Beginner’s cooking with Meg & Palmer: Tacos

I’d taken a break from my culinary escapades — I had a few bits of luck and some serious misses. But Palmer and I were feeling adventurous the other day and decided to make . . . homemade tacos! He’s a serious Mexican food fan, and I’m pretty fond of it myself. Plus Mom was busy, Kate was working on an essay and we were loose and fancy free. So off to Safeway we went!

Palmer makes a winning choice

img_4741Of course, my improvisational skills when cooking are pretty thin. Palmer’s much more of a seasoned chef than I am — though I would never give him the satisfaction of admitting that! — so I let him take the lead. He figured we needed onion, tomatoes, red peppers, fresh lettuce for a salad and an embellishment and, of course, the taco meat. We try to eat as lean as possible at my house, so we went with frozen ground turkey — two packages. That turned out to make a ton of meat, but more on that later!

Armed with our ingredients — we grabbed shredded cheese, salsa, sour cream and tortilla shells on our way out the door — we headed home. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how incredibly bossy I am as a whole, so I pretty much tried to commandeer the cooking of dinner . . . but I was unsuccessful. Right around the time that I realized I was in over my head trying to saute stuff together! I know, I’m lame. But I’m getting there . . . that’s why it’s still beginner’s cooking!

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 Yes, I was left mostly to chop — and even that I didn’t do terribly well. Palmer wanted a sharper knife, I found one and he took over my station! If this was “Hell’s Kitchen,” I would have demanded to be left on my own project. But hey, he was a much better chopper. So much better, in fact, that he took over the red pepper chopping as well.

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I made my peace with that . . . and moved on to moving things around in the hot pan. Palmer had added in our chopped onion and red peppers, along with some olive oil and the seeds of the pepper. I’m really afraid of popping oil, so it took every ounce of my trepid enthusiasm to stand there and not run away from the loud simmering noises. I guess if I’m going to be a culinary master, I’ll have to stop being so terrified of hot stuff! Eventually, maybe.

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And, at some point, I was put back on the chopping station . . . this time to cut up carrots for the salad that I hand-shredded. Yes, it was interesting! But I had a bigger knife now, so things went a little smoother. Don’t mind my evil expression:

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And then we just had to add in our meat! Palmer rinsed everything off and threw it in the skillet. I kept everything stirring to prevent any sort of burning, we put the finishing touches on our salad and set the table. And voila!

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This might be a classic “it tastes better than it looks” moment, because it was actually pretty delicious. I was proud that I managed to slice up some stuff, let Palmer direct me without pouting and had dinner ready early for the family. Another successful cooking adventure to help bolster up my limited confidence! I’m a much better baker, I think . . . and I made Christmas cupcakes last night. Another post to come!

Beginner’s cooking with Meg: Cottage cheese noodles

In the tradition of the mighty “pot luck,” we’re always looking for something quick, easy and delicious to take with us to parties. My mom’s been preparing a recipe courtesy of my grandmother for quite some time: Polish cottage cheese noodles! They’re easy, quick and hearty — and definitely a comfort food.

So, of course, we need to gather together our ingredients. I wandered into the kitchen on Sunday to see what my mother was up to before we left for my grandmother and cousin’s birthday party. Another successful venture for one of our favorite Polish dishes! All we need is bow-tie pasta, butter, one package of cottage cheese, pepper and minced onion.

So we boil up our pasta, which took about ten minutes or so. I think Mom actually used two boxes of noodles — making sure we had enough for the party and for home, if there are leftovers (there are always leftovers).

 

Ah, the lovely aroma of freshly cooked pasta!

After the pasta is cooked and drained, I put it all back in the pot in preparation of adding our final few ingredients. I popped three heaping spoonfuls of low-fat margarine, about three tablespoons of minced onion (I’m just eyeballing here), an entire package of cottage cheese (you can’t really have too much cheese), then sprinkled the entire casserole, at Mom’s suggestion, with black pepper. Voila!

Then the only tricky part is figuring out how to eat all of the delicious party food . . . and making sure the dish is still hot when you reach your destination. Check and check!

Monster biscuits return as… pancakes!

I gave myself some time to cool off a bit following a less-than-stellar cooking experience last week, but I think I’ve had enough time to recover. All the same, I wanted to take it slow . . . ease myself back into trying not to screw up dinner! I decided to make some cheddar biscuits that seemed to go over well last time — and they still turned out okay, though slightly cylindrical in shape!

Uh oh . . .

Uh oh . . .

I used the same Bisquick recipe as last time, courtesy of Kelly. They’re for cheddar garlic biscuits, made using low fat ingredients instead of the full-fledged good stuff. All I needed was heart healthy Bisquick (2 cups), 2/3 cup of skim milk, and a cup of shredded, low-fat cheddar cheese. I baked the biscuits for about ten minutes at 450 degrees, then made a butter spread (margarine, though) with some garlic powder sprinkled in. The spread was spread (ha!) on the warm biscuits after I pulled them out of the oven.

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Beginner’s cooking with Meg & Palmer: Chicken & vegetables

My boyfriend graciously offered to make dinner for my family the other night! And, since we’re all trying to eat better and Palmer is steadfastly improving his own diet, we had to go healthy.

I’m not embarrassed to admit Palmer is a much better cook than I am! We all know about my adventures (and extreme misadventures) in the kitchen. I was happy to lean back, relax and take some tips from someone else for a while. And hey, Palmer bought us a really nifty vegetable steamer! Which was a very nice complement to the chicken, sliced thin, he seared.

We had fresh green beans (steamed with the new gadget, served with just a little butter) and chicken with seared peppers and zucchini. I was getting a little nervous listening to all the sizzling and popping coming from the pan, but I’m told this is normal. I just have a little PTSD from the oil poppin’ incident of early October ’08.

But everything turned out great! Palmer carefully watched the meal and whizzed around the kitchen like a pro. I, of course, swooped in still in my work clothes toting my digital camera to document the process. He cooked whole wheat pasta to be served beneath the chicken and vegetables, and it tasted quite delicious. I wasn’t sold on the idea of whole wheat after last week, but I realize that — like everything — it’s all in how you prepare it. He added some butter and, I think, a little onion? Very good!

Delicious! Healthy, quick and easy. Though my parents aren’t big on the peppers and zucchini, they gamely went along with it! It’s definitely a nice, fresh alternative to eating leftovers — or the crazy stuff I concoct. But don’t worry, I’m getting back in the culinary ring very soon!

Not-so-successful cooking with Meg

Me, in happier cooking times!

So I have to admit, I got a little cocky. I poured through recipes online, skimmed my trusty Rachael Ray cookbook (and no, I definitely can’t make those meals in just thirty minutes!), chatted with my grandmother — the best cook I know — about all the little tricks I’ve picked up so far. My family must be snickering to themselves right now, because dinner last night was . . . interesting.

I’m feeling all grown-up and responsible, running from the office to the grocery store after work, picking up my little odds and ends for the culinary masterpiece I’m planning to make last night. I should have known to take a step back and not get all crazy yesterday — I’ve been feeling pretty out-of-sorts and frustrated lately, and the last thing I needed to do was burn dinner and cause four other people to starve.

But, of course, that’s pretty much what I did.

I decided I was going to make some sort of whole-wheat pasta with shrimp and vegetables. Okay, easy enough. Except I bought frozen vegetables and frozen shrimp and, hey, things need time to thaw! You would think this would have occurred to me. Sadly, it did not. So I’m rushing around, trying to get things to become unfrozen and suddenly taste delicious and, of course, that wasn’t how it turned out. And after leaving the olive oil heating too long and dropping in my chopped onion, I immediately caused a simmering mess that burned my onions to shreds upon contact, sent the whole thing popping and nearly sizzled my skin off. So the tears pop to my eyes as I realize this isn’t working out the way I’d planned, and I’m the one responsible for creating a meal here!

It was a surprising lot of pressure.

Everyone told me it was fine — whole-wheat pasta, garlic, sauteed onion, shrimp and broccoli — but I know it was mediocre. The only saving grace to my meal were the homemade cheddar biscuits I made — and those were just an afterthought. Kelly was kind enough to gather up her fastest, most delicious recipes for me at work yesterday, and I grabbed the heart-healthy Bisquick at the grocery store on a whim. Glad I did! Though I made them way too big (they were enormous!), they were good.

Better luck next time? It was such a mess, I really didn’t take any pictures! How do you like that? Me without my camera . . . scary. But I did get one of the cheese biscuits, still hot from the oven:

Monster biscuits!

Monster biscuits!

Beginner’s cooking with Meg: Mustard chicken

So last night was another culinary adventure — this time with a real recipe and everything! Dad got Rachael Ray’s 365: No Repeats cookbook pretty cheap and, after pouring through it for a little bit, much of it seems like something I’ll need a little more skill to attempt. But I did find this awesome recipe for chicken with mustard sauce! Since it didn’t require grilling, coring or baking, I figured I could give it a whirl.

My first stop was, of course, to the grocery store for my needed supplies. I even made a list and everything! How responsible of me! I went through the recipe on my lunch hour to figure out what we wouldn’t have in the pantry. This included onion, chicken broth, sour cream and fresh lemon. Grabbed that stuff and headed home.

Next up in my “thirty-minute meal” was to prep all my ingredients. I have to admit I had a little help from Dad on this part. The chicken breasts were huge so we cut them in half and trimmed off all the fat (we’re all on dietary restrictions around here; have to eat as healthy as possible.) I chopped up the onion, sliced the lemon in half (that was fun!) and dirtied way too many bowls. But I eventually got the chicken seasoned with thyme, lemon, salt and pepper. It was smelling pretty delicious already! Guess I was doing something right!

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Beginner’s cooking with Meg: Spaghetti & meat sauce

So in an effort to become more and more of an adult — and so my parents will begin to stop worrying that I’m going to starve once I move out of the house — I’ve slowly begun taking over small cooking responsibilities around dinnertime. Since I love spaghetti and it’s reasonably simple to throw together, that’s been my pet project lately . . . and tonight, things turned out well!

You know, it certainly wasn’t a masterpiece . . . but my basic cooking skills are improving! Tonight I figured out how to defrost ground turkey, whip together a tomato sauce with garlic, heated some green beans and stuck frozen biscuits in the oven. Again, not nearly a culinary treasure — but hot, filling and pretty tasty.

Once I leave my second job and and more “time” on my hands, I definitely want to get heavier into cooking. Like most people, I love food — and my parents are both tired of cooking after preparing 28 years of meals in a time crunch.

So here’s to jumping into the culinary world without any real idea what I’m doing . . . but armed with lots of Food Network knowledge. I can’t get enough “Good Eats”!

My culinary weapons!

The finished project