The Fourth of July is upon us, and while many people will be prepping grills and wood piles for their festivities, can I interest you in an alternative? One that doesn’t require standing over a flaming rack of meat in the peak of American summer and does most of the cooking work on its own over the course of a day?
If so, this pulled pork is for you!
It’s taken me a long time to come around to pulled pork. I’m not generally a fan of shredded meat… it often makes me feel like I’m eating like, I don’t know, hair or something? But lately I’ve been unable to resist the ease of dumping a pork roast in the slow cooker, going to work, and coming home to a ready-made dinner that will last us for DAYS.
I’m horrified to report that as a child, I didn’t care for banana bread. I don’t know what about it displeased me, but frankly, I was a fairly picky eater for many years and shunned off a number of foods that I now find delicious. Lately, we’ve been on a bit of a banana kick in our house, but we inevitably end up with a couple of bananas that reach their prime too quickly and end up getting blacker and more shriveled on the counter as the days go by. Fortunately, the cooking gods have a perfect solution for this problem. As bananas ripen and their sweetness becomes far too over-powering to eat them on their own, they become the perfect mix in for a loaf of sweet, tangy, breakfast bread.
There are a few things I really like about making banana bread. One, I hate wasting food, so I find it extremely satisfying to re-purpose over-ripe fruit to make something new and magical out of them. Two, this old recipe (given to me from my mother, who got it from HER great-grandmother) is extremely straight forward. The ingredients are quite basic, and the instructions are fast and easy. No complicated folding, alternating, sifting, or resting required.
I’m such a sucker for seasons. Each fall, I revel in the last blasts of colorful leaves before they fall to the ground and the first brisk morning that requires a jacket and boots. When winter arrives, the first snowfall leaves me breathless at its beauty. Then, as the days lengthen and spring erupts out of every bulb and tree bud, I wonder how I ever functioned without it. I swear, as appealing as climates like San Diego sometimes feel, I really don’t know what I’d do without the anticipation and satisfaction provided by shifting seasons.
At the moment, I’m clamoring for summer. For late evening walks in short-sleeved tees and sunlight after 8pm and COOKOUTS and mini golf. This weekend, after several days of positively gorgeous weather that hinted at the season to come, I quite simply couldn’t take it anymore and I pretended it had arrived right in my own kitchen by whipping up a batch of barbecue pulled pork and a simple, delightful potato salad that tastes just like summer.
I freakin’ love potato salad, and this one checks all the boxes I look for in a ideal scoop. Smooth chunks of potato still in their skins, a tangy assortment of crunchy mix-ins, cool and crisp, and most importantly, LIGHTLY DRESSED. I’m not interested in swimming through an ocean of mustard-flavored mayonnaise to uncover the 2-3 pieces of potato that may be hidden within, thank you very much. Most importantly, this salad is composed of pretty basic ingredients that I almost always have on hand and comes together fairly quickly.
Comfort food, thy name is Biscuits and Gravy. This is usually my first stop on the menu at a new breakfast or brunch joint, and there’s no way I want it to be anything other than a soft, fluffy biscuit nestled in a wave of rich gravy and crumbled breakfast sausage. Woe to the trendy places that try to gussy it up.
But this hearty meal is also incredibly easy to make at home. So maybe it’s really woe to me for not doing so every damn weekend.
First up, the biscuits. These ones are super easy and super fast. The ingredients are pretty basic, and I keep most of them on hand on a regular basis. No raising, very little kneading, and just a few passes with a rolling pin and we’re on our way to biscuit magic.
Next, the gravy. Which honestly, is even easier than the biscuits. All it takes is a pound of sausage, some flour and milk, and a little seasoning. I love my gravy a little herb-y, so I like adding rosemary or sage, too.
Do you need some comfort food? Something that invites your soul to snuggle up against some memories of simpler times, of peaceful days when the world made sense? Something that fills your belly with a perfect medley of carbs, fat, protein, and flavor?
This fall has been crazy. In mid-August I dove headfirst into some projects at work that required every ounce of creativity, planning, and time that I possessed. I took on a leadership role in my choir. I volunteered for an election that, well, let’s just say it didn’t go the way I’d hoped, and since then have still had trouble finding my bearings in this strange, post-election world. Sharing new recipes with you just hasn’t been at the top of the list.
But now it is! As the flood recedes, I’m finally finding myself looking through cookbooks again, browsing the wild and wonderful internet for tasty new things to cook. Which is how I found this one.
I’ve done something. Changed something. Opened some sort of magic box, some secret portal to a new world. And now that I’ve glimpsed the other side, I rather doubt I’ll be the same again.
It all started with an innocent breakfast suggestion. On my recent winter escape to Oregon, all we wanted was a place to eat one misty Wednesday morning in Portland. Instead, we ordered a plate of food that, rather than fading from my memory as most meals do, has haunted my daydreams ever since.
It was praline bacon. And within moments of eating it, I knew that I wanted to, nay, that I must! try to recreate it at home. This weekend I finally had the time, the health, and the daylight. It took four failed attempts, but I finally found the balance I was looking for. And the best part? It’s so absurdly, ridiculously easy.
Obviously, we start with bacon. Then we have pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar, a little salt, and some cayenne pepper.
THAT IS ALL, PEOPLE.
Instead of pan-frying the bacon, I baked mine. It helps the bacon stay flat (necessary for topping with sugary pecans later) and the excess fat drains into the pan below. I may actually start making all of my bacon this way.
While the bacon cooks, chop up some pecans. I’ve seen some versions where the pecans are food-processed into oblivion, but I prefer a larger cut. Smaller than a rough chop but bigger than a fine chop, does that make sense? About the size of a tooth? (Is that gross?)
I’ve found, in my eleven years living outside of Colorado, that many people don’t imagine Colorado as a place where much food can grow. People always sound surprised when I tell them that the hardiness zone for growing fruits and vegetables in Denver is approximately the same as that of Columbus, Ohio. And while it may be impossible to grow prolific gardens in the high mountain towns, there are many areas of the state known specifically for their produce.
In fact, many of the most anticipated foods of the summer are identified by the town in which they are grown. I’ve already mentioned Palisade peaches, and that area is also a significant producer of apples, plums, and cherries. Rocky Ford melons are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Olathe sweet corn is grown so prolifically that it appears in heaping mounds at even the most basic grocery stores, not just at boutique food shops and farmers markets. And, though it’s a town in New Mexico, we always look forward to the arrival each fall of Hatch green chiles.
Green chile is a bit of a sport in the Southwest. Most natives will argue that there is NOTHING that can’t be improved by these versatile foods, whether you like your chiles mild (like me) or screamin’ hot. The smell of roasting chiles tumbling around in giant metal barrels outside every grocery store still elicits strong memories of back-to-school evening errands with my parents and anticipation for the imminent changing leaves. Interestingly, I did not like green chiles at all as a kid. It’s only now, as an adult and returning Colorado resident, that I finally appreciate the obsession.
And so, I’m on a quest to learn how to cook with green chile beyond simply sprinkling it on my eggs, my pizza, my fajitas… though those are all excellent decisions. And this quest starts with something I’m supremely comfortable with: mac and cheese! For a Colorado-autumn twist on my go-to recipe, I paired my green chile with sweet corn, another fall favorite of mine.
The benefits of apartment dwelling are many. We’ve managed to get our leasing office to fix everything from bathroom light bulbs to water filters in the freezer to warped baseboard in our storage room. We have the freedom to move when and where we choose (within the limits of an annual lease, of course) and there is not much gossip over fences about whose lawn is the most unsightly (though I expect when the time comes, mine may take that prize).
There are, however, many downsides as well. And on a week like this, leading up to the ceremonial end of summer, the fact I begrudge the most is that I am forbidden from using a grill on our little balcony. I get it, I do, we can’t have apartment buildings combusting every time a three-day summer weekend rolls around. Still, I’m cranky about it all the same.
But there are times when, despite the glaring lack of grill, I just want a damn good hot dog.
Now I typically don’t like much fuss for my hot dogs. A bun, a dog, and some ketchup will serve me just fine. But this fancy-pants one became my new favorite after a friend of mine in North Carolina practically forced it upon me when I confessed I’d never stopped by the hot dog cart outside our building. Though the cart is no longer a staple on Duke’s campus, the legacy lives on, and I pity the Duke students going forward who won’t benefit from the culinary stylings of Pauly Dogs.
Christened on the menu as the “Chips Plus”, this hot dog features smoky flavor from barbecue sauce and Old Bay seasoning, some cheese for good measure, and a delightfully salty crunch from some cheap potato chips. It’s a perfectly blended solution of delicious and ridiculous. And most importantly, you really don’t need a grill to make them awesome.