Friday, September 6, 2013

Pork Green Chili

by Ann
The finished product garnished with grated cheese and chopped cilantro.
We do whatever we can to get out of the heat in the summer in the Phoenix area. A quick solution to that problem is to drive about three hours to the mountainous pines of Flagstaff, which is what my husband and I did a couple of months ago with another couple for three days.  While there we ate at MartAnne's cafe, and I ordered the best pork green chili I could remember ever tasting in my life served over eggs and tortillas as huevos rancheros. The hubby had another iteration of the green chili as a key component of their popular posole soup (of which I am not a fan since I don't like hominy, another key component).

Unfortunately I didn't think to take a picture of the dish, but I can guarantee you I'd been thinking OF the chili for the rest of the hot summer, until I decided to make it last week. As has become my routine, I looked up several recipes on the Internet and grabbed ingredients from each that I thought would work.  Can I say that mine was as good as MartAnne's?  Unfortunately, no, but it was close, and next time it will be even closer.

Here's what I used:

pork shoulder roast* - you need at least two pounds of edible chunks of pork to make this worthwhile
4-6 T oil or bacon fat
1 large chopped onion
1 whole head of garlic
6 T flour
2 c diced green chilies (details below)
1 pound tomatillos
4 c chicken broth, stock, or water
2 T cumin
2 T chile powder
salt to taste

Here's what I did:

Prep the meat.
Being a bit handicapped due to my second bunion procedure, I sent the hubby to the store for a bone-in pork roast for two reasons; "half off pork sale" at the store that week, and that my misguided vision thought that if I crock-potted the roast prior to making the chili the bone would impart extra richness in flavor.  Bad idea.  Or maybe the complication came with the male perspective of "bigger is better" because the 8.5 pound roast did not even fit into the crock pot.  So, I monkeyed around with it until I could get the meat cut into bit sized chunks, which would have been a heck of a lot easier if I'd started with a boneless pork loin!
*  The quantities of ingredients other than the pork would work with 2-4 pounds of meat depending upon how spicy you like your food, and how hot the chilies are.  This is a recipe that you add liquid and spice as needed and to taste.
Ooops... Lid won't fit...
Regardless of how you get there, the pork needs to be cut into about 1" cubes and browned in fat or oil.

This was a portion of what I got off of the roast in several stages, but gives the idea about the chunk-size.
Prepare the tomatillos.  
In spite of the fact that I have lived in Arizona since I was a small child, and love to cook I had never cooked with tomatillos before!  They have a papery husk that needs to be removed, and when that's done they have a funky sticky texture, but you'll cook that out of them.  
Tomatillos are interesting - if you try them raw they have a very tart, bitter bite, but cooking them mellows the flavor out tremendously.
Remove husks, rinse, slice in half, and place on foil-lined baking sheet to broil.  Broil for 5-8 minutes until outsides become a bit blistery.  Turn over and broil for another 5 or so minutes.  Tomatillos will cook down quite a bit, so what starts as a tray full ends up being a third of a tray.  Pick any black scorched skins off and toss.  Place in a large bowl.  (In my case, I put them in the crock pot once the meat was removed.)
Broil each side.  Some of the skin will char -- remove the black stuff -- once cooled that's a snap.
Prepare your chilies.  
In the southwest we have lots of options that might not be as readily available in other parts of the country. For the produce-seeking grocery trip I had the hubby cart me around since I still couldn't drive, so we went a few places looking for New Mexican Hatch green chilies, to no avail.  You could use canned, but if prepared are your only option, better yet look in the freezer section for frozen.  I have been very happy with the Bueno brand of chopped, frozen green chilies.  I bought Anaheim chilies at the first store, but then we went to a Hispanic market and bought some that had already been roasted, which is a huge time saver.
If you're using fresh chilies, broil them just like the tomatillos.  Then place them in a sealed bag to loosen the skins.  Toss skins, stems, and seeds.  Dice the  remaining flesh of the peppers into about 1/2 inch pieces. 
Prepare your roux.
Add chopped onions and garlic to 4-6 T oil or bacon fat.  If you have any residual fat from the meat prep, use it.  Saute the onion and garlic until translucent; add the flour, and cook until golden brown.  Add the stock or water and cook until thickened.  Stock adds another layer of flavor, so is preferable, but not necessary. 

Cook the onion (and garlic which hasn't been added quite yet) in oil or bacon fat until translucent.
Add flour and cook until the fat is fully absorbed and the flour turns a nice golden brown color.
Create your sauce.
Add about 2/3 of the chilies you plan to use to your bowl with cooked tomatillos (mine included a couple of cups of stock).  With an immersion blender (or you could do this in a regular blender) liquefy the tomatillo/green chilies/broth and spices to have a creamy sauce that isn't too chunky. You will add the remaining chopped green chilies in tact to add a few chunks.

Spices were blended with an immersion blender to the 2/3 of the green chilies, tomatillos, and remaining liquid that I had unsuccessfully tried to cook the too-big roast in the crock-pot in.
Put it all together to simmer until tender.
Put all above mentioned "parts" in a Dutch oven or crock pot.  Add diced tomatoes and remaining diced chilies that were not blended. Cook until meat is very tender (half a day in the crock pot or a couple of hours on the stove).  Serve garnished with cilantro, grated cheese, and whatever else sounds good (sour cream?).

On a farewell for now note:

As you have most likely gathered from my dear friends' past two posts, this is the last regular post that will appear on Friendship, Life, and Style.  For many reasons we've decided to take a break.  It saddens me in lots of ways, but is a bit of a relief as well.  As a former teacher I sometimes compared writing my posts to papers that needed to be graded...  I knew it had to be done, but there was often more pressing (or fun) things to do instead.  The papers were part of a job -- this whole adventure was designed to be fun, which it certainly has been, yet could also feel like one more thing to do.  

Thank you for reading our ramblings.  This is our 202nd post. Had it not been for the blogging adventure I would have never:
  • Truly understood what blogging was all about, nor looked to fellow bloggers for recipes, ideas, and inspiration.
  • Been motivated to apply for the "Kitchen Assistant" position at Sur la Table; and therefore not had the many fun experiences with the interesting people that I work with at the store.
  • Made fresh pasta... or for that matter using tomatillos!
  • Connected in a new way to people I will never know personally, but through the virtue of blogging feel like I know.
  • Had an audience who chose to read what I had to write (as opposed to the teachers who have to read what I write!)
  • Had a grand adventure with my best buds, Sheila and Heather.
Who knows....  We may decide we miss the pressure of deadlines and resurrect the blog at some point.  But for now, I am feeling empowered to continue to post and occasional recipe if I do something fabulous since we will keep our site live if anyone wants to refer back to a previous post.   

Bon Appetite!
With love and thanks, 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sangria; A Summertime Specialty

by Sheila

You may have read about our pool float parties.  I'm sure by now you know we like wine.  The natural pairing here is one of our summer favorites; Sangria.  We have been making this since the days we couldn't afford to drink anything else.  I am typically a white wine drinker (might be the heat of the desert), but for Sangria, I definitely prefer red.  This is great to make for  a crowd, and is best if made several hours prior to serving, if not the night before.
One of the advantages of a good Sangria, is that you can serve a wine beverage to a large group without breaking the bank.  Because you are adding sugar and fruit, there is no reason to use a high quality expensive wine.  A red that you like in the $5-7 a bottle range should do the trick.  I have been known to use the "leftovers" of a variety of red wines to create my Sangria on weekends that we were doing lots of entertaining, and this works great. This is my favorite all-time Sangria (I like it as well as any I've had in Spain) and this recipe is adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

2 large juice oranges, washed; 1 sliced, 1 juiced
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c triple sec
1 750 ml bottle inexpensive, fruity medium bodied red wine chilled (merlot or pinot?)

1.  Add sliced orange and lemon and sugar to bottom of pitcher.  Mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves.  Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec and wine.  Refrigerate for at least a few hours, and up to 12 hours.  

2.  Add ice to serve and stir briskly to mix up fruit and pulp. 

I have a large beverage dispenser that I like to serve this in, but be careful because the fruit can clog up the spout. I also like to garnish glasses with a slice of fruit as well.  And needless to say, I often double this recipe! 

If you read Heather's post on Monday, you know that we are signing off on our blog, at least for the time being.  It has been a great adventure, but adds one more thing to do in an already busy schedule. Blogging on a regular basis is not without its issues.  Like the time I was in a rental car down at Cranky Al's Donut Shop in Milwaukee using their free wifi at 11 pm at night the night before my post was to be published, trying to get everything done.  Crazy!  We appreciate your interest and loyalty and will be leaving all of our posts up, so if you want to double check one of Ann's recipes, or need some design inspiration from Heather, it will be there.  We have learned a lot along the way, and had fun sharing ideas and solving problems together.  We will continue our friendship "behind the scenes" and if we decide to start up again in the future, we'll post here.  Thanks for reading...



Monday, September 2, 2013

Autumn 2013 Home Tour, Part II

by Heather

Welcome back to my early autumn decorating for 2013. If you didn't catch Part I of the Autumn Home Tour and you really want to see more (you're nuts like me) swing back to Friday, August 30, when you're done looking at this one.

We're starting in the family room today...
A Pottery Barn wreath gets hung over a black and gold mirror I found at the Cave Creek Town Dump (a local shop that has a very strange assortment of goods) which is set against the beveled mirror above the fireplace mantel. The candle sconces on either side of the fireplace get Pottery Barn candles and a potpourri mix of dried oranges, nuts, and berries. 
A couple of lanterns, lighted vine pumpkins, and vases filled with leaves and lighted twigs are placed on top of the entertainment center in the family room. Natural gourds round out the fall decor along with a Pottery Barn leaf garland.
A Pottery Barn mercury glass vase houses a battery-operated candle and is flanked by silver antler candlesticks from Z Gallerie. More lighted vine pumpkins help illuminate the vignette on the glass-topped table.
The leather ottoman gets its fall look with a mercury glass candlestick, pumpkin, and bowl contained in a zebra and black wooden tray from Stein Mart. Another Pottery Barn fall candle adds to the ambiance. 
The small round table next to the sofa has a simple vignette of fall items.
The dining room table has two lanterns from Home Goods, a couple of vine pumpkins, and my favorite, a piece of driftwood from the Mogollon Rim. Hubby drilled holes for the votives and I wound a glass-beaded vine around it. Three shed antlers complete the tablescape centerpiece. If you look closely, you can just pick out the orange and cream chevron pattern runner from Home Goods.
This pewter and glass two-tiered shelf from my favorite local shop, On the Veranda, comes out for fall and is outfitted with pewter goblets, jugs, and small ceramic gourds.
Technically, this isn't fall decorating since the female bust on a bedside table in the master bedroom has been wearing the orange necklace and fedora for most of the summer  but orange is my favorite autumn color so I couldn't resist including it.
This small picture is very special to me -- it was painted by a friend of my grandfather's in 1918 when they were both serving in the British navy.

On another note:

Have you heard that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones are "taking a break"? It sounds as if it's kind of like a separation but not yet a divorce. I guess it allows the couple to re-think why they fell in love and where their relationship is heading. Well, along that same thought process, I'm going to take a break from blogging. I need to re-discover the passion that I had for blogging when Ann, Sheila, and I first started this adventure.

The best part of blogging for me has been getting to know fellow bloggers and readers from all parts of the world.  I can't thank you enough for sharing yourselves with me through your comments. Your words have brought smiles (and sometimes outright laughter) and have made the world seem a whole lot smaller and a whole lot kinder. I've enjoyed being a part of the blogger community and will continue to follow your posts and be inspired by your thoughts and actions.

Ann and Sheila will be sharing their thoughts on Wednesday and Friday so please make sure to stop by and read what their decisions will be.

Love and good-bye for now,

Friday, August 30, 2013

Is It Too Early for Fall Decorating? Autumn House Tour

by Heather

Growing up in Minnesota, Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of fall with the start of school, football games, leaves changing color, and the scent of bonfires. Usually the weather cooperated with cool, crisp days and nights. Nowadays, living in Arizona, I know that we have at least six more weeks of warm temperatures ahead of us. If I waited until it felt like autumn outside to do some fall decorating, I'd be getting out the golds, oranges, and browns at the beginning of the Christmas season. I know that I'm rushing things just a bit, but I figure that if I want to give autumn decor its due, I better start now so I can enjoy it for the next three months. Here are a few pictures of the living room and small front dining room of our home. Next Monday I'll continue with the Fall House Tour.
The baker's rack sits in the living room and is usually my starting point for seasonal changes in decor. I love lit vine pumpkins and anything mercury glass along with dried and faux fall leaves. It's still a little early to find the real thing so I'll have to make do with the "faux" for a while.
A soft warm  orange throw gets placed beneath the seat cushion to add a pop of color (remember, this is Arizona so we don't have a lot of use for throws until mid-winter).
I like to add seasonal potpourri to give an autumn scent to the house. It has to be subtle, though.   I don't like anything that is overwhelming or too sweet.
A chevron patterned throw from Z Gallerie  gets added to the sofa along with an orange and cream pillow from Target. I bought a lot of these pillows to use outside but some of them have found their way indoors.
There's a battery-operated candle inside the mercury glass bowl tucked into an autumn wreath. Mmmm...need to put the antique pewter spoons and silver salt cellars back under the glass topped table  I had shells and netting in here over the summer so I'm still getting things switched over.
The mirror-topped table is laden with gold mercury glass  gourds and candlesticks.
The small dining room in the front of the house gets outfitted for the season with silver mercury glass pumpkins and candlesticks along with a few faux pumpkins.
I like to bring out my pewter pieces for the fall season. I found the pewter tea service at a secondhand shop in Scottsdale. Battery-operated gold mercury glass bulbs are wrapped around the tea set and the large white pitcher filled with stems of fall leaves and berries.
And here is Liberty Bell, waiting patiently for her evening walk.
Hope we didn't confuse anybody by me switching with Ann for the Friday post. If you're looking for a great recipe, check out Ann's post from Monday where she's sharing a fabulous meal idea. Also, stop by the Wednesday post to read Sheila's take on lighting for the home. She always has creative ideas for renovating interiors and lighting is just one of the techniques she uses to update homes.

Check back in with me on Monday when I resume the fall house tour. Until then, have a safe, relaxing, and fun Labor Day weekend!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lighting Makes a Difference

by Sheila
One of the ways you can update a home is to replace lighting fixtures.  I have been doing this recently at my Cairo investment property to give it a fresh look and more importantly, to improve the available light in the space.  This isn't difficult, nor does it have to be expensive.  You can spend lots of money on light fixtures, and that may be worth it to you, but you can find reasonably priced options at your local home improvement stores, online and even at salvage and thrift stores.  Hardwired (built in to the wall wiring) fixtures can be converted to plug-in and vice-versa pretty easily.  There are tutorials online for this, or you can hire it done

I salvaged this light from my Son's condo.  I painted it with stainless steel appliance paint and I love it!

Ambient lighting is also known as general lighting and provides the overall lighting for a room. These are most often your overhead lights.  Task lighting does what it says; gives you the light to perform specific tasks within a space, such as a lamp for reading or under-counter lights in a kitchen. Accent lighting highlights certain elements of your decor, such as a wall-mounted picture light or outdoor lights that shine on featured items in your landscape.  All of these are important and should be considered in your overall lighting plan, combining function and style.

I am not a lighting expert and have made a few mistakes over the years with some of my choices. Here are some of the things I have learned:

Light bulbs are hard to keep up with these days.  I know that I generally do not like the "blue" or cooler light color of many of the new energy efficient bulbs.  I know they are getting better with this, but it can really affect the color in a room.  Also, some of these are dimmable, but not all, so be sure you check that if you want to be able to control the amount of light in a space.  

The downstairs bath "before".  How 'bout that orange?

A close-up of the overhead light.  Interesting...

David took pity on me and lent a hand.  Thank you!
He installed this overhead chandelier ($48) and wall sconce ($52) last night.
Do you miss the globe light and the orange?  Not me!
Also, some lights are hotter than others.  Hot can lights are not a good choice for an Arizona kitchen. I put these as can lights in a rental and it was an issue.  Be sure to ask when you purchase lighting if this is a concern for you. 

Hall wall sconce "before".

And the new wall sconce.

Dimmers are critical for controlling ambience.  These are also easy to install and well worth it.  I put them  EVERYWHERE.  Be sure that the dimmer you choose will dim the light fixture and bulb you are using.  Not all dimmers are created equal.  Also, make sure you select the right dimmer for your switches (single switch operation = single pole dimmer).  

I add dimmers everywhere.

Installs in minutes!
Lighting is one of the most important features to create a mood in the evening hours.  A glaring overhead light is not nearly as conducive to a relaxing dinner party as dimmed lighting and candles. On the other hand, if you are cooking and can't see what you are doing, you need to consider additional task light to get the job done.  Is there an area in your home where the right light would improve your use of space?  I am on the lookout for a reading lamp in my den.  There's always something...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cassoulet for Book Club

by Ann
No, this isn't cassoulet.
We always start out with snacks and I wanted to show my dear friend Teri that I am enjoying the cheese board slate that she gave me as a gift.  It comes with chalk to identify what is being served.  Cute!
Most of the novels I read discuss food at some point or another.  Maybe that says something about the books I choose, which was certainly the case for Hotel Pastis, my pick for our August book club read. Figuring out the food for the book club meeting is the responsibility of the person hosting that month.  When possible, we try to match the theme of the food to the book, which was very "doable" for this book considering a description on the back cover reads that the book is "Slyly funny and overflowing with sensuous descriptions of the good life. Hotel Pastis is the literary equivalent of a four-star restaurant."

It was a fun read that allowed us to extend the summer vacation concept just a little bit further before the school year started back up.  The "good life" described in the book included lots of drinking, eating, and smoking.  I guess I'll forgive them the smoking -- it's set in Paris and was written in 1993 -- hard to believe that's twenty years ago now!  I digress -- back to the eating and drinking, and this post.

First, the drinking -- The fictional hotel was named Pastis, after a popular French anise flavored liquor that gets its strong flavor from licorice root.  It is part of the family of Mediterranean anise liquors including the more well known Sambuca and ouzo.  It is typically served with still mineral water, 4 or 5 parts water to 1 part liquor.  Naturally, we had to try it!  I love black licorice, so found in tasty, as did all but one of the book club friends.  The characters also drank lots of wine, which gave me a great excuse to go to the largest wine store in our area and get a great rose, white, and red from Provence for us all to try.  
Only using one ounce for each glass left me with a lot of Pastis.  Perhaps I'll come up with a recipe to use more of it up for a future post...
Now for the eating -- What to make for dinner?  At Hotel Pastis there was a wonderful French chef whipping up dishes beyond my level of expertise, and many of which sounded too fancy for my tastes.  The love-interest in the book prepared a French cassoulet for dinner towards the beginning of the story, so I decided to figure out how to make cassoulet.

As I always do now, my first source of information is the Internet.  From my research I was not surprised to find that cassoulet is a French casserole that always has multiple pork ingredients, white beans, herbs, garlic, and onions.  The authentic recipes called for duck confit, duck leg meat, lamb, and/or mutton.  Yikes!  When I went to our high-end grocery store looking for duck products, there was no confit, and a small package of frozen duck legs was $10, so my thrifty alter-ego took over and I bought some boneless skinless chicken thighs instead. I am still learning about confit, and so far have gathered that it refers to a a preparation method for a very rich (read lots of fat) poultry cooking technique.

I also found cassoulet recipes in my cookbook collection including Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and one of my Frugal Gourmet cookbooks.  Bottom line -- the recipe I put together is a combination from about five or six sources.  As I did my research I kept coming across a reference to cassoulet being the predecessor to "pork and beans," but believe me -- this has no connection to the U.S. version of sweet, syrupy pork and beans that come out of a can.

Soak the beans overnight.  Drain off the water and replace with enough fresh water to cover the beans. In a dutch oven, saute half of the onions, bell pepper, garlic, and carrots until the onions are translucent (5-10 minutes).  Add the beans and two of smoked ham hocks to simmer covered until beans become tender (about an hour and a half).
Lots of meat goes into this dish -- most of it pork.  
Pork products include sweet sausage, pork chops, ham hocks, and pancetta (not pictured).  Additionally, I added 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs in lieu of the duck.
Browning the sausage with the pancetta will render fat which imparts lots of flavor (and calories...)
Yikes!  That's a lot of meat!  Once the pancetta renders its fat, add the pork cubes and chicken to brown.
Create a bouquet garni of herbs - I used oregano, thyme and bay leaves.  I could have just tied them together with the kitchen string, but went a step further to put them in cheesecloth, which probably wasn't necessary.  You just need to be able to fish them out before serving.
After the beans have cooked, remove the ham hocks and separate the usable meat from the bones and gristle.  There won't be much meat - the smokey flavor has imparted to the beans, which is the purpose for the hocks.
The remaining half of the chopped vegetables need to be sauteed until tender.  I had to remove the browned meat to make room in the pan to get them tender enough to add to the crock pot.

Add the beans, meats, and remaining ingredients and simmer until flavors are developed. I did mine in the crock pot because of timing and the fact that I did not want the oven on in the middle of the summer for an extended period of time. Most of the recipes that I looked at suggested cooking in the oven for a couple of hours at a relatively low temperature (325 degrees).  

If you use the crock-pot method, don't cook the beans until they are tender the when simmering with the ham hocks, or the remaining cooking time in the crock pot will result in bean mush.

To finish off, pour mixture into a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs drizzled with a bit of butter.  Cook at a high temperature (400 degrees) until a golden crust has formed (about 15-20 minutes).

How perfect is this casserole dish that my sister brought back from France as a gift?  Thanks, Linda!
1 ½ c dry great northern beans
¼ c olive oil
10 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 large ham hocks
5 oz. pancetta, chopped
2 medium-large pork chops, cut into 1” cubes
3 links Italian sausage
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes

4 sprigs of oregano
4 sprigs of thyme
3 bay leaves
1 c whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 c white wine
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 c chicken or beef broth
2 c bread crumbs
1/3 c chopped parsley
¼ c melted butter

  • Soak beans in a four quart bowl overnight.Next day: 
  • Heat 2 T olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add half of the garlic, bell pepper, onions, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Add ham hocks along with beans and their water and boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until beans begin to get tender, about 1 ½ hours.
  • Once beans are beginning to become tender, transfer ham hocks to plate, let cool.  Pull off the meat, discard the skin, bone and gristle.  Chop meat, add to beans, set aside.
  • Heat 2 T of oil in another large pot with the pancetta over medium-high heat until fat is rendered.  Add pork, sausage and chicken thighs to brown for 8 minutes.  Add remaining garlic, bell pepper, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, another 10 minutes.  Tie the oregano, thyme, and bay leaves in cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni; add to the tomatoes.  Cook until tomato liquid begins to thicken, 8-10 minutes. Add wine, reduce by half.  Add broth; boil. 
  • In crock pot combine beans, broth, and meat mixture.  Cook on medium for 4-5 hours.
  • Transfer to baking casserole.  Top with bread crumbs, drizzled with butter.  Cook uncovered at 400° until crust is golden.

Congratulations if you have gotten through all of the text in this post!  I know that my blogging partners would say this was WAY too wordy, and I agree.  With that said, there is an awful lot of detail to preparing this dish.  Is it worth it?  I'm not 100% convinced that I would make it again, but it was the perfect dish to match up with the book.  If you want a printable version of the recipe, hopefully this link with get you to it.  Print recipe!