Friday, April 24, 2009

Do You Know the Muffin Man?

Just like the old Cheer's song...I wanna go where everybody knows my name. And often when I go shopping, everybody does know my name. Or at least they recognize me. Like the folks at Trader Joe's. The food demo lady and I have become very good friends over the years. We chat food (of course), vacations (she is from the east coast), kids (we each have 3), politics (she's even crazier than I am), and she even gives me the occasional 'inside scoop' on new products. Another lady who works there has watched my kids grow up, and is sorry when I don't bring them with me (but I'm sure not). She remembered when I was pregnant with my daughter, how she was born 2 months early, and how I used to carry her like a purse in a sling. She always gasps in disbelief when I bring her to the tall she is....she's lost teeth....1st grade!??! The manager who rushed to help me with frozen peas when my young and energetic son pulled the cart down on top of him still works there, and last week, he got to see me two days in a row...weren't you just here yesterday? he laughed.

Today when I was in Bristol Farms looking for pork shoulder, the friendly butcher who always helps me, kindly cut and trimmed a very nice piece of meat for was a special favor because, well, I'm kind of cute. Just kidding! It's because he knows me, we've formed an alliance of sorts, a friendship over special cuts of meat, recipe exchanging and banter about our families. When I'm in no mood to make my own pizza dough (yes, it does happen), Bristol Farms provides a fine substitute to homemade. The pizza dough guy and have chatted over dough chemistry and stretching techniques and he often offers to get me extra cheese and toppings at no cost.

And the same thing goes for the farmers' market. I show up late every week because Sunday is my only day to sleep in and I always need plenty of coffee and newspaper reading to get my engine running. I'm sure you know that at the farmers' market the early bird gets the worm and all the best things are snatched up quickly. But because I have relationships with those who provide my food, they save things for me...strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, sweet peas, you name it.

Make friends with the people who provide you with your food. Get to know them by name. Who is the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker? Does the muffin man have a family, like to read or travel to faraway lands? My life is richer because of George, Sheila, Laura, Frank, Juan and Brenda.

So onto what it is that I did with that succulent pork butt (or shoulder) that Frank cut for me. It got a long slow braise in my oven this afternoon, was shredded up and then quickly broiled to crispy perfection. Then we piled it into a corn tortilla along with cilantro, onions, guacamole and jalapeno sauce. It was crisp yet tender, juicy and flavorful, and a tasted fantastic with a tamarind margarita (or two). Though it cooks for 3 hours, the hands-on time is minimal and the results are out of this world.

serves 3-4

2 pounds of boneless pork shoulder or butt
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 C stock (beef or chicken is fine)
zest from one orange
juice from 1/2 and orange
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large dutch oven over high heat. Drizzle in a glug of olive oil. Season meat well with salt and pepper, then brown quickly on each side (about 2 minutes per side). Add stock, orange zest and juice, onions and garlic. Place lid on pot and put in the oven. Bake for 2 hours or until meat is almost fork tender. Remove lid (and keep it off), drain off all but 1/2 C juice and return to the oven for another hour, turning meat halfway through. This will help brown the pork nicely. Remove from oven and shred meat, discarding any fatty bits. If you like your carnitas tender and juicy, stop here. If you like them crispy (like me), place the meat on a large rimmed cookie sheet. Place under the broiler for a few minutes or until all the meat is dark golden brown and crackling hot. Serve with corn tortillas, chopped cilantro and green onions, guacamole and salsa.


Correne Quigley-Faysal said...

I agree you should get to know the people who produce your food! I know the names of all the farmers who grow mine, and My daughter and I visit them every saturday at the farmers market. Every saturday we exchange stories of our week, cooking tips, and just plain old catch up. Great blog, terrific message!

Cora said...

Thanks for following me on Twitter and leading me to your wonderful blog. I've enjoyed everything I've read so far and your recipes are exactly what I've been cooking lately too. Must be Spring!