For the last few years, February has been my month of chocolate. All chocolate, all the time with an occasional exception for Chinese New Year, the Olympics and Super Bowl snacks. It seems appropriate that February = chocolate. They just go together. To open the Month of Chocolate this year I wanted to start with Mexican chocolate, those discs of chocolate, cinnamon, sugar and ground almonds that seem to accumulate in my cupboards. I’ve been shifting one of the stupid octogon shaped boxes around far too much lately; it was time to do something with it. The last time it fell on my head, was the last. I just left it on the counter as a reminder to use it ASAP.

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In 2010, I wrote about Pretzel Rolls and it’s become far and away my most popular post over these past five years.  With good reason. They’re delicious, both on their own with a little butter and maybe a drizzle of honey or as the base of a fantastic sandwich.  Back when I wrote the post, I wasn’t happy with what I could find at the stores; they were always slightly stale and I found this incredibly annoying.  Why do we continue to buy subpar bread?  So I decided to call it quits developed my own recipe.  They’re not overly difficult than any yeast dough but with the added step of a baking soda poach to get that characteristic chewy brown crust.  Shortly thereafter, I used the dough to wrap all beef hot dogs for a much better version that what you can buy.  Then I just sat back and absentmindedly watched the hits, pleased that others found them as enjoyable as I did.

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When I was a kid, in the pre-little-sister days, celebration dinners were a big deal and sometimes took place at our favorite Chinese restaurant, China Doll.  There was one big deal dinner, in particular, that was to celebrate some work success of my father’s.  I think my Dad got a bonus check and we blew the whole thing on a big, ridiculous Chinese dinner.  This is the kind of thing we did and I loved it.  I remember this one especially because although our meals came with the standard appetizers – egg rolls and soup – my Dad ordered the one thing we were never allowed to get but always wanted.  The PuPu Platter, that classic over-the-top appetizer of 1970’s Chinese-American restaurants.  I often looked longingly at neighboring tables when the waitress brought the small flaming hibachi grill, as I sipped my egg drop soup with big sad eyes.  I so wanted to cook things on that tiny grill.  But that night, hallelujah, it was all ours! I was beyond ecstatic as the waitress moved a mound of plates to make room for the big platter, flaming grill and numerous bowls of sauces.  I nearly jumped out of my seat to put a sticky, sweet and oddly red colored sparerib onto the hot grill to “cook”.  I don’t know if it really did all that much but it was a helluva lot of fun. There were other things on that platter but the grill and the ribs is what you remembered.

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2014 has opened with a bang and the Sunday Lunch series is back on with a vengeance.  The latest one was a perennial favorite – Cassoulet Sunday!  Nothing gives a bigger middle finger to polar vortexes, dibs on shoveled parking spaces and wearing thermal underwear to the office than a steaming clay pot of beans, tasty duck parts and equally tasty pig parts.  It’s a helluva dish and if you’re not making it, then I feel sorry for you.

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Not long ago, I had a discussion on Twitter regarding baked donuts.  I ascertained that a baked donut is not a donut at all.  More of a muffin really, than a donut.  A round muffin with a hole in the middle.  In my opinion, a donut – or doughnut – needs to be fried and I was quite adamant about it.  Absolutely, no question, in my mind that skipping the deep fat is skipping a crucial step in the delicious donut process.  The doughy masses greatly benefit in both flavor and texture from a little swim in some hot oil.  But it got me to thinking.  While I still believe a baked donut is more of a muffin, could they be as delicious as a donut?  I aimed to find out.

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Like many travelers, I became obsessed with pizza while traveling through Italy.  It’s unavoidable.  It was the late ’90’s, my boyfriend and I had quit our jobs and were taking three months to travel right after I finished my final graduate school course in Rome.  To make our limited funds last the entire trip, we’d alternate between really nice and really cheap meals.  It’s no surprise that we ate a lot of pizza while in Italy – cheap, plentiful and filling, it made for a good snack or meal. And it was delicious!  Truth be told, we ate a lot of everything in Italy.  It was glorious.  There were authentic Napoletana style pies down south and thick slices sold by the weight farther north.  We tried them all. It was where I enjoyed my first real pizza margherita overlooking an old city wall in Naples, discovered incredibly fresh buffalo mozzarella that couldn’t have been more than a day old, and to my delight, a pizza with an egg in the center, the yolk running deliciously every which way.  All were wonderful, other worldly.  Between the pizza and the gelato, I was happy.  I discovered a lot of glorious things in Italy but this is definitely when my obsession with pizza di patate began.

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Early in our adult life, a former boyfriend and I couldn’t always afford to buy plane tickets home to Arizona for the holidays.  This made me a little sad, as Christmas is quite the thing in my family.  Being poor was depressing enough but missing our traditional holiday meals only compounded the situation.  No Christmas Eve oysters?  No pierogies?  No crazy cooking marathon with my mom or opening stockings on Christmas morning like when we were kids?  Exchanging gifts isn’t nearly as fun when you’re not there to see the recipients face.  Luckily we had some family nearby and many friends who were happy to invite us to their celebrations, and this helped.  One year, we were invited to the family home of a good friends girlfriend for what became a rather memorable Christmas.

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