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  • What's Sr Gregor Eating Now? - Carnitas

    Sr Gregor slow-cooks his way into his wife's heart (by way of her tastebuds) with a trip south of the border (not that border, you perverts!).

    As I've mentioned before, sometimes the trick to a tasty meal is not in fancy preparation, expensive ingredients, or even any special cooking technique. Sometimes, what's involved is picking a few simple things, putting them in a pot together, and leaving them the hell alone. Carnitas is one of those Mexican dishes for which you can find a thousand different variations on the same dish, changing from culture to culture, region to region, even family to family.

    While living in Texas, I had the fortune of knowing one particular family from down Mexico way that had immigrated to the States within the past twenty years. They brought with them a strong work ethic, a love of family, and a rich heritage of growing much of what they ate. Where I worked, we had Mexican food catered in every Wednesday. A friend of mine from work, my link in with this Tejano family, would bring jalapenos and serranos from his mother-in-law's garden for us to eat with our lunches, and we'd sit there with sweat rolling off of our foreheads in small rivers, looking like marathon track runners at the end of 10k (or, if you prefer, crackheads on a particularly rough dry spell). People would ask if we were okay, and we'd stare at them for a minute before their words permeated through the wave of heat tussling like cats on fire, and we'd smile, nod, and keep on eating.

    I'd love to be able to claim that this recipe came from them, but that would be a lie. Instead, let's say that this dish was more inspired by them. Every holiday weekend, my girlfriend at the time and I were invited out to join them at one park or another, where we'd ride around man-made lakes in a small motorboat, play volleyball on the rolling grass, and enjoyed good, honest food simply prepared with pride and integrity.

    For this dish, the one part that takes a bit of prep is the black beans. Prepared from scratch, you buy them in bags where they'll be small, hard pebbles, so you'll want to soak them overnight, at least 12 hours (though 24 would be better). First, pick through them for any miscolored beans, then cover with about three times as much water (per volume) as the beans, then let them sit. Afterwards, they won't be tiny rocks anymore, but by the same token they won't exactly be at the softness you're used to eating.

    The day you plan on eating, you're going to do much as we did before: pan-sear your pork roast (I went with pork butt this time around), and set it in your slow-cooker. Cover it with your seasonings (1/4 cup of cumin, 8 tablespoons of ground pasilla pepper, a teaspoon of smoked paprika, 7 cloves of crushed garlic, as single dry bay leaf and a few dashes of cayenne to give a kick of heat), then enough beef stock to almost come up over the roast. Set on high for an hour, then drop to low for the remaining four hours. Again, the art to slow-cooking is leaving things be. There's no point to touching it... it won't be ready for five hours in the least. The way to check if it's down is simply to scrape your fork along it; if it pulls apart easily, it's done.

    Back to the beans: give them a solid rinse, and then drop them in a pot of water (again, about 3-4 times the water as the beans). Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat, and allow it to simmer until the beans are forkably tender. At the same time, you can do up a pot of rice - two parts water, one part rice, set to boil, cover, and leave it be.

    The final step of proper carnitas prep is the final cook. In this case, take the shredded pork and some of its braising liquid, set in a metal shallow pan, and set in your 400 degree oven for about ten minutes to give it a bit of texture and crispness.

    This time around, a mixed a bit of cilantro and lime juice in the rice and some raw white onion in the beans. Topped the latter with some cotija, the former with a touch of salsa, the meat with some fresh chopped jalapeno and served with more limes and a bit of tortilla. You can enjoy with fork and knife, as a taco, or just tear the tortillas into bits you can use as scoops.

    As always, let me know if you try it, what you liked, what you changed. And, as ever, enjoy!

    One cannot live well, love well, or sleep well, if one has not dined well. - Virgina Woolf