The Revenge of the Single Girl Dinners

Whenever Joey and I are running low on groceries and lacking the funds or motivation to buy more, we’re forced to get a bit more creative with what we eat for dinner. The result?

For one, we clean out our fridge and pantry, which makes me feel better about using what we have instead of over-buying. Go, responsible consuming!

For another, we eat a lot more of what I have affectionately dubbed “Single Girl Dinners.”

I’ve discussed the gist of Single Girl Dinners before, but I feel like the topic has been coming up a lot lately as more and more of my friends pair off and get married or move in with their dudes.

Basically, it’s anything you would eat as a meal but would never serve to a guest. I’m willing to bet at least three different weird things you have eaten for dinner but never bragged about just popped into your brain.

The point is, I’ve decided to embrace the Single Girl Dinner (and possibly just amend it to the Low On Groceries Dinner). Especially since, for the last week, Joey has been taking a night class, so in general, I’m on my own for how I feed myself.

It’s weirdly…liberating. And I get a little nostalgic for my poor, single girl days. Don’t get me wrong; I love being married and love cooking real, would-serve-to-a-guest meals, but curling up on the couch eating tuna salad and crackers and watching Bravo by myself inspires a feeling I can only describe as decadent.

Plus, it makes a great lunch the next day! See?

I don’t know, you guys. Between Joey taking over the weekday cooking duties and me embracing these super easy “meals,” I’m a little worried my cooking muscles will start to atrophy. So for old time’s sake, let’s make this a quick Kitchen Adventure, shall we?

Single Girl’s Fancy Tuna Salad & Crackers
2 cans of tuna, drained
1/2 cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Whole wheat crackers

Combine all ingredients (except the crackers) in a small bowl. Spread on crackers. Enjoy. (Keeps in an air-tight container for lunch the next day.)

SEE? Eating whilst single is beyond easy. Also, it’s kind of pathetic I blogged this. Having second thoughts…but it’s been too long since I posted so I’m keeping it. But Lord knows I need to stop scraping the bottom of the barrel sometime soon.

Or at the very least, start eating more dinners that don’t call for crackers.

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A man who cooks.

I’m pretty sure even my husband would have no problem admitting that, between the two of us, I’ve always been more of the chef.

“Chef” used loosely here. I mean, I can cook. But nine times out of ten I’m just throwing things in a pan, incorporating one of my tried-and-true cooking methods, and then just holding my breath and hoping for the best.

One meatloaf mishap aside, I think we could say with a fair amount of certainty that this system has been pretty successful. And in general, I like cooking. It’s a good way to unwind at the end of the day sometimes.

Then I got that pesky new job in the city. (Still accepting postcards, by the way!)

And while so far I love everything about the job, the commute does limit the time I spend at home in the evening. So we were faced with a choice: Either we don’t eat until after nine every night, or Joey learns to cook.

I should clarify that he can cook. The boy makes a mean omelette, and he once whipped up a gorgeous dinner of pork chops, sautéed asparagus, and mashed potatoes. He just doesn’t do it often, and it takes him a while. (The pork chops? I kid you not, took him about seven hours from start to finish.)(They were, however, the best pork chops I’ve ever had.)

I think the main thing holding Joey back was just an unfamiliarity with the kitchen and cooking. He knew the basics, but as soon as he encountered anything new, he got nervous and just had no idea what to do with it.

In the weeks leading up to my new job starting, I tried to incorporate Joey into cooking more. Even if he was just hovering over my shoulder watching how I do things (“This is how you roast broccoli…this is how you make sure the chicken is cooked through…”), the main goal was for him to have a general idea of how to cook just about anything.

Wednesday was his first night in the kitchen since I started the job.

He made baked chicken Parmesan and roasted broccoli.

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Success! it really was delicious, and he will probably be eating the leftovers tonight.

Then Thursday, he took a play from my book and threw a bunch of veggies and some sliced chicken sausage in a pan to sautée. Then he even created his own creamy cheese sauce to put over some whole wheat pasta. I didn’t even teach him that one!

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He even threw together a little spinach salad for a starter.

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So our little experiment has been successful so far. But more important than the actual food, it has made me so grateful to be married to someone who has no problem stepping up when his family needs something. At the risk of getting mush all over this blog, it makes me love him even more every night.

And, you know, not just because he’s handing me a warm plate of delicious food.

How to: Plan a Baby Gender Reveal Party

I was going to start this post with something like, “Well, let’s talk about something that doesn’t make us all feel grown-up beyond belief: PARTIES.” But then I remembered that the purpose of the party I want to discuss is to announce the gender of my friends’ baby. So…let’s talk about something that makes us feel grown-up beyond belief AND is super fun!

So remember the gender reveal party for my friend Megan I’ve mentioned a few times? Well, it was on Sunday.

{the parents-to-be}

If you’ve never heard of a gender reveal party (first, don’t feel bad; they’ve only picked up in popularity over the last year or so), it’s when the couple has the doctor put the gender of their baby in an envelope, and then they give it to someone who plans an event around announcing the results. Some couples will hire a photographer and open a box with either pink or blue balloons in it, and some people have a pink or blue cake made that they then cut into during the party. We went for that option.

And it went just about as well as I could have hoped for. Here’s a break-down of the evening.

How I Decorated

I’m convinced that the key to successful party decor is simply picking a color palette and sticking with it. For Megan’s party, I chose the very gender-neutral palette of black, white, and red. (Don’t think red is gender neutral? Here’s a fun fact for you: Nine times out of ten, when a guy lives alone and wants to add something decor-y to his apartment, he’ll paint a red accent wall. I have no idea why, but this seems to be the go-to.)(I made up that stat, but seriously; dudes love red accent walls.)

Here’s what we started with:

And here are a few detail shots of how I jazzed the place up:

{treat table}
{baby name suggestions}
{place your bets!}

Another motif I used was chalkboards. Everyone voted for whether they thought Baby E was going to be a boy or a girl, there was a chalkboard for the photo booth, and I used mini tags I had painted with chalkboard paint to label the food.

What We Ate

Speaking of food, there was plenty available at the party. Because we had invited about 30-35 people, Megan and I agreed it would be better to keep the party food to appetizers and desserts, along with a few choice drinks. (Click the links for recipes if you’re interested!)

There was a champagne punch:

A non-alcoholic “Megan Punch“:

S’mores bars (Which, it has to be said, might possibly be the greatest thing I have ever eaten. Seriously. Make these now.):

Joey even got in on the excitement and whipped up his first baking adventure ever with these No-Bake Peanut Butter Bars (he subbed in white chocolate chips for the regular chocolate chips because he doesn’t like chocolate…I know, he’s weird), which were also amazing:

And, of course, the cake, complete with homemade buttercream frosting. (I skipped the sprinkles in the cake recipe and added food coloring to dye the inside.)

I created the sprinkle heart on top by cutting a heart out of a piece of paper, laying the outline on the cake, pouring sprinkles in the opening, and then removing the paper.

There were also quite a few other treats contributed by party guests:

There really weren’t any treats that weren’t loved by all, so I can highly recommend all the recipes.

What We Did

A gender reveal party is a little different from a baby shower in that there’s less organization to it. Basically, I just looked at it as a little party where we happened to cut a cake near the end. For the first hour, when they weren’t eating, people would leave their votes for what the baby would be, suggest silly or serious baby names, and pose in our DIY photobooth (if you thought the baby was going to be a boy, you wore the hat and mustache; if you thought it was a girl, you wore the bow):

I thought about organizing a game or something, but in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t. Everyone seemed to be fine with catching up and relaxing until the big moment.

Because the party started at seven on a Sunday night, I planned to have the cake cutting at eight. (Just enough time for everyone to arrive, but not so late that people who had to work the next day would be irritated.)

When the big moment came, Megan and her husband Bill cut the cake, and…

It’s a boy!

I could not be more excited for them — they are seriously going to be the best parents. Plus, I’m SO glad I don’t have to hold that secret in anymore!

Love you SO much, B+M! Can’t wait to meet your little man 🙂

Have any of you ever planned/attended one of these parties? What did you think? Personally, I think it’s such a great way to celebrate that moment (while still giving Type A people like me time to plan for the baby), but I know some people prefer to keep it a surprise. Share your thoughts in the comments!

Don’t starve. Learn to cook.

I consider myself a fairly decent cook. I mean, I’m not getting super fancy on anything. But Joey and I are always fed and almost always happy with what I make.

More importantly (in my opinion), I’m pretty capable at taking a bunch of random ingredients and throwing together an entree and a few side dishes on the fly.

I’m not kidding. The recipes I “invent” are literally discovered through the thought process of, “Well, I like {insert food} and I like {insert other food}…so I would probably like them together? Maybe?”

Most of my favorite recipes since I started cooking for myself have been happy accidents, where certain foods that I knew would taste okay together have wound up tasting AMAZING. ON ACCIDENT. I love that. I very rarely follow recipes (unless they’re from my momma) beyond glancing at the ingredients to get a general idea of other combinations of food that work for other people.

I guess that’s the difference. I just look at all meals as a combination of food instead of a recipe. Maybe that’s what makes it less intimidating?

The point is, while there are definitely MUCH better chefs and bakers out there (this girl, this girl, and this girl, to name a few), I think I have a couple of super basic tips that any just-starting-to-cook person can appreciate.

1. The only spices you really need in your cabinet are cinnamon, garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.
Are salt and pepper considered spices? (I told you, I’m not an expert.) I don’t think they are. You should have those too.

But in terms of straight up comes-in-the-spice-rack spices, the four aforementioned spices will be enough for just about anything you’re going to make regularly. Especially the last three. You can add them to veggies, meat, rice — really any savory food — for flavor you didn’t even know you were capable of. (You can also use them to replace taco seasoning packets, which are made up of basically the same mixture plus tons of sodium. You’re welcome.)

And cinnamon is just good on almost everything. Fact.

Occasionally you’ll probably run into a specific recipe that requires something else, but for the day-to-day-I’m-just-going-to-whip-something-up-out-of-whatever-is-in-the-fridge cooking, these four will do ya.

2. The easiest way to cook vegetables.
I have a friend, who is married to my other friend. He love vegetables, but she does virtually all of the cooking and, for whatever reason, is intimidated by cooking vegetables. I’m intimidated by making meatloaf and potatoes (AFTER THE WORST KITCHEN DISASTER IN MY HISTORY OF COOKING), so I don’t judge. We all have our things.

But the thing is, vegetables are quite possibly the easiest thing in the world to cook. Especially if you know how to roast them. Want to know how? Okay, pay CAREFUL attention.

First, set your over to about 375 degrees. Wash your veggies and either cut or slice them into whatever shape seems normal (for example, cut broccoli into chunks, cut tomatoes into slices…but honestly, you can’t mess this up). Toss the cut-up veggies with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (or garlic salt). Spread on a baking sheet and bake. THAT’S IT.

For most veggies, you only need to roast them about 15 minutes. Denser vegetables, like beets or potatoes, can take up to an hour. Check on them a few times to determine the best length of time for your oven.

3. The easiest meal to cook ever.
Are you ready for this? Grab 2-3 vegetables out of your fridge. (Almost anything will work…broccoli, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, green beans, spinach, kale, swiss chard, WHATEVER.)(Ok, just not potatoes or beets…as I said, they need special treatment.) Wash and chop them.

While they’re draining, prepare a pot of quinoa or rice or pasta on the stove. Let boil/simmer.

Back to the veggies. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add the veggies and saute for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cumin, and paprika (told you they’re helpful!) — however much you want, but a couple of shakes of each should do the trick. Or you can get really fancy and throw a few chopped garlic cloves into the mix.

When quinoa/rice/pasta is done, and the veggies are fragrant and soft (but not mushy), combine everything. Add hot sauce or lite soy sauce (for quinoa and rice) or a bit more olive oil (for pasta) if you like. If you want protein, throw in a scrambled egg, pre-cooked chicken or shrimp, or even a tuna from a can. EAT IT.

Speaking of hot sauce…

4. When in doubt, add hot sauce or cheese.
You guys. How did I not know about the wonders of hot sauce until, like, three weeks ago? YOU GUYS. It’s really, really good, in case you didn’t know. And better than that, it covers a multitude of sins.

If you’ve whipped up virtually anything, and the flavor just isn’t doing it for you, add a few drops of hot sauce or a couple tablespoons of feta or parmesan cheese. I don’t know why this works, but it has never failed me. One of those three ingredients has saved many a bland dish in my house. Make sure you always have them on-hand.

In general, the best way to get comfortable cooking is by, well, cooking. Once you’ve cooked a fillet of fish, you know how to cook almost every fillet of fish. Once you’ve learned how to cook vegetables, you know how to cook almost every vegetable.

Remember, you’re just combining foods. Don’t be intimidated!

Okay, opening the floor to people who actually know what they’re talking about. What are your super basic, super general cooking tips that you didn’t really learn until you had been cooking for a while? I wanna hear ’em.

How to: Upgraded Macaroni & Cheese

Now, I don’t want to brag, but I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to macaroni and cheese.

I mean, sure. What red-blooded American can’t say that they’ve had the “blue-box blues” since childhood (well…accept those lactose-intolerant children…sorry about that)? But for me, mac and cheese is more than just a childhood favorite.

I like to think I’ve elevated it to an art form.

The trick to really good mac and cheese is to think of the pasta and sauce itself as more of a vehicle — a catalyst, if you will — for more substantial ingredients. Sure, we all know that what you really want to eat are noodles slathered in creamy cheese sauce, but if it’s combined with lean proteins and vegetables, well, you’ve got yourself a health food right there.

I mix a lot of things into my macaroni. Tuna, asparagus, chicken apple sausage, peas, mini meatballs — nothing is really off-limits. But last week, I discovered my new favorite combo.

1. Non-fat Greek yogurt. My husband jokes that I will put this stuff on literally anything. Well…he’s not entirely wrong. But when you swap this baby in for the milk and butter in your mac & cheese recipe…something magical happens. It turns out rich, creamy, and slightly tangy (the savory trifecta in a sauce). You feel like you’re eating something positively decadent, when really it’s just high in protein, calcium, and skips any fat or cholesterol you might get with other mix-ins. Basically, it’s a food of the gods.

2. Annie’s Organic Mac & Cheese. I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t include my favorite prepackaged noodles. A college roommate introduced me to Annie’s, and I’ve never looked back. I’m sure someday I’ll branch out with my own noodles and cheese, but you can’t beat the simplicity of this. Plus, it’s organic, so…you can feel smug about that.

3. Broccoli. But not just any broccoli. I recommend roasting it first. Chop the florets into bite-sized pieces, toss with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some freshly grated sea salt and bake at 375 degrees (F) for about 13 minutes. Trust me, the roasting makes all the difference.

4. Chopped clams. I know clams aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like them, you have never liked them so much as you will like them in this recipe. It might sound kind of weird, but I found it delicious. You can also sub in flaked tuna if you aren’t ready to dive into shell fish.

The point is, you can really mix almost anything you like into mac & cheese, making it not only delicious, but incredibly versatile.

Anyone else have a favorite version to share?

How to: Inside-Out Stuffed Shells

I love happy accidents. You know, when you were thinking something was going to happen, but something else does, and it ends up being even better than what you expected?

Not sure why I just defined “happy accident” for you. Let’s get down to it, shall we?

So the other day, I came across a recipe for stuffed shells. I’ve never made them before, but my mom has made them, and I know I like them. I also have a rather Italian husband who is a fan of just about any pasta dish.

Obviously, this was fate.

So after skimming the recipe, I headed to the grocery store to procure the ingredients. Well…most of the ingredients.

Turns out I’m not the best skimmer. Because I managed to come home short an onion and some fresh chorizo. (What’s chorizo? It’s sausage. I only know that because I just looked it up when I wrote this. I had been assuming it was some kind of vegetable similar to an onion. I actually did have sausage on hand. Also, I’m an idiot.) And guess what? I also managed to leave the store without purchasing the shells. For my stuffed shells recipe.

Sometimes I really wonder about my brain.

Not to be deterred (and really craving the taste of stuffed shells at this point), I opened my pantry to see what I could substitute. And lo and behold, I actually had half a box of conchiglie, or mini shell pasta.

We were back in business.

I still didn’t have an onion or chorizo (whatever that was), but I figured I could make due.

And when I was done making up my little recipe, it was pretty stinking good. (The hubs can verify.) And that is the story of how Inside-Out Stuffed Shells came to be.

Here’s the recipe breakdown with photos:

Ingredients:

1/2-3/4 box conchiglie
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt (plus additional for seasoning)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (plus additional for seasoning)
Olive oil cooking spray
1 package frozen spinach (thawed in microwave)
1 1/2 cups low-fat ricotta
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1 egg white

Step One: Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then set aside.

{sauce simmering and pasta boiling}

Step Two: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Step Three: Combine spinach, cheeses, egg white, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Then mix in the tomato sauce.

Side note: If your “steam it in the bag” spinach tells you to snip a vent hole in the bag of frozen spinach before you start microwaving, it’s really a good idea to not miss that step and simply start microwaving the sealed bag because, I don’t know, it might explode and get spinach shards all over the inside of your microwave. Hypothetically. Not that I know anything about that. See also: I’m an idiot, above.

{cheeses, combined}
{spinach, added}

Step Four: Coat a baking dish with cooking spray (mine was about 6-by-10 inches) and add drained pasta.

Step Five: Add tomato and cheese mixture. Combine thoroughly. Bake pasta for about 30 minutes. (Let rest for about 5 minutes before serving so the sauce can thicken up.)

{baked}

And that’s it! At first I called it “deconstructed stuffed shells,” but then Joey goes, “So basically it’s like inside-out shells?” And I thought that name was catchier. So here we are.

{nom}

If you wanted to add in the missing onion and chorizo/sausage, simply brown them in the large saucepan of oil before adding the tomatoes and sugar, easy-peasy.

(Recipe adapted from this version.)

Have you ever accidentally invented something because you didn’t have the right ingredients on hand? Doesn’t it make you feel like a wizard in the kitchen? Share your happy accident recipes in the comments!

Things I couldn’t flesh out into full posts

1. So I got the blue Akira dress. And at first I was pleasantly surprised because the material was nicer than I expected. But then I put it on. And was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the medium was, in fact, too big. So the search continues.

Honestly, I just want to find a dress now so I can stop talking about it. Because I literally can’t stop talking about it. I’m a woman possessed. Possessed by a phantom dress I invented in my mind.

There’s probably a Latin term for that condition, right? Something that ends in -mania.

2. One of my favorite bloggers (and one of my lovely sponsors!) wrote a post about expectations and romance today that I really liked. The gist of it is that you need to ask for what you want, rather that simply get pissed off and broken hearted when your significant other doesn’t psychically know what you want. (I totally butchered the elegance of how Liz described it. Just go read the post.)

3. Today I discovered dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt. And my life was never the same again.

It’s a giant bar of chocolate, so my plan is to eat it slowly throughout the week. It’s literally taking everything I have not to tear into my snack drawer and devour the entire thing.

DISCIPLINE.

4. Last night, I made this for dinner, and it was AWESOME. And super easy. And healthy! I followed the recipe exactly, so it’s not really worth doing my own post about it, but I highly recommend it if healthy chicken enchiladas sounds like something you would enjoy. It’s also husband-approved, so that’s just a bonus.

5. Broke and ate two more squares of chocolate since writing #3. I may have a disease.