Carnitas Tostadas

A few weeks ago we made delicious pork carnitas tacos during our Engagement Photo Session. To make those carnitas, we slow-cooked a bone-in 4 lb. pork butt for 8-10 hours and then shredded it and seasoned it once it was fully cooked. That recipe turned out great but we decided to try a (slightly) quicker version of these tasty pork bites just to see how they would differ. In this latest version, the pork is cut up into 1 1/2 inch cubes before cooking, then slow-cooked with an array of seasoning for just 6 hours.

Pork Carnitas Tostadas

The resulting pork was tender and juicy and quite different in flavor and texture than our first take on carnitas. I think that I maybe liked these a little better, but they also required more prep work so it’s really a toss up depending on how much time you have! We used our carnitas to build Mexican tostadas… towers of beans, pork, cheese, salsa, and sour cream atop crispy, fried corn tortillas. Yum!

Pork Carnitas Tostadas

Pork Carnitas Tostadas

Ingredients for the Pork Carnitas:
(Carnitas recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s The New Slow Cooker Cookbook)
2 lb. Boneless Pork Shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
3 cloves Garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dried Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar (we substituted in 2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar & 1 tsp Sherry)
Salt and Pepper
1 Yellow Onion, quartered
3 Bay Leaves
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder

Ingredients for the Tostadas:
1 – 15 oz. can Refried Beans
1/2 Jalapeño Pepper, finely chopped
Peanut Oil
6 Corn Tortillas
Shredded Cheese (we used a mix of Mozzarella and Mexican blend)
Salsa
Sour Cream
Chopped Cilantro, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Directions:
To make the pork carnitas, mix together the first six ingredients (pork thru salt & pepper) in a slow cooker. Add in the onion and bay leaves, then cover and cook the pork on low for 6 hours. When cooking is complete, use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a plate or bowl. Skim the fat off of the cooking liquid and remove and discard the onion piece and bay leaves. Pull the pork apart using two forks, then season with the cayenne pepper and chile powder (to taste) and add in several spoonfuls of the cooking liquid until the pork reaches your desired level of juiciness.

To make the tostadas, start by combining the refried beans and chopped jalapeño in a microwaveable bowl. Heat the beans in the microwave on high for 2 minutes and stir well.

Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a small frying pan with peanut oil (enough to just allow a tortilla to float on the oil but not enough to submerge it completely). Heat the oil over high heat and then, using tongs, carefully place one tortilla in the oil. The oil around the edge of the tortilla will boil rapidly. (If it doesn’t bubble, increase the heat until it does.) Allow the tortilla to fry in the oil until the bottom side turns golden brown, then use your tongs to flip the tortilla over and fry until that side is golden brown as well. Transfer the tortilla to a paper towel-lined plate, then repeat this frying process with the remaining tortillas.

To assemble your tostadas, cover one side of each tortilla with a liberal amount of the bean mixture. Top with a few spoonfuls of the pork carnitas, then sprinkle a handful of shredded cheese on top. Broil the tostadas for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Top with spoonfuls of salsa and sour cream and garnish with cilantro and lime juice. Serve with a cold beer and enjoy!

Pork Carnitas Tostadas

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The Perfect Storm Food – Five Bean Chili!

It’s October in Pennsylvania which means that leaves are changing color, geese are flying south, pumpkins are being carved into jack o’lanterns, and we’re filling up the bathtub with water in preparation for a hurricane.  Wait, what??  That’s right, we’re about to receive a direct hit from a real live hurricane in October!

The storm, billed as Hurricane Sandy, “FrankenStorm,” and, most dramatically, “The Perfect Storm,” is forecasted to take a sharp left turn in the Atlantic Ocean and sweep up the Delaware Bay tomorrow.  If the Weather Channel is correct, we’ll experience 6-10 inches of rain, hurricane-force winds, and extended power outages.  That brings me back to the bathtub.  Since our water is pumped into the house from our well, we lose our running water when the power goes out.  That tub full of water will allow us to flush the toilet and have clean water available for washing hands and faces.  For drinking water, I filled up several pitchers and glass bottles with water from the kitchen sink.  (I didn’t want to join the mobs at the grocery store for “real” bottled water!)

That little yellow star is where we are. Eek!

I’m mildly worried about the 70mph winds and rushing floodwaters, but I think that right now my biggest concern is actually that the food in our freezer might go bad.  We have about $50 worth of wonderful fresh Maiale sausage along with yummy frozen pastas, vegetables, and fish and I am having nightmares about it all thawing out and going bad during a long power outage.  In order to give the freezer a fighting chance I reorganized all of the food so it is tightly packed together in the bottom drawer.  I also put ice packs in the freezer along with a big ziploc bag full of water and a reused gallon jug filled with water.  These are all frozen solid now and should help to keep our food cold.  (Watch, after all of the preparation the power isn’t even going to go out… but better to be safe than sorry!)

Anyway, all of this stormy and cold weather has me thinking about warm stews and soups!  A nice five bean chili would really hit the spot right now, but we are going to try to use up some food in our fridge tonight so I think I’m going to have to wait until after the storm to get my chili fix.  But, without further ado, here’s my chili recipe along with some photos from our last batch a few weeks ago…

Five Bean Chili (serves 5-7 and makes great leftovers!)
Note: I revised this recipe on 10/29/14.  The original recipe had chick peas (visible in the photos) which were yummy but in my most recent batch of chili I removed the chick peas and added a third can of kidney beans and second can of tomatoes with delicious results.  I also added fresh minced garlic, upped the ground beef from 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, and adjusted a few of the spice measurements.  Oh, and I added another half bottle of beer to give the chili a little more liquid consistency… feel free to drink the remaining beer as you cook!

You will need…
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 pounds Lean Ground Beef
1 White Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
5 tablespoons Chili Powder
1 1/2 tablespoons Paprika
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
2 teaspoons Cumin
1-15oz. can Pinto Beans, rinsed & drained
1-15oz. can Black Beans, rinsed & drained
3-15oz. can Kidney Beans, rinsed & drained
1-15oz. can Corn, drained; or 1 cup frozen corn, rinsed
2-10oz. can Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies (not drained)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
18 oz. (1 1/2 bottles) Dark Beer

Directions…
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Cook the ground beef.  When it is almost browned, add the onion and stir.  Once the onion has started to soften add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the powdered ingredients and then, when the meat is completely browned, add the beans, corn, and tomatoes and stir.  Simmer the mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 20 minutes, taste the chili and add salt and pepper as needed.  (You can also add more chili powder and paprika at this point if you want more of a kick.)  Add the beer, stir again, cover, and allow the chili to cook over low heat for 60-90 minutes.  Serve with a generous slice of fresh cornbread.

Mexican Tortas with Chorizo and Black Beans

This recipe for tasty tortas comes from our Mexican Everyday cookbook by Rick Bayless.  A torta is a Mexican-sandwich that features a smear of mashed beans and a wide variety of toppings including cheese, lettuce, sour cream, or salsa.  For these tortas we garnished our sandwiches with Queso Fresco, avocado, and Cholula hot sauce.  The resulting tortas contained the perfect combination of warm beans, spicy chorizo, and savory cheese and avocado, all nestled between golden-brown pieces of crusty bread.

Tortas de Chorizo y Frijoles Negros (from Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless)

You will need…
8 oz. Chorizo Sausage, removed from casing
Olive Oil
2 – 15 oz. cans Black Beans, undrained
Salt, to taste
2-3 Crusty Rolls, approx. 6 inches long (we used a French Baguette and cut it into three 6″ sections)
6 oz. Queso Fresco cheese, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 ripe Avocado, cut into 1/2 inch slices
Cholula Hot Sauce, or other bottled sauce or hot salsa

Directions:
Brown the chorizo and break it up in a large skillet over medium heat.  After the chorizo is completely cooked through, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the black beans.  Bring the beans to a simmer and mash them with the back of a large spoon.  (You can also use a bean masher or potato masher if you have one but the spoon worked fine for us.)  Continue to cook the bean mixture, stirring almost constantly, for about 10 minutes.  Taste the mixture and add salt if needed.  Cover the beans and leave on the stove over low heat.

Meanwhile, slice each roll in half lengthwise.  Use your fingers to pull out some of the soft bread in the center to make room for the bean mixture.  Use a spoon or brush to spread approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto the inside faces of each roll.  Place the rolls face-down on a preheated heavy-bottomed skillet and toast the bread until it turns golden brown.  We had to do this in batches since only one roll could fit in our skillet.  Press the rolls down as they cook so that they toast evenly.

To assemble your torta, spread a liberal amount of the chorizo-bean mixture along the bottom half of each roll.  Top with the sliced queso fresco and avocados, then add a few drops (or many drops… your choice!) of hot sauce.  Cut the torta in half and enjoy!

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over – Garden Update!

My vegetables and herbs are growing like crazy!  We’ve had streaks of unusually hot weather (80-90°) punctuated by periods of relatively cooler weather (60-70°) here in Southeastern PA and it appears that my plants enjoy this every-changing variety of temperatures.  All of them have at least doubled in size in the last few weeks and several are already flowering or growing vegetables.

As of today the following plants are growing in my garden:

  • Jalapeño Pepper (planted in Spring 2011 and moved to a container for winter; several peppers ripening)
  • Garlic (planted last fall; scapes appearing)
  • Spinach (March; harvested)
  • Beans (March; transplanted and currently growing “real” green beans!)
  • Chives (April; in mixed container)
  • Marjoram (April; in mixed container)
  • Mint (April; 2 varieties in container)
  • Cherry Tomatoes (May; 2 staked in containers and flowering)
  • Tomatoes (May; 2 varieties in upside-down hanging containers and flowering)
  • Parsley (May; planted in one hanging tomato container)
  • Thyme (May; planted in the other hanging tomato container)
  • Strawberries (May; currently growing multiple unripe strawberries)
  • Serrano Pepper (May; in container and flowering)
  • Bush Belle Peppers (May; 2 varieties – one is already growing multiple green peppers)
  • Jalapeño Pepper (May)
  • Basil (9 plants) (May)
  • Pumpkins (“spontaneous” pumpkin patch from last Halloween’s pumpkins!)

With the exception of our whitefly infestation, we’ve had a pleasant, easy time with our garden so far.  We mulched all of our plants with either shredded leaves or mostly-composted leaves from our spin bin and we have lots of little fences in place that have successfully kept Bailey away from the plants.  I’m just starting to be able to use my thyme, parsley, and basil for cooking and soon we will have strawberries, jalapeño peppers, and green beans to eat!

Here are a few pictures of my garden:

Last year’s jalapeño plant that I saved over the winter has a handful of peppers growing on it.

What a difference 3 weeks makes! Hanging tomato plants with thyme and parsley from 5/13 and 6/4.

Green beans are finally growing on my “St. Patrick’s Day” bean plants!

This spider guards my garlic plants – I think he probably set up shop here to catch a few whiteflies.

This is my latest discovery in the garden and one of my most exciting so far… a tiny pumpkin patch!! We left a few pumpkins here after Halloween last fall because they were too heavy for the spin bin composter and Voila! We have pumpkin plants! I contemplated moving the rocks back but then realized that the plants were actually rooted in/around the rocks so I just put a little compost over top and we’ll see what happens…

This day lily is potted in the same container with my chives, marjoram, and marigolds. True it its name, we’ve had at least one new bloom every day for several weeks now.

Yup, that’s a strawberry!! Looks like I’ll be eating it soon…

Matt’s mom gave us several garlic cloves last Fall and we had our first “scape sighting” this morning.  Woohoo! We’ll cut them off soon and think of something yummy to make with them.

We grew this zinnia plant from seed! I jumped the gun back in February and started lots of seeds indoors (waaaay too early in the season but hey, I’m learning!) and after a few weeks of struggling outdoors in April nearly all of the zinnia, cosmos, gallardia, and painted daisy plants that we grew are starting to bud. This plant was the first to flower.

Last but not least, our potted Oleander plant is flowering again! We bought it last year in late June when it was in full flower so it’s nice to see that it made it through the winter and is flowering once again. I love the big, white flowers.

How is your garden doing at the start of June?  Please share!  🙂

Related posts:
Vegetable Gardening Season has Arrived! 5.7.12
Gardening Update – One Month Later 4.17.12
Gardening… On St. Patrick’s Day! 3.17.12

Vegetable Gardening Season has Arrived!

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember that I got the gardening “itch” way back in March and as a result I planted spinach and beans in my tiny vegetable garden on St. Patrick’s Day.  The spinach (a veggie that actually likes to grow in cold weather) has done great and I have been able to use it in several recipes including my Trader Joe’s style Eggplant Parmesan and my Herbed Spinach and Feta Pizza (coming soon!).  The beans were less thrilled about being planted in the winter and have taken their sweet old time coming up, but now that May has arrived they have suddenly taken off and are starting to look like real bean plants.

It’s amazing what can grow in 10 days! Garden on April 15th (left) and April 25th (right).  You can see the spinach in the front and the beans in the back.

Matt and I enjoy listening to Mike McGrath’s organic gardening show “You Bet Your Garden” on NPR (the archived podcasts are great entertainment for long car rides) and we’re trying to take some of Mike’s advice to improve our garden this year.  According to Mike, a good “yard waste compost” (a mixture of shredded fall leaves and nitrogen-rich green matter that has had time to break down to a soil-like consistency) makes the best mulch and also provides great nutrition and disease control in the garden.  We’ve been religiously composting our kitchen scraps all winter and now that it’s getting warmer out we’re hoping to start seeing some fresh compost in our spin bin composter soon!

Potted cherry tomato plant that has been “mulched” with partially composted shredded leaves to retain moisture.

I have several plants around the patio in containers, including two cherry tomatoes from my neighbor, a planter with chives, marjoram, marigolds, and a day lily, a combo of sweet and chocolate mint, and a serrano pepper plant.  I’ve been really impressed with the brightly colored orange, red, and yellow marigolds so far — they’ve been blooming continuously for a few weeks and have a lovely fragrance.  Apparently they repel insects so they’ll come in handy when our summer mosquitoes arrive!

Chives, Day Lily, Marjoram, and Marigolds on the patio

Now, back to those beans…  When I planted them in March I imagined having fully matured bean plants by now so I planted them across the entire back half of my garden.  Since the bean plants are clearly not ready to sprout beans anytime soon and I want to plant my basil in that same exact spot, I decided to transplant the strongest beans to my new strawberry patch.  Apparently beans and strawberries are “companion plants” so I figure that they will enjoy cohabitating the same small strip of my ever-expanding garden.

The transplanted bean plants are now scattered throughout my new strawberry patch.

Perhaps the most exciting additions to our garden this year are our two upside-down tomato plants.  I know that the whole upside-down growing gimmic is a bit of a fad and I’ve read lots of criticism about it on the internet, but after having a giant tomato plant take over my garden last year with its long, snarled branches and watching its tomatoes sit on the ground and get eaten by bugs, I decided that hanging plants sound pretty promising!

Hanging tomato plants with thyme and parsley.

Rather than purchasing the tupsy-turvy type of hanging tomato bags, we selected two large galvanized buckets from Home Depot and Matt drilled holes in the bottoms for the tomato plants to feed through.  When it came time to actually plant the tomatoes, we lowered the buckets to below eye level and Matt held each plant at the proper height (burying the stem up to the first true leaves) while I carefully added soil-less potting mix.  We topped off each bucket with herbs (thyme and parsley) and then covered the surface with partially composted leaves from our compost bin.  I’ll be interested to see how these plants do over the next few months!

Close up of the bottom of one of our hanging tomato plants: We threaded pieces of an old t-shirt around the base of each plant to hold the dirt in and drilled holes around the perimeter of the buckets for drainage.

Overall, I think I spent about 12 hours working in the garden last weekend and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of vegetable gardening season all winter and I am so excited that it’s finally time to start planting!  What are you planting in your garden this Spring?

Mint plants on April 15th (left) and May 5th (right).

Related posts:
Gardening Update – One Month Later 4.17.12
Gardening… On St. Patrick’s Day! 3.17.12

Cuban-Style Black Beans

Someday I will make “real” beans.  I mean the kind where you soak dried beans overnight, pick through them for stones (stones, really?!?), and then cook them for hours with seasonings.  But for today I had my hands full with pork carnitas and jicama slaw so I just decided to use a recipe where I can doctor up a basic can of black beans and make them taste like they have been soaking all night and simmering on the stove.  This recipe from SkinnyTaste.com was exactly what I needed.  The beans turned out flavorful and slightly saucy (a good attribute in my opinion!) and complemented the rest of the meal very well.

Cuban-Style Black Beans  (view the original recipe here)

You will need…
1/2 Onion
2 cloves Garlic
2 Scallions
1/4 Red Pepper
3 tablespoons Cilantro
Olive Oil
1 15oz. can Black Beans, undrained
1/3 cup Water
1 Bay Leaf
few pinches of Cumin (I love how there’s no exact measurement in the original recipe… this is exactly how I cook!)
one pinch Oregano
1 teaspoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:
Chop the onion, garlic, scallions, red pepper, and cilantro in a food processor.  Add a small amount of Olive Oil to a pan and sauté the onion mixture for approximately 3 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.  Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for approx. 15 minutes stirring occasionally.