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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Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Braised Cabbage

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I actually cooked this recipe up on Hallowe’en, but with my garnish it looked so darned festive I had to push back the publishing date to sometime when people start thinking of roasting chestnuts and Frosty the Snowman.  But for authenticity I am listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while I type this up.  Spooky.  Yet festive.

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Anyway, there are lots of things you can do with pork tenderloin, and they’re extra handy when you’re in a rush because they cook so quickly. In addition to roasting up nice and tender in the oven, you can also slice up raw tenderloin into medallions for a fast fry, which is what we do here.  This recipe, modified a bit, comes from a recent Every Day Food.

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First you want to peel off all the silvery skin on your pork tenderloin, to make it extra tender.

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Then you can slice it up into relatively thin medallions.  Mine are about 3/4″-1″ thick.

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Then you will take a small cabbage (red one will be prettier, but I prefer the taste of green) like this one.

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And chop it all up into shreds.

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Now, heat some oil in your beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet and cook your pork medallions on medium-high until they are done all the way through and slightly brown on the outside.  Put them on a plate somewhere and cover them to keep them warm.

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Then take your cabbage and plop it in your still hot skillet.  Cook that, tossing occasionally, until it’s all wilted.

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Then pour in about 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice.

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Raise the heat a little bit and let that simmer down until it’s reduced to about half and starts to thicken.  I used unsweetened juice, so I suspect if mine had had more sugar in it it might have thickened a bit more (notice how there are two incidences of duplicated words in that sentence?).  At this point, add in about 3 tablespoons butter and a dash of red wine vinegar and you’re ready to serve.

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I garnished my rather sadly coloured green cabbage with some steamed frozen peas and some fresh pomegranate seeds for festivity’s sake, and we had roasted potatoes on the side.  It was highly tasty.

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The Chicken Salad Sandwich to Convert the Non-Believers

When the Pie and I first started dating, we both had a lot more money than we do now (read: we have NO money now, and then we HAD money).  So we used to go on these elaborate dates, which were so much fun.

On this one in particular, it was my turn to plan.  We started out picking raspberries from a local farm (where I got bitten by a dog and I still have the scar, seven years later, but that’s another story), followed by a picnic lunch in a village park, a game of mini-golf (where I soundly beat the pants off the Pie), a nap, and then a late dinner at a fancy restaurant downtown.  A good time was had by all.

But this story is about the picnic.  As I said, we had only been dating a few months, and I wasn’t yet fully versed on the Pie’s various food likes and dislikes (he insists he’s not a picky eater, but the rest of us look at each other and shake our heads).

To impress my new man, I had prepared a sumptuous picnic feast, featuring as a main course my signature chicken salad sandwiches with moist, tender chicken, crisp celery, and just a hint of spice.

It turns out that the Pie didn’t like chicken salad.  Note that I said “didn’t.”  He gallantly took a bite of the sandwich, to be polite (after all, I had made him two sandwiches in anticipation of his appetite).  Instantly, he was converted.  Now he gets chicken salad all the time when he buys sandwiches.

So here is that recipe for you.  Go forth and proselytize!

We had 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts that we’d poached the day before.  The trick with chicken salad is to mince your chicken.  Most chicken salads have these huge chunks of chicken in them, which, while tasty, tend to fall out of your sandwich all over the place.

So MINCE those suckers.

Also mince up a few stalks of celery.

I like the bottom of celery bits.  It’s like a green flower.

Mix the celery into the chicken.

Now add about a teaspoon of paprika, and 2 teaspoons chili powder.  You can add more if you like the taste.

Glop on about 2/3 cup mayonnaise (don’t skimp here, people, and use real mayo).

Mix that stuff up.  Garnish with a festive sprig of basil and you have yourself some salad.

Which you can then put into sammiches.  Which you can then eat.

Have you ever converted anyone to a food?

Dolmades

I’m not sure when exactly my mother and I started making these Greek/Lebanese lamb-stuffed grape leaves, but dolmades (dolma is the singular) have been a staple of ours for potlucks and gatherings for ages and ages.  Feel free to experiment with yours.

First you need a jar of pickled grape leaves.  I’m sure there are different kinds of leaves that are good for different things, but we usually pick the jar that has the largest leaves with the greenest colour.  You need to drain and rinse these suckers a couple of times to get the brine off.You also want to cook up some rice.

Two cups cooked rice should be sufficient.

You can always freeze whatever you don’t use in a freezer bag for chucking into soups later on.

Defrost about 2lbs ground lamb.

A large onion.  You want to practically mince that sucker.

Parsley.  Lots of it.  Chopped up, probably about a cup.

Ditto thyme, though less so, probably a few tablespoons.

Don’t forget what I told you about freezing herbs.

You probably also want to add some dill, but we didn’t have any.

A handful of pine nuts.

Mix all those ingredients up in a bowl.  Use your hands, don’t be afraid.

Now take a grape leaf and lay it flat on a plate, vein side up. 

Take a tablespoon or so of your lamb filling and plop it on the leaf, near where the stem should be.

Tuck in the sides of the leaf.

Roll the rest of it up like a cigar.

Here is your completed dolma.  Now do that another 40-50 times until you run out of lamb.

Now, take the small and broken grape leaves and line the bottom of a large pot with them.  Place your rolled dolmades on top, close together, double-stacked, until you run out.

Drizzle your completed dolmades with a bit of olive oil.  Layer more grape leaves on top.

Fill the pot to the edge of the dolmades with chicken broth and bring to a boil before lowering the heat and simmering for about 45 minutes.

Serve them hot, serve them cold.  I prefer them nice and warm, as I think they have more taste that way.  They’re really good with yogurt.

Chicken in Toronto

In the last week of August I went to Toronto for the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, which was incredibly exciting for me, to be able to rub elbows with all the people I hope to know personally once I’ve finished my doctorate.

I was also able to meet the Pie in town on two nights and catch some Blue Jays games.  This is Jose Bautista.  He’s not much to look at but he got a home run on one night.

I stayed with my best friend Chel and her lovely new husband Invis right downtown.  Talk about making the most out of a small space!  Here is their tiny kitchen, with Invis filling up most of it.  Chel had the clever idea of using one of her favourite coat hangers (because she couldn’t find another place for it) to hang up her pots and pans. I think it’s genius.

One night  they were kind enough to allow me to cook them dinner, and we decided, since it was hot and humid in the Big Smoke, to keep things on the simple side.  We settled on a chicken rosé sauce on pasta followed by vanilla ice cream with strawberry and red currant fruit sauce.

We decided to feature basil in the recipe because Chel has been keeping a lush little plant going for some time.Chop up a few boneless skinless chicken breasts, as well as a small onion, some mushrooms, and a red pepper or two.  And don’t forget lots and lots of fresh basil.

Chuck the onion in a pot with some olive oil and sauté until translucent.Season your chicken breasts and plop them in as well.  Stir it around until the chicken is cooked through.Add in your basil and let that aroma fill the space as it heats up.Then drop in your vegetables and let them cook for a wee spell.Now you can pour in a jar of your favourite pasta or other tomato sauce.Add in some whipping cream as well, about 250mL.  Let the whole thing simmer.If you find it’s too watery you can add in a can of tomato paste to thicken it up.Serve over your pasta of choice and you’ve got a lovely meal.Now while that is simmering you can whip up your dessert fruit sauce.  We found some lovely fresh red currants in the grocery store so I added them, some cut up strawberries, a bit of sugar, and some juice to the pot and set it to boil.Once you have simmered it for a while, remove it from the heat and let it cool while you eat your dinner.  Pour it over ice cream and you’re all set.

Makeshift Carving Board

This is another marvelous Martha Stewart invention.

I do not own a carving pan or board for meat.  I just don’t.

Instead, I place a cutting board (wooden or plastic) inside a rimmed baking sheet when I carve.

Not only do the juices not get absolutely everywhere but they’re nicely contained should you need them later.

Basic Burgers

Today is the first day after the Pie and I finished our month-long vegetarian experiment.  Accordingly, we’re going to MEAT IT UP and have ourselves some burgers tonight.  So much for easing back into omnivorism.

There are two very important things to remember when making burgers by hand.  The first is to buy no leaner than a medium ground chuck.  You may think you’ve made a healthy choice with a leaner ground but your burger will not stick together and will crumble as it cooks.  The second is to touch the meat as little as possible, which is quite a feat considering you need to hand-form the patties.  But it is doable, and making your own burgers really isn’t that hard.

There is a third thing you should know about burgers: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Remember that you are frying or grilling up some ground meat, which, as it cooks, will secrete slippery oil and will shrink into individual particles.  This means that cohesiveness is an issue when making burgers, which is why you don’t touch them too much or get too rough with them.  The more stuff you add to the chuck before forming it into the patty, the more you risk a crumbling burger.  If you’re going to add things to the meat, make sure they’re small things so they don’t mess with the burger’s internal structure.

Gonna get gooey.

So you take your meat.  We made some of these patties out of medium ground beef and others from ground chicken.  I like to leave it out of the fridge for a while because you are going to be working it in your hands and manipulating cold ground meat feels like sticking your hands in the northern Pacific in the winter (which I have done and don’t recommend).  The amount of meat you use depends on the number of burgers you want, obviously.  We find a kilo of ground makes about 9 3-inch patties.

Put your meat in a large bowl that you can easily get your hands into.  Remove your rings and roll up your sleeves.  This is going to get gooey.

Finely (and I’m talking FINE) dice a medium onion and chuck that in with the meat.  Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and a few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil (or any herb of your choice) and a pinch or two of sea salt and ground pepper.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and/or Tabasco sauce.  Don’t go too crazy with your ingredients, because you need the meat to be able to stick to itself as it cooks.

If you have no confidence in your patty cohesiveness, or if you have ignored me and purchased lean ground beef, you can add an egg or two, but I think that’s cheating.  Eggs are useful in meatloaf, but they don’t really belong in burgers.  ON burgers, but not IN burgers.

Working quickly, mix the meat with your hands until all your ingredients are just combined.

Grab a handful of the mixture and pat it gently into a patty about the size of your palm.  Make a thumbprint indentation in the centre of the patty and set it aside.  The indentation will keep the patty from contracting too much as it cooks.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.

You can freeze your patties for use at a later date.  Simply separate the patties with wax paper and place them in a freezer bag, tightly sealed, with the air removed.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of olive oil (or a grill, or even a broiler) and get those patties on there.  Once the patties are on the hot surface, you leave them the hell alone.  You may flip the burgers, but you can only do it ONCE, usually about five to ten minutes into the cooking, depending on how well done you like your meat.  Safety-wise, your burger should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

If you like cheese on your burger, put a few slices on after you have flipped the patty and they will melt into the meat.

Serve on a bun of your choice with the toppings you like.  Very much a crowd-pleaser, and it covers four food groups.