Friday, December 11, 2009

Pork Butt Extraordinaire

I dragged my husband to the movie theater last week, the dollar theater, where all that is being shown are movies that "went out" months earlier. Having four small children and an income that's never quite enough leaves you fewer choices than those who've made the very middle-upper class choice of limiting their number of spawn to the standard 1.8 children. We weren't so smart; well, that's not completely true, we've just been exceptionally fertile and clearly have a much higher tolerance for chaos.

Let me get back to my story. Usually hubby coerces me into seeing all the shoot-'em-up, mutilate-'em-all, car chase, hacker story movies that most American men love. And since I usually have no preference for what movie we see, I usually coalesce. But this time the movie was my idea-- and my choice. Being a girl, and being a girl who occasionally enjoys indulging in girl movies, I chose "Julie & Julia," the movie that follows the lives of the famous "chef," Julia Child, and an average-underachieving-American named Julie Powell. I won't ruin the movie for you if you haven't seen it yet, but suffice it to say, it was well-worth the $2 we spent to see it. In fact, I've since bought (a used copy of) the book and the just-released DVD, as well as Julia Child's classic cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

And that's what brought me to my "Pork Butt Extraordinaire." The desire to cook food, not just any food, but good food. If you ask my husband, he will quickly tell you that I am a "foodie," by definition (at least per Princeton University's definition) "a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)." Yep, that's me. But I have a small problem. On the other hand, my husband is a "non-eater." Basically he's one of those weird, should-have-died-off-years-ago individuals who really doesn't enjoy eating; he just eats to live. I affectionately refer to him as "the turkey sandwich." That's his favorite meal. He'd eat it everyday, even three times a day if he could. And not the kind of turkey sandwhich that I would make, utilizing the leftovers from Thanksgiving and then dripping with mayo and lettuce andstuffing and cranberry sauce and a slice of tomato and a piece of good cheese and . . . need I go on? No, my husband's idea of a "good" turkey sandwich involves two extremely dry slices of (gag) white bread, two dry slices of deli turkey, and . . . that's it. Yes, my husband is a turkey sandwich.

So what to do with this amazing pork butt that my generous neighbor gave to us? I'm dying to channel my inner Julia Child, but I have a husband who owns roughly 1.5 taste buds and rarely uses them. How do I come up with a recipe that's out-of-this-world delicious, but that both my boring (and picky) husband and four small children will eat? I fretted for a while, and then kicked into what can only be called "Tiffany Mode."

Now here's the deal with the meals that I cook. I LOVE to cook, I LOVE to eat, I LOVE to try new things, but I HATE to be stuck within what I perceive as the rigid guidelines of most recipes. Plus I almost never have in the house what a specific recipe is calling for; it doesn't help that I'm not really much of a planner either. I cook like I live, by the seat of my pants. So, I improvise quite often. Here's a perfect example that my husband still likes to bring up on occasion. We had been married just a few weeks, and I decided I wanted to make a wonderful recipe that I had found called "Lamb and Asparagus" stew. My husband was at work that day, so I spent all day cooking and cleaning the house, planning to surprise him when he got home with this savory stew recipe I had found. Supper time finally arrived, Adam was sitting at the table, anxiously awaiting the appearance of supper. "What are we having?", he called to me as I finished up the few last minute touches. "Lamb and asparagus stew," I replied, feeling very excited. I came into the dining room bearing the soup tureen, set it on the table, and waited for him to ladle his portion out to see his reaction. I was convinced he would be turned to "the foodie side" after this wonderful attempt at a new food. He opened the dish, reached in the ladle, filled his bowl, and then said, rather quizzically, "I thought we were having 'Lamb and Asparagus Stew'". "We are," I replied, a bit confused at his question. "Well, then why is there chicken and broccoli in this soup?" he then asked. "Oh," I replied, brightening a bit, "we didn't have any lamb or asparagus so I used chicken and broccoli instead." That, my friend, is cooking in "Tiffany Mode."

I digress again. So, I kicked into Tiffany Mode, hopped online, and began searching for a savory but safe recipe that I could use to doll up the pork butt in my deep freeze. Here's what I came up with. In true "Tiffany" style, I pulled ingredients from two recipes, used the ingredients I had on hand, left out the ones that didn't thrill my soul, and came up with my very own "Pork Butt Extraordinaire" which I am thrilled to be sharing with you here. Oh, one more side note, hubby LOVED the dish, as did all four of my kids, and I have to say, it's even tastier a day later.

Tiffany's Pork Butt Extraordinaire


5-6 lbs. pork butt, fully thawed
2 white onions, cut into slices
1 large can pineapple slices and all the juice
7 frozen peach slices
1/2 jar apricot preserves
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 heaping Tbsp. diced garlic from a jar (or 5-6 cloves fresh crushed garlic)
1 heaping Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 Tbsp. ground ginger (or a 1" segment of fresh ginger)
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. mace (you may substituted nutmeg if you don't have mace, but mace is better in this one)
3 whole cloves
salt and pepper

Crock pot or slow cooker
Small saucepan
Large saucepan
Turkey baster

Make a "bed" for the pork butt in your crock pot by first laying 4-5 of the pineapple slices on the bottom of the crock pot, and then layering the two sliced onions of top of them. Sprinkle this bed generously with salt and pepper. Next, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, mix together the apricot preserves, white vinegar, garlic, brown sugar, mustard seeds, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, mace, and cloves, along with a splash or two of the reserved pineapple juice. Bring this mixture to a low boil, and let simmer while you follow the next steps.

In a good quality blender, add the remaining pineapple slices, the frozen peach slices, and the pineapple juice. Blend until fully liquid, adding a bit of warm water if needed to fully liquify. Pour this mixture into your ingredients in the saucepan, and let the entire mess cook down for about 15 minutes. If you don't have kids or you have kids and a husband that appreciate spicy foods, I would recommend the addition of a nice Indian chili to this bubbling mix for just a little bit of heat. As my dependents turn their noses up at all things spicy, I did not add one to my dish (but I will next time, hehehe!).

While your sauce mixture is bubbling down, rinse the pork butt, rub dry, and then place in the crock pot on top of the pineapple-and-onion bed and sprinkle the pork with a bit more salt and pepper. When the sauce has cooked down just a bit and thickened just a hair (not too much, because you want the volume of liquid for the crock pot), pour it over the pork. Cover and turn your crock pot onto high; cook for one hour on high, and then turn down to low heat and cook for an additional 4 hours or so. ( I recommend reading "Julie & Julia" while you wait for your lovely meal to cook, or better yet, shop!)

Once the pork is thoroughly cooked, use a turkey baster to pull off 3/4's of the liquid in the crock pot. Place the liquid into the large saucepan, bring it to a high boil; while the liquid is coming to a boil, using equal parts cornstarch and cold water, make a cornstarch mix. When the liquid arrives at a full boil, begin stirring continuously, and slowly add your cornstarch mix, just enough to thicken the sauce a little bit, you're not trying to make Jello, so don't use too much of the cornstarch mix.

The results of this gastronomical fair are amazing. Succulent, moist pork, a sweet but tangy curry sauce, and no complaints from my eaters! I served my pork butt up drizzled with the sweet and savory sauce I had made, and with some lovely petite peas with a hint of butter and a touch of salt, as well as some yummy baked acorn squash (seasoned with butter, a touch of salt and pepper, and just a dash of nutmeg) to round out the meal. Wonderful! We ate the pork leftovers for the next few days, served with my favorite Sweet Potato Wedges (dredged in a gluten-free all-purpose baking mix seasoned with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning and then lightly sauteed in canola oil then popped in the oven to broil with a brushing of olive oil) and a cucumber salad (another favorite-- olive oil, white vinegar, a bit of white sugar, a dash of salt, a dash of pepper, and lots of cucumbers). It was equally good.

Happy eating!

And for those of you who would prefer the "real" recipes that I borrowed from, here they are:

Slow Cooker Chutney Pork Loin

Peach Chutney

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