Thursday, December 30, 2010

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

You've been anticipating it all day. You hope the time goes quick, because you can't focus on any tasks that require serious thinking, you can't give any other subject your undivided attention because of what's on your counter. The crock pot. You left it hours ago, probably in the early hours of the dark winter morning, not looking at all like a tasty dinner. But you know there's some delicious hiding behind an 8-1o hr cooking time. It greets you at the door, welcoming you home to become immediately immersed in porky delicious aromas. The chances of me speeding home on slow cooker meal night? Very good.

I don't really like to say crock pot, it just doesn't sound like it would taste good. So I shall refer to it as the slow cooker.

Winter time is prime time for the slow cooker. You know it's also great for parties to keep your balls warm. No one likes cold balls.

Most slow cooker recipes will have you put a good sear on your meat first, to develop a bit of flavor and texture. You can skip that step here, there's no need for searing since we're shredding the meat later, making this super easy.

You need an extra hour to stop off and see your parole officer? For recipes that say 8 hours and you need 9, bust out the timer and set it appropriately. You can have meat that was in the fridge sit out in a slow cooker, covered, for about an hour before you want to start cooking it. Anything longer than that you might be looking at a scene from Into the Wild.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
10-12 servings

1 large onion, chopped
1/2 C ketchup
1/3 C cider vinegar
1/4 brown sugar (packed, of course)
1/4 C tomato paste
2 TB smoked sweet paprika
1 TB smoked hot paprika
2 TB Worcestershire
2 TB dijon or yellow mustard
1.5 ts kosher
1.5 ts black pepper
5 whole cloves garlic, peeled
4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast, aka butt

sandwich buns
prepared BBQ sauce

Get out your big ass slow cooker and set to low (not warm). Add the chopped onion thru the garlic cloves, stir well to combine. Add the pork roast, turn to coat well. Depending on your model, you can expect to have pork ready to shred in 7-9 hrs. Damn easy that is.

When you are ready to shred, transfer the pork to a large bowl. Turn up the cooker to high and cover to bring the sauce to a slight boil. During this time, shred the pork with two forks. Add back to the sauce once it has thickened up a bit and cover. You can always add a squirt or two of your favorite BBQ sauce too, if needed. Once warmed through completely, time to build your slow cooker pulled pork BBQ sammiches.

I have exactly 5 bottles of this brand of BBQ sauce in my fridge right now. I'm a condiment whore. One shelf is just for mustard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies

I'm sorry. I was supposed to give you this before Christmas, but I just couldn't get to it by then. On the bright side, if you didn't get anything as a gift this year, or you got socks and some lame tie or World's #1 Dad coffee mug, then you can think of this as a special, extra-inning prize. After all, you can still bake them for New Year's Eve festivities.

I've got a plan this year. All the holiday cookies, bars, cakes, muffins, pies, etc become breakfast. Give up that well-balanced nutritional breakfast and replace with the calories of sugars and fats in dessert form! Brilliant!

You do have to plan one day in advance, to freeze the logs for slicing into rounds. That's it. The rest is super duper easy. Don't like pecans? You can sub any other nut you like- walnuts, cashews, pistachios.

Cream Cheese Pecan Cookies
makes about 4.5 dozen

4 C AP flour
1.5 ts kosher salt
4 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
6 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1.25 C sugar
2 TB vanilla extract
2.5 C whole pecans

Fire up the hotbox to 350F. Coarsely chop 1 1/2 cups of the pecans and spread them on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or so, until the nuts are fragrant. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt, whisk to combine. Beat together the butter and cream cheese in your stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat for another minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour and salt until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in the toasted pecans.

Transfer the dough to a work surface and divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a 8-inch log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and place in the freezer until firm, about 4 hours, but overnight is best (can sit in the freezer for up to two weeks and about a month if wrapped and then placed in an airtight container). Preheat the oven to 350F with racks on the upper and lower thirds. Finely chop the remaining 1 cups of pecans. Unwrap one of the logs of dough and roll in the pecans. You're gonna hafta press them nuts real good to get em to stick to the log. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Space 1-inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake cookies for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are a lightly golden. Rotate the cookies halfway through, switch the sheets to the other rack and rotate them front to back as well. Let cool on the sheets for a minute or two before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining cookie dough. You can store these at room temp or in the fridge for a couple days, or freeze them for a few months. See you next year!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beer Coffee Chili

All I really want for Christmas is an internet connection. BLT has been on the shelf during a brief but frustrating diagnostical process. How does a network interface card just 'go bad' anyway? Sorry Santa, I had to get to Best Buy before you this year. Maybe you could bring me this instead?

Beer and coffee chili? Yes- this is Four Loko style! You have heard of this shit right? That's some nasty nasty crap in a can. I bet it tastes like a purple highlighter. And I bet there's a few college kids gettin fuckered up on it tonight. 4 beers in one can? That's convenient.

Don't be too cautious because of the coffee- it adds just a bit of depth, it's not coffee-flavored. I know you're not concerned about adding the beer.

Want to impress your date or got the boss coming over for dinner? (does anyone do that anymore?) Use better meat. Instead of ground beef, which is just fine in my book, you could get some nice (and cheap, still) blade steak, about 3/4" thick and cut into 3/4" cubes. Dry, season, and brown on all sides in hot oil, then toss in the chili using a slotted spoon.

Please ensure that you are using fresh, high-quality chili powder. Has yours been sitting in the cupboard for 9 months? That's not gonna be tasty. Replace your spices every six months, and go to a real store! That shit in the glass jar with the red top is shit. If you want to eat shit, then you can ignore this advice.

I have found a new love lately- a life-changer. Those resealable tomato paste tubes, in lieu of tiny little cans (where you might waste a good portion if not frozen away) that are a pain in the ass to open, are fantastic. Paste in a tube. Good work.

Gotta take Sparky for a walk? Worried about an unattended flame? No, not Clay Aiken. Instead of simmering on the cook top, you can park this in a low oven, bout 300F or so, for about 90 minutes. The gentle oven heat will not burn the chili while it is unstirred.

Oh yeah- almost forgot- remove the bay leaves before serving! That ain't gonna impress yo date.

Beer Coffee Chili
6-8 servings

1 TB butter
2 C onion, large dice (about 1 large, 2-3 med)
2 ts brown sugar
freshly cracked black pepper
2 bell peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. 80% ground beef or sirloin
12 oz lager beer (High Life preferred)
1/4 C chili powder, medium
2 ts ancho chili powder
1 ts cayenne pepper
2 ts smoked sweet paprika
1/2 C black coffee
2 bay leaves
15 oz crushed tomatoes
40-50 oz mixed beans (I like pinto and kidneys)
1/4 C Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional)
Your favorite toppings

Get out that big ass cast iron skillet. Make sure you gots some tupperwares ready to go too, as one rule of making chili is to go large format. Over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the oil, cook the onions for a couple minutes stirring a couple times. Add the brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasioinaly, for about 7 minutes, until the sugars have caramelized a bit. Add the bell peppers in a layer, then the garlic. Season with S&P and let sit for a couple minutes, then turn the heat down to low and stir well, cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the meat and cook until browned, stirring often. Once the meat has browned, add the beer and scrape any fond on the bottom of the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients- seasonings, coffee, tomatoes, bay leaves, beans. Season again with salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered (barely a simmer) over low heat for at least 30 minutes, 60 minutes preferred. Stir occassionaly. When you is ready, spoon into servings bowls and then top with the good stuff- freshly shredded cheddar cheese, finely diced raw red onion, finely diced jalapeno (or habanero!) pepper, sour cream, oyster crackers, saltines, you can put herring on there if you like. And some of this would pair nicely.


Dressed up-

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pesto Baked Potato

Some people have a passion to hate the winter season, yet they live in it anyway with a constant stream of epithets towards the cold weather. Some of those people get smart and move to a warmer year round clime, or at least escape the East or Midwest during the chilly months. Some people don't mind the season that much, they know some days will be super ass cold and they deal with it, convincing themselves that it makes those 85F summer days so much appreciated. And then there's those that find winter their favorite time of year. I'm somewhere in-between.

Hunkered down for some some northerly flow the past few days, we've been enjoying some tasty meals that complement the season- of course chili and cornbread, this lovely sauced pasta, a good soup here with bacon and a very dear old friend in this savory soup, fat cheddar.

Sure, it's cold. Pitchers and catchers report in 6 weeks, and the days start getting longer in a mere 2. You'll be fine.

If you grew and harvested some basil this year, I pretty much forecasted your happiness here, which is the reason why we are here. You could have even made this in the meantime and you'd still not have exhausted your supply.

This method (without foil) will yield a nicely crispy skin with fluffy tater inside. You eat the skins, right?

Pesto Baked Potato
2 servings

2 large baking potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed
4 TB pesto
2 TB sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper
*2 large porterhouse steaks (optional, but highly recommended)

Fire up the hotbox to four hundo. With a small fork, poke some tiny holes all over the tubers, about 1/4" deep. Give em a nice oil rubdown, then sprinkle with S&P. Must use kosher or another large format like sea salt, you need the particle size for texture and taste. Place on a sheet pan and bake for about 40 minutes, or until fork tender, turning after 20 minutes.

If you want to continue your relationship with the roof of your mouth, let sit for about 5-7 minutes. Split lengthwise with a sharp knife, then give it a good squeeze to scrunch up from the ends and mash up a bit. Add about 2 TB pesto per tater, top with 1 TB sour cream, a few julienned basil leaves, freshly cracked black pepper.

What's your opinion of dibs? Think it trashy? Necessary, after your efforts digging out your car? Not sure of the Chicago tradition?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Butternut Squash, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Pizza

It's December 1st. Welcome to official Meteorological winter! And I'm officially tired of eating turkey soup, turkey hash/casserole, turkey anything at this point. Well, I didn't tire of those cold turkey sammiches during the first couple days right after Thanksgiving. And pumpkin pie or cheesecake for breakfast is almost a necessity, pairs well with some hot coffee. Next year there will be more time devoted to the game plan for the leftovers, which really are the reason for the season.

After re purposing the leftover turkey meat, it is time to get back to a much-loved staple. Another day, another pie. What to put on your tombstone this time? We've already done this and this and this. Perhaps a seasonal approach? Find some stuff that tastes good and throw it on top, you can't really go wrong there. There's cheese on it too, so you know it's gonna be good. If you make this pizza, you will like it. It is delish. And that's easy.

So it's winter time, cold air does not hold as much moisture as warmer air, your doughs might need an extra ts or so of water. If you weigh your flour, good for you. I know this guy would be proud.

Oh, and buy some good cheese for this too- freshly shredded, of course. Buy some cheap shit and you'll taste it. You can't polish a turd, you know.

Butternut Squash, Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Pizza

1 butternut squash, halved, seeded
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 TB butter, divided
1.5 C Gruyere
1/2 C mozzarella
1/4 C parmigiano reggiano
1/4 C EVOO
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 ts red chili flakes
black pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
handful of cremini or button mushrooms, about 1 C, sliced

pizza dough, the quick method-
2.5 C bread flour
1 C warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 ts honey
1 ts dried thyme
1/2 ts kosher salt

Measure out 1 C of warm water, add 1 ts honey and stir to incorporate. Add the yeast and give it a stir, let sit until foamy, about 5-7 minutes. During this time, add the flour, salt and thyme to the bowl of your stand mixer. Whisk to combine, then add yeast water mixture and give that a stir. Then with the dough hook attachment, stir on speed 2 (or low) for 5 minutes. Once the dough is nice and shiny and the gluten has developed, turn out onto your board and knead with your hands for a couple of minutes. You always want to give your pizza doughs a couple minutes by hand. It's for both practical reasons and just because. I like to speed up the process (a full 10 min) using the stand mixer but finish it off with a personal touch. Form a nice tight ball with the dough, place into a lightly-oiled bowl and roll it around to oil it up, then cover with a clean kitchen towel and place into a somewhat warm, draft free area until doubled in size, about 1.5 hrs. Punch down to release the gas and then let sit until needed. Can be parked in the fridge for a few hours, just bring back to room temp before rolling out.

In a small dish, add the EVOO, sliced garlic, and hot chili flakes. Stir it up and then set aside.

Fire up the hotbox to four hundred. Get the bottom rack and pizza stone set up, and a rack in the middle. Rub some oil all over the squash halves, then sprinkle with S&P. Roast on a sheet pan for about 40-45 minutes, until nicely softened and browned. Let cool, then slice off the skin like you would a watermelon. Chop into large chunks and set aside. Increase the heat to 500F.

While baking the squash, melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and stir to coat with the butter, then sprinkle with a tad of freshly cracked black pepper. Leave it alone for 15-20 minutes, let it do its thang. Then you may stir, and again let it sit for bit, to get some browning action and start caramelizing the onion. Cook for about 30-40 minutes on low heat until deeply browned, stirring occasionally. Let cool and set aside.

Melt a TB of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrooms in a single layer. You never want to crowd the fungi so it will saute, not steam in it's own liquid. That liquid needs room to evaporate, and you need room to flip them after a couple minutes. Once nicely browned on both sides, turn down to low and cook for another five minutes or so until they are done, stirring occasionally. Want to impart some tastiness? You can add in a ts or so of sliced shallot, a little fresh thyme, a minced clove of garlic, a couple shakes from the pepper mill. You can also toss in the garlic and chili flakes from the EVOO for the dough.

Roll out your dough into something that resembles a 12X14" shape. Ain't gots to be perfect. Move the dough to your pizza peel that has been covered with cornmeal, which will assist to slide your pie easily to the hot stone. Coat with the EVOO up to an inch from the edge, reserving the garlic and chili flakes, if you didn't add that to the shrooms. Top with as much of the caramelized onions as you wish, you may have some leftover, and that will be a good thing. Combine the 3 cheeses into a medium bowl. Add 1/2 of this mixture to the pie, then add the squash and lay the shrooms out evenly. Slide the pie onto your stone, which should be on the lowest possible spot in the oven. Bake until well browned and extremely delicious looking, about 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, sprinkle with some fresh thyme, then slice up and enjoy.