I used to say that if I were condemned to death and ready to order my last meal, it would be fried pork chops, fried potatoes and white gravy. We won't speculate on what might have gotten me to that point in life that that would be my choice for a final dining experience. I don't eat like that anymore, although I guess if it's the end, what's the point in avoiding food that's not very healthy. Now I might still order those old fried favorites but I'd also add a salad. Not just any salad, however, but a Cafe Rio sweet pork salad...my new favorite meal.
To be honest, I have no idea what a real Cafe Rio sweet pork salad tastes like because this restaurant chain has no locations near us. However, when I read Cathy Zielske's rave review of her salad made from copycat recipes, I had to try it. Not only did she make it sound delicious but it fit right in with my effort to do more experimenting with new recipes in 2015. This one shot right to the top of the "keepers" list after just a few bites.
You can find a number of copycat variations for the pork barbacoa but I used one recommended by Cathy. You'll find it here. It couldn't be easier: Throw the pork and a bottle of Dr. Pepper in the crockpot; add the rest of the ingredients a few hours later. The result is tender, juicy, sweet and just a tiny bit spicy...a delicious combination. We gobbled it up the first time I made it, looking forward to leftovers until it was gone. And it was the same thing the second time. I cut the amount of sugar in half this time and it was every bit as good.
Wayne usually makes burritos/tacos out of it for himself or piles it on top of a baked potato. Me...I'm hooked on the salad. Chopped romaine, creamy tomatillo dressing, black beans, guacamole, queso fresco, cilantro and crunchy tortilla strips. It's the perfect combination of crisp, creamy, sweet and spicy. I could eat it every night. Seriously. One of those little containers of Wholly Guacamole Minis is the perfect amount for the salad and so good (and easy), too.
I followed Cathy's recommendation on the copycat recipe for the Creamy Tomatillo Ranch Dressing too and really liked it but I wasn't sure it would hold for an extended time in the refrigerator. The second time I fixed the salad, I just added the jalapeno, tomatillo, cilantro and lime juice to regular ranch dressing. It was fine but definitely lacked the same tang. I'll probably go back to making the dressing next time but try to cut the recipe in half.
The first few new recipes I tried this year were just so-so. Edible but not keepers. Things improved with the Italian Meatball Sliders. This one, however, produces "This is sooo good!" comments every time we eat it, even the second go-round of leftovers. Someday I'll get to Cafe Rio to compare it to the real thing but until then, I'm thinking the copycat version is the best.thing.ever.