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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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?).

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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

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

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

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

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

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


Alex’s Pork Noodle Bowls

Lemongrass Pork Ingredients:

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

Nuoc Cham Sauce:

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

Noodle Bowl:

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

Instructions

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

Because I am not the best at making meatballs. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy knowing that there is something that I’m not really good at doing because it means it’s time for another experiment in methods to better my skills! But meatballs are just one of those things—specifically when trying to get a sear on them—that never seems to go my way. I have made meatballs successfully by baking them, cooking them in a crockpot, and straight up braising them in sauce, but when I try to sear them off and get that really wonderful caramelization, they just fall apart or stick to the pan, thus falling apart when I try, as gently as I can, to get them off…

So I’ve been asking myself all week, WHERE did I go wrong? Did I overmix or mix too hard? Was my attempt at using white bread (seriously drenched with water and wrung out) not as effective as breadcrumbs? Did I wring out the bread too much or not enough? I don’t think it was the meat mixture I used (all beef, 20% fat, with chopped pancetta), I had actual herbs in there, ricotta, two eggs (maybe one too many?), salt and pepper, and I used a little oil on my hands to make them into balls…so then my next questions lead to the actual making of the meatballs themselves. Were they too big? Not big enough? Was my pan too hot? Not hot enough? Did I use enough oil in the pan? Did I even use the right pan? You see my problem…but again, this is great, because now I’m in full experimentation mode!

 

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So when I get back from Vegas (work trip for my day job all next week, which hopefully won’t impact the posting schedule too bad, but hey, IT’S VEGAS AND I’M SO EXCITED!) I plan to spend a weekend trying different cooking methods of meatballs! I remember making one my first year in Chicago that had a little nugget of mozzerlla cheese stuffed in the middle, with a tomato jam on top that was awesome! I think I made those for a Game of Thrones binging session with Frankie, if my memory serves me right! But you’ll be seeing more meatballs here soon, and I plan to find the perfect balance & cooking method for my skills/needs! If anyone has a favorite meatball recipe, please feel free to pass that along to me as I’m not sure I’ll be making this recipe again, though I may! I haven’t planned that far ahead yet, but all recommendations and ideas are welcome! – Cooking Maggie

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Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs from bon appetit


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On A New Camera & Lots of Practice Photos

OH MY GOSH! I’m so excited to announce that I got an upgrade! And by that, I mean Frankie was super sweet and gave me my XMAS present INCREDIBLY early! A new Canon EOS 70D! I had been looking for a refurbished one for ages, jumping between Canon and Nikon, and specific price ranges rather than camera models, since I didn’t really want to spend a whole lot on a brand new camera that I have no idea what to do with, but he wanted to make sure that if I was going to make this jump, I might as well just go big and commit. Am I the luckiest woman in the world OR WHAT?!

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But anyway, after massive amounts of research and price comparisons, we settled on a great package deal that came with all sorts of fun accoutrements, and I did all sorts of research on what lens would be best for food, and what other bloggers are using. Now, keep in mind, I still have no real idea about what I’m doing, but isn’t that what the brilliancy of Google and YouTube are there for? Oh, that and my main fry guy Ed, who has been dabbling in photography for about three years now and gave me a super crash course on how to get used to my camera and its settings in Manual mode.

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So far, not bad, but I’ve been playing around with the settings so much (and practicing on Tuggs), that I’ve been lazy and not photographing any of the recipes I’ve made so far, though some have been remakes like the Greek Chicken & Lemon Rice from Recipe Tin Eats (pictured). I also made that Pasta al Pomodoro from Bon Appetit (which was super yummy especially with bucatini, chicken, & my secret salt added to the top) and Pinch of Yum’s Simple Enchiladas Verdes (really yummy)!

As I’ve said though, I’m not a pro at this, and frankly am definitely learning about my camera as I go, but for anyone who understands this better than I do, this was the deal I went with on Amazon, this is the lens (EF 50mm f/1.8 STM) I’m currently using (in addition to the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 that came with the camera), and the light I purchased as recommended from Pinch of Yum for when it’s dark and not the best for photographing. Her tips for taking food photos in artificial light is here!

I’m sure I’ll get to work on something new in the coming days, but wanted to share the news about my new toy! Hooray! If anyone has tips on settings or links to videos to help a new camera user, I’m always open to suggestions and help!

–Cooking Maggie

 

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On Bolognese

I think that the key to the best bolognese sauce all starts with your meat. For real. And honestly, for any of my ground meat-centric meals, I try really hard to stay away from just one kind of meat. I like the way flavors just intensify when you combine meats: beef with a little pork, or a little veal if I can find it, or even a little lamb, which has that really strong earthiness to it! And especially for bolognese, the meat is pretty darn important! Well, that and the kind of tomatoes you use.

How many of you reading this right now have noticed that jarred tomato sauce gives you heart burn? *Cooking Maggie raises her hand* Yeah, it’s not pleasant, however easy it may be to just dump the whole jar in after browning that meat and calling it a day. As I’ve gotten older, I have gotten a little more sensitive to acidic levels, which has made eating one of my favorite things in the world an incredibly uncomfortable affair. Thus, I was left with the task of finding a way to make my sauce from scratch, rather than from a jar or a can (because certain canned tomatoes have a TON of acid in them still).

I’ve already written about my tomato sauce (courtesy of Katie Lee from Food Network), and I found a pomodoro sauce from Bon Appétit that I’m super stoked to try out (and get this, THERE’S BUTTER IN IT! *gasp & delighted giggle*), but with the tomato sauce, I simply used it as a base guideline for my recipe, but added a lot of those other essentials that really help build body to this sauce. And what bolognese would be complete without your mirepoix (meer – puwah), which is just a fancy French way of referring to the holy trinity of veggies: onion, celery, and carrots. This already is adding some bright notes of sweetness and acidity, but also adding a little more texture amid soft ground meat and mushy tomatoes (and yes, I said mushy, but in the best, most delicious “I might put my face into this pot” kind of way, though perhaps soft is a better word) soft tomatoes.

And speaking of tomatoes, here’s my main tip for you (courtesy of my wonderful friend Melissa, who has been my guinea pig for many a dish in my kitchen): BOXED tomatoes. You heard me right. BOXED. And here’s why: boxed tomatoes, specifically Pomi, which you can find in your pasta aisle by the tubed tomato paste (I’m a total convert of this as well, love it), are typically BPA Free, contain no additives (literally the only ingredient listed on the label is tomatoes), so in my opinion, that’s an automatic win for the boxed tomatoes! And they just taste better. Honestly, compare an instant spoon taste between the two and I promise you’ll notice the difference.

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IMG_6393Oh, and finally, just because this is the pièce de résistance, definitely save some of that pasta water to loosen things up again after the sauce has reduced and developed a little more! It’s that last little *kisses fingertips* of salt that really takes a tomato based pasta sauce to that last level of mm mm goodness. If you haven’t been doing that, try it next time you make bolognese, pomodoro, puttanesca, or really just about any tomato based sauce, and I can almost promise you won’t be disappointed! Oh, and definitely feel free to top it all off with a little parm or mozz & some malden salt for that extra tangy pop of crunch! Now, excuse me while I go drool my way back to the stove to make some for myself. — Cooking Maggie


Cooking Maggie’s Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 brown onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork (or veal, or lamb)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (from a tube, not a can, but if you do use a can, up the amount to 4 tbsp)
  • 1 box of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large handful of finely chopped basil (plus more for topping)
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Finely chop carrot, celery, onion, and garlic in a food processor.
  2. Cook this mixture in a large saucepan with olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add ground beef and cook until well-browned.
  4. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, marjoram, basil, bay leaves, oregano, and parsley.
  5. Cook over very low heat for about 1-2 hours.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, parm cheese, and fresh basil to top. Even top with some malden finishing salt for an added crunch and burst of tartness.

On Back Pocket Pasta, Fregola, & a Quick Tip on Corn

A while ago, I wanted to try something new from the mass of cookbooks I have accumulated, and the one I wanted to open and dig into (quite literally) was Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta: Inspired Dinners to Cook on the Flyand more specifically, I wanted to try a pasta dish that would be new and fun! Thus, I found myself intrigued and pulled by her Creamy Saffron Risotto-Style Fregola, so I thought I would give it a go! I mean, I even found some Fregola at Gene’s Sausage Shop when I happened to be in the neighborhood, so how great is that?!

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But that’s when I looked in my fridge and saw the fresh ears of corn my grandfather had sent me home with after I had visited with them the weekend before, and thought, yes, that needs to go into this too, because, why not? It was fresh sweet corn, and that fresh pop of sweetness would be exactly what the doctor ordered amid the earthiness of the saffron and heaviness of the fregola. And then it hit me. Shrimp. Sure, this had crispy pancetta in it too, BUT shrimp & bacon go great together, so why not shrimp and pancetta? And shrimp has been used in all sorts of dishes with pasta and saffron, so why not here either? And lucky for me, I happened to have a pound of shrimp in the fridge that I wasn’t entirely sure what all to do with (funny how that sometimes works out, no?

But then this is where I found my next kitchen hack: shucking a corn cob by MICROWAVING IT FIRST! Say what?! Craziness! Though, it was craziness that actually worked, and I did test this out on two corn cobs, and by golly, it was easy & fast, and no silk threads in sight! AMAZING! The trick can be found on epicurious (linked here) and I’ve included some photos (AND A VIDEO!) below to show the process too! And for the two corn cobs, I did microwave it for 5 minutes because it was 4 minutes for one cob, so two meant I had to add a minute. (Also, I was filming the shaking with my other hand OTHERWISE you could use your free hand to kind of help guide it out of the husk.)

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Now, I love me some grilled corn on the cob, oh for sure, but ever since I can remember, I have a strong fondness and love for corn cut off the cob, smothered in butter and salt. And when using corn in a pasta, naturally, you cut those suckers off the cob! My own kitchen hack for you all is to catch those kernels in a bowl as you cut. Its easier than trying to will the little nuggets not to bounce off your cutting board as you make your way down the cob. And this way, all you need to do is add them in right before the pasta reaches perfect tenderness!

Oh, and did I mention this is a one pot meal? Well…one pan if we want to get really technical, and while I love cooking with my cast iron skillet, it is in fact a super pain to clean, but is, I think, the best vessel for getting that stunning sear on meat and shrimp, which I was going to end up cooking anyway! So in went the pork till it got crispy, then in went the shrimp (setting aside that lovely, dark pancetta), then in went the shallots (my new favorite obsession & replacement for onions in some, but not all, recipes), the pasta, the saffron infused chicken stock, and the vermouth (because I didn’t have any white wine, and knew I wouldn’t finish the bottle, so waste not want not when vermouth will work JUST as well).

Stir, stir, stir, then finish with the pancetta (which you can absolutely substitute for bacon if you can’t find it) and corn! Top it off with some basil, that scrumptious looking shrimp, and VOILA! You have yourself a dish that even the dog wants to eat (as shown by the terrible begging Tuggs performed the minute I sat down on the couch). And I mean, if I was a dog and got to see at how pretty that corn looked tucked into the pasta, yeah, I’d start shamelessly begging too! But that is the wonderful part about Henry’s cookbook. Every recipe I perused were approachable (even the ones that seemed really foreign & outside of the box for me), nothing about the methodology seemed complicated or beyond my skills, and the recipes were simplistic in the most beautiful and flavorful way. I love it when a recipe allows room for personal preference without losing the integrity of the meal itself, and sometimes I think that’s a rare attribute to most of the cookbooks I’ve looked at. She even calls her cookbook a “loose guide,” and I think that’s just wonderfully mindful that not everyone’s palate or tastes are the same, but still able to entice her readers with her delicious photos and rich flavors. And she’s not overly wordy about how best to approach making pasta so it’s perfect every time, and what kinds of items you might want to always have stocked in your pantry for those nights after a long day when a comforting bowl of warm pasta is just what the doctor ordered. If your mouth is watering right now, I highly recommend checking out her cookbook! Happy Eating! — Cooking Maggie

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On Quick Bruschetta

Holy smokes! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and my apologies for not posting sooner! I’ve been cooking and photographing, and attempting to write up posts and edit my photos, but then I get distracted with packing because we are moving at the end of the month! I know that’s a ways away, but this wasn’t really expected, and being the overly OCD one in the house, I promised not to be that person who leaves packing to the last week. I’m on a 5-6 box per day regimen, with Frankie helping when he can, but worry not, the kitchen will be the last thing we pack up. We aren’t moving far, like to another city far, but just to a different neighborhood far, which makes this whole moving business easier. And because I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants for the next few weeks, slowly siphoning my equipment and tools to the bare essentials, I just don’t have as much time to spend on making, I’m going to call them “new” dishes, but the doesn’t mean we can’t make delicious food! In the meantime, I will be returning to my personal recipe collection and binge on the quick & easy meals I know and love until we get more settled into our new space, which should have more natural light, and if not, there’s a backyard that gets all SORTS of sunlight during the day, so there should be, hopefully, a nice change to my photos that my hard marble background just can’t really handle…but c’est la vie, we do what we can with what we have, no?

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And in the spirit of quick and easy, what could be better than a quick and easy bruschetta? The one thing I’ll say about this is that I LOVE to use heirloom tomatoes when I can get my hands on them. I find them to not only be more visually appealing, but I think they have a deeper flavor than your typical, everyday, red tomato, but if you can’t get heirlooms, I recommend sticking to roma or vine ripe tomatoes. Beef steaks are going to be just a little too firm and I think cherry tomatoes are too sour. And then there’s really nothing to it! Dice your tomatoes, throw in some garlic, splash olive oil, balsamic vinegar (maybe even get a little crazy with your olive oil and balsamic flavoring if you so choose, which is definitely on my list of things to do), and chiffonade your basil, add your salt & pepper and TA-DA! You’ve got bruschetta!

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As for bread, honestly, if you want to get REALLY authentic, you’re going to want to go with a baguette. Otherwise, any bread and size will do. I’ve used rolls before (sliced), and I’ve used crackers, but the one that I’ve pictured is an Italian Loaf because it was smaller in length than your normal baguette, and because it wasn’t necessarily so tough around the edges, it made it a little easier to toast! I love to rub garlic halves over each slice and brush some olive oil over the top. Now, I had run out of fresh garlic, didn’t have time to get some more while I was in the midst of packing and getting hungry, so I deferred to my ever handy jar of pre-minced garlic. Yes, I use this stuff, but only because it makes everything so darn convenient! And if you use a slotted spoon or dry them off a bit, and soak them in olive oil, it’s just like using the real thing. So I used that to add to my little toasts, and boy oh boy did they come out a beautifully toasted color!

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But there you have it! And everything in this recipe is easily adjustable to personal tastes with regards to recipe amounts, and it only takes maybe 10 minutes tops to pull it all together, making it a great afternoon snack or appetizer for a dinner party (which I have done and got GREAT reviews for). And if you run out, or think you will, it’s ridiculously easy to prep a second batch beforehand or make one on the fly! If I add any crazy and weird oil or vinegar flavors, I’ll be sure to mention them as I go! (Olive Oil stores are wonderful thing I must say! Especially if you find a flavor that you really like!) — Cooking Maggie

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Quick Brushetta

Ingredients

  • 3-5 heirloom tomatoes, preferably ones that have some different coloration to them*
    • If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 7-8 basil leaves, chiffonade into ribbons
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, adjust for natural wetness of tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 baguette/Italian loaf, sliced into rounds 1/4″ thick
  • olive oil & garlic for toasting

 

Instructions

  1. Dice your tomatoes into nice, small cubes, and either pat dry or leave as is. Add garlic, basil, oil, vinegar, salt, & pepper. Stir to combine.
  2. For the bread, either 1) rub fresh garlic halves on the top of each slice, then brush on a little olive oil on top, or 2) mix olive oil and minced garlic in a small bowl and brush a little on top of each slice. Toast under the broiler, and remove when golden brown. (Be sure to keep your eye on it or the edges will catch and burn!)
  3. Top each slice with a large scoop of tomatoes and proceed to stuff your face with this deliciousness!


Notes
* The 3-5 is completely adjustable depending on how much you want to make, but rest assured, it does keep in the fridge for a few days after you make it, so you don’t have to eat it all in one day.
* If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
** The ratio of vinegar to olive oil should be 1:2, so keep that in mind when adding

On Forgetting & Dinner with Friends

img_2903IT’S DINNER DATE TIME! Frankie cleaned during his lunch break, Tuggs looked super dapper and adorable in his sock monkey bow tie, and the smells of my roasting chimichurri covered potatoes and blistering jalapeños have soaked into the walls of our apartment. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking for myself and my man (with some safe, freebie tastes to the pup), but there is definitely a moment of personal pride when I get to truly adult and share my passion for cooking with my friends. This is also the time where my very organized side comes out to play in full force. I make sure there aren’t food allergies or aversions to keep in mind, I make sure I have all my ingredients the day before so I can just come home and cook, and I read, re-read, and re-re-read recipes to try and plan out the timing of what I’ll be making and when. Very unlike my normal come home from the grocery store after work and start my mis en place self. I’m not sure how to transfer this more obsessive self over to my more normal self, but I like to think that every time I host, I get just a little bit better about my planning and my timing, though most of the time, I just like to go slow, really live in the moment of my cooking and not worry so much about when things need to be done. Sometimes that kind of mentality pays off, but not when I have people coming over in two hours…

And having people over is a time when Frankie gets to shine and play host, which is one of his favorite hats to wear, the close second being grill master because my man knows his meat. Just look at those steaks! Aren’t they gorgeous?!  Plus, any excuse to bust out the awesome serving platters I’ve started to collect from HomeGoods (my favorite store in the whole wide world), and put a dent in the copious amounts of wine and alcohol we have left over from our annual Christmas party, is a good one! I even got to use my new fancy photographing plates too!

Now, here’s where things get tricky and I hope you can forgive me…I am definitely a multi-tasker, but when I have hosting in mind, and then guests actually in my home, photographing the ends of our efforts didn’t really stand at the forefront unfortunately. So, yes, I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, but imagine there is a nice, black crust on those steaks, and they are incredibly tender. If you can’t, never fear, we have two more and will make them at some point, and I promise to photograph them accordingly. img_2876And no, I will not tell you how much Frankie spent on them. What I will tell you is that they are Tomahawk steaks with the bone trimmed off, so you can guesstimate on your own how much they were. But you know what, they turned out great, and we ate all of it, so definitely some good money well spent! Additionally, I will also admit to forgetting to snap the really delicious Elotes (Mexican street corn, which I have an awesome recipe for off the cob, aka. esquites, which I’ll provide at another time) and Key Lime Pie (from Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits) that our incredibly gracious guests brought along! [Note: That pie was the best Key Lime Pie I’ve ever tasted…hands down.] And I wanted to be able to share our friends contributions because the elotes completed our plates, and the pie was just bomb-diggity! But one thing leads to another and I led myself right into dessert without a second thought. So with that I will apologize to you readers, but not too sincerely, since the point of dinnering with friends is to, in fact, dinner with friends, which I think I did rather successfully too!

 

But the wine flowed, and the whiskey for the steak followed, and we spent hours conversing and story telling till just after midnight. And it is that moment of feeling completely satisfied, not only physically with the good food I have put in my belly, but emotionally and mentally satisfied from laughing at jokes, to variety of discussions, to learning more about good people who make our lives just a little bit better, a little bit brighter, especially after a long week at work [or in some cases, just a really long week of news coverage]. But really, there is almost nothing better than that, and if you want to come over for dinner and spend time eating good food, and playing with our cute pup, hit us up!

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Note: One of our guests has an Argentinian background, so yes, we did theme our dinner for her just a little bit, a nod to challenging my own skills and diversifying our normal “Friends to Dinner” menu. Getting out of our comfort zones is always exciting and I like to think that catering toward their heritage, with the option of them bringing another dish they want to share with us, makes the meal all the more special and unique! So, included below, is the zucchini & carrot fritter recipe I found from Good Dinner Mom, as well as instructions on making chimichurri potatoes!

Hope everyone had a safe and delectable weekend! Cooking Maggie Out!



Carrot & Zucchini Fritters with Basil Chive Cream
from Good Dinner Mom


Chimichurri Potatoes

Ingredients

Instructions: Toss 1 cup of chimichurri sauce with uncooked baby golden potatoes. Spread out on nonstick baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes (until fork tender), tossing every so often. Serve with additional 1/2 cup of sauce.

Wednesday Night Delight: Brownies from Scratch!

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And I started those aforementioned brownies around 9pm…yeah, I did that, AND I cooked, because we needed dinner too, but I late night baked, which I now believe is the best kind of baking! There’s something really satisfying about ending your day on a sweet note, the feel of flour soft on your hands in evening light…or maybe that’s just my exhaustion talking. To be honest though, I’m not much of a baker, mostly because baking is so precise and I don’t always like to play by the rules, even though I know why the rules are there. Baking is where I find myself most challenged in the kitchen, but because it’s 2017, and this is the year to be bold, I’m going to try baking something every week. Yes, every week…because much like anything you do in life, you only get better with practice, so tonight, I’m going to practice. And sure, that doesn’t really coincide with my healthy habit goals for the year, but no one said I had to eat everything I baked! This is why Frankie (and my coworkers & friends) make GREAT guinea pigs! #shameless

img_2364But first thing’s first! Dinner, picked by my most frequent, full-time critic: Sun-dried Tomato, Basil Orzo with Chicken and steamed Green Beans (I am also trying to find additional ways to love my veggies other than roasted or pan seared). Did I mention that it was late? 8:30pm was when my apron strings were officially tied and I got to work, but there’s a story behind it. (Fun) Fact: Wednesday nights are Dog Training nights for Tuggs up in the North burbs, which doesn’t even end till 7:30pm, so I try very hard not to cook on training days, but it couldn’t be helped! Why? Because, apparently everyone in Chicago was making Orzo on Tuesday, which was when I went grocery shopping originally…

I went to three (THREE!) different stores—two Jewel Osco’s (one by my work, one in Lincoln Square) and the one Tony’s by my apartment—before the third Jewel I went to in Wilmette rewarded me with their last two boxes…I mean, I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a single box of orzo anywhere! I now plan to keep orzo handy at all times in one of my tall storage jars in my cupboard, and will buy it if I see it so I don’t have to postpone cooking and resort to take-out Thai food, which isn’t bad, but I was all geared up to cook! Ugh, but whatever, we got there eventually didn’t we?

 

With orzo in hand, I have to say, there’s nothing quite like the versatility and texture of orzo pasta. It lends itself so well to all sorts of flavor profiles that other pastas like spaghetti can’t. Plus it’s just fun to eat, a little party in every bite that dances on the tongue! Same with risotto (if done right with some good wine, and I do have an AWESOME looking recipe for risotto that I want to try soon)! And what’s an orzo without Parmesan cheese? I swear, I love my cheese, it’s the one thing I don’t think I can live without (even Blue cheese, which isn’t my favorite), but almost everything I make has cheese on it or in it. Not a lot, because, you know, I’m trying to be healthy, but it’s usually there, and if it isn’t, I end up eating some cheese at lunch, or a little plate of cheese and crackers before dinner (I’m also on a Manchego obsession right now, and I’m not sorry about it one bit).

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I went with the jarred sun-dried tomato this time, just for ease of time and prep, but I also grabbed a little container of natural sun-dried tomatoes, which I think I will let simmer with the pasta to re-hydrate and lend itself to the broth sauce that would be left behind post-pasta cooking. I think it would be a little more pronounced as well, rather than having a slightly oily note, which isn’t always the best. OH! And did I mention that recently I purchased my first ever cruet for my olive oil the other day? I couldn’t resist and I felt very chefy using it last night for the very first time to saute my garlic! That’s the greatest thing about being in the kitchen and cooking as much as I do (which incites vast amounts of research on better ways to do what I’m already doing), I’m always learning something new!

 

img_2385Overall, a successful dish that warmed my tired soul after a long hard day! Soft, velvety, rich, a little tangy, a little sweet (on top of my green beans, which I tossed in a little butter, salt, and pepper). But then it was time for the hard part, the baking.

Now, I had only heard of Smitten Kitchen once before I started this whole blogging adventure, and that was to make Chicken Noodle Soup when Franklin was very ill one not so fine Friday night. And funny enough, the first dish he ever made for me, before we were actually dating each other, was his own version of Chicken Noodle soup in the basement of his fraternity house nearly 8 years ago, the same night we knew we were meant for each other [cue the awe sounds here]. But Frankie’s sister-in-law swears by Smitten Kitchen’s chicken noodle soup, so I looked it up, and found more than I bargained for. I even bought my very first cookbook from her because it just seemed like the right time and opportunity, not to mention my mom got a BUNCH for Christmas and I was feeling a little envious. Is it bad to say that I don’t own a cookbook? Well, it’s out there, so don’t judge me too harshly, especially with all the great things like Pinterest & Food52 with their online recipes. But as I was perusing her site and buying a cookbook (and pinning every other cookbook I want to own eventually), I came across a brownie recipe and I realized it had been over a YEAR since I last had a brownie from scratch, not a box. So, I said “screw it” and here we are!

 

And after going through the whole making brownies process, there are definitely some things my kitchen is lacking: Glass, heat proof bowls. I mis en place all the time, but I use my Fiesta ware that I got as a moving gift from my mom, and having the glass bowls you see in kitchens all the time has been a dream of mine, but it also makes the process of double boiling SO MUCH EASIER—but since I didn’t, an extra sauce pan was the perfect vessel to melt the butter and make the chocolatey goodness you see before you! (Or is it above you?)

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Anyway, these brownies are awesome, but! I know I didn’t do the parchment paper right. Since cooking it, I have talked to one of my coworkers (who bakes WAY more than I do) about how to make it behave and do what I want. The secret she says? Just a little water. Wet the bottom of the pan, eye ball the size of the paper you need, cut, and press it against the water and use your nail along the crease to make it stay. Put a little water on top of that sheet when you layer on the second. Just enough to get it a little damp, not totally wet. Then, PERFECT EDGES! See, this is the great thing about cooking too! It always manages to bring people together in ways you wouldn’t expect, but find INCREDIBLY helpful in the long run.

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These were utterly delicious and I think next time I’m going to try making them with dark chocolate cocoa powder, or go to my favorite spice shop to see what interesting cocoa powders they have on stock. (I shall reveal my secret spice shop in the next post, but let me tantalize you with this sneak peek of a recipe I’ve been perfecting for over 10 years: Chicken. Pot. Pie.)

And with that, I bid you ADIEU and very happy eating (while I track my first cookbook)!!

Cooking Maggie Out!


Sun-dried Tomato, Basil Orzo with Chicken from Cooking Classy
Best Cocoa Brownies from Smitten Kitchen

BONUS RECIPE! Chicken Noodle Soup from Smitten Kitchen