February 25, 2014

Carnitas Taco Salad

Another pork recipe, I know, I know. But I can't help it!  Pork is delicious all the time!  Carnitas is one of those things that I always ordered when I went out to eat for a burrito or tacos but I never considered making it myself.  Once I tried it once I wondered why I had never done it before. It is so easy, super satisfying, and is a little bit magical in the way that it transforms right in front of your eyes from a bubbling cauldron of meat to perfect little tender bites that are crispy on the edges!

I have made carnitas from this recipe many times and tweaked it here and there each time and it is pretty near fool proof. I have always gotten compliments on it and I doubt I will ever use another recipe! Normally I just have this tasty treat on tortillas with some onions, cilantro, and salsa but this time we decided to make a taco salad.  I tossed a mixture of romaine and baby salad mix with a cilantro sour cream lime dressing, and topped this with some warmed black beans, sliced red onions, diced avocado, a little big of roasted tomato salsa, a little big of salsa verde, crumbled queso fresco, and some crispy corn tortilla strips.

It all worked perfectly together and though it took a little more effort, it was worth it to feel slightly less gluttonous.

 Carnitas Taco Salad

Here are the recipes for the carnitas and for the salad dressing! Toss some greens with the dressing, scoop some meat on top and add whatever other toppings sound delicious!

Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 to 3 limes) **note: you can also just forgo the lime and use more OJ
4 cloves garlic, peeled and just smashed with the side of your knife
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Water (I find 4 cups is the perfect amount for a 3 lb roast)

1. Place the cut up pork into a large Dutch oven. Add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and enough water to just barely cover the meat.
2. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours. Don’t touch the meat!
3. After two hours, increase the heat to medium-high and while occasionally stirring and turning the pieces, continue to cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently (they’ll be eager to fall apart), only as needed.
4. When pork is browned and crispy on all sides, it’s ready.
5. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Try not to eat it all straight out of the pot!  Put this into a tortilla or make taco salad!

Cilantro Lime Sour Cream Dressing
Slightly adapted from The Kitchn
Makes about 3/4 cup

1 bunch of loosely packed cilantro, rinsed, stems removed, and roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup sour cream
juice from one lime
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of freshly-ground black pepper
Water, to thin (a couple tablespoons)

Combine all the ingredients except the water in a blender or use a stick blender until well combined and smooth.  If it seems too thick, drizzle in water a little at a time until it is a consistency you prefer. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or lime juice if necessary.


February 20, 2014

Gumbo - Portland Style

Even though the original recipe did not come from a Portlander I ended up thinking how quintessentially Portland this gumbo ended up being.  It's definitely not traditional and with the addition of quinoa instead of rice and oil instead of butter it felt healthier and a bit modernized.  While we really enjoyed the end product a lot I think there are a few additional tweaks I'd make for the next round but this recipe is a great jumping off point.

The dish wasn't too spicy but for those who want an extra kick you can easily add hot sauce or a spicy pepper to the bell pepper mix.  I personally loved the crab meat and shrimp in it but next time I will also add an Andouille sausage to round out the meat profile and to also kick up the spice.  For a week night meal I also love recipes where the chopping is kept to a minimum and this fits the bill with only one chopping step and the rest comes together in a cinch.

When I originally read the recipe I saw that one of the ingredients was file powder.  Now being someone who wasn't raised anywhere near the south I thought that was a misprint.  Then when preparing my shopping list I figured it was another name for some spice I probably already owned.  Boy was I wrong when I looked it up and discovered that file powder is a spicy herb made from dried and ground leaves of the sassafrass tree.  That was intriguing and I'm definitely going to try it out next time I prepare gumbo!

I changed some of the cooking times from the original recipe. Below as I made it.  Enjoy!

Seafood Gumbo
recipe adapted from here

1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 unbleached flour
3 small bell peppers, differing colors
1 gumbo seasoning packet or make your own
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 lb shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 lb cooked crab meat
1 cup frozen okra
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 cups cooked quinoa
file powder, for garnish

Dice up the bell peppers and set aside. Combine the oil and flour in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, for about 10 minutes or until it's dark brown. Carefully add the bell peppers, okra, gumbo seasoning and cayenne pepper. Give it a good stir and let the vegetables cook for about 5 minutes or until softened.  Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, bring to a boil.

Start cooking your quinoa according the package instructions in a separate sauce pan.  Once the gumbo is boiling add the shrimp and cook for 5-7 minutes or until pink.  Add the crab meat and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat and add the fresh parsley.  Serve with cooked quinoa and file powder.




February 6, 2014

Pork Posole Verde

Posole is quickly becoming one of my favorite soups.  

Every time I have eaten any variation of this hearty, rich, and spicy soup I can't get over how extremely delicious and satisfying it is. I like to eat posole with a side of chips, guacamole and pico de gallo, but it is also superb scooped on top of cornbread for a sweet and spicy combo (Trader Joe's cornbread is my fave)!

This recipe is a mixture of a couple of recipes, and it turned out well. It made a ton and the only thing I would do differently is to use more hominy, or keep the full can of hominy and cut everything else in half. I started with this recipe but modified quite a bit using elements of another recipe that I got from V's mister, where you slow cook a hunk of pork separately in salsa verde and then add it into the soup pot with the sauteed, onions, roasted and peeled peppers, etc.  This method works great if you remember to start the pork in the morning!  To make a chicken version, refer to that recipe I linked to just above.  I do not think that zucchini is in any way traditional to posole but I like the extra texture it provides to the soup, and I always try to add extra vegetables wherever I can.

This soup is delicious! http://mostlysoup.blogspot.com/2014/02/pork-posole-verde.html

Here is the recipe as I made it:

Pork Posole Verde

  • 2 pounds pork sirloin, loin roast, or tenderloin, trimmed of any excess fat
  • 16 oz jar of salsa verde (or make your own if you are extra ambitious)
  • 4 oz can of diced green chiles 
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 2 pounds green Poblano chili peppers
  • 29 oz can of hominy, drained
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 bunch of fresh oregano (I had about 1/4 cup of oregano leaves)
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 large zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 head of Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • olive oil
  • salt to taste
  1. Start the pork in the slow cooker in the morning!  Put pork into crock pot.  Season all over with salt.  Pour in salsa verde, green chiles, and cumin.  Set slow cooker to low and let cook for 8 hours.
  2. When your pork has about an hour and a half left, place the poblano peppers whole onto a rimmed cookie sheet and put them under the broiler. Let them get black and then flip them, letting all the sides get black.  This should take about a half hour or so.
  3. After all the sides of the peppers are blackened, cover them in a bowl or place in a plastic bag or paper bag. Cool and the skins will slip off effortlessly. Remove the stem and the seeds. 
  4. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until the onions are soft.
  5. Add to the pot the garlic, fresh oregano, the peppers, about 1/3 of the hominy, and 4 cups of the chicken stock. Using an immersion blender blend until smooth. 
  6. Shred the finished pork, it should be falling apart. 
  7. Add the shredded pork and all the liquid in the slow cooker to the soup pot along with the remaining hominy and the last 2 cups of stock. Simmer for about 45 minutes.
  8. Add the diced zucchini and shredded cabbage to the pot. 
  9. Let simmer for another 15 minutes or so until the zucchini are softened to your liking. Adjust salt and pepper, add extra cumin if you are so inclined, and if the soup seems too thick, add some more chicken stock or water. (I like it thick and stew-like!)
  10. Serve with a wedge of fresh lime.


Mushroom Barley Soup + A Thickening Trick

I was surprised that we haven't posted a classic mushroom barley soup yet.  Mushrooms being quite famous around these parts, in that Michelle and I often have long conversations regaling their merit.  DP also happens to be a huge fan so when anything has mushrooms, or mushrooms can be added, we know it's going to be a hit.  Mushroom barley happens to be one of my favorite soups because it's so simple but really hearty and filling as well.  Because there's no meat it also feels healthy and light.

I found a recipe that looked good on Saveur's site.  What appealed to me most about it was the finish with lemon; I love that touch in most anything to give the dish a brightness and a small hit of acid at the end.  However, I could tell that this soup was quite broth-y with 8 cups of stock and also the addition of the mushroom water from soaking the dried mushrooms.  So I decided to use one of my favorite tricks on thickening soups or even sauces at the very end of cooking - a Beurre Manié.  This method works essentially the same as a roux however you don't need to cook the fat and flour separately and can just knead the two together.  Also I've read that a roux can lose its thickening ability over long periods of cooking time so a beurre manie works a lot better in soups.  I like to use the pestle from my mortar and pestle set and work it together in a small dish.  A fork also works just great for this as well.  Just make sure you're working with softened butter instead of melted.  I like to nuke my butter for 20 seconds if I don't have any pre-softened. 

This soup with the addition of the thickener turned out so wonderful.  Adding the butter gave it a richness and then the lemon brightened the whole soup up to create a great balance.  I really loved it and will keep this as my go to mushroom barley from now on.  I served it with some garlic bread loaded with fresh garlic, olive oil, fresh parsley and S&P. And some red wine, natch. All in all a great winter meal!

Mushroom Barley Soup
adapted from Saveur

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (I used shiitake because my grocer was out of porcini)
1/4 cup olive oil
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 lb. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sherry
8 cups beef stock
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 tsp. fresh thyme
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, for garnish

 Beurre Manié
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp. unbleached flour

1.  Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Cover the bowl with a lid and let sit for 30 minutes.  While these are brewing chop up your veggies and garlic.  After 30 minutes take the rehydrated mushrooms out with a slotted spoon and finely chop.  Pour soaking liquid through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl, leaving a small amount to retain any dirt or sediment.

2.  Heat oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, celery, carrots and onion; saute until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add re-hydrated mushrooms and sliced button mushrooms; saute until liquid is released and evaporated, about 14 minutes.  Add sherry and cook until evaporated, about 2 minutes.  Add reserved mushroom water, beef broth, barley and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for about 30 minutes or until barley is tender.  Prepare beurre manie by blending together butter and flour in a small bowl until fully incorporated.  Add to soup pot at the very end of cooking and mix until melted.  Allow to thicken for a few minutes then add lemon juice.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley.


February 4, 2014

Quatro of Smooth Soups with Grilled Cheese

Quatro? Quartet? It doesn't matter. The point is that we made four soups at once and dunked grilled cheese into them and they all were tasty.  I had this idea buzzing around in my head for quite a while after visiting the Picnic House in SW Portland last year, where they serve a trio of soups with little grilled cheese slices.  I have not really ever been a fan of pureed soups, but I enjoyed the dunking aspect and taste comparisons of having multiple soup options for dunking. 

It was kind of a crazy idea to make four soups at once, and V also commented as such, but I stuck to it and I am glad I did. I am also so glad I enlisted V to help me with this because otherwise I probably would have pulled out my hair or given up.  Also, since V gave me an immersion blender for my birthday, it was the perfect chance to put it to use!  Another total bonus about making four soups at once is that now my freezer is stocked full of soups for rainy days to come! 

Vanessa, Matthew, and I all had different rankings of these soups, and even the expectations of which we would like best turned out to be wrong. This was a fun experiment, but I won't be making four soups at once again anytime soon!

My rankings: Curried Butternut, Tomato/Pepper, Zucchini Basil, Roasted Cauliflower. I expected to like the Cauliflower the best.
Vanessa's rankings: Curried Butternut, Tomato/Pepper, Cauliflower, Zucchini Basil.  V expected to like the Zucchini soup the best.
Matthew's rankings:  Tomato/Pepper, Cauliflower,Curried Butternut, Zucchini Basil.  Matthew ate the zucchini one first and said it was great but then each one he ate after that he liked more.  (It's nice to cook for this guy, he loves everything!)

4 smooth soups with grilled cheese! Yum!  http://mostlysoup.blogspot.com/2014/02/quatro-of-smooth-soups-with-grilled.html
(Please forgive the super 90s food styling here, I didn't really plan that out and these are the only dishes I had that were appropriate!)

I pulled these recipes from various sources, and chose recipes with few ingredients and that did not use cream, as we intended to dunk grilled cheese into them and why add extra cream?  We used chicken stock that I made a couple weeks ago, but these could all easily be vegan by simply using vegetable stock.  I cut a couple of the recipes in half and one I cut into thirds, and there was still way more than I expected of each.  We made simple grilled cheese sandwiches on a foreman grill I forgot I had, since all the burners on the stove were being used by soup!

Here are the recipes as we made them, along with our notes on each.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Roasty Onions and Rosemary from The First Mess
*Various taster comments: "More manly (than the zucchini)," smoky, charred, "too roasty."
*Note: I would use less potatoes next time and not let the veggies get as browned as they did.  Maybe bigger cauliflower florets/onion chunks. 

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
4 medium yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 of a lemon
lemon zest 

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Remove the core from the cauliflower and chop it into florets.  Chop the potatoes into pieces about the same size. Chop the onion into rough 1-2 inch pieces and toss all of the veggies onto a rimmed cookie sheet or other roasting pan. 
3. Remove the leaves from the rosemary sprig and chop them up. Sprinkle the rosemary over the potatoes and cauliflower.  Toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated with the oil, rosemary and S&P.
4. Roast vegetables for about 20 minutes flipping and tossing them here and there with a metal spatula/spoon to promote even browning. 
5. When the vegetables are soft, remove from the oven and squeeze the 1/2 lemon over the hot vegetables (drop the lemon into the warm pan too so that it can release some oil too). Toss the vegetables with the lemon juice, scraping the browned bits off the bottom.
6. Once the vegetables are slightly cooled, put them into a soup pot and add a cup at a time of stock. Purée until smooth and cntinue blending in batches until you’ve used up everything. Heat the large soup pot full of purée over medium heat until it boils. Add more stock or water to thin the soup out if necessary and adjust seasoning to taste by adding lemon zest, more lemon juice, salt and pepper.
7.  Keep on low while you make the grilled cheese.

Zucchini Basil Soup from Cooking in Red Socks
*Various taster comments: "Tastes like summer," fresh, light.
*Note: This soup was tasty but in comparison to the rest it was just a little too simple and light. Maybe more basil or more red pepper flakes, or adding another veg to it might have been good. This soup may have benefited from a squeeze of lemon, I wish I had thought of that!  The original recipe had some cream added but I don't think that is necessary.  
4 large zucchini, ends chopped off and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
⅔ cup fresh basil, packed and roughly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and the zucchini, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Saute for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions start to become translucent. Add the basil and cook another 3 minutes.
2. Add the chicken stock to the pot, cover, and cook for 15 minutes on a low simmer. 
3. Once the vegetables are all soft, carefully blend until the soup is completely smooth.  Add more stock if necessary (or you can add a touch of cream at this point for extra creaminess). Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
4. Keep on low heat while you make the grilled cheese. Garnish with basil.

Roasted tomato and red pepper from Vegetarian Times
*Various taster comments: "Delightful."
*Note: I was excited about this soup because I am obsessed with red peppers and we added more of them than the original recipe called for. I felt that the soup was slightly too acidic in the end and a touch of cream might be good in this one. I will try it with the leftovers!  Also the original recipe said to just half the tomatoes and quarter the peppers so they would get more browned, and I would do that next time for the slight roasty flavor and to contain the juices somewhat.
2 ¼ lb. ripe tomatoes, diced
3 large red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cupchopped fresh basil
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or ½ tsp. dried thyme
2 cups chicken stock

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2.  Place all tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic on a large baking sheet (or two).  
3.  Toss with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. 
4.  Roast until brown and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool slightly.
5.  Transfer vegetables and any juices to soup pot. Add basil and thyme leaves. Purée soup, gradually adding enough stock to thin soup to desired consistency.
6.  Heat through, stirring occasionally.  Keep on low while you make the grilled cheese. Serve hot. Garnish with fresh thyme.
Curried butternut squash and apple soup from Ina Garten
*Various taster comments: "The ginger was a great addition!" 
*Note: This soup was incredible.  I added ginger because it sounded like it would go well and V and I agreed it really made this soup extraordinary.  This one surprised us both!  
1.5 lb pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded, diced
1 yellow onion
1 red apple, peeled, cored, and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon good curry powder 
1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger 

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 
2. Cut the butternut squash, onions and apples in 1-inch cubes. Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread in a single layer. 
Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until very tender.
3. When the vegetables are soft, put them into a soup pot.  Add stock 1 cup at a time and blend with immersion blender.   Add more stock as needed to reach desired consistency. 
Once blended, Add the curry powder, ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Be sure there's enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor. 
4. Keep on low until ready to serve. Top each serving with chopped scallions.

No video for this post because it was a little too chaotic!  Happy souping!