CreativEating

Try it, you might like it!

Stage 1: Denial

I haven’t been much of a blogger lately. Not to say I’m not cooking, but the photos and the description parts are WAY harder than the cooking and eating honestly. But that may change soon… maybe the new year? Maybe an inspired holiday post? Why? Because I’m on my way to being gluten free. I can’t say I will adhere over night… but I’m on the path. After years of anemia (recently severe with lots of dizziness etc), and a variety of other strange chronic issues that apparently can be tied to celiac disease, I was blood tested. Sure enough, pretty strong positive markers. Granted my reaction was to eat mac & cheese in grief (obviously, but now my stomach is angry)… so I have a ways to go. I’ll have a biopsy in the near future to confirm (it looks at ‘gut damage’… sounds great huh?). And then we will march confidently into the future of relearning to cook basically. My days of a 5 ingredient cake will be over, replaced with flour blends and xantham gum… but also maybe a happier digestive experience, working intestines and all the bad things that happen when your body isn’t absorbing nutrients correctly. And so, creative eating will become, dare I say, more creative. I refuse to become one of those people who just whines they can’t eat anything they want… there’s a world of ingredients at my amazon-enabled finger tips and surely we haven’t tried them all yet. Bread didn’t get so delicious over night – it took centuries of people figuring out the perfect recipes. And so I will join those sans-wheat (and barley etc) pioneers who relearns to make delicious foods, and supports others on the same (forced) endeavor. At least I hope so. Or I’ll eat Amy’s GF mac & cheese from the frozen section every day and become a fat lazy gluten free person. Hopefully the former though. Seriously. 

Time Flies

Wow, time flies when you’re not blogging. I vowed when I started this last year to keep up for more than  a year with this blog… unlike others before. Yet alas, it’s been 5 months since a full post (I do have a few drafts requiring photos to be edited… you can see how that’s turned out). So I’m writing first to say that after September I hope to get posting again. AND that I will be posting photos from our new MUCH bigger and more useful kitchen. Instead of constantly burning myself on the poorly designed and/or incorrectly installed ikea mini-oven you will be seeing a real full sized range, and plenty of counter space for all the chopping, kneading, blending and plating I can whip up. So… promise that fall will see a resurgence of creative eats :)

 

Die Uppity Cooking Terms!

I don’t know if it bothers you, but it REALLY bothers me when I’m reading a recipe, or a magazine or watching a cooking show and they make food or cooking seem super difficult and elitist. Sure we can’t all make saffron truffle mussels every night easily, but still, this isn’t that complicated if you own the expensive stuff. So I’m on a crusade to expose fancy terms for what they are… I only have a few so far (6 and a half to be exact), but please add to them!

  1. Compound butter - this is just butter with stuff in it rechilled into butter consistency
  2. Julienne – slicing veggies or whatever in slim matchstick like pieces… I’m sure french chefs will say this is a poor explanation, but it’s just about right
  3. Baste – that liquid at the bottom of the pan? Spoon it up on the meat, done. No need for a baster or brush etc. Use a damn teaspoon.
  4. Chiffonade – see Julienne.. just do that with leaves or herbs, same deal. 
  5. Au gratin – ok, I love au gratin stuff. Broccoli au gratin, potatoes au gratin… nom nom. You know why I love it? Because it just means to be topped with cheese and bread crumbs. Seems l pretty obviously delicious, no need for the fancy title
  6. Roux The most unnecessarily intimidating cooking process of all time. If you want thicker soup or sauce, or a great mac&cheese… do this. Put some butter (melted) or stock in the bottom of a pan. Stir in some flour. Then heat while stirring until it thickens up. TADA you’ve rouxed (not a word, shhh). So easy. 
  7. Ok, really 6.b: Bechamel - this is just an extension of a roux, because a bechamel sauce is just roux+milk. Generally you then add cheese so you’ll have a gorgonzola bechamel, for example, but technically it’s just butter, milk and flour, so we cut it out with froufrou stuff. 

Pollos Divorciados

That’s right… divorced chickens. Last weekend the BF and I were out doing errands and stopped in for lunch/brunch at a little place in Adams Morgan that serves Central American food. Generally we’d get such treats in our own latino neighborhood, but I was glad when we sat down because I saw something glorious on the menu. Huevos Divorciados. It was simple and it was delicious. Of course that dish was also covered in cheese… but still, would’ve been awesome w/o so much cheese. So I endeavored to create a similar more dinner-esque dish… pollos divorciados.

What you need:

  • 1 chicken breast per person
  • 2 corn tortillas per person
  • Tomatillo salsa (salsa verde) & some form of salsa roja (asada, chipotle etc). Some suggestions for making them fresh further down in the recipe
  • Refried beans (I prefer refried black beans, but the normal pinto kind are good too)
  • Cheese (optional; queso fresca would be great, but we went with what we had in the mixed shredded variety)
  • Roasted veggies (optional; peppers, onions, tomato for me)
  • Seasoning – Must haves: cumin, garlic powder; Highly recommended: Adobo, smoked paprika

Step 1: Salsas

I was really lazy, so we used jarred salsa, but here are a few options if you’re less into the 30 minute meal and more into the all from scratch meal.

Salsa Verde: Tomatillo salsa  – a fave

Salsa Roja: Salsa Asada – looks easy enough and yummy

But like I said… I went to Target. Don’t judge.

Step 2: Season Chicken

Season your chicken with some spices. Mine was a blend of adobo, cumin, smoked paprika and a little garlic powder (though Adobo already has some). Toss your chicken breasts in a bowl with these. Essentially it’s a seasoning rub. Tada.

Step 3: Cook your chicken

You know my drill — use thekitchn’s guidelines for this part. It’s the only way to make tender, moist boneless skinless chicken breasts that I’ve found. Sear both sides, cover with some broth or wine or water and don’t touch them. Seriously it’s like magic.

Step 4: Toast & Roast

This is where you toast your corn tortillas in the oven (350 or so is good, and remember to flip after a few minutes). This is way healthier than the fried version you’d get with huevos divorciados at a restaurant, and really you’re going to cover them with salsa anyway, so no loss there. Just crisp them up a bit.

The roasting is for your veggies if you want some on the side (you know, for nutrients and such). We just used peppers, onions and tomatoes. But don’t be like me and decide to roast 1/2 a tomato in your caste iron. It’s dumb and you have to reseason it. Either use a broiler or another heavy pan.

Step 5: Plating & sides

On either side of your plate, place one toasted corn tortilla. On top of each, slice 1/2 of a chicken breast. Now, put your sides in the middle. You can use the refried beans as a salsa barrier, or roasted veggies or corn etc. Anything you like. Just lay them right down the middle. Lastly, the salsas. Verde for one side, roja for the other. It looks messy (and is when you try to eat it) but mmmm delish.

At restaurants they’ll cover every millimeter of that corn tortilla with sauce (and maybe cheese) but we didn’t feel the need to go all out like that. This was enough for us… but it’s prettier if you really pour it on. Up to you.

Enjoy! Let me know if you come up with any other two-sided dinners. I love the variety!

A Fortune for your Delay

So I had a post all done… pushed publish… and it reverted to a version from last week (aka not finished). So, until I rewrite it, here is a fortune for you to ponder that came with my lunch.

Is this like a food version of you can’t put lipstick on a pig… or is there more here? Perhaps something about sunk costs… Either way, I like it.

Small Kitchen Tips – the Basics

Apologies for the lack of posts… between a finicky photobucket (why are there so many duplicate photos from my phone???) and an inordinately busy work/non-blog life here lately, when I’ve cooked, taking pictures hasn’t been a priority. But I’m having people over on Thursday, so I’m aiming to take some pictures of that lovely dinner.

Until then though — some basic kitchen tips from thekitchn.com, and of course my comments :)

1. Make your cutting board non-slip. Putting a damp paper towel, damp kitchen towel or piece of non-slip cupboard liner under your cutting board before you start chopping will give you a stable surface to work on safely.

I have never had this problem, but by all means, if you do, fix it immediately before you chop off a finger.

2. Keep your knives sharp. Regular honing will keep sharp knives in good working order. If they aren’t sharp to begin with or are dull even after honing, it’s time to stone them or get them professionally sharpened.

I really need to do this more often, because it makes a HUGE difference! For Christmas the bf gave me a new ceramic knife and it’s been pretty good to me in this regard.

3. Wear an apron. Aprons protect your clothing from burns, food splatters, and even mysterious holes. They also provide a handy way to carry a kitchen towel.

Yes! Wear them. I wear them to cook, do dishes, clean the kitchen… I collect them for fun too. Love aprons. And if you tend to get little holes at the bottom of your shirts…. check this out! I used to ALL THE TIME, and now I know why. Is Your Kitchen Causing Holes In Your Clothing?

4. Wear clogs or other supportive shoes. Comfortable shoes aren’t a necessity when throwing together quick weeknight meals, but for big dinners or weekends when you are spending hours in the kitchen, they save you from back and leg pain, and protect your feet from spills or other accidents.

Supportive is a loose term here for me. But even wearing my molded-to-my-feet Reef flip flops does make a big difference if I’m cooking all day. I prefer to be barefoot, but flip flops are the next best thing. I’m not sure about those Dansko clogs, they just remind me of my college roommate (nurse) going off to work and clomping around loudly. I’ll pass on those thanks.

5. Carry a kitchen towel. Sure, have pretty tea towels hanging on the front of the stove for drying hands, but when there is serious work to be done, grab a plain kitchen towel, tuck it into your apron and use it to wipe up spills, grab hot pans and dry your knife in between rinsings. (Use a separate towel when cooking with raw meat, and keep plenty of clean ones on hand to change out as needed while cooking.)

I didn’t know this really needed to be a tip. I make such a mess it’s automatically what I do. But if you’re a mess maker and haven’t found the glories of a good kitchen towel, do so immediately. From tomato insides (you know, the inside liquidy stuff that makes a big mess when you cut them) to olive oil splatters to the insidious counter water puddles (seriously, where do those come from? Everywhere, that’s where), kitchen towels are your friend. I try to aim to dirty only one for each big meal… but that depends. If I’m making a cake/anything with chocolate & flour… it’s at least 2.

6. Practice mise en place. You don’t need to prep all your ingredients when cooking something simple, but when preparing a complicated recipe or one that comes together very quickly, like a stir-fry, this technique is a necessity.

Chop first, cook second. Chopping isn’t as fun, so just get it out of the way and you’re ready to go. But as I never measure spices etc. that goes w/o prep.

7. Use a “garbage bowl.” Collecting your scraps into a bowl, bucket or bag keeps your counters clear and save trips to the trash can or compost bin, making you a cleaner and more efficient cook.

Sometimes I do this. I try to use the bag I had 1/2 a pepper in, or the mushroom box etc. to collect extras for the disposal… easier than throwing them over my head into the sink, and much less messy (though also less fun… but seriously, don’t try that with an egg shell…. egg hair, ew)

8. Clean as you go. Getting in the habit of clearing counters and washing up as you cook makes cooking a much more efficient and pleasant experience, and makes post-meal clean-up less of a chore.

I never do this. If I’m lucky I remember to wipe rogue cat hair off the counter before using a surface, so it’s beyond me to do it again WHILE cooking. That being said, the kitchen towel helps tame the mess creep.

Do you have any other basics you hold to in your kitchen that you can share? My addition: Taste as you go. You can always correct while cooking — harder to do when it’s on a plate in front of a guest and you realize it’s bland.

Spaghetti Squash & Meatballs

I will preface this entire post by saying this was my first adventure with spaghetti squash. This first run was how I learned you can’t trust the internet, or at least just what you want to believe from the internet. I knew this would take awhile to cook, so I wasn’t in for a 30 minute meal or anything, but I still woefully underestimated cooking time… alas, can’t win them all. BUT it still turned out pretty delicious, so here goes…

What you need:

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • olive oil
  • italian herb blend (oregano, basil, garlic, onion etc)
  • tomato sauce (though I admit I generally use stuff out of the jar, for this I did the whole diced tomatoes, herbs, garlic, onions, simmered down and then used to cook the meat balls in… was DELICIOUS. Highlight of the meal actually)
  • meatballs (I’ll put a few photos at the bottom, but I really just used this highly rated meatball recipe from Food Network – even includes a variety of ‘quick sauce’ on the page too… fancy)

For those who don’t know, this is a spaghetti squash

Step 1: Cut the squash/scoop it out 

Like any other squash, use care in cutting this. My strategy was to cut off each ends, and then split it long way.

And then you get this! (which is probably what you expected to see…. but hush you)

So then you scoop. Out of this lovely squash, we got about a pint glass of seeds, inner goop etc.  Mmmm refreshing, huh?

Step 2: Season & Bake 

Alright, at this point, when my squash was scooped, I put it in a large baking dish. I rubbed the inside with the italian blend and a teaspoon of olive oil, and covered it with foil.

I was told by the internet to bake like this for an hour… But this was a blatant lie. If you go the baked route, put aside at least 90 minutes, and consider putting about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the pan to speed up the cooking/steaming process. Live and learn I suppose… but seriously, we were VERY hungry by the time this was actually done.

Step 3: Shred

If your squash doesn’t shred easily, it’s not fully cooked. It should be easy to get long strings of squash out of one of these.

Step 4: Cover with sauce & meatballs. As I noted, while the squash was cooking, I simmered  2 cans of diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, and the meatballs in order to make our sauce. But jar sauce is fine here too. I would’ve written out all the meatball details, but honestly that recipe was perfect just the way it was, so no need to rehash. Here are some pics though for your mouth-watering enjoyment.

Searing the outside seals in the flavor

Once they’re seared, you simmer them in the sauce for 30-45 minutes… the meatballs are then fully cooked and tender, and your sauce has an absolutely delicious flavor

Next time I will try this with turkey meatballs or even vegan tempeh or quinoa based meatballs (worth a try!), but for this go, we used the traditional pork/beef cholesterol balls. Nom.

So our meal looked like this (the grated parm is mostly for looks when your sauce is this good)

This is a great way to eat a much less starchy version of a classic dish. The squash was a bit al dente, and though it doesn’t taste JUST like pasta (duh) it is a good healthy option to balance out fatty meatballs and enjoy a yummy sauce. Let me know what else you do with spaghetti squash — or how you cook it faster! Seriously… faster ways have to exist!

Enjoy!

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