Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not All Kitchen Adventures are Fruitful

Pun intended.

As you all know by now, I have spent the past week and a half settling into a new apartment. And with that new apartment for my last year of college, comes the need to feed myself everyday since my meal plan has now evaporated. This is no problem, let me assure you; I love to cook and actually look forward to getting in the kitchen and being creative to scrub up some dinner. I have been doing a pretty good job (if I say so myself) in keeping the limited staples that I have interesting and not repeating the same old same old every night. I have also, and more importantly, not fallen into the sinkhole of processed and frozen foods. Ick. I would much rather buy the vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy in order to fill my fridge with the staples I need to balance my diet.

It has been interesting just feeding one person. At home I am feed four and two very eager puppy dogs. But here, just me. How does one just cook for, well, one? Strategically. I pick one or two fruits, and those are my fruits for the week. Three or four veggies to work on for a week. One half gallon of milk. Fat free yogurt. A pack of chicken (but what do I do with the other two breasts in the pack!?)

I started this blog to inform you that not all of my dinners this week have been successes. In an effort to clean out the fridge with the miscellaneous vegetables tid-bits and leftovers, I decided to take some leftover penne whole wheat pasta and some eggs to make pasta carbanarra. Essentially it is the Italian version of breakfast for dinner: cook your pasta, toss in a heated skilled with some scrambled eggs (they would add bacon as well) and some fresh herbs, maybe a sprinkling of cheese, and dinner is served. But I have to use these bell pepper halves, onion pieces, and some carrots. What the heck, I thought, the more veggies, the merrier. Wrong. So so wrong. I had a wonderfully delicious, satisfying, and simple dinner and I went and weirded it up with some sauteed veggies. Sometimes veggies don't belong. Shocking I know, but it's true. So what is the take away here? Eggs and bell peppers don't mix so well with pasta.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Apartment, New Concept!

I am so excited to be writing this blog entry from the living room of my new apartment! We moved in last weekend, and have now officially been here for a week and a day today. Being that it is my last year of college, well, college at this university that is, it seems fitting that I am finally learning and practicing how to feed myself every night, clean every week, grocery shop for one, and walk the couple blocks each day to make it to class on time. These concepts are of course not foreign to me, just much more convenient now that I am not sharing a single room with another girl. I have I mentioned yet how I have a KITCHEN?! I am sure when I buy my own home, I will only care about a nice kitchen. I can sleep in a cardboard box on the kitchen floor as long as there is room for a double oven and stand mixer.

But I digress... I wanted to tell you all how I want to change the nature of my postings a bit. I am still going to cook what I cook best, being healthy, tasty, and pretty foods, but I am going to change my focus a little bit. I am going to show you all how it is possible and even, dare I say, FUN to cook healthy meals while juggling a million other things a day. From Student Government Exec meetings and Dance Ensemble classes, to sorority meetings and those pesky 17 hours of class, I feel as if I am simulating the pending 40, 50, and at times 60 hour work week. And I can still cook for myself. What have I managed to do in the past week you ask? Take a look:
  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Tossed Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
  • Corn Chowder
  • Cherry Strawberry Smooties
  • Banana Almond Muffins
And one of my roommates brought a snow cone machine to college with her so needless to say that has gotten some use this week (lemon lime and cherry coconut ones are frequently my dessert of choice.)

Tonight I was having a craving for Chinese, but not the kind laden in MSG and sodium. Instead, a homemade one with carrots, onions, and broccoli, all crisp tender and deliciously caramelized in a searing hot skillet (new ones for the new kitchen! Thanks for the early birthday presents Mom!)

A little grilled chicken, brown rice, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (I am still building up my pantry of staples like soy sauce, but balsamic was a perfectly delicious alternative) and I had dinner... AND LEFTOVERS!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Goodbye Summer?

It is said that the man who needs a vacation the most is the man who just got back from vacation. I now fully understand what he was talking about.

My family and I just returned from an impromptu week tucked away in rural northern Michigan. A mile away from the sandy (and nearly deserted) shores of Lake Michigan and right on Little Traverse Lake, we spent time together, just the four of us, before we jump headlong into the chaos that consumes August and the return of classes, homework, dance classes, and meetings. These sorts of vacations are my favorite, ones where there is no agenda but plenty to keep me mildly busy in between cat naps and meals. I was able to read not one, but TWO whole books that have been staring at me longingly from my bookshelves for a year now, and stock up on the much needed quiet time before all of my time is devoted to things most decidedly less quiet.We played board games, talked on the porch by tiki light, and played Euchre until we were all rubbing our eyes fighting against the Sand Man. Needless to say it was a wonderful area to visit, plenty of adorable little towns with the most unique shopping, dining, and natural attractions, and I highly recommend it. Just make sure you fully commit to the wonder that is relaxing. Aahhhhhh...

And now planted firmly back into the reality of August, I spent today wading through the 71 emails that had accumulated in my Inbox, finishing up some lose ends that I had put off until "after vacation," and doing laundry and refolding EVERYTHING so it can go back into a suitcase to be taken back to school tomorrow. Which just leads me to the inevitable question that surfaces every August: Where did this summer go? I think through the months between "then" and "now" and make a face of mixed disgust and disappointment. Sad how fast time flies by when you don't keep an eye on it. Though admittedly there are too many things for me to be keeping my eyes on nowadays. So I make the renewed promise to myself to take each day as it comes, reveling in the work and the fun that may come. This year even more so because it's my last year at my university, and thus my last time to make the promise to myself to make this year wonderful. The real world is looming, with real bills and real jobs and real chores and real adult stuff like buying a house and, dare I say, starting a retirement account? Insert another slightly disgusted face here.

I guess the wrapping up of summer has me slightly thoughtful, and I know for many of you our there you are thinking "What the heck is this chick talking about?! It's only August 4th! Summer ain't over until the school bells ring." I agree. So let's relish in the beauty of summertime food yet again!

What do we have here? New recipes!? Why yes, yes we do. I wanted to do something different and was craving some good, old fashioned soul food, which is very different for me. Usually I'm the one who steers clear of fat and calories and absolutely adores summer time because of the abundance of fresh vegetables and lean protein. But today called for gumbo. With the cooked roux and everything. (I also wanted to use my mom's new dutch oven... I really need to get me one of these.) Simply start the gumbo with your butter and oil (the oil raises the scorching temperature of the butter, which allows the fats to be heated to higher temperatures without tasting burnt) and melt, then add flour to create the roux. You need to cook this until it is golden brown, then add your protein. I used Spanish style chorizo and bacon, but ham, chicken, and pork tenderloin could also work.

Roux with flour...

Cooked roux with browned meat (some of that wonderful meat fat can act as your butter/oil combo)

You now want to prepare your vegetables, and in New Orleans they have the Holy Trinity - onions, celery, and bell peppers. No carrots like the traditional French mirepoix. When you process you bell peppers, however, you want to take the membrane out of the inside of them so they more easily release their natural sweetness. 

Simply run your knife along the inside of the quartered peppers to remove the membrane.

Toss the veggies around in your roux and meat mixture, add some broth (beef, veggie, chicken, whatever floats your boat,) bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook until thick and bubbly. Serve over rice.

And of course I had to have something sweet to end the meal.... key lime pie (the healthy way) for everyone!