On Last Week of Whole30

I can’t believe how close we are to being done! It’s Day 29, and tomorrow is DAY 30!!! Holy smokes! Sure, those last few days definitely have that “is day 29 pretty much the same thing as day 30” feel to it, and don’t worry, I absolutely am not going to give up! I will see this through to the end because I know I can do this for another day and a half, especially since I have the day off tomorrow! WOOT WOOT! Plus, Frankie & I have talked AT LENGTH about how to move forward from this experience so that the time and effort we put into the Whole30 won’t be wasted once we’re done.

We’ve discussed doing Whole7’s every so often (potentially every other month), and we’ve talked about ways in which we can continue to cut out processed foods/sugar from our diet a little more permanently, like not eating the free pizza that our works might order during lunch webinars and instead eat our leftovers so we don’t waste food, and just limiting our takeout/junk food habits significantly. We have decided that Friday night is going to be our date/eat out/cheat night, which works for me because I never really feel like cooking on most Friday’s anyway, but we won’t go overboard either! We’ve both seen such amazing results from this experience that neither of us wants to go to waste. We’ll definitely be including more veggies, more salads, and more real vegetables and fruits at home more than the processed snack foods we used to buy and store in our cupboard. There will definitely be an adjustment period, but I’m incredibly hopeful, and no doubt I’ll end up cooking as close to Paleo as I can since the majority of the dishes I’ve made were absolutely delicious!

But my ending thoughts though on the Whole30 are as follows: I will never do a month of that again, unless I really, REALLY have to, BUT the experience was indeed a life-changing one and will have a permanent effect on both Frankie & I’s lifestyle for the better. Would I recommend it? Sure, I would recommend it to someone who has been thinking about it or really wants to do it, and you should really want to dedicate yourself to this, otherwise you’re going to hate it, and in that case, I wouldn’t recommend this. But I will say that the best indicator of whether a diet is the right one for you depends on yourself. Only you know your body and general health better than anyone else, and if you do decide to tackle the Whole30 or another diet and find that it’s negatively impacting your mood or health beyond normal, then it’s likely not the right diet for you. Of course, you’re going through changes physically and mentally, BUT the only negative effect Frankie & I felt were the cravings and occasional hunger here or there because we cut out snacking, but we were never “moody” or “hangry” to a degree that would be considered abnormal. The Whole30 actually made us feel good, feel better in the long run, and THAT is why I would recommend this to someone else, but again, make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into and commit.

But I also know that diets aren’t for everyone, so if you’re looking for just the one thing we learned the most, that would simply be to reduce/minimize your intake of sugar (processed or natural). Sugar is one of the biggest inflammatory ingredients there is, and as much as I love my Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream, I understand that a lot of the weight I had accumulated was because of the sugar I was consuming on a daily basis through snacking and (honestly) mindless consumption. A little bit won’t hurt me now, today, but long term, yeah, I can totally see how it was impacting the way I was feeling and looking. Okay, THAT is my schpeel on Whole30!

Final Housekeeping: April 15th will be the first segment of Cooking with Friends!! The first round will just be a post, but we will be coming up with ways to potentially either stream it live or record it for when the post goes live. All things are still in the works, but that’s my main update for you! Tune in next Thursday for my attempt at homemade Funfetti cupcakes (courtesy of smitten kitchen’s recipe, because she’s amazing)!


Day 22

Dinner: Blackened Chicken, Guacamole, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Boats

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Day 23

Breakfast: Typical smoothie!

Lunch: Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya

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Dinner: CGBLTs!


Day 24

Breakfast/Lunch: Strawberry, Banana, Pineapple Smoothie

Dinner: Oktoberfest-less Stew

Note: Made WITHOUT the beer, and instead, I just added an extra cup of chicken broth. Oh, and to help thicken it up a little bit, I added Arrowroot instead of Flour to keep it all compliant! DELICIOUS!!


Day 25

Brunch: Strawberry Coconut Breakfast Bake

Note: I did not take a picture of this mostly because it wasn’t the most beautiful looking dish, BUT I will say it was pretty tasty! I think it needed the third egg, as stated on the recipe, but because my eggs have recently been coming with double yolks (and these are eggs I get from my butcher, so they are legit), I just worried that three double yolk eggs would make it too eggy…but perhaps I should have gone ahead and added the third one in any way.

Dinner: Crab Cakes & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, with a side of Zucchini

Note: This was Frankie’s second favorite meal this month, AND he wants me to make it again soon! Not only was it all very low carb & healthy, it was easy to pull together, didn’t take long to make, and was packed full of flavor! You can’t even tell that I cooked them in coconut oil and used coconut flour! And that red pepper sauce?! The avocado really helps to smooth it out, but I think I will use the blender instead of my mini food processor next time so that it smooths out even more, and I think a pinch of salt and pepper can really take it to the next level.

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Day 26

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Last of the Jambalaya

Dinner: Steak & Potatoes a la Frankie

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Day 27

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Akor Roka – Sashimi Salad with Japanese Sweet Potato

Note: The prettiest darn salad I ever did see, and honestly, this wasn’t a bad experience eating out either! Sure, I was a little nervous about being an obnoxious customer who has to ask a Japanese restaurant what I can eat on Whole30 that doesn’t allow soy or sugar, which a lot of the sauces and glazes do have. But I’m glad I did ask because my waiter ended up revealing that he was currently on Keto, and understood where I was coming from! So not ONLY did he pull some strings and bring me an amazing salad for the same price as their 3 kinds of sashimi plate, he also took away some ginger that was served with it because there was sugar in the pickling liquid!! How nice was that?! So, for anyone who is afraid or hesitant to go out to eat simply because you’re worried your diet will make things difficult, don’t be! You’ll never know unless you ask!

Dinner: Paleo Slow Cooker Meatballs & Spaghetti Squash

Note: Okay, so now that I’ve cooked with lamb for the second time, we’ve realized that lamb is not Frankie’s favorite, which is okay! I was trying lamb because the last time I made meatballs the pork turned white, and so I was just experimenting with a different meat component. Next on my trial list: Veal. That being said though, THESE were again, SO easy to make, and broiling them first was actually a really great way to get them to stick together before simmering in the sauce for four hours in my crockpot! I actually managed to throw the whole thing together in about 30 minutes, and had a fully cooked meal for lunch/dinner by the time I worked out, did laundry, helped Frankie cook, AND got ready for bed! Easy peasy, and SO so good!

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Day 28

Breakfast: Smoothie & Banana

Lunch: Last of the Oktoberfest-less Stew

Dinner: Leftover Meatballs


Day 29

Breakfast: Smoothie

Lunch: Last of the Meatballs

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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 Lent & Gumbo

Lent is underway, and this year, I have given up spirits and weekday (Monday to Thursday) drinking in general. This isn’t to say that drinking is a problem because it’s not, BUT I have just started to find myself not feeling very good after one beer/drink at dinner later that night or the next morning, so I think a break would do my body some good. And in the conversations that Frankie and I have been having regarding the removal and giving up of foods we know are not the best for us, we’ve seriously considered doing the Whole30 in March!

A lot of our friends are doing it right now, or have told us about how they did it recently, and the positive changes that it has made for them, and since our impending wedding is making us both more health conscious, Frankie thinks we should try it to help get a jump start on things! Since I am already getting back into a more consistent workout regime (also, not to plug, but I’m going to plug, the SWEAT App, specifically Kelsey Wells’ PWR Workout Program is LEGIT mind-blowing! Some of the best workouts I’ve been getting most recently!), it seems like a good idea!! So, in March, look out for Whole30 posts & weekly summaries to come, and hopefully, if you are already thinking about doing something like it, my own experience might sway you one way or the other. Plus, it’ll be a GREAT way for me to practice my willpower and not spend money out on food for a while. And naturally, I’ll be nothing but honest about my experience and will try to keep a day-to-day summary of what I’m eating, how I’m feeling, etc. I just want to be accurate and detailed if something like this can be helpful to you dear readers!

As for our Fat Tuesday indulgence? Well, while we were in Breckinridge over the weekend, we happened to make a quick visit over to Ft. Collins and visit with Frankie’s older sister Katrina, and his youngest brother, Ed! Well, Ed is a fabulous cook as well, and he decided to make gumbo for Fat Tuesday at Katrina’s house, and while I was not able to actually eat any of the gumbo that he made, I did get to taste the soupy broth before we left for the airport to come back to Chicago, and was instantly like “this, I need to make this as soon as I get home.” So I did!

Ed got the recipe from Munchies, and I will tell you now, when it says 3-hour simmer, it means a 3-hour simmer, and you’ll want to do a 3-hour simmer. I also had no idea that a roux could get as complex and deliciously deep in flavors as this one did! Oh, and Grapeseed oil is my new favorite oil! Ed told me that it is a great substitute from olive oil when you’re stir-frying or cooking anything on high heat because it has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it won’t get that bitter burnt taste as easily! I wouldn’t replace olive oil entirely with it, but it’s nice to have an alternative when cooking on high heat! And the gumbo itself was so delicious, that I don’t think I’ll ever keep another gumbo recipe handy (though Frankie did gift me with a true Louisiana/New Orleans Cookbook, so I will definitely have to peruse and compare one of these days). But if you’re looking for something rich, elegant, and hearty as get all, this is the recipe to try next, without a doubt! Enjoy my fellow eaters! – Cooking Maggie

Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo from Munchies

On Chicken & Rice

Because sometimes, one-pot meals are exactly what you need at the end of a long day, rainy day, cold/snow day, or even sick day! And I’m not kidding about that either! This is literally one of those put everything in the pot, let it simmer for a bit, then stuff your face with its hearty deliciousness! It’s just the right amount of spiciness to warm the blood, the vegetables warm your center, and the broth warms your soul. It’s just good ol’ fashioned good, and I’ve made this a couple times and somehow can’t wait to make it again! It won’t stick around in your fridge for long if you try this yourself either! And that’s it! Short and sweet this week, but don’t worry, next week will be a doozy! Next Week: Lent & Gumbo…woah, but we won’t get too heavy, promise! Until then readers, stay warm, safe, & full! – Cooking Maggie

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One Pot Chicken & Rice

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes (bite-sized)
  • 6-8 ounce package of diced ham/pancetta (depending on what is easier to find at your grocery store)
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (including juice)
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter or oil (olive or grapeseed)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Fresh parsley for serving

Instructions

  1. In a large pot or Dutch Oven, melt butter or heat oil over medium heat, then add chicken and cook until no longer pink (about 5-7 minutes). Then add ham, let cook for about 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add onion, pepper, and garlic to the pot, cooking until onion is translucent, then add remaining ingredients except for peas & parsley to the pot, stirring until well mixed. Let pot come to a boil, the turn heat down to low, cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until rice is tender.
  3. When rice is tender, remove from heat and stir in the green peas. Add salt/pepper to taste, and serve in deep bowls with chopped parsley!

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On Oktoberfest Stew

This has to be one of my favorite creations for the Fall/Winter season! AND THERE’S BEER IN IT! So how can it not be good right?! And the greatest thing is that the amount of beer you include is TOTALLY up to you, so if you’re not the biggest beer-in-food fan, then only adding a 1/2 cup instead of the entire bottle will be right up your alley to get that bitter/hoppiness to just cut through the richness of the meat and fillers. Oh, and you absolutely don’t have to have Oktoberfest beer to make this dish, especially if you don’t even like Oktoberfest beer in general! I’ve used different kinds of beer like Budweiser, Yuengling, and 312 before, but I would recommend using a beer that is smooth, rather than overly bitter as it will add a stronger depth of flavor to the dish without making it too tart, so I would stick with a wheat or ale style beer. But this dish is great for the weekdays because it isn’t fussy, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make, and it’ll warm your whole body in no time! — Cooking Maggie

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Cooking Maggie’s Oktoberfest Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 (14 ounce) package smoked sausage, cut into bite-size slices (you can use beef, pork, bratwurst, or chicken sausage)
  • 1 onion, sliced into thin semi-circles
  • 1/2 head small cabbage, halved again, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup-1 bottle German-style lager beer (Oktoberfest variety or any beer that is smooth – think wheat or ale)
  • 2 russet potatoes, cubed to bite-size pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon flour (stew thickener)
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Instructions

  1. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil.
  2. Once the oil is hot, add in the sliced smoked sausage, and allow the slices to caramelize and brown in the oil, for about 5-6 minutes.
  3. When the sausage is browned, add in the sliced onions, stirring occasionally until golden-brown and softened (almost caramelized).
  4. Once onions are caramelized, add in the sliced cabbage, stir to combine, and allow the cabbage to soften, about 4-5 minutes.
  5. Once the cabbage is softened and golden, add in the black pepper, caraway seeds, garlic, and a pinch of salt, stirring to combine well.
  6. Add in the cup/bottle of beer, and stir the mixture to combine. Slightly reduce beer for about 3 minutes, then add in the cubed potatoes and the hot chicken stock. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, and place a lid, slightly askew to allow just a little steam to escape) and leave it be for about 40 minutes.
  7. When stew is at desired thickness, turn the heat off, and finish the stew by stirring in the apple cider vinegar and the chopped parsley (add more salt if necessary, too). If the stew is not thick enough, add in a teaspoon of flour and stir in completely. Add flour one teaspoon at a time until desired thickness is achieved (I like my stews really thick, so I add about 2 teaspoons max.)

On Chicken & Dumplings

It’s officially Fall, and my body was immediately gravitating toward the warm and comforting, and one of my all-time favorite things to eat is Chicken & Dumplings! To kind of kick off my eager anticipation for the arrival of Smitten Kitchen’s new cookbook (WHICH CAME TODAY ACTUALLY! AHHHHHHH!!!), I thought I’d try her recipe out! Naturally, we weren’t disappointed in the slightest!

The chicken was super tender & juicy, the dumplings were hearty, and the stew as a whole was comfort to a tee, like curl up on the couch with a good book and thick blanket kind of comfort (which is exactly how I ate it). The one thing I think I would do differently next time though would be to add some carrots to it for a little color and additional freshness, but of course, I think that’s why this recipe is the perfect starting point! Plus, IT HAS LEEKS IN IT!! My favorite! I don’t think I actually would have thought to have included leeks in this dish before now, but I don’t think I’ll ever make it without them again!

Some Cooking Maggie Notes: I used boneless skinless because the ones I had purchased last week and froze beforehand that were bone/skin on were still frozen, so I ventured over to Gene’s and their bone/skin on were also frozen, so I went with boneless skinless out of ease! And because I halved the recipe (because there are only two of us eating here), I didn’t have enough chicken fat/residual juice to make the full amount of dumplings. So to ensure that there wouldn’t be a lack of that hearty dumpling essence—which is actually my favorite part of this dish—I included some handmade gnocchi from Gene’s Sausage shop, which had a similar density to the dumplings so you couldn’t tell the difference between them and it didn’t impact the flavor of the stew either. I did consider making dumplings without chicken fat, but worried the consistency/flavor wouldn’t match dumplings I made earlier.

With the drop in temperature, this dish is the best way to get your home smelling and feeling like Fall, and how can you go wrong with a smitten kitchen original?! (Answer: You can’t.) —Cooking Maggie

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Chicken and Dumplings from smitten kitchen

On Broccoli Cheese Soup

It’s finally the beginning of Fall in Chicago! While I love the heat and warmth of summer, 80 degrees in late September is just a little ridiculous, and besides, who doesn’t like sweater weather and bundling up in big, fluffy blankets with a hot cup of cocoa or tea precariously balanced between knees and long-sleeve covered hands, steam rising to warm your cheeks while outside, the leaves are changing to flaming reds and burnt oranges, falling slowly to the ground that crunches beneath boot covered feet. The piles of leaves that will appear in between the trees, raked together to be ruined by excited children, then raked again to have the same thing repeated. Fall is something I’ve learned to appreciate more as an adult rather than as a kid, because in Hong Kong, there is really only spring, monsoon summers, and chilly, snowless winters, with no real transition in between, no “real” fall. But now that I’m back stateside, I get to experience the changing of the closets and breaking out the boots with great vigor and enjoyment (yes, I’m that person who could spend HOURS reorganizing my closet in various ways till I’m satisfied with the outcome).

And with the changing of season, my craving for soups reemerges from its summertime hibernation, and what better way to start than with a piping hot bowl of broccoli cheddar soup! Now, I’ll admit, I have never made this at home or from scratch before, though obviously, there is broccoli and cheese involved, but then it becomes a matter of do I use all cream, or a combination? White or Yellow cheddar cheese? Other veggies like carrots? Potatoes? And so on my questions ranged, and so, to be a responsible home cook, instead of winging it, I decided to start with another’s recipe and take it from there, and where better to start than one of my favorite blogs ever: Smitten Kitchen! [Oh, and did you guys here that she’s got a new cookbook coming out in a few weeks?!?! I’m so incredibly excited about it that I promise I will be cooking a dish from her book every day the week I get it so I can get my personal take on it up on the blog ASAP!]

Now, her recipe is actually a really good one, and her process for getting to where she did is incredibly enlightening in terms of where I can take the recipe next. The amount of cheese in here is perfect, even though she didn’t mention whether she used yellow or white cheddar, but I think that allows for dealer’s preference, which I appreciate! And for the record, I used white cheddar because I think it gives the soup a better color, but that’s just my opinion. However, for me (& Frankie, because he always has suggestions that tend to mirror my own thoughts), it was too runny and the immersion blender didn’t get the soup to the consistency that I prefer.

I tried it the way Perelman prefers it because, when I’m out at restaurants and order it, the consistency & preparation is out of my control, and sometimes I don’t mind chunks, and other times I like it smooth. But when making the meal at home on your own, you have the power to really hone in on your personal preferences, and frankly, I just didn’t know what I was going to like until I made it, which is why I love to cook! The experimentation is exhilarating as you start to learn more about your palate and preferences when you try new things.

So, when I make this again, which I absolutely will, I do plan to instead use 3 cups of veggie broth instead of 4 (though keeping it near by to add more moisture in later) and I’ll be using the blender for sure, which is one of the options provided in the recipe, leaving some of the smaller pieces of broccoli set aside for post-blending to still have some of those broccoli chunks in it. I also plan to stick with my white cheddar, and use a mixture of 1/2 cream to 1/2 milk for the base of the soup (so you still get a little bit of that richness).

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But obviously, Deb Perelman knows what she’s talking about and if you too are in the mood for a little broccoli cheddar soup, definitely try this out on your own (making the adjustments you think would be best for your preference, because everyone has particular tastes on viscosity and texture when it comes to soups)! It’s definitely one of those hearty soups that really brings the spirit of Fall into the kitchen! —Cooking Maggie

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Broccoli Cheddar Soup by smitten kitchen

Cooking Maggie Notes:

  1. I used 1/2 cream, 1/2 milk, but Perelman mentions you can do a variety of combos as well (1/2 cream, 1/2 broth / 1/2 milk, 1/2 broth), so adjust to your preference of how rich/heavy you want your soup to be.
  2. If you like it a little on the runny side, then use the full 4 cups, but if you want a thicker soup, then I would start with 3 cups and keep an extra cup in reserve to add a little later.
  3. If you like your soup chunky, the immersion blender is going to be the way to go, but if you’re like me and want a smoother soup, then I would use the blender. Save some of the chopped up broccoli for after blending so you still get some serious broccoli bites in there too if that’s what you like!

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On Telling the Truth: Dishes I Wouldn’t Make Again & Chili

Recently, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle dishes that I didn’t like or wouldn’t make again. These could have been dishes that either just turned out bad (because not every recipe out there is going to work out the way it says it will) or they just didn’t suit mine or Frankie’s taste. So I thought I would go out on a limb and be honest about something that not a lot of cooks will speak to.

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  1. What do I do when I make a dish that doesn’t turn out right?

Easy. If it’s a complete disaster and there’s no helping it into something palatable, I will throw together something quick that I’ve made before, or we eat it for a night and then don’t make it again. A prime example would be the one time my mom made chili so spicy that no one could eat more than three bites of it, and the boys ended up munching on chicken nuggets, while my mom and I suffered through one bowl before pitching the whole batch. Even my dad, who has a high tolerance for spicy food, couldn’t muster more than a small bowl of it. And goofs like this are BOUND to happen every so often with anyone who cooks, even when you read over the ingredient ratios to make sure it all looks like it’ll come together nicely, so I try not to get too hooked up on those moments. But I will say, I never keep a recipe I didn’t like in my home or on a secret pinterest board because, frankly, if it wasn’t good, I’ll remember that it wasn’t good if it pops back up on my screen.

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Another example: During my first year in Chicago, I tried to make pulled buffalo chicken in my crockpot to make little sliders for dinner. Seemed like an easy enough recipe, a packet of Hidden Valley ranch, and a ton of hot sauce, and that should have come out delicious, right? Nope! What came out in the end smelled like cat food and tasted like mushy bread. It was AWFUL, like, I couldn’t even eat a slider it was so bad. I ended up pitching it (I know, wasteful, but even if I had thought to bring it into work, NO ONE would have eaten it…even Frankie, who normally is a good sport and will at least give most of my food a good ol’ fashioned try wouldn’t eat more than a couple bites), and whipping up a quick pot of spaghetti, which I always have the ingredients for because it’s an easy go-to.

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But if it’s something that just doesn’t suit our tastes as is, but could be good if a, b, or c was adjusted, then I get into my experimenter mode and go at it. And this is one of the reasons that I feel so lucky to have such an honest guinea pig for a boyfriend. Not only does the guy watch an unhealthy amount of Food Network with me, even turning it on for me if I’m having a rough day, he’ll treat my food like any judge on Chopped. He’s honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t, and if he does like the dish, but thinks it’s missing something, or maybe needs a little more/less cooking time, or a spice adjustment, my immense dabbling in food and cooking has rubbed off on him enough that he often helps me with each new variation.

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This isn’t to say that any bad recipe isn’t salvageable. I think every recipe is, but some are just better to start from scratch or find a different recipe base to build off of if it needs more than just simple tinkering.

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2. Would I ever write about a bad recipe?

Yes and no. Devoting an entire post to something you shouldn’t make seems really counterproductive to what I am trying to do, which is share recipes that you should be making because they are delicious! I also wouldn’t go out of my way call out a recipe as bad if I just personally wasn’t a fan. There’s no glory or good to come from defaming anyone else’s hard work, but I most certain have no problem commenting on a foundation recipe I’m using if it’s lacking certain ingredients or their ratios are off, at least, based on what I know about myself and what I like in my food because no one’s palate is the same. But in commenting on what I feel it lacks, I’m not calling it quote unquote bad, but rather giving myself the room to tinker, adjust, and create something of my own to suit me better. That’s why we have recipes, why we cook, adjust, share the adjustments, cook some more, and share any other adjustments back. It’s a beautiful, and inherently inclusive, cycle that I will continue to be a part of if I can.

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And speaking of chili, my main example for this is my own chili, which I thought I had posted back in February, but somehow find that it’s missing! OH CALAMITY! But not to worry, because I’m using it as my example, what better remedy than to include the recipe here! The recipe I initially started with had a very simple ingredient list: meat, kidney beans, 3 tablespoons of chili powder (their main mishap), a teaspoon of brown sugar, and diced tomatoes. Three ingredients and minimal spices does not a cowboy chili make and I knew the end result was going to be…disappointing. So, given how little was there to begin with, that’s when I went to my fridge & spice wall, and, well, went a little crazy. I wanted to brighten this initial canvas with all sorts of colors and flavors, really build off of their bare bones and add my own flair! I threw in Worcestershire sauce for a tart bite (I always have a bottle of this in my pantry, fyi), turned the 3 tablespoons of chili powder into 1/3 cup (which should be a BARE MINIMUM for any chili base), added in an onion and bell pepper to add some additional freshness to the hearty beans and meat, threw in chicken stock instead of water to build on the meaty flavor that chili should exude, and then went to TOWN on the spices. I’m talking cayenne, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, coriander, marjoram, and then a little more brown sugar to just round out all the edges. AND VOILA! A cowboy chili that would make any chili-loving man, woman, or child happy.

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And what’s great is this chili can actually be re-purposed! Do you happen to remember a particular post I had made about Cincinnati Chili? Well, this was the actual chili that I ended up using! And this chili can be thrown into a pot of Mac n Cheese, dolloped on top of some queso to make it fundido, layered between sheets of lasagna, or put between a bun! Chili does NOT have to just be eaten from a bowl, and I even served this chili with some SUPER DELICIOUS French Onion toast rounds that were out of this world delicious (so much so that Frankie asked me to make a second batch to go with his second bowl of chili) from who else but the amazing Deb Perelman! The recipe is in her first cookbook, but I was able to find the recipe online (JUST FOR YOU GUYS!) so I hope you do give it a try because it is one of those dishes that will definitely make it to my Christmas Party this year for sure! Oh, and please try hard not to balk to hard at all the spices that are in this chili because these are just what I threw in at the time I was originally messing with the recipe. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE EVERYTHING! Especially if you don’t have them, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM! I’ve put the most important ones at the top and optional are just the other ones I threw in last minute.

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But all in all, I know for a fact I’m not going to like everything I make, and that’s okay. My kitchen is really just a test kitchen after all, so I expect mistakes and missteps. In fact, as I’ve maybe mentioned more than I should how much I like finding things I can tinker with as much as I find things that are just super tasty as they are! It means I get to take the time to practice my skills and maybe learn something new about myself! And besides, it’s all a process anyway. — Cooking Maggie

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French Onion Toasts
from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Pounds yellow onions, cut into dice of about 1/3 inch (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cognac, brandy, or vermouth (optional)
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef, veal, or mushroom stock or broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Thirty-two 1/2 inch thick slices form a long baguette
  • Finely grated Gruyere cheese (you might want a little extra)

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar, and saute without the lid for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a deep-golden color. Pour in Cognac, if using it, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth almost completely disperses (a small amount of slosh is okay; you don’t want to cook it off so much that the onions seem dry), about 5-10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 75 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Dollop each round of bread with most of a tablespoon of the onion mixture. Add 1 tablespoon grated cheese to the top of each toast, mound it a bit so it all stays in place. Bake the toasts for about 15 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned. Serve immediately.

Cooking Maggie’s Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup chicken stock or water
  • 1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans of drained kidney beans
  • 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cumin

Optional Spices:

  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. ground marjoram
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes

*Optional spices are just that, optional. Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t like. All spices can be adjusted to taste as well.

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, brown the ground beef, drain, and put back in pot. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and saute for 1 minute.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and all spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
  3. IF you would like a thicker chili, whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup of water and add to chili after it has simmered for at least 30 minutes, cook for additional 5 minutes.

 

On User Errors & Potato Leek Soup

If there is one soup that I could eat forever, it would be potato leek soup [the close second would be white cheddar broccoli]! I can’t remember the first time I had it, but I do remember always looking for it, and hoping I would find it again. The last time I made potato leek soup from scratch—and not just calling Baker & Nosh to see if it was their soup of the day—I had just moved to the city and was living in Uptown, near Wilson and Clark, almost four years ago to the day! But it was nothing like the one I made over the weekend. Four years ago, I had no blender, just a handheld immersion blender, and my oven was basically half the size of the oven I have now, not to mention that my kitchen then was about 1/4 the size of my kitchen now [I’m realizing how lucky I am to have the space that I do, and is primarily one of my reasons I don’t really want to move any time soon]. So when I made this soup, it was watery, almost flavorless, and I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong…until now.

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It’s all in the veggies, and I had prepared them incorrectly—which means I boiled my potatoes, and I believe, if memory serves me correctly, I pan seared my leeks—and didn’t let them sing for what they were worth, covering them up in chicken stock and water. Shame on me, and I was raving about how much I love potatoes less than a week ago! But I will forgive my younger, inexperienced self that folly, because heaven only knows I didn’t make that mistake this time! [Have I mentioned that I also have a growing fondness for leeks? I think they’re amazing vegetables and love to cook with them when I can! Leek Fritters anyone?]

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Now, because I am only feeding two, I have been in the habit of halving recipes that are meant for full-fledged families that could consume 6-8 servings in a couple days where it would take me and my goofy personal Chopped judge a lot longer to go through, and our large and sleepless city makes it hard to just invite friends over simply because I made too much food. Spontaneity is not Chicago’s strong suit unfortunately, given everyone’s individual ambitions and schedule. All that, mixed with a little user error—I’m only human, and again, simply showing my weakness for not slowing down enough to really understand a recipe before I dive headfirst, which after this recipe, I have vowed to not do again, spending my lunchtime reading and re-reading a recipe to get myself prepped for grocery shopping and mise en place-ing before cooking—my soup is a little on the brown side.

User Error #1: I added just one two too many potatoes, trying to guesstimate one pound, but my kitchen scale hadn’t arrived yet so I was over by a little bit. Then, User Error #2: I should have used 3 leeks instead of 2 because leeks are great and more of them would have been even better. And then there was User error #3: I cut the potatoes too big and would cut them MUCH smaller, almost a quarter of what I did. But back to this soup, roasting is the key secret. You need to roast those suckers till they’re nice and tender, and I found that the addition of arugula at the last four or five minutes in the over was quite lovely and unexpected! And even though I didn’t follow the recipe to a tee, I still ended up with something delicious and “AMAZING,” according to my food critic who, at times, is a little hesitant about new and unusual vegetables.

So user errors aside, there’s a scale in the mail that will hopefully get here soon if my post office doesn’t take forever like it has been doing [as well as a new cookbook I couldn’t stop myself from buying, but I won’t reveal that until it gets here], and I had a good hearty soup to sweeten the graying sky that’s been creeping and cooling the lovely warm weather we’ve been having lately. Sometimes, all you need is a good soup to warm your soul, delicious errors aside.

Sipping on soup by my office window, Cooking Maggie Out


Ina Garten’s Roasted Potato Leek Soup from Food Network/Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (2008)

On Cincinnati Classics

So as might know from a previous post, I made chili this week, and while Frankie and I enjoy eating chili by itself, we were discussing leftovers and Frankie got this super crazy (but really awesome) idea! Now, what you also may (or may not) know is that I am originally from Cincinnati (prior to Hong Kong, of course) and anyone familiar with the city (or the state of Ohio, for that matter) might know that we Ohioans are known to do something a little unorthodox with our chili, as shown below: img_2857

May I present Cooking Maggie’s take on a 5-way Cincinnati-chili! Now, if you’re from Ohio or know anything about the constant debate of “Skyline vs. Gold Star Chili”—the equivalent of which would be Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s for deep dish pizza here in Chicago—you should know that I grew up on both, but far prefer Skyline and I’m sticking to it! But don’t judge this book by its cover if you’re not familiar with this concept of chili on spaghetti. Yes, it looks…weird, for lack of a better term, but it’s actually pretty darn delicious! My favorite part is the cheese (naturally): soft, fluffy, sharp cheddar. It has, HAS to be finely grated or it’s not going to have the same effect texture wise. And this dish is anything but bland: it’s soft, it’s crunchy, it’s meaty, it’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s just…mm mm good! And there are tons of variations you make!

The traditional 3-way:pasta, chili, and cheese.
The 4-way: pasta, chili, onions OR kidney beans, and cheese.
The 5-way: pasta, chili, onions, kidney beans, and cheese.

Oh, and then you top it all off with some good ol’ fashioned hot sauce (Tobasco, Crystal, Frank’s, doesn’t matter, so long as you like it on your food)!

I would argue though that this dish, or at least the idea of it, is an acquired taste. Not everyone is going to like it, and I respect that, but I wanted to diversify a little, and expose a little bit of my hometown culture. Plus, how many times do you see people making Skyline at home, FROM SCRATCH?! I mean, this is about as unique as it gets! [Last Note: If you’re looking for an amazing Cincinnati/Ohio made ice cream: Graeter’s. It’s the best homemade ice cream, again, in my opinion, and the best flavor is the Black Raspberry Chip. The secret? They don’t use basic chocolate chips…no no! They pour liquid chocolate into their ice cream batter while it’s being churned, and the paddles break up the chocolate as it freezes, which is how you get their signature and inconsistent chocolate chunks! I mean, it’s the only ice cream that allows me to play with my food, and after twenty odd years of practice, I am a MASTER chocolate chip excavator!] So with that, I will leave the recipe below and hope that some of you brave souls will give it a go! The great thing is, most of the toppings are optional (even the cheese, but that’s just blasphemous in my eyes, IT’S THE BEST PART!). From my hometown to yours, Cooking Maggie Out!


img_2855Cincinnati-Style Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of your favorite chili
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped/diced (not minced)
  • 8 0z spaghetti
  • 1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese (I like Cracker Barrel cheese myself)
  • Optional (if not included in chili already): 1/4 cup Kidney beans, drained
  • Optional: Favorite hot sauce.

Instructions

  1. Salt some water, bring to boil, and cook your pasta. When done, drain, and set aside.
  2. Heat up your chili in a sauce pan (or microwave, just so long as it’s hot).
  3. Shred your cheese in a bowl, set aside.
  4. When pasta is done, make your plate! Pasta on the bottom, chili on the pasta, onion, (and/or) kidney beans (if they aren’t in the chili already), AND CHEESE!!!
  5. Optional: Top with hot sauce to taste.