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On the Menu

March 21, 2011

I’ve been wanting to incorporate more food writing here for a while, so I’m going to try and introduce a weekly(ish) column about what I’m cooking each week. I’ve found that not a whole lot of people my age enjoy cooking for themselves, or they come up with a bunch of excuses of why they shouldn’t put any effort into it. One of the saddest reasons is people don’t think it’s worth the bother to make a nice meal when it’s just themselves, so they subsist on pasta, cereal, and eggs. Or, they think it’s too difficult or too expensive. I’ve wanted to combat these ideas ever since I started cooking on my own (and have toyed with the idea of writing a cookbook about it), so I figured why not start proving these concepts wrong here?

I get bored if I don’t have variety, so I focus on making meals with different ingredients and from different cuisines. I do have some cooking skillz, but most of them end up taking very little effort. And they definitely don’t cost much. I have what I’ve discovered is a small weekly groceries budget of around $40 a week. (If I went out for my meals, this would only last me two days.) I eat a small lunch, full dinner, and one or two snacks a day, so that ends up being about $2 a meal. So, to get all motivational-speaker-y on you, if I can do it, so can you. There are no excuses to rely on boring meals!

(A couple of notes: First, I apologize in advance for not taking the effort to take food-porn quality photographs.  Second, I rarely ever make an exact recipe. I almost always toy with it enough to make it something different or come up with an idea and pull ingredients and methods from a number of similar recipes. If I do cook an exact recipe, or if I think it’s similar enough to the original, I’ll link to the site or credit the book I got it from. Because of this, I hardly ever use exact measurements. It’s all a proportional thing. Okay, end of disclaimer, on to the recipes.)

This week, I saw that the weather was finally warming up, so I wanted to celebrate with a couple of meals that had a lot of color and classic Spring flavors. First up, what I’ll call Primavera Ricotta Pasta.

You’ll need:

Cherry tomatoes





Pasta (I used egg noodles because that’s what I had on hand, but I think it would be better with penné or cavatappi.)

Seasonings: garlic, salt and pepper, herbs de provence

Boil the water for the pasta. Once the pasta is cooking, heat up some cooking oil in a pan. Once hot, toss in the onions and garlic. When the onions have softened, add the chopped mushrooms. Let cook for about five minutes or so, until the mushrooms are softened. Then, add the spinach a little bit at a time until each batch has wilted. Toss the tomatoes in right at the end, so they only cook for about a minute. You don’t want them to get smooshy. (That’s the technical culinary term.)

As your veggies are cooking, put a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta in a small bowl. Season it with salt, pepper, and the herbs and stir. (When I make this again later this week, I won’t have any more tomatoes, so I’m going to try and make up for the flavor by mixing pesto into the ricotta instead.) Hold the bowl over the steam of the pan of veggies while stirring. This will make the cheese softer and smoother, making it easier to toss with the pasta as a sauce, rather than ending up in clumps around your plate.

Once the pasta is done cooking, strain it and put it into your bowl. Stir in the ricotta sauce. Fully incorporating the sauce will be the most difficult part of this meal. Then, top with the veggies.

Next was Chicken Pesto Pitas.

You’ll need:






Cut the chicken breast into pieces and cook in oil in a small pan until cooked through. Meanwhile, cook corn according to instructions. Once both ingredients are cooked, put them in a small bowl and add a few spoonfuls of pesto and stir until full mixed.

Cut open a pita and line it with spinach. Stuff with chicken and corn mixture. That’s it! The great thing about this recipe is that you can have a lot of fun with it and try out a bunch of different ingredients, depending on your tastes. Cherry tomatoes, red onion, avocado, or peppers could all be great in here too.

Finally, Curried Coconut Soup.

You’ll need:

Red bell pepper


Canned diced tomatoes


1 can chicken or vegetable broth

1 can coconut milk


Seasonings: garlic, salt and pepper, cumin, turmeric, curry powder

In a medium pot, heat cooking oil. Add the onion and pepper and cook until softened. Season with garlic, cumin, turmeric, and curry powder. Stir often.

Add the broth and tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about thirty minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the coconut milk and cilantro. Simmer for a few more minutes, then gradually add the spinach, letting each batch wilt before adding more. Stir. Taste and add any more of the seasonings to taste.

This filled me up as is, but if you wanted to make it heartier, you could easily add chicken or any kind of white fish to it. Cook the meat in the first step, before you add the broth.

I love the colors in that soup! I’ll also be making cous cous with the tomatoes, spinach, and onion sauté I used throughout the week, but I figured you don’t really need a picture or recipe for that.

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