Cleaning out my Cabinets: Oven-Cooked Ribs and Apple Pie Cookies

In the midst of all the recent odd meals and random meat butchering, I did need to cook some things that make people want to return to our apartment occasionally.  Those meals are generally the ones that end up in these posts; anything new I attempted that came out pretty well.  As per usual, the meals were born out of having too much of something and needing to get rid of it.

Lets start with the rack of ribs that’s been in our freezer since August.

Leftover from a 3-rack-pack purchased at Costco for Little Compton. Needed to be rearranged in the freezer every few days to make sure the door would close

After a day to thaw and some recommendations from blog villain Brother Tim (a slightly better barbecue cook than me) I got started by preheating the oven to 250F.

Since I think it’s hard to top Tim’s ribs (jerk), I decided to give him a wide berth and instead go with something more similar to a Chinese spare rib.  I mixed together a dry rub of Chinese five spice, salt, cayenne, garlic, onion, brown sugar, and a little dried mustard and amply applied to the meat.

I refuse to let even a small sliver of pork go uncovered with rub when cooking ribs or shoulder. I figure they're self conscious about their exposed flesh like me

These went into a large pyrex with a dark beer, a couple dashes of liquid smoke,a few cloves, and crushed red pepper in the base of the dish for flavor.

Not sure how I would apply this approach to multiple racks of ribs, but guessing I will have to figure it out sometime soon

Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and send into the preheated 250F oven for 3 hours.  I spent that time bugging Kristi with my opinions on cooking debates she was unaware of, watching sports, and letting Janet play with my teeth and chin(s).  Eventually, this came out of the oven:

The exposed rib ends are a big no-no in the BBQ world, but I rarely claim to do anything correctly. However, I insist that you do whatever it is you are doing my way

At this point the oven gets switched over to grilling mode; oven rack at (or near) the top placement and set to high broil.  The ribs were transferred to a broiling pan with a little additional rub sprinkled over the top and broiled a few inches from the heat with the door slightly open to make sure the oven stays on.  After about 5-7 minutes they were sizzling, crispy, and starting to brown a bit so I pulled the pan out of the oven.

Started glazing the one on the right before remembering to take a picture. Kristi's priorities have been way out of whack recently when it comes to this blog. Since when is Janet's dinner more important than my action shots?!?!

Although I generally don’t like saucing ribs before they’re finished cooking, I wanted these to have a sticky Chinese spare rib-style glaze.  The glaze was equal parts traditional Sweet Baby Rays and soy sauce with a little sesame oil blended in as well.  I brushed on a thin layer and then put the ribs back into the oven under the broiler for another minute or so, keeping the pan moving constantly with a mitted hand to avoid burning (ribs and hand).

I hate saucy ribs and consider them a sign of a restaurant that has no idea what they are doing. I have lots of opinions!

The short time under the broiler turned the glaze from a sauce into a sticky crust on the ribs.  The meat was tender, juicy, and the steaming time made the meat extremely tender and fall off the bone.  The combination of the rub and the glaze gave the pork some good saltiness and a little contrasting sweet spiciness.

You do miss out on the nice pink bark that comes from smoker or grill cooked ribs, but it was 20 degrees out and I didn't have to freeze my a-hole off to make these

Pretty decent for a first attempt at ribs that never touch a grill.  Would definitely do them again.

Now onto the Apple Pie Cookies.  The two ingredients that led to this one were apples, which Kristi consistently buys then forgets to eat, and a bunch of maple candies.  The maple candies were made by Kristi’s Aunt Sue and Uncle Crocky as a wedding favor for their daughter Casey’s wedding last July.  They made a ton of them, and they were delicious, but even I couldn’t eat as many as they sent me home with.  Plus, they melted a bit en route due to the absurd summer heat.

Fast forward a few months and they’re still sitting in my freezer, so on the night that I made the tortillas and carnitas, I decided to use them for something.

You can see the shapes they used to be in before I left them in the car for a half hour on the hottest weekend of the summer. We took a family photo at the wedding and since my pit stains had met in the center and soaked my arms, it looks like I am wearing a solid dark blue shirt. I changed before the reception. It was that bad

The maple candies headed into the oven to bake for an hour and dry up a bit since I planned to use them as a sugar substitute for the cookies.  What came out of the oven was easy to crumble and had a texture similar to brown sugar.

Looked like sugar and smelled like maple. pretty much what I was hoping for

The rest of the process was very close to my recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies.  The maple sugar was supplemented with an equal amount of white sugar to approximate the total amount of sugars in that recipe.  Along with the sugar, I used the same proportions of butter, flour, eggs, baking soda, salt, and oats.  The only difference was using twice as much cinnamon and vanilla extract for this recipe and substituting cubed apples for the raisins.

I think this is only one apple but it might have been two, but I can't really remember

Mix the apples in with the hand mixer, stir in the oats and drop in blobs on a cookie sheet for baking a 375F for 10-12 minutes.  Once they deflated and had just started browning, I pulled them out and transferred to a rack for cooling.

They look pretty much like oatmeal cookies. Tough to make cookies look exciting and different

These were really good and tasted pretty similar to apple pie with hints of maple.  Since I used fresh apples, there was a lot of liquid that cooked into the cookies during baking and was absorbed by the oats and dough.  Because of all the extra moisture, they fell apart pretty easily when eating and weren’t nearly as good on day 2.  Still, worth giving a shot to if you are bored with cookie tube or regular oatmeal raisin.

Next week will be another post that will drive my sister in-law Jen further away from readership.  I feel like I ruined her winter with that Goat Head Cheese post.

Tortillas and Carnitas

When you live walking distance from some of your best friends and write a blog about cooking weird foods, you occasionally get random edible gifts.  Like this item that I found in my mailbox one day when I got home from work.

If I hadn't been warned that something would be in my mailbox, this probably wouldn't have made it inside the front door. Sketchy tub of white stuff doesn't exactly scream "bring me into your home where your infant is waiting"

After opening, carefully, I could tell it was rendered fat of some sort.  My first guess was leftover fat from my friend Nate’s Thanksgiving turkey (because it smelled roasted), but it turned out to be lard from Nate’s wife Emily’s favorite sandwich shop Cutty’s.  Well then.

Cutty's might have pulled the old hollow-center TCBY trick with their pork fat. Spoofin', this stuff smelled slightly smoky and deliciously porky, way better than the stale candle smell I associate with lard

So, whaddya do with a big old tub of pork fat?  Ask Kristi, she has been married to me for two and a half years.  Wokka Wokka!  Be sure to tip your bartenders folks.

Anyway, I had seen a couple flour tortilla recipes a few months ago (when I was trying to work through my original purchase of 25 pounds of flour) that used lard.  They looked freaking delicious, so I ended up going with a Ree Drummond recipe that had the highest lard to flour ratio.  There was a lot of lard to go through after all.  And what better compliment to a pork flavored tortilla than some delicious carnitas as a filling?  Let’s get started.

The tortillas are pretty simple to make, but you need to prep them a few hours in advance.  2 and a half cups of flour go into a bowl with baking powder, salt, and about a half cup of lard.

Most other recipes use a lot less lard, but those recipes are for p*ssies

A few minutes with the pastry cutter later, and it looks kind of like wet sand.

Actually, less like wet sand and more like Kraft parmesan cheese. Mmmmm, Kraft parmesan cheese

Slowly stir in one cup of hot water and you end up with a wet looking dough, similar in moisture/stickiness to homemade pizza dough.  From there I tipped it out onto a lightly floured surface and kneaded in a little additional flour until the dough wasn’t sticking to the counter nearly as much.

Identical looking to my breads and pizza doughs, but smelled completely different. Replaced the smell of yeast with pork

I covered the dough ball with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for a couple hours.

While that sat, I got started on the carnitas.  Rick Bayless, whose tweet of the link to my first post a year and a half ago got me hooked on writing this blog, had an easy to follow recipe for oven roasted carnitas.  Bake thick slices of pork shoulder covered for an hour at 375F, then cook uncovered at 450F for another 40-50 minutes to brown and crisp.  The exact opposite of the times and temperatures I usually use with pork shoulder, but you gotta trust the man.

5 pounds of picnic shoulder on sale for $5.85. Now, THAT is the best deal at the grocery store. I wish I'd bought ten of them

I only wanted to cook half of the shoulder and freeze the other half.  Meant there was some deboning and skinning to be done.

Haven't talked about my ridiculous t-shirts in a while, but this is a new one. The correct way to wear it is tucked into some light blue jeans featuring an insanely long zipper and held on with a braided leather belt. Best complimented with a pair of running sneakers and tube socks

Bone out, skin off, I was ready to cut this into two slabs.

I couldn't throw away the skin, I just couldn't, there's too much fat on there to throw away!

The slab of shoulder that I planned to cook I coated heavily with a homemade rub of salt, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and onion powder.  The skin got a sprinkle of the leftover rub as well.

Food Savers are so awesome. Ever since picking up a ton of bags at Costco I food saver stuff at a borderline-compulsive level

The skin went into a separate greased baking dish, fat side up.  I poured about a quarter inch worth of beer into the pork shoulder dish and covered with foil.  Both headed into a 375F oven for an hour.

I regret not covering the skin too. Have yet to successfully make good cracklins in my oven. Speaking of my oven, the bottom is starting to look a little like Tim's oven, which is essentially the frat house basement of the oven world. Need to clean that soon

While that cooked, Kristi and I went to work on the tortilla dough.  After a couple hours of resting, the dough was ready to be separated and shaped into individual ping pong-sized balls which would eventually be rolled out into individual tortillas.  Basically, you pull a hunk off the dough ball and roll it between your hands into a ball shape.

Role reversal!!!! Kristi and I switched places so you could actually see nice looking hands handling food for once. Plus, it proves that taking a picture of food with a person in it is way harder than Kristi makes it seem. Awful work by me

After about 5 minutes of tense teamwork (specifically, me pointing out the inconsistencies in the size of the dough balls Kristi was making while making everything from a softball to a marble myself), we had our tortilla-sized doughballs ready.

Good teamwork! Actually, they ended up being too small and we had to remake them all once I started rolling them out

While those rested for an additional hour, the cover came off the carnitas and the oven temp went up to 450F.  For the next 30 minutes, I let the liquid in the base of the shoulder pan cook off while flipping the skins often to avoid burning them too badly.  Couldn’t avoid it though.

I think that upping to the 400s was a great call for the pork, terrible call for the skins

After thirty minutes, with the skins out of the oven, and the carnitas being flipped every 5-7 minutes to get nicely browned, I started rolling out and cooking the tortillas.  Pretty easy really, just roll them out as thin as possible, peel off your counter, and throw in an un-greased nonstick pan over medium/high heat.  Well, actually, it sounds easier than it is since it definitely takes a few botched rounds before they start coming out well.

Not m'best, but the great thing about tortillas is how much can you complain about something that you can pile meat into and eat? Still did the trick, just had a couple holes and was poorly shaped

Gettin' better. I get a lot of good use out of this crappy $10 griddle I got 8 years ago, but every time I make pancakes on the weekend I wish I made them more often. You don't care about anything I just said

 

After some continued trial and error, I eventually got into a good groove and came out with a decent looking stack of tortillas.

Similar to pancakes, but with a lot more rendered pork fat. You know, for your health

After 4-5 turns, the carnitas came out of the oven and was easily pulled apart into chunks with a knife and tongs.  Along with the tortillas, we served some of our go-to toppings (grated Monterey Jack, salsa, and caramelized onions) and a homemade corn salsa of corn, cilantro, chopped onion, crushed red pepper, and lime juice.

The lettuce was, and always is, a total bust when presenting a taco bar like this. Lettuce is out of the Old El Paso taco night commercials from the 80s; it has no place in most decent tacos

Well, I don’t want to over-sell homemade tortillas, but these are in a completely different world than the crap I buy at the grocery store.  They have their own delicious flavor (vs being just a floury vessel), are a little thicker in a good way, and have a fresh cooked taste that is completely unmatchable.  Just awesome.

This was my fourth taco. I was breathing heavily and sweating at this point, which means I was either eating, exercising, or sitting stationary

The pork had a good texture for tacos; big chunks that were tender but also a little chewy due to the size.  The cheese and caramelized onions made the meat even more rich, but the flavors from the corn salsa was essential since it helped cut the richness of the other flavors.  Very, very good tacos.

Next week will cover some goat related cooking (for reals this time, it is the super bowl after all).

Momere’s Baked Beans

In addition to her grandparents, Janet is blessed with having two great grandmothers, Alice and Janet (the source of her name), as well as a great aunt through marriage, Joyce.  What’s really amazing is that she also has a great-great grandmother, Simone.  Now, in the Ryan family we called our grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, but things are done a little differently in Kristi’s family.  Janet is Grandma Net, Alice is Grandma Ali, Joyce is Joycie, and Simone is Momere (pronounced “Mommer” in the VT translation of French).  Hence the name of the post.

Momere is 98 years old and still lives on her own down the street from Net and Kristi’s parents.  She mostly wears clothes that she made herself, has a husky laugh that makes me feel like I am pretty funny, and keeps her house at a balmy 80 degrees using a wood burning stove in the winter.  I’ve had a few queasy mornings there after after the family Christmas parties.

Joycie and Momere chillin' at one of the summer parties. Note the baggo (or "cornhole" in Ryan terms) game going on in the background. Thank god it's become the lawn game of choice at family events since I almost killed three bystanders the last time I attempted to play horseshoes

In the time I’ve known Kristi, Momere’s eyesight hasn’t been great which has limited her ability to cook, but everyone in the family talks often about how good her cooking is.  Kristi has told me on multiple occasions about how amazing her baked beans are and since I’ve never cooked baked beans myself, I decided recently that I wanted to get my hands on her recipe.  The only obstacle was that unlike my need to write down recipes since I only cook things once or twice, Momere has an arsenal of dishes that she’s cooked hundreds of times over nine decades.  So, the recipes are entirely in her head and she probably hasn’t had to measure out the proportions for the past 20-30 years.

Janet loved hanging with Momere. And, no, she wasn't DJ'ing, that's a new hearing aid which seems to work much better than previous ones

At Casey and Mark’s wedding a few week’s ago, Aunt Tiffany and I asked Momere to share her recipe for baked beans.  As she said, the proportions are all to taste, but the key ingredients for her recipe were soldier or navy beans (“careful to pick out any rocks or bad beans”), salt pork (“always look for the pieces with the least fat and most meat”), maple syrup, white sugar, and mustard.  She also gave specific instructions on cooking time (“at least 6 hours at 275”) and a good way to test whether the beans are ready (“they are done when you blow on them and the skin comes off”).

With that information and a little online research, I was ready to get started by picking through, rinsing and soaking a pound of navy beans.

Couldn't find soldier beans, but navy beans were given as a second option. I am usually lazy with beans and use the canned version but this effort was worth an exception

After an overnight soak, I had this underwhelming result.

I think I expected them to quadruple in size overnight or something, but they only got a little bigger

I strained and rinsed the beans again then reserved them while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.  Next up was the salt pork which Kristi picked up for me at the grocery store.

Kristi didn't let Momere down and got a pretty meaty piece. It helped that I reiterated that point unnecessarily about a thousand times before she left for the store. I'm lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married.

I hadn’t cooked with salt pork much previously aside from attempting to use it a couple years ago after being introduced to it at Ryan Thanksgiving.  My Aunt Jeannie uses slices of salt pork draped on top of the turkey to flavor the bird and keep it moist, but I mostly tried and failed to use it in breakfast preparations.  It’s really salty stuff, so after cutting off about a third of the slab to use, I rinsed it thoroughly to remove excess salt, then transferred to the cutting board to trim the rind off.

I think the rind is skin, but not sure about that. Also, salt pork is made with fatback, so even a meaty piece still has a lot of fat

Most recipes called for 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound of salt pork or bacon per pound of dried beans, but since I like my beans salty and porky I erred on the high end and used a little under a half pound, which I cubed into small pieces.

I knew the fatty pieces would almost completely disappear during cooking leaving only delicious flavor. Oh, and fat.

Next step was giving a yellow onion a medium dice and measuring out some mustard.  As I researched online, most recipes called for ground mustard, but I really got the sense from Momere that she meant prepared mustard when she gave the recipe.  So, I went with my ample gut, and decided to go with Grey Poupon as a semi-homage to Momere’s French-Canadian heritage.

Although I was planning on a quarter cup, I was totally guessing since I had no idea what the prepared equivalent of 2 tablespoons of ground mustard would be. But there was a third of a cup left in the bottle, so that's what I went with.

To make sure there wouldn’t be clumps of individual ingredients and everything would be evenly dispersed, I decided to combine ingredients prior to adding the beans.  Starting with whisking together the mustard with the maple syrup and a little water.

Action shots!!!! I was really enjoying myself more than made sense at this point

Per Momere’s recommendation, I began taste testing the liquid since it was key to the success of the beans.  I started with a half cup of maple syrup and a couple tablespoons of white sugar but added more of both until it got to the sweetness level I was hoping for.  It ended up at around 3/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup of sugar which was a little sweeter than I wanted, but it would be diluted by adding a few cups of water before cooking.

Once the flavor was right, I added the salt pork, onions and a couple tablespoons of minced garlic.

Worst kept secret on the ADB blog: I keep a jar of store-bought minced garlic in the fridge for when I am out of fresh garlic or feeling lazy. Both were the case on this day

Stirred in the beans, about 2 1/2 cups of water, a couple tablespoons of fresh ground pepper and then the whole bowl went into the smaller cousin of my favorite Le Creuset.

This was looking lighter in color than I expected but I figured the beans and sugar would darken during cooking. Also, sometimes when I post pictures of this Le Creuset in use I feel like I am cheating on my main squeeze, Big Yellow

The lid went on, and this headed into the 275F oven for 6 hours per Momere’s instructions.  While that cooks, here are some interesting Momere facts:

– She has 27 great grandchildren and 15 great-great grandchildren.  Blows my freaking mind.  When I was young I remember showing friends the picture of my oldest brother John as a baby with our father, grandfather, and great grandfather shortly before he passed away.  I thought it was amazing that my brother actually met his great grandfather.
– When Momere was 48 her husband passed away and she needed to find employment to support herself.  In a show of incredible determination, she put herself through nursing school and worked for an additional 30+ years before retiring at the age of 80.  By contrast, I left my relatively cushy job to go back to school when I was 29 in the hopes of finding an even cushier job.  If the previous sentence was shown to a group of seniors along with a picture of me eating a sandwich, there would be universal head shaking and a resounding chorus of, “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
– After Momere’s husband passed away, it was just her sister, Marcienne who was also recently widowed, in the house with her.  Momere Marcienne (as she was called by the family) and Momere were married to brothers and had brought up their two families in the same house.  They lived about 6 houses away from Kristi’s family so Momere Marcienne and Momere often took care of Kristi and her twin Kate when they were babies and occasionally after school while their parents were at work.  They each had their own twin, and while I love Momere,  I gotta side with Momere Marcienne since she was on Team Kristi.

Momere Marcienne is on the left, Momere is on the right. While my head is exploding with comments on my wife as well as my brother and sisters in-law in this picture, let's keep this a nice blog about Momere and her awesome baked beans, okay?

Back to the cooking.  After about four and a half hours in the oven, I pulled the beans out to check if they needed a stir, which they did.

The top layer was in danger of drying out but you can see the ample cooking liquid below bubbling through in spots

The change in color and rich aroma were very encouraging, and stirring the beans up helped avoid the top layer getting too dry and dispersed the liquid throughout the beans.  After another hour and a half I pulled the beans and had my first taste.  The flavor was great, exactly what I was hoping for, but the big test was Kristi.  I couldn’t have been happier than when she ate the first forkful, then the rest of the small bowl I’d prepared, and said the flavor was right on.

Since the beans were still slightly firmer than I wanted them and there was a good amount of excess liquid, I removed the lid and put the beans back in the oven for another 40 minutes at 325F.  Which got me here:

You know that looks freaking delicious, and the smell matched

The flavors came together very well and each bite had a little salty pork flavor, a little maple, and some tartness from the Dijon mustard.  Just the right level of sweetness too, not the over-the-top sugary sweetness of Bush’s Maple Cured Bacon Beans.  They had a very rich flavor, but not a heavy richness, perfect with a couple sausages or hot dogs.

I OD'ed on these Al Fresco chicken sausages a few years ago and am just now reintroducing them to our meals. They were a good compliment to the beans, as was the yellow horseradish mustard from some Buffalo place that Buschy left in my fridge

The beans weren’t quite as soft as the canned variety, but I wouldn’t say that made them any less enjoyable, just clear that you weren’t eating canned baked beans.  I’d likely do a little more lid-on cooking time and a little more water in the future if I was hoping for softer beans.  I’ll also listen to Momere and cook them until the skin falls off when I blow on them (which it didn’t on mine).

Anyhoo, they were really good.  The next step is to attempt making these the next time I visit VT and see if Momere has any suggestions or changes.  I am already feeling a little nervous about that.  Here’s a poor attempt at a recipe.

Pete’s version of Momere’s Baked Beans

1 lb dried navy beans (rinsed and soaked overnight)
1/3 lb salt pork (rinsed and cubed) – 1/2 lb for saltier/meatier beans
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup white sugar
3 & 1/2 cups of water
1 medium yellow onion (diced)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275F.  Whisk together mustard, maple syrup, water, and sugar until thoroughly blended.  Stir in beans, pork, onions, garlic, and pepper.  Place in medium sized pot with heavy lid and place in oven for 6 hours (7 hours for softer beans), stirring once approximately halfway through cooking.  Increase oven temperature to 325F, remove lid, stir once, and cook an addition 30-45 minutes or until excess liquid has cooked off.  Remove beans from oven and they are ready to serve.

Weird Crap I Cook: Tacos de buche

Over Columbus Day weekend we had a taco competition at our friend Buschy’s apartment in Boston.  Conor was planning to make his whitefish tacos with garlic and cilantro aioli and Buschy was planning his traditional, but delicious, turkey meat, black bean, and corn tacos.  With Hi Lo nearby, I decided to make beef tripe tacos since I had seen them on various travel/food shows and Conor had raved about them after his visit to Mexico last year.

Don’t you hate it when you plan to cook a cow stomach on Sunday and then you go for dim sum on Saturday… and eat cow stomach?!?! LOL!!!  No?  Oh.  Well, thats what happened and I felt like I should try something new on Sunday.  So, Sunday morning I walked over to Hi Lo and bought a pig stomach, various interesting canned items and a stack of corn tortillas.  The canned items included:

I love this stuff and had no idea it was available in a can

Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn and turns the corn black.  Some adventurous soul gave it a taste many years ago and realized it’s delicious potential.  It has a tough to describe taste, reminiscent of mushrooms but sweeter.  I am very likely to order any menu item that features huitlacoche, but I had a few concerns about what a canned version would taste like.  Back to the stomach…

The familiar yellow styrofoam strikes fear into the heart of Buschy every time I bring it into his kitchen

The stomach was basically a stack of rinsed pig stomachs compressed into a block and sliced into rectangles.  Once out of the package, I separated the pieces, rinsed them and started some water boiling.

Now thats looking like a stomach!

Once the water was boiling, the stomach pieces went in for about 10 minutes.  The main goal was to get any unnecessary nasty stuff to boil up to the top where it could be skimmed off.

That white foam was what I was trying to get out of there

Once the ten minutes were up, the lightly boiled pieces went into a bowl for scrubbing.

Yep, thats still stomach

White vinegar and salt were added to the bowl and I basically treated the stomach pieces like I was hand-washing laundry; each piece was scrubbed against another piece.  I did this for a bit, dumped the liquid, rinsed under water, then went through the scrubbing process with vinegar and salt again.

The color of the water was both encouraging and disgusting

Gave the pieces a final rinse under tap water and then cut the stomach into smaller squares.  The smaller pieces would be easier to tenderize during the next round of boiling that would last multiple hours.

Starting to look a little closer to food

On the stove, I brought a mixture of water, chicken stock, tomato paste, onion, garlic, and a few bay leaves to a boil and added the stomach pieces.

The combination smelled really good. Thank god, since over the course of the day the whole apartment began to smell like it

At this point the lid went on, I knocked the heat down to low, and left it to cook for five anxious hours.  Luckily, I had NFL football and Conor’s delicious halibut tacos to help pass the time.  Here’s how it looked when the lid finally came off and it was time to drain off the cooking liquid:

This actually looked great to me, kind of like canned franks and beans. Which apparently looks great to me

I took a piece out and gave it a try.  The stomach had become very tender and taken on some of the flavors from the cooking liquid.  It had a light but distinct pork flavor, almost like a very overcooked pork chop.  It was definitely ready for final prep so I drained the cooking liquid.

This pig stomach was looking ready to get into this pig's stomach. Too easy

This is where we come to a bit of a crossroads in the cooking process and, unfortunately, I once again ended up regretting the path I chose.  Originally, my plan was to brown the stomach in a pan with garlic and onions then add some worcestershire sauce and taco seasoning to finish it.  However, I ended up overthinking it by not wanting to use taco seasoning and instead keep it a little more authentic.  Enter a can of chipotle peppers that I roughly chopped and added to the onions and garlic I had simmering in the pan.

Other terrible decisions I've made in the kitchen: cutting an onion while holding it in the palm of my hand, reaching into a toaster oven with both hands to get something that fell in the back, and using my fist to force more stuffing into a turkey until it shot out the other side

I made the following mistakes when adding the peppers: 1) I should have rinsed the smokey sauce off of them, 2) I should have checked to make sure they were seeded, and 3) I should have tasted them to see how spicy they were.  I did none of these things, but only discovered the error of my ways after it was too late and the stomach had been mixed in.

It looked promising, but you could tell by the smell that it was spicy. Like really spicy

After tasting a spoonful and urgently drinking an entire beer to eliminate the inferno in my mouth, I went into crisis mode.  I did the only two things I could think of to calm down the spicyness; add a chopped bell pepper and half a beer to thin out the sauce a bit.

Went with a Pacifico. I was grasping at straws at this point

Not sure either would be considered a real way to fix the situation and neither helped much.  The final product looked like this:

At this point many of the critics in the apartment loosened their anti-stomach stance and stated their intention to try some. They were humoring me

I grabbed a freshly heated corn torilla and tried a stomach taco with just lime and cilantro and… it was actually pretty good.

I have yet to find a taco that isn't made better by cilantro and lime

The spiciness could definitely sneak up on you, and if you bit into a chipotle pepper seed you were in for some pain, but that first taco was nowhere near as spicy as the initial spoonful I had.  So I had a second, but this time I utilized the extensive toppings bar we had put together:

Bottom right are Con's roasted jalapeno salsa and vegetable salsa. Huitlacoche is at the top next to Annie's guac, and Conor's garlic and cilantro aioli is in the back row on the right

The second was the same as the first, but with a spoonful of the aioli as well.

Annnnnd I'm hungry again... from looking at pig stomach that gave me spiciness indigestion. What is wrong with me?

The meat had a chewy texture but it basically fell apart after a bite or two.  The flavor was a smoky pork and chili mixture with the freshness of the cilantro, lime and garlic making a great combination.  I ended up having a third taco that was identical to this one, but not before I tried the huitlacoche with a turkey taco.

I guess I have a thing for completely black foods that barely show up in pictures

The huitlacoche had some of the flavors I was looking for but you could tell it was from a can and was missing the stronger flavors of what you’d find in a restaurant.  I probably wouldn’t buy it again.

As far as the rest of the attendees at football Sunday, there were mixed opinions on the stomach.

That is a clearly uncomfortable smile

Annie’s sister Erin (just behind Conor) ate a taco, didn’t remark once about the spice and claimed to enjoy it.  Conor on the other hand was seen sprinting into the kitchen with tears streaming down his face and came out with a pint of milk.  To his credit, he ended up trying it a second time and eventually added smaller amounts to other tacos he made.  Buschy tried a bite, chewed with his eyes closed and then said it was “good” and didn’t eat anymore.  Pretty standard.  Oh and “tacos de buche” means pig stomach tacos in case you haven’t figured that out yet.

And that was it.  Once again, I attempt to make something challenging and end up wanting to take another crack at it sometime in the future.  We’ll see, its not tops on my list of redos at the moment.

Next week, a completely new life experience for me that led to a delicious meal.

Little Compton Hot Dogs

First, my apologies for the lack of posts.  Too much traveling and a lack of internet.  I will try to do better and I have a few recent meals that will make shorter posts.  This is one of them.

On our final Saturday night in Little Compton we had about 15 people staying in the house and we decided the best way to feed everyone would be a lobster bake.  To get people hungry we started out with a guacamole competition between me and my friend Emily.

Emyo's guac is the far one, mine is the closer one. Hers was chunky because her hand hurt too much to mash it well. Waaaahhhhh, poor baby. I am just bitter because hers tasted better

Due to the lack of quality ventilation in the house and it still recovering from my lobster marinara, we decided to do the lobster bake outside.  Enter the Tim Ryan turkey fryer.

When Tim and I first used a turkey fryer we remarked how awesome it would be to cook, like, a hundred buffalo wings in it. As we thought about that in slack-jawed amazement, I realized we would both need seatbelt extensions on airplanes at some point in our lives

Between that and the wooden cornhole game we made (Tim did the woodwork, Kristi did the bags, I criticized), we were definitely the rednecks of this quaint and quiet beach community.

Buschy and Kristi at least looked like they belonged. I was probably shirtless and drinking a budweiser while I took this picture

Back to the lobster bake, the bottom of the pot had three rocks to separate the steamer basket from the water.  Into the basket went 60 clams and 15 lobsters.

I am looking forward to a 6-7 month break from clams and lobsters...

...though I could easily be convinced to change my mind. This picture makes me hungry and it is mainly of decking and shingles

Now for why the post is named “Little Compton Hot Dogs”, once the water was boiling and we were about to put the clam/lobster basket in, I threw 10 hotdogs into the bottom of the pot.  My thought was that they would cook in the liquid that came out of the clams and lobsters and take on some of the flavor.

There was a lot of head shaking off camera. Either no one liked the sound of this idea or no one liked the sound of my voice talking about it nonstop. I blame the idea.

Then the clams and lobsters went in on top.

I made eye contact with a few too many of them during this process.

Some people were distracted by the sunset.

Pretty great spot. Well chosen rental, Mommy Ryan

But I just stared at the pot until it was time to turn off the propane burner and pull the basket.  Which gave us our first look at the cooked hot dogs.

Can't say that people were looking into the pot, slapping me on the back, and congratulating me on a great idea. Most said that it looked like a revolting joke

Hot dogs came out and were put on a plate where they were aptly descibed as looking like, “cafeteria hot dogs”. But I still had hope. We then put the lobsters back in the pot to separate them from the clams.

I was whining about how my hands were still burning through the mitt so Tim came in and barehanded them to show me up. Stupid brother with his stupid calloused hands from doing stupid real man work

Along with 5 pounds of red potatoes and corn it made for an excellent meal.  The hot dogs ended up looking appetizing once they were out of the water for a few minutes and got their color back.

All but one of the dogs ended up being eaten, and I ate that one the next day for lunch

I’d love to say that you could taste the shellfish juice in the hot dogs but you really couldn’t aside from them being a little saltier.  Oh well, I would still do it again.

The whole meal ended up excellent and included Emily getting completely covered with lobster fat while cracking a claw for her fiance Nate.  That upstaged the meal as the highlight of the evening for everyone but Emyo.

Next post will be about an oxtail stew that I made for our fantasy football draft.

Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa

After hearing stories of cows head barbacoa and seeing the process on various food shows, I was completely hooked on the idea of giving it a try.  I wanted to find out why, despite everyone raving about the flavor, the idea of it repulsed so many people.  When the opportunity to bury and cook something for 24 hours emerged with an upcoming (then) camping trip, the only obstacle I faced was finding a cow’s head.  As it turned out, fears about prions from the brain contaminating the meat made it impossible to purchase a cow’s head in and around Boston.

Just as I was giving up, a friend saw a sign in the window of the butcher shop in our neighborhood of Jamaica Plain advertising hogs heads for $.89 a pound.  I assumed this would be a straightforward substitute and moved forward with purchase.  However, I couldn’t find any documentation online about ways to cook a whole hogs head aside from boiling it, and certainly not info on burying it to make barbacoa.

So I decided to wing it based on various techniques for other meat, and here is the story.

The head arrived frozen and came to a grand total of $13. After thawing for 48 hours I put the head in the sink to begin the preparation process.

I am not a sadist, but I do smile instinctively when pictures are taken of me

The first step was to remove the tongue since it made the head tougher to handle and I was concerned it would give the meat an odd flavor if cooked altogether.  I reserved in the plastic bag you see to the right.  Afterwards I rinsed the skin thoroughly, rubbed salt into the skin and then rinsed again.  During the process, I noticed that the butcher had missed some hairs on the face of the pig…

Mach 3 Turbo, only the best for this guy

…which led to the awkward experience of shaving the pig.  Afterwards, I rinsed again, patted dry with paper towels, and removed the ears.  I then generously seasoned all surfaces of the head with salt, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic.  The tongue got the same exact treatment; rinsed thoroughly and seasoned.

Once head and tongue were ready to go I wrapped them fully in banana leaves I purchased from the local grocery store and secured the leaves with kitchen twine.

This is about as old school as cooking methods get

Then heavy duty foil

Slightly more new school

Based on shows I had seen on other meats cooked in ground, I needed to find a way to attach a chain to the meat so that they could be easily placed in the cooking pit and removed later. I did this with picture frame wire, two hooks, and a chain purchased at a hardware store for $7.  The whole shebang then went back in the cooler and headed for the campsite.

Charcoal and Meat having a cordial interaction before their inevitable confrontation

At the site, we dug a 2’ deep by 2’ in diameter hole and made a fire at the base of the hole.

That’s a well dug hole, courtesy of the Mooman

Once the coals had burned down, the meat was lowered into the hole and positioned.

This is admittedly a posed photograph, multiple shots were taken during the lowering

Ater some deliberation, we decided to position the head neck down

We quickly covered the meat with dirt to trap the heat of the embers.

The top of the head was 10-12 inches below ground level

And built a fire on top that we would need to keep going for the next 24 hours.

The first thing you learn in business school is using the teepee method to get a fire going; works every time. Also, note the chain in the back for easy meat removal later.

After 24 hours of Maine microbrews, little sleep, and lots of angst over whether this would work, it was time to start digging this thing up.

The roasting site cleared of embers and logs. The ground was still very hot, though.

After a couple shovel loads of dirt a puff of steam shot up from the dirt and the ground appeared to be bubbling.  As I started to pull the chain, more steam and smoke shot out from the small opening in the ground.

The steam carried the ash and dirt from the pit. Pretty cool and a little scary for some reason.

The tongue emerges with the head not far behind. At this point I touched the foil and it felt lukewarm. I was crushed, but tried to hold out some hope.

Close up of the head and me taking the wire frame off. Still couldn’t feel any heat coming off the head.

I knew this part would be messy so I put on the same shirt from the day before. OK, I never changed because I was camping. Mooman didn’t mind

When I finally got the foil off was when I realized for the first time that the head had definitely cooked.  It was a huge relief.

Much more deflated than previously and soaked with rendered fat

Very thankful that it smelled amazing since we all had to pretend it didn’t look a little gross

The second I attempted to move the head after it was unwrapped, medallions of cheek and jaw meat fell out onto the banana leaves.  It was the richest and most tender pork I have ever eaten in my life.

Scraping a knife along the skin caused large chunks of meat to separate from the remaining fat and fall off. I will spare you the rest of the photos of mining for meat inside the head.

The fat had rendered almost completely and the meat separated easily from the remaining fat and skin.  After picking for a bit, we had about 2-3 pounds of meat that we served with corn tortillas toasted on a comal, lime, and fresh cilantro.

Seriously delicious, like slow roasted pork shoulder but richer and more tender

The tongue had also cooked well in its separate wrappings.  The usually tough skin was tender as can be and we simply sliced the tongue and made tacos de lengua.

The contrast in flavors and textures was amazing when mixed though both were great on their own

And that was it.  The tacos with fresh cilantro and lime were a perfect vehicle for the rich meat and an incredible payoff for the effort we put in.  It was a reminder of how great food doesn’t have to be expensive, it just takes time and effort.

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site