Thursday, June 19, 2014

Basic Pulled Pork

Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour. – William Cowper

Summer is almost upon us, starting here in Nova Scotia 9:02am on Saturday. So let the outdoor feasting begin!

You may not think of pulled pork right away as a barbecue staple, but it most certainly should be  backyard staple for you this season. It’s unbelievably useful, and doesn’t have to be done on the barbecue, so can be made any time of the year.

But there’s upsides and downsides to everything. The upside is that a 2, 3 or 4 kg piece of pork makes quite a lot. The downside is that it makes quite a lot. If you’re not feeding a crew you will have leftovers. So what can you do with it?

Most think of pulled pork as barbecue flavoured, sometimes made with the introduction of barbecue sauce after it is cooked, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A basic recipe, without barbecue sauce, gives you the tender strands you want, without a specific flavour. So you can add different spices to it later as you want.

Liquid should come half-way up the meat.
Here’s some uses for pulled pork you may not think of: in quesadillas or enchiladas, mixed with macaroni and cheese, in Cajun rice and beans, on pizza, in Asian stir fries and even with salads. You can see by the list that BBQ sauce wouldn't always be desirable.

Most important for success is the cut of meat you use. One of the best is pork shoulder (called pork butt in the USA). It has lots of in-muscle fat and connective tissues that render down during the slow cooking process. This is what makes the meat so tender. You cannot make pulled pork with a lean cut. You just can’t.

Another, sometimes overlooked factor, is the introduction of acid into the braising liquid. It helps tenderize. I used pineapple juice, but any acidic juice could be used. You could even use beer. The FDA gives pineapples an acid pH ranking of approximately 3.35 to 4.1, so any liquid that’s somewhat acid will do the trick.

I added smokey barbecue sauce, cumin and more oregano to my pulled pork after it was cooked. Delicious!

And yes, I still have leftovers...

Test by pulling with a fork.
Basic Pulled Pork
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 2+ hours
2kg pork shoulder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chilli powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
pineapple juice, or other light acid
2 tsp dried oregano
6 garlic cloves, whole peeled
1 medium red onion, sliced

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Remove the skin and majority of fat from the pork shoulder and discard.

Mix together the chilli, salt and pepper and rub the mixture into the surface of the meat. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and sear the meat on all sides.

Add just enough pineapple juice to come half way up the side of the pork. Sprinkle with oregano and nestle in the garlic and onion. Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, test the meat by trying to pull it apart with two forks. If there is resistance continue to cook for half hour intervals until it does. The meat will be falling off the bone. My 2Kg took 2 hours. Larger cuts will take longer.

After the pork is done, remove from the pot, let cool and pull into long strands with forks or your fingers. 

Reduce the remaining liquid, garlic and onion in the pot by half on top of the stove. Add the shredded pork and let cook until nearly dry.


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spam. The kind you eat and the kind you don’t.

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. – W. C. Fields

If you have a blog you’re going to dine on spam. Sometimes lots of spam. I get spam on a regular basis. Alas, but none to eat.

Did you know that “Spam” the product is SPiced hAM, first introduced by Hormel Foods in 1937? It’s supposedly good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mmmm... It’s never touched my lips. It does make one wonder what the folks who make Spam actually think of the word being used for junk.

But back to my spam. I thought I would share with you this week’s platter. Who do they think they’re fooling? Idiots. I know that it is automatically generated, but please. If you’re going to spam me at least have the courtesy to spell correctly –  or make sense. My “real” comments do, for the most part! 

I have to say Blogger’s spam filter is pretty good. I’ve only had a few slip through in my years of blogging. I know there’s ways to lessen getting it, but then what would I read?

So without further ado, here’s a few. I thought you might enjoy them. A link to actual Spam (meat?) recipes follows at the very bottom. Incorrect spelling is from cut and paste.

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But now, if you want to dine on spam that’s more filling take a look here. There seems to be a preponderance of “sushi” spam recipes. Kind of turns one off their breakfast (lunch or dinner), but lots of fun none the less.


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seared hoisin tofu with radish & bok choy

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever. – Thomas Aquinas

Does plastic-wrapped tofu ever go bad? I found a package in the refrigerator that I had forgotten a long, long time ago.

Never one to shy away from an “experiment,” I decided to use it. It looked fine, and smelled fine. Tofu, by its very nature, is a fermented product, so I felt fairly safe.

Now I don’t advocate ignoring “best by” dates on food, but did you know that many expiration dates have nothing to do with food safety.

It can be confusing. Here’s a quick break down by the language used on packaging. But don’t take my word as gospel. If you have any worries, listen to your inner alarm.

Use-By / Best By / Best Before Date
These terms are usually found on shelf-stable products like mustard and peanut butter. This date is the manufacturer’s date when the product begins to loose “peak” freshness when unopened. 

It has nothing to do with it being spoiled. Products dated this way may begin to loose colour, texture, etc., after this time. By examining the product you can easily tell if it’s bad.

And fermented products, even after being opened, are an entirely different ball of wax. Fish sauce, kimchi and the like can last a very, very long time. Very, very long.

Sell-By Date
This is used on perishable items like meats, fish and dairy. It’s for stores to know how long to display an item. After that time it starts to look a little ratty. 

Expires On Date
This is a date that has been legislated for safety by the government. Use it before the date or toss it. Buh-bye.

Of course, use common sense when eating food that you’ve had for a while. But there are many resources to find out how long foods will last. Google is your friend.

The tofu looked fine, smelled fine and tasted fine. And I lived to tell the tale. Actually this recipe was one of the better tofu dishes I’ve ever had.

Seared hoisin tofu with radish & bok choy
Time: 15 min  |  Serves 2 or 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 Thai bird eye chillies, diced
1 lb extra firm tofu
1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
2 tbsp hoisin
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 baby bok choy
1/2 cup sliced radish (or daikon)
1 bunch green onion
1 tsp five spice powder
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a wide skillet with the garlic and chilli. Sauté for a minute or two. Don’t burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and chilli and set aside.*

While the garlic and chilli is infusing the oil, slice the tofu in half and then into 8 pieces. Add the tofu and brown well on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while it is cooking.

While the tofu browns, pull the bok choy apart into individual leaves, thinly slice the radishes and chop the green onions. Set aside. Mix together the water, hoisin and soy. For a deeper flavour you can also add a couple teaspoons of fish sauce.

After the tofu is browned, add the hoisin mixture. Let the mixture evaporate until it thickens and coats the tofu on both sides. Do not let the sauce disappear completely, just thicken. Remove the tofu to a plate.

Add the bok choy, radish and green onion. Sprinkle with the five spice powder and some salt and pepper. Cook until the bok choy leaves have wilted slightly.

Serve with a dollop of additional hoisin on each plate.

* I left my garlic and chilli in the pan, but it’s very easy to burn when cooking the tofu. So it’s easier to remove them and add back with the bok choy.


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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Small Garden: Update 1

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the main garden, with the tasty things that deer like to nibble.
Hence, the fence. (I'm a poet and don't know it.)

It’s been a while again, I know... Hopefully this will assuage my guilty conscience. And what better way to do it than to talk about what’s growing in our small garden. Our veggie garden.

Whoever plants a seed shows faith in tomorrow. If we had no hope we would plant no seeds. Nurturing takes time, like a garden, and the benefits of your spent love and devotion might not be immediately evident. But day by day the seeds you plant will grow, until you reap the harvest.

Left, radishes that need thinning; right, peas starting their reach for the sky.

Planting a garden, physically or metaphorically, is a balm for the soul, and not strictly in a religious sense. The attention we pay to what or who we care about will come back to us ten-fold. To grow we must nurture, ourselves and others.

But back to plants... You might say that you don’t have room. Hogwash. If you have a sun-lit patio you have room.

This is the other smaller bed, containing herbs in the front and
veggies in the back. They have just started to sprout.
Luckily here in the country we have a little actual ground. Not much, but enough. This is the second year we have put seed to soil here, and will apply last year’s lessons to this year’s garden. My spouse and I planted our patch 13 days ago today. There has been activity, plus a couple light frosts.

So what did we put in? I will forget some things so bear with me.

Kale, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, radishes, rainbow chard, salad greens, peas, beans, pumpkin and squash. I am forgetting a couple.

We also have a perennial herb bed consisting of sage, chives, two thymes and oregano. For tender plants we put in Italian parsley, cilantro and rosemary. Tarragon and basil will follow in a couple weeks. There is nothing better than running outside to gather enough basil for a pesto. Nothing.

We have several fruits growing. What you see above is unripe
haskap berries. We also have blueberries, raspberries and
blackberries. Some grapes are on trellises as well.
If you think about what we've planted you can understand when I say that last summer the only thing I bought at the store was meat, eggs and dairy. I usually make my own bread.

Growing your own vegetables is not a difficult thing to do, and it is not too late. I know friends who are just thinking now is the time to plant. Some don’t until after the Strawberry moon (the full moon of June 12-13), after which all risk of frost is supposed to be past.

I’ve looked at the 2-week forecast. We’re hovering around 10°+ overnight. So I’m glad we didn’t wait. As it was, I knew we were planting later than my father ever did. I could even hear his voice.

Since we planted, there were two instances when we had to cover the squash, pumpkin and tomato plants to protect them from frost, but they came through.

If you don’t want to start seed, now is the time to get to the garden centre. There are tons of plant “sets” probably further along than anything in our garden. So if you’re willing to shell out the cash, you can insta-garden this year.

Regardless of how you do it, you should really take part in your own food security. The cost of a few packets of seeds (or some plants) is far surpassed by the bounty you will harvest.

Back left is the herb bed. We haven;'t invested a lot of real estate for the
amount of food we get. We did cut back on the tomatoes this year.
Last year I was running out of ideas to deal with them.

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