Slow Cooker Poppy Seed Pork Shoulder

Tonight I prepared a random pork shoulder with ingredients we had around the house. I thought I would share the recipe as it turned out nicely. The recipe is nice but takes time, especially in the prep stage. My thoughts were to combine some of the spices I noticed in Eastern European cooking, especially the Polish recipes from my mother’s cookbook.

  • Boneless Pork Shoulder (1-2 lbs)
  • 1 TBSP Ground Pepper
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Head of Cabbage
  • 1 TBSP Poppy Seeds
  • 1 TBSP Dried Onion
  • 2 TBSP Rice (optional)
  • 1 Clove Garlic, large

First, grind pepper and place with pork into a sealable container. Add bay leaf. Add an equal amount of water to the container. Measure total mass and add 1% of the total mass in salt. So, if you had 1 kg of pork, you’d have 2 kg at the end to which you would add 20 g of salt. This is known as equilibrium brining in the books I have read on food smoking.

The next day, clean, stem, and slice cabbage. Place into crockpot in an even layer. Grind poppy seeds and onion in a spice grinder.

Remove the pork from the brine and let rest. Discard brine and bay leaf. Rub the mixture over the pork on all sides. Sprinkle remaining spice over the cabbage in the slow cooker.

At this point, I ground the 2 TBSP of Rice in the spice grinder for two reasons. First, the rice removed the extra ground mixture from the grinder in an efficient manner. Second, the ground rice helped thicken the liquid that developed in the slow cooker during cooking.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. When hot, sear the meat on all sides until a nice brown. Place the pork over the cabbage in the slow cooker. Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle garlic evenly over the pork and cabbage.

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours. We served the pork and cabbage alongside apple sauce.

An Essay on My Bread

“To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.”

Pearl S. Buck

I tore my bread in half this morning before I dipped it into a mug of hot coffee. Although you may not understand it, my bread was the best bread in the world this morning. The bread was a superior loaf of bread for several reasons. Allow me to explain my position instead of rushing over to my office to finish sorting files and packing boxes.

First, the bread was the work of my own hands. There are plenty of loaves down the road at the grocery store. Some of the loaves are quite lovely, but none of them are the work of my hands. The bread I sliced into perfect thick slices was shaped with my fingers. The pan in which it baked rests a few feet away. Even in the middle of packing and chaos, my bread is still a reminder of calmer moments.

Second, the bread comes with a memory of a yeasty aromatherapy. A few days ago, I soaked flour in water with a bit of yeast before letting it spend the night fermenting in a bowl. The house filled with a rich smell the following morning after I combined this fragrant mix with a little more flour, water, and yeast. Between the smell of the rising dough and fragrance of the browning loaves, our house was filled with sensations that were immediately recaptured through the toasting of the bread. Although my office smells like furniture polish and a hot paper shredder, for this moment I can be transported to quiet hours where more than my dough rested.

Third, my bread just tears well. As a minister, I break loaves of bread in half a lot more than most people. I have broken rolls, crackers, wafers, baguettes, french bread, challah, and a host of homemade loaves. My bread tore in half today with a little bit of resiliency, bounced back with a bit of spring, and was ready to suck up hot coffee. My bread tears in a lovely way.

Fourth, my bread tastes heavenly. There’s a tiny bit of salt for the tongue, a depth of earthiness from the wheat, and a yeasty aftertaste. The bread is complex from the darkness of the crust to the tasty depths of the crags. My bread is not from some uniformly mass produced taste factory. My bread is unique.

In conclusion, you may have heard that something or another is the best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread is great, but my sliced bread is wonderful to me. There are only two types of bread that are better than this loaf of bread: the bread I will bake in the future and the bread that you make for your enjoyment.

Reflections on Taut Dough

Over the last week at Maine Federated Church, our daily devotional has focused on the subject of the spirituality of bread baking. A while back, our church used Preston Yancey’s “Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines” as the basis for a small group study. Last week we delved into the same subject using additional resources. In particular, we delved into the science of bread baking through “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee and Ken Forkish’s “Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza.”

This morning the Maine Federated Church is shifting to a week studying the Ascension, but I am not leading an Ascension service or a Memorial Day service. I am preparing a loaf of bread to go with dinner. Leading a church without an online worship service in the midst of the pandemic has been frustrating at times. I understand the rationale behind the church’s decision to proceed digitally in a way that is inclusive to all people in the congregation, but it is unsettling to wake up Sunday morning with time to bake bread.

To be entirely clear, while I am frustrated, I believe with all of my being that the church has a responsibility to reopen in a way that is measured and safe. I do not believe that we should rush into a dangerous situation that can endanger lives because any politician says that it is time to open. I also own the fact that this is my opinion.

Yeasty scents come from under this kitchen towel!

Today I am working with a recipe from Ken Forkish’s book. In particular, I am making a loaf of whole wheat bread to go with dinner. Overnight, water, flour, and a little bit of yeast fermented on our counter in a container. This morning, I combined the biga with additional water, flour, salt, and yeast to create a dough. Over the last few hours, I have sat with the dough as it continues to grow across the room. Yeasty scents fill the air and lead to thoughts of life.

One of the parts of the bread baking process which is in my thoughts this morning is the folding process recommended by Ken Forkish. I have folded the dough four times and have noticed the dough growing more and more taut as the process continues. The folding helps to give structure to the dough and itself is very interesting. When you first uncover the dough, it seems like a sloppy mess. After a few gentle folds, the dough begins to show a structure that seemed impossible moments before.

The tension in the dough continues to amaze me. Without the stress placed on the dough, the dough would end up a messy pool of liquid. When the dough is stretched, the dough develops the structure that will make the bread incredible.

Think about what spiritual lessons might be drawn from a parable rooted in this practice. We all want to live in communities that never face tensions, but can we be shaped into the communities we are meant to be without the occasional pressure or stressor? Just as a knife cannot be sharpened without the pressures of honing or as an athlete cannot grow stronger without challenging practice, can a community grow stronger without facing the occasional struggle? Can an individual grow into their potential without facing difficulty?

To be clear, there’s something to be said against stretching the dough to the point where it rips. Dough can definitely be overworked, but dough can also be underworked. How would the bread turn out if a person just put the ingredients into a bread pan without mixing?

As a minister, I have witnessed congregations that were unwilling to engage in healthy challenges and stretching. Most of them have struggled and some of them have closed. As a person, I have witnessed in other lives and have lived through portions of my own life where an unwillingness to engage in difficult situations led to terrible consequences.

When we live with the goal of never facing difficulty, we often become weakened to the point of uselessness. While this is a difficult time in life, it is my hope that the stretching we are all facing might strengthen us over the long run. May God bless you all this Sunday and keep you well.

Fresh from the oven!

Rice, Quinoa, and Berry Casserole

Today for lunch I cooked the following recipe for my kids while they were home from school. My kids love berries, but I rarely cook with berries. I decided to offer them a treat today by adapting a recipe from one of my Polish cookbooks. My mother was Polish and cooking Polish food brings her to my thoughts and mind; however, I also wanted my kids to have some protein in their lunch. I adapted the recipe to include quinoa for protein, local honey to help boost the business of our local co-op, and used frozen berries picked by my family at a local farm earlier this year (and subsequently frozen). The recipe fed four of us (a dad, a middle schooler, an elementary student, and a toddler) lunch with seconds and still had enough left over to send with the kids for lunch at school tomorrow.

This recipe is adapted from the “Rice & Berry Casserole (babka ryżowa z owocami)” recipe from “Polish Heritage Cookery” by Maria and Robert Strybel. Various changes to the recipe are found here, but I highly recommend you purchase the cookbook and try out some of the recipes.

Rice, Quinoa, and Berry Casserole

  • 3/4 c Quinoa
  • 3/4 c Rice
  • 1 1/2 c Milk
  • 1 1/2 Water
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 pinches of Cinnamon
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/2 c Honey, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds of berries (blueberries are my family’s favorite, but I am betting other berries would be equally delicious, especially blackberries)
  • Shortening to coat dish
  1. Rinse quinoa and rice to remove both the starch from the rice and the bitterness from the quinoa. Strain through a very-fine mesh strainer. Here’s the one I use…
  2. Cook quinoa and rice with milk and water. For the purposes of today’s photos, I used white basmati rice and cooked the rice in a rice cooker. This left browned portions that my family doesn’t mind, but cooking the mixture on a stovetop can remedy the issue if you do not like browned rice and quinoa bits.
  3. While rice and quinoa are cooking, bring 1/4 c of the honey and 3 eggs up to usable temperatures. I brought the eggs up to room temperature and heated the honey until it was easily pourable (but not hot enough to cook the eggs). Whisk together the 1/4 c honey, 3 eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla in a bowl.
  4. Preheat oven to 375º F and use the shortening to grease an overproof casserole dish. We used a large casserole dish to help with portion control.
  5. Combine cooked rice and quinoa with egg mixture. Fold together until mixed, but do not overly mix. Divide mixture in half.
  6. Place half of the mixture into the casserole and flatten with a spatula or spoon. Place berries on top of first half of mixture and drizzle remaining quarter cup of honey over the berries. Top with remaining half of mixture.
  7. Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Top with either a drizzle of honey or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Kitchen Experiment: Tofu Sandwich

One of the classical challenges of Lent is the idea of going without meat and chicken on Fridays. Traditionally, this meant eating fish, but with the advent of more readily available alternatives, tofu is an interesting option.

Today I needed to feed my daughter and I lunch as she was home from the sitter’s house throughout the workday. She hung out on my back during office hours as I worked at my walking desk, but still needed to eat. I decided today would be as good a day as any to experiment with a tofu sandwich. I thought about my favorite flavors, looked through our appliances, and tried out a maple and cheese tofu panini!

The first thing I did was to slice the tofu in half lengthwise after pressing the excess water out of the tofu. I spread some maple syrup, smoked black pepper, and salt into a glass container. I then placed the tofu into the container and repeated the process overtop the tofu. Spoiler alert: I should have cut the tofu in fourths as the sandwich ended up being very squishy.

After the tofu marinated for about half an hour, I preheated my panini grill until it was ready to cook a sandwich. I placed the tofu into the press and left it in the press for about six minutes. I like the edges a bit crispy, so I stopped the press here. As my panini maker tends to be warmer on the top, I should have left the bottom to cook a bit longer.

After the tofu was prepared, I placed some multigrain bread with cheese onto the grill, placed the tofu onto the bread, and topped the tofu with bread before cooking it around three minutes. As you can see, the tofu should have been quartered instead of halved.

Verdict? The kiddo gobbled down all of her lunch quickly. I enjoyed mine, but struggled with the thickness of the tofu. Next time I will likely quarter the tofu and add a few drops of tabasco to the marinade to make the taste a bit more complex. I also think cheddar may have been the wrong flavor cheese. Something a bit more neutral or even in the opposite directions with herbs would have been interesting.

How are all of you fasting folks doing this Lent? Any good recipes you want to share? Any constructive or positive comments on my methodology?

Hummus Corks!

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18, NRSV

Human beings are precious. The scriptures tell us several times and places that we are made in a very wonderful way. Psalm 139 tells us that we are very carefully created. The New Testament tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians, but the context of that passage does not relate (in my own opinion) to this discussion.

I have a very slow metabolism. My metabolism runs as the breakneck speed of molasses in a freezer. If I were to become a desert hermit, that would likely be an asset. Living in a society of plenty, I find it to be a bit of a liability. I used to weigh a lot more, have been hovering around the same weight for a couple of years, and fantasize about dropping lower.

One of my problems is that I don’t eat any meal but dinner on a regular basis at the same time. Dinner in our house is usually at almost exactly 5:00 PM. Every other meal is just wildly all over the place and breakfast is normally non-existent for me. This is a problem. I have been given a body and I want to take care of it. My ingrained habits are not helping…

I am trying to join my wife in being healthier this year. One way I am trying to do that is to find healthier ways of eating lunch. Rather than skipping meals, eating one big meal, or just constantly snacking my way through the less healthy things in our house, I am trying to be intentional about picking healthier food.

Perhaps that is why I am today offering up for public knowledge the best thing since sliced bread. Okay, the recipe is not that good, but it is pretty good and fairly healthy. I recently got a copy of “Polish Heritage Cookery” by Robert & Maria Strybel. It is a lovely cookbook with a lot of the heritage foods that I keep trying to cook out of my mom’s Polish cookbook, but with a lot better explanation. In other words, I keep messing up my mom’s recipes and needed help.

I was looking for something to make for church the other day and went to the new cookbook for help. I found a recipe for “korki z ogórków faszerowane” or Stuffed Cucumber Corks. I wanted something a little less carnivorous, so I kept searching. The next entry was “ogórki nadziewane twarogiem” or Cheese Stuffed Cucumbers. The recipe looked perfect, except I didn’t have farmers cheese. I substituted some neufchatel cheese and prepared the corks for Fellowship time after church. The recipe as written was not a healthy recipe but it certainly looked good!

The cucumber corks went over smashingly. The leftover were devoured and I went back to try the more carnivorous cucumbers on my own. We had some leftover Christmas Beef Roast from my favorite Irish cookbook. I made the salad according to the recipe in the Polish cookbook and it was good, but the calories were not so great. Additionally, it took weeks to prepare the Christmas roast, and I don’t have that time on a regular basis.

So, I tossed around the question in my head a few days. I wanted something rich in protein, tasty, variable, and more sustainable. I was throwing around thickening up cottage cheese, when I looked down the dairy case to find something very interesting.

Hummus! Pliable, versatile, vegetarian, gluten-free, and delicious hummus! What would happen if I were to take some hummus, take my seedless cucumber, and combine the two with the help of my melon baller?

So, without further ado: Hummus corks! A European/Middle Eastern mashup!

Ingredients: Cucumbers (seedless) and hummus…

Slice a thin portion from your cucumber. By the end of my lunch, I was down to about a half an inch per slice of cucumber.
Use a melon baller (or spoon) to remove most of the inside of the cucumber. The original cork recipe did not call for a seedless cucumber, but I found the seedless cucumber held up to this process much better without leaking.
Fill the cucumber cavity with hummus! This particular hummus was flavored with lemon and dill. It was a very tasty lunch and I was able to cut up the parts I scooped out with my toddler!

The lunch that resulted from this recipe was a very light lunch, but it was decidedly tasty. In the future, I might recommend making this the night before and using the pieces pulled out from the corks as part of a salad to go with dinner.