Do you need some comfort food? Something that invites your soul to snuggle up against some memories of simpler times, of peaceful days when the world made sense? Something that fills your belly with a perfect medley of carbs, fat, protein, and flavor?
This fall has been crazy. In mid-August I dove headfirst into some projects at work that required every ounce of creativity, planning, and time that I possessed. I took on a leadership role in my choir. I volunteered for an election that, well, let’s just say it didn’t go the way I’d hoped, and since then have still had trouble finding my bearings in this strange, post-election world. Sharing new recipes with you just hasn’t been at the top of the list.
But now it is! As the flood recedes, I’m finally finding myself looking through cookbooks again, browsing the wild and wonderful internet for tasty new things to cook. Which is how I found this one.
Ever since I developed my recipe for fajita seasoning, I’ve been pretty lazy on the taco recipe front. The fajita seasoning is sooo versatile: virtually any taco, fajita, quesadilla, etc. can be fully-flavored with it. Plus, it’s quick to make with spices that I always have on hand. I go through batches of it at a fairly rapid clip.
But in the throes of my recent love affair with sweet cherries, I stumbled across this recipe. Pork, rubbed with a paste of garlic, lime, and ground chipotle and topped with charred onions, peppers, queso fresco, and a bright, cherry salsa studded with cilantro and lime? Um, YES.
These tacos are delightfully flavorful. The smoky chipotle plays nicely with the bright, sweet, fruity cherries and limes. And while I typically look to chicken or steak for my tacos, the pork is really the best canvas here. The rub and the salsa can be made well in advance, but they certainly don’t have to. This is definitely a weeknight-worthy operation.
If heaven is real, then I really don’t think it’s made of puffy clouds and golden harps. I rather imagine it must be filled with endless tables, buckling under the weight of all the chips, dips, cheeses and crackers (all calorie-free, OBVIOUSLY) that a person could possibly want. Really, is there a better way to eat than scooping up succulent dips and salsas with crisp, salty shards of simple carbohydrates?
My obsession with chips is pretty severe. I’m hopeless at Mexican restaurants. Those continuously re-filling bowls of free chips and salsa at the start of the meal virtually guarantee that I’ll be in a food coma before my main course even arrives. I’m pretty shameless about them at potlucks and dinner parties, too. But unless I am hosting a party of my own, I actually avoid buying them: if I have chips in the house, there’s like a 70% chance that I’ll skip cooking dinner and simply dine on chips and salsa instead, strangely able to justify it by pretending they are vegetables. Sad, I know.
But I’ve found a little loophole. As long as I have corn tortillas in my fridge (which is pretty regular) I can make teeny batches of chips whenever I like! Satisfy my cravings without overdosing! Plus they are baked, which in the chip world, is code for healthy! (Right?)
It’s shockingly simple. Cut tortillas. Spray with cooking spray and salt. Flip over and repeat. Bake. Eat.
One of the most amazing but frustrating things about moving all the time is that I am constantly re-learning local produce. While most of the produce itself has remained the same from city to city and state to state, the timing has shifted a month or two or even three in different climates. But tree fruit. Tree fruit has been the one genre of produce that has just been completely unpredictable as I’ve moved from place to place. DC’s tree fruit scene was insanely awesome. Durham, on the other hand, not so much (though GOD I miss the blueberries.) Columbus had great apples and decent peaches, but not really any cherries or plums to speak of.
Moving back to Colorado, I knew I would return to a land of great, high-altitude peaches from Palisade and other farming communities on the Western Slope. But I did not expect the cherries.
Oh em gee the cherries!
Colorado has had rather a bumper crop this year, and I’m obsessed. For weeks now, I’ve been eating them faster than I can buy them. In fact I COMPLETELY missed strawberry season because I was so distracted by these round little rubies. Which, actually, is fine with me because the cherry is my new number one.
I have this issue with cheesecake. The issue is that if it is in my fridge, or available for purchase on a dessert menu, or available for purchase within walking distance, or even capable of being created with ingredients in my apartment, I have exactly 0% ability to resist it. As a result I make a point of not buying cream cheese very often. If I don’t have that one essential component, I can pretend that I’m happy living a life where I don’t eat cheesecake every single day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, right? Right??
I live for good cheesecake. But I am kind of picky about what makes one good. There are few things more disappointing than cheesecake that looks delicious and is, well, meh. If it’s too lemony or too dry or too rich or too dense or has too much topping or not enough or has too many mix-ins or just a gross combo of them or the crust is too thick or some crazy person put CINNAMON in it I get really cranky.
Most of the time, when it’s time to make cheesecake again, I fall back on two, trusty recipes I’ve used for a long time. The first is a classic, baked cheesecake that, actually, I’ve only shared here in a version dressed up for Thanksgiving. The other I fashion exclusively in miniature form, a holiday tradition in my family as essential as the tree and the Home Alone soundtrack.
But this summer, I’ve been reveling in the availability of locally-grown sweet cherries (difficult to obtain in both Columbus and Durham), and a cherry cheesecake seemed like just the ticket. And while we are “enjoying” the high-nineties here in Denver, I’m pleased to report that the oven was only on for a few minutes, and even that is not totally required if you don’t want to.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown out of my delusions of I’m-young-and-can-eat-whatever-I-want and now do boring things like pack salads for lunch and box up half of my pasta when we go out for Italian. Le sigh. But there continues to be one thing that, when placed in front of me, I have absolutely no control or willpower to stop myself from eating.
Chips and salsa.
Whenever I dine at a Mexican restaurant, it’s a sure bet that I’ll eat my weight in free chips and salsa before my meal arrives. I know that I’m gonna feel like I’m dying within a few hours, but I just can’t help it. Too spicy? Doesn’t matter, I’ll cry through the pain. Not hungry? That’s literally not a thing.
Typically, when I make salsa at home, they are collections of diced vegetables and herbs. But sometimes I just want a nice, runny, completely blended, restaurant-style salsa.
This particular recipe includes a crap-ton of cilantro and a couple of chipotles en adobo. The combination of bright, herb-y flavor from the cilantro and the deep, smoky spice of the chiles creates a unique spin on the classic restaurant salsa.
Perhaps the best part of this salsa is that it’s SO FAST to put together. Once the onion and cilantro are chopped, everything else gets tossed in a food processor and whirled into salsa in just a few seconds flat.
Last summer, while in the midst of packing up my Ohio life for our pending move to Colorado, I was also menu planning a dinner for almost 20 people at a remote, 9700′ mountain lodge with gas refrigerators, gas ovens, and limited electricity. For dessert, I wanted something that was easy but impressive, required neither baking nor freezing, was cheap to make but wasn’t boring, could feed a crowd, and overall, was heartbreakingly delicious.
A unicorn, I thought.
BUT THEN. Icebox cake. To the freakin’ rescue.
Why, in the name of all that is good and delicious in this world, did I only start making this last summer? I mean, who knew such a perfect summer dessert could exist?
Did you guys know?
WELL. If you, like me, were in the shadows, let me show you the light. (more…)
I’m a pretty big fan of lemonade. Last year I finally nailed down a recipe for a delightful home-squeezed version, and I find lots of excuses to make it when it’s hot outside and all I want in this world is a glass of sweet, tart, cold, perfect summer beverage. Mmmmmmm.
I also love orange juice. After my recent trip to San Diego, I brought home five precious pounds of oranges and could think of no better use for them than to squeeze them into juice. So I did and it was perfect and glorious and I had no regrets except that I don’t have a citrus grove in my Colorado apartment complex. I would almost give up my life in Colorado to live in a place with orange trees. Almost.
Have you ever worked with blood oranges before? They are just so… provocative. Their skin is thin and blushes slightly, but upon slicing one open, you are met with simply stunning color. They vary: some are flushed with just a bit of red, like an orange with a sunburn, some are bright pink, and some are so deeply purple you can hardly believe they are same species of fruit. On their own, these oranges make the most MAGNIFICENT juice. If you have a happen to have a blood orange tree, please tell me that you make lots of blood orange juice. Also please send me your address so that I can move in with you.
You guys. Today is a big day! Today marks the five-year anniversary of the day I cautiously served up my first blog post, inviting you all into my kitchen and my world, and hoping that you’d like it.
I’ve spent this week trying to figure out how to mark this occasion. There’s been quite a lot of late-night writing, re-writing, reading, and immediate deleting. In the course of that work, poignant memories unearthed themselves and forced their way to the forefront of my mind. I reminisced at length about the two months I spent developing the site, stumbling my way through the coding to get everything to look just exactly the way I wanted. I chuckled about the early days, when I spent most evenings perched on chairs or counter tops balancing a tripod precariously against the ceiling to get the shot I wanted, only to discover that the muted, incandescent light in my kitchen was the actual WORST. I looked back through my posts, clicking through them one at a time, amazed at the memories that each one elicits. The times and places they evoke.
A lot has changed. Since this date five years ago, I’ve switched jobs three times. Moved four. Lived in three different states with very different growing seasons. I’ve joined three community gardens and have failed spectacularly at three balcony gardens. I’ve swapped cheap Teflon pans for stainless steel, and my meager collection of college dishes has been supplanted by an arsenal of culinary tools for everything from canning to wedding cake baking. Recipes that I once perceived as daunting, showy meals have now worked their way into my regular weeknight rotation. My weekly pilgrimage to the farmers market for groceries is no longer a novelty but a way of life.
Food blogs don’t seem to be quite the craze that they used to be, and I long ago made my peace with the fact that I will not likely be the next Deb Perelman or Joy Wilson. But I still get such joy out of the cooking, photographing, writing, and sharing that happens on this little site. This blog has always been a creative outlet for me, but I hope you’ve gotten a little enjoyment out of it in the process too.
Speaking of enjoyment, I think I’m done waxing poetic for the day. There’s a balcony full of sunshine waiting for me, so it seems a shame to miss out.
Happy birthday, 30 Pounds of Apples! Here’s to another five years!
Do you like Italian food? Do you like food that is kind of like lasagne but not exactly like lasagne?
Do you like making a multi-step meal that involves scratch-made sauce and hand-filled pasta?
Do you like leftovers that last for days and only get better with time? Do you like perfectly delightful combinations of pasta, cheese, spinach, and meat sauce? Do you like noodle tubes filled with magic and topped with awesome?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then this is a recipe for you!
I started making manicotti a couple years ago when I was home for Christmas. My mom, a long-time lasagne maker, decided to mix it up and buy manicotti shells instead for a family dinner. I volunteered to help, and though it was a lengthy process, I genuinely enjoyed stuffing a cheesy, spinach-y goo into the shells. Since then I’ve tinkered with different recipes, and I finally landed on the right balance. Like, a year ago. But it takes a long time to make already, so I hadn’t yet talked myself into taking the time to photograph the process. Not to mention, I keep making it in the winter when I have little evening light for shooting photos, soooooo.
Sorry for the delay!
A warning: if you’re looking for a quick week-night dinner, this is not the right choice. It could be if you decide to use frozen spinach instead of fresh or pre-made pasta sauce. But where’s the fun in that?