On Trout and More Wedding Shinanigans

It is with a huge relief that I say wedding planning is wrapping up! (PHEW!) But what a journey! It’s now been over a year since we got engaged and started to plan our future together, and this past weekend was no exception. Frankie got his ring in on Thursday (CHECK!), Saturday morning I had my first dress fitting (CHECK! CHECK!), and since I got my invitations 4 days early, those went out on Saturday afternoon (CHECK CHECK CHECK!!)! Now all that’s left—big ticket item wise—is getting the actual ceremony finalized (readings, vows, musical interludes during the ceremony depending on the structure of the ceremony, etc.), so I think we’re in a pretty good spot with only 87 days left to go! I still need to order place cards for the actual day, but I have to impatiently wait for all the RSVP’s to come in before I can do that…thankfully, I have my upcoming Bridal Shower(s) to look forward to in the meantime! But onto the food!

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During my second visit to the Farmer’s Market, I always expect there to be at least one meat booth, and sure enough, there I came across Jake’s Country Meats, and I bought myself two very large chicken breasts (which I have yet to do anything with as of yet). But lo and behold, they were also selling Wild-Caught Great Lakes fish! So, I happened to snag myself a couple beautiful filets of trout, whitefish, and salmon! I was really excited about the trout because I don’t see it very often, and most of the time it’s farmed or ridiculously priced. If memory serves me right, I paid $30 for all the fish and chicken, and you never pass up a good deal when you see one!

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In terms of finding a recipe for the fish, since I figured if I couldn’t find anything that looked interesting, I was going to stick with basic pan searing, I turned to Eddie, who has been fishing up a storm in Colorado on the weekends when he isn’t studying or doing homework. He put a recipe from Munchies on my radar for Trout and Green Bean Almondine, and if you remember a few months ago, I made their 3-hour Gumbo, which was DELICIOUS, so I went full speed ahead, and was not disappointed! Cooking the fish itself was exactly what my gut reaction said: keep it simple, a little butter (I used avocado oil, hello Whole30 and no smoke!) and a good solid sear on each side so that skin gets stupid crispy. And I can say without a doubt, that keeping things simple vs. elaborate almost always turns out for the better. I mean, I’m currently obsessively working my way through old episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, and the 5-ingredient 5-star dish challenge always proves that sometimes less really is more. You need to highlight a star ingredient? Highlight it, and don’t cover it with a bunch of unneeded excess. As I’ve said before, I don’t cook fish often, but this was so totally worth it, and it came out better than a lot of fish dishes I’ve eaten out at restaurants! Frankie found it smelled a little too fishy (he is trying different kinds of fish, which is more important than not trying any at all, especially since we’re trying to cook Whole30 at home 90-95% and fish is a great source of lean protein), but he still really enjoyed it!

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I didn’t make the potatoes because I had a corn risotto craving like none other, and frankly, the risotto went really, really well with the fish and green beans! I will say I’m not going to include parmesan in the risotto next time. It was too strong and completely overpowered the corn…or I’ll only add a sprinkle, but not ¼ cup like they say, especially if I’m making this with FRESH corn! I want the corn to be the star, not the cheese, but these things you learn as you go, am I right? But if you’re wanting to try something a little bit more outside the box, this is the fish recipe to try! – Cooking Maggie


Trout Almondine from Munchies

Corn Risotto from NY Times Cooking

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On Benihana at Home

How many of us have gone to Benihana’s (or some other hibachi restaurant)? *RAISES HANDS* And how many of us have fallen in love with that delicious, yellow yum yum sauce?! *RAISES BOTH HANDS* Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Back when I was still living in the States, Benihana’s was where I always wanted to go for special meals with my mom, and they never disappointed! I would always sit at the end of my seat, bouncing up and down, impatiently calling out “That’s our cart! Awe wait, no, THAT’S our cart!!! Oh wait, no not that one…THAT ONE, THAT ONE FOR SURE!” I mean,  you don’t And every so often, I get that HUMONGOUS craving for a hibachi meal, complete with sauce, chicken fried rice, grilled veggies, and if I’m feeling a little decadent, shrimp. And since the majority of the time I’m feeling lazy as get all, I made a point of trying to figure out how to make it at home…ugh, I’m salivating already…this is not a good look for me right now.

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However, that being said, I have tried to make yum yum sauce at home and it’s just not the same…so I’ve stopped trying. Not to give into failure, but rather I’d much rather enjoy it the right way than just settle for an obvious second place winner…one of these days I’ll find the right recipe for it, but I haven’t found it yet. The ginger dressing is a wholly different undertaking and one that has led to some seriously delicious outcomes that I’m really geeking out about!

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Sure, I don’t have a flat top, and no, my knife skills and coordination are not good enough to do the death-defying knife flips and musical dings, and don’t get me started on potentially creating my own onion volcano of fire (that would end poorly to say the least), but at the end of the day, I have one of my favorite childhood meals on a plate that finds a warm and loving home in my belly. Eating my own heart out on this one! — Cooking Maggie


Benihana’s Chicken Fried Rice from PopSugar

Benihana’s Ginger Sauce from Genius Kitchen

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On A Better Chicken Sandwich

Since completing Whole30 with plans to go back to a Whole30-esque diet from here on out after the holidays until the wedding, one of our favorite fast food/late night meals was 100% ruined in the process: Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches. We’ve tried them a couple times since whole30—always late at night, and always when we can’t squeeze in a meal before a show or event we were already committed to, though to be completely honest, I can count on one hand the number of times we have done actual “fast food” versus eating at home or going to a healthier alternative—and we realize, that they are truly just not good sandwiches! The bread tastes like cardboard, too much mayo, the chicken isn’t great quality, the lettuce is wilted, and the tomatoes are too soft or too bitter…I mean, I honestly have questioned how we liked these in the first place…

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But, I rose to the challenge and consulted on my go-to’s for a better alternative, so without further ado, I present the most delicious fried chicken sandwich I have ever had.

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The one thing I do want to experiment with is using breast meat rather than thigh meat. I know thighs are particularly juicy, BUT it’s just not my favorite. I KNOW, GASP, SUCH A SIN, but there you have it. I just don’t like the way the meat looks gray once I’ve bitten into it! Its all about aesthetics, and gray is not something I really want to put in my mouth, so I do have plans to try this again, but use halved chicken breasts instead of thighs to see if I like it better, but I don’t plan to change anything else about this recipe whatsoever. Absolutely AMAZING and delicious! Oh, and I will also use some of my own homemade pickles instead of store-bought because my pickles are bomb. *Mic Drop* — Cooking Maggie


BA’s Best Fried Chicken Sandwich from Bon Appetit

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On Sad Goodbyes, Wedding Plans, CSA, and Other Things

Okay y’all, so I know it’s been a bit of a drought without a good post, but planning a wedding and getting ready (with just about 100 days left to go) takes it all out of you. Plus, I was sick all last week, so my plans to work on a good post last week did not come to any form of fruition. However, now that I am feeling more like myself, with enough strength at the end of the day to bring my laptop home and work on posts while my dinner is cooking (something I am trying to do more because writing posts is a more productive use of my cook-wait time than watching the newest episodes of Iron Chef America), I wanted to thank you all for your patience and continuing support! Obviously, I have a lot to catch you up on, but first, I want to take a moment…a moment to say goodbye to one of the best puppers I’ve ever known: Gus Gus.

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Yesterday, we said goodbye to the old man who suddenly lost the majority of use in his back legs. He spent the last two days outside, comfortable and surrounded by us and the other family dogs who loved him so much. Gus was actually one of my very first semi-dogs, in that Frankie & I fostered him for six months before we got Tuggs, just to get our feet wet…or rather my feet wet, since I have never owned a dog before. He was one of the sweetest, most loving, sweet natured buds I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and will always remember the late night couch cuddles, his endless smiles, and his butt wiggle wag because he never really knew how to just wag his tail. I know he is on the otherside of the rainbow bridge running wild across sandy beaches, performing his perfect cinnamon roll with the biggest, slobberiest smile. We will miss you Gus Gus, you were the best boy.

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Cooking With Alex: We did do a quick recipe a couple weeks ago (after Alex was also sick…that summer bug is going around, so watch yourselves!) and I know I never got a chance to post it or talk about it, but since her busy season at work has started to pick up, our weekend cooks are on hold most likely until September, if not post-wedding…we are still trying to get together once a week to make something, however small or simple (which is sometimes best when our only free days that match are Monday and Tuesday), but we have some BIG plans for the future. Empanadas were thrown around, and I know I’ve already done a beef empanada, but I would love to do a chicken or all veggie one and even make my own empanada pastry. Oh, and then there’s homemade gnocchi, which I may attempt to do in the nearer future if I can so I can practice, and macaroons…which I know will be SO difficult and will more than likely kick our butts, BUT who cares! At least we tried, and if it goes well enough, we’ll do them again and get better at it!

Asian Chicken & Quinoa Salad from Food Network (COOKING NOTE: If you’re short on time, get a rotisserie chicken OR two roasted breast pieces from the deli counter and remove the skin. I wouldn’t recommend getting fried breast pieces, though…now that I think about it, fried chicken Asian salad doesn’t sound half bad either…)


Perfect Gluten-Free Brownies from one lovely life: These were AWESOME! I didn’t make it 100% paleo friendly (I used the regular sugar that I had instead of coconut sugar, and I honestly am not sure if the baking cocoa I used is paleo friendly…but I’m not 100% paleo so it’s all gouda), but they were SO delicious and incredibly easy to make! I plan on making them again VERY soon so I can take some delicious photos this time around. COOKING NOTE: These only need to be cooked for 20 minutes – any more and they’ll be a little on the dense side, though still VERY scrumptious!


CSA & Cooking with Friends (Chicago): Oh my gosh, so I know I raved about Imperfect Produce last time, but this CSA experience has been really delightful and I’m only on week 2! The first weekend of the CSA, I had a wedding in Libertyville to attend that afternoon, so I basically went, collected my box, filled it with vegetable goodies with Carly (who is sharing the CSA share with me this year), and left, without really getting a chance to walk by all the stalls and make mental notes of where I wanted to come back to. This past Sunday however, I made sure to allocate more time to meandering, and I’m so glad that I did. WHAT. A. HAUL! Not only was I able to snag a beautiful bunch of squash blossoms—which I immediately stuffed, battered, and fried to satisfy a multi-year craving for these hard to find little wonders—BUT I CAN FINALLY FULFILL A LIFELONG COOKING DREAM OF WORKING WITH PATTYPAN SQUASH!!! Not only do I find their name utterly adorable, they ARE adorable! And their skins are so uniquely patterned! I’m sure they will taste very similar to my typical summer squash, but I’m still really excited to work with them over the coming days!

I also got a little more creative in picking some meat at the market as well…and by meat, I mean fish! I grabbed a beautiful, large filet of wild caught trout and whitefish, and a couple monster filets of salmon, all of which are sustainably caught in Lake Heron! How cool is that?! On the menu so far: Trout Almondine, with Green Beans (CSA), and Corn/Leek Risotto. This is probably the most adventurous I’ve gotten in quite some time…I think being sick and not having the energy to cook has me in kitchen withdrawal.

Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms
Filling: 4-6oz goats cheese // 4 oz mascarpone or ricotta (add 1/4 tsp of dried oregano and 1/8 tsp if dried parsley if you can’t find the cheese herbed already) // 1/4 tsp salt // 1 spring onion thinly sliced

Stuff: Whip together, put into a ziplock bag, cut off a corner and use as a piping bag to fill the blossoms (which you should remove the pistil with scissors).

Batter: 1 cup flour to 1 cup soda water / add more soda water if batter is too thick.

Fry: dip blossoms in batter, let excess drip, then place gently in fry oil for 2-3 until batter has crisped up. Let dry on a cooling rack or paper towel, then immediately devour!!


Phew! Are we through everything yet? No…maybe?


Corgi Cavalcade: This has absolutely NOTHING to do with food, but about the Saturday before CSA started, Frankie & I went to a Corgi Cavalcade that included about 80-90 corgi’s (and other puppers)! I just wanted to include a couple of the cute photos we took of Tuggs because he’s just so freaking cute! Plus he’s also been enjoying some of the spoils from our CSA basket…especially the baby zucchini that his momma accidentally drops on the floor…but it’s not like I can get mad at him for having such good taste in vegetables or for just eating his vegetables in general #bestfurchild


AND THAT’S IT! Holy smokes! I know that was a lot to get through with photos abound, but I have a couple of other meals and recipes that I have YET to write up, so here’s a little taster to hold you over in the meantime: a Trout Almondine and Corn Risotto recipe, Benihana’s at Home, Everything But The Forest Floor Chicken (A New Cooking Maggie Original!), oh, and how could I forget, Cooking with Friends Chicago: The Best Fried Chicken Sandwich (drool). Until next time lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

HAPPY PRIDE MONTH! Love, Tuggs

On Cooking With Friends: Chicago Edition #1 – BA’s Best Lasagna

I was hoping there would be an opportunity for me to host some friends and cook with them, and thankfully, when my friend Melissa asked for help in making bachelorette goodies/crafts, I figured we’d go ahead and make dinner too! We decided that we would make lasagna! Mm mm yay!!! There was one recipe in particular that stood out to me, because, if we were going to do lasagna, that means we were going to make pretty much everything from scratch, except the noodles. That’s a little more time consuming than I was quite ready to take on, and I figured we were doing pretty much everything else by hand, so we can sneak in the premade pasta noodles for this one).

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Lasagna for me is one of the main dishes that remind me of my late grandmother, following her ever famous Cake Box Cookies, which caused everyone to maneuver around the house by way of the kitchen and the Cookie Monster jar that contained all her baking efforts. Whenever my family would visit her and my grandfather in Colorado Springs, she always had a variety of family meals planned, including her infamous Tuna Casserole—one of the only things she ever made that no one really liked, and as a result, left us plenty of leftovers during our stay—and frozen Lasagna (Stoffer’s, always Stoffer’s). It fed the army that is my dad’s side of the family, and there were hardly ever any leftovers because that was the night were you supposed to eat more than your fill and remain seated at the dining table, cradling your food baby, as you caught up on current life news and reminisced about old stories you never really had to be there for to enjoy. Lasagna was also one of the harder things for my brothers to say when they were small, calling it “Bah-sagna,” their little faces contorted in effort as their little pink tongues tried to get the “L” sound just right, only to start giggling hysterically because the new word they made sounded so funny. We actually still call it Basagna in my family, and everyone still laughs at it. Basagna…it does sound a little funny when you say it out loud. Bah-Sahn-yaaaaaaa.

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But I digress. Lasagna, I think, is one of the trickiest things to serve, let alone, the trickiest things to make where EVERYONE likes it…how many of you dear readers don’t like ricotta (Frankie & Melissa: ME ME ME!)? How many of you don’t like the “no-bake” noodles? (Me: ME ME ME!) How many just don’t like lasagna in general (No one? Phew, that’s a relief)? And I bet it’s not because lasagna isn’t a good dish overall, but rather—and I will attest to this—it’s how certain family members and favorite restaurants have interpreted and served the lasagna we have constantly been exposed to. That immediate, and further exposure, is what shapes the foods we like, the foods we don’t, and foods we can never eat again. But on the flipside, what one of us doesn’t like, another may love. For example, my Mamaw (my mom’s mom) LOVES her lasagna to have a lot of meat sauce and a ton of cheese, whereas my main problem with ordering lasagna out is when they SMOTHER it in cheese to the point where that’s all I can taste. And if there’s not enough meat sauce, Mamaw’s got a few words to say about that…but that only proves my point. Lasagna is a hard dish to really get universally right because tastes are so different.

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That being said, since the majority of folks I was actually making this dish for did NOT like ricotta, I chose Bon Appetit’s Best Lasagna, which has a bechamel sauce with parmesan instead of ricotta, which makes this recipe even more of a win-win for those who were going to enjoy it! The one thing I will say is this: the sauce says it takes 3 hours to make, and it kind of does by their standard, HOWEVER, my main recommendation is go with your favorite bolognese and call it a day. Their sauce is good, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I will ever spend three hours the night before to make it again, when I can spend 30-45 minutes making my own bolognese that I know everyone has enjoyed eating before.

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I will say this: EVERYONE loved it. Honest. I had one serving of leftovers at the end of the night because the girls who ate with me wanted to take some home with them too! I honestly believe the bechamel was the main reason this lasagna worked out so well, but I also believe the bite of the noodles (which held up significantly to the weight of the sauce and the gooey-ness of the cheese so beautifully) and the equal balance between noodle, sauce, and cheese, was what made this a winning dish. If you’re also a lasagna skeptic, then give this recipe a try and see if it doesn’t change your mind.  — Cooking Maggie


Best Lasagna Recipe from Bon Appetit

On Cooking with Alex #4: Fish & Chips

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I can only get better at different techniques with time and practice, and the only way to practice is to, well, cook! Especially for Alex, who is getting more confident and adventurous in the kitchen every time we cook, these FaceTime moments together are providing both of us with the practice we need. Alex wants to bake and challenge herself, which is good for me since I am not a good baker, and I want to attempt to make pasta or bread FROM SCRATCH! So, with that in mind, Alex and I put our heads together and came up with a recipe that had multiple moving pieces, included ingredients we haven’t worked with a lot—this was Alex’s first time cooking with fish!—and included a technique that I’m starting to feel more confident in, frying. And I know we will have MANY more recipes to make over the course of this year and beyond, but this experience was incredibly rewarding!

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But first, let’s talk batter, because batter is key! A good fish batter needs to be light, but not so runny that it falls right off the fish, and it needs to be FLAVORFUL, especially when you’re using a fish that might not have a ton of flavor on its own. I used Cod, which has one of the mildest flavor profiles for fish, and Alex found Haddock, which has a more pronounced fishy flavor to it, but still needs support from its backup dancers. So when we were shopping around for recipes, I wanted to find a batter that would provide flavor, and still let the fist itself shine. The one we picked was from Bon Appetit, and along with spices to kick it up a notch, it had beer, which is a staple accompaniment to go with Fish & Chips, which is what sold us on trying this specific recipe, and the batter really held up well to frying! The color on it was just fantastic, and it didn’t fall apart when you started to dig into the fish, so it’s a win for me!

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Side note: while I was originally looking for Halibut, which is my preferred white fish of choice, the price per pound is RIDICULOUS…we’re talking $22+ PER POUND! Yeah, no…I mean, I have a budget for food, but until those prices come down (not likely by the looks of things for a while at least), there will be no recipes that feature halibut any time soon. BUT that being said, if you are someone interested in finding fresh fish for a fresh price, I’m currently investigating Sea to Table, which is a company that has developed relationships with fishermen across all U.S. coasts to support responsible fishing. Their fish is always wild caught, comes straight from the actual fisherman, are local to the U.S., and as a result of responsible fishing, is sustainable, which I’ve become a huge supporter of since joining a CSA and doing my research. Even the packaging is eco-friendly AND they’ve expanded their selections of fish since the last time I took a look at them. Maine Redfish has SERIOUSLY peaked my interest since trying Redfish for the first time at Culinary Fight Club’s Pit Master Battle last year! When I place my first order, I will let you all know how it goes!

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Additionally, we weren’t 100% sold on the tartar sauce, but decided to give it the good ol’ fashioned try! And it was tasty, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s entirely the recipe we were hoping it would have been. However, the addition of the green beans added a really lovely fresh note to the plate! And all in all, we were completely thrilled with what we put on the plate and have started to seriously discuss what’s next. Ideas include homemade gnocchi, an entire episode on different kinds of classic cocktails (Alex is going to lead this one because she’s a bad ass bartender!), an episode on pickling (I’m just waiting for my coworker to bring in some homegrown pickling cucumbers to shoot this one off), and definitely some sweet treats to be sure! We’re working out our summer schedule, but it looks like Cooking with Alex will move to Monday or Tuesday nights, starting next week! And if you are also one of those homecooks who wants to get more confident in the kitchen, cook with a friend! You’d be surprised how much fun you’ll have learning something new! Till next time eaters! — Cooking Maggie

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Fish and Chips from Bon Appetit

  • Note: The chips we did were just sliced red potatoes, salted/peppered/Old Bay’d, and then fried in the same oil until golden brown

Classic Tartar Sauce from Bon Appetit

Green Beans with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley from Epicurious

On Vegging Out

This week, I really wanted to dive into some veggie-forward recipes because, 1) buying veggies tends to be a heck of a lot cheaper than buying meat, and 2) with our upcoming CSA experience in a little less than a month from now, I need to start scoping out some potential recipes to make the most of the delicious veggies that will be coming our way! Plus, when I saw the yellow and orange tomatoes-on-the-vines, I was inspired!

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NOTE: My coworker actually just showed me too this veggie delivery service called “Imperfect Produce: Ugly Produce. Delivered.” I had heard about them before, but never really investigated until we were talking about it during lunch one day, and as we dove into it, this company is actually doing something really great! Not only are they ensuring that the grocery store rejects aren’t wasted, but they’re also saving money too, and you can’t really beat a deal like that can you? I mean, for a small box of ugly, ORGANIC fruits and veggies (which serves 1-2 people, 7-9 pounds of produce), you can pay $15-17 per box every week, or every other week. Basically, it’s a CSA, but all year round! Other options include the Mixed Fruit & Veggie, all fruit box, and all veggie, all of which are $11-13 per box. So not only is it 100% comparable in price to most CSA’s anyway, I think the more interesting/less uniformed foods are rather beautiful and add a fantastic uniqueness to the plate. Oh, and did I mention it’s completely CUSTOMIZABLE! The CSA I’m doing this year is the ONLY ONE in Chicago that allows me to pick the veggies I want, which I think is a MUCH better idea than having farms choose for me so that no veggie goes to waste. So long story short, this is for something I plan to investigate, and most likely invest in, following the conclusion of my CSA because I’m curious and would love to see how much it can save me over time! AND that means I spend less time at the grocery store (major plus), and can go back to shopping exclusively at my local butcher for my meat and everything else, rather than making two trips to two stores, which I really don’t like doing…

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The first thing I felt like making was something with zucchini, and I instantly thought, fritters. I LOVE zucchini fritters, but haven’t found a recipe to make at home that I really love, but I got REALLY close with this recipe from Bon Appetit. The only thing I didn’t do was include mint in the fritter itself—I like mint, but it was already in the yogurt dip and felt adding it in the fritter would be a little overkill—and I didn’t include grated onion—I had a leftover shallot that was starting to show its age, so I diced that up with the garlic and threw it in, waste not want not—and frankly, it still turned out really, really well! It was the perfect amount of savory, sweet, and was very filling! I will say, I need to work on my sizing skills because I am not a good judge of how big is too big, but after cooking them…these are too big…1/4 cup of the zucchini mixture is about as big as I should go in future, so I’ll be using a measuring cup and flattening those suckers out so they don’t take as long to cook and get crispier than these did. I did think the addition of a russet potato was GENIUS! It helped keep everything combined, didn’t overpower, and that’s where that delicious crispiness can be played up! Regardless, these were incredibly delicious, and I plan to stick to this recipe and build off it!

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For our salad course, I seriously went overboard and did a caprese-less tomato salad, with a lemon vinaigrette and basil strips. The tomatoes I picked were a little bit more on the firmer side (I don’t like super mushy tomatoes), but their color was impeccable. So stunning, and I just went crazy, cubing them, slicing up some of the red ones, and sprinkled with coarse kosher salt and some ground black pepper. The vinegarette I thought was a nice way to bring in additional acidity (since these tomatoes were a little on the sweet side) and I didn’t miss the mozzarella cheese at all. It was the perfect amount of food, and the perfect salad to cool of the recent warm and muggy days we’ve been having in Chicago. And it was fun to just play around on the plate, sticking to a minimalist recipe that was still stunning to look at and delicious to eat. We didn’t even miss the meat that I think a lot of people feel they HAVE to have on the plate to make it a complete dish. Not true, not true at all. This meal was spot on in terms of filling us up and keeping us satiated for the remainder of the evening. Sometimes, keeping it simple is the best way to go and allows the approaching full swing of summer to really shine in your kitchen. — Cooking Maggie

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Summer Tomato Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients
for the salad

  • 1 yellow on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped
  • 1 orange on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped
  • 1 red on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped – some slices for the bottom
  • 1/3 cup basil, chiffonade

for the vinaigrette

  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl or shake all ingredients up in a jar, set aside.
  2. Arrange tomato pieces on your plate, drizzle with dressing, and top with basil.
  3. Eat & be happy!

Zucchini-Herb Fritters with Garlic Yogurt from Bon Appetit

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On Cooking with Alex #3: Bruschetta Bananza!

About two weeks ago, Alex & I changed up the game plan because of the warmer weather and decided to make a couple different bruschetta’s as part of a delicious and fairly light Sunday lunch/dinner! What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Not to mention that Frankie & I spent the evening on our porch for a really delightful dinner once he was done with work! Also, these are probably the prettiest things (savory wise) that I’ve ever made!

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I mean, LOOK AT THAT! And almost all of them were spot on! The only one that didn’t QUITE work out as we wanted was the Peach with Whipped Goat Cheese, only because peaches weren’t in season. Alex couldn’t find fresh plums, which is what I used to sub out the peach, and even then it was really bitter, and so she bought canned peaches. I seared off my plums, which helped add a new depth of flavor, but was still a little bitter, and was an odd flavor with the cheese. Alex had a similar experience with her peaches, which she left as they were, and it just wasn’t where it needed to be, so we believe, yes you do need a fresh peach, and it should be a juicy one that is sweet so it will better offset the tang of the goat’s cheese.

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Then there was the traditional Bruschetta that I had presented ages ago (relinked below) that I happened to find some heirlooms for, and that was the RIGHT decision to make. Romas/On-The-Vine are also good alternatives, BUT nothing beats the richness of an heirloom. BUT I did just notice my store is starting to carry orange and yellow tomatoes on the vine, which would be my next alternative for heirlooms. Plus, heirlooms are WAY more expensive, though you do pay for the outstanding quality, which is a plus.

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The third one we made was a bacon and onion marmalade, on top of brie, and this was a TOTAL winner! I mean, it was sweet, tangy, meaty, herbaceous (lots of thyme in there), and it was just the perfect amount of stick to the roof of your mouth kind of good, plus you had the earthy softness of the brie to break up the richness of this mouthful, and it is incredibly rich for such a small bite, but rich enough for you to want another one, then another one, then another one. Alex cooked her bacon first, then added the onion, which allowed it all to caramelize even more, whereas mine was a little lighter in color because I took my bacon out before cooking the onion, adding it all bacon in for the final few minutes. This is DEFINITELY another winner that will likely grace our next Christmas party!

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The last one on my plate is a minted smashed pea and prosciutto crostini, which I understand isn’t going to be the easiest one to make because Prosciutto isn’t always readily available, as was the case for Alex. I will say though, if you find some, make this one! This was by far the favorite (next to the regular bruschetta and bacon/onion marmalade), and I even took it one step further but drizzling a little balsamic glaze right on top, which packed a super punch! The peas were super easy to make, and the combination with the mint made it a very light and fresh bite, which paired beautifully with the subtle earthy elegance of the prosciutto, and the sweet punch of balsamic. Another winner to be sure, and honestly, you could even substitute the prosciutto for sliced ham, or even bacon (because who doesn’t like bacon?).

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All in all, these little morsels were a GREAT treat to munch on in the early afternoons of summer weekends, and I plan to try a couple more crostini recipes for possible party ideas! If you have a favorite bruschetta/crostini recipe, I would love to hear about them! I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to give a couple of your favorites a try! Hoping you’re enjoying the warmer weather wherever you are! — Cooking Maggie


Quick Fresh Brushcetta

Onion & Bacon Marmalade from Tasty Kitchen (Cook in Canuck)

Minted Pea & Prosciutto Costini from Martha Stewart

Peach Bruschetta with Whipped Goat Cheese from Life As A Strawberry

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On One Last Big Recommendation Post

But DON’T be alarmed! Recommendations will come back when they can, but for now, I am going to be on a thrifty budget because…WE ARE GOING TO NEW ZEALAND FOR OUR HONEYMOON!!! If you can’t tell, I am MORE than excited, but that does mean my budget has to adjust to accomodate for more savings. And THAT is why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because I wanted to give these recommendations the delicious time and credit they deserve! Also, keep an eye out for a new Cooking with Alex (yes, the name did change, but more on that in the next post), and a brand new Cooking with Friends: Chicago Edition! So strap in everyone, there’s a lot coming at you, including a long line of meals that won’t break your bank. So buckle up buddies, and get ready to drool over ALL the photos!!!! ❤

 


Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone venturing in the Chicago area for some more delicious finds, and one such place was back at Daisies for dinner and boy oh boy have I utterly MISSED this food! I’m serious you guys, if you live in the Chicago area, GO TO DAISIES! It’ll be the best money you’ve ever spent and I highly recommend sharing each plate among the table so everyone can try some of everything (which means you can order more and everyone leaves happy)!

I also had the opportunity to try a couple more restaurants downtown, which doesn’t happen very often, and wanted to share those as well, so this week is all about recommendations and I’m going to start with the other restaurants I got to explore before discussing Daisies!

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The Purple Pig – 500 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

If you haven’t heard to been to The Purple Pig, then you are missing out! I’ve only been one other time before now, but let me tell you, the food is INSANELY good! Farm to table-esque, simple, and flavorful, this place has a sharing is caring mentality, sticking all dishes smack dab in the middle of the table for all to enjoy, which I honestly think is how ALL places should be, but I’m one of those “Oo, that looks good, can I try it?” diners, so sharing is my favorite way to eat! Oh, and with it being right along the Chicago River, you’ve got some pretty cool views as well! The last time I came, I tried their chicken kabob and greek cornbread, and the chicken was SO good that I decided to get it again, as well as trying their lentil salad! The chicken is still tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and flavorful all the way through, not to mention that the lentil salad was fresh and hearty! They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait a little bit for a table if you’re only able to go around dinner time, BUT they do serve wine and cocktails outside, so the wait isn’t all that bad.

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True Food Kitchen – 1 W Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

For all my vegetarian readers, this is the place for you! While yes, they do serve meat, True Food is more centrally focused on treating and elevating vegetables to the next level, and honestly, I didn’t miss the meat AT ALL! This was another light meal for us, so two small plates to share, and the two we chose I could totally eat every day…thank goodness I don’t work downtown or I’d actually go broke. The miso glazed eggplant was incredibly tender and savory, which was an added plus for me because I don’t particularly like eggplant. The star of our meal, however, was the edamame dumplings which had an almost ravioli quality to them! The pureed edamame was smooth and sweet, the dumplings tender, and the sauce just the perfect amount of salty and earthy. It was SO SO GOOD! So I’m going back asap to eat them again…#noshame. Oh and the raspberry crumble was sooooo worth the indulgence! DELICIOUS!

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Siena Tavern – 51 W Kinzie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Alright brunch goers, I have a need to go for you! Now, I’m not a big breakfast fan, and I don’t eat cooked eggs in any large amount anyway, but what I love the most about Siena was that they not only brought you a brunch menu (which I totally could have ordered from), they brought a lunch menu too (which I did order from)! I did try a bite of the Zucchini Blossom and Goat Cheese omelet, which was incredibly fluffy and soft, and I think the zucchini blossom (my favorite thing to stuff with goats cheese and fry by the way!) added a really lovely fresh and sweet note to the eggs! I, on the other hand, went with a more lunch heavy fare of chilled corn soup and a side of caramelized Brussel sprouts! It was the perfect amount of food to keep me going till around dinner time, and I even had some left over sprouts to munch on in the afternoon, but that soup was absolutely killer! Creamy and velvety, sweet, tangy, and just a slight kick of spice! Plus it was 100% showcasing the freshness of the corn itself, which I appreciated!

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Daisies Restaurant – 2523 W Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

Okay, now, the piece de resistance! I can’t get over how good this place is. It’s not even fair because if I had to choose between Daisies and somewhere new, I’d pick Daisies…which is why more often than not, we make actual plans to go so we can consider all the other fantastic places Chicago has to offer. We have to keep it fair after all!

Starters: Carrot Rilletts, Heirloom Butternut Salad, & Sunchoke Latke. The rilletts was, I think, the most surprising dish because Frankie ordered it with the thought that it would be similar to the carrot spread that Mon Ami Gabi serves with their table bread (another of our favorite return spots, but only for special occassions like Valentine’s day or our Anniversary). And while it didn’t have the same preparation, it was still a beautiful dish that we both enjoyed very much: soft, sweet, salty, bitter (from vinegar), and the little addition of horseradish gave it a really delightful kick of heat! And the garnish of dill, which I never really like because I don’t like dill, was the right amount of freshness to brighten the whole plate up, but an A+ dish for sure!

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The heirloom butternut salad, a favorite, I can’t get over how light, how fresh, how flavorful it is, and the vinagarette is just out of this world good! I wouldn’t let our waitress tried to take it away when there was still some left…I was just waiting on the rest of the meal to arrive before I polished it off. #cleanplateclub #worthit Note: This is a seasonal dish, so once they change up their menu, I don’t know if this will stay, go, or come back if it does go, SO GO SOON BEFORE IT’S GONE!!!

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Sunchoke Latke: This dish was one that we weren’t expecting and enjoyed thoroughly, and by that I mean…WOW. The latke was juicy and succulent, with just a hint of meatiness from the fish (which you couldn’t tell had fish in it at all), and the salad on top was the perfect way to break up the slight oily quality of the latke! Well done Daisies on that one!

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Main Meal: Pierogi, Linguine, Cavatelli (special). The Pierogi’s were INCREDIBLY tender, light, soft in the middle, but still crispy on the outside! The mussels in the dish add a really refreshing pop of briny salt that really breaks up the richness of the potatoes, not that they were rich in a bad way, but it brought balance for sure. The cavatelli special (with braised pork shoulder) was as it was described: pot roast on a plate. It was luscious, rich, a little on the heavy side, but the meat was juicy and tender! I did wish there was a little more salt/pepper to break up the heaviness of the meat in the dish because the flavor was a little overpowering.

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For me, the linguine was the biggest surprise! Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard me say it before, but I’m not the biggest fan of eggs…but I think because I stay away from most cooked and raw eggs, I wasn’t expecting the egg to be so…velvety. In no way could I tell there was a raw egg mixed in with the pasta! Another rich, yet oddly light (that’s the homemade pasta for you!) dish that was just the right amount of cheesey, salty, and fresh! And that egg made it. Seriously, mix that sucker all up in it and eat away! So good!

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And there you have it! The last recommendations post for a little while as I get my savings and trip planning started! And don’t worry, there will be MANY posts and pictures of our trip for all of you to oogle at! That and some amazing meals we will no doubt get to experience! Until later this week, when I will be revealing the first Cooking With Friends: Chicago Edition post that features what Alex and I were going to make, and then (per usual for me) changed our minds and did something completely different (no spoilers this time!). But I promise, it’s going to be SO worth the wait (literally, and figuratively, but you’ll get what I mean when we go live). Until then my lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

On Healthy Eating [After Whole30]

If I haven’t already said it, and I’m pretty sure I have, Whole30 was indeed life-changing. Not only does junk food or fast food no longer taste the same, it’s no longer appealing either. Not that that’s a bad thing, because it totally isn’t (better on our budget and better on our waistbands too), but rather it’s been interesting to observe the gravity of how much foods we haven’t been eating make us feel post-consumption. Pizza? We originally thought twice a month would be okay, especially when we go up to visit his parents and that’s what they want to have for dinner that night, but we’re thinking once a month (if that) is going to be the better alternative. Sugary substances in all shapes and forms? Yeah, I’m a one and done now—case and point: I ate ONE of my mini cheesecakes from over the weekend and gave the rest to my coworkers because my teeth started to sing just thinking about eating a second one—and all the gummies Frankie had hoarded prior to Whole30 are still in the bag I put them in and will likely continue to remain in that bag in our freezer for a while yet…and for me, the most surprising thing is when Frankie comes home and asks if dinner is Whole30 compliant!

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So with that in mind, we came to an interesting decision. While we will still have our moments of freedom (not going to lie, I totally had some Bad Apple cheese curds on Tuesday with my book group, sorry not sorry at all), but at home, we’re going to stick to a pretty Paleo diet…with a few exceptions of course.

  1. Beer & Wine: This is totally in moderation and we realized we don’t need it, but sometimes, a small glass of red, or a Zombie Dust or Hopback Amber is exactly what the doctor ordered, so we are going to keep alcohol in our diet, but since Whole30, our consumption has decreased significantly. Also, I miss cooking with beer and wine…sure I can totally not cook with alcohol, no problem, but sometimes, it just adds that extra little…oomph.
  2. Rice: We’re pretty much over pasta (though not excluding it completely either because sometimes it makes for a great easy weekday meal), but I missed rice A TON in March, so we’re going to keep it in and vary the kind of grain I use (more wild rice than white rice).
  3. Bread: Also in SUPER moderation. Since getting off whole30 I think we’ve made…1 smash burger for dinner, and had one night of hot dogs with buns…so we’re also not gravitating back towards bread, BUT having it as an option is nice to have. But now that I have found breadless meatballs & flour alternatives, this may not even be an exception, but rather it’s nice to have as an option for when we go out.
  4. Peas, Chickpeas, Beans, & Corn: The other non-Whole30 approved veggies/legumes that frankly I like too much to remove, though beans…eh, I could say bye or minimize my exposure to a number of them, but frozen green peas are my favorite last-minute additions to a meal (and if I can get them fresh, EVEN BETTER), hummus makes for a GREAT easy/low key meal (with veggies and rotisserie chicken), and I love hardshell tacos and tortilla chips with a passion.

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And that’s it! Really not too bad right? So in honor of our more finalized everyday diet, I have two recipes for you this week that are sure to keep that healthy kick going (if you’re on one) or will help start one (if you’re looking for that) OR just taste good and don’t take a long time to make (what I believe most of you come here for). Enjoy my lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

Quick Housekeeping: Cooking with Friends #3 will be post-poned to next Sunday (hint: think pasta), so the next post will be Monday May 7th!


Seared Barramundi with Yogurt Mustard Sauce from Champagne Tastes

Note: I also made this with a side of wild rice & pan seared green beans with garlic! Delicious!

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Guacamole Stuffed Lime Chicken

I don’t really have a recipe for this, I just kind of winged it, but essentially, you’re going to take 3-4 chicken breasts and season them with salt, pepper, and cumin on both sides, then pan sear in an oven-safe skillet for 4-5 minutes, then top with juice from 1 lime, and roast until cooked (165°F) flipping it over every 6 minutes.

When the chicken is done, cut a pocket in it and fill with your favorite guacamole (mine is here), and serve with sauted or roasted veggies.

I know it’s not the most standard recipe, BUT I was cooking on the fly, worked with what I had, and feel like this is so straightforward a full recipe would be been redundant.

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On Cooking with Alex #2: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes with Salted Caramel Sauce

I can’t believe how much I look forward to these posts! I love to cook on my own, don’t get me wrong, but getting to cook with one of your best friends (and my oldest friend for that matter, going on almost 22 years of friendship) and see actual moments of what it is that made us friends to begin with, that’s something extra special! And with that, I present: Mini Turtle Cheesecakes with a Homemade Boozy Carmel/Caramel Sauce!

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So I do have a springform pan to make full cheesecakes, but you know what, nothing gets any cuter that mini cheesecakes! And especially since a certain future husband doesn’t like cheesecake, making a full one doesn’t seem like the best way to go. With the minis, I can bring them to work in my little cupcake carrier, which I did, and shared my delicious treats with everyone else! But these turned out SO good and they are light, fluffy, and so creamy! The added caramel sauce was also just the right amount of sweetness, and with that splash of bourbon in there, it elevates the cheesecake to a whole new level of scrumptious!

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With regards to the caramel sauce, Alex decided to double the caramel recipe, and also decided to throw in some bourbon (this was an optional part of the recipe). Being the follower that I am, I thought, WHY NOT! So I went to our bar and took a gander at what we had in stock that would lend itself nicely to the sauce that wasn’t too inexpensive, too expensive, and happened to already be opened. Now, I should mention, Frankie is a whiskey fan, particularly bourbon, so a lot of our selection (outside our ever steady Jack Daniel’s for mixing) is pretty fancy, but I didn’t want to use Jack (sorry Jack drinkers) because I felt it was going to smell too boozy, if that makes sense? So I grabbed the bottle of Noah’s Mill that was 3/4 empty anyway and added a solid splash to the sauce. As I was telling Alex all of this, and showed her my bottle, she told me to shut up, ran away from her kitchen, and came back with her own full bottle of Noah’s Mill (for she and her man are also fancy bourbon drinkers as well). This, this is why we are friends. #greatmindsthinkalike

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Now, we did notice a few differences between our batters, which might have been due to the equipment used? Mine was a little on the runny side, and I used my stand mixer, plus a hand mixer to smooth out some of those leftover lumps. Alex’s was firmer, and she had used an electric whisk, and at the end, both of ours turned out very similarly in terms of appearance. Weird right? I know we couldn’t taste each others, but both of us found our own cheesecakes to be very moist and creamy! The caramel on top was also incredibly delicious, with the bourbon being helpful in cutting a bit of the natural sweetness of the sauce. I also particularly liked and preferred brown sugar to white sugar in a cheesecake and these recipes were incredibly delicious together! A home run to be sure! I even brought all of mine to work with me, and all of them were gone, gone, gone by lunchtime. If you’re in the mood to bake this weekend, definitely give this combination a try! Until next week’s cooking with friends! — Cooking Maggie


Mini Turtle Cheesecakes from Handle the Heat

6-Minute Small Batch Salted Caramel Sauce from Baker by Nature

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On Cooking with Alex #1: Alex’s Pork Noodle Bowls

IT HAPPENED! IT FINALLY HAPPENED! My friend Alex & I finally got our FaceTime’s going and cooked together (catching up along the way as well), and it was so much fun and we’ve already been discussing what to make next, so I’m super looking forward to our upcoming segments together! And since this was all her idea to begin with, she got to pick our first recipe: Pork Noodle Bowls with homemade Nuoc Cham sauce! You guys, I think she just revealed Frankie’s and my new favorite weeknight meal. Not only was the marinade incredibly easy to pull together the night before, but cooking it took no time at all. Start to finish: 30 minutes tops.

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And you can totally do other things with these ingredients the next time, making leftover Summer Rolls with Rice Paper Wrappers, but unfortunately I couldn’t find those anywhere at the two stores I did venture off to the weekend before, but will continue to keep my eyes peeled because I love Summer Rolls. Throw in a little avocado, maybe add a chilled shrimp, with peanut sauce? Oh yeah, that’s the stuff! And for the $3 I paid for my vermicelli noodles, I have a LOT to show for it! Leftovers for days ya’ll, so much so I may run to Gene’s and pick up some more pork to fry up tomorrow night! Even Frankie said it was a HOMERUN, which is a HUGE compliment!

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That being said, as we were going through the recipe and cooking method, we did discuss ways in which we were varying the recipe to suit our needs, which is so important before you even begin to tackle a recipe. For example, Alex and spicy foods don’t always go together, so she skipped the chilies in the sauce. I, on the other hand, was seriously hesitant to add a bunch of sugar to the dish because sugar post Whole30 has not been an easy reintroduction, and frankly, it’s no longer something I gravitate towards, so I halved the sugar input and removed it completely from the pork marinade. I also haven’t gone back to using regular soy sauce simply because the Coconut Aminos taste just as good, if not better, and it’s not as salty. It actually has a little inherent sweetness to it that makes removing sugar/honey in my recipes a lot easier because I get that sweetness from the meat itself and the aminos. But that is what this whole venture was supposed to do! It was supposed to bring two different approaches together and start a conversation about food, how we cook it, what we like, what we don’t, and how we approach those challenges to ensure we both get something delicious at the end, and our first attempt was a total success in doing just that!

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Next week, we are going to be baking, but that’s all I’m going to tell you until then! In the meantime, definitely check this recipe out and enjoy! — Cooking Maggie


Alex’s Pork Noodle Bowls

Lemongrass Pork Ingredients:

  • 12 oz Pork Chop, thinly sliced (or use pork shoulder)
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, minced (only the lower root portion)
    • Note: Alex couldn’t get lemongrass, so instead, she used 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste, which is 100% the best way to go!
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1 Lime, squeezed
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Honey
    • Note: I only used 1/2 the amount said simply because sugar has been a hard thing to get used to for our household since whole30
  • 1 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
    • Note: I personally did not add the brown sugar to my marinade, but that was totally fine because the honey added just the right amount of sweetness
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Nuoc Cham Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 3 Tbsp Sugar
    • Note: I used half this amount of sugar (you know, whole30…) and next time won’t use any at all.
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp Lime Juice
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1-2 Bird’s Eye/ Thai Chilies, very thinly sliced
    • Note: You can use serrano if you can’t find Thai chilies at your local grocer, or not at all if you don’t like spice

Noodle Bowl:

  • 6 oz Rice Vermicelli Noodles
  • 1 head Green Leaf, chopped (Romaine works well here too)
  • 1 medium Carrot, thin matchsticks
    • Note: You can totally buy these precut, which I did to save on time
  • 1 medium Cucumber, thin matchsticks
    • Note: We ended up just cutting thin slices and then cutting those in half
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Peanuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped Mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped Thai Basil (or regular basil)
  • Hoisin Sauce (for topping/dipping)
  • Sweet Chili Sauce (for topping/dipping)
  • (Optional) Spring Rolls/Egg Rolls
    • I bought frozen spring rolls, and were a deliciously crunchy addition
  • (Optional) Rice Paper Sheets for Summer Roll Leftover
  • (Optional) 1/4 cup diced white onion
    • I added onion to mine because I love onion!

Instructions

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, and marinate pork for at least 30 minutes, but preferably for 24 hours.
  2. If making Spring Rolls, preheat your oven and prepare according to the package. Also go ahead and cook your vermicelli noodles according to package, straining well, and set aside for later as these should be cool for the bowl later on. You can also get all your other cold ingredients ready for the final assembly, saving the pork for last.
  3. When you’re ready to make your pork, add 2 Tbsp Oil (olive, avocado, coconut, whatever oil you have on hand) to a medium/large skillet or pan, and heat over medium-high until oil is hot. Dump your pork and marinade into the pan and sear till pork is cooked and marinade has reduced slightly (depending on thickness of pork slices, this could range from 4-5 minutes or 5-6 minutes).
  4. Assemble your bowls! Lettuce and noodles in the bottom, top with the carrots, cucumber, onion, peanuts and herbs. Top with pork, then spoon the Nuoc Cham sauce over the whole thing to taste. You can also serve the Hoisin and Chili Sauce on the side, or drizzle a little on top!
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