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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.

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?

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!

Comfort Food Obsessed


Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and shopping for, food. I’ve been to the grocery store more times in the past two or three weeks than I usually would in a month or two, back when I felt satisfied by my larger shopping trips. Here and there, I think: “But you know what would be great, if I had some more tomatoes.” Another trip to the store. Luckily I haven’t spent as much per trip as I do when I’m taking fewer, slightly larger trips.

I hope I’m not becoming obsessed with food. A lot of days it feels like the only thing I get done is planning or making meals. At least half of that time is spent wishing for pizza or burritos. It usually takes a week or two before I absolutely HAVE to satisfy that craving… I’ve frequently made one of my favorite snacks, pizza toast, and it’s sadder cousin, cheesy toast (has no sauce or tomatoes to make it more like pizza).

Today for breakfast (ok, more like brunch) I made a combination of two of my go-to breakfast/lunch/snack foods: cheesy avocado toast. Most people would probably call it an avocado melt, but I like to be different. I spread the bread with avocado, added some chopped green onions and a dash of olive oil, smothered that in cheese, and baked it in the toaster oven until the cheese was perfectly melted and browned. (This mostly happens when I briefly lose track of time; otherwise I often get too impatient to let it brown.) It was very tasty, slightly too hot, but I avoided burning the roof of my mouth! Yay!

Sometimes it feels like food is the only thing in life I can figure out. Everything else is a mess, but as long as I can still make myself something delicious and at least semi-nutritious, I can enjoy a little bit of my day.

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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Go to Cafenation, Now. I’m Serious.


I can make a pretty good breakfast–that is, good for me. I will not claim to be skilled at any sort of fancy breakfast creations. I can make plenty of things that are tasty, or, at least edible, and at this point I’m very close to completely mastering the egg sandwich (often eaten for lunch or dinner as well, because I CANNOT get enough of them, it seems). I am incapable of making pretty pancakes or omelets. I’m trying to remember a time when I made breakfast for someone else that would be worth mentioning. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any.

This is why many of my best breakfasts happen when I go out. I don’t often go out for breakfast with a buddy. It’s too hard to gather people in the morning, especially a weekday morning, when the only people who could go with me aren’t even awake. (Or are in a different zip code.)

So I go out to breakfast. Or grab something on the way to work.

More often than not, this breakfast comes from Cafenation. They are one of my very favorite independent cafes in Boston (and everywhere else, but I’ll admit there are many I haven’t tried in other cities. In fact, most cafes in other cities I haven’t tried. Totally beside the point), because everything they offer is delicious. Their coffee is really good. Their chai is delicious. All their espresso drinks are amazing (I’m sure there’s the off drink once in a while), generally speaking. They have a pretty wide selection of teas, which I’m sure are also good. I’ve only tried the iced ones.

And the food? Well, duh. Delicious. Always. This morning I had the spiced apple and brie crepes, which were generously stuffed and dusted with powdered sugar. I had them before, probably three years ago, and it seemed about time. They have the standard cafe breakfast fare of bagels with various options for fillings/toppings (depending on if you eat it open-faced or not), tasty muffins and scones, and the full espresso bar you’re most likely hoping for. Then they have their omelets and crepes, good portions, fair price. I’ve tried one of the omelets with salsa and black beans, a bit like huevos rancheros, I guess. They also have a weekly special cream cheese flavor, in addition to the permanent selection, and jalapeno bagels. Who else has jalapeno bagels? Ok, probably a lot of places, but still.

Then there’s the lunch options. They have a small sampling of salads and soup, the latter of which changes by the week or day (I don’t know, I don’t get soup very much), and a nice list of sandwiches on your choice of bread. A few of the sandwiches are vegetarian options. Many of the breakfast items are vegetarian, and you can order them for lunch as well. The sandwiches are served with a good portion of mixed greens–more than just a token side salad, but not so much that it takes your attention from the sandwich. They also give you their housemade balsamic dressing, which is sweet and different and even if you think you don’t like balsamic dressing, I’d recommend you try it.

Bonus: They have one of the best day-old bread selections I’ve ever seen. Very rarely is the stuff more than just a little bit stale, but most likely it will keep for several days. They portion it well, too. I can get a half-dozen bagels, two muffins, and a scone for $3. There are times when I don’t buy bread at the grocery store for two or three weeks because I can get better stuff for less money at Cafenation. However, it’s often gone by midway through the day, so if you really want a good selection, you should go in the morning. It varies from day to day, too, as you might imagine. Sometimes they have a nice big pile, others, just a few bags. It’s a bit of a hit-or-miss sometimes, but definitely worth it.

In addition, the staff are generally very friendly, and if it’s not busy will even have conversations with you about things like tea. Sometimes they even remember my name. I go there a lot.  You should go there, and tell them I sent you. It won’t get you anything special, and most of them probably won’t know what you’re talking about, but tell them anyway.

Cafenation, 380 Washington St., Brighton, MA

Coco Cafe


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I’m trying this coconut water coffee today. I expect it to be on the sweet side, and hydrate and wake the hell out of me.

Have you tried these? What do you think?

Tomato Sauce: The Short Version


Earlier this afternoon I made my own, home-made version of a cup-a-noodles. Much tastier, and only took a few minutes longer…

My last tomato, having been around for about a week, needed to be used, but I didn’t want another sandwich and unfortunately I have no fresh mozzarella at the moment. However, I always like to just throw some pieces of fresh tomato onto some pasta, so I thought I’d do that.

Of course, this was not the freshest tomato I was working with. Knowing that, I decided to just cook them up a little bit. I threw them into a pan with olive oil and a tasty little mix of herbs. I made a serving of pasta, heated the tomatoes in the oil for just a few minutes, threw it all together in a bowl and ate it up (of course it burned my mouth a little to begin with, because I didn’t give it a chance to cool off before I took a bite…)

(Imagine a picture here of some freshly-made pasta scattered with tomatoes

and dotted with herbs. Tried to take an actual picture, and it did not go well.)

I’m not going to detail how I cooked things, because it was extremely simple and everyone basically knows how to make pasta … but here are a few notes that might help.

1) Angel hair cooks SO fast because it’s so thin, it’s amazing for a quick meal. I almost always make too much pasta, so I adjusted for that and made what looked like too little. It was the perfect amount for lunch.

2) Use the good stuff! I have some cheap, meh-type olive oil and some good, delicious, thick olive oil. People often want to use the good stuff only for special occasions or something, save it and use the adequate but not-as-good kind instead – but let me ask you this: what are you saving it for? Unless you have something particular in mind, just use it. Especially in a dish like this, where the oil is going to be a big part of the flavor. Treat yourself. It’s not like you can’t buy some good olive oil ever again.

3) It’s your choice how long to cook the tomatoes, but if you’re looking to keep the fresh tomato taste, just simmer them long enough to warm them up and get them nice and coated in oil and spice. Which herbs or spices you use is also your choice. If you’re not sure, I’d recommend some basil. Basil is excellent for this.

Later I went to Davis Sq., so dinner was a Little Italy sandwich at Blue Shirt Cafe, followed by a mojito cupcake. Kickass Cupcakes makes, if you can believe it, some pretty kickass cupcakes.

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