Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Carnitas

Dear Lauren,

When someone gives you a hug and says you have a beautiful soul, it's a tear-jerker. When that someone is an oncologist, you never forget it. I saw Dr. Tolbert yesterday because I have some weirdnesses in my blood and we had to make sure that I don't have cancer, and I don't. But, the experiences I had the two times I was in Dr. Tolbert's office will stay with me for a long, long time, and so will his advice.

Here's the short list of advice I received (at least this was my take-away from both of my visits.) Maybe he didn't say it exactly this way. Maybe he didn't say it at all. I still think it's worth you reading and adopting into your life in one form or another.

1. Treat people really, really well. Depending on your personality and your own personal habits and values, you might want to treat others even better than you treat yourself.
2. Hire people that reflect who you are (see #1.) Dr. Tolbert did. He hired Troy. Troy made me not care about stepping on the scale or giving up vial after vial of blood. He's funny, he's smart, he cared about me. He taught me about my median cubital vein and he showed me a new GPS app on my phone called Waze. Now I'm a Baby Wazer.
3. Love your job.
4. It's sobering sitting in a cancer center when you don't have cancer. Count your blessings.
5. Doctors want to help you. They want to heal you. Be judicious in the treatment you accept. Try to take the least amount of medicine and accept the most conservative treatment plan possible. They won't ever mean to, but the more treatment that you accept, the more the possibility of you being accidentally injured. I'm not explaining this as well as it was explained to me, but I got the message loud and clear. Stay out of the doctor's office whenever possible.
6. Don't discount Eastern medicine. There IS a mind/body connection.
7. Reduce the stress in your life. Figure out where it's coming from and eliminate it as much as possible.

We also talked about carnitas. Dr. Tolbert is a cook like me and right now I am obsessed with the best carnitas recipe I've ever made. He asked me for the recipe and since you love these carnitas too, I decided to post the recipe here. (Have fun, Dr. Tolbert. Thank you for being you. You also have a beautiful soul.)

Carnitas 
adapted from Food & Wine Best of the Best Volume 16 from a recipe by Roberto Santibanez in his book, Tacos, Tortas and Tamales

5 cubes Dorot Crushed Garlic, or 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
5 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces (you do not want to have more than 2 layers of these pieces in your Dutch oven)
3 bay leaves
1 cup coke

onion, chopped, for serving
cilantro, chopped, for serving
corn or flour tortillas, for serving

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the garlic, onion, oregano, thyme, salt and 1/2 cup water in a blender and blend until fairly smooth. Place the pork in a 6-quart Dutch* oven in two layers. Add the bay leaves, the coke, and the blended mixture and toss well. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Remove the lid, stir the contents, scraping the bottom and cook for an additional 10 minutes, uncovered. Stir/scrape again and cook 10 more minutes. Do this one more time so that you have cooked the meat uncovered for a total of 30 minutes, stirring and scraping at 10 minute intervals. The uncovered cooking is crucial! Don't skip it! Remove the carnitas from the oven, stir/scrap one last time, which essentially shreds your pork a little more each time you do it. Serve on tortillas and garnish with the chopped raw onion and cilantro. We prefer corn but you might prefer flour tortillas. Or no tortillas at all, just serve in a bowl. 

Love,



P.S. See the photo I took the first time we made the carnitas? Look at that pot. Wow! The original recipe says, you will remove the top from the pot and see black. Don't be concerned with this. Well, you might want to be a little concerned, especially if you are using an old Dutch oven like I was. My enamel lining was compromised from years of use and it took Dad 3 days to remove the black. He was less than thrilled! LOL! He bought a new Lodge 6-quart Dutch oven that he now calls the carnitas pot. The Lodge was a lot less expensive than the Le Creuset, but you know what? I can't tell a bit of difference in the quality of the way it cooks. It's my new true love!

*P.P.S. You do need a special pot for this recipe. It's called a Dutch oven. Specifically, you need the 6-quart size. Lodge makes an enameled Dutch oven that is a fantastic value for the money. Just look at this one and compare it to similar ones from Le Creuset or Staub. If you have Amazon Prime you don't even pay for shipping. You really can't lose! The prices vary based on the color so get a cafe brownpumpkin or a emerald green one for $45! The regular price is $115 according to the Lodge website. What a bargain! I used a Le Creuset to make this recipe the first time and as I said, it took 3 days to get it clean. I made carnitas a secind time and was able to get the Lodge clean after a quick soak in blue Dawn. Without Dad.

P.P.P.S. I love Dorot products. LOVE. Keep some in the freezer at all times!






Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blue Apron

Dear Lauren,

I know this is going to look like an ad for Blue Apron. But it's not. Nope, they have not sponsored this post in any way unless you count that I got a first time customer discount that is available to every other first time customer out there! At least it was when I bought it. Like I said, this post is not sponsored by them so I'm not in communication with them and I have no idea what their specials are. I just wanted to post this because you had fun! I had fun! The food was great! And we took pictures! LOL! There ya go!

I ordered the box and it was delivered to the front door. It was so heavy! I put the food away and I made the recipe for some quesadillas (delicious) served with a spinach apple salad (amazing - will make again and again!) and another day I made the Blood Orange Roasted Salmon (incredible - will make again and again!) and the chickpea and cucumber salad (delicious). Then came your turn. That's what this post is really about.

Here you are in action! Prepping onions!
Look! The recipe card shows the same exact baking dish that we have in our kitchen!
You rollin em up!
"Mom, I love it when you take my picture! Take another! And another!"
(That's what this look says to me.)
Almost ready for the oven! By the way, these are cabbage rolls.
Packed up and ready for the road! Taking this to the boyfriend's house!
Now I'm just waiting on a picture and a report from you as to how they taste. The thing is, I already know. Blue Apron has it down! And for me it was like reading a cookbook and saying oh, wow, that sounds good, let's make that. And then walking to the fridge and everything is magically right there, mis en place done! Ready to cook!

I won't do this every week because I have too many cookbooks, too many cooking clubs and too many idea to hold me to one serve. But every once in a while, Blue Apron is a fun adventure!

Infomercial complete!

Love,

P.S. This would make a great gift for a cooking friend. Or a friend who would like to learn to cook. Or a lazy friend who doesn't like to shop like me. :-D

P.P.S. Here's the picture you sent me from your final results! Good job, Lauren!!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Toast

Dear Lauren,

I am in love with the cookbook, Keepers. I am pretty sure you will be getting one in your Easter basket this year. Yes, the recipes are yummy, but there are a lot of tips in this book that I sure wish someone would've shared with me when I first started cooking! Like getting tomato paste in a tube instead of a can - that's a good one! It took me years to figure it out! I'm slow, ok?!

When I got to the page about toast for dinner, my jaw dropped open. Of course! Why not?! So simple! Sounds great!

The book had 10 varieties of toast for dinner and I made six of them. I chose those six because, remarkably, I had most all of the ingredients in the house. I did omit an ingredient here or there, like mango, radishes and smoked salmon. And I substituted an herb here and there. But that's the beauty of toast! Use what you have! All six varieties were excellent and I will definitely make the tomato and goat cheese toast (see below) and the mushroom with cream and thyme toast again and again.

My friend Tracy is going to have a Girl Scout night for her daughter based on different toasts and she plans to include dessert toasts. Yum! And my friend Linda (who doesn't drink) has a whole list of alcoholic toasts! Haha! You could build an adult party based on this theme, no? My friend Jessica thinks so. Or you can do what I am planning to do, make toast for dinner when you're on your own. It's such an easy dinner to make for one, and so delicious.

The book suggests two toasts per serving and two varieties at each meal. I questioned the serving size thinking it would not be filling enough for a meal, but it definitely is.

Tomato & Goat Cheese Toast
adapted from Keepers' Toasts
Makes 4 toasts

1 Tablespoon of butter
A pint or other container of cherry or grape tomatoes (Sungold cherry tomatoes are great, too - they're yellow)
About an inch from a tube of anchovy paste - or a teaspoon if you like to measure
Goat cheese
4 slices of any bread you have on hand, toasted and buttered

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat and when hot add the butter. Add the tomatoes when the butter has melted and cook until they begin to burst. Help them to release their liquid by gently pressing on them with your spatula. Season with a little salt and pepper. Add the anchovy paste and stir until it is combined with the butter and tomato liquid. Goat cheese is crumbly right out of the fridge, so just sprinkle some on the toast and then divide the tomatoes and sauce equally between the 4 toasts. Serve hot.


Mushroom & Thyme Toast
adapted from Keepers' Toasts
Makes 4 toasts

Olive oil
1 shallot or 1 small onion, minced
A 16-ounce box of sliced mushrooms (use any variety and of course, you can slice your own!)
1/4 cup of whatever white wine you have in the fridge
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 slices of any bread you have on hand, toasted and buttered
The leaves from a few springs thyme (or tarragon)

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat and when hot add about a Tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until it's transparent. Turn up the heat to medium and add the mushrooms. Season with a little salt and pepper. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid as they cook. Cook them until they are mostly dry and browned. Deglaze with white wine (you can use broth if you prefer) and cook the mushrooms until more of the wine has evaporated. Reduce the temperature to medium-low, add the heavy cream and cook until it thickens. Serve hot over buttered toast of any kind and sprinkle with the thyme leaves.

Love,


P.S. You might think it's fine to omit the butter on the bread. Don't do it! I thought the same thing and tried it both ways. The butter is worth it.

P.P.S. If you made it this far, here's your prize. I bet you were wondering what other toasts I made. Here they are:

Smoked Salmon & Egg Salad

Avocado with Radishes & Lime

Smashed Broccoli with Lemon & Pecorino

Curried Chicken & Mango Salad - this doesn't look so great but it tastes delicious!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Dear Lauren,

I was going for the four-leaf clover frittata, but a five-leaf clover is even luckier, right? I saw this recipe on Pinterest. I talked about it with Susan Whempner and I then promptly forgot about it. When I noticed that Linda Mire posted it, and I felt like...this is a sign! So I got up this morning and made it for Dad, who is leaving today and will be in Boston for St. Patrick's Day! And he's wearing a green shirt! I'd say the five-leaf clovers are already bringing him luck!

St. Patrick's Day Frittata

2 eggs
2 egg whites
Green pepper slices from the bottom of the pepper for "clovers", Cut "stems" from the remainder of the pepper
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Break the whole eggs into a bowl. Separate two more eggs and add the egg whites to the bowl and beat with a fork until well-blended. (Save the remaining two egg yolks for another use, or discard.)

I used an 8" Scanpan*, so no fat or cooking spray was required for my dish. If you are using another kind of skillet, add about 1 teaspoon of butter or olive oil to a pan that has been heated over low to medium-low heat. Add the egg mixture. Add your "clovers". Add salt and pepper. Carefully carry the pan to the oven and bake for about 7-8 minutes, until the frittata is slightly puffed and set in the middle. Cut and serve.

*If you have more people to feed, use a larger pan and add more eggs. :-)

Love,

P.S. This is such an easy, yet special breakfast to make when you are on the go in the morning!

P.P.S. The photo was taken at 6 in the morning with my cell phone. No sunlight available, sorry! Still, I think you get the idea. 

P.P.P.S. My favorite things to add to frittatas are leftover spaghetti and a little Jarlsberg. Frozen peas too! But for breakfast, simple ingredients are sometimes better.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Little Loaves

Dear Lauren,

When I was young, we went to Astroworld in Houston, TX. Some people who go to amusement parks remember the rides. I remember the little loaves of bread. I'm not sure if Mrs. Baird's, Rainbo, or Wonder sold them, but I do remember the aroma wafting through the park, luring me in. I always bought one of those little loaves of bread and so did everyone else. Delicious!

Good Cook challenged me to post a bread recipe and for some reason, those exact memories popped up! I talked to Donna Currie of Cookistry, who has a new cookbook coming out later this year. She's a dear friend of mine and an amazing bread baker. I knew she would steer me in the right direction to find a wonderful bread recipe similar to those loaves I remember from childhood.

Donna's book is called Make Ahead Bread: 100 Recipes for Bake-It-When-You-Want-It Yeast Bread and it's available for pre-order right now on Amazon.com. I've ordered it! With any pre-order purchase on Amazon, you can get a free loaf pan from the generous people at Good Cook! To receive the free loaf pan, simply post your pre-purchase information to this linkIf you happen to see anything else you'd like to purchase at Good Cook, you will also get a 25% off discount using the promo code: BakeBread.

I'm particularly excited about this book because I am NOT a bread baker. But I'd sure like to be. After making "Little Loaves", I have confidence that I can be! Thank you, Donna!

Little Loaves

1 cup lukewarm water (110 degrees*)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup instant mashed potato
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Stir water, yeast, sugar, and instant mashed potatoes in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Add the salt and bread flour. Knead until your dough is smooth and becoming elastic. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Add the oil and knead until it is fully incorporated and the dough is shiny and elastic.

Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, put a bit of olive oil in each cup of this pan or something similar. (I will tell you that this pan was the perfect size to produce four little loaves. I was so pleased!)

Flour your work surface and knead the dough briefly, then divide it into 4 equal pieces. Place the pieces of dough into the pan.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let then rise until doubled, about 20-30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until the little loaves are golden brown.

Cool on a rack with a clean kitchen towel covering the pan while they're cooling, which will make the crust soft.

Love,


P.S. I found this chart* to be interesting and I think it will be helpful in my future bread baking endeavors!

P.P.S. This bread freezes beautifully. I have some in the freezer right now. I plan to thaw and slice them to use in a delicious appetizer recipe. My plan involves shrimp. You will have to stay tuned for that!
P.P.P.S. Here's one last bite! YUM!