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Archive for April, 2012

Pork Carnitas

When we go to our local favorite Mexican food restaurant, I order carnitas soft tacos … about 90% of the time.  And when I go to Chipotle, I always order a carnitas salad. But until recently, I’ve never made carnitas.

So a few months ago, I set out to find an easy, healthy recipe for carnitas.  This is one of the easiest recipes and makes the most delicious, flavorful, moist carnitas.  And, if you substitute pork loin for pork shoulder (see the NOTES section below), it’s a really healthy source of protein.

Carnitas are great in tacos, burritos, and even salads.  Add some cilantro and salsa with corn or flour tortillas, and you’ve got a great meal!  (My favorite is with Trader Joe’s Mango Salsa).  Sour cream, avocado or guacamole, cheese … the condiments are nearly endless.

Ingredients

1 tsp. Salt

1 tsp. Garlic Salt

1 tsp. ground Cumin

1/2 tsp. dried Oregano

1/2 tsp. ground Coriander

1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

1  4 lb. boneless Pork Shoulder **

2 Bay Leaves

1 to 2 cups Chicken Broth

Garnish Options:  Cilantro leaves, Avocado, Sour Cream, Grated Cheese, Salsa (and my favorite … TJ’s Mango Salsa)

Tortillas – corn or flour

Directions

1.  Mix spices in a small bowl.  Coat the pork (on all sides) with the spice rub mixture.

2.  Place bay leaves in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Place the pork on top of the bay leaves.  Pour chicken broth around the sides of the pork, making sure not to rinse off the spice mixture on top of pork.

3.  Cook on low in a slow cooker for 5 hours.  Turn the pork over and continue to cook for another 5 hours.

4.  Use forks to shred the pork.  Serve the carnitas based on your preference.

NOTES: 

** I often substitute pork loin for pork shoulder.  It’s a much leaner cut and makes for a healthier meal.  (Costco sells pork loin – in 2 packs.  I use one sleeve of pork loin (2 loins) for this recipe.  I cut each pork loin in half ending up with 4 pieces.  I reduce the broth to about 1 cup, as you don’t want to cover the pork and rinse off the spice rub.)

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Over spring break, we rented an apartment in North Beach, San Francisco.  We were a few blocks up the hill from Washington Square Park (pictured below).  On nice days, the park is often filled with locals hanging out, practicing tai chai or displaying their artwork.  We even saw a guy flipping pizza dough!   The Saints Peter and Paul Church is located at the square.  This is the church where Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio had their wedding photos taken.  (They weren’t permitted to wed in the church because Marilyn was divorced).

All over North Beach (and SF for that matter), you see beautiful old Victorian buildings.  But you can always tell that you’re in North Beach because the telephone poles are painted in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green & white).  These painted poles delineate the boundaries of North Beach.

North Beach is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco.  I now know why … they have the best cafes, bakeries, delis, and boutiques!   I want to go back and live there for a month or so!!

Here are our favorite picks of North Beach ….

North Beach Restaurants:

Best Italian Restaurant:  Tony’s Pizza

Tony’s Pizza is located on Stockton Street at the corner of Washington Square Park.  It was our favorite pizza joint.  As you can tell by the crowds, it’s many others’ favorite, too.  Be prepared to wait a while for a table.  The nice thing is that they take down your cell phone and give you a call when your table is ready – great for those that like to browse in the nearby boutiques.

Tony’s offers 9 different styles of pizza — ranging from Napolean wood-fired pizza at 900 degrees to Classic American at 550 degree gas ovens to Coal Fired pizza at 1000 degrees.

We ended up getting a coal fired pizza called the New Yorker with natural casing pepperoni, sliced Italian fennel sausage, ricotta and fresh garlic and oregano.  It was one of the BEST pizzas we’ve ever had.  You may recall, my husband LOVES pizza.  He believes it’s a food group all on it’s own — so we have tried many a pizza!

I loved how they served bread slices in tomato cans along with a tray of dipping sauces:  a garlic honey sauce, olive oil and a roasted red pepper sauce.  Great idea for our home pizza parties!

Best Italian Restaurant:  Sotto Mare

Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood at 552 Green Street was my favorite restaurant.  They have daily seafood specials that are listed on the board outside.  The evening we were there, they had sand dabs – which I love!  But, Sotto Mare’s claim to fame is “the best damn Cioppino.”

There is always a wait at Sotto Mare.  The man that greeted us was a feisty, older gentleman.  He asked us if we wanted lobster and handed us this lobster.  He told us to go two doors down for a drink while we waited for a table.

My sister-in-law introduced our family to cioppino a few years ago.  Since, it’s been a family favorite – so we all ordered cioppino.  Sotto Mare’s Cioppino is enough for two — with crab, shrimp, mussels, calamari and clams.  The broth is a thick, flavorful, tomato base … that is so delicious you want to soak every inch of it up with the crusty bread.

It’s a messy dish, but everyone gets a red and white bib and they bring you a roll of paper towels.  Can’t wait to enjoy Sotto Mare’s again!

Best Coffee Shop:  Caffe Greco

Caffe Greco was our favorite spot for coffee in the mornings.  It’s located on Columbus Avenue and they only take cash.  They serve the best cappucino and espresso!  It’s the place the locals go — as so many of the customers knew each other.

We tried several other places … Cafe Roma and Cafe Trieste, which had great coffee, but our preference is Greco.

Best Pastries:  Stella Pastry & Cafe

Across the street from Caffe Greco is Stella Pastry & Cafe.  We bought fresh pastries most mornings to take back to the kids.  They have a wonderful assortment.  They also have great coffee.

Best Boutiques:

Our home was located a few blocks up from Grant Avenue.  Grant Avenue has many cute boutiques — offering unique items.  The hours vary by store — and you often need to ring or knock, as store owners can be in the back.  Here are my favorite finds on Grant …

1)  Mashka Jewelry was a great find (at the corner of Grant and Green Street).  Natalie and I spent quite a bit of time browsing and talking to the owner (who is the designer of the jewelry).  We purchased some beautiful jewelry.  It’s worth browsing the store just to see how creatively the jewelry is displayed (on old books, in glass domes, in bird cages).

2)  Schein & Schein at 1435 Grant Avenue is another lovely find.  They sell antique maps, prints and books.  The store hours are a bit sketchy – it’s best to call and confirm hours.

3) Paparazzi at 1424 Grant had beautiful, unique clothes in the window.  I never got to go in the store, as it was always closed when we walked by.  It’s definitely a must on the next visit.  They also have stores in Cow Hollow and Tiburon.

4)  City Lights Booksellers and Publishers is located on Columbus at Broadway (not Grant Avenue, but worth a mention).  City Lights is one of the few remaining large independent book stores — and has become a world-famous experience for book lovers.

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Over spring break, we took a road trip with the kids to San Francisco.  We had booked an apartment in Telegraph Hill / North Beach (SF’s Little Italy) via VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner).  VRBO is a great alternative to staying in hotels.  It’s especially nice to come back to a home where you can spread out (vs. tiny hotel rooms) — when traveling as a family.

Our apartment was at the top of Telegraph Hill (quite a hike up the hill) – but had AMAZING views from all of the windows.

This was the view from our bedrooms!  I could get used to waking up every morning to a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

And this was the view from our living room — looking out at the Financial District.  Did I mention that the living room had a pool table?  Very handy when traveling with teenagers.

Telegraph Hill / North Beach is the Northeast part of San Francisco.  It’s a great place to stay, as you can easily walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Pier 33 (Alcatrez Tours), the Ferry Market Building, and Chinatown.  Plus, you have the benefit of being in the “best food area” of San Fran!!!  I’ll do a separate post on our great restaurants and boutique finds in North Beach.

We did hit all of the major tourist attractions, but here’s what our teenagers enjoyed the most.

1) The Sea Lions at Pier 39

We all could have watched the sea lions for hours.  They are quite entertaining … how they climb over each other and bark, some of them, non-stop.  While I personally think Pier 39 is a tourist trap … it’s definitely worth the visit to see the sea lions.  (They are located on the Northwest side of Pier 39).

2) Eating in North Beach

The kids loved eating pizza and gelato in North Beach.  It reminded Natalie of being in Italy.  We had some wonderful meals in SF.  (Jeff and I loved getting cappuccinos in the mornings and bringing back pastries for the kids).

3) Tour of Alcatraz

We took the tour of Alcatraz (Alcatraz Cruises) — which was very interesting.  It’s a short boat ride over to the island.  Once on the island, there is an audio tour – which is very thorough.  I would recommend booking tours in advance, especially if you want to take the evening tours, as those always sell out in advance.

I can’t imagine living in a 5′ by 9′ cell.  The winters would have been unbearable!  We visited on a 65 degree day and those cells were chilly and you could hear the wind howling.

4) Lombard Street

Natalie thought Lombard Street was very cool.  We did get Nick to look up from his phone a couple of times.  It’s fun to drive it and walk it.

5) Coit Tower

Our apartment was just a few hundred yards from the steps to Coit Tower.  There were great views from the tower (very similar to those from our apartment).

On the walk over (on Montgomery Street), we saw this statue of a man on someone’s deck.  Natalie and I thought it was quite creepy … as it looked like the eyes followed you as you walked by.

6) Chinatown

We took the less-touristy route through Chinatown.  Our kids were grossed out by the smells and food that was sold on the streets.  We did have a great Dim Sum lunch and enjoyed seeing how fortune cookies are made.  I will do a separate post on our tour through Chinatown.

We also drove through the Presido, Golden Gate Park and the Palace of the Arts.  The kids slept through most of the drive so they thought it was uneventful.  We saw cable cars, walked through the Financial District, shopped the Ferry Market Building and walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, too.

Overall, it was a great trip to the city!

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Happy Easter

from our home to yours!

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What kind of treats & desserts are you making this Easter?  There are so many delicious recipes and cute ideas!

Here are some of my favorites from my “Happy Easter” board on Pinterest.  (Sorry, I’m not around this Easter, so I’m not making any fun Easter Treats!

If I were hosting Easter brunch or dinner, I would make this Strawberry Meringue Cake (Southern Living).

Not sure that I would attempt either of these cupcakes as they are bit too detailed for my ability.  But aren’t they beautiful?

These cupcakes are more suited to my baking/decorating ability.

Easter sugar cookies are a tradition with our family.  We’re skipping this year, but we’ll be sure to decorate our bunny, carrots, and egg cookies next year.

Here’s my all-time favorite sugar cookie recipe.  They are the best tasting sugar cookies!   I promise!

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I usually have Easter eggs and bunnies all throughout our house at this time of year.  We usually host Easter brunch or dinner at our home, but this year we will be away.  So … since I didn’t decorate much this year, I thought I’d share some of my favorite home decor ideas using Easter Eggs.

Most pictures are on my Pinterest board called “Happy Easter“.   You can follow any of my boards on Pinterest.  (Picture above from Talia Audenart).

Using eggs as containers (or vases) for flowers can add so much to an Easter tablescape.  You can dye the raw eggs first in desired colors.  Crack open the eggs (on the pointed side of egg) and clean out the egg shell.

Small flowers work best (Pansies, lily of the valley, lillac).  I have several old silver egg cups that I found at antique flea markets.  I also have found white, glass egg cups (like upper, left picture) at HomeGoods and online.

For the artistic, handpainted eggs make beautiful decorations.  (Martha Stewart, left and Censational Girl, right).

I found these eggs above at Roger’s Gardens.  They come with ribbons attached — making them adorable hanging from a window or chandelier.

There are many cute egg crafts for kids.  Get out your scrapbooking supplies and decorate colored eggs with ribbons, rhinestones and more.  Or display decorated eggs in the cute muffin/cupcake papers.  (The grass papers are available at Michael’s Craft Store).

You can make beautifully decorated eggs using punched paper.  These eggs above are decorated with flower-punched paper.  Get ready to glue …

And there are many cute Easter desserts and treats to make in the shapes of eggs.  I’ll do a separate post of Easter treats.  Stay tuned…

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