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!

 

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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

Winter Berry Pie – Who knew?

So. Dangerously Delicious Pies. Truth in advertising there. They are most dangerous – to your waist-line because you will totally want to live there with the delicious, delicious pies and to your wallet. Because, living there. And eating pie.
A few Sunday’s ago, Adam and I had lunch there with a friend, splitting a quiche slice, because that’s what we do – split meals at restaurants. And sometimes still take home a meal-sized amount of leftovers. American restaurant portions. They are the huge-ness. Anywho, this also meant we had room for dessert – whee! – and split a slice of their ‘Winter Berry Pie’ – blackberries, blueberries, and pears.

Joy in a forkful. Closest I’ve come to rapture (from food).

Totally decided that I needed to be able to make this pie. Because that’s what I do, I bake. And did I mention the joy on a fork part?

A perusal of the internet later and I have not only learned that a) no one has posted a knock-off recipe but also b) I’m not finding any recipes that combine those three fruits. Blueberry-blackberry pies, tarts and cobblers, sure. Pear-blueberry pies, sure. Maybe one pear-blackberry pie in there.

Fine says I, I’ll just have to make one up.

This is where raucous laughter from the audience would be cued for during the sitcom.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I decided that for the first time ever, I was going to develop a recipe. So there’s going to be a few posts on this process over the next several… months? well, however long it takes for me to get happy with the recipe. Because I don’t want to ask the lovely people at Dangerously Delicious Pies for their recipe until I can compare how close I got.

Attempt the First;
otherwise known as Soup the Pie. Also, WAY too Frickin Sweet the Pie

So mentally the first step, for me, is the balance of fruits – every combo recipe I saw used a 1:1 ratio, why not try a 1:1:1 ratio for mine? Thus, step one:

  • 1 cup cubed pears
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup blueberries

What next? well, spices are easy(ish…) – ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla extract… Let’s try 2tsp, 1/4 tsp and 1 tsp respectively, so:

  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Sweetness next: well, let’s try…

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter cubed

And binder, need to bind that all together:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Oh pie crust! Need that too. Well, Adam’s had a standard pie crust recipe he’s been working off of – came etched into our big pastry board – but he’s been pretty unhappy with it for a couple months, so we pulled out our copy of The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book for their Flaky Pastry Dough. Fair warning, this is not a pastry recipe for anyone watching their heart health – it calls for 1/2 cup butter per crust. It does, however, live up to its name – very flaky and good.

The results:
FillingSealedWashed

Baked Baked-crust-edited
Sliced-Souped

Slice-Edited

So, yeah, the filling was pretty much soup – very juicy, spilling everywhere once the pie was cut. Tasty, but definitely in need of a fork plus spoon to eat. Also, teeth achingly sweet.

Next round: turning the fruit into a jam-like filling before cooking and using much less sugar.

A Friday Fall Feast – in which we Feastly again

Ze Menu:
Shredded Slow-cooked Savory Brisket Sandwiches
Moroccan Raw Carrot Salad
Roasted Potatoes & Kale
Whole-Wheat Dinner Rolls
and
Mini Baked Apple Fritters

Our Guests: a couple originally from Mumbai, India (NOT vegetarians – I had a moment of panic when they first arrived of the ‘oh no am I about to try and serve beef to Hindus?’ variety – probably presumptuous and stereotypical of me, given that they had to have seen the menu before signing up, but I can only liken it to suddenly realizing that your guests are from Israel and the main dish is pork chops. The odds are good that you have just royally screwed up.)
I am really digging this whole dinner with people I’ve never met before. I have no idea how else I would have met this couple otherwise and they were really good dinner companions – talkative and good listeners, interested in food so we had something in common and it got the conversation started, different life experiences so we got to talk about things which were new to both sets of couples, and just generally a fun evening.

Also, having to pull together a menu and pitch it to the Feastly community is good-for-me(TM). It’s pushing me to consider (more) how dishes go together – more than ‘have a protein, carbs, and at least 2 servings of vegetables’ which is where I’ve been stuck skill-wise for a couple years. In my defense (excuse!), I’ve been concentrating on knife and technique skills. But really now, this is a useful food skill and I am glad to be finally developing it. (There, I said it, stop twisting my arm now! ::poke, poke::) Learning to pitch things is also good for me in the ‘stretch beyond your comfortable skills little introvert!’ kind of way… but seriously, if anyone ever calls me a ‘little introvert’ with a straight face, there will be pain in their future. I’M the only one who gets to mock my lack of social acumen. Well, occasionally Adam too.


Plus, excuse to try out a new dessert recipe – it’s an event, dessert is totally justified and we don’t end up munching on way too many sweet things for the next 3 weeks.

Mini Baked Apple Fritters

Recipe Count – 40 left
Section Count – Dessert: 10 left
9 fritters

MEH. So much meh. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t… anything. No wow, no interesting texture, no interesting sweet, or spices, or tastiness. They were entirely composed of food. And my dessert binder is full of dessert recipes that are composed of tasty goodness that are entirely worth the a) effort and b) nutritional downsides of the occasional food indulgence composed of all the sugar and butter.

This recipe has earned a trip to the recycling bin, not a place in my binder of sweets.

Which means I am totally not inflicting it upon y’all, who deserve good sweets in your lives. Tasty goodness in recipe form to follow below, of something actually worth your time.

So, the original plan was that I would make the dinner rolls and they’d be the bread to our sandwiches… Yeah, I’m still getting the hang of using whole-wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose flour. The rolls were tasty, but not fluffy/big enough to be sandwich rolls. Luckily there’s a Harris Teeter close enough that wonderful husband Adam could run out and grab some sandwich rolls from their bakery. Also, all-purpose flour. Somethings are just better that way (like pie crust). Also, I’d made the rolls by 4pm. So, you know, enough time to fix things.

The carrot salad is a cold one, and thus could be made early that morning, hanging out in the refrigerator until dinner time. Also, totally not over-chilled by hanging out so long in the fridge, which was nice. Also nice? The cumin and cayenne spices – just enough kick to make it interesting without kicking you in the face as a greeting and a ‘pay attention to meeeeeeeee!’

Roasted potatoes and kale are quickly becoming my thing, so much so that I am consciously banning my self from using them for a third time in our next Feastly. By this point, I’ve actually made them three times – first was just before the break-in and thus, I lost my write up and pictures but taking the pictures was ticked off on my mental list and I have yet to take more photos. Which y’all totally deserve because this is a tasty recipe. Which Adam informs me that I ‘need to make again’. Every. Time. The man bans roasted carrots for about a year (and counting….) after one unfortunate week of trying out all of my roasted carrot recipes (3 or 4….) to cut them down to a reasonable amount, but still wants these? Timing is, apparently, everything.


Roasted Potatoes and Kale

Adapted (minorly) from What’s Cookin, Chicago?

  • 1 lb potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
    • different varieties will give this recipe slightly different textures/tastes – experiment and find your favorite is my best advice
  • 1/2 lb fresh kale, rinsed, stems/tough ribs discarded, and roughly chopped
  • cloves of garlic, minced
    • pick a number of cloves to your taste
    • Adam and I have been influenced enough by several friends of Italian cooking traditions that the answer to ‘how much garlic?’ is usually ‘Yes’
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • salt & pepper, to taste
    • pepper is best as freshly cracked/ground from peppercorns
    • if using peppercorns, pick your favorite type/color. or mix it up and try out different types for slightly different tastes each time
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, non-stick cooking spray, or your favorite food don’t stick here method.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the chopped potatoes with 1 tbsp of oil, the minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Transfer potatoes to the baking sheet; bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
  3. In the same bowl, toss the chopped kale with 1 tbsp of oil, salt, and pepper, to taste. After potatoes have roasted, add the kale on top – do not worry if it looks like a huge mound on top of the potatoes. The kale will shrink/flatten out as it crisps. Just mound it in such a manner as it will not fall off the baking sheet. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast for another 10 minutes, or until kale is crisp.
  4. Serve hot or at room temperature, but not cold.

Check back in next Tuesday for my write up of the Shredded Slow-cooked Savory Brisket Sandwiches

In which there is failure and a plot does not come to fruition

Recipe Count – 40 left
Section Count – Entrees: 8; subsection – vegetarian: 2

Look, sometimes a recipe just doesn’t work. Sometimes, it’s because the recipe wasn’t tested enough before publication. Sometimes, it’s ’cause I just don’t have the skill level for this. And sometimes it’s because mother-[expletive] lasagna sheets don’t come in multiples of mother-[expletive] 3.25 inches!

So the plan for a Saturday dinner was “Tortellini filled with Winter Squash and Sage” from The Spice Bible. From the start, I knew this one should only be tried on  a weekend, what with the ‘roast for 40 minutes’ in the first step. But the drizzling sage-infused butter over tortellini filled with squash sounded really good. Good enough to mean I was willing to stand up and fold pasta into little packets. Something which making wonton soup for New Year’s Con has pretty much burned out my capacity to do.

New Year’s Con: the college crowd, plus the ever expanding social circle, getting together for the weekend over New Year’s, holing up in an apartment/house the entire time, and being our incredibly geeky selves. We’re up to about 13-15 people. Feeding said small horde for 3 meals a day is … an undertaking, which our hosts have figured out is easier to outsource to said horde. Some of us volunteer to be responsible for one meal over the weekend and for several years, my traditional meal was a wonton soup. That had started out life scaled to two servings. It was good in that I could make the wontons ahead of time, freeze them, and simmer as needed at our get together. But 5-6 wontons per head, for 13 people? Yeah, I don’t make it anymore. At least not for New Year’s Con.

([Expletive]. Now, I want wonton soup again.)

Right, so, tortellini.

Diced onionsThings were going pretty well. The lovely butternut squash had been peeled with a minimum of fuss, the red onion diced with a lesser amount of tearing (let’s be honest – crying).

 

 

 

 

Mashed squashRoasting and cooking until soft had occurred as well as the mashing, cooling, and mixing in lovely ricotta, egg, sage and freshly grated Parmesan and nutmeg.

 

 

 

 

SquaresThe OCD chef’s cutting board had been hauled out and lasagna sheets lined up when I ran into the first ‘maybe this will be an issue?’ thing – the sheets were about 5.75 inches wide. And the recipe called for 3.25 inch squares. So… I could either get one row of 3.25 inch squares or cut the sheet in half lengthwise and get smaller rectangles. I went for the second option.

This was not my only mistake.

The second mistake was actually getting the sheets into squaresrectangles ahead of time. About 10 minutes ahead of time. Which was apparently long enough for the squares to dry out enough to not seal but still be reasonably pliable. Plus the smaller size meant that all the filling, no matter how little I put in went Squish! out the sides.

This is the point where I stepped back, looked at the bowl of mashed butternut squash and other goodness, and started muttering expletives, in a ‘what do I do now?’ moment. This is where it’s really awesome to have two cooking styles in the house. I fix Adam’s baking mishaps. He rescues dinner when a recipe goes completely to pot.

We had lasagna.

Butternut Squash TortelliniLasagna with Sage

serves 8

Filling

  • 2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp chopped sage

The Rest

  • 1 chicken breast, sliced
  • 1 package lasagna sheets

Ingredients

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix the squash in a roasting pan with half the olive oil (2 tbsp) and a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the squash is completely soft.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a saucepan and gently cook the onion until soft. Put the onion and squash in a bowl, draining off any excess oil. Mash, then leave to cool. Once cool, crumble in the ricotta and mix in the egg yolk, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg and sage. Season well.
  3. In a square baking dish, put in half the squash mixture, a layer of chicken, then cover with a layer of lasagna sheets. Repeat with remaining squash, chicken, and sheets. Cover top with more ricotta and sprinkle sage over the top.
    Pre-Oven
  4. Cook in the 375°F oven for 30 minutes.
    Post-Oven