Ask the Experts: Max Lesser of Morning Glory Confections & A Recipe for Braised Pork Tacos

by Jessica on December 10, 2010

Max Lesser has been reintroducing candy fans to the joys and flavor possibilities of nut brittle. He began making and selling these small-batch treats under the (beautifully designed) Morning Glory Confections label in 2008, the same year he and his wife Susan embarked on another major project: their son, Nathan.

Tempting as it may be, one cannot live on brittle alone. So Max, a former private chef and Echo Park resident, has shared one of his favorite savory recipes with us that’s perfect for the whole (meat-eating) family! These braised pork tacos with avocado crema are best before polishing off a few pieces of MGC’s New Mexico chili & pumpkin seed brittle, which shares many of the spices and flavor profile included in the recipe. And head to Artisanal LA‘s holiday pop-up shop this weekend to see what micro-batch goods Max might be trying out these days outside of the well-established brittle repertoire.

Where do you like to eat out as a family?

We really try to expose Nathan to a wide range of restaurants in the hopes that he’ll continue to be an adventurous eater and a well-behaved one. Forage is a favorite, for take-out and for quick meals. The Park is also another local favorite for kind service and great food. Nathan is a huge fan of Cacao Mexicatessen, easily finishing a container of guacamole himself and we love their tacos.

I may be projecting, but one of Nathan’s (and our) favorite restaurants is actually Osteria Mozza. Of course it’s a bit of a risk taking him to more upscale establishments because there’s always the chance that he’ll have a meltdown and my wife and I will have to take turns walking around with him outside. But most of the time we all manage to behave ourselves.

What do you like to cook for Nathan at home?

Lucky for us, Nathan’s an extremely good eater and will eat almost anything we give him. He’s currently on a polenta kick, so I try to incorporate it into his meals so he’ll be happy and to ensure he eats whatever I pair with it. For recent breakfasts, polenta, sautéed kale and eggs seem to work.

Quesadillas are my go-to quickie meal for him: whole wheat tortillas, cheese and some spinach and grass-fed ground beef. Pretty healthy, quick, and he loves them.

If given the chance, what places do you like to go without your son?

On the rare occasion we get to go out sans-toddler it really doesn’t matter where we end up. Just being able to have a meal where we don’t have to have one eye on Nathan the whole time is a pleasure. Actually just last week, my wife and I met for a quickie cocktail and snack at Allston Yacht Club before going home to relieve my mother-in-law from her babysitting day. Even though we were there for 20 minutes tops, being able to reconnect after a long day was just what we needed. There are certain types of restaurants that, for one reason or another, Nathan tends to not do well at: gastro-pubs (probably because they tend to be too dark for him), small, cramped places, etc. So we sometimes make it a point to hit them up when we’re on our own.

What’s Nathan’s favorite brittle flavor? Or does he need to wait for his adult teeth to come in to eat it?!

Maybe we’re being over-protective, but Nathan hasn’t tried brittle yet (choking hazard and all). And it’s a good thing, as we just found out that he’s allergic to pecans, walnuts and pistachios! How ironic that a kid with nut allergies has a dad who owns a nut brittle company? Fortunately, nut allergies are so common that it’s fairly easy to navigate the restrictions.

Braised Pork Tacos with Pickled Red Onions and Avocado Crema
: 6
Note: The pork needs to marinate overnight, so plan accordingly.

Spice Mix:
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. Pepper
1 Tbs. New Mexico Red Chile powder (preferably Los Chileros brand. Available from Whole Foods)
2 tsp. Dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp. Ground cumin
½ tsp. Ground coriander
1 tsp. Light brown sugar

Canola oil

2 ½ lbs. Boneless pork butt

1 medium onion (chopped)
5 medium cloves garlic (finely chopped)
3 cups chicken stock (low sodium if store bought)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

Corn tortillas

Pickled red onions (recipe follows)

Avocado crema (recipe follows)

1. Cut pork into 2 inch chunks and rub all over with spice mix.  Place in a covered bowl and let marinate in the fridge overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 275°F.
3. Remove pork from fridge and place it on the counter until it comes to room temperature (about 30 min.).  Place a large dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Coat the bottom of the pan with canola oil.  Brown pork on all sides making sure not to overcrowd the pan (do this in batches if necessary).
4. Remove pork to a bowl and add onions to the pan.  Cook, stirring often, until translucent (about 5 min.).  Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes.  Return pork to the pan in a single layer.  Add enough chicken stock to come ¾ of the way to the top of the pork.  Add bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer.  Transfer to oven and cook partially covered until pork is very tender (about 3 hours).  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Let pork cool in braising liquid.  Skim fat from the top of the pan.  Remove pork and shred with fingers or two forks.
5. To finish, reheat pork by heating a sautee pan over high heat.  Take about ¼ cup worth of pork per taco that you plan on making.  Coat the bottom of the pan with canola oil and add some of the shredded pork.  Don’t stir it too often.  You want to get some good crispy bits.  To assemble tacos, place a little pork in a heated tortilla, add a dollop of avocado crema and top with a few slices of pickled onion.

Avocado Crema
½ an avocado (mashed with a fork)
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

Mix all ingredients together.

Pickled Red Onions
½ large red onion (thinly sliced)
juice of 3 or 4 limes
In a non-reactive bowl, combine onions and enough lime juice to cover onions.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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