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Cook Once a Day

Meet my kitchen:

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It’s not actually used for many kitchen-y type activities. You know that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie said she uses her drawers to store clothing? Well, that would be me except I only have two drawers and kind of need them for my giant stashes of nuun, race fuel and granola bars.

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Other than offering plenty of storage for my race nutrition, my kitchen is also useful for helping me keep my mild obsession with running totally on the DL.

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As far as actual nutrition goes, my drawers are not the only thing that’s sadly lacking any real food. My (dorm-sized) refrigerator and full-sized freezer (unpictured in my entryway) contain nothing but beer, frozen veggie burgers and frozen produce (and more beer).

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Obviously the person who decided to install a larger freezer than refrigerator does not share my food and beverage priorities.

Another unique feature of my apartment’s kitchen is the lack of an oven. When I toured the apartment prior to moving in, I didn’t even notice that the space was missing what many would consider a critical appliance for a residence.

My landlord was all “so I know you are probably worried about the fact that there’s no oven.”

And I was all “what’s an oven? Let’s talk about a shoe rack for my Hokas. Did you know this building is only .9 miles from my favorite running trail?”

My landlord, who apparently thought I was joking when I told him I’ve used an oven exactly three times in my life, insisted on buying me a “countertop oven.” I was picturing a toaster, and given my bagel addiction, didn’t refuse his offer. He delivered an actual oven for my counter. It even came equipped with a rotisserie device. In case, you know, I decide to graduate from baking premade cookie dough to making rotisserie chicken in the next year.

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It’s probably not surprising, given the lack of healthy food (or any food at all) in my kitchen, that my daily diet is not the best. It tends to be heavy on things I can prepare in my toaster or microwave and light on whole food and nutrients.

Now that I’m not running for the foreseeable future and have some spare time on my hands, I need to do something productive to keep me from crying over nuun cocktails every night. When I was out with a broken foot last fall, I used my forced free time to take up pilates. When I started running again, there is no question that continuing to practice pilates on the reg kept me stronger, healthier and faster.

Well, with exactly no physical activities allowed while I’m recovering from the mystery rib injury, I can’t exercise the option of a new exercise. SO I’m doing the only other thing I can think of to help my return to running and racing.

I’m going to learn how to cook and up my nutrition game.

(Apologies in advance to the local fire departments and my upstairs neighbors).

In case you couldn’t tell based solely on my empty kitchen, cooking is not exactly my forte. It took me several years to learn how to boil an egg and it’s rare that I make something that is not heavily seasoned with burn.

But people assure me that not all hope is lost so my new (semi) running related goal is to conquer the kitchen while I’m sidelined from the pavement and the trails.

I was determined to start my cooking adventures last night so I found an easy, vegeterian recipe online and stocked up on fresh batteries for my fire alarm.

I then proceeded to get distracted by a happy hour after work and jeopardized night one of @emilycooks, but I left the bar dead-set on still getting some shit done in the kitchen.

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And then I got home, went to make the food, and realized that it’s impossible to actually cook things without measuring devices, mixing bowls and pots and pans and shit. Super annoying.

I know. I know. You’re all overwhelmingly impressed with my culinary prowess.

Today, take two. Starting with a trip to Target to equip myself to actually use my countertop oven.

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The recipe I chose to use for my entry into the culinary world is probably not one that many of you would even consider “cooking.” But let’s keep in mind that I currently consider preparing a plate of carrots and mustard “cooking.”

BABY STEPS, PEOPLE. Baby steps.

I wanted to make something vegetarian and healthy. And I wanted it to require less than 5 ingredients. During my initial google search for recipes, I kept finding dishes that sounded delicious but required entirely too many ingredients for my mini fridge and non-existent spice rack. So I started entering “5 ingredients” into my search terms and bam…the internet delivered. Fast, easy, recipes-on-training-wheels.

I’m embarrassed to tell you what I picked because it looks gross. But aesthetics aside, these babies sounded delicious.

So before I provide you with a visual to judge, let’s consider the ingredients: spinach, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, eggs, and salt.

Drooling yet? Me too.

Now that you’re all on board with the delicious, let’s move on so we can get to the judging.

The recipe:

Parmesan Spinach Cakes.

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I KNOW. Sounds (and looks) gross. But let’s revisit: SPINACH. CHEESE(S! PLURAL). GARLIC. EGGS.

And all I had to do was stir all of the above in a mixing bowl, spoon it into seasonal muffin wrappers and pop it into the “oven” for 20 minutes.

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Bam. Cooking. Julia fucking Childs.

So yeah, I know. Before Tom Collichio puts me on speed dial, I need to up my game a little. Maybe flirt with double digit ingredients, maybe add more than one vegetable, maybe make something that entails more than 45 seconds of preparation time. But just think, if I’m making what one wonderful friend described as “lawn scraps in a snowman cup,” imagine where I’ll be weeks from now. Top Chef Season 11. That’s where.

Okay peeps, if you have recipes you think I can handle after reading a novel of a blog post to describe a 5 minute experience in the kitchen, PLEASE, send them my way so I can spare you from additional photos of culinary creations that look more like lawn mulch than human food.

44 Responses to Cook Once a Day

  1. I completely love this post, because you’ve perfectly described my life (or lack thereof) in the kitchen. But carrots and mustard?!? (Granted, I used to eat baloney and ketchup…)

  2. HAHA I love this post. I think you need to invest in my newest BFF, the crockpot. Not only do you just throw a bunch of shit in and let it cook for hours, but they even make the nifty liner bags so you don’t even have to clean it!! I made this the other day…only 4 ingredients and was yumm! http://www.emilybites.com/2012/07/slow-cooker-buffalo-chicken.html

    • I completely second the crockpot idea; what a fantastic invention that is!

      • I love my crockpot too. One easy recipe I love is 3 ingredient potato soup. All you need is a package of frozen hash brown potatoes (the square kind works best), a box (or 3 cans) of chicken broth plus water if the soup looks too thick at the end, and one packet of white gravy mix. Add it all to the crockpot and cook it until the potatoes get tender. Easiest. Potato. Soup. Ever.

    • just wanted to second this (or maybe 4th this?), Crockpots are so awesome!! Especially during winter… is there anything you can’t make in one??

  3. Fellow injury sufferer!!! I was supposed to run the NYC marathon, and was running through an injury until it was cancelled and now haven’t been able to run a step since the 4th (Doctor’s orders). Love your plan! I am already a bit of a cook, so my version of simple may seem complicated. Not sure if you have a blender or an immersion blender either will work for this delicious recipe (also miso will lend you to all sorts of other delicious veggie recipes with a lot of flavor). http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/01/carrot-soup-with-miso-and-sesame/

  4. I like to say that microwave vegetables are proof that God never wanted me to learn how to cook.

    Here is my go-to:
    - brown rice, microwaveable – microwave it
    - tuna in olive oil – open tuna
    - put tuna and its olive oil into cooked brown rice
    - stir
    - put parmesan cheese on top
    - eat with salad or baby carrots = basically every food group besides chocolate is covered.

    BOOM. Dinner in 5 minutes.

  5. You are too funny! Do you have a stove top at all?
    I hardly ever use my oven, but crock pots are a wonderful invention.
    When I do use the oven, it’s typically to roast some veggies. Sweet potatoes, beets, squash. Throw some spices on em or some good old salt and peppa, serve with a side of rice and you got yourself a meal!

  6. You are speaking my language. I work long days and am usually STARVING when I get home. I love to make pasta with vegetables because you can just throw them in when the pasta is done cooking, and then add lots of cheese, ie:

    http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/05/asparagus-goat-cheese-and-lemon-pasta/
    http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/orzo-super-salad-recipe.html
    (I usually only use avocados and broccoli because I forget — still good!)

  7. I second the recommendation above for a slow cooker / crockpot.

    You can put the ingredients in in the morning, leave it on all day (on low), and come home to a home-cooked feast, My favourite recipe is a vegetarian chilli – you can freeze it into portions and bring it out for tacos, nachos, salads, with a spoon…

    Were the green cakes yum?

  8. As much as it may pain you to hear this, you and I have a lot in common. Did you know I have a cooking blog? I give that word “cooking” broad meaning. It is written for people like you and me who have way more interesting things to do that learn how to make something more complicated than toast or a bowl of cereal. There are 12 recipes on it…some are healthful and some are not. But if I can make them, anyone can. http://whats-in-it-xl.blogspot.com/

    I once started a decent sized kitchen fire making toast. Oh, and another making popcorn. I used to use the smoke detector like a kitchen timer. For real. Good luck :)

  9. Okay, I have a few really simple, hard to f* up recipes: (1) set mini oven to 400 degrees, while it is preheating, chop an assortment of your favorite root vegetables in to 1/2 inch chunks, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, then cook for about an hour. dip in hummus when done. (2) you need a sautee pan or wok for this: purchase an assortment of veggies (carrots, celery, onion, peppers, bok choy, etc.) chop, toss in hot pan with some sesame oil and soy sauce, sautee until tender. serve over rice (3) when all else fails, make an omelette. Good luck!

  10. You will NOT regret learning to prepare even just a few decent meals. Great idea to help you get through this crappy time.

    I second the other mention of roasting root vegetables. Here’s one of my favorites, it’s easy, doesn’t require tons of crazy ingredients, and you can make as much or as little as you want.
    Get a sweet potato, a couple carrots, (or a handful of baby carrots), a red onion, a can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans, you see them on the salad bar alot, also what hummus is made of), and a couple of little redskinned potatoes.
    Drain and rinse the chickpeas. cut the other veggies up in bite sizish pieces.
    Toss with a tablespoon of brown sugar, a little olive oil, and rosemary (i use dry rosemary, if you dont’ have any, no biggie, just skip it) salt, and pepper. Cook it 450deg for 30 or so minutes. basically long enough for the veggies to soften up a bit, and they’ll get a little brown.
    I’ve made this sound more complicated than it is. To simplify, cut the veggies into bite size pieces, open the chickpeas and drain off the juice, add oil, brownsugar, and seasoning, roast in oven. done.

  11. Definitely get a crock pot – soooo easy!! I even have an extra one that you can have if you want it!

  12. my go-to meal has been black bean soft tacos with cheese and guacamole lately….Buy la costena brand black beans – they come with pre-cooked with onions and peppers, and they’re delicious. That saves you tons of time chopping and simmering. Warm those, put them in tortillas, add cheese. Mash up half an avocado, add a little diced onion, salt, and lemon juice (and cilantro, etc. if you’re into that). Top tacos with guac, done. Delicious.

  13. Four ingredients, balanced meal, freaking delicious. Boom.

    1. Microwave a sweet potato. Or a regular potato. Cut it in half on a baking sheet or ovenproof tray.
    2. Drain a can of black beans and put them on the potato.
    3. Put some salsa on the black beans.
    4. Cover everything with cheese.
    5. Bake at 375 degrees until the cheese is melted and browned and the beans and salsa are hot, 10-20 minutes.

    Variations: Sub in some microwaved broccoli for the beans/salsa. Or put chili or black bean soup on top instead (homemade, take-out, canned, whatever). Or fry or scramble an egg to put on top.

  14. Paleo taco salad:
    1. Put a whole bunch of prewashed baby spinach in a big bowl.
    2. Heat a can of black beans in the microwave or on the stove and drain. (Are black beans paleo? No clue. If you’re a carnivore, browned meat is good too). Add chili powder or taco seasoning to taste. Put the beans on the spinach.
    3. Put a lot of guacamole on top (homemade, take-out, bought, whatever. Really easy homemade guac: 1 large ripe avocado, 1/2 minced jalapeno pepper, juice of 1 lime, mash together with fork).

    You can de-paleo this by adding a fifth ingredient, either shredded cheese or tortilla chips or some tortillas on the side.

  15. Got a Trader Joe’s? This is cheating, but awesome. Egg Foo Vindaloo:
    1. Open a package of Punjab Choley (precooked chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce, comes in an envelope, this would probably work with their other Indian Fare too). Heat in microwave. (Cover it, as it tends to spatter).
    2. Fry an egg and put on top. Delicious!

    Want to make it [slightly] fancier? Cook some rice to put it on. Put 2 cups water in a pan and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup rice (white or brown). Get it back to a boil, turn it waay down and cover. White rice simmers 20 min, brown rice 40 min. This makes enough for 2 hungry people, or leftovers.

  16. OK, last one. Take that leftover rice and make Fried Rice. My go-to late night snack:
    1. Heat a skillet, add 1-2 tbsp oil (canola, olive, sesame is good if you have it).
    2. Add about 1 c cut-up vegetables (straight from the freezer is fine).
    3. Stir them around on medium-high heat till they’re a little bit browned, but not on fire.
    4. Crack in an egg. Stir it around until it’s cooked and in little bitty bits.
    5. Dump in 1 cup or so of cooked rice. Stir till everything’s warm.
    6. Season with soy sauce or curry powder + salt.

    Yum! Made this last night. It ruled.

  17. Do you like quinoa? This recipe is really simple, and usually makes a few servings (yay, leftovers!).

    Simmer one cup of quinoa in two cups of water until all the water is absorbed – about 20 minutes.
    Add one can of black beans that have been rinsed and drained (or substitute lentils or whatever)
    Add one sliced avocado, one can of corn (rinsed), and some cherry tomatoes, or whatever other veggies you have on hand. Dress with olive oil and salt and pepper.

  18. My favorite easy dinner recipe;
    In some sort of baking dish (or cupcake pan!)
    Layer a can of black beans, a can of corn, a can of rotel with habaneros (all cans drained of liquid) top with shredded cheese and jiffy mix cornbread made per the directions on the box. Bake per cornbread instructions. Takes ten min to throw together, hardly any cleanup an its delicious.

  19. So those actually look really delicious… I might need to make those as an appetizer for the kind of fancy dinner that I never go to but always want to attend.

    I just posted a favorite recipe of mine that’s super easy to make if you have access to a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods: http://www.jensbestlife.com/2012/12/recipe-brussels-sprouts-quinoa-hash.html
    And it fits the healthy part of your goal, too :)

  20. Hahaha, I LOVE this post! “Julia Fuckin Childs” <— Hilarious!!!

    Yes, even though those things don't look very appetizing, they do sound good! Did they come out well? I'll try to think of some good easy recipes for ya!

  21. Welcome to my world! I don’t even have a toaster at home – I use the oven to “toast” my breads, bagels etc.

  22. You can do it, Em! I believe in you. A few of my favorite type of easy, cheap, healthy meals is of the black bean/rice/veggie version. Here’s a link to a few of them. http://justcallmesassy.blogspot.com/search?q=black+bean+rice+bowl

    Mainly, black bean burgers and rice and bean bowl. Easy – boil rice, add black beans, taco seasoning, add onion, bell pepper, any veg and topping that sounds good to you.

  23. Those spinach egg cups are great – you could even add some quinoa to the mix to get more good stuff. Also, remember you can make a few batches, freeze them, and nuke in the morn for easy, fast breakfast.

  24. first, sending healing vibes your way, emily…
    second, i am with the person who suggested you take up knitting – now THAT is a fun activity!! i have not turned on my oven in over a year, so i hear you on where you are with cooking/baking…anyway, give the knitting a try!!

  25. ready for this one?

    frozen spinach-defrosted and drained
    cooked quinoa
    cheddar cheese
    (chicken optional)

    mix together, bake until cheese melts.
    BOOM- delicious

  26. Seamless Web. BOOM. Dinner is served.

  27. I’ll swap recipes for running tips!!! http://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/food/recipes/spicy-roasted-roots try this one mixed with cous cous and some feta… yum!

  28. Pasta with Arugula and Gorgonzola. Four ingredients, tastes gourmet. This is pretty amazing stuff. The arugula is nice an peppery, the cheese is salty and funky, and it’s outrageously easy to assemble.

    For each serving:
    1. Cook 1/4 lb pasta (boil a big pot of water, add the pasta, boil it stirring occasionally for the amount of time the package says.
    2. In a separate medium sized pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter.
    3. Stir in 4 ounces of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and stir till smooth and melted.
    4. Add two big handfuls of washed arugula, torn into salad-sized pieces. Stir till it’s wilted (just a minute or two.
    5. Drain your pasta and toss it with the cheese-arugula goodness.

  29. ENOUGH ALREADY> GOOD GOD Emily. This weekend you are coming to Virginia and I am teaching you a thing or two in my kitchen. This post is utterly embarrassing seeing as I am your friend. (even tho I shutter to say that in a public forum)
    Sunday — My apartment, the hubs will get the champagne and YOU will make a 3 course meal. DONE.

  30. Here you go…take 1 block of extra firm tofu drained and sliced into 12 skinny pieces. Cook in non-stick skillet with 2 tbpn butter heated until it starts to brown until golden. Flip. Cook second side until brown. Add 2 tbsp soy sauce and 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or lemon juice. Serve over salad or brown rice that you buy from Chinese food takeout places. 15 minutes max.

    Couldn’t help noticing the Southern Tier Chrismas beer in the fridge….if you’re not going to have me over to try it, can you at least pass along a review? Pumking was pretty much the worst beer I’ve ever tried.

  31. Since you already have a muffin pan – put it to good use with these pizza bites!
    http://lickthebowlgood.blogspot.com/2010/07/annoying-habits.html

    And for the best soup ever!!! It’ll take a half hour and will feed you for a couple of days!
    Try this Green Chile Chicken Chili! http://www.cookingincrazytown.com/2012/11/green-chile-chicken-chowder.html

  32. I resisted cooking for a long time, until I woke up to a note from my new boyfriend in which he said “Rice Crispie Squares for breakfast?!” My New Year’s Resolution was to stop being the kind of person who buys all her groceries at the drugstore. I took a basic cooking course with some friends and it was a lot of fun.

    Here’s a simple recipe I make regularly for Mediterranean-style roasted vegetables. The instructions might make it sound like a fair bit of work, but it’s not really. Basically, you just clean some veggies, chop them into big pieces, toss them in some oil (and later add some vinegar), and bake them covered in tinfoil.

    Equipment needed: large baking pan (like what you’d use for a big batch of brownies; you can get tinfoil ones cheap if you want); knife; tinfoil; large wooden spoon.

    Ingredients: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, 3-6 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic), large red onion, Herbes de Provence (a great, versatile mix of dried herbs – if you can’t find it, use rosemary, oregano and basil); and 3-6 types of vegetables (most should be firm) that you like. I use potatoes, carrots, fennel, bell peppers (get different colours), eggplant, large mushrooms and tomatoes. Also good with zucchini, squash, yams, and maybe cauliflower. Amounts are up to you, but to fill a large, rectangular baking dish I’d probably use 3 medium potatoes, 1 large carrot, 1 bulb of fennel, 2 bell peppers (cored and seeded), 6 large mushrooms, half a medium eggplant, 2 tomatoes and 1 medium red onion.

    1. Turn the oven on to about 400 degrees.

    2. Wash your vegetables (except mushrooms, which should be wiped with a damp cloth or cleaned with a brush). Core and seed the peppers. Remove the outer skin of the onion. Cut the fronds off the fennel if you’re using fennel. Cut the veggies into large chunks (e.g., 1/2 inch wide slices of carrot, 2″ pieces of pepper, cut medium potatoes in 1/4s etc.). Peel and chop finely the garlic.

    3. Microwave the potatoes, fennel and carrots altogether for about 45 seconds in total. (To reduce cooking time.)

    4. Put the vegetables, including the garlic and onions, into the baking dish. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of Herbes de Provence, and toss the vegetables in the oil and herbs.

    5. Cover the dish with tinfoil and pop it into the oven. Take it out about every 15 minutes, take the tinfoil off and stir the veggies, so they don’t get stuck to the bottom of the dish. At the 30 minute mark, add about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and stir it into the vegetables. Recover the dish with tinfoil and cook for another 15 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.

  33. I actually love to cook, but don’t always have a lot of time to do it during the week. Finding vegetarian convenience food that isn’t pizza or a $14 dollar salad can be tough even in NYC, so I often make my own rice bowls. They are insanely easy and a great way to get rid of any leftovers from your other cooking adventures. Sometimes I can’t even be bothered to actually cook rice and I’ll microwave one of the frozen bags. My latest favorite combination has been: brown rice, sauteed or steamed kale, sweet potato, green beans, and chickpeas. Seriously though, I basically just throw in whatever veggies or beans I have in the fridge. Sometimes I’ll mix it with a tahini sauce (tahini, garlic, lemon, black pepper, and some water to thin it out), or I’ll just toss it with some soy sauce and sriracha.

  34. You should check out Tim Ferriss’ new book, The Four Hour Chef. I’ve enjoyed his previous two books, and this one is about cooking but ALSO how to apply the lessons of cooking to general learning. I haven’t read it yet so can’t provide a full endorsement but I’m pretty psyched to try it!

  35. This requires like 7 or something ingredients, but it’s my go-to for eggplant parm.

    http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/eatingwells_eggplant_parmesan.html

    Recommend Moosewood cookbooks or any of Mollie Katzen’s. They are a staple for cooking vegetarian stuff.

  36. Go get a crockpot-you will be addicted. You can put a whole chicken in it, throw in some seasoning and wait a few hours for it to be done. I think mine was $25-or $30 and it has an autoswitch to warm once the cook time is done.

    You can even make sangria in it!This is one of my fav crockpot blogs. http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

  37. Try Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals. He saved my (culinary) life and I can invite people round for dinner which isn’t bagged salad and canned tune :) SCORE!

  38. i think everything i like to make will be too complicated. :( i love to cook. so sorry about the injury! hoping you heal soon. BUT, did want to ditto the crockpot idea. MUCH easier. dump everything in the pot, turn on, come back in 4-8 hours and dinner is served. I have plenty of recipes for that.

  39. It’s great to see your running nature come out in your cooking. You don’t seem competitive at all ;) Thanks for the recipe share, I’ll definitely have to try this one. I also spotted your 2XMAS… had it on tap on Friday and LOVED IT. I tried a Left Hand Brewing Company “Nitro Milk Stout” last night, it’s one of my new favorites and it would look pretty sweet in one of those nuun pint glasses. (Sorry, that probably not the healthy eating suggestions you were looking for.)

  40. Impressive stockpile of beers. Another great way to get those carbs down! On the topic, ive had a real taste for the Belgian Blues lately (namely Chimay and Gouden Carolus: Cuvee van de Kaiser.
    Also impressive that you can do so much in so little in terms of kitchen! I do not think I could live without a proper oven.
    And Robyn’s baked potato surprise is one of my favorite “post-run feeling lazy but need carbs and melt cheese” meals! I like to throw some avocado on top too!

  41. [...] First of all, that whole cooking goal… [...]

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