Friday, January 29, 2010

Sweet and Spicy Asian Pork Shoulder

In my fantasy life, I sleep in as late as I want, spend the morning reading magazines, and spend my afternoons crafting delicious homemade three-course dinners.  Unfortunately I don't live in fantasy land, and I know as much as anyone that cooking during the week can be a struggle.  Luckily, I grew up with a working mom who taught me a thing or two about getting dinner on the table, even when a meal from a Haagen Daazs carton seems like it'll suffice.

Enter the crock pot. Those 50's housewives were onto something, because the crock pot is foolproof.  Prep your meat, turn it on, and walk away.  There's no flame or gas, so you can literally leave the house for hours, and come home to a delicious finished dinner.  When I flipped to this recipe in this month's crock pot recipe in Real Simple, I had to wipe my drool.  The pork shoulder has a rich "falling off the bone" texture, and the sweet and spicy flavors balance perfectly with the braised bok choy.  Not bad for a day at the office.

Start with a big hunk o' pork shoulder.  This one had a bone in it, but the meat will fall off the bone once it's done slow-roasting.  Use a sharp knife to remove any fatty areas from the roast.
Now prep your sauce.  Soy sauce, brown sugar, Sriracha, ginger, Chinese five-spice, salt, pepper.
Now pay close attention, because this is where things get very complicated... 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pizza Dough

I have been on a bit of a pizza kick lately, and I think that you should join me. Mainly because I don’t want to be the only one who’s gorging themselves on pizza in January while those New Year’s Resolutions are still so fresh (thanks for the reminder Mary). But selfish reasons aside, there are many reasons you should make homemade pizza, one of them being that it’s damn tasty. It’s also one of those foods that may seem tricky to make at home, but is really not difficult at all, which means you can impress your friends with your awesome pizza making skills. And once you master a dough recipe that you really like, you will have the basis for endless variations of delicious pizzas.

Ok, so let’s get down to this dough making business. I’ve only been making pizza for about the past year or so, and in that time I’ve tried many different recipes. And I hadn’t found one that I could see myself using as my go-to dough recipe until now. The recipe comes from Bread-God Peter Reinhart’s American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, which will tell you just about everything you need to know about pizza. For example, the book contains eleven (11!) different recipes for just the dough alone. Needless to say, this book is for serious pizza devotees and can be a bit overwhelming at first. So I made it simple and just started with the first recipe in the book, and I may not end up going any farther than that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

Pssst...  Hey, it's me.  And I have a pesky reminder...  It's January.  Which means that technically, our New Year's resolutions are not null and void quite yet.  But fret not.  I have some muffins that will start your morning off right, while staying on the right side of the calorie gods.

Frankly, I'm not a dieter.  While I don't count carbs or swear off dairy, eating consciously is really important to me, and I believe in making little tweaks here and there to make my everyday meals and snacks just a little bit healthier (although all bets are off when it comes to those special occasion cakes).  This recipe is a perfect example of that.  White all-purpose flour is replaced with whole wheat flour, whole grain oats get added to the mix, and butter takes a day off in place of lowfat yogurt and just a bit of vegetable oil.  The result is a rustic, satisfying muffin.  And don't worry, the butter will still be there tomorrow.

Blueberry, meet lemon.  You two should be together forever and always.  These blueberries came from the Mar Vista Farmers' Market, and there was a line 15 people deep to get them.  But they are ever so worth it.

Mix whole wheat flour, oats, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt in bowl.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cherry, Almond, and Cinnamon Granola

If some people are morning people and others are night owls, I am undoubtedly a morning girl.  When I was 8, I had my first slumber party and fell asleep before all of my guests did.  Not much has changed in the last 18 years, and it's still a rare occasion that I can get through a Netflix DVD without crashing on the couch.  I'm a huge fan of what my family calls "the slow wake up" in the morning.  Allowing time for a cup of green tea, a quick email check, and some NPR Morning Edition leaves me ready to take on the work day. 

While I love a slow wake up, I'm not a fan of a huge breakfast.  I'm usually content with a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or a bowl of oatmeal, and my morning routine was kicked up a notch when I learned how to make granola at home.  Like many other things, granola from scratch is better than anything you'll find in a box.  It's fresh, healthy, and best of all, customized to your taste.  You can adjust the ingredients to make your granola as sweet, salty, crunchy, or as fruity as you like.  And as you're about to see, it's a snap to make.

Start with some oatmeal (I use the old fashioned kind, not the instant in a packet).

 Then add coconut, sliced almonds, and chopped pecans.  
Why hello honey bear.  You're looking awfully cute today.  Raw honey.  Nummy.  

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Raspberry Pecan Rolls

 Here in Los Angeles we are having weather!  For those of you who live in parts of the country that aren't Southern California, it's quite a novelty for us to hear raindrops on the window, wind in the trees, and the boom of thunder that I thought was going to put my dog into cardiac arrest.

On a night like tonight, cozy and indoors, and not braving said elements, there is nothing better in the world to do than to bake.  And if you're going to bake, you might as well bake these raspberry rolls.  World famous mega-blogger Ree Drummond of has a cinnamon roll recipe that is, in a word, perfection.  And while I make no claim to be improving on her classic timeless rolls, I just had a birthday and I'm feeling sassy, so I thought I'd put a different spin on things.

I added raspberry jam, toasted pecans, and a touch of cream cheese to Ree's dough, which results in rolls that are soft, chewy, and comforting as all get out.  Imagine the baby of a PBJ and a raspberry danish, and you have these tasty buns (Tasty Buns is my Jersey Shore nickname).

Let's make some dough...
Vegetable oil, whole milk, sugar.  Measure 'em out, toss 'em in a pot.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lemon Ricotta Muffins

The other day at work I received a message with the sweetest three words a girl can hear: The Oven Works.

I just about fainted with joy. For the last month and half I have been living with a broken oven. That meant no baking cakes, cookies, or pies, no roasting chickens and vegetables; it was all stove-top, all the time. It meant a lot of pasta dishes, soups and stews, salads, and lots and lots of rice pudding (I have an addiction now, it can’t be stopped). It’s not like I should be complaining, those things are all delicious.

But I missed baking. Baking is what I look forward to doing in my free time; it’s my creative outlet and my relaxation technique. So there was definitely a void. A void which can now be filled; with muffins, and cakes, and breads, oh my!

It’s good to have you back oven. I missed you old friend.

Lemon Ricotta Muffins

From Giada De Laurentiis

A note on these muffins: They are absolutely delicious. The lemon and almond mix together in the perfect combination of flavor and their texture is terrific. The ricotta helps makes them moist and yet they are still light at the same time.

Cooking notes: Be careful not to over-bake these. Don’t wait for the tops to get golden brown; they can get a little dry if they stay in the oven that long. 20 minutes was just right for my oven. These muffins do not have a super-strong lemon flavor, so if that’s what you are looking for go ahead and double the amount of lemon zest and juice.

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar or more as needed for sprinkling
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced almonds

Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to blend. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar, butter, and lemon zest in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the ricotta. Beat in the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the almonds and then the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the muffins. Bake until the muffins just become pale golden on top, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly and then remove from muffin tin.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Italian Chopped Salad

In college, I spent many a weeknight waiting tables at the California Pizza Kitchen in Westwood Village.  And while I had to wear a hideous yellow tie and often came home smelling like tortilla soup, a few good things came out of that stint.  One is the boy that lives in my home and eats most of my dinners with me.  Another is this Italian chopped salad that I adore.

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is rip off great restaurant meals.  This salad is hearty enough to eat for dinner without feeling weighed down, and perfect for a quick weeknight meal on the go.  Dress it lightly, and you can pack the leftovers for a tasty lunch.  Making your own mustard vinaigrette saves you cash, along with preservatives, artificial flavors, and high-fructose corn syrup.  Best of all, it's easy.  Even if you're inexperienced and afraid of your kitchen, throw these ingredients together and you'll have a great dish to bring to your next potluck or picnic lunch.

Start by chopping a head of romaine lettuce.

Washing lettuce is pretty high on my list of things that annoy me, but a salad spinner makes it bearable.  Rinse the lettuce in the strainer.  Rinse it well...  Dirt in your salad is not a happy time!

Once the salad is good and washed, the strainer basket fits inside a plastic bowl with a special crank lid.

The water spins right out!  Now I understand that not everyone has a salad spinner.  The easiest way to wash your lettuce without one is to rinse the individual romaine leaves, and blot them with paper towels until they're dry.

Since it's a chopped salad, we're gonna keep on chopping.  Salami and turkey...

You can get thick-cut salami and turkey at the deli counter at your grocery store.  I asked for two 1/2 inch slices of each meat (just be sure you say "please" and "thank you", and give 'em a smile).

Roughly chop some cherry tomatoes, basil, and garbanzo beans, and add them to the party.

Now grate some mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.  Take a photo of your finished cheese and email it to me so I can put it on the blog.  Thanks!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Chicken Shack

When I moved into a new place about a month ago I was a little concerned about the size of the kitchen. You see, the kitchen is small. I take that back, it’s not just small, it’s teeny-tiny. Walking in to the kitchen is a bit like being corralled. It’s possible to reach out and touch all side of the kitchen while standing in one spot. If you were to stand in the middle of my kitchen with the oven door all the way open you would be trapped.

Little did I know that the size of the kitchen would turn out to be the least of my problems. It seems as if nothing in the place works. For example, when we first moved in the main electrical line had fallen off it's post and was laying on the ground, the oven was broken, the hot water heater had to be replaced, the toilet leaks, the kitchen sink doesn’t drain, the wood burning stove leaked smoke and two days ago the refrigerator decided to stop keeping things cold. I guess this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise since my landlord affectionately named the place The Chicken Shack.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lemon Cake!

Meet Rachel!  Rachel is adorable...  And effortless...  And British!  Rachel can wear hot pink tights and a feather in her hair, and look quirky and fashion forward (her cute accent doesn't hurt).  Rachel is getting married this weekend, and I got to partake in her Hen Night festivities.

I'll get to this perfect lemon cake momentarily, but first, we need to talk about the decor of this party.  I live on a happy little triplex compound, and my neighbor Dorien hosted Rachel's special afternoon.  Dorien informed me that the theme was "a pink 1920's opium den", so I scratched my head and offered to make a lemon cake, figuring that opium poppies would be hard to come by.

But a few days later, I audibly gasped when I entered the shower.  This is what a 1920's pink opium den themed party looks like...

Don't mind me, just futzing with my camera in my gorgeous outdoor living room!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winter Salsa

I have a deep love of Mexican Food. I love it in all forms, from the truly authentic to the Tex-Mex versions of the Southwest to the completely bastardized yet still delicious American adaptations. Rarely do I go a few days without eating Mexican food in some way or another.

And salsa is a big part of this love.

I have a friend whose Mom makes killer salsa. Every time I visit she always has at least two different kinds of salsa and they are always amazing. She has been nice enough to teach me how to make several Mexican dishes such as tamales, chili verde, and mole, but I have yet to learn the secrets to her salsa. I have got to get on that; in fact, it may have just become my new year’s resolution.

I have been on a quest for the ultimate salsa for a while now and it seems to be neverending. Even when I find one that is delicious, I’m always trying new recipes in hopes of finding that perfect balance of heat and flavor. So far my favorite red salsa variations involve either roasting or grilling the tomatoes and most of the other ingredients until they’re blistered all over and then processing them with some cilantro and lime juice until it’s an even consistency.

It’s winter though. I have a hard time buying tomatoes in the winter. In fact, I avoid it if at all possible. There is such a huge difference between a fresh off the vine summer tomato and a watered down winter version that I just don’t prefer to go there. But as I mentioned before, I love salsa. So going too long without it is just not an option.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dreamy Cream Scones

This weekend, inspired by Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked, my book club threw a proper English tea party.  Well actually, I can't vouch for how proper it was since non of us are English.  And the large bottle of Cook's champagne might not be a part of a traditional tea...  Neither would the inappropriate stories that were told after said champagne.  But it was a tea nonetheless, and the scones I brought were right proper indeed.  If your only scone experiences have been at the snack kiosk at Starbucks, then you're in for a treat (btw not knocking the 'Bucks, I live and die by the fruit and cheese plate).  Scones are a cousin of the biscuit, fluffy and slightly savory, not as sweet or dense as a muffin.  They're best fresh out of the oven, and these buttery wonders practically melted in my mouth. 
Sigh...  Look at Lucy's gorgeous tea set.  One day I won't be a mess, and will own nice things like this. 

Start by sifting some flour into a bowl...

The amazing action shots in this post are courtesy of my BF John Francis, who took all the photos and didn't even get to eat one scone.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cranberry Applesauce

I made this cranberry applesauce the other night for several reasons: 1) The lonely bag of cranberries hanging out in my fridge from all those long-forgotten Christmas desserts I had planned on making 2) The eternal craving for something sweet 3) The seemingly eternal lack of a working oven and 4) Homemade applesauce is just doggone delicious.

Seriously, if you’ve never made applesauce you should really give it a try. It’s super easy and it tastes so much better than the jarred versions. Plus you get to control what you put in it which I love because I tend to find that store-bought applesauce tastes much sweeter than I would prefer. I also like to think that decreasing the sugar makes this a healthier snack which makes me feel better about consuming a large amount of it. I love the tartness that the cranberries bring to this dish, but if you’re not a fan of tart flavors you may want to increase the amount of sugar. Make sure to taste as you go and add more sugar if necessary. One of the most important tips in cooking is to taste as you go. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing this with anything that you are making. If something tastes off at an early stage in the recipe, you want to fix it before you get too far along. This technique also helps develop a stronger palate as you constantly taste how a dish can be elevated by the addition of different flavors.
Ok, so the finished applesauce may photograph a bit, odd. Kind of like a bowl of something disgusting, but trust me that it’s delicious. I should mention that I’m a fan of a more rustic-style applesauce which is why you can see there are still chunks of apple in it. That’s just my personal preference though. If you like a smoother apple sauce, go ahead and either puree it in a food processer or blender, or run it through a food mill. You can also use a potato masher which will leave it a little chunky, or just mash the apples slightly with the back of a wooden spoon which is what I did.

I like to eat the sauce straight from the pan while it’s still warm, which may seem a little odd, but I think is delicious. It’s probably just because I’m an impatient eater. But I also think there is something homey and comforting, especially in the winter, about eating a big bowl of warm, spiced apples. If you have stronger willpower you can wait for it to cool. It keeps well for several days in the fridge and is a great snack to have hanging around.

Cranberry Applesauce

Adapted from Cooking Light

2 cups fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
1/3 cup water
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch fresh grated nutmeg
3 lbs apples*, peeled, cored and cubed

Combine cranberries and next 5 ingredients in a large pot; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil until cranberries start to pop, about 3 minutes.

Add apples to pot. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes until the apples are soft. Uncover, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 more minutes. Mash apple mixture (see above notes). Cover and chill, or eat straight from the pot.

*Any apples will work; I like to combine a few different varieties.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Double Chocolate Cupcakes

This is my friend Javi.
Javi is the real deal. We run on the same marathon team, and during my very first 8-mile run when I had to stop and pee, Javi waited for me so I wouldn't have to run alone. More importantly, Javi is on a mission. He has already raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and he's not stopping until they find a cure. To do this, he is training for the Lavaman Olympic Triathlon, and you can support his mission here.

When Javi wants chocolate cupcakes, Javi gets chocolate cupcakes. And these are some serious, gooey, hardcore chocolate cupcakes. My go-to chocolate cake recipe had always been the one on the back of the Hershey's cocoa powder box, but then my office-mate Faith brought these bad boys to our Halloween potluck and the clouds parted and the angels came down from the sky and I thought I had died and gone to heaven right then and there. This is no hyperbole, they are that good.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chicken Stock

It's not the most beautiful thing you'll ever make, but homemade chicken stock will work wonders for your home cooked dishes. Risottos, soups, and sauces are all elevated by this simple stock, and all you have to do is get it started, then go watch a couple episodes of Jersey Shore while it does its thing. Oh and it'll save you a bundle of money. That's delicious too.

This is another recipe from Martha Stewart's Cooking School, and Martha has a lot to say about stock. I'll refer you to her book for most of these tips, but here are the basics. Consider this stock a bastardized version of Martha's.

Start with your chicken bones. When I made roasted chicken last weekend, I saved the carcass (mmm carcass) in a large Ziploc bag. I also had the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving in the freezer (they last in the freezer for about three months, so it was about time to use it or lose it). If you don't happen to have chicken bones hanging around, you can buy chicken necks and backs at a poultry counter for next to nothing. Martha recommends this, since you get more flavor from raw bones than you do cooked.

But I'm not a billionaire like Martha, so I used the chicken/turkey I have. So yeah, this is more "poultry stock" I guess...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Outrageous Coconut Cream Cake

Christmas time with my family is so special to me. There's my sister, watch as she measures the length of this cat!
And my Grandpa, festive and handsome in his holiday beret...
And my mama, so serious washing those dishes... She's probably thinking about the lyrics to a John Mayer song or something. My mom loves John Mayer. We listened to Heartbreak Warfare while I made this cake and she made fudge.
But do not even get me started on this one...
Be still my ovaries.

This special occasion deserves a special cake, and the Outrageous Coconut Cream Cake is as special as it gets.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coconut Rice Pudding

The other night while reading this month's Food and Wine I had an urge to make something sweet, specifically the Butterscotch Sticky Rolls which so deliciously grace the cover. I began reading through the ingredient list, calculating just how long it would take to make them and then it hit me, like it has so many times over the past month, that I don't have a working oven. You see I recently moved to a new place where it appears the list of things that work is shorter than the list of things that do not and the oven is included in the "do not" list. This has caused a lot of frustration and has definitely curtailed my normal cooking habits. Looking on the bright side, the stove top does work and the oven should be fixed *fingers crossed* soon.

So after having a slight pity party over the sticky buns, I continued to read on and when I saw the recipe for Coconut Arborio Rice Pudding it was an "aha!" moment. Here was a dessert I could make without using the oven. My sweet tooth had been saved.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sunday Night Roasted Chicken

Here at Casa Butter we are definitely creatures of routine, but Sundays are practically a ritual. Go for a long run. Eat eggs. Menu plan. Grocery shop. Hearty dinner. Food Network. I save some of my best cooking for these hearty Sunday dinners, but I truly believe that your best cooking doesn't have to be complicated or tedious. This Sunday I made roasted chicken and a gorgeous mix of winter vegetables. Here's how it all went down.

First, preheat your oven to a roasty 475 degrees. The best thing I did all season was spend the $8 on an oven thermometer. It will tell you how hot it really is in there, which is important when roasting.

You may recall my recent trip to the farmers' market, and you may have thought I was nuts for buying so much, but roasting vegetables makes them tasty and easy to munch on throughout the week. I had these beauties...
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