Thursday, February 26, 2015

Tacos al Pastor for Sarah

Chili-marinated pork tacos with pineapple are known as Tacos al Pastor in Mexico.   They are a satisfying cold weather dinner that will assure you that the warmer months are on their way.  We made them recently with our friend Sarah- recently back from working in Mexico-- and her sisters.  

With the cold snap most of the country has endured, a brightly flavored new taco recipe is the right distraction.  Most supermarkets carry whole chilis and if you have been wondering how to use them, this recipe is an easy introduction.  If you cannot envision yourself stemming and seeding 4 chili peppers, substitute one small can chipotle chilis in adobo and one small can green chili peppers. 

Most recipes also call for achiote paste made with annatto seeds in the marinade.  If you have achiote paste at your local market, it’s a nice authentic ingredient. If not, add a clove or two of crushed garlic instead. 

Tacos al Pastor can be found at most Mexico City restaurants where thin slices of pork are carved off a spit (trompo in Spanish) and served on corn tortillas with grilled onions and pineapple chunks.  A half pineapple tops the spit so that its juices can run down during the cooking to tenderize and baste the meat.  The marriage of sweet pineapple juices and the savory – but not too spicy—chili marinade give this taco a fresh twist. 

Tacos al Pastor
Makes 6 servings (Recipe can be halved or cooked pork can be frozen in individual portions)

For the Pork Marinade:
4 dried peppers—2 ancho, 2 gaulijjo
½ - 2/3 cup water
6-8 ounces pineapple juice  (small can)
Juice of one lime
½ teaspoon cumin
½  teaspoon oregano
½  teaspoon salt
optional: 1 Tablespoons achiote paste

2 pounds pork—loin, pork shoulder or butt*
12 corn tortillas
1 fresh pineapple, sliced or cubed
2 medium onions, sliced or quartered
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

*if you are grilling, use pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops.  If you are slow cooking the pork on low in the oven, use the other cuts of pork.  They are less expensive and come out really well when slow cooked.  You can also substitute chicken in this recipe.

  1. Prepare the chilis and marinade.  Preheat oven to 325˚F.  Place whole chilies on a metal sheet or pan and bake 3-5 minutes until skin gets crisp.  Watch carefully to prevent scorching.  (Gaujillos may puff up- they are ready when they do.) Remove chilies and allow to cool.  
  2. Next you will break open the chilies to remove seeds, stem, any veins that are easily pulled away.  Wear gloves or carefully wash hands and under fingernails before touching anything else, especially eyes, and going on to the next step.  
  3. In a blender, combine the chili skins and water.  Puree to a thick consistency.  
  4. Add achiote paste, pineapple juice, lime juice and seasoning. 
  5. Prepare pork.  Cut into thin strips or, if grilling, ½ inch slices (that will be sliced into strips once off the grill).  
  6. Place pork in marinade (use a large bowl or a ziplock bag).  Marinate at least 1 hour or as long as overnight. 

Three ways to cook the meat:
Grill— pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops
  1. Preheat grill.  You want a medium temperature.  
  2. Wipe some oil on the onion slices and grill, turning until softened and crisping.  Set aside.  
  3. Wipe excess marinade from pork chops or pork slices.  Grill each piece 3 minutes per side.  Look for an internal temperature of 145˚F.  (Bonus flavor: If you have extra pineapple juice baste pork with it while it is grilling or brush it on after it comes off the grill.)  
  4. Let cooked meat rest on a serving plate while you grill the pineapple slices.  Grill pineapple slices 2-3 minutes preside on medium, until grill marks are just starting to show.  
  5. Wrap tortillas in foil and place on grill to warm or cook them directly over the fire using long tongs to hold your tortillas.  Keep them warm in a foil pocket or covered platter.  
  6. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

Oven--- pork loin, tenderloin or pork chops
  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.  
  2. Remove pork from marinade but do not wipe off excess marinade.  
  3. Place pork in a foil-lined baking pan and bake for 10-12 minutes until pork is just cooked through.  (Pork chops will take a little longer if on the bone.) 
  4. When pork reaches 140˚F, remove and set aside to rest, covered.  
  5. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while you stir fry sliced onion and pineapple in a hot skillet. 
  6. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc

Oven--- pork shoulder or butt.   Cook this cut of pork slow and low!  This will be the most like the pork served in Mexico. 
  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.  
  2. Place pork strips and most of marinade in a baking dish or heavy, oven-proof casserole dish.  Cover dish with foil for its top.  
  3. Bake pork 1 ½ to 2 hours until pork is cooked through and very tender.  When pork is ready, remove form oven to rest.  NOTE: You can also use a slow cooker for this cut of pork.  Cook on Low 5-6 hours or High 3-4 hours. 
  4. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven to warm while you stir fry sliced onion and pineapple in a hot skillet.  
  5. Each taco gets pork, pineapple, onion and toppings.
Serve with: cilantro, salsa, avocado, extra lime, etc 
Sarah expertly garnishes her taco.

What goes around comes around….

The dish is an authentic Mexican meal adapted from the Lebanese dish with lamb “in the shepard style.” The original dish used lamb, slow-cooked on a spit and served the cooked meat on flatbread.  Mexico uses pork and tortillas but still honors its “pastor” namesake though in some parts of Mexico, you’ll find it known as Tacos de Trompo.

In a return loop to the Middle East, there is a recently popular dish called shawarma mexici that is made with chicken and wrapped in flatbread.  A dish that started off as lamb, was transformed to match local Mexican ingredients returns to its homeland as a chicken dish. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Baked Maple French Toast for a Crowd

This method of baking french toast yields a platterful of breakfast that is delicate and moist on the inside and, thanks to the maple-butter bottom, crsip with caramalization on the outside.

The key to great french toast, whether cooked on the griddle or in the oven is to allow the bread enough time to soak up the tasty custard.   By pricking the bread with a fork and letting it sit an hour before baking, you will get a fully soaked bread that will puff up to a perfect french toast in the oven. It pays to use day old bread as well.

Baked Maple French Toast for a Crowd

Serves 6, recipe doubles easily

½ loaf challah bread, cut in ¾ inch slices
4oz (½ stick) salted butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

  1. Use the largest baking pan you have with sides.  Fit as many slices of bread as possible in one layer in pan—cut bread as needed to fit any open spaces.  Remove bread and set aside.  
  2. Melt butter and mix in maple syrup.  Pour into bottom of baking pan and spread with a spoon to cover into the corners.  
  3. Lay bread slices back into pan.  Fill in any gaps with small pieces of remaining bread. Use fork tines to prick bread so that it will absorb custard quickly and completely. 
  4. Make custard: Mix eggs with remaining ingredients.   Pour over bread.  Tilt pan to ensure all the bread is soaked.  Add more milk if more liquid is needed to cover bread.  
  5. Set aside 1 hour to allow bread to become completely soaked (or leave overnight). 
  6. When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400˚F.   Bake 20-25 minutes until toast begins to puff and top is starting to brown.  Allow French toast to cool a few minutes before cutting into to serve.  Bread slices will also pull apart.  
You may cool the French toast completely then pull apart or cut in squares and freeze to reheat individual servings.  To reheat, microwave a frozen piece for 30 seconds then heat in a 325˚F oven for 10 minutes on a small baking sheet to recrisp.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chocolate Soufflé for Two

If you are contemplating a romantic dinner for two this month, a chocolate soufflé is a classic finish that is easier than you might think. If this is your first soufflé, I think a small one that serves two is the most manageable. And a chocolate soufflé is the soufflé recipe to know for two.  It even fits well into the preparation of the rest of the meal. 

There are a few things you can do ahead of time to make the process even easier.
  • Wrap a parchment or foil collar around the top soufflé dish to extend its height 2 inches.  This will help hold the puff.   This is not absolutely necessary but add a little more baking time (5 minutes) if using a foil collar.
  • Take the eggs out of the refrigerator and separate them into yolks and whites a half hour ahead to make it easier to whip the eggs.  (You can return the egg yolks to the fridge if you’d like.)  
  • If you have never ‘folded’ whipped egg whites into another ingredient, take a minute to watch this simple demo that uses a wide spatula to cut into the egg whites and fold them over into the heavier batter.  Hint: It is hard to mess this up.  Just use a gentle touch and know that less is more.  Do not worry if you still see a few streaks of egg white in the mixture.  This means you have not overdone it.
Chocolate Soufflé for Two
Serves two generously, four with some ice cream on the side.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter plus 2+ teaspoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons granulate sugar, divided 1 T and 3T
1 tablespoon flour
3 ounces milk
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

Serve with any of the following: whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, strawberries, etc

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚F.
  2. Butter baking dish.  Use a one-quart strait-sided baking dish, two 2-cup ramekins or 4 smaller ones.  Butter dish and coat with sugar by lifting and turning dish to cover inside.  For each baking dish, butter a strip of foil and cover butter with some sugar.  Wrap foil around dish, buttered side in, to create a collar that raises the rim 2-3 inches.  This will help the soufflé hold its puff but is not absolutely necessary.  
  3. In a small pot, combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour. Slowly add 3 ounces milk, stirring to make sure flour and sugar are dissolved.  Place pot over medium heat and stir until milk mixture is thickened.  The consistency should be almost as thick as a pancake batter.  Remove pan from heat.  
  4. Add unsweetened chocolate and stir until melted.  Add 2 egg yolks and beat until mixture is smooth.  Set aside to cool.  
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 egg whites until foamy.  Add salt and vanilla and continue beating while slowly adding 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.   Egg whites should hold a stiff peak.  
  6. Use a spatula to scoop a small amount of whipped egg white into the chocolate mixture.  Stir together.  This will lighten the chocolate mixture and make it easier to keep the egg whites inflated when you combine to the two mixtures.  
  7. Now fold the chocolate mixture into egg whites by scraping the chocolate mixture down the inside of the egg white bowl.  Then use your spatula to fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Take your time and stop before the mixture is completely homogeneous.  
  8. Pour batter into prepared dish and bake at 375˚F for 20-25 minutes.  If using smaller vessels, check your soufflés after 15 minutes.  
  9. When cooked, the soufflé will be puffed up and almost as high as the top of the foil collar.  It it jiggles, it is not yet done. Bake for another 3-4 minutes.  Then, carefully remove the soufflé from the oven and peel away the foil collar.  Serve at once using two large spoons-- backs facing each other-- to dig into the center of the soufflé and pull out soft clouds of soufflé.  Top with sauces of your choice.  
Hint:  Ice cream is a great with this dessert and will melt into a nice "sauce."  I like vanilla or caramel ice cream with a chocolate soufflé.

Leftovers!  You may not have any but it is good to know that a deflated soufflé tastes a lot like a flourless chocolate cake the next day (depsite this one having a tablespoon of flour).  If you are interupted just as your soufflé comes out of the oven all is not lost.
Here is a great time management tip that will ensure a leisurely dinner topped off with your perfect soufflé:
You can make the chocolate base earlier in the day and store it covered and cold up to a day ahead.  Store the un-whipped egg whites alongside, covered and in a small bowl.  You can also prep the baking dishes ahead of time.  Take the chocolate base and egg whites out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to whip the egg whites and finish the soufflé batter.  As you are putting the main meal on the table, turn the oven to 375˚F so it will be properly preheated. After your main meal, finish the soufflés and put them into the preheated oven. The baking time gives you a nice window to visit at the table, clear the dishes or even take a little walk around your porch before the dessert finale.

Orange Chocolate Soufflé
Add zest of one orange to chocolate mixture once cooled. You can also add a 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier liqueur to the egg white rather than the vanilla extract.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Soufflé
Use only ½ ounce unsweetened chocolate and before adding egg yolks to milk mixture, divide the mixture in tow.  Add chocolate to one and 1tablespoon creamy peanut butter to the other.  Add one egg yolk to each mixture.  Proceed with recipe until it is time to fold in egg whites.  Divide egg white into two bowls, fold each flavor into the divided egg whites.  Spoon batters into prepared dish, alternating chocolate with peanut butter.  Bake as directed.  Recommended toppings include sliced banana, crushed peanuts, caramel sauce (or cajeta).


It is not that easy to find a one-quart soufflé dish but worth the search if you often cook for two or one.  Alternatives include a strait sided oven proof dish or pot (provided it has an oven proof handle), about 4-5 inches deep.  Ramekins, custard cups or even a large muffin pan can work in a pinch.  Fill only halfway to allow room for the soufflés to rise.  Add water to any empty muffin cups to prevent scorching the pan. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Light Big Breakfast: Ground Turkey and Egg Tostada

Can breakfast be substantial and still feel light?  If you have an important morning ahead of you or want to serve something a little more exciting for a Sunday breakfast, a tostada is an easy option that doesn't take much more talent or effort than scrabbled eggs.

That's because the recipe is made with eggs stirred into cooked ground turkey.  The turkeu is lightly seasoned but you can up the heat easily with extra jalepeños and hot sauce.  To mimic the flavor of chorizo sausage, add a pinch of smoked parpika with the other spices. 

The recipe is flexible and invites variation based on what you have in your kitchen.  The lightness come from ricotta cheese folde into the eggs and ground turkey but if you don’t have ricotta in the house, you can use another soft fresh cheese like cream cheese, goat cheese, queso fresco or even cottage cheese. 

I like corn tortillas but if flour ones are your favorite, that’s fine too.  This dish is even good without the tortilla for those cutting back on carbs.  Use the recipe as a launching off point and you won't go hungry.

Ground Turkey & Egg Tostada

Ingredients for one:
¼ lb. lean ground turkey
¼ jalapeño, diced (seeds removed)
1 egg
2 T ricotta cheese (or other fresh soft cheese like farmers cheese)
Pinch cumin, coriander, marjoram
Salt & pepper to taste
1 corn tortilla (toasted or fried)
Toppings: extra cheese (grated cheddar, jack), sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce or salsa

Ingredients to serve four:
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 jalapeño, diced (seeds removed)
4 eggs
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon each cumin, coriander, marjoram
Salt & pepper to taste
4 corn tortillas (toasted or fried)
Toppings: extra cheese (grated cheddar, jack), sliced avocado, fresh cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce or salsa

  1. Brown the turkey over medium heat.  Whne cooked thoroughly, drain any fat.  
  2. Add diced jalapeños and spices. Cook for a minute more.  
  3. Meanwhile crack egg/s into a small bowl and scramble with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Pour eggs over hot turkey in sauté pan.  Lower heat and stir to start cooking eggs.  Top with ricotta cheese by small spoonfuls.  
  5. Use a spatula as the eggs begin to solidify to turn the egg-turkey mixture and incorporate the cheese.  Do not mix the cheese in completely.  When eggs are set but still soft, cut portions with a spatula and slide onto warm tortillas.  
  6. Top with your favorite add-ons.
Good enough-- and fast enough- to be dinner too.