Friday, June 14, 2013

Authentic Carnitas

My daughter decided, last minute, she wanted a Mexican fiesta for her graduation party. You know, to satisfy the ancestors. Sigh. I was prepared for a luau, had lots of recipes and great ideas. Now, how to feed a crowd? None of my normal recipes would be easy to prepare in large amounts, in a way to keep the table stocked and hot all day.

I decided on an authentic street taco bar - carnitas, carne asada, tortillas, rice, beans, and all the toppings. But, I have never made carnitas or carne asada before. I have made Kalua Pig in the crockpot, so I know how to cook pork until it falls apart for shredding. Now I just needed the ingredients to make it taste authentic, and a plan to give it that crispy edge when serving. This is what I came up with.

For the authentic flavor, I used the ideas for my ingredients from this recipe:

The crockpot is always the best way to cook meat in advance, and I knew that I could put a whole pork butt into the crock the night before and end up with meat that just falls apart the next afternoon. We can't get boneless pork butt here so it is very difficult to cut one up into pieces, and I know that the bone will pull right out when done this way.

Once the meat was done, I pulled out the bone, the bay leaves, and the orange, and kept the crockpot on warm. When I was ready to put out meat for tacos on the table, I transferred some of the shredded pork along with some of the liquid to a hot, dry pan. It only takes 2-3 minutes to give it a good, crispy charred edge.

Everyone raved about the meat, and even better, I have some left over in the freezer for another night.

Sheri's Street Taco Carnitas

1 large, 6-8 pound, whole pork butt (shoulder would also work)

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 orange, cut into quarters

3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (I have a stash of this from Mexico - so fragrant!)
3 teaspoons freshly ground sea salt

1/4 cup lard or canola oil (I used the oil, but I will try lard next time)
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk 
1 1/2 cups water

Put the pork, fat side up, in a large crockpot.  Top with onion and garlic, pushing some down around the sides of the meat. Top with orange, bay leaves, oregano, and salt. Pour liquid ingredients over the top.

Cook roast on low for 15 hours. Remove orange, bay leaves, and bones. Can be refrigerated, frozen, or kept on warm in crockpot at this point. If setting aside for later, be sure to keep the juice with the meat.

To serve, heat a large, heavy flat pan over high heat. Cast iron would work best. Do not add oil or fat, the meat and juices contain enough to cook the meat with. Use tongs to pull meat to shreds and add to pan, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add a little liquid from the crockpot, and cook 2-3 minutes, just enough to get a charred, crispy edge to the meat, while keeping the meat moist and delicious. Serve immediately with hot corn tortillas, pico de gallo, hot sauce, and your favorite condiments.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Potato Salad Recipe

I have a husband who loves potato salad. LOVES it.

However I loathe it. Particularly the standard, heavy-on-the-mayo, throw-in-some-pickles kind. Here and there I've had some good, non-standard varieties, but it is not something I will think of when I am making a menu.

Last week while I was planning out a grilling party with some friends, the hubs specifically asked for potato salad. I think it's been over ten years since I've made it. I don't even have a recipe. I already had two bags of tiny red potatoes that I was planning to roast, so I went to the local market. All they had were the bags of the small Dutch yellow potatoes.

I looked online for a recipe and found this one. I had all the ingredients already so I went with it. However, while I was using quite a bit of potatoes, I didn't increase the dressing recipe. I like things lightly dressed, and am watching my calories. Turns out this was the perfect amount of dressing for double the amount of potatoes. Everyone enjoyed this one, so this recipe is a keeper.

Picture of Potato Salad Recipe

2 pounds small red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 8 pieces of thick cut, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup low fat or fat free mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 6 green onions, chopped in 1/4-inch segments
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
Place potatoes in cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to medium, letting them cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. In a skillet, cook bacon on medium heat until crispy. Place bacon on a paper towel and discard the grease. Drain the potatoes, but DO NOT rinse them under cold water. Rather let them cool for about 6 to 8 minutes on a sheet pan. In a small bowl combine vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, green onions, onion, sugar, and salt and pepper. Transfer potatoes to a mixing bowl and sprinkle bacon and hard boiled eggs over them. Then fold mayonnaise mixture into the potatoes and serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Evolution of an Enchilada


I grew up on enchiladas. My mom made them on a regular basis. I learned how to make them at a young age. They were a staple in our household.

With our family's Mexican heritage, you would think this would be just one of many dishes passed down through the generations. Surprise - this is the only Mexican food my mom ever made. It was the only dish she remembers learning from her own mother, who was descended from the original Spanish inhabitants of California.

I'm not sure if the dish she taught me was exactly what was passed down to her. The version I learned at mom's kitchen counter was very Americanized. Ground beef, corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, cheddar cheese, and olives. In spite of that, a hit with our family. I made it for my kids quite often when they were younger. However, it's been a while.

As with most recipes I enjoy, I'm always trying to improve it. Years ago, I began swapping out chicken for the beef. When Mexican cheeses became more available, I swapped that in. I began adding green chilies to the filling for more flavor. I was beginning to make it mine.

Last week as I was making a menu plan and a shopping list, I realized Cinco de Mayo was coming up. Instead of my usual Mexican dishes (chili verde, carne asada tacos, posole, albondigas, or tortilla soup) on a whim I decided to revisit enchiladas again. It may have come back into my mind because of a treasure I snagged on my last visit to Whole Foods - Hatch brand enchilada sauce! I knew that had to be delicious.

However, on the advice of my gastroenterologist I am trying to reduce or eliminate dairy in my diet. I decided to make the chicken filling very flavorable and not have cheese inside the enchiladas, only on top. I had some leftover chicken breast from a rotisserie chicken, so I bought two large packages of thighs. I brined and grilled them - tons of flavor right off the bat! Jim helped me shred it, which was quite a chore. This could also be made with a rotisserie chicken, a whole roasted chicken, or the already cooked and cut up chicken you can buy in the package. For the amount of chicken you need, roasting or grilling your own is the way to go.

These were so delicious, we nibbled quite a bit as we shredded!

I sauteed a whole diced onion with four cloves of minced garlic and added it to the meat, along with finely minced cilantro and four cans of diced green chilies. This is what I ended up with:

OK, I know this is a lot of chicken. Way too much for two trays of enchiladas. My motto is, better too much than not enough. The extra is in the freezer for a crockpot chicken dish I make sometimes for Bible study group. There was probably way less left over than you would think - I really overstuff the tortillas, which is the way to go. I like a high ratio of stuffing.

The time consuming part, other than shredding the chicken, is assembling the enchiladas. It's also very, very messy. Don't wear nice clothing - enchilada sauce stains!

I heated my comal over high heat and enlisted my youngest to cook the tortillas. I've found this is a crucial step. My mom never did this - instead, she heated some of the enchilada sauce in a small pan, dipped the tortillas, and rolled. I don't know if she had some particularly fresh or special tortillas, but they never cracked or fell apart. If I try this with tortillas I can buy locally, disaster. The only way around this is to cook them first, then dip them in the sauce. They don't rip or disintegrate at all.

I dip the tortillas in a small pan of sauce, lay them in the dish, fill them with a generous portion of meat and two black olives, and roll them. Make sure the seam ends up down. Don't worry if filling spills out the sides. I push mine up against each other, making room for lots of enchiladas in one pan. The one at the end of the row is hardest, but you'll get it with practice. Corn tortillas are small, so I fill up the rest of the dish with enchiladas rolled the other direction. I usually end up with about 15 rolls in one casserole dish.

As a side note, I know some people use flour tortillas. I have used them in the past as well. I highly prefer the flavor and texture of corn tortillas. Flour tortillas are kind of bland and fall apart more easily when dipped in the sauce.

Next, I take the remaining sauce (one 14 ounce can) and drizzle it over the top of the dish of enchiladas, spreading it out evenly, especially around the edges. I then top with more olives and shredded Mexican cheese. Trays can be frozen or refrigerated and cooked later. Bake (thawed) at 350F for about 20-25 minutes.

Now, recipe - hmmm, that is a hard one. How do I give an exact recipe for something I've always just cooked by look and feel? For the two trays I made this time, I used one package of 30 corn tortillas, two 14 ounce cans of enchilada sauce, two cans of medium pitted black olives, four 4 ounce cans of diced green chilies, one onion, four cloves garlic, one tablespoon canola oil to sautee the onion and garlic, and one two pound package of shredded Mexican cheese blend. For the chicken, it's harder to say - about 6 ounces of rotisserie chicken breast, and two family size packages of chicken thighs, which I brined.

I think this recipe can be perfected even further. I'm thinking my next goal will be to learn to make my own enchilada sauce from scratch - won't that be fun!