To everyone who thinks I'm going to be discussing basketball, I apologize for the misleading title of my post. The entire country may be caught up in college basketball frenzy, but I'm in the midst of an entirely different sort of March Madness. It is the annual race to get my garden in shape for the growing season ahead.
It would be nice if I had a long, cool, moist spring season to work in the garden—to remove winter mulch and leaves, cultivate the soil and lay fresh compost and mulch. But here in Kansas City, we rarely have that luxury. This year is no different.
Here is a picture of my garden eight days ago:
The temperature has been in the upper seventies for the past few days. Yesterday it was over eighty. Here is that same spot in my garden this morning:
These conditions are a bit unusual (even for Kansas City), but they have made it so the garden is screaming for my attention. So for the past few days, I have been spending as much time there as I can spare. Here are the same daffodils, later in the morning, dressed up in their skirt of new mulch:
To be honest, I wish that I could spend more time in my garden right now. Early spring is my favorite time to be in the garden. The newly thawed ground is easy to work. The trials and failures of the previous season pale in my memory as I encounter the fresh growth of the new year. The air of the early spring garden is infused with hope. So, even though I don't suddenly have extra hours in my days to devote to one more activity, I stay as long as I possibly can.
Since I have to make up the lost time somewhere, I tend to spend a lot less time preparing our evening meal (unless I'm testing a recipe). Now is a perfect time to use up a lot of the things that I squirreled away in my freezer last fall.
Tonight I pulled some braised pork and pinto beans—soft taco filling—out of the freezer. I prepared it for a large family gathering back in December and had intended to write a blog post about it at the time, but because I was busy trying to get food on the table for a larger crowd than usual, I only took one picture of the finished dish:
This recipe has been in my possession for probably twenty years and this was the first time I have ever made it. I had always intended to make it—the recipe came from someone I knew to be a very fine cook (my best friend's mother)—but for some reason it had never popped into my mind to make it when I was in a position to make casual food for a crowd. This time I happened across the recipe at just the right time.
I was very pleased with the results and will definitely make it again. It could not possibly have been easier to make. All of the ingredients are simply combined in a heavy pan and then parked in a low oven all day. That's it. It is perfect for a crowd of hungry people. The flavors are familiar and unintimidating and it makes a very large quantity of meat and beans. Even with our crowd of eleven, I sent home large containers with my brothers' families and still had some left for us. It tastes even better the next day and (as I just discovered) freezes beautifully. I should have tried it a long time ago.
Of course you've probably figured out by now that you don't have to have this in the freezer in order to enjoy it on a busy day. This Saturday, you could put it in the oven first thing, spend the entire day working in your garden, and then have it for dinner that evening...or the next. And if your March Madness is of the basketball kind—and you want to spend the weekend watching basketball with your similarly afflicted friends—you could make it to share and not miss a minute of the games.
Lynn's Mexicali Meat
A traditional filling for beef tostadas, enchiladas, burritos and tacos. Tastes even better if made a day ahead. Freezes well.
3 lb. boneless Pork Butt, trimmed of most apparent fat
1 lb. dried pinto beans—do not pre-soak
4 c. water
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 small white onion (6 oz.), finely diced *
3/4 lb. Poblano Peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced *
2 T. ground cumin *
2 T. chili powder
5 t. dried oregano
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. chipotle chili powder *
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, with juice—broken up (I used "fire roasted")
4 t. kosher salt (or 1 T. iodized table salt)
Preheat oven to 250°F. Place all of the ingredients in a large Dutch oven (at least 5 1/2 quarts) and stir to mix well.
Cover and bake for 7 to 8 hours or until the meat and beans are tender. After 4 or 5 hours, begin to check occasionally, adding more water if the mixture is dry. When done, shred the meat (this can be done right in the pan with a couple of forks, or you may remove it to a platter to shred it). Stir to combine the shredded meat and beans. The final mixture should be the consistency of chili and beans. Allow to stand a few minutes before serving. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Serve meat with accompaniments and condiments of your choice—warm flour or corn tortillas/taco shells/chips, rice, grated cheese, chopped onions, olives, salsa, sour cream, avocado/guacamole, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, etc. Serves a large crowd—15 to 18 or more.
* The original recipe did not include any onion. Instead of fresh poblano peppers, it called for a drained 7 oz. can of diced green chiles. Also, the original recipe used cumin seed instead of ground cumin and 1/2 to 1 t. of cayenne pepper instead of chipotle chili powder.