A Homesick Texan Meal

This may not make sense to most people, but sometimes I am from Texas.  Sometimes I am from Pennsylvania, sometimes I am from Colorado, sometimes I am from Virginia.  As an Army brat who is the child of Army brats, answering the question “where are you from?” is more complicated than one might think.  So, sometimes it changes.  My mom’s family is from Pennsylvania, but now all live in Colorado.  My parents, sister and I have all lived in Virginia for several years.

My dad’s mom, my Mimi, was a born and raised, tried and true, deep in the heart Texan.  She moved around most of her adult life as an Army wife, but never lost her Texas charm or Texas roots, and made it back there permanently after my grandfather retired.  We still have family who live in Texas, including my sister and brother in law.  I spent my sophomore and junior year of high school there. My dad has a faint, but distinct, Texas accent, though only on certain words. I love Friday Night Lights. Even my dog is from Texas.

All this is to say, I have a little Texas in me, and a big soft spot for the Lone Star State.  While not a seventh generation Texan like Lisa Fain of The Homesick Texan, I absolutely loved cooking from her book, and honestly?  It made me just a little bit homesick. 

Carnitas*

  • 3 lb boneless pork shoulder
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt

The original recipe said to not trim the pork at all, but I cut off some of the larger pieces of fat.  Cut the pork into 2 inch pieces.  Put the pork in a large Dutch oven, and add juices, garlic cloves, cumin and salt.  Stir, and then add water to just barely cover the pork.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer.  Allow the pork to simmer for two hours, uncovered.  Do not touch or stir.

After two hours, mot of the liquid should be evaporated, and the rendered pork fat will be in the bottom of the Dutch oven.  Turn heat up to medium high, and sauté the pork until browned on all sides.  This could take from 10-30 minutes, depending on how quickly the liquid evaporated.  Keep an eye on the pork!  When it is browned, it is done.  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Serve warm, with Houston style salsa (recipe below), cilantro, onions and tortillas (recipe also below).

Houston Style Green Salsa*

  • ¾ lb tomatillos, husked
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 or 2 Serrano chiles, ribs and seeds removed
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro
  • salt

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add the husked tomatillos, whole, and boil for 5 minutes.  Strain, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then add to blender with all other ingredients.  Puree, taste, add salt if needed.  If the mixture is overly thick, you can add water until desired consistency is reached.

San Antonio Style Flour Tortillas*

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan just until the butter melts.  Remove from heat and stir in oil.

Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until it forms a loose, sticky ball.  Knead on a floured surface for 2 minutes, until a firm, smooth ball is formed.  Cover the dough and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

After one hour, divide the dough into 8 smaller balls.  Cover and allow to rest for 30 more minutes.

On a floured surface, pat each ball into a 4 inch ball, and then roll out into a thin disk, about 8 inches in diameter.  Keep tortillas covered until ready to cook.

Heat a dry skillet over high heat.  One at a time, place the tortilla on the skillet.  It will immediately begin to bubble up.  Allow to cook for 30 seconds, then flip.  Cook 30 seconds on the other side, and then flip for another 30 seconds.

I had to keep a very close eye on the tortillas, and flip often.   More than 30 seconds on either side and they started to burn.  This will depend on the heat of your stove.  The bottom line is:  LOOK OUT.  They can burn quickly.  Frequent flipping is totally fine.

Keep tortillas warm by wrapping in a clean kitchen towel.

*All recipes are from The Homesick Texan cookbook.

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Butternut Squash Tortellini

According to the calendar and my festive harvest display, fall is here.  According to the weather, it is still August.  This late season heat wave has really put a damper on my attempts at seasonal cooking! Despite the heat, I forged ahead with this recipe and am certainly glad that I did.

I will admit right now, I have never made homemade pasta.  I know it isn’t supposed to be hard, but I don’t have the correct equipment, and honestly, usually don’t have the time.  I’ve wanted to try my hand at making tortellini or ravioli before, but the pasta making element has deterred me.  Then I came across this recipe which brilliantly uses wonton wrappers for the past shells.  They work really well, and make this recipe pretty simple.  It is still a bit time intensive, but not hard.  If you have a few hours on a crisp Saturday or Sunday, take some time to whip these up.  They are delicious!

 The original recipe called for a sage brown butter sauce, which sounded great.  I had a couple pieces of bacon I needed to use, so I invented this bacon sage sauce, which was delicious.  I could see using any variety of butter, cream or wine based sauce with these.

Butternut Squash Tortellini

adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

  • 1 butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 package small wonton wrappers

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. On a baking sheet toss together the butternut squash, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butternut squash mixture, the shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the brown sugar and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until smooth.

To make the tortellini, lay out 6 wonton skins, keeping the remaining skins inside the package or under a very lightly dampened paper towel. Place 1 tablespoon of squash mixture in the middle of each skin. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air pockets inside. Dampen the two bottom corners of the longest side of the triangle and gently bring them together, pressing lightly to secure. Place the formed tortellini on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Before laying out another 6 wonton sheets, be careful to dry the work surface. This will help keep tortellini from sticking to the baking sheet. Continue until all the butternut squash mixture is used. There should be approximately 36 tortellini. I had several more, but I think my squash was more than 2 lbs. (The tortellini can be formed, frozen on the baking sheet, transferred to a tightly sealed plastic bag or container and stored for up to six months. To cook, simply toss the frozen tortellini into the salted boiling water and cook for 4 minutes.)

To cook and serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the tortellini.  They are done when they float to the top, about 3 minutes.

Bacon and Sage Cream Sauce

  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth (may use less)
  • 6-8 sage leaves, chopped
  • Splash of cream

Cook the bacon until crisp, remove from pan to drain, and crumble.  Mix flour into the bacon grease to create a roux.  Pour in about ½ cup of chicken stock, whisking to combine.  The mixture should begin to thicken.  Add more broth if it seems too thick.  Add sage leaves and cream, whisking again.  Continue to add broth to reach desired consistency.  Taste for seasoning.  Drizzle over tortellini, and top with the bacon crumbles.

Chicken Taco Salad

Remember last week when I said no one needs a salad recipe? I still stand by that, and this is again NOT a salad recipe…it is a salad COMPONENT recipe.  There is a HUGE difference (sort of).  We try to eat fairly healthily, and dinner salads are a great way to pack in some extra veggies and lean protein.  But like other things, you can get stuck in a salad rut, which is where these component recipes come in handy.

This recipe is for a marinade.  In this particular instance, I marinated boneless, skinless chicken tenders, though I think it would be great on beef as well, or on seafood (for a shorter period of time).  The Latin vibe of this marinade set the tone for the salad…a Chicken Taco Salad. 

We marinated and grilled the chicken, and served it with chopped leaf lettuce, black beans, fresh salsa, shredded cheese and some crushed tortilla chips.  For a dressing, I whisked together lime juice, a chopped chipotle pepper, some sour cream and salt and pepper.  We didn’t have any, but avocado would be great here. 

It was a great light dinner, and completely different from the flank steak salad last week. Really, there is no reason to get stuck in a boring salad rut.  Use different marinades and homemade dressings to had some variety to your healthy eating!

Honey Chipotle Marinade

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1-2 canned chipotle in adobo peppers, chopped, depending on your desired spice level
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • ¼ canola oil
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk together all marinade ingredients.  In a ziptop bag, combine protein and marinade. If marinating chicken or beef, leave in the fridge over night.  If marinating seafood, about an hour in the fridge should do it.  You don’t want the acid from the lime juice to start cooking the fish!

This is not a salad recipe

This is not a salad recipe.  You know how to make a salad.  Lettuce, veggies, something crunchy, some protein, and voila, instant dinner/lunch/brunch/linner/etc.  You want a flank steak marinade recipe?  Covered. Easy peasy.

This is a recipe for salad dressing.  In my experience, people do not realize how simple it is to make homemade salad dressing and how much better tasting and better for you it is.  Aside from a bottle of Newman’s Own I keep in the fridge at my office for emergencies (you never know), I have not bought salad dressing in a year or more.  The recipe below is my favorite.  It’s light, tangy, and very versatile.  You can leave it in the fridge, covered, for about a week.  It will revolutionize your salads…and maybe your life.  Trust me.

Simple Salad Dressing

  • 3TB white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsps dijon mustard
  • 1 small shallot, finely diced
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 4TB olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk together first 4 ingredients.  Stream in olive oil and whisk to fully emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.  Makes enough dressing for 4-5 servings of salad, depending on how much you like!