Pork Carnitas

I’ve given up on trying to figure out the weather this winter.  For every few days of perfect chilly (I get to wear my cute new boots!) winter weather we’ve had there have been an equal number of bright sunny days in the 80’s.  My menu-planning is feeling a bit bi-polar.  And always in the wrong direction.  The week I stock the refrigerator with ingredients for soups and stews is when I wake up to warm sunshine.  And, of course, when the temperature finally drops enough to turn the fireplace on, the fridge is stocked with salad ingredients.

The perfect solution – pork carnitas.  On the one hand, they’re hearty and delicious enough to warm you up on a chilly day.  But pair them with a margarita and it instantly feels like summer.

This recipe, originally from The Homesick Texan, makes some of the best carnitas I’ve ever had.  Crunchy and perfectly carmelized on the outside.  Moist and falling apart on the inside.  It’s everything pork should be.

So, no matter the weather, cook yourself up a big pot of love and enjoy.  And, if it’s nice outside, open all the windows and make the neighbors jealous.

Pork Carnitas
Adapted (barely), from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from The Homesick Texan Cookbook

Ingredients

3 pounds pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

For Serving
Tortillas
Sliced avocado
Chopped cilantro
Salsa

Directions
In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, combine the cubed pork, orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, and salt.  Add enough water to barely cover the meat.

Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Simmer, uncovered, for two hours.

After simmering, increase  heat to medium-high.  Stir and turn pork occasionally and cook for approx. 45 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat.  (Mine took about 35 minutes, so watch it closely towards the end.)

Sizzle pork in the fat just long enough to brown at the edges.  Turn pork gently (the meat will be ready to fall apart) and brown on both sides.

Resist the urge to eat an entire serving while standing in front of the stove.

Serve carnitas on warm tortillas with toppings of your choice.

Tuesdays with Dorie — White Loaves

There are few things that beat the aroma of freshly baked bread.  (Except maybe chocolate chip cookies.)  Growing up, I remember driving past the Merita Bread Bakery off the I-4, rolling down the windows and breathing in a whiff of heaven.  It sure beat the heck out of other things I’ve lived near.   Namely citrus plants.  LAX.  A paper mill.  And a Budweiser brewery.  Bread factory wins hands down.

I love baking bread.  In my head, I have this peaceful image of effortlessly kneading out dough first thing in the morning, my kitchen lit by Rembrandt or Caravaggio, my mind focused and clear of any thoughts other than the work at hand.  Of course it never works out quite so zen, especially with a toddler underfoot.   But there’s still something so comforting in the process of mix, knead, 1st rise, 2nd rise and bake.  And in the fact that, over hundreds of years, it really hasn’t changed.  Sure, our tools are a little fancier (although I’m fairly sure my thrifty Czech great-grandmother would simply shake her head at the shiny Kitchenaid mixer) but we still follow the same steps.  Just like our grandmothers and their grandmothers and their grandmothers.   Five steps.  Hundreds of years.  The same delicious result.

As proof, after baking this bread and reading Goodnight Moon five times in a row, I settled down with a glass of wine and my husband for this week’s installment of Downton Abbey.  Cut to an exchange with Mrs. Patmore in the kitchen.  Well, I have no idea what happened in the scene because I was too busy staring at the beautiful loaf of bread arranged on her cutting board.  Which looked exactly like the ones I’d made!    My husband even paused the DVR and made the same comment.   So it’s good to know that whatever dire dilemmas the Crawleys and staff are facing, at least they’re eating well.

Beginnings

After months of saying I’m going to do it, I finally started a food blog.  Because I guess that’s what you do nowadays when you’re a thirtysomething woman trying to get some perspective on your life.  I think the hardest part has been deciding what to call this thing.  My husband lovingly suggested Too Much On My Plate Already and In the Weeds.  He’s nothing if not honest.

When I was little, I loved helping out in the kitchen.  Plus I knew that if I hung around long enough there’d be an egg beater to lick.  I continued to cook as I grew up, trying new recipes and discovering new foods and flavors.  Two things changed my perspective on food.  The first was moving to California.  I was overwhelmed by the abundance of Farmer’s Markets and had never tasted food so fresh.  I still vividly remember the first salad I ate here.

The second was my son being diagnosed with food allergies.  As I started to scrutinize the labels on everything that came into our house, I was shocked by what I saw.  Preservatives, chemicals and ingredients that served no purpose other than to make things as cheaply as possible.  Finding a loaf of bread that didn’t contain soy felt like a search for the holy grail.  I began to cook pretty much everything my son ate.  Our pantry transformed; our palates changed; and I discovered how rewarding it is to get back to the basics.  That’s what I’d like to share here.  The joys of cooking and of using fresh ingredients — things that seem to have been forgotten in our hectic lives.

Enjoy and Bon Appetit!