Archive for January, 2009

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

pork_bab

Tangy barbecue sauce dripping over slow-cooked pork on a bun. Yum. I freely admit that I am a fan of all things pork. I love pork chops, bacon, and roast loin, not to mention all those sausages. But there’s something astonishing about taking one of the least expensive cuts of pork you can buy and turning it into one of the tenderest and juiciest sandwiches you can eat. Ah – the miracle of pork.

When you’re having a large group of people over, pulled pork sandwiches are a great menu option. In addition to the dish being pretty cost effective, it takes very little prep time and even less hands-on cooking time to make. But forget the pragmatic reasons. The real rationale behind making pulled pork is its crowd appeal — it’s just one of those dishes that people get excited about eating. Although it’s not something most of us have on a regular basis, pork sandwiches laden with tasty barbecue sauce is a treat few would turn down.

Although traditional pulled pork is often cooked in a smoker or slowly barbecued with wood chips, I like to let mine roast at a leisurely pace in a covered pan in the oven. I don’t own a smoker and am more comfortable using my oven than the barbecue, so this works well for me. I also love the way the house smells while the meat cooks. I realize this method of preparing pulled pork would be sacrilege to anyone who grew up in the South, but I’m not a Southerner, so I am a peace with my technique.

There are a few essentials to making a great pulled pork sandwich that should not be overlooked.

1. The meat should sit overnight, or for at least 3-4 hours, with a rub on it before you cook it. This both flavors and tenderizes the meat.

2. You need to make a nice cider vinegar sauce to pour over the pork. Although some recipes say you can use store-bought barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar gives the dish its tangy signature flavor. It’s also easy and fast to make, so please whip it up yourself.

3. Serving the pork on fluffy white bread rolls is key to the final result. White hamburger buns will suffice, but anything made from whole wheat or with a crunchy crust should be avoided. The pork just tastes better when nestled into doughy white rolls soaked with sauce.

So if you’re up for some porky goodness, here’s a recipe you might try.


Pulled Pork

Makes enough meat for 12 – 14 sandwiches


Ingredients:

3-4 lbs pork butt

1 Tbsp salt

½ cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp chili Powder

1 Tbsp paprika

1 Tbsp onion powder

1 Tbsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried celery seed

1 tsp dried ground mustard seed

1 tsp Black pepper

Note: I sometimes use 1 Tbsp chili powder and 1 Tbsp chipotle powder

Preparation:

1. Combine all ingredients except the pork butt in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

2. Set pork butt on a baking dish or plate and cover with the rub on all side. Gently massage the rub into the meat.

3. Cover the meat and set it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3-4 hours.

4. When you’re ready to start cooking, place your pork in a large Le Creuset dutch oven with the top on, or cover your baking dish tightly with foil.

5. Set the dish into the oven, which should be preheated to 350 degrees (325 if using a convection oven).

6. Bake for at least 3 hours without disturbing. Try to avoid taking the cover off the pan to check the meat as you’ll release steam each time you do this, and you need the steam to help keep the roast moist and juicy while it cooks.

7. After your three hours are up, take the meat out of the oven and set it on a dish to rest for 5-10 minutes.

8. Then, start breaking the meat up into small pieces. If your pork butt was tied with butcher string, be sure to remove the string before you start doing this step. I use two forks to break the meat up. Just place the tines into the meat and pull (yes, it really is pulled pork). The meat should easily separate.

9. Heat your buns in the already warmed oven for about five minutes.

10. Place a healthy scoop of pork on each bun and top with the sauce. Serve.

Pulled Pork Cider Vinegar Sauce


Ingredients:

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup ketchup

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1 tsp dried yellow mustard

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or as much as you’d like)

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

1. Combine all ingredients in a pot and mix thoroughly.

2. Heat until the sauce starts to bubble and then simmer for at least ten minutes on low.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also wish to add more cayenne pepper.

4. Serve with pulled pork sandwiches.

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The Hot Toddy

hot-toddy

I recently discovered the merits of the hot toddy. I started drinking them over the December holidays after I woke up one morning with a head cold and sore throat. Although I was skeptical that this centuries old hot drink would help me feel better than a regular cup of tea, I was happy to sip something a little different. I became a convert to its medicinal advantages, however, when after a few sips the rough soreness in my throat dissipated while warmth radiated throughout my body. I’m not kidding here. That hot toddy really did make me feel remarkably better.

The hot toddy was supposedly created when tea came to Scotland, and, as you might expect, the Scots felt the need to add a little of their mother’s milk — that is whisky — to the brew. Since then, hot toddies have become synonymous with the idea of body-warming goodness on cold days. In addition to being hailed as a cold and flu remedy, hot toddies are said to also cure insomnia, which make sense to me.

Some people make hot toddies with tea, a sweetener, and lemon, along with whisky, brandy, bourbon, or rum. I like using either black tea or chamomile as I think the flavors nicely accent the drink, but you can really use any type of tea you like, or just leave it out all together. I’ve also made an alcohol free hot toddy for my daughters, which is an option if you’re making the drink for children or prefer yours without alcohol.

And, speaking of the alcohol, I’ve been using brandy simply because the Scotch whisky I have on hand is expensive and so I want to enjoy it on its own. I also use brandy because it has a natural sweetness that lends itself nicely to honey and lemon in the drink. Whisky, however, is the historical choice, so if you have some and aren’t as stingy as I am, you should give it a try. Rum and bourbon are also an option, although I haven’t tried them.

So whether you’re sick, can’t fall asleep, or just chilly and in need of a warm drink that will exude heat throughout your body, a hot toddy may just do the trick.

Hot Toddy

Makes one cup

Ingredients

1 cup hot tea

1 shot brandy, whisky, bourbon or rum

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp honey

Preparation

1. Make a cup of tea the way you like it (that is, strong or weak and with whatever type of tea leaves you like).

2. Stir in the alcohol, lemon juice and honey.

3. Enjoy

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Kriek

kriek-with-bottles_bab

I love cherries and I’m also quite keen on beer, so you would think that I would have jumped at the chance to try a Belgian cherry beer on tap when offered one; yet I at first refused. Although I adore cherries — they may just be my favorite fruit — I abhor fake cherry flavoring. This is why I am unable to take cough medicine or drink cherry soda. It just tastes fake and wrong to me. So last year, while visiting the lovely city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, I had to be convinced to try the cherry beer that is a staple at most pubs in the fall. I am so glad I relented.

Kriek (pronounced like “creek”) is a fruit beer made from lambic, a sour and dry Belgian beer, which has been infused with sour cherries and their pits. According to the bartender I chatted with in Haarlem, the pits are where the real cherry flavor lies. Lambic is only brewed in Belgium. It is unique in that brewers don’t add any yeast as an ingredient. Fermentation instead occurs through exposure to yeast strains and bacteria native to the area of Pajottenland (is it me, or does that sound like a name thought up by Dr. Seuss?). The marriage of lambic with sour cherries is really a regional match made in heaven.

After sipping my friend Corbin’s kriek, I was hooked. My first response was literally “Wow!” The cherry flavor was tart and sweet, but understated and not syrupy, and the texture of the brew was perfect. Although we had just had a big meal, I drank two and a half pints. I realized this was my one and only chance to have this stuff on tap (well, until my next visit to Northern Europe, whenever that may be) and I wanted to make the most of it.

The next morning, before I flew to London, I dashed to the local liquor store and bought a few bottles of kriek to share with my husband, who was stuck at home with the kids while I gallivanted throughout Europe with my oldest friend. It was the least I could do — really. I knew he would love it, and wasn’t sure I could find the stuff at home.

But a few months after returning home, I saw it on the menu at Luka’s Taproom in Oakland. And, although it wasn’t as fresh and earthy as the lovely brew on tap in Haarlem, it was close enough to make me quite happy. Our waitress told us she had seen it at Whole Foods, so I journeyed over there a few days later and bought some, along with a bottle or two of framboise, kriek’s raspberry cousin which is equally intriguing.

The most common brand sold in the United States is Lindeman’s, which comes in both 750 ml and 8 oz bottles, and is sold at both Luka’s Taproom and Whole Foods. But if you’re interested in trying a few other varieties, The Trappist in Oakland has a number of different brands by the bottle and actually sometimes even has kriek on tap (at least their web site says they do). I tried a bottle there recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, but it was less sweet than the Lindeman’s and quite good.

Although Luka’s refers to kriek as a dessert beer, I think the designation is too limiting. Since finding that I can get it here, I’ve tried it with numerous dishes. Kriek is a fantastic accompaniment to roasted pork, spinach salad, and baked chicken. It’s also nice with a plate of cheese — the stinkier the better.

So if you come across some kriek, I highly recommend it. Better yet, if you find yourself in Belgium or The Netherlands in the fall, try a pint on tap. You won’t regret it.

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Hot Chocolate with Homemade Marshmallow Whip

hot-chocolate_bab

On a cold day, a cup of hot chocolate is about as good as it gets — well, as far as food and beverages go. More often than not, people get their hot chocolate fix from Starbucks or another coffee shop, spending about $3.00 a cup. For a family of four, this can add up — especially if your kids are prone to dropping their to-go cups inches from the front door of the cafe, as mine are. The other problem with buying cups of hot chocolate is that the paper cups and plastic lids sabotage any attempt to really enjoy the full flavor and aroma of the drink. Worst of all, you either need to drink your tasty beverage on the go, or get it back home in the cold, only to find it’s lukewarm when you finally sit down to drink it. No. I have a primal need to warm up on a cold day with a steaming cup of hot chocolate — in a real cup, in my favorite chair — and so I need to make it at home.

When I was in college, I was misinformed and poor, so we used Swiss Miss packets of cocoa. After dumping each pack in a cup of microwave warmed water, we would all settle down for what we hoped would be a delicious treat (which often included Peppermint Schnapps). I didn’t realize at the time that I was a foodie, but I did know one thing: those cups of cocoa were awful. If it weren’t for the Schnapps, I would have passed on the whole affair.

It was only when I was an adult that I started to make real hot chocolate. I learned that there is a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate, and experimented with different cocoa powders and bittersweet bars, enjoying the results from both, but preferring hot chocolate. In case you’re curious, hot cocoa is made using cocoa powder, sugar, and milk, while hot chocolate is made with melted chocolate, sugar, and milk. For me, there’s just something about drizzling hot bittersweet chocolate into warmed milk that really satisfies both my hot beverage and chocolate cravings.

For years I topped my hot chocolate with either warm milk foam or whipped cream, which at the time seemed perfect. But, a few weeks ago, my mother created the ultimate topping for our steaming chocolate beverages: homemade marshmallow whip. She initially made a batch All-Around Frosting from Cooks.com to frost my daughters’ gingerbread house, but we soon realized that this lovely confection had a far greater purpose in our lives.

Although the recipe is supposedly for frosting, the ingredients are everything you would need to make marshmallows, minus the gelatin, and the result is the lightest marshmallow whip you could ever hope for. My only recommendation is to half the recipe if you don’t want a ton of it.

One of the things I love about using the homemade marshmallow whip is that it has a luscious creamy texture that melts beautifully into your hot chocolate. It is also rich and full enough to add body to your drink if you want to use low-fat or nonfat milk. And, you can always frost a cake or stick a gingerbread house together with it if afterward.

So the next time you crave a cup of hot chocolate, go for a version that doesn’t come in a paper cup and isn’t made from a packet. Adding Schnapps, however, is completely up to you.

Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

Makes 2 servings

  • 2 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

1. Chop chocolate into small pieces.

2. Heat milk in a sauce pan on medium-low heat, being sure not to let it boil over.

3. There are two ways to melt the chocolate:

A. Place the chocolate pieces in a metal bowl that will fit securely over your sauce pan. Reduce the heat for the milk to a low simmer and then place the bowl on top of the pan. Stir until the chocolate is melted.

B. Place chocolate pieces in a microwavable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir chocolate to help distribute the heat. If chocolate has not thoroughly melted, heat for another 20 seconds and repeat until chocolate is melted through.

4. Add chocolate to the heated milk along with the sugar and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to incorporate everything together. I like to use a whisk, which creates some froth.

5. Serve.

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How to Save a Fruitcake

fruitcake


We’ve all heard horror stories about rock-hard fruitcakes. They’re supposedly the favored gift to “re-gift,” can last for years, and are hockey-puck textured. According to the late Johnny Carson, “The worst gift is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other.”

I thought this all more legend than reality, however, as I had never actually tasted one in person until recently. This could be because I’m Italian and my people don’t make traditional fruitcakes (we instead eat the divine panetone), or maybe people just don’t give each other fruitcakes anymore. Whatever the case, I was out of the loop until I purchased one in Scotland a couple of months ago.

While visiting the gift shop at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh — I spied some traditional British fruitcakes and thought it would be fun to bring one home to share with my mom over the holidays. When I asked the cashier if it would last until December, he laughed and said “Definitely.” Thinking his droll response had more to do with the reputation fruitcake has than the actual merit of the one I sat on the counter, I spent 5 pounds on it (that’s $10 US bucks) and packed it up in my suitcase. When we got home, I stuck it in the fridge, all bundled up in its shrink wrap niceties, until the holiday season arrived. Then, on Christmas Eve, my mom and I made a hot pot of tea while it stormed outside, and sat down to our plate of authentic English fruitcake.

After one bite, our eyes met as we mutually realized the obvious: if this fruitcake was an authentic representation, the stories weren’t rumors. With a texture both brittle and brick-like, it was difficult to chew even the smallest bite without choking. I read the list of ingredients on the wrapper and realized that this sad example of a holiday cake didn’t have any alcohol in it.

Fruitcakes are traditionally aged in a cloth wrapping of alcohol for at least five weeks. The alcohol preserves the cakes, fruits, and nuts within, and keeps everything moist. I wondered what the chefs at Holyrood Palace Gift Shop were thinking when they stuck this sad use of flour, fruit and nuts in cellophane without a little brandy. Maybe it was an attempt to get more people to purchase one, although I was reminded of the old adage that when you try to please everyone, you end up making absolutely nobody happy. I began to wonder how many of these confections were made — and aged — without alcohol or some type of moistening agent. It seemed that in an attempt to gain a wider audience through omitting the alcohol, cooks had turned what had once been a yearly treat into an inedible burden.

My mom and I love a culinary challenge, so we jumped into action. With just a little bit of work, and about a half cup of brandy, the fruitcake became more than edible. Yes, I am here to say that a hard-as-nails, dry-as-the-desert dessert can be revived in, amazingly, less than ten minutes. Not only revived, but made moist and delicious. After “fixing” the cake, mom and I enjoyed our nice hot cup of tea and gobbled up our treat quite happily.

So if you find yourself a recipient of a fruitcake this year, please know that your only recourse is not to pass it on to another unsuspecting dupe. In just a few short minutes you can bring new life to your confection, and spend an afternoon happily nibbling away with a hot cup of tea.

fruitcake-in-pan


How to Revive a Fruitcake

1. Place a 1/2 cup of alcohol in a sauce pan along with the zest from an orange. I used brandy, but you could also use cognac, rum, Grand Marnier, or whatever else you like.

2. With a skewer, poke numerous holes into your cake, making sure the holes go all the way through.

3. Set your cake into the sauce pan and heat it until the alcohol starts to simmer.

4. Cover and steam for a few minutes and then start spooning the sauce over the cake so it runs through the many holes you created.

5. Cover the cake in the pan for another minute and then spoon the remaining alcohol over the cake. Continue this process until most of the alcohol is absorbed.

6. Turn off the heat, cover the cake and let it sit for another five minutes.

7. Set the cake on a plate to cool and then serve with your favorite pot of tea.

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