Tacos al Pastor (at home!)

I was able to find a recipe from Rick Bayless, Frontera Grill, and when you get a great recipe like this one, don’t mess with it!  I’ve tried to make tacos mimicking the tacos al pastor from Mexico before, but without that upright spit to grill it all on, it is very difficult to achieve. We found this to be the closest thing I could do at home.

Serve it with Mexican Pickled Vegetables, Pickled Red Onions and it is a real hit.

INGREDIENTS

  • A 3 1/2ounce packageachiote paste
  • 3canned chipotle chile en adobo, plus 4 tablespoons of the canning sauce
  • 1/4cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little more for the onion and pineapple
  • 1 1/2pounds thin-sliced pork shoulder (1/4-inch-thick slices are ideal—the kind Mexican butchers sell for making tacos al pastor)
  • 1medium red onion, sliced 1/4- inch thick
  • Salt
  • 1/4of a medium pineapple, sliced 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 20 warm corn tortillas
  • About 1 1/2cups raw tomatillo salsa
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If you have a great butcher, have him slice the meat super fine – you’ll be thankful!

INSTRUCTIONS

In a blender, combine the achiote paste, chiles, canning sauce, oil and 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth. Use 1/3 of the marinade to smear over both sides of each piece of meat (refrigerate the rest of the marinade to use on other meat or fish). Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

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Marinate for at least an hour, but I did this overnight.  The flavour gets right through the meat.

Light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until covered with gray ash but still very hot; bank the coals to one side and set the grill grate in place. Or, heat one side of a gas grill to high. Brush both sides of the onions slices with oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay in a single layer on the hot side of the grill. When richly browned, usually just about a minute, flip and brown the other side; move to the cool side of the grill to finish softening to grilled-onion sweetness. Oil and grill the pineapple in the same way. Finally, in batches, grill the meat: it’ll take about a minute per side as well. As the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and chop it up (between 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces). Scoop into a skillet and set over the grill to keep the meat warm. Chop the onion and pineapple into small pieces as well, add them to the skillet and toss everything together. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Serve with the tortillas and salsa for your guests to make soft tacos.

Mexico City, revisited!

Mexico itself is a country full of contrasts, and truly evident in the city.  Grandiose architecture and magnificent art galleries alongside signs of poverty.  In that I am sure every major city in the world is similar.  What is very different are the smells – walking down any given street you have the contrast of delicious meat grilling, fresh cucumber being sliced or …….sewage.

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The contrasts between old church spires, modern buildings and electrical mayhem are everywhere!

If you haven’t been to Museo Soumaya yet, then please try to get there.  Built by Mexico’s wealthy Carlos Slim in honour of his wife the entire structure is amazing itself, but once you get in and have the opportunity to view the largest collection of art work you simply won’t believe it.  His son in law designed the place and it is as elaborate inside as out.  The different floors wind up along inside the building so you are either slanting in or out, depending on which floor you are on.  The displays change somewhat too, the last time we were here an entire floor was devoted to Sophia Loren.  Better still, it is free admission!

Sculptures by Rodin, paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir & Matisse to name a few, you can wander here for hours.

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The “Gates of Hell” was a particularly masterful piece, and just huge.

We were pretty fortunate to be in the city for longer than we have before so thoroughly enjoyed both eating out and touring art galleries and museums.  It is literally impossible to not eat well in Mexico City.  From spending mere pesos for a street taco to dining in one of the more elegant restaurants it is always less than we would spend at home and the food is fantastic.

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Try a roadside tostada, in this case shrimp ceviche.

Or – if you are fortunate enough to have a cozy place like we did, just pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner.  This Columbian chicken dinner was 110 pesos, and fed us for 2 nights.  Not only that, it was incredibly delicious.  Under the skin they had rubbed an amazing herb blend and that skin was something Auntie Brigitte would have fought for ….

If you can’t find what you need at a mercado, then you either don’t need it, or you aren’t in the right mercado.  Smiling vendors are raring to sell you whatever you need, at a very reasonable price and guaranteed to make you smile too.

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In case you haven’t tried it ….. these large sheets below are pork fat.  Yep, pure pork fat fried up in all its goodness.  Mexicans eat it by the sheet, and as tasty as it is, we find a few crumbles on guacamole or in a soup are enough to hit the spot.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes – or the Fine Arts building.  Inside it is even more impressive with murals and incredible art galleries.  We have yet to make it to one of the traditional folk ballets they feature here, but one day ….

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Viewed from what was at one time the tallest building in the Americas, the Latin America building:

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Take the elevator to the top of the Latin America building and you just won’t believe how far you can see – particularly on a clear enough day when the smog isn’t too troublesome.

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Is there anything better than travel with family?  We think not!  Our youngest granddaughter Liv is already loving Mexico City as much as we do…

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Take some time at Chapultepec Park and Castle, well worth it to wander around, enjoy both the park and the walk up to the castle.

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These little guys are everywhere, hoping to catch the popcorn or peanut you drop.

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At the top of Chapultepec Park is the  Castle, as you can see not an especially brilliant day – smog combined with cool cloudy weather.

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Not sure if I was meant to live in a more elegant time or not, but I sure could have become accustomed to my bedroom and bathroom looking like this ….. Who am I kidding though, I would have been one of the servants!!  ha ha

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Imagine playing hopscotch or soccer inside these hallways … the stained glass is just incredible.

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Museum of Anthropology …… take a day.  In just over 3 hours we managed to view one side of the 3 you see here…. it is a touch overwhelming, but absolutely amazing and a must see.

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The reproductions of actual structures of ancient cities are so well done it is easy to imagine civilization as it was.  Just love the colours – and can picture how vivid the homes were.

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Amazing murals everywhere telling the stories of each civilization.

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And …. once you are worn out from walking your feet off (on this particular day we walked 13.3 kms….) it is entirely justified to stop and have a pastry … our favourite is La Boheme, situated next to Mercado Roma and serving up the most amazing pastries along with a perfectly Vivian size mug of hot chocolate.

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In Mexican culture, the mid day meal is very important … they linger over it, usually taking hours, and they certainly enjoy their alcoholic beverages along with it.  In fact, in a busy lunch spot like this, I think we were the only table without!

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Hungry for a light lunch or just a snack?  This tuna tostada is light, refreshing, and absolutely delicious. Contramar is one of the seafood restaurants in Mexico City that you must try to get in to.  Like many great places, they are only open for the main meal of the day, from noonish until 6ish.  Yes, that is how long lunch can be ….

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Oyster Bar in Mexico City?  Definitely!!  La Docena Oyster Bar has an impressive array of seafood choices and these oysters were so fresh and sweet we had 2 plates.  Incredibly delightful and this plate of raw oysters probably cost about the same as a small plate of chicken wings at home.  The crunchy oysters on top of the salad were a perfect crouton, and the sandwich a treat.

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Reforma is one of the busiest streets, and yet every Sunday morning they close it to vehicle traffic and it is full of Mexican families out exercising, bike riding, roller blading or doing dance classes.  Such a great idea, and I just wish we thought to do that in some of our major cities as well.

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Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are much loved in all of Mexico, and the museums dedicated to their lives and art are plentiful.  This particular one is in San Angel, which is a beautiful neighbourhood in the city, very artsy and upscale.  Saturday market holds some of the most tempting pieces you will find anywhere.

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Every neighbourhood has a spot like this to sit and enjoy peace and quiet.

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The Frida and Diego museum is actually one of their former homes- in this case they each had their own home, created by an architect friend.  See the walkway above to join the two?  Small bedrooms but huge art studios! (Frida’s house was the blue one, no surprise there, given the Blue House Museum in Coyoacan)

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Diego’s art studio sits as he left it …..fullsizeoutput_476a

Time for another snack in the park ….

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Well, it’s taken me some time to get this blog on Mexico City completed, but it is time to move on to the beach at Puerto Escondido.  We always seem to find a lot to do in DF, so I’m sure we will be back.

Pizza Pockets & Hand Pies

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Following is the recipe for a basic, soft and easy to work with dough.  I used this recipe for making pizza pockets for my granddaughter Sloan’s first week of Grade 1, and then turned leftover dough into meat hand pies for 93 year old Auntie Elsie, who is kind of tired of cooking these days. Leftover dough you say???  Well I didn’t think 8-10 small pizzas would give me enough dough so I doubled the recipe … which yielded 25 pizza pockets, 10 hand meat pies and 1 pizza for our dinner.  Significant yield!!!

Pizza Crust: (makes 8-10 small pizzettas)
Ingredients:

  • 750 g white flour (use Tipo ’00 flour if you can or a strong bread flour)
  • 200 g semolina flour
  • 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. (or 1 x 8 oz packages) yeast
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place your flour(s) and sea salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Create a well in the center.
  2. In a large measuring cup, mix together your lukewarm water and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Sprinkle in the yeast and let it sit for approximately 5 minutes, until the yeast starts to ferment.
  3. Pour the water/sugar/yeast mixture into the well along with the olive oil and stir together with a fork or large spoon until it is well mixed. Once it becomes too difficult to mix together with your fork or spoon, sprinkle extra flour on the dough and your hands and mix with your hands until the dough comes together in a ball.
  4. Place the dough on a well-floured flat surface and knead, pushing the dough using the palms of your hands, for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough looks smooth and stretchy. You may need to add extra flour as you go, being careful not to add too much to keep the dough from being too stiff.
  5. Place the ball of dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil, dust the top of the dough with flour, and cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm draft-free area for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Punch the dough down.  At this point you can either refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 2 days, covered with plastic wrap and occasionally punched down) or divide the dough into 4-6 portions (depending on how big you want your pizzas).  I highly recommend making your dough in advance and letting it sit in the fridge as the longer ‘proof’ really makes a difference.   Ensure that your pizza dough comes to room temperature before cooking (bring it out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours before you are ready to cook).
  6. Once ready to cook, heat your oven to the highest heat setting (500F for most ovens) and place your pizza stone in the oven for at least 20 minutes.
  7. Portion the dough into 8-10 balls and place on a well-floured surface. Using your hands, with your knuckles, (dusted with flour, along with the counter to prevent the dough from sticking) form your pizza crust 15-20 minutes before cooking your pizza on a flat surface dusted with semolina flour until it is nice and thin. Keep stretching it with your hands to make a flat pizza base (it doesn’t have to be round or perfect!).
  8. Remove the pizza stone from the oven, lay your rolled dough on the stone, and add your ingredients ….

If you are using this dough for pizza pockets or hand pies, after step 5 skip to step 7 and form circles of dough.

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For pizza pockets, layer on pizza sauce, your chosen ingredients and cheese, closing the pockets with a fork.  Make sure to prick the top surface with the fork so steam can escape.

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For the meat pies I used an ice cream scoop to get a consistent amount of the meat mixture – centered on the dough, and then brought up the edges to crimp over the middle of the circle.  Brush with beaten egg and poke with a fork.

Bake pizza pockets or meat pies at 400 until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

FILLING FOR MEAT PIE

1 onion, minced finely

1 garlic clove, grated

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

1/2 cup each frozen corn and peas

1 small zucchini, diced

1 lb ground beef

1 tbsp each dried oregano and basil

Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is lightly carmelized, add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are almost cooked through, then add zucchini and saute for another few minutes.  Remove from heat and place in bowl.  Add frozen corn and peas.  Return pan to heat and stir in ground beef – cooking until lightly browned, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Add beef to vegetable mixture and season with dried herbs, adding more salt and pepper if needed.  At this point, if you feel like it needs a bit more flavour, add 1 tbsp of tomato paste.  Stir well and set in fridge to cool down.  When cool, continue on with forming your hand pies.

These pies are only limited by your imagination – use whatever you feel like to fill the pies, making sure to taste the mixture before filling the dough rounds.  Made in a smaller size they make a great appetizer too.

Jean’s Cole Slaw

This simple coleslaw is great as a side for a variety of summer meals, but as a topping on either pulled pork or pulled chicken it really shines.

Pulled Pork

 

2/3  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup dijon mustard

1 tsp celery seed

1 tsp sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

 

Blend well, and keep tasting – should have a nice balance of sweet and tangy.

Pulled Pork in the Smoker

During the winter months I resort to using either my oven or my slow cooker for pulled pork …. mainly because we don’t have an outdoor space where we can use our electric smoker and still have it be under cover.  Whenever the opportunity is available though, this is the way to go.  When I am operating the smoker I like to make good use of that smoke and utilize the space, so I often do a pork roast as well as a chicken.  After trial and error, this pulled pork is the best!  Pile soft buns with the meat, some creamy cole slaw and a few pickled onions – serve with potato salad and green salad and this meal is a winner.

Pulled Pork

 

BRINE:

8 ounces (3/4 cup) molasses

12 ounces pickling salt

2 dried chipotle chiles

2 quarts bottled water

6-8 pound pork shoulder (or Boston Butt as it is known in some areas)

It is best to weigh the salt.  Pickling salt, by ounce, is not as “salty” as a table salt by either weight or measuring cup.

RUB:

1 tsp whole cumin seed

1 tsp whole fennel seed

1 tsp whole coriander

1 tbsp Mexican chile powder

1 tsp black pepper

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp paprika

Using a spice grinder (or mortar & pestle) finely grind the cumin, fennel and coriander seeds.  Add the rest of the spice powders and blend well.

Heat ½ of the water, add molasses and salt.  Simmer just until the salt has dissolved and stir in the rest of the water along with the chipotle chiles.  When mixture has cooled, put in a container suitable to go into your fridge,  add in the pork and make sure it is submerged in the liquid, adding more water if necessary in order to cover.

Brine at least 12 hours.  Remove from liquid, rinse well and pat dry.

Using kitchen gloves (rub adheres best if you do) vigorously rub the pork with the spices.

Smoker ready pork and chicken

Heat your smoker to 250, and place pork on a rack.  Start testing the pork for temperature after 7 hours.  Once it has reached 190 (yes, I know that seems high) it is done.  Here is the key part – tightly bundle the whole thing in a tin foil pack, not allowing any steam to escape and let it sit for at least an hour.  This will allow the moisture within the pork to redistribute and make for the most tender, flavourful pork ever!

A simple coleslaw recipe works best for piling on top of the pork – try Jean’s coleslaw on this site, and add a few pickled onions (also on this site).

 

 

Lamb Meatballs with Tomato Olive Sauce and Mint

lamb meatballs

 

These meatballs are tender and delicious – the sauce is rich and that mint sauce is a perfect taste to brighten it all up. If you aren’t a big fan of lamb, then use minced pork.

You could buy lamb merguez sausage to make these meatballs, but if that isn’t available to you, this is an easy fix and tastes amazing.

1 pound lean ground lamb

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp turmeric

3 cloves minced garlic

2 tbsp harissa

1 tbsp tomato sauce

Grind salt and fennel together until smooth, then add the rest of the spices and stir together.  Add in garlic, harissa and tomato sauce to make a paste.  Lightly toss paste with ground lamb, until well blended.

For the best flavour, allow to sit over night but they are great if made into meatballs right away too.

Form balls about 1″ in diameter.  Heat oil until shimmering, then cook meatballs until just crispy on the outside and

 

Meanwhile ….. on roasting pan in moderate oven (375) toss in olive oil:

3 tomatoes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves

1/2 cup black olives

 

Roast until vegetables are tender, and blend with enough olive oil to make a smooth sauce.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss meatballs with tomato sauce and serve with mint sauce.

Mint Sauce

Blend fresh mint leaves with a drizzle of honey, freshly squeezed lemon and olive oil just until smooth – season to taste with salt.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

We have a smoker, so when time and weather permits, we love to do a pork butt roast in the smoker – but let’s be honest, that doesn’t always work. The whole point of a slow cooker is simplicity, and being able to walk away ….. This recipe allows you to do just that, and still enjoy amazing pulled pork flavour.

2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4-5 pound pork butt roast
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 3″ piece cinnamon stick
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce

In slow cooker, place sliced onions and garlic.

Combine the dry ingredients, and give the pork a massage with the seasonings .. after all, it isn’t called a rub for nothing!
(if you want to make things really easy in the morning, rub the pork up the night before and allow those seasonings to penetrate the pork)

Place seasoned pork on top of the onion garlic mixture. Stir chicken stock and barbecue sauce together and pour over pork.

Allow pork to cook on high (6-8 hours) or low (8-10 hours). Remove from cooker, and allow to rest.

Use immersion blender and create sauce out of mixture in cooker – reduce to about half.

Shred pork with 2 forks, and return both pork and sauce to cooker.

Serve on fresh buns with a bit of crunchy cole slaw.

I will update with a photo next time I make this …. with our crowd, before I knew it, the serving was happening and there was no opportunity to take that shot!