Foodie Pen Pals February Edition

It's that time again. The end of another month and the day to tell you all about Foodie Pen Pals! Foodie Pen Pals is the brainchild of Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean, and if you go here, you can read all about it. The basics are that each participant is assigned a pen pal to send a fun foodie box to (maximum cost $15), and then receives a fun foodie box from a different participant in return. 

This month, our sender was Beth who was sending our package all the way from Alaska. She contacted us to see if we would be interested in an Alaskan-themed box, and we said, "Heck, yeah!" We aren't even sure we've ever gotten anything shipped to us from Alaska! In the meantime, we spent all kinds of time looking at Beth's two blogs (here and here) and marveling at all her beautiful photos. She really makes us want to go there. Definitely bucket-list worthy!!!

The package arrived today, just in time for our "reveal" day, and it was filled with wonderful gifts. First, we noticed the can of Alaskan silver salmon and the two types of salmon jerky (original and peppered). Chris is a huge fan of salmon AND jerky, so this is right up his alley. 

Also in the box is the perfect envelope of tea for two - Alaskan blueberry herbal tea, to be exact. We can't wait to try it.  

Beth also sent us these handy "bear claw" salad tongs...

a handmade wallet that she said was one of her latest sewing projects (so thoughtful!)...

and a gorgeous little genie-bottle filled with homemade vanilla extract!

As we use all of these great gifts, we will think of Beth out there in the great wilderness and hope we get to see it in person one day! Thank you, Beth!!!

We sent a box filled with "Super Snacks" to our recipient, Kaitlyn, who wrote about it on her blog here

You don't have to have a blog to join Foodie Pen Pals. For more information about it, go here. And thanks, as always, to Lindsay for putting this idea into action. It's something we look forward to every month!

The Lean Green Bean

Pork and Chipotle Pozole

We are so done with winter, with the snow and sleet and rain and the bitter cold that chills you through and through. But winter doesn't seem to be done with us. Craving warmth, we made this delicious one-pot stew that heated us right up (a little too much heat, actually, but we'll get to that). It's called pozole, and, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, it's a traditional Mexican dish made with cacahuazintle corn (also known as hominy) and meat, and was originally only served on special occasions. The details about that include cannibalism so we won't go into that here so as not to ruin your appetite.

We were inspired by a variety of recipes we found online and made ours with pork. We weren't sure if we could find hominy, but we did find canned hominy in the Goya section at our usual grocery store, which, we are thrilled to say, seems to be stocking a much wider variety of products as of late. We had a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce in the pantry, and we used three of them to flavor the broth, and then decided next time we will only use two. Or maybe one. It was pretty spicy, so be forewarned. 

Other than that, we were delighted by the various flavors and textures in the stew, as we were with the easiness of making it. And as suspicious as that tin of Mexican oregano may look, it really is Mexican oregano and we suggest looking for it if you plan to make this spicy, zesty dish, because it really gave it an interesting flavor. 

Pork and Chipotle Pozole


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless pork sirloin chops, trimmed and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 (to taste) canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano (crushed)
2 tablespoons plus 2-3 cups water, divided
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 15-ounce can hominy, rinsed
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
juice of one lime

Suggested garnishes: chopped fresh cilantro, tortilla strips, lime wedges

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the pork and brown on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Add onions, garlic, chipotles, cumin, coriander and oregano and 2 tablespoons of water. Stir up all the browned bits from the pork, and cook until onion starts to brown, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 2 of the remaining 3 cups of water, chicken broth, then whisk in the cornmeal. Simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Add hominy, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want to add the remaining 1 cup of water, depending on taste and consistency, do so here. Continue to simmer until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Return pork to the pot and add lime juice. Cook until pork is warmed through, about 5 additional minutes. Serve in bowls and garnish each serving with cilantro, tortilla strips and a wedge of lime (also a glass of water if you used 3 of the chipotles!)


We Got Oinked!

Pig with hearts and flower
Special thanks today to Jorie over at Fat Pig in the Market who oinked us in today's post

If you love food blogs, you have to check this one out. Wicked good stuff.


Potato, Leek and Celeriac Gratin

Ah, gratin. You demon of the side dish world. So full of cream and butter. So unapologetically decadent. So tantalizingly indulgent. We can't resist you. We call you "vegetables" but deep inside we know the ugly truth. We'd likely be better off eating a Big Mac. Still, there you are on our table, beside a rotisseried chicken. Welcome back. Be sure to visit again soon. 

PS You look very nice in your beautiful baking dish! (Thanks, K!)

Potato, Leek and Celeriac Gratin


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 large branch fresh rosemary
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 leek, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celeriac (celery root), peeled and thinly sliced
4 ounces grated Gruyere cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons herbs de Provence

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream, rosemary and garlic bubbles start to form along the sides of the pan. Turn off heat and set aside. Melt butter in a small skillet and sweat the leeks, seasoned with a pinch of kosher salt, taking care not to brown them (about 5-6 minutes); set aside. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray. Layer 1/3 of the potato slices, 1/3 of the celeriac slices, 1/3 of the cooked leeks and 1/3 of the gruyere. Season with salt and pepper and continue the process a second and third time. Strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve and pour it into the dish over the vegetables. Sprinkle top with herbs de Provence. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until bubbly. Remove foil and continue to bake another 15 minutes, until top is golden brown. 


Golden Cinnamon Buns (Secret Recipe Club)

As members of the Secret Recipe Club, we are assigned someone's food blog each month and we choose one of their recipes and make it our own. When we were assigned We Heart Vegan this month, we were a little nervous. Many of the vegan recipes on this beautiful blog, written by Brittany and Julie, include ingredients that frankly, we just aren't familiar with. However, when we spotted this recipe for quick, delicious, golden cinnamon rolls that could be made in about an hour, we were intrigued.

Many club members may think we are crazy for cutting it so close, but we made them just this morning, as we have today off from school for Presidents' Day. The aroma of cinnamon is still lingering in the house, and the couple of rolls that we have not yet eaten are calling out to us: "I'm so yummy! Come back and devour me!"

Sticky, gooey, warm and scrumptious, we truly enjoyed making and eating these sweet cinnamon buns. They were much better than anything we could buy in a popping can or at the mall, and it was satisfying to be able to control the ingredients and make a homemade breakfast bun so quickly and easily. What a perfect treat for a chilly winter's morning! Thank you, Brittany and Julie, for the recipe. 

Note: We decided to give the recipe a try using ingredients we had on hand, which means that they aren't vegan, and we are truly hoping that Brittany and Julie won't be offended by our use of dairy products. Also, we prefer Roasted Saigon Cinnamon for its powerful punch.

Golden Cinnamon Buns
minimally adapted from this recipe from We Heart Vegan

For the dough:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup lowfat milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

Preheat oven to 425. Line a round baking pan with parchment paper and spray it with baking spray. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt until completely combined and slightly aerated.  In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; slowly pour the wet ingredients in to the well and stir with a wooden spoon until tacky, yet combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a few turns to smooth the dough.  Add flour if needed when sticking occurs; the dough will be very soft. Using flour covered hands, gently press the dough into a large rectangle. Spread remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter over dough's surface. Continue by making the filling (below).

For the filling:

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch salt

Combine all of the filling ingredients in a medium bowl. Spread the filling evenly over the buttered dough. Press firmly into dough to set. Roll the dough making sure to roll tight and straight so the ends are even.  Be sure to have a scraper close by to ease the rolling/sticking process. Once rolled, cut into the desired thickness.  Carefully place the rolls into a prepared baking dish.  Nuzzle them close together for a soft, rustic bun.  This will also help keep the buns standing on their own.  Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, prepare the golden syrup for drizzling (below).

For the golden syrup:

2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 tablespoons lowfat milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the golden syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved and syrup is thin and smooth. Drizzle syrup over hot cinnamon buns and enjoy fresh out of the oven. 


Nemo Gras!!!

Chef C's amazing King Cake

If we say so ourselves, our annual Mardi Gras Madness party has become somewhat of a legend. Last year was an excellent example of its reputation - read about it here. This year, we spent much of last week prepping for the epic-ness - buying, thawing, injecting (with secret marinade), and rubbing 6 turkeys; boiling 10 pounds of ham in cola; purchasing all the ingredients for muffaletta pasta salad; having Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Mix shipped to the house. You know the drill. Oh, wait, you don't? 

The post-blizzard view from our porch...not good

This party has been happening since 2003. So we were rarin' to go for the 10th anniversary Mardi Gras Madness. 87 people responded "YES," and we were ready. Then came Nemo.

Turkey set-up. That's Amy's car behind it. Yup. It was that bad.

Nemo dumped nearly 3 feet of snow on us the-day-before-into-the-day-of the party. When, at noon on Saturday, the governor declared that ALL roads were closed to traffic, we postponed to the next day. Surely that would be plenty of time for people to dig out, for roads to be plowed, for power to be restored? Maybe not so much.

Chris digs out our back deck

Sunday morning, the Krewe was intact, shoveling, snowblowing, and helping us set up for who knows how many guests. Every year we rely on our Krewe to help us set up, clean up, whatever, and this year, even more so. We even had the neighborhood kids (8 and 3 1/2 year olds) helping out.  Super special thanks to G, S, B, D, J, N, K, W, B and especially, L for all you did. We couldn't have done it without ya'll, as usual!

At 3 1/2, our youngest Krewe member ever!

By 12:45 we had 3 guests at the house (including a strange bearded man - pictured below) and things looked somewhat dim. Over the next several hours, however, the regulars rallied. We ended up with about 40 people, all of whom brought wonderful dishes to add to the fried turkey, cola ham, and muffaletta pasta party. Hurricanes were plentiful, though some people thought they should be called "blizzards" this once. Awesome pastry chef C brought a king cake worthy of the best Big Easy bakery. There was shrimp dip, shrimp and grits, drunken andouille pigs in a blanket,  Mardi Gras meringues, spanokopita, B's best chocolate chip cookies, Mardi Gras cupcakes, and so much more. B even sent her amazing quiche for us to enjoy the next morning. She is the sweetest thing!!!

"Bearded Man"

Cola Ham

(Chris makes the most awesome) Fried Turkey

Drunken Andouille in a Blanket

Muffaletta Pasta Salad with Shrimp

Shrimp n Grits

Around 5, a bunch of us teachers got text messages saying schools and other "non-essential personnel" were not to report to work on Monday. This brought cheers and a round of shots for those of us who are proud to be "non-essential." We ate, drank, visited, and celebrated until around 10, when the party wound down.


Mardi Gras Meringues

Barb's Best Cookies

Suffice it to say, not even 34 inches of Winter Storm Nemo can stop Mardi Gras! 
Laissez les bon temp rouler!!!

Morning-After Quiche