On Cooking with Alex #3: Bruschetta Bananza!

About two weeks ago, Alex & I changed up the game plan because of the warmer weather and decided to make a couple different bruschetta’s as part of a delicious and fairly light Sunday lunch/dinner! What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Not to mention that Frankie & I spent the evening on our porch for a really delightful dinner once he was done with work! Also, these are probably the prettiest things (savory wise) that I’ve ever made!

7583888640_IMG_1746.jpg

I mean, LOOK AT THAT! And almost all of them were spot on! The only one that didn’t QUITE work out as we wanted was the Peach with Whipped Goat Cheese, only because peaches weren’t in season. Alex couldn’t find fresh plums, which is what I used to sub out the peach, and even then it was really bitter, and so she bought canned peaches. I seared off my plums, which helped add a new depth of flavor, but was still a little bitter, and was an odd flavor with the cheese. Alex had a similar experience with her peaches, which she left as they were, and it just wasn’t where it needed to be, so we believe, yes you do need a fresh peach, and it should be a juicy one that is sweet so it will better offset the tang of the goat’s cheese.

7583888640_IMG_1744.jpg

Then there was the traditional Bruschetta that I had presented ages ago (relinked below) that I happened to find some heirlooms for, and that was the RIGHT decision to make. Romas/On-The-Vine are also good alternatives, BUT nothing beats the richness of an heirloom. BUT I did just notice my store is starting to carry orange and yellow tomatoes on the vine, which would be my next alternative for heirlooms. Plus, heirlooms are WAY more expensive, though you do pay for the outstanding quality, which is a plus.

7583888640_IMG_1740.jpg

The third one we made was a bacon and onion marmalade, on top of brie, and this was a TOTAL winner! I mean, it was sweet, tangy, meaty, herbaceous (lots of thyme in there), and it was just the perfect amount of stick to the roof of your mouth kind of good, plus you had the earthy softness of the brie to break up the richness of this mouthful, and it is incredibly rich for such a small bite, but rich enough for you to want another one, then another one, then another one. Alex cooked her bacon first, then added the onion, which allowed it all to caramelize even more, whereas mine was a little lighter in color because I took my bacon out before cooking the onion, adding it all bacon in for the final few minutes. This is DEFINITELY another winner that will likely grace our next Christmas party!

7583888640_IMG_1741.jpg

The last one on my plate is a minted smashed pea and prosciutto crostini, which I understand isn’t going to be the easiest one to make because Prosciutto isn’t always readily available, as was the case for Alex. I will say though, if you find some, make this one! This was by far the favorite (next to the regular bruschetta and bacon/onion marmalade), and I even took it one step further but drizzling a little balsamic glaze right on top, which packed a super punch! The peas were super easy to make, and the combination with the mint made it a very light and fresh bite, which paired beautifully with the subtle earthy elegance of the prosciutto, and the sweet punch of balsamic. Another winner to be sure, and honestly, you could even substitute the prosciutto for sliced ham, or even bacon (because who doesn’t like bacon?).

7583888640_IMG_1737.jpg

All in all, these little morsels were a GREAT treat to munch on in the early afternoons of summer weekends, and I plan to try a couple more crostini recipes for possible party ideas! If you have a favorite bruschetta/crostini recipe, I would love to hear about them! I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to give a couple of your favorites a try! Hoping you’re enjoying the warmer weather wherever you are! — Cooking Maggie


Quick Fresh Brushcetta

Onion & Bacon Marmalade from Tasty Kitchen (Cook in Canuck)

Minted Pea & Prosciutto Costini from Martha Stewart

Peach Bruschetta with Whipped Goat Cheese from Life As A Strawberry

7583888640_IMG_1739.jpg7583888640_IMG_1738.jpg7583888640_IMG_1745.jpg

Advertisements

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

a857c81a-0911-4718-a0a2-98f28bc6fcd5-1


Day 23

Breakfast: Typical smoothie!

Lunch: Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya

img_0035

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.

c119ef3f-093f-420f-999e-ff0c741837d17d6f6b24-948e-447f-b4eb-ee06f19f09cf


Day 26

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Last of the Jambalaya

Dinner: Steak & Potatoes a la Frankie

0bb81e57-9ade-4946-a419-ee4511887eedf2db30d0-d769-4e1d-a38e-75f385d705e2


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!

cf5f4035-7988-4e06-b3b8-a0065d4e13e55fb68bdf-5702-4b82-871c-58b08c1ed3ee


Day 28

Breakfast: Smoothie & Banana

Lunch: Last of the Oktoberfest-less Stew

Dinner: Leftover Meatballs


Day 29

Breakfast: Smoothie

Lunch: Last of the Meatballs

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.

2a3c6991-0917-40fd-94ce-76a05e91bfec


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!

img_9778

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!

d4ce7bd4-9102-482e-87c9-68e5e8a512d7


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!

img_9816

img_9812


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!

bfb72e8b-9f3a-48df-9225-c053bc068a98

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!

48ca5000-77fe-4765-b78d-0575e67013aa


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.

81b53aa6-e58a-49a7-9ed9-a07487544637

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!!!

8ad43acd-7470-4fa6-811c-06b10d2689b2

img_9850


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 Christmas Parties & First Christmas Trees

I don’t know WHY I bothered trying three different grocery stores, but when it came to finding party sized samosas, spring rolls, and spanikopita, ONLY TONY’S HAD SOME! Seriously?! Ugh, and I think I may have posted about Tony’s when I was making Empanada’s and how Tony’s was the only place that sold the premade empanada wrappers…so I hereby solemnly promise, on my honor, that I will only go to Tony’s for all my International food needs. If this promise seems repetitive, my apologies, but sometimes a good reminder can go a long way. But Christmas is my favorite time of year because this is when Frankie and I throw our only party of the year, and it’s definitely a highlight! We also go ALL OUT! I mean, we’re taking catering from Spiro’s up in Waukegan, a special cocktail, a pony keg of Spotted Cow, appetizers made by yours truly, and some appetizers not made by yours truly because I have spent whole parties in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up, and sometimes, not making everything yourself is okay, especially if it means getting to spend more time with your guests, am I right?!

DSC_0473.jpg

This year’s menu looked like this:

Drinks: Make-Your-Own Moscow Mule’s (using antique spirit pumps filled with Tito’s, the Dog Lover’s Vodka), Spotted Cow (purchased from Tenuta’s Deli in Kenosha; their price for the keg was exceptional, even though I think their deposit is a little steep, but you get that back as soon as you return the empty keg, so only a temporary hurt on the credit card), and access to other spirits that our guests may prefer if beer and Moscow Mule’s don’t sit well with them.

Appetizers: Baked Brie with Blackberry Jam & Apricot Jam (now, these are SUPER easy to make on your own at home, BUT I happened to find two of them premade from Jewel, for a little less than I would have paid to make it from scratch, so I thought, what the heck! And most grocery stores should sell the premade bakable brie in the special cheese area), my famous Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers, standard cheese tray that included gruyere and white cheddar cheese with water crackers, and spanikopita (purchased frozen from Tony’s), chips & two kinds of salsa (pico & blended). I also had some frozen vegetarian spring rolls & Tostino’s Pizza Rolls for any 2am hunger crunches too, but ended up not needing them! And yes, I did say 2am. This year, most of our guests left at 2.30, and the final guests left at 3.30 I believe, so I guess everyone enjoyed themselves!

Dinner: Catering from Spiro’s: Make Your Own Italian Beef/Bomber’s complete with dipping au jus, bread, sweet peppers, and giardiniera; Cathy’s Baked Chicken (always a favorite and can be stripped from the bones to be made into a casserole or soup afterwards; Greek Salad; Mostaccioli (penne & red sauce). This is where we splurge the most, but it’s worth it to see everyone happy and full! And the key for us is to start saving for our party starting January 1st of every year. Also, no joke. We put a little bit away every month and whatever we have at the end, that’s our entire party budget!

Dessert: Funfetti Cupcakes (a normal addition) and Gingerbread Sheet Cake Bites with Stabilized Whipped Cream made by Ed (he had them cut into bars, but we thought bites would be better for a larger group, and then we topped the whipped cream with just a sprinkling of cinnamon), and this was an AWESOME addition that may become tradition after how well it went over with everyone! I even plan to take a crack at this myself over new years with my new Kitchen Aid Mixer, which was a fabulous Christmas present from my future in-laws, and I cannot WAIT to try that sucker out! (Recipes are linked.)

Decorations: Honest to goodness, almost EVERYTHING came from the Dollar Store. No joke because honestly, people don’t come to your parties to analyze your decorations or wonder if it’s Crate & Barrel or Pier 1. They are there to spend time with the people who matter in their lives and just be joyful! So I firmly believe that any home can look beautiful with a budget, and while I hesitated with revealing my secret, I actually am really proud of what I have put together in years past, which is why they keep appearing in years future, and why I decided I wanted to share! The potpourri, Dollar Store. The red candles on my wine glasses, and the wine glasses themselves, Dollar Store. The fake garland, which I think I will replace with something juuuuuust a little nicer next year, Dollar Store. Most of the bigger ornaments, Dollar Store. The small ornaments, Walgreens (yup, you read that right, Walgreens) and I add to them every year for about $20…each year the patterns change, and if they can be integrated with some of the setups I already have, done deal. And all the other decor we’ve accumulated over the years were from mine & Frankie’s family, and some are even Christmas gifts! My rule of thumb is that you should be able to use what you have to decorate your house without breaking the budget. I think the only things I splurged on where the gold & silver plates for the wine glasses, which I bought at Target for $12 each I think? But if you find something similar for less, do it!

The big kicker this year was that Frankie & I got our very first Christmas tree together, and it was a momentous occasion! Sure, it’s not enormous, but it was perfect for our apartment and the space we had to work with! And using all the ornaments we’ve received from friends & family over the years, including a large set of straw stars made in Haiti by Frankie’s mom, we were able to really deck the tree out! And on top, well, that’s  Frankie special from our favorite Urban General Store, Enjoy. If you haven’t been, definitely go next time you’re in the Lincoln Square area! They are one in a million for all things interesting and unique, and I mean, you can’t find a more unique tree topper than this one!

And that’s it! Another Christmas party for the books, and a great anticipation for next year as it will be the first Christmas party that Frankie & I will throw as a married couple, which, can I just say I am SO excited about?! EEK!!! But if you’d like to share your own decorating hacks or favorite appetizers to serve! I’m always looking for new ways to keep our parties interesting and would love to hear what you do! Hoping you all had a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy New Year! — Cooking Maggie

On What Was Supposed to be Shrimp & Grits

…but then became Stewed Green Beans with a side of spicy pepper shrimp because you went to the 4th Mac & Cheese Fest and ate WAY too much pasta & cheese and the thought of eating more made you a little nauseous. And while I didn’t want to eat anything with cheese in it, I still had a small bushel of green beans ready to go for stewed green beans, so that’s what I went with (along with cooking up the shrimp I also had bought, quickly whipping up a spicy paprika shrimp to help cut the subtle richness of the green beans.

b6f0a496-e2bb-412f-b400-64b0064ceaa5-1

I have always loved stewed green beans, and as a little girl, when playing with your food was still acceptable, I would split the bean open and suck out the little pea pod inside before munching on the beans themselves. It is still one of my favorite sides to eat with barbeque, but today, it was the comfort I needed coming out of my mac n cheese coma! As for authenticity, I don’t know if I can claim that this recipe is in fact very close to the real deal, especially with my addition of chicken stock (or broth) instead of water. But I think my own variation has all the depths of flavors that this dish boasts naturally, and will absolutely smell up your home in the best way possible (I mean, how could you not be salivating at the very first sizzle of bacon in a pan).

a29c70c7-727c-4891-80ca-e66be00067e7-1d4689d0c-4a7b-4f6b-80c3-dd9ebe999868-1


Cooking Maggie’s Stewed Green Beans

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 lb. green beans, longer beans snapped in half
  • 6 strips of bacon, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • 4 cups of Chicken Broth/Stock

Instructions: Heat butter in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add green beans, turkey leg, and 4 cups water. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. When boiling, reduce heat, and let simmer until green beans are very tender, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

For Paprika Shrimp: Add a little olive oil (about 1 tsp) to a skillet, and add 1 lb of shrimp (devein & remove the shells, but leave the tail). Saute for about three minutes, and sprinkle salt, pepper, and about 1 tsp paprika & 1 tsp chili powder. Saute until cooked through. Top with chives for a little freshness.

4e3acf0c-3cb3-46f8-b983-500800eedbcc-19adb21a7-6e4a-4f8f-b5c2-3df8cf7af754-1

On Chicago’s Mac & Cheese Fest

Last weekend, Carly and I decided to venture downtown and take part in this year’s Mac & Cheese Fest, which, let’s be honest, sounded like the best thing in the world! I mean, WHO DOESN’T LOVE MAC N’ CHEESE?! So far, I have yet to meet that individual who doesn’t enjoy a dish of mac n’ cheese every so often, but that being said, the main point of discussion—or argument, depending on how heated said discussion gets—that I have found myself having with my friends and fellow partakers of mac n’ cheese is what the best KIND of mac n’ cheese is.

IMG_7871

Let’s take Kraft Mac for example, an inherent staple in most childhoods. I liked (and still do like) my Kraft to be more on the buttery/soupy side, so I’ll add an extra tablespoon of butter, and a little more milk than others who like their mac to be on the thicker/chunkier side (like Frankie does). And then we can take this example and take it one step further with what we add to our Kraft when we are feeling lazy, like ground beef or hot sauce. Now, I’m pretty much a purist when it comes to my Kraft Mac, but if I’m doing Hamburger Helper (boxed or from scratch), absolutely, throw in the ground beef, but I’m not a hot sauce on my mac kind of chick, whereas Frankie loves to add Crystal Hot Sauce (or Tabasco when we have it, though Cholula has become our new favorite go-to hot sauce) and ground beef in most Macs (except my homemade “THE Mac n Cheese” because that’s just good as it).

IMG_7912

But that’s what’s so beautiful about Mac! It’s such a blank canvas and can have a million different interpretations! And if you’re new to cooking, or looking to experiment a little more with what you already know, I highly recommend you take your favorite Mac recipe and toy around with the kinds of cheese, the amount of liquid, the kinds of pasta (shell v elbow v gemelli v fusilli v rotini v cavatappi etc.), and your fillers! That kind of spontaneity and fun is one of the main things I love about cooking! But I could talk about Mac all day long, but that’s not what this is about! This is about the fest and all the pasta Carly & I indulged in, and I ate SO MUCH Mac that night, like basically my weight in mac, BUT I HAVE NO REGRETS! So worth it for the price! With a discount code, the General entry ticket was $60 (not including taxes and whatnot, so about $70 when all said and done) and that included ALL YOU CAN EAT MAC SAMPLES from 26 local Chicago eateries, each with their own unique take on mac n’ cheese with the mission of winning the Golden Noodle! Oh, and did I mention you also got 5 drink tickets for your basic soft drink selection, or the evening’s signature cocktail of Apple Cider Vodka courtesy of Tito’s, or a glass of beer, or a glass of wine, or even a cider! Water, thankfully, was completely free as I think it should be at any and all events that involve food and drinking.

IMG_7918

But then we got to the Mac n Cheese samples, and they weren’t all served in the same vessel or with the same utensils, WHICH I had some serious problems with, because if the spoon you give me only holds one shell in it, and very precariously at that, I’m going to be really annoyed eating it. I think it wouldn’t have been easier/better if all vessels and eating utensils were the same so that a) you could fit more on your plate at one time, which invariably would move lines along more smoothly in waves, and b) the vendors who gave you a ton more were basically taking advantage of your stomach, preventing you from trying all of them, which as an attendee is your own personal mission! How else would you know which Mac was the best?! Well, we understood the mission, and I’ll just say, we succeeded in trying ALL of the mac’s except for one, which I’ve included a photo of for reference of size, because, holy smokes was it enormous and in no way possible to eat so far into our task.

Please note, the following reviews are short, sweet, and very, VERY honest because, well, if I don’t like the mac, I don’t like it. What else can I be? The notes below are grouped in order of what we ate, and are written as follow: Restaurant (with link) | Chef/Team (if given) | Offering Name (if given, which a lot weren’t or were different that what was on the event website, so I added them in my actual comments below): My comments. ENJOY!


Round 1

IMG_7881
Starting Top Left & Going Clockwise: Whisk, Weber Grill, Son of a Butcher, Rack House, World of Beer.

Whisk | Chef David Rodriguez | BBQ Pulled Pork Mac & Cheese: Meat was so good, sweet and tender, but not overpowering. Not very cheesy though.

Weber Grill Restaurant | Chef Erik M | Smoked Bacon & White Cheddar Mac N Cheese: Bacon was underwhelming, more like a garnish than an ingredient. Horrible spoon to eat with.

Son of a Butcher | Chef Rick Rodriguez | Cauliflower Mac n Cheese: could be cheesier, or more seasoned, but tender cauliflower! Yummy!!

Rack House Kitchen & Tavern | Chef Bryant Anderson | Rack Mac Attack: brisket SO good, tender, and the pickled jalapeño broke up the richness of the meat and perfectly tart, not too spicy, good kick, SUPER CHEESY!!! Would love the jalapeno to be diced and more of it. We got seconds!!!

World of Beer – Evanston | Chef Crystal Y | WOB Mac & Cheese: pepperjack m&c, not good, stupid spoon, dropped a shell in my beer and made it taste better. If you’re a beer place, I think it better have beer in it. Not cheesy and was cold. Cauliflower Mac was better.


Round 2

img_7895.jpg
Starting Top Left going clockwise: Bohemian House, Chuck’s Southern Comfort, Rockit Bar, RACK HOUSE (AGAIN!!!), Bakin’ & Eggs

Rockit Bar & Grill | Chef Michael Sheerin | Cheeseburger Mac: gross! Mac was mustardy and that meatball was bland…not appealing. Not the winner.

Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe | Chef Chuck Pine: Shrimp Mac daddy, shrimp and andouille sausage, with candied andouille on top. STILL HOT!! And yummy! Didn’t notice the shrimp, but candied andoullie was yummy! Wouldn’t get seconds, but didn’t hate it.

Bohemian House | Chef Andrew Kappa | Käsespätzle: alright, but just one note. Forgettable.

Bakin & Eggs | Chef Bob & Gina Hartwig | Jalapeno Bacon Smoked Gouda Mac & Cheese: great kick, Cheese, perfectly cooked Mac. Heat does overpower a little, but only subtle. No complaints I’d eat it again. Good brunch spot too!

** Note the SECOND serving of Rack House’s Mac! SO GOOD!!!

IMG_7897.JPG

 

Round 3

 

ConeCepts | Chef Turn Cummings | Beer Braised Brisket Mac & Cheese: The plate is WAY too big! If it doesn’t fit on my plate, it’s a hinderance! Gross and watery. No brisket no beer. Bland!! Yuck!!!

 

 

 

Round 4

IMG_7904
Starting top left going clockwise: Amazing Edibles, Bricks Wood Fire, Famous Dave’s, Hells BBQ, House of Blues.

Amazing Edibles Catering | Chef Matt Ryan | Amazing Portuguese Mac’ N Cheese  – 2016 GOLDEN NOODLE WINNER & 2015 1st Runner-Up: goat cheese based, lighter, so pretty presentation wise, interesting for sure, but didn’t blow me away.

Bricks Wood Fire Pizza Cafe: White cheddar Mac topped with bacon and scallions: bacon had a weird flavor and cheese was grainy. Nada!

Hells BBQ Inc.: bbq brisket, wasn’t as meaty as rack, but melted in my mouth!! Cheesy!!

House of Blues Restaurant and Bar | Chef Blake Ogilvie | Bacon Mac and Cheese: predictable Mac, but yummy! Cheesy!

Famous Dave’s BBQ | Chef Shelly Marek | Dave’s Cheesy Jalapeno Mac & Cheese*: five cheeses, nope. Watery, no jalapeño flavor.


Round 5 & 6

720 Bar at The Hilton Chicago | Chef Mario Garcia & Chef Robert McKenzie: REALLY YUMMY!! The mostarda’s sweetness was unexpected but delightful, unique and different in the best way!! Buttery dry flavored pumpernickel was outstanding!!!!

Bangers & Lace (Evanston) | Chef AJ Francisco: pulled chicken Mac n cheese, heavy and dense, but not terrible!

 

IMG_7923
Starting bottom left (with chorizo nugget), going clockwise: Mago, Pierrot, FTW (For The Win), SafeHouse, Roanoke, Mastro’s (next to spoon)

 

SafeHouse | Chef David Hardy | Licensed to Kill Cheese Macaroni: perfect portion, meaty, not very cheesy but I don’t mind it.

Roanoke Restaurant and Club | Chef Ryan Kikkert | Creole Mac & Cheese: creole seasoning is yummy. Perfectly cheesy. Really yummy!!!

Pierrot Gourmet at the Peninsula Chicago | Chef Norman Hargove | French Onion Mac n’ Cheese: SUPER yummy!!! Unexpected but delicious!!! It was totally transformed and perfect!!!

Mastro’s | The Ultimate Chicago Style Mac & Cheese: cheesy pasta not Mac and cheese, but gardinera was a nice note.

Mago Grill & Cantina | Chef Ric Munoz & Chef Juan Gonzalez | Revolucion Mac & Cheese: interesting with the fried onions and chorizo! Not bad!!

FTW Chicago | Mammas Mac & Cheese: not for the win. It was cold and it tasted like velvetta…WHERE IS MY REAL CHEESE AT?!


Dessert

Calzone & Macaroni Co. | Chef Nic Lindsey: actually pretty yummy! Tasted like a cannoli for sure and didnt notice the pasta all that much!

XO Marshmallow | S’More Some Sugar on Brie:   Marshmallow was yummy but too sweet with the pasta.

———

**WE DID NOT TRY THE FOLLOWING**:  Carlucci Restaurant | Chef Jonathan Harootunian | “Jonny Mac”: did not try this one only, it was bucatini and it was an enormous portion!

IMG_7924

———

Best Booth Presentation: Mago’s

Most Creative Use of Ingredients: XO Marshmallow

2nd Runner Up Best Mac n Cheese: Mago’s

1st Runner Up Best Mac n Cheese: For The Win (FTW)

Golden Noodle (Best Mac n Cheese): Rack House


Rack House won SO deservedly, and boy OH BOY was their Mac ever delicious! I mean, we even went back for seconds I think that was the third mac we had tried!! But I will say that, since attending this deliciously filling fest, Carly & I have the correct approach down pat for anyone reading this who wants to attend next year! As Carly told me afterwards, while we were both nursing our full bellies in our respective beds where we immediately moved ourselves to afterwards, “sampling Mac and Cheese is like trying wine…you have to go in an order, like starting with the whites and moving to reds – sweet to dry – and with the mac we start with the heavy and end with the light.” Couldn’t agree more with that logic, and when you basically have about three hours to eat your heart out, why rush it? Take a sample lap, write down (BRING A PEN!) all the ones you think you should start, then have at it! We also believed that we should have shared all the samples from the start, so that we might enjoy our favorites solo later on, which we would have had more room for to enjoy this year’s winner! SERIOUSLY SO GOOD!!!

For more information on this year’s event, click here. I’ll try to post an update on next year’s event, which of course, I’ll now be attending annually if I’m around! YUM YUM YUM! — Cooking Maggie

On Leeks

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

E5E80FBF-3382-4137-8034-61DF30EF81F3270CBDB1-28E4-4587-B590-7A86C7581315

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

D0721E35-153E-4514-B954-5A6BD7A24269E0B55B5E-3202-4B32-8635-F7762292EF5B

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

697F6094-DC3B-4936-A453-AF8C0DC2D6BBA426FE1F-FBB1-48BC-A551-A59FA14A04EA

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

CADFA596-6185-48ED-ADD0-D554373C7F77EFDCA4D6-C405-408A-B32F-EF1934896341

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


Leek Fritters with Garlic & Lemon from smitten kitchen

Absurdly Addictive Asparagus from kaykay on Food52.com

On a Bacon Wrapped Sunday Super Bowl

img_2754Super Bowl Sunday ya’ll! Who was pumped and ready to go?! I mean, I was, or at least as much as a non-super sports enthusiast could be, BUT I was more pumped for the Super Bowl Sunday feast! Yes, I am that blasphemous individual who goes to these parties for the food over the football (unless there’s a team I really resonate with, then I care just a little bit more about the football over the food). In my defense, Hong Kong was not big on televising many American sports, so I grew up on HK’s Annual Rugby img_2768Sevens weekend, aaannnddd that’s about it. But I am not totally lost to the world of sports. Since moving back to the States, and spending as much time as I have with Frankie and his sports loving family, I have found that: hockey is exciting and brings out the rowdy girl in me (GO BLACKHAWKS!); I still don’t like basketball (but can enjoy the sport when I’m actually at the game); baseball is best with beer (GO CUBS GO! WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS 2016!); and football (college or professional) is a touch and go thing with me…if I start committed at the beginning of the season, then I can get into it, but as of late, that hasn’t happened, so I only watch with mild interest while I mutli-task.

img_2762

But regardless, there was a party ahead of me on Sunday morning and I was going to bring my favorite crowd pleasure: Bacon Wrapped Amazing (BWA, or in technical food terms, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers). These gluten-free beauties (no frying required!) are my take on the BWA’s at Southport Lanes & Billiards, and never have I ever seen one left uneaten by the end of the night. (Quick Recommendation: For any Chicagoan looking for a good bowling night with an actual human setting the pins and rolling your ball back with a napkin note stuffed in one of the finger holes, this is a great place to go with a group of 4 or more! Oh, and they have a kickass pool hall too, which is a plus. But get the bacon wrapped jalapeños. They’re the bomb.)

img_2767Okay, pay attention, because this is the MOST important part of this whole thing. Gloves. I have fairly soft, sensitive skin, and by sensitive, I mean that for the chimicurri sauce I made last weekend, my hands were burning from roasting and manipulating just ONE jalapeño, so please do invest in a box of gloves from your grocery store or pharmacy and save your hand from HOURS of burning (or three heavy washings under hot water, which won’t be pleasant, and dosing your skin in olive oil)…and I will say, as I’ve gotten older, the burning comes on soon, lasts longer, and has gotten progressively more painful, so GLOVES! And when you’re removing the seeds and ribs, using a spoon with a thin edge is easier than using a small paring knife (in my opinion)!

img_2756

Now, for those on a budget (like me), and for those who just can’t always find a reliable source of cheese curds, I like to go with Laughing Cow’s Creamy White Cheddar spread. You can use any spread cheese, like cream cheese (which isn’t Frankie’s fave, so we just don’t use it), or flavor that you think would go well, but I highly recommend staying away from cubed cheese as they just won’t hold up to the baking/broiling and may find yourself cleaning globs of blackened cheese off the bottom of your oven (unless you’re using curds, then those should be fine, but I would make sure to still wrap your bacon tightly to prevent the cheese from escaping).

Tip: Soak a sturdy brand of toothpick to prevent burning and keep these bacon wrapped amazings secure throughout the cooking process. Even under a broiler for five minutes, they should hold up to the heat and make it easy for guests to just pick a piece, dip, and eat! Additional Tip: If you’re feeling a little on the lazy side, as I do too sometimes, use Hidden Valley’s Southwest Chipotle dressing for the dip, but any chipotle dressing will work! Otherwise you can make your own using any chipotle mayo recipe (but I like their dressing, so I usually just go for that). I guarantee this will be an INSTANT crowd pleaser and I hope many of you will enjoy it enough to make it a go-to appetizer for any future party!

img_2774img_2780img_2781

Happy eating and hoping everyone had a good Sunday!

Cooking Maggie Out!


The Real Cooking Maggie’s Bacon Wrapped Jalapeños
Makes 16 Jalapeños, adjust portions to fit crowd

Ingredients

  • 8 fresh jalapeños
  • 1 container (8 wedges) Laughing Cow White Cheddar Cheese
  • 12 slices of bacon (not thick cut)
  • Chipotle Ranch Dressing
  • Toothpicks
  • Kitchen Gloves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Put on gloves.
  2. Slice the jalapeños lengthwise, then de-seed and clean the membranes from the inside using a small paring
  3. knife or thin edge spoon! Also leave the stems for one half! They’re like little food hats!Using a butter knife (or your gloved finger) and fill each jalapeño half with cheese (I have found that using half of a wedge per jalapeño half is just enough, but you can always get an extra container of cheese wedges just in case). The cheese should be roughly level with the edges of the jalapeño.
  4. Put toothpicks in 1/4 cup of water. Start to wrap a slice of bacon around each jalapeno half (from top to bottom) and secure bacon end in place with toothpick. Arrange the jalapeños on an aluminum foil covered cookie pan (with lipped edges to prevent bacon grease from dripping into your oven), place in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning halfway through. When bacon is just about done, pop them under a broiler for about 5-6 minutes, turning halfway through, for extra crispness (keep in longer for preferred crispiness).
  5. Serve with Chipotle Ranch Dressing or homemade Chipotle Mayo.

Bark Boxes & BLTG Sandwiches

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that I in fact love my dog. He has it so good, and with a face like that, how can you blame me? So, like any good dog mom with a nice little pay raise this year, I went ahead and ordered my pup a bark box! However, the reaction I got was not quite what I thought it would have been. Although he’s an ADORABLE pup, Lord Tuggs is a little on the overly cautious side, especially around loud noises and objects that are basically the same size as him, but I think that comes with the territory of being on the shorter side of things. However, that being said, he did enjoy the treats that were inside once we opened it up for him before we got to munching our dinner!

BLTG: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, and Guacamole. First things first, bread. Sourdough bread to be exact, a must, or something very similar (Tuscan Round Bread if your grocer or baker, if you’re that fancy individual who has one near by, has run out) that can hold up to toasting and layering, and all the good stuff inside (definitely don’t toast too much or you’ll ruin the top of your mouth). I find I don’t need to butter the tops of my bread for this sandwich and that simply toasting it gets that perfect crunch on the outside, but softness from the wet components that makes it easy to eat!
Then comes the next most important piece: BACON! Thick cut is an absolute, but after that, if you like flavoring or a particular kind of bacon, go crazy! It’s your sandwich! We stay pretty traditional in our home, and find just your regular maplewood smoked is just perfect to compliment the other pieces to this sandwich. To cook your bacon, you can just go with what you already know and love, but I personally am a baker of bacon only. Sure, it’s a little more time consuming, but I’ve never had a piece of bacon that wasn’t cooked PERFECTLY, just the way I like it with this method, which I’ve included!
img_2224

Perfect Bacon: Make sure your oven is set to 420 degrees, then run each strip of bacon under cold water. Yes, cold water, because what that does is prevents the meat from shrinking once its in the oven. Then, layer the bacon on a wire rack that is sitting in/on a large backing pan (which I cover in aluminum foil for easy cleanup). Then bake for about 20 minutes (I check it at the 10 mark, and then every 2 minutes after that to make sure it come out perfect). And while the bacon is cooking, I can work on getting everything else prepped and ready.

Naturally, slice your beef tomatoes (you can go with any tomatoes, but I got with a firm beef tomato because it tends to hold up better and cover more bread/ingredient surface area) and prep your lettuce (I like romaine lettuce myself because it has a softer crunch to compliment the bacon, but you can use whatever is your preference. I’ve even seen people use arugula, which I love, but find a little overly elevated for this gool ol’ classic). Then get to work on that guac, which I make from scratch because I like it better that way!

The Real Cooking Maggie’s Guacamole
2 Servings
  • 1 avocado, ripe
  • 1/2 plum tomato, diced small
  • 1/4 small white onion, diced finely
  • 1/4 jalapeno (or more to preference), diced finely (leave seeds in if you like heat)
  • 2-3 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons lime juice (to preference)
  1. Cut avocado in half, remove seed, and spoon meat (flesh?) into a small bowl. Smash with the back of a fork.
  2. Dice tomatoes, jalapeno, and onion, mince garlic, and add to smashed avocado and stir.
  3. Chop up cilantro and add to bowl, stirring to incorporate. Finally, add a dash of salt and squeeze in lime juice, tasting to preference (I add about 1/2 a lime at a time). Stir to combine and serve!!!

img_2225
It’s chunky, it’s smooth, it’s packed full of flavor (and heat if that’s your jam), and it’s so easy to make! We’ve now come to post-toasting, where you’ll layer a little mayo, a little lettuce, a little guacamole (to help keep those parts that tend to break apart or fall out between the bread), then a little bacon (really squish it into that guac for maximum holding), and finally top with tomatoes and that second piece of bread. VOILA! Delicious, elevated in a rustic kind of way, and a sandwich we can’t seem to eat only one of.
Enjoy and happy eating! Cooking Maggie Out!

Save

Save

Save