Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce

This pairing of pork, corn tortillas and guava brings me back to some of the flavors we tasted on our adventures in both Cuba and Mexico.

Pulled pork sounds like a lot of work but it simply comes down to a gentle, slow cooking process so it can be literally ‘pulled apart’ when finished. Pork shoulder is the most commonly used joint. The long cooking could dry out some cuts but shoulder is quite a fatty joint, therefore providing a natural baste. During the cooking period, most of the fat will dissolve but most importantly its this long cooking process that breaks down the tough fibrous connective tissue called collagen that tenderizes the meat making it so easy to pull apart. Although smokers are very often used, slow cookers or even traditional ovens will do the job nicely.

When the pork is finally done, it needs to rest for 10 minutes and then it should be ready for pulling apart. Use two forks to shred the meat and you’ve got it! This meal not only has great eye appeal, but the taste is wonderful!

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Spiced Pulled Pork Tortillas w/ Orange Guava Sauce
Instructions
Dry Rub for Pork Shoulder
  1. Drizzle pork with 2 Tbsp of oil; sprinkle with spices & orange zest & rub into meat. Season with salt & pepper. Place in a plastic bag & refrigerate overnight (about 24 hours).
  2. Bring meat to room temperature. Preheat oven to 275 F. Place meat in a roasting pan & bake until thickest part registers 170 F. on a meat thermometer. Basically, roast until it's falling apart. Remove roast from oven & transfer to a large platter. Allow the meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, take 2 forks & 'pull' the meat to form shreds. Keep warm until ready to assemble tortillas.
Orange Guava Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, saute onion in 1 Tbsp olive oil until tender. Add water (or wine), frozen orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, spices & cubed guava paste. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat slightly & continue to boil gently until mixture reduces slightly. In a cup, combine cornstarch & water & add to sauce continuing to cook about 2-3 minutes more. Taste to see if any spice adjustments are needed.
To Assemble
  1. During the roasting time of the meat, prepare avocados, red onion, cilantro leaves, lime wedges. Drain canned black beans (if using) so they are ready to warm at serving time.
  2. When everything is ready, lay out warm tortillas, top with pulled pork, avocado slices, black beans, red onion, cilantro & drizzle with warm orange guava sauce. Fold or roll tortilla & enjoy!
Recipe Notes
  • If you would rather not have the corn tortillas, cook some rice to serve with pulled pork. Spoon sauce over the meat & serve it with the sliced avocados, red onion & black beans.

Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs

Thirty or more years ago, balsamic vinegar was relatively unknown outside of Italy. Due to our exposure to gourmet food magazines, television cooking shows and celebrity chefs, there is hardly a household without a bottle in its pantry these days.

Balsamic vinegar actually derives its name from the word ‘balm’, which refers to an aromatic resin or odor, as well as a substance that soothes, relieves and heals.

For hundreds of years, wealthy Italian families have made balsamic vinegar for their own consumption, nurturing their supplies over the years. Passed on from generation to generation, gifting small amounts to treasured friends and honored guests and perhaps even bequeathing some to a daughter as part of her ‘dowry’. Balsamic vinegar came to be considered a symbol of peace.

In about 1980, the popularity of balsamic vinegar soared due to Italian chefs discovering how intense flavors complemented modern Mediterranean cuisine. Local families couldn’t gear up production to meet the new demand. New producers developed imitation versions, consequently many of us have yet to taste truly authentic balsamic vinegar or ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’, as its known in Italian.

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Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs
Instructions
  1. Cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Combine next seven ingredients; place pork cubes in a plastic bag. Toss to coat well; refrigerate until ready to grill. In a small dish, make a glaze by whisking together vinegar, honey, mustard & oil. Set aside.
  2. On water-soaked wooden skewers, thread pork cubes & figs. Grill, covered, on a greased rack over medium-high direct heat, turning occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. During last half of grilling, brush cooked surfaces frequently with glaze.
  3. Let skewers stand 5 minutes; add a tomato to each. Transfer to serving platter & sprinkle lightly with Gorgonzola & basil. Serve some of your Blueberry & Blackberry Rustic Tart for dessert.

Guava Cream Rolls

Today, March 28th, is my mother’s birth date. As we honor her beautiful memory, I’m sure each of my siblings will reflect on special times we shared with her. Forty-one years after her passing, I’m still doing many things in her likeness. Baking was a shared passion for my mother and I. We liked nothing better than to bake something together. After I moved from ‘home’ and would return for a visit, instead of having a coffee and visit we would get busy and bake something while we talked. Such great memories!

In honor of her fabulous kitchen skills, I decided to make some Guava Cream Rolls. If I have a little extra time when I grocery shop, I like to scan the import isles to see if there is something unique I can use in my baking. One of the items that caught my attention was guava paste. Also known as ‘guayabate’ or ‘goiabada’, guava paste is a very thick puree of the guava fruit cooked with sugar and often with added pectin.

Guava is very popular in Cuba, the Caribbean and Spain. This thick paste has a sweet, floral taste like a combination of pear and strawberry. It is often paired with cheese as an appetizer or in the filling of baked goods as well as in savory dishes.

For these rolls, I used a combination of sweet guava paste with savory cream cheese which gave this dessert a very distinct and tropical flavor.


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Guava Cream Rolls

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Guava Filling

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Guava Filling

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Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast & 1 tsp sugar in lukewarm milk. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow yeast to activate. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, melted butter, sour cream & egg. Add yeast mixture, stirring to combine.

  2. In another bowl, combine flour & salt. Add flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, combining with wet mixture. Once all flour has been added, knead dough for about 2 minutes until smooth & elastic consistency, Place dough in a greased bowl & cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about an hour. While the dough is rising, beat together guava paste & softened cream cheese to make filling. Line a 10-inch spring form pan with parchment paper; set aside.

  3. Punch the risen dough down & transfer to a floured surface then divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Divide each of them again into 4 parts, so to have 8 pieces of dough altogether.

  4. Roll each piece of dough out into a roughly rectangular shape with a thickness of 1/4-inch. Spread guava/cream cheese over each piece. Place one piece of rectangular dough over another one & start to roll a cylinder. Do the same with the rest of the dough; you will end up with 4 cylinder rolls altogether.

  5. Cut each roll into three pieces. Slice both ends of the roll ( about 1 1/2-inch long piece from each end) & put these 2 pieces aside. Cut the middle part of each roll into 4 triangles. In the middle of spring form pan, arrange the cut ends of the rolls around each other to form a circle, placing the cut sides down. Arrange the cut triangles to completely surround the middle circle.

  6. Cover pan with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place for about 30-40 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F. Beat egg with water to make egg wash & carefully brush the top of rolls when they have risen enough. Bake rolls for 30-40 minutes or until baked & golden in color. Remove from oven & brush immediately with melted butter. Remove spring form pan & cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Papaya-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Basmati Rice

Something that was quite apparent to Brion and I when we visited Cuba last year, was that pork and chicken were their favorite meats. It is said that Cuban food reflects the Cuban spirit. A hearty appetite for sweetness and the richness of life, respect for tradition and spiced with a spark of adventure. Although papaya is native to the tropical areas of Mexico as well as Central and South America, it is now cultivated in most countries having a tropical climate. The fruit goes by several names such as pawpaw, papaye (French), fruta bomba or lechosa (Spanish).

It is unclear as to how rice became central to Cuban cuisine, but for a Cuban, a meal without rice is simply not complete. Basmati rice is a unique strain of rice often associated with Asian and Indian cuisine as it originated in India. Characterized by its light nutty flavor and floral aroma, Basmati makes a good choice to pair with fish or chicken dishes. When cooked it retains its individual, non-sticky grains which allow sauces to coat well. Both brown and white varieties are available but brown will give a much deeper flavor.

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Papaya-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Basmati Rice
Instructions
Chicken & Rice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Using the tip of a sharp boning knife, cut a pocket in each chicken breast through a 2-inch slit in the side. Place papaya slices into each chicken breast & sprinkle with cinnamon. Dip each breast into melted butter then into cracker crumbs.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken breasts in skillet & brown about 5 minutes on each side. Place browned breasts on baking sheet.
  4. Bake for about 20 minutes, then flip over & continue to bake until chicken is no longer pink in center about 20 minutes more. Meanwhile, bring rice & water to a boil in a saucepan. Cover; simmer until rice is tender & liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
Pineapple Sauce
  1. In skillet that was used to brown chicken, melt 1 Tbsp butter scraping up any brown bits. Stir in orange juice, pineapple, brown sugar & all spices. Reduce to medium & simmer until reduced, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to low & continue to simmer until sauce is thickened. Serve the chicken breasts over rice with pineapple sauce spooned over top.

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Red Peppers & Pears

Unlike some meats that are best served only as the main entree or at certain times of the year, pork tenderloin is perfect at anytime or occasion. You can grill, roast or bake it, making pork one of the most widely eaten meats across the globe.

Sometimes there is a bit of confusion in regards to pork loin and pork tenderloin. The truth is, they are cut from two different regions of the pig. Pork loins are thicker and are also referred to as ‘white’ meat. True to that name, they do turn white when cooked. Pork tenderloin is usually smaller in size, about 2″ thick. This is the softest part of the whole pig coming from the side under the back bone.

Pork is never served by itself, always being accompanied by various side dishes. I never fail to enjoy cooking pork tenderloin. It’s one of those reliable meats that is always tender, pairs with unlimited ingredients and can be ‘dressed’ up or down.

This particular meal uses a cornbread stuffing with red peppers and pears. Sort of unusual but has good flavor and is easy to prepare.

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Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Red Peppers & Pears
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Cuisine American, Cuban
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Instructions
  1. Prepare stuffing mix according to pkg directions.
  2. Make a lengthwise cut 3/4 of the way through the tenderloin; open & flatten to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, minced garlic & 1/2 of the sliced green onion.
  3. Spread cornbread stuffing over meat. Roll up from long side; tuck in ends. Secure with toothpicks. Slice red pepper & pears. Place in a plastic bag with a small amount of fig balsamic dressing & CAREFULLY turn slices to coat well.
  4. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a 13 X 9-inch baking pan with lightly greased foil wrap. Place stuffed tenderloin on it & drizzle with fig balsamic dressing. Surround with pear wedges & top with red pepper slices. Roast for 25 minutes or until meat reaches 160 F. on meat thermometer.

Baked Patacones with Guacamole

Until Brion and I had spent time living in Ecuador, I had never paid any attention to plantains. Really more of a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative but not sweet. They must be cooked to become palatable. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.

On one of the first meals we ate in a restaurant in Ecuador, I experienced the flavor of ‘patacones’. I had ordered an Ecuadorian ceviche and they were served as a side dish. The taste was like a potato chip but had almost a corn flavor. At the time I didn’t know what they were but the taste was definitely one that stayed with me.

In regions that compete for its origin, this specialty appears under two distinct names depending on the country. They are called  patacones in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Haiti they are called  tostones and in West Africa, just simply plantain chips.

The unripe plantain is traditionally prepared with a deep-frying method. The frying is done twice to ensure a crispy chip. You first peel the green plantains and slice them. Then the chips are fried on both sides, removed from the oil and blotted on paper towel. The tostones or patacones are now flattened somewhat and re-fried to provide extra crispiness. Salt may be used to add flavor to the chips. The thicker version (patacones) should be served hot or warm and are nice eaten with guacamole, garlic sauce, grated cheese or as a side dish.

As always, in my quest to bake rather than deep fry, I decided to make some patacones in the oven today. To add some guacamole = yum!!

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Baked Patacones with Guacamole
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Instructions
Baked Patacones
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice plantain into 1-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
  2. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & with the end of a glass, 'squash' each piece down flat. Thinner = crispier. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until crispy to your liking. Serve with guacamole.
Guacamole
  1. In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
Recipe Notes
  • Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.

Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken

Victoria Day is the distinctly Canadian holiday that serves as the official maker to end winter. It is during this long week-end that many summer businesses, such as parks, outdoor restaurants, bike rentals etc., will       re-open despite the fact that summer does not officially begin until a month later. Gardeners in Canada regard Victoria Day as the beginning of spring as it falls at a time when one can be fairly certain that frost will not return until autumn.

Although we are well into the 21st century, in Canada we still celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday 117 years after her passing. She was born on May 24th which is why Canadians celebrate her birthday in late May.

Canadians jokingly refer to Victoria Day as May ‘two-four’ day. This is an inside joke which refers to a case of beer, containing 24 cans. For most Canadians, this is the first warm-ish  long week-end since Easter, so they head to campsites armed with a 24 case of beer. Although we hang on to the Victoria Day name for old times sake, somehow it seems we are really celebrating the beginning of the summer season.  May ‘two-four’ is probably the more accurate moniker.

In keeping with the spirit of a ‘seasonal barbecue’ on this holiday, Brion & I are doing some Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken Thighs. Have a great day!

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Teriyaki Pineapple Chicken
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Instructions
  1. Preheat barbecue grill to 350 F. In a bowl, combine first 5 ingredients; add bacon slices & chicken thighs. Allow to marinate for about 15 minutes; drain. Reserve marinade.
  2. On a large sheet of foil, place the bacon to form 4 crosses, top each with a pineapple slice in the center. Next, lay a chicken thigh on pineapple slice, fold bacon ends over thighs. Carefully flip over so that the bacon ends are on the bottom.
  3. Lay foil on barbecue (with the wrapped chicken thighs on it). Close lid on cook until internal temperature reaches 165 F. and the juices run clear. If you prefer, use some of the excess marinade to baste meat as it cooks.

Savory Pork Chops with Rice

Rice is one of those never fail staples that can be used in countless ways. Quick and easy, fancy and intricate, creamy, spicy, crispy or sweet — endless versatility.

This type of recipe became popular during the late 1930’s. Preparing one dish suppers and attending ‘pot lucks’ were how people during the Great Depression  were able to have fun and share food.

I remember my mother preparing such a meal when I was growing up. Basic recipes that didn’t need a long list of groceries, or a lot of time to make, but they were such delicious comfort food. Before we get right into summer mode with barbecuing and such, I wanted to make this super easy meal for today’s supper.

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Savory Pork Chops with Rice
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large skillet, melt margarine & add rice, celery & onion. Stir & cook until rice begins to brown & vegetables soften slightly. Place mixture in a baking dish. Combine beef broth with spices. Pour over rice mixture.
  2. Using the same skillet, add oil; season both sides of pork chops with salt & pepper. Brown chops for a couple of minutes on each side then place on top of rice in baking dish. Cover with foil & bake 35-40 minutes until rice is tender & chops are cooked through. If more liquid is needed add a bit more beef broth. Be sure not to over salt your meat as the broth will have salt in it as well.
Recipe Notes
  • If you don't care for the spices listed, change them for choices to suit your own tastes.

Pork Loin Chops with Crab meat Stuffing

Combining pork with seafood has been going on for centuries in Europe and Asian countries. For example, take the Spanish with their paella — a mix of chorizo, prawns and mussels and the Chinese with pork and prawn dumplings.

During January, Brion & I spent a few weeks at the Los Cactus resort in Varadero, Cuba. Varadero is a 1.2 km wide peninsula situated along Cuba’s northern coast with 20 km of white sandy beaches. This vicinity has a variety of natural attractions as well as cultural and historical. Varadero is primarily visited by European and Canadian tourists.

Cuba is one big classic car museum. These 1950’s cars are everywhere, in every color and in many shapes, makes and models. While in the USA & Canada these cars would be collector’s items, in Cuba, they are used as everyday vehicles as well as taxis, often providing a good income for their owners.

Being so close to Havana we took the opportunity to take a guided day tour of the capital city. One thing we found really amazing in Cuba, was their bus system. The buses were relatively clean and comfortable with professional drivers. Our day trip to Havana was about 10 1/2 hours long, round trip, with an English speaking guide. Brion & I found the day very interesting. It consisted of a walking tour of Old Havana, lunch and then a panoramic tour of modern Havana to Revolution Square, the famous ‘Malecon’ seawall promenade, Christopher Columbus Necropolis and the Vedado Residential area.

This city is a mixture of opulence and decay, old world and new, socialism and capitalism, Europe, Africa and America. In Old Havana, effort has gone into rebuilding for tourist purposes, and a number of the streets and squares have been rehabilitated. The fact is that Old Havana is a large city, and the restoration efforts concentrate in all on less than 10% of its area. It seems whatever your interests, Havana offers an interesting mix of rhythms, rum, revolution and history.

During the tour, our guide took us to the top floor of the Gomez Vila. You climb up to the tower, about eight flights of stairs where there is a rooftop veranda. Here you can get a 360 degree view of the city. Located here as well, is the ‘Camera Obscura’. This optical device of lenses and mirrors projects an aerial image of the city into a giant concave screen taking you on a bird’s eye tour of Havana in real time. The projections are so clear that you can even pick out individuals walking on the cobble stone streets. It is one of the 74 cameras like it worldwide. Amazing!

In Revolution Square, we viewed some iconic images on the buildings of two Revolutionary heroes, Che Guevara and Camillo Cienfeugos. It was very interesting listening to our tour guide in regards to the Cuban Revolution, giving us this history from a Cuban perspective. There is a complex system of three fortifications that protected Havana, it’s port and it’s dockyard. From the seawall we got some photos of Morro Castle at the entrance with its emblematic light house that was built four centuries ago.

Cuban cuisine is a blend of several cultures — Taino, Spanish, African and Caribbean, with each adding their own methods of cooking and choice of spices. The most common spices used are garlic, cumin, oregano and bay or laurel leaves. Black beans and rice are Cuban staples.

The popularity of pork in Cuban cuisine has long historical roots. Spanish explorers brought pigs to the Caribbean islands back in 1492. From what I understand, one of the secrets of moist and flavorful Cuban pork is that the pigs feed on palmiche, the fruit of a palm tree.  The ‘Royal Palm’ is the national tree of Cuba. It is native to the island and is such a characteristic symbol of its scenery. Notice the big clusters of palm nuts at the top of the Royal palm tree in one of the blog pics.

I wanted to share a recipe today that seemed very in keeping with our Cuban travels. These pork loin chops are stuffed with crabmeat filling and drizzled with a raspberry pepper jelly sauce. 

Brion has added a few of his great pics from Cuba for you to enjoy.

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Pork Loin Chops with Crab meat Stuffing
Instructions
Pork Chops
  1. Trim all excess fat from loin chops. Place meat on a sheet of plastic wrap & cover with a second sheet. Using a meat tenderizer, pound meat flat until double in diameter. Set aside.
Crab meat Stuffing
  1. In a saucepan, saute onions & garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until onions are tender. Remove from heat. Add remaining stuffing ingredients, including the 2 Tbsp of reserved crab liquid. Mix just until incorporated.
Assembly/ Cooking
  1. Lay TWO chops on lightly oiled griddle or skillet. Divide filling between them; place remaining TWO chops on top. Brown the stuffed pork chops on both sides, turning carefully.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place stuffed chops in an ungreased casserole. Cover & bake for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake for 15 minutes longer or until meat thermometer reads 160 F. when inserted into the meat & juices run clear.
Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, heat chicken broth, red pepper jelly & raspberry preserves. Divide sauce between 2 serving plates & top each with a stuffed pork chop.