Saturday, February 21, 2009

I did not make this banana bread.

My mom did. About a month ago.

mom's banana bread

I don't know how to make banana bread.
I don't have a recipe to share with you.

mom's banana bread

The crusty top is my favorite part.
And the bits of pineapple.

mom's banana bread

I just wanted to post a picture of a sliced loaf of homemade bread on my blog.

That's all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cabbage, carrots, and a pork chop.

Even though I had already proven to myself that I could successfully cook a juicy pork chop, I was still a bit intimidated by this other white meat. Last time, there was a sauce to mask any hint of dryness. This time, aside from a dry rub of salt, pepper, and roasted garlic flakes, the chop would be naked.

browning the chop

Since Murdo started student teaching and is spending most nights in Plainfield, I've been cooking a lot of meals for one lately. In other words, I've been eating a lot of leftovers, fried rice, and simple slap-together dinners. But I decided that since I have all this meat and fish in my freezer -- the results of a sale in the meat section and an enthusiastic me returning home, ripping open the packages, and wrapping and labeling each individual cut for easy dinners-for-one -- I should probably, you know, eat some of it. Can you believe it? I actually planned ahead. I even defrosted the pork chop in the fridge the night before. Domestic goddess, I am.


I had some leftover cabbage from a batch of nilaga I made last month, and after pulling away a few nasty leaves, the thing was still good. Gotta love cabbage -- cheap, delicious, and keeps well. My kind of vegetable. So after browning the chop in olive oil and butter and setting aside, I threw in another small pat of butter and added the cabbage to the pan.

roasted baby carrots

Meanwhile, some baby carrots that were starting to go bad in the fridge (are you noticing a "meals-made-with-almost-rotten-food" theme to this blog?) were a-roastin' in the oven, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

pork chop dinner

Ta-daa! Juicy (!!!) pork chop, buttery cabbage, and sweet roasted carrots. Nothing incredibly special, but it made me quite happy. The pork chop was a perfect single serving, as was the cabbage. And the leftover roasted carrots I enjoyed just a few minutes before writing this post, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spaghetti squash is fun!

It's been a while since I've played with my food.

Lately, with my commute and my workout schedule and making time to relax with Murdo, cooking has become a rushed affair that involves throwing together random ingredients in the quickest way possible. And because my dark little kitchen isn't the greatest spot for dinner photo shoots, the pictures always end up a little...meh. Needless to say, my cooking (and my blog) has been craving excitement.

Enter my Sunday afternoon play date with a spaghetti squash.

I've been playing around with the idea of the spaghetti squash ever since November, when I saw these photos. I was intrigued by the nutritional benefits as well as the coolness factor and the simplicity. I could eat spaghetti without the load of carbs? I could turn a squash into noodles? And all I need is a big knife and an oven? Sign me up, baby.

OK, so it took about three months for me to actually get around to even buying a spaghetti squash. And then another two weeks to finally take a break from lazing around during my precious weekend daylight hours to spend a little quality time with the squash. And my camera. Next to the only window in my apartment.

Let me tell you -- a spaghetti squash really knows how to show a girl a good time. Oh, and I took my time. With no real hunger to feed (I was still full from breakfast) besides my starving curiosity, I remembered what it was like to slow down and really appreciate something new and different. After weeks of the same old go-to ingredients and familiar cooking methods, this spaghetti squash was a welcome adventure.


But let's move on to the spaghetti portion of the program. To transform this squash into a noodle, I cut it in half (that part kind of scared me, but I got through it, thanks to the big, bad, very sharp multipurpose knife I got for Christmas), scooped out the seeds and innards, brushed with olive oil and butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, then placed the halves cut-side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. After fifty minutes of roasting in a 400-degree oven, the squash was tender and steaming and ready for spaghetti.

Pulling the strands away with a fork and watching this squash give birth to spaghetti is pretty neat. And the results are, well...spaghetti. The noodles have a slight crunch and a mild flavor that would pair well with any sauce or ingredient.

spaghetti squash

I tossed mine with Parmesan cheese, garlic flakes, Italian seasonings, and a squeeze of lemon. It was light, simple, comforting, and delicious. For lunch the next day, I added turkey meatballs. For dinner, peas and tuna. And there's still a serving or two waiting patiently in my fridge, ready for another something new and exciting.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chicken gyros and Greek potatoes.

It's been a long week.

Strange, how the shortest month of the year seems to go by the slowest for me. February has always been my least favorite month, and I don't think it's difficult to understand why. After the holiday season, the calendar year starts to dip down into a black hole of cold weather and more cold weather and even colder weather that sucks away all hope of sunshine and happiness. There's not even a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel. Because around these parts, we're likely to expect a late March blizzard that keeps us buried in snow until May. And May is an eternity away.

Can you detect a bitter pessimism in my tone? This is what February does to me. And to top things off, today was gorgeous. In the 60s. With the sun shining. The sky blue-ing. I actually woke up to birds chirping this morning. What a horrible, dirty tease today was. Some people may have taken it as a sign of better days to come. Murdo opened the window, took a breath of fresh air and declared, "I'll take it." And so did I, eventually. But I tried not to enjoy it too much, because my bitter, pessimistic, February self still knew that it wouldn't last.

During times like these, when Mother Nature is just playing rotten tricks on the poor, hopeless souls below, there is one thing I can count on to brighten my week.

the usual nicky's spread.

I've blogged about Nicky's Red Hots before, back in September, when I was still getting a feel for the menu. I ordered the Super Burger and was thoroughly disappointed. Since then, we've gone at least once a week, every week (Murdo is addicted to their lamb/beef gyros. Seriously. Addicted.), and I've been desperately trying to find an item on their menu that I could love enough to warrant going once a week, every week. I had a brief relationship with the chicken souvlaki sandwich, but that fell apart as soon as I tried the chicken gyro.

chicken gyro from nicky's. i'm addicted.
tender and flavorful.

Never have I encountered a more flavorful, tender, juicy chicken. The brown edges give a slight crispness, and the honey mustard sauce is perfectly sweet and creamy.

chicken gyro.

And then there's the Greek potatoes, which are known to sell out before 6:30 on a busy day, they're that good. These potato wedges are soaked in garlic, lemon, butter, and olive oil, and the flavors just melt in the mouth beautifully.

mmmm...greek potatoes.....
lemony buttery perfect greek potatoes

When I'm eating chicken gyros and Greek potatoes, the black hole that is February doesn't seem so bad. Because I know that even though the weather might go from subzero temperatures to warm, sunny skies and back again, I can always count on Nicky's to remain tasty and true and satisfying. There's no teasing when it comes to a chicken gyro. Just good eating. We've already had Nicky's twice in the last week.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Grown-up mac and cheese.

I wasn't planning on posting this pasta dish. It's kind of plain and simple and boring, and after plopping a couple of big scoops into my bowl, I decided it didn't look too attractive, either.

And then I took a bite. And I just felt good all over. And all I wanted to do was inhale the entire serving and then go back for seconds. But I stopped myself long enough to take a few pictures, because food that makes me this happy must be shared with the masses.

cheesy pasta: comfort in a bowl.

This dish pretty much sums up my cooking style, especially when I'm just cooking for myself. Nothing fancy or impressive -- just a comforting, filling meal thrown together with whatever is starting to go bad in my fridge.

I chopped up broccoli florets, sugar snap peas, a little bit of onion, and threw them in a pan with olive oil, butter, and garlic. I tossed the veggies with a few handfuls of halved grape tomatoes that were starting to go wrinkly, along with about half a can of drained tuna. Mixed it all together with cooked elbow macaroni, spooned the mixture into a bowl, and stirred in shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese.

The result was kind of like a grown-up mac and cheese. The tuna added a rich, salty bite. The veggies made me feel like I was eating healthy. The heaps of gooey, melted cheese told me otherwise. I scarfed down one big bowlful, and then another. And then I went to DSW and bought a pair of black Pumas and a big purse that I don't really need.

Yeah, it was a good night.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jenny's chocolate chip cookies.

chocolate chip cookies.

When it comes to cookies, I'm a simple kind of gal. Please: No frosting, no sprinkles, no berries, and absolutely no nuts or raisins.

Oh my. I just realized that I am one of those picky eaters that I always want to shake by the shoulders and say, "What is wrong with you? Open your eyes! Expand your horizons! You're missing out on so much!" Except I'm not picky with vegetables, or exotic foods, or meat. I'm a picky cookie-eater.

chocolate chip cookie dough balls

It's not that I won't try different cookies. Or that I don't like different cookies. I'm just not going to get excited over an oatmeal-cranberry-walnut cookie, or a peanut butter surprise cookie, or even a pumpkin whoopie pie. I'll maybe take a few pictures, and try a cookie or even two, but that's about it.

chocolate chip cookie dough balls

So when Jenny asks what kind of cookies she should bake, my requests are usually the same: Sugar cookies or chocolate chip cookies. Or brownies. (OK, I'm aware that brownies aren't cookies, but I just really like brownies. And Jenny can make cookies that taste just like brownies! We call them...are you ready for it? Brownie cookies.)

Since Jenny really likes cookies, and has a really big cookie book with tons of new, creative, non-boring cookie recipes, my constant pleas for sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies aren't often fulfilled. But when they are, you better believe the whole world knows about it. And by the whole world, I mean, well...people of the Internetz. That would be you.

chocolate chip cookies

For me, the perfect chocolate chip cookies are crisp-chewy on the outer rim, soft-chewy on the inside, with lots and lots of melty chocolate chips throughout. I think I really realized Jenny's chocolate chip cookies were my all-time favorite when I received them in a care package in college (along with Mom's homemade beef jerky). Man, that was awesome. Perfectly chewy, perfect amount of chips, all made with sisterly looooove.