Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cuban picadillo inspires recipe for slow cooker pork chops

I've heard picadillo referred to as Cuban sloppy Joes, but that doesn't begin to do the dish justice. It's a delicious sweet-sour-spicy-savory ground meat mixture, sweetened slightly with raisins and studded with green olives, traditionally served over white rice.

I was trying to decide how to cook a couple of pounds of bone-in pork chops when picadillo popped into my mind. I borrowed many of picadillo's classic ingredients, combined them  in a slow cooker, and came up with this this simple recipe that's a riff on a Cuban classic.


Yield: about 8 servings

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 pounds 3/4-inch thick pork chops (about 8; see note)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons raisins
1/4 cup pimento-stuffed whole green olives, drained
1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 
Salt, optional
Hot cooked rice, for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the in slow-cooker insert (if it's safe on the stove) or in a large nonstick skillet. Pat chops dry with paper towels. Working in batches, brown the chops on each side. Remove to a plate; set aside.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the hot insert or skillet. Add onion; cook, stirring, until soft and starting to brown. Stir in bell pepper; sprinkle with paprika. Add bay leaf, tomato paste, tomatoes and their juice, chicken stock and raisins. Stir well. If using a skillet, transfer to the slow cooker. Add pork and any juices, nestling the pork into the liquid and spooning some of the vegetables over the top. Cover and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low.

Just before serving, stir in olives and vinegar and salt to taste. Serve over hot cooked rice.

Note: You can use thicker chops; increase cooking time if necessary.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Semi-virtuous, totally delicious recipe for Double Chocolate-Cherry Muffins

New Year's resolutions aside, cold weather makes me want to bake. That's why these sweetly satisfying muffins are semi-virtuous. After all, we're not even a month into the New Year, too early to abandon my good intentions.

When stirring up this recipe, I reached for more healthful versions of many ingredients -- white whole-wheat flour, which has all the nutrition of regular whole-wheat but is lighter in color and texture, plus nonfat milk and coconut oil, which is one of the more healthful oils. Cherries add flavor, moisture, vitamins and fiber. And chocolate is practically a health food, right? Even if it isn't, cocoa powder adds loads of chocolate flavor with a minimum of fat.

Yield: 12 muffins

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process or 1/4 cup Dutch process and 1/4 cup natural cocoa powder)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup nonfat or low-fat milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped pitted fresh or frozen cherries or jarred cherries, well drained (don't use cherry pie filling)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Coarse sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners or spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

Melt coconut oil; let cool. In a large bowl, gently whisk together milk, egg and vanilla. Add cooled (but still liquid) oil; whisk until slightly frothy. Add dry ingredients; fold together just until well combined. Add cherries and chocolate chips; mix lightly but well.

Divide batter among muffin cups. (An ice-cream scoop coated with nonstick cooking spray works well.) If desired, sprinkle lightly with coarse sugar. Bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out without any clinging crumbs. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Freeze any leftovers; warm slightly before serving.)

Each muffin contains 269 calories; 15g fat (11g saturated fat); 18mg cholesterol; 214mg sodium; 36g carbohydrate (4g fiber, 22g sugars), 5g protein.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup Recipe Warms Up A Cold Snap

I've been snowed in for two days, but I'm not complaining. That's because we have about everything we need -- a warm house, good books, internet access, and a well-stocked pantry, fridge and freezer.

As soon as the temperature started to plummet and the snow began to fall, I plotted what to make for dinner. I settled on soup, pulling dried mushrooms and barley out of the pantry, beef stew meat out of the freezer and baby bella mushrooms out of the refrigerator produce drawer. I also reached for my pressure cooker, which speeds soup-making considerably. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can make this soup in a large pot. Simmer until the barley is done, the meat is tender and the flavors blend, probably an hour and a half or two hours.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

About 1 ounce dried mushrooms (such as a combination of porcini, shiitake, black and oyster mushrooms)
2 slices bacon, chopped
Canola or olive oil, if needed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 ribs celery, chopped
8 ounces fresh baby bella mushrooms, chopped
8 ounces beef stew meat, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
6 cups reduced-sodium beef stock or broth
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup barley
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped 1/2 inch thick
1 tablespoons tamari sauce or soy sauce

Place dried mushrooms in a strainer; rinse with lukewarm water. Transfer to a bowl and cover with 1 cup hot tap water. Let sit until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid. If necessary, strain liquid to remove any grit. Cut large mushrooms into bite-size pieces.

Place chopped bacon in a pressure cooker. Place over high heat. Cook, stirring as necessary, until bacon renders its fat. Remove bacon from fat. If necessary, add a teaspoon or so of  oil. Add onion and celery; cook over medium-high heat until they begin to soften. Add fresh mushrooms; cook until softened. Stir in stew meat; cook until it begins to brown.

Add beef stock, water, mushroom soaking liquid, softened dried mushrooms, thyme, pepper, barley and carrots. Put the lid on the cooker. Bring to high pressure over high heat. Reduce heat as necessary and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let pressure reduce naturally for 10 minutes. Quickly reduce remaining pressure (use the valve if your cooker has one or run cold water over the closed cooker). Remove the lid and stir in tamari sauce.