For most families in Sonoma County, this week marks back-to-school time.  It seems unfair that our kids have to head back to the classroom just as the weather warms up outdoors, but such is life on the West Coast this summer.

 When kids are running from school to soccer practice to homework, it’s always a bit more hectic for mom and dad as well. So busy families who want to eat right may want to plan ahead and throw dinner into the crockpot in the morning.

One of my son’s favorite recipes is an easy pulled pork dish we developed when he was playing lots of soccer. We  take a pork shoulder (often called a pork butt), season it with salt and pepper and sear it off in a 400-degree  oven for 10 minutes,  then slow-cook it all day on low with some sautéed onions, tomatillos and  a splash of balsamic vinegar. We usually serve it with black beans and rice,  with some spicy salsa for an additional kick and a crunchy coleslaw on the side.  

Here’s a recipe for Cuban Pulled Pork, made with the traditional bittersweet blend of orange and lime juice, tomatoes and garlic. The recipe, provided by Cakebread Cellars, would pair well with a pinot noir.  There’s no reason it would not work in a crockpot as well. Just make sure there’s enough liquid in the crockpot to keep the meat from burning.

 If you’re savvy with the slow cooker, you can enter the first-ever “Search for America’s Pork ‘Crock-Star” contest running through Sept. 27. Five finalists will be chosen to compete in New York at the Crockterberfest cook-off  and will have the chance to win the $5,000  grand prize.  To enter, go to theotherwhitemeat.com.

Cuban Pulled Pork on Plaintain Chips

2½ pounds pork butt

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, mashed

½ habanero chili, seeded and chopped

1 cup peeled, seeded plum tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

½ cup orange juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

6 plaintains

Vegetable oil

Salt

¼ cup cilantro chopped

Cut pork into 2-inch pieces. Trim off any large pieces of fat and discard. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large, wide-bottom skillet over high heat, add the olive oil and sear the pork on all sides in two or three batches. Remove from the pan, pour off all but two tablespoons of oil. Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic and habanero chili. Saute for a minute to soften without browning the garlic. Add the tomato, oregano, cumin, orange juice, lime juice and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes to break down the tomato. Add the pork to the pan, cover and turn to low heat. Cook at a low simmer for one and a half hours until pork is tender. Continue cooking for another half hour, partially covered, to allow the braising liquid to reduce and thicken. Remove from the heat and shred the pork with the two forks. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve.

To make the plantain chips, peel and cut the plantain into –inch pieces. Heat a wide-bottom skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of   ½-inch, When oil is hot, add plantain pieces, partially cook on the first side for a couple minutes until very lightly golden brown, turn and continue cooking on the other side to soften slightly. Remove from the oil to a paper towel-lined plate. Allow to cool. Place a piece of plantain between two sheets of plastic wrap. Pound with a mallet or the flat side of a meat tenderizer to flatten. Repeat with the remaining pieces of plantain. Turn the skillet with the oil to high, and  working in batches, fry the plantains on both sides until crisp. Season lightly with salt.

To serve, place a spoonful of the pork mixture on each chip and garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately while still warm.