MEAT: It's what's for dinner.

After a mostly vegan/vegetarian week, I broke my streak last night when I met Peef and Lo for dinner at Roots. I was so happy they suggested we go there, since I had never been. It dawned on me as I was eating delicious pork nachos, outdoors mind you, that I effortlessly ate no meat for a week until that mouthful. Pork, sustainably raised and melt in your mouth tender is confirmation enough for me that no matter my food obsession, sometimes puerco is just the best think in the whole wide world.

Burp! also posted yesterday about the freezer meals that they like to have, which is exactly how I cook over here as well. I'm never happier than when I can spend the whole day in the kitchen concocting, but then I'm very happy to have a fully stocked freezer at the ready. I am actually getting better at not cooking for a small army. My Husband is not a leftover eater, unless the leftovers appear months into the future, and that's actually a good arrangement for a cooker like myself. I'm as happy doing daily cooking as I am eating a leftover that prevents me from cooking every day until it expires, but when pressed, I would rather cook something new.

So I felt compelled to dig into my frozen wares for supper tonight, partially because I couldn't be bothered to run out to shop and partially because I do like to use up what is on hand. What fun to shop in my own freezer: a portion of frozen Pork and Chile from my Mom - one of our Christmas Eve traditions, some frozen pintos that were from last month, and a half armful of leftovers fruits and vegetables with some cilantro from the fridge side of things made a nice salsa to boot.

My Mom makes the most wonderful flour tortillas. When I first came to live on my own, I tried to mimic them to no avail. I tried and failed so many times that I just settled on corn tortillas made with Maseca. I can make them in my sleep, which makes me feel strangely like a top chef in my small kitchen, cooking for a whopping 2 patrons. I can multitask with the best of them, especially, when all I have to do is make the tortillas when everything else just simmers up to temperature, a few seasonings required. Someday I do want to make nixtamal corn in my kitchen like Alton Brown, my hero, and make them from scratch, but until then, Maseca is my very dear friend.

Pork and Chile is among the easiest Mexican staples I grew up with, the chile ratio gradually increasing with my and both my brothers' years of age. We all enjoy fairly hot food, for which I am supremely grateful. Like I said to Peef last night over conversation, when my eyelids are sweating, that is a good thing. To make it, sear pork (shoulder or leaner meat if you like, cubed and dredged in salted and peppered flour), in hot oil - just a bit. When it is browned sufficiently, remove it, and then brown an equal amount of russet potato, also cubed. Add back the pork, a couple cloves of garlic, halved, and add a quart or two of homemade canned tomatoes and a few or more home canned jalapenos. My Mom cans them in oil and they are usually HOT. They turn a miraculous shade of soft when canned, and since they are whole, they retain the heat magnificently. This combination of tomato and jalapeno, most certainly at Casa Rcakewalk, from my Parents' garden and labors, does transport me, every bite, back to some of my earliest food memories. Those flour tortillas and pork and chile, mountains of pintos that always tasted better at my Gram's since she used pork fat in hers. It was some of my favorite food then as it is now.

Leftovers salsa: mango, red onion, cherry tomato, avocado, cilantro, salt and aleppo pepper and a bit of chili powder.

I love that I can on occasion, and thanks to my freezer, I can cook fast and furiously, without hardly thinking, all the while alone in my kitchen listening in this evening's instance to James Brown, The Gipsy Kings, Los Lobos and the Frida Soundtrack, with a bit of Johnny Cash, Hank Sr., the Cars and the Smiths for good measure. Sometimes that random songs on the iPod does a pretty awesome job. Meanwhile the boys were playing ball in the living room, something that would have never happened with such gusto indoors in my own childhood home... But I continued on, beaming all the while that my boys were having such fun within my earshot.

Boy-O didn't eat one bite for supper, tortilla, bean or even cereal staple. My Husband and I gobbled a couple of tacos each, sides of hot jalapeno for good measure. Easy dinner doesn't get better than this. When I finally commit to perfection of that elusive flour tortilla, I will be truly in culinary ecstasy.

Slow Cooked: The Art of Crockpottery

I got my first CrockPot for Christmas this year. Any slow cooking prior to yesterday, I've done in my trusty (and still favorite) LeCruset French oven. I have been interested in playing around with "crockpottery", however, and did find the perfect initiation for the inaugural use of this small kitchen electric: pulled pork.

I know I keep mentioning that huge amount of frozen beef and pork in my basement, and I think the reasoning is two-fold. First, that I am still amazed that it is actually there and I alone have to decide what to do with it all. Second, is that my nicely wrapped cuts are fairly vague when it comes to what they are. I took out an about 2 lb. "pork roast", and left it to thaw under refrigeration for several days. When I unwrapped it yesterday morning (not the optimum time for looking at raw meat in my book... fortunately, I at least had my coffee in before beginning), I confess that I have no earthly idea what kind of cut I was looking at. It had a small amount of fat, mostly on the edges, and a good size bone running through it. You can view it on the left of the below photo.

From what I know of slow cooking meat, the first step is always to brown it first on all sides. I had quite an amount of other food to cook yesterday, so I neglected this intentionally. I did, however, slather the entire roast in the remaining spice rub from the tofu last weekend. After a good 8 hours on low, I could have sworn that I did sear it, since it had such a nice spice crust.

The recipe for the sauce was ridiculously easy, just mix up everything in the slow cooker pottery, and lay the meat on top. I got this recipe from my Brother and Sister-in-Law, which was originally from Good Housekeeping. I made it my own by adding some hoisin sauce and garlic cloves to the mix, and of course by using that spice rub. I used half of all the ingredients for my two pound roast, but use the full amounts for the suggested 4 lb.

Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork

  • 1 medium onion, frenched. (I love this method of slicing onions, and use it frequently after learning about it from Alton Brown. This post from Simply Recipes explains it well, and also has a nice looking caramelized onion quiche for you to practice on!)
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 1/3 c. cider vinegar
  • 1/4 c. hoisin sauce (optional)
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. tomato paste
  • 2 T. sweet paprika
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T. yellow mustard
  • 2 to 4 peeled garlic cloves, each cut into 4 pieces
  • 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder blade roast, cut into 4 pieces (Obviously, I used a two pound roast with a bone, and it was just fine... It also fit perfectly into my oval CrockPot, so I didn't need to cut it!)
  • 1 1/2 t. each salt and pepper - which you may omit if using the spice rub like I did...

This recipe was written for a 4 1/2 - 6 quart slow cooker, and should yield at least 8 cups of pulled pork. Stir everything in the slow-cooker pot until combined, add pork and turn to coat.

Cook on low setting for 8-10 hours. At the 8 hour mark, I turned it off, and let the meat cool to reasonable handling temperature. I shredded the now amazingly tender meat with two forks, judiciously leaving out conspicuous bits of fat, and added it back to the pot. I mashed up any visible garlic pieces, too. You could boil down the juices a bit to reduce if it looks like it will be too watery, but I found that it was the perfect amount for the pork I used. Also, since I knew I wouldn't be eating it for a day, I figured it would marinate and absorb a bit as it sat.

I'm lucky that if for some reason I don't feel like making bread or rolls, we have a great Italian bakery moments from my house. Canfora Bakery has the best "Dutchie Crust" rolls, that even if I tried I doubt I'd be able to mimic. I also love the camaraderie that exists when I stop in with the rest of the after-church-traffic to take a ticket and wait in line... They always have a pot of coffee on, and samples of coffee cake or other baked goods for those who are waiting patiently without a 3 year old.

Back in my airport-working days, I'd see grocery bags of hard rolls being consumed with butter and cups of coffee on breaks. Since we had a number of ex-factory workers on our early A.M. shifts, I was schooled that this was a typical breakfast for the over 50 set. If you want the true Milwaukee experience of Coffee and Hard Rolls, these are the ones to go and seek out.

When I tasted my pork today at lunch, I couldn't help thinking something was missing. A quick addition of some of my candied jalapenos solved that. I even drizzled some of the vinegary, sweet-hot canning liquid on there as well. Perfection achieved.