I had every intention of running to the grocery store today, but time seemed to tick faster than usual and spending the evening watching television in my pajamas was far more appealing. In an effort to consume something more substantial than raisin bran, I scoured my larder for makeshift meal ingredients. My promising findings consisted of chicken, tortillas, leftover pizza sauce, and cheese, resulting in a chicken pizza quesadilla. All the best recipes are created in desperation, right?
To make: start by cooking 1 breast of cubed chicken in oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper. In a separate pan, melt 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat and lay a tortilla in the pan. In the pan with the chicken, simmer 1 cup of pizza sauce. Top the tortilla with the chicken and pizza sauce mixture and add 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Add another tortilla on top. Once the bottom tortilla is crispy, flip the quesadilla and leave in pan until the second tortilla is crispy. Remove from the pan and enjoy!
In case I haven’t publicly professed my adoration for pasta enough, let me do so once more: I love pasta. Therefore, in my quest to amass an arsenal of recipes for one, I need a trove of pasta recipes. One with a lemon butter sauce and wilted spinach is of utmost importance to perfect.
To start, boil linguine in salt water. Use about 1/8-1/6 of the box. Cut up half a chicken breast into small cubes, salt and pepper, and cook in an oiled pan over medium heat. Melt 1/4 stick of butter in the pan and add 1/8 tsp of minced garlic and 1/8 tsp of parsley. While butter is melting, add 1/2 cup of spinach and the juice of 1 lemon. Add noodles once al dente. Toss to smother noodles in lemony, buttery deliciousness.
Making this dish couldn’t be simpler, and when portions are smaller, ingredients cook faster making time in the kitchen minimal. And, although it’s pasta, it’s pretty light, making it a great weeknight summer meal. Enjoy!
A few months ago I tried baking French macarons for the first time, and they were incredibly time-consuming and difficult to make. When I read this simple coconut macaroon recipe, I figured these would be an easy alternative to my French favorite, but things didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped.
I followed the recipe, which requires few ingredients and is very straightforward, exactly. I set my eggs out hours beforehand to ensure they were exactly room temperature. I watched the accompanying video so I knew exactly how to whip the egg whites and exactly how to fold them into the coconut mixture. I did everything exactly. Exactly, exactly, exactly.
I expected, after doing everything exactly, perfect little orbs to emerge from the oven, but was instead met with flattened, misshapen balls. Disappointed and confused, I turned to the internet to discover what I had done wrong.
Several theories popped up: over-beaten egg whites changing the structure of the proteins that hold the shape, humidity making them essentially melt, too many wet ingredients in the recipe, under-beaten egg whites causing them to go flat. Some reviewers of the recipe shared a similar complaint of following the steps perfectly and still ending up with a puddly outcome. An hour of assiduous research later, I still didn’t have an answer as to what I did wrong. (I did acquire an abundance of information on beating egg whites, though.)
Typically I have an idea of what to do next time to improve, but this is quite a conundrum. The theories I read take me in all different directions, and I can’t decide which one I think is most likely the culprit. Perhaps next time I’ll try a completely different recipe and then compare. I’m at a bit of a loss. At least they tasted good.
When I was 18, I ordered chicken piccata for the first time, and my life was forever changed. With tender chicken, a rich and flavorful lemon butter sauce, and salty capers, it’s impossible not to swoon over this Italian dish. Chicken piccata is a meal I order any time I see it on a menu, and after learning how quick and easy it is to cook, I wanted to recreate this palatable entrée at home.
When choosing a recipe, I was sure use one created by someone with a penchant for Italian cooking, so I chose Giada De Laurentiis’s. I adapted it slightly to serve one instead of four, and to fit my palette, which has an affinity for anything salty and lemony. This required lessening the amount of meat, oil, and butter, but adding extra capers and lemon juice.
For the chicken, I butterflied one breast and pounded it down, which I will be doing any time I sauté chicken moving forward, as this gives the chicken a more consistent thickness, allowing it to cook evenly throughout. No one wants pink chicken. I used my meat tenderizer, but a rolling pin works, too. However, if you use a rolling pin, be sure to cover your chicken with cling wrap beforehand to avoid sticking.
Next I dredged each piece of lightly seasoned chicken and placed them in the pan already teeming with oil and butter. While those cooked, I readied a mixture to deglaze the pan and serve as the base of my sauce, which consisted of lemon juice, capers, and pasta water. The recipe called for chicken stock, but I opted for pasta water since it has more flavor than pure water.
After the chicken had cooked on both sides, I let it rest while I deglazed the pan, added butter, and simmered the sauce. Minutes later I added the chicken back in, taste-tested, and seasoned a bit more. All that was left to do was play “That’s Amore,” open a bottle of red wine, and pretend I was in Italy. Okay, I didn’t do that, but I should have. Next time.
What I actually did was prepare a plate and snap a quick and, sadly, unappealing picture before devouring my incredibly satisfying meal. I’m happy to spend hours cooking and baking to make something delicious, but I wish the joy of savoring food weren’t so ephemeral. My scrumptious piccata was gone just as quickly as it came. Thankfully it’s easy to make, so I’ll be enjoying it again soon. Maybe next time over mashed potatoes or arugula. The joy of eating may be fleeting, but the joy of cooking is eternal.
We’re nearing summer and my cravings are following suit. I can eat chips and salsa any day of the year, but with warmer weather approaching my palette is pleading for a sweet, fruity change. Originally I wanted mango salsa, but I was certain I would be unable to find a mango at the grocery store. I opted instead for pineapple, but it was hardly a concession.
I found a simple recipe on Taste of Home that perfectly amalgamated the flavors I crave in a fruit salsa: sweet and spicy. The pineapple provides the sweetness while jalapeños, coriander, and cumin add a spicy bite. Together, along with tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, and cilantro, it’s heaven.
When choosing ingredients, I was forced to make some swaps, and bought dried cilantro and canned pineapple in lieu of fresh options. The grocery store was out of fresh cilantro, and I live in the Midwest where fresh pineapples are not always readily available. However, thanks to the technology that is canned fruit, I was able to purchase pineapple suitable for whipping up a quick, fresh salsa. Turns out you don’t have to reside in Hawaii to enjoy a tropical snack.
While canned fruit is certainly a blessing, it’s important to READ the labels closely. I purchased crushed pineapple instead of pineapple chunks, which I blame on discombobulation induced by the newly-implemented one-way grocery aisles. Never has navigating the market been more akin to finding your way out of a corn maze. Pandemic problems aside, buying crushed pineapple ended up being a happy accident because crushed pineapple is great for salsa. I’ll be sure to read the labels more closely when the stakes are higher.
This was certainly no culinary feat, but it was tasty. Very fresh with lots of flavor, it’s quick and easy when you’re in need of variety. I indulged with tortilla chips, but it’d be great with pita chips or atop fish tacos. A versatile recipe now added to my repertoire, I’ll be enjoying this for summers to come.
Quarantine’s got me craving comfort food, and comfort food is just a euphemism for carbs. I try not to keep tortilla chips, one of my favorite carbs, at home because I’d eat chips and salsa for every meal, but the world’s in a crisis, so I have two party-size bags of tortilla chips in my cupboard. What better way to utilize tortilla chips and indulge in comfort food than nachos?
Traditional nachos are amazing, but I was in the mood for a twist. A barbecue chicken twist. I slow cooked the chicken for eight hours on low in my own concoction of apple juice, brown sugar, chili powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Typically I slow cook my barbecue chicken in root beer and a store-bought barbecue sauce, but this time I eschewed my go-to in favor of my own flavor, which was a total experiment.
After four hours in the slow cooker, I tasted the marinade to check the flavor and shred the chicken. I added more brown sugar to thicken the marinade, however it already was incredibly sweet, so I also added garlic powder, more salt, and red pepper flakes. Another four hours later I celebrated every spice I added and congratulated myself for shredding the chicken when I did. Shredding the chicken halfway through cooking allowed it to soak in all the flavor and moisture, giving it both an appealing color and robust taste when complete.
I wanted to incorporate some elements of a traditional plate of nachos, so I opted for Pico de Gallo. Pico is equal parts delicious and easy to make. All it takes is a chopped onion, chopped tomato, chopped jalapeño, lime juice, cilantro, and salt to taste. So fresh, so simple. The perfect flavors to top barbecue chicken.
In addition to Pico de Gallo, I topped my nachos with a simple cheese sauce. To make this, I melted butter; added and simmered milk; seasoned with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne to taste; folded in shredded cheddar and mozzarella; and stirred until melted. Whipping up these toppings couldn’t be easier.
Once all my toppings were prepared, it was time to assemble. The secret to good nachos is similar to dressing when you’re unsure of the weather: lots of layers. My layers were chips, chicken, chips, chicken, cheese, Pico. Toppings can be layered and alternated with chips in any preferred order and should be ubiquitous to ensure a desirable chip-to-topping ratio.
The nachos were tasty: ample toppings, symbiotic flavors, balanced textures. And while I enjoyed my meal, I likely won’t use the leftover chicken for another plate of nachos. I received the comfort for which I was searching, and now I’m ready for something new. Thankfully barbecue chicken is versatile and can be used for several dishes, or eaten on its own. But I’m more thankful that I now have two dips for devouring all my tortilla chips. The party-size bags won’t last long.
I made croissants. I grappled over what clever story to seamlessly infuse into this post, but ultimately landed on a straightforward introduction. There’s no motive, no purpose. I just love croissants and wanted to trying making them from scratch, so I did.
And let me be clear: baking croissants is a PROCESS. It’s a process that requires fastidiousness and tenacity. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but it is time-consuming and demands attention to detail. It takes an entire day before you’re able to bask in the flaky, buttery goodness that is this French specialty. If they weren’t so tasty, it wouldn’t be worth the effort. However, if you love croissants and love baking, it’s a worthwhile process.
These layered wonders are labor-intensive and involve many steps, most of which are rolling out dough, folding, and refrigerating. The first step, though, is to mix the dough and chill overnight, a quick beginning in stark contrast to the subsequent steps.
The next day of baking begins by cutting butter into 1/2 inch pieces, arranging them into a square, and rolling, and rolling, and rolling. Rolling butter is tough. The pats are sandwiched between two pieces of parchment paper, and parchment paper is incredibly slippery. Rolling and beating down butter is exponentially harder when it’s slipping and sliding like a wet bar of soap. I tried holding the parchment paper in place with various items on my counter, but all attempts were futile. Flattening a butter square to its proper size is achievable, but not without significant effort. I’ll be nursing rolling pin blisters for the foreseeable future.
Once the butter is flattened, it goes back into the fridge to chill while the dough is rolled out. Thankfully the difficultly of rolling out the butter was offset by the ease of rolling out the dough. Once the dough is wide enough, the butter is laid in the center and the outlying flaps are folded around the butter, rolled out, folded again, and chilled. These steps are repeated a few more times, each with a nuanced fold. This results in those flaky, buttery layers. After folding the dough more times than you’d fold paper to make an origami bird, the dough’s chilled for an additional two hours.
Two hours later the time comes to roll out the dough a once more. This takes about as much time as rolling out the butter as the dough needs to span nearly three feet before it’s thin enough to be cut into triangles and rolled up to proof. The dough yields twelve rolls with ends left over.
I tasted the leftover dough out of pure curiosity, and no dough, no batter, no mix of any kind has ever been so delicious. The only explanation is the butter center that seamlessly spread throughout the entire dough with every fold. Butter really does make everything better.
I left to run to the grocery store while my dough proofed, and came home to dough that was exactly the same size, just a bit puffier. I concluded the baking sheets weren’t in a warm enough spot for the dough to rise, so I moved them under a light and turned up the heat. After rereading the recipe I discovered that the dough doesn’t need to get much bigger, just swell a bit, and decided that, twenty-seven hours after starting, my croissants were ready to be baked.
Although they didn’t turn out picturesque, the croissants tasted delicious. These little wonders are everything: buttery, flaky, savory and sweet. The layers are worth every second I spent pounding the butter into oblivion. I’m not sure who first baked croissants, but I owe him or her my sincerest thanks and praise. What an invention. On par with microwaves, if you ask me.
One Thanksgiving, maybe 6 years ago, my mom made store-bought crescent rolls. The little pop-open roll yielded about eight rolls, and I am the only person at the table who ate one. And by one, I mean all eight. I ate every single roll before my mom could even suggest passing them around the table. I absolutely love crescent rolls, but homemade croissants are better. Mom, I think next Thanksgiving you can skip the crescent rolls. I’ll bring these instead.
Any time I make a meal, I end up cooking an amount suitable for a large family reunion. And while I do love leftovers, eating the same meal six days in a row gets tiresome, and it’s not conducive to trying new recipes. If something bombs, I either have to eat disgusting food for a week or waste it and cook something new.
What I need to do is cook one serving at a time. Unfortunately, ingredients aren’t often sold in portions and recipes aren’t often written in manners that behoove those of us cooking for one and searching for variety. It’s understandable, albeit frustrating.
Ideally, grocery manufacturers would begin producing more “sample size” items. Think makeup samples, only the food version. Even more ideally, professional cooks would create recipes for those of us cooking for one on a regular basis. But since these requests aren’t widely available, I’ll adapt and develop methods that make cooking for one attainable (maybe).
The obvious first step when cooking for one is adjusting the measurements. Instead of 3 lbs of chicken, use close to 1; instead of 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, use 1/2. However, it’s not always that cut and dry, and I am bad at math. Sometimes it takes trial and error and a little creativity.
For this recipe, I used 1 chicken breast. I have no idea how much it weighed, but I knew it was a good choice. Ravenous me would scarf down an entire chicken breast in one sitting, whereas sensible me would split it into two meals.
For the vegetables, I used one frozen package of stir fry vegetables, including snap peas, carrots, water chestnuts, and broccoli. The Birds Eye steam-able packages are great for small meals. Cans are sometimes suitable, but frozen vegetables are often better quality. I steamed the bag in the microwave for speed and added them to the pan once the chicken was nearly cooked.
Whenever I use spices, I eyeball, which is a terrible habit of mine given I am not very good at it. That being said, I cannot relay even a good estimate of how much of each ingredient I used to make my sauce. I can, however, share what I used: honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. Whatever the amounts were, I needed more, so I’ll measure next time to ensure I have a better idea of ratios moving forward. The combination was tasty, though. I poured it over the chicken and vegetables and let it simmer before serving.
I topped my stir fry on a bed of white rice. Stir fry is versatile, though, and can be served over cauliflower rice, ramen noodles, spinach, or virtually anything. I just happen to love white rice. 1/2 cup sufficed.
I liked this recipe. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it tasted good and I had enough left over for one more meal, which, to me, is ideal. I have yet to perfect the art of cooking for one. I have yet to perfect the art of cooking, for that matter. But I’ll keep trying! Either that or I’ll eat chicken stir fry for the rest of my life. At least it tastes good.
One of my favorite desserts is a brownie. Flaky tops that crumble when you bite? Soft centers that melt in your mouth? And those chewy edges so idolized someone invented a gadget to ensure every piece has an edge? My mouth waters just hearing the word. The problem is I’ve never come across a homemade brownie I like as well as a box mix.
I have several grievances with homemade brownies: the chocolate is too bitter, the texture is either spongey like a cake or crumbly like a bar, and the tops lack that paper-thin, almost-separate flaky layer I love so much. Perhaps preferring a box mix indicates an unsophisticated palette, but I like what I like, and I’m determined to find a homemade brownie recipe on par with a box mix.
The recipe I chose was written by Alton Brown, and if there’s anyone from television I can trust, it’s him. I’m skeptical from the start because the ingredient list doesn’t include oil, which is integral to all box mixes. I was tempted to add some because I think it’s responsible for the desirable gooey center, but if I’m going to find a box replica, it’s important to maintain the integrity of the recipe before making any alterations. Also, I’m not sure I’m qualified to make alterations. And I can’t argue with Alton.
There was little to note concerning the recipe; it’s fairly straightforward and simple. Although I did get to use the whisk attachment on my stand mixer, which is equal parts rare and exciting. (The pandemic has lowered the bar for excitement significantly.) The recipe also called for sifted dry ingredients. My dad, the best baker I personally know, tells me I should sift dry ingredients every time I bake, but not often do you find a recipe that actually instructs you to sift. Come to think of it, this is only the third recipe I’ve made that calls for sifted ingredients. And of those three, two of them were written by Alton Brown. My dad may have a point. Anyway, moving on from this disheveled paragraph, if all this rambling can even be considered one.
An episode of Jane the Virgin later (I highly recommend), I opened the oven to find a less-than-flaky top, and was utterly disappointed. A toothpick test told me the brownies were finished, so I set the pan of sadness on the counter to cool and waited until the next morning to taste. Something about a brownie binge at 10 o’clock p.m. feels like a cry for help. I got ready for bed and pondered my new-found appreciation for Pillsbury.
The result the next morning, however, was a sweet surprise: I liked the brownie! I grabbed an edge piece (duh) and thanked Alton for his contribution to both society and my life. Was it box-caliber? No. But the top was sort of flaky, the center was soft, and the edge was chewy, so I didn’t throw it away.
Although I was pleasantly surprised, this isn’t the recipe I’m searching for. I’m after a flakier top and a gooier center. I will give it brownie points (sorry, I had to) for its edges, though.
This particular brownie would be best served with a drizzle of raspberry sauce and a side of ice cream, but I want one so super it doesn’t need sidekicks. The quest continues.
The number one food I hope to see at a barbecue is a hot dog. Number two is a hamburger. I love a thick, juicy hamburger. And the only time I’ll use the words thick and juicy successively are to describe a hamburger.
When I was recently invited to a hamburger dinner, the obvious answer was yes. However, the invitation came from people following the keto diet, and hamburgers are only acceptable sans buns. I was told to bring my own if I wanted a bun, but since I don’t keep any on hand and didn’t want to stop at the grocery store due to equal parts laziness and responsibility to adhere to social distancing recommendations, my only choice was to bake my own.
I Googled recipes (I need more cookbooks) because there were none on the Food Network app. Apparently Food Network chefs don’t bake hamburger buns often. Shocking! It’s almost as if it’s exponentially easier to buy them at the store! Once I settled on a recipe (the first and only one I read), I got to work.
Full disclosure, I struggled. My first mishap occurred when the ingredient list called for 2 tablespoons of active dry yeast. The only yeast I had was packets of instant dry, and I absolutely could not find a definitive conversion. I ended up using 1 packet. The recipe instructed me to dissolve said yeast in warm water and add sugar and oil. Because of the way the recipe read, I was unsure whether to add the sugar and oil before or after dissolving the yeast, but I chose before. Quite honestly, I’m still not sure if that was correct, but it’s what I did and I can’t change it! Like I said, I struggled!
Post do-I-add-the-sugar-and-oil-now-or-later debate, I went to turn the dough into a floured surface. The problem was I don’t know what it means to turn! I need a baking dictionary. Does Amazon have one? I’ll check later. Anyway, I basically flopped it out of the bowl onto my counter and started what I think kneading looks like. I could be totally off. I’ve always used a mixer when making doughs, save the first time I made bread when I was 11, and of that I remember very little. I learned my lesson, though; my hands do not yet replace a dough hook. I’ll work on it.
Ounces of superfluous flour and less-than-mediocre kneading later, the dough was ready to be rolled into balls that would hopefully bake into scrumptious buns. I tried to form spherical dreams, but they ended up being round on top and horribly mangled, folded nightmares on the bottom. With ounces of hope equal to the flour, I stuck them in the oven and waited, only to be disappointed. Not surprised, but disappointed.
My buns looked decent on top, but the bottoms were straight up ugly. I topped them with melted butter upon removal from the oven, but it didn’t help much. I sealed my buns’ fate much earlier on when I likely didn’t use enough yeast and kneaded the dough like a contestant on Worst Cooks in America. Worst of all, they didn’t even taste that great. The flavor was okay, but the texture was dense and crumbly. Hamburger buns are supposed to be light and airy, and these were anything but.
Needless to say, I did not attend my hamburger dinner with buns, but I did learn a lot in the process. I mostly learned that I have a tremendous amount to learn. I’ll try again, but I also learned that a really good hamburger doesn’t need a bun.