It’s an impossibly beautiful, crisp and sunny Chicago fall, my uterus is now the size of a pumpkin (how festive!), and the cooking strike in Casa DiCosola continues. Dinners these days consist of cinnamon toast crunch, apples and peanut butter, fun-size snickers, english muffins and string cheese (yes, all in one night; no, not necessarily in that order).
Good thing I have this little fall-themed gem of a post in my back pocket from last year. In a sea of pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads and pumpkin lattes, these pumpkin pork enchiladas are a refreshing change of pace.
One batch of carnitas (recipe here)
4 cups pumpkin
24 small corn tortillas
3-4 cups shredded quesadilla cheese (I like La Chona brand, but anything in similar packaging will be good)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Seasoned baked pumpkin seeds and queso fresco for garnish (optional)
1/2 cup liquid from carnitas
1 cup pumpkin
1/8 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare your carnitas and harvest 1/2 cup juice toward the end of cooking. Set aside or refrigerate if you’re preparing in advance.
For the pumpkin filling, you can use the canned stuff or pie pumpkins. I went the difficult route because I’m fancy like that. If you’re inclined to do the same, cut the pumpkin in large chunks, remove the seeds, drizzle with a little butter or olive oil and bake, covered, at 375 degrees for about 45 min, or however long it takes for the pumpkin to be fork tender. After it cools, remove the meat and discard the skin.
Prepare the enchilada sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
To assemble your enchiladas, place a dollop of the pumpkin mix in the middle of a corn tortilla and some carnitas on top, and roll up the tortilla. Place each enchilada seam-side down in a casserole dish. Arrange the enchiladas tightly in the pan so they don’t fall apart during baking. Once you’ve filled the pan, drizzle the sauce (and spread with a spatula if necessary) over the enchiladas and sprinkle generously with cheese.
Garnish with pumpkin seeds and queso fresco.
My garden is filling in nicely, and all this green has me inspired. This pasta salad is a little taste of spring—exploding with nutritional superstars. There are enough greens to make it healthy, but enough pasta and cheese to make it a treat.
Dave devoured it, so you can trust that it’s delicious in spite of itself.
Don’t skimp on the lemon—it brings the taste to the next level.
Go green pasta salad
1 lb pasta
1 cup peas
3 cups baby arugula
12 stalks asparagus
12 large brussels sprouts
4 green onion stalks, chopped
Juice from one whole lemon
A block of pecorino or other hard italian cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
For pea pesto:
1/2 cup peas
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup baby arugula
Cook pasta to al dente. Strain and then toss with pea pesto (add gradually—you might not need all of it). Set aside and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat. Chop asparagus and brussels sprouts into small, bite-sized pieces and cook in boiling water until slightly tender. You’ll want to remove the veggies from the heat before they lose their green color (and all their nutrients) so have an ice bath ready. When they begin to get tender, strain the veggies and add them straight to the ice bath.
When the pasta has cooled, add brussels sprouts, asparagus, chopped green onion, peas and arugula. Finish with a generous shaving of cheese, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
A couple of Saturdays ago, I dragged my cooking club ladies down the paleo rabbit hole—with quite astonishing results. We gorged ourselves on shepherd’s pie, shrimp cakes, lettuce wraps, bacon-wrapped dates, meatballs, key lime pie, chocolate banana pie and last but not least, insanely rich, beef short ribs—bursting with flavor and piled high atop rosemary and bacon-studded sweet potatoes.
Dave eyed the feast from afar, then dove in for the kill as the girls distractedly lingered over paleo-approved palomas.
As for the short ribs, I hesitate to even call them paleo. Nothing is sacrificed, nothing left to be desired. The only thing that could possibly make this dish better is a loaf of crusty french bread to mop up the juices.
mmmm …. bread …
Sorry. Anyway, as I was saying, the recipe is slow, but you can feel the love in the finished dish—and the flavor is worth every minute.
Wine-braised beef short rib with rosemary and bacon sweet potatoes (shhh … it’s paleo!)
(adapted from Saveur)
4 lbs beef short ribs, bone in
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 bottle (750 ml) tawny port
3 cups beef stock
3 cups water
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper
For sweet potatoes:
three large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 sprigs rosemary
3/4 cup ghee (or butter)
8 slices bacon
1/4 tsp white pepper
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Generously season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in large stove and oven-proof pot/baking dish over high heat (I used my big cast iron enamel Le Creuset—it will have to be large enough to hold all of the ingredients). Add ribs and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add veggies to the pot and cook for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Deglaze with port and cook for about 15 minutes, or until port is reduced by about three-quarters.
Return ribs to pot and add stocks and water. Bring to a boil, then cover with a lid or foil and put in the oven.
Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until the ribs begin to break apart easily with a fork. Remove from oven and allow pot to cool. You can refrigerate overnight, or, like I did, let it cool for a couple of hours or so, then complete the next steps as your dinner guests arrive.
The next day or about an hour before you aim to serve dinner, transfer pot to stove and simmer over medium heat for about an hour, until the sauce begins to thicken into a syrupy consistency and concentrate in flavor. Spoon liquid over ribs every now and then as the dish heats and move the ribs around as necessary to make sure they don’t burn.
At the same time you put the ribs back on the stove, cook your sweet potatoes in a covered baking dish with butter or ghee and rosemary in a 375-degree oven for about an hour or until tender. When cooked through, add bacon and puree sweet potatoes (along with the rosemary and butter).
Serve short ribs over sweet potatoes and topped with a healthy ladle of sauce from the pot.
This paleo stuff isn’t for the weak-willed. Carb cravings sneak up on you when you least expect them. To survive, you need some serious substitutes—dishes that make you forget the fact that bagels, cheese, candy, crackers and every other guilty pleasure you can imagine are no where in your near future.
For me, one of those dishes is this paleo curry.
I was highly skeptical of the “rice.” Dave, true to form, was skeptical I could get him to like cauliflower. Lucky for both of us, this carb-substitute came through in the clutch.
If you are going grain-free, paleo, gluten-free, or any other variation of this carb-free torture, this will be your saving grace when your worst hankerings kick in.
Note: I used bone-in chicken breast, and I’m convinced it adds flavor and depth to the dish. The only problem is, the meat gets so tender in the crockpot, the breasts virtually disintegrate, which means you’ll have to comb through with a fork and pick out the bones. If the prospect of accidentally feeding your family/eating partners a neglected chicken bone makes you nervous, go with boneless breasts. I was willing to take the risk—and subject Dave to a potential unpleasant surprise—in the name of taste. Fortunately, I managed to find and remove all of the bones.
Paleo curry with cauliflower rice
2 bone-in chicken breasts (see my note above about the bones)
2 carrots, diced
1 cup mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2/3 cup curry powder
2 cans coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 head cauliflower
This dish is pretty chicken heavy—if you prefer more veggies, I would use only one breast and double, or even triple the veggies. It will seem like a lot, but they shrink considerably during cooking.
First, brown the chicken breasts in olive oil over medium high. Place in crock pot with cut veggies, minus the cauliflower.
Mix curry powder, coconut milk and stock until blended and pour over chicken and veggies. Cook on low, covered, for 8 hours.
For the cauliflower rice, process the cauliflower with a grater, blender or food processor. You want the cauliflower bits to be about the size of grains of rice. Steam in the microwave (no added liquid—the moisture in the vegetable will do the work), in a covered dish, until tender, stirring every few minutes. It took mine about 10 minutes total.
Serve curry over hot rice.
Where’s your mind going? I’m talking about the soup, people. While sweet potato fries usually get all the love, this soup deserves a little attention. Velvety, rich, sweet, savory—and with a sneaking heat that will warm on even the coldest days—you’ll want to keep a batch of this stuff on hand all winter long.
Sweet potato chorizo soup
2 large sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 yellow onion chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp white pepper
8 oz chorizo
Sour cream for garnish
Crumble chorizo in a skillet and cook on medium heat until cooked through, stirring constantly—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Peel potatoes and cut into small cubes.
Melt butter in stock pot over medium heat. Cook onions in butter for 2-3 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until potatoes begin to get tender, stirring frequently.
Add the rest of the chicken stock and spices, cooking for an additional several minutes until potatoes are cooked through.
Puree soup in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add more chicken stock. Stir in chorizo. Serve hot and garnish with a dollop of sour cream.
There are some things that make me proud to claim Tucson as my hometown. The breathtaking Santa Catalina mountains. The constant sunshine. And Café Poca Cosa—almost certainly the best restaurant in the city by a desert mile.
There’s no question that owner Suzana Davila’s creative, authentic and upscale Mexican cuisine (sans guacamole and sour cream) could
survive thrive in any of the country’s cutthroat culinary proving grounds—from NYC to Chicago. But pleas from restauranteurs to open locations in other cities have fallen on deaf ears. Suzana—and her melt in your mouth chicken mole and moan-inducing tamale pies—are staying put in the Old Pueblo. And that makes me smile.
Another thing that I love, love, love about Suzana is her refusal to sacrifice her culinary prowess in the face of popular demand. The ever-changing (twice daily!) Poca Cosa menu has a mere dozen-or-so entree choices—no distracting appetizers and absolutely no alterations or substitutions. What you get is a beautiful dish that is exactly as the chef intended it. ¡Que fantastico!
Lucky for me, I got inside access to Poca Cosa(thanks Candice!)—and two of Suzana’s most delicious dishes: chicken in mole verde and shredded chicken in mole de chilhaucle. Lucky for you, dear BWB readers, I’m sharing these treasured recipes with you.
Mole de chilhaucle with shredded chicken
8 skinned chicken breasts (bone-in)
32 oz. sesame seeds
16 oz. fresh almonds, shelled
8 oz. roasted peanuts, shelled
4 large roma tomatoes
12 cloves of garlic
3 yellow onions
10 chilhaucle chilis
6 pasilla chilis
3 guajillo chilis
3 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon oregano
8 oz. red chili powder
2 oz. sugar
4 oz. vegetable oil (soy or canola works best)
8-10 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breasts in a large pot with enough water to yield a gallon of broth. Cut up one carrot, one onion and one garlic clove and add to the pot. Cook for 20 minutes at medium-high heat, making sure the liquid simmers, but does not come to a rolling boil. Remove the chicken breasts from the pot and pick the chicken from the bones. Refrigerate. Season broth with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour about half of the vegetable oil in a sauté pan and add the nuts and sesame seeds and brown until golden. Set aside.
Roast peppers, garlic and one onion under the broiler, turning until they are lightly charred all around.
Mix the nuts and vegetables, in small batches, in a food processor or blender.
In a large, dry sauce pan, toast the chili powder, oregano, cloves and cinnamon. Remove the spices and set aside. Cut up the remaining onion and cook it in the pan with the remaining oil. Add the veggie mix from the food processor and the seasonings and cook for 20 minutes over medium heat, gradually adding broth to maintain a loose but thick consistency. Add sugar, a little more broth and the shredded chicken. Serve with tortillas.
Chicken in mole verde
6 corn tortillas
Vegetable oil for frying tortillas
1 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup hulled, raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
4 large garlic cloves
3 fresh poblano chilis, chopped
4 fresh serrano chilis, chopped
1 1/2 cups husked tomatillos, chopped
1 large bunch fresh corriander (about 2 cups packed)
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
about 4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons safflower oil
3 lbs cooked chicken, turkey or pork
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 1/4 inch vegetable oil on medium-high until hot but not smoking. Fry tortillas in batches until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and break into pieces when cool.
In a dry heavy skillet, toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown (about 8 minutes) and set aside. Repeat with the pumpkin seeds for about 2-3 minutes (until they puff up but do not darken). Finally, repeat with nuts for 2-3 minutes. Set all nuts and seeds aside.
In a food processor, blend garlic, chilis, tomatillos, corriander, lettuce, tortilla chips and 1 1/2 to 2 cups broth until the mixture forms a thick paste. Add nuts and blend until combined, but not smooth.
In a large saucepan, heat the safflower oil over medium-high heat until hot and add sauce. Cook, stirring frequently, adding broth as necessary to reach a thick, pasty consistency—about 12 minutes. Stir in meat and cook for 1o more minutes, stirring constantly. Serve mole with tortillas.
Another thing to visit Poca Cosa for—Cup Quequitos from Suzana’s daughter, Shanali. With more than 100 flavors of vegan cupcakes—and counting—every meal there can have a sweet ending.
Thanks again to Suzana and her staff for welcoming (and feeding) us!
I like horror—maybe a little too much, judging by my Netflix queue. Many a night, Dave flings the bedroom door open to find me in the glow of some weird B-grade horror movie.
What can I say, I love things that are a little sick and twisted. Which is why I say, screw the cutesy Halloween decor—give me fake bugs and terrifying zombie props. Scouring Pinterest, I found some equally spooky Halloween bites:
Spider web dip
Refried beans, covered in a layer of guacamole, surrounded by a ring of salsa and shredded cheese, decorated with a “spider web” of sour cream. I put the sour cream in a plastic bag, cut the tip and piped circles onto the guac, then took a toothpick and dragged it from the innermost circle to the outside. Worked like a charm.
Rice Krispies treat vampire skull
Just follow the good-old-fashioned Rice Krispies treat recipe. To form the skull, I scraped the mixture out of the bowl and onto a sheet of parchment paper. Then, I sprayed a sheet of plastic wrap with a little Pam, placed it over the mound, and started forming the skull with my hands.
My new GIR Spatula arrived just in time (thanks for the preview GIR folks!) to do the heavy lifting. When tasked with testing/reviewing the strength and functionality of a spatula, the ever-challenging Rice Krispies Treat Stir test is about as tough as it gets. The GIR Spatula passed with flying colors.
Anyway, back to the spooky stuff:
Mummified treats: Mummy hand baked brie and mummy cocktail weenies
For the mummy hand, simply cover a wheel of brie with a full sheet of puff pastry or crescent roll dough (I used the pre-made full sheets of crescent roll dough you find in the same area as the pre-made pie crusts). You’ll need another sheet of the dough to cut up in strips and wrap around the wheel to make it look “mummified”. To form the fingers, roll a strip in a sort of spiral around itself. For the longer fingers, you can stretch it out a bit. Push each finger onto the palm part of the hand and blend the dough together. Bake at 375 degrees until golden brown. Make things really spooky by drizzling “blood” (i.e., fruit jam) on top. Serve with crackers.
For the cocktail weenies. cut thin strips of pie crust dough (again, go with the pre-made stuff if you want to maintain your sanity) and wrap them around the weenies. Cover the top of each weenie with a little pie dough “cap.” Bake at 375 until golden brown.
Maggots ‘n’ cheese (mac ‘n’ cheese in a bread “coffin”)
This was one of my favorites. Cut off the very top of a loaf of bread (we used ciabatta), so it’s still “hinged” onto the bottom portion. Hollow out the bottom half of the bread and fill it with mac ‘n’ cheese (I maintain that Alton Brown’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe is the best ever, but my sister and I usually doctor it up with about double the cheese). Sprinkle the top with more cheese and panko crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until the bread is looking a little toasty and the top layer of the mac ‘n’ cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Top with a little plastic skeleton.
Finally, the least scary, but possibly most addicting of the Halloween foods …
This stuff is like crack, so consider yourself warned. I assume no responsibility if, after eating this, you wake up with a sugar-induced hangover, covered in cool whip and clutching an empty, caramel-streaked baking dish.
Cupcakes made for easier party eating, but I think the cake is the way to go in terms of maximum deliciousness.
Mix all of the above with ridiculously awesome Pinterest-scavenged DIY halloween decorations, fun people in costumes and lots of liquor, and scary things are bound to happen.
Happy Halloween … MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Delicious as the may be, it’s a wonder that people eat perch. They are notorious for swallowing the hook; they have sharp, spiny fins that will slice your hand open when you try to release them from said hook; and you have to catch dozens of them to get a decent meal out of it. Not to mention how tedious they must be to filet. I, myself, have no firsthand knowledge of that last part, since, fishing for them as a child during summers on the St. Lawrence river, I actually didn’t think they were edible. We’d catch them, yell for our dad or uncle to come release them and pray they wouldn’t come floating back up to the surface.
Having since moved to the midwest, I’ve now experienced them in all of their golden-fried glory. Perch are Dave’s favorite—so imagine his delight when we stumbled across them a few weekends ago at the Green City Market. An undeniable splurge at 17 bucks a pound, but like I said, it can’t be easy to butcher those suckers.
So it was a dinner of beer-battered perch sliders with homemade tartar sauce, washed down with some of our city’s finest: Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale.
1 lb of perch filets
1 12-oz can of beer
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
Extra flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying
Prepare beer batter by mixing beer, flour and salt.
Heat oil to 375 degrees.
Near the stove, dredge each filet in flour and dip in batter. Transfer immediately to the frying oil, slowly lowering each piece into the oil with tongs. Doing this slowly gives the batter time to solidify before you release the piece into the oil, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides of the pan. Fry in batches, each batch for about 2-4 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove and let drain on paper towels.
Prepare tarter sauce by mixing 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of chopped sweet pickles, 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic and the juice from half of a lemon.
These are A-MAZ-ING as sliders made with soft dinner rolls slathered in tarted sauce. Best of all—no fishing required.
The only reliable thing about Chinese food delivery is the fortune cookie at the bottom of the bag. Wait, no, I take that back. I recall a traumatizing meal in which, after finishing my mediocre orange chicken dish, I reached into the takeout bag only to feel napkins and chopsticks. The memory is burned into my brain.
Assuming you do get your prophetic little treat, your meal isn’t totally ruined. But everything else is a crapshoot. Soggy egg rolls, chewy mystery meat, limp veggies, dry rice: all potential land mines packed neatly in gleaming white takeout boxes.
Forgo your next round of Chinese Takeout Roulette, spring for some real chicken and heat up the frying pan. And for the love of God, don’t forget the fortune cookies.
Better-than-takeout Orange Chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-2-inch pieces
1 12-oz beer
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra flour for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups orange juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch or flour
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper (if you don’t like a touch of spice, leave this out)
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon honey
Combine all sauce ingredients in a saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir and heat for several minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat oil (enough to cover chicken pieces completely once you put them in) in a pot to 375 degrees. Prepare beer batter by mixing beer, flour and salt. Set up your batter station close to the fryer so you can bring the chicken immediately out of the batter and into the fryer. This can get a little messy.
First dip chicken in flour to coat, then, using tongs, dip chicken pieces in the beer batter, then put them immediately into the hot oil. Here’s an important tip: slowly submerge each chicken piece in the oil for a second or two to let the batter firm up before you release the piece into the oil. This will prevent the chicken from sticking to the bottom or sides of the pan. Be careful though, you might get spattered with specks of hot oil. All in the name of homestyle faux takeout.
Cook chicken pieces in batches for about 3-5 minutes in the oil, or until golden brown. Cut a piece to test for doneness and gauge cooking time. Place on a plate with paper towels.
When the chicken is almost all fried, re-heat your sauce, if necessary. Toss fried chicken pieces in hot sauce or drizzle over the top of the chicken. Serve over a bed of rice and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.
People are always impressed when I cook risotto. Dave knows better: Delicious it is; a culinary achievement it is not. Not to say that I don’t appreciate artfully crafted restaurant risotto. Or that the inventor of the dish isn’t a genius. That person deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. But I digress.
Risotto is perhaps one of the easiest, no-brainer, no-measurement-needed, no-recipe-needed meals you can make. So much so that I hesitate to even give an actual recipe.
Here’s the thing: In my opinion, many of the things that go wrong with risotto come from using a recipe in the first place. Make risotto the way I do, and this dish it utterly foolproof:
Two pots. One with rice and cooked chopped onion. One with stock, kept hot over low heat. Add a few ladles of liquid at a time to the rice pot. Stir constantly. When the stock is absorbed into the rice, add more stock. Repeat until the rice is cooked to desired tenderness. Add butter, cheese, salt, pepper and any other ‘fixins to taste. That’s it.
If you’re a first-timer, use my recipe as a gauge. You’ll be cooking by muscle memory like an old Italian nonna in no time.
Pea and pancetta risotto
What you’ll need:
2 cups arborio rice
8-10 cups chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shredded parmesan or asiago cheese (experiment with different types of cheeses—I added a small bit of soft italian sheep’s milk cheese in my last batch)
6 oz. diced pancetta
1/2 cup peas
salt and pepper to taste
Put stock in a pot on the stove. Heat on medium. Once the stock is hot, turn burner to low. Stock shouldn’t simmer or boil, it’s just on the stovetop to stay warm.
Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until cooked and slightly browned. Set aside.
Cook chopped onion with olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When onion is translucent and tender, add rice. Cook for a minute or so, constantly stirring, until rice is coated and beginning to turn translucent.
Add a few ladles full of broth to the rice pot and stir constantly. The constant stirring not only helps to keep the rice from sticking to the pan, but also releases the starches in the rice to create that divine, thick, creaminess that is the hallmark of the dish.
When the rice has absorbed the stock, add more. Repeat. After 15 minutes or so, taste the rice every so often to test for doneness. Continue to add stock and let it absorb until the rice is cooked to the desired tenderness. If you run out of stock, use warm water.
Risotto can be anywhere from slightly soupy to what I would describe as a mac ‘n’ cheese consistency. I prefer it somewhere in the middle. If the rice is cooked but you want a thinner consistency, add a little more stock right before you add the last few ingredients.
Stir in butter, cheese, cooked pancetta and peas. Add salt and pepper to taste.