Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Food for March Madness

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.

Printable Version


Katrina said...

Ha, great post! That actually was a nice little snow there las week. I was happy it melted so quickly and the rest of the week was beautiful.
We have no flowers plants here. :( Need to get on the ball.
Question for you--I read something that said March is the time to plant a bunch of certain veggies, but is that okay when it still keeps snowing and freezing at night? I assume since the seeds are underground they are okay.
Looks like your daffodils did just fine.
We are having company stay with us this week and I have had Mexican food on my mind. Thinking taco bar tomorrow--maybe I'll do this pork instead of the boring ground beef. Looks good.

Paige said...

Hi Katrina,

I'm not an expert of veggies from seed...I used to do peas and lettuce (which are fine with a light frost, not so good with a hard freeze) when I still had a patch of sunlight. But now, most of my gardening is shade gardening--and most of that is flowers. There are early vegetable crops that tolerate frost or a light freeze--but I don't remember details anymore. Since you are now gardening in a whole different climate (and it's more than just zone--at higher elevations, your sun is stronger and it makes sense to me that that might be something else that makes a difference), I would go to a garden center on a week day (weekends are insane) and ask them what can be planted and when... For the time being that'll be your best resource. They will probably also be able to direct you to local websites and local written materials on specific types of gardening in your area....

Happy gardening!

Katrina said...

Thanks! I know a gardening expert is also coming to talk to a bunch of us ladies at church in a few weeks. I have so much to learn, but need to plant a garden and lots of things because we are on an acre and I wouldn't want to "waste" it.

Anonymous said...

Do you think I could do this in the crock pot?

(First time commenter, long time reader.)

The sign in doesn't work, so I'm Carmen at Mom to the Screaming Masses. :)

Paige said...

Hi Carmen...I wonder why the sign in isn't working...I hope this was a momentary glitch. Anyway, thanks for letting me know who you are!

I don't have a solid answer for your question. I don't think I have ever used a crockpot. It seems to me that it should work just fine since you are simply cooking all of the ingredients for a long time at a low temperature...which is what a crockpot is made to do. Because the crockpot might be at a temperature other than 250-degrees, the cooking time might vary by an hour one way or the other.

If you try it, and you're happy with the results, let me know--I'm sure others have the same question.

Katrina said...

Hey Carmen--I bought pork yesterday and am about to try this recipe in a crockpot. I'll let you and Paige know. I think it will be fine. I do roasts in the crockpot all the time.
Only reason I didn't ask you the same thing, Paige, is because I think you've mentioned in classes before that you've never used a crockpot. I love mine and that I save the oven for other things during the day. ;)

Katrina said...

I just put this all in about a 5 qt. crockpot. I added water last, which only ended up being about 2/3 cup. Crockpot cooking requires less liquid anyway. All the meat is very well covered from the tomatoes. Smells good. ;) Probably won't eat it until tomorrow night.

Katrina said...

Oh, but I forgot to mention, I didn't add the dry beans, which is where all the water is needed anyway. I will add canned beans to it before serving just to warm it up tomorrow. (I'm lazy.) ;)

Anonymous said...

I made it in the oven - too lazy to try to follow the conversion that Katrina so wonderfully worked out for me! - and it was yummy. Thank you so much!

Carmen, who again cannot sign in - but I think it's ME and not you

Paige said...

Carmen, I'm so glad you liked it! Thanks for letting me know!

Anonymous said...

The Mexicali Meat is in the oven. Let's see, March - July? Well three months late is better than never. I had intended to make this at Lindy's Loft for the Bladel masses, but even though we stayed home, I'm making it anyway. It smells great; I'll let you know. It'll be my practice run for the day we get to the right Shorewood. Thanks for the recipe!!