The Birds and the Bees

First, a disclaimer: I don’t want you to be disappointed.  This blog has nothing to do with (wink wink) “THE birds and the bees” but it has lots to do with birds and bees.

We collect bird art – and we didn’t even know that we collected bird art until spending the last 3 months isolating in-house because of the coronavirus.  A quick survey indicates that about half of our art work focuses on a bird of some kind or another.  Mind you, we’re not collectors of fine pieces by well-known artists, but we do love the funky/fun pieces of art we pick up here and there.  We have some abstract pieces, a few landscapes, numerous depictions of couples…and birds.

We’ve been thinking about birds because one bird in the hood is about to drive us both bat-shit crazy – or crazier than we already are after months of singular togetherness.  Andy reveals all in today’s Andy’s Corner.

Even if we’re not enamored with every bird “song,” there’s something very soothing about having the time to just sit and appreciate birds – especially as they enjoy a bird bath. Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think wrote a nice piece for the NY Times about bird-watching during COVID-19.

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Am I a bad person for having a favorite bird? 🙂  Acorn Woodpeckers at our birdbath.

While bumble bees and honey bees may not be quite as vocal or colorful or as amusing as birds, it’s fun to spot them in our flower gardens, knowing how badly we need to be encouraging and helping them.  While native bloomers are better than hybridized plants for attracting bees (here’s a great article with more suggestions), we’ve had an amazing number of bees AND hummingbirds on this ‘Kudo’s Gold’ agastache.   Note – you shouldn’t just plant one or two bloomers and be done with it; you need a lot, blooming at various times, to do your best for these little pollinators.

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A bee on our agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

There are about 4000 bee species just in North America, but only a few species make honey.  And don’t we love them for it?  To honor those bees, we’ve got three sweet little recipes to share: a Bee’s Knees Honey Cocktail, Honey Challah, and Honey Brownies.  Then continue your love affair with honey by trying our previously-posted 20 Minute Honey Garlic Shrimp, Deb’s Granola, and Pork and Brussels Sprouts with Chile Lime Sauce.

While you cook up a honey-heavy storm, I recommend listening to Judy Collins’ 1973 “Cook with Honey.” And enjoy the amazing Sweet Honey in the Rock.  I’ve loved that group ever since 1988 when I got their album Breaths.  A song from that album, “Ella’s Song” could have been written about today’s world.   This isn’t the original rendition, but it’s lovely.  Be sure to read the all-too-relevant lyrics, too. Continue reading

Don’t Chicken Out

Seems lots of us have been in “fowl” moods off and on lately, so I’d like to return to my pet rooster, Pecker, for the final time.  You’ve heard about him before (here – and here).  Sorry for the blurry photo of me and him and our turkeys, but it was taken about 55 years before iPhones and their amazing cameras were invented.

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I must have been about 8 when we had him as “our” pet.  My brother – to this day – claims that Pecker belonged to him.  Right.

I have no idea how long Pecker was a part of our family, but I do remember the tears – and more tears – I shed when my dad solemnly announced to me one morning that Pecker had died that night – defending his flock.

The website “ScoopfromtheCoop.com (“insights for a happy, healthy flock”) indicates “Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl.”  I remember my dad thinking it was a raccoon.

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Lovely rooster we photographed who was meandering – a bit-  around Sayulita, Mexico.  Hope there aren’t raccoons there (or skunks, possums, owls, mink, or weasels).  Note the two wandering cuties behind him.

Why didn’t Pecker’s flock defend themselves – or at least help him out?  My respect for hens has been diminished.  They “chickened out” at the worst possible time.

Being annoyed with hens led me to googling species which have females in control.  It turns out there aren’t many…African Lions, Killer Whales, Spotted Hyenas, African Elephants, Orcas, Lemurs, and – Bonobos, according to New Scientist.   I’d explain why I have a new appreciation for Bonobos – which are considered one of human’s closest relatives – but we consider this a family-rated blog 🙂  Suffice it to say that “She had him by the balls” is literal as well as figurative for Bonobos.  If you want to explore this further, here’s a great article from Scientific American.

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One of our closest relatives – the Bonobo; I feel like this is the look I give Andy sometimes 🙂

Even if dogs are not included in that list, I came across this analysis of canine females and males from the “Honey Hill Aussies” website (yes, I’m still in search of a puppy).  It may be surprising to know that “bitches” usually rule the roost –  but read it,  inserting “human” instead of dog – and I bet you’ll find it as unintentionally and hysterically funny as I do!

In the dog pack makeup, females usually rule the roost, determine pecking order and compete to maintain and/or alter that order.  The females are, as a result, more independent, stubborn and territorial than their male counterparts. Most fights will usually break out between two females.

Males on the other hand are usually more affectionate, exuberant, attentive and more desiring of attention.  They are very attached to their people. They also tend to be more steadfast, reliable and less moody. They are more outgoing, more accepting of other pets, playful for more years and take quicker to children. 

Most boys are easily motivated by food and praise and are so eager to please that training is easy. However, males can be more easily distracted during training because of their playful nature. No matter what age, he is more likely to act silly and more puppy-like, always wanting to play games.

Boys are fun loving until the day they die.

Females tend to be more reserved or dignified as they age.   

Doesn’t that say it all? 🙂

Speaking of Aussies and females dogs and bravery, Andy has an even deeper look into that in today’s Andy’s Corner.

To conclude:  Hens may be wimps – and they clearly don’t “rule the roost” – and aren’t as aggressive as female dogs or as in control as female Bonobos – but everything and everyone deserves SOME credit.   And hens deliver one of our favs…eggs.

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Our eggs from neighbors Sandy and Stacey

Those adventurous chickens we saw in Sayulita, Mexico, make me think of our new “breakfast especial.”  Try it – as well as some of our other egg-enhanced recipes:

Zucchini and Mint Frittata
Tuna Nicoise Salad Bowl
Breakfast Lunch and Dinner Fried Rice
Scrambled Egg Muffin Sandwich (we’ve actually got 3 simple egg recipes there)
Japanese Cheesecake
Moonshine Cake

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Tostadas de Frijoles con Huevos

Tostadas de Frijoles con Huevos (tostadas with beans and eggs)

We really like homemade tostada shells, and baking them is so much easier than frying them…and almost as satisfactory. As for refried beans, we recommend Goya Traditional Refried Pinto Beans – either vegan or not – or Bush’s Best Cocina Latina refried black beans.

2 corn tortillas – about 6″ in diameter (or 2 packaged tostada shells – we like the Guerrero brand)
olive oil or vegetable oil
Diamond kosher salt
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c refried beans (figure about 2 T of beans per tostada)
salsa of your choice
1/4 c crumbled cotija cheese or feta cheese
cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

If you are making your own tostada shells, brush or spray each side of the tortillas with olive oil and season with a bit of salt. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning the tortillas over after 5 minutes.  They should be golden brown and crispy when you take them out of the oven.  If not, leave them in the oven a few minutes longer.  Watch them closely; they will easily get too brown!  And note: tortillas vary in thickness and width, so you have to adjust the baking time accordingly.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat and add about 1 T olive oil. Add beans and heat until warm (or stick the beans in the microwave for about 1 minute).

Heat another small skillet (8″ works) – which has a lid – over medium high heat.  Add 1 T oil and when the oil is hot, crack each egg (carefully) into the pan.  Salt and pepper to taste.  When the whites have begun to crisp up on the very edges – about 30 seconds, add about 1 T water to the pan, cover, turn the heat down to low, and cook until the layer of white over the yolks is barely opaque.  We estimate about 1 1/2 minutes – and more if you like the yolk to set up.  When checking the eggs for doneness, lift the lid just a crack to prevent loss of steam should they need further cooking.

To assemble, spread the tostada shell with a thin layer of beans; add salsa to taste, a fried egg, a sprinkle of cotija cheese, if you’re using it, and cilantro.

Serve with a fork – but you’ll find it easier to eat if you just use your hands.  Have a napkin nearby.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lagniappe – Never Have I Ever

Never have I ever made Fish Curry.  But our daughter’s San Francisco neighbor Meghna Agarwal teaches Indian cooking classes (CrimsonKitchen.com) and served this recently. Because we just finished the last episode of Never Have I Ever on Netflix, it seemed like the perfect time to try the recipe.

If you haven’t watched that series yet, do!  It’s right for this moment.  Funny, thoughtful, poignant, relevant.  This story of a first-generation Indian-American 15-year-old girl is co-produced by Mindy Kaling from The Office and The Mindy Project.  There is a voice-over from John McEnroe.  Yes, white, male, tennis player, 61-year-old John McEnroe. Hysterical.

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Mindy Kaling

Meghna used a recipe from Meherwan Irani, and I adapted it a little.  Irani is an Indian-born chef who has four James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef in the Southeast.  His first restaurant was Chai Pani in Asheville, North Carolina.

Bet you’re going to love ’em both – the TV series and the curry!

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Goan Fish Curry

Goan Fish Curry

Note: To make this recipe fast and easy, you can skip the toasting and grinding of the spices – just use ground pepper, ground coriander, and ground cumin  – it just won’t be as authentic.  If you happen to have Kashmiri chile powder, use that instead of the cayenne and paprika.  That will be MORE authentic.  And, yes, it’s spicy.  Adapted from Meherwan Irani

  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 medium white onion, about 1 1/2 c, diced
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns  (or 3/4 tsp ground pepper)
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (or 2 rounded tsps ground coriander)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 rounded tsp ground cumin)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne – or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 can coconut milk (about 13 oz)
  • 1 T tamarind paste  – or replace it with 1-2 T lime juice
  • 1 lb firm white fish cut into 2″ pieces
  • Salt and turmeric to rub onto the fish before cooking – just a dusting, enough to coat evenly.
  • 10-12 curry leaves (optional)
  • 1 T Diamond kosher salt (that’s the maximum amount you’ll use in the whole recipe)
  • 1 fresh lime
  • rice for serving and cilantro for garnish

Toast peppercorns, coriander, and cumin in a medium hot pan on high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Let cool. Grind the toasted spices in a coffee/spice grinder or blender, then mix in the cayenne, paprika, and turmeric.  Add a bit of water – just enough to make the spices into a paste.

Heat oil in the same pan; add onion and fry on medium-high heat until translucent.  Add the spice paste and garlic to the onions and 1 tsp of the salt.  Also add the curry leaves, if you have them.  Continue to fry over low heat until the onions are golden-ish brown.

Add the coconut milk and stir well to incorporate. Bring the coconut milk to a boil and then add 1/2 c of hot water and the tamarind paste (or lime juice).

Add in fish (which has been sprinkled with turmeric and salt) and simmer until the fish is just flaky (about 4 minutes). Add more salt to taste.

Serve over rice with a sprig of cilantro and squeeze of fresh lime.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Lagniappe: Far Out, First In, Ever Ready, or…RHUBARB?

 

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Since Andy wrote about his “horse” named Sugar in last week’s Andy’s Corner, I thought I should write about our real horse named “Rhubarb” for today’s lagniappe blog.

Back in about 1974 we had a Name-That-Colt contest for a Quarter Horse foal that was born on our South Shields Street property in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Our daughter, Sara, and niece JoDee helped compile the list of names from the family’s suggestions.  Cute names were proposed.  I especially liked “HillWin” (since Hill is my maiden name and we were living on the Hill property).  But the winner was (ta da!): RHUBARB!

I’m sorry, but I’m a horse-lover from way back, and I don’t think “Rhubarb” is the kind of name a horse should have.  But, of course, that name was chosen.

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Sara and Rhubarb

Why Rhubarb?  All I can think of is that rhubarb has long been a family favorite.  And now that spring is here and nice (non-horsey) rhubarb is (briefly) in the markets, I want to share the easiest, most delicious recipe for homemade jam you can ever make.

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My pathetic attempt at growing rhubarb in Glen Ellen

Rhubarb Jam

Choose the thinnest rhubarb stalks you can find. Personally, I love the jam without strawberries.  I think the strawberries overwhelm the delicate rhubarb flavor.

  • 6 c  (about 2 lbs w/o the leaves) of thinly sliced – 1/4″ – rhubarb (or substitute 1 c of sliced strawberries and 5 c of sliced rhubarb)
  • 2-3 c sugar (we prefer the less sweet approach so use only 2 c)
  • 1/3 c orange juice or lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamon (optional)

Combine all of the ingredients – except the vanilla -in a medium saucepan, stir well, and let sit for about 1 hour.  Then put the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low (a little above a simmer) and cook at least 20 minutes (it may take as long as 40 minutes), stirring often, until the mixture thickens – before the “sheeting stage” (see diagram below).  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

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Scoop up some liquid (w/o pieces of rhubarb) and take the sauce off the heat when two drops at a time are coming from the spoon.  (middle photo)

Let cool completely; then spoon into jars and refrigerate or freeze (note: I never learned to can things – plus, it’s too much effort for me, so my jam gets refrigerated – or frozen, if we’re not going to use it in the next few weeks).

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony

There are only 15 people who have managed to win each of these awards – the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony…and only 4 of the 15 have been women – Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rita Moreno.

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Rita Moreno – Emmy (The Muppet Show), Grammy (The Electric Company), Oscar (West Side Story), Tony (The Ritz)

Can I say it upfront?  I want to be Rita Moreno in my next life! Who manages to get to her late 80’s and act so marvelously,  look so gorgeous – and be so incredibly funny?  She’s on my mind because Andy and I are slightly addicted to watching the remake of One Day at a Time – with Rita Moreno as the abuelita in this Cuban/American household headed up by a single mother – portrayed by the fabulous Justina Machado.

The series, which we watch on Netflix, isn’t perfect.  Having a live audience is a little odd – but you get used to it.  A nineteen-year-old playing a 15-year-old sometimes feels off.  Nonetheless, a review from NPR seems spot on: “…the show feels contemporary and smart (its explorations of sexual and gender identity feel particularly profoundly needed), and Rita Moreno can still crack your heart right open.”

Obviously, a Cuban-American family makes me think about Cuban food.  So we got in touch with an old colleague from LSU, Lisandro Pérez, for some input.  Lisandro was born in Cuba, arriving in the U.S. with his parents in 1960 – when he was 11.  Lisandro, who is now on the faculty at The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, recently wrote the well-received book Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York.  That made Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner think about our current food shortages and sugar rationing during WWII.

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We fondly remember faculty parties at LSU where Lisandro would bring a delicious Cuban dish to share.  When we asked him a few weeks ago to help us with some memories and a Cuban recipe or two, here’s what he wrote:

I learned this recipe from my mother, Nancy Fonts, during the years I would help her prepare the traditional Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) dinner. She had learned it from her father, who in turn learned it from his father, Colonel Ernesto Fonts y Sterling, who fought in the Cuban War of Independence and eventually became the Treasury Secretary of the Cuban Republic.

There are two fundamental styles in cooking black beans. One is the style in which the sauce is watery and lighter in color than the beans themselves. This is how they are usually prepared in Cuban homes and restaurants. Then there is the style that produces beans with a thicker and uniform texture, in which bean and sauce appear as one. The Colonel’s beans are in this latter style, beans that are often referred to as cuajados (thickened) or dormidos (asleep). They are purposely thickened with a reduced or dehydrated sofrito and by putting the beans to sleep overnight in the refrigerator the day before they are to be served.

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Lisandro’s Great-Grandfather, Colonel Ernesto Fonts y Sterling

We’ve got that delicious recipe posted below; now that y’all have more time than normal, it’s the perfect 3-day adventure; and, trust me, it may require 3 days, but the amount of time spent on each day is minimal (especially compared to baking sourdough bread – the current rage across the country), so don’t let that stop you.

Andy and I suggest you pair the beans with rice and with an El Presidente cocktail and a Cuban-style pork roast.  I want them all RIGHT NOW!  Could someone please have them delivered?

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El Presidente Cocktail

 

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Colonel Fonts’s Black Beans – with rice and Cuban-style Pork

Colonel Fonts’s Black Beans

Note from Ann: I tend to start with 8 c of water for 1 pound of beans, and gradually add more water if necessary during the cooking process. Thanks to Colonel Fonts’ great-grandson, Lisandro Pérez, for this heirloom Cuban recipe

  • 1 lb. organic black beans
  • 2 large sweet onions, peeled
  • 2 large green bell peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sherry cooking wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, preferably unsalted
  • 1 12 oz. can of whole red pimientos (or 3 4-oz jars, if you can’t find the canned)
  • 1/3 cup white refined sugar
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • Salt to taste, and very little, if any, pepper

The beans are to be served on day three, with preparations starting on day one (e.g., for
Christmas eve dinner, on the 24th of December, day one is December 22nd ).
Afternoon of day 1: soak the beans
Place the beans in small batches in a colander, rinse them, and pick through them to make sure there are no small stones, soil clumps, or other earthen matter. Place all the beans in a heavy stock pot and pour enough cold water into the pot so that the beans are covered by about four inches of water. The pot should be large enough so that the water and the beans do not exceed two-thirds of the capacity of the pot (I use the 8 qt. All-Clad Stainless-Steel Stock Pot). Slice one of the onions into rings one-quarter inch thick and one of the green peppers into half-inch wide strips and mix in with the beans and water.

Place the covered pot on the kitchen counter (or in the refrigerator) to soak overnight. (I usually check in on the pot before I go to sleep to make sure the beans have not expanded to the point that they need more water to stay covered).

Morning of day 2: cook the beans

Making sure that there are at least two inches of water left covering the beans, place the pot on the stove and bring to a near boil before quickly turning down the heat to a healthy simmer. Add the bay leaves and an initial pinch or two of salt and cover the pot. Simmer for at least three hours. Stir periodically to make sure there is enough water so that the beans are not at risk of sticking to the bottom. If so, add more water.

After the three hours, sample a few of the beans to make sure they have no firmness; they should pretty much dissolve in your mouth. If still firm, continue cooking. There is little danger of overcooking the beans if they have enough water.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the sofrito by peeling the remaining onion, and cut it and the remaining green pepper into large chunks. Place the onion and pepper, the cloves of garlic, and the cup of olive oil into a blender. Blend until the ingredients liquefy into a smooth mixture. Pour the sofrito mixture into a 12-inch wide skillet at medium-low heat. When the sofrito starts to heat, stir it frequently, uncovered. The purpose is to cook the sofrito while reducing its liquid. If the mixture is splattering too vigorously, reduce the heat a bit. After about 45 minutes most of the natural liquid from the onion and pepper will have evaporated and the result will be a thicker sofrito that will want to stick to the pan in a burnt brownish film. This is when the stirring needs to be constant and aggressive to prevent that (a stiff rubber spatula works best), continuing until
the sofrito is close to having a thick puree consistency.

Once the beans are cooked, pour the sofrito slowly into the beans, stirring the beans as you do so to ensure an even mix. The beans will now have a thicker texture, so the heat needs to be reduced to a low simmer, and attention needs to be paid to prevent any sticking to the pot, stirring occasionally. The beans are always cooked covered. After about 20 minutes, to allow the sofrito and the beans to coalesce, add the vinegar, tomato sauce, ½ cup of the sherry cooking wine, the oregano, and the pimientos, diced coarsely, along with the water with which they were packed. Adjust the salt and add ground black pepper, if desired. After allowing enough time for the beans to return to a simmer, add the sugar, stirring it in slowly. Simmer slowly for another 30 minutes and then turn off the heat. Wait until the pot cools down a bit before putting the beans to sleep,
covered, in the refrigerator for the night.

Day 3: heat and serve
About a couple of hours before they are to be served, take the beans out of the refrigerator and wake them up by stirring them a couple of times and splashing on the other ½ cup of the sherry. They are cold, of course, and considerably thicker than they were the day before, so place them on the stove over low heat, stirring them every few minutes to prevent sticking. The beans must be reheated slowly: burnt beans on the bottom will give the entire batch an unpleasant taste.
Serve on individual plates by laying a bed of white non-sticky long-grain rice and ladling a generous serving of the beans on top.

Recipe brought to you by Lisandro Pérez and BigLittleMeals.com.

El Presidente Cocktail

There are tons of variations on these basic ingredients – but we go for the less sweet.  If you want sweeter, cut the vermouth back to 3/4 oz and double the curacao and grenadine

  • 1 1/2 oz white rum
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 1 tsp curacao
  • 1/2 tsp grenadine (or, if you must, syrup from the cherry jar)
  • cherry and orange peel to garnish (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.  Shake, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry and an orange peel.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Cuban-style Pork Roast

Note: our Cuban authority, Lisandro Pérez, says a Cuban cook would use way way more than 4 cloves of garlic with pork…maybe even whole heads!  Recipe adapted from J. Kenji López-Alt and Serious Eats

  • For the Mojo:
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (at least!)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground oregano – or about 1 T of minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/4 c fresh orange juice
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 2 T olive oil
  • salt to taste (we figure about 1 tsp Diamond kosher salt per pound of meat)
  • For the Pork and to Finish:
  • About a 3 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Steamed rice and black beans for serving

For the Mojo: Combine garlic, cumin, pepper, oregano, orange juice, lime juice, and olive oil in a large bowl and whisk. Season to taste generously with salt.

Use half of mojo to marinate the pork and the other half for serving.  The pork should marinate, covered, in the mojo for at least 2 hours in the fridge – or overnight, if you wish.

For the Pork and to Finish: Preheat oven to 275°F.  Place the pork and its marinade in a dutch oven, cover, and roast for 3 hours.  Turn the oven to 425 degrees, remove the lid, and roast the pork for about another 1/2 hour, turning after 15 minutes so both top and bottom get crispy brown.

Add 1/2 cup of the pork juices to the reserved mojo, along with fresh chopped mint and oregano. Whisk together and season to taste with salt.

Serve pork by slicing or shredding, passing mint mojo and lime wedges on the side. Serve with rice on the side – and with Colonel Fonts’s Black Beans. Reserve any leftovers for sandwiches – or tacos.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

 

 

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