Okay, boys and girls. Here's a legitimate How-To that I might be qualified to write! I'm not using this space to brag but to teach. I don't really use recipes. I just make them up. And when people find that out, they say "How do you do that?? How do you know what goes together?? How do you know you're not going to mess it up??" And today I'm going to teach you how to do something that comes super naturally to me. That is, developing your own dinner using only your own brains. It's hard for me to write, actually, because it is a skill (skill?) that comes so naturally to me that I can't really explain it. It's like this: I don't know how to whistle but no one who knows how to whistle can tell me how to do it. They say, "It's easy! Just purse your lips and... blow." No. It clearly is not that easy because I can do that all day long and no lovely song comes out. Just air. And sometimes saliva. Sexy. That being said, I'm still going to give it a shot.
I guess it all really starts at the grocery store. A well minded person would gather a list of all of the things that she wants to eat that week, compile another list of everything that she will need to purchase to make that list come true and then go to the grocery store. That's how the responsible types do their grocery shopping--I think? Some people also go to the store whenever they decide to cook something. I don't do that, though, because if my cupboards are not filled with things, then I'll just stop at Wendy's on the way to the grocery store and spend $6 on one sandwich and fries. So that's why I have to keep my pantry stocked. Do you know how many chicken sandwiches you can make for $6? I'm not totally sure but realistically speaking, I'd guess about four. But, let's be serious. If you're craving a spicy chicken, you're craving a lot more than spices on your chicken. When I'm craving a spicy chicken sandwich I'm craving nostalgia. And in that case, go get your Wendy's.
Anyway, even though I am an avid grocery shopper, I'm pretty bad at sticking to a list so I tend to shop like this,"I'm out of milk and eggs and I have no more apples." Then I just start grabbing things that I tend to enjoy and when I get home, then I figure out what to make with all of them. It's a gamble but sometimes it works out magnificently. One thing to keep in mind when it comes to grocery shopping is that you want to spend as much time around the perimeter of the store as possible. That's where you'll find the freshest ingredients Fresher ingredients = fewer preservatives, better flavor and more vitamins. Meat, seafood, fresh baked bread, cheese, vegetables, dairy: all of the food groups. Hooray!
That doesn't mean that shelf-things are bad things. There are certain items from the middle of the store that I always keep on hand those things are:
Rice, canned beans and tomatoes, (though apparently there's stuff in canned food that will give you cancer or something--so if you don't like cancer, you can research that and come up with an alternative. I, personally, am a little bit tired of running away from cancer and so I have taken a "casually avoid" approach to the whole thing. Also, I tend to not buy a lot of canned foods for the simple fact that they make my groceries very heavy and squish my other stuff) your favorite pasta shape (I personally like rigatoni) jarred pasta sauce (for nights when you're feeling super lazy) and chicken stock. You can pretty much go anywhere if you already have these things in your pantry. So buy those things and then pretty much anything else that you like from the edges of the store and you'll be able to make a meal--I promise. So lets get into it.
So, you're hungry or bored. Probably you're mostly bored and not yet hungry but you figure you'll probably be hungry at some point, later. Step one: Survey the scene!
I looked in the pantry and saw things like beans and rice and taco shells. I looked in my fridge and saw this big green pepper and thought about how my mom used to stuff peppers with rice and taco meat and cheese and bake them. It was pretty much my favorite thing ever. But I only have one green pepper. So I decided that I was just going to take all of the ingredients that you would put into a stuffed pepper and put them all into a casserole. That's the same, right? No, I don't know what all goes into a stuffed pepper but I know what kinds of flavors I like. I don't have any taco meat but that's okay. I've been trying to eliminate at-home meat intake anyway, lately. So we'll make up for the protein in other ways. There's tons of protein and other healthy things in black beans and I also have a mystery protein source that I will reveal when we get to it.
Step two: Get to it!
As with most things in my life, my philosophy on cooking is fake it 'till you make it. Don't know how to cook? Pretend. I recommend pretending like you're on a cooking show. That's what I always do. Because I'm always cooking alone. And if you're not cooking alone, you can still pretend that you're on a cooking show because you probably have an audience. You say things like, "I'm doing this because ____" and that makes you more aware of what you're doing and why you're doing it. That's important because you remember what works and what doesn't.
I know that I'm going to put rice and beans and my green peppers and onions and tomatoes all together. I know that I'm really going to want that rice to be cooked because uncooked rice is inedible. So cook the rice!
Here's how you cook rice:
1 part rice + 2 parts liquid
A. Bring to a boil.
B. Turn the burner down to low and simmer for, like, 20 minutes or until it's done. You know it's done when you taste it and it's edible.
Secondly, I know that the rice is going to be the main portion of the dish and I want it to be super flavorful. I used a coffee cup as measuring tool. I put in one cup of rice, one cup of water and then one cup of salsa. That way it gets a little tomatoey and spicey. But experience has told me that won't be enough flavor. So I stood next to the spice cabinet and dumped in any spice that smelled like it could be tacoey. I dumped in salt and pepper and garlic and cumin and red pepper flakes. Then I stirred it up and let it cook the way rice cooks. Had I any cilantro, I would have added a friggin ton of that as well. After the rice was done cooking, I dumped it into a big bowl and put it into the fridge to cool it down. I did that because experience has told me that if you keep it warm and then put it into the oven, it'll keep cooking that whole time and it will get really gummy. No one likes that.
While it was cooling down, I chopped up my green peppers and onions and tomatoes. I asked myself, "Self? Should I saute these things before I put them into the rice and stuff?" Self answered with, "Um... let's not and see what happens." I didn't saute them for a few reasons, the first reason being that when my mom stuffed her peppers, she stuffed them raw. Also it's easier to not add an extra step and I like the way that fresh veggies crunch. So I didn't. That's all. You could cook them if you wanted to. NBD.
Also, experience has told me to rinse my beans. You don't always have to rinse your beans but for this purpose I did because, in the past, I've not rinsed my beans and they made my food all gummy again. Hot rice + un-rinsed beans = a gummy mess. I just know that. I only know that because I've made "mistakes" in the past. You'll figure it out while you're faking it.
So, I put everything together with the rice that has cooled down a bit and I was thinking that it would need some type of sauce to run throughout it to bind it together and add a little extra flavor. At first I thought that salsa would do the trick but I used a lot of that for the rice. Hmm... what to do. Look in the fridge again. What do you see? I see a tub of greek yogurt.
Have you ever tasted plain Greek yogurt? It's terrible. Have you ever tasted fat-free sour cream? It's friggin Greek yogurt. You know what makes fat-free yogurt edible? Salsa. So here we go. Mix all of the yogurt into the salsa. Trust me. Sometimes things that don't taste great on their own are just delicious when you mix them together. Like... I can't think of any examples right now but there are tons of them.
So, essentially, I just took all of the things (and I crumbled up some left over taco shells--I don't know why. Texture? Color? Whatever) and stirred them all up together and then put them into a prepared baking dish ("prepared" means that you Pam'd the hell out of it so that it doesn't stick and make clean-up a horrible task). Then I thought it should probably have cheese on top but I don't have any sprinkle cheese. So I cut up slice cheese and laid it all on top like that. And I baked it. Since it was all ready to eat, anyway, I mostly just let it bake until I couldn't handle it anymore. The rule in my house is that when you can smell it, it's probably done. That usually works. It worked for me, anyway.
Step three: Eat it! If you don't like it--then you should probably figure out what you didn't like about it and then change that part. If you don't know what it is, call someone who cooks. They'll be able to tell you. Probably. You can email me. Once I emailed Hilah. She got back to me. It solved my problem and made me feel really cool. It's good to have friends who know how to do stuff.
Now I'll attempt to write the recipe for what I made, in case you want to make it too.
1 coffee cup of rice
1 coffee cup of water
1 coffee cup of salsa
Spices that I did not measure: fresh garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin.
(Make the rice)
1 green pepper
1/2 red onion
1 can black beans (rinsed)
(You could also add corn or green chiles or anything else you like)
Crunched up taco chips
1 little tub-thing of sour cream (or greek yogurt or ranch dressing or... I don't know, whatever you want)
Probably a 1/2 a cup of salsa
Mix all of those things together. Stuff it into a caserolle dish. Top with whatever random cheese you have in your fridge. Bake it until you can smell it.