Chilly Weather = Chile Weather!

Back in the day, I was a vegetarian for 6 or 7 years.  Then one day I was at a farmer’s market in Walla Walla, Washington with one of my best friends and she told me that she was eating the best thing she had ever tasted.  That thing was a freshly made pork sausage with sweet onions, all locally sourced.  I took a bite and declared that I was no longer a vegetarian.

My point is that if there was ever a reason for eating meat, it’s pork.  Pork is delicious!  It is also incredibly versatile, running the gamut from decadently fatty bacon (which I like to think of as the candy of meats) to lean and healthy tenderloin.  The tenderloin does get less healthy when you wrap it in bacon like I usually do, but that is beside the point.   I still eat vegetarian a good chunk of the time (because vegetables are awesome), but every once in a while pork really sounds good.  And by every once in a while I mean this week.

I had about 3.5 pounds of pork tenderloin in my freezer that needed to be used and when my husband said he was in the mood for Mexican food, I hit upon the perfect solution: chile verde.  Chile verde is basically a stew with pork, various peppers, garlic, and tomatillos.  It can be eaten straight up in stew form or used as a taco filling.  It is also a perfect slow cooker recipe.

I used this recipe from the Food Network as the basis for my chile verde, although I made a few alterations.  For one thing, I love the flavor of roasted chiles, so I roasted all the peppers along with the tomatillos.  I took before and after pictures of this but then accidentally deleted them from my camera.  Doh!  It was pretty straightforward, though.  I just cut all the peppers into chunks and threw them under the broiler on a sheet pan.  Another alteration I made was whirring the tomatillos in the food processor rather than chopping them.  Also, after I sauteed the vegetables I deglazed the pan with tequila.  Then everything went into the crock pot.

I set it for 3 hours on high, but you could also set it for ~6-8 hours on low and it would work fine.  At this point you could call it done and serve it as a stew.  We wanted it for tacos, however, so I strained out the solids using a colander.

Then I pulled out all the pork pieces and shredded them using two forks.

Once all the pork was shredded, the peppers and onions got added back in.  I also added a little of the broth to give it some moisture (I reserved the rest of the broth for tortilla soup).  Once that was done, I did a final seasoning and called it good.

We’ve been eating this as a taco filling with corn tortillas, fresh lime, cilantro, & a little jack cheese and it is awesome!  It’s also really good with eggs for sort of a huevos rancheros style breakfast.

Do you like to use a slow cooker?  What are your go-to recipes?

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Blessed are the Cheesemakers

This month’s UFH Challenge is home dairy!  Now, if you know me, you know that I love cheese.  And we’re not talking about some brief affair that fizzles with time.  If I could marry a dairy product, I might marry cheese (apologies to my husband).  The first challenge is indeed cheese making and is posted over at the Eating Rules blog.  It involves starting off with a simple ricotta-like farmers cheese, using lemon juice for the acid.  While I really want to get my hands on some mozzarella one of these days for some awesome homemade pizza, this seems like a good place to start.

The equipment listed is as follows:

  • A good pot. Already in the pantry.  Excellent!  Off to a good start.
  • A dairy thermometer.  Let me take a little aside here to lament how much trouble I have had finding kitchen thermometers.  I have tried analog, electric, praying to the candy thermometer gods, etc. and have still yet to find one that doesn’t read COMPLETELY wrong.  Usually it reads way too high, so I end up freaking out and taking the candy I’m trying to make off of the stove thinking it’s ruined and then it doesn’t set because it didn’t get freaking hot enough.  Thermometers are the bane of my existence.  OK, back to the point.  I was going to pick up a dedicated dairy thermometer but our local cheese supply store (yes, we have one of those.  Haven’t you seen Portlandia?) is closed on Mondays and so I opted to use our brewing thermometer, which has the right range.  It doesn’t clip to the side of the pot but I figure I can deal with holding it for my first cheese attempt.  Also it is one of the more accurate thermometers I’ve used.
  • Cheesecloth or Butter Muslin.  Again, already in the pantry.  This is cake!  Err…cheese!
  • Slotted Spoon, Measuring Cups, and Measuring Spoons. Check, check, and check.

I didn’t need to buy any equipment!  Not bad for trying a whole new food making process.  Ingredients are simple as well:

  • 1/2 Gallon Whole Milk.  This should not be ultra-pasteurized and I have a fondness for non-homogenized.  I went to our local co-op hoping to find some locally sourced milk but their options were sadly limited.  I ended up buying some Strauss (which is darn good, but unfortunately from California).  Then when I was at New Seasons I found local milk for cheaper.  Damn you co-op!  Oh well, next time.  And it was really only 50 cents difference.  Next time I will go to New Seasons first.  Alternatively, I will actually make the time to drive back via the Valley and got to Kookoolan Farms, where I can get raw milk.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Lemon Juice (Another way to use my lemons!  Kismet!)
  • 1/2 tsp Cheese Salt (My first thought was,  “What the heck is cheese salt?”.  My second thought was, “Thank you, internet!”.  Apparently it’s flaky, non-iodized salt.  Unfortunately with our cheese making shop closed, I couldn’t get any.  Then I realized we had Maldon Salt, which is flaky, non-iodized sea salt.  Score!
  • Chopped Herbs (Alright herb garden!  Glad it’s been a mild winter.)

So really I already had everything I needed except for the milk.  So far, this experiment into cheese making was rockin’!

The first step is heating the milk to 175 °F.  The challenge post said to do this on the stovetop, but I figured a double boiler method would be more forgiving in terms of not accidentally burning the milk, so I went with that.  I boiled water in our stockpot and used that to sanitize the milk pan, the thermometer, and the spoon I’d be using to stir the milk.  Then I put the milk pan into the stockpot and poured the milk into it.  The downside of using non-homogenized milk is that the cream at the top can prevent the milk from coming out, but I poked at it with a knife until it was enough mixed in to at least come out of the bottle.

I stirred the milk and held the thermometer in it until it reached 175 °F, then took it out of the water bath and added the lemon juice.  Fifteen minutes later, sure enough, I had curds and whey!  I felt a little like Miss Muffet.

These got put through a cheesecloth-lined colander to drain them then hung up to drain further over the sink.  We consider binder clips to be essential kitchen items for instances just such as these.

After a couple of hours, I emptied the curds into a bowl, mixed in 1/2 tsp of salt and some chopped oregano from our garden and voila!  Cheese!

It tastes really good, too.  The lemon imparts a slight tanginess and the oregano adds some complexity.  I can’t wait to try this with some fresh bread.  Assuming it lasts long enough for me to make some bread.  I may just eat it all on its own before that happens.  Also, I bet this would make AMAZING blintzes.  The next time I make it, I think I may have to channel my grandmother and roll some of those.  Yum!

When life hands you lemons…

OK, so you know how on Friday I said that I had a ton of meyer lemons I needed to use?  Well, the scones really only took one plus the zest from a couple of more.  I still had a bunch of lemons.

My next thought was lemon bars.  They are tasty, easy, and brightly lemony.  Plus since our chickens started laying again last week, we have plenty of eggs to use.  So that’s what I did.

First the shortbread crust gets made and pressed into the pan.  This is really just flour, powdered sugar, and butter, but somehow it works:

Bake that for ~20 minutes and you get your shortbread crust.

On top of that, put the custard mixture (eggs, lemon, sugar, etc.)

Bake that for another 15 -18 minutes, then let cool and dust with powdered sugar!  Voila.  Lemon bars.  These are insanely good.  Like, so good that we had friends over on Friday night and didn’t eat any until they got there and the next morning there was only one left.  Om nom nom.

Unfortunately we still had a bunch of lemons after that.  So I did what people everywhere do when life hands them lemons:

Meyer Lemon Bar recipe here.

Like a Rolling Scone

I got up this morning with every intention of tackling the mess that is currently our basement, especially with my seeds coming soon!  I want to get the table I’ll be using for seed starts all ready to go.  Instead, however, I decided to make pizza dough and try out a new blueberry lemon scone recipe since I had both blueberries and meyer lemons sitting around needing to be used.

Posts on the pizza and the basement will come later, but I thought I’d share the scone recipe since I’ve already eaten two of them.  Oops.

I did some searching around and ended up mashing a couple of different scone recipes together to suit my needs.  Here’s what I ended up with:

Glazed Blueberry & Meyer Lemon Scones (adapted from Tyler Florence)

Ingredients

Blueberry Scones:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Zest from two lemons
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
  • 1 egg yolk, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Glaze:

  • Juice from one lemon
  • 1 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Zest from one lemon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the lemon zest and mix.

Using 2 forks, a pastry blender, or your hands, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract to the cream.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream mixture. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough.  Mix in the blueberries, taking care not to mash them (unless you want purple scones!).

Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a flat circle, approximately 8 inches in diameter.  Cut the circle into 8 even wedges.  Place the scones on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until beautiful and brown.

While the scones are baking, make the glaze by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze or it will be runny.  I highly recommend doing this over a plate, as well, so that you don’t get glaze everywhere.

Enjoy!