Friday, April 20, 2012

Of Late, and Carnitas

Two weeks?! What happened?! 
Oh yeah. This:  E is 6 months old.  6 months ago, we were in the hospital, giggling and fawning over this sweet new thing.  
Now, she sits up, chewing on everything in sight, and babbles away while I cook dinner. It's pure bliss. 
It is so SO exciting.
I mentioned in her birth story that we planted some tulips the day before she was born.  They're up and starting to fade.
She's got a sweet new cousin to share the world with, too. 
We visited her mama when she was still on the inside to take some maternity pictures.
C was born a week before she was due, and we've been soaking in every minute we can with her since.  There's nothing like a fresh baby.  Seriously life affirming, don't you think?
Dinners have been fast and simple, all of us hanging out together in the kitchen.  Fried eggs are always a favorite source of quick protein.  (I talk about how I like to fry eggs in this post) and are especially good when they're served with bacon and local greens.   
I've been working on some new goodness for Rosie's Best, too.   Not quite ready to share, but when I do, there just might be a giveaway...
Today I'm going to show you how I make my version of carnitas, a Mexican pork dish, with pork shoulder from the Stamps Family Farm.  Authentic? Doubtful. But decidedly delicious.  Carnitas comes from 'carne' meaning 'meat', and the 'ita' ending, which is diminutive. (You know, mamacita means "little mama")  These 'little meats' are braised and then baked.  I used pork shoulder for this recipe. If you've never tired the shoulder cut before (sometimes labeled 'butt') I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's inexpensive, versatile, and extremely flavorful.  Get bone-in if possible, because it adds to the flavor and texture of your broth.

*I want to make special mention of the kind of pork you choose for this recipe.  Commercially available pork has been bred to be exceedingly lean.  This is not an advantage, especially for a cut like shoulder which is meant to be cooked for a long period of time.  This recipe (and all recipes!) are best made from a heritage breed animal.  (Heritage breeds are much like heirloom plants. If you want to know more about heritage pork and why they're so important, click here to read about them and find some near you.)  Our pig is a Berkshire and the flavor and texture simply can't be compared to commercial pork.  And guess what?  It's reasonably priced.  In fact, for most cuts, it's even cheaper than grocery store pork.  And I know the farmers personally.  It's a win-win.

There are various approaches to carnitas, and while I haven't tried them all, this one has worked well for us.  You begin with slow-cooked pork shoulder and reduce its cooking liquid into a thickened dipping sauce.  After tossing the shredded pork in this sauce, it's roasted till the ends are crispy and the meat tender.  It's all served taco-truck style with simple toppings on corn tortillas.

serving size depends on the size of your shoulder. 
1 bone-in pork shoulder
2 yellow onions
5-7 cloves garlic
water or broth
2-3 bay leaves
3 tbsp. whole peppercorns
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. ground marjoram
2 tbsp. whole coriander seed
2 tbsp. whole cumin seed
salt and pepper
1/4 c. beer

to serve:
corn tortillas
quick pickled shallots
queso fresco (a crumbly, salty Mexican cheese)

Begin by braising the pork shoulder in a crock pot on low, half covered with water or stock, for 6-8 hours on low.  Into the braising liquid, add

  •  one roughly chopped onion
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbsp. whole peppercorns

The meat should be falling off the bones, the broth thickened and reduced.
While I was cooking this meal, E decided to barf on herself.  Imagine my shrieks of joy when her father brought her back to me, dressed in this: (Hawkeyes, represent!)
Shred the meat with two forks, leaving sizable chunks.
Discard any large pieces of fat or gristle and you'll be left with lean meat.  
Preheat the oven to 425.
Toast the whole cumin and coriander in the oven or a dry pan briefly, just until you smell them. 
Let them cool and grind them up in your mortar and pestle. (I talk about how I use one in this post)  You use these with the marjoram and oregano to flavor your sauce.
Chop up one onion.
Fry it up over medium high heat in a generous amount of oil or butter, seasoning well with salt and pepper.
While it's frying, mince up a clove or two of garlic and throw it in.  Cook it just until you start to smell it, maybe 1 minute.

Then stir in all your spices.  I like adding the dry spices this way (an Indian technique) because it flavors the oil, which in turn flavors the whole sauce.  (We all know fat gives things flavor, right?)  It toasts the spices and releases their oils.  Keep this over heat until your kitchen smells amazing and the onions are translucent, stirring constantly.
Pour in the beer. Scrape up all those delicious bits at the bottom of the pan and reduce the liquid by turning the heat to high.
Then, strain the cooking liquid from the pork into the pan and boil until the sauce has reduced and is thick.  This took us about 10 minutes.  Once reduced, check for seasoning.
Finally, toss the shredded pork (still on a sheet pan) in 1/3-1/2 c. of the reduced broth. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper.  Roast at 425 until the edges are crispy/dry. (5-15 minutes, depending on your oven)  Do not over cook!  You're just baking the flavor from the broth into the carnitas (be sure it's well seasoned for this reason) and giving that nice texture to the shredded meat.
Serve with sliced avocado, straight up for the baby, but with salt, pepper, and lime for you.
Left to right we have the reduced broth, queso freso (crumbled), pickled shallots, avocado, and lime wedges.
Blister your corn tortillas in a hot dry pan.  If you don't toast them this way, I find corn tortillas dry and rubbery.

This was good.
Really, really good.  Worth waiting for, I hope :)
I promise to be back sooner than later, with stories of gardening and baby stuff.  Thanks for sticking around.
If you haven't, check out the comments in the salmon cakes post, especially if you're on a gluten-free diet.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Salmon Cakes

It's 9 p.m. and this is the first moment today that I've actually been able to sit down and write.  Despite how it may seem, I look more forward to blogging than ever, it's just a matter of making the time to do it properly.  I've been running again, and it feels so good, so all my spontaneous free time seems to go to that (especially when someone else is here to help with baby.  The jogging stroller works but boy is it tough to push around) and I just haven't been good about forcing myself to form coherent blog thoughts.
But here I am!  With a great little weeknight dinner for you.
First, a little baby update.  She is SIX MONTHS OLD, you guys. Six months. That takes my breath away. I can't really put into words what that feels like.
Today she and I went downtown and she participated in her very first psychology experiment!  She got to look at a screen and have her eyes tracked. She did great (apparently she looks left and right quite quickly, which I assume means she's a super genius) and left with this cool tshirt!
 Then we hung out at the public library. She's getting pretty good at this sitting up thing!
 She has been practicing feeding herself, which might be the must fun part of having her around to date.  That and the giggles.
 Since spring (summer?) has decided to visit us so incredibly early this year, I've filled the house with flowers.  These tulips make the kitchen table cheery, especially with a stack of pancakes on a Sunday morning. (Did you know pancakes freeze beautifully? Make a ton and freeze what you don't use for a last minute supper or snack.)
 It's hard to tell, but the bottom blossom here is lighter yellow with a red border. Watching spring bulbs come up has been such a great part of buying a house; they are a constant surprise and welcome sign of spring.
 Most of the narcissus have faded, but this sweet one was still in good shape and brightens up my kitchen sink, along with the ivy my sister gave me in a hand-painted terra cotta pot.  
 And as you saw yesterday, the lilacs are coming up, and I have a few blossoms in the bathroom.  There is not a better smell to wake up to!
Yesterday I drank another Shaktea kombucha, the ginger blueberry flavor.  So fizzy and refreshing.  Great in the weirdly hot weather we've had.
I have been on the lookout for super easy dinners to throw together in that window between the end of work and baby's bedtime. These salmon cakes are easy and my husband always raves about them. (I don't talk about his role in my cooking enough on here. He's one part supportive partner and one part critic, which I very much appreciate. Hearing him say "This is GREAT!" never, ever looses its appeal.)
They're a great way to get a little seafood in your diet without too much fuss.  The recipe is easy to modify to your needs/preferences, too.  You could make this with just about any cooked fish.

Salmon Cakes
based on (but greatly modified from) this recipe

1.5 c. cooked salmon (I use this. Its wild caught and cheap)
2 c. whole wheat panko
2 eggs
3 green onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves
1/2 c. mayo
2 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. seasoned salt
2 tbsp. hot sauce (I use Frank's)
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 yellow onion, grated.  

 Lightly beat the eggs, and combine them with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, stirring just enough to combine them.
 Form into patties.
 Fry! We do it in butter.
 We served them up with a simple herbed aioli.  I pounded a couple garlic cloves in the mortar and pestle, added handfuls of green onions and herbs from the garden, and seasoned it well with salt and pepper and lemon juice.
 Serve the cakes with the aioli.  It's creamy, a little spicy from the raw garlic, and fresh from the herbs.
 We ate it with some squash and fresh red peppers dipped in the aioli.
 Crispy cakes and smooth aioli.  Tasty and easy.
I hope you'll give this easy dinner a try.  Tell me, what's growing where you are? We're almost a full month ahead of things here, and it's starting to feel like summer out there.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Today and Tomorrow

I will be back soon with a great weeknight dinner post for you, but for now, enjoy your evening and these glimpses of my day.

See you tomorrow!
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