Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I Don't Cook At Home

Actually, you all know I love to cook at home, which is why I have this blog.  However, I ran across this cartoon on that pretty much summed up the frustrations we all have when we spend a ton of cash on exotic ingredients to make a less-than-satisfactory meal...

Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 Garden Tour

cilantro, tarragon, arugula, thyme, chives, basil
I live in a small townhome.  I don't have a huge yard... actually, I almost don't have a yard at all.  When I step out onto our deck (which covers our entire backyard) I don't get much privacy.  We can always smell what our neighbors are cooking and we have to close the windows when having private conversations on warm evenings.  It's cozy.

Despite our space challenges, I've always had a garden.  We bought this home six years ago and I always find a way to plant tons of edibles on our 15 by 15 deck.  It's a pain that I have to go in the house and out the front door and around to the back door to turn on the hose (our deck doesn't have access to the yard), but I do it.  All for the love of food.

If you have a sunny space, you can have a garden.  Mine exists entirely in containers.  One day when we have a larger, more private yard I will plant more items directly in the ground.  But for our tiny family, this works.

Strawberries - trying something new this year.
The great thing about my deck being completely enclosed is that I have fewer predators after my vegetables and fruits.  Some people have to deter deer, groundhogs, foxes, raccoons, and other critters, but I pretty much only need to worry about birds and insects.

I typically plant several varieties of peppers (this year it's jalapeno, cubanelle, and red bell), tomatoes (cherry and patio this year), every herb I use, and a few experimental items (strawberries and zucchini).  I've learned that some items are perennials (come back every year), so I always smile to see my sage and thyme pop up to greet me in mid-April.  I'm hoping that my strawberries do well and that they return next year.

I probably invested $75-100 on pots, soil, fertilizer, shovels, gloves, and plants back in 2006.  I pretty much reuse the same stuff every year and just make one trip to the home improvement store in mid-spring to pick up new plants.  I'm rewarded with more vegetables than I can eat and a vast selection of fresh herbs for every meal.

My plants look tiny now, but in 45-60 days they will be ten times their original size and I'll be starting to see the fruits of my labor.  Anybody else out there have a garden?  Is anyone lucky enough to have a real yard to plant stuff directly in the ground?

P.S.  My neighborhood has a deed restriction against vegetable gardens, but mine is in the backyard and no one seems to care.  I keep my vegetables so neat that they look better than my neighbor's front yards.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mexican Roadside Chicken

I was looking for tips on how to grill pizza on charcoal (which is a life-changing experience that deserves its own future blog post) when I came across Meatwave, a blog devoted to one of my favorite activities:  grilling!  He's got some great photos and so far I've enjoyed trying out a few of his recipes, including this one.

Admittedly, there's nothing that screams "Mexican" about this chicken to me.  But don't take my word for it because I've never been to Mexico.  What I will say is that this chicken turns an awesome reddish orange color when it grills and that it's super juicy... even the white meat is tender.  The combination of the wet rub and the charcoal grill gives the chicken a smoky flavor without adding extra spice and heat.  We enjoyed this chicken, even though E thought it was improved by the addition of some Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce.  I agreed and I was happy to shake a few drops of the sauce on my chicken, as well as the accompanying rice and beans.

This chicken does not need to marinade for a long time.  It's one of those great last-minute recipes.  ShopRite had chicken 40% off and I had this meal on the grill 45 minutes after returning from the store.  This chicken is a nice option for entertaining on the grill.  It's juicy and while flavorful, it's non-offensive.  Plus, the bright orange-red color is really appetizing.

This recipe is made for a charcoal grill.  If you're intimidated by the thought of cooking with fire, please check out this tutorial that E and I did last year.  Otherwise, you can always use your gas grill or even cook indoors.

Mexican Roadside Chicken
serves 4
adapted (barely) by me, via Meatwave who adapted from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

1 1/2 teaspoons ground chile powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
olive oil, for drizzling
1 lime

1 large chicken, about 3 lbs, butterflied
An equal amount of bone-in chicken pieces (I used 2 breasts and 3 drumsticks)

Light your grill. (Please read this post for tips for working with charcoal.)  While the charcoal is lighting, mix chile powder, oregano, cinnamon, garlic, vinegar, orange juice, and salt together in a small bowl.  Place the chicken in a large zip-top storage bag and pour marinade over chicken.  Set aside.

When the charcoal is fully lit and covered in gray ash, pour coals out and arrange them on one side of the charcoal grate, keeping the other side empty. Remove chicken from bag and drizzle lightly with olive oil on both sides.  Place the chicken over the cool side of the grill, skin side down.  Save any leftover marinade. Flip the chicken over and pour remaining marinade over chicken. Cover the grill and cook at 350 degrees until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the breast, about 45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the grill and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.  Squeeze fresh lime juice over chicken before serving.

Don't have a grill?  Try roasting this chicken in your oven at 400 degrees until the breast reaches 165 degrees.  It won't have that smoky flavor, but it will still be good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pork Enchiladas

Last week I shared an easy way to get a whole lotta juicy, flavored pork on your table with very little effort. I mentioned that you can make multiple meals off one huge pork shoulder, so here's a great alternative to the barbecued pork sandwiches from the last post:  Pork Enchiladas.

I always feel like a culinary genius when I figure out how to morph one meal into two, especially when the two meals are so different that it's hard to believe that they came from the same cut of meat.  As an added bonus, both the Barbecued Pork Sandwiches and these Pork Enchiladas heat up very well if you have leftovers, so you can pack them for lunch the next day at work.

These enchiladas feature my new BFF, Ro-Tel.  I didn't know anything about these canned tomatoes with green chiles, but once I "discovered" them, my world was changed!  I used them to make some salsa for Potluck and I've since decided that it's the only salsa recipe I need in my life.  This time I stirred some Ro-Tel into these enchiladas and I got a whole lot of Tex-Mex flavor with very little effort and few added calories - perfect for a weeknight.

I like to use corn tortillas for my enchiladas, but they are a bit more difficult to work with than flour, plus E prefers flour tortillas.  I ended up making half corn, half flour.  Do what you've gotta do to please your family.

Obviously this recipe isn't authentic Tex-Mex cuisine.  I am from Delaware, after all.  The ingredients are easy to find at any grocery store, even if you live in a small town.  I think you'll be pleased with the results.

Pork Enchiladas
a Keeley original
makes 4 servings

3 cups cooked pulled pork from this recipe
1 can Ro-Tel (I use Original flavor)
1 small onion, diced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons ground cumin
salt, to taste
28 ounces enchilada sauce (canned or homemade)
8 tortillas (corn or flour)
2 cups shredded cheese (I use a blend of cheddar and mozzarella)
chopped green onions or cilantro for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil to medium heat in a pan.  Saute onions until soft, about 4 minutes.  Add pork, Ro-Tel, cumin, and salt to the pan.  Cook until heated through, stirring occasionally.  Check for seasonings and adjust salt if necessary.

Microwave tortillas until they are soft and pliable (about 30-60 seconds in the microwave).  (Corn tortillas are notoriously difficult to roll.  I recommend microwaving them in small batches of 2-3 between damp paper towels for 30-60 seconds.)

Pour 1 cup of the enchilada sauce into a shallow pie plate or similar dish.  Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.

For each enchilada, dip the tortilla in the shallow plate of enchilada sauce, covering the entire tortilla with sauce.  Roll 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the filling into each tortilla, then place the enchilada snugly into the baking dish.  Repeat until you use all of the filling (or until you run out of tortillas).

Pour remaining enchilada sauce over prepared enchiladas.  Top evenly with cheese.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly and the enchiladas are lightly browned.  Garnish with green onions and/or cilantro, if desired.  Serve hot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pork Shoulder (or A Shortcut for Two Weeknight Dinners)

This is a pork shoulder.  Actually, it's half of a pork shoulder, specifically the "butt" end, although it's not a pig's behind, so don't worry.

That not exactly a convincing argument for this cut of meat, is it?

Please take my word for it, pork shoulder is really, really good.  Yes, I know that fat layer looks excessive and scary, but you don't eat the fatty parts.  Yes, I know it's huge and tough, but you cook it low and slow and it falls off the bone.

I've already shared a few recipes that utilize pork shoulder:  Carnitas, Carolina Chopped Barbecue, and probably another that I can't remember.  As much as I love pork, I never cooked this cut of meat until about two years ago.  I grew up eating tons of barbecue with my pop pop, including chopped barbecue, but I didn't attempt it myself until recently.  Now that I've had over a year's experience with pork shoulder, I have some tips and I'm ready to fully endorse it as a great weeknight meal.

First, don't buy a whole pork shoulder.  My grocery store (local readers know I love ShopRite), sells it cut in half and I buy the nice, rounded "butt" end and I prefer cuts that are 4 to 6 pounds, max.  Four to six pounds will feed 8 adults, or it will allow me to have a nice amount of leftovers for a second meal and lunches at work for a day or two.  I can buy a half pork shoulder for $5-8 at my store.

Second, cook it in a Crock Pot or a pressure cooker.  You can cook it for hours in your oven, but I haven't tried it.  If you have, let me know how that works out.  You'll need to cook it in your Crock Pot all day (I let it go on low for 10 hours while I'm at work) or you can get it on the table in less than 90 minutes if you use your pressure cooker.  Either way works fine.

Finally, save the leftovers.  I immediately pull all the meat off the bone, remove and discard the fat and put the pork in a recipe.  However, if you have way more than you need, pop it in the fridge for up to three days, or even freeze it.  I just wrap it tight and park it in the freezer for up to 6 weeks.  Next time you want pulled pork, you have a shortcut.

I like to season my pork with a healthy dose of dry rub up to three days before I actually cook it.  I'm sure you could season it at the last minute, but I like to let the flavor get in the meat.

I use a spice rub from use real butter.  It's a combination of cumin, paprika, onion powder, black pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, and cayenne pepper.  It's a little sweet, a little hot, and a little smoky and it's not too salty.  It's a great base flavor whether you're going to use your pork for barbecue sandwiches or a Mexican-inspired dish.  Jump over to use real butter to get Jen's dry rub recipe, if you're interested.  Perhaps you have your own dry rub.  Whatever you do, just season your pork in advance.

(Pssst... if you don't eat or like pork, try this same recipe with the same quantity of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  Adjust the seasoning to your taste.)

(I also LOVE Jen's vinegar-based sauce for Carolina-style barbecue sandwiches, but E prefers traditional barbecue sauce.  Go figure.  Try both on your pork and tell me what you think.)

I always brown my pork shoulder before I put it in the Crock Pot or pressure cooker.  I like getting a crispy crust and I think it sears in the juicy flavor.  Oddly enough, most of the time I prepare this dish you'll find me standing in the kitchen in my robe at 5:45 a.m. trying to get dinner in the pot before I get dressed for work.  It's not unusual to smell seared pork and spices in our kitchen before sunrise.

All you need to do is put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan (preferably not non-stick) and take a few minutes to brown the pork on all sides...

Nothing like the smoky smell of pork at 6:00 a.m.

Then you just put the pork (fat side up) in the Crock Pot with about 3/4 cup of water (or chicken broth), set the timer for 10 hours on low and just go on with your day.  Sometimes my day is longer than 10 hours.  That's okay, your Crock Pot will keep your food safe and warm for up to 12 hours.

When I get home, I pull the fatty layer off the top of the cooked pork, remove the center bone, and begin pulling the meat.  The pork is so soft that it's very simple to pull.  I remove all fat from the pork and it's ready for dinner...

The crazy thing is that you can buy this meat already cooked for about $6 a pound in some stores.  That's at least three times what it cost you to do it yourself... crazy.

We opted to have pulled pork sandwiches on the first night.  Just separate the amount of meat that you'll need for your sandwiches and put the rest of the cooked meat in the fridge for your next meal.  I like mine on a soft bun in a vinegary sauce (I use potato hamburger rolls) and topped with red onion.  E likes a traditional, thick, sweet barbecue sauce.  Whatever floats your boat.

With less than 15 minutes of effort, dinner is served.  Plus, I have another recipe coming soon for the leftovers!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mini Breakfast Quiche

Check out my recipe for Mini Breakfast Quiche over on Potluck.  And don't limit this dish to breakfast... change up the fillings and have it for lunch or dinner!

Read more here.
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