RECIPE: BBQ pulled pork, veggie mac ‘n’ cheese

March is looking to be a crazy month. I just finished cleaning out my mom’s house at the end of February, so I’m finally permanently home. I have friends to catch up with, health stuff to deal with (like my first checkup in… um… 8 years?), grants to write, freelance stuff to write, budgets to draw up, IRS stuff to file for me and our nonprofit, etc., etc. So please forgive my continued lack of researched rants, if that’s what you’re here for. I promise I’ve got one in the works. In the meantime, food!

I had to supplement with wheat shells. Also delicious.

Om nom nom. In case you were wondering, I’m always photographing things on a stool in the middle of the kitchen because it’s the only place with good lighting.

In my book, any dinner that minimizes dishes and results in leftovers is a win. Lately, we’ve taken to piling barbecue(-flavored) pulled pork onto a pile of fiber-filled cheesy pasta and it just seems cruel to keep the recipe(s) to ourselves. This is almost certainly not a low-calorie dinner. If you find a delicious hack to make it one, leave your suggestions in the comments!

Pulled Pork

Our Costco has these vacuum-sealed bags of four pork sirloin tip roasts that have changed our crock pot’s life. I grab one of those bad boys out of the freezer, thaw it (if I’m feeling risk-averse, anyway), and toss some combination of the following ingredients into the crock pot:

  • 1 pork sirloin tip roast (approx. 2 lbs)
  • A cup or so of water. Less if you want to toss some hooch in instead.
  • Half a cup of vinegar if you think the BBQ sauce you’re using lacks tang. You can always add this after the pork is cooked; taking it away can be achieved only with baking soda and lemme tell ya from experience, that gets weird real fast.
  • Ketchup: My current favorite by several orders of magnitude is Maya Kaimal’s Spicy Ketchup. If you never do another thing I recommend, buy this and put it on cajun/boardwalk/seasoned fries.
  • Mustard: I like to use grey poupon/dijon, but ballpark yellow will also do. Hold off on salt till the meat’s cooked if you add mustard.
  • BBQ sauce: I’ve been using Sweet Baby Ray’s all winter because that’s what Costco had when I bought it. It’s pretty perfect as a versatile base because its spiciness, sweetness, tangy-ness, and smokiness are balanced.
  • A few dashes of worchestershire sauce or steak sauce: Trader Joe’s Steak Sauce is the gold standard here. The smoke is perfect.
  • Optional 2 – 3 tablespoons of applesauce for some tang that doesn’t burn your nose hairs. (I assume I’m not the only one who feels that way about wafting vinegar?) You can also use it for sweetness, depending on what kind you have. I don’t like my barbecue sweet, but I understand that some folks do. Regardless, it would be a moderate month (of weather) in Chicago before I’d add brown sugar to meat (though I realize the spicy ketchup has brown sugar in it). And sweet barbecue would be gross with the pasta, I’d think.
  • Spices: Based on my mood, these can include black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, regular paprika, and/or black peppercorns.

Start checking after 4 or 5 hours to see if your pork wants to shred yet. Once it does, smash/shred the daylights out of it and submerge it in the liquid for at least another hour. If the barbecue smell has you drooling before dinner, I recommend putting some pulled pork on an open-faced brioche bun and adding chihuahua cheese, dill relish, and mini-dollops of BBQ sauce. It’s probably your duty as the head of quality control, right?

Cheesy Veggie Pasta

Grab some veggie radiatori or some other sauce-friendly shape. By “veggie” here, I mean the ones that come in green, white, and orange, almost like the Italian flag. Salt some water (because we’re not barbarians) and figure out how much pasta you need for one night, unless you’re into reheated pasta, which I am not.

While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, chop up an onion (I prefer to use all of a small or medium Vidalia, but you do you) and clean and de-stalk approximately a heaping cup of cauliflower. (I should note, I make this for two, so scale up as needed.) After you drain the pasta, put about 2 TBSPs of butter in your pot and melt. Saute the onions and cauliflower until the latter is soft. Dump into a food processor with some milk and blend. Pour back into the pot, dump in approximately a large fistful of each of chopped frozen kale and chopped frozen spinach, plus about two handfuls of frozen peas and a cube of minced garlic. (You could also buy non-cubed minced garlic, or just saute a clove or two of garlic with your onions and cauliflower and blend.) You will likely need to add more milk to cook the veggies, though I suppose veggie or chicken stock would also do. Once those are non-cold, add cheese until you feel like you should stop adding cheese. I’m not modest with it. It does need to hold all those veggies together, after all. I like chihuahua because it melts well, but I’ll also toss in cheddar, havarti, and/or gouda. Depending on your choice of cheese, you may need to add flour (a TSP or less at a time) to emulsify it. I also like to chop up a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (e.g.) and toss it in, along with some of the adobo sauce. Okay, spices! My go-tos are: Slap Ya Mama (or my own combination of salt, cayenne, and black pepper), paprika, smoked paprika, onion powder (which has a different flavor than the fresh Vidalia), and sometimes white pepper.

The appeal of this sauce is that there are 6 vegetables in it (and you could easily hide more!), but it tastes like spicy, savory goodness, so capsaicin-fanatic, veggie-skeptics (read: men) will eat it. The sauce reheats well as long as you stir occasionally and keep it on low so it doesn’t fry, so you can have the whole shebang ready to go again in as much time as it takes you to cook new pasta! I usually get two nights plus lunch for one out of this, but I’m going to try making a big batch and freezing it in one-dinner portions next.

Final Product

Stick pasta in bowls, spoon saucy goodness over it, top with a mound of pulled pork! Try not to get too much of the liquid from the pork in your bowl or it’ll water your sauce down. This is also the first dish I think I’ve ever eaten where the brilliance of the spork was immediately apparent.

Happy all-of-your-food-groups-in-one-bowl times!

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