Sunday, July 27, 2014

Carnitas Tacos

As I mentioned last week, I've been working through the pulled pork chapter of my friend Nick's cookbook: Love Your Leftovers. You can find the core pulled pork recipe in my post from last week, but for this post, I'll write about one of the many suggested recipes in his book. It uses the slow cooker pulled pork in a new way. I hope to take some of the frozen pulled pork out of my freezer and make a third recipe later this week. Because as far as I'm concerned, a week without pork products is a sad one!

Carnitas Tacos (makes 8 tacos)


  • 1 lb. shredded pork (approximately 3 cups)
  • 3 TB unsalted butter, melted
  • 16 (6-inch) corn tortillas (or 8 flour tortillas, whatever is your preference)
  • 2 avocados, mashed
  • 4 radishes, sliced thing
  • Fresh cilantro
  • 1 lime, juice only
Quick Pickled Red Onion
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large lime, juice only
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

To make pickled onions, peel the onion and slice it first in half and then into thin slivers. Add to a bowl and toss with lime juice and salt. Let sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the carnitas.

Add shredded pork to baking dish. Try to spread out pork so it is in a thin layer and covering the entire pan. Drizzle pork with melted butter.

Bake until the shredded pork becomes crispy on top, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your other toppings.

If you have a gas range, and you like your tortillas a little toasted, you can do so my placing the them directly over the gas flame over medium heat. Let them cook until they are lightly charred, about 10 seconds per side.

To make the tacos, use two toasted corn tortillas per taco. Smear tortillas with some mashed avocado and then pile on the pork, followed by the radishes, cilantro and pickled red onions. Finish off with a little squeeze of lime juice.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Ode to Nick Evans (plus a slow cooker pork recipe!)

Earlier this year, I celebrated 10 years living in DC. I've met a lot of amazing people along the way, through a variety of activities. Back when I first moved here, I played in an Adult Kickball League for a few years and while my kickball playing days are long since gone, the friendships I made during those first few years in DC are still very much alive and well. As a foodie, a blogger, and an amateur cook, I am so pleased to call Nick Evans one of these friends.

This guy started a blog several years ago when he was still living in DC. In fact, the blog probably started around the time this photo was taken. Surprisingly enough, I don't have many photos with Nick that I feel are fit to print, but this Halloween party shot from around 2008 always makes me smile. In case it isn't clear, Nick is swine flu and his wife Betsy was avian flu. I am merely a beloved character from a popular 80s Jim Henson show in awe of their awesome creativity. But back to the important stuff...the food! So Nick's blog has grown over the years (check it out at and it has turned into an amazing resource for recipes and other food-related information. It's often a go-to place for me to find recipes and I often post many of those to this blog.

But Nick couldn't just be a successful blogger. He had to publish a cookbook too. Love Your Leftovers is his creation, and I was lucky enough to test some recipes as part of the cookbook development process. I tested out a few of the recipes in the salmon chapter, and will admit that his basic oven roasted salmon recipe has become a staple in my kitchen. The cookbook shows you how to love your leftovers, offering up 14 basic recipes from flank steak to potatoes, and then presents countless ways to reinvent the leftovers into new dishes. For those of us who get bored eating the same dishes more than two days in a row, this book is an excellent resource.

I recently made two recipes from his pulled pork chapter. Below is his recipe for slow cooker pork butt. Later this week I'll post one of his leftover recipes for this dish.

But before I get to that recipe...there's MORE! After conquering the food blogosphere and publishing a cookbook, Nick is going to be on TV! Nick will be competing on Food Fighters on NBC. The show airs on Tuesday nights and premiered yesterday. Nick's night to shine is August 12th and you better believe I'll be tuned in. You should too!

But now, it's time for some pork butt!!

Slow Cooker Pork Butt (makes 6 pounds of pulled invite some friends!)

  • 8 lbs pork butt (aka shoulder)
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 1 12-oz. beer (preferably lager)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 2 TB paprika (I used smoked)
  • 1 TB chili powder
  • 1 TB kosher salt
  • 1 TB black pepper

Cut pork butt into four or five large pieces so it fits nicely in your slow cooker. Cut off any large pieces of fat.

Mix together all the other ingredients in the slow cooker so they are well combined. Add pork pieces to the liquid, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Remove pork pieces and let them cool for a few minutes. Pour liquid into a bowl.

Shred pork pieces using two forks. Try to remove any huge pieces of fat, if possible. Once you have completed shredding, return the pork to the slow cooker.

Pour cooking liquid back into slow cooker in 1-cup increments until the pork is moist, but not too soupy.

Keep the pulled pork warm while serving. Serve with barbecue sauce on toasted buns. And save the rest for leftovers that you'll love!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Parties with Food Themes

I am a firm believer that a good theme party is only as good as its food. Of course, a great theme helps, but if you just half-heartedly throw a bunch of party food out there, it can be disappointing to your guests. I've hosted or attended various theme parties in the past that had great food. From Oscars parties to Super Bowl parties, there is an expectation to bring it with appropriate munchies.

I had the great pleasure of attending a World Cup party this past weekend. I had received the invite several weeks ago once the matches had started. The concept was that they would make food from the two remaining competitors. So in addition to rooting for teams that I wanted to win solely on their attractive competitors (yep, that was one of my judging criteria), I was also cheering for good food!

As we all know now, Germany beat Argentina to win in extra time. But all the food put out by Elisa and Doug were winners in my book. And all homemade. For Germany we had homemade pretzels, bratwursts on the grill, potato salad, and bee sting cake. For Argentina, we had steak with chimichurri sauce, vegetable empanadas, and alfajores. I think overall I preferred the German food, however, these alfajores were to die for.

The moral of the story is that everyone wins at a theme party with great food. Now it's really time for me to get back in the kitchen, so I'll be back to sharing recipes next week!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Travel Food Porn: Peru (3 of 3)

Following my brief stint in Peru, I headed north to Cusco for a few days to experience Incan ruins, cultural festivals and parades galore, llamas around every corner, and a different type of Peruvian cuisine.

Of course I saw the illustrious Machu Picchu...truly a magical place. I did not end up hiking the larger mountain behind the ruins shown on the right (Huyana Pichu) but I sure ate like I had!

The cuisine in this area errs on the side of hearty and also included an animal that I find adorable and obsessed over everywhere I saw them: the alpaca. There was no way I was going to eat one of these adorable beings. I took enough selfies and other llama/alpaca pictures that I couldn't bear the thought of eating one of their siblings.

I arrived in Cusco armed with some recommendations not only of foods to try, but of places to eat. I had met a new friend in Lima who provided some great recommendations. I only managed to get to one of those places, but it was definitely worth the trip to have one of the specialty dishes of that region: Aji de Gallina.

I had tried this dish a few months before my trip, while on a date with a Peruvian who took me to a place in Adams Morgan that he said would be the closest I'd find to authentic Peruvian cuisine in DC. Besides all those chicken places, but those are a whole other ballgame.

The restaurant in Cusco where I ate Aji de Gallina was a bit more sophisticated than the place I ate in Adams Morgan (no shocker there), and the presentation of the food was a direct reflection. However, the flavor profile and consistency was spot on.

Calle del Medio, had a great view of the Plaza and served a variety of pisco drinks. But I was most impressed with their version of this dish. Aji de Gallina is chicken with potatoes and rice. As if that wasn't enough starch, there is bread in the sauce. Rich and beautifully presented, it was the best Peruvian-style dish I had while in Cusco. A very hearty stew, it fit well with the brisk, winter air I experience in Cusco in June.

In addition to recs from a new friend, I also had a coworker who had recently hiked the Inca trail and had passed through Cusco just a few weeks earlier. Ironically enough, she recommended a great burger place (the irony being that she's a vegetarian).

The place was called Papacho's, which is a Gaston Acurio concept. One of the more celebrated Peruvian chefs, he had a few restaurants in Lima that I could not get into, but I was happy to check out this burger place. I know, I know...why was electing to get a burger while in Peru? Even I, the eternal foodie traveler sometimes craves something a little like home. However, knowing that this was a restaurant owned by a top chef, it wouldn't just be any burger place. And I was right.

The meat burgers they served at this restaurant were veal burgers and beyond tender. I elected to a burger with blue cheese, fried onion, bacon,'s the kicker...elderberry ketchup. This was served along with sweet potato fries. As you can see, this was a beast of a burger. I only ate half of this monster, namely because a dessert on the menu caught my eye and I very much needed to leave room for this dessert. Not to mention the fact that this was the meal I ate after having hiked around Machu Picchu starting at 5 a.m. that day so I was exhausted and this, including the pisco sour I drank, was enough to knock me completely on my ass.

But I digress...I need to talk about this dessert. I love caramel. It may be one of my favorite sweet things out there. I like it in ice cream and mixed in brownies. I loved the plastic wrapped hard caramels that my Grandma always kept around her house. So when I saw that my new favorite South American cookie, the alfajore, was included in an ice cream sundae topped in caramel, I had to bite.  So much caramel and dairy. I was already full but I accepted the challenge. I'm not sure where this sweet tooth I developed during my trip came from, but I definitely found myself leaving room for South American desserts on the regular.

Speaking of sweettooths, which I have never claimed to have, I have claimed a salt tooth. I can't get enough salty food (much to the detriment of my blood pressure). So I'll end my Food Porn: Peru edition posts on a high note. I visited salt pans while in Salinas, Peru and it was by far one of the more beautiful things I've seen while traveling. And I say that not just because I love salt...and I got to bring some of it home with me. As you can see on the right, they are definitely a sight!

All this blogging about my travels sure has made me hungry. I guess it's time to get back in the kitchen! ;)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Travel Food Porn: Peru (Part 2 of 3)

Earlier this week, I wrote about two of the best meals I had while in Lima. I was only in the city for three days, but having great food was definitely one of my major goals in visiting Lima. Hell, that's usually the case for anywhere I travel. So I wanted to make every meal count. This blog serves as a cautionary tale on going by TripAdvisor reviews, but no has a happy ending.

I had wanted to check out Central, one of the top restaurants in Lima but when inquiring for a reservation, I was informed they were already booked through the end of the month. This comes as no surprise given the prestige of the chef, but I was hopeful that I'd be able to successfully eat there at some point since I was there mid-week. When my friend Dan and I headed out for food, it was a bit early to check out Central so we pulled up TripAdvisor and found fairly solid reviews for a restaurant not far from the hotel. So we went. For some reason, we elected to only order a ceviche and an octopus dish, hoping that we could pop in to Central later. Am I ever glad we didn't elect to eat a large meal at this place. This horrific display of octopus bathed in olive sauce was so unappetizing, I couldn't even bring myself to have a bite. The look on my friend Dan's face after sampling it proved my instincts were right, but not so were the writers on TripAdvisor. I hate to put ugly food on here, but really, it needs to be seen. Food not only needs to taste good, it needs to look remotely appetizing.

So after that debacle, we headed over to Central where we were able to enjoy some cocktails at the bar, chat with some locals (well Dan did, I just pretended to understand with my limited Spanish skills), and I even gained some restaurant recs for my trip to Cusco (which came in handy!). After a solid hour or two at the bar, we were able to get a seat for dinner and the meal far made up for the horror that was our experience earlier that evening.

The food at Central was rich and delightful. We started off with fresh breads, including one that contained coca (just able everything down there does). We followed that up with sweetbreads. I know what sweetbreads are and I willingly ate them here. However it always makes me think of a story (the person who said this shall remain nameless) of a friend who when reading sweetbreads on a menu thought that it meant something like a donut. I can see how someone could make that mistake, but it's pretty funny nonetheless.

I followed up with a suckling pig with potatoes (surprise surprise) and a caramel based sauce (shown above). I don't recall what Dan ordered but I do recall that the facial expressions following this meal were far improved from our last experience.

We finished our meal with a lovely dessert that had a fruit that Dan was a big fan of from his childhood. The dessert was light and fluffy and beautifully presented. The texture of the pinkish substance that resembled ice cream reminded me of the chalky "Astronaut Ice Cream" I tried in elementary school.

So if you find yourself heading to Lima, I can offer this advice. 1) Take the recommendations on TripAdvisor with a grain of salt. 2) Visit Central. And if you can't get a reservation, try your luck and drink at the bar for a bit. You might not remember all the intimate details of the meal, but the mixologist there was an artist.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Travel Food Porn: Peru (Part 1 of 3)

Part of the delay in me finally writing about the food in Peru is that I ate so damn much of it. I think I was still going through some sort of potato-less shock when I got back to the States and couldn't quite comprehend the thought of revisiting all the starchy wonderfulness that I encountered during the second half of my trip. So I'm exercising some portion control and writing this in three parts.

I was only in Lima for three nights, but I was advised by many that I would fall in love with the food scene in this city. That the main reason to visit Lima was to eat. Having now been there, I would agree with this sentiment.

The first part of my Lima write-up will cover my favorite two meals in the city, in addition to the chocolate making class I took. These three experiences are quite disparate from each other, but all stories worth telling.

Let's start with the cheapest meal I had in Lima and how something so wonderfully simple can be so good. On my way to my chocolate-making class, after a failed attempt at doing tandem paragliding off the coastline shown above, I realized that I wanted to have a good meal prior to consuming a lot of chocolate. Because it's vacation. And that's how I roll.

I was actually quite hungry considering I hadn't eaten that morning for fear of losing it while jumping off a cliff. So since that was not in the cards, I settled for a heavy lunch. I found a little hole in the wall on my way to the class and ordered the papas with huancaina sauce for my appetizer followed by the Peruvian classic, lomo saltado, shown at the right.

My 8-year-old self, who would have survived on potatoes and starches alone if I was allowed, was thrilled beyond belief that people eat like this on the regular. A starch appetizer, followed by meat paired with potatoes and rice. This is the Peruvian take on stir fry and something I will definitely try to replicate this winter. It seems pretty easy and it will allow me to improve on my steak cooking abilities (something that I don't always excel at.) I blame the lack of a good grill.

Following this heavy lunch, I continued on to my chocolate making class at the Museo de Choco. I received this recommendation from a friend who had taken the same class during his recent trip to Peru. Knowing that I like to do these types of activities when traveling, I appreciated the recommendation.

While it was interesting to learn more about the chocolate making process, I didn't feel this was as hands-on as I typically seek out in a cooking class. We did ground some cocoa beans and make hot chocolate, but the true chocolate making was more of an observational process of the big machines doing their thing to mix all the ingredients. Then we were provided with chocolate that was ready to be placed in molds. Don't get me wrong, it was good chocolate, but perhaps I should have taken something a bit more hands-on.

Now on to my other favorite meal in Lima. I read about Rafael in my Lonely Planet Guide and had heard great things about this little spot that if you blinked, you'd miss, on a quiet side street in Miraflores. I had tried to get reservations at some of the other hotspots (including Central, which I'll cover in Part 2 of this blog series) but had limited success.

I was able to get a cozy spot for one in this restaurant, which boasted a well stocked bar and great ambiance. This great "mood lighting" made it a bit hard to take proper pictures of the meal, but I did copy down the descriptions. I opted to have two of their appetizers and a dessert, so that I could try as much food as my little stomach could handle that day.

A fellow foodie that I met during a city tour earlier that day had recommended that I get the tuna tataki as one of my dishes. The dish, shown above, was a yellow fin tuna tataki with yuzu, kiuri, avocado, and salmon caviar. The fish was so fresh and the flavors just melded together in your mouth. I chose to eat this as slowly as possible, thinking that my next dish would pale in comparison. Wrong. It was just as good. Seafood really is wonderful in Lima. My second dish was a shrimp tempura with akishiso sauce, cucumber, mango, avocado and cashew nut salad. Unfortunately the lighting wasn't on my side to capture how pretty the dish was, but trust me, it was just as good as the tataki.

I closed my meal with the crispy churros with smoky Nutella sauce, decadent truffle-Nutella tart, and raspberry sorbet, shown at the right. Let's just say I am not a dessert person but I was in heaven with just about every dessert I had in South America. None were overly sweet, but complex in their own way. A wonderful way to end a great meal.

If you find yourself in Lima, I highly recommend checking out Rafael. It's a great date spot, or a place for one single foodie to eat her little heart out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Travel Food Porn: Ecuador (Part 2)...On the Hunt for the Pig

Before traveling to South America, like any good eater, I did research on what I'd be dining on during my time there. There were some general themes. Ceviche. Potatoes. Pork. More Potatoes. Guinea Pig.

Me: "Umm...what? Surely you don't mean the household pet?"

Lonely Planet: "Yes, and they are delicious!"

Me: "Hmmm..."

I asked about it once I arrived in Ecuador. I was told the following:

Native Son: "Oh no...the guinea pigs down here aren't like the household pet variety. They are wild. And bigger. No worries. Taste like chicken!"

I wasn't completely convinced they wouldn't look exactly like I pictured them. The good thing was I never had one as a pet. The bad thing was I was informed that most places that serve them in South America serve them whole, face staring back at you and everything. I had flashbacks of my brother ordering the whole lobster as a child during one of our beach trips and the face staring back at him completely ruined any grand ideas to eat lobster that night.

I was first greeted with a creepy photo/painting of a small child eating a guinea pig at a restaurant on our way back from a tour during my first day in Quito. I stared at the image (shown above) and once it was clear that it was in fact a guinea pig, I started to wonder if it truly helped or hurt the situation.

The next day, during a trip to the Equator line, there were some guinea pigs hanging out in a little hut area. I know it was part of the hokey tourist attraction, but they truly were just like the household pet. My friend Michael vowed we would definitely eat some before we left Ecuador for our respective post-wedding excursions. I don't have a photo of those guinea pigs, but this fun pic of Michael, Megan and myself straddling the equator.

Time was running out in Ecuador and so I found myself dining in an Ecuadorian food restaurant with Michael and other new friends from the wedding. Granted, it wasn't the most authentic, down and dirty of places (no guinea pigs roasting on a fire pit in the front), but they did serve guinea pigs by the half or the whole, and our dining companions were game. We opted to get the half (which half we got remained a mystery until the food was delivered) so that we could dine on other foods there as well. Probably the best ceviche I had in South America I ate at this restaurant.

But now for what you've all been waiting for. The illustrious guinea pig. It's pretty clear from this picture which half we got. We all split the pig, as it were, and the verdict was decent.

We all felt it tasted a bit like a gamey dark meat chicken. They cooked it crispy, which cut down on some of the grease I was expecting. I found it better than expected, but not necessarily something that I was game to go eat again.

And perhaps it was the "exotic" appeal, but most restaurants that I saw serving it jacked up the price a bit. So needless to say, they were totally cater to us folks. And we took the bait, but so glad we did. Because adventurous eating is what I'm all about when I travel. Next stop? Peru!