Coming on the dog days of summer

We've enjoyed a cool spring, we Floridians, but soon will be faced with scorching summer heat. We'll be challenged to find food that blends well with a wide variety of wines while still offering a hint of refreshing cool. As April rolls into May, and May rolls into June, that challenge will become harder and harder to meet. However, one food family offers a nice balance, providing a culinary adaptability coupled with ingredients designed to beat suffocating heat. And where do we go to find this food family? The answer is Mexico. Beef Carnitas This recipe blends hearty stew meat with flavors distinct to Mexican dishes: lime and cilantro. It also provides a solid base for many culinary creations, including empanadas, tacos, and beef salads. It appeared in its original version in Cooking Light magazine. Hardware: A medium-sized stew pot or large Dutch oven, with a tight-fitting lid Ingredients: 2 tablespoons olive oil (separated) 1 large Spanish onion, chopped (can substitute yellow or white onions, but not Vidalia. A red onion might add too much heat) 3 cloves garlic, crushed 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into bite-sized pieces 1 cup beef broth 1 teaspoon light brown sugar 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper 1 large, unpeeled orange wedge
  1. Begin by heating 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat
  2. Add the chopped onion and sauté for about three minutes
  3. Add the garlic cloves and sauté for another minute
  4. Remove onions and garlic to a bowl on the side
  5. Begin adding the stew meat
    • The stew meat should be sautéd in batches. You want to add enough meat to cover the bottom of the pot, sauté for approximately five minutes or until brown on all sides. A crucial step here is to activate the Maillard process, so you get a nice crust on the meat and on the bottom of the pot. When the first batch is browned, pull it out and start on the second. It should only take two or three batches to get everything done
  6. Add the beef broth to deglaze the pot
    • When you add the broth, it should sizzle and begin to soften the crust that has formed on the pot's bottom. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, work the bottom of the pot to get all that good tasting stuff off and into solution in the broth
  7. Slide in the orange wedge
  8. Add the sugar and red pepper
  9. Re-add the onions, garlic and beef
  10. Bring the mixture up to a boil and then reduce the heat to low or medium-low (depending on you cook top)
  11. Cover and let simmer for 80 - 90 minutes
  12. After that time, uncover the pot and raise the heat some, allowing some of the water to evaporate and the sauce to concentrate
Variation: instead of the orange wedge, you could try putting in a half-cup of your pairing wine. The alcohol will burn off and the fruit flavors in the wine will concentrate during the reduction process. Don't be afraid to experiment! The beef carnitas mixture can be set aside, reheated and will keep in the freezer, wrapped tightly, for up to three months On to the tacos While the beef carnitas is simmering, you have plenty of time to prepare taco fixin's. Remember, when trying to beat the spring heat, eschew the heavier TexMex ingredients like cheese and go for more traditional ingredients like lime and cilantro. Beef carnita and taco fixin's For my table I used the following: Medium flour tortillas Traditional corn tortillas (to bring out some more flavor, you can heat these briefly in a skillet until they just begin to brown in places on one side, then wrap them in foil and keep them in a 200 degree (f) oven to keep them piping hot for your guests) Diced avocado Sliced tomato Sliced Spanish onion (to make the meal more wine friendly, I caramelized the onion to reduce its heat somewhat and to bring out some of its sweetness) Two limes, sliced into wedges Chopped cilantro Arrange all the ingredients on a plate and allow your guests to mix and match as they wish, making their own flavor combinations. What to pair it with? Dog Tail Vinyard's Fire Hydrant RedDog Tail Vinyard's Fire Hydrant Red California Red Wine Color: Deep, lustrous red with just a hint of translucence that forecasts it's lighter body Nose: Big fruit with a hint of spice. Fruit aromas included many of the brighter reds--strawberry and raspberry--and the wine exhibited a slight candied aroma, perhaps vanilla. Palate: Lithe, supple tannins and a hint of alcohol heat (13%, but not too bad). Flavors included the expected red fruits, including plum, but the wine also had a refreshing crispness due to its tannins and acidity--like biting into a ripe red apple. Finish: The wine had a drying finish because of its tannins, but left a hint of that red plum flavor. An excellent accompaniment to food of all sorts. This is a fine drinking wine that would pair well with all kinds of menus. You'll notice the photographed bottle is empty. I can think of no better endorsement.

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