Sandy beaches are nice…

As much as I love winter soups and stews, this week I reached my limit.

It wasn’t all that evident until I dashed out of the rain and into the market for a few staples, wrapped in a fleece jacket and wool scarf. Straight ahead in the produce section, I came to a screeching stop in front of a large display of fresh mangoes.

I was not prepared for this.

My imagination immediately transformed this sight into a sandy beach lined with palm trees. I felt a warm tropical breeze envelope me… and there was a colorful bowl of fresh mango salsa.

mango salsa

No, this was not hot flashes…

Before I knew it, my cart not only held mangoes, there were limes, peppers, onions and cilantro. Down the aisle at the meat counter, they were featuring pork tenderloins. I’ll have that, thank you. Into the cart it went. This would need a quick and easy marinade; I’d go with a basic sesame-soy blend. Whatever else I needed, was immaterial. I was done.

Back at home, the pork was marinating in no time. I dusted off my old tropical salsa recipe and quickly pulled it together. Although mango is my favorite, I’ve made this with all sorts of fruit, including papaya and peach. Fresh pineapple is a good addition if the fruit is not real ripe.

This refreshing salsa goes with just about anything (I was even considering cereal at one point), from grilled fish to pork or chicken—and any sort of fried food.

The marinade is one I had been working on for Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, so that will likely still happen. It has a bit of sweetness to help with the caramelization process. I dropped the marinated pork into a hot pan for a quick sear and finished it in a medium hot oven.

The tenderloin barely made it out of the oven before I was wolfing it down with the lovely mango salsa. Ah yes, I was back on that sandy beach with tropical breezes wafting through the palm trees. So nice…

Tropical Salsa

Ingredients
2 large ripe mangoes, peel 1/2″ dice
½ red pepper, seed and dice
½ jalapeno, seed and dice
¼ cup green onions, chop
¼ cup red onion, dice
juice of ½ lime
2 Tbsp cilantro or 1/2 tsp thyme, mince
pinch salt and sugar, to taste

Instructions
Combine all and chill 2 hours or up to a day ahead. Adjust to taste with lime juice or sugar. Makes about 2 cups

Go Ducks Gumbo

Today the Oregon Ducks are back at the Rose Bowl playing the Wisconsin Badgers. Since it is also New Year’s we are feasting on bowls of Gumbo with Black-eyed Peas (here). The gumbo is rich and hearty with sausage and/or ham. To liven it up, I’m including an insane topping, Brussels Sprout Leaves with Bacon Vinaigrette.

Black-eyed Peas Gumbo topped with Brussels Sprout Leaves & Bacon Vinaigrette

I stumbled upon both ideas in The Nimble Cook, a resourceful book by Ronna Welsh. Her beautiful cookbook is packed with clever solutions for transforming little used or often ignored food into treasured ingredients. It doesn’t take long before her perspective becomes infectious and you begin to view excess and waste far differently.

It had not occurred to me to separate the leaves from the sprouts’ core, but it makes total sense when you are merely removing the larger top layer for a fast 1-minute sear. That’s it. The rest of the brussels sprouts can be cut up and included or saved for another meal. Since I was looking for a small amount for lively garnish, this suited my needs. Besides, I love the idea of the fresh sprout leaves and bright bacon vinaigrette mingling with the black-eyed peas.

Ronna likes to work with concepts that keep her ideas simple and frequently don’t require recipes. The bacon vinaigrette is so simple it hardly needs a recipe. I ended up searing about 3 cups of cut-up leaves, for 1 minute in a drizzle of hot bacon fat. I added a spoonful of the vinaigrette to the skillet to heat and coat the leaves and that was it.

The leaves remain bright green for several hours. Here’s my version of Ronna’s brilliant ideas.

Brussels Sprout Leaves with Bacon Vinaigrette

Inspired by The Nimble Cook by Ronna Welsh

Ingredients
3 slices thick smoked bacon, or ⅓ cup crisp bacon, 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp bacon fat
1 clove garlic, peel, flatten
3 cups brussels sprout leaves, cut and torn bite size, from @ 12 individual brussels sprouts
Bacon Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp whole-grain mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
pinch salt
1 Tbsp bacon fat

Instructions

  1. Cut up the bacon and cook until crisp, separately reserve the bacon bits and fat.
  2. To make the vinaigrette: combine the vinegar and mustard, whisk in olive oil and salt until thick. Whisk in the warm bacon fat until well combined and thick. Set aside
  3. In a wide skillet over medium, heat 1 tsp bacon fat. Add the garlic clove and increase heat to high. Toss the garlic, when aromatic remove it.
  4. Add the leaves, toss to coat and sear for 1 minute. Add a spoonful of vinaigrette and remove pan from heat. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Will remain green for several hours. Combine the crisp bacon with the leaves and serve. Makes 1 generous cup.

Raging Ragu

Porketta roasts occasionally come up on promotion at my local market and I’ve deliberated, but have always passed.  Recently, I spotted a good looking pork butt in the meat case and decided to give the porketta concept a try with my own seasoning blend.

You guessed it.  I made easy work of it in the multi-cooker, finished it under pressure, and was done in less than an hour.  The results were great.  Even better, there was enough left for another meal—and the main purpose of this post.

The porketta creates an absolute stellar Ragu, and arguably the easiest and best meat sauce imaginable.

Ragu and Pappardelle

Just to recap the porketta process, a 3-pound seasoned roast was sliced in half.  Both pieces were seared in the multi-cooker. 1-1/2 cups of water were added to the pot to further deglaze and build pressure. A rack was inserted and the meat was placed on it.  The pot was set to HI Pressure for 30 minutes with a 10 minute natural release.  The roast was then ready to go.

I chose a simple marinara sauce as the basis of the Ragu and cut well over a pound of roasted porketta into 1” chunks.  The meat was so tender, it nearly fell apart in the process.  All the better.  Into the sauce it went, along with some of the residual pan drippings.  The Ragu burbled and mingled for 20 to 30 minutes.

Ragu and Spinach Pasta

If you can bear to wait, the Ragu is even better the next day.  Serve this delight over pasta or as an astounding pizza topping.

Porketta Ragu

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs roasted porketta, cut into chunks
  • 4 to 6 cups marinara sauce

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the marinara sauce.  Meanwhile, cut the left over porketta roast into 1″ chunks, break it up a bit with a fork and add to the sauce.  Heat until meat is moist and begins to fall apart but still chunky, about 20 minutes.  Serve over linguine, rigatoni, or pappardelle and top with fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese. Serves 2 to 4

Porketta Seasoning:  1 Tbsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 5 crushed garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Crush the fennel thru pepper flakes in a spice mill or mortar and pestle.  Add the crushed garlic and the olive and combine well.

 

Stock-free Soup: Whey to Go

In today’s culinary world it’s all about building layers of flavor—and for further clarification we use terms like big, bold, and complex.

In Lois Anne Rothert’s well researched book, The Soups of France, she points out that for centuries thrifty French housewives have created delicious, nourishing soups without the benefit of heavy hitting stocks. Rather, they often use water and rely on local products like olive oil, herbs, spices, garlic, and garden vegetables to flavor and take center stage.

In the same mode, I am getting serious about a particular item in my fridge that is mushrooming out of control.  I have way too much whey.  Since I have been making yogurt and tinkering with fresh cheeses whey is multiplying in my refrigerator.

Several years ago I recall reading countless recipes using whey in Nancy Fallon’s ground breaking book, Nourishing Traditions.  At the time, it was interesting, but I wasn’t ready. Yes, whey is loaded with food value and I’m doing what I can to not waste it. I add it to my morning muesli, use it for pasta water, pour it on plants, and feed it to stray cats…

I’ve previously mentioned my fascination with spiced Paneer cheese and I continue to revise and refine it, further adding to the whey backlog. Out of curiosity, I recently tasted this deeper colored whey and discovered it has a nuanced, delicate flavor, layered with coriander, fennel, and nigella seeds and a whisper of lemon tartness. What’s not to love?

One batch of seeded whey ended up in a Red Pepper Soup from The Soups of France. Or more accurately, in the Basque soup made with water, flavored with red peppers, garlic and sausage–plus a couple or red potatoes added for good measure.  It receives bonus points for the suggested inclusion of poached eggs!

Red Pepper Soup

If I can break away from the whey glut, I still intend to try this soup made with water.  If it is good with whey, it will likely be as delicious on its own merit.  Also, note that a simple dash of red wine vinegar at the table adds to its intrinsic earthiness. Since the soup relies on the best quality sausage, I opted for plump sage breakfast sausage, which goes well with a perfectly poached egg.

Basque Garlic, Sausage, and Red Pepper Soup

Inspired by Lois Anne Rothert’s The Soups of France

  •  ½ lb spicy sausage, bulk pork breakfast sausage is good
  • 2 red potatoes, cube
  • 3 red peppers, seed, slice into strips
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, mince
  • Pinch cayenne or Piment d’Espelette
  • 2 quarts water, chicken stock, whey, or a combination
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Accompaniments:  Red wine vinegar, Poached eggs, Toasted French bread

In a large soup pot heat the olive oil over low heat.  Add the garlic, sausage, and pepper strips, potato, and sauté to break up and brown the sausage, about 10 minutes. Drain excess fat.

Add the cayenne, water, and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low and simmer uncovered 15-20 minutes.  Adjust seasoning.

Ladle into soup bowls, top each with a poached egg, pass the vinegar to drizzle onto soup and serve with toasted French bread.  Serves 6

Nixtamalized Corn = Hominy = Posole

Nixtamalization is getting a lot of buzz these days, especially with the many vested in preserving and promoting the traditional foods of Mexico.  For anyone else interested in authentic flavors and elemental nutrition it should matter, too. It seems we have come full circle from what the Aztecs knew centuries ago.

The Aztecs would grind the kernels of their maize or field corn against the limestone rocks found in the riverbeds, and they discovered the beneficial interaction between the two.  They noticed how their bodies responded after eating corn that had been ground in limestone. This corn did not cause digestive problems and gave them energy and spiritual alertness.

Scientists have since confirmed that lime releases niacin, an essential amino acid, in the corn.  The increased health benefits of nixtamalized corn are substantial:  it can reduce bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and contribute to the optimal functioning of other body processes such as digestion, cellular repair and elimination of toxins. Niacin also seems to reduce the level of triglycerides in the blood and much more.

Hominy is made with either white or yellow corn, but specifically it is from flint or dent corns which have a tougher outer seed coat than others. Soaking the kernels in an alkaline solution loosens or dissolves this outer portion. In the process, the kernel absorbs water and the alkaline solution which is key to nixtamalization. When cooked, the chemical composition of the kernel is altered, boosting the nutritional value of maize.  This process also provides hominy with its readily identifiable flavor and chewy bite.

Posole, hominy,  nixtamal, are all the same thing: they are corn that has undergone the nixtamalization process. Posole, a derivation of the Nahuatl word for hominy, has come to broadly refer to a soup or stew made with hominy.  So popular is posole in Mexico, it is considered a national dish, with various regions proclaiming their unique version as the best.

Here’s an easy posole made with a combination of pork, tomatillos, and pasillas or other hot peppers.

The hominy and tomatillos  provide added thickening power and flavor that melds with the pork into a rich and supple stew. Serve it straight up in bowls with favorite toppings like avocado, cilantro and crema. Or, cook it down until thick for a tortilla filling. Enjoy with spicy slaw, fresh avocado, salsa, cilantro and whatever else pleases you!

Pork Posole

Ingredients
2 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, slice into strips
2-3 pasilla peppers, or other hot peppers, seed & cut into strips
3 cloves garlic, divided
1½ – 2 lbs pork sirloin, trim, cut into strips
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. oregano
7-8 tomatillos, husk, quarter
1 tomato bouillon cube
Few dashes favorite hot sauce
2 tostadas or corn tortillas, in small pieces
1½ cup water, enough to barely cover
2 cups cooked white hominy, rinse and drain

Accompaniments:  warmed corn tortillas, guacamole, cilantro, crunchy slaw, hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté to soften, add the pepper strips, 2 cloves garlic cut into thin strips, and continue to cook until the peppers have softened and garlic is aromatic. Remove all from pot and set aside.
  2. Season the pork strips with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and add remaining 1 tbsp. oil to the pot.  When shimmering add the pork and brown on all sides.  Add the third clove of garlic cut into slivers, and toss briefly along with smoked paprika and oregano.
  3. Stir in the tomatillos, crumbled tomato bouillon,  a dash of hot sauce, the corn tortilla pieces, water to barely cover the pork, and stir to combine well.
  4. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until the pork is tender. Or, to use multi-cooker, seal the lid, bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Turn off system, let pressure come down naturally for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure.
  5. When the pork is tender add the reserved onion and pepper medley. Stir in the hominy and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or longer, until flavors are well blended and the posole has thickened. Adjust seasoning.
  6. Serve the posole in bowls with favorite garnishes. Serves 4.

 

Surprise! Surprise!

I was raised by a mother who took mealtime very seriously. Mom believed that dinner was a time to display our best manners, to chat, and enthusiastically enjoy all that she had lovingly prepared. She was a great cook, and dessert was always a highlight.  My brother and I were expected to arrive promptly for dinner and stay until we had polished off all that was served. If we balked too much, dessert was definitely off the table.

There were those painful nights when the most dreaded vegetables were served— like lima beans or asparagus—and Gary and I would eye each other knowingly. This could be a long night.  Mom was wise to our attempts at diffusing the situation: we’d spread food across the plate as if it had disappeared; we’d casually spit disgusting bites into a napkin, or desperately drop the worst to our loyal collie, Duke, who sprawled sympathetically under the table.

Mom finally relented and allowed us both to pick one item that we could pass on, but we couldn’t arbitrarily change it the next week.  For years, lima beans were my biggest contender: they were big, dry, and wretchedly hard to swallow with no redeeming flavor.

Overall, I pride myself on being open to new foods and welcome new taste treats; but still, I’d dismiss lima beans whenever there was a choice.

All that changed recently when I watched Rick Bayless prepare a dish called Banana Pepper, Leek Soup with Lima Beans and Smoked Meat. I was fascinated by the creamy, thick, green soup that was reminiscent of Vichyssoise, the fabulous chilled potato-leek soup. The concept was just enough to open the door and give me a reason to give it a try. I reasoned the bean’s texture might actually work in its favor!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup

The soup is prepared much like its French counterpart, but substitutes lima beans for the potatoes and eliminates the cream.  It begins with a quick sauté of smoked meat, like shredded ham hock (yes, it works!), then removed and saved for the finish.  Sweet root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips are roasted or grilled ahead and held for the finish.

The actual soup is quite simple. Leeks and shredded peppers, such as pasilla, are sweated in the smoke-flavored oil and cooked down until meltingly soft.  All of this is pureed with half of the defrosted frozen baby lima beans and a good chicken stock. I opted to not over puree the soup, which added to its rustic appearance and charm.

The soup is returned to the soup pot and reheated with the other half of the lima beans. The smoked meat and roasted vegetables can be reheated with the soup, too. Since they are colorful and have so much flavor, I preferred to strew them across the soup when serving—visible and not lost in the soup.

That’s it.  Add a sprinkling of cheese, a little fresh herb such as cilantro or parsley and be prepared for a surprise!

Leek-Lima Bean Soup with Root Vegetables and Smoked Meat

Inspired by Rick Bayless’s soup: Crema de Chile Güero y Poros con Carne Ahumada

Ingredients
½ pound root vegetables (2 carrots and 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into thick slivers)
6 ounces smoked meat, like smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or smoked jowel
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ pounds (about 6 small) leeks, washed, roots cut off, cut in half lengthwise and each half sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
3/4 to 1 pound (about 4-6) fresh güero or pasilla chiles stem, seed,  slice ¼-inch thick
1 pound bag frozen baby lima beans (defrosted)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper
Garnish:  handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
A few tablespoons grated Mexican queso añejo or other such as Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Toss the vegetables lightly with oil, salt and pepper, and roast the vegetables at 450°. Toss one or twice, cooking 20 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Can be grilled 2-3 minutes.)
  2. Using fingers to shred (or a knife to cut), break the ham hock (or one of its stand-ins) into bite-sized pieces. In a large (5- to 6-quart) soup pot, add about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat and add the smoked meat until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the meat onto a paper towel to drain, leaving behind as much fat as possible.
  3. Add the butter, leeks and chiles into the pot, cover and return to medium heat.  Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks and chiles are very soft, about 10 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks and chiles look thoroughly melted and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes more.  Scrape the leek mixture into a blender jar, add half of the bag of the lima beans (about 1 ¾ cup) and the broth.  Blend until smooth and return to the pan.
  4. Add the remaining beans and the charred vegetables to the soup and bring to a simmer over medium heat, add more stock or water to thin if very thick. Taste and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon depending on the saltiness of your broth.  Let simmer for a few more minutes, then ladle into warm soup bowls, sprinkle with the crispy meat and garnish with fresh herbs and cheese. Serves 6-8.

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.