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What I Made Last Night: Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

2 Feb

Fact of the day about me: macaroni and cheese is pretty much my favorite thing ever. It is my go-to food for when I am either a) sick or b) in a bad mood (both of which I seem to be fairly often, unfortunately), and I am convinced it possesses miraculous and magical healing powers of all sorts. My favorite mac and cheese from a box is Annie’s (this is the one thing the incompetent bf knows how to make — he had to learn for my sick and grumpy days, out of self-preservation, and actually is better at making it than I am), but really any sort of noodle combined with any sort of cheese is good enough for me (example: my best friend greeted me at the airport last week with a veritable vat of pasta with butter and melted cheese and it was quite possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten ever).

I didn't make this. I felt this post needed a picture -- you know, just in case you didn't know what mac and cheese looks like. God, this is giving me a major yen for some Velveeta. I think I may have a problem.

Anyway, despite my love affair with mac and cheese, I also feel guilty for eating it sometimes, because it’s unfortunately not the most nutritious thing in the world, so I feel the need to legitimize it by occasionally adding some frozen broccoli or something (as any pseudo-nutrition-conscious post-grad gourmand would do).  Last night, I took this to a new level — asparagus and spinach! — and also made it fancier by using blue cheese, which, as it turns out, was delicious. It was tangy and creamy, and the blue cheese was smooth, and far less overpowering than you’d imagine.

Sorry I have no pictures….we ate it too fast.

But here goes:

boil water and cook 1 lb pasta (I recommend whole wheat penne — better for catching the sauce than a thin noodle like spaghetti)

mince 6 cloves garlic

cook 1 bag frozen asparagus — I cooked it on the George Foreman to give a grilled flavor. You can also broil it, cook it in the toaster oven, whatever. If you want to get fancy and use fresh asparagus, go for it. When cooked, cut into smaller pieces.

drain pasta; add 1 bag baby spinach (rinsed) immediately (spinach will wilt pretty fast just from the heat of the pasta, so you don’t have to cook it)

add asparagus, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 cup white wine, garlic, 4 0z crumbled blue cheese, and the juice of half a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste

stir everything around until blue cheese and butter are melted and distributed evenly over everything; they should form a sort of creamy sauce

serve with grated cheese (yes, more cheese. don’t judge me) and crushed red pepper (have you noticed yet that I put this on everything? Because I do).

This could also be good prepared beforehand, then baked for a while in a casserole dish with some bread crumbs on top, because, as we all know, the only way to improve upon pasta, cheese and butter is to somehow enter bread into the equation.


What I Made Last Night

26 Jan

Rigatoni with sausage and broccoli in a spicy tomato white wine sauce


This is my attempt at taking a picture using the built-in camera on my computer. Not awesome. I also clearly need to work on my food styling/general photography skills. But you get the picture (ha! get it?).

I love Italian food. Recently, however, I have realized that the Americanized versions of Italian food tend to have unnecessarily substantial amounts of cheese involved.  Don’t get me wrong: I love cheese, especially in giant glob form, as much as the next girl — actually, probably way more than the next girl, if I’m being honest. But somehow, for me, it’s easier to order something like that in a restaurant than to put all that cheese in myself.

This is a long way of saying that last night I decided to not make one of the cheesier Italian-ish things I usually make (chicken parm, cheese-stuffed meatballs, etc.) and try something new. I just made this up, and it ended up tasting pretty good, but it’s a work in progress, so feel free to alter it as you see fit.

So, here goes:

mince 5 cloves garlic

chop 1 head of broccoli (next time, I’ll actually probably use a little more than this)

heat 3 tbsp (uh, or something around there) olive oil in a skillet; when hot, add 2 cloves garlic and broccoli and cook until garlic is browned and broccoli turns dark green (cook longer for softer broccoli)

boil water and cook 1 lb whole wheat rigatoni or penne (I love whole wheat pasta — it’s more substantial and has a great nuttiness to it that I really like.  You should try it; it’s a great way to get more fiber and pretend you’re a grownup and stuff)

cook around 3 sausage links, depending on size. You can use Italian sausage, chicken sausage, Brazilian chorizo para la parrilla (only thing I could get here), whatever you like — I used 3 pretty big links, and had plenty, but use as much as you want. I’m not here to judge you for how much sausage you like.

I sliced mine in half lengthwise and cooked it on a George Foreman to get that nice grilled taste, then chopped it after — if you’re using chicken, you can slice it, then cook it in the skillet with the broccoli and garlic, to get each piece crispy.

drain pasta; add broccoli/garlic mixture and sausage.


combine in a saucepan:

1 cup tomato sauce (use whatever kind you like — I used an 8 oz Goya can, because it only cost 50 cents. Sometimes I really love my neighborhood)

1 cup white wine

a little water

the rest of the garlic

1/2 tsp oregano

crushed red pepper to taste (I put in about 2 tsp, which made my sauce pretty spicy)

simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes; pour onto pasta mixture; serve immediately with grated cheese

buon apetito!

I had never had white wine in this context before — I had always thought that white wine was reserved for white sauces and seafood — but it was a really good combination. The sauce was light, tangy, and spicy, and didn’t overwhelm the other ingredients. Next time I might add some diced tomatoes, and maybe also some onions, since the incompetent boyfriend is obsessed with them. Any other suggestions for improvements?

The Joy of Plátanos

25 Jan

Or, What I Made Last Night: Part 2

if only my grocery store had displays this organized

I love plantains. I love them so much that it pains me to eat rice and beans without them. I prefer sweet fried plantains (called maduros or amarillos), while my boyfriend like tostones, which are fried green plantains that aren’t sweet and are kind of chip-like. Because he is incompetent (as I have mentioned previously and plan to do frequently) and I have to do the cooking and thus get to decide what we eat, we usually have maduros, but I guess last night I was feeling particularly nice, because I made him tostones (you’re welcome).

Both are really quite easy to make (maduros are easier), so I’ll explain both and you can pick which one you like!

First, maduros:

For these, you have to buy plantains that are already ripe. For those of you who are accustomed to buying bananas, this is one thing that might freak you out, because when I say “ripe,” I don’t mean yellow — I mean black. Yes, black. Basically, the blacker the plantain on the outside, the sweeter it is on the inside. You don’t have to get totally black ones — the best ones (at least in my opinion) are the ones that are sort of mottled, part yellow and part black, which are still sweet but tend to be a little firmer. But anyway, the point is, they need to be really ripe. How to make them:

Peel plantains and slice into 1″ pieces — do it on a diagonal so they can lay flat.

Heat vegetable oil (lots of it — you want enough to cover each piece of plantain about halfway) in a skillet over medium heat until you can drop water in it and it sizzles.

Fry the pieces in the oil, about 2 minutes per side

Lower heat and continue cooking until plantains are brown

They should look like this when finished:

sorry about the watermark -- still no camera.

They’re best when they’re still hot, so this should be the last step in whatever meal you’re having. They can also be a dessert — sprinkle some sugar on them and serve with creme fraiche (or just sour cream). Trust me, they will change your life.

If you prefer savory things, then tostones are for you. They’re a little harder to make, but still pretty easy. For these, you need green plantains. Pro: unripe plantains are usually cheaper. Con: They’re a lot harder to peel. I actually recommend just cutting off the skin with a knife, since it’s so tough.The first few steps are exactly like the maduro-making process:

Peel plantains; slice on a diagonal into 1″ pieces.

Heat vegetable oil (again, lots of it) in a skillet over medium heat until you can drop water in it and it sizzles.

Cook pieces about two minutes on each side.

Here’s where you switch it up a bit:

Remove plantains from heat, and place pieces on a hard, flat surface on top of a paper towel (to absorb some of that oil) and smash them — the best method I’ve found is using the bottom of a glass. The plantain will spread out (you might have to push down hard) and make a thinner, wider piece.

Put them back into the skillet, and fry until golden brown.

They should look like this:

They won't look this perfect when you make them. Maybe next time.

Remove from heat and place onto paper towels; sprinkle with salt.

Serve with a dipping sauce like mayo-ketchup (yes, this is a real thing, and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like — basically, Russian dressing) or with garlic and olive oil (al ajillo).

told you so.


Congratulations! You are now one step closer to fitting in in my neighborhood.

What I Made Last Night

25 Jan

Unless you live under a rock (which you might — hey, no judgment; the rent is too damn high these days), you have probably eaten rice and beans in some form during your life. I first had this perfect combination in Costa Rica, and have since eaten it pretty regularly (although I have also been chasing the rice and beans dragon ever since — I’ve never had any as good as those were).

I didn't take this picture, but this is what black beans and rice look like, in case you were wondering.

This dish is eaten throughout Latin America by just about everyone and with great frequency. It’s nutritious enough to be a meal pretty much by itself (together, beans and rice make a complete protein, which contains all the amino acids you need in a day. I’m not 100% sure what that means, but it sounds pretty good for you). It’s also really easy to make. Thus, it is a perfect meal for the busy and/or lazy post-grad.

I prefer black beans, so I usually make black beans and rice. Because just dumping a can of beans on rice is boring, this is what I usually do, and did last night:

heat 4 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat

add 4 big cloves garlic, minced

and 1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped

(you can also consider adding some chopped green pepper here — I didn’t have any last night, so I didn’t)

sauté until garlic and onion are golden brown

pour a jumbo can (or 2 15-oz cans) of black beans into a pot (don’t drain them), add onion/garlic/pepper mixture

add 1.5 cups water and 1 tsp oregano and salt and pepper to taste (note: a lot of canned beans have salt already in them — before adding salt, check the can). If you want some kick to your beans, you can add some crushed red pepper.

optional: add bits of chopped ham, chorizo, other sausage, bacon, or any kind of delicious salty meat to the beans. I used bacon bits, which gave the beans a smoky flavor; if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think a meal is complete without some sort of meat, you should probably do this.

let ingredients simmer on low heat for at least 10 minutes

serve over rice* and garnish with cilantro if you want to get fancy.

*If you don’t know how to make rice, I can’t help you (also: really? you can’t make rice?). I’m really, really bad at it, and always seem to get the proportions wrong. Just follow the directions on the box — but do add 1 tsp oil and a pinch of salt to give the rice a little flavor.

What I Made Last Night

21 Jan

So, I was wondering what the first actual recipe I should put on here should be — should it be something fancy, to show off my mad skillz? Should it be something outrageously delicious, that gets you all hooked and convinced that I am a culinary goddess? Should it be vegan, sustainable, organic, gluten-free, blah blah buzzword etc. etc.  so I can show how hip and healthy I am?

Nope. Because, if you are actually not a real cook yet, none of those things would be remotely helpful.

So, what’s easy, breezy, cheesy (a day without cheese is a day wasted, in my opinion), and will appease-y (SORRY I HAD TO) your hunger? CHILI. Yep, chili. Not glamorous, but it will fill you up AND leave you with some bangin’ leftovers, which will, in fact, get better every day (the savvy post-grad gourmand knows that he/she will not actually want to cook every night, and so anything with copious amounts of leftovers that keep for a while is extra awesome).

Chili is REALLY EASY to make. You can get pre-made chili spice mixes at the grocery store that are actually pretty good. Last night, that’s what I used, because I was too lazy to measure out the chili powder, cumin, etc. (I used Old El Paso, the only kind available at my grocery store). The only real concern with these is that the sodium content is pretty high, so what I like to do is add more stuff than the packet recipes call for — it will give you heartier chili with more servings and less sodium.

So, here’s the recipe I used last night:

brown ground beef (or turkey, if you prefer) in a skillet; I used around 1.5 lbs. (browning it means cooking it over medium heat until it’s, well, brown. If you’re using beef, you don’t need to heat any oil — it has quite enough delicious fat already in it)

dice 1 medium yellow/white onion; cook with meat (because onion makes everything more delicious)

drain meat and onions (you don’t want to eat that grease — ew) and put into a bigass pot

add 1 jar (around 15oz) salsa, 2 15-oz cans of beans — kidney, red, habichuelas rosadas pequeñas (in my case), whatever your bean preference, and, for some extra crunch, 8 oz frozen corn, along with the spice mix and 2 cups water. I also threw in a whole bunch of crushed red pepper because I like my chili spicy.

Stir, and bring ingredients to a boil.

Simmer on low heat for as long as you can wait until your hunger consumes you — the longer you let it cook, the more the flavors will seep together to create deliciousness (which is why it will be even better tomorrow). You might also want to add some more water if you prefer more broth in your chili.

Serve with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, jalapeño-cheddar cornbread*, and salad (If, you know, you’re committed to vegetables. I have to admit that I didn’t have any last night. The PGG girl is nothing if not honest).

ENJOY. Tonight, tomorrow night, and for lunch every day for as many days as it takes until it’s gone. Or! Freeze the leftovers after they’ve cooled, and then one night in two months when you look in the fridge and cringe at that one wilted head of lettuce and wonder if you can make some sort of pasta sauce by combining all your condiments, you will remember that you have a pre-cooked meal buried somewhere in your freezer! Huzzah!

* jalapeño cornbread:

buy some cornbread mix (jiffy is, in my opinion, the best, which is quite possibly because I have never seen any other kind)

prepare as directed

add 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (more/less depending upon your cheese preference)

and 1 jalapeño, diced (note: if you don’t want a bit of a kick in this bread, remove the seeds of the pepper — that’s where most of the spice is. But you could also just man up and include the seeds.)

I HIGHLY recommend baking this bread in the form of mini-muffins (0bviously, only if you happen to have a mini-muffin tin — I still don’t quite understand why I myself have one), because

a) miniature things are awesome


b) this bread is like crack, and it’s better to have fun-sized pieces so you feel like you ate more (case in point: last night, my boyfriend had 14 mini-muffins)

serve warm!