August 2, 2015

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Barbacoa

If you're familiar with Cafe Rio, you know their sweet pork barbacoa and how good it tastes mixed up in a salad or tacos or burrito or whatever. Our closest Cafe Rio is over 100 miles away, so we usually have to fake the experience by mixing up our own pork and rice and dressing using copycat recipes from the internet.

There are exactly 1 million copycat recipes for the Cafe Rio pork out there. I've read through them all and tasted many of them, and found them all... lacking. Most of them involve a crock pot, but leave the meat sitting in a puddle of flavored water at the end. That's water that will either not come out with your meat, leaving the flavor in the pot, or will come out with your meat, ruining your salad or tacos or burrito or whatever by making it too soggy and drippy. Actual Cafe Rio pork is not sitting in a puddle of water, but has a drippy glaze, loose enough to flavor the other things it's touching, but thick enough to not run around where it's not wanted.

There are a few recipes that attempt to remedy this consistency issue by throwing away all the liquid that's produced in the cooking process and making a new sauce to add to the pork after it's been shredded. That's on the right track, but that liquid you're throwing away has all this great flavor you'd be losing. It's a waste to then make a sauce out of some of the same ingredients that went into the stuff you just threw away. On top of that, the cooking liquid has, like, pork stuff in it. Rendered collagen or something. I'm not actually sure what's coming out of the pork and into the liquid, but it's essentially turned the liquid into pork broth with all this umami and stuff in it, especially so if your pork roast had a bone in it when you started. That porky flavor is super important to the final product.

So, I add the additional step of turning the cooking liquid into my sauce, then reducing it (boiling it for a while until a lot of the water evaporates) until I get the more syrupy/glazey sort of consistency I'm looking for. That's the big revolutionary step that makes this recipe better than the others.

On top of that, I've played with the ingredients somewhat. Most recipes use Coke, which is great for southern cooking, but doesn't seem as good here. Coke braised things seem a little dry and acidic tasting to me, so I didn't think it was the right choice here. I used root beer instead because the flavor comes from, like, herbs or something. I also used Dr Pepper. I think someone told me once that Cafe Rio makes their pork with Dr Pepper. Or, maybe Dr Pepper reminds me of my Uncle Rex, and he spent lots of time in New Mexico, and Cafe Rio's food shares something with the specific style of Mexican cooking from that area so it seemed appropriate. Regardless of my lack of care and thinking that went into the choice of these sodas, the flavor profile was still far preferable to any of the copycat recipes made from Coke.

I made this recipe for a dinner party tonight, and it appeared to be unanimously loved. The guests I talked to all agreed that it was definitely closer in consistency to the actual Cafe Rio pork than anything else we'd tried. And while we didn't have any actual Cafe Rio pork to compare against, we thought it was at least closer to the taste we remembered than the other things we've tried.

So, I'm not going to say this is an exact copycat recipe, since memory is a fickle thing. If put to a direct taste test, I might find that it's actually much further in taste. Even if that were true, this recipe still makes some really great tasting pork, so it's what I'm sticking with from here on out.

Cafe Rio Pork Barbacoa

2 lb pork shoulder roast (If the roast is bigger, scale the other ingredients appropriately)
1 cup Dr. Pepper®
1 cup root beer
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp chili powder

10 oz can mild red enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso™ brand)
4 oz can diced green chilies
1/2 cup brown sugar

Put the pork in the Crock Pot® with the sodas and the spices. Cook on low for 6-8 hours until the the pork is ready to shred easily.

When the pork is done, drain all the liquid into a wide skillet or saucepan. Add the enchilada sauce and green chilies and boil on high heat until mixture is reduced by at least half. Stir it at least occasionally so that nothing burns to the bottom. I give it a quick buzz with the immersion blender while it’s in the pan to make everything all smooth, but it’s also okay to leave it chunky.

While the sauce is reducing, shred the pork, return it to the Crock Pot®, and keep the Crock Pot® set to low to keep it warm. When sauce has finished reducing to a thicker, more syrupy consistency, stir in the brown sugar and boil for 1-2 minutes until fully dissolved. Stir the sauce into the meat in the Crock Pot® and cook for 2 hours on low or 1 hour on high until everything’s nice and hot and tasty and juicy.

August 20, 2012

Free Pringles

Becki encountered this exact situation just today. Luckily, I had already prepared this flowchart to help us figure out what to do.

April 6, 2012



Will I be attempting this someday? If you have to ask, you apparently don't know me very well...

September 24, 2011

More Cleaning

I used to collect Kool-Aid fairly seriously (as seriously as someone can collect Kool-Aid, I suppose). I had amassed a sizable collection of discontinued flavors, mostly from the mid-90s, but with a few dating back before that. I had about 150 packets, representing about 35 different flavors. The oldest piece in my collection is from 1970 or 1971. It's a pack of grape Kool-Aid presweetened with cyclamate, an artificial sweetener that excelled in every possible way except for the way of not giving you cancer and killing you.

Post marriage, kids, and house, I just don't have it in me anymore to collect much of anything, so this has been stashed away for the last ten years. I just dug it up yesterday and I think I've found it a good home. There's no real market for this stuff on ebay anymore, and I can't find quite so many collectors on the internet as I used to. I did find one guy who looks like he's serious enough to appreciate my collection, so I emailed him and told him I'd send my whole stash to him at my expense. He seemed quite excited, but honestly, I think I'm more excited to have found a good home for this. The alternatives would be for me to keep it forever, drink it, or trash it, none of which made me happy.

September 23, 2011


I don't normally keep mementos like this around anymore. I found this while cleaning out a box of old stuff tonight, and it saddened me that both Elliott Smith and DV8 have died (by self-inflicted stabbing and fire respectively). The only reason that Grandaddy has been spared a horrific death is that they didn't show up that night. We had Teddy Thompson instead (if I remember correctly).

September 13, 2011

Camper Van Beethoven

My favorite band (Camper Van Beethoven) playing my favorite album (Key Lime Pie) in its entirety. Live right now in Scottsdale.

January 18, 2011

Aaron's Famous Shrimp Boil

The last couple of times we had the whole family at the beach, I made a good old fashioned shrimp boil. It's basically a giant pot of boiling seasoned water with potatoes, corn, sausage, onions, clams, and shrimp. When done, you just dump it out onto an outside table covered with freezer paper, and everyone gathers round to eat it up with their fingers. It's really the embodiment of my three favorite qualities in a meal: huge quantity, tastes delicious, and little cleanup (you just wrap the remainders up in your table covering and throw it away).

On this last trip, I heard it referred to as "Aaron's Famous Shrimp Boil"
(see Danniey's blog), which is hilarious because I've made it a whopping 2 times, for basically the same crowd each time. Still, I did take copious notes both times about the ingredients and quantities and cooking times. So, even though I've only done it twice, I feel that I have at least 10 normal peoples' shrimp boils' worth of experience.

Given this wealth of accumulated skill, I feel it's only right to share this proficiency with you, dear reader, and so I present for you here my accumulated knowledge on the subject of Shrimp Boil.

Shrimp Boil

Servings: makes enough to serve 12 very hungry adults (this quantity will fill the turkey fryer near to the brim, so don't increase any one ingredient without making a corresponding decrease somewhere else.)


2 bags shrimp boil seasoning (Zatarain's)

1/4 cup to 1/3 cup salt

1-3 heads of garlic

1-2 lemons (quartered)

4 lbs small red potatoes (cut in half. If you don't cut them, they'll roll off the table when you dump out the boil)

3 med. sweet onions (no need to peel; cut most of the way through the onion into quarters, but leave connected at the root end)

3 lbs sausage links (spicy but not too spicy - kielbasa's okay; Farmer John Louisiana Style Smoked Sausage was well liked; Bar S Hot Links were not; anything called red hots are probably too much)

16-20 frozen mini ears of corn

10 lbs clams (rinse the shells)

7-8 lbs shrimp (either shell on or deveined but with shells still on)


Fill turkey fryer with water about 2/3 full (at least 3 holes on the strainer basket still showing above the water line) (Keep a pitcher of hot water on hand in case you underestimated the water and have to add more. It's easier to add more water than to have too much water and have to bail it out at the end). Bring to a boil, then throw in the salt and seasoning bags. Cut the garlic half longitudinally and throw that in. Slow boil for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, squeeze lemon juice into pot, and throw the remains of the lemons in. Put in the onions and potatoes. When you put in the onions and potatoes, check your watch, because every five minutes after you put in the potatoes you'll add another ingredient in this order:

  • sausage
  • corn
  • clams
  • shrimp

Keep everything at a low boil, but crank up the heat right before adding each new ingredient so that it'll return to a boil quickly. After throwing the shrimp in, cook just until shrimp are pink and cooked through (2-5 minutes).

Pull out strainer basket, then dump on paper covered table. Serve with squeeze butter and cocktail sauce. Also, remember to get your drinks before you start eating because your hands will be too messy to go back and get them later.

December 15, 2010

A white Christmas. I'm dreaming of it.

In most of Arizona, you can't count on nature to really do anything that you'd consider festive for the winter, like, say, snowing. Or getting below 70°. Any festive atmosphere is entirely artificial, brought on through decorations.

I can't be arsed to hang lights outside even on a good year, much less when the house is still under construction, so our house normally doesn't radiate the Christmas spirit out to the neighborhood. But, it got this coat of white primer yesterday, and I'm kind of surprised how much I like it as a seasonal thing. I wish I could have told the painters to just leave it and come back in January to finish the job. (I'm trying to tell them to come back a couple of Januarys later to pick up their check.)

I remarked to the foreign students we host at our house that our house looks like it's all decorated for Christmas, and one of them, the not so great at English one, later asked Becki if we repaint the house to decorate for winter every winter, or just this one.

September 24, 2010

The Pixies, and theories thereon

The Pixies and their doppelgängers (from left: The bald one, the fat bald one, the other bald one, the fat one that's a woman)

There are a handful of albums that I feel like I know so well that I know every single note of music on the album; that if you dropped me into the album at any point, I could hear exactly what comes next before the sound even came out. Albums I've heard so many times as a whole album straight through that the album in its entirety becomes an indelible mark on my brain. The Pixies' Doolittle is one of those albums.

Joey had a copy my freshman year at BYU, and we had to have played that whole thing from beginning to end at least 200 times. There were some nights where I feel like I heard that album five times in a row. (That album and Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie were the two albums I think I heard the most that year. In fact, you could probably take this entire blog post and replace "the Pixies" with "Camper Van Beethoven" and replace Doolittle with Key Lime Pie and still have it be about as accurate). Even after I no longer lived with Joey, it took me a long time before I finally broke down and bought my own copy of Doolittle since I didn't think I really needed to. I knew every note already.

So, I was already familiar with the Pixies before that year, but that album really made me into a big fan. Alas, as was the case with so many of the bands I liked, the Pixies broke up (in a very big way) before I could ever see them play live. This was sad, but eventually I got over it and learned to accept it. Then, in 2004, the unthinkable happened. The Pixies reunited for a handful of shows, then a full fledged tour. There was a time in my life when I would have been driving cross country if necessary to see one of those shows, but being married with kids has kind of made that kind of thing a lot less likely. So, since the Pixies were never playing anywhere close, I would just find bootlegs on the internet and live vicariously through other people's concert experiences.

Luckily, instead of breaking up again, the Pixies have continued to tour off and on. This year, they were coming to Mesa Amphitheatre (only a 90 minute drive), coming on a Friday (meaning it's a lot easier to find a sitter for the kids because I can just leave them overnight with someone), and coming right after Becki's birthday (meaning I can justify the expense as a birthday present and throw in a hotel room to make it a romantic weekend getaway). To make it even that much better, this is their Doolittle tour, where to celebrate that album, they play the entire album straight through from beginning to end, throw in the B-sides, then finish with a couple of other hits.

So, of course it was a fantastic show. As were walking out of the amphitheater, I was wondering if this was better or worse than it would have been had I seen the band 20 years ago. Since I hadn't seen them then, I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty convinced that this show would have been better, and I'll tell you why:

The band looked genuinely happy to be playing together.
I'm sure that since tensions ran high in the band for quite a while in the old days that it would have shown in their playing somewhat. Just a guess on my part, but it seems easier for older band members to overlook the little things that would have bothered younger musicians. Also, when you spend a long time without something that you really liked, and you get it back, you tend to not let little things threaten to take it away again.

The band looked genuinely appreciative of the audience.
Same as above. None of these guys really played to audiences like this in their other interim projects, and even during the heyday of the Pixies they struggled to muster up these kinds of crowds. They're clearly making more money playing to more people than they ever did when they were active before, but they went without that for long enough that they're obviously very happy that we all showed up to make that happen.

The audience was very obviously thankful that this opportunity even exists. Seriously, probably 95% of the people at that show didn't have the chance to see the Pixies in the old days either because of circumstances or because they hadn't become fans yet or hadn't been born yet. So, we all got a second chance and are respectful to the band at the concert to show them that.

40 year olds are generally much better behaved at concerts than 20 year olds. There are some drunk people at every show that try to ruin it for everyone, but the drunk jerk contingent was proportionally less well represented at this show. Same with the pushing shoving people. All else being equal, I like going to shows with people who know that their enjoyment of the concert needs to not somehow prevent other people's enjoyment. (There's one weird difference in favor of the kids though: When I went to concerts as a kid, they were just constant clouds of smoke. You'd come home smelling like an ashtray, and that's just the way it was. You accepted that as the cost of seeing live music. With indoor smoking bans, it's been a long time since I've been to a show with any smoke at all. This show was outdoors, and it was just as smoky as any of the worst smoke filled venues I've ever been at. I've been to other outdoor shows with hardly any smoking, though, and the only difference I can see is the age of the crowd. These people tonight are the same people who were smoking at the shows 20 years ago, and they just haven't quit. Outdoor shows with a young audience don't have smoke, probably because the kids there never started smoking. There's a valuable lesson and some good news in there somewhere.)

The band is tighter and are generally better musicians than before.
After the band broke up, all the members played a lot of music with a lot of different people in a lot of styles. They all practiced up some, and that reflects in their playing.

I get to not drive straight home.
The band doesn't get credit for this. It's just nice that I'm old enough that I can afford to stay in the hotel right next to the amphitheater so that I can just walk over to the show and walk right back instead of having to deal with waiting an hour to get out of the parking lot and drive a couple more hours home.

So, while I'm on the subject of theories, there's probably a whole other blog post to be made out of trying to formulate a theory that would explain why I only see old bands. Maybe because I like the older crowds? Maybe because I just can't get into the new music as much? Maybe because these kids won't get off my lawn? I don't know, but off the top of my head, here are all the shows I've seen in the last ten years (I'm sure I'm missing a few, though, and these are definitely not in order):

Badly Drawn Boy (twice)
Elliott Smith
Peter Murphy
Weezer (where I was clearly the oldest person there)
The Samples
Cracker (four times)
El Vez (twice)
Spinal Tap
Joe Jackson
Ben Folds
Robyn Hitchcock (once solo, once with the Venus Three, and where both times I was the clearly the youngest person there)
No Doubt
Café Tacuba
Nitzer Ebb
Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Gogol Bordello
American Music Club
Camper Van Beethoven
They Might Be Giants

Badly Drawn Boy was right after the first LP, and again after the second. The Trachtenburgs and Gogol Bordello had been playing maybe 5 years by the time I saw them. Café Tacuba had been around a while but hadn't yet peaked (and possibly still haven't). Elliott Smith had released his last album and was playing one of his very last good shows when we saw him (Election Day 2000). Ben Folds is a weird one, because this was after Ben Folds Five, but before any solo record came out. I'm still leaning towards the solo career being a demotion from the band career, so I'm going to mark him as being on the downslide. Everybody else on this list was at least 10 years into their career, and on a definite downward trend career wise. This isn't a judgement on them. Some of them, like the Pixies, were playing their best shows, or releasing their best work. They just had long since peaked popularity-wise.

So, I only mention that because I can't figure out whether this is a problem or what the problem might be if there is one. I've got tickets to see Robyn Hitchcock again tomorrow. But he plays Tucson so often I feel like he's local and no longer counts in my list. I saw that School of Seven Bells is coming next month. I bought both of their albums, and really dig them (think Cocteau Twins with some of the shimmery guitar replaced with beats), so I might try venturing out to see a new act for a change. Other than that, you'll probably find me down at the state fair or at the casino watching whatever thirty year old band is playing over there.

August 13, 2010

Google Voice gives up

Today, I got a wrong number call to my Google Voice number, and the message that was left was entirely in Spanish. So, what transcription does Google Voice give when it can't manage to figure out a single word of your message?

(Actual unretouched screenshot)