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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

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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In college, my favorite bar hands down was an Irish bar. I went to one of those big Arizona so called “party” schools, packed with scruffy sports bars serving $2 pitchers of Coors Light. Don’t get me wrong, I frequented those establishments often but when my friends and I had a spare 10 bucks we’d head to our Irish bar for pints of Guinness or black and tans (Guinness and Harp) and a few rounds of darts. It wasn’t until much later, in Chicago, that I discovered the other Guinness drinks: the Black Velvet – Guinness and champagne – and the Snakebite – Guinness and Hard Cider. Being a champagne and a Guinness lover, I could never really get behind mixing the two but a Snakebite was quite nice on occasion. The deep dark notes of the stout were accented rather nicely by the tart, effervescent cider. Today, for St. Patrick’s Day I made this combination into a cake. Of course I did.

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Well Happy Valentine’s Day friends. That ever so special day of chocolate, hearts and overpriced flowers. I’m doing a few chocolate posts for the month and this is no exception though today, I’ve holiday’d it up for you. I’ve made cookies and if you’re going to make cookies for Valentine’s Day, they have to be heart shaped. It’s a rule.

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For the last several years, I’ve done a series of chocolate posts for the month of February. Expected? Absolutely but the month that contains Valentine’s Day and sometimes Fat Tuesday always seems to say “chocolate” to me. It’s funny because as I’ve stated a few times before, I’m not much of a chocolate eater. Shocker, I know as I lean more towards the vanilla, caramel and fruit end of the spectrum. All the same, as this February approached, my thoughts turned to … you guessed it … chocolate. In this case, it was marshmallows.

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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a New York Times article on cheese balls titled “To Find Out Who You Are, Peer Into the Cheese Ball”. I was delighted. One sentence in particular resonated with me, “December is the Olympics for cheese ball fans.” Truer words have never been spoken. Oh how I love a cheese ball, a cheese log or those wonderful tubs of crock cheese anytime really but especially around the holidays. On a cracker, or better yet a Triscuit, there are few better snacks. While I certainly favor some flavors over others, I’ve yet to meet a cheese ball I don’t like. That pink “port wine” crock cheese? One of my favorites. A cheese ball makes a party, my friends. True story.

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Every year while visiting my mother for the holidays, I buy eggnog. Every year, I forget to drink it. And every year, a few days after Christmas when I’m back in Chicago, I receive a phone call from my mother that is basically this: “I TOLD you, you wouldn’t drink the damn eggnog. You NEVER drink the damn eggnog!” It’s part of our holiday tradition, though she will probably disagree. I always buy it with the best intentions. I love eggnog; I intend to drink the damn eggnog. I’m not sure what happens but the flurry of activity in those few packed days and the abundance of other things to eat and drink just seem to take over, pushing eggnog lower and lower on the hierarchy of things to consume. Besides, how could it possibly be a proper holiday without that phone call dripping with sarcasm, annoyance and an “I told you so” tone?

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