Saturday, July 15, 2017

ArtWeek and Al Pastor

Des Moines' summer season of festivals is in full swing. This weekend Des Moines hosted it's 20th annual Arts Festival in Western Gateway Park. What started decades ago as Art in The Park near the Des Moines Art Center has grown and evolved into a huge festival with nearly two hundred artists from all over, features food and live music, and has been the recipient of a number of major awards including the Gold Grand Pinnacle Award for the past three consecutive years. It's hard to believe but more than two million people have visited the festival. I remember around the ten year anniversary the festival was usually held on the downtown bridges, but it quickly outgrew the limited space in that part of downtown and found it's current home in Western Gateway Park.

The same weekend as the downtown arts festival there is also an equally popular arts festival held at the State Fairgrounds called ArtFest Midwest. The Varied Industries Building on the fairgrounds is the scene and 250 regional artists display their works. It's a bit more casual than the downtown festival but just as exciting- and air conditioned! Besides being able to view, and purchase, art from local and regional artists, there are also a lot of activities for kids and a lot of tasty food choices as well, with many vendors who will also be there for the State Fair in August. There is a free shuttle bus to take visitors back and forth so you can catch both without having to drive and park. Pretty convenient.

You might wonder what this has to do with food...... there actually is a roundabout connection. The festival in Western Gateway Park is not only a showcase for artists from all across the country, it's also a preview of coming attractions for "fair food" and a great opportunity to try out some of the food trucks that are increasing in number every summer. Since the city loosened the restrictions allowing food trucks, it's been growing like a wildfire. This year downtown Des Moines, the Capitol complex, and many of the larger office parks regularly see food trucks parked and open for service during the lunch hour. People here are embracing this new way to try food you might not normally try. The city has come a long way from the early days of Mexican food trucks set up in odd locations, often out of the way from the action of downtown, and around office areas. It wasn't that long ago that truly was the only kind of food truck in the city, and although some of them looked a little sketchy, alot of people swore by them for authentic Mexican food at great prices. For a lot of us, it was an introduction to tacos like we'd never seen before.

Tacos al Pastor is becoming a very popular menu item in Latin restaurants and food trucks these days, and for good reason. The tender juicy pork takes on the sweet pineapple flavors and hint of spice from the peppers. You often see the pork cooked on rotisseries like the ones used for gyros, and carved off the pile of stacked pork cuts for each serving. It's fantastic and one of my favorite Mexican/Latin dishes. Of course at home, we don't have one of those fancy rotisseries and don't need to make that much pork at one time. That's where the pork chop comes in. As an Iowa girl I grew up loving a juicy Iowa pork chop as much as any other all American food and as an adult I appreciate the way pork lends itself to many different flavors and cuisines. In this simple version of al Pastor the chops are marinated in sweet pineapple and orange juices, warmed up with chili powder, cumin and chipotle pepper, with onion and garlic for kick. I grill these chops to get some good caramelization and grill marks from the sugars in the marinade. I had more marinade than I needed for my pork chops so I threw a couple chicken breasts in there as an experiment. I bet they will be just as delicious. I might even make a little bowl of pineapple, cilantro and jalapeno salsa to serve with the chops. This recipe is perfect for thick-cut Iowa chops.

Pork Chops Al Pastor

1 cup crushed pineapple with juice
zest and juice of one orange 
zest and juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2-3 chipotle chilies with a little adobo sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6-8 inch thick pork chops, bone-in

In a blender or food processor, place the onion, garlic and chipotle peppers. Add some of the pineapple and puree the vegetables. Combine all other ingredients except chops and mix. 

Pour over chops in a large zip top bag and distribute over the chops. Allow the chops to marinate in the mixture for at least four hours.

When ready to cook, remove chops from marinade and discard marinade. 

Grill chops using a grill or grill pan to 145 degrees for pork. Since I threw a couple chicken breasts in the marinade those guys will cook to 165 degrees.

Check out those grill marks!
Serve chops with cilantro rice or some roasted potatoes and avocado tomato salad or grilled corn. I just love the combo of pineapple, citrus and a bit of heat from chilies and you know I am allllll about the Iowa pork. 

The chicken turned out delicious!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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