On Healthy Eating [After Whole30]

If I haven’t already said it, and I’m pretty sure I have, Whole30 was indeed life-changing. Not only does junk food or fast food no longer taste the same, it’s no longer appealing either. Not that that’s a bad thing, because it totally isn’t (better on our budget and better on our waistbands too), but rather it’s been interesting to observe the gravity of how much foods we haven’t been eating make us feel post-consumption. Pizza? We originally thought twice a month would be okay, especially when we go up to visit his parents and that’s what they want to have for dinner that night, but we’re thinking once a month (if that) is going to be the better alternative. Sugary substances in all shapes and forms? Yeah, I’m a one and done now—case and point: I ate ONE of my mini cheesecakes from over the weekend and gave the rest to my coworkers because my teeth started to sing just thinking about eating a second one—and all the gummies Frankie had hoarded prior to Whole30 are still in the bag I put them in and will likely continue to remain in that bag in our freezer for a while yet…and for me, the most surprising thing is when Frankie comes home and asks if dinner is Whole30 compliant!

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So with that in mind, we came to an interesting decision. While we will still have our moments of freedom (not going to lie, I totally had some Bad Apple cheese curds on Tuesday with my book group, sorry not sorry at all), but at home, we’re going to stick to a pretty Paleo diet…with a few exceptions of course.

  1. Beer & Wine: This is totally in moderation and we realized we don’t need it, but sometimes, a small glass of red, or a Zombie Dust or Hopback Amber is exactly what the doctor ordered, so we are going to keep alcohol in our diet, but since Whole30, our consumption has decreased significantly. Also, I miss cooking with beer and wine…sure I can totally not cook with alcohol, no problem, but sometimes, it just adds that extra little…oomph.
  2. Rice: We’re pretty much over pasta (though not excluding it completely either because sometimes it makes for a great easy weekday meal), but I missed rice A TON in March, so we’re going to keep it in and vary the kind of grain I use (more wild rice than white rice).
  3. Bread: Also in SUPER moderation. Since getting off whole30 I think we’ve made…1 smash burger for dinner, and had one night of hot dogs with buns…so we’re also not gravitating back towards bread, BUT having it as an option is nice to have. But now that I have found breadless meatballs & flour alternatives, this may not even be an exception, but rather it’s nice to have as an option for when we go out.
  4. Peas, Chickpeas, Beans, & Corn: The other non-Whole30 approved veggies/legumes that frankly I like too much to remove, though beans…eh, I could say bye or minimize my exposure to a number of them, but frozen green peas are my favorite last-minute additions to a meal (and if I can get them fresh, EVEN BETTER), hummus makes for a GREAT easy/low key meal (with veggies and rotisserie chicken), and I love hardshell tacos and tortilla chips with a passion.

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And that’s it! Really not too bad right? So in honor of our more finalized everyday diet, I have two recipes for you this week that are sure to keep that healthy kick going (if you’re on one) or will help start one (if you’re looking for that) OR just taste good and don’t take a long time to make (what I believe most of you come here for). Enjoy my lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

Quick Housekeeping: Cooking with Friends #3 will be post-poned to next Sunday (hint: think pasta), so the next post will be Monday May 7th!


Seared Barramundi with Yogurt Mustard Sauce from Champagne Tastes

Note: I also made this with a side of wild rice & pan seared green beans with garlic! Delicious!

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Guacamole Stuffed Lime Chicken

I don’t really have a recipe for this, I just kind of winged it, but essentially, you’re going to take 3-4 chicken breasts and season them with salt, pepper, and cumin on both sides, then pan sear in an oven-safe skillet for 4-5 minutes, then top with juice from 1 lime, and roast until cooked (165°F) flipping it over every 6 minutes.

When the chicken is done, cut a pocket in it and fill with your favorite guacamole (mine is here), and serve with sauted or roasted veggies.

I know it’s not the most standard recipe, BUT I was cooking on the fly, worked with what I had, and feel like this is so straightforward a full recipe would be been redundant.

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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 Nachos & The Best Dang Queso

Okay, so yet again, I fell to the confusion of trying to remember to take photos while I was cooking, BUT I’m going to share the best queso blanco recipe that I have. Now, I love me my cheese, but the thing I don’t like is, when you order queso fundido or just queso dip in general, it’s probably been made with chihuahua cheese, which is great for quesadilla’s, but I don’t think it’s a good queso cheese. It resolidifies too quickly, doesn’t stay, melty for lack of a better word. And I have NOT been able to find a place in Chicago, that has a queso dip quite like the one I had in college. Vaquero’s was the local Mexican restaurant that everyone went to whenever they needed a quick taco and margarita fix for a decent price! $20 got you chips, queso, salsa, a large plate of food, and two margaritas. It should come at no surprise that they were almost always busy. But Vaquero’s was where I found my queso blanco perfection!

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The only photo I managed to remember to take before making my nachos.

So, after many years of researching post-college, I finally discovered the key ingredient to their cheese, thus being able to make it at home on those rare nights we can’t cut a craving. WHITE AMERICAN CHEESE. Yup. You heard it here. White Amerian Cheese. When melted, with a little butter and milk to get it going, it’s the perfect consistency and is still a blank enough canvas that you can kick it up a notch with a few additions. Green chilies & a pinch (or two) of cayenne for example are my go-to’s, and a little salt & pepper, naturally. And while it’s FANTASTIC for dipping, it’s also great for topping on top of nachos, which I did make during house sitting! Happy dipping, and I promise to be much better about photographing as I go, but the final product is pretty darn delicious looking, no? —Cooking Maggie

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Quick Weeknight Nachos included ground beef with homemade taco seasoning (recipe included below), homemade pico de gallo (see recipe page), and store bought/store made guacamole. Nacho chips were baked till warm (about 5 minutes at 350), then topped with meat, pico, cheese, and lastly quac.

White Queso Blanco

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound of white American cheese (Land O’ Lakes)
  • ¼ cup milk (maybe more if you want it thinner)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 4oz can of green chilies
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • A pinch of cayenne

Instructions: Place cheese, milk, & butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Heat til. melted, stirring frequently. When melted, stir in green chilies, cumin, garlic salt, and cayenne. Add more milk if you want it thinner. Serve immediately with chips, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, etc.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tbsp (or 1 tsp+, to taste) crushed red pepper

Instructions: Mix everything together and store in a container for further use.

On Authentic Chimichurri

Shortly after my trip to Israel, Frankie and I decided to spend the evening at the Culinary Fight Club: Pitmasters event that took place in the parking lot of The Hard Rock Cafe! We went for an early celebration of our 8 year anniversary together (and little did I know then, an early celebration of our engagement to take place two weeks later), and while I won’t spend a bunch of time talking about the event itself, I did learn a very valuable lesson on chimichurri. I’ve been making it wrong this whole time. So quick back track to the event, just to give as brief a snapshot as I can: WOW. Not wow, or Wow, but WOW! It was a WHIRLWIND of running to get ingredients, of chefs & their team prepping various dishes and components, and all the while chefs are taking photos with fans, talking about their game plan, talking about their own restaurants, joking around with the friends who had come out to support them, and all the while, the smells made my stomach grumble with anticipation.

Thankfully, Hard Rock Cafe offered numerous little morsels to munch on while we waited for the end of the two hour cooking time, judging, and our own turn to sample (and because there were maybe only fifty or so people there, a lot of us got seconds, and if you were lucky, thirds of the samples being handed out). That night, I had, I want to say, the best bite of fish (Texas Red Drum) I’ve ever had by chef Kristina Gaardbo & her husband Greg, both of whom own and run the Chicago Culinary Kitchen in Palatine (only open on the weekends till they’re sold out!), and I also sampled the best chimichurri I’ve ever had, courtesy of chef Dylan Lipe, the executive chef of Budlong Hot Chicken in Lincoln Square.

But the trick and key to making chimichurri? NO CILANTRO!

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Apparently, cilantro is not authentic to a true Argentinian based chimichurri sauce, but rather parsley & oregano are the two main partners in this dish! WHO WOULD HAVE THUNK, and while normally I would think anything with cilantro in it is delicious, I am no longer of that mind set when it comes to chimichurri. Now, I make about a jar full of this stuff, and will dabble it on almost anything I can for that week, because as the herbs sit in the olive oil (I always let it come to room temperature before serving, or give it a quick heat on the stove over a very low flame for a minute), everything melds together more, mellowing out the initial grassiness of the parsley. With a slight of hand with some salt, pepper, chili flakes, and a little garlic and vinegar, then BA BAM! Authentic chimichurri. My additional trick that I picked up was to blend the mixture to get a creamier consistency, but you don’t have to blend it if you don’t want to, especially if keeping with authentic presentation, but I just loved the creamy texture that Chef Lipe presented with his meat at the Culinary Fight Club.

So if you like chimichurri, and haven’t tried it this way yet, DEFINITELY DO SO! It’ll be a game changer, no doubt about it! Oh, and if you haven’t checked out Culinary Fight Club, definitely take a gander and maybe even go to an event! It’s well worth the price for the amount of delicious food you get to enjoy! —Cooking Maggie

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Authentic Chimichurri Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups packed Italian flat-leaf parsley (about 1-2 bunches)
  • 1/2-1 cup packed fresh oregano (if you’re not the biggest fan of oregano, stick to 1/2 cup, but I love it, so I go a full 2:1 ratio with the herbs)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry or red wine vinegar
Instructions:
Classic: Pulse parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. Scrape parsley mixture into a bowl and stir in olive oil. Finally, add the vinegar to taste (since not everyone likes it super tart, and I personally love it to be a little less abrasive, so I sometimes don’t add the full 1/4 cup). Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving so the flavors can meld.
Blended: In a blender, add parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Blend till smooth, adding more olive oil a little at a time if needed. When at the desired consistency, add vinegar to taste (add a little at a time) till at desired tartness. Let mixture sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving so the flavors can meld.

Dining Recommendation: Tallboy Taco

Friday, August 18th, was my 28th birthday, and my usual necessities for having a stupendous birthday are two-fold: 1) Tacos, and 2) Headquarters Beercade in River North (or any other form of video game activity). The first because, obvi, THIS CHICK LOVES HER TACOS LIKE WOAH! Cool, and the second because this chick also loves her video games. Yup, you heard it right here. I’m a solid, 100% video game loving nerdette, and I play a pretty wide variety of platforms and game types, though I’ll also say it right here and right now, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (on N64, though I have the 3DS version and love it almost as much because it’s portable and has way better graphics) is my #1 favorite game. I even wrote an 8-part series about the game during the final years of my Masters program as a way to take a break from the creative nonfiction memoir heaviness I was immersed in already. (If this sort of thing interests you at all, you can find all eight parts here on my ENTROPY Author’s Page.) But at Headquarters, I get to relive some of my more cherished earlier memories, like playing Soul Edge AND Soul Caliber, which were my favorite arcade games growing up, on top of getting to fall in love with some other pretty wonderful games like Off Road, Tapper, Police Academy, and the various kinds of pinball machines they have available too! If you haven’t been, I will also recommend it as a fun weekend spot to check out when you find yourself with nothing to do…oh, and I should probably mention that all the games at Headquarters are FREE. Yup, F-R-E-E, so definitely go.

To start us off—because, it was my birthday, and why not?—we ordered the Beer Queso and that was super yummy! Kind of like nacho cheese, but without the gross coagulation factor once it loses its heat. Its the main reason we avoid ordering most queso fundidos because once it cools, it gets hard and stringy, rather than retaining that ooze factor, which is key for any queso. To break up the richness, we helped ourselves to the complimentary salsa bar, which was awesome! FREE SALSA BAR! I mean, sure, the helpings are individual servings vs. group shares, but the variations of salsa available more than make up for the portion sizes you can grab. Oh, and should you run out, you just go back and get some more! EASY! Super great idea too!

But back to the tacos. I will say the only one we didn’t order was the Crispy Veggie Avocado taco, mostly because that was the only one Frankie was not the biggest fan of. He likes his guac, but actual avocado pieces are a whole other matter entirely. And looking back on it, I really don’t think we ever would have room for it if we had tried. We even brought home taco fillings because we approached our tasting incorrectly…after five full facos, and five left to go, we switched to one bite of each, finishing the tones we preferred after the fact. So let’s get started! [Note: The following notes were taken while eating and are short, to the point for that purpose.]

  • Beer-Battered Crispy Fish: Great crunchy texture/breading, flaky fish, a little dry, but in the best sense because the sauce added the moisture back in. Good ratio!
  • Pulled Chicken Tinga: Great salsa marinade, tender meat, pickled onions were the perfect hit of salt. Awesome!
  • Grilled Shrimp Taco: Shrimp over powers, so the freshness of the toppings get lost.
  • Spicy Chicken: VERY spicy, but a good balance of heat and cooling, great taco!
  • Cowboy 12HR Smoked Brisket Taco: Meat is tender, moist, but needed salt or a stronger salsa to help stand out, or at least step up the BBQ note a little more.
  • Steak & Egg Taco: Egg was not highlighted enough and steak was a little chewy, but good flavors. Egg could have been more balanced.
  • Pancho Villa Steak Carne Asada: Honestly, not the best. Beef was overpowered by the seasoning and didn’t taste like carne asada, but rather like beef fajita. More orange/citrus would have helped balance things a little more.
  • Gunthorp Farms Carnitas: Another not my favorite. It tasted like turkey instead of pork and lacked seasoning and spices that I expected from carnitas.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak & Papas: Exactly what you expect in terms of flavor, seasoning was on point, steak was tender. Yummy!
  • Al pastor: BEST ONE BY FAR!! Pineapple is instant and the rest comes in to dance. Onion tops it off. All flavors in unison, best taco of the night!!
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Starting at lower left, going left to right up each row: Brisket Taco, Shrimp Taco, Steak & Papas Taco, Pork Al Pastor, Fish Taco, Spicy Chicken Tacos (the last two at the very back), and Chicken Tinga Tacos at the very back
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Carnitas (two in front), Steak Carne Asada (with the corn), another brisket taco by the limes (because when you order your tacos they all come out on one platter), and the Steak & Eggs taco at the back
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Chicken Tinga Tacos

And there you have it! Honest, on the spot review of every taco, though our waiter did say the avocado was one of the best ones on the menu too, so perhaps when we go back (and we for sure for the ones we liked the most, which were excellent) we’ll have to go ahead and try it out!

And perhaps because it was my birthday, or just because I’m inherently greedy when it comes to eating out, I also ordered  their special, which happened to be gazpacho, and I love gazpacho. My favorite is at my mom’s club, where they dollop this amazingly smooth whipped avocado creme on top! So yummy! And the gazpacho at Tallboy was also very good, and very refreshing! It wasn’t instantly spicy, but had a slow grow heat to it that was really lovely, and the veggies were fresh and crunchy (as they should be)!

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But overall, a fantastic meal, and one I plan to repeat, though perhaps with a little less food this time! The sangria’s are also spot on, so if cocktails are your jam, then definitely check this place out for some really delicious drinks! Mm Mm Good! —Cooking Maggie


Tallboy Taco: 325 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Headquarters Beercade – River North: 213 W. Institute Plaza, Chicago, IL 60610

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!

On Spicy Shrimp Tacos

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

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

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

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

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


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

On Date Night Monday & Taco Tuesday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Slow-cooker Barbacoa Tacos

Ingredients

For Barbacoa

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

For Topping

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

 

Instructions

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

Warm Zucchini & Corn Salsa

Ingredients

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

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

On Newness: Plates, Tips, & Risotto Done Right

img_2623In the spirit of a new cookbook, I wanted to try a recipe right away! So, I settled on something I knew would be an instant winner! Corn Risotto stuffed Poblano peppers! We also threw in a skirt steak with a little chimicurri sauce that I was toying with in preparation for some guests we have coming over in a few weeks time! I even got a couple new plates too (per suggestions from friends for better photographing)!

Now, I can’t share the recipe here (because that wouldn’t be nice or fair), but I will share some of her tips that I found useful/were very new to me (I love that I’m always learning something new), and some tips I have for some of the other components in my dish. The first, regarding skin removal of peppers.

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The technique of blistering pepper isn’t new to me, but I am learning that blistering can alter the flavor profile of a dish in so many ways, and usually for the better, but you won’t know unless you do or do not. So, I decided to a) blister the jalapeno I was using in my chimichurri, and b) not blister the poblanos I was using for the risotto (which the recipe said I could choose to do if I liked the skins, which usually, I do). That being said the chimichurri was by far the best I’ve ever made (recipe below), but the peppers…yeah, I should have listened to Ms. Perelman on that one…the peppers took twice as long to get nice and soft with their skins, and frankly the skins were so overpowering in a watery, bland way that it tamed the entire dish to a flat-line. For the smaller peppers that blistered naturally on the bottom as they roasted, those were the best bites, applying themselves more agreeably to the corn risotto that was super rich and creamy. Lesson learned: If you have the option to blister your peppers, do it…your taste buds will thank you for it.

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Risotto: I’m definitely a converted traditionalist now, and I’m cringing at all the recipes that skipped these steps because this was by far the best risotto I’ve made. The main things: 1) Your stock should be hot, boiled separately from your risotto, and left to simmer until ready for use so as not to reduce the cooking temperature of your risotto (and also saves a few minutes on cooking time). And 2) After researching this a little more afterwards, adding a little stock at a time will allow the starch from the rice to dissolve into the sauce you’re making, which makes it creamy.

This is definitely a dish I’ll make again (skin off for sure), but it was definitely super yummy! And I HIGHLY recommend checking out her cookbook for more awesome recipes! Her website is also chock-full of amazing recipes too! I also paired it with blacked chicken tacos for next day leftovers! YUM!

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img_2599Jalapeno Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce
Yields 1/2 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 jalapeno, skin blistered & deseeded
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt (can add more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Juice from 1/2 lime (can add more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar (add more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (add more if you like your chimichurri more liquidy)

Directions: Blister your jalapeno on the rack of a stove burner till skin is black. Place in a bowl and cover for a few minutes. Then, remove skin, deseed, and place in a food processor. Add parsley, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Blend all ingredients together till well mixed, then add red wine vinegar and the olive oil (a little at a time) until chimichurri sauce is at desired consistency. Add more vinegar/oil/lime juice/salt to taste.

 

Healthy Chicken Carnitas

I’m on a health binge this year, like a real one. I just want to be better for myself, and Frankie has graciously decided to join me in this effort for personal betterment (as did Tuggs, in his own way)! And if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I. Love. Mexican. Food. Like woah. Not the healthiest cuisine, but that’s the great thing about cooking! You can always adjust a recipe and make substitutions (like not adding so much cheese and instead go onion, cilantro, and a place of lime).

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The first time I had Mexican food, albeit fake Mexican food, I was maybe five, and it was at the Taco Bell Express station inside the Speedway across the street from our Homewood Road tutor. Yes, I know, fake, horrible Mexican fast food, not even food, but that’s when I fell in love with the idea of Mexican food. The flavors, the textures, the fun in eating it. It was always something I went to get with babysitters, and I always enjoyed the crunch of a hard shell taco (American Mexican, again, I know) between my teeth, the messy way the filling would fall onto the paper I had spread out neatly, a table bib that I would slightly fold and raise to my mouth so I could make sure I got every last bit of food into my mouth, into my belly. And while I can’t, and don’t, ever, eat Taco Bell anymore, I loved it so much and found myself addicted to eating as much as I could as often as I could. Disgusting, I know, but I was a kid growing up in small town Mariemont, Ohio…what in the world did I know about Mexican food? Nothing. Taco Bell was my end all be all, until I met iCaramba!, located on a little side street of Hong Kong’s SoHo, just north of main Central downtown.

 

Inside, bright blues, beach yellows, grapefruit and pomegranate  pinks, steamy and sticky (because Hong Kong was humid naturally and stuck to everything that ever existed and lived there), but you could smell the earthy black beans boiling in the kitchen with chilies and cumin, almost taste the crispness of homemade chips, fresh from the oven, oily salt on your fingertips, and there was a never ending sizzle of meats and vegetables in woks and cast iron skillets. That was the first real Mexican meal I have ever had, where I learned what a tamale and quesadilla was, and how diverse the interpretations could be, not to mention how much I love peppers and a little kick, the differences between them all in heat and structure, what they can stand up to in terms of flavor and use. Salsa never came from a jar again, and I learned that tomatillo’s and green tomatoes are NOT the same thing, and that each holds a key stone flavor for their respective cuisine. (Please remember, I was ten and have learned a LOT more since then.) It is what I still strive to obtain when I make Mexican at home, which I do a lot because I’m still trying to get the spices just right, the way I remember them.

 

Which brings me to this Chicken Carnita recipe. Yes, carnitas are meant to be pork, but it’s still a spiced meat, and when you always have something chicken in the fridge, I just went with it. And boy, oh boy did it turn out delicious!!!

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The spices sing on your tongue when you place the tender fork pulled meat in your mouth, your fingers so lickable, and your craving suddenly insatiable. I had to actually stop myself from eating everything off the pan. The orange and lime are the perfect amount of citrus to keep the whole dish light and heighten the natural earth spices of cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, and that extra dash of pepper flakes because, WHY NOT? And while, I’m one of those blasphemous cooks who prefers chicken breast over chicken thighs (I know, I know), this was by far my favorite way to eat it.

 

The chicken is so tender from oven braising, and that caramelization from the broil? I mean, come on, how beautiful is that?! (I did not use honey, which the recipe calls for, because I didn’t think it needed it). Just, wow. Best Mexican chicken recipe and it was so easy to make! Not to mention that they weren’t heavy in the way some tacos done wrong will make you feel overly full after two bites, and were a great healthy way to make my most favorite dish, chicken tacos (since I’m also on a health binge with my man this year)! I would have tried the hallowed acorn squash, but that is not a favorite of my beloved, so I opted for the taco route instead, though I’d gladly just eat it plain as well. I will include the Pico de Gallo recipe I used as well below!

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Chicken Carnitas from Ciao Florentia



Pico de Gallo

Serves 4

  • 2-3 roma tomatoes (dependent upon how much tomato you like)
  • 1/4 large red onion, diced finely (if you want to add more, add more)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped finely (or 1/4 – 1/2 jalapeño if you want to leave in the seeds)
  • 1/4-1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely (to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Toss diced tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and garlic in a bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, and pepper (to taste). Store in fridge, eat with chips, and use with tacos, fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc.!

Note: For the beans, I used some water on canned refried black beans (because you know what, when you work full time and just can’t think far enough ahead of your dog and man to soak and cook and puree the beans yourself, there’s nothing wrong with canned goods). BUT I think the seasoning needed something more, cumin and garlic powder maybe, even diced chilies just to give it a little more of the one noted flavor it came with. I also want to try chicken/veggie stock or broth instead of water to bump up the flavor a little more too.

 

Until next time food lovers!

 

Cooking Maggie out!