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Carnitas

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Carnitas are the pulled pork of Latin food.  They are very easy to make.  You can dress them like your favorite tacos or burritos.  They’re perfect for a Sunday dinner or a busy day.

Carnitas
Most of the members of our family can’t eat tomatoes with pleasant results, so we like avocado, cilantro, lettuce, and refried beans on our carnitas.  You’re also welcome to add a little chile or cayenne to your spices if your family prefers, but we like ours just fine this way.

I doubled the recipe today so I would have enough meat and broth for a soup later this week.  The roast I used is from tamale meat I found on sale near Christmas.

This time I also tossed in three cubes of frozen recaito from when I made pasteles.  It added nice flavors to the meat, but the recipe below is how I’ve been making carnitas for years.  It will be great with or without recaito.

Carnitas

Brown Rice Tortillas
lettuce, avocado, cilantro, tomato, and/or salsa
Refried Beans (I made ours today with pink beans.  You can most likely find them in the Latin food section of your grocery store either canned or dry, but a Latin grocery store would be an even better source.)

2-pounds pork roast (Bones are okay; they are easy to remove after cooking.)
3-4 tsp salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
3 bay leaves or 1/4 cup recaito
3 cups chicken broth (I used leftover frozen broth from making tamales and pasteles)

Trim fat from meat. Cut meat into 2” pieces. Sprinkle meat generously with salt. Place meat in a slow cooker.

Add herbs and spices to the slow cooker and pour broth over mixture.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8-10 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from slow cooker. Save broth for soup later this week. When cool enough to handle, coarsely shred meat by pulling two forks through it in opposite directions; discard any fat.

Serve with tortillas and top with your choice of vegetables and salsa.

The Eighth Day of Christmas: Corn-Free Tamales

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Most tamales are gluten free, while many are dairy free; you can also make them vegan with a seasoned black bean filling.  They are a big project, but well worth your time (if you are a fan).  Making them yourself cuts the cost dramatically, and they freeze successfully for up to a year.  It is a Mexican tradition to make tamales for Christmas.  While they can be made at any time of the year, it makes the most sense to me to make them at Christmas when all of the ingredients go on sale at the ethnic markets.  It’s also the only time of year that you can easily find banana leaves.

I started making tamales when we found out that Buster couldn’t eat peppers.  Trust me when I say that the only way to find a pepper free tamal is to make it yourself.  (Language nitpicking: Tamal is the proper Spanish singular, while tamale is the American misunderstanding of the word.)

We hit a hitch last year after we discovered Little Man’s corn allergy.  Tamales are a staple of our almost-everything-from-scratch diet.  What would I do without this emergency meal?  That’s when I found out that some tamales are steamed in banana leaves instead of corn husks.  With that hurdle passed, all I had to do was tackle the masa.  What other gluten free flour would produce comparable results?  After my experience baking, I knew sorghum reacts similarly to corn in baking.  I decided to try it.  A little tweaking later and now Little Man (and my mom) can eat tamales!

Each year I spend two days making a large batch, and then they serve as a quick meal straight out of the freezer many times throughout the year.  The first day you simply simmer the meat until it’s tender and season it for the next day’s work.  Don’t forget to save the broth too.  The second day you mix the masa, assemble the tamales, and steam them.

This website is the one I used to learn how to prepare tamales.  I simply leave out the spices that contain peppers and follow the rest exactly.  Well almost exactly…  I now skim the lard off the top of the chilled broth from the first day’s meat preparation.   Then, I use that as the fat in the masa.  I only use cooking oil after the lard runs out.  Waste not, want not.

The only special piece of equipment you need is a steamer pot.  You can buy big fancy pots just for tamales, but I just use my pasta pot with it’s large insert.

Before I get to the recipe, I must point out that tamal making is a big job.  Be sure to have at least one helper, but many hands make light work.  This year we invited friends for cooking and eating on New Year’s Day, and afterwards we sent them home with leftovers.  Thanks for coming, Patrick and Heather, we had a great time!

Tamales
When I make vegan tamales, I soak and cook 3 lbs. of black beans, drain, and season them with the same spices as described in the aforementioned linked recipe.  You can also add fresh corn off 4-6 cobs to the blend for added texture–unless you are making corn-free tamales.

Also take a look at the flavor options on this site.  They even have dessert tamales.  I see experimentation in my future!

Corn-Free Tamales

1 package fresh banana leaves
prepared meat or bean filling (1.5-2 cups for this amount of banana leaves)
Warm broth

Masa (start small, you can always make more if necessary)
2 cups sorghum flour
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/3 cup lard, canola, or safflower oil
Warm broth (quantities vary by day and humidity)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and dry the banana leaves.  Cut them into strips about 8″ X 10-12″ and remove the tough spine if necessary.  Kitchen shears make this job go quickly.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Cut in oil until well distributed.   Add warm broth about 2-4 tbsp at a time until the masa is a thick peanut butter consistency.  The masa should spread well without cracking too much.  It is very forgiving at this stage, so you can add more flour if you get it a little too thin.

On a cookie sheet warm 3-4 cut banana leaves in the oven for 2-3 minutes.  Be careful not to over warm them or they will dry up at the edges.  This process keeps them from splitting when you fold the tamales.

Spread about 1/4- 1/3 cup masa (to taste) in the middle of the leaf.  Spread in a circular motion or press down with your fingers.  Fill with about 2 Tbsp of meat or beans (to taste).

Gently fold the banana leaf around the fillings to make a long tube, then fold the ends towards the seam to make a small rectangular envelope.  Now many recipes will tell you to tie the package with cooking string, but I simply let gravity help the process and lie them on their flaps to keep them closed.

Place the tamales in your steamer and steam for one hour over medium heat.  Check the water level periodically to make sure that you don’t scorch your pot.  Don’t ask me how I know this little tip.

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Ham and Bean Soup

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Every year at Thanksgiving, my mother in law sends us home with the leftover ham and bone because she knows we like to make this soup.  This year we put the whole thing in the freezer to wait until the end of the fast.  Today was a busy day that needed a slow cooker meal, so out came the ham.  I saved some of the ham for sandwiches at lunch.  They were truly a treat with the gluten free bread my mother in law sent with us after our celebrations earlier this week.  Everything else went into the pot for dinner. 

Ham and Bean Soup

Honestly, you can use any combination of beans that you like in this soup.  The ones listed are simply the varieties I had on hand today.

Ham and Bean Soup

1 cup dry black beans
1 cup dry canary beans (or white beans)
1 cup dry red kidney beans
1 cup dry pinto beans
1 cup dry garbanzo beans

2 teaspoons dried savory
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves

Left over ham, diced with bone reserved
Salt to taste

Soak the beans overnight in a large bowl.

In the morning, rinse the beans and place in six-quart slow cooker with the ham bone, onion, garlic, and seasonings. Add water to cover everything by about one inch.

Turn on the slow cooker to low and allow to simmer all day.

Remove the bone about 20 minutes before dinner and stir in the diced ham.  Allow to cook an additional fifteen minutes or until the ham is warm.

Add salt to taste, discard bay leaves, and serve.

Sixth Sunday of the Nativity Fast: Cauliflower-Red Lentil Curry

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The sixth and last Sunday of the fast found us exchanging gifts at my in-law’s house after liturgy.  We didn’t manage to complete our Advent reading until the next day.  The theme of Communion for this week helps keep our focus on Christ, the true reason we celebrate this season.

The Fifth week of the fast I found myself with several small heads of cauliflower.  Rather than come up with several ways to use it up, I just made a double batch of this soup.    The soup lasted through several meals before Christmas as well as freezing enough for two extra meals in other weeks.

Cauliflower-Red Lentil Curry
It’s one of our favorite soup options, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it the same way twice.   I always start with the same base soup, but the additions may vary by ingredient availability and my preference on a given day.  The sweet potatoes may be my favorite addition.

Cauliflower-Red Lentil Curry

1/2 onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup red lentils
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
3 cups vegetable broth
3-4 cups water
1 Tbsp Ruth’s Curry Powder
salt to taste

Place everything but the cauliflower in the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer for 15-20 minutes.  The onions and celery should be mostly tender.

Add the cauliflower, return the soup to a boil, and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.  Adjust salt to taste.

For an additional twist, puree the end result for a creamy soup.

Optional Additions ( pick one or two, add with the cauliflower)
2-3 potatoes or sweet potatoes
Shredded cabbage
Spinach
Swiss chard
Kale
1 can of coconut milk (add at the end)

Fifth Week of the Nativity Fast: Crunchy Chickpea Avocado Salad

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Fifth Week Advent Wreath
Not only was this week the fifth Sunday of our Advent season, but it also marked two Saint’s Days in our family, both Buster’s and mine.  We both celebrate on the Sunday the Church remembers the forefathers and foremothers of Christ.  We also share this day with many parishioners including the Godparents of Snuggle Bunny and Little Man.  Needless to say it is a busy day for our family.

We managed to squeeze our Advent readings and a nap between Liturgy and a fastworthy graduation party at a friend’s house that day.

The theme for that week was repentance.  It was fitting and timely for the week as we prepared for Confession leading up to the end of the fasting season.

Throw in last minute preparations for get togethers with each side of our extended family, and there wasn’t a spare moment for blogging in the whole week and a half leading up to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.

I planned simple meals for that week.  Many of them I’ve already shared.  I made Vegan Burritos using pink beans.  We tried baked potatoes and cashew sauce.  Only this time we used white potatoes and cranberry beans.  While it was filling and the kids had no complaints, I do prefer the recipe as originally posted.

Then there was this salad.  I found a great sale on Beanitos, so this meal was easy using cooked garbanzos straight out of our freezer.

Crunchy Chickpea Avocado Salad
I modified this from a recipe of Bobby Flay’s.  It’s become quite popular among the small people at our house simply because of the chips.

Crunchy Chickpea Avocado Salad

3 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
2 avocado, diced
1 small can sliced or minced black olives, drained
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3-4 Tbsp rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
Drizzle Olive oil (optional)
Salt to taste
1-2 Tbsp minced parsley or cilantro (optional)

Crumbled corn chips or Beanitos
lettuce for salad

Mix all but the chips and lettuce in a bowl. Let sit 20 minutes or so to marinate.

Put a bed of lettuce on a plate and crumble corn chips over salad.

Spoon chickpea mixture over salad.

St. Lucia Day Soup and Buns

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Growing up I read about St. Lucia traditions in this book.  I have loved this Swedish tradition since childhood, but last year was our first year to celebrate it.  This year we made almost traditional St. Lucia Buns with a gluten free, vegan twist for our homeschool co-op yesterday.  Tonight the kids took a few extra St. Lucia buns to the neighbors while dressed up.  Buster made the props for himself and Little Man.

St_Lucia2013
Yesterday at our homeschool co-op I read this book about St. Lucia, and the children made St. Lucia crowns.  The boys had the option of crafting and decorating spruce trees in to remember St. Herman who shares this feast day.  One of the moms graciously made both recipes from this blog post about St. Herman Day to share alongside our St. Lucia buns and soup.  Here is a great book about St. Herman for your bookshelf.

The soup we made during class yesterday, so today my family ate the leftovers.  This is a Sicilian St. Lucia soup that I modified only slightly to make it allergy friendly for my family.  The original recipe calls for wheat, but we use brown rice instead.  We also had to leave out the pepper for Buster. Moreover, the original recipe has you cook each ingredient in separate pot, but I’ve streamlined the instructions to just use one large soup pot.  Use one that holds at least seven quarts because this recipe makes a lot of soup!

St Lucia Soup and Buns
Every time I make this soup the leftover components of this soup absorb almost all of the broth, so add more water when you reheat or be content to eat it as beans and rice the next day.

Cuccia – St. Lucia Soup
1 lb uncooked brown rice
1 lb dry fava beans
1 lb dry ceci (garbanzo beans)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp salt, to taste
1/3 cup olive oil (optional, I’ve always forgotten this ingredient and nobody seems to mind)
Lots of water

Soak the beans in separate bowls over night.

About three hours before dinner drain and rinse the fava beans and place them in a pot covered well with water.  Add the garlic and bay leaves to the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally,  skim off any foam, and add water as needed to keep the beans covered.

After one hour add the garbanzo beans with additional water.  Bring back to a boil and reduce to simmer for another hour.  Stir occasionally,  skim off any foam, and add water as needed to keep the beans covered.

After this hour add the rice and the salt to the pot with 4-6 cups of additional water, so that the rice will have enough water to cook while still leaving you with soup.  Stir well and place the lid on the pot.  Bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  Add more water if necessary.

Adjust salt to taste and pour olive oil over the top as desired.

_______________________

I started with the St. Lucia Bun Recipe here and worked to make it vegan.  Last year I tried it with yeast, and this year I resorted to baking powder.  It was missing the yeasty flavor, but we liked the outcome.

Gluten Free – Vegan St. Lucia Buns

1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
2 1/2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon guar gum (omit if using a blend that already includes xanthan or guar gum)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp Ener-G egg replacer powder
raisins, as garnish

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small microwave safe bowl combine the coconut oil, milk, water, and crumbled saffron threads. Heat in the microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir. Microwave for another 15 seconds, and stir. If the oil is not melted, heat for another 15 seconds until it is. Set the milk mixture aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients, and mix well.

Add the liquid mixture and mix until the dry ingredients have incorporated the wet ingredients. Turn the mixer up to high and allow it to beat for a minute or so. Some of the dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl and should be relatively smooth, but tacky to the touch. If the dough seems too stiff, begin to add a little bit more milk, a tablespoon at a time, beating in between additions until the proper consistency is reached.  If the dough is too sticky, add more flour a tablespoon at a time until it fits the above description.

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface, and divide with a bench scraper into 10-12 equal portions.

For each portion of dough sprinkle very lightly with flour and roll back and forth into a rope about 9 inches in length that tapers slightly at each end. The dough should be pretty easy to handle. Place the rope of dough perpendicular to your body, and curl one end of the dough toward the right and back on itself in a coil. Curl the other end of the dough back on itself in the opposite direction in a coil (see photo). Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Place the pieces of shaped dough on a nonstick or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet about 2 inches apart from one another.  Place the raisins in the center of the two coils at the end of each roll.  Brush each roll with a little almond milk.

Place the rolls in the center of the preheated oven and bake rotating once during baking for 12-15, or until cooked throughout. Since these are vegan, they won’t brown the same as other baked goods, but they will taste great anyway.

Fourth Week of the Nativity Fast: Vegan Colcannon

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After John left to sleep at the hotel Sunday night, I realized that we forgot to light our fourth advent candle this week.  We decided to wait until he got home to do the readings.  He got home too late last night, so tonight we caught up with the weekly readings and cooked together for some events coming up at the end of this week.

This week’s Advent candle is white and represents peace.  While we could do some sort of dove craft this week, we may just simply work together to create a peaceful atmosphere in our house.  That may be a bigger task than originally imagined after all this icy weather kept us cooped up together.

Fourth Week of Advent

You’d think with being iced in that I’d have had more time to blog, but with John gone for over 48 hours I had more than enough to keep my hands away from the keyboard.  This week has kept me on my toes making meals with what was already in the house.  I am glad that we got our Bountiful Basket Saturday morning despite the weather, so that I didn’t have to venture to the empty shelves at the grocery store.

Here’s the rundown of this week’s meals so far:

Black Rice Salad

Bok Choy Miso – This time I left out the beans and added softened rice noodles.

– This simple mung bean soup:

Mung Bean Soup
Saute some carrots, onion, and celery with ground rosemary.  Then add the cooked mung beans and salt to taste.  I served it alongside stir fried napa cabbage with shitake mushrooms over brown basmati rice.

Vegan Colcannon – This was a new recipe that I’ve had bookmarked for months.  I omitted the pepper and used russet potatoes; regular cabbage and mustard greens from our CSA took the place of the savoy and kale in this recipe.  The results were great!  Everyone asked for seconds.  It was a simple meal, but very satisfying.  This would also be a great fasting meal for studying Ireland.

Colcannon