Crispy Slow-Roasted Carnitas

it's always taco time

Who cares if it’s already November? It’s always taco season to me. Just because you’re not at the beach doesn’t mean you can’t stuff fresh corn tortillas with your favorite fillings and have a little taco party in your apartment. It might be sweater weather outside, but that shouldn’t stop you. I’m my best self when I’m at Rockaway Beach, drinking out of a coconut, and eating tacos from any of the awesome vendors out there. So, when ZICO contacted me about creating a recipe for them using their new Chilled Coconut Water + Juice Blends, I knew I wanted to make tacos, because, and I don’t know if you’ve figured this out, yet – I. Love. Tacos. Initially, I thought that the blends might be on the sweeter side, but I was wrong – they tasted just like regular OJ, but with ZICO’s 100% natural coconut water added. With these blends, you get all the benefits of coconut water, like electrolytes, as well as the flavor punch of real orange juice, which you expect in a traditional carnitas marinade. I like orange juice, I like coconut water, so why not put them together? Kind of genius. These carnitas are incredibly flavorful and perfect for eating all week long, as a quick weekday lunch over a salad or for tacos again and again after work. You really can’t get sick of tacos because there are so many ways to eat them. Top them with sour cream, avocado, and radishes, or maybe go for a really spicy salsa with pickled jalapeños. You can add the crispy pork skin for chicharrón tacos, or maybe get really fancy and do the thing that turns any dish into everyone’s favorite thing in the world: top it with a fried egg. I made these on a Sunday night for some friends that we had over, and everyone seriously approved. I know this because we all went back for at least two or three more. Go the extra mile and crisp up some of these juicy carnitas in a pan to up your taco game – I promise, it’ll be worth it. Just don’t forget the guac!

crispy slow-roasted carnitas

If you had a weekend like mine, you’re probably ready for some tacos, honestly. I pretty much survived on candy (and candy alone) this weekend. On Friday night, we went to our friend’s office for their amazing Halloween party. I was Han Solo (obviously), but I decided to leave my blaster at home for fear that New York City cops would think I was carrying an actual weapon. Kramer dressed as a left-shark (photos to come), and he really killed it on the dance floor. We were home at a semi-reasonable time, with pockets stuffed with candy, of course. After a Mounds bar or two, we went to bed, then got ourselves together in time to drive out to Long Island to see our friends, go trick-or-treating with their adorable one-year-old daughter, and watch the Mets. The poor, poor Mets. We thought maybe they could do it! But alas, victory was not on New York’s side this year. We tried to stay up last night to watch the whole game, but by midnight, we were both asleep on the couch and had to call it a night. We knew it was over, though. Sigh. Anyway, after the game on Saturday, when the Mets still stood a chance, we played some pool, threw some darts, then Kramer and our friend, Tom, stayed up a little later (thanks, daylight savings!) and I went to bed. In the morning, our friend Valerie made us feel like we were staying in a bed-and-breakfast. She made eggs, bacon, pico, pumpernickel toast, and Bloody Marys – quite the treat for us, indeed. We drove home and I spent the day not doing anything. I didn’t cook, I didn’t edit photos – nothing. We just chilled on the couch, watched The Leftovers, watched the Mets, and then went to bed. Somehow, I’m a little tired this morning, but I’ll blame that on the Mets.

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Easy Cake Parfaits

made from cake scraps

First thing’s first: I’m going to be on The Food Seen podcast today! Please subscribe and listen to me and my weird voice. I promise that, if nothing else, you will enjoy listening to me make a fool of myself. Okay, that’s been dealt with, and because you subscribed and all, you deserve some dessert. Specifically, these cake parfaits. They’re super easy, and what follows it hardly a recipe, but it’s kind of a great idea and you should all have this in your back pocket for when you want a quick dessert with minimal effort. Theoretically, anyway. I suppose you need to first make a cake, because these parfaits are made with leftovers. Scraps. The stuff you might have otherwise thrown away. I’m talking about the tops of cakes that have been leveled off, or maybe those two sort of sad-looking cupcakes that fell flat in their pans. Typically, I’d either shamelessly eat these things, standing up in my kitchen, hoping Kramer doesn’t see me stuffing my face like a garbage person, or just throw them away (but let’s be real, it’s almost always the former). However, this time around, I thought, let’s be a little more savvy with these leftovers, shall we? So, I grabbed the bit of leftover frosting and the tops of the cake layers I’d leveled off from when I made that awesome pumpkin pie layer cake earlier in the day, and I made these. Leftover cake parfaits are my new favorite thing, and I promise you that I’m going to be making a hell of a lot more of them. They make excellent gifts and they look like something you’ve done on purpose when, in reality, they are really more of an afterthought. Nobody needs to know that, though.

easy cake parfaitsIndulgent photos by Donny Tsang.

On the same day that I made these parfaits, my friend Donny asked if we could get together so that he could take a few portraits. He said that he needed the practice, and I, of course, being a mild narcissist, jumped at the chance. We headed over to the train tracks near my apartment to snap a few photos, and I absolutely love the result. Thanks, Donny, my man! I appreciate your indulging me in letting my post so many photos of myself, but hey, we live in a selfie culture and I am a product of my environment. We grabbed a quick drink after the photos, then I headed home to edit my own pictures (probably these very cake parfait pixxx that you’re looking at now). So, to recap: subscribe to The Food Seen, check out Donny’s website, and please, make some cake parfaits.

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Pumpkin Pie Layer Cake

with buttercream frosting

I hope you’re all ready for some serious pumpkin recipes today. Some of my absolute favorite bloggers, led by the incredible Cake Over Steak, have teamed up to make today the biggest pumpkin day ever. If you head to Instagram or Twitter, you’ll be able to see them all via #virtualpumpkinparty, so I hope you had breakfast or else you’re going to be hungry almost immediately. I decided to go for an ambitious project, seeing as how this is such a big event. I don’t do cakes very often. I hate all of the bowls, I really don’t like dealing with frosting, and I very rarely have an occasion for a cake. You need, like, 15 or 20 people to consume a cake, right? Sure, I could eat the whole thing myself, but I’m trying to cut back. Annnnywho, I wanted to make a cake that reminded you of pumpkin pie, but how to do that? Well, start with a really great basic pumpkin cake recipe (like this one), then add a layer of pumpkin spice syrup (oh yeah), followed by a layer of thick, creamy vanilla buttercream, and – wait for it – candied graham cracker. I thought the graham cracker would really bring the whole thing together and remind you of that beloved graham cracker crust that you see on a lot of pumpkin pies. Give the whole thing one more loving layer of vanilla buttercream, top with a little more candied graham cracker, and boom: you’ve got yourself one mighty fine pumpkin pie layer cake. This was definitely my most impressive cake to date, and I may or may not have asked Kramer if he agreed that it was beautiful. His response? “Yes, darling.” Good man. This is the thing to bring to any pumpkin lover’s birthday, or a great way to impress your family on Thanksgiving (or even Halloween). Go pumpkin crazy today and enjoy!

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Spooky Chocolate Cupcakes

with vanilla buttercream

I know you’re all dying to talk about last night. The new Star Wars trailer came out. It’s got me even more pumped for the movie than I was before. ANNND tickets finally went on sale. I was not prepared for the shit show that was to come, let me tell you what. I was hunched over my laptop, clicking refresh, back, refresh, back, IMing Kramer, who was still at work, freaking out that I missed my chance and we weren’t going to get opening night tickets, when eventually, I got through on one page to one theater and bought the first pair of tickets I could get my hands on. Thankfully, they’re reserved seats, so while they may not be the best seats, I don’t have to worry about waiting in line for an entire day to get them. They’re mine, all mine. I also decided that we need to take a vacation day on that Friday, because I’ll be too hyped up after seeing The Force Awakens. I’ll need to go out and celebrate and have a few drinks, then, of course, see it again the next day. I already bought tickets for that, too. Leave nothing to chance. I am really, really excited, guys. I’ll probably watch that trailer at least five more times today.

spooky chocolate cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago, Urban Outfitters contacted me and asked if I would make a ~spooky~ Halloween recipe for their blog. They wanted cupcakes, specifically. I froze. I’m not really known for my decorating skills, but hey, why not challenge myself, right? I said yes, headed into my kitchen, and proceeded to tear it apart because I knew I had a ton of unused Halloween decorations laying around in some nook and cranny. I found sprinkles, black food coloring, and muffin cups. I was ready to go. I decided to go with something super cute and approachable, because hey, I’m no cake boss, but despite the relative ease that goes into decorating these little chubby ghost guys, I ended up liking them a lot! They’re so goofy looking and I swear that every time I looked at them on my counter, I broke out laughing. They all look as if they’re saying, “Help me.” Some look like they’re saying, “Booooo!” but most look like they need a friend. I love it. I brought them to a bar for some friends and everyone had the same reaction. You honestly cannot look at these and not smile. If you’re not a big fan of decorating cupcakes, look – you can do it. I promise. If I can do it, you can do it, and your reward is around 20 little ghostly friends that can’t wait to be eaten.

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Chicken Tinga Tacos

with smoky chipotle

I’m a little late on this recipe, but this week has been really busy. Leave me alone. I’ve got way too many photos to edit and work is non-stop, but I suppose it’s better than having too much free time. Maybe? I don’t know. I forgot what free time looks like. BUT that’s beside the point. I made these insanely good chicken tinga tacos from Whip It Up! by the ever-talented Billy Green of Wit & Vinegar. If you like fun recipes with great descriptions and colorful photos, you’ve gotta get this book. Plus, there are about one million ice cream and frozen treat recipes in there for you, which I find really exciting. Billy’s blog has been one of my favorites for years now, and I’m so happy that I’ve finally got this book in my grubby little hands. CONGRATS dude! You did it. Kramer, our friend Taren, and I got down with these tacos (and, of course, a side of guacamole) last week while we watched The Leftovers. I think we all went back for seconds or thirds, and being the genius that I am, I doubled the recipe so that we’d have plenty for lunches throughout the week. This tinga is smoky, spicy, and super flavorful. It’s obviously great with tacos, but I also heated some up and put it on top of a salad, which was equally delicious. It could even work as a chili, too, eaten straight from the pot as is. I threw in an extra chipotle pepper for some added heat, which I highly recommend doing. So go ahead and make this the spicy tinga of your dreams. It’s cold outside but it can be warm in your belly.

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Spiced Turkey & Chickpea Chili

with Chermoula, Labneh & Pita Croutons

You guys, this is my favorite time of the year. I can finally sleep in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, but I’m not so cold that I need to wear socks to bed. That’s the perfect sleeping situation for me. I know a lot of people who hate wearing a bunch of clothes to bed, but for me, it is absolutely heavenly. I like to feel like I am wrapped up in a million blankets when I crawl into bed, so last night, I finally zipped up a hoodie and threw on some of my most comfortable sweats and tested out the waters. It’s been a touch on the warmer side at night so far, so I’ve been denied my beloved sweattire (that’s sweats + attire). I wish we could sleep with our bedroom window open, but our conveniently located apartment is both a blessing and a curse, as it is on the same block as a subway stop, so there’s always a lot of traffic or people yelling or talking outside, and we’ll be woken up countless times if we even leave the window open a crack at night. Anyway, because of that, our room remains a bit warmer than it would if we were living somewhere peaceful enough to sleep with a window open (do people do that?). So forgive me if I am way too excited about the temperature of my bedroom, but it’s finally happening. It’s officially fall when I can sleep in a hoodie. And you know what that means: stews, soups, slow-cooked meats, and, of course, chili. Lots and lots of chili.

spiced turkey and chickpea chiliIt me.

When I was approached by Blue Apron to create a post for them, I wasn’t sure it made sense at first. I create recipes, and sure, I share a lot of recipes from creators that I love, but did showcasing a product like Blue Apron make sense? After thinking about it, I decided it did. I’m always looking to share the best ways to cook, eat, and enjoy food at home, so why not add Blue Apron to the mix? All of the meals can be prepared in 40 minutes or less, they’re all 500-700 calories a piece, and they send fresh, quality ingredients for you to cook with every week. I’d heard good things about it before, so I was excited to give it a try myself. I’ll be honest – I was impressed! I received a week’s worth of food on their two-person plan, and I received a steak and potatoes dish, a catfish dish, and this turkey chili and chickpea dish. I thought that was a nice array of different kinds of proteins, and enough variety in types of dishes to keep my husband and myself interested enough to cook three nights in a row. I mean, yeah, we cook almost every weeknight, but it’s mostly easy stuff like frittatas or stir-frys or whatever, nothing super composed and pretty like these dishes were. It was easy, too. I don’t typically follow recipe instructions line-by-line, but I did this time to get the full experience, and it reminded me that I am terrible student, but the step-by-step pictures helped. Another bonus is that Blue Apron has a recycling program for the packaging its products come in, which honestly is a lot more than most other companies can say – they’ll give you a free label to ship back your packaging if there are no convenient options in your community. All in all, it was really fun to relax and let someone else tell me what to cook instead of having to think about it myself, but I still felt like I knew what I was eating and was knowledgable about what I was putting in my body.

If you’d like to give Blue Apron a go yourself, the first 50 readers will get two free meals on their first order by clicking here, so I hope you try it out! Some other recipes include crispy ricotta pierogi and pressed chicken tortas, so there’s lots to choose from. Happy cooking!

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Mediterranean Cauliflower Rice Salad

with Parmesan cheese

Ever since I discovered that it’s possible to pulse cauliflower into tiny rice-like bits, I’ve been totally obsessed. Shockingly, I like to eat (I know), and most of this eating is done on weekends, after a long work week. There may also be a few cocktails to go with this eating (again – shocking). So, come Monday, I’m ready to get back on track (or at least pretend to), and I try to eat relatively healthy…until Friday, because let’s face it, I’m only human. This is one of the easy ways I’ve found to do just that: cauliflower rice. Yeah, okay, it doesn’t taste exactly like rice, but it’s pretty damn close and I feel satisfied after eating a bowl of it. This time around, I decided to go with a Mediterranean theme. I pulsed a head of cauliflower in my food processor, then tossed it with artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, celery (for crunch), scallions, parsley, and a little olive oil and lemon juice. You can make this a heartier meal by adding chickpeas, tofu, or cooked chicken, or keep it simple and eat it as is. We had this on its own one day, then over a bed of arugula the following day. I really think a poached egg would make this next-level good, but I’ll have to try that another time. What I do know is that this is the kind of “healthy” food I can get behind, because if I see one more of those sad mixed-green salads with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, and red onions, I’m going to throw a fit. Who’s with me?

Mediterranean Cauliflower Rice SaladTasty toasts at the Blurb Road Show, prepping some pickled radishes from Wit & Vinegar’s new cookbook (recipe to come!), a weeknight dinner of roasted squash, bacon, and eggs, and, of course, draaanks.

As mentioned above, a lot of my friends are coming out with cookbooks! There’s The Year of Cozy, Whip It Up!, The Sugar Hit!, and so many more. It’s so exciting to see people you admire come out with awesome books, and hey, guess what? You can make a book too, and you don’t need to be a professional photographer to do it. I’m working with Blurb to help you do just that. I recently went to a food-styling event hosted by them, where I ate good food, met other bloggers, and learned what it takes to make a book on Blurb. And what does it take? Maybe 20 minutes. I’ve used Blurb before to create wedding albums for family, but now I’m thinking that I want to make personalized recipe books as gifts this holiday season. All I have to do it think about the person I’m giving said gift to, create a couple of recipes that remind me of them, shoot, edit, print, and boom – the perfect food-themed gift that fits that person’s individual tastes. Maybe they have a sweet tooth, maybe they’re vegetarian, or maybe they really like pizza. I can do one for each. Kinda cool, right? There are some pretty inspiring examples from Blurb already, and if you’ve ever wanted to see your own photos in print, now’s your chance.

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Chewy Chai Snickerdoodles

with crunchy cinnamon-sugar

It seems that all of my friends are coming out with cookbooks this year, which is awesome because it means I get to beef up my collection. It also means that I need another bookshelf, but we’ll worry about that later. My buddy Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen recently released her book, The Year of Cozy, and I have to say that I absolutely love it. It’s full of great recipes, of course, but it’s more than that – it’s got lifestyle tips that are actually relevant to my interests, like how to make your own salt cellar, how to package fun food gifts, and how to have a staycation. Yes, please, to all three. How she is an amazing cook and general how-to-live-your-best-life guru, I’ll never know, but she also has a really cute corgi, whose photos are sprinkled throughout the book as well, so you should definitely grab a copy if just for that. Anywho, I saw these Chewy Chai Snickerdoodles in the book and I have to give them a go. It’s almost the time of year where you’re ready to go baking crazy, making cookies and cakes and pies and all of that for friends and neighbors and bosses that need a little sweetening up – why not start with these? Everybody loves chai, be it that sickeningly-sweet concoction you get from Starbucks (i.e. my preferred elixir of life in college) or the really good, spicy stuff you can get from your neighborhood’s specialty market. I know some people that even make their own chai mix at home, passed down from their parents and now making their own kitchens smell like fragrant oases (that is apparently the plural for oasis – I looked it up). However you enjoy usually enjoy chai, this is a step beyond the rest. The outsides of the cookies are perfectly crispy, while the insides are wonderfully chewy, and the chai flavor really comes through, which is why I highly recommend dunking these suckers in a tall glass of cold milk, you know, for the full effect. Happy baking season! I can smell the cinnamon and cloves already.

chewy chai snickerdoodlesMe (haiii), on a photo shoot with Marcus Samuelsson (!!!), having some drinks in the neighborhood, and the final product of another photo shoot with Jamie Bissonnette (!!!). Life is good.

I suppose I haven’t update you guys on other aspects of my life recently, but to be honest work has kept me incredibly busy and I struggle to find time to do normal, everyday things, like laundry or brushing my hair or putting said laundry away. Ugh, I hate laundry. Where’s my laundry robot? While it’s been really hectic, at least I’m doing some really cool stuff, photos of which I absolutely cannot wait to share. I’ve been on photo shoots with Jamie Bissonnette, Marcus Samuelsson, Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske, Kenji Lopez-Alt, Angela Dimayuga and Sam Anderson from Mission Chinese, and so many more. It’s kind of awe-inspiring. These people are amazing at what they do, and I’ve been getting to head into their kitchens with my camera and take photos of them while they do their thing. I’m really proud of the pictures that I’ve taken, and I hope that they love them as much as I’ve loved taking them. I hope that this will continue to be a major part of my job – finally being able to take photos for at least part of my actual, full-time gig has been a dream of mine for a really long time and being able to do it blows my mind a little bit. If you don’t already read MUNCHIES on a regular basis, please do so, and you’ll see my photos pop up from time to time! Life update over.

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