A Summer Southern Feastly Picnic

Saturday just past Laura and I cooked up a little indoor picnic for some amazing new friends all of whom just happened to be on staff with or hosts for AirBnB. There was cole slaw. There was cornbread. There were collards. There were sweet potato fries. There was even a syrupy berry salad for dessert. But! The core of the meal was an 11 lbs Boston Butt that I turned into some of the best pulled pork we’ve ever had. If I do say so myself. Now, a battalion of smokers, BBQers, and grill masters have spilled an ocean’s worth of ink and probably some blood on the best way to make this Southern staple and I have no doubt that any number of them can tell me exactly what I did wrong and why I am a heretic for having done it my way. So, I’d now like to spill a little myself describing how I did it so that you, dear reader, can have my Carolina Pulled Pork at home with only a little bit of effort.

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I have to admit upfront that this was the first time I had ever done pulled pork solo and so I relied on a few hours of internet research and a long conversation with my best friend, Whit, on the best way to get the job done. All that being said – here’s the way it happened:

  1. Obtain the Butt – I got lucky on this one. I was pretty sure when we were putting the menu together that the kind folks at Harvey’s Market would have what I was looking for and, lo and behold, they came through with a 22-day dry-aged pork shoulder and we’re even kind enough to do all the trimming for me. For those that don’t already know, dry aging is a process of allowing natural enzymes in the meat post-slaughter to activate and so tenderize the meat. 22 days is a long aging and made for a very tender shoulder.
  2. Brine the Butt – In my brief research, my experience being around pulled pork growing up, and through my conversation with Whit, it was made clear to me that brining your meat is absolutely necessary to getting the best results at the end. All Brining means is soaking the meat in a heavily salted water (with a few other choice seasonings) for 4-18 hours. Be sure to do this in the fridge. No one needs to die for their pork. The brining process  improves on the meat’s natural juiciness and infuses it with the flavors added to the brine. In my case that was a hickory smoked salt from Maine, my own dry rub mix, and a few bay leaves.
  3. Massage that Butt with Dry Rub – this last step before cooking is absolutely essential to having Carolina Pulled Pork. Take whatever mix of kosher salt, black pepper, and spices you want (mine is a secret) and shovel lots and lots of it onto the brined pork that you have pulled out of the liquid and patted dry. I really mean lots and lots. You want the pork to look like the first picture below. Massage the mix into the meat being sure you get into all those cracks and creases. It’s the dry rub that turns into what the old hands at this call a “bark.” That bark is what provides the sharp points of flavor in old-fashioned pulled pork that everyone loves so much.
  4. Slow Cook that Beautiful Butt – once the pork was thoroughly covered in dry rub, I lightly covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 215ºF. At that low temperature, the meat had to cook for 18 hours before it reached the goal – a core internal temperature of 200ºF. It was a long wait but it was totally worth it. When it was all done and had rested for about 30 minutes, the shoulder bone slid right out with no resistance at all and the meat pulled apart with two forks just like it was supposed to.

Those are the four steps to delicious Carolina Pulled Pork. Easy-peasy. Except that it takes three days. Enjoy these before and after pictures!

 

Tasty, tasty (expensive) lamb

So, Adam and I recently made a budget. I mean, we’d had one before, but that was slightly more ‘okay, how much can we set aside on this contract to get through the couple months off while Adam finds the next contract?” This one is a ‘hurrah, we both have full-time permanent positions!’ It feels so very grown-up. Except, you know, who let us get to grown-up status? Obviously an error somewhere 🙂 But any rate, we were coming in fairly far under-budget on groceries so I decided that now was the time to try the last main entrée recipe I had in the queue – a rack of lamb recipe.

2 racks of lamb with 6 cutlets each == 3 cutlets / serving == 4 servings total
1 rack == ~1lb of meat. $22/lb of lamb rack at Wegmans.

You see why I waited until a month with ‘excess’ grocery money.

That said, if you’ve got someone to impress and have the cash to burn, this is the recipe to do it with. Holy [expletive] was this tender and tasty and oh my god my brain is seizing in happy memory so I have no words.

The meat portion of the recipe was excellent; the roast vegetables not as much. The vegetables (12 garlic cloves, carrots, red bell pepper, red onion, zucchini, and asparagus) weren’t bad per see. They just weren’t great which was disappointing in contrast to the mustard encrusted lamb. I think the vegetables would have benefited from a higher roasting temperature or longer time. But then the lamb would have either overcooked or been lukewarm at the table. And it should be served either piping hot or refrigerator-chilled cold. So, this lamb recipe I give to you will be pair with what I should have made instead – roasted asparagus.

 

Rack of Lamb with Mustard Crust and Roasted Asparagus

Serves 4
Recipe count: 18 left; Section: Pork & Lamb main entrées: 0 left

  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • ½ brown onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp seeded mustard
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 lamb racks, each with 6 cutlets, trimmed
  • 1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • fresh black pepper
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  1. In a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and garlic; cook for 2 minutes, or until softened. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Combine with the breadcrumbs, sage, mustard, and egg yolk; season with salt.
  2. Spread the mustard mixture across the rack of lamb to form a thick crust. Refrigerate until ready to use.
    Encrusted Lamb
  3. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  4. Spread the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Add 1 tbsp of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and pepper. Gently toss with your hands and then return to a single layer.
  5. Transfer lamb to a roasting pan. Place lamb and asparagus into the oven. Start checking the asparagus for doneness at 10 minutes, lamb at 25 minutes. The asparagus should be cooked through and tender, but not wilting. The lamb is done when the internal temperature (use an instant read thermometer) reaches 140°F (for medium-rare) to 160°F (for medium). Alternatively, start the lamb before the asparagus and add the asparagus in the middle to try and time both being done simultaneously.
    Resting Lamb
  6. When done, remove the lamb and transfer to a resting rack. Heat the pan juices, balsamic vinegar, remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, and a pinch of salt on the stove to form a sauce. Slice the lamb and serve with the asparagus and sauce.

Plated Lamb

Pasta Interrupted

So this is what I should/wanted to have posted last Tuesday, before I got sick (all better now, thanks. just a cold/sinus thing) – y’all might recognize the roasted squash from last week. In a lot of ways, this recipe (Fettuccine with roasted butternut squash, brown butter, and sage) is comfort food for me – lots of carbs, contrast with some nuts, and slightly sweet squash with some bite.

Man I like carbs. Might explain why I like baking bread. I get to eat the results.

Any rate, this pasta recipe is also rather flexible. As written, it’s vegetarian (not vegan through) but it’d be pretty easy to add some animal protein, especially if you’ve got a little grill – slap a chicken breast on a grill or chop it up and sauté in a pan, then mix in the cooked chicken at the end. If you’re trying this one on a weeknight or just otherwise don’t have time to fully roast the squash, there’s a short-cut version I’ll include. I think it’s not quite as good, but still very decent. The original calls for pine nuts, but those are expensive so I’ve always substituted cashews – bet you could substitute your favorite nut. And it’s not like we keep any sage other than the dried variety around the house, which still works despite the original calling for frying sliced thin whole sage leaves in butter. I mean it sounds delicious, but there are some limits around here. … I’ll get back to you when I actually figure them out.

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Fettuccine with Roasted Butternut Squash, Brown Butter and Sage

Serves 4
original: TheKitchn.com

  • 1 small to medium butternut squash, about 2 lb (don’t worry if all the ones at the store are too big – as long as you can fit all the chunks on a pan in one layer, you’re good)
  • 1/2 lb fettuccine noodles
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • dried sage to taste
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup nuts of choice, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray or butter a baking sheet OR lay down enough parchment paper to cover the bottom.
  2. Peel the squash, scrape out the seeds, and cut into roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Toss with a little olive oil and salt. Spread the butternut squash in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast for 45-60 minutes*, by preference stirring every 15 minutes but will work if left alone. You are cooking until the squash is tender and beginning to have caramelized brown spots. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the fettuccine noodles with a generous amount of salt according to package instructions. Scoop out and set aside 1/2 cup of cooking water before draining the pasta and setting aside.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan every so often and cook until butter turns caramel-brown, about 5 minutes. I am told there should be a nutty smell.
  5. Add the sage leaves to the browned butter and allow to fry for a few seconds, until crispy. Add the roasted squash, nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp salt to the pan*; stir until butter coast the squash. Pour in a 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta liquid and let bubble into a thin sauce, adding more liquid if needed. Taste and adjust salt at this point. Add the cooked pasta, tossing to coat and mix evenly. Remove from heat, split into bowls to serve, and top with nuts and parmesan.

Short-cut version:
1) Roast for 15-20 minutes, until squash is tender, but not carmelized.
2) Squish the squash a bit with the back of your stirring utensil.

A moderately long stew

This one’s been sitting in my queue for a while – I was put off by a) the whole chicken aspect (I’m working on it!) and b) the hour long cooking time. I don’t mind a longer cooking time, it just means I’d rather deal with it on a weekend than a weeknight. But Adam got a new job that ate his weekends while simultaneously making him the only real logical choice for grocery runs (this being a one-car household). So the grocery run got pushed back until the cooking couldn’t happen until a Monday night. Aaaaand, I wasn’t clear through the grocery app we use – instead of a 3 lb 6 oz whole chicken, Adam got me more of the chicken breasts Wegmans sells in large quantities. I think they call it a family pack or something. Oh well. Forwards – it’s not like I can’t substitute chicken breast for a whole chicken. It’ll just come out a bit different.

Although it would have helped if I’d correctly divided the 8 pieces called for by 2 (splitting a breast in half) to get 4 instead of three and defrosted the proper amount of chicken.

I swear I can do math, really I can.

All those little mishaps aside, this one really did come out well. The chicken was tender, the sauce had nuts in it, giving me a textural contrast with the chicken (did I mention it was tender?), and the saffron gave Adam some subtle tastes.

‘So, want me to keep this one?’

::CHESHIRE grin::

‘I’ll take that as a yes then’

Chicken in Saffron Stew

Recipe Count – 32 left
Section Count – Main entrees: 3 left, subcategory – poultry: 1 left
Original from The Spice Bible

6 servings

  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • bread cubes (~1/2 cup or the results of 1 thick slice)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • dried parsley, to taste
  • 3 chicken breasts (~1lb each or slightly less)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • thyme
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 egg yolks
  1. Heat some oil in a heavy-bottomed stove-top safe casserole dish, over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and bread; fry until golden, about 3 minutes. Remove to a paper towel and drain. When cooled slightly, move to a food processor (or a mortar and pestle). Add the cinnamon, saffron, garlic, and some parsley (about half the total amount you intend to use). Process or grind to a coarse, crumbly consistency.
  2. Heat enough oil to brown the chicken in over medium head in the casserole dish. Brown for about 5 minutes, then remove to a plate. Add the onions and cook gently until translucent, about 5 minutes. Return the chicken to the dish and add the wine, stock, bay leaf, and thyme; simmer, covered, over medium-low heat for 1 hour, or until tender. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
  3. Add the cashew-bread mixture to the dish and cook until thickened slightly, roughly 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice, egg yolks, and other half of parsley. Return the casserole dish to the stove-top and stir over low heat, until just thickened again (do not allow to boil or the eggs and lemon juice will separate). Season to taste, return the chicken to the dish, and gently warm before serving.

It looks a bit like goop, but I promise, it’s tasty.

Chicken in Saffron Stew

Rainbow Pepper Steak – stir-fry!

This is from one of my earliest obtained cookbooks – 365 Ways to Wok, which is apparently out of print now? what. I thought the 365 series just kinda … stayed in print.

Anyway, it was one of those books I picked up in my first year of learning to cook and the thought process went something like “Need to do a style that let me walk away from the stove, forget everything, and stuff burns… oh, stir-fry! 365 recipes! I’ve got to be able to do something from this!” This recipe fits that bill, plus it’s week-night fast, especially if you dice thing quickly and mix up the sauce before starting the stir-frying. The main thing about this one though is that it’s pretty. Using 3 different colors of bell peppers is just visually interesting – the taste will probably be pretty similar if you use 3 of the same type though. What can I say, red and yellow peppers tend to run twice the per pound cost of green bell peppers. Oh, also, pay attention to how long the peppers are cooking and get them off of the heat while everything is still bright and crisp looking, rather than waiting for things to get tender. Visually and taste-wise, dinner will be better for it.

It’s not a great recipe (yet) but entirely serviceable and tasty. Plus Adam and I have some ideas to punch it up we’ve noted down, so you know, I’ll eventually get back to them. 1 year? 2? Any bets?

Stir-fried Steak with Rainbow Peppers

serves 4-6

  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 medium leek, the white part only, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb beef, cut crosswise on the diagonal into thin strips
  • 2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  1. Mix together the beef broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a wok until hot and swirl to coat the sides. Add the peppers, leek, and garlic. Stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes and remove to a plate.
    Vegetables
  3. If needed, add a bit of oil. Add the steak and stir-fry until it just loses its red color, about 2-3 minutes.
    The Meat
  4. Return the vegetables to the wok. Stir in the beef broth mixture to coat the meat and vegetables. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and water mixture; cook over high heat, stirring until sauce boils and thickens, 1-2 minutes. Serve with rice.

Finished

Experiments on this recipe to try:
1. Instead of thickening the sauce in the wok with the meat and vegetables, cook the rice in the un-thickened sauce. Either toss the stir-fried portion with the rice, or just serve on top of the rice.
2. Instead of returning the vegetable to the wok in step 3, remove the meat and cook down/thicken the sauce on its own in the wok. Then pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in a serving bowl and serve with rice.

If anyone has more ideas for this one or try one the experiments above, drop us a line and let us know how it went. Comments to share with everyone or by email (kitchenchemi.cook at gmail.com) for just us.

Another one from the deep archives – Cuban Picadillo

So, this one comes from my senior year flatmate – who also happens to be the guys who introduced Adam and I as well as an ex-boyfriend. To be clear, he and I broke up sophomore year, lived together senior year, and he introduced Adam and I that year. At Dragon*Con. Oh, and he and Adam has known each other since 3rd grade Sunday school. Annnnd we’ll be his kid’s god-parents.

None of which is actually relevant to the recipe, now is it? Well, the senior year of college bit is – see I graduated undergrad in 2006 and it turns out that this is the first time I’ve made this recipe such that Adam could eat it. Yikes. Adam is a mite peeved about this, seeing as he rather liked it. Me, I think I was subconsciously avoiding it for the cup of dry red wine and psychosomatic headache I associate with that. Look brain-me, the alcohol cooks off. No headaches, see?

This one can work as both a weeknight recipe and make-a-big-batch-ahead-of-time on the weekend recipe. The current scale of the recipe is noted as serving “6 guys” – 6 college-age, 6 ft. tall, broad shouldered, ‘I used to play football/compete in martial arts’, metabolism is working on overdrive, guys. And, you know, me. Who at the time (and usually still does) eat like a 17 year-old teenage boy in the middle of puberty. I am going to be sad when my metabolism slows down. It’s not like I’m good about exercising regularly. Especially not in the winter with the holidays and weather too cold to bike in.

I’d like to mention that I also habitually forgot to eat in college – “Why am I so hungry? Oh right, it’s 2pm and I haven’t eaten since breakfast”. Might explain why I ate so much at dinner. I still forget to eat you know, my body is just better about getting my brain’s attention – now I have forgotten to eat every two hours (I’m doing the numerous small meals throughout the day to try and keep the stomach acid down and the brain energy/decision making abilities up with protein).

So, Cuban Picadillo – apparently there’s a big taste difference between Mexican oregano and Italian oregano: 1) oregano is not one I can taste and 2) Adam didn’t complain. I’m betting that unless you’ve grown up with or eat lots of Cuban and/or Caribbean and/or Creole dishes, either one will work for you – but the Mexican oregano will be better.

Cuban Picadillo

serves Lots

  • Rice
  • Turmeric
  • pinch of Saffron
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion, sliced finely
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2x 14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes with green chilli
  • 6 oz/1 can tomato paste
  • generous cup of dry red wine, or to taste
  • 2 tsp fresh or 2 1/2 tsp bottled oregano, Mexican oregano if you’ve got it. Also to taste.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat enough water for your type of rice to a boil. Add the rice, turmeric, and saffron; simmer until rice is cooked and water is absorbed. Fluff; set aside. You can substitute store bought yellow rice packages for this, but Adam and I couldn’t find one without chemical additives and other nasties we thought worth it when we could just make our own yellow rice. The color of home-made yellow rice will be lighter than store bought.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. Add the beef, onions, and garlic; brown the meat. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook without a lid. Cook for 15-20 minutes, letting everything thicken.
  3. Serve over the rice.

Adam suggested variation: eliminate the olive oil and very lightly brown chorizo in the pan – the oil from the chorizo will grease the pan. Stew on a very low simmer for about 2 hours.

Cuban Picadillo

In which a slow cooker does not successfully substitute for a fondue pot

Happy New Year everybody! Adam and I will be in Charleston, with his family for a late Christmas celebration, until the evening of January 6th. So, there will be some photo fillers instead of posts for our next two (on the 2nd and 7th). But in the meantime, my adventures with Mongolian Hot Pot.

I’ve mentioned before how Adam and my cooking styles compliment each other, in that he turns the leftover ingredients from my recipes into amazing things? Well, sometimes he has to step in and improvise like that in the middle of my recipes.

So, this little adventure came to us via the 75th anniversary edition of the Joy of Cooking – the Mongolian Hot Pot recipe. Just to be clear, I own neither a hot pot, nor a fondue pot, nor an electric skillet as recommended by the recipe. My thinking when marking this one out to copy was something along the lines of “Oh, Mongolian, I don’t have anything from that cuisine yet!” I would just like to note, that the Joy of Cooking, as venerable and useful and generally amazing as it is, is probably not the best place to dip a toe into a non-American cuisine’s waters. It’s too broad and basic skills level a cookbook to really be the best place to find exemplars of a cuisine.

But I copied it out anyway. Back on 10th August this year. Which is pretty good for me – it only sat in my blue binder for four months. Part of that is that this one is really a dinner party recipe, to have a whole bunch of friends sitting around the pot, cooking their bites of meat/tofu/vegetables and talking. BUT, I have to test it out first, right? Shouldn’t spring un-tested recipes on friends as the main entree, right?

So, the recipe calls for getting your broth boiling on the stove and then keeping it hot on the table in a hot pot, fondue port, or electric skillet. You know, something you can keep putting heat into in a regulated way. So a slow cooker should be able to pinch hit, right? Well, apparently not if you only just get the broth to boiling (needed more thermal inertia) and keep the slow cooker on low. The meat … cooked … as we dunked it. Just, not enough that we were really comfortable that the risk of food poisoning was low enough. So, Adam grabbed the beef slices, a little of the sauce, some of the broth, a bag of frozen veggies from the freezer, and stir-fried them all together. He also dumped the rice noodles that are supposed to soak in hot water near the end of the meal, get drained, and then sop up the remnants of the sauce and broth into the slow cooker of broth. And there-in we learned that the generic branded rice noodles available at Wegmans are not so great and in the future, we will be making a pilgrimage to a local Asian food store. If they give us permission, we’ll see about getting some pictures too. The Wegmans available rice noodles were just really, really, really bland. Even for rice noodles.

By the way, the sauce from this is awesome. Totally usable in more recipes.

Mongolian Hot Pot (ish)

Recipe count: 36 left
Section count: Entrees, beef: 0 left (I’m free! I’m free!)
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
Serves 6

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp red miso
  • 1/4 cup toasted fiery sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • chopped chives
  • 1 lb beef top round, sliced very thinly
  • 1 bag of frozen vegetables, your choice
  • 1/2 head Napa cabbage
  • 14 oz (i.e. 1 package) extra firm tofu
  • 8 oz spinach, trimmed, washed & dried
  • 32 oz carton of beef broth
  • 1 package dried rice noodles
  • 4 cups hot water
  1. In a blender, purèe the rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, miso, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic. Pour into individual serving bowls and garnish with the scallions and chives.
    Sauce Bowl
  2. Slice the cabbage and tofu into bit-sized pieces. Arrange the cabbage, tofu, and spinach on a platter. Stir fry the beef slices and frozen vegetables in a little bit of oil, sauce, and broth, until browned and vegetables cooked through.
  3. Soak the rice noodles in enough hot water to cover for about 10 minutes; drain. Meanwhile, bring the broth to a boil. Once broth is boiling and noodles have soaked, transfer the noodles to the broth, remove from heat, and bring the broth, individual sauce bowls, and the platter to the table.

Suggested eating implements: chopsticks.

Served