Thursday, April 30, 2020

mojo cuban pork

One Sunday morning back when we were still going to church and shaking hands and hugging and handing out bulletins and sharing hymnals and sitting shoulder to shoulder, can you even imagine!?, a friend approached me during coffee hour to tell me that the week before when he’d volunteered to sleep at the homeless shelter, he’d eaten my granola for breakfast. (When our family had made a supper for the shelter, I’d also taken granola and muffins for the next morning’s breakfast.) Turns out, my friend told me, the homeless weren’t huge fans of granola — some of them even appeared not to know what granola was — but he did. He ate it and loved it and now he wondered if I might share the recipe?

“Well, sure,” I said. “It’s super simple, just oats and oil, brown sugar and— Actually,” I interrupted myself, “the recipe’s on my blog.”

“You have recipes on your blog?”

I laughed. “Heh-heh,” I barked. “Heh-heh-heh.” He looked at me, puzzled. I laughed harder. “Heh-heh-heh-heh.” I sounded crazy — maniacal, even — but I couldn’t stop. Did I have recipes on my blog? “HEH-HEH-HEH.”

“I’m sorry,” I sputtered. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh. It’s just, well—” I struggled to tamp down my mirth. “Listen. Go to my blog. At the top of the page, you’ll see a bunch of headers. Click on the one that says ‘recipe index’ and scroll. Then you’ll understand why I’m laughing.”

At an Ultimate game (remember those??) a week later or so later, my friend approached me again. “I went to your blog,” he said. “Now I know why you laughed at me when I asked if your blog had recipes!”

A couple times now, he’s emailed to report on his cooking endeavors. “The apple pie, my gracious … how delicious. Peach cobbler is in the oven now and banana bread will be going in next since the oven is hot already.” And, “A few things I’ve been making: Hashbrowns … awesome! French bread … many, many times, I don't think I'll buy bread again, maybe ever. Brown sugar granola … the best. Oatmeal pancakes with a grated apple...wow!”

His messages make me laugh out loud. This — hearing how this little blog has helped broaden someone’s cooking repertoire — is about the best compliment ever, I think. It warms me right up, down to the tips of my frigid little quarantined toes.

So anyway. Yes, I have recipes on my blog, and now here’s a new one: Mojo Cuban Pork.

This recipe is inspired by The Chef TV Show, the one I’ve been slowly absorbing, just two or three episodes a week, like a carefully monitored IV drip line, to stretch out the pleasure.

If you saw the movie Chef, then you know that this pork is what the whole food truck revolved around, and in Chef The TV Show, they touch on this recipe a number of times. Always, the pork looks fabulous. And when it’s used in cubanos? Swoooooon! Last week, I decided enough was enough. I had to make it for myself.




It took a bit of planning. I had to buy a couple special ingredients: the pork, of course, and soft French bread from the deli section, an orange, and thinly sliced ham off-the-bone. But most of the ingredients I already had on hand.



I was a little nervous. Me and large cuts of meat don’t always fare so well. Half the time it turns out great and the other half it’s beyond horrid. And the worst part is, I never know which way it’s going to go. It’s unnerving.



But this meat turned out fantastic. In fact, the pork itself was so incredibly tender that, when I tasted it, I 1) swooned, and 2) snatched up a piece and ran screaming to the barn where my husband was working, causing him to come rushing out to see what the matter was. He ate the meat, nodded, and said, “It’s good,” because he’s understated like that (and probably because he was irked at my screaming). My triumph new no bounds.



(But then a little later, when I was thinly slicing the roast for the cubanos, I thought the inside seemed a little too chewy. Was it underdone? I wasn’t sure — meat confuses me; we've already established this — so after a bit of hemming and hawing, I plopped the remaining half of the roast in a Dutch oven and slipped it back in the oven for another hour or two, at which point it was much more tender, yesssss.)

Mojo Cuban Pork
Adapted from Recipetineats.

The marinade for the pork was so yummy it almost could’ve been a drink.

After making this recipe, I discovered an actual write-up of the recipe by none other than John Favreau himself: In his recipe, as in The Chef TV Show, the pork is marinaded in a mixture of spiced rum, orange juice, lime juice, mint, cilantro, and then it’s brushed with a second marinade (similar to the one I made) right before baking. Next time, I might try the two-marinade approach — a marinade with spiced rum? YES PLEASE — but even with just one, it turned out great.

the meat: 
1 5-pound bone-in pork butt

the marinade: 
¾ cup each olive oil and orange juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
6 garlic cloves, rough chopped
½ cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
1 cup fresh cilantro, loosely packed
zest of one orange
2 teaspoons each cumin and salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Place the pork butt in a plastic bag. Add the marinade and smoosh around to coat. Close the bag, place in a sided baking pan (just in case it leaks), and chill in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

Remove the meat from the bag and place on a rack that’s atop a sided baking sheet; put the marinade in a small saucepan. Salt and pepper the top of the roast. Loosely tent the roast with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 3-4 hours (the meat is supposed to reach 170 degrees, but mine never did). Every hour or so, brush the meat all over with the marinade.

When it’s nearly done, remove the foil, increase the heat to 375 or 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes, to brown the top. Remove from the oven and tent with foil for 30 minutes before slicing thinly. (If the meat doesn’t feel tender enough, transfer it to a Dutch oven, add a couple scoops of marinade, place the lid on top, and bake for another hour or two.)

Add the roast drippings to the extra marinade in the kettle. Heat through.

Serve the roast hot, sliced or shredded, as desired. If sliced, serve with cilantro-lime rice, and pass the marinade.

If making cubanos and tacos, read on…

Cubanos
In the movie, they spread on the mustard thick. I thought it had to be overkill, so I was much more conservative, using a little mayonnaise to dilute the mustard. In retrospect, all the mustard was totally called for — at table, I added in a whole bunch — and the mayo wasn’t necessary.

Butter is key. Do not — I repeat: do not — be afraid of the butter.

Mojo pork, thinly sliced
Deli ham, thinly sliced
Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
Dill pickles, thinly sliced
Soft baguettes, cut in fourths and then cut in half horizontally
Yellow mustard
Mayonnaise, optional (you don’t need it!)
Lots of soft butter, room temperature



Heat a large griddle. Liberally butter the insides of the cut baguettes. Grill them, cut-side down, until golden brown. Transfer the bread to a tray.

Grill the mojo pork, flipping once, until both sides are lightly browned. Do this over higher heat — you don’t want to overcook (and dry out) the meat. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Quickly grill the ham, flipping once, until heated through. Transfer to a plate.

Spread one side of the baguette with lots of mustard. Add a layer of mojo pork, several pieces of ham bunched up like dirty tissues, a layer of Swiss cheese, a row of pickles. Put the other piece of baguette on top. Liberally butter the top of the sandwich.

To grill, place the sandwich, butter side down, on a griddle set over medium-low heat. Butter the bottoms. (Another option is to just heavily butter the skillet each time you flip the sandwich.)



Set another skillet on top of the sandwiches and press down gently. (I preheated my presser skillet, but you don’t need to.) Grill the sandwiches, flipping and pressing, until the outside is toasted and the cheese is melted.




And with the shredded pork and saucy marinade, make...

Mojo Pork Tacos 

Leftover mojo pork, shredded and drowned in sauce
Cabbage slaw, with radishes, green onions, carrots, etc, and lightly pickled
Fresh lime wedges
Feta, optional
Salsa, sour cream, hot sauce
Fresh corn tortillas



Make some fresh tortillas, throw together the slaw, and heat up the leftover meat.



Buen provecho!

This same time, years previous: transition, besties, back to normal, coffee crumb cake, a Monday list, the quotidian (4.30.12), shredded wheat bread, rhubarb jam.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week eight

As I type, my older daughter is in the middle of a video call with our doctor.



Yesterday the dogs got in a fight and when she tried to break it up, Charlotte bit her in the leg, breaking skin in two places and bruising her. (And then, the fight over, my daughter was so mad she bit Coco in the ear, ha.)

Today I decided we should probably let the doctor know, just in case it gets infected and she needs antibiotics. So she downloaded the doctor's office chat-app, or whatever it is, on her phone (which gives her access to all her medical records, too) and is now talking with the doc and showing him her leg.

Healthcare from the comfort of the living room couch: no driving, no waiting room, no paperwork, no nothing? I feel like I just time traveled thirty years into the future.

***

The “novel” coronavirus doesn’t feel so new anymore. It feels wearisome. Day after day, it’s more of the same. Numbers rise. Prez doles out our daily dose of crazy. People react. Desperation increases. The economy plummets.

And those of us fortunate enough to have houses stay inside them and type on our computers and watch movies and bake cakes and try to feel grateful. Still, it’s distressing. All that suffering is right there — so close we can almost touch it — and yet here we are, banished to our comfortable bubbles and not allowed out.

But the thing is, there’s always been this divide. There’s always been unspeakable suffering and vast inequalities. Just, before we were able to venture forth to mingle and help as we could, as we saw fit, as it suited us. Now, forced to sit on our hands and watch, we see our folly: We’ve patched together our world into an acceptable-to-us reality, covering up the ugly with our bandaids of health care laws and public education and equal rights legislation, allowing ourselves to be lulled into believing (hoping?) that those things might actually fix the economic disparity, racism, and greed. 

Unfortunately for us — or maybe fortunately — the superpower of pandemics is that they are Bandaid Rippers. They tear off our carefully-placed cultural bandages exposing the painful truth beneath: our wounds aren’t healed. Rather, bone-deep and angry red, they've been festering all along. What a mess.

And what an opportunity.

From Arundhati Roy: This pandemic “is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Wouldn’t that be novel.

*** 

I’ve never tried a negroni but now I want to:

 

Also, I'm thinking Big Night would make a good family night movie, yes? After all, we already love timpano...

***

Recently I read in a news article something to the effect that, “Even to cooking guru so-and-so, cooking can sometimes feel like a chore.”

Well, duh, I thought. What does everyone think millions of (mostly) women have been doing all these years in the kitchen? What does everyone think those restaurant employees are doing behind those swinging doors?

Working, it’s called. That’s what cooks do — NEWSFLASH — they work. Yes, sometimes cooking is a creative outlet, but much of the time it’s just straight-up drudge, tedious and ordinary and boring and exhausting, even for people who enjoy it.

And this is okay.

The good news is, once cooking becomes routine — a necessary inconvenience that one must do to, you know, stay alive — it gets easier.

And then, watch out. Because once boring tasks become easy, creativity just might happen.

Bon appetit!

*** 

And finally, my parents got a puppy.


They named him Buster. He's four months old and likes to play fetch, and he's super cuddly.



And now my kids want to live with my parents.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.29.19), graduated!, full disclosure, thank you for holding us, the quotidian (4. 27. 15), the quotidian (4.28.14), church of the Sunday sofa, mousy mayhem, baked beans.

Monday, April 27, 2020

the quotidian (4.27.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace




Salted.




Washed.




Sliced.




Harvested.




Prepped.




Served.




(Enough with the single word captions.)
Fat cakes.




Angel food by my daughter; rhubarb-strawberry compote (and whipped cream) by me. 




Facetiming.








Standing desk, hacked.




Church.




While we were listening.




You can run but you can't hide!




Key drop, best out of three: when they both want to drive.




Study break.




A bunch of radiliciousness.




Topknot.




A new radiator.




Rise up!

This same time, years previous: that fuzzy space, the quotidian (4.24.17), an ordinary break, life can turn on a dime, taking off, Sally Fallon's pancakes, mango banana helados, cauliflower potato soup, drama trauma.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week seven

One day last week, I woke up mad.



At first I was just mildly irritated because my husband had flopped around in bed rather than slipping out of the room quietly so I could sleep, but that irritation soon morphed into an anger that bordered on full-blown rage.





I was angry at everything.

Angry that I had no one to hang out with.
Angry at people for not reaching out.
Angry that I had no one (besides my family) to feed.
Angry that no one needed me.
Angry that my younger kids couldn’t pop over to my parents to get tutored or spend the night.
Angry that my older kids couldn’t get the regular, in-person college classes they were paying for.
Angry that I couldn’t make plans.
Angry at people for making light of the crisis.
Angry at Trump for being a dick.
Angry at the GOP for not stopping him.
Angry at our church for not giving more regular updates.
Angry at people for taking all the flour and baking powder (not that I needed any, but still).
Angry at myself for being powerless, uncreative, and useless.
Angry, angry, angry.

I knew my rage was fueled by fear and sadness, worry and loneliness, but that knowledge didn’t help any. Short on sleep (thanks, hon), I had no reserves.

All day, I was off-and-on weepy.

*** 

That same day I wrote an email to our pastor to ask if she knew of ways I might be involved. “Just …. trying to find ways to stay connected and useful to combat the sadness, rage, and loneliness (not to be dramatic or anything),” I wrote.

One thing led to another and now I’m doing some of the behind-the-scenes organizational work for our local homeless shelter. It’s hardly anything, really.

But it’s also not nothing.

*** 

Another thing that helped: a long phone chat with a friend who doesn’t bat at eye at my swearing, sobbing, and poor-me pity-parties.

May we all be so fortunate to have such a friend.

*** 

That night, I slept well (this time my husband was very careful not to wake me — he's a fast learner, that one) and the next day my burning rage had lessened to a dull throb. Mostly, I just felt sad.

And lonely.

So I posted on my church’s facebook page that I was available to go on six-feet-apart walk-and-talks on our spacious, winding, country roads.

And then I felt terrible: What if people thought I was being careless? What if no one wanted to go on a walk with me?

Oh well, I told myself. If I got rebuffed, or ignored, so what. At least I'd spoken up. I'd tried. 

And guess what! So far three different people have taken me up on my offer! An hour or so in the fresh air, chatting about everything and nothing with another human being, isn't much, really.

Then again, it's not nothing.



photo credit: my younger daughter

*** 

And now, a few gems...
*It took a global pandemic, but now I’m calling my mom (Bon Appetit).

*If I made masks, this would be me (minus the Southern accent and smiles):


*Food safety and the coronvirus: a comprehensive guide (Serious Eats). My takeaway: There are not any special risks connected to food. Since the virus needs to get into your lungs, even if someone is covid-positive and sneezes directly on your salad (their example, not mine), it is unlikely to make you sick. The main risk is proximity to other people, not the food.

*The Love of God:


xoxo!

P.S. Right after I published this post, my father sent me a link to this video. It made my day:


This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.23.18), creamed honey, out of character, loose ends, the quotidian (4.23.12).

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

making pie: I have a system

I’ve been making a lot of pie lately. This is due to several reasons.

First, there’s something deeply satisfying about pie. With only a few ingredients — butter, fruit, sugar, flour … real ingredients — there’s no room for fluff. It’s solid food, without airs or pretense.

It's like this. If houses were desserts, layer cakes and cookies would be the sleek, magazine-worthy kitchens with svelte barstools and stainless steel wine rcks and granite countertops and paneled refrigerators. Pies, on the other hand, would be the old stone farmhouse kitchens with uneven, wide-plank wooden flooring, thrown-wide windows, worn braided rugs, enamel sinks, and jelly jars crammed with wild flowers. Both are functional and pleasing, but the farmhouse kitchens (i.e. the pies) are more simple and down-to-earth. And charming.

Second, pie is versatile. Fill it with cheese, meats, and veggies and you have a one-dish main course. Tumble in some fruits and you’ve got a bright, sweet-tart dessert. Leftovers hold up well at room temp (if the filling is non-dairy) and make for great additions to packed lunches. Also, pies are great breakfast fare. Basically, if you have pie, you’ve got it all.

Third, I’ve streamlined the pie-making process — this is the real reason we’re suddenly eating so much pie. Now, a fresh pie is about the quickest dessert I can make. Seriously! Why just the other night, supper was already half-cooked when I decided I wanted pie for dessert and, not ten minutes later, I had one in the oven. You could practically see my halo.



for my dad: red raspberry

So. Here’s what I do.

1. I make pastry almost weekly but, instead of freezing the disks, or letting them sit in the fridge until I get the urge to make pie, I go one step further: I roll out the pastry and put it in the pie plates (I have a bunch; I prefer 9 or 10-inch plates) and crimp the edges. Once the pie shell is fully chilled — I don’t want to mush my crimps (sometimes I even flash-freeze it to ensure it's sturdy enough) — I slip it into a large plastic bag (2½ gallon ziplocks work great) and transfer it to the freezer. (If you don't have extra freezer space, then just freeze the disks. Or get a freezer.)

2. There are many ways to top a pie — a pastry lid is classy, and there are a multitude of crumb recipes — but I’ve landed on a basic crumb topping that seems to work with almost any fruit pie (and would probably be fantastic on muffins, too). I make a double or triple batch and then freeze the crumbs in little containers, each container holding enough crumbs for a single pie.

3. Recently, I’ve improved my standard pie pastry. I’ve upped the portions — and added some whole wheat and a touch of lard: I think the lard makes it flakier, though I could be imagining things — so now I get three pastries from each recipe. Voila, more pie!



quiche: just look at all that gorgeous flakiness!

With pie shells and crumb toppings always at the ready, when I decide I want pie, the only thing that’s left to do is the filling. And that couldn’t be easier, really. Just several cups of fruit, some sugar, lemon zest, and a thickening agent of some sort (a bit of flour, instant tapioca, cornstarch), and the pie’s in the oven.

And that is why — and how — we are eating so much pie.



more red raspberry: we loooove red raspberry

Other tips for daily pie:  
*For ultimate bottom browning, bake pies on the bottom rack of the oven.

*Bake your fruit pies to death. For real! As long as the crust isn’t burned, keep baking. Go as long as possible. Bake, bake, bake, bake, bake.

*Underfill the pie shells. This does three things:

One, it prevents the pie filling from bubbling over and causing this:



Two, it gives the pie pastry room to shrink down to meet the filling, providing more space for the pastry fat to bubble without overflowing to the oven floor.

Three, with the pastry edge shrinking down the inside of the pan, the crimped edges are less likely to burn, allowing the pie to have more time in the oven to get nice and toasty brown.

*If you do have an extra full pie, never fear. Just stick your most enormous cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat. When it’s hot, carefully set your pie down in the hot skillet. (Pro tip: to make sure your pie pan fits in the skillet with enough room for your precious fingers, do a test run with a cold skillet.) The cast iron conducts heat much better than other baking pans, allowing for a gorgeous brown bottom and catching any overflow from the pastry fat and/or pie filling.



See all the sizzling fat?

*Go easy on the fruit. In fact, in the case of pie, less fruit is often better, especially when the filling is super rich and flavorful, as it is with red raspberry or grape. The only fruit this isn’t true for is a apples (as long as you’re using fresh apples and not a cooked apple filling.)



apple

*The fruit: mix it up. The other day I (or one of my daughters, actually) rough-chopped a few small granny smiths, and then I added a handful of frozen rhubarb and, for color, a few frozen cranberries. Another time I mixed a couple cups of frozen-and-thawed strawberries (leftover from a waffle brunch) with rhubarb. (Oh wait, that was for a rhubarb crunch, but still — same idea.) I often toss sour cherries with rhubarb or blueberries.

*Keep a couple tubs of good vanilla ice cream on hand — Costco’s Kirkland brand is our favorite — since there’s nothing like a scoop of ice cream to elevate a warm piece of pie.



apple, rhubarb, cranberry

Need some more inspiration? Here are a few of our favorites: apple, blueberry, peach, rhubarb, sour cherry, cranberry, blackberry, grape, pear, red raspberry.

Have at it!

Basic Pie Pastry 
This formula is inspired by a baking friend (the same one who tipped me off on the whole wheat sourdough).

I just eyeball the lard. And there is room for a little flexibility with the other ingredients, too; at least, I’m kind of spotty with the measurements.

Also, this makes a very dry pastry — it feels impossible, so powdery and crumbly, but it means the crust will be super flaky and delish.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons cold lard
2 sticks and 5 tablespoons salted butter, cold and cut into pieces
⅔ cups cold water

Pulse the first four ingredients together in a food processor. Add the lard and butter and pulse briefly until the fat has incorporated but still has some pea-and/or-cherry sized chunks. While the processor is running, pour the cold water through the spout. Pulse a couple more times to incorporate.










Dump the pastry onto a clean counter and divide into three piles. Gently press each pile into a disk, placing the leftover dry crumbs on top of each disk.








Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for a couple hours, or a day or two, to chill.





Before rolling out the pastry, allow the disks to rest at room temperature for a half hour. Roll out the pastry between two pieces of plastic wrap. Because the plastic tends to stick to the pastry, trapping the dough and preventing it from rolling out, periodically peel off the plastic and flip the whole pastry-and-plastic to facilitate the rolling process.









Checking to see if I've rolled the pastry big enough.

Transfer the pastry to a pie pan — I’m partial to glass because it allows me to see if the bottom of my pie is browning sufficiently. If the pastry is getting soft, chill it in the fridge before attempting to crimp.





Trimming off the excess pastry and tucking the edges under.




Chill the pastry (or flash freeze it) so the crimping doesn’t mush before bagging and freezing your pastry-lined pie pan.




To bake: while the oven is preheating, remove the pastry from the freezer. Fill it as you wish and then slip it into the oven. It’s okay if the pan is still icy-cold — the cold helps the pastry retain its shape. 

Note: Sometimes I like to blind bake my pastry a little, just to firm up the bottom crust, even if the recipe doesn’t call for it. (I almost always do this for baked custard pies, like pumpkin or sweet potato.) It’s my insurance against the dreaded soggy bottoms. To blind bake, simply line the inside of the pastry with a piece of aluminum foil, firmly pressing it along the bottom and up the sides and over the edge, holding the pastry in place. Pour pie weights (or dried beans) into the bottom and bake at 425 degrees for 5-8 minutes. Remove the tinfoil and weights and bake another five minutes. Add the prepared pie filling and bake as normal.

Crumb Topping
This is the same crumb topping I use for grape pie, just multiplied. As far as crumb toppings go, this one is on the sparse side: it’s enough to cover the pie, but not too thickly. I actually prefer a lighter crumb topping — the crumbs bake through better (no one likes soggy crumbs), and with fewer crumbs, rather than dominate the fruit, they showcase it.

1½ cups flour
½ cup each brown sugar and white sugar
12 tablespoons butter

Mix everything together with your fingers until sandy and crumbly (or use a food processer). Divide the crumbs into four containers, label each “crumbs for 1 pie,” and freeze.





This same time, years previous: the best fix, what it's like to write full time, let's pretend this isn't happening, the quotidian (4.21.14), nutmeg coffee cake, therapy, my lot, what they really want.