A Year of Recipes: #23

Sriracha, coconut milk, optional chicken stock, paprika, frozen corn, olive oil, onion

Sriracha, coconut milk, optional chicken stock, paprika, frozen corn, olive oil, onion

With an upcoming business trip (well…at the time of writing this post), I wanted to do something quick and easy, and more importantly, something that wouldn’t leave me with a ton of leftovers I would have to throw out. I did a search for my current obsession, coconut milk, on FoodGawker, and ended up settling on a Smoky Sweet Corn Soup.

As an amateur cook, I always get really excited when I go through the ingredient list prior to shopping and get to cross several items off my list because I already have them on hand, which is exactly what happened this time! Unfortunately I couldn’t find coconut milk at Target so I had to run by Kroger afterwards, which made me grumble a little bit.

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Seriously so easy to make this.

I haven’t made any soups yet in my year of new recipes, and after this experience I think I will need to do more! It was very little work to make this recipe. Essentially everything went into a skillet until it was softened, and then was transferred to my food processor to blend. It went back in the skillet to heat the rest of the way and then it was done. Add a drizzle (or three if you’re me) of Sriracha and you’re done.

The only problem I had is that the recipe called for 16 ounces of frozen corn, and I could only find 12 ounce bags at the store. So I just cooked all 24 ounces and went heavy on my spices.

The recipe recommends using chicken stock to thin the soup if needed, but I ended up not using the stock. The thick soup (my processor left quite a bit of texture, that might bother some people) was enjoyable, but if I hadn’t been headed out of town I’d probably have added some stock to make the soup go further and cut down on calories (which were fine to begin with, roughly 400 for a generous 1 cup serving.)

Sriracha I love you!

Sriracha I love you!

Flavor 3/4– This ended up being very good, and the burn of the Sriracha was glorious.
Ease
3.5/4 – I did have to bust out my food processor
Guiltless 2.5/4 – A little corn is fine but it’s the primary ingredient here. If I make again I am pretty sure I could add a cup or two of cauliflower without noticing and then this would almost be healthy.
Leftovers 4/4 – Soup makes for easy leftovers.

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Aunt Lindsay’s Words of Wisdom

Last weekend when I was in Nashville, my dear friend Alexandra said she missed my Aunt Lindsay advice, and really admired the way I was living my life, so this blog post is dedicated to her! She’s a great friend and I miss being there to lend a listening ear when needed. I’m also proud to say this is my 50th post on the blog, which is quite a milestone to have stuck with it thus far!

Much to my surprise, I’ve become a woman who generally blazes her own trail, and I’ve been guided by a few key themes over the past few years:

Adventure – 9 times out of 10 (…or probably more like 99 out of 100) adventure won’t find you. You have to seek it out. If you want something in your life to happen, go out and make it happen. If you’re feeling dissatisfied because you’re feeling boring, do something that makes you feel adventurous. It doesn’t even have to be something grandiose, simply do something you’ve never tried before. Get out of your comfort zone. If something scares you it just might be the exact thing you must do. And remember it’s entirely acceptable from time to time to do something simply for the sake of having a great story to tell later, such as the time I let my friends take me to a shooting range 🙂

Present – as a student of many years, I’m still learning to embrace this principle because I am used to living my life with “what’s next” always spelled out and one semester away. I’m realizing in this phase of my life, focusing on the present is key. I am a planner by nature, and I still have my 5 year plan, but I keep my mind focused on where I am now and limit how much I worry about what’s next. Being happy is probably 75% choice, and I am choosing to enjoy my life exactly how it is now regardless of where I might prefer my life to be either now or a few years down the road.

Waiting – the best way for me to live a vibrant life is to avoid waiting for X to happen before I do Y. So many people think I’ll workout when the holidays are over, I’ll travel when I have a higher income, I’ll be happy once I get a new job, I’ll learn to cook once I have a boyfriend, I’ll go to more concerts once I make more friends who are into music. Nope. Don’t let the things you want to achieve be contingent on other things in your life happening! You might end up waiting a long while (on things you have limited control over!) and you’ll miss out on so much while you wait.

Completeness – I debated writing this one, but it kind of ties into not waiting and it’s something I’m passionate about. So many of my friends think they need to find their “other half.” I hate the thought of this, that for some reason you cannot be complete without another person. I truly believe that the right person will not complete you but will compliment you. Similar words…but drastically different meaning.

Sacrifice – this is the newest addition to my life mantra, but I realized a couple months ago sometimes you can’t get everything you want. Well the Rolling Stones actually taught me that a few years ago…but our culture tries to tell us we deserve to have everything we want without giving anything up or working tirelessly. Sacrifice is easier when we have a clear idea of what really matters in life, and therefore why we are sacrificing, which leads me to my next point…

Priorities – Working full time doesn’t leave me as much free time as I am used to, so a few months ago I actually sat down and made myself a list of the things I am passionate about, which helps guide me in deciding how to use my time! I went for more broad categories (eight of them) and it’s nice to remind myself of what matters to me from time to time, especially on those days I’m feeling too busy.  Avoid spending time on things that either a) don’t matter to you or b) don’t make you happy…and onto my next point

Happiness – do things that make you happy. I know this might sound like an obvious one, but I regularly see people do things because they feel like it’s what they are supposed to do, as opposed to what they want to do. (Let me clarify sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy, such as cleaning my house or skipping dessert, but the outcome of those things makes me happy.) If you don’t like listening to NPR but you do it because you feel like it’s what you should do, stop. If demolishing a crowd of zombies on the playstation is what you want after a long day of work, do that. If singing along with the latest Disney movie brings you happiness, belt it out. Never be ashamed of anything that makes you happy and embrace it fully!

Progress – I always had this idea in my head that progress looks a lot like a straight line, sloping upwards consistently. Unfortunately progress is nothing like that; it’s much more gradual. Sometimes you take two steps forward and twenty five back. Sometimes it feels like you’ve backslid so much you’ll be lucky to even make it back to where you started. You have to remember life isn’t always forward progress and you can’t get discouraged when you backslide. Shake your fist at the sky, and then put your head down and start pushing forward again. Accept the fact that getting your life together will never be as easy at it seems, but it’s up to you to keep striving to make yourself better.

Sidenote: journaling is a great way to how far you’ve come. By being honest with yourself, you can read from the past and see that even though you’ve made mistakes, in the long term you are making progress and becoming who you’d like to be.

A Year of Recipes: #22

Fancy 'ol salmon, honey, Sriracha, pepper, cilantro (paste), olive oil, limes, chili powder, minced garlic, asparagus for serving

2 giant filets of salmon, honey, Sriracha, pepper, cilantro (paste), olive oil, limes, chili powder, minced garlic, asparagus for serving, garlic powder

For my second dish last weekend, I decided to end my Sunday night with a challenge. Oh God, what a huge mistake I made. I tackled *drumroll* Sriracha Lime Salmon! I have NEVER in my life cooked fish before so it was trial by almost literal fire.

I realized as I cooked that there were a lot of things I didn’t know about cooking fish that I should have figured out prior to approaching this recipe. It’s all good though, because leaping without looking has been the theme of my cooking adventure.

I didn’t mean for this post to be humorous, but I’m a firm believer that it’s healthy to laugh at yourself regularly, so here goes.  This is an honest representation of what happens when an idiot amateur attempts to cook fish for the first time.

My actual thought process at the store:

  • How big is a “filet” exactly? It says I need 4.
  • Great, Kroger only has 1 pre-wrapped salmon filet.
  • Can I substitute halibut?
  • Woah, they sell swordfish here?
  • Ah ha, I can have the guy get me fish from behind the glass.
  • Ooooh oooo they have salmon.
  • They only have 2
  • But those look really big.
  • Okay I’ll just take those two.
  • HOLY CRAP TWO POUNDS.

My actual thought process post-purchase:

  • OH GROSS THERE IS SKIN ON THE FILETS
  • Well, Google just said fish should really be cooked the day you buy it. That was yesterday. Why didn’t anybody tell me this?
  • Crap I already ate dinner…I can’t cook this tonight. Stupid delicious Ethopian food ruining my plans.
  • This smells awful.  Has it gone bad already?  Or that just how fish is supposed to smell?
  • I guess I should get it marinating now and cook tomorrow?
  • OH GROSS I TOUCHED IT
HELP I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING.

HELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.

My actual thought process while cooking:

  • I hope my goldfish can’t see what I’m doing right now.
  • OH GOD what do I do with the skin? Do I cut it off first? Can it go in the pan and cook as is?
  • Oh well, here goes.
  • Um let’s flip this bad boy over.
  • THE SKIN CAME RIGHT OFF. WHAT. Oh wait, that solves one problem.
  • Time to flip again.
  • WHY ARE YOU SO FLAKEY QUIT FALLING APART
  • …except flakey fish is good.
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Before it started falling into pieces that salmon was starting to blacken up beautifully.

Despite all my bitching, the meal turned out quite well, believe it or not. The fish fresh out of the pan was pretty tasty just from the marinade alone, and the sauce was good minus the fact I accidentally over-thickened it. Reheated, it wasn’t bad, but this is definitely a dish that is meant to be eaten fresh out of the frying pan.

Sriracha lime sauce, easy to make but also easy to over-thicken.

Sriracha lime sauce, easy to make but also easy to over-thicken.

If I do make again, I’d cook half as much fish, and add quite a bit more lime juice and be careful to keep the sauce thinner. However, I don’t think I’ll be making this dish again for just myself, but it might be a nice one to keep in my back pocket for trying to impress gentlemen in the future.

The present pinnacle of my learning-to-cook experience

The current pinnacle of my experience learning-to-cook.  I stared down disaster and came out victorious

Flavor 2.5/4
Ease
1/4
Guiltless 4/4 – Pretty much nothing to regret here unless served with too much rice
Leftovers 2/4

A Year of Recipes: 21

Quinoa, optional sesame seeds, Sriracha, oil, cilantro, honey, yellow onion, green onion, and chicken

Quinoa, optional sesame seeds, Sriracha, oil, cilantro, honey, yellow onion, green onion, and chicken

When I was deciding on recipes for the week, I somehow ended up with the idea of “Sriracha lime” on the mind, and I ended up cooking two meals with that as the main flavor. Despite the common flavor theme, they were quite different.

First up was a Sriracha and Chicken Quinoa Bowl. The website where I found the recipe tagged it as “quick” and “easy” which I wholeheartedly agree with. Basically 3 steps/dirty dishes.

Dirty dish #1: Cook your Quinoa. I’m a pro at cooking quinoa by now.

Dirty dish #2: Cut up some green onion and make your sauce.

IMG_5397Dirty dish #3: Saute some onion. Mmmmm smells so good. Saute the chicken in the same pot until browned. Add the sauce from earlier. Cook a little longer.

IMG_5398 Then throw that on your quinoa and you’re done. BAM. (Totally get why Emeril says that, it feels good.)

Okay, so the biggest problem I had with this recipe is that it called for “2-1.5 lbs of pastured chicken breast, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces.” So…that looks like it means TWO 1.5 pound packages of chicken. Not sure if I misinterpreted that or it’s a typo, but that was waaaaaay too much chicken to cook all at once. I ended up doubling my quinoa and sauce and it was a final total of 6 generous servings. It was a little difficult to get the chicken to brown up with that much in my pan, even with the huge one I own. Also, no need to wash chicken before cooking, really.

IMG_5401Flavor 2.5/4 – This was good but nothing mind blowing – I think the sauce could have used more lime.
Ease 3/4 – if I hadn’t overloaded my pan this might have been a 4.
Guiltless 4/4 – Hearty natural ingredients. And honestly, aside from a little olive oil and honey, most of the calories were straight from the chicken and quinoa.
Leftovers 3.5/4 – reheated pretty darn well. Most quinoa bowls do!

A Year of Recipes: #20

(Experimenting with better lighting...) Apple cider vinegar, coconut milk, olive oil, ginger powder, maple syrup (the real stuff, mind you), Sriracha <3, garlic powder, sesame seed oil, quinoa, cauliflower, collard greens

Experimenting with better lighting, lots of room for growth here…
Apple cider vinegar, coconut milk, olive oil, ginger powder, maple syrup (the real stuff, mind you), Sriracha <3, garlic powder, sesame seed oil, quinoa, cauliflower, collard greens

In my experience cooking thus far, I’ve found that vegan recipes tend to be some of the most challenging dishes to make, but always worth the effort because the flavors are unique and bold! For my third and final recipe of the holiday weekend I chose to end with a challenge and make a Quinoa Cauliflower Bowl with Almond Sriracha Sauce.

This recipe has four parts, with several steps each, and I went into it anticipating this could be a big failure. But like my attitude towards cooking in general, I dove right in ready for whatever happened!

IMG_5339The first part is cooking a half cup worth of quinoa (which then becomes one cup.) I’ve always cooked my quinoa with water and sometimes salt, but never with oil or Sriracha. The sesame oil has a strong “burnt” smell and I was worried it would be too strong in the finished product. And of course, I doubled the Sriracha at this step.

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Will baked cauliflower even get crunchy?

The second step is preparing the cauliflower, by tossing it in a sauce and baking in the oven. I am starting to believe Kroger only sells giant heads of cauliflower, because even with the smaller one I found required I had to double the recipe for the sauce/coating. Again, I used extra Sriracha and worried about the smell of the sesame oil. They weren’t super crunchy coming out of the oven but I don’t think I could have cooked much longer without burning.

Stems easily removed!

Stems easily removed!

The third step involved working with a brand new ingredient for me – collard greens! A classic Southern item (usually made unhealthy with all the fixin’s.) I didn’t even know exactly what I’d be looking for at the store, but a quick Google search and trip through the produce aisle later, I had me some greens.

They were actually easy to work with, I just had to cut out the stem running down the middle and then cut them chiffonade style. I had no idea what that meant, so I sang teach me how to chiffonade to myself and looked it up. It basically just means rolling a stack of leaves up so you can cut them into thin ribbons more easily. I then had Teach Me How to Dougie stuck in my head, which I listened to while I chiffonaded away. Those went into a small pot with some oil and garlic powder to soften them up.

I'm always excited to learn a new skill or technique in the kitchen.

I’m always excited to learn a new skill or technique in the kitchen.  Not perfect, but good enough for my dinner!

IMG_5353Finally I was nearing the end of this long recipe. I just had to make the sauce. The recipe recommended making it in a blender but I did not want to get my food processor dirty so I just mixed it in a bowl. I was worried I had made a huge mistake but it worked just fine! I am pretty sure that coconut milk is black magic, seriously, that stuff is awesome.

To serve, I put half of everything in a bowl. For some reason I worried this was going to taste awful, but it was amazing!  Each of the four parts was delicious on its own account, and then combining them together was perfection, especially with that sauce blending it all together.  I was just disappointed that I could only eat half.

Those vegans know how to make a tasty recipe.

Flavor: 4/4
Ease: 2/4 – The multiple steps aren’t technically challenging but you have to make your quinoa…then you have to make your cauliflower…then the collard greens…then the sauce…
Guiltless: 2/4 – The ingredients themselves are not bad, but the calorie content was a little high for a serving size that was certainly not generous. I think there might be some ways to cut this down to a reasonable level (mostly in the sauce) but I couldn’t eat this every day.
Leftovers 4/4 – I kept half of the sauce in a Tupperware container and added the next day after reheating my leftovers. Almost as good next day!

A Year of Recipes: #19

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Real simple: eggs, cheese, green onion, and bacon (previously crisped, ignore the tupperware)

Another recipe that was previously recommended to me is Eggs in Clouds.  This one came my way several weeks back but I kept putting it off because it only has a few ingredients and in my mind is fairly simple (although egg whites are not the easiest thing to work with!)

This recipe would be pretty easy to halve if needed.  I had gone on my first bike ride of the year so I’d didn’t feel too guilty eating 4 eggs for dinner. (The total calories was under <500 for all 4.)

The recipe requires a few special kitchen gadgets (which always makes me happy) including my egg white separator, hand mixer and parchment paper.

The most labor-intensive part of this recipe is getting the egg whites separated out. As you can see below, one of my yolks broke, but I just rolled with the punches on that one 🙂

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Ooops. Oh well.

The recipe recommend using a small bowl for each yolk, I did not do that (who wants to do all those dishes?) and it was fine just scooping each of the intact yolks out with a spoon when they were needed. The remaining broken yolk I was able to just pour out.

The egg whites need to be whipped to stiff peaks, which I had no problem doing due to my experience making meringues.  This is where the recipe hops from simple to a little more complicated.  Once they are whipped up all the naughty goodies get folded in (only 1/4 cup each, so not too bad.)

I'm proud of that peak.

I’m proud of that peak.

On the parchment paper you make 4 little “clouds” (more like nests imo) and this is the part where you see if you actually whipped the egg whites enough and they are able to hold their shape.  Each cloud needs a well in the middle for later.  They go in the oven for just a few minutes and then come back out to have the yolks added into those center wells.  They go back in the oven again for a few more minutes.

Ready to go back in the oven for a second blast.

Ready to go back in the oven for a second blast.

Then they’re done!  They come out all fluffy and they have that nice runny yolk that used to creep me out but I freakin’ love now.

Gratuitous runny egg shot.  Mmmmmm.

Gratuitous runny egg shot.

Taste: 3/4 – This was good but tasted like any other loaded egg dish I’ve ever had.  I might try a different type of cheese next time, or perhaps red pepper flakes. Or minced garlic…mmm.
Ease: 3/4 – Egg whites can be tricky.
Guiltless: 2.5/4 –  Ooo ‘dat cholesterol.
Leftovers: ?/4 – Eggs generally are best not reheated. The nice thing is that you can easily just make enough for one meal and not have to deal with leftovers.

A Year of Recipes: #18

Lots of goodies: cream chees, bacon, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onion and cauliflower.

Lots of goodies: cream cheese, bacon, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onion and cauliflower.

I’m finally home for the weekend, so I wanted to pick out a few good recipes. The first one I attempted was Twice Baked Cauliflower (basically veggies gone wild.) I’ve had great luck cooking with cauliflower swaps in the past so I had pretty high hopes for this one.  This recipe feels indulgent, but it’s not something I’d find myself regretting eating.

To start I cut up the cauliflower into small pieces and got it soaking in a pot of boiling water, just to soften it up enough that I could “mash” it.

I did not have an actual potato masher, but a fork worked just fine.  The recipe recommends not mashing them too much (leaving chunks) so perhaps if you wanted a more smooth texture a masher would be needed.

I did not have an actual potato masher, but a fork worked just fine. The recipe recommends not mashing them too much (leaving chunks) so perhaps if you wanted a smoother texture a masher would be needed.

I bought pre-cooked bacon, but wanted to crisp it up a little more.  Don’t do what I did and overcook the bacon.  Because they’re precooked they can go from not-done-yet to black-and-burnt in just a few seconds.

I shed a solidarity tear over this moment.

I shed a solidarity tear over this beautiful moment.

IMG_5312I mixed the bacon, as well as the green onion, cream cheese, parmesan and sour cream, with the mashed cauliflower.

I then spread that mixture into my casserole dish, topped with cheese and popped into the oven.

 

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Done and delicious!

This turned out amazing!  The flavor was fantastic. The one thing I might change if I make again is to mash the cauliflower better. I was happy with the outcome, but the consistency of the dish was more like a casserole than a loaded baked potato, so that might be an interesting thing to try.

Taste: 4/4 – The sour cream gave it just the perfect amount of flavor and complimented all the other savory flavors.
Ease: 3.5/4
Guiltless: 2.5/4
Leftovers: 4/4 – Reheated like a mother flippin’ champ.