Taco Salad with Homemade Spicy Ranch

Guys, I am so bad at this whole “food blog” thing. Here’s my usual cooking routine:

1. “OH GOD I’M SO HUNGRY AND I KNOW I CAN’T HAVE POPCORN FOR SUPPER AGAIN.”
2. Throw something together.
3. Hover over it anxiously waiting to be done cooking. Slap myself on the wrist when I try to take it off the stove before it’s cooked all the way.
4. Gorge myself.
5. Remember as I’m clearing the dishes that I should have taken pictures and documented the cooking process.

Sorry peeps. I’ve failed you. And today is no exception!

A couple days ago, I dug in the back of my cupboard and saw I still had some Tostitos. It was mostly crumbs; big enough to be tangible food, but not big enough to enjoy as a snack. I did some digging, and found an awesome taco salad recipe from Budget Bytes. I had a few things here and there from the recipe, and figured it would be easy enough to improvise. IT WAS.

I already ate half the salad before remembering to post a picture of it.
I had already eaten half the salad before remembering to post a picture of it.

The dressing was beyond easy to make, and it’s what really ties the recipe together. Add what you want, but don’t skip this if you know what’s good. And for once I got everything right! The only difference was I used homemade buttermilk using this recipe from Emeril Lagasse. I only used 1.5 teaspoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of milk since I was shrinking down the original dressing recipe. It saved me the trouble of buying a whole thing of buttermilk when I knew I’d never use it again before the expiration date.

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When possible, always use a substitution or make a recipe ingredient yourself! Pantry staples saved the day for me – if you stock up on the basics, you’ll be golden in a pinch.

The rest of the salad was just tossing stuff in: Lettuce. Beans. Corn. Bell peppers. Tomatoes. Red onion. Tortilla chips. Beyond lazy. Beyond awesome.

I brought it into work with me Sunday, toting the tortilla chips and dressing in separate baggies so nothing would get soggy. My boss was SHOCKED I wasn’t eating something with garlic in it for once (due to the nature of my job dealing with people frequently and the nature of my palate eating garlic frequently, I keep looooots of Listerine strips handy).

Budget Bytes’ original recipe shows how to make your own tortilla strips to go with this recipe. I’m sure they’re wonderful, but like I always say about great cooking…

Taco Salad with Homemade Spicy Ranch
See the original recipe by Budget Bytes

Total prep and cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 2-3
Dishes rating: *

Ingredients:
Dressing:
2 tbsp Plain yogurt
1/4 cup Buttermilk
1/8 cup Mayonnaise
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Garlic powder
1/2 tsp Chili powder
1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes

Salad:
1 cup Lettuce
1/2 can Black beans
3/4 cups Corn
1/2 large Tomato (or 1/2 can rinsed diced tomatoes)
1/8 cups Red onion
1/4 cups Bell pepper
1/2 cups Medium-sized crumbled tortilla chips

1. Mix together the yogurt, buttermilk, mayonnaise, salt, garlic powder, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. Makes about 1/2 cup.
2. Cut the lettuce into small pieces. Rinse the lettuce and drain well (or use a salad spinner). Also dice the red onions, bell pepper, and tomato. Rinse the black beans in a colander to remove the starchy canning liquid.
3. Add all the ingredients into a bowl, including the corn and tortilla chips.

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Taco Salad with Homemade Spicy Ranch

Grocery Shopping on $60 or Less

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I’ve been cooking on and off, but it’s been difficult as my fresh ingredients run low. After taking stock of my staples, I noticed I’m running pretty damn dry. I’m a little conflicted because on one hand, I’d like to have everything here to save money in the long run. But then again, I’ll be moving out of here by August (possibly sooner), so I don’t want TOO much stuff.

I tried to split my grocery budget among staples, fresh foods, and “damn I just really like that.” Every Wednesday I check the weekly grocery flyer and plan a few meals based on that. Here’s what I came up with, and where I saved money in italics.

Meals planned:

Taco Salad
Greek Marinated Chicken
Couscous w/ roasted vegetables
Salada Russo
English Muffin Pizzas

Shopping List

Doritos: $2.50 (@2/$5)
Generic Chili Powder: $2.19
Generic Nutmeg: $4.49
Chicken Broth (2): $2.78
Eggland’s Large Eggs: $4.19
Hunt’s Tomato Sauce: $2 (@4/$2)
Generic Black Beans: ($0.99)
Generic Apple Sauce: $2.49
Generic Mozzarella Cheese: $2.49
Near East Couscous: $4.58
Peter Pan Crunchy Peanut Butter: $5 (@2/$5)
Generic Plain Yogurt: $4.49
Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly: $2.99
Gala Apple: $0.80
Blueberries: $1.99
Carrots: $1.99
Celery: $1.99
Raspberries: $1.99
Red Onion: $0.98
Romaine Lettuce: $0.99
Perdue Chicken Breast: $6.87
English Muffins: $0.00 (taken off due to pricing discrepancy)

TOTAL plus tax: $58.78

Grocery Shopping on $60 or Less

Soft boiled eggs are the biggest pain in the ass

I’m such a huge fan of eggs with runny insides. Break that bad boy open and you can dip your toast, homefries, or even side fruits into the yolk. Awww yiss. My favorite ways to prepare them are poached and soft boiled. I don’t like to poach eggs myself because they always end up breaking or getting watery. I thought I’d found the holy grail when I discovered soft boiled eggs. It comes out almost exactly the same in half the time, and the results are delicious, but…

Oh my god how do you peel these mother fuckers?!

I mean it. There’s no foolproof way to get the eggs out of their shell whole. I’ve tried just about everything: adding the eggs once the water boils. Adding the eggs before it comes to a boil. Extra vinegar. No vinegar. Running under cold water. Throwing them into an ice bath. Beginning the peeling process from the bottom of the egg. NOTHING WORKS.

I honestly think these tasty soft boiled eggs are trying to spite me. Exhibit A: In one batch, I made two eggs. One peeled with no problems, the other wouldn’t separate from the shell as if it were the egg’s soulmate. Both were cooked the exact same way and peeled using the exact same process.

Cocky little assholes. Pun intended.

So give me your advice. With a soft inside to be mindful of, what’s your best method for peeling eggs?

Soft boiled eggs are the biggest pain in the ass

Spicy Lime Corn & Diced Tomatoes

I had a hell of a day at work. It was great though, I have a summer gig showing apartments on the Upper West Side and today I showed for six people. I barely even had time for lunch! My hectic day coupled with a 1.5 hour E train ride home meant I was starving… NOW!!

Tonight was not going to be a night where I’d spend 30 minutes on a meal. Sometimes the effort is worth it, but I was practically running home to get cooking. In moments of weakness, I used to grab the nearest bag of chips and plop myself in front of Netflix. It’s easy to fall into those habits when you don’t have anything easy to fall back on. Know what will get you through those tough times? Leftovers and frozen foods.

I used an extra chicken quarter from my oven roasted chicken meal the other day to make a toasted sandwich, using store-bought hummus spread that was on sale. Sometimes a sandwich is all the effort you need to put into supper, and there is no shame in that. Two pieces of bread in the toaster, a slathering of roasted garlic and red pepper hummus, and leftover cold cuts. Boom. Easy. Side note, I think I would have liked it a lot more had I used chicken breast. This was my first time buying dark chicken meat, and I find I don’t like it. That’s just personal preference though. I’ll have to figure at some point what to do with the other two legs in my freezer.

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Equal (minimal) effort was spent on the corn. I have this amazing spicy lime mayo recipe I love to add to sweet vegetables… I won’t lie, half the reason it’s amazing is because everything can be done in one pot.

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As a bonus, I threw in some leftover canned diced tomatoes I used in a different recipe this week. It came out deelish. Only problem? It came out much more watery than I’d intended. I blame the tomato juice; I should have better drained and rinsed the tomatoes and corn after letting them simmer. Sadly, it wound up looking like the puke-worthy remains of Tubby Custard. However, you couldn’t judge a book by its cover in this case. It still came out awesome.

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Seriously, who in their right mind thought this was appetizing?!

Spicy Lime Corn & Diced Tomatoes
By: Me

Total prep + cook time: 5 minutes
Serves: 1
Dishes used: 1 pot

Ingredients:
1/2 Can diced tomatoes with juices (15oz)
2/3 Cups frozen corn
1 Tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 Juice of one medium lime
1 Pinch salt
1/4 Cup mayonnaise

1. In a small pot, cook corn and diced tomatoes on medium heat until thawed, or about 3 minutes.
2. Drain the tomato juice using a lid over the pot.
3. Add red pepper flakes, lime juice, salt and mayonnaise. Combine well.

Spicy Lime Corn & Diced Tomatoes

Oven Roasted Chicken with Lime Cilantro Rice

Tonight’s supper was a beautiful disaster.

On Friday, I saw chicken leg quarters were on sale for $0.79 per pound. Uh, yes please! I’d never cooked anything but breasts before and I assumed it couldn’t be that difficult. Honestly it wasn’t, but it was my own fault that it didn’t come out stellar.

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I’m a recovering vegetarian, so I’m still learning how to cook meats. I found a super simple recipe from Oh Snap! Let’s Eat that I somehow still managed to mess up. Namely, I went a little olive oil crazy. She specifically said DRIZZLE the quarters, not slather it on with a nice tanning oil. But did I listen? No. So what happened was when I ate it, the inside meat was quite oily.

On top of that, I was NOT prepared for the deboning process. Once I flipped those bad birds over, I gasped. Ewww, look at all this gunk I had to get rid of! It’s certainly not as pretty and mess-free as other cuts of chicken. No wonder it was so inexpensive. I say this about the sales rack at TJ Maxx filled with slightly damaged clothes, and I say it again about the grocery store: “If it’s on sale, there’s probably a reason.”

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I tried to go on instinct alone and did my best to dig out the coveted white meat. As I was attempting to find what was bone and what could be palatable, only one thought was running through my mind:

I have a feeling this dog is going to be my spirit animal throughout my cooking adventures.

I got through, and I was surprised to find that THIS is what a chicken quarter looks like underneath it all. It’s basically the chicken’s entire leg. Call me a daff, but this is news to me. I put the other one in the fridge with the bones still intact. Maybe it’ll be better cooled off tomorrow.

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The cilantro lime rice was one that looked easy enough to cook while the chicken was baking. This is another one that’s purely my fault for coming out less than great. This recipe on Budget Bytes suggests adding a few teaspoons of chicken stock, and in my Aha! moment realizing I had some chicken drippings from the oven roasted chicken decided to incorporate that into the recipe. Not realizing beforehand just how oily it was, it made a huge difference on my rice. The rice itself was undercooked (because of my own impatience) AND oily. Blech.

I also opted for dried cilantro and an older lime instead of fresh herbs and a juicy newer lime. I certainly under seasoned this time around… next time, I’ll use more seasoning and less oil. Overall it had the makings of being a great meal, but my ignorance and impatience ultimately led to its demise.

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**Please note that although I changed the measurements to reflect cooking for one in the ingredients list, I did not do the same for the recipe itself. Way too time consuming.

Easy Spice Roasted Chicken Leg Quarters
By Oh Snap! Let’s Eat

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients:
2 Chicken Leg Quarters – bought this week
Garlic powder – did not use
Dried Rosemary – did not use
Herbes de Provence – did not use
Paprika – did not use
Onion Powder – did not use
Cayenne Pepper – did not use
Salt and pepper – already had
Olive oil – already had

0. Preheat oven to 425 °F.
1. Rinse chicken with cold water and pat dry.
2. Mix all the herbs/spices together in a separate bowl.3. Rub mixture over chicken leg quarters and place into a baking pan.
3. Rub mixture over chicken leg quarters and place in to a baking pan.
4. Drizzle some olive oil over the leg quarters, and pop in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Make sure you bake them until the juices run clear. I usually start checking the chicken a few minutes before it is done cooking to guesstimate how long it’ll take. I also slice up the chicken pieces for 2 reasons: 1) to make sure the juice runs clear, and 2) I like the looks of it!

Cilantro Lime Rice
By Budget Bytes

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 1

Ingredients
1/2 cups uncooked long grain rice – bought this week
1 tsp chicken soup base or bouillon – bought this week
1 1/2 cups water – already had
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro – already had, replaced with dried
1/2 medium lime – already had
1/2 Tbsp olive oil – already had

1. Place 2 cups of uncooked rice, 3 cups of water and 3 tsp of chicken base into a medium pot. Stir to dissolve the chicken base. With a lid in place, bring the mixture up to a boil over high heat. As soon as it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes or until all of the water has absorbed.
2. While the rice is cooking, prepare the cilantro lime mix. In a food processor or blender combine the juice and zest of one lime with one Tbsp of olive oil and the leaves from one bunch of cilantro (rinse the cilantro first). Blend/process until it is pureed or in very small pieces.
3. When the rice is finished cooking, remove the lid and pour on the cilantro lime mixture. Fluff and stir the rice gently to combine. If you stir too much or too vigorously the rice will become sticky and gooey so take your time.

Oven Roasted Chicken with Lime Cilantro Rice

My life’s a bit of a wreck, and I should probably eat better

I’m in a really weird place in my life.

I’m poor. I’m newly-single. I only have a part-time temp job as I scramble to save money to move back to my home state in a few short months. I find it depressing to only cook for one, so it’s usually easier to opt for a bag of popcorn over a complete meal.

Backstory: in August, I moved from the town where I attended college in Arizona all the way to Queens, NY to be with my long distance boyfriend for good. Fast-forward eight months later, we broke up. It was thankfully mutual, but the timing was terrible. When I first moved here, I couldn’t find a job right away and so I made ends meet by taking on temp jobs and freelancing. Financially, I was already quite a mess. However, my wallet struggles right now as I also desperately try to find work back in Rhode Island or Massachusetts and save money for an apartment with my best friend and a new car.

Since moving here, I’m really ashamed of what my eating habits turned into. For starters, I was terrified to cook in our kitchen most of the year because we had a bad cockroach problem (thank you, ex’s prior roommates). I had no money for an exterminator and my ex simply didn’t care. Also since I rarely left the house (a lovely side effect of working from home), I lost the willpower to do much with my spare time, including cooking. You know what that means… crap food galore. More often than not, my chef skills didn’t go past easy-prep meals or a family sized bag of chips from the CVS 500 feet from my house.

As a result of eating bad food and not eating often enough, I lost a lot of weight. Not necessarily a good thing in my case; I was a healthy 120 lbs when I left Arizona, and now I teeter around 107. I look anorexic and my clothes don’t fit like they used to. Damn, do I miss my curves and my favorite pair of pants.

I’m not a “foodie.” I can cook when I really want to, but I don’t love cooking or find it “therapeutic.” In fact, if I could just order take out or buy pre-made meals every single day without bleeding my green dry, I would. So I’m determined to make cooking as cheap and easy as possible, especially since I’m only cooking for one. I need a new cheap hobby, and making food that can help me put some weight back on and make me feel better may just be it.

This blog is more for me than you. I want to explore a cost-effective and minimal effort hobby, eat something besides Cheetos three nights in a row, and hopefully use a sizzling kitchen to drown out my ex yelling at his video games in the other room. I’m hoping by writing a blog, I’m more likely to keep to my commitments. Join me for the adventure if you like.

My kitchen is prepped, and I’m pumped. My ex and I splurged on two roach treatments before the summer. And might I add, the exterminators did an amazing job. Green Earth Pest Control is seriously the bomb. My kitchen is clean, mostly. I’m stocking up on pantry staples as I go. I’m loaded with easy recipes I’m dying to try.

Let’s make some magic, fellow culinary newbs.

My life’s a bit of a wreck, and I should probably eat better