Saturday, August 1, 2015

Indoor smokey pulled pork

Summertime means grilled and smoked foods galore! But what do you do when you don't have a smoker but want some delicious smoked meats? You make this recipe. Which also happens to be (hands down) the best pulled pork I've ever made.

Smokey pulled pork + BBQ sauce + Hawaiian buns
Warning: Drool-worthy photos of meaty goodness to follow. 
You may want to avoid this post if you're a vegetarian. :)

Though the flavors aren't quite as pronounced from what you'd get with a smoker, it's beyond awesome for an oven version, with a mellow smokey flavor. The best part of the meal though was the texture of the pork. It's insanely crispy on the outside, so much so that I was even eating the bits of fat that had that perfect crackly skin. And I'm typically NOT a fan of the fatty bits. But I just couldn't... stop... eating.

It may look hideous but it's delicious! This is half the pork shoulder straight from the oven.
Of course the recipe came from Cooks Illustrated, because they're the only crazy people out there who would brine the pork in liquid smoke, then coat it with even more smokey flavor. Oh, and they also have you cut the pork should in half to create even more surface area to get that crackly skin. But it's worth every single step.

You won't believe how crispy this pork gets!
This isn't a meal I'd make on the regular, but one worth trying at least once this summer. I even went all out and made the BBQ sauce recipe they suggested, though you could easily replace with your favorite brand.

I should note though that the recipe is pretty simple. A brine at the beginning, then just a long trip in the oven. Overall the recipe is pretty hands off until you start shredding the meat. But between the brine and the baking it'll take ~7 hours from start to finish.

Crispy. Crispy. Bits. They make this entire dish!!!!
Then just bring your bowl out to the table along with some BBQ sauce and some Hawaiian sweet rolls and you've got yourself a bona fide summertime meal!

Yours in helping you get your smoke on, even for those of us without fancy smokers,

Indoor smokey pulled pork, adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 6 to 8

Note: Please please PLEASE make sure to wrap your baking sheet completely in foil. Don't do what I did, which was to simply put a layer of foil on the bottom of my baking sheet. As the fat rendered off the pork all the meat juices just seeped underneath the foil and formed a thick burnt crust on the bottom of my entire baking sheet that took days to soak and scrub off. So wrap your ENTIRE baking sheet with at least 1 layer of foil (heavy duty if you have it), making sure that you don't have any overlapping pieces where fat can drip under and create a mess. Then when the pork is done you can simply unwrap your baking sheet and cleanup will be a breeze.


1 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 TBSP liquid smoke 
1 boneless pork butt (about 5 pounds), cut in half horizontally (to increase the surface area of the meat)

Wet rub
2 tsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup yellow mustard

Dry rub
2 tsp table salt
2 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP ground black pepper
2 TBSP smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce, optional
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup light or mild molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Alternative: If you don't want to make the BBQ sauce from scratch, simply use 2 cups of your favorite sauce thinned with 1/2 cup of the defatted pork cooking liquid from step 7.

  1. FOR BRINING THE PORK: Dissolve salt, sugar, and liquid smoke in 4 quarts cold water in a large container (Note: I used my soup pot). Submerge pork in brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  2. While pork brines, make your "wet rub" by combining mustard and liquid smoke in small bowl; set aside. To make the dry rub combine the black pepper, paprika, sugar, salt, and cayenne in second small bowl; set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Completely wrap a baking sheet in foil (see note above) and set aside.
  4. PREPARE PORK FOR THE OVEN: Remove pork from brine and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Rub the "wet rub" mustard mixture over the entire surface of each piece of pork. Sprinkle entire surface of each piece with the "dry rub" spice mixture.
  5. Place pork on wire rack set inside foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place piece of parchment paper over pork, then cover with sheet of aluminum foil, sealing edges to prevent moisture from escaping. (Note: covering the pork with parchment and then foil prevents the acidic mustard from eating holes in the foil.)
  6. Roast pork for 3 hours.
  7. Remove pork from oven; remove and discard foil and parchment. Carefully pour off liquid in bottom of baking sheet into fat separator and reserve for sauce.
  8. Return pork to oven and cook, uncovered, until well browned, tender, and internal temperature registers 200 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 1½ hours.
  9. Transfer pork to serving dish, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  10. FOR THE SAUCE: While pork rests, pour 1/2 cup of defatted cooking liquid from fat separator into medium bowl; whisk in sauce ingredients.
  11. TO SERVE: Using 2 forks, shred pork into bite-sized pieces. Toss with 1 cup sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve, passing remaining sauce separately. 
The shredded and sauced pork can be cooled, tightly covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.  Read more...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Quinoa salad with lemon dressing

Quinoa, of the white variety how I wish I loved you more than I do.

You're healthy. And quick to cook. And pretty damn filling. Good good good!
But you're also pretty damn bland. With a less-than exciting texture. Booo booo.

Your cousin, red quinoa, now that's a different story (hubba hubba). It's hearty and nutty with a nice bite to its texture. But red quinoa isn't easy on the wallet, so I can't be cooking it up every week. Instead I keep coming back to you, insipid white quinoa.

But apparently if you add a ton of flavorful veggies and some lemony dressing to you you're delicious. And not the "you're-healthy-so-I'm-telling-myself-that-you're-delicious" delicious. The "honest-to-goodness-I-could-eat-you-every-day-for-lunch" delicious!

Which is exactly what I did! Make a big batch of the quinoa and pair it with some grilled chicken breasts and you've got yourself a healthy, flavorful, and filling meal. 

Yours in giving white quinoa a second chance,

Quinoa Salad, adapated from Iowa Girl Eats
This salad keeps great all week long, so prep it on the weekend and have a healthy side dish or meal for days! 

And want some more ideas for quinoa? Check out this watermelon and feta salad and this Moroccan butternut squash stew with quinoa.

salad ingredients
3/4 cup quinoa, uncooked (or up to 1 cup for a more "quinoa-y" salad)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, or 1 bag of frozen corn, thawed
1/2 to 1 red, orange, or yellow pepper, diced
2-3 green onions, sliced (or you can substitute 1/4 cup red onion, chopped)
1 avocado, chopped
1/3 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper

lemon vinaigrette
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons worth)
1-2 small garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
salt and pepper
6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

  1. Cook quinoa according to package instructions. When it is completely cooled, add to a large bowl along with the rest of the salad ingredients.
  2. Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake.
  3. Toss salad with vinaigrette.
  4. Serve immediately or allow to chill in the refrigerator.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fish (or shrimp) tacos with a secret sauce

It's summer time! Which means lots of grilling and outdoor eating and quick, fresh, light meals. You know what's perfect for that? FISH TACOS! Or SHRIMP TACOS! Basically, any seafood in a taco. :)

There are a million recipes out there for cooking the seafood, so I'm not providing a full one today (check out Peas and Crayons for a salmon chili-rub recipe). We like to use a simple cajun seasoning for our firm white fish or shrimp. Then we grill the seafood for a touch of smokey flavor, or just cook it on the stovetop (shrimp cook up in no time in a skillet)!

But the reason I'm blogging about this today is that I want to share with you our secret ingredient that takes this dish to the max: sriracha ranch sauce. Yes, it's only 2 ingredients, and it doesn't sound all that great. But I swear, it'll blow your mind. It makes the absolute best sauce for these fish and shrimp tacos!

Anther reason we love this dish is that you can use what you have on hand for a great meal. Things we like to top our tacos with include:
  • sriracha ranch awesome-sauce (absolutely required, of course)
  • cabbage slaw (see the honey-lime slaw recipe below before for inspiration)
  • cilantro (a must in my book)
  • avocado
  • cojita cheese
  • a touch of fresh-squeezed lime juice from a wedge

Sriracha Ranch Sauce, from Peas and Crayons
3 TBSP homemade or store-bought ranch dressing (Brianna's makes the best dressing in my opinion)
1 TBSP Sriracha Chili Sauce

Honey-Lime Slaw, adapted from Peas and Crayons
Use this recipe below as a guide for your slaw, and add/remove ingredients as you see fit. At bare minimum you just need cabbage, something acidic, and a touch of sugar. DONE!

1 cup cabbage, finely chopped/shredded
¼ small red onion, sliced thin
1-2 TBSP lime juice (or combo of apple cider vinegar and lime juice)
1 tsp honey (up to 1 TBSP to taste) or sugar
fresh cilantro, to taste
¼ tsp garlic powder
a pinch of salt
1/2 TBSP mayo, optional 

Friday, July 3, 2015

East End Cooler (strawberry cocktail)

It's starting to feel like summer in Chicago! Finally!!!

Let's celebrate the 4th by putting some fruit in our cocktails. It's also crimson, so it knocks out one of the 3 food groups everyone will be serving this weekend (you know: white food, red food, and blue food).

This cocktail was a combination of 2 of my favorite liquors (Hendricks gin and St Germain) with super fresh strawberries. It looks a bit like a girly drink, but don't let it's beautiful hue frighten you away. This 'aint no strawberry daiquiri, and has just a touch of sweetness. It's simply a bright, fresh berry flavor to compliment the delicious liquors.

So grab your muddler and shake up a refreshing and crisp cocktail this weekend!

Buen Provecho,

East End Cooler, from St. Germain Cocktails website

2 oz gin (I love Hendricks or Deaths Door)
1.5 oz fresh lemon juice
1.5 oz St-Germain
1/2 oz simple syrup
1 strawberry (or 2 smaller ones if you want to pump up the flavor)

  1. In your shaker, muddle your strawberry
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, fill with ice, and shake shake shake (do this until your shaker gets ice cold, almost painful to the touch, around 15-20 seconds!)
  3. Strain into a coupe glass or highball glass with ice
  4. Garnish with a small strawberry or mint (or both)


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Key Lime Pie

I'm pretty much obsessed with citrus-based desserts. Though you guys already know that, after what I've been posting over the past 5+ years on the blog (case in point: lemon crisps, langues de chats cookies, lemon shortbread, lemon bars [two recipes!], candied citron, orange galette, citrus almond cake, brown butter orange marmalade cake, and tangerine cake.)

But what about lime?

So far, the only lime treats I've written about have been of the alcoholic variety (basil gimlet or cucumber cooler anyone?) Well, it's about time I fixed this glaring oversight! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the ultimate lime dessert...

Key lime pie! (with real key limes!!!)

I'm warning you, I went a little trigger-happy with my camera and took a ton of photos. But whipped cream is such a perfect model.

So scroll down if you're just here for the recipe...

...but keep looking at these photos if you want to droooooooooool.

Perfect slices!

This pie cuts like a dream.

I mean just LOOK at it!

Wanna bite??

Oh, and did I mention it's just a few ingredients and one of the simplest pies you'll ever make??

So go make it! Especially while limes are super duper cheap right now.

(Key) Lime Pie, from Cooks Illustrated

I did use key limes for this pie, but not sure they were really worth it (see my picture below). I only got the bag for a few bucks, but they took well over 30 minutes to zest/juice the ~20 limes needed to get the half cup of juice! So just use fresh limes and your pie will be as glorious as this!


Lime Filling
4 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 cup lime juice from 3 to 4 limes
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Graham Cracker Crust
11 graham crackers, processed to fine crumbs (1 1/4 cups)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 lime, sliced paper thin and dipped in sugar (optional)

  1. For the Filling: Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl until tinted light green, about 2 minutes. Beat in milk, then juice; set aside at room temperature to thicken. 
  2. For the Crust: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix crumbs and sugar in medium bowl. Add butter; stir with fork until well blended. Pour mixture into 9-inch pie pan; press crumbs over bottom and up sides of pan to form even crust (use a measuring cup to help you press the crumbs evenly in the pie pan). Bake until lightly browned and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. 
  3. Pour lime filling into crust; bake until center is set, yet wiggly when jiggled, 15 to 17 minutes. Return pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours. (Can be covered with lightly oiled or oil-sprayed plastic wrap laid directly on filling and refrigerated up to 1 day.) 
  4. For the Whipped Cream: Up to 2 hours before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to very soft peaks. Adding confectioners’ sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, continue whipping to just-stiff peaks. Decoratively pipe whipped cream over filling or spread evenly with rubber spatula. Garnish with optional sugared lime slices (or lime zest, as I did) and serve. 
So many teeny tiny limes!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pork tenderloin with porcini broth and chilled beet soup

After the New Year (when everyone is in a frenzy to eat healthy) I came across Bon Appetit's Food Lovers Cleanse. In theory it's a perfect way to jump start your year. Two weeks of healthy and delicious meals planned out along with a complete grocery list for each week sounds like a great way to simplify your life... until you start looking at the massive amounts of cooking and fancy/exotic foods required. I'm not still not sure how anyone with a job (or children) would have the time or money to prepare their breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes every single day for 2 weeks.

So while it didn't take me long to figure out that it was a completely unreasonable plan to follow, individually a lot of the recipes sounded excellent and totally approachable. I ended up making/being inspired by multiple recipes, including this roasted beet soup and pork tenderloin with porcini broth. Both were super simple, incredibly approachable, and had a ton of great flavor.

The soup, other than being stunning, tasted like what it says: roasted beets. The flavor gets mellowed out a bit with the buttermilk, and has a great texture after pureeing/chilling the soup.

I loved the bright pink color of this beet soup!
The pork dish was equally simple yet bursting with flavor. It was a unique way for me to serve my pork tenderloin, which I usually just sear and roast. And the umami of the mushrooms worked really well with the lean pork.

Buen Provecho,

Roasted Beet Soup, adapted from Bon Appetit's 2015 Food Lovers Cleanse

The original recipe called for a full tablespoon of caraway seeds, which was just a bit too potent for me (as I'm not a huge fan). I still liked the soup as is, but next time I'd cut the full tablespoon down a bit. That suggestion is included below. 

1 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp to 1 TBSP caraway seeds, to taste
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds of beets, roasted and chopped
1 cup buttermilk, divided, plus more for serving
Fresh dill sprigs, cracked pepper (for serving)

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add caraway seeds and cook, stirring, until they start to pop and dance around in the pan, about 1 minute. 
  2. Quickly add onion, leek, and a splash of water to keep seeds from burning; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, 5–7 minutes. 
  3. Add beets and 2½ cups water to pan; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors come together, 15–20 minutes. 
  4. Let mixture cool slightly, then purée in a blender in 2 batches, adding ½ cup buttermilk to each batch (or use an immersion blender directly in your pot). 
  5. If serving warm: gently heat soup, adding water to adjust consistency if needed. Serve drizzled with buttermilk and topped with dill sprigs and cracked pepper. If serving cold: refrigerate soup until ready to serve. Serve drizzled with buttermilk or topped with yogurt/crème fraîche
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Porcini Broth, adapted from Bon Appetit's 2015 Food Lovers Cleanse

½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms (about ¾ cup)
1 1¼-lb. pork tenderloin
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, finely chopped
4 oz. wild or cultivated mushrooms (a combination of black trumpet, maitake, chanterelle, beech, oyster, and/or shiitake), trimmed, halved if large
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced on a diagonal
1 cup homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. 
  2. Place porcinis in a heatproof bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Set aside until porcinis are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid and mushrooms. Finely chop mushrooms.
  3. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat 1 TBSP oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned on all sides, 6–8 minutes. 
  4. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 140°F, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing ½” thick (about 15 slices). 
  5. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 TBSP oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, mushrooms, and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and cook 1 minute. Add porcini broth, chopped porcinis, and chicken stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes. 
  6. Divide pork among shallow bowls and ladle broth and vegetables over top.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lemon chicken

Why is it that I'm more inclined to share recipes here that sound super sexy, but aren't necessarily ones that you (or I) would make on a regular basis?!? I'm sure I'm unconsciously plagued by the whole "let's-make-our-lives-look-a-little-better-online-than-they-are-in-real-life" problem we're all facing now.

So let's get away from that, OK?

To start, here's a "normal person" lemon chicken dish taken with a "normal person" camera (aka cell phone).

It's a handful of simple ingredients that when baked together create something magical. I'm convinced that lemon combined with white wine and briny flavors brings out some of the best in chicken.

Other than the awesome lemony liquid that you could practically drink with the spoon, one of the best parts of this recipe is that that you can use whatever veggies you have on hand to complete this dish.

Oh, did I also mention it's a single-pot meal?!

Yours in going back to the basics, especially now that the weather is warming up and I don't want to stay indoors all day long cooking up a storm,

Lemon chicken with white wine, adapted from The Noshery
The original recipe called for 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts (which at the time were way overpriced) and 2 large parsnips (which I don't like). So I just eliminated those, doubled the potatoes, and added large green olives and capers instead, since I love the combination of lemon with briny flavors. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you like or have on hand!


chicken marinade
8 chicken thighs, excess skin trimmed
¾ cup white wine or dry vermouth
juice of 2 large lemons
1 onion, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

1 - 2 lb petite gold potatoes, halved
½ cup diced roasted red peppers
handful large green olives
1 - 2 TBSP capers, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, sliced

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Combine all "chicken marinade" ingredients in a large resealable bag. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated with marinade and refrigerate for 30 - 45 minutes.
  3. In your baking dish, toss the vegetables with olive oil, salt, and pepper until evenly coated. Spread out into a nice even layer and top with the lemon slices (see picture below). Arrange chicken, skin side up, on top of the lemon and vegetables, and pour marinade over chicken.
  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and bake another 20 minutes, or longer, until the chicken is done (aka juices run clear, or the chicken thighs register 170-180 degrees F). 
  5. If the chicken skin isn't golden and crispy enough, place under the broiler for the last few minutes of cooking until the skin begins to darken.