Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Hotel Kitchen: Quick and Tasty

Alternate titles: Accidentally Meatless, or Food You Want to Make Out With. 

Yup, the following three recipes are meatless. I didn’t intend for this to happen. But as much as I love a good steak, it’s not something I’m cooking for myself every week. The same goes for pork. And chicken…eh, I could probably do plenty of good things with chicken, but man, is anyone else bored with chicken? I certainly am.

So this week, we’ve got a little fish, and a little egg. All three recipes are a cinch and came together in less than half an hour. I promise.

First up: el pescado (fish).

I picked up frozen (surprise surprise) tilapia fillets last week. These fillets thawed pretty quickly, which means that I didn’t need to plan out this dinner too far in advance. 

Pat them dry with a paper towel. Season with a little bit of salt, pepper, and your choice of seasoning- I went with paprika and Mrs. Dash lemon pepper, as per usual.

Seasoned and ready to go.

Spray up that sticky pan with lots of nonstick spray or a few tablespoons of olive oil. Even if your pan is nonstick, get some olive oil up in there. Heat it up. Stick the fish in there and cook for about two minutes. Flip over and cook for another two minutes. You should be pretty much done. Cook until opaque. (See this recipe if you’re the kind of person who prefers actual steps and measurements.)

Nice and light. Perfect when your snack was a soft pretzel and crackers with hummus and spinach and artichoke dip.

Nice and light. Perfect when your snack was a soft pretzel and crackers with hummus and spinach and artichoke dip.

Ta-da! Tilapia is not a crazy fancy fish, but it’s mild and delicate. You can probably up this with a little melted butter and lemon juice. Yeahhh.

Next up: fried rice.

My grandma has an excellent fried rice recipe that is one of our family’s ultimate comfort foods. This is not the same recipe, but dang if I didn’t try to mimic hers.

Gramma’s fried rice is pretty much just white rice and an egg fried up in Crisco, if I remember correctly. She also adds a little garlic powder- or onion powder?- and parsley, and that’s basically it. 

I cooked up a bunch of brown rice ahead of time. I think it’s better with “old” rice than with rice straight out of the pot, since it’s a little drier and will probably fry up better. 

Oh, if you like eggs- and you should with fried rice. Trust me.- scrambled them up ahead of time. Or toss a fried egg on top when you’re done. You’ll want that creamy little hit of protein. 

INSERT PHOTO

If you remember, add some minced garlic and sauté that for a few minutes until golden. If you don’t, toss it in with the rice. It all works out the same.

Add a couple of cups of rice to the pan and sauté until just a little toasted. This only takes a couple of minutes. Then, add veggies. If they’re frozen, cook until thawed and hot. Be careful not to burn the rice. If they’re already cooked, awesome. Just heat through.

Mixed frozen veggies do just fine.

Mixed frozen veggies do just fine.

Add the eggs. Stir it all together, and there you are!

This fills you up. Trust me.

This fills you up. Trust me.

You can follow the recipe here.

The eggs are essential. There’s a reason everyone is all #putaneggonit right now. It’s a cheap protein, they take forever to expire (two weeks after the expiration date if refrigerated properly), and they add a whole bunch of creaminess and weight without loading up on cheese and butter. Although you can do that too. I do that all the time.

The next dish is my FAVORITE of the week. I saw the recipe in the same BuzzFeed list where I found the other two recipes for this week, and I thought, “that looks fancy. I wonder if I can do it cheaply and with stuff I already have.”

Do you have vegetables? Do you have pasta? Do you have an egg? You can make this dish.

Heat up some olive oil and butter in a pan. Yes, more olive oil and butter. Listen, there’s a reason the Mediterraneans live for such a long time, and it’s not I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

While the magic fats heat up, beat an egg or two with a little bit of salt.

Toss some minced garlic in there. Sauté until golden. Be careful- burnt garlic is not the same as roasted garlic and it’s not pleasant to eat.

If you’re following the actual recipe, you’ll see that at this point you add vegetables to the pan, in order of how long they take to cook, from longest to shortest cook time. I was using mostly leftover and precooked vegetables, so the only veggies I threw in at this point were some greens. Just plain old salad greens.

They wilt and get all soft and garlicky and then you realize that that’s one more way you can eat greens without covering them in cheese and and calling it a salad.

Now you add the pasta. Toss it around and make sure it’s not sticking.

Okay. Now for the magic. Remember how we beat that egg a couple minutes ago? Dump that in there and stir the pasta around. Take it off the heat. Cover the pan for a minute.

The pan should still be hot enough at this point that the egg is indeed cooking, and hopefully without scrambling like crazy. Take the lid off the pan, and it should look like there’s this magical little sauce on it. If you’ve ever had spaghetti carbonara, this is the same thing. Carbonara and a bunch of other Italian dishes involve putting pasta in a pan and adding a beaten egg. It cooks up like the brilliant ingredient it is, and there you go!

Almost done!

Almost done!

Toss in your other vegetables and heat through. Onto the plate. Add some avocado and cheese if that’s your thing (that’s totally my thing). 

It's missing my favorite green vegetable. Avocado.

It’s missing my favorite green vegetable. Avocado.

Take a bunch of photos because it's just so pretty and green! And you don't even like a lot of green things!

Better. Now take a bunch of photos because it’s just so pretty and green! And you don’t even like a lot of green things!

Face plant. It’s creamy and warm and there are actually quite a lot of vegetables and there’s not even any meat or heavy cream!

Omnomnomnomnom.

Omnomnomnomnom.

It doesn’t matter if you’re living on a budget or you can buy out Whole Foods every week. It doesn’t matter if you can spend two hours cooking every night or if you have thirty minutes or less to get a meal on the table and in your belly. You should eat things that make you want to make out with your plate a little bit. Things that make you go, “This is so good. SO. GOOD.” in texts to your friends. Things that you enjoy so much, you have to remind yourself to slow down so you don’t inhale all of it at once.

Chow down, friends. 

With love,

Gaby

 

 

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My Hotel Kitchen: Waste Not

Want to feel fancy and grown-up while you’re cooking or eating dinner? Go find a bossa nova playlist. You’ll feel all chic and mature. You’ll want to learn Portuguese. You’ll sip your $5 wine a little bit slower, and maybe you’ll take a taste of your canned pasta sauce as you heat it up on your two-burner electric stove. It doesn’t matter that you’re in yoga pants and a ratty t-shirt and you have Queen Helene’s Mint Julep mask smeared all over your face. It doesn’t matter that you’re trying to finish up pasta that you cooked almost two weeks ago (pasta doesn’t spoil, right?). Bossa nova. It instantly elevates whatever you’re doing. 

(That was all entirely irrelevant to this post. I just wanted to share that with you.)

So here’s the deal guys. I had huge and elaborate dreams of turning My Hotel Kitchen into a regular feature on the blog. Every week I’d be coming to you with one or two brand new recipes. And that…has not been the case. Yeah, it’s only been about a month. This could still get off the ground, right? Maybe. But I’ve eaten mostly burrito bowls and garlic shrimp with peas and feta for the past two weeks, on the nights that I haven’t eaten with coworkers before a meeting, or decided to celebrate the weekend with sushi or quiche from the grocery store. 

When I make a batch of brown rice, or a pound of pasta, it lasts me more than a week. So I’m always looking for ways to use that up, using what I already have prepared. Hence, burrito bowls and shrimp. I’ve said for about three weeks now that I was going to make shrimp-stuffed avocado. You know what that is? Shrimp mixed in with avocado and then put back into the avocado rind. You can’t even eat the rind! So what’s the point of that? It looks pretty. Eh. I have better things to do. Like eat. 

All of this is to say: I don’t have tons of new content for you. I’m trying to work on it. A big reason for that is because I do not want to waste food. The first two weeks here, I bought a whole rotisserie chicken, thinking that I could finish it off before it went bad or before I went to get more groceries. I would be able to eat it all- if I ate nothing but chicken for five days. Meh. So I switched to precooked, frozen grilled chicken strips. That might sound icky to some of you who don’t enjoy frozen food, but it’s less icky than the feeling I get when I throw most of a whole chicken into the garbage. 

The past week has consisted of trying to get rid of what I have. I’ve done a pretty good job of it. I think I can eat one more burrito bowl, to finish off my black beans, before I get totally sick of the dish. The rest of the brown rice will be going towards my first attempt at fried rice– something you can throw together really easily with an egg, precooked rice, frozen veggies, and your choice of protein. 

And you’ll get two new dishes next week! One of these is this pasta dish– modified to account for the fact that the vegetables will probably be already cooked or from frozen. The next is tilapia. I bought frozen fillets (frozen seems to be the word of the week, doesn’t it?), and I’m anxious to see how they hold up to the same pan-searing method I used with the salmon. Tilapia is one of my favorite fish. My dad makes a super delicate (super delicate? Really?) baked version, and I’ll see if maybe I can replicate that in my beloved stainless steel pans, on the electric stove.

For now, I leave you with a few food photos. The first is of some great summer squash I bought at the farmers market and sautéed with some olive oil, butter, and seasonings (I used the lemon pepper Mrs. Dash blend, with salt and pepper).

Pick a squash that isn't too soft; otherwise it won't hold up to sautéing or to grilling,

Pick a squash that isn’t too soft; otherwise it won’t hold up to sautéing or to grilling,

Sauté until golden brown on the edges. Nice and easy!

Sauté until golden brown on the edges. Nice and easy!

Summer squash is one of the few vegetables I will eat without being helped by cheese or carbs. So this was a win.

The next dish I have for you is…pasta. With jarred sauce. Listen, poor students and young professionals have been sustained by pasta and jarred tomato sauce for generations. It is one of the few meals that you can make that approximates the taste of home without all of the work. 

The key to getting a really good pasta meal out of jarred sauce is to zhuzh it up. I was going to attempt to spell “zhuzh” phonetically, so you would know how to pronounce it, and then I realized that that’s basically the phonetic spelling. Zhuzh. You know, like when you zhuzh gel into your hair? Pronounced like that.

I could also choose another word but I don’t feel like redoing that whole paragraph. 

Anyways. Zhuzhing up (we’re sticking with it now!) your jarred tomato sauce. Get some fresh herbs. Basil is particularly good with tomato sauce. Maybe you like a little extra garlic- get some chopped or minced garlic and throw it in there. You probably won’t need more salt. It came out of a jar, after all. Prepackaged foods usually have a lot of sodium already, so beware!

Nothing says Sunday dinner quite like red sauce.

Nothing says Sunday dinner quite like red sauce.

You can probably tell that I chose to zhuzh up my sauce with cheese. Fresh mozzarella, to be specific. I had it left over from the panzanella I made a couple of weeks ago, and it added that gooey, melty awesomeness that I just love. It also helped bulk up the dish, since I only had a handful of pasta left. Cheese + chicken + a little pasta was more than enough.

Another tip here? Get the sauce good and hot. Please don’t settle for lukewarm or tepid foods. Part of the secret of recreating a solid homemade meal, even if you’re on your own or on a budget, is to eat it like you would at home. For me, that means it needs to be nice and hot, and I have to be sitting down at a real table. 

We gain nothing from eating in a rush, standing up or in our cars. We also don’t get anything from eating on the couch in front of the TV, mindlessly inhaling a fast food burger (although I totally did that just last week). Sit down. Maybe put on some bossa nova (see? I brought it back around!), turn the TV down, or pull out a book. But most importantly: take. your. time. 

Coming soon: reminiscing about Chile (yet again, I know I know okay?) and a bilingual post! 

With love,

Gaby

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Cattle and Wind and Sky, Oh My

During my job search, I was focusing on just a few specific regions. I was primarily looking at Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Any other Eastern city- like Boston or Philadelphia- were also options. I was open to staying in Milwaukee for the right opportunity, and I knew that I could be happy in other Midwestern cities, like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Miami ended up on the list, not because I love the idea of Miami (I don’t), but because it’s a major gateway city to Latin America, and therefore it had to be considered. 

I did not want to go to the West Coast. I did not look at jobs in California or Seattle. I also avoided the South. In the back of my mind, I knew I should be taking Texas a little more seriously, but my family had had various chances to relocate to Texas while I was growing up. We never did. I figured that was for a reason.

And now here I am, in Amarillo, the heart of the Texas Panhandle.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn't the best shot, but it's a start.

Amarillo sunsets are legendary. This isn’t the best shot, but it’s a start.

Texas happens to be in my office’s territory. Texas also has a lot of Spanish speakers- which is why I am here on this project and not somewhere else in the Central US. The way things are going…I could end up spending quite a bit of time in the Lone Star State.

Things I’ve observed so far:

People are friendly. SO friendly! In Wisconsin, I’m accustomed to greeting other runners/walkers/bikers/passersby with at least a smile and a nod, if not a full, “Hi! How are you?” We rival Minnesota in niceness. I had heard good things about Texans, but when I go to a new place, I typically don’t greet strangers. That’s something that would get me branded as crazy in Chicago or Boston or, God forbid, New York. 

Not here! I was sitting in a park yesterday reading, and everyone who passed by at least smiled. A couple people even said hello. One guy saw me twice and greeted me both times. The folks at the grocery store are exceptionally cheerful and chatty. It’s nice to be around nice people. I’m sure I’ll encounter a sour face now and again, but overall, it’s been much closer to my Wisconsin experience than I expected.

(Note: I’m not saying that people from the East Coast or other regions are not kind. You’re just not as open and warm with people you encounter on the street. That’s okay.)

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

I found green space! This park had plenty of grass and trees. It also looks into the Botanical Gardens.

Everyone and their mother has a pickup truck. That is a true stereotype. Sad news: they had to take my pickup truck away because someone else needed it. I now have another car. One advantage (well, besides fuel efficiency, which is no small thing) is that it is now much easier to find: a small maroon car stands out better than a white pickup truck. Except when it’s dwarfed in the sea of pickups and SUVs. 

The SKY. It is huge! Texas is indeed big sky country. None of my pictures really do it justice. One of these days I’ll take a good drive out towards one of the canyons and take some shots at a lookout point. It must be because of the flatness- there is almost nothing on the horizon. It is all sky.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

An attempt to take pictures from the road.

The Texas Panhandle is one of the most important cattle and beef regions in the entire country. This means that it’s not unusual for the smell of cattle (aka, manure) to waft all over town. Amarillo doesn’t have any cattle ranches within the city limits, of course, but there are stockyards, where they auction and sell cattle. If the wind is right, well, you can smell the stockyards from just about anywhere.

I’ve also driven through Hereford a couple of times. Hereford is the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World. Who knows? It could be true. There was nothing but ranches and meatpacking plants for miles.

For real. They even have a sign.

For real. They even have a sign.

All of this beef of course means that I had my share of red meat during my first week or so. This is not a vegetarian or vegan-friendly town. If that’s you, go to Austin. Skip Amarillo.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

This was my first real meal here. A green chile cheeseburger, with chili fries. So good. So impossible to eat all the time.

When in Texas...

When in Texas…

The Panhandle is hot, but there’s usually a good breeze moving through. It’s so windy here that outside of town, wind turbines are going up all over the place. There’s oil in the Panhandle too, but it’s good to see an investment in renewable energy. Side note: a cotton dress with a full skirt is probably not what you want to wear while you’re pumping gas on a breezy day, you know?

This is beautiful country. It’s not quite as flat as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong- it’s FLAT, and there are no substantial bodies of water to speak of, but if you head east a little ways, all of a sudden it’s canyons and caprocks. The scenery isn’t half bad.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I'll try to get a better shot some other time.

An attempt to capture Caprocks Canyon from the road. I’ll try to get a better shot some other time.

So, what have we learned about the Panhandle so far?

People are friendly. Pickup trucks are for real. The scenery is actually gorgeous. Eat your steak. You’ll get used to the smell of cattle. 

Also, yes, people here actually do wear cowboy hats, as a real, functional, hat- not as part of a costume.

Have a beautiful week! Get out and see what’s special in your part of the world!

With love,

Gaby

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