Friday, September 26, 2008

on Guinness and pig

I now realize that owning a shit ton of cookbooks does me no good if I’m not even going to read through them. Sometimes I can be so very dumb.

Like this morning.

I’m working from home for the next two days. My boss instructed our entire team to work from home because he’s freaking out about the gas shortage down here in the good ol’ South. A lot of folks I know are going to 5 or 6 different gas stations before being able to fill up, which is weird to me, because the gas station closest to my house has gas. They say the same thing happened down here after Hurricane Katrina, but we weren’t living here at that time. It’s actually kind of ridiculous the way people are carrying on, but that’s another story, possibly for another non-food-related blog.

Anyhoo – so since I’m working from home, I did a shopping run early this morning. I love going to the grocery store when there are very few other customers. All the employees are busy stocking, or putting out freshly baked bread, and everyone is in a good mood – compared to later in the day when the after-school / after-work crush takes place and people’s moods are lousy. So I went to the store because I wanted to pick up some pork shoulder to braise, and as I stood there in the meat aisle and looked down, there were none. And I knew right then and there that if I’d even bother to do some homework before going to the store, or hey, bothered to LISTEN to the boy when he waxes poetic about cuts of meat, then I’d know other names for pork shoulder. If I’d even bothered to read my copy of The Elements of Cooking, which the very tall Michael Ruhlman was gracious enough to sign for me last fall, THEN I’d know that pork shoulder = pork butt = Boston butt.

But I’m not that smart.

I stood there staring down, and of course right at that moment I couldn’t find a butcher around, or anyone in a white coat. So I did the next best thing, which was to text the boy at work, cos surely he would know; but he was busy and didn’t answer. I walked around the store, even lollygagged in the wine aisle waiting for him to text or call me back, but no luck. Eventually, I wandered back to the meat aisle to make some Executive Decisions. I looked at the pork shoulder ribs (which I didn’t want because they were already pre-cut), and compared that to the Boston butt roast thing, and decided that their fat veining looked similar, so I bought the butt. (hee).

And now I promise myself to not be so damn stupid and actually pay attention when someone is instructing me on cuts of meat, instead of daydreaming about taking a nap in the hammock.

Guinness always reminds me of cooler weather. When they started distributing them in cans in the U.S, I was living in Savannah and it was right around Halloween. My upstairs neighbor, who was a great friend of mine and my main associate in getting drunk with at Pinky Masters, whipped out his Leatherman and cut a can open so that we could see the doohickey thing inside that helps the beer stay drafty fresh (the good people at Guinness call it the “Guinness Floating Widget’; it says so right them there on the side of the can) . We oohed and ahhed over it, and then went out and got drunk.

The recipe calls for 5 cups of it, which equals about 2 ½ cans (if you get the cans, that is; you could opt for the bottle, but then why would you even bother when you could get a can and whip out your own Leatherman and take a looky loo at the Floating Widget?). That leaves you with almost half a can to indulge in whilst cooking, a cook’s treat of sorts. When I saw this recipe in Daniel Boulud’s Braise, I knew I had to try it, if only to celebrate the first week of fall, and the fact that I can now run my oven and not indecently heat up the house.

And, as always, I toast the Almighty God of Pig. Cìn cìn.

Pork Shoulder with Guinness, Dried Cherries, and Sweet Potatoes - adapted from Daniel Boulud and Melissa Clark’s Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine

5 cups Guinness stout
1 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons oil, for searing (we use peanut oil)
5 ½ lb pork shoulder roast (I used a 4 ½ lb boneless Boston butt)
3 red onions, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 whole allspice berries, crushed
2 bay leaves
¼ cup molasses
3 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

Bring the beer, cherries, and vinegar to a simmer in a saucepan. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit for at least 1 hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper, and sear on all sides until golden brown. Transfer the pork to a platter. Boulud says to remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot, but I actually had a little less than this left; I did not add more.

Add the onion and ½ teaspoon of pepper to the pot and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking until the onions are translucent, a couple more minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Put the pork back in the pot, and add the beer & cherry mixture, the crushed allspice, bay leaves, molasses, brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 cups of water. Bring this to a simmer.

Cover the pot, put it in the oven and braise for 1 hour, turning the pork once during cooking. After 1 hour, add the sweet potatoes and continue to braise for 2 hours, turning 2 more times during cooking. At the end of 2 hours, if the sauce is too thick or is not flavored intensely enough (such as mine wasn’t), ladle most of it off into another pot and simmer it until it thickens and intensifies. If it intensifies but doesn’t really thicken, make a slurry on the side. I use one tablespoon of water to one tablespoon of cornstarch, and mix that up in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Add a trickle of that to the simmering liquid, stir and see how thick it gets. If it’s not thick enough, add a little more. By God, don’t dump the whole thing in all at once because you might end up with a gloopy mess and ruin all that good dark yumminess you worked three hours to get . When it’s to your likeness, add back to original pot. Slice the pork and serve with sauce and vedge on top.

What I might do differently next time:

1. Do not forget a good crusty bread.
2. The boy is not terribly fond of the sweet potato, even though i'm always telling him that it's one of the better-for-you vedges out there. Next time he would like to try it with any ol' white potato. I'm not so sure about that, but we'll see.
3. Might try it with tart cherries.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

from bad tv to bad appliances

I’m working from home this afternoon, listening to a mock production call and flipping channels. A couple of things to note:

Today’s episode of Semi Homemade shows Sandra Lee’s kitchen dolled up like a bordello. Her outfit is spectacularly odd. She looks like a cross between a Madam and that bartender in the hotel bar in New Orleans where my dad and I stayed in 1999 who kept whispering about my dad’s aura and how she died once and was brought (miraculously) back to life (my dad raised one eyebrow and said, “Oh yeah? My, how lucky you are. May I have another Bud Light draft?”). I’m expecting ol’ Sandy to whip a crystal ball out of her fridge and tell me my fortune any minute now.

When I turned the tv on, I caught the last two minutes of Rachel Ray’s new daytime show ( I know it’s not exactly new anymore, but I’d never seen it before). She added honey to some big pot of food she had brewing on the stove, and the audience went completely bonkers with delight. You know how the audience on Emeril Live shows go completely nuts when he adds garlic or booze to a dish? These people were losing it over honey. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

I haven’t been watching a whole lot of Food Network lately, but there appear to be a plethora of new shows. The last time they introduced new shows, all the hosts were Giada De Laurentiis clones, and they promptly got canceled. Let’s hope their new line up is better this time around. I guess I could go to the Food Network site and take a looky loo at what they’ve got, but I’m already multitasking enough right now.

Last week, we got a new dishwasher. When we first moved into this house, the majority of the appliances were crap. Okay, all of the appliances were crap except for the stove. The first thing we wanted to do was to replace it all, rip it out and put in new; but we’re not loaded and I’ve no sugar daddy leaving me 8 million bucks in his will, so we didn’t. We said to ourselves, Selves, we will only replace appliances as they die. It wasn’t long before the washer and dryer played hari-kari on each other, so we upgraded to new fancy front-loaders. I’m still in awe over our washer and dryer. A great source of entertainment at our house parties is to turn the knobs on the washer and dryer and see them light up like UFOs. You think I’m kidding? Patty and I stood in front of them at our last party for like 15 minutes, totally amused by this pastime. And we weren’t even on absinthe or anything at the time. Seriously.

Then the fridge sort-of died. The freezer part did first, actually. It was one of those side-by-side jobs and the bottom of it had three inches of solid ice. It would leak like crazy all over the kitchen too. I hated that thing. So I was quite pleased when the time came to replace it.

We’ve been secretly hoping that the dishwasher would konk out ever since we moved in, but it never would. It would work, badly, but not badly enough to warrant getting rid of it. It wasn’t properly installed to begin with, and over time after it had been through a cycle, it would never fully rid itself of all the water. There would be a cesspool on the bottom of the thing after each run. We’d drain it and move on. The cesspool got bigger and bigger as time went on, and eventually the thing just stopped cleaning our dishes about 2 weeks ago. So off we went to Sears (Sears just so happened to be having a sale), and we got a mid-range-price one, and it was installed last Friday.

We ran it for the first time last night, and already I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it is. I can actually stand in front of it and carry on a phone conversation if I want to, without SHOUTING! as it’s not ridiculously loud and obnoxious like the old one. Today when I got home, I unloaded it. For the record: unloading the dishwasher and putting away laundry are my two most loathed household chores ever. I just plain hate doing them. I don’t know why. So I’m not going to tell you that a new dishwasher will change your life and make you want to sing songs about how the hills are alive and dance around while you unload it, but I will admit that the chore was not as bad as it had previously been. Knowing that all my dishes are clean and that the new machine used less water to do so than the old one makes me a happy camper.

The last remaining appliance that has yet to be replaced is the stove. I don’t like it, but it works. It works just fine. I’m allowed to not like it, right? And right now, even if I will it to poop out on me, we can’t afford to get a new one anyway. My ideal range is a gas top, ideally with 6 burners but I’d settle for 4, and electric below with convection. Those babies are not cheap. I’ve got a picture of my ideal one on the fridge. In order to accommodate that particular one we’d have to rip out a foot of cabinet and counter top, but right now that’s not an option. One can dream, though.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

well, phooey.

Richard Blais quits "Home"

i wish him the best of luck in his new venture. i just wanna know when it'll be up and running and where it will be.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the almighty beef patty

our trip was far, far too short.

we had a lot of bad things happen (a couple of examples: patty's wallet stolen; the butt end of hurricane Gustav; food poisoning; my bottle of rum taken by customs, the bastards!); but the good was very good.

one of our jollier moments was the first night, after being stranded in Montego Bay and put up at the Breezes resort (NOTE TO ALL: WORST HOTEL EVER). we were woken up by the neighbors in the next room having a huge fight, complete with door slamming. sound of wheely suitcase being rolled away. room door opens again, and male voice with thick New Jersey accent bellows out: "If i fine a fookin dolla missen from my wallet, i will hunt you down like a FOOKIN PIG! YOU HEAR THAT BITCH< A FOOKIN PIG!" . there were other jolly moments, but i'd like to keep this site somewhat R-rated.

we stayed at an all-inclusive resort, which are pretty great since one doesn't have to deal with anything but sunscreen and a room key. however, the food was nothing to write home about.

absolutely the best thing i ate while in Jamaica was a beef patty; held in one hand, a Red Stripe in the other, while speedwalking to gate 17 at the Montego Bay airport to catch our flight back to Atlanta. i now have a newfound love affair with beef patties, and i must learn how to make them.

oh, a quick note to the person who picked up patty's wallet then proceeded to buy computer equipment and canadian pharmaceuticals online: if i find you, i will cut you like a FOOKIN PIG. okay, maybe not, but karma will get you my friend. believe you me.