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Cooking Like Crazy

December 5, 2016

Do things beyond your comfort zone. It’s a good motto. You are never too old to grow and try new things. And those things that you don’t want to do, and don’t like to do, might actually teach you some handy new skills.

For the longest time, I hated public speaking. Now give me a mic and a place to stand and I’m good to go. Heck, I don’t even need a mic.

Event planning, on the other hand, has always been something that makes me uncomfortable. And it’s not that I’m bad at it. I’m not. Planning events is a big part of my job with Yelp. It’s just that events bring out all of my worst internal demons.

I know this might sound surprising to some, but I’m a little bit of a control freak. However, when one plans for large events, so much is beyond the organizer’s control. Mostly because you are dealing with people. And people can be unpredictable.

So yesterday, I did what any crazy obsessive compulsive would do with a big event just 36 hours away. I decided to cook up a storm.

While people may be unpredictable, I know exactly what will happen if I put six pounds of pork shoulder in the crockpot before leaving the house. The result is always my son’s favorite pulled pork sandwiches with many thanks to Penzeys Arizona Dreaming spice blend and Bragg’s apple cider vinegar. I suppose Trader Joe’s Carolina Gold barbecue sauce deserves a shout out too.

But I had more than just pork shoulder in the fridge. I also had a boneless chuck roast. And with that in mind I went to the Schenectady Greenmarket, looking for some inspiration.

I remembered the great dried beans I once got from Bella Terra Farm in Montgomery County, and that led me to thoughts of chili. And I was undeterred even when buying out all the farm’s kidney bean pods resulted in a few ounces of actual beans. Oh yes. Those beans came in pods. Shelling them is a labor of love. But it’s also great for focusing your attention on something concrete and productive.

At the greenmarket I also wanted to get a cabbage for slaw. Because what’s crockpot pulled pork without slaw? I’m not actually sure if purple cabbage has more nutrition in it than green cabbage, but I went with it anyhow. And when I got home I built a slaw out of red and purple things. Beside the cabbage, I added two purple carrots, one very large red beet, a red onion, and hot red pepper. I don’t know if my garlic was German Red, but one can dream.

Regardless, the slaw was a quick side project before I made a giant pot of Cuban black beans. I had bought a three pack of organic green bell peppers, and had started the soak on Friday night. This seemed to be the right time to tackle the multi-hour task of finishing the project.

The one remaining bell pepper was perfect for the chili I wanted to make. The only problem was that I had to trim up the chuck roast, because I had originally thought of making the piece of beef as a solid piece of pot roast. It’s been such a long time since I’ve made pot roast. Cubing up a big piece of meat is no big deal, it’s the browning of every cube that’s a pain in the neck. But this is a step that really should not be skipped.

Fortunately, once the chili is going, you can sort of set it and forget it.

That gave me time to bang out a quick batch of brown rice, and reduce some of the pulled pork braising liquid into a barbecue sauce of sorts.

All said and done, I cooked over nine pounds of meat, over two pounds of beans, went through a silly amount of onions, three green peppers, at least two heads of garlic, and a head of cabbage. I filled up two half gallon containers: one with slaw, and one with chili. I have three meals remaining of black beans, two of which are now in the freezer. The pork shoulder and chili will also be portioned, with some going into the deep freeze for later in winter.

The dishwasher has been run countless times. The slow cooker was put to good use. The Cuisinart got a workout. Even the immersion blender helped with the chili.

And before putting it all away, I set up my cold brew bucket for another morning batch.

None of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the freezing cold weather and the luxury of being able to use my garage as a giant refrigerator. I even moved the refrigerator thermometer out there, just to check if the temperature was in the safe range.

I think I may have mentioned something about control.

The good news is that my last Yelp event of the year is tonight! It’s actually really shaping up to be extraordinary. Right now, the event is totally full, but if you want to be put on speed dial just in case someone cancels at the very last moment, just let me know. Otherwise, you can live vicariously through Andy’s pictures.

Oh, and tomorrow is my birthday. And one of the best presents my family is getting me is the chance to sleep a little bit later on a weekday.

Seriously, that may be the best gift ever. Although my mom has totally hooked me up with a podcast in a box. I haven’t seen it yet. But I’ve been told it’s on the way. So depending on how you feel about me talking about food on the internet, now you know who to either thank… or blame.

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