When you live with your boyfriend, cooking dinner is a normal part of everyday routine. Obviously you both need to eat, and obviously you’re going to eat together if you both happen to be home from work at a common hour. Sure, there are days when you are both exhausted and run down and the best idea ever includes a takeout menu, the couch, and something dramatic via netflix. Naturally. But cooking together, creating meals from scratch, working alongside one another is one of the best things you can do as a couple. If I were a relationship therapist, that’s the piece of advice I’d give most frequently: cook together.
Color me corny, but I genuinely look forward to cooking dinner with my boyfriend every night. Coming up with new recipes, trying fancy ingredients, or even just adding a bottle of wine into the mix can make a random Tuesday night feel like a date night. And after all, one of the reasons I started this blog to begin with was to share the recipes we came up with to fit both of our tastes, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.
Almost four years of co-habitation later though, and we definitely have our favorites. There are meals we’ll make at least once a week, if not more. But we’ve made a lot of dinners. Almost four years of living together equals 1,460 days, and if we stay in and cook approximately 85% of the time, that’s 1,241 dinners. And who says that art girls are bad at math?
So as a tribute to those one thousand plus meals, I decided to compile a list of my favorites. And a link to the recipes. Obvi.
Reader Question: What meal(s) do you find yourself cooking frequently?
Filed under food/drink, life
To accompany the peach-ginger chutney from the other day, we cooked a moderately spicy red curry dish this weekend. This dish contained most of the vegetables that we had in our fridge – another one of those great “kitchen sink” dishes that can help you get rid of all your about-to-go-bad produce. We used onions, red peppers, peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Of course, now we have more leftovers than we know what to do with, but that’s okay! Dishes like this tend to be better the second day, so it all works out. It’s almost like we planned it that way.
Boyfriend & I have started menu planning our weeks, which really helps with grocery shopping. It also helps avoid standing around in the kitchen at loose ends while trying to think up a dinner at 6:30pm when we’re already hungry.
That’s this week’s menu, so far. Truth be told, I could probably put some variation of a curry dish on every week, but let’s not get curried away. See what I did there?
You will need…
- 1 cup brown basmatti rice + 2 cups water
- olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1/2 red pepper, diced
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 1/2 cup peas (frozen is okay just don’t tell Gordon Ramsay)
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
- salt, pepper
- 2 – 3 tbsp red curry powder
- 1 – 2 tsp cumin
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- fresh cilantro/coriander for garnish
- 1 medium chicken breast, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dash of red curry powder
- 1/2 block of extra firm tofu, drained and pressed, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a dash of red curry powder
- First, start your rice, as brown basmatti rice takes a bit of time to cook. Combine water and rice in a medium pot, add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cover. Check on it every so often to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add onions, peppers, carrots, peas, & sweet potatoes. Cook for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add chickpeas, tomato, vegetable stock, and spices. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Check on your rice during this process.
- After 30 minutes, start your skillets for the chicken or tofu. Add olive oil to your separate skillets and cook your chicken approx 4-5 minutes on each side, or until browned. Do the same for the tofu. Remove from heat and cut into slices.
- Remove cover from your curry and taste for spiciness. Adjust spices as necessary. When you are ready to serve, first plate the rice, then scoop the curry on top. Lay sliced chicken or tofu on top of the curry. Or, if you prefer to mix everything together, go for it.
One of my favorite gifts from last Christmas was a pasta machine. Hard to believe that we didn’t already have one until then! Fresh pasta is not something that one could really whip up any day of the week- it is hardly “easy” or “quick”, but it is certainly fun to do once in a while. Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday night, Boyfriend and I will opt to cook a complex meal at home rather than go out. For us, it’s just as fun.
A few days ago, after we had some leftover pesto waiting around in the fridge, we decided to pull out the pasta maker and get our hands dirty. Quite literally.
Fresh pasta is one of those dishes that requires a lot of labor and love, and is ultimately quite rewarding. You can really taste the difference when you are eating a hand-cut pasta dish versus one that came from a box. Boyfriend & I don’t eat pasta very often, and perhaps for that reason- it’s too much effort for a random weeknight meal to hand-cut our pasta, but it’s just not really worth it for the stuff in Aisle 4. This is similar to why we hardly go out for Italian food. Most restaurants that claim to be “Italian” are really just Americanized dishes. Anyone can make a mediocre spaghetti & meatballs. But once you taste dishes at authentic Italian restaurants like Bricco or Lucca in Boston’s North End, why would you really want to go back to eating pasta dishes that are just “so-so”? It’s okay to be snobby.
Part of the fun of making your own hand-cut pasta is the drying rack. As part of our Christmas gift, we received a wooden pasta rack, which came in handy. Prior to this gift, we would get creative, hanging pasta from strings around our kitchen, as you may remember from last year’s hand-cut pasta dish.
For this specific dish, we used whole-wheat pasta, which made everything a bit chewier, but all in all, a healthier choice. One of my culinary rules- always opt for whole wheat, when available.
Hand-Cut Whole Wheat Linguine with Pesto and Chicken or Tofu
(serves 2, with leftovers)
You will need…
For the Pasta:
- 4 eggs
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- salt, pepper
- water on hand
- flour for dusting
For the Pesto:
- 2 cups packed basil leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- salt, pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
For everything else:
- 1 medium chicken breast
- 1/2 8-oz block extra firm tofu, pressed and dried
- olive oil
- salt, pepper
- Pre-make the pesto. Combine basil, garlic, walnuts, cheese, salt, pepper in a food processor. Pulse until combined and coarse. Turn the processor on and slowly drizzle in the oil. Scrape the sides with a rubber spatula and repeat pulsing as necessary. Scrape pesto into a small bowl or tupperware and let chill while you do everything else.
- To make the pasta: In a medium sized bowl, sift flour and add a dash of salt. Create a deep well in the center of the flour and add the eggs. Mix thoroughly; the texture should be very tough. Stir in 1 – 2 tbsp of water as needed. (You may not need it at all.)
- Lightly flour your working surface. (This will get messy!) Knead the dough for 3-4 minutes on the surface. Take a section of the dough and run it through your pasta machine. You will have to do this several times, adding flour or water as necessary. Once the dough comes out smooth and flat, you are ready to cut it. Put the dough on a floured cutting board and cut into desired thickness (about 1/4″). Drape each piece over the drying rack and let it hang out while you prep your chicken and tofu.
- In two medium-sized skillets, heat olive oil over medium heat. Start boiling a large pot of water at the same time, with a dash of salt. In one skillet, cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, approx 4 – 5 minutes on each side. Season with salt & pepper.
- To cook the tofu, lightly fry until browned on each side, approx 5 minutes on each. Season with salt & pepper.
- In the last couple minutes of cooking, add your fresh pasta to the boiling water. Pasta will take approx 3-4 minutes to cook- keep your eye on it! It will go quickly.
- Drain your pasta and toss with the pesto. Serve in bowls, topped with sliced chicken or tofu, and garnished with extra parmesan. Enjoy!
Real talk: I could probably eat Chinese food once a week and not get sick of it. There’s enough items on a typical Chinese food menu that one could potentially never get bored. That said, it’s probably not the healthiest option. Take that back: it’s definitely not the healthiest option. Luckily, there are ways to create healthier versions of these dishes at home. My go-to Chinese food dish is broccoli in garlic sauce, usually with the addition of tofu. Boyfriend likes chicken & broccoli, hence this dinner idea: Chicken or not, broccoli and garlic sauce.
Confession. We sometimes use pre made marinades. Marinades with Asian flavors are sometimes hard to create from scratch, and there are some pretty decent products out there, like Organicville (two variations: Sesame and Island). The generic Whole Foods brand offers some good flavors as well.
This pairs well with brown rice, but you could even use rice noodles or soba noodles for a change of pace.
Fakeout Takeout: Chicken/Tofu with Spicy Broccoli
You will need…
- 1 8-oz block tofu
- 1 medium chicken breast
- your choice of marinade
- 2 medium heads of broccoli
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tsp minced fresh ginger
- salt, pepper
- olive oil
- red pepper flakes
- Make Ahead: Coat the chicken breast with the marinade and let sit in a tupperware or plastic bag for approx 1 hour. While the chicken is marinading, press the tofu using two plates and a heavy object atop.
- Drain the tofu and then cut into small triangles. Heat a large skillet with olive oil and half of the garlic & ginger. Fry tofu on both sides until evenly browned. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and extra marinade to taste.
- While the tofu is cooking, steam the broccoli using a double broiler. When the broccoli is crisp tender, remove it from the double broiler and chop into smaller pieces. Add to the pot with the tofu and sauté 1-2 more minutes, coating with extra spices if desired.
- When tofu & broccoli are approx 5 minutes from completion, heat olive oil in another medium skillet. Add chicken and remaining garlic & ginger. Cook thoroughly on both sides until lightly browned and cooked through. Add extra marinade if desired.
- Plate your meal: Toss broccoli with optional brown rice, and top with tofu or sliced chicken. Enjoy!
Now that the supermarkets have begun to stock a healthy supply of canned pumpkin, I’ve been able to complete my autumnal pantry arsenal. If the zombie apocalypse were to happen, we’d be okay in terms of canned goods, but we might be eating pumpkin for a very long time. Luckily, there’s one of us that wouldn’t mind it.
I don’t think I need to go on another tangent about how much I love pumpkin (I’m pretty sure the last post explained it all), but one of the things I really do like about it is that it’s pretty versatile. There aren’t many main ingredients that can be used in breads, muffins, pies, but also curries, soups, and pastas. It’s like a chameleon, always changing its form.
The other night, Boyfriend and I cooked a pasta with chicken/tofu in a pumpkin cream sauce. It actually didn’t contain any cream at all, and was relatively healthy, considering its name. I am usually terrible at measuring pasta, and I always end up with much more than I intended to make. I even own a special tool specifically designed to measure pasta, and when I use it, I always think to myself- That won’t be enough! But I’m always wrong. However, this time, we managed to cook the perfect portions, which seems like an accomplishment in and of itself.
I just want it to be October forever, so we can eat pumpkin all the time! What will I do when autumn becomes winter and I have to part ways with this amazing ingredient? I guess we can blog about gingerbread and peppermint. It’s just not the same.
Pasta & Chicken/Tofu in a Pumpkin Cream Sauce
As most vegetarians know, certain ethnic dishes lend themselves better to a meat-free lifestyle than others. One of my all-time favorite types of food is Indian cuisine. From the days of the Indian buffet at a small restaurant near my hipster liberal arts college, to busy nights in the East Village, all the way to my current New England location, I have always been a fan of the combination of curry, rice, and naan bread. You can’t really go wrong.
However, it took me nearly two years to convince Boyfriend to try Indian food. This is surprising because I would not describe him as a picky eater. This is the same guy who took me out for vegan pancakes and cooked vegan pumpkin soup during our first autumn together. But there was something about the phrase “Indian food” that sent shivers down his spine. Finally, after some combination of pleading and insisting, I was able to convince him to sample some takeout from our local Indian restaurant. Bribery may have also been involved. Regardless- success! I figured this opened the doors to experimenting with curry powder, turmeric, and coriander in our own kitchen.
Trying to recreate flavors of restaurant food is always a challenge, especially when you’re working with spices off the rack from Market Basket. In the days of my Alphabet City apartment in Manhattan, I would buy spices and other ingredients from a tiny Indian bodega near Tompkins Square Park. This is still probably an insult to truly authentic dishes, but in my little New York apartment, it was more than satisfactory. That being said, the curry we cooked last night was all kinds of awesome. It was just the right amount of sweet, with a super-spicy kick. With a glass of white wine and a rustic slab of naan, what more could you ask for, as a vegetarian or omni?
Sweet & Spicy Curry (With Chicken or Tofu)
In the culinary world, there certain ingredients that taste just fine by themselves, but when paired with another specific flavor, can turn an ordinary meal into something spectacular. Essentially, they are secret weapons. One of my favorite all-star pairings is the fabulous combination of pesto and goat cheese. Pesto is pretty great in its own right; it’s delicious on pizzas, coated atop tofu (or chicken), on sandwiches, in pasta salads, etc. Incidentally, I wasn’t really a fan of goat cheese until a couple of years ago, but I’ve learned that it adds a little kick to salads, sandwiches, and bruschetta. However, when these two ingredients are combined, the flavor combination of the dish seems to skyrocket. It’s like they were soul mates in another life and need to be rejoined in a sandwich or pizza to rediscover their romance.
The other night, Boyfriend and I cooked a dinner so delicious that we were talking about it for days afterwards. I’d like to think we are humble and modest at-home cooks; we know when we’ve created something that’s not quite blog-worthy, and there have been plenty of slip-ups in the kitchen or instances that would cause Gordan Ramsay to use several expletives in one sentence. (I will graciously admit to accidentally using canned pumpkin pie mix while trying to cook a pumpkin soup. Needless to say, that was a dinner that ended up in the trash.) The other side of this is acknowledging when we cook one hell of a meal. Which this was. Hands down.
I’ve said before that sandwiches are the best type of meal to cook as a vegetarian/meat-eating couple, because they are so incredibly easy to personalize. No chicken? No problem! And while we certainly don’t mind the extra work that comes with a two-pot chili or two-skillet stir fry, it’s a breeze to clean up after a sandwich-two-ways entree. If there was a way to guarantee that I wouldn’t get sick of this meal, I’d probably eat it multiple times a week.
Roasted Vegetables with Goat Cheese & Pesto on Ciabatta
chicken optional. with a side of sweet potato oven fries (serves 2)
It’s funny how taste evolves and changes over time. When I was a kid, I wouldn’t touch feta cheese or spinach, even if you paid me. These days, the combination of feta, spinach, tomatoes and lemon is one of my absolute favorites. Those typical “Mediterranean” flavors are so versatile- mix them with eggs for a fancy omelette or frittata, throw them atop pizza crust for a unique spin, stir them into a short-grain rice or pasta for a fresh summer salad…the list is endless!
Despite the fact that Boyfriend and I don’t agree on the great meat debate, we can definitely agree on certain flavors and ingredients. I suppose that cooking together would be more of a challenge if we had entirely different preferences, but lucky for us- we can usually come up with a common theme that lends itself to some unified dish.
Lately, we’ve been cooking a lot with quinoa. For the uninformed, quinoa is an excellent staple in vegetarian diets because it is so rich in protein. It resembles a small grain and it is cooked in a similar manner to couscous, but in actuality, it is not a grain! Surprise! It is related to certain vegetables such as spinach, beets, and chard. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) provides an awesome nutty texture to dishes- I love using it in stir-fries, or atop mixed green salads. And, bonus points: Boyfriend was sold on it the minute I said the word “protein”. (Ladies, if you want your boyfriend to eat anything- tell him it’s rich in protein.)
Last night’s dinner consequently included a chicken breast stuffed with spinach and feta (for him), browned tofu topped with crumbled feta (for me), alongside a quinoa pilaf made with tomato, green onion, lemon, and golden raisins. Just typing it is making me hungry again!
Spin’Feta Chicken or Tofu with Mediterranean Quinoa Pilaf (serves 2)
There is a conundrum that faces many vegetarians when it comes to ordering salads at restaurants: the protein piece. Unless you are ordering a bean-laden salad, most entree salads contain some kind of meat to make up the ‘bulk’ of the dish. This is especially true if you are out at a restaurant that doesn’t quite understand vegetarian diets (insert most chains, steakhouses, and pub-fare establishments here.) This predicament becomes exceedingly challenging when you are a vegetarian who loves a good caesar salad. Sure, it’s fine to eat a plain caesar salad on the side or as an appetizer, but it’s not quite a ‘meal’ if you are eating a plate full of lettuce, dressing, and croutons. But… who says you can’t have a tofu caesar salad? This is a super easy dish to customize and make up your own variation. When it comes to veg-izing a classic, just throw all the rules out the window and follow your tummy.
photos © connorgleasonphotography
Chicken / Tofu Caesar Salad (serves 2, with leftovers)
To celebrate the beginning of the brightest season, here is a comeback post that tastes like citrus and spice. It’s been a while, but hopefully that is at least a little expected of a busy couple who essentially work opposite schedules. However, despite the constant whirlwind that comprises the life of a teacher/performer who is dating a photojournalist, we do manage to cook together multiple times a week. Time-management challenges, culinary challenges…you name it, we’ll ace it. But now that summer vacation has started, I have turned my attention back to drafting the proposal for this cookbook. I hope no one has stolen our idea yet.
Even though the weather has reached obscene temperatures that can only be described with overdramatic words like “scorcher” and “inferno”, we’re not afraid of some added heat in the kitchen. Summer brings some of the best flavors- lime, cilantro, cayenne, tropical fruit, smoked meat/tofu, etc. My favorite solution- crank the A/C, grab a glass of ice-cold sangria, and cook up a southwestern fiesta for dinner.
Cajun-Lime Marinated Chicken/Tofu (over black bean & corn salad) – Serves 2
photos © connorgleasonphotography