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You know what I love?

Like, a lot?

Planning.

Nothing in life makes me happier than knowing exactly what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it.

Know what my husband hates?

Like more than anything?

Planning.

Yep.

I think it is one of about a million reasons that we make a perfect pair. He pushes me to be more adaptable, and to try to find comfort in doing something spontaneous from time to time.

I push him to organize and plan, and at least commit to certain big events prior to them occurring.

So, when I heard about nesting- you know, the uncontrollable urge that hits pregnant women to make their home ready for baby- both Brad and I had a good laugh.

I have been nesting my whole life.

Every Saturday, I spend most of the day doing the traditional “nesting” rituals.

Then this past Sunday, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

When this baby comes, I may not have time to spend hours in my beloved kitchen cooking up good for us delicious food. At least not for a while.

Momentary panic.

I desperately needed a plan.

Only a plan would bring me joy, peace, happiness and harmony once again.

So, I landed on make-ahead meals. And I plan to have as many  made as possible before the baby arrives.

That way, we can continue to eat home cooked meals without the stress of having to find the time to prepare them.

Just having the plan made me feel instantly better.

I believe a good make ahead meal can work for anyone.

Busy work schedule?

Busy with kiddos at home?

Travel often?

Kids activities after school?

No time or energy to cook at the end of the day?

If any of the above are you, then the make ahead meal can make your life.

Easier. Better. More nutritious. More delicious.

Here are the meals that I made last Sunday. They are all stored in air-tight containers in the freezer waiting for me to crack them open this summer.

First, meatballs and sauce.

This recipe requires your stove to be on for a few hours; however, it doesn’t require a careful eye. Once you pop the meatballs in the sauce, you can just let it all simmer away while you move on to other activities.

I made enough meatballs and sauce for at least 2 frozen meals, and we had some of those delicious balls this past week for dinner.

Anything I stick in my freezer, I like to label.

Ah, organization.

Happiness.

I put the name of what I made, how many servings are included, and the date that I popped the food in the freezer.

Everything should be eaten within 6 months of freezing.

Then, of course, I just shared with you that delectable spicy pulled pork.

Again, an extra 2 meals worth of food were put into the freezer.

Pulled pork tacos or a pulled pork sandwich will be in my future!

Then, I made one of my favorite summer treats.

The bacon, onion, and blue cheese stuffed burger.

Four patties for two people equals two meals!

Double bagged for air-tight assurance!

Finally, I made a quick and easy chicken dish.

This one comes from my gal Ina.

Put a 1/4 cup of olive oil into a bowl.

Then grab a beautiful yellow lemon.

Zest that lemon.

By the way, if you don’t own a microplane (what I’m using in the pic below to zest the lemon), go to Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend and get one!

Now, cut that lemon in half and squeeze all of the juice into the oil.

Remove any pesky seeds.

Take a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Or oregano.

Or dill.

Or whatever you have.

And chop it up finely (about 1 t).

And toss that into the bowl.

Now grate two cloves of garlic over your microplane and into your bowl.

A sprinkle of salt…

And  a touch of pepper, and your marinate is complete.

Now take out two beautiful boneless skinless chicken breasts.

And place each one in their own Ziploc bag (their own bag will allow for a faster defrost time when you pull these out of the freezer).

Whisk up your marinade.

And divide it equally between the two bags of chicken.

Toss those into a larger Ziploc bag, give it a label and throw it in your freezer.

Yes folks. It is that easy.

1 day.

About 2 hours of hands-on cooking (the pork sat in the oven for much longer and the sauce sat on the stove much longer, but I was free to go about my day while those cooked).

2 meals for eating this past week.

And 7 meals for freezing.

Not too shabby.

And for a planner like me…

Oh, for a planner. This brought about great peace of mind. I can’t wait to do it all over again this weekend.

I would love to hear of any of your favorite make ahead/freezer friendly meals.

Thanks all!

I hope your weekend is shaping up to be lovely.

We are seeing a whole bunch of old friends tomorrow, and that makes me infinitely happy.

XO,

Leah

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Before the weather turns warm- yes, it is STILL cold in Ohio- I wanted to turn on the oven slow and low to use my beautiful LeCreuset.

I just can’t imagine having my stove on for 6 hours in the summer. So, I’m trying to use this bad boy as much as possible now.

Pork was the dinner choice of the day.

Pork shoulder to be exact.

Pork Story #1:

Pork and I have a bit of a love hate relationship.

When I was growing up, people thought that you had to cook every ounce of holy moisture out of any cut of pork to insure that you and yours did not end up with trichinosis. I don’t even know the origin of the trichinosis scare, but it sure seemed that for the first 20 years of my life people were nervous that pigs had a high likelihood of contracting this parasitic disease and then passing it on to us.

I remember pork chops as a VERY tough and VERY chewy and VERY not delicious cut of meat.

Hated it.

However, there was bacon. If you know me at all, you know that I would leave Brad for bacon if that were legally possible.

I’m kidding, Brad!

Who would marry bacon?

That would be absurd.

Only a weirdo would marry bacon.

But it would be a delicious union.

Love bacon.

Ham for sandwiches landed somewhere in the middle of my pork chop disdain and bacon love.

The end.

Pork Story #2:

In 9th grade, every day at lunch, my friend Todd wrote and then read his very own David Letterman style “Top Ten List”.

I remember being doubled over in laughter with the random things that made their way onto that list.

One particular list that has stuck with me is “Top Ten Words that Sound Funny when Anne says Them”.

This is Anne:

All of the boys loved Anne in middle and high school, and you can see why. She is beautiful.

And she was and is fun.

And Anne has a signature dance move. You should ask her to show it to you if you know her.

However, according to Todd, there are 10 words apparently that sound funny when Anne says them.

And topping the list was the word “Pork”.

To this day, I cannot buy or make pork without momentarily being transported to my 9th grade lunch table.

The end.

Pork Story #3:

That brings us to today and to a recipe for pork shoulder.

Pork shoulder really only tastes good if you cook it slowly, over a long period of time.

Then it is delicious.

I bought a 4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder.

I am in meal-freezing mode to prepare for our little guy or gal’s arrival, so I’m making double recipes of almost everything to freeze and eat later.

So, for 2 people I would not recommend a 4 lb. pork shoulder. However, if you can only find a large cut of this meat then you must throw a dinner party.

It is surely a sign!

Start by preheating your oven to 300 degrees.

Then, on your stove top, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil in your dutch oven over medium-high heat.

If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can most certainly use a normal pot or even a large skillet on your stove. Then, when our pot goes into the oven, your meat is simply transferred to a slow cooker/crock pot.

Unwrap your meat.

Pretty, non?

Take a knife and make 8 slits into the top of the meat.

Deep and wide enough for a clove of garlic to be slipped in.

Then, slip in the garlic.

See if you can find all 8 garlic cloves.

This is like a really weird and lame version of “Where’s Waldo?”.

Give the meat a good sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Then rub the meat with 1 1/2 T. of chili powder, and 2 t. of cumin.

Now take that garlic stuffed, and spice rubbed pork and place it face down in your hot oil.

This should sizzle and pop, and smell pretty darn good!

While the first side is searing, give the exposed bottom side the salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin treatment.

Now, we shall make a sauce.

Perhaps the easiest sauce in all of the land.

The sauce will be added to the pork shortly.

Take one small can of chipotle in adobo peppers, and pop them into a bowl or small mixing container.

Chipotle in Adobo peppers are simply smoked jalapenos. You can find them in the Hispanic foods section or aisle at your grocery store.

Then grab a can of diced tomatoes. Any style will do, but I thought that the fire-roasted version that I found in my pantry would compliment the smokiness of both the cumin and the chipotles.

Add that can to your chipotles.

Blend them up.

Back to the pork.

Give it a flip to allow the underside to brown up.

Looks good already, doesn’t it?

Chop up 1/2 of a red onion.

Or a white one.

Or a yellow one.

Or a couple shallots.

You get the idea.

Toss those in around your pork.

Take your chipotle in adobo and fire roasted tomato sauce and pour that into the pork party.

Now add about 1 1/2 cups of water.

And for the heck of it, I threw in a chopped up jalapeno.

I actually was just rooting around in the fridge trying to decide if anything would be right for this recipe, and this lonely jalapeno called out to me.

I could not deny the call.

And 2 of the tiniest bay leaves ever.

If they were larger, I would have only used one.

Pop a lid on it.

And into the oven it goes.

Or into the crock pot it goes (on low).

For 6 hours.

I peeked in at the pork after about 4 hours of cooking, and I poked at it with some kitchen tongs.

This is a highly technically advanced culinary move.

It was still not falling apart which meant it wasn’t done cooking.

The meat will FALL APART when done. Without trying.

No knife needed. Not even a butter knife.

After 6 hours, this is what it looked like:

The meat had completely separated itself from the bone which is a great sign that the pork is ready for you!

I went to grab a large hunk of the pork with my tongs, and it fell apart.

Perfect!

It was the perfect consistency for shredding.

Remove the bone from the mix, and toss it.

Then pull out all of the pork.

Use a couple of forks to shred this pork to pieces.

I have a massive aversion to fatty gristle, so I take a little longer than most to make sure that I won’t be biting into any fatty chewy nastiness.

I put about half of our pork into an air-tight freezer container to be thawed and reheated some day after baby arrives.

For freezer meals, I always include a label with the contents, the date that I made the food (don’t really want to eat anything older than months), and then the number of servings.

For dinner, we decided that spicy pulled pork tacos were the only way to go.

One of our favorite restaurants in the city, Nada, does a killer carnitas taco.

And they crisp up their shredded pork before you get it on your plate, so I did the same.

You can totally skip this step if you don’t care about crispy pork.

Put a t. of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.

Throw in some pork.

Toss a flour tortilla over your flame to warm it and char it ever so slightly.

Then add your special sauce.

I made this sauce by taking all of the juice that was left in my Le Creuset after removing the pork bone and meat. I used my immersion blender to blend the saucy mixture of red onion, jalapeno, chipotles and tomatoes.

Then I threw a healthy tablespoon of the sauce on the pork while it cooked.

Transfer the pork to your tortillas with some cheese, sour cream and guacamole.

Give it a squeeze of fresh lime (another Nada trick) to brighten up all of the flavors.

And there you have it.

It is not the tidiest plate, so don’t judge me.

However, I was drooling at this point. It was all I could do to just snap a picture before diving in!

Or if you are like me, and you prefer the smaller (and decidedly more delicious) corn tortillas, you can make your tacos in those.

Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Pork Shoulder. Try it.

You’ll love it.

Promise.

Hump day is here. Woop!

XO,

Leah

I love entertaining.

I especially love it when it includes dear friends, and the time spent together is easy and effortless.

I love to cook for these events, but I am big on being a guest at my own party. I DO NOT want to be in the kitchen cooking or cleaning while all of my friends are enjoying drinks, company, and food. No thank ya.

I follow the most fabulous Ina Garten’s advice for throwing a party. Make everything ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to purchase things to serve. Not every item served has to be a fancy to-do.

One of my favorite party treats is a cheese tray. It is super simple to throw together, and it goes like hotcakes. Rather, it goes like really good cheese.

So, a while back we had friends over for a casual meal and time spent together.

Here is what was served. Everything was made ahead of time.

A simple salad with goat cheese phyllo pockets:

To make the pockets, simply cut phyllo dough into 4″x4″ squares (approx. 3 squares for each pocket). Place the first square on a hard, flat surface. Slather it with butter. Then top it with a second sheet of phyllo. Slather that with butter. Then top it with a third sheet of phyllo dough. In the center of the layered squares, place a 1 oz round of goat cheese (plain or flavored).

Gather up the edges of the phyllo and give them a twist at the top to create a pocket.

Pop them into the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them. You want them to be golden and brown.

I just threw a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper over the salad. Top the greens with the phyllo goat cheese pockets.

Caprese salad:

Slice tomatoes, slice fresh mozzarella, and layer it up. Give it a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle the whole thing with basil, salt and pepper.

Yep, that was easy.

For the main dish, I made The Pioneer Woman’s Spicy Pulled Pork.

Photo courtesy of thepioneerwoman.com

The Pulled Pork cooks slow and low for hours, so I timed it to pull it out of the oven about 20 minutes before guests arrived. I shredded it with 2 forks, then kept it warm on the stove.

To top the Pulled Pork, I made a super simple cabbage slaw.

It is just thinly sliced cabbage, a little oil, lime juice, a good amount of salt, and a healthy sprinkle of pepper. Mix it up!

Then, I decided that the only thing better than Spicy Pulled Pork sandwiches would be Spicy Pulled Pork tacos.

So, I busted out the tortillas, and I loaded up bowls with a plethora of delicious toppings.

Truth be told, I was not too hungry by dinner time because I had snacked on taco toppings all dang day.

No. Self. Control.

Let’s see: chopped tomatoes, cilantro, crumbled Mexican cheese, shredded cheddar, sour cream, salsa, and lime juice.

Mmmmmmm.

For a sweet treat, I threw together a simple fruit salad.

Here is what I think make a solid fruit salad- citrus and berries flanked by other fruit favorites.

Here is what I think makes a nasty fruit salad- bananas. They get mushy and brown and their flavor penetrates every other fruit. Bleck. Leave them out.

There ya have it. Easy entertaining. We had a couple of bottles of wine, and friends brought dessert and cocktails to share.

Love it.

Don’t be afraid to have people over for dinner. Serve easy comfortable food. Everyone appreciates a night off from cooking, and I’m sure that they would love an invite to a dinner at your house.

I think I need to throw a party soon. Yep, I think so.

Love ya.

XO,

Leah

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