Smoked Pork Tacos

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You might remember last year we purchased a smoker grill after the bacon making class. Since then we’ve used it for chicken and vegetables, but this is the first time trying a slow smoked pork shoulder. The Kamado ceramic style smoker grill we have is difficult for low and slow cooking, but we do it anyway. The pork should be cooked around 225°F, and we did all we could to keep the temperature below 300°F. Our 7 lb pork shoulder was done in 6 hours, and it really should have taken 7-10 hours. Regardless it tasted amazing. Below is the Bobby Flay recipe I used. I didn’t make the slaw he suggested but I’ve included it below, so I can’t really comment on the taste for that. The slaw I made was pretty simple: shredded cabbage, lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, chopped jalapeño and salt. The longer you let it sit the better it tastes. Well that was our Cinco De Mayo last weekend, these tacos and margaritas! The pork tastes awesome and I would recommend this recipe. :)

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Slow Smoked Pork Shoulder with Napa Cabbage Slaw and Queso Fresco

Smoked Pork Shoulder

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 or 2 chipotle in adobo, finely chopped
  • 1 boneless pork shoulder (about 5 pounds)
  • Warm corn tortillas
  • Napa Cabbage Slaw, recipe follows
  • Hot sauce
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup crumbled queso fresco

Slaw

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 green onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles
  • 1 head Napa cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco

Special equipment: 2 cups wood chips (hickory or apple), soaked in water 30 minutes

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the thyme, garlic, onions, ancho chile powder, brown sugar, cumin, coriander, orange juice, lime juice, 1/2 water and chipotle, and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. Put the pork in a large pan and pour over the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the pork from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

Preheat a charcoal grill for indirect heat and place the soaked wood chips on top of the coals.

Place the pork on the grill, cover and let smoke until the temperature inside the grill is 220 degrees F. Add chips as necessary to continue smoking until the internal temperature of the pork reaches140 degrees F. Then just let the pork finish cooking until the internal temperature reaches about 190 degrees F. This can take about 5 hours. Let the pork rest 30 minutes.

Shred the pork and serve in the warm tortillas topped with some Napa Cabbage Slaw, hot sauce, fresh cilantro leaves and queso fresco.

Napa Cabbage Slaw:

Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, oil and celery seeds until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the green onions and serrano chiles. Place the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Add the dressing and the queso fresco, and toss to combine.

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Mushroom Lasagna

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This Mushroom Lasagna is absolutely delicious. It’s the second time I’ve made it and even changing the types of mushrooms and cheese did not disappoint. I saw the recipe about two years ago on Adventures in Cooking and finally gave it a try. Mushroom, cheese and pasta generally are a good combination, still sometimes things sound good but are just meh. Not this time. It was wow! it’s so good! And it makes quite a bit too, even with four people we had leftover. It’s even better the second day.

I shopped at Trader Joe’s knowing they would have better prices on the cheese, but I would sacrifice mushroom selection. The last time I made this Mushroom Lasagna I had shopped at Whole Foods, and the selection for Ricotta cheese was slim, I had the choice to fork over $7 for one container (and you need two for this recipe), or get the low fat version at around $4+. They were all out of the 365 brand, and this seems to be an ongoing problem with Whole Foods lately, the shelves are bare! They started a new inventory system called order-to-shelf (OTS), which was designed and implemented a year ago (long before Amazon purchased them, so don’t blame Amazon as tempting as it is), the new system is good in that it’s cost-cutting, and will help prevent food spoilage from excess inventory going bad in the storage room, but damn, if you look at some of those photos, I haven’t seen it that bad here in Portland but I have experienced times where some fairly basic items normally in stock are just not there. Mostly in produce, like where’s the parsley? Hopefully now that it’s had some press Amazon will do something about this. 

The recipe is very forgiving in that you can add whatever mushrooms or cheese you have. The original recipe used a sharp cheddar, which I did the first time, but then I opted for Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio on the second time. Both were delicious so you can mix up whatever kind of shredded cheese you want.

When this came out of the oven yesterday it smelled so amazing, but then I thought, no way was this going on the blog, it just looked like a big heap of stuff in my old ugly-ass pyrex dish, but a day later and a few food styling tweaks, it looked presentable. There are certain foods, dishes, that really don’t lend themselves to sexy food. For example, raw mushroom, sexy! Cooked mushroom, er, um, cover me up please. I took some photos of the sliced mushrooms cooking on the stove and it looked so unappetizing I didn’t include it here. Smelled great though.

By the way, January marks my five year anniversary with Pixels + Crumbs blog. And guess what, my very first post was a mushroom post! Mushroom Soup. I remember how I labored over it, the whole thing seemed to take forever and I wondered if I’d gotten myself into something a bit crazy. It’s like hours of cooking, hours of food styling, photos and editing and writing. Well the writing gets a bit short because I’m completely burnt out at that point, ha ha. But I’ve kept this blog alive after five years. I don’t post as much as I used to, now it’s more of a monthly post, but I can’t seem to let it go. 

See you next month and thanks for stopping by.

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Mushroom Lasagna

Mushroom Layer

  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons Unsalted Butter
  • 6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 6 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 ounces chantarelles, chopped (all mushrooms will work, I used only white button mushrooms and Crimini and it tasted great)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine

Cheese Layers

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 30 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves chopped (or dried, but tastes better with fresh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 pound (12 oz bag)  white cheddar, grated (or mixed cheeses)

Lasagna Layers

  • 9 sheets dried lasagna noodles
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil on bottom of pan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • pinch black pepper

For the mushroom layer, melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Sautee onion and garlic in the butter until softened and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and olive oil and sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the white wine. Cook until most of the liquid is gone for an additional 5 minutes or so. Remove the mushrooms and onion, place in a small bowl and set aside to cool.

For the cheese layer, add 1/4 cup butter to the pan and allow it to melt. Add the flour, a little bit at a time, whisking constantly until a roux forms. Place the roux in a large bowl and add the ricotta cheese, milk, thyme, sage, oregano, black pepper, and salt. Set aside.

Toss the quartered crimini mushrooms with the olive oil and salt in a medium bowl and set them aside.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place some of the lasagna noodles in the water and allow to cook until slightly bendable, about 3-4 minutes, working in batches as necessary. Remove with tongs and place three of the noodles on the bottom of a roughly 9 x 13-inch rectangular casserole dish, keeping them in a flat even layer.

Spread 1/4 of the sautéed mushroom mixture over the noodles, then sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheddar cheese. Spread 1/4 of the ricotta mixture over the cheddar, then place 3 to 4 noodles in an even layer on top of the ricotta. Repeat until you have used all of the sautéed mushrooms, cheddar, and ricotta, but do not place noodles over the top and final layer of ricotta. Instead, evenly distribute the quartered mushrooms over the top and sprinkle with a pinch of black pepper. Place the pan on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the oven. Cook until the cheese is bubbly around the edges and the mushrooms on top have turned a deep brown and wrinkled, about 45-50 minutes. 

Adapted from Adventures in Cooking

 

Bacon Making 101

A few weeks ago Jeff and I took a Bacon Making 101 class at Old Salt Marketplace, it’s a restaurant in our neighborhood that also serves as a butcher shop and deli. We go there for brunch quite often so we were already familiar with their delicious “Ben’s Bacon”. When I saw a class listed for bacon making by Ben himself, we signed up right away! It was a really fun class and bacon is not that hard to make, it just takes time. There was a lot of discussion on food safety, for example you will see that most people smoke their bacon to an internal temperature of 150-155°F, but Ben smokes his bacon slow to a 145°F temp. The reason people go a bit higher is that your thermometer might be off a bit so 150°F acts as a safeguard, but an accurate 145°F temp is fine with no risks. We were each given a full size pork belly which weighs around 10 lbs or so. Ben helped out with trimming the fat off each one. That looks a bit challenging and you will need a really long sharp knife. Then we cut our slabs in half so that they were easier to work with. Ben prepped the spice mix and the cure mix in large containers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much brown sugar and salt (enough for 12 pork bellies!). Each of us working with our own large bins, covered the slabs in the spice mix, followed by the sugar and salt cure mix. Then we placed our half slabs in large ziplock bags with the cure mixture to be taken home and that was it. We sampled some of the bacon they make at the restaurant and chatted about best ways to cook bacon (I prefer the oven method).

 Pork bellies with the spice rub

Pork bellies with the spice rub

We carried home our 20 pounds of pork belly and put it in the refrigerator where it had to cure for at least 7 days. It can go up to 3 weeks in the fridge before smoking it. The curing process will create a lot of liquid, so even though they are in ziplock bags you might want to put them in a plastic tub or use additional bags so that it doesn’t accidentally leak in the fridge. During this curing time you flip the bellies over to redistribute the liquid.

After a week or so you remove the pork bellies from the fridge and rinse them well, then pat them dry and put them individually on a drying rack. We used a cooling rack over a sheet pan which worked really well and actually fit in the refrigerator. Note: two pork bellies will take up a lot of refrigerator space! Then you let them sit uncovered in the fridge for 24 hours to dry out. Before you smoke them you can rub them with pepper, herbs, maple syrup or molasses. We tried four different flavors: Black pepper, maple syrup, black pepper and thyme, molasses. Our favorite was maple syrup, but that is also the one that smoked properly and didn’t cook. Which brings me to the smoking process.

 After they dried for 24 hours we rubbed molasses on one and black pepper + thyme on another

After they dried for 24 hours we rubbed molasses on one and black pepper + thyme on another

The biggest challenge was getting our smoker to hold a low temperature. The smoker is brand new to us so we learned a whole lot about smoking meat. We’ve been wanting to get a charcoal smoker grill and the bacon class sort of forced us to do it sooner rather than later. Ben said you can smoke over a fire pit or even in your fireplace, but it would be challenging to keep the temp low and not cook the bacon. We ended up getting the Vision Kamado grill. Our first go with one slab ended up cooked, then our second one, which was early evening at that point, came out perfect!

The next day we felt confident in what we were doing, so we put the remaining two slabs on when we had a steady 225°F temp, checked the internal temp in a little over an hour and, gasp!, they were cooked already, we didn’t know how this happened, the internal temp registered at around 170-180°F. What we do know is that our grill was in direct sunlight, and even though people will say weather doesn’t affect the ceramic grill, it most certainly does. So I would recommend smoking on a cooler day, or wait until evening. The following days brought us a heat wave, and wouldn’t you know, that grill that had cooled down was registering 150°+ with nothing burning. So it would be very difficult to keep a low temp under those conditions. 

Even though we ended up cooking the bacon in the smoker we sliced it up and tested it out and it tastes delicious. Some parts are a bit tougher than it should be, I guess due to the smoking issues, but overall we’re really happy with it. And I will totally do this again once we finish up the bacon we have. Which by the way yielded about 12 lbs of bacon total, from the two slabs. So if you get one slab of pork belly it should yield around 6 lbs. of bacon. That’s a lot of bacon! But you just slice it, then wrap it up in portion sizes and freeze it. Below is the recipe for “Ben’s Bacon”, and there are plenty of websites that are devoted to smoking meats with a Kamado grill, but really everyone is going to have a different experience depending on the weather, how much charcoal you’re using, what kind of smoker you use, but it’s really fun and it all tastes good, even when it’s not perfect. Makes for some great BLTs pictured below with our homemade bacon!

Bacon Making 101

Ingredients

1 Pork Belly

Spice Rub:

  • 1 part cayenne pepper
  • 1 park chile flake
  • 2 parts paprika

Bacon cure for one belly:

  • 3 lbs brown sugar
  • 2 cups kosher salt

Equipment

  • Ziplock bag (large enough for half a pork belly)
  • Kitchen scale
  • Mixing bowls
  • Racking pan (cookie cooling rack will work)
  • Smoker or smokehouse

The process

Skin and trim the fat to desired fat content. Cut the belly in half so that it’s easier to work with and store. Place the two pieces in a large container. Mix the spice blend together and rub liberally to all sides of the belly. Mix the salt and brown sugar together until completely blended. Generously apply the cure rub to all sides. Place each piece in large ziplock storage and refrigerate, you may want to put these inside another plastic bag or container to prevent leakage, the curing will create a lot of liquid over time. After 3 days flip them, then turn every couple days or so to redistribute liquid. After 7 days remove from refrigerator and rinse well and pat dry. Place them on a drying rack (cookie cooling rack on top of sheet pan works well) and place in the refrigerator uncovered for 24 hours. When ready to smoke the bellies, cover them with your choice of ground black pepper, maple syrup, molasses or whatever spices you might like to try. 

Start your smoker slowly, add applewood chips to coals. 

Smoke the bacon at around 170°F to an internal temperature of 145°F, which would take about 5 hours. Or smoke them at 200-225°F for about 2 1/2-3 hours. Most people smoke until internal temperature reaches 155°F to be on the safe side (if thermometer was off) but it is safe to eat at 145°F.

Remove the bacon and allow to cool. Place in refrigerator for several hours before slicing as this makes it easier to cut. Slice the bacon in desired thickness. Then freeze the slices in portion sizes. Wrap portions in plastic wrap and then put them all in freezer bags.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

This is my first time cooking with Orzo and I just love it. On the nights we don’t cook I sometimes get prepared food from our local market New Seasons, they have a salad very much like this that is reliably delicious.

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