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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Stracciatella Alla Romana, Plus a Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Chicken Stock

I saw this recipe in The New York Times Dining Section last weekend.  Stracciatella alla Romana, otherwise known as Roman Egg Drop Soup, is the perfect dinner for a chilly spring evening.

Forgive my shadow that's cast over “i straccetti,” or the savory, eggy little rags floating in this delicious, simple soup.

It’s not only a pretty dish; it’s light, feathery texture, robust flavor and ever-so-slightly spicy warmth will make you feel happy, snuggly, and satisfied.  And it’s a dish that comes together in 20 minutes, provided you have one ingredient on hand: homemade chicken stock.

If you do have homemade stock on hand, go forth, make the recipe and let me know what you think. I was lucky enough to have farm fresh eggs on hand for the Stracciatella, so I used more than were called for. It was not a mistake.

But in the event you don’t have homemade stock on hand— fret not, friends!  Save the soup recipe to make another night.

I have two approaches to making chicken stock, and both are equally simple. There’s the quick method, which takes about 2 hours of largely unattended time and can be done after work on a weeknight, or whenever you can eke out 2 hours from your day.   Then there’s the brown stock method, which takes anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of largely unattended time—perfect for a lazy or busy day spent at home. Either way you choose, you’ll still end up with a stock that’s better than anything you can get out of a carton or a can, and ultimately much less expensive.

And if you don’t eat meat, proceed without the chicken and make vegetable stock. Cut the simmering time by half, and you’ll still end up with amaaaazing stock.

What you need to make chicken stock:

  • One roasted chicken carcass (details below)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 1-2 parsnips (if you can’t get them, it’s not a big loss)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • fresh herbs (rosemary, parsley and thyme are essential, sage is a nice addition, but anything else may alter the flavor of the stock)
  • black peppercorns
  • A large stockpot
  • A jelly-roll pan or rimmed cookie sheet, or a roasting pan
  • Cheesecloth (totally optional)
  • A mesh strainer (preferably a large one)

 How to make Brown Stock:

First ingredient: the carcass! If you’ve just made a roasted chicken, or roasted one a week ago and froze the bones, you’re ready to go. The important thing is that the chicken has already been cooked, and that some meat (preferably the wings) is still clinging to the bones. If you’re starting from scratch, get a raw, preferably organic, 3 -4 pound chicken. Rub some some butter on its skin, sprinkle salt and pepper all over it, and bake it at 400 degrees for an 1 hour. Then, carve the chicken, eat the meat or save it for some other use, and save the carcass for the stock.

A lot of chefs recommend using the neck bones and giblets, which you can do, but I don’t and my stock still tastes great. Generally speaking, you don’t want to include the heart or the liver—these organs are filled with blood, and blood will make your stock bitter. We want none of that.

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Make sure your veggies are washed, but it’s not necessary to peel them. Cut the onion in half or into quarters. Slice the top off the head of garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed. If your carrots, celery and parsnips are large, you can cut them in half across the middle. Next, lay your vegetables on the rimmed baking sheet or pan, making sure there’s some breathing room in between each piece—you want them to roast, not steam. Suppress the temptation to add oil or salt. They are not invited to the party tonight.

Let the vegetables roast 35-40 minutes. Check them out. Are they browning?  If yes, take them out. If not, leave them in until your see some brown. Remove the veggies, turn off your oven, and add the veggies and your chicken carcass to the stockpot. (If you are using a carcass that was previously frozen, make sure it is fully defrosted.)

Add enough cold water to the pot so that the carcass and vegetables are fully submerged, and then some more. Bring the mixture to a simmer. This will take a while, so in the meantime, let’s tend to the other ingredients.

Get about 1 tablespoon of peppercorns, 2-3 sprigs of rosemary, and 6-8 sprigs of thyme. You can put all of this in a cheesecloth pouch and tie it with butcher’s twine, or you can leave it loose—either way, you’re going to have to strain the stock anyway. Get a bunch of parsley and trim the stems.

An hour after the stock has been simmering—and it’s really important that it simmers and doesn’t boil—add the herbs, give the stock a stir, and find something to do for the next 45 minutes.  Check on the stock periodically over the next 5-7 hours and do the following:

  • Make sure the mixture is at a simmer
  • Skim off any foam that rises to the top
  • As water evaporates, add more. How much? Enough to cover everything in the pot.

As time passes, after the housework is done, or you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings series, or read Great Expectations, your stock will have turned a rich brown color, and the entire house will smell fragrant and delicious. You will attract neighbors and potentially some stray cats. The aroma is impossible to ignore. Inhale with pride.

Then turn off the heat and get an apron. Now it gets a little messy.

Get a large bowl and your strainer, and then using using tongs or a serving spoon, remove the veggies and chicken parts (which by now have nearly melted away), and place them in the strainer, pushing gently to extract as much liquid as possible. Then, discard the solids.

Pour the remaining stock in the pan through the strainer.  You may see some bits of herb and veggies; that’s okay. If you want a clear stock, strain again through a piece of cheesecloth over the strainer. Divide the stock into containers, allow to cool for an hour, and refrigerate anywhere from 4 hours to overnight.  The fat will congeal and rise to the top. Skim off, and then use the stock or freeze indefinitely.  Ultimately, you’ll end up with about four quarts of stock, which you can use for soups, sauces, or to add flavor to just about anything.

How to make quick stock:

You’ll still need a roasted chicken carcass (as described), but in this method, skip roasting the vegetables—just wash them, leave them unpeeled, cut as described in the previous steps and put in a stockpot with the carcass. Add cold water so that everything is submerged, bring the mixture to a simmer, add the herbs and peppercorns, and let simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Strain as described. The stock will be much lighter in color, but still very rich in flavor, and especially useful as a base for lighter soups, stews and sauces.

 Why I don’t add oil or salt:

Stock is the base for a lot of recipes, and since it doesn’t require sautéing, no oil is required. Salt is generally added while preparing a recipe, or for finishing, so you don’t want to start with a salty base.

Sweet Tooth: Two Desserts Made With Fresh Ricotta (Caution: Wine and Salted Caramel are involved…)

When last we met yesterday, I was telling you about my experiment making fresh ricotta cheese.  There are lots of desserts made with ricotta—cheesecakes, pies, cakes, cannoli cream, pudding—and when they’re done right, all of those desserts are wonderful. Creamy and dreamy.

But those desserts can take a lot of time to prepare. If you have fresh ricotta on hand and want to satisfy your sweet tooth—okay, need to satisfy it—I’ve got two desserts that do the job. Each recipe takes 30 minutes or less to prepare, and showcases the soft & creamy texture of ricotta alongside simply cooked and incredibly flavorful fruit.

Exhibit A: Broiled Pineapple with Salted Caramel, Fresh Ricotta, and Chopped Pecans

Serves: 4

Time: 25 minutes

Hi there.

What you will need:

  • 1 golden ripe pineapple
  • 2 tbsp. dark rum (I am a fan of Black Seal)
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (or walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts)
  • Access to a broiler (and if you don’t have that, a stove-top grill pan will work just fine)

How To Make It:

Set your broiler to high and let it pre-heat for ten minutes.  Peel and core the pineapple, and cut it into 8 stalks. Line up the pineapple stalks down the center of a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Place the pineapple about 2 inches from the broiler flame. Grab a small sauce pan and add the brown sugar, rum, and butter. Set the pan over medium-low heat and stir with a whisk to break up the sugar. Continue stirring until all the sugar dissolves, then add the salt. Allow mixture to boil for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.

Check on the pineapple. Ideally, you’ll want a little char on the edges of the stalks, but be careful not to burn them. Remove from the broiler once the stalks are ready. Drizzle half of the caramel sauce on each of four plates and place two stalks on each plate. Place about a 1/4 cup of ricotta on top of each pair of stalks, then drizzle the remaining caramel over the cheese. Top each dessert with about a tablespoon of chopped pecans and serve.

Voi-la!

Exhibit B: Red Wine-Poached Pears with Fresh Ricotta and Chopped Walnuts

Serves: 4

Time: 30 minutes

Hello, gorgeous.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 pears (I used D’Anjou, but Bartlett or Bosc pears work just as well)
  • 1.5 cups red wine
  • 1.75 cups water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (pecans or almonds work here too)

How to Make It:

Combine wine, water, cinnamon stick and lemon in a medium saucepan and set over medium high heat. While you’re waiting for the mixture to boil, peel the pears.

Add the pears to the boiling liquid and reduce to a simmer.  The pears should be completely submerged in the liquid. Poach pears for 8-10 minutes, until they’re tender enough to pierce with a knife. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pears to a plate to cool. Continue simmer the poaching liquid, allowing it to reduce by about a quarter.

Remove the pan from heat, and use the same slotted spoon to lift out 4 of the lemon slices, placing each on a dessert plate. The lemon slice will anchor the pear so it doesn’t roll around. Next, spoon some of the reduced poaching liquid over each pear, letting it pool on the plate.

Set about 1/4 cup of ricotta on each plate, right in the pool of liquid, and sprinkle the top of each dish with the chopped nuts.

Boom! Done.

Happy eating!

No tricks, no machines, no kneading: Perfect Homemade Bread

At 8am this morning, the weather app on my phone told me it was 16 degrees outside.  It’s official: winter has come to New York.

Today is a pajama day—a day to stay at home, drink hot beverages, watch TV, and make bread.

Oh, you didn’t think about that last part, did you?  “I don’t have a bread machine”, you say.  “I’ve never kneaded dough before”, you say.  “Making bread?  That’s hard”, you say.

In the immortal words of Shia LeBeouf, “No no no no no. No!”

Yes, I made that.  And you can make that, too, I say.

It all began last week when I saw this.  In 2006, Jim Lahey introduced Mark Bittman, and thousands of home cooks, to an exceptionally simple and effective way to make (& break) perfectly crisp, crusty bread at home.  The method requires a little bit of mixing and 24 hours of largely unattended time. The results are aromatic, delicious, and impressive!

No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp. INSTANT yeast  — do not substitute with the active dry variety
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

Tools:

  • a big bowl
  • 2 cotton—not terrycloth—towels (I used an old pillowcase, cut apart to make two “towels”)
  • really good oven mitts
  • a Dutch oven (cast iron, enamel or Pyrex all work)

Time Required:

  • 24 hours, largely unattended

Method:

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, and stir together until they are mixed thoroughly.  Add water, and mix everything with your fingers until all ingredients are incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest in a warm area of your home.

Sticky!

Now, find something to do. The dough needs to rest, undisturbed, for 18 hours.  (I went to sleep for the night, got up, went to a cooking class and met friends for coffee while my first dough rested.)

After 18 hours, your dough will be dotted with bubbles.  Gently pull the dough from the bowl and lay it on a floured working surface.  It will still be really sticky; don’t worry.  Dust the top of the dough with some flour, and fold the dough on itself once or twice.  Cover the dough — loosely — with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.

The dough takes a disco nap.

Lay a cotton towel (or pillow case) in a large bowl, and generously coat the towel with flour or cornmeal.  Using just enough flour to coat your hands, quickly shape the dough into a ball and place it on a towel.  Dust the top of dough with some more flour or cornmeal. 

Cover the bowl with another towel, and allow to rest for 2 hours (this is the last rise, I promise!).

About 45 minutes before the dough is done rising, preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  It will take about 15 minutes to heat up (unless you have a fancy oven that heats in seconds).  Place the covered (and empty!) Dutch oven into the 500 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the heated pot from the oven and carefullydrop the dough in (hot!). Give the pot a shake to help even out the dough as much as you can. Cover & bake for 30 minutes.

Hot pot!

Remove the cover & ooh and ahh at the beautiful bread that has formed in your pot. Bake uncovered for another 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove the pot from the oven and — using a serving spoon to nudge it loose — remove the loaf from the pan.

Hello. I'm really hot. I know you want me.

Marvel at the sturdy crust! Transfer to a regular kitchen towel and wrap.  Inhale the aromas!  Allow bread to rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Enjoy with butter, jam, red pepper honey and cheese or — like my boyfriend — all of the above.