Lasagna to Spaghetti: My Descent into Cooking

Ok, so obviously I’ve missed the last couple of weeks, blogging-wise, and I’m going to talk about that at the end of this post. But first: some cooking adventures.

As you may have deduced, I don’t really cook. I’ve toyed with the idea before, and I even know how to make some stuff, but until now, I’ve been hampered by a mixture of laziness and the fact that handling raw meat/fish/poultry kind of freaks me out. Recently, though, I got it into my head that I would like to make lasagna, so it was off to… Google, to find a recipe.

I think I searched something like “easy lasagna”–you know, being realistic about my skill level. That turned up this recipe. I also decided to make my own tomato sauce (recipe here–I added and changed some stuff, but it’s probably fine as is). And in no time at all, I was making classic mistakes like deciding to cut the recipe in half, but neglecting to measure the pan, so that my proportions were doomed to be way off.

IMG_6028

Still looks pretty, though.

The next thing I forgot to do was add the middle layer of noodles. And when the lasagna came out of the oven, it was watery enough that I quickly labeled it as being more like glorified tomato sauce. I even made some spaghetti noodles, expecting to have to add more pasta to fix the ratio. But what I failed to account for was that lasagna firms up in the fridge, so the spaghetti proved unnecessary–the lasagna was fine. Good, actually.

That having been said, making the spaghetti noodles was so much easier that I decided to head straight for that next time. And something strange happened. As I boiled the noodles and tended the ground turkey for the sauce (cooking two things at once, for the *challenge*), I found myself  kind of enjoying it. There was something satisfying about going from stirring the noodles to checking on the turkey and back again. And there was definitely something splendid about not having to worry about what I ate for several meals afterwards.

Less satisfying: doing that chef thing where you add roughly “that much looks right” of an ingredient to a dish. I know my mom does that, but for some reason I find it vaguely horrifying when I catch myself doing the same thing. I’m not sure exactly why. Recipes are there for a reason, maybe? I may have promised myself that I would *never, ever* guesstimate like that? Or maybe it’s just because it’s something that “people who know how to cook” do, and I don’t see myself as belonging to that group. Maybe someday, though. And that’s probably a good thing.

Overall verdict on both spaghetti and lasagna: easy enough, at least with the recipes I used. Between the two of them, though, I’d definitely go for spaghetti first, and more often–it’s less trouble, and less cheesy, which works for me.

Overall verdict on actually cooking homemade meals: it’s kind of worth it. Gasp.

Overall verdict on whether this could continue to be a thing: Maybe? I’m at least less scared of raw things now. And as far as laziness vs. love of food goes… it’s a toss up. On the other hand, the more I blog about this, the more I could go for some spaghetti. I may have missed lunch.

Anyway, now that I’ve talked about the cooking: the blog situation. Long story short: I think I’d like to take a break. Sort of a summer vacation. I may drop in sometimes, but I’m not going to guarantee it, and it may not always be on Mondays. The weekly schedule has been good for me, for the most part, but right now I could use some time to rest, refresh my brain, and whatnot. There are still some posts I’d like to do, though, so hopefully I’ll be back for those.

In the meantime: have a splendid summer! And thank you, as ever, for reading along. Hopefully I’ll see you back here in the fall. Or sooner, since my brain, like a cat, is sometimes a bit unpredictable about what it wants to do. But either way: a happy Monday to you all, and… um… here’s this picture of spaghetti.

Mmmm, spaghetti.

That’s right: just the noodles. What? I don’t think I took any pictures of the actual dish. I just ate it.

And with that, I’m off to get lunch!

Japanese Food to Go (Sacramento)

I was in Sacramento again this past week, and even though I was pretty exhausted, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try a Japanese bakery and a ramen shop that I’d read about on Yelp. (Ah, Yelp. That’s a whole other post.) These are the places I tried:

  • Mahoroba Japanese Bakery (couldn’t find a website, but again: Yelp)
  • Ryujin Ramen House

The bakery was adorable. I got there after 11:00, I think, and there was still a good selection, so I got to try all the things I’d been reading about online. It’s funny, when I lived in Japan, I remember being frustrated by how light everything was. Not to say it wasn’t delicious (obviously I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to obtain Japanese baked goods if I didn’t like them), but sometimes I just wanted a dense chocolate cake or a brownie. So I don’t know, there’s something fitting about taking the time to track down a Japanese bakery now that I’m back in California. Plus, trying new food is always fun, right? It was this time, at least.

My lunch stop that day was Ryujin. Ramen is one of those things that I’ve never been able to finish in one sitting, so getting it to go was a pretty solid option there. And a couple of things stood out with that experience: first of all, the ramen broth was delicious. (I also liked the gyoza, but the ramen broth edged it out slightly as my favorite thing in the order.) Second, the way they packaged the ingredients was phenomenal. You can see in the picture that the noodles and other components were separate from the broth, so nothing got soggy on my trip home. It was a subtly brilliant thing that I wasn’t expecting.

So anyway, that was my outing last week. Next up: tea, food, and/or books, I’m thinking. But we’ll see. In the meantime, I hope you’re all having a wonderful day, and I’ll be back for another post (hopefully) next Monday.

A Rainy Sunday Afternoon in Napa

Yesterday was one of those days when I just wanted to get out of town for a while. So I headed off to Napa for some food, some more food, and then, to mix things up, some more food.

The good news: I’m not much into wine, so the rain didn’t get in the way of any wine-tasting plans. Places where I stopped:

  • Oxbow Public Market
  • Bel Aire Plaza

Oxbow was surprisingly crowded for such a damp day, but I found myself enjoying it. The close-packed people, the rain falling outside: it was all wonderful. I snagged an ahi burger at Gott’s, and then, since finding seating at Oxbow is often a bit of a challenge, I ate in my car before heading off to Bel Aire Plaza, which was quieter.

Napa is pricey, so that’s something to keep in mind. (One reason why I can’t be going out there all the time.) But for yesterday, it was nice to have a treat. And both Oxbow and Bel Aire are relatively friendly stops for rainy weather. Oxbow is mostly indoors, except for places like Gott’s, so once you get to the main building, you could theoretically stay there for a while. Bel Aire you might want to bring an umbrella to, if you’re planning to walk to the different stores. But (unless you feel a need to seek out dirt) you’ll basically be walking on sidewalks and concrete when you’re outside. That’s great for me, because honestly, I’m not that fond of walking on dirt or grass or nature-stuff in sunny weather. In wet weather: sidewalks, please.

With that, I hope you all managed to stay dry this weekend! And, as ever, that you’re having a wonderful Monday.

Random Breakfast Burrito

It’s Wednesday! I’m actually posting on a Wednesday!

And I’m cooking. Today is just all kinds of special.

So anyway, I was at the supermarket last night, looking for pre-made meals (as you do), when I thought, “There are probably a lot of things in that breakfast burrito that I don’t like. I could eat around them. Or I could make my own breakfast burrito. I’ve made scrambled eggs before. It can’t be that hard.”

And so it began.

Milling randomly through the supermarket, here are the things I ended up with:

  • Tortillas. Because that’s kind of important.
  • Cheese. I got the Mexican 4-cheese kind, because I wasn’t planning on adding a lot of spices, so I figured I could use the extra kick.
  • Sliced baby bella mushrooms. Because come on, like I was going to slice those things myself.
  • A red potato. After some hasty research on my phone, this seemed to be the right kind.
  • Chives. To be completely honest with you here, I’m not 100% sure what chives are, or what they’re supposed to do. But I’ve heard/read them mentioned in restaurants before, and I’m pretty sure they have to do with omelet-type things (sometimes, at least), and I’m also pretty sure I like them. Also sour cream and chives, right? That’s a thing.

Other ingredients I turned out to have at home, which was probably for the best:

  • Eggs. I already knew I had these, but it was still good that I was right.
  • Olives
  • Rosemary olive oil

And here’s how my cooking procedure went:

  • Take picture for blog. (Ok, that may not be a mandatory cooking step.)
  • Wash things, and then chop everything up. (See, I did end up slicing things!)
  • Lightly oil the skillet (pan?), probably for no reason since it was already non-stick.
  • Put some olive oil in the skillet/pan, and briefly cook the mushrooms in it. But forget about the potatoes until later, because who needs cooked potatoes?
  • Throw two eggs in. Realize you don’t have a spatula.
  • Improvise until you can find a spatula.
  • Throw in the rest of the ingredients, except for the chives. The container says to save those for the end.
  • Realize that you don’t have enough eggs. Add another egg. (I may have done that slightly earlier. I can’t remember.)
  • Realize that the potatoes are going to be undercooked. And also that your egg-to-other-stuff ratio is still off. And also that you probably need a bigger pan.
  • Debate fixing these things. Decide to just fix it next time. Add the chives as a sign that you’re committing to being done.
  • Realize you didn’t add the cheese. Sprinkle that on the tortilla before adding the omelet-type mix.
  • Eat!

All in all, this probably took me about 30-45 minutes. I wash my hands a lot when I cook, so that was part of it. And also, as you may be able to tell, I had no plan, so I just kind of pinwheeled my way through things. That having been said, the burrito wasn’t bad. A little bland, but I was going for something kind of basic, so it worked. The only real problem was that I ate it too fast, and the potatoes were (as noted) rather undercooked (hardly cooked at all, really), so I felt a little unwell right after eating it. But if it makes sense, it wasn’t an unclean, oily kind of unwell. It was a “you probably ate too fast and also undercooked your potatoes” kind of unwell.

I have 9 more tortillas, so I’m probably going to try this again, but I don’t know that I’ll document it. I suspect that all breakfast burritos look very similar, and the cooking process can’t be that different, either. Maybe more streamlined, and hopefully more competent, but not fundamentally different. Mishaps aside, though, I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out–it wasn’t bad for a first attempt. And I definitely learned some things (chives smell wonderful; also I probably need more spices; also, as I may have mentioned, I need to cook those potatoes better).

So anyway, this was my Wednesday morning. Hope yours is going well!

My Ideal Subscription Box

Box of StuffI love the idea of subscription boxes. A few years back, I actually did a similar thing–a reading year from Mr. B’s–and really enjoyed it. I don’t remember seeing anything else like it, at the time, but now there are things like OwlCrate and Uppercase and all kinds of ways to get monthly books picked out and delivered to your doorstep.

So I spent last night looking at book subscriptions. And I loved the pictures of all the different boxes. But I also knew, looking at the extra items in each box, that beyond the initial “neat!” factor, I wouldn’t use a lot of it. And then it would sit on my shelf, and collect dust, and I wouldn’t be able to throw it away, because I’m a pack rat.

That’s not a criticism of these boxes; my personal pack-rat tendencies aside, they’re still really tempting, so I may decide to try one of them out in the future. (And by the way, if you’d like to read a review of both Uppercase and OwlCrate, there’s a good one here.) For now, though, I just couldn’t click “subscribe.” So instead, I decided to try designing my own ideal subscription box, with what I consider to be the staples: a book, a bookmark, tea (because always tea), and a snack.

All these things have been road-tested by me, which is how I know I like them. That isn’t to say they’re product recommendations, or anything–they’re more like December MVPs, things that I would put in a book-based survival kit for myself, if I could go back to the beginning of last month and leave a box on the doorstep for Past Me. The contents:

  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a reread, but a fun reread). It was that or a Regency novel by Georgette Heyer, but since I own Cinder and am only borrowing the Heyer book, I went with Cinder. If you’re looking to do a themed collection, though (which I’m not), a Regency novel would probably fit better with the remaining choices.
  • The bookmark I made a little while back. It’s working great so far, but because my book-reading ways are whimsical, I’m not using this bookmark for a library book, as I’d originally intended. Instead, it’s keeping me company as I reread Cinder. Another reason to choose Cinder for this box, I guess.
  • Yorkshire Gold tea, from Taylors of Harrogate. I got this during a big tea sale, and it quickly became my go-to morning tea. Only now it’s almost gone, so again: time travel.
  • Nonni’s Cioccolati Biscotti. It’s kind of a throwback to my childhood, but I still really like the balance of the flavors in this biscotti. Added benefit: it’s also great dipped in milk. So great, in fact, that these are actually all gone now–the box in the picture is empty (sigh), so this would be another time-travel staple.

It’s still not the same, of course–for me, one of the biggest draws of a subscription box is the surprise, which you can’t really replicate if you buy these things yourself. (Also, as I understand it, some of these boxes come with exclusives, so if you’re into those, there’s kind of no substitute.) But–I don’t know, I guess this activity is less about getting new things, and more about appreciating what I have, as clichĂ© as that sounds. I already had all these items, so all I had to do was put them in a box and enjoy the fanciness. No extra money needed. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, that’s definitely appreciated. A great way to remember that while I may not be a millionaire, I have more than I think, and I like a lot of it.

With that, off to the rest of my Monday. Hope yours is going well so far!

ETA: There are apparently a few subscription boxes that do books and tea (links here, here, and here), but I haven’t had a chance to look into any of these in depth, so I can’t make any recommendations. All I have to say is that I think books and tea are a stellar combination, so I already like the idea.

Angel Food Cake Tasting Spree

I love food. I can go on an incredible vacation, see beautiful things and have experiences I’ll remember for years, and what will I talk about when I come back?

It was an amazing eclair.

It was an amazing eclair.

That doesn’t mean I have a varied diet, though. Instead, I often go on stints where all I want is one particular food item. (And I’m definitely not a gourmet. Not to say I don’t love high quality food, but sometimes what I really crave is Oreos.) I’ll plan shopping trips because of it, try it in various iterations, and basically eat as much of it as I can get away with for a week or so before moving on to something else.

Most recently, that item was angel food cake.

Before I talk about my favorite angel food cake, a quick word: I have Crohn’s. It’s not something I was planning to bring up on this blog, but it’s tough to explain why I like certain things without touching on the fact that I have some dietary restrictions. My system *hates* fiber, for instance. It isn’t too crazy about dairy, either. It’s given me mixed signals for gluten; I’ve tried going gluten-free, and I’m not convinced that it helped, or helped enough to make the sacrifice worthwhile. Still, some of my beloved baked goods pack an unpleasant punch, which is what made me pick up my first angel food cake sample. I wanted:

  • Emphasis on the “cake” part of the name.
  • Something lighter, that wouldn’t hit my system as hard as a full-on cake or cupcake.

When I found that angel food didn’t seem to bother my stomach unduly, and that it satisfied my craving for… well, cake, the spree was on. I tried five specimens, including mini cakes and a loaf, from 4 supermarkets. Mostly I compared by slight overlap, with the survivor in each round squaring off against the next contender. I’m not going to go down the list in its entirety, though, because I’d much rather focus on the goodness that is my winner.

Angel Food CakeI love pretty much everything about this cake except that it doesn’t come in individual portion sizes, meaning I have to rely on self-discipline to stop me from eating embarrassingly large percentages of it at a time. Also, the pricing is a bit high; at $5.99 for one of these, it’s the most expensive sample in the group.

But it’s moist, smooth, and has a really clean taste; I wasn’t surprised to see that the ingredients looked quite basic compared to a couple of the other labels. Maybe the constituent ingredients just aren’t broken down as comprehensively, but that basic feeling tastes true. *And* it has 0 grams of fiber. Meaning technically two slices of bread have more fiber than this whole cake. Just saying.

My runner up wasn’t as forthcoming about its fiber content, but it was still pretty good.

Angel Food LoafThat’s right. WinCo. And if you can see that price tag–sorry, the photo’s a bit blurry–it’s $1.98 for 11 oz. (No amount of squinting will help you see the weight–it’s printed on the lower part of the label, out of frame.) That’s the same weight as my Whole Foods cake.

The ingredient list on the WinCo version looks more complex; the taste isn’t as basic, and the texture isn’t as smooth. But between these two denser, cakier angel foods, it seems like a matter of personal preference–or perhaps what companion you’re planning to pair the cake with. The Whole Foods one is so good that I like to savor it all by itself, but I can see where the WinCo one would be lovely with ice cream and strawberries. Something about the texture; it puts me in mind of shortcake. And if denser angel food isn’t your preference, I saw rounds and mini cakes at WinCo as well. I suspect those might be lighter than the loaf.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t believe I’ll be testing those any time soon, because I sense that the (current) angel food cake era is coming to an end. I might check in next Wednesday with another food type post. I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see where the week and the grocery store aisles take me.

I may be a little distracted.

It was delicious.

It was delicious.

Sorry about the smudging. As noted, I’m a little distracted. I have story on my mind, which would be excellent if it were the story I’m supposed to be working on, but when is that *ever* what happens?

I do hope to have another post up early next week, either Monday or Tuesday, but we’ll see how that pans out. Busy weekend ahead, etc. And you know, smoked cat. I mean fish.