Curious Cook: ‘Mom, we have a situation’

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One recent Monday, The Kid joined us for dinner. While I was out in my pursuit of filthy lucre at my new job, Petey cooked. And, it wasn’t canned soup, frozen pizza, or microwave popcorn.

He made slow-cooked country pork ribs.

But, with an asterisk.

You see, Gentle Reader, the night before, I had prepared them for the oven. Petey just had to set the oven, turn it on, and place the ribs inside. But I came home to a delicious smelling house, and dinner was almost prepared.

The menu was buttery grits with a big helping of sauteed spinach (peas and carrots for my spouse, who’s not a fan of cooked spinach), covered in silky, shredded, unctuous pork.

Sounds great, right?

Yeah, not so fast.

When I went to stir the grits, cooking in a big pot of 2% milk and the water the grits had soaked in, it looked kind of strange. It looked like we were making cheese, rather than grits. It looked like the milk had curdled.

Evidently, the milk on its way to the grocery store and then me had been handled badly. I stirred the grits and saw those tiny little curds of doom. I looked at The Kid, The Kid looked at me, and we knew we had to come up with a plan B for dinner.

I always keep a pack of ciabatta rolls in the freezer, and all that shredded pig and sauteed greens gave us an idea.

We would make sandwiches. I sent Petey to the store for a bag of our favorite chips. The Kid got Cool Ranch Doritos, I requested those deeply browned kettle potato chips, and my husband chose sour cream cheddar Ruffles.

It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

The leftover pork then made another delicious sandwich.

We made Cubans.

But what we really did —when handed the lemons of curdled milk in our grits — was to make pork lemonade.

Delicious, delicious pork lemonade.

Thanks for your time.

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Petey Pork

3 pounds country pork ribs, cut into 1 1/2 chunks

1 large white onion, cut into chunks

1 head of garlic, broken into individual cloves

Kosher salt

Orange pepper (found in Latino markets, use lemon pepper if you can’t find it)

Place the meat and veg onto a very large piece of parchment. Fold the paper closed. Cover and seal completely with a very large piece of foil. Place into large, shallow pan.

Place into middle rack of the oven. Set oven to 300°. Cook for 5 1/2 hours.

Remove from oven, open the pack, let cool before removing from pack and pan.

When it cools so that you can work with it, remove all the veg and discard

Shred with fork or by hand and use as desired.

Sauteed Spinach

1 pound baby spinach

1 yellow onion, chopped

15 gratings of fresh nutmeg

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste (so don’t forget to taste!)

Wilt spinach: press all the spinach into a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a paper towel. Microwave about 3 1/2 minutes or until it’s all completely wilted. When it’s cooled enough to handle place on cutting board and roughly chop.

Heat a skillet and add oil. Place in chopped onions, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until the onion has begun to brown. Add spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s dry, and it begins to stick a little to the skillet bottom.

Remove from heat, add lemon juice, check for seasoning, and serve.

Plan B Sandwiches

4 ciabatta rolls

Cooked, shredded pork

Sauteed spinach

Mrs. Campbell’s Chow chow

Garlic mayonnaise

Heat the rolls in the oven; set the oven for 350°. When it came to temp, put the frozen rolls under running water. Put them right onto the oven rack, and before closing the door, splash in about ¼ cup of water (the steam gets the crust bakery-fresh crispy). Cook for 13 minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.

Split the rolls and spoon on a bed of the spinach, then layer on the pork. Top it with some sweet and tangy chow chow and a drizzle of garlic mayo.

Cuban Sandwiches

1 loaf of bread with fluffy insides and a crust that’s not too hard (like unseasoned Italian or Puerto Rican bread)

2 cups shredded pork

7 or 8 slices of deli ham

4 or 5 slices Swiss cheese

Bread and butter pickle slices

Yellow mustard

Slice the bread lengthwise. Spread mustard on the bottom slice, then layer on pork, ham, cheese, and 10 or so pickles.

Best made on a panini press, but I don’t have one, so I made one using my electric griddle.

If you don’t have a griddle, cut it in half and use two skillets.

On a griddle: place the sandwich on the preheated (325°) griddle. Cover with a metal 9x13 baking pan. Place heavy cans on top of pan. This will press and toast the bread, and the steam under the pan will get the cheese melty.

When the first side is done (8-10 minutes), carefully flip to the other side and cover with pan and weights again for another 8-ish minutes. When it’s fully toasted and crispy on both sides, lay on cutting board and allow to sit, undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Slice into four rectangles then cut the four pieces in half on the diagonal. Serves 4.


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