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Day Thirty Four: Pupusas de Chicharrones

19 Aug

Normally, I wouldn’t be into anything labeled “chicharrones”. Even though I love pork, I’m not particularly fond of pork skin. Sin, I know. But lucky for me, in El Salvador, chicharrones means something different, and something way better in my opinion. It is essentially pork that has been boiled, then fried in it’s own fat, then minced or pureed into pure deliciousness with a tomato-based sauce. What isn’t to like about that?

Latin American food is heaven sent when it comes to eating a gluten-free diet. Take for instance the pupusa, basically El Salvador’s answer to a real gordita (not Taco Bell’s pathetic rendition) or an arepa. A homemade corn tortilla stuffed with fillings like meat, beans, cheese, etc, with a traditional offering being the Pupusa de Chicharrones. That brings us to day 33.

I was super excited to make these. Fresh tortillas are fantastic, but a filled one is even better. And really, it is quite easy. Time consuming, maybe, but a lot of it is unattended since you have to cook that pork down real good before frying it. The recipe below is an adaptation of one I found on Food Network here.

I served these with the traditional accompaniment, cortido – a simple slaw you serve on top of the pupusa. It is a bit fermented, as you are supposed to leave it out for a while at room temperature. It is tangy, crunchy goodness that pairs very well with the pupusa. You really can’t skip this part if you want the real deal. I also fried up some yuca that I bought at the store yesterday, and grilled up some corn from the farmer’s market.

Overall, this was good, but not great. The dough dries out pretty quickly, which made some of the last ones a bit dry. But the filling, which is the most important part of course, was very tasty. The recipe below makes WAY more than you’ll need, unless you plan on making 800 pupusas. Christian ended up piling extra filling on top of the pupusa, whereas I used it for a pork sandwich the following day for lunch. Delish.

I have to apologize (yet again) for the crappy pictures here. Our “good” camera was out and about with Christian, so I was stuck without it. I promise you, they taste better than they look!

Pupusas de Chicharrones

  • 1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 jalepeno, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp Mexican oregano
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup cotija cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 3/4 cups masa harina
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Place the pork in a crockpot with garlic, onion, water and 1/2 of the chopped jalepeno. Cook on low for 6 hours, until tender.

When done, transfer pork and juices to a large heavy pot (enameled cast iron, for example); cook over high heat so that the pork starts to fry in the juices and fat. Cook until most liquid is gone. Add the tomatoes, rest of the jalepeno, oregano, cinnamon, and salt/pepper to taste. Cook over medium low, covered, until thick and very little liquid is remaining. You’ll want to stir a lot in order to break up the meat – you want it to really incorporate with the sauce. Set aside to cool, then stir in the cheese.

To make the dough, combine the masa harina with water and salt until you have a dough; let stand for about 20 minutes. Add more water so the dough becomes very soft, like Play-Doh, but not sticky. Divide into 8 balls and cover with a moist paper towel.

Take each ball and press your thumb into the middle to form an indentation, then turn the dough to begin to flatten it into a disk. Add some filling to the center and bring the edges together over the filling; squeeze to form a seal. Gently press each dough ball into a flattened disk that resembles a thick pancake. Repeat with remaining dough.

Brush each pupusa with oil and place them on a heated and greased griddle. Cook until puffy, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve with the cortido on top.


Day Thirty Two: Grilled Pork Kebabs with Basil Chimichurri

12 Jul

I have a bad habit of buying basil and never being able to finish it before it goes bad. At Whole Foods, or at least ours, you have to buy a rather large container of it and frankly, not everything I cook works well with basil. I’m also not big on making a ton of pesto to freeze – I just find it so much better when it is freshly made. But that is just me.

Anyway, so I decided that I was not going to waste basil this time. It is just too good to waste, and I get so mad every time I realize I’ve made that mistake, yet again. I used some this week for a chilled roasted beet side dish, but had a ton left over. That led to this recipe, one that I thought would be great way to use more of it up. A fresh basil chimichurri would definitely pair well with marinated and grilled pork kebabs, right? Yep, it did.

This recipe is so darn easy, it is like child’s play. Some of the best recipes are the simplest, with no complicated methods, ingredients or flavors. Marinate the meat overnight and grill, throw sauce ingredients together in a bowl and mix for 30 seconds. Done. It would really make a great dish when you don’t have a lot of time or don’t want to be cooking when you have guests over, since the sauce and pork is mostly prepared ahead of time. All you have to do at game time is grill.

The fresh flavors make this a great summer meal. I served it with a roasted fingerling potato and arugula salad and some grilled spring onions, as well as an Argentinian Malbec – delicious side dishes and wine. The pork was juicy, tender, and nicely charred on the outside, with just the right amount of lemon coming through from the marinade. The chimichurri added to the bright flavors and pulled it together nicely. The dinner really was perfect for eating outside on the deck overlooking Lake Tahoe (well, what we see of it at least). We finally have summer here, and the weather is just too good not to be eating every single meal al fresco.

Note that the recipe will probably yield more chimichurri than you’ll need. I’m planning to use the rest mixed with roasted fingerling potatoes, or perhaps on some grilled chicken. I have a feeling it would be good with anything, really, even just eaten on it’s own!

Grilled Pork Kebabs with Basil Chimichurri

(Serves about 3)

For Pork and Marinade:

  • 1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut int 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
For Basil Chimichurri:
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped basil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Combine marinade ingredients together in a bowl and transfer to a ziploc bag or dish. Add pork and move around to coat. Marinade up to 24 hours in refrigerator.

About 2 hours before you are ready to grill, make the chimichurri. Combine sauce ingredients together and cover; transfer to refrigerator until ready to use. You’ll want the flavors to infuse and develop before you serve it.

Prepare grill at medium (with a gas grill) until hot. Put pork pieces on metal skewers and grill until done, turning once, about 14 minutes total.

To serve, remove pieces of pork and put on plate; top with chimichurri.

Day Twenty Eight: Five Spice Grilled Pork Crepes

23 Apr

Typically, I try to cook food that goes with the weather outside. Comfort foods when it is cold and snowy (or rainy) and grilled, lighter dishes when it is sunny outside. Last night was an exception to this.

Lake Tahoe weathermen are notoriously clueless around this time of year. Just 2 days ago, sun was forecast for Friday and Saturday so, as a result, I decided that I’d grill outside and planned my weekly menu accordingly. To my (not) surprise, I woke up Friday morning to cloudy skies, which quickly turned into snow. I’m so darn sick of this snow and now it seems worse since it is throwing a wrench into my cooking plans. I should have known better, but I think my yearning for warm sunny skies has clouded all reason out of my brain.

Anyway, I didn’t care that it was snaining outside, I was still going to grill. What came out of it was a fresh, pleasant, flavorful meal that made you forget about the dismal skies outside.

This dish was full of flavor – Chinese five spice, plum sauce and fresh cilantro. It was sort of a play on soft tacos, with Asian influence and crepes in lieu of corn or flour tortillas. The pork had a nice charred crust on the outside, but the meat itself inside was juicy and tender. Yum. The crepes, made with rice flour, were light and very tasty – undetectably gluten-free, a plus in our house. Thanks to The Book of Yum website for a great base recipe to tinker with. It is very adaptable and great for savory or sweet recipes. .

Also a great attribute about this dish? It is wonderfully easy. Crepes can be made ahead and the pork only takes about 8 minutes to cook. Chopping vegetables is a no brainer.

This is a must try, and would be even better sitting outside on a nice sunny deck. I served this along side some stir-fried Chinese long beans with almonds and some simple steamed brown rice.

Five Spice Pork Crepes

(Makes about 9 crepes, or 3 servings)

(Crepe recipe adapted from The Book of Yum)

  • 1 1/4 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2″ to 1″ cubes
  • 2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • Pinch of cayenne, to taste (omit if the five spice has Schezuan peppercorns, or if you don’t like too much spice)
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • Cilantro, chopped (up to you how much)
  • Thinly sliced lettuce (as much as you want)
  • Bottled Plum Sauce (amount is dependent on how much you want to use)
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tbsp sherry
  • 3/4 cup milk

To make the crepe batter, whisk rice flour through milk together.  Let stand for about 30 minutes. Heat a small skillet/crepe pan over medium high heat. Add just enough oil to thinly coat. Lifting the pan off the heat, pour in 2 tbsp of the batter, swirling to coat the batter evenly on the pan. Return to heat and cook about 2 minutes, until you can lift the crepe up. Flip and cook another minute. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining batter, coating with oil between each crepe. If not using right away, wrap in foil and keep in a warm oven.

In a bowl, add the five spice and cayenne. Add pork and toss to coat. Thread onto metal skewers. Set aside until ready to grill.

Prepare a grill to medium high heat. Brush the pork on both sides with vegetable oil and grill, about 4 minutes. Flip, and continue cooking another 4 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest a few minutes, then remove from skewer. Chop the pork – I cut my cubes in half.

To serve, spread plum sauce on a crepe and add some pork. Top with cilantro, carrots, lettuce and drizzle with more plum sauce. Fold and repeat with remaining crepes.

Day Twenty Five: Grilled Pork Shoulder Steaks

3 Apr

Thursday was amazingly beautiful – bright blue skies and warm temperatures. I think I can officially say that Spring has sprung. With this great weather came the desire to grill. After a long winter, we need to capitalize on these sunny days and be outside as much as possible. This wasn’t my original plan for dinner, but could not imagine being inside, braising something in the oven for hours. So instead, I looked at what I had and worked with it. Our newest CSA box on Wednesday was quite helpful, providing lots of goodies to use.

I had never made pork shoulder steaks, but couldn’t see why they would be bad. However, since I started cooking in the late afternoon, I couldn’t throw it on the grill at a super low temperature and let it cook for ever – I had to improvise. I came across a recipe on Mark Bittman’s website for a pork shoulder steak that was braised then grilled. This seemed to be the answer to my time issue – get it tender and then grill. I decided to braise the meat in a low oven, rather than on the stovetop – this can work both ways.

My recipe includes an orange marmalade glaze, which when on the grill, caramelizes the outside of the meat nicely. It adds a little sweetness that pulls it all together. Despite the dual process cooking, the recipe was really easy. And the results were great. I admit that the meat could have been more tender, but I became impatient and didn’t braise it as long as I should have. I let it go for about 1 hour, but really should have gone about 30 minutes more. But as I said, it was still successful and I’d definitely make this again.

I served this with a homemade bread pudding made with leftover cornbread, fresh swiss chard and green garlic from our CSA. Yum. This was a great partner to the meat. And, it was yet another sneaky way I found to get my husband to eat greens. Success on both fronts!

Grilled Pork Shoulder Steaks

(serves 3)

  • 1 lb pork shoulder, cut into 3 even steaks about 3/4″ thick
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tsp orange marmalade
  • salt and pepper

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix the brown sugar, chili powder, cayenne and cumin together in a bowl. Sprinkle the meat on both sides with salt and pepper, then coat in the spice mixture.

Heat some olive oil in a saute pan with lid over high heat. When hot, add the pork and brown on both sides, turning once, for about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove pork and set aside.

Add the whiskey to the pan and reduce. Add the wine and broth; bring to a boil. Return the pork to the pan and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat, and transfer to the oven. Braise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until tender.

When pork is almost done, preheat a grill to cook over medium high heat.

Remove pork from oven and set aside. Bring the pan juices to a boil and reduce by about 1/4. Add the marmalade to the pan and stir to dissolve. Continue cooking until the glaze is thick and has a consistency like honey. Remove from heat.

Brush one side of the pork with the glaze and place on the grill, glaze side down. Glaze the other side. Cook for about 3 minutes, until meat has browned and has grill marks. Turn over and repeat.

To serve, place the pork on a plate and drizzle with the remaining glaze.

Cornbread Bread Pudding with Chard and Green Garlic

(Makes 3 servings)

  • 2 cups leftover cornbread, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 bunch swiss chard, stems removed chopped into large pieces
  • 1 stalk green garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

If the cornbread is not stale, place in the oven for about 10 minutes to dry the outside.

Toss the chard with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and cook until beginning to crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. (If you do not want to roast it, you can saute the greens. Or, quickly boil them but be sure to squeeze out all of the excess water).

In the meantime, heat some olive oil in a saute pan and cook the garlic, until it begins to brown. When done, add to the chard and toss to combine.

In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cream, nutmeg and thyme. Add the cornbread pieces and toss well to coat. Let sit for about 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the chard/garlic mixture, and season with salt and pepper.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Butter 3 ramekins, about 6 to 7 oz each. Distribute the bread mixture to the ramekins evenly. (This can be done a few hours ahead of time – cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until ready to bake).

Put the ramekins in a baking dish and add warm water, enough to get to about 1/2 the was up the sides of the ramekins. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the puddings are warm throughout and crispy on top. Remove and let cool slightly. Serve warm.

Day Seventeen: Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork

16 Jan

On our way down to the SF Bay Area for Christmas, we stopped in Davis for lunch. Christian was insistent on finding a banh mi sandwich, something he’s never tried but needed to have. So I brought up Yelp on my phone and found a little Vietnamese place in downtown Davis with great reviews for their banh mi. I must also note here that the sandwiches were only $2.50 each, so you could really have quite a banh mi feast there. Apparently they were fantastic.

Since  I can’t eat them, I ended up ordering a gigantic noodle bowl with beef. Really, nothing is better than a bowl of rice noodles combined with super fresh vegetables and herbs, along with tender meat and sweet but sour and spicy nuoc cham sauce. So good. I don’t think that is a dish I will ever get sick of. I love digging into the bowl with my chopsticks, uncovering all the great treats hidden below the noodles.

In honor of the fabulous Vietnamese noodle bowl, and continuing with my light Asian-inspired track, I made up my version of this dish. The pork shoulder was cut into thin strips and then pounded out to tenderize and make the slices even thinner. This way, the pork would get nice and crispy…..and it was. Because it is winter, I opted to broil the pork, but I imagine this would be fabulous grilled in the summer. The flavors were fresh and subtle, but tasted great, and the crispness of the pork was a nice contrast to the soft noodles. The noodle bowl was very easy to put together in a short period of time.

Vietnamese Noodle Bowl with Grilled Pork

  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, sliced
  • 2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 serrano pepper, sliced thin and divided
  • 1 lb pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 carrot, sliced into strips
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz thin rice noodles
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced into strips
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Cut the pork into thin strips and pound, using a tenderizer. Place in bowl and add 2 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tbsp sugar, the lemongrass, 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 garlic clove and 1/2 of the pepper. Marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

To make the sauce, add the lime juice, shredded carrots, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 garlic clove and the remaining pepper to a bowl. Set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan and when hot, fry the shallots. When done, drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Preheat the broiler and place pork strips on a baking pan. Broil, turning the pork twice, until browned and crispy. When done, remove and chop the pork into small pieces.

Meanwhile, cook the rice noodles according to package instructions.

On a plate or bowl, add the cabbage, remaining pepper, carrot and cucumber. Top with the rice noodles and toss with the sauce, then add the pork and herbs.

Day Seven: Pork Souvlaki

5 Nov

I have really wanted some souvlaki lately. I’ve never made it, just eaten it, and it is so good. Searching around for recipes today was a bit annoying because I didn’t want to have to grill, and most souvlaki dishes start with skewered grilled meat. I find that one of the reasons I love pork shoulder so much is the flavor it gets from cooking in its own juices and fat, and grilling would essentially eliminate that, in my opinion. Normally, I’m all over the grill, but not today.

I was very pleased when I came across a simple souvlaki recipe from Food & Wine because it met three criteria I had established today: 1) most importantly, it was not grilled; 2) it uses a cast iron skillet, which I just love to use; and 3) I could make tzatziki with the Greek yogurt we’ve got in the fridge. I didn’t use their tzatziki recipe exactly, although I’m sure it is delicious (I prefer mine with some lemon and a bit more mint).  But the actual pork part is from their recipe, just cut in half for 2 servings, and some alteration to the cooking time. I found the meat needed more cooking time to get a good crust on the outside, and then reducing the heat and covering let it simmer a bit in the juices.

Try to make the sauce ahead of time so that the flavors really develop. The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for the souvlaki – it is really good as a dip with veggies, crackers or chips. Dill is a great substitute for the mint if you either don’t have some or don’t want mint. Also, if you’re not using pitas (like me), it is equally good with the sauce on the side for dipping.


Pork Souvlaki with Tzatziki

(adapted from Food & Wine)

  • 3/4 lb pork shoulder, cut into 3″ by 1/2″ strips
  • 1/2 onion, cut into wedges through the root end
  • 1/8 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed into a paste
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • warmed pitas, for serving

Place a sieve or colander over a bowl. Put the cucumber slices in the colander and sprinkle liberally with salt. Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Remove the cucumber from the sieve and squeeze to get more water out. Mix with the mint, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor. Process until chopped up pretty good.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in yogurt. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Toss the pork with the onion, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Heat a cast iron pan until very hot. Add the pork and onion, along with the marinade. Cook on high, two or three times, until charred about – about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cover; cook for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and serve with tzatziki and pitas (if using).


Day One: Pork Burgers with Apple-Onion Chutney

8 Oct

Instead of kicking things off with the standard slow cooked, pulled-style pork, I opted for something different. Burgers. For the past two summers I’ve been trying to perfect the burger, after reading a New York Times article on the subject. The most important thing I took away was the fat to meat ratio – the more fat, the better. Since the shoulder has so much fat, it fits the bill. I ended up making pork burgers with an apple-onion chutney, incorporating flavors typical of a fall season pork dish. While there are things that could be improved on (like, oh, maybe adding a compound butter to the center like I do with beef burgers), they turned out really well – juicy and tasty.

The recipe is below. I don’t have a specific quantity for the meat, since I just sort of chopped off a big chunk from a larger shoulder. I’d say that I probably used about 3/4 lb, which yielded 3 burgers. I also ground the pork at home in the food processor – I cubed the shoulder into about 1 to 1 1/2 inch chunks, and cut off as much of the fat as I could. I processed the fat and meat separately since it takes a bit more work to break down fat, and then combined the two.

Pork Shoulder Burgers with Apple-Onion Chutney

  • 1 apple
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pork shoulder, ground
  • jack cheese, sliced or grated
  • arugula
  • hamburger buns (or whatever bread/roll you like)

Combine the first nine ingredients (apple through balsamic) in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 min to an hour, until it is thick and the liquid is reduced.

Mix the dijon mustard with the ground pork, and form into patties. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a cast iron skillet (or grill) until very hot, over high heat. You want the pan very very hot to get a good crust. Cook the patties about 5 to 6 minutes per side (or more depending on thickness). Only turn once.  When the burgers are almost done, add the cheese and let melt.

Place some arugula on the bottom bun and top with the burger. Spoon the chutney over the burger.


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