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Inspiration from Aida Mollenkamp: Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder

Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder can be served over polenta, as shown above, or used for tacos. The orange juice and whiskey impart an unmistakable sweetness.
Published Feb. 18, 2013

How many blood oranges does a girl have to squeeze to get 1½ cups of juice? Nine. I won't forget it because the last one squirted into the bowl, yes, but also across the page that held the recipe for Blood Orange-Braised Pork Shoulder, thus christening my new cookbook.

The cookbook is Aida Mollenkamp's Keys to the Kitchen and I'm pretty sure that this won't be the last page to end up sauced or stained. Her cookbook is a wealth of information, and it's already taken a spot in our section of essential cookbooks, very close to Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi, and the classic Joy of Cooking. Actually, in one of the Amazon reviews, someone referred to Mollenkamp's book as a modern, updated version of Irma Rombauer's classic American cookbook. And I can see why.

There are more than 300 recipes in this book rife with tips and helpful illustrations on storing food, cooking, and stocking a basic kitchen. With each one, she aims to teach a technique with ways to riff off that technique and recipe.

But before she even gets to the recipes, Mollenkamp walks you through the grocery store and explains the cuts of meat on different animals and the ways to cook each piece. Pork shoulder is one of our favorite cuts of meat, and braising is one of the best ways to cook it. It's relatively inexpensive, easy to cook, and tastes good. Mollenkamp's recipe with blood orange juice, whiskey, and brown sugar gives the meat a sweetness that's balanced by herbs and spices.

She calls this "the essential reference for becoming a more accomplished, adventurous cook." I like that a lot. Who doesn't want to be those things? And let me tell you, as I lugged a 4-pound piece of pork shoulder, beautifully browned on all sides of course, from the pot to the plate, I felt accomplished. I've come a long way from the tough scrambled eggs in my freshman dorm.

Danny was impressed. And when my somewhat picky sisters visited the next day, we turned the leftovers into tacos. My youngest sister, Lila, said it was so good she couldn't stop eating. Not even long enough to talk to our mom on the phone.

So, how many cookbooks does a girl need to cook? I love our growing collection and wouldn't give it up, but I could definitely get by for a while on this one alone.

Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

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