's a cheap cut of meat so go big!  Whatever will fit in your slow cooker, which waits patiently for you at home.  I strive for 4-5 pounds, which makes plenty for four with leftovers.

Kevin says he could eat this pork every single night.  We end up eating it about once every couple of weeks because, hooray, I found pork shoulder at the grocery store after yoga.  (I have more time in my schedule these days, which allows for more exercise and less harried shopping, so I'm now that girl I used to hate at Whole Foods in yoga pants.)

And don't be shy about making it your own:  This basic pork can be transformed with some chipotles into a delicious taco filling, a thai rice bowl with veggies and green curry sauce, or an Eastern North Carolina-style sandwich with a white bun and coleslaw.   (You could even go Italian style and serve it alongside potato gnocchi.)

However you sauce it, please enjoy this very special, very easy, almost-Southern classic.  The recipe follows.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

fresh tuna burgers

Do you like surprises?  How about spicy tuna?  (Hello, fellow Shiki Sushi "marry roll" fans!)  I might surprise you with a recipe for fresh tuna burgers.

They are healthy, easy, and quick to prepare.  A little time is all they need in the fridge to firm up before cooking.  Tuna burgers are way more flavorful than plain white fish for dinner and a great alternative to burgers.  

A heads up:  When I prepare these tuna burgers, they aren't cooked all the way through, so it's important to select best-quality, sashimi-grade tuna from your fishmonger.  The fresh tuna should be very cold for easy slicing and chopping for its transformation into tiny cubes formed into patties.  The outside is seared and the inside stays tender and rare.  Sounds strange, tastes out of this world.

And pardon the late-night lighting on these photos.  It gets dark earlier these days, and tuna happens for dinner.  So too the amateur camera work.

I should add credit where credit is due.  Almost everything I know about basic cooking I learned from Food Network in college.  But if you know me, you know I am not a huge fan of Bobby Flay.  I just don't think we'd get along.  (Oh, but his wife is one of my favorite actresses from the glory days of Law & Order: SVU.  More college TV confessions.)  But Bobby's food is nothing short of terrific.

These tuna burgers were inspired by the man himself.  I'm not a sore loser.  Bobby, you got this one really, really right.  The recipe follows.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

roasted tomatillo salsa

Tomatillos are funny little fruits.

They're sour and bright, bright green when they are ripe.  Clothed in papery skins and a sticky residue that will remind you:  these are not green tomatoes.

What are these little guys all about?  Happy to be eaten raw and tangy, tomatillos will bite back.  (Try these yummy tostadas from Cookie + Kate, one of my favorite fellow food bloggers, and you will wonder why you never did before.)

But roasted and caramelized, the color softens and the sourness of these tiny fruits is mellowed to a subtle tang.  Salsa bedfellows onion, garlic, and jalapenos all relax and sweeten up in the oven, too.  It's the recipe for a perfect sweet-tart-spicy salsa.

It's an oven-to-food-processor recipe.  No tiresome seeding and chopping tomatoes for pico de gallo, for example.  This is a smoother, saucier salsa that won't take long to prepare.  It's great with chips or reserved for use in recipes such as chicken enchiladas or breakfast burritos or pork-stuffed poblano peppers.  Are you hungry yet?

Coronas ready?  Chips on hand?  You're half way there.  The recipe for homemade salsa follows.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

lifesaver overnight oatmeal

I've been shouting it from the rooftops everywhere but here:  overnight oatmeal.  It sounds boring and basic, but it's a weekday lifesaver with two basic ingredients.  And, in the crock pot, it's easier than you could possibly imagine.

Maybe I should back up.  I have never been a weekday breakfast eater.  I'm not, my dad isn't, and my grandfather wasn't.  I routinely skip breakfast and I'm not proud of it.  But, because on busy days I sometimes also skip lunch, the situation is untenable.  (Being a human being and all, it's important to eat more than one meal per day.)  I decided breakfast is under my control even when the work day takes over my lunch hour.  Time to change those inherited, bad breakfast habits.

Meanwhile, Pinterest was yelling at me:  overnight oats! crockpot oatmeal!  steel cut is good for youl! make your own almond butter!  I conceded:  it was time to try making oatmeal in the slow cooker overnight.  And eating it for breakfast.

There's something to it after all:  easy, healthful, minimal morning effort.  Minimal effort period.  1 cup oats, 3 1/2 cups of milk and water combo (the ratio and type of milk you use is completely flexible).  Crock pot.  You don't even have to stir.

In the morning, I spoon a heaping serving into a tupperware container and pile on toppings.  It's still warm when I sit down to my desk to check emails and-- finally-- eat breakfast. Of course, you don't have to wait.  If your schedule permits, celebrate the world's easiest breakfast by eating it at your kitchen table with a cup of coffee and your favorite daytime television.  By all means, enjoy!

This simple recipe has changed my daily life completely and so much for the better.  I'm caring for myself, and that's something worth shouting about.  The recipe follows.

Friday, July 4, 2014

maple peach ice cream

Summer is shining in to my core.  I am soaking up the sun and warm air and abundant produce.

It's finally time for fresh peaches, which always test my patience.  My grandmother Mimi used to like Georgia peaches best.  She'd drive from Charlotte to get them and bring back big woven baskets full, to store under the kitchen table until the peaches were just ready to eat.   (I might be speaking out of turn, but I think my South Carolina-born mother agreed with this disloyal errand.)  Wherever you get them, plan ahead and let your peaches ripen in a paper bag.

I didn't even like peaches until I tasted peach, basil, and mozzarella salad, when, after years of aversion, I realized that peaches are so much more than slimey and syrupy sweet.  They are bright, fresh, tender, and perfectly delicious in a galette with their unexpected friend black pepper.  And in the South, there's hardly a better way to eat them on a July day than in fresh peach ice cream.

When I set out to make peach ice cream, I had the benefit of 3 just-ripe peaches on my kitchen counter.  (Leftovers from oatmeal adventures that I will report to you soon.)  It was just enough for a quart of ice cream.

I researched peach ice cream recipes and found too many lists of ingredients with instant vanilla pudding, sweetened condensed milk, and other saccharine cover-ups.  What I had in mind was old-fashioned, simple, and not too sweet.  (After all, I've gone to a lot of trouble lately to not eat sugar, and I don't want to throw my body completely out of whack. OK, more on that later; I know we have a lot to catch up on.)

This version is simple, peach-centered, and not too sweet.  Just what I wanted.  And I love that includes a hint of maple flavor, a great memory from our trip to Vermont last fall.

Here's another nostalgic moment for me:  it's been about 2 years that I've been blogging to you.  In 2012 there was a stars and stripes chiffon cake that I was sure you would love.  I wanted to share it, so I did. And then some more, and some more, and piles of recipes and dirty dishes later, here were are.

Let's celebrate 2 years of cooking together and take advantage of summer's best.  The recipe for peach ice cream follows.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

simple sesame kale salad

Have you heard you are supposed to eat more kale?  Snack on it like chips?  Put it in your breakfast cereal?  Cole slaw?  And drink it, apparently?  It doesn't have to be sneaky.  Greens are good for you-- crispy or juiced, braised or raw.

This salad doesn't pretend to be anything it's not:  it's kale, and it's healthful.  Keep it simple.

The surprise comes in the dressing.  These are heavy duty greens:  bottled dressing won't cut it.  Be adventurous and make your own.  It's fast, and you can adjust all the ingredients for the flavors you like best. Fresh garlic, honey, tahini sesame paste, and dark tamari soy sauce come together to create a tangy and savory combination that balances out any bitterness in the kale.

The result is a serious salad and all the bragging rights.  In about 6 minutes flat.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

green beans and shiitake mushrooms with warm vinaigrette

Your green beans are boring. 

I hate to be the one to tell you.  There is, after all, a perfectly appropriate time (BBQ potluck) for overcooked green beans cooked in pork fat or beef stock.  

But a better option with your seared salmon, turkey burger, or grilled pork chop is quicker, brighter, and fresher.  Stop what you are doing, and try this instead. 

It starts with sauteed shiitake mushrooms, a little garlic, and some lemon zest.  Thin, snappy french green beans (also called haricots verts) do most of the work.  Adding sherry vinegar and olive oil creates a warm dressing while the beans are cooking.  And it's done. 

Maybe I should admit that I'm having to cook a little quicker and eat a little lighter these days.  February swelled up with (over)commitments and we struggled to keep pace.  In a short 28 days, we were reminded of some important lessons:  a healthy life requires that you sleep, move, and eat healthfully.  Sunshine is a remedy.  And, without going too far, I'll say that letting go up is possibly the most important thing you can do when life gets crunched.  (The lesson is actually to hold on loosely.  I can't tell you how many times Kevin and I sang the 38 Special ballad to each other to survive the month.  If you cling too tightly, you're gonna lose control.)  Probably singing to your loved ones is a good lesson, too.  It usually lightens the mood.  Let up, sing it out, and move.

In the spirit of letting up and holding on loosely, I've written this recipe in approximations.  It really won't matter how many green beans and mushrooms you throw in.   But each component is important.  The green beans are cooked in a warm vinaigrette of olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and garlic.  If you don't have sherry vinegar, you can substitute red wine vinegar instead.  

A new and quick recipe is just what we need for the new month.  In like a lion after the jump.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

saturday oatmeal pancakes

I need to tell you that there are certain basic acts of cooking that I usually perform miserably:  cooking rice, golden pancakes, stuff like that.  It hasn't stopped me from making delicious meals.  And, after much practice on Saturday mornings, I'm getting better at the pancake thing.

When I was a kid, my dad used to make me heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine's Day.  With chocolate chips sprinkled in.  It was a sweet gesture, and I always looked forward to Valentine's pancake parties in my PJs.  Maybe I'll bring back the tradition this holiday, too, with a healthy upgrade.  Or any Saturday will do.

Wholesome pancakes are a food trend right now, and they are easy to make healthful and make your own. There must be thousands of variations floating around on Pinterest boards these days.  This version uses oatmeal and whole wheat flour to improve upon the standard carb load.  The result is surprisingly fluffy, hearty, and delicious with fresh fruit (either folded in the batter or served on top).

These take a bit longer to cook than basic Bisquick formula, about 4-5 minutes total, but there are no special tricks.  Keep your eye on the edges until they dry before flipping, then cook just another 30 seconds or so on the second side.  They'll keep warm in the oven until you're ready to serve.

So we can scratch this one off the list:  wholesome, golden pancakes for a snow day, Saturday, or Valentine's Day.  Check.  The recipe follows.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

italian pot roast with rosemary and fennel

Need some comfort food?  It's 6 more weeks of winter, and I feel like we are deep in it.  Thankfully a warm Sunday meal (and leftovers) is easier than you might think.

Not just any Sunday meal-- the best and most flavorful pot roast I've ever eaten.  Onion, carrot, fennel, and rosemary flavor the broth for low-and-slow cooking of an inexpensive chuck roast.  It's easy and budget-friendly.

Yes,  I said fennel.  I know you don't think you like fennel.  I don't really either.  So I scaled it back in this recipe, and I promise it makes a world of delicious difference.  Do the fennel.  You won't notice a licorice flavor, just something special.

It's an Italian twist on pot roast that I borrowed from Giada's recipe and simplified a bit for, you know, real people.  (I'll spare you the details of trying to use cipollini onions the way she does.  Dear God, life is too short.  Use regular onions.)  It's the perfect thing for cozying up on the couch for the Olympics. Or serving the whole family at Sunday supper. 

I think it brings out the best in homecooking. The ingredients are cheap-- except maybe the sherry and fennel depending on where you live-- so do yourself a favor and make a lot. Buy the best quality meat, stock, and organic vegetables you can find. Simple and high-quality ingredients will make this dish even better. I was lucky enough to find homemade beef stock from a local butcher (partially thawed in the picture above), which does wonders to help thicken and flavor the gravy.

Oh yeah, the gravy.  There's a secret in this, guys: the body of the gravy comes from the vegetables.  Instead of tolerating the uninspired, overcooked party-crashers hanging around when the meat is done braising for 4 hours, this recipe transforms the vegetables into a delicious, hearty gravy.  Yup, hidden vegetables, flavorful gravy.  The blender is the genius of Giada's recipe.

Mashed potatoes are the classic, rib-sticking accompaniment to pot roast.  But you'll be just as well-served with a root vegetable mash, some egg noodles, or my favorite -- slightly sweet, roasted spaghetti squash.  With extra gravy, please.  (More on spaghetti squash later, if you're interested.)

The recipe for your Sunday supper follows.

Monday, January 20, 2014

coconut custard pots de crème

Friends, we are full steam ahead in 2014.  I hope this year brings you some new and happy adventures.  I have so much to share with you.

For starters, I've conquered a creamy non-dairy dessert that is sure to please everyone.  It's a pure and simple custard, ingeniously simple, made with coconut milk instead of cow's milk.  It's subtly sweet, delicious, and only 5 ingredients.

Too simple?  Pas de problème.  A french name can help with that.  This recipe is a twist on a classic pot de crème after all.

Pretty fresh raspberries help, too.

Of course, there's always chocolate.  (Guess what? Also easy.  Just one more ingredient.)

There's no intimidation factor here, I promise.  And you won't be slaving over the stove waiting for custard to set up.  Oh yeah, and it's gluten free and dairy free.  So no downsides, even for your friends who are suddenly not eating anything.

You will need some darling tiny ramekins to make individual portions.  That's half the fun.  Or try tiny mason jars or oven-safe cups.  This recipe makes enough for six portions in ramekins.  The recipe follows.