Thursday, November 20, 2014

When the Warmth of Summer Is Already a Faint Memory
What’s cooking? Pork & Cider Stew

I took my husband to the beach last weekend. Not historic and sophisticated Nantucket, where we’ve been many times to visit friends, nor the luxury real estate of Kiawah Island, where he’s often played golf and where he thought – briefly – we’d spend our retirement years. Instead, I took him to Port Aransas, a scruffy, ramshackle fishing village at the northern end of Mustang Island, on the Texas coast just north of Corpus Christi. Home to as many crusty shrimpers as deep-sea sport fishing boats, and the beach where I spent my summers as a child.

I know, it’s not really that time of year when you go to the beach. But our younger son had a group of friends who’ve been reuniting every few years since college, and they’ve decided that our house in Austin is the place they most like spending these mini-reunions. Maybe it’s the Austin effect, or the normally great weather, or maybe just the idea that we have enough beds and the price is right. I love the fact that we built a retirement house in a place where the “kids” want to visit. Still, with six 30-somethings showing up for a few days, I also knew the right response – from all perspectives – was to remove my hubby from the scene.

I was a little nervous about taking him to “my” beach. I know my perceptions of the place are colored by my memories of those childhood summers, and I am not deluded by rose-colored sun glasses into thinking the place is pretty by anyone’s standards. Yet the town’s salt-eaten, weather-beaten, funkiness retains a charm for me, and I hoped my mate wouldn’t be put off by it.

Then there was the weather. Yup – record lows, the occasional sprinkle of rain, and not even a glimpse of the sun the entire time we were there. I was pretty sure these weren’t the best circumstances for introducing one love to another. Undaunted, I showed him the nature preserve, the birding center (next door to the town’s wastewater treatment plant, naturally), the golf course, and the thriving downtown. Ok, so not thriving, but relatively unchanged from my youth. And we took the obligatory tour through what a writer friend and I call the tacky stores, where you can get T-shirts for $7 and spongy visors for $4. Then we walked the beach.

As we packed to head home, I apologized for the crappy weather and the lack of excitement.

“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I get this place. We should come back – when the sun is out.”

What a guy.

* * *

By the time we got home, I was ready for a meal that would take away the 3-day chill. On the drive, I scoured my latest issue of Food & Wine, and found a recipe that fit the bill perfectly. In fact, I liked it so much I didn’t bother taking pictures, but made it again a few days later for the photo op. That batch I have happily frozen for when the next big norther hits Austin. I tweaked it a bit the second round – shortening the cooking time, adding the Granny Smith apple for a little extra tartness, adjusting the spices. It’s simple to make and smells and tastes like fall. Both my son and my husband raved over it.

Kitchen Goddess notes: (1) As you know, the Kitchen Goddess likes almost any dish that contains alcohol. For this recipe, I used a local hard cider, Austin Eastciders’ Gold Top Cider, which is medium-dry and deliciously tangy. Check with your local liquor store for a good, dry or semi-dry hard cider. Some grocery stores also carry sparkling hard cider.

(2) The Kitchen Goddess served this dish with baby new potatoes that were boiled in well-salted water for 30 minutes, then peeled while warm. As you know, the KG is a glutton for punishment, but peeling potatoes – even little ones that have been boiled – is a pain in the butt. So next time, she’ll be buying baby yellow potatoes, which don’t have to be peeled. And if you’re not a fan of potatoes, this dish would also be swell with nice, wide egg noodles.

Pork & Cider Stew

Adapted from Chef Fernanda Milanezi of Maeve’s Kitchen in London

Serves 4-6.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast (also called Boston butt)
Kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 ounces thick cut lean bacon, sliced in ½-inch pieces (or slab bacon, cut into ½-inch dice)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped fine
one 500-ml bottle sparkling dry apple cider (see Kitchen Goddess note above)
2 cups chicken stock
½ medium Granny Smith apple, cut in ½-inch dice
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon dried sage, or 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves

Prepare the meat by trimming off much of the fat then cutting it into 1½-inch cubes. Blot the meat with a paper towel and season well with kosher salt and pepper.

In a large enameled Dutch oven (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset round Dutch oven), melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add one-third to one-half of the pork in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – and sauté until well browned, about 7 minutes. [Kitchen Goddess note: To get a good browning on the pork, put the meat into the oil on one side and don’t touch it again for about 3 minutes; then use tongs to turn it over and let it cook on the other side. For the last minute or two, you can rotate some pieces to a side that hasn’t browned.] Remove the browned meat to a bowl and continue sautéing with the rest of the pork, adding the remaining butter and olive oil. Reserve the browned meat.

Add the bacon pieces to the pot and cook until golden. Remove the cooked bacon to the bowl with the browned pork.

Discard all but about 4 tablespoons of the fat from the pot and reduce the heat to medium/medium-low. Add the sliced onion and the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden and softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cider and deglaze the pan by scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula.

Add the pork, the bacon, the chicken stock, and bay leaves to the pot and bring the stew to a simmer. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to simmer the stew gently for 1½ hours.

[While the stew is simmering, you’ll have plenty of time to cook the potatoes or noodles.]

When the meat is tender, stir together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water, and add it to the stew along with the cream, the mustard, and the sage. Continue to simmer the stew until it has thickened, about another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves before serving.

Serve with boiled baby potatoes or over wide egg noodles, and a green salad or green vegetable such as broccolini.

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