Monday, March 4, 2013

Black Eyed Peas and Rice (For Lazy People!)

Any Southerner worth their salt knows that you simply must ring in the new year each and every year with a steaming bowl of Hoppin’ John, otherwise known as Black Eyed Peas and Rice.  It’s bad luck to eat anything else but the southern delicacy with a healthy dose of hot sauce and some cornbread slathered with butter.  Traditional Hoppin’ John is made with the bone of the Holiday Ham, and is probably about as good a choice as I can think of to ring in the new year.  It uses up the leftover ham, it is packed with fiber, and has just enough complex carbs to soak up any New Year’s Eve sins!  Plus, it is very affordable and a great contrast to the over-indulgent holiday foods we’ve all gouged ourselves on by the time New Year’s rolls around.

I grew up in a “split” household, meaning my mom was a Yankee (hailing from the great state of Pennsylvania), and my father came from L.A. (that’s Lower Alabama to you Northerners).  Mom’s New Year’s tradition was pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes (which by the way is also a pretty good post-holiday choice for the same reasons!).  We rotated our annual traditions and had the succulent pork and briny kraut in odd-numbered years and celebrated my father’s traditional Hoppin’ John in even years.  While I enjoy both, it was the simple beans and rice that I craved today on this cold and grey Sunday.  Somehow, I missed doing either this year and maybe that explains the run of bad luck I’ve had in these first few months of 2013? (Note the cast on my leg at this point!)  

I decided to throw together some beans and rice for my family today, but honestly, did not have the forethought to soak the dried beans or cook all day.  So, here is my cheater’s version.  It is fairly quick. Ridiculously inexpensive, hearty, and so delicious; I’m writing this at 3 pm and my deal hubby has already had 3 bowls!  Don’t get yourself all worked up if you don’t have all the ingredients.  You can substitute ham or bacon for the turkey legs, leave out the thyme and/or bay leaves, and you could probably skip the celery.  This is a totally low-stress dish – have fun with it and make it your own!   

Here’s how mine came together:

2 smoked turkey legs
2 stalks of celery with tops
2 carrots
2 small or 1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
8-10 whole peppercorns
1 48 oz. container of low-sodium chicken broth
About 4 cups of water
1 tsp hot sauce
1/3 cup ketchup (I know, weird right? Trust me on this!)
3 cans of black eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup of long grain uncooked white rice
4 green onions, thinly sliced

Chop the onion, carrots and celery into good-sized chunks and throw them in a large dutch oven or stock pot with the turkey legs, sprigs of thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic cloves. Pour in the chicken broth and add enough water to cover everything.   Stir in the hot sauce and ketchup.  This amount of hot sauce will not make the soup very spicy – you can always season to taste later, but it will add some nice vinegary complexity and a touch of heat and flavor to the soup.  I am normally not a huge ketchup fan, but it is the perfect condiment to add to this broth as it imparts a great color, body, sweetness, acidity, and spice to the broth.  It really does give it a complex flavor that you cannot get from adding diced tomatoes or tomato paste.

Heat the soup over high heat until boiling, then reduce heat to medium low and cover.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and raise heat to medium and simmer for another 20 minutes, allowing the broth to reduce a bit and the flavors to concentrate.

Remove from the heat and strain the broth through a colander, removing all of the cooked veggies, herbs and turkey legs.  Return the broth only to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the uncooked rice, and reduce the heat to low.   Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.  While this is cooking, toss away all the mushy veggies and herbs, keeping the turkey legs.  You were really just using all that other stuff to flavor the rich broth. 

Using a small knife, remove all the meat from the legs, being sure to separate it well from the tendons and tough skin.  This should yield about 2 cups of turkey meat, which you’ll want to cut into very small pieces.

Remove the cover from the large pot and stir the soup, which now will have the cooked rice in it.  You’ll notice that the broth will have nicely thickened at this point from the starch released in cooking the rice.   Add the cut-up or shredded turkey meat, and the three cans of drained/rinsed beans and return heat to medium, simmering uncovered for about five minutes before serving.  Add the sliced green onions just before serving and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce as needed.  The soup is now quite thick and really more of a stew.  If needed, add a bit more chicken broth or water if you like a broth-ier version.  

This whole dish comes together in about an hour and a quarter, and will keep your belly warm, and your year lucky!  The flavor is even better the second day on this one and it freezes pretty well too.  You don’t need to serve anything else with this dish, except a nice slab of cornbread smeared with butter (not the sweet cornbread, but the southern-style savory version), and a glass of sweet tea or a cold beer!  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spicy Winter Stew with Pork, Apples and Root Vegetables

Oh my, is it ever cold outside today!  Spring may be heading our way but you would never know it by the temperature outside.  When winter darkens my door, I start to crave warm, spicy, comfort food.  My butcher had some affordable pork shoulder cubes available this week which inspired this dish.  However, you could definitely substitute lamb, veal or even turkey tenderloin in this stew-like braised dish.  Cooking this meal warmed my home and my heart all day and it made the house smell heavenly!  I used the root vegetables I had on hand but you could leave a couple of these out if you don’t prefer them or don’t have access to them, and could add others as you wish.  Think of the recipe as a guidebook and then, go ahead and point with your own palette!

1 ½ lbs. pork stew meat (or alternate protein as per your preference)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
2 apples, cored, and cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
6 sprigs of thyme
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you prefer a milder version)
1 cup white wine, beer, or hard cider
1 cup apple cider (not fermented)
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/3 cup dried cranberries or golden raisins
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
cilantro, chopped
zest of one orange

The technique for this dish is really the same as for any stew.  First you season and brown the protein, then you add the aromatics, vegetables and spices, then deglaze the pan with some liquid, and simmer for a good long while.

So, let’s get to it.  First season your pork liberally with salt and pepper.  Allow to rest at room temperature while you chop your garlic, ginger and vegetables.  Heat your oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or stockpot and add the cubed stew meat.  Really allow the meat to brown well, turning every few minutes.  If it sticks to the bottom a bit, that is totally fine.  Use tongs to remove the meat and set aside on a large plate.  You can skip this step if you like, but the pan get a bit crowded with the meat and veggies in it and it is a little more challenging to get the vegetables to caramelize the way they should. 

Next, add the onions to the pot first and stir a little.  Now add the carrots and parsnips and allow them to caramelize a little, cooking for about 4 minutes.  Add the butternut squash, apples, ginger, garlic and sprigs of thyme and continue to cook for a few minutes.  Next, add all your spices.  By doing this before you add the liquid, you’ll toast the spices and bring out their best notes.  Now, return your pork and any released juices back to the pan and stir.  Finally, deglaze the pan with the wine, beer or hard cider.  Deglazing is just a fancy word for adding liquid to a dry sauté.  When you do this, you can stir and release all the lovely brown bits form the bottom of the pan, imparting wonderful flavor into the dish.  So, add the alcohol of your choice first and stir to release anything stuck to the bottom.  Then add the fresh (not hard) cider and stir.  Finally, add enough chicken broth to cover all the meat and veggies about 2/3 of the way up.  You can omit the alcohol and double the amount of fresh cider or use apple juice if you prefer.    Now, add in the dried fruit and allow the stew to come to a boil.  Once it does, lower the heat to low and cover, cooking covered over very low heat for 45 minutes to an hour.  Your kitchen will start to smell divine!  Remove the lid and stir once or twice, and then go do something fun for an hour, while you allow the dish to continue simmering over medium-low heat, uncovered, on the stove.  This will allow much of the liquid to evaporate and bring great concentration of flavor and thickness to the remaining “gravy”.  You are almost ready to serve!  If you see the thyme sprigs, remove them.  Most of the flavorful little leaves have made their way into the stew at this point, and you can just fish out the empty “branches” and throw them away.   

Keep the heat at medium or medium low and add the drained and rinsed chick peas, allowing them to simmer in the stew and warm up.  Taste it now and add additional salt and pepper as you desire.  Just before you are ready to serve, top the dish with chopped cilantro to taste, and the zest of one orange.

I served this with simple couscous, which I cooked as directed with one half chicken broth and half water.    I added some golden raisins and toasted pine nuts just before serving.  It was a wonderful, warming meal that my whole family devoured, but it was also exotic and flavorful enough to serve to company.  You could round this out with a simple salad of frissee, radicchio, orange segments and crumbled goat cheese, dressed with just a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and orange juice.  This meal pairs beautifully with an off-dry white wine like a Riesling, Pinot Gris, or Alsacian-style white.  It would also be great with hard cider, or a fruity lager.

This dish offers the warm embrace of home, but also some exotic spices, making it super comforting.  It uses root vegetables which are in season and at peak flavor in the fall and winter months and as a result, offers tons of fiber, and vitamins, and packs a whole lot of flavor with very little fat.  Bon Appetit!