Category Archives: My Hotel Kitchen

For Real, Guys, It’s October.

On the one hand, I’m panicking a little bit because holy crap this project flew by and there’s no way we can get everything done we need to get done in just four more weeks. (Actually, yes, we can, but we’re not cruising to the finish.) I’m also wondering where the heck I’m going next. My company is awesome, but one of the catches with the way we work is that we get assigned our projects last minute. If you have any extra patience you can send my way, I’d appreciate it.

On the other hand (four sentences later), I’m quite excited, because if things go as planned (emphasis on the “if”), I’m leaving Texas in less than a month.

Don’t get me wrong. This has been a great project. I’m learning a lot! Texans are quite friendly, polite, and hospitable. I’ve been living very comfortably, and I’m now a Platinum Elite rewards member at my hotel. (Those minimum 75 nights in a year rack up pretty quickly when you literally live in the hotel.)

Nevertheless, I don’t have people here. I have my wonderful coworkers and the great team at our client. If I ever needed something, I would feel comfortable reaching out to any one of them. I have never before appreciated the powers of technology to keep me connected with friends and family. Not even in Chile was I this deeply appreciative of Skype and FaceTime and instant messaging. But none of that replaces actually being able to get in the car with somebody you don’t work with and go somewhere. Anywhere. Heck, even just shopping or to the park.

So I guess I’ve learned my limit for how long I can go without being around my own “people” is about four months. That seems to be my maximum for how much I can stand spending my weekends running errands and watching TV. That’s also the amount of time I can live without an oven.

The food rut is real. I think it’s contributing to my overall boredom. Same foods, same scenery, same stuff going on all the time. I’m listless and restless and antsy and lazy all at the same time. Today I ate a frozen single-serving pizza that I heated up in the microwave to “mix it up.” Living on the edge, right?

Here are some of the things I do to bide my time and keep occupied (and get my butt off the couch).

I've been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

I’ve been trying to sustain plant life. I failed with a succulent and with a bouquet of sunflowers. These hydrangeas were moderately successful.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn't on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

On Sundays, I spend quite a lot of time watching football. If the Packer game isn’t on regular TV (which it almost never is, because Texas has two football teams), I head out for wings and beer.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

I take a lot of walks on the weekends. This is from my favorite park.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

This is from the path behind my hotel. It gets a pretty decent view of the sun right before sunset.

I've become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I've also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I’ve become quite a connoisseur of Blue Bell ice cream flavors. I’ve also decided I need to step up my workouts.

I write this blog. How meta.

I write this blog. How meta.

Oh, and I cook! Yes, I do have some new food to show you this week. Not much, but it’s something!

Last weekend, after indulging in hibachi and beer and wings and all kinds of goodies, I recognized that I needed to put a little good in. So I pan seared a tuna steak and sautéed some zucchini and summer squash.

To prepare the tuna steak: put about a tablespoon or two of olive oil into a pan and get the pan nice and hot. Pat the tuna steak dry and season with salt and pepper. Sear the tuna steak for three to four minutes per side. And that’s all!

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it's kind of gross.

Cooking up. The white stuff is just fats oozing out a little. Yeah, it’s kind of gross.

I’ve sautéed summer squash on the blog before. Treat as you would any other vegetable: wash it, chop it up, sauté in a pan with olive oil and butter and seasonings until just golden.

Healthy and quick!

Healthy and quick!

In case fish and vegetables aren’t your thing, I also made some really great French toast!

Honestly, there’s nothing special about my French toast recipe. But French toast is one of those indulgent breakfasts you can make for one person, and it doesn’t require any unusual ingredients or tools- or heck, even an oven.

For one person, take two slices of bread. If you don’t remember to dry it out ahead of time, toast it on a very light setting. Mix an egg with a couple splashes of milk. Add two healthy dashes of cinnamon and a good half-teaspoon of vanilla. Stir that together. Dunk the bread in the egg batter and fry on the stove until golden on each side.

That's just about the right shade of golden.

That’s just about the right shade of golden.

I had some packets of syrup from the downstairs breakfast bar, but I wanted to do something different. So I smeared on plenty of Nutella. And it felt as indulgent as eating cake for breakfast.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

The eggs are just for protein. The French toast is really the highlight here.

So there you go! Don’t think that just because you’re solo means you can only eat basic breakfasts. Joy the Baker has a recipe for a single serving of pancakes somewhere. You can also find all kinds of recipes online for coffee cakes and muffins made in a mug in a microwave. Fancy weekend breakfasts are not just for crowds!

Hey, I’ve got Nutella-smothered French toast, lots to read, plenty on TV, and lots of friends and family I can text/message/Skype at almost any time of day. I guess life on the road isn’t so bad. I think I can make it another four weeks. 🙂

With love,

Gaby

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My Hotel Kitchen: Food Ruts (and Other Notes)

Hello friends!

Greetings from still summery Texas. I am done with this warm weather, guys. D-O-N-E. Winter will spite me for this later, but seriously, I just want to wear jeans and sweaters and eat soups and stews and not feel like the front desk’s fall decorations are a farce.

On the bright side, I did wear pants the other day, and it was very comfortable except when getting into my warm car. So maybe we’re turning the corner? But the leaves haven’t started changing colors yet! Do they even do that here? What if I get back to the Midwest and I’ve already missed the fall colors? And the best of the apples? And the Halloween decorations- which means Christmas decorations will be up? Ahhhh!

I’m getting a little ahead of myself. In conclusion, I hope it’s fall-like where you are and that you’re enjoying it!

So. Food!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, cooking for one- and not eating the same thing all.the.time.- has been more challenging than I anticipated. I’m probably done with sautéed shrimp for a while. Ditto for burrito bowls. And despite the persistently warm weather, I have started to have cravings for fall foods. Soups, stews, roasts, baked pasta dishes- the whole nine yards of carbs and red sauce and slow-cooked meats and vegetables. However, I am one person who cannot eat an entire pot roast or beef stew or lasagna in the course of a week. And I’m not about to cook for my coworkers. *insert discussion about personal and professional boundaries here*

I had one particularly strong craving for ghoulash. Ghoulash is a kind of a soup/stew hybrid. Go ahead and Google it. This is a family recipe that was introduced through my grandmother and subsequently adapted by my dad. I made some adjustments based on what ingredients I had. Want to see how I did it?

First, brown some ground beef. I used ground sirloin because it was cheaper. P.S. Beef is expensive right now, people. If it was expensive here- less than an hour from the self-proclaimed Beef Capital of the World (Hereford, TX)- I can’t imagine how much it costs when you actually have to transport it.

Second, chop up yellow, red, and green bell pepper, and white onions. Add to the beef and sauté just until soft.

Look at the colors!

Look at the colors!

If you’re not already working in a big pot, dump this stuff in a big pot. Add canned diced tomatoes (yes, canned- you want the liquid), some beef broth, a little sugar, and spices. In this recipe, we use salt, pepper, paprika (Hungarian if you can get it), cayenne, and a little chili powder. Simmer for a bit.

This is when it starts getting good.

This is when it starts getting good.

You'll know it's been simmering for long enough when it starts to smell realllyyyyy good.

You’ll know it’s been simmering for long enough when it starts to smell realllyyyyy yummy.

Now, if you have flour, add a little flour to a little water. Cover the container and shake it up. Then, add that to the ghoulash. I skipped this step because I don’t need to buy a pound of flour for one little recipe. If you have flour, you probably want to do this to thicken the mixture.

Let the mixture simmer and thicken a little more. If you want your ghoulash to be more like a stew and less like a soup, let some of the liquid cook off. Also, the longer it simmers (simmer, NOT boil), the softer the vegetables will get and the more the flavors will develop.

In the meantime, cook some elbow macaroni. I had some kind of “healthy” penne already cooked, so I used that. Elbow macaroni is better, though, because it has nooks and crannies that grab a lot of the ghoulash, especially if you’ve thickened it up with flour. It’s also better because that’s the pasta my family uses for this recipe.

Add the macaroni to the ghoulash. Stir to combine. If you’re using pre-cooked pasta, let it heat through (cold pasta + hot ghoulash = yuuuuck). Finally, serve with shredded parmesan or “shaky cheese” (this is the powdered parmesan you shake out of the plastic container). I prefer shaky cheese, but since I had shredded mozzarella, I used shredded mozzarella.

Ta-da!

This is fresh ghoulash. You can see all the juices- this was not a thick ghoulash.

This is fresh ghoulash. You can see all the juices- this was not a thick ghoulash.

The really awesome thing about this recipe is that it gets better over time. I was talking on the phone with my dad, and I mentioned that I was going to heat up some leftover ghoulash. He said it’d be really good because the peppers will get sweeter. As always, my dad was right! The flavors really meld together and the peppers do indeed get sweeter.

Ways this version is different from my family’s: the consistency was a lot more liquid than usual. I do not yet possess the knife skills to chop those peppers and onions as finely as my dad does, and the veggies were pretty crunchy. I don’t like any raw vegetables except carrots (I know, what a child), so the way the peppers got better over time was a big plus of eating the leftovers. There was also a huge difference with the penne versus the elbow macaroni. Additionally, the melty mozzarella was pretty delicious (see below), but it’s just not the same as shaky cheese.

Also, FYI: this recipes makes a lot. Be prepared to eat a lot of it or share it.

This is the ghoulash on Day 6. It is bonkers good.

This is the ghoulash on Day 6. It is bonkers good. Did I eat this sitting on the couch in front of the TV? Yes, yes I did.

900 words on ghoulash, guys. I also made quesadillas with that precooked chicken, corn tortillas, leftover black beans, corn, cheese, and more sautéed peppers and onions. One trick is to heat that precooked chicken in a skillet with seasonings. It makes a big difference!

I also made tacos with the same ingredients. Gotta use up those leftovers!

I also made tacos with the same ingredients. Gotta use up those leftovers!

Did you see the burn marks on that pan? Real talk: I need an oven and nonstick cookware this instant. Part of the reason I’m in a food rut is because my tools are limited. Also, I need more people to cook for! The recipes that catch my eye are the ones that feed four or more people and are prepared in a Dutch oven or a big casserole dish and go into the oven.

The plan right now is to leave Texas in just about a month. This hotel thing has been convenient and comfortable (daily maid service, my company pays for it, etc.), but I think I want to live in a real apartment next. I think.

So, if you have any recipe suggestions or anything you’d like to see me attempt in a hotel kitchen, you have approximately four weeks left! Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

With love (and ghoulash),

Gaby

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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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My Hotel Kitchen: Everyday People, Eating. Not Styling.

Right now I’m writing this post listening to my Earth, Wind and Fire station on Pandora and hoping that my hotel room stops smelling a little less smoky before I go to bed. Maybe that means I’ve really broken the room in?

Don’t worry. Nothing actually caught on fire. It’s those darn non-non-stick pans! But I digress. We’ll get back to that in a few.

So this week I had planned on making a bunch of things. Among these were shrimp stuffed avocados, pan-cooked salmon, mozzarella and provolone melts, a blueberry and feta salad, and I think some kind of pasta. Haaaaa. I’m a grownup with a job that involves evening meetings out of town. When am I going to sauté mushrooms for provolone melts? And while shrimp stuffed avocados are quite easy- mash an avocado. Add cooked shrimp. Toss to coat. Season to taste. Put back in avocado skin.- that involves more work than putting something on a plate and sticking in the microwave and then in my mouth.

I still made a few very yummy dishes, though! I made that blueberry, feta, and pecan salad. I also cooked salmon today (which is why my kitchen smells smoky) and threw together a panzanella. Photos will follow.

First, a disclaimer. I shoot with an iPhone in a room with limited lighting. I recently discovered that I get the best pictures on the desk in front of the window. The next best spot would be on the floor in front of the bedroom window. Limited lighting. I don’t have a fancy photo editing program. The most I use is Instagram. I don’t style or edit my food. Why? Because most real people, whose livelihoods do not depend on how their food looks, don’t worry about the placement of the berries on their salad. Or the composition of the plate. Or what paper straws or Mason jars or a ribbon-tied napkin will add to the visual experience of the food. 

Most people, who are not entertaining or looking to use their cooking to earn a living, cannot live up to the Pinterest aesthetic because Pinterest exists in a cloud, on a screen. Paper straws and Mason jars and ribbons don’t taste good. You know what tastes good and feeds me? The salad I threw together in less than five minutes, which I didn’t spend 20 minutes styling. shooting, and editing.

The women and men who run dedicated food blogs, who do style and edit their photos, are awesome. It is a lot of work, and they create some really lovely dishes. Their styling and photography makes me want to eat what they make! But there’s one catch: if it doesn’t arrive at the same level of visual aesthetics, I’m still eating it because it will still taste good. 

I enjoy Pinterest as much as the next girl. But there’s something to be said for the way that the Internet and the ability to share our food- and what it looks like- maybe be changing the way that we cook and expect to feed ourselves. I’m not going to stop sharing my food. But I’m just saying, I’m not putting an effort into making my blog Pinterest-able, because a) I don’t depend on it, and b) I just want to eat good food and prove that you, the average person and not a professional food blogger, can cook and eat good food too. Without the assistance of Nikon and Lightbox.

Now that I’ve finally written that, you deserve some food.

First up: salad. This salad is simple. Greens, blueberries, feta, and pecans. You can toast the pecans in an oven or on the stove for a few minutes, but it’s not necessary. I enjoyed the salad with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little bit of sugar. 

Delish. Five minutes to throw together. You don't even have to make the dressing. Just drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. And then scarf it down.

Delish. Five minutes to throw together. You don’t even have to make the dressing. Just drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. And then scarf it down.

Yup. You’ll scarf it down. Probably standing directly in front of the television, getting bits of feta and salad greens on the floor (I might need to ask for a vacuum). The official recipe is here.

I didn’t cook anything new the whole rest of the week. I sautéed shrimp and bought another rotisserie chicken, so I was able to have burrito bowls and sandwiches for lunch. On Thursday morning I did boil some pasta because I was out of grains. Lesson learned: it takes water forever to boil in my kitchen. I think it has to do with the chlorine in the water. Anyways. That happened.

On Saturday I went to the farmers market and bought some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a big, fresh loaf of French bread. 

This made my pickup smell like bread all morning. Goodness.

This made my pickup smell like bread all morning. Goodness.

At first I wondered what I would do with such a large loaf of bread. And then I remembered that my extensive experience with bread in Chile meant that I would have no problem whatsoever eating bread with ham and cheese as onces (supper), topped with avocado (pan con palta), maybe smeared with Nutella…the possibilities were endless. But I had the tomatoes. Tomatoes + bread = bruschetta? Maybe. But difficult to eat by yourself. Panzanella? Much better.

Panzanella is bread salad. Yes. Bread. Salad. This is also an easy recipe, adapted from this one but inspired by this one. Step 1: tear up some crusty bread into pieces. Let it sit out overnight in a bowl, until a little stale.

Step 2: mix up the lemon garlic vinaigrette in the first recipe. It’s basically the same lemon garlic stuff I’ve been putting together for shrimp for the past three weeks. Let it sit so the flavors develop. 

Step 3: Cut up the tomatoes into chunks and put in a bowl. You can decide how big or small.

Step 4: Rinse and tear up some fresh basil.

Step 5: Add half of the dressing to the bread. Toss to coat. Add the other half to the tomatoes. Yes, in a different bowl. Don’t mix them yet! Toss to coat. Let both bowls sit out for at least fifteen minutes.

Step 6: Add the tomatoes to the bread bowl. Mix. Add basil and fresh mozzarella cheese (optional, but really. Is it optional?). Let sit for at least another fifteen minutes before serving at room temperature.

Bread in a salad. What else can I say?

Bread in a salad. What else can I say?

It’s key that the bread sit out overnight. The harder and more stale it is, the better it will soak up the dressing and tomato juice without getting soggy and falling apart. Soft, garlicky bread. Creamy, salty cheese. Ripe, juicy tomatoes. Sharp basil. Just go make this now.

And then I made salmon. My favorite way to make salmon is in an oven. It cooks it slowly and evenly. But I wanted it, and I wanted to make it myself. I started off with this recipe (which looks amazing, right?) but mostly used tips from my dad, probably the best cook I know.

Frozen for a week and still fresh.

Frozen for a week and still fresh.

Tip: fresh fish should smell clean. Maybe a little like saltwater. If it smells strongly fishy, in a way that makes you crinkle your nose, it’s not so good.

Step 1: spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray. I like the olive oil kind. Heat the pan on high. If you have a non-stick pan, heat the pan and coat with olive oil. 

Step 2: Place skin side up. Sear- cook on high- for three to four minutes.

Step 3: Flip, placing the skin side down. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for another 6-10 minutes, depending on how hot your stove is. How do you know when it’s done? When the fish is opaque, and the thickest part of the fillet flakes easily. It doesn’t take long!

Case in point about the aesthetics/visual food thing: I didn’t upload a picture of the finished salmon. Whoops. Maybe I’ll update the post later. I was clearly too concerned with eating it and making sure it was good.

That’s my food for the week! I have that pasta already cooked. Maybe I’ll whip up some kind of a carbonara with it if I get bored of bread salad, salmon, and the other staples in my fridge. 

Comments and suggestions are always welcome! Have a great week, friends!

With love,

Gaby

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My Hotel Kitchen: Taking It for a Spin

Hello good people!

I write this as I listen to the dogs in the room across from mine bark up a storm, and I’m reaching for a sip of wine (that I opened with my keys and a shoe after the screw part of the corkscrew broke off in the cork. Resourceful.). “The Blind Side,” one of my favorites, is on TV. My plans for the rest of the night include a home manicure and a face mask. I hope that your night is as chill or as wild as you’d like it to be.

Last week I wrote about my new cooking adventures. I got off to a solid, if basic, start after a very fun grocery trip. It was fun because I could spend as much time as I wanted wandering the aisles and browsing all of the delicious offerings- quiche! cupcakes! tarts! wine! quinoa! crab legs! Gah. The freedom was thrilling. 

My very own grocery cart. Plenty of essentials, and a few treats.

My very own grocery cart. Plenty of essentials, and a few treats.

I had done a little cooking before my big grocery trip. Over the course of cooking eggs and grilled sandwiches, I realized that I will have to load up my pans with nonstick spray and keep the heat low in order to avoid burning. The smell of burning eggs is one of my least favorite smells, and burnt eggs are not fun to clean off a pan. I do not like burnt food, period, so knowing that it will take some time for me to learn how to use my cooking tools has influenced the recipes I’m starting out with.

In preparation for the work week, I cooked:

A Southwestern quinoa blend: it came in a pouch, and I simmered it for a while on the stove. Easy. What wasn’t easy was controlling the heat (remember, it’s an electric stove) and keeping it from boiling over or dying down completely. But it worked out.

Brown rice: I cooked rice in a pot, not a rice cooker! Rice is easy, guys. Add a little oil or butter to the pot, and it will help reduce the stickiness. Just keep an eye on it. When most of the water has steamed off, it’s close to done. As you learn how to cook it, add or reduce water depending on how fluffy or dry you like it. 

Sautéed shrimp: I bought a package of peeled, tail-off, frozen shrimp. I wanted the tails and peels off because I didn’t feel like dealing with that, but I still wanted them raw so I could control how done they were. To me, a lot of precooked shrimp is chewy and kind of dry. It was a gamble cooking the shrimp in those sticky pans, but I figured if I didn’t want to eat everything cooked in the microwave, I had to give it a shot.

First, you thaw the shrimp. Get it completely thawed, but don’t let it sit out and get warm. That’s just not good policy with seafood (or anything you don’t usually eat raw). Rinse the shrimp and drain it in a colander. I then tossed it in some lemon garlic vinaigrette, which I got from this recipe. I intended to make that salad, and maybe eventually I will if I can find a small quantity of plain quinoa at a reasonable price. But it turns out the vinaigrette is a perfect “marinade” for sautéed shrimp! 

After that, I sprayed the pan with olive oil non-stick spray, and in went the shrimp on medium heat. Do not leave shrimp alone when you sauté them! In a hot enough pan, shrimp cook up really quickly. Cook them on each side, just until opaque. They’ll be pink, but if they’re solid white and look very shriveled up, they’re probably over done. How do you know if they’re done? Once they look opaque, you’re probably safe tasting one, even if it’s a little underdone.

These shrimp were super tasty. If you keep an eye on the pan, shrimp are a cinch to cook and are an easy way to get more seafood into your diet.

This week, I ate them with brown rice and avocado. Simple and satisfying.

It's not the prettiest. But if you've been around this blog long enough, you know I'm not the queen of aesthetics.

It’s not the prettiest. But if you’ve been around this blog long enough, you know I’m not the queen of aesthetics.

That was the extent of my real cooking this week. The other meal that I made was a quinoa burrito bowl. I put that together with the quinoa I made, rotisserie chicken from the store, shredded cheese, and more avocado.

Okay, I ate the burrito bowl on a plate. Same idea.

Okay, I ate the burrito bowl on a plate. Same idea.

People love Chipotle’s burrito bowls, but really, you can make them at home with very basic combinations of simple ingredients. I’m picturing future versions with more vegetables, black beans, maybe some Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream- you get the idea.

We went out for lunch twice this week. One lunch was a nice Italian place, and the other was a chicken-fried steak at the Amarillo stockyards. The stockyards are where they auction off cattle, and the cafe there is where the ranchers eat lunch and breakfast. That chicken-fried steak was hearty and delicious, but man oh man, was my appetite shot for a while. My dinner that night? Avocado toast.

This was all I needed. Simple can be satisfying!

This was all I needed. Simple can be satisfying!

Other meals included a few prepared items I picked up at the store. It’s tempting just to buy six or seven dinners from the deli and just make sandwiches for lunch. I have to cook, though, so I know exactly what I’m eating, and so I learn how to make food that I enjoy- all the time. Nevertheless, I like having a few meals on hand that I can just stick in the microwave and chow down.

One of the challenges of shopping for myself is figuring out just how much to buy. If I’m going to buy a rotisserie chicken, then I need to put that chicken in my lunches in order to use it up by the end of the week. I don’t need to cook an entire cup of rice- that yields three cups, and you know what? That’s a LOT of rice for one person. 

I think I did a little better this week. There was still ice cream left over, so I resisted the temptation to buy a new flavor…or to pick up some cupcakes or cookies from the bakery. I didn’t buy more salad greens, even though I might need more by the middle of the week. It’s about balance, and learning how much I really need, and what I can allow for wants.

Next week, I’ll be cooking:

Shrimp-stuffed avocado

Pan-seared salmon (just because I don’t have an oven doesn’t mean I won’t eat my fish!)

Blueberry feta pecan salad

Again, if you have any recipe suggestions, or if there’s something you’d like to see, please let me know in the comments!

Let’s get cooking!

With love,

Gaby

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Riding Solo and My Hotel Kitchen

So yesterday I talked about the few weeks of summer break I had before starting my job. And then I realized that I haven’t talked about my job on the blog yet!

Yes. I am employed! I have a salary and benefits and I mostly wear some kind of suit. I am a consultant with a fundraising consulting firm, working exclusively with nonprofits. I spent a week in Chicago in training and orientation. My friend E. gets HUGE thanks for housing me for the week in her apartment. We cooked and both got dressed up and went to work every morning like grownups. I took a bus and train to work each day. It was a fun little flashback to my commutes in Santiago (especially when I took the wrong bus route, but don’t worry, it was fine!).

This was a bonkers avocado pizza E. and I made my first night there. We demolished the whole thing ourselves.

This was a bonkers avocado pizza E. and I made my first night there. We demolished the whole thing ourselves.

The view from my window on the second day of training. To be clear: they just moved me to a different office because the computer in the first room wasn't cooperating. But I lucked out!

The view from my window on the second day of training. To be clear: they just moved me to a different office because the computer in the first room wasn’t cooperating. So I lucked out!

E. made delicious popsicles, which were the perfect way to cool down at the end of the night.

E. made delicious popsicles, which were the perfect way to cool down at the end of the night.

A view of the Sears Tower and other buildings from the walk into work from the train.

A view of the Sears Tower and other buildings from the walk into work from the train.

I really loved being in Chicago. I saw a few friends, I got to know my new coworkers, and I was pumped to be back in a big city among all of the noise and people and public transportation. But after just a week, I took a quick day at home, and then headed down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to shadow one of my firm’s projects. I don’t have any pictures from Tulsa. We worked and went out to eat, and I didn’t think to pull my phone out. Things I would have taken pictures of include: the Oral Roberts University campus (it is gold and shiny and 1980’s futuristic), the Arkansas River, the Brookside neighborhood, and the Art Deco downtown.

Then it was the 4th of July. I once again returned home for the weekend, and then I flew down to Amarillo, Texas, for my first assignment.

Yup. I am writing you from my hotel room in the Texas Panhandle. I’ll be here until November. Right now it is hot and dry, but they’re forecasting rain and cooler temps later this week, which gets the locals really excited and happy. Our client has very generously loaned me a pickup truck for my stay. It has provided much entertainment for family, friends, and acquaintances.

Last year, if you’d asked me where I thought I’d be right now, I never would have said in Texas, with a pickup. I would have guessed Chicago or DC or maybe even New York or Santiago. But here I am!

The next four months will be a whirlwind. Work will keep me more than busy Monday through Thursday. So I’m trying to enjoy these next couple of weeks while I try to establish some routines and learn my way around. I live within 10 minutes of a Catholic church, Target, Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, an excellent grocery store, and the mall. I pretty much have everything I need.

And even if I’m here without friends or family, if the past six days are any indication, they’re never far away with text messages, phone calls, and Facebook.

Blah blah blah, now I’m getting sappy. My temporary relocation does mean that I’ll be doing something new on the blog. And so, I introduce: My Hotel Kitchen.

I have a two-burner electric stove top, a microwave, one large and one small saucepan, and one large and one small sauté pan. I also have a very basic assortment of kitchen utensils. Take note: no oven. No cookie sheets. No non-stick pans. I can’t eat out every single day. I just can’t. We did in Tulsa and although every meal was delicious and not fast food, I felt a little gross at the end of the week. Grocery shopping this week was quite exciting, to say the least.

Every week, I’ll be prepping meals and sides for me to take for lunch and heat up for dinner. This week, for example, I made brown rice, a prepackaged quinoa mix, shrimp, and lemon garlic vinaigrette (for an adaptation of this recipe). I also have pasta, jarred tomato sauce, mixed greens, fruit, avocados (porque si hay pan y palta, hay comida), a whole rotisserie chicken, and chicken alfredo from the prepared food section of the grocery store (which is expansive and amazing). 

Why am I doing this? It’s healthier. I enjoy it. I’m learning to be resourceful- I can’t cook whatever I want because I don’t have all the tools, and I’m not going to buy them for a four-month stay. I also need to remember that I’m cooking and eating for one person, not an entire family. Cooking is just one of those things that young adults, on their own, have to learn how to do- like pay bills, save money, make new friends, and not stay up too late watching TV or surfing the Internet. You know, grown-up stuff.

If you’d like to follow along on Instagram (@gmtnunez), I’ll be using the hashtag #myhotelkitchen for my meals and meal prep. And you’ll find me back here each week, writing about my cooking adventures (like learning how to use PAM in the absence of Teflon pans) and exploring the Texas Panhandle. 

Should you have any great recipe or solo living suggestions, please let me know in the comments! 

See you soon! With love,

Gaby

 

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