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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.

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.

Review: Fun and Interesting Meals from Plated


On something of a whim I took advantage of an offer from this site called Plated. Buy 2 plates, get 4 free! My initial order I had to cancel, which resulted in an account credit of $70-80 after paying around $20. Not a bad deal in my book. A little later, I took advantage of that “free” money to try out the service.

I ordered two different meals/4 plates. When you’re ordering, one recipe usually makes 2 “plates” (some might make 4). The actual amount of plates would depend on how much you and/or the other people that enjoy the dish want to eat, of course. I would mostly classify the recipes as gourmet homestyle, occasionally ethnic or fusion. They send you a recipe card–more like a recipe poster–and most of the ingredients to cook it. You will probably have to supplement it with things like olive oil, butter, pepper, or other basic cooking ingredients that most people have available in their kitchen.

Although many things sounded delicious, the price was important to me (not all plates cost the same), so my final decision was tomato-braised chicken with fennel and steak gyros. Once the order shipped, it got to me overnight. Considering that some of the food they send is perishable, that’s a very good thing. I thought everything was very well-packaged and everything from my order was present and accounted for. I actually decided to do an unboxing and first impression video, which you can watch if you’re interested in this part of the process:

But I made it before I’d fully experienced my meals, so I wanted to go a little more in-depth here.

Steak Gyros: This was pretty easy to make and turned out to be delicious! I did overcook the steak just a tiny bit, as they recommend having it rare and mine was closer to medium-well, but that didn’t hurt it. It was good-quality steak and the seasonings they provided gave it a great flavor. The naans that came with the order were so tasty, I wished I had more of them. I did alter some of the side/sauce aspects of the recipe (I explain this a little in the video). Overall I was very happy with this one.

Tomato-braised Chicken with Fennel: First I should say that I HATE black licorice, and so I don’t like strong fennel flavors that much, but I love chicken, and I’ve had recipes with fennel that I did like, so I decided to try it out. This one was slightly more interesting to cook because I’ve never made fennel before. This used the leafy part as a garnish, but also the root as one of the main ingredients. Cooked in oil and tomato with a rather interesting mix of spices, I actually really liked the end result. I would have liked there to be more chicken, and I must admit I was a little disappointed by the cuts I was provided because there was a lot of fat on them. So it wasn’t perfect, but I liked the flavor of the dish. It also came with couscous, which I had never made before. That part turned out to be incredibly easy and although couscous doesn’t have much flavor on its own, I like it. Also, between the fennel bulb, a yellow onion, and the chicken, the yield for this recipe was HUGE. I’d say it could feed four people, maybe adding another side dish.

Thoughts: I really enjoyed my first experience with plated despite one or two things that weren’t perfect. (And expecting perfection is silly, really.) Promotional deal aside, this is not exactly a budget-friendly service. For the amount of food I got for the money, I probably would have been better off just getting a similar recipe and getting the ingredients myself. BUT, you’re not just paying for the food. You’re paying to have it bundled and ready to cook, as well, and for the convenience of having it delivered right to you. They also make efforts to send sustainable and ethical ingredients, which are worth paying a little extra for if you can afford it. Also, if you can’t afford to order frequently, you can always skip a few weeks to save up for your next order, but make sure you keep an eye on your account so you don’t accidentally get one when you didn’t want it. The default is every one or two weeks, depending on what you select. I’m not in a position to afford this very often right now, but I’d be interested in doing this regularly in the future, after my income grows.

Why you should try it: I think the best reason to give Plated a try (other than the great first-time deal they offer!) is to experiment with a recipe you might never have tried otherwise. I doubt I ever would have made gyros if left entirely to my own devices, and now I know I might like to use fennel in cooking other dishes. I might have done that eventually, but without this incentive I doubt it. I made the recipes on my own, but this could also be fun to do with friends and family, if you like to cook together.

If after all that you’re intrigued, and you want some free plates, use my referral link below:

https://www.plated.com/invites/7c742d

Happy cooking!

My Three Thanksgivings


It’s December! Oh my god. Time is just slipping away. 2015 is the scariest number I’ve ever seen.

I hope everyone reading this (in the US anyway, or those of you outside the US that wanted to celebrate it) had a lovely Thanksgiving and avoided the pitfalls of Black Friday… I read that Black Friday sales overall were down this year.

My Thanksgiving break was interesting, to say the least. I was away for nearly a week, but I brought my computer home and I worked every day except for Thursday. Wednesday was filled with copyediting, Netflix, and making an excellent cranberry sauce. In this case my anti-recipe philosophy paid off, and I made my best batch of cranberry sauce ever! It was delicious and the texture was perfect. I’m certain it was due to guesswork in the amounts of water and sugar to add.

Thursday was the old standby extended family dinner. I wore a fancy outfit, caught up with some family members, and possibly ate more shrimp hors d’oeuvres than turkey. The dinner, the cocktails, and the company were all pretty good for me!

Friday, my mom and I had the backup turkey that had been acquired in case of inclement weather keeping us from the big family dinner. (My mom’s wife is vegan, so she had some kind of tofurkey instead.) Leftover cranberry sauce and stuffing, some potatoes, peas, and probably other things I can’t remember made a nice Thanksgiving dinner #2.

I spent Saturday night with my dad. We had leftovers from his holiday meal–turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and then some serious chocolate for dessert.

And I’ve been eating leftover turkey ever since… I’m not complaining. I’m glad I haven’t had to go to the grocery store yet.

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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Lonely Dining: Dinner at Bella Luna


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Just because, for no reason but to have a nice relaxing time, I took myself out to dinner. Not having someone to eat out with is no reason not to treat yourself. I walked over to Bella Luna, one of my favorite local restaurants, and took advantage of their air conditioning.

This restaurant has so many great options that I often find it hard to choose just one thing, but in the end I just had to pick the lobster roll, knowing it was a limited time offer. For a drink I chose the Brazuka signature cocktail.

Now, I hate to say anything negative about this restaurant, because it’s my go-to choice for a nice meal near my house. I have to admit, though, that the lobster roll was just okay. I’ve had better lobster rolls. That’s not to say it was bad, though–not at all! It was just a little disappointing in comparison to my expectations. However, the presentation was fantastic, as you can see above (isn’t their side salad brilliant?), and the meal overall was satisfying. The Brazuka was an interesting fruity drink, a little too sour for me to want it again, but a nice experience. And my server was very friendly and helpful, which is always a plus in my opinion.

Lobster rolls always tend to be pricey, so as you might expect my total bill was more than I had hoped. But sometimes, just for the experience, you really should treat yourself. Lonely Dining is an activity that I started because it is sometimes hard to find people to go for meals with, but the more I do it, the more I enjoy having good food at a nice establishment with myself for company. Eating alone is an experience a lot of people do not appreciate. It can be relaxing, indulgent, calm, and you don’t have to think about socializing. Overall, highly recommended.

Simple Veggie Cheese Bake–Success!


Does this happen to you? Tell me, please:

After a certain point, your kitchen sponge just smells, no matter how hard you try. Not really notably. Just enough that you can’t really notice it until you use it, and then your hands smell like sponge. Fucking. Gross. But how often should I reasonably expect to throw away these sponges? I’m not made of sponge-money, you know.

Today I threw together dinner with half of a medium-sized eggplant and a summer squash that was starting to go squishy. I chopped them up and threw them in a baking  dish with some grape tomatoes, drizzled (or, more likely, wading) in olive oil and sprinkled liberally with thyme and smoked paprika. After baking for 5-10 minutes I smothered it with shredded mozzarella and then baked it another 5-10 minutes. I don’t know how long it really was. If you do this, just keep an eye on it so you don’t burn the cheese.

When I took it out, the cheese was nice and brown, but not burned. I let it cool a while before trying to serve it, because I’m tired of getting minor burns. When I scooped out a nice big serving, I saw how much oil had pooled at the bottom… could have used a little less. But that’s not really my style.

It wasn’t a fancy or special meal, and it probably would actually be better as a side dish. Still, it was yummy and a low-maintenance alternative to sauteing or stir-frying, my most frequent vegetable modes, which require more attention. I would definitely make this, or rather, some variation of it, again.

Unrelatedly, I still do want to throw away that sponge.

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