Posts Tagged ‘surprise’

cooking with the doctor

When I woke up this morning, there was snow on the ground. It’s all melted into rain now, thank you for asking, but this mid-April brush with winter made me all the more excited, and grateful, for the hot (in both senses!) leftovers from last night, destined for today’s lunch table: Dr. Pepper pulled pork.

Considering I hadn’t even tasted Dr. Pepper at this time last year, this dish is a big step. Considering I don’t consider myself a huge fan of spicy foods, and this dish calls for a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, this dish is an even bigger step. And yet the idea of slow-roasting pork shoulder in both for five hours caught hold of me, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Billy is so lucky, to hear entreaties like “This sounds weird. Let’s make it for dinner!) We tried it last weekend and, with some trepidation, spooned it into corn tortillas with sour cream, tomato salsa, caramelized onions and red peppers, and a little jack cheese.

It was unbelievably good. The meat was quite spicy but a little sweet, with an almost barbecued flavor, and the smooth sour cream mellowed out all that heat. Matched with the acidity of the tomatoes and the deliciously sweet onions and peppers, and the cheese — I was just done. It’s the best slow-cooked meat I’ve ever had, and definitely the best pulled pork.

We made it again last night, less than a week after its first audition. It’s that good. I know it sounds weird, and you’re likely thinking, there’s surely a reason chefs don’t regularly baste their roasts with soda . . . but try it anyway. If only for curiosity’s sake. I think you’ll be converted.

Spicy Dr. Pepper Pulled Pork
(Via the Pioneer Woman)

Enough meat for 10-12 6inch tortillas. How many that serves is between you, your guests, and your stomach.

  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs pork shoulder (also called pork butt; you can buy the whole shoulder, about six pounds, or packaged shoulder cuts, which are just the right size for this recipe)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, or about 3 ounces
  • 1 can Dr. Pepper, more to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Cut the onion into wedges and lay it at the bottom of a heavy dutch oven. Add the meat. Salt and pepper generously. Add the brown sugar and chipotle peppers, and pour the Dr. Pepper over it all.

Lid it, and cook in the oven until the meat is positively falling off the bone and pulls apart easily, about five hours. (Pictured in the photo above. If, after some preliminary fork investigation, your meat looks more like the photo at the very top of the post, it’s not ready. Return it to the oven, lidded, for another hour.) Using two forks, shred the pork, discarding big pieces of fat. Put it on the stovetop and keep warm until ready to use. Feel free to add some more Dr. Pepper at this point, just for kicks, for the meat to absorb.

N.B. Although I have not tried it this way, you could definitely adapt the recipe to a slow cooker — just cook it for longer, i.e. all day.

We love it in corn tortillas (ahem, not pictured) with salsa, sour cream, grilled onions, peppers, and cheese.


the good samaritan lives here

When people ask me what living in Iowa was like, this is one of the stories I will tell.

One night, in very early February, a blustery, freezing cold blizzard tore through Iowa City, grabbing up great handfuls of falling snow and flinging them into feet-high drifts, pushing through door screens and clogging tree branches. It was the most snow we’d ever had. The next morning, Boyfriend put a coat over his fleece and a hat over his earmuffs and went out to clear the long driveway. It was supposed to drop into the negative teens that night, and he worried about the snow freezing solid. He worked and worked, drilling down through the waist-high snow drift and tunneling ten feet towards the street. But after all this, not even half the driveway was clear. So he went back inside for a break.

While we were frying some bacon, we heard a great roar outside our kitchen window and rushed to investigate. Our next door neighbor, whom we have never met, had trundled his snow blower to our garage was steadily pacing up and down our driveway, clearing a path. Unasked and unannounced. We were amazed and so, so relieved! And delighted! Once he finished our side, he cleared the duplex neighbors’ half of the driveway . . . and then continued, house to house, clearing the entire cul-de-sac’s driveways, and some of the street to boot. Conclusion: I usually try to avoid blanketing entire geographical regions with a single personality trait. But in this case I’m allowing an exception. It’s true, I do not know where else this would have happened, and I say, Oh, Iowa!

despite my best efforts

I am not a gardener. I am no gardener. I am a very bad gardener.

I am constantly digging up (and pointlessly replacing) dead basil plants on my kitchen window sill. I love fresh basil, and even remember to water it, since – hey!, it’s indoors! But somehow the little bushes don’t stand up to the enthusiastic picking to which I so nonchalantly subject them. The ones in my parents’ garden are just delighted to make pestos and capreses from May til September. Virginia basil bushes (and chives, and thyme) EXPLODE. Mine put in a noble showing, and quietly expire in a despondent sort of way. Then I buy new plants, which last about three weeks, and the cycle continues.

And then there’s the outdoor colony. I planted a little bed of mums in our backyard “plot” about five weeks ago. And this is what happened. Oh, look, there’s even a huge weed in that picture. How embarrassing. I just . . . sort of . . . forget about the flowers? I am an “out of sight, out of mind” gardener. Or else I figure, “Grass grows! Bushes grow! We don’t water those, so do I really need to water the flower beds?” (Manifestly, I do.) Why do I confess this ecological mistreatment?

BECAUSE I DID THE SAME THING LAST YEAR AND LOOKIT WHAT HAPPENED. Next to the withered-on-the-vine mum corpses, we have a mum bush. Exploding. Quite despite myself.

In fact, it’s TWO plants from last fall who, in the sticky hotwet summer months — and absent my occasional hand-wringing — apparently revived themselves, coiled together, and grew and grew and grew.

They literally spill into the sidewalk!

They reach to the sky!

And there’s more on the way!

Clearly, I am doing something right.

what does not happen in iowa

As much as I wax poetic about Iowa City, there are some cheap thrills that simply don’t come with the territory — that come, in fact, only in “Hollywood for Ugly People,” aka Washington, DC. This is one of those stories.

Acqua al 2 is a new (“ehh, about two months?” said the Florentine graphic designer sitting next to us) Italian restaurant near Capitol Hill, one literally lifted up from Florence and plopped into the middle of Eastern Market. Italians abound, from the chef and sous to the couple behind us and aforementioned designer one seat down. Already a place you can trust, no?

My friend Ali (she of Bibiana good taste) suggested it for dinner a couple weeks ago, having already swooned over the first one in Italy. Never one to turn down such a suggestion, I agreed and we reserved for 7:30 on Monday night. When we got there, this happened:

Manager: Ladies, how are you this evening, I hate to tell you this, since we really respect people who reserve, but we’re behind tonight.

N + A: Er . . .

Manager: We’re not going to be able to seat you. The Speaker of the House just called, and she’s on her way over, so . . .

N + A: Ah!

Manager: So would you mind eating at the bar, and having some drinks on the house?


(Ali was much cooler than this.)

So we settled into the window corner of the bar, ordered two glasses of Prosecco, and chatted away (with occasional glance thrown over our shoulders). Before any political celebrities arrived, through, this appetizer did: a spaghetti-like tangle of raw fennel with shaved parmesan, pine nuts, and radicchio. Lightly bound together with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was beautiful and bright, and the PLAY aspect (pasta restaurant! fennel like spaghetti!) just delighted me. I know, I’m an easy sell.

And THEN: Nancy Pelosi showed up! With some senators! It was very exciting. The two black SUV’s pulled up, out came the bodyguards, the advance guard (in that photo up above, see him?) opened the door, and in she swooped! To Ali’s and my formerly -reserved table! At least we know they were going to take care of us.

Not quite as exciting, but very delicious: dinner showed up a few moments later. Mine’s up there, long fusilli in a spicy tomato sauce touched with garlic, pictured above. It was great, but I think I liked Ali’s rigatoni alle melanzane (rigatoni with roasted eggplant – tomato sauce) even better. Mine was a nest of spicy tomato sauce — juust hot enough — but hers had a marvelous, full-bodied savor to it.

We finished everything.

And then Nancy left, stopping by a bench outdoors to chat up an elderly couple and — I am not making this up — fist bumping a guy going in for it. That was pretty sweet. About as amazing as our incredibly light, espresso-cream whirl of tiramisu about which even the Italians around us proclaimed è come fa la mamma. I guess Nancy didn’t have any, she was in-and-out so fast: but next time, Madam Speaker, I highly recommend it.

over the river and at the hearth

Friends, I am delighted, delighted, delighted to have found another terrific restaurant in town. As I said to some new friends at a symposium in Cleveland last week, New York is a town that invites foodie-induced strolling, where almost each passing restaurant has a tempting facade/kitchen team/gastronomic perspective/raison d’etre. It’s anonymous now, but could be your favorite place in two hours. I love this sense of possibility. Here in Iowa City, we too have some seriously delicious restaurants that regularly hit a meal out of the park — but there’s a smaller selection, of course, which makes for fewer surprises. So in the last month I’ve started dismissing restaurants out of hand with the excuse, Well, I haven’t heard of it by now!, which, let’s be honest, is a pretty lame excuse.

Hearth, a newish restaurant that shares the upstairs floor of an adjoining building with its sister restaurant, One Twenty Six, churns out gorgeous flatbreads, tapas, and carefully appointed entrees from a semi-open kitchen. With square plates and black tables on the one hand, and spindly wooden chairs and roughly exposed brick on the other, the space straddles the line between rustic and modern, but without feeling too self-consciously cool. Still, the place’s most charming asset is something a lot less constructed: the long windows that overlook Washington Street.

On Saturday night, we started with their winning shrimp and scallop ceviche — a tangy bite here, some fried crunch there — and Alsatian flatbread. Very different dishes, both fantastically executed. The flatbread may have been even more remarkable, for carefully tucking sweetly caramelized onions and smoked bacon into distinct, surprising nooks of the nutty Gruyère base. It wasn’t at all heavy — the bread was not only flat, but light — as many Alsatian dishes turn out on my watch tend to be.

When a restaurant only offers five entrees, my logic goes, they had better be (a) varied and (b) mastered. There’s no room for screw ups. And to judge from our two, wildly different choices, Hearth has mostly accomplished this. Certainly the “varied” commandment is aptly fulfilled, with two Latin dishes (one vegetarian), two Indian ones, and one bistro classic. Billy fulfilled a long-standing craving with some juicy, robust fish tacos, which arrived with generous slices of fresh avocado and a citrus-based salsa. They were lovely.

I answered a craving of my own with Hearth’s steak-frites — call it hopeful anticipation of visiting the land of steak-frites in a month and change. This was also delicious, especially those slim golden fries and the green peppercorn butter. The meat was nice, too, but not quite cooked enough to merit the “medium-rare” label. Luckily, I am not the sort of person who really minds, but if you are, either practice your sweetest would you mind cooking this a tad more face, or go with something else. And I should add that this didn’t stop me from mopping up my plate.

And afterward, you know what happened? We walked home, across the river and up the hill. It’s finally warm enough, spring is here, and this new restaurant discovery couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

a birthday round-up

Because I am a third grader and still get tremendously excited about birthdays — all birthdays, probably because my inner child considers them 10% aging, 90% a marvelous excuse to bake lavish cakes and eat them with friends (truly the best activity of all) — and because my boyfriend knows that on March 27, he’s likely to face a seven AM, bouncing-on-the-bed wake-up call, we suspended all academic/professional responsibilities yesterday for some new adventures.

To wit:

— Opening a box of seriously lovely gifts at five minutes past seven and again once the postman had passed at noon, which both threaten to ruin me for future birthdays, and at which I can only keep babbling, Thanks! and Wow!

— Pure-butter, hefty chocolate truffles made on the adorable, open-kitchen premises to cap off a big, big, BIG German lunch at Amana’s Ronneburg Restaurant — which we picked with a purely “well, when in Rome” mentality, but between the skillet-fried German potatoes, unlimited sauerkraut, schnitzel and accompaniments, proved delicious in its own right Even if the schnitzel wasn’t quite the airy, fried puff of an animal we’re used to.

— Dinner at a fantastic new-to-us and slightly new-to-IC restaurant downtown with the best fries (crisp, salty, matchstick) I’ve come across in a while, perfectly tangy ceviche and luscious flatbreads which, now that I’ve got your attention, will be reviewed in full tomorrow.

— My super-delicious birthday cake, a pear, chocolate, and brown butter concoction from the Smitten Kitchen that I made last summer and have been looking for an excuse to reprise ever since. I used a couple of too-ripe anjous and Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chunks, and it was fabulous. (Importantly, the two remaining slices seem to have gotten even more imbued with that sweet pear fragrance after an overnight sit.) Thanks to all the benevolent locusts who came over last night and trimmed down the cake so happily!

kir royales and valentines

Time, friends! It passes. And here we are, already at mid February and as far as you know I have spent the month alternately binging on and shunning pancakes, and cleverly chatting up elementary algebra exercises. Which is only half true. The other thing I’ve been doing is waiting for the barrister’s ball. Law prom, in other words, complete with corsages and zillions of couples poses — but despite the implicit corniness in twenty-somethings going to a school dance, it was actually awesome.

And since it’s prom, there has to be a pre-prom, so on Friday evening Billy and I had eight more kiddos over for cheese, hummus, flatbread, assorted nibbles and, of course, champagne. Kir royales, actually, which is champagne with a dabble of creme de cassis flavoring —  and proved a tremendous hit with the lawyer-to-be crowd. To the uninitiated: we’re coming for you. We even took group shots, with every imaginable subdivision of guests!

We feasted for the next hour or so at Formosa, the sushi spot on the Ped Mall downtown. Billy and I enjoyed their fruity martinis with dragon rolls, California rolls, and the afore-written-about Tuna Tataki and Tropical Rainforest. Mmmm. And then, of course the prom part!

Well, we didn’t actually stay that long. The ballroom at the Sheraton downtown was nice, if not particularly festive looking, and I actually quite liked the DJ. But four hours of three-inch heels and cocktails had made enough of a dent in my energy that we went home, pumpkin-like, by midnight. And the next morning . . .

. . . some roses winged their way to our front door! So at nine am, I was padding downstairs in slippers and robe to sign for this big surprise. (Valentine’s Day/weekend must be a nice time to work delivery at a florist. Everyone is very nice to you.)

That night Billy and I went to the ever-wonderful Devotay for dinner. Like most restaurants in town, they offered a Valentine’s Day prix-fixe menu, but we still had to get an order of paella. When it’s warm enough, I have very real ambitions of replicating it on the grill (I’ve seen Bobby Flay do it! Doesn’t that mean I can, too?), but until then, I’m happy as a clam to stick with Devotay’s version every single time.

On the real Vday we went to Linn Street Cafe, and you know I’d love to tell you about that. But right now I have to go eat my chocolate.