Why I Feel Like an Empowered Shopper, and Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork.

Disclaimer: Buycott did not ask or pay me to write this post. These observations and opinions are all me!

None of us is a perfect consumer. Our buying decisions have ramifications far beyond the immediate, and even the most conscientious shopper can’t account for everything that goes into the products he buys. But since each dollar we spend sends a message about our standards and our principles, it’s incredibly important that we put our money where our mouth is when it comes to the things we buy. I’ve tried to do the research and make sure that I avoid companies that are most in conflict with my values and views (Chevron, Monsanto, Nestle, Tesco, to name a few), but with all the sub-brands and mergers and corporate crap that goes on, keeping tabs on these guys would be a full-time job.

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That’s why I want to share my experiences with the Buycott app—an app that gives me peace of mind by letting me make much more informed decisions when I’m standing at the grocery store shelf. Once you download Buycott, you browse through different “campaigns,” from support of LGBT rights to responsible disposal of waste to child labor to labeling genetically-modified foods. You choose any and all the campaigns that align with your consumer values, and Buycott saves them. Now the fun part: grab any product, pull up Buycott’s scanner, and scan the barcode. Buycott looks it up and tells you whether the company is in conflict with, neutral to, or in support of the campaigns you care about. Then you to decide whether it’s worth it to continue buying that product or not. It’s an easy way to make sure my money sends the right message, and it makes me feel empowered, like I have at least some idea where my dolla dolla bills are going.

On Friday, I made use of Buycott in a big way on a visit to a chain grocery store I had never been to before. As soon as I crossed the threshold, cart a-rollin’ in front of me, I pulled up the Buycott app on my phone and started scanning like a maniac. Normally I shop at Trader Joe’s, where I’ve never found a Buycott-conflict item for sale, so on this trip it was amazing to see just how many brands I would have put in my cart, if I hadn’t found out from Buycott that they went again my standards. For example, the huge Goya brand of Mexican foods, which normally I would be thrilled to put in my cart—according to Buycott, Goya dabbles in GMOs and Monsanto products! Heartbreaker. I will no longer be buying Goya because of this. And the store’s private brand, which I would have assumed the worst about—it turns out that they weren’t in conflict with any of my campaigns. They got to stay in the cart.

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While Buycott is not perfect, and definitely doesn’t take the whole consumer universe into account, it does make a difference to me. It’s an easy, time-saving tool with which to better wield the awesome power of my consumer dollar, and that’s why I love it. To any of my readers who feel the same way as I do about spending, I so recommend downloading it. I mean come on, it’s free.

And what did I have to show for myself at the end of this shopping trip? A kick-ass pulled pork, made entirely from ingredients that got the Buycott thumbs-up. I almost called it “Austin Powers Pulled Pork,” because, yeah baby.

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INGREDIENTS

1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
3-4 lb pork shoulder (also called pork butt)
salt
1 tsp peppercorns (or 3/4 tsp pepper)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (or scant 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder)
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (throw in a few more if you like it extra spicy)
1 tbsp adobo sauce (the sauce from the canned chipotle chiles)
2 bottles root beer (about 24 oz – I used Berghoff Root Beer, because I’m a good Midwestern girl)
1 cup water (optional – use if you want more juices leftover after it’s cooked)

Just the Recipe link: Spicy-Tangy-Sweet Pulled Pork

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Lay the onion wedges in the bottom of a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid. Season the pork with salt.

If you’re using whole peppercorns and mustard seeds, grind them up using a mortar and pestle until they’re broken up, but not pulverized.

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Sprinkle your pepper and ground mustard over the pork, and place the pork in the pot, on top of the onions.

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Next, add the chipotle chile and adobo sauce to the pot, and pour in the root beer. Optional: add the water. Do this if you want more sauce at the end – I made mine without the water, and it had just enough sauce for the pork to soak it all up. If you like it a little saucier, add the water.

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Cover the pot and put it in the oven for at least 3 hours (I cooked mine for just over 4 hours). Flip the pork over once during cooking.

You know you’re there when you can easily shred the pork using two forks. At this point, remove the pork from the pot and shred it completely. Discard the bone.

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There should be just enough sauce left in the pot to coat the pork, so add the shredded meat back to the sauce and stir. That’s all!

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Obviously this makes a great pulled pork sandwich, but I served mine with these refried beans and this red cabbage slaw.

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Pork perfection, ready for its close-up.

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Harissa Grilled Pork Chops.

Often the best meals are the simplest, and these simple harissa pork chops are both easy to make and a little bit special, too. It’s the harissa. This spicy Tunisian mix of flavors has a real transformational power when it comes to seasoning meat, and I find myself using it more and more these days. You’ll see the rest of this recipe’s ingredient list is quite simple and basic – the harissa really stands on its own, with very little else needed by way of flavoring. And I just love recipes that are a breeze like this one: throw the marinade together with the meat in the morning, let the flavors develop and sink in all day in the fridge, and at the end of the day you’re just 15 minutes away from a tasty and speedy dinner. I’m having this for dinner again tonight!

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INGREDIENTS (serves 2)

for marinade:
4 small pork chops (I used 4 2oz chops)
2 tsp harissa (I get mine from The Spice House)
extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
salt and pepper, to taste

for yogurt sauce:
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
harissa, to taste
squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Harissa Grilled Pork Chops

DIRECTIONS

In a small bowl, stir together harissa, olive oil, garlic clove, and salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the pork chops and use your hands to work it into the meat a bit. Cover and let the chops marinate in the fridge; I waited  about 45 minutes for the first batch I made, and 24 hours for the second. Both were great.

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When the chops have had their time with the marinade, remove them from the fridge and let them come to room temperature a bit while you preheat the grill or pan. Over medium high heat, cook the chops a few minutes on each side, depending on how think they are, until cooked through. Mine took about 3 minutes per side.

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The yogurt sauce couldn’t be simpler: just combine all the ingredients. Serve a big scoop of sauce over the chops and enjoy.

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Spiced Chicken and Chickpea Stew.

There’s nothing like a hearty and healthy stew on a Saturday afternoon in Fall. This spiced chicken and chickpea one-pot meal was a fun little cooking adventure because I don’t often use flavor combinations like these. Especially the cinnamon. I’ve never been brave enough to try cinnamon in a savory meat dish before, but I’m glad I did! The heat of the paprika and cayenne provide an great backdrop for the smokey exotic cumin and cinnamon. This is a filling dish that keeps well in the fridge—the bright spice flavors get even deeper if they’ve had a chance to marry a bit. Kidney beans or great northern beans would work just as well as chickpeas, and if you wanted to make this dish vegetarian or vegan, just cut out the chicken and add an extra can or two of beans. It’s all about protein and spice!

INGREDIENTS

3 chicken breasts (substitute with another can or two of beans for a vegetarian/vegan version)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-5 carrots, sliced into coins
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp hot paprika
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ketchup
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp dried parsley
lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Season each chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium in a skillet or other large pan. Brown the chicken on each side, then set aside.

In the same pan, add another drizzle of oil if needed and stir in the onion and carrot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, to keep the onion from browning. When the onion and carrot are softened, add the bay leaves, paprika, garlic powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Turn the heat up a bit and cook the spices until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Then add the ketchup, and put the chicken breasts back into the skillet. Add the tomatoes, and then fill the empty tomato can with water and pour into the pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn down to a high simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the chickpeas and sprinkle over the parsley. Cover and simmer for about half an hour.

Remove the bay leaves, sprinkle with lemon juice and more parsley, and serve with couscous.

Ropa Vieja-Inspired Enchiladas.

Ropa vieja, which translates quite appetizingly to “old clothes,” is a rich Cuban meat dish. If you’ve never tried it, kindly stop reading and go to your nearest Cuban restaurant and order some; here’s a link to Yelp, just search for Cuban food. I’m serious about this. If you were to ignore my command and try these enchiladas before eating real deal ropa vieja, it would be like watching Godfather II before you ever saw Godfather I; you enjoy it, but you don’t really get what’s going on. I think that makes my point well enough–see you in an hour or so. Buen provecho.

…….

If you’re still reading, then either I don’t have the authority to make you blindly obey my food directives, or you’ve eaten ropa vieja. Let’s move on. I created this tasty dish out of pure cowardice. Though I love ropa vieja itself, I’m intimidated by the idea of cooking it (partly because I want it to be as authentic as possible, and partly because every recipe I read has different ingredients and directions!). What’s a girl to do? I decided to bail on the authenticity route this time, cut out the meat, and just try to play with the other flavors a little bit. Maybe as I walk farther down Recipe Road I’ll decide it’s time to give the real ropa vieja a try. For now, here’s my enchiladas in ropa vieja sauce—the lovechild of Mexican enchiladas and Cuban ropa vieja, two of my favorites.

INGREDIENTS

for ropa vieja enchilada sauce:
1 onion, rough chop
1 bell pepper, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
2 bay leaves
olive oil
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped, plus adobo sauce to taste
3 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

for enchiladas:
tortillas
your favorite fillings – I used a mixture of leftover chicken, cheese, cilantro, and black beans
cheese, avocado, and parsley for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Heat a pan with oil over medium heat. Stir in onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, bay leaves, tomato paste, oregano, garlic powder, cumin, chipotle chile and adobo sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

When the veggies are completely softened, remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves and, using a potato masher or immersion blender, crush up the veggie sauce, as smooth or as chunky as you like. I forgot to do a step here: dip both sides of the tortillas in the sauce, coating them so that they’re softened and easier to roll.

Then, spoon some of the sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.

Now take whatever enchilada filling you’re using and roll it inside the tortillas (the tortillas which you have diligently coated in sauce, UNLIKE the tortillas in my photo!). Place them seam-side down in the dish.

Spoon the rest of the sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with cheese. Place the dish in the oven; nothing has to cook here, we’re just heating it through.

Bake until the cheese is completely melted and the tortillas have just barely started to brown a bit at the edges. Serve it up with a few slices of avocado and a sprinkling of parsley. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I think my confidence might be boosted enough to give the real thing a go…anyone know a great recipe for authentic ropa vieja?

Hasselback Potatoes with Jalapeño Leek Scrambled Eggs.

On Sunday morning, I set my friends Jalapeño and Leek up on a blind date. They’ve never met before, but since they’re so great separately, I thought I’d introduce them and see if they had any chemistry. It was a little risky, because they tend to roll in pretty different circles: hot and bold Jalapeño usually hangs out with Onion, while Leek has a more mellow friend in Bell Pepper. But I was hoping to play off a bit of an opposites-attract dynamic to see if this odd couple would get along. And while I’m not sure they’ll be going steady any time soon, it’s safe to say they had a Casablanca moment: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

INGREDIENTS:

2 small potatoes, washed and sliced accordion-style (lots of little slits, without cutting all the way through the base)
olive oil
paprika, salt, pepper, parmesan to taste
1 leek, sliced and washed
1 jalapeño, minced
1 egg
1 tbsp heavy cream, half and half, or milk
cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
parsley, chopped, for garnish

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Rub the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, salt, pepper, and parmesan. Bake until browned on the outsides and completely softened on the insides.

Just before the potatoes are finished cooking, heat a bit of olive oil and a bit of butter in a pan over medium low. Add the leeks, stir, and cook 1 minutes. Then stir in the jalapeño. Cook until softened and just starting to turn a bit golden. Set aside.

Crack your egg into a ramekin and add cream/half and half/milk and more salt and pepper. Scramble.

Then add a bit more butter and olive oil to your pan and pour in the egg. Sprinkle over your grated cheese, if you’re using it, and give it about 45 seconds.

Then add the jalapeño and leeks back to the pan and stir into the eggs. Cook until done.

Garnish with parsley and serve! Of all the plates in all the kitchens in all the world, I’m glad this dish walked into on mine.

Cilantro Chipotle Chicken.

This is another dish born of necessity. Last night, my fridge contained (among other things) a bunch of cilantro and a few chipotle chiles that were about to go bad. So I made up this recipe and had a fabulous dinner! I served it with a caramelized onion and pea couscous, but it would also make a great fajita filling. Or, even better, shred it and make chicken quesadillas. I’m a total quesadilla fiend, so I think I’ve just inspired myself for a future recipe: cilantro chipotle chicken quesadillas with corn salsa. Mmmmm. But back to the oven-baked original of today’s post—it’s juicy, really flavorful, and has a nice spicy kick to it. Feel free to use less chipotle/adobo sauce if you’re a spice whimp, or to add another chipotle if you’re extra brave!

INGREDIENTS

2 whole chicken legs (you could definitely use breasts too…I just like dark meat)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp honey
juice of 1 lime
2 canned chipotle chiles, chopped, plus 1 tbsp adobo sauce

DIRECTIONS

Add all ingredients to a plastic bag. Seal the bag and rub the marinade all over the chicken. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight if you’re patient (I am not).

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a pan with foil and lay the chicken in it, skin side up.

Bake the chicken until it’s done, around 25-35 minutes.

That’s it! Don’t you just love an easy yet tasty recipe for a weeknight dinner?