Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pork Butt

Here in Southern Wisconsin, there is still a blanket of snow on the ground at least a foot thick, and as much as I love winter, I'm beginning to long for warmer weather. I'm not even talking about Spring. My vitamin D deficient body has fantasies of sitting on the beach somewhere very very south of here, turning myself over like a pig on a spit and roasting in the sun until my marrow thaws out. The gist of it is this: I'm tired of constantly being cold. No matter how high the thermostat, no matter how many layers, no matter my woolly tights and my rated -23 degree Sorel boots, I'm always cold. Since I don't have the ways and means right now of hopping on a plane for Mexico, I decided we needed to bring the warmth of Mexico to our kitchen table. How serendipitous then that my friend Freya called with a recipe for Shredded-Pork Tacos. Freya has an equally lovely and amazing sister named Annie, who gave her this recipe from Martha Stewart. Freya made it, ate it, and called me raving about it and sent me the recipe quicker than you could say "chipotle!"
When I went to the grocery store with the recipe and scoured the meat dept., I saw nothing with the words Pork Shoulder stamped on it, so I braved the deli counter and asked the butcher. He gave me a disparaging look and said, "it's not called pork shoulder, it's pork butt" and handed me a 3lb. slab of meat. Ryan and I looked at each other, a bit confused. "Is it just me or is the shoulder in an entirely different section of the body than the butt?" Ryan asked and I was just as perplexed, but we crossed our fingers and bought it anyway, seeing as though there were no other likely options.
On the way home, Ryan googled it on his iPhone and sure enough the two are interchangeable. Which is just as well because it made for a lot of laughter over the dinner table. The boys thought it was hilarious because frankly, when you are 7, 5, and 3, just saying the word "butt" can send you into a paroxysm of giggles like nothing else. I suppose the dinner table isn't the proper place for such talk, but we made an exception in this case, and it got the boys to eat their dinner.

All potty talk aside, this seems like an economical meal since it yielded enough leftovers for Ryan and I to eat 3 lunches and 1 more dinner. I didn't simmer it quite as long as it called for because we were all to hungry to wait another 35 minutes but it wasn't too soupy and I wouldn't change a thing. The queso fresco is a must as well as the cilantro and the corn tortillas blackened nicely on our gas burner. So thank you Annie and thank you Freya and "Pork Butt!"

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 (3-pound) boneless pork shoulder, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce (from a small can), minced (about 4 teaspoons)
  • 16 (6-inch) toasted corn tortillas
  • 1 cup crumbled queso fresco, feta, or goat cheese
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taking Tea

Those Brits were on to something when 4 o'clock tea became a nationally recognized pasttime/meal/repose back in 1840. Here in our home, we suffer from something I like to call the 3 o'clock slump, which really covers the hours between 3pm and 5:30pm, otherwise known as the witching hour, otherwise known as "partner, please come home because I'm pooped out and the kids are cranky". I suspect that Anna, the seventh duchess of Bedford, suffered a similar challenge because it was she who introduced the custom known charmingly as "afternoon tea". In her home, the evening meal was served fashionably late at eight in the evening, a scenario that must have rendered the fainting couch quite useful, until one afternoon when she requested a tray of tea, bread, butter and cake be brought up to her room (where doubtless she had locked herself in for a break from little Timmy and Bess who were whining in the nursery). Soon she began inviting her friends, and one of them, the Earl of Sandwich of course gets the credit for suggesting something more substantial than butter be placed between the layers of bread, thus creating the world's first sandwich. Pretty soon, afternoon tea became a fashionable social event where ladies and gents would meet to talk over the latest drawing room scandal while stuffing their faces.
Nowadays, afternoon tea is still served in venerable hotels such as Claridges, the Ritz, Savoy and Fortnum & Mason department store in London and is likely to include what we Baughns consider sheer necessity when it comes to the art of taking tea: Devonshire Clotted Cream. If it sounds like a blocked artery that's because eating too much of it will probably result in the former, but nothing says teatime like scones fresh from the oven smothered with clotted cream and fresh jam.
Half the fun of taking tea is the ritual. I rinse the teapot with hot water while the boys get out all the china from the cabinet. Some of it is chipped or handle-less and there are a few less service pieces than we had last year, but nothing gives me more pleasure than watching the boys drink from the same tea cups my great-grandmother used.
The boys delight in the antique monogrammed demi-tasse spoon with the large scrolled "B" as much as I do, so much so that they can't stop dipping them in the sugar bowl. The latter was given to me one Christmas when I was still a girl by my mother. It has lost a handle but it's a survivor and sometimes we use the matching cream pitcher when we can find it.
On this particular day, this was just the pause we all needed, to settle down and be a little quieter. The use of the china requires care and the boys slow down enough to respect their cups and saucers and we find ourselves discussing the merits of the day. Ryan pulled in the driveway just as the scones were coming out of the oven; supposedly he had left a part at home but I suspect he needed the break as much as we did!

Challah If You Like French Toast

I'll admit I wasn't always a fan of french toast. Good beefy bread was hard to come by in the rural area that I grew up, on a back road in "east" Virginia, as my husband mockingly refers to it. I don't think we ever had anything other than crappy white bread the local grocery, Winn-Dixie (yes, that's really the name. I know because it was my first official employer) tried to pass off as Italian bread, or maybe they labelled it French bread but it doesn't really matter because the only thing it was fit for was the birds. This is a long-winded and roundabout way of saying the french toast I grew up with was something you suffered through, taking long draughts of milk to help the pieces go down.

So bad was that first impression, french toast was not in our family's food vernacular until I came across a recipe in the Barefoot Contessa's Family Style cookbook that recommended the use of Challah bread as the perfect loaf for the job, one that could hold up to a 5 minute soak in a lovely custard of egg and cream without falling apart. I found Challah at Whole Foods, either with raisins or without, but at $4.99/loaf it's kind of an investment. However, unlike your stocks and your 401k, which can be kind of iffy these days, this is an investment that is guaranteed to pay off in the currency known as happy family.
Let your loaf stale in the bag a day or two, or if you are impatient, leave it out overnight. Use a sharp bread knife to serrate it into 3/4" slices. If properly stale, each slice acts as a sponge that soaks up the custard, which when cooked over medium-low heat, yields a perfectly firm yet moist piece of the most irresistible french toast ever. Sometimes we make a homemade syrup of honey, butter and cinnamon but when we have it, our favorite topper is good ol' Wisconsin maple syrup. When we're out of both, we've topped with a light dusting of confectioner's sugar that makes it look quite festive. However you chose to top it, this is a breakfast (or dinner) that never fails to please.

Challah French Toast adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

1 loaf challah bread, stale
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-n-half or milk
1 tblsp. honey
grated zest of an orange
1/2 tsp. coarse salt

I put all the ingredients, except the bread, into my blender to get it properly aerated but you can just whisk them all together as well. Cut bread into 3/4" slices and place face down in 13x9 pan. Pour custard over slices and let soak for 5 minutes, turning once.

Heat a tablespoon of butter and tablespoon of oil on a griddle over medium-low heat. Add the soaked bread and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. I prefer this longer cooking over lower heat because I like the custard to be more firm and less, well, custardy. But if you prefer, you can cook it 2-3 minutes per side on medium heat.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Highlights

It feels like ages since I've been on here, or been online for any length of time as of late. We've been super busy, had a very full and fun last few weeks but the truth is I've missed writing and posting so hopefully I'll find time to catch up somewhat. Maybe I'll go all Olympic on you and give you an edited view of what's been happening. Here it goes. The Highlights. I promise, no blood.

The above photo is of the newest member of our family. Frank "Gerby" Baughn came to live in Sam & Oliver's room two weeks ago and couldn't have asked for better care takers. Sam immediately read everything he could about Frank and has been a very proud F.O.G. (friend of gerbils).
Kate gave us a book on papier-mache ages ago and the boys have been begging to try. Ryan, who learned from the best - his dad, Grandpa Terry, helped Ryan and his siblings create sculptures such as a life size King Penguin and other amazing creatures when they were younger - began this zebra head, which has yet to be completed and has the unfortunate resemblance at the moment to an anteater but sshh, we don't say that out loud, not wanting to hurt its feelings. Besides, the construction is not yet complete and what you see below is nothing a little facial re-constructive surgery can't fix.

We had the bittersweet joy of celebrating little Jasper's 1st birthday on Feb. 1o. Sniff, sniff.
Lots of baking to get ready for the annual birthday bash my friend Ethan and I have thrown 4 years running.
An amazing evening with St. Vincent. Okay, we weren't really with them, but, you know. It was mesmerizing.
Annie Clark, the musical yeah i'm just gonna say it genius behind St. Vincent is the cutest little pixie. But man, can she play guitar.
The best part was getting to be there with these three lovely ladies: Hansi, Cydney, and Beth
A few days later, the Jedi's were called to the planet Hoth for patrolling enemy activity...
Jasper decide to sleep on the job.
By the time we got home from such an exhausting, yet fun week, all anyone really wanted were hand cut frites. So we made some. And they were good.

The End.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cheaters Sometimes Win

You know the saying "cheaters never win?" I've been known to use it on occasion, usually chanting it in a whiny voice to an older sibling, someone I felt had bested me at, say, Monopoly (not that I'm naming names. James.) and probably done in an attempt to assuage my crestfallen ego when losing. I overheard one of the boys shouting that same mantra to Sam the other day and laughed a little to myself because let's face it, sometimes cheaters do win. For example, Ryan and I embarked on a detox diet approximately 2 weeks ago, cutting out dairy, gluten, sugar and caffeine in an effort to give our bowels a break. The fast from caffeine lasted approximately 29 hours, after which I shamefacedly made myself chicory coffee that a friend brought from Cafe Dumond in New Orleans...what can I say? Jasper was up multiple times from teething and my addiction to coffee is stronger than I wanted to admit. But we stuck to our guns on everything else, which is quite a feat for me given my passion for all things bread and butter related. As Ryan noted, the local grocery store probably wondered where the surplus of butter came from. Despite my typical gratuitous dairy intake it really wasn't that hard to stick to the plan. A typical dinner was baked sweet potato, mashed with ground pepper, steamed kale with lemon and pepper, and baked salmon with the same. Lunch would consist of a delicate soup of pureed steamed broccoli and fresh arugula, a simple warm meal that highlighted each vegetable and was a beautiful flecked green. We were feeling quite good about ourselves until we hit a little snafu. A certain time of the month crept up on me and suddenly I longed for pizza like nobody's business. The chewy crust! The salty cheese! There really wasn't even much of a fight before we both capitulated. Sure it was cheating, but who was going to tell? I remembered Karina posting about a pizza of caramelized shallots and chevre that had me salivating at the thought, and I sacrificed detoxing and health at the alter of goat cheese without a second thought and very little compunction. Our dear friends Josh & Jill came over for an impromptu meal together, which was brilliant, both for the company but also for Josh's input in the pizza combination. They had just returned from Mexico and brought a wonderful bottle of Mezcal to share, so while red onions were being caramelized and sausage was cooking, we got to hear all about their trip while sipping some spirits. Josh threw a handful of fresh arugula on the pizza right when it came out and 20 seconds later and I was shoveling in the best pizza I've had in a long time. Ryan and I recreated it a few days later and let Sam and Felix make their own. And despite the distended feeling I had later (what did I expect after eating half a pizza?) in my mid-section, I had the satisfied gloating feeling that only a cheat would understand.