Cherry-Chipotle chops!

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Terrible photo, but I made chops with a delicious cherry-chipotle white wine pan sauce. Super easy and amazing.

Rub the porkchops with cumin and salt. Sear them in a HOT pan on all sides. Deglaze with white wine, add about 2 T of rough chopped chipotles en adobo, and 2 T of cherry preserves (mine are a fancy version of Smuckers) and a nice heavy tablespoon of dijon. Turn off your pan (if you have a heavy pan to cook them in) and cover (if you don’t turn the heat down and let it cook for like 3 more minutes covered).

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Cochinita Pibíl

I decided to dust off the keyboard for this tasty and traditional Yucatecan-Myan dish. Scouring my walk-in meat cooler, I was dismayed to find that I was fresh out of lechón, cochinita, or suckling pig as needed, and in even more of a dire need of a fire pit. Never fear though, I decided to improvise, as I am sure any clever Mayan would have in a pinch. I was, however, lucky enough to chance upon banana leaves-nature’s tinfoil, used by man for a millenia, to swaddle various meats, tamales, and many other delicacies while cooking. The flavors used while cooking cochinita are similar to al Pastor. They are heavy on the achiote (annatto) and the acid.  The acid tenderizes the meat, and the fattiness of the pork mellows the acid with time and slow cooking.

Traditionally, in the Yucatan, Seville Oranges are used. They are very bitter acidic. I was not bitter at all when I discovered they were not to be found. Instead, I decided to substitute oranges, limes and a little apple cider vinegar for my cause. I also minced some garlic, toasted and ground pepper, cloves, and cumin, and added some Mexican oregano to the mix. The other key ingredient was achiote or annatto paste. El Yucateco makes a lovely little brick in various sizes, with a happy little chef and a happy little cochinita on it. I broke that up into smaller pieces, and then I added all of the ingredients to my blender cup. BuZzZzzzzZZ! Then that is it! On to the meats, the delicious meats….

The first time around, I did not choose the right meat, rather, my store didn’t have the meat I wanted available. I think that I got mostly loin or something really lean. Since traditionally, it is made with the whole pig, you have to consider that there would be a fair deal of fat with it, even if it is just delicious and tender baby piglet fat. The next time, I vowed to set things right with a fatty cut like pork butt, and kept my promise with much better results.

I doused the pork in the marinade and let it chill out for a while.

I tore the banana leaves,which I found in the freezer section of my Mexican Grocery Store, into pieces that fit the baking dish that I used. I alternated directions between layers.

I added the pork, and tossed in a dozen or so bay leaves into the banana leaf bundle.

I tucked the cochinita into bed by folding each layer into the other.

I finished using the left over scraps to tuck underneath the whole bundle. It looked so beautiful, I wanted to cradle it in my arms like a new-born babe.

Instead, I placed it in a 300° F oven and baked it for about 4 hours (or more, if you can bare it). At one point, I was concerned about the leaves getting too dry, so I poured some warm water over the leaves. In the end,  I dont think it really mattered.

While the pork was cooking away, I pickled some red onion cut in a very fine Julienne. I just squeezed a lime, added a dash of apple cider vinegar, and a heavy pinch of salt. Normally, I would have also made an Habanero salsa for the cochinita, but I had just made Chile de Arból salsa, and I wanted to be thrifty.

I have since made an Habanero salsa with a happy result. I toasted about 4-5 Habanero and 5-6 big garlic cloves still in their papers in a hot skillet until charred. I deveined and seeded the Habaneros with gloves since I had some lying around. I also peeled and rough chopped the garlic. I added about 3/4 of a cup of the same mix of lime, orange and vinegar-mix to taste with a little bit of salt.  I blended it just enough to break up the big chunks. It is totally worth it, if you are debating whether or not to spring for it, and so simple.

When I was sure that the meat was fally-aparty-good, I took my little bundle of joy out of the oven. Then I unwrapped it and took a horrible picture of it….

This was the point that I realized the meat was way too lean. It had a similar texture to shredded chicken breast. If that is what you are into, by all means go for it, but I wanted something a little more flavorful and fatty. I’m not here to judge.

I finished the whole thing toasting off some delicious corn tortillas on a hot dry skillet, filling them with the cochinita, the salsa, the onions and a few cilantro leaves. Perfection.


Sopes de Papa y Chorizo con una Margarita de Toronja

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This was super easy and awesome. Now that I have them down, sopes can easily become one of my “easy dinner” options….Hooray!!


Pan de Muerto

Today until tomorrow, November 1 and November 2nd, are considered los Dias de los Muertos in Mexico, a few other parts of the world and in my apartment in Chicago. There are links to the holiday in both Pre-Hispanic and Post-Conquest Mexico. The Aztecs had a day to celebrate it, and the Spaniards celebrated All Saints Day on the 1st of the month. Naturally, the cultures blended, by choice or not, and today the “holiday” is celebrated over two days, “Dia de los Inocentes” (Innocents, as in children, who were free of sin when they passed), and “Dia de los Muertos” (Adults who were lost). Mexicans, typically further south and in more indigenous areas typically celebrate the days by making altars for specific lost loved ones. They offer them food, drinks and things that they loved in life. They open their homes to invite the spirits in to visit them and the food and drink are there to nourish them.  Many, then, go to the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of those loved ones. In this way, they are coming to terms with their own mortality, while ensuring the tradition to be passed to the further generations. Death is not something to be feared, it is something that can bring families together, it can be a way to remember someone forever.

Traditionally for these days, semi-sweet breads are made in Mexico, as offerings for the dead. They are called Pan de Muerto. I found the recipe for the rich dough in From my Mexican Kitchen by Diana Kennedy, and I only slightly modified it to my liking. It ended up a lot like a brioche dough.

Into my mixing bowl with the dough hook attachment, I put:

2 Cups AP Flour

1 Scant teaspoon of Sea Salt

In a smaller bowl:

1 oz Sugar (2 T)

1 1/2 teaspoon Dry Yeast

1/4 Cup (plus a touch more) Body Temperature Water

1 1/2  Eggs Room Temperature

I whisked those all together and let the sugar feed the yeast for a little bit (10 Minutes).

Then I mixed that all together on low for about 5 minutes to make sure everything was incorporated, elastic and shiny. Next, I buttered a bowl (and should have buttered some plastic wrap, but I forgot, so my starter stuck to it as you will see later), and placed the starter, which I formed into a ball in the bowl.

I then covered it with plastic and a pilfered table napkin from a fancy restaurant and let the starter rest in a warm spot for 90 minutes or so.

Once the starter has doubled in size, I begin the actual dough.

See? It isn’t a big deal, it’s just a starter. So, next, you will want to tear this ball up and add it back to the mixing bowl. Also:

1/2 Cup Sugar

4 1/2 oz Room Temperature Butter

Mix that all together until it makes a sloppy dough, then alternate:

2 Cups Flour

4 Yolks with a Splash of Water

Also:

1/2 Orange Zested (save the other half for the glaze)

Mix all of this until a nice elastic dough is formed. It should stand up on it’s own though.

Put it back in the bowl to rest covered and greased again for another 90 minutes.

It will have doubled again.

Next, take 3/4 of the dough and form it into a ball, saving the 1/4 for the Calavera or the skull and bones.

I think, traditionally, the skull and bones are not so literal, but I just got a little carried away. I took the small portion of dough for the skull and divided it in three, making a skull with one, and the bones with the other two. I shaped the body of the bread as Diana suggested, although, in the end the rim along the sides, didn’t really show up due to rising.

On greased baking sheet they go under the covers one more time for an hour, just to make sure they are nice and puffy.  Turning my oven on a few minutes before the parts were ready at 375 degrees Ferenheight.

Next, I made a egg wash of yolks (2) and brushed it on the main body before criss-crossing the bones over it. Then I  brushed the bones one more time, trying to not over wash them and leave pools on the bottom of the bread.

Then I layed my skull over the bones. I did one final shaping of the face, then I brushed that too. It was a little creepy, sort of had a terrifying Michael Jackson plastic surgery nose.

While in the oven and starting to smell amazing, I mixed together:

1/4 Cup  Raw Honey

2 T Melted Butter

1/2 Orange Zested (the other half)

(For the glaze)

I let it bake about 20 minutes, then I brushed my first layer of glaze over the whole loaf.

Then I put it back in the oven and let it bake 5 more minutes.

After which, I glazed it pretty heavily then sprinkled it with a touch of sugar, and let it sit in the oven (which I turned off), door open, to cool for about 10 minutes.

I am pretty proud of the end result. It was beautiful, if not a little ridiculous with the corny skull on top. It is a bit too pirate, and seems a little silly to offer to deceased loved ones, but as my first attempt, I hope it will suffice.

I decided to make the altar or ofrenda in honor of my Great Grand Mother, or as we called her Grandma Hoekie. She was the matriarch of my Dad’s family, serving 3 generations of us until well into her 90’s.

She passed away in 2008, living to be 100. She was an amazing lady who did everything she could for her family, even if she wasn’t appreciated by everyone as much as she should be. She is pictured (R) above in 1927 next to the car with her best friend Florence Ball (L), posing like a sassy flapper. The Bakelite bangles above the photo were hers, and when she passed, I asked to take them to remember her by.

In the small dish are some candies, left there as a reminder of many trips on the pontoon boat we took as children. She was always sure to take along blankets for the cold night air and small candies (Hers were usually Hershey’s Minis, but what can I do in a pinch?) for all of us kids and adults. The coffee cup is there, filled half way, the way she liked it, and black.  She was not a lady who enjoyed cold coffee, so it was always half full. The picture in front showing her as I remembered her.

The smell of marigolds as well as copal (an insence) are believed to draw the dead into the home as well. I repurposed my Halloween pumpkin for this. I hope that she is with me today. I often think about her as I am cooking, not that she made a whole lot of traditional Mexican food or anthing. I think about her taking the time to do things the right way. She probably thought that she was just doing things the way you did them, and nothing else. I know now, though, that that way was the right way. So, whenever I can, I am going to do things in this way, not the “easy way”, but the way that makes the ingredients happiest. In turn, I think it will make me happy, and hopefully I can pass that on to the next generation.

P.S. I never ended up using this, but this was my Frida Kahlo/Dia de los Muertos inspired Halloween Costume that I threw together in a few minutes. I think it is appropriate…hahaha.


The Great Pumpkin

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Yet another exception has been made while making this cooking blog. Just to prove that I am alive and well, I decided to post this Jack-o-Lantern that I carved for Emmanuel in celebration of our Second Anniversary. He generally scoffs at “silly American holidays”, so I thought a neat, Nightmare Before Christmas- Jack Skellington one might warm him up to the idea. In regards to justifying it for my cooking blog, I say, “First of all, I do whatever I want!, and secondly, I baked the squash seeds(noting that this isn’t actually a true pumpkin) for a tasty snack”. I didn’t do anything too special, I just washed them well, then rubbed them with butter, olive oil and salt, then toasted them at 400 degrees until crispy. That is how my Mommy did them for me as a kid, and I will honor her simple and tasty recipe. I have to say, I do miss spreading out newspapers on our old linoleum floor and carving giant pumpkins that we all picked together, only to have them smashed by too-old-to-be-trick-or-treating-neighborhood-kids a week or so later. Those were good times, but a good pumpkin carving session can bring some of it’s coziness back.

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Hot and Sour Shortrib Udon Goodness

On this Indian Summer day, there is a beautiful blue sky against leaves clinging to their last bit of green. It is a beautiful way to say goodbye to the last bits of summer. When I think of fall, I think of hearty soups, but since it is such a warm summery day, I decided to lighten it up a bit with a nice broth-based hot and sour. We used to make something reminiscent of this at Green Zebra, but obviously with no meat. I couldn’t resist using my new cast iron to braise a couple short-ribs.

I seared them really well, leaving them to sear for a few minutes in plenty of oil in a HOT  pan. Once all sides were seared, I turned my oven on at 325. I poured out most of the oil.

Then I added some mushroom broth, a good ammount of Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce), Sambal Olek (chili paste), and some ginger rough chopped. I didn’t fully cover the shortribs, just about half way.

I let it cook in the oven, at first covered until the meat tightened up around the bones, then uncovered until it got soft again and the sauces reduced. Somewhere in the middle, I remembered to put some sliced garlic in there too.

Once they were nice and tender, I pulled the bones out, and cooled them in the refrigerator for later slicing. I kept the bones and the liquid for making the broth.

I strained the chunks out of the broth, and then I sliced an inch long hunk of peeled ginger thinly and added them to a mesh strainer that I left hanging for the duration of the broth making process. To that, I also added one stalk of  thinly sliced lemongrass. I slice this on a bias so that there is maximum surface area to extract the flavor. I also took the stems off of about 15 shiitake mushrooms and saved the caps for finishing the broth. It is a good way to use every part of the buffalo. I also chopped the ends off of a bunch of scallions, and I saved the tops for garnishing the finished product. I also added the bones into the strainer for infusing into the broth.

At this time, I also added mushroom broth about 3/4 of the way up to the top of the pot. I brought it up to a boil, then I let it simmer covered about a half hour. I pulled out the strainer and added my mushroom caps, which I thinly sliced. I also added some pickled baby corn that I cut into one inch pieces.

I also small diced an inch nub of peeled ginger. This time, I took care to brunoise it nicely.

By the time I got all of that done, the short ribs were fully cooled. I took them out and trimmed them up, taking care to trim any weird connective tissue that was too chewy. I very thinly sliced the pieces of meat into bite sized pieces. I set them aside for later addition to the soup.

I added an entire packet of wide soba noodles to the boiling pot, stirring rapidly so they didn’t stick.

Once they were mostly cooked, I added some thinly bias cut carrots and the meat to the broth. Once the carrots were tender, I took everything off the heat and cut my other garnish.

I thinly bias-cut a jalapeño, chiffonaded cilantro, very bias cut scallion tops and a lime.

To finish the broth right before serving, I added soy sauce, rice vinegar and lime juice to taste.

In the end, I think it was the perfect way to say, “So long, Summer…..Hello Fall!” It was spicy, it was a little sweet from the Mae Ploy,  sour from the citrus and vinegar and a little salty from the soy sauce. The mushrooms added the perfect ammout of umami to really kick up the meatyness of the short ribs. The ribs were amazingly tender and had the perfect ammount of fat to have delicious flavor. What a great thing to have waiting for you when you come home  on a warm fall afternoon. 


Cast Iron Comfort

Fall is my favorite time of the year, it is crispy brown leaves (not burning ones, ever since I am a city kid now), Indian corn, jackety weather, pumpkins, crocheting hats and blankets while sipping hot tea. I have always had a fondness for this season, I miss playing in the leaves and planning my Halloween costume. I miss trips to Uncle John’s Cider Mill in Michigan. We would go on a hay-ride and then come inside to drink hot cider and eat doughnuts. When it got close to Halloween, we would go to Paulsen’s Pumpkin Patch and pick out monster pumpkins. I just have such warm memories of this time that there are few foods things that I can think of that are more fall inspired than a nice root vegetable Shepherd’s pie. My Great Grandma used to make them with old pot roast. I honestly think that she thought that it was a quick solution to the problem of too many leftovers. For me, it was amazing. I grew up in a home where experimentation was not unheard of. Whereas, most kids I grew up with lived off of pot roast and the meat and potatoes diet, to me, such things were a treat, even if it was leftovers.

I decided to elevate it to the center of my meal in her honor, in honor of fall and in honor of love. Root vegetables were to be the stars of the show with a little bit of beef and a few mushrooms to savory it up a bit.

First, I got my cast iron dutch oven combination pot (a GREAT gift from a GREAT friend) roaring hot and ready to go. Meanwhile, I cubed up some beef for stewing and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

Then I tossed it into the hot pan and seared the meat off. I noticed that the pan was not as oiled as I liked it, so I added a little bacon grease that I had in my fridge. I thought that Grandma Hoekie would have liked that.

In the meantime, I sliced some crimini mushrooms for searing after the meat.

Tada! Once I got a good amount of color on the meat, I pulled it out of the pan and quickly added the mushrooms to sear off. I let them get some color too.

It is important to remember that cast iron holds heat really intensely, and it is easy to let it get too hot. Just be pretty careful, knowing that there is some lag time when you turn the heat down or up.

I then added some flour (I cranked the heat down here), maybe 1/2 cup or so to make a roux using the fat from the bacon and the meat. The roux will help thicken the stew as it cooks. I decided to deglaze the pot with some beer, because why wouldn’t I? I knew I had a pretty classy can of beer just hanging out in my fridge, so I decided to honor it with a place in this pot pie.

I also added a thickly julienned yellow onion to the pot. I want to say that I truly value good knife skills. I think that they are really important for most things, but in this case, throw most of them out the window, relax. This is comfort food, and not high end crazy food that is all about plating.

Next I peeled a rutabaga.

I cubed it in nice big cubes.

Then I peeled some carrots and cut them into similar sizes.

I did the same with a couple parsnips. I cut around the woody centers of them, because they are kind of tough.

Last but not least, I cut up a sweet potato.

I added everything back into the pot and tossed it all together. I added some mushroom stock to the mix to almost cover the vegetables. I also seasoned everything to my liking, and added some cracked pepper, allspice, and sage to the mix.

After that I put the whole pot in the oven covered at 345 degrees for about 90 minutes. I stirred everything up a bit more, then I took the cover off the pot so that everything could reduce and cook a bit more. I gave it about a half an hour. Once the half hour passes, I started getting my potatoes ready.

I cubed about 7 peeled yukon gold and/or red potatoes and tossed them into my steamer basket with about 3 cloves of garlic.

Once they were fork tender, I threw them into my kitchenaid bowl with the paddle attachment with about 3 tablespoons of butter, some salt and pepper, some milk, and an egg.

I whipped them up so that they were nice and fluffy, but not overmixed. Potatoes will totally get disgusting and gluey if you overmix them, so treat them like cookie dough, just until incorporated.

I took my stew out of the oven, and the sauce was nice and thick, the vegetables were nice and tender and the meat was too.

I dolloped the mashed potatoes all over the stew, dropping it in blobs all over the surface, then smearing them together to meet in the middle. I was careful to sort of seal the stew in, without leaving gaps.

Then I put it all back in the oven for about 20 minutes, before I switched the oven over to broil and browned up the top. I was sure to keep a sheet pan under the pot, because inevitably the potato top had weaknesses and some of the sauce bubbled up and out. When things were done, it was a beautiful thing. It was amazing.