Carnitas!


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On occasion, hovering over the top of the stove can be enjoyable: sauteing onions and garlic, boiling spaghetti noodles, or mixing up a delicious impromptu curry. But sometimes, it’s nice to just sit back and let time be your sous chef.

Of all of the gadgets and cooking devices in my kitchen, the slow cooker has to be one of my favorites, primarily because I’m very drawn to the idea of coming home to the smells of dinner while still maintaining a two-income household. I’d like to think the slow cooker is going to be a recurring subplot of this blog, and we’ll start today with one of my favorites: carnitas.

OVERVIEW: I have never seen the movie “Babe”, and I don’t think I ever will, because I never want my opinion of a pig to be anything other than, “Damn, I really want to eat that pig.” Pork has the versatility of chicken, and a ton more flavor, so it’s my go-to meat. (yes, I realize what I just typed). Chicken just goes through the motions because it always knows you’ll be back; pork looks at you and says, “I’m delicious; try and reject me, fool.”

And although anytime is a good time for a pork taco, it’s an especially appealing choice this time of the year. I personally am not in grilling mode yet, and on a warm April day, I would also prefer to have a dinner that doesn’t make me want to hibernate. Comfort food is so two months ago; incorporating some fresh flavor (and fresh produce) into the dinner mix feels right.

On a pragmatic note, tacos always seem to be an excellent way to clean out the fridge in our household – we always have cheese, and generally the produce we have lends itself very well to taco production.

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This recipe for carnitas itself is a pretty ridiculously easy one, because essentially all you need is a thawed pork roast and some common spices. And about 10 hours. If you don’t have 10 hours, this might not be the recipe for you. On top of that, you’ll want to make sure to have all of your appropriate acoutrements: this time around, we opted for mango (love), avocado (double love), Sriracha, red onion, cilantro, and cheese on top of corn tortillas. I also drizzled a little bit of the leftover slow cooker juice over the meat, to keep it moist.

DID MY SON EAT IT: In nacho form, yes. And in “avocado and mango on its own” form, yes. That’s the other beautiful part about slow-cooking this meat. You can use it in tacos, nachos, sandwiches, BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING (foreshadowing, people)…

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The spice mix is courtesy of Erin Parker and AllRecipes (www.allrecipes.com , @allrecipes on Twitter, and while we’re on the subject, they have a fantastic free app to download):

RECIPE: SLOW COOKER CARNITAS

1 – 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder roast (I used bone-in; I haven’t noticed a difference)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken broth

  1. Mix together salt, garlic powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, and cinnamon in a bowl. Coat pork with the spice mixture. Place the bay leaves in the bottom of a slow cooker and place the pork on top. Pour the chicken broth around the sides of the pork, being careful not to rinse off the spice mixture.
  2. Cover and cook on Low until the pork shreds easily with a fork, about 10 hours. Turn the meat after it has cooked for 5 hours. When the pork is tender, remove from slow cooker, and shred with two forks. Use cooking liquid as needed to moisten the meat.

LINK TO THE RECIPE:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/slow-cooker-carnitas/detail.aspx?src=VD_Summary

 

America’s Test Kitchen. And Pancakes.


Whether it’s the Bible, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or Fifty Shades of Grey, most people have a book that changed (or at the very least heavily influenced) their lives.

For me, that book is The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Third Edition (Barnes and Noble link to buy it is at the bottom of the post, and I’m not being paid to promote it. Yet.).

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I received this book from my lovely wife as a one-year anniversary gift in 2010, and I presumed that, like most cookbooks, I’d find a few things I like in it and use it once every few months. Well, as it turns out, this is the greatest cookbook of all-time, and I’m not sure second place is all that close. I’m not exaggerating when I say that literally every dish I’ve made out of this book has been at least really good, and usually regular rotation-worthy. LITERALLY. I like it so much, it’s forced me to use my least favorite word LITERALLY three times.

It also has cooking technique sidebars, emergency substitutions, lots and lots of pictures for those of us that can’t read, and product recommendations, all of which are much handier than they may at first sound.

So why, you say, are you being forced to read a blog that’s essentially an overly gushing online review? Well, first, I’m not forcing you, but ALSO because it’s the weekend, and the weekend is all about breakfasts that you don’t have the time and/or desire to mess around with at any other time. And you need pancakes, yo.

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OVERVIEW: This breakfast came about because I had a weird craving for Nutella crepes. Okay, craving Nutella crepes isn’t even remotely weird, but wanting to make them on the spur of the moment sort of is. I usually wait for Bastille Day, or celebration of some war we had to bail France out of…like any of the major ones. So anyway, in the cookbook, the recipe directly following the crepe recipe is for the crepe’s non-cowardly cousin, buttermilk pancakes. OBVIOUSLY. And here I am, sitting with an unused pint of buttermilk in the fridge, because this post was originally going to be buttermilk fried chicken. But fate had clearly put its foot down, and pancakes it was.

Now, of all of my fawning over this cookbook, I had never used this pancake recipe. This is because at any point in time, we have at least two boxes of pancake mix in the house. I love things from scratch – more than most, in fact – but pancake mix is just so frigging easy. Additionally, the availability of buttermilk was a key consideration, because whenever I allow foodstuffs to go bad in the fridge, I am treated as if I am taking Damien’s piggy bank, dumping it out on the carpet, pissing on it, and setting it on fire.

SUBSTITUTIONS: If I’ve learned one thing in baking, it’s that substitutions are frowned upon. It’s science, people; being cavalier with amounts and ingredients doesn’t get you different flavors, it gets you ruined food. Having said that, I knew I could safely add chocolate chips to the batter and be none the worse for it. Much the better for it, in fact. And since I was losing the Nutella factor, I needed some was to get my daily dose of breakfast chocolate in.

DID MY SON EAT IT: It was chocolate chip pancakes and bacon. Do Timon and Pumba eat grubs? Next.

So if you still haven’t picked up on my subtle hints, go buy this cookbook and throw the rest of your cookbooks away. Just don’t let it make you so good at cooking that you won’t learn something from reading this blog. Thanks, folks; see you next time.

RECIPE:

Buttermilk Pancakes (courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)
Makes 16 four-inch pancakes (allegedly)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 cups buttermilk
1-2 tsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Set a wire cooling rack over a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, melted butter and then the buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the buttermilk mixture into the well, and whisk very gently until the buttermilk mixture is just incorporated (a few lumps should remain). Add chocolate chips. Be careful not to overmix the batter.

3. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Brush the pan bottom with 1 tsp. oil. Using 1/4 cup of batter per pancake, add the batter to the skillet (only 2-3 pancakes will fit at a time) and cook until large bubbles begin to appear about 2 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden brown on the second side, about 1-1/2 minutes longer. Spread the pancakes out over the wire rack on the baking sheet (they shouldn’t overlap) and hold in the warm oven. Repeat with the remaining batter, brushing the skillet with oil as needed between batches.

4. Serve with bacon, real maple syrup, butter, and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. Because it’s the weekend.

BUY IT HERE:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/americas-test-kitchen-family-cookbook-cookware-rating-edition-americas-test-kitchen-editors/1100437736?ean=9781933615486

Indonesian Scallops, Spinach and Angel Hair.


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Generally, a show can go a few years before it needs to start shamelessly trotting out guest stars to keep ratings up. It’s viewed by many as something of a desperation move when Ted McGinley finally graces your airwaves.

Well, here we are.

After two overwhelmingly adequate blogs, I find myself abiding by the same strategy. The guest star? None other than my mother, Mary Date.

Now, you know how everyone SAYS their mother is a good cook? Not everyone is being honest with you or themselves. Be it from a generalized sense of denial or a lack of knowing what good food actually tastes like, some people have mothers that are downright terrible cooks (I blame Oprah). My mother, on the other hand, is an excellent cook, and I’m not just saying this on the off-chance she reads this blog. Many of my all-time favorite meals are from the kitchen of Mrs. Date: beef stroganoff, chicken and dumplings —

“WAIT, WAIT, WAIT,” you say. “Max, didn’t you just get done telling us how you don’t like things that have brown sauce, and you like piles of spice on your food? What the hell?”

This is true. When it comes to culinary proclivities, Mom and I are on fairly opposite ends of the spectrum. Which is why I was so surprised…nay, relatively STUNNED…to find Mom cooking INDONESIAN food on Sunday afternoon (Okay, I have to be honest, I don’t know if it’s actually an Indonesian recipe. But it had coconut milk and fish sauce in it, and that counts as Asian food in my book. Hashtag ‘Merica.)

I promised Mom I wouldn’t make fun of her when it comes to her tolerance for spice. And in fairness, two of her favorite restaurants are the Vietnamese place in Mankato and one of the Mexican places in Mankato. I would assume at various points, she does eat food drifting upward into the “Medium” range on the salsa jar. So I won’t make fun of her; I will merely state facts. This is a woman who once thought that ketchup was too spicy. Actually, my sister and I MAY have made that up, but I’m not sure anymore (It seems like it could have been something she legitimately said, in any case). So for a woman with a noted distaste for spicy food, this was pretty out there.

RECIPE SUBSTITUTIONS: Don’t get me wrong, you can add a lot of spice to it and still be doing okay, but it certainly isn’t necessary. I don’t know if she added any spice, short of a few shakes of Tabasco. The recipe calls for 2 serrano chiles, and I think if you shoot for somewhere in the middle of those two extremes you should have a pleasant spice level. She also increase the amount of carrots (power move), doubled the garlic (double-power move), added cilantro (for “that extra heat that cilantro offers”) and added more coconut milk (I don’t know, I think the amount it called for prolly would’ve been OK). If I were to make it, and I most assuredly will, I may try it with some sort of sturdy whitefish instead of scallops – just not a big fan of the scallop texture. It would also be good with shrimp. I would probably also throw a little lime zest and brown sugar in, but that’s more force of habit than anything.

DID HER GRANDSONS EAT IT?: Um, no. Well, Damien was asleep, and in Peyton’s defense, he didn’t really eat anything. But no, I wouldn’t make this with the expectation your kids are going to go for it. But you should.

VERDICT: While my love for Mom’s cooking was rooted in comfort food growing up, I am delighted that she gave this recipe a go and I look forward to putting this one to use myself in the near future. My mother was a big influence in me wanting to cook and a bigger influence in me never starving. And for that, I’m very thankful.

RECIPE: Here’s the legalese: this is a recipe by Robin Asbell from her book, “Gluten-Free Pasta”. We used glutenous pasta, but it was still edible and none of our throats swelled up. Being not allergic to gluten is a tremendous thing in life.

(editor’s note: The following information is courtesy of Jennica Date, regarding my last statement: “While there are some unfortunate souls out there who are actually afflicted with with an anaphylaxis-type reaction to gluten, the majority of us are not “allergic” to gluten. Sadly, as time has gone on – let’s blame the media here – it got easier to describe what celiac disease is by calling it an allergy. It’s actually not. Without going into too much detail, those of us with celiac disease, gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity have a gastrointestinal tract that can’t break down the protein that is gluten. So when we eat it, intentionally or otherwise, our gut responds with pains and indigestion undreamed of by the makers of pepto bismol.”)

Recipe

Whole Wheat Rotini Mac and Cheese.


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Show of hands: How many gluten- and dairy-tolerant people love mac and cheese? That’s what I thought. So we’re starting this blog at a popular spot – in front of a big honkin’ plate of homemade mac and cheese. The original recipe courtesy of Aaron McCargo, Jr., who can be found at http://www.aaronmccargo.com and on various Food Network endeavors.

OVERVIEW: I like Aaron McCargo as a chef because he knows how to make good food that doesn’t require eighteen billion ingredients (looking in your general direction, Bobby Flay and your 16-spice fried chicken…). I like this recipe because it’s mac and cheese, the royal prince of all comfort food, and if there’s one thing every parent needs, it’s a relatively easy macaroni and cheese recipe that can be modified very easily, whipped up on short notice, and won’t monopolize your after-work beer drinking. Long story-short, this is one of those fancy versions of something everyone loves.

DID MY SON EAT IT?: Well…no. Damien ate some of the kielbasa, but did not eat any noodles. He has eaten it in the past, though. He’s going through that stage two-year-olds go through known as “Hey, I’m a two-year-old, and I’m going to intentionally try sabotaging your life.” OH, you’ve heard of it? Great.

SUBSTITUTIONS: I’ve made this one a number of times and have experimented with different cheeses and proteins. Tonight, I made it with the remains of three packages of shredded cheese – sharp cheddar, colby jack, and pepper jack – and used a ring of kielbasa as my meat of choice. McCargo doesn’t put any meat in it at all – I’ve always AT LEAST added bacon to it, but the kielbasa was an excellent option as well. Why do I insist on adding a smoked meat product? Because I’m a guy being a guy, and my grandfather ate a pound of salted bacon every day for 93 years. And I like typing obvious rhetorical questions. You may be tempted to go with chicken, but I personally don’t think it works very well – there isn’t a heavy herb/spice factor to this dish, which I generally think is necessary to give the chicken some flavor.

I also had some rainbow chard at my disposal tonight, which was a more-than-adequate substitute for the spinach (also, feel free to try some chard in the next omelet or frittata you make…) The one thing I won’t switch up in this dish is the sun-dried tomatoes – they just provide such a unique flavor to this or any dish that I’d strongly recommend not omitting them. With the milk, I actually used 1.5 cups of 1% milk and 1/2-cup of half & half (again, just trying to clear out the fridge). I’m not sure of the chemical makeup of half & half, but it seemed to work just fine. Just don’t use skim milk; I’ve done that in the past, and the cheese sauce gets funky, and not in a good Parliament Funkadelic way.

Lastly, the breadcrumb crust. McCargo recommends using Panko, and I would think, geometrically, Panko should be the smallest option you should consider. I used regular breadcrumbs tonight, and it just doesn’t add much. One time, I substituted crushed-up Ritz crackers, and I think that’s what I’d use if my son didn’t continuously commandeer every Ritz cracker in sight.

As will be tradition in this blog, I am going to post the original recipe, with my modifications in (red). Make it Aaron’s way, make it my way, make it your way. (“Gold jacket, green jacket, who gives a s***”). Just make sure to give this one a shot, because it makes for some tasty vittles. See you next time, folks.

RECIPE:
Whole Wheat Rotini Mac and Cheese
Original Recipe by Aaron McCargo, Jr.
Modifications by Max Date (my version serves 4-6 people)
Ingredients
1/2 pound whole-wheat rotini (12 oz of rotini, penne, and/or macaroni)
4 tablespoons butter (5 tbsp butter, divided)
1 to 2 tablespoons diced onions
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch ground black pepper
2 cups milk (reduced fat milk/half-half mix)
1/2 cup grated Muenster (3/4 c. Colby Jack)
1/2 cup grated Cheddar  (3/4 c. Sharp Cheddar)
1/2 cup baby spinach (3/4 c. rainbow chard)
2 teaspoons oil, from marinated sun-dried tomatoes
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (recommended: Panko) (1 c. crushed Ritz crackers)
1 tablespoonsmokypaprika
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.In a large pot of boiling salted water,addrotini and cook for 6 to 8 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add the onions. Add the flour and pepper and mix until mixture is pasty and forms a roux. Whisk milk into pan incorporating the roux. Bring to a simmer over low heat and allow to thicken; about 5 minutes. Once thickened, whisk in the cheeses. Add the pasta and mix until the pasta is well coated. Fold in spinach, sun-dried tomato oil, and sun-dried tomatoes.In a small saucepan, melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once melted, turn heat off and add bread crumbs and paprika. Mix well to combine.

Pour rotini into a casserole dish large enough to hold the pasta. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and place in oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until brown and bubbling. (I’ve never gone less than 18 minutes, FYI)

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aaron-mccargo-jr/whole-wheat-rotini-mac-and-cheese-recipe.html?oc=linkback

An Introduction to Food.


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At the semi-constant behest of my lovely wife, I have decided to combine my strong liking of the typed word and vaguely-stylized food picture-taking into a food blog. This will serve a few purposes: first, it will be a place for me to post my original recipes, since I am apparently too dumb to figure out how to upload a recipe onto AllRecipes.com. Second, it will give you some reading material, should you be so enticed by the photography that I berate you with on a frequent basis.

To be honest, most of the food I’m going to have on here will be me modifying someone else’s recipe, or just straight-up cooking someone else’s recipe and saying what I liked or didn’t like about it. Dirk Nowitzki didn’t invent the jump shot, people. He took what everyone else had done before and strove to make it his own. That’s what I’m going to do. Occasionally, I’ll drop an original track, but right now, I’m mostly about remixes. Maybe as time progresses, it will open up a little more, but we’re taking baby steps here.

You will notice a few consistencies in the majority of my cooking: (1) I generally lean towards food that you can dump a pile of hot sauce on. Most of what I cook is in the Asian/Mexican culinary range. It’s not to say I won’t whip up, for instance, Norwegian food every once in a while. I just don’t dig on brown sauce. (2) Some people say you can ruin a dish with too much cheese. I do not subscribe to this notion. (2a) Do not plan on losing weight with the majority of these dishes. (3) Pig is omnipresent.

One of the biggest things I have been striving to do is not be 100% set with what the recipe asks for ingredients. When I first started cooking, I got so hung up on having the exact amount of the exact ingredient that I would do stupid things like make a 20-minute trip to the store to get a fresh lemon for lemon juice when bottled lemon juice would’ve done just fine. I’m all about using quality and fresh ingredients, but I’m also about common sense and not going broke trying to cook a meal (some day, I’ll make something with saffron, I’m just waiting for the right dignitary to visit my home). If I have something in the fridge that will work with what I’m cooking (and will allow me to use up something already on hand), I go for it now. Feel free to amend these recipes as you see fit or as your pantry allows. And feel free to comment on what you did to make the recipes work for you!

Lastly, cooking should be fun! It’s a great time to be creative, to relax, to work out the shitty parts of your day, and to make the stomachs of your friends and family happy. A good cook is never an unpopular person. Crack a beer and enjoy yourselves.

First recipe post will be up tomorrow: Mac and Cheese (or a variant thereof)!