Going to the Dogs: Treats to Spoil Your Pooch

img_0479
How could you not be obsessed with this face?

So, per suggestions from many of my family and friends, this post is all about my little lord, Tuggs! And not just the fact that my pup is adorable and goofy—which he obviously is—but rather about a new thing I wanted to try this year. Homemade Dog Treats.

Normally, a special SPECIAL treat involves going to a pet boutique and letting the puppers sniff out something yummy by his standards, maybe not by ours. One of his favorites is a beef tendon (these look a little laffy taffy-esque) and beef trachea (yes, you read that right, trachea). It sounds gross, looks gross, and honestly feels gross, but he loves them, and they’re good for cleaning his teeth and supporting his joints (which for small legged dogs, that’s really important). Plus, they’re natural, so spending a couple extra bucks on something that makes him happy and keeps him healthy seems well worth it to me!

If you’re not sure where to find these delightfully disgusting looking treats, try your nearest pet boutique (a commercial pet store should have something, but I know I’ll find what I need every time at a boutique and simply put, I like to support my small local businesses too). If you’re in Chicago Ravenswood/Lincoln Square area (or there abouts), here are some of my favorite places:

  1. Ruff Haus Pets (Love the service here!)
  2. Fido To Go (TREAT STORE ON WHEELS! LOVE THEM! They are usually in Lincoln Square on Sundays if the weather is nice, but you can message them to find out where they are!)
  3. 4 Legs (They have tiny little pupcakes near their register, which Tuggs found utterly declicious!)
  4. Bentley’s Pet Stuff (Adorable store! And they have a location up in Skokie!)
  5. Jameson Loves Danger (Tuggs got his newest bone from here on a lunch date with Dad, and boy oh boy was he the happiest!)

img_2634Now, for the experiments at hand: the treats! Now, dogs are known to not have the best smelling breath, and since Tuggs seems to like everything human grade (that is also dog-safe of course) I thought I would try a breath freshener that was also very scrumptious and good for him! Parsley: in small doses, parsley provides great antioxidants & vitamins, and can help with settling an upset stomach. Mint: also in small doses, mint is a reducer of many troublesome tummy issues like gas, nausea, travel sickness (AND, for animals undergoing chemo, it can help reduce radiation-induced sickness and mortality! It’s a super herb!). Together, bad breath be gone! Add a little plain yogurt (I used low-fat), freeze in paw shaped silicone molds, and you have a treat that gets the little wiggle butt moving!

img_2651img_2631

Frozen Mint Dog Treats from 12Tomatoes


The other treats I decided to try were no-bake peanut butter treats from Damn Delicious blogger, Chungah, who is also a fellow corgi owner! Boy oh BOY was Tuggs ever talkative while I was making these! He’s too smart for his own good and knows that when I go into the bottom cupboard, it means only one thing: Peanut Butter time! And these were way too easy to make to not make them again! Just remember, DO NOT  get pumpkin pie filling!

Note: I got totally lost and confused looking for pumpkin puree in my grocery store, simply because I have never bought canned pumpkin before. Your canned pumpkin will be in the baking isle, underneath the pre-made graham cracker pie crust tins. Your store may also have organic pumpkin, which was what I purchased.

img_2673
Puppy approval #2!

And these were just as easy to make, and my pup couldn’t handle the smell of peanut butter, jumping and whimpering around my feet. I couldn’t help myself, and gave him a little lick off the ol’ beater, like my mom used share a beater with me whenever she made cookies when I was a little girl. It was kind of adorable. I will say, I needed just a little more than 1/2 a cup of oats, but that’s an easy fix by just adding a little more. See the link below if you want to try it out on your own pooch!

No Bake Peanut Butter Dog Treats Recipe from Damn Delicious

 

Advertisements

“Smitten” With Nostalgia: Maggie’s 10 Year Pie

img_2569IT CAME! IT CAME! I couldn’t be MORE excited about my very first cookbook! And already, just by looking at the cover, I’m already “smitten” (okay, I’m done, I promise) with what’s in store for me once I start to get into it and start cooking my way through it! Just from the introduction, this is a perfect cookbook for me, geared towards the home cook on a budget that is respected, who simply wants to be able to make good food for her family, no matter that it takes more than thirty minutes, or an hour. I spend most of my money on food because that’s where I spend a lot of my time at home, where I can express my passion for making flavors sing and giving people a reason to do their happy dance as they eat my food. Where I make the meal that takes Frankie and I out of the length of our day when we’re sitting on the couch, having a beer, sharing some wine, and gives us that self-satisfactory moment of being in a good moment with each other.

img_2562
Even Tuggs likes to participate in our moments of pure contentment.

There’s also something incredibly satisfying to grow and evolve into my kitchen just a little more, a personal accomplishment. And speaking of accomplishments, today’s recipe is my own, an ode to my past and to my favorite comfort food—especially since I have been suffering a nasty cough for over a week and needed

img_2411
If you like wine and want to splurge, I really like the Winc wine club.

something simply joyful in my belly—and it’s one I’ve been perfecting and altering for over 10 years. Chicken Pot Pie. Yes, iconic and not the most complicated concept, but by no means short on flavor and variations due to its incredibly versatility. The story behind it for me starts in high school, Island School, which also happened to be part of the English (British) School Foundation, where I was lucky enough to be part of the Food Technology department during my freshman and sophomore year, and spent two full years working on year long projects surrounding food chemistry, techniques, and approaches. Mind you, it was not intensive like it might be at culinary school, where you also learn about flavor profiles and how to correctly cut an onion or filet a fish. No, this was culinary school at its most elementary level with a tight budget to boot.

 

While I can’t remember for the life of me what my project was my freshman year (probably something not very tasty otherwise I would remember it), the project I worked on my sophomore year was a healthy, after school snack. Now, you may not think a pot pie would be any school goers go-to snack once that back pack hit the floor, but we had made little empanada style pocket fillers the week before when we were learning about dough, the correct ratio of foundation ingredients, and what happens when you alter whole wheat and white flour content (because we were trying to be healthy about it), and I couldn’t help it. In my mind, it was so obvious to make mini pot pies that you could pop in the microwave and eat six minutes later (very much like what Marie Callender was already doing in the frozen food market). So I defended it, all year, working my butt off on trying crust variation after crust variation, feeding them to my friends at lunch to find out which ratio was the tastiest, ensuring it still upheld the healthy requirements. I altered the gravy—would there be milk, would there not be milk, and if there was milk what kind—I altered the meat—for the record, pork and beef did not make good pot pies, at least from my experience, but if anyone has a good recipe for me to try, please share and prove me wrong!—and I altered the spices I included to complicate the flavor profile of the gravy. If it could be adjusted, I adjusted it, and I tested combinations of alterations every week until I had something that was pretty darn near perfect (and obviously got the A it deserved).

But that was it for a while. The last two years of high school were spent fulfilling my basic requirements for an American university, and then I didn’t have the opportunity to really cook or experiment in college, so it wasn’t until six years ago when I moved to Chicago and started to live on my own that I started to cook again. But you better believe one of the first things I made was Chicken Pot Pie. But something was wrong. It wasn’t that I had switched crusts (from handmade to Pillsbury boxed dough, mostly because I was a lazy grad student who needed every minute she had to read and write and plan lessons), but rather it just didn’t have the same taste as I remembered it. It was boring, it was plain. So I started to mess around with it, changing something every time I made it. One time I tried to add turmeric (which I had used a lot in high school because the spice was very good for you, despite the fact it turned EVERYTHING yellow), then another time I tried adding cream instead of milk, I tried biscuits instead of crust, and eventually it started to get better and better and better, not like how I remember it, but rather how my own evolution into adulthood required the recipe to do the same.

And so, without further delay, I present The Real Cooking Maggie’s Chicken Pot Pie (this recipe may be subject to further change as I continue to cook it, but for right now, this is the real deal)! If you try this recipe and altered it in anyway, let me know! I’d love to hear how other folks are putting their own spin to this classic!

img_2557

Oh, and before I forget, I will be adding a note at a later time regarding my revival of the crust experiment using my late grandmother’s pastry crust recipe as a starting off point (since my own original recipe got lost somewhere in one of the various moves my family made around Hong Kong before officially relocating back to the States). I will not include that recipe here as I have not had time with it on my own, which I need to do for myself as much as for my quest for further culinary growth, and no doubt that will be a fairly emotional moment when I get to it since my grandmother was always in the kitchen cooking. So naturally, some time needs to be taken so it can be done right, but be sure to keep an eye out for it!


The Real Cooking Maggie’s Chicken Pot Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 Box Pillsbury Pie Crust or Homemade Crust (future recipe to follow)
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
  • ¼ cup white wine (drinking quality wine)
  • 1/3 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½-1 cup diced red potatoes (roughly 2 small red potatoes, not peeled, cubed)
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ¾ cup Chicken Broth/Stock
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried parsley (or 2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • ¼ tsp kosher sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cups of frozen veggies

Note: Seasoning can be adjusted to taste (and I like my gravy to be a little on the herbaceous side to enhance all the other wonderful ingredients in this dish), but these are the amounts I would start with.

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. If using boxed pie dough, unroll one of the doughs and place in a 9-inch glass pie pan. If using Grandma Sullivan’s crust, follow directions below. Store bottom layer in fridge while preparing filling so it stays cool.
  2. Heat a little oil in a pan, and cook chicken until golden brown on the outside. Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add ¼ cup white wine* to deglaze the pan, scraping up all those good crusty bits. Add onions and garlic, stirring for about 2 minutes, then add potatoes, stirring often to prevent sticking for about 5 minutes, just to get the cooking process going. You can add some more white wine (or a little bit of oil) if you need a little more moisture in the pan. Take off the heat after those five minutes and set aside.
  4. In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring till smooth. Then add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and spices, and let simmer, stirring occasionally so potatoes don’t stick to the sides of the pot, and cook till thickened (it’s okay if the potatoes aren’t cooked all the way through in the pot, they will be cooked perfectly in the oven).
  5. When potatoes are about ¾ done (tasting as you go or checking with a fork, but I prefer to taste), stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. If filling is not thick enough, add a little more flour to the mixtures. Remove from heat. Spoon chicken mixture into crust-lined pan. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.
  6. Bake 20 minutes till lightly golden brown on the top.**
  7. Let sit and cool for 5-7 minutes before cutting into.

*You should only be cooking with white wine (or any wine/liquor) that you would drink too. Not only does that make the actual meal taste better, but the wine you use could make a great wine pairing.

**I know some people like to put foil over the edges of their pie, but since the inside is basically already done cooking, this makes cooking the crust simple enough that burning should never be an issue.

Wednesday Night Delight: Brownies from Scratch!

img_2349

And I started those aforementioned brownies around 9pm…yeah, I did that, AND I cooked, because we needed dinner too, but I late night baked, which I now believe is the best kind of baking! There’s something really satisfying about ending your day on a sweet note, the feel of flour soft on your hands in evening light…or maybe that’s just my exhaustion talking. To be honest though, I’m not much of a baker, mostly because baking is so precise and I don’t always like to play by the rules, even though I know why the rules are there. Baking is where I find myself most challenged in the kitchen, but because it’s 2017, and this is the year to be bold, I’m going to try baking something every week. Yes, every week…because much like anything you do in life, you only get better with practice, so tonight, I’m going to practice. And sure, that doesn’t really coincide with my healthy habit goals for the year, but no one said I had to eat everything I baked! This is why Frankie (and my coworkers & friends) make GREAT guinea pigs! #shameless

img_2364But first thing’s first! Dinner, picked by my most frequent, full-time critic: Sun-dried Tomato, Basil Orzo with Chicken and steamed Green Beans (I am also trying to find additional ways to love my veggies other than roasted or pan seared). Did I mention that it was late? 8:30pm was when my apron strings were officially tied and I got to work, but there’s a story behind it. (Fun) Fact: Wednesday nights are Dog Training nights for Tuggs up in the North burbs, which doesn’t even end till 7:30pm, so I try very hard not to cook on training days, but it couldn’t be helped! Why? Because, apparently everyone in Chicago was making Orzo on Tuesday, which was when I went grocery shopping originally…

I went to three (THREE!) different stores—two Jewel Osco’s (one by my work, one in Lincoln Square) and the one Tony’s by my apartment—before the third Jewel I went to in Wilmette rewarded me with their last two boxes…I mean, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a single box of orzo anywhere! I now plan to keep orzo handy at all times in one of my tall storage jars in my cupboard, and will buy it if I see it so I don’t have to postpone cooking and resort to take-out Thai food, which isn’t bad, but I was all geared up to cook! Ugh, but whatever, we got there eventually didn’t we?

 

With orzo in hand, I have to say, there’s nothing quite like the versatility and texture of orzo pasta. It lends itself so well to all sorts of flavor profiles that other pastas like spaghetti can’t. Plus it’s just fun to eat, a little party in every bite that dances on the tongue! Same with risotto (if done right with some good wine, and I do have an AWESOME looking recipe for risotto that I want to try soon)! And what’s an orzo without Parmesan cheese? I swear, I love my cheese, it’s the one thing I don’t think I can live without (even Blue cheese, which isn’t my favorite), but almost everything I make has cheese on it or in it. Not a lot, because, you know, I’m trying to be healthy, but it’s usually there, and if it isn’t, I end up eating some cheese at lunch, or a little plate of cheese and crackers before dinner (I’m also on a Manchego obsession right now, and I’m not sorry about it one bit).

img_2369

I went with the jarred sun-dried tomato this time, just for ease of time and prep, but I also grabbed a little container of natural sun-dried tomatoes, which I think I will let simmer with the pasta to re-hydrate and lend itself to the broth sauce that would be left behind post-pasta cooking. I think it would be a little more pronounced as well, rather than having a slightly oily note, which isn’t always the best. OH! And did I mention that recently I purchased my first ever cruet for my olive oil the other day? I couldn’t resist and I felt very chefy using it last night for the very first time to saute my garlic! That’s the greatest thing about being in the kitchen and cooking as much as I do (which incites vast amounts of research on better ways to do what I’m already doing), I’m always learning something new!

 

img_2385Overall, a successful dish that warmed my tired soul after a long hard day! Soft, velvety, rich, a little tangy, a little sweet (on top of my green beans, which I tossed in a little butter, salt, and pepper). But then it was time for the hard part, the baking.

Now, I had only heard of Smitten Kitchen once before I started this whole blogging adventure, and that was to make Chicken Noodle Soup when Franklin was very ill one not so fine Friday night. And funny enough, the first dish he ever made for me, before we were actually dating each other, was his own version of Chicken Noodle soup in the basement of his fraternity house nearly 8 years ago, the same night we knew we were meant for each other [cue the awe sounds here]. But Frankie’s sister-in-law swears by Smitten Kitchen’s chicken noodle soup, so I looked it up, and found more than I bargained for. I even bought my very first cookbook from her because it just seemed like the right time and opportunity, not to mention my mom got a BUNCH for Christmas and I was feeling a little envious. Is it bad to say that I don’t own a cookbook? Well, it’s out there, so don’t judge me too harshly, especially with all the great things like Pinterest & Food52 with their online recipes. But as I was perusing her site and buying a cookbook (and pinning every other cookbook I want to own eventually), I came across a brownie recipe and I realized it had been over a YEAR since I last had a brownie from scratch, not a box. So, I said “screw it” and here we are!

 

And after going through the whole making brownies process, there are definitely some things my kitchen is lacking: Glass, heat proof bowls. I mis en place all the time, but I use my Fiesta ware that I got as a moving gift from my mom, and having the glass bowls you see in kitchens all the time has been a dream of mine, but it also makes the process of double boiling SO MUCH EASIER—but since I didn’t, an extra sauce pan was the perfect vessel to melt the butter and make the chocolatey goodness you see before you! (Or is it above you?)

img_2406

Anyway, these brownies are awesome, but! I know I didn’t do the parchment paper right. Since cooking it, I have talked to one of my coworkers (who bakes WAY more than I do) about how to make it behave and do what I want. The secret she says? Just a little water. Wet the bottom of the pan, eye ball the size of the paper you need, cut, and press it against the water and use your nail along the crease to make it stay. Put a little water on top of that sheet when you layer on the second. Just enough to get it a little damp, not totally wet. Then, PERFECT EDGES! See, this is the great thing about cooking too! It always manages to bring people together in ways you wouldn’t expect, but find INCREDIBLY helpful in the long run.

img_2405

These were utterly delicious and I think next time I’m going to try making them with dark chocolate cocoa powder, or go to my favorite spice shop to see what interesting cocoa powders they have on stock. (I shall reveal my secret spice shop in the next post, but let me tantalize you with this sneak peek of a recipe I’ve been perfecting for over 10 years: Chicken. Pot. Pie.)

And with that, I bid you ADIEU and very happy eating (while I track my first cookbook)!!

Cooking Maggie Out!


Sun-dried Tomato, Basil Orzo with Chicken from Cooking Classy
Best Cocoa Brownies from Smitten Kitchen

BONUS RECIPE! Chicken Noodle Soup from Smitten Kitchen

Sweet Home Chicago: Italian Sausage Spaghetti

While today is one that history will (likely) not look back fondly on , I have hope. I have hope that, maybe, JUST maybe, something good, even just one good thing, will come out of this administration. Maybe, JUST MAYBE, there is hope left for us over the next four years…it’s not a large hope, but I still have it, cling to it, because without it, we are lost, and I will not let this fear-monger fold me into his flock if I have anything to say about it. But enough about him. He has no business here. Instead, how does cuddling up with five dogs sound? Pretty darn awesome!

Yes, five dogs. FIVE! This weekend, me and my man are housesitting in the northern suberbs of Chicago for his parents, and boy oh boy, are five dogs just a little on the too much side, but they’re all good boys, so I can’t complain too much! Allow me to introduce my brood!

img_0094

Gus Gus, or just Gus for short, as seen on the left with Frankie! He is also known as the Old Man of the household, reigning from the comfort of the couch. Chief, Tuggs’ best friend and the designated toy destroyer. And finally the mops, Iggy (gray) & Smalls (black) – best seen in the first of the cuddle puddle photos since they don’t always like to sit politely for photos: little five year old fluffs that only really tolerate Gus and each other because they believe they are the Alphas, so Tuggs & Chief get obnoxious growled at whenever they come within close proximity of either, though Smalls is the worst. And there you have it! And boy oh boy do they all like to dog pile onto the couch for a massive cuddle puddle! Is there anything better?

Well, kind of. Food. When we’re stressed or angry or upset, who doesn’t want to just eat something warm and homey, curled up on the couch with a glass of wine and a good book, or your new TV obsession? Food takes the edge off a bad day (especially when paired with a nice cold brew, glass of wine, or a tumbler of whiskey) and it fills us with its goodness of flavor. Frankie requested this of me earlier this week, but with everything else going on, it had to wait till now, and I’m glad it did, because this is a childhood classic of his, and seemed oh so fitting given the distressing evening we’ve got lined up before us tonight.

Italian Sausage with Spaghetti and Red Sauce. Frankie cooked this for me when I had first moved to the city, and while I was never much of a sausage fan growing up (I think the idea of what it was made of grossed me out a little, but I’ve since grown up and realized sausage is fricken declious), this changed my perspective forever. It’s simple, but sometimes simple is all you need in the complexity of uncontrollable chaos…I mean, it just grounds you in solid, yet rich flavors, sits in your belly and warms you from the inside out, like a hug almost. And Chicago is a sausage city central, so it’s only natural that Frankie grew up on the stuff: hot dogs and brats at Cubs games and on the grill at home while watching a Cubs game, sausage on pasta, sausage on pizza (only Lou Malnati’s though because most Chicago families take a side), sausage with chicken and rice, sausage with soup, sausage with gravy…I mean, you mention sausage in a dish and he’s on board. And while I’ve got cooking the sausage pretty down pat, and pasta is a no brainer, the one thing I’ve been trying to vary and experiment with is my sauce.

I’ve done the easy canned diced tomato, with canned tomato paste, and canned tomato sauce, but I’ve started to develop some serious heartburn problems from all the acidity in canned goods, and I hate, HATE adding sugar to a tomato sauce to sweeten it up. This kind of sauce should be a little tart, and only the basil or onion should add notes of sweetness. If I do anything canned, it’s mostly just the tomatoes, San Marzano of course, and then I let those bad boys simmer away, adding spices and onion, garlic, basil, and sometimes, a little oregano. So today, I thought I would share my new quick marinara sauce experiment!

 

img_2254

Verdict: Really, really good, especially with thicker spaghetti, a little pasta water, and finishing the pasta in the sauce (al a Scott Conant directions for his own pasta recipe, which I will be trying at a future point). It wasn’t too citrusy (I think that’s the water trick calming it down, so I’ll be doing that every time I make a red sauce for sure), and it was rich and slightly sweet from the grated onion, which I might have to continue doing because I’ve also done red sauce with diced onions and it’s had a strong onion undertone throughout that didn’t always agree with my taste buds. Definitely one of the better sauces I’ve tried, so I do plan to use it again in the future! YUM!

img_2257

And with that, may you all survive tonight and bind together in a collective hope for a brighter future. (And if you’re marching tomorrow in whatever city you might be in, as I will be doing here in Chicago, be safe!) – Cooking Maggie


img_2293

Revision/Addition 2/17/17 – Note: You can also turn the marinara sauce into an Arrabiata sauce by adding an extra 1-2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper, and switching out spaghetti for penne! Can add cheese and olive oil over top to cut the heat if you add too much!


Katie Lee’s Homemade Marinara Sauce from Food Network

Recommendation: Spacca Napoli

As it so happens, today was a MAJOR friendaversary for me and many of my Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters! Eight years ago (good lord) I joined Kappa Kappa Gamma after a grueling weekend of Formal Recruitment! And wouldn’t you know it, I had planned to have dinner with one of my beloved sisters who moved to our fair city about six months ago. (I was such a bad friend last year, but frankly, last year was just pretty darn awful and we don’t like to talk about it, so we won’t!)
img_0546
Why Go: Because the food speaks for itself. I mean, sure the ambiance is warm, but its simple, and not really much to ooh and aah over, but that’s not the point of going. The point is to eat some of the best, most authentic pizza you’ll find anywhere in this city. THAT’S why you go.
img_2235
Food: Okay, so first thing is first. Check the specials board. If you see “BURRATA” on it, GET IT. Even before you get your water, before they even get to the specials, ORDER THE BURRATA. You won’t regret it, I promise you! The cheese is gooey and warm, and it just slips right out of its bubble casing like an elegant dance. It’s outstanding, and the crostini’s that come with it are just PERFECTLY toasted. Not too crunchy where your mouth is bleeding from every bite, but not so soft that it’s all just a mush in your mouth, which isn’t pleasant for anyone. As for the other appetizers, I’m way too full from burrata to try anything else, but my goal is to go back with Frankie (since he’s never been) and order more apps instead of a pizza, just to diversify my recommendation a little more.
The pizzas are what Spacca Napoli are known for, and it’s no wonder. The style of the dough, and its presentation are classically Italian. You cut your own pizza, with the pizza cutter provided to your table, and it’s just perfectly crisp, but soft and gooey from cheese and thinness. I’m all for thin pizzas that crunch in my mouth, but the dough is usually very buttery, very dense, very heavy. This dough is light, hand pulled, floury, soft, and you could EASILY eat your entire personal pizza in just that sitting. The ingredients are very Italian (as you would expect, but boy do they mean business) and treated with the utmost respect that any outstanding ingredient, like theirs, deserves to be treated. I’ve had the Diavola (spicy pepperoni, shown first) at a previous eating with a friend who got the Bufalata (also delicious)! This time I had the sausage and rapini pizza (to the right), while my friend had the Prosciutto e Rucola (prosciutto and arugula, shown to the right). Both were delicious and I have my eye on a couple of other pizzas that I saw walking by during our meal!

Spacca Napoli: 1769 W Sunnyside Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640

Bark Boxes & BLTG Sandwiches

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that I in fact love my dog. He has it so good, and with a face like that, how can you blame me? So, like any good dog mom with a nice little pay raise this year, I went ahead and ordered my pup a bark box! However, the reaction I got was not quite what I thought it would have been. Although he’s an ADORABLE pup, Lord Tuggs is a little on the overly cautious side, especially around loud noises and objects that are basically the same size as him, but I think that comes with the territory of being on the shorter side of things. However, that being said, he did enjoy the treats that were inside once we opened it up for him before we got to munching our dinner!

BLTG: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, and Guacamole. First things first, bread. Sourdough bread to be exact, a must, or something very similar (Tuscan Round Bread if your grocer or baker, if you’re that fancy individual who has one near by, has run out) that can hold up to toasting and layering, and all the good stuff inside (definitely don’t toast too much or you’ll ruin the top of your mouth). I find I don’t need to butter the tops of my bread for this sandwich and that simply toasting it gets that perfect crunch on the outside, but softness from the wet components that makes it easy to eat!
Then comes the next most important piece: BACON! Thick cut is an absolute, but after that, if you like flavoring or a particular kind of bacon, go crazy! It’s your sandwich! We stay pretty traditional in our home, and find just your regular maplewood smoked is just perfect to compliment the other pieces to this sandwich. To cook your bacon, you can just go with what you already know and love, but I personally am a baker of bacon only. Sure, it’s a little more time consuming, but I’ve never had a piece of bacon that wasn’t cooked PERFECTLY, just the way I like it with this method, which I’ve included!
img_2224

Perfect Bacon: Make sure your oven is set to 420 degrees, then run each strip of bacon under cold water. Yes, cold water, because what that does is prevents the meat from shrinking once its in the oven. Then, layer the bacon on a wire rack that is sitting in/on a large backing pan (which I cover in aluminum foil for easy cleanup). Then bake for about 20 minutes (I check it at the 10 mark, and then every 2 minutes after that to make sure it come out perfect). And while the bacon is cooking, I can work on getting everything else prepped and ready.

Naturally, slice your beef tomatoes (you can go with any tomatoes, but I got with a firm beef tomato because it tends to hold up better and cover more bread/ingredient surface area) and prep your lettuce (I like romaine lettuce myself because it has a softer crunch to compliment the bacon, but you can use whatever is your preference. I’ve even seen people use arugula, which I love, but find a little overly elevated for this gool ol’ classic). Then get to work on that guac, which I make from scratch because I like it better that way!

The Real Cooking Maggie’s Guacamole
2 Servings
  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • 1/2 plum tomato, diced small
  • 1/4 small white onion, diced finely
  • 1/4 jalapeno (or more to preference), diced finely (leave seeds in if you like heat)
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons lime juice (to preference)
  1. Cut avocado in half, remove seed, and spoon meat (flesh?) into a small bowl. Smash with the back of a fork.
  2. Dice tomatoes, jalapeno, and onion, mince garlic, and add to smashed avocado and stir.
  3. Chop up cilantro and add to bowl, stirring to incorporate. Finally, add a dash of salt and squeeze in lime juice, tasting to preference (I add about 1/2 a lime at a time). Stir to combine and serve!!!

img_2225
It’s chunky, it’s smooth, it’s packed full of flavor (and heat if that’s your jam), and it’s so easy to make! We’ve now come to post-toasting, where you’ll layer a little mayo, a little lettuce, a little guacamole (to help keep those parts that tend to break apart or fall out between the bread), then a little bacon (really squish it into that guac for maximum holding), and finally top with tomatoes and that second piece of bread. VOILA! Delicious, elevated in a rustic kind of way, and a sandwich we can’t seem to eat only one of.
Enjoy and happy eating! Cooking Maggie Out!

Save

Save

Save

Recommendation: Balena

MY FIRST RECOMMENDATION OF THE YEAR! Based on my inspiration to make gnocchi, allow me to reveal the best gnocchi I’ve had in our fair city: Balena!
Why: If you’re looking for something cozy, but also not to stuffy or stuck up, Balena is one I highly recommend! The ambiance alone was just warm and inviting, but interesting and engaging. Wood paneled walls offer a rustic feel, while the chandeliers gave the space a beautiful note of sophistication, and that’s how I would describe the food. Homey, rustic flavors that are so beautiful on the plate you can’t help but admire it for just a moment before you dig in. And the staff were so nice and polite! We were talking and catching up, and while our waiter came to interrupt just to give specials, take orders, or check in, he would walk by, observe where we were, and if we didn’t stop, he walked away and came back only two minutes later, rather than doing a come by and leave forever kind of thing. (PS. MEET MY FAMILY! And yes, that is my slightly older sister you see in that first photo! *wink wink* Okay, but aren’t we a good looking family?!)
Food: We started off with spiced olives and lamb meatballs, which were so juicy and tender. My brothers at the Margarita pizza and left NOTHING behind, though I will admit to stealing a slice because I’m greedy and like to try everything. My mom had the Salt & Pepper Chicken Thighs (two thumbs up) and said the chicken was perfectly cooked and the skin so juicy and crispy, and my dad had their swordfish special (a little on the overdone side, but not bad tasting at all!) with a side of the cipollini gratinato (shown below with life changing gnocchi, not to mention it was so tasty and the cheese was just ungodly good). Note: I’m aware I don’t have photos for all of them, but a) it was too good to not dive in immediately, and b) this is why I claim being an amateur because I sometimes let my desire to eat take a priority over my writing…I promise I’m working on this.
As for me, I had their special gnocchi of the day. Homemade gnocchi bites on a bed of whipped ricotta, covered in a basil pesto cream sauce. I mean, I was basically eating clouds on the tip of my fork it was so  soft and tender. Their regular in-house gnocchi looks just as good, but the special gnocchi was recommended as being just a little softer and delicate, which is something I look for in a gnocchi. And the piece de resistance! Tiramisu for dessert because, how can you not? Rich, creamy, with that tiny kick of booze that soaks through every inch of lady finger so its moist. A perfect meal if ever there was one, and it’s on my top ten to go visit again in the very near future!
img_0957
Wines: I was more in love with the food to notice the wines we drank, BUT I remember no complaints and having about three glasses total, so I’m going to say yes to good wine. Plus my mom is a total wine snob, and she had three glasses too. 🙂 Got mom’s vote of approval for sure!
Would I Go Again: ABSOLUTELY!

Balena: 1633 N. Halstead Street, Chicago, IL 60614

Ricotta Gnocchi a la Geoffrey Zakarian

Gnocchi. Infamous, gnocchi…I’ve never had the guts to attempt gnocchi at home because it’s just one of those things that’s just super daunting, but not this year! This is a year of taking risks and trying new things! And plus, I’m tired of having a craving for it and feeling like the only place I can get it is by going to eat at fancy Italian restaurants, which on the special occasion isn’t always a bad thing, especially if it’s Balena on Halstead, because that was one of the best gnocchi’s I’ve ever had (see following recommendation post).

But back to the task at hand…my first attempt at homemade gnocchi! (With Tuggs, as promised.)
img_2189
Being the pinner and Food Network fan that I am, when I see a pin for Geoffrey Zackarian’s Ricotta Gnocchi, which he demonstrated during an episode of The Kitchen–which I admit, I don’t watch as much as my other go to’s like Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay–the first mistake (yes, mistake) was that I didn’t want the video included with the recipe before I started to cook. Cooking Tip: Watch the way he makes his dough, because I had it right from the start, but added more flour to make it less sticky which was my second mistake…but again, these things we learn, and I plan on making gnocchi more this year so I can master it.
Not to say the gnocchi didn’t turn out alright! It did and the actual making of it was a lot of fun, but they turned out a little on the denser side of things, so next time, I will cut the dough into eighths rather than fourths, so that there isn’t as much dough to try and finagle with, and that’ll help with not overworking it as much.
The pancetta sauce was delicious, but unlike what the recipe says to do, GZ added his basil WHEN HE SERVED…discrepancy! And that’s the way I should have done it as well because the basil got lost in the sauce after I added it RIGHT before I added the gnocchi to the sauce for a good hot second. And that extra drizzle of olive oil…I need one of those little oil bottles with the tall/pointy spout, like they have at any Italian joints. I think that extra drizzle would have made the dish just a little more delicate in the end.
And the result: a little on the heavy side. But the trying to work with too much flour/over working the dough was on me, only because I’m new to this, so I’ll admit fault to that. I will say though, that next day leftover gnocchi was softer than day of, so not a total loss! Just will need to take some more time and a little more patience.
img_2213


Note: I also served the Gnocchi with roasted green beans, which Tuggs LOVED munching on when I found myself with some leftover fresh ones! They make for healthier (and cheaper) treats than regular dog treats.
Cooking Maggie Out!

Save

Save

Healthy Chicken Carnitas

I’m on a health binge this year, like a real one. I just want to be better for myself, and Frankie has graciously decided to join me in this effort for personal betterment (as did Tuggs, in his own way)! And if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I. Love. Mexican. Food. Like woah. Not the healthiest cuisine, but that’s the great thing about cooking! You can always adjust a recipe and make substitutions (like not adding so much cheese and instead go onion, cilantro, and a place of lime).

img_0207

The first time I had Mexican food, albeit fake Mexican food, I was maybe five, and it was at the Taco Bell Express station inside the Speedway across the street from our Homewood Road tutor. Yes, I know, fake, horrible Mexican fast food, not even food, but that’s when I fell in love with the idea of Mexican food. The flavors, the textures, the fun in eating it. It was always something I went to get with babysitters, and I always enjoyed the crunch of a hard shell taco (American Mexican, again, I know) between my teeth, the messy way the filling would fall onto the paper I had spread out neatly, a table bib that I would slightly fold and raise to my mouth so I could make sure I got every last bit of food into my mouth, into my belly. And while I can’t, and don’t, ever, eat Taco Bell anymore, I loved it so much and found myself addicted to eating as much as I could as often as I could. Disgusting, I know, but I was a kid growing up in small town Mariemont, Ohio…what in the world did I know about Mexican food? Nothing. Taco Bell was my end all be all, until I met iCaramba!, located on a little side street of Hong Kong’s SoHo, just north of main Central downtown.

 

Inside, bright blues, beach yellows, grapefruit and pomegranate  pinks, steamy and sticky (because Hong Kong was humid naturally and stuck to everything that ever existed and lived there), but you could smell the earthy black beans boiling in the kitchen with chilies and cumin, almost taste the crispness of homemade chips, fresh from the oven, oily salt on your fingertips, and there was a never ending sizzle of meats and vegetables in woks and cast iron skillets. That was the first real Mexican meal I have ever had, where I learned what a tamale and quesadilla was, and how diverse the interpretations could be, not to mention how much I love peppers and a little kick, the differences between them all in heat and structure, what they can stand up to in terms of flavor and use. Salsa never came from a jar again, and I learned that tomatillo’s and green tomatoes are NOT the same thing, and that each holds a key stone flavor for their respective cuisine. (Please remember, I was ten and have learned a LOT more since then.) It is what I still strive to obtain when I make Mexican at home, which I do a lot because I’m still trying to get the spices just right, the way I remember them.

 

Which brings me to this Chicken Carnita recipe. Yes, carnitas are meant to be pork, but it’s still a spiced meat, and when you always have something chicken in the fridge, I just went with it. And boy, oh boy did it turn out delicious!!!

img_2146

The spices sing on your tongue when you place the tender fork pulled meat in your mouth, your fingers so lickable, and your craving suddenly insatiable. I had to actually stop myself from eating everything off the pan. The orange and lime are the perfect amount of citrus to keep the whole dish light and heighten the natural earth spices of cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, and that extra dash of pepper flakes because, WHY NOT? And while, I’m one of those blasphemous cooks who prefers chicken breast over chicken thighs (I know, I know), this was by far my favorite way to eat it.

 

The chicken is so tender from oven braising, and that caramelization from the broil? I mean, come on, how beautiful is that?! (I did not use honey, which the recipe calls for, because I didn’t think it needed it). Just, wow. Best Mexican chicken recipe and it was so easy to make! Not to mention that they weren’t heavy in the way some tacos done wrong will make you feel overly full after two bites, and were a great healthy way to make my most favorite dish, chicken tacos (since I’m also on a health binge with my man this year)! I would have tried the hallowed acorn squash, but that is not a favorite of my beloved, so I opted for the taco route instead, though I’d gladly just eat it plain as well. I will include the Pico de Gallo recipe I used as well below!

IMG_2181.JPG


Chicken Carnitas from Ciao Florentia



Pico de Gallo

Serves 4

  • 2-3 roma tomatoes (dependent upon how much tomato you like)
  • 1/4 large red onion, diced finely (if you want to add more, add more)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped finely (or 1/4 – 1/2 jalapeño if you want to leave in the seeds)
  • 1/4-1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely (to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Toss diced tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and garlic in a bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, and pepper (to taste). Store in fridge, eat with chips, and use with tacos, fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc.!

Note: For the beans, I used some water on canned refried black beans (because you know what, when you work full time and just can’t think far enough ahead of your dog and man to soak and cook and puree the beans yourself, there’s nothing wrong with canned goods). BUT I think the seasoning needed something more, cumin and garlic powder maybe, even diced chilies just to give it a little more of the one noted flavor it came with. I also want to try chicken/veggie stock or broth instead of water to bump up the flavor a little more too.

 

Until next time food lovers!

 

Cooking Maggie out!

The First Course Of Me

This is a new experiment for me. I’m a creative nonfiction writer who loves to cook and take amateur Instagram photos of the food I make, and by no means am I a professional, but writing about food has always been something I’ve gravitated towards. There are definitely a number of essays in my memoir-in-progress that revolve around food, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to just write, as much and as often as I could. And what better way to start a new year than with an updated journal app (because, as a writer, it’s not like I get tired of writing about myself) and a more confident mindset to just pull up my big girl pants and do what I’ve always envied other bloggers doing. So, here we go!

The Real Cooking Maggie: Chicago

Some things you should know about me that I may drop into the recipes/restaurants I’ll be eating my way through this year.

1) I am originally from Mariemont, Ohio, but moved to Hong Kong when I was ten (my dad works in the toy industry, and China does happen to be toy factory central). I lived there for eight years full-time, and then four more years part-time while I was in college back in Ohio. I will likely mention Hong Kong every other entry, and its not to drill in the fact that I lived in one of the most cultural melting pot cities of the world as a global nomad, but because Hong Kong, specifically a small district called SoHo, or food nation central, was where food became more than just food. It diversified my palate in ways I never could have done in Ohio–you want Jamaican, no problem, and right next door you can try Himalayan, and next door to that Mexican, and next to that Mediterranean, and next to that American fusion, and so on, and so on–and the food I ate and experienced became the vessel of all my fondest memories.
2) I am currently living in Chicago, where my main man is a native, and fell in love with its sounds, its street beats, its food, its culture, its lake (mostly the lake and my man, but there are other things here I certainly appreciate and enjoy, otherwise I wouldn’t still be here five years later).


3) I have the most adorable Cardigan Welsh Corgi in the whole wide world. His name is Lord Tuggerton of all Chicagoland, but we call him Tuggs for short. He’s my cooking companion when I’m in the kitchen, so you’ll likely see a lot of him as well. He’s also a very non-picky eater and likes to try a lot of what I prepare that might happen to spill onto the floor (of course, keeping in mind what’s good and bad for him in terms of spices and ingredients! Worry not dog lovers, I’m incredibly OCD and cautious about my fur-child. Helicopter mom much? Um, yes.)

4) You may hear about my man, Frankie, a lot, but won’t really see him. See, he’s not very culinary inclined, and as a rule of thumb, doesn’t make many appearances in my domain, which is probably for the better since any time I ask him to cut something for me, it’s always preceded by an “HI-YA!” Uniform knife cuts mean nothing to this man, so instead, he comes, smells, waters at the mouth for a moment, adores me, and leaves, which is honestly how I like it.

And finally, 5) I have an unhealthy obsession with Food Network, Food52, and Pintrest…but it makes for good eating, so we don’t complain about the grocery bills too much.

These are the most important things to know right now, and of course more will be revealed as we go, but I’ve never done this before, so go easy on me. I’m sure after a few times, I’ll figure it out. The point is not only to just share some of my favorite recipes throughout the year, but to also look back and recommend some of my favorite eateries for anyone coming to our fair city (I say our because I’m officially an Illinois resident!) and will list some of my favorite dishes for your own hopeful enjoyment!

Until next time food lovers!

Cooking Maggie out!