Monthly Archives: September 2012

Pork Carnitas

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Lately I’ve had a huge craving for Mexican food. My mouth is still sensitive from having my wisdom teeth removed, but finally feeling good enough to eat soft foods. Carnitas is a Spanish word meaning “little meats”. Typically pork or beef is used, and is braised or slow-cooked until it is fall-apart tender and moist. I’ve been on a pork kick lately, so I decided to use pork.

The meat is delicious enough to eat on its own, but I was in the mood for tacos, so I served mine in a soft tortilla loaded up with fresh salsa, veggies, a sprinkle of cheese, and cilantro. This dish was partially inspired by a little Mexican restaurant near my boyfriend Dan’s house. They serve up fresh, authentic Mexican dishes for alarmingly low prices. My favorite is their pork tacos, topped with fire-roasted tomato salsa and pickled red cabbage (which is surprisingly delicious!) They are so good they don’t even need cheese or sour cream – the flavors stand out on their own.

I recently purchased a slow cooker and the first thing I made in it was pulled pork. I actually prepared the pork for these carnitas the same way – dry-rubbed with various spices, drenched in some Worcestershire sauce, and cooked at a low temperature for about 8 hours. Typically the meat for carnitas is first browned in a frying pan before entering the cooking pot, but  since my teeth and gums are still fairly sensitive, I decided to skip that step.

Though this recipe has a lot of ingredients and steps, don’t be afraid! It is really as simple as adding seasoned meat to your slow cooker and letting it cook for hours. The meal basically cooks itself and is surprisingly easy, but oh so tasty. The meat is so tender you can barely pick it up without it falling apart, and is sweet, smoky, and a little bit spicy. The great thing about this cut of meat is that, while it is on the fattier side, it’s incredibly inexpensive – only $2.50 a pound. Using my grocery store savings card, I paid under $8 for the whole 4 pounds!

Pork Carnitas
serves 8-10

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 4 lb. pork butt (or pork shoulder – it’s often referred to as the butt, but actually comes from the pig’s shoulder)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • Dry rub:
    • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
    • 1 tsp garlic powder
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp chili powder
    • 1/2 tsp paprika
    • 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Cooking sauce:
    • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (optional)
  • For the tacos:
    • flour or corn tortillas
    • fresh lime juice
    • To top: salsa or diced tomato, avocado, shredded cheese, peppers, onion, cilantro, etc.

    Grab your slab of meat. Notice how inexpensive it is?

    For the dry rub (plus brown sugar)

    For the cooking sauce

Directions:

  1. First, prepare your dry rub by measuring out the spices and combining them in a small bowl. Mix well.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and bbq sauce.
  3. To prepare the meat, remove from package and cut into 4-6 large chunks. If your cut has a bone (mine did), don’t get rid of it! The bone adds tons of flavor. Just cut around it, leaving some meat on it. I like to try to remove as much of the visible fat as possible, but it’s okay to leave some on because you can remove it after it’s cooked.
  4. Gently rub the spices into the meat. Place sliced onion on bottom of slow cooker, and then pile meat on top. Pour cooking liquid on top of meat and around perimeter of slow cooker.
  5. Set your slow cooker on low for 8 hours. I like to set mine on high for 2 hours then turn it down to low for the remaining 6 hours, but if you’re busy or working, you can omit that step.
  6. After 8 hours, your meat should be very tender and cooked throughout. If it’s not, cook for another hour or so. Carefully remove the chunks of meat from the slow cooker and onto a platter. Using 2 forks, shred the meat into small pieces. You may also want to discard any large remaining chunks of fat at this point, and the bone.
  7. If a large amount of juice has accumulated inside the crock, you may want to remove some so that it’s not swimming. I removed about half of the liquid and kept the rest.
  8. Prepare your tacos by serving the meat over warmed tortillas with a healthy squirt of fresh lime juice and pile with your favorite toppings. Serve immediately.

cut your meat into large chunks

Prepare your dry rub

After covering meat in dry rub, place into crock pot along with sliced onion, cooking sauce, and 2 bay leaves

After cooking for 8 hours, your meat will look like this.

Remove the meat from the crock pot and shred with a fork, discarding the bone, bay leaves, and any extra fat.

Pile the meat onto a warmed tortilla with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

 

Kale Salad with Honey-Tahini Dressing

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At UMass, there’s a cute little vegan/vegetarian cafe called “Earthfoods”. It’s a student-run organization and they serve up fresh, healthy meals daily. Prior to eating there, I knew I enjoyed a lot of vegetarian food, but knew little about vegan food. The first time I ate there was at the beginning of my junior year with my friend Nik. He told me to get the steamed kale as a side choice, so I did. I had never eaten kale before but I knew it was somewhat similar to spinach. After a few bites, I wasn’t really into it, so I gave my kale to Nik, who happily devoured it. Then I looked around and realized just about everybody surrounding us was also eating a huge plate of kale. What is with these people and their kale? I thought to myself.

Fast forward to a few months later: I was one of those people also enjoying a big plate of kale. I guess it just grows on you.

Their kale is cooked perfectly and always ripe and sweet. My favorite part is the tahini dressing that many people pour over the kale. It’s nutty and tangy and complements the kale perfectly. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. If you’re a hummus-eater, you’ve probably eaten tahini at some point or another. Tahini is one of the main ingredients in most types of hummus. It adds that tangy, slightly bitter taste. It’s often used as a substitute for cream in vegan meals because it has a very smooth, thick consistency. Trader Joe’s sells small tubs of it (already mixed with lemon juice and garlic) that you can find in their hummus section, or in the natural foods section of your local grocery store.

The tahini dressing at Earthfoods contains oil, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley and is super tasty. For this particular salad, I decided I wanted a slightly sweeter dressing so I added some honey. Pour that on top of your kale and add some toasted almonds, dried cranberries, and shallots and you’ve got one delicious, healthy salad! If you’re not a fan of kale, feel free to substitute your favorite greens. This salad would be great with baby spinach.

Instead of steaming the kale for this method, I used the “massaging” technique to soften it. It’s exactly what it sounds like – gently massaging oil or dressing into the kale leaves (using your hands) until they become softer and turn bright green. This helps break down the toughness of the leaves and bring out some of the natural moisture.

Kale Salad with Honey-Tahini Dressing

Ingredients:

  • For the dressing:
    • 2 Tbsp tahini
    • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 tsp vinegar
    • 1 tsp honey
    • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 5 stalks kale, rinsed and torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup sliced roasted almonds (or to toast your own, see directions below)
  • 2 Tbsp dried cranberries
  • 1 small shallot, sliced thinly (or 1/4 cup sliced red onion)

For the dressing

For the salad

Directions:

  1. To prepare the dressing, simply combine the first 5 ingredients into a small bowl and whisk until combined.
  2. Pour the dressing over the kale leaves and using your hands, gently massage the leaves until they soften and turn bright green. Set aside.
  3. To toast the almonds, add 1 tsp olive oil to a small frying pan and heat over a low flame. Add the almonds (and a sprinkle of salt, if desired) and stir constantly for 30-45 seconds. The almonds toast very quickly so you have to keep and eye on them. They’ll be done within 1 minute.
  4. Toss the kale with the almonds, dried cranberries and sliced shallot and enjoy. 🙂

Mix the dressing up

Toast up some almonds

Massage the dressing into the kale (this is what it looks like before)

And this is what it looks like after. Notice how the leaves have turned bright green?

One nice thing about kale is that it holds up well to moisture. You could prepare this salad in the morning, dressing and everything, and it will barely have wilted by lunch time.
I really love the toasted almonds in this salad because they are nice and crisp and almost taste like pumpkin seeds!

🙂

Vanilla Coffee Protein Shake

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First of all, I want to apologize for my absence lately. I had my wisdom teeth out on the 7th and so I’ve been kind of under the weather these past few days. I aim to post a new recipe on here at least once or twice a week, but I’ve unfortunately been falling short lately. I realize that probably bothers nobody except me, however, so onto the food!

I can’t  eat solid foods yet because my gums are still quite swollen and sore, so I’ve been trying to make the most of this and exploring new smoothies and protein shakes. My mother drinks a protein shake every morning for breakfast, consisting of “Tropical Dreamsicle” flavored protein powder and Vanilla Silk, and it’s pretty tasty. She also has chocolate and vanilla protein powder that she’s been letting me use, so this morning I decided to whip up a shake.

In addition to desperately missing eating solid food and actually chewing (instead of just sloshing stuff around in my mouth), I’ve also missed my iced coffee. I’m allowed to drink coffee, but somehow drinking it out of a cup instead of through a straw isn’t quite as satisfying. (In case you’ve never had your wisdom teeth out, you’re not supposed to use a straw after having them removed because you may disrupt the blood clot that’s formed over the wound and could lead to a painful infection called a dry socket – ouch). I did have some leftover iced coffee in the fridge this morning, so I decided to combine it with protein powder to make a coffee protein shake, yum!

If you’re unfamiliar with protein powder, fear not; I knew little about it until a few months ago. Powdered whey protein is a simple way to add protein to your diet and is used by many athletes to build lean muscle and lose fat. Protein is, of course, essential to the human diet and helps to keep you feeling full for longer. I used to think that only athletes or body builders used whey protein, but I’ve come to realize that’s not true and that anybody can use it! It comes in an endless variety of flavors and can be added to smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, etc. To learn more about it, click here.

This shake tastes like a thick iced coffee, but is loaded up with protein, so you’re getting your caffeine boost and protein all in one. My version uses vanilla-flavored protein powder and has a fairly strong coffee flavor, but feel free to use whichever flavor powder you like; chocolate, almond, raspberry, banana – anything will do! One scoop of protein powder (using the scoop the packaging provides you with, which is  a little less than a 1/2 cup) has 25g of protein. Substitute Greek yogurt for regular yogurt and your shake has over 30g of protein! It’s perfect for a morning when you don’t have time to cook a real breakfast, or just want a quick pick-me-up before the gym.

Vanilla Coffee Protein Shake

Ingredients:
makes 2 servings

  • 2 cups ice
  • 1 cup chilled strong-brewed coffee (using the cold-brew method, or simply prepare a strong cup of coffee ahead of time and refrigerate)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt (use Greek yogurt for extra protein!)

Directions:

Simply combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse for 30-40 seconds or until all ingredients are blended. If a thicker consistency is desired, add more ice. Serve immediately. This recipe makes 2 servings, so if you only need one serving, freeze the rest for later use.

🙂

(The straw is just for looks, of course – I still need to wait another week or so before I can use one again!)

Hopefully I’ll be feeling better soon and can get back to eating real meals and writing up recipes for them!