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Carnitas could easily claim their spot as my favorite food, especially when smothered in smokey, tangy tomatillo salsa.  These “little meats” came late into my life, but over the last few years I have experimented with different methods of preparing them including on the stove top, in the oven, and most recently in the slow cooker. The slow cooker, as the name of this post suggests, is the easiest method by far.

Every busy household should have a slow cooker.  During the school year, I rely on our slow cooker to have a hot dinner ready for us after my long day of work and my kids’ long day at school (especially on Mondays!).  For the longest time though, I made the mistake of thinking that slow cookers are  best used in the cool season months.  I used it primarily for soups and stews, the kind of food we crave to warm us up in the winter.  Recently though, I discovered that it is just as useful in the summertime to prepare dinner in the morning and have it cook all day. It does not even heat up the house, like the stove or oven would.

With dinner in the slow cooker, my family and I can head out on an adventure and not worry about having to be back to cook dinner for our nearly insatiable children.  This worked out perfectly last weekend when we returned from a day on the river, hungry and wiped out from the sun and water, to find perfectly cooked carnitas waiting for us.  I chopped up some cabbage for a slaw, warmed some tortillas, and dinner was served.

World’s Easiest Carnitas contains only five ingredients: pork shoulder, onion, salt, pepper, and oregano.  You do not even need to add water.  Just dice the pork, toss it in the spices, and place it in the slow cooker.  The heat renders the fat from the pork and allows the meat to cook in its own lard.  The top of the meat chunks that are exposed caramelize and brown beautifully.  If you prefer to add other seasonings you certainly can.  This method really highlights the taste of the pork, which I happen to like.  These carnitas are more of the shredded pork variety than the super crispy nibble variety.  If you prefer yours super crispy, brown them off in the oven just before serving.  Serve carnitas with tortillas and grilled tomatillo salsa.

World’s Easiest Carnitas

adapted from Bon Appetit

serves 4

2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch cubes

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons oregano

1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered

the garnish

corn tortillas

minced onion

cilantro

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

Toss the meat with the seasonings and place in the slow cooker.  Toss onion quarters on top.  Cover pot and cook on low for 6 hours.

Discard onion.  Remove meat with a slotted spoon and shred with your fingers.  Serve warm with warm tortillas, minced onion, cilantro, and Grilled Tomatillo Salsa.

Note:

If you prefer super crispy carnitas, remove meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and spread out on a baking sheet.  Roast in a 450 degree oven until crispy, about 10 minutes.

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

inspired by Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday

makes 1 pint

1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed

4 garlic cloves

1 jalapeno

1/4- 1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place whole tomatillos and jalapeno over a medium hot grill.  Grill, turning occasionally, until skin is blackened and beginning to split.  Remove from grill.  Place jalapeno in a plastic bag for 5 minutes or so to loosen the skin.  Peel and de-seed pepper.  Place tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno, salt, and 1/4 cup water in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add more water if it seems too thick.  Taste and adjust salt to taste.

Here is a printer- friendly version of the recipes:

World’s Easiest Carnitas with Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

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Mexican Pozole Rojo

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What a fabulous week it has been.  It is officially summer for me now.  After my 17 years of schooling and then 8 years of teaching high school science, the rhythm of the academic calendar is deeply rooted in my bones.  So even though the weather is unseasonably soggy and  gloomy, deep down inside I still know that- School’s…out for summer!!!   To make the upcoming break all that much more sweet, on my last day of school I found out that my Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart won the contest for the Best Dirt Cheap Dinner on food52.  What an incredible honor!  I am a huge fan of food52.  It is one of my go-t0 sites for great recipes and culinary inspiration from the many fabulous cooks that contribute to the site.  What a great way to start the summer and kick off my serious cooking and canning season!

As a celebratory meal, I made Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken.  I love how chicken is both a perfect special occasion meal, yet inexpensive and quick enough to be perfectly suited for a weeknight as well.  This particular recipe is a regular in our rotation.  It is easy to adapt by changing the herbs, I call for rosemary here, but you could also use thyme, oregano, basil, or forgo the herbs altogether and add a touch of curry paste to the garlic mixture instead.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken can be made with any pieces of chicken you prefer.  The original recipe calls for chicken thighs.  Since I often buy chickens whole and part them myself, I have always made it with a whole parted chicken.  When arranging the pieces in the pan, I put the breasts in the center and dark meat pieces around the outside.  All the pieces cook up perfectly!  Preparing this meal is incredibly simple.  Spread garlic paste over the chicken pieces and under the skin, then roast the chicken until the skin is browned and crackly, but the meat is super tender and moist.  The herbs perfume the meat and the lemon roasts and caramelizes lending a rich, lemony flavor.  Degrease the juices and reduce to make a flavorful sauce to pour over the sliced meat.  Dress it up or dress it down, this chicken is great for any occasion.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken

adapted from  Bill Devin at  Fine Cooking

via The 140 Best American Recipes by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens

Serves 6

the garlic paste

2 garlic cloves

pinch of salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

Mince garlic with a knife.  Sprinkle salt over the garlic and the flat blade of your knife to grind the garlic into a fine paste.  Transfer paste to a bowl.  Drizzle oil over paste slowly while whisking vigorously until mixture is uniform and emulsified.  (If it does not emulsify, do not worry.  The chicken will still turn out great.)

the chicken

1 5-pound chicken, parted

2 large lemons, sliced into 1/4 inch slices

1 bunch rosemary (6 4-inch pieces)

2 tablespoons white wine

freshly cracked black pepper

Rub the chicken pieces with the garlic paste thoroughly on both the outside and inside of the skin.   Cover and let chill 2 hours to overnight. The longer you let it chill, the more flavorful it will be.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set rack in the middle of the oven.

Using a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, lay lemon slices evenly over the bottom.  Arrange rosemary sprigs over the top of the lemon and chicken pieces, skin side up, on top of the rosemary.  The breasts should be in the center since they cook the fastest.  Arrange the dark meat pieces around the outside.

Bake the chicken for 45 minutes or until the skin is browned and crisp and the meat is cooked thoroughly.

Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter and cover loosely with foil.  Strain any accumulated juices into a small saucepan.  Skim fat from the top.  Heat remaining juices over medium to create a simmer.  Add white wine and black pepper to taste. Simmer until sauce is reduced by 1/3.  Serve meat as whole pieces or sliced with the flavorful sauce.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Roasted Garlic Lemon Chicken

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Mexican Pozole Rojo

December 30, 2010

Pozole Rojo from My Pantry ShelfFollowing the excesses of the holidays, my family and I generally run for the hills.  Nestled in the rain drenched Santa Cruz Mountains, we seek the calm and quiet that comes with solitude.  We explore, rest, and reconnect as a family.  We also nourish ourselves with simple foods.

The last few years, we have spent the first day of our vacation brewing up a rich pot of pozole.  This traditional Mexican soup has largely been overlooked by the American mainstream.  While burritos, tacos, and enchiladas enjoy widespread name recognition, pozole continues to be a bit of a mystery to many people outside the folds of a Mexican family.  It deserves to be discovered!  Like most great soups, it is composed of the simplest of ingredients that transform into a richly flavored, satisfying supper.

This is an all day soup, but do not let that discourage you!  Just because this soup cooks all day does not mean that you are cooking all day.  Plus, a pot simmering on the stove gives us a fabulous excuse to stay in on these cold winter days and spend the day in our slippers.  The soup begins with a pork shoulder rubbed in Chile powder, salt, and pepper, then slowly braised until the meat is falling from the bone.  The chunks of pork are added to a base of sauteed onion and garlic, dried chiles, and chicken broth.  These ingredients are simmered together with tomatoes and hominy for as long as you can spare.  Upon serving, the soup is topped with shredded cabbage, cilantro, serrano peppers, and minced onion.  The combination of hot soup studded with chunks of pork and hominy,  cold raw crunchy veggies, and tangy fresh lime juice squeezed over the top has won over my family.  My little man gave it “100 thumbs up!”

Mexican Pozole Rojo

adapted from Michele Anna Jordan

makes 10 servings

the Rub

3-4 pounds pork shoulder or butt

2 tablespoons salt, plus more as needed

2 teaspoons Chile powder

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Pat the pork shoulder dry with paper towels.  Mix together the salt, pepper, and Chile powder.  Rub all over the meat.  Place roast in a covered oven-safe dish, add 1 1/2 cups of water and bake for 4-5 hours until meat is very tender.  Remove from oven, set meat aside.  Allow liquid in pot to cool, then skim fat from the top.  Reserve remaining liquid for the soup.

the Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Black pepper, freshly ground

2-3 dried chiles, preferably ancho/ pasilla, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes.

6 cups chicken stock or broth

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 28-ounce cans hominy, drained

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Saute onions, stirring frequently, until translucent and fragrant, but not brown.  Add garlic and saute 2 more minutes.  Add oregano, broth, tomatoes, and hominy.  Once the chiles have been soaked and are pliable, tear them open and discard the stem and seeds.  Using the back of a knife, scrape the inner flesh of the chile and add to the soup.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer partially covered for 45 minutes or so.

When pork is tender, chop into chunks of desired size.  Add meat and reserved braising liquid to the soup.  Simmer another 30 minutes or more if you have the time.  Season again with salt and pepper.

the garnish

2 limes cut in wedges

2 cups green cabbage, thinly shredded

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 cup minced white onion

2 serrano peppers, thinly sliced

Corn tortillas- hot

Serve hot soup in individual bowls.  Create a garnish platter for each individual to top their soup to their liking.  Hot tortillas can be dipped in the soup or used to roll up the pork and hominy into mini tacos.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Mexican Pozole Rojo

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There comes a point at the end of every summer, when I yearn for the days to shorten and the nights to cool.  Don’t get me wrong, I love summer, but there is something so comforting about layering on sweaters,  hats, and eating SOUP!  Now that we are a few months into frigid and rainy weather (ignore the minor fact that it is clear and 60 degrees here today), we must break out the big guns: a rich bowl of Split Pea Soup!

This soup starts with a stock made from ham hocks and the old standby of onion, carrot, and celery.  Once that cooks down for a few hours, you’ll have a flavorful base for the other simple ingredients.    No time to make stock?  Your soup will turn out great with water too! Just add the ham hocks to the soup with the water and peas.  Looking for a vegetarian soup?  Leave out the ham.  You can use yellow or green split peas,  either will taste fabulous.  If you want to really make this meal memorable, be sure to bake the Beer Bread.  This recipe comes from Sunset (via my mother).  The bread is hearty, with a chewy bite and the perfect amount of tang from the beer.  Both the soup and the bread freeze well.  I find it best to freeze a family dinner portion of the soup and a loaf of bread for a busy weeknight down the road.

Split Pea Soup with Ham

serves 12

(enough for 2 dinners- one for now and one to freeze)

the Stock

2 ham hocks

1 onion, quartered

1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 2 inch lengths

1 stick celery, chopped into 2 inch lengths

Combine the above ingredients in a large pot.  Add enough water to cover by 2 inches.  Simmer for 3 hours partially covered.  Add one teaspoon of salt after 1 hour.  Strain out and discard the veggies.  Reserve the stock and degrease.  Reserve the ham hocks.  Pull meat from the bone and chop into bite sized pieces.

*This can be make ahead.  Just refrigerate the stock for up to one week or freeze for later use.

the Soup

2 Tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 cup diced onion

1 1/2 cup peeled and diced carrot

1 1/2 cup diced celery

Meat from two ham hocks, diced

3 cups split peas

3 quarts ham stock, water, or combination of the two

2 bay leaves

Melt butter in a large stock pot.  Saute onion, carrot, and celery until softened, but not browned.  Add reserved ham (or whole hocks if you skipped the stock step), peas, bay leaves, and stock or water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and partially cover pot.  Cook until peas are soft and meat and veggies are tender.  (Remove hocks and pull meat from the bone if not already done.  Dice meat and return ham to soup.)  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve warm with Beer Bread (recipe follows) and salad.  Feel free to make this soup a day ahead.  Refrigerate until cool, then cover.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Split Pea Soup with Ham

Beer Bread

Adapted from Sunset Magazine (via Mom)

makes 2 loaves

the Beer Mixture

2 cups flat beer

1/2 cup cornmeal

2 Tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup dark molasses

Pour beer into a small saucepan.  Heat to steaming and remove from heat.  Stir in next 4 ingredients.  Set aside to cool.

the Yeast Mixture

1/2 cup warm water

4 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast (2 packages)

1 tablespoon sugar

Combine, stir, and let stand 10 minutes.

the Dry Ingredients

1/2 cup each wheat germ and wheat bran

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Combine cooled beer mixture and yeast mixture in bowl of your stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.  Add wheat germ, wheat bran, and whole wheat flour.  Mix until fully incorporated.  Add unbleached flour, one cup at a time, kneading to incorporate fully before adding more.  Stop after 2 cups and test the dough.  It should be moist but not  sticky.  If it is still sticky, add flour cautiously, 1/2 cup at a time.   Avoid adding too much flour, it can become very heavy and tough.  Knead dough for 10 minutes by hand or in mixer (less time- 5 minutes or so) until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place dough ball in an oiled bowl.  Cover and allow to rise 1 hour.

Punch down and let rise 45 minutes.  Sprinkle 2 greased cooking sheet with cornmeal.  Punch down dough, divide in half and form 2 8-inch rounds.  Place on cornmeal-topped pans.  Cover and let rise 40 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.    Brush top with egg white mixed with 1 tablespoon of water (for a nice shiny crust).  Use a sharp knife to cut a # shape on the top of the loaves.

Bake for 40 minutes until bread is browned and sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.  Place on a cooling rack to cool.  Serve with butter, Split Pea Soup, and salad.  Yum!

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe: Beer Bread

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