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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Methven Winery and the case of the stolen pinot noir

Methven Family Wines Vineyard

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to help represent my company at an open house for Painted Hills Natural Beef. While Painted Hills beef is from Fossil, OR, the company had paired up with Methven Family Wines in Dayton for the event — which meant a trip out to wine country!

Oregon wine country, as you have seen before, is a beautiful place and knowing that a fabulous — and free! — dinner was waiting made the gorgeous drive from Portland all the better. I won’t mention that gorgeous drive included an hour of terrible traffic — let’s just focus on the pretty (and delicious) stuff!

This was what greeted us when we arrived...

This was what greeted us when we arrived…

I never say no to pinot!

I never say no to pinot!

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My cats like it when I cook…

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Simply for the possibility that the kitchen window will be open.

Tuxedo kitties in window

Longing for the squirrels that they cannot chase.

Tuxedo kitties in window

The gruesome twosome: always optimistic that one day the screen will not be there.

Roasted Radicchio and Culinary Crushes

Roasted Radicchio, Anchovy and Lemon

Roasted Radicchio, Anchovy Dressing and Preserved Lemon

Culinary crushes are nothing new in this food-obsessed world we live in. Half of the women (and a few of the men) that I know would love to get some one-on-one time with Tony Bourdain. I, on the other hand, swing more towards domestic divas who have a way with words and can rock it out in the kitchen. Sure I love Martha, but one of my main crushes in the culinary sense is Molly Wizenberg.

I didn’t know much about her beforehand, but when I began getting a subscription to Bon Appetit years ago, I realized how much I looked forward to her monthly column, The Cooking Life. I enjoyed reading about her life, her family and her cooking experiences and slowly began following her blog Orangette as well.

In Bon Appetit, I remember reading about her and her husband moving to Seattle to start a pizza place. I was so excited when a few months later he actually called the company I work for to buy some meat. While taking his order on the phone, I was tempted to ask if he could pass along my undying devotion to his wife. Sure, it would have been a little creepy, but I’m not above that — I once, in person, told Jennifer Aniston that I loved her because she was so pretty.

Happily I managed to restrain myself this time!

At any rate, throughout the past few years (before her column ended), I’ve accumulated many of her Bon Appetit recipes — carefully filed in my binder, waiting for their day to shine. Last weekend, I rediscovered this one from September 2010. I was preparing a meal full of decadence (more on this soon, but it involved some full blood Wagyu beef!) and was in desperate need of a refreshing side dish to cut through all of the fat.

I love radicchio for its bitter bite and Molly’s Roasted Radicchio Salad with Lemon and Breadcrumbs seemed up for the challenge. Even though it’s not mentioned in the recipe, I would suggest soaking your radicchio first, unless you like really astringent flavors. I find just an hour in water will temper the sting. Then drain and dry thoroughly before brushing with oil and popping in your preheated oven.

Ready for the broiler!

Ready for the broiler!

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Nothing says “home for the holidays” like headcheese…

A traditional Smörgåsbord favorite, Swedish Headcheese

A traditional Smörgåsbord favorite — homemade headcheese served with red wine vinegar and pickles

My mother’s side of the family has many of traditions that seem to crop up around the holidays. There are the usual ones that almost every family has in common — baking cookies, picking up the freshly cut tree and sticking an orange at the toe of each stocking.

We also have a few slightly more unique ones, such as presents that aren’t as they appear. At our house, if you get a package that feels strangely light, the chances are high that you’ll be sent on a treasure hunt of some kind before you can claim your gift. We take pride in coming up with new ways to out-clever each other, but my grandmother is the reining champ.

She has made me decipher full letters written in Swedish, with only a dictionary to help guide me through the clues. She has folded up money into tiny pieces and stuffed it into dried pasta noodles. I once had to pop a dozen balloons to get a gift certificate out. She’s a devious mastermind when it comes to giving gifts.

She is also the main provider of our more…well, unconventional traditions, which are of the edible variety and stem from my grandparents being full-blooded Swedes. There’s the (recently posted about) homemade pickled herring, the hand-stuffed potato sausage and the headcheese that I avoided like the plague until I was in my twenties and discovered how it good it actually is.

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