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

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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 Christmas Parties & First Christmas Trees

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

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This year’s menu looked like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Chicago’s Mac & Cheese Fest

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

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

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

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

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


Round 1

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

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

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

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

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

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


Round 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Round 3

 

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

 

 

 

Round 4

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

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

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

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

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

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


Round 5 & 6

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dessert

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

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

———

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

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———

Best Booth Presentation: Mago’s

Most Creative Use of Ingredients: XO Marshmallow

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

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

Golden Noodle (Best Mac n Cheese): Rack House


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

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

On Improvised Mexican Pizzas

It’s Friday night, it was a particularly long week, and I decided that cooking was not specifically on my radar, at least nothing complicated. But looking in my fridge, I notice left over chicken breasts (the kind that are individually packaged are my favorite so I’m not pressured to use an entire package in one meal), Mexican cheese, cilantro, and given my love of the cuisine, I of course have all sorts of tortilla vessels in my cupboard (tostada, soft shell, hard shell, it’s all there, staring me down). And instead of doing tacos, I thought I’d cook out of the box and just…wing it. I KNOW! ME? WING IT? IMPROVISE? Yes yes I know that Frankie is a MUCH better improviser than me, but you know what, I took a stab at the whole idea and process of being spontaneous and I think I did a pretty good job, considering it was pretty easy what direction I was going to go in.

And instead of your everyday quesadilla, I decided to do a Mexican pizza! It’s easy, fun, and I can play with the filling and topping combinations for ultimate yummage! Looking back at my fridge, there’s a jalapeno (also usually keep one or two of these on hand every week), and some limes, a little leftover cilantro, and some tomatoes! Excellent! Can you see it coming together yet? Can you guess what I did next?

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I BLISTERED THE JALAPENO! I mean, I did a few other things before that, but I’m a total convert now. If I can blister the pepper, I’m going to blister the heck out of it, and boy oh boy am I ever so happy that I did!! I’ve used raw jalapeno in my mexican chicken before, just cooking it out a little, but blistering it first and then cooking it with the chicken and spices, WHAT A DIFFERENCE! The flavor profile is twice as robust and the heat is more subtle, but by no means lost (though I did keep a few seeds just for a little extra kick for the man who loves the spicy stuff). And if that’s all you learn from this post, I’m going to be 100% okay with that. (BLISTER! BLISTER! BLISTER!)

What I didn’t improvise, or rather, didn’t have to was the seasoning. I don’t know about you, but I find the prepackaged stuff to be just a little bit on the…processed side of things. It’s too salty and it’s got a real metallic twang to it that I just really don’t like on my tongue. So, I don’t use it unless I’m out of a certain spice for my homemade version, which I’ve included below. Frankly, using a homemade spice mix, rather than the prepackaged stuff makes my food taste more authentic anyway, in addition to being fast to make and a much healthier alternative. So in short, save your dollar for something better, and buff up your spice rack a little more, especially given how versatile the spices that are included in the mix are. When am I not using crushed red chili pepper? (Pretty much never, that’s when. Okay, maybe not always when I bake, but I definitely use it a lot.)

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Okay, so we have our fun little twist of jalapeno, and we’ve thrown it into the chicken, and we’ve got it all seasoned up nicely (with some lime) and now we add a little Cholula! Yes, Cholula Hot Sauce, mostly because it’s delicious, and ever since my one friend, who buys the sauce by the gallon served it on some delicious grilled chicken tacos when I spent an afternoon with her and her husband on their deck, I haven’t been able to have a taco without it. I don’t want to say it makes the dish, but it does help make the dish, a kick that isn’t abrasive, but just perfectly peppery. So if you’ve never tried it, give it a go! It’s not necessary though if you’re not a hot or spicy food lover. And there’s our filling! Hooray! Now, CREATE! I’ve included the combination that I used, but this is where your desires for how you want your pizza to taste is all up to you and your preferences! That’s the beauty of this dish. Not only is it quick and easy, but it’s fun to make, and the combinations are absolutely endless! Throw the tomatoes inside, keep them on the outside, or both. Use one cheese, use two, use many. Include more toppings than I did, maybe some guac! The point is, sometimes, at the end of a very long work week, when the last thing you want to do is cook, you keep things fun and easy, and this dish is a perfect one to make any Friday better. Happy Eating!

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–Cooking Maggie


Quick [Improvised] Chicken Mexican PizzasCF4373C6-260D-4A83-8B8B-B4F2EDE6FFDC
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into small bite sized pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, charred, seeded, and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon Cholula Hot Sauce (use less or add more to taste)
  • Homemade Taco Seasoning (recipe below) OR 1 packet of preferred taco seasoning (about 3 tablespoons worth)
    • 1 part chili powder
    • 1 part ground cumin
    • 1 part garlic powder
    • 1 part onion powder
    • 1/2 part crushed red pepper (use less or add more to taste)
  • Lime Juice (from 1/2-1 lime)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup Queso Chihuahua Cheese, for inside pizza
    • More for outside pizza or use a different cheese
  • 8 Tortillas
  • Optional: 1/2 to 1 cup Montery Jack or Taco Cheese
  • Garnish: Cilantro, Sour Cream, more Cholula hot sauce, and Beef or Roma Tomato (finely diced)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Lay two of the tortillas on a baking sheet and sprinkle the Chihuahua Cheese on top, giving it a nice layer.
  2. Before you cook the chicken, char the jalapeno over a burner on your stove, and when charred on all sides, place in a small bowl and cover (with cling wrap, foil, or a towel) for a few minutes. Remove the skin, cut off the top, remove the seeds (or leave a little if you want an extra kick of heat), and finely dice. Set aside.
  3. Over medium-low heat, start to cook the chicken pieces, and halfway through, add the taco seasoning, jalapeno, lime juice, and Cholula hot sauce. Cook until done, then remove from heat.
  4. Place 1 or 2 scoops of the chicken on top of one of the tortillas with cheese, sprinkle a little bit of cilantro and place another tortilla on top. Do the same for the other cheesey tortilla. Bake for about 10 minutes (or until Chihuhua cheese is completely melted), then remove from the oven.
  5. While the tortillas are baking, dice up the tomato, and when initial baking is done, sprinkle either more Chihuahua cheese or another cheese of your choice on top of each tortilla pizza, and top with some of the tomato. Bake for an additional 5-10 minutes (or until top cheese is melted).
  6. Remove pizzas from oven, garnish with a dollop of sour cream, more cilantro and Cholula, then serve hot!

On Spicy Shrimp Tacos

TACOS! I’m not going to repeat myself beyond the following: I LOVE TACOS! Okay, awesome. Now that THAT’S out of the way…I made these guys on a Friday (since during Lent, we don’t eat meat on Fridays) and not only were they super quick and super easy, it was the first time I ever had to de-vein/clean my shrimp! How have I never had to de-vein or clean shrimp before now you may ask?! Easy. Usually, I would go shopping at the Jewel by my office because it was convenient, and their shrimp (the uncooked AND cooked variety) are always de-veined for your convenience. Now, since starting this blog, I’ve tried going to a couple of other groceries stores on my way home, and I found one that has a better variety (and quality) of meat and fresh produce, and their uncooked shrimp does NOT come de-veined. So, I was left with the task of de-veining them, and it was one of the more disgusting things I’ve ever had to do with my food.

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But it was so easy! Like, the backs of a shrimp were made for the blade of a knife to clean them out—is that a horrible thing to say about shrimps?—and by that I mean, when I made my initial incision, wondering if I was going to go too far or not far enough, the knife only went as far as the shrimp would let it go without pushing back, and then the back just flipped back to let me do my business! Crazy easy! Who knew?! Still gross (especially if you get one with the additional gelatinous goop too), but I learned something new! And they turned out exquisitely! The marinade was delicious, but I may add some more jalapenos to the salsa to up the heat a little bit, for the most part, absolutely one of the better recipes for shrimp tacos that I’ve come across! And while normally, I’m not the biggest fan of chunky avocado pieces, the warmth of the shrimp softened them up a little so the texture was smoother than it might have been originally, and I mean, I can only find so many ripe avocados at the store that aren’t bruised. Am I right?!

And in addition to a new skill in my pocket, I have upheld my personal promise to read my recipes more thoroughly, and actually notice the amounts or ingredients that, frankly/in my opinion, just aren’t enough or don’t belong at all. Essentially, I am noticing that I am starting to adapt the recipes I work from more to my liking, more to what I think will actually enhance the initial thought to something more! We all start somewhere right, and I guess it’s a little strange, yet exciting, to be a little more self-aware of the ways in which I’m mindfully changing my approach to cooking, really treating my food like a well-known acquaintance, with respect, rather than just…well, food, for lack of a better way of describing it. There’s something really beautiful about the nuances of a dish, the way ingredients will speak to you and to each other if you listen, rather than just thinking about the timing aspects of a meal. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m starting to really see between the lines of the food that I’m working with, that I’m cooking with, and really getting to know it inside and out during the whole process, rather than just inside my belly. There’s just so much more to learn and discover, and as the ever dutiful student, I can’t wait to study and practice (my favorite)!

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May all your trials not be perfect, and may there be always something new to learn that makes the familiar exciting! —Cooking Maggie

PS. And just to wet your appetite a little, I’m going to be re-greasing the old writing wheels and actually wroking on more…creative approaches to my blog posts! Oh, and I found a baller new photo app that I can’t WAIT to try and talk about! Stay tuned ya’ll!


Spicy Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Salsa & Sour Cream Cilantro Sauce from Gimme Delicious Food

On a Bacon Wrapped Sunday Super Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy eating and hoping everyone had a good Sunday!

Cooking Maggie Out!


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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Bark Boxes & BLTG Sandwiches

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

BLTG: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, and Guacamole. First things first, bread. Sourdough bread to be exact, a must, or something very similar (Tuscan Round Bread if your grocer or baker, if you’re that fancy individual who has one near by, has run out) that can hold up to toasting and layering, and all the good stuff inside (definitely don’t toast too much or you’ll ruin the top of your mouth). I find I don’t need to butter the tops of my bread for this sandwich and that simply toasting it gets that perfect crunch on the outside, but softness from the wet components that makes it easy to eat!
Then comes the next most important piece: BACON! Thick cut is an absolute, but after that, if you like flavoring or a particular kind of bacon, go crazy! It’s your sandwich! We stay pretty traditional in our home, and find just your regular maplewood smoked is just perfect to compliment the other pieces to this sandwich. To cook your bacon, you can just go with what you already know and love, but I personally am a baker of bacon only. Sure, it’s a little more time consuming, but I’ve never had a piece of bacon that wasn’t cooked PERFECTLY, just the way I like it with this method, which I’ve included!
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Perfect Bacon: Make sure your oven is set to 420 degrees, then run each strip of bacon under cold water. Yes, cold water, because what that does is prevents the meat from shrinking once its in the oven. Then, layer the bacon on a wire rack that is sitting in/on a large backing pan (which I cover in aluminum foil for easy cleanup). Then bake for about 20 minutes (I check it at the 10 mark, and then every 2 minutes after that to make sure it come out perfect). And while the bacon is cooking, I can work on getting everything else prepped and ready.

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

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

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

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