Tuna pasta.
This is the one dish that is a staple at our house (amid the profusion of improvised soups), mostly because the Brit grew up eating it and is always satiated by it. And it's a combination of things I wouldn't have imagined or come up with on my own, but I totally dig this dish too.

Tuna Pasta
Olive oil
Medium onion, diced
3 big cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
A few shakes of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds (if you have them)
Two cans of tuna
A big can of diced tomatoes and their juice
A medium sliced zucchini
A chopped red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
Half a bag of fresh spinach
Chopped kalamata olives
Feta cheese
A box of penne, farfalle, or any short cut of pasta

Put a pot of water on to boil.

Saute the onions, garlic, and herbs in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the tuna (drain the water into your cat's dish) and cook a bit longer, stirring to break up the tuna. Pour in the entire can of tomatoes and cook down for a bit. Add zucchini and bell peppers and simmer for a few minutes, until the vegetables are tender but not overcooked. Dump in the spinach and stir to wilt, and turn the heat wayyyy down. Sauce will be very thick and chunky.

Once your pasta's done, top with sauce, olives, and feta to taste.

You can make all kinds of modifications to this recipe depending on the vegetables you have handy, but I think zucchini and spinach are the most solid choice. Bonus: the leftover sauce makes amazing tuna melts, if you have a really crusty bread and some schmancy cheese.

I am not much of a baker--I can follow a recipe just fine but don't get into all the precise details of good baking technique, and I'm not likely to fabricate my own recipes for baked goods. However! I can type up a link with the best of them, so I'm going to send you over to the Homesick Texan's biscuit post. This was linked at Shelterrific last week, and as soon as I read the recipe I knew I had to try it.

Delicious biscuits.

The Brit and I are both off work this morning--he has to fly off to Vegas for biz this afternoon, and I don't teach until later in the day, so today was the day. This recipe is not at all intimidating, and took about a half hour, start to finish. And I didn't even have a rolling pin, so I just used a clean wine bottle out of recycling, and cut the biscuits out with my measuring cup. I mixed in a little whole wheat flour and baked them up in my wonky oven. The biscuits did not suffer one bit.

Eaten.

The result: buttery, flaky, tender biscuits, almost too rich. We ate them up with strawberry jam.

About every other day, I make a pot of steel cut oats for breakfast. I can't get enough of their creamy, chewy texture, which is so perfect with spices and dried fruit. They take awhile to cook, but they keep and reheat well, so you can make a bunch one day and have instant breakfast the next day. They are also good for you.

Delicious Oats
1 cup steel cut oats, not to be confused with rolled oats or quick oats
4 cups water
two or three handfuls of raisins, cranberries, or mixed and chopped dried fruit
1/4 t ground ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

Combine oats and water in a pot and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add fruit and simmer 5-10 minutes more. Stir in spices and any sweetener you like, and serve topped with soy milk or yogurt or what have you.

You can also toast the oats in a little melted butter before you add the water. Or mix up the spices. Or add a teaspoon of vanilla at the end. Or sweeten with molasses.

I've also made this overnight in the crockpot, with the heat on low and about an extra cup of liquid and more fruit (dried apricots, specifically). It is divine. As are the grilled steel cut oats they serve at the Longfellow Grill with heavy cream and fruit compote.

Kitchen Hacks.

As you've no doubt determined, I am not a kitchen pro or even really a foodie--I love food, but I only read a few food blogs these days (who has time?) and mostly just look up recipes when I need inspiration. My knife skills are decent, but kind of a moot point given that my knives are not so good. Aaaand, I have not maximized the efficiency of my workspace.

However, I do have a few tips for you, especially if you are still tentative in the kitchen.

  1. Stainless steel gets the garlic stink off. I don't know about you, but much as I like cooking, I get tired of smelling like food. If you wash your hands while washing stainless steel (I usually use a knife blade--carefully--or a sink basin), the stink goes away.
  2. Yes, use a garbage bowl. I am no fan of eternally perky Rachael Ray, but she does have some good ideas--like keeping a designated container on the counter for all of your peelings and odds and ends.
  3. Don't futz around peeling garlic. You probably already know this, but smashing garlic cloves with the flat of your knife splits the skin apart and makes it very easy to remove. (I am of the bash and chop school of garlic prep--can't be bothered with a press.)
  4. Master onion chopping technique. If you are at all like me, you use onions for just about every dish you prepare. It's worth it to use chef-style onion chopping technique. Cut the onion in half through the stem nub. Cut the pointy top off. Peel the onion--much easier to do at this point. Lay the flat side of one half an onion on your cutting board, with the stem end pointing away from you. Make several parallel cuts toward the stem end, but NOT all the way through it. Then rotate the onion and slice across the cuts you just made. If any of this made sense and you executed it correctly, you now have diced onions. Hooray!
  5. Soup is the friend of the makeshift cook. Soup is forgiving. Soup is easy to stretch, alter, experiment with, tweak. I would have almost no cuisine without soup. Tomato-based vegetable soups couldn't be easier: chop up an onion, garlic, one carrot, and one celery stalk; saute in olive oil with any dried herbs you fancy; dump in a big can of diced or crushed tomatoes; add another can of water and some chopped up root veggies; add a can or two of beans, a handful of grains, and simmer; add leafy veggies or things like zucchini, summer squash, and bell peppers toward the end for best texture. As god is my witness, you'll never go hungry again.
  6. Leftovers=easy lunches. I know, it seems like a no-brainer. But if you are trying to brown bag it more often, this is a very easy way to do it. As for me, having grown up in a family of six, I have no frame of reference for cooking single servings or even two-serving meals, so leftovers are a way of life for me. I always make a bunch of everything and pack it in my Mr. Bento for the next day or two.
  7. Avail yourself of prep bowls and prep time. Here's an example: I had to work from home this morning, so I took a little break and chopped up my mirepoix for tonight's soup and chucked it in the fridge. This will streamline things when I get home later. If I'd had a bit more time, I would've chopped a bigger batch and frozen it. When I do the rest of the soup prep tonight, I'll put the remaining vegetable ingredients in bowls as I chop them, so that they're ready to add to the pot at the right moment. This really helps if you're working in a small space.
  8. Boiling water? Put a lid on it. Simple, but effective. If you're heating water and you don't have a lid on your pot, you're wasting energy and lengthening the time it takes to boil. If you're going to salt the water, wait until it's already boiling--salt raises the boiling point of water (just as it lowers the freezing point, which is why the streets are coated with it in the winter). One of the few things I remember from science classes.

It's not really a salad.
Snickers "Salad" (before application of Cool Whip).

You need:
Chopped up snickers bars
Cored and diced granny smith apples
Cool Whip

Snickers "Salad" (in progress).

Mix it up and serve to young and old alike.

My sister, author of the "salad."

Even making it is fun!

Oh my my, oh hell yes.

Onion Feta Risotto with Spinach and Lemon.

In my continuing mission to use up pantry items, I decided to introduce some arborio rice to some feta cheese. I remembered an Onion Feta Risotto I made years ago, from a recipe from a Moosewood Restaurant cookbook, did a little internet scouting, and tweaked based on what I had. I am eating it right now and I have to tell you, people, it is delicious.

If you've never made risotto before, fear not! It doesn't require any special know-how--you just have to have about 20 minutes to stand in front of the stove and attend to your tender bits of rice.

Onion Feta Risotto with Spinach and Lemon
2 T olive oil + 2 T butter, or all olive oil, or all butter, if you like.
2 generous cups diced onion--Vidalia is great if you have it, but any onion will do because they are all sweet.
2-3 minced cloves garlic
1 t basil
1 t oregano
2 cups arborio rice
6-8 cups simmering vegetable broth (low or no salt). You can sub in plain water for some of this liquid, or some white wine.
1/2 to 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
A few handfuls of fresh spinach
Juice and zest of half a lemon
Black pepper

Heat the olive oil/butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and herbs and saute for a few minutes. Add onions and saute over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until wilty and translucent. Add rice and stir gently to coat the grains of rice. This is best done with a wooden spoon, so your grains don't break.

Add about a cup of your simmering liquid to the rice and stir gently and occasionally until it's absorbed--this will only take a few minutes. Repeat every few minutes until your rice is firm, tender, and delicious--about 20 minutes. The rice will look very creamy.

Remove from heat and add feta, lemon juice and zest, and spinach, stirring to melt and wilt. Top with black pepper and serve. This would be delicious with lots of green vegetables. Or chicken on the side, if you swing that way (I don't, but I always refer to chicken as "chaka khan." Just FYI.).

Onion Feta Risotto with Spinach and Lemon.

Lasagna I had done made.
I was wandering around Super Target yesterday with no idea what I wanted to cook or buy. It was a stupid trip, but at least I didn't leave the store with a bunch of crappy shirts that I would later hate. Somewhere along the way, I picked up some no-boil lasagna noodles and that got the ball rolling. Produce at Super Target is generally Super Crappy, so I bought an eggplant and some baby bella mushrooms, and that was that.

Here's what I made up.

Eggplant Lasagna
1 eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
Olive oil, of course
Lots of garlic, like 4 or 5 big fat cloves, minced
2 tsp dried basil (use lots of fresh basil if you have it, lucky dog)
A few shakes of red pepper flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 medium onion, diced
8 ounces of baby bella mushrooms (or portabellas or whatever), chopped
1 big can of diced tomatoes
1 tub of ricotta
8 ounces of shredded mozzarella and parmesan (I got this all bagged and premixed)
No-boil lasagna noodles

Salt the eggplant and put it in a colander to drain. This helps get the bitterness out. Then turn your oven to 400 to preheat.

Start your sauce by heating the garlic and olive oil over medium heat. Once you can smell the garlic, shake in your red pepper and add other spices. Saute for a minute or two, then add onions. After another few minutes, add mushrooms. Cook everything down for a few minutes more, then dump in the can of tomatoes and let everything simmer while you futz around with the eggplant.

The futzing goes like this: rinse the eggplant thoroughly and pat dry. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray if you use such a thing, or just smear it with some olive oil and line up your eggplant rounds. Bake for 15 minutes while your sauce simmers. Keep an eye on the eggplant--my oven runs hot and the eggplant was roasted mushy after 15 minutes. Then crank the heat back to 325.

Okay. Now you can assemble your stuff. I had a weird oval ceramic baking dish and had to trim the noodles to get them to fit, but my final product did not suffer at all. So if for some reason you find yourself without a 9 X 13 pan, all is most certainly not lost. Just break your noodles to fit the pan and jigsaw-puzzle them together. Cover the bottom of your pan with a thin (yet chunky) layer of sauce. Then layer on some UNBOILED noodles, then a schmear of ricotta, then eggplant, then shredded cheese, then sauce. Make sure the noodles are completely covered with filling, because this moisture will cook the noodles. Repeat until you have nothing left, making sure that there is enough sauce and shredded cheese to cover the top layer of noodles. With this recipe and my weird pan, I had three layers of noodles and plenty of stuff to cover them. I could have used more eggplant, actually.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another ten.

Enjoy with cheap (or expensive) red wine.

N.B. If you are clever, you will have noticed that I didn't use any salt in this recipe. Between the canned tomatoes and the cheese, this dish is plenty salty. Don't take my word for it, though--taste your sauce and see if it needs salt. Yeesh.

I'm eating a midmorning snack that is giving me great joy, and it is super, super easy.

Simple Fruit Salad
2 peeled and sliced bananas
2 peeled and sliced oranges (I like slicing them into chunks instead of sectioning them, because then the juice gets to flowin.)
1 cup of plain yogurt
a healthy squirt of agave, though honey would work too
1/2 t cinnamon
pumpkin seeds

Other fruit and nuts would be welcome too, as would soy yogurt. All I'm saying is, this ain't rocket science.

Mix it all up in a bowl, divide into portions, and pack in your and your honey's lunch. Enjoy at your desk when everyone else is eating gummy low-fat coffee cake from Starbucks.

By the way, "fruit" should always be pronounced "frewit," as in "frewit of the deville."