By Mandy Menaker
It was time to admit it — I had a serious Seamless addiction. And my take-out habits were starting to affect other parts of my life: finances, diet, and happiness. It’s tough to stay healthy when you order Thai food every day, and just as challenging to balance your finances when you need to hit the delivery minimum on Seamless for every meal. In all honesty, I had no idea how to navigate a grocery store, and my fridge mostly consisted of pickles and yogurt. I decided to make an adjustment – starting in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen.
It was five degrees in New York (yes, literally five degrees), my shower pipes had been frozen for two days, and the food delivery guy knew me by name. It was the winter of the Polar Vortex and I was running out of activities; seven seasons of Buffy was starting to drain on me. After piling on two more sweaters, I came up with the brilliant idea of using the oven to heat my apartment – and discovered I was still using my oven as additional storage. It was the perfect excuse to learn how to cook.
I had always been a healthy eater and had grown up watching my mom cook, but had rarely cooked on my own. Completely intimidated by how to start, I posted an S.O.S. message on Facebook asking for healthy recipes. Within 24 hours, I had been sent over 30 recipes, and a group of close friends had started a shared Google Drive folder of their favorite dishes. Posting my goal on Facebook also had a hidden purpose: It made me accountable, since I promised forthcoming photos of my first week of cooking.
I started by selecting a few vegetarian dishes, so I wouldn’t have to deal with meat right away. First on the docket was Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers (recipe below). Like a delicate baker, I measured out every single ingredient exactly how the recipe stated. I leveled off cups of quinoa with a knife, and I lined up my measuring cups full of dry ingredients before I even started. I considered every different way to slice open a bell pepper before making the first cut. It wasn’t pretty, and I was stressed.
However, posting the final delicious product on Facebook gave me the confidence to continue cooking, and I picked more recipes to try. After another week or so of vegetarian dishes, I timidly moved on to fish, with Maple Glazed Salmon and Roasted Brussels Sprouts (see recipe).
As I continued cooking, small changes turned into big changes. I became more comfortable making adjustments to recipes based on taste, such as adding extra chili pepper to one recipe and less salt to another. Not every dish was a success, either due to my inexperience or to the actual recipe (avoid butternut squash lasagna at all costs). However, by starting with a few easy recipes that went well, I was less discouraged by recipes that didn’t turn out well (or, at all).
The other big motivator was finding a friend to cook meals with all winter. Cooking for one can be a lonely process with way too many leftovers. For me, the secret was finding another friend, also on the Seamless addiction, who lived in the neighborhood. Nights previously spent hiding from the Polar Vortex became nights of alternating kitchens. This change cut my food budget and leftovers in half, and transformed cooking into a social activity — and I curated a best friend out of my new hobby.
And as they say, one small life change can motivate so many bigger changes in your life. By cleaning up my kitchen to make it usable, I ended up cleaning my whole apartment and donating a lot of great clothes and items to Goodwill. By going to the grocery store every time I needed ingredients, I started taking more walks, which turned into short runs around the neighborhood, which turned into completing my first 5K (and later biking my first century – 100 miles!).
So, when my childhood best friends broached the opportunity to hike the 26-mile Inca trail to Machu Picchu, I said yes without hesitation. (I also had the funds to do so, since I wasn’t throwing my life savings into Seamless any longer.) I am proud to say I made it all 26 miles, at high altitude, with sherpas. And llamas. And a sprained ankle (but that’s a story for another day).
Moral of the story? I now cook 2-3 dinners a week. I still go out to eat, I still order Seamless sometimes, and I still occasionally grab a bagel on the way to work. However, I am confident in the kitchen, and — bonus — I no longer use my oven for shoes.
Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers
Originally from DamnDelicious.net
Serves 6 | Hands-On Time: 20m (budget extra time for cooking the quinoa if needed) | Total Time: 50m
- 3 cups cooked quinoa
- 1 (4-ounce) can green chiles
- 1 cup corn kernels
- ½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup petite diced tomatoes
- ½ cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
- ¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 bell peppers (try to get flat bottoms), tops cut, stemmed and seeded
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x13 baking dish with parchment paper
- In a large bowl, combine quinoa, green chiles, corn, beans, tomatoes, cheeses, cilantro, cumin, garlic, onion and chili powder, salt and pepper, to taste.
- Spoon the filing into each bell pepper cavity. Place on prepared baking dish, cavity side up, and bake until the peppers are tender and the filling is heated through, about 25-30 minutes.
Maple Glazed Salmon with Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Originally from RealSimple.com
Serves 4 | Hands-On Time: 10m | Total Time: 25m
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
- 1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges, stem ends left intact
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
- lemon wedges, for serving
- Heat oven to 450° F, with the racks in the upper and lower thirds. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the Brussels sprouts and onion with the oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Roast on the bottom rack, tossing once, until golden and tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the maple syrup, mustard, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. After the vegetables have cooked for 12 minutes, place the salmon on a second rimmed baking sheet and brush it with the maple mixture. Roast on the top rack until opaque throughout, 6 to 8 minutes.
Serve the salmon with the vegetables and lemon wedges.
Mandy Menaker is an avid biker and amateur cook residing in Brooklyn, NY with her ridiculously cute maltipoo puppy, Nala. Mandy is also the Marketing Director of Fluent City, an awesome program that offers after-work foreign language classes for adults.