I do have a recipe to share with you today but before I get to it, I wanted an opportunity to unload a thought or two about my blogging experience these last (almost) two years. Will I offer any useful information? Maybe…but this is a confessional.
I have always suspected that I have a mildly obsessive personality (disorder?) but I never could convince myself of this fact until I started blogging. I have found each aspect of food blogging enjoyable–cooking, photography and writing–regardless of the amount time it demands at times to keep it going. Selfishly, I consider it my me project, a form of expression that I have grown comfortable with considering a big part of me is shy and private by nature. What I didn’t expect was to become so involved in the ancillary aspects of blogging.
I have mentioned a few times that blog props have become a recent obsession and I know I am not alone in this. These days when I visit a shop I find myself spending more time in the housewares department than in any other. In other departments, I am always on the lookout for interesting pieces that might tell a good story. Do you spend time thinking about how you will style your next post? I seem to be doing this more and more. I am inspired by all the bloggers who do such a wonderful job post after post and I am motivated to do the same. I am hooked.
Besides the props, I have been obsessed with colored backdrops for my food photos. Though my favorite background is still the teak bench I’ve used in many of my posts, an outdoor photo shoot isn’t always practical. Hence, in the last few months, Home Depot has captured my attention for tools I can use to make indoor shoots more interesting. I have been playing with color, painting boards (above) to try to get a tone-on-tone look to my food shots that I haven’t quite been successful at capturing. You might notice that I have not shared many posts using these colors but I’m determined to make them work.
You see, I have learned to use the manual setting of my camera only in the last six months. Just as I became accustomed to taking pictures one way, these colors started to pose a bit more of a lighting/exposure challenge. Is it bad that I will not share a recipe because I consider the photo shoot a fail? I really should be focusing more on getting my lighting right during winter. For example, in some of my food shots below, I forgot to turn off a nearby lamp and I didn’t notice that some of my images became over-exposed until during processing. No amount of editing could fix them. But I am sharing them today anyway.
I have also been experimenting with texture. Until the last few months, I didn’t realize how easy it would be to purchase wood pieces at Home Depot. They will cut the pieces to your specifications and sample-size paints are inexpensive enough that playing with different colors doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
The web is also a treasure trove of handy tips. You can achieve that distressed look that is so popular by using Vaseline or candle wax when painting your wood pieces.
And did you know that laundry bleach could come in handy? I have always liked the look of bleached wood but thought the process might be too involved. Not so. The redwood piece on the left has not been treated. I brushed the one on the right with Clorox and after a day of sitting in the sun, it had faded to a nice pale shade. The grains are still visible and while I had originally intended to paint over the bleached piece, I liked it so much that I decided to leave it as is (and used it for the photos below).
The metal department has proven to be a good source, too. I really like the look of a gray palette in food pictures; a little darker, it conveys a nice wintry mood in pictures. Again, I haven’t yet achieved the look I’m after–the sheet metal looked more like copper in this post–but they were still fun to use. I will keep playing around.
I share all of this with you because 1) I would put my non-blogger friends to sleep talking of boards, props and paint and 2) because there are many talented food bloggers out there whose beautiful images entrance me with each post and motivate me to keep trying to do better. I have a long way to go but gosh, this is fun!
If you’re a food blogger what obsessions have made their way into your life?
Now back to the food!
This is a simple recipe for carnitas (“little meats”). It is my meat of choice for tacos or enchiladas and it is very easy to prepare at home. Typically, a piece of pork shoulder is braised or roasted but over the years, I have adapted to my sister’s way of preparing hers. She doesn’t brown the meat first. Instead, she simmers it in seasoned liquid then browns the meat after the former has evaporated. The crunchy, caramelized bits of meat are my favorite pieces but this process leaves the insides of the pork moist and tender if that is what you prefer.
I have taken to adding spices to up the flavor of the meat while braising in the liquid. Typical additions are cinnamon sticks, cumin, dried bay leaves, garlic and onions. The cinnamon sticks impart not only a lovely flavor but also a wonderful aroma while the meat cooks. I bought dehydrated onions once a few years ago for another recipe and in an attempt to use it up, I used it in my carnitas and liked it so much I have not looked back. Once the liquid has evaporated, I turn up the heat, sprinkle a bit of paprika on the meat and fry it until the outside is brown and slightly crisp. All you need are some tortillas (homemade really is best and very easy to prepare) and a simple salsa and you’re set for a fiesta in your kitchen.
Carnitas Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2-3 inch pieces (trim excess fat)
- 1/2 – 1 tbsp kosher salt (depending on amount of water you use)
- 1 -2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 3 tbsp dehydrated onions (not onion powder)
- 1 tbsp no-salt seasoning
- 1 tbsp granulated garlic (dried garlic powder, not garlic salt)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- paprika (optional)
- 1 mango, peeled and diced
- 1 avocado, diced (you can add more)
- fresh lime juice, one or two (I had none so I had to use lemon)
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- chopped cilantro
- salt and pepper to taste
- Corn tortillas
- Place the meat in a pot and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer over med-high heat and skim any scum that rises to the surface. When the liquid is clear, add the spices from the salt to the cumin (if using). Simmer for an hour or so, or until the meat is tender.
- Most of the liquid should have evaporated by this time. If not and your meat is already fork tender, just drain the liquid and return the meat to the pot. Add a bit of oil, turn the heat to med-high, sprinkle a bit of paprika on the meat and fry until the outside is brown and slightly crisp.
- Shred the meat before serving with tortillas and salsa.