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I’ve never been much of a soda drinker. The six Diet Cokes a day? Not me. Once in a while, I’ll make an exception. For example, there’s always whiskey in my Coke and I have a real soft spot for Squirt, that deliciously sweet grapefruit soda that is my go-to when I’m not feeling well. I also occasionally enjoy a spicy ginger ale and a cold cream soda. Man, I do love a cream soda.

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I love a good cold Asian noodle dish – peanut noodles, sesame noodles, cold soba noodle salad. They are perfect as the weather heats up; cool, refreshing, filling and easy to make without heating up the kitchen. But I’ve never quite gotten the recipe right on my own. The flavor is always slightly off, the mixture sticky and gloppy. I made them but I never really enjoyed them. About this time last year, I posted a Vietnamese steak and peanut noodle salad that I loved, thought I had finally nailed it. But then I tasted these noodles and realized this version is better. Dang it.

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Back in the days right out of college when I was scraping to get by, I survived on soup. It was easy to make, inexpensive and could be varied countless different ways. Meatless chilis, various vegetable concoctions and chicken-less chicken noodle were my standards. Soups were filling and they reheated beautifully in small office microwaves but more importantly, one could really stretch their dollar far with a pot or two. When you were saving any bit of extra cash to buy a few rounds of beer Friday night, this was important.

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I keep a strange schedule that follows no patterns. Such is the life of a freelance recipe developer – it’s a drought or a tsunami – and right now I’m drowning. Given that I’m cooking all day, when it comes time to actually make something for myself, I usually punt. Classic case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes, I tend to default to delivery, take out or nibbles here and there of leftover scraps from whatever I’ve made that afternoon. Sometimes it works out well, other times not so much. Case in point: my dinner the other night was a bowl of partially mashed edamame. That’s not even a thing. I spend a lot of time staring at the contents of my fridge and while I may shut the door and dial the number for Chinese delivery instead, I do get a lot of ideas this way. That’s how this post came together.

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Last week while I was thinking about what to cook for Cinco de Mayo, I remembered something I used to make frequently when I taught cooking classes. Often, particularly around this time of year, you need a good snack to go with those endless rounds of margaritas. After a lifetime of tortilla chips, salsa and guacamole something different is desperately needed. While I love a good empanada, they’re a little too filling to be a drinking snack. So I’ve got just the thing for you today. Plantain chips. Just as delicious and addictive as tortilla chips and with a great cilantro dipping sauce – a welcome change from boring salsas and heavy guacamoles. This sauce is something else – bright, tangy, a little spicy, super fresh. It’s fantastic.

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If you weren’t aware, I’m a fan of pork fat. Using lard rather than butter in some recipes, particularly baking recipes, changes the flavor and texture for the better. A pie crust made with lard, or my preference of a lard/butter combo, is like no other. Today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, I had the idea to do some very traditional Mexican cookies from none other than Chicago’s own Chef Rick Bayless. And I was going make them with lard.

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I left work not long ago to these fatal words: “Can you do something with this? Take it.” This is exactly how I end up with so much stuff. Both my freezers are packed with things obtained in this manner, not to mention my cupboards and three large plastic totes in my dining room. Oh boy, here we go again. I can never turn down ingredients. It is a blessing and a curse and how I found myself with with two containers of crème frâiche and no plan.

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