Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh Happy Day

merry christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Life for Leftovers

Pulled Pork becomes Carnitas tacos...Only made more delicious with the addition of a sprinkling of crunchy cabbage and fresh cilantro...

...and some freshly fried tortilla chips
...and some creamy, dreamy guacamole

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This Week

For the party, I cooked enough food for...um...probably close to 40 people. We had closer to 20. So we have a LOT of leftover pork, chicken, and smoked salmon. Since this is our last week in B'ham before going home for two weeks for Christmas and New Year's, my goal is to eat as much of these leftovers as possible. I'm going to try to be creative...Friday night we're going to see Avenue Q {so excited}, so I think we'll eat out at a restaurant we have a gift card for. And then Saturday night will be our little Christmas celebration, so I'm going to make us a fancy meal we can enjoy with the bottle of Veuve Clicquot we've been saving. Have a wonderful almost-Christmas week!

Monday - Thai-style chopped chicken salad
Tuesday - Asian pork & veggie noodle stir fry
Wednesday - Carnitas soft tacos, guacamole, margaritas
Thursday - Cocktail party for Katie, Jags game for Jason...dinners on our own
Friday - Eat out before Avenue Q
Saturday - Smoked salmon toasts, braised short ribs with homemade pappardelle-style noodles

Sugar's Sweet

These yummy little bites are inspired by the brilliant minds at Martha Stewart. I am not huge on baking, mostly because I don't have much of a sweet tooth. And the patience some baking requires...well, I don't have it. So I love recipes like this where there's very little actual measuring or baking involved. These crispy, nutty, chewy little bars were reminiscent of Samoas Girl Scout cookies {a fave of mine}, and they a big hit at the party. Jason doesn't even like coconut, and he enjoyed these.
Like so many other sweets, the end result of these is so much greater than the sum of it parts. I made a few substitutions to the original recipe...and I thought the end result tasted more like toffee than butterscotch, so I just rewrote it and linked the original. Finally, I didn't count how many graham crackers I used...just fill your baking sheet; you'll have enough toppings.

Loaded Toffee Bars
adapted from marthastewart.com

1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips
12 to 15 cinnamon graham crackers, plus more as needed
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350º. Spread walnuts and coconut on baking sheet; bake until golden, 5 minutes. Cool thoroughly; toss with chocolate chips.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil. (katie note: mine was 17.25x11.5) Break graham crackers into quarters; fit in pan in single layer.

In saucepan, whisk butter and sugar over medium heat until smooth; slowly and carefully pour over crackers. Bake until bubbly, 10 minutes. Sprinkle with nut topping; press gently but firmly. Cool; press fillings again, and separate rectangles.

Low and Slow

The first recipe I'll share is for the pork, which is my all-time favorite go-to thing to make for a party. Pork shoulder (AKA pork butt) is very inexpensive and very hard to screw up. You can flavor it in a million-and-one different ways, and it's a never-fail crowd pleaser. When you bring it home, remove some, but not all, of the fat cap {the thick white layer}.

I wanted to keep the flavors simple so it would meld well with the roasted garlic aioli I attempted to make. {Attempted is the operative word here. More on that later.} Anyway, I used a mix of freshly ground black pepper, kosher salt, and a great seasoning called Jane's Krazy Mixed Up Salt. This was a staple in our house growing up, and it's still a staple in mine. {And Peyton's!} We lovingly call it Krazy Jane's. It's fantastic on pasta, steak, veggies...and it makes a mean bloody mary seasoning.

I digress.

Take a handful of seasoning and toss it on the pork shoulder. Rub it in like a nice shiatsu massage. This is a crucial step. The meat is thick, so the seasoning has to penetrate, and it won't unless you really smoosh it in. Then put the hunk-o-meat in a deep-sided roasting pan, and cover with foil. Now here comes the absolute most important thing to remember...forgetting this is the only way possible to screw this up. The oven temp must go no higher than 270º. For a 7-pound roast, you'll want to give it at least 6 hours, but it could probably go even longer.

The magic of this cut of meat is in its heavy marbling. At this low heat, the fat and connective tissue completely melt, rendering the meat juicy, flavorful, and succulent. Any hotter, and you won't get the luscious texture. And that's it. When it comes out, let it cool for about a half-hour, and then using two forks, shred it into bite-size pieces. Put a good amount between a nice, soft bun, and voila—pulled pork sliders!

Here are some other flavoring options for this versatile cut of pork...
Carnitas: Cumin, chipotle chile powder, and a touch of cinnamon
Vietnamese-style: Fish sauce, sugar, small hot chiles, and lime zest

Southern BBQ: Smoked paprika, sweet paprika, Krazy Jane's, brown sugar, and garlic powder

To Be Jolly

(I did not take this picture, fyi)

I am happy to report that the party was a hit. We're so blessed to have so many wonderful friends here in Birmingham, and we were happy to host {almost} all of them last night! The food was well received...yay! I have to admit, though, I was running around like a crazy person until about 10 minutes after the party started. I made the brilliant decision {can you sense my sarcasm?} to do everything the day of the party.

Really—what was I thinking? Well, I probably wouldn't have had such a hard time if I hadn't had to slow-roast the pork ALL DAY at 250º. What I should have done was start the pork first thing in the morning instead of 11 a.m. after running pre-party errands. I had three other things to bake, but they couldn't go in until one hour before the party. YIKES.

But Jason was the best sous-chef any girl could ask for. He was such a trooper...the two of us must have looked like a well-organized yet chaotic dance duo. I was here and there with scorching trays full of crostini, he was swinging by with bubbling pots full of peanut butter and chocolate chips. The oven would beep and we'd both go running. But...it got done. And miraculously, not much after 6:00 when our first guests came. {And in the meantime, Rebecca was a lifesaver with her beautiful platters and bowls, as well as her candle lighting, drink pouring, and general sweetness.}

Anyway, on to why any of you read this blog in the first place: here's a rundown of what we ate.

Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork Sliders with Roasted Garlic Aïoli
Lemon Chicken with Creamy Lemon Sauce
Black-Pepper-Cornmeal Biscuits with Smoked Salmon
Rosemary-White-Bean Dip with Parmesan Crostini
Parmesan & Black Pepper Popcorn

Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Butterscotch Bark
Jason’s “Puppy Chow”

Recipes to come!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

'Tis the Season

So, ok, I know I’ve been a bad, bad blogger. But I have a confession to make: cooking, recently, hasn’t provided me with as much joy as it usually does. I think I’m just in a mini funk, and I’m sure it will resolve itself. But it’s been a little disheartening.

This might sound strange…it sounds strange to me, even, but I had an awful, awful migraine a few weeks ago, and I really think it did something to my brain that made me apathetic toward all food. I had no real appetite for a few days after, and I even came home from work one night and nothing sounded good to me except pizza or waffles. {Don’t worry, I’m not pregnant.} So we went out for pizza. That’s just so not like me. That weird palette issue hasn’t happened again, but I have since been a little disinterested in the kitchen. I have made a few things recently I want to share, so bear with me as I pull myself out of my blogging/cooking funk and get some pictures up here. Meantime...

I have a feeling that the Christmas soirée Jason and I are hosting in our new little house this weekend may remedy this meh-in-the-kitchen feeling I’ve been stricken with. I’ve devised a menu of cocktail-hour bites for our friends…I’ll take pictures and share recipes for everything at/after the party. {I’m not really one for making up my own baked goods, so I’ve linked the recipes for the desserts.} We’ll also have beer and wine, along with an alcoholic dessert of sorts.

Happy Christmas!

Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork Sliders with Roasted Garlic Aïoli
Chicken Puff Pastry Bites Lemon-Parsley Chicken Skewers with Parsley Oil and Homemade Ranch
Black-Pepper Biscuits with Smoked Salmon
Rosemary-White-Bean Dip with Parmesan Crostini
Parmesan & Black Pepper Popcorn

Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate
Butterscotch Bark
Store-Bought Amaretti Cookies
Jason’s “Puppy Chow”

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What I'm making...

Sunday - Minestrone, salad, crusty bread
Monday - Bunless burgers, spinach and chickpea saute
Tuesday - Baked chicken breasts with tomatoes and white beans, Heston Blumenthal's broccoli
Wednesday - Asian-style salad with grilled shrimp
Thursday - Cornmeal-crusted pan-fried fish, creamy lime slaw