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
T minus two weeks until moving day. Our apartment is currently a warzone of boxes, disassembled furniture, half-packed duffel bags of laundry, etc. I am really looking forward to unpacking and easing into a life of organization and cleanliness again. All the clutter is making me a little crazy!
Dinners have been interesting lately. With the move on the horizon, we’ve been trying to use up as much food as possible so we have very little to pack with us. The other night, while trying to figure out what to make, I found myself staring at a box of Annie’s mac & cheese and several cans of pumpkin. All of a sudden, it was like a lightbulb went off above my head. A lightbulb adorned with red & orange leaves and smelling of cinnamon and nutmeg that is. Pumpkin mac & cheese! Of course. OF COURSE.
The result was nothing short of fantastic. I mean, who doesn’t love mac & cheese? And who doesn’t love pumpkin? Need I say more?
Recipe? Of course.
You will need…
- 1 box Annie’s mac & cheese (whatever flavor you want)
- 1/2 (15oz) can pumpkin puree
- 3 tbsp soy milk
- 2 tbsp cream cheese
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- handful breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp margarine or butter
- Preheat oven 350 degrees. Grease a baking dish.
- Prepare the pasta according to the box’s directions. While the pasta is draining, mix together the 3 tbsp soy milk with the cheese from the box. Add the pasta back into the pot and mix in pumpkin, cream cheese and spices.
- Pour the pasta into the baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Dot with the butter/margarine and let bake approx 15 minutes or until the top is golden. Enjoy!
Want to know something that is surprisingly difficult? Figuring out what to eat in the last few days before going on vacation. Typically, this is when your fridge is filled with “rejects”, or the final remains of a grocery shop, and you don’t really want to go purchase new food that might spoil while you’re away. It would be easy to just throw in the towel and get take-out a few nights in a row, but what about those sad onions that are in the bottom drawer? And that tomato that is borderline squishy? And that pickle that is half-eaten?
It’s times like these that I like to make a huge one-pot dish that incorporates a ton of different types of produce. Sometimes it’s chili. Sometimes it’s curry. This time, it was pasta salad.
After surveying the fridge and finding lemon, feta, tzatziki, cucumber, onion, and tomato, I knew it had to be a Mediterranean themed salad. Tzatziki is a great ingredient for pasta salad- it is a cucumber-yogurt based dish, so mixing it with a tiny bit of low-fat mayonaise gave the pasta salad a perfect creamy effect without too many added calories or grams of fat. Additionally, the lemon makes it super light and delicious.
As for the pasta, I recently stumbled upon the cutest new product- pasta made with specific veggies, such as carrots and squash.
I could not resist getting this, and it was the perfect ingredient for this pasta salad. This dish would be awesome on its own, or atop a bed of spinach as a big dinner salad.
(makes one huge batch, serves 5 – 6, or fewer with lots of leftovers)
You will need…
- 3 eggs, hard-boiled, chopped, and cooled
- 4 cups of tiny pasta, cooked & cooled
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 1 scallion, diced
- 1/2 cucumber, diced
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed & drained
- 3/4 cup feta
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp low fat mayonnaise mixed with 1/3 cup tzatziki
- salt, pepper
- 1 – 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 – 2 tsp thyme
- Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly to combine. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary
- Cover and chill for approx 1 hour before serving.
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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!
A 2012 resolution: blog often! Boyfriend & I have been insanely busy this fall, with conflicting work/rehearsal schedules, etc, but luckily things seem to be calming down this month and we can actually find time to cook together again. We received a lot of fabulous kitchen gadgets for Christmas, including, but not limited to, a pasta maker, a knife sharpener, and a marble guacamole bowl, so a lot of culinary inspiration is sure to come our way. Last year, we received a really gorgeous blue ceramic casserole dish that we certainly do not use enough. To pay homage to our previous Christmas together, we recently cooked a lasagna that would satisfy any vegetarian or meat-eater.
Lasagna is one of those things, like pizza, that is easy to customize. True, there are those divided lasagna pans that exist, but even without the fancy-schmancy products, one can easily create a vegetarian & meat eaters lasagna delight. Just be careful when you cut down the center!
One of my biggest pet peeves with lasagna is burnt pasta edges, so it’s really important to keep your eye on the lasagna once it goes in the oven. A bit of tinfoil never hurt either. The secret ingredient to lasagna texture and fluff-factor is a single egg. Before creating your layers, whisk an egg into your ricotta (and whatever else you put in- herbs, salt, etc). Boom. Perfect filling.
Like any lasagna recipe, ours is a bit of a melange. And it doesn’t contain jarred sauce.
Vegetables vs Meat Throwdown Lasagna
(serves 2 with leftovers, or up to 6)
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
Here’s a deep dark secret: I like the way meat smells when it is cooking. Especially when it is on the grill. And I’m willing to bet that I am not the only vegetarian who feels this way. There’s something about it that triggers the idea of summertime, and I immediately think of being a little kid at my grandparents’ summer home. Certain scents can take you back to the most specific of places.
However, as much as I may enjoy that smell, it’s not quite enough to make me dig into a hamburger, steak, or sausage. Luckily, the faux-meat world provides an array of products that promise to deliver a meat-esque smoky taste. I’m sure Boyfriend would argue that it’s just not the same, but if it’s nostalgia I’m after, then it certainly will do the trick. When it comes to veggie burgers, I prefer to make my own (here’s our recipe). There’s something more satisfying about a fat black bean burger than a thin sad Boca burger. However, there are some awesome products out there for faux-sausage. Sausage, in my veggie opinion, is a little sketchy to begin with, so there’s nothing wrong with taking random meatless ingredients and creating something akin to sausage that is pig-free. Add pasta, herbs, veggies, and fresh mozzarella and you end up with one awesome meal. Nostalgia included.
Spicy Penne With Sausage (Faux-Optional) & Fresh Mozzarella (serves 2)
Believe it or not, there are three simple ingredients needed for a perfect romantic evening in the kitchen, and none of them include wine or chocolate. All you need are flour, eggs, and water. (Maybe a dash of salt.) With these powers combined, you and your significant other can create the most delicious dish that you’ll be raving about for days. What am I talking about? Fresh pasta of course!
Now, there is nothing wrong with pasta from a box. I love pasta in a box. Boil the water, salt it over your shoulder, throw in the pasta, and you’re done! However, it’s important to jazz it up every once in a while. This is not a recipe for an everyday meal, nor should it be attempted more than once every few months, unless you happen to be dating Gordon Ramsay. This process is laborious, no doubt about it, but the reward is worth it. When Boyfriend and I created our fresh linguini, our kitchen was covered in strands of pasta, making our tiny little New England apartment look like the back room of an Italian trattoria. But there’s something romantic about working together in the kitchen as a team- one person kneading the dough, the other cutting it. And, in the end, when you can step back and realize you’ve created pasta by hand…well, that’s pretty awesome.
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Fresh Linguini-Shaped Pasta
Go to any Italian restaurant, and you are guaranteed to find a host of “parmesan” themed dishes: chicken parmesan, veal parmesan, etc. The vegetarian version is usually eggplant parmesan, but it just so happens that I am a vegetarian who is not a big fan of eggplant. Or mushrooms, for that matter. This often raises challenges in restaurants, especially restaurants that think they can just slather a thick sauce on a grilled slab of eggplant and call it a meal. Excuse me, it’s not.
During a conversation with the boyfriend, who was craving chicken parmesan for dinner, I posed the question: What about tofu parmesan? When cooked correctly, tofu can be just as thick and hearty as meat. As we already know from previous posts, I happen to be dating an omnivore who sure knows how to cook a damn good piece of tofu. So, we set out for a complicated cooking process with a multitude of pots, pans, and dishes. Yes, there’s a lot of washing and drying to do at the end, but it’s worth it – the result was an awesome classic dinner, with absolutely no traces of eggplant for me. (Recipe follows)
photo © connorgleasonphotography
It’s almost impossible to live in the Boston area and not be accosted by images of lobsters, regardless of the season. (But you have to say “lobstah” when in “Bahhstahhn”.) Even just a stroll past a tourist shop in downtown Boston would invoke images of fluffy red lobster toys and shot glasses with lobster claws reaching out at potential buyers. There are those who enjoy the process of eating a lobster, and those who would rather have the work done for them by eating a pasta dish with lobster in it. Then, of course, there are those that don’t enjoy eating lobster at all. Regardless of your lobster tolerance, this is a delicious pasta dinner that would probably appeal to almost anyone.
This recipe is inspired by one of Gordon Ramsay’s dishes. Ramsay, naturally, calls for the whole lobster production with boiling, cracking shells, etc. He even includes a note in his cookbook that warns readers not to mess with frozen meat. Anyone who has ever watched at least five minutes of any of Ramsay’s tv shows knows that he doesn’t exactly approve of frozen products, which is putting it lightly. Our version is a little rebellious, but just as delicious. Ultimately, the result was a fabulous dinner that didn’t even have any leftovers. I think that’s success, in home-kitchen standards! (Recipe follows.)
photo © connorgleasonphotography