Monday, May 19, 2014

Cochinita Pibil--Mexican Pulled Pork

A while ago I watched a video on this dish, and while I've never tried it before, and never cooked pulled pork, I really wanted to try this. Partially for those two reasons--I really enjoy trying something new and different, and this has two new things for me to try. Plus it is basically served as tacos at the end--which I know I like, so not a big risk. I hadn't gotten to it for a while, because of the fear of the meat--what cut should I use? Will it be fatty? Am I going to gain a gazillion pounds from this dish? Anyways, I found a package of pork picnic roasts on sale at the store on Friday and that is the cut for this dish--and 4$ for 3.5 lbs, it was a deal I couldn't resist! So here is my attempt--we'll have to see if it makes me gain a gazillion pounds!

This is a recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday with some variations, though I also drew on his longer recipe on-line.

1/2 package achiote seasoning
juice of one lime, half of one orange, half of one lemon
lime zest
3 lbs pork picnic roast
1 1/2 yellow onion, chopped roughly
4-5 garlic cloves
cumin, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper

This is actually pretty simple--if each step takes a while to work before moving to the next, it is much less work overall then I would have thought. First mix up the marinate--which is mostly just the achiote paste. I bought the paste a while ago, when I first started thinking about this dish, and it is an interesting flavor profile--it already has some spices in--I added more to get the flavor I wanted. It went into my mini blender with a couple of cloves of garlic, the lime zest, the lime, lemon, and orange juice, salt and pepper, some cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. This is blended smooth and poured over the roast.

It will stain your hands, so I put the roast (trimmed of obvious fat concentrations) in a gallon zip lock bag and then just poured the marinade in the bag over the roast, being careful not to get it on me. Then I can zip the top and really rub the marinate in. That goes in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours to really get the flavors in. My roast was actually two roasts in one package, so even more flavor can get into the meat.

When you are ready to cook the roast, toss half an onion roughly chopped in the bottom of your crock pot, then dump the roast on top and the marinade.The rest of the onion is sprinkled on top of the roast, and then I added half a cup of water to the bag to get the rest of the marinade out and poured that over the onions. I added a few pealed cloves of garlic to the sauce as well.

That cooks on high for about 6 hours, though I turned it over at about 4 hours and it was well on its way. I turned it down to low at that point for another three hours. Once it is done, I took the roasts out and put them on a plate with all the onions. Then I strained some fat off the top of the liquid, and reduced the rest to make a slightly thicker sauce. The meat is basically crumbling at this point, so I used my fingers to shred it and then poured the sauce over the pork.

The Verdict: This is a new flavor for me--sour and citrusy, a little sweet from the orange, but not spicy at all. It does go well with spicy, but isn't of itself very spicy. A little goes a long way in a taco shell, especially if you serve it with roasted veggies, as I did. Which will hopefully keep me from ballooning as I eat it all week!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Something Spicy--Mexican Chocolate Cookies

This weekend I went a little south of the boarder, and in honor of this, I decided to make a sweet treat to go with the meal. I found this recipe in a book I'd checked out of the library, Everyday Baking, by CookingLight I did make it a little lighter by using some sugar substitute and egg substitute. These are small cookies, but have a really good chocolate flavor, with just a little kick of spice. They give you that happy yummy feel.

5 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
3.3 oz all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
dash of freshly ground pepper
dash of ground red pepper
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c stevia baking substitute
1/4 c egg substitute
1/4 c butter softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

First get the oven heated to 350, and then melt the chocolate in the microwave. I ended up using half unsweetened chocolate and half semi-sweet, of a really high quality chocolate. Since this is so chocolate centered I wanted to highlight the chocolate flavor.

The dry ingredients are sifted into a bowl. The trick with this recipe is that a dash of the black pepper and hot pepper could be different each time--this time it was just right, a pretty generous sprinkle of both.

In a second bowl, the butter and sugars are creamed. I'm getting better at this and creamed it together for the 5 minutes the recipe suggested, until it was good and fluffy. Then the egg substitute and vanilla are beat in until smooth. At that point the chocolate should be room temperature--if not the butter will melt and the egg will cook, so don't put warm chocolate in! Fold it into the batter, and then gently fold the dry ingredients until just mixed.

This made a really thick batter--almost like a fudge, so it would be good to use a small scoop to portion out of about one tablespoon. They didn't spread much, so I was able to fit them all on two pans. They bake for about 10-11 minutes, and then set on the pan for another two minutes to set. I found them to be pretty soft, so you could possible cook a bit longer.

The Verdict: YUM! Just a hint of spice, just a hint of heat, the dark luscious chocolate is satisfying in just a small amount. I'm looking forward to enjoying these as part of my south of the boarder feast!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thai Green Curry Sauce

Rather than purchasing a bottled sauce, I found two different recipes in my cookbook libraries to make a Thai Green Curry sauce. While the list of ingredients was sort of long, it is actually a pretty simple to make--as long as you have a blender and a good knife! It took me some time to find all the ingredients, but I really enjoyed my time at the Asian Market, wandering around, poking around the produce bins, peering at labels, and enjoying imagining what I could make with all these different flavors.

3 large poblano chillis
2 medium Serrano chillis
10 fresh green Thai chillis
2 stalks lemongrass
bunch thai basil
1 shallot diced
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs grated ginger
1 tbs grated galangal
2 tbs chopped cilantro
4 kaffir lime leaves
ground black pepper

Depending on how hot you want this, you can vary which peppers you use. The little Thai chilis are super hot, so they go pretty far, which is why I used a milder, larger chili like the poblano. I deseeded the larger chilis and roughly chopped them--the Thai chilis went in seeds and all, just the stems came off.

The garlic, ginger, and shallot are peeled--and I used a microplane to grate the ginger and galangal. Everything else is roughly chopped and tossed with the fish sauce (the original recipe called for shrimp paste, which I didn't have.)

 I used my blender and pureed it into a very smooth paste. This is a complex sauce, not just spicy, redolent of so many different flavors. This can be used in a number of different dishes--I used it in two different ones.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beef Stir Fry with Two Kinds of Mushrooms

I've written before about how much I enjoy portobella mushrooms, big or small, but I have to admit that besides the little white mushrooms, I've not eaten a lot of different types. So this weekend I ventured to an Asian market near my work, and found a package of oyster mushrooms for only 2$, I figured I should try them. I was able to find all of the ingredients, including the Chu Hou paste at the market, as well as lots of other veggies that I'll use in other dishes. As my goal is to learn to cook different dishes and different flavors, I wanted to follow the recipe exactly, but I ended up adjusting the seasoning at the end to enhance the taste.

3/4 lbs beef flank steak
1 green bell pepper chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup bamboo shoots sliced thin
8 oz baby bellas
8 oz oyster mushrooms
1 lbs asparagus chopped
3 cloves roasted garlic grated
1/2 c chicken stock
2 tbs chu hou paste
soy sauce
rice wine vinegar
red pepper flakes
white pepper and salt

So I guess I lied when I said I followed the recipe exactly--or really I just kept the seasonings the same at first, and then added more at the end to get it where I wanted. A couple of hours before I cooked the steak, I put it in a plastic bag with a tablespoon of the chu hou paste, a dash of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and some crushed roasted garlic. I left that to marinate in the fridge for several hours.

This is a really quick stir fry--first the veggies are chopped. It said to pull the stems off of the mushrooms and just chop the cap, but I wasn't sure what part was which with the oyster mushrooms so I used the whole thing.The bamboo shoots were also new to me--I bought slender shoots, and then chopped them into quarters and then in half.

First the pan is heated up on high, then the steak is quickly seared, then taken out of the pan. Then the mushrooms, asparagus, and broth are added to the pot (if I did this again, I'd add some seasonings at this point). I used four of the homemade frozen stock cubes for the broth--makes it easy to have just a little without wasting the whole can. The lid is put on, covering the veggies and letting them steam until tender. Then the peppers and bamboo shoots are added and cooked very briefly.

After all the veggies are in the pan, the steak and cho hou paste are added to the pan and cooked until the steak is cooked through. At this point, I tasted again and found that it was generally underwhelming in seasoning. So I added a dash of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, ginger, white pepper, and salt. I also served it with a good amount of siracha. Turns out I like it pretty spicy.

The Verdict: The meat was the most flavorful part of the whole dish due to the marinating, so if you make this, I'd add the chu hou, soy, and rice wine vinegar and garlic to the veggies during the initial cooking. It was also pretty soupy, so I may omit or reduce the broth, since you don't want to cook it off and over cook the veggies. The bamboo shoots added a nice texture, though they don't seem to have any particularly strong flavor. Both of the mushrooms were good--the oyster mushrooms were a little texturally different from the portobella mushrooms, but both were good.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Healthy Yogurt Muffins

So after playing around with a cake mix, I wanted to play around with some recipes. People always say that cake mixes aren't the time savers they claim to be, that from scratch can be just as fast. So I thought I'd see--plus I wanted to try using the mini donut pan I bought! I have two cookbooks with lemon yogurt muffin recipes--very different approaches, though both claim to be healthy and low calorie. At first I'd planned on a half batch of each, but ended up accidentally adding too much at one point of yogurt, so ended up with full batches.

Lime-Pomegranate Yogurt Muffins


1 c whole wheat bread flour
1 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
`1/4 c granulated sugar
3 tbs light butter
1/3 c egg subsitiute
1 c fat free pomegranate Greek style yogurt
2 limes juiced and zested


1 lime juice and zest
confectioners sugar

 The butter and sugar are creamed together, then the egg, yogurt, lime juice, apple sauce, and lime zest are added. In another bowl, the dry ingredients are sifted together and then quickly added to the moist ingredients. This makes a pretty thick batter--more like a dough. Which was pretty hard to get into the donut tin.These bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes. Since they aren't very sweet, I dipped them in a little lime juice and powdered sugar.

Verdict: In making this, I used up the leftovers of the substitutions I'd used in the cake mix experimentation, so it was a little off from the original. I did think it was a little doughy and heavy--the wheat made it taste "healthy" not in a good way. It is very muffiny--heavy not light, and didn't work well in the donut mold.

Lemon Cornmeal Muffins


3/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c light butter
1/4 c egg substitute
lemon juice and zest from one lemon
1/4 c lite coconut milk
1 c all purpose flour
1/4 c cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 c non-fate light lemon yogurt
1/2 c mixed berries
leftover blueberry lemon compote

Beat the wet ingredients together in a large bowl. In a different bowl mix the dry ingredients--I followed the recipe exactly, except I added the salt--it seems baking needs some salt. Then quickly combine the two, being careful not to overbeat. This is a much looser batter--and I poured it in a bag so I could better distribute it into the donut pan. It is important not to overfill the pan, so I put a bit in each and baked them for 12 minutes.

They cook fast, so keep an eye on it. The donuts are really small, so this made 46 mini donuts--some of which I added fruit to, some I added sauce, and some I did plain. I also topped some with leftover blueberry lemon compote after cooking.

The Verdict: These worked perfectly in the pan, turned out light and airy, with just a bit of a crunch from the cornmeal. Whether plain or with berries, they are tart and delicious. There is only one downside to these, they are small so it is easy to turn around and discover you've eaten 10. The good thing is that is still fewer calories than a large bakery muffin. This is a recipe I'd make again and again--the very best baked good I've made all weekend long!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Spinach, Onion, and Mushroom Whole Wheat Pizza

 So I was trying to decide what to do with my leftover caramelized onions, and I realized that with all the bread books I've checked out from the library, I cold combine the onions with baking and make a pizza. Of course I had this brainstorm at work on Friday, when I wouldn't have time to throw together a crust for dinner that night. But on Saturday I got up first thing and threw one together--I selected the recipe from the Cooks Illustrated Baking Illustrated book, because it had an option for whole wheat and had instructions for kneading by hand.

Dough Ingredients:

1/2 c warm water (110 degrees)
1 envelope instant yeast
1 1/4 c room temperature water
2 tbs olive oil
11 oz bread flour
11 oz whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

The warm water and yeast is combined in a large measuring cup and left to sit for 5 minutes until it had foamed and activated. Then the rest of the water and oil are added in to combine. Add half of the flour and salt to a large bowl and all of the liquid ingredients and using a large spoon combine. Then add the rest and mix until all the flour is absorbed, then dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Then knead the dough until smooth, about 7 minutes.

 The dough goes into an oiled bowl and rises for about 2 hours, or until doubled. At this point it can be divided into three portions and refrigerated or frozen or baked into a pizza! I froze two portions, and put one into the fridge for pizza!

Before I got to making my pizza, I put my pizza stone in the oven and cranked the temperature to 500 degrees. It needs time to preheat so the stone will have the heat to get a crispy crust. The dough also needs to come out of the fridge and come to room temperature.


1 1/2 c chopped frozen spinach thawed and drained
8 oz  brown mushrooms chopped
1 c caramelized onions
3 cloves garlic finely diced
red pepper
thyme and rosemary
salt and pepper
1/4 c lowfat ricotta
1/3 c 2% Italian cheese blend

The minced garlic, red pepper, and mushrooms go in a frying pan and are cooked until fragrant and the mushrooms start to brown. Then the onions and spinach are added, with the rosemary, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. This cooks for a bit to get the flavors into the onions and mushrooms.

While that is cooking, the dough which has to be brought to room temperature before being used, can be spread. I put some flour on the counter and used my hands to spread it--the Baking Illustrated has a really nice illustration of how to do this.

It goes on a cornmeal dusted surface--I don't have a pizza peal, so I used the back of a sheet pan.It didn't work well for transferring to the oven. Once the dough is spread the spinach mixture is added to the top of the dough, leaving an edge around. I dotted the top with ricotta and transferred the pie to the stone, which is easier said than done, and let it cook for 12 minutes. My nicely shaped pie got all distorted, but it still tasted good! Once it was out of the oven, I sprinkled on the mixed Italian Cheeses.

The Verdict: This is a delicious pizza, with a nice crispy crust, and a good balance of toppings. When I make the next one I think I'll add some olives to give it a bit of a salty kick. It is nice to have the two balls of dough in the freezer, so I can pull them out and have pizza that evening.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Experimenting with Cake Mix

In my stash of cookbooks I have two that are focused on mixing up cake mixes to make something better or different, I found the idea for this little science project in one called 101 Things to Do With a Cake Mix. It said simply white cake mix one cup yogurt. Now I've seen the pictures all over Pinterest of the Greek Yogurt and cake mix recipe, so I was curious. Hungry Girl had a newsletter with 5 different substitutions for the eggs and oil in a cake mix, and I was curious to see how well they would work. Naturally I don't want to make 5 different cakes, but I figured a 16 oz cake mix would divide into 4 portions easily--and I could try 4 different ratios to compare.

The number one tool that made this work was my food scale--which helped me divide the cake mix and figure out the amount of liquid ingredients to add to each.


1 box moist style white cake mix
zest and juice of tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, and lime
unsweetened coconut
Egg substitute
apple sauce
lite coconut milk
pink grapefruit flavored no-calorie sparkling water
key lime flavored Greek yogurt

So I divided the cake mix into 4 bowls with about 4 oz in each. The mix is really lumpy, so I used a fine mesh strainer to break up the lumps. I chose a different citrus for each batch, and added some zest to each to pull out the flavor. The ratio is 4 oz of cake mix to 4 oz of liquid.

Batch 1:
Cake Mix
Lime Zest
Key lime Fat Free Greek Yogurt
Lite coconut milk

Batch 2:
Cake Mix
grapefruit zest
pink grapefruit flavored no-calorie sparkling water

Batch 3:
Cake Mix
tangerine zest
tangerine juice
lite coconut milk

Batch 4:
Cake Mix
lemon zest
egg substitute

 The nice thing about this experiment is that each batch was just enough batter to mix up in my cereal bowls. I made these in my new mini muffin pan--and mini donut pan though I didn't succeed with that so used the mini muffin tin for most. It was difficult to figure the cooking time, so I think the first batch that came out poorly is partially a need for a few more minutes in the oven to give it more structure since it is so soft anyways.

The Verdict: The best is absolutely the one with the egg substitute and apple sauce. It tastes just like what one would expect with a cake mix made with egg and oil. It also has the best texture and color. Next is the coconut milk and juice--the texture was not as good, it was more crumbly and most didn't come out of the pans in one piece. But it still had good color, flavor, and more cake like texture. The soda one was very soft, almost mushy, didn't rise well, and had a more unpleasant taste. I love the fake ruby red grapefruit flavor, so it wasn't just that, they just tasted gross. The very worst, however, was the yogurt one. It was so gross that I put the leftovers down the drain. It was soggy, mushy, tasted off and while it raised more than the soda one, it didn't get a good texture. After these were mostly so bad, I wanted to try two recipes from scratch to compare. I'll post on those next!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Baked Kibbeh and Carmelized Onions

I went to graduate school in Ohio, and at that time did a lot more eating out than I do now. Mediterranean food was one of my favorites--pita, felafel, hummus, and kibbeh. So when I saw a recipe for a baked kibbeh that was pretty easy, I wanted to give it a try. The kibbeh I used to eat was a fried beef fritter, cinnamon scented and flavorful. This recipe is baked and uses lamb--though I added some beef as the ground lamb was over 8 dollars a pound. I also changed the recipe by making the caramelized onions in the slow cooker--which actually worked and only ended up with one night overwhelming onion scented apartment.


2/3 c cracked bulgar wheat
1/2 lbs lamb
1/4 lbs beef
1 large onion
 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper

Lots of onions
1/4 c pinenuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
salt and pepper

So this recipe has two parts, and I made them on two different days, bringing them together on a third day. Though it really isn't a complicated recipe, I just spread it out. One the first day I made the kibbeh base, the second I caramelized the onions, and the third I brought it all together.

First the bulgur needs to be rinsed and drained, and set aside to dry. The onion is peeled and then pureed, and added to the meat, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and a bit of allspice. I used my immersion blender to blend it all to a paste. Even though I used ground beef and ground lamb, this took some doing to break down the gristle. Once that was a paste, the bulgur is added and blended again.

This mixture is pressed into a baking dish--a large tart pan would work, or a 9x13 inch dish, which is what I used. Then it is scored. At this point I covered the pan and froze it until I was ready to cook.

So as I was contemplating making this dish, I was researching caramelized onions for tips and tricks, since I've never done it before. Somewhere on line I read that you could do it in a crock pot, and that it would be hands off and produce lovely caramelized onions with much less work. Well, of course I had to give it a try and since my crock pot is enormous I had to get a bunch of onions!

Monday night, around 10 pm when I was off of work, I chopped 5 lbs or so of onions and filled my crock pot to the brim. I pre-sprayed the pot with cooking spray before hand, but didn't add anything else. I cooked them on low all night long--and my apartment smelled SO strongly of onions I had to shut the bedroom door. In the morning I drained a bunch of the liquid and then I turned them down to warm when I went to work for another 9 hours. When I got home I cranked it to hot with the lid off to get any remaining liquid.

I didn't use all of the onions in this topping, though there is no shortage of things one can do with a lovely pot of caramelized onions! For the topping I toasted the pinenuts in a hot pan and then added a bunch of the onions, the cinnamon, salt and pepper, and a bit of allspice.

The kibbeh base goes in a 375 degree oven until it turns brown on top and is cooked through--depending on how thick it is in the pan will change how long it needs to cook. I overcooked mine, because I didn't check it quickly enough, so be careful. The kibbeh base is topped with the onion pinenut mixture. I served it with zucchini fritters and leftover spinach salad.

The Verdict: Fragrant and delicious--it isn't the same as what I had in Columbus, but it was still the same flavors. The cinnamon in the meat really worked, especially with the onions. If I did it again,I'd use more of the onions for the topping and increase the amount of topping.