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Nachos_0341

 

We used to do production for clients in a factory near Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. At the end of a long day we would head to this charming Mexican restaurant that welcomed us with sparkling tiny white lights strung through the trees and a gurgling fountain in the enclosed patio. We would immediately sink into relaxation. The first thing on our menu was a frosty margarita followed by my pick, nachos. Until recently I had never bothered to make those delicious nachos at home, but urged on by Steve (who had a yen for them) I decided to give replicating our favorite the old college try. When all was said and done, I think I made nachos that were even better than we remembered.
Here’s what I did.
I covered the bottom of a large jelly roll pan with chips (I use Xochitl brand, Mexican style stone-ground corn chips). I sprinkled carnitas over the chips followed by black beans and pico de gallo. Then I did another layer of chips followed by the same threesome. Sprinkled cheese over the top and put the whole mess in a very hot oven. In about 10 minutes we had a melted cheesy mess that we garnished with guacamole and more pico de gallo. It was delicious. All that was missing was the twinkling lights and gurgling fountain.
Carnitas

 

1 tablespoon lard or peanut oil
5 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks
Salt to taste
About 2 cups chicken stock or nonfat, low-sodium chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon pure chile powder (not commercially packed seasoned chili powder)
1 teaspoon ground cumin

 

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pork, season generously with salt, and sear, turning occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until very crusty and dark brown.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned pork to a double layer of paper towel to drain off excess fat.
Add 1 cup of cold water to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Return the drained pork to the pan. Add just enough chicken stock (or broth) to almost cover the meat with liquid. Make sure you do not cover it entirely. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, chile powder, and cumin.
Transfer to the preheated oven and roast, turning the meat occasionally, for about 3 hours or until the pan is almost dry and the meat is falling apart.
Remove from the oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate to cool. Let rest until cool enough to handle.
When cool, pull the meat apart into almost bite-sized pieces. The carnitas may be made up to this point and returned to whatever cooking liquid is left in the pan. Then, stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 375ºF.
Place the pork pieces in a baking pan along with the liquid and roast, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until the pan is dry and the pork pieces are almost charred and crispy. This meat may be used for tacos, nachos, burritos, or enchiladas.

 

nachos

Meatballs_IMG_0345

 

March-April must be my meatball month. I just looked at past posts and found that I had talked about meatballs (and spaghetti) on March 11, 2011. Here I am talking about meatballs once again. You can find my recipe in that post, but thought it worth a reminder. Since that March I have been making meatballs in batches and freezing them. Since I always have my marinara sauce on hand (see July 13, 2010 for that recipe) at the end of a long day, I can reach into the freezer and in just a few minutes put together a pot of meatballs in sauce to toss into a bowl of spaghetti. Try it, you’ll like it.

Here are the links to the Meatball and Marinara recipes:

http://notesfromjudieskitchen.com/2011/03/11/who-doesn%E2%80%99t-love-spaghetti-and-meatballs/

http://notesfromjudieskitchen.com/2010/07/13/simple-marinara-sauce/

©StephenKolyer_ZucchiniEggRoll

It’s odd, but in our house we have definite zucchini lovers and haters. I’m not exactly the latter, but for sure it is not my favorite vegetable. Steve, my husband, loves it and our granddaughter, Canada, favors it also so I do try to find ways of cooking it that will appeal to both sides. One of my easier methods is to half it, lengthwise, and the cut it, crosswise, into little half-moon shapes. Then, I sauté some onions and garlic and add the zucchini to the pan just as they begin to color slightly. The moisture in the squash keeps the onions and garlic from burning and as it evaporates everything begins to brown. That’s when I add some tomatoes, red chile flakes, and season with salt and pepper. If the tomatoes add too much liquid, I’ll add a squeeze or two of tomato paste. When all of the vegetables have sorta melded together, I throw in some fresh herbs – basil, thyme, or rosemary. This mix makes a great base for some sliced grilled chicken breast or pork loin. Try it.

 

Zucchini_G10_IMG_0238

Baked_Custard_G10_IMG_0387

As I’ve mentioned many times I love what used to be called “nursery desserts” – that is those sweets that were, once upon a time, served only to children because they were simple to make and easy to digest.  In that category were bread and butter puddings, rice pudding, custards (both quaking and sauce-like), floating island and so forth.  When a child my two favorites were junket (a rather strange, mildly-flavored gelatinous pudding) and baked custard.  The other day I decided to try to make a custard for a friend who has a great many intolerances – among them gluten, dairy, and sugars which makes it difficult to prepare most desserts.  Custard doesn’t require flours, but it certainly needs heavy cream and quite a bit of sugar.  I substituted almond milk for the cream and used a sugar replacement and my sweet friend said it was very satisfying, but I have to say if you want to try your hand at old-fashioned custard stick to a recipe using cream and sugar.  I know that I will next time.

2 cups heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste (that’s traditional, but I don’t much like it so never use it)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 whole eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
½ cup sugar or more if you have a sweet tooth such as mine

Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
Generously butter the interior of a 1 quart baking dish or 6 small ramekins.  Set aside.
Whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar together until well-blended by not too light and fluffy as that will leave bubbles in the baking custard.  Set aside.
Heat the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat just until it begins to steam.  Do not let it even come to a bare simmer – again, those bubbles.
Stirring constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the eggs.  When perfectly blended, pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into the prepared baking dish.
Place the baking dish in a larger baking pan.  Add very hot water to come up about half way the side of the baking dish.  Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes (less if you are using individual ramekins) or until the center is still shaky when the bowl is moved.  It continues to cook for a bit once removed from the oven and you don’t want it to over-cook as it will toughen.
Remove from the heat and serve warm, at room temperature, or, if you like, refrigerate and serve cold.

 

Watermelon_Radish_Chips_IMG_0415

The other day we were experimenting with egg rolls and dumplings and I remembered that I had some turnips in the back of the fridge.  Why not pickle them for a refreshing crunch with the steamed dumplings and fried egg rolls, thought I.  So I rummaged around in the fridge and found a bag of 5 healthy looking, perfectly round “turnips.”  As I began to trim one, I thought this doesn’t look like a turnip, but I continued to peel it so I could do some paper thin slices on the mandoline.  As I began slicing what should appear but the most beautiful explosion of red in the center.  I didn’t have turnips at all but watermelon radishes.  I had to find my grocery recipe just to check if I had completely lost it and there it was turnips @ $1.99 a pound.  Felt a little saner, but by then I had lost my interest in pickling.  So, before I fried the egg rolls, I decided to fry the radish slices and make some salty chips to accent our Asian treats.  You know what – they were sweet and crisp and made a perfect accompaniment.  But I still have 4 radishes left to pickle and that will happen on another day.

Beef_G10_IMG_0363

 

Now doesn’t that sound a lot fancier than plain old beef stew or beef in red wine sauce?  Those French sure know how to make a culinary mountain out of a mole hill, don’t they?  However you say it, hunks of beef braised in red wine is one of winter’s most comforting meals.  I have a special method of making my version that helps give it a French-style, deep-dark rich sauce.  I chop a few handfuls of portobello or cremini mushrooms and add them to the braising liquid.  This adds an intense depth of flavor, but it also makes for a sauce with lots of little bits in it so before I add the whole or halved or quartered mushrooms and pearl onions, I strain the sauce so it is perfectly smooth.  We don’t have a photo for the finished dish ‘cause it is just too hard to make it look pretty – a photo of dark sauce and meat just doesn’t look very tasty to me. But, since I love my mushrooms they get a photo all their own.  If you have any interest in the “real” boeuf bourguignon, Julia Child and Simone Beck gave us the real deal in 1961 when it appeared in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  If you don’t own the book, buy it – no cook should be without it.
The following recipe should feed 6 hungry people.

2 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut into large cubes
About ½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
¼ pound piece bacon, slab bacon, guanciale, or other smoky cured pork product
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
½ pound cremini or portobello mushrooms
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
3 cups dry red wine
3 cups beef stock or nonfat, low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 sachet (parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 2 thyme sprigs or ½ teaspoon dried thyme tied in a
cheesecloth bag)
1 pound whole small mushrooms or halved or quartered larger ones
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
About ½ pound frozen pearl onions, thawed and well-drained
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Place the meat in a large bowl and sprinkle with flour and salt and pepper.  Toss to coat well.  Set aside.
If necessary, trim and discard the rind from the bacon and cut into cubes.  Place the cubes in a Dutch oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until most of the fat has been rendered out and the cubes are just beginning to be crunchy.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked bacon to a double layer of paper towel to drain.
Shake the excess flour off of the meat and then place the meat into the hot bacon fat.  Sear, turning frequently, until all sides are nicely browned.  You will have to do this in batches.  As browned, transfer to a plate.
Add the chopped onion and mushrooms along with the garlic to the hot pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms exude their liquid and the onions begin to color.  Drain off excess fat.
Add the wine, raise the heat, and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or just until the alcohol begins to burn off.  Add the stock and tomato paste along with the sachet, stirring to blend.  Season with salt and pepper.  Return the meat to the pan, cover, and bring to a simmer.  Lower the heat and cook at a bare simmer for 1 hour or until the meat is just tender.
Remove the pan from the heat and, using tongs, transfer the meat to a plate.  Strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.  Wipe out the Dutch oven and return the strained liquid to it, along with the meat.
Add the whole or halved mushrooms and return to medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook for another 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked and the meat is very tender.
During this last 30 minutes of braising, place the butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When very hot, add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes or until the onions are golden.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a double layer of paper towel to drain off excess fat.
Spoon the pearl onions into the braising liquid.  Taste and, if necessary, season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the stew into a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the reserved bacon bits and parsley.  Serve alone with lots of crusty bread to sop up the gravy or with noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes.

 

Beef

butter_DSC_3591

 

We don’t eat much butter only because the doc says we shouldn’t.  We dip our bread in olive oil, fry with olive oil, drizzle with olive oil — well, you get it.  BUT when I cheat and want butter, I want great butter.  I try every artisanal one that I find; sometimes loving, but often just giving up an “uuuhm.”  My last purchase was Vermont Cultured Butter, European Style with Sea Salt Crystals from Vermont Creamery (www.vermontcreamery.com) which I bought at Murray’s Cheese (www.murrayscheese.com) in the Grand Central Station food market.  Although the butter I grew up with didn’t have sea salt added, it was churned at the local farm and I tell you this butter brought childhood memories back in one taste.  Could I give any better recommendation?

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