Recipes: Pork Carnitas, Spanish Rice & The Best Beans Nearly Ever

There are some folks I’m going to miss painfully from this area when we move in a few months. One family in particular I just adore, and I wanted to do something nice for them- they’ve watched out for me and my kids since the divorce and move to Little House, their kids are wonderful to mine, and I just love them. So tonight, I was their personal chef- which might not be a biggie to some, but this friend HATES to cook, so it was a beautiful way to serve her and her family. Plus, it was super fun. I’ve had some requests on Facebook for the recipes, so I’m just going to put them up here for posterity.

To begin, I made the salad above. It’s a lot of work (all these recipes are, really, but they’re totally worth it to really treat someone).

Pork Carnitas

  • 3-5 pound pork loin roast
  • 1/2 cup worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic
  • 1/2 white onion, minced

The night before, on the lowest setting possible, I toss all this in my slow crock-pot cooker. Let it cook all night, and then a good part of the next day. It will be fall apart tender, and crusty on the edges when ready. One hour before serving, drain juices and shred the pork with two forks. It should be like buttah. Put back in the slow-cooker and add:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 small can green enchilada sauce

Toss to combine, and let warm for an hour. Alternately— and I love doing this— spread the pork on a rimmed baking sheet and place under the broiler for a few minutes to get a crispy crust on the tops. Yummmmm….

Mexican Rice with Lime & Cilantro

I have to admit this is a recipe I springboarded from one I saw on Americas Test Kitchen. But if there’s a better place to start, I haven’t found it.

  • 12 ounces tomatoes, either ripe or canned. I usually use canned.
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded, veined and minced
  • 2 cups long-grain brown rice (you can use white, but I like the tooth of brown)
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • fresh cilantro, finely shredded
  • 1 lime, juiced

Preheat oven to 350* In your food processor, whirl up the tomatoes and onions to a smooth, uniform puree. This is part of your liquid for cooking the rice. Yeah, I know- crazy. But it works. Trust me— and totally gives major flavor payoff. Set aside.

Wash your rice. Yes. Put it in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse under cool water until the water is clear. The cloudiness you see when you start is the starch on the rice, and rinsing makes each grain separate and fluffy. It’s worth the extra step.

Add oil to a dutch-oven or other lidded oven-safe pot. Heat until shimmering, then add the drained rice. Stir for 6-8 minutes, while rice toasts and gets opaque. Add the jalapeno and garlic until fragrant, about a minute. Add the tomato/onion puree and the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. It will sizzle like crazy when you first add it. No biggie.

When it comes to a boil, put the lid on tightly, and pop the whole thing in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until grains are soft and separate and unbearably delicious looking.

Pull from the oven and toss with the cilantro and the lime juice. Yum.

The Best Beans (Excluding Nana’s)

  • 1 pound dried pinto beans (okay—and delicious— to use black beans)
  • 1/2 minced white onion
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 for early, 2 to finish
  • 1 tsp fresh ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • shredded cilantro

The night before, rinse beans, and put in a pot covered with water. Bring to a boil, then turn off and let them sit over-night. In the morning, drain water and refill with fresh, making sure the water is a good inch or so over the top of the beans. Toss in the onion and two of the garlic cloves. Simmer on low all day, watching the water level. Add more as needed.

When beans are tender, drain off nearly all the water and add salt, tomato sauce, second garlic cloves, cumin and cilantro. Stir to combine, warm over low heat until all the flavors blend and you cannot resist eating them. That’s it.

I also served this with my homemade guacamole. Oh, and Crema Enchiladas. Have I given you all that recipe yet? I’m no Ree, but I do all right. Enjoy!

Recipe: Making Soup – The Results

So here’s what I did tonight instead of studying for the GRE or writing one of three papers I have due…

Vanilla Butternut Squash Soup

  • 2 pounds (or so) of diced butternut squash
  • 2 small onions, or 1 mack-daddy onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • water or stock to cover
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon good quality real vanilla

In a stock pot, saute onions in olive oil until soft and fragrant. Add diced squash (no need to bake first) and cover with enough stock or water to just barely cover. You don’t want too much liquid, or the soup will be too thin when you puree.

Simmer over medium heat until squash is soft- 10-15 minutes worked for me.

Remove from heat and puree with a stick emersion blender or in your food processor/blender until creamy smooth. Add vanilla and cream, and stir together. Top with chives and/or a tiny drizzle of cream.

Recipe: Compound Butter with Sundried Tomatoes & Rosemary

This time of year, I like to give out some of my favorite recipes. Last night I made my cilantro caesar salad dressing in preparation for Christmas Eve, and since I had an unholy mess going in the kitchen, I made shortbread and some compound butter too. I hope you all are foodie enough to have made compound butter before- but if you haven’t- make this now!

Compound butter is just good quality butter that has goodies added to it, then is rolled and used to top things with heavenly yumminess. This particular one is divine on pasta, on a perfectly cooked steak, over some potatoes, or on corn on the cob. I honestly forgot how good it really is until I made it last night. I was looking for butter vehicles at near midnight. (And now I have to add a mile to run today.)

Sundried Tomato Rosemary Compound Butter

  • 1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted fresh butter
  • 3 Tbsp finely minced sundried tomatoes (I use oil-packed, drained)
  • 2 Tbsp finely minced fresh Italian parsley (or 1 Tbsp dried)
  • 1 Tbsp finely minced basil
  • 2 tsp finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp salt

Let butter soften until it can be stirred into a creamy consistency. If you want to hurry this along, grate it on the large holes of a cheese grater into a bowl. Add all the ingredients to your creamy butter, and combine well.

(Taste, and let your eyes roll back in your head.)

Spread it onto a sheet of parchment paper and form into a cylinder of sorts. Roll tightly and secure the ends. Pop it back into the fridge to firm up, then slice off disks and serve at will. I store mine in the freezer- it keeps well, and I have deliciousness as needed.

Plus, it’s red and green for Christmas! Enjoy! Speaking of red and green, I also suggest you give the guacamole a try. I do not recommend, however, making Julia Child’s Brioche with Zabaglione.

Recipe: Meatballs!

You’ll never buy the frozen meatballs again, I promise, once you make these babies. They are so easy and fast, it’s hardly any more effort than throwing down the frozen ones. Plus, you can freeze these yourself and be a perennial rock star!

Homemade Meatballs

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 container of ricotta cheese
  • handful of grated parmesan
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (or gluten-free crumbs, in my case)
  • salt and pepper (lots)
  • 1 tsp dried basil or a handful of fresh leaves, chopped

In a big bowl, mash everything together with your bare hands. Yep. It’s the only way to get a nice, well mixed meatball. Divide into 12 equal-ish portions, and roll into balls. Yep, they’re big. Two is more than enough of a serving. Feel free to make a bunch of mini ones if you prefer, but we like ’em big in our house.

Place in a baking dish with a little space around each of them, and bake at 400* for 30-40 minutes, or until browned. Obviously they would need less time if you opt for the mini balls.  Serve with homemade marinara or whatever sauce you love best. Top with basil and more parmesan.

That’s it. If you want to freeze them, do so after they cool. Then just microwave or bake when you want to have meatbally goodness.

Recipe: Antipasto

I was a vegetarian for seventeen years. Yeah, I know- I busted the run right after Bean was born with a parmesan crusted chicken breast that still makes me drool thinking about it. Then last year I had my first steak. Oh lawsy, it was divine. But every once in a while I still get a hankering for some of my old veggie staples, and this is one of my favs.

Vegetable Antipasto


  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • fresh basil leaves, chopped


  • one eggplant, cubed or sliced
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced thick
  • 1 orange and/or yellow pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets
  • 1 jar black or kalamata olives, drained
  • 1 can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • ripe tomatoes, cut as you like
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • cubed mozarella cheese

Prep all your veggies and steam them (except artichokes) in a basket over boiling water for two minutes. You want them just barely tender so the marinade can seep in and flavor them best. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients and whisk together until emulsified. Pour over the warm vegetables and toss. Add artichoke hearts. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The eggplant and mushrooms will sop in the marinade and change to an almost meaty texture. Serve on a platter with olives, cheese and cold cuts if you like.

Easy Spring Recipe: Caramelized Onion Pizza

Okay folks, this is not for the kids- it’s what I make for me when I’ve got a hankering for some grown-up food. First off, use whatever pizza crust you like. I use Udi’s gluten-free crust, which happens to be the only GF food I’ve found worth eating (except Maggianos eggplant parmesan, but I digress). In my dreams, my crust of choice is Viccolo cornmeal crust- and if you have a Whole Foods or Trader Joes, and you can grab one- do it! My point is- any crust, whatever- because the crust is not the star. Onions, my friends, are the academy award winners here. And I’m going to tell you how to make your onions sing like a Castrati…

Carmelized Onion Pizza with Kalamata Olives

  • Pizza crust, whatever kind you like
  • 1 whole large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • pinch of salt
  • handful of kalamata olives, run through with knife for rough chop
  • havarti, gouda, goat or whatever cheese is in my basket. (you do have a cheese basket now, don’t you??)
  1. Preheat oven to around 400*. Roll out or prep your crust however it needs, and set aside.
  2. Slice red onion in half, then into thin slices.
  3. Add butter to a hot saute pan, heat until frothy, and add onions. Spread onions out, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and don’t touch them. They will caramelize if you leave them alone. I know, crazy. But its true. And here’s the secret: Let them brown, stir, let them brown again- really brown- then, add some water- maybe 1/4 cup. It will look like a sizzling, soupy mess, but the water will dissolve all the brown fond on the pan and onions, and will quickly reduce to thick oniony goodness. Repeat until the onions are soft and deep, caramel brown. No need whatsoever to add sugar. The salt actually draws out the natural sugar in the onions.
  4. When your onions are deep caramel and there is no liquid in the pan, add the heavy cream and reduce until it’s a thick sauce coating the beautiful onions- about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Top your pizza crust with these saucy, creamy, caramel onions in a nice layer. Add cheese of choice, and sprinkle with roughly chopped kalamata olives.
  6. Pop that baby in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until bubbly and golden.
  7. Mange.

Recipe: Meat Lasagna with Alfredo

Lasagna is one of those things that everyone has a favorite, and everyone’s mama makes the best one. I’m no exception- and like most good cooking (rather than baking) recipes, there really isn’t a recipe. I doubt I’ve ever pulled the same lasagna from the oven twice. Sometimes I add eggplant and spinach, sometimes extra meat or sausage, sometimes I go completely vegetarian (my favorite) with lots of different cheeses. This is my basic recipe, which you can then spring from in a hundred ways… Be warned though- this is a good one.

Here’s the goods:

Meat Lasagna with Alfredo

  • two packages flat lasagna noodles, no need to boil
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 container perlini fresh mozzarella
  • 8 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan, divided
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • fresh garlic
  • crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce of your choice or homemade
  • fresh basil
  • salt and pepper

Homemade lasagna is a labor of love. It’s a lot of work. Kind of like my cinnamon rolls. But also like my cinnamon rolls, it’s worth it. Every once in a while. So gird yourself up, and get cooking. First, you have to make both your sauces- for this, it’s not quite a bollanaise (which cooks forever and requires more labor than I’m usually willing to give), and I skip the béchamel in favor of alfredo- its easier and I like it better.

For your meat sauce, in a large saute pan over medium heat, begin to render your pancetta. (pancetta is uncured pork belly- basically bacon without the smoke- and will be your fat for sauteing)

Dice up half your large onion:

and add to the pan once the fat has rendered from the pancetta. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the ground pork and ground beef, and saute:

Really get it browned- but not burned- see the little brown bits in the bottom of the pan? You want this:

If there is extra fat in the bottom of the pan once the meat is throughly browned and you have crispy bits, drain it off, and then add your marinara sauce- homemade or otherwise. For this recipe, I used RAO’s, my personal favorite, and added a splash of cream. The cream gives it the body of a bollanaise, with not demanding the all day cooking.

Pour this sauce into a bowl and set aside, and get ready to make your alfredo. Alfredo is simple, easy and delicious, and only has four ingredients: Cream, parmesan, butter and garlic. How can you go wrong??

Squish a couple of garlic cloves (witness the winter-garlic green tinge- alas) and run them through with your knife or with a press. I personally like a press- don’t understand why some people disparage them. They work great. In the same pan you made the meat sauce in, heat some butter and add the garlic:

Then, when the garlic is toasty and soft, but NOT brown, add the whole rest of the container of cream. Yup. Just do it.

Let the cream come up to temperature, and then, while stirring, add grated parmesan (please, never, ever ever ever the stuff in the green can. please?) Let it simmer for a bit to meld all the flavors and thicken- it should coat your spatula when ready:

With both sauces done, now get your ricotta mixture ready:

Stir two eggs into the 8 ounces of ricotta until its well combined, then add some torn up or chiffonade basil

Now gather everything you’ve made and get ready to assemble. I told you it was a lot of work and a labor of love! Only very special people get lasagna in my house…

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take your 9×13 baking dish and give it a good splash of olive oil and place a thin layer of the meat sauce in the bottom before you lay down your first layer of pasta. Top the first layer of pasta with meat sauce, cheese and dollops of ricotta:

Next layer, add a tier of pasta on top of the first layer and top with alfredo, perlini, mozzarella and basil leaves:

Alternate layers until you use up everything- ending with a meat sauce layer. The top layer should be scattered with extra parmesan and any other cheese left over- but no basil leaves- they will burn and blacken. Here we are ready to go in the oven- no foil or covering is necessary– but do place on a cookie sheet, because bubble-over is likely. Bake for one hour.

One hour. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Then magic happens- and you pull out this beauty:

Now, whatever you do- no matter what- DO NOT CUT INTO IT YET!! This is a mistake too many people make with a fine lasagna. It’s like a steak- you have to let it rest! For at least 20 minutes- better 30- just leave it be on top of the stove. If you cut it while it’s molten hot, the cheese and sauce will just goop out all over the place, and ruin the experience. It’s better to wait- trust me. Use that time to make some screamin’ garlic toast or something…

Then, cut that beauty open– and voila:

Enjoy. And you’re welcome.

Christmas Recipe: Mexican Caesar Salad

Everyone else is posting cookie and candy recipes, but for me, Christmas Eve means Mexican food- and has for the better part of the last decade. I make this salad once a year, and I make a bucketload- enough to feed 30-40 people each year on Christmas Eve. If I showed up with anything else, they might toss me out. The recipe is originally from El Torito Restaurant, and trust me when I say it’s the real deal. You can halve the recipe if you need less than a vat. Even feeding 40 people, I’ll only use half. (I dole the rest out to grateful friends)

Welcome to the kitchen of Little House… Now lets make some food!

El Torito’s Mexican Caesar Salad

The cast of characters:

  • 2 medium Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled and seeded (or one can Hatch diced mild chiles)
  • 1/3 cup roasted pepitas (green raw pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 8 ounces light olive oil or other mild salad oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp grated Cotija cheese (crumbly Mexian cheese, cannot be substituted- becoming widely available)
  • 2 medium bunches of cilantro
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup water

The very first thing you have to do is roast your pepitas. This is a fun little thing, because they puff up and pop when you heat them- and their flavor is terrific. When you start, they will be flat and firm, and add them to a dry pan over medium heat:

Shake them and watch carefully- like all nuts/seeds, they’re likely to burn if you’re not careful. It only takes a couple of minutes- and they’ll start to pop and puff up, and look like this:

Place all of the above ingredients except cilantro, mayonnaise and water in a food processor. Thus:

Give it a whirl, pulsing until it’s well combined and uniform. Then, add the cilantro- yes, all of it- but only handfulls at a time, or you might have a mess. But keep adding and pulsing until it looks like this:

Then, in a large separate bowl, combine and whisk together the mayonnaise and the water until smooth, and then add the contents of the cilantro-ladden food processor:

Combine until it looks like this:

Then bottle in canning jars and refrigerate. It tastes best after its sat in the cold for a day or two, and will keep a week in the fridge. It never lasts that long at my house…

To make the salad, quantities are variable, depending on the crowd:

  • Romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
  • Extra grated Cotija cheese
  • Roasted red bell peppers, peeled, seeded and diced
  • Extra roasted pepitas
  • Corn tortillas, julienned and pan-fried in vegetable oil until crisp

Et voila! Assemble to your liking, and enjoy!

Easy Recipes: Sour Cream Enchiladas + Chile Verde Pork

Okay, I’ve been asked for this recipe probably only slightly less times than the Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll recipe- and judging by my links, I know a lot of you are using that one! These were delivered tonight to a friend’s family as a service, so we didn’t actually get to eat them here, but someone did! I hope they liked them as much as we do.

Sour Cream Enchiladas

  • 1 package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1- 16 oz tub of sour cream
  • 1 can of condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can diced green anaheim chilis
  • 1 whole bunch of green onions, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded cheese
  • 1 can black olives, sliced
  • 1 can black beans, drained well
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 package 8-10″ flour tortillas

Mix everything together, reserving 1 cup cheese for topping. Fill tortillas and roll into enchilada shape and place in a 9 x 12 baking dish. Spread remainder of filling on top of enchiladas and top with rest of cheese and maybe some extra green onion, if you’ve got any left.

Bake at 350* for 30-40 minutes until cheese is bubbly and everything looks toasty and good.

That’s it. Enjoy!


Easy Chile Verde Pork

This one is… simply divine. It’s a classic dish, but I’m not sure how classic my preparation is- it’s cheap and quick but it sure works well! Look for a lean pork roast– sometimes I use tenderloin– at the market. You don’t want something with much fat for this version, as you’re not going to cook it all night (I have a recipe to do that if you ever want it). It’s easier to cut into cubes if you freeze it for an hour or so, by the way.

  • Pork roast, whatever size your family needs. Better to have too much, I say.
  • a few garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 cup or so orange juice
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 can green enchilada sauce
  • 1 can or several fresh tomatillos
  • 1 onion diced
  • time

The night before, cube up the pork and seal in a zipper-top bag with the spices, orange and lime juice. Refrigerate overnight.

Drain the meat and place in a heavy stockpot or (even better!) cast iron dutch oven. Pour green enchilada sauce over the top, add diced onions and tomatillos (whichever kind you use) and start simmering, keeping covered. If the sauce starts to reduce too much, add a little water or chicken broth. Cook for 2 hours or so, and the pork will be falling-apart tender, and the sauce will be thicker and delicious. Eat by itself, or in simple street tacos or burritos.

Recipe: Roasted Ratatouille

I know, I know- it’s another pile of vegetables with something white on top. But really! Try it! This one came about because I had a bucket-load of eggplant and squash from my friend’s garden- and what do you make with squash and eggplant??

Why, ratatouille, of course! Only I didn’t want to dig out the mandolin slicer and go to all the labor that Saint Julia requires for a real ratatouille. So I went to my friends at Cook’s Illustrated. Even with my tweaks, it came out excellent, as is typical of their work. I wanted a ratatouille I could pop in the oven and forget about for an hour, then have dinner done. So instead of slicing and layering and baking, as a traditional ratatouille, this one is diced and roasted- and carmel-y and intense, too- due to the roasting. And it is delicious! AND EASY!

Roasted Ratatouille

  • 1 medium eggplant, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2  summer squash, diced
  • 1 package of brown mushrooms, quartered
  • 5 cloved of garlic, sliced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained- 15 oz.
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon tarragon
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh goat cheese to top
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Dice up the whole kit and caboodle, about 1/2″ dice. Toss everything but the goat cheese together in a bowl. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast 60-90 minutes, stirring at the half-way point.
  3. Sprinkle with a dab of goat cheese, and enjoy your vegetables!