Meat-Free Cookout

Burgers: an All-American classic. I had been craving a Shake Shack burger since I returned to the city in January, but I had fought the craving because I’m on a semi-pageant diet so I can fit into my gown when I give up my crown next month. I no longer had to fight the craving thanks to week’s recipes, though. Notice recipeS because this week was a whole meal!! I was finally going to satisfy my burger craving with Portobello Burgers with Green Sauce and Smoke Mozzarella. Now, as one can tell be the title of this post, there was no meat in this burger…the burger itself was a portobello mushroom cap. The side dish to the entree was a Spinach Artichoke Pasta Salad. I must not be a true American because I had never had any sort of pasta salad before. Tonight was a night of firsts.

I split this adventure up into two days. For those of you who follow my blog, you know I usually cook on Sunday’s. But after going out four nights in a row this past weekend I needed a recovery day… I was beat. So, yesterday on a very rainy Tuesday, I decided to pick up my ingredients. I left my dorm around 3:15 and headed down to Trader Joe’s. Wow, it was like a completely different store than it usually is. I had never seen the place so deserted or so stocked with food. What made my trip even better was that I was able to pick up all but four of the ingredients. Trader Joe’s…my faith has been restored in you. Also shout out to the guy that told my I had the cheeriest face he had seen all day (:

I finished my shopping at Fairway, and it made me so glad that I had gone to Trader Joe’s first. I only bought four items at Fairway and it was $15!!! My bill at Trader Joe’s was like $35 and I got a ton of food. Bye, bye money….but the money is going towards a good cause: my hungry stomach.

That was the end of adventure part one, so lets fast forward to today: Wednesday. Wednesday’s are my least favorite day of the week because I have class from 9-6. The only thing that got me through today was knowing that I would be cooking tonight. While I was waiting for Nicolette to come over, I thought I’d get all the food out and *attempt* to open all the jars. To my amazement, I actually had the strength to open the olives and capers…even though I got caper juice all over me. Yuck.

Nicolette came to my place at 7:30 and we got cooking. As always, we start out by chopping everything that needs chopped. I gave Nicolette the onion (because I’m evil and didn’t want to cry) and I got punished because chopping the olives burned my hands. Why? I have no clue. I guess karma. Also, chopping artichoke hearts was not my cup of tea.

Once we got past all the chopping, it was time to move to the stove. Nicolette was on pasta duty, and I took care of the mushrooms. We thought we were doing a pretty good job…but soon enough the kitchen filled with smoke. Surely the fire alarm went off, right? WRONG! My room mate has a little fan in our room so we quickly grabbed that to get some circulation in the kitchen. I know, we’re smarties.

I had to add balsamic vinegar to the mushrooms to give them a nice little glaze, and DAMN the balsamic burned my eyes. Karma number 2 for me since I made Nicolette chop the onion.Thankfully, they continued to cook nicely so I went on to make the sauce.

We made the sauce in my food processor. Now, let me tell you about my ratchet food processor. I received a gift card to Kohl’s when I moved to college. I had always wanted a food processor and I found one that was small and perfect for the dorm, not to mention it was red so it matched with the kitchen perfectly. Well, it arrived and I excitedly unpacked it. The top had to lock into place before it would turn on. I locked it into place, turned it on, and nothing happened. The part that was supposed to push a button down to lock it was not properly manufactured so I went through this long process to exchange it for another one. So, my new one comes in a week later and the same freaking thing happened. I was not about to deal with sending it back again so I made do. I cut a piece of cardboard from the box it came in, shoved it into the button and taped it down. Now it works fine, but it is ratchet as hell.

The last thing we put together was the pasta salad. The pasta took forever too cook on my little stove burners. One of the burners on my stove is STILL broken after 4 months. Maintenance has been called numerous times but has never come. They’re ruining my cooking groove, man.

Everything was finally ready after an hour. You know, I’m starting to realize these are more like 1 hour meals than 30 minute meals…

Anyway, here comes the moment of truth…3..2..1! Oh my God. That burger…that mushroom…whatever you want to call it, it was ugh. No words. I couldn’t even tell it wasn’t meat. It was so savory and every bite just melted in my mouth. The mozzarella on top was heavenly and the green sauce added the perfect twang. As for the pasta salad, it was alright. Not too bad for the first pasta salad I ever had, but the burger completely out-shined it. I would be content eating that burger for the rest of my life. I might have even liked it better than a meat burger.

My room mate Alexis walked in and asked what we made, so I told her and she said she loves mushrooms, so I let her have one. She made it a few bites in, then was utterly confused. She thought she was eating a burger with mushrooms on it, not an actual mushroom. Her reaction was pretty funny.

A few other friends came over to have some pasta salad. I had one more burger but I was not giving that up, no way. That’s going to be my dinner tomorrow. Everyone who tried the pasta salad loved it. I guess I have to have some when I’m not focused on the burger, maybe then I’ll like it more.

Let’s see, I have to give the Portobello Burgers ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts because it is three hours after I had my last bite and my mouth is still watering at how amazing it was. Truly one of the best burgers I have ever eaten in my life. I’m going to give the Spinach Artichoke Pasta Salad ♥♥ (2) hearts. Like I said earlier, I think I would’be enjoyed the pasta dish more if my taste buds hadn’t already orgasmed from the burger. This meat-free cookout as a whole was a huge success. I’m starting to feel like being a vegetarian wouldn’t be that hard…who am I kidding, I can’t live without meat. But Rachael Ray, the fact that I am questioning my stance as being an omnivore shows that you’re doing something right with your vegetarian dishes. Bravo!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

P.S. I really need to try to take better pictures of the food for you guys, my pictures never look appetizing…sorry!

Lentils and Pasta with Greens

Mmmmm pasta. I have just started to open up to sauce being on top of my pasta because I grew up being a buttered pasta kinda girl. I actually hated sauced on anything, but cooking has expanded my taste buds and has made me actually start to like sauce. I look forward to pretty much every pasta recipe now. This recipe was no exception, except for the fact that I had no idea what lentils were. I thought they were some sort of vegetable but they’re more like beans. A mix of beans and quinoa to be exact.

I just came back from a weekend in Pennsylvania and the first thing on my to do list was to make this pasta (after I went to the gym of course; gotta stay fit.) It had been snowing all day in the city and it was already six o’clock by the time I left to get my groceries. I was halfway to Trader Joe’s before I decided that I was not putting up with their crap today. I just did not have time to go to a million different grocery stores, so I turned around and headed to Fairway.

I’m so glad I decided to go to Fairway first, because GUESS WHAT! I was able to buy every single ingredient I needed. It honestly made my night only having to go to one grocery store. Although I probably spent $10 more than I would’ve if I had gotten a few items at Trader Joe’s, it was totally worth it. Quickest shopping trip ever HALLELUIAH.

Most of my friend’s were too busy to cook with me tonight ): But, I had my best friends with me AKA my room mates to help me chop some things. Courtney and Alexis were big helps and they added some humor today. While chopping up the Swiss chard, they tried to make each other eat it…which resulted in a bunch of it on the floor. But it’s alright because Courtney made Alexis try the red wine needed for the dish, and Alexis’s face was priceless (she does not like wine at all.)

This dish was probably the easiest to cook, because all the ingredients just had to sit around on the stove for a while. They did take a tad bit longer to cook but still oh so easy.

Ashley and Ashley came over just in time to eat.

3..2..1! This pasta was good, but nothing spectacular about it. Both Ashley’s were in awe with it, though. They both had two helpings! There were many different textures because of the noodles, lentils and the greens. Of course it all mixed well together because Rachael Ray is a genius. I’d give this recipe ♥♥ (2) hearts because it was just meh. Maybe it was meh also because this cooking experience wasn’t as fun as it usually is and I was rushing a bit so I would be done in time for the Bachelor… I have a feeling next week will be better!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

Chili for “Veg-Heads”

Chili. I have never been a fan of chili since I don’t care for beans or tomatoes. But I came into this recipe with an open mind because usually the recipes I don’t think I will like end up being my favorite.

I was so proud of myself because I actually made it to the grocery store before six o’clock. I mean I had to, I was bringing the chili to my friend’s Super Bowl party. On this trip to the grocery store, one of my friends finally agreed to accompany me and help pay for the ingredients. Natalia, you the real MVP girl.

Natalia had never been to any of my usual grocery stores before since she lives in a traditional style dorm. Of course I always decide to cook on the days when Trader Joe’s is the busiest and I was almost certain the craziness of the store would leave her mind boggled. She was a little overwhelmed, but we made it through Trader Joe’s with almost all of the ingredients (FOR ONCE) and only a few head on shopping cart collisions. A little faith has been restored in Trader Joe’s for the time being, not sure how long that faith will last though, guess we’ll find out next week.

Next we went to fairway. I really thought we’d be able to pick up the rest of the ingredients there but they were also out of jalapeños. Now, Trader Joe’s and Fairway I have a question for you: I’m not trying to be jalapeño business but why did neither of you have the pepper I needed hmmmm? Okay, okay, that joke was extremely lame…sorry. So, continuing on we made it to Whole Foods and they thankfully had that spicy little bugger. Finally it was time to get cooking.

We got back to my place and started chopping everything up. I put Natalia on onion duty, and she cried so much it looked like she had just watched the Notebook or something. She pushed through the tears though, and showed that onion who was boss. We sautéed all of the veggies, and let me tell you, if you have never sautéed vegetables before you need to. It smells insanely delicious.

It came time to open the cans of beans, and I personally had never successfully opened a can with a can opener before so I designated that job to Natalia. She was pretty much a pro at opening, even on her first try. I think I’m going to keep her around for all my evoo adventures.

Opening the beans was easy, but opening the jars of crushed tomatoes was another story. I called Adrian over and this week his man power came in handy, unlike last week with the chicken.

We combined almost everything in the pot, but had a few little things left to add:

  1. The refried beans. To whomever first made refried beans…why’d you do it? It is the most unappetizing looking thing ever. Natalia actually asked if we had to mix it in because it looked like cat food. Glad we did not see it once it was mixed in because it just looked disgusting, but made the chili a lot thicker.
  2. The hot sauce. The recipe called for six glugs of it, but this hot sauce splurt out everywhere (is splurt even a word? Whatever, it fits) I only put in three glugs, but I’m sure it equaled out to eight.
  3.  The cumin and chili powder. The recipe called for 1 to 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of each spice. I thought, hey lets just put 1 & 1/4 tablespoons of each in. I like to be exact with my measurements, but the spices weren’t coming out of the bottle so I’m pretty sure like 2 tablespoons of each went in the pot.I kept thinking “It couldn’t be too spicy…right?”

We stirred everything together until it was well combined then scooped the chili into bowls and topped it with scallions and cheddar cheese. Of course we had to get a picture that was instagram worthy, so it took us about 10 minutes to get the perfect picture before we actually tried it.

3…2…1! I couldn’t tell if I was in heaven or hell. It tasted so heavenly but was spicier than hell. No way the devil could make something this good though so it must have come from heaven. I downed that chili so quickly and it filled me up perfectly.

I let the rest of it sit on low heat for an hour because my friend Ashley put together a Super Bowl party next door. I carried the chili over and everyone dug in. They all loved it! A few of my friends are vegetarians so they were extra happy that I made it with no meat. I told them not to thank me, but to thank Rachael Ray. I think it’s safe to say that this chili was the hit of the party. I know what I’m making when my husband hosts a Super Bowl party one day! *wink wink*

I’d have to give this recipe ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts! It truly sparked my love for chili. This would’ve gotten 5 hearts from me if it was a tad less spicy. This chili is a lot better as a dip with chips than in a bowl. I’m not complaining though! A friend told me “You know it’s good chili when it makes your nose run” and that’s exactly what this one did. Bravo Rachael Ray, bravo.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

 

 

 

 

Creole Chicken Breasts with Crab and Artichoke Stuffing

Creole chicken breasts with crab and artichoke stuffing is a recipe I’ve been looking forward to for the longest time. Anything with chicken sounds appetizing, but add seafood to the mix…mmmm high expectations for this dish.

I started out today’s adventure by heading down to the Chelsea Market for some kitchen supplies. For my readers who don’t know what the Chelsea Market is, it is an old warehouse transformed into a mini mall and restaurant haven. The shops and restaurants are so cute and unique. It’s definitely a must-see if you’re ever in New York.

When we arrived at the Chelsea Market it was 4:40 PM. There was a sign on the door saying it was closing early at 5 PM today. It was a race against the clock to find and purchase all of my supplies in time. I hurried to Bowery Kitchen Supplies…or tried to hurry. Even though the market was closing in 20 minutes, it was 10x more crowded than usual. Luckily I made it, and was able to find everything in 10 minutes…that’s a new record time for how quickly I finished my shopping EVER.

Next was the food shopping. I only had to pick up 6 items so I didn’t think it would take long. Off to grocery store number 1: Trader Joe’s.

I really have a love/hate relationship with Trader Joe’s. Yeah, everything is cheap, but they never have all of the ingredients I need. I was only able to pick up two ingredients on this trip…and they were fully stocked. No Snowpocalypse to blame this time. I also had to wait in a line that wrapped the whole way around the store for these two lone items. Trader Joe’s you need to get your shit together.

I’m starting to like Fairway more and more, because guess what…THEY HAD ALL THE INGREDIENTS I NEEDED!! Glad no time was wasted at another grocery store.

Adrian and Nicolette came over to cook with me today. First we had to pound the chicken thin. One of the items I bought at the kitchen supply store was a mallet. I wanted a small one but the smallest one they had still reminded me of the mallets barbarians used thousands of years ago. I figured Adrian would like to play with the mallet and I was right. He pounded the chicken so hard it almost fell apart…too much man power Adrian, too much. After the chicken was pounded, we all chopped everything and started to sauté the veggies. It came time to add the artichoke hearts….but we forgot to chop them up so we quickly chopped them and threw them in. Close call with that. We really were not on our A-game tonight because we also completely forgot to throw in the Old Bay seasoning. Oops.

The stuffing finished cooking and we rolled it into the chicken, which was a challenge since Adrian mutilated the chicken breasts. Word of advice: never let a boy pound the chicken thin. There was so much stuffing left over that we just began eating it and WOW. The stuffing by itself was delicious, we could not wait to try the finished meal.

We cooked the chicken in sherry (I know, we’re such fancy college students) and then it was ready to serve.

3…2…1 DELISH. The chicken was quite enjoyable, and with this many leftovers I’ll be eating good for the next week and a half. We all agreed that this recipe deserved only ♥♥♥ (3) hearts, though. Was it good? Yes. Would I make it again? No. What am I saying? I never make any of these recipes again hahaha. But, I think it would’ve been better if we didn’t cheat and taste the stuffing before the whole dish was done. I’ll eat that stuffing by itself any day though, that deserved 5 hearts. Moral of this recipe: Don’t taste the dish until it’s complete.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

Pasta with pumpkin and sausage never sounded appetizing to me. In fact, I’ve been stuck on this recipe for about 3 months because I have been so afraid to try it. I had to push past this fear because I told myself I wouldn’t skip any recipes. So here we are. I cooked this on Monday, January 25, 2016. The Monday after the Snowpocalypse.

Being a college student in one of the most expensive cities in the world, it’s only natural to shop at places that have the best deals. Trader Joe’s is the BEST cheap grocery store around my school, so of course I headed there to pick up my ingredients. Well, I received an unpleasant surprise because Trader Joe’s was completely barren. They had sold out of nearly everything. There were ZERO vegetables left, the bread section was completely empty, and the only thing that seemed to be on the shelves were baked beans. So much for getting my ingredients for cheap… thanks Snowpocalypse.

The only items I was able to pick up at Trader Joe’s were bay leaves and sage.

Onto the next store.

I have an order of grocery stores I go to, specifically for instances like this. I start out at Trader Joe’s, then onto Fairway, then Whole Foods, and if I’m still desperate for ingredients I unwillingly go to Gristedes (the prices at Gristedes are absolutely outrageous.)

Luckily, Fairway had pretty much every ingredient I needed, except for sweet sausage. I’m so glad my grocery store adventures for this recipe stopped at Whole Foods. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to pick everything up at Trader Joe’s.

Once I was back at the dorm, my friends River and Nicolette came over to cook with me.

One of the ingredients for this dish was dry white wine. We had the wine…but not a wine opener. This leads to the first dilemma of this recipe: how to open the wine. We searched ways to open it without having a corkscrew, and the first thing we tried was putting the bottle in a shoe and banging it against the wall. That did absolutely nothing, and thank God we didn’t put a dent in the wall. Next we try hammering a screwdriver into the cork…which worked, but now we had the cork stuck in the bottle. I guess we can say this was a half win because we got the bottle open, but now we don’t have a way to close it. Go us. Meh, someone will eventually drink it.

After we got the wine opened, we got on to cooking. We each chopped something up, then I was on sausage duty and River was on pasta duty. Dilemma number 2: one of our burners on the stove was burned out. This was easy to work around, but still a pain. The sausage took forever to brown, and curses to evoo because it splattered everywhere and burned like a bitch. Other than that everything else went off without a hitch.

I was still extremely nervous to try this recipe, simply because the combination of items did not sound good, but it sure did smell good. When the pasta was ready we called over our friend Adrian to join us for the moment of truth: the taste test.

River scooped the pasta into bowls for everyone and I grated some romano cheese on top. We counted down 3…2…1! and tried the first bite together. I’m pretty sure everyone was surprised at how good it was. I really loved it. All of the flavors meshed perfectly together. The pumpkin was there but not overwhelming, the cinnamon and nutmeg added the perfect amount of sweet spice, and the sausage gave it a huge burst of flavor.

On a scale from 1-5 hearts I have to give this recipe ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts! Simply because I did not have high expectations for this dish and it completely blew me away. Also, the leftovers lasted me a week which is always a plus for a college student. What did I learn from this recipe? 1. Buy a freakin corkscrew. and 2. Don’t knock a recipe until you try it.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

P.S. I promise I’ll take more time to make the pictures of the food more appetizing, this picture sucks.

The Beginnings of EVOO

I’ve always had a love for food, especially cooking it. Of course when you’re only 7 or 8 years old the best form of cooking anyone does is helping their mom bake Christmas cookies. I’ve always wanted to make complete meals though. I’d sit around for hours reading all of the recipe books in my house over and over again. Sometimes I would ask my mom if we could make one of the dishes, but she knew I wouldn’t eat them and said no. (I used to be a very picky eater, my diet consisted of buttered noodles). One day in third grade during the book fair, I bought my first ever recipe book: Classic Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals,  The All-Occasion Cookbook. I was so extremely happy to own my own cookbook; I read it cover to cover in a matter of days. Did I ever cook anything in it? The answer was no until the summer of 2014.

On June 18th, 2014, two of my good friends and I sat around on my porch wondering what we should do that day. We wanted something new and exciting, something that teenagers our age wouldn’t typically do. That’s when I thought of my Rachael Ray cookbook. I ran up to my room, excitedly grabbed it and ran back down to show them.

“Why not work our way through the whole book, starting on page 1?” I asked.

They loved the idea, and so we started on this cooking adventure together. The first recipe was Puttanesca Pizza: Tomato, Olive, Caper, and Anchovy. We scavenged my kitchen to see if we had any of the ingredients, then made up a list and drove to the nearest grocery store. None of us had been food shopping with friends before, but we found the experience to be pleasantly fun and hilarious. It took us about an hour to find everything, (don’t judge we were newbies to food shopping and didn’t know where everything was in the store) then headed back to my house. I always figured that cooking in general would be fun, but throw some of your best friends into the mix and it becomes a complete blast. The pizza took us a little longer than 30 minutes, but only because we were amateurs at this. We laughed the whole time saying “We’re making whore pizza!” because there was a side-note on the recipe that said Puttanesca is a pasta sauce named for streetwalkers, or ladies of the night, as it is spicy, fast, and easy to make.

After what was more like an hour than 30 minutes, we sat down and enjoyed our first ever meal together. I’d say we were all pretty proud of ourselves. Although we gave the pizza a 3 out of 5 stars, we couldn’t wait to try the next recipe.

We wanted to come up with a name for our little cooking group, and after a few minutes of pondering what it should be, we came up with the perfect name. “The Sisterhood of the Traveling EVOO.” Since Rachael Ray uses extra-virgin olive oil in almost every recipe, and abbreviates it to evoo, we figured why buy evoo for everyone’s house when we can bring the one bottle of evoo wherever we decided to cook. That day our cooking troupe was formed.

We had an amazing time that summer. We made it through 11 recipes, with only 1 that was terrible. We invited “special guest” friends to join us every recipe. I firmly believe that eating together brings people closer, but when you prepare the food together you really become more than friends…you become family.

Flash forward two and a half years later and we’re all off at college. We had a falling out and the original evoo sisters rarely or never talk anymore. I, being the owner of the cookbook, took it with me to college. Even though the original evoo sisters aren’t together anymore, I still wanted food to bring a joy to my life, and to the lives of people who will become my lifelong friends here at college. I go to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. My room mates and I are lucky enough to have a dorm with a kitchen. Semester of fall 2015 I only made 3 recipes from this book, but for the Spring 2016 semester I plan to make 1 recipe a week from this book.

This blog will be my Chronicles of EVOO. Think “Julie and Julia” except college edition. I hope whoever reads this becomes inspired to cook with friends and try new foods…and I hope people can laugh with me or at me in this crazy adventure. Here’s to a new semester filled with new food, new friends, and new memories.

-Mary Honkus

P.S. here is a list of all the recipes I have tried so far and their ranking from 1-5 stars (or hearts because there are no star emoticons.

Puttanesca Pizza: Tomato, Olive, Caper, and Anchovy ♥♥♥

Sesame Noodles ♥♥♥

Southwestern Chicken and Black Bean Burritos ♥♥♥♥♥ (best recipe ever)

Curry in a Hurry with Jasmine Rice ♥♥♥

Blue Moon Burgers ♥ (only recipe we hated)

Spicy Chicken Tacos ♥♥♥♥

Emmanuel Nini’s Caponata ♥♥♥

My Sister Ria’s Lazy Chicken or My Lazy Sister Ria’s Chicken ♥♥

Cajun Chili with Scallion Corn Cakes ♥♥

Zesty Chicken Cutlets Parmigiana ♥♥♥♥♥

Goodness Gracious, That’s Great Goulash! ♥♥♥

Thai Turkey Burgers ♥♥

Mamma’s Broccolini and Ricotta Pasta ♥♥♥♥♥

Tony Soprano Steak Sandwiches with Giardiniera Relish ♥♥♥♥

 

 

The adventures of a college chef