Or – cooking to save the day.
Saturday, to be exact – the end of spring break. Kid One and friends were in the living room catching up on statistics homework. Kid Two and friends were editing their home videos on the computer in the office area. LL was watching Sopranos reruns on the elliptical trainer in our room. What felt like twenty mile an hour winds kept anyone from going outside for a walk and besides, I was babysitting the carpenter who was fixing the bathroom pocket door so it would lock again. I didn’t know exactly where to go or what to do . . . what I craved was some quiet and alone time and there was nowhere for that to happen. I was at loose ends and starting to get mad about it. So I moved into the kitchen, where I’m always the master of my domain, and I started cooking.
I decided it was absolutely necessary to make pulled pork for dinner. It’s not a dish I’ve ever made, and one I’ve only eaten a couple of times, but I was inspired by Guy Fieri’s visit to a San Francisco restaurant called Q in the previous night’s episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. I improvised a recipe – here is what I did:
- Liberally coat a 3-pound pork loin with fresh ground pepper and garlic salt. Let sit to come to something close to room temperature. (Three pounds because I figured if I was going to all this trouble I wanted lots of leftovers.)
- Seed and slice 2 poblano and 1 serrano chili. Hold the slices directly over a gas burner with tongs until they got smoky and a little charred, then set them aside to cool.
- Next chop a large red onion and a medium-sized yellow onion into roughly 1/2-inch chunks. Mince 3 garlic cloves and made a big pile with all of it.
- Roughly chop the cooled-down chilis and put into a separate pile.
- Take out the wok and heat it on medium-high heat. When it’s hot add about 6 tablespoons grapeseed oil. When the oil is hot, toss in the pork loin and cook each side until brown and crusty-looking.
- When the pork is browned, take it out and set aside. Add the onion and garlic pile to the hot oil, reduce heat to medium, and cook (stirring often) until the onions start looking translucent.
- Now add the pile of chopped chilis and cook until they’re soft.
- At this point I added a heaping tablespoon of anise seed, a heaping teaspoon of ground cumin, a few shakes of salt, and a generous sprinkle of ancho chili powder to the mixture.
- Mix well and add a generous pour of cheap red table wine to the wok. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cook for a few minutes longer.
- Now clear a spot for the pork. Plop in back into the wok and spoon vegetables over it. Add a 16-ounce can of diced organic tomatoes.
- Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 4 hours.
It was a bit of work, but by the time I put the meat on to simmer and cleaned the kitchen the carpenter was finished and gone, the wind calmed down quite a bit, and that mood I had brewing had vanished. The zen of cooking saved my day.
By the time we were ready to eat the pork was so tender I was able to break it apart gently with a wooden spoon. Dinner was the four of us, plus Kid Two’s buddy and a damsel in distress Kid One rescued from a “sketchy” party after she Facebook’d him that she needed a ride. I set up a burrito bar and we each assembled our own meal: with a choice of white rice, pinto beans simmered in sauteed celery and prosciutto, jack cheese, oven roasted corn (cut off the kernels), fresh salsa (Zunigas), shredded iceberg lettuce, and tortillas (flour and corn).
It was really, really good, too. The anise was a nice touch, and just the right amount. Overall the pork had a mellow but noticeable sweetness and heat. I’ll adjust the recipe, though, the next time I make it. I was too timid with the seasonings – it needed a tad more salt, another couple of cloves of garlic, and another serrano smoked and added in to the oil to cook. I could have doubled up on the amount of ancho chili powder, too. Then it could a fresh chopped chili added with the tomatoes to give it more of a top note of heat.
I don’t always think how much pleasure I get from cooking, but I really do. The kitchen has become my easy chair – the place you’ll most often find me doing something relaxing. It’s the place I can be meditative and tranquil with family commotion all around. And the process of cooking is completely creative, an expression of what’s recently grabbed my interest. Good thing it’s a useful escape – I’m in charge of feeding this family, and I’d rather give them fresh homemade food than frozen processed stuff. Feed them with love, not with junk. With peace, not with anger. Now THAT is really my life in a skillet.