Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Slow Cooked with a Little Spice - Salsa Verde Pork Carnitas (prepared in a crock pot)

I love using my crock pot, but I get tired of so many recipes using cream of something. I realize half the reason we use crock pots is so we can just toss in all the ingredients, and forget about it. But, I think crock pot recipes always come out better when there is a good mix of both fresh and prepared ingredients.

With that in mind, I created this Salsa Verde Pork Carnitas recipe. I love the slow roasted pork we get at our favorite Mexican restaurant. But trying to recreate it at home means I have to stay in the house with the boys, while the pork slowly roasts in the oven all day. No thanks! The crock pot was my perfect solution.

When making the carnitas, you can control the heat. I don't use the jalapenos, but included them as an optional ingredient for those who like a spicier dish. By using a mild salsa verde, the recipe still has flavor, but isn't too spicy for my little ones to enjoy. Feel free to use whatever spice level you prefer.

Salsa Verde Pork Carnitas (prepared in a crock pot)
serves 4-6

* 3 pounds pork tenderloin roast or pork butt (or similar cut)
* 16 ounce jar of salsa verde (green salsa)
* fresh juice from 1/2 large lime
* 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (roughly, a handful chopped)
* 1/4 cup brown onion, chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* salt and pepper to taste
* Optional* diced jalapenos (add to your spice preference)


Place pork in crock pot. Pour salsa over pork. Evenly distribute remaining ingredients over the top of the pork and in the salsa. Cover crock pot and cook on high for 6-8 hours. Every few hours spoon sauce over the top of pork (I know it goes against most "crock pot rules"). When cooking is complete, remove the pork and place on a cutting board. Shred pork with a fork or roughly chop with a knife. (the tenderness varies depending on the cut of pork). Return the pork to the sauce. Cook on low for 20-30 minutes.

Serving suggestion: Serve on warm tortillas, garnish with sour cream, chopped onion, fresh cilantro and shredded cheese. Black beans and rice make an excellent side.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fresh & Simple - Blackened Salmon Salad with Homemade Vinaigrette

Come spring and summer we tend to eat a lot more salads as meals. I love using all of the wonderful fresh produce that is available this time of year, and as the beach weather gets closer its not such bad idea to lighten up our meals.

This blackened Salmon Salad is one of my favorites. My mom and I had it many years ago at a restaurant in Arizona. Since then, we've tried to replicate it to the best of our ability. I think we may have even improved on it over the years. The spice rub adds some nice "heat" to the salmon, and the baked capers add a wonderful flavor and texture. Let me also add, even if you are not a huge fan of capers, try baking them! They take on a whole new flavor and texture, and in my opinion make this salad great.

One of the best parts about this salad is you can prep most of it ahead of time. As usual, I got most everything prepped during my kid's nap time. You can even blacken the salmon, and chill it in the refrigerator until you are ready toss everything together. I know making your own spice rub and salad dressing may seem like too much work, but I promise, it's fast, simple, and so worth it!

Kid note: My son isn't big on salad or anything too spicy, so I left a small portion of the salmon unseasoned, and served him plain grilled salmon, with many of the fresh veggies from the salad on the side. He ate it all up!

Blackened Salmon Salad
serves 4 (meal size portions)

* 1 jar capers
* 1 pound fresh salmon fillet (skin removed)
* Spice Rub (see recipe below)
* 1 head red-leaf lettuce, chopped or 1 bag mixed greens
* 1 cucumber, sliced
* 2 stalks of celery, sliced
* 1 tomato, chopped (I used some mini-heirlooms)
* 1 avocado, sliced
* 1 cup crushed tortilla chips
* Homemade vinaigrette (see recipe below) If you are short on time, use your favorite bottled vinaigrette.


For capers:

Preheat oven to 350.
Drain capers, spread on a baking sheet lined with foil.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until capers are crispy.
Set aside until ready to toss salad.

For Salmon:

Heat grill to high.
Generously season both sides of salmon with the spice rub.
Place salmon on grill (skin side down). Grill until salmon is blackened with a nice crust, then reduce heat to medium and grill the other side of the fish, until cooked through. Total cooking time about 10-12 minutes.
Remove fish from the grill. Let cool, and break into bite size pieces. Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to toss the salad.

For Salad:

Chop or slice lettuce and vegetables, and place into a large salad bowl. Just prior to serving, top with salmon, baked capers, and crushed tortilla chips. Toss with vinaigrette and serve.

Recipe for Spice Rub:

* 1 teaspoon garlic powder
* 1 teaspoon paprika
* 1 teaspoon onion powder
* 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add more or less depending on heat preference)
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions: In small prep bowl or ramekin, mix all ingredients together. Rub onto fish. (If you have extra, save in a zip lock bag. It's also great on chicken and steak!)

Recipe for Vinaigrette:

* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
* pinch of kosher salt
* fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions: In small mixing bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Serve over salad.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Sweet and Savory - Grilled Chicken with Bourbon Peach BBQ Sauce

Lately it seems like I've been stuck in rut with boring grilled chicken. Sure, I'd add a few different spices or marinades, but it always seemed to be the same boring old chicken. I had a few peaches that were on their way to being way too ripe, so I decided to try my hand at Peach BBQ sauce. As I concocted this recipe, I wasn't even sure it was going to be "blog worthy". I looked at various Peach BBQ sauce recipes, but never really found one that suited all my needs. So I used a recipe that I found on Epicurious as my base and let my experimentation begin ...

I'll be completely honest - the texture scared me. After blending the sauce, the texture looked more like a puree than a bbq sauce. I tried to thin it out a bit (hence the last minute addition of apple juice), but I didn't want to sweeten it too much or dilute it with water. But rather than toss my creation, I let it chill in the refrigerator until dinner time.

After chilling for a few hours the sauce seemed even thicker, so I did end up thinning it with about 1/4 cup of water. However, it still had fairly thick consistency. I decided to leave it be and try it out on the chicken.

Well, somewhere along the way, something went incredibly right! We basted the chicken with the sauce just prior to finishing it up the grill. I loved that chicken had the smokey taste from the grill, and the sweet taste of the sauce.It was probably one of the best variations of boring grilled chicken we've had in quite some time. And surprisingly simple!

Grilled Chicken with Bourbon Peach BBQ Sauce
Inspired by Gourmet Magazine via Epicurious.com
serves 4

* 4 chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper to taste)
* 1 pound fresh peaches
* 3/4 cup sweet onion, chopped
* 1 tablespoon canola oil
*1/4 cup cider vinegar
*1/4 cup bourbon (I didn't have bourbon, so I bought 1 mini bottle and it was the right amount)
* 1/4 cup ketchup
* 2 and 1/2 tablespoons honey

* 1 and 1/2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
* 1 teaspoon brown sugar
*1/4 teaspoon chili powder
* 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For sauce:

With a vegetable peeler, peel peaches and chop coarsely.

In a medium size sauce pan, cook onion and a pinch of kosher salt in oil over medium heat. Cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add peaches and remaining ingredients, and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until peaches are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree in blender (please use caution when blending hot substances). If consistency seems too thick, add 1/4 cup apple juice (water may be substituted).

Sauce can be made three 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Re-heat over medium to warm the sauce.

For chicken:

Heat grill to medium heat.

Season both sides of chicken with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

Grill chicken over medium heat for 5-7 minutes per side. Just before chicken is finished, generously brush both sides with the Peach BBQ Sauce. Grill each side for an additional 2-3 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lowcountry Feast – Frogmore Stew, and Blue Cheese Coleslaw

I love an impromptu party! So, last weekend when my husband I were both missing his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina we decided to call up a few friends we hadn’t seen in a while, and celebrate the South with a lowcountry feast.

First item on the menu, Frogmore Stew! Now don’t let the name scare you (I apologize for the lesson to the Beaufortonians following this blog), Frogmore Stew has nothing to do with frogs. The name refers to the small town of Frogmore on St. Helena Island in Beaufort County. Others may call it Lowcountry Boil or even Beaufort Boil, but purists know it should always be called Frogmore Stew!

The recipe is so simple, and perfect for a party, but can easily be scaled down to a simple pot in the kitchen for you and your family. I love to serve this with my super simple Blue Cheese Coleslaw and some warm crusty bread. Also be sure to have plenty of cocktail sauce, fresh lemon and napkins on hand. However you decide to enjoy it, just make sure you call it the correct name!

Frogmore Stew
Serves 8 or more

* ½ container of Old Bay seasoning (or more, I tend to add close to a full container)
* 5-7 large red potatoes, cut into quarters
* 2 lbs. smoked kielbasa sausage, sliced into ½ inch pieces
* 4-5 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned, and cut into 3 inch cobs
* 3 pounds large shrimp (rinse to clean, but do not peel or de-vein)

Fill a large stock pot (or outside cooking pot) a little more than 1/2 full with water. Bring to a boil. Add Old Bay.

Add potatoes to the boil.

Add sliced kielbasa to the boil.

Cook potatoes and sausage for 8-10 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly tender.

Add corn, continue to boil for 2-3 minutes, before adding shrimp.

Add shrimp, cook until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, approximately 2-3 minutes.

As soon as shrimp are cooked through, immediately drain all liquid.

Empty all ingredients onto a large serving platter, garnish with lemon and serve with cocktail sauce.

PS: For the first timers – this is peel and eat shrimp. You may also want to have a few empty bowls on hand, for the shrimp peels.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw
Serves 8 or more

* half a head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
* half a head of red cabbage, thinly sliced
* 2 medium size carrots, shredded
* 1 cup blue cheese salad dressing (I prefer Bob’s Blue Cheese)
* ¾ cup crumbled blue cheese

In a large serving bowl, mix all ingredients together. Cover and chill before serving.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cheesy Comfort Food - Baked Pesto Tortellini with Sweet Pesto Chicken Sausage

Some friends of ours recently had their first baby. I LOVED having home cooked meals delivered to our door after the birth of our children, so I always try to "pay it forward" when someone I know has a baby. I figured the weary-eyed parents could use some comfort food, so I was excited to put my own twist on a baked tortellini dish I'd seen from Giada De Laurentiis. What could be more comforting than lots of melted cheese and a creamy tomato sauce. Yum!

I added sweet pesto chicken sausage (from Trader Joe's), used pesto tortellini instead of cheese, and changed a few of the spices to what I had on hand. I think the sausage was a nice addition, and any Italian sausage would probably work. Next time I may try adding chicken and some sort of vegetable.

What makes this recipe so delicious is the smoked mozzarella cheese. It just adds something a little unexpected. It was slightly tough to find, but worth the extra trip to our local Italian market, which luckily for me is across the street from our house. (If you have trouble finding it, try a specialty market like Gelsons,Whole Foods or Fresh Market)

This dish can also be prepared ahead of time (I made mine during the kids nap time) and baked right before serving. I think it would also freeze well. To top it all off, my two year old gobbled up every last bite! I think that is the sign of a truly successful recipe.

Baked Pesto Tortellini with Sweet Pesto Chicken Sausage

Inspired by Giada De Laurentiis
serves 4-6

* Olive oil
* 2 sweet pesto chicken sausage links (or other any other variation of Italian sausage)
* 2 cups marinara sauce
* 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
* 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
* 2 teaspoons dried thyme
* 1 pound purchased pesto and cheese tortellini
* 2 ounces thinly sliced smoked mozzarella
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil an 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish.

In a small sauté pan brown the sausage over medium-high heat, until cooked through. Remove sausage from pan, drain any excess oil on a paper towel, and let cool.

Whisk the sauce, mascarpone cheese, and dried spices in a large bowl to blend.

Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain.

While pasta is cooking slice the sausage (about a ¼ inch thick).

Add the tortellini and sausage to the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top the mixture with the smoked mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses on top melt, about 30 minutes.
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Tuscan Dinner - Tuscan Pork Chops, Parmesan White Beans, Grilled Vegetables

Several years before kids, my husband I took the trip of a lifetime to Italy with our family and friends. All 17 of us, ate our way through Rome, Tuscany, and Venice. We had the rare opportunity to live the "Italian Dream" when we stayed in a beautiful Tuscan Villa. We cooked amazing meals, drank the best wine, and enjoyed all that Tuscany had to offer. Ahhh ... the memories ... I want to go back!!!

Although we cooked most of our own meals at the villa, we did venture out to the local polo club for dinner one night. It was by far the most amazing take on simple cooking I've ever seen. Nothing fancy, just fresh, simple ingredients prepared in a way only the Italians can master ... or so I thought.

Upon our return to the states, my husband and I longed for that taste of Tuscany. So what better way to relive the trip, than to cook up the memories. Over the years we've recreated this meal more than a dozen times, and it always brings us back to that trip of a lifetime. On that note, it only seems appropriate that I share our "Tuscan Dinner" as my first recipe post. Salud!

A Tuscan Dinner
serves 4

Tuscan Pork Chops
4 double cut, thick, bone in pork chops
5-6 cloves garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Peel garlic. Use half as a fresh rub; rub over both sides of the chops. Finely chop the remaining garlic and press into the chops. Sprinkle rosemary, salt and pepper over both sides of chops.

Heat grill to medium-high heat. Sear both sides of the meat. Reduce grill heat to medium. Grill until chops are cooked through. Approximately 5-7 minutes per side.

Plate chops, and drizzle with EVOO

Parmesan White Beans
2 cans white cannellini
beans (I like the ones from Trader Joes)
1/2 cup freshly shaved or grated parmesan (or more ... I like cheese!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat Oven to 375

Drizzle EVOO into the bottom of a small baking dish. Drain beans well (do not rinse), and empty into dish. Top with fresh grated/shaved parmesan cheese. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the top and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper (l like to use fresh cracked).

Baked for 25 minutes or until cheese is slightly golden and a little "crust" has formed over the beans.

The last time I made this meal, I served it with grilled asparagus, but you can really choose what ever veggie you like or have on hand ... italian squash goes really well too! Just add a little EVOO and the same spices used on the pork chops, and throw the vegtables on the grill a few minutes beore the pork is finsihed. You'll have the perfect Tuscan dinner!

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Miss My Kitchen!

It seems since the birth of my first son, I have put my love of cooking to back burner (pun intended). Like many busy moms, I find myself resorting to the same few meals the entire family is sick of. The truth is, I love cooking and more importantly, I miss it! My hope is that this blog will inspire me and anyone who would like to follow my blog to get back in the kitchen.

My goal is to post simple recipes that are easy to make, taste delicious, and inspire us all to bring a little spice to the family dinner table. I invite you to follow my blog, add comments, and if you like, share any recipe you think belongs on Simple Spice.

Thanks for visiting and Happy Cooking!!!