In a cooking rut?  Need inspiration to start cooking?  Not sure how to actually implement home cooking on a day-to-day basis?

Even the most well-intentioned of us hit a cooking wall every once in a while.  I know I do.  Lately, I’ve been eating out more because I’ve had a harder than usual time committing to cooking all the time.  After all, it takes time and planning and…time.  So, when TheKitchn, a blog I read on a daily basis, advertised a Cooking Cure program, I decided to sign up and share my experiences and adventures here with you all!  From their website:

This 4-week Cooking Cure is designed to get you cooking at home every day, starting with 5-minute baby steps and culminating in a week of 21 home-cooked meals. There will be plenty of flexibility for you to set your own goals and figure out what your breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be. Think of it as a guided Choose Your Own Adventure in cooking every day, your way, your style. We’ll provide 20 assignments, designed to break you out of your cooking rut and guide you into new meals and happier cooking every day.

Interested?  Sign up here and share your experiences with me!  Per this week’s “homework,” here is what I ate for breakfast this week:

Monday & Tuesday: Green smoothie consisting of pear, banana, fresh ginger, Greek yogurt, and romaine lettuce
Wednesday: Same as above but with 2 cups of spinach instead of romaine
Thursday: Vegan overnight oats  with chia seeds, rolled oats, banana, coconut milk, vanilla extract and topped with natural peanut butter and a few chocolate chips (this was delicious!)
Friday: homemade energy bar and a smoothie made with banana, uncooked rolled oats, cinnamon, vanilla, and coconut milk

Are you gonna do the Cure?  What did you have for breakfast this week?

Day Off Oatmeal

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I once had a conversation with a friend where we discussed what we thought qualified as a “good” job.  For us it boiled down to a job-satisfaction triangle, with money, hours, and intellectual stimulation/challenge being the three goals (And, yes, I realize that it is a privilege to be in a position to have these as goals.) “Good,” we decided, was being able to meet at least two out of the three, and if we weren’t getting that amount, we were liable to feel dissatisfied.

I feel very lucky to have found a “good” first job.  Not only is the work both meaningful and intellectually stimulating, but I have truly fabulous hours. Case in point: I am now working compressed work weeks with Fridays off, forever. This, coupled with all the “snow” days we got in Austin this winter, has meant that, since I’ve been officially hired, I have yet to work a normal Monday-Friday, 8-5 workweek.

Which is all to say that I have had many more days off than I would have ever expected to have during full-time employment.  While I am slightly worried that I am going to be ruined for all other future jobs, that’s a worry that is easy to compartmentalize away.  Instead, I’d rather focus on the more pressing matters I have to deal with now, which, with the unusually long winter we’ve had, means warm things.  Warm food, in particular.

I discovered this recipe on one such day off a couple of weeks ago.  While fellow Austinites were braving the not-really-icy streets to go to work, I was making a bowl of creamy, thick, and nutty steel-cut oats.  If you’ve never cooked with steel-cut oats, I highly recommend them over anything instant. First, they give you much more nutrition since they are the oats in the natural state, versus the highly processed instant versions.  And, second, the flavor is just so much better.  But, do be aware that this recipe takes more time (about 30 minutes) than the stuff you get out of the box.  When you toast them in butter, as you do here, however, it makes for oatmeal that is downright decadent.  This recipe is great for a lazy Sunday morning brunch, and if you triple or quadruple the recipe, would make for easy-to-portion weekday breakfasts!

Toasted Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Adapted from Whole-Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon
Serves 1 

Ingredients:

1/4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup steel-cut oats
1 and 3/4 cup water
1/4 cup almond milk, preferably homemade
1 tsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Dried fruit, honey, or syrup for serving

Directions:

1.  Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Add the oats and toast for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and smell nutty (see picture above for a comparison in color).
2.   In a small saucepan, bring the water, almond milk, and salt to a simmer over medium high heat.  Milk tends to boil over quite quickly, so you’ll want to watch the pot here.  It shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes.
3.  Once bubbles start to rise to the surface in a simmer, stir in the oats, and turn the heat down to medium low, making sure that you still have a slow simmer.  Partially cover the saucepan with a lid.
4.  Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 7-10 minutes to make sure the oats don’t stick to the bottom, until the mixture is thickened and most of the liquid is absorbed.  I would taste a little bit of the oats starting around 25 minutes to see the texture you prefer.
5.  Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit, still partially covered, for 2-3 minutes.  Serve hot with your favorite toppings.

Day Off Oatmeal
 
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • ¼ tbsp unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 and ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup almond milk, preferably
  • homemade
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp kosher salt
  • Dried fruit, honey, or syrup for serving
Directions
  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Add the oats and toast for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown and smell nutty (see picture above for a comparison in color).
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the water, almond milk, and salt to a simmer over medium high heat.  Milk tends to boil over quite quickly, so you'll want to watch the pot here.  It shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes.
  3. Once bubbles start to rise to the surface in a simmer, stir in the oats, and turn the heat down to medium low, making sure that you still have a slow simmer.  Partially cover the saucepan with a lid.
  4. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 7-10 minutes to make sure the oats don't stick to the bottom, until the mixture is thickened and most of the liquid is absorbed.  I would taste a little bit of the oats starting around 25 minutes to see the texture you prefer.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit, still partially covered, for 2-3 minutes.  Serve hot with your favorite toppings.

Confession: I can never pick a good avocado. As much as I like making guacamole, I am often deterred because, no matter how much time I spent manhandling them at the grocery store, I tend to end up with the brown streaky mess. (For some inexplicable reason, Mr. Little Fish has no such problems. I told him once that I was gonna force him to go to the store with me so we can pick good avocados, but he was less than thrilled.) If by some chance I end up getting a decent avocado and making some guacamole, it’s always disappointing when it starts to turn brown.  So when I stumbled across these avocado-saving tips, I thought they were worth sharing!

How to pick a perfect avocado
How to keep a cut avocado from going brown
How to keep your guacamole from turning brown

What do you think? Have you tried any of these or have any you rely on?

Sweet and Spicy Salmon

Just a normal Wednesday night dinner
Just a normal Wednesday night dinner

Is it weird that I am oddly proud that this is the longest I’ve gone between posts?  I think it’s because I’ve actually been super productive at the office, unlike my usual procrastinatrix self, and have been mentally exhausted when I get home. But anyway, I’m now looking at nice little break from deadlines, so hopefully I can kick the blog writing back into high gear.

On that note, I’ve mentioned before how I thought I was a member of the Salmon Hater Club for a while.  The only time I would consistently enjoy eating salmon was when it was raw  in my sushi, but even then, salmon would be one of my lesser favorites, falling behind tuna, torched escolar (try this at DK Sushi!), red snapper, and scallop.  Hell, if it came down to choosing just one, I’d probably choose a traditional Japanese veggie roll over the salmon.  I liked it; I just didn’t love it.

When it came to cooked salmon, however, I wasn’t even sure I liked it.  It was just…boring to me. I would always order it at restaurants, and I would always be underwhelmed.  It would be too dry or too fishy or too bland.  I would get tired of eating it about halfway through.  Unfortunately for me, Mr. Little Fish felt exactly the opposite, so he would nearly always order salmon (I harbor some suspicions that he did it so I wouldn’t try the food on his plate), and always proclaim how much he loved it, and always leave me wondering how on earth I could not be cooking something he so clearly enjoys.  

But, I remained vigilant in my salmon-hate, until one day when we had my in-laws over for a pool party and they made salmon.  It was so simple–a whole filet, topped with red pepper flakes and a little bit of oil, and with bits of onion stuck into the meat.  They baked it in a covered casserole dish and stuck it in the oven for a little while, and what came out was this wonderfully moist, flaky, flavorful fish.  I was intrigued.

After some experimentation, I finally settled on two go-to salmon recipes: this version, and a simple yet elegant teriyaki version.  This one cooks up in about 10 minutes, and is delightfully easy.  The original recipe called for pan frying it until done, but, in case it makes some of you new cooks feel any better, I started to get a little scared with the smoke and blackened-ness, so I decided to do the hybrid pan sear+oven method that I use for steaks and other meats. The upside is a wonderfully crunchy, blackened exterior with a tender interior.

Sweet and Spicy Salmon
Adapted from Can You Stay For Dinner
Serves 3-4

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 16 oz salmon filet, skin removed and cut into 3-4 smaller filets
1.5 tbsp coconut oil

Directions:

1.  If you are using a traditional oven, preheat it to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix together the sugar, chili, salt, and cayenne in a small bowl.
2.  Lay out the salmon filets and sprinkle the spice mixture on all sides.
3.  Melt the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the filets to the skillet and cook for about 2-3 minutes each side, until blackened.
4.  Transfer the filets to a foil covered pan, and either put in preheated oven or put directly into toaster oven for 10 minutes.
5.  Serve on salad (we once made one with pomegranate arils, celery, and mixed greens that complemented the fish very well!) or roasted veggies!

Sweet and Spicy Salmon
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Fish
Cuisine: American
Serves: 3-4
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 16 oz salmon filet, skin removed and cut into 3-4 smaller filets
  • 1.5 tbsp coconut oil
Directions
  1. If you are using a traditional oven, preheat it to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix together the sugar, chili, salt, and cayenne in a small bowl.
  2. Lay out the salmon filets and sprinkle the spice mixture on all sides.
  3. Melt the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the filets to the skillet and cook for about 2-3 minutes each side, until blackened.
  4. Transfer the filets to a foil covered pan, and either put in preheated oven or put directly into toaster oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve on salad (we once made one with pomegranate arils, celery, and mixed greens that complemented the fish very well!) or roasted veggies!

 

Valentine’s Day Chicken Soup

So it’s probably a little bit of a stretch to call this spicy chicken soup Valentine’s Day chicken.  But, in my defense, the soup is red, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Valentine’s Day is a weird day to me.  At first, I started to not like it because I hated the restaurant experience on the Day–the hiked up prices, the crowds, the usually-lower-quality food because it’s a prix fixed menu.  So I transitioned to doing things at home, which was more enjoyable but still came with a lot of stress.  But then I realized that I just don’t care much about it.  I particularly don’t care for the high expectations and pressure that come along with the holiday.  So when Mr. Little Fish and I first started dating, I told him that I didn’t want to celebrate, he said OK, somewhat skeptically, I repeated myself more emphatically, and then that was that.

Well, that was supposed to be that.  But then he bought me these flowers yesterday:

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If flowers didn’t just die a few days after you bought them, I would actually really enjoy getting flowers.  I’ve thought about getting potted flowers, but I have become aware of my lack of a green thumb.  We have one indoor rubber tree that has managed to survive, but other than that, I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever gotten.  So, when were in HEB last week, I wistfully remarked that I kinda wished flowers didn’t die so quickly because I would like to always have some in our house.  I usually think Mr. LF isn’t listening to my ramblings, but he always is, so he got me these flowers.  It was a lovely surprise to finish my work week with, despite the ubiquitous little heart in the middle of the bouquet.

Which unfortunately does not at all provide me with a segue to this soup, but, I’m gonna talk about it anyway.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a few recipes that were easy and fast to make to help ease the pain of making your own food during the week (see: here, here, and here), but that’s not the only way I make things easier for myself:  I also make soups.  HUGE batches of soup.  On Sunday afternoons when I have time to let the flavors simmer and meld together. Then, I have lunches for every day that week for me and dinners for every day for Little Fish.  Sometimes, because I need a little more variety than Little Fish does, I’ll end up making some quick dinners for myself during the week, but other times, I’ll have the soup for dinner too.

This particular soup is one of our favorites.  The recipe is originally from Allrecipes.com, which is a great site for crowd-sourcing your meals.  They have a star rating system and a TON of users, so it’s pretty much the Amazon of recipes.  I tweaked the recipe to make it a bit fresher:  using a whole chicken so we can get the tender dark meat and make our own stock, buying fresh pico de gallo at HEB instead of a jar of salsa, adding red pepper in for a less starchy veggie, and letting each person put as much sour cream as they want rather than mixing it into the entire soup.  Truly a great soup for these winter days (but probably not the ideal candidate for Valentine’s Day)!

Valentine’s Day Chicken Soup
Serves 12
IMG_6899

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
2 stalks celery
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp onion powder
2.5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 16-oz jar of chunky salsa (of fresh salsa from your local store)
2 (14.5 oz) cans peeled and diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
3 tbsp chili powder
2 (16 oz) cans chili or black beans, undrained
1 bean-can full of frozen corn kernels
Sour cream, to taste

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the chicken, celery, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and onion powder to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low/medium-low, and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour, until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with a fork.
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2.  About 50 minutes in, prep the veggies if you haven’t already, and open the cans.  Remove the chicken from the water and onto a plate, and turn the heat off on the leftover stock (you will use this stock in the recipe, and have enough leftover to freeze for chicken broth).
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Get another clean plate and then start to pull the meat off the chicken, making sure to shred it into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
3.  In another large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent.
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Stir in the salsa, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, frozen corn, beans, shredded chicken, and about 5 cups of broth, or however much liquid you desire/your pot can hold (ours was only able to have 4).  Simmer for 30 minutes.
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4.  While the soup is simmering, you can throw away the celery in the leftover stock, and pour it though a strainer to get the spices out.  Freeze the strained liquid and use whenever chicken broth/stock is called for in future recipes!

IMG_68965.  For those who are/can not eat dairy, you can eat the soup straight.  Otherwise, I highly recommend stirring in some sour cream into your bowl, as it makes it creamy and delicious!  Allow each person to get as big or small a dollop as they want, and top with avocado, cheese, and/or tortilla chips!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Valentine's Day Chicken Soup
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
NOTE: To make this recipe a better weeknight meal, I typically just buy a cooked rotisserie chicken from the store, and shred the chicken for the meat. If you go those route, omit the celery below, and ignore steps 1 and 2 in the directions. I like to start with step 3 (getting the veggies started), and then pull the chicken while it cooks, but it also works fine to pull the chicken entirely before starting the actual cooking.
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
  • 2 stalks celery
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 16-oz jar of chunky salsa (of fresh salsa from your local store)
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans peeled and diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 (16 oz) cans chili or black beans, undrained
  • 1 bean-can full of frozen corn kernels
  • Sour cream, to taste
Directions
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the chicken, celery, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and onion powder to a boil. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low/medium-low, and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour, until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with a fork.
  2. About 50 minutes in, prep the veggies if you haven't already, and open the cans. Remove the chicken from the water and onto a plate, and turn the heat off on the leftover stock (you will use this stock in the recipe, and have enough leftover to freeze for chicken broth). Get another clean plate and then start to pull the meat off the chicken, making sure to shred it into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
  3. In another large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the salsa, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, frozen corn, beans, shredded chicken, and about 5 cups of broth, or however much liquid you desire/your pot can hold (ours was only able to have 4). Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. While the soup is simmering, you can throw away the celery in the leftover stock, and pour it though a strainer to get the spices out. Freeze the strained liquid and use whenever chicken broth/stock is called for in future recipes!
  5. For those who are/can not eat dairy, you can eat the soup straight. Otherwise, I highly recommend stirring in some sour cream into your bowl, as it makes it creamy and delicious! Allow each person to get as big or small a dollop as they want, and top with avocado, cheese, and/or tortilla chips!