Ah, three-day weekends. A time to remain in your pajamas until 2pm, attempt to do all that house-and-inbox-cleaning you’ve been putting off for weeks, and watch a truly humiliating amount of Sex and the City (or maybe that last one is just me).
Anyhoo. Over this three-day weekend I attempted a red lentil curry recipe I had found online at allrecipes.com, with a twist. I went to Trader Joe’s to get the ingredients and found, not entirely surprisingly, that they do not carry curry paste. Said the saleslady when I asked her: “I know exactly what you’re talking about. My roommate gets that at a specialty grocery up in Petworth. I suggest just using a ready-made red curry sauce.” (Which, conveniently, was on sale at Trader Joe’s that week.)
Now, I’m not exactly a purist when it comes to recipes. But I was still a little worried about using the ready-made sauce. Then, I reasoned, one reason why I’d never really attempted Indian cooking before was that I didn’t really have faith in my ability to make it “authentically.” However, if I dropped any pretense that I was actually cooking truly “authentic” Indian food, then why not go for the easy, ready-made option?
After concluding this philosophical debate with myself, I not only bought the sauce, but also Trader Joe’s ready-made lentils. Just had to drop these babies in the sauce when I was done and voila!
In addition to the ready-made sauce swap, I also added extra ginger and used fire-roasted diced tomatoes with green chilies. The result was a slightly spicy, aromatic curry that I will absolutely be making again.
Red Lentil Curry
2 cups lentils (easy version: Trader Joe’s pre-cooked lentils. Otherwise, you will need to simmer the lentils in water until they are tender.) 1 onion, diced 1 tblsp vegetable or canola oil 3/4 cup red curry sauce 1 tblsp curry powder 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp ground turmeric 1 tsp chili powder 1 tsp salt 1 tsp white sugar 2 tsp minced ginger root 1 garlic clove, minced 1 14 oz. can of diced/pureed tomatoes
Ingredient Rareness: 4/5 (As explained above, I solved the curry paste problem. Everything else was readily available - even the spices were pretty standard spice-rack stuff) Ingredient Cheapness: 5/5 (the sauce was $3.99; everything else was less.)
1. In a large skillet or saucepan, caramelize the onions in the vegetable/canola oil.
2. While the onions are cooking, combine the red curry sauce, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Mix well.
3. When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture to the onions and cook over a high heat stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Stir in the diced/pureed tomatoes and reduce heat, allowing the curry base to simmer for about 5 minutes.
5. Add the lentils and stir, cooking for about 2-3 minutes. Serve with rice or naan.
Prep Time: Surprisingly speedy - about 15 minutes, and a large chunk of that was chopping onions and mincing ginger. Difficulty: Not in the least. I was actually kind of startled by how simple it was and, until I tasted it, worried the ease I experienced meant I’d screwed up. Fridge Test: Passed!
I am a pasta fiend. When I was in graduate school it was all I could afford and therefore I made it almost every night, so I learned how to make pasta interesting. I probably cooked the stuff with every frozen vegetable and sale-aisle sauce in Washington, DC.
Though I am no longer a starving student, I still cook pasta pretty often. Recently my housemate got a new cookbook from Moosehead Restaurant in Ithaca, NY - Simple Suppers. Both of my brothers are Cornellians, so it immediately piqued my interest. Over the last week I tried two pasta recipes from the cookbook, and both of them turned out pretty well. Behold!
Pasta with Broccoli, Walnuts and Edamame
Ingredients 3/4 lb. “chunky pasta” (I used penne, but think fusili might have worked better) 4 tablespoons olive oil 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed 3 cups frozen broccoli 1 cup frozen shelled edamame 3/4 tsp salt 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, oregano, thyme, or marjoram (I used basil - two thumbs up) 1 cup chopped walnuts grated parmesan or pecorino romano
Ingredient Cheapness: 5/5, unless you get the fancy organic walnuts. Ingredient Rareness: 5/5. Granted, this is because I am obsessed with edamame. But even then, it’s available in Giant.
Directions 1. Boil water and cook pasta. Either save 1/2 cup of the pasta-cooking water, or don’t. 2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and broccoli with about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, or just 1/2 cup of regular water, turn heat on high, and cook for about 2 minutes. 3. Add the edamame, salt, and basil/herb of your choice. Cook until the water evaporates and broccoli is “crisp, tender, and bright green.” 4. Remove from heat. Toss the pasta with the vegetable mixture, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the walnuts, and the parmesan.
Prep Time: It ended up being around 20 minutes because things had to cook awhile. Still, not too long. Difficulty: The real challenge is not overcooking the vegetables, but beyond that, no chopping or anything else too tough. Fridge Test: Passed, but when I ate the refrigerated version I was yearning for extra parmesan.
Pasta with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Pine Nuts
Sidebar: Pine nuts are an insanely overpriced nut. Whole Foods sells them for $22 a pound. Thankfully, you only need 1/4 cup for this recipe; I bought a half-cup to be safe, and it only came to $6, which is still kinda high. But that wasn’t all. I attempted to toast my overpriced pine nuts but sticking them on a baking sheet and putting the oven on broil. Three minutes later, I discovered that my oven was practically on fire. So I used untoasted pine nuts, and it worked fine.
Ingredients 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (I used the jars of sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil that Trader Joe’s sells. If you don’t use jarred or otherwise moist sun-dried tomatoes, the original recipe has you soak them in the pasta water and then slice them.) 1 lb. pasta (the recipe book recommended spaghetti; I used tri-color rotini) 3 tbsp olive oil 8-10 garlic cloves, minced or pressed 1/4 cup pine nuts parmesan cheese
Ingredient Cheapness: 3/5. See above story about the overpriced pine nuts. Otherwise, pretty inexpensive; I had all but the pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes already in my kitchen. Ingredient Rareness: 3/5. Again, see pine nut story.
1. Cook pasta. While pasta is cooking, heat oil and garlic in a saucepan until golden brown. Remove from heat. 2. When pasta is done, toss with the garlic/olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. Add cheese and any seasoning to taste.
Prep Time: Other than the pine nut disaster, this was really quick! 15 minutes including pine nut toasting attempts. Difficulty: Again, easy but with the pine nut caveat. How is one supposed to toast pine nuts? Fridge Test: We’ll find out tomorrow…
The cardamom chicken (previewed in the photo below) was not as successful as I’d hoped. This is probably because I used lactose-free yogurt instead of Greek yogurt, which gave the sauce a weird consistency when mixed with the other ingredients.
The couscous, on the other hand, was quick, easy and awesome! Adapted from Rosemany Gold’s Radically Simple.
1.5 cups couscous 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (I just used a can and rinsed them) 1/4 cup raisins 1 scallion, finely chopped “Grated zest and juice of 1 orange” (This was an interesting one to attempt. I grated it over a bowl until it got soggy.) 1 tsp cumin 1 tbsp oil salt to taste
Ingredient Cheapness: 4/5. Surprisingly, the priciest item was the $3.99 I spent on raisins. Ingredient Rareness: 4/5. Couscous may not be in everyone’s pantry, but it’s super cheap and easy to find.
1. Bring 1.75 cups salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. 2. Stir in the couscous, raisins, chickpeas, and scallions. 3. Cover, remove from heat, and let steam for 5 minutes. 4. Stir in orange zest/juice, cumin, oil, and salt to taste. 5. Enjoy!
Prep Time: Scallion chopping and orange grating takes a couple minutes, but then you’re literally sticking ingredients in a bowl and letting it sit there. Under 10 minutes. Difficulty: Most challenging part was the orange zest grating, which takes some…skill, unless you want the bowl sliding around as you desperately try to keep the grater on top of it. Other than that, it’s a piece of cake. Fridge Test: Success! This gave me dinner, next day’s lunch, and more lunch the day after.
When I was a kid, my family’s “special” breakfast treat was flying pancakes. Every Saturday, my dad would make us pancakes and flip them off the spatula, into the air, and onto our plates. I am not posting that recipe here. I wish I could say that it was a huge family secret, but the truth is my dad just put them together following the directions on the Aunt Jemima box. So, if you’d like to recreate that magic for yourself, buy a box and start practicing your wrist-flicking.
As a grownup, I still make myself pancakes occasionally, but they’re a little labor-intensive for weekday mornings (and sometimes even Saturdays). So I’ve recently adopted a new “special” breakfast delight: “toad-in-the-hole.” It’s ridiculously simple in ingredients and cooking time, but there are any number of ways to fancy it up. For me, it’s using sunflower bread - it comes out lighter and sweeter - but it’s delicious with any bread. Weekday Breakfast of Champions!
Ingredients: 1 piece of sunflower bread (or any bread) 1 egg butter or margarine
Ingredient Cheapness: 5/5. Even if you use fancy bread, you’re not breaking a bank of any sort. Ingredient Rareness: 5/5. All of this stuff should be in your kitchen.
1. Cut a small hole in the center of the bread. 2. Cover both sides of the bread with butter/margarine. 3. Place greased frying pan on stove over medium heat. Place bread in center of frying pan. 4. Crack egg into the hole in the bread. Let cook for about 3 minutes. 5. Flip the bread over with a spatula. Continue cooking another 3-ish minutes or until egg is cooked to desired consistency. 6. Serve, eat, dump frying pan in your kitchen sink, and run out the door to catch the metro.
Prep Time: under 10 minutes, depending on your preferred egg consistency. Difficulty: Idiot-proof. The only potential hiccup is one’s egg-cracking skills Fridge Test: Eh….I personally wouldn’t attempt it.
Working in DC can be stressful at times. But most of us young whippersnappers in this city are here because we want to work for something bigger than ourselves. So, continuing my theme of West Wing clips, I give you none other than Ms. Ainsley Hayes for a wee pick-me-up lecture on duty, bipartisanship, and Gilbert & Sullivan.
Anyway. The same woman who sent that text message to me also gave me Rozanne Gold’s Radically Simple for Christmas. It’s a cookbook with recipes that contain only a small number of basic ingredients. Now, Gold’s idea of “basic” apparently includes salmon fillets, but if you read around those recipes there are several winners to be found.
Like this one, which I adapted from her book to make more millennial-friendly. I eat a lot of ginger, so this is a common household item for me in a way it may not be for other people. However, it’s very cheap ($2 at Trader Joe’s). Same with the sesame oil; I found a bottle at Whole Foods for $4. Gold’s version of this recipe suggests angel hair pasta and fresh chives. I used spaghetti and chives from the spice rack and it turned out fine, though if you’ve got fresh chives on hand I’m sure it would be even more flavorful.
Linguine with Ginger Butter
4 tablespoons butter or margarine 3-inch piece of fresh ginger 1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil 12 oz. pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, or linguine)* 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 1/4 cup chives
*I honestly don’t know how much pasta I used. A bunch, but not a ton. Gold says 12 oz., and this ginger butter sauce was a pretty even coating, so I must have been close.
Ingredient Cheapness: 4/5 (except for the ginger and sesame oil, all items are pretty common in fridges, and the other two are cheap) Ingredient Rareness: 2/5 (yeah, you’ll probably need to visit Whole Foods or a farmer’s market)
1. Boil water and cook pasta until done. 2. Meanwhile, put butter in a bowl and grate ginger over it. 3. Mix oil and a large pinch of salt with the butter and ginger. 4. Drain pasta, but save 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. 5. Mix pasta, cooking liquid, and ginger-butter mixture. 6. Add parmesan; season with salt/pepper if you so choose.
Prep Time: 10 minutes, since you can make the ginger butter while the pasta cooks. No chopping! Difficulty: Idiot-proof. Fridge Test: PASS! I ate half this portion on Sunday night and refrigerated the rest for dinner on Monday. No complaints; it tasted almost exactly the same 24 hours later.
As I begin this blog, I am reminded of a line from The Princess Diaries, after Mia tells her best friend that she is a princess. Her best friend’s response: “Are you sure you can run a whole country? You can barely keep a goldfish alive for more than a couple of days.”
I am not a gourmet chef. I don’t have one dish or dish genre that has brought me any sort of renown (though my roommate is a borderline-competitive vegan cupcake maker - talent by proxy?). And I don’t cook for a living. In fact, my mother has told me that although she tried to teach me to cook when I was a kid, I lacked the attention span necessary to transfer any ingredients from box to bowl.
So, why am I starting a blog on cooking? Well, my attention span has improved since I was five. But more to the point, I realized a couple months ago that the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe’s should probably not be my major source of sustenance. So, I started experimenting with recipes and was surprised to find that not only could I could cook while simultaneously watching Netflix videos and answering emails without setting my kitchen on fire (hooray!), but that there were quite a few recipes out there for people like me: the young, busy ones (I’m 25 and live in DC) who try like hell to eat green and not resort to takeout and the defrost button, but can’t afford, in either time or funds, to prepare a Home & Garden or Rachael Ray-ready meal every night.
This blog will tell the story of my cooking adventures. In addition to testing out recipes that fit my rules (quick, healthy, cheap/easy-to-find ingredients, and refrigerator-friendly), I’ll also add in quickie thoughts on other things: Netflix Instant suggestions, news articles, the random text messages I get from my mother about her dog’s daily activities, whatever else is distracting me from going the full Martha Stewart in my kitchen (as we are all obviously supposed to do each night).