The All-Grown-Up Taco Bar

Who doesn’t love a taco bar? This combination is the sophisticated, dinner-party-ready version. This menu used the occasional shortcut, but it didn’t take days of prep work and was so colorful and festive. Serve with margaritas and Mexican beer.


The Menu:

Pulled Pork

Grilled Veggies

Charred tortillas

Colorful Mayo-less Slaw

Red Rice

Mango Salsa

Assorted Toppings: Mexican Cheese, Scallions, Chipotle Aioli 


Everything but the grilled veggie plate was made ahead. Here was the game plan:

  1. Put the pork in a slow cooker. I used this recipe from how sweet it is.
  2. Prepped the Mango Salsa, Slaw, and toppings. Moved directly to serve ware, covered and stored in the fridge. I won’t go into specific details on these items, be inspired and create your own combinations (or just google like I did). I followed the mango salsa that went with the pork mentioned above but added a secret ingredient- grated ginger!
  3. Made the red rice. I used this recipe from Real Simple. It was delicious and reheated well in a covered casserole dish.
  4. Take a break and clean the house, clean yourself up, and then return to the kitchen.
  5. Prep the veggies (slice, brush with oil, S&P). I used portabellas, zucchini, and red peppers. These looked beautiful on a plate.
  6. Assemble the buffet and make it look pretty minus the pork, tortillas, and veggies. 
  7. The pork is done! Remove from the crockpot,  shred, shred, shred and move to serving platter.Move liquid from the crockpot and pour overtop to keep moist. Cover with foil.
  8. With 30 minute to game time pour yourself a margarita (or beer if that is your thing) and start the grill. Start with the tortillas, just 1-2 minutes per side, then wrap in a damp paper towel and foil. Then grill the veggies.
  9. Chop the veggies and move to a serving platter. 
  10. Then (in my case) feel a little embarrassed taking pictures in front of your dinner guests.  Pictures weren’t great but the food was. 


Project Shoyu Ramen

Imagine sipping a spoonful of homemade chicken noodle soup. Now amp the broth with major umami swimming with runny egg yolk and pork cooked slow and long, fat and meat layers perfectly melded together.  This is ultimate comfort food but exciting enough to tantalize the taste buds. Oh, Ramen how far you’ve come from the instant flavor packets of my childhood. Making real Ramen takes time, but each slurp-y spoonful is worth it.

Both Bon Appetit and Food and Wine did specials in their September magazine on made from scratch Ramen. While I’m sure (fully executed) each recipe yields amazing results, I found elements appealing and at the same time over whelming. My requirements: the meal needed to come together in 2 days and it needed to minimize active time well below the 3+ hours in the F&W recipe.

I’m fortunate to live within close proximity to Chinatown, which is where all my ingredients came from. My market is decidedly Chinese, not Japanese, but I was able to find everything I needed.


One day ahead make the broth. This is the most important element and while I use canned chicken broth 99% of the time, here it really pays off to make your own. I bought two chickens and had the butcher remove the breasts from the bone and the thighs and legs. The breast were cooked and added to salads while the legs and thighs were marinated and grilled for dinner later that week. I threw the backbone, wings, and other bongs along with with wing tips I had frozen into the broth. Feel free to use whatever works best for you.


While the chicken broth is cooking, begin roasting the pork belly. I seared mine but left that out of the recipe as it’s not necessary on a piece of meat this fatty. I found (through trial and error) that the directions in F&W would overcook the pork belly so I referenced Serious Eats instead. Both get moved into the fridge overnight and the meal is finished the next day. Total active time is under an hour thanks to fresh ramen noodles picked up at the asian grocery store. The broth is the star so dried noodles could be substituted in a pinch.


Shoyu Ramen


For the pork belly:

  • 1 2 lb piece of pork belly, with equal parts fat and meat
  • 1 TBSP canola oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth (this can come from a can)

For the dashi (broth):

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 bunch of scallions
  • 1 lb chicken pieces
  • 1 1″ piece of ginger
  • 1/2 head of garlic
  • 2 TBSP instant dashi
  • 1 piece of dried kombu (mine was marked dried kelp, this is just a long dried piece of seaweed)

For the tare (soy sauce mixture):

  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup dry sake

Ramen and Toppings:

  • 2 12 oz packages fresh ramen noodles
  • Soft boiled eggs. I followed directions at The Kitchn 
  • Sliced scallions
  • Chili oil (optional)


  1. Rub the pork belly with canola oil, salt and pepper. Place fatty side up in a casserole pan in the oven at 350 deg F and add chicken broth to pan. After an hour, I turned by oven down to 285 and cooked another 2 hours. Cook until a butter knife slides easily through the meat. Let cool in pan and move to the fridge overnight in cooking liquid.
  2. Add all ingredients minus kombu for the stock to a large pot. Cover to the top with water, for me about 3 quarts, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 3 hours. Strain broth and add kombu. Refrigerate overnight and remove kombu after 12-24 hours.
  3. The next day, remove the pork belly from the fridge, spoon off separated fat and slice pork. Add any liquid (there will be very little left) to the broth. Reserve the rendered fat.
  4. Bring the broth back to a boil. Salt broth to taste (I found that with all the flavors, the broth needed very little additional broth. Also keep in mind you will top the ramen with a soy sauce mixture).
  5. Mix all the ingredients for the tare in a separate bowl.
  6. Place sliced pork on baking sheet and place under broiler for 7 minutes on high. This will reheat the pork and give it a nice charred crispiness in spots.
  7. Add noodles to the pot and cook for designated time.
  8. Put it all together: Spoon 1/6th of the noodles into the bowl. Take ~1 tsp rendered fat and toss with noodles (optional, but adds a level of richness to the noodles and broth). Top with a piece of pork belly and soft boiled egg. Spoon a ladle full of broth and 1-2 TBSPs of tare over noodles and pork. Add scallions and splash with chili oil for heat.


Goat Cheese and Lentil Salad


I have been working on my salads this summer. I load my salads up with all sorts of things, generally anything to be found in the fridge or on the balcony, that could possibly work. I pair it with a thrown together salad dressing of shallots, vinegar or lemon, salt, pepper and olive oil. This type of salad has become a habit in our house. It’s hearty enough to be a meal but also is paired well with anything off the grill for a complete meal.

The lentils have been in my cabinet for at least 6 months and made a great addition to the salad. They added great texture like croutons would but with more complexity, heartier and healthier. By cooking them a much shorter time (15 minutes vs. 25-30 minutes) they held up in the salad and didn’t become mushy and fall apart.


Lentil and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 2 as a main course or more as a side dish


3 cups mixed greens, I used arugula, spinach, and carrot tops

3/4 cup cooked black lentils, farro also works well in salads

1 cup sliced grape tomatoes

1/2 cup sliced almonds, pine nuts and walnuts will also work well if you have on hand

4 oz goat cheese

Salad Dressing (these amounts are estimates):

1 shallot

3 TBSP white wine vinegar/lemon

1/4 cup EVOO

Mix shallot and vinegar/lemon in a small bowl. Let sit for ~ 10 minutes to marinate. Whisk in EVOO and salt and pepper to taste.


Pasta Night (How we usually eat)

I finally decided it was time. Time to stop delaying until I was more organized or took a better picture or came up with a creative, original recipe. This is not a glamorous meal.  But it is simple, delicious and how Matt and I eat a lot of the time. That just may make it a perfect first post.

When you decide that you want to open up a nice bottle of red wine. Not because it’s that special of day but just because the urge is stricking then you just need a little indulgent pasta that uses what is in the fridge and in the garden to go with it. And with really sweet grape tomatoes, some fresh basil from the patio garden and a not so great left over bottle of red wine this comes together quickly and smells great while it’s cooking. 

You can omit the ricotta or cream, you can even omit the mozzarella but my secret to a great quick tomato sauce is to always use a little butter. Sauteing in a mixture of EVOO and butter really adds a great dimension of flavor that is well worth the TBSP of butter spread across 4 servings.


Simple Tomato Sausage Pasta (with Ricotta and Fresh Mozzarella)



  • 2-3 italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 1/2 package of shells
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup of ricotta (can use heavy cream if you have or completely admit to stay healthy.
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes 
  • Basil for garnish

1. Brown sausage in a pan over medium heat, remove and set aside. Meanwhile bring pot of water to boil.

2. Melt butter with EVOO in small skillet, add onion and saute until soft about 3-5 minutes

3. Deglaze pan with wine, let reduce by about half. Add sausage back to pot and stir in ricotta. 

4. Cook shells or other pasta of choice until slightly less then al dente

5. Add shells to pot along with 1/4 cup of pasta cooking liquid (less if sauce is not thick)

6. Take slices of fresh mozzarella and nuzzle into pasta. Cover with lid and cook about 3 minutes until pasta is done and cheeze is melted. Use as much or little cheese as you desire

7. Spoon gooey cheesy pasta into bowls. sprinkle with basil. Serve with a simple side salad and good wine