On Practicing & Frying Chicken [Milanese]

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I’ve been trying to write a post about frying chicken for the last three days, and the words just don’t want to come out. It’s not that I can’t write about frying chicken—because I totally can—but what I want to write about right now is how it’s been a month and a half since I started this project and I can’t believe how much fun I’m having. The sense of grounding I get walking into my apartment with a full bag of groceries just waiting to be transformed into something new and delicious. How I don’t mind that the time ticks by quietly while I concentrate, listening to my Audible Books as I chop an onion, adjusting my silly light fixture as I sauté and brown and plate. Even more than this, I can’t believe how much of myself I’ve recovered since I started cooking for myself again and not my hunger.

 

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The last four years, when I was in grad school, I got too committed [if that can be called a “thing”] to just writing for deadlines and page lengths rather than writing for myself to better my craft. I stopped loving it, and then I kind of stopped liking it, and then I just stopped writing. Last year I don’t think I wrote more than two pages of anything worth revising, and my soul suffered for it, honestly. I was lost after school, not really sure what to make of my complete exhaustion with words and how to recover from it. And while I didn’t stopped cooking [I do need to eat, after all], I just wasn’t excited about making meals or trying new recipes like I used to and would always just repeat the go-to’s till I was just bored of what I was making and food in general. Food had never been boring to me and it was such a weird concept to think about, that while I was eating was good, I just wasn’t moved by it. It became a chore to feed my hungry belly and nothing more. It was clear I had forgotten what I loved about cooking, about writing—since for me, the two have always intermingled in my work and my life—and why I fell in love with them to begin with.

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The only way I knew how to remember was to practice. I love to practice things that I know I’m good at, but not great at, not to reach greatness, but to simply get to that moment where the mundane turns into something extraordinary. It takes time, it takes patience, and there’s a faith that even if the process is a little messy and there are some bumps in the road, the end result is what matters because all that time and energy made something beautiful. That has been my approach with writing for so long that the same sort of mentality has seeped into my cooking now, which isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. If anything, it’s making me a more conscientious cook, and I wish I had taken more time away from my writing during my program to cook because I think my heart, mind, and writing would have been better for it. I guess I’m still practicing being me, too.

 

What I’m trying to say is, that I admit to over-practicing [again, if that can be called a “thing”] and not maintaining a balance. What I’m trying to say is that, this whole project, this blog, my cooking, it isn’t about simply feeding me and my loved ones physically like it may have been when all I did was read and write and make deadlines. Right now, my cooking is fueling my creativity and soul in a way that writing just simply can’t do on its own anymore, and I’m okay with that. More than okay, actually. This blog is showing a part of myself that I never thought I’d be brave enough to explore, and it’s frankly a little marvelous to finally be hitting my stride and finding my balance between two things I love to do so much, while balancing and enjoying the other wonderful things I have in my life.

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I’m aware none of this really relates to fried chicken, but I think the fact that this is one of the prettiest plates of food I’ve ever made—albeit a little heavy-handed on the salt, but I don’t fry much and am still practicing the technique—is what got me on this whole transgression of self-awareness and personal growth. And it can only get better from here!

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So here’s to all of you who continue to practice what you love! Make sure to take a break every once in a while for yourself! I promise you’ll thank yourself for it later.  — Cooking Maggie

PS. The chicken milanese above is from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, SO I’ve included the link to a different chicken milanese that is on her website. The only difference is the salad. The one I made is an arugula and shaved fennel salad with a mustard vinaigrette, but the milanese preparation is the same!


Chicken Milanese + An Escarole Salad from Smitten Kitchen

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On Date Night Monday & Taco Tuesday!

TACO TUESDAY!! OH MY GOSH! It’s my favorite day of the week, next to certain Mondays. Mondays, you might ask? Yes, but only a special kind of Monday! The kind where, no matter how crappy my Monday started, it ends amazingly because around 4pm, Frankie decides we should go out and treats us both to something yummy! Ergo, I have dubbed these awesome Mondays to be known as “Spontaneous Date Night” Mondays! And this past Monday happened to fall into that category of awesomeness!

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Frankie took me to Revolution Brewing in Logan Square [Palmer Square if you want to get really technical] because one of his improv friends mentioned there would be a special Beer-B-Que deal going on! For $15 dollars we got: two meaty Applewood Smoked Wings [perfectly smoky], a little more than 1 cup of Burnt Ends on a piece of soft white toast [melt-in-your-mouth tender goodness], a side of Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad [flavorful pesto and a great palate cleanser in between bites of barbecue], and a square of Corn Pudding [sweet, sticky, a little on the heavy/greasy side, but warm as get all]. Oh, and to wash it all down, a pint of beer was also included [Cross of Gold, very smooth]. And the barbecue sauce was like spiced whiskey, smooth but with a quick kick after you swallowed. Delicious in every way and the perfect amount of food for the perfect price with my perfect partner! One of our best Monday Dates yet, and a great option for anyone looking for a quick & thrifty night out!

But even a night out didn’t stop me from preparing something for Tuesday, and I’ve been itching to make tacos again since the Chicken Carnitas I made in January, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love tacos. It didn’t help that when Frankie was in Seattle recently for a performance with his musical improv group Buzzed Broadway, he had amazing beef tacos, which made me hungry, so I made slow-cooker barbacoa to satisfy that craving, and what a beauitful cut of beef I found at the store!

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But honestly, there’s nothing like a taco. The messiness, the finger licking good seasoning and sauce, the endless combinations of proteins, toppings, salsas, and cheeses! Sour cream, no sour cream, or maybe creama, or no crema! The taco can be classic, old, familiar, and rustic, but also fancy, modern, elevated, never the same taco twice! Remoulade or aioli instead of salsa, slaw instead of lettuce or onion or cilantro. The taco is, essentially, the perfect culinary vessel of different flavors and cultural profiles (next to, I think, the hot dog).

Is it okay to veer to the right real quick and give a recommendation/share? Good! So, there’s a place in Cincinnati on Vine Street called Senate that is doing the same kind of elevating and culture crossing with hot dogs and I think they’re doing an amazing job of it! A highlight for anyone in that area too! Also, I just learned they have a cookbook out with some of their menu items and I’m not going to lie, I just bought it! EEK! Their duck fat fries and mussels are AMAZING, not to mention their hot dogs are out of this world! If it’s not clear, I HIGHLY recommend this joint, and their sister restaurant Abigail Street, which is a Mediterranean Wine Bar with delicious bites too!

But back to tacos! My obsession with them cannot be tamed I tell you! And while I’m always looking for new recipes to make, there hasn’t been a taco recipe I haven’t liked, just other recipes I happen to like more, and that’s what continues to fuel my obsession with the kinds of tacos I can make. There is never going to be just a solitary, perfect taco recipe, so instead, I try to accumulate as many varieties as I can, swapping out one taco recipe for another depending on similarity and my preference for it. But I do find that my slow cooker does the best job of making tender taco meat, next to fresh grilled chicken breast and Cholula sauce! And that’s the recipe I’m going to include today! Slow cooker barbacoa, with a warm zucchini and corn salsa (which I’m going to try and up the ante on with some green bell pepper or tomatoes). Next up for Taco Tuesday: Chicken Tinga & Shrimp!

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Here’s a toast to Taco Tuesday! – Cooking Maggie Out


Slow-cooker Barbacoa Tacos

Ingredients

For Barbacoa

  • 2 pounds chuck roast, fat trimmed and cut to fit cooker
  • 1 white onion, dieced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • ½ cup beef broth or beer
  • 4 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 bay leaves

For Topping

  • Tortillas
  • Chopped white/red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Lime
  • Cheese of choice (Chihuahua, Queso Fresco, Monterey Jack)

 

Instructions

  1. Put everything except the beef in the crock pot, stir to mix. Place beef on top and spoon some sauce/onions/peppers on top of beef.
  2. Cook for 4-6 hours on high, 8-10 hours on low. When done, remove beef and shred, then place back in sauce and stir slightly (or shred in pot to save a step).
  3. Assemble tacos and enjoy! Serve with a warm zucchini & corn salsa!

Warm Zucchini & Corn Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 corn on the cob, kernels cut from cob
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions: Heat a pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add zucchini and corn until zucchini & corn is tender (a little color on your veggies is a-okay, and actually preferred). Season with salt & pepper (add more to taste), and serve warm.

On User Errors & Potato Leek Soup

If there is one soup that I could eat forever, it would be potato leek soup [the close second would be white cheddar broccoli]! I can’t remember the first time I had it, but I do remember always looking for it, and hoping I would find it again. The last time I made potato leek soup from scratch—and not just calling Baker & Nosh to see if it was their soup of the day—I had just moved to the city and was living in Uptown, near Wilson and Clark, almost four years ago to the day! But it was nothing like the one I made over the weekend. Four years ago, I had no blender, just a handheld immersion blender, and my oven was basically half the size of the oven I have now, not to mention that my kitchen then was about 1/4 the size of my kitchen now [I’m realizing how lucky I am to have the space that I do, and is primarily one of my reasons I don’t really want to move any time soon]. So when I made this soup, it was watery, almost flavorless, and I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong…until now.

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It’s all in the veggies, and I had prepared them incorrectly—which means I boiled my potatoes, and I believe, if memory serves me correctly, I pan seared my leeks—and didn’t let them sing for what they were worth, covering them up in chicken stock and water. Shame on me, and I was raving about how much I love potatoes less than a week ago! But I will forgive my younger, inexperienced self that folly, because heaven only knows I didn’t make that mistake this time! [Have I mentioned that I also have a growing fondness for leeks? I think they’re amazing vegetables and love to cook with them when I can! Leek Fritters anyone?]

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Now, because I am only feeding two, I have been in the habit of halving recipes that are meant for full-fledged families that could consume 6-8 servings in a couple days where it would take me and my goofy personal Chopped judge a lot longer to go through, and our large and sleepless city makes it hard to just invite friends over simply because I made too much food. Spontaneity is not Chicago’s strong suit unfortunately, given everyone’s individual ambitions and schedule. All that, mixed with a little user error—I’m only human, and again, simply showing my weakness for not slowing down enough to really understand a recipe before I dive headfirst, which after this recipe, I have vowed to not do again, spending my lunchtime reading and re-reading a recipe to get myself prepped for grocery shopping and mise en place-ing before cooking—my soup is a little on the brown side.

User Error #1: I added just one two too many potatoes, trying to guesstimate one pound, but my kitchen scale hadn’t arrived yet so I was over by a little bit. Then, User Error #2: I should have used 3 leeks instead of 2 because leeks are great and more of them would have been even better. And then there was User error #3: I cut the potatoes too big and would cut them MUCH smaller, almost a quarter of what I did. But back to this soup, roasting is the key secret. You need to roast those suckers till they’re nice and tender, and I found that the addition of arugula at the last four or five minutes in the over was quite lovely and unexpected! And even though I didn’t follow the recipe to a tee, I still ended up with something delicious and “AMAZING,” according to my food critic who, at times, is a little hesitant about new and unusual vegetables.

So user errors aside, there’s a scale in the mail that will hopefully get here soon if my post office doesn’t take forever like it has been doing [as well as a new cookbook I couldn’t stop myself from buying, but I won’t reveal that until it gets here], and I had a good hearty soup to sweeten the graying sky that’s been creeping and cooling the lovely warm weather we’ve been having lately. Sometimes, all you need is a good soup to warm your soul, delicious errors aside.

Sipping on soup by my office window, Cooking Maggie Out


Ina Garten’s Roasted Potato Leek Soup from Food Network/Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (2008)

On Saturday Morning Biscuits & Breakfast In General

img_3094Last Saturday was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!! I mean, it was dress and no sweater weather at a balmy sixty degrees! So what better way to spend the day enjoying some cloudless sunshine than with a trip to the park to run out the pup. He chased the ball, found another dog to play with, took a long walk to just slow ourselves down, chased the ball some more, and enjoyed some cool water while lounging on the grass. Doesn’t he look like the happiest dog in the world right now? I know I was a very happy human soaking in some quality Vitamin D!

But what made this day even better? BISCUITS. I. LOVE. BISCUITS! The way they pull apart into soft little layers [yes, I do believe it is okay to play with your food in certain circumstances], their comforting heartiness, but most of all, their versatility. Sure, buttermilk biscuits are great and always a crowd pleaser on any given night, but I’m learning that biscuits and toasts aren’t just boring and one note foundational meal carbs, but can be elevated into scrumptious meal complementers.

img_3081For example, for breakfast on that very fine Saturday I mentioned earlier, I had myself Tomato Scallion Shortcakes with Whipped Goats Cheese…yeah, incredibly delicious. And I’m typically not a breakfast person [oh just wait, that’s not the shocking part]. I just never liked being super full right when I woke up and find I can be just as energetic on a single cup of coffee and nothing else. Plus sweet breakfasts or heavy greasy breakfasts always sat in my stomach and made me feel gross, so I always chose a light savory breakfast of side plates—like bacon, hash browns, whole wheat toast, or fruit—or something savory that really could be constituted as lunch. I’m trying to be better though—because breakfast is the most important meal of the day—but my breakfast options are very limited. [Wait for it.] Due to an unsavory event of many moons and years past, I do not eat or like cooked eggs [please, proceed to be shocked here]. Deep breath, because I’m going to now correct myself.

 

img_3082I like the idea of cooked eggs, would love to really like cooked eggs [especially Eggs Benedict because poached eggs are deliciously sexy to look at], but I just can’t stomach more than a bite or two of one, single over easy egg that’s been cooked and drenched in butter or oil. It’s so sad, truly, this battle of mind over matter, and as a result, since most breakfast-y items are egg based, I stick to the easy bowl of cereal or granola with a side of banana, and on occasion waffles or pancakes at Walker Bros. when Frankie and I feel like brunching on the weekend. But this year, I’m taking a stand and relearning to love breakfast—and try to relearn how to eat and like eggs again, with some help from Frankie—and on that glorious Saturday, I went all out.

I cut the butter into my flour—which I haven’t done since high school, but boy did it feel so good to work through an old and familiar technique. And I patted out the dough, and cut my biscuits, baked them, and got very into this whole preparing breakfast on the weekend ordeal. And it was fun! And delicious! I actually enjoyed making and eating my breakfast, slowing down my morning to not just be about my cleaning tasks or grocery list or what events were happening when, and just drink my coffee, sit by the window of our living room with my dog at my feet patiently waiting for me to finish my food so we could go outside for playtime, and eat my biscuit and tomatoes and whipped goat cheese. A complete success I think!

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What a sleepy scooter!

So what’s next for me in my breakfast adventure? Eggs. Yup. It’s staring me in the face and it’s time. Baby steps, but any step is good for me, but I’m going to pair it with something tasty like potato hash OR LATKES! Maybe even my own attempt at Eggs Benedict…who knows, but I’ve already got a list of future weekend breakfasting ideas and I’m ready to get crackin’! [Okay, I’ll admit, that was bad.]

Wishing happy eatings over a warm cup o’ joe, and a possible afternoon nap: Cooking Maggie Out!


Recipe made: Tomato Scallion Shortcakes with Whipped Goats Cheese from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

However, since I won’t share her recipe here, I’ll include a similar recipe for Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits that I make with my sausage & gravy instead (recipe for that to follow another time)! Enjoy!

Herbed Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter (unsalted, cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped (save the whites for the gravy if making)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Using your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until flour looks like coarse meal.
  2. Add the buttermilk, scallions, and parsley. Stir until JUST combined. Don’t overdo it. It should be on the wet side.
  3. Dust a clean work surface with flour and gently pat the dough until it’s about 1 inch thick, but don’t over work it.
  4. Cut 2-3″ rounds from the dough, folding and reworking it as needed to cut more. Place them about 1/2 – 1 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the process to ensure even baking, taking them out when they’re golden brown.
  6. Serve sliced biscuits warm with butter, a few good spoonfuls of your favorite gravy, or whatever your favorite biscuit topper is (grits even!!!), and sprinkle with fresh parsley to finish!

On Curry

img_3061In Hong Kong, there is one building in particular that stands out to me still when I think about curry. The Repulse Bay: sky blue exterior, long and curved like the back of the snake, with pepto-pink balconies all the up like scales. In the very middle of this building is a square hole. Yes, a hole, a very large, square hole outlined in daisy yellow, and a legend to go with it, which I wrote about in my thesis during grad school.

img_3063“Under one of Hong Kong’s southern mountains above the sea, there is a dragon. In between him and the sea, there is The Repulse Bay building, and the architects made the hole in the building large enough for the dragon to pass through without damaging the building itself. On nights when the dragon gets thirsty, usually on the nights when the moon is able to shine through the fog and pollution of the sky, he will emerge from the entrance of his home where his scales will shine sea-foam, climb through the square of the building down to the sea, and drink his fill, sighing heavily with one steamy breath of satisfaction before going back through the square and up the mountain to return to sleep. At least, this is what I was told. On mornings when the air is hot and thick and sticky, the old men on the beach will say that the tide is a little lower than normal so the dragon must have been out and about last night, asking each other if they happened to see the telltale glint of scales against moon and water. Some joke and say they have seen him, that he’s magnificent, while I have stayed on this beach through the night numerous times and have only seen black waves tipped with white foam wash against gritty, golden sand.”

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Now, this isn’t about the dragon, although I have a mild obsession with all things fantastical, but about the building and what it holds. Funny thing about Hong Kong, square footage is a very expensive commodity, and if you have it, you capitalize on it, turning your first few floors at your respective ground level—since all the buildings are built skyward, your ground level could be close to the water, or hidden by the trees near the top of a peak—into boutiques, grocery stores, restaurants, spas, and private clubs, with the residential units shooting skyward toward the clouds. The Repulse Bay, being one of the larger compounds on the island, did all of the above with their available square footage, and this is where we find ourselves at Spices Restaurant. This is where my experience and my love of curry started, but hopefully not where it ends.

img_3068In Chicago, I still have yet to find the same experience—not physically of course, because that would be impossible, but rather the culinary experience I get when I eat the food, spend time with it—and I’m not sure I ever will. There was a boldness at Spices that played with heat, dancing with it almost before letting it breathe life into their sauces, rather than just throwing heat in a pan and letting it rampage throughout the dish. It’s almost a process of taming, which added a richness to each curry in its own unique way. Duck curry has a sharp kick, beef is bold and a little on the daring side, chicken curry is silky and just slightly sweet with a tap of tang, but lamb curry, Rogan Josh, that was always my absolute favorite. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth chunks of lamb in a smooth, hot rusty red sauce. Not burn your face off hot, just a nice rush over your whole being, comfortable kind of hot, the kind that makes you want to get cozy in an over-sized sweater in the afternoon of an early spring or late fall. You could taste the cardamon and cloves are chatting with the ginger and masala, almost playfully arguing, while the chilies as mediating, swaying from one side to the other as they talked. I can still smell the herbs singing off the steam of my curry, just bubbling away in its little copper bowl. [Is my creative writing side overdoing this just a little?]

So of course, when I got the craving for curry over the weekend, I thought, why not make it? Sure, it won’t have the same panache as going out and getting the true basmati rice and the copper bowls, but this way at least I could have the chance of revisiting my past, reliving a culinary moment I will never forget, if only for one bite. And for me, that would be enough.

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Quick Chicken Tikka Masalaimg_3072
Adapted from Cooking Classy recipe

You may notice it says “Quick” and while, yes, curry should normally never be a quick thing, it was Friday night, I wanted curry for dinner, and given that I work full time and don’t have all night, I needed it to be quick…to be fair though, it turned out DELICIOUS!

Also, for the Naan, I did buy the pre-packaged variety that most grocer’s have in the bakery section, but to make it pop, I brush it with a little melted butter & garlic (minced) sauce. To make it: put the garlic & butter in the same bowl, and microwave or melt over the stove till butter is completely melted and hot, then brush it on and make your Naan!

Lastly, I like to eat saffron rice with my curry, but I strongly urge you not to make saffron rice in a rice cooker…as you can see from the photos, it’s just a little on the orange side, rather than bright and yellow like it should be! I thought I would cut a corner there, but have very much learned my lesson.

Ingredients

  • One 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, peeled
  • 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized cubes (about 1 inch)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon tikka masala spice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (or ghee, if you have it!)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
  • 1-1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground coriander, to taste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 6 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used fat-free, any kind will work fine though)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup peas, fresh or thawed (if frozen)
  • Cooked jasmine, basmati, or saffron rice, for serving
  • Naan bread, for serving

Instructions

  1. Pulse ginger and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add onion and pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Toss chicken with the tikka masala spice mix and 1 tsp salt. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook through, about 6 – 7 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a plate.
  3. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion mixture and saute until onions have softened, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste, turmeric, paprika, coriander, and cayenne, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Add crushed tomatoes and crushed cardamom pods, season with salt to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture is hot, about 2 minutes (you can let it simmer longer if needed if the canned tomatoes used were watery. If the canned tomatoes were thick you can add a few Tbsp of water if needed to thin the sauce mixture).
  5. Return chicken to pan and cook 1 minute longer.
  6. Remove from heat, stir in Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Serve warm over rice topped with cilantro and peas, and warm Naan bread on the side.

Note: Don’t eat the cardamom pods, just discard them as you find them.

On Potato Stacks

img_3028Who loves potatoes? I love potatoes! Is it true? MM HMM! I do, I do, I do! I love to roast my potatoes (in olive oil, some herbs, with a sprinkling of kosher salt & pepper), I really love to mash my potatoes (with roasted garlic, butter, cream, butter, sour cream, butter, salt & pepper….butter), I love to grill my potatoes, bake my potatoes, put my potatoes in soup and stews and pot pies, and I love to make little loaded sliced potato appetizers. My favorite preparation though is to fry up some home fries for Sunday breakfast in my cast iron skillet with some green peppers, onions, and bacon, because every once in a while, I get that craving (as I’m sure many of us do) and nothing else will do. [Story Note: I will never forget this one time, when my best friend in high school had me over for a study session one afternoon, we got the craving for potatoes, and using what we had in her kitchen, we diced and fried potatoes in olive oil and cayenne. It doesn’t sound entirely hearty, but they were actually very, very good, with just the right amount of heat, and we would dip them in a little sour cream, which cooled them off a little too!]

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Essentially, there isn’t much I don’t love and haven’t done with potatoes, but there are a few. I haven’t made fries yet, but only because I feel like that would be the beginning of the end to my healthy habits (especially when my mandolin will cut those bad boys perfectly every time). I also have never put my potatoes through a ricer before either, but that’s because I don’t own one, but have it on my immediate list of things to add to my kitchen so I can knock out some actual potato gnocchi! I’ve also never made au gratin, but I have a recipe I’m ready to use in my Crock Pot soon, so this will be a short lived never have I ever.

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There is also one other thing I haven’t done with my potatoes. Never have I ever made potato stacks. Not only that, but I’ve never made potato stacks in a muffin tin…and I don’t know why I’ve never used my muffin tin for more than just muffins and cupcakes before, but there you have it! Shocking, I know, but rest assured, I’ve officially moved over to the dark side of using my muffin tins for the greater power of feasting (or would it be the light/good side of using my muffin tins since feasting is more a pleasurable activity than a diabolical one?)…well regardless, I’m on board!

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The main issue I had making these were simply that my mandolin (a hand-me-down from my mama) wouldn’t make 1/16″ slices of potatoes. They weren’t beautiful and round, but half slices or semi-slices…and I did try multiple times [ruining two potatoes in the process] before I gave up and moved up to 1/8″ slices, which came out AWESOME! I would also recommend filling just over the top of each muffin tin spot, only because the stacks did seem a little on the squat side, and there’s nothing wrong with a little more potato, am I right?!

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But as you can see, while they ended up coming out super delicious, the cooking time from the recipe was just a little too long. The bottom was on the crispier side, which I didn’t mind because sometimes everyone needs a little crunch on the plate, but would definitely cook them a little less so they would come out more golden brown than over golden! I would also double the marinade only because I didn’t get as much of the thyme and Parmesan as I thought I would in the end. But these things you learn I guess! Oh, and I used the leftover sauce to coat a steak I had defrosted, and boy oh boy was that ever the tastiest! So this sauce can definitely be used to marinade pretty much anything and be delicious!

Here’s to the potato and our favorite ways to make them, Cooking Maggie Out!


Parmesan Potato Stacks
Adapted from What’s Gaby Cooking recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnishing
  • Kosher salt & black pepper
  • 8-10 Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced to about 1/16 or 1/8 inch thick

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Spray 12 standard muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter, olive oil, Parmesan, chopped thyme, kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Add the potato slices and toss to coat evenly.
  3. Layer the potato slices into stacks in the prepared muffin cups, filling each one to the very top, if not a little bit over the rim of each spot. Bake until the edges and tops are golden brown and the centers are tender, about 35 to 40 minutes depending on your oven.
  4. Remove the muffin tin from the oven and let the Parmesan Potato Stacks rest for 5 minutes. Carefully remove them with a small spoon and sprinkle with thyme leaves and extra Parmesan cheese if desired along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

On Chocolate & Valentine’s Day

img_2820Like some couples, Valentine’s Day is not really a big deal for Frankie and I. Sure, we like to do something small and romantic for just the two of us to mark the occasion when it comes around—like making dinner and sharing a bottle of wine and getting flowers from my man, which always makes me happy—but honestly, we spend every day loving one another to our fullest and finding ways to make the other feel special and appreciated. I mean, Frankie HARD CORE cleaned the ENTIRE apartment last Friday, which is huge because normally that’s what I end up doing on the weekends, so if that doesn’t say “I love you” I don’t know what does…and he always leaves me messages when he gets stuck cleaning our bathroom too, which I think makes him even more incredible of a partner!

 

And of course, we do gifts if we’re up for it, and this year, especially after a rather rotten 2016, I was definitely up for it, and VOILA! I presented him with an authentic, autographed Duncan Keith jersey! He seemed pleased by it! But my favorite part is getting to make something yummy that we can enjoy and share! So, of course, that is a perfectly good reason to experiment and challenge myself! Naturally, for someone who doesn’t do a lot of baking or dessert making in general, I decided to play with the ever popular, and my absolute favorite thing in the world, CHOCOLATE!, after being inspired by the Valentine’s themed episode of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network!

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Normally, I don’t like to reveal my final creations, but I am way too proud to not share!

Without further ado, may I present, my Valentine’s Day dessert cup!

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TA-DA!

I used Smitten Kitchen’s chocolate mousse recipe, and while it was definitely an involved process—so much whipping!—it was so worth it! Oh, and please note, while some use their spatulas like it were an extension of their arm, I’m a wooden spoon kind of girl, and actually preferred that for the final folding of all the ingredients!

The mousse was rich, but not heavy, and so incredibly decadent that you can’t just scarf this down (not that you would, but I’m just saying). You have to take your time with each bite, you have to make sure you have licked every last chocolatey smear on the spoon before you go in for more, and when I decided to top it with blueberries and raspberries (my favoritebs of the berry family), that helped to cut through some of the richness. A little reprieve if you will! I mean, I love my chocolate, but sometimes too rich a chocolate can become too much, and there’s something incredibly luscious about the way chocolate marries so well with fruit. And before I get to the cute little chocolate cup I made, my mom, who has made mousse on a couple occasions, did recommend that I should use a piping bag to squeeze it out so that it looked smoother (for next time of course because there’s barely any left right now).

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But as to why I wanted to experiment in the first place. DESSERT CUPS! And by that, I mean chocolate cups! Now, I definitely made these cups to be WAY too big, and would next time pick some smaller balloons, but I essentially followed what was done on the episode of Worst Cooks in America. Mine didn’t look the same though because, I realized later, I didn’t let the bottom of my balloon drip off as much as I should have/dipped them in too far. Just place/dip a little and roll. How I did it (dip a lot and roll) caused my cups to turn out a little heavy and uncrackable with a spoon, which is no fun! And I noticed that when I did beautiful sprinkles, because there was so much covering the balloon, they were falling towards the base. So, what I would also do next is make one balloon at a time (and have included that note in the recipe below), sticking each in the freezer to set better before moving on to the next one so my sprinkles stay where I wanted them in the first place! I’ve also considered including a rubber band to make the edges a little neater as well, but that’s just an idea for now.

But overall, I mean, it is one of the prettiest desserts I’ve made thus far this year, and certainly one of the most involved. I had to be so careful not to over whip, to not just mix, but actually fold my img_2952mousse in on itself over and over till it was beautifully combined! I mean, it was exhausting and I definitely ended up bailing on my steak & veggie dinner for a Penne Arrabiata instead. But I want to perfect these dessert bowls, knowing this was not my last attempt at them, and already have ideas for using different chocolates and maybe trying to make some chocolate decorations too! I don’t know, but I’m excited at the prospect! Next week though, my baking instincts are leaning towards something perhaps not so sweet…banana bread maybe!

So my fellow love birds, if you’re looking for something fun and delicious to do at home with your sweetheart (or with your pet, because I mean, this little pup’s been giving me all sorts of love this week), this was way too much fun to not do again!

Sending a ton of love, happiness, and delicious bites your way, Cooking Maggie!


Silky, Decadent Old-School Chocolate Mousse from Smitten Kitchen


Chocolate Dessert Cups

Ingredientsimg_2967

  • 8oz baking chocolate
  • 4-6 Balloons (smaller in size preferable)
  • Cooking Spray
  • Optional: FINE toppings, such as sprinkles or chopped nuts

Instructions

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, nestled on a pan of barely simmering water, till smooth. Prepare some parchment paper on a baking sheet (you can keep it in place by putting some drops of water on the baking sheet).
  2. With the back of a spoon, make little discs a few inches apart from each other to act as a base for the dessert cups.
  3. Spray the bottom of the balloons before you dip them.img_2991
  4. OPTION 1: Pour chocolate into a dipping cup or bowl that fits the balloons you’re working with. Dip balloons in, wait for some of the bottom run off, add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.
  5. OPTION 2: Keep the chocolate in the large bowl, and dip/roll the balloon so that you cover as much as you want of the balloon with the chocolate. Add sprinkles/nuts if using, then place on top of one of the chocolate discs. Repeat with the rest of the balloons.*
  6. Stick your balloon bowls in the freezer to harden. When chocolate has set, use a needle to pop a small hole in the balloon so it will deflate and you can pull it out of the cup. Then fill with whatever you want!
  7. Remaining dessert cups can hang out in the freezer for up to four days!

*Note: try to do this as quickly as possible, especially if you’re using sprinkles or light/fine toppings, because they will run down to the bottom. If you want to take your time, do steps 2-6 for each balloon on their own to make sure the sprinkles stay where they are.

On Forgetting & Dinner with Friends

img_2903IT’S DINNER DATE TIME! Frankie cleaned during his lunch break, Tuggs looked super dapper and adorable in his sock monkey bow tie, and the smells of my roasting chimichurri covered potatoes and blistering jalapeños have soaked into the walls of our apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking for myself and my man (with some safe, freebie tastes to the pup), but there is definitely a moment of personal pride when I get to truly adult and share my passion for cooking with my friends. This is also the time where my very organized side comes out to play in full force. I make sure there aren’t food allergies or aversions to keep in mind, I make sure I have all my ingredients the day before so I can just come home and cook, and I read, re-read, and re-re-read recipes to try and plan out the timing of what I’ll be making and when. Very unlike my normal come home from the grocery store after work and start my mis en place self. I’m not sure how to transfer this more obsessive self over to my more normal self, but I like to think that every time I host, I get just a little bit better about my planning and my timing, though most of the time, I just like to go slow, really live in the moment of my cooking and not worry so much about when things need to be done. Sometimes that kind of mentality pays off, but not when I have people coming over in two hours…

And having people over is a time when Frankie gets to shine and play host, which is one of his favorite hats to wear, the close second being grill master because my man knows his meat. Just look at those steaks! Aren’t they gorgeous?!  Plus, any excuse to bust out the awesome serving platters I’ve started to collect from HomeGoods (my favorite store in the whole wide world), and put a dent in the copious amounts of wine and alcohol we have left over from our annual Christmas party, is a good one! I even got to use my new fancy photographing plates too!

Now, here’s where things get tricky and I hope you can forgive me…I am definitely a multi-tasker, but when I have hosting in mind, and then guests actually in my home, photographing the ends of our efforts didn’t really stand at the forefront unfortunately. So, yes, I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, but imagine there is a nice, black crust on those steaks, and they are incredibly tender. If you can’t, never fear, we have two more and will make them at some point, and I promise to photograph them accordingly. img_2876And no, I will not tell you how much Frankie spent on them. What I will tell you is that they are Tomahawk steaks with the bone trimmed off, so you can guesstimate on your own how much they were. But you know what, they turned out great, and we ate all of it, so definitely some good money well spent! Additionally, I will also admit to forgetting to snap the really delicious Elotes (Mexican street corn, which I have an awesome recipe for off the cob, aka. esquites, which I’ll provide at another time) and Key Lime Pie (from Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits) that our incredibly gracious guests brought along! [Note: That pie was the best Key Lime Pie I’ve ever tasted…hands down.] And I wanted to be able to share our friends contributions because the elotes completed our plates, and the pie was just bomb-diggity! But one thing leads to another and I led myself right into dessert without a second thought. So with that I will apologize to you readers, but not too sincerely, since the point of dinnering with friends is to, in fact, dinner with friends, which I think I did rather successfully too!

 

But the wine flowed, and the whiskey for the steak followed, and we spent hours conversing and story telling till just after midnight. And it is that moment of feeling completely satisfied, not only physically with the good food I have put in my belly, but emotionally and mentally satisfied from laughing at jokes, to variety of discussions, to learning more about good people who make our lives just a little bit better, a little bit brighter, especially after a long week at work [or in some cases, just a really long week of news coverage]. But really, there is almost nothing better than that, and if you want to come over for dinner and spend time eating good food, and playing with our cute pup, hit us up!

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Note: One of our guests has an Argentinian background, so yes, we did theme our dinner for her just a little bit, a nod to challenging my own skills and diversifying our normal “Friends to Dinner” menu. Getting out of our comfort zones is always exciting and I like to think that catering toward their heritage, with the option of them bringing another dish they want to share with us, makes the meal all the more special and unique! So, included below, is the zucchini & carrot fritter recipe I found from Good Dinner Mom, as well as instructions on making chimichurri potatoes!

Hope everyone had a safe and delectable weekend! Cooking Maggie Out!



Carrot & Zucchini Fritters with Basil Chive Cream
from Good Dinner Mom


Chimichurri Potatoes

Ingredients

Instructions: Toss 1 cup of chimichurri sauce with uncooked baby golden potatoes. Spread out on nonstick baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes (until fork tender), tossing every so often. Serve with additional 1/2 cup of sauce.

On Cincinnati Classics

So as might know from a previous post, I made chili this week, and while Frankie and I enjoy eating chili by itself, we were discussing leftovers and Frankie got this super crazy (but really awesome) idea! Now, what you also may (or may not) know is that I am originally from Cincinnati (prior to Hong Kong, of course) and anyone familiar with the city (or the state of Ohio, for that matter) might know that we Ohioans are known to do something a little unorthodox with our chili, as shown below: img_2857

May I present Cooking Maggie’s take on a 5-way Cincinnati-chili! Now, if you’re from Ohio or know anything about the constant debate of “Skyline vs. Gold Star Chili”—the equivalent of which would be Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s for deep dish pizza here in Chicago—you should know that I grew up on both, but far prefer Skyline and I’m sticking to it! But don’t judge this book by its cover if you’re not familiar with this concept of chili on spaghetti. Yes, it looks…weird, for lack of a better term, but it’s actually pretty darn delicious! My favorite part is the cheese (naturally): soft, fluffy, sharp cheddar. It has, HAS to be finely grated or it’s not going to have the same effect texture wise. And this dish is anything but bland: it’s soft, it’s crunchy, it’s meaty, it’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s just…mm mm good! And there are tons of variations you make!

The traditional 3-way:pasta, chili, and cheese.
The 4-way: pasta, chili, onions OR kidney beans, and cheese.
The 5-way: pasta, chili, onions, kidney beans, and cheese.

Oh, and then you top it all off with some good ol’ fashioned hot sauce (Tobasco, Crystal, Frank’s, doesn’t matter, so long as you like it on your food)!

I would argue though that this dish, or at least the idea of it, is an acquired taste. Not everyone is going to like it, and I respect that, but I wanted to diversify a little, and expose a little bit of my hometown culture. Plus, how many times do you see people making Skyline at home, FROM SCRATCH?! I mean, this is about as unique as it gets! [Last Note: If you’re looking for an amazing Cincinnati/Ohio made ice cream: Graeter’s. It’s the best homemade ice cream, again, in my opinion, and the best flavor is the Black Raspberry Chip. The secret? They don’t use basic chocolate chips…no no! They pour liquid chocolate into their ice cream batter while it’s being churned, and the paddles break up the chocolate as it freezes, which is how you get their signature and inconsistent chocolate chunks! I mean, it’s the only ice cream that allows me to play with my food, and after twenty odd years of practice, I am a MASTER chocolate chip excavator!] So with that, I will leave the recipe below and hope that some of you brave souls will give it a go! The great thing is, most of the toppings are optional (even the cheese, but that’s just blasphemous in my eyes, IT’S THE BEST PART!). From my hometown to yours, Cooking Maggie Out!


img_2855Cincinnati-Style Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of your favorite chili
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped/diced (not minced)
  • 8 0z spaghetti
  • 1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese (I like Cracker Barrel cheese myself)
  • Optional (if not included in chili already): 1/4 cup Kidney beans, drained
  • Optional: Favorite hot sauce.

Instructions

  1. Salt some water, bring to boil, and cook your pasta. When done, drain, and set aside.
  2. Heat up your chili in a sauce pan (or microwave, just so long as it’s hot).
  3. Shred your cheese in a bowl, set aside.
  4. When pasta is done, make your plate! Pasta on the bottom, chili on the pasta, onion, (and/or) kidney beans (if they aren’t in the chili already), AND CHEESE!!!
  5. Optional: Top with hot sauce to taste.

 

 

On Fantastic Finds & Mini Cheesecakes

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YAY NEW COOKBOOK!

So, I wasn’t expecting to expand my cookbook shelf so soon, but as I was perusing Barnes & Noble for a couple copies of Goodnight Moon for a couple of couples I know who are expecting (it’s my most favorite children’s book ever, so it’s one of my go to gifts), I figured I would check out the cookbook section, not really planning on finding anything. Well, that did not turn out to be the case…Barnes & Noble currently has a GREAT sale on Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs (as shown) for 50% OFF! Yes, 50% off, or rather 60% off if you are part of the B&N Member Program (like Mama Sully is)! So how could I not jump at this amazing deal? Simple, I couldn’t, so I didn’t! Ta-da! The sale is still going on now (as of February 10th!) so if you’ve also got this on your to read/buy list, GO GO GO! I have not had the chance to peruse it yet, but I’m very excited to!

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However, this week’s baking challenge was cheesecake! Now, I know not many people like cheesecake (Frankie being one of them), but I happen to adore them, especially ones made for our monthly office birthday celebration by one of my coworkers! She makes all sorts of delicious flavors and they’re always gluten-free, which makes these cheesecakes even more incredible! So of course, when I decided I wanted to make my own in mini (because I don’t have a spring form pan yet, and since Frankie isn’t a fan, it would just be me eating the whole thing unless I brought it into work), I picked her brain a little before I even attempted to make it!

 

Important thing #1: Put a pan of water in the oven while it preheats and during the baking process! My coworker said that this will keep the oven humid and prevent cracking (which for small bites, was not likely to happen, but for future reference as well when baking a big one)! And important thing #2: Get the eggs & cream cheese to room temperature (you can even heat up the cream cheese for about 10-15 seconds), which also helps prevent cracking and makes the blending easier.

 

 

 

And this was so easy! Like…way too easy! As in, watch me make this again and try some additional modifications to make them even more delicious! So if you’re looking for something delicious and easy, TA-DA! Look no further! Enjoy my fellow bakers and munchers! Cooking Maggie Out!

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Revision 2/13/2017: Upon further conference with my cheesecake guru at work, she made mention the following tips. 1) Add your eggs in one at a time, and mix at the lowest settings. And 2) If you want a creamier cheesecake, use 1/4 cup sour cream per 8oz cream cheese, OR 1/8 cup heavy cream per 8oz cream cheese. These additions will be reflected below.

Revision 6/7/2017: And upon further reading and munching, you can also turn this recipe into no bake by first removing the eggs, and then swap out the 1/2 cup regular sugar for 1 cup powdered sugar and add 1/2 cup sour cream and 3/4 cup heavy cream, and you can add a tablespoon of regular sugar to the crust, but this is optional [tested and approved by my friend Ms. Carly Jo! She even brought me some and boy are they creamy and tasty!]


Creamy Mini Cheesecakes
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Ingredients:
For Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1 Cup Graham Cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened

For Cheesecake

  • 16 ounces cream cheese (2 bricks), softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more to taste)
  • 1 bunch fresh strawberries
  • Optional: 1/2 cup sour cream OR 1/4 cup heavy cream (if you want a creamier cheesecake)

Instructions:

  1. Prior to Baking: let eggs and cream cheese sit on counter to get to room temperature for 1-2 hours, OR heat cream cheese up in microwave for 10-15 seconds.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place a pan with water in the over during the preheating and baking process.
  3. Add cupcake liners to cupcake/muffin tin. Place graham crackers in a food processor and pulse/blend into a fine crumb. Mix crumbs with softened butter, blending with a fork or cut the crust with  your fingers (which is just a fancy way of rubbing the crackers and butter together between your fingers). Set aside.
  4. Blend cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl, mix until soft and creamy. (You can use a fork or an electric mixer on low.)
  5. Add eggs (ONE AT A TIME) and sugar, (and sour cream/cream if using), and mix on the lowest setting until well combined. Add vanilla and mix for 3-5 minutes until creamy and soft. (Note: if using an electric mixer, mix for only 1-2 minutes.)
  6. Add 1-1 1/2 tablespoon of graham cracker crust mixture to the bottoms of each cupcake liner, pressing firmly with spoon or finger until firm and level. Then add about 2 large tablespoons of cheesecake batter, distributing any remaining. (There should be enough of both mixtures to make exactly 12 mini cheesecakes.)
  7. Place the cupcakes in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove the top of strawberries, and either halve or slice them (making sure there are enough for 12), then set on top of cheesecakes for garnish.
  9. Allow cheesecakes to chill before serving.

On a Bacon Wrapped Sunday Super Bowl

img_2754Super Bowl Sunday ya’ll! Who was pumped and ready to go?! I mean, I was, or at least as much as a non-super sports enthusiast could be, BUT I was more pumped for the Super Bowl Sunday feast! Yes, I am that blasphemous individual who goes to these parties for the food over the football (unless there’s a team I really resonate with, then I care just a little bit more about the football over the food). In my defense, Hong Kong was not big on televising many American sports, so I grew up on HK’s Annual Rugby img_2768Sevens weekend, aaannnddd that’s about it. But I am not totally lost to the world of sports. Since moving back to the States, and spending as much time as I have with Frankie and his sports loving family, I have found that: hockey is exciting and brings out the rowdy girl in me (GO BLACKHAWKS!); I still don’t like basketball (but can enjoy the sport when I’m actually at the game); baseball is best with beer (GO CUBS GO! WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS 2016!); and football (college or professional) is a touch and go thing with me…if I start committed at the beginning of the season, then I can get into it, but as of late, that hasn’t happened, so I only watch with mild interest while I mutli-task.

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But regardless, there was a party ahead of me on Sunday morning and I was going to bring my favorite crowd pleasure: Bacon Wrapped Amazing (BWA, or in technical food terms, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers). These gluten-free beauties (no frying required!) are my take on the BWA’s at Southport Lanes & Billiards, and never have I ever seen one left uneaten by the end of the night. (Quick Recommendation: For any Chicagoan looking for a good bowling night with an actual human setting the pins and rolling your ball back with a napkin note stuffed in one of the finger holes, this is a great place to go with a group of 4 or more! Oh, and they have a kickass pool hall too, which is a plus. But get the bacon wrapped jalapeños. They’re the bomb.)

img_2767Okay, pay attention, because this is the MOST important part of this whole thing. Gloves. I have fairly soft, sensitive skin, and by sensitive, I mean that for the chimicurri sauce I made last weekend, my hands were burning from roasting and manipulating just ONE jalapeño, so please do invest in a box of gloves from your grocery store or pharmacy and save your hand from HOURS of burning (or three heavy washings under hot water, which won’t be pleasant, and dosing your skin in olive oil)…and I will say, as I’ve gotten older, the burning comes on soon, lasts longer, and has gotten progressively more painful, so GLOVES! And when you’re removing the seeds and ribs, using a spoon with a thin edge is easier than using a small paring knife (in my opinion)!

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Now, for those on a budget (like me), and for those who just can’t always find a reliable source of cheese curds, I like to go with Laughing Cow’s Creamy White Cheddar spread. You can use any spread cheese, like cream cheese (which isn’t Frankie’s fave, so we just don’t use it), or flavor that you think would go well, but I highly recommend staying away from cubed cheese as they just won’t hold up to the baking/broiling and may find yourself cleaning globs of blackened cheese off the bottom of your oven (unless you’re using curds, then those should be fine, but I would make sure to still wrap your bacon tightly to prevent the cheese from escaping).

Tip: Soak a sturdy brand of toothpick to prevent burning and keep these bacon wrapped amazings secure throughout the cooking process. Even under a broiler for five minutes, they should hold up to the heat and make it easy for guests to just pick a piece, dip, and eat! Additional Tip: If you’re feeling a little on the lazy side, as I do too sometimes, use Hidden Valley’s Southwest Chipotle dressing for the dip, but any chipotle dressing will work! Otherwise you can make your own using any chipotle mayo recipe (but I like their dressing, so I usually just go for that). I guarantee this will be an INSTANT crowd pleaser and I hope many of you will enjoy it enough to make it a go-to appetizer for any future party!

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Happy eating and hoping everyone had a good Sunday!

Cooking Maggie Out!


The Real Cooking Maggie’s Bacon Wrapped Jalapeños
Makes 16 Jalapeños, adjust portions to fit crowd

Ingredients

  • 8 fresh jalapeños
  • 1 container (8 wedges) Laughing Cow White Cheddar Cheese
  • 12 slices of bacon (not thick cut)
  • Chipotle Ranch Dressing
  • Toothpicks
  • Kitchen Gloves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Put on gloves.
  2. Slice the jalapeños lengthwise, then de-seed and clean the membranes from the inside using a small paring
  3. knife or thin edge spoon! Also leave the stems for one half! They’re like little food hats!Using a butter knife (or your gloved finger) and fill each jalapeño half with cheese (I have found that using half of a wedge per jalapeño half is just enough, but you can always get an extra container of cheese wedges just in case). The cheese should be roughly level with the edges of the jalapeño.
  4. Put toothpicks in 1/4 cup of water. Start to wrap a slice of bacon around each jalapeno half (from top to bottom) and secure bacon end in place with toothpick. Arrange the jalapeños on an aluminum foil covered cookie pan (with lipped edges to prevent bacon grease from dripping into your oven), place in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning halfway through. When bacon is just about done, pop them under a broiler for about 5-6 minutes, turning halfway through, for extra crispness (keep in longer for preferred crispiness).
  5. Serve with Chipotle Ranch Dressing or homemade Chipotle Mayo.

On Broken Sinks, Fake Lighting, & Cheese Boards

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No cooking = Laundry Day = Tuggs gets to protect the porch

There is a travesty in our home right now…our sink is broken! Well, not broken, but it’s backing up the grossest of water I’ve ever seen from an overflowing catch basin…thanks to some pesky tree roots interfering with our pipes. So as a result, we are trying not to do super amounts of cooking until it’s fixed, which isn’t awful, but not the most convenient thing.

So, in the meantime, I will share a little tip I’ve picked up, because I think, for anyone like myself starting out in this whole food blogging business—and perhaps, on that note, I’m a little late to the game and a lot of you have already figured this one out—it’s hard to get the lighting you want in a kitchen that may not be able to provide the lighting you need naturally. Whether your lightbulbs are just not bright enough (like mine), or your kitchen doesn’t really get much direct sunlight (also like mine), then what are you to do that doesn’t mean a flash photo? Hence, may I present, my fairly silly, yet quite successful contraption!

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You can’t tell, but it’s about 2pm. No direct sunlight in this room…

A DESK LAMP! I mean, if we do a side by side of pre-lamp vs. post-lamp photos, it’s pretty obvious that the newly lit ones are just…better? And no, I haven’t invested in a fancy camera—yet—that I don’t know how to work—yet—so I’m still using my phone for snapping, but even so, there’s nothing wrong with that! So long as the lighting is working in my favor and the food looks good, then we’re in business! Is it silly? Oh absolutely, and Frankie is constantly shaking his head and giggling at me while I’m holding the lamp in one hand and balancing my phone in the other just right so I can take a photo. But does it work? For what I need it to, yes! And if you’re like me and you’re trying to make your food as Instagram ready as possible and you don’t have a lot of money for a fancy camera (or a fancy lamp for that matter), then you make do! If anything, I’d like to think of myself as being resourceful! Besides, this lamp was just sitting in our study, which happens to be the coldest room in the house, so no one goes in there for longer than need be, and now it’s getting some real use! In short, I’m calling this a win. #winning [Next trial is to put one of those eco friendly pure white bulbs in the lamp to see if it changes the lighting differently.]

And since I can’t really cook (or wash dishes in confidently clean water right now), this afternoon ended up beings a cheese and meat platter lunch kind of day! Today’s choice: a venison summer sausage with some Gouda & Pepperjack cheese (courtesy of a coworker’s efforts from last fall). Oddly enough, when I’m hosting or going for something simple, I really enjoy plating cheese boards the most. They can be beautifully complicated or they can be super simple and elegant, but there’s something just really lovely about plating a cheese board! The endless freedom of creativity. And maybe this has something to do with the fact that my mom would also assign the cheese platter duties to me whenever she hosted a party in Hong Kong, and now, it’s still my duty when I visit during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

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Not my brightest photo, but not my worst either.

You can have vegetables, you can have jams or mustards [or mostardas if you want to get really fancy], you can have fruit, you can add sprigs of rosemary or thyme to make it look really rustic and beautiful [and while any Chopped judge will tell you that is a giant no-no (if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on the plate), I think for cheese plates, you can break that rule just a little bit], you can use all sorts of different crackers, it’s an empty canvas, and you can paint it with endless shades of ingredients. I am more of a simple platter myself, but I’ve been known to step it up as well, but the vacuum sealed bag I received one morning contained about half a sausage and then a quarter portion of each cheese, and with all the fruit eaten and not enough time to go grocery shopping, we kept it nice and simple. I will say though, I did take Smitten Kitchen’s advice on photographing to heart and pulled out one of my favorite presentation pieces: a wooden plank, beautifully stained a Brazil nut shell brown. The last time I used it was for the annual Christmas party Frankie and I throw, and had plated a cranberry walnut goat cheese log, on top of a gelled cranberry sauce. So it only seemed fitting to use the plank to really showcase the choice in meat and cheese, not to mention that it definitely made us feel a little more elegant in the midst of our very normal and uneventful afternoon [#adulting].

img_2742Anyway, our sink should be fixed this morning, just in time for prep and cooking of my famous bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers for the Super Bowl Sunday party we are attending! So keep an eye out for the recipe in a couple days time!

And with that, keep cooking your hearts out and when in doubt, a good cheese platter can make any boring afternoon outstanding! Cooking Maggie out! [GO TEAM GO!]