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

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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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On All The Catching Up

Dear Readers: My apologies for my incredibly late delay in a post…it’s been a busy last couple of weeks with some updates to announce! The first: Cooking with Friends will premiere for the very first time on Tuesday, April 17th, and will be posted later that evening or the next day (depending on how quickly I can get myself together). The second: I have gone ahead and updated my recipe page so that it is clear where my recipes are coming from. Not that anyone has complained (no one has, honestly), but this is a personal choice because it looks, at a glance, like it’s all me, and I don’t want that, that’s not what I stand for. And even though I want folks to go through the specific blog that talks about that specific recipe, I also thought it fairly annoying to have to scroll through the blog post to get to the recipe link, so I also added a direct link to every recipe that I can’t claim to their designated blog. If there are adaptations that I made, I’ve added a star so you can decide how you want to approach the recipe. Just trying to make it easier for my readers, you know. The third: I have also updated (a little) my cookbook page as well, but I know I have more recipes to add, so take a looksee! And with that, let’s dig in, shall we?

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This past Good Friday was a company holiday for me, which meant a day to stick around home with Tuggs! It also meant that I actually had time to unbox the lightbox I had bought…oh…about six months ago…and I rearranged one of the tables in my dining room to be completely dedicated to taking food photos! I had thought to set it up in my kitchen, but I don’t have enough counter space as is. Anyway, here we are! TA-DA! The very first photos from the lightbox!

If any of you have heard or follow Pinch of Yum, not only does she have GREAT healthy, low cal recipes to die for, but she actually has a really lovely and informative post about taking photos with artificial light. I actually bought her setup when I got my camera, and if you haven’t noticed, these are the best photos I’ve been able to turn out! (See side by side of crab cakes below. UGH I CAN’T EVEN!)

And especially since I was just coming off of Whole30, I wanted to make something that wasn’t going to be…too hard on our system, but at the same time, I wanted to make something that had been on my to-bake list, especially with my kitchen aid mixer having been neglected all month, so that’s how I arrived at funfetti cupcakes, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Overall, you can ABSOLUTELY tell that these are not from a box – the cake itself is super moist and about as white as you get, and they weren’t bad, but they were VERY sweet, which I know is a weird complaint, but that’s only because we’ve been on an almost zero sugar diet for the last few weeks and it was just a little bit of a shock to the system. Still, a really wonderful first non-Whole30 recipe to try out! YUM!

Confetti Cake from Smitten Kitchen

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The week after Easter was very much filled with dinner with friends on Monday and Tuesday, then a singular night in (crab cakes), and then a comedy show Thursday night were we got to see Frankie’s groomswoman Emily Fightmaster kick butt and take names in Second City’s e.t.c. 42nd Review, Gaslight District  (yeah, shameless plug, but I love her to death and she is PHENOMENAL, so go see her while you can)! So there was minimal time to write, minimal time to cook, and then we whisked ourselves off to Buffalo to get REAL into wedding planning (menu, photographer meeting, ceremony site visit, and so on), which left even less time to catch up and pull something together for you all! Hopefully a two-fer recipe spill will set everything right again, especially since it’s one of my favorite dishes: curry! Red Thai Curry to be exact, but with my own spin to it. The recipe on it’s own, great, BUT, as I’ve noticed with any curry recipe that claims authenticity and quickness, it’s just not…where it needs to be. The same could be said for this recipe as well, and this is purely with regards to the spices that were just…not there. I’ve included the link below BUT the added spices and veggies are written below, along with my other notes!

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I love potatoes in my curry and I haven’t had peas in a month, so I couldn’t leave them stuck in my freezer for another moment longer, are all underneath! That being said, I also halved the onion/peppers as well to compensate for the amount of pot space I was swapping them out for. And you know what, so long as the sauce, the actual base of the curry is there, YOU can add and remove and swap WHATEVER you want! Don’t want chicken? Try duck! Or pork! Curry is great like that.

Red Curry Chicken from Mother Thyme

Adaptations:

  • USE FULL FAT COCONUT MILK! I feel low fat is just too watery, and a little dose of good fat does you good in the long run anyway.
  • I used ½ the peppers and onion because I wanted to add 2 red potatoes (cubed small) and ¾ cup of peas (swapped out for the beansprouts, which I don’t happen to like in curry).
  • Add an extra ½ teaspoon of salt & pepper to the dish before stirring in the peas.
  • To sauce, add ½ tsp turmeric, 2 teaspoon cumin, 2 tsp coriander
  • To kick up the heat, add in 1 serrano, deseeded, cut in half length wise, and thinly sliced! We used fresno chilies the first time and it didn’t have the kick I wanted, but no biggie! If my grocery store had the little red chilies, I would have used one of those, with a backup chili in case of extra needed heat.

My apologies again for taking so long to get back to you, but I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me, and I hope you’ll check back on Tuesday for the first COOKING WITH FRIENDS! Happy Eating Everyone! (I know I am!) – Cooking Maggie

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On Last Week of Whole30

I can’t believe how close we are to being done! It’s Day 29, and tomorrow is DAY 30!!! Holy smokes! Sure, those last few days definitely have that “is day 29 pretty much the same thing as day 30” feel to it, and don’t worry, I absolutely am not going to give up! I will see this through to the end because I know I can do this for another day and a half, especially since I have the day off tomorrow! WOOT WOOT! Plus, Frankie & I have talked AT LENGTH about how to move forward from this experience so that the time and effort we put into the Whole30 won’t be wasted once we’re done.

We’ve discussed doing Whole7’s every so often (potentially every other month), and we’ve talked about ways in which we can continue to cut out processed foods/sugar from our diet a little more permanently, like not eating the free pizza that our works might order during lunch webinars and instead eat our leftovers so we don’t waste food, and just limiting our takeout/junk food habits significantly. We have decided that Friday night is going to be our date/eat out/cheat night, which works for me because I never really feel like cooking on most Friday’s anyway, but we won’t go overboard either! We’ve both seen such amazing results from this experience that neither of us wants to go to waste. We’ll definitely be including more veggies, more salads, and more real vegetables and fruits at home more than the processed snack foods we used to buy and store in our cupboard. There will definitely be an adjustment period, but I’m incredibly hopeful, and no doubt I’ll end up cooking as close to Paleo as I can since the majority of the dishes I’ve made were absolutely delicious!

But my ending thoughts though on the Whole30 are as follows: I will never do a month of that again, unless I really, REALLY have to, BUT the experience was indeed a life-changing one and will have a permanent effect on both Frankie & I’s lifestyle for the better. Would I recommend it? Sure, I would recommend it to someone who has been thinking about it or really wants to do it, and you should really want to dedicate yourself to this, otherwise you’re going to hate it, and in that case, I wouldn’t recommend this. But I will say that the best indicator of whether a diet is the right one for you depends on yourself. Only you know your body and general health better than anyone else, and if you do decide to tackle the Whole30 or another diet and find that it’s negatively impacting your mood or health beyond normal, then it’s likely not the right diet for you. Of course, you’re going through changes physically and mentally, BUT the only negative effect Frankie & I felt were the cravings and occasional hunger here or there because we cut out snacking, but we were never “moody” or “hangry” to a degree that would be considered abnormal. The Whole30 actually made us feel good, feel better in the long run, and THAT is why I would recommend this to someone else, but again, make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into and commit.

But I also know that diets aren’t for everyone, so if you’re looking for just the one thing we learned the most, that would simply be to reduce/minimize your intake of sugar (processed or natural). Sugar is one of the biggest inflammatory ingredients there is, and as much as I love my Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream, I understand that a lot of the weight I had accumulated was because of the sugar I was consuming on a daily basis through snacking and (honestly) mindless consumption. A little bit won’t hurt me now, today, but long term, yeah, I can totally see how it was impacting the way I was feeling and looking. Okay, THAT is my schpeel on Whole30!

Final Housekeeping: April 15th will be the first segment of Cooking with Friends!! The first round will just be a post, but we will be coming up with ways to potentially either stream it live or record it for when the post goes live. All things are still in the works, but that’s my main update for you! Tune in next Thursday for my attempt at homemade Funfetti cupcakes (courtesy of smitten kitchen’s recipe, because she’s amazing)!


Day 22

Dinner: Blackened Chicken, Guacamole, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Boats

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Day 23

Breakfast: Typical smoothie!

Lunch: Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya

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Dinner: CGBLTs!


Day 24

Breakfast/Lunch: Strawberry, Banana, Pineapple Smoothie

Dinner: Oktoberfest-less Stew

Note: Made WITHOUT the beer, and instead, I just added an extra cup of chicken broth. Oh, and to help thicken it up a little bit, I added Arrowroot instead of Flour to keep it all compliant! DELICIOUS!!


Day 25

Brunch: Strawberry Coconut Breakfast Bake

Note: I did not take a picture of this mostly because it wasn’t the most beautiful looking dish, BUT I will say it was pretty tasty! I think it needed the third egg, as stated on the recipe, but because my eggs have recently been coming with double yolks (and these are eggs I get from my butcher, so they are legit), I just worried that three double yolk eggs would make it too eggy…but perhaps I should have gone ahead and added the third one in any way.

Dinner: Crab Cakes & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, with a side of Zucchini

Note: This was Frankie’s second favorite meal this month, AND he wants me to make it again soon! Not only was it all very low carb & healthy, it was easy to pull together, didn’t take long to make, and was packed full of flavor! You can’t even tell that I cooked them in coconut oil and used coconut flour! And that red pepper sauce?! The avocado really helps to smooth it out, but I think I will use the blender instead of my mini food processor next time so that it smooths out even more, and I think a pinch of salt and pepper can really take it to the next level.

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Day 26

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Last of the Jambalaya

Dinner: Steak & Potatoes a la Frankie

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Day 27

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Akor Roka – Sashimi Salad with Japanese Sweet Potato

Note: The prettiest darn salad I ever did see, and honestly, this wasn’t a bad experience eating out either! Sure, I was a little nervous about being an obnoxious customer who has to ask a Japanese restaurant what I can eat on Whole30 that doesn’t allow soy or sugar, which a lot of the sauces and glazes do have. But I’m glad I did ask because my waiter ended up revealing that he was currently on Keto, and understood where I was coming from! So not ONLY did he pull some strings and bring me an amazing salad for the same price as their 3 kinds of sashimi plate, he also took away some ginger that was served with it because there was sugar in the pickling liquid!! How nice was that?! So, for anyone who is afraid or hesitant to go out to eat simply because you’re worried your diet will make things difficult, don’t be! You’ll never know unless you ask!

Dinner: Paleo Slow Cooker Meatballs & Spaghetti Squash

Note: Okay, so now that I’ve cooked with lamb for the second time, we’ve realized that lamb is not Frankie’s favorite, which is okay! I was trying lamb because the last time I made meatballs the pork turned white, and so I was just experimenting with a different meat component. Next on my trial list: Veal. That being said though, THESE were again, SO easy to make, and broiling them first was actually a really great way to get them to stick together before simmering in the sauce for four hours in my crockpot! I actually managed to throw the whole thing together in about 30 minutes, and had a fully cooked meal for lunch/dinner by the time I worked out, did laundry, helped Frankie cook, AND got ready for bed! Easy peasy, and SO so good!

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Day 28

Breakfast: Smoothie & Banana

Lunch: Last of the Oktoberfest-less Stew

Dinner: Leftover Meatballs


Day 29

Breakfast: Smoothie

Lunch: Last of the Meatballs

On Whole30 [Day 16 – 22] & A NEW LOGO!!

In case any of you wondered, Frankie and I did not go out for St. Patty’s Day this year, and you know what, I’m really okay with it, especially since it was a headache I didn’t have to deal with on Sunday! Yahoo! Instead, I got to hang out at home and really unwind from what hasn’t been the easiest month, and I’m not talking about the Whole30 nor will I turn this into a woe is me post because I’m also not that kind of person. With regards to how I’m feeling, this week, I haven’t felt any cravings, but rather I feel awesome! I feel like I could tackle the world and then some! Bring. It. On. This is what the Whole30 book says is the Tiger’s Blood phase, though I’m not sure I completely understand the actual concept of Tiger’s Blood, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I feel great, I feel energized, I feel calmer (more often when I’m not at work work), and I just want to keep this feeling going! I know that means continuing a lot of the lessons I have picking up throughout this entire process, but I would like to reintroduce rice as a starch option sometimes. But I don’t feel the crutch of cheese anymore, which is a little hard to believe because that craving lasted two weeks and didn’t feel like it was going to lift off me anytime soon! Ugh! But we’re still here, Frankie & I together, and we have been each other’s best support system throughout this process, and I couldn’t have kept going without him, especially on those days when I wanted to take advantage of having our local Lou Malnati’s saved in my phone contacts…but anyway, this week we had a lot of success recipes, and hope you find something to nosh on at home yourself! #paleoisntscary! Also! Made a couple updates to the website! I’m trying out a new logo! Would love some feedback if anyone has any! — Cooking Maggie


Day 15

Dinner: Deconstructed Hot Dog

Note: This was…okay. Super easy and simple to make, but was it completely filling? Absolutely not, simply because it wasn’t a real Chicago dog. God I miss street dogs so much…


Day 16

Breakfast: Strawberry Smoothie Bowl

Lunch: Chicken Piccata Leftovers

Dinner: Teriyaki Salmon & Cauliflower Fried Rice

Note: Normally, I make a Honey Siracha Glazed Salmon, but neither Siracha or Honey are Whole30 compliant, SO, I made Teriyaki (coconut amino style) Salmon instead! Still really yummy, but I’ll include the actual Salmon recipe I normally use above for reference. Oh, and the cauliflower fried rice was AWESOME!! Definitely was a surprise for both Frankie & I! I didn’t include egg, but instead used bean sprouts, which added a really lovely crunch to everything! It was overall, and really satisfying meal!

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Day 17

Breakfast: Banana (light breakfast because I wasn’t feeling the best)

Lunch: Leftover Salmon

Dinner: Steak & Roasted Red Potatoes (in honor of St. Patty’s Day)


Day 18

Breakfast: Apple & Almond Butter

Lunch: Hashbrowns with Ground Pork

Dinner: Paleo & Whole30 Chili

Note: This I think is the best chili recipe I’ve made in a good long while! It’s not bad, and I really don’t miss the beans in this at all! Besides, bacon in anything always tastes great! I will note the following: 1) I halved the recipe because I didn’t want to make a ton; 2) I added chili powder as well, because what’s chili without a little chili powder; and 3) I didn’t use sausage, but instead, found some ground lamb, which was a great addition!

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Day 19

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie (this week is going to be crazy busy, and this is the best I can do)

Lunch: Leftover Chili

Dinner: Spanish Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash & Green Beans

Note: I was literally futzing about in the kitchen when I came across a recipe that intrigued me, but needed a little more of an oomph, not to mention I didn’t want to serve cauliflower to Frankie twice in one week, SO instead I went with my own intuition on this one and crafted a new chicken recipe that came out unbelievably juicy, tender, and well seasoned! It’s a keeper folks!

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Spanish Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Italian Spice Blend
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup chicken stock (plus a little more if you’re using two pans)
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, removed from oil & halved
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, halved

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the spices together and rub all over the chicken thighs.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and then the chicken. (Note: I recommend dividing the chicken between two pans.) Cook until there’s a nice golden brown/crust on each side (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Add in about ½-¾ cup of chicken stock to each pan, then cover with a lid, and lower the heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Divide and add the sun-dried tomatoes & olives equally between the two pans, cover again, and simmer for another 3-4 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165℉.
  5. Serve over roasted spaghetti squash and green beans.

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Day 20

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Leftover Spanish Chicken (which I didn’t end up eating because breakfast was super filling and I had back to back meetings all afternoon, and by the time I even thought to eat, it was 4pm, and I had a training session at 5:30, so I snacked on carrots and strawberries instead).

Dinner: Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Note: I also got a little creative on this one too. There was a slow-cooker steak recipe in the Whole30 Cookbook, but frankly, I just wasn’t feeling the slow-cooker tonight, so instead, I flew by the seat of my pants and picked skirt steak, which I haven’t tried cooking on my own before. The rub ingredients are below, and let me just say, I was definitely doing my happy food dance around the kitchen! It was quick & easy, and unbelievably delicious! I even had another reason to use the leftover chimichurri from last week again! Yay! Also, while a jicama is NOT a tortilla, it’s not a bad substitute for getting me as close to the real thing as possible, which was what I was aiming & hoping for, and together with the beef and chimichurri, it was quite tasty and fulfilling! And with 10 days left to go, I am feeling all sorts of good vibes for this week and next!

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Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1lb skirt steak
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • Olive oil for steak (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Avocado oil for cooking (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 2 jalapenos, blistered, deseeded, and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jicama, shaved/peeled (I found using a knife was easier), and sliced ⅛” on a mandolin
  • ¼ cup authentic chimichurri sauce

Instructions:

  1. Peel/shave the jicama, and using a mandolin, at the ⅛” setting, thinly slice and set aside. While you’re doing that, blister your jalapenos on the stove, and when done, let them sit in a covered bowl for about 1 minute. Then, remove the skin, seeds, and mince both jalapenos and set aside.
  2. Mix up all the spices in a bowl, then rub olive oil on the steak, season each side with the spice mix, and sear on each side for about 5 minutes each side (depending on the thickness of your cut, you might only need 4 minutes each side). This will produce medium rare steak, so if you like it more medium, make it 6 minutes depending on thickness. Let rest, then thinly slice against the grain.
  3. Spread the chimichurri on a jicama slice, add some of the jalapeno, top with sliced steak, and finish with cilantro. Then eat and do your happy dance!

Optional: Serve with a side of roasted fajita veggies (onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and zucchini – which I had in my fridge anyway).


Day 21

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Day 20’s Leftover Spanish Chicken

Dinner: DMK Burger

Note: They have a PALEO burger! It’s served on a portobello bun, but you can sub it for lettuce bun, and then I had them add some caramelized onions and it was just an EXPLOSION of flavor in my mouth! SO SO GOOD! They don’t cook the beef in anything but their own juicy and natural fat, so worry not Whole30-goers! This place is a-okay for you! And you can also eat any of the other burgers and sub out the bun, cheese, and aiolis for…well…other things! ^_^ And for my Paleo readers, their fries are fried in beef fat, so they are APPROVED! Plus, they just have bomb diggity burgers! COME AND GET IT YA’LL!!!


Day 22

Breakfast: Banana, Pineapple, and Mixed Berry Smoothie with ground flax seed, coconut flakes, and walnuts

Lunch: Last of the Steak & Jicama Tacos

On Whole30 [Day 2-15]

This week was all about fighting against cravings, and not being so concerned with meal planning, which fell to pieces anyway…it’s just not my thing. I can see how it’s helpful for sure, but by the time I say, “Yes, I will cook that,” I don’t want to eat it or make it come grocery shopping time, so then, I’m searching for something that looks more appetizing about a half hour before I hit the store, and that’s what I end up making for dinner…which is super weird for me because I’m totally an OCD planner rather than a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. (I have a large suspicion that this is Frankie’s spontaneity rubbing off on me.) But it works for me and my method of cooking, and that’s what counts. And I always try to plan around what’s already in my fridge so I’m not wasting (like how a recipe calls for spinach or collard greens, but I have a bag of green beans that haven’t been eaten yet, so that’s what I end up making instead).

But the cravings have been…particularly bad this week. Pizza has been our biggest craving, especially Lou Malnati’s thin crust sausage & sliced tomatoes, no, wait, Piece Pizzeria pan pizza with white sauce, mashed potatoes (I promise, this is NOT a weird topping for pizza, it’s so so good), sausage, pepperoni, and sliced tomatoes…with a growler of Golden Arm…oh my gosh I’m not doing myself any favors by talking about it, but there you have it. It’s not that pizza was our crutch, it definitely wasn’t, but pizza is something that we would gravitate towards when it was date night at home or one of us had a REALLY crappy day (we’re talking borderline tears territory to require a pizza pick me up). But we’re halfway through and feeling more determined to make it than ever! Pizza cravings be darned! And honestly, I think it’s also that, because Frankie was born & raised in Chicago, pizza (among other Chicago staples) was a big part of his diet in the grand scheme of things (not the everyday or weekly scheme of things). Family dinners with his family on Sundays usually involved pizza because it meant getting more things done and spending more quality time together, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that’s definitely where this particular craving stems from for him, and in a way for me too, since I’ve been going to Sunday dinners for the past, oh, five/six years?

That’s not to say we haven’t learned anything about this experience. Frankie has definitely felt the effects of eating cleaner, on top of being more mindful of what he’s eating. For me, I think it’s more about strengthening my willpower to not give into to unhealthy foods, that and not being so hesitant to try Paleo/Vegetarian dishes more often. Veggies never hurt anyone, and I will also say that both Frankie and I have noticed we’ve slimmed down a little, which is always a great benefit, and when you see good results, you’re more likely to continue to eat better too. I’m not saying this whole process is easy, it isn’t, but it’s not impossible, and a lot of times, I think that’s been the most difficult hurdle to jump in starting this. Can we do it? How much of a change are we going to have to make to be able to accomplish a goal we’ve set our minds to? Honestly, not much change—maybe 1 hour on the weekend to organize our cupboards/fridge/freezer and post stickies where bad food is hidden so we know to avoid it—and yes, we can do it, we are doing this.

I know this isn’t for everyone, and in absolutely no way and I’m trying to push this on anyone because that’s not fair, and that’s not doing anyone any favors, BUT from my personal experience, this has been really helpful in shifting our view on food in our everyday life. We’ve even talked about doing a Whole10 or Whole7 every month/every other month just to keep these lesson we are learning fresh and ensure we’re not slipping back into bad habits. THAT’S been the biggest thing we’ve learned and fought against. No more bad habits, though I’m not going to lie, the occasional shared pizza with a growler of beer with Frankie is something I have no plans or intentions of giving up. Moderation is key here. Not every week or month, but occasionally, especially when those nights involve a movie at home and my sweatpants! ❤ Ah, l’amor! — Cooking Maggie


Day 8

Dinner: Leftovers


Day 9

Breakfast: Smoothie – Banana & Berries

Lunch: Leftover Stuffed Pepper

Dinner: Steak, Lobster, & Roasted Cherry Tomatoes


Day 10

Brunch: Hashbrowns with Onion, Bell Peppers, & Ground Pork

Note: I added to the ground pork the following: ½ teaspoon of cayenne & crushed red peppers, 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, & pepper. This will kind of get you that breakfast sausage taste using pork that’s compliant! I also diced up ½ an onion, ½ green bell pepper, and ½ a red bell pepper for color & veggie freshness!

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Dinner: Zesty Chicken Bites & Marinara

Note: To quote one of my favorite rascals, OH MY LANTA! These are so, so good! Even Frankie liked them, and I know I shouldn’t be shocked, BUT I AM! The dude actually ate these healthy nuggets, and we made them again on Sunday because we had some left over tenders! I did use ground flax seed instead of almond flour, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two.

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Day 11

Brunch: Zesty Chicken Bites & Marinara

Dinner: Beef & Broccoli with Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein

Note: The chow mein was SO good! Definitely a keeper and one I will be returning too in the future when I want to make something just a little healthier. The beef & broccoli was super delicious too, and there was barely enough leftovers for just one of us! This was a solid meal, and I think next time, I’ll be doubling it! YUM!

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Day 12

Breakfast: Cold Banana Coconut Bowl

Note: Tastes just as good cold as it does warm, and I was feeling incredibly lazy this morning, so sue me…sometimes my lifestyle does not fit into what the recipe calls for.

Lunch: Leftover Shrimp w/Chimichurri Sauce

Dinner: Lettuce Taco Night (Leftover Carnitas, Guac, Homemade Pico, Leftover Salsa Verde, & Leftover Chimichurri)

Note: Honestly, chimicurri on tacos, not my favorite, even though it’s delicious on steak and can be delicious on jerk or lime cilantro chicken, but my carnitas were better accentuated with the guac and pico pairing.

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Day 13

Breakfast: What was supposed to be a Paleo Strawberry Pineapple Smoothie Bowl that turned into just a smoothie because I was running late…

Note: Okay, so picture this, it’s 6:45am and if I want to make it to work by 8, I need to be out the door by 7:10/7:15, and I’m not dressed, the pup needs to be fed and taken out, and my lunch bag isn’t packed…I was rushed, and last night was too tired to prep bags/containers for the next morning, BUT that won’t be a problem tomorrow morning, so I can actually eat this the right way! Oh, and to make it whole30 compliant, don’t add honey, which it honestly didn’t need anyway, and don’t add oats. When I make it tomorrow, I’m going to top it with some blueberries, nuts (undecided as to which one, but probably going to be walnut because I’m super predictable), and coconut flakes! Oh, and for the fruit, I used fresh pineapple (which you should be able to buy in two forms: cored but unsliced, which is cheaper, and cubed), fresh strawberries (about 10 small ones), and frozen mango chunks. I also used a whole30 compliant almond milk from Califia Farms (unsweetened!)!

Lunch: Left over beef & broccoli & spaghetti squash chow mein

Dinner: Bacon Ranch Chicken Poppers w/ Ranch Dipping Sauce

Note: A no no recipe here, the first in our entire month that we haven’t liked, so I’m not going to include the recipe. The texture was too soft, and the carrots that were included in the recipe made the whole thing too sweet. And the ranch dipping sauce was off…Frankie said too oily, and I did use avocado oil, so he’s not wrong, but I’m not sure what was so off putting for me. The whole meal just wasn’t the best, so Frankie & I both agreed that we would not try this one again. Not all of them can be winners after all…BUT I have a feeling that using ground chicken was where I erred. The chicken bites we made over the weekend were OUTRAGEOUSLY good, so I think tomorrow, I’m going to try again with some chicken tenders, and perhaps almond flour vs. coconut flour, and see if that doesn’t produce some better results. I’ll even add the bacon to the top of each nugget so it looks cute! And I found a different ranch that actually looks yummy!

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Day 14

Breakfast: Apple Sandwiches! Yum!

Lunch: Sweet Potato Soup, topped with bacon, and served with a side of roasted green beans

Note: Another loser recipe for us…it could be that I used sweet potato instead of butternut squash, or maybe it was because there was ginger in it? I don’t know, but it just had no flavor depth…it was weird, and I was a good sport and ate it for lunch, but nada. I’m not going to make this one again. Whomp…

Dinner: Bacon topped Ranch Nuggets with Dump Ranch Dipping Sauce

Note: Okay, so after yesterday’s complete failure, I couldn’t let myself be defeated, so I decided to try again, and this time, I kept the bacon separate, no carrots, and used tenders like I did over the weekend. The covering was the Ranch spice mix linked, and I used almond flour instead of coconut flour, and I cooked the bacon separately, cutting them into bite-sized pieces to top each nugget with. They were BOMB! And I liked this ranch recipe way more than the other, but Frankie has this weird gift where he can tell when something isn’t actual dairy…it’s the main reason he hasn’t jumped on the almond milk/coconut milk bandwagon that I’ve become a part of. And I know this because I have tried purchasing other kinds of milk (ranging from fat free to 2%) and he hasn’t liked ANY of them. If it’s not Oberweis 2% milk, he won’t drink it. It’s weird, and I have no idea how he can tell, but he can…so Whole30 Ranch is not going to be a thing for him. Ohhhhh well, still a great dish, and a VERY easy to make appetizer! Possibly one that will make a reappearance at our annual XMAS party!

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Day 15

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie Bowl, the right way…

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Lunch: Chicken Piccata with Green Beans

Note: I made this last night, and it was SUPER easy to make! However, 1) I did not butterfly my chicken breasts and kept them whole. 2) I did not coat them (didn’t feel like it, and frankly, I don’t always like the coating), just salt & pepper, and pan seared them to almost fully cooked. 3) Once I removed them, I added in the stock, lemon juice, and capers, let it bubble, then added the chicken back in, and stuck it in the oven (375℉ for 15 minutes), adding a bunch of green beans, garlic, and lemon slices at the 8 minute mark. I did check the chicken with my meat thermometer at the 15 minute mark to make sure it was fully cooked, and if it isn’t, check again every 1 minute till it is. But it was easy and it came out smelling great! Frankie even had the smallest portion for dinner last night because it was fresh, and he ate every bite!

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