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

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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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!

Food To Warm Your Bones: Soup, Pizza, Bread, and Brownies

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Soup, pizza, bread, and brownies. With a seemingly never-ending blizzard going on outside, really—what more do you need?

(Please don’t say bourbon or wine or a Dark & Stormy, because I’m on Day 23 of Sober January, and I am determined to make it to Day 31.)

Anyway, back to the food. When I asked my husband if he wanted me to make anything special for blizzard weekend, he replied with an enthusiastic “Bread! Make bread! Please please please!”

The bread he’s referring to is this, a perfectly round boule with a dense, crisp crust and soft, chewy interior. Hot out of the oven, it is exactly what you want when you’re trying to defrost yourself after several hours of shoveling. The dough is actually the easiest thing to put together, and takes about five minutes since there’s no kneading involved. As I was gathering the flour, yeast and salt, I figured I might as well make pizza dough. Bring on the carbs!

The pizza dough requires minimal kneading, and it also takes almost no time to prepare—if you have a food processor.  I highly recommend that you use bread flour if you’re making pizza or bread. You get a much crisper crust and a wonderfully airy, chewy center.

Making pizza from scratch is like creating a blank canvas on which to paint your dinner. You could go traditional and use tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, or your could try something different. My best pizzas have been inspired by the leftovers in my fridge.

That pizza you see in the picture?  I cooked a batch of beans in my slow cooker last Sunday and had about a cup left in the refrigerator. Beans on a pizza? I’ve heard weirder. Herbed, creamy white beans are a natural fit with garlic, so I lopped the tops off two bulbs, roasted them, then mashed the cloves into a paste. As for cheese, I had three to choose from: chevre, Pecorino and mozzarella. Pecorino has the salty-tangy-pow of flavor that really punches up the beans and garlic. I finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a smattering of kosher salt. Voi-la: a classy, photogenic and mostly importantly DELICIOUS dinner. This is a pizza you can have on its own, or if you’re feeling more virtuous you can have a slice with a green salad or bowl of soup…

Soup! Of course—what could be more perfect on a cold, blustery, blizzardy day?  This one was entirely improvised, and I built the recipe around two ingredients: beluga lentils and lascinato kale.  What’s funny is that both these foods sound so much fancier than they actually are. Beluga lentils are petite black lentils that, like the French green lentils, maintain their shape and texture well in soups. Bonus: they don’t require nearly as long to cook. Lascinato kale, (or Dinosaur kale, or black kale) is my favorite of the kales. It has this unique pebbly texture, it keeps in the fridge for weeks, and the leaves are so versatile. I find they’re more tender than regular curly kale, so they work equally well in salads, soups and sautes.

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Here’s the recipe for the soup. Keep in mind I used the seasonings and vegetables I had on hand, but you can use whatever you like. Cumin, coriander and garam masala lean on the earthier side of the spice spectrum. You could add more heat, or flavor the soup with herbs instead.

Recipe: Lentil Kale Soup

Time: 90 minutes, prep to table
Serves: 4

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp oregano
scant 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp aleppo pepper
1/2 large vidalia onion, finely diced
1 shallot, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small parsnips, peeled, cored and chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup beluga (black) lentils
1 cup beef stock
4 cups water
1 bunch Lascinato kale (AKA black kale or dinosaur kale), washed, trimmed of stems and cut into 1” ribbons
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add oil, swirl to coat pan. Add all the spices (cumin through the aleppo pepper), and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be dark and fragrant.

Add the next six ingredients (onion through garlic), and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Lower the heat to medium-low, add a dash of salt, and let the vegetables cook undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until they soften.

Add the lentils and stir, raising the heat back to medium high. Add the beef stock and the water. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

Once it starts boils, reduce to a simmer and let cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the kale, stirring it into the mixture. You may have to reduce the heat, but you want to keep the soup at a steady simmer for about 35-40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to your taste, and sprinkle the the thyme leaves over the soup. Stir and serve immediately, or allow to cool completely before portioning. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze up to 3 months.

I didn’t forget the brownies, by the way. Here’s a recipe for fudgy brownies that has all the flavor and a little less guilt than standard recipes. And here’s a tip: If you want to amp up the chocolate flavor, add a teaspoon of instant espresso to the dry ingredients, and a tablespoon of chocolate liquor to the wet ingredients. Your inner chocaholic will thank you.

 

A Burst of Red & Gold in Winter

Beets

Beets, along with lentils and escarole, are foods I avoided in my childhood and grew to love in my twenties, when I was broke and teaching myself how to cook.  I was living in Brooklyn at the time, it was winter, and I had my fill of butternut squash. Beets are cheap and widely available, so I decided to give them a try.

I remember being in the produce department at Fairway, stunned by how inexpensive the beets were. Fifty-nine cents a pound! Always one to get the best bang for the few bucks I had, I bought the largest beet I could find. It was about the size of a grapefruit, enough to supply me with a week’s worth of beet salads.

I went home and consulted the oracle: Mark Bittman. In How to Cook Everything, Bittman advises that the most foolproof way to cook beets is to roast them, and so I followed his directions: trim the beets of any hairy-looking roots, wrap in foil, and roast for an hour at 400 degrees, or until the tip of a knife can easily cut through the beet’s flesh.

An hour went by, and I went to the oven to check my shining wrapped beet. It was hard as a stone. I gave it another fifteen minutes, then another thirty, and then finally, after two hours and twenty minutes of cooking time had elapsed, the tip of my knife was finally able to slice through the beet.

The long cooking time was a result of the size of the beet. Bittman didn’t mention anything about that in his recipe, and although I got the biggest beet of the bunch at Fairway, it was not significantly larger than its neighbors. Roasting a single vegetable for over two hours seemed like a waste of energy, but I decided to refrain from judgement until I tasted the beet.

“Earthy” is not an adjective that I equate with “delicious”; earthy-flavored foods remind me of the dirt they came from. Beets do have an earthy taste, much the way chard does. But roasting brings out their sweetness and cuts that earthy undertone, which is particularly strong in larger beets. I recommend going for the smaller ones.

Here are some helpful tips that I’ve learned from my blunders in the kitchen:

—Don’t roast red and golden beets together. You want to keep these guys separated as they’re cooking and after you cook them.
—Have a couple pairs of disposable gloves standing by. They will protect your hands from looking like you’ve just murdered a large animal.
—On that note, wear an apron.
—Allow the beets to cool before you peel them. Handling a steaming hot beet is like handling a hot potato—it won’t stay in your hands for long!

Without further ado, here’s my recipe for…

Roasted Beets

 

Overall time: 2.5 hours
Active time: 15 minutes)

 

Ingredients:
—3 small to medium red beets
—3 small to medium golden beets

 

(You want beets that are smaller than a tennis ball here. The bigger the beet, the earthier the taste, the longer the cook time. No, no, and no.)

 

Tools:
—A paring knife
—Aluminum foil

 

(Heavy duty foil is nice but not necessary. Avoid the cheap thin stuff, unless you have enough to wrap them multiple times. You don’t want an explosion of beet juice in your oven, do you?)

 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven.

 

Rinse and dry your beets. Use your paring knife to trim the hairy roots, and carefully shave away any blemishes. You don’t want to cut into the beet that much, otherwise the juices will run out in the oven and your beets will be dry.

 

Wrap the golden beets in foil, making sure they are completely enclosed. Then do the same with the red beets.  Put the beets in the oven and set the timer for 55 minutes. Then go find something to do.

 

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the foil packages from the oven, and open one of them (you can wait a few minutes to do this. No sense burning your fingers!). Take your paring knife and put its tip to one of the beets. If it cuts into the flesh easily, you’re done. If you have to apply some pressure to cut into the beet, wrap the package back up and return it to the oven. Give it another 10 minutes of baking time and check it again.

 

When you are done, set the beets aside to cool in their packages for about an hour. Then, put on your disposable gloves and set about the business of peeling. The peels should slide right off. Place the red beets in one container and the golden ones in another, and leave them out and uncovered until they are completely cool. Then refrigerate. I don’t recommend slicing the beets until you’re ready to use them. This way they stay moist and sweet. By the way, one cup of beets cooked this way is 0 (that’s ZERO) Weight Watchers Smart Points.

 

Now, what do you do with them?

 

Put them in a salad. Not only will they add gorgeous color, they’ll also make the salad more filling.  My favorite combination: beets, baby spinach, goat cheese, some crushed walnuts gently coated in a balsamic/honey mustard vinaigrette. It’s the same salad I posted on Monday.

 

Or, if you wanted to make a super healthy, delicious and eye-catching appetizer, you could put your beets to work in this recipe.

 

Happy Cooking!
J.

Cheesy Butternut Mac

I had another financially-related freakout this afternoon. A little free time at work afforded me the opportunity to do something I have long procrastinated doing: shopping around for health insurance. Freelance producing is nice work if you can get it—and I am very thankful to be employed—but one of the major costs of any freelance work is having to pay for your health insurance. Adding insult to my non-existent injury, the options for remotely decent health insurance at a reasonable cost are few. I compared five plans and did the requisite calculations. So many digits! My eyes are exhausted from popping out of their sockets.

I avoided making any decisions, electing instead to ponder my dinner—and I needed a dinner to be excited about. It’s been a long week, and I’ve behaved very well with my diet. I didn’t want to blow all that effort, but I wanted to eat something other than fruit and Greek yogurt.

I’m getting really tired of non-fat Greek yogurt.

I looked through my basket of old issues of Cooking Light, and found a potential dinner on the cover of the September issue, 2011: the creamiest-ever mac & cheese.

I’ve never made mac & cheese myself, but I know what the real thing tastes like. I’ve had it once—just once. I watched my friend Pam make it for Easter years ago. I remember a towering heap of shredded cheddar cheese, a carton of half & half, and (at least) a half pound of butter. I remember the bubbling goo at the edge of the pan, the crispy tips of the slightly charred ziti, and each piece underneath coated with just the right amount of cheese, buttery sauce.

I also remember a lot of bad mac & cheese. And I’m not talking about the stuff from the box. I have a soft spot for the nuclear-orange stovetop mac & cheese that I prepared on a two burner stove in college, while the pre-fab fish sticks crisped in the shoebox-sized oven below.  I haven’t eaten boxed mac & cheese in over ten years, but in that time I’ve had lots of bad baked mac & cheese. It’s a mainstay at catered parties, hospital cafeterias, and at video shoots (on the rare chance hot food is provided). You know the kind—It’s in a giant aluminum pan that’s been perched atop a sterno for 8 hours at a minimum. And you know that because the macaroni falls apart as you spoon it onto your plate. The sauce is the right color, but it’s thin and watery. And something that may have once been cheese clings to the macaroni like the last bits of yogurt at the bottom of a plastic cup. Not exactly “Mmm, mmm…good!”, is it?

So you can imagine how, in spite of my excitement over the sight of mac & cheese on a magazine cover, I was dubious about Cooking Light’s claim that this recipe was the “creamiest-ever”.

While I have my doubts about makeovers of traditionally decadent, calorie-loaded food (and with good reason—light ice cream is light years from the real thing), I had a good feeling about this recipe. The base of the cheese sauce is not actually butter or bechamel, but butternut squash, cooked with milk and chicken stock, then pureed.  You obviously can’t claim the title of “creamiest-ever mac & cheese” without cheese, and this recipe called for a good amount of gruyere, romano, and parmesan. I had all those, plus some leftover shredded cheddar from the chili I made last week.

The trick to making a lightened up version of a heavy dish is to keep your expectations in check. A sauce made with butternut squash, milk, yogurt and a limited amount of shredded cheese is not going to taste like one made with butter, cream, and massive amounts of cheddar. All you can hope is that what you ultimately make tastes good, if not very good, and that the calories you’ve saved will be spent on the day when nothing but the real thing will do.

So here’s the recipe.  I made half, and followed the instructions pretty closely, BUT I added two ingredients to amp up the flavor of the sauce: old bay seasoning and smoked chicken sausage, which I happened to have in the fridge. The verdict: Yes, the sauce is most definitely creamy. But if I were me two hours ago, I would have added more cheese. Do that, and you’ve got yourself a better-than-good—dare I say, damn fine—dinner on the table.