Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mexican Meat- Crock It

Do you own a crockpot? You should! I've owned one for at least 15 years and can't even count how many times I have used it. It's such a wonderful feeling to have your dinner cooking for you while you're at work or tooling around the house! Our standards are typically chili, pulled pork, and I often will cook bone-in chicken breasts to get shredded chicken for recipes. The leftover stock can keep in the fridge for various uses, too. Love it!

When I first bought my crockpot I purchased two cook books, one of which was "Crock-It". It's a great book- filled with simple recipes and hand written with one recipe per page, which makes it easy to read. One of my favorite chicken recipes came from here and I've always been intrigued by this Mexican Meat recipe because of two things. One, it is simple as anything and two- she states that it's the recipe that started the book. If that's not an incentive to make something I don't know what is! I really can't believe it's taken me this long to actually make this. Shawn picked up a rump roast and I decided that cooking it in the crockpot would be the best bet. It's summertime and stews seem just too hot and heavy for this time of year. I was so excited when I remembered this recipe because I had all the ingredients in the pantry!!

To make it, there's really not much that is simpler. I opened a can of cream of celery soup. I opened a can of diced green chilis. Combined them in my crockpot with the beef, turned it on, and walked away. OK- I lied. I'm me and despite the fact that I shouldn't be futzing around with the crockpot (something I have nagged roommates and husbands incessantly about); I couldn't help but mess with the meat after 5 or 6 hours. It is inevitably supposed to shred, so I eventually went and sliced the meat into a few pieces to keep them in the liquid and aid in the shredding process. It took quite a bit longer to shred than stated in the recipe. I don't know if it was because I didn't cut the meat up right away or because I opened the pot to play with it. Probably a combination of the two.

This came out good, not great. I feel like I may have not been the best judge because I have a bit of a head cold, but I needed to add some hot sauce to mine. I tried this two ways- the first was rolled in some corn tortillas with cheese. This was kind of boring, so I then scooped it up with some Tostitos which was much tastier. I think I might try a casserole with the leftovers- mix it with tomatoes, black beans, and corn and top with corn bread... I think that would be a much better version than what I had! I did put some of the leftover meat in the freezer to doctor up on another occasion and I will let you know when I try my new variation!

I made burritos last night with the leftover meat by putting about 1/2 cup of the mixture in a whole wheat tortilla with some sauteed onion and shredded cheddar cheese. I drizzled them with Trader Joe's enchilada sauce (I love this stuff- it's a must have in my pantry), some cheese, and baked them for 20 minutes at 350. I topped them with some sliced green onions and served it with sauteed vegetables and a corn & tomato salad. Unbelieveable!! The meat was so much tastier when featured in a recipe like this.

Mexican Meat- Crock-It

3lbs stew meat
1 (10oz) can cream of celery soup
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilis

Combine all ingredients in crockery, stir well to coat meat. Cook on high 6-8 hours. Use a potato masher to blend liquid and shred meat. It should just fall apart when done.

Use this recipe for Burritos, Soft Tacos, Tostatos, Bean Dip or serve over rice.

Backyard BBQ with Confetti Orzo Salad & Curry Dip

We had a small BBQ last night to show off Shawn's smoker skills and go over planning details with some friends whose wedding I'm helping out with. There were about 8 of us, plus the boy, and I knew it'd be hot so I wanted to do a few quick sides and apps to let the meat be the star of the show. Shawn was making a chicken and brisket and I had planned to do a BLT salad, but due to some suspect bacon in my fridge I changed things up at the last minute and found a quick orzo salad to prepare. The book is called 365 Ways to Cook Pasta and I couldn't even tell you where I got it from! Probably a clearance rack somewhere, but I like that there are so many options in the book to choose from.

I cooked up the orzo that was left over from earlier in the week and added some cut veggies. Mixed it with lemon juice and zest, olive oil, fresh parsley, and garlic and put it all in the fridge for later.

I also wanted an easy dip for veggies and whipped up a curry dip that I found on chowhound. 2 parts sour cream to 1 part mayonnaise and add some fresh lemon juice and curry to taste. Stir, chill, and serve. It was so easy and completely delicious. The dip complemented everything, but my favorite pairs were the broccoli, the mushrooms and, surprisingly, grilled shrimp! Thanks, Meg, for the tip! I have a feeling that I'll be making this dip many many times in my life.

The smoked meat was spectacular, as always! I'm really glad that I went with the orzo salad because the BLT would have been too much. I thought that the simplicity of the salad made it really work with everything else. There were so many strong, spicy flavors and the light vinaigrette and the vegetables were really refreshing. I tossed some of the leftover pasta with a salad and some leftover chicken the next day and it was excellent!

Confetti Orzo Salad- 365 Ways to Make Pasta
1 1/2 cups orzo, or small solid pasta
1/3 cup light olive oil
3T fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 medium carrot, cut into 1/8 inch dice
1 1/4 cups finely diced red, green, and/or yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and finely diced cucumber
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

1. Cook orzo in plenty of boiling, salted, water until tender, 10-12 minutes. Drain, in wire mesh strainer, and rinse under cool water

2. Whish oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and garlic until blended. Toss diced veggies, orzo, and dressing together. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Curry Dip-
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
lemon juice
curry powder

Stir and serve

Monday, June 7, 2010

Satueed Pork Cutlets & Orzo "Risotto"

I bought a pork loin last week and was debating a few different things that I could make with it. I gave Shawn three choices for dinner (Zucchini Wrapped Pork, Sauteed Cutlets, and the Fiesta Pork from earlier this year, but with grits instead of polenta). He picked the cutlets and I decided to finally try out this orzo recipe that has intrigued me for years. It's in my HTCE book and I mentally flagged it as a simple dish that I could make with a few key ingredients. Thanks to my fabulous pantry stocking skills I was set!

I started by chopping up my onions and measuring all of the ingredients that I would need for both dishes. I melted some butter until it foamed and added the onions; sauteeing for a few minutes before adding the orzo. I toasted the orzo for a few moments (a la Rice a Roni) and added chicken stock, salt & pepper. I covered it, turned it down to low, and stirred it every few minutes while I cooked the pork.

This pork recipe is another one that I have tossed around for years as an easy dish in a pinch. I got it from an old Martha Stewart magazine that I purchased when we first moved into our house. I actually just realized that detail at this very moment; when looking at the recipe while typing up this blog. What fun! For one reason or another I never made the recipe, but tonight I had everything I needed and was finally ready to try it.

I sliced up the tenderloin, pounded the cutlets, and seasoned with salt & pepper. I sauteed them up in olive oil, a few cutlets at a time, for 2 minutes on each side (stirring my orzo all the while). When ready, I transferred them all to a dish and then drizzled fresh lemon juice over the cutlets and topped with a touch of parmesan.

The orzo was ready at about this time, so I added some parmesan to that as well, stirred and it was ready to eat.

The pork was delicious- the lemon wasn't overpowering and it really was complemented by the parmesan. I should have checked them from the pan- they weren't cooked enough and I had to cook them for a few minutes more after we sat down to eat. C'est la vie! They were delicious when we could finally eat them! The orzo was also quite tasty; the onions gave a nice sweetness and the texture really was like a risotto. I think a little swiss would have been absolutely fabulous with this, too. Maybe next time....

All in all it was a successful, two recipe meal and both were dishes that I would make again and again. The meal took very little time to prepare and it really tasted delicious and could also be modified to incorporate a lot of different flavors.

Sauteed Pork Cutlets- Martha Stewart Living: October 2006

Orzo "Risotto"- How to Cook Everything: Mark Bittman
2T butter or olive oil
1 small onion, minced
3 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, plus 1/2 cup more if needed
1 1/2 cups orzo (rice- shaped pasta)
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Place butter in 3 or 4 quart saucepan and turn heat to medium, when the foam subsides, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it becomes transluscent. Meanwhile, heat up the stock in a separate pan.
2. Add the orzo to the onion and stir once or twice; season with salt & pepper and add the stock, all at once. Cover and reduce heat to medium.
3. Cook, stirring every few minutes to prevent sticking, until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. Stir in half the parmesan cheese and parsley. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve with Parmesan on the side.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spicy Shrimp and Grits- Cooking Light

I was on my own for Saturday dinner this weekend and decided to prepare a recipe that Shawn wouldn't normally want to try. Shrimp was on sale this week so I went through my trusty collection of recipes to find something fun to try. I decided on Spicy Shrimp with Grits from my Cooking Light magazine since it had a lot of items that I already had in my cabinets. Plus, I'm just a sucker for Shrimp and Grits and the recipe has bacon (BACON) in it. Cooking light has a theory that if you use small amounts of bacon in place of cream and butter you can add way more flavor, plus protein, with similar calories. You can't eat like this every day, but it's nice to be able to fit in delicious food and not feel overly guilty about it.

Since I was cooking for myself, I decided to cut the recipe in half so I wouldn't have a ton of leftovers. I figured that a recipe for four, cut in half, would yield a portion for dinner and a portion for breakfast. I was right:) I should have taken a tip from my college classes in yielding and written down the new ingredient measurements on a separate piece of paper. I didn't make any mistakes, but had to go back and reference the recipe about 10 more times than I should have.

I started by frying up 2 pieces of applewood smoked bacon. When it was crisp, I drained the bacon on a paper towel and removed most of the grease. I sauteed the shrimp for 2 minutes on each side and removed them from the pan. I then added the sliced onion, sauteeing for one minute, and then the grape tomatoes and crumbled bacon. I did make one slight step away from the recipe by adding the teeniest bit of chicken stock to the pan with the onions. There was this gorgeous layer of bacon, shrimp, and spices at the bottom of my pan and I couldn't resist bringing the flavor up on the onions. I'm glad I did! I added the shrimp back to the pan with a touch of Sriracha to finish the dish.

While this was going on, I prepared the grits and added the parmesan as the last step. Topped the grits with shrimp and sat down for dinner.

Wow. This was sooo good! The grits were creamy with just the right texture. The shrimp was delicious!! A hint of spice and the vegetables were perfectly cooked. I loved it! The portion was quite ample and looked fantastic on the plate. It heated up well the next morning, too; holding its texture and not getting greasy at all. I would make this again without a doubt, either for dinner or maybe as a fun tapas dish for company. Shawn likes grits, just not shrimp, so I might try it again with veal scallops and see how that turns out.

Spicy Shrimp with Grits- Cooking Light March 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Infamous Breakfast Potatoes

OK, so this isn't a new recipe for me but how can I have a food blog and not mention one of the tastiest and most requested dishes that I make?? It's a recipe that I inherited from my dad, but have tweaked and mastered it to the point that I can comfortably call them mine now. But it all started back when I was a little kid and would ask for "Daddy's home fries" whenever visiting my father. I don't like eggs (never have) and after getting tired of making pancakes he decided to whip up various ingredients to create his version of home fries, which is basically a potato omelette. This was before the days of "skillets" at the breakfast chains but it's a similar idea. When Shawn and I were dating I made them for Christmas breakfast one year and it's been a tradition ever since. Now I usually make it two or three times a year, as it takes forever to make and is so fattening and heavy despite it's deliciousness.

I start by browning bulk breakfast sausage in a large frying pan. I have a chicken fryer pan that works perfectly. I used to use links but find that the bulk sausage disperses better through the dish. Once browned, I remove the sausage and most of the grease, and sautee diced onion and green pepper in the pan. Then I add diced raw potatoes to the pan (red work best, but any type is fine) and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes at medium before mixing, adding the sausage, and turning down to low. Cover loosely, so that steam can escape, and let cook at low for about 30 minutes or so. Turn potatoes, add diced ham salt & pepper, cover and cook another 30 minutes or so. Top with American cheese, cover and cook until melted or ready to serve.

Note- if you cover the dish fully the vegetables will create a liquid which will make the dish very moist. It'll taste good, but there will be a 1/2 inch of water in the pan which will keep it from crisping up.

The key to this dish is patience. The potatoes are ready to eat after 30-60 minutes, but the longer you wait the better they taste. I could never quite get them right and it took years to realize that the main difference between my dad's and mine was about an hour! I find this to be a great holiday dish because we open presents while they cook and eat when we're done. It's also great for a brunch because they can sit on low until people are ready to eat. If you get them just right there's a fantastic crunch layer at the bottom of the pan that people have been known to fight over.

Try out your own variations, too- you can add mushrooms, use different cheeses, etc. I prefer American for the melt consistancy, but many people have tried it with cheddar and enjoyed. Sometimes I use lunchmeat ham, sometimes I use ham steak- have fun!

Breakfast Potatoes

Approx 5lbs potatoes (average 2 per person), large dice. Peel if you want to- I peel about 1/3 of them
1 package bulk breakfast sausage
1 green pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
1/4lb ham, diced
1/4lb American Cheese
salt & pepper to taste

1. Spray a 15 inch frying pan with non-stick spray.
2. Brown sausage on Medium High heat, breaking apart while cooking.
3. Remove sausage and drain, reserving 1T of pan drippings
4. Add peppers and onions to the frying pan and sauté on medium high heat for 5 minutes
5. Add potatoes to the pan and stir. Let brown, without stirring, for 5-10 minutes then turn heat down to Low.
6. Add Sausage, stir, and season with Salt and Pepper. Cover, leaving cracked so some steam can release, and let sit on Low heat for 30 minutes.
7. Add ham and flip potatoes, making sure to scrape any crust off of the bottom of the pan. Cover lightly again and let sit on low heat for 30 minutes
8. Flip potatoes, then top with Cheese, cover, and let sit on low for another 20-30 minutes before serving