On Trout and More Wedding Shinanigans

It is with a huge relief that I say wedding planning is wrapping up! (PHEW!) But what a journey! It’s now been over a year since we got engaged and started to plan our future together, and this past weekend was no exception. Frankie got his ring in on Thursday (CHECK!), Saturday morning I had my first dress fitting (CHECK! CHECK!), and since I got my invitations 4 days early, those went out on Saturday afternoon (CHECK CHECK CHECK!!)! Now all that’s left—big ticket item wise—is getting the actual ceremony finalized (readings, vows, musical interludes during the ceremony depending on the structure of the ceremony, etc.), so I think we’re in a pretty good spot with only 87 days left to go! I still need to order place cards for the actual day, but I have to impatiently wait for all the RSVP’s to come in before I can do that…thankfully, I have my upcoming Bridal Shower(s) to look forward to in the meantime! But onto the food!

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During my second visit to the Farmer’s Market, I always expect there to be at least one meat booth, and sure enough, there I came across Jake’s Country Meats, and I bought myself two very large chicken breasts (which I have yet to do anything with as of yet). But lo and behold, they were also selling Wild-Caught Great Lakes fish! So, I happened to snag myself a couple beautiful filets of trout, whitefish, and salmon! I was really excited about the trout because I don’t see it very often, and most of the time it’s farmed or ridiculously priced. If memory serves me right, I paid $30 for all the fish and chicken, and you never pass up a good deal when you see one!

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In terms of finding a recipe for the fish, since I figured if I couldn’t find anything that looked interesting, I was going to stick with basic pan searing, I turned to Eddie, who has been fishing up a storm in Colorado on the weekends when he isn’t studying or doing homework. He put a recipe from Munchies on my radar for Trout and Green Bean Almondine, and if you remember a few months ago, I made their 3-hour Gumbo, which was DELICIOUS, so I went full speed ahead, and was not disappointed! Cooking the fish itself was exactly what my gut reaction said: keep it simple, a little butter (I used avocado oil, hello Whole30 and no smoke!) and a good solid sear on each side so that skin gets stupid crispy. And I can say without a doubt, that keeping things simple vs. elaborate almost always turns out for the better. I mean, I’m currently obsessively working my way through old episodes of Hell’s Kitchen, and the 5-ingredient 5-star dish challenge always proves that sometimes less really is more. You need to highlight a star ingredient? Highlight it, and don’t cover it with a bunch of unneeded excess. As I’ve said before, I don’t cook fish often, but this was so totally worth it, and it came out better than a lot of fish dishes I’ve eaten out at restaurants! Frankie found it smelled a little too fishy (he is trying different kinds of fish, which is more important than not trying any at all, especially since we’re trying to cook Whole30 at home 90-95% and fish is a great source of lean protein), but he still really enjoyed it!

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I didn’t make the potatoes because I had a corn risotto craving like none other, and frankly, the risotto went really, really well with the fish and green beans! I will say I’m not going to include parmesan in the risotto next time. It was too strong and completely overpowered the corn…or I’ll only add a sprinkle, but not ¼ cup like they say, especially if I’m making this with FRESH corn! I want the corn to be the star, not the cheese, but these things you learn as you go, am I right? But if you’re wanting to try something a little bit more outside the box, this is the fish recipe to try! – Cooking Maggie


Trout Almondine from Munchies

Corn Risotto from NY Times Cooking

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On Cooking with Alex #4: Fish & Chips

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I can only get better at different techniques with time and practice, and the only way to practice is to, well, cook! Especially for Alex, who is getting more confident and adventurous in the kitchen every time we cook, these FaceTime moments together are providing both of us with the practice we need. Alex wants to bake and challenge herself, which is good for me since I am not a good baker, and I want to attempt to make pasta or bread FROM SCRATCH! So, with that in mind, Alex and I put our heads together and came up with a recipe that had multiple moving pieces, included ingredients we haven’t worked with a lot—this was Alex’s first time cooking with fish!—and included a technique that I’m starting to feel more confident in, frying. And I know we will have MANY more recipes to make over the course of this year and beyond, but this experience was incredibly rewarding!

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But first, let’s talk batter, because batter is key! A good fish batter needs to be light, but not so runny that it falls right off the fish, and it needs to be FLAVORFUL, especially when you’re using a fish that might not have a ton of flavor on its own. I used Cod, which has one of the mildest flavor profiles for fish, and Alex found Haddock, which has a more pronounced fishy flavor to it, but still needs support from its backup dancers. So when we were shopping around for recipes, I wanted to find a batter that would provide flavor, and still let the fist itself shine. The one we picked was from Bon Appetit, and along with spices to kick it up a notch, it had beer, which is a staple accompaniment to go with Fish & Chips, which is what sold us on trying this specific recipe, and the batter really held up well to frying! The color on it was just fantastic, and it didn’t fall apart when you started to dig into the fish, so it’s a win for me!

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Side note: while I was originally looking for Halibut, which is my preferred white fish of choice, the price per pound is RIDICULOUS…we’re talking $22+ PER POUND! Yeah, no…I mean, I have a budget for food, but until those prices come down (not likely by the looks of things for a while at least), there will be no recipes that feature halibut any time soon. BUT that being said, if you are someone interested in finding fresh fish for a fresh price, I’m currently investigating Sea to Table, which is a company that has developed relationships with fishermen across all U.S. coasts to support responsible fishing. Their fish is always wild caught, comes straight from the actual fisherman, are local to the U.S., and as a result of responsible fishing, is sustainable, which I’ve become a huge supporter of since joining a CSA and doing my research. Even the packaging is eco-friendly AND they’ve expanded their selections of fish since the last time I took a look at them. Maine Redfish has SERIOUSLY peaked my interest since trying Redfish for the first time at Culinary Fight Club’s Pit Master Battle last year! When I place my first order, I will let you all know how it goes!

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Additionally, we weren’t 100% sold on the tartar sauce, but decided to give it the good ol’ fashioned try! And it was tasty, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s entirely the recipe we were hoping it would have been. However, the addition of the green beans added a really lovely fresh note to the plate! And all in all, we were completely thrilled with what we put on the plate and have started to seriously discuss what’s next. Ideas include homemade gnocchi, an entire episode on different kinds of classic cocktails (Alex is going to lead this one because she’s a bad ass bartender!), an episode on pickling (I’m just waiting for my coworker to bring in some homegrown pickling cucumbers to shoot this one off), and definitely some sweet treats to be sure! We’re working out our summer schedule, but it looks like Cooking with Alex will move to Monday or Tuesday nights, starting next week! And if you are also one of those homecooks who wants to get more confident in the kitchen, cook with a friend! You’d be surprised how much fun you’ll have learning something new! Till next time eaters! — Cooking Maggie

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Fish and Chips from Bon Appetit

  • Note: The chips we did were just sliced red potatoes, salted/peppered/Old Bay’d, and then fried in the same oil until golden brown

Classic Tartar Sauce from Bon Appetit

Green Beans with Garlic, Lemon, and Parsley from Epicurious

On Healthy Eating [After Whole30]

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

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

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

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

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


Seared Barramundi with Yogurt Mustard Sauce from Champagne Tastes

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

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Guacamole Stuffed Lime Chicken

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

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

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

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On Whole30 [Day 16 – 22] & A NEW LOGO!!

In case any of you wondered, Frankie and I did not go out for St. Patty’s Day this year, and you know what, I’m really okay with it, especially since it was a headache I didn’t have to deal with on Sunday! Yahoo! Instead, I got to hang out at home and really unwind from what hasn’t been the easiest month, and I’m not talking about the Whole30 nor will I turn this into a woe is me post because I’m also not that kind of person. With regards to how I’m feeling, this week, I haven’t felt any cravings, but rather I feel awesome! I feel like I could tackle the world and then some! Bring. It. On. This is what the Whole30 book says is the Tiger’s Blood phase, though I’m not sure I completely understand the actual concept of Tiger’s Blood, but that’s neither here nor there. Honestly, I feel great, I feel energized, I feel calmer (more often when I’m not at work work), and I just want to keep this feeling going! I know that means continuing a lot of the lessons I have picking up throughout this entire process, but I would like to reintroduce rice as a starch option sometimes. But I don’t feel the crutch of cheese anymore, which is a little hard to believe because that craving lasted two weeks and didn’t feel like it was going to lift off me anytime soon! Ugh! But we’re still here, Frankie & I together, and we have been each other’s best support system throughout this process, and I couldn’t have kept going without him, especially on those days when I wanted to take advantage of having our local Lou Malnati’s saved in my phone contacts…but anyway, this week we had a lot of success recipes, and hope you find something to nosh on at home yourself! #paleoisntscary! Also! Made a couple updates to the website! I’m trying out a new logo! Would love some feedback if anyone has any! — Cooking Maggie


Day 15

Dinner: Deconstructed Hot Dog

Note: This was…okay. Super easy and simple to make, but was it completely filling? Absolutely not, simply because it wasn’t a real Chicago dog. God I miss street dogs so much…


Day 16

Breakfast: Strawberry Smoothie Bowl

Lunch: Chicken Piccata Leftovers

Dinner: Teriyaki Salmon & Cauliflower Fried Rice

Note: Normally, I make a Honey Siracha Glazed Salmon, but neither Siracha or Honey are Whole30 compliant, SO, I made Teriyaki (coconut amino style) Salmon instead! Still really yummy, but I’ll include the actual Salmon recipe I normally use above for reference. Oh, and the cauliflower fried rice was AWESOME!! Definitely was a surprise for both Frankie & I! I didn’t include egg, but instead used bean sprouts, which added a really lovely crunch to everything! It was overall, and really satisfying meal!

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Day 17

Breakfast: Banana (light breakfast because I wasn’t feeling the best)

Lunch: Leftover Salmon

Dinner: Steak & Roasted Red Potatoes (in honor of St. Patty’s Day)


Day 18

Breakfast: Apple & Almond Butter

Lunch: Hashbrowns with Ground Pork

Dinner: Paleo & Whole30 Chili

Note: This I think is the best chili recipe I’ve made in a good long while! It’s not bad, and I really don’t miss the beans in this at all! Besides, bacon in anything always tastes great! I will note the following: 1) I halved the recipe because I didn’t want to make a ton; 2) I added chili powder as well, because what’s chili without a little chili powder; and 3) I didn’t use sausage, but instead, found some ground lamb, which was a great addition!

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Day 19

Breakfast: Pineapple Strawberry Smoothie (this week is going to be crazy busy, and this is the best I can do)

Lunch: Leftover Chili

Dinner: Spanish Chicken with Roasted Spaghetti Squash & Green Beans

Note: I was literally futzing about in the kitchen when I came across a recipe that intrigued me, but needed a little more of an oomph, not to mention I didn’t want to serve cauliflower to Frankie twice in one week, SO instead I went with my own intuition on this one and crafted a new chicken recipe that came out unbelievably juicy, tender, and well seasoned! It’s a keeper folks!

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Spanish Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon Italian Spice Blend
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup chicken stock (plus a little more if you’re using two pans)
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, removed from oil & halved
  • 1 cup pitted green olives, halved

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the spices together and rub all over the chicken thighs.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, and then the chicken. (Note: I recommend dividing the chicken between two pans.) Cook until there’s a nice golden brown/crust on each side (about 4-5 minutes).
  3. Add in about ½-¾ cup of chicken stock to each pan, then cover with a lid, and lower the heat to simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Divide and add the sun-dried tomatoes & olives equally between the two pans, cover again, and simmer for another 3-4 minutes, or until chicken reaches 165℉.
  5. Serve over roasted spaghetti squash and green beans.

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Day 20

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Leftover Spanish Chicken (which I didn’t end up eating because breakfast was super filling and I had back to back meetings all afternoon, and by the time I even thought to eat, it was 4pm, and I had a training session at 5:30, so I snacked on carrots and strawberries instead).

Dinner: Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Note: I also got a little creative on this one too. There was a slow-cooker steak recipe in the Whole30 Cookbook, but frankly, I just wasn’t feeling the slow-cooker tonight, so instead, I flew by the seat of my pants and picked skirt steak, which I haven’t tried cooking on my own before. The rub ingredients are below, and let me just say, I was definitely doing my happy food dance around the kitchen! It was quick & easy, and unbelievably delicious! I even had another reason to use the leftover chimichurri from last week again! Yay! Also, while a jicama is NOT a tortilla, it’s not a bad substitute for getting me as close to the real thing as possible, which was what I was aiming & hoping for, and together with the beef and chimichurri, it was quite tasty and fulfilling! And with 10 days left to go, I am feeling all sorts of good vibes for this week and next!

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Skirt Steak Jicama Tacos

Ingredients:

  • 1lb skirt steak
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • Olive oil for steak (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • Avocado oil for cooking (about 1-2 tablespoons)
  • 2 jalapenos, blistered, deseeded, and minced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jicama, shaved/peeled (I found using a knife was easier), and sliced ⅛” on a mandolin
  • ¼ cup authentic chimichurri sauce

Instructions:

  1. Peel/shave the jicama, and using a mandolin, at the ⅛” setting, thinly slice and set aside. While you’re doing that, blister your jalapenos on the stove, and when done, let them sit in a covered bowl for about 1 minute. Then, remove the skin, seeds, and mince both jalapenos and set aside.
  2. Mix up all the spices in a bowl, then rub olive oil on the steak, season each side with the spice mix, and sear on each side for about 5 minutes each side (depending on the thickness of your cut, you might only need 4 minutes each side). This will produce medium rare steak, so if you like it more medium, make it 6 minutes depending on thickness. Let rest, then thinly slice against the grain.
  3. Spread the chimichurri on a jicama slice, add some of the jalapeno, top with sliced steak, and finish with cilantro. Then eat and do your happy dance!

Optional: Serve with a side of roasted fajita veggies (onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and zucchini – which I had in my fridge anyway).


Day 21

Breakfast: Apple and Almond Butter

Lunch: Day 20’s Leftover Spanish Chicken

Dinner: DMK Burger

Note: They have a PALEO burger! It’s served on a portobello bun, but you can sub it for lettuce bun, and then I had them add some caramelized onions and it was just an EXPLOSION of flavor in my mouth! SO SO GOOD! They don’t cook the beef in anything but their own juicy and natural fat, so worry not Whole30-goers! This place is a-okay for you! And you can also eat any of the other burgers and sub out the bun, cheese, and aiolis for…well…other things! ^_^ And for my Paleo readers, their fries are fried in beef fat, so they are APPROVED! Plus, they just have bomb diggity burgers! COME AND GET IT YA’LL!!!


Day 22

Breakfast: Banana, Pineapple, and Mixed Berry Smoothie with ground flax seed, coconut flakes, and walnuts

Lunch: Last of the Steak & Jicama Tacos

On Stewed Green Beans (Pt. 2) & Catalina Chicken

Okay, so I know I just posted about green beans, but given that thanksgiving has just come and gone, I ended up having a Turkey leg left over and thought it would be such a shame to waste such a good piece of meat! So I thought I would try out stewed green beans with turkey meat this time around, because when I was working on my own, a few of the recipes that claimed full authenticity mentioned turkey meat over bacon.

I have to say that I’m not the biggest fan. It felt too heavy/oily, which completely shocked me, and honestly, the turkey TOTALLY overpowered the beans. Bacon I think is a better meat to use in general because it lends itself so well to other flavors and profiles so nicely without overpowering it. Bacon adds just the right amount of richness and meat, but lets the green beans still stand on its own. I’m still glad I tried it, but I don’t think I will be using turkey again in the future.

On another note, I made a Catalina Chicken the other night, and it was pretty darn good, but I did halve the amount of sugar and honey that the sauce asked for. It was already pretty strong as is, but for me, I really just don’t like super sweet sauces on my meats, but the added roasted cherry tomatoes—I used multi-colored because I think they look prettier on a plate in general—really added a nice tartness to cut through the thickness of the sauce! Another note I think I should mention is that I would use chicken breasts for this recipe over thighs. I know, I know, thighs are more flavorful, and I don’t doubt or argue that, but I think the thighs just got way too overpowered by the sauce, where as a chicken breast would greatly welcome a large amount of flavor. If you’re going to use thighs, they should also shine, and I think the sauce was what took the cake for this recipe, and I’d like the chicken to shine a little too.

Lastly, I totally could have made my own mashed potatoes, but I happened to have thrown my back out of whack and could only stand up for 15 minutes at a time with a heat pack permanently affixed to my lower back—thankfully the chicken was very much a throw chicken in a pan, let it brown, flip & add tomatoes, let it finish cooking, serve—and mashed potatoes, like really good mashed potatoes, take a little more time and effort to make, which I physically couldn’t do at the time I made this. SO, instead, I happily cut a corner and picked up a Bob Evan’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes because 1) it’s delicious and a great alternative to the real deal when you’re in a time pinch, and 2) I’m very distantly related to the Bob Evan’s franchise through my maternal grandfather, whose mother was an Evans! And frankly, while I try to make most everything I plate from scratch, sometimes there isn’t enough time or you’re just not feeling it—which if you work full time and are the primary cook for your family, sometimes there’s only so much homecrafted cooking you can do—there is absolutely nothing wrong with cutting corners here and there, and mashed potatoes is one of my main corner cutting that I do from time to time. I can’t recall the other corners I’ve cut, but as I think of them, or use them, I will make a note! But this was a great weekday meal choice for sure and will be kept in the weeknight meal roster! Happy Eating! – Cooking Maggie


Cooking Maggie Stewed Green Beans

Catalina Chicken from Creme de le Crumb

On What Was Supposed to be Shrimp & Grits

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

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

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Cooking Maggie’s Stewed Green Beans

Ingredients

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

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

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

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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

Ricotta Gnocchi a la Geoffrey Zakarian

Gnocchi. Infamous, gnocchi…I’ve never had the guts to attempt gnocchi at home because it’s just one of those things that’s just super daunting, but not this year! This is a year of taking risks and trying new things! And plus, I’m tired of having a craving for it and feeling like the only place I can get it is by going to eat at fancy Italian restaurants, which on the special occasion isn’t always a bad thing, especially if it’s Balena on Halstead, because that was one of the best gnocchi’s I’ve ever had (see following recommendation post).

But back to the task at hand…my first attempt at homemade gnocchi! (With Tuggs, as promised.)
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Being the pinner and Food Network fan that I am, when I see a pin for Geoffrey Zackarian’s Ricotta Gnocchi, which he demonstrated during an episode of The Kitchen–which I admit, I don’t watch as much as my other go to’s like Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay–the first mistake (yes, mistake) was that I didn’t want the video included with the recipe before I started to cook. Cooking Tip: Watch the way he makes his dough, because I had it right from the start, but added more flour to make it less sticky which was my second mistake…but again, these things we learn, and I plan on making gnocchi more this year so I can master it.
Not to say the gnocchi didn’t turn out alright! It did and the actual making of it was a lot of fun, but they turned out a little on the denser side of things, so next time, I will cut the dough into eighths rather than fourths, so that there isn’t as much dough to try and finagle with, and that’ll help with not overworking it as much.
The pancetta sauce was delicious, but unlike what the recipe says to do, GZ added his basil WHEN HE SERVED…discrepancy! And that’s the way I should have done it as well because the basil got lost in the sauce after I added it RIGHT before I added the gnocchi to the sauce for a good hot second. And that extra drizzle of olive oil…I need one of those little oil bottles with the tall/pointy spout, like they have at any Italian joints. I think that extra drizzle would have made the dish just a little more delicate in the end.
And the result: a little on the heavy side. But the trying to work with too much flour/over working the dough was on me, only because I’m new to this, so I’ll admit fault to that. I will say though, that next day leftover gnocchi was softer than day of, so not a total loss! Just will need to take some more time and a little more patience.
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Note: I also served the Gnocchi with roasted green beans, which Tuggs LOVED munching on when I found myself with some leftover fresh ones! They make for healthier (and cheaper) treats than regular dog treats.
Cooking Maggie Out!

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