Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pork Ragu Improvisation

As I continue to make my way through the winter meat order, I have been searching for new ways to use the beef chuck roasts and pork shoulders of which we have an abundance. I was thrilled to find this amazing recipe by Andy on Dinner A Love Story for Pork Ragu. The idea is that you braise a pork shoulder in tomatoes and red wine, shred the meat and serve over pasta. This dish is so easy to make, so delicious, and it turns out so easy to riff off of to make another yummy meal.

The first time I made this dish I followed Andy's recipe to the letter. But after I removed the meat and shredded it up, I was concerned that there wasn't enough sauce for the six other people who were joining us for dinner. So chopped up some peppers, mushrooms and onions and added them plus another 2 cups or so of diced tomatoes and some more wine to the pot. The result: a rich and hearty sauce to go with the tender pork and pasta. It was amazingly delicious.

When I made this dish last week, I tried it a different way to see if I could achieve a similar result with fewer steps. Turns out, I could and I did. Here is the new and adjusted recipe for a more veggie filled pork ragu.

-Preheat the oven to 325.
-Pat dry a 3lb or so pork shoulder (also called Boston butt) and cover with salt and pepper.
-Chop up one large onion, 2 bell peppers, 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery and a good handful of mushrooms.
-Heat a large Dutch oven on the stove and cover bottom with olive oil and one good pat of butter. Sear the pork on all sides.
-Remove meat and set aside.
-Add all of the chopped veggies except the mushrooms to the pot and saute for a few minutes. Add about a cup of red wine. (A healthy pour in to the pot. Don't bother measuring.)
-Nestle the pork into the veggies. Pour about 3 cups of diced tomatoes over and around the meat. You want the liquid to be 1/2 to 2/3 up the meat.

-Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 3 to 4 hours. Check every once in a while to make sure you don't need to add a little liquid. The meat should be falling off the bone. 
-Remove meat and shred with two forks. Set aside.
-Return pot to stove top over medium heat. Add mushrooms and another 2-3 cups of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce.
-Cook for 15 minutes or so. Season to your taste.
-Serve pork and sauce over pasta, rice, cous cous, etc...

PS: My children who can be a tad picky loved this meal. They barely noticed all of the meat and veggies covering their noodles.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Kara was home for spring break last week, so we had the chance to spend lots of time together which was, for the most part, a really good thing. (I did think I was going to go crazy at one point on Wednesday, but we rebounded nicely by dinner time.) On Friday it was pouring rain, so Kara and I spent Jamie's nap time dying Easter eggs. Now we are not an especially religious family, but we do love us a holiday tradition. So it is no surprise that our daughter has come to love Easter. I think this is largely explained by the fact that her Easter basket is like a spring time Christmas stocking filled with goodies. (My friend Katie made the very astute point that the Easter Bunny would seem to undermine the supernatural credibility of Santa. Kids don't seem bothered by the potential inconsistencies here.)

I love the multi-colored Paas fingers. Kara was simultaneously enjoying her freaky fingers and a little concerned that they would not return to their natural state.

Though I have been off the gluten for the past six weeks or so, I made an exception for Easter and made my own Hot Cross Buns. I used this recipe from Betty Crocker only because it 1. utilized my bread machine and 2. was dairy free so I could share the product of my labors with all of the members of our family, even the dairy-allergic ones.

These buns were really pretty. If you make buns/rolls, always use an egg wash on them. It just makes the bread look shiny and golden. Even if they are mediocre tasting, you friends and family will compliment you on the loveliness of the bread anyway. These rolls were ok cold, but warmed up in the oven and slathered with butter, they were great.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tina Fey - My Fantasy Friend

Can I just say how much I love Tina Fey? She is smart, funny and clearly a democrat (no matter how many times she may insist that she isn't a political comic). Even when she sounds just a tad self-important as she did on Fresh Air with Terry Gross last week, I still love her. She has that certain approachable quality and charm that makes me want to not just watch her show, but actually be her friend. Like if we had been in the same class in college we would have totally hit it off, met in the dining hall for lunch, had smart conversations about the latest article in the New Yorker. I feel the same way about Dave Grohl and George Stephanopolis, strangely. What can I say? I have an active fantasy life.

Fey's new book, Bossypants, is out, and in case you have missed the publicity blitz, it is a memoir in the form of humorous essays. This excerpt titled "Prayer for a Daughter" not only is fabulous send up of touchy feely, pseudo-religious Hallmark "prayers," but it absolutely captures the seemingly universal fears that parents have about their blossoming daughters.

Since this excerpt has appeared in about 100 blogs and showed up on Facebook, I am going to assume that the copyright police will not come after me for reproducing it here. (Note to copyright enforcers: Go after the folks at Babble - much deeper pockets.)

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her...
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.

My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jamie!

Jamie LOVED hearing us sing "Happy Birthday" to him.

Last week Jamie turned two. A few things that have changed in the last year:

Jamie walks, but mostly runs, everywhere.

Jamie talks. In the last week or so he has even said some sentences. My favorite: "I want more mango!"

As promised to her when he was born, Jamie can now play with Kara. He even lets her dress him up in princess attire.

For Jamie's birthday we had some family for dinner and, of course, cake. Now I am not especially in favor of big birthday celebrations for little kids. (Unless as adults you are looking for an excuse to have a party.) But I am always in favor of cake. I love birthday cake. In fact, the cheaper, more industrially produced, the better in my book. Costo cakes? Fabulous. Safeway "bakery" concoctions? Yum! Duncan Hines? Perfection in a box.

Given that I am continuing the gluten free madness, I was pretty much convinced that I would be missing out on cake this year. And though I have been pretty impressed by my will power, I didn't think I could handle having a birthday cake in the house that I couldn't eat. Then I remembered that my friend Val had recently posted a recipe for her family favorite gluten free carrot cake.

After a phone consultation and a trip to the store, I made this cake (with a few adjustments) and can whole-heartedly proclaim that it is delicious. Not only yummy, it is pretty much indistinguishable for the gluten filled variety. I had my doubts when I tasted the batter and it was, well, peculiar. But after baking and slathering with cream cheese icing, it came out great.

"Ace of Cakes" I am not.

Val points out that one of the best things about this cake is that it is very flexible. You can use pretty much any kind of "flours" you have on hand. Same goes for sugars. Here is my version of Val's Best Carrot Cake Ever.

-Grate 3 cups of carrots. Set aside.
-Grease 2 cake pans or 8x11 pan
-In a mixing bowl sift together
  • 2 1/2 cups of gluten free flour (I bought a Bob's Red Mill mix. Val has used brown rice, almond, quinoa.)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
-In a separate bowl combine
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup but would reduce to 1/2 next time.)
-Use a hand mixer to beat wet ingredients. When combined add carrots.
-Beat in dry ingredients. Mix on high for 1 minute.
-Fold in 1 cup raisins and 1/2 cup walnuts if desired.
-Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.
-After cakes have cooled, cover with cream cheese icing. (8oz cream cheese, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 stick butter - beaten until smooth.)

 This cake, and especially the icing, was Jamie approved. Happy Birthday, baby!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lupines and Literature

After a long an cold winter and a really long and cold lead up, it appears that spring may finally be here. The Phillies are back in action. The daffodils are up. And the seeds I started in the window have sprouted.

This year Kara and I started a bunch of flowers again. (If you are looking for a great end of year teacher gift, start some Morning Glory of Zinnias, and by the time June is here you can transfer them to a bigger pot so your kid's teacher can plant then in his/her garden. Cheap, homemade, fun to do with kids.) We put in Morning Glories, Zinnias, Shasta Daisies, Phlox. But we are the most excited to see what happens to the Lupine seeds we planted.

Now up until a year ago, I had never even heard of Lupines. But then Kara and I read Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. This book is fabulous. A great story, wonderful message and gorgeous illustrations.

The narrator, Alice, it tells the life story of her aunt, Miss Alice Rumphius. We see the elder Alice go from working with her grandfather in a coastal town to helping children as a librarian to traveling the world to settling down in a coastal town of her own.

It is in this last chapter of her life that Miss Rumphius figures out how to fulfill the mission her grandfather gave her as a little girl, "Make the world more beautiful." Sprinkling the town with Lupine seeds and watching them grow over the generations, Miss Rumphius, beautifies her town and teaches its children that whatever you do in life, make sure you leave the world a little more beautiful in the process.

Admittedly, this particular children's book has sentimental meaning to me as it was a gift from Libby, one of the best students I ever taught. When I was at the end of my pregnancy, the girls in my senior English class gave me a basket of books; one from each girl and each inscribed with a message to me and my soon to be born daughter. In the history of teacher gifts I ever received, this one remains the clear winner.

So thanks, Libby, for the great book. Looking forward to seeing our how our Lupines do this year. Just one step towards making our world a little more beautiful.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New TV Obsession: The Killing

I don't watch that many shows on TV, but the ones I watch I watch religiously. I may dabble in Grey's Anatomy, if only to remind myself what a train wreck that show can be. (That musical episode may have cured me of any lingering interest, however.) And we watch Modern Family, but only if we DVR it and can skip all of the commercials.

But there are a few shows that I have become completely obsessed with. Back when we had premium cable, I loved Weeds and The Sopranos. Now, I am in love with Mad MedThe Walking Dead and Justified. Last week when I heard the news that my absolute favorite TV show, Mad Med, is delayed until next year, I was truly distraught. Seriously -  I need to know what happens with Don and Megan!

Luckily, I have found a new series to fill my TV cravings. The Killing (AMC, 9PM on Sundays) is dark, grim and twisted, both in plot and spirit. . Dave and I watched the pilot on Sunday and I have been itching to see the next episode ever since. If you need a new show, check this one out. It's a winner.

Don't just take it from me...Here is a review by David Bianculli on NPR last week.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vermicelli Noodle Bowls

Kara had a friend over on Saturday night and since they were watching "Mega Mind" (very cute, by the way), Dave and I planned to have a civilized adult dinner together. I had originally wanted to make Bi Bim Bap since it is both fun and easy to eat while watching the Final Four, but I basically forgot to make the rice. Luckily, I had recently made a trip to the Asian supermarket and purchased rice vermicelli noodles.

I love love love Vietnamese food of all kinds, but I can never pass up the vermicelli bowls when we eat out. So in the gluten free spirit, we whipped up a home made version. They were delicious. The basic idea is to top a bowlful of noodles with chopped vegetables, meat if you want, cilantro and mint chopped. Then you douse the whole thing with nuoc cham sauce.  Here is a basic recipe. I also added a diced serano pepper and some chopped garlic to the sauce. It got a little toasty.

We topped our noodles with diced cucumbers, shredded carrot, daikon, mint, cilantro and some left over pulled pork I had in the freezer. Once you have all the veggies prepped, it is easy to recreate this meal on day two.