Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Como se dice Memorial Day?

This year we celebrated Memorial Day in a non-traditional way.  How?  By having a "Mexican" fiesta.  My sister specifically requested a taco bar this year when she came to visit.  I felt a little weird about the whole thing at first.  But then the more I thought about it, what are our other options...hamburgers?  These all-american patties have been traced to having origins in Germany.  Hot dogs?  Yep, Germany again.  So I thought, what the heck, let's do mexican!

Before we begin, I definitely want to pause and pay tribute to my two very special grandfathers who gave 2 years of their lives fighting for this great country of ours.  I am forever thankful for their bravery and selflessness, as well as for having had them in my life.

Harry L. McKinney Sr.  1923-2006

Served in the United States Navy 1943-1945

John M. Childers Jr. 1923- alive and kickin' :)

Served in the United States Army 1943-1945

On, to the food.  Unfortunately, neither my dad nor I, are able to do anything simply.  Therefore when we get together to cook, we. mean. business.  As in typical family get-together fashion, we divided up the cooking duties.  Normally this is a good plan.  Somehow, this year, we missed the boat on communication. We both started planning dishes, did our own grocery shopping, and somehow forgot to convey to each other our plans.    Our menu ended up including:  Traditional Pork Carnitas, Adobo Shrimp Tacos, Grilled Chicken Tacos, Grilled Tilapia Tacos, and Ground Beef Tacos.  Spanish Rice, Black Beans, Queso, Guacamole, Mild Salsa, Medium Tomatillo Salsa, Hot Chipotle Salsa, Spicy Chipotle Crema, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Onion, Bean Salsa, and Pico de Gallo.  That's not bad if you're feeding 30-40, right?  Well we weren't.  We were feeding 11.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  I honestly don't know.  But it is in our blood.  It is something we HAVE to do.  Thankfully, I have THE. BEST. MOTHER. IN. THE. WORLD.  Cooking is not a passion of hers, but when my dad and I turn into Tasmanian Devils whirling around the kitchen leaving destruction in our paths, she turns into the best sous-chef/dishwasher that has ever graced a kitchen, and happily lets us have our fun.

Let me ask that question again.  Why do we do this to ourselves?  For me, it is a time when my family is back together, in one room, talking, laughing, joking, and of course, the finished product is pretty darn good too.   (On a side note...if you want to see my mom's passion in life, please check out her website here. AMAZING)

Let the marathon begin...

Tacos De Carnitas

Recipe adapted from here
Carnitas are in the first section on the left, grilled chicken on the right

20 corn tortillas
1 kg (2.2 lbs) pork butt or shoulder, cut into small chunks.
2 large, sliced oranges (including the skin)
2 bay leaves
6 cloves of garlic
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp ground oregano
1/4 tbsp grounded clove
50g (1/4 cup) pork lard (optional, but traditional) (we made this without the lard...)
salt to taste
pico de gallo
salsa verde
chopped onion

Start by cutting the excess fat off the pork meat. Cut the pork pieces into pieces that are a few inches wide. Then place all the meat in a big pot.

Add enough water to cover it by about 2 inches, then add the orange, garlic, pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, the oregano, salt and the clove. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and continue cooking for 60 min or until meat is very tender, and be sure to add more water if necessary so the meat stays covered the entire time.

 When tender enough, add salt, and keep cooking it for another 10 minutes or until all the water has evaporated. Drain the meat and place on a separate plate.

 **You can opt to serve it from this point, but and the meat will be a little softer, or maybe try it with vegetable oil**

 Heat the lard in the same pot. When hot, add the meat until it’s fried golden, about 10 to 20 minutes. Mix it often so the meat doesn’t stick and add a little water now and then to keep it from sticking to the pot. Once it has fried, remove the bay leaves and cinnamon, then drain the meat in paper towels.

 Heat up the corn tortillas: 1 min each/side. Place two on each plate and add a portion of the meat in the center of the tortilla and fold in half. Do that with each taco.

Garnish each with cilantro and onion, your salsas, and a wedge of lime, and serve!
Carnitas can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and then just need to be reheated before assembling the tacos you serve later on.

(pickled carrots are in the front tray, pico de gallo on the left, pickled onions in the middle, chopped onion in the back, and chopped cilantro on the right)

Spicy Pickled Carrots

Find the original recipe here

2 lbs large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
5 cloves garlic peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
10 bay leaves, whole
8 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
6 oz. pickled jalapenos

Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute the garlic. Add in carrots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Carefully add in vinegar, peppercorns, salt, and and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes and then add water and jalapenos and bring to a simmer again for another 10 minutes.

Let it cool completely and then transfer the carrots and cooking liquid into a covered container and refrigerate overnight. Store the carrots in the liquid and use a slotted spoon to serve them. You may leave the bay leaves in the liquid to add to the flavor, but do not eat them. Always remove the bay leaves before you eat the carrots.

Shrimp in Adobo

(The section in the middle contains the adobo shrimp (left) and tilapia (right))
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

6 dried ancho chiles, stemmed
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 pounds small or medium uncooked shrimp, preferably wild American peeled, deveined, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Ingredient Info: Dried ancho chiles are available at specialty foods stores, Latin markets, and some supermarkets.


Heat a large dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles; toast, turning often, until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Let cool.

Using kitchen scissors and working over a medium bowl, cut chiles into 1-inch rings, reserving seeds. Cover chiles with 1/2 cup hot water; let soak, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Transfer chiles with seeds and soaking liquid to a blender. Add garlic, vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, oregano, cumin, and sugar and purée until a smooth, thick paste forms. Transfer adobo paste to a large bowl; add shrimp and toss until evenly coated.

Preheat broiler. Place shrimp on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Broil, watching closely and stirring halfway through, until shrimp are just cooked through and are browned in spots, 4–5 minutes. Season with salt.

Serve with shredded cabbage and salsas of your choice, on corn or flour tortillas.

Tomatillo Salsa (left),  Tomato Salsa (middle), Chipotle Lime Crema (right)

Tomatillo Salsa (salsa verde)

Find the original here

4-5  husked, rinsed, and halved tomatillos (about the size of a tangerine)
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1 jalapeño or 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/3 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup water
Preheat a grill over medium heat. Grease grates with vegetable oil. Place tomatillo halves on the grill, cut side down. Grill until browned and they begin to soften. Flip and continue to cook until completely softened. Remove the tomatillos to the work bowl of a blender or food processor. Let cool to room temperature.

Add garlic, chiles, cilantro, and 1/4 cup of water to the bowl and pulse until coarsely pureed. Pour salsa into a small dish and stir in the onion. Thin the salsa out with more water if necessary. Taste and add sugar if the salsa is too tart. Season with salt to taste.

Grilled Tilapia Tacos 

Recipe adapted from here

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay™
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 pound tilapia fillets, cut into chunks

Chipotle Lime Crema
1 (8 ounce) container light sour cream
1/2 cup adobo sauce from chipotle peppers in adobo (if you don't like HOT, I would use 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons lime zest
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay™
salt and pepper to taste

1 (10 ounce) package tortillas (corn or flour)
3 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 small head cabbage, cored and shredded
2 limes, cut in wedges

To make the marinade, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, lime zest, honey, garlic, cumin, chili powder, seafood seasoning, black pepper, and hot sauce in a bowl until blended. Place the tilapia in a shallow dish, and pour the marinade over the fish. Cover, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat and lightly oil grate. Set grate 4 inches from the heat.

Remove fish from marinade, drain off any excess and discard marinade. Grill fish pieces until easily flaked with a fork, turning once, about 9 minutes.

Assemble tacos by placing fish pieces in the center of tortillas with desired toppings.

Creamy Guacamole

4 large ripe avocados
2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeds removed, and finely chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Cut avocados in half, lengthwise, remove seed and spoon out meat from shells.
Combine avocado and remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mash together using a fork.

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