Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year (a.k.a. Cooking for a Crowd)

I used to be terrified to cook for large masses of people. I had no idea where to start. Even when we'd have friends over for dinner, I'd use the kids as an excuse to just order pizza. But then there was Beersheba . . .

Beersheba Springs (pronounced BUR-shih-buh) is a tiny mountain town in the hills of Tennessee, somewhere between Chattanooga and Nashville. In the 2000 census, there were 553 people listed as residents. John's family has a long time history there. Let's see if I can get this right: John's great grandmother was known as Gran Susie. She had seven sons and came to Beersheba from Nashville to vacation. She eventually bought the house there that she had previously rented, called The White House. It was built around 1856 and was white clapboard with plaster walls and 15 foot ceilings. The house was passed down to her seven sons (one of whom was John's grandfather, Howell Elliott Adams); then to their 30 children (one of whom was John's father, Tom Adams, Sr.). The house is actually now held in a trust and owned by all the children and grand children, etc.

Anyway . . .

We go up to every summer to stay in this old old house. We go with a whole branch of the family tree: John's brother and sister and their families, John's parents, John's first cousins and their families, John's aunts and uncle, and anyone else anyone wants to bring along as a guest.  It's quite a crowd. So when you get a crowd like that together, you know you need a lot of food. Being in a small mountain town (with a population of 553), even the grocery is slim pickins compared to the bursting metropolis of Atlanta, GA. And rather than have everyone fend for themselves every night, we rotate the cooking duties, as many families do in situations like this, every couple (or so) takes a night to prepare dinner for everyone. The crowd usually varies between 15 and 35 people depending on the night. And once we were married, it seemed the right thing to do to take on a night. The idea of feeding that many people is terrifying to most people, me included. But once I did it once, I have come to really like it. (Egads, you say!)

One of my biggest problems can also be an asset. I am somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to food. I don't even want to bother serving food to people if they're not going to stop, mid-chew, to slump in their chairs and say, "Mmm . . ." Forget the frozen lasagna or boxed cakes. Gimme something good and homemade.

So, here is one of my favorite meals to serve a crowd. I served this last night for New Year's Eve with some of my best friends of recent times - my neighbors.

The Easiest Pulled Pork Tacos Ever 
(I doubled this recipe but it was WAY more than I needed for 8 of us. I think I tripled the recipe for 30 people at Beersheba)

2-3 pounds boneless pork (shoulder, country style boneless ribs, tenderloin - whichever you want)
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 jar (1 cup) apricot jam or preserves (I try to use Hero or something that doesn't have HFCS)
1 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 fresh jalapenos, sliced (ribs & seeds removed for the heat sensitive - I leave them for 1, remove for 1)

flour tortillas
lime wedges
fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 300°. Place 2 large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil on a work surface, one atop the other. Place the pork in the center of the foil and season on all sides with the salt, pepper, and cumin. Spool the jam over the pork, turning to coat.

Scatter the jalapenos and onion around the pork

Fold the double latyer of foil around the pork and crimp the edges to seal tightly. 

Place in a baking dish.  I happened to have an aluminum throw-away pan, which worked great, bu I had to squish it a bit to get it to fit in my oven!

Roast until fork tender, about 4 hours; let cool. Unwrap to shred the pork with a couple of forks, mixing in all the juices as you go.

Serve with tortillas, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Now check out these amazing empanadas my neighbor, Shaun made!

And the yummy chicken cheese nacho dip that Brooke made!

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