Here I am in the thick of it. August and September are two of busiest months of the year for me professionally, where no matter how much time I put in, I never have a chance of catching up. Business planning, board reports, a major reorganization of one of our departments, and my work as board chair for two other organizations fill my time and my brain with documents and to-do lists. Added to the list this year is quality time I’m spending in my kitchen and blogging about food.
I know I wouldn’t have made it through last week without the kindness of my friends, more specifically Lisa. Dinner out at Maxie’s and Meritage, (not to mention the pizza from Pizzeria Piccola) and lunch at Blue’s Egg were just a few of the “gifts” I gladly accepted this week. Yes I’m pretty happy I allowed myself that rule during this year of inconvenience (ie: I won’t turn down gifts of food or social gatherings at local restaurants). While the pizza from Piccola felt like cheating… okay it pretty much was cheating… it all got me through an otherwise tough week.
I’ve estimated that recently, on average, I’m spending about 8-10 more hours each week on food prep (and this project) than when I was eating conveniently. Sure tomatoes have taken up quite a bit of that time recently but along with the tomatoes I’m still baking bread and granola and preparing my own “lunch meats” for sandwiches, and trying to eat a bit more creatively than just meat-vegetable-starch for dinner.
I must say I had some fun this week as well when I stepped away from the work for my own good. Riding our bikes through the neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Lisa and I dubbed ourselves “the garden bandits” as we stopped at the gardens of two neighborhood friends to harvest some veggies. Okay we didn’t really steal anything – just another act of kindness offered up to me – the privilege of a bounty of tomatoes and tomatillos.
A few years ago while shopping a local farmer’s market, we purchased a beautiful basket of tomatillos that were packed up so sweetly with a few garlic cloves and a hand-written recipe for tomatillo salsa. Prior to that moment I hadn’t eaten very many tomatillos in my life. Quite honestly, I had always confused them with green tomatoes. The memory of that salsa, however, was truly the best salsa I had ever tasted. As luck would have it I lost track of that recipe, but I tried to recreate it over the weekend from both memory and by taste. I think I came rather close to the original here:
Tomatillo Salsa (Verde)
8-12 fresh tomatillos husked, washed, and quartered
½ large white onion, roughly chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic (to taste), roughly chopped
1-2 hot peppers (to taste) roughly chopped and seeded (I used a yellow banana pepper)
1 cup fresh cilantro (packed into a measuring cup)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon hot sauce (to taste, choose your favorite)
The size of the tomatillos will determine the number used. After quartering them they filled up a blender. In a blender or food processor, blend up half of the tomatillos until smooth and add then add the other half along with all the rest of the ingredients. Blend once more to your desired consistency. Taste, and season with more hot sauce or salt if needed.
While I spent my Sunday afternoon making salsa and slow-roasting tomatoes, the smell pork shoulder slow cooking in the crock pot filled the air in the house with promises of a delicious dinner. I had to make tortillas from scratch (I had hoped to have time to make both flour and corn – so I could make some chips from the corn tortillas) but only had time for flour. These pork carnitas were sinfully easy to make. Heck, it felt a lot like cheating, that’s how easy they are. I really don’t think this recipe could be screwed up, even by a novice cook. Thank you Lisa, my volunteer research assistant and co-pilot of my year of inconvenience, for helping make this meal really memorable.
Slow Cooked Pork Carnitas
2 pounds pork shoulder, cubed into 1 ½ inch chunks
4 large cloves garlic, minced
½ sweet onion, cut into quarters
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
¾ teaspoon salt
Place the cubes of pork into the slow cooker. If you purchased the shoulder with bone-in, use the bone as well. Sprinkle the minced garlic on top of the pork. Now mix all of your spices together and add to the pork, stirring it until all of the meat is coated with spices and garlic. Take the onion and layer it on top of the pork. Don’t worry about the fact there is no liquid in this recipe, the meat and onions will create a delicious broth after about 4-6 hours. Use the high setting on your slow cooker for a 4 hour cooking time. The meat can be tested as “done” when if can be easily shredded.
Enjoy the pork served on fresh whole-wheat tortillas with diced tomato, diced avocado, tomatillo salsa, and a dab of sour cream.