March 03, 2010

Writing a dissertation is hard OR Why I really appreciate my crock pot

So, if I have any readers left after a month long retreat from my blog I want to assure you, of two things: one, I am actually still eating and/or trying to feed A, Sandie and JoJo and two, I've missed my blog terribly. Part of the reason I created this blog was to try to provide some stress relief for myself not to mention, as a distraction from the sheer panic that writing a dissertation can do to a person. Cooking and eating have truly become a refuge from the overwhelming stress - and this blog has been instrumental in helping me when the other writing becomes too much to handle. There are few things in my life up to this point that I can honestly say have been truly difficult, and writing a dissertation is currently topping the list. If it's not the solitude and the doubts that what you are creating is any good, the panic of looming deadlines and a total lack of funding and job security for next year will get you. And so, as my lighthouse in the storm I go to one of my go-to meals in our home, pulled pork barbeque sandwiches. The beauty of this is that you can get it ready in the morning and after a entire eight hours of writing a complete organizational nightmare of a chapter you can rest your weary eyes and refuel with a meal that can be left in the crockpot and doesn't need your attention for the rest of the day. I also enjoy the beauty of the pulled pork because you can use a variety of ingredients and still achieve a deliciously tender meaty meal that also serves as leftovers for your next day of dissertation writing. 

The cast of characters includes a crock pot (although to be honest sometimes I am too lazy to go down to the basement to retrieve it and if I am going to be home I also cook my meat on a low temp in the oven in my Staub), and some seasonings to adorn your meat. Some people like to sear the meat to lock in the flavor and really create a crispy crust on the outside. I have found if you're going to pour barbeque sauce over it you don't really need this step. If you're going to be fancy and just let the seasonings guide your way then sear each side of your pork shoulder before putting it in the crock pot to simmer. 

I always start with rinsing my meat and patting it dry. I put it on a cooking sheet to keep it contained. Also because I do a bit of a dry rub on it this helps keep the spices from flying all over the place.

I first applied a layer of olive oil and then generously salted the pork. Then you can use whichever spices you wish to flavor it. I used cayenne pepper, and garlic powder along with black pepper. Rub it on all sides, this is oddly therapeutic and also gets me in the zone for writing. At this point I like to say a little thank you to the animal that gave its life so that we could have nourishment. When you're rubbing a pork shoulder or any other large piece of meat I find it's pretty difficult to detach yourself from the fact that an animal was killed so that you can eat. Deep but true.

After applying your oil and spice rub place it into your crockpot. This is my favorite part, add a beverage to ensure that your pork stays moist throughout the eight hour cooking time. This time I used a miniature can of Coke but I also sometimes add about half a bottle of beer. I use whatever I have on hand, I've also been known to use a root beer if I have it in my fridge. Generally the flavor of the liquid is not really imparted into the meat, it really just acts as an agent to keep the meat moist over the long cooking period. Rest assured (besides the generous amount of barbeque sauce that I added at the end) the meat did not taste sweet despite the addition of a sugary sweet Coke. This picture is making me want a Coke in a real bad way though!

At this point you can also be creative with what you have in your kitchen to throw into the crock pot. I have placed onions and garlic cloves floating in the liquid to add a depth of flavor to my meat, I have also been known to add in a chopped jalapeño or two as well. Be creative and see what can happen with the flavor, the beauty of the crockpot is that the flavors will slowly infuse into the meat much like a marinade but they don't tend to be overwhelming. I am not sure the science behind this but I promise you can throw a few different things in here to experiment with as you make this.

So, after six to eight hours or until your pork reaches the appropriate temperature measured by your meat thermometer it will probably look something like this. Don't be alarmed, this is normal, and slightly unattractive. Although, it's a lot tastier than it looks I promise!

Potatoes are also a great go to item if you're busy writing for the day. I've found these little starchy gems to be good for writing in between their start and finish time. Mashed potatoes need to be boiled (and for some reason it takes forever for water to boil on my stove) baked potatoes take about an hour in the oven to cook, so potatoes provide plenty of opportunities for writing in the cooking process. These are the types of foods that I have really been reaching out for lately. Such as, bread, you can be amazed how motivated you can be to write in between the time you put your loaf in the oven to bake and when that timer buzzes. It's a great game to play with yourself to see if you can make it further than the night before!

For this meal I thought I could use some left over yukon gold potatoes I had laying around. At some point I really want to do a blog post on potatoes, when I was growing up I only knew of one kind of potato, Russet - that was it! I know this is specific marker of class that I am really excited to explore at some point, but today I made yellow golds because now that I'm an "enlightened" grad student I know about the diversity of potatoes ha! Anyways, I decided to make the Pioneer Woman's crash hots because they are really delicious and because you pretty much can't mess them up and because they go great with barbeque. It's like having your own little self contained (much healthier for you) potato salad to accompany your sandwich! But, you need to use small potatoes (reds, new, multi or yukon gold) for this. I halved them and boiled them for a few minutes to soften them up. They go into the oven and cook a while so you don't want to boil them until they start mushing in your pot.

Meanwhile, make sure you take your meat out and let it start to cool for at least twenty to thirty minutes. Believe me, you do not want to pull hot pork, it burns!

After boiling your potatoes for about ten to fifteen minutes (until just tender) lay them out on a baking sheet and drizzle olive oil over them and salt and pepper them.

Then, taking a fork or a potato masher gently press down on your potato half until is smashes but trying to keep it's skin attached to its insides enough. This is turning out to be a very graphic description of the food today, sorry about that! But you want to kind of keep it so you can just scoop them off of the pan after you bake them in the oven. I think I baked these on 450 degrees for about 20-25 minutes while my pork was cooling. You want to bake them until their tops are crispy and golden brown.

Meanwhile it's time to start pulling that pork. Some people use forks, I just use my clean brown hands. A deserves the photo credit for these next shots. She was in charge of documenting these steps because when you're pulling pork with your hands it's a pretty messy endeavor, obvi.

About this time the animals will start to flock to you. Sandie's little ears perk up as soon as the first pull of the pork happens and she comes running.

This is what your pulled pork will begin to look like as you continue shredding it. It should be easy to do and oddly satisfying.

And then your demon cat JoJo will come around the corner and want some meat too!

Toast your buns in some butter. I put A in charge of this part which is why there is a little puddle of butter accumulating in the corner of my lodge pan.

Toss your pulled pork with your sauce of choice. I really want to make my own barbeque sauce one day. Perhaps this will be my reward for finishing my dissertation. I don't have the time to experiment with barbeque sauce making techniques right now, honestly I only have a limited time to be in my kitchen these days and even less time to think about creative stories to accompany my recipes. But it is all worth it in the end, because A told me this was one of her most favorite meals. And this meal is pretty inexpensive - the fairy chef would be proud! Thanks for hanging with me despite my infrequent postings. I will try to be better but I can't really promise that I'll be back every other day. I am trying to defend my dissertation in three months - I don't know if it's possible, but in order for that to happen it means I unfortunately don't have much time to eat, sleep, or write anything besides my dissertation. But I'll try to be back, I know my readers miss me. Make this pulled pork and think of me...