Sunday, January 19, 2014

Latin Yum-Yums

Don't mind the sazon stains.
A few weeks ago I was bragging on Facebook about this awesome dinner I made featuring a carnitas recipe I found on Pinterest and Puerto Rican-style rice, and a bunch of people started hounding me for the recipes. So I'll share them with you all here.

The rice is part of a recipe the Big Guy got from a lady he worked with when we lived in Orlando, Florida. Liz was half Puerto Rican and half Polish. Her cooking could get interesting, to say the least. But this was one of her Latin favorites. The Big Guy fell for this recipe when Liz brought some to work and shared with him. He told her his Midwestern white-bread wife needed to learn to make stuff like that, so she wrote down the recipe for me. It's a little sketchy on details (but I'm learning all the best recipes are), so I'm sharing it here with my modifications made through trial and error. You can see in the photo it's been well-loved (and a little splattered-upon).

Chicken Wings & Yellow Rice

1/2 cup (or less) cooking oil
2 packets Goya Sazon con Azafran (yellow packet)
2 large serving spoons full tomato sauce
1 Tbsp salt (or to taste)
dash of oregano
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp sugar
12 chicken wings/drumettes
2 cups long-grain rice
2 cups water

In a dutch oven or medium stock pot, combine first 7 ingredients and wings. Saute wings until lightly browned. Add rice and water and stir together, making sure you can see the rice under the surface of the water. Boiling uncovered on high, let the rice "dry," stirring occasionally. When water is pretty much all absorbed, turn heat down to low, stir rice up into a mound, cover with aluminum foil and place lid on pot. Cook for about 30 minutes on low. After 30 minutes, stir - scraping all the burnt rice up off the bottom of the pot. (Hint: You're going to want a wooden spoon or metal spatula for this part. It really does get burnt and stuck on down there.) Check to see if rice is tender. Turn off heat, cover the pot, and let sit for another 10 minutes. Stir and serve.

Homemade pressure cooker? Sure, why not?

**To make rice only, reduce cooking oil to 1/8-1/4 cup and omit chicken wings.**

I can hear you now..."BURNT rice??" Yes, burnt rice. I freaked out the first time I made it, until the Big Guy told me to calm the hell down. That's what it's supposed to be like. I didn't believe him...until I took my first bite. In the middle of all my perfectly cooked rice were these little bits of crunchy grains that EXPLODED with flavor. It was so amazing. Black beans pair really nicely with this rice.

The carnitas recipe is based on a couple different recipes I found on Pinterest, but mainly the version found on My Kitchen Escapades. Here's my adaptation and a little meat porn.


Pork Carnitas
(adapted from My Kitchen Escapades)

8 lb bone-in pork butt (trimmed and cut into 2" cubes) (Could also use a 4 lb boneless butt, trimmed and cubed)
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 large onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 C water
1 medium orange, juiced and keep the spent halves

Adjust oven rack down to lower-middle position and preheat to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large, oven-safe Dutch oven, including orange juice and spent orange halves. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered. Cover and place in preheated oven. Cook 2-3 hours, or until meat falls apart easily when tested with a fork. (Mine took a full 3 hours.)

Remove pot from oven, move oven rack up to middle position and turn oven to broil. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from the pan and place on a large, foil-lined jelly roll pan. Remove and discard everything else from the cooking liquid and place pot over high heat. Cook liquid down until thick and syrupy, about 20-30 minutes. There should only be about 1 cup of liquid left when you're finished.

In the meantime, break chunks of meat up using two forks. Pull each large cube of meat into about three pieces and discard any hunks of fat or gristle that didn't break down during cooking. Once liquid is reduced, gently stir meat into liquid, trying not to break up the meat any further. Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Return pork and liquid to baking sheet and spread meat out evenly in a single layer. Broil until meat is well-browned and slightly crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Using a large spatula, turn meat over and broil on other side until well-browned and crispy, about 5-8 more minutes. Serve on tortillas with your favorite toppings.

We used corn tortillas, lightly toasted in a skillet, and topped them with a little bit of queso quesadilla cheese (TRY IT! Sooo much more flavor than jack cheese or Mexican blend!), chopped romaine lettuce, sour cream and sliced onion. You could also add some cilantro - or use it instead of lettuce - if that's your thing. I, personally, hate cilantro, so we did not use it.

The queso quesadilla cheese was so delicious, we also sprinkled some over the top of our rice. You can never have enough cheese. Cheese is good. Cheese makes everything better. Here was the finished result:

Ciabatta Redemption

After last weekend's epic ciabatta defeat, courtesy of Martha Stewart's Baking Painbook, I went back into the kitchen this weekend determined to redeem myself and wash away the stink of failure that still hung in the air. In my hands was my new favorite book: Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day.

Taking many of the same recipes from his earlier work, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and distilling them down to the basics for the home baker, Reinhart has created the perfect go-to companion for crafting beautiful, insanely delicious breads without special equipment or impossible techniques. He also takes the time to break down professional techniques into easily understandable steps, with helpful accompanying pictures. His ciabatta bread - or pain à l'ancienne - covers four pages in book, with three-quarters of one page being step-by-step photos, plus a fifth page featuring only a beauty shot of the finished product. That's three and three-quarters pages of deeply detailed instructions.

On Friday night, the Big Guy and I got to work. He's such a great helper. He got all my ingredients out and helped me get dishes done from dinner and get everything ready to work while I carefully read Reinhart's instructions for the ciabatta and his streamlined bagel recipe.

You may remember I've been using Reinhart's original Bread Baker's Apprentice recipe, as adapted by Smitten Kitchen. So I was curious to see what he had done with the recipe for Artisan Breads Every Day. Let me tell you...he has streamlined it to perfection. It still takes up six pages in the book, but that includes the requisite full-page beauty shot plus another whole page of photos showing the step-by-step shaping instructions, which turned out to be key to the whole process.

Normally when I make bagels, it's about 3-4 hours of work on day 1 and about 1-2 hours (depending on how many batches I've made) on day 2. Last weekend when I tackled six dozen bagels plus ciabatta bread all in the same day, it took the entire Saturday, plus 4 hours on Sunday to accomplish the task. I'm ecstatic to report that this weekend we spent less than 2 hours on prepping dough Friday night, then about 3 hours on Saturday to finish shaping, rising and baking. Granted, we only made one dozen bagels this weekend vs six dozen last weekend, but still, time will be considerably less no matter how many dozen I'm making because he has switched to more cold fermenting of the yeast vs warm proofing. So now there are fewer steps, fewer ingredients, and less on-the-counter rising time.

I was excited to try the new method of rolling the bagel dough out into ropes and then pinching the ends together to form a circle, rather than my previous method of just poking a hole in the middle of a ball, which produced majorly lopsided bagels sometimes. The rope method will be my go-to from now on. Look at these beauties:

The one in the middle was formed using the rope technique. The one on the right used the less-than-scientific "poke a hole in it" method. I decided we needed to make some cheese bagels this time. Why we hadn't tried cheese yet, I don't know, because we're both big fans. So I grabbed a giant bag of shredded parmesan and started spreading the love:

With my oven set to "screaming hot", I slid them in to bake. A short 20 minutes later, here's what we ended up with - cheesy, golden heaven:

You'll notice a few of them have "snail tails." I still need to work on perfecting the rope technique. But for a first try, I think I did pretty darn well! The ciabatta came out beautifully also - just need to brush off more flour next time before baking. And it tastes awesome.

Then, after all this was done, just for fun I decided to try pesto parmesan bread from a recipe I found on Pinterest. I have all this pesto sauce in my freezer from the overabundance of basil in last summer's garden, so we're finding creative ways to put it to use. And since my girl Rachel was feeding us lasagna Saturday night, what a perfect complement! I used the Braided Pesto Bread recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride (how cute is that??). It was tasty and a huge hit with nearly everyone, but it was a pain in the ass to make, if I'm being honest. I even went back to the blog to check the comments to see if anyone else had as much trouble braiding this damn loaf as I did. But either all of the people who made it are much more skilled at braiding unwieldy dough than I am, or they're just not as easily irritated about stuff like that as I am and so didn't bother mentioning it when they commented. Either way, it was annoying. But tasty! Here's what it looked like:

More adventures next weekend, I'm sure! But for now, that's all I got. Now off to relax before tomorrow morning brings another busy week. Bye, y'all!

Friday, January 17, 2014

New baking books!

After last weekend's giant Martha fail, I decided she and I should break up. At least for a while. So after I put up my last blog post Wednesday evening, the Big Guy and I headed over to Barnes & Noble to get some better guidebooks. We came home with The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook and Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. We're getting started tonight with a couple of Peter's recipes, and I CANNOT WAIT. *squeal*

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ciabatta bread fail...and other weekend food adventures

Like the meme? Came across it while browsing memes.
Thought it might be appropriate for this post. Made me lolz.
I'm always on here like, "Look at what neat thing I made today! It was soooo yummy!" like I'm the greatest cook/baker on Earth. The fact is, however, I'm not perfect.

As a perfectionist, it really hurts to say that out loud. I'm not perfect. Ugh. I actually cringed after I typed that. But it's true. I do fail sometimes when experimenting with a new recipe...and sometimes with old recipes too. It happens. But this weekend I experienced an EPIC FAIL when I decided to tackle another Martha recipe.

F*cking Martha.

I'm on a sandwich bread kick, so I decided to try her ciabatta bread recipe on page 329 of Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. After my last Martha adventure, I decided to read the recipe completely several times before even starting. Everything appeared to be in order, so I got to work. And everything seemed to be going according to plan for the first couple of hours. (Don't freak out. It was like 5 minutes of work and 2 hours of proofing.)

But, see, the other problem I have with Martha's Big Ol' Baking Book is the lack of pictures. Oh sure, there are lots of pretty, well-staged, well-styled photos of mouth-watering pastries and breads. But there are next to no photos of the PROCESS of getting to those drool-worthy finished products.

So I end up reading the description of what the first phase of my dough should look like after proofing and thinking, "Yup, it's pretty wet, slack and sticky, alright. I guess I'm on target." Boy, was I wrong. The Big Guy helped me scoop it out of the mixing bowl onto the pile of flour I'd laid down...and the dough prompted oozed everywhere - nearly off the counter, even. This was not good. I spent the next 15 minutes trying like hell to "fold" this glorified pancake batter like a freaking envelope while "not getting too much flour on top," cursing Martha the entire time. My mother would blush at the words that came out of my mouth. Sorry, Mom.

It was such a horrific experience that I didn't even pause for photos. Not that I could have, even, since my hands - and the Big Guy's hands - were covered in this ooey, gooey, sticky mess. But we went through all the stages, the combined total four and a half hours rising time, and it was finally time to bake the ugly, misshapen bastards. So I turned back to Martha's minion's instructions: "place baking stone on floor of oven."

This is where it really got ugly. Thank God I had already cooked the roast we were having for dinner, because what followed was a nightmare. It's been three days, and I still don't have the guts to open my oven and confront the situation.

I placed my Pampered Chef baking stones on the floor of my oven. Luckily I have a fancy oven with hidden heating element. Hey, Martha...what should one do with her baking stone if she has an exposed heating element like most of middle America? Hm? Anyway...$50 worth of Pampered Chef goes down on the bottom of my oven. "Preheat oven to 450." Ouch. With the stones ON THE FLOOR? Okey-dokey, Martha. You're the "expert." Here goes.

I returned to my dinner prep while the oven heated up. (Yes, I was making chuck roast, mashed potatoes and corn while trying to "gently fold" this blasted dough into submission. I didn't plan it this way. I just couldn't turn down that beautiful piece of meat when I saw it at the butcher shop the day before.) Pretty soon I noticed smoke rolling out of the vent on the back of my cooktop. Ruh-roh. I had the Big Guy take down the smoke detector before I opened the oven door. I held my breath, opened the oven, and a giant cloud of smoke rolled out...and set off a second smoke detector in the house. Awesome. Big Guy made a cute remark that earned him the Asshole Husband title for the next two days.

Nothing was on fire, and I figured it was just a little something baked into my stones combined with the high heat that was making things extra exciting. Figured it would settle down in a few minutes. Besides, at this point I was committed to baking this damned bread. So I very carefully started lobbing dough blobs onto the stones on the bottom of my oven (because nobody actually owns a peal, Martha, seriously). Halfway through I ran out of room, said eff it, threw the rest of the formed rolls onto a baking sheet, slid it onto the rack (which was way up top out of the way of my stones), and slammed the oven shut.

More smoke. Opened windows in 40-degree temps. Dogs confused. Eyes watering. Asshole Husband walking around making cracks about smoke detectors "singing the song of your people." Stink of failure hanging throughout the house, even in the garage. Neighbors could probably smell it.

Finally pulled them out, and here's what we ended up with:
Pretty on top. Slightly doughy in the middle.
Didn't get that nice crunch on the bottom.
White on top. Black on bottom.
Fantastic in the middle.
A whole pile of tasty failure.
Burnt stones

Now, if you think my stones don't look too bad, I invite you to come to my house and get a close-up look at the soot for yourself. We actually left the stones in the oven overnight to cool off, they were so hot. I'm hoping they clean up ok. We'll see how it goes. And except for the burnt parts, these tasted pretty good. But it was murder getting to the finished product. And the house still reeks with the stink of failure.

So I'm done with Martha for now. I'll probably go back to her for some cookies or crap like that, but I just don't trust and her and the minions with bread anymore. It's over, Martha. We're breaking up. For now.

I'm on a mission tonight to pick up a book written by the man who is quickly becoming my Bread Hero - Peter Reinhart. He's the dude whose bagel recipe I use. And he knows bread better than Martha knows self-branding and house arrest. He's my man. Bugger off, Martha.

In other news, the Big Guy and I picked up that half a hog I told you about. Here's what 90+ pounds of custom-butchered pork looks like in your freezer, if you were ever wondering:

Not pictured: 4 lbs of lard

Now, the question is, what do I do with the feet? I'm scared to unwrap them. That's a little too much for me, I think.

Can't wait to start grilling, frying, smoking, and eating this piggy! Yum!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Big weekend ahead!

I'm doing a little happy dance this evening. This weekend is going to be full of food, fun and family time.

I've planned more bagel baking for tomorrow, and I'll be experimenting with some new flavors. Currently, I only do "plain" bagels topped with the basic things like sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, and a combination of all of the above plus onion and a touch of garlic. But due to popular demand I'll be trying out cinnamon swirl, blueberry, and cheese tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

I'm also thinking about trying out another Martha recipe tomorrow; I just can decide which one. Should I go with baguette or croissant? Hmmmm...decisions, decisions.

Baking gives me joy. I don't know why; it just always has seemed to make me happy. It might be because of the instant gratification - of being able to immediately see and taste the results of my efforts. It might be the feeling of raw bread or pastry in my fingers - there is nothing like pounding a piece of dough into submission to really work out any frustrations. It might be because it stimulates the creative side of my brain - I don't have the artistic talents of my dad or grandmother or cousin when it comes to drawing or painting or design, but I can take simple ingredients like flour, water, eggs, and yeast, and use them to create something wholesome and beautiful. I can step back after a couple of hours and say, "I did that. I made that myself, and it is beautiful."

The other thing that has me jazzed is pork. Yes, pork. Tomorrow we'll be heading up the highway to Haubstadt, Ind., to visit processor Dewig Meats and pick up the half hog we ordered after Christmas - a present from the Big Guy's parents. By tomorrow afternoon our deep freeze will be packed with about 90 pounds of piggy goodness. So excited! While we're up there I plan on cruising the whole store and picking up some other yummy treats - like cheddar Polish sausage. So good. These folks know their sausage.

The third thing on my agenda - though not third in importance by any means - is some quality time with the Big Guy and the puppy-dooders. After the week we've both had, nothing sounds better than doing a little shopping, turning up the tunes and baking (and dancing around each other in the kitchen) all day, then enjoying some cuddle time and a nap while the rain comes down. Hallelujah, by the way, for RAIN and not SNOW or ICE. Ugh. That was some cold snap earlier this week.

Another post to come in a couple of days with pictures of our Dewig discoveries and baking adventures. Ta-ta for now! photo credit: Neal. via photopin cc

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tackling Martha

Tackling Martha Stewart sounds like fun. Taking that snooty broad down and wiping that smug smirk off her face would be.... Wait, that's a different blog. What I'm talking about is tackling Martha's RECIPES, not her physical person. Because that would be illegal. And two felons don't make a wicker basket or some shit. I digress.

In a post a couple months back, I told you about the book my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas several years ago: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I made a meme and everything. You should go check it out. I still giggle when I see it.

Well, that blog post has been taunting me for weeks now, and so I finally dusted off that book, re-read some of the recipes I had flagged years ago, flagged a bunch of new ones, and picked my first recipe to try. I wanted to try a nice, simple sandwich bread, so I went with Pullman Bread on page 297.

The recipe sounded simple enough, and even though I don't have a lidded pullman loaf pan, she said I could still make the recipe. So I got started early in the day, allowing plenty of time for all the rising, punching, rising, shaping, and rising again. Finally, I had a beautiful pan of swollen yeast dough, perfectly rounded on the top like I imagined it would be. I referred back to Martha for the baking instructions, which, of course, all talked about the lid and opening and closing it. So I double-checked what I had read earlier about baking without the lid and I double-checked for specific instructions about baking sans lid. At the top of the page, Martha (or I should say Martha's recipe-writing minion) clearly says, "If you prefer a loaf with a rounded top, you can bake the dough without the lid in place; the baking time should be the same."

Lying bitch.

Since the directions said to rotate the pan halfway through the first 45-minute baking interval, I opened the oven about 20 minutes in. Much to my surprise, I had one seriously dark loaf in the oven! And according to Martha/Martha's minions, I still had 55 more minutes of baking time to go. Yikes! So I carefully tented the loaf with foil, reduced the heat as directed (albeit 25 minutes earlier than indicated) and let it go another 5-10 minutes. At that point, I looked again - still dark brown - and tapped on it. Hollow-sounding, like it should if it were done. So I decided to just pull it out and check the bottom. My beautiful, dark brown loaf slid easily from the pan, and when I tapped on the bottom - hollow-sounding! I moved it to a cooling rack and decided to just see what happened.

About 20 excruciating minutes later I was a bad girl and carved a slice off of the still-warm loaf and schmeared it with butter. Oh my Land O' Lakes! That was one delicious, perfectly baked slice of bread! Which can only mean two things:
  1. I am Super Baker. Hear me roar.
  2. Martha and her minions are fallible. 
In other words, Martha's baking instructions are wrong. You're WRONG, Martha! WRONG! And even though you're WRONG, I am Super Baker, and I made one helluva delectable loaf of bread. Warning: graphic food porn image shown below...

Isn't that sexy? Sure, it's a little dark, but on the inside it's white - but not too white - soft, dense but with a light texture, and slightly salty. I may not go back to store-bought after this. Now the hunt is on for a lidded pullman loaf pan to see what kind of difference that makes, though, with regard to the baking instructions.

Tonight had breakfast for dinner - a longtime favorite of mine - and I sliced up the rest of this loaf for some rich, thick French toast. Yummers! Turns out this is the perfect bread for French toast!

Suck it, Martha. I will conquer you and your terror-inducing recipe book filled with errors.

Love, Krista