What’s Cookin’ – The Deconstructed Chalupa (Guest Post)

The following is a post written by our middle child who recently relocated from the Midwest to Flagstaff, Arizona.  She has been living on her own for about 7 months now and is taking the plunge into cooking beyond her comfort zone.  I keep telling her, “Practice makes perfect.”  – Mama

Crock Pot Cooking for the Novice:  Round One

This past Christmas (well a couple days after), my boyfriend’s mom bought me a crock pot.  This gift stemmed from a conversation that we had on my lack of cooking experience, which comes as a surprise to most people given that my mom is no novice in the kitchen.

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Right out of the box, never been used crock pot.  (Cutting board sold separately).

I had been in my new place for about two weeks and hadn’t strayed from my diet of chicken and rice, the only meal I had learned to cook since living on my own for over 7 months.  That is, the only meal I HAD learned . . . until now.  After a week of telling my boyfriend that I was going to try out my new crock pot and not doing it, he challenged me by suggesting that I would never use this fabulous gift from his mother.  Now, if there is one thing I hate, it’s not stepping up to a challenge.  I woke up on a Saturday morning ready to take on the daunting task of cooking.  I had searched the web and found a recipe, put together my shopping list (sure that I knew what each ingredient was so as not to look completely lost), and sent a quick text message to my mother warning her that I’d be shopping for food and potentially in need of assistance.  Off I went to face my first challenge of the day: the grocery store.

I did better than I expected.  I found all of my ingredients with ease and then I got to the meat section . . . I wanted pork.  But was it pork butt or pork shoulder that I needed?  I texted mom for backup.  Low and behold, pork shoulder and pork butt are virtually interchangeable terms.  Funny animals, pigs.  My shoulder and butt are quite different.  They are on completely different parts of my body and serve completely different purposes.  For the pig, at least how a butcher defines the shoulder and the butt, they are both part of the same cut of the pig.

Parts of a Pig

I did look up the different cuts of a pig just to verify for all the nonbelievers out there.

I hurried back home with all the ingredients in hand, ready to spend the day “learning how to cook.”

Here’s how it went:

I found a recipe online for Southwestern Style Chalupas.  Of course I made some changes to it due to the suggestions from one of the individuals that critiqued the recipe on the website, my mother, and simply what just happened during the cooking process (we will call this “on-the-job learning”).  The recipe below shows the modifications in 3 different colors: black denotes the original recipe, as found, red denotes the suggested changes from one of the comments on the website, blue denotes my notes and changes I ended up making either by cooking suggestions from my mother or by mistake . . . I mean “on purpose”.  😉

Don’t worry, there’s a clean copy of the recipe at the end of this post, but I wanted to share the kitchen contemplations of a novice.

Here’s what this looks like in action:

What kind of utensils do I need to cook this recipe, you might ask as a novice (hoping you actually have what you will need and, more importantly, you actually know what those items are AND how to use them)?  Surprisingly, cooking utensils aren’t that bad and so easy a monkey could use them!  This is what you will need: measuring spoons, measuring cups (or a pitcher), the largest knife you can find, cutting board, crock pot and can opener. This picture may raise the following question: Do I have a can opener?

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All my cooking utensils, already used so dirty for the picture (not pictured: can opener).

Now that you know what supplies you need, let’s get cooking!

First thing’s first, open up that can of pinto beans and drain.

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There’s the can opener!

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Beans are looking good almost effortlessly.

That was exhausting.  Time for a coffee break.

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Note: coffee was not used in the recipe, just for drinking.

Okay, back to work.

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Now, get out the biggest knife in your kitchen to cut that onion.

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Look how nicely chopped that onion is.  Looks good.

Are onions supposed to be juicy?

WARNING:  Onion vapors may cause irritation to the eyes!

This irritation is due to the chemistry of the onion.  Onion cells contain sulfenic acid forming amino acids that, when onion cells are severed (aka when you cut into that innocent looking orb that’s just sitting there on your cutting board), mix with enzymes to produce a volatile sulfur compound (propanethiol S-oxide).  This compound is released into the air over the cutting board that makes its way up to your tear ducts until you’re about half way through cutting your onion, almost to the point when you start thinking “I am a powerful supercook!  Not even this onion will make me cry!”, when the burning sensation begins.  The compound has reached your tear ducts and is now reacting with your tears to form sulfuric acid. Your eyes are now going to dissolve.  You should’ve worn your safety glasses.

That was a joke.

Your eyes will make it.  You may just cry for a bit until your eyes have flushed the irritant out.  This was an amateur move on my part.  I looked up how to prevent this irritation from occurring.  A more experienced cook, or a chemist, may know this but to reduce this irritation from happening you can make sure to refrigerate your onion before cutting (this would slow down the reaction since colder particles have a slower rate of reaction) or cut the onion under water.  I prefer the safety glasses approach.  But since the irritation has already occurred by this point, it’s time to walk away from the onion and have a refreshment until the crying has subsided.

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Note: Beer was not used in the recipe, just for drinking.

Now, time to get to the chiles.

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Get that can opener back out!

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Yum, Mexican green chiles (don’t worry, they are mild).

The most difficult part is mixing your spice blend.  Here is what I ended up using:

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All the spices were measured out into this little bowl.  How nice.

And then I minced the garlic. I actually know what mincing is so here is the definition for all the other novices out there that have never minced.

Mince: taking the largest sharp knife in your kitchen and, using a karate type motion, cutting something into the smallest pieces possible while avoiding cutting yourself (note: this definition was not found in a dictionary).

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The knife looks bigger next to those little pieces of garlic.

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To be able to mince, you will have to break the cloves.  This can be done by placing the clove under the flat part of the knife (preferably with the blade of the knife facing away from you) and then applying pressure on top of the knife.  This can also be done by biting the cloves, or so I’ve been told.

So, there you have it! After measuring out a quart of water, all the ingredients are ready to go!

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Look at that butt.

Before I get too ahead of myself, there is one critical step that must be done. Plug in the crock pot.

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Yes, there it is. I did remember to plug it in.

I was under the impression that you just throw everything into the crock pot in whatever order you want, so that’s what I did.  I do recommend putting the meat and spices in first and the water in last . . . my mistake.

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Putting the water in first wasn’t my most successful moment of the day.

Turn the crock pot on High, stir up all the goods, and cover.  After an hour, I changed the temperature to Low and then waited . . .

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How long do I have to wait again?

Just hang out for a couple hours until it’s time to shred the pork.  There are so many things you could do with this time JUST DON’T USE THIS TIME TO UNCOVER THE COOKING MEAT.  This will make the waiting last so much longer.  But there are so many other things to do.  I decided to write this blog post, for instance.  I also finished drinking a beer, ate some ice cream, figured out how to use a staple gun, did this art project for my kitchen, sanitized my counter where I dropped the raw meat, and washed the dishes (though crock pot cooking leaves you with minimal dishes to clean).  I could’ve also taken a nap or watched something on Netflix.  The opportunities were nearly endless.

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Look at the art. Can you believe I didn’t get this idea from Pinterest?

When the meat is tender enough to be pierced with a fork, it is probably ready to be shredded.  Or so you would think.  After 5 hours of waiting, I took the pork out and began cutting the fat off.  That part was easy enough.  Then, when I started to cut it off the bone, it got more difficult.  I guess it wasn’t ready to leave the bone.  I cut up what I could and put it back in the crock pot, bone and all (minus the fat).  I covered the crock pot again and went back to waiting.  This time I watched some Netflix.

Another hour later . . .

It was getting tenderer.  I turned the heat up to High and let it cook for another hour (I was getting impatient, but I shouldn’t have kept opening the lid . . .).  I was getting to the point where I was wondering why I tried cooking in the first place and then I start smelling the aroma fill my apartment.  This wasn’t smelling too bad.  Maybe I was doing something right.

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Hour 7 of cooking arrives.  I took the meat out.  It came off the bone easily.  I wished that I hadn’t cut the pieces off the bone earlier because those pieces aren’t looking as tender.  Still, I cut those pieces into strips and then shredded what was still on the bone.  I put everything back into the pot and left the crock pot on High and uncovered.  I was experimenting with cook times and techniques.  I wanted the broth to thicken up a bit which actually means I just needed some of it to be soaked up by the meat or, by leaving it uncovered, allowed it to evaporate off.

This was actually real food.

I got the toppings ready!

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My favorite, sharp cheddar cheese.

After cooking uncovered for 30 minutes, finally, the final product.  Turns out the meat ended up being tender enough to enjoy but the broth didn’t really thicken up.  It was a soup consistency and didn’t quite look like the picture from the recipe I found online.  I did leave the rest on the heat because it really wasn’t entirely ready.

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Look, posed pork.

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Was it good?  I ate it, if that tells you anything.

What did I learn?

  • I can actually, semi-successfully, use a crock pot.
  • I hate waiting all day for food.
  • It probably would be much better if an experienced cook made it but at least it was cooked through and had enough flavor so that I didn’t get sick from undercooked meat.  My taste buds were happy.

Will I do this again?

Someone said “practice makes perfect” so I will do more cooking.  Though I’m not under any delusion that perfection will ever occur from my cooking, at least I can feed myself.


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