Thursday, January 31, 2013

February: Pulled Pork

Winter calls for comfort food.  The cold weather and snow on the ground make cocooning in a warm house seem like a terribly good idea, and a warm house full of delicious smells makes the good idea even better.  Comfort food has as many definitions and interpretations as there are comfort food eaters, but generally, it’s a dish that is savoury, heavy, filling, and warming.  Usually, it’s a dish that evokes nostalgia for dinners past, and usually it’s a dish that is easy to prepare and cooked slowly, filling the house with mouth-watering aromas as it cooks.  While many dishes fill that bill for me, a pot roast is probably first on the list, with rich stews, home-made pork and beans, and roast chicken high on the charts.  In a column back in February 2009, I wrote about another great comfort food that has become a special favorite:  the bean, pork, and duck dish from the south of France, cassoulet. 
But another relatively recent discovery certainly fills the comfort food bill in every way:  pulled pork.  There are many versions of this delicious concoction, most coming from the Southern US, where pork shoulder is cooked using a smoker until it falls off the bone.  Variations show up in Mexican cooking, and even the Italian dish, porcetta is similar.
 My friend Albert Cipryk introduced me to pulled pork a few years ago.  He described it as a way to empty the fridge of old, partly used jars of condiments and sauces which were all thrown together into a slow cooker along with a large pork shoulder roast and left to cook until the meat falls apart.  Of course, each version of the dish was different, depending on what he found in his fridge, but a favorite discovery was the flavour added to the resulting dish when he added a partly used jar of molé, a chocolate based sauce used in Mexican cooking.
I’m not as daring as Albert and I tend to plan my pulled pork a little more carefully, relying on more traditional ingredients for the liquid base of the dish.  Once the meat has been slow-cooked until it falls apart, the pork is “pulled” by using two forks to shred it into a savoury mush.  This gooey mess is served over fresh buns, much like a sloppy joe, and eaten with the use of lots of napkins.  There is no standard recipe, and just about any favorite BBQ sauce can be used.  My favorite is the Maple Ancho Sauce from White Meadow Farms, which imparts a sweet, smoky flavour to the pulled pork.  But, as Albert proved, just about any combination can make a delicious sauce for the meat.
Pulled Pork
4 lb. pork shoulder or butt roast
2 onions chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 ½ Cups of BBQ sauce (White Meadows Maple Ancho)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp chili powder
½ Cup of cider vinegar
Brown sugar to taste
Put everything into a slow cooker and cook on low for around 10 hours, or until the pork falls apart easily when pulled with a fork.  Shred the meat into the sauce and stir until it is a consistent mess.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve over fresh hamburger buns.  Cole slaw makes a good side dish.




Tuesday, January 1, 2013

January: A Short History of Pelham Slow Food

It has been five years now since the inaugural meeting of Pelham Slow Food.  The Convivium was formed under the enthusiastic and determined leadership of Renée Girard when the initial group of five fans of fair, clean, good food met at de la terre bakery and café on South Pelham St. in Fonthill.  I first met Renée shortly after that initial meeting, at a tasting of Spanish ham and cheese at Niagara College when she was introduced by one of the chef professors as the president of the Pelham Slow Food group.  Like most people who first encounter Slow Food, I thought it was devoted to taking your time while cooking… a concept I was entirely in favour of, so I introduced myself.
Since then, I have learned that Slow Food is not about cooking slowly, but rather a reaction against everything that “fast food” stands for: food that is cleanly produced, fairly paid for, wholesome, and served in pleasant, convivial surroundings… and, yes, you probably should take your time when cooking it.  Organized into “Convivia,” the movement is now represented in more than 150 countries and has the support of more than 100,000 members.
Renée’s idea for the Pelham Convivium was to bring together a few people who support the principles of the movement for events that nourished their ideas about food, and, not incidentally, provided delicious nourishment as well in the form of potluck suppers.  In addition, we supported the principles of the movement by buying suitable books for the Pelham library, helping a Cuban Convivium with a cash donation, and working with a group home to teach disadvantaged young people the joys of gardening.  Wherever possible, we promoted the ideals of Slow Food in the community and beyond… an effort that resulted in the first “Snail’s Space” column in the Voice of Pelham, a string of columns that in December reached 60.
The potluck dinners in members’ homes, arranged thematically to celebrate the cuisine of a different nation each meeting, have become much anticipated quarterly events.  At least once a year, we also venture out to a Niagara restaurant for a specially prepared Slow Food dinner and enjoy the personal commentary and enthusiasm of the chef in each instance.  Ryan Shapiro at About Thyme in Vineland let us in on his “sous-vide” method of making delicious duck confit; Michael Olson of Benchmark at Niagara College set out a magnificent homestyle feast; David Watt of Zest provided his trademark mouthwatering creations , and most recently, John Cercone put on a feast at Da Vinci of Fenwick that celebrated the cuisine of his ancestral region of Abruzzi in eastern Italy.  We have enjoyed learning to make cassoulet (and stuffing ourselves with it), sampling the wines of Southbrook, le Clos Jordanne, Alvento, Stratus, and Lailey Vineyards at special tastings, and welcoming friends from across the region to our annual Featherstone lamb roast with our good friends David and Louise at Featherstone Winery.
Through the last five years, Renée has guided the group with enthusiasm and creativity.  A former restaurateur and food stylist, she is now a fulltime student at Brock, having returned to university to pursue her lifelong love of learning… especially about other cultures and, of course, food. Renée is stepping aside as President of our Convivium but remaining an active member, while Valerie Grabove takes over the reins.  She deserves enormous credit for having the vision to found a Slow Food group in Pelham, the determination to see it grow and expand, and the creativity to organize events that stimulated, educated, and satisfied on many levels.
For more information about Pelham Slow Food, contact Valerie at