Tacos and Mojitos!

Carnitas Tacos

I’m back, my fellow foodies!  My family and I were off to Scotland for a wedding, then a family reunion in New York, and after that we bought a house and moved.  Life is just getting back to normal and I’m so anxious to cook again!  We recently had a Housewarming +Plus+ party – celebrating our house, summer birthdays, surviving Carmageddon, among many other happy things.  I absolutely love Mexican food and I thought tacos and mojitos would be fun party fare.  Here is the full menu (I admit, perhaps I went a little overboard):

Carnitas (recipe follows)

Potatoes and Poblanos (recipe follows)

Red Peppers and Onions (sautéed peppers and onions in olive oil with salt and cumin)

Grilled Tomato Salsa (recipe follows)

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)

Smoked Gouda Cheese Dip (a mix of shredded gouda, mayo, goat cheese, jalapeno, cilantro, and scallions – it’s my copycat recipe from whole foods)

Chili con Queso Dip (cream, chilies, cheese, a bit of cornstarch – can’t remember exactly how I made it)

Sweet and Spicy Pepitas (a combo of salt, brown sugar, chipotle powder, and melted butter, mixed with roasted pepitas)

Guacamole (thanks Janette and Joanne for bring amazing guac!)

Red Rice (rice cooked with onions, diced tomatoes, and veg stock)

Fresh Corn and Black Bean Salad (recipe follows)

Watermelon

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Buttercream frosting(recipe follows)

Rhubarb Crumble with vanilla ice cream (recipe follows)

Mango Blueberry Ice Pops (TJ’s mango passion fruit juice and blueberries in ice pop molds)

Mojitos (made with the mint in our backyard – recipe follows)

For the taco bar fixins’, I had flour and corn tortillas, queso fresco, shredded jack cheese, crema, chopped onions, and chopped cilantro

Pork Shoulder

CARNITAS

I adapted this recipe from a Costco cookbook years ago….I’ve made this tons of times and it is foolproof!

6-7 pounds boneless pork shoulder (best price at Costco)

1 large onion, cut into a few large hunks

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 T kosher salt

2 ½ cups water

Cut pork into 3-inch chunks.  Place pork, onion, garlic, salt, and water in a Dutch oven.  Cover tightly, bring to a boil and cook slowly for 2 ½-2 ¾ hours, or until pork is fork tender (stir occasionally).  Shred pork and let cool in juices.

Variation: BBQ Pork – add BBQ sauce and serve with sandwich rolls and coleslaw.

Variation: Hawaiian Kalua Pork – add 1 Tablespoon of liquid smoke along with the pork in the directions above.

*The pork can be frozen for up to 1 month.  Defrost in the refrigerator and gently reheat.

POTATOES AND POBLANOS

I adapted this from a cooking class I took a while ago.

12 poblanos (also called Anaheim chilis)

1 onion, diced

5 potatoes, baked, peeled, and diced

About1 1/2 cups heavy cream

First you need to char the poblanos.  I did this easily on my gas grill.  When the skin gets all black, put them in a bowl or on a tray and cover with a dish towel.  When they are cooled, peel off the black skin (do not rinse under water) and stem and seed the peppers; then dice.  Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and cook the onions until translucent.  Then add the poblanos, and potatoes and heat through.  Then add the heavy cream and lots of, you guessed it, salt.  The heat of chili peppers varies greatly, so you will want to adjust things to your taste.  This is an absolutely delicious taco filling with some queso fresco and cilantro – truly outstanding!

Grilled Tomato Salsa

SALSAS

For the salsas I just charred tomatillos and tomatoes on the grill, along with jalapenos, garlic, and onion.  I whizzed these up in the food processor with some lime juice, salt, and cilantro.  Tomatillos are a revelation.  I just bought some seeds and will be growing them in my backyard soon…

FRESH CORN AND BLACK BEAN SALAD

Corn is in season and it’s so sweet and delicious!  So I cut the kernels off the cob and sautéed them in a little olive oil.  I let them cool for a bit then added some black beans, lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and salt.

Vanilla Bean cupcakes with Buttercream frosting

VANILLA BEAN CUPCAKES

These are my go-to vanilla cupcakes, courtesy of Martha Stewart.  I use vanilla bean seeds in place of the extract and make sure not to overcook them – I usually check them for doneness a couple of minutes before the recipe says to.  Also, Martha’s Buttercream frosting recipe is always delicious – I use organic butter, not just because it’s better for the environment, but it also tastes better.

RHUBARB CRUMBLE

I’d never had rhubarb until a couple of years ago, when I decided to give it a try – now I’ll do (almost) anything for rhubarb!  I got this recipe from Oprah’s website and made 2 changes: I added ½ cup of oatmeal to the crumb topping – I like the taste and texture it adds, and I reduced the granulated sugar down to one cup (I don’t like things overly sweetened).  This was a HUGE hit at the party – I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know I liked rhubarb!”  That’s why I love food and cooking for other people – it can unexpectedly bring joy into your life and then you can share that joy with others!

MOJITOS FOR A CROWD

We have a ton of mint growing in our backyard so, of course, mojitos came to mind.  I searched online for Mojito recipes for a crowd and got some great ideas and here’s what I mixed together:

Makes 24

Lots of mint leaves

3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice

3 cups mint simple syrup (recipe follows)

6 cups of light rum

Ice

Seltzer

Put mint leaves in a pitcher and add just a bit of lime juice to make the muddling a bit easier.  Muddle the heck out of those leaves.  Then add the rest of the lime juice, simple syrup, and rum.  Guests should fill their glass with ice, pour mojito mix halfway up and then fill the rest with seltzer.  This is so refreshing that you have to remind yourself not to down too many too fast on a hot summer evening. (Perhaps that is the reason I forgot to take more pictures!)

Mint Simple Syrup

A bunch of mint leaves

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

Put the mint leaves and a little of the water in the bottom of a saucepan.  Muddle the heck out of the mint.  Add the rest of the water and sugar and bring to a boil and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Take off the heat and cool completely.  Strain and chill.

Good food helps make a good party, but great friends are what make a party wonderful!

Norm and Cindy – great friends!