Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cranberry Relish with Orange and Ginger

I'm really looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.  Truly, I can't wait for a day with nothing to do, nowhere to go, and I can just sit around and eat until my pants don't fit.

Oh wait... days like that have been pretty easy to come by lately.  I have the pants to prove it.  There's nothing like sustained unemployment, an expanding waistline and chronic insomnia to put one in the holiday spirit.  But here comes that turkey anyway, ready or not!

Despite the awakening of my inner Grinch, which I will blame on the early onset of the shopping season, I am thankful for quite a lot this year.  I have a loving family who have listened, and cried, and laughed right along with me these last several months.  I don't know what I would do without those phone calls home to Mom, in particular.  There's just something about a woman who swears like a sailor that makes me smile.

I have a wonderful extended family of friends who are always looking out for me, making me laugh, and distracting me from my worries.  I appreciate them all, and am grateful  both for the times they made me leave the house to socialize, and for the times they let me off the hook because they knew getting off the couch was more than I could handle.  Equally important qualities in my opinion.

I have a really great husband.  It's hard to take someone for granted when you find yourself yipping and jumping like a dog when he walks in the door after work, because you're so starved for human companionship.  His patience and sense of humor have kept me together, even when it felt like I was falling apart.

Finally, apparently I still have some readers, at least according to the stats.  So for those of you who have continued to check in to this blog, or who have encouraged me to start posting again, thanks.  It's nice to know you're still out there.

So...is it time to talk about food now?  Ok?  Ok.

I wanted to try something new for cranberries this Thanksgiving.  I was raised on the canned jelly, progressed to the whole-berry sauce, and am now ready to graduate to making them from scratch.  Cranberry sauce has never been my favorite part of the feast, but I always end up eating it anyway because the tartness cuts through the rest of the heavy flavors so well.  When I came upon the recipe for Cranberry Relish with Orange and Ginger in Mark Bittman's book it sounded perfect; fresh, bright, and no cooking required.

All you do is take your fresh cranberries, orange segments, zest and sugar and whiz it around in the food processor until chunky.  Just a few quick pulses did the job.

Then you stir in some freshly grated ginger, and let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving for the flavors to marry.  I like this recipe over a cooked cranberry sauce because you could whip it up on the fly on turkey day without taking up a burner on the stove.  Or you can make it the day before, and store in the fridge.

I think this is the best cranberry recipe I've ever tasted.  It's tart, slightly sweet, a bit spicy from the ginger, and the berries have the most amazing texture.  They have a really nice bite to them, as opposed to the mushiness you get with canned cranberries.  This relish would be the perfect condiment for a turkey sandwich or wrap as well.  Super yummy, simple and fresh.  I'm looking forward to serving this for Thanksgiving, provided I can stop eating it and save some for next week.

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody! 

Cranberry Relish with Orange and Ginger
Source: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything 

1 large orange
12 oz fresh cranberries (recipe calls for 16 oz, but my store only had 12 oz bags, and 12 did the job just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Use a microplane or zester to remove all zest from orange.  Remove pith and separate orange into segments.  Combine orange flesh, zest, sugar and cranberries in food processor.  Pulse a few times until relish is chunky.  Do not over-process or you'll end up with puree.  Stir in ginger, and more sugar if needed.  Let sit for 30 minutes for flavors to marry, or store for up to a few days in the fridge.

Thanksgiving Update:  I had frozen the relish after I made it for this post, so that it would still be good for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we ate it today, it was even better than it was fresh.  All of the flavors were perfect, and the texture of the cranberries had softened just a bit.  So if you were wondering if you could freeze this recipe, freeze on!

Monday, July 25, 2011

No Recipe

I've been away longer than I expected.  Life has gone all sorts of wrong.  I'd like to tell you that I have been a paragon of strength and resilience during "these challenging times," but that wouldn't be true.  I tried to write that post, and learned I'm a lousy liar.  I think the only option left is to set my wounded pride aside, and write about what's real.  
I had big plans for this summer.  After several years on the high-tech roller-coaster I had a stable job.  The people were nice, and the pay was decent.  I began to believe that after all the years being patient, and paying my dues, it was my turn.  After 13+ years of apartment life, the husband and I started looking at houses.  We were beyond excited, and felt sure we'd have a house and be training our first puppy by September.  It was so close.

I'd like to tell you that when I lost my job in May, I found comfort and solace in cooking.  I'd spin a yarn about the days I spent standing over the stove, certain of better times ahead.  I'd tell you about how I spent my mornings searching for jobs, and the afternoons creating new and delicious recipes.  I'd tell you how this blog makes me happy when skies are gray, because that's what bloggers are supposed to say.  Right?

But I can't stand to be in my kitchen.  Every time I see that room I think of the kitchen in the house we lost.  A poorly fried egg brought me to tears a couple weeks ago.  I can't think of anything I want to cook, or anything I want to eat.  I pass through just long enough to heat frozen pizzas.  I will have to climb a mountain of Red Baron boxes to get back to who I was. 

I haven't been resilient.  I took my pathetic scraps of dreams, and wove them into a rope sturdy enough to batten down the lid of the box where I keep what was once "me" contained.  The body moves through daily life on auto-pilot.  It wanders the aisles of the grocery store, not having remembered driving there, or what it needed to buy.  I am here, but not really.  I do not feel strong.

I have escaped into books, the weight of each finished volume a barrier between me and all I don't want to face: the job search, unpredictable bosses, yet another shiny new opportunity I am cynically certain will result in little more than future disappointment.  I read another book, stack it on top of the box, and am walled in.

I don't want for anything in this place I've made for myself.  I don't dream of vacations, or pets, or children, or of a little backyard to sit and pass the time in the evening.  It's nice in here, it's quiet.  At some point I know I will have to break the bonds I've made and lift the lid.  There will be other jobs, other houses, other kitchens.  I will feel like myself again.  I will want to cook.

Just not yet.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mother-Fantastic Carnitas

A couple weeks ago I wrote what I thought was a pretty good post about Carnitas.

Then I spent a week's worth of evenings tweaking it, adding photos and superfluous semicolons, as I am wont to do.

Last Sunday I went in for one last edit.

I clicked the little "undo" arrow to remove one word of type.

The whole post disappeared.

The next millisecond, the fantastic auto-save feature kicked in.

So long words, and thoughts, and time.  Buh-bye.

FANTASTIC!  Fan-Mothering-TASTIC!!   (Dad, do you see what I'm doing here?  I hope so, as it's entirely for your benefit.)

Skip to today, several days later.

I hoped that time would make me a little less bitter.  I mean, this is really the definition of a first-world problem.

Whatever, still totally annoyed.

For the rest of my life this delicious, wonderful, amazing meal will be known as Mother-Fantastic Carnitas.  But I'd make them again.  They're that good.  Here's how you do it.

Buy some pork shoulder.  Rinse it and pat it dry.
Rub it all over with spices.
Put it in the crock pot with some onion, bay leaves and chicken broth. 
Warning: if you stubbornly stuff your crock pot this full you will have to keep your eye on it to remove excess liquid so that it doesn't boil over.  Save the liquid for day two.  The pork cooked up beautifully, so even though it's very full, it worked out fine.
After 10 hours on low, remove the pork from the pot and let cool before refrigerating overnight.  Save all cooking liquid as well.  The next day the liquid looks like this.
Eeewww.  But once you remove the fatty layer from the top...
Ew Ew Ew! You're left with some really great flavor to add back to the meat as it cooks a second time.

Break down the cooked pork, reserve onions.  Discard bay leaves, strings that held pork together, and extra bits of fat.
When you're done you'll have a gorgeous pan full of shredded pork that is now ready to become Mother-Fantastic Carnitas.
The transformation comes in the second phase of cooking where the pork turns into the crispy yet succulent bits of meat found in a true Carnita.  Pour some milk on the pork and stir before putting in the oven.  As weird as it may sound, the milk helps the pork get all brown and delicious.
As the pork cooks, add the warmed cooking liquid back to the pan, as well as some orange juice.  The OJ adds a great citrus contrast to the fattiness of the pork.
Now that is the perfect filling for the perfect taco.  All it needs is a warmed corn tortilla, pico de gallo, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Pico De Gallo: onion, tomato, jalapeno pepper, garlic, cilantro, fresh lime juice, lime zest, salt and pepper.
Fresh Cilantro
 Maybe you'll want one of these as well.
I ate this.  It was REAL good.  Some might even say, Mother-Fantastically good.

Mother-Fantastic Carnitas, Bonzo Bean style

Ingredients:  (cut this recipe in half if you don't want a TON of leftovers.  I planned it that way.  Stay tuned for Carnitas Tamales.) 

10 lbs pork shoulder
1 white onion, quartered
1 c chicken broth 
4 bay leaves

Spice Rub:
2 t garlic powder
2 t cumin
2 t chili powder
2 t thyme
1 t oregano
1/2 t celery seed
1/4 t cayenne pepper

Rinse and dry pork.  Rub with spices.  Put in crock pot with bay leaves and onion.  Drizzle in chicken broth.  Cook on low for 10 hours.

If you do the full recipe, monitor crock pot throughout cooking time to remove excess liquid and prevent a spill-over.  Save all liquid.

When pork is done and falling apart, remove to a container and let cool before refrigerating overnight.  Save all cooking liquid and refrigerate as well.  You can strain it if you wish, but it's not necessary.

On day 2, shred the pork, reserve onions, discard extra fat, strings and bay leaves.  Spread the pork out in a large roasting pan.  Heat oven to 325.

Pour 1 c of milk over the shredded pork and stir.  Cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  While pork is cooking, heat the liquid from day 1.  After pork has cooked for 30 minutes, add about 2 c of liquid to the pan and stir.  Cook for 30 minutes more.

Remove pork from oven and add 1/2 of orange juice.  Stir.  Cook for about 20 minutes until pork is brown, crispy, and succulent.

Heat reserved onions in a skillet until brown and crispy.  Fold Carnitas into a warmed corn tortilla, top with onions, pico de gallo, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fun with Pesto

Basil, pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese
I love to make homemade pesto.  It may cost a little bit more than buying a jar, but I can be sure I'm using fresh ingredients, and I get to use my food processor.  Win and win.  All you have to do is throw a bunch of basil n' stuff into the machine and turn it on.  While it's running, drizzle olive oil down the feed tube and process until smooth.  
This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.  I LOVE it and will eat it on everything, but here are a couple ideas for you.

Compound Butter
2 T pesto mixed with 4 T butter
Mix 2 T pesto with 4-6 T softened butter (depending on how strong you like it).  Spread on sliced French or Italian bread, top with Parmesan cheese, and broil to bubbly goodness for Pesto Garlic Bread.  You could also top a piece of grilled chicken, fish or steak with a pat of pesto butter before serving.  I haven't put it on popcorn yet, but that could be insane!  Or you can eat with a spoon, whatever makes you happy.

In Soup 
Pesto is a delicious garnish for soups such as Minestrone, creamy potato and tomato.

With Pasta
Orzo with Pesto
I love any kind of pasta with pesto, but orzo is my favorite.  Just cook the pasta, drain, and while the pasta is still warm stir in as much pesto as you want.  I usually use orzo in a salad, mixed with romaine lettuce and chunks of grilled chicken.
 Romaine lettuce, pesto orzo, grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper, Kalamata olives and artichoke hearts.   
I love the way orzo adds texture and substance to a salad.  The contrast of these little rice-like pastas with the crunchy lettuce and vegetables is just awesome.  I only use about 1/3 cup of orzo per salad, so it's not too terrible calorie-wise either.

If you have a garden and a lot of basil you don't know what to do with, make pesto.  If you just want to see something green and imagine warmer weather, make pesto.

Make pesto.  Eat pesto.  Smile.  It worked for me.

Basil Pesto
4 oz fresh basil
3 oz toasted pine nuts
2-3 cloves garlic
2-3 oz shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 t lemon zest, and a good squeeze of juice
a dash of salt and fresh ground pepper
4-6 T olive oil 

Put everything but olive oil in food processor.  Turn machine on, and drizzle-in about half of the olive oil.  Turn machine off after a few seconds and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Turn machine on and add the rest of the oil.  Continue to process and/or add a bit more oil until you have a smooth paste.  

Pesto stores for up to 1 week in the fridge and freezes well.  Storing tip: float some olive oil over the top before covering in a lidded plastic or glass container.  Or instead of oil,  cover with plastic wrap pressed directly ONTO the pesto.  The goal is to keep the air out and prevent oxidation. 

Compound Butter 
Combine 2 T pesto with 4 T softened butter.  Mix well.  Add more butter or pesto as your taste dictates.  Spread on anything...

Chicken Mediterranean Salad
Romaine lettuce
Grilled chicken, cut into chunks
orzo with pesto, about 1/3 c per person
chunks of fresh mozzarella or feta cheese
artichoke hearts
diced red bell pepper
Kalamata olives
sliced grape tomatoes
squeeze of lemon juice
balsamic vinaigrette or Greek dressing

Toss all in a bowl, or arrange on a plate, and enjoy!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps

I'm trying to do a lot of things lately.  I'm trying to eat healthier.  I'm trying to post more frequently.  I'm trying to pack my lunch more often.  Here's trying to kill three birds with one stone.

Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps were very easy to make.  Me 'n the taster had a sample, and both agree we will be happy to eat this for lunch for the next couple of days.  The recipe makes 5 wraps.

First, shred some chicken.  This is the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken.  

Then start throwing everything else in the bowl.  Diced apple...
 ...dried cranberries...
 ...toasted walnuts, mayo, celery seed, salt and pepper.
 Mix it around a bit, then add the bleu cheese.
Mix it a bit more, then lay down your wrap.  Homie.
Add some lettuce for crunch.
Then add the chicken salad.
Roll it up.
Eat it.  Yum.
I hope it's sunny tomorrow so I can eat my lunch outside.  

Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps by Bonzo Bean

2-3 cups shredded chicken
1 jazz apple, diced (or other crispy apple)
1/2 cup mayo
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts
2-3 oz crumbled bleu cheese
1/4 t celery seed
salt and pepper to taste
Romaine lettuce
Multi-grain sandwich wraps

Mix everything but lettuce in a bowl.  Lay down wrap, add lettuce, add chicken salad, roll.  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Women and Food

We crazy.  That is my profound, philosophical, well-researched opinion regarding women and food.  (ha!)  Let me tell you a little story.

There is a cafe in my office building that sells "grab and go" lunches.  Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're not, they are always convenient.  Today's lunch was a grilled chicken burger with french fries and fresh fruit.  I thought no more about the choice than it was an elevator ride away.  I was busy, and didn't want to fool around with lunch.

As I'm in the elevator I think to myself, "I've had fries once this week, I really don't need them again."  I asked for a salad instead, and the kind people obliged.  I'm waiting for my sandwich and a lovely blonde woman walks up to the counter and orders her lunch.  She fussed a bit over the cheese on the sandwich, but otherwise seemed a pleasant person and sat quietly nearby to wait for her order.

The waitress brought out both lunches at the same time in their boxes, and said to me "here you are, with salad."  To the other woman, "and yours, with fries."  The woman's face fell.  It would have been hysterical, had it not been so ridiculous, and sad.

I had a feeling where this was going, and made my way rather swiftly to the elevator hoping she worked on that floor and we wouldn't have to ride together.  But we did.  Between the 4th and 3rd floors she managed to say all of the following:

"Wow, that was so smart of you to order salad instead of fries.
I really should have ordered salad.
I probably won't eat all the fries, it's a really big sandwich.
I try to never eat them all, and throw most of them away.
You know, I'm going to Hawaii next week and I really want to be at the bottom of "my range," but you know I'm not right now..."

Had I thought it would do sufficient damage I would have stuck my plastic fork in my eye just to make it stop.  What is it that compels women to do this?  I wanted to scream at her "JUST EAT THE F'ING FRIES LADY!"  Seriously, you're tall and blond and skinny.  I am average height, brunette and curvy.  Yes, I said curvy.  The woman had nothing to prove to me, no matter what I look like, but come ON!  Do you really think that I am judging your french fries that much?

What's even stranger is that I felt this small, ugly, greenish feeling inside me as this was happening.  You know why?  Because I had ordered the salad.  I had "hand," as they used to say on Seinfeld.  I was the virtuous one.  I was able to look down my nose upon my leafy greens and judge her french fries.  I don't think I did judge, but I knew I could have.

I wouldn't have said everything she said in the elevator had the situations been reversed, but I know I would have thought something equally pathetic.  "Who's she with her salad, all high and mighty and healthier than thou?  What, you think you're better than me?  I haven't eaten all day and lay off me I'm starving!"

After ruminating about this over the afternoon,  I'm still stewing over what that says about me.  I'm glad I was nice to her, and tolerated the verbal onslaught as she flogged herself for eating the evil fries.  I'm glad I sent her on her way with "have a great time in Hawaii."  I'm glad I ordered the salad.

We crazy.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

It's Bonzo Bean's birthday!  I cannot believe a year has passed since my first post.  I have had more fun than I ever anticipated writing this blog.  I've learned a lot about cooking, writing, and photography.  I am delighted by the people who have taken the time to read what I've written, or cook one of the recipes.  I am so grateful for their compliments and support.  I have so much more to learn, and I am excited for what the next year will bring.

You can't have a birthday without cake, and when I thought of my favorites, Pineapple Cake came first to mind.  My mom has made this cake for me more times than I can count.  It is fruity and very moist from the chunks of crushed pineapple, and is topped with cream cheese frosting.  You could put cream cheese frosting on just about anything and it would be good, but it's really good on this cake.  I love the way the pineapple stays a bit chunky in the batter, and that the cake can be served warm with it's frosting all ooey gooey and dripping down the sides.
Pineapple Cake is beyond simple to make.  First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9x13 cake pan.  Then, dump all of the cake ingredients into a bowl.
Mix with a wooden spoon until blended, but don't over-mix.  Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan.
Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is still warm, but not hot, prepare the frosting and frost the cake.
Cut a piece.
Make this cake, you will love it.  I promise.
Thank you for reading, and for making this year so much fun.

Pineapple Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts.  I used pecans, but you could also use walnuts, or no nuts at all.
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, do not drain

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon.  Grease and flour 9x13 cake pan.  Pour batter in to pan and bake 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

1/2 stick butter
2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
4 oz softened cream cheese
*Beat together with electric mixer and frost while the cake is still warm.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

There are few better ways to spend a Sunday than standing over a simmering pot of soup, stirring and tasting, forgetting everything else in the world except the aroma filling the house.  Today felt like a soup-making-Sunday, so that's what I set about doing.  It's a delicious ritual; choose recipe, make list, go shopping, chop, rinse, stir.  Stir some more.  By the time the soup is ready I will be so relaxed all I'll want to do is sit back, slurp it down, and find a comfortable place to snooze.  I don't know about you, but it sounds like a perfect day to me.

Today's Chicken Tortilla Soup is one of my husband's favorites.  He found it years back on TV, and after making it several times we've made a few modifications.  It's a very healthy recipe and has great corn flavor from the toasted tortilla strips that are crushed and added to the broth.
I think my favorite part of this soup is the garnishes, which range from tortilla strips, to shredded cheddar cheese, to chunks of fresh avocado.  The garnishes add texture and flavors which really enhance the soup, I don't recommend skipping them. 
First, saute the onion and garlic in vegetable oil for a few minutes until translucent.  Then add the spices, and let that cook together for a few minutes.
Then add the tomatoes and chilis, and let it simmer together for a few minutes more.
Dump everything else (except cilantro) in the pot and let simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.
About 30 minutes before you're ready to serve, add the chopped cilantro.
And this is what you'll see simmering on the stove. 

When you're ready to serve, ladle some soup into a bowl.  Garnish with tortilla strips, chunks of avocado, shredded cheese etc...

This soup is so absolutely simple to make, and tastes amazing.  It's great served with warmed tortilla chips and guacamole.  Enjoy!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
8 corn tortillas for soup, 6 more for garnish, sliced into strips
3/4 c chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 T vegetable oil
1 t lemon pepper
1.5 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 4oz can green chilis
1 14.5 oz can Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1 lb shredded chicken (I used a small rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)
6 c chicken broth
1.5 t Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 t hot sauce (Cholula, Tapatio)
3 T chopped fresh cilantro for soup, plus 3 T more for garnish
(I didn't add black beans, but after eating the soup, the tasters and I agreed that a 14.5 oz can of rinsed black beans would add excellent texture to the soup.  I'm going to try that next time.)

1 c diced avocado
1 c shredded cheddar cheese
Tortilla Strips
Sour Cream
Hot sauce
Diced green onions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut tortillas into thin strips.  Lay strips on baking sheet and toast in the oven 10-15 minutes.  Reserve some of the strips for garnish, crush the rest to add to the soup.

In soup pot or dutch oven, saute onion and garlic in vegetable oil for about 5 minutes until translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a few minutes to release their oils.  Add chilis and tomatoes, and cook a few minutes more.  Add chicken, chicken broth, Worcestershire, hot sauce, bay leaf and crushed tortillas.  Simmer over low/medium heat for 45 minutes.  Add cilantro and simmer 30 minutes or less, you don't want to cook all the flavor out of it.  Serve the soup topped with your choice of garnishes.  Makes approximately 3 quarts.

2 1/2 - 3 avocados
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 large red onion, finely minced
3 T fresh cilantro, minced
1/2 t salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
squeeze fresh lemon juice
a couple shakes of Cholula

Cut avocados in half, remove pits, scoop flesh into bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix roughly, leaving some chunks of avocado in tact for texture.  Serve with tortilla chips that have been warmed under a low broiler for approximately 4 minutes.