On Quick Bruschetta

Holy smokes! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and my apologies for not posting sooner! I’ve been cooking and photographing, and attempting to write up posts and edit my photos, but then I get distracted with packing because we are moving at the end of the month! I know that’s a ways away, but this wasn’t really expected, and being the overly OCD one in the house, I promised not to be that person who leaves packing to the last week. I’m on a 5-6 box per day regimen, with Frankie helping when he can, but worry not, the kitchen will be the last thing we pack up. We aren’t moving far, like to another city far, but just to a different neighborhood far, which makes this whole moving business easier. And because I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants for the next few weeks, slowly siphoning my equipment and tools to the bare essentials, I just don’t have as much time to spend on making, I’m going to call them “new” dishes, but the doesn’t mean we can’t make delicious food! In the meantime, I will be returning to my personal recipe collection and binge on the quick & easy meals I know and love until we get more settled into our new space, which should have more natural light, and if not, there’s a backyard that gets all SORTS of sunlight during the day, so there should be, hopefully, a nice change to my photos that my hard marble background just can’t really handle…but c’est la vie, we do what we can with what we have, no?

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And in the spirit of quick and easy, what could be better than a quick and easy bruschetta? The one thing I’ll say about this is that I LOVE to use heirloom tomatoes when I can get my hands on them. I find them to not only be more visually appealing, but I think they have a deeper flavor than your typical, everyday, red tomato, but if you can’t get heirlooms, I recommend sticking to roma or vine ripe tomatoes. Beef steaks are going to be just a little too firm and I think cherry tomatoes are too sour. And then there’s really nothing to it! Dice your tomatoes, throw in some garlic, splash olive oil, balsamic vinegar (maybe even get a little crazy with your olive oil and balsamic flavoring if you so choose, which is definitely on my list of things to do), and chiffonade your basil, add your salt & pepper and TA-DA! You’ve got bruschetta!

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As for bread, honestly, if you want to get REALLY authentic, you’re going to want to go with a baguette. Otherwise, any bread and size will do. I’ve used rolls before (sliced), and I’ve used crackers, but the one that I’ve pictured is an Italian Loaf because it was smaller in length than your normal baguette, and because it wasn’t necessarily so tough around the edges, it made it a little easier to toast! I love to rub garlic halves over each slice and brush some olive oil over the top. Now, I had run out of fresh garlic, didn’t have time to get some more while I was in the midst of packing and getting hungry, so I deferred to my ever handy jar of pre-minced garlic. Yes, I use this stuff, but only because it makes everything so darn convenient! And if you use a slotted spoon or dry them off a bit, and soak them in olive oil, it’s just like using the real thing. So I used that to add to my little toasts, and boy oh boy did they come out a beautifully toasted color!

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But there you have it! And everything in this recipe is easily adjustable to personal tastes with regards to recipe amounts, and it only takes maybe 10 minutes tops to pull it all together, making it a great afternoon snack or appetizer for a dinner party (which I have done and got GREAT reviews for). And if you run out, or think you will, it’s ridiculously easy to prep a second batch beforehand or make one on the fly! If I add any crazy and weird oil or vinegar flavors, I’ll be sure to mention them as I go! (Olive Oil stores are wonderful thing I must say! Especially if you find a flavor that you really like!) — Cooking Maggie

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Quick Brushetta

Ingredients

  • 3-5 heirloom tomatoes, preferably ones that have some different coloration to them*
    • If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 7-8 basil leaves, chiffonade into ribbons
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, adjust for natural wetness of tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 baguette/Italian loaf, sliced into rounds 1/4″ thick
  • olive oil & garlic for toasting

 

Instructions

  1. Dice your tomatoes into nice, small cubes, and either pat dry or leave as is. Add garlic, basil, oil, vinegar, salt, & pepper. Stir to combine.
  2. For the bread, either 1) rub fresh garlic halves on the top of each slice, then brush on a little olive oil on top, or 2) mix olive oil and minced garlic in a small bowl and brush a little on top of each slice. Toast under the broiler, and remove when golden brown. (Be sure to keep your eye on it or the edges will catch and burn!)
  3. Top each slice with a large scoop of tomatoes and proceed to stuff your face with this deliciousness!


Notes
* The 3-5 is completely adjustable depending on how much you want to make, but rest assured, it does keep in the fridge for a few days after you make it, so you don’t have to eat it all in one day.
* If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
** The ratio of vinegar to olive oil should be 1:2, so keep that in mind when adding

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On BBQ Pork & Spoonbread

It’s almost May, and finally, the weather is starting to warm up here in Chicago, which means I’m starting to get very eager for all the amazing food festivals headed our way! Greek Fest in Lincoln Park, Windy City Ribfest & Smokeout (Smokeout is better in my opinion), Taste of Chicago, Roscoe Village Burger Fest (definitely a favorite), and my absolute favorite festival, which I have never not gone to since I moved to Chicago: Lincoln Square Ribfest! And besides, who doesn’t like spending a weekend exploring great neighborhoods, eating really amazing food with a cold brew, listening to music, and smelling like smoked meat hours after you’ve gone home? (Not I!)

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In my eagerness for summer and warm weather to arrive, I thought I’d at least satiate my craving with a little homemade BBQ Pulled Pork! Normally, I try not to make BBQ at home because it’ll never be as good as what I would get from a full-time BBQ joint, but this recipe got me about as close to the real thing as I will likely ever get (unless I get a smoker, then maybe I might be able to get just a little closer, but that will have to wait for another day). The one thing I will note here is that, I don’t have a favorite or preferred barbeque sauce that I like to always have on hand, and haven’t gotten around to trying to make my own. So what I did was make a combination of barbeque sauces using Lillie Q’s Carolina Sauce & Smoky Sauce, which turned out quite well! And for the root beer, I stuck with my usual go-to, A&W, but next time might try a different brand (perhaps even an off the grid root beer that’s made in house somewhere, though Frankie is my root beer expert, so I will be deferring to him for that).

 

And in addition to the pulled pork, I decided to take the extra step and try my hand at corn spoonbread, inspired by the spoonbread we ate at Revolution Brewery a couple months ago. Overall, not too sweet, with the perfect bite of corn to contrast the smoothness of the actual bread, though the texture was not Frankie’s favorite. But it was incredibly easy to make, so it wasn’t a total loss! But for anyone wanting to give pulled pork at home a try, or wants to try a different take on cornbread, these are great places to start! Hoping there’s warm weather where you are too! – Cooking Maggie


Chicago Food Festivals

Root Beer BBQ Pulled Pork from Mom on Time Out

Sweet Corn Spoonbread from Southern Bite

On Improvised Mexican Pizzas

It’s Friday night, it was a particularly long week, and I decided that cooking was not specifically on my radar, at least nothing complicated. But looking in my fridge, I notice left over chicken breasts (the kind that are individually packaged are my favorite so I’m not pressured to use an entire package in one meal), Mexican cheese, cilantro, and given my love of the cuisine, I of course have all sorts of tortilla vessels in my cupboard (tostada, soft shell, hard shell, it’s all there, staring me down). And instead of doing tacos, I thought I’d cook out of the box and just…wing it. I KNOW! ME? WING IT? IMPROVISE? Yes yes I know that Frankie is a MUCH better improviser than me, but you know what, I took a stab at the whole idea and process of being spontaneous and I think I did a pretty good job, considering it was pretty easy what direction I was going to go in.

And instead of your everyday quesadilla, I decided to do a Mexican pizza! It’s easy, fun, and I can play with the filling and topping combinations for ultimate yummage! Looking back at my fridge, there’s a jalapeno (also usually keep one or two of these on hand every week), and some limes, a little leftover cilantro, and some tomatoes! Excellent! Can you see it coming together yet? Can you guess what I did next?

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I BLISTERED THE JALAPENO! I mean, I did a few other things before that, but I’m a total convert now. If I can blister the pepper, I’m going to blister the heck out of it, and boy oh boy am I ever so happy that I did!! I’ve used raw jalapeno in my mexican chicken before, just cooking it out a little, but blistering it first and then cooking it with the chicken and spices, WHAT A DIFFERENCE! The flavor profile is twice as robust and the heat is more subtle, but by no means lost (though I did keep a few seeds just for a little extra kick for the man who loves the spicy stuff). And if that’s all you learn from this post, I’m going to be 100% okay with that. (BLISTER! BLISTER! BLISTER!)

What I didn’t improvise, or rather, didn’t have to was the seasoning. I don’t know about you, but I find the prepackaged stuff to be just a little bit on the…processed side of things. It’s too salty and it’s got a real metallic twang to it that I just really don’t like on my tongue. So, I don’t use it unless I’m out of a certain spice for my homemade version, which I’ve included below. Frankly, using a homemade spice mix, rather than the prepackaged stuff makes my food taste more authentic anyway, in addition to being fast to make and a much healthier alternative. So in short, save your dollar for something better, and buff up your spice rack a little more, especially given how versatile the spices that are included in the mix are. When am I not using crushed red chili pepper? (Pretty much never, that’s when. Okay, maybe not always when I bake, but I definitely use it a lot.)

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Okay, so we have our fun little twist of jalapeno, and we’ve thrown it into the chicken, and we’ve got it all seasoned up nicely (with some lime) and now we add a little Cholula! Yes, Cholula Hot Sauce, mostly because it’s delicious, and ever since my one friend, who buys the sauce by the gallon served it on some delicious grilled chicken tacos when I spent an afternoon with her and her husband on their deck, I haven’t been able to have a taco without it. I don’t want to say it makes the dish, but it does help make the dish, a kick that isn’t abrasive, but just perfectly peppery. So if you’ve never tried it, give it a go! It’s not necessary though if you’re not a hot or spicy food lover. And there’s our filling! Hooray! Now, CREATE! I’ve included the combination that I used, but this is where your desires for how you want your pizza to taste is all up to you and your preferences! That’s the beauty of this dish. Not only is it quick and easy, but it’s fun to make, and the combinations are absolutely endless! Throw the tomatoes inside, keep them on the outside, or both. Use one cheese, use two, use many. Include more toppings than I did, maybe some guac! The point is, sometimes, at the end of a very long work week, when the last thing you want to do is cook, you keep things fun and easy, and this dish is a perfect one to make any Friday better. Happy Eating!

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–Cooking Maggie


Quick [Improvised] Chicken Mexican PizzasCF4373C6-260D-4A83-8B8B-B4F2EDE6FFDC
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into small bite sized pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, charred, seeded, and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon Cholula Hot Sauce (use less or add more to taste)
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning (recipe below) OR 1 packet of preferred taco seasoning (about 3 tablespoons worth)
    • 1 part chili powder
    • 1 part ground cumin
    • 1 part garlic powder
    • 1 part onion powder
    • 1/2 part crushed red pepper (use less or add more to taste)
  • Lime Juice (from 1/2-1 lime)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup Queso Chihuahua Cheese, for inside pizza
    • More for outside pizza or use a different cheese
  • 8 Tortillas
  • Optional: 1/2 to 1 cup Montery Jack or Taco Cheese
  • Garnish: Cilantro, Sour Cream, more Cholula hot sauce, and Beef or Roma Tomato (finely diced)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Lay two of the tortillas on a baking sheet and sprinkle the Chihuahua Cheese on top, giving it a nice layer.
  2. Before you cook the chicken, char the jalapeno over a burner on your stove, and when charred on all sides, place in a small bowl and cover (with cling wrap, foil, or a towel) for a few minutes. Remove the skin, cut off the top, remove the seeds (or leave a little if you want an extra kick of heat), and finely dice. Set aside.
  3. Over medium-low heat, start to cook the chicken pieces, and halfway through, add the taco seasoning, jalapeno, lime juice, and Cholula hot sauce. Cook until done, then remove from heat.
  4. Place 1 or 2 scoops of the chicken on top of one of the tortillas with cheese, sprinkle a little bit of cilantro and place another tortilla on top. Do the same for the other cheesey tortilla. Bake for about 10 minutes (or until Chihuhua cheese is completely melted), then remove from the oven.
  5. While the tortillas are baking, dice up the tomato, and when initial baking is done, sprinkle either more Chihuahua cheese or another cheese of your choice on top of each tortilla pizza, and top with some of the tomato. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes (or until top cheese is melted).
  6. Remove pizzas from oven, garnish with a dollop of sour cream, more cilantro and Cholula, then serve hot!

Recommendation: Bar Pastoral

Fun fact: I am in a book group (well, actually I’m in two, but one is digital and I’m not really starting it until next month)! I love to read all sorts of things and a book group felt like the right thing to get involved in if only to get me out of the house (and some days out of my kitchen) for just a few blissful minutes. Oh, and let’s not forget about audiobooks, which I love play in the background while I cook! That or salsa music, but I digress. Bar Pastoral, located off of Broadway and Wellington in Lakeview (south of Boystown) will definitely be a place I plan to revisit in the near future.

It’s very casual, but intimate and warm with exposed brick, wood accents, and unique rustic lighting (mason jars crafted into chandeliers, for example). Oh, and the charcuterie bar makes for such an interesting focal point, not to mention the dozens of photos of cheese, but who doesn’t like to look at cheese? (Okay, maybe for the lactose intolerant, but still, cheese is a beautiful thing.) You almost feel like you’re literally in a hole in the wall, almost wine cellar-esque, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. But definitely make some reservations before you go! It’s small and can get pretty popular no matter the time or day. (We went Sunday night for reservations at 6:45pm, and when we left, 3/4 of the place was full!)

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But onto the food! Naturally, when you go, you want to go with wine & cheese while you’re here (of course). When my fellow bookworms arrived, we ordered a sampling of cheeses: the Quadrello di Bufala (middle; paired with a savory relish), the Gjetost (right; a Norweigan cheese that kind of tastes like peanut butter, which was weird, but very delicious and was paired with some nutella/chocolate spread), and the Barber’s Vintage Reserve 1833 Cheddar (left; paired with a honey dijon mustard spread). All cheeses were excellent, and there were definitely some on the menu that I had never heard of before that I would be very interested in trying next time (along with some of their interesting meats)!

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And then, while I hadn’t been planning on eating a main course while I was there, ended up ordering something that always catches my eye when I see it on a menu. Gnocchi. Have I mentioned how much I love gnocchi? I LOVE gnocchi. And while it wasn’t the tenderest gnocchi I’ve ever had (Balena will still take the cake for that honor), it definitely hits top five. On top of that, there was even leek (a new favorite veggie and I’m trying to use as often as I can) and fennel (also a new favorite veggie that I’m trying to utilize more)! And of course they made the sauce with goat’s cheese, which I think only heightens the overall very cheesy experience I was already having! DELICIOUS! I highly recommend this dish!

 

My cohorts also ordered main dishes: the Roasted Chicken & Butternut Squash Soup. The chicken was incredibly tender and buttery, with an uber crisp skin (I know because I got to snag a bite! What good friends I have!), and the potatoes (which were roasted with duck fat) had a subtle richness that worked very well with the earthy roasted root veggies! For the record, I think parsnips are another veggie that is underutilized in our society! Sure, it’s a little tougher than a carrot, but frankly, I think it’s flavor can take on just as many (if not, dare I say it, more) flavor profiles as the carrot can. The Butternut Squash Soup was also very rich and hearty (again, my friends are very nice to me when it comes to my incessant asking for photos and tastes, just so I can try a little of everything, but I always make sure to offer bites off my plate in return! It’s only fair)! Not too heavy, but smooth and creamy, plus the hint of curry was definitely different and added a lovely kick to a dish that can often times take on just one note.

There were definitely other dishes that I wanted to try, but ended up being too full to eat more, so next time, I have my eyes set on the roasted beets and triple cream fondue (without the mushrooms if I can), or even the arctic char, which is one of my favorite fish when I can find it! Definitely a place to hit if you’re looking for a cute date night zone, or easy-going friends’ hang out!


Bar Pastoral: 2947 N. Broadway Street, Chicago, IL 60657

 

On Lemon Chicken & Cast Iron Skillets

So, I’m starting to get more and more into one pot meals, because I’m also noticing that, especially during the middle of the week, the last thing I want to do after a full 8 hour work day is cook something overly complicated or time consuming (we’re talking more than 45 minutes of prep, unless there’s a marinade, which I count as part of the cooking time since I can go do other things in the meantime). And one of the things I’m starting to use more and more for cooking is my cast iron skillet! Sure, it’s a used one, and when I got it, it had definitely rusted out, but with some elbow crease and a couple hours to season it, it’s shiny and good as new, and it’s making some darn good flavorful meals for me and my guy!

 

 

And before I get into the actual one-pan meal itself, allow me to quickly throw out a tip for cleaning them! #1: Clean them while they’re hot! Very normal advice to be sure, since getting gristly bits of the bottom of the pan is a lot easier when it’s hot. And to add on to that, #2: Deglaze your skillet with hot water IF NECESSARY. Now, normally I don’t use water (for reasons I’ll reveal a little later), but when there are some seriously stuck bits of food at the bottom, I have some hot water on the side ready to go just in case, along with a soft plastic bristle brush to get the stuck pieces off without ruining the seasoning of the pan, then DRY THOROUGHLY or it’ll start to rust. #3: While still hot/warm, scour with Coarse Sea Salt, a little vegetable oil/shortening, and a paper towel. No soap ever for these bad boys (rust, scaling, de-seasoning, the usual reasons of course), but I learned this tip from my fry guy Ed, and frankly, the coarse sea salt not only cleans your pan, but is coarse enough to get those last non-stubborn little bits off the bottom without totally stripping the season of your pan like soap or too much water would. Some people may disagree with me, but you could go either way (or both if you need to). #4: While still hot/warm, pour a little (1 tablespoons should be plenty) vegetable oil/shortening. This is what keeps your pan seasoned and ready to use for your next meal. If it’s not warm by the time you get here, reheat your pan a bit on the stove, then off heat add the oil, rubbing it around until you’ve got that dark, shiny look again, removing excess oil from pooling on the bottom. Then, what I do is pop it in the oven to cool naturally. TA-DA!!! It should only take about a minute or two, and I just make sure I have all that I need to clean ready to go so my food doesn’t get cold.

 

But for the one pot meals, I mean, especially when you cook them in the skillet themselves, which has all this natural seasoning to impart into your dish, it just takes your more rustic approach to dinner to a whole new level, and this one is a favorite of our household! One Pot Greek Lemon Chicken & Rice! Naturally, you cook the chicken in the pan first, just to render out the fat of the chicken thigh skin (which is the cut that I use most often) and get that skin nice and crispy and golden brown! Then, when you add in the rice, all that flavor from the chicken gets soaked RIGHT into the rice, making it super soft and tender. This is literally melt in your mouth kind of stuff folks. And the way you cook this (meat first, rest later) proves something about the cast iron skillet I mentioned above. If it’s hot, you’re not likely to have any issues getting things off the bottom, and since I cooked meat first, onions/rice (and chicken again) after, you can tell in the photo of the onions that there is only minimal gristle, but that’s because you kind of do a mini cleaning mid-recipe to remove those larger fatty bits that are just going to burn and bitter the meal, which honestly makes the end cleaning SO MUCH EASIER!

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Now, if you’re like me, and got your pans second-hand/passed down, you might not have a pan lid to go with them. THIS IS OKAY! Don’t go buy another skillet that comes with a lid. I find that’s a waste of money (unless you’re absolutely set on having one with a lid, then by all means), and there are definitely some very EASY hacks to make up for it, like what I did (after being given this tip from the recipe I included): BAKING SHEET. Yup, that’s right, you can ABSOLUTELY use a flat (preferably dark metal) baking sheet to get the same effect as an actual cast iron skillet lid, and no doubt most of you already have that in your inventory, so why not use it? Case and point, do you NOT see how fluffy and delicious that rice looks? Steamed to absolute perfection! Not to mention that all the steam rising up from the rice to keep the chicken nice and moist imparts so much of that awesome lemon flavor! You want your family to clean their plates? This will do it! Oh, and did I mention how easy this is? (So easy!) Definitely a recipe to keep on hand for those busy work weeks that need a quick and tasty meal!

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IMG_3676One Pot Greek Chicken & Lemon Rice from RecipeTin Eats

Notes: The other reason I love this recipe is because there are alternative methods for different kinds of rice (like brown, jasmine, and basmati rice)! Not to mention that a lot of the meals on her blog are really yummy too, but this one is by far my favorite!

On Avocado Toast & Omelettes [Yes, Omelettes!]

So, with my very own Cooking Mama in town for a weekend, she definitely wanted to make a point of making eggs and having me try it, especially since I had mentioned that I wanted to work with eggs more and relearn how to like them. It’s not that I forgot, but I forgot…so, to make good on my promise, she whipped up an omelette for us to share, while I whipped up some avocado toast to go with it.

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Now, I don’t have any photos of the eggs themselves—it was my fault that le Cooking Mama didn’t have the right equipment to make a flawless flip, so she felt it was not photograph worthy—but I will admit, they were actually really yummy. I only had about three bites (because too many bites of egg after not eating eggs for so many years leads to a fairly uncomfortable stomach ache), but it didn’t taste half bad! I’m not sure I can accurately say how it tasted, but she made the omelette with tomatoes and cheddar cheese, so the edges/outside had a bite, while the inside was gooey and warm. Though for the life of me, I still can’t decide what they actually taste like yet…and on that note, I also had a bite of my mom’s Egg’s Benedict on Sunday (we went to Kanela’s, which I also really, really like to go to when I get the desire to brunch, which as I’ve mentioned before is rare), and those were also very yummy, the whites almost having a mozzarella kind of feel to them, but again, no idea how to indicate that I know what I’m talking about yet when it comes to the actual taste. Velvety? I’ve heard that a lot in my cooking shows, but not sure I’d say that’s what I tasted…more practice required I guess.

But I had the desire to make avocado toast from scratch this weekend because if there’s anything my mom likes, it’s avocados! Plus, this doesn’t take a lot of effort to make from scratch, which is one of the other reasons I love this recipe! I also kind of winged it a little, trying to come up with something that sounded yummy with what I already had in my fridge from that week, and perusing a variety of different Pintrest recipes without finding one that pricked me as the one to try. Plus a lot of them were bacon, balsamic, and goat cheese themed, and as I looked at the lovely heirloom tomatoes I had purchased for the omelette and possible bruschetta I was planning to make (but didn’t), I thought, okay, let’s do a bruschetta caprese avocado toast, but instead of mozzarella cheese, I happened to have found some burrata at my grocery store, and I KNEW I had to include it (hence my twist).

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If you haven’t had burrata before, let me tell you, this has now become my favorite soft cheese EVER. It’s firm, yet soft on the outside, and very creamy and rich on the inside. This cheese, with its very unique texture combination is amazing warm, and equally delicious chilled, not to mention that the very subtle creamy flavor goes really well with pretty much anything Italian (I have my eyes set on a fennel and burrata salad that I found, in addition to using it for pasta one day – perhaps a potato gnocchi). The burrata on top of the tomatoes and avocado absolutely made this toast a heck of a lot better than goat’s cheese would have, which isn’t to say goats cheese wouldn’t have been good! Goat’s cheese has a firmer creamed texture, but it’s the tangy flavor that it has that would have really taken the toast in a different direction, rather than retaining this profile of soft richness that I had begun to work on. Plus, goats cheese and mashed avocado, I think, have very similar textures, whereas the burrata was softer and was able to offset the chunkier bites with its smoothness. And the addition of arugula (an unexpected good move) adds a nice peppery note to the slight tang of the tomatoes to break up the richness of this dish! Plus arugula is just amazing in general, a definite favorite green of mine.

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The glaze, I’ll admit, I was very, VERY lazy and just bought pre-bottled from the store, but the added sweetness was just the cherry on top of this rather tame toast (that and the basil, which added an additional fresh element to the dish). I know, I know, balsamic glaze is super easy to make, but with the agenda that we had that day, I just didn’t have the time to stand at my stove stirring for twenty minutes. I promise, I will make it one day, but that weekend was not the time nor the day. But if you’re looking for a very light and very scrumptious breakfast, this is the breakfast for you (and this is coming from someone who is not a naturally breakfast person)!

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Avocado Burrata Caprese Toast
Serves 2-4

Ingredients

  • 1 Avocado, halved & pit removed
  • 1 Heirloom or Beefsteak Tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 burrata ball, sliced
  • 1/3 cup basil, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup arugula
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic glaze (can use store bought glaze)
  • 1 baguette/french bread loaf/preferred bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Instructions

  1. Scoop avocado flesh with a spoon and place in a small bowl. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper, then mash with the back of the fork until you reach desired chunky consistency. Add more salt, lemon juice, and pepper to taste.
  2. Spread the butter or olive oil on the top of your chosen bread and either toast in a pan or under the broiler until golden brown. (The bread I chose above was a mini French loaf, which I think worked splendidly, but you can use a baguette cut lengthwise, or sourdough, or whole wheat (cut into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices), but whatever bread you choose, make sure it can stand up to your ingredients.)
  3. Once bread is toasted, spoon your avocado on first, spread half of the arugula on the avocado, and layer/stagger your thinly sliced tomatoes on top. Then, layer the slices of burrata, and top with basil and a drizzle of the balsamic glaze. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recommendation: The Dearborn

GIRLS WEEKEND!!! That’s right, my very own Cooking Mama came to the Windy City for food, drinks, some quality mother-daughter time, oh and a little Billy Crystal, but no big deal, right?! And naturally, when the mom comes to town, there will be some serious partaking in food and beverages—and I quote on Saturday Morning over breakfast and menu perusing: “I already know what we’re ordering at dinner.”  But that’s what my family does when we get together. We eat and drink and talk, and when we travel together, we usually maneuver our way through the day from one food event to the next, inserting all the other good stuff you do when you travel in between. So naturally, I can pretty much pinpoint the origins of my own personal food obsession, and of course, we munched our way all around the city during her visit!

I could talk about all the places we went to (Tiny Lounge, Kanela, Atwood), but the one place that totally took the cake was The Dearborn. I won’t lie, my mom likes the finer things in life, and I had heard some GREAT things about this place from folks in the food industries or from my other foodie inclined friends, and given its very close proximity to the Chicago Theatre, I mean, no brainer!

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Initial Observations: It was bigger than I thought it would be, but the space was used to its full potential, including as many tables as they could without cramping their diners. We were lucky in being at a corner wall booth (perfect for people watching) and were able to completely converse and enjoy our meal comfortably without having to also enjoy our neighbors conversation on the side. Oh, and by “converse comfortably” I also mean that the music was for mood only, not for creating additional noise. The whole vibe had that inherent industrial tone that Chicago still keeps at the center of its heart, but without the fluff. Industrial chic is what I’m going to call it, and I was definitely a fan!

 

But enough about the space, let’s talk food! Venison tartare – The meat was tender, which was a huge surprise given how gamey it can be, and was seasoned just right. I also really liked the contrast of textures with the fried oyster and shallots, which enhanced the earthy qualities that venison holds naturally. The only thing I would note is that the watercress, while providing that extra hit of peppery goodness that I crave in most things I eat, was just a little cumbersome to eat without cutting it down a little. Otherwise, a really lovely dish, and definitely shareable between two people!

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The steamed mussels were HUGE!!! I mean, they were the biggest mussels I have EVER seen or eaten! The picture below should give you a good idea of how enormous these things were! Half a toast point! HALF A TOAST POINT! And, dare I say it after I went on and on about Senate’s mussels only a couple posts ago…I think these have become the new favorites for me. But they definitely earned the right to be placed so in my books!

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And while those mussels certainly shocked me and my mom both, it was the sauce—a little charmoula-esque, but I think it was the ‘njuda that really did it for me, adding a richer flavor to the sauce that a tomato based wine sauce might—that stole the show, and I mean, as it should! If you’re going to have mussels, the sauce better be so good that you ask for more bread to sop it up with…though we did cheat a little and used the bread that we didn’t need for the tartare to do the deliciously dirty deed of sauce sipping. (Frankly, I don’t think the tartare needed so much bread, since it was almost good enough on its own, but we were very glad for them in this case.) And the mussels were spectacularly cleaned as far as cleaning mussels can go! A little grit is to be expected, but in this dish, absolutely minimal, which was refreshing.

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Moving on to salad course! And yes, I’m aware we ordered a lot, but between two people, this was totally doable (and we had skipped lunch, which made us very hungry)! Mom had set her eyes on the Ancient Grains and Asian Greens Salad, which she thinks should have had more grains, but still, this salad was fresh, crisp and crunchy (which I categorize as two different textural profiles), and not over dressed, which is a key thing for me! The not-a-downside downside was its size. IT’S HUGE, which is delightful and daunting at the same time. This could have been a meal on it’s own, but if you share it, which I highly recommend, it’s hearty without filling you up, but it’s also very take-home-able (which is what we ended up doing).

Then came the awesome part (at least, in my opinion): The Surf ‘N’ Turf. Now, here’s the thing, this isn’t actually on the physical menu anymore, but online, it was still shown as an option, and the thing about my mom is she LOVES foie gras. So of course, that’s what she wanted even before we walked through the door, but this is one of the other reasons I really, really like this place. They did it any way just for her, and sure, her immediate disappointment in hearing it wasn’t available might have been a factor, but I appreciate and will always remember a restaurant that goes above and beyond for their diners. And boy did they go above and beyond. The day boat scallops were HUGE (I have NEVER seen scallops this big ever), and perfectly cooked, and the foie gras (of which I gave the majority of to my mom) was crisp on the top, but tender on the inside! Everything was seasoned well, and the mousse was just the perfect hint of sweet & tart, just heaven on a fork, plus the radicchio and watercress salad provided a refreshing break from all the richness going on.

For dessert, we had two of Courtney’s Macarons and a coffee because, with all that food in our belly, the food coma was starting to kick in. I have zero photographs of these delicious little bites, and I’m going to blame it on the coma I was experiencing, but the Passion Fruit was delightfully tart, and the macarons themselves were soft, but with that nice chew in the middle, and a nice glossy finish on the top. (Side Note: I may or may not be addicted to the Great British Baking Show on Netflix, which may or may not be a little macaron crazy in Season 2, so I’ve been remembering a lot of what they’re looking for in a macaron, which I think I need to try and make.) And the birthday cake was just a lot of fun in your mouth, covered in sprinkles and, I believe, a white chocolate glaze, which was done very well!

Overall, an incredible meal and the experience was definitely one I’m sure to never forget! HIGHLY recommend this place for anyone needing a fun night on the town!

On “Just Get Off Your Butt & Bake” Apple Raspberry Crumble

Okay, I lied. No chocolate cake this time, but I had had so much chocolate the last few weeks, I needed a reprieve. So I turned to fruit, and one of my FAVORITE desserts of all time: Crumble. I LOVE CRUMBLE. The tart sweetness of the fruit, with the crunchy, sugary top? I mean, you can’t get much better than that! Not to mention that I am really enjoying this new baking blog I found: Just Get Off Your Butt & Bake. I mean, it just…spoke to me, given all the dragging my feet and constant anxiety about baking…but it’s a good skill to practice, to perfect, so I got off my butt and baked!

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LOOK HOW BIG AND BEAUTIFUL THESE ARE!!

The best kind of crumble, I think, is strawberry rhubarb, mostly because I love the texture & tart taste of rhubarb paired with subtle sweetness of strawberries. Some will disagree with me on this, finding rhubarb to be too strong a flavor or really fibrous, but perhaps it was because I was introduced to rhubarb really early in life by my Papaw, who used to make a really fantastic rhubarb pie! And if it’s done properly, while strawberries turn to mush, the rhubarb can stand up to the heat, but not be cumbersome to get through either! And now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I haven’t cooked with rhubarb more at home…but I digress from the recipe I found: apple and raspberry crumble. Apples, in this case, are also great for all sorts of preparation, and can withstand heat fairly well without loosing its composition (unless you’re making homemade applesauce, another to do on my list for when my stomach doesn’t want to cooperate, or a kind of puree, then apples tend to be pretty flexible and will gladly mold itself into whatever form you’d like it too). However, as I was grocery shopping, I found myself in the midst of another freak shopping trip. NO RASPBERRIES! Blackberries? Okay, I can see not always having those. But raspberries?! I’ve never gone to a store and not been able to find raspberries…but cest le vie I guess…so when I found these big, beautiful strawberries, which I think are a great first alternative to raspberries, I just went with it (NO ANXIETY IN SIGHT EITHER! Winged it like a champ!).

But crumble is such a nonchalant kind of dessert, and I felt myself approaching the whole process in very much the same way (not going to lie, I was totally in my PJ’s when I made this, and I’m not sorry for it one bit), and perhaps that’s the whole point with something as homey and gooey and sweet as this. It’s too easy a recipe that it makes intentionally messing up or get the proportions wrong incredibly difficult, even for someone as nutty about particulars as myself. So long as there is equal fruit to crumble (or a little more fruit because that’s the best part, though some may disagree), then it’s a success! And this, was a success! I really wanted to do something traditional this time, just to say that I did it/could do it, even though I think most anyone could make this without breaking a sweat, despite being WAY too much food for just two people, but I have a great recipe alternative that I may end up baking in the next few days to sweeten up this downpour of damper rain (single servings for the win)!

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But for those of you who don’t have a strong sweet tooth, or aren’t the biggest chocolate, cookie, brownie, cupcake, etc. kind of muncher, then this may be the dessert for you! Easy, delicious, and really enticing with that golden brown crust! How can you not sneak a secret spoonful of this stuff straight from the oven?

To burning my mouth over and over again (and not feeling bad about it one bit) — Cooking Maggie


Apple Raspberry Crumble from Get Off Your Butt & Bake