Tag Archives: Cooking

Confession of the week

I have a confession to make.

I ate meat every day this past week. Chicken x three meals, then ham and potato soup, and the worst was the most delicious chili burger I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. God it was so good that just thinking about it makes me salivate.

But at the same time it’s been really awful too. My stomach certainly took a beating especially since I’ve primarily stuck to a vegetarian diet over the last six months and my general level of energy has been a bit off keel. It always amazes me to see how my diet impacts my mood and general well-being.

Sunday was the perfect opportunity to get back on the bandwagon though. In general, I haven’t felt like cooking and the very thought of taking a trip to the store just wasn’t appealing (hence the reason I raided my freezer where obviously most of what’s in there are the fixings for meat-based dishes). The biggest challenge I face with a vegetarian diet is the time it takes to prep and plan for dishes throughout the week but on Sunday I decided to man up and in the end I’m really happy with the baked lentil and spinach stuffed shells I made.

This meal was the perfect excuse to use up the rest of my lentils and homemade marinara sauce. The recipe calls for canned lentils but I’ve always had trouble finding those in the store and it’s really not that much more of a hassle to cook your own. I’m also no fan of reduced-fat cheese of anything so I ended up using regular ricotta. Other than that I didn’t really make any additional modifications to the recipe. Big deal, I know.

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It’s certainly a meal high in fiber and an added bonus is the combination of my love for cheese and carbs. Plus, it makes for pretty great leftovers! 

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A modpodge of meatless mondays

So it’s no secret I’ve been behind on blogging, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept my end of the bargain on March goals. In particular I’m loving the meatless Monday venture and it’s something I’ll most likely continue to carry into subsequent months. Since going meatless on Mondays, I actually end up eating meatless dishes throughout the week as well – not only because of the leftovers but I’ve found my craving for meat to be diminishing. In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to try four new meatless dishes and put my cooking skills to the test. I’ve made a sweet potato and black bean soup, vegetable quiche, black beans and rice, and a bean and tomato risotto (I’m missing the recipe links, but you can always do a google search for similar ideas!).

First, the sweet potato and black bean soup. An absolute hit and made with vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. I added in a mixture of vegetables as well to add a bit more substance to the dish. Overall, a great combination of flavors and very filling – perfect comfort food during one of our snowstorms this month.

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Second, the vegetable quiche. I honestly can’t recall if I’ve ever had quiche before. I know they’re usually made with pie crusts but I decided to switch things up a bit. I opted to use sliced red potatoes for the bottom crust instead. While the flavor was different and unique, I probably won’t make the vegetable quiche again unless it’s for a bigger group of people (something that will get eaten in one sitting). It didn’t make for great leftovers and while I won’t make the vegetable quiche again, I’d be curious to try another kind like ham and cheese or sausage and kale.

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I also ended up making black beans and rice – a simple, cheap dish that I was able to make with ingredients already in my pantry. I had a few leftover vegetables from the quiche so I spiced up the dish a bit by adding in a variety of bell peppers and a bit of hot pepper for a subtle kick. For the first time, I also used fresh bay leaves. I loved it so much and I practically use it with every dish I make now.

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Lastly, I decided to try making risotto since I’d never had it before. I finally figured out why people love it so much – it’s a concoction of cheesy goodness in your mouth. While the original recipe called for white beans, I opted to use kidney beans and added in some shredded zucchini with the diced tomatoes. A filling dish and one that actually made me wish I had some meat to add to the meal – fish or shrimp would be a complimentary dish to this particular recipe!

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Meatless monday: veggie pizza

I think the challenge with meatless Monday’s is not cutting out meat for one day a week, but keeping those recipes fresh and healthy. I didn’t want to go for the usual grilled cheese or pasta so for my first meatless Monday, I decided to go for something quick and easy but which was still fun to make.

One of my favorite comfort foods is pizza so I opted for a healthy grilled vegetable pizza. To save time, I ended up buying pre-made whole wheat, gluten-free pizza crusts and natural pizza sauce at the health foods store. Call me crazy, but I didn’t even use a recipe for this little adventure in the kitchen. If there is one thing I know how to cook well it’s vegetables.

I’m not a big fan of mushrooms but because of their health benefits I make myself eat them anyways. Like onions, I hate their consistency but if I cut them up small enough I hardly even notice they’re there. So on top of mushrooms and onions, I also added red and yellow peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. Since I don’t own a grill I actually ended up sautéing the vegetable mixture in olive oil and minced garlic instead, which turned out just as good in my opinion.  What I loved about the end product is that it filled me up without weighing me down like so often heavy meat pizzas do.

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Considering the extra veggies, sauce, and pizza crust in the refrigerator, I’m sure I’ll be making this again in the very near future!

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Misadventures in the kitchen

Traveling always manages to wear me out. After spending four days in St. Pete with little to no sleep, I needed a vacation from vacation. Someone must have heard my prayers because I woke up this morning to a house with no power, 8″ of new snow on the ground, and dangling tree limbs over the hood of my car. I wasn’t going anywhere and although the power itself was only out for about three hours, my internet didn’t come back on until 4pm which meant I got to spend the majority of the day doing non-work and non-school related things. With nothing pressing on my plate, my only goal for the day was to curl up on the couch with a book, drink some hot tea, and be adventurous in the kitchen. So, that’s what I did.

I haven’t cooked since I got food poisoning a few weeks ago so the majority of my meals have been made up of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or pre-cooked dinners I pick up at the local grocery store. Since I finally had the time and energy to cook, I wanted to take a stab at a turkey and black bean enchilada recipe I found on Skinny Taste. And since I’ve been in the mood for homemade bread, I decided to make that again.

Well, today was not the day for me to be in the kitchen because I botched both recipes.

Because of the impending snow storm, practically all the meat was gone from the grocery store. So instead of using ground turkey I opted to use ground chicken thinking the consistency would be pretty comparable. While it wasn’t bad by any means, the meat was a bit tougher and chewier than I would have liked. Overall, I really liked the meat mixture; adding diced tomatoes and black beans to the dish certainly helped the flavor but this is where I should have stopped and just made some rice.

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After making the meat mixture, I decided to be adventurous and make my own enchilada sauce as well. I was particularly excited to work with unfamiliar ingredients, mainly peppers I hadn’t heard of before in what they call “adobe sauce.” I will likely never use this ingredient again – the flavor is really overpowering and I only used a tablespoon. In fact, the sauce ended up tasting like watered down barbecue sauce (and I really don’t like barbecue sauce). Combining it with the enchiladas overall ruined the dish for me, but I’m eating it anyways because I’m poor. While the dish is tolerable, it’s just not that great. It looks pretty though!

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As an avid fan of starches and grain, I also decided to bake some bread. Here, I also tried a new recipe and three hours later you can see where it got me. Nowhere. I was more bummed about the bread than the enchiladas.

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Considering my misadventures in the kitchen, I still had fun. Plus, I got to snuggle with this cute thing all day so she makes it all worthwhile.

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A new take on the poor man’s meal

I’ve been craving quintessential American dishes all week – mainly tuna noodle casserole which my mother has always referred to as the poor man’s meal – so I decided to whip one together using this recipe I found on Skinny Taste, a new favorite food blog of mine where the author takes on everyday dishes and turns them into lighter, healthier versions of themselves. I finally had to cancel my membership to Weight Watchers which also eliminated a good chunk of my recipe box I had saved on there. It was a sad day but Skinny Taste has proven to be a nice alternative.

There are endless amounts of ways to make tuna noodle casserole but my favorite ingredient (and which I think really pulls the recipe together) is of course the CHEESE. Most lighter, healthier recipes will call for you to use fat-free cheddar but to be quite honest it sucks, has a funky taste to it, and you leave your palette thinking, “What the hell was that?” So in this regard, I did not skimp; real sharp cheddar cheese all the way. If you watch your portion sizes, it really doesn’t make such a huge difference in the end. Following the recipe as it is guarantees an 8 point meal if you’re using Weight Watchers. Doing it my way makes it 9-10 points depending on the serving size. It’s worth the extra points, I promise you.

Minus the cheese and barrage of extra vegetables I added to the dish, I pretty much followed the recipe as it was laid out. I didn’t have any breadcrumbs on hand and didn’t much feel like making my own so I opted to use crushed saltine crackers instead. It got the job done, but the dish was missing that extra crunchy zest to the top of it. The one thing I would do differently for next time is sauté the mushrooms before adding them to the sauce. Mushrooms have been an acquired taste on my part but I use them in a lot of recipes for the added health benefit. I usually dice them in small pieces and sauté with onions and garlic so they shrink. By doing that, I don’t normally notice them in the dish I make. In this recipe though, I definitely noticed them. It wasn’t bad per se, but I really don’t like the consistency of it. It’s like a soft crunch so it kind of weirds me out when I eat them but if you love mushrooms it won’t matter.

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Overall, the dish satiated my desire for a cheesy, comfort food and I’ll definitely make it again. More importantly though, I have an entire week’s worth of food left over which I made for less than $10. I love saving money!

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An everyday italian dish

After a week of eating beef and lentil soup at almost every meal, I was ready for something new. My love for starchy foods and carbohydrates had me perusing several new italian pasta dishes. Partly because I wanted to use up some of the ingredients I already had on hand, I opted for a chicken tetrazzini.

Part of what I didn’t like about the recipe was how full of fat it was, particularly the amount of butter (9 tablespoons!), whole milk, and heavy cream the recipe called for. It was a heart attack waiting to happen and also because I know heavy dairy is reactive to my body, I decided to cut and substitute certain ingredients with healthier alternatives. I cut the butter out and used 2 tablespoons of olive oil instead. The whole milk and heavy cream was substituted with a 1/2 cup of 1% milk and the white wine with some cooking sherry, which always adds a nice kick to any creamy dish.

I particularly loved how green the vegetable mixture was. The recipe only called for onion, mushroom, and garlic but I’ve been wanting to use up some extra veggies I had in the freezer and for salads. I threw in a chopped red pepper, scallions, and a cup or so of mixed vegetables like green beans, corn, lima beans, and peas. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and thyme and the smell of the vegetable mixture sautéing was heavenly. Lastly, I added in some diced roast chicken and then whisked in the creamy mixture. Because I added in so many extra ingredients, the creamy mixture wasn’t enough. I wanted it to be thick, but not too thick. Luckily, I had an extra can of chicken broth on hand so I doubled the amount the recipe called for and it turned out just fine. Toss with some cooked spaghetti, a little parmesan, and some parsley and you get the final product. I didn’t actually bake it like the recipe called for, but I’m guessing it doesn’t make all that much of a difference.

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I guess I didn’t really follow the recipe all that much but that’s what experimenting in the kitchen is all about. I feel like I’m a new person when I cook. I used to follow recipes measurement by measurement and now I just concoct and throw in whatever suits me. The dish really did turn out delicious and it was easy to make – definitely something I’ll put in my mix of recipes. I’m hoping it makes for some great left overs too, especially since there’s enough to feed an army!

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Thanksgiving festivities

As the hostess for this years Thanksgiving festivities, I crafted a spectacular menu: cider-braised turkey, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, a vegetable medley, cranberry-couscous stuffing, homemade apple pie and (store-bought) pumpkin pie.

First up was a recipe I found for cider-braised turkey, sage, and sweet potatoes. Although the original recipe called for chicken I substituted it with turkey tenderloin since I thought the seasonings would go well with either choice of meat. And, instead of baking the turkey with the sweet potatoes I put it in the slow cooker on low for seven hours. The turkey came out really moist and although the sweet potatoes were a little soggy for me, they were exactly how my Dad liked them. With the leftover juice stock we made some gravy which had a nice kick with the sage leaves put in. I haven’t really used sage too much in the dishes I normally cook but I’ve become a big fan. Overall, the mixture has made for good leftovers and I’m loving the turkey sandwiches. It’s definitely something I’ll make again and which serves as a good meal for when I have friends/family over.

On the other hand, the cranberry-couscous stuffing was a disaster. I’m not quite sure how or why the recipe got rave reviews online. Even though the dish itself was easy to prepare, there wasn’t much flavor outside of the extremely tart tasting cranberries. I imagine if you poured a ton of sugar on it, it would have helped but that defeated the purpose of the dish. I wanted something healthy. Oh well, I love the adventure of trying out new recipes in the kitchen and sometimes they don’t always work out.  Here’s the culmination of all my hard work – it turned out really pretty!

While the majority of my sweet family is scattered across the states, I did get to share in the holiday festivities with my parents, brother Ryan and his family.  There are a million and one things I’m thankful for, but I’m especially thankful for all the loving people in my life, near and far. I love you guys. Happy Thanksgiving!

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