Today, I decided to make dinner for once, so last night I compiled a few recipes and finally picked each dish: entrée with two sides. The Bucatini Puttanesca on the March 2016 cover of Cooking Light magazine looked delicious. There was also the Strawberry-Chicken Salad with Pecans on the cover of the May 2016 issue that looked easy to make. As for the other side dish, I opted to make a simple “Classic Mashed Potatoes”.
This was the third time I ever completely made dinner solo (with some help from my mom for the search of ingredients and how to correctly handle an ingredient). From what I remember the first time, it was spaghetti, chicken parmesan, and green beans. The second time was rice, steak, and green beans. Or vice versa. Either way, both times included way too much meal, so I learned the valuable lesson of portions and being conservative with how much to make.
For those of you who don’t know, the Bucatini Puttanesca looks like this:
I didn’t get to snap a pic as soon as it was done, but here’s a shot of the leftovers:
Overall, my dinner was actually really good, but if I had to choose the experiment that failed most of all, it would be the pasta. I know exactly what went wrong too. The biggest culprit was timing. I wasn’t very prepared with this (which was the same issue with the pasta last time): so the garlic and spices were burnt because I hadn’t added the pasta or the chicken broth in time. I was going literally step by step rather than planning ahead and opening the pasta and chicken broth beforehand (and the chicken broth comes from cans!).
I also substituted penne for the spaghetti because my mom told me to use the pasta we already had, which I guess worked. I mean, it doesn’t really matter since it’s still a pasta type, right? (Right about now, I’m guessing that any hardcore chefs who are serious about Italian cuisine are flipping me off the European way, to which I say in my best Brooklyn accent, “Hey, I’m tryin’ here!”)
For dinner, it was just three of us–my parents and me–so there were some leftovers (which I later ate half of). I’d still say that was a good amount of food that I made. After all, leftovers are good, right? It means you can save some of that goodness for later. Won’t be as fresh, but…taste will still be there.
The puttanesca was tonight’s biggest challenge, but I learned that cooking, when you’re following the instructions, is like a test: you should study for it the night before to get an idea of what you have to do, and then once you start the physical process from the very first step, it’s game on. Often times, cooking is time-sensitive, so you’ll rarely have time to either fix your mistake or redo a part of your dish. That’s why you should certainly plan ahead so your time isn’t wasted, hesitating with confusion.
This here is the Strawberry-Chicken Salad w/ Pecans:
And here are the leftovers:
Making this dish taught me how to use my time productively. While I was busy waiting on something for the mashed potatoes (I opted to work on that first since they gave me directions on how to keep them warm until everything was ready), I decided to cut the strawberries first. I cut up the amount I needed and then gave the rest to my mom to snack on. 🙂
I was a little nervous about the chicken because last time, I messed it up. What happened last time? Exactly what happened this time, only the screwup didn’t taste so badly. I mean, it was fine the last time too, but I feel like the chicken was better this time. The mistake I made today was just because I got confused by a word: in one of the first directions, it said to heat a medium skillet and then move the chicken to a pan. I didn’t realize that “skillet” actually meant “pan” too. I mean, I knew it, but it just didn’t register with me at the time since I was still new at the culinary arts. So, instead of prepping the chicken and pan separately, I sort of put the chicken on the heated pan first and then embellished the chicken…hehe. Hehehe…
My mom and I really liked the salad dressing though. I made everything from scratch, so it was interesting to figure out what was actually in it. The dressing was actually the reason why I wanted to make dinner tonight. Yesterday, I saw one of those brief cooking clips on Facebook (I’ve become obsessed with those now and I’m still on the hunt for them, so if you’ve got ’em, please feel free to comment me suggestions!) and it was actually very similar to the dressing on this recipe. The clip was to make “Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing”, courtesy of Nourish by Tastemade. Okay, so just the salad was similar, but I wanted to make my own salad dressing, man.
Anyway, my mother liked it so much that she wants me to make it again tomorrow. We have leftover cooked chicken so I should be able to skip that step and just cut them julienne. I sort of can’t wait to make it again actually!
My dad liked today’s dinner too. In fact, the only thing he said was, “You should quit American Sign Language and go to culinary school instead.” And I think I’m honestly going to consider it. Except I love ASL and only like cooking, and to be frank, I’m only good at it because I follow directions. Almost. I still slip up because I misread a step or take too long.
During dinner, my mom and I were the ones who were really discussing the dishes and ingredients. She gave me tips on what to do next time and complimented me, especially on the salad dressing. I think she said it was perfect, so she told me to keep the recipe. Way ahead of you, Ma. 😉
As for the Classic Mashed Potatoes (which I’m sure you know how they look, so I don’t need to find a picture of it), I got the recipe from The New York Times Cooking app, which is one of my personal favorites…as far as cooking apps go anyway. I just wanted to make mashed potatoes because I knew how easy they were to make. That’s because I’d seen a short clip of how to make those smiley-face French fries that they made for lunch back in school. Its simplicity is what got me interested in making it tonight.
Looking at the recipe, my mom thought it was way too much for three people. Since the recipe said it served 4 to 6 people, I felt we’d have a comfortable amount of leftovers. She convinced me to go for half, meaning cut all the ingredients down to half as well. I wasn’t sure if you had to cut down the time in half as well and my mom wasn’t sure either. She just told me “watch it carefully”. Fortunately, the only time-sensitive step was boiling the potatoes and I felt safer about over-boiling because even the recipe stated that it was better to over-boil than under.
So I suppose that’s it. I have some advice for you though:
- The puttanesca involves a lot of oil. Like, a LOOOOOOT (that’s supposed to be “lot”, but “loot” works too). Not just the actual ingredient, but apparently, the anchovies are already bathing in oil because of the container it comes in. That and the capers. And the kalamata olives.
- Put together your very own cookbook with Microsoft OneNote. You can have a single notebook and there are tabs on top for different types of pages (i.e. meals). Then, within those tabs, you can create multiple pages (i.e. dishes). I added a photo of each dish first so I know what to aim for, then however long it should take based on my recipe source, ingredients, instructions, and then nutrition facts (including the serving size). When they list the pages at the side, if there’s an image that goes with the page, it also shows up next to the title, so that really helps too, if you’re searching for a specific recipe. Oh, and it’s free for your devices. Apple, anyway, which is especially helpful because I have a MacBook, iPhone, and an iPad, all of which I use for cooking: iPad to find recipes, iPhone to find ingredients, and laptop when I actually cook (since I also watch TV at the same time).
I guess that concludes my very first entry of my cooking blog. As I said, tomorrow I’m going to make the Strawberry-Chicken Salad again. I also want to make crab cakes because I know they’re delicious–we had them last Thanksgiving, but it was from a frozen package. Pre-made, so it doesn’t really count as making it.
Here’s a screenshot of what my OneNote cookbook looks like, in case you’re interested.