The Cooking Corner (with Val)

If you’re anything like co-blog-author Val, you’ll want to cook the simplest possible meals because of your busy schedule — or more accurately, because of your lack of skill in the kitchen and a few previous Incidents. That’s okay! With a few simple and inexpensive ingredients, you can still maintain a balanced and nourishing diet. Here are a few guidelines for navigating through the preparation and enjoyment of even the most basic meals:

1. Just because your meals are basic doesn’t mean they can’t be good!
Plain pasta again?  Try adding a sauce, the following of which I would recommend: garlic & tomato, Alfredo sauce, five-cheese Alfredo, or  makeshift pesto since the real thing was kind of pricey. If you can’t find any of these, borrow some of that butter your roommate has and presumably never uses. She didn’t notice last time. Pasta and butter can work, if you’re willing to go that basic. Maybe you’re hoping to add some protein to the mix, since you’ve been almost religiously forgoing protein since becoming a vegetarian. Try some fish fillets! Tip: Keep in mind that the fish will probably take more time to cook than the pasta, so eat your meal at two different times.

2. Spice it up!
Literally. Five days in a row of pasta will make you hate pasta! Instead, try other shapes of pastas because they are cheap. Have you had macaroni and cheese lately? Well it’s time! Unlike the plain pasta you’ve been having for days, you don’t need to come up with some excuse for a supplementary portion of your meal. Tip: The cheese is enough.

3. Craving other foods? Treat yourself!
Probably. After all, the fish fillets have started to smell kind of sickening. Plus, you didn’t know there were so many fillets in the package, so you’ve been exhausting every opportunity to eat fish. Tip: Read the label. Anyway, just because you’ve adopted two foods as the only staples of your diet doesn’t mean you can’t indulge every once in a while. Don’t hesitate to treat yourself after telling yourself you deserve it! Ice cream? Go for it. Make sure it’s cheap though, and maybe Walgreen’s brand. Do you really think you can afford Coldstone?

4. Speaking of desserts…
You’re telling me! Try your hand at a basic brownie mix. Brownies can take a while in the oven, so just go for a run while they broil in the oven. They’ll be fine. After you come back from your run, engage in damage-control mode because the brownies actually weren’t fine for 35 minutes. Did you listen to your friend who told you that brownies do half their baking outside of the oven, on the cooling rack? Tip: This is not true. They do their baking inside the oven. Amend the situation by keeping the brownies in their original pan until your roommate brings to your attention that the pan is irreparable since the brownies are completely stuck to the surface.

5. Host your friend(s) for dinner!
You’ll probably want to try your hand at the whole kitchen thing after reading these tips. Why not a dinner soiree? Tip: That’s French. I’ve always enjoyed a dinner party, or even just cooking for one guest since your only other guest thinks Champaign is a far commute from Urbana. Whatever.  Your guest(s) doesn’t/don’t need to know that you only ever make pasta. However, make sure you have other ingredients and maybe spices (i.e., oregano, garlic) to avoid the embarrassment of having just plain pasta. Tip: That’s only acceptable when you’re alone.

6. Make dinner an occasion!
While you’re at it, make dinner special. Light a candle. Use the bar stools. Snag some wine from the same roommate who hasn’t noticed the frequency with which you borrow butter. What? Yellow Tail isn’t that expensive anyway. Also, her door was open. After struggling to uncork the bottle, pour yourself and your guest some wine (if there’s any left for your guest after topping yourself off!). Looks like a success. Take off your cooking hat and watch your newly-found skills unfold/unravel!


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