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Category Archives: salsa and dips

pork carnitas

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A really good carnita is a combination of things- succulent, juicy pieces of meat with a brown crackly crust and fatty, tender pieces of meat .   A combination I thought possible only within the confines of a  restaurant kitchen.  I assumed special equipment would be needed, a superior piece of pork  purchased and seasoned and worst yet tons of fat for frying.  How very wrong I was and how happy I was to be so wrong.

 It’s no secret I love pork.  On Saturdays when I didn’t feel like cooking we’d have takeout.  The kids always had pizza and Drew and I would always have some type of pork dish.  I started calling it Pork Saturdays.  Luckily I live in an area that allows me many choices and ethnic variety when it comes to pork.   I could have chicharonnes stuffed Salvadoran pupusa,  Jamaican jerked,  griot from Haiti , Puerto Rican roast pork (pernil) and my hands down favorite-pork tacos.

Like most my experience with tacos never went past the extra spicy ground beef kind, either purchased from a fast food chain or made using ground beef and the kits that you got in the supermarket.   Filled to capacity with meat, cheese, salad, tomatoes and anything else you liked, it was the Food Pyramid in a compact handheld meal.   When I found a real Mexican restaurant that made real tacos I never looked back.  The place I go to is colorful and family friendly and everyone is extremely nice.  I have never sat down and ate there I always call my order in and  I always get the same thing: two pork tacos with condiment containers of  pico de gallo, salsa roja and a couple of lime wedges for squeezing over everything.  When I pick up my order the restaurant is always crowded and the tables loaded with  communal bowls of  yellow rice, guacamole, warm tortillas and other items I can’t identify but look wonderful.  I take my little to-go bag and promise to come back with my family to sit down and eat.

The making of carnitas, though not complicated, is a bit of a production.  The meat is usually cooked in huge cauldrons of boiling pork fat and you have to know when to pull the meat out at just the right moment when it is fully cooked yet still juicy. 

I learned to cook because I love to eat.  I’ve also realized that I learned to cook because I don’t want to have to always go out to get the foods I like.  So of course I had to find a way to make the best carnitas.   I read food blogs everyday.  They pop up in my e-mail on an hourly basis.    Food bloggers and the food blogging community,  support one another and learn from one another.  Just when I’d given up on making carnitas, one day in my inbox there was a recipe for easy carnitas.  This recipe is so simple I am urging all of you to make it now.  You should have it perfected by Cinco de Mayo and then you can wash the carnitas down with gigantic pitchers of margaritas!

To go along with my carnitas or “little meats” I made a cool and spicy salsa that goes wonderfully with the hot meat.   Ditch the flour tortillas and use real corn tortillas.  I won’t go so far as to say you have to make your own tortillas, the ones in the supermarket are fine.

recipe: pork carnitas

Headnote:the recipe calls for a pork butt.  I used a pork picnic shoulder because it has a layer of skin over the fat and meat that turns into crispy cracklins when fried.  I like fried pig skin. If you don’t, use the pork butt it will still be delicious.  Regarding the salsa I didn’t dice anything, I just cut everything into manageable pieces and threw it all in the blender and gave it a few pulses.   For no reason other than I was lazy that day.

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons adobo without pepper

juice of 2 limes

1/2 cup orange juice

Corn tortillas, for serving 

Season the pork  with the adobo and place in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the orange juice, lime juice and enough water to just barely cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours. Don’t touch the meat.

After two hours, increase the heat to medium-high and while occasionally stirring and turning the pieces, continue to cook for about 45 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently only as needed.

When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve on warmed tortillas with fixings.

recipe: salsa

7 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped

1 small can chopped hot or mild green chili peppers

1 red onion, diced small

1 jalapeno seeded and diced small

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

juice of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lime

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

directions:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl big enough to hold and mix well.  Adjust seasonings, depending on how hot you like your salsa.

 

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pesto

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arugula pesto

It isn’t difficult for me to go on and on about the food I grew up eating. It’s as familiar to me as the back of my hand. I could write forever about Thanksgiving meals and explain in detail what appeared on plates from Christmas to Easter. I can write about chit’lins,black-eyed peas,collard greens and cornbread stuffed with cracklings, that never failed to appear at every New Years dinner table. I can write about huge Sunday breakfasts that were  precursors to Sunday dinners. I can describe in detail the meal my mother cooked and had waiting for me, when I returned home from the hospital with my newborn son, after I’d complained about having to eat hospital food for seven days.

They are foods that are steeped in family tradition. Passed from one generation to the next. I know because I have had the privilege of eating these foods at the tables of cousins and aunts and great aunts. Food that I have cooked again and again for my own family. I could write about this food with little or no effort and tell great stories to go along with it.

Writing about the food I love to cook now is a different story all together. Only because the food I like to cook now was never a part of my family tradition but hopefully it will be a part of my children’s along with older family traditions.

 I begged my mother to make macaroni and cheese. My daughter begs me to make cheesy pasta,don’t be fooled by the humble name, it’s a dish rich with butter,cream and real parmesan cheese.

My sons beg me to make an even richer shrimp dish that is referred to as New Orleans barbecue shrimp and begins by making an enriched seafood stock.

My family is willing guinea pigs. I make something,they try it and if it meets their approval it becomes a part of our family meals.

Had I ever mentioned pesto to my mom or dad they would have both looked at me and questioned what it was. In my house we like pesto. It appears at least once every summer. I think of it as the quintessential summer sauce, it’s quick to make,the ingredients are easy to get and it doesn’t have to be cooked. Pesto is also extremely versatile. I usually make a big batch,freeze some and leave the rest in a container in the refrigerator to be added to other things.

It’s great slathered onto leftover  grilled chicken,excellent on pasta,mixed into vinaigrettes for salads,put onto grilled bread for a snack-the possibilities are endless. As long as I have a container of homemade pesto in the refrigerator, I know I won’t be wondering what to eat.I made a quick-lunch by sauteing shrimp and putting it on top of linguine with arugula pesto. Traditionally pesto is made with basil but can be made with herbs and other types of greens. I’ve even seen a recipe for fennel frond pesto which I would like to try. I used arugula because I had some leftover from a salad. Arugula has a peppery bite so it makes a much different pesto than one made with grassy-aromatic basil. I also used pecans instead of pine nuts because they are a good match with the biting bitterness of arugula. That’s another thing I like about pesto-it can be made using different combinations of nuts, greens,herbs and cheeses.

I promise you this will be the easiest sauce you will ever make. A few ingredients and a couple of rounds in a blender or food processor and you’ve got pesto.

It’s funny, I have never made pesto for other family members and only because when we get together we all want food that we grew up with that are familiar to us all. I’ve been thinking it’s time to add to family traditions and the next time we are all together I will definitely be making a batch of pesto.

Recipe: arugula pesto

4 cups(packed) arugula leaves

1 fat garlic clove

1/4 cup pecans,toasted in a pan and chopped

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/4 good olive oil

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Eat and enjoy.

cinco de mayo and guacamole

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guacamole

avocado

 

I don’t need a holiday to have Mexican food, but it helps as an excuse for eating burritos for breakfast, tacos for lunch, enchiladas for dinner and flan for dessert, all in one day!

My familiarity with Cinco de Mayo didn’t go beyond the food and partying end of the holiday until I saw a hysterical episode of Girlfriends, many years ago, where Joan dressed up in a donkey costume and proceeded to dance and sing her way through the history of Cinco de Mayo to a group of nursing home residents, and in the process making an ass of herself.

Through the laughing and expected comedy chaos I did manage to learn the reason behind the holiday.  Now I don’t feel guilty about overindulging on Mexican cuisine on a Mexican holiday that I had little knowledge of.

If  I could I’d make and eat mexican food many times a week.  Since I have other people to feed besides myself it’s not possible.

What I can do whenever I feel a south of the border craving coming on is make guacamole, which is loaded with the fresh flavors of Mexican cuisine.

Paired with crisp home-made or store-bought tortilla corn chips it makes a great snack that you definitely don’t want to wait once a year to eat.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Guacamole:

4 medium size ripe avocados, cut in half, pit removed and flesh scooped into a bowl

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 teaspoons red onion, chopped

2 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and diced

3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped

juice of 2-3 limes

dash of hot sauce

salt to taste

Add the chopped tomato, red onion,jalapeno peppers, lime juice and cilantro to bowl with the avocados.  Using a fork gently mash everything together, leaving chunks of avocado.  Add the dash of hot sauce and salt and pepper and give a good mix.  Taste and adjust as you like with more lime juice or hot sauce and salt. 

Refrigerate with plastic wrap placed right on top of guacamole to prevent discoloring and chill for at least an hour.  Serve with corn tortilla chips.

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