The Easiest Freakin’ Pulled Pork You Will Ever Make In Your Life, and What To Do With It

IMG_9634 2Sitting at my desk early on a rainy Friday, I checked emails between recipe searches, looking for a no-fuss weekend project that I could cook while doing the fifteen things I had already planned to do. Inspired by my mother, who made pulled pork in the oven last weekend, and my friend Laura, who posted on Facebook that she had made Kalua pork tacos, I had pig on the brain, and I focused my Googling efforts on pork shoulder.

Remember how I said I was looking for no-fuss? Well, I found it on SkinnyTaste: a three ingredient recipe for pulled pork that cooked in fourteen hours with almost no human intervention. How was this possible? It was a recipe for Crock Pot Kalua Pork.

I will admit that although I’m not gaga over slow cookers the way many of my more culinary-inclined friends are, I own two of them (a large one to cook for crowds, and a small one when I’m just cooking for me & Paul). Yes, they’re great for chilis and soups and injecting life and flavor into dried beans, and once I made perfect poached chicken in the slow cooker, but otherwise I don’t consider it the life-changing appliance many people do.

Well—I didn’t. And then I made pulled pork in my slow cooker.

I’ve got a recipe and instructions below, but what I need to tell you guys is that this is the perfect recipe to prepare when you have a hundred million things to do and have no time to cook.  A slow-cooking pork shoulder fills your house with this wonderful smoky, baconesque aroma, and if you turn on the crock pot before bedtime, you will wake up the next morning to PORK. (Seriously, Saturday morning was like waking up in Jenny’s House of Bacon. Amazing.) And a pork shoulder (AKA pork butt) is a big piece of meat, so you can make it last meal after meal using it all kinds of ways:

  • tacos
  • on Sandwiches with pickles and cole slaw and sriacha mayo
  • with rice & beans
  • in a hash with eggs and toast
  • in lettuce wraps with Hoisin sauce & veggies

Or you could do what I did for dinner tonight, and make Pulled Pork & Kimchi Fried Rice. FANTASTIC. I followed all the instructions in this recipe & substituted the pulled pork for the spam (because, uh – pulled pork rates better than spam any day).

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RECIPE:

No-Fuss Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Adapted from Skinny Taste

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Time: 14.5 hours, largely unattended

Special Equipment: 4-quart programmable slow cooker (crock pot)

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder, 2 – 3 pounds
  • 2 tbsp coarse sea salt (red Hawaiian salt is great if you can find it)
  • 1.5 tbsp liquid hickory smoke (such as Stubb’s)

Note: start the cooking the night before you want to serve the pork.

Method:

Unwrap the pork shoulder and trim of excess fat (the chunks and so forth, not the marbling). Sprinkle the salt on the meat and press it into the flesh. Put the pork in the slow cooker, and pour the liquid smoke on top.

Place the lid on the slow cooker and program it for 8 or 10 hours on Low (mine has a 10-hour option). Then, go put on your pajamas and go to bed.

Wake up the next morning and inhale the aromas. Then check on the pork. It’s going to look brownish gray and sitting in a pool of its own fat and juices. This is actually what you want. When the timer goes off, remove the pork from the slow cooker carefully and set it aside in a dish. Then pour out the fat & juice mixture.

Return the pork to the slow cooker, drizzle two spoonfuls of the juice on top of the pork and cover again. Set to cook on low for 4 hours.

In the meantime, let the juice cool and then refrigerate. The fat will float to the top and congeal, and then you can spoon it off easily. Save the juice to make sauce, or just to keep the pork moist.

When the timer goes off the second time, remove the pork from the slow cooker and allow to cool for about a half hour. Then, using two forks, shred the meat. Once its completely cooled store in a glass container in the fridge for up to 4 days, if it lasts that long. When you’re ready to use it, reheat gently on low using some of the leftover juice.

Serves: 4 – 6

CreateTV says “Cheesy Rutabaga Mash” is a Winner!

I am so thrilled to announce that I’m one of the winners of the Create Cooking Challenge! My “Cheesy Rutabaga Mash” video was 4th place among the 18 finalists, judged by a panel of prestigious judges that includes some of my idols—among them Christopher Kimball! Jacques Pepín! Sara Moulton! And yes, I am REALLY excited that these people even saw my work, and liked it.

While I’m looking forward to the arrival of a swag basket, the true joy in this is that I made the video, and I wouldn’t have without the impetus this contest provided me. So, thank you, CreateTV, for lighting the fire under my butt to do the thing I really wanted to do and was heretofore terrified of doing, and for recognizing my work.

I also have to thank the group of talented people who helped me produce the video—my colleagues and friends: Ian Smith, who reminded me to smile and not be so nervous; Whitney Cusack, who made sure my mise en place was never out of place; Bill Bourbeau, for his badass color correction skillz; and last but never least, my husband Paul, whose skill at motion design, story, and encouragement never cease to amaze me. Thank you, my darling, for all the time and effort you put into making my dreams come true.

What’s next? The resurgence of the rutabaga (maybe), more magic (very soon), and more videos (coming this summer).

For now, it’s time for Sunday dinner. Happy cooking!

 

Lazy Sunday Breakfasting: Blueberry Pancakes

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Today I finally made good on a promise I made to my husband close to a month ago: I made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We’re not usually heavy breakfast people, and pancakes are really heavy.

Well they can be – when they’re not done right. I spent a few weeks trying to track down a recipe that would yield light, fluffy pancakes with a slightly crisp exterior and moist berry-licious interior that wouldn’t turn to purple glop on the griddle.

I found Joanna Pruess’s recipe for the Best Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes in the New York Times Cooking app, and while I thought Pruess was audacious in calling her recipe The Best, I have to tell you – the woman knows whereof she speaks, because this recipe made the tastiest, lightest and most satisfying pancakes I’ve ever cooked up at home.

The only modifications I made to Pruess’s recipe were thus: (1) I cut all the measurements exactly in half since I was cooking for two, which works beautifully for two hungry people or four people who are eating the pancakes with sides. (2) I used 1.5% fat buttermilk, which is the kind I use whenever I do anything with buttermilk. (3) I added about a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract to the wet ingredients. My mom used to make pancakes from Aunt Jemima mix when I was little, and she always added vanilla. Let’s just say I was feeling nostalgic.

Admittedly, these are much better than the pancakes I ate growing up. Or I should say they were much better. They’re all gone now. Paul and I had a delightful breakfast.

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Dinner for Two: Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

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I must credit two people for introducing me to what has become my favorite special-occasion-feeling fast-food meal. The first is Melissa Clark, who wrote the recipe for the dish you see above, and the second is my dear friend, Tracie, who gifted me Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now, the book that contains said recipe.

I adore Melissa Clark because she takes dishes that seem complicated and makes them super simple and un-intimidating (like this one). And then once you make the dish, stand back and admire your work, you feel like a superhero / star chef. I love that feeling.

I grew up eating a lot of calamari, usually fried. It was a staple of our Christmas Eve menu as well as our Good Friday one. Good ol’ Italian Catholics and their affinity for seafood. My mother makes the lightest fried calamari you’ve ever tasted. It’s never greasy or rubbery or heavy or fishy, probably because my mom knows how to buy seafood, and she knows how to fry. I’ve become comfortable cooking fish fillets in the last six months, and while I can do a lot with shrimp and I’ve finally figured out how to sear scallops (hot pan! hot pan!), I have stayed away from squid. A—I don’t fry food, and B—I had distinct memories or seeing it inky, sandy and slippery on the kitchen counter from my childhood. Gross.

Ms. Clark introduced me to buying cleaned squid and sauteing it in butter and olive oil. Life-changing, let me tell you! Cleaned squid, tentacles and all, takes minutes to prepare. You cut the bodies into half-inch rings and leave them on paper towels to dry, then pat dry again. Leave the tentacles whole, unless they’re huge, in which case you just split them in half with your knife. It’s totally not gross. Also, something my mother taught me—fresh seafood doesn’t smell fishy. It smells like the sea. So if you get home and unwrap your squid and it stinks, wrap it back up and take it back to your fish dealer. Get a refund, and don’t buy from them again.

Israeli couscous is a great partner for the squid here – it’s light and creamy yet still has some bite, it absorbs the sauce well, and if you get the tri-color kind like I did, it certainly looks pretty. I found some beautiful snap peas at the market, so I served them steamed with the squid & couscous. You could substitute broccoli or baby spinach as well.

One word of note: This dish takes ten minutes to prepare, but to achieve greatness in those 10 minutes, have all your ingredients ready and the table set. You and your sweetie will be treated to an amazing meal, I promise.

RECIPE:

Buttery-Garlicky-Spicy Calamari with Israeli CousCous

adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2/3 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 tsbp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fresh raw squid, bodies cut into 1/2 rings, plus the tentacles, patted dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • quarter of a lemon (to squeeze)

Method:

  • Add broth & pinch of salt to a 1.5 or 2 quart saucepan, then bring to a boil. Add the couscous, return to a boil, then cover and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Set your timer for 10 minutes.
  • This would be a good time to prep a vegetable for steaming in the microwave. Or, you could whip a green salad together. Just sayin’.
  • When the couscous has 5 minutes to go, heat a large skillet (not non-stick) over high heat. After a couple a minutes, add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is melted and the foam subsides, add the squid and stand back (there may be some sputters and pops – careful!). Be patient and don’t poke the squid for a solid minute.
  • Add the garlic, basil, parsley and pepper flakes and stir everything together. You’ll see some sear marks on the squid (this is good), and you want to cook it till its just opaque throughout, which is really easy to see. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and remove from heat.
  • Stir in the couscous till its coated with the sauce, then squeeze the lemon over the mixture (watch out for pits!) and stir again. Serve immediately with a nutritious green vegetable and a glass of something light and crisp, like a Grüner Vetliner.

Video & Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

Today’s a very exciting day on the blog. I’m posting my first video demo! Making a video for MITK is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I have a background in video production and I love to cook, so you’d think I would have done it sooner.

May I present to you my entry for the CreateTV Cooking Challenge

I chose to make rutabaga the subject of this video for lots of reasons. I discovered it earlier this winter after I (once again) found myself exhausted with butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I had a hard time finding references for what to do with rutabaga – there are very few videos and articles devoted to this often-ignored vegetable, which is really a shame because it’s DELICIOUS! Seriously. And what I really love is that it’s not sugary-sweet the way that butternut & sweet potatoes can be. Rutabaga is wonderful roasted, but it’s positively ethereal when mashed with potatoes and cheddar.

You will love this, I promise.

Recipe: Cheesy Rutabaga Mash

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Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cook Time: 25-30 minutes / Serves 8 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds rutabaga (1 med-large)
  • 1 pound Idaho baking potatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2.5 tbsp kosher salt, divided
  • 2 quarts tap water
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter (salted is OK, but you may want to decrease the kosher salt)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese (the sharper, the better!)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Use a Y-peeler to peel the rutabaga, making sure to peel away all the wax and skin. Cut into 2″ pieces and set in a large pot or Dutch oven. Next peel the potatoes and cut into 2″ chunks, then add to the pot. (If you want to do this ahead of time, you can refrigerate the rutabaga and potato separately- potato should be kept in cold water to avoid browning up to 4 hours ahead of cooking).

Add the bay leaves, 1.5 tablespoons of the salt and water, covering everything in the pot. Cover and set on high heat until boiling.

Once the water boils, continue cooking for 22 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the rutabaga. If it crumbles a little, that’s okay – this is a situation where a little overcooking is actually quite fine.

Drain and remove bay leaves. Return vegetables to the pot, then add butter, milk, and the remaining salt. Using a potato masher, mash the mixture until it’s uniform and silky.

Next add the cheese and 1/3 cup chives and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Top with the extra chives, freshly ground pepper and serve.

Storing: If you have leftovers, or do what I do and cook a lot of food on Sunday, this dish keeps up to 4 days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and reheats beautifully in the microwave.

A couple of things I learned as I was researching rutabaga and testing this recipe:

Make sure to cook the rutabaga uncovered once the water starts boiling. While it’s cooking rutabaga releases a gas that’s kinda smelly, so you don’t want to contain that within the pot. Including the bay leaves in the cooking water is essential for this reason, and it also helps neutralize the bitter edge rutabaga can sometimes have.

Rutabaga will keep for weeks in the fridge, but keep in mind its taste will get sharper the longer it sticks around. You can still cook with it, but you may want to add more butter & cheese so it’s not as pungent.

Potato is a key ingredient here because it has the starch that rutabaga lacks. Potato is what gives this mash its silkiness and body.

You could use another cheese or combination of cheeses here, like Pecorino Romano or Fontina or even goat cheese. Just remember that some cheeses, like Pecorino, are saltier than others, so you may want to adjust the second addition of salt.

You could use cheddar and skip the chives, instead seasoning the rutabaga with a combination of spices, like chipotle chile powder and smoked paprika. This would go wonderfully with pork and chicken. I prefer my cheddar & chive version with steak.

 

Dinner, Improvised: A Little Bit of Everything Soup

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The soup pot is, to this cook, what a blank canvas is to a painter. While I have a few go-to soup recipes (like this one), I often find myself throwing a bunch of stuff in a pot, saying a silent prayer to the food gods, and hoping for the best. Experience has taught me that f you have a vague idea of how to combine flavors and have the patience to simmer something at low heat till all the bits are tender but not mushy, you can whip up a soup on the fly.

Here are some tips to make a wonderful, comforting pot of improvised soup:

  • Sauté aromatics in a little fat first. This is your foundation for greatness.
  • If you’re using raw meat, add it at the beginning with the aromatics and brown it, but not all the way. It will cook as the soup simmers.
  • Yes, of course homemade stock is best, but a good-quality carton of chicken broth will do the job, and honestly—who cares?  Even water will work as your broth base, as long as you season as you cook. Whatever liquid you choose, always add a bay leaf. It makes a very subtle but positive difference.
  • Use vegetables of similar texture and chop them all about the same size so they cook at the same rate. Water heavy or quick-cooking veggies, like zucchini or peas, should be added in the last 10-15 minutes of cooking.
  • Add salt, but taste as you go. An over-salted soup is not easily rescued by the addition of a potato. You can always add more salt at the table.
  • Almost any soup not made with cream will taste even better the day after you make it. Really.
  • Be creative! This is an opportunity to try out new ingredients, use up the stuff in your crisper drawers, clear your pantry, and make something amazing and delicious.

Unfortunately I can’t share a recipe for the soup in the picture because I didn’t measure anything exactly, and I think it’s unfair to eyeball-estimate from memory. But I can tell you what’s in it, and that everything together made a very hearty, bone-warming, out-of-the-ordinary soup.

Cast, in order of addition:

Extra virgin olive oil, fresh turkey sausage, garlic, vidalia onion, carrot, parsnip, celery, rutabaga, sweet potato, tomato paste, Whole Foods 365 Chicken broth, red kidney beans, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, escarole, salt, black pepper, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Go forth, simmer away and enjoy!

Sweetcakes: Banana Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A surplus of overripe bananas is never a bad thing in our house. For one thing, my husband actually eats them. And when he forgets—or when I’ve really bought too many bananas, as I did this week—I make banana bread.

Here’s the thing: I rarely make banana bread the same way twice. Sometimes I feel virtuous and make it with whole wheat flour and flaxseed meal. Other times I’ll brown the butter in a saucepan before mixing the batter, which gives it a nutty flavor. Occasionally I’m inspired to throw in some chopped dark chocolate, or when I really want a treat, I make my banana bread with peanut butter.

Today I decided to modify my approach. My thought process went something like this: I wanna make banana bread, but I can’t keep it in the house because we’ll eat it all. I’ll give it to Paul to take to work. But bringing a bread to work is kind of awkward, the cutting and all. Okay, so! Muffins it is. Let’s add some chocolate chips. I have the end of a jar of peanut butter, so maybe i can scrape away about a quarter cup… now to Google recipes. Nothing for banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins? Internet, you disappoint me.

I found a recipe for banana chip muffins, took it apart, then put it back together my way. What I’ve created here is a super-easy, incredibly decadent-feeling, flavor-packed breakfast, dessert, or snack.

Here you go, America.

RECIPE: BANANA PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

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Time: 12 minute to prep / 20 minutes to bake

Serves: 15 (12 muffins, plus a mini-loaf for 3)

Ingredients:

2 c. all-purpose flour

2 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. coarse salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 very ripe bananas, mashed (1 cup)

3/4 c. dark brown sugar (not packed)

1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled slightly (4 tbsp. or a half stick)

1/4 c. creamy peanut butter

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Spray a mini-loaf pan with Pam, or rub some vegetable oil along sides and bottom to coat.

Combine the first four ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk. Next, combine the banana and sugar in a larger bowl, mixing quickly with a whisk to break up any lumps in the sugar. Next add the rest of the wet ingredients, the butter through the vanilla, and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform.

Fold the flour mixture into the the wet mixture until just combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Divide batter first among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Put the remainder of the batter in the loaf pan, and using a spatula try to even out the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The mini-loaf may take a few minutes longer than the muffins. Cool everything in-pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out carefully onto a plate and allow to cool completely.

Serving suggestions:

These muffins go equally well with coffee or tea. If you think that’s a really tame suggestion—well, fine. Do it. Get the vanilla ice cream or the fro-yo. Mash it all together in a bowl and have yourself a banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffin sundae. BOOM.