On Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Given my Chinese background, I can’t help but fall back into old habits from time to time, craving those really deep and earthy flavors I grew up in, and thankfully, Frankie has been a trooper in trying new flavors and dishes that perhaps he was never all too familiar with. One of the things I love to cook are Chicken Lettuce Wraps—Disclaimer: I’m aware this is more an Americanized culinary invention than anything else, but the flavors are inherently true. It’s well-meant me thinks—and funny enough, Frankie likes them so much that he’ll even request them! (Score one for me!) I’ll admit though, I know it’s mostly because he likes the cool little butter lettuce head that I get, you know, the kind that comes with the roots and a little bit of soil on the bottom, like it came straight from the garden? Yeah, that’s the kind he likes, but I do know he also likes how my lettuce wraps taste too!

Now, for me, I always liked getting the Chicken Lettuce Wraps from P.F. Chang’s with my mom, and have MANY memories of this, especially getting to make our own sauce to dribble on top (I’m a total sauce fanatic), but here’s the kicker, there are mushrooms in it. Sometimes I could get them without mushrooms, but more often than not, I couldn’t. So, I had to pick them out and that took way too much time and effort. There had to be a better way, and there was: make it myself. I started looking for recipes that would allow me to eat something I enjoy that wasn’t going to make me instantly sick, and I found a PF Chang’s Copy Cat recipe that has become a go-to for me ever since! And guess what, NO MUSHROOMS!! My tender tummy was thrilled, and I found it at a blog that I’ve used and mentioned here before! Fellow Corgi owner Damn Delicious! [Recall Post: Going to the Dogs]

And what’s even better? It’s healthy and way too easy to make!! (So easy that I actually forgot to take more photos while I was making it…whoops.) Twenty minutes TOPS, though depending on how fast you can whisk through the prep, it’s going to be more like thirty, but that’s not too bad is it? As I’ve already said, I’m ALL about the sauce, and as it stands in DD’s recipe, there’s just not enough for me. I love it when the sauce slips out of the ends of your lettuce roll and drips between your fingers. I’m not always about messy food, but I’ll make a special occasion for this dish! You’ll notice below I’ve added a fairly generous additional amount to the saucy side of this dish, but feel free to start where she did and go from there! It’s all about your own tastes, since no tongue or set of taste buds are the same as another. I also added carrots for crunch and slight sweetness, in addition to the sweet chili sauce/chili flakes for an extra kick! And the other great thing about lettuce wraps: serve it with whatever you’d like! I’ve used rice for a side, roasted veggies, or just on its own (it is healthy after all)! Simple, delicious, flavorful, and above all, INCREDIBLY approachable for someone maybe not so familiar or used to Asian flavors. Rest assured, your taste buds will thank you!

—Cooking Maggie


[PF Chang’s Copy Cat] Chicken Lettuce WrapsB232571C-1BC6-46B8-ABD3-AF6B97EEB102
Adapted from Damn Delicious recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled & grated
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 2 teaspoon Sriracha, or more, to taste
  • 2 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
  • OPTIONAL: 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, if you want to kick it up another notch
  • 1 (8-ounce) can whole water chestnuts, drained and diced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 head butter lettuce

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. Add ground chicken and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the chicken as it cooks; drain excess fat.
  2. Stir in garlic, onion, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger, and Sriracha until onions have become translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in chestnuts and green onions until tender, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add more of anything else to taste too! Make it flavorful to your liking!
  3. Spoon several tablespoons of the chicken mixture into the center of a lettuce leaf, lightly roll, and eat!
Advertisements

On Dog Treats 2.0

As much as I love my pup, sometimes, he can be just a little pathetic when he stares at me in

IMG_3626
Mom, I think you need to make me something now…
the kitchen, but I don’t blame him! Here I am cooking and baking away for me and the main man of the house, and the little fur ball only gets table scraps (and by table scraps, I mean, he gets a whole apple, or a piece of my breakfast banana, or just regular old-fashioned dog treats from the store). So I thought, you know what, tonight is the night to do something sweet and special for the little nugget, in addition to sharing said treats with some of my fellow canine owners at work. So last night, I outdid myself in fine fashion—the result of which means there will be no Sloppy Joe post this time around, BUT never fear, there will be more Sloppy Joes had over the next few months, so no doubt I’ll get to it and be able to share away!

The first treat I made was the easiest. Sweet Potato. (Check.) Mandolin. (Check.) Baking Sheet. (Check.) Thin slices of sweet potato (I did mine this time at 3/8″), baked at 300° for 25 minutes on one side, then 25 more minutes on the other. Let cool on sheet. Keep in airtight container. I won’t quote Thug Kitchen—my family does peruse these posts every so often—but they were so freaking easy to make. However, a few notes that Thug Kitch doesn’t mention in their own recipe. 1) Don’t bake two sheets at once. One at a time is best. 2) They said 1/8″ was a good thickness, but honestly I think that’s too thick. I think next time, I’m going to try 1/4″ and see what happens. 3) For my slices at 3/8″, I needed a little longer than 25 per side. It was more like…35-40 per side, but you gotta gauge by your own eye whether it’s done or not. I think more experimentation is in order, and given how simple and hassle-free it was, I think I’ll be making these weekly. Other than that, a very, very happy puppers!

The second thing I made was a Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookie! I’ve noticed that when I made the oat balls with regular milk, it messed up my pups digestive system a little, where as these cookies seem to do him more good! Perhaps it is also the use of all purpose flour that doesn’t help, over the gluten free variety that I used this time. All I do know is that my pup eagerly looks at me in the hopes that I’ll pull a sweet treat out of the boxes I’ve kept them in for a mid-day munch, rather than silently judging me for being stingy with the yummy food I’ve been making. It’s not like he’s asking for too much, right?

To keeping all our beloved fur worms happy! —Cooking Maggie


Sweet Potato Jerky Dog Treats from Thug Kitchen

Gluten Free Dog Biscuits from H20 Bungalow

On Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Final Chapter [OR IS IT?!]

Part 3: Nope, this is not it…and browning butter? Yeah, definitely not a fan of that. I didn’t even get to baking this batch because 1) I couldn’t stand the smell, or taste, of the butterscotch embedded in the batter, and 2) My batter basically hardened like a caramel…ugh, baking is hard ya’ll. I’m telling you! SO, there will be one more baking session, since I had to toss the solidified mass I had managed to create, and stuck two sticks of butter on a plate to soften up over the next 24 hours…I swear, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.

B95945FA-E5F3-4C86-BC5E-594B71138435Part 4, The ACTUAL Final Act: Okay, I’m officially done making chocolate chip cookies, that’s for sure. Maybe most cookies actually…I just don’t think I’m a cookie person, BUT I know I can make cupcakes like a boss, and I had mentioned that bitter chocolate cake that I have my eye on, so I’m going to see if my baking strengths lie in other categories…though, now that I think about it, I don’t think I have made a cake in…maybe ever? At least not from scratch…But if there’s anything I’ve learned from this entire experience, I’ve learned how NOT to make chocolate chip cookies, which is something in itself.

With this batch, I did the butter traditionally, softening it using a cool trick because my kitchen is almost the second coldest room in our home! The trick: Fill a tall glass—big enough to fully cover a stick of butter—with water, and microwave until hot. Dump out water, and cover a standing stick of butter with the glass. Leave for about 5 minutes before checking to see if it needs more time, but as soon as it’s soft, get it in the bowl and start to cream. Ta-da! And I adjusted the sugars, just as I had mentioned I would, which I think allowed the cookies to stay soft, just how I like them! There’s structure around the edges, but it’s soft in the middle. But since I was going on my second batch of batter in 24 hours, I stopped caring about making each scoop PERFECT, and the ones I just scooped & plopped onto my pan, those were the ones that turned out the best I think…oh! And I also realized, when I was trying to prepare a second round of trays to go in, while my first batch was baking, that I liked the cookies that were baked on parchment paper MORE than the ones I baked on my silicone pads! WHO KNEW THERE WOULD BE A DIFFERENCE!? As I understand it, parchment paper is better for crisper edges, and that’s I think why I like the parchment paper better. I like it when there’s a little structure/crispness to the edges, but the cookie stays soft and gooey in the middle. Those are the best, and that makes them great for dunking into milk, which is my favorite way to eat a cookie! YUM!

So, without further adieu, I would like to present my FINAL go-to Chocolate Cookie Recipe! Bye bye cookies, hello cake! —Cooking Maggie


Chocolate Chip Cookies
Thank you Mama!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups oatmeal, slightly ground up
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 10oz bag of chocolate chips (roughly 1 1/2 cups, but you can add less or more depending on your preference for cookie chocolatey-ness)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your over to 375°F. Prepare your baking sheets with either parchment paper, or silicone pads. (See blog note above about the difference between parchment paper & silicone pads.)
  2. Cream together butter & sugars.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing just till incorporated, then add the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, add all the remaining dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon or whisk, then add the dry to the wet just a little at a time, mixing to fully incorporate before adding more (so you can gauge if you have enough versus too much).
  5. Scoop 3 tablespoons work of the batter on your sheets (about 1-2 inches between each ball), and bake for 8-9 minutes.
  6. Let cookies rest on cookie sheet until completely cool (I even let them sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then let them set out over night). Then ENJOY!

On Pickles: Upping My Fry Game

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a failed fried pickle experience, as shown. Ugh, it’s so sad…but okay, there’s no point in ruminating over the past, but rather, it’s time to get busy!

IMG_3459
Saddest fried pickles ever…

I present: The Great Pickle Experiment! I was absolutely determined to get something from my fancy hot dog dinner disaster, and thought the pickles would be the best focus for me, especially since it is a tasty treat that I wouldn’t mind munching on again on a lazy weekend afternoon.

The Breading Variations: Flour (plain, bottom right), Italian Breadcrumbs (fine, bottom left), and Italian Seasoned Panko Breadcrumbs (coarse, top left).

img_3291

The Method (used for all above variations per the instruction from my Fry Guy Ed): Flour—Egg Wash—Breading. (I also know it should really go egg wash—flour—egg wash—breading, but I felt that with the pickles being as wet as they were naturally, I said no need to two egg washes.)

img_3292

Now, before I get into the results and reveal some of my photos, let me first address what went wrong with…⇑ that. Firstly, no initial flouring…just egg wash and panko, and I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt because…well, it’s their recipe, and I have had these beauties before, and this was my first solo attempt to make fried pickles. Nope. The pickles were too wet, they didn’t hold ANY of the egg wash, and thus, no panko covering evening…which led to my like Frankenstein-ed pickle problem.

I wanted to go by the book before I branched off on my own, but that’s when I realized that this cookbook may also have had a few…very common sense things, if you will, overlooked. I’m an amateur, I’ve mentioned this, and when I’m cooking something new or  challenging, the last thing I’m going to do is think about common sense techniques. I don’t fry, but yes, in hindsight, now, I should have just floured my pickles first, recipe be darned. But that’s why I started this whole endeavor, I wanted to learn the techniques that perhaps weren’t so common to me, since how I learned to cook wasn’t, for the most part, technical. It was very hands-on, feel-it-out, learn-on-the-fly. But duly noted, flour first, and me thinks a little cayenne or chili powder (or both!) would be a great addition for next time!

Oh, and pat those pickles dry! Not bone dry, but just dry enough that they won’t be too wet when going to the egg wash, but wet enough to naturally bind to the flour. And then I just had a frying good time!

img_3293img_3295img_3300img_3299

img_3301

The Verdict: Italian Breadcrumbs (bottom right of the photo above — flour was top left, and panko bottom left). This was my favorite in terms of flavor, covering, texture. While the flour was crisp, it was flavorless, but had I zested it up with a little heat for both flour dredges, it might have been much nicer. The Panko was just a little aggressive with the crisp, a little too coarse for my liking (and to each his/her own I suppose). And I think, even for the Italian Breadcrumbs, I would add some chili/heat to the initial flouring. And it gave me a good excuse to buy a spider skimmer [I have very large ambitions to one day attempt to make my own tempura veggies, but that’ll be for another weekend when I’ve gotten a little more frying under my belt].

Fry On My Fellow Cooks —Cooking Maggie


Fried Picklesimg_3303

Ingredients

  • 2 whole pickles, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Italian Breadcrumbs
  • Vegetable Oil, enough to fill 1/2 of a medium saucepan
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1-2 teaspoons chili powder or cayenne, added to flour

Instructions

  1. Slice your pickles into 1/4 inch rounds, gently pat semi-dry with paper towel (they shouldn’t be dripping, but shouldn’t be bone dry either).
  2. Set up your breading station: 1 plate for the flour (and chili powder/cayenne), 1 bowl for the eggs (whisk for 1-2 minutes until well blended), and 1 plate for the breadcrumbs.
  3. (For this step, I recommend only handling 2-3 pickle rounds at a time as this step should be done fairly quickly so no coating or egg is lost in the process) Dredge pickle slices in the flour, ensuring an even coating of flour all around, then transfer to egg wash. Coat the pickles in the egg wash, then transfer to breadcrumbs, ensuring another even coating of breadcrumbs all around. Set aside on another plate and repeat with remaining pickles.
  4. Pour your vegetable oil into your sauce pan (we’re looking for about 1/2 the saucepan to be filled, roughly 5-6″), and heat oil to 375°F. (Note: If you don’t have a thermometer, I found a nifty trick using a wooden spoon to check the oil! Place the handle in the oil (holding the actual spoon in your hand), and when the oil starts to bubble around the stick, it’s ready!)
  5. Carefully place your pickles in the oil, and fry until golden brown all the way around (about 3-5 minutes usually). Carefully skim the pickles out and place them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil, and sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste (I just use pepper because the pickles are already perfectly tart and salt would be a little overkill, but it’s to your preference). Then serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce (ranch, chipotle aioli, you name it, you can use it)! YUM!

 

On Cookbooks & Lessons Learned

I debated on whether or not I wanted to write something about this, but every time I stand in my kitchen and look at the four cookbooks I currently have stacked on their designated shelf, it just bothers me. Three weeks ago, I had a brand new cookbook in my hands, one I was actually over the moon about getting: Senate’s cookbook. I had it in my possession, hugging it to my chest, and was already thinking about the order in which I was going to go through all of the recipes. I had the ideas, I had the grocery lists planned out, and I had a desired outcome in mind. But that’s where everything went wrong.

Preface: In no way am I saying the cookbook isn’t good. It’s GREAT! The story, the photos, the recipes, they’re all wonderful and I’m so glad that I can add it to my shelf! But, I had wanted to make fancy hot dogs, and when I got to the grocery store, I couldn’t get everything that I needed, and when it came down to making the components that I could make, I just found myself getting frustrated with how everything wasn’t coming out like I hoped it would. Not necessarily like it was at the restaurant—Universal Truth: there are memories you make eating the real deal…and then there’s the reality of what happens in your kitchen. They can almost NEVER be the same, but if you’re lucky, you can get close with adapting a basic recipe till it’s just about where you want it, or even better than you remember it—but rather than nothing I was doing was coming together on the plate like I wanted it to. There was no masterpiece, no sense of real accomplishment, just disappointment. How sad is that?! I even tried to fry pickles and failed at that! I even followed their recipe too!—P.S.: I did retry the fried pickles MY way, with some help from my fry guy Ed, but this was after I resolved to turn a disastrous situation into a delicious one, so keep an eye out for that my food friends!

In the end, we ate guacamole with chips, made Chicago Hot Dogs—a separate failure due to the jar of sports peppers [spicy little pickled peppers] not opening, which we ended up just breaking…it just wasn’t a great night for cooking, and thus, why I have no photos to share this time—and I had to talk myself out of a total culinary deflation. Sure, it was still a yummy meal, but it wasn’t what I wanted the meal to be, and that was where the source of my frustration lay.

I can still remember my first trip to Senate, and the mussels charmoula on crusty grilled toast points, and the feeling of gooey sauce oozing between my fingers, holding a soft bun as together as I could while cramming my face with hot dog and spicy kimchi, or crispy fried okra, or tender shredded short rib under cool coleslaw. In truth, Senate is an experience, and most everything at their restaurant is made in-house, unlike me and my dependency on the grocery store. And that’s when I realized, that while the idea of making these very elaborate hot dogs seemed like a lot of fun, in truth, it was going to be way too much effort and too time consuming for this time in my life. And the experience wouldn’t be the same, which is something, again, you can’t usually re-transcribe into your home kitchen. I hadn’t really thought about how making these different hot dogs were going to fit into my everyday life, when they fit so perfectly in the chic and modern dining room of Senate. Which led me to then realize that I had purchased a cookbook that, realistically, I would consistently only make a handful of their sauces (if that), two sides, one cocktail, and give or take one or two of their other main dishes…this was where I mainly went wrong, and have gone wrong before.

About a month ago, when I got Small Victories for a song at Barnes & Noble, finally getting down to sitting in front of my TV with a pad of sticky notes and a pen for notating thoughts and ideas, I realized I wasn’t tabbing ANYTHING. And it’s not that I didn’t like any of the recipes or that they were too complicated as some cookbooks can be—again, I feel like this is a good cookbook—it was more that there were TOO MANY recipes for me to choose from, and for someone who is INCREDIBLY indecisive, it’s hard enough for me to plan my weekly menu on my phone calendar, let alone try to pick one of over a hundred recipes and variations. I just couldn’t get into it, couldn’t settle on one recipe to start with and got so overwhelmed that I just took it back to my kitchen and re-shelved the poor thing. It’s the worst feeling in the world, and I have tried a couple of times since then to give it another go, but still find myself unable to settle like I could with Smitten Kitchen’s book (of which I have tabbed nearly every page). I should have taken the time at B&N to flip through it, read the table of contents, and check out a couple of recipes before I bought it, realizing it wasn’t the kind of cook book I was looking for right now, but the world is full of incompatibility, and with my life the way it is, too many recipes is just too much for me to handle. One day, I’m sure Small Victories and I will click with such a vigor that I’ll wonder why it took me so long to find new favorites to add to my rotation. Doesn’t mean I feel any less worse about letting a good book not go to good use…

In short, my lesson learned, which perhaps is common knowledge to most: Online reviews of cookbooks should be taken with a grain of salt, and that bookstores, and Amazon, are your best friends for sneak peeks so that you can decide if you’ll make more than just one or two recipes. Worst thing in the world is to look at a cookbook in your kitchen and realize it’s just not for you or your current day-to-day life…so for now, Senate will also continue to sit on my shelf until a weekend where I’m ready for the challenge of making their braised short ribs to then make their Short Rib Poutine [homemade fries included! Eek!].

To Continually Learning Something New and Being Honest With Myself —Cooking Maggie

On Spicy Shrimp Tacos

TACOS! I’m not going to repeat myself beyond the following: I LOVE TACOS! Okay, awesome. Now that THAT’S out of the way…I made these guys on a Friday (since during Lent, we don’t eat meat on Fridays) and not only were they super quick and super easy, it was the first time I ever had to de-vein/clean my shrimp! How have I never had to de-vein or clean shrimp before now you may ask?! Easy. Usually, I would go shopping at the Jewel by my office because it was convenient, and their shrimp (the uncooked AND cooked variety) are always de-veined for your convenience. Now, since starting this blog, I’ve tried going to a couple of other groceries stores on my way home, and I found one that has a better variety (and quality) of meat and fresh produce, and their uncooked shrimp does NOT come de-veined. So, I was left with the task of de-veining them, and it was one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever had to do with my food.

IMG_3380

But it was so easy! Like, the backs of a shrimp were made for the blade of a knife to clean them out—is that a horrible thing to say about shrimps?—and by that I mean, when I made my initial incision, wondering if I was going to go too far or not far enough, the knife only went as far as the shrimp would let it go without pushing back, and then the back just flipped back to let me do my business! Crazy easy! Who knew?! Still gross (especially if you get one with the additional gelatinous goop too), but I learned something new! And they turned out exquisitely! The marinade was delicious, but I may add some more jalapenos to the salsa to up the heat a little bit, for the most part, absolutely one of the better recipes for shrimp tacos that I’ve come across! And while normally, I’m not the biggest fan of chunky avocado pieces, the warmth of the shrimp softened them up a little so the texture was smoother than it might have been originally, and I mean, I can only find so many ripe avocados at the store that aren’t bruised. Am I right?!

And in addition to a new skill in my pocket, I have upheld my personal promise to read my recipes more thoroughly, and actually notice the amounts or ingredients that, frankly/in my opinion, just aren’t enough or don’t belong at all. Essentially, I am noticing that I am starting to adapt the recipes I work from more to my liking, more to what I think will actually enhance the initial thought to something more! We all start somewhere right, and I guess it’s a little strange, yet exciting, to be a little more self-aware of the ways in which I’m mindfully changing my approach to cooking, really treating my food like a well-known acquaintance, with respect, rather than just…well, food, for lack of a better way of describing it. There’s something really beautiful about the nuances of a dish, the way ingredients will speak to you and to each other if you listen, rather than just thinking about the timing aspects of a meal. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to really see between the lines of the food that I’m working with, that I’m cooking with, and really getting to know it inside and out during the whole process, rather than just inside my belly. There’s just so much more to learn and discover, and as the ever dutiful student, I can’t wait to study and practice (my favorite)!

IMG_3387

May all your trials not be perfect, and may there be always something new to learn that makes the familiar exciting! —Cooking Maggie

PS. And just to wet your appetite a little, I’m going to be re-greasing the old writing wheels and actually wroking on more…creative approaches to my blog posts! Oh, and I found a baller new photo app that I can’t WAIT to try and talk about! Stay tuned ya’ll!


Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa & Sour Cream Cilantro Sauce from Gimme Delicious Food

On Homemade Hamburger Helper

I won’t lie to you, but there are definitely some days after work that I’m absolutely beat and I really don’t want to cook, but then those seem to also be the days that I don’t have anything in my fridge and I really don’t want to spend the money on take out (Chicago is pretty expensive after all). So, when stuck between a rock and an empty stomach, I turn to my quick and dirty take on the ever easy [and normally prepackaged] goodness of Hamburger Helper.
 

This dish always reminds me of one of my dearest friends, Molly, and all the nights I spent in her apartment during college, hanging out on her couch, watching anime or playing Wii with a beer or glass of wine on the side, and even on the rare occasion, some serious studying. And it is Molly that I always remember whenever I make this dish because this was what we usually had whenever we got hungry and she was awesome enough to share her food with me—that and spaghetti, which is one of her favorite meals ever. I still remember all our trips to Giant Eagle on grocery runs, and I can still see all the boxes of Hamburger Helper stacked in her pantry, in addition to the other crazy things we got up to, and the not so crazy. Once, this wonderful lady came with me to my great-aunt’s funeral (which also happened to be Easter weekend), and afterwards, I offered to get the ingredients for dinner that wouldn’t take forever to cook. So, we picked up some ham steaks, thinking that would suffice—mind you, these were cheap, prepacked ham steaks—and when we tried to cook it, it was one of the worst tasting things we had ever eaten, and I guess since I’m chuckling while I remember, perhaps it was still pretty good all things aside. I don’t know if she remembers that dinner, but I’ll have to bring it up next time I talk to her. No doubt she’ll laugh about it with me too.

So cheesy! SO GOOD!!!

Now, keep in mind, the last time I was lazy enough to make it out of the box was years ago, and since coming across & altering the original recipe I had found, I don’t plan on ever going back to the box. Not that it was bad out of the box (it was oh so good), but I just prefer to make things from scratch when I can because it’s healthier! No preservatives in this recipe I can tell you that! (And speaking of making things from scratch, I have a BOMB recipe for Copy Cat PF Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps that I actually prefer to what I’ve had at the restaurant. So keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks!) The key to figuring out this recipe is finding the large elbow macaroni’s to make it as close to the box as possible, but more often than not, when I can’t find them, I just use the mini macaronis. It’s just a few minutes less cooking time overall, or cellentani pasta if you want to stick to a larger pasta. Either will work! And besides, when I make it by scratch, I can tailor it to my tastes and it ends up being even better than the box anyway! Frankie likes it with a kick of heat, so I even add a little hot sauce to my recipe (and some diced tomatoes for a little Tex-Mex flair)! [Note: My photo shows flat leaf parsley, which I happened to have on hand, but curly parsley works better I think.]

It doesn’t look pretty, but really, it’s not meant to! YUM!

Here’s to the memories we delight in recreating. —Cooking Maggie


Cheeseburger Macaroni

Ingredients
For Pasta

  • 1 pound lean hamburger meat
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning
  • 1 (10 oz) can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies (or petite diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cups beef broth (or water)
  • 1 cup large elbow macaroni
  • Hot Sauce (after adding cheese sauce) to taste
  • Fresh parsley to top, finely chopped

For Cheese Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper

Instructions

  1. Brown and drain hamburger meat. Stir in taco seasoning, Rotel, beef broth, and macaroni. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and cover pan. Simmer 12-14 mins until macaroni is tender.
  2. For the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking for 5 minutes until fragrant and light brown in color. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Whisk until smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheddar cheese until melted. Add the salt and pepper to the cheese sauce. Pour the cheese sauce over the hamburger mixture. Stir gently to combine.
  3. Add hot sauce to taste and top with fresh parsley.

On First Bites [White Bean Dip]

First bites are so important in food, and I think really great first bites are rare, the kind that makes you actually stop chewing if only to savor the bite on your tongue for just one more moment. It’s that first bite that can set the tone of the meal, can make or break it if it’s only slightly off, and if it’s really, really good, it’ll be a bite you’ll remember for years to come. I have been lucky to have experienced a few of these meal making bites, and happened to recall one from over ten years ago only a few days ago.IMG_3330I was fifteen when I had my first bite of white bean dip, and I will never forget it. Sure, I had white beans before, but none that ever made me stop to think “Oh, so THIS is what a white bean tastes like.” Thick, creamy, salty, garlic-y, light, and slightly sweet. It was simple, but good food doesn’t always have to be complicated or over the top, and this bite was beautiful as it was. And funny enough though, it is the only thing I remember from what I’m sure was an absolutely delicious meal, but I hadn’t thought about this bite until I came across a recipe for Mashed White Bean (which I then adapted my recipe from) on Pinterest, and then I remembered, and then I craved.

IMG_3328
This photo (and all photos above) are the white bean dip made with cannellini beans.

I made a few changes to the recipe I came across because the garlic in the recipe wasn’t going to be enough, let alone be strong enough, so I decided to cook my garlic before I mixed it in. And while I did follow the rest of the recipe (mostly) as it was, I made another batch using great northern beans because I know they are softer and slightly smoother. The toppings are definitely things I plan to play with, although this grouping was just absolutely delicious, so I didn’t feel inclined to change anything about it when I was making it, though I may leave off the red pepper flakes next time.

IMG_3430
SO MUCH SMOOTHER! [Great Northern Beans]
I also want to note that while baguette would be the best bread to use, I didn’t have any on hand when I made it, and the grocery store I had chosen to go has a really poor bakery station, so there wasn’t any baguette available…so I went with what was available to me, and frankly, I think any bread with this dip would be utterly scrumptious! I also added more olive oil when initially blending everything together with the cannellini beans because of their tougher texture (really they are a bean that should be cooked before they are mashed, even coming out of a can, which is why I think the great northern bean would be more appropriate here). By no means any less delicious, but I’m definitely more aware of what I’m using to try (emphasis on try) to recreate what I had ten years ago. I know it will never be the same—it’s too hard to remake the same feelings you have from a memory because it’s too hard to recreate the same atmosphere and circumstance that those initial memories were born in—it still tasted just as good to remember such a wonder experience and to have this dip again after so long in my adult kitchen with my adorable dog licking my toes, hoping for a bite, and to me, that’s more delicious that reliving any memory exactly the same. Who wants to remember the same thing exactly the same way anyway? Not me!

IMG_3431
White Bean Dip with Great Northern Beans

IMG_3433

 

May you live for the newness in everyday, but never forget the wonderful experiences of days past. — Cooking Maggie


Quick White Bean Dip
Adapted from Mashed White Bean Bruschetta by Sweet Paul recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil, more for topping
  • salt
  • 12 slices of preferred bread, toasted to taste
  • fresh tyme
  • a little chili flakes (if you’d like)

Instructions

  1. Cook garlic in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, just to get a little color on them, about 1 minute.
  2. Add garlic, salt, and great northern beans to food processor (or blender), add 1 tablespoon of olive oil at a time (add more if needed) till desired consistency is reached.
  3. Spoon dip into a bowl, and top with fresh thyme leaves, chili flakes, and a little more olive oil (if wanted). Or, just eat plain!

On Chocolate Chip Cookies Part 2

Now that I think about it, I should have asked my mom for this recipe YEARS ago…this is where I should have started, because these cookies? ALMOST PERFECT! [So, yes, there will be a part 3, but no recipe for this post…I want to share the final recipe when I’ve tested it to perfection, but will include the changes I plan to make so you can always back track what’s in here to what Not almost perfect in the way I remember eating them in high school after I’d get home, dipping two (okay, maybe three) cookies into a big glass of milk, but perfect in the way that they’re what I was aiming for when I started this whole Chocolate Chip Cookie journey.IMG_3370

Part 1 Cookies: Too rich, too soft, too thick. I know, it’s pretty much how I like my cookies too, but the richness just stuck with you, a little cloying, that’s what I’m trying to say. This batch? Well, first off, I had more confidence behind my actions. Definitely just put my head down and baked those cookies, trying to not get so caught up in what I was doing and just making them. Secondly, I was A LOT more aware of what my cookies were doing, and instead of blaming myself for doing something wrong, I was thinking about how the ratios were impacting how the cookies were coming out. I already know the sugar ratios (this recipe, 1-1 cup of white to brown, is off, and would have been less crispy/brown around the edges if it had been 1 1/2 to 1/2 brown sugar to white sugar – since my research has shown that brown sugar = chewy, and white sugar = crispy). And it would have helped if I had cooked them about 2 minutes less (12 minutes total), so I’ve already noted that a 9/10 minute cook time should be most appropriate (cooking one pan on the bottom, one on top, and rotating up and down, back and forth, halfway through of course). I also did a microwave soft butter (so some was melted, some was not, but my research has also shown that in most cases it doesn’t make the biggest difference), but next time, I’m going to completely melt and brown that sucker! It should add a nicer brown color to my cookies too, so I’m excited to try that out!

IMG_3371

Next, my mom added oatmeal to her recipe, but recommended (like she did from the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I did) to grind them up a little first. Now, here I did screw up, because instead of grinding them separately (because I thought my mini food processor was in the dish washer, when in fact, my lunch bag was hiding it), I threw it into my blender with the other dry ingredients. Nope. I got oatmeal flour, and even if I had blended the oatmeal first in the blender, it would have likely done the same where my processor would have just broken it up a little more. So that was on me, but I’m making these suckers again this weekend, so I’ve got that on my radar NOT to do again.

IMG_3372

Then, after reading this step on numerous occasions, I did add my eggs into my batter one at a time so that they mixed and emulsified with my other wet ingredients better. And I had my scoop this time for PERFECT little balls of joy! They were all the same, which now makes that step one less thing for me to be nervous or anxious about! [My new favorite, delightful little contraption!]

So now, here’s where I’ve chosen a side based on how I’ve seen these little cookies perform in my oven. I did NOT let this dough rest in the fridge this time around, and I won’t do it again. While I was thrilled these cookies spread as beautifully as they did, I do realize that the chill factor does prevent them from getting as thin as they did. Not that this batch wasn’t delicious, they were more to my taste (albeit not as soft as I would have liked them to be), so I’m on the right track, but now it’s just about getting the ratio right. When in doubt, everyone should know that momma does in fact know best!

Continuing to bake like a fiend! —Cooking Maggie

On Chocolate Chip Cookies Part 1

As I bake more often, I’m realizing that the process of baking makes me incredibly nervous, where cooking relaxes me, excites me. Baking excites me too, or rather the idea of it, but I find I second guess myself a lot when I’m in the actual process of baking. For one, is my butter too soft? Does it matter? Is it even better when its melted over just soft? Then, am I adding too much flour? Are the rest of the ratios correct? I know it’s what the recipe says, I follow it to a T, but then sometimes my dough is still wet and seems like it needs more flour, and other times too crumbly and needs more liquid, and then I wonder if I just have a bad recipe, but just didn’t know any better…and then I always freak out when I place the dough on my silicone sheets. Are the balls too compact or too large (I picked up a new ice cream/cookie scoop because I’m that paranoid) and whether they will come out soft and chewy like I like them…and so on, and so on. I know, I’m overthinking this.

 

I have coworkers who love to bake and say it’s the easiest thing in the world, preferring baking over cooking even. Nope, baking makes me so nervous, but that’s because it’s a science, not an art, though I think others would disagree with me on that. I don’t know, everything is just so exact and doing one step out of order or not having enough of something could be the difference between deliciousness and complete failure. I like to play with amounts and flavors, rather than having to be so specific, and I think that’s where I seize up when I start to bake. Sure, I can change up the flavors, but I’m just not as savvy as some of my fellow baking buddies who are smart enough to know that adding more vanilla means something has to change with the recipe so that it all still comes together. [Again, am I just overthinking this?] I know I need to relax, keep baking, and if I do a little research on cookie science, then I’ll learn more about cookies and what makes them…well…cookies! Though, after a week of reading recipe after recipe after recipe, I am starting to notice a pattern…and I spent a good hour reading Food Lab’s Cookie Science article, which was incredibly illuminating (read here).

img_3249

 

And lets be honest. The only way I’m truly going to get better at making cookies is by making cookies. SO, I thought, WHAT THE HECK! Let’s do a two-fer! If I’m going to sift through recipes, I might as well try them, see what happens, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find the recipes that really are “The Best” for me (and my friends & family of course, because I can’t be eating all these cookies by myself, which brings me to draw your attention to the ugly paper plate underneath my finished cookies that I used at work because I forgot to photograph at home, but none of my coworkers seemed to mind much).

 

 

This batch, an Averie Cooks recipe (recipe link below) I had tried before, came out okay, but not like it had the last time I made it about a year ago, and I don’t think I did anything differently! See? THIS is what I’m talking about, why I get nervous when I bake! Maybe I was just more aware since I’m not just baking to feed others, img_3261I’m baking to photograph and write about my experience with cooking and so am hyper aware of everything I’m doing. [If you’d like to help me come to my senses, now would be a good time.] I did notice that the flour seemed really high (2 cups in addition to a packet of vanilla pudding) and came out a little crumbly, but the dough was still workable and came out chewy and rich, definitely how I like my cookies! So in the end, I totally over thought the whole process, but I think it could have done with perhaps 1/2 a cup less flour, and maybe 1/4 cup less white sugar because other folks found the richness to be a little cloying. Things to consider, but it’s back to the grind for me, and tomorrow I’ll be prepping/chilling the cookie recipe my mom made when we were in Hong Kong, and I’ll actually have a story to tell! Keep an eye out for Part 2 soon!

Hopelessly Lost in Flour, Cooking Maggie


The Best Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from Averie Cooks

On Spice Shops & Hot Toddies

img_3254

I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I hope my other culinary inclined readers don’t think I’m revealing a secret (or what would constitute as a secret), but if you know of a place that sells spices, and I do mean just spices (with the odd accouterment for your spices like racks and mortar & pestles or pepper grinders), don’t ever go anywhere else. I mean it. I’m normally not picky about what I cook with since the only things I really have access to are my typical grocery stores until Farmer Market season, but I will always go out of my way to buy spices from my shop. Savory Spice on Lincoln Avenue is AMAZING! Not only does it smell incredible, but they have EVERYTHING you might need, and if they don’t have it in store, they’ll likely have it online and will send it directly to your home! But that’s not what I love about them the most.

It’s the quality of their product and the incredibly knowledgeable and friendly staff. I mean, what foodie doesn’t want to talk with another foodie about food?! [I will answer my own rhetorical question with a literal answer: I DO!] But just as you’re walking around, looking at all there is to see, you can tell that the spices just look better, but for sure they smell and taste better too! I have used all the brands I could find at my local grocer, even the more expensive organic brands, but I would end up using double what I normally use from here! The only other spot that is somewhat comparable are the Mariano’s that have fresh spice stations, but the prices there are just more than you’d like to pay, or what

img_3238
These cinnamon sticks? I paid about $2 for 1 oz 4″ sticks, and $5 for 3 oz 3″ sticks! Be still my beating heart!

you’d think you would pay. FOR EXAMPLE! Cardamon pods. You know, the kind you use in curry. At any regular grocery store, you’ll end up paying about $13-14 for a bottle of the pods…at Savory Spice, I can pay $7 for a bottle, and then a little less for the refills! Yes, I said refills, as in, instead of spending money on another bottle, I pay for a bagged refill so I can reuse the jar I already have. Economically and environmentally friendly! Oh, and did I mention that if you order online, they sometimes send you a spice sample too? Or how, when I mentioned that I wanted to make my own vanilla extract while I was in there on Thursday, they offered to sell me one of their bottles to make it in? Not to mention I got some GREAT tips from their website on what alcohol to use with which bean! Have I made it clear how much I love this place? Sure, it’s out of my way and sometimes hard to find parking, but at the end of the day, it’s so, so worth it! Plus you have Gene’s Sausage Shop across the street for some seriously fresh, premium meat at fantastic prices! [Bought myself some Merguez sausages for a recipe I want to make out of the Senate cookbook that arrived on Monday!]

img_3253
Why go anywhere else!? Photo Credit: Savory Spice Shop Chicago

But the reason I bring it up is because I happened to make a pit stop there for a beverage I was attempting to make on my own! A Hot Toddy! This past week, Frankie and I have been dealing with a nasty cold & cough, though the cough I’ve been struggling to get rid of has stuck around for over a month. It’s been gross to say the least, but FINALLY, it’s going away and I have two things to thank for it. Normally, my first go-to is a “non-tea” tea that has even caught the interest of a good portion of my work friends! And it’s so easy to make, on top of being so very good for you!

Lemon, Ginger, Honey. Done. Well…okay, some hot water and maybe I added/tweaked here and there after talking with my mom a little bit—add a bag of green tea once you’ve add the hot water and stirred, AND for extra ginger flavor/benefits, you can add these amazing ginger crystals that my mom found before leaving Hong Kong—but it’s simple, it doesn’t taste like tea [Frankie’s main reason for actually letting me make him this stuff when he’s sick], and it’s just so soothing. Plus it’s just plain good for you! I make a giant jar of the stuff (about two or three times a normal serving) and it keeps for two weeks, so I bring a couple jars with me to work and make a cup before bed. Recipe will be included below, but what I wanted to try this time was a Hot Toddy, which I needed some cloves and cinnamon sticks for, and thus my need to go to the spice store since I had zero cloves and my cinnamon sticks at home were not usable (oh, and if I recall correctly, I paid about $7 or 7 for them and they were scrawny little things with no flavor…seriously, find a local spice shop).

img_3312

Recently, as I was perusing Pintrest, as I do, I happened to notice a small trend of “Whiskey Cures Colds” and “Best Drinks When Sick” articles. Now, I’m of course very suspicious of any kind of “article” on Pintrest and always push for actual/formal sources over heresay any day, but I had been curious whether, like my miracle tea, if adding a little whiskey would actually help alleviate some of my congested symptoms. Of course, I got articles that said yes, and no, but ultimately the drink sounded too good to pass, so when I was out with a friend one night, I tried one, and it was delicious, and in fact, I did feel a little better than I had originally.

So on a night I felt up to making something (it’s been a very slow & light week in my kitchen with both of us struggling to kick this bug) I made one to sip on! It wasn’t the same as what I had with my friend (but I plan to ask next time I’m there), but I definitely wanted a lot more honey & would include ginger next time. I plan to play around with the whiskey I include too (since we are very much a whiskey household with a fairly diverse selection in our buffet bar), but for the most part, absolutely delicious, it just needs to be fine tuned a little, as any good drink does!img_3260

Stay warm and stay well (seriously, there’s a nasty bug going around so do whatever you can to fend it off)! — Cooking Maggie (finally healthy again and back to picking recipes…thank goodness!)


Miracle Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of Honey
  • 1 Lemon sliced into mini wedges
  • Ginger (about the same size as lemon), sliced thinly

Instructions

  1. Slice lemon into mini wedges. Shave and thinly slice ginger.
  2. Pour honey over ginger and lemon slices in a jar..
  3. To make the tea: boil water, pour about ¼ cup of the mixture into a mug. Pour in hot water, stir, and enjoy!
  4. Can also add ½ packet of ginger honey crystals and steep bag of green tea after pouring in hot water.

Note: Try shaving ginger into batch for extra ginger flavor.


Hot Toddy

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon slice for garnish
  • a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1-2 oz whiskey
  • 3-4 tablespoons whisky
  • Hot Water

Instructions

  1. Heat water up over stove.
  2. In a mug, add honey, cloves, whiskey, and cloves.
  3. Pour hot water into mug, and stir. Sip and add additional honey/whiskey to taste. Enjoy!

Recommendation: Summer House Santa Monica

img_3187So, as I may (or may not) have mentioned, I love to read, and as it so happens, my sorority alumnae group just started up a new book group! HUZZAH! And the first month’s pick happened to be one of mine! We ended up reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good read right now! And the great thing about this book group though, aside from having an excuse to read during my lunch time during the work week, is that we will be going to some pretty awesome spots for munchies while we discuss! So naturally, I took it upon myself to make an opportunity out of our book group meetings to recommend a pretty cool spot I had never heard of before. Allow me to present: Summer House Santa Monica.

Located in the Lincoln Park, DePaul area, this little place is tucked away off the main rush of Armitage, the building very unassuming, but inside, that’s a totally different matter. Tiny restaurant front coffee & cookie shop, wine bar to the right, main dining to the left, natural lighting and greenery for days. The entire rooftop skylight is in fact the most appealing feature, next to the really relaxed, linen decor, but I think that plays well in allowing the food to speak for itself, food that is relaxed in its own way. Nothing here is fussy and that made it the perfect setting for discussing some modern literature!

I’ve also been on this kick of avocado toast ever since going to Earl’s Kitchen last month. Normally, I’m not a huge avocado on its own kind of girl, but the one at Earl’s was the perfect size and just utterly delicious! So naturally, when I saw it on the menu here, I had to get it, and it was really delicious, albeit a little hard to eat without ruining the way it was stacked, and a tiny bit on the burnt side underneath, but nothing I didn’t mind! The Chicken & Waffles—another favorite of mine on any menu—were a close second, and they looked delicious, so I will definitely be trying those next time! But for the first real meeting of the group, the place couldn’t have been more perfect! A GREAT brunch recommendation for anyone in the area (or if you’re from the West Coast and looking for a little piece of home). YUM! — Cooking Maggie

img_3189


 

Summer House Santa Monica: 1954 N. Halstead Street, Chicago, IL 60614