Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stoo for yoo

Ever since I read Ruth Reichl's first memoir, Tender at the Bone, I had been fixing to make pork and tomatillo stew, a recipe that came out of her hippie days at a co-op restaurant in Berkeley. I finally made it two Sundays ago for a herd of hungry snow travelers, and it was just as good as I expected. So good, in fact, that it even stole the spotlight from a big beautiful molcajete full of freshly made guacamole.

I had meant to make it with beef, since I wasn't sure that every visitor to my house was pro-pork, but there had been a run on all bovine products at my Safeway. Plus, pork is cheaper - especially when you stray from the recipe's recommendation of lean pork and choose a big, fatty shoulder roast (about $5.50 for a 3-pound hunk). The fat adds flavor to the stew, and I for one think extra fat is a very welcome thing when you've spent the day plodding through thigh-deep snow or shoveling out a driveway.

I had never cooked with tomatillos before, but what a fun little green fruit they are! They're also remarkably cheap. I bought most of the stew's ingredients, with the exception of the pork, at the Latin market on the ground floor of my office building in NoPe. Here a 2-lb package of tomatillos cost only $1.50 (found some other great bargains, too: limes are 25 cents each; a huge bunch of cilantro is 50 cents; a can of Goya black beans is 75 cents). To cook with tomatillos, you must remove the papery husks, and they may need to be scrubbed if there's still paper stuck to the skin. With the husks removed, a tomatillo looks like a cross between a tomato and a green pepper (their stems are similar). It's the main ingredient in many salsa verdes, and it adds a nice, tart, almost vinegary flavor to this particular stew.

The stew disappeared in a matter of minutes. While I do believe second and third helpings are the sincerest forms of flattery, I would have loved to have kept more to myself. But if you are looking for an easy and cheap dish to please - I mean, really please - a big crowd, this is it.

Recipe: Pork and Tomatillo Stew

Adapted from Ruth Reichl. Makes about 12 servings (per my quantities - you can find the original recipe here). I'm sure it would also be very good with chicken or beef in place of pork, or you could even omit the meat and add extra beans for a veg version. It tastes even better the second day.

1/4 C cooking oil
cloves of one whole head of garlic, peeled
3 lbs. pork shoulder roast, cut into cubes
2 bottles dark beer (I used Negra Modelo in keeping with the Latin theme)
12 ounces orange juice
1 to 2 lbs. tomatillos, quartered
1 to 2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped (alternatively, you could use canned tomatoes)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped and divided
2 jalapeƱo peppers, chopped
2 14-ounce cans black beans
juice of 1 lime
sour cream, for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a very large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, then add pork in batches so as not to crowd, and brown on all sides. Remove pork as the pieces get brown on all sides, and add salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, add beer and orange juice to a medium-sized pot over high heat. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook about 20 minutes or until tomatillos are soft. Set aside.

When all pork is browned, pour off all but about a tablespoon of the oil in the pan. Add onions and cook about 8 minutes, or until soft. Stir, scraping up bits of meat. Add chopped cilantro and pepper and salt to taste. Put pork back into pan. Add tomatillo mixture and chopped jalapeƱos. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover partially and cook about 2.5 hours. Check for seasonings, add black beans and lime juice and cook an additional 10-15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl, if desired.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lynne Rossetto Awesome

I listen to a lot of public radio - begrudgingly. To me, it's ten times more tolerable than any other news radio, but this declaration comes with a lot of caveats. For example, I detest that faux-everyman windbag Garrison Keillor, yet his sinister droll still wakes me up every morning (WAMU airs The Writer's Almanac at an ungodly hour). I think This American Life tries too hard to look for the deeper meaning, but I subscribe to their podcast anyway (if you haven't heard "The Breakup" episode, you must). I think the hosts of Morning Edition are shrill snotfaces, but they nonetheless keep me company on every morning commute. I get annoyed when NPR reporters over-enunciate foreign words and names, but I still like how they cover corners of the world that most mainstream news sources avoid.

The one blameless thing public radio has to offer is Lynne Rossetto Kasper. If you ever saw "The Delicious Dish" skits on SNL (see Alec Baldwin's "Schweddy balls" if you can't immediately recall), they were designed to mock Lynne's show, The Splendid Table. These skits were funny but unfair, because The Splendid Table is NOT for boring cat ladies. Oh, wait...

Not surprisingly, I love Lynne and I love her show. Every episode begins with a visit from Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood, who travel the country in search of the best local dives (I've tried a number of Roadfood recommendations, and the Sterns have never steered me wrong). Then Lynne usually does a few interviews with food experts, and gets into the hows and whys of such titillating topics as waxed versus unwaxed cheese. Okay, I admit it's not for everyone, but you have to appreciate Lynne's great big guffaw and her genuine interest in her guests' and callers' seemingly trivial gastronomical concerns. Listen with Lynne, and you too can become impassioned about the history of ramen, the politics of bananas, and the art of knife-sharpening. Plus, she often has cool guests like Amy Sedaris (though Lynne did seem a little unsure how to react when Amy kept mentioning her drug dealer). And lest you think this show is for food snobs, even The Splendid Table's resident wine critic, Josh Wesson, is credited for helping cheap wine earn some respect in the oenological domain.

Every week Lynne sends me (along with thousands of other public radio nerds with cats and M.A. degrees) an email with a recipe that she usually comes up with herself. I always read them through to the end, where she signs off "Have a great week" (you have a great week too, Lynne!), but seldom follow them. There was one that caught my eye a few weeks ago, a recipe Lynne adapted called "Salad of Pineapple and Winter Greens with Warm Roasted Chile-Coconut Dressing." The title was a bit lengthy for my taste, but what sparked my attention was the pineapple. A certain Special Someone I know is such a big fan of pineapple that he even puts it in lasagna. I hadn't cooked him anything other than a fried egg sandwich, if that even counts as cooking, so I set out to follow Lynne's recipe and make him a Splendid Table-quality first dinner.

The pineapple fan liked it (he even ate the soggy, dressing-logged leftovers for the next two days), which I guess was the whole point, but I was underwhelmed. But, as I stated before, Lynne is blameless, so I'm sure I did something wrong. Using the leftover ingredients I had bought for the salad -- peanuts, Thai basil, fish sauce, daikon radish -- I created a different salad a few nights later, one that I'm thrilled to include on this blog. It's just a remnant of Lynne's, and doesn't even have the titular pineapple, but it's definitely worth sharing. Have a great week.

Recipe: Lynne Rossetto Kasper-Inspired Crunchy Salad with Peanut Dressing

I'm having deja vu: I think I write about salads like this about 25 percent of the time, as they are my staple for weight loss attempts. But each one always seems better than the last one, so I can't resist posting them. This one contains two of my new favorite ingredients - daikon radish and fish sauce. I'm really late in jumping on the daikon radish and fish sauce bandwagons, but I'm glad I finally did. Fish sauce adds that mysterious umami taste (Lynne, as you may have guessed, loves talking about umami) and daikon is that delicious not-too-sharp radish you find in banh mi sandwiches and some Thai salads. Both are really inexpensive at Asian markets. I also used red cabbage in this salad; normally I buy green cabbage since it tends to be cheaper, but red and green are both 99 cents a pound at H Mart, so I went with the more visually appealing red. As with any salad I create, proportions are up to individual tastes, so this recipe is just a guideline.

Makes 4 generous servings. Lasts up to five days in the refrigerator. Add chicken, shrimp, or tofu to make it a more filling meal.

For the salad:
1/2 head of red cabbage (use green if you prefer)
1 carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
2 green onions, sliced (use green and white parts)
1/2 daikon radish, cut into matchsticks
1 handful Thai basil, cut into julienne, or cilantro
1 handful roasted, salted peanuts, chopped (food processor makes this much easier; cashews or macadamia nuts would also be good)
juice of 1 lime

For the dressing:
3 T peanut butter
2 T rice vinegar
1 T honey
1 t fish sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
a good sprinking of crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 t salt
water to thin the dressing, if desired

Mix together the salad ingredients; add the lime juice. Whisk together the dressing ingredients; add a few drops of water if you like a thinner consistency. Check seasonings and adjust as needed. Toss dressing with salad.