Go Ready Made

I doubt I would get this meal service again in the future unless I am moving or otherwise unable to access cooking implements because I like to be creative and make up my own stuff and this is very structured. Also, obviously, none of them looked as good as they do in the pictures, but that is just to be expected.


After moving, I decided to give a meal delivery service a try.  There was a Groupon for six meals at GoReadyMade for $30 and there was a 20% off coupon code and $4 per meal seemed pretty reasonable to me so I decided to give it a shot.

My first problem was that I redeemed it like a day too late to get the delivery my first week after moving, so I had to wait an extra week but that was on me, I think they were pretty straightforward about the cutoff dates, I just did not read anything about that first.

Overall, I think the meals were fine but not exciting and I think that there needed to be more seasoning for the proteins because this sort of meal (no cooking required except some light pan frying) seems aimed at people who don’t cook much and therefore may not have a variety of seasonings available nor the knowledge of what might go well with the sides.  I decided to season the meats with just salt and pepper, partially for simplicity and partially because the box with my spices in it was trapped under a heavy box of cookbooks that I was not ready to open yet.  I doubt I would get this meal service again in the future unless I am moving or otherwise unable to access cooking implements because I like to be creative and make up my own stuff and this is very structured.  Also, obviously, none of them looked as good as they do in the pictures, but that is just to be expected.

The serving sizes of the proteins might not be enough for some people but, since my surgery, they were more than enough for me.  I ate maybe 2/3 of most meals in one sitting and saved the last bit for a snack later with one exception (the salmon).

Anyway, I got six different meals and ate two of them at work and four at home.  Here are my observations:

Orzo and Tomatoes (with mozzarella and spinach)

orzo grm

I took this one to work with me because it had microwave-only instructions.

orzo and tomatoes

I cooked it in the microwave and ate the meal right out of its container, so I don’t have any pictures of it plated but it is pretty obvious that it did not look like it was supposed to.  There was a ton more orzo than any vegetables.  I think there were three tomatoes total in the whole thing.  Having fewer bell peppers was actually good because I picked those out due to not liking them but I really could have done with more spinach and tomatoes.  I kind of feel neutrally about the corn.

The cheese was all melted in and the orzo tasted pretty good because of it.  I actually quite liked the flavor of this dish, which is good because I ate it at work and did not have the option to add additional seasoning.  I was only disappointed by the dearth of vegetables.  This was probably my second favorite meal of the six.

orzo real

Beef Steak with Peppercorn Sauce (and herb roasted potatoes)

steak peppergorn grm

I did have a frying pan unpacked but I think I turned it up too high and/or should not have used butter instead of oil because my smoke detectors went off and with my nine foot ceilings and lack of a ladder, it was a pain in the ass to get them turned off.  That was 100% my fault though and not at all a problem with the meal itself.

steak with peppercorn

Just like the instructions said, I cooked the steak (seasoned with salt and pepper) on the stovetop and microwaved the sides.  Due to my little alarm fiasco, I ended up undercooking the steak a little bit but again, that is on me.  I am certainly no connoisseur, but I think the quality of the steak was perfectly fine.  I think that the potatoes and green beans were a little limp but had good flavor.  Perhaps they would have been better cooked in the oven but there was not an option for that.

I liked the peppercorn sauce although it was actually a little too spicy in a few bites, maybe there was a lot of pepper in those!  It made the steak taste interesting and went well with the vegetables.  Despite my poor job of cooking, I would say that this was my favorite meal of the six.

steak peppercorn real

Butter-Basted Chicken (with thyme carrots and parmesan mash)

butter chicken grm


I did use a little bit more butter than was included in this package but otherwise, I seasoned the chicken just like the steaks, with just salt and pepper.  I chose the Pan Fry & Microwave option, first browning both sides of the chicken with butter before adding the sauce to cook it for the remaining time.


The chicken was pretty much your basic boneless, skinless breast.  It was not any more trimmed than I get it from the store, so I had to cut off some bits of fat, which you can see in the picture below.  The extra brown stuff I put on the chicken was delicious bits from the pan and added to the flavor.  Taste-wise, I would say that this was pretty decent.  My only real flavor complaint was that there was not enough thyme to really come across on the carrots.  I would rate this as a tie for number three/four of six.

butter chicken real

Steak and Mac & Cheese (with cauliflower)

steak and mac grm

I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper and cooked it with a bit of olive oil on the stovetop using a lower heat (I was still getting used to having a gas range).  It turned out just fine.

steak and mac

I wonder whether the Mac & Cheese would have been better in the oven because the texture was kind of rubbery in the microwave.  The flavor was good though.  I could taste the cauliflower, which I like.  The steak itself, however, was boring.  I know that is on me because I could have seasoned it more but I did not know where my McCormick’s was (well, I did, it was just hard to get to still).  Anyway, this dish was fine but disappointing for those two reasons (lack of sauce for the steak and texture of the side) so I would rate it fifth out of the six meals I had.

steak and mac real

Teriyaki Salmon (with snow peas and rice)

teriyaki salmon grm

I made this in the microwave at work (I know, I’m that jerk, but the smell was not actually too strong) and maybe it would have been better cooked another way but the fish was not actually my problem with this meal.

teriyaki salmon

I cooked this for less time than the instructions dictated, which was probably for the best.  The snow peas were extremely limp and the rice was very dry.  Adding the sauce did help the latter and made the salmon itself taste pretty decent.  My first problem was the appearance of a terrible looking pea that had gone bad.  I discarded it and the rice surrounding it before cooking and checked out the rest of the vegetables, which did appear to be fine.  Again, I ate this out of the container so I did not plate it but I definitely could not have made it look like it does on the label anyway.  This is the only meal I did not finish although I did eat all of the salmon (except the bits that sort of exploded as you can see on the sides of the container) and most of the not-fuzzy snow peas, there was just no point to me eating more white rice given my stomach size restriction.  Maybe it was the gross pea that turned me off or maybe it is the fact that I always get top quality salmon when I visit my parents, so I have been a bit spoiled, but this was definitely my least favorite of the six meals.

teriyaki salmon real

Soy Glazed Steak (with wasabi mashed potatoes)

soy steak grm

I cooked this the same way as the last steak, with salt & pepper in oil on the stovetop while I microwaved the side.

soy glazed steak

The steak itself was fine.  The soy glaze was a little sweet for my taste (and sesame seeds aren’t my favorite) but it went well with both the steak and potatoes.  I do think that the steak would have benefitted from being marinated but I actually think that about pretty much all of the proteins included in GoReadyMade meals.  The wasabi potatoes were just fine although less flavorful than they could have been.  I like to add horseradish to my mashed potatoes when I make them, so I think I was expecting something a little hotter but it is probably best to err on the side of not hot for most consumers.  I am actually a giant wuss spice-wise so I am hardly going to make a big deal about that.  Anyway, it was fine although nothing special.  I rank it at the same level as the chicken above, tied for third/fourth place out of six.

soy steak real

Going the wrong way

Not going to the gym is one of my two problems, or maybe half of one. The other half is that I significantly decreased my daily step count . . . My second problem is snacking.

For several months, I did not lose any weight.  I was not too concerned about that since I felt good and my numbers seemed to be improving but recently I have actually gained weight, which is actually worrisome!

I started a new job in May, which involved a much longer commute.  This was great for things like audiobooks and podcasts (and also my bank account since they are paying me more) but bad for my physical activity.  Since it was no longer on my way and I was in the car for a couple of extra hours every weekday, I just stopped going to the gym.  I kept planning to start a new one but things were constantly up in the air.

First I moved.  Unfortunately, I am further away from my grandmother but I cut my commute from 60 – 75 minutes down to 20ish.  Then, my company moved, cutting the commute down even further.  I don’t really know what it is yet because we are still on day 2 at the new office but it is about 4 miles away from my new place although it is right through a city, that city is Detroit, so there is a lot of traffic and construction but it is not as bad as more “bustling” cities might be.

So, not going to the gym is one of my two problems, or maybe half of one.  The other half is that I significantly decreased my daily step count.  Now, I spend most of my time in front of a computer and if I want my watch to not judge me (it gets a little red line when I haven’t moved for a while) I have to purposefully get up and move around.  That was never a problem at my old job.  There, I was constantly running around a 100,000 square-foot production facility.  Well, not really running, but people demanded my attention in different places so I moved around plenty.  Even though my current company’s new office is at least three times as big as our last one, there is not a lot of need to move around it so I still will have to make an effort to keep my watch happy.  One positive is that there are food trucks and restaurants within walking distance, which will be helpful during non-snowy weather at least.  Of course, if I bring my lunch, which will be a much healthier and cheaper option once we get a fridge installed (later this week, I am told) I will have less of a reason to walk midday so I may have to work on self-motivation.  Also, the parking is further away, so I have to walk a couple of blocks to get to work.  Well, it is a couple right now because of construction, it will only be one block at some point but the parking structure and my office both have stairs so I could conceivably get some exercise that way, we shall see.

My second problem is snacking.  Gastric sleeve surgery has significantly reduced the size of my stomach so that I can only eat so much at one time but it is not a protection against grazing, which I am doing way more of now that I am sitting all day.  It doesn’t help that my workplace provides snacks from Costco but at the end of the day, it is my impulse control that is the real problem.  I don’t know if it will help to chew more gum but it is one thing I am considering trying in order to stop myself from shoving food in my mouth all day long.  This mindless eating is a real problem and doing it the way that I am is not prevented by my surgery!

Another issue I am having, although I don’t think this is directly related to the weight gain, is dehydration.  I don’t really feel thirsty but I can tell I am dehydrated by (sorry for the grossness) the dark color of my urine and the slight constipation I have been experiencing of late.  It is not too severe, but I know that drinking more water should really help, especially with the latter which, of course, is quite annoying.  The problem is that sometimes, I just don’t want water, especially if it is not really cold.  Also, and this is not a huge deal but still bothers me, my Brita filter does not fit on the kitchen sink at my new apartment.  Detroit is close to Flint but has a completely different water source, so I should not have lead issues but still, I want to drink filtered water and at some point I discarded my filter pitcher because of the tap filter I had bought.  Also, it was starting to crack and I had had it for over 15 years, so I should just buy a new one to keep in the fridge.  I am glad I talked myself into that.  Anyway, sometimes I just don’t feel like water so I have been drinking a lot of Crystal Light / Mio (and various off-brand versions of both).  I know that artificial sweetener is not good for me but I figure it is better than juice or not drinking at all.

So, this was an introspective and kind of complain-y post and I don’t have any relevant photos to add but I think it is important to record my frustrations and my non-successes (I don’t want to say failure) as well as things that go well.  For now, I have purchased a small amount of exercise equipment and plan to try walking more and snacking less.  I just hope I can stick to those goals, at least to prevent any further backsliding!

Deep Fat Frying

I put some oil in my wok, heated it up and promptly burned the proverbial crap out of the very thin pita.

Everything tastes better when it is fried, which is among the problems that America has as a nation, food-wise.  It has not, historically, been a big problem for me as long as I don’t eat out because I did not used to fry much at home but then I decided to make my own falafel and that might change.

It actually started when I had some pita left over from a takeout dinner and decided to try frying them to make them as delicious as the fare I have always enjoyed at Shawarma King (although probably not anymore since I loved their lunch buffet and those aren’t really for me these days).  Anyway, I put some oil in my wok, heated it up and promptly burned the proverbial crap out of the very thin pita.  So, I turned off the heat, set the oil aside, and when I went grocery shopping the next day, I picked up a package of pita bread that was a little thicker than the restaurant stuff.  That fried up just fine.

pita in oilI cut the pita into wedges with a pizza cutter then separated the two sides and fried them individually, netting 16 chips per pita loaf.  I fried them a few at a time over medium-high heat, flipping each chip once and not leaving them in very long.  I did not own any sort of slotted metal implement that would be appropriate for fishing out the finished chips, so I went with tongs, which was fiddly but worked.  I did not eat too many myself but man, fried pita chips are delicious!  I tried it again with whole wheat pita and could not really tell the difference.

pita chipsTo go with the chips, I made hummus.  I am actually not snobby about the stuff, I like store-bought hummus just fine but when I make it myself, I can put in as much garlic as I want!  I neglected to take any photos of the process but basically, I just mixed everything up in a food processor until smooth.  The ingredients I use (noting that the quantities are approximate because I do not measure) are:

  • 1 can chickpeas / garbanzo beans, drained & peeled (yes, peeling them is a pain in the ass but the finished product is so smooth and delicious, I think it is worth it.  I generally do the work while watching something mindless on TV anyway.
  • 1 head roasted garlic, cloves squeezed out
  • 4 raw garlic cloves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon pepper (I really don’t measure this, I always add it straight from the grinder)
  • salt to taste (again, straight from the grinder, unless I am using truffle salt, which I have in a jar)

I also sprinkled a bit of paprika over the top for serving but I am not sure it makes a big difference, really.  Anyway, my hummus is always full of garlic and lemony goodness, you usually don’t find those both used so heavily in the store-bought kind.

Not long after, I thought about my slightly used oil and decided to try to make falafel.  I actually don’t always like falafel when I get it at a restaurant.  This is weird because it is (a) chickpeas and (b) fried, which are two things I love.  I think the problem is that I never have any that is as good as I get at Haifa Falafel.  I have just been spoiled by deliciousness.  Anyway, I decided to try making my own so I looked at some recipes online and they pretty much all say to start with dried chickpeas.  Sure, those are inexpensive and not hard to make into the edible variety but I wanted falafel now (then)! So, I decided to try it with canned beans because I always have those on hand.

future falafelIn my trusty food processor, I mixed a drained (not peeled) can of chickpeas with some garlic, onion, parsley, cumin, salt, pepper, and flour (not very much though).  I processed it way less than hummus so that it was still kind of gritty and then formed it into balls, which I squished flat-ish before tossing them into the hot oil where they immediately disintegrated.  Okay, maybe not immediately, but they definitely fell apart when I tried to turn them over so it was pretty clear that I had done something wrong.  I think my mixture was just too moist.

So, instead of totally giving up, I grabbed some breadcrumbs and stirred them into the mix.  It worked out okay and the end result was delicious but I really shouldn’t be adding carbs like that so next time I am going with dried chickpeas and no breadcrumbs.  The tongs still did not really work well even when the falafel was not totally falling apart so I switched to a serving spoon with cutouts to let the oil drain.  I have since purchased a holey paddle meant for frying but have not gotten around to actually using it yet.

falafelSince I made the falafel after the hummus was gone, I needed something to eat with it.  I decided to try making toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) which is something I have always failed at and this was no exception.  It is a fluffy amazingly white emulsion of oil, lemon juice, and raw garlic, seasoned with salt.  That’s it, just four ingredients.  The way to screw it up though is to add the oil too quickly (or too slowly?) and let the emulsion “break” or separate, which always happens to me.  It did this time too but I decided to eat it anyway by mixing my messed up sauce with some tahini, parsley, and sour cream to make a dip that was actually pretty good.  The sour cream actually made it feel a little like eating latkes but the garlic and tahini made it decidedly more Mediterranean in flavor.  Overall, I would call both of my improvised substitutions a success!

I have since bought dried chickpeas but have yet to reconstitute them, which I obviously will not even attempt until after I move this week.




Parsley Pesto

I liked the flavor of the soybean pasta and even the texture while eating it, it was a bit chewy but in a good way.  The problem I had, however, was that it majorly stuck together. 

As I understand it, pesto can be made from just about anything.  I don’t speak Italian, but I have been led to believe that “pesto” just means sauce or paste or something like that.  Of course, basil pesto is my favorite whether homemade or store bought (I find the Kirkland brand from Costco to be particularly tasty) but I also like sun-dried tomato pesto a lot although I have not always been successful in making my own.  Anyway, in mid-April I had a ton of parsley that I bought for something I don’t even remember now so I decided to make a pesto out of that.  I was not sure about the plan because parsley tends to be more of an accent food instead of the star but I decided to add a bunch of garlic and see what happened.

One of my uncles was visiting from Colorado and I planned to make a dinner at my grandma’s house to feed both him and my local uncle so I bought some fish.  Because salmon is not always popular, being an oily fish with a notable taste, I bought a small piece of tilapia as well.  The salmon was wild-caught but the store only had farm-raised tilapia.  Along with the fish, I picked up a head of cauliflower which remains one of my favorite garlic delivery systems when roasted.

raw cauliflowerSo, the first thing I did was cut up the cauliflower, which I always make a giant mess with.  For some reason, I just cannot handle one without little bits getting everywhere.  It is super annoying but I love the vegetable so I just keep making a mess with it.  In some ways, it is like my attitude toward mushrooms:  I find them gross and dirty but I also love how they taste so I keep buying them and just wash them as well as I can.  Anyway, I cut the cauliflower into florets and tossed it with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a little bit of parsley.  Of course I used a lot of garlic because: delicious.  Then I spread it out on a baking sheet and put it into the oven.  Usually I go for around 400° and stir / stab the florets periodically until they seem done at around 30 minutes or so but I can be pretty casual about the cooking time.

20180415_174105.jpgWhile the cauliflower was in the oven, I set about making the pesto.  I basically made it exactly like I do with basil pesto, just with a different herb.  In a blender I mixed together de-stemmed parsley, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  I used more olive oil than I normally would have to make sure that it was thin enough to work in the blender.  I did not bring my food processor from home, which was fine, really, I don’t think I needed the power.  I might also have added a little bit of lemon juice but I honestly don’t recall.  I really should write these things down.

soy spaghettiI spread a thick layer of pesto over both pieces of fish and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes which turned out to be too long.  It wasn’t bad, really, just a little overcooked.  In my opinion, the tilapia did not suffer for it but the salmon was a little dry.  I also cooked the pasta that I had brought along, which this time was made from soybeans.  A 2 oz serving of this spaghetti has 24g of protein and 13g of fiber.  The single ingredient listed on the label is “organic soybeans”.

pasta saladI liked the flavor of the pasta and even the texture while eating it, it was a bit chewy but in a good way.  The problem I had, however, was that it majorly stuck together.  It clumped up even though I added the olive-oil laden pesto pretty immediately.  I would eat it again although I don’t actually recall where I got it.  Aldi, maybe? I served it with quartered campari tomatoes (the best kind) and freshly grated parmesan and despite the clumping it was pretty good although not as good as it would have been with basil pesto but it is just true that basil is better than parsley.  Why do they sell parsley in such big bundles?  I cannot imagine that people usually need that much.

cooked cauliflowerWhen the cauliflower was done, I tossed it with freshly grated parmesan and just a touch of lemon juice along with some additional parsley (I had a ton of the stuff!)  It was, as always, delicious.  It is best when there are brown bits although the garlic can burn and that is not ideal.  I like when the garlic is crispy but not bitter as it gets when it is burned black.  I probably did not need both lemon juice and parsley, since they both work to brighten up the flavor a bit but I am used to the one and had extra of the other.

fishI portioned the salmon out to make it easier to eat.  Like I said, the salmon was a bit dry but still totally edible.  That also might have been affected by the fact that I used already skinned salmon.  I might have used a little too much pesto because the parsley flavor was strong on both the pieces of fish.  Overall though, the meal turned out fine and I might make it again although that really depends on how much parsley I have leftover the next time I need it for something.


Countdown to Moving Day

Despite living alone, I don’t think I can fit into a one bedroom apartment anymore, I have way more stuff than fits reasonably into my current tiny space. I own two sewing machines and a spinning wheel plus a ton of fabric, yarn, and other associated materials.

A couple of months ago, I got a new job.  I like it, so far, but the commute is unpleasant.  I know that plenty of people commute more than an hour to work every day but I don’t think that I can handle it long-term although I do get plenty of time to listen to books and/or podcasts.  When the traffic is clear (rarely) it takes me 45 minutes but usually I am in my car for 60 – 70 minutes every morning and evening.  The time suck of commuting coupled with the smallness of my apartment made me decide it was time to move.  My new place is in the city of Detroit, only a few miles from my company’s future home and something like twenty minutes from where it is located now.

I currently live in a not particularly nice apartment in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Despite its issues, I have actually been fairly happy there.  It is cheap and has surprisingly good windows / natural light for a garden level (below the ground) apartment since it is built on a hill and the back of my apartment (living room & kitchen) are actually well above the ground, allowing me to leave my shades open without much concern for peepers.  I also have a small balcony which I almost never use except for the occasional grilled dinner.  The drawbacks are that it is pretty small and my landlord is not great at responding to requests for repairs.  My kitchen faucet has been squirting water (not just leaking) for over a year now.  I have just gotten used to water getting everywhere when I do dishes.  Also, I got a new refrigerator last fall.  In that instance, I have to say, he was reasonably timely because he brought me a new one within a day and I did not have to throw out too much food.  Anyway, the new one is too tall for the space so he said he would come back and remove the cabinet above the fridge area soon.  He has yet to do so.  Consequently, there is a bunch of wasted space behind the fridge and the appliance is encroaching on my not at all spacious kitchen.  Also, I cannot get to the stuff that I put in that cabinet.  It was just some servingware and toothpicks but still – what if I need that stuff?  Additionally, the old refrigerator is still in the entryway outside my apartment, just sitting there, not working, probably because it is hard to take up the stairs, so that is not super classy.

So, I decided to look for a two bedroom apartment with a dishwasher.  I did not mention it before but I hate doing dishes.  I would love to blame it on the leaky sink but really, I am just lazy.  Despite living alone, I don’t think I can fit into a one bedroom apartment anymore, I have way more stuff than fits reasonably into my current tiny space.  I own two sewing machines and a spinning wheel plus a ton of fabric, yarn, and other associated materials.  So, I do not plan on having a guest room so much as a craft room with an optional bed (I have an inflatable one which I plan to keep in the closet).  I have not decided yet where to put my probably too-large desk.  I will likely have space in the dining room if I don’t want to put it in my new craft room.  Hmmm, decisions, decisions.  At least I won’t have to turn sideways to walk past it to my bed anymore though.  My current desk is actually just two short filing cabinets and a heavy wooden door (not an actual door, but a plank of wood meant to become a door).  I am considering getting rid of it and obtaining a new desk but then I would still need to keep the filing cabinets somewhere.  I have always wanted a rolltop desk, although I think that is unlikely to actually happen.  They are silly expensive and not as useful as they should be.

So, I don’t plan to buy much furniture for my new place although I probably need another bookcase (three isn’t enough, apparently).  I will also need to get window treatments, as there do not appear to be any installed.  I will probably go with inexpensive curtain rods from IKEA (I love IKEA probably more than I should at my age) and either purchase or make curtains to hang on them.  Of course, only time will tell if I actually make curtains, I have piles of fabric meant for specific projects I have never finished (some I have never started) so maybe I should not delude myself and just buy the ready-made kind.  Fabric gives me so many more options, though!

One thing I hope is that I will be willing to actually invite people to my new apartment when I get it set up, which I did not do in all the three years I lived in Ypsilanti.  Well, my best friend stayed with me a couple of times and my boyfriend came over once or twice, but as a rule, I never invited anyone to visit, not even my relatively local grandmother or uncle, nor my parents when they came to town.  I always thought that I would have people over once I cleaned the place up and put stuff away but it never got to that point.  I did clean sometimes but there were always piles of things that did not have a home due to my space limitation and I guess I was naïve (or deluded) enough to think that at some point, I would sort and not have too many things for the space but of course, that never happened.  Of course, I plan to sort some before I move but I honestly don’t see myself getting rid of much besides the clothes that are too big for me now and a broken printer that I keep thinking I will fix (I won’t do that any more than I will alter the clothes).

So, my new place is a two-bedroom lower level of a duplex with a dishwasher and dining room and even a basement where I can store the bicycle that I have not yet moved from my grandma’s house (where I lived three years ago).  The only real drawback I have discovered so far is that there is no driveway, so I will be parking on the street.  At least it is a wide street that is not too populated, so I should not have any trouble getting a spot.

I move at the end of the month, less than three weeks from today – I guess I should start packing at some point.


I also made some carrots to accompany it. It adds some color to the plate and is pretty simple.

Often, my dinner decisions are made based on one of two things (or sometimes a combination):

(a) What is on sale at Kroger / Meijer / wherever I am shopping

(b) What I have in my refrigerator or pantry that needs to be dealt with

The week after I made substitute pasta salad, I still had some black bean pasta left and plenty of the quinoa pesto so I decided to use them for my next dinner at Grandma’s.  I cut up some free range chicken and marinated it in the pesto (thinned with some lemon juice & olive oil) then sautéed it and served it over pasta tossed with some more pesto.  I added sliced Campari tomatoes and a dusting of parmesan cheese and called it dinner!

Well, I also made some carrots to accompany it.  They were roasted in the oven with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic then, after everything was ready, I sprinkled some chopped parsley over it.  It adds some color to the plate and is pretty simple.

Substitute Pasta Salad

It is hard to pay $5 for a box or bag of fancy pasta when a bigger container of the traditional kind is only $1 and I think it tastes better.

My quest for a good substitute pasta continues.  I have tried a variety and most are pretty okay.  I know that is not a resounding endorsement but I love pasta so much and I need to find a way to eat it.  I realize that none of these higher protein substitutions will be quite the same, but I keep trying.  I admit though, it is hard to pay $5 for a box or bag of fancy pasta when a bigger container of the traditional kind is only $1 and I think it tastes better.  Specialty things are both more expensive and harder to find.  Fortunately, Trader Joe’s has a few different options.  Unfortunately, the store is not really on my way anywhere these days.

pasta salad - pastaSo, I made this dinner on April 7th and I think it turned out pretty well.  Also, I learned some things about weird pasta and the water it is boiled in.  The whole thing started when my grandma called and told me that she had some tofu in her fridge that she needed to use and this recipe for making it crispy.  I said “sure, go ahead and make it, I will do something with it when I show up.”  I then looked around my kitchen for things to bring with me.  We both like beans, so I decided on the bag of black bean rotini I had lying around.  The only ingredient is black bean flour and each serving (6 per 12 oz bag) has 15g of fiber and 14g of protein.  The taste is pretty bean-y, which I like okay but the texture is also weird.  I would eat it again but it probably won’t be my go-to substitute.

pasta salad - pestoAlso in my pantry was a jar of pesto from Trader Joe’s that contains quinoa.  Of course, this seemed like a good idea because of the extra nutrients that contains but it turned out to just be kind of weird and gritty.  I like quinoa but when mixed into other (bigger) food, the texture is not ideal.  The pesto was fine but next time I would use the standard, quinoa-free variety.  I also had some asparagus leftover, maybe a third of a pound or so and I picked up some tomatoes on the way over.  Of course, I love pine nuts (why are they so expensive?) and I make almost no food that does not contain garlic, so that was a given.

  • 1/2 block of tofu – cubed and baked (using olive oil, soy sauce, etc.)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 c. pine nuts (pignolas)
  • 8 oz. black bean rotini
  • 1/3 lb. asparagus
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/4 c. pesto and quinoa (or just regular pesto)
  • 1/3 c. parmesan cheese

pasta salad - pine nutsWhen I showed up at my grandma’s house, the tofu was ready to go, so I won’t describe that here.  She made about half of the 1 lb. block.  So, the first thing I did was toast the pine nuts while I cut up the vegetables.  I turned the heat to low and put pine nuts in a dry pan, stirring them occasionally.  There should be browned sides on the nuts but not black.  Smoke is obviously bad.  It takes a while to do at a low heat but it is super easy to burn them on a higher one so for me, the best way to do it is to put them in a pan and stir them up well when I get to a good stopping place in my chopping of other ingredients.  That way, it does not try my patience so much.

pasta salad - garlicOne thing that takes a while is slivering up the garlic.  I like slivers in salad type things because you can really taste it.  I want garlic to stand out and be its own awesome thing but I guess some people would use less and let it be small and just enhance the dish overall.  Whatever works.

pasta salad - asparagusI had pretty thin asparagus spears, which I like best.  After breaking off the woody ends (and, of course, washing them) I cut pieces that were about 1 1/2″ long because that is the size that I thought would work best with the rotini.  After heating up olive oil in a pan on medium heat, I added the garlic and cooked it for just a minute or so before adding the asparagus.  Then, I cooked the asparagus for long enough to make it fork tender (I stab it periodically to check).  A few brownish bits are okay on the asparagus but it is important not to let the garlic get too dark and crispy because then it tastes burnt.

pasta salad - tomatoesI often use cooking sherry to deglaze the pan but this time, I decided to let the next ingredient do that job.  I chopped up some roma tomatoes, which are not too juicy but still have enough liquid to get the job done and added them to the hot pan.  Once the deglazing process was complete and all of the deliciousness had been scraped up, I turned the heat off since I did not want the tomatoes to really get cooked.  I added a little salt and pepper at this point but not too much, my grandma does a good job of watching her salt intake and I don’t want to impede her efforts too much.

pasta salad - boiling waterAt the same time that I was cooking the vegetables (yes, I know, tomatoes are botanically a fruit but they are nutritionally a vegetable, in my opinion) I boiled some water for the “pasta”.  The black bean pasta makes a lot more foam than traditional pasta does; it is weirdly purple and makes some pretty swirls in my opinion.  I did scoop off some of the excess foam and discard it to try and keep it from boiling over and being a big mess to clean up later on the glass stovetop.

pasta salad - waterThe water was dark in color when the rotini was done and I decided to save a bit in case I wanted to use it in the dish but ended up throwing it out.  I feel like it might be useful though, in the way that bean water is when you cook them from dried but I do not really have the patience / foresight to do much with that sort of thing.

pasta salad - mix

So, with the pasta drained, the vegetables cooked, and the pine nuts toasted, it was time to mix everything together.  First, I folded the pesto into the pasta so that it would cling and go into the spirals.  Then I added the vegetables, tofu, and pine nuts, tossing to incorporate before adding some freshly grated parmesan cheese and folding that in, hoping to avoid too many clumps.  When I served it, I added a bit more parmesan to the top.  It was pretty good as long as you like the black bean flavor which was weird but not bad.

pasta salad - leftoverAlso, it made perfectly good leftovers.  I microwaved it for only a few seconds to knock off the chill from the fridge because I don’t actually like my pasta salad hot.  And, as I often do, I added a bit of salt.  For some reason, I feel like leftovers of this kind always need a bit of salt, it is like the flavor fades while it is sitting in the fridge.  I would make this again although it probably won’t be exactly the same because I like to improvise 🙂  Also, I will probably use regular pesto and may try a different weird pasta, perhaps chickpea or lentil next time.



Not Quite Lasagna

I would make this again and will try thicker zucchini slabs (and possibly more viscous sauce).

A few months ago (March 29th, according to my phone) I decided to make lasagna.  It was cold enough that I didn’t mind having my oven on for the extended period it requires and I had recently discovered that zucchini noodles are a pretty okay substitute for the real thing so I thought I would give the idea a try in a baked dish.  It did not turn out awesomely and I neglected to take pictures of the finished product but I do think I learned some things.

First of all, I had never made meat lasagna before.  I grew up eating vegetable lasagna pretty regularly and remember being confused when I went to a friend’s house and encountered ground beef in the dish.  My mom makes a lasagna that has several different vegetables that I like okay but since I have been in charge of cooking for myself, I have mostly made this recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen, which I like a lot.  When I lived with my grandmother, sometimes we grew kale and I could use the fresh stuff straight from the garden.  Of course, during kale season, I usually don’t want to have the oven on that long, but that is a separate issue.  Anyway, I decided to make a lasagna inspired by that but one but with meat for the increased protein and iron that I need.  I used ricotta cheese instead of cottage cheese, which I regret.  Ricotta was on sale and I decided to give it a try but I think I like both the texture and flavor of cottage cheese better in lasagna.

lasagna - sliced zucchiniThe other major change was, of course, the use of zucchini in place of lasagna noodles.  I don’t think the idea in and of itself was totally bad but I did not execute it well.  What I mean is that I used the thin slice setting on my mandoline.  The mandoline I have is not super fancy.  I got it at Aldi and I think it was under ten dollars but it does the trick.  There is a julienne attachment that I have been  using in conjunction with the thin blade to make non-curly zoodles and a blade with more space for thicker slices, which I clearly should have used for this endeavor.  So, structurally, this lasagna did not have a lot going for it.  I don’t know if thicker zucchini would have helped a lot but it would not have been a bad idea.  Well – live and learn.

For all that it was not easy to eat due to weird floppiness, it did taste pretty good.  As I usually do with this sort of food, I made multiple smallish dishes.  One went in my freezer for later (it baked up pretty much the same as the others even though I was worried about ice crystals in the zucchini causing an extra weird texture), one to my grandma’s house, and one to my boyfriend’s.  Grandma does not eat much meat.  In fact she is often all but vegetarian so I checked first to see if she would be willing to eat my meat lasagna, keeping in mind that I had sprung for the grass-fed beef (since I am eating less, I might as well eat slightly fancier).  She agreed to give it a try and ended up liking it a lot.  She was pretty happy to have me leave the leftovers with her, even, for later meals.  My boyfriend was a little more aware of the texture issue but seemed to think it tasted okay.  He did eat it with chips a little bit, kind of like weird Italian nachos.  I should have taken a picture of that!

Okay, so, what recipe did I use for this lasagna?  Like most of my dinners, I didn’t actually use one but I did record most of my process so, here goes:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 head garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • olive oil
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 T dried basil
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 16 oz cottage cheese (I used ricotta but I like cottage cheese better)
  • big bunch of kale
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 zucchini, sliced into planks (thicker planks might take at least 2)
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

lasagna - meat sauceFirst, I had to make the sauce.  I don’t have a lot of experience cooking ground beef (except as meatballs) and I never know whether to cook the beef or onions first.  On one hand, if I do the beef first, I can cook the onions in the fat but on the other hand, if I do the onions first, that flavor will permeate the meat more.  Of course, that is all theoretical.  For one thing, the meat I bought was like 94% lean so I actually had to use a little olive oil to cook it instead of draining off excess fat.  People on the internet seem to feel strongly both ways, which is confusing for me.  I decided to go with beef first to make sure it got browned all over, figuring the onions might reduce the effect of the Maillard reaction.  So, I added olive oil to the pan then browned the meat, adding the onions before it was totally brown then the garlic a little bit later.  Once everything seemed cooked, I added in the herbs, I am honestly not sure how much of each, just whatever felt good in the moment.  I tend to have a heavy hand with the seasonings.  Then I added the can of crushed tomatoes, stirred, and simmered for like 20 minutes.

lasagna - kale ricottaWhile the sauce was cooking, I sliced up the zucchini (too thinly, as discussed above) and made the egg-cheese mix.  The first step for that was to blanch the kale.  If I had been smart enough to buy bagged kale, it would have been even less work but I had to remove the heavy ribs before doing so.  I did not chop up the kale before blanching though to make it easier to retrieve from the pot.  Then, I removed what excess water I could using a salad spinner and clean dishtowels that got stained kind of greenish.  After it cooled, I chopped it up fairly finely then folded it into the mixture of lightly beat the eggs and ricotta cheese.  I also grated parmesan into the bowl although because I use a block and a microplane, it is really hard to say exactly how much.  Anyway, I mixed it pretty lightly with a fork and set it aside until I was ready for assembly.

lasagna - layer 1  lasagna - layer 2  lasagna - layer 3  lasagna - layer 4

With each of my three glass dishes, I sprayed the bottoms with [off brand] PAM and laid down a layer of zucchini slabs.  then, I spooned some meat sauce over them.  It was hard to decide how much sauce should go in each dish but I kept going back and forth until I had used about half of the pot.  I then did the same with the egg-cheese-kale mixture, which was hard to spread out and ended up in sort of clumps as you can see above.  Finally, I sprinkled shredded mozzarella over the thing then started all over again (at the zucchini, of course, not the spray).

I baked each dish right before eating for about an hour, 40 minutes with foil on top and 20 minutes without.  Well, not right before eating, you have to let it set / cool for a bit after cooking.  I did the same for the frozen one because I let it thaw in the fridge all day before baking.  Of course, I totally neglected to take any pictures of the baked lasagna but it did ooze a bit more than most do, probably because there were no noodles to (a) absorb excess liquid and (b) give it structure.  Still, I would make this again and will try thicker zucchini slabs (and possibly more viscous sauce).

“French” Onion Soup

I really like the toasty croutons on top of the soup and if it is in a bread bowl, even better but obviously, I cannot eat it like that anymore so I did what I could and it turned out pretty well.

I love French onion soup although I admit to disappointment like a decade ago when Panera made whatever alteration changed their soup to “all natural”.  I don’t know what the artificial ingredients were, but I loved them.  Of course, I really like the toasty croutons on top of the soup and if it is in a bread bowl, even better but obviously, I cannot eat it like that anymore so I did what I could and it turned out pretty well.  Next time, I plan to make my own broth and I have been hoarding beef bones in my freezer to that end but this time around, I just picked out the carton at the store that claimed to be high in protein and went with it.  I like soup year ’round but it is less fun to make in the summertime with no air conditioning.  I made this soup in March.


  • 2 heads of garlic
  • four large onions (I used one red, one white, and two yellow)
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt & pepper
  • a small handful of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups of beef stock
  • 1 tiny bottle (187 ml) red wine – about a glass
  • fresh mozzarella cheese

french onion soup - roasted garlicFirst, I put a head of garlic into my garlic roaster.  Well, I put two in but I used the other one for something else.  I have this ridiculous single-purpose appliance that my mother bought me when I was in college (mine is an older version, it doesn’t have settings, just one garlic-shaped button). I made fun of it a lot but honestly, I do use it regularly.  You can easily roast garlic in the oven although that is a lot of heat to create for a little thing.  Maybe use a toaster oven if you have one.  Anyway, I roasted one head of garlic then, after it cooled, I squeezed out the cloves into a little container for later.

french onion soup - onions  french onion soup - slivered red

I peeled the onions and sliced them thinly.  The picture is of only the red onion sliced up but they were all mixed together by the time they went into the pot.

french onion soup - slivered garlicThen, I slivered up all the cloves from the other head of garlic.  Not the other roasted one, the raw one.  I should not have mentioned my auxiliary garlic earlier, that is just confusing.  Actually, I probably did this while the onions were caramelizing because I like to do at least two things at once, but a smart person would prep it all then start cooking.  So, I like garlic but I don’t want to cook it together with the onions, of course, because it burns instead of caramelizing.

french onion soup - pot with thymeOn medium heat, I put butter and olive oil in a pot then added all of the onions, which totally crowded it but that’s okay, they really cook down when given time.  I also added some pepper and the thyme.  I always use freshly ground pepper.  Partly because I am a snob and partly because that is what I have, I bought the grinder from Costco and it is great.  I got my pink salt grinder there too.

french onion soup - add garlicAnyway, I cooked the onions (and thyme) for a long time to get that yummy caramelization going on.  I was going to say I don’t know for how long but then I checked the time stamps on my pictures.  It was about half an hour before I added the garlic to the delicious smelling brown onions.

french onion soup - fond  french onion soup - red wine  french onion soup - beef stock

french onion soup - simmerI stirred them in and cooked it for about five more minutes (thanks, phone!) then deglazed the pot with red wine to get all that delicious fond incorporated into the soup.  Then I added a bay leaf and the beef broth and brought it to a simmer.  I would probably have added some salt at this point except that the beef stock was salted, so it was not necessary.

french onion soup - garlic mashWhat about that poor roasted garlic from earlier?  It is not fated to be delicious but uneaten.  I took a couple of spoonfuls of liquid from the soup and mixed it into that smushed up garlic. Once it was smooth-ish, I stirred it into the soup and let it simmer some more.  About twenty minutes, according to the time stamps.  I am frankly impressed with my patience, my whole apartment smelled awesome.  Well, awesome for someone who likes garlic and onions and since I am not a monster, that describes me.

french onion soup - serveI knew that I should not have croutons or toasted bread with this, so I settled for some cheese as a topping alone.  I thinly sliced some fresh mozzarella and let it get kind of melty on top of my hot soup before eating it.  I am pretty sure that bread would have made it better but I will take what I can get without a stomach ache and I was pretty happy with the end result.

Next time, I will make bone broth!



Stuffed Chicken Breast

This was all piled on the same side of the chicken breast, then I folded over the other side and spread on a thin layer of mayonnaise. It sounds kind of gross but it is actually really good at keeping lean meats moist while baking.

Like many foods I make, I don’t really have a recipe for the stuffed breasts that I made for my grandmother and myself back in March but I mostly remember what I did although I did not do a good job of taking photographs.


  • 2 large chicken breasts
  • 6 asparagus spears
  • 1 piece of string cheese
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise (I did not measure, I am totally guessing)
  • 12-ish sun dried tomatoes, julienned (not packed in oil although that sounds delicious)
  • 6 – 8 cloves of garlic sliced very thinly but only one way – like not slivers, big slices that are wide but thin (or more because I love that stuff)
  • pepper
  • breadcrumbs
  • lemon zest (less than a whole lemon).

After trimming the chicken breasts, I butterflied them and patted them dry.  With the cut side (inside) up, I spread a layer of garlic slices on one side followed by about half of the cheese, which I tore into strings because I did not actually have any mozzarella or parmesan in my fridge so I used what I had.  Then I put three asparagus spears, washed (of course) and woody stems trimmed off.  On top, I sprinkled the thinly sliced sun dried tomatoes, which I did not reconstitute in any liquid, I just used them as-is out of the bag.  I love sundried tomatoes.

This was all piled on the same side of the chicken breast, then I folded over the other side and spread on a thin layer of mayonnaise.  It sounds kind of gross but it is actually really good at keeping lean meats moist while baking.  I have used it on Tilapia too.  On top of the mayo, I sprinkled some breadcrumbs and a little bit of lemon zest then put it all in a dish and took it to my grandma’s house.

asparagus chicken 3-9

Once I had arrived at Grandma’s, I put the chicken in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400° F.  It was delicious.  I have a surgically reduced stomach and she is tiny all over so we only ate one and a half of them but yum, I will make this again!  I always like dishes where the vegetables are built in and I don’t have to make a side dish 🙂

asparagus chicken 2