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Spiced Apple Braised Pork

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As you all know I love my slow cooker. There’s nothing better than dropping a piece of raw meat inside with vegetables and stock and letting it cook for hours while you run around and do errands. Then pulling out a hearty meal that’s full of flavor. But what about braising? I’ve always wanted to braise a pork shoulder or roast but rarely have the time.

There’s really not a lot of difference between braising and slow cooking. Both take a large piece of meat and slow cook it for hours in a stock. But while you can leave the house with the slow cooker running, since the braising happens in a large pot in the oven, you usually need to be home to braise a loin or roast. Well, since it’s been so cold and rainy recently, I’ve been spending plenty of days home while the boys read and write or draw and paint. It was on one of these days that I decided to braise a pork shoulder with apples; a recipe I found in a recent issue of Fine Cooking. The end result was sooooo good, all I wanted to do was have seconds, thirds and lick the pot clean.

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What made this roast so good and unlike anything I’d ever eaten? The rub, the apples and the char on the meat. Sure I’ve roasted apples and pork before, but this was special. See, you can’t just braise the pork. Sure, that makes it soft and shreddable, but what really makes the pork mouth-wateringly delicious, is the rub it marinates in for 48 hours. That’s right, 2 days. Now, you don’t have to marinate it for 2 days, you can just marinate it for 12 hours. But like most things, the longer it marinates, the more flavorful your pork. It’s super easy to do. All you do is rub the pork down with the spice mixture while you’re making another dinner. Then just put it in a covered pot in the fridge and forget about it. That’s what I did and like I said, it definitely made a difference. Those herbs and spices permeated the meat, and once it was slow roasted with the apples and onions, well… the flavors were out of this world.

The other secret to this amazing piece of meat? Charring the meat after braising it. According to Lynne Curry of Fine Cooking, it’s better to brown the meat after the braise because you get a more flavorful broth in which to cook the meat and there’s no chance of the meat juices evaporating. Plus the char gives the meat a nice crisp crust that really seals in all those amazing flavors I keep talking about. I’m so happy Curry introduced me to this “backward” braising method because it’ll be the only way I braise from now on.

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Spiced Apple Braised Pork (adapted from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 (3 pound) bone-in pork shoulder
  • 2 medium apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. Combine the coriander, salt, ginger, mustard and pepper in a small bowl.
  2. Using a sharp knife, trace the fact seams of the roast and around the bone to make a series of deep incisions on both sides of the roast. Score the external fat with a series of incisions. Then take the spice mixture and rub it all over the meat. Place the roast in a large, oven-proof pot, cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours and up to 3 days.
  3. Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let come up to room temperature, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  5. Add the apples and onion to the pork roast.
  6. Whisk together the vinegar, honey and water and pour over the roast. Recover the pan and cook in the oven for 2-1/2 – 3 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.
  7. Pull the pan out of the oven and raise the temperature to 425°F.
  8. Leaving the liquid, apples and onions in the pot, transfer the meat to a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Separate the meat into large chunks while discarding the fat.
  9. Place the pieces of meat back in the pot in a single layer and cook, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until the meat is nicely browned. Serve immediately with the apples and the sauce.

Remember the Maine

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I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to drink brown liquors when it’s dark and stormy, and boy has it been dark and stormy. In the last four weeks we’ve had record amounts of rain. It’s been cold and windy and very, very wet. On days such as these, I tend to reach for the bourbon or whiskey. More times than not I’ll just have a few ounces on the rocks, but every so often I’ll get the inkling to mix up a cocktail.

When shaking up a whiskey cocktail I tend to go back and forth between a Manhattan or a Sazerac. Both use rye and bitters. But that’s where the similarities end. See, the Manhattan has vermouth whereas the Sazerac has a sugar cube and absinthe. So… what if we combined the two? That’s what Charles H. Baker decided to do when he came up with the Maine on a “night in Havana during the unpleasantness of 1933 when each swallow was punctuated with bombs going off on the Prado, or the sound of 3-inch shells being fired at the Hotel Nacional, then haven for certain anti-revolution officers”. This is believed to be a reference to the coup led by General Batista in Cuba in 1933.

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It seems the drink’s name may have come from another event that happened several decades earlier though; when the USS Maine sank in the Havana harbor in 1898 because some of its ammunition inexplicably exploded. While the cause of the explosion is still debated, it’s believed to have precipitated the Spanish–American War and popularized the saying “Remember the Maine, the Hell with Spain!”

However the drink came about or whatever the reference, if you’re a fan of both the Sazerac and the Manhattan then you’ll love the Maine. I know I’m a fan, and the benefit is, this drink discovery means not only do I get a history lesson, I no longer have to choose between the Manhattan or the Sazerac. Now I can have both in one seriously good cocktail.

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Remember the Maine

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 teaspoons Cherry Heering
  • 1/2 teaspoon absinthe

Directions:

  1. Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and “stir briskly in clock-wise fashion – this makes it sea going, presumably”.
  2. Strain into a chilled champagne coupe or cocktail glass, add a bourbon cherry and serve.

Beef and Barley Stew

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Rain, glorious rain! Yes, if you’ve been living anywhere in California you know that we’ve been getting record amounts of rainfall over the past six weeks. Did you know that Northern California is officially out of the drought and Southern California is also almost there? It’s amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I love the rain. I love being able to wear sweaters and Uggs during the winter months. It’s been kind of a novelty recently. But this week we had sun! It was warm. The boys actually wore shorts and T-shirts! It was wonderful! I wish it would last. But unfortunately there’s more rain scheduled for this coming weekend. That rain means more chilly temperatures and more sweater weather. But it also means it’s the perfect time for stews, soups and chilis.

A few weeks ago the rain was pelting the windows and all I wanted was a big hot bowl of soup. But not that boring see-through broth, and absolutely nothing that came out of a red & white can. I wanted something thick and hearty, with vegetables and maybe even a little meat. Something that would stick to your bones and make you feel all warm and cozy inside. Then I remembered this amazing stew I had at a food blogger L.A. event back in December.

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It was our annual cookie swap and everyone made and brought cookies. But Judy from My Well Seasoned Life didn’t just bring cookies, she also brought this amazing Beef Barley Soup. It was warm and comforting and absolutely delicious! Just thinking about that soup makes my mouth water. So, I decided to make my own version. I was so well sated at the end of the evening, I thought I’d share.

What makes this soup so filling isn’t just the beef, it’s the barley and the vegetables. But unlike some soups, this isn’t one you can just whip up in half an hour. This soup is one of those meals that gets better the longer it simmers on the stove. So, if you’re planning on making this for dinner on one of these chilly winter nights, make sure it’s on a day where you’re going to be home for at least a couple hours. The end result will be well worth the time spent, I promise.

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Beef and Barley Stew (adapted from My Well Seasoned Life)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, like a cabernet or merlot
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides; transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the onions to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots and celery and cook until the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, about 6 or 7 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
  6. Stir in the broth and browned beef along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  7. Stir in the barley and salt and pepper to taste; recover and continue to simmer for another 30-40 minutes. Ladel into bowls and serve.

Pink Champagne Cocktail

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Okay, so this cocktail isn’t exactly pink, it’s more of a rosy orange color. But since Valentine’s Day is Tuesday and pink is in the title, I thought it would be the perfect cocktail for the infamous heart holiday.

This cocktail is just like a classic Champagne Cocktail with one small, but very important detail: an ounce of cognac. That cognac adds a nice flavor to the already tasty champagne cocktail, turns it into a delicious after dinner drink and makes that romantic dinner for two something really special.

top-of-the-mark-napkin

Unlike the champagne cocktail which was created in the mid-1800’s, this drink comes from the Top of the Mark: a vintage bar at the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco. With its 360° views, the bar became the spot for WWII servicemen, dignitaries and celebrities, and it had the food and cocktails to go with it. With that kind of history, Hubs and I just had to take a trip up to the 19th floor to enjoy a drink or two. It was during that nightcap I discovered the cocktail.

The menu has changed a lot since the bar’s heyday, but luckily there are several display cases filled with photos and newspaper clippings about what the bar used to be like. There also happened to be an old menu of their special cocktails. Sure, they made things like Manhattans and Martinis, but there were also drinks called a Lady Hopkins and a Cable Car, both of which will appear on this blog in the future. Not only did the menu list several drinks, it also listed prices. I was in awe. It just so happens that today’s drink tapped out at a whopping one dollar. Yup, a buck. For champagne!

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So while today you won’t be able to find a glass of champagne for a dollar, there’s no reason you still can’t enjoy the drink. Just pick your favorite champagne along with your favorite cognac, mix them together and you’ve got yourself one hell of a delicious cocktail to share with that special someone.

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Pink Champagne Cocktail

Ingredients:

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3-4 dashes of bitters
  • 4 ounces of champagne
  • 1 ounce cognac

Directions:

  1. Soak the sugar cube with bitters and place in the bottom of a champagne flute or coupe.
  2. Add the champagne then float the cognac on top and serve.

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Two big holidays are next week: Valentine’s Day and Galentine’s Day.  Galentine’s Day? What the H.E.double hockey sticks is Galentine’s Day? It’s a relatively new phenomenon where girls get together the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th, and celebrate. You know, a girls’ night. I mean, why should you miss out on wine and chocolate just because there’s no significant other in the picture? You shouldn’t.

I’m a strong believer in the fact that chocolate shouldn’t just be for those in relationships. It should be for everyone, whether you’re blissfully happy in coupledom or blissfully happy in singledom, whether you’re hanging out with the girls or snuggling up in your favorite pajamas with a good book… or that special someone… or both.

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But if you think chocolates should only come in a box for either of these events, you’re wrong. Chocolate comes in all different shapes and sizes which is why I’m such a fan. Sure, you could enjoy a pound of your favorite chocolates, or you could have it in ice cream form or as a cake or even as a cookie. While I love a box of really good chocolates, I won’t turn down the ice cream, cake or cookies, which is why I’m such a fan of these cute little thumbprints from Dorie Greenspan.

These cookies are great because they aren’t too sweet. The chocolate cookie is made of unsweetened cocoa powder and a touch of sugar, while the filling is made of pure raspberry jam. It’s those little red circles that bring the whole cookie together and add just the right amount of sweetness. And since they’re bright red, they’re prefect for this red and pink holiday, no matter if you’re sharing them with that special someone or adding them to a girls’ night table full of cookies and cakes.

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Chocolate Raspberry Thumbprints (adapted from Dorie’s Cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Sift the flour and cocoa together in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat the butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl until smooth and creamy.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to to low and add the egg whites and vanilla.
  5. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  6. Using a spoon or small cookie scoop, scoop out the dough. Roll each scoop into round balls and place on the prepared baking sheet. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each ball, it’s probably going to crack a little, but that’s okay. Fill the indentation to the top with jam and repeat with the remaining dough.
  7. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the jam is bubbling, rotating halfway through. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Serve at room temperature.