Archive for November, 2008

Weekend cooking: Carnitas with chipotle-lime sauce


Carnitas with Chipotle-Lime sauce

As fond as I am of dishes that can be thrown together at lightning speed, sometimes it’s nice to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon cooking, especially when it’s the sort of cooking that lends itself to watching a movie and knitting while it mostly takes care of itself.

Yesterday I defrosted a boneless pork shoulder roast I’d bought from Wood Family Farms. I wasn’t in the mood to leave the house, so I figured I’d see what I could do with ingredients I have on hand; thanks to a summer of shopping locally and putting things aside for winter, there’s lots of good stuff in my larder and the big freezer downstairs – including a supply of dried chiles of assorted varieties.

Pork shoulder takes a little more effort than, say, tenderloin. They tend to have a good deal of fat layered with the muscle, and the meat is on the tough side; a moist cooking method such as braising or stewing gives much better results than just throwing the whole thing in a hot oven.

Years ago, a friend from Mexico taught me her mother’s method of making carnitas, those bite-sized mouthfuls of pork that are so tasty wrapped in tortillas or served over rice. It involves simmering the cut-up meat in liquid for a couple of hours, a process which renders out most of the fat – and then, when all the liquid has evaporated, briefly frying the meat in that rendered fat. The resulting morsels are tender, flavorful and succulent, with crispy edges.

This is not a fast dish; it’s a simmer-all-afternoon dish. But the prep is minimal, and that gives you lots of time to concoct a spicy sauce and a couple of simple side dishes to serve with the carnitas. The result is a hearty, warming, exceedingly satisfying cold-weather meal, and the leftovers are great wrapped in a warm tortilla.

Carnitas with Chipotle-Lime Sauce


  • 2-3 lb. boneless pork shoulder*
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled*
  • A few black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cumin seed


Slice the raw pork into 1-2″ thick slabs, and cut those into cubes. Do not trim away the fat!

In a wide, heavy pot – a cast iron Dutch oven, for instance, or an enameled cast-iron casserole – combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until all the water is evaporated (1 1/2 to 2 hours). When nothing is left but the pork and the simmering melted fat, increase heat to medium and allow the pork to fry in its own fat, turning occasionally, until browned (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a large bowl, draining off the fat as you do so.

Make sauce while pork simmers:

Chipotle-lime sauce


  • 2 small or 1 large dried chipotle chiles*
  • 2 large, mild dried peppers (I used an ancho chile and a dried paprika).*
  • 1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped*
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa (or, if you’re lucky enough to have cacao nibs on hand, substitute those)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Juice of two limes


Remove the stems from the dried chiles; split open and remove seeds (unless you want a very hot sauce)

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add chiles, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until peppers are soft.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet; cool and grind with cocoa or cacao nibs (I keep an old coffee grinder just for grinding spice; you can also use a mortar and pestle).

When chiles are done, transfer them along with the onions and garlic to a food processor with a slotted spoon; reserve cooking liquid. Squeeze two limes into a measuring cup and add enough cooking liquid to make one cup. Add to food processor and process until pureed. Taste, and add salt if needed (the resulting sauce should be smokey/tangy/spicy and a little salty). If sauce is too watery, return to cooking pot (after discarding remaining cooking liquid) and return to burner to simmer and reduce.

To serve, toss pork pieces with a few spoonsful of the sauce to coat, and spoon a little more onto the plate.

I had this tonight on brown basmati rice with a combination of black beans and dry-toasted sweet corn (Just spread frozen corn in a pan and toast over a medium heat, stirring now and then, until it begins to brown, then add black beans and stir till heated. It was tender, delicious – and not at all fatty, thanks to the long slow cooking.

Depending on what you serve it with and how carnivorous the diners are feeling, this should feed 4-6 people nicely.

(* Indicates locally grown ingredients)

November 23, 2008 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

Thanksgiving sides

I don’t really enjoy cooking turkeys. My oven is too small, for one thing; for another, as a solo cook with diminishing upper-body strength, I find wrestling the heavy, slippery bird – out of its bag, in and out of the brine, on and off the roasting rack – difficult and fraught with peril. And then there’s the carcass problem: To make stock or not? If so, when? And given that I still have turkey stock in the freezer from last Thanksgiving, is there really any point?

So when my friend Ellen volunteered to roast a turkey for our three-couple Thanksgiving feed, I was delighted. It means my oven will be free on Thursday – and it means I get to cook side dishes. And honestly, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides: Dressing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, gravy – lots of gravy, please! – and an array of vegetables and relishes … all the lovely, rich, kitchen-intensive dishes I rarely bother with the rest of the year, when my cooking tends to one-dish meals with maybe a vegetable or salad on the side.

And when several cooks are pitching in, each bringing the dish without which it would not be Thanksgiving for them, the odds of discovering something new, or a new variation on something familiar, is high.

So. I’ve offered to make baked dressing (although Ellen will likely stuff the bird as well, but nobody objects to two varieties), sweet potatoes, smashed potatoes … and a pecan pie, because I need pecan pie on Thanksgiving, whether anyone else does or not.

The dressing and sweet potatoes will be variations on old favorites, tweaked just enough to have new interest without offending the tastes of anyone who’s got their heart set on the standards. And yes, containing local ingredients, from the final weekend of our farmers’ market, local farmstands and my garden: The yams, potatoes and onions, the herbs, the mushrooms, the eggs.

Cornbread dressing with sage and wild mushrooms


  • 6 cups cornbread (I like this flourless Epicurious recipe, which is solid and less sweet than my usual recipe. It makes about 12 cups; I halve the recipe.)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles), coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced, or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tsp dried
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2-2 cups low-salt chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper


Bake cornbread the day before and allow it to cool completely. Cut into 1-inch cubes and place in a big mixing bowl.

Melt 1 stick of butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and stir well to coat with butter. Sautee over medium heat until the onion and garlic are translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk and absorbed most of the butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 375F. Add the mushroom mixture – including any liquid in the pan – celery and minced herbs to the cornbread; use (clean) hands to toss well (I don’t know any other good way to do this). Taste; if salt is needed, add some now, along with a good deal of black pepper, and toss again.

Beat the eggs with a fork and add to the dressing, tossing again to coat. Melt the butter and drizzle it over the dressing, toss again. Finally, add stock, slowly, stirring to combine. You should wind up with a very moist mixture. Heap into a 9×13 baking dish or large casserole and bake until lightly browned and crisp around the edges, about 45 minutes. If the rest of the meal isn’t ready (does anyone actually manage to get everything ready to serve at once on Thanksgiving), cover loosely with foil, slash a vent in the top to let some of the steam escape and set aside until dinner is ready. If necessary, tuck it back in the oven to reheat while you carve the turkey.

Maple Sweet Potatoes with Candied Ginger


  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes (use canned if you must. But they won’t be as good)
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup (Tip: If you like a stronger maple flavor, see if you can find Grade B syrup)
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 3 Tbsp candied ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) cut into pieces


Preheat oven to 375F. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add sweet potatoes. Once water returns to a simmer, parboil for about 5 minutes. Drain.

In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup and allspice. Bring to a simmer.

Place sweet potatoes in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle candied ginger over the top. Pour on the hot maple syrup, and dot with butter. Bake for about 45 minutes, until yams are tender. Can be kept, covered, on the counter until ready to serve.

This is less sweet than the standard candied sweet potatoes, and the ginger and allspice add a nice zing. If you like it even less sweet and more zing-y, substitute chopped fresh ginger for the candied ginger. If you have a bigger sweet tooth than I do, try combining the candied ginger with an equal amount of chopped pecans, a couple of tablespoons of flour and a half cup of brown sugar and sprinkling that over the top for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking for a crunchy, streusel-like topping.

You’ll note that these two dishes call for the same oven temperature. The recipes I based mine on called for a 350-degree oven for the dressing and 400 for the sweet potatoes; I split the difference and adjusted the cooking times so I can bake these at the same time, one on the bottom oven rack and one on the top. Midway through cooking, I’ll swap racks so they cook evenly. Of such adjustments are big meals made.

The pie? I’ll bake that the day before. From my mom’s recipe – the one printed on the label of the Karo syrup bottle.

November 19, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

More mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

Pan-roasted wild mushrooms

I’m a fool for mushrooms: Sauteed, stir-fried, stuffed and baked, sliced raw in salads – heck, I even have a residual childhood fondness for canned mushrooms, in certain applications (on pizza, for instance).

Back when I first moved to Oregon, I fell in with a group of rogue mycologists. My second or third year here, they lured me out into the woods and taught me how to identify a few choice edible mushrooms: Morels, which grow on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range each spring, and chanterelles, which pop up in the fall in the damp rain forests that flank the Coast Range. Besides being utterly delicious, both have the advantage of being very easy to identify; once you’ve been shown the real thing, the chance of mistaking an unfriendly mushroom for one of these two is virtually nil.

Of the two, chanterelles are easier to find, and when we get a nice, damp fall like this one, more abundant. And for years, hunting your own was the only way to acquire these gorgeous, meaty, orange-fleshed fungi. Thankfully, just as my knees have started getting too creaky for serious mushroom foraging, others have started doing it for me, and bringing the fruits of their woodsy labors to the local farmers’ markets. While “free” was a good price, $15 a pound isn’t bad, and a pound of wild mushrooms goes a long way.

One of my favorite things to do with wild mushrooms is to pan-roast them, a slightly laborious process that produces results far superior to a standard sauté, concentrating the woodsy mushroom flavors and adding a touch of caramelized sweetness.

If you can’t find or afford wild mushrooms – or if you’re nervous about them – this dish works well with domesticated mushrooms, too, particularly the more flavorful varieties: Crimini, Portobello, shiitake. In a pinch, I’ve made it with plain old white supermarket mushrooms, and it’s still pretty tasty.

Don’t be put off by the long process description. It’s easy to do, it just takes a while (or a multiple skillets) to make a big batch.

Pan-roasted mushrooms make a great side dish; they’re heavenly piled on top of a good steak or lamb chops, scattered on a home-made pizza, spooned over toasted rounds of French or Italian bread as an appetizer, or stirred into an omelet*, a risotto, or a bowl of home-made soup (onion soup with pan-roasted mushrooms=win!)

Credit for the method goes to Van Donegal, who posted it six years ago in a LiveJournal cooking community. He adapted it from Tom Colochino’s Think Like A Chef, and I’ve added a few twists of my own. Recipe evolution.

Pan Roasted Mushrooms


  • Olive Oil
  • A half-pound or more of flavorful, meaty mushrooms
  • coarse Kosher Salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • unsalted butter
  • fresh Italian parsley (optional, but very nice)


Clean the mushrooms (a big, soft paintbrush is handy for this job) and trim off any soft or buggy spots. Slice thickly.

Mince 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, omitting the bigger stems.

Smash, peel and coarsely chop the garlic. (The smashing, with the flat side of a chef’s knife, not only makes the garlic easier to peel, but releases all those aromatic oils).

In a large skillet on medium high heat, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat until the oil shimmers but does not smoke.

You’re going to be working in batches. Don’t try to rush it by overcrowding the pan.

Add only enough mushrooms to cover the bottom of the pan without touching each other. Add a liberal pinch of kosher salt and several grindings of pepper.

After 60 seconds, reduce heat to medium low. Do not stir. Cook mushrooms for about 4 minutes, then turn them individually. They should be browned on the cooked sides, and shrinking visibly. About two minutes after turning, add the garlic. At three minutes in, add 1 Tbsp of butter; once it melts, stir the mushrooms to coat with the butter-garlic mixture. When nicely browned, add a generous amount of parsley, stir, and remove the mushrooms to a heat-proof dish. If you like, hold the dish in a pre-heated 200-degree oven while you continue cooking additional batches.

Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel, turn the heat back up to medium high, and repeat the procedure for the next batch.

Serve piping hot. If you plan to add these to a recipe later, refrigerate them until time to use them; they’ll keep for a couple of days in the fridge, covered. Chanterelles and other meaty mushrooms also hold up surprisingly well if you spoon them into a freezer bag, press out all the air and freeze them.

A half pound of raw mushrooms will yield about a cup, cooked, depending on the variety.

* Tonight’s dinner: An omelette made from free-range market eggs, pan-roasted ‘shrooms and some coarsely grated Rogue Valley Creamery rosemary cheddar. Sublime.

November 11, 2008 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

Market season: Not done yet



Our little farmers’ market traditionally closes the weekend before Thanksgiving, and while the number of vendors has dropped sharply, there’s still wonderful autumn food to be had. Yesterday it was wild mushrooms – one vendor literally had bushel baskets full of chanterelles, and another was offering more unusual varieties. I should have brought more cash. But at $15 a pound, I did score two pounds of lovely, orange-fleshed chanterelles, my favorite autumn mushroom. And I had enough money for a pound of ground lamb.

The mushrooms got spread out on newspapers to dry out enough so I could brush away the pine needles and forest duff, then separated into paper bags: One containing the largest mushrooms, which I’ll slice and dry in my food dehydrator tomorrow night; one to make a batch of pan-roasted mushrooms*, and one, along with the lamb, for tonight’s dinner (and this week’s lunches): A white-sauced lasagna of mushrooms, lamb and pumpkin. Which in the oven as I type this, and filling the house with savory autumn smells.

Pumpkin and wild mushrooms – or stronger flavored tame ones, such as Crimini or Portobello – are gorgeous together. Think of a pumpkin-mushroom soup with lots of garlic, or a creamy pumpkin-mushroom risotto. Adding lamb might be considered gilding the lily (and indeed, there’s no reason you couldn’t convert this to a vegetarian dish by omitting the lamb and using more mushrooms ), but I’ve had Morroccan and Afghan dishes that combine pumpkin and lamb to wonderful effect. So, feeling experimental and having a long Sunday evening to play in the kitchen, I came up with this.

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms

Lasagna with pumpkin, lamb and chanterelles

Lasagne with pumpkin, lamb and wild mushrooms


  • 1 small pumpkin (edible variety) or large butternut squash
  • 1 lb lean ground lamb
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 stick), divided
  • 1/2 pound chanterelles or other flavorful, meaty mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed of any bad spots and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta (2 cups)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 20 oz. fresh mozarella cheese,
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups flavorful vegetable stock
  • Olive oil
  • 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles


Preheat oven to 350F

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out fibers and seeds (you are saving your pumpkin seeds to toast, right?) Oil the cut edges, and place cut-side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, until flesh is tender but not too soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool until you can handle it without burning your fingers. (Do not turn the oven off unless you plan to wait a while to finish the dish).


In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground lamb, breaking it up as you go. Stir in half the fresh herbs. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked lamb from the skillet and set aside.

To the juices in the skillet, add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter and allow it to melt. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic, stir well and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are cooked. Stir the cooked lamb into the mushrooms and remove from heat.

Mix ricotta, eggs and half the parmesan. Slice the mozarella on the diagonal into pieces about a third of an inch thick.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt the remaining stick of butter and whisk in the flour to make a smooth roux. Gradually add the stock, whisking all the while, and the rest of the herbs. Simmer until it is thickened (This is a sauce velouté, the non-dairy version of a bechamel), remove from heat.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to work with, use a paring knife to cut around the stem and blossom ends, then grasp the peel and pull it off; it should come away easily. Slice the pumpkin radially into half-inch-thick crescents.


Brush a little olive oil in the bottom of a 9x13x2-inch baking dish, and layer as follows:

  • The ricotta mixture
  • Layer of noodles
  • The pumpkin pieces, arranged to cover the noodles
  • Half of the sauce velouté
  • Layer of noodles
  • The lamb and mushroom mixture
  • The ovals of mozarella, distributed evenly over the lamb.
  • Layer of noodles
  • Spoon the rest of the sauce velouté over the final layer of noodles and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Cover with oiled foil.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking for 25 minutes, or until top is nicely puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 10 minutes to firm up before serving.

Like all lasagnas, this one can be assembled a day in advance and then refrigerated until time to bake.

Makes 8 servings.

*I’ll blog the pan-roasted mushrooms recipe in the next day or two, when I make it. It’s a little fiddly, but produces delicious results.

November 9, 2008 at 9:39 pm Leave a comment

Brussels sprouts even (my) mother could love

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Nutty roasted Brussels sprouts

I’ve been thinking about my mother, and how she evolved from a feed-four-kids-and-a-picky-husband cook to a downright adventurous – and highly skilled – one over the course of her life.

The signs were there early: She was still in her 20s when, as a young military wife, she hauled 5-year-old me and my 3-year-old brother off Itazuke Air Force base and the neighboring Japanese town, Fukuoka, to explore a world that must have been downright alien to a girl who was reared by her grandmother on a north Texas dirt farm in the Great Depression. But explore she did, every mom-and-pop restaurant she could find, leafing through her Japanese-English dictionary and pointing to to order interesting-looking dishes, even when she wasn’t sure what they contained. And anything she sampled, we clamored to sample, too.

Thus it was that before I started school, I was gobbling raw fish and pickled daikon and wasabi and hot pink ginger and savory noodle soups and just about anything else put in front of me – while at home we adhered to a comfortably predictable routine of meat loaf, mashed potatoes, southern fried chicken and frozen fish sticks on Fridays.

In those days (the mid 1950s), military commissaries stocked a limited range of fresh vegetables – carrots, green beans, occasional fresh peas or exotic cauliflower – and my mother treated them all pretty much the way her grandmother had: Boiling them to into submission, usually with a hunk of salt pork. Little wonder I was no great fan of vegetables, since they all turned out more or less the same, faded, mushy and tasting of nothing much beyond salt. Pretty much like canned vegetables, come to think of it.

At Thanksgiving, her repertoire expanded to include items not normally part of our menu, but demanded by the Better Homes & Gardens holiday sections, which substituted for the traditions mom had not grown up with. Among them, Brussels sprouts – cooked the same predictable way. She made them every year, and every year none of us – including her or my dad – did more than shove them around on the plate. Personally, I thought they were the grossest things I’d ever tasted, and didn’t understand why I should waste valuable capacity better spent on perfectly good turkey and yams and pecan pie.

And that’s pretty much how I felt about Brussels sprouts all my life. Until several years back, when the oven-roasted vegetables boom hit, and I came across a recipe for sprouts roasted with pine nuts. And went “hmmmm…”

It turns out that roasted Brussels sprouts have almost nothing in common with the watery, limp, bitter-fetal-cabbage sprouts of my childhood. They’re nutty, toasty, sweet and crisp around the edges, and (to my tastes) absolutely delicious.

Now, I’m not the kind of cook who, faced with a dinner guest’s food aversion, says “Oh, but if you just try my take on (whatever-it-is), I know you’ll love them. Here, have just one bite…” I think that’s rude. But I can tell you this: I’ve put these sprouts on the table in front of some real sprout-haters – including my beloved – and some of them have not only tasted the dish of their own free will, but later confessed having bought Brussels sprouts to roast for themselves.

I suspect everyone reading this knows about oven-roasted vegetables. But a sprout aversion has kept you from trying this one, give it a second thought. If worst comes to worst, what the heck: It’s just one more dish of uneaten Brussels sprouts, which is kind of a holiday tradition of its own.

Nutty Roasted Brussels Sprouts


  • Fresh Brussels sprouts (if you can find a local source, buy them on the stalk; they stay fresher that way) at least 6-8 per person
  • Pine nuts (or coarsely chopped pecans, filberts or blanched almonds)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt


Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse the sprouts well, pull off any wilted or bruised outer leaves. Cut small ones in half, larger ones in quarters. Place in a bowl with chopped nuts (about a tablespoon per serving. Drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Spread out on a baking sheet, sprinkle very lightly with sea salt and roast for 20-25 minutes; midway through the roasting, turn sprouts over. They’re done when they’re tender but not limp, with caramelized bits on the cut surfaces.

I usually serve them right away, hot, but if you’re making a big Thanksgiving dinner you can set the roasted sprouts aside, get on with the turkey, etc., and return them to the oven for perhaps five minutes while you carve the bird.

November 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

November 2008