Foodie Tuesday: Keep Us Company

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Rice and wheat crackers with cheddar dip and salsa; carrots, jicama, olives, watermelon and lime wedges, to zip up any of it that’s in need.

Shared companions at their best help to strengthen individual relationships.

This is true of people, any great net of friends and acquaintances woven, knit and spun together making the two people at their center-most intersection better through their support. It’s true, too, of meals, where the cast of side dishes and sauces, condiments and accompaniments all work together to make the main dish better and more interesting than it would be on its own, and make a standard entrée a standout, distinctive and more memorable for the occasion.

Now, when these two instances of the supporting cast making the show coincide, things can be tons of fun. As on our latest anniversary, for example. We enjoy our twosome time immensely, and are glad to celebrate at any excuse, but we’re not sticklers for specific dates or rigorous traditions. So when our anniversary lined up with a rare opportunity to gather with a houseful of students, we merged our various celebratory plots into one plan.

Dinner for any more than four people is inevitably served buffet style when I’m in charge; besides my preference for informality, I like people to be able to sit at tables for ease of dining, and while I can make that happen for up to a couple dozen in our contiguous living, dining and kitchen spaces, it doesn’t leave much spare room for elbows, let alone heaps of serving dishes, on said tables. So it’s easier to concoct big-batch comestibles in big-batch pots and pans and let the guests scoop up platefuls of their own design at will.

This time, the centerpiece of the meal was my lazy version of carnitas, one of my pet make-ahead foods for carnivores, surrounded by a range of things that could keep the vegetarians, the allergic and the whatever-averse all reasonably well filled.

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The center of attention. Get those edges crispy!

Carnitas de Señora Loca

Take one big, fat-marbled haunch of a pork roast, cut it if/as needed to fit in the slow cooker, and tuck it in for a nice long soak, at least overnight and longer if possible. Its bath should be comfortably Tex-Mex in character: cumin, powdered garlic, chipotle powder or a canned chipotle en adobo, and, if you’re in the mood, some stick cinnamon, all to your taste; equal parts of Mexican [cane sugar] Coke–in my slow cooker, the measure is one individual bottle, orange juice, beer [I generally use either a Mexican beer like Modelo or Corona, or a Texan one like Shiner or Lone Star. I probably should give Armadillo Ale a try, since it’s a new brew produced right here in town. If I want to go wheat-free, I’ll use hard apple cider]. And one more ingredient in equal quantity: lard. Don’t be squeamish; if you’re eating pork, bathe it in the fat with which it was originally designed to be flavored and enriched, preferably great quality leaf lard, expertly prepared. There are plenty of good cooks around who are willing to go to the fuss of rendering their own batches of top-quality lard, but since I have access to grass-fed goodness of that sort I can’t imagine why I should.
A while before serving time, strain the falling-apart pork out of the liquid into a large baking dish, shred it, and put it in a hot enough oven to crisp the top layer, removing it for a toss and redistribution a couple of times so that there are plenty of nice crispy bits throughout but keeping watch to keep the meat generally very moist. Skim most of the fat from the reserved liquids and cook them down to reduce for a sauce while the meat is crisping.
Then pile a bunch of carnitas on your plate and surround it with loads of other food. Eat.

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Carnitas and all the fixings.

Don’t forget some coleslaw when there’s shredded meat, whether BBQ style or otherwise; the two are simply good friends for a good reason. The version of the day had sliced almonds, black and white sesame seeds, and a light lemon vinaigrette with a dash of honey. See, addicted as we are, I can sometimes vary slightly from my standard sushi ginger flavored creamy coleslaw. The creamy dressing, whether made with mayonnaise or yogurt or sour cream in its dressing, would’ve added elements not all vegetarians like, so I wanted to keep an option or two open. Cheese dip for the vegetable crudites was not going to allow such a thing, including not only the grated sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheeses but also an equal mix of mayo and sour cream, along with a pinch of cayenne and a dash of bacon-flavored salt), and I had asked ahead and was pretty sure I didn’t have any true vegetarians, let alone vegans, coming that day, only lighter meat eaters.

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Slaw, of course. Always a good choice, but wait–how to choose its style remains…

Since the non-meatatarians in the crowd might otherwise have been stuck with just salad and fruit, vegetable, cracker sorts of foods, I did make up a big batch of rice without my typical inclusion of homemade bone broth, substituting homemade vegetable broth for the occasion. I credit myself with making a pretty dandy broth, no matter what the kind, so no one was shortchanged in the equation, I hope.

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Corn salad. What, you need more?

The last side dish leaned back toward the savory and did include a little mayonnaise: corn salad made with fresh kernels of sweet corn, diced tomatoes and avocados, and for those who wished, crisp bacon pieces to sprinkle on top. You know me: if a passel of pork is a good thing as the main dish, why not more pork alongside it?

Besides, it seemed in keeping with the whole theme of the event, that of the constellation surrounding the centerpiece enhancing the latter’s goodness, that our friends enhanced our day, and therefore our happiness, by sharing the time and the meal with us.

Foodie Tuesday: Keeping the Tank Full Makes Me Thankful

Let’s just say I’m not the most compliant or enthusiastic when it comes to trying to eat what I think I ought to eat. It’s not that I don’t love eating practically everything–it’s that I do–limiting my choices to what’s right at the moment seems amazingly hard to manage when I’d rather just eat what I feel like eating, in the largest possible quantities and whenever I’m so moved. Sadly, this is what gradually moves me toward the zaftig and less ‘peep show’ sexy than that of a Marshmallow Peep. While its High Season of springtime is ever nearer on the calendar, I don’t really fancy being the latter shape no matter how popular the treat is with other people as sweet-toothed as I am. In fact, I’d have nightmares about being chased around by lust crazed Sugar Zombies in a yellow snowstorm. The very thought!

So I’m going to see if I can’t reduce my carbohydrate footprint, so to speak, and eat things that stay with me in a more kindly manner, that is, in the form of longer-lasting energy and higher nutritive value and deeper savory satisfaction. Frankly, I’m not as worried about fats as I am about the quantity and quality of sugars I’m capable of packing away and have no real need of, nutritionally. So pardon me while I butter myself up, as long as I can learn to more nearly kick the carb habit.

Today I went for an easy start: steak and eggs, Tex-Mex style. I put a couple of cuts of steak in the Sous Vide cooker last night just before bedtime, and when we got going (at our respective times) today, each of us had a piece of medium-rare beef to sear off in the skillet when we were ready to eat. I browned mine in butter and while it rested momentarily on the plate, deglazed the skillet with some of the bone broth from the last batch, handily waiting for the summons from the fridge, and while the broth cooked down to a thin gravy I poached an egg in it. I topped it with a little gussied up salsa: I often buy a jar of Pace Picante Chunky salsa–a pretty mild type–and stick-blend part of it with a (yes, one) chipotle en Adobo, mixing all together for a slightly smoky kick. Then a spoonful of sour cream (didn’t have real crema on hand) and a spiff each of smoked paprika and some lovely crunchy Maldon sea salt flakes, and immediately stuck my fork in and got to work.

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I'm just a Steak and Egg sort of cowgirl, I guess . . .

Thankfully, such a hearty brunch (I won’t lie to you about when I got up) holds up well when it comes to that Work thing, so I’m contentedly looking toward a 7 pm supper with nary a twitch. Well, okay, there is that completely hunger-unrelated humming in my candy molars . . .