I was trying to decide what to write about in this post and then I realized I had a birthday last week. To celebrate this birthday we hosted a fiesta!
I take theme parties very seriously. Just ask the attendees of last years "party like you used to do in undergrad"... The theme for my birthday was FIESTA! Naturally, we had a make your own burrito bar, margaritas, Mexican beer, chips and salsa, and a rousing game of pin the tail on the burro.
Did I mention I take themes very seriously?
The star of the evening festivities (other than the burro Juan, of course) was the giant pot of homemade carnitas.
Now, story time.
We just bought ourselves Andrea Reusing's new cookbook, Cooking in the Moment, because she is a Chapel Hill chef, a bunch of the farmers we enjoy patronizing are featured prominently in the book, and it was getting tons of buzz. I wanted to see what the big deal was. Reusing's restaurant Lantern, is just up the street from our house and she just won a regional James Beard award. Now this is all awesome and stuff, but we went to her restaurant last year and we were less than impressed. I mean, the food was good, I guess. Derek's dinner seemed a little salty and it was so dark in the restaurant I do not even remember what my dinner looked like. If I am going to pay some inordinate amount of money for a nice dinner out I want to see it! This restaurant is supposed to be amazing. Why go to all that trouble then turn off the lights? Don't we eat with our eyes? Plus, the table right next to us (I mean, I felt like we were rude for not introducing ourselves) was getting comped all sorts of delicious appetizers and I felt gypped. We could not really see the food, but they sounded like they liked it. How come they get free food? Anyway, I hear she is great from lots of people and I was willing to give her cookbook a chance. See, I have a forgiving soul...
End story time.
In the new cookbook, there are lots of pretty pictures and almost too simple recipes... it is local and seasonal and very inspiring. I was instantly drawn to one of her Mexican chef's carnitas recipes. Not exactly a Reusing original or something she would serve at her restaurant, but perfect for a fiesta. See the recipe at the end of this post.
We also made a tequila peach galette. You know, instead of birthday cake. Because it has tequila in it, it is Mexican. Don't try and tell me galette is a French word.
Margaritas were drunk. The amount of margarita drinking is probably why I have very few party pictures. I am not allowed to play with the pretty camera when I am drinking margaritas. Mistakes were made.
I made a burro (that is donkey in Spanish, hehe) with construction paper and poster board and we were going to play pin the tail on the donkey. Then I started to get really grumpy at the United States congress. If you do not live under a rock, you know what I mean. I was so angry at them, particularly John Boehner. I do not want to make to overt a political statement on this blog, but really... what a jerk. So the game became pin the Boehner on the burro. I am sure you all get the references here. If you don't, bless you.
In all of the pictures Boehner was crying.
Derek's little brother and my cousin were there, which was incredibly fun. Yay for family! That is really why I like this picture. Look at the smiles on Derek's and his little brothers face, then look at my cousin (white shirt in the background) smiling too. I love it.
Ok, enough rambling. I had a great birthday. It was nice to have many people I care about all in one place. To those of you who could not make it because you were in a different state, a different country, or a different mental plane, I missed you. I have always been a summer birthday kid, so normally as a working archaeologist, I miss my birthday too!
Miguel Torres's Carnitas
modified very slightly from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment
Note: We definitely halved the original recipe and comfortably served 10 people with leftovers. The carnitas are very rich and you do not need a lot of meat per person. I am going to record the ratios we used.
4-5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
scant 1 cup lard (I know, I know ewww)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cola
1/2 orange, split in half again
burrito or taco condiments (salsa, tortillas, rice, cheese, cabbage salad, we made a jalepeno and red onion escabeche)
1. Cut pork shoulder into 3 inch cubes, trimming off any gristle and leaving all of the fat. Because you probably will not be able to find a boneless cut, use this opportunity to cut it off the bone.
2. Heat a large heavy pot over high heat and add meat and lard. As soon as lard has melted, add enough cold water to barely cover the pork. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Add salt, pepper, and bay leaves.
3. This is where the magic happens. Stir this regularly and simmer briskly for about an hour and a half or until the water has evaporated (it has taken up to 2.5 hours for us). While you are stirring and monitoring the pork, do not worry that the pork seems tough and do not try to spilt apart hunks of pork. It will get tender as the water evaporates and you do not want it shredded.
4. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the milk. Simmer for 5 minute or until the milk is almost completely reduced. Add the cola. Squeeze the two orange quarters over the meat and add the oranges to the pot too. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes and stir this pretty often. The meat should get kind of crispy and turn a deep carmel brown. Now take out the oranges and adjust the seasonings.
5. Use as meat filling for Mexican dish of your choice.