Carolina-Style Slow Cooked Pulled Pork

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Good pulled pork is darn near a religious experience in the American South.  To make truly authentic pulled pork you need a smoker and lots and lots of time.  Not to worry if you can’t be bothered to tend a smoker or you can’t have one where you live, there is an easy solution.  All you need is a slow cooker or a large oven safe pot with a lid.  If you have neither of these and you are desperate for a taste of pork heaven, you can always cook it in large baking dish tightly covered with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

The rub recipe is an all-purpose one that I also use on chicken.  Feel free to substitute your favorite rub.  I am by no means an expert on Carolina-style barbeque sauce so I found a recipe by Tyler Florence on the Food Network’s website which garnered good reviews.  The sauce is very tangy with a spicy, mustardy taste.  It is completely different from the ketchup based barbeque sauces that are more popular elsewhere in the U.S.  I found it to be a great accompaniment to the pork and more that a little addictive.

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Oatmeal Spice Cake

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I must confess, I am not a huge fan of cake unless it is homemade.  And by homemade, I mean from scratch and not from a box.  Bakery cakes (especially those from grocery stores) are way too sweet and box cakes taste artificial.  When I do bake a cake I tend to make bundt cakes.  However, once in a while I do really like a frosted cake and one that can be baked in a 9-x13-inch pan is even better.  The best reason is that you don’t have to worry about removing it from the pan in one piece.  Just cool, frost, cut in pieces and serve.  Easy peasy and oh so delicious.  Although, if you are feeling ambitious you can bake this cake in two 9-inch round cake pans for 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cake rounds to cool until room temperature.  You will also need to double the amount of frosting.

This cake is lightly spiced and has a wonderful nubby texture from the oats.  Don’t wait for a special occasion to enjoy this cake.

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Costa Rican Chicken and Black Bean Soup

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Black bean soup is one of my favorite comfort foods and I am always on the lookout for different ways to prepare it.  While researching recipes I ran across this one several years ago on what was recipezaar (now food.com).  The combination of Caribbean spices and a little heat from cayenne make for a flavor combination that is out of this world.  I decided to make the soup a more filling meal by adding a protein.  Frozen chicken breasts are an ingredient that we usually have on hand, but boneless, skinless chicken thighs or the shredded meat off of a store bought rotisserie chicken would also work.

I really like to use dried beans when I have the time as they are so tasty, especially when cooked with a few flavor enhancing ingredients like bay leaves and ham hocks.  One advantage to dried black beans over other types of beans is their small size.  Because of this they don’t need to be soaked overnight.  One disadvantage to cooking dried black beans is that they can turn a rather unappetizing shade of gray.  By adding a tiny amount of baking soda to the cooking liquid you can keep them mostly black.  No matter what you do though some of the color will leach out.     If you are time crunched, substituting 4 (15-ounce) cans of drained and rinsed black beans will make the soup much quicker to get on the table.

A squeeze of lime juice across your bowl of soup is a must as this little bit of acidity really allows the flavors to shine.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro.  Serve with a salad and a Red Stripe or Caribe lager for a complete meal.

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Indian Fish Curry

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Have you ever had one of those days where you just aren’t inspired in the kitchen?  Recently I have been going through this fairly often.  Nothing sounds good and I’m sick of chicken but that’s all that is in the freezer.  One weekend, not long ago, I was having one of those indecisive days and my husband suggested fish for dinner.  He even volunteered to go to the grocery store and pick up whatever we needed.  I thought he had a great idea but I didn’t want to have a plain fillet that was baked or sautéd.  In the back of my mind I remembered seeing this recipe in one of my Williams Sonoma cookbooks.  After reviewing the ingredient list, I sent Jeff off to the store to buy a firm white fish that was fresh and reasonably priced.  What I got was Alaskan cod which was delicious.  You could substitute halibut (which is never reasonably priced here), catfish or tilapia.

I will be the first to tell you that I don’t have much experience with curry and wouldn’t know an authentic one if it bit me on the butt.  However, I have made a few that use easy to find ingredients and have always been pleased with how they taste.  This fish curry is certainly no exception.  It is full of flavor and the perfect dish to relieve the kitchen blahs.  Continue reading

Soft Molasses Spice Cookies

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This is absolutely my favorite cookie from my childhood.  I never got the exact recipe from my mom but I seem to remember it coming out of a red book with a ring binding.  That can only mean Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens.  So off I went on a web search for my favorite cookie.  I tried many and none were quite right until I found Miss Betty.  I had to make one change to the spices to make it taste right.  My mom never liked cloves and would substitute allspice, so that is what I use here.

I know that some of you are going to not like the idea of using shortening.  I have to admit that I am not a fan either.  I do my level best to keep trans fats out of our diet by reading the ingredients list for all processed food and reshelving those products that still contain them.  Unfortunately, shortening still has partially hydrogenated fat.  Technically the manufacturer can claim the shortening is trans fat free because each serving has less half a gram.   Since I only make these cookies a couple of times a year I have made an uneasy peace with this.  In order to avoid the shortening I have tried butter, but it dulls the flavor of the spices and changes the texture of the cookie.  Since butter has a lower melting point the cookies spread a lot more and they wind up crispier.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but, what I want in this particular cookie is chewy and soft.  Another way to ensure a chewy cookie is to remove the baking sheet from the oven when the cookies look slightly under baked in the middle.  If you like a crispy cookie then bake them for a an extra minute or two.

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Italian Sausage Soup

So here it is just two and half weeks away from Christmas and I’m wearing shorts and flip flops.  This current spell of abnormally warm December weather does not do much to inspire me to finish my Christmas shopping or get started on my holiday baking.  However, when the calendar says it’s winter I’m breaking out the soup recipes regardless of the fact that it is nearly 80 degrees outside.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite community cooking sites, Allrecipes.  Most everything I have made from the website has turned out delicious, especially if you stick to the more highly rated recipes.  Of course, I couldn’t leave it alone and follow the recipe exactly.  I added a few more vegetables and spices and came out with a winner.  I love recipes like this where a few changes can make it authentically your own.  Feel free to use what ever veggies you have on hand and which ever type of Italian sausage your family prefers. Continue reading

Barbecue Cowboy Beans

BBQ Cowboy BeansBeans, beans the more you eat, the more you….well you know the old saying.  Luckily if you are a bean fanatic like my husband you can develop a tolerance to the not so nice after effects of a bowl of beans.  Seriously, if you eat beans regularly your body will become accustomed to the complex sugars which cause the gastrointestinal distress associated with beans.  Soaking dried beans, either overnight or by the quick-soak method, also reduces the amount of complex sugars, especially if you thoroughly rinse the beans after soaking.

This is a really simple recipe and only requires a few ingredients.  The most important of which is the barbecue sauce.  You really want to use a quality sauce, either store bought or homemade.  Whenever we drive to Dallas to visit family, we always wind up in east Texas at dinner time.  Luckily, there are two great barbeque restaurants near Kilgore to choose from.  Crazy Bob’s BBQ is a bit of a dive but has the best barbeque sauce and pinto beans.  Bodacious Bar-B-Q has excellent brisket and really good sauce that you can buy for cheap.  For this recipe I used sauce from Bodacious Bar-B-Q.  For those that aren’t in the know, Texas barbeque sauce is smoky and slightly spicy with only a minimal amount of sugar.  But feel free to use your favorite sauce, just remember that a sweet sauce will give you a sweet side dish.  This recipe can also be made easier by substituting canned beans.  You will want to use 3 (15.5 ounce) cans of rinsed and drained pinto beans.

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