May 17, 2010

Picnic Dinner in the Park

By now you know that Sunday night dinners have become a tradition for me.   I love having friends over for dinner, and Sundays are just the perfect time to relax before the hectic work week starts again.  I don’t always do something ambitious, but this time, I wanted to picnic.  It’s finally nice enough to eat outside, and since I’m in the West Village, I like to think of the green space and piers off the Westside Highway as my own personal backyard. Sam and I had tried this shredded pork dish I found on Saveur one night when we were out in New Jersey visiting my parents.  It was delicious and even better the next day on a roll with a red cabbage slaw and I wanted to try it for our dinner party.  Although this dish required a large heavy pot and 3 ½ hours in an oven, I decided I would attempt it on the hotplate, just in my Dutch oven. It ended up not quite as tender as the first try in a real kitchen, but not half bad considering my limited resources.  Paired with cheddar grits, and packed up for a picnic, it made for a lovely Sunday night dinner, en plein air.

Shredded Pork Shoulder (adapted from The Kitchn)
Serves 5

3 pound pork shoulder, bone-in
1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons cumin

1 ½ teaspoons paprika

½ tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut into wedges

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 12-ounce beer (I used Yuengling)

Trim the pork shoulder of any thick layers of fat. Combine the brown sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the pork with the spice mixture, getting into crevices and on the sides. Allow the pork to sit for about 30 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pot. Add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and beer. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to bring up any browned bits.
Return the pork to the pot. Cover and let simmer 3 ½ to 4 hours, checking once or twice, until the meat is extremely tender and pulls away from the bone easily. Shred the pork in the pot, using tongs to separate the meat from the fat. Discard the bone or set aside for another use.
Serve the meat with several spoonfuls of the vegetables and sauce.

Cheddar Grits
Makes 5 small side servings

OK, I admit it.  All I had were instant grits so I just used those.  I know, not the most culinary of choices, but it was fast and tasted great!

4 packages instant grits
2 c. water
2 tbsp. butter
½ c. shredded cheddar cheese
dash of salt

Boil water in a sauce pan.  Add the grits (about a cup), whisking constantly.  Once the grits have become smooth, after about 2 minutes of whisking, add the butter and combine.  Fold in the cheese and season as needed.  Warm up just before serving so the mixture does not solidify.

May 9, 2010

My Mother's Banana Bread

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share a recipe that my mother made frequently during my childhood – Banana Bread.  Some people grew up with Julia or the Joy of Cooking, but I grew up with The Silver Palate.  Our family’s pesto recipe comes from it, our Christmas dinner comes from it, and of course our Banana Bread of choice comes from it.  I could go on and on. The recipes are all simple and based on local and fresh ingredients, and I used to love reading the sample menus that the authors would suggest.  It made me think of the all the parties I wanted to throw when I grew up – yes, I was already planning future dinner parties as an 11-year-old, I have always wanted to be the host. 
Our copy of the cookbook was so worn that it was literally in pieces, wide-open to the recipes that we used again and again. I finally replaced it for my mother when the 25th anniversary edition came out, but I still sometimes see her referring to the old one.  I guess it’s like an old friend at this point.
I now own my very own copy of The Silver Palate and continue to make recipes like pesto and ratatouille and last week, I finally made our banana bread in my toaster oven.  Sam and I returned home after a weekend away to some very very ripe bananas, the ones that you sometimes hope for just so you can make banana bread.  You know the ones, they’re so ripe that they’re sweet and starchy and too much to take on their own.  I think we love this recipe so much because of the whole wheat flour.  It cuts the sweetness and makes you almost think the bread is good for you. 

Banana Bread (from The Silver Palate Cookbook)
Makes 1 loaf

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temp
¾ c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. whole wheat flour
3 large, over ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ c. shelled walnuts coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.  Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and salt together, stir in the whole wheat flour, and add the the creamed mixture, mixing well.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake on the center rack of the oven (or just in the toaster oven!) until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then on a rack.