Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Squash Times Two

At the beach house, we recently entertained guests from Arkansas. We had a lovely time swimming, eating, and catching up. They brought with them fresh produce from their garden, specifically a watermelon, two acorn squash, and a butternut squash. The butternut squash lasted past their visit, and I found myself staring at it at dinnertime Monday night. The husband was out; I was on my own. Even though it's not quite fall yet in Alabama, I desperately wanted to conjure fall flavors. I decided to turn on the oven, despite the humidity, and roast it. I diced, seasoned, roasted, and then transferred the buttery cubes to a plate. I ate five pieces and realized there was no way I'd finish the whole plate. It was back to the drawing board. I love butternut squash soup, and again, it's a fall staple. I had fat-free half and half and apple cider in the fridge. I used my handy-dandy immersion blender to puree the roasted squash. I had to add a little water to make it the right consistency. I transferred the puree to a small saucepan and added a few tablespoons of cider for subtle sweetness. I wanted to add a bit of cinnamon, but didn't realize my cinnamon spice jar held a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Needless to say, the resulting soup was a bit more dessert-like than I would have preferred for dinner, but it was truly delicious. Maybe if I keep making fall-inspired dishes, the weather will get the hint.

Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 4

1 medium butternut squashed, peeled, halved and seeds and pulp discarded
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut butternut squash into bite-size cubes. Toss all ingredients in a bowl until squash is coated with oil and seasonings. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet, roast for 40 minutes until squash is lightly caramelized and easily pierced with a fork.

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Cider
Serves 4 as an appetizer

2 cups roasted butternut squash
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons apple cider
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or regular)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

roasted squash or pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

Using a blender or immersion blender, puree water with butternut squash until thoroughly liquidy. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, thinning with apple cider and half and half. Season with cinnamon and cayenne. Stir over medium-low heat until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with roasted squash or pumpkin seeds if desired.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Side of the Pulled Pork Controversy

Pulled pork in the South is more than a picnic staple; it is an institution. Southerners guard their barbeque recipes so close, you'd think they were printed on hundred dollar bills. I'm no different. It's a serious thing to bequeath a treasure to the world. My mother spent most of her youth in North Carolina and Virginia. I grew up eating only North Carolina style pulled pork; consequently, it's my BBQ of choice. I'm not here to bash the other types. They have their merit. Face it, they all taste good. You can't go wrong with slow cooked meat, sweet and spicy sauce, and soft bread, (bonus points if there's slaw on top). There are at least five different kinds of BBQ in the South: mustard, light tomato, vinegar, heavy tomato, and dry. For me, it's the tang of cider vinegar that really revs my BBQ engine. Let's make something clear right now. I don't have a smoker. I make do with the best I can, which is a roasting pan and an oven. I make my own sauce, rub my own butt, (how's that for a little BBQ humor) and it's good. I'm not saying I make the best pulled pork in the South, but it certainly makes a crowd happy.

In a nutshell, I take a Boston butt, (the upper part of a pork shoulder, blade-in) and if it's the first football weekend, take a picture of it next to a bottle of bourbon for emphasis.

I rub it with dry spices, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then I stick it in a relatively low oven for six or so hours. Then I make my sauce.

After the sauce is made, it simply waits for its outfit to be done.
This is the pork after 2 hours.

After 4 hours

After 6 hours

After it's falling apart, I shred it, toss it lightly with the cider vinegar sauce, pile it high on a bun, top it with slaw, and then smile because I'm a happy girl.

Oven Pulled Pork
Makes 12 sandwiches

For meat:
1 Boston butt pork roast, bone-in (6-8 pounds)
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry mustard
3 tablespoons sea salt
1 tablespoon cracked pepper
For sauce:
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2  cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 dashes Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 sesame seeded hamburger buns

Mix the rub spices together in a small bowl. Massage the spice blend all over the pork, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Put the pork in a roasting pan and bake for about 6 hours. Meat should register 170 degrees on a thermometer.
While pork is cooking, make the sauce. Combine all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer gently, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When pork is done, rest it on a cutting board for approximately 10 minutes. Then shred meat by taking two forks and pulling the meat apart. For the "brown", or the charred skin and fat, take a very sharp knife and chop the brown finely. Combine the brown with the shredded pork in a large container. Pour 1 cup of sauce over the meat and toss gently.  Serve on buns with slaw (on top!) and whatever other sides you desire.