Cuban Pulled Pork

Cuban Pulled Pork

Inspiration: It’s a balmy 31 degrees here today, and it was something similar on the day that I made this recipe. Sometimes you just need a nice summery meal with a good island feel to it in the midst of winter, you know? It won’t be long until we’re back in flip-flops, celebrating Ben’s first summer with him. But until then….well, we’ll just eat some avocados and some citrus every now and then, right?

What We Loved: Usually with pulled meats or meats that are slow cooked in the crock pot all day, I think of the end result as being very rich. What was nice about this recipe was that the pork was citrusy light and summery, with a nice touch of sweetness. We really loved the bright orange and lime flavors. I served this with avocado slices and coconut ginger rice, which made lovely accompaniments and really complemented the pork well. I might just list a good pulled pork as my favorite meal, and this one didn’t disappoint. 

Tips: The pork mixture is very thin/watery at the end of cooking, so I would recommend cooking uncovered on high for about an hour to reduce the liquid. I have a stove top-safe crock pot insert, so I was able to just put the insert on the stove and boil away until the mixture was nice and thick. I will include instructions for a normal slow cooker below.

Cuban Pulled Pork
Source: Adapted from Elly Says Opa, originally from The Partial Ingredients

2.5 lbs pork shoulder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon oregano
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Juice from 2 limes
1/4 cup chicken broth

1. Rub the pork shoulder all over with oil and mustard. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Combine the cayenne, allspice, chili powder, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and oregano in a small bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Wrap the pork in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.

3. Place the pork in a slow cooker. Add the onions, garlic, honey, orange juice, lime juice, and chicken broth. Cover and cook on low for seven hours. Shred the meat, and then uncover and cook on high for about an hour, until most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture is thick.

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Inspiration: Is there anything better than carnitas when it comes to Mexican food (or, I have to be a little more accurate here….any kind of food)? I certainly can’t think of a much better meal than tender, succulent, slow-cooked, crispy, fall-apart pork with all sorts of lovely fresh vegetable sides. It’s often the meal that I end up ordering at Mexican restaurants, and I’ve been trying for about a year now to find a truly fabulous at-home version. Up until this point, none of the recipes that I’ve tried have ever worked out exactly as I had hoped, but as this one was cooking, I had a feeling that it was finally going to be the one.

What We Loved: Everything about this recipe was outstanding. Brandon remarked several times while we were eating and over the next few days that these were the best carnitas that he has ever had, anywhere (and we’ve had a lot of carnitas over the years). In my book, that’s pretty much the highest praise that a recipe can get. The meat was just fall apart tender, which is exactly what you want with carnitas. I had intended to leave the meat completely in large chunks, but as you can see in the pictures, it just shredded apart in the pan on its own as I was browning it. The result was crispy browned shreds of meat and chunks of meat that were crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. Perfect. And the flavor was spectacular, too. I don’ think that I’ve ever had a meat dish that is more rich in flavor than carnitas (except possibly duck confit – that’s really up there in richness, too). It’s hard to eat too much of the carnitas because they are just so sublimely rich from being cooked and seared in the pork fat. Plus, these particular carnitas had a lovely, slightly sweet background flavor with hints of cumin and garlic. Absolutely fantastic.

Tips: I think that the best advice for this recipe is to be patient. Make sure to allow yourself plenty of time to cook the meat for two hours, then boil down the liquid for about 45 minutes, then sear the meat for about 15 to 20 minutes so that it gets nice and brown. The patience  is certainly worth it in the end. Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve tried out several different recipes for carnitas, and I think that it’s very important to use the orange juice and lime juice as directed in this recipe, rather than just using water. The acids in the citrus juices really tenderize the meat beautifully, whereas cooking with plain water always left me with tougher meat in the past.

Source: Adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures, originally from The Homesick Texan Cookbook, to serve 2

1.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 cup lime juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1. Place the pork pieces into a dutch oven, and add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and salt. Add enough water to just barely cover the meat.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours without disturbing.

3. Remove the lid, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has evaporated and only the fat that has been rendered from the pork remains.

4. Sear the meat in the fat, browning it as much as you’d like.

5. Shred the meat or leave it in chunks. Serve with cilantro, avocado slices, pico de gallo, lime wedges, or any of your favorite sides.

Pork Loin Baked with Green Onions, Jalapeno, and Ginger

Inspiration: I’ve been trying my hardest to keep my word to Brandon and include more meals on our menu with Chinese-inspired ingredients. This recipe struck me as particularly interesting because it deviates from what we usually eat when it comes to Chinese food – stir fries, lettuce wraps, and hot pots, namely – and instead presents in a rather fancy way as a cut of meat with a lovely sauce. To me, it had all of the markings of a Sunday night dinner made especially with Brandon in mind.

What We Loved: Brandon told me that he knew that dinner was going to be good as soon as he smelled it cooking in the oven (and in fact, he came downstairs while it was cooking away just to tell me as much). As it turned out, he was right – we both loved this recipe. The sauce that the pork was marinated in, baked in, and topped with was just wonderful and filled with flavors that were very true to classic Chinese-style dishes. I was struck with how perfectly balanced the sauce was – there was a nice bite from the green onions, a richness on your palate from the sesame oil and soy, just a touch of heat from the jalapeno, and a great lemony freshness from the ginger. We enjoyed this dish alongside some green beans that I seasoned with sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, garlic, and soy sauce for a meal that really surprised and delighted us both.

Tips: This recipe comes from a grilling cookbook, and the pork is intended to be grilled after it is marinated. I have a feeling that cooking the pork this way would be fantastic (particularly using a charcoal grill), and we’ll certainly be trying out that method when the weather warms up a bit more and we are grilling regularly.

Pork Loin Baked with Green Onions, Jalapeno, and Ginger
Source: Adapted from Bobby Flay, Grilling for Life

3 green onions, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed and roughly chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup lime juice
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb pork loin

1. Add the green onions, jalapeno, and ginger to a food processor, and process to a fine mince.

2. Pour the onion mixture into a bowl, and add the olive oil, lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black pepper. Mix to combine.

3. Place the pork loin in a baking dish. Pour half of the marinade over the pork, and use your hands to turn and coat the pork in the marinade. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to 4 hours. Cover and reserve the other half of the marinade at room temperature.

4. Remove the pork loin from the refrigerator half an hour before cooking and allow it to come to room temperature. Bake at 400 degrees until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 25 minutes.

5. Let the pork rest for ten to fifteen minutes before slicing. Serve topped with the reserved marinade.

Pork and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Inspiration: When Brandon and I go to our favorite Chinese restaurant in town, we usually share an order of lettuce wraps for an appetizer and then split an entree. There’s  just something so refreshing about lettuce wraps – a rich and savory filling paired with crisp and cool lettuce always just hits the spot. And lettuce wraps are really great because they can be served as an appetizer or light meal, on their own for a main course, or paired with a quick side like edamame salad for a more rounded meal.

What We Loved: Brandon and I absolutely adore the filling to these lettuce wraps and the super spicy sauce. We’ve been making them both for years, and in our opinion, they’re both perfect. The pork and vegetables are thrown into the food processor so that they have a really nice, minced texture, and the entire filling is characterized by a great soy and ginger flavor. The sauce has an intense heat to it that we just love, and it also has a delicious garlicky flavor. We could probably eat these once a week and never tire of them. Plus, bibb lettuce is just so fantastic for lettuce wraps. It has the perfect cup shape and is really pliable for wrapping into little parcels.

Tips: I sometimes add a good handful of bean sprouts to the mixture before placing it in the food processor – those are a great addition, too. This recipe is nice because you can really throw whatever vegetables that you want into the mix. Ground chicken or turkey is also a good alternative to the pork.

Pork and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Source: Original Recipe

1 lb ground pork
10 baby bella mushrooms, roughly diced
3 small sweet red peppers, roughly diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 green onions, roughly diced
About 1 teaspoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Boston bibb lettuce leaves
Spicy dipping sauce, recipe follows

1. Add the ground pork, mushrooms, and red peppers to a saute pan over medium heat. Cook until the pork is cooked through and the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute more.

2. Place the pork mixture in a food processor with the green onions, ginger, and soy sauce. Pulse until the mixture is finely minced.

3. Serve the pork filling with lettuce leaves and dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sriracha, or more to taste
Sesame oil, to taste

1. Place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add more sriracha if you’d like more spice.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf

Inspiration: I’ve been trying to perfect a really great lower carb/no sugar meatloaf for over a year now. One of the things that I love about cooking is that there is so much room for experimentation, so if you don’t quite like something the first time around (or the second or third times), there’s always another meal somewhere down the road in which you can work on perfecting your recipe (leftovers and DVD replication party?). After trying out many different recipes and doing quite a bit of fine-tuning, we’ve finally come up with a meatloaf that we really love and can call a standard recipe.

What We Loved: There are so many great components to this recipe. The outside of the meatloaf is crusted in a smoky sweet tomato glaze that is just fantastic; there’s a lot of complexity of flavor and richness within the meatloaf due to the use of three different meats; the recipe is packed with colorful and nutritious vegetables, which is always an awesome thing; and the inside of the meatloaf is nice and moist, which in my opinion is one of the basic necessities to a great meatloaf. I truly love every single thing about this dish.

Tips: Extra tomato sauce for dipping would definitely not be a bad thing. It’s amazingly delicious. Next time, I might mix up a double batch. Also, I highly recommend serving this with buttered and salted sweet potatoes. I absolutely adore the combo and might list this dinner exactly as it is as one of my very favorite winter meals.

Beef, Pork, and Bacon Meatloaf
Source: Adapted from Raspberry & Coconut

1 medium onion, very finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, very finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
4 slices bacon, very finely diced
1 extra large egg, beaten
1/8 cup coconut flour
3 oz tomato paste
1 tablespoon water
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon sriracha

1. Melt a pat of butter in a saute pan. Add the onions, bell pepper, and carrot. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the onion mixture, beef, pork, bacon, egg, and coconut flour.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, Worcestershire, and sriracha.

4. Add half of the tomato mixture to the beef mixture.

5. Using your hands, mix the beef mixture until well-combined. Place the mixture into a bread loaf pan, forming it with your hands into a loaf. Spread the rest of the tomato mixture on top of the meatloaf.

6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees F, and bake for 35 minutes more.

7. Remove the meatloaf from the pan, placing it on a cutting board. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Carnivore Burger

Inspiration: We have this great little brewpub in town called Blue Tractor that serves craft beer and delicious Southern-style food. I love Southern food and can never choose between pulled pork or sauteed catfish, sweet potatoes or baked beans, etc. For Brandon, the Carnivore Burger is always at the top of his list when we go to Blue Tractor. Usually, it’s what he ends up choosing, and he always proclaims it as one of the best burgers that he’s ever had. When we had just a little bit of leftover pulled pork to be used at home, this burger was the obvious choice.

What We Loved: Really, what’s not to love about this decadent burger? Ground beef; gooey cheddar cheese; rich and salty bacon; smoky pulled pork; and spicy, buttery jalapenos? I think Blue Tractor knew what they were doing when they came up with that combination of ingredients, and with three different kinds of meats, the title of Carnivore Burger is certainly fitting. We thought that the smoked cheddar worked so well with the complementary smoky flavors of the meats, and we just loved the spicy bite of the buttery jalapenos. This is one heck of a burger!

Tips: Since you only need a small amount of pulled pork for this burger, I would recommend making this when you have some extra pulled pork from a previous recipe in the fridge or freezer. Also, given the title of this post and the ingredients used, I’d like to take a minute to advocate making sure that you know where the meats that you purchase come from. We get most of our meats from a local CSA that humanely raises its animals, and otherwise, we supplement with the best local, grass-fed meats that we can get at Whole Foods and other local stores.

Carnivore Burger
Source: Inspired from Blue Tractor to serve two

About 2/3 lb ground beef
Pulled pork, about 1/2 cup (this is a great use for leftovers)
3 slices bacon, sliced in half to form 6 burger-sized pieces
About 1/2 cup freshly grated smoked cheddar cheese
1 small jalapeno, sliced into rings

1. Form the ground beef into two hamburger patties. Grill the burgers until cooked through.

2. While the burgers are cooking, cook the bacon in a saute pan, heat the pulled pork in a second pan, and saute the jalapenos in a bit of butter until browned and slightly crispy (about five minutes).

3. Serve the burgers topped with the cheese, bacon, pulled pork, and jalapeno rings.

Chiles en Nogada

Inspiration: I have been fascinated by this dish for a long time. I’m not sure what it is – the long list of sweet and savory ingredients that are right up my alley; my love of Mexican foods and flavors; the beautiful colors and presentations of the finished meal. I don’t know, but I’ve been wanting to try it for years. A recent Sunday night turned out to be just the right time, because after all, Sundays were made for nothing but good family time, good books, and good meals, weren’t they? 

What we Loved: Every last thing? This dish was just so spectacular that I don’t even know where to start. I think my favorite thing was that the flavors of the recipe were so rich and complex, with each component providing a different layer to the final dish. Really, I don’t think that I’ve ever tasted a recipe with so many wonderful layers of sweet and savory components all tied together. The filling started with the rich and savory flavors of pork, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices, and these were then paired so beauitfully with sweet apples, raisins, dried apricots, pecans, and cinnamon. I liked all of the different textures in there (from the crumbly pork to the soft and chewy apricots to the crunchy pecans), and it smelled so wonderful cooking! Stuffed into spicy poblano peppers, topped with a rich and creamy walnut sauce spiced with cinnamon, and finished off with fresh cilantro and delicious bursts of tart, juicy, pomegranate….well, I really don’t even know what to say. We loved every last bite. I would list this as one of the top recipes that we’ve ever made.

Helpful Hints: Serve this dish at room temperature. I was hesitant to do so after reading the instructions, but it really is ideal. I tried some of mine heated up just to see what it would taste like, and the dish really just wasn’t as good warm as it was served at room temperature. Everything seemed to sort of meld together too much when it was warm, and I really couldn’t taste all of the different wonderful and rich flavor components (especially within the sauce). So my advice is too keep it room temperature.

Chiles en Nogada
Source: Homesick Texan

For the Chiles
4 poblano chiles
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 Roma tomato, cored and chopped
1 Granny Smith green apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

For the Walnut Sauce
1/2 cup raw walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup milk

For Serving
Pomegranate seeds
Chopped cilantro

1. Roast the poblano chiles under the broiler until blackened. Place the chiles in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, add the ground pork to a saute pan. Saute until the meat is cooked through and starting to brown. Add the onions, and cook until the onions are softened. Stir in the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and allspice. Add the chopped tomato, apple, raisins, dried apricots, and pecans. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. To make the sauce, place the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove the walnuts, allow them to cool, and then rub them to peel off as much skin as you can. Place the walnuts in a food processor with the sour cream, cream cheese, milk, cinnamon, and salt. Process until smooth.

4. Peel the skin from the chiles. Cut a slit in each chile, lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Stuff each chile with one fourth of the pork filling.

5. Top the stuffed chiles with the walnut sauce. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and cilantro. Serve at room temperature.