April 25, 2011

Delicious Tacos! Pork Loin Marinated with Ancho Chilies with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and Fresh Mango




How does this sound- pork loin marinated in an ancho chili paste, grilled, served in warm tortillas, topped with roasted tomatillo, poblano and avocado salsa, with fresh mango? Trust me, this is good, good stuff. Our baby eats this pork loin like it's candy, seriously, he loves it, and this makes really, really good leftovers. You could make this for dinner and eat it for a few nights!



When you are making this, the blender is your new best friend. Why waste time chopping things? Or making things pretty? No need- the blender will do it for you! Isn't that music to a busy Mom's ears?




Pork Loin Marinated in Ancho Chili Paste

2 large garlic cloves

2 medium sized tomatoes

1 Tbsp. white vinegar

1/8 tsp. ground cumin seed

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1/4 tsp. paprika

pinch sea salt

few grinds fresh pepper

1 anaheim chili (seeds and stem removed)

3 ancho chilies (seeds and stems removed)



2 pork loins



First, we are going to rehydrate our ancho chilies. First, remove the seeds and stems from the chilies. Bring some water to a boil, pour over the 3 ancho chilies in a small bowl. Let this sit for 10 minutes. Assemble the other ingredients in the blender. After the ancho chilies have sat in the hot water for 10 minutes, pour 1 Tbsp. of the chili water into the blender, discard the rest. Add the 3 rehydrated chilies to the blender and blend. This is your marinade! I use only half of this for 2 pork loins. Save the rest in the refrigerator for the next lucky meat. Rub this liberally over two pork loins, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allow to marinade for at least 4 hours. Overnight is good, too :)



Roasted Tomatillo, Poblano and Avocado Salsa

3/4 lb. tomatillos

1 poblano chili

1/2 small yellow onion

1 jalapeno with seeds, (stem removed)

1 garlic clove

1 medium avocado

zest of 1/2 of a lime

juice from 1 lime

sea salt

pepper

1 Tbsp. cilantro



Heat the oven to 375. On a baking sheet, place the poblano and the tomatillos (husks removed). Roast for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven. Cut off the stem of the poblano, but leave the seeds inside. In the blender- your new best friend, right?! Blend all the ingredients. This will be warm, so be careful! Refrigerate right away. If you're making this close to when you're going to eat, you can put it in the freezer to cool it down quicker.



Now to cook our delicious pork loin! I cooked this on our big green egg, at about 425, I cooked it for about 15-18 minutes, turning every 5 minutes to get beautiful grill marks on all the sides! The internal temperature needs to be at least 140. You can replicate this in your oven at a similar temperature. Remove from the grill, or oven, allow to rest for about 5-10 minutes. Cut the pork loin into small pieces, roughly 1/3".



Serve the pork loin in warm tortillas, top with your delicious salsa, and chopped fresh mango!



Some thoughts on mangoes- I wear disposable plastic gloves when I handle chili peppers as well as mangoes- mangoes have sap on their outside that can occasionally cause rashes. Some people develop an allergy over time to mango sap, but can still eat the inside of mangoes. Peel the mango using a vegetable peeler, then cut off pieces with a knife. You'll notice that the mango seed is fairly large and broad, you'll be able to see which way it goes and cut around it.



Enjoy! This was our Easter dinner :)

April 22, 2011

Pizza with Asparagus and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Mmmmmm... Pizza night... Would you believe that our little boy ate some asparagus this way?! I couldn't believe it. Usually, vegetables are a hard sell. Come to think of it, most fruit is a hard sell... But the all cheese diet seems to be working out well for us :) Just kidding (sort of).







Have some homemade pizza for dinner tonight! This is a nice variation that has a lot of rich tomato flavor- in both the sauce and the sun dried tomatoes. First, let's get our simple sauce started- it's a snap!



Basic Sauce for Pizza

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 tsp. chili flakes

26 oz. container of Pomi tomatoes (chopped)



Heat the oil in a suitable pot. I find that I have become obsessed with my Le Creuset dutch ovens. I seem to use them for everything... If you have a garlic press, you may prepare your garlic using that, or, if you prefer, just chop them finely. Did you know that when you handle garlic and onions, that if you wash your hands with cold water, the smell will go away? Washing your hands with warm water actually makes the smell and oils stay on your hands. Once our oil has heated a little over medium-low heat, add the garlic and enjoy the aroma! After about a minute, add the salt, oregano and chili flakes, stir and cook for about another 1-2 minutes. You don't want the garlic to brown, so if that's happening, turn down the heat and add the tomatoes right away to lower the temp and stop the browning. If they aren't browning and you're cruising along and things are going well, add your tomatoes, stir, and turn the heat down a little, let that cook for a little while (about 10-15 minutes) while you get your pizza dough ready.



This pizza dough recipe might look familiar... it is the same recipe I use for focaccia. (minus the herbs, but hey, if you really like herbs, it probably would be delicious to include them!). Here it is!



Pizza Dough

1 tsp. honey

1/4 cup warm water

1 envelope yeast

1 tsp. sea salt

3 cups flour

3 Tbsp. warm water

3 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup cold water



Fire up your oven to 425. In a small bowl, combine the first 1/4 cup of warm water, the honey, and the yeast. Let that sit and form some small bubbles, the yeast should look kind of sloppy and soft. This can sit for about 8-10 minutes. In a larger bowl, mix the salt and flour together. Add the remaining warm water, the olive oil and the cool water to the smaller bowl with the yeast mixture. Form a well in the flour and salt and pour the liquid into the well. Using a spoon or pretty much any utensil, I used a butter knife recently, stir until a dough starts to come together. Prepare your hands with olive oil (I like this better than flour), and pick up the dough and work it with your hands. You can do this in the bowl or on a cutting board with some flour. Incorporate a little more flour as needed, and knead the dough for at least a minute or two. It will get more smooth and elastic as your work it, this is because you are helping the gluten form stronger bonds. Clean out the bowl and rub the inside with olive oil. Place the dough in the oiled bowl, and put some oil on the exposed top of the dough. Cover with a kitchen towel.



I've been experimenting a little with how to best cook my pizza- the big green egg, which has a 'pizza stone' piece, and the oven. Surprisingly, I've found that I get better results in the oven! I was surprised. My biggest problem was that I like a pretty thin crust, and transferring the thin uncooked pizza onto the pizza stone caused all sorts of distortion to the shape and presentation. (Here is your frankenstein pizza, enjoy!) I guess this is good news, though, to everyone with an oven?




Let's get our toppings together- you'll need:



1/2 cup (loosely packed) sun dried tomatoes (I use julienned, not packed in oil)

1/2 cup asparagus, cut into 3/4" pieces, tough lower stem discarded

mozzarella

parmesan



These measurements of the toppings are approximate, because they will vary depending on how large your crust is. This dough amount is probably best divided into 3-4 separate pizzas, which will each be roughly 12" x 6"- it will depend on how thin you make them. Just eyeball it- you may want to use less, depending on how you feel about asparagus and sun dried tomatoes. Combine the cut up sun dried tomatoes and asparagus in a small mason jar. Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil and shake to coat (we coat them in olive oil so they don't burn).



Shaping your pizza dough- take either 1/3 or 1/4 of the dough and on a floured surface, like a cutting board or a clean counter, knead a few times, adding flour as needed. Begin, using your fingertips, flattening the dough into a disc. Start at the center and work your way out, being careful not to press down the outer crust. The less you touch the outer crust, the better, it then retains small air pockets. Flip the dough over many times during this process. This will take a few minutes, but you'll see that it will start to get larger and more pliable. When you've reached your desired thinness and size, I like it to be pretty thin, transfer to a baking sheet that has been dusted with flour.



This sauce we've made is a little on the watery side. The best way to combat this and to not use a lot of time is to put a portion in a mesh sieve and press it with the back of a large spoon. Some liquid should drain off. Spread a small amount on the pizza dough, not too heavy, you can get a good idea from this picture. Distribute the asparagus and sun dried tomatoes over the pizza, the oil that may come out of the jar is a great addition. Using a very fine grater, like a micro plane, grate both parmesan and mozzarella (not fresh, use a hard mozzarella) over the pizza. With this pizza, I like to add additional parmesan after it comes out of the oven. It's a visual judgement, with the micro plane, what is actually not a lot of cheese looks like a lot, since it's nice a fluffy.



We're ready to pop it in the oven! Bake at 425 for at least 12 minutes, check and see how browned the edges of the pizza are, maybe leave it in for a few minutes more if you don't see any browned edged. Remove from the oven, grate some more parmesan over it, and enjoy! This would be great with sangria, and eat outside if you can!

April 18, 2011

Easter Fun!




It's almost Easter! So exciting! I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to watching our little baby boy hunt for easter eggs! We are going to three easter egg hunts. Yes, three! Also, I get to wear a hat to church (yes! a cocktail hat! I have a wonderful pink and orange number). We are even going to go see Easter Parade, the 1948 musical starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Peter Lawford (well, my mother and I are, it's a little long for baby and well, the husband just doesn't want to). All the beautiful spring greenery, cheerful colors and wonderful spring time clothing everyone is sporting is just too much fun!


This morning, baby and I took a little trip to Michael's to look for easter baskets- I picked up a couple of baskets, chose some festive 'grass,' some plastic eggs, and these adorable fuzzy chicks to put inside! I picked up several different types of wire edged ribbon, you'll see pale blue and orange with white polka dots on the little boy basket and pretty wide magenta and orange on the little girl basket.


In the mood for a spring time wreath? Pick up a basic wreath made of branches and wrap your favorite ribbon around it- tada! Instant easter chic!


April 16, 2011

Berry Shortcakes with Unsweetened Whipped Cream

When winter ends and spring bursts to life- my husband invariably asks for berry shortcakes for dessert! It's gotten to the point where I probably don't even need to ask anymore- if it's warm outside, that's what he wants for dessert.

Isn't it exciting, seeing ripe, luscious berries return to the grocery store shelves? Glistening strawberries, plump blackberries, radiant raspberries and beautiful blueberries, all smiling up at you saying, 'pick me!! take me home!' Well, why not! Not only because they are insanely delicious, great for you, but you can use them in this decadent dessert- a dessert which I am certain will become one of your warm weather go-to treats!


Berry Shortcakes

2 1/2 cups flour (all-purpose unbleached)

1/4 tsp. salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. vanilla powder

11 Tbsp. unsalted butter, straight out of the refrigerator

3/4 cup heavy cream


topping:

1 Tbsp. heavy cream

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. sugar


16 ounces strawberries

6 ounces blackberries

1/2 cup sugar


1 cup heavy whipping cream


Preheat your oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with parchment. First, we make our biscuits- these are fairly crumbly and flaky, they contrast nicely with the whipped cream and berries. In a food processor, using the regular blade, not the dough blade, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and vanilla powder. Remove the butter from the refrigerator and cut it into pieces, small enough to fit through the chute of the food processor. One at a time, feed them through the chute of the food processor while it runs, adding them in quick succession. This will form a coarse meal. Transfer the meal to a medium-large bowl, stir in the 3/4 cup of heavy cream. Once coming together in a lumpy fashion, use your hands to form 6 round biscuits. Don't work the dough too much, no more than probably 30 seconds for each of the 6 portions you are forming into biscuits. Place on the parchment lined baking sheet.


In a small bowl or cup, mix the cinnamon and sugar. Using a pastry brush, or a rolled up paper towel, brush the cream on top of each of the biscuits. Then sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Bake at 400 for 16 minutes. Remove from the baking sheet promptly and set aside to cool on either a wire rack or a plate.

While the biscuits are baking, wash your berries, remove the green tops of the strawberries and cut into smaller pieces. In a medium bowl, combine your berries and sugar, allow to sit until dissolved, gently stirring a few times to evenly distribute. The ratio of strawberries and blackberries is just what I used, you can use any variation you like of berries! Using either a standing mixer or a handheld mixer, whip your cream until it forms fairly firm peaks. I prefer unsweetened whipped cream, but feel free to get creative here- add some vanilla, or lemon or orange zest, or lemon juice, or a bit of sugar! Now to assemble your new favorite treat- cut your biscuit in half (gently, it is crumbly), and place it open on a small dessert plate. Spoon a small amount of whipped cream onto the bottom half, then add some berries, then top with a little more whipped cream. Place the biscuit top back on, and enjoy! (This portion is on the large side, so you can either share or use just half a biscuit.) In a hurry? Completely skip the biscuits and just make the berry mixture and the whipped cream. Place in a small juice glass, one layer of cream, then berries, then cream. What could be better!?

April 13, 2011

Learning From Cooking Catastrophes

Not everything I make in the kitchen is good. Seriously. I am often reminded by my family of a 'Cheerios casserole' I made when I was in grammar school- my parents were enthusiastic supporters of my culinary adventures, giving me freedom in the kitchen to experiment. For a long time the results were extremely odd, I have a perplexing memory of a sausage milkshake... Anyhow, yesterday was one of those days, where everything I made was either just ok, or even below that, but still edible. Have you ever had one of those days? While those days are certainly not fun, or delicious, they have value! Value in learning what didn't work, or what you don't like, or what was just plain wrong. Yesterday, I thought I'd make us some pizzas on the big green egg. Now, I was in a bit of a hurry, so I bought some pre made pizza crusts and I went to a grocery store that isn't my usual one, so I wasn't able to get the ingredients as exact as I would have liked. Well, fast forward, the first pizza had two problems- the first being that the tomato sauce was too watery and the second being that I just couldn't get past the crust being not very good... The second pizza was not that great either, I had substituted a cooked ham for prosciutto and dried figs for fresh figs (not in season yet), and there was way too much goat cheese. And again, I couldn't get past the crust being kind of bad... But seriously, I learned a great deal from this experiment. First and foremost, the crust makes a big difference in how good I think a pizza is. And considering how simple it is to whip up pizza dough, it is worth the little bit of extra effort. I also learned that for a drier sauce, I could either cook it for a while to reduce it, but that doesn't help a busy mom, but what I could do is put the sauce in a wire mesh colander and press it with the back of a spoon to get as much moisture out as possible before I put it on the pizza. Finally, I also learned that unless I place the pizza crust on a flat surface, while I'm putting on the toppings, they all fall into the middle, which was kind of the problem with the goat cheese on the second one (meaning that it was on a concave plate). So, although we didn't enjoy our dinner as much as we could have, I do have some new knowledge I didn't have before. I hope this encourages you to experiment and not worry about following recipes to the letter. Give yourself permission to fail from time to time- you may surprise yourself with what you learn, and how you ultimately become inspired. Following the pizza catastrophe I attempted to make a graham cracker style crust using roasted almonds. Didn't work. But, mixed with a little creme fraiche and some blackberries with a hint of sugar, took care of my sweet tooth. What did I learn? That you can only make a graham cracker style crust (tiny pieces of crackers mixed with melted butter to form a crumbly dough) with things that absorb the butter, hence my problem with almond flour. But, what if I mixed graham crackers with almonds? Now we're talking... And without my dessert disaster, I never would have thought of it!

April 8, 2011

My Gardening Ambitions Continue...

I have become pretty much obsessed with growing things from seeds. Not that I've really ever done it successfully, mind you, I just have this inexplicable obsession. Maybe it's the beautiful artwork on the front of the seed packages, making it seem like a snap to grow incredible tomatoes, peas and cucumbers, or maybe it's all the flowering trees that have sprung to life in the last few weeks. Whatever it is, I am not fighting it, I am just going with it! The wonderful husband has offered to build me two 4'x8' raised garden beds, and I have lost no time planning the beds, ordering and starting the seeds for my grand plans. I say grand because I think I will have patchy success. Partially because I don't really know what I'm doing and partially because it can get real hot down south... which some little planties do not like so much...


Here are my plans!

For the past few weeks, I've been attempting to start several plants in pots on the patio. The most successful so far are sugar snap peas and fava beans. You soak the seeds in water for 12-24 hours and then you plant them in moist soil. Check them out!!! I'm quite proud! I have also attempted San Marzano roma tomatoes and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, and they are not quite as robust... One problem I'm having is rabbits. Specifically, rabbits have continually come up onto the patio and eaten every cotton picking leaf off the two chili pepper plants I have- a chilaca and a serrano. What was especially infuriating is that the chilaca had one little chili pepper on it that was growing and the rabbits bit it off and then left it on the ground! The nerve! Now I have both chili pepper plants on the patio table, so the rabbits can't reach them. But it really is so annoying to be sitting at the kitchen table and see two very good sized rabbits just cruising the yard, like they own the place. Anyhow, in their nefarious activities, they broke off the top of my Cherokee Purple seedling, and I don't think it's going to survive. Back to the drawing board... germinating some more seeds.


I am also attempting raspberry and blackberry plants. I bought them at Lowe's, they aren't technically 'plants' yet, but what I think is referred to as rootstock. Anyhow, they were only $4.98 each, so I won't feel so bad when I potentially kill them? I feel worse when they are $15 and that happens. Anyhow, you unwrap the roots of the single cane, the top has about a 1' cane that has been cut, and you soak the roots in water while you prepare the hole. I'm growing both of these in containers. There's no new growth yet, but I am hopeful. I have been doing a little research on raspberry and blackberry brambles- they are technically a 'bramble,' and I'm not sure even if they do grow (I love how the bag says 'guaranteed to grow!' whatever) that they will produce fruit this year. Although, I think it's possible since most of the south has two growing seasons... we shall see!


I am also attempting to grow sweet peas (a flowering vine) and moonflowers (also a flowering vine). My ambition is to have one or two growing up around the mailbox and possible on one or two columns near the patio. I realize that you probably can't read the plans very well. They include an additional tomato variety, small yellow pear shaped cherry tomatoes, carrots of multiple colors, watermelon, butternut squash and chives... ooh and also a sweet bell pepper variety that is orange. Check out the website where I get my seeds and you may also be bitten with the gardening bug...


http://www.botanicalinterests.com/


Happy gardening! Watch out for nefarious rabbits!