Pantry Cooking Project, Day 3

What to drink when you don’t want to buy drinks at work.

Growing up, our beverage choice at dinner was usually water or water. We drank a lot of water in our house. Sometimes there was juice or milk at breakfast or lunch, and in the summer, Country Time lemonade or instant Nestea iced tea (you do know to boycott Nestlé, right?), but usually, it was water, and it’s still my favorite beverage. Preferably cold with no ice, but I’m pretty flexible. Am I the only one who sees people using a garden hose and wants to go over and get a quick drink? Yeah, probably the only one over the age of seven.


These days, I still mostly drink water, but I’ve gotten in the habit at The Best Job Ever of buying a drink in the afternoon: usually sweet, usually caffeinated, usually cold. Today, it’s jasmine and honey iced tea with lychee jelly. Delicious. But I want to see about moving to homemade drinks for my afternoon treat. One of the main reasons I don’t do that is that I don’t want to deal with washing out a container, but maybe I can find one that’s wide enough that I can just wash it the way I would a drinking glass. I’ll be on the lookout.

Possible afternoon bring-along drinks:

ice water (feels like more of a treat than just water from the tap)
sweet iced tea
chia lemonade or other chia drink
V-8, tomato juice, Clamato (all faves, but in hot weather, they don’t tend to satisfy thirst as well for me)
[your suggestion here]

Food today:

Breakfast was delicious. Frozen O’Brien potatoes fried in oil; eggs over easy; a little sriracha; a cup of V-8; some yellow pepper strips.

<img src="×480.jpg" alt="breakfast" width="640" height="480" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-5345" srcset="×480.jpg 640w,×225.jpg 300w, see page.jpg 800w” sizes=”(max-width: 709px) 85vw, (max-width: 909px) 67vw, (max-width: 984px) 61vw, (max-width: 1362px) 45vw, 600px” />

Lunch was an embarrassment of food in packets. I had taken some ham out of the freezer to make sandwiches with, but it wasn’t thawed yet when I went to make my lunch in the morning, so I just grabbed some stuff to take.


Dinner was some really amazing cheeseburgers, with those awesome homemade buns. Mom often thinks we’re not eating enough meat, so she sends us boxes of meat from Omaha Steaks. These are their burgers, topped with melted Swiss cheese and caramelized onions. Usually, I eat half my burger and give James the other half, because I’m just not all that into big chunks of meat, but this time, I ate the whooooooole thing, and it was just. so. good.


Money spent on groceries today: $0
Money spent in restaurants today: $2.99 (project total $11.52)
Food gifts received today: $0 (project total $17)
Things we’ve run out of: Mayonnaise, ice cream, milk, hamburger patties

Cheesepalooza: Whole-milk Ricotta

Sorta-homemade lasagna with actually-homemade ricotta

I’ve been resisting making this post for a week and a half, for two reasons:

1) My photos didn’t come out all that well, and
2) My ricotta didn’t come out all that well. I couldn’t get it to set up properly. Cooking from the Market’s buttermilk ricotta is much more reliable for me, and the texture is right, while this was rubbery.

This is the first recipe in Cheesepalooza, though, and I have lots more chances to get it right. Besides, the resulting lasagna was ASTOUNDINGLY good, so hey, success!

Here’s the cheese draining on the faucet:

homemade ricotta draining

And here’s the lasagna after I ate all my dinner, went “Oh, shoot! I need a photo!” and put a little more on a plate to photograph.

sorta-homemade lasagna, one slice

It was so darn good, we managed to polish off that little more, too. SO good. And way easy, because I only sort of homemade it. You don’t even really need a recipe. What I did was bought four sheets of fresh pasta (two regular, two spinach) and layered them with jarred sauce, the homemade ricotta, and sliced whole-milk mozzarella. I ran out of mozzarella at the end (I used a pound), so I added some shredded cheddar on the top layer. This went together in maybe five minutes, and then I baked it at 350, covered, for about a half hour, then uncovered it and baked until everything was hot and bubbly. SO good!

And now here’s the worst pic of all. This doesn’t do this delicious thing justice, I promise you.

sorta-homemade lasagna

[Edit: Here’s a photo of an old batch of ricotta, made with the recipe linked above:]

ricotta in a strainer

Notes on a long weekend (including this week’s menu)

Little notes from a weekend kitchen

Little tidbits all thrown into one post:

Finally some time to bake

This long weekend is a balm to my soul. There’s not too very much homework, I have very few social obligations, and my house is relatively clean. So gosh, today, I cooked up a storm. Sausage and potatoes for breakfast. Potato soup for lunch, with homemade baguette! I can’t find my camera, but I did take a cellphone photo of my baguette. You deserve better, but here it is:

cameraphone pic of a baguette that's obviously misshapen but brown and pretty anyway

I got the recipe from King Arthur Flour, one of my favorite recipe sites, and it worked really well. I baked it a little too long because my oven is a pain in the ass, but it worked out really well anyway, and now I have baguette dough in the fridge for whenever I want it (the recipe makes enough dough for four loaves).

This week’s manu

This week, we’re keeping it pretty simple. It’s two weeks before finals, and James has some work stress, so plain and easy is a good way to go. We’re still doing pantry cooking, but it’s kind of a joke, because I still have SO much food in the house!

Tonight: Cheeseburger macaroni (homemade, but inspired by that boxed stuff I loved as a kid)
Monday: Vegetable soup and baguette
Tuesday: Bean burritos
Wednesday: I have school, and James fends for himself (usually sandwiches). If I have time, I’ll make him a baguette the night before to have his sandwich on.
Thursday: Sausage and potato skillet
Friday: Spaghetti
Saturday: The kid is coming over and we’re gonna make some kind of Mom Food together. I’m letting her decide what it will be. More about that later.

Constructive spammers

My spam killer has been going a little nuts lately, and classifying a few of you as spammers, which obviously, you’re not, because you’re my beloved readers (and, in one case, an actual Mom Food blogger!). I’m working on it, but I’m also finding a really interesting phenomenon in which someone makes an actual comment that responds to the post, and it’s pretty clear from their URL and CommentLuv post that they’re hoping to promote their link on Google. This made me think of this comic, which I’ll leave you with (click to make it larger), and which I’m sharing with permission. Have a wonderful, wonderful week, my darlings.


Dad’s Easy Nacho Night

Comfort food from Kombucha’s dad

[Note from Serene: Please welcome our new contributor, Kombucha! She has graciously agreed to tell us about her own Dad Food, and I’m happily anticipating hearing more from her.]

Our family ate dinner every night together while I was growing up, and my mom cooked 99.9 percent of those meals. This percentage is probably not entirely mathematically accurate. I can count on my fingers the number of times my dad cooked for us as kids. He had one meal that he could make, and we had to help him out lest he forget one of the ingredients.

dad's nachos as tostadas

My mom worked full time in addition to raising my brother and me, and what was so comforting to me about those few instances that my dad cooked was not just the meal that he made — an easy layered nacho recipe that can also be turned into a great burrito filling and be adapted for vegetarians (just leave out the meat) — but knowing that she was going to be able to relax a little when she got home. My parents worked extremely hard to provide a good life for us, and eating fresh healthy good food was always part of that. I always felt guilty that my mom had to cook a meal after working a full day at her demanding retail job.

This is not a healthful recipe, but it is easy, quick, and a crowd-pleaser. I’ve made it for many friends over the years who have raved about it. I always think of my dad when I do.

sauteed pecans and onions

In the photos, you can see this version I made with spinach and pecans cooked with onions and green chiles. I am a vegetarian now, so I try to find creative ways to recreate the recipes I used to like with meat!
layering beans with veggies and cheese

Easy Layered Nachos (or baked burritos)
Recipe type: Main dish
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • ½ pound ground turkey or ground beef
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, cheddar, pepper Jack, or Mexican blend, or any combination totaling 1 cup)
  • Salsa
  • Sour cream
  • Guacamole, optional
  • Tortilla chips, taco shells, or flour tortillas
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Sauté meat and onion with salt and pepper until the meat is completely cooked.
  3. In an 8"-by-8" square baking dish, layer the beans, meat, chiles, and cheese.
  4. Bake 25 minutes.
  5. Serve with tortillas for dipping, or use taco shells or flour tortillas to create warm tacos or burritos. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Add guacamole if you have fresh avocados.
  6. Side dishes: Rice or salad.

layered casserole after baking

Kombucha is a contributing writer for RENTCafe,  where she writes about home design, entertaining, and other lifestyle topics on the RENTCafe blog.