Chipotle Carnitas Tacos

Mama Rita” just recently had a “big” birthday, the kind that requires a proper celebration. She’s loved by many, and widely known in our city for her art. Those closest to her know her amazing strength — you want her with you when times get rough. She is passionate about living Life to its fullest — which so often means practicing sacrificial love, and ignoring the world’s advice of putting herself first.  And Rita, above all things, is wise. If you need to confide in someone, talk something out, or “vent,” you call this woman. She will encourage you and steer you onto the right path, even if that path is the least popular or hard to hear. Tears and belly laughing in the same hard conversation is very normal. She lives out her own mantra of “surround yourself with positive people.” Let’s put it this way, when a woman like this is your mother, you have cause to celebrate her years on this planet. She’s a gift to us all.

So with her birthday approaching, my sisters Emily, Megan and I got to work planning a special night. That basically means, menu planning, right? We wanted our mom to have a night of honor with people who love her, and memories she would enjoy over the next several decades. Fortunately, the food planning was easy… My mom grew up on the good food cooked by my Grandma Salazar. So I knew something simple, spicy, a little exotic and yet fun would ring her bell, and also be the perfect atmosphere for a party scene. I decided to create a taco bar, featuring a recipe I like to use when I have a large group and want a casual and fun atmosphere. Chipotle carnitas. These carnitas have huge flavor, and a heat that surprises but keeps the flavor bright for every single bite. I love to keep the toppings simple, so I made a fresh salsa verde of tomatillos, provided crumbled queso fresco, crème fraîche which is more like the crema they use in México, and chopped cilantro. (I also had Dave grill up some chicken I had  in a chile pequin marinade, which we sliced and used for another taco option with homemade salsa Méxicana, but that’s a post for another day!)

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I had started with about 8 pounds of pork shoulder and based on the little bit that was left at the end of the night, I think people enjoyed it! It was a gorgeous summer evening on the patio in Colorado, and the weather cooperated beautifully. There was Dave’s homemade rosé sangria (recipe HERE)  to cool off the heat from the carnitas, and we built a fire as the sun went down for the guests to roast marshmallows for the S’Mores…an appetizer to the decadent chocolate cake my sister Megan made, complete with a dark chocolate ganache frosting. There was lots of laughter and merriment, and although delicious food makes for a great party, having an amazing woman to celebrate was the best part of our gathering.

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Chipotle Carnitas Tacos

recipe by Stephanie Kunstle

Notes: I served the carnitas with freshly cooked corn tortillas (no I did not make dozens for the party, I just bought uncooked tortillas to throw on the griddle before the party started as I do actually like to sleep sometimes), crème fraîche, salsa verde (a good quality store-bought version works, but I’ll share my homemade recipe from my time in Oaxaca soon), crumbled queso fresco, and lots of chopped cilantro. Along with the chile pequin chicken tacos, I offered black beans cooked with red onion and cilantro, and fruit skewers with watermelon and pineapple, tortilla chips, homemade salsa Méxicana, and so much homemade guacamole. This recipe serves about 15 people but I doubled it, and you should feel free to do that too if you want your fiesta to be a bit bigger!

PS: If you love more pictures, go on Instagram to follow @sbkunstle for more detailed pix and inspiration… Like the sangria photo shoot, or a close up of that lovely pork shoulder all prepped for slow cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lb. pork shoulder (it does not need to be tied into a roast, but a roast is just fine too)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. chipotle chile powder
  • 2 tsp. salt (plus more to taste after cooking)
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

Preparation:

  1. Prepare yourself for how easy this is about to be… Maybe you need a glass of sangria to celebrate the simplicity?
  2. Place your pork roast into your crock pot and pour the chicken or veggie broth over it.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, chipotle chile powder, and salt and mix well.
  4. Rub the pork with the chipotle mixture, making sure most of the top and side surface area (and any in between folds) is covered well.
  5. Scatter the chopped onion over the top and into the sides of the slow cooker around the pork.
  6. Cook on low heat for about 10 hours, a day in advance or overnight. The aroma is slow torture, but good things come to those who wait. 
  7. Cool pork on a large platter or cutting board, leaving the juices in the slow cooker to cool. Once it’s cool enough to touch, begin removing fatty chunks, and shred the meat well into a large bowl (the idea is that all the carnitas you offer for tacos is quality and picked clean of yucky globs).
  8. Once you have a large bowl of carnitas, skim the fat pieces from the cooled pork juices that are in the crock pot. Pour some of this flavorful broth to taste over the carnitas to reintroduce moisture and that juicy, succulence that pork is known for. The broth is loaded with chipotle so pour about a 1/4 cup in at a time, mix well, taste, season with salt, and add more broth as needed, tasting as you go. It’s ready when it’s crazy delicious. SAVE the remaining cooking broth, as you may want to add a bit more after the pork has been reheated.
  9. Store in the refrigerator, covered, until you are ready for your party. Heat in the crock pot on low heat for about an hour or before serving, making sure you have plenty of moisture in the pork so it doesn’t cook onto the crock pot and dry out.
  10. Serve the meat hot with warm corn tortillas and all the toppings, a festive drink, and enjoy your party!

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The Proper Wines Story

THIS is a post I’ve been meaning to do for more than two years! The only excuse I can offer for taking this long to sit down and write is that I wanted to make sure it was done…properly. And what I’m beginning to understand is that this particular story doesn’t have an end. In fact, it appears to be warming up with so much to look forward to. If you are in the wine business, you know it’s all about patience. This post will be the first of many over time…  So, let me tell you a little story about Proper Wines.

Enter David Houle…

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…and Conor McCluskey.

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Two friends who love each other like brothers, and like many brothers are, they couldn’t be more opposite. The perfect recipe for successful ventures. David is co-founder of Seasons Investments, a boutique investment firm in Colorado Springs. The man does details and he does them well, and with such a genuine heart that makes him the guy to trust with advice and management of your money. Conor is founder and CEO of BombBomb.com, an email marketing machine headquartered in Colorado Springs. Need marketing? Look no further because the team at BombBomb is…ummm…THE bomb. Needless to say, Conor does big picture really well. Conor has a heart for helping and empowering families in the slums of Kitale, Kenya, “humanizing” the internet, and for BombBomb to be an indispensable asset in connecting businesses with their clients across the USA.

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Back in the summer of 2006, David and Conor were in their twenties, and enjoying the freedom life offers when you’re a whippersnapper. They knew the Colorado Springs founders of Waters Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and the two had some great trips together jetting north to experience this up and coming wine region. They began to explore investment opportunities together and they zeroed in on a sub-region in the Walla Walla Valley, known as “the Rocks.”  A few vineyards and wineries had sprouted up in this particular area beginning in the late 90s with the famed Cayuse Vineyards, and into the early 2000s with Reynvaan Family Vineyards, Delmas and Saviah Cellars. Christophe Baron, “the Rocks” pioneer, winemaker, and founder of Cayuse, found the terroir to be strikingly similar to the Rhône Valley. An old riverbed, rocky and dry. Sound like a nice place to plant and tend to your vines? Actually, it is. The soil is full of cobblestones which create good drainage and encourages the vines to root deep into the soil and the stones also radiate heat which aides in ripening later in the growing season. Wines from “the Rocks” tend to be more earthy and savory.

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David and Conor were intrigued by this distinctive Rhône-like setting called “the Rocks.” As they tell it, in October of 2006, they “bought a cherry orchard.” Chelan cherries, to be exact. Though they didn’t initially intend to plant a vineyard, they both loved good wine, and it was an intriguing project. The Rhône region of France is the epicenter for Syrah, and so after what I imagine was much deliberation and running of numbers by David and tons of enthusiasm from Conor, they took out the cherry trees and planted Syrah grapes in “the Rocks” during the Spring of 2007.

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The project of the vineyard began with the help of the most fabulous vineyard managers, Stephanie Briggs and Frank Jimenez . From the beginning, David and Conor wanted to have a proper Syrah. No cutting corners or costs. They wanted it done well and in the Old World tradition of the Rhône valley. Through the previous years during trips to Walla Walla, Conor had become friends with Sean Boyd, cellar master at Waters Winery who then became assistant winemaker.

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Sean was a “Rhône freak” and the same year the Proper vineyard was planted had started his own label of Rhône-style blends called Rôtie Cellars. David and Conor formed a professional relationship with Sean who became the winemaker for Proper Wines while still creating beautiful wines for his own label. Sean is an artist who could care less for the fuss common to much of the wine world, and is therefore, the perfect guy for Proper. He’s all about letting the grapes tell their story.

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And so with all things being done in the most proper way, Proper Wines was born with it’s first vintage from 2009. Just a few cases which were mostly for the “library.” During the formative years (a.k.a. money guzzling years), David and Conor added three friends as partners to their Proper mission. Kevin Dibble, a brilliant engineer and wine geek, Billy Adams, businessman and sommelier, and David Kunstle, attorney and wine geek.

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These guys from Colorado Springs are the Proper Five and are a fantastic blend of passion for people, passion for good wine, and all bring their talents to the table. You will hear Conor say, at the end of the day, Proper is about bringing people together. It’s about relationships. Beautiful wine is meant to be enjoyed and shared in the company of family and friends.

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Proper’s estate Syrah became widely available to the public in 2012 with it’s Fall Release of the 2010 vintage. It was a success and a hit with everyone, from people new to the Washington wine scene to landing 92 points with the guys out in Napa (Wine Spectator), 94 points from Wine Advocate, and so many critics and wine enthusiasts in between. The 2011 “Stone’s Throw Syrah” was another favorite and a great example of Proper’s determination to create a beautiful wine off “the Rocks” even when frost derails the crop earning 92 points from Wine Advocate, and on to the 2012 vintage, just released this past Fall, earning 93 points from Spectator, 94 points from Wine Advocate and making the list in “WA Best 100 Wines” in Seattle Met Magazine, and adding many more fans and devotees of Proper Wines. The 2013 vintage will release this Fall and we are so excited. Of course, we’ve been sampling to watch it grow over time, and this is going to be a good one. Once you’ve tried it, let’s talk about “Rocks Funk.”

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Speaking of “the Rocks,” in February of 2015, The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater became it’s own AVA (cue a little victory dance and raise a glass!), and this small, special area in the Walla Walla Valley is now officially recognized. We, the people, at Proper Wines are thrilled to be a part of this unique area.

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Dave and I were just up in Walla Walla (which is also known as W2) a couple of weeks ago to pour Proper for Spring Release weekend. There’s something so thrilling about being in the vineyard, surrounded by baby clusters of Syrah, and knowing what kind of deep magic is working from the roots entrenched in the rocky soil up to the sturdy vines, delicate clusters and velvety leaves. We learn SO much every time we go, and this time, I was even dreaming about wine. Sort of like that study abroad experience when you finally go so deep into it that you start dreaming in the native language… Just awesome. All this to say, I have lots more to share with you as we learn what it is to produce and market Proper Wines Estate Syrah. So far, it’s been such an interesting ride, and one we enjoy even more with each passing vintage.

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Old Fashioned Oatmeal Scones

We are going on over a week of rainy days, which I am not at all complaining about. Colorado will have so many blue skied, sunny days in just a matter of time. I’m really savoring this UK-style Spring weather, and the cool rain puts me in the mood for a cozy kitchen with scones baking in the oven. With warm scones and a pot of  my favorite Yorkshire Gold tea steeping, I know that my long to-do list can just wait.

This is a favorite recipe that isn’t your typical scone. For one, it’s loaded with oatmeal, along with whole wheat flour, and buttermilk. It’s a very rustic scone with a wet dough, and therefore very moist once baked. Friends and family have been delighted with these and the beauty of their simplicity is that you need nothing, other than a cup of tea, to go with them.

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Old Fashioned Oatmeal Scones

recipe slightly adjusted from Breads for Breakfast by Beth Hensperger

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 12 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 and 1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup currants
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. In the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the regular flour and whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low-ish speed, cut in the butter until it has the texture of soft crumbs. Add the oatmeal and currants, and mix to combine.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk on low speed until the dough forms a soft, shaggy ball. If at all needed, add more buttermilk one tablespoon at a time.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a well floured work surface and knead gently about 10 times, or just until the dough holds together. Roll or pat out the dough into a large 12 inch circle, about 1.5 inches thick, and cut the round into about 8-12 slices (like a slice of pie). OR, if you’d rather, shape the dough into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle and cut out 12 squares (3 cuts across and 4 down).
  5. Using a spatula, place the pieces 1/2 inch apart on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until just golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and cool to desired temperature on the baking sheet. Serve hot, warm, or at room temp.

 

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