Single in the Kitchen: Mexican Soup

jalps

Single? Congratulations! You don’t have to worry about anyone else’s weird picky food habits, or distaste for spinach, or need for every meal to consist of meat and potatoes. Just meat and potatoes.

There are several cookbooks out there with recipes for cooking for one, but they tend to be a little, well, less than helpful (Here! Here is a can of beans! Did you know you can make a whole meal from a can of beans? Have you been on a date lately? No. Hmm. Well, here’s a recipe that will cost you $40 a meal to make. Have you signed up for an online dating service? They’re great! No? What’s wrong with you? Eat your beans.).

Not here! The Starter Kitchen celebrates the joys of cooking for yourself, and shows you how to do it in ways that make sense. All Single in the Kitchen recipes meet the following four requirements:

  1. Under thirty minutes to cook. You mean you don’t want to spend three hours roasting a turkey for one? Yeah, me neither.
  2. Economical. Cooking for yourself shouldn’t cost you a small fortune. Most foods you’ll get at the grocery store aren’t packaged for one, and nature didn’t always design produce in single-serving pieces. Recipes must include tips and tricks for making good use of your food dollar.
  3. Designed for one.  Recipes must either freeze well (so you can divide it into servings and save the rest for another night) or be easy to prepare for one.
  4. Delicious!

Mexican Soup Recipe

This recipe looks just as good as it tastes. A gorgeous soup with bright red tomatoes, vibrant green herbs, yellow peppers, and a spicy kick, this is a filling, low-calorie dinner that freezes beautifully and packs an amazing nutritional wallop. Plus, it costs under $15 for four full meals. Not bad!

Tools:

  • Large pot/dutch oven
  • Ladle
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Glad-ware containers

Already in your starter kitchen:

  • Canned chicken broth (or veggie broth)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil

Shopping List:

  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes with jalapenos (you can use regular tomatoes if you don’t like spice)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

Steps:

  1. Slice onions and garlic (instructions are here).
  2. Chop bell peppers, removing seeds and white flesh.
  3. Chop cilantro finely.
  4. Heat two tablespoons olive oil in your pot for one minute. Add onions and garlic. 
  5. Add both cans of tomatoes and one one cup chicken broth and let boil for three minutes.
  6. Rinse black beans in a strainer under cold water until the liquid runs clear.
  7. Add beans, peppers, and cilantro to the pot. Let boil for five more minutes.
  8. Ladle into four servings – three for the freezer and one for now!
  9. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and enjoy.

Nutrition:

This recipe is full of superfoods.

  • Canned tomatoes – Contain beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, and carotenoid lycopene – in fact, canned tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw tomatoes.
  • Garlic – Decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, contains vitamin C, B6, Manganese, and Selenium, acts as an Anti-Inflammatory, Antibacterial and Antiviral, reduces the risk of common cancers, and promotes weight control.
  • Cilantro – a great source of  good source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and phytonutrients.
  • Black beans – contain cholesterol-lowering fiber plus molybdenum, which is helpful for people with sulfite sensitivities.
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Freezes Beautifully – Penne a la Vodka (with or without the vodka)

Welcome to our new feature, at the Starter Kitchen roommate’s request: Freezes Beautifully!

I’m a busy woman. I work full time, commute two hours every day, write this blog, freelance part-time, and go to the gym most evenings. Cooking a healthy meal at the end of those weekdays? Not going to happen.

Making the transition from cooking for my family in high school, to cooking for myself and my ex-SO, to cooking for just myself has been…interesting. Recipes aren’t designed for one, and neither are packaged foods.

The solution is FREEZING. Every week I pick two or three recipes, cook up the parts that will freeze well, separate into servings in small Glad-ware containers, and stick them in the freezer. Giving yourself a few options means you won’t get bored, and keeping the freezer stocked means you won’t have to ruin a healthy day by ordering greasy take-out when you come home starving and exhausted.

What freezes well? Most veggies, cheeses, and cooked meats make great freezer foods. Exceptions: lettuce, cucumber, celery and cabbage.

Some foods don’t fare as well when frozen and thawed and become soft, mealy, or mushy, such as pasta, white rice, and potatoes.

The Recipe:

Penne a la Vodka was always a “special occasion” dish in my house when I was growing up, but when I started making it myself I discovered that it was simple to make and the recipe was easy to slim down (my aunt’s version had over two times the fat of the one below). The recipe can also be doubled (or even tripled) if you have a big enough pot. The sauce will freeze perfectly or will stay good in the fridge for up to a week. Cook and store your pasta separately, and only cook what you’ll be eating in one meal.

Tools:

  • Large pot or skillet (you will want the larger pot if you are doubling or tripling the recipe)
  • Ladle
  • Sharp knife
  • Can opener
  • Cutting board

Already in Your Starter Kitchen:

  • Onions
  • Olive oil
  • Penne (whole wheat or white)
  • Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Crushed red pepper 
  • Garlic (optional) 
  • Vodka (optional)

Shopping List:

  • Two cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup low fat cream (you can substitute fat-free half & half or regular cream)
  • Frozen peas
  • Basil (optional)

Steps:

  1. Coarsely dice one large onion. Don’t worry about getting uniform dice; the onions turn sweet while cooking, so chunks are fine.
  2. Peel two cloves of garlic and cut into thin slices. Feel free to omit garlic or, if you’re a garlic lover like me, add in a few extra cloves. (optional)
  3. Finely chop basil. (optional)
  4. Pre-heat your pot or skillet for one minute, then add one tablespoon olive oil.
  5. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, until onion is soft, but not burnt.
  6. Add two cans diced tomatoes and heat until boiling.
  7. Add 1/2 cup vodka and heat until boiling. (optional)
  8. You’ll want to start boiling your water for pasta now. Cook pasta according to the packaging instructions.
  9. Add 1 cup frozen peas, basil, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, and 3/4 cup cream.
  10. Let the sauce come back to a simmer (light boil) and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  11. Serve your sauce over pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

What’s a serving?  The slimmed-down version of this sauce (low-fat cream and no vodka) is mostly veggies, so I split this recipe into two servings. When I make this on the weekend for freezing, I usually double the recipe and divide it into four Glad-ware containers. It’s a lot of sauce, but not too many calories or too much fat. Served over whole-wheat pasta, this is a great healthy comfort-food option.

Have a question about this recipe or freezing foods? Ask the Starter Kitchen by e-mail or in the comments section.

Like, totally hemp, man…

Hemp Seed Products One of my favorite bloggers, Megan McArdle, of Atlantic.com, wrote an amazing post today about the crazy-diet book that could: Skinny Bitch.

She has this to say:

Imagine distilling all the self-righteous moralism of a yuppie eco-tourist who voted for Nader, twice, and only eats hemp. Now add all the hectoring nannyism of the nutritionists who write those “Liver and lima beans: your forgotten friends” pamphlets from the US Department of Agriculture. Toss in generous lashings of the exhibitionist ignorance of self-styled health food experts–the ones who promise that if you can just find the right combination of vitamin supplements, you will live forever, and also, marry Brad Pitt. Then find the three meanest girls from your local high school and extract multiple doses of the unprovoked venom they direct towards the fattest girl in the class. Combine all these ingredients in a large bowl, making sure that you haven’t accidentally included any shreds of a soul.

Yes, I’ve read this book, and yes, some of it is interesting and some of it is crazy, and the girls who wrote it have no credentials other than being really, really, skinny.

But! Onto McArdle’s first sentence the the amazing paragraph above – those yuppies eating hemp!

You should eat it too.

People consume protein powders for a few reasons: to gain weight (people who are too skinny), to put on muscle (athletes and gym rats), and people who need more protein in their diets (me, you, and almost everyone you know).

The problem with protein powders is that most of them are made from soy (which contains estrogen-like chemicals that are a problem for some people) or whey (which doesn’t work out well for people who stay away from dairy). Neither are even close to being whole foods and are produced using many, many chemicals, including Hexane, some forms of which are used in gasoline and shoe polish.

And then there is hemp. Ground hemp seed is not only a whole food, it provides 11g protein, 14g fiber, Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9, GLA, Vitamin E, Iron, chlorphyll, and NO net carbs after you subtract the protein.

Hemp powder can still be a little hard to find, but most Whole Foods stores seem to carry at least one brand.

How do you work hemp powder into your diet?

Hemp powder has a nutty, very natural flavor, but can be a little grainy. I’ve found the best way to eat Hemp powder is in a fruit smoothie or mixed in with a tomato-based soup.

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How To: Host the Perfect Easter Brunch

So you’re on your own for your first Easter Sunday, but you want something a little more complicated than cheerios.

Host a perfect make-ahead Easter Brunch! The whole meal will cost less than $50, serves up to seven, and most of it can be prepared the night before in less than an hour! Sunday morning, wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee while your oven does the rest!

 Menu:

Three-cheese egg basil and tomato casserole
Baked pecan and blueberry french toast
Bacon
Hash-browns
Mimosas

Tools
Two cookie sheets
Aluminum foil 
2 glass casserole pans ($11.99 at Shaws)
Frying pan
 

Already in Your Starter Kitchen: 
Cooking spray
11 eggs
Orange juice
Milk
Sugar
Nutmeg
Vanilla extract
Butter
Flour
Baking Powder
Salt
Pepper

Your Shopping List:
1 loaf french bread
1/2 cup pecans
Blueberries
1 pound jack cheese
4 oz cream cheese
1 pound cottage cheese
Bacon
Frozen hash-browns (pre-shredded in the potato section of your frozen foods isle)
Basil
2 ripe tomatoes
Champagne

The Night Before:

French toast

  1. Break four eggs into a mixing bowl. Add 2/3 cup orange juice, 1/3 cup milk, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 vanilla extract, and whip together using a whisk or fork.
  2. Slice french bread into 1 inch thick slices.
  3. Place slices of bread in a single layer – don’t worry about keeping the slices seperate; put as many in as you can fit.
  4. Pour the egg mixture over the bread, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  5. Turn the bread with a spatula once before you hit the sack.

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