On Cooking with Alex #1: Alex’s Pork Noodle Bowls

IT HAPPENED! IT FINALLY HAPPENED! My friend Alex & I finally got our FaceTime’s going and cooked together (catching up along the way as well), and it was so much fun and we’ve already been discussing what to make next, so I’m super looking forward to our upcoming segments together! And since this was all her idea to begin with, she got to pick our first recipe: Pork Noodle Bowls with homemade Nuoc Cham sauce! You guys, I think she just revealed Frankie’s and my new favorite weeknight meal. Not only was the marinade incredibly easy to pull together the night before, but cooking it took no time at all. Start to finish: 30 minutes tops.

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And you can totally do other things with these ingredients the next time, making leftover Summer Rolls with Rice Paper Wrappers, but unfortunately I couldn’t find those anywhere at the two stores I did venture off to the weekend before, but will continue to keep my eyes peeled because I love Summer Rolls. Throw in a little avocado, maybe add a chilled shrimp, with peanut sauce? Oh yeah, that’s the stuff! And for the $3 I paid for my vermicelli noodles, I have a LOT to show for it! Leftovers for days ya’ll, so much so I may run to Gene’s and pick up some more pork to fry up tomorrow night! Even Frankie said it was a HOMERUN, which is a HUGE compliment!

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That being said, as we were going through the recipe and cooking method, we did discuss ways in which we were varying the recipe to suit our needs, which is so important before you even begin to tackle a recipe. For example, Alex and spicy foods don’t always go together, so she skipped the chilies in the sauce. I, on the other hand, was seriously hesitant to add a bunch of sugar to the dish because sugar post Whole30 has not been an easy reintroduction, and frankly, it’s no longer something I gravitate towards, so I halved the sugar input and removed it completely from the pork marinade. I also haven’t gone back to using regular soy sauce simply because the Coconut Aminos taste just as good, if not better, and it’s not as salty. It actually has a little inherent sweetness to it that makes removing sugar/honey in my recipes a lot easier because I get that sweetness from the meat itself and the aminos. But that is what this whole venture was supposed to do! It was supposed to bring two different approaches together and start a conversation about food, how we cook it, what we like, what we don’t, and how we approach those challenges to ensure we both get something delicious at the end, and our first attempt was a total success in doing just that!

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Next week, we are going to be baking, but that’s all I’m going to tell you until then! In the meantime, definitely check this recipe out and enjoy! — Cooking Maggie


Alex’s Pork Noodle Bowls

Lemongrass Pork Ingredients:

  • 12 oz Pork Chop, thinly sliced (or use pork shoulder)
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, minced (only the lower root portion)
    • Note: Alex couldn’t get lemongrass, so instead, she used 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste, which is 100% the best way to go!
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Cilantro, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1 Lime, squeezed
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Honey
    • Note: I only used 1/2 the amount said simply because sugar has been a hard thing to get used to for our household since whole30
  • 1 Tbsp Dark Brown Sugar
    • Note: I personally did not add the brown sugar to my marinade, but that was totally fine because the honey added just the right amount of sweetness
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Nuoc Cham Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 3 Tbsp Sugar
    • Note: I used half this amount of sugar (you know, whole30…) and next time won’t use any at all.
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp Lime Juice
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 2-3 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 1-2 Bird’s Eye/ Thai Chilies, very thinly sliced
    • Note: You can use serrano if you can’t find Thai chilies at your local grocer, or not at all if you don’t like spice

Noodle Bowl:

  • 6 oz Rice Vermicelli Noodles
  • 1 head Green Leaf, chopped (Romaine works well here too)
  • 1 medium Carrot, thin matchsticks
    • Note: You can totally buy these precut, which I did to save on time
  • 1 medium Cucumber, thin matchsticks
    • Note: We ended up just cutting thin slices and then cutting those in half
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Peanuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped Mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped Thai Basil (or regular basil)
  • Hoisin Sauce (for topping/dipping)
  • Sweet Chili Sauce (for topping/dipping)
  • (Optional) Spring Rolls/Egg Rolls
    • I bought frozen spring rolls, and were a deliciously crunchy addition
  • (Optional) Rice Paper Sheets for Summer Roll Leftover
  • (Optional) 1/4 cup diced white onion
    • I added onion to mine because I love onion!

Instructions

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, and marinate pork for at least 30 minutes, but preferably for 24 hours.
  2. If making Spring Rolls, preheat your oven and prepare according to the package. Also go ahead and cook your vermicelli noodles according to package, straining well, and set aside for later as these should be cool for the bowl later on. You can also get all your other cold ingredients ready for the final assembly, saving the pork for last.
  3. When you’re ready to make your pork, add 2 Tbsp Oil (olive, avocado, coconut, whatever oil you have on hand) to a medium/large skillet or pan, and heat over medium-high until oil is hot. Dump your pork and marinade into the pan and sear till pork is cooked and marinade has reduced slightly (depending on thickness of pork slices, this could range from 4-5 minutes or 5-6 minutes).
  4. Assemble your bowls! Lettuce and noodles in the bottom, top with the carrots, cucumber, onion, peanuts and herbs. Top with pork, then spoon the Nuoc Cham sauce over the whole thing to taste. You can also serve the Hoisin and Chili Sauce on the side, or drizzle a little on top!
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On All The Catching Up

Dear Readers: My apologies for my incredibly late delay in a post…it’s been a busy last couple of weeks with some updates to announce! The first: Cooking with Friends will premiere for the very first time on Tuesday, April 17th, and will be posted later that evening or the next day (depending on how quickly I can get myself together). The second: I have gone ahead and updated my recipe page so that it is clear where my recipes are coming from. Not that anyone has complained (no one has, honestly), but this is a personal choice because it looks, at a glance, like it’s all me, and I don’t want that, that’s not what I stand for. And even though I want folks to go through the specific blog that talks about that specific recipe, I also thought it fairly annoying to have to scroll through the blog post to get to the recipe link, so I also added a direct link to every recipe that I can’t claim to their designated blog. If there are adaptations that I made, I’ve added a star so you can decide how you want to approach the recipe. Just trying to make it easier for my readers, you know. The third: I have also updated (a little) my cookbook page as well, but I know I have more recipes to add, so take a looksee! And with that, let’s dig in, shall we?

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This past Good Friday was a company holiday for me, which meant a day to stick around home with Tuggs! It also meant that I actually had time to unbox the lightbox I had bought…oh…about six months ago…and I rearranged one of the tables in my dining room to be completely dedicated to taking food photos! I had thought to set it up in my kitchen, but I don’t have enough counter space as is. Anyway, here we are! TA-DA! The very first photos from the lightbox!

If any of you have heard or follow Pinch of Yum, not only does she have GREAT healthy, low cal recipes to die for, but she actually has a really lovely and informative post about taking photos with artificial light. I actually bought her setup when I got my camera, and if you haven’t noticed, these are the best photos I’ve been able to turn out! (See side by side of crab cakes below. UGH I CAN’T EVEN!)

And especially since I was just coming off of Whole30, I wanted to make something that wasn’t going to be…too hard on our system, but at the same time, I wanted to make something that had been on my to-bake list, especially with my kitchen aid mixer having been neglected all month, so that’s how I arrived at funfetti cupcakes, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. Overall, you can ABSOLUTELY tell that these are not from a box – the cake itself is super moist and about as white as you get, and they weren’t bad, but they were VERY sweet, which I know is a weird complaint, but that’s only because we’ve been on an almost zero sugar diet for the last few weeks and it was just a little bit of a shock to the system. Still, a really wonderful first non-Whole30 recipe to try out! YUM!

Confetti Cake from Smitten Kitchen

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The week after Easter was very much filled with dinner with friends on Monday and Tuesday, then a singular night in (crab cakes), and then a comedy show Thursday night were we got to see Frankie’s groomswoman Emily Fightmaster kick butt and take names in Second City’s e.t.c. 42nd Review, Gaslight District  (yeah, shameless plug, but I love her to death and she is PHENOMENAL, so go see her while you can)! So there was minimal time to write, minimal time to cook, and then we whisked ourselves off to Buffalo to get REAL into wedding planning (menu, photographer meeting, ceremony site visit, and so on), which left even less time to catch up and pull something together for you all! Hopefully a two-fer recipe spill will set everything right again, especially since it’s one of my favorite dishes: curry! Red Thai Curry to be exact, but with my own spin to it. The recipe on it’s own, great, BUT, as I’ve noticed with any curry recipe that claims authenticity and quickness, it’s just not…where it needs to be. The same could be said for this recipe as well, and this is purely with regards to the spices that were just…not there. I’ve included the link below BUT the added spices and veggies are written below, along with my other notes!

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I love potatoes in my curry and I haven’t had peas in a month, so I couldn’t leave them stuck in my freezer for another moment longer, are all underneath! That being said, I also halved the onion/peppers as well to compensate for the amount of pot space I was swapping them out for. And you know what, so long as the sauce, the actual base of the curry is there, YOU can add and remove and swap WHATEVER you want! Don’t want chicken? Try duck! Or pork! Curry is great like that.

Red Curry Chicken from Mother Thyme

Adaptations:

  • USE FULL FAT COCONUT MILK! I feel low fat is just too watery, and a little dose of good fat does you good in the long run anyway.
  • I used ½ the peppers and onion because I wanted to add 2 red potatoes (cubed small) and ¾ cup of peas (swapped out for the beansprouts, which I don’t happen to like in curry).
  • Add an extra ½ teaspoon of salt & pepper to the dish before stirring in the peas.
  • To sauce, add ½ tsp turmeric, 2 teaspoon cumin, 2 tsp coriander
  • To kick up the heat, add in 1 serrano, deseeded, cut in half length wise, and thinly sliced! We used fresno chilies the first time and it didn’t have the kick I wanted, but no biggie! If my grocery store had the little red chilies, I would have used one of those, with a backup chili in case of extra needed heat.

My apologies again for taking so long to get back to you, but I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me, and I hope you’ll check back on Tuesday for the first COOKING WITH FRIENDS! Happy Eating Everyone! (I know I am!) – Cooking Maggie

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On Whole30 [Day 16 – 22] & A NEW LOGO!!

In case any of you wondered, Frankie and I did not go out for St. Patty’s Day this year, and you know what, I’m really okay with it, especially since it was a headache I didn’t have to deal with on Sunday! Yahoo! Instead, I got to hang out at home and really unwind from what hasn’t been the easiest month, and I’m not talking about the Whole30 nor will I turn this into a woe is me post because I’m also not that kind of person. With regards to how I’m feeling, this week, I haven’t felt any cravings, but rather I feel awesome! I feel like I could tackle the world and then some! Bring. It. On. This is what the Whole30 book says is the Tiger’s Blood phase, though I’m not sure I completely understand the actual concept of Tiger’s Blood, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I feel great, I feel energized, I feel calmer (more often when I’m not at work work), and I just want to keep this feeling going! I know that means continuing a lot of the lessons I have picking up throughout this entire process, but I would like to reintroduce rice as a starch option sometimes. But I don’t feel the crutch of cheese anymore, which is a little hard to believe because that craving lasted two weeks and didn’t feel like it was going to lift off me anytime soon! Ugh! But we’re still here, Frankie & I together, and we have been each other’s best support system throughout this process, and I couldn’t have kept going without him, especially on those days when I wanted to take advantage of having our local Lou Malnati’s saved in my phone contacts…but anyway, this week we had a lot of success recipes, and hope you find something to nosh on at home yourself! #paleoisntscary! Also! Made a couple updates to the website! I’m trying out a new logo! Would love some feedback if anyone has any! — Cooking Maggie


Day 15

Dinner: Deconstructed Hot Dog

Note: This was…okay. Super easy and simple to make, but was it completely filling? Absolutely not, simply because it wasn’t a real Chicago dog. God I miss street dogs so much…


Day 16

Breakfast: Strawberry Smoothie Bowl

Lunch: Chicken Piccata Leftovers

Dinner: Teriyaki Salmon & Cauliflower Fried Rice

Note: Normally, I make a Honey Siracha Glazed Salmon, but neither Siracha or Honey are Whole30 compliant, SO, I made Teriyaki (coconut amino style) Salmon instead! Still really yummy, but I’ll include the actual Salmon recipe I normally use above for reference. Oh, and the cauliflower fried rice was AWESOME!! Definitely was a surprise for both Frankie & I! I didn’t include egg, but instead used bean sprouts, which added a really lovely crunch to everything! It was overall, and really satisfying meal!

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Day 17

Breakfast: Banana (light breakfast because I wasn’t feeling the best)

Lunch: Leftover Salmon

Dinner: Steak & Roasted Red Potatoes (in honor of St. Patty’s Day)


Day 18

Breakfast: Apple & Almond Butter

Lunch: Hashbrowns with Ground Pork

Dinner: Paleo & Whole30 Chili

Note: This I think is the best chili recipe I’ve made in a good long while! It’s not bad, and I really don’t miss the beans in this at all! Besides, bacon in anything always tastes great! I will note the following: 1) I halved the recipe because I didn’t want to make a ton; 2) I added chili powder as well, because what’s chili without a little chili powder; and 3) I didn’t use sausage, but instead, found some ground lamb, which was a great addition!

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Day 19

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie (this week is going to be crazy busy, and this is the best I can do)

Lunch: Leftover Chili

Dinner: Spanish Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash & Green Beans

Note: I was literally futzing about in the kitchen when I came across a recipe that intrigued me, but needed a little more of an oomph, not to mention I didn’t want to serve cauliflower to Frankie twice in one week, SO instead I went with my own intuition on this one and crafted a new chicken recipe that came out unbelievably juicy, tender, and well seasoned! It’s a keeper folks!

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Spanish Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Italian Spice Blend
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup chicken stock (plus a little more if you’re using two pans)
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, removed from oil & halved
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, halved

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the spices together and rub all over the chicken thighs.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and then the chicken. (Note: I recommend dividing the chicken between two pans.) Cook until there’s a nice golden brown/crust on each side (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Add in about ½-¾ cup of chicken stock to each pan, then cover with a lid, and lower the heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Divide and add the sun-dried tomatoes & olives equally between the two pans, cover again, and simmer for another 3-4 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165℉.
  5. Serve over roasted spaghetti squash and green beans.

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Day 20

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Leftover Spanish Chicken (which I didn’t end up eating because breakfast was super filling and I had back to back meetings all afternoon, and by the time I even thought to eat, it was 4pm, and I had a training session at 5:30, so I snacked on carrots and strawberries instead).

Dinner: Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Note: I also got a little creative on this one too. There was a slow-cooker steak recipe in the Whole30 Cookbook, but frankly, I just wasn’t feeling the slow-cooker tonight, so instead, I flew by the seat of my pants and picked skirt steak, which I haven’t tried cooking on my own before. The rub ingredients are below, and let me just say, I was definitely doing my happy food dance around the kitchen! It was quick & easy, and unbelievably delicious! I even had another reason to use the leftover chimichurri from last week again! Yay! Also, while a jicama is NOT a tortilla, it’s not a bad substitute for getting me as close to the real thing as possible, which was what I was aiming & hoping for, and together with the beef and chimichurri, it was quite tasty and fulfilling! And with 10 days left to go, I am feeling all sorts of good vibes for this week and next!

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Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1lb skirt steak
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • Olive oil for steak (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Avocado oil for cooking (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 2 jalapenos, blistered, deseeded, and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jicama, shaved/peeled (I found using a knife was easier), and sliced ⅛” on a mandolin
  • ¼ cup authentic chimichurri sauce

Instructions:

  1. Peel/shave the jicama, and using a mandolin, at the ⅛” setting, thinly slice and set aside. While you’re doing that, blister your jalapenos on the stove, and when done, let them sit in a covered bowl for about 1 minute. Then, remove the skin, seeds, and mince both jalapenos and set aside.
  2. Mix up all the spices in a bowl, then rub olive oil on the steak, season each side with the spice mix, and sear on each side for about 5 minutes each side (depending on the thickness of your cut, you might only need 4 minutes each side). This will produce medium rare steak, so if you like it more medium, make it 6 minutes depending on thickness. Let rest, then thinly slice against the grain.
  3. Spread the chimichurri on a jicama slice, add some of the jalapeno, top with sliced steak, and finish with cilantro. Then eat and do your happy dance!

Optional: Serve with a side of roasted fajita veggies (onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and zucchini – which I had in my fridge anyway).


Day 21

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Day 20’s Leftover Spanish Chicken

Dinner: DMK Burger

Note: They have a PALEO burger! It’s served on a portobello bun, but you can sub it for lettuce bun, and then I had them add some caramelized onions and it was just an EXPLOSION of flavor in my mouth! SO SO GOOD! They don’t cook the beef in anything but their own juicy and natural fat, so worry not Whole30-goers! This place is a-okay for you! And you can also eat any of the other burgers and sub out the bun, cheese, and aiolis for…well…other things! ^_^ And for my Paleo readers, their fries are fried in beef fat, so they are APPROVED! Plus, they just have bomb diggity burgers! COME AND GET IT YA’LL!!!


Day 22

Breakfast: Banana, Pineapple, and Mixed Berry Smoothie with ground flax seed, coconut flakes, and walnuts

Lunch: Last of the Steak & Jicama Tacos

On Whole30 [Day 2-15]

This week was all about fighting against cravings, and not being so concerned with meal planning, which fell to pieces anyway…it’s just not my thing. I can see how it’s helpful for sure, but by the time I say, “Yes, I will cook that,” I don’t want to eat it or make it come grocery shopping time, so then, I’m searching for something that looks more appetizing about a half hour before I hit the store, and that’s what I end up making for dinner…which is super weird for me because I’m totally an OCD planner rather than a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person. (I have a large suspicion that this is Frankie’s spontaneity rubbing off on me.) But it works for me and my method of cooking, and that’s what counts. And I always try to plan around what’s already in my fridge so I’m not wasting (like how a recipe calls for spinach or collard greens, but I have a bag of green beans that haven’t been eaten yet, so that’s what I end up making instead).

But the cravings have been…particularly bad this week. Pizza has been our biggest craving, especially Lou Malnati’s thin crust sausage & sliced tomatoes, no, wait, Piece Pizzeria pan pizza with white sauce, mashed potatoes (I promise, this is NOT a weird topping for pizza, it’s so so good), sausage, pepperoni, and sliced tomatoes…with a growler of Golden Arm…oh my gosh I’m not doing myself any favors by talking about it, but there you have it. It’s not that pizza was our crutch, it definitely wasn’t, but pizza is something that we would gravitate towards when it was date night at home or one of us had a REALLY crappy day (we’re talking borderline tears territory to require a pizza pick me up). But we’re halfway through and feeling more determined to make it than ever! Pizza cravings be darned! And honestly, I think it’s also that, because Frankie was born & raised in Chicago, pizza (among other Chicago staples) was a big part of his diet in the grand scheme of things (not the everyday or weekly scheme of things). Family dinners with his family on Sundays usually involved pizza because it meant getting more things done and spending more quality time together, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that’s definitely where this particular craving stems from for him, and in a way for me too, since I’ve been going to Sunday dinners for the past, oh, five/six years?

That’s not to say we haven’t learned anything about this experience. Frankie has definitely felt the effects of eating cleaner, on top of being more mindful of what he’s eating. For me, I think it’s more about strengthening my willpower to not give into to unhealthy foods, that and not being so hesitant to try Paleo/Vegetarian dishes more often. Veggies never hurt anyone, and I will also say that both Frankie and I have noticed we’ve slimmed down a little, which is always a great benefit, and when you see good results, you’re more likely to continue to eat better too. I’m not saying this whole process is easy, it isn’t, but it’s not impossible, and a lot of times, I think that’s been the most difficult hurdle to jump in starting this. Can we do it? How much of a change are we going to have to make to be able to accomplish a goal we’ve set our minds to? Honestly, not much change—maybe 1 hour on the weekend to organize our cupboards/fridge/freezer and post stickies where bad food is hidden so we know to avoid it—and yes, we can do it, we are doing this.

I know this isn’t for everyone, and in absolutely no way and I’m trying to push this on anyone because that’s not fair, and that’s not doing anyone any favors, BUT from my personal experience, this has been really helpful in shifting our view on food in our everyday life. We’ve even talked about doing a Whole10 or Whole7 every month/every other month just to keep these lesson we are learning fresh and ensure we’re not slipping back into bad habits. THAT’S been the biggest thing we’ve learned and fought against. No more bad habits, though I’m not going to lie, the occasional shared pizza with a growler of beer with Frankie is something I have no plans or intentions of giving up. Moderation is key here. Not every week or month, but occasionally, especially when those nights involve a movie at home and my sweatpants! ❤ Ah, l’amor! — Cooking Maggie


Day 8

Dinner: Leftovers


Day 9

Breakfast: Smoothie – Banana & Berries

Lunch: Leftover Stuffed Pepper

Dinner: Steak, Lobster, & Roasted Cherry Tomatoes


Day 10

Brunch: Hashbrowns with Onion, Bell Peppers, & Ground Pork

Note: I added to the ground pork the following: ½ teaspoon of cayenne & crushed red peppers, 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, & pepper. This will kind of get you that breakfast sausage taste using pork that’s compliant! I also diced up ½ an onion, ½ green bell pepper, and ½ a red bell pepper for color & veggie freshness!

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Dinner: Zesty Chicken Bites & Marinara

Note: To quote one of my favorite rascals, OH MY LANTA! These are so, so good! Even Frankie liked them, and I know I shouldn’t be shocked, BUT I AM! The dude actually ate these healthy nuggets, and we made them again on Sunday because we had some left over tenders! I did use ground flax seed instead of almond flour, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two.

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Day 11

Brunch: Zesty Chicken Bites & Marinara

Dinner: Beef & Broccoli with Spaghetti Squash Chow Mein

Note: The chow mein was SO good! Definitely a keeper and one I will be returning too in the future when I want to make something just a little healthier. The beef & broccoli was super delicious too, and there was barely enough leftovers for just one of us! This was a solid meal, and I think next time, I’ll be doubling it! YUM!

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Day 12

Breakfast: Cold Banana Coconut Bowl

Note: Tastes just as good cold as it does warm, and I was feeling incredibly lazy this morning, so sue me…sometimes my lifestyle does not fit into what the recipe calls for.

Lunch: Leftover Shrimp w/Chimichurri Sauce

Dinner: Lettuce Taco Night (Leftover Carnitas, Guac, Homemade Pico, Leftover Salsa Verde, & Leftover Chimichurri)

Note: Honestly, chimicurri on tacos, not my favorite, even though it’s delicious on steak and can be delicious on jerk or lime cilantro chicken, but my carnitas were better accentuated with the guac and pico pairing.

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Day 13

Breakfast: What was supposed to be a Paleo Strawberry Pineapple Smoothie Bowl that turned into just a smoothie because I was running late…

Note: Okay, so picture this, it’s 6:45am and if I want to make it to work by 8, I need to be out the door by 7:10/7:15, and I’m not dressed, the pup needs to be fed and taken out, and my lunch bag isn’t packed…I was rushed, and last night was too tired to prep bags/containers for the next morning, BUT that won’t be a problem tomorrow morning, so I can actually eat this the right way! Oh, and to make it whole30 compliant, don’t add honey, which it honestly didn’t need anyway, and don’t add oats. When I make it tomorrow, I’m going to top it with some blueberries, nuts (undecided as to which one, but probably going to be walnut because I’m super predictable), and coconut flakes! Oh, and for the fruit, I used fresh pineapple (which you should be able to buy in two forms: cored but unsliced, which is cheaper, and cubed), fresh strawberries (about 10 small ones), and frozen mango chunks. I also used a whole30 compliant almond milk from Califia Farms (unsweetened!)!

Lunch: Left over beef & broccoli & spaghetti squash chow mein

Dinner: Bacon Ranch Chicken Poppers w/ Ranch Dipping Sauce

Note: A no no recipe here, the first in our entire month that we haven’t liked, so I’m not going to include the recipe. The texture was too soft, and the carrots that were included in the recipe made the whole thing too sweet. And the ranch dipping sauce was off…Frankie said too oily, and I did use avocado oil, so he’s not wrong, but I’m not sure what was so off putting for me. The whole meal just wasn’t the best, so Frankie & I both agreed that we would not try this one again. Not all of them can be winners after all…BUT I have a feeling that using ground chicken was where I erred. The chicken bites we made over the weekend were OUTRAGEOUSLY good, so I think tomorrow, I’m going to try again with some chicken tenders, and perhaps almond flour vs. coconut flour, and see if that doesn’t produce some better results. I’ll even add the bacon to the top of each nugget so it looks cute! And I found a different ranch that actually looks yummy!

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Day 14

Breakfast: Apple Sandwiches! Yum!

Lunch: Sweet Potato Soup, topped with bacon, and served with a side of roasted green beans

Note: Another loser recipe for us…it could be that I used sweet potato instead of butternut squash, or maybe it was because there was ginger in it? I don’t know, but it just had no flavor depth…it was weird, and I was a good sport and ate it for lunch, but nada. I’m not going to make this one again. Whomp…

Dinner: Bacon topped Ranch Nuggets with Dump Ranch Dipping Sauce

Note: Okay, so after yesterday’s complete failure, I couldn’t let myself be defeated, so I decided to try again, and this time, I kept the bacon separate, no carrots, and used tenders like I did over the weekend. The covering was the Ranch spice mix linked, and I used almond flour instead of coconut flour, and I cooked the bacon separately, cutting them into bite-sized pieces to top each nugget with. They were BOMB! And I liked this ranch recipe way more than the other, but Frankie has this weird gift where he can tell when something isn’t actual dairy…it’s the main reason he hasn’t jumped on the almond milk/coconut milk bandwagon that I’ve become a part of. And I know this because I have tried purchasing other kinds of milk (ranging from fat free to 2%) and he hasn’t liked ANY of them. If it’s not Oberweis 2% milk, he won’t drink it. It’s weird, and I have no idea how he can tell, but he can…so Whole30 Ranch is not going to be a thing for him. Ohhhhh well, still a great dish, and a VERY easy to make appetizer! Possibly one that will make a reappearance at our annual XMAS party!

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Day 15

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie Bowl, the right way…

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Lunch: Chicken Piccata with Green Beans

Note: I made this last night, and it was SUPER easy to make! However, 1) I did not butterfly my chicken breasts and kept them whole. 2) I did not coat them (didn’t feel like it, and frankly, I don’t always like the coating), just salt & pepper, and pan seared them to almost fully cooked. 3) Once I removed them, I added in the stock, lemon juice, and capers, let it bubble, then added the chicken back in, and stuck it in the oven (375℉ for 15 minutes), adding a bunch of green beans, garlic, and lemon slices at the 8 minute mark. I did check the chicken with my meat thermometer at the 15 minute mark to make sure it was fully cooked, and if it isn’t, check again every 1 minute till it is. But it was easy and it came out smelling great! Frankie even had the smallest portion for dinner last night because it was fresh, and he ate every bite!

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On Whole30 [Day 2 – Day 8]

I’m sorry for the length, but I did warn I was going to be as accurate as possible. So far, with a week in, and yes, I’m having some cravings, but not as bad as I would have thought. Day 2 I think was the worst for cravings (cheese, chocolate, rice), but after that, especially if I just started to walk around my office when I noticed I was having cravings, or go and get some water, it made all the difference in being able to stay strong and not give into temptations, which I’m incredibly proud of myself for this! Frankie’s biggest cravings are the Chicago staples he grew up on (and cheese, definitely cheese), but he has also noticed the positive changes to make this whole journey worthwhile! Where we are in the typical timeline are different (he’s going through the cravings phase right now, while I’m dealing with a slight decrease in my energy levels, which I know will get better in another day or two), but it’s safe to say that we almost should have done this sooner. It’s going to have a permanent effect on how we view food when we go out and how we eat at home (which wasn’t terrible to begin with, but now I know it can be better), which is part of what this whole experience is supposed to be helpful in dissecting! That and how certain foods have a negative impact on our bodies on a personal level, and I’m curious to see how the reintroducing period goes! Oh! And all links to recipes will be included within the post, rather than after the post like I normally do!


Day 1
Oh my gosh, my work out today, the worst…definitely feeling the lack of energy for sure, but that was to be expected. I’m going to be taking the Whole30 advice and cooling my jets this weekend so as not to completely overdo it. I am, however, officially on the right track for making meatballs! Baking to have the meat set, then a quick simmer in sauce (which I think should be simmering about an hour prior to even making the meatballs themselves, is the way that best works for me! And the fact I don’t have to mess around with figuring out the egg and bread combination made it 100% easier! This time I used a mixture of pork & beef (2:1 beef to pork), and it was a tiny bit dry, but that was because 10 minutes in the oven and 20 on the stove was too long (I was following the recipe guidelines because I am still in my experimenting phase to just find a good point for me to work from, which I know I’ve found now!), so in the future 10 in the oven, 10-15 on the stove, CHECKING periodically! Oh, and I won’t use pork again because the meat came out white, which looked weird…instead I’ll use veal & ground beef, or just ground beef. But overall, really yummy, and I think next time I would even potentially double the spices so they really come through! Also, Frankie enjoyed the squash, which I never would have thought he would, but it’s so encouraging to know that he is really down to eat whatever I make, and instead of telling him ahead of time, just serve and let him enjoy it! We’re going to make it through this month! No question there!


Dinner: Spiced Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce w/Roasted Spaghetti Squash

Notes: Due to the fact that I couldn’t find any dried chilies or canned chilies without sulfites or non-compliant oils, I decided to simply make the meatballs with the spices I could, and made a different sauce that I had tried before. I will say one thing though – after you stick the meatballs in the oven, CAREFULLY remove them from the pan, drain the oil, THEN put them back in and top with sauce. Our sauce was super oily and didn’t thicken as nicely as I would have liked while simmering. Just a thought! I also added a little bit more of the spices I put in with the meat.

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Day 2

Definitely felt a little sluggish, and hungry, and don’t get me started on my cravings…being at work today was the worst because everyone was eating delicious Lebanese food (our office has an order in service that you can choose something from two previously chosen restaurants each day, which is great when I don’t have enough leftovers to make a meal) and then someone munched on a piece of chocolate…yeah, get out of here with all that! But, I was able to stifle my cravings with healthy food like carrots and Cutie segments, and a little walk around my office while sipping on some water! Thank you Whole30 for that trick!


Breakfast: Warm Banana Coconut Bowl

Notes: This was so easy to make, and while I did have to bring a bigger bag to hold my components—my own bowl, my adorable bowl holder, a jar to hold the leftover coconut milk, the can of coconut milk itself, and a can opener (I ended up buying a spare one to leave at my office)—it was really delicious, and I can’t believe how much I actually enjoy the taste of coconut milk!

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Lunch: Leftover Chicken Thighs

Dinner: 20 Minute Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet

Notes: For the skillet, I had a jar of homemade chili oil that a friend gave me, so used that in place of regular olive oil, and it was the best choice I could have made! The whole meal was soooooo delicious! Definitely a keeper recipe for sure, but I think I also need to learn how to make my own chili oil for future uses!

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Day 3 & Day 4

Our first weekend on the Whole30, and probably not the smartest thing we could have done for ourselves, BUT it was the first time in…20 odd years that Salisbury was going to play Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU)—Frankie’s & my alma mater where we met and fell in love and all that romantic goodness—AT OWU! Frankie decided that we needed to be there and so we drove the 5 and 1/2 hours to Delaware, Ohio and went to the game! The difficulty in this spontaneous decisions was not whether we bring Tuggs or not—becuase we did, thankfully there are a couple of dog-friendly hotels about two minutes from the main drag—but rather, how were we going to eat. Delaware is a very small town in mid-Ohio, about 20 minutes north of Columbus & Ohio State University), and their restaurants aren’t really the most…dietary restricted friendly if that makes sense? We’re talking diners and burger joints and basic college town food necessities, all of which are incredibly delicious, but not great when you’re going Paleo. So, to make it as easy as possible, I packed. I packed A LOT! I packed dinner, breakfast, lunch, and snacks so as not to fall into temptation and dive off the Whole30 wagon. And let me just tell you, making dinner in a moving vehicle ain’t easy, and I don’t recommend it, BUT it wasn’t impossible either, and it kept us full and going for the small hiccup we had with Frankie’s car (which meant turning around an hour in to go back to Chicago to get my car) and the majority of the day that we were there! Plus, it meant we got to drive around real quick and visit old haunts and show off Tuggs, who was an INSTANT hit with the college kids, but that was a total given! Definitely don’t have ANY more plans to travel during this month if I can help it though!

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Day 3 Breakfast: Bacon & Apple Slices with Almond Butter, Blueberries, and Pistachios

Notes: While I did buy pistachios, I actually decided to use walnuts because I prefer them, but the slices themselves were SO good, refreshing, and filling!

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Day 3 Lunch: leftover meatballs

Day 3 Dinner: Chicken & avocado BLT on the road! & homemade mayo

Notes: The mayo recipe I got from the Whole30 Program Book, and it was really, really easy to make with my mini food processor, and I bought a Simply Organic Rotissere Chicken, but had to make sure there wasn’t added carageens or sugar, which I was surprised to see in a lot of the rotisseries I used to buy, but will never again. The Simply Organic chickens at Mariano’s are compliant for my Chicago readers! Also, here’s the Whole30 Cookbook Mayo Recipe!


Day 4 Breakfast: Hashbrowns with peppers & onion

Notes: We asked specifically for it to be cooked in oil, and Frankie got an egg to go with it! Worked out really well in our favor!

Day 4 Lunch: Greek Salad (from Whole30 Program Book), leftover chicken meat, Apples with Almond Butter, Blueberries, & Walnuts

Day 4 Dinner: Leftover Shrimp & Sausage Skillet


Day 5

No real change today, but definitely feeling a little tired. Not a ton, but tired.


Breakfast: Breakfast Smoothie

Notes: I know, I know this isn’t the best thing to eat with Whole30 because they prefer that I actually eat my food, BUT when I have just driven back from Ohio, it’s late, and not enough time to go grocery shopping, you work with what you’ve got. I won’t make a habit of it, but it’s a great alternative for when I just don’t have any time.


Breakfast Smoothie – Banana & Berry

  • 1 banana
  • ½ cup of frozen berries
  • 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 tbsp walnuts
  • 2 tsp ground flax seed
  • 1 tsp coconut flakes

Instructions: Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Then, well, enjoy!

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Lunch: Leftover Greek Salad, chicken meat, blueberries, oranges

Dinner: Frankie’s Bunless Jalapeno Smash Burgers (with homemade ketchup from the Whole30 Program Book, AND we used lettuce instead of buns!)

Notes: The ketchup recipe in the book isn’t bad, but I didn’t feel like it was the best for what we were hoping/going for. SO! I started digging around and I plan to try this recipe out next: Whole30 Ketchup


Day 6

Today I woke up feeling like a million dollars, but when we got to the end of the day, I have never felt more tired in all of my life. I felt hungover or developing a head cold, which meant I was stuffy and mentally sluggish, and the only thing I wanted to do was lie down and veg…so I did. I managed to still go to the gym (seriously patted myself on the back for putting the effort in), and then when I got home I cleaned my floors and get the kitchen in order again, but that’s when I said, “Nope, I’m done,” and proceeded to take an HOUR long bath (#treatyoself) and then vegged on the couch with Frankie in my comfiest pj’s and my 3DS (yes, I’m a super nerd, and it’s the best way for me to destress). Best decision I could have made for myself!


Breakfast: Oven Roasted Breakfast Potatoes

Notes: I LOVE these potatoes, and are my go to when I’m feeling like a hearty, easy to make hash! I have one more hash on the docket for this week, but I adjusted the recipe slightly by adding fresh thyme & rosemary into the potatoes before baking them, so they could get extra potent! I also added some diced green bell pepper too, but I know others who have added or changed up the veggies they used!)

Lunch: Spicy Southwest Whole30 Stuffed Peppers

Notes: I made these the night before and I adjusted the spices/added a few things because 1. It was a little dry after it was said and done, and 2. It tasted like…nothing, SO I Cooking Maggie-fied it, as I tend to do when things aren’t to my taste. Additions included: upping the ground pepper to 1 teaspoon, with a spare teaspoon at the end to taste; upping the chili powder to 1 teaspoon; upping garlic to 2 teaspoons; upping cumin to 1 teaspoon (all the increases are to match the 1 teaspoon of paprika because I think it should be a 1:1 ratio so it’s not just SPICE!); I added ½ teaspoon of onion powder, ½ teaspoon garlic salt or granulated garlic, ½ tsp crushed red pepper, and at the end ½ cup of chicken broth, but I added it ¼ cup at a time to ensure I wasn’t going overboard on moisture and ending up with a soup.

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Dinner: Smoothie

Notes: I know, I know, smoothie, not great, but I hit my major wall yesterday in terms of how I was feeling, which wasn’t great. I think I’ve had just a steady feel of the Whole30 hangover phase for this entire week, and usually at night, and by the time I finished cleaning the floors and my kitchen, I was just way too tired to make the carnitas I had planned to make, so, I just didn’t. Frankie had some of the breakfast potatoes for dinner, and I made myself a smoothie because I wasn’t feeling hungry to begin with, was slightly nauseous, and was the only thing that sounded remotely appetizing. Not great, but at least I had something, and in my mind, not eating anything is much worse than drinking my meal.


Day 7

Definitely wasn’t feeling as burnout today as I was yesterday, but I definitely feel sluggish and took it easier. Still went to the gym and had my session with Dana, but thankfully, I had enough time beforehand to prep most of dinner so that, when I got home. it was a set and forget kind of situation, which gave me time to tidy the kitchen, prep lunch, AND do laundry. Still exhausted by the end of it, but in the good way. Oh, and physical changes include my normal work pants feeling looser and my stomach getting flatter (and I know that my working out has a good amount to do with this change as well)! I’m trying so hard not to focus on the physical aspect of this whole thing because that defeats a lot of what I am supposed to be focusing on, but that being said, I definitely feel more motivated to stick to these changes as a result of what I am seeing! Nothing better than feeling good in general, and feeling great about myself! All about that self-love right now!


Breakfast: Breakfast Potatoes

Lunch: Leftover Stuffed Pepper filling & Last of the Greek Salad

Dinner: Chicken Carnitas with Salsa Verde & Warm Fajita Veggie Side

Notes: To make this Whole30 compliant, don’t use honey, and don’t serve it with rice or tortillas, but the chicken & spices portion are all compliant and makes for a great set it & (kind of) forget it meal during the week! I still didn’t make it with the pepitas or acorn squash because I was feeling lazy. I’m sure I’ll try the acorn squash at some point, but tonight was not that night. The veggies were just green bell peppers, onion, and zucchini.


Day 8

Happy International Women’s Day! Today I’m feeling upbeat, bright, a little tired, but I went to bed way too late last night, which is my own fault, but I couldn’t care less because my lunch today is EPIC! SCALLOPS YA’LL! For real, big ol’ sea scallops! ALL FOR ME!!!! Mariano’s was having a GREAT sale on their frozen scallops, which came in a 1 pound bag for about…$12?? And I think there were 11 in there, but only 8 made it to lunch because, you know, I gotta make sure it’s not poisonous as I’m cooking it! So I definitely plan to keep my eyes peeled for more of those deals so I can snag a few more frozen bags to stash for a day when I need a lunch filler! But this salad, scallops aside, was bomb in itself! The vinaigrette was unbelievably tangy and slightly spicy, but completely light and refreshing! I ate EVERY bite, and might steal some of the shrimp I made for Frankie’s salad to make another helping of it for tomorrow! I don’t think it’ll be as good as my scallops, BUT I know it’ll be delicious! Another recipe to keep in the bank!


Breakfast: Apples with Almond Butter, Bananas, and Walnuts

Lunch: Asian Seared Scallop/Shrimp Salad (from Whole30 Cookbook)

Notes: Frankie doesn’t like scallops, so I seared up some shrimp for him, and some scallops for me because I LOVE SCALLOPS, so any excuse to get some and eat some (even if it means I’m cooking two proteins at once) I’m in! And it was SO SO good!!!

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So that’s one week down, three more to go, and I will say, the days are flying and I’ve stopped noticing any cravings or that I’m even on a diet, though when my coworkers eat Lebanese food, or Jimmy John’s BBQ Chips (the best!), I do have those pulls of wanting just a little nibble….no, no, I’m going to be good and keep my will strong, but it’s not easy. It’s not hard, but it ain’t easy either. Anyway, until next week readers! Sorry for all the overload of recipes, but I hope some of them are helpful for any of you looking to take a healthier approach to eating at home, and if you do, you WON’T be disappointed! And to my East Coast readers, stay safe! — Cooking Maggie

On Take-Out Noodles at Home

Let’s talk easy peasy lemon squeezy, and by that, I mean Chinese Take-Out Noodles at home courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine!. No phone calls, no internet orders, half the price of takeout, a ton of leftovers, and just as easy as going through the process of placing an order and waiting around, and I can almost guarantee that it will take less time to get on the plate than any delivery service.

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The twist is the following: instead of Udon, which was part of the original recipe, we used Soba noodles, which both of us preferred. The second was that we did a side by side tasting of the homemade sauce from the magazine’s recipe and bottled yakisoba sauce that Carly fell in love with when she lived in Japan teaching English for two and a half years. My last addition to the homemade sauce version was a sprinkling of Portuguese Fermented chile flakes, which seemed to be a new addition to the chile section of Savory Spice!

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The results? Well, they honestly tasted exactly the same, and while the yakisoba was a little stickier/thicker than the homemade sauce, both were equally delicious and enticed us to a second helping as well. I think it also just goes to show that a little corner cutting doesn’t hurt anyone! This is going to be a recipe I will return to whenever the day has been too long and I’m on the fence between ordering out and just whipping this up (of which the latter will always prevail)! Here’s to taking out at home! — Cooking Maggie


Better-than-Takeout Stir-Fried Udon with Pork from Bon Appetit Magazine

**Note: Udon replaced for Soba Noodles

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On Pork Katsu

Out of the frying pan and into the fryer, this cooking chick is serving up something new and different this time around! Pork Katsu (Tonkatsu if you want the traditional Japanese name), otherwise known as breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet.

While I do have a strong pull towards Asian cuisine from my time living in Asia, I haven’t really pushed myself to make anything traditionally Japanese, and I felt like doing something…different. As it so happened, about a week ago, NY Times Cooking featured their rendition of Pork Katsu with Pickled Cucumbers and Shiso that looked too yummy to pass up! Shiso isn’t something I could really find that at my local grocery store, though I’m sure the specialty Asian markets have them available, so instead I opted for a Thai basil that I found at Mariano’s, which I think worked just fine.

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Now, I don’t cook with pork on a frequent basis, and it had been a while since I put my frying skills to the test, but honestly, this dish was a walk in the park! The recipe recommends a few types of cuts, but in the end, I chose center-cut, thin pork chops (which you can easily find this at your local grocer at either the butchers’ area or pre-packaged near all the other meats) because they were already the right thinness, so no pounding necessary! The only thing I had to do to the meat was remove the small piece of bone on the edge, but with a paring knife, it was quick & easy. Then, you flour-egg-panko bread each piece, fry it up, slice it, and serve! EASY, and the extra egg wash ingredients weren’t overwhelming nor were they so subtle they weren’t noticeable post-fry! The Worcester sauce and tomato paste add a really lovely tang to the meat, and really play up the salty crunch of the panko!

And then you have the cucumbers, and this little salad was almost a one and done kind of dish. Minimal, yet flavorful. Salty, yet sweet, with a bitter hint to balance it all out! Fresh, crunchy, and if you can’t find Kirby cucumbers, then seedless cucumbers will work fine, or your basic cucumbers too, but you’ll need to cut them up a little more than with the seedless ones, which are smaller in general! All in all, this whole meal took about 30 minutes to make, and even though the pork was fried, it was light and juicy, and the cucumber side salad added a huge note of freshness and tang! A great weeknight meal we will for sure be returning to! —Cooking Maggie

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Pork Katsu with Pickled Cucumbers & Shiso from NY Times Cooking

On Spicy Korean Chicken

Oh, my gosh. This camera, it’s tricky, but I love it. And the tricky part isn’t necessarily taking the photo—I’ve been playing around with it enough to know (kind of) what I’m doing—but rather, juggling it while I’m cooking. It’s definitely not as sleek or easily stashed in between the levels of my knives like my phone was, which then makes it harder to remember, oh yes, photo, good, now keep going. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it, and of the photos I did manage to take, I’m actually REALLY thrilled with them!

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BUT, that is NOT what this is supposed to be about. What this IS about, is Spicy Korean Chicken and my new obsession with broccolini. While broccoli is very clearly a staple for most stir fry, broccoli, I find, can be very bitter, albeit still delicious in all its various ways, but can make a stir fry all the more tart & bitter. Whereas broccolini, which is not young broccoli for the record, is a longer stalked, yet milder, dare I say, even buttery version of the broccoli that I think lends itself better to the tart and spicy Asian flavors incorporated in the dish I gave a go on over the week I was house sitting!

Now, I’m sure I’ve had Gochujang before without even realizing it, but I finally sought out my own bottle/container of the hot pepper paste, and now I don’t think I’ll ever make a spicy Asian dish without a dab of it. It’s a game changer, now that I’ve gotten to taste it solo, and incorporate it with other Asian elements, especially combos that typically, I’m not the biggest fan of. Sweet & sour, that’s all fine & dandy, but I don’t particularly like working honey into a lot of savory dishes that have called for it, or listed it as optional, because it gets too sweet, and overpowers. Honey & gochujang, however, now THAT is a match made in heaven! the gochujang is incredibly abrasive with its spice, an immediate smack to the face, but as a paste, everything is concentrated, so it makes sense, but it’s also got great notes of salt and citrus, and just the slightest hint of sweetness. And that is what the honey plays off of. On its own, the stuff is pretty spicy, but with honey, it’s mellowed and refined to balance it out more evenly in the dish. And thankfully, you can find the paste in pretty much any major grocery store in the Asian/Ethnic aisle. Think sriracha, but with a deeper, thicker flavor, but both are very similar in terms of the heat factor, both being made with fermented red peppers.

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So with that being said, this sauce…it’s legit. It’s so easy to whip up, but incredibly complex and balanced with the levels of spicy, bitter, sweet, and salty. It’s SO good!!! And what I ended up doing was, after whipping up the batter for the chicken, getting the fry out of the way, and then got it all tossed in the sauce, I added the left over sauce to the veggies, and mm mm mm was it delicious! And considering how little is involved, it’s pretty darn healthy, especially when you have such a great mixture of veggies (I used grated/shredded carrots, broccolini, green pepper, and onion). And the whole meal took less than 30 minutes to make! Sure, frying up the chicken did take the most time because you definitely don’t want to overcrowd the pan, but once they’re done, toss it in the sauce, fry up the veggies till the broccolini is nice and green (5 minutes-ish) and then serve with rice! A great weeknight meal to be sure! And now I’m on the hunt for more recipes that call for gochujang! YUM! —Cooking Maggie

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Spicy Korean Chicken from farm & fare

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!

On Curry

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

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

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

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

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

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Quick Chicken Tikka Masalaimg_3072
Adapted from Cooking Classy recipe

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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