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What are we having tonight?

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Oh, God. It’s happening. I’m obsessed with something new. Long live the short attention span 🙂

I’m taking a Guild vacation for the holidays, attempting to write a new project, procrastinating like a pro. And for some reason, I’ve become fixated on cooking. I did a themed cooking gift for my boyfriend and it got me on a major kick.

I’ve cooked 5 days in a row, which I think is a world record for me, and I’m astonished by:

a) How hard it is to find a middle ground between my boyfriend’s taste for meat and potatoes and my taste for tahini and tofu.

b) How there will always be one ingredient that I overlooked, and improvising is too anxiety inducing for me, so I have to go to the store every night.

c) How many #$#$@% dishes that I can dirty for one %&*% meal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my new regiment. I give it at least 2 more weeks before I go back to Daddy Wong’s delivery. And I find it strangely comforting to open up the fridge and see all that tupperware holding leftovers. I never eat the leftovers because I gorked out so bad on the initial experience, but having it there is so…domestic. Maybe it’s the holidayspirit.

I have several cookbooks I’ve been using. Unless it has pictures and wide margins, forget it. How do people use those ones with non-glossy paper and micro print?!?! My favorite, which all my friends and family have because I’ve spread it around like a bad disease, is Seriously Simple.

This book is basically the bomb. All the recipes are great, except for the orange chicken which turned out blah for me. The sausage pasta recipe can be made in a trough and eaten throughout the week, it’s so fantastic. Everything is Seriously Simple!! (insert announcer voice) The fish recipe where you basically toss in in a bag with olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes you wonder if someone is messing with your mind. It doesn’t look like there are enough ingredients to make something that could be good, but it does! Psych!

I generally like to use epicurious.com because they have that test kitchen and people rate the recipes, which has helped me dodge a nasty bullet a few times, plus it’s free and printable. But there’s something nice about seeing the pretty pictures, so I picked up the new Rachel Ray Cookbook yesterday. “Yum-o”. Yes, that’s right, that’s the title.

I didn’t look that close at the cover at the store, I was distracted by a picture of some chocolate thing when I was flipping through. So, had I seen the words “YUM-O” blazened across her boobies, I might have thought twice about my purchase.

Also, this book is basically an amalgamation of her other books, so there are no new recipes, which is fine since I was a Rachel Ray virgin, but that could tick off people who are fans. Also, by every recipe is the graphic “30 minute meals!” but then in the instructions sometimes it says “bake for 1 hour”… which is a betrayal, at best. She uses these annoying baby-talk terms in the book, like “evoo” for olive oil, and “stoup” for stew/soup mutation recipes which makes me want to slap the book. “Stoup” sounds too close to stupid for me to be comfortable with the term, but I made some tonight, sausage rabe and white bean, and it was super yummy. Actually, here’s a picture!

Felicia’s Stoup! Kinda looks like vomit if you squint, but it tasted super good. Anyway, my feelings are mixed about the whole purchase. My grandma thinks that Rachel is just “too cute!” so I’ll continue plugging away with it. I have to, I spilled tomato sauce all over page 59.

  • Ben S II

    Okay, time for a Bachelor Recipe that uses 1 bowl, 1 baking dish, and 1 spoon. The recipe is ridiculously easy.

    3 medium or 4 small bell peppers
    1 box instant stuffing mix (my preference is cornbread dressing)
    1/4 cup dried cranberries

    1. Cut the tops off the peppers and clean out the seeds and vanes
    2. Make the stuffing according to the instructions on the box, adding the dried cranberries (I go the microwave route to save time)
    3. If your feeling adventurous, add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and substitute 1/8 cup of cider vinegar for 1/8 cup of water when you make the stuffing
    4. Stuff the peppers taking care to fill completely (it’s permissible to press it in)
    5. Put the peppers in a 9 inch pyrex dish (a cake pan will work as well as an aluminum pie plate) drizzle a little olive oil over the outside of the peppers and put them a 375-400 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes
    6. When you see the tops of the peppers starting to brown and bubble, you’re done

    This works well as a vegetarian main dish or as a side dish. Time involved from start to oven is about 15 minutes. Keeps for several days in the fridge and reheats easily in the microwave

    I repeat, one bowl, one baking dish, and one spoon a minimum of hassle with preparation and clean up.

  • Mia

    I was starving when I read all this 🙁 Le pout.

  • cirby

    The best cornbread ever (you need a good cast-iron skillet for this, and if you don’t have one, you should anyway):

    Skillet Cornbread

    1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 cup shortening (or vegetable oil or bacon fat)
    1 1/2 cups buttermilk
    2 large eggs

    Preheat oven to 425 F.

    Heat the skillet in the oven.

    Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in large mixing bowl.

    Add buttermilk and eggs, mix.

    Get skillet out of oven, add shortening to skillet, let it melt.

    Add shortening to batter, mix thoroughly.

    Pour the batter into the hot skillet and return to oven.

    Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and center springs back when lightly pressed.

  • Cassie Dawn

    I was mostly self-taught when it came to cooking. My mom got a job at a doctor’s office about the time I was 13 and she worked until 7 (though sometimes she had to stay a little late) so she was normally getting home no sooner than 7:30. My brother had already moved out to live with his new wife (and even if he hadn’t, he only knew how to use a grill) and my father worked these wicked 12+ hour night shifts so for me it was “learn to cook, or wait until mom got home, where she’d be tired, and she’d cook and we’d eat by sometime around 8-8:30. So I learned to cook.

    She made it easy on me at first, she’d cook the meat in the morning before work and put it into the refrigerator and all I had to cook were the side items. But then on the weekends she’d have me cook everything while she watched… and that was also when we’d do the more complex recipes like spaghetti and lasagna and meatloaf. Actually it was then that I learned to cool meatloaf in the only way it was good to me… using picante sauce. haha So I had some trial and error experimentation, looked some things up for easy ways to cook things that were very yummy. One of my favorites became browning meat early in the day, like around lunchtime, and pouring in a can of tomatoes and then about a can’s worth of water, or I’d use creme of mushroom soup and some water and maybe some spices. Then I’d heat it until the sauce started bubbling, cover it, and turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Then I’d leave it to slow-cook like that until dinner, and the meat came out “fall apart on the fork tender” and very tasty. 🙂

    Another thing I learned was how to make baked potatoes in about fifteen minutes. Wash them, pat them dry, rub some olive oil into them to cover them completely, and then wrap them up in plastic wrap and put them in the microwave for 15 minutes or so. When they’re done you should be able to stab them with a fork and it should pop through with minimal resistance. They come out very tender and tasty. 🙂

    The only other suggestion I can think of off the top of my head is about vegetables. If you don’t have a vegetable steamer (I’ve never had one and I have no idea how they work…) then you can pour the vegetables straight from the freezer and into a microwave safe coverable bowl (I’ve found glass ones with the lids that you can turn just enough to let steam vent work best). There’s usually microwave instructions on the veggie bags or boxes. And if you have to add any water, it’s usually only a teaspoon or two (a little more if they’re dry and fresh instead of wet and frozen). If they’re frozen it’s usually anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes of microwaving. Fresh it’ll only take 2 to 4 minutes. But they come out pretty tasty and more or less steamed in taste (microwaves work by turning water in or around food into steam which cooks/heats the food, which is why if there’s not enough water food becomes really dry in the microwave… or if it’s susceptible to steam such as bread, it gets soggy.

    I also have to admit to using mostly the instant flavored mashed potatoes like you see in those boxes that usually carry 2 bags in them… haha. I can make mashed potatoes from actual potatoes but I normally only do for holidays or special occasions because it takes forever and is a lot of messy work. 😉 I prefer my cooking to be easy but tasty. haha

    Have fun cooking! 🙂 You might want to consider getting a spice rack too… I really miss my mom’s. Here we have all the spices in the cabinets and it takes forever for me to find a particular spice… and sometimes I can’t find it so I have to improvise which sucks.

  • Soma

    i like Giada [de Laurentiis]

    *le sigh

  • Courtney

    Ditto on Giada. Used to have a girlfriend who looked like her, except younger and without the crazy “show all my teeth” smile that Giade does.

  • Ben

    Mark Bittman has written the greatest starter cookbook of all time called, “How to cook everything.” It’s the bomb. This book is fat and it really explains how and why things are done a certain way as opposed to just page after page of recipes. http://www.amazon.com/How-Cook-Everything-Simple-Recipes/dp/0471789186/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198249362&sr=8-1

    Advice on cooking in general:
    Living in an apartment you need two items, a slow cooker and a cast iron skillet. You can make amazing foods in both and they are simple to use, require next to no time and lastly, clean up is a snap. They make baggie liners for slow cookers (sold near the ziplock bags) so when you’re done with your middle eastern stew, you just throw out the liner and you’re done. And cast iron skillets never get washed so you’re pretty much done from jump street.

  • J.K.

    Alton Brown.

    FINALLY! Someone who will disect the foods I eat into quantifiable data befitting any well stocked chemistry lab. er… kitchen.

    Never did like those books that say “you can substitute this for that” or “it’s done when it’s golden brown”… as if I can’t establish a hundred different shades of golden brown. It’s good to know *why* my food is doing what it does.

    Then again, I’m the kind of guy who wants street addresses, not directions like “turn at the big oak tree.”

  • Dustin

    Why is that book advertising Rachel Ray’s breasts are “Yum-O”??

  • Jen

    I must share in the above commenters’ cast iron skillet love. It’s inexpensive, nearly indestructible, heats evenly, and cleanup is horrifyingly easy.

    Sorry, can’t share in the support of Rachael Ray. 🙁
    I have to turn the channel when one of her shows or commercials comes on.

    I can contribute an easy “recipe” for asparagus. I usually do this in the toaster oven so cleanup is minimal. Never mind trying to steam it. Arrange the spears in a single layer on the pan. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Broil for like 10 minutes and you’re done. No cure for the asparagus pee though. ;P

  • cirby

    I do have to comment again about cast-iron skillets.

    This is the single most important device to have for home cooking.

    And home defense.

    You can cook things in a cast iron skillet that won’t cook in anything else. Omelettes are a mandatory test for cooking (good for 30 points or so of Cooking Skill). And when some moron climbs through your window at 3 AM, you can clang him on the head. Or turn it sideways and make it an axe (20 points).

  • Tad

    i also love giada – in fact, i have a pot of her marinara sauce recipe on the stove as i write this.

    i also love ‘everyday food’ magazine which is put out by martha stewart living. the recipes in there are usually quite good, and i find myself cooking out of each issue all month long.

    lastly, i used to love rachael ray, but i just can’t handle her anymore. her ‘evoo’ crap is just so annoying. if her meals actually took 30 minutes to make, i might be a bit more forgiving, but i have never, ever cooked one of her meals in 30 minutes, and find her dishonesty about the actual cooking time of her recipes to be unforgivable.

  • dparr

    I learned to cook from my dad, who is of the Italian “don’t measure anything; just throw it all in until it tastes good” school of culinary arts. Here’s the family recipe for simple pasta sauce:

    Place twelve to fourteen Roma or “plum” tomatoes in a zip-lock bag and freeze the tomatoes overnight. I keep a bagful of Romas in the freezer at all times, so I can make pasta sauce whenever the mood strikes.

    To remove the skins from the tomatoes, hold each one briefly under warm water. The skin will peel right off. Remove the “pip” with a paring knife.

    Place the frozen, peeled tomatoes in a saucepan and heat on the stovetop at medium-high. When the tomatoes have thawed to liquid, lower the heat but keep the sauce simmering. Add crushed garlic (we are garlic maniacs, so I use about four large cloves), a palmful of dried oregano, a palmful of dried basil (or chopped fresh basil if you have it), and a bunch of coarse-ground black pepper. Adding a bit of dark red wine such as Merlot deepens the flavor of the sauce. Alternatively, one could add a dash of balsamic vinegar. If, after simmering for a while, the sauce seems a bit too acidic to the taste, add a dab of honey or a dash of sugar to reduce the acidic “bite.”

    Fresh vegetables — slices of red pepper, mushrooms, cubed eggplant — can be added to the sauce as it simmers. The veggie I most often add to the sauce is zucchini. I shred a small zucchini with the coarse side of a cheese grater and add this to the sauce. It gives the sauce more body and texture, makes more servings, and it’s very yummy. Shredded zucchini should be added after the sauce has simmered a while, because otherwise the zucchini breaks down too much.

    The goal then is to simmer the assembled ingredients until they’re thick and saucy. Maybe ten, fifteen minutes. With the prep work — peeling tomatoes and garlic, chopping or shredding vegetables, putting pasta on to boil — it takes maybe half an hour.

    Buon Appetito!

    Recommended books: Quick Vegetarian Pleasures by Jeanne Lemlin, and The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop.

  • OMG dparr, I am TOTALLY making that recipe. Just reading it made my mouth water. I have a particular passion for eggplant, so I’m definitely going that route. Thanks so much for the detailed recipe!

    Tad, I love those little Martha Stewart Everyday Living ones too. I just made some cookies, decorated for Xmas, from that book. They were delish sugar cookies.

    To be honest, I have no clue what a slow cooker is good for. I make a lot of soup, but I just do it on the stove. What use is a slow cooker, like what kind of dishes do you make with it?

  • Curtis

    Slow cookers can be used to prepare a lot of dishes. I use one quite frequently. When I come home from work for lunch I just toss everything that I need for what I’m cooking into the slow cooker, go back to work, and have a ready dinner for when I return home later in the day. They work extremely well for chili and pasta sauces.

    Another reason for using a slow cooker is that the longer a food is cooked relates to how much flavor can be extracted from the seasonings in your recipe. Have you ever noticed that pasta sauces often taste better the day after you made them? That’s because the spices in the sauce have had overnight to work on the flavor of the dish.

    Recipes for slow cookers can be found in many cookbooks and, of course, online. They are great for making such things as roasts, soups and stews, and sauces. Plus, having such a slow cook time can give you the opportunity for other things, such as reading, gaming, or whatever else you’d like to fill your afternoon with. ^^

    Give the slow cooker an honest try, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  • Cassie Dawn

    I usually just use a large covered skillet (I don’t know if there’s a fancy name for them or not…) it’s good for browning the meat and then adding the sauce to slow-cook. I also have a crock-pot though for soups and chili and roasts.

    If I were to make, say, a vegetable and beef soup, I’d brown and drain the beef, pour it into the crock pot, add the vegetables, tomatoes, water and spices, stir it up, put the cover on, set it on low, and walk away. 6 or so hours later, the vegetables are tender and the spices have had time to soak into everything and the soup comes out tasting awesome. Just heating it up on the stove is fine if you can’t get it started early but it won’t be as savory.

    The advantages of slow-cooking other meats like roasts and chicken breasts and such is that again, it gives time for the meat to absorb the liquid and spices (kind of like when you marinade over night) but also because it’s slow-cooked, it comes out REALLY tender. Have you ever eaten roast beef with only a fork? It beats dry, oven-roasted roasts any day.

    I can’t speak for vegetarian dishes though… closest thing to them I’ve had were veggie burgers and spinach lasagna, but I’m not too sure on how to make either. The latter was a recipe I never got around to learning from my mom. Can’t be too hard to figure out though… fresh spinach… alfredo sauce, lasagna noodles… baking dish… hmm.

  • dparr

    You’re welcome, Felicia. Enjoy your Pasta alla Parr. If you are going to add eggplant, cube it small (one-inch cubes) and add it early on in the simmering process so it has time to soften and blend with the sauce. I should mention that the recipe can be modified to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (which translates as “whore’s spaghetti,” so named because the ingredients are inexpensive enough for a prostitute to afford). Just replace the basil and oregano with a spoonful of pickled capers (be sure to rinse and drain the capers first) and a whole bunch of pitted, chopped Kalamata black olives. In this case it’s the crushed garlic, capers and olives that give the sauce its flavor. I’m getting hungry.

    By the way, if soup is your thing, I highly recommend the book A Beautiful Bowl of Soup by Paulette Mitchell. The photos alone will make your stomach growl.

  • thanks for the suggestion on the book Seriously Simple… i added it to my Amazon wish list.

    i have all of Giada’s books (love her!) and almost every single one of her shows on TiVo (well, transfered to an external HD) except for her early stuff, which Food Network doesn’t seem to want to reair. i hope she starts making shows on baby food (since she’s pregnant) or some more vegetarian episodes. i’m not vegetarian by any means, but somedays, i just don’t want to eat meat.

    what you cooked looks delish, Felicia! i only became serious about cooking the last couple years. i’ve learned how to make a handful of my native dishes (Filipino) and i just try to perfect the ones i like from Giada’s show or her cookbooks. if you find 20 or so recipes you’re best at, just keep rotating them or substitute one or two ingredients and you’ll never run out of things to cook.

  • Ben

    Dparr–that really does sound yummy however, I am wondering why the beautiful, flavor loaded Roma’s need to be frozen???

  • dparr

    Hey Ben. The tomatoes don’t have to be frozen. If one intends to make pasta sauce right away, the tomatoes can be bought at the market or picked off the vine and have the peels removed with boiling water. I just like the convenience of being able to bust out a bagful of tomatoes at any time and make pasta sauce without going shopping.

  • edgar

    I’m just glad I’m not to blame for the Felicia cooking bug that’s going around…

    For Christmas I “cooked” (no-bake) a chocolate pudding pie… it was a hit with the fam…

    I still have to make two Maple Pecan Pies, a Lemon Pie, and a Pumpkin pie sometime this four-day weekend… I also plan to continue making a few dishes here and there for dinner, I saw several I want to try on epicurious.

    I have Rachael Ray’s 30-min cookbook (I have 2 of them) and I’ve only really done like two of the recipes, but its just that I haven’t had time or desire to really cook anything.

    Since Thanksgiving I’ve made a variety of items for potlucks or parties, including baked goods (pies) and appetizers (marinated mushrooms) and other knick knacks like green bean casserole and lemon-roasted green beans with marcona almonds.

    Getting hungry!

  • Jim Bob

    sorry to dig up the past here, but my wife sent me this blog, and I immediately thought of this post. This girl’s new year’s resolution is to use her crockpot (slowcooker) everyday in 2008.

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