Summer Slow Cooking

Ancho Chile Pulled Pork Tacos
Ancho Chile Pulled Pork Tacos

It's been a hot week here, so I decided throwing a few ingredients in a crockpot sounded like a good call. Plus, making a big ol' pork shoulder feeds us stress-free (and deliciously!) for several days. (See serving suggestions below for a variety of ideas.)

I served up Ancho Chile Pork Tacos with all the fixins since it was "Taco Tuesday", and I am not above cliches. Although our three year old food-critic-in-training, declared "I don't like this" as he jabbed the pork with his polka-dot fork, he then chowed down like a wild beast. So I declared dinner a success and enjoyed a glass of wine. : )

Ancho Chile Pulled Pork

Serves 6+

3 1/2 pound boneless pork shoulder (also called a Boston Butt)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 (12 oz) bottle gluten-free beer or 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 whole dried ancho chiles, seeds and stem removed or 2 tsp ancho chile powder
2-4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 Tbs tomato paste (buy the one in the tube for easy resealing)

Trim pork shoulder if desired. Sprinkle cumin and salt on pork.

Pour beer into slow cooker. Tear ancho chiles into 1-2 inch pieces. Add chiles, garlic and tomato paste.

Slow-cook on low for 7-8 hours, turning the pork over half way through if possible. Depending on the size of the pork or if it has a bone, cooking times may vary. Cook until it tears easily with a fork.

Transfer pork to a large bowl. Shred pork with two forks, removing occasional fat blobs, if desired.

Use a ladle to remove the oil layer on top of the sauce. Pour sauce through a strainer and into a small sauce pot. Boil over medium high until the sauce is reduced by half (about 2 cups). Add as much of this sauce to the shredded pork as you like. FYI - we added all the tasty sauce and then served the pork with a slotted spoon.

Serving Suggestions: put pork in...

  • lettuce wraps + avocado + tomatoes + cilantro + onions

  • organic corn tortillas + shredded lettuce or cabbage + tomatoes + cilantro + onions

  • gluten-free buns + slaw

  • more below pic!
    Pulled Pork Appetizers

  • mini versions of the above for appetizers; see below for mini taco instructions

  • enchiladas with pulled pork + onions + zucchini + bell peppers

  • salad greens + organic corn + tomatoes + bell peppers + salsa

In case you want to know how to make the cute little taco shells...

Heat oven to 400. Use a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter to cut 3 small circles out of a standard sized organic corn tortilla. Brush mini tortillas lightly with oil, and drape over the "wires" of the oven rack. (If they are too stiff to bend naturally, nuke them for 20 seconds.) Cook about 5 minutes or until crisp. Feeling lazy? Buy round organic corn chips and make mini tostadas instead!
Mini Corn Taco Shells

I topped the tacos with shredded radish and cilantro, 'cause it looked so pretty!

All Things Grilled Part 2

Grilled Scallop with Mango Lime Salsa

Grilled Scallop with Mango Lime Salsa

Part 2 in a 3 part series on Grilling!

Scallops are a beautiful thing when properly prepared. The tender flesh plus the subtle taste of ocean can be heavenly. If you want to cook delicious scallops, there are three keys to success: 1) start with high quality dry scallops, 2) season appropriately, and 3) sear well.

Dry scallops are usually shucked on the boat and stored without any water or preservatives. This treatment leads to the freshest, tastiest scallops. On the contrary, wet scallops are shucked and then stored in water, salt water, or water + a chemical preservative. These treatments make the scallops last longer, but contribute to sub-par shellfish.

Scallops naturally contain a lot of moisture, but you want it to be the natural, briny flavor of the ocean. So ask your fishmonger for dry scallops. Before preparing your scallops, pat their surface gently with a clean cloth or paper towel(s). Also, make sure to remove the tough muscle on the side (see below). Season them generously to enhance their flavor and help form a crust (when seared). Salt and pepper will do, but we found that a variety of spices were delicious as well.

Scallops with muscle removed

Creating a crust is a great textural complement to the delicate flesh of a scallop, but this technique can be a challenge. Using dry scallops, seasoning, and searing them in a well-oiled pan over medium-high heat are important.

Another way to create a tasty scallop is grilling! Grilling scallops creates a beautiful crust as well as smokey, charred flavors. We found that grilled scallops pair nicely with refreshing citrus and tropical flavors too. Make sure to oil the grill just before adding the scallops.

Grilled Scallops Two Ways

Grilled Scallop with Mango Lime Salsa

Grilled Scallops with Mango Lime Salsa

serves 3

1 pound large dry scallops
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder

Mango Lime Salsa

1 cup peeled, diced mango
1 Tbs finely chopped cilantro
2 Tbs lime juice
pinch or two salt

Set scallops on a paper towel lined plate. Lay another paper towel on top of the scallops. Gently pat. Set aside.

Heat grill to medium.

Remove paper towels from scallops. Season scallops with salt and chili powder.

Oil grill to prevent sticking. Grill scallops about 3 minutes per side or until almost cooked through. Remove from grill.

Serve with Mango Lime Salsa (or Orange Salsa below).

Grilled Scallop with Orange Salsa

Grilled Scallops with Orange Salsa

serves 3

1 pound large dry scallops
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin

Orange Salsa

1 cup peeled, sectioned orange
1 Tbs finely chopped jalapeno
1 Tbs finely chopped cilantro
1 Tbs lime juice
pinch or two salt

Set scallops on a paper towel lined plate. Lay another paper towel on top of the scallops. Gently pat. Set aside.

Heat grill to medium.

Remove paper towels from scallops. Season scallops with salt & cumin.

Oil grill to prevent sticking. Grill scallops about 3 minutes per side or until almost cooked through. Remove from grill.

Serve with Orange Salsa (and maybe even a refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc).

Roasted Tomatoes, the new Caramelized Onion

roasted tomatoes with garlic

Part 1 in a 3 part series

As you know, I've been obsessed with tomatoes lately. I make fresh tomato + cucumber salad (with a red wine vinaigrette) all-the-time. So simple, yet perfect. That's how these roasted tomatoes are too! If you are thinking, "ugh, you want me to roast perfectly good tomatoes?" Please try this amazing does something magical to the tomatoes that allows you to make several easy, delicious dishes. Pretty please.

I've used large grape tomatoes and a variety called strawberry tomatoes that are similarly shaped and delightfully sweet. If the tomatoes are large (like the ones shown), cutting them in half is the way to go.

Simple Roasted Tomatoes: Toss tomatoes with a generous amount of olive oil (at least 1/4 cup per 2 cups tomatoes), salt, pepper, and herbs or garlic or both. If you choose garlic, toss in a half dozen cloves or so and leave the papery wrappers on, so the cloves don't burn. Then you'll have buttery roasted garlic too! If you choose herbs, several sprigs of thyme are nice. Slow roast at 350 for an hour or speed the process along by cranking the oven to 425 and roast for 30 minutes.

Once you've got the technique down, these sweet and flavorful jewels will dazzle any dish.

In the coming 3 part series, you will learn three (plus) interesting ways to use roasted tomatoes:

Wilted Spinach Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
serves 4 as side salad
wilted spinach salad with roasted tomatoes
Roasted Tomatoes + oil (from 2 cups tomatoes cooked as described above)
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
4 generous handfuls baby spinach
2 Tbs pine nuts, dry toasted in a pan*

While the tomatoes are still hot (or reheat to make hot), stir in vinegar. Gently toss with spinach and top with pine nuts. Enjoy immediately!

*Don't skip this adds so much flavor! If you can't do pine nuts, consider shredding a dry salty cheese such as manchego over the top instead.

Ok, get ready for a simple, family friendly gluten-free pasta next.

Grain-free Granola

Grain-free Granola

Since going grain-free, I miss granola. There's something about the crunchy texture followed by a hint of sweetness that is very satisfying to me. To fill that void, I've been meaning to come up with a nut based variety. Then the other day, a funny thing happened...I made a grain-free granola bar and forgot a couple ingredients. It led to a failure of the bar, but got me going on the granola recipe. Yeah!

Serve this tasty treat topped with berries and a side of almond or coconut milk. I prefer using raw nuts whenever possible, but use what you have or prefer.

Makes about 4 cups
1 cup cashew meal or almond meal/flour
3/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut or coconut chips
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup ground flaxmeal
1/4 cup melted coconut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 300°.

Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Pour onto a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Spread into a thin layer. Bake 20 minutes. Stir. Bake 10-15 minutes more. Granola should be dry and lightly browned. Stir again. Turn off oven and leave granola in oven to dry out 10 more minutes. Enjoy with fruit, milk or yogurt. Yum!

Weekend Extras

Life feels hectic these days. I am constantly looking for shortcuts to make weekdays easier and weekends more relaxing. I find that spending some quiet hours around the house helps me recharge before the week.

As I mentioned, last week was a busy one. Weeknight entertaining plus weekend guests. When Sunday arrived, I was ready for some peace and quiet. I remembered that a bunch of frozen chicken bones were piling up in the freezer. It was the right time to make stock.

Chicken Stock

Although making stock takes a few hours, it mostly happens while you are doing other things. Perfect for my day of tidying, doing laundry, making shopping lists, and even just sitting. Making your own stock also saves time and money at the store. Plus it makes the house smell amazing!

Try it, I think you will be happy with the results. Start by saving the bones of whole chickens. (If they are raw bones, they will yield broth, and roasted bones will yield stock.) We eat a whole roasted chicken several times a month. I toss the uneaten parts in a zipper lock bag, put it in the freezer, and forget about it for a while. Or you can save the necks and backs you cut out of chickens. When you have 2-3 birds worth of bones, gather the other ingredients for the stock, including a large pot.

Stock Ingredients

At a minimum, you need 1-2 onions, 2-3 carrots, and several stalks celery. It's also nice to have leeks, parsley and thyme. A couple garlic cloves won't hurt either!

Place chicken bones in a large pot. Cover with water. Place pot over high heat and check back occasionally. When you see small bubbles, reduce heat to medium. You do NOT want it to boil vigorously. Also NO lid. Simmer chicken bones about 2 hours. During this time, check that the pot is simmering nicely (small bubbles). If you see any scum forming (off white/grey brown bubbles) scoop it off with a spoon.

TIP: Make sure you have enough water for the bones and veggies to "swim" comfortably.

Add veggies and continue simmering 1-2 hours. My picture demonstrates that I should have used a bigger pot. :-)

You can decide when the stock is done. Three to four hours is about right. Then strain the bits and pieces out (pressing to release tasty juices), cool at room temp before transferring to the frige. You want to use large shallow containers so that the stock cools quickly and safely. Then move to freezer storage containers (like the ones pictured). I get a bunch of these pint and quart containers and lids at Smart & Final. Just don't put anything hot in plastic patient and wait until it cools first.

So, yes, it's a process. But it yeilds delicious goodness that keeps giving back to you. It's safe in the frige for 2-3 days and will freeze for 6 months or longer. So, stock up! (Sorry I couldn't resist the pun)