Archive for December 2011


Warm Winter Salad

December 31st, 2011 — 8:00am
shrimp and feta salad

Shrimp, Feta and Couscous Salad

I am not a person who usually puts in a plug for prepackaged food. But once in a while you come across something that is pretty good and becomes a staple in the pantry. In my case it has even earned a container in the cabinet along with rice, beans, and assorted pastas. It is produced by World Market and is called Couscous Medley. It is a pearl couscous, also called Israeli couscous for some reason, that is mixed with lentils, orzo, and dried corn. I have been making a lot of warm salads with it and it is remarkably versatile.

I have made it with vinaigrettes and simple lemon juice and olive oil mixtures. I have made it completely vegetarian or mixed it with some leftover chicken and in this case some shrimp. The mixture tends to work best with feta cheese for some reason. Topped with some fresh herbs it is really hard to beat for a quick, easy, hearty salad.

This particular shrimp salad is very simple. It includes the couscous, onions, tomatoes, a mixture of greek olives, some fresh herbs, feta cheese, and a simple lemon and olive oil emulsion. I suppose you could serve it cold but I prefer it on the warm side, especially this time of the year. Who would have thought something out of the package could be so good?

world market couscous medley

World Market Couscous Medley

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Carnitas!

December 29th, 2011 — 8:00am
carnitas

Carnitas with Pico de Gallo and Sour Cream

Generally speaking when I see carnitas on a menu they would hardly raise an exclamation point or a second look for that matter. They are usually comprised of shredded pork that has been braised for a long period of time. You generally place the shredded pieces on a warm tortilla and garnish with your favorite condiments. I have had decent varieties served in Mexico. However, even there they tend to be on the dry, tasteless side. You end up getting more flavor from the pico de gallo than from the meat itself.

plating carnitas

Composing the Carnitas

I found some beautiful boneless country pork ribs at the Mexican market. I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. They were probably headed for pork schnitzel. But seeing as how I bought them at a Mexican store I thought I would see if I could come up with an edible version of carnitas. Doing my usual research I found that recipes were from all over the board, all of them claiming to be authentic. The most unusual included cooking them in pepsi, and another suggested so many spices I was not sure you would end up tasting meat at the end.

carnitas in the pot

Carnitas in the Pot

I landed on an inspiration from Williams-Sonoma’s slow cooker cookbook. Their version included browning the meat and then braising the meat in beer and citrus juices. It was a good start. I coated my meat with some spices before browning and instead of using the juice and rind from a lime I cut two Mexican limes into quarters, squeezed the juices into the pot and threw the lime pieces into the beer mixture. You have to remember to take out the limes pieces before shredding. I also reduced the temperature for braising so as not to make the meat too tough. These carnitas were very moist, mildly spicy, including some sweetness from a bit of cinnamon, and they definitely had that hint of lime all the way through the meat. Although they could certainly stand on their own, a bit of pico de gallo and some lime-infused sour cream rounded out the meal. Que rico!

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Winter Blahs

December 27th, 2011 — 9:40am
chorizo squash and corn stew

Chorizo Squash and Corn Stew

I know we are technically only a few days into winter but I find myself suffering from a bit of what I call the “winter blahs.” The signs include lounging in bed a bit longer than I should and an overall case of ennui. Sitting in a cold office most of the day does not help much either.

In order to shake myself from this condition I have started altering my routine a bit. I have added shopping at the local Mexican market to my list of new things to do. The result has been a bit of inspiration about new things to cook, or trying to cook old food concepts in a new way. I am a big fan of stews and soups during the winter as most of you have already figured out. So I decided to add one more to the list.

I found some really good Mexican chorizo which I would normally cook with some scrambled eggs and eat it with some tortillas. This time I combined it with some butternut squash and some corn to create a chorizo, squash and corn stew. A bit of a variation from the last recipe with the added heat of the chorizo. Although it certainly has not cured the winter blahs it at least put a smile on my face for a little while.

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Real American Food

December 12th, 2011 — 10:28am
squash, bean, and corn soup

Squash, Bean, and Corn Soup

I was recently reminded that we throw the term “American” around pretty casually. We often hear about things being “American as apple pie” or “Americans have a different value system,” largely referring to the people who live in the 50 United States. Of course apples are not indigenous to the continents that make up the Americas and one of our 50 states would more accurately be classified as part of Polynesia. The term “America” has devolved into a sort of jingoist phrase more intent on exclusion than inclusion, and based on no real tie to the continental geography.

The reality is that the people who reside in the Americas, therefore Americans, range from Tierra del Fuego in the South to the Northern Territories of Canada. We are all Americans. We do divvy it up a bit with South Americans, Latin Americans, North Americans, and Central Americans. The operative word in all cases is American. And if you took a survey of what most people in these continents would consider to be “American” food you would probably be surprised that the vast majority would consider squash, beans, and corn as the main food staples as opposed to hamburgers (German), pizza (Italian), and the aforementioned apple pie (English and/or French). Ironically, squash, beans, and corn were being consumed by most indigenous Americans long before anyone from the West ever stepped on the continents.

squash, bean, and corn soup

Soup with the Extra Garnish

I thought it would be appropriate to make a real American meal using the three food staples with an assist from two other American crops, chiles and tomatoes. The latter two not always considered essential cooking ingredients but ones that offer a flavor assist not to mention a good reason to drink a beer. And what better way to serve the ingredients than in a soup. The blandish tendencies of squash, beans and corn were assisted by getting a good caramel glaze on the squash, and using chipotle chiles along with some cumin and cilantro. And to finish it, a dollop of sour cream mixed with lime juice, a squeeze of lime over the top, and for a bit more decadence, using another indigenous crop, some cubes of avocado. You could skip the avocado and the sour cream, but the squeeze of lime finishes the whole dish. So when you are looking for some “real American food” I would suggest this recipe for squash, bean and corn soup.

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