On Benihana at Home

How many of us have gone to Benihana’s (or some other hibachi restaurant)? *RAISES HANDS* And how many of us have fallen in love with that delicious, yellow yum yum sauce?! *RAISES BOTH HANDS* Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Back when I was still living in the States, Benihana’s was where I always wanted to go for special meals with my mom, and they never disappointed! I would always sit at the end of my seat, bouncing up and down, impatiently calling out “That’s our cart! Awe wait, no, THAT’S our cart!!! Oh wait, no not that one…THAT ONE, THAT ONE FOR SURE!” I mean,  you don’t And every so often, I get that HUMONGOUS craving for a hibachi meal, complete with sauce, chicken fried rice, grilled veggies, and if I’m feeling a little decadent, shrimp. And since the majority of the time I’m feeling lazy as get all, I made a point of trying to figure out how to make it at home…ugh, I’m salivating already…this is not a good look for me right now.

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However, that being said, I have tried to make yum yum sauce at home and it’s just not the same…so I’ve stopped trying. Not to give into failure, but rather I’d much rather enjoy it the right way than just settle for an obvious second place winner…one of these days I’ll find the right recipe for it, but I haven’t found it yet. The ginger dressing is a wholly different undertaking and one that has led to some seriously delicious outcomes that I’m really geeking out about!

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Sure, I don’t have a flat top, and no, my knife skills and coordination are not good enough to do the death-defying knife flips and musical dings, and don’t get me started on potentially creating my own onion volcano of fire (that would end poorly to say the least), but at the end of the day, I have one of my favorite childhood meals on a plate that finds a warm and loving home in my belly. Eating my own heart out on this one! — Cooking Maggie


Benihana’s Chicken Fried Rice from PopSugar

Benihana’s Ginger Sauce from Genius Kitchen

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On Last Week of Whole30

I can’t believe how close we are to being done! It’s Day 29, and tomorrow is DAY 30!!! Holy smokes! Sure, those last few days definitely have that “is day 29 pretty much the same thing as day 30” feel to it, and don’t worry, I absolutely am not going to give up! I will see this through to the end because I know I can do this for another day and a half, especially since I have the day off tomorrow! WOOT WOOT! Plus, Frankie & I have talked AT LENGTH about how to move forward from this experience so that the time and effort we put into the Whole30 won’t be wasted once we’re done.

We’ve discussed doing Whole7’s every so often (potentially every other month), and we’ve talked about ways in which we can continue to cut out processed foods/sugar from our diet a little more permanently, like not eating the free pizza that our works might order during lunch webinars and instead eat our leftovers so we don’t waste food, and just limiting our takeout/junk food habits significantly. We have decided that Friday night is going to be our date/eat out/cheat night, which works for me because I never really feel like cooking on most Friday’s anyway, but we won’t go overboard either! We’ve both seen such amazing results from this experience that neither of us wants to go to waste. We’ll definitely be including more veggies, more salads, and more real vegetables and fruits at home more than the processed snack foods we used to buy and store in our cupboard. There will definitely be an adjustment period, but I’m incredibly hopeful, and no doubt I’ll end up cooking as close to Paleo as I can since the majority of the dishes I’ve made were absolutely delicious!

But my ending thoughts though on the Whole30 are as follows: I will never do a month of that again, unless I really, REALLY have to, BUT the experience was indeed a life-changing one and will have a permanent effect on both Frankie & I’s lifestyle for the better. Would I recommend it? Sure, I would recommend it to someone who has been thinking about it or really wants to do it, and you should really want to dedicate yourself to this, otherwise you’re going to hate it, and in that case, I wouldn’t recommend this. But I will say that the best indicator of whether a diet is the right one for you depends on yourself. Only you know your body and general health better than anyone else, and if you do decide to tackle the Whole30 or another diet and find that it’s negatively impacting your mood or health beyond normal, then it’s likely not the right diet for you. Of course, you’re going through changes physically and mentally, BUT the only negative effect Frankie & I felt were the cravings and occasional hunger here or there because we cut out snacking, but we were never “moody” or “hangry” to a degree that would be considered abnormal. The Whole30 actually made us feel good, feel better in the long run, and THAT is why I would recommend this to someone else, but again, make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into and commit.

But I also know that diets aren’t for everyone, so if you’re looking for just the one thing we learned the most, that would simply be to reduce/minimize your intake of sugar (processed or natural). Sugar is one of the biggest inflammatory ingredients there is, and as much as I love my Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream, I understand that a lot of the weight I had accumulated was because of the sugar I was consuming on a daily basis through snacking and (honestly) mindless consumption. A little bit won’t hurt me now, today, but long term, yeah, I can totally see how it was impacting the way I was feeling and looking. Okay, THAT is my schpeel on Whole30!

Final Housekeeping: April 15th will be the first segment of Cooking with Friends!! The first round will just be a post, but we will be coming up with ways to potentially either stream it live or record it for when the post goes live. All things are still in the works, but that’s my main update for you! Tune in next Thursday for my attempt at homemade Funfetti cupcakes (courtesy of smitten kitchen’s recipe, because she’s amazing)!


Day 22

Dinner: Blackened Chicken, Guacamole, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato Boats

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Day 23

Breakfast: Typical smoothie!

Lunch: Spaghetti Squash Jambalaya

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Dinner: CGBLTs!


Day 24

Breakfast/Lunch: Strawberry, Banana, Pineapple Smoothie

Dinner: Oktoberfest-less Stew

Note: Made WITHOUT the beer, and instead, I just added an extra cup of chicken broth. Oh, and to help thicken it up a little bit, I added Arrowroot instead of Flour to keep it all compliant! DELICIOUS!!


Day 25

Brunch: Strawberry Coconut Breakfast Bake

Note: I did not take a picture of this mostly because it wasn’t the most beautiful looking dish, BUT I will say it was pretty tasty! I think it needed the third egg, as stated on the recipe, but because my eggs have recently been coming with double yolks (and these are eggs I get from my butcher, so they are legit), I just worried that three double yolk eggs would make it too eggy…but perhaps I should have gone ahead and added the third one in any way.

Dinner: Crab Cakes & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, with a side of Zucchini

Note: This was Frankie’s second favorite meal this month, AND he wants me to make it again soon! Not only was it all very low carb & healthy, it was easy to pull together, didn’t take long to make, and was packed full of flavor! You can’t even tell that I cooked them in coconut oil and used coconut flour! And that red pepper sauce?! The avocado really helps to smooth it out, but I think I will use the blender instead of my mini food processor next time so that it smooths out even more, and I think a pinch of salt and pepper can really take it to the next level.

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Day 26

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Last of the Jambalaya

Dinner: Steak & Potatoes a la Frankie

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Day 27

Breakfast: Leftover Breakfast Bake

Lunch: Akor Roka – Sashimi Salad with Japanese Sweet Potato

Note: The prettiest darn salad I ever did see, and honestly, this wasn’t a bad experience eating out either! Sure, I was a little nervous about being an obnoxious customer who has to ask a Japanese restaurant what I can eat on Whole30 that doesn’t allow soy or sugar, which a lot of the sauces and glazes do have. But I’m glad I did ask because my waiter ended up revealing that he was currently on Keto, and understood where I was coming from! So not ONLY did he pull some strings and bring me an amazing salad for the same price as their 3 kinds of sashimi plate, he also took away some ginger that was served with it because there was sugar in the pickling liquid!! How nice was that?! So, for anyone who is afraid or hesitant to go out to eat simply because you’re worried your diet will make things difficult, don’t be! You’ll never know unless you ask!

Dinner: Paleo Slow Cooker Meatballs & Spaghetti Squash

Note: Okay, so now that I’ve cooked with lamb for the second time, we’ve realized that lamb is not Frankie’s favorite, which is okay! I was trying lamb because the last time I made meatballs the pork turned white, and so I was just experimenting with a different meat component. Next on my trial list: Veal. That being said though, THESE were again, SO easy to make, and broiling them first was actually a really great way to get them to stick together before simmering in the sauce for four hours in my crockpot! I actually managed to throw the whole thing together in about 30 minutes, and had a fully cooked meal for lunch/dinner by the time I worked out, did laundry, helped Frankie cook, AND got ready for bed! Easy peasy, and SO so good!

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Day 28

Breakfast: Smoothie & Banana

Lunch: Last of the Oktoberfest-less Stew

Dinner: Leftover Meatballs


Day 29

Breakfast: Smoothie

Lunch: Last of the Meatballs

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 What Was Supposed to be Shrimp & Grits

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

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

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Cooking Maggie’s Stewed Green Beans

Ingredients

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

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

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

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On Honey Cajun Shrimp

So, I know honey and lime screams more summer beach dinner than fall, but this shrimp is SO yummy I’ve now made it twice in the last four weeks, and most likely may make it again after it snows because it’s just so flavorful and finger licking good! And I’ve also figured out a tip that will make clean up a BREEZE after cooking it.

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The thing I think I like the most is that this dish surprised me in the greatest way possible. Normally, I don’t prefer eating a meal that is sweet and savory at the same time (normally), and tend to veer more towards savory over sweeter main courses, but this dish may be the exception to my rule. It’s perfectly balanced between the tartness of the lemon, which helps cut the sticky sweetness of the honey, and the Cajun spice adds some depth with spice and those earthy savory notes I like so much.

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And if you don’t have a grill, which I don’t, that’s okay! What I’ve used instead was a cast iron skillet (the first time, but never again, despite the amazing char it gets on the shrimp) and your basic non-stick skillet. I prefer the skillet for cooking this dish mostly because the honey likes to stick to the bottom of the pan while you’re waiting for the shrimp to get that really wonderful charred crust on it, which on a cast iron skillet means using water and a little soap to break it up, which I really dislike doing because then that adds more time afterwards for re-seasoning the pan I’ve basically just stripped. With the skillet, I added the shrimp individually rather than dumping the bowl with the remaining sauce/marinade, which prevented there being too much liquid in the pan (which meant it would take longer to get the crust and end up burning most of the marinade) so my shrimp got that crust and a quick soak in warm soapy water got all the sticky remains off the pan in no time! I also threw the remaining marinade in about 30 seconds before I was going to take the shrimp off the heat and serve it up with some rice and vegetables.

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In terms of the dipping sauce, I honestly don’t think the shrimp needs it, though it does add that extra bit of tang to it, but I did sprinkle the shrimp with a little fresh parsley though, which I think adds a nice note of freshness to it! Super easy to make, and incredibly tasty! I definitely recommend it (and I also recommend checking out RasaMalaysia’s Panda Express Copy Cat Chow Mein, which is another one of my favorites from her)! —Cooking Maggie

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Grilled Honey Cajun Shrimp from RasaMalaysia


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Dining Recommendation: Tallboy Taco

Friday, August 18th, was my 28th birthday, and my usual necessities for having a stupendous birthday are two-fold: 1) Tacos, and 2) Headquarters Beercade in River North (or any other form of video game activity). The first because, obvi, THIS CHICK LOVES HER TACOS LIKE WOAH! Cool, and the second because this chick also loves her video games. Yup, you heard it right here. I’m a solid, 100% video game loving nerdette, and I play a pretty wide variety of platforms and game types, though I’ll also say it right here and right now, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (on N64, though I have the 3DS version and love it almost as much because it’s portable and has way better graphics) is my #1 favorite game. I even wrote an 8-part series about the game during the final years of my Masters program as a way to take a break from the creative nonfiction memoir heaviness I was immersed in already. (If this sort of thing interests you at all, you can find all eight parts here on my ENTROPY Author’s Page.) But at Headquarters, I get to relive some of my more cherished earlier memories, like playing Soul Edge AND Soul Caliber, which were my favorite arcade games growing up, on top of getting to fall in love with some other pretty wonderful games like Off Road, Tapper, Police Academy, and the various kinds of pinball machines they have available too! If you haven’t been, I will also recommend it as a fun weekend spot to check out when you find yourself with nothing to do…oh, and I should probably mention that all the games at Headquarters are FREE. Yup, F-R-E-E, so definitely go.

To start us off—because, it was my birthday, and why not?—we ordered the Beer Queso and that was super yummy! Kind of like nacho cheese, but without the gross coagulation factor once it loses its heat. Its the main reason we avoid ordering most queso fundidos because once it cools, it gets hard and stringy, rather than retaining that ooze factor, which is key for any queso. To break up the richness, we helped ourselves to the complimentary salsa bar, which was awesome! FREE SALSA BAR! I mean, sure, the helpings are individual servings vs. group shares, but the variations of salsa available more than make up for the portion sizes you can grab. Oh, and should you run out, you just go back and get some more! EASY! Super great idea too!

But back to the tacos. I will say the only one we didn’t order was the Crispy Veggie Avocado taco, mostly because that was the only one Frankie was not the biggest fan of. He likes his guac, but actual avocado pieces are a whole other matter entirely. And looking back on it, I really don’t think we ever would have room for it if we had tried. We even brought home taco fillings because we approached our tasting incorrectly…after five full facos, and five left to go, we switched to one bite of each, finishing the tones we preferred after the fact. So let’s get started! [Note: The following notes were taken while eating and are short, to the point for that purpose.]

  • Beer-Battered Crispy Fish: Great crunchy texture/breading, flaky fish, a little dry, but in the best sense because the sauce added the moisture back in. Good ratio!
  • Pulled Chicken Tinga: Great salsa marinade, tender meat, pickled onions were the perfect hit of salt. Awesome!
  • Grilled Shrimp Taco: Shrimp over powers, so the freshness of the toppings get lost.
  • Spicy Chicken: VERY spicy, but a good balance of heat and cooling, great taco!
  • Cowboy 12HR Smoked Brisket Taco: Meat is tender, moist, but needed salt or a stronger salsa to help stand out, or at least step up the BBQ note a little more.
  • Steak & Egg Taco: Egg was not highlighted enough and steak was a little chewy, but good flavors. Egg could have been more balanced.
  • Pancho Villa Steak Carne Asada: Honestly, not the best. Beef was overpowered by the seasoning and didn’t taste like carne asada, but rather like beef fajita. More orange/citrus would have helped balance things a little more.
  • Gunthorp Farms Carnitas: Another not my favorite. It tasted like turkey instead of pork and lacked seasoning and spices that I expected from carnitas.
  • Grilled Skirt Steak & Papas: Exactly what you expect in terms of flavor, seasoning was on point, steak was tender. Yummy!
  • Al pastor: BEST ONE BY FAR!! Pineapple is instant and the rest comes in to dance. Onion tops it off. All flavors in unison, best taco of the night!!
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Starting at lower left, going left to right up each row: Brisket Taco, Shrimp Taco, Steak & Papas Taco, Pork Al Pastor, Fish Taco, Spicy Chicken Tacos (the last two at the very back), and Chicken Tinga Tacos at the very back
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Carnitas (two in front), Steak Carne Asada (with the corn), another brisket taco by the limes (because when you order your tacos they all come out on one platter), and the Steak & Eggs taco at the back
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Chicken Tinga Tacos

And there you have it! Honest, on the spot review of every taco, though our waiter did say the avocado was one of the best ones on the menu too, so perhaps when we go back (and we for sure for the ones we liked the most, which were excellent) we’ll have to go ahead and try it out!

And perhaps because it was my birthday, or just because I’m inherently greedy when it comes to eating out, I also ordered  their special, which happened to be gazpacho, and I love gazpacho. My favorite is at my mom’s club, where they dollop this amazingly smooth whipped avocado creme on top! So yummy! And the gazpacho at Tallboy was also very good, and very refreshing! It wasn’t instantly spicy, but had a slow grow heat to it that was really lovely, and the veggies were fresh and crunchy (as they should be)!

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But overall, a fantastic meal, and one I plan to repeat, though perhaps with a little less food this time! The sangria’s are also spot on, so if cocktails are your jam, then definitely check this place out for some really delicious drinks! Mm Mm Good! —Cooking Maggie


Tallboy Taco: 325 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Headquarters Beercade – River North: 213 W. Institute Plaza, Chicago, IL 60610

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On 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