Pork and Pesto Picnic Bites

pork bites

Woo-hoo for BBQ season! If there”s one thing we Simmer-ers love most about the weather getting warmer, it”s the opportunity to cook outdoors all day, every day, And as much as we like to do epic BBQ experiments, this time of year the weekends are filled with so many cookouts and picnics that sometimes we just don”t have the time to get super fancy-pants for every grill session.

When I had to make something super-quick for a BBQ/picnic party after work this week, I improvised with what I had on hand and came up with this winner, which took me about 20 minutes total.

I had one of these Smithfield Seasoned Pork Tenderloins in Teriyaki Marinade (I”ve previously cooked these up in the slow cooker and in the oven) but they can actually be quick and easy too, if you just slice up casino pa natet thin pieces of the pre-seasoned pork and throw it on the grill for a few minutes on each side.  Here”s what I did:

Pork and Pesto Picnic Bites

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Endless Roadtrip USVI: BBQ Off the Grid

Off the Grid BBQ Truck USVI

As luck would have it, the BEST food truck in St. Thomas (or quite possibly, anywhere ever) just happened to be located in the entrance of Sapphire Village, right where we were staying on the East End. When we were in the Virgin Islands last month, we heard they were gearing up to open a second truck on nearby Coki Beach as well. Double your chances to get in on this mouth-watering meat wonderland!

Off the Grid is a BBQ truck with a vibrant Caribbean twist. Pay only $15 for all-you-can-eat meats of the day such as wings, pork belly, brisket, pulled pork (A++++!) ribs, and mussels. Yes friends, BBQ mussels, and they were amazing, basted in a sticky-spicy-sweet sauce. BBQ sides are Caribbean style as well: gooey baked sweet potatoes, spicy-creamy rainbow slaw, rice and peas, etc.

Fellow vacation lushes, don’t worry, because Off the Grid also offers a bevy of booze. I, of course, opted for the bottomless mimosas (mixed with a homemade tropical fruit blend instead of your average orange juice) but they had fresh margs, beer, sangria, the whole shebang. As you probably know, Austin is ridiculously rife with BBQ and food trucks, so you might think an Austinite wouldn’t be able to find the novelty in eating at a BBQ truck on vacation, but this was worlds away from Texas BBQ. Plus, no food truck in Texas has this view.

Off the Grid BBQ Truck USVI

Note: Off the Grid opens around 11am and closes when they run out of meat, often around 4-5pm. So plan on a big lunch/brunch here, not dinner. Bring your appetite and steel your liver.

More Endless Roadtrip USVI:
1. Caribbean Comfort at Gladys Cafe
2. Bones Rum Shop

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Welcome Spring! (And Pork Season!)

cornbread

Even though it was only like 58 degrees in New York this weekend, it’s still the closest thing we’ve seen to spring yet this year, which means most of us did a classic warm-weather overreact, heading outside for picnicking, playing, outdoor drinking etc…before realizing that it really isn’t THAT warm yet. For me, warm-ish weather got me thinking about summer cooking, which in my house means BBQ. And since I was pretty much legally required to go out and enjoy the weather, I needed something I could basically set and forget.

I decided to make slow-cooker pulled pork from my Smithfield rosemary and olive oil marinated pork sirloin, but instead of loading it up with a heavy, wintry sauce, I relied on only a fresh tomatoes and onions to bring the flavor here. I started with a layer of onions at the bottom of the slow cooker, placed the pork on top, and sliced tomatoes above it all, so that when the veggies broke down over the course of a few hours, they developed into a fresh (but still quite porky) sauce.

Of course, there’s not much at the farmers market yet to herald spring, so aside from the aseasonal tomatoes I snagged at Trader Joe’s, I had to make do mostly with winter vegetables. However, I took it as my last chance of the season to play around with turnips – IMO one of the most underrated veggies of all. But I didn’t want the turnips to break down into mushy stew, so I added them close to the end of the cooking time, just long enough to soak up all that porky goodness. I served it all with a slice of Serious Eats’ cast-iron cornbread recipe.

Yellow Tomato Pulled Pork with Cornbread and Pork-y Turnips

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Warm It Up: Salt-Roasted Pork, Beets and Sunchokes

pork

Man, spring is sooooo close I can feel it. I think all of us (on the East Coast, anyway) are ready to be done with this particular winter, but before we bid adieu to constant snowfall, we’ve got time for the only thing I really love about the coldest time of year: winter-warming recipes!

As I set out to make this particular warming winter meal, I had triple endless inspiration from previous meals. The first was a recent experimentation with salt-roasted beets. This method of cooking whole beets over a thick bed of sea salt doesn’t make them particularly salty, but the NaCL does act to seal in all the beet’s good flavor and juiciness — it’s a simple and straight-forward method, but they’re the best beets I ever had. My second inspiration came from back seven years ago (!?!) when 80proof cooked up that delicious-looking salt-crusted red snapper. Similarly, cooking the fish in a salt crust doesn’t make it super-salty; it just works to seal in all the flavor and juiciness.

I had a  beautiful slab of Smithfield rosemary & olive oil marinated pork tenderloin on hand, and I wondered whether I could do the same thing — roasting it in salt in order to keep in all that juicy pork flavor. I also came across a lovely batch of sunchokes at the coop this week, and since good fresh vegetables have been few and far between these past few months, I jumped on them.

That all might sound complicated, but it really wasn’t. All-in this dinner took 30 minutes to prepare, and all three elements came out deliciously juicy, tender, and flavorful…perfect for a snowy day (hopefully one of the last ones!)

Salt-Roasted Pork, Beets and Sunchokes

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Endless Pairings: Negra Modelo

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Mexican beer and fall-themed food. The perfect complement? Well, that’s what were determined to find out when Negra Modelo sent us a “pairing kit” to put it to the test. When presented with the opportunity to taste test, my answer is almost always yes. Negra Modelo sent us a box full of spices from The Spice House, two tulip glasses, a wooden cutting board, and a $50 Visa gift card to purchase the goods. Challenge accepted. Think of it as the at-home version of Chopped. Being seasonal food fans (mainly fall), we began planning a menu of fall foods that would highlight the spices (follow The Spice House recommendations) and pair well with a Vienna (dark) lager. Yes – a European beer style from Mexico. Here’s the menu:

  • Aged Cabot Cheese with apples, fig jam, balsamic glaze, and crostini
  • Spiced roasted brussels sprouts
  • Sweet potato puree with nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Ribeye steak with Quebec beef spice
  • Cornish Hen with bicentennial seasoning
  • Pork with bavarian style seasoning

We had a friend over and made a beer pairing tasting menu. Negra Modelo was served with the appetizer, followed by a taste of each protein with the sides. The beer and food was judged based on the flavor of each, whether the spices complemented the food, and if the beer paired well with each “course.” On to the tasting notes:

Negra Modelo (ABV: 5.4%)

Appearance: Dark caramel with a red hue

Aroma: Sweet scents with subtle scents of toast

Taste: Sweet malts give caramel flavor, biscuit flavor with light herbal and earthy tastes

Mouthfeel: Clean and crisp with lingering sweetness

Overall: A pleasant surprise, Negra Modelo provides more character than expected. While it is an InBev beer, I can forgive that if the brew offers some flavor. For a lager from Mexico, it offers the basic profile of a lager with extra sweetness of caramel and a toasty flavor as well. Tastes like it would pair well with fall foods. So here we go!

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Devilishly Good: Pumpkin & Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

Pumpkin Devils on Horseback

One of my all-time, go-to apps is blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto, or as date eaters in the know call them, Devils on Horseback. They’re really simple to prepare and cook in a matter of minutes, plus their sticky-sweet-chewy-saltiness makes them sooo addictive.

I recently attended a fall potluck party and decided to autumn-ize my favorite devils by subbing the normal blue cheese filling with pumpkin goat cheese. They were just as delicious as the original version, with a festive seasonal twist. Your friends will rave about them, and only you will have to know the spooooky secret of these fall treats: they’re stupid easy to make.

Pumpkin Devils on Horseback

20 dates, pitted
1 small (about 4oz) goat cheese log
1/8 cup pumpkin puree
8 (thin!) slices of good prosciutto
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
black pepper & sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Let the goat cheese sit out for awhile so it’s nice and softened, then combine with the pumpkin puree. Add pumpkin pie spice and a couple pinches of S&P.

Stuff the dates with your filling – you want them to be nice and full but not overflowing, because obv the cheese is going to get melty in the oven and you don’t want a huge mess on your hands. I probably used about 1-2 teaspoons in each date?

Wrap each stuffed date in prosciutto. Just tear off a 1″ ribbon from the slice and stick it around the fruit. It doesn’t have to be perfect at all.

Place all your stuffed & wrapped dates on a baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in the oven for just about 5-10 minutes. Once the prosciutto has kind of “melted” into the date and you can see the bottom of the dates slightly caramelizing, you’re good to go. Make sure to let these devils cool for about 10 minutes before serving – they get hotter than hell in that oven!

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Food Porn of the Day: The Porkiest Belly

Odd Duck Pork Banh Mi Buns

Pork belly is definitely a thing these days. So much of a thing that I’m almost… dare I say… over it. (Gasp!) Every menu in Austin, and probably in the country, is full of the stuff. It takes a veeeery special pork belly to catch my eye these days. All that being said, the pork belly at Odd Duck in Austin does it. “It” being “catches my eye and makes me care about pig again.”

The above is Odd Duck’s pork belly banh mi buns, which I devoured at lunch a week-ish ago. The meat is perfectly prepared and intensely flavorful. Chewy, yet somehow also melts in your mouth. By the way, next time you’re in Austin? Go to Odd Duck. You won’t regret it.

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