Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

This year I had a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers.  This is quite a different from the past couple years when I’d made thanksgiving dinner my whole family; this year, however having moved 1000 miles away, I was on my own, but still wanted to make a full dinner, simply because I enjoy the hours of prep.
I decided to make pot pies with the leftovers and was interested to learn that it’s still a legitimate pot pie without any sort of crust or pastry top.  See Wikipedia for details on that; it seems logical to me that a pot pie cooked in a pot instead of a crust.

For the pot pies I used all the leftover turkey breast and green bean casserole (that I had topped with broken sweet potato chips).  The green bean casserole is based on Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, so I added some half and half (sparingly!) to make the pot pie sauce, and stirred in the turkey cut to bite size. I cut and sautéed some carrots, and also tossed in some frozen peas.  Lastly, I seasoned the mixture generously with thyme and filled individual-sized baking dishes and put them in the freezer.

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

These simple pot pies reheat from frozen in 1 hour at 350° F, covered with aluminum foil.  Once warm (i.e., boiling a bit – check that it’s thawed by stirring), I topped it with a dinner roll and put it back in the oven for ~5 minutes (max).

Thankfully, these taste great – since I made 8 of them… and they were simple and fun – no recipe or measuring needed!

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Tenderoin

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Loin with a salad of mixed greens, fingerling potatoes and blanched red onion.

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Tenderloin with a salad of mixed greens, fingerling potatoes and blanched red onion.

This one is pretty much just an easy serving suggestion.  Pork tenderloin is one of the easiest meats to prepare since it’s inherently tender… one just needs to be sure not to overcook it.

Here, I first browned the tenderloin in a bit of oil in a pan.  Then I slathered the pork with mustard (Grey Poupon Country Dijon), a bit of olive oil, and freshly ground Tellicherry peppercorns, and cooked it for 25 minutes or so in a 325° F oven until it was about medium (still slightly pink) doneness.

I served the pork topped with a simple sauce made of the mustard, thinned with balsamic vinegar (if I recall correctly :) ). It was accompanied by a mixed green salad including boiled fingerling potatoes and blanched strips of red onion. (From the looks of them, these may be fat finger[ling] potatoes :) .)  You can blanch the onion strips by tossing them in the water with the boiling potatoes just before draining.  The pototoes and onion were tossed with a bit of Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing. (See this post if you wish to make your own version of this great dressing.)

This dinner is easy and delicious. I could also imagine rolling the tenderloin in cracked peppercorn, as you might have a peppercorn-encrusted beefsteak.

Barbecue Baby Back Ribs

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill: saucy.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill: saucy!

Wow, I’ve been away from my blog for a couple months – but I have a good reason! I was finishing my Ph.D., moving 1000 miles from the midwest to the east coast, and starting a new job… but, I didn’t stop eating. :)

Here’s a meal from a month or two ago, in the northwoods with my family: barbecue baby back ribs.

Obviously there are a zillion other recipes and recommendations for how to do these, so I’ll just add my 2 cents worth about how I did them.

I started by cooking the thawed ribs in a couple pints of a nice brewery-fresh scotch ale, in a roasting pan.  Overall this was at 250-300° F for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  I progressively raised the temperature to try to hit the desired dinner time.

Preparing the ribs for pre-cooking, with a pint or two from a growler of scotch ale.

Preparing the ribs for pre-cooking, with a pint or two from a growler of scotch ale.

Meanwhile, I prepared a blended, sugar-free, somewhat spicy barbecue sauce from dried ancho and chipotle peppers, fresh lime juice, pan-roasted garlic cloves, mexican oregano, water from rehydrating the peppers, a bit of olive oil and a touch of salt.

Preparing a sugar-free chipotle and ancho chili BBQ sauce.

Preparing a sugar-free chipotle and ancho chili BBQ sauce.

During the pre-cooking phase, I occasionally turned and basted the ribs with some water from rehydrating the peppers.

Pre-cooking the ribs in a covered roasting pan with a nice scotch ale and water from rehydrating the dried peppers.

Pre-cooking the ribs in a covered roasting pan with a nice scotch ale and water from rehydrating the dried peppers.

Once cooked, I finished the ribs on the gas grill.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill.

And toward the end of cooking, slathered the ribs with a couple of barbecue sauces: mine and a store-bought sauce, that was my brother’s pick.  As you might know, usually you are warned not to put the sauce on too early because the sugar will burn…. that’s not an issue with my sauce.

A family dinner with BBQ ribs.

A family dinner with BBQ ribs out on the porch at around sunset.

Overall, these turned out tender and great. I’m definitely a fan of barbecue sauces without sugar… it’s often just not necessary to have BBQ taste great!

Roasted Pork Shoulder

Roasted Pork Shoulder

Roasted Pork Shoulder

I’ve been working a lot lately, finishing up my research work for my Ph.D., and not finding time to post anything new and, instead, making many old favorites: fish tacos, fried rice, pizzas, and sandwiches.

However, I have been experimenting with various cuts of pork, most recently pork shoulder that was a bargain, on sale for just $1 per pound.

I originally bought and 8 pound bone-in pork shoulder roast, but I used about 60% of it to make carnitas for a group of friends. That left the rest, with the bone still in, for this recipe.

This is a really simple recipe; season the pork shoulder with just olive oil (~4 T.), fresh ground pepper (~1 T.), coarse salt (~1 1/2 t.), and minced garlic (8 cloves).

Ingredients

Ingredients

Mix those ingredients together in a bowl and slather it on all sides of the pork shoulder.

Next, I used a trick I learned from Alton Brown’s Perfect Roast Turkey Recipe. If you don’t have a suitable rack for a roasting pan, you can substitute a coil of crunched-up aluminum foil.

Foil stand-in for a rack in the roasting pan

Foil stand-in for a rack in the roasting pan

Place the seasoned pork atop that rack in a roasting pan, and place, uncovered, in a 425° F oven for 20 minutes.

Pork shoulder, ready for the oven

Pork shoulder, ready for the oven

After that, cover the roasting pan, pour some water in the bottom to keep the fat drippings from burning to the bottom, and cook for approximately 2 hours at 325° F and check the temperature with a meat thermometer; remove it when it has reached 180° F.

This time (2 hours) was for an approx. 3 pound roast. I found that mine was more than done in that time given that a thermometer read 195° F. I decided to cover it, even though some recipes don’t, since some follow-up comments in a recipe (linked below) said the garlic burned… mine didn’t.

After letting it rest on a cutting board for about 15 minutes, I sliced it and served it on a kaiser roll and topped it with a simple spicy mustard BBQ sauce: a mix of Grey Poupon Country Dijon mustard with a bit of sweet BBQ sauce and some chili garlic sauce.

Sliced Roasted Pork Shoulder Sandwich with Chili Garlic Mustard Sauce

Sliced Roasted Pork Shoulder Sandwich with Chili Garlic Mustard Sauce

Here are the recipes that I consulted, pretty much relying on the first:

Truth be told, I actually considered six or more other recipes, but they either required marinating or brining, or called for either a large pressure cooker or slow roaster, neither of which I have.

Chipotle Carnitas

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

First off, if you landed here expecting an approximation of the carnitas from Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant, you’re in the wrong place. Instead, it’s my slight twist on traditonal carnitas, the mexican pulled-pork staple.

Carnitas is one of my favorite taco and burrito fillings, but I’d not made this delicious meat at home.
I decided to start with Rick Bayless’ recipe that employs a two-phase cooking method: first moist, then dry[ing]. My variant uses chipotle peppers for flavor, rather than other spices or smoke flavoring.

Truth be told, my newfound inspiration to  actually make carnitas was that I found a lean 2 pound pork rib end roast in my freezer; I’d bought it some time ago on sale for less than $3 per pound. Also, I happened to have a broiler pan with rendered bacon fat from yesterday’s breakfast. Bacon fat is typically quite salty (compared to lard), but I had accidentally purchased low-sodium bacon, so I decided to experiment with using the bacon fat in place of salt and lard, or oil, that you typically find in carnitas recipes.

Soaking dried chipotle peppers

Soaking dried chipotle peppers

First, I soaked two large dried chipotle peppers, rinsed them, removed the veins, seeds, and stems, and then liquified them with some of the soaking water (~1 cup) in a blender.

Blended chipotles and soaking water

Blended chipotles and soaking water

Next, I cut the pork into approximately 2″ cubes and placed them in a baking dish. Because the rib end roast was quite lean, I added the warm rendered pork fat (~1/3 cup) from cooking 1 pound of low-sodium bacon (left from yesterday’s breakfast).

Boneless pork end rib roast, cubed and topped with rendered pork fat.

Boneless pork end rib roast, cubed and topped with rendered pork fat.

I poured the chipotle and water mixture over the pork, covered the dish, and put in a preheated 375° F oven for 1 hour.

Cover the pork with fat, and water mixture, in a covered dish in preparation for moist cooking phase.

Cover the pork with fat, and water mixture, in a covered dish in preparation for moist cooking phase.

After this, I uncovered the pork, placed the baking dish on a foil-covered pan (in case of spatter), and “dry cooked” until the water mostly evaporated, leaving just the rendered fat. During this phase, be sure to turn the pieces regularly, e.g., progressively more frequently to every 7-15 minutes, both to keep the pieces moist and to prevent burning on top.

Beginning dry cooking phase, uncovered.

Beginning dry cooking phase (uncovered)

Total cooking times was 2 hours 15 minutes: 1 hour moist cooking (covered) at 375° F and 1 hour 15 minutes dry cooking (uncovered, turning occassionally) at 450° F. Afterwards, I used two forks to pull the pork into small pieces.

Finished carnitas, pulled into small pieces with two forks.

Finished carnitas, pulled into small pieces with two forks.

I served the carnitas in tacos, on warmed tortillas, topped with a homemade chipotle garlic salsa and slices of fresh, ripe avocado.

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

Chipotle carnitas and avocado taco

This was a satisfying first effort at carnitas, having mild smokiness both from the bacon and from the chipotles. I’ll definitely make it again. I’ll caution you about using bacon fat here, though… it definitely had a generous amount of salt, so don’t add any more. A less-lean cut of pork would be a better option, obviating the need for added fat to get the moist consistency that one expects from carnitas.

Here are the recipes I consulted for preparation ideas:

UPDATE (March, 2013):

I made this again, this time with pork shoulder roast ($1.99/lb.), just its natural fat and a bit of salt, but with many more rehydrated chipotles and an ancho chile.  This was great too, and less salty than the prior experiment with rendered bacon fat.

Carnitas taco with white onion, cilantro, and hot sauce.

Carnitas taco with white onion, cilantro, and hot sauce.

UPDATE (March, 2014):

I tried this same preparation with beef shoulder roast. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great technique for beef; it just wasn’t tender. Once cooked, I had to chop the meat into tiny pieces. It tasted good, and is not unlike the texture of the finely chopped steak some mexican kitchens serve, but isn’t tender the way pot roast or barbacoa would be. For that, you’ll have to slow cook for longer time.

Beef shoulder roast prepared by this wet, then dry method; it's not the same.

Beef shoulder roast prepared by this wet, then dry method; it’s not the same.

Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs

Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs with Spicy Cashew Basil Coconut Curry

Boneless Asian-Style Country Ribs with Spicy Cashew Basil Coconut Curry

I am happy to say I’ve just acquired a new vegetarian housemate. Oh, I was quite happy with my previous housemate/friend – also a vegetarian – but he moved back to India a couple weeks ago. In hindsight, it’s obvious that I’d been focusing much more on vegetarian dishes in the blog in past months, in part due to the fact that I wanted to be able to share my meals.

However, last night, I also had some carnivorous friends as dinner guests, so I made a “segregated” meal that it could be enjoyed by the carnivore or vegetarian: boneless asian-style ribs accpompanied by a thai-inspired spicy coconut curry with cashews and whole basil leaves.

The curry is nearly identical to my previous Spicy Cashew and Basil Curry, except that I used coconut cream instead of tahini in the sauce, substituted carrot for red pepper and black mushrooms for baby bellas. (Trader Joe’s was selling quite large containers of whole basil leaves for only $3. That’s quite a treat in the middle of winter!)

The ribs are similar to what might be served in American Chinese restaurants. They’re both convenient to make and to eat, because they bake for just a short time and are boneless.

Country, or “country-style,” ribs aren’t really ribs at all. They’re a leaner cut near the shoulder. (More info here.) But they’re an inexpensive and fair approximation and their awkward shape causes them to often be served similarly to small pieces of rib meat. (I bought 2 pounds for just $4, on a half-price special.)

Ingredients:

  • boneless country ribs, ~2 pounds, cut into strips or pieces of desired size
  • garlic, ~6 cloves, minced
  • hoisin sauce, ~1/2 cup
  • brown sugar, ~1/2 cup, packed
  • soy sauce, ~1/3 cup
  • chili garlic sauce and/or Sriracha hot sauce (optional – I used both), ~1-2 T.

Directions: Prepare a marinade from these ingredients in a bowl large enough to also accommodate the rib pieces, and place the rib meat into the marinade, coating well. If time allows, optionally marinate for 4 hours (refrigerated), as I did here. Lay the rib pieces out on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan or baking dish, and cover with remaining marinade. Cook 20-35 minutes in a 400° F oven, turning occassionally and covering again with marinade. Time varies based on size of pieces and thickness; the ribs should reach 140° F internally. I baked the ribs pieces (~1 inch thick max.) for about 35 minutes total.

These sweet country ribs were delicious and a nice option to accompany a vegetable curry. It might have been luck that the country ribs I bought were quite tender, since I baked them for so short a time, in contrast to the slow-cooker ribs recipes you often see.

So, with the current housemate, expect lots more vegetarian recipes from me… but a subset will still be reserved for us carnivores. :)

Here are the recipes on which this meal was based:

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote.

Habanero and Jalapeno Poppers: bacon or vegetarian with epazote

To keep New Year’s Eve hot, I prepared spicy poppers: some with the “traditional” jalapeno and some with the more adventurous habanero.

These may seem pretty straightforward to prepare (just take a bit of time), but I’ll give a few suggestions and tips, after having made them a few times.

Ingredients

Popper ingredients

Ingredients:

  • fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • fresh habanero peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded, and deveined
  • cream cheese, softened to near room temperature
  • bacon, strips cut to half length
  • epazote, dried & crushed
Halve, seed, and devein t

Halve, seed, and devein the peppers.

When preparing these on a broiler pan under the broiler, wrap the top of the pan in aluminum foil and cut slits in the foil (where the slits in the pan are) so that bacon grease will drain. Also, pour a half cup of water into the bottom of the pan to keep the drained fat from burning and be careful to not tip the pan.

DSC06972

Add water to broiler pan to keep drained fat from burning.

Carefully fill the pepper halves with cream cheese, optionally wrap with bacon (tucking one end underneath, perhaps with the help of a knife tip, so they stay wrapped), and place them cheese-side down (at first) on the broiler pan.

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Pepper halves filled with cream cheese

Place them under the broiler and cook the bottom side of the poppers before the cheese melts.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn't melt out.

Cook the bottom sides first so the cheese doesn’t melt out.

Once the bottoms are done, flip them upright with tongs and complete the cooking. I sprinkled the vegetarian poppers (without bacon) with epazote for a extra dash of flavor before it gives way to the heat.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Flip the peppers with tongs and complete the cooking under the broiler.

Now you have a spicy appetizer for your parties, and one that intially tastes of cheese and bacon or spice, then after 20-30 seconds the heat kicks in nicely. :)

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Vegetarian habanero and jalapeno poppers with cream cheese and epazote.

Even though some people that eat these poppers might think you’re trying to kill them, you’ll know you really love them.

Love people.Cook them tasty food.

Love people.
Cook them tasty food.

Happy new year to you all! Love people and cook them tasty food.

Cheese Steak Pizza with Habanero Pesto Sauce

Cheese Steak Pizza

Cheese Steak Pizza

Yes, this is simply a pizza, but with a couple new ideas:

  • Mix minced habanero pepper into the sauce for an exciting bite!
  • Cook the pizza atop baking parchment, so you don’t need oil or cornmeal.

Note that I didn’t say this “Philly” Cheese Steak because I’m not getting into the whole Cheeze Whiz debate, nor am I putting that stuff on my pizza. I’m also aware that an Italian may want me crucified for adulterating basil pesto with habanero pepper. :)

This pizza was prepared with a crust from Trader Joe’s fresh white pizza dough topped with the following:

  • basil pesto (I used store-bought Trader Joe’s)
  • one fresh habanero pepper, seeded, deveined, and finely minced and mixed into pesto
  • swiss cheese
  • round steak, cooked in advance (with salt and pepper), cut into small, thin pieces
  • sharp cheddar cheese
  • white button mushroom, sliced
  • sweet onion, cut into strips
  • green pepper, coarsely diced
  • pecorino romano cheese
  • dried oregano

This was baked in a 375-400° F oven for about 25 minutes.

Cheese Steak Pizza

Cheese Steak Pizza

I was pleased that I managed to make the crust rounder than my usual efforts. :)

Tortas de Milanesa

Torta de Milanesa, shown open-faced

Tortas – Mexican sandwiches – are one of my favorite foods by which I commonly measure Mexican restaurants. The humble torta seems spretty simple, consisting of various taco and salad ingredients on a nice roll, but it’s definitely a skill to do it right.

I’m preparing for a “Last Meal“-themed party in a couple weeks, so I thought I’d try making tortas myself as a potential candidate for the party. The one I made here is the common “Torta de Milanesa,” basically a Mexican breaded steak sandwich.

Ingredients for Tortas de Milanesa

Ingredients:

  • thinly cut round or other steak, i.e., 1/4″-1/3″ thick
  • refriend beans (I used some made with chorizo)
  • flour
  • egg (beaten, as a wash to adhere the flour)
  • onion
  • tomato
  • lettuce
  • ripe avocado
  • rolls, e.g., club rolls or baguette
  • oil, e.g., canola
  • hot sauce, e.g., Valentina Salsa Picante

An unusual choice I made was to use masa flour, the sort used to make corn tortillas, rather than all-purpose flour and/or bread crumbs; this was so that the steak cutlets would be acceptable to my gluten-free friends. (Of course, the roll would be eliminated for them too.)

Flattened, tenderized round steak, ready for dipping in egg and dredging in spiced flour

Trim the steak and pound the steak pieces to tenderize and flatten to about 1/4″ thick. Dip them in egg wash, and then in flour that is spiced generously with salt and pepper.

Breaded steak frying in canola oil

Pan fry the breaded cutlets in oil, a couple minutes per side until cooked through.

Pan-fried, masa flour-breaded, round steak

To assemble the sandwich, slice the roll, e.g. a club roll, and consider removing some of the bready inside (to make room for ingredients, while making the sandwich still able to be easily managed in hand). Then smear the roll with refriend beans, add the breaded steak, sliced raw onion, sliced tomato, chopped lettuce, avocado slices, and hot sauce.

Torta de Milanesa

Here are some torta recipes that I consulted:

To be honest, this first attempt of mine was tasty, but no where near the best torta I’ve had. I have some adjustments to make to perfect it. The masa flour worked fine, but I would spice it even more generously. The meat really needs to be tenderized thoroughly, otherwise chopped for the sandwich so that it’s easy to bite through. The roll is a particularly difficult part… while it may be true that a crusty bread or roll is common, it makes it extremely messy to eat because the beans and avocado are squeezed out of the sandwich as you bite. The restaurant I most often visit uses a large, round soft roll, that doesn’t result in this problem.

There are a lot of common torta variations such as vegetarian (avocado), pulled chicken, and chopped steak.

Enjoy this favorite of mine sometime at a restaurant or at home!

Sailcooking: Wood-Fired Steak and Spicy Green Beans

Our chartered sailboat docked at an island, as seen from the firepit near the beach.

Some of my friends are experienced sailors, and I recently had the awesome opportunity to sail Lake Superior with them; specifically, we explored the Apostle Islands.  There were a total of four of us guys on our chartered sailboat for four days in early September.

I don’t know much about sailing, so I made my primary contribution be our food; I did the food shopping and the cooking of our evening meals including chicken fajitas, birch-grilled steak, and grilled pork chops marinated in salsa verde.

We stayed on the boat every day of the trip; it was conveniently equiped with quite a complete kitchen, and even a propane-fueled grill over the stern.

The sailboat galley with gimbaled stove.

On one day we sailed to an island that had a dock in water deep enough for our keelboat, so that day we grilled ribeye steaks ashore over local birchwood from the boreal forest.

While we are all meat-eating men, we’re not savages.  We accompanied the dinner with a salad with freshly-made croutons of diced sourdough bread browned in olive oil, minced garlic, and salt.

Garlic sourdough croutons.

Mixed greens salad.

Our side dish was spicy green beans, similar to szechuan-style green beans.  Red pepper flakes and garlic were soaked in olive oil for a while, then we sautéed whole, trimmed green beans in that spiced oil.

Spicy green beans.

While I was aboard preparing the sides, one of my fellow sailors expertly grilled our thick ribeye steaks (rubbed with garlic olive oil, and minced garlic, salt and pepper) at the beach over a birchwood fire.  They were excellent, as evidence by my eating before taking a photograph; grilling over wood makes a huge difference in flavor as compared to gas or charcoal.

Ribeye steak grilled over birchwood, spicy green beans, and salad.

It was a spectacular trip, and the four of us guys managed to eat better than we ought to have. Ah, roughing it. :)