Tag Archives: quick meals

Oh, Where Do I Begin?

15 Mar

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A version of the Pan Seared Broccoli from Week 2!

Obviously, it’s been a minute. The last few months have been filled with polarizing events leading to certain stressors, and those stressors have led to much consumption of things like cookies, cakes, pasta, and other things that are easy to reach for when I’m not cooking, and of which I should not be eating a lot.  There was a fabulous trip to my new fave city, Asheville, NC.  There was also an emergency oral surgery on Sig and then a horrible, pussy, bloody allergic reaction to a bug bite (poor pup and damn the Florida bugs).  There was an incredibly relaxing Christmas, a fabulous Beef Wellington (one of the best), and a New Year’s celebrated with family and friends (including an amazing home-smoked pork loin).  A significant move also took place – I was offered a position at another school, an opportunity I would’ve been a fool to pass up. So the ever-so-unpleasant experience of emptying a classroom (and then deep-cleaning someone else’s former classroom) was overshadowed by the fantastic new job: teaching first grade!

Not only am I teaching a new grade at a new school, but I also get to share this experience with my mom who is also on the first grade team.   While all of this has definitely kept me busy with much that comes with transitions, it has also been a lot of fun.

But despite (or maybe because of) all of this, I’ve been left with a feeling I’ve never had before.  It’s odd for me – strange and uncomfortable – and if it weren’t for Rob’s challenge to me, I think I’d be lost in my own kitchen.

On more than on occasion, I’ve heard people make comments, likening only to dread, regarding making dinner.  In fact, one of my closest friends describes the pit she gets in her stomach while driving home from work knowing only ingredients – frightening and alone – are awaiting her with doom.  If only Mary Poppins could come and snap her magical fingers and a Michelin Star quality meal would fall from the ceiling, piping hot, plated and presented beautifully.

While Mary Poppins is my all-time favorite hero, alas I know this is impossible.

But what a horrible, shoulder-slumping, overshadowing dark cloud feeling to have, right?

And I got it.

Like a sniffy nose from a 5-year old, once it came on, it lingered.

I love to cook.  Creating meals is my release, my recharge.  How am I literally feeling like it’s a burden to make a meal?!

On top of everything, it is Rob’s deployment season – never ideal.  Luckily, this time in lieu of a deployment, Rob has an extended training stateside.  Oddly enough (and what seems as totally backwards), Rob’s leaving has renewed my kitchen love.

A couple weeks ago, as Rob was making his preparations, he asked me to write up some recipes for him as his on-base housing would have a little kitchenette.  When I say little kitchenette, I’m being kind.  He has two burners, a fry pan, a fridge, and a microwave.  But in all fairness (and considering that this past summer I cooked a dinner on a rock in the middle of a hiking trail – no joke), that’s really all you need to make good, satisfying, home-cooked meals.  That’s just what Rob asked me to do.

So with the challenges of:

  • limited time (cooking after all-day trainings)
  • limited resources (only a small co-op near his location)
  • limited supplies (only a skillet, and no oven)
  • limited money (that speaks for itself)

I created a 4 to 5-day menu of easy-to-cook, easy-to-eat, easy-on-the-wallet recipes all consisting of 1 pan, with leftovers for lunch the next day.  And of course, all the recipes were reminiscent of the meals Rob would have at home.

Each recipe is broken down into ingredients, prep, cooking, and serving.  While every ingredient is standard and accessible, there are a few things that are considered pantry items that can be used way more than once.  Mustard, butter, olive oil, s&p, and the like.

Thus far, Rob has had good, healthy meals, and I’ve gotten positive reviews!  So I decided to include the meal plans for you to enjoy, as well.

This little project made me feel refreshed in my inspiration, motivation, and desire to cook.  That horrible place of cooking apathy was dreadful, and if this little 5-day plan could help others shake the dust off their spatulas, then I’ll call it a win!

If you try any of these recipes, let me know how it goes!

Enjoy!

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

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School Supplies & 10 Minute Pasta

9 Aug

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I went to Target yesterday. Oh, let me preface that and say: school starts next week and I went to Target yesterday. It. Was. Nuts. At one point Rob looked like he was about to straight-arm a 7-year old just to get to the crayons. I stood at a safe distance while he ventured in and out of the school supply section with Bear Grylls-like prowess, emerging triumphantly with the 64-pack of colors with the sharpener in the back. Rob was unscathed, but as we walked away with the echoes of children crying, yelling, running, my eyes widened with what awaits me in the coming week.

It’s funny; the teacher supply section is not at all near the kids supply section. It is quiet in the teacher section and the glossy books happily stand, emitting joy and hope of future learning. Among one of them, standing out like a beacon of necessity, was Color Me Calm 100 Coloring Templates for Meditation and Relaxation. An adult, Zen coloring book which intends to “help bring you to a relaxed emotional state as a way to self-soothe.” Not so much a teacher resource, but definitely a teacher necessity.

People, do not pass “go,” do not pick up $200, summer is over and all signs point directly to Back To School.

Which, of course, makes me reminisce on the summer. It was a fun, busy, and traveling break, visiting my sister in New Orleans, my friends in SoCal, and hitting every state in New England. Rob and I went to a couple weddings, camped in Maine (praying the lightning storm wouldn’t kill us in the tent – well, I prayed, Rob thought it was cool), backpacked and camped in New Hampshire (cooked a quinoa and cod salad on a rock in the middle of the forest), made it to the top of Mt. Washington, and discovered the wonderfully quaint (and delicious) town of Stowe, Vermont. We spent time with both of our families, relaxing in Connecticut, wine tasting and dining on the North Fork, and currently we are finishing this shooting match back in Jacksonville by lying on the couch as much as possible before time runs out.

While we were very blessed to have such an eventful summer, we are also aware that the whirlwind days of school and deployments are right around the corner.

When Rob deployments coincide with the start of the school year, I kind of fall into a cooking rut. It’s just me (and Sig) in the house; so cooking a full-fledged meal, with leftovers, seems a bit superfluous. My nights can consist of popcorn, wasabi peas, peanuts, and if it was a bad day at work, frozen black truffle cheese pizza. If I’m at all feeling the effect of those really trying days, I’ll even resort to my famous microwaved nachos (organic blue corn chips and shredded jack/cheddar cheese nuked for 30 seconds, then topped with too many drips of Tapatio). But being determined to make this new school year a healthier start, I did a solo-dinner test run.

With Jacksonville’s heat historically lasting well into October, a culinary silver lining is that farm-fresh tomatoes are ripe, fruity, brightly acidic, and will be perfect for a good while now. Another thing about the heat is that spending anytime outside is next to dreadful, and sitting inside gaining cooking inspiration from my many cookbooks is ideal. So after reading Tina Nordstrom’s Scandinavian Cooking recipe for Gnudi with Sage-Roasted Tomatoes and Caramelized Butter, I was inspired.

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When inspiration strikes, I act quickly. My waiting-too-late-to-figure-out-dinner-when-Rob-is-on-a-night-flight hunger made me made me act even more quickly. Thus born was the 5-ingredient, 10-Minute Pasta dinner suitable for a solo meal, elegant enough for quick company, yet comforting and fresh enough to leave anyone feeling last-bite-satisfied.

Ms. Nordsrom has a thing for browned (caramelized) butter, and I don’t blame her. The stuff is awesome. Fabulous, even. And frankly, I don’t use it enough. So here’s my interpretation:

While waiting for 3 tbsp of unsalted butter to heat, melt, and brown in a large pan over med-high heat (browned = the kitchen starts to smell like popcorn and the happy, sputtering butter sound immediately ceases), slice a good pint of farm-fresh grape tomatoes in half. Tossing them into the pan with the butter, the acid from the tomatoes immediately starts to release and emulsify with the fat, creating a silky and fragrant sauce. Seasoning with s&p is key here. I also added about ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, because I’m spicy like that, but it’s not necessary to the dish. Add whole wheat spaghetti (not my favorite, but works oh-so-well here with its nuttiness becoming a star flavor) into a separate pot of salted boiling water. Once cooked through, add the pasta to the tomatoes, and thoroughly toss over low heat. If needed to thin the mixture, add ¼ c of the starchy pasta cooking water to the pan. Adding ¼ c freshly, and very roughly chopped Italian parsley, as well as 3 tbsp of toasted pine nuts into the pan finishes the dish.

This meal was so perfect – super easy, unbelievably tasty with brown butter/pine nut/ wheat pasta nuttiness and tomato-tanginess leaving a lasting buttery taste, cut only by the fresh grassiness of parsley.   I don’t make pasta meals all that often, but this one will absolutely be a back to school staple.

On a side note, that Zen adult coloring book, it is so much fun. Of course I bought it! A supposed calming resource in the teacher’s resource section provided right before school starts? Completely worth the try. Then again, so is the pasta. Back to school or not, this is an end-of-summer recipe homerun for just one, two, or a few to devour!

Enjoy!

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