Adventures in Carnitas

Carnitas, slow-cooked
Carnitas: Pork Shoulder in an orange-cinnamon broth at the Kaj household

In February, though it’s sunny here in northern California, the wind blows down from Alaska and it’s deceptively cold. The dim sun is still low on the horizon and hazy, not the true sun punch that we’ll get in a few months. We wimpy west-coasters need hot food as well as anyone else in the winter. It’s taken me decades, but I have finally learned how to coax magic out of the crock pot, and this seems a good time to share a recipe or two, maybe to brag a little about my carnitas.

Lest I get too full of my own self, I will point out that we have had a lot crock pot failures in this house, so expertise has been hard won. I have made a lot of dried out pork loin and undercooked stew. So I will share what I have learned about equipment and the perils of misunderstanding collagen.

The Context of the Carnitas

The local mice also seem to know that it’s cold. We’ve had a decades-long battle with them, fiddling with traps and bait to figure out how to make them go away without having to cope with hairy details. They’re a reminder that the lovely suburban woods stretching outside our backyard, with the impudent turkeys and sneaky deer, only seem bucolic. Once critters invade the garage and nest in your car– chewing through brake cables to cause damage that was breathtakingly expensive but fortunately covered by insurance–well, it takes a shine off the bucolous, that’s for sure. Continue reading “Adventures in Carnitas”

The Magic Flourish at Dinner

Since Sandra Boynton has pointed out it is National Cheese Soufflé day, I thought it would be fitting to provide some words of inspiration on one of my favorite dishes to cook. Inspiration is the proper word, since souffler is French for to blow or to breathe, and one definition of it is a “low murmuring sound heard through a stethoscope.” Inspired, meaning to inhale and breathe in; creating, we exhale, breathe out, and offer our culinary creations to the world. The execution of a soufflé is to blow air into a pancake; to take the familiar –eggs, milk, butter, and flour – and transform them into a light puffy honeycombed framework on which to hang flavors of tangy cheddar, mysterious dark chocolate, or exotic Grand Marnier or Meyer Lemon.


Fond Memories
The first soufflé I ever made was with my dad’s second wife, Mary. She was experimenting with the cookbook and wanted a challenge. She was very nervous because making a soufflé has always had a reputation for being complicated and easy to ruin. I remember us checking the cookbook every five minutes or so, hesitating at choosing which pans to use, peering over the mixture we stirred in the skillet, and later chewing our fingernails watching it in the oven.

Continue reading “The Magic Flourish at Dinner”