Monthly Archives: September 2009

Black Bean Brownies

black bean brownieThis recipe is from the archives. These brownies were made for my mother for her birthday dinner back in March, but as I was thumbing through my recipes (you know, the ones that I have stowed away with the best of intentions to post) I stumbled across them, and decided they were just too good not to share with you. Besides, they are full of fiber, gluten and sugar-free. But aside from health benefits (if you can call it that – this still is, after all, a brownie), these babies are brimming with rich chocolate flavor. (And if you’re wondering, no, they don’t taste “beany” at all!) They make a wonderful, simple dessert as is, but they could always be adorned with a ball of ice cream on top (for my Mom’s birthday, I used them as a base for a hot fudge sundae). I found this glorious recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, who found it through Ania Catalano’s Baking with Agave Nectar. If these brownies are any indication of how awesome Ania’s recipes are, perhaps I need to pick up a copy of this book myself!

Black Bean Brownies, adapted from Ania Catalano

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 c unsalted butter
2 c canned black beans, drained well
1 c walnuts, chopped
1 T vanilla extract
¼ c (granulated) instant coffee
¼ t sea salt
4 large eggs
1½ c light agave nectar (or honey)

 Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line an 11- by 18-inch (rimmed) baking pan with parchment paper and lightly oil.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on high. Stir with a spoon to melt the chocolate completely. Place the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a couple of spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Blend about 2 minutes, or until smooth. The batter should be thick and the beans smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, instant coffee, and salt. Mix well and set aside.

In a separate bowl, with an electric mixer beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the agave nectar and beat well. Set aside.

Add the bean/chocolate mixture to the coffee/chocolate mixture. Stir until blended well.

Add the egg mixture, reserving about 1/2 cup. Mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 cup egg mixture until light and fluffy. Drizzle over the brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull the egg mixture through the batter, creating a marbled effect. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the brownies are set. Let cool in the pan completely before cutting into squares. (They will be soft until refrigerated.)

 Makes about 28 3-4 inch brownies.

Update: I am so excited about the flexibility in this recipe. A Dash of Sass created a raspberry brownie cake with this recipe, and it looks absolutely amazing! I was so inspired, that I’m in the process of making this for my mother-in-law for her birthday!  Check it out – it looks divine!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Zucchini Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Frosting

cupcake 003Don’t be alarmed by all of the descriptors. Chances are, if you happened upon these cupcakes, you wouldn’t know that they were without flour. Or dairy. Or even sugar, hardly. Because when you take a bite, they have a perfectly moist, tender crumb. They’re sweet, but not artificially so, as many “sugar-free” treats often are. Cinnamon and nutmeg perfectly compliment the richness of the coconut cream frosting. What’s even better? One cupcake is enough to satisfy. In the world of cakes and sweet treats, this is a rare occurence for me.

The world of gluten-free baking is still quite new to me. So far, most of my baking has relied upon packaged baking mixes (thank you, Pamela’s – your bread mix is heaven!). However, I decided it was time to think “outside the box.” After finding that I had a surplus of zucchini in my kitchen (after all, I can’t resist buying too much sometimes at the farmer’s market!), I decided to bake a quick bread. But not just any old quick bread, I wanted something a bit fancier (without much more work)! Cupcakes – I could make zucchini cupcakes. They would be spiced similarly to carrot cake, in sort of a carrot-meets-zucchini cupcake concoction. Amy at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free posted a carrot cupcake recipe that set off the inspiration for these beauties.

In addition to being gluten-free, I wished for these cupcakes to have a speck of nutrition. Also, knowing that many celiacs and other people cannot have dairy, I wished for them to be dairy-free. I wanted to make something without using cupfuls of sugar, or nutritionless flours. I decided upon agave nectar for the sweetener, and coconut and almond flours in place of regular flour (or a gluten-free baking mix).

Agave nectar is a natural sweetener made from the juice of the agave plant. It has a texture similar to honey and is slightly sweeter than sugar, but unlike so many alternative sweeteners, it is not bitter and does not have an “off” taste. It has a low glycemic index – around 30, substantially lower than sugar, which has a glycemic index of around 65. This makes it a good choice for those watching their blood sugar levels.

Almond flour, specifically blanched almond flour, has been around a long while, but recently came to my attention through Elana at Elana’s Pantry. She bakes only with non-grain-based flours, and typically uses almond flour. In my experiments, I’ve found almond flour to be great for baking – it creates a tender crumb and has a subtly sweet flavor, is very low in carbohydrates and is high in protein. I bought mine through Honeyville, as the almond flour they sell is more finely ground than what I typically could find in stores. As for the coconut flour, I heard about it through Elana as well. It’s also high in fiber and low in carbohydrates. I bought Bob’s Red Mill, and this was easy to find at Whole Foods.

Back to the cupcakes. That’s what you were here for anyway, right? I do want to share that these were substantially sugar-free, and not entirely sugar-free, although they could be easily modified. I used sweetened dried cranberries, and crystallized ginger as mix-ins, but of course, you could leave these out or substitute with things such as unsweetened cranberries, raisins, chopped walnuts, etc.

One of the best aspects of these cupcakes? They were pretty easy to make. You could leave them unfrosted and consider them a muffin for breakfast, or top with frosting for a more decadent treat. They are delicious to share, or perhaps tasty enough that you will need to stow away a few, just for yourself!

For the cupcakes, adapted from Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free:

1/2 c light agave nectar

1/3 c virgin coconut oil

2 T water

1/2 t vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1/2 t ground allspice

1/4 t ground nutmeg

pinch of cloves

1/2 t cinnamon

1/2 t salt

1/4 c coconut flour

1/2 c almond flour

1 1/2 c grated zucchini

1/4 c chopped crystallized ginger

1/4 c dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking papers.

Whisk agave, coconut oil, water, vanilla, and eggs together until mixed well. In a separate bowl, mix together baking soda, baking powder, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, salt, and flours. Mix together dry ingredients into wet, and stir until just combined. (Don’t over-mix.) Fold in zucchini, ginger, and cranberries.

Pour even amounts into baking papers. Bake 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from tin as soon as possible. (I used a fork and, sliding it down the side of the cupcake, carefully lifted each from the tin.) This will prevent the bottoms from getting soggy. Set on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before icing.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Coconut Cream frosting, adapted from Elana’s Pantry:

1 14.5 oz can unsweetened coconut milk (not light)

1 c agave nectar

pinch salt

5 t cornstarch (or arrowroot powder)

1-2 T water

1 1/4 c virgin coconut oil

1 c unsweetened coconut flakes

In a medium saucepan, heat coconut milk, agave, and salt. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring.

Combine cornstarch and water and mix until you get a slurry. Add slurry to saucepan and bring to a boil briefly, stirring. Remove from heat. Gradually blend in coconut oil. Add coconut flakes and stir.

Place saucepan in freezer for 40 minutes or more, checking and stirring occasionally, until frosting solidifies. Blend again until fluffy. Spread over cupcakes. Top cupcakes with dried cranberries, if desired.

Note: I found that this recipe makes way more frosting than is needed for these cupcakes. The frosting freezes quite well. When you want to use the frozen frosting, just allow to thaw until the frosting is able to be stirred and spread, and use on cupcakes as needed.

Refrigerate cupcakes if they will not be served within an hour or so, to preserve freshness. I’ve found they keep in the fridge for several days.

Kids in the Kitchen: Grilled Octopus and Shrimp in Escabeche, and Fried Plantains

brandan octopusAs it is often said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. As was the case tonight.

This week was Brandan’s turn in the kitchen. Brandan is a foodie-in-training, with an intense desire to explore unique and adventurous foods – the more “bizarre” in his mind, the more he wants to try it! He chose Mexico as his country; one of my favorite cuisines. We started to discuss what he wished to make. Immediately, he exclaims “Octopus!” I knew octopus was consumed in Mexico; I just had to dig and find a suitable recipe. Luckily for me, Rick Bayless and his wonderful book Mexico – One Plate at a Time provided great inspiration. A recipe on page 249 – Seared Fish Fillets in Escabeche – had a variation that called for octopus. Brandan wished to grill the octopus, however. Not to worry, I knew that Peter at Kalofagas.ca posted a Greek grilled octopus recipe a while back that intrigued me. So Brandan and I set off to grill octopus and shrimp, and serve it with escabeche, Mexican white rice (also courtesy of Rick Bayless) and fried plantains.

grilled octopus, waiting to be served

grilled octopus, waiting to be served

Unfortunately, as much as both Brandan and I were excited about the idea of octopus, (Brandan had never tried octopus; I only ate it a time or two at a sushi restaurant) the end result was far from exciting. In fact, the dish was a big FAIL. I am unsure if it was as a result of my lack of knowledge on how to prepare octopus (I braised the octopus in its own liquid for about 50 minutes, until fork-tender, and then grilled it), or if our family just plain doesn’t like grilled octopus, but we ended up tossing most of the dish. I don’t blame Peter or Rick Bayless, of course, it’s likely my improvisation just came back to bite me on this one! (And on a side note, the escabeche portion of the dish was tasty.)

Brandan chopping up carrots for escabeche

Brandan chopping up carrots for escabeche

One part of the dish did shine, however. The fried plantains, which I’ve prepared numerous times, were delicious. Of course, fried plantains hardly need a recipe. Basically, you place about 2 tablespoons of oil in a hot pan (I used my trusty cast iron skillet), and once you bring it to medium-high heat, add 2-3 peeled and sliced plantains in a single layer. Allow to cook without moving for a minute or two, or until a golden crust forms on the plantain. Flip over and fry the other side of the plantain slices for 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle with a touch of salt, or if you really want to get fancy, sprinkle with some cotija cheese. That’s it. They are wonderfully crisp on the exterior, with a creamy-sweet interior. Quite addictive.

fried plantains

All in all, Brandan and I did learn something through our experience with the failed octopus dish. It never hurts to try something new, and it’s perfectly okay if it doesn’t turn out. We’re not discouraged, we’ll just try something new again next time!

Tahitian Squash Risotto and Foodbuzz Blog Awards

risotto 011When fall nears, I start to get excited. Not only because of the cool, crisp air (which I love), but because of the delicious fall produce. As much as I’ll miss my fresh tomatoes, (and here in a month or two, you may here me complain about the lack of good tomatoes…fair warning.) now it’s nearing time for one of my most favorite fall vegetables – winter squash. Most winter squashes are subtly sweet, creamy, and marry so well with a lot of comfort dishes. I love them all – pumpkins, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, and Tahitian. That’s right, Tahitian squash. I’d never heard of it, until a few weeks ago, when I was visiting the McKinney farmer’s market, and I visited my friend at Good Earth Organic Farm. He was selling not only butternut squashes, but he also had a large Tahitian squash available. I asked about it, mistaking it for a butternut. (they look VERY similar in color and shape) He described it to me as a nice, sweet squash that I could prepare in a similar manner to butternut. Needless to say, I was sold – and took that baby home with me.

What’s wonderful about winter squashes is that you don’t have to eat them right away. They can be stored for a long while. My Tahitian squash sat on my counter for a few weeks while I enjoyed my bounty of zucchini, okra, tomatoes, pears, and other summery produce, patiently waiting for its turn in the spotlight. On Sunday night, it was time for the Tahitian squash to shine. (Yes, Sunday…I know, it’s taken me a few days to get this to you!) A creamy risotto was just the right dish to highlight this sweet squash.

Contrary to what Hell’s Kitchen would portray, a risotto is not all that difficult to make. The big key here is to be stirring the risotto nearly constantly. (Perhaps one should plan to make it on a night when they are not the only one watching the kids…) But since you will be standing over the dish, you can “fiddle” with the dish as much as you like (something I have a desire to do with all dishes, whether they’re in need of “fiddling” or not). You also will be at the ready to test the doneness of the rice. Other than that, there’s nothing tricky about risotto – promise!

Tahitian (or butternut, or acorn, or pumpkin) Squash Risotto

2 T olive oil

5-6 lbs squash, such as butternut or acorn, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper

4-5 c chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth to make vegetarian)

1 T olive oil

1 T butter

1 shallot, minced

1 ½ c Arborio rice

½ c white wine

½ c Parmesan, grated

2 T butter

¼ c parsley, chopped

Bring a heavy, large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once oil is hot, add squash in a single layer. (you may have to do this in batches – I did.) Saute squash for 5-6 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside.

Reserving ½ c of the diced squash, puree the remainder in a food processor or blender.

Bring chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepan, and hold at a simmer.

Either wipe clean the sauté pan, or bring another large, wide sauté pan to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Swirl until butter melts. Add shallots and rice and stir until shallots start to soften, about 2 minutes. Add white wine and stir, deglazing the pan. Once wine is nearly evaporated, add 1 ladle of chicken broth and stir into rice. Stir almost constantly to ensure that each grain of rice is cooked evenly. Once broth is nearly evaporated, add another ladle of broth. Continue adding broth, a ladle at a time, as the broth evaporates from the pan, and stirring continuously, until the rice is nearly done, just shy of al dente.

Add the pureed squash, and add more broth as necessary. (Your finished risotto should not be sticky/gluey and clumpy, nor should it be thin. You’re striving for a creamy consistency here.) Stir until the rice is al dente. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and parmesan. Stir until butter melts and cheese is incorporated. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Remove from heat, and top with reserved diced squash and sprinkle with parsley for garnish.

Serves 6.

Wait, there’s more – Foodbuzz Blog Awards

I’m sure you have heard about Foodbuzz.com several times by now. I am a Featured Publisher on their site, the advertisements on this blog are from Foodbuzz, and I’ve participated in their 24,24,24 events (see Exploring Texas BBQ and Bringing the Bayou to the ‘Burbs). Well, Foodbuzz has officially announced the Foodbuzz Blog Awards. The Foodbuzz Blog Awards aim to recognize talent in the blog community through nominations and voting. So please, if you enjoy my blog, nominate me! (yes, this is my shameless plug) Nominations are open from September 14 – 30. The categories for nomination are:

Best Overall Blog
Best New Blog
Best Wine Blog
Best Cocktail/Spirits Blog
Best Baking Blog
Best Food Photography Blog
Best Visual Blog (graphic design)
Best Writing Voice
Best Healthy Living Blog
Best Green/Sustainable blog
Best Family Blog
Best Recipe Blog
Best Blogger Humanitarian Effort
Best Community Blog Effort (recognizing blogging groups/challenges/etc)
Most Humorous Food Blog

Blogger you’d most want to:
-Take to dinner
-Cook a meal for you
-Be your personal Sommelier
-Create you a cocktail
-Watch on Food Network
-Watch on Iron Chef
-See open up their own restaurant
-See their blog made into a movie

So please, take a moment and nominate as many blogs as you feel deserve recognition! And thank you!

Vegetarian Bean and Pumpkin Chili, plus a Gluten-Free Cheddar Serrano Biscuit

veggie chili

Dear Summer: It’s not that I don’t love what you bring…bountiful produce, long days, and barbeque parties by the pool. I love these things, I really do. It’s just time to move on. As you always do around here (in Texas), you overstay your welcome, and you don’t allow Autumn enough time to play. So please, let’s just part ways for the year. No hard feelings? I’ll welcome you with open arms next June, I promise!

It’s 95 degrees today here in North Texas. Hot and humid. There is a cold front in sight, they say, bringing cooler temperatures for the weekend. In my mind, it can’t get here fast enough. Apparently, my appetite agrees. My husband and I have been craving cool-weather dishes, as evidenced by my last few posts. (Shepherd’s pie just doesn’t cross most people’s minds when it’s hot outside.) When I was planning meals this past weekend, I decided upon a vegetarian chili – cool weather or not. Even if it won’t act like fall outside, I can still pretend, right?

This chili will likely reappear at our home in some version several times in the coming months. It was a snap to make, with minimal prep the night before, and a long, unattended simmer in the slow cooker. (Not to mention it was super-budget friendly!) Once it was nearing dinnertime, I had so little to prepare, I decided that an attempt at a gluten-free biscuit was needed.

Last week, I came across a gorgeous gluten-free biscuit recipe from Shelley at This Primal Life. (Shelley has a wonderful blog filled with healthy, gluten-free, grain-free recipes.) Gluten-free biscuits? Yes, it can be done. These babies were tender, with a delicious, cheesy flavor, and a very mild bite from the peppers. Oh, man. They were a dream. And for those of you that are watching your carb intake, these are right up your alley, as they’re made with almond flour. These are about as healthy a biscuit as they come, but you’d swear they were sinful. And they paired with the chili perfectly.

So if it’s still hot where you are, then feel free to pocket this recipe for a few weeks, until the air is crisp and those chili cravings set in. Or do like we did, and pretend.

For the chili:

1 1/2 lbs mixed variety of dried beans (I used yellow eye, African red beans, and flageolet – but I would think a mix of black, kidney, and pinto beans would work well)

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree

2 serrano chiles, minced

3 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced

4 c vegetable stock

1-2 c water

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 T cumin

1/2 cinnamon stick

2 t ground coriander

2-3 t salt (taste)

1 1/2 T chili powder

Several dashes of Tabasco

Garnishes:

Shredded cheese (omit or use dairy-free cheese if dairy-free/vegan)

Cilantro

Sour cream

Rinse the beans, and soak overnight. Rinse again and place beans in slow cooker. Add rest of ingredients and stir well. Cook on low for 8 hours or until beans are tender. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve topped with desired garnishes. Serves 8.

cheddar jalapeno biscuit rounds

For the biscuit rounds, adapted from This Primal Life:

3 c almond flour

1 t baking soda

big pinch of salt

6 oz of cheddar cheese, grated

2 fresh serrano chiles, minced

3 eggs

1/4 c sour cream

1/2 c water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine almond flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Mix in grated cheese and serranos. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs, sour cream, and water. Combine the wet and dry ingredients until they just come together. Drop batter in large spoonfuls onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until slightly browned on top. Makes 12 rounds.

Hungry for more? This recipe and other Slightly Indulgent recipes are available on Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, as part of the weekly Slightly Indulgent Mondays, and also is linked to Miz Helen’s Chili Cookoff!

Kids in the Kitchen: Shepherd’s Pie

shepherd's pieAfter Matthew’s hard work at making lasagna, our family gathered together and discussed changing up “Kids in the Kitchen” just a little. In an effort to learn more about cuisines from various cultures, we wrote the names of countries on slips of paper, and the kids each drew a country. They each had the option of making whatever dish they desired, as long as it was a traditional dish eaten in the country they selected. Brittany drew England, so we immediately began researching traditional British foods. After sifting through Yorkshire puddings, recipes for bubble and squeak, and countless roast beef recipes, we settled on one delicious choice: Shepherd’s Pie.

I’ve posted a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie before, but it has been a long while since we’ve prepared this family favorite. This is a dish that our kids devour. With a ground meat base that’s bursting with flavor, plus a delicious, creamy mashed potato topping, how could you go wrong? Brittany was loving every bite, and Matthew couldn’t help but utter “Nom, nom nom!” over and over again.

Brittany using the potato ricer

Brittany using the potato ricer

This recipe originates from Gordon Ramsay, and I’ve stuck pretty closely to the original. My big change, other than doubling the recipe, was utilizing a food processor to mince the onion, carrot, and garlic until it was nearly a paste. This allowed the vegetables to become part of the sauce, rather than being detectable (read: the kids can’t tell there are carrots in the dish). I also used half beef and half lamb. I love (and prefer) lamb, but I wanted a milder flavor in order to please the whole family. Although this recipe does take longer to prepare than some alternatives, the results are well worth it. Reducing the wine and the broth allows the flavors to concentrate into the sauce, which seasons the meat and sauce in a manner that you just can’t duplicate with a quick shake of spices. I hope that as the temperatures drop with the coming of autumn, that this dish will find its way to your supper table, and will have you, too, uttering “nom, nom, nom!”

Shepherd’s Pie, adapted from Gordon Ramsay

1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces

4 cloves garlic, peeled

3 T olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground lamb

3 1/2 T Worcestershire sauce

2 T tomato paste

5-6 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked

1 large sprig rosemary, needles chopped finely

2 c red wine (I used a nice bottle of cabernet)

3 c chicken stock

4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

6 T butter

4 egg yolks

6 T freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic together in the food processor and “blitz” until the vegetables are finely minced and nearly resemble a paste. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large, wide frying pan over medium-high heat. Season the ground beef and lamb with salt and pepper and add to the oil, and brown for 2-3 minutes, breaking into small bits with a spatula. Add the onion, carrot and garlic, and stir to cook for another minute. Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and herbs, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring nearly constantly. Pour in the red wine and reduce until nearly evaporated (this may take up to 20 minutes). Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil and simmer until reduced. (this may take another 15-20 minutes) The sauce should be thickened, but not completely evaporated.

pizza and shepherd's pie 028

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes, and pass them through a potato ricer. (Don’t have a potato ricer? You can opt to use a hand mixer and beat the potatoes until smooth. I do recommend a potato ricer, as it results in a nice, light, fluffy mash.) Beat in the egg yolks, butter, and about 4 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan. Check for seasoning, and add salt if necessary.

Spoon the meat mixture into the bottom of a 13X9 inch baking dish. Using a large spoon, layer the mashed potato generously on top of the meat mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top. Fluff up the mashed potato with a fork to make rough peaks. (Alternatively, you can do as I did here, and use a icing bag and pipe the mash into little “Hershey’s kissed-shaped mounds” to make it look pretty.) Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.

Serves 6-8.

shepherd's pie 02

Chipotle Pork Tinga Tacos

tinga tacos 013

I heart Rick Bayless. He has been considered by many to be the greatest contribution to Mexican cuisine. Frankly, I agree. If you study his approach to Mexican food, the ingredients, the preparation, its origin – you can understand his deep respect and desire to honor the integrity of the cuisine. Watching him most recently on Top Chef Masters, he is a man that considers every minute detail in a dish. Every ingredient and technique is meticulously planned and executed. In his books, his explanations on how to prepare each dish are excellent and detailed. It’s a shame that I have not attempted more of his amazing recipes, because the bottom line is: each one is great.

And these tacos are no exception. They’re not just great – they’re awesome. The potatoes soften and create a creamy texture, and the pork shreds into tender, flavorful bites. The chipotles and tomatoes have merged into a smoky, spicy, flavorful sauce that coats everything. Wrapped in a tortilla and topped with the cool guacamole and cheese, it’s an explosion of flavors in your mouth.

What’s even better, with a little prep before placing into the slow cooker, they take virtually no time to throw together once you get home from work. Great for a busy weeknight; even a night when the whole family can’t sit down together to eat due to soccer practices, band rehearsals, etc. The slow cooker can simply keep the taco filling warm for everyone to eat when they have time.

So stop considering swinging by the “Golden Arches” or that “Terrible-Excuse-for-Mexican” fast-food place (you know, the one with the bell) to feed the family, and throw together some homemade, delicious tinga tacos. You’ll be glad you did.

Chipotle Pork Tinga Tacos, adapted from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday

1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces

One 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes

4 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, seeded and chopped

1 T chipotle canning sauce (the sauce from the can of chipotle chiles in adobo)

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 t dried Mexican oregano

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 t salt

4 oz fresh Mexican chorizo sausage (bulk, or if in casings, casings removed)

Warmed corn tortillas

1 c crumbled Mexican queso fresco or feta

Guacamole

Spread the potatoes over the bottom of a slow cooker and top with the pork. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes with the chipotles, canning sauce, Worcestershire, oregano, garlic, and salt. Pour the mixture evenly over the meat and potatoes. Cover and turn the slow cooker on high for 6 hours (I turned it on low for about 11).

When you are ready to eat, fry the chorizo in a medium skillet until thoroughly done, about 4-5 minutes. Uncover the pork tinga and spoon off any fat that has accumulated on top. Sprinkle on the chorizo, and stir everything together, breaking the pork into smaller pieces. Taste and season with additional salt if it needs it. Serve with the tortillas, crumbled fresh cheese and guacamole. Serves 8.

Crunchy Dill Pickles and Labor Day Recipe Roundup

picklesTo say the least, I’m starting to enjoy this canning thing. Even if I’m not saving money at this point (I would be if I were growing my own vegetables to “put up”. Maybe next year!), the satisfaction of preserving the summer’s bounty is certainly a motivator. But even more, the pleasure of opening that jar to find a delicious, perfectly crunchy pickle – one I made myself? It’s a great experience, one I’d choose over buying a jar of store-bought pickles any day.

Of course, after a bit of fumbling around with this pickle recipe, and the other canning attempt for this summer, I was elated to receive a free copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, courtesy of Canning Across America. When it came in the mail this week, I was giddy with excitement. (I’m now convinced that my husband thinks I’m nuts – who gets giddy because they have a canning guide? Apparently, I do!) So likely, you’ll be seeing more of these recipes as I dig through that book. I’m hoping to feel like a pro by the end of the season. (Also, hopefully my family and friends won’t start hiding from me when I offer to share the fruits of my canning endeavors!)

Anyway, on to the pickle recipe. I chose not to process these jars in boiling water, as I wanted to keep as much crunch in the pickle as possible. (I am not a fan of those floppy, soft pickles you sometimes find in the stores!) So, as a result, these will have to be kept under refrigeration. However, if you choose to process them, place them in enough boiling water to cover by 2-3 inches once the jars are sealed, and allow to process for about 10-12 minutes. Once removed and cooled, as long as the lids have “popped” and are sealed, they should be shelf-stable for a long time.

For the pickling spice:

1 T coriander seed

1 t allspice berries

1 T black peppercorns

1 ½ t dill seed

1 t celery seed

4 crushed bay leaves

Mix all spices together. Unused pickling spice can be kept for6 months.

To prepare the pickles:

2 c white vinegar

2 c apple cider vinegar

4 c water

1 T sugar

2 T salt

4 t pickling spice

4 lbs pickling cucumbers, sliced or cut into spears

2 banana peppers, sliced

3-4 serrano peppers, sliced

8-9 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 T chopped fresh dill

Bring vinegars, water, sugar, salt, and pickling spice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring until salt and sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, wash and rinse 7 or 8 pint-size canning jars and lids, and add to a large pot of simmering water to keep warm and sterilized. Once your pickling liquid is ready, remove jars from water, and divide cucumbers, peppers, garlic, and dill among the jars. (you may have to use a butter knife to coax some of the cucumbers into the jars) Pour pickling liquid into each jar, leaving about ¼ inch headspace at top of jar. Place lids on jars and screw on tightly. Let cool on counter until room temperature, and store in refrigerator. Let the cucumbers remain in the refrigerator for at least a week before eating.

P.S. – Just in case you’re looking for Labor Day recipes, I’ve gathered some of my favorite gluten-free recipes (some are my own, some are favorites from blog friends) to share!

Appetizers

Mac-Nut Hummus

Grilled Proscuitto-Wrapped Asparagus

Meats/Grilling/BBQ

Smoked Pork Ribs

Texas BBQ

Farmer’s Market Burger with Grilled Red Onion Relish and Peppered Tomato Mayonnaise

Summer Hobo Dinner

Sides

Mediterranean Pepper Salad

Southwestern Coleslaw

Summer Succotash

Sauteed Kale with Garlic and Cranberries

Hatch Chile Potato Casserole

Desserts

Gluten-Free Peach Pear Crisp

Butterscotch Ice Cream

Gluten Free Sugar Free Cherry Clafoutis

Happy Labor Day, everyone!