Kitchen Adventures

The fiance is kind of a food snob. From the moment we met, he has been telling me that New York pizza and bagels are superior to all others.

Now, make no mistake; I am not challenging that statement. Rather, I’m saying that in the time we’ve spent together, I’ve become sort of a snob too.

But only about the exact same foods.

For example, here’s a conversation we had in our favorite deli the other day:

Me: This is my favorite bagel.

Him: Whole wheat?

Me: No, this bagel. From here. This bagel. Every other bagel sucks in comparison. I don’t know why they even try.

Similarly, I never used to have strong feelings about penne a la vodka. But since I’ve started hanging out with someone who, ahem, feels anything but neutral, I am extremely critical of how restaurants prepare this dish.

Is this one of those “married people start to turn into each other” things? Or just a new awareness of foods I took for granted in the past? Maybe I just didn’t know how good they could be.

Either way, I’m pretty sure I’m ruined for life. You know, in terms of sub-par bagels.

I am not a picky eater. I like to say there are about three foods I don’t like. (Which always prompts the question, “Which three foods?”) And then I say:

1. Olives. I really hate olives. I hate the look and smell of them. I hate biting into what looks to be a great sandwich only to discover it has been mutilated with olive tepenade. I. Do. Not. Like. Them. (Sam I am.)

2. Melon. Yes, all kinds. Yes, even watermelon. Yes, I’m being serious. No, it’s not just a texture thing, though I’m not too keen on that either. Yes, really watermelon too.

3. I can never think of a third one. I say “three things” because I’m sure there’s something else, and because there are several foods I only like in certain context. Tomatoes, for one. I love prepared tomatoes; fried, roasted, sauteed, sun-dried, mashed into sauce or ketchup — sign me up. I don’t usually care for raw tomatoes, unless they’re in bruschetta or doused with vinagrette and sliced with mozzarella.

I also don’t usually care for eggplant, brussel sprouts, sprouts in general, sardines, or giblets, but I have a feeling there’s probably a method of preparation out there that could change my mind, at least for one meal.

In general, though, I like just about anything, and I’ll try anything once.

Which is why I’m kind if embarrassed about my next statement.

Sometimes I’m that person who says I don’t like something when really what I mean is I’m pretty sure I don’t because it doesn’t visually appeal to me but in reality I’ve never really tried it.

The thing is, I hate people who do that. Because I’m a firm believer in at least trying everything and giving it a fair shot. Then decide you hate it.

It’s not like I refuse to try these things. Usually I’ve just never been offered them before. And I don’t like to order things I might hate when there’s something I know I like on the menu.

One example is Bloody Marys. Ok, the name itself is gross, and the look of tomato juice has always turned me off. (I guess that’s one method of tomato preparation I don’t care for.)(Maybe.)

I’m very visual with my food. Even when I’m just bringing a limp sandwich to work for lunch, I like to slice it, arrange it on a plate, and add a side dish like chips or apple slices or something. But a thick sludge of red goo can’t really be dressed up for me, no matter how many celery stalks you stab into it.

The reason why I bring this all up is because last night I was craving a Pop-Tart (I know), and the only kind the fiance had was cherry. Without even thinking, I curled my lip in disgust and said, “Ugh, I don’t like the cherry ones.”

Now, the only cherry thing I don’t like is marachino cherries. I like pitted cherries, cherry slushies, cherry Coke, cherry Tums — you name it. But for some reason I had decided cherry Pop-Tarts would be cloyingly sweet, sticking in my throat and instantly rotting my teeth. Basically, what I think marachinos taste like.

The fiance was stunned I didn’t like them. Then this morning when he drove me to the train, he pulled one out to eat. (Breakfast of champions.) Again, he expressed his surprise that I don’t like cherry, and I grudgingly admitted I’ve never tried it. (Because, again, I hate being that guy.)

He offered me a piece, I took it (because I really am willing to try virtually any food), chewed thoughtfully and declared it…not as bad as I expected. Not great, mind you, but only marginally sweeter than the strawberry version, which I do like. (I know, I’m making a mountain out of that mole hill distinction.)

So lesson learned: You can’t judge a food by it’s cover. Now, who’s up for some Bloody Marys?

My friend (and bridesmaid and fellow blogger) Megan is kind of the ultimate planner. After I askew her to be in my wedding, she bought her shoes about two days later, asked permission to put together a wedding day emergency kit, and has volunteered on multiple occasions to be my “personal assistant” in planning when she’s bored at work.

Basically, if you want something done, you go to Megan.

So when I got the idea to have a dress up party for our friends (total disclosure: I wanted to have the party because I had a dress I really wanted to wear) who else would I turn to to help make it happen?

Thus the Classy Cocktail Party was born. We sent out a fancy evite and everything. We’re pretty legit.

The cocktail party also became the catalyst for trying a few new recipes. I made my first bruschetta, which I was actually quite nervous about, but it came out quite good according to the fiance (who, yes, I realize loves me more than anyone…I’ll still take the compliment). I also made mini cheesecakes.

The recipe was super simple. You make the crust out of graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar, per usual. Then press a couple tablespoons into muffin liners, bake for five minutes, then fill with your standard cheesecake batter:

{creamcheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla with raspberry compote}

The red stuff is a raspberry compote I made out of sugar and (you guessed it) raspberries. Drop a few dots on the top of each cheesecake, swirl with a toothpick, then bake the whole kit’n’kaboodle for twenty minutes. The fiance also enjoyed these. (I believe the exact words were, “You’re going to be a really good wife.” At this point, we would certainly hope so.)

I don’t want to brag, but the party was a raging success. I was worried about people getting into the semi-formal dress code, but it turns out I’m not the only one who likes to clean up now and then. And everyone looked really nice!

{friends, being classy}

Of course, no matter how good you are at planning, you can never control everything. You may notice the fiance is conspicuously absent from the photos. He ended up coming down with a sinus infection and had to miss the festivities. We were both disappointed, but what can you do? Immune systems are the ultimate party poopers.

Illness aside, we may have to make a tradition out of fancy get-togethers. I mean, after this whole “wedding” thing is over, Megan and I are going to need something to plan.

I haven’t been cooking as much lately. It’s not that I’ve lost interested in the idea, I just eat at home a lot less than I used to. Lunch (and often times, breakfast) takes place at work. And when I get home for dinner, The Fiance and I will usually grab something out or eat dinner that his parents’ have made at their house. (Delicious AND cost-effective!)

But Saturday a couple friend of ours had a bunch of people over for breakfast, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to make something new. Frittatas!

The best things about breakfast foods is that they have fancy names, but aren’t actually difficult to make. French toast? Sounds exotic and European, but it’s actually just bread dipped in egg and pan-fried. Omelet? Eggs mixed with literally whatever you throw in them.

And frittatas. Which, in principle are very similar to frittatas, but are baked like a pie. Quiche without the crust is how I described it.

I used a recipe my mom sent me, but then mixed up the ingredients for a second frittata. The first one had red pepper, red onion, chicken apple sausage, and mozzarella. The second one had asparagus, spinach, mozzarella, and feta cheese.

Here’s how it went down:

{saute chopped peppers and onions in olive oil}

{saute chopped asparagus and spinach in olive oil}

{mix a dozen eggs with 1/2 cup of half and half; divide into two parts}

{Combine veggies with egg mixture; pour into greased pie pans and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes}

{ta-da!}

So there you have it. A super simple breakfast treat that will please just about anyone (and is a snap to personalize!). I should do this cooking thing more often.

You know what I haven’t done in a while? A project/experiment. Fortunately, my friend Craig was apparently ALSO concerned with my lack of adventuresomeness and had a plan to fix it in the works.

Craig: i should do that cleanse!
i always wanted to try it
me: those don’t really do anything you know
Craig: i need a partner tho
i just wanna to say i did it
me: ha why?
Craig: mind over matter, makes me feel like i have control
me: but they’re bad for you!
Craig: i mean i know, but its only for a week or two and such an accomplishment
me: why do I get the feeling like you are trying to talk me into doing this with you?
Craig: because i am
just think of how awesome it will be to be apart of that elite smug crew
me: bahaha “We’re not eating…so we’re better than you.”

And that’s basically how I ended up agreeing to forgo food for ten days. Craig googled the basics, I emailed a friend of mine who does this fairly regularly for specifics, and after confirming that we were not pregnant or trying to get pregnant, we began.

Craig was initially VERY skeptical of my commitment.

Craig: are you gonna say no, if you say no it’s a waste of time to do the research
me: I guess I’ll do it, but if you quit midway I will punch you with whatever strength I have left
fair warning
Craig: our bones shall be fragile, so something will shatter

Now, let me preface (well, it’s a bit late for that…preneck?) that I am fully aware that cleanses can be bad for you. I tried explaining this to Craig and he said:

i (heart) how people are against it it makes me want to do it more

Well…that aside, I know several people who have done it with no negative complications, so…that’s all I got. (Basically, please don’t leave nasty comments about how it’s SUPERAWFULHORRIBLEFORYOU, because while I’m aware of the nutritional negatives and in general agree with your skepticism, I think we’ll be fine. It’s for ScIeNcE!)

ANYWAYS, we headed to Trader Joe’s on Sunday to stock up on…lemons. And cayenne pepper and syrup. And tea that apparently gives you “3-4 movements a day.” *Gag/shudder/gag*

{us with lemons...for the record, I'm not a midget; he's just 6'4"}

Craig: cannnnnnot wait, i hope we faint
ive always been very good at not eating all my life, so i should be able to not really care about the feeling hungry portion
me: you sound like you have an eating disorder

And we’re off!

So as you can probably assume, living in one of the most expensive areas of the country requires a fair amount of budgeting when your parents dont own a hotel.

And I’m not talking about avoiding hundred dollar shopping sprees, tickets to lavish events, or all-night benders at pricey clubs (though I avoid those, too). No, for me the guiltless cash-suck is something much more innocuous: lunch.

When I first moved to the city, it was difficult to get to the grocery store regularly. A supermarket with limited hours combined with the added detriment of only being able to purchase what I could carry meant I was often short on packable meals.

So I’d buy lunch. We’re not talking lobster or price rib here — often my meals were composed of lunch meat turkey if any meat at all — but after a while it alarmed me to discover that I could easily drop $10 on lunch without even blinking. Without getting anything fancier than a bowl of soup and a roll.

I’m a journalist, so my math skills aren’t exactly award-winning, but even I can figure that this pattern could mean spending up to $50 a week, $200 a month. And if you wanted to also meet up some friends for dinner or do anything with a price tag on the weekend? Forget it.

Not exactly budget friendly.

But, because I’m me, simply not eating lunch was, of course, not an option. So I started packing lunches. But you can only eat so many cold PB&Js and limp turkey sandwiches before you start feeling like an extra in Oliver. (“Please, sir, can I have some more?” “Sure, that’ll be $8.50.”)

Which brings me to the less depressing part of this post! I’m on a mission, folks, to make lunch (my favorite meal) awesome again, even on a tightened budget. In doing so, I have become quite the master of the toaster oven. For example, for a week or so I was whipping up these out of nothing more than some cheese, a tomato, and two slices of whole wheat bread:

image

And you GUYS. It was so good. Then I started making better use of leftovers. Ahem:

image

Marinated broiled chicken, wild brown rice, and sauteed peppers. Delish. This probably should have been a Kitchen Adventure, but it was one of those meals that I didn’t realize how awesome or pretty it was until I was hunkered in my bed watching Jersey Shore and chowing down.

So, I’m moderately poor. That doesn’t mean I can’t eat well. I think I’ll title my cookbook: The Cheap Girl’s Cookbook: Ladies Who Lunch Without Spending Much.