What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 11: Travel Food

I was taking a 13 day road trip, and I didn’t want to do what I had done on my last road trip, namely, eat pizza every single day. Don’t get me wrong. Pizza is one of my favorite foods. But less is more. Multiple days of it and I feel as though I’ll need a jackhammer to loosen my intestines.

Why so much pizza? Well, in the time of COVID-19, a lot of restaurants are closed, and/or stressful to enter. The one reliable source of takeout in a strange town, unless you want to resort to a fast-food chain restaurant (Noooooooo!) is pizza. So I needed to make a plan.

I decided to do my best to eat healthy. I would pack picnic breakfasts and lunches, and either pick something up to eat at a grocery store, or support a local restaurant for dinner. Not only were my intestines thrilled, but I saved a lot of money, too.

So what follows isn’t really a recipe (sorry) but more of an idea of what to pack for breakfasts and lunches and snacks for 13 days.

  • A dozen hard boiled eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Breakfast bars and/or granola
  • Cold cuts. (I went with turkey and ham and cheese.)
  • Sandwich thins. (Fewer carbs and they take up less space. Sadly, the same number of calories.)
  • Fruit (I went with apples and grapes.)
  • Carrots
  • Peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Ranch dressing
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit
  • Water

After that, all I needed was a cooler, plates, bowls, utensils, a roll of paper towels, and cold packs that I’d refreeze every night in the room. Sometimes, for a change of pace, I’d pick up salad fixin’s from a grocery store and add cold cuts and ranch dressing to that.

The beauty of many of these things is that they can be mixed and matched for variety. The ranch dressing is good on sandwiches, and it makes a good snack when combined with carrots. I used it to make egg salad, too. The peanut butter made for a good sandwich, and it’s also good with apples, granola or nuts. I used a different combo of cold cuts on my sandwiches each day. I could make my own trail mix.

You can even do this on road trips where you plan to fly to your first destination and rent a car. There are really efficient collapsible coolers now, or you can buy a cheap styrofoam one upon arrival if, unlike me, you don’t feel guilty about adding that to the landfill afterward. Then all you have to do is hit a grocery store, and away you go!

Making healthy choices may take a little extra effort, but it’s worth it.

Okay, okay… I bought chips when I stopped for gas, too. So sue me. I was on vacation.

What are your travel food ideas? Share them in the comments below!

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 10: Rice Bowls

I know. Hate is a strong word. But it’s true: I HATE to cook. But sometimes you just have to. When that happens, I do my best to lessen the agony by using the least amount of ingredients to get flavor, or using the simplest techniques to reduce effort. This is the tenth recipe I’ve shared on this blog. Check them out in my recipe section.

This time around, I’ll tell you about something I’ve been doing for lunch of late. This requires more prep time than most of my recipes do, but the beauty of it is, you can get 6 lunches out of it, so in the end, it’s worth the effort.

Rice Bowls

  • 6 cups of rice, cooked.

  • Protein (Cooked leftovers or from a can.) (I recommend chicken or steak or salmon or tofu or cheese or tuna.)

  • Anything that floats your boat! (I recommend some combination of at least 4 of the following: onion, garlic, mushrooms, spinach, green onions, squash, squash blossoms, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots, but really this is limited only by your imagination or by what you find in your fridge.

  • Oil for the spinach, and butter or lard for the rest of the veggies.

  • Soy sauce or salt to be added just before eating.

To start, I throw 3 cups of uncooked rice (I like basmati, but any type is fine) into my rice cooker with the prescribed amount of water. Rice cookers are one of life’s greatest inventions, if you ask me. Miraculously, 6 cups of perfectly cooked rice will emerge.

While the rice cooker is doing its thing, I prepare the veggies and such.

First of all, if you’re using spinach, I hope it’s organic, because spinach is one of the most chemically tainted things in the grocery store. Anyway, you’ll want to wilt your spinach in a pot. Just throw a little oil over medium heat, and stir the spinach so the leaves on top get as wilty as the ones on the bottom. Divide it up into 3 microwavable bowls when it’s done.

Next, chop up all your other items that you plan to saute. Put the hard stuff (Any combination of onions, garlic, squash, carrots, green beans, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, whatever.) on to saute first. I use butter or lard.

While that stuff is being sautéed, chop up whatever ingredients you are using that take less time to saute (like mushrooms, green onions, squash blossoms and any precooked veggie leftovers.) When the hard group is looking almost done, add the soft group in and stir everything together until it looks edible to you.

Divide these sauteed ingredients into the three microwavable bowls that are already holding the spinach.

Hopefully by now, your rice is done. Now listen carefully. Put half that rice (3 cooked cups) into its own, empty bowl and refrigerate it. Then next week, when you want to do 3 more lunches, you will already have the rice to use, so every other week of doing this will be less complicated. Yay!

Now you’re left with 3 cups of cooked rice. Put one cup each into your three microwavable bowls that already have the veggies. Then toss your protein into each.

There you have it! 3 lunches. Bring ‘em to work, toss ’em into the microwave, and when it’s done, add some soy sauce or some salt, and you’ve got yourself a healthy, filling meal.

You could, of course, make 5 days worth, but I’d get bored eating the same thing every single day, so I stagger a few TV dinners in there for variety.

Share any variations on this theme that you’ve tried, and/or suggest other simple recipes below. But the main thing to do is this: Enjoy!

rice bowl cooked cu 2

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 9: Watergate Cake

The following recipe was handed down to me from my mother, who claimed it was a cake created by the Watergate Hotel. I hope it’s true. It would be nice to think that place is known for something other than a gigantic political scandal. (And incidentally, in the course of doing research for this post, I found out that you can still stay in the scandal room, and even have drinks with the original arresting officers, for the bargain price of $2500 a night. Imagine.)

Watergate cake is my favorite cake of all time. It’s fluffy and flavorful, and comes out a surprising light green. I recently made it for my husband’s birthday, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you. It’s super easy. It makes a double layer cake, and I like to use fluffy, white frosting on it, but that’s up to you. It’s actually such a flavorful cake that it doesn’t really need frosting.

Watergate Cake

  • 1 package white cake mix

  • 1 package pistachio instant pudding mix

  • 3 eggs

  • ¾ cup oil

  • ½ cup of finely chopped nuts (optional)

  • 1 cup club soda (NO SUBSTITUTE)

Mix everything together and pour evenly into two buttered cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Frost when cool if the spirit moves you.

Simple. Delicious. Try it!

watergate cake

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 8: Unexpected Salad

Sometimes I’ll come across a recipe with ingredients that have absolutely no right to be mixed together. It’s hard to believe that anyone would combine these things, and that the result would come out even remotely edible. These recipes often intrigue me, because they sound so awful that if anyone has taken the time to embarrass themselves like this, there must be something to it. The following is one of those recipes.

I came across this dish while binge watching season one of Queer Eye. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But it was pretty, and weird enough to be worth trying. And it turns out that I LOVE it. Trust me. Try it. You’ll be amazed, and your friends will be, too, because even though it takes very little effort, it looks and tastes like it comes from a Michelin star restaurant.

Unexpected Salad

1 Pink Grapefruit

1 Avocado

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 pinch kosher salt

Olive Oil

Cut the avocado in half, then cut the halves into half inch slices. Cut both ends off the grapefruit, and then slice off the rest of the skin so the fruit is totally exposed. Peel the fruit sections from the surrounding skin. (The goal is to only have the pretty pink fruit parts). Hold back the two most mangled sections of the grapefruit for juice for the dressing. Arrange the fruit and avocado together in a bowl. (The color contrasts are beautiful!)

Dressing:

Squeeze the grapefruit juice from two leftover sections into a bowl. Add 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, and a pinch of kosher salt. Mix together. This mixture constitutes 1/3 of the dressing. Now add twice as much olive oil. Mix together, and drizzle over the salad.

Serves 2.

I know. Weird. But trust me. Try it! And tell me what you think!

Grapefruit and avocado

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 7: Sausage Plus

Yup, I still hate to cook, but it’s necessary for survival. One thing I do like to do, however, is go to farmers’ markets. I like to go with an open mind and be inspired by what’s available. I do believe in eating local,  organic, and in season.

The other day we went to my favorite farmers’ market and we saw some of the most amazing chilies. That was all it took, really. I said, “Oooh, don’t we have some sausage in the fridge?”

So we bought a bunch of chilies of various colors, and one nice big onion, and away we went.

As per usual with my lazy recipes, you decide the amounts of each ingredient based on your taste. For this one we used Field Roast brand Apple and Sage Vegan Sausage, but you can use any type of sausage that you want. Hot or mild, vegan or non, according to your preference. After that it’s simple.

  • Chilies

  • Onions

  • Sausage

  • Butter

  • Salt

  • Pepper

Slice the chilies and make sure the seeds are all removed. Slice the onions. Place these ingredients in an aluminum foil wrapper, along with the sausage and some butter. Season to taste.

Place them on the grill, and flip it every ten minutes or so. When it starts smelling good, check to see if the veggies are cooked to your liking. The sausage, if pre-cooked like ours was, just needs to get hot and mingle its flavor with the veggies.

Done! Yum!

chilies

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 6: Barb and Cris’ Super Salad

Yes, I still hate to cook, as a general rule. It’s not one of my first choices for a pastime. But it’s necessary for survival. And I must admit that I’m finding it a lot more fun now that I have someone in my life to cook with. We’ve formed a sort of we’re-in-this-together mentality about food prep that turns it into less of a chore and more of an opportunity to spend time together.

One of the things we prepare on a regular basis is the most amazing salad. It has such a variety of flavors and textures that it’s always an eating adventure. And while I usually avoid preparing meals with more than five ingredients, once these salads become a habit, they can be thrown together rather quickly.

This salad is even more satisfying when the produce comes from your garden or from a local farmer’s market. Fresh. Delicious. Worth the effort.

As per usual with my recipes, the amount of each ingredient is entirely up to you.

Barb and Cris’ Super Salad

  • Greens (Anything but iceberg. Walk on the wild side!)

  • Baby Carrots

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Sunflower Seeds

  • Craisins

  • Scallions

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (anything less, and you’re cheating yourself.)

  • Garlic Snapes (Much more subtle than garlic, but only available if you grow them yourself.)

  • Radishes (I skip those.)

  • Dill pickles

  • Celery

  • Mushrooms

  • Chunks of Cheese

  • Nutritional Yeast (Cris skips this.)

  • Dressing (I prefer Ranch, myself.)

  • Croutons

  • Parmesan Cheese (because you can never have too much cheese.)

  • If you’re making this a major meal, you can add chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc.

Add or delete ingredients according to your taste. Mix all together,and enjoy, preferably outside. Nature adds flavor!

Salad

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Oddly Inappropriate

Isn’t it strange to watch a movie that you absolutely adored at another time in your life, only to discover that now you find it creepy? Sadly, I’ve had that experience on more than one occasion. It makes me wonder who I used to be, and why I used to think the way I did.

For example, as a kid, I absolutely adored Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But now there are a couple scenes that give me the willies. The first is Chu Chi Face, in which the Baroness Bomburst is clad in a bustier, and strikes sexy poses as she and the Baron pretend to be all lovey-dovey, when they actually despise each other. In fact, while she seems to be sexually wooing him, he’s attempting to kill her. Soft porn, anyone? The second is the Child Catcher number, in which he baits children with candy only to then abduct them.

And then, of course, there’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Three words: The Tunnel Scene. It’s a combination of a sick acid trip and a disturbing poem. It’s downright twisted. Willy Wonka was clearly a warped individual overall. I would not leave my child in a room alone with him. Factory inheritance be damned.

Later, when I was older and should have known better, I got taken in by the movie Grease. In which Sandy, a sweet, clean-cut girl, is groomed into thinking that the only way she can get her guy (who, incidentally, is a not-very-bright thug wannabe, as played by cult member John Travolta), is by transforming herself into a frizzy-haired, spandex-wearing, overly-made-up, cigarette-smoking, high-heeled temptress. “You’re the One that I Want.” Great message for the girls of the world. “Feel your way,” indeed.

I know that my earlier acceptance of certain scenes were a product of the times in which I was living, but jeez…

chuchi2

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 5: Lazy Burger Stir Fry

True confessions: I’m such a lazy cook that I don’t even have the patience to cook a hamburger properly. I usually break it up into smaller pieces and cook it that way, which makes it hard to put it on a bun. So somewhere along the line I decided to get “all fancy” and add other stuff.

So here’s my latest lazy recipe, which rarely takes more than 10 minutes. As per usual, quantities are entirely up to you.

Mandatory Ingredients:

Burger and Olive Oil

Suggested ingredients:

Onion

Garlic

Any vegetables you happen to have, fresh, frozen, or canned.

If you’re really hungry, also add cheese or beans or eggs or rice or pasta.

Directions:

Cook the burger in a little olive oil, medium heat. I add onion and garlic, too, but it’s not required. Season it however you like. Just make sure everything is fully cooked. Some people drain some of the grease at this point. I happen to be a greasy girl, so usually it stays. Then add… well… whatever floats your boat, and cook it however long you want.

Could there possibly be a recipe easier than this? I mean, seriously. I usually don’t even set off the smoke alarm with this one. (Usually.)

It tastes even better as leftovers! Enjoy.

ground beef

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What to Cook When You Hate to Cook. Recipe 4: Kitchen Sink Quesadillas

What I love most about this recipe is that it never comes out the same way twice, because I’m usually relying on whatever leftovers I happen to have in the fridge. (And as a single person, I tend to have a lot of leftovers.)

There are some ingredients that are required, of course, and as per usual with most of my lazy recipes, amounts are up to you:

  • Tortillas
  • Shredded Cheese (I like Monterrey Jack, but I’ve also used Cheddar or Mozzarella.)

Optional ingredients:

  • Cream Cheese (Not required, but highly recommended. It makes it smoother.)
  • Seasonings such as Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Cilantro, or whatever else suits your fancy.
  • Cooked leftovers such as: Pork, Beef, Hamburger, Fish, Chicken, Scrambled Eggs, Rice, Sautéed Onions, or Black Beans.
  • Other odds and ends such as Spinach, Olives, or Tofu,  I’ve even been known to add Nuts or Apple slices. Basically, if it sounds like it would be good, give it a try.

Then it’s just a matter of putting your tortilla in a lightly sprayed nonstick pan over medium heat, mixing all the other ingredients together, putting a reasonable amount on the tortilla, and covering it with another tortilla. Heat about 2 minutes on each side.

Done. Simple! You’ll be home and eating before the engine even cools down on your car.

If you feel like getting fancy, serve with guacamole, salsa, sour cream, salad, or soup on the side.

Quesadillas

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Nostalgia Food

About once a year, something will come over me and I’ll buy a can of sardines and eat them in one sitting. I don’t particularly like sardines. I don’t dislike them, either. It’s just that they remind me of my grandmother.

When I was little, not yet of school age, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before she went to work. She was in her 70’s. I wonder how she coped with caring for a small child day after day.

I do remember walking to the grocery store with her. I also remember being bored silly much of the time. And I remember her feeding me sardines, good Danish grandmother that she was.

It’s funny how food can transport you to another time and place. This is not the only nostalgia food that I eat. I’ve written before about my sister’s apple pie. And my recipe box is overflowing with recipes that my mother used to make. Mangoes transport me back to Mexico, and stroop wafels send me back to Holland.

When I was sick, my mother would give me ginger ale and ritz crackers. In the winter, since I was allergic to hot chocolate, she’d heat me up some apple cider and drop in a cinnamon stick. I’m old enough to remember a time when people still ate local foods only in season, so when the occasional orange would cross my path in Connecticut, it was an event. And as I’ve written before, I have a particular fondness for ice cream trucks.

Food does not just sustain us. It comforts us. It helps us maintain traditions. It defines families. It allows you to time travel. I’m adding sardines to my grocery list even as I write this.

sardines

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