Superbowl Yum Yums: Pulled Pork Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Sweet Crema Sauce

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

If you're looking for a tasty treat for the upcoming Superbowl, this is a fantastic dish to serve at your party. Prep time takes a bit of time but it's not at all difficult. And putting the tacos together at the end is extremely simple. In fact, I like to put out all the elements and let everyone build their own tacos.

Growing up in SoCal I was spoiled with legit, authentic delicious tacos. My favorite -- al pastor -- are practically impossible to find outside of Cali or the Southwest. So, I'm left to recreate my own. I had a version of tacos recently at a local restaurant that were outstanding, and did a nice spin on it: smoked pork in corn tortillas with a cabbage slaw and a sweet crema sauce on top. I loved it. This is my version, using pork that we started on the smoker and finished in the oven. My slaw is a combination of green cabbage with crisp tart green apple, finished with smoky hot sauce and bright apple cider vinegar. My sweet crema is simply sour cream, honey, and lemon juice. I love a good sprinkling of cotija cheese right on top too. Some fresh cilantro never hurt nobody either. Enjoy it!

Go Hawks!

Pulled Pork Tacos
1 (3-4 lb) pork shoulder -- boneless or bone in is fine*
1 recipe BBQ rub and BBQ braise liquid -- recipe found here
1 head of green cabbage
1 large green apple
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp hot sauce
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp oil (neutral is my preference, like safflower but you can use a less fruity olive oil)
1/3 cup sour cream
1-2 Tbsp good honey
juice of 1/2 lemon
corn tortillas
grated cotija cheese
hot sauce for serving (optional)
more fresh cilantro for serving (optional)
lime wedges for garnish (optional)

Check out the link above to get the BBQ rub I like to make. If you have a rub you love, go ahead and use that.

Take the pork and set out on the counter to come to room temperature. Take the rub and rub the entire meat all over -- including up and under crevices -- in a thick layer. Let it stand at room temperature with the rub on for an hour while you prepare your smoker or preheat your oven.

If you're going to smoke it like we did, preheat your smoker and prepare your chips. Begin smoking the pork as usual. We smoked our pork for about 3 hours and then finished cooking it in the oven with the braising liquid. Conversely, you can do the pork entirely in the oven without smoking it also; simply sub out the beef chuck in this recipe with the pork and cook until fork tender. If you're really in a pinch, you can buy store-bought. Whole Foods makes a decent pulled pork.

Either way, the end result is you want fork-tender pork that you can then "pull" apart with two forks so you have a heap of shredded delicious meat. Set aside.

For the cabbage slaw, cut cabbage in half, then in quarters. Cut out the core and discard. Thinly slice the cabbage into thin strips and place in a large mixing bowl. Take the apple, core it, cut it in half, and cut into thin match-stick strips. Add to the cabbage. Add the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to your taste, add hot sauce and the vinegar right on top, and toss to combine. Add more or less of the hot sauce (or type) to suit your spice level. Once everything has been evenly coated, cover and let stand at least an hour for the cabbage to wilt a little. You can even make the cabbage a few hours or even a day in advance; just keep covered in the fridge and toss it once or twice.

To make the sweet crema, simply whisk together the sour cream, honey, and lemon juice together. Add the honey 1 tablespoon first and taste, adding more if needed. Some honeys are sweeter than others, so adjust to your taste. This can be made up to a day in advance and kept in the fridge covered until ready to use.

To heat the tortillas: place the tortillas in a pile and wrap with a kitchen towel. Microwave for 1 minute. Keep in the towel to keep fresh and warm.

To serve up the tacos, simply take a tortilla and fill it with some pulled pork. Add some slaw, crema, then top with cheese and more cilantro if desired. Add hot sauce and fresh squeeze of lime if you like.

For a party like Superbowl especially I like serving these buffet style, so I'll put out a big aluminum tray of the pulled pork (this way I can keep it warm in the tray easily), the tortillas wrapped in the kitchen towel to stay warm and pliable, and all of the condiments out for everyone to help themselves.

*Bone in is going to taste better but take longer. Make sure you allot the right cooking time depending on which you end up working with.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Sriracha

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Yes, that just happened...

If you love Brussels sprouts, you need to try this.

If you love sriracha, you  need to try this.

My friend Dawn made some homemade sriracha sauce and had a ton left over. She was kind enough to give me some of the red goodness and I was super excited to work with it. case you didn't a huge fan of sriracha. Huge. Like, intervention-level fan of sriracha. I literally put it on everything from Asian noodles to pizza to scrambled eggs. So when I got some homemade version, I was beyond excited to work with it.

The idea for this dish came to me when I was staring at the bag of Brussels sprouts in my fridge, the mason jar of sriracha next to them. Boom! It hit me right there. The flavors in my opinion, between earthy nutty sprouts together with spicy with underlying sweetness that is the goodness known as sriracha is effing AMAZING. I prepped this dish super on the low-cal side and super simply: tossed the sprouts which I halved in a little bit of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat), seasoned simply with salt and pepper and roasted off. Then when about done, took out of the oven and to tossed the sprouts in a ginger-garlic puree. The ginger gave brightness and the garlic a classic savory base. Then, topped with some slivered almonds for crunch. Back in the oven it goes for another 5 minutes on lower temp to toast the almonds. Finally when ready to serve, a generous drizzle of homemade sriracha!

Dawn got the recipe for sriracha from Nom Nom Paleo. She details an excellent blog post with pictures on the process, and the ingredients are super simple and easy to find. As much as I love sriracha, I agree....I did turn a blind eye to all of the preservatives and unpronounceable "stuff" making up part of my most cherished of condiments. But now! Now with this super easy recipe, I can make my own guilt-free and PALEO sriracha! And the heavens split and the light shined forth and the choirs of angels sang, "Hail to the paleo srircha! Hail! Go forth and multiply the red fiery goodness."

And so I shall.

So if you make your own sriracha or use the classic, this recipe is a must-try for you. So healthy and guilt free. So...."aaaaaah!!!" My recipe for the sprouts with sriracha here is good for a side dish portion for 4 people. You can easily expand it to suit a larger crowd. Just taste and adjust proportions of ingredients accordingly.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Sriracha
1 lb brussels sprouts, cleaned and ends trimmed
1 Tbsp spoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled but left whole (i.e. not smashed)
fresh ginger knob, peeled
2 Tbsp slivered almonds (raw, unsalted)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sriracha (recipe link follows)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Take the sprouts and cut each in half; in quarters if you have particularly large ones. You want them bite-sized and all about the same size to ensure even cooking. Place in a bowl and toss with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure they're coated well. Layer out on a baking sheet and roast in oven, turning once, abut 15 minutes depending on your oven's strength. I like tender sprouts but still a good bite to them; and I like some caramelization on them.
Take the sprouts out of the oven and reduce oven temp to 350.
While the sprouts are cooking you can prepare your ginger-garlic puree. Simply take the garlic clove and grate it using a microplane. Do the same with the ginger. You want about net 1 tsp each of grated garlic and grated ginger. Do not use jarred garlic or ginger for this -- the taste will be inferior. You really want to use fresh ingredients.
When the sprouts are tender and have some good caramelization on them, take them out of the oven and place them back into the bowl you used with the olive oil. Now add the garlic and ginger puree on top and use a spoon to toss the roasted sprouts in the garlic and ginger. Turn out the sprouts back on the baking sheet (same one; no need to use a fresh one) and sprinkle with the almonds right on top. Return back to oven and cook another 5 minutes. Remember -- you're cooking them now at 350 (not 400) so as not to burn the garlic, ginger, and almonds!
When ready remove and drizzle with sriracha to your taste. Enjoy.

Recipe to make your own paleo-friendly sriracha sauce can be found here.

Cannoli: The Filling and Tips For A Perfect Cannoli

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I've been pretty MIA on the food blog scene. Between Holiday Hell and the sickness that would not leave our entire house for weeks, things are finally beginning to get back to normal around here and so does follow food and blogging.

I item I wanted to blog quickly that I think is a great dessert to have (without or without shell) is cannoli. Cannoli are a cinnamon-flavored dough that's rolled thin and shaped into a tube then fried until crispy. It's then stuffed with a ricotta-based cream filling usually mixed in with mini-chocolate chips. The shells can be served plain or dipped in chocolate and served as is, coated in sprinkles, or even finely chopped pistachios. The whole thing is then dusted in festive powdered sugar. Cannolis are a traditional dessert in Italy, particularly in Sicily, and were brought over to America with the Italian immigrants at the turn of the century. And thank God they did, because I love cannoli!

The Hubsters is 1/2 Sicilian, and cannoli were a staple at the holiday table growing up. I've been trying to figure out how to make them for years, and finally figured out the perfect filling. It's very easy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients to make it great, but rather one simple but essential technique: draining the ricotta.

Many years I got the flavor combination for the filling correct but the texture was off -- too watery or too thick. Finally I figured out the secret is to drain the ricotta overnight on a paper towel or two in the fridge. This takes out just enough moisture to make it thick and creamy, but leaves enough so it doesn't get dry and crumbly. I was shocked to see many cannoli recipes don't mention draining the ricotta. Maybe it's a known fact, but I didn't know this and it makes all the difference in the world.

Second, I flavor my ricotta with some freshly zest orange. It brightens the entire mixture instantly as well as giving a very lovely scent and color. I use mini chocolate chips because my husband asks for it; you can use larger sizes if you like or omit them completely. I also flavor my cannoli with a dash of vanilla -- again, gives a lovely scent as well as rounding out the perfect flavor. I use vanilla powder instead of extract for this dish because it adds vanilla flavor without added moisture. Too much moisture and you'll get a runny cannoli filling!

The recipe here is for the filling. I use store-bought cannoli shells because it's easier. One day I'll buy the equipment and make the shells from scratch. But you can certainly use store-bought. This recipe makes enough to fill 6 large cannoli shells.

1 (15 oz) container whole-milk ricotta cheese (don't use skim or fat free for this!)
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla powder (or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract)
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
1-2 Tbsp mini-chocolate chips (depends on how much you like mixed in for texture)
6 store-bought cannoli shells (optional)

Line a bowl with two sheets of paper towels. Scoop out the ricotta right onto the towels and lightly cover with another paper towel on top. Place in fridge and let stand at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Change the paper towels at least once halfway through. You'll see the towels will get quite soaked through; this is the key to a good cannoli filling. You can do this ahead of time.

When you're ready to make the filling, place the drained ricotta in a large mixing bowl. Beat with handheld mixer fitted with paddle attachments on medium speed to help smooth out. Beat for a minute or two. Turn the speed on the lowest setting, and begin adding the powdered sugar slowly. Mix the sugar into the ricotta, then when fully incorporated, add some more sugar until you use everything up. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and continue to beat the mixture until ingredients are very well combined. You should have a pretty smooth consistency. Give it a taste and add more sugar if you want it sweeter. Cannoli filling should be sweet but not saccharine.

Note: If you found you drained your cheese too long and the mixture is a bit too stiff and not really creamy, you can add a splash of cold heavy cream or half n half and continue to beat until incorporated This should thin out the mixture to a proper consistency.

Fold in the chocolate chips using a spatula.

Your filling is now ready.

For easy piping, take a gallon sized plastic storage bag with Ziploc and transfer the ricotta mixture to the bag. At this point, if you want to fill your cannoli later you can just pop the bag in the fridge until you're ready to fill. When ready to fill, take one bottom corner of the bag and cut off the edge of the corner creating a pastry bag. Take a shell and begin to squeeze the mixture into the shell on one end. Turn and fill in the other end. Repeat with remaining shells.

When shells have been filled place on platter and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.

Note: Cannoli are best when you have the crunchy shell and smooth filling. They're best if eaten right after filling, or within an hour or two. The more time they sit, the soggier they'll get.

Gingerbread Men: The Recipe

Soooooo behind on blogging....

Ok, so these aren't our traditional cookies for the holidays (we go super FOB for our treats every year!) but the occasion arose where I needed to make cookies for kids to decorate. Sugar and gingerbread men were requested. I got a good recipe for sugar cookies, but was lost with the gingerbread one. After must research and inquiries, I got frustrated and made up my own. My version has the right color, the spice is there without being overly spicy so even the picky eaters will eat them, and are still cookie-ish (they won't get as hard as cardboard two minutes later). Also, I feel like mine are a bit more authentic....

I love going back into history to see how they did it before all of our fancy pants equipment, easy shortcuts, and other crappy ingredients. I did the same here and added two majorly different ingredients than what we generally using frequently modern times: crystalized ginger and grains of paradise.

Crystalized ginger is pieces of real ginger that have been cured in sugar and dried -- the flavor is super concentrated like real ginger, so you preserve that punch of spicy ginger flavor that the powdered version simply lacks. You don't need a lot of it -- one cube is usually enough to flavor an entire dish or batch of dough -- and it will keep literally forever. I highly recommend picking up some and keeping it in your pantry. Makes a killer tea in a pinch too!

The other ingredient is grains of paradise. Not bird, grain. A cousin to the black peppercorn, this spice is a tiny grain a similar size of a mustard seed. The flavor is a cross between spicy black peppercorn and fragrant cardamom. It comes out of west Africa and was a popular spice throughout Europe during the middle ages. It fell out of favor as the black peppercorn began to take roots in Europe, but it's making a culinary comeback. The spiciness is not as intense as black peppercorn, but still has a lovely aroma and bite to it. And the cardamom and sweet citrus undernote goes beautifully with spicy ginger.

For this recipe I took the crystalized ginger and ground it into a paste (see pic above). Notes on how to do that quickly below.

This recipe will yield a good 2 dozen cookies of smaller gingerbread men size. It rolls out quite well, so you can use it to make most any cookie shape. It'll also keep in the fridge and freezer until ready to use. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies
1 stick unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp candied ginger paste*
1/2 tsp grains of paradise (preferably ground)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove

Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, grains of paradise, cinnamon, and clove in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl with an electric hand held mixer fitted with the beater attachments. Work on it on medium speed about 3 minutes. Add the egg and mix until incorporated in. Add the molasses and mix until combined. You'll get a nice, darkened velvety consistency at this point. Now, slowly add the dry ingredients (the flour mixture) to the batter and mix it in each time. Go slowly and work on the lowest speed. As you add more flour, the batter will get considerably thicker and thicker and feel harder to beat. Once the ingredients are all combined, set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a working surface with a little flour sprinkled on top and work the dough together into a ball. You'll see it'll come together pretty easily and quickly. Flatten it out into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate it until ready to use.

To make the cookies, cut the dough in half and work on a floured surface. Roll out each half of the dough until you get about 1/4" thick. Cut out using your cookie cutter shapes, place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or a silpat) and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack completely, then frost and decorate to your liking!

*To make candied ginger paste you'll need candied ginger and a food processor or spice grinder of some type. Take about 1/4 cup of the candied ginger cubes and chop them small with a knife. This will help them turn into a paste without destroying the motor of your machine. Then place in the processor and process until it comes together into a ball. The consistency will be like a super thick paste. You can keep the rest of it in the fridge for a few weeks to use in vinaigrette bases, desserts, and even tea.