On Cooking With Friends: Chicago Edition #1 – BA’s Best Lasagna

I was hoping there would be an opportunity for me to host some friends and cook with them, and thankfully, when my friend Melissa asked for help in making bachelorette goodies/crafts, I figured we’d go ahead and make dinner too! We decided that we would make lasagna! Mm mm yay!!! There was one recipe in particular that stood out to me, because, if we were going to do lasagna, that means we were going to make pretty much everything from scratch, except the noodles. That’s a little more time consuming than I was quite ready to take on, and I figured we were doing pretty much everything else by hand, so we can sneak in the premade pasta noodles for this one).

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Lasagna for me is one of the main dishes that remind me of my late grandmother, following her ever famous Cake Box Cookies, which caused everyone to maneuver around the house by way of the kitchen and the Cookie Monster jar that contained all her baking efforts. Whenever my family would visit her and my grandfather in Colorado Springs, she always had a variety of family meals planned, including her infamous Tuna Casserole—one of the only things she ever made that no one really liked, and as a result, left us plenty of leftovers during our stay—and frozen Lasagna (Stoffer’s, always Stoffer’s). It fed the army that is my dad’s side of the family, and there were hardly ever any leftovers because that was the night were you supposed to eat more than your fill and remain seated at the dining table, cradling your food baby, as you caught up on current life news and reminisced about old stories you never really had to be there for to enjoy. Lasagna was also one of the harder things for my brothers to say when they were small, calling it “Bah-sagna,” their little faces contorted in effort as their little pink tongues tried to get the “L” sound just right, only to start giggling hysterically because the new word they made sounded so funny. We actually still call it Basagna in my family, and everyone still laughs at it. Basagna…it does sound a little funny when you say it out loud. Bah-Sahn-yaaaaaaa.

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But I digress. Lasagna, I think, is one of the trickiest things to serve, let alone, the trickiest things to make where EVERYONE likes it…how many of you dear readers don’t like ricotta (Frankie & Melissa: ME ME ME!)? How many of you don’t like the “no-bake” noodles? (Me: ME ME ME!) How many just don’t like lasagna in general (No one? Phew, that’s a relief)? And I bet it’s not because lasagna isn’t a good dish overall, but rather—and I will attest to this—it’s how certain family members and favorite restaurants have interpreted and served the lasagna we have constantly been exposed to. That immediate, and further exposure, is what shapes the foods we like, the foods we don’t, and foods we can never eat again. But on the flipside, what one of us doesn’t like, another may love. For example, my Mamaw (my mom’s mom) LOVES her lasagna to have a lot of meat sauce and a ton of cheese, whereas my main problem with ordering lasagna out is when they SMOTHER it in cheese to the point where that’s all I can taste. And if there’s not enough meat sauce, Mamaw’s got a few words to say about that…but that only proves my point. Lasagna is a hard dish to really get universally right because tastes are so different.

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That being said, since the majority of folks I was actually making this dish for did NOT like ricotta, I chose Bon Appetit’s Best Lasagna, which has a bechamel sauce with parmesan instead of ricotta, which makes this recipe even more of a win-win for those who were going to enjoy it! The one thing I will say is this: the sauce says it takes 3 hours to make, and it kind of does by their standard, HOWEVER, my main recommendation is go with your favorite bolognese and call it a day. Their sauce is good, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I will ever spend three hours the night before to make it again, when I can spend 30-45 minutes making my own bolognese that I know everyone has enjoyed eating before.

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I will say this: EVERYONE loved it. Honest. I had one serving of leftovers at the end of the night because the girls who ate with me wanted to take some home with them too! I honestly believe the bechamel was the main reason this lasagna worked out so well, but I also believe the bite of the noodles (which held up significantly to the weight of the sauce and the gooey-ness of the cheese so beautifully) and the equal balance between noodle, sauce, and cheese, was what made this a winning dish. If you’re also a lasagna skeptic, then give this recipe a try and see if it doesn’t change your mind.  — Cooking Maggie


Best Lasagna Recipe from Bon Appetit

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On Vegging Out

This week, I really wanted to dive into some veggie-forward recipes because, 1) buying veggies tends to be a heck of a lot cheaper than buying meat, and 2) with our upcoming CSA experience in a little less than a month from now, I need to start scoping out some potential recipes to make the most of the delicious veggies that will be coming our way! Plus, when I saw the yellow and orange tomatoes-on-the-vines, I was inspired!

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NOTE: My coworker actually just showed me too this veggie delivery service called “Imperfect Produce: Ugly Produce. Delivered.” I had heard about them before, but never really investigated until we were talking about it during lunch one day, and as we dove into it, this company is actually doing something really great! Not only are they ensuring that the grocery store rejects aren’t wasted, but they’re also saving money too, and you can’t really beat a deal like that can you? I mean, for a small box of ugly, ORGANIC fruits and veggies (which serves 1-2 people, 7-9 pounds of produce), you can pay $15-17 per box every week, or every other week. Basically, it’s a CSA, but all year round! Other options include the Mixed Fruit & Veggie, all fruit box, and all veggie, all of which are $11-13 per box. So not only is it 100% comparable in price to most CSA’s anyway, I think the more interesting/less uniformed foods are rather beautiful and add a fantastic uniqueness to the plate. Oh, and did I mention it’s completely CUSTOMIZABLE! The CSA I’m doing this year is the ONLY ONE in Chicago that allows me to pick the veggies I want, which I think is a MUCH better idea than having farms choose for me so that no veggie goes to waste. So long story short, this is for something I plan to investigate, and most likely invest in, following the conclusion of my CSA because I’m curious and would love to see how much it can save me over time! AND that means I spend less time at the grocery store (major plus), and can go back to shopping exclusively at my local butcher for my meat and everything else, rather than making two trips to two stores, which I really don’t like doing…

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The first thing I felt like making was something with zucchini, and I instantly thought, fritters. I LOVE zucchini fritters, but haven’t found a recipe to make at home that I really love, but I got REALLY close with this recipe from Bon Appetit. The only thing I didn’t do was include mint in the fritter itself—I like mint, but it was already in the yogurt dip and felt adding it in the fritter would be a little overkill—and I didn’t include grated onion—I had a leftover shallot that was starting to show its age, so I diced that up with the garlic and threw it in, waste not want not—and frankly, it still turned out really, really well! It was the perfect amount of savory, sweet, and was very filling! I will say, I need to work on my sizing skills because I am not a good judge of how big is too big, but after cooking them…these are too big…1/4 cup of the zucchini mixture is about as big as I should go in future, so I’ll be using a measuring cup and flattening those suckers out so they don’t take as long to cook and get crispier than these did. I did think the addition of a russet potato was GENIUS! It helped keep everything combined, didn’t overpower, and that’s where that delicious crispiness can be played up! Regardless, these were incredibly delicious, and I plan to stick to this recipe and build off it!

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For our salad course, I seriously went overboard and did a caprese-less tomato salad, with a lemon vinaigrette and basil strips. The tomatoes I picked were a little bit more on the firmer side (I don’t like super mushy tomatoes), but their color was impeccable. So stunning, and I just went crazy, cubing them, slicing up some of the red ones, and sprinkled with coarse kosher salt and some ground black pepper. The vinegarette I thought was a nice way to bring in additional acidity (since these tomatoes were a little on the sweet side) and I didn’t miss the mozzarella cheese at all. It was the perfect amount of food, and the perfect salad to cool of the recent warm and muggy days we’ve been having in Chicago. And it was fun to just play around on the plate, sticking to a minimalist recipe that was still stunning to look at and delicious to eat. We didn’t even miss the meat that I think a lot of people feel they HAVE to have on the plate to make it a complete dish. Not true, not true at all. This meal was spot on in terms of filling us up and keeping us satiated for the remainder of the evening. Sometimes, keeping it simple is the best way to go and allows the approaching full swing of summer to really shine in your kitchen. — Cooking Maggie

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Summer Tomato Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients
for the salad

  • 1 yellow on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped
  • 1 orange on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped
  • 1 red on-the-vine tomato, cubed/chopped – some slices for the bottom
  • 1/3 cup basil, chiffonade

for the vinaigrette

  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Vinaigrette: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl or shake all ingredients up in a jar, set aside.
  2. Arrange tomato pieces on your plate, drizzle with dressing, and top with basil.
  3. Eat & be happy!

Zucchini-Herb Fritters with Garlic Yogurt from Bon Appetit

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On One Last Big Recommendation Post

But DON’T be alarmed! Recommendations will come back when they can, but for now, I am going to be on a thrifty budget because…WE ARE GOING TO NEW ZEALAND FOR OUR HONEYMOON!!! If you can’t tell, I am MORE than excited, but that does mean my budget has to adjust to accomodate for more savings. And THAT is why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks because I wanted to give these recommendations the delicious time and credit they deserve! Also, keep an eye out for a new Cooking with Alex (yes, the name did change, but more on that in the next post), and a brand new Cooking with Friends: Chicago Edition! So strap in everyone, there’s a lot coming at you, including a long line of meals that won’t break your bank. So buckle up buddies, and get ready to drool over ALL the photos!!!! ❤

 


Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone venturing in the Chicago area for some more delicious finds, and one such place was back at Daisies for dinner and boy oh boy have I utterly MISSED this food! I’m serious you guys, if you live in the Chicago area, GO TO DAISIES! It’ll be the best money you’ve ever spent and I highly recommend sharing each plate among the table so everyone can try some of everything (which means you can order more and everyone leaves happy)!

I also had the opportunity to try a couple more restaurants downtown, which doesn’t happen very often, and wanted to share those as well, so this week is all about recommendations and I’m going to start with the other restaurants I got to explore before discussing Daisies!

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The Purple Pig – 500 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

If you haven’t heard to been to The Purple Pig, then you are missing out! I’ve only been one other time before now, but let me tell you, the food is INSANELY good! Farm to table-esque, simple, and flavorful, this place has a sharing is caring mentality, sticking all dishes smack dab in the middle of the table for all to enjoy, which I honestly think is how ALL places should be, but I’m one of those “Oo, that looks good, can I try it?” diners, so sharing is my favorite way to eat! Oh, and with it being right along the Chicago River, you’ve got some pretty cool views as well! The last time I came, I tried their chicken kabob and greek cornbread, and the chicken was SO good that I decided to get it again, as well as trying their lentil salad! The chicken is still tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and flavorful all the way through, not to mention that the lentil salad was fresh and hearty! They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait a little bit for a table if you’re only able to go around dinner time, BUT they do serve wine and cocktails outside, so the wait isn’t all that bad.

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True Food Kitchen – 1 W Erie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

For all my vegetarian readers, this is the place for you! While yes, they do serve meat, True Food is more centrally focused on treating and elevating vegetables to the next level, and honestly, I didn’t miss the meat AT ALL! This was another light meal for us, so two small plates to share, and the two we chose I could totally eat every day…thank goodness I don’t work downtown or I’d actually go broke. The miso glazed eggplant was incredibly tender and savory, which was an added plus for me because I don’t particularly like eggplant. The star of our meal, however, was the edamame dumplings which had an almost ravioli quality to them! The pureed edamame was smooth and sweet, the dumplings tender, and the sauce just the perfect amount of salty and earthy. It was SO SO GOOD! So I’m going back asap to eat them again…#noshame. Oh and the raspberry crumble was sooooo worth the indulgence! DELICIOUS!

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Siena Tavern – 51 W Kinzie Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Alright brunch goers, I have a need to go for you! Now, I’m not a big breakfast fan, and I don’t eat cooked eggs in any large amount anyway, but what I love the most about Siena was that they not only brought you a brunch menu (which I totally could have ordered from), they brought a lunch menu too (which I did order from)! I did try a bite of the Zucchini Blossom and Goat Cheese omelet, which was incredibly fluffy and soft, and I think the zucchini blossom (my favorite thing to stuff with goats cheese and fry by the way!) added a really lovely fresh and sweet note to the eggs! I, on the other hand, went with a more lunch heavy fare of chilled corn soup and a side of caramelized Brussel sprouts! It was the perfect amount of food to keep me going till around dinner time, and I even had some left over sprouts to munch on in the afternoon, but that soup was absolutely killer! Creamy and velvety, sweet, tangy, and just a slight kick of spice! Plus it was 100% showcasing the freshness of the corn itself, which I appreciated!

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Daisies Restaurant – 2523 W Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647

Okay, now, the piece de resistance! I can’t get over how good this place is. It’s not even fair because if I had to choose between Daisies and somewhere new, I’d pick Daisies…which is why more often than not, we make actual plans to go so we can consider all the other fantastic places Chicago has to offer. We have to keep it fair after all!

Starters: Carrot Rilletts, Heirloom Butternut Salad, & Sunchoke Latke. The rilletts was, I think, the most surprising dish because Frankie ordered it with the thought that it would be similar to the carrot spread that Mon Ami Gabi serves with their table bread (another of our favorite return spots, but only for special occassions like Valentine’s day or our Anniversary). And while it didn’t have the same preparation, it was still a beautiful dish that we both enjoyed very much: soft, sweet, salty, bitter (from vinegar), and the little addition of horseradish gave it a really delightful kick of heat! And the garnish of dill, which I never really like because I don’t like dill, was the right amount of freshness to brighten the whole plate up, but an A+ dish for sure!

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The heirloom butternut salad, a favorite, I can’t get over how light, how fresh, how flavorful it is, and the vinagarette is just out of this world good! I wouldn’t let our waitress tried to take it away when there was still some left…I was just waiting on the rest of the meal to arrive before I polished it off. #cleanplateclub #worthit Note: This is a seasonal dish, so once they change up their menu, I don’t know if this will stay, go, or come back if it does go, SO GO SOON BEFORE IT’S GONE!!!

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Sunchoke Latke: This dish was one that we weren’t expecting and enjoyed thoroughly, and by that I mean…WOW. The latke was juicy and succulent, with just a hint of meatiness from the fish (which you couldn’t tell had fish in it at all), and the salad on top was the perfect way to break up the slight oily quality of the latke! Well done Daisies on that one!

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Main Meal: Pierogi, Linguine, Cavatelli (special). The Pierogi’s were INCREDIBLY tender, light, soft in the middle, but still crispy on the outside! The mussels in the dish add a really refreshing pop of briny salt that really breaks up the richness of the potatoes, not that they were rich in a bad way, but it brought balance for sure. The cavatelli special (with braised pork shoulder) was as it was described: pot roast on a plate. It was luscious, rich, a little on the heavy side, but the meat was juicy and tender! I did wish there was a little more salt/pepper to break up the heaviness of the meat in the dish because the flavor was a little overpowering.

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For me, the linguine was the biggest surprise! Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard me say it before, but I’m not the biggest fan of eggs…but I think because I stay away from most cooked and raw eggs, I wasn’t expecting the egg to be so…velvety. In no way could I tell there was a raw egg mixed in with the pasta! Another rich, yet oddly light (that’s the homemade pasta for you!) dish that was just the right amount of cheesey, salty, and fresh! And that egg made it. Seriously, mix that sucker all up in it and eat away! So good!

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And there you have it! The last recommendations post for a little while as I get my savings and trip planning started! And don’t worry, there will be MANY posts and pictures of our trip for all of you to oogle at! That and some amazing meals we will no doubt get to experience! Until later this week, when I will be revealing the first Cooking With Friends: Chicago Edition post that features what Alex and I were going to make, and then (per usual for me) changed our minds and did something completely different (no spoilers this time!). But I promise, it’s going to be SO worth the wait (literally, and figuratively, but you’ll get what I mean when we go live). Until then my lovelies! — Cooking Maggie

On Healthy Eating [After Whole30]

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

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

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

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

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


Seared Barramundi with Yogurt Mustard Sauce from Champagne Tastes

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

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Guacamole Stuffed Lime Chicken

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

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

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

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On 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 Whole30 [Day 2 – Day 8]

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


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


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

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

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Day 2

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


Breakfast: Warm Banana Coconut Bowl

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

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Lunch: Leftover Chicken Thighs

Dinner: 20 Minute Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet

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

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Day 3 & Day 4

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

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

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

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Day 3 Lunch: leftover meatballs

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

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


Day 4 Breakfast: Hashbrowns with peppers & onion

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

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

Day 4 Dinner: Leftover Shrimp & Sausage Skillet


Day 5

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


Breakfast: Breakfast Smoothie

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


Breakfast Smoothie – Banana & Berry

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

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

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

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

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


Day 6

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


Breakfast: Oven Roasted Breakfast Potatoes

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

Lunch: Spicy Southwest Whole30 Stuffed Peppers

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

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Dinner: Smoothie

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


Day 7

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


Breakfast: Breakfast Potatoes

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

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

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


Day 8

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


Breakfast: Apples with Almond Butter, Bananas, and Walnuts

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

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

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

On Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake Cupcakes & Whole30 Day 1

If there’s one thing you need to know about me, aside from the fact that I love to cook, is that I love to read! With the book group I’m in right now, we meet on Sundays and have started to pair our deep discussion of the book with brunch! GENIUS! I don’t know why more book groups don’t do this to begin with! Everyone brings something (a little booze or champagne, some sweets, some savories, whatever!) and then we spend a couple hours together really delving into that month’s book, analyzing literary choices, social/political issues that were reflected on the page that we’ve experienced in real life, and just general life conversations! Before you know it, we’re well into the afternoon, but I mean, books, food, good conversation, and good people…nothing better in this world! Seriously, if you have a book group, I really recommend this meeting format!

 

Last month, I made avocado toast (albeit, not the prettiest avocado toast) with prosciutto, tomato, and burrata, but this month, I made my cheesecake cupcakes WITH A TWIST! A raspberry puree twist that is! I pureed a container of raspberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar, strained it, then added a few small dots to the top of my cheesecake mixture. Swirl it all with a toothpick and you get that amazing marbling effect, with just a pop of tartness! It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I plan to try it again with strawberry to see which one I like more! I’ve linked my cheesecake recipe/post above, but here is the recipe for the fruit puree & swirl!

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Raspberry Swirl for Cheesecake Cupcakes

  • 1 packet of raspberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. Add raspberries and sugar to a food processor and pulse until well pureed, about 30 seconds. Press/strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl until there are only seeds remaining in the strainer. When done, set aside until you’re ready to add the swirl to your cheesecakes!
  2. Add 4 small dots to the top of your cheesecake cupcakes, then use a toothpick to swirl them around into a pattern. Then bake the cheesecakes according to the recipe.

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And how could I forget?! Today is Day 1 of Frankie’s and my Whole30 adventure and already I feel like everything is off to a great start! Frankie made himself a small plate of bacon and eggs this morning—for those who are also Paleo, or doing the Whole30 and are wondering where in the world we found compliant bacon, we went to a local butcher/deli and asked them about their cure! You can also try your local grocery store meat counter and ask them about the cure for their bacon—while I dined on a Warm Banana Breakfast Bowl, consisting of pecans, bananas, coconut flakes, cinnamon, and coconut milk! I had also made Crispy Chicken Thighs with a Pesto Zucchini Noodle last night (which we ate for lunch today), I’m planning to make meatballs tonight (which will not be the spicy meatballs I had hoped for because all the dried chiles had sulfites in them…so instead, I’m commandeering a sauce from another meatball recipe instead)!

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I will admit that I am actually feeling the hunger just a little bit, which was to be expected, BUT I have enjoyed everything I’ve eaten so far (though take that with a grain of salt since this is only Day 1 after all). That being said, I will be using Coconut Milk more because it’s not as coconutty as I was expecting it to be, and it’s creamy as get all, ESPECIALLY the bit that solidifies at the top of the can when it’s been chilled? Oh yeah, that stuff is basically like whipped cream, which makes it the BEST! I’m really looking forward to keeping a detailed account of this journey and cannot wait for all the recipes I’ve picked out to try! Here are the two from today, and I hope, even if you aren’t Paleo, that you give them a try anyway because they are really, really yummy! Oh, and if anyone has any questions about the Whole30 or more specifics on recipes/experiences, please don’t hesitate to ask! Happy Eating Readers! And wish me luck! — Cooking Maggie

Warm Banana Coconut Breakfast Bowl from Fast Paleo

Chicken Thighs w/Zucchini Noodles from Paleo Comfort Foods

 

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On Chicken & Rice

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

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One Pot Chicken & Rice

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

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On Frankie In The Kitchen…

…which is a rare sight in itself! Normally, I run a solo ship, and don’t always ask or require a sous chef, but lately, the man has been helping me out (especially on my longer days that include training) by making us dinner a couple times the last few weeks! And on one of those nights, he grabbed my camera and started to take some photos, you know, for the blog! HOW CUTE IS HE?! So naturally, I decided to use his photos, and his recipe and present them to you dear readers, and without further ado, I present Frankie’s Jalapeno Smash Burgers! YUM!!

Now, to make these smash burgers, you’re going to need a cast iron grill press, and possibly a cast iron skillet, which if you haven’t invested in one, DO! I may have already told you about the Alton Brown method of cleaning the cast iron skillet, but since then, I’ve found an even easier way to clean out my skillet, black grit & all. Heat up about 1- 1.5 cups of water in the microwave until boiling (about 5 minutes should do it, if not less) and as soon as you’ve removed all the yummy food from your hot skillet, slowly pour the hot water into the pan and using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently scrap off all the black, burnt bits from the bottom. When done, pour out the dirty water, wipe it all down, and take a little vegetable oil or shortening to the bottom of the pan to coat it all up again, then let it sit out. DONE! As for the press, those are incredibly inexpensive an can be bought for about $20 at any of your local cooking equipment stores OR Amazon…like most everything else, am I right? Alternatively, you could use a non-stick pan, but I think cast iron skillets really get a lovely sear on your meat that a non-stick can’t do as nicely – and you can use ANOTHER pan to squish your burgers. Just food for thought (no pun intended)!

Now, once you’ve got your equipment all set, it’s time to assemble the burgers! I finely minced up one deseeded jalapeno, and Frankie mixed up the jalapeno into the meat, then used the kitchen scale I had bought last year to weigh out four 3-4oz meatballs. Then he got his pan nice and hot, placed a ball in the middle, then took the press to it, pressing firmly till the patty was about 1/8″ thick (give or take, my eye measurements have never been the best). Give it a sear for about 1-2 minutes, then flip, let sear 1-2 minutes, then remove and repeat with the remaining balls. SIMPLE! Oh, and if you want to add some crunch, bake off two slices of bacon per burger at 400ºF for about 20 minutes.

And then this is where I learned something new! As Frankie finished off the burgers, he addressed the toasting of the buns issue. Now, normally, I will either brush on olive oil or spread some butter, then stick it in a pan, BUT NOT FRANKIE! And do you know what he did?! HE SPREAD MAYO ON THE BUN, THEN TOASTED IT IN THE PAN!!!! CRAZY RIGHT?!?! And I’ll tell you right now, not ONLY did those buns come out looking pretty darn perfectly toasted, THEY TASTED BUTTERY! I honestly don’t know how he did it, and I never knew that he’d been doing this to our burgers and sandwiches for years, but there you have it! Mayo instead of butter or oil, and it’s actually pretty clever because the mayo won’t sucumb to burning quite as easily, nor does it leave that burnt taste on the edges of the bun, but rather just…I don’t know what you would call that, but it was such a fantastic tip, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to buttering my bread (for sandwiches and burgers specifically) again!

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But all in all, with this burger, not only are the patties thin, but they’re hearty, and not all that fatty! Super delicious too, and we both finished every last bite! And I think this wonderful co-cooking may lead to further collaborations in the future! But you (and I, for that matter) will just have to wait and see what other clever meals Frankie’s got stowed away for a rainy day! Until then folks, chow on! — Cooking Maggie

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Frankie’s Jalapeno Smash Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 4 strips of bacon (optional)
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely minced
  • Romaine Lettuce – left as large leaves
  • 1 Beef Steak or Vine Ripe Tomato – sliced thin for sandwiches
  • Sliced Cheddar Cheese
  • Dill Pickle Slices (small rounds or long planks)
  • Mustard, Ketchup, Mayonaise
  • Buns of your preference (we love Brioche buns or potato buns personally)

 

Instructions:

  1. (Optional): If cooking bacon, heat oven to 400ºF. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, then arrange bacon on sheet so that each has its own space (not touching each other). Bake bacon in oven for 20 minutes (or until done), then remove and let cool on a paper towel lined plate. Set aside.
  2. Mix the ground beef & jalapenos together in bowl, then make four 3-4 oz balls with the mixture.
  3. Pour a little oil into a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, and when hot, add a ball and press (smash) it with the cast iron grill press until patty gets to be about 1/8″ thick. Let sear for 2-3 minutes, then flip burger to the other side, and let sear for 2-3 minutes. Remove the patty from the pan and place on a plate, keep it warm by covering it. Repeat this for the remaining patties. (Optional: If you’d like melted cheese on any of the patties, add a slice of cheese on top of the patty after you flip it, and cover with a pan lid or heatproof bowl.)
  4. When all patties are cooked, assemble your burger accordingly and munch away! Serves well with salt & vinegar kettle chips or a salad!

On Baked Cod & Greek Salad

Okay, so my trip to Vegas did impact my ability to get a post out last week, but it was my first time in Vegas and I was CLEARLY overly ambitious. Lesson learned, let me tell ya, and I hope this recipe makes up for it! Recently, I’ve been craving lighter foods like fish & chicken (anything BUT beef after that tenderloin feast we had earlier this month), and that’s when I thought about making Greek Chicken, and then decided to do a twist on it because, while utterly delicious, I had made it back in December. My twist? FISH! What fish? COD!

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Cod is comparatively pretty inexpensive and fairly bland on its own, but takes on a marinade/seasoning very easily, so it makes for a great chicken substitute! As this was a total experiment, I wanted to find a way to mimic the skin on chicken thighs, so I thought a light breading would help with maintaining moisture. Of course, I made sure the flour had seasoning in it (topping the final fish dish off with my secret salt) and instead of eggs, I did a butter, lemon juice, and olive oil mixture. Single breading for three of the fillets, a double breading for one (just to see what would hold up more), and definitely double breading in the future, which is reflected in the recipe below! And to make sure that it didn’t stick once I got them in the oven (following the similar cooking method of the chicken thighs), I topped the fish with the leftover lemon/butter/oil liquid and added some garlic to it to add that beautiful lemon tartness and keep things moist as it’s baked!

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And I thought to pair it with a quick Greek salad, to keep the dish light and fresh! And it’s the simplest salad you can make: diced fresh tomatoes (roma or on the vine are best), diced cucumber (peeled or not peeled is totally up to you, same with English cucumber or regular cucumber – I don’t think I ever really notice a true difference between the two), chopped parsley, a little salt, a little pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Toss, and serve! And you can make this ahead of time too, or add some feta if you want, but I’m not the biggest fan of feta (just a little too salty for me), so I prefer my Greek salads without them.

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And as for the couscous that I served the fish over? That’s store bought. Couscous is super easy to make at home, but frankly, I just prefer the ease of store bought couscous during the week because it’s one less thing I have to concentrate on. But there you have it! And the salad travels GREAT for office lunches! The fish, maybe not, depending on what your work policy is for heating up fish at work, BUT the cod did hold up well in the microwave too (and it wasn’t too smelly at all, but I’m not sure I am the best judge of that since I was surrounded by the smell the night before). Happy eating! – Cooking Maggie

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Baked Greek Cod

Ingredients

  • 4-6 Cod fillets (frozen or fresh)
  • Lemon Juice (about 3 full lemons worth)
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ cup olive oil, with some leftover for the pan
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground sumac
  • 2 teaspoon Spanish paprika
  • 2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • Chopped parsley, for topping
  • Optional: 1 lemon sliced for plating/baking

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Pat your fish fillets with a paper towel, and have ready. Mix the flour & dry spices together in a shallow dish/plate, and mix the lemon juice, melted butter, and olive in a shallow bowl, preferably one that is microwave safe. Cover fillets in flour, dip in wet mixture, then in the flour again, set aside on a baking sheet. Try to do this quickly as the melted butter may solidify again. If this happens, throw it in the microwave for 5 seconds, stir, repeating till butter is melted again without overheating (10 seconds should do it, tops)! When all fillets are breaded, dispose of remaining flour, but add the minced garlic to the lemon/butter/oil mixture, stir and set aside.
  3. In a cast iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When oil is sizzling, add the fish and sear on each side for about 3 minutes each side to give it color.
  4. Turn off heat and add leftover lemon/butter/oil/garlic mixture over top of the fish, and top with sliced lemon if desired. Put skillet into over for about ten minutes (or until easily flaked by a fork). Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with couscous and Greek salad!

Easy Greek Salad

Ingredients:

  • 4 Roma or On-The-Vine Tomatoes, diced
  • 1 Cucumber (English or seedless or regular), diced
    • You can peel if you prefer it without the skin
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Lemon Juice (1/2 lemon worth or more to taste)
  • Finishing salt (malden salt)

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a bowl, stir/toss to combine. Serve & finish with finishing salt (malden salt).

 

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 Resolutions & Best Last Meal of 2017

FIRST POST OF THE NEW YEAR! AH!!! And this marks the second year of my blog! DOUBLE AH! And with that, I hope and wish that everyone reading this had an incredible Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy St. Lucia Day, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Happy New Year!

And as we enter into 2018, I have a few resolutions I want to share, two of which directly impact the blog itself, but not in a bad way! The first is to set a schedule, and by that, I mean a blogging schedule. This past year, I’ve been VERY sporadic with when I have posted my blogs, and this year, I would like there to be more consistency, so I am going to post something new every Thursday! These Thursday posts will either include a recipe or it’ll be a dining recommendation, but since I’m pretty darn strapped after the holidays, more likely than none it’ll be a recipe for the next couple of weeks! Bonus Posts (such as the new segment Cooking With Friends) will post either same-day or the day after. These segments will be much more video forward (Facebook Live?! How exciting and cool is that?!) than writing, but no doubt I’ll still take photos, and of course, recipe links will continue to be at the end of every post! But in having more of a schedule, it helps reduce the pressure of having to cook something new and interesting more than once a week, when sometimes old favorites are craved for last minute! And I feel that’s a schedule that’ll fit better with my day job & wedding planning, which will be picking back up pretty darn soon! T-Minus 10 more months!

Another resolution I have is to get healthy, and I mean it this time. As of yesterday, I’ll be doing Personal Training twice a week, and incorporating my own workouts two days a week as well! Which means, I am going to be really doing my research on upcoming recipes to find out ways I can substitute for healthy options without losing the overall balance and taste of the dish, as well as just looking for lighter meals in general! And to align myself with this resolution, I have even purchased a CSA share from Geneva Lakes Produce Farm! I chose them specifically because, unlike the majority of the CSA shares I researched, Geneva allows you to pick your own produce at the Farmers Market they set up at! HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! I will definitely be featuring my vegetables more often once I start getting my box, so that’ll be a new and exciting adventure! And it gives me more control over what I would like to cook with, at the same time as being a little adventurous too! And for a ½ bushel, it honestly wasn’t all that expensive, and even less so because I’m even going to be sharing the box with a friend (who will likely also appear in a Cooking with Friends segment) to ensure there is no wasting of the beautiful fresh veggies I will be seriously nomming on this summer!

The only other resolutions I had were to keep reading and spend less money, which is pretty typical for me every year. What did NOT align with the spending less money was the last meal I cooked for 2017, which I took a gander at on Bon Appetit. Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Garlic & Rosemary (and Thyme, because I like Thyme), with a side of green (AND PURPLE!) asparagus and roasted garlic whipped red potatoes! AND BOY WAS IT MM MM GOOD! Frankie said it was the best thing I made all year, and I mean, I made a lot this year! Over 87 posts, 31 new dining/drinking experiences, and 80 recipes!! I mean, THAT’S a lot, not to mention all the remakes of favorites in between all the new ones! I’ve included the links below, and for the record, while the recipe says to use kitchen twine, I found I didn’t need it, so feel free to skip that! Oh and don’t forget to add a little thyme if you happen to like that on your steak as well!

And I think that about does it for the first post of 2018, which I’m sure will hold just as many wonderful moments and adventures as 2017 did! I know this wasn’t much of a reflection, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I like to reflect a lot throughout the year, and I really want to focus on looking forward with open eyes and an open heart, so here’s to you 2018 and to the excitement you hold! I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year, and I’ve already picked out a great first recipe picked out for next week! – Cooking Maggie


Roast Beef Tenderloin with Garlic & Rosemary from Bon Appetit** Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves too if you’d like!

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes from Cooking Classy

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