Five-second oatmeal mix-ins

oatmealOatmeal is one of my favorite foods.  I especially love the Quaker Instant flavored packets of oatmeal.  Late last year, B bought a giant box of them from Costco, ate two packets, and they’ve been sitting in our pantry ever since.  As much as I love them, I try not to eat them too often.  Although delicious, they’re loaded with sugar and I’ve been going through a phase of eating oatmeal every day, so I’ve been trying to keep it a little healthier.

If you frequent Pinterest like I do (sigh), you’ve seen a billion and a half “recipes” for really exciting oatmeal concoctions.  Like “Healthy Blueberry Cheesecake Oatmeal” and “Vanilla Cake Batter Oatmeal.”  Um, I’m drooling just reading those names, but with a 12-week-old baby, I’ve got about two minutes to make my oatmeal.  When I purchase a tub of quick-cooking oats, I hardly imagine extending that cook time to 20 minutes just to make it taste like a delicious slab of cheesecake.

So what do I do?  I find whatever I can in my fridge or pantry to toss into my oatmeal and give it a little instant flavor without TONS of sugar.  Below are my top choices, plus two I wish I never would have tried.

  1. Brown sugar and cinnamon. Even just a nice, packed teaspoon of brown sugar in one serving of oatmeal gives it a nice syrupy sweetness.  The cinnamon I use VERY sparingly.
  2. Jam or jelly. I use about half a tablespoon.  I have to stir for a minute or so to thoroughly mix it in, but it’s tasty.
  3. Alpine Spiced Apple Cider mix. NOT a whole packet—usually 1/4 to 1/3 of a packet mixed into one serving of oatmeal.  This is probably my favorite of all the mix-ins I’ve tried.
  4. Hot cocoa mix. Again, not a whole packet—about 1/4 does the trick.  The kind I’ve used has been Starbucks cinnamon dolce, but I’m sure any hot cocoa would taste pretty good.
  5. Honey. It doesn’t take much since honey is so sweet.

Two things I mixed into my oatmeal that were just awful are applesauce and peanut butter (separately, of course).  Considering that I am addicted to peanut butter and eat it EVERY day, this is saying a lot.  I even tried to salvage it by adding some hot cocoa (because nothing is better than peanut butter except for peanut butter and chocolate together), and it still ended up in the trash.

What about you?  Do you mix anything into your oatmeal?

Not-Ruined Potatoes and the Barf of the Week

If you’ve read my past blog posts, you’re probably more than familiar with my disturbing ability to ruin potatoes.  POTATOES, of all things.  If you’re a new reader, let me tell you:  I usually couldn’t cook potatoes if my life depended on it.  I’ve always claimed I must be cursed, as I could dice a potato into half-inch cubes and bake it at 400 degrees for five hours and it would still be raw.

No matter how badly I ruin a recipe for potatoes, a certain amount of time always passes before I try again.  Things never get any better.  I truly deserve an award for perseverance, if nothing else.

Recently I found a recipe that instructed to dice the potatoes, place them in a bowl with a small amount of water, and heat them in the microwave for 6-8 minutes.  I’m one of those weird people who uses a microwave only as a last resort–call it a paranoia thing.  If anything classifies as a last resort, it’s cooking potatoes in the microwave because no other method works for me.

To my surprise, the potatoes did cook in the microwave–but they were a wee bit overcooked and slightly crumbling into a diced potato-mashed potato hybrid.

Tonight, I made a salsa chicken recipe I’ve cooked a few times.  Usually I make a side of rice or salad to go with it, but tonight I stepped outside of my comfort zone.  I not only decided to tackle microwaved potatoes again, but I didn’t have any kind of a recipe.  I was wingin’ it.

I diced the potatoes and placed them in a bowl with a little bit of water and a tiny chunk of butter.  I checked them every few minutes until they were perfectly done and then I tossed them into a preheated grill pan.  I sprinkled them with salt, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and BBQ seasoning, and tossed them until they just barely began to brown on the outside.

Pretty sexy, huh?

Pretty sexy, huh?

Not only was my husband impressed that the potatoes couldn’t have been more perfectly cooked, but he complimented me on how good they were several times as we ate.  Score one for my ego!

So, with the success story out of the way, it’s occurred to me that while the end result of cooking is often delicious and beautiful food, there are plenty of aspects of cooking that are truly barf-worthy.  Therefore, each week I will post a “Barf of the Week” picture to share how disgusted I am by some of the things we have to deal with in the kitchen.

This week’s Barf of the Week:  Congealed bacon grease!  EWWWW!

It smelled worse than it looked.

It smelled worse than it looked.

Chili Mac in a Snap

I’m not a big fan of leftovers, with one exception: chili. And when I say “chili leftovers,” I’m not talking about the kind you stick in the fridge and eat the next day. I like to freeze my leftover chili and wait to stumble upon it a month later after I’ve forgotten about it—surprise, five minute dinner!

Earlier this week I realized I had two fewer chicken breasts than I originally thought, so I was picking through the freezer to find something else to cook for dinner. AHA! Deep in the freezer, I discovered some chili I’d frozen last month.

Normally the drill would be to thaw it overnight, heat it in a pot, and that would be that. On this particular occasion, however, inspiration struck.

I heated up the chili in one pot and boiled some ditalini pasta in another. While both were cooking, I grated some cheddar cheese. Feeling extra daring, I even tossed about a tablespoon of taco seasoning in with the chili.

Once the chili and the pasta were done, I combined the two and stirred in the cheese until I was left with an ooey gooey pot of wonder.


Let me tell you, this tasted SO GOOD. I’m pretty sure it tasted even better just knowing it took only ten minutes of actual work to prepare. I honestly don’t know that I’ll ever just plain ol’ chili again when I freeze the leftovers!

What kinds of quick dishes do you like to make using leftovers from other meals?

Creations: “Open-faced omelet” and scrumptious simple chili

For the past couple of nights, I haven’t really planned ahead for dinner.  Five months ago, this would have resulted in a trip to Subway or to the grocery store for a DiGiorno.  But I was wearing my bravery boots, so I attempted–for two nights in a row–to make up my own meals.

Last night, I made what my fiance has dubbed the “open-faced omelet.”  Against my better judgment, I started by peeling and dicing two russet potatoes.  I say it like that because, as many of you already know, potatoes are my sworn enemy.  Those uncooperative little bastards never do what I want them to do, so I usually avoid them altogether whenever possible.  Since one of my goals in the kitchen is to never give up, I dumped the diced potatoes in a heated, oiled skillet and crossed my fingers.

It took about 20 minutes, but the potatoes finally turned soft on the inside and browned on the outside.  I was absolutely ecstatic that they didn’t turn to mush like they typically do!  Once they reached a beautiful brownness, I added chopped onion, chopped garlic, and about 10 ounces of sliced turkey kielbasa.  In a bowl, I whisked together some milk and eggs and poured the mixture into the pan, letting the eggs scramble among the rest of the ingredients.  Once the egg had cooked, I topped it all with some Parmesan and Romano.  Mmmmmm, it was delicious.

Tonight, I was in the mood for chili.  Since chili is something I have yet to fail at, I thought I’d try my hand at making chili without a recipe.  It turned out so good that I’ll even share what I did!  It’s SUPER easy, but nice and flavorful.  Even my test subject (fiance) approved.

1 lb. ground beef
1 small green pepper, diced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz.) can Italian-style diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14.5 oz.) can chili beans
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles
1 tbsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin

1)  Add ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper to a large pot.  Cook over medium heat until beef is browned.

2)  Add the remaining six ingredients to the ground beef mixture.  Stir well.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

I’m feeling really proud of myself.  Five months ago, I couldn’t even chop an onion.  Now I’m making up my own recipes and–gasp–sharing them with others!  That’s a LOT of progress made in just a matter of months.  GO ME!

Broiling final exam and experimental marinara meatballs

Today marks the final challenge of my first “Two Week Technique,” a 14-day assignment of learning all that is necessary to know about broiling.  After doing some much-needed reading on the subject, I made a list of the basics of broiling and found recipes for three different types of food to cook under the broiler.  First, I tried my hand at broiling grilled cheese sandwiches.  Second, I attempted (and failed) to make broiled stuffed potatoes.  Third, I surprised myself by successfully cooking sirloin steak under the broiler.

The final test was for me to choose something to broil without using a recipe.  I allowed myself to rely only on the things that I have learned in my three recent broiling experiences.  Without further adieu, here is the product of my education in the school of broiling:

So what on that plate is broiled?  Well, I ultimately decided that for my final test I would stick to a simple cheesy garlic bread.  Why?  Because what I learned is that if you’re cooking anything fancy, the broiler is best left for something a little less complex.  Since broiling cooks from above at a high temperature, it’s really better left for things that…well, need to be cooked from above at a high temperature.  If it doesn’t need to be cooked this way, it’s mostly a pain in the ass to try cooking it under the broiler.

Therefore, I chose to make cheesy garlic bread.  I made this decision based on the fact that I wanted the top–and only the top–of my bread to be cooked.  I started with this darling little loaf of artisan bread:

Then I sliced it, brushed each slice with melted butter, sprinkled the slices with garlic salt, and topped them all with grated Parmesan and Romano.

Then into the oven they went.  As they sat under the broiler, I checked on them about every 15 seconds.  Since I did learn the broiler is a bloody fast way of cooking, I didn’t want to risk the cheese burning.

I made some turkey meatballs to go with the cheesy garlic bread.  At this point, I’m able to wing it when it comes to meatballs–I no longer need recipes for them!  The meatballs tonight were simply seasoned with basil, oregano, and chopped onion.  After they were finished baking, I simmered them in a pot of marinara sauce.  While they simmered, they looked so delicious I just had to take a picture.  Unfortunately, the photo looked nothing like the pot of food in front of me; rather, it looked like a still from a zombie apocalypse film.  (This was confirmed by my fiance as I was saving the photos to my computer.  He saw the picture out of the corner of his eye and said, “Are you looking at a picture of a gunshot victim?”)

I can assure you, these tasted SO much better than they look in the picture above (I promise, this dish wasn’t inspired by Rudy Eugene).  I served them with some asparagus and the cheesy garlic bread, which was DIVINE!

I feel that my first “Two Week Technique” was successful.  Though I don’t feel I’ll be using my broiler much for anything other than cheesy garlic bread, I know I learned a lot and that it helped me grow as a cook.  Tomorrow will start my next TWT:  dough!

Creamy Pasta with Spinach and Kielbasa

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.  Ladies and gents, I’ve pulled it off!  I envisioned a recipe of my own creation and for the first time, it came out EXACTLY like I was hoping it would.  Ohmyfreakinggoodness, I’m beaming with pride.  I have no idea what to call it, so I’ve dubbed it “Creamy Pasta with Spinach and Kielbasa.”  Okay, if I continue down this path of creating my own recipes, the names are going to need some work.  But for now, the obvious will have to do.

Here it is.  My pride and joy.

Some of you are probably skeptical.  Pictures can be deceiving, right?  My fiance says this was delicious–yes, he used the word “delicious” in regards to my cooking.  So for any non-believers, here is the recipe.  Try it out.  I promise that it won’t make you gag.

-8 oz. dry linguine
-1/2 cup chopped onion
-2 cloves minced garlic
-1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
-13 oz. turkey kielbasa, sliced into bite-sized chunks (or kielbasa of your choice, but I recommend the turkey)
-2 tbsp. butter
-2 tbsp. flour
-1 1/2 cups whole milk
-1 tsp. Italian seasoning
-Salt and pepper
-Cooking spray

1)  Cook pasta according to package directions.

2)  Spray a large skillet with cooking spray.  On medium-high heat, saute the onion and the garlic for 2 minutes.  Add the kielbasa pieces and cook 2-3 minutes or just until they begin to darken on the outside.

3)  Add the spinach to the skillet and cook about a minute, until it begins to wilt.  Transfer the onion, garlic, kielbasa, and spinach to a bowl and reduce heat to medium.  Return the skillet to the burner.

4)  Add the butter to the skillet.  Once it has melted, add the flour and whisk until it has formed a roux.  Stir in the milk, and continue to stir until the mixture is thick and bubbly.  Add the Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.

5)  Return the onion, garlic, kielbasa, and spinach to the skillet; stir them together with the sauce.

6)  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.  Stir until everything is well combined.  Serve, and enjoy!


(Below:  random butter picture.  Because who doesn’t start drooling at the sight of sizzling, melting butter?)

My first omelet

When I was a child, I hated eggs.  Sometime during my teen years, I decided I liked scrambled eggs.  But I’ve remained admittedly closed-minded about eggs over easy, sunny-side up, poached, and soft boiled alike.  In fact, until this past weekend, I had never had an omelet.

I’ve been eating a lot of scrambled eggs as of late–plain scrambled eggs with a generous sprinkle of pepper.  How boring is that?  So, I did some reading and used this video as my guide and made my very first omelet.

I like mushrooms about as much as I like vomiting, so I chose to fill my omelet with sliced cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, spinach, and fresh Parmesan.  Since I have never cooked nor eaten an omelet, I felt like I was trying to tie the laces on a pair of sneakers after only ever wearing sandals.

Once my omelet was plated, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I can be so CLUMSY with eggs, but my tiny little omelet looked beautiful!

I sat down with my omelet and a cup of coffee and readied myself for inevitable deliciousness.

Woah…got ahead of myself there.  Sad discovery:  I do not like omelets.

I want to say it was my selection of ingredients that made in unpalatable.  But the taste itself wasn’t bad.  It was that the way the eggs stick together gave me the impression I was eating yellow rubber instead of eggs.  I ate half of it, just to be a good sport, and then made myself a replacement breakfast of raspberry oatmeal.

I really wonder if playing with the ingredients and incorporating more flavors/seasonings would make me like omelets more.  Maybe I need to taste a well-prepared omelet at a restaurant before I know for sure.  But what I can say is that I made an omelet, and I did not care for it.

Sigh.  Culinary discovery can be a real bitch.

This is how I roll

My fiance’s poor 8-year-old son has been a victim of some of my recent (bad) cooking adventures, so tonight I aimed for something a little more “kid-friendly.”  I decided to make these Pepperoni Pizza Rolls.

I’ll admit up front that spreading dough is an area in which I very badly need to improve.  This recipe doesn’t instruct you to “spread” dough, but it requires a fair amount of flattening biscuit dough.  I planned to make 15 pizza rolls tonight, so I gave myself plenty of prep time in anticipation that I would spend a minute or twenty fighting with the dough.

I recently gave birth to this idea that if I film myself doing some of the things I suck at, maybe I can use the videos as an opportunity to tweak or improve my technique.  So tonight, I set up my camera and filmed Pizza Roll Attempt #1–this first attempt took almost two minutes.

From Pizza Roll Attempt #1, I learned that I didn’t flatten the dough enough and that I piled on too much cheese.  As a result, when I tried to close up the pizza roll, I had a little mini-battle.  I got a little better with each one, and around Pizza Roll Attempt #10, I had cut in half the total time to complete each roll.

I didn’t necessarily learn anything from watching these two videos, but it was kind of neat to see the transformation of my abilities after I’d had a little practice.  Corny as it sounds, it was symbolic of my cooking journey as a whole.

A proud moment emerged when my fiance’s son entered the kitchen and, after observing me for a minute, asked if he could help me make some pizza rolls.  I was slightly unnerved at first; after all, I’m about the LEAST qualified person to teach a child how to cook anything!  But I walked him through a pizza roll, step-by-step, and he did wonderfully.  So we finished them up together and let me tell you, we ROCKED!

Since these pizza rolls were so simple, I was brave enough to experiment a little with the ingredients.  Since my fiance and his son don’t care for Gorgonzola (as I recently learned the hard way), I filled some of my pizza rolls with Gorgonzola, spinach, Parmesan, and pepperoni.  Delicious!

Creamy Spicy Chicken Pitas

It’s been an eventful week for this lil’ chef!  I made blackened chicken for the first time, which nearly caused my fiance and I to suffocate from smoke inhalation (this isn’t normal, is it?).  I also cooked–and tasted–quinoa for the first time and LOVED it.  I attempted to make lemon-honey chicken, but the honey all dripped off in the oven and we ended up, once again, dipping plain chicken breast into barbecue sauce.  I watched a video on how to cut a mango and failed to replicate anything the video showed me.  And on top of it all, I was finishing up my final projects for the end of the spring semester.  Now that I have a 3-month break from school, I’m hoping I can really spend some time focusing on my cooking.

I hadn’t planned anything for dinner tonight and around 5 o’clock, I was feeling really indecisive about what to make.  I ended up at the grocery store with a vision in my head of some sort of Mexican chicken pitas.  I had no recipe–just an idea that I went with as I wandered the aisles of the supermarket.  What I didn’t expect was how good they actually tasted!  In fact, they were so good I feel confident in sharing the recipe.

Creamy Spicy Chicken Pita

Creamy Spicy Chicken Pitas (Serves 2)

2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons poblano pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
3 tablespoons taco seasoning
2 tablespoons avocado
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 pita pockets
Water (for the taco seasoning)

1)  Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, pepper, and cilantro and saute for about 1-2 minutes.
2)  While the vegetables are cooking, mix together the avocado and sour cream in a small bowl.  Set aside.
3)  Add chicken to skillet and cook until no longer pink.  Add taco seasoning and 2 tablespoons of water and continue to cook until thickened.
4)  Spread the avocado-sour cream mixture inside a pita half.  Sprinkle with your desired amount of cheddar cheese.  Add the chicken mixture and enjoy!

Pie inside of a cake

A couple of months ago, my fiance found a picture on the Internet of a cake with a pie baked inside of it.  Though the sight of it made me sick to my stomach (sugar overdose, anyone?), he’s been drooling over the idea ever since.  So, tomorrow is his birthday.  And guess what I decided to make in place of the traditional boring birthday cake?

I enlisted the help of my mother–obviously, I wasn’t going to go it alone on this one.  After a week or so of mulling it over, we had a plan.  The grocery list:  two boxes of cake mix, frosting, and a pre-baked pie from the bakery.

Seems simple enough, eh? But wait…

I chose a cherry pie, cherry chip cake mix, and chocolate frosting.  But I’m sure the possibilities are endless.  Next, we baked two cakes (one with each mix).  I prepared one and my mom prepared the other.


So, they look exactly alike, right?  They were even baked in identical pans.  But when the time came to remove the cakes from the pans, it was clear which one was mine.


Let’s back up for a second:  prior to pouring the batter in the pan, my mom made sure I understood that the pan needed to be sprayed with cooking spray and then dusted WELL with flour to prevent the cake from sticking.  After getting flour everywhere, I managed to get what I thought was enough flour on the bottom and the sides of the pan.  Lesson learned:  less is NOT more.  Flour is my friend.

So, we were in a predicament.  It came down to:  1) Try to glue the cake back together, or 2) Drive to the grocery store, buy another cake mix, and bake a new cake.  We settled on the idea of gluing the cake back together with cherry pie filling.

Had this been better planned, we would have acquired round cake pans and baked the cakes that way.  However, we decided on short notice to cut the cakes into a round shape to match the shape of the pie.  Luckily, this made it so that we didn’t have to glue my ruined cake back together–we just mashed in the missing corner and crossed our fingers it would stay.  Then, we carved out a bowl shape in the bottom layer and carefully set the pie inside.

United at last.

Next, we laid the second cake on top of the pie.  Then came……..the frosting.  (Cue suspenseful music:  dun-dun-duuuuuuuuun!)

This is where it would have been a THOUSAND times better had we planned ahead and baked round cakes.  But we weren’t about to start over, so we went with it.  Since the outside of our creation was all the crumbly interior of the cake, trying to frost it was like trying to paint sand.  I ended up scooping out frosting with my fingers and smashing it on to most of the exterior of the cake.

What a mess!

Seventy-nine cuss words later, we had the final product:


I’d had my doubts, but this was DELICIOUS!  My fiance absolutely loves it.  It may not have looked like a cake in a bakery, but it did work–and it was worth every cuss word and every bit of chocolate that got permanently wedged under my fingernails.

Piece of cake! I mean pie. I mean…ah, forget it.