Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cochinita Pibil/Yucatecan Roasted Pork

Akumal, Mexico
photo from locogringo.com

Are you winter-weary? Well, I shouldn't be because we have had a very mild winter so far. We just got a bit of snow yesterday, which we all are celebrating because our weather has been so dry.


Nearly 30 years ago, at about this time of year, I was desperate to get away from the cold and the brown of winter. I went to a travel agent (this was a long time ago!) and said, "I need to go somewhere warm."

Thus began Dan's and my love affair with Mexico. That first year, we went to Cancun, which was then a miniature version of its current self. We traveled to a little village called Playa del Carmen, where chickens roamed the cobbled stones and scratched along dirt roads. We ate spicy tortilla soup and drank Dos Equis in an old hotel restaurant right on the water.

In the past 30 years, we have stayed up and down the coast of the "Costa Maya." Things have changed a lot there. In Playa, the chicken coops have been replaced by chic boutiques and cruise ships drop swarms of visitors, from far-flung corners of the earth.

But, our love of the place has endured--turquoise water flecked with the sparkling sun and pure white sand which somehow manages to stay cool. Hibiscus and bougainvilla grow wild with abandon, tumbling over gracious haciendas and humble casitas alike.

 Magical. And, one of the best things about this area of the Yucatan? The cuisine is incredible, fresh, complex: a blend of Mayan, Caribbean and Spanish. 

Because I am longing for a Yucatecan meal, I think tonight will be cochinita pibil, translated from Mayan as "little pig in a pit." Traditionally, a whole suckling pig is slow-roasted in a barbecue pit in the ground. I do not have a cochinita or a way to cook it  pibil (underground) but I do have a package of pork shoulder, a slow-cooker and Rick Bayless' elegantly easy home-method recipe (from his wonderful cookbook, Mexican Everyday). Let us begin!

Cochinitia Pibil
photo by Jon Sullivan

Cochinita Pibil
Serves 6

Half a 3.5 ounce package achiote seasoning*
3/4 cup fresh lime juice (divided)
half a 1-pound package banana leaves, defrosted if frozen (optional)
3-pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
Bottled habanero sauce, if desired (such as Frontera brand)

Fresh corn tortillas, toasted; or rice

Place achiote seasoning, 1/2 cup lime juice and 2 teaspoons salt into a small bowl and use back of spoon to create a smooth, thick marinade.

If you have banana leaves, cut two 2-foot sections and use them to line a slow-cooker: Lay one down the length, the other across the width. Lay in the pork and pour marinade over and around the roast. Scatter white onion over top. (I never can seem to find banana leaves when I need them, so usually I make this dish without.)

Pour 1/2 cup water around meat. Fold up banana leaves (if using) to roughly cover everything. Cover and slow-cook on high for 6 hours, until meat is fall-off-the-bone tender.

While meat is cooking, combine red onion and remaining 1/4 cup lime juice in small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, toss and set aside to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Use tongs to transfer the meat and onions to dinner plates. Spoon off any fat floating in the juices. If there is a lot of brothy sauce--2 cups or more--ladle it into a saucepan and boil it down to about 1 cup to concentrate flavors. Taste sauce and season with salt if needed; then spoon over meat. Top with lime-marinated red onions and serve with hot sauce, if desired. Make tacos with toasted tortillas or serve over rice.

*Achiote seasoning is earthy and rustic; not at all spicy.
It can be purchased at Mexican groceries
or through many on-line stores (including amazon).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Speedy Risotto

Mushroom Risotto

My clan loves risotto anytime of the year. But, we crave it especially during these cold, dark days when comfort food makes us so happy. My sister makes a divine risotto the old fashioned way (stir, stir, stir, pour in broth, stir, stir, stir). However, I must confess to a severe lack of patience with that method.

But, I discovered a way to feed our need for risotto in just a few minutes--my trusty pressure cooker! I have a Fagor electric pressure cooker which can be a personal chef's--or a home cook's--best friend. I make broths and soups and parts of recipes with it all the time. It works beautifully for risotto, turning out a creamy, perfectly textured dish each time.

Risotto is incredibly versatile and you can add most anything to it. Today, I will give you my recipe for Mushroom Risotto, using the Fagor cookbook's "Fagor's Never Fail Risotto" recipe as the base. Enjoy!

Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4-6

Handful of porcini mushrooms
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced onion or shallot
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon thyme (or 2 tablespoons fresh thyme)
salt and pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Fresh Italian parsley, minced

Rehydrate porcinis in warm water; carefully drain mushrooms to avoid any grit that has settled at the bottom. Discard liquid and set aside porcinis.

While procinis are rehydrating, in a large pan, saute garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter, until onion is translucent. Stir in criminis and thyme; saute until mushrooms give up their water and become browned. Add the rehydrated porcinis and saute for another minute or so. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.

Pour remaining 2 tablespooons olive oil into the pressure cooker and turn on the "browning" setting. Add rice and saute about 5 minutes. This keeps the rice grains from sticking to each other. Turn off browning setting, add remainder of broth and wine. Close the lid and turn the knob to "pressure." Set the timer for 10 minutes on high pressure.

When done, release pressure and open cooker. Stir in the mushroom mixture and cheese. Serve, sprinkled with parsley.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mama Scanloni's Ground Chicken Parmesan

Yum!! The good stuff! Parmigiano Reggiano (photo by Jon Sullivan)

Okay, I'm not Italian and this dish would never qualify as authentic. However, whenever I find a dish that my whole family loves, I call it a success. And, my family loves this one.

I do love love love Chicken Parmesan, but it can be heavy and fatty. It often calls for heavy breading with butter, bread crumbs, eggs, and seems to call for loads of cheese. I made this version which sneaks in some veggies and eliminates the breading (I promise, you won't even miss it). Ground chicken can be dry, so the addition of veggies keeps it moist and light.

If you use parmigiano reggiano--the good stuff--you can use less and still get a real punch of flavor. Serve this with a side of pasta--we like the Barilla White Fiber pasta--and a green, such as sauteed spinach. Don't forget a glass of red for the adults and maybe a glass of purple (grape juice) for the kids. How civilized!

Ground Chicken Parmesan
makes 4-6 servings

1 pound ground chicken breast
1/2 zucchini, shredded (slice remainder and reserve)
1 medium carrot, shredded
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 quart good quality marinara sauce (or make your own with this recipe)

Part-skim shredded mozzarella, if desired
grated parmigiano reggiano

8 oz your choice pasta, prepared according to directions

Prepare four to six individual baking dishes (or an 8 x 8 baking pan) by spraying with cooking spray and covering the bottom of each with marinara sauce (2-3 tablespoons should be enough).  Place dishes on a baking sheet layered with aluminum foil.

Place ground chicken breast in medium bowl and add zucchini, carrot, onion, garlic, bread crumbs, egg white, salt and Parmesan. Mix gently with hands. The patties will be a little sticky.

Form four to six patties from the mixture, making them as thin as possible. Heat oil in a frying pan and place the patties in. Cook a few minutes on one side until brown. Flip to the other side and brown. Lower heat, cover and cook until meat thermometer registers 165 degrees.

Remove patties from pan and place one each onto the marinara sauce in individual baking dishes.

Add reserved sliced zucchini to the frying pan and saute until tender. Pour remaining marinara sauce into pan and heat together with the zucchini.

Divide marinara sauce equally over patties. Sprinkle with mozzarella and/or parmesan. For my kids, I add a little mozzarella plus the parm. For the adults, just a sprinkling of parmesan is perfect.

Slide the baking sheet with the dishes of chicken Parmesan into the oven and broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbly.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Blueberries in the Winter? Make Muffins!

Oh blueberries, I miss you so in the wintertime. But, I've found frozen blueberries to be an excellent substitute, especially in baking.

I have made these muffins for many years and honestly this recipe allows all sorts of adaptations. I will list a few of my favorite at the end of this post. These muffins go together very quickly, making them perfect for breakfast. Any leftovers go beautifully with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon. Ahem.

Make these soon! They are a little taste of summer when the snow flies.

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel
makes about 1 dozen

1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen (or fresh) blueberries, thawed and drained

1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter
2-3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a regular-sized muffin tin, spray cup bottoms only with cooking spray.

Crack egg in medium bowl and beat with a fork. Stir in milk and oil. In another bowl, place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and stir with a whisk. Add dry mixture into wet and stir just until moistened. Batter will be lumpy but do not over mix it. Then, carefully fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin cups 1/2 full.

Mix together flour, sugar, cinnamon and cut in the butter until crumbly. Add walnuts, stir and sprinkle equally over the uncooked muffins.

Bake 20-25 minutes until browned.

Other variations:

Peach Muffins. These are a family favorite made in the summer with the ripest, juiciest peaches you can find. Just replace the blueberries with 1 cup chopped peaches.

Cinnamon-Sugar Muffins. Just remove the blueberries. These are delicious right out of the oven!

Stawberry-Almond Muffins. Replace blueberries with 1 cup chopped strawberries (frozen stawberries are okay here, too) and change out the walnuts for chopped or slivered almonds in the streusel.

Mango-Macademia Muffins. Substitute blueberries for a cup of fresh or jarred chopped mango. Replace walnuts with roughly chopped macademia nuts in the struesel for a tropical taste on a cold morning.