Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

As a carefree and youthful recent college graduate, I packed a suitcase and lived in Mexico for two months. It was a wonderful experience and the memories I have of that time are vivd and intense. I chose to live in Merida in the Yucatan. Merida is not at all like  Mexico City, nor is it anything like its 4 hour-by-bus neighbor Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. It is a thriving city of about one million. It is a wonderful mixture or European, Mexican, Mayan and Arab influences. Part of my soul resides in Merida and with its people.

You can go to the most fabulous restaurants, but sometimes the best food is found on the street carts. Mexican cuisine is so much more  than the tex-mex you find at your local strip mall. Yucatecan food is earthy and complex, with a host of spices, possibly one of the most beautiful and interesting cuisines in the world. There was a cart near the central plaza that sold carnitas. Carnitas is braised pork that is served with its confit. Usually it is served in a bowl with an accompaniment of corn tortillas, cabbage, avocado or salsa.  Avocado trees grow in every back yard, so they are cheap and plentiful. The next time you feel like having Mexican, skip the overly sauced and cheesy food they serve around the corner and make a big batch of Carnitas. $15 will feed you for over 8 meals. This recipe should be made when you have the time, as it usually takes 3 hours start to finish.

Carnitas (adapted from Cook Illustrated)

  • Pork
  • 1(3 1/2-to 4-pound) boneless pork butt , fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 small onion , peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
  • 2 cups water (or enough water to cover the pork
  • 2 hatch chiles, seeded and peeled (this is optional, I bought roasted chiles at the farmers market and they give another dimension)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (a must)
  • 1 medium orange , halved

Tortillas and Garnishes

  • 18(6-inch) corn tortillas , warmed (if you are going to use tortillas…look at the ingredients and choose the ones with the least amount of additives, or if you have a mexican market go get fresh ones)
  • Lime wedges
  • Minced white or red onion
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Thinly sliced cabbage
  • Sour cream
  • Avocado

INSTRUCTIONS

  1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.
  2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid. Add sugar.
  3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.

Snacks: Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese

Is there a better combo? I doubt it. In my previous post I mentioned my well-intentioned aunt  gave a thoughtful but in-a-way-missed-the-mark gift….my guess it was a case of sibling rivalry. You see my other aunt (her sister) lives on an island off of Seattle, and has her own boat, and a boyfriend that loves fishing as much as she does. So the two of them catch huge amounts of wild salmon. For christmas last year during our gift exchange my aunt sent me 50 pounds….50 pounds of fresh, wild caught salmon, boned and filleted, along with a few packages of salmon she had smoked at her house. best christmas gift ever. So, I don’t  really recommend having this snack at work, as the smell might be off-putting to co-workers. But if you are struggling to find a quick snack that will satisfy your hunger without breaking into a carb-induced coma. Try a bit of smoked salmon, cream cheese and substitute your cracker/bagel for a fresh cucumber. (I sprinkled a little dill on top of mine)

Provencal Fish Stew and Snow Days

Maybe you heard on the news that Denver was hit with an epic storm. Well, I am looking out my window and it doesn’t seem so epic here. In fact the sun is out and the snow totals were not unusual. But it was enough to scare the district into the first snow day of the year (although I know for a fact we had to go to school earlier this year in much worse conditions). So I was able to sleep in and get caught up on a little cleaning, so I am not complaining. I needed it. The final snow count where I am was 11.5 inches. Certainly not of epic proportions.

This is a picture of my two dogs Clementine Marie and Malitda Ann Justice. They love the snow more than anything. This christmas my aunt, although well intentioned, gave the odd gift of fish. The package was was a medley of different kinds of frozen fish, all in small prepackaged portions. The problem is there was not two of anything. So if I was to make a dinner for my husband and I, I would have to prepare two different types of fish. So I solved the problem by making a fish stew. You can use what ever fish you have on hand, or go buy expensive clams and mussels as the original recipe calls for. But sometimes you make do with what you have.  So nothing could possibly taste better than a warm fish stew on a snow day.

Provencal Fish Stew (adapted from The Girl and the Fig Cookbook)

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, julienne
2 stalks celery, julienne
1 fennel bulb, julienne
1 pinch saffron
3 cloves whole garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 8-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, with juice (or if you have frozen garden tomatoes, 6 tomatoes)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup Pernod (or any other anis flavored liqueur)
salt & pepper
¾ pound salmon, cubed in 1-inch pieces
½ pound  shrimp
8 oz haddock
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the leeks, onion, celery, fennel, saffron and garlic until vegetables are translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, 2½ cups water, parsley and 6 tablespoons of Pernod. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. (Can be made a day ahead.)

In another large saucepan, heat the remaining canola oil and sear the haddock and salmon. Add the shrimp and toss together. Add the white wine and the remaining Pernod. Reduce the mixture by half (about 2-3 minutes). Add the tomato mixture and bring to a boil. Cook until the clams and mussels open. Add the butter and adjust seasoning.

Roast Chicken with Creamy Tarragon Pan Sauce

Today we had a faculty meeting. There is nothing in the world that can make me more angry and sad than a faculty meeting. Sometimes I feel like I am on the forefront of a failing education system with no ammunition. Yep, just shoot me now because I am powerless to do anything. It seems that people with little to no real-world teacher experience bring down these “best practices” and tell me how to do my job. The trouble started when people ceased to be people (and by that I mean the students) and started to be commodities that could be data pointed and tracked. As a teacher my job is so much more than what data points I reach, or standards I post on my board. You can’t quantify meaningful relationships. Each kid comes to my room with different strengths and abilities. A good teacher recognizes these inherent strengths and weaknesses and adjusts the curriculum to support them. The system is so intent on producing manufactured human beings they lose sight of the beauty that is our differences. One size does not fit all, not for kids and not for the teachers that dedicate their lives to helping them.

On a brighter note, one of the kids mentioned me as their favorite teacher in the paper and said very nice things. Those are the little things that keep me going.

Tonight’s Dinner:

Roast Chicken with Creamy Tarragon Pan Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole fryer or roasting chicken
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4tbs of butter

Chicken

1. Open up the chicken cavity and put some salt and pepper inside the bird. The place garlic cloves and butter inside and seal.

2. Preheat Oven to 450

3. Sprinkle salt, pepper and tarragon on top of chicken

4. Place in oven for 25 to 35 minutes until the breast registers 120 degrees

5. Lower heat and bake another 25 to 35 minutes until the breast registers 160 (thighs 175)

6. Take chicken out and drain off pan juices and prepare the sauce.

Sauce:

  • 1/2 onion , minced
  • 1cup chicken broth (or juices from the chicken)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. While chicken rests,  Place skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tbs of fat from roasted chicken add onion, and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth and mustard, scraping skillet bottom with wooden spoon to loosen fond. Simmer until reduced to ¾ cup, about 3 minutes. Off heat, whisk in butter, tarragon, and lemon juice. Season with pepper to taste; cover and keep warm. Serve with chicken.