Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Braised Pork Ragu Over Creamy Polenta

My husband lived for two years in central Italy -- have I mentioned that before? Well, he did.
We were married the fall after he returned to the States, and as long as we have been married he has been recounting to me dreamily the details of a dish of Braised Rabbit over Polenta he devoured one night.
Last year I decided I would finally recreate it for him.

Because I love him.

Very, very much.

But as much as I love him, I cannot bring myself to cook up a bunny. Is it just me? I can also add to my objection the tale my high school Italian teacher would tell wherein she cooked up her daughter's pet rabbit one night. She's a sweet, sweet lady, but that story gives me great pause even now, a decade later. (That can't be right... a decade?!?)

All that, plus I wouldn't know where to begin looking for a place to buy rabbit meat. So. You know.

In any case...

If there's anything my sweetheart loves it's pork. So pork it was, my hubby having decided that pork was an adequate substitute.

This is truly one of my favorite ways to enjoy pork. I mean, I like a good pork chop, and Balsamic Roasted Pork is a good time, too. But this recipe is just soul satisfying. The polenta helps it along to that end, of course.

My husband dreams of this and requests it at every possible special occasion. (Though he still wants me to try it with rabbit sometime... pray for me.)
To my view, it's the perfect Easter meal. Sure beats that roast ham you were thinking of having.
Well, at least I think so.

Any cut of pork would probably do. I like bone-in because the bones lend a great deal of flavor. And a good amount of fat is important to me, too. But if all you can find is boneless chops, never fear. If you only need to feed a couple of people, as is the case in our house most of the time, freeze half of it for a later date. Then you'll just need to warm it up and make polenta.

Braised Pork Ragu
adapted from Epicurious

4 lbs. bone-in, country-style pork ribs, cut into 2-rib portions OR 4 lbs. thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion (about 1 pound), chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1-2 tsp. Italian seasoning blend (I like Penzey's)
1, 28- to 32-oz. can whole tomatoes including juice, crushed (use a potato masher or your hands)
2 c. + 3 Tbsp. water, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven (I use my 5.5 qt. Le Creuset), heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork in batches, transferring with tongs to a bowl. In oil remaining in pan, sauté onion and celery, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add garlic and tomato paste and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Return pork to kettle and add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to simmer. Simmer 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is falling apart.
Transfer pork to a cutting board to cool. In a small bowl stir together flour and remaining 3 tablespoons water and whisk into liquid remaining in kettle. Discard bones and fat from pork and chop or pull apart the meat. Return pork to pan, and continue to simmer until filling is reduced to about 6 cups. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Meanwhile, work on making polenta.

Here's my favorite basic recipe:

Basic Polenta

1 1/2 c. polenta meal
4 1/2 c. water
3/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. butter
1 oz. cream cheese or mascarpone (optional, but highly recommended)
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese

Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt. Whisk in polenta meal a little at a time. Simmer, stirring frequently, until very thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter, cream cheese or mascarpone, and parmesan until blended.

To serve, divide polenta among bowls or deep plates, making a little well in the center. Fill the well with pork mixture and top with a generous pinch of parmesan and a sprinkle of parsley -- fresh or dried will do in my book.

Serves 6, generously.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Homemade Donuts for Cheaters

I was going to do two posts this week and post this recipe on Thursday, but one is all I think I can muster. Sorry dudes. But since I'm cheating you out of a second post this week, at least it's a fun one!

Let's proceed.

There's this donut shop not far from my house called "Every Day's a Donut Day". I think I've taken the sentiment to heart, because every time I see their sign I feel this strong urge to pull in and get something delicious. But I refrain, even though they make good ones. Because every day is not a donut day.

Years ago, I saw a piece in Real Simple magazine about making donuts out of canned biscuit dough. I tried it once when we were newlyweds, but I didn't love it because I hate Pillsbury biscuits. They have this nasty aftertaste. Yuck. But once I discovered Trader Joe's had some decent biscuit dough, I've been anxious to give it another go. For those days that are donut days after all.

And it is awesome. If you don't mind Pillsbury biscuits or have another brand that you like, by all means, use that, but I'll stick with TJ's. If, like me, you don't fry much, it's a great way to get your feet wet. I fry mine one at a time in a small cast iron pan -- that way I don't have to use an entire quart of oil just for frying a small batch of donuts. Only a cup or two is needed this way.

It couldn't be more simple. Just cut a hole in the middle and fry them up! Then you have to decide how to top them, and that's where things get tough -- decisions, decisions. I love just dunking them in some cinnamon sugar, but I couldn't resist this chocolate glaze from Crunchy Creamy Sweet. It's simple as can be, and a great complement to these easy donuts. (Not to mention, an excellent vehicle for rainbow sprinkles.)

And, my favorite part, the donut holes.

Homemade Donuts for Cheaters

1 can prepared biscuits, brought to room temperature
desired glaze or cinnamon sugar

It is important to let the biscuits come to room temp. If you use them straight from the refrigerator, they will not cook evenly, resulting in a nicely cooked outer layer and raw dough in the middle. I know from experience. Just pop them out of the can, place them on a cookie sheet and let them warm up for a while. Cover with plastic wrap to they don't dry out.
In a small pan, heat one to two inches of oil over medium-high heat -- the amount of oil needed will depend upon the size of your pan. While it's heating, cut holes from the middle of the biscuits. If desired, shape a bit with your hands to round off the square edges of the biscuits so they are smooth and circular. After a few minutes, test the oil with a small piece of dough (one of the donut holes will do). If the oil is ready, you will hear a sizzle, see bubbles around the dough, and the dough will float on the surface. If the oil is too cold, the dough will sink, in which case, let your oil heat for another minute or two.
Once your oil is ready, carefully place a donut in the hot oil. Let cook on first side until golden, then flip and cook for another minute or two until the other side is also golden. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate or baking sheet (or wire rack, etc.) and repeat with remaining dough. Only do one donut and up to a couple donut holes at once so the oil temperature doesn't drop, resulting in oily donuts.
If you are planning to coat in cinnamon sugar, do it almost immediately after cooking so the sugar will stick. If you are planning to glaze, let cool before doing so.
These are best enjoyed immediately.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Giveaway Winner!

Happy Friday, friendlies!

I'm really excited to announce the winner of my little giveaway today. I enjoyed reading every comment so immensely! Thank you all for your support! spat out #16, which is Heidi Nichols. Congratulations, Heidi!

Send me an email at kristyn @ prettykittenskitchen . com and we will hammer out the details.

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

Unlike many people, I don't have a clear memory for many things. Most of my childhood memories are fuzzy at best, with odd patches of clarity here and there. I wish I could remember more from me growing-up years. But, I remember enough. Enough to tell you a little about my Mom.

I remember her favorite color has always been dark green. She wore this perfume called White Musk, which still reminds me of her whenever I smell anything remotely similar -- even though she hasn't worn it in years. I remember the feeling of snuggling up under her rose-patterned bedspread, the smell and comforting feel of the clean, cool sheets.

She hates baking. Loves spicy food, British mini-series, and children of all ages. She wakes up early in the morning and goes to bed early, too. A trait I seem to have inherited, like it or not.

I remember her always being on my side -- if someone was inviting me out but I wanted to stay home, she would tell me to blame her and say that she wouldn't let me. Thanks, Mom! I remember napping on her lap during church, long after is was probably socially acceptable to nap in public. But she would smooth my hair and rub my back, and ignore the wet spot on her skirt from where I had drooled on her. (TMI?) I remember her enthusiasm and exuberance. I remember being so embarrassed by it as a teen, but now I admire it. (Wait, don't tell her I said that. It's a secret, okay?)

I see her through new eyes now that I , too, am a mother. Cliche, I know, but true nonetheless. I see how she wanted everything good for me and for my brother. How she hoped we would make good friends, good grades, good choices. How she fell into bed exhausted at the prospect of doing it all again the next day, but excited for it all the same. She has always told me that she loved being home with us when we were babies. And among the many things she could have done with her immense talents, she chose to be a teacher, in part so that she would have summers with us. I am so proud that she is my mom, and I feel so lucky to be her daughter!

I find myself calling her up so often just to chat. I know she will understand how overwhelmed I sometimes get, or the irrepressible excitement over some little thing the baby has done, like, I don't know, breathe and bat his ridiculously long eyelashes.

She is dearer to me then she ever has been.

So, Happy Birthday (on Sunday), Mom! I know you would love these cupcakes as much as I do. They remind me of that "Favorite Chocolate Cake" recipe you love so much. I'm actually quite obsessed with these and take any opportunity to whip them together. And since I know you don't like a big fuss made about you, I'll tell you how simple they are. One bowl for the whole kit and kaboodle. With the simplest, yummiest frosting ever. But don't worry. I'll do the baking.

Brycie wants you to have one!

Provided that you're prepared to share, of course.

No-Occasion-Needed, One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Recipe from The Sophisticated Gourmet, copied almost exactly, as it needed no changes. The only things I have changed are a few points of technique to suit my style and preferences. Head over there to see Kamran's stunning photos! Seriously.

1 c. sugar
1/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder (I used Penzey's natural/non-dutched/dark, but Dutch process/regular cocoa powder will do for a milder cocoa flavor)
3/4 c. + 2 Tbsp. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1/4 c. oil (canola, etc.)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 c. boiling water

Preheat oven to 375º
In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Sift it, if you like, or just run your fingers through it to break up any lumps, especially lumps of cocoa -- so pesky!
Make a well in the center, and whisk in egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla until just combined smoothly. Pour in boiling water, and whisk in carefully, working from the center out to avoid splashing.
The batter will be very runny, but never fear.
Divide among 16 greased and lined muffin cups in 1.5 oz./3 Tbsp. portions -- my standard-size ice cream scoop works perfectly. The muffin cups should be only about 1/2 full. Try not to fill them up much more than this, as the batter does not dome as it bakes, but spreads and makes a mess if it overflows. Place pan on center rack, or two pans evenly spaced on two racks.
Reduce oven to 350º (after the pan is in the oven), and bake for 15 - 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out cleanly. Let cool in pan for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting:

Simplest Chocolate Frosting

6 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/4 c. milk
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. light corn syrup
2 1/4 c. powdered sugar

In the bowl of your mixer, combine melted butter with the cocoa powder. In a liquid measuring cup, measure out milk, and mix in vanilla and corn syrup. Add this mixture alternately with the powdered sugar on medium speed until combined. Increase speed to high and whip until it lightens in color just a shade -- about 1 min.

To frost the cupcakes, dollop a couple Tbsp. of frosting on top of each cupcake and smooth in a circular motion from the center out with a small spoon. I turn it around once or twice with my spoon in the very middle to make a little dip. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate (just take a vegetable peeler to a chocolate bar) or sprinkles of your choice.

I defy anyone who says they can resist these!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wishlist Wednesday: Hanging Pot Rack

So, I love our new house, and the kitchen is awesome. My favorite part is the awesome pantry -- something I have always coveted.

But even with all that storage space, I still struggle with my pots and pans. They drive both me and my hubby completely crazy! My husband gently suggested the other night that we do something to correct this issue, since "they obviously frustrate you". Immediately the image of me muttering curses under my breath while clanging the pots around to find the lid I was looking for spring to mind.

So I'm looking for solutions.

Hubby suggested a hanging pot rack, and I'm game to give it a try.
Do you have one? Do you like it?
What's your solution for pot organization?

I am all ears.

In other news, tomorrow is the last day to enter my little giveaway. So get on it!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Homemade Mayo

Have you entered the giveaway yet? Do it!

If you're like me, you might be wondering why you would make mayo at home.

I don't know.

Because you can.

Because you keep forgetting to buy it at the store and have everything you need on hand.

For fun?


I've always wanted to try my hand at it, but never really found the opportunity until quite recently, when a friend who was on a highly restricted diet told me she couldn't find mayo she could eat. And I knew I could make it for her, because I knew mayonnaise would be easy to make.
I just didn't know how easy.

I'm pretty sure the entire process took 1 minute from the crack of the first egg to scooping it into a mason jar.

I'm serious.

And because the recipe came from my newest cookbook obsession, Cook's Illustrated's The Science of Good Cooking, I was positive that it would be perfectly perfect. And it was.

Homemade Mayonnaise

2 eggs, separated
4 tsp. lemon juice (if you can't eat citrus, like my friend, you can easily substitute white vinegar)
1/8 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c. mild-tasting oil

Start with 2 eggs. Separate them and do with the whites what you will. (I'm saving mine for a sure-to-be-ill-fated second attempt at macarons.)
Place the yolks into the bowl of a food processor, along with 4 tsp. lemon juice, 1/8 tsp. sugar, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process for a couple seconds to combine. With the processor running,  stream in 3/4 c. oil (I use a canola, olive, and soy oil blend, but any mild-tasting oil will work) -- make it a slow, steady stream. This should take about 30 seconds, and you will watch the egg yolks emulsify with the oil to go from liquid to creamy solid.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and process again for a second or two to be sure it's thoroughly mixed. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Scoop into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Happy Weekend!

Hi guys!

I have to say, having one of my photos featured on The Huffington Post's Taste section today was a stellar way to kick off the weekend! In case you missed it, here's the link.

In their round-up of bar recipes, there are some seriously mouth-watering options. I've got my eye on the Summer Berry Custard Bars from Bakers Royale, the Meyer Lemon Bars from Treats, and the Blackberry Oatmeal Pie Bars from Smells Like Home. Each of which makes me long for spring and summer all the more. Seriously, I was reading Jamberry to my son this afternoon, and I simply cannot wait for berry season. I love Oregon berries!

But anyway, the Huffington Post missed a couple of recipes here, so I thought I would round them up for you.
You already know the Cherry Squares.
Let me introduce you to the Chubby Hubby Bars, the Blackberry Lemonade Bars with Hazelnut Shortbread Crust, the "THE Most Perfect Brownie on the Planet" Baked Brownie (yes, I know their list was all about bars other than brownies, but-but-but I love these too darn much), and the Sugar Cookie Bars.

And if you need more bar (and brownie) inspiration, check out my Bars & Brownies pinboard.

I'm off to make some of those very Cherry Squares to celebrate my 15 seconds of almost-fame. Are you making anything fun this weekend?

Happy weekend from me to you!