Saturday, May 28, 2011

Honey Chipotle Carnitas

When last we left our heroes our intrepid pork had been slow-cooked all day and pulled.  Suddenly, a nefarious power separated pork from pork, leaving some to be brutally barbecued while the rest was thrown mercilessly into the dark and cold.  That is...the fridge, to be later made into Carnitas.

This is Part 2 of a two-part slow-cooker porkfest: Carnitas!  I never make these by themselves - they always follow after a day or two worth of BBQ sandwiches.  You're welcome to make just the Carnitas, though, and I'll include the pre-separation steps in this post as well as the original BBQ post for completeness' sake.

For those who followed the BBQ post and so are starting with cooked-and-shredded pork reserved from there, skip down til the next cutting-board-full-of-ingredients picture.  If you're starting fresh, you're in for the long haul.

Whether you're making both preparations or just the Carnitas, you'll need a good sized chunk of pork shoulder, about a liter of pop, a large sweet onion, a large red bell pepper, and a can of Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, as well as - of course - salt and pepper.

Chop the onion into large chunks and arrange on the bottom of your slow cooker.

Give the red bell pepper a similar chop and toss it down there on top of the onion.

Now the pork.  Unwrap and unceremoniously plunk down on top of all those veggies.

Our cooking liquid is a terrifying mixture of pop and adobo sauce.  Pour your pop over the pork until it's covered or you reach the top of your slow cooker, whichever comes first.  Then, open up the Chipotles and pour out the adobo sauce into the slow cooker, as well.  You can add a couple of peppers as well, if you like, but we'll find plenty of use for them later.

Cook on low 6-8 hours.  Drain off the liquid.

Shred with two forks until you have a pot full of goodness like this.  Make sure to discard any bones that came with your pork, as well as any extra fat.

Folks who used half of their pork for BBQ sandwiches reserved the other half - covered in Chipotle peppers - at this point.  If you did so, it's time - pull out that reserved pork and let's put it to use.

To get from shredded, peppery pork to Carnitas, you'll need honey, cinnamon, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, and perhaps a dash of hot sauce, in addition to your pork and Chipotle peppers.  Quantities are all quite variable, depending on how much pork you've reserved and how spicy you like it.  If the pork spent a day or two in the fridge covered in Chipotles, you can probably skip the hot sauce.

Carnitas is characterized by pork that's first slow-roasted or braised for a long duration, then cooked again over high heat with additional seasonings and flavorings.  The end result is a crispy-but-tender, flavorful pork extravaganza.

The second round of cooking Carnitas often happens in a hot oven, but I prefer to do it in a pan, where I have more ability to flavor as I go.  I'm a control freak like that.

Set a large skillet - I prefer Cast Iron for this kind of thing - over medium-high to high heat.  You want the pan hot enough to crisp up the pork, but not so hot that you'll burn it in the process.  Individual stove-and-pan combinations will lend themselves to different temperature settings for this, so be careful.

Once your pan is nice and hot, dump the pork and the chipotles in there and go to work.  Break up the chipotles with a spatula so you don't end up with mouthfuls of nothing but peppers.

As you cook, add plenty of cumin.

And oregano.

And garlic powder.

Keep things moving in the pan, lest your pork scorch.  It's also important to keep tasting for balance of flavors.

Now is the time to add the sweeter flavors.  I like to add honey and cinnamon to take some of the savory-spicy edge off.  Especially if you've included the whole can of Chipotles, this could just be too spicy without some sweet relief.

Add honey and/or cinnamon according to your preference, and keep tasting.  You'll know when it's ready.  It'll go from "Yeah, no bad" to "Ooooh."  Then, and only then, is it time.

You can serve this in any number of ways, but I prefer taco-style on a flour tortilla with some salsa (preferably home-made!) and cheese.  Some fresh fruit is a handy accompaniment to cool your mouth down.  Beer works, too.

Recipe: Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 6-10 hours   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 10-12.

  • 2-4 pounds Pork Shoulder
  • 1 liter Cherry Cola
  • One large Sweet Onion
  • One large Red Bell Pepper
  • One can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 tbsp Oregano
  • 2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • Honey to taste
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • Hot Sauce to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Chop onion and bell pepper and arrange on bottom of slow cooker.  Place pork shoulder on top of chopped vegetables.  Pour adobo sauce and cherry cola over pork to just cover.  Reserve chipotle peppers.

Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low.

Shred pork with two forks.  If pork is not tender enough to shred easily, cook on low an additional 1-2 hours.

Add shredded pork and chipotle peppers to a heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat.  Break up peppers with a spatula.

Mix and stir pork mixture constantly, adding cumin, oregano, and garlic powder.

Add honey (suggested 2-3 tbsp) and cinnamon (suggested 1 tsp) to taste.

After 10-15 minutes on heat, pork should be crispy on the exterior but still tender.

Serve immediately on flour tortillas with salsa and cheese.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

My little brother grew up with the nickname "Ketchup King."  He would put ketchup on anything.  Seriously, anything.  I just don't understand.  The ketchup part, that is.  Why use ketchup as a go-to condiment when you could be using barbecue sauce?  I never got a royal title to go with my love of barbecue sauce (Barbecue Baron?), but I loved it as a kid and still love it now, as evidenced by my recent Barbecue Chicken Pizza post.  Here's another recipe that puts barbecue in the front seat - pulled pork.

This post will be the first of a pair of slow-cooker pork features.  When I buy a nice piece of pork, I like to buy a nice big one and prepare it a couple of ways - the most recent favored pairing is BBQ pulled pork followed by carnitas.  Even something as delicious as a good BBQ pork sandwich can get old after eating it for a few nights, after all (though it should be noted that my girlfriend Kristin disagrees with this statement on principle).

This post will detail the whole of the process for the BBQ pulled pork sandwiches.  But, if you want to follow the BBQ-then-Carnitas model, I'll note when and how to reserve some of the cooked pork, and you can pick up that project in a soon-to-come post.

Yep, that's pop on my cutting board.  Trust me on this one.

However you want to flavor your pork in the end, I love this preparation for slow-cooker pork.  Start with a nice big hunk of pork.  Just make sure it will fit into your slow cooker.  I find 3.5 to 4 pounds is about the limit for mine, and is also enough to feed Kristin and I for a good week straight on delicious, porky goodness.  Avoid tenderloin or any other particularly lean cuts for a slow-cooker preparation, as those cuts will end up dry and tasteless.  Low and slow demands some fat on the meat.

As for the rest, we'll need a large sweet onion, a large red bell pepper, some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (found in the mexican aisle), and some pop.  Just about anything dark in color works.  Root beer is great, as is plain old cola.  This time I tried some cherry cola and really liked the result.

Peel and chop the sweet onion and array the pieces in the bottom of the slow cooker.  This will keep the pork from overcooking on the bottom if your slow cooker is a bit overzealous at times, and also impart some nice flavor to the meat.

Chop the red pepper and send it down to the bottom to accompany that poor, lonely onion.

Now for the pork.  No preparation needed, just drop it right in there.

Next, we'll need plenty of liquid.  First, open up the chipotle peppers and drain out the adobo sauce over the pork.  This will add a really nice, gentle heat to the final product.  If you like it hot, add a pepper or two.  Personally, I reserve the peppers themselves for my carnitas.  Just the adobo sauce does plenty for the barbecue preparation.

Add enough pop to cover the lot (it takes about a liter, for me).  Don't worry too terribly much if the top quarter-inch of your meat stubbornly refuses to submerge.  Also don't worry too terribly much about the fact that the contents of your slow cooker could easily stand in for witch's brew.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

I love slow-cooker dishes because I can do the preparation in the morning before I head off to work.  When I get home, the smell has utterly filled my apartment.  It's a good thing.

After 6-8 hours have elapsed, drain off all but a few ounces of the cooking liquid.  Be very, very careful in this process, as its easy to burn yourself either on the cooking vessel or with superheated soda.  Either is quite unpleasant.

You'll see that the pork has practically pulled itself just in the cooking.  This is a good thing, but we'll need to help it along.

Shred/pull the pork with a pair of forks or your preferred meat-shredding implements.  The pork ought to be tender enough to fall apart just because you look at it funny.  If the meat is at all difficult to get apart, give it another hour or so on low and try again.  Make sure to remove the bone at this point, if your cut of meat included one.

We're just about at the point of return - after this, it's all barbecue.  If you want to reserve some pork for Carnitas (or anything else, really), now is the time.  I throw about half of the shredded pork into a container with the chipotle peppers we reserved earlier.  That all goes into the fridge to wait patiently until I'm either tired of or have run out of BBQ sandwiches (Hint: it's usually the latter).

It's barbecue time.  My sauce of choice varies, but I'm fond of Bullseye, Masterpiece, and Famous Dave's.  Scoff if you will, but they get the job done.  Choose your favorite sauce, and have plenty on hand.

Sauce the meat liberally.  Tastes vary on how saucy a BBQ sandwich ought to be, so use your best judgment.  I find that if I haven't yet substantially changed the color of the meat, it can't be saucy enough yet.  Add salt and pepper to taste, as well.

You could make a sandwich and eat it right now if you wanted.  But wait, patience will be rewarded!  Instead, put the cover back on the slow cooker and give the barbecued goodness inside another hour on low.  This will meld all of the flavors and infuse the pork with truly sublime barbecueyness.  Yes, it's a word.

After an hour, or when you can no longer stand the smell, it's time.  Scoop a generous helping of meat onto a bun and go to town.  It's too early in the season for good corn on the cob, but these sandwiches go great with it.  Whatever else is on the plate, though, the pork will be the star of the show.  Expect much finger-licking and demands for seconds and/or the recipe.


Recipe: Slow-Cooker BBQ Pulled Pork

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 6-10 hours   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 10-12.

  • 2-4 pounds Pork Shoulder
  • 1 liter Cherry Cola
  • One large Sweet Onion
  • One large Red Bell Pepper
  • One can Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
  • One bottle Barbecue Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Chop onion and bell pepper and arrange on bottom of slow cooker.  Place pork shoulder on top of chopped vegetables.  Pour adobo sauce and cherry cola over pork to just cover.  Reserve chipotle peppers.

Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low.

Shred pork with two forks.  If pork is not tender enough to shred easily, cook on low an additional 1-2 hours.

Optional: Reserve half of shredded pork for Carnitas.  Store with reserved chipotle peppers until ready to cook.

Add barbecue sauce to pork mixture to taste, approximately 1/2 cup per pound of pork.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook an additional hour.

Serve immediately on sandwich buns.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lemon Chess Pie

Now I don't know where you stand on the question of "Cake versus Pie."  Frankly, it doesn't much matter to me.  What does matter is this pie.  This pie is good.  Is it better than cake?  Who cares.  Just make the pie, and eat it.  Trust me.  When there's pie, everyone wins.

So what the heck is a "Chess Pie?"  Well...nobody really knows.  As a class of pies, they're generally sweet and custardy and often involve a bit of corn meal.  This particular chess pie covers sweet and custardy, but I stick to flour, since the cornmeal can give a bit of odd grit to the smooth custard of our particular specimen.

The name "Chess Pie" is the real mystery.  Theories abound, but nobody knows why it actually applies.  Experts generally agree that it has nothing to do with the game of chess, but that aside, nobody really knows.  Is it related to cheese?  To chests?   To the poorly pronounced word "just?"  Could be.  You should ponder this while you eat the pie.

It's a simple pie to make, especially if you cheat like me and use pre-made crust.  You'll need a pair of 9" pie crusts - frozen are fine.  Lemons, naturally - both for juice and for zest.  The rest is comprised of milk, sugar, flour, butter, and a whole bunch of eggs - it is a custard, after all.

First, throw your butter and sugar into a bowl and beat into submission.  It should be nice and fluffy.

Now add your eggs and milk and mix well.  The consistency will start to look quite unpleasant, as seen in the terribly-lit photograph above.  Fear not.

Now for the fun tedious part - lemon zest.  The pie gets a whole lot of flavor from fresh lemon zest, so we can't skimp here.  You'll want 3-4 tablespoons, which involves a whole lot of zesting.  You might consider promising a significant other or small child a slice of pie in exchange for taking a turn in the zesting process.

Once you've got your zest, halve the lemons and squeeze out a good 1/2 cup of juice.  No need for a special uni-tasker juicer - just squeeze each lemon half between the handles of your tongs.  It's really easy and quite speedy.

With the lemon juice and zest added, throw in two tablespoons of flour and give it one last good mixing.  You'll find that our custard still looks...well, about the same.  Trust me, it will be delicious in the end, and baking will do its appearance a world of good.

Pour your custard into the pair of pie shells.  If you're using frozen shells with wimpy pans beneath them, you'll probably want to put the pair on a baking sheet.  Safety first!  Split the filling evenly between them, and it's time to bake.

40 minutes at 350 does wonders for a formerly-homely pie.

It's worth noting that baking time on this recipe can vary quite a lot - I've had one pie take as long as an hour to really set up.  When the custard is nicely set and starts developing some cracks along the top, it's done.  A knife poked in should also come out clean.

After letting them cool for a few minutes, refrigerate your pies a minimum of 1-2 hours before serving.  It goes particularly well with coffee.


Recipe: Lemon Chess Pie

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 40 minutes   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 6-8.

  • 2 9" Pie Shells, frozen
  • 4 whole Lemons, which will become:
    • 1/2 cup Lemon Juice
    • 3-4 Tbsp Lemon Zest
  • 1 1/2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 Eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose Flour

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add beaten eggs and milk and mix well.

Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and flour.  Mix until smooth.

Pour filling into two 9" pie shells.

Set shells on a baking sheet, and bake 40 minutes until custard is set, golden on top, and beginning to crack.

Refrigerate 1-2 hours before serving.

Friday, May 6, 2011

BBQ Chicken Pizza

I'm a born-and-raised Chicagoan, so it goes without saying that I love pizza.  Real pizza, mind you, not that flappy, sagging nonsense they try to pass off in New York.  I'm hardly one to limit my pizza love to the traditional, though.  Barbecue sauce has always been my condiment of choice - who needs ketchup when you could be using barbecue!?  Sometimes, the same goes for other tomato products, like, say, pizza sauce.

Now, this is no California Pizza Kitchen pizza.  This is hearty, in-your-face barbecue pizza.  And no cilantro.  Nothing against it in general, but I just don't think it has a place on my BBQ pizza.

It's a nice, simple cast of characters.  The way I usually prepare this pizza, I take some shortcuts, so it's quite a quick prep.  Skipping the shortcuts can result in a slightly more customized pie, but there's really no shame in using somebody else's chicken and crust.  This is a fantastic use for leftover chicken, too.

So, chicken.  The easy, safe bet is to grab a supermarket rotisserie chicken and take all the meat off the bone.  If you want to roast some up yourself or use leftovers, more power to you.

As for the crust, I usually go for pre-made.  I know, pre-made pizza crust is bad.  Like, quite bad.  However, we're going to pile so much goodness on it that I promise, you won't even notice.  If you have the time to make your own, though, do it!

As for the rest, you'll need your favorite barbecue sauce, some onion and fresh mushrooms, and some cheese - I like to mix mozzarella and cheddar.  It's as easy as that!

Give your onion a rough chop into topping-sized bites.  I like mine quite large for this particular pizza.  No need for subtle, fine dicing here.  Toss the chopped onion and your mushrooms into a skillet with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper and sautee for a couple of minutes.  Not too much - they'll cook a bit on the plate.  Basically, just give them a flip-and-stir time and again while you're breaking down the chicken.

In just a couple of minutes, you'll have all of your toppings ready.  Break the chicken down into bite-sized pieces.  Fingers are your best tool, if you're using a rotisserie chicken.  A knife will just get in your way.

 By the time your veggies look like this...

Your chicken should be looking like this.

Now add one to the other in the skillet, and give it just a dollop of barbecue sauce before mixing it all together.  This keeps anything from drying out during baking, and ensures that absolutely every bite of the finished product is full of barbecue flavor.

Time to assemble!  First, rub a bit of olive oil into your crust.

Follow that up with a generous amount of barbecue sauce.  How much you need depends on the thickness of your particular brand.  But, really, don't be afraid to go bold.  This pizza is all about the barbecue, after all.

Now dump the toppings out from the skillet onto the crust.  There will be a whooole lot of toppings.  I told you this wasn't a subtle, namby-pamby pizza, didn't I?

Now cheese it!  I like to use a thin layer of mozzarella, covered by a thin layer of cheddar.  Lots of alternatives also work great, though - Colby and Monterey Jack are certainly worth a mention.

For those about to bake: we salute you!

10-12 minutes of bake-time in a 400 degree oven, and your pizza will emerge looking like the beauty just above.  Let it cool a few minutes, and serve with a nice, fresh salad.  If you want to class it up a bit, this goes great with a crisp Riesling.

Recipe: Barbecue Chicken Pizza

Prep Time: 10-15 minutes   |   Cook Time: 10-15 Minutes   |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 6-8.

  • 2 Pizza Crusts, frozen or pre-packaged
  • 1-2 pounds Chicken, rotisserie or roasted
  • .5-1 cups Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 cup Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 cup Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 large Sweet Onion
  • 8 ounces miniature Portabella Mushrooms, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Rough-chop onion into large chunks.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sautee chopped onions and mushrooms 2-3 minutes until just beginning to soften.

While vegetables are sauteeing, break down chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Once vegetables have cooked a few minutes, add chicken to skillet along with 2-3 tablespoons barbecue sauce.  Mix well.

Lightly oil pizza crusts.  Top with 1/4 cup barbecue sauce per crust and spread evenly across surface.  Add additional sauce as needed to cover.

Spread toppings from skillet evenly over crust.  Top each pizza with a thin layer of both mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, about 1/4-1/2 cup of each.

Bake pizzas 10-12 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown.

Cool 5-10 minutes and serve with salad.