Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tex-Mex Feast for a Crowd (Carnitas, Beans, Rice, and Fixings)

My husband and I love hosting big parties at least once a year. By big, I mean big. We hosted over 60 people on July 4th last year, and we counted 56 this year. We host other dinner parties throughout the year but this one is the biggest. I know some people reading this post will probably think I'm crazy, but let me tell you a secret. Preparing a meal for 60 people is not that different than preparing a Thanksgiving dinner as long as you have the right menu. This is a great menu for a large crowd! We asked people to bring their own beverages and a dessert or side dish to share.

Tex-Mex Feast for a Crowd (Carnitas, Beans, Rice, and Fixings) - for 60 people
ingredients for carnitas and dry rub (see below)
ingredients for tex-mex beans (see below)
ingredients for cilantro-lime rice (see below)
ingredients for salsa or buy your favorite ready made brand (see below)
ingredients for guacamole or buy your favorite ready made brand (see below)
plenty of tortillas, taco shells, and tostada shells
nacho chips (several bags - or ask people to bring)
sour cream
cilantro (for garnish)
onions, minced (for garnish)

for the Braised Carnitas 
4 (6-8 lb.) bone-in pork shoulder
24 (or so) oz. olive oil
4 bay leaves
1 orange, sliced in quarters or, 4 tablespoons of orange juice concentrate
1 extra large onion, quartered

for the dry rub 
4 tablespoons of olive oil
12 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons of chili powder
4 teaspoons of paprika
4 teaspoons of oregano
4 teaspoons of cumin
4 teaspoons of onion powder
4 teaspoons of salt
1 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1. Mix all the dry rub ingredients together and spread evenly between all of the pork shoulders. You can do this up to three days in advance of cooking, wrapping each pork shoulder in plastic wrap and storing in the refrigerator.

2. The night before your party at 11:00 p.m. place the roasts in a large roasting pan. Add bay leaf, onion and orange near each roast.  Slowly pour in olive oil  so that it reaches 3/4 up the sides of the roasts. This helps keeps the moisture inside the roasts.

3. At midnight place the roasts inside the oven and set for 275 degrees. At 9:00 a.m. you will have roasts falling off the bone. Let the roasts cool (at least) for a couple of hours before breaking them up in small pieces with your hands. Serve immediately or keep warm in slow cookers with a little au jus.

Visit the original Braised Carnitas post for full step-by-step pictures.

for the Tex-Mex Beans
3 (1 lb.) packages of dried pinto beans
3 - 4 lemons
5 - 6 cups of chicken stock
3 medium to large onions, diced small to medium
3/4 cups of bacon fat
3 tablespoons of salt
2 tablespoons of pepper
6 - 9 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of cumin
9 oven roasted chilies or 3 (7 oz.) cans of green chilies
3 large handfuls of fresh cilantro with upper stems

1. The day before the party, split the dried beans between two large pots and cover with water by at least two inches. Add lemon juice to each pot and cover overnight.

2. Drain, rinse, and place beans in a large pot. Add enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 4 to 8 hours or as long as it takes for the bean to be completely soft all the way through. Be sure to check on the beans occasionally and add more water if necessary. This step can also be done in two slow cookers. Cover the beans in water and cook on low for 8-9 hours or cook on high for 4-5 hours.

3. When beans are soft they are ready to add the flavor. At this point the beans should be finished on the stove top. Add the stock.

4. In another smaller pot melt the bacon fat and add the onion. Add diced chilies, salt, pepper, cumin and garlic to the onions. Stir and let the flavors meld for a few minutes. Add to the beans.

5. Remove 6 cups of beans and place them in a small mixing bowl with the fresh cilantro. Mix with an immersion blender (or food processor) until smooth. Add the blended beans back into the pot to thicken and adjust seasonings as needed.  

Visit the original Tex-Mex Beans post for full step-by-step pictures.

for the Cilantro-Lime Rice
2 (2 lb.) bags of white rice
8 tablespoons of lime infused oil
2 cups of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped fine
juice of 3 to 4 limes (optional)

1. Follow the instructions on the bag except instead of using butter or oil substitute with lime infused oil. Also, you can soak the rice overnight with lime juice. See original post for the reason why. Use two pots if necessary.

Visit original Cilantro-Lime Rice post for full step-by-step pictures.

for the Salsa (this can be made a few days ahead)
1 (28 oz) can of whole tomatoes, drained (I used organic and no salt added)
2 ( 14.5 oz) cans of no-salt diced tomatoes, drained (I used organic and no salt added)
1 whole jalapeño, minced
1/2 Serrano pepper, minced (skip if you want mild, use 1/2 if you want medium, use whole if you want hot)
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lime, juiced
2 oven roasted chilies, steamed, skinned and seeded (or a 7 oz. can of fire-roasted chilies)
1 cup of fresh cilantro (I just grab a big handful)

1. Drain the whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl. Add green chilies, jalapeno, Serrano, onion, garlic, cumin, and salt to the tomatoes. Blend with immersion blender.

2. Add fresh cilantro and continue blending.

3. Serve with chips.

Visit the original Salsa - Restaurant Style (Made at Home) post for full step-by-step pictures.

for the Guacamole
24 avocados
7 limes, juiced
7 cloves of garlic, pressed
seven handfuls of cilantro, chopped
optional items to taste: red onion, tomato, cumin, jalapeño, cumin

1. Slice avocados in half. Remove the pit and scoop the avocado in a bowl.

2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Visit the original Fresh and Simple Guacamole post for full step-by-step pictures.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Simple Sautéed Chicken Breasts

Sautéed chicken breasts are perfect for a quick weeknight meal, or make a great addition to salads. I love turning a side salad into an entree salad by adding chicken.  I have a fool-proof method for sautéing chicken breasts.  Maybe it's not completely fool-proof because anything can be overcooked, and it is especially easy to over cook boneless skinless chicken breasts. I do have a little trick which does make it a little more difficult to overcook them. It involves water, or chicken broth, and a lid.

Simple Sautéed Chicken Breasts
boneless skinless chicken breasts or tenders (pictures below show both)
flour (optional - skip the flour to keep this South Beach phase 1 or The New Atkins friendly)
olive oil

1. Remove chicken from packaging. Trim any fat off the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. You can rinse the chicken before you pat it dry if you want to; it's not necessary. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.

2. Here is the optional step of dredging in some flour. It adds a wonderful crust to the chicken just like it adds a wonderful crust on these Greek meatballs.

3. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add chicken and sauté on side one for 5 to 7 minutes (5 minutes for tenders and 7 for breasts).

4. Here's the trick. Most recipes will tell you to flip the chicken and cook for a few more minutes on the other side. That's true but my chicken is markedly more tender when I flip and add 1/4 cup of water or chicken broth for a 10" pan or 1/2 cup for a 14" inch pan and cover for 2 minutes. Remove cover and cook for an additional minute or two until the internal temperature is 165 degrees or the juices are clear.

5. Overcooked chicken ends up being dry and stringy. Look at how juicy this chicken is when it's cut up.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cantaloupe Sorbet

My mother-in-law is in town for Mother's Day. She loves Caesar salad so I decided to make my special grilled version for lunch on Mother's Day. Like me, my mother-in-law is not a big dessert person. She makes delicious desserts, but she doesn't eat them very often. Deciding on a light dessert to enjoy after lunch was a bit of a challenge. I just got a brand new food processor. I hadn't even pulled it out of the box yet, and one of the things I was looking forward to was pureeing fruit for sorbets.  When I remembered that my mother-in-law loves melon, I knew that cantaloupe sorbet was going to be dessert.

Cantaloupe Sorbet (adapted from Alton Brown's Melon Sorbet)
2 cantaloupes
2 limes, juiced
1 cup of sugar or Xylitol (I used Xylitol which has 1/3 fewer calories)
4 tablespoons of vodka

1. Cut cantaloupe in half (stem to stem), and cut in half again in the same direction.

2. Scoop out the seeds.

3. Cut the skin off and cut the melon wedge into cubes. Puree the melon in batches (I have a nine cup processor so it only took two batches).

4. In the last batch add lime juice, sugar, and vodka. Process mixture for another 30 seconds.

5. Store the melon mixture in a large measuring cup and place in the refrigerator or freezer until it is about 40 degrees.

6. Pour the melon mixture into your ice cream maker. I had exactly 6 cups which is the maximum my machine holds. I let the machine churn for 25 - 30 minutes.

7. Pour mixture in a freezer safe storage and container and freeze until you are ready to serve (at least 3 hours).

You might also like:
Melon Sorbet - Simply Recipes
Easy Melon Sorbet (doesn't require an ice cream machine)


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