cooking

Strain then Stir (Episode 5): Becoming a Member of the Squash Squad

Honest question: did you know there is more than one kind of squash?

Did you know there are more than ten different types of squash?

Yeah, well, I definitely DID NOT.

But I’m learning. And if I’m learning, than I think you should be learning—if only because squash is a delicious subject that you (and your taste buds) should know more about.

First off, let’s meet the squash family as a whole:

There’s:

  • Butternut Squash (a.k.a B’Nut)
  • Kabocha Squash (a.k.a Kabby)
  • Spaghetti Squash (a.k.a SpaSqua)
  • Acorn Squash (a.k.a Ace)
  • Sweet Dumpling Squash (a.k.a Sweetie D)
  • Sugar Pumpkin (a.k.a Sugar P)
  • Red Kuri Squash (a.k.a Big Red)
  • Delicata Squash (a.k.a DC)
  • Carnival Squash (a.k.a Carnee)
  • Buttercup Squash (a.k.a Baby B)
  • Blue Hubbard Squash (a.k.a Blubby)
  • Banana Squash (a.k.a Lil Nana)

I haven’t met the whole fam yet. In fact, I’ve really only dipped my toe into the squash squad. But if things keep going the way they’re going, I think I’m on track to be invited to Thanksgiving next year.

On that note, let me formally introduce you to the squash I already scheme with. The gourds I’m already getting down with. The—okay no, I think two was enough.

Note: All squash pictures (squash snapshots? squashots?) featured below belong to Food Network. I got them from this article, where you can find more recipes and information about the squash fam—though no cool nicknames!

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First up, Spaghetti Squash.

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SpaSqua was a love of my life I didn’t know existed for far too long. I’ve mentioned him in a previous post, but I feel it’s only fair to bring him back up—because WOW. I even have a folder on my computer marked “Spaghetti Squash recipes” that I fully intend on trying the minute I get my hands on another SpaSqua. In the meantime, here’s old faithful that first proved to me the spaghetti squash’s flavorful worth.

Spaghetti Squash

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On my to-do list:

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Next, Acorn Squash

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Ace was a squash I never thought I’d ever meet, but now that I have, I hope we never grow apart. Like any squash, I had to research what Ace was all about. How do I cut her? How do I cook her? How do I help her reach her maximum YUM? Enter this recipe stage right, which made all of my dreams come true. I made it without ground beef—because I forgot to buy it—but it was still delicious and filling and hey I feel healthy and not gross after I finished it. And I mean, what else can you ask for?

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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On my to-do list:

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And finally, Butternut Squash!

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I think it’s safe to say B’nut got his name because of his similarity in shape to a p’nut peanut. It’s also safe to say their similarities stop there—except if you count that they both have a hard exterior and a delicious surprise in the center, but other than that, they’re really totally different. After sifting through a bunch of different B’nut recipes, I ended up deciding on this pancake recipe, because I was in a breakfast for dinner type of mood, and I was pleasantly surprised at how moist and delicious they were! The recipe was super easy to follow, especially after I followed this advice on how to get a quick and easy “butternut squash mash” for the batter, and I personally thought the pancakes were great with honey on top.

Butternut Squash Pancakes

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On my to-do list:

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Y’all, just trust me on this: your world is better with squash in it. With allll the squash in it. And with fall officially here, it’s the perfect time to meet a squash you never met before. Tell them Kim sent you—some of them will know me.


 

Read the previous episode of Strain then Stir here.

Strain the Stir (Episode 4): I’ve Leveled Up!

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Strain Then Stir, a no-cameras, diary-esque cooking show blog where I attempt to transform myself from a two-meal Tina into a full course Frank…or at the very least, be capable of feeding myself more than cereal and pasta.

In the time since our last episode, and I don’t want to get cocky, but I think it’s safe to say I’ve leveled up.

As mentioned in my latest favorites post, I recently signed up for Imperfect Produce, which is a company that sells you fruits and vegetable which, while perfectly edible and delicious, are not quite “pretty” enough to be sold in stores. I signed up for the small box that comes every two weeks, and each Thursday before I get a new box, I get an email giving me the option to customize it.

Now, in an effort to improve my cooking ~skills~ I’ve tried not to make too many adjustments to each prepared box. Often when I log in to make my customizations, I just remove the foods I don’t like (such as lettuce or cilantro) and then leave the rest the same. That way, when I receive my box, I’m forced to look up recipes that incorporate both the ingredients I’ve been given and those I have in my kitchen, and I do my best to make something delicious!

Here are some of my favorite creations so far:

Steak & Nectarine Salad

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In one of my first boxes I received two nectarines. And since I’d never even tried a nectarine, I was not only worried whether I would like them, but I also had no idea how I could use them in a recipe. When I found this one however, I was sold. I even made a separate trip to the grocery store to pick up a cheap cut of steak. It was worth it. (Note: For anyone out there who is a fellow lettuce hater, I forwent it in this recipe and it was still absolutely delicious!) (Find the recipe here)

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Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Red Onions & Feta

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I am no stranger to the magic that is sweet potatoes, so when I got one in my box, I had a number of ideas pop into my head. This one however, helped me figure out a good way to combine a few things that I already had, as well as use one of the red onions I got in my box as well. (Find the recipe here)

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Spaghetti Squash

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Being an avid watcher of Food Network and skimmer of cooking blogs, I’ve heard my fair share about spaghetti squash. But after receiving one in my box, I still had to Google what it actually was. I had no idea how to cut it or what you do with it afterwards, and I wondered if my carb worshipping ways would hinder my ability to give it a fair chance. Thankfully, it took all of one bite to fall head over heels in love. Now, I’m not saying I’m breaking up with pasta or anything, but you can put it on the record that I’m having a full blown affair. (Find the recipe here)

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Apricot Smoothie

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Apricots were another fruit that I’d seen around but had never really made up my mind whether I liked them or not. On an average shopping trip, I never would have picked some up, but when I had four arrive in one of my boxes, I had to expand my horizons a little. I’ll admit however, I did do a good amount of procrastinating on these. Every day I’d vow to either bring one with me to work as a snack or bake a few into some kind of dessert, but then every day I’d forget or get lazy or just plain not want to. Sooner or later however, the apricots (with an assist by the hot summer weather) took matters into their own hands. They started to fade fast, threatening to be completely wasted, and so I finally took the time to find them a home. The end result was delicious and jump started me on a smoothie kick, so I guess thanks is in order, apricots! (Note: I used almond milk instead of yogurt, and vanilla extract instead of almond extract because that’s all that I had. It still tasted good though, and gave my morning a good fresh start!) (Find recipe here)

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Bonus Recipes:

In the spirit of my growing cooking confidence, for my family’s Fourth of July barbecue I decided to branch out and make two special dishes. These weren’t based on anything that came in my Imperfect Produce boxes, but rather foods I thought my family would enjoy. Thankfully, they were both a hit!

Jalapeno and Goat Cheese Grilled Stuffed Mini Peppers

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My sister is lactose intolerant, so oftentimes holidays like the Fourth of July will offer a bunch of delicious foods that she can’t have. In order to try and combat that on one of her favorite holidays, I made these which feature two of her favorite things: goat cheese and spice. It was a super quick and easy to follow recipe and both she and my dad loved them! Also, if you don’t like/can’t handle spicy food (a.k.a me), I made a few with just goat cheese and they were delicious as well! (Find the recipe here)

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Banana Cream Pie Muddy Buddies

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These were for my mom. Growing up, she often made Muddy Buddies for a wide variety of get togethers, so when I found these, I naturally thought of her, both for that reason, and because she instantly loves anything banana flavored. One tip I have for this recipe a la my mom: pour your Chex mixture into freezer sized Ziploc bags when you are ready to mix in the powdered sugar. That way, rather than trying to keep it all contained in a bowl, simply pour the sugar into the bag, zip it up and shake. (Find the recipe here)

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Here’s to another few months of trying my best, which, as it turns out, is getting better day by day! Who would’ve thought there was this great big world outside of pasta and cereal. (No offense pasta and cereal, I still love you.)


Read the previous episode of Strain then Stir here.

Strain then Stir (Episode 3): How to be Ingredient Conscious (Part 2)

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Strain Then Stir, a no-cameras, diary-esque cooking show blog where I attempt to transform myself from a two-meal Tina into a full course Frank…or at the very least, be capable of feeding myself more than cereal and pasta.

It has been quite a while since our last episode, though I suppose I have the holidays (and blunt procrastination) to blame for that. It always seems like the beginning of November turns into the beginning of January in the blink of an eye, doesn’t it?

If you remember last episode at all—don’t feel bad if you don’t, I had to go back and look because I had absolutely no idea—you’ll recall I talked about being ingredient conscious, which was essentially just me learning to better utilize leftover ingredients rather than letting them go to waste. Going back and reading it, I was a little disappointed in myself for not including some actual recipes I was using. So in the hopes of making up for that, I’ve brought some today!

In these last few months, I again noticed that my pantry and refrigerator were starting to pile up with ingredients that weren’t being used and were just sitting there taking up space. Eventually I got tired of looking at them and I went on a mission to start using them all.

Here are some recipes I found to help:

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Leftover Ingredient: Bananas

Recipe: Banana Bread

Have you ever bought bananas, brought them home, eaten 1 or 2 and then totally forgotten about them until they are brown and gross? Yeah, that’s me almost 100% of the time I buy bananas. Luckily, banana bread thrives on overripe bananas, and acts as a haven for your forgetfulness. I came across this recipe about a month ago when I was on the verge of throwing my bananas away, and it was so delicious, I will never again commit such a crime! (Find the recipe here!)

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HT_Chrissy_Teigen5_cf_160226_4x3t_384Leftover Ingredient: Sweet Potatoes

Recipe: Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I also happen to be guilty of buying sweet potatoes and forgetting about them until they’ve grown vines and look more like a monster than a food. In my last post, I talked about using sweet potatoes in an omelet, which was great, but this recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook is to die for. (Find the recipe here, find her cookbook here)

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Leftover Ingredient: Brown Rice & Frozen Veggies

Recipe: Rice Bowls

Whenever I go grocery shopping I like to buy brown rice and frozen vegetables in bulk, figuring the combination of the two is always an easy and healthy option. The only problem is, after a while rice and vegetables can get a little bland. An easy solution I’ve found for this however, is to:

a) Get more creative with my rice bowls, for example, you can check out a bunch of recipes here and here.

b) Add more flavor to my rice bowls. Growing up I was never much of a spice person. I’ve always been super sensitive to spicy foods and as a result tend to shy away from almost all spices. Recently however, I’ve been trying to ease in different herbs and spices to—wait for it—spice up my life a little bit, and let me tell you, it’s been life changing! (Check out this article for 15 easy ways to spice up brown rice) 

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p_R103186Leftover Ingredient: Cannellini Beans

Recipe: White Bean & Tuna Wraps

When I was working my way through Kayla Itsines’ book in the first episode, I bought a couple cans of cannellini beans for one recipe or another but then completely forgot about them. As a result, they were sitting in my pantry for months! My biggest issue with finding a recipe home for these guys was that I wasn’t exactly sure what they were or what they tasted like, and oftentimes when I’m making dinner, I’m too hungry or lazy to do that kind of research. But in the spirit of cleaning out my pantry, I finally took the 2 minutes to google “cannellini bean recipes” and I came across this bad boy. Honestly, I’m mad it took me this long to find it. (Find the recipe here)

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Over the next month or two I’m hoping to dive into another cookbook and find some new recipes to learn. If I were to sum up what I’ve learned so far in only two words, I’d say, who knew?! because it seems like the farther I go into this journey, the more I’m finding that is always something else to know.

Strain then Stir (Episode 2): How to be Ingredient Conscious

Hello and welcome back to another episode of Strain Then Stir, a no-cameras, diary-esque cooking show blog where I attempt to transform myself from a two-meal Tina into a full course Frank…or at the very least, be capable of feeding myself more than cereal and pasta.

On our last episode, I dove into the depths of Kayla Itsines’ cookbook The 28-Day Bikini Body Healthy Eating and Lifestyle Guide. I learned how to bring toast to the next level, how yogurt and sweet potatoes can make sweet sweet food children, and how to better utilize my Panini maker to its full potential. If you haven’t already, read all about those adventures here, then come back and dive in for episode two!

Coming off last month’s installment I have been an overwhelming amount of B-U-S-Y. Most prominently, I went on a weeklong trip with my best friend at the end of September. Since I knew I’d be away, I was less than motivated to go to the grocery store, so I decided that since I did a little bit of an overbuy on my last shopping trip, I’d make it last. I scrounged and got creative, using as much as I could with what I had leftover. Let’s just say I had a lot of cheese and crackers for lunch and I made a lot of rice and pasta for dinner.

Once I got back from my trip, I went grocery shopping again. And with all the recipes I recently learned swirling around in my head, I felt much better equipped to buy things that went together rather than a bunch of things that looked good. I quickly came to learn however, that this knowledge is only half the battle when it comes to being both a good cook and a responsible eater.

As a single person mostly making meals for one, I’ve become well acquainted with having leftover meals. However, in going through Kayla Itsines’ book, I also became familiar with leftover ingredients. Oftentimes a recipe only called for half a can of diced tomatoes or 1/3 of a sliced zucchini, etc. etc. As a result, I would store the extra ingredients in the refrigerator and then try to find a recipe for the next night that would put them to use.

This past month, I tried to utilize that same mindset. Even though I wasn’t following a specific cookbook, I tried to my best to be ingredient conscious and would do everything I could to incorporate last night’s leftovers into tomorrow’s recipes. As a result, almost nothing went to waste!

So for this month, even though I didn’t learn any new recipes per say I did discover some creative twists on recipes I already knew. For example, after remaking the sweet potato pizza recipe I learned last month, I threw the leftover sweet potato and red onions in an omelet which, spoiler alert: was DELICIOUS!

I also learned that our tendency to look around our kitchen and say, “I have nothing to make,” is often as truthful as a bad morning’s proclamation of “I have nothing to wear!” Oftentimes there is something to make, you just have to look a little closer and get a little more creative. These two lessons, I believe, are key to becoming any sort of cook. And so as I continue to improve my cooking skills, I too will further my practice of using what I’ve got and ensuring as little as possible goes to waste.

Here’s to next month’s cooking adventures!

Strain then Stir (Episode 1): Kayla Itsines’ Cookbook

As mentioned/announced/proclaimed/etc. in yesterday’s blog post, I’m launching a new series on my blog called Strain then Stir, which will chronicle my attempt at becoming a better cook. To do so, I plan on working my way through cookbooks, cooking blogs, cooking shows, and those cooking videos that seem to plague our Facebook pages every once in a while.

First up on the list:

Kayla Itsines: The 28-Day Bikini Body Healthy Eating & Lifestyle Guide

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Now, I know a little bit about Australian born Kayla Itsines from her bikini body app. My best friend Allison and I have spent a good helping of weekday mornings laying on the floor of our gym, panting our way through the carefully constructed workouts. I’ve also done some thorough Instagram stalking, which led me to believe what many others already know: this girl knows her sh*t. So, when I saw her book sitting pretty on the top shelf at Target, I (figuratively) threw it in the cart, brought it home and immediately filled an entire sheet of paper with a grocery list.

Confession #1: I had/still have no plan to follow the diet plan in order, simply because I don’t have a schedule that would allow it. However, I plan on following as much as possible as closely as possible, because each day has meals carefully calculated to give you a good helping of all the food groups. Also, I figure skimming through the book solely to find the recipes involving carbs and chocolate would kind of defeat the purpose of this whole thing.

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Discovery #1: HEALTHY GROCERIES ARE FREAKING EXPENSIVE…(especially when you buy too many at one time because for some reason you shopped for the entire month as if you’d be unable to leave the house at any moment for the next 30 days.)

Lesson learned: try buying for about 2-3 weeks of meals at a time.


Recipes I’ve Tried (So Far)

I’m not exactly sure what the protocol is for giving out recipes, but I can’t imagine Kayla would be stoked about me buying her book on sale at Target and then giving out all the information for free on my blog. SO, I will not be provided the recipes in detail, because I’d really like to keep myself out of jail and in a space that provides an opportunity for Kayla and I to become besties one day. Instead, I’m just going to give you the name of the recipe and then recount what went on in my attempt at following it.

Let’s begin!

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Maple Banana Yogurt Muesli

Initial thoughts: What on earth is muesli?

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Oh, okay, so oatmeal with a top hat. Got it.

Process: This recipe was pretty straightforward, though I wasn’t 100% sure of how to mix it together. I’ve never really worked with rolled oats before, so I wasn’t sure if I should scoop them in with a measuring cup or just throw them in there Emeril style.

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I ended up doing a combination of both.

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Additions: I added walnuts to shake up the texture of the dish which ended up saving it for me. And in case you’re wondering, I sprinkled them in the same way one might sprinkle rose petals on a bed: delicate, deliberate and probably slower than necessary.

Final thoughts: If I’m being honest, I didn’t love this right away. I’m not a huge fan of oatmeal and this was, if I may, very oatmeal adjacent both in taste and texture. It was essentially the bite equivalent of that kid on the playground saying “I’m not touching you,” even though it doesn’t matter if he’s touching you or not, he’s still annoying and this muesli is still oatmeal. #ProfessionalFoodLingo. That being said however, I would (and did) eat this again, if only because it makes you feel good afterwards. My morning stomach was like, Woah, are we satisfied yet completely lacking lethargy and regret?! What a feeling. Let’s get this day started.


Pulled Pork Sandwiches w/ Cole Slaw

Initial Thoughts: Pulled Pork Sandwiches w/ Cole Slaw

Process: Just about the time I’d pulled out all of the ingredients and mixed together the sauce, I realized that I hadn’t bought vegetable stock. So, I took to Google.

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Purpose of Vegetable stock

Okay…sauce, no. Mashed potatoes, no. Braising! That’s what I’m doing here. Let’s read up on that.

vegetable stock

Oh, good. So it’s essentially the MOST IMPORTANT THING, without which I can never achieve mouthwatering perfection.

substitute for vege stock

Right, because if I forgot my 79 cent can of vegetable stock at the store, I definitely have celery seeds, marjoram and dill weed just lying around in full supply.

At this point I just chalked it up to a loss and I threw the meat in the oven, hoping the sauce I made would be enough to at least approach mouthwatering anything.

Additions: Since my meat did end up being a little on the dry side, I put a some Miracle whip on the hamburger bun. I also added thin slices of green apple because I remember seeing that on a sandwich menu somewhere, and I chopped up a carrot and sautéed in garlic salt and threw that in too because, well, I have no idea, really…but it was pretty good!

Final thoughts: Even though it was nowhere near perfect, it had that inkling of potential, like if i did it right it would be fantastic. Regardless, I still enjoyed it enough to have for leftovers the next day. I’m sorry to have underestimated you vegetable stock. It won’t happen again. Also, next time I’m nixing the carrot.


 

Banana & Ricotta Cheese Wrap

Initial thoughts: That sounds freaking delicious.

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Process: This was the simplest recipe so far, which is always good in the mornings because 95% of the time I’m running late. Also, in a shouldn’t have been so shocking turn of events, I was floored when I realized I could use my panini maker to toast wraps. Who knew I was using that thing to its actual lowest potential?! A million regrets.

Final Thoughts: As predicted…it WAS FREAKING DELICIOUS. I didn’t make a single change to this masterpiece because it was just that. It was one of those meals that I thought about making again the second I finished eating it. The kind that you call your mom in the middle of traffic to gossip about. The kind that you mourn the day you run out of bananas. It was just. so. good. My picture of it however, was not.


Chicken, Sweet Potato, Caramelized Onion & Arugula Pizza

Initial thoughts: giphy (14)

Process: In typical Kim fashion, I forgot to defrost chicken for the CHICKEN pizza. But since I was already starving and had everything (except the arugula because I also forgot to buy that shrug_1f937) else out, I just decided to forgo the bird and move forward. #ItAlmostRhymed.

Additions: The recipe calls for pita bread, which I concluded was not up to the task of being a valid crust, so I cheated and bought these:

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I also decided to add some corn and zucchini, which we’ll say was due to innovation and not because my zucchini was starting to go bad and the corn had been frozen so long it was nearing frostbite.

Final thoughts: The end product was actually DELICIOUS! If given the opportunity I could have sat at my table and eaten both mini pizzas. However, much to my body’s appreciation, I was taking the pizza to go because I was headed out to see other humans and felt too much shame to show up with a plate piled as high as my head in pizza. Also, to be completely honest, I didn’t really want to share…


Banana & Strawberry Bruschetta

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Initial thoughts: Talk about toast 2.0

Process: It was another brief and straightforward prep, which was great because left little room for failure and made it easy to memorize the recipe after just one make. However, if I want to get nit-picky, I’d say my presentation could use some work. My bread appears to be drowning in fruit rather than featuring it in a balanced and nutritious way.

Final Thoughts: Similar to the banana & ricotta wrap, I instantly fell in love with this breakfast because it was 3 of my favorite things.

  1. Easy to make
  2. Quick to prepare
  3. Featuring maple syrup

And much to my surprise, this too made me feel satisfied but not gross, as many sugary breakfasts have in the past. Who knew eating healthy could feel so good?


Stuffed Sweet Potato w/ Chickpeas, Tomatoes & Spiced Yogurt Dressing

Initial thoughts: You had me at sweet potato.

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Process: This was quite the undertaking for me because it involved a lot of steps that needed to be timed just so. With one hand I was over here chopping an onion and with another I was over here slicing a sweet potato and with another I was over here stirring a pan on the stove. Then I’d come back to the cutting board, crying over a chopped onion and sweating over the now 400 degree oven, wondering if I should put on more deodorant, or maybe give up and order a pizza.

Final Thoughts: This was a recipe that called for “two serving plates.” Which is hilarious, because when I whisked up the spiced yogurt dressing and grazed it over the sweet potato like it was a cinnamon roll needing icing, I knew very well that I would only be needing one plate.


So, after my first week and a half or so of cooking from the cookbook, I’m happy to report I have NOT burned the house, or started any fires whatsoever. I did use about 45 dishes, slice a little piece of my finger, and stink up the whole kitchen with a tomato that went forgotten and moldy. But hey, who hasn’t?

Some other key lessons I learned about myself include:

  1. I LOVE feta cheese
  2. I consistently underestimate how long it takes to chop vegetables
  3. I talk to myself when I stir

Tune in next month to hear more stories about my (mis)adventures in the kitchen. And always remember strain then stir.


 

Now read episode 2: How to be Ingredient Conscious