Playing around in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do … without a doubt.
What exactly do I mean by playing around? Well, I looked up “play” in the dictionary and a few different meanings were given. I must say that while “to have sexual relations” in the kitchen sounds like a lot of fun the “play” that I’m referring to is “to toy or fiddle around with something.” Hmm, even that sounds bad.
Alright. This post is not about sex, it is about food. To be more precise it is about a lesson that I learned this weekend: while it’s fun to play around with a new recipe, I don’t find it fun to play around with two new recipes when company is coming over. It was exhausting and the whole experience became more stressful than it should have been. I was standing up in the kitchen for close to six hours and nearly fell over by the time our friends left. I know I’m being whiny, but I just don’t have that kind of stamina (haha).
The two new recipes I tried were Carnitas and Black Beans with Mexican Beer.
I have wanted to make Carnitas for as long as I can remember. I fell in love with them long ago at Ninfa’s in Houston and have continued to eat my way through a lot of tacos. Before cooking Carnitas I knew only one thing. Pork! I didn’t know what cuts of meat were used, which spices give Carnitas their delicious flavor or the techniques used for cooking. After some research I learned that the word Carnitas translates literally to “little meats”. These tasty little meats typically come from the shoulder of a pig and are slow-roasted for 8 – 12 hours.
As I looked further I decided that I wanted to cook my Carnitas without using all of the lard that goes into a traditional recipe and I didn’t want to wait 8 – 12 hours for perfection. The best way to do this is stovetop, in our cast iron dutch oven. Oddly enough, I decided upon the very first recipe that comes up when you type Carnitas into a Google search. It is from the New York Times here and was adapted from a recipe originally printed by Tara Duggan in the San Francisco Chronicle.
We had a 14 pound pork shoulder that we cut in half, freezing the rest for a later use. Since there was so much meat I doubled the spices, aside from the ground cloves (too much of a good thing can be bad – I mean cloves, not sex). Iquickly removed the second cinnamon stick from the pot when the smell began to overpower the rest of the spices.
My boyfriend cut the meat into larger chunks than called for… a decision made based upon other recipes … and it worked beautifully. Overall this took about 1 ½ hours longer than the recipe states.
But these Carnitas were definitely worth the wait. Flavorful, moist, falling apart. Perfecto! We had corn and flour tortillas to choose from along with avocado slices, cilantro, tomatoes, fresh jalapenos, a few different salsas, grated monterey jack cheese and limes to top the tacos with. Our friends took some of the leftovers home and we still have more Carnitas than I know what to do with.
If I had left my experimentation to just the Carnitas everything would have gone beautifully. But, no. I just had to make black beans from scratch, didn’t I? I’ve cooked with dried beans before and the results have been great. And while the flavor of these beans was good, it was the cooking time that threw everything off. For some reason my beans were just taking FOREVER to cook! Two of us ate them with our tacos even though they were still a bit firm, but after we finished the meal I added more liquid to the pot to cook the rest further. Even after another hour those stubborn beans weren’t quite done!?! But the spice mixture from the recipe was wonderful, especially with a few additions of my own.
A simple salad I made from jicama, cucumber, lime juice, jalapeno, cayenne and chile powder was my preferred side dish for the Carnitas tacos. We also ate some pineapple and sipped on a few Tecates to round out the meal. Would have been perfect, if it wasn’t for those pesky beans.