6 Recent Kitchen Staples

I haven’t been very innovative in my cooking lately, but these 6 things get me through the busy weeks with my sanity intact. What 6 things make your kitchen function?

  1. frozen chicken breasts – It’s simple, no-bone meat, but it tastes good quickly or in a crockpot recipe, which saves me when there’s no time to develop something or choose a meat with finicky needs for cooking.
  2. canned tomatoes – I love the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes, but in the winter, I just have to stock more cans of tomatoes and tomato paste than I expect to need, because making up a pasta sauce or a curry is a fast way to add a lot of veggies, warmth, and spice into my life.
  3. Cut cucumbers, celery, carrots, and peppers – The amount of good veggies I eat is pretty much proportional to how many I have on hand, washed, and cut. This means taking some time at the beginning of the week to get them into shape, but it definitely pays off when the veggies are handy at the vulnerable, late-afternoon moments when I’m trying to decide whether to get fast food or wait for dinner.
  4. Sparkling water – I never thought I’d be a flavored sparkling water fan, but I really like it – it’s not sweet, and doesn’t even have artificial sweetness, but it is just different enough from drinking plain water to feel special. I’ve substituted it for most of my idle wine, soda, and juice consumption, saving those three for special occasions instead.
  5. Whole bean coffee – It just goes without saying that having a tasty hot beverage at the ready is important, but Husband has convinced me that it’s worth the minutes of grinding the beans to have a cup of coffee that just explodes with flavor.
  6. Kale – for kale chips! They crisp up so fast and I can eat a whole bundle of kale in a sitting this way, with little more than a dash of olive oil and salt to season it.

There are obviously many other things in my kitchen, but these are the basics on which all the others depend. What are yours?

Tasty Snacks – Match Made Coffee!

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I love the idea of taste-testing these snacks that came with my Match Made Coffee subscription box, sharing bits and bites with Husband, but that’s not how it ended up happening this week. Instead, since Husband is easing out of Whole30 slower than I am, they became quick breakfasts with my cups of coffee each day, which was lovely and meant that I got to try 3 new sweet treats but without having a whole box of each kind to tempt me!

Walker’s Shortbread with Guatemala Antigua: Shortbread is one of my favorite sweet/salty combinations, so this one would have been a winner regardless. This snack was perfect for the person who cannot stomach cloying sweet treats but who likes a rich addition to a cup of black coffee.

Tunnock’s Real Milk Chocolate Caramel Wafers with Organic French Roast: These caramel wafers have been compared to a Kit-Kat bar with a thick stripe of caramel down the middle – super sweet and perfect with a cup of milky french roast. This combination works well but I wouldn’t sweeten your coffee too much – the snack does that trick well.

Nature’s Bakery Peach Apricot Fig Bar with Espresso Roast: This was the only snack that felt wholesome and healthy (nothing wrong with butter and chocolate, though!) – it includes three kinds of dried fruit with whole-grain crust to make a decadent, more-than-average-fig-newton kind of fruit bar. Unlike the others, this gave me a sustained energy level and tasted delightful alongside another Aeropress coffee cup.

It was nice that the snacks appealed to the sweet tooth, the person who wants a rich but less sweet morsel, and the health side! They were well chosen for dark roasts too; the espresso and french are among the darkest available, and the Guatemala Antigua tasted on the dark side of medium to me. With slight bitter notes in the coffee itself, a selection of sweet notes was the perfect counterbalance!

 

Want to do your own coffee and snacks taste test? Check out Match Made Coffee and see for yourself the fun surprise of treats in the mail!

65. Six Sister’s 30-min Yeast Rolls

I am very charmed by the idea of Six Sisters Stuff, the blog where I found this recipe – all the six girls keep in touch and post on the blog together, which as a sole blogger, I have to admit I envy. I love writing often but given my desire to build community, I would welcome a second or third blogger to take over some days… let me know if you are interested 🙂

The yeast rolls sounded too good to be true: yeast bread takes so long to rise! The key to these rolls is that they have tons of yeast in them. This is the recipe to pull out when you have a jar of yeast that is getting a little older and needs to get used up – two whole tablespoons. But sure enough: 10 minutes to let the yeast bloom, 10 minutes of resting once the ingredients are all combined and put into roll-shapes, and something like 10 minutes to cook. It was more like 45 minutes in my scattered world, but definitely manageable while making dinner; in my case, manageable while ill. I am so glad to feel better now; it feels like a dim memory to have been so sick and now feel much better.

Speaking of getting well, I had these rolls sitting out on the counter in a bowl on Tuesday and one of the ways I knew that I was getting better, besides just having more energy, was that instead of just looking like something neutral, the way all food had for days, I was actually intrigued and excited about the rolls – the return of appetite is a strange thing. I am glad to be regaining my strength – Husband made some barbeque pork chops and I made veggies in the GoSun, and finally we got to eat a lovely meal together, complete with the last of the yeast rolls.

64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.

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63. A’s Hearty Chili

A gave me this recipe as part of her wedding gift, which was a recipe book with pages to add all sorts of recipes to it – one of my goals, though not one I’ve been able to complete yet, is to put all the recipes I love onto the extra cards and fill up the book so I have it handy in the kitchen. A is Husband’s cousin, and she represents so much of what I love about his family: she’s a free spirit with an amazing sense of humor who is constantly going on adventures. She travels frequently and whenever I see her I get the biggest hug. Her sense of style is on point but also not like anyone else – she’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.

Her chili recipe was exactly what I needed the week before our trip – I needed something hearty and healthy, so I cut up a gazillion veggies for this dish as I listened to a podcast on the benefits of a plant based diet. Granted, I also threw the ground beef in there, but percentage wise, it was a very plant based dish. After two hours of cooking, it was one of the best entrees I’ve made – rich and flavorful but with most of the flavor coming from the veggies and spices and slow cooking, not from a bunch of butter and oil, which tends to be my go-to.

It took all week to finish the big pot, but unlike with most leftovers, I was happy to keep noshing on it throughout the week, happy that when I only had 20 minutes for lunch between engagements I could slip into the house, heat up a bowl, and feel warmed and fed. Good recipes seem to do that, though I’ll caution: this recipe is not for someone who wants the exact same results each time; there are almost no measurements, and while she uses bacon and steak, I used ground beef.

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62. Husband’s Sausage Cheddar Balls

I have been ill for a few days. It is not such a big deal, but it is more ill than I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve been surprisingly baby-ish about it. It has made me appreciate more than usual the casual, easy-going buoyancy of my husband’s personality. Two days of my illness were our return days from Maine (terrible timing on my part) so the fact that he was willing to drive a lion’s share of the miles and still make jokes to me as I moaned and groaned about pain really make me once again stunned that I’m so well cared for and he seems to wear it so lightly.

For the meatball party, Husband had mentioned that he wanted to make sausage balls, so I bought sharp cheddar and spicy sausage, but he hadn’t mentioned any other ingredients to me so I assumed he didn’t need any. When we went to start cooking, he said, “time to find a recipe!” and I had to laugh: I just cannot fly by the seat of my pants like he can. We didn’t have Bisquick, the main starch of choice in the recipe he chose, so we ended up making an approximation of Bisquick from scratch. The sausage cheddar balls turned out wonderfully; the recipe he more-or-less used was this: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14826/easy-sausage-cheese-balls/.

Sausage balls are also a pro breakfast food, and K, a friend who came to the party and stayed overnight, helped us eat the remaining sausage balls with breakfast toast on our back porch. While Husband didn’t win the competition against many other delicious kinds of meatballs, I am reminded every day how much his easy-going attitude both surprises and saves me from my own overthinking. It’s not a bad thing to associate with such a tasty, crispy, spicy treat.

Super Bowl (of Fluff): Browned Butter Rice Krispies!

It’s funny how a break from all sweets can make you appreciate really good ones. On Friday, I tried a morsel of catering-company rice cereal treat – it was not bad, not at all, but it reminded me of how wonderful the treats made in my Mom’s kitchen were, hunching over a saucepan full of butter and slowly melting marshmallows. I immediately wanted one of those perfect treats, but how to get just one?

The answer came the next day in the fact that we’re going to a Super Bowl party, and I needed something to bring anyway to share! With a lot of health conscious people at work, it never feels right to make a treat like this and just abandon it in the break room, but for a “holiday” like the Super Bowl, I don’t know anyone who makes their meal a health-focused one.

I love browned butter and find it to be a slightly deeper flavor, so I used this recipe instead of the one on the cereal box itself. Tiny specks of brown flecked the melting marshmallow mix, but otherwise, I really couldn’t taste a difference when the whole thing was finished – the truth is that the sweetness of rice crispy cereal is really overpowering! Delicious, sure, but made me excited to return to the calmer fruit-based sweets I’ve been focused on this month.

My boss has pointed out, and it’s been hard to hear, that with Whole30, no one “does it to you. You do it for yourself, so a cheat day is a cheat of yourself.” I have never thought of my health as “for me” – it was always so that I wouldn’t worry those who mattered to me, or leave them with the burden of my care. Whole30, even the triumphant reintroduction of some of my favorite foods, really has made me realize it affects me, and health is for me. Choosing to eat, say, just one rice crispy treat instead of a whole pile of them, is a weird and not-natural thing for me, but doing it has to be the way I respond if I start to take seriously that health is for me!