Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pork Tacos - or a poor man's version of Tacos al Pastor

Have you ever made a pork roast and had leftovers and didn't know what to do with them? Well, I'm here to tell you what we do with ours - and that sometimes we make an entire pork roast just so that we can have these tacos.

First, what are tacos al pastor?

Tacos al pastor likely originated from Lebanese immigrants who made their way to Mexico and brought shawarma with them. Like any food that emigrates from one place to another, changes are made to include locally available ingredients and to suit local palettes. In this case, the meats were flavored with various chiles and then topped with a pineapple while roasting. Both tacos al pastor and schawarma are marinated meats that are placed on a vertical spit that is rotated alongside a source of heat and then thinly sliced as the meat cooks (I was also reminded of the meat you may have seen if you've ever ordered a gyro). Schawarma can be lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or even mixed meats, but tacos al pastor are pork.

We heard of them for the first time when we were in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago. They were selling them from a little cart so we decided to indulge and try them, not really expecting much. Boy, were we wrong. They were delicious! We had them again (several times) when we were in Cancún three years ago and order them at the few local restaurants here that have them (though none can equal what we had in Mexico).

My version isn't terribly complicated - it's actually very simple but still has a very similar flavor and has been very popular with everyone that has tried it.

When we were in Cancún it was served with a number of items on the side to top them with: fresh pineapple, cilantro, and thinly sliced cabbage and onions (as well as cheese, sour cream and fresh limes). As odd as topping your tacos with pineapple or cabbage may sound, the mixture of the spices in the meat and the sweetness of the pineapple is incredible. The cabbage adds a bit of "crunch" and the cilantro really completes it. But what really makes it special is the pork itself - I cook mine on a rotisserie which leaves it crispy on the outside. When you then put the leftover pork and some spices in a skillet and brown it, it gets nice and crispy and melts in your mouth.

So, here is my version of tacos al pastor! I'm writing this up for two pounds of leftover roast, simply because that's what I had.  You can very easily adjust the seasonings for whatever amount you may have available.


  • 2 pounds leftover pork roast, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • flour or corn tortillas (corn are traditional)

Toppings (all optional)

  • pineapple (fresh is best but canned will work fine)
  • cilantro, rough chopped
  • cabbage, thinly sliced
  • onions, thinly sliced
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream
  • fresh lime, quartered for squeezing over tacos
  • guacamole


  1. Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into a heavy skillet on medium high heat (I prefer cast iron for this)
  2. Put the leftover roast in the pan with the oil and heat thoroughly
  3. While heating the pork, place another pan on medium heat. Add the remaining oil and sauté the onions until just soft. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for an additional two minutes and set aside
    Onions, ginger and garlic ready to be added to the pork
  4. Stir the chili powder and cumin into the roast
    The pork with the chili powder and cumin added
  5. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until edges of the pork get crispy and brown
    The pork with the onion, garlic and ginger browned and ready to go
  6. Add the onion/garlic/ginger mixture to the pork and mix well
  7. Remove from heat and serve with whatever toppings you prefer!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Instant Hot Chocolate Mix

Instant Hot Chocolate Mix - topped with homemade maple whipped cream and caramel sauce

My son drinks a lot of hot chocolate and since the K-cups for the Keurig machine aren't particularly cheap, I decided it was time to figure out how to make a mix that would do the same thing, taste better and be a LOT cheaper.  I also had enough interest in my posting for instant chai mix that it warranted an encore of sorts so I thought this would kill two birds with one stone.

How does it taste?  I'll let my son do the honors, and this is a direct quote from him when he tasted it the first time, "Holy crap Dad - this stuff is REALLY good.".  An eloquent man of few words, my son.

He then had two more cups.

That's how I always know that I have a winner.


This is a 32 oz jar. You can see this recipe makes enough to fill
the jar. If you'd like more it can easily be doubled (or tripled!).


  1. Pour all ingredients into a food processor
  2. Blend until mixture is the consistency of fine powder  (you can skip this step and simply mix by hand, but it will dissolve better if you take the time to do it)
  3. Top with whipped cream or mini-marshmallows
To serve: Stir two or three tablespoons of the hot chocolate mixture (depending upon taste) into a mug of hot water. If you prefer an even creamier consistency, you can add hot milk instead of water.

Tropical Chicken

"Tropical chicken. What is that? Really? You're stuffing chicken with bananas?"

I'm paraphrasing, but that's basically how the conversation started out when my son asked what I was making for dinner. I'm certain he isn't the only person that has those same feelings when hearing what this recipe entails.

When he tried it he had an insight that I thought was brilliant because I hadn't thought of it earlier: it's very similar to chicken cordon bleu - except that instead of being stuffed with ham and cheese, it's stuffed with prosciutto (a type of ham) and bananas. He REALLY liked it - and I think you will, too.

The first time I ever heard of this dish was when I was in Cancun. We went to a wonderful restaurant (La Habichuela) and sat in the beautiful open courtyard with flowers growing everywhere and opened a very eclectic menu.

One of the things that caught my eye was called
Chicken Breast Verónica at La Habichuela in Cancún 
"Chicken Breast Verónica".  This is the description from their menu: "Stuffed with banana and prosciutto in a sweet hawaiian sauce".  I decided to try it and was VERY glad I did.  Though I really didn't know what to expect, it tasted incredible. The bananas had such a creamy, sweet taste that it really complemented the savory taste and crispy texture on the outside of the chicken. Likewise, the "sweet hawaiian sauce" over the chicken and rice also complemented the chicken well.

Try as I might, I wasn't able to find this recipe (or one similar) anywhere so I decided to try it myself. I've basically made the chicken the same way every time but I've experimented quite a bit with the sauce.  I've made one that had more of a maraschino cherry base (too sweet) and one that was ONLY fruit based (also too sweet).  The one I finally settled on uses wine, chicken broth and fruit and, in my opinion, is sweet enough without being TOO sweet like the other versions.

I'd rather have you be the judge though.  Try it and see what you think.  I think you'll be glad you did.


For the chicken:
Start with a whole boneless, skinless chicken breast

  • 2 boneless skinless whole chicken breasts
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 small bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup flour for dredging chicken
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons milk (beat with the egg)
  • 1/2 cup panko (or other bread crumbs) for dredging chicken

For the sauce:
  • 8 oz can crushed pineapple 
  • 8 oz can pineapple chunks
  • 2 mangos, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 cups cooked rice (white, long grained or brown, whichever you prefer)
  • maraschino cherries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350


  1. Cut one of the chicken breasts almost in half and open it up like a book so you form a butterfly shape

  2. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the chicken and using a heavy skillet or mallet, pound to even out their thickness and make them thin

  3. Cut in half to make two pieces
    Before cutting in half to make two pieces
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 for the second breast. You should end up with four pieces of thinly pounded chicken
  5. Lightly salt and pepper each chicken breast (feel free to use other spices/herb if you like. I used some freshly ground rosemary and garlic powder in addition to salt and pepper)

  6. Take a slice of prosciutto and stack banana slices inside and carefully roll up

  7. Place the prosciutto/banana on the pounded piece of chicken and carefully roll up, enclosing the prosciutto/banana

  8. Wrap each stuffed chicken piece in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or more

  9. Put the mango, orange juice and the crushed pineapple in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes

  10. Puree the mango, pineapple and orange juice mixture using a food processor, blender or immersion blender and set aside 
  11. Set up three pans; one with flour, one with the beaten egg and milk mixture and one with the panko or bread crumbs

  12. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and dredge each piece through the flour, then the egg/milk mixture and finally in the panko/bread crumbs

  13. Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat
  14. Brown the chicken on all sides being careful while turning it not to let the bananas come out of the ends

  15. Place the chicken in an oven safe dish and place in the preheated oven (at 350)

  16. Bake for twenty minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through
  17. While the chicken is baking, put the onions in the skillet where you cooked the chicken
  18. Sauté the onions until they are getting soft
  19. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for two minutes
  20. Add the wine and reduce by half

  21. Add the chicken broth and the mango/pineapple/juice mixture to the pan along with the can of pineapple chunks and bring to a boil

  22. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for ten minutes
  23. Remove the chicken from the oven
  24. Mound some cooked rice in the middle of each plate and top each with a piece of chicken
  25. Spoon the sauce generously over the chicken and rice
  26. Top with a maraschino cherry for a garnish!

If you prefer your sauce a bit sweeter, feel free to add honey or brown sugar during the cooking stage (step 21)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sunchoke Soup

Sunchokes can vary in color from pale brown to white, red or
purple (this is the first time I've had ones that weren't white)

Sunchoke - what is a sunchoke?  Would it help if I told you it was the same thing as a Jerusalem artichoke?  No?  I didn't really think so.

They ARE the same thing but if you've never heard of one you've likely never heard of the other. They are actually a root vegetable or tuber that are native to North America and were cultivated by Native Americans long before the Europeans arrived here. They come from a plant that looks very similar (and is related) to the sunflowers we're all used to seeing - and no, even though they're also called a Jerusalem artichoke they aren't from Jerusalem nor are they related to an artichoke.

Now that that's out of the way, what DO they taste like? Well, they LOOK kind of like a knobby pink-skinned ginger root and have a sweet, nutty flavor, reminiscent of water chestnut, though MUCH better than a water chestnut. Oh, and they make one of the best soups I've ever had, there's that part, too.

I first heard of them about ten years ago when one of our local stores used to sell a lot of Melissa's brand products. They had these little bags of them sitting there and I saw them and couldn't figure out what they were. I read the label and decided I had to try them. That started my love affair. When the store stopped carrying them, I went for several years without seeing them. Then about three years ago I ran across them again at a farmer's market in Millerton, NY and have gone back every fall since just to pick up more. I found them again at the winter farmer's market in Coventry about a month ago and this past weekend found them at the farmer's market up in Northampton (if you couldn't tell, we like going to farmer's markets!). I even bought ten pounds last year from a guy on eBay up in Oregon! I guess I'm trying to say that though they're not EASY to find, it's easier than it used to be - and it's well worth the time!

Now, on to the recipe.

Peeled sunchokes

  • 3 shallots - peeled and chopped (or if you're out of shallots like I was this time, try using a large onion instead)
  • 3 cloves - roasted garlic chopped 
  • 2 ribs celery - medium dice 
  • 2 pounds sunflower chokes - peeled and medium diced (just like potatoes, you do NOT have to peel sunchokes as long as they are scrubbed well so if you prefer not to peel them, by all means, don't)
  • 1 quart chicken stock 
  • 1 pint heavy cream 
    Ingredients ready to go in the pan
  • 1 tbsp thyme - chopped (fresh is best but if you don't have it on hand, dried will work just fine)
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp black pepper 
  • 2 tsp canola oil

    Diced sunchokes - they actually look a lot like potatoes at this point


  1. In a saucepot add oil and shallots (or onions), garlic, and celery and sauté for 2 minutes
  2. Add sunchokes and sauté for 3 minutes
    Sunchokes, celery, shallots and garlic being sautéed
  3. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil
    With added chicken stock
  4. Reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes or until sunchokes are soft 
  5. Add fresh thyme and blend with a hand blender until completely smooth (alternately, you can pour a small amount at a time into a blender and puree there, repeating as necessary until it's completely blended) 
    Using a hand blender to puree the soup
  6. On low heat, blend in heavy cream and return to a boil
    Add the cream and blend
  7. Season with salt and pepper and serve (add more to taste as needed - and if you use homemade chicken stock like I do you will probably need additional salt)
  8. Serve hot and enjoy!

French Onion Soup (Pressure Cooker Version)

What's for dinner?  French onion soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  Comfort food!
I've been watching the weather, which I think is something that people are prone to do this time of year here in New England, and I knew that we had yet another snowstorm on the way. That, plus my wife bugging me to do it, made me decide to make a batch of french onion soup.

I'd already made the beef stock earlier in the week so we both knew I'd be making the soup soon but the bad weather sealed it. Since both my wife and son are home today because school was cancelled, that gives me someone to share it with and having a nice hot soup to eat seems to make the storm somehow not QUITE as bad (though I'd take no soup and 70 degree weather anytime).

My wife had also shared the fact that I would be making french onion soup on her blog and that led to requests that I post the recipe, which is why I'm typing this now.

I haven't posted any recipes using the pressure cooker before so I hesitated to post this one but the requests she received made me change my mind. Until a couple of years ago I had never used a pressure cooker myself - but decided I wanted to try it. I received mine as a gift (thanks to my wonderful in-laws!) and it's one of the most useful gifts I've ever had. I typically make some form of stock (usually chicken) at least twice a month. I use it (the stock) in many recipes and if you've ever made chicken soup with homemade stock, you'll never go back to the store bought kind again. It's also invaluable if you like making beans of any kind - the cooking time is cut in half (at least!) which frees up time for doing other things.

In short, if you've never used a pressure cooker, it's a worthwhile investment to make. They're huge time savers, not expensive, and if your concern is safety (who hasn't heard stories about one blowing up and leaving a mess everywhere?), the ones made today are very safe. If you have concerns about that, here is an article you can read all about how safe the newer generation of pressure cookers are.

So, enough about pressure cookers and on to the recipe! The majority of the steps in this recipe are NOT done using the pressure cooker, but since it is used in one of the steps, I'll tell you exactly when you need to put the lid on and seal it - otherwise, the "pan" I refer to is the pressure cooker pan, however it's NOT being used as a pressure cooker unless I mention otherwise.  Because of this, if you don't own a pressure cooker or prefer not to use one, in the one section I'll point out, you could simply cook the mixture NOT under pressure for a longer period of time to achieve the same results.

Sliced onion - this is the amount you should have from about five large onions

If you have a mandoline, it will 
make slicing the onions MUCH
easier. You want them as thin as
possible to cut down on cooking
time which makes it an ideal task
for a mandoline.


  • 1 tbsp butter

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 5 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about five large onions)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar 
  • 1⁄2 cup of dry white wine

  • 8 cups beef stock 
  • 4 tbsp butter (for roux)
  • 1/4 cup flour
12 French bread slices – about 3/4” thick, sprayed with olive oil and toasted
. You may want more depending upon how many you like in your soup (or you can use croutons, if you prefer)
Swiss or gruyere cheese - you want enough slices to cover the bowls of soup later, so the amount depends on how many bowls you'll be having. You can also use either slices or shredded (or if you have a block as I did, you can use a vegetable peeler to slice thinly)

  1. Preheat the pressure cooker on medium-low heat, then add the butter, oil and onions
    Onions in the pan and ready to cook
  2. Soften the onions, stirring occasionally in the pan covered with a normal lid or pressure cooker lid (NOT sealed) until the onions become translucent (about 15 minutes)
    Softened onions ready to start browning
  3. Turn the heat to low, remove the lid and add the salt and sugar and stir frequently until the onions have turned a uniform brown (about 20 to 25 minutes)
  4. While doing this (or before if you prefer and simply set aside): in a small, separate pan make the roux by adding the butter and flour and stirring on medium heat until all of the butter has melted and the flour has been fully incorporated. Continue stirring occasionally and watching carefully until it turns a tan color. Turn off the heat and set aside

    Making the roux
  5. Pour the white wine into the pan with the onions to deglaze them. Cook while stirring until the liquid has evaporated, then add the beef stock (if you can use homemade stock, the flavor will be much richer, however store bought will work just fine)
    Browned onions with the wine added and reduced
  6. CLOSE AND LOCK THE PRESSURE COOKER. Turn the heat to high until the pressure cooker has reached HIGH pressure. Turn down the heat and let cook for five minutes (under pressure). When time is up, turn off the heat and either let cool or help it along by putting under running cold water until it's cool enough to open (at this point, I tend to help it along by putting under the running water because the smell is so wonderful I want to eat it sooner rather than later). This is the ONLY step actually using the pressure cooker - so if you prefer NOT to use one, you can simply let it simmer for about an hour instead to achieve the same results.
    After removing the lid of the pressure cooker
  7. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper seasoning (if you used homemade stock, then you will most likely need to add additional salt) then take a ladle of soup and pour it into the pan where you made the roux (the flour and butter mixture)
  8. Whisk together the roux and the soup you just added to it 
    The roux and soup mixture before adding to the pan
  9. Pour the roux/soup mixture into the pressure cooker pan, on medium heat WITHOUT the lid and simmer together for a few minutes
  10. Turn off the heat and pour the soup in bowls
  11. Place the toasted french bread slices (or croutons) on top of the soup then put the slices of cheese (or grated cheese) on top of the bread
    Adding the bread to the soup. This was actually a leftover homemade
    baguette, sliced, painted with olive oil and added herbs, then toasted.
  12. Place bowls on a cookie sheet and put it under the broiler (on low if you can control the broiler temperature) for approximately three minutes or until the cheese has melted and is bubbly
    Slices of swiss cheese added on top of the toasted bread
    Straight out of the oven
  13. Remove from the oven and enjoy!! (be careful, the soup will be VERY hot!)