18 November 2008


To celebrate a couple of birthdays, my friends and I decided to have some sort of a cookout last Saturday. I say 'some sort' because there actually wasn't very much cooking involved. One of my friends, having studied in US for 4 years, suggested Mexican or at least the American idea of Mexican food - Tex Mex.

We ended up with a rather simple menu of 2 types of Quesadillas, Guacamole and Salsa served with tortilla chips.

All recipes were forwarded to me by a friend who enjoys cooking as much as (if not more than) I do. They were all taken off the Cook’s Illustrated website which, after this experience, I will definitely be visiting more often. We had a simple Ham and (Gruyere + Mozzarella) Cheese Quesadilla/Cubano Quesadilla where everyone had fun, or at least I choose to think so, toasting their own Quesadillas in a hot non-stick pan. Once we all had a go at making our own, we moved to the dining table.

There was an array of chopped pickles, small purple onions, green peppers, sliced lettuce, plenty of plain tortilla wraps and – the star of the show – Mexican Pulled Pork / Carnitas. A whole kilogram of pork was braised in a concoction of orange juice, cinnamon, onion, bay leaves, and cumin for 2 hours in a heavy Dutch oven pot, then pulled apart and grilled till slightly brown and crisp at the edges.

Everyone could then add any combination of ingredients – ALL pork for the ridiculous carnivores, or a little of each for a more balanced diet – to the tortilla wrap before devouring it as daintily and neatly as possible. Of course, that was almost impossible what with guacamole and bits of chopped onion spilling out over the sides.

But it was such a delicious meal. We all ‘cooked’ together to Mexican music and made our Mexican popiahs together.

(From The Cook's Illustrated)

In addition to the traditional garnishes listed below, you can serve the pork with fresh guacamole and salsa.


Pork 1 (3 1/2-to 4-pound) boneless pork butt , fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
Table salt and ground black pepper

1teaspoon ground cumin
1small onion , peeled and halved
2bay leaves
1teaspoon dried oregano
2tablespoons juice from 1 lime
2cups water
1medium orange , halved

Tortillas and Garnishes
18(6-inch) corn tortillas , warmed
Lime wedges
Minced white or red onion
Fresh cilantro leaves
Thinly sliced radishes
Sour cream


Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot.

Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.

Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid).

Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.

Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes.

Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.

17 November 2008

The Ultimate Bean

Wao, has it seriously been 2 months? I cannot believe how fast time has passed. And for all that time gone, I have little to show for it. Except a rather horrid trip to China where I unknowingly drank Starfish and Seahorse Soup, and saw the grey foggy skies of Guangzhou (Beijing was still benefitting from the major clean up pre-Olympics) among other things which are better left unsaid.

In the meantime, I haven't been able to spend as much time as I would like in the kitchen (how many times have you heard that from me already?). The parties and gatherings I used to organise, it seems, have become a thing of the past. Though of course this depends on the definition one chooses to subscribe to for 'past'.

Anyway, I managed to dig up photos I had stowed away for dryer months such as this, and found these two photos that immediately triggered beautiful memories of never-ending beaches and mountain ranges in Mauritius.

I almost never fail to visit the market, whichever city I visit - La Boquiera market in Barcelona; Borough market: London; and Central market: Port Louis (Mauritius). It was at the Central Market that I picked up a couple of packets of super plump vanilla beans (bottom left). Far from the dried, shrivelled up vanilla beans (bottom right) that I bought from the local baking supplies store, these plump beauties yielded eagerly under the knife tip to reveal an abundant supply of thick, syrupy seeds.

I enthusiastically used them in some ice cream, cake, and my latest and probably longest project ever - vanilla extract. So many recipes are available on the internet, but they all point to the same combination of ingredients: a bottle of alcohol (vodka, brandy or rum) and some vanilla beans for about 3 months and more.

I've put all my spent vanilla pods (i.e. shell without the seeds which would have gone into the ice cream/cake) into a bottle of dark rum and left it in a dark cupboard. It has been there since late August and I can't wait to use some of this homemade vanilla extract perhaps in some wicked ice cream - uber rich Rum and Raisin Ice Cream. Till next time!