On Leeks

It’s official, I want leeks in my home at all times. Well, after I’m all done moving of course, but LEEKS ARE DELICIOUS! And if you haven’t had one before, try adding them in with whatever veggie dish you’re making! They have this really wonderful woody aroma to them, and a delightfully mild sweetness, unlike their very strong and pungent veggie friend, onion. For example, I found this really lovely recipe for asparagus that included leeks and pancetta (which I substituted for bacon because that was what I had, and frankly, I find it a little difficult to find pancetta around me) and let me tell you something, Frankie could SMELL it from the other end of the apartment and was shouting “THAT SMELLS GOOD! WHAT ARE YOU MAKING?” about every few minutes. Sometimes, being able to surprise your partner that vegetables, which are not his favorite things to eat, can actually be darn right delicious! Sadly, no photos, but I will DEFINITELY be making it again and included the link to the recipe below in case you don’t want to wait for my photographic evidence of utter tastiness!


But I digress. As I’m working with leeks more and more, almost seeking them out in a way, I’m becoming more aware of how difficult it can be to cook. Too much and they become mushy and melt into whatever you’re cooking without adding much else since their flavor profile is milder than that of their close veggie friend onion. Though, naturally, if you’re making a soup, you want them to be soft so they blend easily, so in that case, cook away! But too little cooking leaves you with crunchy and fibrous mouthfuls of nothing. It’s only when you get them cooking in a little oil, or dare I say it, butter (which I think is the way to go because they soak up all that nuttiness) that the really aromatic sweetness comes out. You want your leeks to have a presence in whatever it is you’re cooking, rather than being masked, because they are delicate and beautiful, deserving a chance to shine in whatever dish you’re cooking.


For example, take the asparagus I mentioned earlier! While asparagus was the main ingredient and star of that dish, with its own subtle note of sweetness amid its natural bright earthiness, the addition of the leek enhanced that sweet note to just the perfect amount. The leek complimented it, and still provided a slight tart nuttiness from their caramelization in butter to help them stand out amid the equally strong meatiness of the bacon! And all together, well, let’s just say the recipe is titled aptly!


As for these fritters? Well, it’s safe to say that I have known for quite some time now that Smitten Kitchen is one of my top go to spots for things to make and try! Deb Perelman’s food is just elegantly simple, unfussy, but delicious, and always adaptable to taste, as I did with these fritters. I like to add a little heat to my veggie dishes if there seems to be a pull towards a single flavor note, which for this dish, since it’s JUST leeks, was going to be a pull towards that soft sweetness, so I added just a little more paprika than the recipe asked for to get a small spicy kick. Also, make sure you do dab your leeks dry after you rinse any remaining dirt away! This ensures that there won’t be too much moisture in your mixture, so your fritters stay in tact and fry perfectly once you mix up your batter!


But look how tasty that looks?! And that’s another thing I love about her recipes. They’re easy to make. They don’t require a lot of time, making them ideal for weekday cooking, which for me, is becoming the kind of thing I’m gravitating towards the most. But here’s to the upcoming change in season, to a new home, and new meals in a new kitchen! Though, let me say it right now, there are two steaks in our current freezer just waiting to hit the coals of a new grill that may or may not make its way into our backyard in the coming weeks! BBQ and Bags anyone? — Cooking Maggie

Leek Fritters with Garlic & Lemon from smitten kitchen

Absurdly Addictive Asparagus from kaykay on Food52.com


On Pesto, To Taste, & Bravery

A month ago, during the week of Easter, I did something outrageous, something totally unlike me, courtesy of something Frankie found and encouraged me to try. I filmed myself, which the help of Frankie & one of my besties who also happens to be a director & film maker, and submitted said film to Food Network (for Guy’s Next Big Project). Now, before I go further, no, I have not heard back, nor do I expect to because we essentially did the submission in roughly three hours, so it was rushed—bad, I know—but the point of this is that, for me, this was bold, terrifying, and exciting. I am just not the kind of person who normally seeks out the spotlight—though I guess this blog, in its own way, does kind of put me in the spotlight…but I can hide behind my words, behind my computer screen, in my apartment, whereas filming puts me front and center with no where to hide. It’s just not something I’m used to doing, but that’s what this whole 2017 experiment was all about. Getting outside of my comfort zone and doing things I didn’t think I could ever do. I mean, I did start this blog and have been doing my best to keep up with it, right? Right! And would I ever do something like that again? Actually, I would. Not for fame and glory, I’m not looking for that, but rather, I would do it again just to prove that I can do more than I think I can. If I’m learning anything, I’m learning to be brave.


But enough about being brave, lets talk turkey, or rather chicken. Chicken Piccata from Diana Henry’s recipe book Simple And you might notice, I used chicken cutlets, rather than halving a chicken breast and just pounding it out a little, which is what I would have done under normal circumstances. However, to save time on cooking so I would have more time for filming, I did not—and in hindsight, maybe I should have been filming myself cooking a little too for my submission, but a lesson for next time to be sure. And frankly, while it’s not my favorite cut to cook with, there is nothing wrong with a chicken cutlet here and there, provided you don’t overcook it because it can get really tough given how thin it is. But a quick sear on medium-high heat, about 2 minutes, maybe 3 tops depending on the cut from your store, should be just right to keep it tender.


Oh, and I adapted her lemon orzo that pairs very well with something like Chicken Piccata. You can make spaghetti, but there’s something really delightful about the texture of orzo that I almost prefer to spaghetti in dishes like this. However, I took some liberties, and kind of, on the spur, threw a quick pesto together because, as I thought about it, and Chicken Piccata is a pretty light colored dish (pop of parsley aside) and thought that a pesto orzo would just look better on the plate. So, I whipped together the parsley with a little basil, some pesto gevonese—you can buy jarred in any grocery store, and honestly is a quick way to help bolster the foundation of your pesto without having to filter through your grocer’s basil, which might not be as fresh, or economically friendly, as you would like—a little olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and of course a dash of salt & pepper. Throw in the pesto, throw in your Parmesan, and voila! Lemon Pesto Orzo!


Now, normally this is where I throw out some links to recipes for you to try, and provide you with my take on the pesto. Unfortunately, I made my pesto to taste, which frankly, is how I think most pesto’s are, and should, be made. The ratio between parsley to basil (if you want a combination) is purely to your own preference, but I think that’s what helps to make cooking so personal for you and your family. And pesto can be such a blank slate that it’s SO easy to jazz it up any way you want! Want to use a little sun-dried tomato in your mix? GO FOR IT! Want to add a little pine nuts, absolutely! Garlic? Done. Spinach or arugula? Both make GREAT alternatives for either parsley, or basil, or both! Want to change out regular table salt for pink Himalayan salt, which you can get at your grocer, spice shop, Marshalls, HomeGoods, or TJMaxx (yes, you read that right) and happens to have a lower sodium content than regular salt for those looking to watch their sodium intake. Not to mention it still has small amounts of other good stuff like potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium! (For those who have used pink salt, but don’t notice a difference in taste, that’s true, there really isn’t one, but it’s fun to cook with and the added reduction of sodium is a plus I think.) But that’s my point! Pesto is whatever you want to make it, and why I just can’t possibly give definite measurements. What I can provide is a starting list of ingredients, things I have thrown together before, and then you can take it from there.


And the same could go for Chicken Piccata, some like it breaded, others like it very lemony & capery, but me personally, it’s all about that buttery depth to the sauce, in addition to the lemon and capers.

On Going Home & Cincinnati Recommendations: E + O Kitchen

[Prologue: I know it’s been a while, but with two work proposals due in a week, not to mention all the packing we’ve been doing (75% done! WHOO!), its been hard to not be exhausted when I walk in the door to write anything, SO to make up for a week gone by, here’s an EXTRA long post just for you!]

There’s nothing like going home. And I don’t mean Hong Kong home. I mean Ohio home. Yes, I’m originally from Ohio, specifically Cincinnati, which is where I spent the first part of my childhood (and many summers visiting whilst living in Hong Kong), and Dayton, which is where my mother grew up and where my grandparents still live. Over Easter, I returned to my home, and I’ll say again, there’s nothing like it. I spent the first part of my Easter weekend with my grandparents, taking an early Saturday morning run around the main street where my mom grew up and went to school and where I had on many occasions gone with my family to the local outdoor pavilion that hosted bands, singers, and various other groups to perform and entertain the small masses of the area. Thinking back, I can still remember hearing the sounds of music drifting across the park, the side streets, and I can remember spending many summer evenings on their back porch just listening, waiting for the fireflies to wake up and dance around us. I can also remember my earliest memory of firefly hunting with my mom in their front lawn, scurrying around with small empty jars that used to hold Gerber brand baby food, with little holes in the lid punched in with pencils, trying to spot their little black bodies in the darkening light before they disappeared. I also made a point to run by the little pond where my Papaw taught me how to fish. It was also this very same pond where a fish stole my fishing rod when I wasn’t paying attention, dragging it to the bottom of the pond, where it may yet still be, likely rusted and covered in green, slimy algae.


But Dayton has something special food wise as well. It holds my earliest living memory of eating pizza, and not just any pizza like Papa Johns or Domino’s (or LaRosa’s if you want to get really Midwestern, or Mio’s for that matter if you want to get specific to Southern Ohio). Marion’s…Marion’s Pizza was the very first pizza I remember eating (displayed mouth wateringly below).


What I present to you is the Marion’s Deluxe pizza (mushrooms excluded on one side for yours truly of course). It has EVERYTHING I love on my pizza. Ground sausage (not the clumpy kind, but the crumbly kind), pepperoni, green peppers, onion, olives, and cheese. But not just any kind of cheese. Their cheese is super special in the sense that it’s mozzarella in TINY CUBES, think Chiclet size tiny. And all the hundreds of little tiny cubes all over my pizza melt and brown so evenly, it’s just a beautiful thing to behold! Not to mention their thin crust is a little reminiscent of the Lou Malnati’s thin butter crust. And after years of looking, I’m starting to think you can’t find this kind of cheese at your every day local grocery store, so my idea of trying to make my own pizzas at home with the same kind of cheese (not the exact same pizza because I have since learned my lesson on that note) may not be as easy as I would have liked, but I’ll keep searching! Someone has to have it!


The second part of my Easter weekend was spent in Cincinnati, revisiting the streets and houses we used to live before moving across the world, snagging a quick snack at the Graeter’s in Mariemont (my earliest memory of eating the best ice cream ever, in my opinion of course), constantly going back and forth with stories about times long past that still feel just as fresh as though they had happened yesterday. You can’t ever really forget your first home can you? That sense of belonging still ingrained the marrow of your bones, walking through old haunts and memories, though now that I think about it, I don’t know if I could ever live there again. It would feel too foreign trying to place myself as I am now into a space that fit me perfectly as I was then. Perhaps not, but I’ve gotten too comfortable seeing myself as a visitor rather than a previous resident. That could just be me though, but visiting has it’s perks!

Take this restaurant for example: E+O Kitchen. It wasn’t always E+O, before that there was Beluga, and before that, Dancing Wasabi (which I did eat at once and found their sushi to be really yummy, but not altogether memorable), and then before that I can’t really remember because I was too young to really pay attention to that sort of thing, but I can still remember 20 years ago (revealing my age just a little?), a Melting Pot had found a home in the walls where E+O now resides. It was one of the first times I remember eating fondue and feeling like I had been elevated to some new level of elegant fine dining! After dining at E+O, I will forever have a more profound memory to look back on.

So let’s get into this shall we? [Note: All photos will be posted as individual photos because I want to showcase the food, which it absolutely deserves, so this post is going to have some SERIOUS length to it, but trust me, even if you’re here for jus the photos, it’s totally worth scrolling for them.] Because, let me tell you, I have been itching to make the time to write about this place in the way it deserves. With detail. Now, when you look at the menu, there really isn’t any way to just pick one or two dishes, and at their great price?! I mean, it was kind of clear to me and my family that this was going to be a little bit of a feast (and jumping ahead a little bit, in no way did we break the bank by doing so! If you have $30 and some friends, order a glass of wine, four or five plates, and you might have a little leftover for ice cream at the Graeter’s around the corner…or order their Pot de Crème, which is utterly delicious, but now I’m really getting ahead of myself. Dish #1: Ahi Tuna Poke


This dish was by far one of the most unique and delicious that I’ve ever had…ever! I mean, come on, just look at that crispy, tempura fried nori!! Have you ever seen anything like it? Probably not, but let me tell you, you won’t taste anything like it either. Crispy, sweet, earthy, salty, with deliciously big, tender bites of tuna—and for a landlocked State, which I know is a concern for anyone eating fish, this is some really Grade A quality tuna, and there is a LOT of it, which makes the $15 price tag totally validated. All the textures play so nicely together, and every bite is delightfully balanced in flavors, not to mention has a great kick of heat with the spicy mayo! And it just looks so beautiful and inviting! A dig in dish to be sure! Now, Dish #2: Brussels Sprout Salad


And there’s a VERY good reason why this dish is one of their best sellers. Even for folks who aren’t the biggest fans of brussels sprout (or kale for the matter), worry not. This dish will completely change the way you feel about them in just a bite. It is, in fact, THAT GOOD. I mean, just look at the crisp fry on those tasty little morsels? How could you not like that? And their nice chop/thin slice removes any possible trace of any “cardboard” after taste that most folks commonly find when eating these veggies (myself included specifically for kale). But really, this dish is all about the dressing, which you may notice isn’t listed in the menu, and that’s because it’s why you order this dish. I couldn’t even fully pinpoint what all was in this tangy vinaigrette (aside from typical things like ginger, maybe a hint of fish sauce or sesame seed oil, and a little sweet chili in there), but who cares if the plate is pretty much cleaned spotless at the end of everything? I think I’m okay living in ignorance on that note. Dish #3Food Buddha’s Crispy Rice. These little free form sushi bites were soft, crunchy, spicy, and earthy all in one bite. Now, I only got a nibble because we ordered these for the boys, but even in a nibble, you can’t help but appreciate the complicated flavors in such a simple package. [Also note: see what I meant about those nice big pieces of tuna? And there was enough for me and my dad to have more than one helping…it’s a monster dish!]


Dish #4 & 5: Lacquered Duck Steamed Buns & Edamame (because what’s sushi without some edamame on the side?) So if you haven’t had Peking Duck before, this is pretty darn close. Again, another dish for the boys, but naturally I stole a bite for research sake! But Peking Duck is a dish I hold VERY dear and close to my heart, a dish that is very popular and special in Hong Kong, and this bun got about as close as you can when you’re in southern Ohio. The meat was soft and tender, slathered in the sweet hoisin sauce that mirrors the plum sauce you would top your Peking duck with in Asia, and the bun was deliciously plush, just a little pillow in your hand. The nice twist was the asian slaw that they added, which I think added a very lovely, refreshing effect to the bite, which I think makes the whole thing stand out from my own memories of Peking duck buns.


Dish #6: Dragon’s Breath Signature Roll. Tempura shrimp, avocado, cucumber, ponzu sauce. Yeah, doesn’t that make your mouth water? And it was absolutely the perfect amount of heat, soft, crunchy, sweet, salty, refreshing (the cucumber of course is meant to cut the heat so it’s not the only note you get, naturally0, and there’s nothing better than crispy shallots. Definitely one of the better sushi rolls I’ve ever had, though if you’re ever in Chicago, I do recommend the Flaming Dragon Maki (they set the whole plate on fire!) with Alligator skewers! Yummy!


Dish #7: Fish Taco. Now, we all know by now, I LOVE MY TACOS! And because my momma was not eating meat that weekend, we went with some fish, which I had no problem with! Fish tacos, when done right, can be even tastier than some meat tacos! Everyone does their tacos so differently that sometimes going by the waiter recommendation is the best way to go, so we did! Do you see those pickles? Yeah, those were outstanding! Seasoned well with just the right amount of sweetness to cut the bitterness of the cabbage and scallion. And the fish was really cooked well! Perfectly breaded, tender, and flaky! Not dried out in the slightest, and with the quick squeeze of the lemon, it had that nice citrusy after note that I think all tacos should have! It’s like the icing on a cake, you just have to have it!


Dish #8: Hamachi Crudo (the ALMOST last stop). So we weren’t really sure we were going to order more food, but my dad looked at me and said, “I can do one more, what sounds good Mags?” And this is how, after realizing we have pretty much tried something from every part of the menu, except their specialties or yakatori, our waiter mentioned that the hamachi crudo was well worth a taste, so we went with it, and it was a GREAT recommendation! The hamachi (yellow tail) was incredibly tender, cut thin enough to bit through, but thick enough that I know I’m getting a great bite of such a wonderful fish (definitely one of my favorite kinds of sushi to order). And the ponzu sauce at the bottom is practically drinkable, laced with the heat from the chilies, and the nice refreshing cilantro seasoning and cool orange slices maintained balance and sweetness to cut the spice. But it was definitely a fantastic recommendation and exactly the last thing I needed to end the feast…or so I thought…


Dish #9: Pot de Crème! Now, I had already mentioned this from up above, but when the waiter said it was their best selling dessert, I mean, it was a no brainer. Not overly sweet, but definitely creamy and smooth, with just the right chocolate intensity to really tie a bow around the whole experience of the meal! And sure, you might think chocolate & fish don’t really go together, but you know what, I think it was just the right way to end our meal, because in no way did the chocolate feel out of place or mix oddly with all the flavors I graced my palate with! Maybe not all chocolate goes with fish, but it wasn’t just fish, there was spice, sweetness, bitterness, earthy flavors, that I think can all pair well with chocolate when you think about it. And it was light. That I think was the key to making it work. Had it been a heavier/denser dessert, it would have thrown everything off, but it wasn’t. It was just a completely sweet end to a delicious meal! If you’re in the neighborhood of Hyde Park, GO HERE!!! The price was well worth it, and these dishes are definitely for sharing, so definitely bring some friends to enjoy it with you! Thank you E+O for an experience I am sure never to forget! —Cooking Maggie