Tuesday, April 20, 2010

27. Dinner for Six

Another weekend, another dinner party...that's pretty much the way it is around here. While many of you are now firing up the grill and visiting the farmers' market for fresh asparagus and greens, those of us in northern New England are still trying to push winter out the door. Our seasonal spring meals will come in May, if we're lucky.

Last Saturday we had a particularly congenial group of friends both old and new over for dinner. And I took a chance, preparing a recipe that I'd never made before. A few weeks earlier my friend Debby had served it at her husband's birthday party and it was so good that I left the gathering with recipe in hand. It cooks in a crock pot and along about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon I just about panicked, thinking it would not be done in time. I seriously considered dashing to the supermarket for salmon, potatoes and South American asparagus. But I decided to have faith in the instructions and everything came out well.

The crock pot I use belonged to my grandparents and has to be well over 30 years old. It is an unfashionable harvest gold and is quite large. The lid is held together by duct-tape and the exterior is covered in nicks and scars. It is perfectly dependable and I love that it has been passed down thru the generations.

So here's my new dinner party recipe, just right for a cool spring evening in Maine. I served it with Michael's Salad (see No.10, Rx for the Winter Blahs) and a guest brought dessert. Couldn't be easier.

Slow-Cooker Pork and Black Bean Stew (adapted from Real Simple)

2 12-ounce bottles of lager beer

1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and sorted

1 1/2 pounds boneless pork butt (pork shoulder)

kosher salt

In a slow cooker combine beer, 3 cups water, chilies, adobo sauce, cumin, onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in beans (yes, they will cook in time without soaking) and add pork. Cook on high, covered, until beans are tender and pork pulls apart easily, about 5 to 6 hours. With a fork separate the pork into large pieces.

Now comes the fun part: Divide among individual bowls and top with southwestern-inspired condiments such as cooked corn, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and chopped fresh cilantro. Crumble some tostada chips on top and you've got a great dish. This serves 6 generously and you'll be grateful for any leftovers!