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Category Archives: Pork

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.

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

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My neighbor and I occasionally swap produce from our Bountiful Baskets.  She mostly gets peppers and other members of the nightshade family that we won’t use.  We get wonderful things in return.  Most recently we received some spaghetti squash.  Have I mentioned how we love winter squashes?  With the seeds inside you get dinner and a snack.

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I wish I’d remembered to take a picture when I first cooked this meal.  It got a little mushy after being in the slow cooker during church on Sunday.  Then most of the texture was gone when we reheated the leftovers.   That and it normally has a bit more bright green from the pesto, but I put the mushrooms in at the wrong spot and the color faded with the extended cooking.  Despite that, it tasted great, and several people at church asked for the recipe.  So here you go…

Oh, you can substitute cooked cannellini or cranberry beans in the place of the meat to make this vegan.  That is if you leave the cheese out of your pesto sauce like I do.

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

1 large spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground pork
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 cup vegan pesto sauce
salt to taste

Brush the cut side of the squash with olive oil.  Place the squash cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 45-60 minutes (varies by size).  You should be able to pierce the flesh with a fork easily without the spaghetti-like texture of the squash becoming mushy.  It should be easy to scoop from the skin.  Remove the squash from the oven and cool for ten minutes (or grab it with a pot holder like I do).  Scoop the insides into a large bowl.

In a skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of salt.  Saute until the onions are translucent.

Brown the ground pork with the onions.  When it is almost cooked through, add in the mushrooms.  Saute until everything is completely cooked.  Stir in the pesto sauce and warm it slightly.

Toss the meat sauce with the cooked spaghetti squash.  Serve with a side salad.

The Ninth Day of Christmas: Pasteles

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I’m one of those people that asks questions of other shoppers while in ethnic food stores.

“What is this?  What is your favorite way to cook it?”

Most times I get a cursory answer or someone who doesn’t speak my language any more that I do of theirs.  Sometimes, though, I meet that friendly person who is delighted to share their culinary knowledge.  Right before Christmas was one of these times.

I asked about an herb that was right next to the cilantro.  It was called recao (or culantro).  This lovely lady was using it to make Recaito (Puerto Rican sofrito) for Pasteles.  She spent time telling me in detail about Pasteles.  She gave me enough information that I was able to go home and track down a recipe.

Pasteles are very similar to tamales, only the masa is made of quite a variety of tubers, gourds, and green bananas.  Then you boil the pasteles submerged in water rather than steaming them like tamales.

I didn’t think that I was going to manage to make these this year seeing as I was out of fresh pumpkin and didn’t have plans to acquire any.  However, I ended up bringing my mom’s last pumpkin home from our Christmas festivities as she wasn’t going to manage to use it before it went bad.

Since I was already shopping for tamale supplies, I simply got enough banana leaves for this process as well as the few extra ingredients.

I followed this recipe using the food processor instructions.  I simply substituted pureed Mexican zucchini for the peppers and tomatoes in this recipe and the recaito.  I froze the extra recaito in an ice cube tray to use another time.

I found annatto seeds at an ethnic grocery store.  To make annatto oil infused 2/3 cup canola oil with about 1 1/2 teaspoon annatto seeds on low for about 20 minutes.  This way I could season the meat and infuse the oil without having the rest of a bottle of annatto oil hanging around my pantry.

For the sazon packet I sprinkled 1/2 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, annatto seeds, and garlic powder into the pot with the meat along with the other ingredients in the recipe.

Also, yautias are tubers called taro or malanga at the grocery stores near me.  However, taro is also a name given to a smaller tuber.  Yautias are larger than baking potatoes, while true taro is smaller than a red potato.  I read that either will work, but the malanga is the most traditional.

Pasteles
John and I liked the pasteles.  We though they were a fun derivation from our tamales.  However, of all three children only Little Man liked them.  I guess we’ll have to stick to tamale making in the future.

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 Fifth Day of Christmas: Spiral Pasta with Ground Turkey and Butternut Sauce

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Tonight’s dinner was at Little Man’s Christmas meal request.  He loves pasta.  He would eat it at every meal if I would let him.  His request was actually only one word, “Pasta!”  He did not care what kind of sauce as long as there was pasta involved.

For tonight, I modified my Vegan Butternut Squash Sauce slightly.  The additions make the meal no longer vegan, but I can live with that.  I had the butternut squash cooked and pureed in the freezer, so the meal came together quickly.  The swiss chard was also already in my freezer from my garden this fall.  I didn’t have any fresh basil on hand, so I used dried instead.  It really does make a difference, but dried is better than nothing.

I really like this meal better with ground pork, but the grocery store was out when I was shopping.  Turkey is my second choice.  Just be sure to get the higher fat percentage turkey, or the meat will be too dry for my taste.

Butternut Pasta Sauce
Spiral Pasta with Ground Turkey and Butternut Sauce

One batch Butternut Sauce, prepared ahead of these instructions
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt, to taste
1 lb ground turkey (or pork)
Fresh or frozen swiss chard (or spinach), to taste
1.5 lbs gluten free spiral pasta, cooked

Start a pot to boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic, onions, fennel, thyme, and salt.  Sautee about five minutes.

Add the ground meat and cook thoroughly.

Add the swiss chard.  Wilt if fresh, and warm if frozen.

Pour in the butternut sauce and warm throughout.

Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and serve with a side salad if desired.

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.

Sausage and Sauerkraut with Dairy-Free Mashed Potatoes and Plenty of Vegetables

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I have some homemade sauerkraut at the the back of my fridge that needs to be used. It is very easy to make and tastes so much better when you make it yourself.  Little Man loves kraut and will eat it before the other vegetables on his plate.  He is particularly fond of purple kraut, and I agree with his assessment.  Besides serving it with sausage or pork chops, we like to sprinkle some over our stir fry meals as well.

Sausage and Kraut

Tonight’s dinner served as a chance to use up some stray vegetables at the back of the refrigerator.  I have to say, though I like fennel, I’m glad we used the last of it tonight.

Sausage and Kraut (with all the fixin’s)

2 lbs potatoes, large dice
1 package Gluten Free sausage of your choice
1 jar sauerkraut
1/2 lb fresh green beans, snapped into 2 inch sections
2 bunches green onions, chopped into 2 inch sections
1/4 lb radishes, optional
oil and salt, to taste
Pear-Fennel Salad (A friend suggested adding mustard and walnuts to the salad and dressing.  It was wonderful with these additions!)

How I Make Mashed Potatoes: First, start the potatoes, covered with water, boiling in a large pot.  Cook until fork tender.  Reserve the cooking water.  Mash in your electric mixer with 1/2 tsp salt, about 3 tbsp olive oil, and enough cooking water from the potato pot as you need to achieve a fluffy mash (about 1/2-3/4 cup potato water. Really it’s enough to make you happy, so use more if you need it).

Prepare the pear-fennel salad or any other salad you prefer.

Then brown the sausage on medium heat in a cast iron skillet, and use the kraut and its juices to deglaze the pan.  Put the lid on the pan to poach the sausages until they finished cooking in the middle.  Empty the skillet to free it for the next step.

Next add a little oil and salt to the pan with the green beans.  Saute them for about five minutes.  Then add green onions and saute them until everything is tender crisp.  This way all of the last bits of sausage flavor will incorporate into the green beans.

Finally toss some diced radishes into the again empty skillet with a tiny bit of salt.  These saute for just a few minutes until they are browning on the sides.