People often think that as a food blogger and eager eater I must be an awesome cook. Truth is my cooking adventures seem to flop as often as succeed; I’m more kitchen klutz than Master Chef. I burn things (pots, proteins, and appendages included), get nauseated at the sight (or smell) of raw meat, and I scrambled the shit out of my spaghetti carbonara last week. Things just don’t always go according to plan when I’m in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what draws me in. With cooking, there’s risk and reward, and the opportunity to create something with my own hands titillates my brain (and my belly). So despite the burnt carnitas, undercooked scallops, or, in this case, mussels of questionable edibility, I keep on trying to learn.
My ultimate desire is to possess the ability to cook freely, without the aid of a recipe. I want to look at ingredients and understand them and innately know how to bring out the best of their flavors. I want freedom from recipe paralysis, a condition that has occurred, in my opinion, due to over saturation of recipes in the media. They are everywhere we look, and we’re all constantly bookmarking and tagging and pinning things to try later. Problem is, when later comes, we’ve got a bushelful of recipes and an empty tank of know-how. So, tonight, it’s grilled cheese for dinner, AGAIN. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Cooking, just like life, is a learning process. We natural-born perfectionists often try to conceal our mishaps, sweep the crumbs under the rug, if you will. I know I do. For many of us, cooking is so much more than a chore or an obligation–it’s our time for creativity and spirituality and personal growth–and personal “success” in the kitchen should not (and cannot) be judged rigidly. Hiding our food faux pas is a repressive practice. This is not living. In the wise words of Anne Lamott, these “mistakes” are simply shitty first drafts. They can be tweaked, streamlined, or gussied up later. All that matters in this moment is that you showed up in the kitchen and gave it a shot.
A shot. That’s exactly what I did with these mussels: I gave them a shot. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels, I’d never made them before. Of course I did my research: cleaning, debearding, sorting. I got it all down before I hit the grocery store. Perhaps, I should have changed my game plan when the man at the Harris Teeter meat counter proceeded to set aside expired bag after expired bag of mussels before settling on one that was “still good” (insert forced smile here). I made a shitty, but spicy, first draft of tomato sauce, plopped my clean, beard-free mussels on top, covered with a lid, and waited for the mussels to open. After ten minutes or so, about a quarter of the mussels were fully open, half were partially open, and the rest were pursed closed tighter than my grimacing lips. Maybe it was first-timer jitters or maybe something really was wrong with these mussels, but after eating a couple of the fully opened ones (while silently battling visions of self-inflected food poisoning), I called it quits.
I call this meal my shitty first draft of mussels with a spicy tomato sauce, and I choose to embrace it, and all its shittyness, at home and here on the ole blog.
During my kid years, stuffed peppers were in the regular dinner rotation at my dad’s house. I hated them. My step mom would fill crisp green peppers with a beef mixture in the morning, pop them into the slow cooker with some tomato sauce, and when we got home in the evening we’d find the crunchy green peppers had been transformed into a slimy mushy mess. Back then, I had deep-rooted hatred for lots of cooked veggies—carrots, celery, and tomatoes to name a few—but cooked green peppers took the medal for most loathed cooked vegetable. To my young taste buds, cooked green peppers had this toxic unnatural taste to them—like they’d been marinating in a puddle of Windex for a few hours. It just wasn’t right. Luckily, peppers were pricy so my step mom was more than happy to make me a meatball sans pepper for dinner while the rest of the family subjected themselves to green pepper poisoning. I love a good meatball.
To this day, I’m still not a huge fan of stuffed green peppers. As I aged and grew wiser, I discovered that other types of peppers could be stuffed just as easily and infinitely more deliciously than green peppers ever could.
Case in point:
Some of my favorite peppers to stuff are banana peppers, cubanelles, and Anaheims. I usually buy whichever variety is the biggest (i.e., most stuffable) at the grocery store that day.
Soon after first meeting the BF, we bonded over our mutual love of cheesy niblets. After perfecting our buffalo chicken dip recipe, we moved on to make THIS our favorite Friday night feast:
As a kid, pizza was one of my favorite dinners. When mom or dad would come home exhausted from their days, too tired to cook, with just enough energy to utter the words “let’s just order pizza for dinner” my heart would pitter patter with excitement as an uncontrollable cheshire-cat style smile spread across my face.
Pizza was cause for celebration in my family, and back in the day I was a straight up pepperoni and cheese gal.
Pepperoni and Cheese
I remember the day I got my braces. I was 13 years ripe, and I think my dad felt bad that I was in so much pain… Or perhaps he felt bad because he had just assisted in adding more metal to his poor teenage daughters head (as if my GIANT glasses were not enough).
So, in an attempt to cheer up his little girl, he decided we’d order pizza from our favorite hole in the wall pizzeria for dinner. I remember opening that steaming box and seeing the thick pepperonis all curled up into little cups of grease heaven, and that amazing pizza smell that made the pain suddenly start to melt away. I was so excited, so high from the pizza induced endorphins, that I grabbed a slice and chomped down without hesitation.
I remember the horror that immediately washed over me as I ripped my hand back from my mouth like a kid who’d just high-fived a hot stove as I burst into tears. My newly bedazzled mouth was too sore to eat the pizza. Too sore to enjoy the crunch of that buttery crust or the spice of the pepperoni. Too sore to even nibble on the oozing cheese. Through my tears, my dad and I painstakingly cut the pizza into pebble sized swallowable bites and I proceeded to toss them into my mouth followed by long swigs of Coke like a real pizza pill poppin addict.
Why was adolescence so cruel?!
Yes… that just happened.
But let us focus on what’s important here.
It brings people together.
It puts a sparkle of happiness in your eyes and warm and fuzzies in your belly.
Heck, it even puts hair on your face.
Hahahaha… That’s my nephew Dylan. LOVE that pic. He’s almost 13 now… and sadly, no longer a pirate.
I can count on one hand — strike that — one FINGER the number of people I’ve met in my life who did not adore pizza. (crazy man, that Tim is)
Pizza is the jam. The cat’s meow. The shiznit, if you will.
A couple years back, my sister and I were brainstorming ideas for a Father’s Day present for our dad. We decided we would take dad out to lunch to the restaurant of his choice. Mexican or seafood or a big Italian feast. Whatever his heart desired.
When we presented him with his present, he got a big smile of his face and then told us where he’d like to go.
Cici’s Pizza Buffet.
Sometimes all a father really wants is to pig out with his children at the pizza buffet
I haven’t been to CiCis Pizza Buffet since then, which is very sad given how enamored I was with their macaroni and cheese pizza… So wrong, but SO right!
When I was contacted a couple weeks back about doing a giveaway for Cici’s, I HAD to jump on it (in secret hopes that my one of my siblings will win a free pizza buffet for my pa, of course).
Here’s the scoop: CiCi’s Pizza Family Funtacular summer scratch and win contest runs through August 28. The scratch off tickets give you the opportunity to win movie tickets, family fun packs, children’s movie tickets, CiCi’s gift cards, free buffets, carry-out pizzas and beverages.
Oh man… my dad would LOVE LOOOOVE to win this….
Grand prize for two lucky families: an all-expense paid trip for four to Universal Orlando Resort Vacation…. Ok… Shut the front door!!! Now I really REALLY hope one of my siblings win!
I have SIX scratch off tickets to give away, and I’ll send them ALL to the winner. TWO ways to enter: 1.) leave a comment (or link) on this post with your favorite pizza topping or recipe AND 2.) Follow me on Twitter @Fervent_Foodie!
I’ll use a random # generator to select a winner Sunday at midnight!
Have you ever been in conversation with a new person and thrown out the obligatory “so, Bill, what do you do for a living?” and had Bill come back with “well Mary, I’m a psychiatrist”?
When a person discovers they’re in the midst of conversation with someone who analyzes people for a living, they are immediately scared. (What the heck have I said in the last five minutes? … Does he think I’m a basket case… Why am I suddenly sweating profusely?!) All of this fear and anxiety is followed by near immediate curiosity.
Oddly enough, that’s a similar reaction to the one I get when I first tell a person I’m a food blogger. People get oddly weirded out, followed almost instantly with excited curiosity. I try to explain that I am not a food critic, but a food enjoyer. I’m not professionally critiquing food, but rather honestly sharing my experiences with the food with friends and fellow foodies.
Isn’t sharing food with others what makes a good meal great, anyway?
When I was trying to decide what my belly wanted for dinner, it didn’t take me long to start salivating at the idea of some oven baked pasta with some melty cheese and garlic bread.
I’m kind of obsessed with spaghetti squash these days, so any time I’m looking to cure a pasta craving in a healthful way, it’s my go-to-gourd. Okkkk… so it’s a squash, not a gourd (and yes I googled it).
I can remember being a young teenager and watching my mom scrape out spaghetti squash as the rest of the family piled mounds and mounds of traditional spaghetti noodles on our plates. Back then, I didn’t get it. And, I was wayyyyyy to stubborn to even taste the squash. Even when my mom swore up and down it tasted good, I wanted NOTHING to do with it.
Ohhhhh how the tables turn.
Over the past year or so, spaghetti squash has become a weekly staple in my meal planning. I’ve made it with turkey, chicken, sausage, veggies, chili… I even tried to use it as a pizza crust once, though that didn’t turn out nearly as well as I had hoped. One thing I’ve never tried is using spaghetti squash to make an oven-baked pasta dish. Tonight was the night my friends!
First up, I preheated the oven to 375 degrees. I oh-so-carefully sliced the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, scooped out the seeds, then sprinkled on some salt and pepper. I put the squash halves cut side down on a cookie sheet that I had sprayed with cooking spray. Into the oven for 30 minutes (for a smaller squash, check for doneness after 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, I cooked up 4 ounces of 99% fat free turkey breast in a small skillet. Once the turkey was white, I tossed the turkey onto a plate to hang out.
Meanwhile, I chopped up 4 baby bella mushrooms and some red onion and minced up 3 cloves of garlic and sautéed in the same skillet I used for the turkey.
Once the veggies were soft and onions were caramelized, I added 1 cup of Nature’s Basket Garlic tomato sauce, tossed the turkey back in, and then seasoned everything up with some garlic powder, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and onion powder.
I let the sauce simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes.
Around that time the spaghetti squash was done, so I used a fork to scrape out all the squash leaving the squash strands in the skin rather than dumping onto a plate.
Next, I tossed 1/2 of the sauce onto each of the squash halves, then topped each with 1 lite babybel cheese round that I had roughly chopped up in my food processor.
Spaghetti squash + yum-o sauce + babybel
Into the 400 degree oven for about 7 minutes (until the cheese was mellllllty!):
For my “garlic bread” I sliced up half of a ciabatta roll, and topped each half with a couple squirts of butter spray, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, and a bit of parmesan cheese. Then I popped them into the oven for five minutes until the cheese was melted and the bread was crisp
Xtreme amount of grub:
Strike that… Xtreme amount of DELICIOUS grub:
You know that look Homer Simpson gets when he sees a doughnut? You know, eyes rolled back into the head and quivering lips with drool running down? That’s how I look when I look at this picture:
Stats on one half of the baked spaghetti squash with 1/2 of the meat sauce and cheesy goodness: 281 calories, 35 g carbs, 7g fat, 26g protein, 8g fiber.