Thursday, February 19, 2015

Recipe: Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Mexican Style (Achiote) Sauce

Achiote (or annatto) paste is based on originally a Mayan spice blend, orange-red in colour and containing the achiote seeds. It is strongly associated with Mexican cuisine from the Yucatan region.

Achiote seeds in their pods. Image borrowed from Amazon Ecology
Australia's proximity to Mexico does not allow for us to have a strong (and quality, or authentic) Mexican food presence. So not surprisingly, it was difficult finding achiote paste or the seeds in the local supermarket, and I didn't have the time to look further in specialty food places. So getting inspiration from Ferran Adria's The Family Meal, I decided to do some research and come up with my own Mexican (Achiote) blend to marinade my pork shoulder in.

Achiote seeds have been described as peppery, sweet and with a hint of nutmeg. The most distinctive quality of the achiote seems to be the yellow colour, which can also be derived from:
  • saffron
  • turmeric
  • paprika

Being cost conscious meant that I immediately crossed saffron off the list, particularly as it's my first time attempting the Achiote sauce. So I stuck with both paprika (sweet and smoked meant it would add more BBQ styled 'oomph' to the pork and closer resemble the sweetness found in achiote) and turmeric for that distinct yellow colour.

You can play around with the quantities based on the size of the cut of meat, and how much sauce you want left over in the pan. The below yielded approximately two cups of marinade and after cooking, just enough sauce (approximately 3 tablespoons) to smear on the pork.

1.7kg pork shoulder (bone out, and if preferred, tied)
1 x white onion, roughly chopped into thick squares or slices

Achiote Sauce
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sweet, smoked paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1 teaspoon allspice powder
1 teaspoon chilli powder
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 oranges, freshly juiced
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 garlic cloves, crushed


  1. ACHIOTE SAUCE: Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Stir in the wet ingredients.
  2. MARINATE OVERNIGHT 8-12HRS: Place the pork in a deep and wide enough bowl and poor the achiote sauce over it, making sure it gets underneath and around all the sides. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic cling-wrap and place in the fridge overnight. 
  3. SLOW COOK FOR 6HRS: Preheat oven to 100-120 degrees Celsius. Place plenty of foil in a deep tray, allowing enough length to go up the sides and contain the meat and the achiote sauce (like a parcel) without leakage. Put the meat in the tray and poor over the achiote sauce leftover from the marinading bowl. Scatter the onions over the pork. Fold over the foil to create an almost airtight parcel and bang the tray in the lowest rack (or floor) of your oven. Cook that bad boy low and slow for 6 hours, or even longer*. 
  4. SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Make sure to smear that sweet Achiote sauce (now thickened with the cooking) over the pork. You won't even have to shred the pork or use a knife, it will fall apart with the pull of a fork. Serve with warm tortillas, freshly cut salad (e.g. corn, tomato, lettuce, avocado), fresh chilli, fresh lime and your choice of pickles.
    * The longer pork shoulder is cooked, the better and softer it gets. If you love to take your time, you could even take the cooking time up to 12 hours at 100 degrees.

    Saturday, December 21, 2013

    6 Ways to Make Christmas Parties a Breeze

    This week I hosted a lunch at my place for the girls. There were seven of us in total. The lunch was a good test run for the 15 person shindig I'm hosting this Christmas Eve. Although I was super organised for the lunch, I still had a couple of moments where I felt lost, unsure about what to do next or not paying attention to my guests because I was consumed by some meaningless task. It didn't feel as seamless as I'd wanted it to be. 

    So I started thinking about what I had already done to prepare, as well as what else I could do to improve for next time. The list boiled down to six key points. The other key factor for me this year has been having a baby. This means I have limited time to get things done in, so have to be extra organised and focused to stay on task and accomplish all that I want.

    I look at hosting parties like I do work: it's the same amount of effort be it for four people or 20; same amount of production management be it a $100 job or $100,000. The only things that change are the quantity and risk level. So here goes. I hope I give you some ideas to make life easier for you this holiday season!

    1. Plan your menu in great detail.
    This is the first thing I do before hosting any party, big or small. Not only because I love food and it can often make or break a gathering for me, but because it is the springboard for a lot of the tasks below. Some things to consider: allergies (nuts, fish, dairy, gluten); cultural or religious restrictions; variety; ease or complexity of preparation/cooking; cooking time and space; popularity.

    2. Advanced food preparation and catering.
    Freeze, freeze, freeze! There are many delicious recipes that freeze well, so use them. That way it's only a matter of pulling them out of the freezer on the day and in some cases also heating. Ideas include seafood skewers, meat balls, mouse type desserts, dense/moist cakes and sweet or savoury pies. 

    A lot of biscuits can be made ahead of time and keep well for weeks in an airtight tin.

    Perhaps you can get your local delicatessen to prepare a platter for you. Or you might place an order with your baker for your favourite cake or dessert. If you can afford it, outsource to trusty suppliers!

    3. Shopping list and buying groceries.
    Write a detailed shopping list based on what's required for your preplanned menu. This is also a good chance to do a pantry, fridge and freezer stocktake and clean out. It can get expensive, especially if you're hosting a big party, so think about spreading out the big shopping list between several shops over several weeks or a month before the party.

    Buy all the pantry goods and long term fridge / freezer items ahead of time; leaving seafood, meat and baked goods for the day before or on the morning of the party. Particularly if it's a busy holiday season with high demand, or you're after exotic ingredients or specific cuts of meat. Ensure to locate these early on and place orders with your suppliers ahead of time. For example: I ordered the pork belly at my butcher and bread rolls at the bakery about a week and half before I need them.

    If crowds or venturing out is not your thing, have a think about what items you can get delivered to your place in advance. These days you can do your grocery and alcohol shopping online at the same place, saving you time and frustration, particularly during the super busy holiday season where shops are packed and queues never-ending.

    4. Thoroughly clean your house a week before the party.
    This ensures the real dirt, mould and grime is gone. Ensure to include outdoor areas, balconies, furniture, BBQs or grills. All you're left with the day before or on the day of the party, is a super quick and easy superficial clean consisting of a quick vacuum, mop, wipe down of the bathroom and emptying of rubbish bin.

    5. Do all the last minute things ahead of time.
    I always leave the music playlist creation as the last thing. So often I'll be on the laptop finalising it as people are arriving. This sucks and it's super antisocial! Plus you miss out on some of the fun. To ensure you are the host with the most, create your playlists in advance. At the same time go around the house and refill all the candle holders with fresh candles and finish off any decorating. 

    The night before the party ensure you have all the bowls, platters, cutlery, serving ware, glasses, wine coolers, decanters, bottle openers, cheese knives and whatever else you may need within easy reach, preferably in one central location. This saves rummaging thought cupboards and drawers, so instead you can hold a conversation like a normal person, as opposed to having your head shoved deep inside a drawer, swearing because you can't find something.

    6. Delegate tasks and avoid the rush.
    I have already written a list of shitty (and time consuming) little tasks for my husband to do a couple of hours before the party. This includes picking up the ice, cold beer and fresh bread. These can be viewed as fun little tasks that he and our daughter can do on their daily walk together. Also frees up my time to stay home and focus on last minute food preparation. 

    In addition, take people up on their offers to assist or bring some food or drinks along. Or at least don't reject their assistance until you have a better idea of how you are tracking. Things can change last minute: you might drop a bottle of alcohol you need for the punch; need more ice to cool the drinks; or have run out of a key ingredient for the feature dish. Easy things for people to pick up on their way through to your place. 

    Anything I've missed that you find critical when hosting a party? Let me know in the comments below.

    Happy partying! Have a joyous and safe holiday season. 

    Wednesday, September 4, 2013

    Sydney Moderns

    What: Sydney Moderns art exhibition.
    Tag line: "art for a new world".
    Where: Art Gallery of NSW.
    When: until 7 October 2013.

    Synopsis: a thorough retrospect of modern Australian art capturing the simultaneous growth of Sydney as a major city during industrialisation and the artists it housed as they experimented with new techniques.

    Personal Highlights: modern art is my weakness, Picasso and Monet being my two favourite artists. Therefore I was surprised to discover a range of Australian artists I never knew before whose work also captivated me. These include but are not limited to Frank Hinder, Grace Cossington Smith, Olive Cotton, Roy De Maistre and Margaret Preston. They vividly captured what it was like to live in Sydney during the 1920s and 1930s.

    Normally I find Australian art depicting the landscape and country scenery  isolating and depressing. It's because they distinctly tap into that sinking feeling I had the moment I stepped foot off the plane in Adelaide when we moved back from Greece, as a child. What I also found surprising  in this exhibition with the (few) landscapes depicted, was the beauty, subtleness and magic captured in the colour; the beautiful rhythmic harshness, contrast and harmony of it all which I have now grown accustomed to love and recognise as exclusively Australian.

    Link to more info:

    Bonus: with this gorgeous Sydney spring weather you could make the most of your visit to the exhibition by also enjoying a walk in The Domain, Art Gallery Road or Mrs Macquarie's Chair.

    Friday, August 9, 2013


    Walking around my new neighbourhood I spotted my very agile 80-something year old German neighbour, Inge. She was making a bee-line for the local shops. She was a blur of floral, knitted cardigan and black opaque stockings, and I hardly recognised her. Now there’s a granny that’s not waiting around, she’s grabbing life by the horns. Every time I see her she’s gardening, washing, taking the rubbish out, spying on my car reversing skills (I drove over a patch of grass on a wet day and haven’t heard the end of it) or doing something else to keep herself busy.  

    Just before I saw her I was contemplating what really old people do. Eighty odd years and then some. Oldies would have done and seen a lot. So after all is said and done, do they just hang around, waiting for death to come a knocking? Or are they living their life just as I do every day, trying to avoid the inevitable (taxes and death)?

    Then as I was walking up the hill, puffed out, I saw Inge who pulled me out of my depressing reverie. At that moment I became determined to be as agile as she is at that age, perhaps even now! But it’s getting difficult. In this day and age we’re consumed with consumption. If we’re not stuffing our faces with (junk) food, then we’re watching way too much TV, being entranced by our digital devices and social media, or shopping online for more of the same thing we already have three versions of in our over-stuffed wardrobe.

    So what’s the answer? For me its awareness. Choosing when I do those things and limiting (not eliminating) the exposure. Maybe I should take a leaf out of Inge’s book and do more gardening.

    I’m thinking changes are afoot on this blog. Feeling a bit stale. I’m wanting to sharpen up my recipes and restaurant reviews to make them short, sweet and time effective. Also perhaps provide some parent-friendly food, culture and travel ideas as suggested by my friend Glynis a while back. Got any suggestions of what you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments below.

    Before I sign off, I should preface this entry by addressing my ten month hiatus. I’ve been busy baking. I baked a baby bun in my uterus oven. It’s a girl. She’s super cute with a perfectly round bald head and dumbo ears; I want to eat her! And she’s quickly approaching three months. Time flies... in the meantime you can see all the deliciousness and places I visited during my hiatus on instagram and facebook.

    Stay tuned, there should be something for all to consume…

    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    GIVEAWAY: On The Road double pass

    Is there an amazing road trip you've been on? What's your favourite holiday or destination and why? Let me know in 50 words or less by emailing

    Entries close midday, Tuesday 23 October 2012.

    Most creative entry wins. Include your name and mailing address. Competition open to Australian residents only.

    Check out the official movie site and trailer