I love the days when I have a legitimate reason to make B take the kids out for a couple of hours, turn on some music, and potter happily around the kitchen all afternoon. Even though I always say that Thanksgiving isn’t our holiday, and so we feel no compulsion to celebrate with anything special, the general widespread culinary busy-ness always infects me and it turns into one of those days after all.
A few weeks ago, as I may have mentioned, I saw a recipe for carnitas on Smitten Kitchen, and decided that maybe we should have traditional Thansksgiving tacos, just as the pilgrims did.
On Tuesday I garnered the ingredients I needed, except for the meat, which I couldn’t find in Safeway. Never mind, I thought. Fate will provide. Indeed, in spite of a day sandwiched by a dental appointment for one child in the morning and a doctor’s appointment for the other in the afternoon, fate, in the shape of the local co-op supermarket did provide: there was a large pre-packaged piece of pork shoulder in the meat fridge, and when I asked at the counter they said that the butcher would happily let me have just the three pounds of it I needed, and even cube it for me as per the recipe.
Then there was the question of dessert. Dash has been pestering me lately to make caramel, ever since he tasted some caramel dip for apple slices at a halloween party. He didn’t eat any of the apple, but he very much enjoyed licking off the caramel. I keep telling him that I’ve never made caramel, and it’s very tricky, and I don’t have any cream so I just can’t; but evidently the notion took root because as I wandered around the co-op waiting for the butcher to do his thing, I vaguely remembered that there was a recipe somewhere for caramel apple cheesecake. That sounded nice, and I had ricotta in the fridge to use up. So I bought some apples.
When I got home I found the recipe, in Nigella’s Feast, but it turned out to need apple schnapps and no actual apples at all. As well as cream and other things I still didn’t have. So that idea was shelved. This morning I made chocolate ricotta muffins with the ricotta, which was only about a cupful and not nearly enough for cheesecake anyway. But I still had all those apples.
This afternoon I looked at the clock, asked B when he wanted to eat dinner, and then informed him that they’d better scarper quickish so I could put the meat on right now – carnitas take almost as long as a small turkey after all. Once the meat was aromatically braising in its margarita bath (as Deb calls it), I thought some more about dessert and vaguely searched the Smitten Kitchen website for “apples”. Bingo. A last-minute tarte tatin.
I’ve never made tarte tatin before, and didn’t realise that the apples were actually cooked in caramel before being pastried, but once that became apparent, it was the obvious solution. I ended up using the pastry from the first recipe I found and the apple/caramel method from the second, because Deb said it was more foolproof. And I used my stainless steel pan with a plastic handle for the caramel part, transferring to a glass pie dish for the baking. As the arrangement of my apples was more rustic, shall we say, than artistically exact, it didn’t destroy anything. And the whole thing turned out most satisfactorily in the end.
The carnitas worked miraculously – one moment I was looking at all the brining liquid still in the pan and wondering whether I should cheat and take a scoopful out to help it reduce; then I did a spot of washing up to clear the decks and when I looked again, there was only a tiny puddle left in the bottom and the chunks of meat were starting to brown up amazingly and fall apart just as predicted. (So much so that I took a photo, even though Deb’s is much more appetizing, just to show you that even mere mortals can achieve this.)
We* had our carnitas on warmed corn tortillas, with jicama slaw (about two-thirds of a jicama and one carrot, grated, with three finely sliced spring onions and this dressing), queso fresco, avocado, and fresh limes for squeezing. It was just like being back in southmost Texas in the hallowed booths of Mister Taco. (And believe me, for all I malign Texas, that’s one of the things we miss.)
And now I’m just waiting, with an extra glass of wine, for B to put Dash to bed before we break out the vanilla icecream and dig in to the tarte. With great forethought, I didn’t try too hard to give Mabel a nap this afternoon, so it’s 7.15 and she’s fast asleep. For now, at least.
*The children, lest I need to comment, did not have any. Dash has had his usual peanut butter sandwiches today, and Mabel, despite being presented with various other foodstuffs, has eaten half an apple for breakfast, three cheesesticks for lunch, and no dinner all all. Oh, and two chocolate ricotta muffins for snacks. Maybe that was an error.
** Mmmm. I have a mouthful of chewy sugary appley goodness as I type. I am a total tarte-tatin convert. A tart for tarte, if you like. I don’t think I’ll ever make a plain old apple pie again.