Best Baby Back Ribs

Best Baby Back RibsLiving in Texas, good BBQ is everywhere. I love baby back ribs, but not everyone is lucky enough to be able to smoke ribs at home or pick some up at the local BBQ joint. This is the easiest way to make tender, juicy ribs, and takes no special equipment – just an oven.  You won’t get the same smoky flavor as traditional BBQ, but with the right spices and sauce, you won’t miss it.  Use your favorite store bought spice rub and BBQ sauce, or if you are feeling fancy, make your own!

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 3The key is to cook the ribs long enough that the meat is tender and juicy, but retaining enough structure that you can sink your teeth into the juicy meat to pull it cleanly off the bone. If the ribs are overcooked, they can dry out, or even worse, completely fall apart and become mushy.

Good ribs need to have good texture. These are words to live by.

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 2Ingredients:
3 lb. rack baby back ribs
¼ cup spice rub
1 cup BBQ sauce

 

 

 

Best Baby Back Ribs 4Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Rub spice mixture on rack and place ribs (curved rib side down) on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and bake 2.5 hours. Remove from oven and turn broiler to low. Discard foil, brush with BBQ sauce and finish under broiler until starting to caramelize, 5-10 minutes (depending on broiler flame and how close top rack is to flame). Let rest 5 minutes, slice and serve with extra BBQ sauce for dipping. Enjoy!

Wine Pairings:
District 7 Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Montgo Monastrell 2012
Solanera Vinas Viejas 2013

Cancun

Cancun Hyatt Zilara Sunrise 2I love Cancun. It’s warm, sunny, the people are friendly and it’s a quick flight from Austin. Cancun has a reputation for being a spring break party town, but that really isn’t the case for most of the year. After Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to visit; the crowds are light, it’s the beginning of the dry season, and the weather is a perfect 82 degrees and sunny. I suppose you can go anywhere and party hard, but I’m more into going to sleep early, waking up early, and getting a light workout in before relaxing poolside with a drink in hand. After all, is there a more rewarding mimosa than a post workout mimosa? Of course there isn’t.

Cancun Hyatt Zilara SunriseThe coast of Cancun is lined with hotels that range from no frills, to all-inclusive to luxury resorts. If relaxing on the resort is your thing, Hyatt Zilara is an adults only all-inclusive with spectacular sunrises and food and drink options that are a notch above others I’ve been. They have a fun lobby band, with a lead singer with killer thighs turning out a mix of American classics and Mexican music to put you in the vacation mood. When she shakes her bootie, conga lines break out. If you are a fan of the Chase Sapphire credit card, like I am, you know that you can transfer your points on a 1:1 basis with their travel partners, which include Southwest and Hyatt. Save up some points, and this vacation can be practically free.

Chichen ItzaYou can’t go to Cancun without seeing some of the ancient Mayan towns. Chichen Itza is an amazing experience, with incredible architecture and history. If you take a tour, you will be provided transportation and a tour guide, but this proves to be a very long day. There are hours spent waiting around and sales opportunities for everything from tequila with your picture on it to Mexican knick-knacks. We wished we had taken the suggestion from one of our fellow pool goers to hire a taxi driver to take us personally, give us a tour and take us back to the hotel. It probably would have taken about half the time, and when on vacation, every precious hour counts.

 

 

Cancun beachFor me, a Caribbean vacation needs to be a mix of soaking in the sun and exploring all the city has to offer. That usually means opting out of an all-inclusive, because experiencing some of the local culture is what makes the best memories. After all, a lot of Caribbean beaches look very similar!  One stay at the Ritz Carlton, we enjoyed spectacular drinks and service, although pricier than other hotels in the area. There are tons of restaurant options in the hotel zone, La Habichuela was a standout, with great outdoor ambiance and great food.

Mar Bella Prawns

 

One of the best meals I’ve had in my life was at a seafood restaurant named Mar-Bella. This tiny restaurant, perched atop a convenience store in the port town of Puerto Juarez, was a true gem. There was no menu, just a board listing their fresh catch, ordered by the kilo and prepared to your liking. We raved for months about the grilled octopus salad and giant prawns. It is truly not to be missed.

Bottom line: no matter your travel style, Cancun’s sunny weather and beautiful beaches are reason enough for a visit.

Orange Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Orange Chicken Lettuce WrapsLettuce wraps are some of my favorite appetizers at Asian restaurants and these delicious bites are so easy to make at home. Packed with citrus flavor, these Orange Chicken Lettuce Wraps are diet friendly, full of fresh veggies, and perfect for a family style get together. Set all the filling out in a large bowl, stack up the lettuce cups, and everyone can build their own wrap (or two!)

 

 

Orange Chicken Lettuce Wraps 2Ingredients:
Butter lettuce
8 oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp. canola oil
½ red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup shredded carrots
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
Juice and zest from ½ orange
½ cup chicken broth
Sliced green onions and chopped peanuts, for garnish

Orange Chicken Lettuce Wraps 3Cut chicken into bite sized pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté chicken in a skillet about 5 minutes until cooked over medium heat. Remove chicken from pan and add diced onion, bell pepper, minced garlic, shredded carrot and crushed red pepper until vegetables start to soften, around 3 minutes. Add zest and juice from ½ orange, hoisin sauce and chicken broth. Return chicken to skillet and let cook for 3 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and starts to thicken. Place chicken mixture in large bowl for sharing, garnish with sliced green onions and chopped peanuts, and serve with lettuce cups.
Enjoy!

Restaurant Style Guacamole

Restaurant Style GuacamoleGuacamole is a summer mainstay here in Austin, and you can get it at nearly every restaurant in town. Back in my native New York, it is seldom found outside of a Mexican restaurant. This Restaurant Style Guacamole is easy to make, uses lots of fresh veggies and herbs, and everyone should have access to good Guac! It’s perfect to make for a BBQ, when making Corn and Black Bean Salad as a summery side, so you can put the leftover red onion, cilantro and lime from that dish to good use. Making them at the same time cuts down on prep time, and there is less to buy at the grocery store!

Restaurant Style Guacamole 2Ingredients:
1 large or 2 small avocados
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced
2 tbsp. red onion, minced
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves, stems removed
Juice of ½ lime
Salt and pepper

Restaurant Style Guacamole 3In a medium bowl, scoop out avocado and mash with a fork. Mix in diced tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice until creamy. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately with tortilla chips. Enjoy!