It’s not easy moving to a new city. I knew this before moving to Portland, but I didn’t really think about it all too much before our arrival. That is, until we pulled into the driveway with a car full o’ crap, a puppy and merely the clothes on our backs. Now luckily we had a place to call home for a couple of weeks in a small trailer on a chestnut farm just outside of Portland, which we had arranged through WWOOF.
But other than that, there was no plan laid out ahead. No house to call our own, no jobs lined up, no family to greet us with love and hugs. As exciting as it may have been, to say that the uncertainty wasn’t overwhelming would be a lie.
It’s certainly a comfort to know of a few people in the big bad city, to know that if you absolutely need somebody to call, there are people out there. Aquaintences, facebook friends maybe who you rarely, if ever, talk to. But it’s absolutely a great feeling when someone reaches out a hand to make you feel especially welcomed. I have Alice to thank for that (yes, the same Alice who I took a cheese making class with a while ago).
Alice is an old friend who I met back in my days at Vassar, once upon a time when I played soccer competitively. Through a series of events I found myself, for the first time in my life, not only living in a new city but one that was entirely across the country from everything and everyone that I ever knew. I wouldn’t call Alice my first friend or even my closest friend during my freshmen year, but she was always the nicest and friendliest of teammates despite the seemingly inherent senior-freshmen discrepancy. Before I knew it, I was a sophomore and she a graduate moving on to continue her chem studies at UC Berkeley. There, she played soccer on the same adult league team as my sister (who lives in San Francisco) as well as myself for the season that I spent in San Francisco. And then, I left for Aspen.
Somehow the stars aligned once again, and fast forward two years later we have found ourselves both living in Portland. It was about a week after moving into our new place that she invited us to her upcoming get together. In this Iron Chef-style competition, attendees bring dishes or drinks highlighting one key not-so-secret ingredient. The first one I was able to attend was an avocado theme, and with little preparation time I whipped up a porcini mushroom and avocado salad with a lemon parsley vinaigrette, Lucia’s recipe. It was good, but most other dishes were better.
A few months later, Iron Chef: Cilantro was underway. I stepped up my game with Tequila Lime Cilantricles, boozy popsicles tasting somewhat of a jalapeno cilantro-spiced margarita similar to the ones described in an earlier post. I was in the running, but was eventually beat out by my more savory-minded counterparts.
And this past weekend, I competed in my third event, Iron Chef: Coconut. For this one, I decided to take a bit of a different approach. Instead of featuring the themed ingredient, I decided to use it as more of a backdrop, incorporating coconut into my dish in many different, yet subtle, ways. I wanted to use an ingredient that paired well with coconut, so naturally I went in the direction of pineapple. But I didn’t want to make a sweet dish, and I also wanted to use meat as a challenge to myself more than anything. I’m fairly sure I’ve heard of others using pineapple juice in a marinade for pork, so that’s when the idea of a pulled pork slider came into play. Pulled pork and coleslaw, naturally. After a few days, I settled on my plan. Pineapple pulled pork slider with coconut cole slaw. Frankly, my idea was pretty awesome if I do say so myself!
After an hour of pacing back and forth through the aisles of New Seasons checking off my grocery list and doubting that I had everything I needed, I went home to begin prep. Six hours of slow cooking the meat, reducing a sauce, and chopping veggies went by and before I knew it I was out the door and on my way to Alice’s house with about ten different tupper-wared components in tow.
These Iron Chef parties are, I’ve learned, not to be taken lightly. There is extensive planning, countless shit-talking emails, graphic designing, outfit wearing, and libation-consuming to be had before the entries even get plated, and it’s exhausting! But moreso awesome, because as soon as the party starts chaos ensues in the kitchen, with everyone putting last minute touches on their dishes, starting with drinks and appetizers and continuing to main dishes and then desserts.
At the end of the event, after everyone’s bellies are stuffed and we are no longer capable of taking another bite, we all roll ourselves into the living room and the votes are tallied, with each person getting a total of 6 points awarded to their top three votes (three for first, two for second, one for third). The winner is awarded the coveted Golden Frying Pan for the duration of their reign, bragging rights and the choice of the next theme ingredient. Unfortunately for me, my “Porky Piña Cole-slaw-da Slidas'” were beat out in the final ballot by a point, putting me at a tie for second with Alice’s coco-licious cheesecake. The bar was set high for this battle, and I’m comforted by the moment of silence that overswept the room as they bit into my sliders. A moment of tasty bliss, I’d like to believe.
It is a victory I can and will still look forward to. Someday, perhaps.
Alas, here is the somewhat informal recipe of my sliders, dedicated to my friend Alice (and her fiance Mike as well as many of their lovely friends). Thanks for making me feel so welcomed in this little big town called Portlandia.
Apologies but no measurements here- I don’t generally use measurements but more so just go by sight and taste.
- Humanely-raised pork shoulder (I asked for about two lbs. from the butcher)
- Pineapple juice
- Whole grain dijon mustard
- soy sauce
- Coconut juice (or water, with pulp if possible)
- Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
- Apple cider vinegar, splash
- Napa cabbage
- Red cabbage
- Carrot, 1 or 2 grated
- Pineapple chunks, minced
- Dried coconut flakes, toasted lightly
- Vegannaise (can also use regular mayo or other mayo substitute)
- Coconut Milk
- Whole-grain dijon mustard
- Apple cider vinegar, a splash
- Small jalapeno pepper (optional), finely chopped
- Chives, minced for garnish
- One loaf of challah bread, sliced evenly
- Pineapple Juice
- Coconut juice (or water)
- Maple syrup
Begin by placing the pork in a slow cooker and turn the timer onto 6 (or more, if you have the time) hours. In a small bowl, combine 4 parts pineapple juice, 1 part dijon, 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts coconut juice, 1 part SBR’s BBQ sauce, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add to the slow cooker with the pork and leave it be.
You can wait a few hours before preparing the rest of the components.
In a small saucepan, combine 2 parts pineapple juice, one part coconut juice and 1/2 part maple syrup. Stir on low to medium heat for at least fifteen minutes, until the water has evaporated and the syrup will coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Begin your coleslaw by finely chopping your cabbages either by hand with a knife or with a mandolin, and collect into a large bowl. Add grated carrots, minced pineapple chunks (if the chopping of the pineapple creates residual juice, add that to the mix as well), chopped jalapeno and a handful of toasted coconut flakes. In a small bowl, combine equal parts Vegannaise and coconut milk, a small spoon of dijon and a splash of AC vinegar. Combine well and then fold into the cabbage and carrot mix. Season with salt and pepper as needed, then keep in the fridge until service.
At this point you can toast the challah slices at about 250 degrees on each side until golden brown, should take no more than 15 minutes in the oven.
One the meat is fully cooked and tender enough to break apart with a fork, turn off the heat and remove any super fatty pieces. To assemble sliders, put a heaping spoonful of pulled pork on a slice of toasted challah, drizzle lightly with pineapple glaze, top with an equal portion of coleslaw to pork and top with a light sprinkle of toasted coconut and minced chives. Top the slider with another slice of challah, and stick a large toothpick through to keep it in place.
For the next battle, Iron Chef: Persimmon…Allez Cuisine!