Category Archives: Self Indulgence

Cinco de Mayo ~ Carnitas

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Mexican food is a staple in our house. The husband and I eat many tacos, taco salads, enchiladas, rice plates and quesadillas, filled with different savory meats, beans, rice or grains, and cheeses. Chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, it all makes for great fillings. Because a lot of our favorites come together quickly and have bright, fresh flavors, they are weeknight staples for us. The secret to Mexican cooking? It’s the spices. In order to whip up a fiesta in a flash, you need to have ground cumin, ground coriander, red chile flakes, New Mexico chile powder, chipotle powder, ground cinnamon and Mexican oregano in the cabinet and a handful of varied citrus or citrus juices (lemon, lime and orange) laying around. Fresh cilantro is also a must. Luckily, most of these spices are not expensive and can be found in the spice aisle of your grocery store. Look for the ones that come in the little pouches in the Mexican spice area, rather than your traditional spice bottles, to save some money.

For this recipe, though, you actually don’t need the spices listed above. This is a very simple recipe that only takes patience and a heavy cast iron pan to make it happen. Carnitas are one of my taqueria go-to items. Tender, succulent shreds of pork roast that have been slow roasted to perfection are the name of this game. Traditional carnitas are cooked covered in lard over very low heat in a very heavy pan until they quite literally fall apart, but for the sake of our arteries we won’t go there in this recipe.

Because of our love of all things Mexican food and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll give you some of our favorite recipes this week. This first one is still not healthy by any means, but sometimes only carnitas will do. And as part of a bigger meal, one little taco won’t hurt anyone.

Carnitas

Serves 8-10 hungry caballeros

1 fatty pork shoulder roast, about 4 lbs, stripped from the bone if bone-in, and cut into 3-4″ chunks
2 c. orange juice, freshly squeezed or from concentrate
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. dried Mexican oregano
3 chiles de arbol, crushed, or 1 t. of crushed red chile flakes
1 t. salt

In a large plastic zip-top bag or deep bowl, combine the orange juice, garlic, chiles or chile powder and salt. Put in pork pieces and let marinade in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 4. Remove from refrigerator about a half hour prior to cooking.

Preheat oven to 300*F. Heat a large cast iron skillet (I use a 10″ skillet) over medium high heat and pour in about a tablespoon of canola oil. Remove the pork pieces from the marinade and pat dry, reserving 3/4 cup of the marinade.

Sear the pork pieces on all sides in the skillet until they develop a nice brown crust. Pour reserved marinade over the pork pieces in the skillet and place in the oven, uncovered. Bake at 300*F for about 3 hours, or until pork shreds easily with a fork.

Remove skillet from oven, and raise oven temp to 450*F. Carefully shred the pork into bite-sized shreds and place the skillet back in the oven. Cook at 450*F until the liquid has nearly evaporated from the skillet and the pork shreds have a nice brown crispy crust on them, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, radish slices, your favorite salsa*, and warmed corn and flour tortillas.

* Pssst, about salsa: I RARELY make my own. If you have a great taqueria near you whose chips and salsa you love, swing by and ask if you can buy a quart of their salsa and a bag of chips. It will generally set you back less than $5 for the lot, and it’s fresher and tastier than anything you’re going to get at the store.

Feeling Green?

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One thing I’m not is Irish; my people hail from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Like the rest of America, though, I get my green out and get my Irish on for St. Patrick’s Day every year. I washed my favorite green dress yesterday, bought some Guinness and some whiskey, and made a batch of Irish Cream so we could spike our coffee this morning.

Wikipedia says that – what, no history lesson? Well, for those that are interested to know who St. Patrick actually was, here’s some info. He was an interesting fellow, and is the most widely celebrated saint in the world. And for the rest of you lot, I give you the recipe for Irish Cream.

While this isn’t the exact consistency or sweetness of the little brown bottle on the shelf, it comes pretty close, and I like that it isn’t as thick and that I can adjust the flavors to my liking. I also made the Unemployed House Wife version, as I found myself without any freeze dried coffee, and used about a quarter cup of cold, strong brewed coffee instead. Those little insta-packets that come from America’s Favorite Coffee House work brilliantly in this application, if you have them.

You’ll see that this recipe calls for what amounts to enough whiskey to bring down an elephant. I’ve successfully made it with only 1 cup of the hooch, but hey, if you aren’t driving anywhere or are going to rebottle it to give as gifts, make it as leaded as the recipe says. Your hostess and St. Patrick will thank you.

Get out your blender, and put on a pot of coffee, because by the time the joe is finished your Irish Cream will be too. It does taste best when it’s refrigerated for a bit, if you can stand it, but if not just dive in. I won’t tell.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all! Be safe, wear green, and be merry!

Irish Cream
From Cooks.com 

Makes about 5 cups, which goes surprisingly fast.

1 3/4 c. Irish whiskey
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (NOT EVAPORATED)
1 c. (1/2 pt.) whipping cream or half and half (use the heavy cream, you won’t be sorry)
4 eggs*
2 tbsp. chocolate flavored syrup
2 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
In a blender, combine all ingredients; blend until smooth. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Shake before serving. Makes about 5 cups.
*If you’re worried about egg safety in your area, you can substitute either pasteurized eggs, found near the regular eggs in most markets, or powdered egg substitute, reconstituted according to the package directions.

This One Here

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This one here is going to knock the socks off more than a couple of you. I could name names, but suffice to say that, well, you know who you are, and I know who among you will let out a small cry when they see what we’re making here today.

Ahem. Is this thing on? Peanut Butter and Banana Pound Cake with Nutella Glaze.

I heard that.

Let’s cut to the chase. I found this cake on Pinterest and it was love at first glance. I didn’t even read this nice gal’s post until I had the damn cake in the oven. I didn’t have Nutella so I pulled my butter and eggs out of the fridge and blasted to the store while they softened on the counter. And then, tragedy: our local market didn’t have Nutella, I didn’t have time to go all the way to Mayberry for a jar. I hung my head in disappointment and went home. I came up with a plan along the way, though, and improvised. This cake was happening today, come hell, high water, or Nutella famine. The oven took eons to preheat, the butter couldn’t cream fast enough. What’s taking so damn long.

Yeah, it’s a fat and sugar bomb, and I know that there are many other healthy things I could tell you about, but sometimes a girl needs a slice of cake that is so good it makes her ears ring. All I ask is that you resist the temptation to eat this entire cake for each and every meal until you’re licking the plate, and be nice enough to share it with someone you love.

Peanut Butter and Banana Pound Cake with Nutella Glaze

OK, so here’s what I did instead of the Nutella: I chopped up a handful of salted dry roasted peanuts, filled the bundt pan halfway and sprinkled them and some chocolate chips in the middle (about 1/3 cup of each) then filled with the rest of the cake batter. And instead of the glaze listed, I made a regular old one with chocolate chips and some milk and drizzled it over. The Nutella would be mind blowing, but in a pinch this totally worked.

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup smooth peanut butter, divided
2 3/4 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 large bananas, mashed
1 cup Nutella, divided
2 tablespoons milk or water (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter and 3/4 cup of the peanut butter until smooth. Beat in the sugar, mixing until light and airy, around 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Stir in the vanilla.

Add the flour and salt to the mixer, all at once, and mix just until incorporated. Mix in the mashed banana on low.

Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Drop heaping spoonfuls of Nutella over the top of the batter, about 1/2 a cup. Using a butter knife, swirl the Nutella all throughout the cake to get a marbled look. This is where I put in my chopped peanuts and chocolate chips, folks.

Bake the cake for 60 – 75 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a tester comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Heat remaining Nutella and peanut butter in the microwave in 10 second intervals to soften it up enough to drizzle. If desired, mix in a little milk or water to thin the glaze out. Drizzle on top of the bundt cake.

Sweet Saturday

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Things are looking up in Upstairs Downtown Wine Country. We’re getting unpacked, the cat is mostly adjusted, and we’ve found a brand of cat litter that we are all pleased with.

Too much?

What I haven’t done is post on here very often. There will be more frequent posting again soon, once we get more settled and organized and I find my sewing corner (which is buried in boxes in what will eventually be the office, when it quits looking like a storage locker). We’ve got a little more to do at the old house, I’m smack dab in the middle of going back to school – we’ve been busy. What else is new?

In a short time I’ll get you more pictures of the place, but as of now things aren’t quite how I want them to be. (I’m also hoping a new sofa will grace our presence shortly, which will really spruce up the joint). In the meantime, though, let’s talk caramels.

We’ve discussed before how candy making isn’t for those of weak constitution. We’ve also talked about how quickly caramel can turn on you – and it does. These reasons are what made my most recent foray into candy so sexy: the prospect of using a microwave.

Cheating, I’m sure, especially since we aren’t actually caramelizing anything here, we’re simply melting together a bunch of things that make candy. But hey, a little shortcut now and then isn’t a bad thing. It’s not like we’re serving these to Martha or anything (though for the record, I would serve these to her with a smile). I discovered shortcut caramels while Pinning away one evening instead of doing my homework. They’ve been on my mind ever since and today, friends, I made them.

Literally the quickest thing ever. Prep your pan, zap your mixture 1-2-3 times, pour into your prepped pan of choice, cool and VOILA. Caramels. I don’t kid you here. Caramels that are worthy of company. Caramels that are worthy of Martha, for heaven’s sakes.

And what better than salt with caramel? I know, it’s been extremely trendy lately, I’ve been seeing salted caramel everything, from candies to caramel corn to granola bars for chrissakes. It’s everywhere. And in an inspired moment in the artisan salt aisle in my local health food mecca, I had the great pleasure of poking my nose into the Help Yourself bulk containers of balsamic salt as well as her shelf mate, salt smoked with oak barrel staves that formerly cradled chardonnay. I know, right? What in the world do you use these with? CARAMELS.

These coupled with my newest thrift store find (a mini muffin pan that I scored for $1), five ingredients and six minutes later, here’s what we had:

I had a bit more caramel than would fit in my mini muffy pan, so I poured it into a small loaf pan:

…and lived happily ever after. Be sure to grease your pans REALLY WELL so these babies don’t stick. I don’t care if the pan you choose is nonstick, the last thing you want is to find after the wait for these to set that they are welded to your pan. And it happens even in the nonstickiest of nonstick pans.

Be sure to wrap them individually in waxed paper or parchment paper when cool, and they live their best life in the fridge, if they stick around for more than a day. My money says they won’t hang out on your counter for more than the afternoon. And think of the hostess gift potential! Dipped in chocolate and presented in a sweet candy dish all hand wrapped in parchment guarantees you’ll be invited over more often. It would work on me.

Shortcut Caramels

1/4 c. butter

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. light colored corn syrup

1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk.

Grease your chosen pan (13×9, 11×7, 9×9, 8×8, the smaller the pan the thicker your caramels will be) with canola oil, butter, pan spray, or my choice, coconut oil. Melt your butter and combine all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl (and if you have one that you can nuke that has a pour spout, for Pete’s sake use it here). Zap for 6 minutes, pulling and stirring every two minutes. At the end of the 6 minutes, give it a thorough but quick stir, and pour into  your pan. Top with your chosen salt immediately. Let them set up on the counter for a half hour or so, and flip them out of the pan. Slice, wrap in wax or parchment paper, and store. Or, eat with reckless abandon. Makes as many as you slice, in whatever size you slice them.

Most festive of holiday beverages

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I broke down last week and bought a container of eggnog at the grocery store. Moreover, I bought a container of light eggnog because I felt like I should be mindful of my calories in the week leading up to Thanksgiving (which as we all know and don’t admit is a 4 day eating extravaganza).

In doing so, I broke two huge rules on my personal “Are You Nuts?” list, those being 1. It’s socially unacceptable to buy eggnog before Thanksgiving, and 2. High Fructose Corn Syrup is evil. The SECOND INGREDIENT on the back of the carton (which I didn’t read until I got home) is HFCS. I refuse to touch the stuff now, and have learned my lesson for trying to sneak one in on my own Don’t You Dare list.

Besides, grocery store eggnog is supremely sub-par if you’ve ever had the delight and pleasure of having homemade eggnog. Laced with nutmeg and spices and plenty of booze, there’s no way to celebrate the holiday weekend. Roaring fire and blustery weather make it even better. The addition of a snowstorm would make it just about perfect.

No snow here in the wine country, though we have some friends that are crazy enough to go camping this weekend. Camping. In November. In a tent. While this isn’t my ideal way to spend a 4 day weekend, visiting for an afternoon around their campfire and having snacks and laughs is a pretty close second. I’ll bring up a prewarmed Ultimate Turkey Sandwich (more on that later) and a double batch of Ultimate Eggnog.

My Aunt Nancy makes the Best with a Capital B eggnog ever, and while I used to have the recipe, it’s since been lost in one too many reorganizing missions of my recipe folder. This one though has all the makings of hers: raw eggs, plenty of hooch, and enough saturated fat to stop your heart. All of this is OK though, because this is a libation of which you’re only meant to have one (or one and a splash). If you’ve never had the distinct displeasure of drinking too many White Russians then I’ll warn you that one should be very careful when mixing dairy and hard alcohol. Enough said.

Now, if you’re worried about egg safety or just not so sure about raw eggs, I recommend using this recipe instead. It’s not worth taking risks and tempering eggs only takes another minute or two. For those of you lucky enough to have chickens or access to fresh eggs, this is the recipe to showcase them. The bright yellow of a fresh egg yolk adds a distinctly lovely color to this most festive of holiday beverages.

So, whip up a batch of nog this weekend to share with your friends and family. Please note that you should allow it to sit for at least 3 hours, I prefer to let it rest overnight before serving (or at least make it in the morning for that evening’s consumption). It allows the alcohol to temper a bit and all of the flavors to blend and mellow. If you’re used to a more substantial nog, whip your egg whites and your yolks separately, and fold the yolks back in just prior to serving.

The Ultimate Eggnog
From Epicurious

6 large eggs
3/4 cup vanilla sugar (no vanilla sugar? Sub in a teaspoon of good vanilla extract with the 3/4 cup of sugar)
1 quarts half and half (or light cream)
1 cup brandy
2 cups bourbon or dark rum
freshly grated nutmeg

In large bowl, beat eggs until pale yellow and slightly frothy. Add sugar and half and half, and stir until well blended. Add brandy and bourbon (or dark rum) and stir. Transfer to large pitcher and chill until cold, at least 3 hours. Divide between 6 punch cups, garnish each with sprinkle of nutmeg, and serve.

Eat dessert first

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Now and again, things happen in our lives that make the world stop spinning.

Yesterday in my cruise of the blogosphere I stopped by my favorite for a visit. Sarah’s blog gives me hope in the everyday and a sense of wonder about the world (and she’s a great cook as well); I consider her a kindred spirit even though we have never met in ‘real life.’

Yesterday, Sarah had a post about a lovely lady named Jennie (whose blog I also peek at from time to time). Jennie’s husband died. And suddenly everything around me was quiet. The rest of the afternoon was so long, and it took a lot of mustering for me to keep it together and not cry for Jennie’s loss. All I wanted was to go home and hug my husband.

As I get older I increasingly find that it’s the sad moments that give me the most pause. And while I try every day to be mindful of the world and the people around me, it’s so easy to be swept up in the day-to-day momentum of the world swirling around me. I forget to pause and take a deep breath and think about the fact that life is so short and precious. I forget to be thankful for everyone and everything around me.

I carried Sarah’s and Jennie’s posts with me to our weekly outing at the Bear to see our great friends and weigh in on our week. I made sure I took everything around me, listened to everyone’s laughs, ingested everyone’s smiles, noticed those that were missing and inquired their whereabouts from their loved ones. I’m sure they thought I was a little off, I know I was watching their faces a little too long. I made eye contact with and smiled at every person I met, not just those I knew. Last night I slept well for the first time in weeks.

Today, I’m having a handful of good friends in for dinner. I wish I could somehow have them all, and my family, here this evening. After our feast of fried chicken (the REAL stuff, not that oven baked business), and summer squash casserole (with squashes from a dear neighbor, who leaves them on the porch while we’re away the way you’re supposed to when you have too many), I’m going to serve Jennie’s peanut butter pie. I’m not sure I’ll tell Jennie’s story, but I will be thinking of her and her family as I serve this pie to my loved ones.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
from In Jennie’s Kitchen
Serves 10 to 12

8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use. Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream). Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan. Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Spa Foot Soak

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So, remember the bath fizzie venture? It left me with some extra epsom salts and an idea for my newly exposed, not-quite-ready-for-springtime toes: a spa foot soak.

Add a half cup of epsom salts to the bottom of a large tub or bowl, along with a drop or two of essential oil or a tablespoon of lavender flowers (or both, if you’re feeling fancy or in need of extra pampering). Top with hot water and swirl the water around until the salts melt, making sure not to fill the bowl too high or make it too hot, since you still have to stick your feet in there.

Carefully retreat with the bowl and a towel to your favorite seat in the house,  have a seat, and soak your tootsies for 10-15 minutes. Try to find a moment of inner peace and not scream at the Giants on TV for letting the Dodgers take a 3 run lead.

After you’ve had enough soak time, carefully extract your feet and try not to get the lavender flowers all over the floor like I did (sorry, honey). Dry off, apply a thick layer of your favorite rich hand cream or body balm to your feet and ankles, pull on socks, and let the lotion soak in. If you can stand sleeping in socks keep them on overnight, but they should stay on for at least an hour. Voila! A fancy-pants foot soak at home that saved you a trip to the spa and about $30.