How was everyone’s weekend? We ran all over, catching up with several different friends and with M’s mum, now that she has returned from her vacation. On Friday, we started with seeing several of my friends from high school, gathering to watch the new documentary on the making of Hamilton (yep, still obsessed!) I thought the documentary was very well put together and it was awesome to see a few more clips from the show. I’m sure it will still be many years before M and I get to see it–ticket prices are absurd and the first national tour doesn’t look to be any more accessible. Even so, I thought the documentary was very good and it was even better to catch up with my friends. I don’t see them nearly as often as I should. On Saturday after work, we visited M’s mum to hear about her latest vacation. She and her sister RV’ed around the Southwestern U.S. and had a grand old time! We pulled together a meal out of our fridges–I made a sort-of onion panade from the leftovers of French Onion Soup and some homemade bread. It’s all the right flavors, at least. And M’s mum had lamb chops, green beans, and polenta stashed in her freezer. Everything came together in a not-too-disjointed-and-definitely-delicious way.
Sometimes, those thrown together meals are the best ones. It isn’t so hard to “eat from the pantry”. Have you tried? I try to stick with a $50 weekly grocery budget for M and myself (including my weekly $15 veggie box). I have varying success, so whenever I find my mid-week grocery trips/my grocery grocery spending starting to climb, I will have us eat from the pantry for a week. It saves money and it makes me remember how much food we already have! I’ve done it to clear out some freezer space and this week, we are eating from the pantry because I had to spend a little too much on car repairs this month. I did keep my weekly Hungry Harvest box, which allowed us some fresh fruits and vegetables. Those are the hardest to ‘give up’ for these eat from the pantry weeks. And, since our freezer and pantry were already full with a few cuts of meat and many different grains, we are eating well. I made us a loaf of bread from the flours I had on hand, and we have been all set. Already this week, we’ve had Eggs Benedict and crab cakes with salad and roasted potatoes. Upcoming on my dinner plans are Roasted Tomato+Pesto Pasta, Crockpot Chicken Pho, and BBQ Meatballs with Yellow Squash Cornbread. The leftovers will get us through the other nights and be used for my lunches and we have eggs, oatmeal, and yogurt for breakfast. All this without spending anything at the grocery store this week. (To give you some context, our harvest box had the yellow squash, tomatoes, romaine, and potatoes that I am using in our dinners. It also had some fruit that I will have with breakfast and lunch.)
As work ramps up and I move towards the end of the semester with my classes, I am trying to be better about using my crockpot at least once per week. Not only is it suited perfectly for Fall dishes, it saves me time for homework and/or working late shifts. Two weeks ago, I perfected this Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork which can be turned into ultra delicious sandwiches! We had this at the Saxapahaw General Store (and continue to get it every time we visit) and fell totally in love with this juicy pork paired with vinegary pickled vegetables. I like to save up a few dollar here and there from my shopping trips until I can buy a big boneless pork butt/shoulder every few months. Buying a 5-10 lb cut will likely have the meat priced cheaply. When I get home, I portion it into 2-3 lb pieces and stick them in the freezer. This is the perfect cut for making shredded pork dishes in the crock pot, like this Coconut Braised Pork for sandwiches, Sweet Pork Barbacoa for tacos, or Citrus Pork for chilaquiles. Pork butt/shoulder is a great stock-up item!
Crockpot Coconut Braised Pork
Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 8 hours on low (crockpot)
- 2.5 lbs pork shoulder/butt
- 1 can (15-16 oz) coconut milk
- 1/3 yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp. curry powder (I used hot madras curry)
- 1-2 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
- 1/4 c. fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
- salt & pepper
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 c. rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 c. water
- spicy mayo/yum-yum sauce
- gluten-free buns
Prep the Pork & Vegetables
Heavy a heavy-bottomed pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the yellow onion and peel and crush the garlic cloves. Add to the crockpot with the coconut milk, curry powder, sriracha, fish sauce, and cilantro. Stir to combine the ingredients. Coat the hot pan with a dollop of oil and place the pork in the pan to sear. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then allow to sear for 2 minutes on every side. Add the pork to the crockpot (it should be mostly covered, but not entirely covered by the coconut milk mixture). Cover with the crockpot lid and cook for 8 hours on low heat.
Slice the red onion thinly and pack into a half-pint jar. Thinly slice the cucumber into coins and pack into a second half-pint jar. Mix the rice vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until the sugar and salt completely dissolve. Pour this mixture over the packed vegetables. Close jars and place in fridge to marinate while the pork cooks.
Make the sandwiches
After eight hours, the pork should have a lovely crust where it was not covered by the coconut milk. Remove the pork from the crockpot to a plate with tongs–it should already pull apart quite easily. Gently pull the pork into smaller, bite sized pieces. Spoon a little of the coconut mixture from the crockpot over the shredded pork.
On a toasted bun, add the spicy mayo, shredded pork, then a liberal amount of pickled cucumbers and a few slices of pickled onions. Some fresh herbs like cilantro or basil might also be delicious here. Enjoy! (Pork should keep in the fridge for 3-4 days–add some more of the coconut mixture to keep it from drying out!)
After sorting through a few confusing emails, I finally have confirmation, which means I can share the good news! I was accepted into grad school! Hurray! I am entering into a Masters in Arts Management program at my alma mater in the Fall. While I have been working in an Arts Management position for years, it was still a nail-biting process to submit my application. I am so happy that the wait is over! I am employed by the university and as part of my employee benefits, I get some tuition waivers for classes. This is the only way I could consider going back to school, so I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. I will be attending on a very part time basis–probably taking only one class per semester. Now, I have to sort out how to submit my waiver, to arrange for a parking pass that counts on the satellite campus where I will be taking classes and on the campus where I work, balance the class with my work schedule, and sort out what class to start with in the Fall semester. Its exciting, but also very confusing. I forgot how much hand-holding is offered to incoming undergrads by the university, and how much hand-holding my mother did for my eighteen-year-old self (thanks, Mom!) the first time around.
Starting classes seems like a new chapter, in a way. And so, my life until then suddenly feels like I am approaching a deadline. While I am sure the class will take a certain amount of commitment (3 hours a week in lecture+homework/study time), I also feel like I am overestimating it. I have this sudden drive to truly balance my life in preparation. In some ways, that is great: maybe I will finally nail down a cleaning schedule, set better time management…you know, generally do everything that I keep wishing I would do! But I can also feel the stress starting to creep back in at the prospect of this change. I’m sure most of the real stress is coming from my upcoming schedule: two
hell tech weeks in row, then one week of prep before our week of dress rehearsals and performances for our Saturday shows. Oy. April and May always keep me on my toes! With the return of my stress, I am doing my best to return to my relaxation routines. I was beginning to get a little lax, so in my few spare minutes, I am trying to consciously pick up a book or put on a tv show. M and I just watched the first episode of iZombie last night. The pilot was quite fun and (bonus!) it has Sark from Alias in it. Also known as David Anders of Once Upon A Time/24/Heroes/The Vampire Diaries (thank you, IMDB), if you are not as willing as I am to harken back to the early 2000s.
Ahem, so, back in this decade…the one part of my new Make-Me-Happy/Self-Care routine that I have not slacked on was trying to take care of my hair. This monster atop my skull has been the bane of my existence for most of my life. Nowadays, after so many years, it is hard to muster up the patience to deal with my curls on most mornings. I am also in my usual winter phase where I want to keep my hair long rather than cutting it. That means the length is starting to weigh down my curls into unkempt waves and the ends are beginning to show some wear-and-tear. Also, I will admit, I now have more than a few gray hairs. My maternal grandfather was entirely gray by 30, and white by 50, though he did keep most of his for all of his life. My father, however, was half-bald by 30. I will count my blessings with the gray hairs! Since my hair care routine is so minimal, even lacking most days, I cannot yet commit to dyeing my hair. Just the thought of the maintenance makes me feel tired. Truthfully, most days, the grays doesn’t bother me, but when my ends are ratty and I’m feeling less than satisfied with myself, they become a huge concern. I noticed that my hair was a big source of frustration for me, so I invested in another quest to find products that work with my hair texture. The better my curls look, the less I notice those gray hairs! I’ve tried nearly every product on the market and recently realized that the “No-shampoo” method touted as the miracle for curly hair doe not work for my hair. I definitely need regular shampoo sessions, though I am avoiding silicones. So I tried something new! It must be working. Last Sunday, M told me that my hair looked “happy”. Do you know what it took to give me “happy” hair? Instead of conditioner, I’ve been using a dollop of an intensive hair mask! It makes me laugh, but it also makes me a little sad. Sad to realize that my hair was in such bad shape that I needed an intensive hair mask every other day. But with that, I’ve been able to avoid a lot of the leave-in products that were weighing down my hair and I can shampoo regularly, which my hair appreciates! I’m slowly rehabilitating my hair and I am so much happier with it!
Anyways! Hair, school, and stress aside, let’s get on to the food! I believe I mentioned in the past that M and I had a run in with Cafe Rio a year or two ago. We were misinformed about the gluten content of their menu (hint: the only thing GF folks can order there is an undressed, meatless salad–and even then, there is severe risk of cross-contamination). In spite of the reactions that we soon experienced, this mishap did mean that we got a taste of Cafe Rio’s Sweet Pork Barbacoa. This mild, juicy pork is an absolute dream and I have been determined to make a gluten-free version since then. I did some research, but all of the recipes I found were not going to cut it. Authentic or not, I am not going to pour several cans of coke over my pork, nor am I going to add over a cup of sugar per pound of meat. I’ve been modifying a recipe that I was mollified by, but not excited about. Then, M suggested pineapple juice! This was a bit of a breakthrough–the sweetness from the juice could cut back on the sugar, while adding tanginess. I am quite pleased with this crockpot recipe. Truth-be-told, it has been so long since I tried the real version, I am not absolutely sure that this matches the Cafe Rio pork. But it does taste as I remember the pork. In my recent cooking of this recipe, I’ve started adding some chipotle peppers and adobo sauce to add a heat element that is definitely not true to the original dish. But this play on spicy-sweet is so delicious, I would recommend straying from the traditional dish with the addition of a little spice!
Crock Pot Sweet Pork Barbacoa
Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 6-10 hours in crockpot
- 2 lbs pork shoulder/pork butt
- 1 and 1/2 c. beef broth
- 3/4 c. pineapple juice
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 c. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp. dried cilantro
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- Optional: Canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce**
**For the regular Sweet & Mild Pork Barbacoa, you do not need to add any peppers or adobo. If you can tolerate a hint of spice, I would recommend adding at least 1 tsp. of the adobo sauce–it adds wonderful depth of flavor with just a little heat. Personally, I add 2 peppers and about 1 Tbsp of adobo sauce to my batch of pork–that puts it solidly in the “Medium” heat range–definitely spicy (much spicier than the pork at Cafe Rio) but no where near overpowering.
Sprinkle the pork shoulder with salt and pepper on all sides. Mix the broth, pineapple juice, tomato paste, and brown sugar in the bowl of the crock pot. Set a large pan over high heat. When pan is hot, sear the pork on all sides. Add all of the spices (and peppers/adobo, if using) to the broth mixture. Add pork to the crockpot. Slice the onion thickly and crush the garlic cloves. Spread onion/garlic over pork. Place the lid on the crockpot and cook for 6 hours on high, or 8-10 hours on low. If you prefer, remove any chipotle peppers and/or onion slices after cooking is complete. Shred the pork shoulder and serve. We like this best in corn tortilla-wrapped tacos, topped with pico de gallo and cilantro.
I might have a problem. Every time I happen to think about these meatballs–or worse–I happen upon a picture of them as I organize my photos, I immediately, desperately, need to make them again. I might be obsessing over these meatballs (or, more specifically, these meatballs doused in this gravy). Actually, considering the bubble of joy that swells in my mind at the prospect of making a big batch of these meatballs to freeze now and pack later for those quickly-approaching camp lunches, I am certain that I am obsessing over these meatballs. That is fine with me. I think you might obsess over them too.
So, Swedish meatballs. In this day and time, I would guess that many people’s minds would immediately think of Ikea’s famous take on this dish. I have certainly heard about Ikea’s glorious swedish meatballs time and time again. But I have never tried them. My first trip to Ikea was less than a year ago, well after I gave up gluten. So the gluten-filled meatballs and creamy gravy were definitely out of the question.
I have no idea if these meatballs taste like Ikea’s. If you have some ground pork and would like to weigh in, I wouldn’t be opposed to an informed opinion. I do know that these little roasted parcels of chicken and pork swimming in this dreamy gravy make a dinner that lingers in my memory and kickstarts cravings at the mere thought. Honestly, I am sharing this post so that I can take the photos out of my To-Be-Posted folder and limit my encounters with the visual reminder. I am having a hard time preparing a convincing argument with myself as to why I can’t just have meatballs for dinner every night.
Swedish Meatballs & Gravy
Adapted from The Londoner
Serves: 3-4 | Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 30 min
For the Meatballs
- 3 slices Udi’s white bread, thawed and untoasted (you may only need 2 if you use larger slices than Udi’s brand)
- up to 6 Tbsp. milk, divided
- 1 sm. yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 3/4 lb. ground pork
- 3/4 lb. ground chicken
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. allspice
- 2 tsp. sage
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne, optional
- 1 Tbsp. butter
For the Gravy
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour (rice flour, a blend, any kind that is not pure starches)
- 2 c. chicken stock
- 4 tsp. dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp. worchestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 c. sour cream*
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. parsley (dried flakes, or chopped fresh)
- Cooked pasta or mashed potatoes
- 1 small lemon
- Fresh parsley
Make the meatballs
Remove the crusts from the bread slices and roughly chop into small pieces. Tear or chop remaining bread innards. Add all bread pieces to a large bowl. Add 4 Tbsp of milk and allow to soak for several minutes until bread softens and absorbs most of the liquid. If portions of the bread are still dry, add up to 2 additional tablespoons of milk, one tablespoon at a time. While the bread is soaking, add butter to a large saucepan and cook onions until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant–about 1-2 minutes. Add onion mixture to the bowl. Add meat, sprinkle over all spices. Mix well, until all ingredients are incorporated. Form meat mixture into 1 1/2 inch wide balls.
Cook the meatballs in the large sauce pan used for the onions, turning gently, until all sides are browned and meatballs are firm, about 7-10 minutes. Do not overcrowd the pan–cook the meatballs in batches if necessary. Place in oven on “Warm” or lowest setting.
Make the gravy
After the meatballs are all cooked, melt the butter is the large saucepan used for the meatballs over medium heat. Sprinkle over flour, whisking constantly. The butter and flour will come together. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the roux begins to turn golden. Add a large splash of the chicken broth. Keep whisking. The roux will bubble and hiss and clump, but that’s okay. Just keep whisking. When the mixtures smooths out, add another big splash of chicken broth. Repeat. Whisk some more. Keep up this cycle: a little broth, whisk until smooth, more broth, whisk again; until all of the broth has been added into the smooth gravy. Measure out the sour cream in a separate container. Stir in the vanilla extract and the sugar. These ingredients are both to take the edge off of the sour cream, so you get a delightful rich, not-too-tangy gravy. Stir the mustard, worchestershire, and sour cream mixture into the gravy in the pan, stirring until thoroughly combined. Stir in nutmeg, parsley, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Add a little water if it is too thick.
To serve, plate up the mashed potatoes or pasta, add meatballs and top it all off with delicious gravy. Sprinkle parsley over top. I also like a squeeze of lemon juice. Enjoy the meal and try not to obsess over these meatballs!