Thursday, April 28, 2011

An ode to spring, Cinco de Mayo and Mother's Day

4/27/11 Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

An ode to Spring, Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day

The month of April is quickly winding to a close. That means Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day are just around the corner making it difficult for a weekly columnist to cover all of the holiday bases. So this week’s column is something of a smorgasbord of recipes. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.

First, we'll check out the wonderful food of Mexico. Pork carnita tacos are absolutely delicious and have become my favorite soft taco dish. Carnitas are cooked and eaten in a variety of styles but taco-style is my favorite. Sometimes known as street food in Mexico and East Los Angeles, the meat is cooked until falling apart tender. The following recipe can also be cooked on the stove top or all day long in a crockpot. Be sure and have lots of topping available, especially coleslaw or shredded cabbage.

Today’s spring vegetable dish (Asparagus Risotto) does double duty by combining asparagus with a rich, creamy Arborio rice. Arborio is a stubby, milky, Italian variety of rice with a unique texture. It has a starchy surface and a firm bite in the center that allows it to be both firm and creamy when cooked. If you’re going to take the time to prepare an Arborio dish, don’t skimp! Be sure and buy Arborio rice.

Cooking risotto is a time consuming and somewhat tedious process but it certainly is worth the effort. If you prefer not to use the white wine, simply substitute an equal amount of chicken broth (or water) with maybe a dash of vinegar for tang. The risotto must be prepared just before serving.

Finally, we finish up with some delightfully easy and pretty petit fours that little girls and boys can help make for mom. Enjoy!

Pork Carnitas Tacos

4 pounds boned pork shoulder, cut into large cubes
1 quart beef broth
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 cups chunky tomato salsa (or green tomatillo sauce)
2 teaspoons oregano
salt and pepper
Corn tortillas, small size

In a large, heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine pork, broth, zest, salsa and oregano. Add enough water to completely cover the meat. Cover with lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered 4-5 hours or until meat pulls apart easily. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Remove meat from cooking liquid (discard liquid). Spread meat out in a roasting pan, breaking into small chunks with your fingers. Roast meat 15-20 min. or until brown and crispy.

Note: Skip the above browning step if you prefer your meat soft.

Heat the tortillas either in a microwave or on a hot skillet. Wrap warm tortillas in a clean cloth towel for serving.

To serve, double up the tortillas and place a few spoonfuls of the carnitas on them. Garnish with one or more (or all!) of the following:

Red onion, thinly sliced
Shredded cabbage with a splash of vinegar
Sliced avocado or guacamole
Fresh cilantro
Sour cream
Cotija or Jack cheese, shredded
Lime wedges
Pico de Gallo (fresh salsa

Asparagus Risotto

1 pound asparagus, cut on bias, 2” long
5 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-1/3 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
Sea sale and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat and keep warm, just below a simmer.

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the arborio rice and cook, stirring constantly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Add the broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté the asparagus until bright green and slightly tender, 3-4 minutes. Once the broth is completely absorbed in the risotto, add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and stir in the Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Mother’s Day Petit Fours

1 (16-ounce) pound cake
9 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Liquid food coloring
Decorations, such as sprinkles, colored sugar, and candy flowers

Cut the entire cake into 1-inch-thick slices. Then use 1-inch-wide cookie cutters or a knife to cut round, square, and diamond shapes from each slice. Place the cake pieces on a wire rack set on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, mix together the powdered sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water, and vanilla and almond extracts until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool for about 5 minutes. As the icing cools, it may start to stiffen; if so, stir in a spoonful of water to keep the icing smooth and flowing. Divide the icing equally between two or three small bowls. Stir food coloring, a drop at a time, into each bowl until the icing is the desired shade.

Working with one piece of cake at a time, spoon on the icing to cover it completely, then add sprinkles, colored sugar, or a candy flower before the icing sets. Let the cakes stand, uncovered, until the icing is dry, about 30 minutes. Store them in an airtight container for up to three days. Makes about 30 cakes.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipe
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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