Category Archives: Non-recipes

Blaugust 20: Salmon and Asparagus Pouch


I’ve been so productive today! I did this on purpose because I have social plans that will not leave me time to be productive this evening or tomorrow. I actually forced myself to get up before 9 today to have a good chunk of time to get work done.

After that, I made myself a tasty and easy lunch that, of course, is healthy too! And pretty.

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Lunch, meet world.

It was ridiculously easy to make. I put all the food in a little aluminum foil pouch, covered in olive oil, with Herbs de Provence sprinkled on the salmon. Using the cooking instructions from the salmon’s packaging, I cooked it for a while at 425.

I wasn’t paying close attention to the timing. I might have taken it out some than they instruct, or left it a little longer. I really don’t know. In any case, it was all cooked perfectly!

The asparagus was perfectly tender and slightly roast-y.  The salmon was just right, fully cooked but still most and such a nice pink that I almost took ANOTHER picture. I didn’t though…

So, a healthy meal that takes very little preparation, not much time, and is pretty filling? Yes, I’d definitely make this again. Other vegetables can be subbed in too, but you have to make sure it’s not something that takes longer than the fish to cook to the desired level.

If you were going to do something like this, what vegetables would you use? What would you eat for a side? Would you never, ever eat this because your taste buds are broken? Discuss.

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Blaugust 9: Sometimes I Cook


For longer than I could say, I haven’t been cooking much. So the fact that I made something quite delicious for dinner this evening feels like an achievement.

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And it tasted better than it looked! I used Ronzoni Garden Delight pasta, which has vegetables in it as well as the usual grains. I made a tasty but not particularly noteworthy tomato sauce. I put a little more balsamic vinegar in it than I should have for that amount of sauce. The red pepper flakes gave it a nice kick.

The chicken was cooked simply, coated in breadcrumbs and then pan fried in oil. I bought chicken thighs this time because it was a better deal. I prefer breast meat in general, but this was pretty good. The golden-brown rule: the thinner the piece of meat, the easier it will be to cook. The result was cooked perfectly with a delicious crunch.

To drink, I had some of this Italian margarita (premade) that I found the other day. I have to admit it’s not my favorite, but I’ve discovered that the flavor goes very nicely with ginger beer, so I mixed some in.

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That’s it for now. I know it isn’t too exciting to read, but when you’re trying to build up certain habits, a moment of victory feels like it’s worth documenting. Tomorrow I’ll be eating the leftovers, probably with some sauteed asparagus.

Blaugust 6: 3-Ingredient Tropical Smoothie


I love a good smoothie. I drink a lot of them in the summertime, more than the winter (usually, but in fact all bets are off in terms of seasonal eating. I rarely have soup, stew, or chowder in the summertime but it could happen. I never drink iced coffee in the winter. But I love a cold margarita anytime). They’re easily customizable, taste good, and are pretty healthy, as long as you avoid ice cream or frozen yogurt as an ingredient. That’s what turns it into a milkshake…

Today for lunch I made a simple smoothie that would probably be better suited to a beach in the Caribbean. It was simple and fast to make. Smoothies aren’t always as filling as one might need (so if you’re extra hungry, add another thing to your lunch that has protein and nutrients that will actually fill you up), but this one was tasty and satisfying.

Here’s what it included:

1 frozen banana (a fresh one would also work)

Equivalent amount of frozen mango chunks (“chunks” always seems like a terrible word to include in a recipe)

Coconut almond milk not quite covering the frozen ingredients

That’s it! I’ve got to say, coconut almond milk is HEAVEN. I feel like it needs to be one of my kitchen staples. Budgeting and avoiding the grocery store has usually meant I’ve skipped buying it lately in favor of regular almond or soy milk. But those do not compare…

Smoothies are wonderful to make because you don’t actually need a recipe. Take the ingredients you want and combine them, make sure you have enough liquid to deal with the whole ingredients, and blend until it’s smooth. What ingredients would you use for a relatively healthy but delicious tropical smoothie?

Workout Plans and Garlic Hands (Salmon and Kale Dinner)


I like to put a check mark on my wall calendar every day I work out. I had this idea when reading some blog post in which someone was talking about the “gold-star” system for marking when they had accomplished a certain thing. I can’t remember what that thing was, but I thought I would see if it helped me get back into the habit of working out. Early this month I looked at my calendar and saw the two checks next to each other on May 1 and 2, and I thought, hey, it would be cool to put a check mark up every day this month!

I don’t always do the same level of workout, but I’ve read that this is a good thing. You need to take breaks some days. Of course, it’s better to get your heart rate up and to work out for a little longer, but ten minutes is still better than nothing at all, if you just push yourself a little to make it a good ten minutes. I’m extending my definition of workout out a little bit to make it a little easier to get it done every day, so if I take a long walk one day I don’t need to do more, and if it’s late and I haven’t done it yet, a few minutes with some weights or a few yoga poses will do for that day. That doesn’t mean I’m going to slack off and just do a short, basic workout every single day…

It’s all part of my general awareness that I need to be more mindful of my health and habits. Healthy living is an ongoing journey. It’s not about losing five pounds to fit into skinnier jeans or looking “good” in a bikini. People can choose to lose weight strictly for vanity purposes if they want to. That’s not my aim. I would like to lose a bit of weight, but I don’t think I need to–at the same time, I don’t want to gain any more. I’m trying to focus on the health aspects because I know that is what is going to help me have a better quality of life when I’m older. Keeping active and feeding myself with good things is an investment in myself. I want to be a hot old lady.

Today’s dinner was made with those goals in mind, after a nice workout of yoga and weights. I defrosted a filet of salmon and dressed it with olive oil, chopped garlic, french sea salt, and some thyme and tarragon. Lemon would have been great on it, but I had no lemon.

I had already eaten before I realized this picture was blurry. It didn't look like it when I was taking it! This is what I get with my phone. So inadequate.

I had already eaten before I realized this picture was blurry. It didn’t look like it when I was taking it! This is what I get with my phone. So inadequate.

As you might have guessed, this is not a recipe. It’s just a basic way of cooking fish, with herbs to make the flavor a little more interesting. One of the things I have mentioned before is that if you’re making something like this, seasonings and herbs should be to taste. Use the ones you like. put curry powder on it if you want. That’s the beauty of a simple thing like this.

As a side, I sauteed some kale in olive oil and more garlic (one clove for the whole meal, and there was still some left over! Seriously, it was huge), adding some roasted red peppers halfway through. Since those are already cooked, I could have mixed them in after the kale was done cooking, and if I ever do this again I think I will try it that way.

At least it still fit in my hand.

At least it still fit in my hand.

My favorite sort of food to cook is generally simple and easy to make, but kind of looks fancy. There’s a sense of indulgence and luxury, but it’s actually not fancy at all and usually doesn’t cost too much. I’d estimate that the ingredients for this dinner (not the full price for each thing, but the portion I used) come out to less than $3. It was tasty and healthy and natural. And satisfying in a way that admittedly delicious fried food rarely is, if ever. That’s another reason to eat healthy. Junk food satisfies a shallow craving, giving instant gratification. Natural, nutritious food satisfies on a deeper level, and over time will make me feel stronger and healthier.

Homemade Pizzas of Yore


I’ve probably mentioned that one of my absolute favorite things to eat is pizza. If I really HAVE to pick a favorite food, that would be it. You can do so much with it and it just tastes SO good. I mean, do I really need to explain why I love pizza? No, I didn’t think so.

Now quite some time ago (although it was recent when I first started this post in early January), we’ve had two occasions of pizza-making gatherings at my apartment. The first time, I bought some ready-made Pillsbury pizza dough, the kind the comes in those tubes you have to break open.

We did three halves marinara and one half pesto.

We did three halves marinara and one half pesto.

 

There were two cans of dough. “Cans of dough” seems like quite a strange thing to say, don’t you think? Oh well. So, two pizzas for four people. I can’t remember if there were leftovers but considering the amount of toppings we added, there was definitely plenty to eat that night. There was chicken, chorizo, avocado, mushrooms, broccoli, cheese of course, and probably quite a few other things that I’ve forgotten by now.

 

Since one of our number was vegetarian, we made sure there were several sections without meat as we got creative with our topping combinations. As I said at the time (or something like it), one of the perks of making pizza at home is that you can do really interesting things with the toppings that would probably take fifteen minutes to fully explain if you were placing an order.

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(The kitchen light was highly uncooperative, as is my camera, so unfortunately the pictures aren’t very good.)

The instructions say to pre-bake the crusts a little. We did not do this, but we were still satisfied with the end result. For my tastes, this crust does not make the optimal pizza. It tastes almost exactly like the crescent roll dough, which is great for crescent rolls, but not the right base for pizza in my opinion. I will be much more likely in the future to buy the pizzeria-style dough that you can usually find somewhere near the deli section when I buy premade dough again. However, this Pillsbury option would be a good choice if you wanted it to be a little faster. You don’t have to let it sit out at room temperature or spend time flattening it out–just unroll and go. In that, at least, the doughboy has the advantage.

Let's not forget the wine. This bottle was pretty tasty, if my memory serves.

Let’s not forget the wine. This bottle was pretty tasty, if my memory serves.

 

The second pizza-making occurrence yielded a much more delicious result. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any pictures–or if I do, I can’t find them. That time, one of my roommates made challah dough and we used that for the crust. That can result in a very thick crust unless someone wants to spend ages rolling it out, so if you like thin crust this might not be the way to achieve it. However, it tasted incredible. I can’t remember what we put on it anymore, but it doesn’t matter, because I remember that it was wonderful. And the lesson is to live with someone who likes making bread.

Baked Breaded Eggplant Cutlets


One of my best non-recipe experiments in the past year or so was my eggplant parmesan-inspired dish. The title of this post is the closest I could come to an appropriate name for them. I think it fits pretty well.

As the story goes, I had an eggplant, and I was thinking of just roasting it, but then I decided I really wanted to bread something, and eggplant would work perfectly! I sliced the eggplant into slices of fairly even thickness, although they were not exact, because if I don’t like going to the effort of using recipes, you can bet that I don’t usually bother to chop or slice things exactly evenly. Once sliced, I put the pieces through a typical dredging (flour, egg, breadcrumbs) and laid them on a foil-lined baking sheet.

The breadcrumbs I used were seasoned, and I believe they also contained cheese. I then mixed in some parmesan cheese (the crumbly kind) to make it even cheesier. I drizzled olive oil on top of each piece, trying to be liberal with it without drowning them. The point was to make them nice and brown on top, not to make them soggy.

Side note: I think it would certainly be possible to eliminate the cheese and egg from this recipe and make it vegan! (Is there a vegan egg substitute?) It should still be pretty tasty.

The whole baking sheet when into the oven, somewhere around 400 degrees, for 20-30 minutes (I honestly can’t remember now), until they were nice and browned on top. If you decide to try this, they’re done when they look done. Eggplant doesn’t take that long to cook.

In plating, I decided to top them with a little of tomato sauce from what I think was the best batch I’ve ever made (it seems the secret is adding more salt). Overall, I’d say they came out perfect. The one complaint is that they cool pretty quickly. Luckily, they still taste good that way.

Some of the larger slices were cut in half only because they fit better that way in the dredging bowls. It is not a necessary step.

Some of the larger slices were cut in half only because they fit better that way in the dredging bowls. It is not a necessary step.

Forgive the photo quality. I’d love it if there was a really clear picture of this, but it’s pretty hard to to that with my phone’s camera. In any case, this should give you an idea of the resulting product. I ate it for dinner, as well as some quickly pan-fried slices of the same eggplant that wouldn’t fit on the baking sheet, but I think it could also be a great appetizer for a dinner party. Whenever you decide to eat it, just remember to try to get it crisp! It just adds a little extra something.

Quick Meal: West-by-Southwestern Omelet


To begin, I’m going to briefly talk about omelets. They are one of those categories of food that is widely liked because they are completely customizable. A wide variety of cheese, vegetables, meats, and even some fruits (apples, tomatoes, avocado) can go in. They also are generally fast to prepare. Even including all the chopping and whisking etc., it probably won’t take you any longer than 15 minutes to make. The cooking time is usually around 5 minutes for me, perhaps up to 7. I suppose there are even vegan substitutes for eggs and cheese, but I don’t know much about that, so I have no idea if they’re any good for making omelets.

One type of omelet that I used to like a lot, widely offered in restaurants, was the western omelet. This was usually made with cubed ham, green peppers, and American cheese. I loved orange American cheese when I was younger-now, not so much. But I decided I would really like a more grown-up version of a western omelet, mainly because I had green peppers.

I don’t have any special or particularly good omelet-making skills. Nothing you can’t find better described in a real recipe. I’ll just tell you a short story about this dish instead.

The burner should be turned on low-medium heat, no higher (in my experience that is; you’ll have to do what’s right for your own stove, pan, and eggs). The first thing I put in the pan is (probably a bit too much) butter. If you want to make an omelet my way, there must be lots of butter. Then of course the eggs are poured in. I usually mix them up with a little bit of cream. I’m not sure what it does exactly but that is how I like it.

Sometimes I let the eggs cook a little before adding any fillings, but I started right away this time to add the various ingredients. Into the middle of the eggs went green peppers, diced tomato, and sliced turkey. I topped that with some cracked black pepper and a nice heap of shredded mozzarella cheese.

Miraculously, the whole thing did not fall apart when I went to flip it. That does happen to me sometimes when I have a lot of ingredients in the middle. It came out very homemade-looking, but at least it was all in one piece. I then topped it off with some Trader Joe’s Salsa Autentica and made some green tea. It was a delicious, filling dinner, but could also be eaten for breakfast or lunch.

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Three Dishes, One Post! Also, I’m Taking Requests!


I have made a number of dishes that I intended to write about soon after, but somehow time just slipped by me. Now it’s been quite a while, probably two months or even more, since I made these things, but I enjoyed them so much that I still want to write about them.

1. Cranberry sauce!

This is actually the first time I’ve made it without a recipe. Previously I made it for Thanksgiving, and if you’re cooking something for a special meal involving other people, you don’t want to take the risk that you’ll screw it up. If I’d ruined the cranberry sauce, there would have been none, and what, WHAT I ask, is Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? Crap. That’s what. But this time, I found cranberries at $1 per bag at a small produce market, and as I’d been wanting to make cranberry sauce for a while, I decided to get one. Then of course it sat in the fridge for 2-3 weeks until it was a choice of either making the sauce or throwing them away.

I put 1-2 cups of water in the pot with the cranberries and started boiling that. (It was more than 1 cup, but I wasn’t being very precise in measuring so I don’t know exactly how much.) So then, when the cranberries had started bursting their insides out all into the water, I went to add the sugar. It turned out that I had almost no sugar. I’d run out of white sugar ages before, and my brown sugar had almost completely solidified. (I don’t bake much, so I never really worry about stocking these things.) I chipped as much as I could off the sugar block, poured it in the pot, and threw the rest away. I still haven’t bought new sugar yet.

I felt it needed a bit more sweetener than that, so I added a healthy pour of agave nectar. It won’t give your sauce the same flavor as sugar, but it will help to balance out the sourness of the cranberries just as well. I also added a very small amount of ground nutmeg. A minimal sprinkling added a very subtle flavor, but unless you REALLY love nutmeg, I wouldn’t add very much at all.

Feeling experimental, I added 2 teaspoons or so of vanilla extract. I think the kind I have is bourbon vanilla extract, but you can add any kind you have on hand. It made it so delicious. I highly recommend adding vanilla extract to your cranberry sauce.

I actually still have some of the sauce in the fridge. I have no idea if it’s still good.

2. Zucchini chili-mango stir fry with brown rice!

I had bought this seriously enormous zucchini and it had to be used fairly quickly. I decided to stir-fry a large portion of it and eat it with rice. The stir-fry was composed of zucchini and yellow bell pepper, I think. There wasn’t much in it, but that’s ok. For a sauce, I used the remainder of this mango chili marinade that had been in the fridge for at least five months, diluted a little with water so that it would coat the veggies better. I thought it might end up too sweet, but even though it was on the sweet side, it was just perfect.

I’m a jasmine rice kind of lady, so I’ve only made brown rice once or twice before. I forgot how much longer it takes to cook than regular rice, and as a result the veggies were ready way before the rice was. Imagine my surprise, however, when it turned out the brown rice was SO TASTY!! I’ve had brown rice before, of course, and it always tasted kind of bland and boring. Somehow it was really good this time. I don’t think it was the sauce from the stir-fry that did it, either. Unfortunately, I have no idea how I did this or if I’ll be able to replicate it. Maybe I just really like brown rice now.

That sure came out of nowhere.

3. Breadcrumb-fried zucchini slices over linguine!

To use the rest of the zucchini, I decided I wanted to fry it in breadcrumbs. I used a fairly half-assed version of your standard breadcrumb-coating method, with panko breadcrumbs because that was the only kind I had. Italian-style breadcrumbs would have been better. But that’s ok. I placed the slices in my pan of hot oil, flipped them carefully, and then put them on a paper-towel-lined plate when done. The trick is to keep a careful eye on the oil to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, or you’ll end up burning everything.

I decided they’d be delightful over pasta, so I made up some linguine (does anyone else feel like pasta always takes so much longer than you expect it to?), tossed it with olive oil, black pepper, basil, and oregano, and laid several zucchini slices on top. There may have also been tomatoes. I must say, the plating was lovely, but I wasn’t really in a “taking pictures of my food” space when I was cooking any of these things. So there are NO PICTURES. However, I’d be quite happy to make this again if anyone’s interested in a more detailed non-recipe with pictures–I might use eggplant next time, though. Of course, I won’t know you want to see this unless you comment.

 

I’ve made some other fairly standard meals as well, which all turned out delicious, but they’ve been the sort of extremely basic meals that pretty much anyone can make. Literally. I’ve had a lot of egg sandwiches in the last two months or so.

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Now, what’s that you say about requests? …is what I’m sure you’re asking.

I think it would be fun to try to make some ideas that come from random people on the internet. Or people I know, too, but if you make the request in real life and not here, I won’t do it.

My one rule* is that it can’t be baked goods. Those can only be successfully made without a recipe if you’re experienced enough to know what you’re doing. I do not know what I’m doing. On the rare occasions when I do actually bake, I follow the recipe. If I were to try it, I would just be wasting all the ingredients on something that will most likely be edible but not worth eating. If it’s something for which I could use pre-made pastry (pie crusts, crescent rolls, etc.), that would be doable.

*I’m also not going to make anything involving brains, tongues, sweetbreads, animal feet, or anything super weird like that. Because ew.

 

Keep in mind I have very nearly literally NO money right now, so it might be a little while before I can actually afford the ingredients. That’s ok though! I’ll make a list and do whatever I can in this regard.

Bright Orange Chicken with Veggies and Rice


I’m working at home for the time being. One of the awesome things about that is that you can make a lovely lunch feast like this, instead of relying on leftovers, easily totable items like salads or sandwiches, or a scrounged convenient store lunch. My lunch, pictured below, is delicious, and took about 20 minutes to make. And all without a recipe, too–as you might have guessed.

Rice: Boiled with butter and tarragon.

Broccoli and potatoes: Sauteed in butter and canola oil. Seasoned with pepper, salt, and turmeric.

Chicken: My masterpiece. Quick, pan-made tandoori chicken. Such a vibrant coral-y, orange-red. Apparently this is the color all our lips should be for spring, if you listen to the fashion sites. If you’re interested in how i made this, leave me a comment and I’ll do a post focusing on it.

With all the oil and butter, this might not be the healthiest meal ever, but it does include vegetables and is fairly balanced, so what do I care. I’m enjoying myself. Bonus: leftovers so I can eat this delicious concoction again sometime in the next few days!

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Only Fresh?


Chili and tomato sauce are things that I make from time to time, always using fresh tomatoes in my non-recipes. That is, until several weeks ago, when I had a bunch of fresh cilantro to be used but couldn’t find good tomatoes for less than a fortune. So I bought cheap canned tomatoes instead. The huge cans were on sale, so I got quite a lot of tomatoes. As it turned out, far more than were necessary.
First, I made chili. I used two large cans of tomatoes, not realizing how much that threw off my usual ratio. I seasoned until it smelled good. In the end, that wasn’t enough. Not only did I have more left over than ever before, it was not quite as good as usual. I still ate it.

A bit later on, I finally made tomato sauce. I only used one can this time (I think). In went the usual olive oil, and after simmering them long enough to have sauce rather than whole peeled tomato soup, all the usual seasonings joined the party. I tried it and found that it came out very nice. It tasted just like tomato sauce …

But not my tomato sauce.

The difference was notable. When you use fresh ingredients, the resulting flavors of the dish are–there’s no better word for it–fresh. (I realize I’ve now used this word a lot in this post, and I usually try to avoid that, but it’s the only word that really gets my point across.)

Perhaps it was the extra ingredients in the canned tomatoes: salt and added preservatives. That’s the first hint that it not only will taste different, but will not be as good for you. I do add salt to tomato sauce, but not very much. As a result, what I make is typically far healthier than any store-bought kind (large quantities of olive oil included).

While the canned tomatoes definitely saved me money, I have long been a believer in spending more for better quality, within reason. At times it’s a necessary sacrifice, and I’ll admit I’ve had more ramen dinners than I ever really wanted, but in general, the difference between fresh and pre-packaged items are worth it. Tomatoes can be a bit of a problem in winter, though, because they aren’t in season. However, it clearly depends where you go. Everything is always more expensive at Whole Foods and some of the local artisan co-op type places (City Feed, I love your coffee, but I cannot afford your groceries), but I got ten pretty nice roma tomatoes for $2 at Johnny D’s in Brighton Center yesterday. Knowing where to find the deals is key.

I’m not even a fan of frozen vegetables, for the most part. In some recipes they work just fine, and they’re certainly going to save you money, but I can’t help noticing a deficiency in flavor and crispness. Do a simple test: take some frozen broccoli and some fresh broccoli and cook them exactly the same way, for the same amount of time, and then compare them. If you come back and tell me you didn’t notice a difference, I’m not going to believe you. It matters.

I do buy frozen vegetables at times. Here’s another problem, though: I’m far less likely to use them than fresh ones. Knowing my food will actually go bad is a greater incentive to eat it. Seeing all the colors and options set out before me, rather than a collection of white bags with pictures of produce on them, gives me a much better sense of the food that’s available to me. Not to mention that some of the things I like to do with vegetables, like salads and sandwich toppings, are not possible with the frozen variety. Hell, I have a bag of frozen corn that seemed like a good idea at the time, but has been sitting in my freezer for at least two months now. I’m not a huge fan of corn, but I was going to make some kind of chowder-casserole concoction that never came about.

Anyway. Although it seems like buying frozen and canned food items is just a good way to save money, it doesn’t work for me, because I’ll leave them sitting for substantial lengths of time in favor of going out for a burrito or something. If I buy fresh produce, I feel much more compelled and in fact excited to eat it. So really, which option is more budget-friendly?

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