Tiny Meats

Growing up in a town that was once podunk, there were very few restaurant choices.  We had the Warhorse Inn, which served pretty much only fajitas, if memory serves me correctly (it doesn’t).  We had something called Sweaty Betty’s, which I think was a deli, but from where I never ate, because EW.  The name just calls to mind some stringy haired smoker lady with armpit fuzz that would fall into your sandwich if she held her arms up to reach for more mustard or whatever.  We had a McDonalds, which was either my first or second job.  I can’t remember, because at a certain point, all of my firings kind of melded together into one ball of poor employee behavior.  There was a Chinese food restaurant, but you had to drive all the way to Aurora.  At the time, Aurora was basically Compton.

We also had a Mexican restaurant called Las Delicias.  In my memory, they only served chips and salsa. This is because by the time any additional courses were served, I was already crawling around under the table with my little brother, poking one another in the eye with bits of oldey-timey restaurant filth.  My parents, however, were fond of the other items of food offered in said restaurant.

At a certain point in life–let’s call it the entirety of my teens–my parents spent the better part of a decade (it felt that way, at least) hopping off and on the Atkins bandwagon.  Before my teens, I actually remember a long stretch of time where my mom was fond of the cabbage soup diet, which mostly made her cranky from starvation, and made the kitchen smell like someone had released a major invisible bodily emission within.  But later in life, they discovered that Atkins meant lots of delicious fried meat, and very little vegetable matter.  Easy peasy! 

Our bathroom was decorated in strips of paper that you could pee on and they would tell you if your body was digesting your kidneys in an attempt to regain some usable non-bacon fuel.  These left such an impression on me that when I later tried the Atkins diet in college, and called my mother to tell her I had been successful because the strip had turned pink, she cried because she thought I was saying I was pregnant.  I’d like to note that less than 2 years later she was telling me that I could skip culinary school, and would better spend my time at home nursing babies.  If you ever want to see your mother make a dramatic 180 turn on the subject of reproduction, just marry a doctor.

So when they discovered that the Mexican restaurant served giant wads of what was essentially deep-fried pork, they were ON BOARD.  Even if it was 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.  BRING ON THE FRIED PORK.

Of course, I am speaking of carnitas.  Delicious hunks of pork, slowly simmered in a vat of lard and/or oil, then shredded and placed lovingly into tacos, or at least into the bacon-scented mouths of Atkins devotees.

Fast forward to culinary school, where I was taught how to make carnitas by a German chef.  He taught me to make them by cutting up meat, dousing it with tequila and spices, and then cooking it in the oven until they caramelized and got soft enough to eat.

This is NOT the method to make carnitas.  It’s not even vaguely carnitesque.  But it IS delicious, and possibly lower calorie than traditional carnitas.  Plus, it makes a coating of meat caramel in the bottom of the cast iron, and I can’t tell you how much that stirs my loins.  You should try them.

1 lb pork butt, cubed into large bite-sized hunks
3 T tequila (I used Sauza gold)
2 T brown sugar
1 t cayenne pepper
1.5 T kosher salt
1 t garlic granules (fresh garlic would get too burnt to be delicious in this recipe)

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Toss the pork butt with the rest of the ingredients.  Put them in a large cast iron skillet.  Cook (stirring occasionally) until the outside looks caramelized, and the pork cuts easily with a fork.  Place them into homemade lard tortillas (OMG).  Serve with fresh pico de gallo.  Cry tears of ecstasy.

You’re welcome, Atkins.  You’re welcome.


One of the side benefits of being married to a medical dude is that I very occasionally get taken to a nice dinner that is paid for by Big Pharma.  Not often, due to industry restrictions, but sometimes.  It’s fantastic, because they always pick the best restaurants in town, and I’m usually allowed to get kind of tipsy and tell them how many robots* Chris has in his home office.

*Hint: MANY

This last dinner was held at Mizuna in Denver, which is one of my all-time favorite Colorado restaurants. The Colorado restaurant scene is surprisingly underwhelming overall, but there are a few gems in the Denver Metro area, and Mizuna is one of them.  It’s a Frank Bonanno restaurant.  He won the Food Network Mac and Chee challenge a few years back, and his lobster mac and chee is still on the menu (and still fantastic and rich and decadent, even if I do take against lobster).  The last time we went, I had the vegetarian option, which was this absolutely dreamy stuffed, handmade gnocchi with porcinis or morels…I can’t remember.  I would eat it again. Without question.

But when we arrived for the drug rep dinner, the vegetarian option (which I had hoped to eat again) was actually something to do with courgettes and frisee.  It had a large number of words, which usually means it’s trying to be something it’s not.

Do you know what a courgette is?  It’s a ZUCCHINI. Needless to say, I did not order this entree.

At my house, currently, we are drowning in zucchini and yellow squash.  I originally planted one zucchini and one yellow squash seed as self-esteem crops.  Basically, I knew they’d grow even if nothing else did, and since it was my first year gardening, I wanted to feel successful at something, even if it was a gourd of which I am not particularly fond.  Those two seeds have turned into one 4×4 foot zucchini and two small yellow crookneck plants, placed about 6 feet away from one another.

Yeah.  They cloned and migrated.  Of their own volition.  And you’re still worried about a robot apocalypse? 

The zucchini plant turns out a steady number of large, green Louisville sluggers.  I try to catch them as babies, both because they are more tender, and because it means disposing of less zucchini, but this seems to only encourage them to produce more zucchinis, larger, and faster than before.  I’ve gotten a couple that are literally as big as my femur, and I am not a short girl.

That’s a single zucchini plant up front there.  And that thing poking out the bottom left is a rogue butternut squash.  Anyone know when I’m supposed to pick those?

The yellow crookneck squash plants are filthy whores.  Even picking them as fast as nature allows, I currently have about 16 actual squashes on two small plants.  They’re coming hot and heavy and are now getting sort of deformed, like they’ve given up completely on quality, and are now just breeding for quantity.  STOP BREEDING, SQUASH! YOU CAN’T EVEN AFFORD THE KIDS YOU’VE GOT!

So I’m doing everything but running out there with a spray bottle of liquid prenatals and hosing them down, hoping that the extra folic acid will help them develop into normal, healthy-looking squash.  You think I’m employing literary exaggeration?

I am not.
Every single one of those little yellow twigs is developing at breakneck (crookneck?) speed into a long, skinny, wonky-looking squash.  They’re one step short of developing sub-families and spending too much time talking about tater tot casserole.
My tomatoes are losing their minds, too, and producing enormous colonies of green fruit, which is slowly ramping up production from a single less-sweet, ripe fruit at a time, to large caches of fruit that are large and legitimately delicious.  God bless Colorado’s tomato growing weather.  Tons of sun, bursts of rain, and appropriate soil makeup.
8 reasonable fruits in a single colony, all almost too pretty to be good tomatoes
So what do you do when nature sends you a bounty like this, and you’re feeling a little ungrateful for your bounty, on account of squashes are prolific and not terribly flavorful?  You Put Them In Things.  Everything.  I’ve put grated squash in bolognese sauce, made squash tacos, added chunks to chili, grilled them, roasted them, hidden them, celebrated them, cursed them, and stir-fried them. 
 Mmmmmm…garden stir fry contains onions, green beans, yellow squash, zucchini,  jalapenos and cabbage, all of which is from our tiny backyard for FREE. 
It’s a known fact that white people make shitty stir fry.  We use frozen vegetables, cook everything in soy sauce alone, and make sure the meat is steamed and the vegetables are limp.  Gross.  Try to amp it up a little.  Cook things over very hot heat, add things in order of length of cooking time, so each thing is only cooked to toothsome perfection, and cook the meat separately in a searing hot pan before adding it.  As for sauce: a basic stir fry sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, red pepper, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, water, and cornstarch gets whisked together and tossed in at the last minute, when everything is done and very hot in a hot, dry pan.  It reduces in 10 seconds, and then gets dumped unceremoniously over rice.  Easy. And tastes better than your local delivery place, I swear.
This has beef, but it could easily be vegetarian by using tofu OR just using your vegetables.  Nothing wrong with a veggie stir fry.

Seriously, squash.  Close your legs.  Nobody wants to see that.

Pork n Milks

We’re lucky enough to have fresh, local milk delivered to our home every Thursday morning. This is a luxury I grew up with, and is more difficult to find nowadays than it should be. Having a milkbox on our porch, filled with dairy and egg goodies first thing in the morning feels so special. Like I’ve left out a stocking, and udder-santa has filled it because I’ve been good.

Except for the times that I forget to update my milk order to reflect what I already have languishing in my fridge. Then you’ll hear me get up, trot to the front door, and yell the F-word into the misty morning dew, as my neighbors draw back their curtains, call me a hoodlum, and instruct their college-aged children to toilet paper my house.

What the hell am I supposed to do with, now, FOUR half gallons of milk??

If you think it’s weird that a lady such as myself uses the F-word with abandon, you should ask my sister about the time she went to Sprouts with my tiny, librarian mom, and my mom loudly said “motherf*cker” because she couldn’t get two carts apart. And how a middle-aged man looked at my sister and said “nice mom you’ve got there.” It’s genetic. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and a love for dirty words.

Also, one time she told me that my sister had “cockblocked” her from a buffet line.  I have no idea.

Today was one of those days where I ended up with more milk than I was comfortable storing in my fridge. I keep my fridge and pantry immaculate, cleaning them every single week before I put new groceries in them. But I’m about two weeks behind, and it’s making me want to slit my wrists. Milk on the non-milk shelves? Tupperware experiments? The horror.  It’s out of control, and my freezers are full.  I can never go to a store again.
As I wrung my hands and paced trails into the fur-bedecked wood floors in our kitchen, I tried to think of what I was going to do with all this milk. (No milk will ever be our milk).
Somewhere in the dusty recesses of my brain, I recalled hearing about various meat items being poached in milk. Soaked in milk? Braised in milk? I don’t know. Milk and meat was as far as I got into my dusty recesses before I got distracted by some other shiny thought. Probably about beating up a burglar and getting to have a witty, hair-swingy press conference about my bravery and fighting talent. Followed by an invitation to be on the Daily Show. That’s how most of my daydreams end.
I Googled “pork cooked in milk,” because I had a defrosted half-butt of pork that was slated to be cooked. Turns out, pork and milk are A Thing! An Italian Thing! Also a Mexican Thing if you want carnitas, but I wasn’t really feeling like cooking tortillas tonight. So, Italian FTW.
What I didn’t know when I started was that pork cooked in milk looks completely repulsive while it’s cooking. I’m not even going to insult you with gory analogies, but suffice it to say, it doesn’t seem like a food that you would want to eat. Smells good, though, which helps immeasurably. Some delicious things smell like rancidity embodied, and it makes it difficult to want to try them. Sauerkraut comes to mind. This is not like that. Which is to say that it smells delicious the whole time it’s cooking. Every time I checked on it, I was shocked that it looked so inedible.
I soldiered on.
Here’s the recipe:
Milk-braised pork
-One 2 lb boston butt (or similarly fatty cut of pork), tied to hold its shape
-.5 gallon of 2% milk (or a bit more–I used .75)
-3 bay leaves
-.75 t rubbed sage
-.5 t rosemary (I used dried herbs because that’s what I had on hand)
-3 cloves garlic, smashed
-2 T white vinegar (or lemon juice or white wine)
-salt and freshly cracked pepper
-2 T neutral-flavored oil (I used grapeseed)
–Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper
–In a large skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking, then sear the pork until quite brown on all sides
–Splash in your acid and reduce for about 15 seconds
–Add the sage, rosemary, and garlic and saute for a moment
–Add the milk and bring to a simmer
–Transfer all of it to a crock pot and set on high for four hours, occasionally turning the pork
–When the pork is very tender, pull it out and transfer all of the leftover liquid and curds into a large sauce pot (removing and discarding the bay leaves)
–Reduce the milk, stirring frequently to keep the curds from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
–When about 1 C of liquid is left, whisk it or blend it well, then strain it through a fine-mesh strainer. Taste for salt and pepper.
–Shred the pork, season with additional salt and pepper, and drizzle with the liquid.

WHOA.  Have you ever heard that trick where people stick a can of condensed milk in a pot with some water and cook it until it turns into dulce de leche (basically caramel)?  This was kind of the same deal, except savory.  A savory caramel-like sauce that got smeared over shredded, ridiculously tender pork.  Pork that you could almost spoon into your mouth, with its savory caramel top hat and tails.

You know what would be better?  No, I don’t either.  Spaetzle, for sure.  That’s what I ended up serving it with, Italy be damned.  It was the right choice.   I guess I’ll just call it “European milk-braised pork” and see who yells at me first.  There wasn’t any soy sauce, maize, or peanut in it, so I feel like it’s not a direct violation of continental culinary law to call it so.

I brought some to my mother at the library, because I wanted SOMEONE to taste it.  Someone besides Chris, who is maritally obligated to “like button” anything I put on a plate.  Someone besides the baby, who refuses to eat any and all meat, but will eat tomatoes directly off of our tomato plant if I’m not watching him to scream “NO BAD BABY! THAT’S MOMMY’S TOMATO PLANT WITH MOMMY TOMATOES ON IT!!”  Kidding.  I totally encourage him to eat the tomatoes, because it’s so cute and good for his tiny prostate, even if I am tired of washing tomato brains off of onesies.

*Note: I wrote most of this months ago, but occasionally I get started on things and then get distracted by “NO BAD BABY! THAT’S MOMMY’S FLOUR CONTAINER WITH MOMMY FLOUR IN IT!!! NO FLOOR DUMP! BAD FLOOR DUMP!!!”  So it’s not exactly current, and I can’t find any pictures of it, but was a damned good recipe, and you should make it anyway.  Plus, it’s nigh on braising season.  Braise on, my brother.

Damn you, Florence and the Machine

The dog days of summer are supposed to be over. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the “dog days of summer” are the sultry, hot-ass days from July 4-August 11. It was still in the 90s when we hit September.  Seriously, Colorado?  Seriously?  Shouldn’t you be confusing me by alternating pleasurably warm days with days where I’m out in shorts and a t-shirt and then, seemingly by cosmic accident, snow starts falling from the blue sky?  Because that’s how I remember you.

I don’t remember being such a summer hater before going to Texas. I think it ruined me for hot weather entirely.  Like when I drank too much Jaegermeister in a college bar and ended up vomiting an entire, undigested quesadilla into the only sink in the bar bathroom, and now I can’t drink Jaegermeister EVER.

I’ve always preferred spring, sure. But I’ve never sat and resented the summer like it were an ex-girlfriend, thinner than I am, showing up to my wedding. I don’t think I’ve had a single margarita all summer, for example. Sure, plenty of wine.  Too much wine.  Screw you, wine. Stop judging me. But no margaritas, no swimming pools, no cookouts, no camping…I’m failing at summer.

Really the only thing getting me through is the produce. Our garden is making lots of it, and the market is just overflowing with ripe, sensual fruits and vegetables. Our garden made a zucchini that was bigger than my femur. The morning that I picked it, and one of its normal-sized siblings, Chris elected to sleep later than I. I woke him by slipping a zucchini, still warm from the sun, into his c-curled hand. I chose the normal-sized one instead of the leg-sized one, lest I give him a complex. Zucchini is not my favorite vegetable, but it sure does make for a good weiner prank.
And the tomatoes. OH, the tomatoes. Is there nothing better than a tomato, fresh from the garden, bursting with summer flavor? It’s the reason for the season. The baby Jesus of summertime, and I mean that in a very reverential, totally not sacrilegious way.

*Angels singing*

The BLTs are a thing of beauty, too. No matter how simple, they just end up breathtakingly delicious and summery and light, which is nice because nobody wants to feel full AND oppressively hot.

Here’s an interesting fact– slab bacon from Niman Ranch (or any other non-factory bacon) doesn’t shrink in the pan. It doesn’t battle you for your entire cooking experience by trying to curl up like a dead shrimp and going from 8 inches to 3 curled up inches of sadness like a reverse erection. That’s because there’s a greater percentage of ACTUAL fat and muscle, and far less water content. It’s thereby cheaper to buy non-CAFO bacon, and it tastes better. I’m telling you, if you haven’t tried it, you need to. It makes all the difference in the world.

Bacon, lettuce, homemade garlic aioli, garden tomatoes, shredded basil, and cracked black pepper on a couple slices of local hippie bread. OMNOMNOMNOM.

Our tomatoes are still coming in, hot and heavy, though the past couple of days have been cool-ER, so I fear for their longevity.  How cold does it have to be to kill my tomatoes?  Does anyone know?

If tomatoes, corn, and melons were winter crops, I’d write a strongly-worded letter suggesting we abolish summer entirely.  Sadly, I think that the melting snow cap and Al Gore’s ever-widening ass cap are telling me the opposite is happening.

Also, here’s a picture of the new kitchen, for those who haven’t seen it.  It’s glorious.  And I’m shopping daycares right now to see about getting some time to USE the kitchen, and my computer, to create documents which I can then post on the internets.  Like this one.  Won’t that be nice?