Monday, December 21, 2015

Too Busy To Cook: Carnitas

Just like everyone else, my life is pretty hectic right now. What with working, trying to put lipstick on this pig of an old house we live in, and shopping for Christmas, there just isn't a whole lot of time for anything else, like cooking. Even people like me, who love to cook, sometimes just can't find the time or muster the energy to put anything interesting on the table this time of year.

Don't get me wrong, I am planning dining extravaganzas for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but those two meals have depleted my culinary energy. So what's a cook to do for the next couple of days? Kraft mac and cheese and hot pockets (what I feel like making) just won't cut it for my gourmands.

One of the ways I've been trying to make things a little interesting and easy on myself is to make some old favorites that I haven't served in awhile. I also make a lot of them so we can get a couple of meals out of each one to give me a break.

A BIG favorite around my house lately has been a pan of pork carnitas that I made the other day. I can't even tell you the last time I made this dish and for the life of me I don't know why it fell off the recipe rotation. This dish is inexpensive, super easy to put together and is great in either tacos or served with rice and beans.

So if you are like me and need a one pot meal that you can stretch, or just cooking for an army of visiting friends and relatives, this is a great option for you.


Literally translated, carnitas means "little meats" for obvious reasons. The flavorful little pork nuggets are great served plain with rice and beans or as the main attraction on a taco bar. I love my tacos with just a little cilantro and onion, but I put out all the trimmings like guacamole, cheese, sour cream and salsa for the more adventurous.

2-1/2 pounds pork sirloin roast, cut into 1 - 2" cubes
1 big, juicy lime, juiced and zested
1 big, juicy orange, juiced and zested
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 cup chicken broth, water or beer
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss well to coat. Transfer to a baking dish, cover and place in the preheated oven to cook for 1 - 1/2 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove cover and cook until liquid has reduced to about 1/2 its volume and is thick.

At this point, the carnitas are delicious as is, but if you want you can uncover the baking dish and keep cooking them for another 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally,  or until they begin to brown and form a crust on top. You can also fry them in a little oil or bacon drippings (my personal favorite) to crisp them up just a little on the outside. Either way you will have a wonderful, stress-free dinner or two.

I cooked mine in the oven for this recipe, but this is also a great recipe for the slow cooker. Just mix everything together and cook low and slow until tender.

Recipe serves 4

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Homemade Holiday Nibble: Twice Baked Fruit and Nut Crisps

As I mixed together this week's recipe it occurred to me that I had made something very similar to this just last post. Yep, the combination of nuts, seeds and rye flour had a very familiar ring to it, but it also occurred to me that this just might not be a bad thing.

Number one, I already had most of the ingredients in my cupboard. Number two, I'm, hmmm, shall we say frugal, and I really wanted to use up all said seeds and nuts so they wouldn't go rancid in the back of the cupboard. Number three, with the addition of just a few ingredients and with a little extra baking, you have a product that is really quite different.

The inspiration for this recipe is those wonderful little Raincoast Crisps that they sell in the gourmet section of the supermarket. Thin, crispy, nutty and just a tiny bit sweet, these little crackers are my favorite carrier for cheese and chutney this time of year.

While I am crazy about these little crackers, what I am not so crazy about is their price. A box of these babies sells for $6.99 at my local grocery. Ouch! By the time I buy a box and a wedge of Cambozola to smear on top, I sometimes find myself having to dip into the prosecco budget, and goodness knows I don't want to do that. So what's a girl to do? Make her own.

I originally found the recipe for them on The Kitchn's website. I was going to follow their recipe to the letter, but as I started to pull out the ingredients, I discovered that someone who shall remain nameless had nibbled away most of the pecans and dried cranberries that I had planned on using.

Good thing that I know this man so well that I normally have a secret stash of a few of my favorite baking ingredients that I know he likes to munch on. So there among the hidden chocolate chips, canned french fried onions (yes, he eats those too), and croutons, I was able to rustle up some cashews and dried tart cherries for substitutes.

I am happy to say that even with my substitutions these crisps were absolutely delicious. I could see where you could add most any nut, seed or dried fruit that you have and come up with a great little nibble, but don't tell my snacker, I've still got him on a guilt trip for now. Don't feel bad for him. He deserves it.

Twice Baked Fruit and Nut Crisps

Love these flavorful little crackers. Since this recipe will make a bunch, they are perfect to place in a pretty little cellophane bag all tied up with a ribbon for a gift. On the selfish side, keep the loaves in the freezer and pull one out, slice it up and toast some fresh when you have a craving or guests coming over.

1 cup dried tart cherries (or cranberries)
1/4 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cashews
1/2 cup pepitas (dried pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 - 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup old fashioned oats
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups whole milk mixed with 2 tablespoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and allow to sit for 5 minutes to curdle)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 6 count mini loaf pan with vegetable shortening; set aside.

Place cherries in a heatproof bowl and cover in simmering water to re-hydrate. Let sit for approximately 15 minutes or until they are soft and plump. Drain and set aside until ready to use.

Place pecans, cashews, pepitas and sunflower seeds in a medium size skillet that has been preheated over medium high heat. Stirring frequently, toast until they are lightly browned and their aroma is released. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, salt, soda, rosemary, sugar, oats and toasted seeds and nuts. Once everything is well blended, slowly add the buttermilk. Stir until you have a nice batter.

Pour equal amounts of the batter into each section of the greased mini loaf pan. Bake in the preheated oven until the loaves are golden brown and firm and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 25 - 35 minutes.

Let cool for approximately 5 minutes before turning out on a cooling rack to cool completely. At this point, place in a covered freezer container and freeze at least overnight, or wrap tightly in foil and freeze for up to one month.

When you are ready to bake for the second time, preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Pull out a loaf or two at a time and carefully slice while still frozen into 1/8" to 1/16" slices across. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet, leaving at least 1" space between slices to insure even toasting.

Place cookie sheet in the oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes. Turn slices over and return to the oven to bake for an additional 8 minutes or so, watching carefully so they do not burn. At this point some might still be a bit soft in the middle but they will crisp as they cool.

Makes approximately 18 - 24 crisps per loaf depending on how thin you slice them.