Saturday, February 14, 2015

Clam Chowder

I love words. Their origins, their meanings, the way their sounds roll across the tongue. The power they have to transform a mood. Heck, even the absence of words has an effect on me--the intimacy of being with a person where silence isn't awkward and to be ignored or not answered cuts through me like nothing else. I admire people who are in the business of administrating words: publishers, editors, librarians. I stand in awe of writers, poets, and musicians who make art with their words. I hoard quotes like words are going out of style! Words. It's my thing.

What's all that got to do with clam chowder? Well, when someone tells me that their recipe for delicious clam chowder came from a woman named Dorcas who used to make cheesecakes for Klingerdaggers, it only serves to double my enthusiasm for the recipe. Dorcas. Klingerdaggers. Splendiferous logophilia indeed.

Dorcas-who-made-cheesecakes-for-Klingerdaggers' Clam Chowder
Makes about 8 1-cup servings

3 (6.5 oz.) cans minced or chopped clams, undrained
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup flour
1 quart half-and-half (4 cups)
1/2 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour clams and their liquid into a medium saucepan. Add onions, celery, potatoes and 2 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Do not drain!

Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add half-and-half and whisk until incorporated and smooth. Cook 7-8 minutes until thick, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat if it starts to boil. Add clams and vegetable mixture including all the liquid in the pan. Add sugar, salt, and pepper and heat through.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

On the Menu

Reset Salad (yep. like 99.9% of America, I ate ALL the sugar and butter and drank ALL the alcohol this Christmas. Time for vegetables.)

Beet Smoothie

Pork Chops with Dijon Brussel Sprouts and Salad

Braised Blue Cheese Cashew Chicken Sausages, Roasted Cabbage and Potatoes

Sicilian Meatball Soup with Cabbage

Roasted Chicken, Paprika Roasted Carrots, Parmesan Mushrooms, Crispy Potato Roast

Spaghetti, Steamed Broccoli, Garlic Bread

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Carnitas-Style Tacos with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

If you saw this in the store, what would you make with it? Sandwiches? Me too. Predictability is fun. Then one day I decided to heat up the last little bit left in the package in a cast-iron skillet before adding the BBQ sauce. I discovered that the pork became crispy, much in the same way that carnitas is delectable because of the little bits of fat-marbled pork that turn into crunchy bits (same cut of meat--pork butt). It dawned on me what a delicious shortcut this could be to carnitas-style street tacos. That made it sound like I've been to Mexico and know anything about Mexican street vendor food. I haven't. But I want to and I've watched a lot of Mexico--One Plate at a Time which totally counts.
My creation
The Taco Trifecta: Caramelized, Charred, Crispy
Normally this would be the part where I extol all the virtues of cooking at home: economical, more nutritious, life skills, blah, blah, blah; but, truthfully, I like to eat out and save the kitchen mess as much as anyone else. I am, however, also essentially lazy and going out requires effort. and pants. When you cook at home, people are far less preachy about your lack of pants. So on some pants-optional Tuesday night, I encourage you to get in the kitchen and fix up what has quickly become one of my family's favorite taco recipes.

Carnitas-Style Tacos with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms
Serves 4

You see that I am shamelessly pimping HEB's precooked shredded pork. They are in no way sponsoring this post (bastards), I just really like this product (HEB, if you are reading, sorry about the bastard thing. Funding towards the ridiculous amount of money and time I blow at your store would be great.). You can use any cooked shredded pork which is available to you as long as it does not have sauce already mixed in. We have used leftovers from pork butt that my husband smoked or even restauraunt leftovers.

8-10 ounces (2 to 3 cups) precooked shredded pork*
8 ounces white button mushrooms, washed and quartered
1/2  of a large white or yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbls. butter
8 flour or corn tortillas (if using corn tortillas, you may want to allow 3 per person as they are usually smaller)

For topping:
Chopped fresh cilantro
Sour cream
Cotija or queso fresco cheese
Thinly sliced avocado

In a large cast-iron skillet, heat butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook just until onions start to wilt and the mushrooms start releasing their liquid. At this point, reduce the heat to medium and stir only occasionally (reducing the heat a little if necessary to prevent burning) until the onions are caramelized and the mushrooms are browned, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from skillet and keep warm in a separate container while you heat the pork.

In the same skillet you used for the onions and mushrooms, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat (the pork is already cooked, so you don't want to overheat it) and add the pork, breaking it up with a fork so you have shredded bits in the pan. Heat gently for 5-10 minutes, occasionally scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until you see that most of the shreds of meat are crunchy and brown. Remove from heat while you get your tortillas ready.

Over a gas flame (or in a clean skillet if you don't have a gas stove), heat each tortilla until it gets charred, blistered marks on each side. Do not walk away while you are doing this! Tortillas burn quickly. Fill each tortilla with a couple of tablespoons of shredded pork and top with about 1/4 cup of the onion and mushroom mixture, then add your favorite toppings. My favorite combo is fresh cilantro, cotija cheese, Julio's salsa, and avocado. Divine.
*This recipe does not require the whole package of shredded pork. I usually divide what is left into individual portions and freeze it for sandwiches or to add to slow-cooker beans.

Monday, October 27, 2014

On the Menu this week

A short one, but I wanted to collect the oh-so-amazingly-good book club treats in one place and also share them with you :)

Carnitas-style Tacos with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms (why haven't we talked about this yet? Soon. Pinky swear.)

Book Club:
Salted Caramel Chocolate Thumbprints
Strawberry Ghosts
Chicken and Spinach Pinwheels
Mexican Corn Dip
Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp with Smoked Paprika
Bacon and Swiss Dip with cut up celery, carrots, and rye crackers

Slow cooker beans, Sautéed Kale, and Cornbread

Apple Cider Caramels
 (already made these twice. divine. but, dang, that's 128 hand-wrapped pieces of candy.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

On the Menu This Week

Trying to get my ass back in gear and make menus.

Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Muffins

Anti-Inflammatory Beet Smoothie

Mushroom Omelets, Oven Fries, Sautéed Spinach

Slow Cooker Pot Roast and Carrots, Buttered Noodles

Salt-Crusted Baked Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli

Italian Chicken Sausages with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Pepperoni Pizza Pockets, Salad

Buttermilk Brownies

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Perfectionism is a Trap Blueberry Pie

The other morning I was thinking of how often pie is mentioned or featured in movies (maybe you think of grown-up things like 401Ks and vacation plans but this is how it works in my mind palace) which got me to thinking of one of my favorite pie-centric movies, Waitress.  In the movie, Jenna, an unhappy, pregnant pie baker imbues her pie creations with emotional sometimes hilarious names like "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie" or "Pregnant, Miserable, Self-Pitying Loser Pie".
I started wondering what I would name this pie at this moment in my life. Blueberries Were on Sale While I Was at the Store Ah-gain Pie? Why Can't I Always Have What I Want Pie? Making Pie is More Fun than Mopping Floors Pie? Perfectionism is a Trap Pie? Yep, that's the one. Perfectionism is a trap. This is one of the many lessons I am learning right now and I think it fits perfectly with pie making.
Pie fitted
A lot of people are overwhelmed at the thought of making their own pie crust. I used to be one of those people. But for heaven's sake, it's just a pie crust! It doesn't have to be perfect to be good and it will never be good if you don't try frequently and learn from your mistakes. Oh snap, I think that was a metaphor for life right there. Sneaky.
I could have spent my pie-making time mopping another floor or cleaning another toilet but what's better for my soul right now? Making pie. There's something so satisfying to me about tying on an apron, sprinkling flour on the board, taking the rolling pin in hand and gently but firmly transforming the humblest blob of ingredients into a vessel within which endless delicious fillings are possible. Also? Homemade pie seems to impress the shit out of people. Seriously. I don't think I could garner more astonishment if I performed brain surgery with a butter knife. No one's gonna notice those dirty floors if the pie is delicious. Promise.

Perfectionism is a Trap Blueberry Pie
I often have this inner dialogue with you when I am making a recipe that I'd like to blog about. I wonder how much detail I should give you or how many "helpful" tips I should include or, if you're not a big food-science nerd like me, how much you really want to know about such things. The irony of giving you 872 tips on making the perfectly imperfect pie crust is not lost on me. So I am including a link to Pie Crust 101 should you like to read up on the things that go into making a more successful pie crust, but I promise, you can also just dive in here and get to makin' and learnin'. It's gonna be fine.

Pie Crust
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 Tbls. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, very cold, and cut into small pieces
Ice cold water

Fill a measuring cup with ice and water. Set aside while you mix the crust. Mix flour, sugar, and salt together in a large, wide bowl. Using a pastry blender or your impeccably clean hands, work the butter into the flour mixture until you have pea-sized lumps of butter. Add 4 Tbls. of ice water (just the water! Leave any unmelted ice in the cup.) and mix gently with a fork or spatula. At this point, add the water 1 Tbls. at a time until the dough starts to hold together (it's better to err on the side of the dough being a little too wet than too dry.) Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can make the dough at least two days in advance and keep wrapped in plastic in the fridge. You might need to let it soften slightly before rolling it out if you do that.

Streusel topping
6 Tbls. unsalted butter, very cold cut into small pieces
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt

In the bowl you just pulled the pie crust out of, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and butter using  a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Store in fridge until ready to top your pie.

Blueberry Filling
3 pints (approx. 6 cups) fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 Tbls. lemon juice
4 tsp. cornstarch
pinch of salt
In a large bowl, combine blueberries, cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Mix together, mashing some of the berries slightly to create juice. Set aside while you roll out your crust.

Preheat oven to 350'. On a lighly floured surface roll out your pie crust, sprinkling the crust, the pin, and the board frequently with flour to prevent sticking. I also like to slide a floured spatula under the crust after every few rolls just to make sure that sucker isn't going to stick. Fold crust in half, then gently lift and settle into pie plate and unfold the crust. Fold under the raw edges of the crust and crimp the edges to your heart's desire. Remember it's about taste not perfect beauty. Pile in the blueberry filling, leveling it out a little, then sprinkle the streusel on top. It will seem like too much, it's not. Place pie on a rimmed cookie sheet (trust me on this, fruit pies like to overflow. You don't want that in your oven) and bake for 60-75 minutes until streusel is browned and blueberry filling is bubbling. Cool completely at room temperature.