January 30, 2012


I received the most beautiful cookbook as a Christmas gift from my step-sister and her husband,  DIY Delicious by Vanessa Barrington.  Oh wow, it's one of those cookbooks that you find yourself reading from cover-to-cover.  The photography is done well and the recipes are written simply, in such a way to inspire you to greatness, well, to greatness in making your own food and putting together meals with "from-scratch" elements.  

I've made yogurt in the past, but my first few attempts with raw milk were discouraging.  I followed her directions, and it turned out well.  I've made enchilada sauce  in the past too, but I preferred the canned stuff to the stuff I made, until I used her recipe.  It was probably very close to the same recipe I'd used in the past, but something about her instructions made it simpler and the end result was perfect.  Sauerkraut I tried for the first time a couple months ago using a recipe I found online.  Her instructions confirm that I did it right, and her introduction includes inspiration for changing the flavors up.   

Curtido is similar to saurkraut in that it is a cabbage-based, fermented condiment.  If you are new to the concept, don't let the word "fermented" scare you.  Common fermented foods include yogurt, beer, wine, certain types of pickles and sourdough breads.  Try some.  "Real Food" proponents say we should be incorporating more fermented foods into our diets to aid with digestion and immune function.  Curtido was only my second attempt at fermenting vegetables, but I was very pleased with the results.  (And since then I have tried three other fermented vegetable recipes.)  For a minimum of work (chopping and hand-mixing) and some waiting time, you get a versatile condiment: crunchy, salty, just a bit tangy and mildly spicy.  I made my first quart of curtido a two weeks ago and we've already used more than half of it as a topping for Slow-Cooker Shredded Pork and Beans, as a filling for cheese quesadillas, as part of a filling for pork spring rolls with peanut sauce, and as a crunchy, flavor-boosting garnish on cheese enchiladas and beans.  

Wild Salvadorean Curtido 
Adapted from Vanessa Barrington in DIY Delicious.
Makes 1 quart.

1 head green cabbage
1/2 of a medium onion
2-3 carrots
2 jalapenos
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between your fingertips

Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible.  Slice the onion half into quarters vertically, then slice as thinly as possible.  Shred the carrots using the larger holes on a box grater.  Slice the jalapenos in half vertically, Scrape out the discard the seeds, then slice thinly.  Set aside.  Place and cabbage, onion and carrots into a large shallow mixing bowl.  Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables.  Use your hands to mix and squeeze the vegetables until they have given up a good amount of liquid, about 5 minutes. Stir in jalapenos and oregano.

Use a one-cup measuring cup and rubber scraper to scoop the cabbage mixture into a one-quart Mason jar. Use your fingers, the rubber scraper or a wooden spoon to pack the mixture firmly.  The level of liquid should rise above the cabbage mixture. Carefully scrape down the sides so that all the vegetables are submerged.  Put a half-pint jar into the bigger jar to keep them submerged.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and secure with a rubber band.  Place in an out of the way corner of the kitchen for 2-5 days.  (Fermenting may take as little as 2 days in warmer temperatures and as many as 5 days in cooler temperatures.)  After 2 days, remove the towel and taste the curtido.  If it tastes "pickled," it is ready.  If it just tastes salty, replace the jar, towel and rubber band and check it the next day.  When you determine that it is ready, put a led on it and refrigerate it.  Generally, fermented vegetables last for months, but they do soften over time.

January 23, 2012

Shredded Pork with Beans and Cornbread

I've been doing something weird for the last week and a half.  I've been planning our dinners ahead of time.  And not only that, I've also been prepping them ahead of time.

I know there are a lot of Mommy Bloggers on the Net who post their weekly menu and tout the virtues of meal planning, but I've never been very good at that. Usually I'll have at least a few dinners in mind when I'm doing my grocery shopping, but whenever I plan more than a few dinners ahead of time, I get all messed up midweek and I end up substituting grilled cheese sandwiches for a more labor-intensive meal and then the next evening I am not sure if I should make what I'd planned for the  previous evening and just push the menu back a day for the rest of the week, or should I skip that dinner completely, stick to the schedule, and oh no, that lettuce isn't gonna get used before it gets slimy!  By then I've thought too much about it, I'm quite exhausted by the mental confusion and ready for another night of cheese sandwiches.

The different thing this time around, besides the fact that maybe I'm planning simpler meals, is that I am starting them the night before.  That seemed kind of counter-productive at first, but here's the thing:  When I get home from work tired and hungry, I'd rather have to do just a few quick things to get dinner on the table.  Then, a couple hours later, when I've got a happy full belly and the kids are already in bed, I can focus for twenty minutes or so on prepping the following evening's dinner.

Here's how it worked last week:

Saturday Grace and I had a lot of fun in the kitchen.  We made cookies, curtido, enchilada sauce and corn tortillas.  While I was chopping the cabbage, onions, jalapeno and carrots for the curtido, I chopped up some extra veggies for two stirfried dishes later in the week.  That night we had cheese enchiladas and some black beans (that happen to be leftover from earlier in the week).

Sunday evening we had tostadas using fried tortillas and more of the leftover beans, some lettuce and cheese.  That night I made a braised beef stew in the oven and chopped some onion, garlic, carrots and celery to add to it the next day.  I also marinated some thinly sliced beef for a stirfry (and froze it) and applied a tasty meat rub to a pork roast.

Monday evening when I got home from work I added the veggies to the stew and simmered it on the stove for about 10 minutes and we ate stew.  That evening I got the marinated stirfry beef from the freezer into the fridge.

Tuesday we add Stirfried Broccoli and Beef over rice noodles using the pre-marinated beef and the pre-sliced onions, carrots and broccoli.  After the kids went to bed, I browned a pork roast, chopped some veggies and soaked some beans for Wednesday's dinner.

Wednesday we had Shredded Pork'n'Beans with Cornbread.  Wednesday morning I transferred the browned pork roast, diced veggies and soaked beans to the slow cooker.  That evening all I had to do when I got home was mix up the cornbread and shred the pork.

Thursday I had planned to have "Make Your Own" stirfry with the rest of the pre-sliced veggies (onion, carrot, chayote, green cabbage and broccoli).  But when I got home Jason was not hungry, the kids were busy playing with a new toy and I was so hungry I could hardly think.  It wouldn't have taken much time to boil some Chinese noodles and set up a Make-Your-Own-Stirfry bar, but I didn't feel like putting any effort into a dinner that only Grace and I would eat.  (What about Abby? you ask.  Frequently we find that she eats nothing--or only bread--at dinner.)  So I ate a bowl of cereal, and an hour or so later, I made some bean and cheese burritos for the girls.

Friday we had Make-Your-Own-Stirfry.  I had planned to have Pork Tostadas with leftover shredded pork, curtido and the last of the corn tortillas Grace and I had made, but I decided to freeze the pork and use it later in the month.  Maybe we'll use the tortillas this week to make enchiladas, or maybe the girls can use them to make quesadillas for after-school snacks.

Slow Cooker Shredded Pork and Beans
Simple and warming for cold winter nights.  Makes 4-6 servings, plus leftovers.

2 lbs pork shoulder
your favorite meat rub  -I used an unlabeled  premade mixture I had in the spice drawer
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 onion
3 ribs celery
carrots -I think it's silly to put in a number of carrots, because carrots vary so widely in size.  I suppose you want to end up with about 1/2 cup diced.
garlic -at least 3 cloves
1/2 cup canned or frozen chopped green chiles
1 tablespoon oregano or Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
1 lb dry pinto beans
Cornbread (recipe follows) and curtido  to serve.

Up to 3 days ahead of time, thoroughly coat a small pork shoulder with your favorite meat rub.  Let rest in the refrigerator overnight (or up to three days).

The night before you plan to eat, brown the pork on all sides in a little oil in a heavy pot.  Let cool.  Chop an onion, a few ribs of celery and a few carrots. Mince some garlic. Store pork and veggies together overnight in the fridge with chopped green chiles, oregano, salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan rinse and soak 1/2 lb pinto beans.

In the morning transfer the veggies and pork to the slow cooker.  Drain the beans, add them, along with enough water to cover and a big pinch of salt.  Turn the slow cooker to Low and cook 8-10 hours.

Half an hour before you plan to eat, prepare the cornbread.  While cornbread bakes, remove pork from slow cooker and let rest on a serving dish 15 minutes.  Shred pork using two forks.  To serve, spoon 1/2 cup beans into each individual serving bowl.  Top with shredded pork.  Garnish each serving with one tablespoon curtido.  Serve cornbread on the side.

Adapted from Alber's Cornmeal

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 small eggs
1 cup milk

Butter or spray an 8" square baking dish and preheat the oven to 400ยบ.  In a medium mixing bowl whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  In small bowl whisk together butter and eggs.  Whisk in milk.  Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients.  Whisk to combine.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cut into squares and serve.

January 11, 2012

Tostada Bar

Does anyone else feel like they are still in post-holiday decompression mode?  Maybe it's because I had a cold last week and a cough that's still hanging on.  I am just tired and don't feel much like cooking when I get home from work. Thankfully, some meals come together quickly. 

Last night I used two "quick meal" techniques to throw together a tostada bar.

First Quick Meal Technique: I used the Crockpot to cook a pound of black beans while I was at work: just rinsed black beans, a minced onion, some garlic and seasonings (cumin, red pepper flakes, black pepper, salt, Italian Seasoning and a couple bay leaves) with water in a Crockpot set on low for about 9 hours.  When I got home, the beans were done.

Second Quick Meal Technique:  I made use of leftovers.  We had a little bit of shredded chicken and some shredded cheese in the fridge, and a mixture of lettuce and green onions from a salad that didn't get finished the night before.

All I had to to was fry some corn tortillas in oil and, in the time it took to fry them, prepare a few more garnishes. (Is there anything more delicious and versatile than a freshly fried corn tortilla?)  For the garnishes I chopped cilantro, crumbled cojita cheese, sliced a lime in half, and--I know I might be in the minority in craving this combo--I roasted some cubed pumpkin.  (I bought the pumpkin at the farmers market already peeled and seeded, so it didn't take nearly the effort that breaking down a whole pumpkin would have.)

We didn't have any salsa on hand, so I put my trusty jar of jalapeno carrots on the counter next to the other fixings, and within less 30 minutes we had ourselves a tostada bar.  I put a crisp tostada shell on each plate, topped it with beans, and each family member topped their tostada with whatever toppings and garnishes they preferred.


The farmers market in January has plenty of produce that would top a tostada beautifully.  In addition to the lettuce, green onion, cilantro, lime and pumpkin mentioned here, a couple different vendors sell avocados, many vendors sell different varieties of colorful radishes, and at least one vendor sells beans.  They are cranberry beans and, according to the vendor, they cook up beautifully in a Crockpot.  They are not dried, so if you were cooking them on the stove, no pre-soaking would be required.

January 5, 2012

January Garden Inventory

There's nothing harvest-able in my little garden right now, save for some sage and thyme and onion clippings, but there are onions and garlic sprouting up in all three beds.  I'm sure that if I cared more about successive plantings or paid more attention to companion plants, I wouldn't have planted all three beds with alliums, but, I planted Bed #2 with two varieties of onions and Bed #3 with garlic; then  all  most of the little seedlings I had planted in Bed #1 were destroyed by weather, or pests, or my own neglect, so I bought another 50 onion starts and planted them in the empty space in Bed #1.

A handful of things survived in Bed #1.  There's a dill plant that I should probably figure out how to incorporate into my cooking.  There are two little brassicas--the sole survivors from two 6-packs of seedlings that I planted in September--that are producing a lot of leaves: one appears to be a variety of cauliflower and the other is probably a variety of kale (or it could be collard greens).  Among the onions, there are some beets and carrots sprouting up, a row of poppies (which, by the way, look like weeds until they finally produce short-lived flowers in the spring), and a couple cilantro and parsley plants that aren't big enough to pick from yet. 

What's growing in your garden?


I recently updated my Homemade Ice Cream Notes page with some notes about my most recent batch, Coffee Almond Chip.


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Are there any topics you'd like me to address in 2012?  Or any other feedback regarding the blog?