Fast forward a few months. A little side-job falls into my lap — one that requires me to cook for a widower in my neighborhood three times a week. Hmmm... now that it's my job to be a cook, why don't we up the ante a little bit? Let's make that goal 100 recipes. Challenge escalated!
Well, I finally made it. All I can say is that it's been a lot of fun. I've especially enjoyed discovering all kinds of ingredients that I've never cooked with before — fresh lemongrass, chorizo (Mexican and Spanish), goat cheese, poblanos, grits, bulgur, shrimp paste — just to name a few. The process of choosing the recipes was somewhat random, but I feel I did my best to include a wide variety of foods and ingredients. Of course, at least ten of these are "pizza" recipes, but they were all very different pizzas! And let's be real. I love pizza in all forms.
Okay. Enough rambling. For those who are interested in the recipes I included in the challenge, here is the list. An "h" signifies one of my top favorites. A "j" signifies a favorite of Jacob's. You'll notice that he had a much harder time limiting his top choices. We both agree that basically all of these were pretty dang delicious. Jacob said he would be mad if I didn't make most of these again. Oh, and the "favorites" are linked up to the recipes online, so feel free to check them out >>>
1. Turmeric Chicken *hj
2. Peanut Noodle Stir Fry
3. Dragon Noodles
4. Peanut Chicken Curry
5. Thai Chicken Pizzas
6. Grilled Veggie French Bread Pizzas
7. Roasted Veggie Burritos
8. Poblano-Roasted Grits with Chorizo *j
9. Mediterranean Quesadillas *hj
10. Spinach Lasagna Rolls
11. Eggs in Purgatory + Grits
12. Chorizo & Sweet Potato Enchiladas
13. Chickpea & Pesto Salad/Wrap
14. Italian Chicken Hoagies with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce *j
17. Pasta with Sweet Potato Cream Sauce + Roasted Kale
15. Jalapeno Popper Mac n Cheese *hj
17. Zesty Tomato & Artichoke Pasta
18. Golden Rice Bowls With Spinach
19. Indian Creamed Spinach + Naan *j
20. Cheese Ravioli with Toasted Walnuts *j
21. Chicken Shawarma
22. Three-Cheese Calzones
23. Salami and Spinach Stromboli
24. Chipotle Sweet Potato Burgers
25. Sweet Chili Chicken Bowls
26. Southwest Cornbread Salad
27. Black Bean Pizzas
28. Buffalo Chicken Pizza
29. Black Bean & Avocado Enchiladas
30. Zucchini Ribbon Pasta
31. Teriyaki Meatball Bowls *j
32. Gnocchi + Summer Squash
33. Korean Beef *j
34. Taco Chicken Bowls
35. Greek Turkey Burgers
36. Caramelized Onion & Mushroom White Pizza *hj
37. Mediterranean Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers
38. Italian Wonderpot
39. Easy Sesame Chicken *j
40. Spicy Chipotle & Sweet Potato Soup
41. Asian Slaw Dogs *hj
42. Vegetarian Borscht
43. Chicken + Pineapple Quesadillas
44. Cajun Chicken Pasta
45. Oven-roasted Autumn Medley *h
46. Grilled Broccoli & Cheese Sandwich on Sourdough *hj
47. Thai Green Curry *h
48. Vegan Enchiladas with Cashew-Poblano Crema *hj
49. Creamy Tomato & Spinach Pasta
50. Savory Parmesan-crusted French Toast
51. Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Alfredo *j
52. Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup
53. Chicken Yakisoba
54. Red Kidney Bean Curry
55. Pumpkin, Bean, & Chicken Enchiladas *h
56. Butternut Squash & Kale Lasagna
57. Spinach + Artichoke Wonderpot
58. Corn & Rice Cakes with Black Beans + Chile-Lime Zucchini Saute
59. Pesto-stuffed Shells
60. Spicy Pasta with Sweet Potatoes
61. Spaghetti Bolognese
62. Cinnamon-roasted Chicken + Pumpkin Grits *h
63. Green Enchilada Soup
64. Moroccan Beef Stew + Moroccan-spiced Spaghetti Squash *h
65. Curried Sweet Potato Soup
66. Apple Cheddar Penne Pie
67. Apples & Pork Loin + Maple-roasted Acorn Squash
68. Spinach & Artichoke Pasta *j
69. Chorizo, Jalapeno, & Corn Nachos
70. Jamaican Jerk Chicken Pasta *hj
71. Chorizo-stuffed Acorn Squash
72. Coriander Chicken with Acorn Squash & Tomatoes
73. Baked Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash *h
74. Pecan Pesto Shells with Sausage *hj
75. Honey-Lime Chicken Enchiladas *hj
76. Tomato Herb Soup with Tortellini
77. Chicken Noodle Soup
78. Spaghetti Squash & Chorizo Bake
79. Spicy Coconut Pumpkin Soup
80. Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes *j
81. Brie & Crab Mac n Cheese
82. Spinach, Tomato, & Swiss Pizza
83. Broccoli Shells n' Cheese
84. Thai Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Curry
85. Zuppa Toscana *h
86. Sriracha Chicken Thighs
87. Thai Massman Curry
88. Slow Cooker Chicken & Chorizo Paella
89. Pizza Supreme *j
90. Jalapeno Popper Pasta
91. White Spinach Pizza
92. Chicken Wild Rice Soup *hj
93. Baked Lemon Chicken
94. Deep Dish Polenta Pizza
95. Sweet Potato & Thyme Ravioli
96. Cafe Rio Style Pork Barbacoa *hj
97. Pasta with Chorizo & Chickpeas *j
98. Lemony Chicken & Orzo Soup *h
99. Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Cream Sauce *hj
100. Greek Pizzas with Olive Pesto Sauce *hj
Things I've learned from this experience:
Goals FTW - I've never been much of a "goals girl." Not that I don't ever work towards accomplishing cool things in my life — I'd like to think that I do. However, I've never been very good (or consistent) with setting a long-term goal and tracking my progress until I reach it. Really nailing down that process has been enlightening. I've found that working towards a really big goal and accomplishing it is one of the most empowering things a person can do.
Anyone Can Cook - Just so you know, I am truly a novice in the kitchen. And let me tell you, even after making quite a variety of recipes, I still feel like a have so much to learn about food preparation. Still, what I've come to learn is that cooking is so much more about the recipe than the cook. If you've found a great recipe and you know how to follow some basic directions — you're pretty much golden.
Cooking Gets Easier - When I first really started cooking while I was in college, I would find a recipe that looked good, email it to my mom, tell her to make it first, and then have her explain every detail of how she made it in her own words before I would even attempt to make it on my own. I know... kinda pathetic. I suppose I had absolutely no "kitchen confidence." But with more experience I eventually got to the place where I would try new things on my own; still, it seemed like cooking took SO LONG. This was mostly because I had to read every single word of the recipe over and over and over — just to make sure I was doing everything precisely perfect as written. Also, some of my skills (such as chopping vegetables) were a little underdeveloped. And multi-tasking was pretty much nonexistent.
What I've found is that when you start cooking more, you really do get better at it. You don't have to have your eyes glued to the recipe quite so much. You can chop the veggies faster. You think of smarter ways to prepare in advance to make things smoother before dinner. You have a little more ingenuity when it comes to multi-tasking. The more experience you have, the easier and quicker it gets.
Meal Plans - There was a time when Jacob and I would just meander around the grocery store every week, just picking up random items that we thought we wanted to eat that week. I would maybe plan one "nicer" meal for Sunday dinner, and the rest was probably just random ingredients for Mexican food — cheese, tortillas, salsa, beans, etc. We ate A LOT of Mexican food our first year of marriage.
Meal plans have completely changed the way we eat. It guarantees variety and encourages smarter shopping. Trips to the grocery store are quicker because I know EXACTLY what I need to buy for the whole week. My mind is more at ease because I know what we're having for dinner every single night. Jacob's probably a little more excited to come home because he knows there is something planned for dinner. I also think planning meals means more economical shopping. We buy what we need and what we know we will use that week, instead of random items that we think we want — which often don't get used or go bad when we've accidentally bought too much food for the week.
The Internet = Treasure Trove of Endless Possibilities - The hardest part about creating a meal plan is simply thinking of what it is you want to eat. If you feel stumped, you obviously haven't been browsing enough recipes on the web. I promise, once you get into the habit of recipe browsing every once in awhile, you'll have way more recipes than you'll ever be able to make.
The People's Voice - When it comes to sites like Youtube, I am usually inclined to avoid the comment section — that is, if I want to preserve my faith in humanity. But in the food world, you need to read those comments! So often, users will give a recipe a high rating without taking into account the many adjustments that they made to get a great end result. Always read the user comments to see what others have done to achieve the best outcome. I know this has saved my dinners so many times. Also, be a good web citizen and leave comments after trying a recipe!
Cataloging Recipes - I'm not on Pinterest, but I've heard it's a good place for collecting these kinds of things. I have been using Ziplist for recipe-collecting and creating grocery lists, and love it.
"Hard Recipes" Easier than Expected - There were a lot of dishes that I assumed were probably too difficult to make at home. In reality, a lot of them were super easy. Don't let exotic/fancy-looking foods scare you. It's so fun to learn to make the foods you love to buy at restaurants. For instance, did you know that sesame chicken is incredibly easy to make? Save your money at Panda Express and make it yourself!
You Don't Need Fancy Kitchen Tools - You really don't need all that fancy stuff. I mean, a bunch of cool gizmos and gadgets for the kitchen can be fun, but you can get by without them. However, if I were to suggest investing in a few items, it would be these: 1) a decent food processor 2) an immersion blender (So useful for soups and all kinds of things. One of the best wedding gifts ever. I love mine so much) 3) a few quality knives. That last one is actually pretty important. I don't know what I would do without my Cutco petite chef knife. I use it so much every single day.
Oh, and you should probably have an apron that you like. Just because it makes you feel cool.
When You Eat Better, Life is Better - If you think about it, the food you eat kind of defines your basic quality of life — almost more than anything else, in my opinion (but that's probably because I love food more than most things in life). In other words, if you eat great food, your life is (at least) a little bit great. On the other hand, if you eat crappy food, your life is probably... well, you can fill in the blanks. Not the best.
Food is kind of a beautiful thing. Not only is it a necessity of life (in that it nourishes the body and keeps you alive), but it brings people together, it creates tradition, it enriches memory, it can even make a simple day of work and perfunctory tasks feel kind of special — and, oh yeah, it tastes good! And I suppose, one of the best things about food is that the possibilities are truly endless. In my opinion, life is simply too short to be spent eating boring food.
I Can't Stop - Now that I've started, I'm not sure I can stop this train. In fact, I made recipe #105 today (pasta with pistachio-mint pesto — pretty dang good, I might add). I'm afraid this might just have to be a new life pattern. I'm not mad about this. And come on, neither is Jacob.
To end, I would like to thank Sriracha hot chili sauce and Costco (for their 48 oz. bulk container of minced garlic). Couldn't have done it without you guys.