Carnita Obsession

I’m still obsessed with corn tortillas.

They’re just so good. And they make the kitchen smell amazing when you roast them over your burners before serving – which I highly recommend.  They aren’t very good just plain, out of the fridge. But roasted? Mmmmm.

And sometimes they catch on fire and you have to slap them down to get the fire out, which is super fun.

In addition to being muy delicioso, they’re lower calorie and lower fat than flour tortillas, incase you care about that sort of thing.

I’m also still obsessed with roasting large pieces of meat and finding creative ways to use the leftovers. And, this carnita recipe is incredibly easy if you do just that: cook a large piece of pork loin, eat it straight out of the crock pot the first night, then shred the leftovers into carnitas. Corn tortillas are the perfect vehicle for leftover pork meat, in my opinion. But leftover beef or chicken would also be good here.

It’s not like I haven’t had carnitas lately or anything. There is no excuse for my random craving of porky goodness. In fact, last weekend, Lindsey, Dave & I spent 5 enjoyable hours at Taste of Atlanta, stuffing our faces with a variety of pork products wrapped in various forms of butter-laced carbohydrates. We also ate about 3 different varieties of meatballs, several meat sliders, plenty of sweets, and made some awesome beverage decisions when we made it to the wine, beer & cocktail tent. I won’t go into too much detail here, except to say that I picked up a few good cocktail recipes and we thoroughly enjoyed all of the wine we “tasted.”

We call this photo “good choices,” because the VIP experience was definitely a good choice, of course. Thank you, half off depot.

Speaking of beverages, I couldn’t have carnitas last night without a margarita. I’ve kicked up the workouts lately for no apparent reason except to ward off the Football 5 (my new name for the 5 pounds I gain every year due to tailgating). I’m sure I’ve earned one little margarita, right? Either way – the mixology gods were with me last night, and I whipped up a stellar one.

Can y’all tell we finally got a “grownup camera” since the quality of pictures has improved just a wee tiny bit? And that last night was the first time I got to use said camera so I took a TON of pictures for no reason?

I’ll quit being random & hand over the recipes.

Pork Carnitas

This isn’t really a recipe, as I told Lindsey when she asked me for it a while back. It’s more of a method. So here’s the deal: roast about a pound of pork loin (a very inexpensive cut of meat, and something that stores in the freezer really well) in the Crock-Pot. Cook it for at least 8 hours with some chicken stock, water, a fall cider, apple juice, white wine… whatever flavorful liquids you’ve got. Add to the pot some salt, pepper, diced carrots & onions. If you want a complete meal, throw in some diced potatoes – they’ll be tasty, too, and you’ve got a completely different meal – use the leftovers for the carnitas! The meat should just fall apart when it’s done… mmm…. pork.

Now, you could be really strategic with this recipe and cook your pork in a bath of delicious mexican spices and flavors by adding canned tomatoes, jalapeños, cumin, oregano and chili powder. I didn’t think that far ahead two nights ago when I cooked the roast, though, so I just dealt with plain ol’ roasted pork, and it was fine. If you’re using leftover pork, obviously you’ll want to zap it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up.

Ideally, I was going to reheat my pork in some EVOO and get it all nice & crispy, like an authentic carnita, but hunger took over. I was starving and there was no time for that last night. If you’ve got more time and want to be fancier, though, have at it. A little extra oil won’t hurt.

Prepare your corn tortillas by roasting over the flame of your stove burners, turning frequently, until they char slightly. If you don’t have a gas stove, you could heat them up in the oven for a few minutes. But an open flame really works best. Got a fire pit? That’d be a good alternative.

Assemble the carnitas. I top mine with some cheese, sour cream, red cabbage, homemade guacamole, and cilantro. Sorry, Alyssa, and the rest of you who are genetically programmed to think this delicious herb tastes like soap.

I basically inhaled these, along with my margarita. Last night’s concoction was near perfection, probably because I overloaded it with simple syrup.

I even took a picture of my simple syrup cooking. Artsy fartsy.

The drink ratio was:

1.5 ounces Herradura silver

.5 ounce Cointreau

2 ounces grapefruit juice

about 1/4 cup lime simple syrup

squeeze of lime juice

splash of orange juice

Shake all ingredients together in an iced cocktail shaker, pour into salt-rimmed glass, and enjoy.

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Tilapia Tacos in Corn Tortillas

Dear Flour Tortillas,

It’s over. It’s not you – it’s me. I’ve cheated on you twice already, with your cousin, Corn Tortilla. I used corn tortillas in a pork & spinach enchilada casserole dish about two months ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since. I cheated again last week when I, once again, used corn tortillas in my roasted chicken enchiladas. Tonight’s dinner was the last straw. The way the corn tortillas cackled as I held them gently with my tongs (thanks, Dave, for reminding me I should use tongs while dealing with an open flame) and got them all black and crispy in preparation for the delicious tilapia and homemade guacamole I consumed for dinner… well… it’s just no longer fair to you to act like you’re my favorite.

I should’ve listened to the Mexican waiters back at Laredo’s in Auburn. My favorite entree – two soft tacos – by default came wrapped in corn tortillas. And I used to get strange looks when I requested that mine come in flour tortillas instead. In fact, when given the choice over the last several years, I’ve chosen you, flour tortillas, over the more traditional corn. But, I doubt I’ll be doing that much more from here on out.

We can still be friends. I expect to keep you in my fridge and use you in semi-frequent quesadilla making. But, I’m moving on. My new love is the corn tortilla. I hope you understand.

Sincerely,

LBDelicous

And what recipe was it that turned me into a corn tortilla lover?

tilapiatacosTilapia Tacos (for 2 people)

Take 3 small tilapia filets (thaw if using frozen, as I did)

Rinse and pat them dry. Sprinkle on some salt, chili powder, cumin & dried oregano on both sides. Cook in a nonstick pan preheated over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of olive oil, 3 minutes per side.

Divide up and place in corn tortillas. Hold tortillas (with tongs) over a gas flame until they get toasted and warm. Top with cheese, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro (of course, optional), and enjoy.

What’s that delicious pile of golden goodness off to the side in my picture?

Roasted Corn with Chili Lime Butter

First: let about half a stick of butter come to room temperature (or, if you’re like me and impatient, gently heat it in the microwave on super low power until it’s mashable). Using a fork, mix together with the zest of one lime and some chili powder. Set aside.

For the corn: Preheat a grill. Shuck 4 ears of corn. Sprinkle with oil. Grill about 12 minutes, until the corn is nice & charred all around. Remove kernels from cob with a knife, place in bowl. Toss with the chili lime butter.

Grapefruit Margaritas

Let’s talk about margaritas, and how I came to figure out the absolute best, LBDelicious version of one.

My “first love” of adult beverages was the Mambo Taxi at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina in Huntsville, AL. To this day, when I go home, I basically force someone to go to Rosie’s with me (people at home: are you sick of Rosie’s yet?), so that I can have at least one of their frozen margaritas swirled with Jago sangria. It’s the only frozen margarita I order, ever. And, it may be one of those things that isn’t that wonderful to most people, but I have some sort of strange sentimental attachment to it and cannot let it go, much like a blankie or a favorite stuffed animal. For some reason, I cannot recreate the Mambo Taxi at home. I think they must, like everything else at Rosie’s, put a secret ingredient (crack, perhaps?) in it.
Despite never quite figuring out how to make a Mambo Taxi, I did eventually figure out how to make a pretty decent margarita from scratch. It started out when I realized that the store bought sour mixes are disgusting and hurt my stomach, thereby negating the “feel good” effects of the margarita. Besides that, “real” margaritas are a sublime combination of silver tequila and lime juice. And that’s it. So, I began to squeeze my own fresh lime juice and make a simple syrup (thanks, sweet tooth) to balance out the sour (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, brought to a simmer & stored in an airtight container in the fridge), adding it in some odd proportion to whatever tequila was laying around (usually Jose Cuervo gold) along with some triple sec. It was a good first start, but not the happy, sublime, relaxing, refreshing margarita I knew existed.

Eventually, I figured out that if I added lime zest to the simple syrup before it came to a simmer, and then strained out the lime zest, I had a pretty tasty lime simple syrup, which enhanced the natural flavor of the lime juice. This was a HUGE improvement from my first incarnation. But, something still tasted off. I think I was laying on the couch one day watching Bobby Flay (which means I was really exhausted because I was too tired to turn him off… he’s not my favorite Food Network chef…), when he insisted that if you make a margarita, you have to use silver tequila. Duly noted, BFlay.

The switch was made – I reserved the Jose Gold for marinades, and started going for Milagro, Patron, or Herradura silver as my bar pantry, standby tequila (all three of these are excellent, but Milagro is my favorite budget option. Herradura’s the priciest, but also the best, in my opinion. Patron – well, you can’t ever go wrong with Patron either). Huge improvement number 3.

I eventually realized that Cointreau, not triple sec, was a key ingredient. Why did I even have triple sec in my cabinet? Who knows. I’m sure it was cheaper. But, even though Cointreau is more expensive, I think it’s worth it. It lasts a long time (moderation is key, here), which is how I justify keeping it around. Just the combination of one shot of tequila, a splash of cointreau, about 3 tablespoons of lime juice and however much lime simple syrup I felt I needed made me feel like I’d developed a restaurant-quality drink. I was happy. Temporarily.
Eventually, I got frustrated. Have you ever squeezed enough limes to get two decent-sized margaritas? It takes a long time. If you know me, you know I am not patient. Especially when I want a margarita. Which is usually when I’ve had a craptastic day. And my patience is minimal to begin with, much less on days when I need a margarita to make it better. I found that I was spending a lot of time squeezing limes, with little results, which made me an unhappy margarita drinker. I searched for a solution in the store-bought, jarred, organic lime juices, knowing better than to even attempt to squeeze anything out of a plastic, lime-ish looking container into a shot of good tequila. The organic jarred lime juice is okay, but still had a funky taste to it.

Fast forward (or rewind?) to about a month ago, when I was eating a grapefruit supplied by my lovely Farmer’s Market Basket. It all of a sudden dawned on me: these babies are tart enough to supply the base of my homemade sweet/sour mix! Every once in a while, I have good ideas. Not often. But sometimes. Like that day. It finally allowed me to nail my homemade margarita recipe, something I’ve been tinkering with for years.

Let’s also rewind a bit, back to one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had in my life: the one that I ordered at Frontera Grill. It was shaken, cocktail style, at the table before it was poured into a martini glass right in front of me. I learned something on that day: if Rick Bayless thinks margaritas should be shaken, then we should all be shaking our margaritas.

Combine the grapefruit idea with the shaker, and you have…

Grapefruit Margarita (for one serving)

First: put your margarita jug/glass/cup in the freezer, preferably for long enough to make it nice & frosty

Second: make a lime simple syrup. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and the zest of one lime to a simmer, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, strain out the zest, and set aside in an airtight container. Preferably, this will come to room temperature or be in the fridge for a while. If not – no big deal.

Third: Juice half a grapefruit (NOTE: you will want more than one of these, so just go ahead and squeeze the whole grapefruit, saving the leftover juice)

Fourth: fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Add, in the following order: 1 1/2 shots tequila, 1/2 shot Cointreau, 1 1/2 shots grapefruit, and up to 1 shot of simple syrup (depending on how sweet you like your drinks). Shake vigorously, and strain into your frozen glass, which you will fill with ice right before you pour the drink. Oh, don’t forget to rim the glass with salt first.

Where’s the picture? I drank mine too fast tonight to share. Guess I’ll just have to make another one in the future to post here.