25 Recipes #3: Carnitas

Or, as I referred to it, Chipotle at Home. Because seriously, it smelled like Chipotle up in our house.

Before I get to the delicious parts of this meal,I want to start with a confession.  For the first time in a while, I had difficulty working with a piece of meat.  Not technical difficulty, though it wasn’t the easiest cut to butcher – an emotional/visceral response to what I was working with.  David Lebovitz’s recipe called for a 4-5 pound boneless shoulder cut, but I opted to use a picnic shoulder since, well, that’s what we had on hand.  The picnic shoulder is a fatty bone-in cut, so there was a considerable amount of cleaning necessary – and after all of that, a clearly articulated joint.  I had to put down my knife for a second.  Thank you again, Mr. Pig, for your happy brief life, and for the many delicious and nourishing meals you have provided for us.

After that, however, making the carnitas was easy as pie.  Our four pound picnic shoulder yielded about 2 1/2 pounds of usable meat – at least for this recipe – so I tweaked the recipe a bit, and probably would make further adjustments for future preparations.  First, the meat is browned in a bit of oil in a large heavy pot.

Resting

Remove the meat to a tray lined with paper towels to blot up the excess fat.  Pour about a cup of water into the pot and scrape up the crusty bits of goodness from the bottom.  Stir in the spices:  chili powder, ground cumin, bay leaves, a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a cinnamon stick, and a diced dried chili or two.  Add the pork back to the pot, and pour in enough water to cover the meat 2/3 of the way.

Chilies

Braise uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about two hours, checking halfway.  The original recipe called for 3 1/2 hours for 4-5 pounds of meat, so I roughly halved the time, and added more liquid after an hour as it was looking pretty dry.  After two hours, the meat was cooked through and verging on dry but it wasn’t yet dinnertime, so I added another 1/4 cup water, turned the oven down to warm, and put the lid on to trap the moisture and heat.

Since there was no way that the three of us were going to eat 2 1/2 pounds of meat, I prepared several other components to fill out the meal and provide the fixings for several lunches worth of homemade “burrito bowls”.  First, a couple of onions and a red pepper sweat slowly over low heat in a covered pan:

Slow-sauteed peppers and onions

Second, an attempt at Chipotle’s cilantro lime rice, except that I had neither cilantro nor lime.  Instead, we had white rice that was boiled, steamed, and tossed with minced green onion:

Green onion rice

And finally the pièce de résistance:

Et voila, carnitas!

Gloriously flavorful – if slightly dry – carnitas, which we devoured nestled in corn tortillas and topped with rice, veggies, salsa, and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  The 2 1/2 pounds of meat yielded enough for dinner for three plus four substantial lunch portions.  We – OK, I – devoured the veggies, so we substituted corn in our subsequent lunches, along with the rest of the rice, shredded cheese (or crumbled City Goat), and salsa.  This was the first of my 25 Recipes that really knocked it out of the park, and I can NOT wait to make this again.

Recipes:
Carnitas from David Lebovitz
Cilantro Lime Rice from Chipotle Fan

1215 Pork Posole

I’ve had an intense avocado craving since Sonya mentioned that Octavia would be trying her first banana and avocado last week.  Bananas and avocados are two of my local food failings – I love both intensely, and it makes me very sad that neither can be grown anywhere close to the Mitten. Two years ago, in the first blush of locavore fever, my prized souvenir from our Christmas trip to California was a big bag of avocados from an Ocean Beach co-op.  We’re less strict now – we prefer local and seasonal, but if the occasional avocado, banana, or out-of-season pepper means the difference between a happy dinner or the continuation of the winter slump, it’s worth the food miles to me.

I mention this because I was convinced to make tonight’s dinner – pork posole – almost entirely because it was topped with slices of fresh avocado.  I started dinner while Shane was working out, and as he walked into the kitchen, he told me that he kept smelling delicious smells and hoping that they were coming from our kitchen.  Delicious smells indeed!  The soup was simple but hearty, making good use of a couple of cups of leftover corn, pork chops from the freezer, and tomatoes that I canned at the end of the summer.  I would season more aggressively next time – why are magazine recipes so conservative?! – and probably halve the recipe, as we had enough for two big bowls for dinner plus four cups of leftovers.  Oh, and I’d buy more avocados.  Definitely more avocados.

Recipe:
Pork Posole with Avocado and Lime from Fitness

1109 TVP Tacos

I’m not sure what possessed me to pick up TVP the other day, other than that it seemed like it might be an inexpensive and healthy way to get a bit more protein into our diets.  Once I dumped the TVP out into a canister at home, however, I realized I had no idea what to do with it.  It’s pretty strange stuff – a soy protein extruded, in the words of Wikipedia, into “a fibrous spongy matrix that is similar in texture to meat”.  Weird.

Anyway, tonight I decided to give it a go.  TVP is notoriously short on flavor, but I suspected that rehydrating it while also rehydrating a dried chipotle pepper might give it a subtle kick – which mostly worked, though the TVP still had a ways to go before being palatable.  Using the same basic recipe as our tempeh tacos, I sauteed the TVP in some vegetable oil with a finely diced onion, a chili or two, cumin, coriander, and a fair amount of salt and pepper.  When the TVP was cooked through and starting to brown, I pulled it out of the skillet, then quickly stir-fried up a couple of cups of mushrooms in the skillet’s residual spices.  We rolled the TVP, mushrooms, and a cubed roasted butternut squash up into vegan burritos.  All in all, not outstanding, but a reasonably good first effort at using TVP.

Recipe:
Tempeh tacos

0511 Last Minute Shrimp Tacos

I say ‘last minute’ because I really didn’t have a plan tonight.  Well, I kind of had a plan, but then it was extremely rainy, and also we went out to dinner last night, and the quantity of cheese and fancy fish on hand wasn’t really enough to constitute a meal, per se.  I also forgot that Karin doesn’t eat fish (or is it just shellfish? not sure) and had planned to do something shrimp-y.  So you see, there were problems.

It all worked out just fine, though.  Karin had picked up a salad from Plum Market while out being a grocery store tourist, so she was all set.  I had been kicking around the idea of roasting shrimp using this basic recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, so I quickly thawed some shrimp, lined a roasting pan with tinfoil, drizzled the shrimp with olive oil and salt and pepper, then popped them in the toaster oven (oh beautiful Cuisinart oven) for about 7 minutes.  We filled warmed tortillas with the shrimp and a bit of plain Greek yogurt, then topped them with leftover coleslaw from Sunday’s pork.  The tart spiciness of the coleslaw nicely balanced the sweetness of the shrimp, and the Greek yogurt mellowed out the extremes of both flavors.

This was such an easy dinner – from start to finish, about 45 minutes, including time to thaw the shrimp – and I suspect you’ll be seeing it on the menu again soon, especially if we can source the local shrimp we keep hearing about.

0429 Chicken Tacos

Carrie Anne posted earlier in the week asking for strategies for getting meals on the table – one of mine was the roast chicken used in multiple meals throughout the week.  And look!  I practice what I preach!

Tonight’s dinner used the last of Monday night’s chicken – or what would’ve been the last, had there not been leftovers tonight as well.  It also did a pretty good job of cleaning out the crisper, which is always a plus.  I sauteed an onion, a bell pepper, and an Anaheim chili in some olive oil until the kitchen was spicy enough that I was getting choked up – then added the chicken and some cumin and coriander.  We spooned this mixture into warmed tortillas and topped it with a handful of greens and some goat cheese, which reduced a bit of the heat.  We were both still sweating by the end of dinner, though.