Sandra Lee taught me to cook. I feel certain I have destroyed any credibility I may have or could have had as an authoritative voice in cooking and recipe development by stating that, but I must because it’s true. I didn’t gravitate toward cooking as a child. When given dinner prep chores, I always chose shredding cheese or peeling carrots or setting the table, never willingly venturing toward a hot stove. It wasn’t fear, just disinterest.
I taught myself how to cook during law school. As anyone who’s been there can assure you, law school is an absurd and demanding alternate universe that seeks to suck the life out of your very soul; anyone dumb enough to venture forth needs an outlet. Some people smoke weed, others go to therapy. Me, I taught myself how to cook. (Which is not to say anything against either weed or therapy, having partaken in copious amounts of both myself.)
I learned to cook and bake by dipping my toes in the shallowest end of the kiddie pool. Mostly Allrecipes and Sandra Lee. The kitchen was uncharted, foreign territory for me, and it just felt safer to mix a bunch of premade, packaged ingredients together and call it dinner. Also, I was in law school. There just wasn’t time to cook or bake from scratch most nights.
Although it seemed interminable at the time, law school did actually end. My schedule freed up a bit. Mr. Wallace and I had moved to the city. The Great Recession hit. Mr. Wallace’s industry survived largely intact while mine took a real beating. I was laid off and had some time, albeit unwelcome time, on my hands. In between job hunting, I filled that space in the kitchen. I read cookbooks like novels and watched every cooking show I could find on Food Network. (Back then, kids, Food Network had actual cooking shows! Yes, chefs would stand in a kitchen and teach you how to cook on camera. Also, MTV used to play music videos.)
As I honed my skills and increased my confidence, I started cooking from scratch much more, and eventually, I swung the Sandra Lee pendulum clear to the other side. It might be more accurate to say I smashed that thing into the opposite wall. The more I learned, the more eager I was to deploy and execute on new skills. I delved into baking from scratch, grinding my own meat and fatback for homemade sausage, fresh pasta noodles, salsas, even basic condiments like ketchup and mustard, all from scratch.
I regret none of it. I’ve also, like, calmed down. As I’ve aged, moved away from the city to the burbs with a couple of unhappy stops on the way, and eaten a few of life’s shit sandwiches, I’ve developed a system and a rhythm for what I find workable and pleasant. I’d say I’ve now settled into a happy medium somewhere in between Sandra Lee and faux homesteading, slotting onto the cooking spectrum with no real ideology beyond Do Whatever Works For You. I now have prepackaged items sorted into categories of Always Buy (canned beans), Sometimes Buy (marinara, salsa, spice mixes), and Never Buy (pre seasoned raw meat/fish, salad dressing, Cream of Crap soups) – but my system is completely arbitrary.
I sometimes enjoy revisiting my old Sandra Lee days, seeing what parts of her recipes I’ll follow and which aspects I’ll rework. This tasty and easy sandwich is one such example.
I love this sandwich in the days following Thanksgiving. I’m sure this confession will sound the siren song of “NERD ALERT!!”, but one of my favorite grocery shopping times is the week after Thanksgiving, when the stores put all the surplus Thanksgiving stuff on huge sales. We love to buy up the leftover canned pumpkin and turkey parts in particular; sometimes we pilfer the excess potatoes on markdown, or even the canned cranberry sauce. I admit I mostly make cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving for creative leftover use. I’ve stuffed it into doughnuts, added chiles to transform it into salsa, and now I can add mixing it with barbecue sauce to my repertoire. If you have enough leftover homemade cranberry sauce, it will work beautifully in this recipe. If your family actually eats your cranberry sauce on Thursday at the table as we’re “supposed to” then, in the words of Ina Garten, store bought is fine.
Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwiches
- 1 3 to 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder
- 1 tbs or more commercial or homemade steak seasoning
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2 large onions, sliced
- A few garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (optional)
- 1 18 oz. bottle of your favorite good-quality barbecue sauce, or can sub in a homemade sauce if you’d prefer
- 2 16 oz. cans whole cranberry sauce, or the equivalent homemade amount
- Hamburger buns, split and toasted if desired
- Pat the roast dry with paper towels, then sprinkle generously with the steak seasoning. If you know your steak seasoning contains little or no salt, then also sprinkle your pork shoulder with some kosher salt to taste.
- Add the sliced onions to the bottom of your slow cooker, along with the garlic cloves, if using. Place the pork shoulder on top.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the barbecue sauce and cranberry sauce. Pour that over the pork shoulder.
- Cover the slow cooker and cook on LOW for 8 to 10 hours.
- When done, transfer the pork shoulder to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred the meat with two forks or your hands. Set aside.
- Strain the remaining slow cooker contents into a large stockpot. Press on the solids with a large spoon to extract as much juice and flavor as possible. Discard the solids.
- Bring the juices in the pot to a boil then lower the heat slightly to avoid scorching. Keep things at a good simmer for about 10 minutes, or until it has the viscosity of barbecue sauce. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.
- When done, shut off the heat. If your pot is large enough, add the pulled pork and toss to coat in the sauce. If that’s a tight fit, use a large mixing bowl instead.
- Spoon the pulled pork onto the hamburger buns and serve immediately. I chose a no-frills sandwich with just the pork and why yes those are frozen waffle fries on the side thank you for noticing, but topping with some coleslaw would also be quite tasty.