The Game Changer

December 6th, 2011 · 68 Comments · Picky Eating, Pork and Beef

The pork loin I braised in red wine last Tuesday night was pretty freaking delicious. I can say this because most of the credit goes to my coworker — remember the one who was plotting her own pork and lentil stew in the slow-cooker while I was plotting drumsticks? After she told me that one, it was on the brain for 24 hours and I knew the only way to get it off the brain would be to try out a version of the pork stew for myself. The problem? I didn’t own a slow cooker. (Well, not true. I own one, but it is in a box deep in the bowels of our basement, and last time I remember using it, I think it was missing a crucial piece, like a lid.) I was working from home the day I decided to tackle the recipe in my Dutch Oven and began cooking just as the girls were scattering their math workbooks on the kitchen table to start homework.

What’s for dinner? asked Abby as soon as she heard the loin hit in the oil.

This can be such a loaded question. When I’m making something new for the girls — which is fairly often — and there’s a good chance that the unfamiliar name of this dinner will set off some whining, sometimes I just lie and say I don’t know yet. But other times, when dinner is simmering away on the stovetop, and an oniony aroma is in the air, I opt for the truth.

Some sort of pork with beans…and maybe kale, I told her.

I don’t like beans! And then, for the next two hours, it was all Do we have to have pork with beans? and Can’t you make those chicken wings again? and Can you make me something else if I don’t like it?

I hate this scenario. The whole point of dinner — the whole point of this site actually — is to get people excited about sitting down to eat. And what killed me is that I knew Abby would love this meal if she had the right attitude. But she couldn’t picture it, so it scared her. I get it  – for the longest time, that’s exactly how I felt about J.Lo on American Idol.

I needed a game changer. I needed Tater Tots.

Abby had hand-selected a bag of them from Whole Foods a few weekends earlier and hardly a day had gone by when she hadn’t begged to have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It was just the psychological latch she needed on the plate to adjust the way she was approaching the table. I piled a mountain of them next to her pork, which she ate absent-mindedly, and which, when deconstructed and cut into pieces, was not all that much different looking than the Pork braised in Pomegranate Juice and Marcella’s Milk-braised Pork she’s had (and loved) a hundred times before.

And I know this is not exactly breaking news, but Holy Christ Tater Tots taste good! The rest of us were pretty excited about dinner that night, too.

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“Pork in Milk”

February 28th, 2010 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy

My aunt Patty was the first great home cook I ever knew. She would get up at 5am, run a few miles, come home, make a big pot of coffee, and start making the gooiest, butteriest challah french toast you’ve ever seen. (At holiday time, she made it with egg nog. And she always added a dash of vanilla, a tradition we’ve continued with our own kids.) She’d clean up breakfast, and start in on lunch: maybe a wild rice salad with cranberries, maybe some egg salad sandwiches with onion and celery, maybe some chicken Milanese (she dredged in corn flakes crumbs). She’d clean up lunch, and start in on dinner. She’d stuff roasts with egg and pancetta and marinate butterflied legs of lamb in great, plastic tubs; she’d make fresh ricotta cheesecakes and tiramisu with real lady fingers and freshly whipped cream; and she would always, always turn down any offers of help. “Cooking is my therapy,” she’d say, tossing another pot onto the pile in the sink, and I remember not believing her.

Of all the things Patty would cook for us when we visited, there was one meal I looked forward to more than any other. It was based on a recipe from a woman named Marcella Hazan, a name that meant nothing to me at the time. Patty called it “pork in milk,” and she would make it just for me; it got to the point where I could sniff it out the moment I walked into her house.

“Pork in milk?” I’d say.

“How’d you know?” she’d respond.

When it was ready, she would take the pork out of the pot and slice it, put it on a platter, and bury it in mounds of nutty, slightly disconcerting-looking, sweet-smelling clusters of milk — the remnants of the braising liquid — that she spooned over the top. “Make sure you get enough clusters!” she’d say. “They’re the best part. Do you have enough? Here, take more!” I assumed, because she was Patty and because everything she did in the kitchen appeared to be designed for maximum complexity, that this “pork in milk” was difficult to make.

Turns out, it’s not.

“Pork in milk” is now one of our go-to weekend meals (and also one of the dishes enshrined on our recipe door). Our oldest daughter eats it with clusters, the younger one without, but they both eat it — and happily — which is a victory in and of itself. As for the difficulty: it’s seven ingredients and one pot, with a total hands-on time of maybe five minutes. – Andy

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