No tortilla needed: crispy carnitas find happy home in butter lettuce

    Crispy carnitas wrapped in Bibb lettuce with avocado and cherry tomatoes

Crispy carnitas wrapped in Bibb butter  lettuce, topped with avocado and cherry tomatoes — positively magical.

Sometimes I make life harder than it needs to be.

For the past few months, I’ve been stressed out about work and life and instead of opting to make things easier on myself, I decided to dedicate a few weeks to the Whole 30 — which meant eliminating sugar, grains, legumes, dairy and alcohol from my diet. It’s certainly not something I can sustain for a lifetime (nor do its creators expect people to) but it was a great way to get my eating habits back on track after too many weeks of packaged meals.

While I’ve been successful at the Whole 30 before, my downfall this time was poor calendar planning. I got side tracked by my dad visiting (cocktails), Memorial Day (beer flights and fish ‘n’ chips) and a girls night (pink wine and pasta), so while I managed the first 14 days just fine, things slipped after that. Sadly, water will never taste as good as beer and fried rice is tastier when it’s not made with cauliflower. It’s just the way things are.

I do intend to give the Whole 30 another real run again in Junly after my husband and I are back from (gorging ourselves on) vacation and summer produce is at its prime. I just need to keep repeating to myself, “Water is delicious. Water is delicious…”

Even though I didn’t last past two weeks, I did at least make some dinners that were lovely enough to revive my desire to spend some time in the kitchen doing more than heating up frozen Amy’s burritos — which is what my diet consisted of for the month of April. It was a dark time.

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Yum Bao: Chinese steamed buns meet Thai sweet pork

A most delicious project: Steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

A most delicious project: steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

It’s not often you can credit a success in the kitchen to an Olympic figure skater, but I most definitely owe Brian Boitano a huge thank you for these delightfully decadent pork buns.

The last time I made steamed buns, the filling was fantastic but the buns lacked the fluffy tenderness of the bao from my favorite Chinese restaurant. So I turned to the internet in search of a fairly uncomplicated yeasted steamed bun recipe and somehow landed on one attributed to Mr. Boitano, who apparently has his own cooking show.

While I nearly passed the recipe by for something, well, more authentic, its stellar reviews caught my eye. People seemed to love the recipe, praising the buns for their puffy, fluffy texture. In fact, while reading the comments in other bun recipes that I came across, I saw references to Boitano’s tasty buns (ha!) and was finally convinced to try them out.

Well, Boitano certainly deserves a gold medal for that recipe because it’s pretty awesome. The dough was a dream to work with, very pliable, and the texture was spot-on, light and fluffy even though my pleating was far from delicate. While I think the dough could have used a dash of salt, that’s the only criticism I have. Continue reading

I’m only here for the snacks

Party snacks by candlelight

Party snacks by candlelight – is there anything better?

There’s a song my husband plays sometimes that echos the refrain “There will be snacks.” Sometimes we sing it to each other even when the music isn’t playing.

And while the song seems to be about the end of days, mentioning survival kits and crumbled financial institutions, it still seems to imply that even the apocalypse can be made better by snacks.

Which is an idea I can totally get behind.

There’s just something about snacks that make me happy. Perhaps because making them (and eating them) suggests that friends, laughter, a nice glass of wine and plenty of fun are in my near future. Or maybe it reminds me of sitting exhausted on my couch, after the last guest has gone home, and being left alone to finish off the last odds and ends from the plates.

Whatever the reason, out of all the meals or menus I plan or partake in, it’s always the snacks that I love the most.

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Things that are too delicious to be allowed in my house…

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

I have pretty decent willpower when it comes to food — with a few notable exceptions. At the top of that list resides the Jalapeño Cheeto (not to be confused with Flaming Hot Cheetos whose only redeeming quality is this excellent video). I don’t know what magic took place to make Jalapeno Cheetos even more delicious than the original flavor, but it worked. These things are the straight-up definition of addictive and I am absolutely powerless against them.

My initial encounter was a few years ago when my husband left a small bag open on the kitchen counter before he left for work. I came home early and poured out a few nibbles before folding up the bag and putting it away. Those few bites was all it took. I kept creeping back into the kitchen and sneaking handfuls until the bag was (shamefully) empty.

When my husband came home, I told him he was forbidden from bringing them into our house ever again. While he hasn’t completely complied with that request, they are thankfully a rare indulgence.

I mention this story because I have recently discovered  — thanks yet again to my husband, bearer of evil temptations — something just as hauntingly addictive as those spicy, cheesy morsels.

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Kitchen comebacks are almost as easy as renaming a cheese

Homemade Goat Cheese Ball

Homemade Goat Cheese Ball (from zero to hero!)

Lemons to lemonade…The standby cliché that has encouraged optimism for years is certainly a useful one to keep in mind in the kitchen.

Even though I’m pretty confident in my culinary prowess, every so often my cooking projects don’t turn out the way I expect them to. Occasionally, no matter how determined I am in conquering certain recipes or ingredients, they remain untamed and I am forced to dine on humble pie instead.

This is where some culinary finesse comes in handy — if you’ve spent enough time in a kitchen, shouldn’t you be able to take a problematic dish and turn it into a  delicious success?

I’ll say with total and utter assurance…sometimes.

One of the more frustrating food failures I’ve experienced was a few years ago, involving a chicken leg, sweat and tears. The picture in the magazine was of a perfectly lacquered piece of poultry, whereas mine (even after plenty of last-ditch efforts) remained lackluster and insipid. It was edible, sure, but I didn’t enjoy eating it. The taste of disappointment was too strong.

My most recent foray into the land of food flops came with a slightly ironic twist. Back in 2007, I ripped out a recipe for a Crisp Salami Cocktail Mix from the December issue of Food & Wine. I don’t know what about it intrigued me so much, but it seared itself in my brain. I wasn’t sure when I would make it, but I knew it would happen.

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Adventures in dim sum: Sweet steamed buns of joy!

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

I ate Chinese steamed buns on New Years Day quite unexpectedly.

My husband and I had a lazy morning before finally deciding we were hungry enough to leave the house in search of food. To be on the safe side, we called our favorite neighborhood joint to check on the wait for brunch. Forty five minutes, they told us on the phone.

Given that their bloody marys and biscuits are good enough to make nearly any wait worth it, we scrambled to get dressed and drove with haste up the street. Moments later, we found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. Pleased as punch, we walked through the door…and that’s when things went awry.

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