Leave the Bird, Bring the Pig: A Family Recipe for Pernil

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Whereas other families might have a Christmas turkey or goose, Puerto Rican families such as my own eat pork for their holiday meal.

The meal -- actually a night-long party called Nochebuena -- is held on Christmas Eve and involves music, dancing, coquito (Puerto Rican eggnog), pitorro (Puerto Rican moonshine), a Mass that seems to never end and, most important, an array of foods. Chief among the vittles enjoyed that night is roast pork.The pork is served in two ways: spit-roasted whole (lechon) or oven-roasted shoulder or butt (pernil). The former is time-consuming -- 24 hours time consuming -- making the latter more popular.

The recipe for the pernil is really just a guideline to experimentation. If you'd like to play with the recipe, perhaps by adding more garlic, feel free. The preparation and consumption of the pernil ought to be fun. To up the fun factor, drink the aforementioned alcoholic drinks, if you're fortunate enough to have obtained or made any.

Ingredients
1 seven-pound pork shoulder
8 peeled garlic cloves
7 whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
Kosher salt, and a lot of it. Pork absorbs salt quickly and easily. Not enough salt risks a bland pig.

The Night Before Cooking the Shoulder
Before mixing the seasonings in a blender (no one expects you to use a mortar and pestle anymore. But if you want to do it the hard way like I sometimes do, knock yourself out), with a sharp knife remove the skin from the pork and trim as much fat as desired. Set the fat aside. Score the skin and the pork. Set the skin aside. Place the pork into a roasting pan. Put all seasoning ingredients and seven teaspoons of salt in a blender. Go to town with it until it becomes a paste.

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A Slab of Beef That Would Make Mom Proud: The Chanukah Brisket

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Jenny Block
Two nights ago was the first night of Chanukah, and I decided it was time I made my first brisket--traditional holiday fare. I had no idea the best way to attack a brisket, and, after scouring the Internet, I only felt more confused. So, I did what I should have done in the first place and called my mom.

Lucky for me she was with her sister and the two of them got on the phone and told me how it's done.

"You have to brown it on the stove first."

"Grape jelly and onion soup mix. That's all you need."

"You can't keep it in the oven too long. It just keeps getting more and more tender."

"After it's been in the oven for at least three hours, take it out, slice it at an angle, across the grain, put the slices back in the pan and put the pan back in the over. Cover it, give it 20 minutes, and that meat will just suck up the juice."

"Lots of flavor. That's what you need. Lots of flavor."

I'm not sure if I felt better or worse after that challenge. But I definitely felt like the heat was on. I decided to just get crazy and mix and match what I found online and what my mom and Aunt Ruth had shared.

I used Paul Deen's Texas Oven-Roasted Beef Brisket as my base and added and subtracted from there. I started with a dry rub made of...

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Real Chanukah, Real Latkes

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Smitten Kitchen
When I was a kid, I helped my mom make latkes every year. But this was my first year going at it all on my own.

Before oil met pan, I decided to investigate the online latke universe. And what a massive universe it is. People make them with everything from apples to zucchini and top them with everything from caviar to ratatouille. But after a phone call to my mom, I decided old school was the only way to go. More »

Stephan Pyles Thanksgiving Cooking Class: You'll Never Want Another Butterball

Stephan Pyles
Among other things, the Thanksgiving cooking class at Stephan Pyles taught me that the main things I know about journalism are wrong.

I had a journalism professor open his class with, "You think you're going to be happy? You're not. You think this career is going to be easy? It's a struggle."

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Photos by Brooke Nottingham
Butternut squash soup
But I believe that Stephan Pyles' cooking class, the grand finale of my journey through some of Dallas' cooking classes, is a contender for the top three happiest times in my life. The main thing I struggled with was putting my fork down long enough to take thorough notes. I was wracked with guilt thinking about the unlucky journalists, struggling with their beats to deliver hard-hitting news. My guilt dissipated somewhere around my second glass of 2009 Nyers Carneros Chardonnay paired with a savory, velvety-rich curried butternut squash soup with apple-bacon chutney.

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Platanos rellenos
Saturday's cooking class at Stephan Pyles Restaurant was a $125, three-hour demonstration of scrumptious alternatives to tired holiday staples. Nestled elbow-to-elbow at long tables with my 40 or so classmates, chef Pyles demonstrated the butternut squash soup, platanos rellenos with venison picadillo and avocado-jicama-watercress salad (paired with Rahr & Sons Brewing Company's "Buffalo Butt" amber lager), molasses grilled quail with Port-poached pear tamales and candied walnuts (paired with 2009 Chateua Sant Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone), honey-fried chicken with cranberry sauce, maple grits with Parmesan wild mushrooms and country ham, pumpkin-white bean chile rellenos with pomegranate cream (all paired with 2009 Garnacha de Fuego) and for dessert, caramelized apple upside-down cake with candied ginger-mascarpone ice cream and chocolate-bourbon pecan pie with whipped crème fraiche.

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Kalachandji's Cooking Class Curries Favor
For Indian-style Vegetarian

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Photos by Brooke Nottingham
When I sit down for class on Thursday night at Kalachandji's Community Hall, my classmate Bob leans over to me and explains that a lot of people don't like curry. So he pulls out that night's recipe list and goes through them, ingredient by ingredient.

"Look, yogurt, turmeric, eggplant, potato, and yeah, curry leaves, but that's not very much. So you can't say that you don't like curry."

I don't remember saying anything like that, but I eagerly agree with him. "I mean, curry refers to so many things, how can you..."

"Just let me finish," he interrupts. Then he goes through the remaining three recipes. None of them have the C-word listed. Bob says that only the "uneducated or unpalatable" look at a place like Kalachandji's, remember they don't like curry and pass it by, since vegetarian Indian cuisine is clearly delicious and endless. Then Bob gives me his card and asks me to lunch sometime.

Not a bad start.

The two-hour class allowed students to relax in folding chairs while we tracked master chef Manjuali Devi's actions in the wobbly mirror above her. Chef Devi led the one-woman show easily, juggling three massive pots on gas burners (and unfortunately, I only mean that figuratively), chopping, mixing, simmering and maintaining casual conversation. The multi-tasking was pretty impressive. But Devi has been teaching these classes since 1995, so it's not like this was her first rodeo.

To make up for only having two hands, many of the vegetables and panir had been chopped and fried, respectively, before class. More cut-corners included prepackaged sambhar powder. A student asked why Devi didn't make her sambhar powder from scratch, and she answered that it would be too overwhelming for this class. And that was pretty off-putting until Devi explained that to make sambhar powder from scratch you've got to throw together red chilies, curry leaves (sorry, Bob), coriander, cumin and pretty much the rest of your spice rack together. And then you grind it and roast it, and maybe you grind it again -- I don't know. I did get overwhelmed. So yeah, keep it, I trust in the prepackaged.

Speaking of spices and of the prepackaged, Devi explained the medicinal-bordering-on-magical qualities of turmeric, a pungent, orange-yellow spice made from the root of Curcuma longa (and don't you feel worldly?) She said that turmeric and honey is excellent for soothing coughs. Someone else told me that doctors give turmeric and black pepper to cancer patients because the spice's anti-inflammatory qualities help reduce tumor. I'm pretty sure cancer doesn't work that way, but what do I know?

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Puris
But seriously, the recipes. Up to bat first was supposed to be a cold summer sambhar soup, but Devi took one step outside and immediately amended the recipe to a warm buttermilk sambhar soup. Next was a matar panir (a tomato-base dish with peas, fried panir and loaded with spices), followed by a cauliflower potato rice dish (which is exactly what it sounds like. Devi explained that it's a "left-over rice" dish, but you could chunk in some cashew's if you want to get exotic.) She finished up with beet puris, palm-sized purple pouches fried in hot oil. So even if vegetarian cuisine isn't strictly healthy, it's definitely delicious.

After Devi finished preparing all the recipes, the class grabbed paper trays and served themselves. The food was pungent and full-bodied, and pleasantly warm even after being pulled off the heat for several minutes.

Kalachandji's cooking classes are held 7-9 o'clock on Thursday nights in the Community Hall next to Kalachandji's Palace and Restaurant on Gurley Avenue in Dallas. There are eight classes in the session. You can attend them all for $150, or individually for $25. The last class is a "final exam," where students prepare a dish they learned in class and bring it to Devi's home. After she assesses their work, they have a potluck dinner.

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Acing the Cheese Course at Central Market

Editor's Note: Since we're not especially scholastic at City of Ate, we recruited our intern Brooke Nottingham (who's probably a whiz with a highlighter and page marker flags) to attend a few local cooking classes. Her occasional series of reports begins today with a cheese class at Central Market.

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Brooke Nottingham
Fortunately, I wore out all of my cheese puns last week. The following will be a purely professional, dry and crumbly recount of Central Market Cooking School's Cheese Please! Class. It will be cheddar that way.

Cheese Please! is part of the Central Market Cooking School's Learn @ Lunch series, a program of hour-long recipe demonstrations featuring Central Market products.


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From an Old Trove of Recipes,
Cottoning To a Tasty Oil

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Photos by Elaine Liner
Booklets like these from American food and appliance manufacturers were favorites among young "homemakers" in the first half of the 20th century.
My mom saves everything. When I helped her move last month, I begged her to jettison the trunks and boxes and tubs of old papers and letters she'd held onto for decades.

She's not a hoarder, more of an archivist. She reached into one box and fanned out 11 little pieces of cardboard -- all her report cards from first to 12th grade (she skipped the 8th grade back in the early 1940s). I noted that Mom was a straight-A student at Farmersville High, except in one subject: home economics.

They still had home ec when I was at Woodrow Wilson High School in the 1970s. I didn't know anyone who took it, and because I took Latin, I didn't have to take it either. Translating the dirty parts of The Aeneid suited me better than apron-sewing anyway. It took me years into adulthood to learn to cook rather than just heat up meals that came out of a box or a freezer. I now specialize in soups and a few other from-scratch dishes, including an easy but impressive holiday meal item called "Carrots Vichy," which I perfected thanks to a fevered fascination with all things Anthony Bourdain. Mom still doesn't cook much, preferring to read biographies of serial killers and watch marathons of Snapped. (She's 82 and colorful.)

So it was a nice surprise when Mom burrowed into the family archives and produced a little stack of recipe books. They'd belonged to my late grandmother, Ivy Watkins, who collected and used them in the 1920s,'30s and '40s. They're slim booklets and pamphlets sent out by the makers of Knox Gelatine, Clabber Girl Baking Powder and the Frigidaire Refrigerator. Many contain my grandmother's added notes, her graceful script penciled in the margins.

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Appetite for Instruction: Tuna Tartare from The Landmark Restaurant

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Tuna Tartare Demonstrated by Mike Pacheco of The Landmark Restaurant in the Warwick Melrose Hotel

For today's Appetite for Instruction, chef Mike Pacheco chose to demonstrate one of his favorite and most colorful dishes, satisfying both the palate and the eyes. Tuna tartare, which is finely chopped raw tuna with Pacheco's specialty mix of sauces and seasonings served on wonton squares, may sound like an intimidating recipe but it requires no cooking -- just mix, mix, stir and you're done.

He first whipped up this dish when a friend requested an appetizer off the menu, and his spectacular new recipe didn't disappoint. The tuna tartare is now the second most requested dish at The Landmark, after The Landmark Burger, and has even been requested as hors d'oeuvres for weddings at the Melrose (also home to the Library Bar.)

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AFI: Pollo al Ladrillo with Mojo de Ajo at La Duni

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Photos by Sarah Johnson
Pollo al Ladrillo with Mojo de Ajo (Argentinean Butterfly Grilled Chicken)
Demonstrated by Julia Lopez of La Duni

For today's Appetite for Instruction, we're going to travel down to Argentina for our recipe, or at least, to La Duni at NorthPark mall. Chef Julia Lopez let us in her kitchen last week to watch her prepare the Pollo al Ladrillo with Mojo de Ajo. What is that exactly, you ask? Pretty much it's Argentinean butterflied grilled chicken with garlic sauce.

While she was slicing, dicing, grilling and sautéing, we were taking photos and scribbling notes to share with you. Oh, and drooling. We asked chef Lopez why she picked this dish to demonstrate, and she said the restaurant featured it during one of La Duni's Argentinean dinners, and it was a hit.

If you decide to try this recipe out at home, then chef Lopez suggests pairing it with roasted potatoes or Argentinean-style vegetables like broccoli, carrots and asparagus seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs with extra virgin olive oil.

The NorthPark La Duni location will host another three-course Argentinean dinner on July 15 for $35 or $55 if you want to pair it with wine, and reservations are required. For now, follow the jump for the step by step process on how to make the Pollo al Ladrillo with Mojo de Ajo.

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AFI: Chimayo Market Corn at Blue Mesa Grill

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Photos by Sarah Johnson
Chimayo Market Corn
Demonstrated by Cosme Alcantar of Blue Mesa Grill

During the months of May and June, Blue Mesa Grill has been celebrating seasonal fruits and vegetables by hosting the Corn and Peach Festival. The Southwestern-inspired restaurant chose two local farms, Larken and Cooper, to provide the corn and peaches for its special menu featuring dishes such as the corn nut-tamarind pork loin with peach-habanero salsa, corn and tomatillo fritters, and peach cobbler with Bertos peach ice cream. And of course, a festival wouldn't be complete without an adult beverage: Blue Mesa also concocted a peach and muddled blueberry margarita for the special event.

We decided to join in on the fun before it ended by having executive chef Cosme Alcantar feature one of his favorite corn or peach dishes for our weekly Appetite for Instruction. Chef Alcantar decided to go with Blue Mesa's recipe of the month, the Chimayo Market Corn. If you visit the restaurant's website, then you will notice every month it features a dish and drink recipe for guests to attempt to prepare at home. If you'd rather dine in and try it, then Blue Mesa Grill will prepare the Chimayo Market Corn table side for your enjoyment. For now, here's the recipe demonstration with photos of the spicy corn recipe.

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