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 2 – Day 8]

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


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


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

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

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Day 2

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


Breakfast: Warm Banana Coconut Bowl

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

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Lunch: Leftover Chicken Thighs

Dinner: 20 Minute Shrimp & Sausage Paleo Skillet

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

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Day 3 & Day 4

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

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

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

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Day 3 Lunch: leftover meatballs

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

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


Day 4 Breakfast: Hashbrowns with peppers & onion

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

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

Day 4 Dinner: Leftover Shrimp & Sausage Skillet


Day 5

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


Breakfast: Breakfast Smoothie

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


Breakfast Smoothie – Banana & Berry

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

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

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

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

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


Day 6

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


Breakfast: Oven Roasted Breakfast Potatoes

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

Lunch: Spicy Southwest Whole30 Stuffed Peppers

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

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Dinner: Smoothie

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


Day 7

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


Breakfast: Breakfast Potatoes

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

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

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


Day 8

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


Breakfast: Apples with Almond Butter, Bananas, and Walnuts

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

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

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

On Nachos & The Best Dang Queso

Okay, so yet again, I fell to the confusion of trying to remember to take photos while I was cooking, BUT I’m going to share the best queso blanco recipe that I have. Now, I love me my cheese, but the thing I don’t like is, when you order queso fundido or just queso dip in general, it’s probably been made with chihuahua cheese, which is great for quesadilla’s, but I don’t think it’s a good queso cheese. It resolidifies too quickly, doesn’t stay, melty for lack of a better word. And I have NOT been able to find a place in Chicago, that has a queso dip quite like the one I had in college. Vaquero’s was the local Mexican restaurant that everyone went to whenever they needed a quick taco and margarita fix for a decent price! $20 got you chips, queso, salsa, a large plate of food, and two margaritas. It should come at no surprise that they were almost always busy. But Vaquero’s was where I found my queso blanco perfection!

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The only photo I managed to remember to take before making my nachos.

So, after many years of researching post-college, I finally discovered the key ingredient to their cheese, thus being able to make it at home on those rare nights we can’t cut a craving. WHITE AMERICAN CHEESE. Yup. You heard it here. White Amerian Cheese. When melted, with a little butter and milk to get it going, it’s the perfect consistency and is still a blank enough canvas that you can kick it up a notch with a few additions. Green chilies & a pinch (or two) of cayenne for example are my go-to’s, and a little salt & pepper, naturally. And while it’s FANTASTIC for dipping, it’s also great for topping on top of nachos, which I did make during house sitting! Happy dipping, and I promise to be much better about photographing as I go, but the final product is pretty darn delicious looking, no? —Cooking Maggie

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Quick Weeknight Nachos included ground beef with homemade taco seasoning (recipe included below), homemade pico de gallo (see recipe page), and store bought/store made guacamole. Nacho chips were baked till warm (about 5 minutes at 350), then topped with meat, pico, cheese, and lastly quac.

White Queso Blanco

Ingredients:

  • ½ pound of white American cheese (Land O’ Lakes)
  • ¼ cup milk (maybe more if you want it thinner)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 4oz can of green chilies
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic salt
  • A pinch of cayenne

Instructions: Place cheese, milk, & butter in a sauce pan over low heat. Heat til. melted, stirring frequently. When melted, stir in green chilies, cumin, garlic salt, and cayenne. Add more milk if you want it thinner. Serve immediately with chips, tacos, enchiladas, nachos, etc.

Homemade Taco Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tbsp (or 1 tsp+, to taste) crushed red pepper

Instructions: Mix everything together and store in a container for further use.

On A New Camera & Lots of Practice Photos

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

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

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

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

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

–Cooking Maggie

 

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On 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 Date Night Monday & Taco Tuesday!

TACO TUESDAY!! OH MY GOSH! It’s my favorite day of the week, next to certain Mondays. Mondays, you might ask? Yes, but only a special kind of Monday! The kind where, no matter how crappy my Monday started, it ends amazingly because around 4pm, Frankie decides we should go out and treats us both to something yummy! Ergo, I have dubbed these awesome Mondays to be known as “Spontaneous Date Night” Mondays! And this past Monday happened to fall into that category of awesomeness!

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Frankie took me to Revolution Brewing in Logan Square [Palmer Square if you want to get really technical] because one of his improv friends mentioned there would be a special Beer-B-Que deal going on! For $15 dollars we got: two meaty Applewood Smoked Wings [perfectly smoky], a little more than 1 cup of Burnt Ends on a piece of soft white toast [melt-in-your-mouth tender goodness], a side of Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad [flavorful pesto and a great palate cleanser in between bites of barbecue], and a square of Corn Pudding [sweet, sticky, a little on the heavy/greasy side, but warm as get all]. Oh, and to wash it all down, a pint of beer was also included [Cross of Gold, very smooth]. And the barbecue sauce was like spiced whiskey, smooth but with a quick kick after you swallowed. Delicious in every way and the perfect amount of food for the perfect price with my perfect partner! One of our best Monday Dates yet, and a great option for anyone looking for a quick & thrifty night out!

But even a night out didn’t stop me from preparing something for Tuesday, and I’ve been itching to make tacos again since the Chicken Carnitas I made in January, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I love tacos. It didn’t help that when Frankie was in Seattle recently for a performance with his musical improv group Buzzed Broadway, he had amazing beef tacos, which made me hungry, so I made slow-cooker barbacoa to satisfy that craving, and what a beauitful cut of beef I found at the store!

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But honestly, there’s nothing like a taco. The messiness, the finger licking good seasoning and sauce, the endless combinations of proteins, toppings, salsas, and cheeses! Sour cream, no sour cream, or maybe creama, or no crema! The taco can be classic, old, familiar, and rustic, but also fancy, modern, elevated, never the same taco twice! Remoulade or aioli instead of salsa, slaw instead of lettuce or onion or cilantro. The taco is, essentially, the perfect culinary vessel of different flavors and cultural profiles (next to, I think, the hot dog).

Is it okay to veer to the right real quick and give a recommendation/share? Good! So, there’s a place in Cincinnati on Vine Street called Senate that is doing the same kind of elevating and culture crossing with hot dogs and I think they’re doing an amazing job of it! A highlight for anyone in that area too! Also, I just learned they have a cookbook out with some of their menu items and I’m not going to lie, I just bought it! EEK! Their duck fat fries and mussels are AMAZING, not to mention their hot dogs are out of this world! If it’s not clear, I HIGHLY recommend this joint, and their sister restaurant Abigail Street, which is a Mediterranean Wine Bar with delicious bites too!

But back to tacos! My obsession with them cannot be tamed I tell you! And while I’m always looking for new recipes to make, there hasn’t been a taco recipe I haven’t liked, just other recipes I happen to like more, and that’s what continues to fuel my obsession with the kinds of tacos I can make. There is never going to be just a solitary, perfect taco recipe, so instead, I try to accumulate as many varieties as I can, swapping out one taco recipe for another depending on similarity and my preference for it. But I do find that my slow cooker does the best job of making tender taco meat, next to fresh grilled chicken breast and Cholula sauce! And that’s the recipe I’m going to include today! Slow cooker barbacoa, with a warm zucchini and corn salsa (which I’m going to try and up the ante on with some green bell pepper or tomatoes). Next up for Taco Tuesday: Chicken Tinga & Shrimp!

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Here’s a toast to Taco Tuesday! – Cooking Maggie Out


Slow-cooker Barbacoa Tacos

Ingredients

For Barbacoa

  • 2 pounds chuck roast, fat trimmed and cut to fit cooker
  • 1 white onion, dieced
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • ½ cup beef broth or beer
  • 4 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped (or to taste)
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 bay leaves

For Topping

  • Tortillas
  • Chopped white/red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Lime
  • Cheese of choice (Chihuahua, Queso Fresco, Monterey Jack)

 

Instructions

  1. Put everything except the beef in the crock pot, stir to mix. Place beef on top and spoon some sauce/onions/peppers on top of beef.
  2. Cook for 4-6 hours on high, 8-10 hours on low. When done, remove beef and shred, then place back in sauce and stir slightly (or shred in pot to save a step).
  3. Assemble tacos and enjoy! Serve with a warm zucchini & corn salsa!

Warm Zucchini & Corn Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 corn on the cob, kernels cut from cob
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Instructions: Heat a pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add zucchini and corn until zucchini & corn is tender (a little color on your veggies is a-okay, and actually preferred). Season with salt & pepper (add more to taste), and serve warm.

On Forgetting & Dinner with Friends

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

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

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

 

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

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

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



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


Chimichurri Potatoes

Ingredients

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

On Newness: Plates, Tips, & Risotto Done Right

img_2623In the spirit of a new cookbook, I wanted to try a recipe right away! So, I settled on something I knew would be an instant winner! Corn Risotto stuffed Poblano peppers! We also threw in a skirt steak with a little chimicurri sauce that I was toying with in preparation for some guests we have coming over in a few weeks time! I even got a couple new plates too (per suggestions from friends for better photographing)!

Now, I can’t share the recipe here (because that wouldn’t be nice or fair), but I will share some of her tips that I found useful/were very new to me (I love that I’m always learning something new), and some tips I have for some of the other components in my dish. The first, regarding skin removal of peppers.

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The technique of blistering pepper isn’t new to me, but I am learning that blistering can alter the flavor profile of a dish in so many ways, and usually for the better, but you won’t know unless you do or do not. So, I decided to a) blister the jalapeno I was using in my chimichurri, and b) not blister the poblanos I was using for the risotto (which the recipe said I could choose to do if I liked the skins, which usually, I do). That being said the chimichurri was by far the best I’ve ever made (recipe below), but the peppers…yeah, I should have listened to Ms. Perelman on that one…the peppers took twice as long to get nice and soft with their skins, and frankly the skins were so overpowering in a watery, bland way that it tamed the entire dish to a flat-line. For the smaller peppers that blistered naturally on the bottom as they roasted, those were the best bites, applying themselves more agreeably to the corn risotto that was super rich and creamy. Lesson learned: If you have the option to blister your peppers, do it…your taste buds will thank you for it.

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Risotto: I’m definitely a converted traditionalist now, and I’m cringing at all the recipes that skipped these steps because this was by far the best risotto I’ve made. The main things: 1) Your stock should be hot, boiled separately from your risotto, and left to simmer until ready for use so as not to reduce the cooking temperature of your risotto (and also saves a few minutes on cooking time). And 2) After researching this a little more afterwards, adding a little stock at a time will allow the starch from the rice to dissolve into the sauce you’re making, which makes it creamy.

This is definitely a dish I’ll make again (skin off for sure), but it was definitely super yummy! And I HIGHLY recommend checking out her cookbook for more awesome recipes! Her website is also chock-full of amazing recipes too! I also paired it with blacked chicken tacos for next day leftovers! YUM!

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img_2599Jalapeno Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce
Yields 1/2 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 jalapeno, skin blistered & deseeded
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt (can add more to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Juice from 1/2 lime (can add more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoons red wine vinegar (add more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (add more if you like your chimichurri more liquidy)

Directions: Blister your jalapeno on the rack of a stove burner till skin is black. Place in a bowl and cover for a few minutes. Then, remove skin, deseed, and place in a food processor. Add parsley, cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Blend all ingredients together till well mixed, then add red wine vinegar and the olive oil (a little at a time) until chimichurri sauce is at desired consistency. Add more vinegar/oil/lime juice/salt to taste.

 

Healthy Chicken Carnitas

I’m on a health binge this year, like a real one. I just want to be better for myself, and Frankie has graciously decided to join me in this effort for personal betterment (as did Tuggs, in his own way)! And if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that I. Love. Mexican. Food. Like woah. Not the healthiest cuisine, but that’s the great thing about cooking! You can always adjust a recipe and make substitutions (like not adding so much cheese and instead go onion, cilantro, and a place of lime).

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The first time I had Mexican food, albeit fake Mexican food, I was maybe five, and it was at the Taco Bell Express station inside the Speedway across the street from our Homewood Road tutor. Yes, I know, fake, horrible Mexican fast food, not even food, but that’s when I fell in love with the idea of Mexican food. The flavors, the textures, the fun in eating it. It was always something I went to get with babysitters, and I always enjoyed the crunch of a hard shell taco (American Mexican, again, I know) between my teeth, the messy way the filling would fall onto the paper I had spread out neatly, a table bib that I would slightly fold and raise to my mouth so I could make sure I got every last bit of food into my mouth, into my belly. And while I can’t, and don’t, ever, eat Taco Bell anymore, I loved it so much and found myself addicted to eating as much as I could as often as I could. Disgusting, I know, but I was a kid growing up in small town Mariemont, Ohio…what in the world did I know about Mexican food? Nothing. Taco Bell was my end all be all, until I met iCaramba!, located on a little side street of Hong Kong’s SoHo, just north of main Central downtown.

 

Inside, bright blues, beach yellows, grapefruit and pomegranate  pinks, steamy and sticky (because Hong Kong was humid naturally and stuck to everything that ever existed and lived there), but you could smell the earthy black beans boiling in the kitchen with chilies and cumin, almost taste the crispness of homemade chips, fresh from the oven, oily salt on your fingertips, and there was a never ending sizzle of meats and vegetables in woks and cast iron skillets. That was the first real Mexican meal I have ever had, where I learned what a tamale and quesadilla was, and how diverse the interpretations could be, not to mention how much I love peppers and a little kick, the differences between them all in heat and structure, what they can stand up to in terms of flavor and use. Salsa never came from a jar again, and I learned that tomatillo’s and green tomatoes are NOT the same thing, and that each holds a key stone flavor for their respective cuisine. (Please remember, I was ten and have learned a LOT more since then.) It is what I still strive to obtain when I make Mexican at home, which I do a lot because I’m still trying to get the spices just right, the way I remember them.

 

Which brings me to this Chicken Carnita recipe. Yes, carnitas are meant to be pork, but it’s still a spiced meat, and when you always have something chicken in the fridge, I just went with it. And boy, oh boy did it turn out delicious!!!

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The spices sing on your tongue when you place the tender fork pulled meat in your mouth, your fingers so lickable, and your craving suddenly insatiable. I had to actually stop myself from eating everything off the pan. The orange and lime are the perfect amount of citrus to keep the whole dish light and heighten the natural earth spices of cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, and that extra dash of pepper flakes because, WHY NOT? And while, I’m one of those blasphemous cooks who prefers chicken breast over chicken thighs (I know, I know), this was by far my favorite way to eat it.

 

The chicken is so tender from oven braising, and that caramelization from the broil? I mean, come on, how beautiful is that?! (I did not use honey, which the recipe calls for, because I didn’t think it needed it). Just, wow. Best Mexican chicken recipe and it was so easy to make! Not to mention that they weren’t heavy in the way some tacos done wrong will make you feel overly full after two bites, and were a great healthy way to make my most favorite dish, chicken tacos (since I’m also on a health binge with my man this year)! I would have tried the hallowed acorn squash, but that is not a favorite of my beloved, so I opted for the taco route instead, though I’d gladly just eat it plain as well. I will include the Pico de Gallo recipe I used as well below!

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Chicken Carnitas from Ciao Florentia



Pico de Gallo

Serves 4

  • 2-3 roma tomatoes (dependent upon how much tomato you like)
  • 1/4 large red onion, diced finely (if you want to add more, add more)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped finely (or 1/4 – 1/2 jalapeño if you want to leave in the seeds)
  • 1/4-1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped finely (to taste)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Toss diced tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and garlic in a bowl. Add the lime juice, salt, and pepper (to taste). Store in fridge, eat with chips, and use with tacos, fajitas, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, etc.!

Note: For the beans, I used some water on canned refried black beans (because you know what, when you work full time and just can’t think far enough ahead of your dog and man to soak and cook and puree the beans yourself, there’s nothing wrong with canned goods). BUT I think the seasoning needed something more, cumin and garlic powder maybe, even diced chilies just to give it a little more of the one noted flavor it came with. I also want to try chicken/veggie stock or broth instead of water to bump up the flavor a little more too.

 

Until next time food lovers!

 

Cooking Maggie out!