Carnitas Tacos with Apple Salsa and Chipotle Crema

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This recipe brought to you by the combination of pork, apples, and chipotle. You are correct, there is nothing better.

Uffda.  Long name on this guy.  Sorry, dudes, it was necessary.  There is no other way to describe the deliciousness that lives within this corn tortilla.

Whoever invented the taco was a genius.  If someone told me to pick one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be tacos.  Definitely.  It is the perfect combination of meat, veggies, spice, creaminess, crunch, and soft.  All wrapped in a tortilla.  Someone was thinking when they invented this.  It is basically a sandwich, perfected.  And healthy!  For the wedding diet…obviously.

For the record, the USA worked very hard to ruin the taco.  Too many people believe that a taco is salty ground beef, tomatoes, refried beans, sour cream, and a hard shell that disintegrates the second you bite into it.  This is not a taco.  This is a hot mess.  On the bright side, there are many people now working to resurrect the taco in all of its beautiful glory.

This taco in particular was inspired.  Pork and apple is a classic combination.  So is pork and chipotle.  Combining all three is pure magic, sweet and spicy and crunchy and soft and oh my god just go make it.  This is the perfect combination of healthy, summery fare, and comforting pulled pork.  If someone asked me to describe my “culinary style”, comfort food with a twist would be the words and this would be the perfect dish to exemplify that theme.

This dish has three distinct components.  Thus, three different recipes are below.  As far as cooking order, get the carnitas cooking a crock pot first.  While it cooks, prepare the salsa and crema.  You want both of these components to set for at least a couple hours before serving.

Pork Carnitas

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Ingredients

  • 5 lb pork butt/shoulder
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 T smoked paprika
  • 1 T coriander
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 T ancho pepper
  • 2 jalepenos, rough chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, rough chopped
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 cloves garlic

Directions

This is almost the same as my previous Carnitas recipe, with just the addition of pineapple and a slightly different spice rub.  Take the pork butt (which is actually pork shoulder, and is sometimes labelled thus at the store) and rub it generously with salt and pepper.  Combine all other spices in a bowl. Massage the spice mix into the pork, making sure to get into all the cracks and crevices.  Really give that pork butt a rub.  Hey-o!  🙂

Put the pork butt into your slow cooker/ crock pot with the fat cap on top.  Put the jalepeno, onion, garlic, and pineapple right on top of of the fat cap.  Top with a little bit more oregano, if desired.

Cook on low for 10 hours, or high for 6 hours.  When it is done, remove from the slow cooker and shred the meat in a large pan.  Pour the shredded meat and all the juices from the crock pot into a large skillet and simmer the juices down until ready to serve.

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Apple Salsa

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Ingredients

  • 2 apples (choose a sweeter cooking variety)
  • 1 jalepeno pepper
  • 1 anaheim pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 inch ginger
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Finely dice the apples.  Juice both limes toss with the apples in a large bowl.  Remove the seeds and membrane from the jalepeno and anaheim peppers.  Dice finely and add to the bowl.  Mince the garlic and ginger, and dice the onion.  Chop the cilantro.  Add everything to the same bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

Chipotle Crema

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup half and half ( I used low fat)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup sour cream ( I used low fat)
  • 6 chipotle peppers in adobo
  • salt (to taste)

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender (I used my Ninja blender, which is my all time favorite kitchen appliance).  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours before serving, to let the ingredients combine.

Put it all together! 

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Ingredients

  • Carnitas
  • Apple Salsa
  • Chipotle Crema
  • Corn Tortillas
  • Red Cabbage

Directions

Heat the tortillas through in a skillet.  Use a slotted spoon to put carnitas on top of the tortillas.  Top with salsa, crema, and chopped red cabbage.  Devour immediately.

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Lamb and Kimchi Lettuce Wraps

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Lamb has been my protein of the summer.   My grocery store finally started carrying lamb chops and ground lamb.  We have been feasting on lamb burgers for half the summer, but I wanted to mix it up a little.

One of my favorite places is a theater in Minneapolis.  We got free tickets for a show last week, and had dinner at their little bar before hand.  I ordered spicy asian lettuce wraps and they were inspiring.

The one problem with craving spicy food is that my fiance has the taste buds of a midwesterner.  The tiniest amount of heat sets him to breathing like a lion and gasping about how his mouth is on fire.  The lettuce wraps I ordered had spicy pork belly and candied jalepenos.   Not going to fly at home.  So I settled on lamb meatballs and a spicy-ish kimchi to satisfy my need for heat with my fiance’s delicate palate.

Turns out, I am a genius.  The combination was perfect!

This recipe has several components: the meatballs, the kimchi, and the the glaze. The kimchi is actually a quick kimchi, not the kind that ferments in a jar buried in your backyard for a year or two.  A store bought kimchi would also work, but why do that when you can make your own with relatively little effort?  I recommend making the kimchi far enough ahead of time that it can cool, even up to a day or two before if you want.  The meatballs and the glaze are pretty quick after that.

Quick Kimchi

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 head napa cabbage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sambal (Asian chili paste available in the asian section of most grocery stores!)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup scallions, finely chopped

Directions

Boil six cups of salted water.  Put the cabbage in a large bowl and pour the boiling water over it.  Let set on the counter until it comes to room temperature.  Meanwhile, whisk together all the other ingredients.  When the cabbage is at room temperature, drain off the extra water, pour the sauce mixture over it, and toss until thoroughly mixed.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Lamb Meatballs

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dry parsley
  • 2 gloves minced garlic
  • 1 inch ginger, grated (about 1 T after grating)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg

Directions

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Be careful not to overmix! Heat about 1 T of olive oil in a large skillet.  Roll the meatballs so they are a little under 1 inch in diameter.  Brown on all sides, being careful to turn regularly so as not to overcook.  You do want to get a nice sear on the edge, however.  This should take about 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the glaze.

Asian Meatball Glaze

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 T sambal
  • 2 T hoisin
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp fish sauce

Directions

Whisk all the above ingredients together.  When the meatballs are finished, glaze them in the sauce before serving.

Put it all together!

Extra Ingredients

  • bean sprouts
  • butter lettuce leaves
  • cilantro and lime if desired

Directions

Wash and pat dry each lettuce leaf.  For one wrap, use two leaves.  Place three glazed meatballs in the center.  Top with kimchi and bean sprouts.  Add cilantro and lime if you wish (cilantro not pictured).  Plan on these disappearing quickly.

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Even Mr. Minnesota loved them.  And that, my friends, is a true accomplishment.

Southwest Corn and Jicama Salad

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I have a little confession to make.  I absolutely love chopping vegetables.  It’s almost a fetish.  There is nothing I love more than to come home from work, pour a fat glass of wine, sit at my kitchen table and spend a solid hour chopping food up.  My favorite thing about cooking may actually be that I get to spend a bunch of time breaking things, only to end up with something amazing.  Who doesn’t love that?

Like Obi.  Who doesn't love Obi?  Seriously, look at that face!

Like Obi. Who doesn’t love Obi? Seriously, look at that face!

My love of vegetable chopping is one reason I love this salad.  Another is the dressing.  Seriously, I could it eat with a spoon.  Altogether, this salad has the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, bitter, and just plain fresh.  So very fresh.

Really, this is a summer dish.  It is best with fresh sweet corn, garden picked veggies, and eaten on a patio with a cold Corona.  In Minnesota these days, we seem to have finally broken the winter barrier.  Spring is in the air! Matt and I actually got to have a beer on a patio the other day.

If I was in charge of heaven, this is what it would look like.

If I was in charge of heaven, this is what it would look like.

So now I am in the mood for summer, and this dish is a symptom of that craving!  I absolutely recommend using fresh sweet corn for this meal, but if it does not happen to be the middle of july, my grocery store did carry hothouse corn on the cob.  Not the same at all, but close enough for this girl’s spring craving.

Maybe the best part of this dish is that it can be used in so many different ways.  My dad uses it like salsa on chips.  You could also put it on tacos or meat like a dressing or sprinkle it over a salad.  So many uses.  I tend to just eat it up with a spoon because it is so darn delicious!

So here ya go.  My all time favorite salad!

Ingredients:

3-4 cobs of sweet corn on the cob (Do NOT use frozen corn!)

2 tomatos

1 serrano pepper

1 medium jicama

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cloves garlic

1 bunch fresh cilantro

1/2 red onion

1 lime

1 T honey

1 tsp red pepper flakes

Directions

Slice the raw corn off the cob directly into the bowl.  Use the flat edge of your knife to press along the cob to get the milk out.  Scrape over the bowl so the milk goes straight into the salad.  Mince the pepper and garlic.  Dice remaining vegetables and combine in the same bowl, along with the black beans.  In a separate dish, squeeze out the juice of one lime.  Add the honey and pepper flakes and whisk together.  Add salt and black pepper as desired.  Pout the sauce over the corn and jicama mixture, and stir well together.  Serve immediately, or let marinate for ~4 hours before serving.  Use within 3-4 days for freshest taste.

Fish Tacos

Soooooo bright.  Soooooo beautiful. Our Precious...

Soooooo bright. Soooooo beautiful. Our Precious…

Most people think of fish tacos as a fried, greasy, indulgent food.  These are exactly the opposite.  Sautéed fish, fresh veggies, creamy fabulous avocado sauce.  I am absolutely obsessed with them.  Especially with my new pre-wedding diet demanding that I eat a little healthier, these are the perfect healthy option without losing any delicious flavor.

The true magic behind these tacos is the combination of textures.  I am obsessed with texture in my food.  You absolutely have to include the cabbage in this dish to balance the creamy sauce and soft fish.  When you get that balance, these are absolute money.

The other bit of pixie dust is the avocado sauce.  I use this sauce for a variety of dishes, and there is a vat of it in my fridge more often than not.  It also works as a healthy dip for veggies or even tortilla chips.  If you make nothing else off this blog, make the avocado sauce.  It is to die for.

Obi agrees.

Obi agrees. Make the sauce.

I suggest making the pico and avocado sauce ahead of time to marinade a bit, then cooking the fish when you are ready to eat.  Another benefit of this meal, is that the toppings will last a few days.  We are having the same meal tonight, as soon as my fiance gets home, and all I will have to do is cook more fish!

Pico de Gallo

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This is before I added the cilantro….. apologies.

Ingredients:

2 tomatoes

1/2 onion

1/2 lime juice and zest

3 small sweet peppers

1 clove garlic

1 serrano pepper (if desired for spicy-ness)

1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

This is a very simple pico de gallo, but if you make it right it is delicious.  First, mince the garlic.  Squeeze the 1/2 lime into a small bowl and combine with chopped garlic.  Let marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  This will help soften the raw garlic flavor, while infusing it into the lime juice so it will go throughout the pico (instead of little chunks of raw garlic).  Chop the rest of the ingredients into small pieces and combine in a bowl.  If using the serrano pepper make sure to clean out the seeds and mince into tiny pieces so you don’t burn anyone’s mouths.  Serrano gives pico a lovely heat, but it can hurt you if you aren’t careful with it.

Let the pico sit, covered, in the fridge while you prepare the other ingredients. Trust me, you don’t need a fancier pico for this dish. 🙂

Avocado Cream Sauce

Creamy heaven.  Try to not eat it all with a spoon before your family gets home.

Creamy heaven. Try to not eat it all with a spoon before your family gets home.

Ingredients:

2 avocados

1 cup greek yogurt

2 T cilantro leaves

1-2 cloves garlic

1/2 – 1 limes juice and zest

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor on high until smooth and creamy.  I have a Ninja blender, so if you have one too definitely use that.  It is the best thing ever. Set aside in fridge until the rest of the meal is ready.

The rest of the taco…

(I couldn’t think of a more formal title….yes.)

Flaky, fabulous, fish!

Flaky, fabulous, fish!

Ingredients:

Tilapia (I just cooked 2 pieces, but you will have enough toppings for a lot more. You basically need one piece of tilapia for two tacos.  So portion from there)

1 T olive oil

Red cabbage

Corn tortillas

Grated Cotija cheese (A crumbled queso fresco or other Mexican cheese would also work.  In a pinch, use shredded colby or colby-jack)

Spice mixture (For fish. Use approximately equal parts of each.  Except for the cayenne.  Just use a dash of cayenne. Unless you want super spicy fish.  You can taste a little as you mix the spices to see if you want more of anything.  This is basically just a cajun seasoning blend, so if you have one you love already feel free to use that!)

  • garlic powder
  • onion salt
  • black pepper
  • crushed red pepper
  • cumin
  • smoked paprika
  • cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Directions:

Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat.  Sprinkle spice mixture generously over fish, and set in pan once the oil is hot.

Can you imagine anything more beautiful?

Can you imagine anything more beautiful?

Cook the fish thoroughly, flipping when needed, until flaky (see earlier picture).  About 8 minutes.

While the fish is cooking, chop the red cabbage finely.

Red cabbage is a really beautiful ingredient.  Gotta include a gratuitous picture here.

Red cabbage is a really beautiful ingredient. Gotta include a gratuitous picture here.

Warm tortillas on a skillet or in the microwave on a paper towel.  When the fish is ready, portion as desired (I put 1/2 piece tilapia on each tortilla).  Top with a sprinkle of cheese.

As so....

As so….

Top with avocado cream sauce, pico de gallo, and cabbage.

Devour.

Make more fish the next day and devour again.

Repeat.

Yeah, baby!

Get hungry.

Get hungry.

Asian Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

So I just got engaged.

Yay!

Yay!

So for the next year and a half I am officially on the wedding diet.  No for seriously. :-/

This doesn’t actually mean I am necessarily going to diet, but it does mean that my food is going to start looking a lot more like lettuce wraps and less biscuits and gravy.  Which isn’t a bad thing.  Just a different thing.

Shrimpy goodness!

Shrimpy goodness!

I actually love lettuce wraps.  And asian food.  Asian food isn’t really my strength, in fact it is Erica’s.  While she was here over Christmas we made some pretty fantastic Asian-inspired food and I have a serious craving for it, so this weeks blogging is going to be heavily influenced by that.

Starting with these fabulous, spicy, shrimpy, wonders.  They are so fresh and flavorful, it felt like spring food.  It made me want summer.  Unfortunately it is below zero in MN right now, but these gave a little taste of it back.

Next time I make this, I will use butter lettuce.  That is the only thing I would chance, but sadly my grocery store was out of butter lettuce and I used romaine hearts instead.  Not the same, and it definitely would have been better the way I planned it.  But in an emergency, romaine worked!  So I am going to put butter lettuce in the recipe… but the pictures are of romaine.  I do know the difference.  🙂

Ingredients:

1 head butter lettuce

1/2 lb shrimp

1/4 cup chicken stock

1 T Hoisin

1/2 T soy sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

1/4 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp chili garlic sauce

1/2 T cornstarch

1 T olive oil

1 T butter

1 tsp lemon juice

2 garlic cloves

1 inch piece of ginger

1/4 cup diced carrots

3 green onions

3 small sweet peppers (or one bell pepper, preferably orange or yellow!)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped cashews

Directions:

Start by chopping up all your vegetables.  You will be glad you did, trust me.

Just missing the carrots.

Just missing the carrots.

Next, whisk together chicken stock, hoisin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, and cornstarch.

All the sauces.

All the sauces.

Lookin' good!

Lookin’ good!

You’ll be so happy you got this done ahead of time.

Saute shrimp with butter and lemon juice in wok over medium heat.  Cook just until warm and starting to turn pink, then remove from heat. (You don’t want to overcook them!)

Put shrimp in separate pan.  In same wok, add olive oil.  When the oil gets hot, add garlic, ginger, carrots, green onion, and pepper.  Cook just until carrots start to get tender, but not too long.  You want them to keep a little texture.

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Add cashews, cilantro, shrimp, and sauce mixture.  Mix together and cook until shrimp are cooked through (completely pink) and all the veggies reach desired texture.  This should only take 2-3 minutes.

Magic

Magic

Scoop desired amount into each leaf, and eat!  And feel good about yourself, you healthy eater you!

(This recipe adapted from one found on fit-fun-delish blog, so you should go check them out, too!)

Football Sunday Brunch Burger with Cheesy Hashbrowns

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Matt and I used to live right in the middle of Minneapolis.  When we moved to suburbia, we were excited for off street parking, no more snow emergencies, less traffic, and shorter drives to visit our respective parents.  We were less thrilled about giving up all of the amazing bars, pubs, and restaurants in Minneapolis.  I am probably a little biased, but Minneapolis really is one of the most underrated food cities in the country.

Our absolute favorite time to go out is for brunch.  There are so many amazing brunch places in Minneapolis/St. Paul, we were never bored.  One of our favorites was a little bar in Northeast, that not only had a fantastic beer selection, but amazing food as well.  My favorite thing there was this amazing burger with peanut butter, bacon, and egg on it.  The perfect combo of breakfast and burger.

We still drive into Minneapolis for brunch some days, but on a cold wintery sunday morning it is pretty great to be able to stay home.  Thus, this recipe was born.

There are two components to this meal, the hashbrowns and the burger.  The idea is to try and make both of these around the same time so that they come out together, but that would take more than one set of hands.  I ended up making the hashbrowns first, then the burger, and let the hashbrowns stay warm in the oven while I worked on the burgers.  If you have a lovely assistant, divide and conquer and you will have an amazing brunch in no time!

Cheesy Hashbrowns

Ingredients:

  • 5 baby red potatoes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 2 T olive oil or canola oil
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

Prep potatoes.  I left the skin on and used a mandolin to grate them, if you are less of a control freak than me you could also use food processor.  After grating each potato, set onto a plate lined with paper towel.  You want to soak up as much of the extra liquid as possible so the hashbrowns can get crispy.

This would be less messy with a food processor.....

This would be less messy with a food processor…..

I used another paper towel and pressed down on top several times to soak up even more extra liquid.  After I was happy with the state of my potatoes, I heated the oil in a pan over medium heat.  Then add the potatoes, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, and cumin all into the pan and mix together.

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It looks like Christmas!

Let the bottom get crispy, flip and let the other side get a little crispy.  After the potatoes have had a chance to cook a bit, add the cheese to the pan and mix in well.

It gets a little goopy at this point.

It gets a little goopy at this point.

 Continue cooking over medium heat.  At some point, break apart into patty’s so that it has a chance to get crispy.  Cook until hashbrowns reach desired level of crispness.

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I like my hashbrowns pretty crispy.

Set in oven until ready to serve.

Peanut Butter Bacon Burger

(This recipe will make 6 burgers worth of meat.  I tried to portion the other ingredients for 6 burgers as well. I only made 2 burgers, as there are only 2 of us, and will use the rest of the meat another day.  Feel free to do the same!)

Ingredients:

1 lb ground mild pork sausage

1lb ground beef

1 clove garlic, minced

Fresh herbs, as available

Pinch salt and peppar

1 lb bacon

6 English muffins

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 T maple syrup

2 T weiss beer (or whatever beer you have on hand)

6 eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by preparing the burgers, as they take the most time to cook.  In a bowl, combine ground beef, sausage, herbs, and garlic.  I happened to have fresh tarragon and basil on hand so I used that, but almost any fresh herbs would work. Mix by hand with a dash of salt and pepper.

At the same time, start cooking bacon in a pan over medium heat, removing and setting on a paper towel as done.  I poured some of the bacon fat into another pan, also on medium heat, and used that cook my burgers in.  Make ~6 patties and set in heated pan with bacon fat.  Cook until both sides are well browned, then set on a baking sheet and cook in oven until done through.  This mix has sausage in it, so I do not recommend leaving the meat below medium-well.  The sausage also keeps the patty moist and fatty, so don’t worry that you are going to lose all the flavor by cooking it all the way.

While the burger is cooking, prepare the peanut butter sauce.  Combine peanut butter, maple syrup, and beer with a whisk.

So very yummy...

So very yummy…

Not only does this sauce taste divine, but whisking gives it an incredibly fluffy, airy texture.  I used creamy peanut butter, and Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss beer.  You could totally use crunchy peanut butter to give it a whole different texture, but you may lose some of the airiness from whisking.

When the burgers have about 5 minutes left in the oven, cook eggs in a non-stick pan.  You want to cook them on pretty low heat, so that the whites cook through while the yolk stays runny.

When everything is ready, toast english muffins, and stack!

English muffin, peanut butter spread, burger, bacon, egg, peanut butter spread, english muffin. O my heavenly.

English muffin, peanut butter spread, burger, bacon, egg, peanut butter spread, english muffin. O my heavenly.

Serve with hashbrowns on the side. The cumin and smoked paprika in the hashbrowns add just a little heat that is perfect with the sweet, creamy peanut butter and juicy, savory burger patty.  And the egg makes it taste like breakfast.

This is truly perfection in brunch form, perfect with a cup of coffee or a beer.  Whatever way your brunch blows you.

We might not need those trips to Minneapolis for brunch anymore.

Bon appétit!

Barbacoa Quesadillas

I never learned how to cook for less than a herd of people.  Growing up in a large family, with two starving brothers, there was never too much food.  Now that Boyfriend and I are the only ones in the house, I still cook the same amount of food.

Yay leftovers!

Too often, we could easily eat the same meal for 4 or 5 days in a row without running out.  But that would be boring.

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This recipe resulted from having too much of two different meals.  First, I made a couple pounds too much barbacoa for taco night.  The veggies came from cooking too many for omelets that morning.  Put them together, with tortillas also left over from tacos, and Voila!

The trick with quesadillas, is to cook them slowly, so the tortilla gets crispy, but doesn’t burn, while the cheese completely melts in with the other ingredients. Either use a large enough pan to cook several quesadillas at once, or run your pan under cold water between quesadillas to cool it down to get the right texture.

Ingredients:

  • Beef Barbacoa (I used THIS amazing recipe to make it the day before!)
  • Tomatoes
  • Red/yellow bell pepper
  • Red onion
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Shredded colby/jack cheese
  • Small corn tortillas
  • Red cabbage
  • Avocado

Directions:

Dice tomatoes, onion, and bell pepper.  About an equal quantity of each.  Heat olive oil in pan, then add veggies.  Cook until soft.  Set aside.

Place a cold pan on a burner over medium hear.  Spray with cooking spray.  Immediately place one corn tortilla on pan, while it is still cool.  Sprinkle with cheese, then veggies, then barbacoa.  You just need a thin layer of each.  Top it all off with another sprinkle of cheese.  Cover with another corn tortilla.  Cook until lower layer of cheese is melted and bottom tortilla is crispy.  Flip.  Cook until all cheese is melted through and the other tortilla is crispy.  Remove from heat and immediately slice into fourths.  Chop red cabbage and avocado to garnish!

Yum!

~Amanda