Friday, December 30, 2011

Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwiches

Back to a text only blog for a while as I catch up on all of the cooking I have done this year!  What can I say about pulled pork sandwiches that hasn't already been said?  Pulled pork may be the sandwich of the gods and this coming from a girl that has a lukewarm relationship with pork.  My father referred to me as his Jewish princess for years because of my distaste for pork.  The odyssey that is my evolving feelings for pork could fill a blog on its own.
Anyway, for those of you who grew up under a rock or perhaps just further from the Southland than I did, here's what pulled pork is.  It's the result of a slow, low, delicious roasting process.  In this case, I prepared a huge pork shoulder as detailed in building blocks blog for pork.  You can season the pork many ways during this process and just about all of them are good.  The shoulder is fatty, which makes it deliciously juicy.  After hours of slow cooking the pork in the oven, it will become fork tender and then after even more time, it will fall apart.  You always want to make sure you catch it in that sweet spot before it becomes dry.  Dry pork can of course be saved with a luscious barbeque sauce, but let's not rely on the sauce to do all the work.
Now that you have your wonderfully slow roasted pork shredded to perfection, it is time to make some sandwiches!  We never wait til this recipe comes up in the rotation.  We make it the day of or the day after the roast comes out of the oven because it's just that good!  Honestly, in this case, we never refer to the Rachael Ray recipe but just wing it on our own.  The recipe looks excellent though, so feel free to dive in.  And if you're in a pinch for time, or just don't feel like making your own sauce, grab your favorite bottled barbeque and go nuts.  There are some great brands out there!
Oddly enough, I have never been a "slaw" fan either but I have learned to stop worrying and love the slaw. (bonus points if you caught that esoteric reference)  It adds a fun crunch and clean flavor that I enjoy.  I often cheat and make it a no mayo slaw because I much prefer vinegar to mayonnaise.  If you just can't bear to have the slaw on the sandwich, as a certain Bean I know can't, then feel free to slap it along side the sandwich and enjoy!  Or make your own tasty side.  Maybe some mac and cheese or a pasta salad...?  Oh and if you are going to skip that crunchy slaw as a topping I recommend toasting and buttering the bun!  Yum!
I guess I had more to say about the humble and delectable pulled pork sandwich than I thought!  What do you like with your pulled pork?  Are you a slaw on top or slaw on the side or none of the above?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homemade Egg Nog!

Welcome to my first attempt at a photo blog!  We have started a new Christmas tradition where I make homemade egg nog!  All you need for this fabulous egg nog are the following ingredients:

6 eggs separated
3/4 C sugar
1 pint of heavy cream
4 pints milk
1/2 pint bourbon
1 T vanilla extract
nutmeg to taste

Follow along and you can have delicious egg nog, too!

First gather all of the ingredients:
Then whip together all of the liquids
Fold all three bowls together for fluffy dreaminess
Pour in the milk and grate nutmeg over top to taste
The recipe calls for a cup of bourbon but we may have added a little bit more...
Throw it in the freezer for as long as you can hold out and then enjoy!
I hope my first photo blog was a help in your egg nog making needs!  Check out Paula Dean's full recipe at Food Network.  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus

Talk about a quick and easy recipe!  Veggie Flatbreads with Hummus came together basically in the time it took to heat the oven.  Fortunately we have a toaster oven so that's pretty quick!  We loved the hummus on the naan bread.  What great concept.  We aren't huge fans of fennel but it worked just fine on the flatbread.  This is a great recipe that you can have a lot of fun with.  We made one flatbread following the directions and then a second one using stuff we had in the fridge.  It all came out great and this will definitely become one of our go to recipes for something quick, easy and fun to make!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Easy Brunswick Stew

The only soup I have ever been able to come up with that uses pork is an Asian inspired one that involves garlic and ginger and scallions and noodles and is super yummy.  I'll have to post that one someday.  So when I saw that this was a recipe for using pork in a soup I was definitely intrigued.  I'm a big fan of stews but I have never heard of Brunswick stew.  This stew is truly easy to make.  It uses a lot of vegetables, so it's healthy, too.  I don't think I had ever had okra before I came across this recipe, so I was a little nervous about using it.  I'm also not a fan of peas in general but the peas I used for the pilaf were nice so I figured I'd give it a whirl.  Now, once again keep in mind that you are taking thawed items and putting them in this stew.  I don't care what the directions say, it takes longer than 5 minutes to get everything heated up.  At least on my crappy electric stove anyway.  Also, I usually cook on instinct so I'm not a big measure-er.  This kind of messed me up with this recipe because I wasn't paying attention to the directions and just started dumping veggies in and well, I bought the wrong size packages and ended up with about double the number of veggies I was supposed to put into the soup!  So now it was a veggie soup with some pork in it!  It actually tasted pretty good and was very thick.  I liked it a lot and will definitely make it again.  The only difference will be that I will be a little more true to the measurements!  Oh and I'll probably put whatever vegetables I feel like putting in there instead of sticking with the list.  But the okra really wasn't bad!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata

Next up on the list Butternut Squash and Spinach Strata!  So what is a strata?  It's a casserole made of day old bread and milk and eggs and pretty much anything else you would like to put in there.  It's a lot like a bread pudding and makes a great meal for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, whatever.  With all that said, this was not my favorite.  I'm not a huge egg fan and this is eggy.  I always want to like eggs, especially interesting recipes like this or frittatas but I just don't.  I'm always willing to give things a try though and here are my thoughts on this try:  This recipe calls for white bread, but I was listening to a program on Martha Stewart radio on Sirius XM last week and the guest suggested using some more interesting bread such as ciabatta or brioche.  Definitely something to keep in mind.  Due to the nature of this meal plan, you make the night you are going to eat it but it is actually recommended that you throw the whole thing in the fridge the night before and put it in the oven the next day.  I might try these changes this month and see how it goes.  Overall, it looks very cool when it comes out of the oven.  It rises and becomes golden and fluffy.  It's really just too much bread and egg for me but I think with a more interesting bread, I might enjoy this more.  I wasn't a huge fan of the butternut squash in it either because it already seemed too much like bread pudding and then the sweetness of the squash really underlined that.  I will probably try mushrooms and thyme or sage next time along with the spinach because I love that combination.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fusilli with Chicken and Tomato Sauce

This recipe was really a no brainer in the sense that how could homemade tomato sauce and roasted chicken be bad?  Fusilli with Chicken and Tomato Sauce was incredibly simple to make.  Make sure you don't forget to reserve that pasta water!  It makes any sauce better. :-)  The only thing that tripped me up in this recipe was the mozzarella cheese.  The description calls for "6 oz. mozzarella, diced (1 1/2 cups)" but doesn't say whether it is fresh mozzarella or regular mozzarella.  I went with the fresh and honestly it didn't do the fresh mozzarella justice.  It became very melty and stringy and not really worth the effort.  Save the money and buy regular!  I'll be making this recipe again sometime this week without the fresh mozz so hopefully I will see a difference.  We really enjoyed this recipe and we will definitely be making it again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad

And we're back!  Just in time for me to start a new month of MAM, let's continue the recap of last month's successes and alterations.  I have to admit this recipe gave me pause.  I only started eating pork about 5 years ago, I've never been a fan of mango and I'm not sure I have ever even eaten watercress... So this was going to be a taste adventure!  (or disaster...)
The salad came together very easily as most salads should.  There was absolutely no cooking involved which is great for a week night.  I forgot to save one bell pepper from my pepper roasting extravaganza so I didn't have a raw pepper to throw into it.  I think it would have done just fine in the mix.  This recipe also calls for toasted almonds and I always hesitate to put nuts in food, but just like the olives were great in the shrimp and rice dish, the almonds definitely served their purpose in this dish.  Overall, I liked this salad a lot and look forward to having it again this month!  Keep in mind that once again you are pulling the pork either out of the fridge or freezer and act accordingly.  In a salad, cold pork isn't so bad but frozen is!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: Spanish Rice with Shrimp

Little interruption in our blog time due to a fabulous time up in Boston with some great friends including the one and only Angela King!  I have to track down all of the notes I took on the great beer we had while we were there but for now, back to the Make Ahead Meals!
The next meal on the list that we tackled was Spanish Rice with Shrimp.  This recipe involved using the Tomato Sauce , Rice Pilaf and also the Roasted Peppers.  I was hesitant about the tomato sauce because it seemed a little bland on its own.  This recipe came together incredibly fast!  Lesson number five: something to keep in mind with this and all of the Make Ahead recipes is that it doesn't seem to allow for the fact that you are removing these ingredients from the fridge to the pan.  You need to either bring them to room temperature before using them or throw them in the microwave for a minute or so just to get them heated up a bit.  I'm not  a huge fan of olives cooked into food but I like to try all of the recipes the way they are written the first time through.  The olives gave a it a delicious salty flavor that really kicked up the tomato sauce.  All together we really enjoyed this recipe and will definitely make it again!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: Pork and Avocado Tacos and then some...

On that Monday night after I had done all of the shopping for the meal plan and made the first two blocks, Pulled Pork and Tomato Sauce, on Sunday, I was ready to begin really trying the whole concept out.  I made the Pork and Avocado Tacos.  Now the article advises making the meals in the order they are listed on the website because that gives the greatest variety of meals per week and I do try to follow that as best I can but I had a guest coming over on Monday night with dietary restrictions that would not work well with the Spanish Rice with Shrimp.  Also, I hadn't finished making the rest of the building block recipes so this was one of the few for the first week that I could throw together.
The Pork and Avocado Tacos went over very well.  I had never had pork on a taco before, and I must say, it was very nice.  The dressing was delicious although honestly, I skipped the cilantro.  We aren't cilantro fans here.  I'm also not a huge fan of iceberg lettuce and wish I had just followed my instincts as I learned in lesson 3 and just used the lettuce I wanted to use.  The only thing that didn't work that well in my opinion was the veggie mixture was so chunky that it did not want to stay in the taco shells.  I ended up only putting a small amount in the shell and eating the rest as salad.  Oh and FYI: this entire concoction baked over tortilla chips as nachos - Outstanding!  I think I preferred it that way more than any other combination.
After dinner as we are cleaning up and catching up, I started the rest of the building block recipes.  Lesson Number 4: get a good oven thermometer!  My oven pretty much claimed to never get up to temperature that night and everything roasted just fine.  Don't trust appliances!  Use thermometers.  Now here's a little product placement for you: if you don't buy the butternut squash already cut up and peeled, you must get a Pampered Chef Serrated Peeler.  This thing will change your life when it comes to difficult to peel fruits and vegetables.  Anyway, there isn't much to say about Roasted Veggies.  Everything came off without a hitch on that recipe but bear in mind that you do not want veggies that are blackened just nicely roasted.  Blackened can create a bitter unpleasant taste.  Both the roasted veggies and the Pulled Chicken went well but I wish I had portion the chicken right away.  Don't forget to save all the non meat parts such as the bones and such for making chicken stock!
I was very happy with the Rice Pilaf recipe.  I came together easily, was light and fluffy and tasted great.  I don't really like peas but they work in the recipe and I'm glad I put them in.  My only complaint with this recipe is when I think of rice pilaf I think of it as having orzo in it which I absolutely love.  The next I make it I may throw a handful of orzo in there as well.  So finally I was done with the building blocks and had successfully made on of the recipes!  I'm enjoying this process a great deal and I hope it is helpful to other people as well!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Make Ahead Meals: The Basics

This month we decided to try Rachael Ray's Make Ahead Meals.  I had been looking for a way to get a more set schedule for dinner that didn't involve a lot of cooking during the week.  I've been working until 7 o'clock or later every night and I try to be in bed by 10.  That doesn't leave a lot of time for meal planning and cooking!  This plan seemed like a perfect fit.  I have a lot of thoughts as to how it is progressing and I'll try to blog about it as much as I can!

I started out by making the building block recipes that you create the rest of the meals around.  You could definitely make all of them at once but I got a late start so I only made the pork and the tomato sauce the first day.  An important thing to keep in mind when you are creating the shopping list is to only check off the recipes you plan on cooking that week.  I initially checked everything off and then realized that the list was way too complicated to deal all at once.  Not all of the items can be purchased all at once because of freshness issues.  Lesson number one: only check off what you plan on cooking!  And for us, that's about 4 meals a week.  I chose the building block recipes, Spanish Rice with Shrimp, Mango, Pork and Watercress Salad, Chicken and Tomato Sauce, and Pork and Avocado Tacos.  Grand total grocery bill was about $200 due to all the meat that I had to purchase for the month.

I made the pork and the tomato sauce on Sunday after all the grocery shopping.  The Pulled Pork recipe had a few flaws...  It calls for 2 five pound pork shoulder roasts.  I purchased one beastly 9 and change roast.  The way I have always cooked a pork shoulder or really any roast is to throw it in the oven low and slow and enjoy the results.  I made the mistake of following the directions which had me butcher the roast into chunks.  I'm assuming this was a time saving effort but instead it took forever to work my way through it.  Lesson number two: always cook a pork shoulder low and slow!  Oh and Lesson number three: follow your instincts, the recipe isn't always right!

I also made the Tomato Sauce that night.  It was a simple recipe and went pretty easily.  People that make your own sauce: do that if you choose but keep in mind that this recipe is intentionally basic so that it works well with a variety of additions.  When I first tasted I couldn't believe how bland it was but when added to the other upcoming recipes it works very well.

That first night I was so consumed with the prep of these two recipes we didn't even get a chance to try out any of the meals!  Ironic to be sure.  If you have the time, make all of the building blocks at once.  Buy lots of freezer ziplock bags.  If not, do like I did and make a few building blocks each night but be sure you have enough prepped so that you can create dinner out of what you do have!  I'll write about the other recipes I've created these past two weeks as I have time.  Hope you found this helpful!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ode to the Bean

How (Why) do I love Thee....

Let me count the ways...

10. Because you came back for me.
9. Because you showed me there was more to life than the Poconos.
8. Because you loved me when I was young and bitchy.
7. Because you loved me when I was still bitchy and a little more curvy.
6. Because you taught me to love WINE!
5. Because you brought me into your family.
4. Because you accepted the wackiness of my family.
3. Because you brought cats into my life.
2. Because you have unwavering faith me.
1. Because you are you.

Happy 10th Anniversary!

Tomorrow I will attempt to recount our lovely 10th anniversary which included going back to the first place we ever went on a date together.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Columbia Crest Chardonnay

Hey there!  Welcome to Mental Notes.  I spend a lot of my time thinking about all the great beer and wine that I have drunk over the years and then promptly forget about them (probably due to their alcohol content)!

So the first item that I'm going to talk about is Columbia Crest Chardonnay.  I'm a big fan of white wine in the summer time and this Chardonnay really delivers.  It's crisp yet smooth and buttery.  It has a delicious finish that hints at vanilla.  This Chardonnay doesn't have the huge overpowering flavor of some Chardonnays and would easily pair with a nice chicken and pasta dish or a vegetarian dish with an olive oil sauce.

Thanks for stopping by.  Keep your eyes open for a lot more delicious food, wine, beer and whatever else crosses my mind!