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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ensalada De Nochebuena (Mexican Christmas Eve Salad)

Forgot the camera, so here's an iPhone pic of this yummy salad.

In many Latin American countries, the most festive Christmas celebrations occur on Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve (literally "Good Night").  Ensalada de Nochebuena is a traditional Mexican Christmas Eve salad.  It's a great mixture of colors, flavors, and textures for Christmas Eve or any festive meal.

For The Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Mexican or Salvadorean crema (you can substitute sour cream if crema isn't available)
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Juice of one lime
3 teaspoons chili powder
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
Pinch of salt

Mix well, taste, and adjust seasonings to your taste.  This recipe will yield enough dressing to dress a Nochebuena salad and have some left over to dress another fruit salad.

For The Salad:
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (to taste)
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped
Seeds of one pomegranate
Salad greens for presentation (optional)

And use any combination of the following ingredients, according to your taste:
2 tangerines or oranges, peeled, segmented, deseeded, and cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium jicama, peeled and julienned
20 oz. can of pineapple tidbits or chunks
2 bananas, sliced
2 medium-size cooked beets, peeled, cut in half, and sliced into "half moons"
2 small apples, cored and chopped
6-8 radishes, sliced thin

Toss together your choice of salad ingredients with the chopped cilantro.  Drizzle enough dressing onto salad to lightly coat and mix well.  If desired, line serving platter with salad greens.  Spoon salad onto platter.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and pomegranate seeds and serve.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jonathon Erdeljac's Beer-and-Cheddar Soup

I'm anxious to visit Jonathon Erdeljac's new Oak Cliff restaurant, Jonathon's Oak Cliff.  In the meantime, I made his Beer-and-Cheddar Soup recipe, which has received the stamp of approval from my family.  My version of this soup doesn't make the prettiest picture, as I sacrificed vanity in favor of flavor and used my favorite Cabot extra sharp white cheddar instead of yellow cheddar.  I think this recipe has the perfect ratio of broth to cheese to beer, very savory, not cloyingly cheesy, no overpowering elements.  We try to limit our simple carbs, so we didn't serve the soup with the garlic-rubbed toasts as the recipe calls for, but that would certainly be a great textural addition.  And I didn't have a jalapeno handy, so I used a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper instead. 

Jonathon Erdeljac's Beer-and-Cheddar Soup

2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Garlic-rubbed toasts, for serving
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
One 12-ounce bottle lager or pilsner
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 pound piece of slab bacon, sliced 1/3 inch thick and cut into 1/3-inch dice
About 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound sharp yellow cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
4 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

1.  In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over moderate heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl. Add the celery, onion, jalapeño, garlic and thyme to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 8 minutes. Add half of the beer and cook until reduced by half, 5 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups of chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

2.  In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk this roux into the soup until incorporated and bring to a simmer.  Cook until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add the heavy cream, cheddar cheeses and the remaining beer and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bacon and season with salt and pepper. Add a few tablespoons of broth if the soup is too thick. Serve the soup with garlic toasts.

Make Ahead:  The cheddar soup can be refrigerated overnight. Rewarm gently and thin with additional broth.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pernil (Roasted Pork Shoulder) For Christmas Eve

Pernil is the centerpiece of the traditional Puerto Rican Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) meal.  It's a delicious alternative to turkey or ham.  Pernil takes a bit of planning and a long cooking time; however, it's easy to make and doesn't require much hands-on prep time and it's made with budget-friendly bone-in pork shoulder.  Be sure to cook more than you need for the holiday meal so you can make Cuban sandwiches later. 

Recipe For Pernil (Roasted Pork Shoulder)

8-10 lb. bone-in pork shoulder (you may also see the word picnic on the label)

For the marinade:
15 black peppercorns
18 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoon dry oregano
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for each pound of meat
Optional:  I had some naranjas agrias (sour oranges), so I added some juice from them as well

Crush and mix the marinade ingredients in a pilon (mortar and pestle) or in a blender.  Allow the flavors to marry while you prepare the pork.

Lightly score the surface of the pork skin in a criss-cross pattern, as you would an Easter ham.

Using a very sharp knife, carefully separate the skin from the top of the pork shoulder, starting at the large end, peeling it back toward the small bony end of the shoulder, stopping before you completely separate the skin from the bony end.

Use your sharp knife to jab deep holes into the meat all over, turning the knife to make the holes larger.

Reserve a bit of marinade for the surface of the skin.  Rub the remainder of the marinade all over the pork, using your fingers to work it deep into the knife holes.  Carefully re-position the skin back into place and use butcher's twine to tie it securely.  Rub reserved marinade into the skin.

Place in ziptop bag.  Either double-bag or put a tray underneath in case of drips.  Refrigerate at least overnight and up to 2 days.

Perniles resting in the fridge, marinating for the big day.  We made two Perniles so there'd be plenty of leftovers for Cuban sandwiches ... yummy!

One hour before cooking, remove the pork from the refrigerator, remove it from the bags, place it on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up, and cover with foil.  While pork is coming to room temperature, preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place pork shoulder in oven and bake for 30 minutes per pound.  Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees, remove the foil, and roast until the skin is brown and crispy, about an hour.  When done, the skin will literally sound crunchy if you tap it.  While roasting keep an eye on the Pernil to avoid burning the skin.

Although the USDA now says pork is safe if cooked to 145 degrees, this cut needs to be cooked low and slow to allow the fat to tenderize the meat and I recommend a finished internal temperature of 160 to 180 degrees.

Remove the Pernil from the oven and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes, tented with foil.  Remove the butcher's twine and separate the skin from the meat.  Carve and shred the meat.  Cut/break the crunchy skin into bite-sized pieces.  Serve the meat on a platter with the crunchy skin on the side.