On Cooking with Alex #3: Bruschetta Bananza!

About two weeks ago, Alex & I changed up the game plan because of the warmer weather and decided to make a couple different bruschetta’s as part of a delicious and fairly light Sunday lunch/dinner! What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Not to mention that Frankie & I spent the evening on our porch for a really delightful dinner once he was done with work! Also, these are probably the prettiest things (savory wise) that I’ve ever made!

7583888640_IMG_1746.jpg

I mean, LOOK AT THAT! And almost all of them were spot on! The only one that didn’t QUITE work out as we wanted was the Peach with Whipped Goat Cheese, only because peaches weren’t in season. Alex couldn’t find fresh plums, which is what I used to sub out the peach, and even then it was really bitter, and so she bought canned peaches. I seared off my plums, which helped add a new depth of flavor, but was still a little bitter, and was an odd flavor with the cheese. Alex had a similar experience with her peaches, which she left as they were, and it just wasn’t where it needed to be, so we believe, yes you do need a fresh peach, and it should be a juicy one that is sweet so it will better offset the tang of the goat’s cheese.

7583888640_IMG_1744.jpg

Then there was the traditional Bruschetta that I had presented ages ago (relinked below) that I happened to find some heirlooms for, and that was the RIGHT decision to make. Romas/On-The-Vine are also good alternatives, BUT nothing beats the richness of an heirloom. BUT I did just notice my store is starting to carry orange and yellow tomatoes on the vine, which would be my next alternative for heirlooms. Plus, heirlooms are WAY more expensive, though you do pay for the outstanding quality, which is a plus.

7583888640_IMG_1740.jpg

The third one we made was a bacon and onion marmalade, on top of brie, and this was a TOTAL winner! I mean, it was sweet, tangy, meaty, herbaceous (lots of thyme in there), and it was just the perfect amount of stick to the roof of your mouth kind of good, plus you had the earthy softness of the brie to break up the richness of this mouthful, and it is incredibly rich for such a small bite, but rich enough for you to want another one, then another one, then another one. Alex cooked her bacon first, then added the onion, which allowed it all to caramelize even more, whereas mine was a little lighter in color because I took my bacon out before cooking the onion, adding it all bacon in for the final few minutes. This is DEFINITELY another winner that will likely grace our next Christmas party!

7583888640_IMG_1741.jpg

The last one on my plate is a minted smashed pea and prosciutto crostini, which I understand isn’t going to be the easiest one to make because Prosciutto isn’t always readily available, as was the case for Alex. I will say though, if you find some, make this one! This was by far the favorite (next to the regular bruschetta and bacon/onion marmalade), and I even took it one step further but drizzling a little balsamic glaze right on top, which packed a super punch! The peas were super easy to make, and the combination with the mint made it a very light and fresh bite, which paired beautifully with the subtle earthy elegance of the prosciutto, and the sweet punch of balsamic. Another winner to be sure, and honestly, you could even substitute the prosciutto for sliced ham, or even bacon (because who doesn’t like bacon?).

7583888640_IMG_1737.jpg

All in all, these little morsels were a GREAT treat to munch on in the early afternoons of summer weekends, and I plan to try a couple more crostini recipes for possible party ideas! If you have a favorite bruschetta/crostini recipe, I would love to hear about them! I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to give a couple of your favorites a try! Hoping you’re enjoying the warmer weather wherever you are! — Cooking Maggie


Quick Fresh Brushcetta

Onion & Bacon Marmalade from Tasty Kitchen (Cook in Canuck)

Minted Pea & Prosciutto Costini from Martha Stewart

Peach Bruschetta with Whipped Goat Cheese from Life As A Strawberry

7583888640_IMG_1739.jpg7583888640_IMG_1738.jpg7583888640_IMG_1745.jpg

Advertisements

On Chicken & Rice

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

f9f998f5-c887-4267-b0d2-75166c1b9937


One Pot Chicken & Rice

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

0fd5f8de-6b74-46d3-9d41-eae00abf1e41279f0706-14b6-4114-928b-79114023993d046bf43a-8bd6-4571-a9eb-2f333872e24471a9a606-fc8e-4a11-9782-f815b03f91eaaf5e3556-c297-4865-9401-606e9f10285096bf6b60-1186-433c-a722-3a7647265b1fcfd35324-1111-4bf5-8685-4042ba614020

On Baked Cod & Greek Salad

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

36d85854-4964-4e34-8def-a2e257f6dcfdd8279df8-27da-422a-8c20-e4d2911b6259754eedb8-fdd7-470b-b5a8-a77ce497de79

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

5cdf6063-9a79-44bc-ab6b-310895446ba5c90991a7-ed03-4fde-9469-1e5d9cab82688f360ece-0ab1-4dfd-a481-1b26a3668b5d

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

e3b3cdea-ce71-4ce9-8b14-51f29114aa2accc0df66-9f4d-4359-b61d-9bfedba6f68f

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

2d5c0de9-e9ab-4ad8-80be-32b8a2ad203333e1a3ca-db8d-4980-9f39-f26bc36d31ca


Baked Greek Cod

Ingredients

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

Instructions

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

Easy Greek Salad

Ingredients:

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

Instructions

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Cooking Maggie Stewed Green Beans

Catalina Chicken from Creme de le Crumb

On Sloppy Joes!

I know we all just got done stuffing our faces and bellies with delicious Thanksgiving food (#allthegravy), but I recently shared this recipe with a coworker, and she loved it, so I thought, okay, we’re already getting overly full, so what’s another filling recipe for those post-feast days, or for whenever something gooey and messy is needed at the end of a long work week (or work day as I’m sure we all have those every once in a while)!

A few notes though. 1) I LOVE Worcestershire sauce, so I am VERY heavy-handed with it in this recipe. I think its peppery tang helps cut the heaviness of the meat, BUT if you prefer the tomato-y flavor, just simply halve the amount that I’ve included. OR, if you’re like me and you can’t get enough Worcestershire, add the amount I’ve listed, taste, and then add more if you think it could be more pronounced, which I have also done. I do think the amount I’ve given is a good starting point for those who embrace the tang, but again, halve if it’s too abrasive a flavor for you, or add more if you want it to stand at the forefront!

2) Buns. Everyone is different in how they’ve eaten their Sloppy Joes, but I think it’s fun to try different buns to see what works best for your messy masterpiece. If you prefer more of a meaty mixture, then I think a hamburger bun is going to work in your favor, but if you’re more focused on developing the flavors of the sauce (which means a runnier/messier Slop), then I feel a hamburger bun is more likely to disintegrate before you finish your sammich! But others love that, so again, it’s totally up to you and your preference, but if you’d like to try something a little more substantial that can stand up to just about any kind of mess you can imagine, I really like pretzel buns OR Kaiser buns! In both instances, they are soft & salty enough to stand up to a runny sauce and a lot of meat!

And for all those who are Manwhich lovers, trust me, making the sauce from scratch really does make a difference, not to mention that this recipe is super easy to make, flavor-packed, and one of the most enjoyable meals where getting messy is required and napkins are completely useless. If you’re ready to get your hands (and face) dirty, then this sloppy concoction is right up your alley! — Cooking Maggie

59bb7ba6-2536-4a4a-82ae-3c3dd4a9b780


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 1 bell pepper (red or green), diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups pureed tomatoes (or canned tomato sauce when in a pinch)
  • salt & additional ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • oil for the pan
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 4 rolls (hamburger, Kaiser, or pretzel buns)
  • Optional Toppings: fresh tomatoes, dill pickles, sliced cheddar cheese, cole slaw

 

Instructions:

  1. Brown meat, add cracked black pepper.
  2. Add pepper and onion, until soft. Then add garlic till aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  3. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar.
  4. Let simmer and thicken for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.
  6. Serve with sliced pickles & cheddar cheese on your preferred bread roll, then enjoy the mess!!

On Roasted Chili-Lime Cod

With the change in weather now in full effect, the sweaters have come out, the scarfs have been arranged, and there’s usually a cup of tea in my hand while I’m cooking in my comfy pants (oh yes, I am more or less cooking in my yoga pants and pjs because I like to be comfortable when I cook, and it’s not like I’m in front of the camera). And even though the fall makes me itch towards Chicken & Dumplings (smitten kitchen just revisited her recipe for it and it has LEEKS in it! Oh my gosh I can’t wait to make this soon soon soon!) and Baked Apple Streusel (a recipe I made for the first time on a whim during my first fall in Chicago, so worry not, a delicious recipe to satiate anyone’s fall craving is coming to a kitchen near you). And I’ve also been craving fish, oddly enough.

07617475-CDC6-4585-BBDF-D27B092932D0

Sure, Fall doesn’t scream “FISH,” but sometimes you need a break from the rich and heavy stuff for a moment, bring back some freshness to the table, so I turned to Cod fish, a white flaky fish with a seriously mild taste that can be easily applied to a ton of different flavor profiles (think of it almost like chicken). Cod can be fried (like chicken), it can be stewed (like chicken) or curried (like chicken), and it can be baked/pan seared (like chicken). I know fish can be scary, and believe me, it still sometimes scares me when I get the courage to try cooking with it, but with the right combination of spices and sauce, it’s something else! And so I tried a Roasted Chili-Lime Cod recipe from Fashionable Foods (topped with a lime butter sauce that was SO tasty) with wild rice (from a box because you shouldn’t feel you have to make EVERYTHING from scratch when a little help goes a long way) and roasted cherry tomatoes in olive oil, garlic, thyme, and basil!

E3A0BCB2-A6CC-4572-8253-358A58B00A4FBDB66919-B4C3-4D3D-8957-741A4D80E49B

This cod dish is incredibly bright and vivacious on the plate, a dish that brings everything to life on your palate, and the spice does help kick things up a notch as well. It’s fast and easy to whip up all the ingredients in a bowl, and if you want things to get interesting, sub out the regular olive oil with a complimentary flavored oil. The oil I used (and is pictured) is actually homemade chili oil that my friends got as a gift from their wedding officiant. He gave them a ton of jars, and they were kind enough to share one with me, so I thought, what better way to accent and highlight the brightness of the spices than with a little kick to the oil that’s being absorbed into the fish? And then to top it off with a lime butter? That tang of citrus helps cut the spice a little too, not to mention that butter just makes everything better!

35C56852-9AA5-4E4E-80E2-808D4042CE7E22470FE6-7B10-48C0-A755-CDCF5D0E9239

I thought to pair the fish with tomatoes (just to add an extra note of bright acidity to the plate since the fish is pretty mild and the spice mix is pretty powerful on its own), and while fresh tomatoes on their own with a little salt on time is just a great way to feature the ingredient, I wanted to make use of the oven while I had it on anyway. I threw the tomatoes into the oven when I was letting my fish refrigerate, and took them out when the fish was done cooking, so that both components could be served together, piping hot from the oven! And they were so succulent and slightly sweet, but robust and juicy! These little tasty nuggets are just as easy to throw together as the fish, and pair great with chicken or pasta, in addition to fish, and you can let them cool longer to serve over top a salad as well! You can’t go wrong with this side, and you can also change up the herbs you’re using to make things interesting like subbing fresh for the dried (though I think those have a greater tendency to burn rather than bloom and develop into something more) or adding in some parsley instead of oregano. Maybe even throw in a sprig of rosemary!

733A684B-83C4-4508-85EF-008D26E32745BD9C5CC2-20F4-46FA-B99A-E76A75F5AAC8

Hoping the start of your Fall is as deliciously scrumptious as it is in my kitchen! —Cooking Maggie


Roasted Chili-Lime Cod from Fasionable Foods


Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 18 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried Basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried Thyme
  • 2 teaspoon dried Oregano
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450F, line a baking sheet with foil, and spread out the halved cherry tomatoes all over the sheet.
  2. Sprinkle minced garlic evenly over tomatoes. In a separate small bowl, add the basil, thyme, and oregano, then sprinkle the mixture overtop of the tomatoes, trying to cover all of them with a little bit.
  3. Pour olive oil over tomatoes and top with salt & pepper (sprinkling from farther up, think close to your forehead, will make it easier to cover all the tomatoes with enough of the seasoning.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking time till they look wrinkled, but not burned. Let cool for two minutes, then serve with fish, chicken, pasta.

D572C482-BC4A-4F14-A58C-F50396165EBC.jpg

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!!
IMG_6501
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
6D8311F9-87AF-47B3-AD3B-0F6FAED2469E
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
56444847-44A9-47F4-BF33-DD6790FA6709
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)!

IMG_6482

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 Bolognese

I think that the key to the best bolognese sauce all starts with your meat. For real. And honestly, for any of my ground meat-centric meals, I try really hard to stay away from just one kind of meat. I like the way flavors just intensify when you combine meats: beef with a little pork, or a little veal if I can find it, or even a little lamb, which has that really strong earthiness to it! And especially for bolognese, the meat is pretty darn important! Well, that and the kind of tomatoes you use.

How many of you reading this right now have noticed that jarred tomato sauce gives you heart burn? *Cooking Maggie raises her hand* Yeah, it’s not pleasant, however easy it may be to just dump the whole jar in after browning that meat and calling it a day. As I’ve gotten older, I have gotten a little more sensitive to acidic levels, which has made eating one of my favorite things in the world an incredibly uncomfortable affair. Thus, I was left with the task of finding a way to make my sauce from scratch, rather than from a jar or a can (because certain canned tomatoes have a TON of acid in them still).

I’ve already written about my tomato sauce (courtesy of Katie Lee from Food Network), and I found a pomodoro sauce from Bon Appétit that I’m super stoked to try out (and get this, THERE’S BUTTER IN IT! *gasp & delighted giggle*), but with the tomato sauce, I simply used it as a base guideline for my recipe, but added a lot of those other essentials that really help build body to this sauce. And what bolognese would be complete without your mirepoix (meer – puwah), which is just a fancy French way of referring to the holy trinity of veggies: onion, celery, and carrots. This already is adding some bright notes of sweetness and acidity, but also adding a little more texture amid soft ground meat and mushy tomatoes (and yes, I said mushy, but in the best, most delicious “I might put my face into this pot” kind of way, though perhaps soft is a better word) soft tomatoes.

And speaking of tomatoes, here’s my main tip for you (courtesy of my wonderful friend Melissa, who has been my guinea pig for many a dish in my kitchen): BOXED tomatoes. You heard me right. BOXED. And here’s why: boxed tomatoes, specifically Pomi, which you can find in your pasta aisle by the tubed tomato paste (I’m a total convert of this as well, love it), are typically BPA Free, contain no additives (literally the only ingredient listed on the label is tomatoes), so in my opinion, that’s an automatic win for the boxed tomatoes! And they just taste better. Honestly, compare an instant spoon taste between the two and I promise you’ll notice the difference.

IMG_6392

IMG_6393Oh, and finally, just because this is the pièce de résistance, definitely save some of that pasta water to loosen things up again after the sauce has reduced and developed a little more! It’s that last little *kisses fingertips* of salt that really takes a tomato based pasta sauce to that last level of mm mm goodness. If you haven’t been doing that, try it next time you make bolognese, pomodoro, puttanesca, or really just about any tomato based sauce, and I can almost promise you won’t be disappointed! Oh, and definitely feel free to top it all off with a little parm or mozz & some malden salt for that extra tangy pop of crunch! Now, excuse me while I go drool my way back to the stove to make some for myself. — Cooking Maggie


Cooking Maggie’s Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 1 brown onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground pork (or veal, or lamb)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (from a tube, not a can, but if you do use a can, up the amount to 4 tbsp)
  • 1 box of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large handful of finely chopped basil (plus more for topping)
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

  1. Finely chop carrot, celery, onion, and garlic in a food processor.
  2. Cook this mixture in a large saucepan with olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add ground beef and cook until well-browned.
  4. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, marjoram, basil, bay leaves, oregano, and parsley.
  5. Cook over very low heat for about 1-2 hours.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pasta, parm cheese, and fresh basil to top. Even top with some malden finishing salt for an added crunch and burst of tartness.

On Cooking Fish & Salmon Delish

I am proud to report that I actually made fish…and Frankie liked it! *pause* I made fish, and Frankie liked it…*double pause* is three times excessive? Well, I won’t say it now, no doubt I’ll say it later (mark my words), but there’s a reason I made fish: Frankie has unfortunately been dealing with a nasty case of pancreatitis for the past few months, but we’ve finally turned the corner in the right direction (thank goodness), and, while I won’t toot my own horn too much here, it’s primarily been because of my cooking, per his severe need to change his eating habits. After all, most changes in your diet that stick start at home.

33D3F795-A1A4-4EBC-B54F-3863869D6B3B

So! With my new mission to get him all healthy and still provide delicious meals at the end of long work days, I turned to a protein I am by no means familiar with, but felt comfortable enough to take some risks with. Fish, but more specifically salmon, which Mama Sully has continually told me was where she started when she learned to cook fish herself. It’s the least fishy tasting fish is the usual Now, this is not my favorite fish, I have to be honest, especially growing up. My mom would make this Salmon Casserole with cheddar cheese, onion, and biscuits baked on top, but when I was a kid, I would HATE those dinners…I’d even try to sneak large chunks of it into my paper towel and secretly throw it away (wasteful and really bad, I know), but as I’ve gotten older, my taste has changed. Funny how that works. And any time my mom makes her Salmon Casserole, I am allllllll over it! It is by far one of those meals that is just uber comforting, warm all the way down from bite to belly. And sure, the biscuit is still my favorite part, BUT I do find that my plate is more fish than biscuit more times out of ten.

530846FC-4A70-4CA3-8731-FFFA5722BBD43CFA64D2-39D1-45E9-805F-412F3B476AB8

Now, there’s a ton of ways that you can cook Salmon, but the way I like to eat my salmon most is where I thought best to start off. Baked Salmon. There are SO many varieties that you can play with when it comes to cooking and dressing salmon, but most common with baked salmon, you’re either going to use a glaze to get this really beautiful caramelization on the filet that just seeps and permeates into the meat of the fish, OR you can crust it, like I did here, which you sear off first before transferring it into the oven to get that nice beautiful crispy crust on the outside, but maintain the moist and flaky inside! Oh, and my piece of advise for this is, if you are crusting one side, I recommend just going ahead and removing the skin from your fish. Two crusted sides could be a little much in my opinion, but if I were to just basic season my fish with salt & pepper, and make a sauce to pour over it, then I would keep the skin and stick to simply pan searing my fish. And while I know I could have used a non-stick pan, I love, LOVE my cast iron skillet and went that route since some pans don’t hold up well in the oven (which is why you should always double check the tag & online information before you buy a pan, but getting a good, heavy skillet is a worthwhile investment too).

2448B88B-98C1-433D-AD51-BB10C41BD277E5BCAC64-CB6E-4054-BDB2-CB924CE03CE1

With the crust, I did not have a spice grinder to finely grind up the fresh spices, but that’s okay! I had a blender, and that worked JUST as well! And besides, while a fine dusting is the best for even coverage of flavor, it doesn’t always have to be that way, and as you can tell from my photos, my crust was a little on the chunky side, but I truly don’t think it makes a huge difference in the overall product you’re aiming for, so if your crust isn’t entirely perfect, don’t sweat it! A trick I did think to try was adding a little olive oil to make it a little more of a paste than a dry rub, and I think that can help with smoothing out a spice mixture when you’re using a blender.

Then this is where I got a little creative. I felt like the salmon needed a sauce, and I really like to pair tomatoes & capers with my salmon, so I thought I’d make a really lovely aromatic tomato sauce with capers, onions, shallots, and a little orange juice to make up for the lack of orange zest I was unable to impart into my crust (again, I found myself at a grocery store with NO ORANGES! Weirdest thing ever, so I went ahead and also added a little lemon zest to also enhance the citrus flavor). I even got a little extra crafty by slicing zucchini planks and cooking them in the sauce, rather than just heading over to my usual go-to of dicing and simple searing with S&P. It was really tasty, and definitely a trick I plan to use again in the future. Plus, it kept to the one-pan dish goal I was trying to maintain (rice aside because you can serve the fish solo if you really want to, but I love eating rice with fish, so I ended up dirtying two pans by the end of the night).

4D19424A-52C0-4294-A3BC-ADB8379F5200B04BFAFC-CBBA-4451-88D9-614B1631A5EB

And then Frankie ate it…AND LIKED IT! Which means, more fish dishes are a go, and boy do I have a few recipes I’ve had my eye on for quite some time! Look out for more fish friendly fares in the coming weeks!

—Cooking Maggie


Provençal Salmon from NY Times Cooking
[Note: I did not have fennel seeds, so I substituted with caraway seeds, which still maintained that slight licorice flavor, and because I didn’t have any oranges, I used orange juice in the sauce, and I included some fresh thyme to add an extra note of freshness]


Tomato Sauce with Capers & Orange Juice

Ingredients

  • 1 large vine ripe tomato
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1/4 cup white wine (or Vermouth)
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 2 tbsp capers (or more if you really love them like I do, or less if you just like them)
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon (about 1-2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Score an “X” on the bottom of the tomato and add it to the pot. Remove when the skin begins to peel back (roughly 30 seconds to 1 minute). Once cool enough to handle, peel the skin off the tomato and discard, then finely chop the tomato and add everything to a bowl.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over low-medium heat (preferably the same skillet you used to cook the fish in). Add garlic & shallots, and cook for about 30 seconds, then add the white wine, broth, capers, and tomato. Bring to a brief boil, then lower heat to simmer the mixture and let it reduce for about 2 minutes. Add in the orange juice & lemon zest, then add in the butter, salt, and pepper (to taste). When finished, serve over top of salmon.

** This sauce is also great for white fish and chicken!

On Israel (FINALLY!)

AH! Okay, I think I have caught my breath enough now to finally sit back down and get a post out (thank you for being patient!). I promise to have a few recipe blog posts soon, though cooking at the new apartment has been slow with all the celebrations and traveling and visiting family (with a sprinkle of wedding dress shopping on top! EEK!), I can at least talk about Israel and share some of the photos! But let me start off by saying, WHAT. A. TRIP! Holy smokes! Not to mention how great it was to see Gaya! 8 years…that was the last time we saw each other, and honestly, the video Ram (her now husband) took of our reunion, which was a complete surprise to her, captures just how long overdue this reunion was.

Also, yes, that was Ram laughing in the background because we were told we weren’t allowed to hug in that spot…but whatever, I was there! ACTUALLY THERE! And what a wedding! We spent all of Wednesday getting the venue all decked out and ready for the following BIG day. The wedding was going to take place in Ram’s parents BEAUTIFUL and spacious backyard, which Gaya’s family & friends all pitched in to cultivate the space into this grove of sunflowers and orange trees, and it all felt totally like a vineyard or part of an estate, rather than a backyard. I mean, the guest list was over 300 people, and everyone fit comfortably, just to give you an idea of how big a space it was! And the way we all pitched in to decorate it? Honestly, this couldn’t have been more beautiful! And frankly, I think the funniest, but smartest thing that happened that night were the headphones everyone got at around…11 or midnight (honestly, I lost all track of time because I was having so much fun celebrating Gaya’s marriage and getting to catch up Gaya’s family, some of her family friends that I had met in Hong Kong ages ago, and another one of my close friends from high school, Tal)!! But these headphones, basically, think sound canceling headphones for newborns at sports games or major holidays that involve lots of fireworks. Everyone got a pair, put them on, and kept right on dancing because the music that the DJ was playing was coming through on the headphones! So you’re all dancing to the same music, but all the neighbors hear is the soft thumping of feet on the dance floor! INSANE!

I definitely teared up and cried a handful of times! Oh, and let me just touch on the food, which unfortunately I have ZERO photos of, but let me break it down just a little. Buffet Style, two ends that meet in the middle where all the meat was, and four smoking stacks in the back that cook said meat. There are five or six different salads (that included vegetables like celery root, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, chick peas, cucumbers, and a ton of herbs, most of which I helped slice, wash, peel, and cut for most of the day before, which also left my fingers with a slightly orange tinge to them), so many roasted vegetables (onions, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes), bread (baked and grilled pita, white bread to sop up the sauces, rolls), and then there was the meat (ribs, steak, lamb). And by the time you emerged from the line, you had this plate that was completely covered and would not require a second round. By then, I was starving, so naturally my initial thought to take a photo of it, which wouldn’t have come out even if I tried, just never materialized, BUT no doubt I can steal a photo of the food from Gaya once she gets all the photographs from her photographer. (GAYA SEND ME PHOTOS!) And then there was also dessert, but I was, then, so stuffed that I couldn’t have fit dessert into my belly even if I had tried, and missed it all together. BUT we made up for it on Saturday when Gaya & Ram took me out and about in Jaffa for a one-day food tour, since we needed Friday to clean up pretty much all of the wedding and just rest!


Jaffa: the southern and oldest part of Tel-Aviv, and is also an ancient port city in Israel. We stuck around the beach to start, then headed down into the area to walk around the port itself! But naturally, we started the food tour with the best, THE BEST, hummus in the world at Haj Kahil. Gaya & Ram did most of the ordering, but everything was so tasty and delicious! I’m including a comment with all the images to show what we ordered below, but honestly, it was absolutely the best hummus I have ever had in my life! Creamy, almost buttery even, rich and smooth! *drool* You just can’t find anything quite like it here in America, not to mention that their olive oil that’s drizzled on top is absolutely OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! It’s got a depth of flavor that you have to really hunt for in your every day grocery store in America, you know? And the ful (a fava bean puree) that went with one of the hummus plates we ordered added an earthy, slightly salty layer of flavor, and this really light texture to the creamy hummus!

IMG_5171
Pita bread, tahini, pickles & onion, relish, tomato salsa
IMG_5172
Additions: Falafel, French Fries, Salad, Hummus w/Ful
IMG_5173
HUMMUS!!!
IMG_5175
Tomatoes in Tahini

OKAY! So that was everything that we ordered, but let me just say! Those falafels? UNBELIEVABLE! They were actually soft and moist in the  middle, while still holding that solid crunch on the outside! UNREAL! I don’t think I’ve EVER had such yummy, perfect falafels in my life, since most of the ones I’ve tried have been super dry on the inside. The secret? TWICE QUICK FRIED! That’s right! They double fry these bad boys very quickly, which allows the oil to first cook them, but stay trapped inside these delicious little suckers without drying them out when they go in for the exterior crisping factor. YUM YUM!

So then, afterwards, it was on to the dessert that I didn’t get to experience at the wedding: KNAFEH (kin-ah-fey)! Knafeh is a Middle Eastern cheese pastry that is soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and topped with kadaif (kah-deef) which are thin noodles made of flour and water that is poured through a sieve onto a hot cooking tray. They look like hairs OR for some deserts in the Middle East, they are made to look like a birds nest! You can find these noodles in some baklava too!

IMG_5181
Knafeh
Regular & Chocolate Baklava, and the kadaif wrapped around pistachios

 

So after filling our second stomachs with some much needed dessert, it was off on a walking tour along the streets of Jaffa (where we got to see a lot of the cool graffiti that is painted on a lot of the walls around the city, the beach (where a sand castle competition had been held the day before), and to the Jaffa port to view a few art installations, an arts pop up craft store (where I purchased a few knick knacks and hand printed cards), and some of the stalls around the port! Even for just a day we were able to see so much which was an absolute delight! Obvious this was only the tip of the iceberg, but still a good chunk for only having one day to see what I could before heading back to Chicago!


And to top off this incredible trip, we made sure to meet up with Tal for dinner in downtown Tel Aviv at a burger joint called Susu & Sons, and boy oh boy were those burgers something to write home about! I got a double cheeseburger with bacon (yes, I said bacon) and guacamole with a side of onion rings! At first I was only going to get a single patty, but Tal said I had better go big or go home, so I went big and got the double! I knew I wasn’t going to finish it all, which was totally fine, but it was such a good burger! The bun was solid enough to hold all the fillings, but soft enough to not overpower the burger itself. The meat was so juicy, but not fall apart juicy, and the guacamole was rich and creamy, which is how I like my guac, and how can I forget the bacon? Perfect crisp, as it should be! And those onion rings were so yummy! The batter was soft, and not too oily, and the onions were soft and not so cooked that they were mushy and weren’t able to bite through. NOM!!


It’s been about a month since this trip, and some days I’m still trying to process the experience and the memories, making sure to remember all the finite details as best I can, but what I still can’t fully wrap my head around is how much fun I had and how incredibly unique and vivacious Tel Aviv was, how much more there will be to see when I go back again, which I have ever intention of doing. And even though this trip was more about seeing Gaya than seeing Tel Aviv, I know I got to see some incredibly beautiful parts while I was there and couldn’t have imagined a more memorable trip! Until next time Israel!

– Cooking Maggie

img_5186

On Telling the Truth: Dishes I Wouldn’t Make Again & Chili

Recently, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle dishes that I didn’t like or wouldn’t make again. These could have been dishes that either just turned out bad (because not every recipe out there is going to work out the way it says it will) or they just didn’t suit mine or Frankie’s taste. So I thought I would go out on a limb and be honest about something that not a lot of cooks will speak to.

img_2787

img_2791

  1. What do I do when I make a dish that doesn’t turn out right?

Easy. If it’s a complete disaster and there’s no helping it into something palatable, I will throw together something quick that I’ve made before, or we eat it for a night and then don’t make it again. A prime example would be the one time my mom made chili so spicy that no one could eat more than three bites of it, and the boys ended up munching on chicken nuggets, while my mom and I suffered through one bowl before pitching the whole batch. Even my dad, who has a high tolerance for spicy food, couldn’t muster more than a small bowl of it. And goofs like this are BOUND to happen every so often with anyone who cooks, even when you read over the ingredient ratios to make sure it all looks like it’ll come together nicely, so I try not to get too hooked up on those moments. But I will say, I never keep a recipe I didn’t like in my home or on a secret pinterest board because, frankly, if it wasn’t good, I’ll remember that it wasn’t good if it pops back up on my screen.

img_2800

img_2804

Another example: During my first year in Chicago, I tried to make pulled buffalo chicken in my crockpot to make little sliders for dinner. Seemed like an easy enough recipe, a packet of Hidden Valley ranch, and a ton of hot sauce, and that should have come out delicious, right? Nope! What came out in the end smelled like cat food and tasted like mushy bread. It was AWFUL, like, I couldn’t even eat a slider it was so bad. I ended up pitching it (I know, wasteful, but even if I had thought to bring it into work, NO ONE would have eaten it…even Frankie, who normally is a good sport and will at least give most of my food a good ol’ fashioned try wouldn’t eat more than a couple bites), and whipping up a quick pot of spaghetti, which I always have the ingredients for because it’s an easy go-to.

img_2806

But if it’s something that just doesn’t suit our tastes as is, but could be good if a, b, or c was adjusted, then I get into my experimenter mode and go at it. And this is one of the reasons that I feel so lucky to have such an honest guinea pig for a boyfriend. Not only does the guy watch an unhealthy amount of Food Network with me, even turning it on for me if I’m having a rough day, he’ll treat my food like any judge on Chopped. He’s honest about what he likes, what he doesn’t, and if he does like the dish, but thinks it’s missing something, or maybe needs a little more/less cooking time, or a spice adjustment, my immense dabbling in food and cooking has rubbed off on him enough that he often helps me with each new variation.

img_2808

This isn’t to say that any bad recipe isn’t salvageable. I think every recipe is, but some are just better to start from scratch or find a different recipe base to build off of if it needs more than just simple tinkering.

img_2809

2. Would I ever write about a bad recipe?

Yes and no. Devoting an entire post to something you shouldn’t make seems really counterproductive to what I am trying to do, which is share recipes that you should be making because they are delicious! I also wouldn’t go out of my way call out a recipe as bad if I just personally wasn’t a fan. There’s no glory or good to come from defaming anyone else’s hard work, but I most certain have no problem commenting on a foundation recipe I’m using if it’s lacking certain ingredients or their ratios are off, at least, based on what I know about myself and what I like in my food because no one’s palate is the same. But in commenting on what I feel it lacks, I’m not calling it quote unquote bad, but rather giving myself the room to tinker, adjust, and create something of my own to suit me better. That’s why we have recipes, why we cook, adjust, share the adjustments, cook some more, and share any other adjustments back. It’s a beautiful, and inherently inclusive, cycle that I will continue to be a part of if I can.

img_2811

And speaking of chili, my main example for this is my own chili, which I thought I had posted back in February, but somehow find that it’s missing! OH CALAMITY! But not to worry, because I’m using it as my example, what better remedy than to include the recipe here! The recipe I initially started with had a very simple ingredient list: meat, kidney beans, 3 tablespoons of chili powder (their main mishap), a teaspoon of brown sugar, and diced tomatoes. Three ingredients and minimal spices does not a cowboy chili make and I knew the end result was going to be…disappointing. So, given how little was there to begin with, that’s when I went to my fridge & spice wall, and, well, went a little crazy. I wanted to brighten this initial canvas with all sorts of colors and flavors, really build off of their bare bones and add my own flair! I threw in Worcestershire sauce for a tart bite (I always have a bottle of this in my pantry, fyi), turned the 3 tablespoons of chili powder into 1/3 cup (which should be a BARE MINIMUM for any chili base), added in an onion and bell pepper to add some additional freshness to the hearty beans and meat, threw in chicken stock instead of water to build on the meaty flavor that chili should exude, and then went to TOWN on the spices. I’m talking cayenne, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, parsley, coriander, marjoram, and then a little more brown sugar to just round out all the edges. AND VOILA! A cowboy chili that would make any chili-loving man, woman, or child happy.

img_2813

img_2812

And what’s great is this chili can actually be re-purposed! Do you happen to remember a particular post I had made about Cincinnati Chili? Well, this was the actual chili that I ended up using! And this chili can be thrown into a pot of Mac n Cheese, dolloped on top of some queso to make it fundido, layered between sheets of lasagna, or put between a bun! Chili does NOT have to just be eaten from a bowl, and I even served this chili with some SUPER DELICIOUS French Onion toast rounds that were out of this world delicious (so much so that Frankie asked me to make a second batch to go with his second bowl of chili) from who else but the amazing Deb Perelman! The recipe is in her first cookbook, but I was able to find the recipe online (JUST FOR YOU GUYS!) so I hope you do give it a try because it is one of those dishes that will definitely make it to my Christmas Party this year for sure! Oh, and please try hard not to balk to hard at all the spices that are in this chili because these are just what I threw in at the time I was originally messing with the recipe. YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE EVERYTHING! Especially if you don’t have them, DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM! I’ve put the most important ones at the top and optional are just the other ones I threw in last minute.

img_2815

img_2810

img_2816

But all in all, I know for a fact I’m not going to like everything I make, and that’s okay. My kitchen is really just a test kitchen after all, so I expect mistakes and missteps. In fact, as I’ve maybe mentioned more than I should how much I like finding things I can tinker with as much as I find things that are just super tasty as they are! It means I get to take the time to practice my skills and maybe learn something new about myself! And besides, it’s all a process anyway. — Cooking Maggie

img_2817


French Onion Toasts
from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Pounds yellow onions, cut into dice of about 1/3 inch (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cognac, brandy, or vermouth (optional)
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef, veal, or mushroom stock or broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Thirty-two 1/2 inch thick slices form a long baguette
  • Finely grated Gruyere cheese (you might want a little extra)

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan, toss them gently with the butter and oil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, and cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in the salt and sugar, and saute without the lid for about 10-15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and have taken on a deep-golden color. Pour in Cognac, if using it, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer the mixture until the broth almost completely disperses (a small amount of slosh is okay; you don’t want to cook it off so much that the onions seem dry), about 5-10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed, and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Preheat your oven to 75 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil. Dollop each round of bread with most of a tablespoon of the onion mixture. Add 1 tablespoon grated cheese to the top of each toast, mound it a bit so it all stays in place. Bake the toasts for about 15 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned. Serve immediately.

Cooking Maggie’s Cowboy Chili

Ingredients

  • 2lb ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • ½ cup chicken stock or water
  • 1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can of stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cans of drained kidney beans
  • 1/3 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cumin

Optional Spices:

  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. parsley
  • ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp. ground marjoram
  • ½ tsp. chili flakes

*Optional spices are just that, optional. Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t like. All spices can be adjusted to taste as well.

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, brown the ground beef, drain, and put back in pot. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, and saute for 1 minute.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and all spices. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes.
  3. IF you would like a thicker chili, whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup of water and add to chili after it has simmered for at least 30 minutes, cook for additional 5 minutes.

 

On Quick Bruschetta

Holy smokes! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and my apologies for not posting sooner! I’ve been cooking and photographing, and attempting to write up posts and edit my photos, but then I get distracted with packing because we are moving at the end of the month! I know that’s a ways away, but this wasn’t really expected, and being the overly OCD one in the house, I promised not to be that person who leaves packing to the last week. I’m on a 5-6 box per day regimen, with Frankie helping when he can, but worry not, the kitchen will be the last thing we pack up. We aren’t moving far, like to another city far, but just to a different neighborhood far, which makes this whole moving business easier. And because I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants for the next few weeks, slowly siphoning my equipment and tools to the bare essentials, I just don’t have as much time to spend on making, I’m going to call them “new” dishes, but the doesn’t mean we can’t make delicious food! In the meantime, I will be returning to my personal recipe collection and binge on the quick & easy meals I know and love until we get more settled into our new space, which should have more natural light, and if not, there’s a backyard that gets all SORTS of sunlight during the day, so there should be, hopefully, a nice change to my photos that my hard marble background just can’t really handle…but c’est la vie, we do what we can with what we have, no?

8E40195E-3755-48D8-8900-4070518BB47B

And in the spirit of quick and easy, what could be better than a quick and easy bruschetta? The one thing I’ll say about this is that I LOVE to use heirloom tomatoes when I can get my hands on them. I find them to not only be more visually appealing, but I think they have a deeper flavor than your typical, everyday, red tomato, but if you can’t get heirlooms, I recommend sticking to roma or vine ripe tomatoes. Beef steaks are going to be just a little too firm and I think cherry tomatoes are too sour. And then there’s really nothing to it! Dice your tomatoes, throw in some garlic, splash olive oil, balsamic vinegar (maybe even get a little crazy with your olive oil and balsamic flavoring if you so choose, which is definitely on my list of things to do), and chiffonade your basil, add your salt & pepper and TA-DA! You’ve got bruschetta!

E533260A-18EA-45D6-81E3-F85F64E33A992F19D719-D0B0-47DB-AADD-36BE0E80F893

As for bread, honestly, if you want to get REALLY authentic, you’re going to want to go with a baguette. Otherwise, any bread and size will do. I’ve used rolls before (sliced), and I’ve used crackers, but the one that I’ve pictured is an Italian Loaf because it was smaller in length than your normal baguette, and because it wasn’t necessarily so tough around the edges, it made it a little easier to toast! I love to rub garlic halves over each slice and brush some olive oil over the top. Now, I had run out of fresh garlic, didn’t have time to get some more while I was in the midst of packing and getting hungry, so I deferred to my ever handy jar of pre-minced garlic. Yes, I use this stuff, but only because it makes everything so darn convenient! And if you use a slotted spoon or dry them off a bit, and soak them in olive oil, it’s just like using the real thing. So I used that to add to my little toasts, and boy oh boy did they come out a beautifully toasted color!

816157D0-72D0-4DD3-899A-1C93521F587368429365-3558-43A8-91B8-4CE2F70039EB

 

 

But there you have it! And everything in this recipe is easily adjustable to personal tastes with regards to recipe amounts, and it only takes maybe 10 minutes tops to pull it all together, making it a great afternoon snack or appetizer for a dinner party (which I have done and got GREAT reviews for). And if you run out, or think you will, it’s ridiculously easy to prep a second batch beforehand or make one on the fly! If I add any crazy and weird oil or vinegar flavors, I’ll be sure to mention them as I go! (Olive Oil stores are wonderful thing I must say! Especially if you find a flavor that you really like!) — Cooking Maggie

884C4D28-17B3-4BEF-B920-F46B4250B7EF817069DB-421B-4491-A286-032566987A87


Quick Brushetta

Ingredients

  • 3-5 heirloom tomatoes, preferably ones that have some different coloration to them*
    • If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 7-8 basil leaves, chiffonade into ribbons
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, adjust for natural wetness of tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 baguette/Italian loaf, sliced into rounds 1/4″ thick
  • olive oil & garlic for toasting

 

Instructions

  1. Dice your tomatoes into nice, small cubes, and either pat dry or leave as is. Add garlic, basil, oil, vinegar, salt, & pepper. Stir to combine.
  2. For the bread, either 1) rub fresh garlic halves on the top of each slice, then brush on a little olive oil on top, or 2) mix olive oil and minced garlic in a small bowl and brush a little on top of each slice. Toast under the broiler, and remove when golden brown. (Be sure to keep your eye on it or the edges will catch and burn!)
  3. Top each slice with a large scoop of tomatoes and proceed to stuff your face with this deliciousness!


Notes
* The 3-5 is completely adjustable depending on how much you want to make, but rest assured, it does keep in the fridge for a few days after you make it, so you don’t have to eat it all in one day.
* If you can’t get heirloom, you’ll want 4-5 Roma Tomatoes or Vine Ripe Tomatoes
** The ratio of vinegar to olive oil should be 1:2, so keep that in mind when adding