Self-Inflicted Food Challenge- Part I

Ugghhhh. I knew it was time for an intervention. Last week I spent most of the week complain-y, grumpy, stressed, angry, tired and for the most part unhappy. I feel like I lost so many battles throughout the week, I felt defeated. I’d come home from work and binge on Netflix, and be too tired to eat anything nutritious for dinner. I won’t even repeat the things I ate for dinner last week… My poor nutrition most likely caused my increased tiredness and then fueled my angry and so on blah blah blah. Time to do something about it.

This week I have resolved to drink lots of water, use a standing desk, stay calm at work (and take a walk when I’m starting to get stressed), watch less than 40 minutes of TV per day, read before bed, be more positive during my workouts, relax in rush hour traffic (yeahhh didn’t happen today), and most importantly get creative in the kitchen!

One of my biggest passions is cooking. I knew that a good dose of cooking would make me happier. I’ve been following recipes too closely recently and I’ve been playing it too safe, so I decided to stretch my imagination and create my own cooking challenge this week. I had a call out on facebook to have people list out ingredients and I ended up getting 16 responses. Even though they weren’t all ingredients, I still decided to incorporate each of the responses in to my challenge.

Responses: cilantro, chickpeas, coconut milk, artichokes, taco salad, quinoa, white castle, paprika, rutabaga, ginger, cabbage, avocado, italian sausage, throwing bananas into hot liquid before it starts to boil for smoothness and sweetness, lentils, homemade pasta. I also added broccoli and cauliflower to the list since I need to use these up!

Thanks SO much for not adding mushrooms to the list. I probably would have died.

The guidelines were as follows:

  • Cook three meals throughout the week and utilize every ingredient listed above
  • Split up ingredients however I want amongst the three meals
  • Pantry ingredients or whatever ingredients I have in my fridge/freezer are totally acceptable to use to supplement a recipe
  • No playing it safe. Too easy
  • Can look up recipes to get inspiration, but cannot follow the recipes
I started by writing all the ingredients on post it notes and moving them around into three separate camps until I was able to generate three recipe ideas. Here’s how I broke them up. I won’t reveal two of the recipes in this blog. You’ll have to wait!

I knew I had the most time on Sunday for messing around in the kitchen, so I decided to tackle the most involved recipe (middle set).

First thing first, grocery shopping and a visit to White Castle, which is a very fine dining establishment that I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. Thanks for throwing this curveball at me, Laurie! Since the instructions weren’t clear on what I could use from White Castle, I decided to get two jalepeno sliders to go. I like spicy.

Apparently, White Castle offers Valentine’s Day reservations. Only the classiest of restaurants do this…

Back home I started to setup. Most importantly, I broke out the wine.

Wine is proven to improve creativity.

And I set out all my secret ingredients.

Secret ingredients this round: two jalepeno sliders, paprika, artichokes, rutabaga, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower.

Lentil”Meatball” Soup
Lentil Meatballs:
Cook 1/2 cup lentils in excess water for 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain the excess water and cool (enough so that you don’t cook the egg).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Meanwhile, dissect 2 White Castle jalepeno sliders. Separate components into three piles: meat (?), bread, cheese/onions. Toast the bread until crispy. Note: the soggy bottom bun will not toast completely, but the soggy part can be scraped out and fed to your animal/thrown into the garbage. Ick!

Dissecting the soggy jalepeno sliders with my blinky sous chef below.

On the stovetop, heat 1 T olive oil and add 1 clove minced garlic and 1/2 diced small onion. Cook until slightly browned.

In a food processor add the toasted bread and process until fine breadcrumbs are formed. Add the sauteed onion/garlic mixture, cooled lentils, “meat” from the sliders and 1/4 c walnuts, 1/4 c parmesan cheese, 1/2 c panko (it was too moist without it), 1/2 t dried oregeno, 1/2 t dried basil, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1/4 t salt and 1/4 t pepper. Pulse until all ingredients are combined.  Add 1 egg and pulse until combined.

With hands, form ~1″ diameter meatballs (size of a golf ball) and place on a baking tray covered in parchment paper and lightly brushed with olive oil. Caution, mixture will be sticky and messy.

Bake until meatballs are brown and crisp, about 25-30 minutes.

16 authentic meatballs hot out of the oven!

Soup Base:
Heat 1 T olive oil in a large pot. Add 1/2 small diced onion, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 t oregeno and 1/2 t dried basil until onions are lightly browned and mixture is fragrant.

Add 8 c water and 1 extra large chicken boullion cube (beef or vegetable can be used, too) and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Peel and spiralize 1 rutabaga, and slice 2 carrots. Transfer to water.

Having too much fun with the spiralizer.

Once the water has come to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add 1-1/2 to 2 c chopped cauliflower when rutabaga is almost tender.

Shred ~4 large leaves of cabbage (I used Savoy) and add to the soup when the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Cook for ~2 minutes.

Serve soup over lentil meatballs.

Artichoke Spread:
This is where the jalepeno cheese from the sliders comes in to play…

In a small casserole dish, combine 1/2 c diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, one 14 oz can of drained and chopped artichoke hearts, jalepeno cheese from the sliders (ripped in to small pieces), 85 g plain Greek yogurt, 4 oz cream cheese, 1/2 c mozzarella cheese, 1/4 c parmesan cheese and 1 t paprika. Blend together until combined, trying to break up any large lumps of yogurt or cream cheese. No need to be OCD about blending.

Bake uncovered at 375F until light brown on top, about 30 minutes.

Serve on toast. I served it on my favorite homemade bread, which is the easiest bread to make in the entire world (sunflower and flax seed whole wheat cast iron bread: http://www.jocooks.com/bakery/breads/sunflower-and-flax-seeds-whole-wheat-cast-iron-bread/), and sprinkle with paprika for a pretty finish.

And ta, da! Two hours later you have a fun, delicious dinner! From this first of three experiments, I learned that rutabagas are far superior to potatoes and White Castle sliders can actually prove to be very interesting, useful ingredients. I’m looking forward to sharing my next two meals–hopefully, they’re not a bust! Although for today, I’m satisfied with leftovers 🙂

Surprisingly delicious outcome!
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