Monthly Archives: January 2011

Go-Go-Go-To Gadgets!

Every cook has a favorite pan, a favorite set of measuring cups and other gadgets.  So, I thought I’d feature some of my favs today.  When I wrote the title for this post, this music popped into my head: have a listen for kicks and grins, while you’re reading about  Go-Go-Go-To Gadget number one.

If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize this one from the Mistral’s Chicken recipe.

The Garlic Peeling Tube!  I love this if I’m peeling more than a couple of cloves.  Break cloves from the head of garlic.  Place individual cloves one at a time into the tube.  Press down on a hard surface and roll back and forth–listen for the crackle.  Tip your perfectly peeled clove out on the counter!  Static build up will make some of the peel pieces stick to the inside and outside, but a quick dip under the faucet will rinse them right out.

Go-Go-Go-To Gadget number 2:  The Misto:

This groovy gadget eliminates cooking sprays and their throat-choking propellants, while allowing you to control the quality of the oil in the spray.  The top unscrews to let you add whichever oil you’d like to place inside–I have olive oil in mine.  The lid is a pump–pumping air inside that will propel the oil in a mist when you spray.  Have a look at the video that is part of the Misto link for a better explanation.

Finally, the way to have that lovely, frothy latte.  (With foam strong enough to support caramel or chocolate or butterscotch….yum!)

Go-Go-Go-To Gadget number three is the Primo Latte!  This tiny battery-powered immersion blender is just the thing for your inner barista!  Heat the milk of your choice (I like almond milk) into your favorite coffee cup in the microwave until it starts to steam.  Remove from the microwave and immerse the whisk end of the Primo Latte into the milk, push the button and whip until the froth is the consistancy you like.  Then add flavor or flavored creamer if you want, then hot coffee, then top with your favorite syrup or cinnamon or other sprinkles!

Run the whisk end of the Primo Latte under water to rinse, push the button to spin the water off, and place it in its stand until next time.  Mmmmmm!  Doesn’t that frou-frou coffee look yummy?  (It was!)

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Melt-in-your-mouth Slow Cooker Carnitas

OMG you MUST make this recipe!  I’ll wait while you run to the store for a pork shoulder.

Back?  Great!  You gotta love pork shoulder–at under 2 bucks a pound, you get a lot of meals for your money.  My grocery only sells whole shoulders–usually 10 pounds or so.  This recipe calls for a 2-pounder.  I just go ahead and buy a whole one.

When I get home, I get a cutting board that can go in the dishwasher, sharpen my knife and cut the shoulder into more workable pieces.  I tried to cut 3 equal pieces, but as this is “bone in” I was limited to how I could cut it.  I ended up with 2 pieces that were about 2 pounds and a larger one containing the bone, about 4 pounds.  Safety note:  wash hands carefully, before and after handling raw meat.

Then I put the pieces in freezer ziplocs, label and freeze for later.  One of them just went into the fridge because I wanted to use it the next day for these amazing carnitas!!!

This recipe couldn’t be easier and can be started before you leave for work in the morning.  When you get home, dinner will be mostly ready and your house will smell divine!

Gather up your ingredients for Melt-in-your-mouth Slow Cooker Carnitas:  (based on a recipe from Low-Carb Slow Cooker Recipes)

2 pounds of pork shoulder  (Definitely use the cheaper pork shoulder as opposed to the pricer and leaner tenderloin.  The tenderloin will be too dry to “pull.”)

1 cup water

2 large onions, peeled and quartered

3 fresh jalepenos, chopped, seeds and all–it will not make the meat overly spicy.   (I have a bag of frozen jalapenos from last year’s garden–I just get out what I need and let them thaw on the counter.  Pickled jalepenos would make this recipe too vinegar-y.)

8 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Trim the excess fat from the pork–you won’t get it all, remove the rest as you shred it later.

Place meat in the slow cooker, add water and the rest of the ingredients.

Handy tip:  Hot peppers can literally burn your skin, and anywhere else (eyes–ouch!) that you touch.  To minimize this, use rubber gloves or handle the pepper by its stem.  I hold it by the stem and make some cuts lengthwise and then cut across, retaining the stem end to use as a “pusher.”  Scoop up the pepper pieces with your knife and push them into the pot using the stem end.  I still wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water after.

Cover and cook on low setting for 8-10 hours, or on high setting for 4-5 hours.  (I did the high setting and was super happy with the results!)  Remove the meat to a shallow bowl and discard the cooking liquid.

Use two forks to shred the amazingly tender and succulent meat.  Be ready to slap any hands that wander by and try to sneak some before dinner!  You, as the cook, are allowed to taste.  This is called “quality control.”

Use this uber-yummy spicy pork to make sandwiches, burritos or tacos.  We made tacos.  I set out cheese, salsas, sour cream, sliced avocado, chopped green onion, queso, flour tortillas, soft corn tortillas, lettuce, and hard taco shells.  Mr16 made his with 2 flour tortillas with a layer of queso in between, lots of meat, green onion and cheese:

DH is watching his carbs so made his with lettuce leaves, meat, green onions, salsa and cheese (low carb option):

I made mine with soft corn tortillas, cheese, meat, tomatillo salsa, avocado, green onion, sour cream and lettuce:

We had enough meat for 2 tacos a piece (remember there is a teenager eating here–he uses lots of meat in his tacos!), plus some leftover.  I am totally making this again….I’m dreaming of a yummy carnitas burrito with pinto beans and green chili…..mmmmmmm!

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Sweet-tooth Saturday: Carol’s Frozen Mango, Raspberry and Vanilla Mosaic

Mosaic?  The Wordnetweb definition that comes closest to this decadent dessert is: “art consisting of a design made of small pieces of colored stone or glass.”  It looked like art and tasted like art should!  Carol adapted a recipe from this fabulous cookbook, filled with yummy recipes and beautiful New Mexican art:

Definitely a book I plan to buy–it wouldn’t translate well to my nook.  The recipe she used was called Frozen Mango, Blackberry Cassis and Vanilla Mosaic–changing it to Frozen Mango, Raspberry and Vanilla Mosaic.  I’ll give ingredients according to what Carol used.  Being a frozen dessert, she made this well in advance–I have no pictures of the ingredients.

1 pint mango sorbet

1 pint raspberry sherbert

1 pint vanilla ice cream

6 ounces fresh raspberries

1/4 cup raspberry liqueur, plus extra for garnishing

Soften the sorbets and ice cream in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.

In a blender, puree the berries and liquor until smooth.  Strain if you want–Carol didn’t–the crunchy seeds added to the “feel” of fresh berries in the mosaic.

Line a loaf pan with waxed paper or parchment paper, leaving extra up the sides to lay over the top of the dessert–forming a “lid.”

When sorbets and ice cream are soft, fill the pan decoratively with spoonfuls of sorbets and ice cream, pressing down and filling in the spaces with the berry puree.

Smooth top, pressing down with the back of the spoon to eliminate air spaces.

Fold parchment flaps over the top and freeze until solid–about 3 hours.

Remove from freezer and loosen the parchment flaps.

Run hot water into a sink and partially immerse the mosaic to loosen the sides.

Invert loaf pan over a platter, slide off the loaf pan and carefully peel back the parchment paper.

Using a knife dipped in hot water, cut slices–1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick.  Place in a deep plate or shallow bowl, garnish with a tablespoon or two of the raspberry liquor and serve!  (The recipe in the book also suggested a sprig of mint for garnish.)

So pretty!  So yummy!  So versatile–use any combination of sorbets you like with coordinating berries and liqueur!  Carol and I were just texting about how yummy this will be in the summer while enjoying a warm evening out on the deck.  She suggested topping it off with even more fresh berries.  Mmmmmm.  Don’t wait until summer to try it, though.  This may be the perfect Valentine’s Day dessert!  Especially if you use the liqueur Carol used:

How perfect is that?  *Swoon*  We enjoyed our mosaic slices with a nip of dessert wine….yummy!

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Sizzlin’ Sausage Scramble

“What’s for breakfast?”  A go-to, no-brainer, somethin’ yummy that morphs into a new breakfast the next day: Sizzlin’ Sausage Scramble.  This recipe evolved from something in the freezer department that I paid way too much for and was filled with chemicals I didn’t want to eat.  How hard could it be, I thought.  Turns out, not hard at all! 

I almost always have these ingredients in the house (sorry, no picture this time):

2 pre-cooked sausage links    (I like red pepper turkey and chicken sausage from the health food store–no nasty chemicals, LOTS of great flavor!)

oil for sauteing

4 small potatoes, skin on, chopped into 1/2 inch dice

2 scallions, chopped, set aside

6 large eggs

1/4 cup milk    (I use soy milk)

salt and pepper

Wash and dice the potatoes, place in water in a small pan and parboil–boil til almost done–firm, almost tender, not crunchy.  (The starch in potatoes can make them boil over–so keep an eye on them or be prepared to clean your stove!)

Cut the sausage in half long-ways and then cut into 1/4 in pieces crosswise– this will give you little half-moon sausage pieces.

Place about a tablespoon of oil in a large non-stick fry pan over medium high heat.  When hot, add the sausage and saute, stirring occasionally.

When potatoes are done, add them to the pan and finish cooking them, letting them brown a bit in the same pan as the sausage.  Add aditional oil if they start to stick.

In a medium sized bowl, crack the eggs, add milk and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix with a whisk or a fork until combined, but not frothy.  (Eggs whisk easier if you pierce the yolks first.) 

When potatoes are tender and browned a bit, move the potatoes and sausage to one side of the pan and pour the eggs in the other side.

Cook, moving cooked portions in to the center of the egg half of the pan until nearly set, but still a bit runny.

At this point, combine the sausage and potatoes into the eggs while they finish cooking.  Remove from heat and add scallions.

Serve with grated cheese of your choice (or not!), along with some toast.  Yummy!!!   Dear Husband likes hot sauce on his.  Sometimes, I’ll add a spoon or two of tomatillo salsa.

So the morph for the next day….if you have leftovers, that is.  (Actually you could make the morph on the fist day, if you’re so inclined!)  This scramble makes THE BEST breakfast burritos!  In a warmed tortilla, place the grated cheese of your choice, then warm scramble, then salsa if you like.  Roll and enjoy!  I like an avocado slice in mine as well. 

These burritos are fabulous make-ahead breakfasts.  Wrap each one in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  In the morning, pull one out, open the plastic to allow steam to escape and microwave.  Length of time to microwave will depend on the power of YOUR microwave.

You could make this scramble vegetarian by using a vegetarian sausage.  This recipe can be reduced for one person, or increased to make more.  The amounts given are usually enough for 3 breakfasts plus 2 or 3 burritos.  Your only limit is the size of your pan!  How ’bout giving this yummy breakfast a try this weekend?!

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Presto Pesto Pasta…with chicken

A couple of years ago, I over-planted basil in the garden and ended up with WAY more than I could use.  What to do?  Learn to make pesto, of course!  I found a great recipe that freezes and keeps well, and that’s the pesto I use for this pasta recipe.  Store-bought pesto would work just as well.

My BFF Becky came up with this recipe.  I can’t remember if she was inspired by something on Food Network or something in a magazine or what.  I just know it’s yummy, and an easy go-to dinner in a hurry!

Ingredients for Presto Pesto Pasta…with chicken:

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken   (whichever cuts you like)

oil for cooking the chicken

salt and pepper

1/2 cup prepared pesto

1 package dried pasta  (I used rotini–I like the way it holds the sauce)

1/2 of an 8 ounce package of cream cheese  (I used fat-free!)

1 package pine nuts

1 cup of “pasta water”  (taken from the pasta before you drain it)

Set a big pot of water on the stove and boil water for the pasta.  (It will boil faster with a lid on it.)  When the water comes to a boil, salt it with a palmful of salt, and add the pasta.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, remembering to retain one cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta.

Cut chicken into a large dice–about 1-inch pieces.  This is easier to do if the chicken is partially frozen.  (Safety note: always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, keep a cutting board that is only used for raw meat, be sure your knife is sharp.) 

Set a large fry pan over medium-high heat, and add about a tablespoon of oil in the pan.  When pan is hot, add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until browned on all sides, and cooked through.  Remove from heat.

When pasta is cooked, retain a cup of the cooking liquid–I just use a coffee cup–and drain the rest.  Leave the pasta in the collander and return the pot to the stove.  Reduce heat to low.

In the pot, combine the cream cheese and pesto.  Stir to combine and melt together–this tends to be a bit sticky and gloppy.  Add pasta water a bit at a time to thin and make the sauce less sticky.  (Something about the starch in the pasta water brings this sauce to a nice consistancy.)  Add the pasta and cooked chicken.  Stir to coat with the sauce, add more pasta water as needed.  ( I used about 3/4 of the cup, total.)

Place in bowls, top with pine nuts (and grated parmesan if desired) and serve!

Mr16 loves this pasta.  It would be great with sliced tomatoes on the side, or a caprese (tomato slices, fresh mozzerella slices, basil, balsamic vinegrette) salad.  This recipe would be yummy with shrimp or it would also be tasty without meat, for a great vegetarian alternative!  Usually, I’m in a hurry when I make it and the pasta is the entire meal.  So far, no complaints, because it’s just so yummy! 

For anyone with a bit of time and a food processor, here’s the pesto recipe:

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil

4 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (evoo)

1 cup freshly grated parmesan

1/3 cup pine nuts

salt and pepper

Place garlic and basil in food processor and rough chop.

Add nuts and cheese, process until well combined.

With the machine running, stream in the evoo, add salt and pepper to taste.

Use immediately, storing unused portion in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.  It freezes well–I place 1/4 cup portions in snack-size ziplocs, and then those packages in a gallon freezer bag.   (So nice to have these little packages of summer-time flavor to open all winter!)

Last year I had too much flat-leaf parsley, so I made parsley pesto with walnuts instead of pine nuts.  Yummy!

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Snap, Crackle, Pop, Sonia and Me

I’ll bet everyone can name the yummy bars on this plate.  You might even have a particular memory that goes along with them, like I do.

photo attribution

Rice Krispie Treats were created by Margaret Day in the 1920s as a fundraiser for Camp Fire Girls.  By the time I was born they were a classic.  Rice Krispies cereal was common in our house, either the brand name, or on tight weeks, the store brand version.  When my sister and I were little, Mom made them for us, and limited the number of treats we could have.  Here’s Sonia (standing) and me (braids), sometime around 1967 or so.  (One of the few pictures from this formal sitting where we were both smiling.)

Later as teenagers, we learned to make them for ourselves.  Dad got paid once a week, from his job as a printer, on Fridays.  Our family joined many of the weekly-paid families of that era at SuperValue after Dad came home from work.  Mom and Dad shopped for meals and necessities, Sonia and I made sure we had marshmallows and some sort of crisp rice cereal. 

 Later at home after dinner, Sonia and I made a pan of Rice Krispie Treats.  We let them set up for the bare minimum time, took them to the living room, turned on the TV, and plopped on our stomachs to watch.  The Brady Bunch (I really identified with Marsha–being the oldest, even though I was Jan’s age at the time) and The Partridge Family (so in love with David Cassidy!) were the two shows we always watched…..while consuming the ENTIRE pan of Rice Krispie Treats.

These days I still love Rice Krispie Treats, but I don’t think I could eat more than one without getting “sugared out.”  Still, I associate my buddies Snap, Crackle and Pop with somethin’ yummy!

photo attribution

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Positively Fabulous Pasta Fagioli

What makes this Pasta Fagioli so fabulous?  Sausage.  Dumplings.  Yup, little pork meatballs spiced like sausage and cooked IN the soup like dumplings rather than being fried or baked.  They impart a lovely pork richness to the broth that enhances what is a very nice comfort soup to begin with.  Fabulous. 

The recipe is adapted from a Rachel Ray 30 Minute Meal.  Love her or hate her, her recipes are yummy (or should I say, yumm-o!) easy to make, and come together fairly quickly.  I can never make them happen in 30 minutes….but they don’t take MUCH longer.

Here are the ingredients.  (See if you can find the ingredient I didn’t have when I made this last week!)

For the soup:

1/2 pound of pancetta, diced

olive oil (for rendering pancetta, sauteing veggies)

2 carrots

2 celery ribs

1 medium onion

1 bay leaf

2-3 cloves of garlic, grated

salt and pepper to taste

3-4 TBSP tomato paste

One 18 ounce can of white beans, such as cannelini beans

1 to 1 1/2 cup ditalini (amount depends on how thick you like your soup–ditalini is traditional for this soup, but any small pasta will do)

One 32 ounce box of chicken stock (broth)  (You can add more broth, or water if the soup gets too thick.)

For the dumplings:

1 pound ground pork

grated cheese     (pre-grated, or grate your own using the fine side of your grater or a microplane.  I’ve used parmesan, I’ve used pecorino romano–both worked and tasted great!  Amount to be determined by how your meatballs “feel”)

bread crumbs     (pre-packaged or make your own.  I like Panko.  Amount to be determined by how your meatballs “feel”)

1 TBSP fennel seeds

1 egg

salt and pepper to taste   (The cheese you use might be a bit salty–if so, you’ll want to back off on the salt.)

Did you find the missing ingredient?  The pancetta!  I just put the olive oil in the pan and went on with the veggies.  Pancetta is a tricky ingredient to find here in Western Colorado; although, I did spot some in the deli at the Patterson Safeway.  You can substitute regular bacon for the pancetta.  The soup is yummier with that extra pork!

So.  If you have it, render the pancetta in about a TBSP of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  While it renders, chop the carrots, celery and onion.

When the pancetta is starting to crisp, add the chopped carrots, celery, onion, grated (or squished through a garlic press) garlic, salt and pepper, and bay leaf.  Cook until the veggies are tender.

Add the tomato paste, beans, and chicken stock.  (Just a side-note:  tomato paste in a tube–if you can find it–is wonderful for this recipe, since the recipe doesn’t use an amount equal to a small can.)

While the soup comes to a boil, make the dumplings:  In a medium to large bowl, place the ground pork, grated cheese, bread crumbs, fennel seed and egg, salt and pepper.  You’ll be guessing about the amount of cheese and bread crumbs–starting with less than you think you’ll need is best.  I happened to guess really well with this batch–I’m thinking it was about 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 cup crumbs.

Mix together with your hands (take rings off first!).  You want a mixture that feels tender and a bit sticky.  If it’s too sticky, add more crumbs, more cheese–be careful to not get the mixture dry and hard feeling.  Then make your meatballs.  Handy tip–I like to use a small cookie scooper–I scoop with one hand, and firm them up with the other hand. 

Store the finished meatballs on a plate (For reference, this is a regular dinner-sized plate.) until you have all of them made.  The scooper helps to keep them fairly equal in size.  Safety note:  Always wash your hands carefully before and after handling raw meat.

When the soup comes to a boil–which it will right about the time you’re finishing the last of the dumplings (meatballs)–carefully drop the dumplings and the ditalini into the boiling soup.  Place the lid on the pot and simmer for 10-12 minutes.  (If the soup wants to boil over, remove the lid for a minute, reduce the heat and replace the lid for the remaining time.)

Discard the bay leaf.  Get yourself out some bowls and serve up your Positively Fabulous Pasta Fagioli with grated cheese–I like to use the same cheese I put in the dumplings.  On the side, a simple salad, some toasted bread and maybe a glass of red wine!  (Serves 6-8)

This soup is very flexible ingredient-wise without changing the flavor much.  For example, for a vegitarian version, change the chicken broth to vegetable broth and the pork to “veggie burger”, omit the pancetta.  For lower fat, use turkey bacon or skip it entirely, use ground turkey instead of ground pork.  Like most soups, Pasta Fagioli is even more yummy the second day!

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