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Hi again. I have to confess, wedding planning took over my life for a while – as much as I did not think it would (or hoped it wouldn’t) – it did. Between work and planning, my life has become boring. Luckily, wedding-planning has calmed down a bit, and I’m still cooking – and receiving the produce CSA share weekly and the meat share every two weeks. Our recent pick-ups have included lamb ribs, steaks, brats, and some really great chicken wings we cooked for the super bowl a month ago. The produce has included hydroponic lettuce and tomatoes, various herbs, lots and lots of carrots and squash, and some excellent canned and dry goods, like wheatberries, black beans, apple butter, and salsa. Chris and I are still very happy with it.

Lately for meals, I’ve been focusing on making one or two dishes each week that will reheat well, and then making salads for lunches with various leftovers and roasted vegetables. One dish that reheats very well, and is perfect for this weird mix of wet and cold (when it isn’t warm, humid, and tormado-filled), late-winter’s evening, is this oven stew.

I’m not sure of the exact origin of this recipe – I received it from my mom, who I think received it from my dad’s mom… or something like that.  It couldn’t be easier to throw together and is filled with chunks of slow-cooked beef and veggies with just salt and black pepper for seasonings. If you are going to be home for a while, you can cook it in the oven. Or you can cook it in your crock pot. You will end up with delicious results either way.

Because this cooks for so long, it doesn’t matter too much how big or small you cut your veggies. I’ve cut them into irregular chunks and everything still cooks well. So if you are in a hurry (before letting your meal stew for 5 hours), just chop up the veggies however you want and throw them all in the pot. You really can’t mess this up too much.

1 1/2 lb cubed beef

2 or 3 stalks celery, chopped

6 carrots, cut into chunks

1 onion, chopped

4 potatoes, cut into similar-sized chunks as the carrot

1 T. sugar

1 1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. pepper

2 T. tapioca

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes.

Combine everything in a dutch oven, or large, oven-proof pan with a lid, and bake covered for 5 hours at 300 degrees.

Add 1/2 cup white wine before serving.

That’s it – Enjoy!

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spiced pork carnitas

Welcome back readers – and happy 2012! I hope everyone had an enjoyable and restful holiday season – if restful was possible during that time of year.

My holiday was a whirlwind. I spent five days home in Iowa, where I celebrated Christmas with my family, and five days in Louisana, were I attended the wedding of Chris’s cousin in Baton Rouge and celebrated New Year’s in New Orleans. It was a wonderful introduction to Louisiana that included gumbo served with potato salad (a common practice – I was told), beignets and au laits at Cafe DuMonde, a celebratory hurricane shared with my newly-minted fiance at Pat O’Briens on New Year’s Eve, a sazerac at the Swizzle Stick Bar, a New Year’s Eve jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace (one of the many highlights of the trip), and a New Year’s day feast, made by Chris’s mother, of black-eyed peas, smothered cabbage and corned beef, crab dip, meatballs, and many, many desserts. It was a hearty and delicious spread that topped off a delicious week. I returned to Louisville wanting more vegetables and fruit, but also craving more po boys and gumbo.

And if you didn’t catch my news above – Chris and I are engaged! This happened New Year’s Eve along the Mississippi River in New Orleans. I was shocked and surprised before total happiness set in. Looks like I’m stuck with my cheese-grater-sous-chef-dish-washer-love-of-my-life for a while.

Anyway – I promise not to turn this food blog into a wedding blog, so on to the recipe.

I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy consuming pork tacos. I love them. I’ve made these spiced oven carnitas twice now – and both resulted in slightly different dishes. The first time I made it was for my family when I was home in Iowa last November for my grandmother’s funeral. My mom had a large pork roast in the freezer of unknown origin. I made it and probably didn’t salt it enough. The tacos were very tasty, but not as good as the slow-cooked pork tacos that I called the best dish I’d ever made.

I made them a second time on a busy weekend in December when I had to work and wanted to use up a pork shoulder from our CSA crowding the freezer. I made sure to use enough salt and the pork was high quality, locally raised pork. It was delicious. The kind of delicious where you stand over the pan nibbling and can’t stop.  This is a winning recipe that is pretty easy and cooks largely unattended. If you make this, I recommend using good quality pork. If you don’t eat meat that often, like Chris and me, it is easier to afford better cuts of meat less often.

They reheat well and are great with corn tortillas, cabbage slaw, and salsa (or guacamole, sour cream, etc.). I hope you enjoy these as much as we did.

“spiced oven carnitas” from Not Your Mother’s Casseroles by Faith Durand

serves about 8

5 to 6 pound pork shoulder roast (also called butt roast)

salt and pepper

1/4 c. olive  oil

1/2 t. red pepper flakes

2 T. ground cumin

2 t. ground allspices

1 t. ground cinnamon

4 sprigs fresh oregano

6 garlic cloves, cut in half

juice and zest of one orange

juice and zest of one lemon

1/2 c. white wine

Preheat the oven to 350. Trim the pork roast of large sections of fat. Cut the roast into 4 evenly-sized pieces. Pat them dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven (a large, oven-safe pot with a lid) over medium-high heat. Sear the pork pieces one at a time, for several minutes on each side until well-browned. Remove from the heat.

Place the pork pieces back in the pot. Sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, cumin, allspice, and cinnamon.

Tuck the oregano sprics and garlic between the pieces. Sprinkle the lemon and orange zest. Pour the lemon and orange juices and white wine over it all.

Cover the pot and bake for 2 1/2 hours. When the pork is very tender, take it out of the oven. Keep the lid on the pot and let the meat rest for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the lid and shred with two forks. Serve hot.

We’ve reached the end of the stollen story, and really, it’s pretty anticlimactic. After two days of resting, you sprinkle on about another 1/2 cup to a whole cup of powdered sugar, slice, serve, and enjoy. It isn’t the prettiest or most photogenic of holiday treats, but it istasty.

Moist and tender. Boozy and fruity. Sweet, but not too sweet. It really is a delicious holiday bread. But don’t just take my word for it…

Slate just published an article hailing Stollen as the best Christmas bread. The author, L.V. Anderson, begins the article: “There are certain things Germans do better than everyone else. Not incurring massive amounts of public debt is one of them. Christmas baking is another.” Public finance aside, the article even mentions Melissa Clark’s recipe from 2009, which is the recipe featured here.

Since I began this holiday baking over a week ago, I’ve been feeling a mix of emotions: anticipation as I shopped for the ingredients and soaked the fruit and nuts; excitement as I started mixing the bread; panic and frustration when it all went awry; fear that the bread wouldn’t rise at all after sitting in the refrigerator all night; hope that it would turn out ok; relief when it did; and finally, pride. I succeeded in making an edible, even delicious, holiday stollen. And I shared the experience with you.

I’m  headed home to Iowa Friday, where I’ll be for a few days and I plan to take the second loaf of Stollen home with me. Hopefully my family will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the experience of making it.

I want to wish all of my readers, friends, and loved a very happy, restful, and tasty holiday season.

Well friends and readers, the story of the stollen is winding down. In fact, all day four requires is coating the two loaves with 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, wrapping them well in plastic, and storing for two days before finally serving. Really – the story reached it’s climax in day two – the mixing stage.

The loaves aren’t very pretty (see above), but Chris and I were both tempted to cut into the bread before it had time to “ripen.” We waited.

And you will be waiting too! See you in two days.

Day Four: “Holiday Stollen” by Melissa Clark

After the loaves have sat for 8 hours or overnight, sift 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar over loaves, rolling to coat bottom and sides evenly with sugar. Wrap each loaf in plastic and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 days before serving.

Now it’s day three of the holiday stollen baking extravaganza!

After mixing the dough and letting it rise and rest, it is now time to bake the bread. As I mentioned yesterday, I might have been able to do this on the second day but I ran out of time.  Here’s what you do when you are ready to the bake the bread.

Day Three: “Holiday Stollen” by Melissa Clark

If you refrigerated the dough overnight, take out of the refrigerator and let come to room temperature, about 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic covering loaves and bake for about 1 hour. Loaves should look uniformly dark golden brown. As you might notice in the picture above, my loaves ended up a little darker than dark golden brown. I wasn’t too worried because of the vast quantities of butter involved.

While the bread is baking, whisk together  3/4 cup sugar and 2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger.

When stollen is done, transfer top pan holding loaves to a wire rack (leave stollen on pan). While still hot, brush stollen with remaining 1 cup of melted butter, letting butter soak into loaves. Sprinkle ginger sugar on tops and sides of loaves.

When loaves are completely cool, cover loosely with waxed or parchment paper or foil and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

Welcome back for the second installment of my adventures in holiday baking featuring stollen. After shopping for ingredients and letting the nuts and dried fruit soak overnight – I was now ready to actually mix the dough for the bread.

I started mixing the bread last Saturday – but I had a very strict window of time between 10:30 and 3:30 to mix the dough, let it rise, bake it, and glaze it. It was ambitious but doing the math in my head accounting for the rising and baking time, I thought I could make it work in between my spinning class and a play Chris and I were going to attend.

All was going well. I had even mixed up the spices, including grinding cardamom and grating nutmeg the night before to cut down on that time on the mixing day. Then – in my effort to hurry, I misread the recipe and added a full 2 cups (!!!) of melted butter to the dough instead of the one cup. It was ruined.

(By the way – two cups of a butter is a lot! See:

This holiday stollen is certainly an exercise in indulgence. Oh well, it is the holiday season)

Luckily, I had enough spices and flour, and 1/2 of a vanilla bean left, to mix the dough again – paying close attention to the amount of butter added. Then the next challenge arose.

My dough was not coming together. I’ve never wished for a brand-new, super fancy Kitchenaid mixer before last weekend. The recipe says to use a paddle attachment on a standing mixer to mix the dough. Well, I have my mom’s old stand mixer that just has the regular old beater attachments. So that’s what I used. Well the dough was so dry and stiff that it was just not holding together. I even transferred it to my food processor with the dough blade to mix it – but it was way too thick. I was splattering dough everywhere, and working quickly, I was not cleaning as I went. My kitchen turned quickly into a disaster.

And the time kept ticking away. At this rate I was not going to be done with everything in time to leave for the play.

I ended up mixing the dough by hand, slowly… and adding all of the almonds and dried fruits and ginger by hand as well. It was hard work, but it did work.

Finally, the dough was mixed and ready to rise – but I did not have time for it to rise and bake it too. I ended up taking it through the final resting time and then wrapping it in plastic and refrigerating it overnight and planned to bake it the next day. I learned this trick in this helpful post from The Kitchn.

So – plan to spend about 5 or 6 hours putting this bread together today. If you don’t want to continue you could always use those rum-soaked raisins and almonds for bread pudding… or oatmeal?

Day Two: “Holiday Stollen” by Melissa Clark

For planning purposes, I’m posting all of the ingredients here. For those of you in Louisville, you can find find all of the nuts, dried fruit, vanilla beans, and candied ginger (as well as any of the spices and flours you might need), at Nuts n Stuff.

2/3 c. black raisins

2/3 c. golden raisins

1/2 c. dried cherries

1/3 c. dark rum

1 c. slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)

1/2 c. milk, at room temperature

4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. plus 3 T. sugar

2 3/4 t. ground ginger

1 t. kosher salt

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. ground cardamom

1 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1 t. freshly grated lemon zest

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved

2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided

1 large egg yolk

1/2 c. chopped candied ginger

1/2 c. mixed candied citrus peel (optional, you could omit this and use one cup of the candied ginger)

2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar

In an electric mixer with paddle (or mixers! – but if you have a paddle, use it), set on low speed, mix yeast with milk until dissolved.

Add 1 cup flour and mix until a soft, sticky dough forms, about 2 minutes. This is the “starter.” Transfer starter to a lightly greased bowl, cover with greased plastic, and let rest for 40 minutes at room temperature.

In an electric mixer with paddle and set on low speed, mix remaining 3 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon zest and vanilla seeds. With motor running, pour in 1 cup (not 2!) melted butter. Mix on slow for 1 minute, then add egg yolk. Mix until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute more.

Divide starter dough into 3 pieces. Add starter to mixture in bowl, 1 piece at a time, mixing on slow until each addition is thoroughly combined, 2 to 3 minutes after each addition. After starter is absorbed, mix dough on a medium speed until glossy, 4 to 5 minutes. As I mentioned above, my dough never reached this point. It was a crumbly mess – so I turned it out onto a board and kneaded it until it became softer and a little glossier.

Add almonds, candied ginger and citrus peel if using, and mix on slow until combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Add raisins, cherries, and rum and mix on slow until combined, 2 to 3 minutes more (or knead by hand).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until fruit and nuts are inside dough rather than stuck on surface, and dough is smooth and glossy, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a medium bowl and cover with plastic. Rest for 1 hour to let rise slightly. Then knead it once or twice, cover with plastic and let rest for another hour.

Divide into 2 equal pieces and shape each into an oval loaf about 8 inches long. Stack 2 rimmed baking sheets on top of each other, lining top pan with parchment. Place loaves on doubled pans and cover with plastic. Allow loaves to rest 1 more hour at room temperature.

By this time, I ran out of time. If you run out of time too – just refrigerate the dough after the final rest. You can bring it to room temperature and bake it the next day.

Tomorrow – we’ll bake the bread. But don’t get too excited, you will still have to wait several days before consuming.

This last weekend, I embarked on a holiday cooking adventure — I started a six-day project (seven-day if you count the day I bought the ingredients) baking a holiday treat that my mom would not make for me because it was too much of a pain.  This is holiday stollen, a dense, German fruitcake flavored with cardamom, rum, and lots of dried fruit and slivered almonds.

I’d never had a fruit cake I liked until this. Two years ago I saw it featured in the New York Times and knew I wanted to try it. My mom usually takes requests for her holiday baking, and my sister, brother and I each get to choose a treat for her to make. Michael, before his tastes matured, used to request the slice-and-bake Pillsbury sugar cookies. Now he requests peanut butter cookies filled with a mini peanut butter cup. Kristen chooses peanut clusters (right?). That year I chose the stollen. My mom agreed to make it, not realizing what a pain it would be at the time. It was delicious, but I didn’t really appreciate it and all of its complexity. Since then I’ve been baking significantly more and now realize the time and work (and love) my mom put into that holiday bread – just for me.

This year – I found myself craving stollen, so I asked my mom to make it. She said, “Hell no,” or something akin to that. I decided to embark on the culinary adventure myself.

So – in the next several days, I’m going to post pieces of the recipe. In six days, you will have the whole thing. And stay tuned, because I ended up averting what could have been a disaster last weekend.

For those of you that can’t wait 6 days, here’s a link to the original New York Times article. Melissa Clark, one of my favorite recipe-authors, wrote the article and adapted the recipe, so you know it’s going to be good, if you have the patience.

Day One: “Holiday Stollen” by Melissa Clark

For planning purposes, I’m posting all of the ingredients here. For those of you in Louisville, you can find find all of the nuts, dried fruit, vanilla beans, and candied ginger (as well as any of the spices and flours you might need), at Nuts n Stuff.

2/3 c. black raisins

2/3 c. golden raisins

1/2 c. dried cherries

1/3 c. dark rum

1 c. slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)

1/2 c. milk, at room temperature

4 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. plus 3 T. sugar

2 3/4 t. ground ginger

1 t. kosher salt

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. ground cardamom

1 t. freshly grated nutmeg

1 t. freshly grated lemon zest

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved

2 c. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, divided

1 large egg yolk

1/2 c. chopped candied ginger

1/2 c. mixed candied citrus peel (optional, you could omit this and use one cup of the candied ginger)

2 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar

The day before baking, make sure you have all of your ingredients. And pick a day for baking that you have at least 6 hours to spare.

The night before, mix raisins, cherries and rum in a small container. Mix almonds with 1/4 cup water in another container. Cover both and let sit overnight at room temperature.

That’s it! Now get some rest, you have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.