Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Slow Cooker Week: Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas

Hi and welcome to Slow Cooker Week! :)  I had a request to feature more slow cooker recipes on my blog.  As a fellow crock pot lover, I was more than happy to oblige and I set to work looking through my recipes to pull out some favorites and try out some new ones in order to do this special feature week.

My slow cooker is definitely on my most loved and most used pieces of kitchen equipment.  As someone who has worked for many years, I turned to slow cooker recipes many times so that I, and later when I got married, my husband and I, would have healthier meal options when we got home in the evenings.  Plus there is nothing better than walking in the door in the evenings and smelling the delicious smells of chicken, roast, or soup wafting through your house after its been cooking low and slow alllll day long!

This recipe is actually one I recently flagged in Taste of Home magazine.  Its for slow cooker pork carnitas.  There is a restaurant near our house that makes delicious tacos carnitas and I have always wanted to be able to replicate them at home.  This recipe comes pretty close, and the fact that its easy and made in the slow cooker is even better!  The pork cooks all day in chicken broth, chilies, cilantro, and salsa until it is fork tender and then you just shred it and serve with tortillas and your favorite toppings.  I like to serve this with a fresh avocado mango salsa so I've included the recipe for it at the end. I love the slightly sweet taste of this salsa with the salty pork-- I just can't say enough good things about it.  Make it and I guarantee you'll like it too. Also, I find that the salsa and a little sour cream are the only toppings I need so preparation for the carnitas couldn't be simpler at the end of the day.  Just shred the pork, warm some tortillas, add a little mango avocado salsa and a dollop of sour cream and you are eating a blissfully delicious meal within a few minutes from getting home from work!  What is better than that?

Slow Cooker Carnitas

1 pork shoulder butt roast 7-9 pounds
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 cups minced fresh cilantro
1 cup salsa
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 cans (4 oz. each) chopped green chilies

Trim visible fat off of roast (there is usually a thick strip of fat on one side of the roast so make sure to cut all of that off or you will have greasy gravy).  Sprinkle roast with sliced garlic, oil, salt, and pepper.  Add the onions, cilantro, salsa, broth, and chilies.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until meat is fork tender.  Remove meat; cool slightly, shred with 2 forks and return to the slow cooker and heat through.  Spoon onto warmed tortillas and the toppings of your choice.

Adapted from Taste of Home

Recipe for Mango Avocado Salsa
*Note for this recipe I like to use slightly underripe mangoes and avocados.  I think they work better for this salsa and a nicer texture that goes well with the tacos.

1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups chopped peeled slightly underripe avocado
1 cup chopped peeled slightly underripe mango
1 tbs. finely chopped cilantro
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
optional: fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish

Combine all of the above and gently toss. Adjust salt, cilantro, or lime juice to taste.  Garnish with cilantro sprigs if desired.  Let stand several minutes for flavors to blend before serving.

Adapted from Cooking Light

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Series: White Chocolate Pecan Rice Krispie Treats with Dried Cranberries and Blueberries

When I saw this recipe on Chef Pandita's amazing blog last week, I knew I had to make them soon.  I am a big kid when it comes to rice krispie treats (but really have you ever met someone who doesn't like rice krispie treats?) and when i saw that she added white chocolate and cranberries and pecans to her's (pecans that had been sauteed in the browning melted butter, no less) I knew these would be heavenly.  Yuri, the talented chef and baker behind the blog, is a culinary school graduate and I love reading her blog.  I have gleaned so much useful information and, not to mention, scrumptious recipes.  She is a delight, so please go check out her blog!

Since its Memorial Day weekend, I thought I'd also add some dried blueberries to have the "red, white, and blue."  The added flavor from the blueberries turned out great, I thought.  In the end, these are really the best rice krispie treats I've ever had.  The pecans become so flavorful from being tossed with the melted butter, the blueberries and cranberries, get nice and plump from the heat and the intermittent bites of white chocolate adds a creamy sweetness against the tang of the berries.  These couldn't be easier to make so if you need to bring something to a get-together and are short on time, this is your dessert!

1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 (16 oz) bag marshmallows
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried blueberries
1 box (12 oz) puffed rice cereal
2/3 cup chopped white chocolate (I used white chocolate chips)

1. Grease a 9x13 pan
2. On the stovetop, melt butter, add salt and pecans
3. Add marshmallows and melt over medium heat, stirring
4. Mix in cranberries and blueberries and puffed rice cereal
5. Turn off heat, mix in white chocolate
6. Mix well and pour into well-greased pan.  Press down and smooth the surface using a greased piece of parchment paper (this worked brilliantly thanks Chef Pandita!) and the back of a greased measuring cup.
7. Let cool and cut into squares

Adapted from Chef Pandita

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Series: Pimiento Mac and Cheese

Oh my heavens, I am in love with this recipe.  Ever since I got the March edition of Bon Appetit with this beautiful dish sitting resplendently on its cover, I knew I had to try it.  A dish that combines both mac and cheese and pimiento cheese-- two dishes that are great on their own? Well, yes please!   If you need a dish that will make a splash at your summer party then I suggest you try this puppy.

First, instead of using the typical little jar of red pimientos that one would understandably expect to be in pimiento mac and cheese (but I admit always look a little sad and scary), the marvels at Bon Appetit have you make a blended cheese sauce using steamed red peppers and Peppadew peppers along with extra sharp cheddar.  Peppadew peppers are beautiful little ruby red, silver dollar-sized peppers that can usually be found on the olive bar at your grocery store or deli.  My Kroger has an olive bar and I had no trouble finding them. Just make sure you ladle some of the brine along with the peppers into your container because you will need a small amount when you are making your sauce.  Peppadew peppers have a little bite to them and if you have any left over, they are good stuffed with goat or cream cheese and make nice little appetizers.

You will need a food processor or a good blender to make this recipe because you have to process the peppers and the cheese into a creamy sauce in which the pasta bakes.  I used my mini-chopper which worked fine and was large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients.

My husband and I adored this recipe and this will be made many more times in our house.  It was cheesy from the 3 kinds of cheese with a nice tang from the peppers, with a little heat that bit pleasantly at the back of your throat.  The original recipe called for ground ancho chilies but I didn't add them and I thought the recipe was perfect with out them. But, I've added it as an optional ingredient if that floats your boat.  Finally this recipe had a delicious crunchy topping of buttered panko breadcrumbs.  Sublime!

Pimiento Mac and Cheese
*Note: If you are making this for more than 5 people or bringing this to a large gathering, I would suggest doubling the amounts as this is not a big dish.

1 (7 to 8 oz.) red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, halved divided
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup drained mild Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tbs. brine reserved
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella
8 oz. medium shell pasta or gemelli
optional:  1/4 tsp. ground ancho chiles

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper and 1 1/2 garlic cloves to boil in a small saucepan.  Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes.

Toast panko breadcrumbs in a skillet over medium heat until golden, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes.  Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm.  Rub 1 tbs. butter into crumbs to coat.  Mix in 1/4 cup of Parmesan.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor.  Add Peppadews and 1 tbs. brine, 2 tbs. butter, ground chiles (if adding), and 1/2 garlic clove; then add cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Blend until sauce is smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Butter 8-cup baking dish.

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite.  Drain; return to pot. Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon pasta into dish.  Sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake pasta until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes.

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer Series: Peanut Butter Mud Bars

I can't believe next weekend is Memorial weekend and the kick-off to summer!!! Where does the time go? I love this time of year and all that goes with it-- warm weather, grilling out, the beach, pool parties, fresh produce, lightning bugs, 4th of July fireworks, and the list goes on and on! Since many are heading off to bbq's and parties next weekend and, like me, are always looking for good tried and true but easy recipes to make for your events, I am going to be featuring some of my favorite good but easy dishes to make for your family and friends this week.  I've created a label for this called "summer series" so you can access them easily.  I plan on adding to this as the summer goes on so check back to see what other goodies I have up my sleeve.

First up are these Peanut Butter Mud Bars.  These are sort of a cross between a blondie and a candy bar and combine peanut butter, chocolate and white chocolate chips! Yum, right? Because you bake these in a 9x13 pan and then slice when done, they are quicker to make than your typical drop cookie.  I am a big fan of blondies especially when they combine peanut butter and white chocolate.  These would be great to take to a picnic or bbq.

Peanut Butter Mud Bars

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup vanilla or white chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

2 tbs. chocolate chips
2 tbs. vanilla or white chocolate chips
2 tbs. peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease and lightly flour a 9x13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Beat in the peanut butter until well mixed.  Add the egg and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and incorporate thoroughly.  Stir in the chocolate chips, 1/4 cup of the peanut butter chips, 1/4 cup of the white chocolate chips and the nuts.  Spread mixture evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup peanut butter and white chocolate chips on top of the bars.  Allow to sit for a minute or two until they start to melt.  Smooth out the chips with a rubber spatula.

Cool for 20 minutes and sprinkle the topping chips evenly over the surface.  Let cool completely before cutting and serving.

Adapted from The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook

Monday, May 16, 2011

Strawberry Pound Cake with Cream Cheese Glaze

Strawberry season is upon us and I couldn't be happier about it! I haven't been able to go to the strawberry patch and pick some of my own yet but hope to in the next couple of weeks because nothing is better than eating strawberries that have fully ripened in the sun and that you've picked yourself.  

I thought I'd play around with my sour cream pound cake recipe since strawberries were on sale this week and they were overflowing in my refrigerator.  I tossed some diced strawberries in some powdered sugar and allowed them to macerate for a little on the counter while I was preparing to bake so that they'd be as flavorful as possible.  Then I folded them into my cake batter.  Finally I thought I'd guild the lily and add a cream cheese glaze from another bundt cake recipe that I'd seen awhile ago on one of my favorite blogs, My Baking Addiction.  This glaze is fantastic and so easy to whip up! It was also so thick and shiny and added just the touch I was looking for to finish off my cake. I think I'll be looking for things to make so I can use this glaze because its a new and definite favorite! 

I was very happy with how my pound cake turned out.  The strawberries made the cake nice and moist and added such nice bites of pleasant sweetness.  I used two cups, but this cake is so big, I probably could have used 2 1/2.  It looked so pretty too with the speckles of deep red peeking out and the fluffy white icing on top.  This is perfect for spring and I can't wait to make this again with some sun-ripened Virginia strawberries! 

Strawberry Pound Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 3/4 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 cups cake flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
2 to 2 1/2 cups diced strawberries tossed with 1 to 2 tbs. powdered sugar (to taste)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan or spray with Baker's Joy.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  Add eggs, two at a time, beating after each addition.

In a separate bowl, sift cake flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add this mixture to wet ingredients, alternating with the sour cream.  Add vanilla and beat for 2 minutes or until ingredients are mixed well. Fold in diced strawberries.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake at 325 degrees until cake leaves the sides of the pan about 45 mins- 1 hour.  Allow cake to cool in pan before removing. Invert onto a a wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting. 

Cream Cheese Glaze
1 (4 oz.) package of cream cheese, softened
1 tbs. unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbs. milk

Mix the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk in a bowl until smooth.  The mixture will be thick.  Heat the icing in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.  Stir icing and drizzle over cake.  The icing will harden slightly after the cake has been frosted and form a shiny thick glaze for your cake.

Icing recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

I have some catching up to do and apologies to make regarding these awards because I'm horribly behind in writing my post and acknowledging the wonderful talented bloggers who were kind enough to pass them along to me!

First, I would like to thank Marelie at Cookie Droplets.  She gave me the Stylish Blogger award.  Marelie blogs from Singapore but is originally from the Philippines.  I love reading her blog to see the delicious Filipino Creole dishes she specializes in.  Her love of food and flavors really comes through in her blog and I know you all will enjoy visiting her site.

Now, I would like to say thank you and recognize the two blogs From my Sweet Heart and Gastronome Tart who nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Please check out these outstanding blogs.  Both of these ladies are so talented and are always cooking up dishes that make my mouth water! It has been great getting to know all three of the ladies behind these blogs over the past few months.

So, this award dictates that I share some factoids about myself so here goes:

1. We have a little Burmese cat named Bella who likes to play fetch.  I didn't know cats could fetch until we adopted her!
2.  I love the ocean and feel "homesick" if I don't see it enough.
3.  Parks and Recreation is my favorite show on TV right now.  It kind of makes me want to live in Pawnee, IN if there were such a place.
4.  I'm originally from Florida
5.  I'm addicted to finding cute cupcake liners.  I really need an intervention.
6.  I love this time of year and all of the good produce that's yet to come for the summer!
7.  I have a gigantic coffee mug that I love to drink my coffee from in the morning.  I'm very sad when its in the dishwasher.  Such attachment to a mug, I know its weird!

Now I'd like to pass this award on to some of the other blogs that I enjoy reading.  Please be sure to check out their sites for some reading and recipe enjoyment!

1.  The Orange Bee
2.  Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker
3.  From a Writer's Kitchen
4.  Kitchen Groovy
5.  Chris's Gourmet Fashion
6.  Deelicious Sweets
7.  California Living
8.  Bakeaway with Me
9.  Tricia and Nana Cooking with Dorie
10. Apples and Twinkies
11. Poet in the Pantry
12. Yummy Chunklet
13. Alchemy in the Kitchen
14. The French Whisk
15. Sunshine and Smile

Congrats everyone!

FFwD: Spinach and Bacon Quiche

Ok, so my version of this week's recipe isn't the prettiest dish I've ever made but it sure tasted good.  I'm a big quiche fan and was really excited about this  recipe-- and the fact that this version includes bacon? All the better!  Don't let my un-pretty results lead you to believe that this wasn't delicious! This recipe starts out with Dorie's recipe for savory tart crust.  I'm glad that so many of our recipes use some sort of pastry because that is an area of cooking that I'd really like to improve on. I'm definitely feeling more comfortable with it now than when I first started in this group.  The savory tart crust recipe is pretty straightforward.  The longest part was having to wait while the dough chilled and then allow it to chill again once you've rolled it out and pressed it into the tart pan.

This quiche uses a mixture of steamed spinach, crisp bacon, onion, and garlic to give it its flavor.  Then you make a custard with eggs and heavy cream.  When I think of quiche I think of a thicker, more egg-based filling but this recipe uses only 2 eggs-- something I had to look twice at to make sure I was reading it correctly.  I liked the results because that delicious spinach and bacon filling was not masked by egg as can sometimes happen with quiche.  The egg custard mixture really just provided a cohesive filling to pull the whole tart together but was not over-powering.

The result was different than any other quiche that I've made but my husband and I both loved this.  The flavors really were delicious and complemented each other and right before baking you add freshly grated Parmesan cheese which turned all bubbly on the top- Delicious!

I do have a question for others in the group (or anyone else), I followed the directions for the tart dough and partially bake the crust-- chilled for over an hour, tried not to stretch the dough, etc. and used baking weights, etc.-- and my crust still shrunk in the oven.  What am I doing wrong?

To see the other delicious versions of spinach and bacon quiche from those in the group, click here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake

I originally intended to make this last week to have as a blog post for the week of Cinco de Mayo but couldn't get my act together to have all of the ingredients in the house.  Then I deliberated with myself, should I hold this recipe for next year or just go ahead and post it late.  In the end, I decided to go ahead and make it because I've had my eye on this since I flagged this in the November edition of Southern Living and just couldn't wait anymore.  Cinnamon and chocolate is a favorite flavor combination of mine and this big old pound cake looked delicious sitting on its stand in the picture in the magazine. it As you can probably see from my blog, I do love a good pound cake recipe! I'm glad I went ahead and made it because this cake was really good, the melted chocolate and chocolate syrup made it nice and moist and combined nicely with the little hint of cinnamon.  It was a very mild taste of cinnamon so when I make this next time, I may increase the amount to 1 1/2 tsp instead of the 1 tsp. the recipe called for-- so just if you are a big cinnamon fan like I am you may want to do the same.  I also think this would be good with some chocolate chips thrown in to add some crunch and because one can't ever have enough chocolate right?

I don't know about you but now that we are getting close to Memorial Day, I start scouting out good, easy recipes that I can make for summer barbecues and get-togethers.  This recipe is going in the pile as a go-to, easy recipe for this summer.  Its versatile,  would be a nice ending to a Tex-Mex meal or a barbecue, and the cake could be dressed up with the addition of sliced strawberries and whipped cream or chocolate sauce (or all three).

Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake

1 (8-oz.) package semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup chocolate syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
Optional- add 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Microwave chocolate baking squares in a microwave-safe bowl at High for 1 minute and 15 seconds stirring every 15 seconds or until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer 2 minutes or until creamy.  Gradually add granulated sugar, beating 5 to 7 minutes or until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears after each addition.  Stir in melted chocolate, chocolate syrup, and vanilla until smooth.

Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.  Add to butter mixture alternatively with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.  Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Add chocolate chips if desired. Pour batter into a greased and floured 14 cup tube pan.

Bake at 325 degrees F for 60-70 minutes or until a long wooden stick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a wire rack 10-15 minutes.  Remove cake from pan onto wire rack and let cool completely (about 1 hour and 30 minutes).  Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Adapted from Southern Living

This recipe is linked to Frugal Antics of a Harried Housewife's post, "Your Recipe, My Kitchen." Head on over and check out all of the other yummy recipes!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lightened Mexican Chicken Casserole

So, Cinco de Mayo is in a couple of days and I'm starting to see lots of yummy looking recipes for everyone's favorite Mexican dishes popping up on a lot of food blogs I regularly read.  I thought I'd offer up this recipe in honor of the week that also happens to be another of my favorite Weight Watcher Point's-friendly dishes.  I love this casserole because its another one of those dishes that tastes like something that's completely indulgent and fattening and you think, "this has to be blowing my diet" but ITS NOT! It even has several types of cheese in it! A total win/win situation!  You don't even have to tell your family this is a "light" recipe because I guarantee they won't know the difference.  

This is a good sized casserole that yields about 8 servings.  We find we usually enjoy this more the day after its cooked so all of the flavors have had a chance to meld together. 

Mexican Chicken Casserole

1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 (4.5 oz) cans chopped green chiles, divided ( I only had 4 oz. cans and they worked fine)
1 3/4 pounds skinned, boned chicken breasts
2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup evaporated skim milk
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 cup (2 oz.) tub-style light cream cheese
1 (10 oz) can enchilada sauce
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
cooking spray
1/2 cup (2 oz) shredded reduced fat- extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 oz. tortilla chips, crushed (the recipe says this is about 6 chips but on the brand I used, 1 oz= 12 chips so depends on the kind and size of chip)

Combine broth and 1 can of chiles in a large skillet; bring to a boil.  Add chicken; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until chicken is done, turning chicken once.  Remove chicken from cooking liquid, reserving cooking liquid; cool chicken.  Shred meat with 2 forks, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 can of chiles and onion; saute 3 minutes or until soft.  Add reserved cooking liquid, milk, Monterey Jack, cream cheese, and enchilada sauce; stir well.  Stir in shredded chicken; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place 4 tortillas in the bottom of a 2 quart casserole coated with cooking spray.  Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture over tortillas.  Repeat layers twice, ending with chicken mixture.  Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and chips.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information:  1 cup= 9 Weight Watcher's Points Plus (35.6g protein, 31.3, carbohydrates, 11.4g fat, 3g fiber).

Adapted from Cooking Light

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