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cooking

MARY’S SECRET INGREDIENTS: A SUBSCRIPTION BOX REVIEW
Reviews, Subscription Boxes,

Mary’s Secret Ingredients: A Subscription Box Review

I’m kind of strange in that one of my favorite types of gifts to receive is food-related or kitchen tools. Honestly, nothing is more exciting to me than either of those things. I could get lost in William’s Sonoma or Sur La Table.

So I was excited when I first stumbled upon the Mary’s Secret Ingredients subscription box. I was using the Freebie app, which allows Chicago’s heavy social media users access to delicious food, events and more in exchange for a social shout out. Freebie was offering users this box for just the cost of shipping, so I decided to give it a try.

The first box I got was excellent and all the tools and ingredients have been used up or dispersed across my kitchen, so I decided to order another box to review… and because I enjoy the surprise of what gets included each quarter. Here’s what I got:

Mary’s Secret Ingredients: Subscription Box Review

Instead of getting a lot of random cooking ingredients that might be hard to actually imagine using, this box was a useful combination of ingredients and kitchen tools.

Mary's Secret Ingredients Subscription Box Review

Ardent Mills: Ultragrain All-Purpose Flower (Estimated Value $5) – This flour is touted as being healthier than regular white flower and can be used interchangeably in recipes without messing up your baking. Before I fully understood it, I’ve messed up recipes using whole wheat flower. This is the perfect pantry staple for people who want to be just a little healthier and don’t want to think too hard about switching up their recipes.

Coastal Goods: Sarah’s Sea Salt – Tuscan Salt (Value $6.25) – I absolutely love spices and seasonings, and this one is no exception. Rosemary is one of my favorite ways to season meat, and it’s one of the main ingredients in this mix. I’ve seen smaller packages of seasoning that retail for a higher price than this, so I’d consider it to be a value.

Jenkin’s Jellies: Hell Fire Pepper Jelly & Guava Brava Pepper Jelly (Value $14) – I’m actually quite intrigued by this spicy jelly combo. The Jenkin’s Jellies website suggests using it paired with cheese and crackers or as a topping… yum! I’ve got some experimenting to do.

POURfect Ultimate Measuring Spoons with Leveler Tool ($13.99) – This is actually one of the main kitchen tools I’ve been missing, which has resulted in many hasty and incorrect measurements when baking. Now I have no excuse! What I love about this particular set is that it’s so exact, even in super small measurements. The leveler tool helps make sure you don’t use even one grain too many.

Total Value: $39.24

Total Cost: $25. Used a 25% off discount and paid $20. Use code “LOVEBOX” before 12/4/15 for 25% off a box!

I think this subscription box is enough of a value to get it even a third time! Especially when you consider the fact that you aren’t even paying extra for curation. So far I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and each month is something new to look forward to.

Would you give Mary’s Secret Ingredients subscription box a try? What subscription boxes have you tried? Let us know in the comments!

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CheapWeek,

CheapWeek: Home Cookin’

If there was one theme to summarize this week for me, it would be: delicious food. This week was about an equal split between having awesome food out at restaurants, and spending time in my own kitchen, executing delicious recipes.

7/6 – #Foodiechats and #BetterBurgerProject at Frontier

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I’ve been lucky to become an active part of the #Foodiechats community. About a month ago, I took a trip to Aurora’s Two Brothers Roundhouse for a live event. This week, I was invited to an event at Frontier, sponsored by the Better Burger Project, which is a contest offered through the James Beard Foundation. Look for a dedicated #Foodiechats post soon. I had an awesome time and met some amazing Chicago foodies! Can’t wait until the next event 🙂

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7/7 – Farmer’s Fridge on Spring Rewards and Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup

I bought a credit on Spring Rewards for Farmer’s Fridge that was $2 for $5 and bought myself a Buffalo Chicken Salad for lunch ($8 total). As you guys have probably already figured out, I love Farmer’s Fridge, and even featured them on a post about Best Salads in the Loop.

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For dinner, I made one of my favorite soups, Roasted tomato and garlic (with garbanzo beans). Look for a how-to coming soon on the blog!

7/8 – RPM Steak on Uber Eats and Weezer at the Taste of Chicago

One of my favorite restaurant groups, Lettuce Entertain You was featured on Uber Eats this week. They have so many awesome restaurants, including my favorite Chicago restaurant – Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. I ordered the Mediterranean Salad from RPM Steak using a free promo code (that you could’ve gotten if you were following me on Twitter!). Even if you didn’t take advantage of the savings this week, you should sign up for LEYE’s scratch off booklet.

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After work, I headed over to Grant Park for the Taste of Chicago. I can already see a bunch of you rolling your eyes, but hear me out. Don’t go for the food. It’s over-priced and the portions are way too small. The most unique item there was rattlesnake sausage, but I wouldn’t want to eat that anyways (though my boyfriend did). Purchase natural sausage casings to store them properly. But the Taste of Chicago tends to attract big music acts, and you get to see them FOR FREE (unless you’re one of those person who HAS to be up close and personal and wants to shell out $25 for that privilege). So we snacked on some over-priced food, but got to see a big-name act, Weezer, for free. I had some bad-ass “Papas Bravas” from the Bruges Brothers food truck, which were reminiscent of spanish patatas bravas, but also had chorizo slathered all over them.

And look at these cute wine cans I found!

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7/9 – Client Breakfast

Today was an interesting day at work. A couple members of the Social Media Beast team made their way to Burr Ridge. I used my Zipcar connection to secure our transportation, and had an awesome omelette once I got there. That was probably the highlight of my day… I took it easy that night. Everyone needs a break every once in awhile!

7/10 – Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, Chicken Enchiladas and 1000 Followers on Twitter!

Today was a big cooking day for me. I made some delicious Lemon Chicken Orzo soup after defrosting about three pounds worth of chicken. Here’s the recipe I used, if you’re curious. I love this kind of soup and made enough for a couple meals. Big batches are the key to taking care of a lot of meals with a proportionately low level of effort.

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Because I had so much chicken, I made chicken enchiladas for dinner. I modified this recipe, which was pretty easy to follow, but be careful with the oven instructions. I was past-due for some homemade enchiladas, and made some cilantro-lime rice to go with it. I’m so happy to have moved to a place with a functional kitchen! It makes creating all this delicious food so much more enjoyable than in my old studio.

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Finally, a personal goal was accomplished today when I hit the 1,000 follower mark on Twitter. Follow me if you’re interested in digital marketing news and (obviously) Chicago events and deals.

7/11 – Tour de Fat and Cafe Gaudi

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I forced myself out of bed bright and early for New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat. My boyfriend somehow managed to break his bike (#spokeproblems), so we both decided to rent Divvys in case we got too drunk to bike home. That’s what I love about Divvy versus bringing your own bike everywhere. Sometimes you’re going to want to make one way trips, and you can’t do that with your own bike. We took part in the bike “parade” with a lot of crazy bikers and bikers. Next year we’ll have to come in costume! We had a few beers afterwards at the carnival. There was a silly “fashion show” featuring event attendees and free style rappers, describing each participant. We tried some of New Belgium Brewing’s small batch beers including their Hop Tart (yum!) and Pear Ginger (meh) beers. We listened to a couple bands, got some Curry Wurst from the Donermen food truck, and called it a day. At least for the Tour de Fat.

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We had a Groupon to spend at Cafe Gaudi, but stopped first at one of my boyfriend’s old haunts – Quencher’s. I hadn’t previously been to the bar and was anxious to try it out. They had my favorite shitty beer (does that even make sense?) from when I studied abroad in Barcelona – Estrella Damm.

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After Quenchers, we took the blue line to Cafe Guadi for some tapas. It was anything but authentic Spanish, but it hit the spot. We got patatas bravas, croquettas, bacon wrapped dates, and a few other “tapas” with a pitcher of sangria. Then we officially called it a night.

7/12 – Awesome Breakfast, Awesome Dinner and Apartment Organization

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One of my favorite weekend traditions is making a big, bad breakfast. I realized that today was the first time since moving that I actually went through with it! The boyfriend and I cooked up potatoes, eggs, and bacon for a perfect start to the day.

We woke up really early after passing out really early, so I spent the rest of the afternoon organizing my apartment and running some errands. I love days that I can devote completely to these activities. I also had a chance to work on some freelance projects, which is a weight off my shoulders.

Finally, I curled up on the couch to watch the end of Shark Week, and made a bad-ass bacon chicken pasta bake.

What a great week.

Don’t just read about good deals – get them yourself! Find of-the-moment updates by liking Chicago Cheap Ass on Facebook.

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Drink, Food, Recipes,

Cooking Tips For City Living: Sell All Your Possessions And Buy A Wok

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I see you.

I see you watching the Food Network on weeknights, laughing every time someone forgets an ingredient on Chopped. I hear you mutter to yourself “I could do better” in between bites of reheated Chinese take-out. I feel it when you roll your eyes at Rachel Ray, Alton Brown, and at Bobby Flay, wondering why they’re famous and you’re not. Then you finish your microwaved meal and continue picking Dorito crumbs out of your belly button, just like you do every day.

No more.

Today, we embark on an adventure. Throw away your microwave. Clean out your freezer. Set your “instant” foods ablaze and never look upon them again. Today, my friends, we cook.

And hell, it’s not as hard as you think.

If you live in the city (of course you do, why would you be reading this otherwise), you most likely have a few, but not many, cooking vessels and implements for stovetop use. Maybe a skillet and a few pots.

You don’t need them.

No, friends, the only tool you will need to boil, sauté, steam, and deep fry is a wok. I recommend ones made by The Wok Shop in San Francisco—I own one, and I couldn’t be happier.

When choosing a wok, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important thing is to get something light, preferably made from carbon steel. You want something that will get hot fast, and be manageable enough to toss over the heat. Oh, and also, if you have an electric or induction stove, you’ll need a flat bottomed wok. Otherwise you’ll be forced to balance the wok on its end while you cook and that just sounds like the most terrible thing. If you’re cooking with gas, you can get either a flat bottom wok, or a normal round-bottomed one and mount it on a wok ring.

You’ll also want a wok with some texture to it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the whole point of a wok is that parts of it get super-hot, while parts stay relatively cool. The texture on the sides of the wok allows you to push cooked food up to the cooler sides of the wok to avoid burning while other food cooks near the bottom.

You shouldn’t pay more than 40 bucks for a nice big wok, and you really can use it for pretty much any kitchen task you can think of. You can scramble eggs in it, cook pasta in it, deep fry in it, steam vegetables in it, or, of course, make yourself a stir fry.

Oh, but you don’t have any shelf space! Where are you going to put this gigantic wok? Aw, jeez. Sorry, guys. My bad. Go return it.

Or you could just hammer a nail into your drywall above your stove and hang the wok from there. Woks actually look really good hung up in a kitchen, and despite their size, will be both out of the way and readily available there.

So you have your wok! Time to start cooking!

Hah, just kidding. Nah, you’re not ready yet. And neither is your wok. You gotta season it first. The Wok Shop has a pretty great video guide for a few different ways you can season your wok, but if you’re pressed for time or just don’t want to watch a video, here’s how I seasoned mine.

First, you’re gonna want to wash the wok thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then dry it by setting it on high heat on your stove until all the moisture evaporates.

While this is happening, chop a whole bunch of scallions, and mince a big ol’ handful each of ginger and garlic. Open a door or window. Things are about to get really smoky.

Keep the wok on the stove, and turn the heat all the way up if you haven’t already. You want the wok to be screaming hot. You’ll know you’re ready for the next step by flicking some water at the wok. If the wok hisses loudly at you like an angry cat, you can move on.

Take the wok off the heat and pop a couple tablespoons of a neutral fat (canola or vegetable works here, but traditionalists like to use lard) in the wok and toss it around so that it coats the bottom and sides. Throw the scallions, ginger, and garlic in there.

Burn the fuck out of them.

I’m serious. Burning these elements until they are carbon-black will release an enzyme that will keep the food you cook in the wok from tasting ever-so-slightly of, uh, metal. While you stir-fry, make sure you get the oil and aromatics up to the sides of the wok.

Continue tossing until the color of the wok starts to change. You’re looking for just a slight tinge of yellow or orange in most cases. The wok will also start to look a bit glossy. Again, make sure that this change happens on the bottom as well as on the sides of the wok. Discard the burning hot oil by throwing it at the invaders trying to scale your castle walls, or alternatively, by waiting a few minutes for it to cool and dumping the aromatics and burnt oil into the sink.

Wash your wok with hot water, and use a paper towel or brush to knock away any burnt-on residue. You’re done!

Your wok is still new, though, and boiling water in it, or cooking with heavy acids like lemons or vinegar will damage the coating, so wait on that until the wok gets a nice, broken in brownish black hue around the bottom and sides.

Luckily, the recipe I’m about to share with you is perfect for a new wok. It’s healthy, quick, and perfect for getting rid of random stuff in your fridge. It doesn’t taste half bad either.

Simple Shirataki Stir-Fry (serves 1)

1 package Shirataki Noodles
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 Onion, diced
1/2lb Pork Loin, cut into cubes
Garlic
Ginger
Red Pepper Flakes
Soy Sauce
Sambal
Peanut Oil

Before we begin, a note on shirataki noodles. These are inexpensive, super low calorie noodles made from a Japanese yam that are packed with fiber and take very well to surrounding flavors. You can buy them at Jewel—they usually run around a buck or two per pack. They come (usually) packed in a liquid, and will need to be drained and thoroughly washed in order to remove the earthy, briny, and fishy odor of the liquid.

Here’s how this is going to work. Right now, before you even start reading the rest of this recipe, you’re going to season your meat with salt and pepper and cube it, dice your vegetables, and mince your garlic and ginger, okay? Because this is going to get real fast real quick. Once you turn the heat on under your wok, there’s no going back. Ready? Okay. Let’s get started.

When cooking with a wok, dishes are enhanced by flavoring the oils used to stir-fry ingredients. Traditionally, this is achieved by throwing a clove of minced garlic into the oil with some red pepper flakes and a healthy amount of minced ginger. Turn the heat all the way up under your wok, and coat it with peanut oil. Before the wok gets too hot, wipe the oil up and around the pan with a paper towel, removing the excess oil and spreading it up to the sides. Throw the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in there and toss with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Make sure your door is still open.

Test to make sure the oil is hot using the same water method as when you seasoned the wok, then throw the pork in there. Make sure to toss and stir often so that it cooks evenly. As soon as the outside is cooked move the pork to the sides of the wok and throw the noodles and veggies into the middle. Toss the veggies and noodles together—you want the veggies cooked to the point where their flavors are brought out in the oil while still retaining their crunch and brightness. When the pork firms up and starts to brown in the wok as you toss it with the rest of the ingredients, you’re done. Pour the stir fry out onto a plate, and dress with sambal (a hot chili paste available in the international section of the grocery store) and soy sauce to taste.

Dig in!

Hah, no, kidding again. Your wok needs some love first. Run some warm water in your sink and wipe off all the stuck on food with a brush or wet paper towel after the wok has cooled off enough to touch. Put the wok back on the flame to dry. This will prevent rust, and should be done right after cooking.

Now you can eat.

I know, you’re full, and you don’t want to think about wok maintenance, but here are some quick rules for you to ignore. Don’t use soap on the wok. Warm water and a paper towel or brush should be enough to loosen any stuck food. The more you use the wok, the more seasoned it will be. In essence, be good to the wok, and the wok will be good to you. It really is impossible to ruin your wok. Even if the seasoning deteriorates, all you have to do is scrub with steel wool, wash with soap, and re-season. It’s as loyal as your family dog, except you can also make delicious food in it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some marauders scaling my apartment complex so I have to go heat up some peanut oil.