Back in the {blogging} saddle…

Seared foie gras with cherries

Seared foie gras with cherries, Loulay Kitchen & Bar, Seattle, WA

In case you were concerned, like my mother was, about why this blog has been so quiet lately, I have a lame but entirely honest excuse — life got crazy.

At first, in mid-February, I became so bogged down in planning my birthday party (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s my favorite holiday and I take it seriously) that I had no time for cooking projects, let alone photographing and writing about them. I was too immersed in making this year’s birthday extravaganza as awesome as possible. (Not to brag, but I totally succeeded.)

My theme, The Drunker Games, was a play on the Hunger Games and involved 14 adults, a city park, oranges in nylons and other strange and unusual field day games. There was one true winner, lots of beer and plenty of laughs.

Then came my actual birthday, which I celebrated by taking a trip to the Oregon coast with my husband. Immediately following that was a long weekend in Seattle with a co-worker, which involved a lot of eating under the guise of work/sales calls (18 restaurants capped by an all-you-can-eat crab dinner).

And then it was March….I don’t even remember March. I had to look through my pictures to try to figure out what I did.

Apparently it was a whirlwind of weekend hikes and wine trips inspired by the incredible sunny weather. I didn’t do much cooking but I did do a lot of living.

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I’m only here for the snacks

Party snacks by candlelight

Party snacks by candlelight – is there anything better?

There’s a song my husband plays sometimes that echos the refrain “There will be snacks.” Sometimes we sing it to each other even when the music isn’t playing.

And while the song seems to be about the end of days, mentioning survival kits and crumbled financial institutions, it still seems to imply that even the apocalypse can be made better by snacks.

Which is an idea I can totally get behind.

There’s just something about snacks that make me happy. Perhaps because making them (and eating them) suggests that friends, laughter, a nice glass of wine and plenty of fun are in my near future. Or maybe it reminds me of sitting exhausted on my couch, after the last guest has gone home, and being left alone to finish off the last odds and ends from the plates.

Whatever the reason, out of all the meals or menus I plan or partake in, it’s always the snacks that I love the most.

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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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Adventures in dim sum: Sweet steamed buns of joy!

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

Homemade Chinese Pork Steamed Buns (char siu bao)

I ate Chinese steamed buns on New Years Day quite unexpectedly.

My husband and I had a lazy morning before finally deciding we were hungry enough to leave the house in search of food. To be on the safe side, we called our favorite neighborhood joint to check on the wait for brunch. Forty five minutes, they told us on the phone.

Given that their bloody marys and biscuits are good enough to make nearly any wait worth it, we scrambled to get dressed and drove with haste up the street. Moments later, we found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. Pleased as punch, we walked through the door…and that’s when things went awry.

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The best remedy for a lonely kitchen is a new project

Homemade Chinese BBQ Pork Loin

Homemade Chinese BBQ Pork Loin

My kitchen has been feeling neglected lately. With all the craziness of the holidays, it’s been weeks since I’ve had the time or energy to contemplate a cooking project, let alone actually accomplish one. This is probably why my list of resolutions is basically a list of foods to make!

To get back into the groove, I decided to start the new year with a two-part project: making Chinese BBQ pork and then using it as a stuffing in Chinese steamed buns (Char Siu Bao). Steamed buns are one of my favorite dim sum treats and since I hadn’t ever made them before, I thought it was about time to check them off my list of missions to accomplish.

For the steamed buns, I used a Fine Cooking recipe that I found online more than a year ago. The link can be found here. In that recipe there is a sub recipe for the BBQ pork so I started there. While I could have purchased the prepared meat from a Chinese grocer, I think there’s something infinitely more fun about a project if it’s all made from scratch.

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