Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carnitas: More than just "a little meat"

The last time I wrote something about carnitas, I had several Mexican-American friends tell me that my slow-roast technique was all wrong.

"My mom always used a bottle of Coke in hers. Made them really tender." No doubt the acid in the soda also tenderized the meat, and the sugar probably put quite a nice color on the outside when the meat went into the oven after simmering in the Coke for a few hours. But how traditional can Coke be?

Even the Coke sounded better than the recipe that swore by a milk base and claimed it caramelized after slow cooking (the milk evaporated, then the meat got brown and crispy). I didn't like that at all.

I'm not a real fan of sweet meats; I like my barbecue Texas style, which is hot and smoky and stands alone, no sauce needed. If you want to slather something on it, maybe some more hot sauce. But nothing sweet, not even sweet and vinegary. I've gotten where I enjoy pulled pork, but to me, it's about as close to barbecue as Cincinnati chili is to New Mexican chili.

So I thought about the Coke, but decided instead on beer. And looking at the smiles around the table, I don't think it would have been better with Coca-Cola. (The recipe follows the video of Roy Orbison singing the Coke jingle the last line of this posting refers to.)

Lori K's beer carnitas

1 5-pound pork shoulder (Boston butt)
1 California chili pepper
2 chili arbol peppers
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 Shiner Dark Lager beer
1 tablespoon salt
Ground oregano to taste

Rinse and dry pork. Put chilies in large crackpot and turn on high. Pierce pork in several places and insert garlic cloves. Put pork on top of chilies, fat side up, and add beer on the sides. Sprinkle salt over the top of the pork and sprinkle with oregano. When the pork feels warm, turn down the crackpot to low and cook for 8-10 hours. Drain any liquid, and allow meat to cool. Cut off the fat, cut the meat into chunks, and put in a roasting pan. Season some more if it seems too bland. Turn on oven to 425 degrees. When hot, insert the meat and cook until it sizzles, about 15 minutes. Serve with tortillas, shredded cabbage, sliced radishes, cilantro, lime wedges and salsas.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Right out of the box

In my mom's day, it was common for ladies to turn to the boxes of their favorite mixes for new recipes to thrill their snarly kids and bored husbands. Sometimes it even worked. The recipes got passed around, became instant classics, turned into the staples of community cookbooks, then the recipes made it to the next logical step: A packaged mix or frozen dinner. Then out came cookbooks harking back to the "original recipes" and how to make the dish "from scratch."

Then we started to cook fresh and the recipes collected dust.

Today, as I emptied an open box of linguine into my pasta jar, I spied a recipe on the package for linguine with tuna, olives and capers. OK, that sounded pretty good. And it was.

Here's to a new generation of "ripped from the box" recipes.

De Cecco's Linguine with Tuna, Olives and Capers
Serves 6-8

1 pound linguine
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of black olives, pitted and finely chopped
1 1/4 tablespoon capers
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 small can tuna, shredded with fork

Cook the pasta for 11 minutes in boiling salted water. In the meantime, sauté in olive oil the olives, capers and garlic. Add a few tablespoons of the boiling pasta water, then put in the parsley and some ground pepper. Let it cook for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add the tuna. Drain the linguine and put in a serving dish. Add the sauce, mix well and serve.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A summer favorite - salade Niçoise

Learning that Vino Volo is an airport chain was somewhat of a disappointment, although I'm still glad it's in Dulles. I was beginning to despair of finding anything decent to eat in that airport; that is, anything healthier than a Five Guys burger or hotdog with everything.

The best airport food I can remember having was a salade Niçoise in Denver. I was skeptical if the little French joint could deliver the meal in short order before I had to dash for my flight, but they were johnny on the spot with a generous platter of lettuce and haricots verts topped with a poached salmon fillet instead of the traditional tuna. I continued on my flight feeling healthy and sated.

This main dish salad is a boon for summer suppers, and it's best not to make too many substitutions, since the traditional ingredients go together so well. The most jarring substitution I've seen was, believe it or not, in France; at a large restaurant in Roussillon, the salad came with all the traditional items, but also with a healthy sprinkling of ... canned corn. Since most French people equate corn with pig chow, I can only assume that they felt they were catering to American tastes.

Salade Niçoise, Lori K-style
Serves 2

1 small head tender lettuce, torn, washed and dried
1/2 pound tiny green beans, cooked and refreshed
1/4 cup basic vinaigrette
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 red potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced
1 7-ounce can boneless, skinless Atlantic salmon, drained
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons small black Niçoise-type olives or kalmata olives
2 tablespoons capers
8 anchovies, optional 

Shortly before serving, toss the beans with spoonfuls of vinaigrette, and salt and pepper. Baste the tomatoes with a spoonful of vinaigrette. Place the potatoes to one edge of the plate, arrange a mound of beans at the other end, with tomatoes in one quarter and the eggs on another (if using anchovies, drape them across the egg quarters). Toss the lettuce with the remaining vinaigrette and put in the middle of the plate, topped with the salmon, olives and capers. Serve.

Lori K's tip for perfect crisp-cooked green beans: Bring water to a boil. Put the beans in a microwave dish. Cover with water and cook in the microwave for 2 minutes. Drain and chill. Use within two days. For hot beans, sauté them in a little broth, oil or butter until warm and season to taste.

Photo by Annabelle Breakey, Sunset magazine

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gobble-good meatloaf

A Berkeley friend and Episcopal priest, Kristin Krantz, mostly shares tidbits about her family life and ministry on Facebook, but she surprised me one day with a most unusual meatloaf. She makes it with beef, but said it originally called for turkey, so that's what I used. I think it would be great with ground lamb as well. My substitutions are in parentheses (I didn't have any feta on hand, so I had to modify to use what I had).

It was very tasty, moist and didn't need ketchup. I'll use fresh parsley the next time, maybe plain crumbs and a shallot and spices instead of the crusting mixture (which I was trying to use up, since I don't like it as a meat coating). And definitely the feta, which I adore.

Sundried tomato and feta meatloaf
Serves 4-6

1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs (McCormick's French onion, pepper and herb Crusting Blend)
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (3 tablespoons dried parsley)
1/4 cup chopped garlic and herb marinated sun-dried tomatoes (sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs, at room temp, lightly beaten (1 egg)
1/4 cup olive oil (1 tablespoon olive oil)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (1/2 cup Greek nonfat yogurt)
1 1/2 tsp. salt (1/2 teaspoon)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (1/2 teaspoon)
1 lb. ground beef (ground turkey)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray
In a large bowl stir (or hand mix) the bread crumbs, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, eggs, olive oil, feta (yogurt), salt and pepper. Add the meat and combine. Pack the mixture into the pan. Bake until internal temp is 165 degrees, approximately 45 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and let meatloaf rest for 5 minutes. Soak extra fat on the surface with a paper towel.

From Kristin Nelson Krantz**The recipe is for turkey meatloaf, which is why I think there is olive oil in the mix - when I used ground beef I just used a little oil.