Monday, January 4, 2016

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday. The hubs and I certainly did, although we are both probably 5 pounds heavier now. Yep, we are both resolving to eat lighter in the upcoming months. I actually started back on my exercise regime last week and have been constantly sore ever since. No pain, no gain, right. I had taken a break due to sciatic issues but am feeling much better now that I have incorporated some targeted stretches into my regime. No more excuses now. Anyway, one of the things that I am trying to do to help eat leaner and lighter is to cook up proteins in bulk over the weekends and freeze them in small portions so that when we get busy during the week I can just thaw them for use in salads, wraps, or stir fry's. This weekend I noticed I had a LOT of pork in my freezer. I buy it on sale but then never seem to cook it. Hubs never gets excited to eat pork so that is probably why. I know he likes breaded pork chops but I was looking for something leaner. I decided carnitas. The pork can be put into taco/burritos or on salads or just tossed with some sauteed vegetables. When it comes to Mexican food, I have 2 go-to recipe sources. Rick Bayless and Pati Jinich. Since I was using pork odds and ends rather than pork shoulder (traditional cut for carnitas), I opted for Pati's recipe. I have to tell you, I was a little leery about using orange juice and sweetened condensed milk, but once it started cooking the smell was so good that all my reservations went out the window. I followed her recipe as written and found the end result to be flavorful but not what I would normally consider for Mexican food. My Americanized palate anticipates Mexican food to be strongly seasoned with hot peppers, tomato, cilantro and cumin, whereas, these carnitas were very mild with subtle flavors. In my book this is fantastic as now they are a perfect canvas to be further seasoned for whatever application I choose to use them. When they were done, I quickly used some for a test taco with queso fresco, cilantro, pickled onions, hot sauce and a squeeze of lime. Delicious. I think the addition of some fresh salsa verde would definitely elevate them as the taco seemed a tad dry. I let the meat cool in the pan with the juices so that they could be reabsorbed. When cooled, I picked out the fat; shredded the meat; and placed it in ziplocks with some of the juices and froze them for later use. I am sure they will come in habdly later in the week when things get back to their normal level of crazy!

Pati's Pork Carnitas

Half a white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups water
6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cumin
4 whole cloves, stems removed
1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon lard, vegetable shortening or oil
4 to 5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt, cut into 4-inch chunks, fat on! (I used a mix of country style ribs and assorted chops)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

In the jar of a blender, place the water, onion, garlic cloves, marjoram, thyme, black pepper, cumin, stemmed whole cloves and 1 tablespoon salt. Puree until smooth. 

Set a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Add the lard (or vegetable shortening or oil), and once it has heated up, add the pork chunks and sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Brown the meat on all sides, stirring and flipping as each side browns, about 10 minutes. 

Pour the onion mixture over the meat, let it come to a simmer and cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Pour in the orange juice and sweetened condensed milk, add the 2 bay leaves, and give it a good stir. Let it come to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low to low and cover. 

Cook covered, stirring and scrapping the bottom of the casserole 2 to 3 times along the way, until the meat is completely cooked and coming easily apart if you pull one piece, about one hour and a half. Remove the lid, cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. Scoop out the carnitas with a slotted spoon, leaving any fat behind, and serve in a bowl or platter. Shred with a fork, if desired, before tucking into tacos. Or do like we do, serve straight from the pot. 

Serve with warm corn tortillas and pickled jalapeƱos or salsa verde cruda on the side.

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