Monday, January 28, 2013

Beer Braised Carnitas

It is a cold wind that blows across Long Island.. And with this kind of cold my taste buds call for a long simmered meal. Hmmmm, should I make a beef stew? Or a fiery chicken curry? The wind wails outside my window, encouraging tantalizing thoughts of spicy treats. I look outside watching the mailman, his face hidden under a large Cossack hat. Nestled in the mailbox along with bills and flyers is the latest issue of Bon Appetit. My daughter Shauna and I wrestle over the issue. We like to drool  over cookbooks and  food magazines, dog-earing pages we think are possibilities. This issue is no different with so much content to choose from. Inspiration usually comes to me from cookbooks and magazines

My daughter is truly my right hand in the kitchen, my sous chef, and my culinary sounding board. We argue about what to make for dinner. We share mouth-watering details of meals eaten in restaurants. We salivate over a description of an exotic food find. Our travels are meticulously planned around the next culinary bend in the road. We share an affinity for food trucks. She obliges by bringing me munchies from her forays into NYC. Waffles from Wafels & Dinges, bimbibap from the Korilla Food Truck and barbacoa tacos from  9th Avenue. Most of all she anticipates the task at hand, is the knife that magically appears by my side, packages leftovers before I can clear the table, washes dishes that are cleared without prompting. And like most girls of her generation , she ALWAYS asks, "Whats for dinner?" That question usually comes  in the form of a text with exclamations or a call prefaced by asking if she can pick up anything for me. But I digress from the subject at hand.

She contemplates ideas. We look through my meager pantry and decide to venture out into the cold to replenish my bare cupboard. Braving the frigid temperatures, we stockpile provisions. My small table is laden with a hefty pork shoulder, Mexican chillies, tomatillos, onions, avocados and Coronas. Mexican food is always a big hit in our house. I have a few go-to cookbooks when it's fiesta time. Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday has a well-cracked spine. I also love the Fonda San Miguel treasure trove of recipes 

The first dilemma is whether we should braise the pork on the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. The last option is my choice. It is gingerly vetoed. Shauna doesn't like to disagree with me in case she has to hear "I told you so." 

Then again, a braise on the stove is delectable especially when the emanating aroma makes your taste buds tingle. The slightly acrid smell of toasting chillies catches in your throat, making you cough.  The sizzle of beer when it begins to simmer. The crackle of tomatillos and onions in the oven. Our senses stimulated, we leave the braise for several hours.

Soon the small apartment begins to smell like a home south of the border. 

As darkness unfolds outside, Shauna shreds the pork and stirs it into the sauce. 

The tomatillo salsa is ready. I cut some avocados. Sour cream sits on the table to counteract the spiciness of the chillies. Warm corn tortillas appear in a cloth-lined basket. We are salivating as we lay the table.

Beer Braised Carnitas
Makes 8 tacos

4lb pork shoulder (with a bone)
6 cloves garlic
2 guajillo chilies
2 ancho chilies
2 cascabel chilies
2-12oz. cans beer (we used Corona)
1 cup water
3 teaspoons kosher salt

Accompaniments .
Tomatillo Salsa (recipe below)
Avocados, sliced
Sour Cream
Corn Tortillas, warmed

Clean the garlic cloves and chop them roughly.

Place a cast iron pan on a high flame for 2 minutes. 

Add the chilies to the pan and lightly toast them for 2 to 3 minutes.

De-stem all the chilies. Remove the seeds of one guajillo, one ancho and one cascabel. If you don't want the spice, then by all means deseed all the chilies. We like our pork with a kick so we left all the seeds in.

Place the pork in a large dutch oven, one that has a lid that will cover the pork.

Add the chiles, garlic, salt, water and beer.

Bring the liquid to a boil. Then cover with a lid, lower the flame, and simmer.

Now comes the hard part..waiting!

Simmer for 4 hours, turning the pork after every hour. At this point the pork should be fork tender. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until the liquid thickens.

Turn off the flame, take the pork out of the sauce, and shred it. 

On a medium flame, mash the chilies into the sauce. They give the sauce body.  If you are not an ardent fan of spice, this would be a good time to take them out.

Add the shredded pork back into the sauce and stir well to coat.

Keep the carnitas warm while you assemble the accompaniments.

Tomatillo Salsa

Makes 2 Cups
6 tomatillos.
2 red onions
2 jalapeno chilies
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Husk and rinse tomatillos.

Peel and cut onions into large chunks.

Slice the jalapenos and remove the white membrane and seeds.

Place vegetables on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until the veges have a slight char.

Pulse the roasted vegetables using a food processor till chunky.

Season to taste.

Any unused salsa keeps for a week in the fridge.

Our plates are a mountain of amalgamation of pork, avocado, and tomatillo salsa. A perfect mouthful for a cold winter night.

As the saying goes, "a son is a son till he gets a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for life." 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Panna Cotta Memories-- Panna Cotta with Strawberries Two Ways

Today is a good day as any to make a panna cotta. Desserts occupy a large chunk of the food pyramid in our house year-round. Winter time means warm puddings, souffles and custards whereas summer is a plethora of ice cream and  fruit concoctions panna cotta included. I was raised in a home where dinner usually ended with a warm pudding or a cold wobbly jelly , swimming in a pool of custard. In spite of the frigid temperatures outside I endeavor to make this summer concoction. It takes me to a happy place where the warmth of the sun comforts like a much used blanket. It was also one of  my Mums favorite desserts . She loved to pour heaped spoonfuls of macerated strawberries , raspberries and blueberries on to her ramekin of panna cotta. One portion was never enough to satisfy her sweet tooth so I made sure there were plenty of ramekins for  her indulgence. It's been three years since she passed away in January. I make panna cotta throughout the year especially in the summer months but its de rigueur in January. It's the perfect  antidote and a walk down memory lane. Food to satisfy the soul ,or in my case to reminisce about my Mum.  It's not the best time to find  fresh fruit . Sometimes I use Trader Joe's frozen Berries. If strawberries look delectible, then it's fresh strawberry purée with  sweetened chopped berries.  Peaches macerated in schnapps make a wonderful topping too. Today it is strawberries . They were the best looking fruit at the grocery.

It's three pm. I have to start from scratch . I'm in a new kitchen , a small galley kitchen unlike my spacious one that is being gutted as I write. Hurricane Sandy did a number on our home. So while it is being put back together , I endeavor to make culinary creations in a small rented  apartment. At this point I'm hoping the dessert will set by dinner . I measure gelatin into water . Pouring gelatin takes me back to my childhood standing by Mum's side making strawberry chiffon pie.  I measure cream, sugar and yoghurt . A sea of white. There is something comforting about white in a pan. It reminds me of kheer and Phirni. Back in India , where I was raised , these desserts were made to commemorate special occasions. I work fast as I want the panna cotta to set .

Everything falls into place .

Ramekins are the container of choice for this dish. they unmold elegantly to make a delectable trembling mound on a plate. This time I wont be using ramekins as they are buried in a container back at the house, in the hodge podge that is my displaced kitchen . A generic Pyrex dish will have to suffice. As I pour the mixture I tell myself  this time we won't have any portion control dilemmas. Large spoonfuls will be had by all.

We all wait in eager anticipation.

 I shake the dish a couple of hours later.  Success! It jiggles the way it should, Blancmange-like with jello overtones.

Panna Cotta with Strawberries Two Ways

Makes  10 to 12 ramekins.

2 cups cream
1/2 cup sugar
1  1/2 teaspoons gelatin
2 tablespoons water
1  3/4 cups 2% yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Start by mixing the gelatin and water in a small bowl. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

Mound the sugar in a saucepan. Pour 1 cup cream over the sugar. Do not stir. Bring the sugar cream mixture to boil over high heat. The sugar will start to caramelize. Watch the pan carefully. When you see a golden brown color at the edges of the pan lower the flame and stir well. Keep the liquid at a simmer till the sugar dissolves. Do not worry about the color of the liquid.

In another bowl, mix the remaining 1 cup of cream, yogurt, and vanilla .

Add the gelatin to the warm cream/sugar blend.

Whisk the warm cream into the yogurt-cream.

You could pour it thought a sieve to get the lumps out. I don't. I like the texture of a few bubbles so I usually whisk the yogurt mixture well.

At this point pour the cream into ramekins (I make do with the Pyrex plate). Cover tightly with saran wrap.

Cool the plate or ramekins in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best.

To serve, fill a shallow bowl with hot water. Dip the bottoms of the ramekins in the water for 5 seconds.

Invert the ramekins onto plates and top with strawberries and purée (recipe below).


Strawberry purée and fresh cut strawberries.
1 qt strawberries.

Core and cut strawberries into bite size pieces.
Purée half the strawberries in a food processor.
Use both as toppings for the panna cotta.

The panna cotta is silken smooth. Every spoonful dissolves in my mouth with the anticipation of the next bite. It doesn't fail to hit that sweet spot . It brings my Mum into the room. It's a good day to start a blog.