Quinoa and Spinach “Mac” and Cheese

The last few days weeks have been incredibly hectic.  I feel like I’m being torn in so many different directions and have absurd amounts of work to do.  I am of the opinion that a single lab report should not take more than three hours to complete, especially considering it is supposed to be a “mini” report and only involve cleaning up calculations and presenting information (already collected) in a readable manner.  NOPE.   I spent the entirety of my Sunday on this “mini” report and had to come back to it for a few minutes today.  Not to mention the fluid mechanics paper I should be writing, the fluid mechanics presentation I should absolutely be working on, and the plethora of other assignment and to-do list activities that are keeping me good and overwhelmed.

Funny Encouragement Ecard: Nothing makes me more productive than the last minute.

In fact, I have to admit something: the amount of stress I’m dealing with has driven me to cope by listening to Christmas music.  There, I said it.  It helps me relax and makes my environment a tad more cheerful than sitting in an office surrounded by papers that I need to grade, papers I need to read, and syllabi that I’m a bit behind on.  Basically I’ve got to make it to Halloween (hurdle number one) and then Thanksgiving (hurdle number two) and then I’m essentially home free.  Until then, though, it’s keeping my head down and my productivity up.  This has recently involved a lot of tea and chocolate.

I have been doing a relatively okay job cooking new recipes though, or, testing recipes that other amazing food bloggers have been creating, because right now all of my creativity is being channeled into figuring out how many different ways I can say “density-driven exchange flow” before it gets repetitive.  (It’s quite a few times, by the way.)  I’m a big fan of Two Peas and Their Pod, a blog that hails from Utah, and which showcases recipes on such a regular basis that I’m incredibly jealous.  I am currently using blogging as a study break.  But, a week or so ago I made their quinoa and spinach macaroni and cheese casserole recipe and it was amazing—I cut the fat a bit though.

Quinoa Spinach Mac and Cheese (adapted from Tasty Kitchen Blog)

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups 1% milk
generous sprinkle of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups quinoa, cooked
1 bag (6 oz.) fresh spinach
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons butter
½ cup garlic flavored panko bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F.  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour until the butter is all absorbed and you are left with a paste.  Add the milk and whisk until all the flour clumps are dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the nutmeg and salt.  Whisk in the shredded cheese in small portions, adding more after the first portion is entirely melted.  When the sauce has reached a uniform consistency, remove from heat.  In a large (and I mean really large!) bow, add the cheese sauce to the cooked quinoa.  Add the entire bag of spinach and stir to evenly distribute the ingredients.  The spinach will start to wilt and this will become more manageable.  Pour into an 8” x 8” glass baking pan.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Melt the remaining butter and mix with the panko breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Quinoa and Spinach "Mac" and Cheese

I have to admit, I was really dubious about this recipe at first, because the last time I tried to use quinoa instead of a different grain, it did not work out to my benefit.  However, this time the quinoa is slathered in cheese and garlic breadcrumbs and butter, so how bad could it turn out?  It ended up being MUCH better than I could possibly have imagined.  I raved on the phone about this to both my parents and my friend Tom (though they all sounded about as dubious as I was at the beginning).  It gave me about six meals (hello leftovers!) and tasted amazing each time.  It’d definitely something that I’ll make again in the future.

Goat Cheese, Green Bean, and Pesto Farfalle

Things have been a little rough for the past few weeks.  I’ve had a few extensive assignments and it seems like all the grading I have to do for the three introductory geology classes that I teach is never ending.  (No, but seriously, it took me hours to grade one lab for two of the three classes yesterday.  I was at the Laundromat, though, so I absolutely had nothing better to do besides watch my pillowcases go round and round in the machine.)  I also managed to get some semblance of the flu last weekend, which absolutely didn’t help anything and set me back a bit this past week.  I think, finally, I am managing to catch up enough that I don’t have to pull all my hair out yet.

Funny Encouragement Ecard: It's never too late to give up.

I’m having trouble finding a good balance between school and work, friends, and having “me” time.  It is actually leading to a good deal of stress and I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed a lot of the time.  It shouldn’t be that bad.  I realize that my workload is manageable given good time management skills, and that I have absolutely no reason to feel as isolated as I do, but something still seems off to me, and until a few days ago, I wasn’t sure how to fix it.  My plan now is to cook three new recipes a week, no matter what, because I know that cooking is something that makes me feel happy and relaxed.  I am also going to try to read for fun, even if it’s just a few pages a day, because reading offers me a wonderful chance to escape into someone else’s world and forget about how much homework I need to do or the Excel graphs that I haven’t yet made, or that paper that I need to edit.

It seems to be working so far, because I have felt much calmer in the past few days than I was feeling earlier this month.  I also will reach my goal of three new recipes tonight!  I made a quinoa, spinach, and cheese casserole (which was amazing and that I will blog soon) and also malted milk ball chocolate chip cookies (also amazing, especially considering I’m not a big fan of normal chocolate chip cookies).  Tonight I will be making creamy goat cheese pasta with spinach and roasted mushrooms.  I should disclose that all three of those recipes came from the same blog, which I enjoy reading practically every day.

This recipe comes from a different blog that I am subscribed to, actually, and was made a few weeks ago.  I made a few easy modifications to it because I was still in my lazy cooking phase, and I already had pre-made pesto and leftover green beans in the fridge, so this was essentially the most convenient dinner ever.  I promise my next posts will be a little bit more involved, but they’ll still be just as delicious!

Goat Cheese, Green Bean, and Pesto Farfalle

Goat Cheese, Green Bean, and Pesto Farfalle (adapted from Katie at the Kitchen Door)

I lb. farfalle pasta
2 cups cooked green beans
3 tablespoons basil pesto
3 oz. goat cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Dash of cayenne pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.   Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan.  Add pine nuts and a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper and sauté for three minutes, or until the pine nuts start to brown.  Remove from heat.  Return pasta to the saucepan and heat.  Add green beans, pesto, goat cheese, and pine nuts.  Stir and heat until the goat cheese melts and the pesto is well distributed over the pasta.  Serve warm.

Marinated Salmon with Lemon Pasta

I made THE best meal a few weeks ago.  Yes, I realize that I just said weeks.  Unfortunately my life is so hectic right now that regularly cooking extravagant meals and taking the time to write about them has become a bit lower on my priorities list than, you know, trying to pass my classes and eventually get a Master’s degree.  But I’m still here, I promise!  I pass my time reading about plant biology, not bothering to pretend I know anything about fluid mechanics, highlighting every other sentence of geomorphology papers, and paying as much attention as I can muster at bi-weekly lectures.  Not to mention the sixty students for whom I am a lab instructor and the associated grading.  And my own research.  Basically my workweek is a barrel of laughs that carries over into my weekends and every bit of personal time I wish I had.  Cooking something that didn’t initially come from a box or isn’t mushroom stroganoff is now a huge deal.  But I do still have it!

Marinated Salmon with Lemony Pasta

Salmon:
2 salmon fillets
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, peeled and grated

Mix olive oil, soy sauce, onion, garlic and ginger and pour over salmon in an airtight container.  Let rest undisturbed in the fridge for about an hour.  Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F.  In an ungreased baking dish, arrange the salmon fillets and pour the marinade over them.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily.

Marinated Salmon

Pasta:
Olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 oz. egg noodles

Cook the egg noodles according to package directions.  Drain.  Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in olive oil until fragrant.  Add the cooked egg noodles and sauté for about five minutes.  Add the lemon juice and soy sauce and stir to coat.  Serve hot.

The Whole Meal

The pasta and the salmon complemented each other really nicely.  I served this with asparagus in a lemon-nutmeg sauce which fit in perfectly.  The lemon in the pasta and asparagus really enhances the flavors of the fish, which were amazing.  Next time I might opt to broil the fish, but I haven’t tested out the broiler in my oven and I am slightly afraid that it might cause an explosion or give both my roommate and me gas poisoning or something else terrible.  The oven is already a trial (it clicks and we’re not entirely sure what that means).

I wish I had more recipes to share right now, but unfortunately my camera battery was dead last time I cooked and then I ate all the leftovers before bothering to charge it (life of a student, am I right?).  I will hopefully have more to share soon, but unfortunately I give no guarantees…  I will probably be going out to eat sometime next weekend because I have a friend coming in, so if things are good enough (and I’m not feeling too awkward about whipping my camera out at a restaurant) then I can at least post some yummy photos!

Israeli Cheesecake

Right now I am struggling with an incredibly simple two page lab report.  The information is all there.  I’ve made all the charts and the graphs and yet I just can’t seem to synthesize it into a stable paper.  I’m sure right now it’s a little flighty and scatterbrained.  Good thing it’s not due for a couple days.  The reason I’m all out of sorts is that I’m 88% sure that I am actually kind of sick.  My throat hurts.  I can tell I have drainage and I’m coughing all the time.  I have a headache that I can’t kick with uber-hydration or Ibuprofen, and my stomach is woozy.  Throw in the fact that I haven’t been sleeping super well and it is a recipe for homework disaster.  The good news is that I managed to wash all the sap off my car today (I’ve been parking under a very drippy tree), figured out and enrolled in insurance, and I am spending a lot of quality time with my roommate’s cat.

I do have a recipe to share today that absolutely isn’t a recipe for disaster:  Israeli cheesecake.  This recipe comes from a cookbook that my family cooks from all the time, with a few changes.  The cookbook (and I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me) came from a fair-trade store at home and has all these great worldly recipes, lots of them coming from various parts of Africa.  This is a cheesecake that I made all the time in college and unlike most other cheesecakes, doesn’t have to bake for over an hour and the ingredient prep is really easy.  You don’t even need to have a springform pan (though the way I’ve written the recipe assumes a springform pan).  You could certainly buy a pre-made graham cracker or Oreo cookie crust and use that!

Israeli Cheesecake

Crust:

1-2 cups Teddy Grahams, graham crackers, or other crunchy cookie
2-3 tablespoons butter

Crush the cookies in a bag or bowl until evenly crushed and breadcrumb-sized.  Add two tablespoons melted butter and combine.  If still incredibly dry, add another tablespoon of melted butter.  Press evenly into the bottom of a springform pan.  Bake at 350⁰ F for ten minutes.

Cheesecake:

16 oz. cream cheese
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and fluffy.  Pour into the springform pan after the crust has baked.  Return to the 350⁰ oven for 35 minutes.

Cream Top:

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the sour cream until fluffy.  Add sugar and vanilla and mix until well distributed.  Pour evenly over the baked cheesecake and return to the oven for ten minutes.  Once it has finished baking, place in fridge for about four hours.  Serve chilled with fruit.

Israeli Cheesecake

So the process is a little bit involved in that you keep having to take things out and put things back into the oven, but the entire cooking process only takes about an hour.  My friend and I made this to bring to a potluck dinner and game night and everyone really enjoyed it.  We used chocolate Teddy Grahams as the basis for the crust for no reason other than I like Teddy Grahams and they were about a dollar cheaper than a box of graham crackers, which I would never use outside of cooking.  We served it with fresh whole strawberries, but it is also perfectly acceptable as a stand alone dessert.

Asparagus and Cheese Omelet

Happy Birthday: my blog is three years old today!

My life is simultaneously incredibly exciting and incredibly boring.  Is this what being a real person is like?  My struggles today include being incredibly hot even though the air is set to 77⁰ F, running out of toothpaste, checking the status of a book order only to discover it had been mysteriously cancelled, and trying to derive the continuity equation from first principles for fluid mechanics…um, what? But the exciting parts were that a friend of mine visited me from San Antonio and we had an incredible dinner last night, I finished watching The Fall, a television show set in Belfast that is the definition of “gritty crime show,” and I talked to my little brother, who informed me that my parents just bought an elliptical.  I’m jealous.

A couple nights ago I had this very real and very weird craving for eggs.  I am not really an egg person at all.  I mean, I like the occasional slice of quiche and a fried egg on a breakfast sandwich is alright (side note: eggs help when you have a hangover), but I rarely crave eggs.  I will not go to a restaurant and order eggs.  Usually I’d rather have anything BUT eggs.  But Friday evening I had a very real craving for eggs, and not just eggs cooked any old way, but an omelet.  I think I like omelets because you can put other things in them and not just have to eat the eggs, so you get more flavor from cheese and veggies or meat than you would from just the eggs.  This one turned out well.

Asparagus and Cheese Omelet

½ tablespoon butter
3 eggs
¼ cup milk
salt and pepper
10 spears of asparagus, ends removed and sliced into inch-long pieces
1 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into small pieces
extra cheese for garnish

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper until the yolks and whites are fairly uniform.  Meanwhile, boil the asparagus in a small saucepan for about five minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Melt butter in a large frying pan.  Pour in the egg mixture (it will conform to the shape of the pan) and let cook for about two minutes.  Sprinkle the cooked asparagus and the white cheddar cheese over one half of the egg mixture and then, using a spatula, fold the egg mixture in half over the filling.  Cook for about three minutes and then flip and cook until done.  Garnish with shredded cheese.

Asparagus and Cheese Omelet

It turned out really well and I sautéed the extra asparagus with lemon, butter, and nutmeg, so I had that on the side.  Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I could just eat every day of the week and be a happy camper, but alas it is a bit expensive, so I have to supplement with green beans and leafy green vegetables.  Oh how I look forward to the days when I can be incredibly extravagant with my food purchases!

Aspiring to Real Paella

I did it!  I cooked a real meal that involved a bit of actual work in the kitchen.  In fact, this was a two-pan meal, meaning that I’ve graduated on from my one-pan meals from earlier this week.   I’m feeling pretty good about myself right now, as I sit here drinking cinnamon-orange tea and enjoying the fruits of my kitchen labors as I type.  I haven’t done anything today, either, so making it across the room to the kitchen to make dinner was actual a pretty big success.  After this I’m trying to decide if I want to spend my night with a book or a movie.  Maybe I’ll go crazy and do both.

The closest thing I can think of to describe this is paella, but it’s really not anywhere near one considering I do not own any rice or saffron.  But I did what I could with what I had: quinoa instead of rice, peas instead of green peppers, and whitefish instead of anything particularly exotic.  It turned out quite well, though.  Cooking with wine and butter will do that for a recipe.  It’s nearly impossible to fail.

Nontraditional Paella

1-2 tablespoons butter
½ onion, diced
½ cup white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
14.5 oz. can petit diced tomatoes
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
3-4 small whitefish fillets
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add onions and season with salt and pepper.  Cook until soft and fragrant.  Add the wine and simmer down until just a teaspoon of liquid remains.  Add the tomatoes and half a can of water.  Bring to a boil.  Add the peas.  On a cutting board, sprinkle each side of each fillet with salt, pepper, and paprika—be generous!  Add the fillets to the pan, flipping after about four minutes.  When the fish is mostly cooked through, use a spatula to chop it into bite-sized pieces.  Simmer for about two more minutes.  Serve over quinoa.

A Halfhearted Quinoa Paella

This turned out really well for me.  If at any point the sauce looked like it was getting a little dry, I added more wine.  Real cooks wing it, right?  I haven’t quite mastered the art of cooking quinoa, as it boiled over and there’s a bit of a mess waiting for me all over the front right burner of the stove, but I figured I’d get to it when I get to it.  The big deal right now is that I made it to the kitchen and cooked a real meal for myself.  And the best thing about real meals?  They leave very real leftovers.

Seven Ingredient Bliss

I want to talk about food.  Unfortunately I don’t really have anything to talk about.  I have become that girl who shops for wine at Walgreens (I mean, how could I pass it up those discounts when I have a Walgreens rewards card?), eats pasta on a semi-daily basis, and eats my weight in clementines.  I haven’t had much inspiration in the kitchen; this probably stems from the fact that when I went to the grocery store I didn’t make a list ahead of time and so I’ve ended up with some very strange combinations.  Example: I have fruit, frozen lima beans, grits, and fudge bars.  I had a lot of carbs but the only veggies that I bought to cook with were mushrooms and onions.  Up until my trip to Walgreens today, we didn’t have any pepper.  What kind of cook doesn’t use pepper?  Oh yeah, and I don’t own any olive oil.  Whoops.

The only thing I have cooked in the past week or so (besides pre-fab soup) is whole wheat pasta with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and sharp cheddar.  It must be something about the sharp cheddar that I bought, or the fact that I appreciate a good caramelized onion and the wine that I doused the veggies in as I was cooking, but this has come out splendidly both times that I’ve eaten it.  (You don’t even need the recipe to figure it out, but here’s the general idea: cook and drain pasta.  Diced onions and slice mushrooms.  Cook in butter until they begin to brown, douse with wine and then let the wine boil off.  Serve onions and mushrooms over pasta.  Shred cheese over the entire thing.)  I may be getting stuck in the fewer-than-ten ingredients rut: pasta, butter, salt, mushrooms, onions, wine, and cheese.  Seven ingredient bliss, I tell you.  When I make it tonight, I might even add pepper.   Gosh, you better watch out for me.  I’m clearly the most adventurous cook around.

Pasta with Mushrooms, Onions, and Cheese

Regardless, things are going relatively well.  I received a box in the mail with all my dresses and hangers last night, so I was finally able to finish unpacking everything that needed to be hung.  I got all of my mom’s art up and mounted on the wall over my bed today.  I paid rent.  I’ve walked a LOT of miles in the last few days.  And today I successfully took the city bus for the first time.  Tomorrow I will register for classes and go to a few orientation sessions in the morning where I’ll learn all about cars, keys, and IT.  It’ll be a blast, I’m sure.  But I’ll have the afternoon and weekend off to finish adjusting to the new apartment and finish learning to ride the bus before two more days of orientation and then the first day of classes.

I'm jazzhandsing on the inside.

I’m thinking the best option is to plan out my meals for the week before I go grocery shopping so that I don’t have another H.E.B. disaster like last week.  Good news is that nothing has gone bad and I can eat for a surprisingly long time on $65 dollars.  More good news?  My mail gets to me, I haven’t had any huge disasters in about a week, and although I have blisters, I’m actually getting quite a bit more exercise than I have been, so that is clearly a success.  Moving is tough, though.  Austin doesn’t yet feel like home.

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