Pork Carnitas

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A homemade corn tortilla, some pickled onions, avocado served with the tender pork and you have a perfect taco.

On our Mexican travels we have had some amazing carnitas, both in Michoacan, which is renowned for carnitas, but also at a Saturday mercado in Mexico City.  Once you have had great carnitas, that is something you will dream of when you get home!  Finally I’ve figured out how to do it at home, and it is the method as well as the recipe that is important.  

Ingredients

  • 2-2.5 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2-3 tablespoon oil

For serving:

  • 12-16 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • freshly chopped cilantro
  • 3-4 limes, quartered

For the brine:

  • 1/2 cup sea or kosher salt
  • 2-3 quarts water

Instructions

  • Add 2 quarts cold water to a mixing bowl along with 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt.  Stir to dissolve.  Cut the pork shoulder into 2″ chunks.  Add the pork chunks to the brine, cover, and store in the fridge for an hour.  If the pork isn’t completely submerged just add a bit more water.
  • Once brined, remove the pork chunks and pat them dry.  Add them to a clean mixing bowl along with:  2 teaspoons Mexican oregano, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional), 1 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons oil.  Combine well.
  • Add pork pieces to a casserole dish along with the juice of 1 orange, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 onion cut into chunks, 1 jalapeno sliced in half, and 4 peeled garlic cloves.  I usually put the leftover orange pieces in the pan as well.   Cover tightly with foil and bake at 300F for three hours.
  • After three hours give it the fork tender test.  If you can insert a fork into the pork with no resistance then it’s done.  If the chunks are still firm give it another half hour.
  • Remove the pork and set aside.  Strain the resting liquid into a bowl and be sure to give it a taste!  As it sits the fat will rise to the top — you can remove some of the fat if you want but I use most of it.
  • To crisp up the Carnitas we’ll put the shredded pork chunks under the broiler (approx. 525F).   You can use the same baking dish, just be sure to remove the leftover fruit and veggie chunks.  Add the pork back to the dish and shred with two forks.  I usually give it a partial shred, leaving it chunky, but you can always shred finer if you want.
  • Drizzle some of the resting liquid over the pork and broil for 5 minutes.  Take a look and broil for another 5 minutes if you want it crispier.

 

For serving you’ll need corn tortillas, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, some freshly chopped cilantro, the Salsa Verde, 3-4 limes, and cheese (optional).  You can warm up the tortillas in the oven but you’ll get happier faces if you crisp them up in hot dry skillet first.  I usually put a large skillet over medium high heat and crisp up 3-4 at a time, storing them in a tortilla warmer or tea towel.

If there are Carnitas leftovers, store in an airtight container in the fridge.  I usually store the resting liquid separately.  To re-heat, simply add pork to a saucepan along with some of the resting liquid, cover, and simmer over medium until heated through.
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Chop the pork into 2 inch pieces and coat all over with the oil and seasonings.

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Nestle all the pork in with the onion, jalapeño, garlic and squeeze the orange all over.  Tuck the orange pieces in, then cover tightly before slow roasting.

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Three hours later this pork is tender and your house smells amazing.

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I drizzled the pork with a little bacon fat just to add to the porky goodness.  Yum.

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Put the pan under the broiler, and watch carefully – you only want a few crispy bits.

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Stir the pork back into the cooking liquid and garnish with cilantro.

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Fragrant and juicy tomatoes make a fantastic base for this refreshing Pico de Gallo.

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What a fantastic bite!  Reminiscent of eating carnitas on a street corner or mercado in Mexico, we loved every morsel.

I’ve found this amazing new website (new to me anyway), and this recipe is courtesy of Mexicanplease …. check out that website, everything I’ve tried has been perfect …. including the flour tortillas made with bacon, delicious.

One Magical Day

We left our B&B at Santa Elena after breakfast, ready for a day of adventure in our rented car.  Good thing we were ready because it was one full day.  It seems that everywhere you look in this region you will spot ancient pyramid structures.  The town of Izamal  has 3 of them in the midst of town – it could be right beside a house!

Our first stop was at Labna,  I love the ruins that are so quiet, it allows you to feel the peace, the energy, and to just listen to the birds.  This is one site believed to be very important as it housed around 3,000 Mayans in the 9th centre.  Don’t miss this on the Ruta Puuc as the architecture is truly Puuc style and very interesting.   They were well known for their cisterns, at their peak they had 60 around the city.  As many ruins as we’ve seen I’m always impressed with what they were able to do in ancient times with so few tools.  There is something about wandering around these structures without crowds of people that allows you to feel the vitality of civilizations past.

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Just loved the magnificent old trees, Vivi loved the natural swing!

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Kabah 4

These beautiful structures were spread over quite a large area, and they haven’t even restored it all.  In 2006 they completed the restoration work we were able to see.

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No, we aren’t allowed to climb on the structures, but I think sitting for a photo is okay ……

 

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So many years later, the structural integrity of this building was still intact.  The only restoration needed was in the arch and stairways.  Obviously a brilliant civilization to be able to accomplish all this.

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Kabah 5

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It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful setting. BUT, caves are waiting!

Loltun Caves “Grutas de Loltun” were just down the road, and an amazing experience.  That road though!  After driving miles in the Yucatan it is so refreshing to drive down a road with something to look at – lined with lush orchards, banana and palm groves.

Loltun 1

Yes, we are going down in there.  Some of us under duress.  (no, I’m not looking at you Vivi)

Loltun

It is necessary to take a guided tour through the caves.  Our guide, Ricardo, was full of information, including the fact  that we would only be seeing 2 k of the 10 k trails.  They are very protective of these caves, and understandably so as they are the most important cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Loltun 6

Can you see why we didn’t want to tell Vivi why we were so far underground?  These stalactites were enormous!  No stalagmites form here as the minerals get washed away during the flooding in rainy season.

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This particular stalactite is hollow!  The cave structure received it’s name from this. When you hit it in one area it makes a “lolllll” sound, and a second area makes the “tunnnnn” …. lollllltunnn.  We were able to replicate this ourselves, and felt the reverberation right through us.

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The light is coming from a hole above.  Mayans didn’t live in this cave structure, but rather used it for worship, or protection from either animals or enemies.  They would also use it to drive animals to it, who would then fall to their death in order to be eaten.  Standing here, surrounded by energies from civilizations past, it was one of those moments both Vivi and I thought would be imprinted on us.

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These hand prints on the walls are just some of the evidence found here – a treasure trove for archeological studies.  Evidence has been found that has been carbon dated to over 2,200 years ago.  That boggles my mind.

Same day, can you even believe it is the same day?  We are off to cenotes.  You know Grant, when we’ve got a rented car it is not going to sit around …..

Just outside of Izamal is a series of cenotes called Santa Barbara.  In the Yucatan peninsula there are over 6,000 cenotes – natural sinkholes.  They are formed when the limestone bedrock, forming the roof of an underground cavern collapses, exposes the ground water underneath.  Not when a meteorite struck as some believe …..

This one in particular is fun to go to, as you can choose to walk between the cenotes, ride a bike, or get pulled by horse on a rail track.  You know with Vivi we are always going to go the horse route, as with Hayley, Sloan and Stella when we were here last.

Cenotes 1

Seated on a cart, these little horses pull us along at a pretty good clip to a series of 3 cenotes.

Cenotes 2

The water is crystal clear and so refreshing.

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Some cenotes have quite a large opening above to let in light, but others just have an opening large enough to have a ladder going down, and enough room to climb it!

Cenotes 4

This cenote is largely an open area, just look at the roots on the trees above us stretching for water.  In rainy season they are underwater.

At long last we are ready to find a place to stay in Izamal.  Only 70 k from Merida this entire historical district is painted with a bright, vivid yellow giving the city a nickname of “the yellow city”.  This is a beautifully quiet little place, lovely to walk around.  Right next to a home you might see the remains of a pyramid.  The town centre has 3 pyramids around it that are easily accessible.

We found an amazing little B&B to stay at.  Juan and his staff were amazingly friendly and attentive.  Not only was the place a beautiful spot to relax, it was quirky enough to have us wandering around looking at it all!

Izamal 2

This Franciscan monastery is at the centre of town.  There are so many images of Mayan gods in the town, on the ruins, that it provoked the Spaniards to build this large structure overlooking Izamal.

Izamal

 

Izamal 3

These beautiful little carts and dressed up horses are available to use as a taxi, or to just have a tour of the area.

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We loved this beautiful little spot!  Viv and Wilson had the blue bungalow, and we had the pink.

Izamal 1

The owner, Juan, was very friendly.  This is the jungle room, and the entire room is painted like this!  Incredible to view, but I’m not sure how restful ….. I might have been apprehensive about getting attacked!

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And ….. that’s a wrap on a simply magical day.  We finished at Kinich Restaurant, traditional Yucatecan food.  This dish of chicken on a white bean puree, with tomato and nut sauce was lip smacking good.  That glass of green hovering on the edge of the photo is a Chaya drink, an herb somewhat like spinach.  Delicious and refreshing.

Time to return the rental car to Merida, so we headed to Progresso first for lunch, and a search for some flamingo winter resting grounds.  We did find them but not close enough to be photo worthy.  In spite of that, we loved seeing them in the mangrove – so beautiful and graceful.  This was the moment I wished for a real camera instead of my phone! Maybe someday.

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The 7 km pier at Progresso is ready to welcome cruise ships …….eek.

Progresso 2

I don’t understand why Mike hasn’t insisted I get a selfie stick yet.  Maybe because he knows Grant won’t carry it?

Progresso 1

Crabster Restaurant – how’s this for a mile high crab & shrimp burger?

After this we returned the car to Merida, staying for one night at a slightly sketchy hotel with a quirky host …… Grant blocked the doorway with his pack!  Funniest part was trying to find it, we got to the right address but no hotel.  So off we went, walking down the road with our bags.  Eventually I phoned the hotel and got an English accented Canadian who said “oh, are you the people with bags that were at the door”????  Should have been our first clue and kept us walking but it all adds to the adventure.  Or, so I tell myself.  Its time to hit the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

San Lorenzo Zinacantan

Zinacantan is an Indigenous village outside San Cristobal.  We recommend you tour this village with a guide (we suggest Alex and Raoul Tours).  In combination with a tour to San Juan Chamula it will take about 3-4 hours.  Just meet up with Raoul or one of his members at the cross in front of the church in San Cristobal.  Be there any time between 8:45 – 9:30 in the morning and you can join in with a group.  What is really impressive about this tour is that they are so respectful of the villages you are going to visit. We really enjoyed our time with Raoul Jr, and loved the way he interacted with the elders of the villages.

church cross

You might wonder how you will find one of the tour guides here ….. but you will.

Zinacantan is similar to San Juan Chamula only in that it is an autonomous village, exempt from the taxes, rules and laws of Mexico.  This village is supported by the flower industry, and arriving in the village you see miles and miles of greenhouses, sometimes on the most impossible slope and you have to wonder about the logistics on managing those.  Flowers are evident everywhere!  They are all over their clothing and the buildings.  It is such a colourful village.  I wish I had been able to take photos inside the churches – they were absolutely beautiful with archways of flowers and banana plants.  Slightly different from Chamula, these churches had altars and a few pews.  Behind the altar though, was an astonishing array of flowers.  You simply can’t believe the colourful display.

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Part of our tour took us into a weaver’s home, where they showed us how labor intensive the weaving is.  Literally days worth to create a shawl.  THEN, they start the embroidery.

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CORN. Part of everyday life, in all its varieties.

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This is life in the village. We were so fortunate to have this family prepare a snack for us in their kitchen, Blue corn tortillas on the comal (flat cooking surface) over a wood fire.  Can tortillas ever taste better?  I don’t think so.

 

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If this is what the entry to church looks like, can you even imagine the interior?  It was stunning.

We were in Zinacantan during festival days (no accident, you know Grant looks up all this extensively!)

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All  in traditional clothing, they are chanting and dancing their way into the church for blessings before carrying on with the next stage of the festival.  (All stages include lots of moonshine!)

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Hard to imagine all the colour ….. these are the men involved in the ceremonies.

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The flowers themselves are stunning, but the artistry in the arrangements really is amazing.

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Just look at the embroidery on the clothing – this is everyday wear!

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The colours are brilliant.  It’s hard to imagine how many hours of embroidery go into the daily clothing for both males and females.

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There were all sorts of activities going on for the festival that involved the horses, but we never did catch the race this year.

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Residents of Zinacantan aren’t quite as upset about getting their photo taken.

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This guy loved having his photo taken, wish I’d turned it to video as he and his horse danced around.  See the school in the background & the cow grazing.  No need for a lawn mower here.

 

 

 

All the guys with black painted faces are panthers, the beak guys with corn in their mouths are crows, and well…. the others are jaguars.  The panthers climb that stripped tree, with the dissected squirrels (real ones, but stuffed) and throw them down to the hunters who race around trying to collect them.  We waited for hours, but no one ever seems to know when something is actually going to transpire!

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Look at all that embroidery, even the youngest wear the traditional clothing.

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You know right away this family is from Chamula by the black wool skirts. (and the suspicious look at my phone)

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If you have time on your vacation to tear yourself away from Mexico’s amazing beaches, we heartily recommend you go inland …. the culture, food and sights you see are well worth it.

 

 

Mexico City bites

We arrive in Mexico City late, and won’t even be there for 24 hours before flying out to Tuxtla ….. this presents a real dilemma for us, requiring us to narrow down the places we eat.  We’ve eaten our way through CDMX more than a few times, and on a restricted time frame, but this will be the shortest eating walking, walking in order to eat stop.  EEK.  I’m already dreaming of the places to quickly stop for a bite.

cdmx churro

Churros are a natural start for us!  This place, El Morro, is one of the oldest Churreria spots in the city, and they are delicious.  It is usually easy to get a table early in the day, but you should see the lineups late afternoon and into the night!

cdmx el morro churro

Next head to a mercado – the food is always amazing in the markets, and once we’ve had our coffee and churro it is time for a savoury bite ….. how about carnitas?  These tacos are mouth watering pork goodness.

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Every bit of the pork is waiting to be chopped up and served in a taco.  We loved the tortillas they made at this stand, they have fresh herbs in the tortilla masa and added so much flavour.

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No shortage of amazing toppings for your taco.

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It’s hard to only eat a couple of tacos at this place, but so many more steps and bites to come …

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Time to lighten things up a bit …. how about some fruit?  These cups of fruit and vegetables are available everywhere and bursting with freshness.

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Look for these vendors on the streets – you can choose whatever you want in your cup!

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Don’t miss the mango!

cdmx peruvian ceviche

How about a little ceviche next?  So refreshing and absolutely delicious.

cdmx walk

When you walk this much, your little 5 year old legs need a boost from big sister …..

cdmx la docena

La Docena – our favourite oyster bar.  These blue crab tostada’s with habanero foam are the bomb!  Served with a crisp white from the Baja region its a perfect bite.

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Crunchy oyster croutons served with fresh greens and creamy avocado – love this salad.

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Save room for dessert – these pastries are a great way to finish off a day.

Less than a day to eat, so many bites waiting …… we will get off that plane with an appetite and start walking!

 

Halibut Veracruzana

halibut veracruzana

This is one of those recipes that is more a guideline.  Inspired by the flavours of fish we’ve had served in the style of Veracruz in Mexico, this is so easy to prepare at home, and if you have a good source of fish, give it a try!

You will need:

  • enough fish to feed your family (I’ve used halibut here but any white fish will work)
  • green olives
  • fresh tomatoes
  • black olives
  • capers
  • roasted red peppers
  • fresh red peppers
  • your best olive oil
  • lemon
  • sea salt & pepper

Generously butter a baking dish (extra points for using a pretty one that you can also serve this dish in!)

Lay in your fish, cut in serving size.

Chop the olives, peppers and fresh tomato, and then cover your fish with all the toppings.  Again, be generous with seasoning – liberally sprinkling salt and pepper over it all.  Then – squeeze a whole lemon and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Roast at 375 just until fish flakes nicely.  This will entirely depend on the thickness of your fish, so watch it carefully and check after 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, with a bright, crunchy salad on the side.  Add crusty bread to soak up those juicy drippings and you’ve got a quick easy dinner good enough for company.

Tossed Salad

Fajita Seasoning

Fajita Seasoning 1

Having this seasoning mix on hand makes dinner easy breezy!  (lemon squeezy??) Make a double batch and you can keep it for months in a cool, dry spot.  Use it on vegetables, fish or meat alike, these flavours go so well together and make dinner quick and simple.

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

How easy is this? just toss it all into a bowl and thoroughly mix.  Do yourself a favour and make lots.

Fajita Seasoning

Just looking at this, you can tell it’s tasty, right??

This works with anything your imagination can come up with …. salad dressing or vegetable dip or seafood bake …. you let me know if you come up with more!

 

For fajitas:

  • protein (or not to make it vegetarian)
  • onions
  • peppers

 

To make fajitas, simply generously sprinkle slivered chicken (or any meat, seafood of your choice) and toss in fry pan until just cooked through.

Cook sliced peppers and onions separately so they don’t overcook.

Serve with:

  • lime crema (sounds fancy, but it’s just a squeeze of lime juice with sour cream and a bit of salt)
  • salsa
  • avocado
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro
  • toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • tortillas

You can so easily turn this into what is crazy popular right now,  power bowls!  Just serve with cooked quinoa or grain of your choice.

Turn it into a sheet pan dinner, also featured everywhere right now, just generously sprinkle everything with the seasoning and toss it into a hot oven (?400?).

Yes, you are welcome, you didn’t know dinner could be so quick, easy, healthy and delicious, did you???

 

Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco Seasoning 1

How pretty is this colourful group of seasoning?

Ever noticed how many ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce on those premade taco seasoning packs??  Stop the madness with this mixture.  A little bit of flour makes the ground meat have a wee bit of a saucy texture.  Don’t stop at ground meat for goodness sake (pun? word play?)..  Sprinkle this over vegetables and roast them up – drizzle with a little lime crema and you’ve got an amazingly tasty dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder (use less if you aren’t keen on the heat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano

Mix all this up in a small bowl, and then have it on hand to season meat or vegetables.  You’ll be so glad you took a few minutes to get this ready.

Taco Seasoning 2

To use this for ground meat tacos, brown your meat in a fry pan, then add 2 tbsp mixture for each pound of ground meat and add about 2 tbsp water, stir and cook just until meat is cooked through.

If you want to leave the flour out altogether that is just great, that makes it even more versatile:

Salad Vinaigrette:  1 tbsp mix to 2 tbsp lime juice and 7 tbsp olive oil.

Vegetable (or chip!) Dip: 1 tbsp (or to taste) with 1/4 cup each plain yogurt and good mayonnaise.

Grilled Shrimp:   Sprinkle a generous amount over shrimp before grilling.

Taco Seasoning 3

I like to mix up 3 x this recipe and just keep it on hand.  Try it, you’ll do the same thing!