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Posts Tagged ‘fun times as the household chef’

My dad and I used to go out for pizza to this little pizza joint on the edge of town when I was a kid. They had the best pizza. But one day, the pepperoni (my favorite pizza topping) developed this weird smell. No one could smell it but me, and my parents frankly thought I was ridiculous. But to me, anytime I was around pepperoni – there or anywhere – I was overpowered by this sharp unpleasant nearly unendurable scent. The upshot was that I couldn’t eat pepperoni – or pizza – for A Long Dark Time. Years, maybe. So long that the pizza joint got turned over to new owners who transformed it into a rather seedy bar.

I have since come around and pepperoni smells wonderful once again and remains one of my favorite foods. The point is that I am not unfamiliar with being put off by certain foods. It’s happened before with ground beef. Perhaps it has even happened, years ago, with chicken; I can’t remember. But I’m off chicken currently, and it’s cramping my style.

Last week, I ate some leftover chicken paprikas and got a weird piece of chicken in my bite. I tried to keep chewing it, which was a bad plan, and ended up gagging into the sink and washing the rest of my paprikas (a much beloved and comforting food!) down the drain. BOO. And now I am queasy about chicken.

CHICKEN. I cannot stand the thought of it! It makes my face scrunch up and my stomach heave just to write the word on this page! And yet… how will I live without it?!?! Probably 80% of my meals revolve around chicken!

I am not opposed to eating vegetarian-ish things. But my husband needs Meat. I make him a beautiful butternut squash soup and he says, “where’s the protein?” He has gone All In on the Protein At Every Meal deal and I try to live up to my role, in his eyes, as Protein Provider.

We could have a lot of fish. But I like to buy fresh fish (am spoiled) (also my husband is spoiled and swears that any fish not fresh off the fishmonger’s ice tastes fishy) and also fish is expensive. I like to admire the beautiful snow white flesh of the halibut but I am loathe to spend $24 a pound for one dinner. Let alone more than one dinner. No thank you.

We could eat various other meats. But I am going to be honest with you here, I can only eat so much beef. Tacos, yes, maybe once a week (although they are not conducive to my Healthy Eating plans; if I’m going to eat one taco I’m going to eat six and I’m not even joking). Chili, fine. But it’s not a weekly kind of meal. Filet mignon, okay, once in a blue moon (expensive; finicky and oil-splattery to cook). Other cuts… just don’t appeal to me. I’m not a person who enjoys things that are shaped from ground beef – outside of hamburgers, that is. I won’t do loaves or balls sculpted out of meat, no thank you. I mean, I could probably do a pot roast now and again. But that’s a labor intensive affair right there. I am all about the easy meals. Same goes to beef burgundy or beef stew, by the way. Fajitas, but with steak? Meh, but maybe. That’s about it, folks.

This leaves pork. I do enjoy a good pork. Har har. I can do chops and tenderloin just fine. But… I just don’t think I could come up with enough variety. It’s not quite as versatile as that veritable blank canvas of foodstuffs, the boneless skinless chicken breast. I guess we will find out.

(If you are thinking, “Wait a second there… you have named literally three types of meat when there are MANY MORE OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU! Turkey! Duck! Rabbit! Veal! Venison! Buffalo! Ham! Boar! Game hen! Sausage! Lamb! Shellfish!” Well then perhaps you have underestimated my ability to be squeamish about nearly everything on earth.)

(Neither my husband nor I eat tofu or any other plant-based protein substance. I know. We are lame.)

Well, despite all these crazy restrictions, I have managed to scrape together a week of meals that sound pretty appealing. And, most importantly, chicken free.

Dinners for the Week of January 8-January 14

Note: This is a new-to-me recipe but it sounds scrumptious. I haven’t decided if I will make this with beef or shrimp yet. Probably I will end up getting beef for my husband and then I will just eat the veggies.

Follow Up: This recipe was pretty good. I did end up eating it without veggies, and we added a handful of broccoli to the peppers and onions. However… as with most things containing Chinese Five-Spice powder, I found this overpoweringly five-spicy. I knew going in that I find that spice to be a little cloying, so I halved it. But it was still too much. So if I make this in future, I would either not include it at all or put in something like an eighth of a teaspoon or less. Aside from that, this was super easy to put together.

Note: Yes, this is a recipe for chicken. I am going to use pork chops instead. (In actuality, I used pork tenderloin. What? I like to play it fast and loose over here.)

Follow Up: I ended up foregoing the zucchini; instead, I made the tzatziki sauce that went with the recipe and made a quick Greek salad with quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion, drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, and a splash of red wine vinegar.

Note: I’m not sure what to pair with this, as a side… Maybe I will do some black beans? A simple salad? This is going to be a game-time decision, if by game-time I mean the grocery store produce section.

Follow Up: The rub/marinade for this salmon is super yummy. The avocado cream is also yummy. But I don’t know if they are necessary together? The avocado cream felt a little superfluous, and it was so limey that it kind of overpowered the flavor of the fish.

I paired this with a simple salad: mixed greens, quick pickled radishes, green pepper slices, and a sprinkle of roasted sunflower seeds. Then I made this quick lime vinaigrette. The salad was honestly the star of the show. Next time, I might make more salad, slice some avocado, and put the salmon on top. Skip the avocado cream altogether.

Note: This sounds decadent and totally anti-diet, but it has shrimp, which I enjoy for two reasons: 1. They are fairly low-calorie, if that matters to you. 2. I can only eat four or five at a time, which helps with #1 and also ensures I don’t spend a billion dollars on shrimp. The bad thing about shrimp though is the de-veining, which is DISGUSTING. Let’s not even think about it for One More Second or we’ll be down another protein.

Follow up: My grocery store sells shelled, de-veined raw shrimp in a big two-pound bag. I wasn’t in the mood to spend $20 to experiment with shrimp, so I bought some raw shrimp from my fish counter. The fishmonger told me that they are the exact same shrimp from the bag, so it was a good way to test them out. And they were excellent. I rinsed them several times in cold water, just in case they were salty, and they ended up not being salty at all.

This recipe was very good, but pretty labor intensive. I made the cajun seasoning (even though I didn’t have white pepper — whoops) and then I used my immersion blender to puree the sauce so there weren’t any tomato chunks in it. And even though I used the same pot for the sauce that I used to sauté the shrimp and veggies, I still had that plus the pasta pot plus the big bowl I used to keep the cooked shrimp and veggies warm plus lots of measuring devices that I had to wash. It was very tasty. It made a TON of sauce, and I am not sure how it will be as leftovers. We’ll see, I suppose. Next time I would probably try to halve the recipe, and I would make sure to have skim milk on hand (I ended up using whole milk, which is what I had in the fridge).

Note: Sometimes cod is good, sometimes it is bitter. I do not know when or how to determine which kind of cod I will get. Perhaps I will choose an alternative – tilapia is my the chef’s favorite because it is sturdy while still flaky and has the uncanny ability to take on any flavor you apply to it; my husband the dining public prefer more expensive “less fishy” fish.

Note: This marinade is good on chicken, I think it will be just as good slathered on a tenderloin.

Follow Up: I ended up using this marinade on pork chops rather than tenderloin and it was delicious.

Note: I am still kicking myself for not saving the recipe for the first time I made salmon cakes. It did NOT include Old Bay, which neither sounds nor tastes appealing (to me), but it was easy and fairly yummy. I have a sneaking suspicion that I Frakensteined my salmon cakes from multiple recipes, so it can likely never be recreated. Oh well. This version – stripped of the Elderly Docks and parsley – should do.

There you go! A chicken-free week! I plan to get the salmon all at once and then maybe make the salmon cakes and freeze them? Does that sound too ambitious? Perhaps. And then I will get the cod/tilapia/what-have-you on Saturday and make the cod meal that night. The shrimp… well, I’ve heard that frozen shrimp is one of the Great Hidden Deals of the grocery store, so I may attempt to put that to the test. If so, I won’t need to worry about waiting a few days before adding it to a meal.

What are you eating this week, Internet?

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I woke up at five this morning after dreaming something ridiculous that I won’t go into here. (It wasn’t salacious, sadly. Just odd.) The key part was that my husband was somehow melded into my high school boyfriend in that weird way of dreams. So that when I woke up my brain decided to replay in gory detail how awful I was to said boyfriend when I went away to college. There’s nothing I can do about it now, and also I don’t think it was really THAT bad, and also we were friendly years afterwards so I don’t think there are lasting scars on his end, plus we are both married and I haven’t thought about him in countless months. But thank you, brain, for steeping me in shame at so early an hour so I can bask in it all day long.

Last night I made an excellent recipe for zucchini noodles. Let me state for the record here that I have no patience for foods masquerading as other foods. I love zucchini, and therefore I enjoy zucchini noodles (although in their noodleishness they are difficult to eat). But I’m not going to try to convince you that they are a good or even fair approximation of noodles themselves. I’m not going to replace them in my recipe for spaghetti and meat sauce, for instance. I am not going to dress them with cheese and pretend they bear any resemblance to macaroni and cheese. They are not noodles. They are zucchini in noodle form. If you don’t like zucchini, you will probably not enjoy them. I discovered this the hard way, by trying cauliflower rice a few years ago. NEVER AGAIN, Internet. Never again. I don’t like cauliflower and spending nearly an hour rasping it against a box grater and getting cauliflower shards all over my kitchen did not change that in the least. I keep hearing about cauliflower mashed potatoes and cauliflower pizza crust and while I am intrigued, I am NOT going to fall for it. STOP PRETENDING, cauliflower. Just be who you are.

ANYWAY. The recipe I tried last night is really good, but it is good in a zucchini way. If you like zucchini you should try it: Easy 10 Minute Asian Zucchini Noodles from Gimme Delicious.

What do you do when you find a recipe you like, and you want to try it again? I’m really curious, by the way. Do you have a list on your phone? A folder on your desktop? A physical file folder into which you stow printed recipes?

I really want to know, because I haven’t found a good system.

As pretty much sole cook for our household, this is the kind of boring thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve mentioned previously, we eat a lot of meals that look like Chicken + Vegetable. That is a combination that gets boring realllllllllly quickly, so I am always on the lookout for new, delicious ways to shake up the boring. But there are three problems I’ve run into:

  1. What is the best way to keep track of recipes that look good but I haven’t tried?
  2. What is the best way to separately track recipes that I have tried and want to use again?
  3. What is the best way to avoid re-making a recipe that I have tried and was terrible?

Okay, maybe they are three variations on the same problem. What it comes down to is that I need some sort of filing system. One that is more efficient and comprehensive and located in one, easy-to-access spot than what I currently use.

What I do now is a combination of things. First, I have a folder on my laptop where I bookmark recipes that I want to try. Since I follow a bunch of food blogs on Feedly, it’s really easy for me to put things into my Recipes folder.

But it’s super unwieldy. I have SO MANY recipes. And there’s no rhyme or reason to them, either. Chicken dishes and veggie sides and frosting recipes and how-to posts for making rainbow layer cakes and the best marinades for steak are all jumbled together in the same folder, and many of those are recipes I’ve tried and either liked or NOT.

Meal planning 3

This blog post is chock FULL of really boring, really poorly lit and off-kilter photos! I know my photography skillz keep you coming back!

You may be thinking, Why not just go in and set up some additional folders? And you would be smart for thinking that, and also I tried that and it isn’t working. First, I had been collecting recipes for about a year before I went in and tried to organize them, so it was already a jumbled mess. Second, the organization tools at my disposal are not particularly user friendly. I can’t easily grab a recipe or ten and drag and drop them into the Veggie Sides folder, for instance. Getting things into the appropriate folder involves a lot of scrolling and it is tedious and time consuming. Third, I still run into the issue of what to do with things I’ve already tried. Sure, I could set up a sub-folder in each category for Make Again and Don’t Make Again… but that gets to be even more unwieldy and also I am kind of lazy.

Meal planning 4

To the left is an example of what’s inside one of my folders. Supposedly, this contains favorite recipes that I should return to again and again. This is the first time I’ve opened this folder in many months, so it’s not really working as planned. Also, you may notice that I occasionally (okay, more often than reasonable) bookmark something I’ve already bookmarked. I REALLY need a better system.

PLUS, I am not always on my computer doing stuff. I do a lot of recipe finding on my phone. So I have a folder of recipes on my phone, too… and getting them to my computer is not simple. I really need a system that works across devices.

The best part of my system is my weekly dinner plan email. Each week before I go grocery shopping, I create an email to myself that lists all the meals and includes links to online recipes. Sometimes I’ll open the email a few days in advance, if I already know that I’ll be making something specific, or if it’s a week where I’m feeding people beyond my own immediate family. I always reply to the previous week’s dinner email, so there’s a single record of everything I’ve ever planned to eat since March of 2017 when I started it.

Then, after the week’s meals, I try to write notes to myself about what worked and what didn’t. So after last night’s zucchini noodles success, I responded the email and wrote, DELICIOUS! MAKE AGAIN.

This email is also really useful for any modifications I do to a recipe. For instance, last year I found this Martha Stewart recipe for crockpot garlic chicken that sounded so good, but wasn’t. But instead of giving up on it, I kept tinkering with it until I got it right. And I put those notes to myself in my dinner planning email. If I get any feedback on the recipe from my husband, I put those in the notes. So it’s all there in one place.

Meal Planning 2

I first tried the Martha Stewart recipe in May of 2017. My reaction was that it was too sweet. Hot tip: “More lemon juice” can solve most of the world’s ills. At least foodwise.

Dinner Planning Email 1

Here is where I recorded the modifications that made the Martha Stewart recipe not only edible but delicious. Ah memories. This is also the day when I discovered my husband — whom I’ve known for SEVENTEEN YEARS — doesn’t really like soup.

(Sometimes, when I have the wherewithal, I post the modified recipe here. Like with the “chicken tikka masala” recipe I revamped to suit my own needs. It got to be too annoying to look at the original recipe and try to remember what I changed each time I made it.)

So my meal planning email is the best part of my meal planning system. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes I have to scroll and scroll through old emails to find what I’m looking for. And, because I haven’t mastered the art of organizing what I haven’t tried, I tend to go back to the same things over and over.

I’ve contemplated doing a weekly meal plan blog post. Many bloggers do this, and I always enjoy reading them. And I could always add notes to myself in the comments. But again, this does nothing for the stacks and stacks of recipes I have yet to try.

There’s got to be an app that handles this, right? But I don’t want to look for and evaluate and try a bunch of them. And honestly, thinking about moving all my carefully curated but as-yet-untried recipes to a new place sounds exhausting. But I WANT something better and I suppose I am willing to do a certain amount of work to make it happen.

How do YOU keep track of what you’re cooking? What’s working and what isn’t? Have you come across a magic app that does it all? If you have a meal planning and tracking system you love, I am HERE FOR IT.

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