Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

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Ando made this for Thidz’ birthday last week and it went down so well that he suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is, adapted to his standards.  While the whole thing takes a little while to prepare, it’s all easy stuff that you can do in stages.  I ended up having most of it ready in the morning and then just chucked it together at the end and baked it.  But we’ll work from the bottom up on this layered casserole.  Also, the recipe says it serves 8, but really it serves 4 because you are going to want seconds.

BOTTOM:

Preheat your oven to 425°F and spray a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray.  My pan was a little wider, but that’s fine.

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In a teeny bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and some salt and ground black pepper to taste.

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Peel 2 medium sweet potatoes.  I only had large ones, so I opted to just do one, but I could have used both and it would have been fine.

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Use a mandoline to shave off super thin slices.

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Chuck those pieces in a bowl, drizzle with a few tablespoons vegetable oil, and add in your spice mix.  Toss with your hands until the oil and spices evenly coat all the potato pieces.

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Layer the sweet potato slices evenly in the bottom of the pan.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are softened and starting to brown.  Ando wanted to bake them longer to make them more crisp, so I tried that, but I found that once you piled the rest of the ingredients on top they went soft again anyway, so don’t worry too much about that.  The Pie hoped for a thicker layer of sweet potatoes (because I only used the one potato and my pan was wider), so next time I would go for two.

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MIDDLE:

Grab yourself some pork tenderloin.  I had a boneless pork loin rib here that was on stupid sale so I used that.

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You’ll need 2lbs pork, cut into 2″ chunks.  If I did this again, I would cut the chunks larger, just so your pulled pork strings end up being decently long.

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Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add in the meat.  It goes gray almost immediately, which is kind of gross.  Reduce to a simmer and leave that on the go for about an hour.

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Drain the pork and use 2 forks to shred it into little pieces.

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Then you’re going to need some barbecue sauce.  Ando expressed concern that the sauce tended to overpower the more delicate flavours of the macaroni and cheese on top, so we picked out a milder apple butter sauce and it worked out fantastically.  The sweetness of the apple really worked well with the pork.

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So you pour 14oz barbecue sauce all over your pork and mix it in.

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Then you add in 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and stir that in as well, then set the whole thing aside.

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TOP:

Bring another saucepan of water to a boil and add a pinch or two of salt.  When it’s boiling, add in 8oz elbow pasta (MACARONI) and cook according to your package instructions.  When it’s ready, drain the water, saving about 1/4 cup of it.  Add the water back to the pasta in the pot.

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Add to the pasta 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (I think the sharper the better), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere (we used Jarlsberg), and 1/4 cup creme fraiche (which is next to impossible to find in Newfoundland, so we used sour cream instead).  Because Ando suggested boosting the flavour of the mac, I added a few crumbles of blue cheese (Rochefort) as well.

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Stir that up until it’s all melted, then add a few drops of hot sauce (we used Tabasco) to taste.

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Season it with salt and pepper and set it aside.

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CRUST:

Melt 1/4 cup butter and stir it up with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.

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ASSEMBLY:

Smooth the pulled pork over the sweet potatoes.

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Dollop the macaroni on top of that and flatten it down a bit.

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Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of that to completely cover the macaroni.

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Bake for 15 minutes, until the casserole is hot through and the bread crumbs are browned.

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DISASSEMBLY:

Ideally you should be able to pop open the springform pan and cut this puppy like a cake.  My pork ended up being supremely saucy and thus too slithery to be architecturally sound in terms of casserole structure.  Meaning I tried to pop off the frame and then the whole thing went sideways — literally and figuratively.  So we just scooped it out with spoons, hence the lack of presentation.  Didn’t matter.  Ate it anyway.  And it was awesome.  Thanks Ando!

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Eggs Benny, Two Ways

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Two weeks ago the Pie and I decided to head downtown for a late Saturday breakfast and we ended up at the Bagel Cafe, which is consistently voted as having the best breakfast in town almost every year.  We’d never been before, so it was an interesting experience — the place is pretty cozy so I wouldn’t recommend going in a big group — but the menu was massive and I had the best breakfast I have ever had.  It was eggs Benedict served with a sliver of smoked salmon and a dreamy, creamy Hollandaise, but instead of the standard English muffin, this poached beauty was perched atop a genuine Newfoundland cod fish cake.  It was truly one of the more divine things I have eaten in recent memory.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.  So I had to recreate it.  I mean, who did I think I was?  This, then, is what I did the following weekend.

So first, for the man I married who refuses to eat fish, I whipped up another batch of English muffins.  And then I learned that he has never had eggs Benedict before.  I was shocked.  I order them pretty much every time we go out for breakfast, but it never occurred to me to find out if he had ever done the same.  And then I made the fish cakes, which conveniently store well in the refrigerator.

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For the Hollandaise, you want to get your whisking arm limbered up.  Set a large pot of water to simmer on your stove and find a metal bowl that fits snugly over the opening but that does not touch the water (if you’re poaching eggs you probably have a large pot of water already on the simmer so this makes things easy).  While that’s heating up melt as well 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and set that somewhere convenient.

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Into the metal bowl goes 3 egg yolks and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Whisk that until it’s frothy.  

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Set the bowl over the pot and keep whisking.  Lift the bowl away from the heat every once in a while to make sure that it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.

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Keep whisking until you produce a thick creamy substance that forms strings when you lift the whisk away.  This is called a sabayon, and that’s basically the structure of your Hollandaise base right there.

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Away from the heat, and whisking all the while, trickle in your nice hot melted butter and mix until fully incorporated.

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Season with salt and pepper.

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And maybe a little Tabasco sauce.  Taste it and season again accordingly.

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Keep the Hollandaise warm (but not hot) while the rest of your chaotic morning is going on.  I did this by putting it a bowl of hot water.  This is enough sauce for 4-6 eggs, by the way.

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You should also be toasting your English muffins (if you’re using them) and frying up your fish cakes (which you should be eating because they’re awesome).  And if you’re using peameal bacon, fry that up as well.

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Now everything else is a matter of timing.  Everyone has their own methods for poaching eggs, and how long they take will depend on the size of the egg, how many you are cooking, water temperature, blah blah blah.  Gordon Ramsay had a neat tip, though: swirl the water into a vortex before sliding in your egg.  The circular direction of the water will ensure that all those little tendrils of egg will end up stuck to the egg itself, making the finished product nice and round.  I also tried the Julia Child method here, where you poke a small hole in the fat end of the egg with a pin.

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Then you get your water simmering and you dunk each egg for 10-15 seconds and then you haul them out.  This pre-cooks the whites a little bit so the egg stays in shape a bit better.

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THEN you add a bit of vinegar to the water.

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And crack your eggs into the barely simmering stuff, one by one. Let them do their thing for 3-4 minutes, depending on how hard you like ’em poached. When they were done I plopped them in a bowl of hot water to stay warm while I set everything up.  This also washes the vinegar off the eggs. Drain them on a clean towel before you put them on your muffins or they’ll get soggy.

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Smear a dab of Hollandaise on your toasted muffin, layer on a piece of peameal bacon, follow that with the egg and more Hollandaise and a sprinkle of parsley or chives and salt and pepper.

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Alternately, plop a dollop of sauce on your crispy fish cake, ladle on the egg, more sauce, and a flake of smoked salmon.

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Eat it while it’s hot!

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Antojitos!

Sorry again about the picture glitch folks! I thought I fixed the problem but I guess not …

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Happy Thanksgiving!  Let’s celebrate by making Tex-Mex food.  Seriously.  It’s been raining solid for like two days.

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I need something to remind me of warmer times and milder climes.

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There’s a restaurant chain here that we used to go to all the time.  Recently, we’ve been getting short-changed by them, with bad service, bad food, and, well, short change.  So we’ve stopped going.  The only thing we miss is their recipe for antojitos, a bizarre appetizer made of cream cheese and peppers.  It’s heavenly.  Fortunately, my hero Karen over at The Art of Doing Stuff, knows someone who knows the recipe and she posted it.  With a few modifications to reflect what was in our cupboards at the time, here it is.

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FINELY dice up a red pepper, a bunch of green onions, a jalapeño pepper or two (I used two fresno peppers because when I cracked open the jalapeño there was a WEEVIL in it), some pickled pepperoncini, and some parsley.  Also, not shown, is a diced red onion, which I didn’t have.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and find yourself a baking tray.

Take a large flour tortilla and spread it with softened plain cream cheese, all the way to the edge.  Not too thick, but don’t be stingy.  Use your judgment.  Then take some hot sauce (we used Tabasco) and dot it all over the cream cheese.  Use a knife to spread the sauce out so it covers everything evenly.

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Then take all your ingredients and sprinkle them evenly across the tortilla.  Not too much.  You’re going to need to roll this up later.

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Then add some grated cheddar cheese.

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Now roll the whole thing up tightly.  Shazam.  At this point you can wrap them up tightly in plastic wrap and freeze them to bake at a later date.  You know, if you don’t want to just stuff them all in your face.

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Put the roll on the baking sheet, seam side down, and do it all over again with another tortilla.  Using an entire block of cream cheese and the ingredients at hand we ended up making about six of these rolls.  Bake them for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool for a little bit.

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With a sharp knife (serrated helps), slice the rolls diagonally into 6 pieces or so and serve with sour cream.

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We had a few leftover, and boy were they good the next day!

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Panko Chicken with Savoury

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This is quick and crunchy and very handy if you’ve got a harried husband on his way out the door.

About an hour and a half before you want to eat, submerge 2 chicken breasts in about 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.  Add in some hot sauce (and/or tabasco) as well and leave that to marinate for an hour.  The acid in the buttermilk makes for a tender, juicy chicken that is hard to beat.

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When the chicken is marinated, preheat your oven to 400°F and generously spray a baking sheet.

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Pour about 1 cup panko crumbs (or other bread crumbs, brown rice ones if you are going for the gluten-free version) into a bowl with a pinch of sea salt and a tablespoon of dried savoury (or other dried herb of your choosing).

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Mix that all together.  Lift one of the chicken breasts out of the buttermilk and let it drain before dredging it in the panko crumbs until completely coated.

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Place the chicken on the baking sheet and repeat with the other breast.

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Bake for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the crumbs are starting to turn golden.  We served ours with some corn and carrots.  Mmm, tasty!

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Bar Night: Buffalo Chicken Strips

The Pie and I went to Buffalo, NY, for a shopping trip once.  We drove past the Anchor Bar, undisputed home of the Buffalo chicken wing, and it was closed.  We never went back.  I regret it to this day.  And when you order wings in St. John’s, you can get them with barbecue sauce or honey garlic, but none of that tangy, vinegary spiciness that comes with the bright orange Buffalo wing sauce.  It’s truly sad.

Out of necessity, therefore, I have had to come up with my own version of that sauce.  It’s not quite right, but it will do in a pinch.

Start with a base of hot sauce, like Tabasco.  Add in a bit of butter, as well as some light barbecue sauce (not the dark smoky stuff).  The sauce I used is the one I made the Pie for Christmas.  Pour in some rice vinegar and some white vinegar to taste.  Adjust your amounts until it’s the way you like it.

Simmer that down for a while.

While that’s cooking down, peel and thinly cut some carrots into sticks.

Cut up some celery as well, and plop your veggies in a bowl of water to await your pleasure.

Get yourself some blue cheese and some sour cream.

Crumble the blue cheese into a bowl and smush it together with some sour cream to make a blue cheese sauce.

Process some bread crumbs until they are superfine.

Slice up some chicken breasts into thin strips.

Dip the strips into buttermilk, then into your bread crumbs.

Repeat until you’re out of strips and thoroughly covered with gooey bread crumbs.

Fry up those strips until they are brown and crispy.

Toss the strips in a bowl with your simmered down sauce until the strips are all coated.

Serve with your vegetables, blue cheese dressing, and, hey, why not some French fries?

Barbecue in a Bottle

This recipe has been adapted with thanks from PickYourOwn.org, who set out all the steps for this delicious tangy tomato goo, including the entire canning process.  For other tips on canning, check out some previous posts here.  I doubled the batch laid out below (of course) and ended up with about 8L of sauce.

In a very large pot, start simmering 5 14oz (796mL) cans diced tomatoes.  This is roughly equivalent to 16 cups or 4 quarts (I did the math).  In one of my batches I substituted one can of crushed tomatoes for diced.  It didn’t seem to make much difference, save I had less seeds in that one.

Once those are going strong, chop and chuck in 4 stalks celery, 2 onions, 3 red peppers, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 2 cloves crushed garlic (or garlic-in-a-jar).

In addition to that, add in 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon sea salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

THEN add in 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups 5% (white) vinegar.

Remember you can adjust any of these flavourings to suit your own tastes.  I added extra cayenne and brown sugar, as well as a few dobbles of sweet chilli sauce and a can of tomato paste.

Simmer everything for about 30 minutes or until it’s all softened.

Now here you have two options.  If you have tremendous patience, you can run the cooked sauce through a food mill, which will remove the seeds and give you a lovely velvety smooth sauce.

If you’re me, you can use an immersion blender

Tomato sauce will end up everywhere, and you will still have seeds in your slightly chunkier sauce, but you will end up with more sauce for preserving.

All you have to do at this point is cook down your processed sauce until it’s the consistency that you like.  Just keep an eye on it and stir frequently to avoid burning.  Remember that the sauce at this point is thick enough to interfere with proper convection so stirring is essential.

Pour into sterilized jars and can according to your canner’s instructions.  And that’s it!

Not the Whole Enchilada

My dad and I have taken to trading off on dinner duty.  Today, he was running around town finishing his errands (one of which included a much-needed trip to the grocery store), so I ransacked the refrigerator and tried to figure out what I could make with what was left inside.

I’d been craving some Tex-Mexicana but I didn’t want to go through the time-consuming (but worth it) effort of making our very popular chicken enchiladas, so I kind of improvised.

First I set two chicken breasts to poach in half chicken broth, half water, so they were covered about an inch with liquid.

The trick with poaching is to bring the water to a boil and then very quickly turn it to low, so you only get the slightest little bubble.

I left them like that for about 45 minutes or so, then drained them and shredded them with a fork.

I set that aside and turned my mind to other things. 

Like grating up some cheddar cheese.  I like lots of cheese.I diced up a large onion and chucked in in a large pan with two teaspoons garlic-in-a-jar and the same in olive oil.

I also diced up a sweet yellow pepper and three small tomatoes fresh from the garden (ah, Ontario produce, how I have missed you!).

I sautéed the onions with the garlic until they were softened.

Chucked in the other vegetables.  How’s that for lovely colour?

Then I added a teaspoon ground cumin and two teaspoons chili powder.  You can of course adjust this to suit your own preferences.

I then added some of the tasty hot sauce leftover from my brother’s wedding.

Then a can (680mL, a little more than two and a half cups) of tomato sauce (puréed tomatoes would also work here).

Let that simmer and thicken on medium heat for about twenty minutes.  Or as long as it takes you to cook your rice.  My rice takes about twenty minutes, if I cook it according to my husband’s very exacting standards.

Add your shredded chicken to your tomato sauce mixture and stir it around until the chicken is thoroughly coated and nice and warm.

Serve over your rice with grated cheddar cheese.

We even had some leftover, so I would say this recipe serves 4 or even 5 (Dad had seconds).  Not bad for a we-have-nothing-in-the-fridge kind of meal.