Cooking up some new traditions

When I made the big move out of my parents’ house and into a one-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, Joel, in October, I knew we’d be faced with the typical no-life crisis.  And when I say “no-life,” I mean that we’re too old to be associated with our parents and the ellusive status of “studenthood,” but yet too young to have fully grown into our adult lives.  We’re stretching our limbs and trying to figure out the kind of lives we want to lead.

A big part of this includes what we’d eat.  Since my boyfriend is still a student and is living off the income of a former internship, and I’m just scratching by with my bookselling career, eating out was out of the question.  So what would we eat on weeknights?  What would we prepare on nights I had to work late and Joel was studying til the wee hours of the morning?  Like so many young people, would we be stuck with boxed meals, frozen pizza and ramen?  How do you cook anyway?

Joel and I decided to take the decidedly healthier route, in that we would strive to cook as much of our food as possible.  We couldn’t guarantee that it would be super healthy, or even “balanced” where the five food groups are concerned.  But we would make much of it ourselves, use as many quality ingredients as our meager budget allowed, and try as many new dishes as possible.

Along the way, we’ve discovered quite a few dishes that,  I believe, will stay in our recipe file for many, many years to come.  They’re simple, easy to assemble, tasty and pretty darn good for you.  It’s not vegan food, and I’m not counting calories, but I believe the best way to combat rising obesity problems is to start in the kitchen.  Rediscovering how to feed ourselves and properly satisfy our body is the first step to a happier future.  And while I’m a girl but not necessarily advocating regressing back to pre-feminist ideals, I’ve found teaching myself this most basic, domestic skill has made me a happier human being.

Here are a few dishes that Joel and I have returned to time and again, as part of our new traditions.

Chicken chili

The key to this dish is the packet of spices specifically  created for chicken chili I buy, in bulk, at Krogers.  I’m sure you can find something similar in the boxed foods aisle of whatever grocer you choose.  The other key is the package of chicken breasts we buy every few weeks.  On a day off from work, I’ll cut each breast into bite-sized pieces and cook through in a large skillet.  I usually store most of the cooked chicken in the freezer, but use half of it for the chili.  I’ll toss the chicken into a pot of cooked white or kidney beans, with some water and the spice packet.  Let it cook until it’s thick, and enjoy with a heap of shredded cheese.  You’ll make a lot, but it’s even better as leftovers.

Chicken-Pasta Salad

This is a good dish for that extra frozen chicken.  Cook some shell pasta, combine with the chicken and some chopped red pepper slices.  Mix in some creamy onion or caesar salad dressing (I use Trader Joes’ creamy Italian dressing), with some feta cheese crumbles.  Serve over a big plate of spinach, and voila, something healthy and satisfying.

Shells with Spicy Tomato Sauce

This pasta dish is so good, I don’t know if I’ll go back to jarred sauce.  It’s so easy to make this fresh tomato sauce, it’s ridiculous.  Saute about 4 tablespoons bottled minced garlic, half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and a little dried parsley for about a minute.  Then, dump four tomatoes that you’ve seeded and diced into the pan, and cook for about 15 minutes.  The sauce will get thick.  Mix with the pasta shells and parmasan cheese, and you’re done.

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