Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Roasted Salt and Spice Packed Pork

I made this for Christmas dinner this year and it was a hit! It is definitely a dish for a special occasion. The salt and spice crust locks in moisture and adds more flavor than you may think. If you make this for company, make sure they are present before you remove the crust. It has such a fun presentation it would be a shame for people not to see it. 
The recipe calls for freshly ground spices. I have a small coffee grinder that I use only for spices. If you don't have a spice/coffee grinder, I think it would be okay to use already ground spices. The advantage to using freshly ground spices is that they have a stronger flavor. It is important to use coarse kosher salt because the salt grains are much larger than table salt.

I used a large oven safe pan instead of a roasting pan. I like using the a oven safe pan because in my mind it fits better over the burner while you are searing it. It makes no difference though. Before you settle on a pan, make sure the pork will fit. The recipe is a lot easier than it may seem. The total active cooking time is about 30 minutes and the rest of the time it is in the oven. Make sure to just have fun with it! You will have a lot of intrigued guests, when you pull it out of the oven and take the crust off. The presentation and unveiling of the meal is half the fun sometimes!
Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit 
1 5-pound bone-in pork rib roast, chine bone removed
1 teaspoon plus 8 cups coarse kosher salt (3 3/4 to 4 pounds)
1 teaspoon plus 2/3 cups freshly ground black pepper (3 1/2 to 4 ounces)
1/3 cup freshly ground fennel seeds (1 to 1 1/4 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup freshly ground whole allspice (1 to 1 1/4 ounces)
1/3 cup freshly ground juniper berries (about 1 ounce)
1 cup water
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, with a rack positioned in the middle of the oven.
  2. Rub 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and a1/3 cup fennel all over the pork. Heat olive oil in a large heavy oven proof pan OR roasting pan over medium-high heat. It is very important the oil is heated first. Place the pork, fat side down, in the pan. Cook until browned on all sides and ends, using tongs to hold it upright if necessary. Transfer to a baking sheet and let cool for 20 minutes.
  3. Combine 8 cups salt, 2/3 cup pepper, allspice and juniper, in the same pan you seared the pork. Stir to combine. Add one cup water and stir to moisten. Spread 3/4 of the mixture to 1 side of the pan, spreading the remainder into a strip as a base for the pork to rest on. Place the pork into the pan, bone side down, on the salt base. Pack the remaining salt over the pork, enclosing entirely.
  4. Roast pork in salt crust until an instant read thermometer inserted straight down into pork from the top center reads 165F, about 2 1/2 hours.
  5. Transfer pan to a work surface. Let pork rest 10 to 20 minutes. Remove all salt from around pork, brushing an remaining salt off. Transfer to a cutting board and carve.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cocoa "Cup" Cakes

I made this as another Christmas gift to my sister-in-law. The recipe is courtesy of Gale Gand, a Chicago chef. It is from another book, Chocolate and Vanilla, I had the pleasure of having the chef sign! She was outside of Cafe Soleil, before it moved and became Graze, in Madison during a farmers market. My mom thought I should get the book and have her sign it. How could I say no? She also hosted a phenomenal show on the Food Network, Sweet Dreams, a long time ago.
I have made these before with friends and it was loads of fun. Be sure to put these on a rimmed baking sheet. The first time I made them, we got carried away filling them and they overflowed like crazy. It looked really neat though and made for lots of laughing. I did it again this time, but not as bad, only half overflowed. The batter will be very thin, that is okay. If you don't want to make the recipe for 12, I have cut the recipe in half before. I used two eggs because I wasn't sure how to halve three eggs, and it turned out equally as delicious cut in half.
The recipe calls for dutch processed cocoa which has been treated with an alkali, neutralizing acidity unlike natural cocoa powder. It also has a more mellow flavor and dissolves in liquids more easily, according to her book. It needs to be used with recipes using baking powder. Because it is neutral it will not react with baking soda, unless other ingredients are sufficiently acidic. I have only tried making this recipe with dutch-processed, but the instructions only recommend it.
The final "cup" cake is super moist and chocolaty, without being too sweet. You can serve them with whipped cream, frosting, ice cream or marshmallows. If you go with marshmallows, throw the cupcakes back into the oven under the broiler for a few minutes. I hope you enjoy making these and they would even make a great gift!

12 ceramic 8-ounce coffee cups
A rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan
3 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably dutch processed
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups very hot water


  1. Preheat the over to 350F. Place the cups 1 inch apart on rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and slat in the bowl of an electric mixing bowl with a whisk attachment. Blend to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla until combined. Add to the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed for 5 minutes. With the mixer on gradually add the the hot water, stirring until well blended. The batter should be thin.
  4. Pour the batter into the coffee cups to halfway. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Enjoy them warm or reheated in the microwave!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Persian Soup

The best Christmas presents I could have asked for this year were having my family all in one place. I haven't seen my brother or sister-in-law, Lindsay, in over 6 months. Well, they are finally back and Lindsay requested this soup. 

Lindsay is in a top secret language and intelligence program, learning Farsi. They spent some time learning about food and culture. The pictures and discussion in class on this soup were too much to handle, and she had to have it when she got home. I was happy to oblige in return for a little "top secret" knowledge. This is all I got--Persia is Iran, and Iranians speak Farsi. The actual name of the soup is Ash-e Reshteh, which translates roughly to "noodle soup". Apparently, that was the only information lowly civilians like us are permitted to hear.
The soup is fairly straight forward and easy. The dish takes 3 hours total, but only 20 minutes is spent actively preparing. Make sure you soak the beans the night before. We substituted the sun-dried yogurt with sour cream, and we used natural good quality grape juice, not juice cocktail. We also opted for the whole wheat noodles. The herbs, especially the dill, add a lot of brightness and flavor to the dish. Several hours after eating the soup, we realized the spinach was never added. It still tasted delicious, and we all loved it.

This recipe is courtesy of her teachers wife.

1/4 cup oil
3 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp tumeric
1/4 cup dried kidney beans, washed and soaked in cold water for at
least 4 hours, then drained
1/4cup dried navy beans, rinsed and soaked for a t least 4 hours, then drained
1/4 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed, soaked for at lesast 4 hours, then drained
12-14 cups broth or water
1 cup lentils
1/2 pound Persian noodles or whole-weat linguine noodles, broken in half
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh chives or spring onions
1 cup chopped fresh dill weed
2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
3 pounds fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped, or 2 pounds of
chopped frozen spinach
1 fresh beet, peeled and diced in 1/2inch pieces (optional)
1-1/2 cups sun-dried yogurt or sour cream
1-1/2 cup unripe grape juice


1. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot.
Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden brown. Add salt,
pepper, turmeric, kidney beans, navy beans, and chickpeas, and saute
for 2 minutes. Pour in 12 cups broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat,
cover, and simmer for 45 minutes over medium heat.

2. Add the lentils, cover, and cook for 55 minutes longer. Check to be
sure the beans are tender. Use a handheld mixer to partially puree the
soup. If you don't have a handheld mixer, scoop 1-2 cups out and pulse in a food processor or blender.

3. Add noodles and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add all the herbs and the beet. Cover and cook, stirring from time
to time for 10 minutes. Check to be sure the beans and noodles are tender.

5. Stir in the sour cream/sun dried yogurt. Add the juice and stir well with a
wooden spoon for 5 minutes until the sundried yogurt is thoroughly
incorporated. Add more warm water if **osh** is too thick. Adjust
seasoning to tatse. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Enjoy!

My brother and Lindsay got me a Persian cookbook, the author is the Persian version of Martha Stewart. I learned that it is customary to eat noodles in Iran before starting something new or after family leaves on a trip. On the third day after family leaves, you eat noodles and it sends them good fortune on their journey. I will be sure to eat some leftovers, ensuring her good luck back in training! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spritz Cookies

My grandma LOVES to make cookies. My mom and I started helping her several years ago, when my grandpa passed. It is more efficient with two sets of hands, especially when you make 20 batches. Because my grandma has been having health problems, it was just my mom and I this year. We were not as ambitious as grandma and stopped at 3 batches. The best part about making spritz cookies probably has to be the colored sugar. I think grandma agrees. She has enough sugar to last her, me and my children.
Grandma's colored sugar collection
You can pick all sorts of shapes to press the cookies into, but we always do the long strips. The trick to get them to come out in a flat strip is holding the tip of the gun almost parallel to the cookie sheet and moving a bit faster than you think. Filling the gun can be a bit of a pain, but once you get the hang of it things move quickly.
The effort and time are well worth it too. They never last long. When I was in Steven's Point my freshman year, my brother ate every last cookie before I got home. This is when grandma was making 20 batches and we got at least 6 of those. I was pretty angry and amazed, being able to put it away really runs in the family I guess. They bake up to be a slightly fragile, buttery and delicious cookie. The sugar being the best part again, I like to dip them in a glass of milk and watch it change colors from the sugar. I hope you enjoy! 
Does your family have any Christmas cookie traditions?

1 cup butter, room temperature
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Beat butter, sugar, egg yolks and almond extract, about 4 minutes.
  3. Mix in flour to combine.
  4. Follow your spritz cookie gun instructions, piping them out onto a an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle generously with colored sugar. Bake for 6 to 7 minutes, until firm but not brown. 
  5. Prepare several cooling racks. Working quickly, remove them from oven and cut them width wise, using a butter knife. Move them to the cooling racks.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beef Chili with Kidney Beans and Bacon

Chili and football go hand in hand, in my opinion. The perfect thing about this chili is it gets better as it sits. It can be made on Friday or Saturday and be ready to enjoy during the football game. Because you wouldn't want to miss a minute of football Sunday, would you? 

You can make this as spicy as you want. If you are using an inexpensive chili powder, you are going to end up with less heat. This is my mom's recipe and hers is a lot spicier than mine. We figured out that it was the chili powder. Hers is from Penzey's and it apparently makes a huge difference in the heat department. No worries though, add more cayenne pepper at the end to give it more heat. Overall it is a very changeable recipe. Throw in whatever floats your boat. 

What kind of toppings do you like on your chili? I love to load it up with saltine crackers and cheese. I always get the look of "are you eating crackers or chili?".

5 strips bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 rounded tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound ground beef
15 ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
14 ounce can tomato puree
14 ounce can diced tomatoes


  1. Heat a medium heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until crispy. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease. Leave the bacon in the pan. Add the onion, garlic and spices. Cook until the onions start to soften and brown slightly, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the beef, breaking it up. Continue to cook the beef until there is no pink. 
  2. Add the beans, tomato puree and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for another 1 hour, until dark, rich and thickened slightly.
  3. Enjoy with a cold beer and Packer domination.

Cake Balls

My cousin and me before the
badger football game against Nebraska.
Before driving to our grandma's for Thanksgiving, my cousin, Addison, and I made cake balls. He wanted to learn how to make them and conveniently he goes to Madison, too. He came over to my apartment and the baking began. All you need is a cake mix, frosting, and confectioner's chocolate. Not only are there a small amount of ingredients (only 3!), the instructions are easy to follow. Be warned though, it can be a messy process. Addison was pretty surprised how messy you have to get when you mash the cake, add the frosting, and dip the cake in melted chocolate. None the less, he thought they were fun to make.
Plus, our family thought they were delicious! Even with stuffed bellies of turkey, potatoes, rolls, and snickerdoodle salad, we all made room for the cake balls.
One note I want to add, this cake ball recipe can be adapted to your taste. I used a yellow cake mix, chocolate frosting, and dark chocolate this time. However, feel free to use any kind of combination of cake mix, frosting, and confectioner's chocolate. I'm going to make these again for Christmas and I'm going to use two vanilla cakes, chocolate and vanilla frosting, and dark and white confectioner's chocolate. Plus, I'm going to add red and green sprinkles to decorate them!

Cake Balls
recipe from my fellow blogger, Emily

1 cake mix 
1 can of frosting                               
about 2 pounds confectioner's chocolate

1. Make the cake as instructed on the box. Allow cake to cool for at least 30 minutes
2. Using clean hands, mash the cake into granular pieces and place in a large bowl
3. Add the can of frosting and mix throughly. I find it is easiest to use your hands here, although you get pretty messy
4. Grab small portions of the cake frosting mixture and roll into balls. Place on wax or parchment paper that is on a cookie sheet. How many that you can make will depend on the size of the cake balls. Addison and I made about two and a half dozen.
*Helpful note: Clean your hands often with water and/or a paper towel because with messy hands, the cake/frosting mixture tends to stick to them and it becomes hard to roll them in nice balls.
5. Freeze/chill the cookie sheet of cake balls for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. This will make it much easier to dip in the melted confectioner's chocolate.
6. Melt the confectioner's chocolate on 50% power in the microwave for about 2 minutes, make sure to stir every 30 seconds.
7. With clean hands (again) dip the cake balls in the confectioner's chocolate and place back on the wax/parchment paper covered cookie sheet. 
*Make sure the cake balls are completely covered. Dip a finger in the melted chocolate and place over any exposed spots on the recently dipped cake ball if you see any cake not covered by chocolate.
8. Allow chocolate on the cake balls to harden by leaving on them on the countertop or placing back in the freezer or refrigerator. 
9. Enjoy once hardened or store in an air tight container on the counter top (or freezer - they're just as good cold!). 

Little update, here are my cake balls from Christmas: 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Flax Seed

As the fall semester is coming to a close, I have already decided on a couple of goals for the spring semester.  One of those is going to be to a live a healthier lifestyle, eating better and working out more.  You may be wondering why I'm mentioning this in a cookie post, but remember, it's not spring semester yet. :)  

I got the urge to bake cookies today while watching the Packers stomp on Oakland, but realized I only had one egg and the recipe calls for two.  I then remembered that I had a little box of flax seed samples that my mom had given me and that on the box it says that it can be used as an egg substitute.  I did a little research on flax seeds then and discovered that these little buggers are filled with omega-3 and fiber and that they are thought to have health benefits that help reduce your risk of a number of cancers, cardiovascular disease, as well as others!  I therefore decided I'd get a little bit of a head start on my goal for the spring and incorporate this into my cookie recipe.

Recipe adapted from Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seed
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1 package (12 oz) chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Add softened butter, shortening, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl and beat together.
  3. Beat in ground flax seed and water.
  4. Add flour, baking soda, and salt.  Beat together. (Use a little less flour if you like your cookies to be flatter.)
  5. Mix in oatmeal and chocolate chips.
  6. Bake each cookie tray for about 10 minutes, or to desired softness.

I was a little worried that the flax seed was going to alter the taste of the cookies, but the general consensus by my taste testers was that the cookies tasted delicious as always!  I enjoy eating a little bit of the dough whenever I make cookies and could only taste a slight difference there, and I didn't even have to worry about salmonella from eggs!

***Update: I have decided that I did notice a difference.  After the cookies were no longer out-of-the-over fresh and were a day or two old, I noticed that they were not as moist and soft.  Nothing that a glass of milk can't solve!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Black Pepper Almonds

I look forward to my mom making these almonds every year around the holidays. They are like crack--you can't stop eating them. Since I don't get invited to many classy holiday events, I jumped on the opportunity to make these for the Cheese Club Formal. I'm the Badger Cheese Club President, it is a pretty big deal.
I usually add a handful more almonds than what is called for. If you have a silpat non-stick silicone baking liner, use it. It ensures no sticking. I have made these nuts using that or foil, with the same results. Be sure to cook them until they are deep (darker) golden brown. I could have let mine cook longer and they would have been more "crunchy". None the less, they are sweet and spicy and simply delicious.  I hope everyone enjoys making and sharing these as much as I do!

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3/4 cup golden brown sugar
4 teaspoons water
2 2/3 cups blanched whole almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or silpat non-stick silicone baking liner. If using foil, lightly butter. Mix salt and pepper together in a small bowl.
  2. In a medium non-stick skillet melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add sugar and water; stir until sugar dissolves. Add almonds; stir to coat. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until syrup thickens and almonds are well coated. Stir occasionally. Sprinkles half the pepper mixture over almonds.
  3. Transfer to baking sheet. Spread almonds into one even layer, using a spatula. Sprinkle remaining pepper mixture over. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool in baking sheet. 


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