For the eaters: Cajun chicken with a one-pot fettuccini alfredo

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been finding joy (or I guess maybe stability and comfort) in cooking lately. Because it feels like the only exciting thing going on in my life right now, it’s sort of flooded my instagram feed. I never really expected it to become a foodstagram account, but at this point I’m ok with that. However, in sharing so many food pictures, I’ve had some friends reach out and ask when or if I’m going to share any of my recipes.

I tried thinking of what could be a good venue for this, but in everything I considered, honestly, my blog is simply the best place. If you’re wondering why I was hesitant about using my blog… I don’t mind recipe blogs, I find them useful myself. But I don’t just go through and read them like I do other blogs. Actually, I usually skip the whole blog part and go straight to the recipe.

One of my favorite podcasts is The Sporkful, and it’s tagline is “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters.” Cooking is one of my passions, and I’ve really enjoyed getting into food studies. So I want to find a balance of sharing these passions without feeling like I’m turning this into just another recipe blog. But of course, recipes will be a part of that. Honestly, though, some of you will really laugh when you see just how simple my recipes are. Also, I don’t measure, I just kind of go on instinct. So that creates another challenge when I attempt to put a recipe to paper.

The recipe I’m sharing now, is honestly one of my easiest. It’s a go-to: chicken on top of a grain/carb. Because my moods and stomach tolerance can change quickly, it’s also a nice one because I can use frozen chicken. No thawing, no planning ahead of time. All I need is 45 minutes and spices. No joke, this is how I cook chicken 90% of the time.

 

 

Cajun Chicken with One-Pot Alfredo

An easy no-hassle meal

Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 servings (ish)

Ingredients

Cajun Chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts frozen
  • Cajun seasoning
  • salt to taste

One-Pot Alfredo

  • 3 tbps butter
  • 4 1/2 tbsp flour enough to make a roux
  • 2/3-1 cup milk (I use almond)
  • 2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp garlic (or more!)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2-4 servings pasta of your choice

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a greased or foil-lined pan, place your chicken breasts. Give a quick spray with cooking spray, then as heavily as you like it, cover the chicken with Cajun seasoning. (If you don't have Cajun, chili pepper, cumin, paprika, garlic, and cayenne work, too.) Bake for 45 minutes.

  2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to make a roux. You want a light roux, so only 3-4 minutes. Until it's a light beige and has really formed together.

  3. Whisk in the milk slowly. Once it is combined, whisk in the broth. Once that is combined, stir in the parmesan and garlic (and any salt, pepper, or red pepper flakes). It'll be runny, but make sure it's all combined well. Add more cheese if needed.

  4. Bring to a boil, then add pasta. If using something long like a fettuccini, you'll have to stir and readjust to make sure all pasta gets in the sauce. Let it boil on medium for a minute or so, stirring occasionally to make sure the pasta does not stick to the pan. Cover with a lid, and reduce heat. Let it cook for about 15 minutes or until all pasta has cooked and sauce has thickened.

  5. If chicken finishes before the pasta, cover loosely and let sit. This will actually make it easier to slice later. Once pasta is plated (you can garnish with parsley), slice the chicken and top on the pasta. Depending on appetite, it can make 2-4 servings. (For four, divide the breasts up between the plates.)

Let me know if you try it and how it turned out! Also, if you change up the style of chicken, let me know as that’s my current experiment.

Cooking my way through depression

With everything that’s been going on — leaving school, not working, car broken down, health problems — it’s not really surprising that I’m not doing well mentally or emotionally. There’s a lot going on, and most of it hasn’t been great.

I’m not unfamiliar with depression, though. Nor anxiety. Actually, one thing that sort of has been surprising is that I’ve sort of settled in to my depression. After a while, things aren’t necessarily changing, and then depression just becomes the new normal. We don’t really talk about mental health, and so sometimes I think we get this skewed image of what depression looks like. Yeah, I have moments where I get in my head thinking about everything that’s happening and I’m just overwhelmed with emotions. But most days, yeah, I’m just sort of there.

Depression can be one of those sneaky, hard to see conditions. It can be easy to miss, even by people close to you. Living with endometriosis, something else that’s hard for others to see let alone understand, I guess I’m not all that bothered when people don’t notice my depression. Most days, mine manifests itself in just not feeling much of anything. I don’t like getting out of bed. Or getting dressed. Or cleaning. It’s just hard to be motivated to do much. I spend most of my time marathoning shows because it’s the fastest way to make the day go by. Only to go to bed to just have to do it all over again. (It’s also been manifesting itself as irritability, which has been an interesting discovery.)*

There is one thing, though, that’s sort of been helping me from completely falling off the edge. Cooking. I’m not quite eating like I should be — but I try to make sure I have at least one actual meal a day. The rest I sort of putz around the kitchen and scavenge. It’s a lot of chips and salsa, hummus and carrots, or just handfuls of wheat thins. But those actual meals I make? It’s one of the few things I really enjoy. I get to be creative, and the results are generally just super tasty. Right now the biggest struggle is not feeling in a rut with my cooking. So far, and yes, actually thanks to things like Pinterest and marathoning shows like Top Chef, I’ve been able to keep things interesting.

I’ve made things like lemon-garlic alfredo, more shakshuka, got over my avocado fear and put it in an egg salad as well as made probably one of the most beautiful food bowls I’ve ever eaten, discovered I make pretty damn tasty & juicy turkey burgers (and began experimenting with sauces, like that In-N-Out animal style sauce), played with fun cheeses and found I love havarti onion, and also havarti dill and attempted some garlic-dill bombs**, made some great taco soup, and found my new basic go-to in fish tacos. Guys, I’ve reach a point where my insta is more food than cats. (And also think I’m coming along nicely on that goal for better food photos.)

Thankfully, my lack of working transportation hasn’t hindered my cooking explorations too much. I have to plan a little more. But I’m kind of letting whims direct some of my shopping. Not always easy since I go to the most budget-friendly place in town, but I make it work. Have spices, will cook. And if that’s what’s keeping me going each day, I’m ok with that.

*So, fun story, just randomly as I was in the car with my mom we started talking about this irritability and how when I’m overwhelmed I just cry uncontrollably. Thing is, so does she. Something in my almost 33 years of life I did not know about my mother. I know it’s a little cliche to get older and realize you’re just like one of your parents, but yeah. My strong, stoic, half-Finnish mother is also sometimes an emotional mess like me.

**The local famous pizza place has these addicting garlic-dill breadsticks… and so I wanted to try to recreate them. I was more successful when I adapted that idea into pasta. Trust me: garlic, dill, and parmesan are a great combination.

That time I ranted about ethnocentrism in travel food shows

I’m having an endo day, which means during the times I’m not in a pain killer induced nap, I’m watching a lot of netflix. Anything to help pass the time and distract me from the pain and discomfort in my body.

In looking for some new food and culture shows, I stumbled upon I’ll Have What Phil’s Having — a “travel and humor” food show by the creator of Everyone Loves Raymond that was on PBS. It seemed a little promising, so I thought I’ve give it a shot.

I couldn’t even make it through the first episode.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Anthony Bourdain. I know not everyone likes him, but I love how he goes beyond just the food but into the culture and history. This is especially true in his latest endeavor: Parts Unknown. One of the thing Bourdain does, which I appreciate a lot, is attempting to showcase local foods — as in what the everyday people eat. If any shows get close to an Ethnography of Food, it would be his.

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having comes off as the ignorant white American who wants the safe and sanitary cultural experience. Some of these restaurants would perfectly fit in to the comfortable discount tourism we’ve come to find and expect from “ethnic” restaurants in the U.S. However, some of it is still that speaking to a specific clientele. It’s the tourist experience where you want to feel catered to, removed from the real world. Rosenthal’s goal for this first season was to showcase a “best-of” tour. Yet, his definition of “best” is still rooted in western ideologies. Rosenthal, however, sets this up from the very beginning that this is how his “adventure” is going to go.

In his first culinary experience, he joins an expat turned TV host in a small alley called Memory Lane, formerly “piss alley” due to the former lack of bathrooms. He’s invited to eat barbecued eel. After giving himself a pep talk, he dives in and is pleasantly surprised. That is, until he gets to the head and is caught pulling bones outs. He concludes by stating that this is not for him, and the scene cuts to him going to an exclusive high end avant garde style restaurant where the food is more art than cuisine.

Inside that plank of wood the food is served on is a speaker that plays a live feed from a forest. Rosenthal goes on about how this phenomenal the food is — and hey, it probably does taste damn good. But in this situation as well as at the department store roof where he had a picnic (with $100 melon), he seems confused at how these seem like hidden secrets. Why isn’t everyone there enjoying this magnificence? And again this show has this arrogant air of the ignorant rich white American. But we have to remember, Rosenthal’s trying to share what he’s googled to be “the best” — all according to his own personal ideals.

Just like I feel like there is a place for chefs and restaurants like the one above, it calls to a discussion on authenticity. Would I like to eat Kobe beef that’s been cooked solely by pouring hot oil over it for half an hour and it’s so tender it cuts like butter? Yes. Yes I would. But I wouldn’t call that dish something indicative of the local cuisine. While I need to finish the series before I can make a complete judgment, I don’t feel comfortable calling I’ll Have What Phil’s Having a cultural food show. A pseudo-western centric show highlighting particular foods likely interpellating a specific type of audience? Definitely more likely. It does not feel like a show of the every day people. Again, for that I return to Bourdain.

Now, Bourdain does indeed hit up high-end restaurants that excludes the every day people. But I feel like maybe he does a better job at explaining how those experiences are something special and not a local norm.

Like all things, it all comes down to taste and also a willingness to go outside yourself. Aversion to “the other” closes us off to new experiences and relocates these situations and foods to the uncanny, the bizarre. Foreign becomes a misnomer for weird or gross or bad. And that’s a huge disservice. Different is just that, different. I believe we have to be careful how we portray this, and how we pass messages of Othering along. I don’t believe Rosenthal is wrong for feeling uncomfortable with the eel, or for stating that it wasn’t for him. I drew the line at the turtle I was offered at a wedding when I was in Chengdu. That was not for me. However, he shifted the narrative of the show. It was no longer about the food of Tokyo. He set out to show a very specific experience. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, however, it tries to mislead that his experience is in any way typical.

Rosenthal is not an ethnographer — he’s not even a cook — but by creating this show he attempts to put himself in a seat of authority. That is a place of risk. Maybe the rest of the season will surprise me. Maybe I’ll see a host actually grow and expand his view of the cultures he’s visiting and not just cherry-picking his experience to match his own preconceived ideals. It’s the very essence of ethnocentrism, which is a perilous path.

“If you’re really curious about a country, eat how everyday people eat.” – Anthony Bourdain

Meat Free Monday #4 & #5: White Bean Shakshuka & Pumpkin-Sage Pasta

Between school, my fitness motivation, and now general crappiness I feel likely thanks to my endometriosis… I got a little behind on my MFM updates. So I’m going to try to squeeze in last weeks and this weeks in one update.

Week #4
For breakfast, yet again it was another shake. I don’t think I’ve had any other breakfast since starting this. We had a busy day on campus with a faculty candidate visiting, so I went with an Amy’s frozen meal for lunch. This one has always been one of my favorites. Though, I maybe snarfed this down pretty quickly. By the time dinner came, I wasn’t quite sure what to make. I was going between a few recipes, and finally settled on this Smoky White Bean Shakshuka from Budget Bytes. I’d never had shakshuka before, but I’m all about some breakfast for dinner. It’s got North African Arabic roots, but a lot of recipes now will associate it with Israel (or sometimes, Palestine). What I can say, though, is there is a sort of perfectness in the simplicity of the flavors. I cannot wait to make this again! (Recipe at the bottom)


Week #5
Bet you can’t guess my breakfast… Yep. Shake. Eventually I might have to get another flavor. Never thought I’d get a little tired of chocolate. For lunch, I made something my mom’s loved for a while and is essentially the only things she gets at Panera: a hummus and veggie sandwich. However, it’s not so easy making a veggie sandwich when, oh say, you don’t like the texture of raw tomatoes or you get unpleasant, yet different, bodily reactions to things like mushrooms and bell peppers. It cuts down your options a lot. So for mine, I used some sandwich slims (though pita would have been good), spread on my hummus on both sides, and then sliced up some cucumbers and carrots. And that was it. It was good. And basic. But, you know, worked. Maybe next time I’ll add some grilled zucchini and spinach. I’ve looked at a lot of recipes for this challenge, and for dinner I decided to try one I’d put on the back burner for a while. I made this Quick Pumpkin-Sage Pasta from NY Times Cooking. I’m not going to retype the recipe here, since I really didn’t make too many changes. I used ground sage, and accidentally too much, rather than whole sage. Oh, and added some milk to the sauce. And added a ton of parmesan cheese to make up for the extra sage. It was warm, it was hearty, and now I have a ton of leftovers.


Going forward…

I don’t think I’m going to continue fully with the Meat Free Monday plan. I am, however, going to continue adding meatless meals throughout the week. It was a fun challenge, but just the whole day thing didn’t quite work out well for me. I am appreciative that this made me mindful of my food choices and kind of got me out of this rut of thinking I always need animal proteins for most of my meals (especially dinners). I had kind of gotten into a food funk, so I’m very happy his helped shake me out of it.

 

Shakshuka with White Beans

A savory and hearty meal perfect for any time of the day

Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • olive oil to coat pan & onions
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • 1 can tomatoes (I prefer crushed)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 can white beans (I used Great Northern Beans)
  • garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • red pepper flakes
  • parsley
  • parmesan (or feta!)

Instructions

  1. Saute onions (and whole sliced garlic if that's what you use) in oil until translucent. Helps to use a deeper skillet for this recipe.

  2. Add the canned tomatoes, crush if you're using anything but crushed tomatoes. Add in the garlic, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Stir so it's well mixed. Salt & pepper to taste. Let simmer and stir occasionally.

    *If you haven't noticed by now, I typically don't measure out my spices and just go "to taste" -- however, I put the original recipe's measurements so you could see the ratios I keep in mind when I made this.

  3. Drain the beans and add to the skillet, again, mix well. Simmer for a bit longer.

  4. Crack the eggs into the mixture and allow to poach in the tomatoes. Cover and continue to cook for another 5 or so minutes. Cook until the whites of the eggs are fully cooked and set, and the yolk is to your liking.

  5. Top with cheese and parsley and enjoy! Crusty bread or toast goes well with this to mop up the sauce.

Meat Free Monday #3: lemon & goat cheese pasta sauce

Ok. I hit a point recently where I’m just not excited about food. It happens every so often — I’ve got a kitchen full of food, but yet I just have no interest making or eating any of it. Some of this is due to my stomach just not sitting well with the food I’ve been eating. Maybe I picked up a bug or something — or my anti-anxiety medications are having lingering effects after I quit them.*

Anyway. This MFM, and even more so just this week, I’m reminding myself that I don’t need to get all fancy or try new things. Sure, that’s fun and all, but sometimes you need to keep things simple or get back to basics. Plus, with my stomach still not sure what it likes, I just want to eat food and feel good about it. And for Monday, at least, not include meat.

Breakfast
Here I kept it ridiculously simple. So simple it wasn’t worth photographing. All I had was an English muffin with a little butter and cinnamon and sugar. I slept in a little, and so it was about 10:30 before I ate — something becoming a habit on my non-class days. But mostly I just didn’t want to eat a big breakfast that late then eat a lunch right after.

Lunch
Again with the simple. I still had leftover buffalo chickpea sandwich spread. Rather than just do a sandwich, I put it, with some lettuce, quinoa, and ranch dressing in a giant tortilla. It was huge. Still good, though.  I also decided to have some Triscuits — cracked black pepper, my favorite kind! The only downside to this meal (other than loading up my wrap too much!) was that everything had just come out of the fridge. My teeth aren’t that sensitive, but yeah, everything was maybe a little too cold for me. Also my fault for not letting things hit room temperature and just snarfing this lunch down a bit too quickly. I’m surprised I actually paused long enough to snap a picture before I chowed down!

Dinner
I decided to go back to an old staple. I haven’t really made it much here since I moved, mainly because any cheese that isn’t in a can or individually wrapped or just basic cheddar tends to be a bit overpriced. Seriously, most things here are cheaper than when I was in Chicago, but certain “special” foods are seen as “fancy” and thus marked up. But my lemon-goat cheese pasta sauce is one of my favorites. I’ve shared the recipe before. However, since then, I’ve adjusted the pasta recipe a little bit. I can’t wait to try it this summer when I get some fresh goat’s milk cheese from the farmers’ market! (And fresh spinach too!)

Lemon Goat Cheese Pasta

Creamy, salty, and rich! Also very adaptable.

Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 box pasta (less if using spaghetti or other ribbony noodles)
  • spinach frozen or fresh
  • 1 cup milk (I use almond)
  • 4 oz goat cheese crumbled
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or more if you like
  • 1 pad butter
  • pinch garlic to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta as directed. Drain and set aside.

  2. If using frozen spinach, you can add it in for the last 5-6 minutes with the pasta, but know you'll lose the smaller pieces. Or you can cook it separate and add it in with the sauce.

  3. In sauce pan, melt a pad of butter. Once melted, add in the milk. Be careful not to scald! (My original recipe used pasta water, which you can totally skip the butter and milk if you'd like! I just like the thicker, richer sauce.)

  4. Stir in the goat cheese and let melt. For a richer sauce, you can also add in some feta and parmesan cheese! Add garlic and black pepper to taste. Parsley is good too!

  5. Return pasta to sauce and add the spinach! When reheating, it may need a tiny splash or water or milk, but generally reheats really well. That is, if you have any leftovers! Bacon, prosciutto, capers, kale, asparagus -- those are all really good additions to this recipe!   

*This is the second time I’ve chosen to quit this particular medication since I was put on it about a month ago. The side effects — dizziness, extreme nausea — I just couldn’t take it. I know these take adjustments, but I lost my job from being too sick thanks to the adjustments. So when the side effects got worse even on a half dose, I just felt it was better to try something different. Whatever that may be.

Meat Free Monday #2: Buffalo Chickpea sandwich

One of the interesting things about starting this Meat Free Monday adventure is that I’ve had to remind myself that just because I’m not eating meat on Monday specifically, it doesn’t mean it needs to be a part of all my meals every other day. Like, it’s completely OK for me to eat vegetarian meals on other days of the week. I know it seems silly, but when you get so hyper focused on a specific dietary plans, well, sometimes common sense just kind of gets pushed aside.

Anyway. Still enjoying this challenge, and really having fun exploring new recipes! (Like the homemade instant noodle cups! If I don’t included on a MFM post, I’ll be sure to share the recipe on its own.) In fact, I’m finding so many different recipes I want to try or adapt, that I’m having a hard time deciding what and when I want to make things! In fact, even for this week’s dinner I had 3 ideas going through my head and essentially waited until about an hour before dinner to make my decision. (I procrastinated by making some granola.)

Breakfast
As it was the first day of the spring semester, I wanted something easy. Because I need to get in the habit of easy breakfasts that keep me actually eating breakfast on a regular basis. Thankfully I only have 1 class before 11am, and that’s only one day a week. For this one, I just went with a mini bagel. A mini Maple French Toast bagel. With brown sugar cinnamon cream cheese. For something small, it was very tasty.

Lunch
Even though I didn’t need to stay on campus for lunch — I don’t officially have classes on Mondays. Or Fridays — I did stay on campus so I could try to get some work done -slash- maybe get ahead on my readings for the rest of the week. Packable lunches can be a challenge, but I feel as though I’ve been getting better at it. For me the key is having specific containers just for packed lunches. It also helps with portioning and whatnot. Anyway. For the main part of my lunch I had a buffalo chickpea sandwich.

I’d made chickpea sandwich spreads before. People like to call it a replacement for tuna salad. It’s not. Chickpeas maybe have a similar color, but texture wise or even flavor wise, it’s not tuna. However, it does lend itself well for sandwich spread. The last one I made was a dill and mustard based one. Very good. But I’d been wanting something buffalo, and thought this was a good idea. These sandwiches are pretty easy, but very tasty. Mash chickpeas, add in wet stuff, and flavoring, and then make a sandwich. (Real recipe below!)

Dinner
As I mentioned, I had a hard time deciding on what to do.  I thought about doing one of my go-to pasta dishes. Then I had another idea — which I already forgot about, so it probably wasn’t that exciting. But even as I was starting to make my dinner, I saw another pasta dish recipe that sounded good… but, well, I was already cooking.

I’d seen a fair bit of recipes for veggie burgers, veggie nuggets, and veggie fritters. All of them sounded good. One of the reasons I wasn’t so sure I’d go with this recipe is because I kept forgetting to get buns. So, I decided to improvise. Make a pseudo brinner.

I combined a whole lot of recipes, so I can’t link a definite one for my inspiration. Not to mention, one of the ones I really liked, I couldn’t find before I even started cooking. Just as my chickpea spread isn’t a mock tuna salad, veggie burgers really shouldn’t be treated like mock hamburgers. You can blend a lot of different things and get some really neat and complex flavors. I decided for my first foray into this, to just keep it somewhat simple. Chickpeas and corn. And quinoa. Essentially you kind of have to get into the mindset that you’re going to make meatballs — you need binders. For me that was quinoa, breadcrumbs, and a couple eggs. I also chose to bake mine rather than fry. And served it up with sweet potato tots. Because if you can add tots, you should add tots. Just saying.

Originally I was going to share the recipe for this burger… However, I want to play with my ratios and perfect it a little more before I do that. Don’t get me wrong, this was a really good dinner and a great play on a burger. However, the patty on its own was just OK. Combined with the egg on top though? Yeah, I’m immensely pleased with my genius. I don’t know when I’ll get back to this recipe, but even if it’s not during MFM I’ll post it!

In fact, I’m thinking after this January run of moving these updates to Instagram and just publishing a select recipes every so often. As much as I love cooking, and I am actually doing my thesis on food, I do not plan on turning this into a food blog. But I’m kind of proud of some of the food I’ve been making.

Buffalo Chickpea Sandwich Spread

Meat-free sandwich with a little kick

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas drained & rinsed
  • 1/3 cup mayo (or greek yogurt if that's your thing)
  • celery chopped into small pieces
  • buffalo sauce (as much as you'd like!)

Instructions

  1. Empty chickpeas into a bowl, and use a strong utensil to mash them. A potato masher would likely be idea, though a wooden spoon or large fork work well too. 

  2. Add mayo, celery pieces, and buffalo sauce and mix well.

  3. Drizzle ranch or add in some blue cheese crumbles, if you like.

  4. Serve as a sandwich, or a wrap, or eat as is!

Meat Free Mondays #1: Honey-Garlic Cauliflower

As I mentioned in my 2017 goals, I wanted to attempt going meat-free for one full day once a week, at least through the month of January. As fun as I think this is going to be — simply for the excitement of exploring new recipes and protein sources — I found that I had to remind myself of this multiple times throughout the day. Especially in the morning. I found that sort of humorous because not often do I actually eat meat for breakfast.

Anyway. Since one of my other goals is to get better at taking pictures of food, I thought a good way would be to share my meals and some of the recipes I try out.

Pseudo-Brunch
I maybe got preoccupied that morning getting ready for the new semester, as well as making an attempt at narrowing down my thesis focus. Which sort of backfired because I came up with more ideas. By 10:30am I realized I hadn’t eaten yet, and so rather than have a traditional breakfast or attempt lunch early, I just went with a larger snack like meal: chips with homemade salsa. I like to tell myself this is healthy. I mean, salsa is just vegetables. (Also, since it’s homemade there’s no added sugar.) And yes, I am washing that down with a giant cup of orange flavored water.

I made a huge batch of salsa months ago, and am still eating my way through it. That salsa was a lot hotter than I typically eat it, so I’ve been using it as a mother batch and adding it to containers of crushed tomatoes. After that I give it another blend with my immersion blender because I am not a chunky salsa fan. Salsa’s actually really easy to make, so much so it doesn’t really require its own recipe card. It’s essentially tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers. For mine, I use crushed tomatoes, fresh sweet onion, garlic powder and salt, a little cumin, a little lime, and this last time I added three jalapeños and an entire little can of chipotle and adobo. That last part is why it was a bit much for me to eat as-is.

Real Lunch
Chips and salsa weren’t enough to hold me over all day. Which I knew. The hardest part of the challenge so far has been reigning back my desire to cook awesome meatless dishes for each meal. Unchecked, I’d end up with a fridge full of leftovers again — and I’m currently attempting to work my way through my last cooking frenzy’s leftovers. So I made myself keep it simple for lunch.

It feels like forever since I’ve had — or at least made — a baked potato. It’s was a common, quick and simple dinner at my mom’s house. I’m a fan of loaded baked potatoes, though. However, I tend to forget that extra toppings doesn’t necessarily mean extra work. I just topped mine with feta and almonds. Definitely didn’t require much effort at all. Definitely was pretty tasty and also filling.

Dinner
Finally allowing myself to explore recipes and cook something new, I really went at it. In my last cooking frenzy, I made a lot of casseroles and soups and stews. So I wanted something different this time. And I was craving cauliflower. Cauliflower can be a main dish, but often it’s designated as a side. I had to find a recipe that would be able to hold its own. So I chose to adapt this recipe: honey-garlic cauliflower. I adjusted the sauce a little bit. And unfortunately over-breaded the cauliflower. (I’ve never been good at getting panko to turn out like it does in recipe pictures. Mine look like some sort of mutant nuggets, actually…) Anyway. I plan on using the sauce on more thing — it’s a good sweet and a little spicy Asian-style sauce. Oh, and as you can see, I added green beans.

 

Honey Garlic Cauliflower

Sweet & spicy Asian-inspired vegetarian dish

Cook Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower chopped into florets
  • 2/3 cup flour (all-purpose, or whatever you prefer)
  • 3 eggs beaten with a little water
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
  • 1 tps garlic powder (to taste; or 2 cloves minced)
  • 1 tps lime juice (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp sriracha (or chili sauce of preference)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp corn starch

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F

  2. Toss the cauliflower in flour, then dredge in eggs, and then finally coat with the bread crumbs. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minute or until desired crispiness.

  3. In sauce pan, whisk together honey, soy & teriyaki sauces, garlic, and sriracha over medium heat. As that comes to a boil, in a small bowl, mix together water and corn starch until dissolved. After the sauce boils, reduce heat to simmer and stir in corn starch solution. Stir occasionally until it thickens. (2-3 minutes, ish)

  4. Toss cooked cauliflower in sauce, and either return to oven for a few minutes (original recipe suggest broiling for 2 minutes); or sauté in a wok with additional vegetables.

  5. Garnish with scallions or sesame seeds, serve with rice (or grain of preference)

 

On being an indecisive eater

I have never liked being called a picky eater. Picky eaters don’t like most foods. Picky eaters aren’t open to new things. Picky eaters are high maintenance. I love exploring foods. Ask me what my favorite foods are and I’ll likely say “all of them.” There’s not many foods I won’t eat — or at least try. However… when it comes to deciding on what to eat, it can sometimes be excruciating.

It’s one of those everything and nothing sounds good and I can’t get myself to just settle and make a decision. In Chicago, I would solve this by ordering delivery. I had nearly 300 options that would bring food straight to my door. Here in Indiana? There are 4 options on GrubHub (a pita place, an inexpensive Chinese, a slightly pricey Mediterranean place, and a national pizza chain), and maybe 6-7 other pizza places in town. There is this other delivery service started by some BSU alums that’ll deliver from various local places, but there’s a $10 minimum and fees — which is a lot just to get Taco Bell to your door. (And yes, it takes a special kind of lazy to have Taco Bell delivered.) So delivery isn’t much of an option. (And my car window motor is dying, so drive thru is also not much of an option — I’m actually not too sad about that.)

The fun one is when you just went grocery shopping and can’t figure out what to eat. That happens more often than I should admit. It’s like I know I have tons of food, but figuring out what to do with it? Or if I choose to have something now it means I can’t have it later… (That one’s a little weird, because it’s not like I can’t go out and get more to make more, etc. — I do this with outfits, too.) Or there’s the ever popular: I just don’t want to deal with cleaning up afterward.

So one of the things I’ve been doing to fight my food indecisiveness are lists. Lots of lists, actually. I keep a magnetic notepad on my fridge and rather than using it for just what groceries I need, it’s most often used for meal plan ideas. It’s not just anything I want to make, it’s meals I have the actual ingredients to make right now. As I use up an idea (including the leftovers), I cross it off. Currently, the one I have on the fridge has meals I can make for lunch — it’s specifically focused because I’ve not done well with packing lunches last week. In another notebook, I’ve got a list of all possible meals. I go from all the things I can cook to even just listing cereal as an option. This way, instead of bemoaning not knowing what to eat, I can go through a list of options (my menu, if you will) and figure out from there what either sounds good or would be an easy option to fix up.

countrybreakfast

The other thing I do is reminding myself that good food doesn’t have to be complicated food. A crazy filling breakfast like the one above? It’s canned biscuits, two eggs over-easy, and the easiest sausage gravy ever (1/2 roll of sausage + country gravy mix). Like, it’s kind of embarrassing how easy it is. But that’s one of the tricks I use to choose foods: reminding myself that I can make some super tasty food without laboring all day. (Though, sometimes that’s fun to do, too!) It’s especially helpful when I am feeling lazy.

The last little list trick I use is, again, specific to lunch. Since I tend to spend all day on campus, I need to make sure I’ve got food that’ll fill me up and keep me from spending money on the fast food on campus. I bought a new lunch box system which is just a series of different sized tupperware containers. I took those, traced them on a large piece of paper, and then within the boxes I list the different options I can put in those specific containers.

packing lunches

All in all, these little “tricks” are mainly just to take the thinking out of all of this. The more time I spend in my head debating, the less time I get to eat. (And yes, I’ve had times where I’ve spent hours trying to figure out dinner and end up not eating because it’s past 10pm before I give up.) It’s all kind of freeing, really. I know some people do an actual meal plan where they choose which days to make certain things… that’s too limiting to me. Especially because I’ll be flighty and when that day comes not want to make whatever was on the list. It’ll just lead to more indecisiveness. Having a master list of meal options just works for me. Do I still have times when I still can’t pick from the list? Yeah. Sometimes. But it’s rare when I don’t eventually just pick something.

Are you an indecisive eater? What tricks/tips do you use?

Admitting that I’ve been “meal-ing” wrong

I love to cook. That’s not a surprise or shocker to anyone. It’s probably one of my favorite passion-hobbies. However, just because I love to make food doesn’t mean I’m any good at putting together a meal.

Ok. That’s a lie. I am amazing at putting together a meal. I’m just terrible at remembering to do so.

I’m not sure if it’s years of studio kitchens, fluctuating (sometimes unreliable) income, or just outright laziness… but for way too long, I have rarely put together a proper meal. More often than not, my “meals” just consist of one dish. Pretty much just a life of entrees only. Yeah, sometimes you can do that and it’s all fine. But it’s really not a good way, or necessarily healthy way, to eat — let alone live. Mac & cheese is great and all, and I love making it from scratch, but it’s kind of a really boring meal all on it’s own.

Slowly and surely, I’ve been trying to retrain myself to not just stop at the entree but to remember the glory that are side dishes. Even if it’s just adding a salad.

Burrito & Enchilada night

Ok. So I didn’t add any salads or vegetables with that meal. Mostly because it was from the dinner where my eldest niece and and sister number 3 were visiting — neither really have much interest in green stuff if they have a choice in the matter. Since we were all making dinner together, I decided not to push it. But, we at least did have some beans & cheese and some Mexican rice on the side. As well as the chips and salsa (aka sneaky veggie dip).

Dinner with the roommates

This meal was a bit more rounded. And super simple. Garlic butter chicken and veggies (thanks Campbell’s sauce packs!) and a salad. And of course a side of bread and butter because that’s just what you do in the S. family. This meal was a big hit too. Which I sort of chuckled at because I didn’t think it was my best — and also I really didn’t have to do much (if any) work thanks to my crockpot. But the summer roommates (more on that in another post) loved it. Compared to dorm food, though, well, that’s not too hard.

Anyway. While I am doing this largely because I need to be better at adding more veggies into my life, it’s also because it’s a fun challenge. Trying to create a good flavor balance while also being maybe a tiny bit healthy. Maybe. I’ve also found that when I actually have more than just one dish for a meal, it makes me feel like a real adult. So bonus there.

What about you? Are you more likely to have one-dish or entrees & sides sort of meals? Do you have a go-to?

That time I realized how easy it is to make pizza dough

For some people, this isn’t surprising. In fact, it might be second nature. Like for my younger sisters, for instance. Years of weekly pizza nights have made it so my sisters can make pizza dough without even thinking about looking up the recipe. I don’t know if they’re actually still keeping with the Friday night tradition — it was definitely not something I grew up with — but regardless, I’m sure they could just as easily make that dough like nothing had changed.

Anyway. For me pizza either comes frozen or via delivery guy (or waitstaff). Like many things, I’d been curious about making my own pizza. However, I wanted to find a faster way. Also, a yeast-less way because yeast is not something I keep in my home.

A few google searches later, and I found myself with a recipe that touted no yeast and only 15 minutes prep. I was sold.

Yeast-less Pizza Dough
2 ¼ cups of flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup milk (almond milk, in my case)
¼ cup room temperature butter

» Blend all the ingredients together into a giant dough ball, roll it out, and bake at 450º for 10-12 minutes or so.

See, super simple. The only issues I had is that my lovely Ninja blender and it’s dough blade didn’t really work to mix everything together. It sort of did, but not really… I basically just ended up mixing by hand. I’m not sure I had enough salt (and really I should have blended the dry ingredients a bit better first), and I don’t know if the butter got blended all the way through. I think next time I might make it a bit more melty. Also, I don’t have a rolling pin, so I improvised with an old water bottle…

All in all, it didn’t turn out too bad…

Yeastless homemade pizza

Not the best picture, but well. It wasn’t the best pizza either. The dough tasted like homemade dough rather than really nice pizza dough. I’m tempted to add some spices and stuff, melty butter, etc. to give it more flavor next time. Also, as I didn’t have pizza sauce, I just used some spaghetti sauce. I did at least have mozzarella… but my pepperoni had gone bad.

It wasn’t bad. Wasn’t great. I’m mostly going to chalk this one up to the fact that I do not bake — I don’t even have a full set of measuring utensils. So maybe it’ll turn out better next time. I’m sure it’s a good recipe and all just human error.

Let me know if you try it and how it turns out!