Since the weather has been attempting to freeze my vitals off at work, I’m going to reminisce about a warmer time.
Every summer my family goes up to Lake of the Woods to visit and fish at my uncle’s cabin for a long weekend. This was an odd year for a couple of reasons. Work was a mess, so I couldn’t take off on Friday like everyone else, so I ended up driving six hours by myself after putting a full day. Caffeine and MPR Classical made for relaxing trip. I didn’t get up to the cabin until 2 a.m., but Lindz was a sweetheart and stayed up to wait for me. Also, this was the first year that Grandma Bert couldn’t make it up. She had just gone into the nursing home a couple of months prior. The whole weekend just felt a bit off because of it.
If I remember right, everyone came close to limiting out Saturday. (I only went out on Sunday).
As has been the custom for the last I don’t know how many years, we do a huge fish fry and meal on Saturday night.
My uncle Dennis has a really sweet set-up for frying fish. He’s got a large propane burner set up on a stand and a 18″ cast iron skillet. You can fry a lot of fish very quickly. Like I said, sweet set-up.
While most of the crew was out on the lake, I made some guacamole for supper (and to snack on while waiting for them to return). I was a little bit bummed out that most of the people weren’t too crazy about it. But I got over it pretty quickly by eating some more guac. I was also a bit confused about the so-so reaction because these are the people that regularly eat head-cheese, kraut, pickled pigs feet, herring . . . .
Pickles and cream is basically sliced cucumbers and onions done up as refrigerator pickles. Then you add heavy whipping cream and a bit of sugar (to taste) for the cream part. Now, this is going to sound really weird, but it is unbelievably delicious. You take the pickles and cream and put them on mashed potatoes and enjoy. Without a doubt, this is my favorite topping for taters. I like it even better than chicken gravy and I think chicken gravy is what the Greek gods referred to as ambrosia. Yes, the potato and pickles and cream combo is really that awesome.
Quasi-fake mint Oreo type cookies and monster cookie bars were the desserts that made it up north this year. To no one’s surprise, they disappeared by the time we left on Sunday afternoon.
Like I mentioned, I went out fishing on Sunday. We finally found a hot spot when we ran into a little engine trouble. Well, more of an electrical fire. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There was a short in the wiring by the battery and it melted a bunch of the plastic insulation around some wires. Since the battery is in the same well as the engine, there was a whole lot of concern when smoke was spotted coming out of the hatch. The only thing affected was the down riggers, so we made it home without further incidence. But that did cut the fishing short. Oh, well.
On the plus side, I did pull in a couple of decent sized walleyes. Unfortunately they were in the size slot where we needed to toss them back (19.5″ to 28″). The one that got me was the one that measured 27.5″ I was sooo close to my own trophy walleye.
Okay, the title sounds more avant garde than the dish is, but we all need an ego stroke occasionally. Like I said in a previous post, my gold-standard of guacamole is the stuff I scarfed down at Sabor Latino. I really don’t have a specific recipe, which I’m a bit proud of. At least with this dish, I’ve moved into the realm of Grandma level cooking!
- 6 ripe Avocados
- Juice of 1 Lime
- 2 small Tomatoes, seeded and medium dice
- small handful Cilantro coarsely chopped
- 1/4 of a small Onion, fine dice
- 2 cloves minced Garlic
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
Cut the avocados in half, twist to separate, and pop out the seed. Scoop the avocado out of the skin with a spoon and into a bowl, then mash it up to a creamy, but slightly chunky consistency with a fork. Immediately add the juice of the lime and mix thoroughly. This is to keep the avocado from turning brown. Add the tomato, cilantro, onion, and garlic. Mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to adjust the ratios to your preference.
While I was working and living in Decorah, Iowa, a couple of my friends and I would always be on the look out for new and interesting places to eat. One place we found in a neighboring town was a Mexican grocery/restaurant called Sabor Latino, which translates as Latin Flavor. Within a year after we had first visited this place they opened a restaurant in Decorah. The new place was such a regular stop that the whole staff knew our names, our order, and what was going on in our life. Plus, they would throw in some freebies on a regular basis. Which, of course, just encouraged us to come back all the more often. They closed their doors shortly after we stopped making it a regular stop. Possibly a coincidence, possibly not. The reason why we stopped going was that one our trio graduated from college and stopped coming into town on a regular basis. Of course, the fact that they got raided for having illegal immigrants working there may have been a factor. (Just for the record, we did not know that some of the workers were here illegally).
There were several things that I learned from our frequent visits. I fell in love with their pico de gallo (fresh, uncooked salsa) as well as relished their guacamole. In fact, when I make either of these items at home, it is their recipes that I try to emulate. We also discovered a drink called horchata. Horchata is a rice milk beverage made with cinnamon, sugar, and sometimes with almonds or vanilla. It is a cool and very refreshing drink that I have surprisingly not attempted to make. I’ll have to put that on my list to try. I’m not sure if it’s the same one as in his cookbook that I have or if it’s a different recipe, but here is a link to Aarón Sanchez’s horchata recipe (Right now I’m too lazy to get up off the couch and look). But, the most relevant thing to this post is that I discovered the method how Mexicans prepare their tacos. Forget about what you normally see in the U.S., i.e. covered in lettuce, tomato, and all sorts of a salad, the way we were shown was to just put some diced onions and some cilantro on top of the meat. I’m not sure what it is about that combination, but it helps to liven up the meat flavor as well as add its own dimension to each bite. I much prefer “Mexican style,” as the boys at Sabor liked to say, as opposed to what normally passes in the U.S.
While flipping through the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a Tacos al Pastor (shepherd’s style taco) recipe. I was even more surprised when they just called for cilantro and onions for a topping. Given this gift of a recipe and the memories that I have connected with eating this dish, I couldn’t wait to cook it. At this point in time, we had already made plans to go down and visit one of the people that I had spent so much time with at Sabor Latino. It seemed almost sacrilegious not to cook it for him. It was even more fitting in my brain to cook this for Narren because he has cooked for me countless times in the past. Granted, it was often payment for helping him with something (hence him dubbing me a food-whore). But the occasional payback is nice too.
I did end up making several modifications to the recipe because I wasn’t cooking in my own kitchen. As usual, I’ll put my notes in parenthesis.
- 10 large dried guajillo chiles, wiped clean; can substitute New Mexican chiles (I used a Tbs of Crushed Red Peppers)
- 1 1/2 C Water
- 1 1/4 lbs plum tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 8 Garlic Cloves (I used 1 1/2 small bulbs)
- 4 Bay Leaves
- Salt and Pepper
- 3/4 tsp Sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground Cumin
- 1/8 tsp ground Cloves
- 3 lbs boneless Pork Butt Roast (the one I got weighed 3.5 lbs and had a bone, but it dressed out to 3 lbs)
- 1 Lime, cut into 8 wedges (I used 2)
- 1/2 Pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2″ thick rings (did not use at all)
- Veggie Oil
- 18 Corn or Flour Tortillas, about 6″, warmed
- 1 small Onion, chopped fine
- 1/2 C fresh Cilantro, coarsely chopped
Toast guajillos in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until softened and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to large plate and when cool enough to handle, remove stems. (Obviously, I completely skipped this step.) Bring toasted guajillos, water, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaves, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, sugar, cumin, and cloves to simmer in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occassionally, until guajillos are softened and tomatoes mash easily, about 20 minutes (I only cooked it about 12 minutes).
While the sauce simmers, trim excess fat from exterior of pork, leaving 1/4″ thick fat cap. Slice pork against grain into 1/2″ thick slabs.
Transfer the pepper-tomato mixture to blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute (I pulled out the bay leaves). Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Return puree to pot, submerge pork slices in liquid, and bring to simmer over medium heat. Partially cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer until pork is tender but still holds together, 90 to 105 minutes, flipping and rearranging pork halfway through cooking. Transfer pork to large plate, season both sides with salt, and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Whisk sauce to combine. Transfer 1/2 cup to bowl for grilling. Save another 1/2 cup for use later. Squeeze 2 lime wedges into sauce in bowl and add spent wedges; season with salt to taste. (This is where I stopped with the recipe, I just used the bit of sauce to keep the pork moist for serving it.)
Heat grill until hot. Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush one side of pork with 1/4 cup reserved sauce. Place pork on one side of grill, sauce side down, and cook until well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Brush pork with remaining 1/4 cup of sauce, flip and continue to cook until the second side is well browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer to cutting board. Meanwhile, brush both sides of pineapple rings with vegetable oil and season with salt to taste. Place on other half of grill and cook until pineapple is softened and caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board. Coarsely chop pineapple and transfer to serving bowl. Using tongs to steady the pork, slice each piece crosswise into 1/8th inch pieces. Bring remaining sauce to simmer, add sliced pork, remove pot from heat, and toss to coat pork well. Season with salt to taste. Spoon small amount of pork into each warm tortilla and serve, passing chopped pineapple, remaining 6 lime wedges, onion and cilantro separately.
Normally, I try and stick pretty close to the recipe the first time I follow it. I make notes and change it on the subsequent tries. The reason I deviated so much on this one is because I was cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen (Narren’s) and using a grocery store that I was unfamiliar with, i.e. I would have picked up the peppers somewhere else had I known I couldn’t get anything close to them. I’m going to go one of two ways the next time I do this recipe. Either I will follow the recipe as intended and grill the meat and pineapple, or, more likely, I will do a slow roast in the oven instead of the stove top treatment. Really the only critique that I had with the way I did it was that the meat ended up a bit tough. But through some creative slicing, I was able to minimize it. Which is why I’m thinking of doing a slow roast, and almost going for a pulled pork sort of effect. Although I do like the idea of crisping up the pork. Well, we’ll see where my whims take me.