A New Spring Salad Dressing

Turkey Celery Wide

I did something this year I’ve been wanting to do for a quite a few years. Back in March, on a particularly warm day, we prepped our garden boxes and then filled them with all sorts of cool weather seeds: lettuce, arugula, beets, radishes, spinach, onions, fennel, garlic, and peas. Every day, I’ve been watching and waiting to see if I’ve finally become a good enough gardener to get these little seeds to grow. Well, they came up, and they are beautiful. We have buttercrunch lettuce and arugula that just keeps coming and coming, so we’ve been eating salad after salad. This is a new favorite dressing for these salads that I got from the terrific cookbook called The Food Lab. It’s simply delicious, and makes a it easy to throw anything and still have great flavor, but one of my favorites has been arugula, lettuce, celery, turkey, and sunflower seeds or cooked wheatberries. 

Balsamic-Soy Vinaigrette

1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. olive oil
a small shallot, minced or grated on a microplane
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
4 t. dijon mustard
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 t. salt for me, and a few shakes of pepper)

Combine all ingredients together in a glass jar, shake well to emulsify, and then resupply yourself in three days, since you will want it every lunch and dinner! It will keep for up to three months in your fridge, if you find yourself not wanting it quite as often as I do.

Simple Slow Cooked Carnitas

Pork Carnitas with tortillas
I don’t love the slow cooker for many meals: it seems like meat that goes into this incredible invention somehow comes out tasting very similar to any other meat that goes into it. For texture and flavor, it often disappoints. So, I’m always a little wary of recipes for the slow cooker (I know, there’s millions of recipes that could potentially prove me wrong, but every time I go to try a new one, I feel like I’ve reached the same conclusion, again).

However, whenever I find a recipe that wants me to bake something at a low temperature in a dutch oven for several hours, I immediately just want to use a slow cooker instead. So, I pulled mine out while pulling together these pork carnitas yesterday, used some ideas and techniques from both Williams-Sonoma Taco Night and America’s Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution, and came up with a recipe I will definitely use again. This would be another great taco for Cinco de Mayo, or any old Taco Tuesday, or any day of the week!


Simple Slow Cooked Carnitas

1-3 lb. pork shoulder (Boston Butt)
1 onion, thinly sliced, lengthwise
2 cloves garlic, skins removed and smashed
2 t. vegetable oil
2 oz. (60 g) achiote paste (essential ingredient! get from a Mexican market or AmazonPrime)
1/2 c. pineapple juice
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (only use if you want heat–my kids won’t eat it if I do! but the flavor is fantastic.)
salt and pepper

Prepare slow cooker by spraying it with nonstick oil (a tip from Beth Hensperger–it helps with clean-up).

Place sliced onion, smashed garlic, and oil in a microwave-safe bowl. Toss to coat, and then cover with plastic wrap and microwave at high for five minutes. (This initial cooking helps eliminate the raw flavor of the onions and garlic by quickly cooking them. If you would rather, you can also do this step by sautéing over medium heat.)

In another small bowl, combine the achiote paste, chipotle chiles, and pineapple juice. Whisk to combine, although some bits of paste will not mix entirely–this is fine!

Rub the entire pork shoulder generously with salt and pepper, then place in the slow cooker, at high heat. Add the onion mixture, and then pour the pineapple juice mixture over the onions and pork. Toss to combine, if needed, then place the lid on top and cook at high for four hours. Turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook at least 2 hours, or up to four.

Once the meet is finished cooking, shred it with two forks. If desired, place in a shallow dish and put under a hot broiler for 3-4 minutes, to blacken the tips of the meat (or in a hot frying pan for about the same amount of time). I just think it looks prettier this way!

Serve with pineapple-jicama salsa, corn tortillas, sour cream, and cilantro. Enjoy!

Cumin-Infused Black Beans

Black Beans

Fantastic photo by Melissa Gallup

These simple black beans are just delicious! They are the perfect backdrop to a taco or burrito, or on a southwest salad, or just a delicious side dish. In fact, we’ve had these three times in the past week, and I’m beginning to be a big believer in having some beans in the fridge at all times since they are the perfect thing when you’re incredibly hungry. I used these as well for my Cinco de Mayo menu.

As I came to write down the recipe, I realized that you will have to pardon the approximations below. I know I’ll have to do specific measurements next time I make these, but it’s just more fun to throw the seasonings in the pan! Also, did you know that you don’t need to presoak black beans? If you have a little time, just throw them in a pot with 1″ water covering them, add a bay leaf and a pinch of baking soda (it preserves their color a bit), bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour with a lid partially covering the pot. So much more efficient and cost-effective than canned (even though I sometimes still don’t get around to doing it!).

Also, note the maybe-unconventional suggestion of using the canning liquid from the canned beans. I took this idea from the book The Food Lab where the author suggests that using this liquid increases the flavor in your dishes exponentially (okay, maybe he didn’t exactly say “exponentially,” but something like that). I’ve been really pleased with the results, even though I am fully aware that this liquid looks a little like something we should not ingest. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea, feel free to use chicken broth or just water, but you may be as much of a fan of this idea as I am!

Cumin-Infused Black Beans

2 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 c. cooked black beans, either from dried (see note above and reserve 1 c. cooking liquid) or from 2 cans, with canning liquid
3 generous dashes oregano
2 dashes cumin
1 dash coriander
salt and black pepper to taste (but be generous with your salt! Depending on the beans you use, start with 1/2-1 t. but you may need more!)
1/2 c. cilantro, stems removed and chopped and juice for one lime, if desired, to finish

Heat a 2-3 quart pot over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, wait for a minute, then add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until you can smell it, about 30 seconds, and then add the herbs, sautéing again for about 30 seconds.

Add the black beans to the pan, with the packing liquid if canned, or 1 c. cooking liquid (or water) if you cooked them from dried, and bring to a boil. Turn the pan down to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld, adding a little more water if necessary to give them a bit of a sauce. Serve with your favorite tacos, or just simply with rice or on top of some greens, chopping some cilantro and adding it to the top, along with a few squirts of lime, if desired.

Cinco de Mayo Party Menu

I got on board with a really fun project, planning and cooking the menu for my friend’s Cinco de Mayo party. I thought I’d share these really great and colorful recipes with you, in case you get the opportunity to have your own party. Everything was flavorful, bright, and fantastic. Can’t wait till my next party! The beautiful photos are courtesy of Melissa Gallup. So beautiful!

Salsas & Sides
Cilantro-Pineapple-Jicama Salsa
Cherry Tomato & Corn Salsa
Pickled Red Onions
Cumin-Infused Black Beans
Sweet Lime & Cilantro Rice

Salads
Watercress & Pepita Salad
Spicy Mexican Slaw
Watermelon & Mint Salad

Main Dish: Chili-rubbed Shrimp Tacos
Drink: Agua Fresca with Cantaloupe
Dessert: Passion Fruit Tres Leches Cake

So delicious!

Passion Fruit Tres Leches Cake

Passion Fruit Tres LechesI got thinking about one of my favorite Brazilian desserts, Passion Fruit mousse, and realized it has a lot in common with tres leches cake and actually could make a tres leches cake even more fantastic. So, I brought them together and loved the result. There really isn’t much else to compare passion fruit with! The flavor is just stunning, and now that a local market carries REAL passion fruit, I could even scoop some of the flesh out for a delightful finish on top of the cream. What a delicious dessert! I also put this as part of my cinco de mayo menu, and loved it.

Passion Fruit Tres Leches Cake

  • 12 T. (180 grams) butter (softened)
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 T. vanilla extract, divided
  • the grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 t. baking powder (cut down to 1 t. if at high altitude!)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup passion fruit pulp (I find this in the frozen section of a Latin American Market)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1/3 c. powdered sugar
  • passion fruit (fresh, pulp, to serve)

Prepare a small casserole dish (7″x 11″) or 8″ spring form pan by lightly greasing it. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place the butter and sugar in an electric mixer and beat for 8–10 minutes or until pale and creamy.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

To the butter and sugar mixture, add 1 T. of  vanilla extract and lemon zest and beat to combine. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and beat until just combined. Spoon the mixture into prepared pan lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Meanwhile, combine the milk, condensed milk, and the 1 c. passionfruit pulp in a medium bowl, whisking to combine. While the cake is still warm, use a skewer to make holes all over the top of the cake. Gradually pour the milk mixture over the cake. [If you prepare it this way, there will be a layer of passionfruit mousse on top of the cake, which the whipped cream will rest on top of. If you would like a moister cake with the passion fruit flavor seeped inside, first pour the passion fruit pulp over the cake, then, mix the milk with the sweetened condensed milk and pour over separately. When mixed together, the passion fruit and sweetened condensed milk will make a mousse that will not seep into the cake.] Let the cake rest and room temperature for one hour, and then refrigerate it for 2-3 hours or until the milk mixture is absorbed.
Just before serving, place the cream, powdered sugar, and 1 T. vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk until soft peaks form (or beat in a stand mixer!). Top the cake with the cream and drizzle with fresh passionfruit pulp to serve.

Chili-Rubbed Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp Tacos

Beautiful photo by Melissa Gallup!

This simple taco recipe is the perfect weeknight meal. It comes together in minutes, and the flavor is fantastic! I loved prepping all the accompaniments and letting them shine against the shrimp. This recipe also comes from McMillan’s Taco Night, and is part of my Cinco de Mayo menu.

Chili-Rubbed Shrimp Tacos

  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed

In a bowl, toss the shrimp with the canola oil, chili powder, and salt. Set aside.

Warm a grill pan or a nonstick frying pan over high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the shrimp and grill or sear, turning once, until bright pink and opaque throughout, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the shrimp to a plate.

To assemble, fill the tortillas with the shrimp, dividing them evenly. Pile a few big pinches or a scoop of the Mexican slaw on each and serve right away, passing the pineapple-jicama salsa.

Cilantro-Pineapple-Jicama Salsa

Pineapple Jicama

Salsa in the front right, photo by Melissa Gallup

I love this quick, fruity, and bright salsa. I’ve had it with chips, beans, and shrimp tacos. Great every time! Definitely try it with the Chili-rubbed Shrimp Tacos! This recipe is from McMillan’s Taco Night.

Cilantro-Pineapple-Jicama Salsa

  • 1/3 c. finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 peeled pineapple, cut into 1/4-inch dice (3 cups)
  • 1 cup jicama, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño—stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, combine the red onion, lime juice, pineapple, jicama, cilantro, and jalapeño to the bowl and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Let the salsa stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Serve right away or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

 

 

Banana Cake 2

I made this cake because it came to my email box the other day, and it just sounded really good. Plus, it got the billing that it was one of the favorite recipes of all time on bon appetit‘s website. That claim surprised me a little because very few people have reviewed it (and it only gets three forks?!!) on their site, but having said that, what a fantastic recipe! I could tell by the ingredients that this cake had a lot going for it, and the best thing about it is that all the tastes are in great balance, sweet and salty and chocolatey. I made it in a 9″x 13″ pan instead of two circle pans, because it’s more of a casual cake in my opinion, but otherwise stayed true to the original. Delicious! Everyone was poking around the kitchen the next morning, hoping to find a little extra left for breakfast. Guess that just means we need to make it again!

Banana Chocolate Chip Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

Cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas
1 cup sour cream
1 10-ounce bag mini chocolate chips

Frosting:
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, and chocolate kisses

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pans with parchment; coat paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients; beat on low speed just to blend. Add bananas and sour cream; beat just to blend. Fold in mini chips. Divide batter evenly among pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes (50 minutes, if using 9×13). Transfer to wire racks; let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; peel off parchment and let cool completely.

For frosting:
(Note: If using a 9×13 pan, a half recipe of the frosting is enough.) Using an electric mixer, beat first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl until a light and fluffy frosting forms, 2-3 minutes.

Place 1 cake on a platter. Spread 1 1/4 cups frosting over. Place remaining cake on top. Cover top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Garnish with chocolate chips and kisses. DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frostin

 

 

 

Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

 

Carrot Cake Sandwich 2

Milk & Cookies because it seemed like such a great kid treat, and by leaving the raisins out, my kids just loved them. Although they didn’t turn out to be the most graceful cookies (I blame high altitude! I’m playing with this recipe a little more to get the measurements better for our height), I’m happy to add them to the luncheon we’re having tomorrow for both Easter and for my son’s baptism. Seems like a great addition to the table, along with the Hot Cross Buns I loved last year at Easter. I think I’ll make them a little smaller, and I’m sure they’ll be gorgeous and well loved. 

Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups Cream Cheese Filling (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with nonstick silicone bakings mats or parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a mixing bowl. Also, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for three minutes on medium speed, or until light and creamy. With the motor running, gradually add the brown sugar and granulated sugar, beating until ver light and creamy. 

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and when blended, gradually add the dry ingredients along with the oats, beating until completely incorporated. While the dough is still streaky, remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the paddle clean. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the carrots and raisins until evenly distributed. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon together into a large bowl. Add to the creamed mixture all at once and mix on low just until combined.

Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets using a tablespoon scoop about 2 inches apart. Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Rotate and switch the baking sheets as necessary for even baking.

Allow the cookies to cool for a minute on the baking sheets then transfer, using a spatula, to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Use an offset spatula to spread a few tablespoons of frosting on half of the cooled cookies, then sandwich the cookies together.

Store the cookies in a single layer in an airtight container.

Carrot Cake Sandwiches

Cream Cheese Filling

2 cups cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground allspice
3/4 t. vanilla

Put the cream cheese in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle. Begin beating on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes or until light and creamy.

With the motor running, add the sugar, ginger, and allspice, beating until very light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla.

Store, airtight, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

 

Mini Mint Brownies

Mini Mint Brownies

These two-bite, in-between-cupcake-and-brownie, treats are just delightful. They should only be made in a mini-muffin pan (they aren’t right for baking full-size), and as such, are great for little get togethers or late-night or after-school snacking. [This is quickly becoming a hyphen-heavy post.] I took Alice Medrich’s advice (it is her recipe, after all) and added some mint ganache to the top, which makes these little bites even more of a treat. And, the green sprinkles seemed to dress them up even for St. Patrick’s Day. This recipe comes from Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy book, where she calls them “Lucy’s Chocolate Minis.”

Mini Mint Brownies

  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/3 cups (9.33 ounces) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Combine the flour, cocoa, and salt in a small bowl and mix thoroughly with a whisk or fork.

Place the butter and chocolate in a medium to large heatproof bowl set directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are melted and quite warm to the touch. Remove the bowl from the water bath. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well to blend each before adding the next. Add the flour mixture and whisk just until smooth and blended, not longer.

Spoon about 1 ½ tablespoons of the batter into each muffin cup — the batter will come almost to the top of each liner. Bake for 14-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Rotate the pans from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. Cool the cakes on a rack.

Mint Ganache

  • ¼ cup lightly-packed, coarsely-chopped fresh mint leaves [This is unavailable for me right now, so I used peppermint oil instead, meaning I just put a few drops of oil in the cream when heating]
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 6 ounces white chocolate (not chocolate chips), very finely chopped

Stir the chopped mint into the cream. Cover and refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 12 hours. Strain the cream into a small saucepan, pressing gently on the leaves to drain out as much cream as you can. Discard the mint leaves. Heat the cream to a simmer. Meanwhile, put the chocolate into a clean bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Cool; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

To use, remove the ganache from the refrigerator and check its consistency. If it is smooth and creamy, it can be used right away. If the ganache is too fluid or soft to spread without dripping, stir it vigorously with a rubber spatula for a few seconds (it will appear to soften; don’t worry) and return to the fridge for a few minutes, then check again.