I'm a little late with this. I totally missed the boat on Season 7. Ed and Tiffany's questionable romance, Kenny's questionable obsession with "duo's" Angelo's questionable taste in shirts (I mean, really, what was he wearing at the reunion?). I missed it all. But it didn't stop me from cooking at home, Top Chef Style!
Where do I begin? Ah, yes. Episode 2 is a good place to start. I would have started at Episode 1, but I am still trying to find some time to get some good sashimi grade fish to make Angelo's winning dish of Arctic Char Sashimi with Tapioca and Bacon foam. But it was a good episode, all in all. I really was pulling for Kenny, Angelo seemed like a douche, Leah had some weird thing on her mouth (which I am hoping was an unfortunately season-long pimple) and there were some very funny characters that I would have wanted to hang out with, namely Tiffany and Brian (seriously, how funny was that segment in the reunion with Brian and his "Sexual Chocolate" voice?). Oh, and the strange guy with the dreads was kicked off for using a store-bought puffed pastry (WHEN WILL THEY LEARN!?!). I shouldn't be mean and call him strange. I'm sure he's a very nice guy... with questionable taste in hair.
I decided to bang three of these winning recipes out in one day to get ahead of the game that I fell behind on, if that makes any sense. So I started with Episode 2's winning dish by Kelly, Braised Pork Carnitas Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro, made for the healthy lunchroom challenge.
Can we just take a break and talk about childhood lunchroom eating? Sit back while I regale you with stories of what I ate as a child.
We used to get pretty disgustingly creative with our school lunches. I would use my $2.00 (hey, it was the 90s. Lunch was pretty cheap back then) to buy two monster-sized chocolate chip cookies in the cafeteria. I would dream about the slightly raw centers, not realizing in my nascent teenage mind that mass-produced raw cookies in the school cafeteria probably were a health hazard. I would savor each undercooked bite as the cookies provided me my nutrients for the day and what was sure to be at least 1,000 calories of pure butter and sugar. But I didn’t care. I loved my sweets.
If I wasn't in the mood for cookies, I would buy the square-shaped pizza (which I now realize was probably Elio's pizza) and a bag of peanuts and strategically plunge the peanuts into the doughy flesh of the pizza as the grease from the cheese oozed up and entrapped my peanut into its place. I would then eat that pizza like it was the last pizza on earth, thinking I was a true culinary genius for my concotion. Or, if I was feeling really risque`, I would buy the doughiest bagel imaginable, a packet of cream cheese and a bag of Doritos, and, yes, I would make a bagel, cream cheese, and Dorito sandwich.
Every. Single. Day.
The sad thing is, that as I write this, I am totally craving any of those meals. Maybe not the raw cookies, but the peanut pizza and Dorito sandwich for sure.
So it was pretty admirable that the team at Bravo tried to find a gourmet solution to let kids know that "Hey, kids, you don't have to follow in the steps of Teanna. You can be healthy and enjoy your food!"
And I'm not going to lie, if I had tried Kelly's pork carnitas taco in liu of my Lunch of Death, I may have sung a different tune. Because these were GOOD. After seven hours in the oven, the pork was incredibly tender and touched with the most wonderfully smoky flavor. .
Oh... and don't you even get me started about the homemade tortillas. If I could take anything away from this dish, it is the homemade tortillas. I was a little nervous at first, because I dont' have a tortially press. But then, when I think about the kitchen equipment I do not have because of my smallish NYC kitchen, I think, "Hey! What did the old grandmothers do back in the day?! They used two arms and a roller! Get it together!"
And so I got it together and ended up with the greatest reward ever - hand-rolled, completely addictive tortillas. The flavor was just incredible. Sweet, with a hint of oat, and completely rewarding.
The roasted tomato salsa was surprisingly complex and added an incredible finish that tied all of the flavors of the dish together, and the pickled red onions added a nice bit of tang that was needed for the dish. Definitely a winning dish, I must say. More so than the squirt of peanut butter on the sad little sprig of celery.
You know, I must say that after a cooking a few of these recipes (which I will write about in upcoming posts), I've got to say there haven't been any that I have been impressed with like I was with last season's Pressed Chicken with Calamari Noodles, Slow Braised Pork Belly, or, yes, even the Guacamole Meringues (which I still don't get). But I'm hoping it only gets better from here.
Kelly's Pork Carnitas Tacos with Pickled Red Onions and Homemade Tortillas
¾ cup oats, pulverized
1 ½ cup AP flour
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup cold water
1 Tbl salt
2 lbs pork butt
2 Tbl chili powder
1 Tbl garlic powder
1 Tbl onion powder
Salt & Pepper
Roasted Tomato Salsa:
½ red onion
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup cilantro
Salt & Pepper
Pickled Red Onions:
1 red onion, julienned
3 cups water
1 cup lime juice
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
For the Tortillas:
Place dry ingredients in a stand mixer with dough hook. Add wet ingredients and knead for 5 minutes. Allow dough to rest for at least 20 minutes. Roll golf ball sized portions into a ball, and roll out the dough between two pieces of wax or parchment paper to 1/4" thickness. On a dry griddle over medium-high heat, cook tortillas until lightly brown.
For the Pork Carnitas:
Season and rub pork with spices, salt, and pepper. Put pork into a pressure cooker with enough water to cover the pork half way. Seal lid and place over medium-high heat. When steam starts, reduce to simmer and cool for 1 hour. When pork is done, pull into bite-sized pieces. Discard liquid. Pour roasted tomato salsa over pork and reserve in warm place.
For the Roasted Tomato Salsa:
Roast tomatoes and onion under broiler until charred. Combine with all remaining ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
For the Pickled Red Onions:
Boil water and pour over onions. Let sit for 5 minutes. Strain. In a bowl, combine onions and lime juice and let sit overnight. Strain juice off and discard. Toss onions with cilantro leaves.
Warm tortillas wrapped in a damp towel in a low oven. Place tortillas on plate. Top with pork. Garnish with picked onion salad.