Cook: North Carolina Style Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich

When my family says “barbecue,” they don’t mean burgers and hot dogs on a grill. They mean pork that has been cooked low and slow with a vinegary sauce, chopped or shredded, and served on a white bun with hot sauce and coleslaw. The rest of the world refers to this as North Carolina style barbecue. Eastern North Carolina to be exact. I grew up in southeast Virginia, but my family—like so many others—moved from North Carolina a few generations ago.

I no longer order barbecue sandwiches anywhere outside of North Carolina or Virginia because they are always done incorrectly. The sauce tends to be too sweet with some sort of tomato product. This is all sorts of wrong.

So, what’s a girl with a craving for barbecue, and no grill, to do? For years, I have made an ersatz barbecue in a slow cooker. While tasty—the result was a little watered down. Slow cookers produce a lot of liquid, which I usually had to boil off. There had to be a better way.

So, I asked the trusty Internet. I came up with a plan after doing a bit of sifting. I coated half a picnic shoulder in a dry rub, and then I cooked it low and slow in the oven while basting it with a vinegar-based sauce.

The verdict: I will be making my ‘cue in the oven from now on.

North Carolina Style Pulled Pork

½ Pork Picnic Shoulder (about 4-5 pounds)

Rub Ingredients

2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon course sea salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Sauce Ingredients

1 1/2 cups of apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon course sea salt
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke

Cut skin off of the picnic shoulder—leaving a ⅛ inch layer of fat. Combine the rub ingredients. Cover the picnic with a generous coating of rub and wrap it with aluminum foil. The best method to use is to make a large + sign with two sheets of foil, and then set the seasoned picnic in the center. Close each piece of foil to make a packet. Let the picnic rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour while you make the sauce.

Seasoned Picnic

Seasoned Picnic

Preheat the oven to 255°

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to low then let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes. The sauce should be slightly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool. Once cooled, separate ⅓ of the sauce into a small bowl for basting. Put the remainder in a small jar.

Place the wrapped shoulder in a roasting pan (I actually used my big cast iron skillet). Open the foil and place the seasoned picnic in the preheated oven. Roast the shoulder 9 hours. Paint the sauce onto the picnic with a basting brush once every hour.

After 6 hours of roasting

After 6 hours of roasting

After nine hours, close the aluminum foil and roast the picnic for another additional hour—until the internal temperature reaches 190° or until the bone can be wiggled easily.

After 10 hours of roasting

After 10 hours of roasting. The bone moves easily. A meat thermometer will read 190°

Place the cooked picnic into a large bowl. Remove the bone, and then shred the meat with two forks. You may want to Julienne the crispy bits of fat from the edges to disperse the spicy goodness throughout the barbecue. Pour the reserved sauce over the pulled pork and mix well.

Serve barbecue on hamburger buns topped with hot sauce and coleslaw.

Drink: Villa Jolanda Moscato & Pineapple

Villa Jolanda Moscato and Pineapple


Villa Jolanda Moscato & Pineapple
Asti, Italy
$ 9.99

I was meandering around my favorite Italian Deli, which also happens to have a decent selection of wine, and noticed hat they had Villa Jolanda Moscato for $9.99. That was less than what I bought it for previously. However, on closer inspection, I realized that the Moscatos came in coconut, strawberry, and pineapple flavors.

I was instantly skeptical. I prefer my wine gimmick-free. Another customer noticed my hesitation and told me how much she liked the flavored Moscatos. I reluctantly chose the Moscato & Pineapple. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

This wine is a pale yellow in color with fine bubbles. One immediately gets the pineapple on the nose. On the palate, the wine is sweet with notes of pineapple candy. I paired it with buffalo chicken thighs, so the sweetness was welcome. Although, after a glass, the wine did become cloying.

The takeaway: I probably won’t be buying this again. It was way too sweet for me. However, I can imagine that someone who is a fan of White Zinfandel (ptooie!!!) would like it.


Cook: Squash Casserole

Squash Casserole

To call this a squash casserole doesn’t really convey the awesomeness of this dish. Think of an ooey-gooey mac and cheese with squash instead of pasta.

I’ve been volunteering in a community garden this spring and summer. If you’ve ever planted squash in a vegetable garden, you know where I’m going with this. The garden has produced a literal bumper crop of summer squash.

Here is the summer squash in its natural habitat:

Squash in its natural habitat

So I had a produce bin full of squash that came from the sweat of my brow (Insert back-of-hand-to-forehead gesture here). I was not about to let the fruit (or vegetables) of my labor go to waste.

I remembered that one my aunts used to bring a delicious, cheesy squash casserole to family gatherings. I vaguely remembered cheddar cheese and Stove Top stuffing mix. So I went a-Googling and found the recipe I was looking for. But—Horrors! It called for canned cream of mushroom soup! I could let stuffing mix slide, but I could not abide by canned ‘cream of’ soup.

Fortunately that is a quick fix. I simply made a quick cream of mushroom soup. You can use the canned stuff if you would like,  I won’t judge—really I won’t…

Anyhoo—Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Squash Casserole


3 mushrooms, diced finely
2 tablespoons butter – divided
1½ tablespoons flour
½ cup chicken stock or broth
½ cup heavy cream
2 lbs yellow squash, chopped
1 medium to large onion, chopped (about ½-¾ cup chopped onion)
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup sour cream
1 box  Cornbread Stove Top stuffing mix
4 tablespoons butter, melted
salt & pepper to taste
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (you may use sharp or mild cheddar)


Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté diced mushrooms until soft and golden—about 3-5 minutes. Remove mushrooms from sauté pan and set aside. Combine heavy cream and chicken stock or both in a microwave safe container (I use a big coffee mug). Heat gently at 75% power for a minute to take the chill off—your microwave power may vary. The mixture should feel slightly warm, but not hot to the touch. Melt another tablespoon of butter in the same skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and stir vigorously with a whisk to make a roux. Once the butter and flour mixture starts to turn golden and smell nutty, whisk in the warmed cream and stock mixture, taking care not to let it boil. Once the mixture is combined and heated through, add sautéed mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste. Remove mixture from pan and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350°

Working in batches, sauté squash and onion in the three tablespoons of butter until the vegetables are soft—about 3-5 minutes—salt and pepper to taste, then remove them to a large mixing bowl. I usually do it in three batches, using one tablespoon of butter per batch.

Fold in mushroom mixture and sour cream.

Fold in half of cornbread stuffing mix and the shredded cheese with the squash mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste, then spread it in a greased 9 inch by 13 inch glass baking dish.

Mix remaining cornbread stuffing with 4 tablespoons of melted butter and spread it over the top of the casserole.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Cook: Lunch Bunch Chicken Chili

Chicken Chili with Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

This week I brought in chicken chili for the lunch bunch. I’ve been working on my chicken chili recipe for quite some time. The lunch bunch assured me that I had perfected it. I’m a late-bloomer to the chili cookery realm. I hated chili as a kid. Specifically, I hated beans. But recently I found out that real Texas-style chili does not contain beans at all. In fact beans are an anathema to chili connoisseurs.

My chicken chili is based on Alton Brown’s Pressure Cooker Chili Recipe. I adapted the recipe to be cooked on a stovetop. The tortilla chips act as a thickener, so be sure to crush them finely. Remember that tortilla chips are usually salted, so take care not to put too much salt in your chili. I use baked tortilla chips to save fat and calories.

I serve my chili with toppings such as shredded cheese, fat-free Greek yogurt (a great substitute for sour cream), and diced avocado.


3 pounds boneless-skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (12-ounce) bottle or can of beer, preferably a medium ale
1 (16-ounce) container salsa
30 tortilla chips, crushed
2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, chopped
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers in adobo)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin


Mix all of the ingredients except for the chicken, olive oil, and beer in a bowl. Set aside.

Remove the remaining bits of skin and fat from the boneless-skinless thighs, then dice them into bite-sized pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. When the oil starts to shimmer, sauté the diced chicken thighs until slightly browned and partially cooked through. Sprinkle with the salt. Add the beer, scraping the browned bits from the bottom.

Add the salsa mixture to the pot, and stir to combine thoroughly. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer 30-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve and enjoy!

Feast: Jury Duty

The night before jury duty I sent out a plea via Facebook and Twitter for lunch recommendations. Thank goodness for my foodie friends. The first recommendation was for the halal cart in front of the courthouse (Thanks Jon!).

Baltimore City gives jurors $15 in cash as compensation. I was able to get a great lunch from the halal cart for $5. I had a lamb gyro. The lamb was tender and flavorful. It was served on a warm pita with a creamy sauce that and a spicy sauce. I think it usually comes with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. However, I asked for a “salad on the side” so they wrapped them up in a separate piece of aluminum foil. The meal came with a drink, so I went the healthy route and got a bottle of water.

The halal cart is usually located near the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse on Calvert Street during the week. Sadly they do not come out on weekends.

The meal was cheap, flavorful, and filling. Also, it was the best part of jury duty.

Cook: Lunch Bunch

Polenta Casserole

Some of my co-workers and I decided to do a communal lunch instead of buying lunch every day. We figured that a home-made lunch would be easier on both the wallet and the waistline. Each of us has a day to bring lunch for the rest of the group. Wednesday is my day.

This past Tuesday night, I was stuck for something to bring. I am currently taking my capstone classes for grad school. Between work  & school, I’m going full tilt. I needed something simple and fast.

I decided to do a cross between a casserole & a lasagna. I bought a pre-cooked roll of polenta (It looks somewhat like a package of sausage) and topped it with turkey sausage, mushrooms, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese. I also made a huge green salad.

Polenta Casserole


1 roll of pre-cooked polenta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound turkey hot or sweet Italian sausage links (I used hot)
8 ounce carton of mushrooms, sliced (I bought a carton of sliced mushrooms)
25 ounce jar pasta sauce ( I used Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade-Style Marinara)
2 -  8 ounce bags shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Non-stick spray


Pre-heat oven to 350°

Spray 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Slice polenta crosswise into ¼-½ inch rounds. Place rounds in one layer on the bottom of the baking dish.

Slice turkey sausage links crosswise into ½ inch thick rounds. Heat a large pot over medium high heat. Add olive oil. Once olive oil starts to shimmer, add sliced turkey sausage and mushrooms. Saute until turkey sausage is almost cooked through. Add pasta sauce and heat through.

Pour sauce mixture over polenta rounds in the baking dish. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese evenly over the top of the sauce mixture. casserole in the oven and bake until cheese is melted, golden brown, and bubbly — about 30 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Feast: Vino Rosina

Wine Flight

My wine club did a tasting at Vino Rosina, a fabulous wine bar in the Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore.

This tasting had a definite Spanish flair. Each wine was paired with a small bite that brought out its best flavor notes.

Xarmant, Arabako Txakolina 2010Cojonudo

First up was Xarmant Arabako Txakolina, 2010 paired with Cojonudo — a chorizo and fried quail egg canapé. This bright, citrusy, minerally wine made a perfect foil for the fatty chorizo and buttery quail egg.

Cava Reserva Rose, Covides Gran GestaCroquetas de la Batata

Next was Cava Reserva Rose, Covides “Gran Gesta” paired with Croquetas de la Batata — a sweet potato cake spiked with smoked paprika and bacon. This sparkling rosé was dry with notes of pear and strawberries on the nose and palate.

Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Zaco Tempranillo 2008Banderillas

 Next was  2008 Bodegas Bilbainas“Vina Zaco” Tempranillo was paired with Banderillas — an olive, cheddar, cornichon, and red pepper skewer. There was a good note of barnyard on the nose, which is something I’ve never smelled in a Tempranillo before. The palate has blackberry, cherry, and plum with earthy notes on the palate. The wine really stood up to the strong flavor of the gherkin.

Honora Vera Garnacha 2010

Not only was the last wine my favorite, it had the coolest label. The 2010 Honoro Vera Granacha (Granache) was paired with Paellitos – a tiny paella. The wine had chocolate covered cherries on the nose. The palate revealed blackberries and cherry-cola with a peppery finish. This wine definitely had some junk in the trunk. I bought a bottle of this at The Perfect Pour for $10.99.

We ordered extra drinks and food. We serenaded Tina the Bar Manager, Devlyn the Executive Chef, and Josh the Sommolier/General Manager with the song “We Love You Conrad “(insert Tina, Devlyn, or Josh instead) from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. As usual, I had a blast.


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