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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.

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.

Mixed Vegetable Mac and Cheese


(Success, hell yes!)

This one needs a disclaimer; I made this about three weeks ago, so I’ll try to remember as well as I can what the process was, but I’m sure I will have forgotten by now. Also, this is NOT a recipe, so if you want to make this, I’d recommend looking up a basic mac and cheese recipe and adding the veggies to that.

So. There I was, with this whole eggplant that needed to be used up, and all the necessary ingredients to make a cheese sauce. I had a box of medium shells (so technically, it was shells and cheese, not macaroni). Also on hand were tomatoes, broccoli, and breadcrumbs. I figured that at worst I would end up with a pasta bake, and it would be edible as long as I didn’t burn it. So I just went for it, totally blind. No recipe.

I did glance at a mac and cheese recipe for reference to what tempt to set the oven to, but other than that I was just improvising. I have read mac and cheese recipes, I’ll admit, so I may have remembered a few things from them.  However, I’ve made cheese sauce for pasta several times now, so I had a good idea of how that worked. (Practice is the absolute best way to learn to cook! Who knew?)

The first thing I did was saute/steam the eggplant and broccoli while boiling the water for the pasta (and preheating the oven). The last thing to get cooked would have to be the cheese sauce, as its consistency would not keep if it had time to cool. The tomatoes would go in uncooked, just before it was all stuck in the oven.

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There’s my big pot of broccoli and eggplant (and steam). Nice, no? Once they were cooked I took them off the heat, and the pasta was still cooking as I started the sauce.

The cheese and butter all combined eventually, but at first, they were just giant clumps in the milk and cream. Melt the butter in advance if you want to avoid that, but the trick, really, is to make sure the heat is right (low-medium) and just keep stirring, slowly. If you’re persistent it will all smooth out. I mean, I added what was probably several cups of cheese, pretty much all at once, so it’s no wonder it all just kind of clumped together in the milk soup.

As the sauce cooked, I put everything else together in a large baking pan. As soon as the sauce was fully combined and of the right thickness, I poured it over the veggies and pasta and mixed it all to coat everything with cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.

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Looks really good! At this stage I sprinkled breadcrumbs on top in a generous amount, and finished it with some more shredded cheese. It went into the oven and cooked for something around 1/2 an hour.

 

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I’ve got to figure out panko breadcrumbs, because the nice browned parts you can see on top were due to the cheese. The breadcrumbs did not get crisp or browned, unfortunately. Any tips?

The verdict: OMG. For my very first try at homemade mac and cheese, without using a recipe, I was amazed at how well it turned out. The only thing I would have wanted to be different was that it wasn’t cheeeeeesy enough. More/creamier sauce would have done that, but it was so good that I couldn’t regret how it had turned out. I enjoyed it with some wonderful dinner rolls from When Pigs Fly.

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If you don’t think this looks good, then I feel sorry for you.

I had about 6 more meals from this, because, as you could see, I made a very large amount. As leftovers it’s not quite as good, because, as you might know, reheated pasta gets a little bit chewy, and the cheesy parts were a bit thicker as well. Still very tasty, of course, but I would recommend making this for at least two, if not 4-6 people, or a much, MUCH smaller amount. I used a whole entire box of shells, a whole eggplant, a crown of broccoli, and a handful of tomatoes (I’ve been liking Campari lately).

All in all, this one is filed under “success.”

Food Acquisition, plus Spinach Tortellini with Tomato Saute


If anyone knows how to type  in the e with the accent on it so that I can spell “saute” correctly in the title, please let me know.

First, a brief review!

This is not the best coffee in the world. This is just a tribute.

This is not the best coffee in the world. This is just a tribute.

The caption there is a play on the Tenacious D song, “Tribute,” in case you aren’t familiar. These were bought online due to a Starbucks membership promotion. Yes, I have a Starbucks membership, and no, I don’t go there every day. I got a gift card for Christmas and registered it mostly because I wanted the free birthday beverage. I think it was a Vanilla Spice latte. If not… doesn’t matter. In any case, I had a discount coupon, so I ordered these items. Haven’t tried the coffee yet, so I guess it could actually be the greatest coffee in the world. Kind of doubt it though.

If you can’t see it well enough, the via product is an instant version of their “very berry hibiscus refresher,” which is made from coffee juice, I guess. I tried one the other day, and it wasn’t bad, but tasted very different from the one you can buy freshly made. I would only recommend buying this if you can get it on sale, like I did.

Last week, I did two grocery shopping trips in one day, spent nearly $70 total–quite a lot for one day for me (on food, that is), but I still have a lot of food left from those trips, so I don’t think it’ll work out to be much more for the month’s groceries than I usually spend. In case you’re now wondering, I do not work off an actual budget. I’m sure I should, but I manage fine without it, and I have a tendency to rebel against the approach of “you CANNOT spend any more than ___.” I’ll spend more just because. So I don’t bother.

Things I should always buy in multiple when I go to Trader Joe’s: Spicy Powdered Chai Mix, Chile Lime Chicken Burgers, Chicken and Cheese Tamales, Pumpkin Ice Cream (when available), individual serving Greek yogurt, frozen naan. Having these things available at any given time makes my life better.

Last, but not least, I have a non-recipe to share (finally)! It is a very uncomplicated thing to make, as its base is quick-cooking spinach tortellini. I used the package bought from Trader Joe’s, but any variety you can find will work.

I just want to take a moment to say that I LOVE spinach tortellini. It’s weird, because I’m not a fan of the flavor of cooked spinach. However, dishes that involve cooked spinach in which other flavors are more prominent than the spinach itself can be as delicious as anything. What I have done in the past with instant tortellini or ravioli is just melt some butter and mix in some herbs, and pour it over the pasta. This is a slightly more involved version of that practice.

The actual cooking part doesn’t take much time at all, but I always forget how long water takes to boil. Start boiling your water first or you’re going to be sitting there trying to keep your sauce warm and tapping your foot yelling, “Goddamn it water, boil!”

I’m not going to explain how to cook the tortellini, because there are instructions on the package. For the tomato saute, I started by melting a whole bunch of butter in a small pan. Read the rest of this entry

Pasta with cheese sauce – multiple successes!


Time to play catch-up (not ketchup, or catsup, which I have run out of, unfortunately for me that time I made burgers…) and post a few experiments that I’ve done over the past few months that I’ve been too lazy to post. I feel a little bit bad about it, but hopefully this will make up for it.

I don’t know why I did this, but I decided I’d like to try to make a creamy cheese sauce for my pasta one night. My first try went very well, although I definitely think I overdid the red pepper flakes – it’s so easy to do because they look so festive! – and as a result it was a bit spicier than intended. It was still delicious though, so I count it as a win.

It’s been a while since I made this, so I can’t recall exactly how it was done. I can you a vague idea, though, in case you want to try a recipe-less cream sauce… It’s a great dish. The way I made it was quick and easy, resulting in a tasty meal. I have pictures from two separate times preparing it.

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Of course I made too much pasta as usual. Part of the problem with cooking for one person is that it’s hard to cook single portions when you learned to cook for at least two people originally. There’s nothing wrong with leftovers, of course, although this dish is definitely much better when fresh. There’s probably a way to make cheese sauce that keeps better, but then I’d have to follow a recipe. Plus, I used angel hair this time, which is never as good in leftovers form. My recommendation would be linguine, regular spaghetti, or some fun shaped pasta like penne or rotini. I love rotini! The little corkscrew kind. It’s the most awesome pasta shape.  Read the rest of this entry

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.

Successes and Misfires!


The title here could apply to many aspects of my life, but in this case I’m only talking about cooking. Before I get into that, hi! It’s been a while, but I figure that this blog hasn’t been around long enough to gain any regular readers who would be disappointed at the lack of posts. Therefore, I’m only disappointing myself, and that’s just par for the course… I hate that phrase. Remind me never to use it again.

I need to get myself going, move on to the present projects and not make you dwell on past anti-recipes and waiting longer for the more recent ones. So I’ll just recap the various successes and misfires I’ve had lately, the more notable ones, anyway, in vaguely chronological order.

Number 1: Cheesy Biscuits – Misfire. Read the rest of this entry

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