Tag Archives: weeknight meals

Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkHappy 2019! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are refreshed and ready to get back to normal. I am dragging my feet about the whole thing, but keep reminding myself that this is only a three day work-week. Thank goodness.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last couple of months have left me a little sick of sugary baked goods—not enough to quit making them or anything, but I need a little break. This is a yearly pattern so predictable that I’ve organized my blogging calendar around it. January on E2 Bakes means lots of savory dishes, including many weeknight meals. There may be a dessert or two as well, but that remains to be seen.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkThe first recipe of the year is one of my favorites: Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork. I started making it about four years ago and haven’t looked back.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkI realize that you probably already have a pulled pork recipe that you love. Slow cooker pulled pork became ridiculously popular in the 2000s—one quick google search of those four words will yield approximately a gazillion variations on putting a pork shoulder in a slow cooker and letting it cook for 8 hours or so before being shredded/pulled, combined with barbecue sauce, and served on hamburger buns.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkBut, um, unpopular opinion: I don’t like slow cooker pulled pork. I’m sure yours is great (!)—not trying to yuck your yum—it’s just not for me. You see, every slow cooker pulled pork I’ve ever had has been soft, mushy, stringy, too wet, too saucy, bland, or some combination thereof. I have eaten it when it’s been offered because when other people cook for me I eat what they make, but I just don’t like it. I can’t help it. Every time I eat slow cooker pulled pork, I wish it were more moist and less wet (if that makes sense) and had a simpler, pork-ier flavor. Oh, and crispy bits. You simply can’t get crispy bits with a cooking method that doesn’t allow air circulation…but you can in an oven.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkWhen I found Cara Nicoletti’s pulled pork recipe a few years ago, I felt the need to make it immediately and then many times since. It was pretty perfect already, but I’ve made some adjustments over time to suit my own preferences and now…well, I make the pulled pork I want to eat.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkSlow-Roasted Pulled PorkSlow-Roasted Pulled PorkThis stuff is moist and meaty and not at all stringy or watery. It has an unabashedly porky, slightly salty flavor—perfect piled high on a roll with some crunchy vegetables and a drizzle of barbecue sauce (I go for a mustard-based sauce). It freezes like a dream. Oh, and it has plenty of crispy bits.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkSlow-Roasted Pulled PorkMaking pulled pork in your oven is not as easy as just throwing a pork shoulder in there and calling it a day. It takes time and lots of it—this is a weekend project for sure—but only about 60-90 minutes of it requires your immediate attention. Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork is coated in a mixture of Kosher salt, sugar and black pepper before chilling uncovered in the refrigerator for 12-48 hours. This is called a dry brine, and it’s magical: all the flavor of a traditional brine, but without the big vat of liquid taking up space in your fridge.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkAfter the brining time, the pork is rinsed and dried before being roasted at a low temperature for 6-7 hours. I like to throw some apple cider vinegar in the roasting dish—it adds moisture and flavor over the long cook time.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkSlow-Roasted Pulled PorkAfter the slow roast, the heat goes way up to crisp the skin. One short rest later, those cracklings are chopped and mixed with the finished pulled pork. Then it’s time for sandwiches. And picking at the leftovers every time you pass the fridge.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkSeriously, good luck not eating it all.Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork
adapted from Cara Nicoletti
makes 12-16 servings

1 6-7 pound bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup apple cider vinegar

For serving:
sliced rolls
barbecue sauce (I use a mustard-based sauce)
pickles, onions, cabbage/slaw

Read recipe completely before beginning. This is a multi-day process, but requires minimal hands-on time.

A day or two before:

Remove pork shoulder from any packaging and place on a large cutting board. Dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.

Use a large, very sharp (the sharper, the better) chef’s knife to slice a crosshatch pattern into the skin side of the shoulder. Do not slice into the meat.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together Kosher salt, granulated sugar, and black pepper. Use your clean hands to apply mixture to the entire surface of the meat. Place in a large pot or roasting dish (I use my dutch oven), skin-side-up.

Place pork shoulder, in its dish, into the refrigerator. Leave uncovered for at least 12 hours or up to 48.

The day you want to eat pulled pork:

Line a large cutting board with a clean kitchen towel or couple of layers of paper towels.

Remove pork shoulder, in its dish, from the refrigerator. Some liquid may have accumulated.

Lift pork out of its dish. Rinse well in cold water—there may still be some specks of black pepper, even after a few minutes. Place pork on prepared cutting board. Dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels. Let sit a room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 275F. Place pork skin-side-up in a clean, dry oven-safe pot or roasting dish (I wash and reuse my dutch oven). Pour apple cider vinegar into the dish. Roast pork for 6-7 hours, about an hour per pound. The internal temperature (not taken near the bone) should be 180F. Some liquid may have accumulated.

Turn oven heat up to 500F. Let pork cook, rotating every 5 minutes, until crosshatched skin is dark golden and crispy. Remove from oven.

Let pork sit a room temperature for 20-30 minutes before slicing off the skin/cracklings. Give it a rough chop and aside.

Remove meat from the bone, discarding any excess fat. Place meat in a large heatproof mixing bowl and toss with cracklings.

Serve on rolls with barbecue sauce and other toppings, if desired.

Leftover pork may be frozen in freezer bags for up to 3 months. Bone may also be frozen for use in stock or soup.Slow-Roasted Pulled PorkSlow-Roasted Pulled Pork

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Basil Pesto

 When I was growing up, my parents insisted on family dinners nearly every night of the week, no matter how late E3 and I got finished with our extracurricular activities. As we got older, dance and piano practices went later and later, meaning dinner was often pushed to after 9pm, but as soon as everyone was home, we’d all sit down and catch up over a home-cooked meal. Those thirty minutes of family time every night are some of my favorite memories of my childhood, and not just because of all the joking that went on around our round kitchen table. 

 My mom made dinner most nights. She is a good cook, although she doesn’t enjoy it the way I do. With rare exception, everything she put on the table was fantastic. Chicken divan, smothered pork chops, and corned beef were guaranteed hits with everyone, but my favorite was one of the few vegetarian meals she made: pasta with pesto, tomatoes and Parmesan. I just loved the combination of pasta, basil pesto, sweet tomatoes, and cheese. It wasn’t anything revolutionary, but it was delicious, and my mom made it often because she knew how I loved it. 

As I said, my mom is a good cook. But she isn’t always a scratch cook. She makes most things fresh, but when it comes to sauces, she usually goes for a jar. That pesto I loved so much is mass-produced. I continued to buy it into adulthood, not even imagining that I could make my own until I was well into my twenties. When I bought myself a food processor six years ago, pesto was one of the first things I made. I quickly ditched the storebought variety, and have been hooked on the homemade stuff ever since. 

 Homemade Basil Pesto is delightfully quick and easy, and has a much brighter and more intense basil flavor than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. Start by putting two cups of fresh basil leaves, 1/3 cup each of pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, and two cloves of minced garlic into a food processor. You could certainly use whole garlic cloves, but I find that mincing them ahead of time guarantees that the final product won’t have any large pieces it it. I love pesto, but I don’t love biting into big chunks of raw garlic! 

While processing the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic, stream in a combination of olive oil and lemon juice. The olive oil is what makes the pesto saucy and rich, and the lemon adds just a touch of brightness and acidity. As the liquid ingredients whirl with the basil, pine nuts, cheese, and garlic, a thick, bright green sauce will form. All that’s left to do is blitz in some salt and pepper!

Basil Pesto is great just about anywhere you can think to use it. Try it as a sauce for pizza, serve it over grilled chicken, spread it onto a halved loaf of bread and crisp it in the oven. Seriously, this stuff is good on everything. My favorite way to eat pesto is the same as it’s always been: tossed with pasta, topped with tomatoes, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. 

 Basil Pesto
makes about 1 cup

1/3 cup olive oil
juice of one medium lemon
2 cups basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup pine nuts*
1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

For Pesto Pasta:
1 lb small pasta, cooked to al dente, drained
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking liquid
1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a measuring cup, combine olive oil and lemon juice.

Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese in the bowl of a food processor or high-powered blender. While processing, stream olive oil-lemon mixture through the food processor’s feed tube. Process until a thick, bright green sauce forms. Add salt and pepper and process until well-distributed. Store pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

To make pesto pasta, combine pasta and pesto in a large pot and fold them together with a large spoon. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid and fold again. Add more cooking liquid by the tablespoon, until the desired consistency has been reached. Serve pasta in bowls. Top with halved grape tomatoes and additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Note:

Walnuts or unsalted sunflower seeds may be substituted for pine nuts.

Everyday Cassoulet

Updated 12/28/2018: This post was edited to add (much) better photos.Everyday CassouletLiving far away from home means that when I get a call from friends or family, I “play the hits,” if you will. I tell them all about the big things going on in my life–a new apartment, the awesome kid I take care of, the brown and white spotted schnauzer I saw yesterday (I really love a schnauzer). But in all the fuss of sharing my life and hearing about theirs, I can let amazing things go by the wayside because they might seem mundane if the person on the other end of the phone call is not directly involved.Everyday CassouletTake for example this Everyday Cassoulet. It’s rich and delicious and one of my favorite meals to make at home, but at the end of the day it’s *just* dinner. Everybody eats dinner. It’s not really a “call your mom down in Texas to tell her about it” kind of thing.Everyday CassouletWe all have our go-to meals though. My best friend, Emily, asked me a few months ago what I had been making for dinner lately, and this was the first thing I told her about. Mind you, I’ve been making this for five years. When I found the original recipe, I still lived in Manhattan! I was still working office jobs! The only thing I had ever baked from scratch were Ina Garten’s brownies! And while all of those things have changed, my go-to dinner has not.Everyday CassouletEveryday CassouletSome of you may be wondering: what is cassoulet? It’s a slow-cooked meat and white bean stew from the south of France. Cassoulet is traditionally baked in a dish called a cassole. The fanciest versions contain things like goose, lamb, and duck confit. But this is a weeknight version of the classic French dish, so it’s been pared down. Don’t worry though, it’s still every bit as good and comforting as the real deal!Everyday CassouletEveryday CassouletThis Everyday Cassoulet is made with Italian sausages in place of any specialty meats. Traditional white beans are baked with grape or cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, crushed garlic, and fresh herbs. Nothing has to be sliced or diced–you only need a knife to crush the garlic! Everything is drizzled with a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Dijon mustard, and baked for an hour in a regular casserole pan–no need for specialty dishes here!Everyday CassouletAnd oh my, is it delicious. The sausages get super crispy, and the tomatoes burst and create the most wonderful sauce with the balsamic mixture. The beans soak in all the flavors and get super tender. This is fantastic served with crusty bread. I forgot it when I took these photos, but trust me, you’ll need it.Everyday CassouletPut this Everyday Cassoulet on your list of weeknight dinners! It’s easy as can be, but sure doesn’t taste like it! Your family and friends will definitely ask for the recipe 🙂 Everyday Cassoulet

Everyday Cassoulet
adapted from Quick Cassoulet by Julie van Rosendaal
makes four servings*

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed
1 cup peeled pearl onions (fresh or frozen)*
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. raw Italian Sausages*
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

In a small casserole dish, combine garlic cloves, tomatoes, and pearl onions. Top with rosemary and thyme sprigs, followed by sausages. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar mixture. Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove sausages to a plate. Stir cannellini beans into tomato mixture. Place sausages back on top of vegetables with the less-browned sides up . Bake for an additional 20 minutes.

Remove dish from oven. Let cool a few minutes before serving in shallow bowls.

Leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Notes:

1. This recipe doubles easily in a 9×13″ pan. The bake time is the same.
2. If you don’t care for onions or simply don’t want to use them, they may be omitted.
3. I used pork sausages, but I think chicken or turkey would work well here.
Everyday CassouletEveryday Cassoulet