Asian pork al pastor

Pork tacos

Asian pork al pastor, that’s a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it? There are cooks who cringe at the bastardization of traditional recipes. How dare I use soy sauce as a substitute for achiote, as there are absolutely no similarities between the two. This is know, but I needed something for color and flavor, and when I added some minced ginger, garlic and sesame oil and the Asian pork al pastor was born. Do not judge, until you try it.

Grilling is definitely the best method to cook the pork. After marinating in pineapple overnight, the meat is made so tender from the fruit’s enzymes that it is almost falling apart. So you certainly need some kind of grid to place on the grill grates if you decide that this is the way to go. The other option is to cook the meat in a pan in the stove top, but you won’t achieve the same smokey results. Also, if you fire up the grill, you may as well grill your tortillas as well. The combination of the sweet, tender pork, smokey tortillas and the spicy pineapple salsa is a classic one, with a bit of an Asian twit. Because that’s how I roll.

Ignore the weird shadows cast by the window blinds...

Ignore the weird shadows cast by the window blinds…

Loosely adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Tacos al Pastor

Marinade

1 cup sliced pineapple in juice

1/2 medium onion

juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

2 tsp minced ginger

1 tbls minced garlic

1 tbls sesame oil

1 whole jalapeno

Tacos

2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of fat, cut into 1/4 inch slices

corn or flour tortillas

pineapple salsa

Preparation

1. Add all marinade ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Combine marinade and sliced pork into a large ziploc bag, mix, seal and place into a large bowl. Allow to marinate in fridge for at least 4 hours and up to one day.

2. Preheat grill to medium high heat.

3. Drain pork from marinade and grill on a grill grid or basket over medium high heat until center of meat is no longer pink.

4. Once pork is cooked, wrap in foil to keep warm.

5. Grill tortillas until warm and blistered in some spots. Serve pork on tortillas with pineapple salsa.

Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa

Today the calendar says October, but with the temps still in the low 80’s here, I can’t help but feel its still early September. And I hate it. It just doesn’t seem right that I’m wearing shorts and sandals in October. The Canadian in me yearns for the cooler, more comfortable weather, the boots and bonfires, the apple picking and pumpkin carving. Yes, I love all of the cliches of autumn, because they are comforting and remind me of family.

Despite all of this, I just can’t cook like its fall. It’s just too damn warm to fire up the oven and braise a roast. Thankfully, a cold front is rolling in next week. But today I made pineapple salsa to go along with the Asian pork tacos I’ll be grilling later on. I couldn’t find any organic pineapple at the store, but there were organic jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. I love how the spicy kick is tempered by the sweetness of the fruit. It might say October, but here’s a salsa recipe to go with the last of the Indian summer.

Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa
2 cups fresh pineapple, chunked
2 organic jalapeños, small dice (you can remove the seeds and ribs, but I left them in for the spice)
1/2 medium red onion, small dice
2 cloves organic garlic, minced
2 tsp minced ginger
Juice of 1 lime
1 large handful of organic cilantro, chopped
1 tbls sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
1. Combine all ingredients. Let stand at room temperature for an hour, or in the fridge for at least 2 hours to let flavors develop.

2. Serve with grilled fish, chicken or pork or with chips.

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Blueberry  Streusel Coffee Cake

I had reservations about posting this particular recipe. Not that it came out all that badly, just that I’m not a fan of blueberries. Initially, the berries had been purchased because I saw this amazing smoothie recipe on Pinterest, that when combined with handfulls of spinach, dollops of yogurt and a spoonfull of chia seeds, promised to help me lose weight and get gorgeously glossy hair. Ultimately, it was all for naught. While I really didn’t mind the taste of the spinach, I just am not a fan of blueberries. Ah well, next time maybe I’ll try it with raspberries.

Anyways, back to the coffee cake. If it weren’t for the blueberries that ruined it for me, the cake turned out pretty well. The combination of the chunky streusel and the moist, tangy cake would have been a winner, if it weren’t tainted by the blueberries. Are you sold yet? If you like blueberries, you’ll like this recipe. Myself? Let’s just say my colleagues and the hubs benefited by my poor berry choices.

Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen and PBS Food

Streusel Topping
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour

Coffee Cake
1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 heaping cups organic blueberries
1 tbls flour

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 inch square baking pan.

2. For the streusel, add sugar, spices and butter in a small bowl. Then add the flour with a spoon, mixing it together until it resembles kneaded dough. Put aside until later.

3. For the cake, mix butter and sugar on medium speed of a stand mixer. Add vanilla and egg and mix until combined.

4. In a separate medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

5. On low speed, stir in buttermilk and dry ingredients until just combined.

6. Mix the tablespoon of flour with the blueberries. Carefully fold in the blueberries into the batter. Spread batter into prepared pan. Using fingers, sprinkle streusel on top of batter by breaking into large crumbs.

7. Bake cake in center rack of oven, until a toothpick comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

8. Cool completely and serve.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

Classic spaghetti and meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs. Quintessentially comforting, a warm hug of pasta strands, sweet and tangy tomato sauce, and satisfyingly meaty balls. It also conjures up a notable SNL sketch with Alec Baldwin and two NPR radio hosts, but I digress. Spaghetti and meatballs may be a simple thing, but it often can go wrong in so many ways. Unrecognizable meat, canned sauce, and mushy pasta a la Chef Boyardee comes to mind, but even an attempt at homemade meatballs may bring about tough meat if mixed with too heavy of a hand or with the wrong proportions of meat. My 5th grade international fair saw my first attempt at the dish, and since then I have been trying replicate it. Seriously, it was that good my friends. Sadly, I did not write down the recipe, nor do I remember where I got it from. All I do remember was that the mix involved fresh bread crumbs, ground pork and beef and grated cheese.

What follows is the culmination of twenty odd years of experimenting with different ratios of pork and beef, fresh breadcrumbs versus dried, Parmesan or Romano. It is a very loose adaptation of Epicurious’ popular Spaghetti with Sicilian meatballs

The magic ratio here is 2 parts ground chuck to one part ground pork. More pork and the meatballs aren’t beefy enough, too much beef and they lose that yielding tenderness. Soaking the breadcrumbs in milk also adds to the succulent texture of the meatballs. While finishing their cooking in the simple sauce causes them to release their juices to create a lovely, unctuous tomatoey gravy. Top it all with a sprinkling of nutty parm, and you end up with a delicious dish. Good times, good times.

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Yields 8 servings

Tomato Sauce
3 cans (28 oz) organic crushed tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
2 tsp (or more) red pepper flakes
1 tbls dried oregano
1 tbls sugar
Salt
Pepper

Grated Parmesan, for serving.

Meatballs
1 lb ground pork
2 lbs ground beef chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup organic Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely shredded
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
3 slices bread, torn into large crumbs
1/2 organic milk
3 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Meatball preparation

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position racks evenly in the oven.
2. Combine meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, but lightly with hands moistened with water.
3. Using hands, shape out 2 inch meatballs, scooping out the meat and gently rolling it into a ball using the palm of your hand. Take care not to compress the meat too much as this results in a dense meatball.
4. Continue to roll out balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. You should have about 24 meatballs in total on 2 cookie sheets.
5. Bake meatballs for 30 mins. Do not worry if meatballs are not cooked all the way through, they will finish cooking in the sauce.

Sauce preparation
1. Sauté onions and garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat, until translucent.
2. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.
3. Let sauce simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally until meatballs are done.
4. Once meatballs are done, add to the simmering sauce, removing any solid fat that may have adhered to the meatballs.
5. Simmer sauce and meatballs over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pasta preparation
1. While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
2. After adding meatballs to sauce, add pasta to the boiling water.
3. Cook pasta according to directions, or until al dente.
4. Drain pasta and assemble dish, serving 2-3 meatballs per person. Top with grated parmesan.

There will be plenty of leftover meatballs, which are great as leftovers, or assembled on a nice crusty roll with mozzarella as a sandwich. Leftovers meatballs in sauce also freeze well, and can be defrosted in the microwave.