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All things meat

Chef inside the Box review: fully cooked delicious dinners ready in minutes!

I just love Thursdays. Why? Because Thursdays are cooking days! Utensils on hand and spice rack at the ready, every Thursday morning I go into the kitchen and labor for hours, and this enchanted day passes by quickly, like in a dream. Still, with the schedule being as busy as ever, finding time to spend with friends & family or to research very particular recipe ideas can be a luxury: week after week is spent doing projects for work and cooking “standard” food, with very little else to report. Wouldn’t it be great if I got more time to do the things that matter to me the most?

Thankfully, there are dinner solutions for the busy professionals out there. No more worrying over what to cook for dinner, no more scheduling conflicts, no more missed opportunities to free up time for your own personal/family projects! Salvation has a name: Chef Inside the Box 😉 Launched in August 2017, Chef Inside the Box claim to offer “the most affordable meal kits in Chicagoland” and want to save their clients time in the kitchen so they can get back to doing the things they love. I was recently contacted by Chef Inside the Box, who offered to send me a set of 4 meals of my choice to review. Always in need of free time, I said yes, of course 🙂 Keep Reading

Culinary Fight Club Steak Challenge: unique talent competes again – for the common good

Chef Stephen Sandoval celebrating his win in the Chicago Culinary Fight Club Steak Challenge

“Do you want to try it?,” Chef Stephen Sandoval asked me, spoon on hand, ready to share the last remaining bits of Oaxacan mushroom&pasilla purée. I had been pestering him about his dish, but the music was loud, the smoke cloud-thick, and communication was difficult, so what better way to answer my questions than to let me try his food one more time? The proof is in the food, as they say – and the steak Chef Sandoval had prepared in the Culinary Fight Club competition was a thing of beauty: melt-in-your-mouth, aromatic New York strip steak sitting pretty on a velvety blanket of spicy purée, with cherry-churri and a crispy piece of Patagonian-style potatoes on top. Brimming with grilled cherries poached in balsamic, the smokiness of the cherry-churri instantly reminded me of the dried prunes I used to enjoy as a child. Same depth of sticky flavor, same unmistakable honest and true aroma, unadulterated and vibrant, like a child in the countryside. With that cherry-churri, Chef Sandoval had to be crowned the winner – and he was 🙂

This was the second time I attended a Culinary Fight Club competition (here’s a review of my first experience), and I am loving these more and more. In addition to raising money for the less fortunate and to promoting Fight2Feed, a nonprofit organization that delivers service and support to hungry people across Chicagoland, Culinary Fight Club is also an excellent platform for showcasing talent – and the Steak Challenge held in Chicago this week was a case in point. Joining Chef Sandoval (of Leña Brava) at the start of the competition were Chefs Joelle Brown (of Nola Nights Southern Aromas), Geo Phelps (of Chili Rocks) and Corey Rice (a former MasterChef contestant). With such a diverse lineup, we were in for a treat! Keep Reading

Chicken, tomato & arugula salad: the perfect side dish for burgers and hot dogs on 4th of July

I don’t know about you, but we love to eat salads on July 4th. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of burgers and sausages on our grill to keep up with tradition (check out my posts here, here and here for 4th of July meat-based menu ideas). However, we also have 4-5 kinds of salads on hand, to brighten up the atmosphere and to ensure we eat a balanced meal. Yep, for us, 4th of July is a balancing act 🙂

The salad recipe below concludes my Pure Flavor veggie cooking bonanza, and it’s a salad I will definitely make again on July 4th. Simple yet very effective, this salad succeeds thanks to the crunchy baby arugula and the thirst-quenching cherry tomatoes, whose assertiveness cuts through the richness of the roast chicken and provides it with summer flavors and freshness galore. Keep Reading

Delicious salmon with heirloom tomatoes and millet: celebrating fresh produce, celebrating life

Readers of this blog know that I use fresh produce a lot – and this should come as no surprise: I grew up in a political system that made people very resourceful, and fresh produce was always our number #1 food option since meat was pretty much non-existent. Fast forward 20+ years, and fruits and veggies are still my best friends. I love, love, love a fresh, lightly dressed salad or a tart chock-full of summer berries. I love the colors, the flavors, the smell. I love to close my eyes while taking a bite, and to remember delicious treats of summers past spent in my home country. With school out for the summer, my niece and I would visit our relatives’ house, about 20 miles away from the city – and we would stuff our faces with fresh produce all summer long!

Heirloom tomatoes were a regular appearance in our relatives’ garden in the summer. Meaty, slightly sweet and deliciously thirst-quenching, they always gave me a much-needed energy boost to go on with my playing. I remember eating 5 or 6 in one sitting: they were that good, that flavorful! I have tried to find similar tomatoes ever since, and at one point I thought these unique flavors from my past were well and truly lost. What a difference a few weeks makes, though! I recently had the chance to try out some heirloom tomatoes that tasted exactly like the ones I used to eat as a child: the Pure Flavor tomatoes. These tomatoes + me = a match made in heaven 🙂

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Father’s Day meat & mushroom panino: always a hit with protein-loving dads

Happy Father’s Day to the fathers among us! Hope you are having an amazing weekend with your loved ones.

In case you’re wondering whether I’m making anything special to eat on this very special day – yes, I am. I am making a blended meat panino. I have been so inspired by the blenditarian movement and by last month’s Culinary Fight Club Blended Burger Challenge that I’ve decided to make something my family loves – a panino, and not just any panino: a blended meat & mushroom panino! Made up of a delicious mix of ground chuck and cremini mushrooms sitting pretty on Swiss cheese goodness, this truly is a great gift for the protein-loving dads 🙂

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Our Cinco de Mayo weekend: It’s time for a double-stacked corn tortilla sandwich – or two, or three!

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone! How many tacos do you usually eat in one sitting: two, three, more? I can only eat two, which is a shame because I just love corn tortillas. 🙂 The rustic flavor and unadulterated simplicity of corn tortillas reminds me of the polenta I used to eat in my home country in industrial quantities. Both corn tortillas and polenta have recently become very fashionable, yet to me it is their purity of flavor that makes them the most appealing. Unencumbered by non-essential additions, corn tortillas exude honesty, an appreciation of the simple things in life, and a vast journey through history – and for these reasons I come back to them again, and again, and again.

I often use corn tortillas to make double-stacked sandwiches, which my husband loves to eat at the end of a long work day. The heat of the chorizo cuts through the layers of creamy chihuahua cheese to bring fire to the dish, while the tomatoes, sweet pepper and chopped cilantro add freshness and crispiness. Finger-licking at its finest, this sandwich is messy to eat, succulent and oh-so satisfying 🙂 Keep Reading

Back to sour cream-packed deliciousness: my chicken, celery & bocconcini salad and sandwich

You will have a hard time trying to find sandwiches with mayo on this blog. On the other hand, when it comes to sour cream, you will find lots and lots of options. This is hardly surprising: We are sour cream lovers – are we are loud and proud about it 🙂

My family considered sour cream a delicacy when I was growing up. Hard to imagine, but sour cream was difficult to find in the local grocery stores, and we would form a line to buy it. We would take it home in jars we’d brought with us, and we would eat it on its own with a spoon, or on white bread. For the ultimate family treat, we would serve it with hot polenta – a delicious combo with a  creamy consistency and a wholesome flavor.

These days, I eat sour cream with polenta at least once a week. However, I have also been trying to use sour cream as an ingredient in various salads or sandwich fillings. Keep Reading