29 November 2013

Beer Braised Carnita Tostadas

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you survived.  I don't support American consumerism, so instead of going out shopping today, I'm...supporting the Mexican margarita economy.  You can bet I've had some carnitas this week.  If you're missing out on leftover turkey because someone else was in charge of roasting this year, let me share with you a perfect lazy day meal.  Set it and forget it, then when you come back to it, something magical has transpired.  Kyle calls carnitas "the bacon of Mexico."

I've learned how to tell just how good a recipe is by my reaction to it.  Oh, this is good, I don't mind eating this for days - pretty great, but room for improvement (Curried Lentil Soup).  These are so delicious, we need to have people over so everyone can taste how great they are - if I want to show it off then it must be pretty awesome (Blackcap Cheesecake Pie).  Oh my gosh this is so good I'm so glad we waited until AFTER people left to make these - so amazing that I'm hoarding food.  This is top-shelf-delight (Buffalo Chicken Dip).  I hoarded these carnitas.  I raved about them, and then refused to share.  Don't call me selfish until you've tried them.
I'm still not a huge fan of pork.  I've started cooking an occasional tenderloin.  I had serious reservations when I saw the pork shoulder in the grocery store, but I powered through it.  The shoulder is cut into two inch chunks, fried, and then braised in a crockpot full of beer and spices.

Ten hours later, what had once been pork is now transformed into the tenderest, juiciest, tastiest meat to ever grace a tostada.
There were barely any chunks left to shred.  The only thing better than the flavor of these carnitas is realizing that there's enough meat there to last for a week of meals.
And since I'm in Mexico this week, here's my little south-of-the-border tribute:  tostadas.  It's a little bit like an open-faced quesadilla.  You can either fry up a tortilla, or bake it up per instructions in this post.
My favorite tostada is topped with carnitas, black beans, peppers, cilantro and cheese.  Feel free to mix it up and use whatever you want. 

Carnitas (barely adapted from here)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • pork shoulder, around 4 lbs
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 oz mushrooms, chopped (about 2 cups) - optional
  • 12 oz beer
1.  Mix up the spices (salt through pepper).  Set aside.
2.  Cut the pork into roughly 2-in. by 2-in. cubes.  Heat up a frying pan with a little oil in it.  When hot, add the pork cubes.  Turn the pork until it is seared on all sides.
3.  While the pork is cooking, put the onions and mushrooms in a  crockpot.  Move the pork to the crockpot, then evenly sprinkle the spice mixture over the pork.  Pour the beer over everything.
4.  Cook on low for 10 to 12 hours.  When you're ready, separate the pork from the juices, then shred the carnitas with two forks.  Carnitas can be stored in the juices, or separate.  Some juice will be necessary for reheating.
Serve carnitas any way that sounds good - over rice, in tacos, in tostadas, over nachos, etc.  It's okay if you're already planning on making carnitas instead of a turkey next year.  I'm sure your family will thank you.

22 November 2013

Chocolate Cake Mix Biscotti with Pistachios

Cake mix:  it's not just for cakes.  Do something unexpected!  Let's make cake for breakfast, but rename it so that we can eat it guilt-free.  Bake it twice to crisp it up.  Throw some pistachios in there.  Host a fancy brunch.  French press some coffee.  Make this biscotti.
Mix up the dough.  It should be fairly firm, as shown in the photo below.
Form it into two loaves on a baking sheet.  I used a stone so that I wouldn't have to worry about sticking.
First bake.  Slice up the loaves diagonally.  The bigger the angle, the bigger each slice of biscotti will be.
Carefully turn each slice onto its side.
Second bake.  It starts to feel like biscotti.  You might want to turn them over and do a third bake for just a few minutes more so that each cut side gets crispy.
A crunchy biscotti means one thing:  coffee is required.  Dip it in coffee, let it soften, and enjoy a delicious breakfast cookie.  Especially if it's a lazy Saturday morning.

Chocolate Cake Mix Biscotti (based on this)
  • 1 (18 oz) package chocolate cake mix
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp hazelnut extract
  • 3/4 c. pistachios
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9x13 pan (unless you are using a baking stone).
2.  Combine all ingredients except pistachios.  Mix well (a mixer would be appropriate here).  Add in pistachios and mix until evenly distributed.
3.  Form the dough into two loaves on the baking sheet, roughly 12x2 in. each.
4.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
5.  Slice loaves diagonally, about 1-in thick.  Turn cut-side down onto baking sheet.
6.  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.  If needed, turn them over onto the other cut side and bake for 5 more minutes.  They should be crisp all over.
The original recipe calls for almonds and almond extract.  I'm sure that would be good...but this was better.  It's a little like Nutella in a cookie, with the addition of pistachios.

01 November 2013

Goals Revisited

October was a long month, but for some reason it's still really hard to believe that November has started.  And just for the record, I found my driving gloves, which I haven't seen since last October.  Yeah, that happened.
I didn't really do too much that was noteworthy, or at least not much worth taking photos of.  So I'm just going to jump right into my lax goals for October:
  • A home-pressed cider and homemade doughnut party!  I have to admit it was pretty low-key because it looked like everyone else was feeling just as run-down as I was.  The cider and doughnuts were still fantastic, and it was good to see people.
  • A couple business trips to visit customers.  As expected, these were exhausting trips.  Fly out one day, visit the customer the next morning, fly back in the afternoon.  I got some delicious food out of the deal - probably way too much.
  • Other than that, I had no real plans except to catch up.  I feel pretty caught up.  I still have plenty to do, but it's getting done.
I have no idea what goals to put for November.  Let's just get that out there right now.
  • I have wine and cider that needs to be bottled.  The wine doesn't matter too much, but I'm way too excited about the cider to let that sit for very long.
  • Speaking of which, I get to taste my first homemade beer this month!  It's been carbing up in the bottles for the past couple weeks.  
  • I'm just going to come right out and say it.  I've started lifting weights, and I feel like I've finally found a workout I can get on board with. Cardio takes too much time and is too boring.  Women are all about "toning" with little 2-lb weights.  Push yourself!  The big weights aren't just for men.  The best part?  I'm getting some definition in my abs and it makes me feel awesome.  So my goal is to work my way up to using the 25-lb weights for my SuperSet Saturdays.
  • Why am I working on my beach bod in the fall?  I'm glad you asked - I'm going to be showing off these freckles on a Mexican beach while my family gorges themselves on Thanksgiving dinner.  Yeah, I'm missing one of my favorite family gatherings and meals of the year.  But I'm replacing it with fresh fish tacos and guacamole. 
  • I really want to put "go through all my stuff and give away anything I don't need or use."  But that's been on my goal list for MONTHS now.  I keep waiting for Saturday at home, and that hardly ever happens.
For some reason, my cell phone has been taking really terrible photos lately (I promise, it's the lighting, not the photographer...I think).  So I don't have too many photos to show what I've been doing this month.  At the top of the post is some hot sauce I made.  We grew habaneros this year and I had no idea what else to do with them!   Here's some grapes my Gram donated for our yearly grape juice making.
What is it about boys and bikes?  Even at 1, he knows what he wants...
Oh yeah, and we pressed MORE cider.  With temps hovering around 40* (by the way, we've gotten SNOW already), my parents are making sure their winter clothes are still up to the task.
So that about sums things up.  The temps are dropping fast and while that first snow is pretty, it's a bittersweet moment.  I'm sure we'll be seeing more of the same in November though.