One-Hot-Pot

I often recall simple times when I lived on an alpaca farm and ate simple food like buttered noodles (I had an interesting childhood). I was a very picky eater back then, but now I’m open to try anything and everything as most of you know. Instead of cooking in the city this week I’m back at my humble abode in the middle of nowhere, and while there are not alpacas anymore, I’m very excited to have a simple dish with some close hometown friends. On tap for tonight is Chili Verde. Let’s get cooking!

This adventure doesn’t start at the grocery store, but rather at the doctors office. Since I am an *adult* now, I took myself to the doctors by myself. It was just an annual check up but I had to get a shot. Normally I wouldn’t complain a huge amount, but they made me stay an extra 20 minutes since I drove myself. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and go grocery shopping. It had been about 3 weeks since I had last shopped for groceries and I missed the feeling of wandering through the isles looking for my ingredients — it’s kind of like an adult scavenger hunt if you think about it. Finally they let me go and I made my way over to the Giant Eagle.

My list of things I needed to pick up was rather simple today, but there was one ingredient I feared that I would not be able to find: tomatillos. As I stated before, I live in the middle of nowhere, so I did not have high expectations for this store to have such an exotic vegetable, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found them! They were right beside the tomatoes (since the are Mexican green tomatoes) and I nearly jumped for joy when I found them. It was so refreshing to be able to pick up all of my ingredients at one place (yes I am throwing shade to you Trader Joes…but I still love you).

I went to pay for my items, and the cashier had the most confused look when he picked up the tomatillos. he said to me “uhhhh….I have no clue what these are.” I told him and explained exactly what they were, and continued to tell him how surprised I was they they had them in the store. He said, “You never know what you’ll find here, it’s always full of surprises.” Isn’t that the truth.

I came home and waited for Molly and Hussein to come over at 7. Hussein told us he’d be late because he was cutting down trees, but Molly and I knew it was just an excuse so he didn’t have to help cook — Sorry Hussie, nothing gets past us.

Molly arrived and we got straight to work. First we dug through my kitchen supplies boxes to find my cutting boards. I find it amazing that my parents only have 2 cutting boards — I have about 10 (okay big exaggeration, but seriously you can’t just have 2 cutting boards!!). Once we found the boards, we could get onto the fun part. We threw the turkey into a pot and seasoned it with cumin, grill seasoning, and hot sauce. I finished off all the cumin, which was a big accomplishment: it was the first spice I used the whole way through. I’m basically a master of cumin now.

While the turkey cooked we chopped up so many green vegetables: zucchini, a green bell pepper, the tomatillos, cilantro, and thyme. I realized I forgot to pick up jalapenos, which made me sad for a minute but I quickly got over it. This recipe was relatively simple — we just tossed everything in the pot, let it cook for a few minutes and voila! We were ready to eat.

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We dressed up our chili with a little cheese and some scallions & brought out a whole bag of tortilla chips as well. We sat out on my back porch to enjoy some fresh air and watch the sunset as we had our moment of truth. 3…2…1… ahhh, that was so delicious. This dish was as simple as could be, yet so satisfying. All of the ingredients were so fresh too, which made a huge difference in the dish. I had 2 heaping bowls of this stuff, and that’s saying a lot since the thought of chili freaked me out for most of my life.

Hussein ended up missing the whole meal (it wouldn’t have mattered if he eventually showed up anyways because we ate it all), but we met him at Shaffer’s for ice cream. It was the perfect ending to a lovely summers night.

Now time for the rating. Chili Verde receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. This dish was not only flavorfully satisfying, but it also meshed perfectly with our surroundings. This is one thing that I don’t think many people think about. For example: seafood tastes better when you’re near the ocean. Chili is a simple dish to make, and we made it in a simple place: in the wide open country setting next to a few farms and a corn field. The whole atmosphere made this dish a million times better than I thought it could ever be. This was definitely and unforgettable meal.

While I adore living in the city, sometimes its good to step back and enjoy the little things and the quieter places. Cooking with childhood friends, and making memories we’ll remember when we’re old and gray is such a wonderful feeling. I’m excited to do the next evoo in an exotic place, and hopefully make many more cooking memories abroad as well.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

Big Soup!

Ever have those nights where you just want to stuff your face and eat like a normal person? That has been me for the past two months while I was preparing for a pageant I was competing in. I have not tasted bread, or sugar, or any of my favorite things for the past two months….I HAVEN’T EVOOD IN TWO MONTHS!!! WHO AM I?! Thank goodness I’m back to discovering so many delicious recipes, and I wouldn’t want to get back into the swing of things with a different 3-course menu than tonight’s. On tap for tonight is Green Minestrone, Tomato Basil Panzanella, and Lemon Coconut Angel Food Cake. Let’s get cooking!

I started this cooking adventure like any other at Trader Joe’s on Tuesday. This was no ordinary Trader Joe’s run…it was my LAST Trader Joe’s run since I move out in a week. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually going to miss that place and all of the great deals it had — even if it was a pain in the ass most of the time.

I was really hoping this trip would be quick and painless but it didn’t look too bright when I was stuck on the subway for 20 minutes in between stations. Train delays are one thing but when you’re trapped in an over packed unairconditioned car, you just want to die. When I finally reached my destination I felt like I was breathing in fresh air for the first time in years.

Despite the rocky beginning, this grocery run could not have gone any smoother. I found all of the ingredients I needed (besides white cannellini beans and ditalini pasta), but I knew my friends would be able to pick those up no problem. Everything was also super affordable which I can always count on Trader Joe’s for! I’d say this was a very successful last trip — see you in a year Trader Joe’s!

Fast forward to today (Thursday). After a long day of dog walking, I was so excited to come home and have a wonderful home cooked meal. I’m so happy I didn’t have to cook alone either! Girl’s night: cooking edition coming atcha. Chela, Amy & Krystina all joined me for a feast.

Amy brought the beans & Krystina brought the pasta (Krystina went all fancy and bought the pasta from Eatily!) We started how we always do with chopping. It was mainly Amy and I doing all the work since Chela brought her own pizza (typical) and Krystina doesn’t trust herself with knives (can’t blame her).

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Once all of the chopping was complete everything else was pretty simple — all I had to do was throw everything in a pot to make the soup and let it simmer for a while. While the soup was brewing I turned my attention to the Panzanella. This recipe really confused me because it told me to let the bread soak in water, then to wring it dry because you don’t want soggy bread…why is the bread supposed to be drenched in water if it shouldn’t be soggy??? Rachael Ray were you high when you created this recipe??? Whatever, I always do as the recipe says, but I let Amy dry the bread so I wouldn’t be at fault if it was weird…sorry Amy…

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I couldn’t let Krystina sit and do nothing, so I gave her some cheese to grate which she did beautifully. I threw the cheese into the soup, while Amy mixed the Panzanella together, and then it was time for the first moment of truth.

3…2…1….It feels so good to eat real food again!!….JK the soup is something I could’ve eaten on my diet since there was no sugar, but it was still good and I didn’t feel bloated or gross while eating it. Thumbs up from me! The soggy bread though….it was still soggy. Someone please explain to me why one would drench bread in water if you don’t want it to be wet? This is so mind boggling to me. Once you got past the sogginess of the bread, the rest of the dish was pretty dang good — very Italian.

We scarfed down our dinner so we could move on to dessert. Now, I didn’t go full out pastry chef here, (I bought a pre-made angel food cake), all I had to do was dress it up a little bit. I heated up some lemon curd and added a little lemon zest, then skillfully drizzled it all over the cake. Finally I topped it off with shaved coconut, and I have to say, it looked like a masterpiece! If it wasn’t so pretty we would’ve dived in sooner.

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So now for the second moment of truth: 3…2…1… BEST DESSERT IN EVOO HISTORY. I’m serious! This was so simple, yet sweet and out of this world. Maybe I’m freaking out since I haven’t had any sugar in 2 months, but this was absolutely glorious. I honestly could’ve eaten the whole cake. It is taking all of my willpower to save Ashley the last slice of cake..I’m such a good room mate.

Now time for the ratings. Green Minestrone receives ♥♥♥ (3) hearts. This soup was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was very bland. This could’ve been 10 times better if a few spices were added for good measure, but it was boring. Onto the next. The Tomato Basil Panzanella receives ♥♥♥ (3) hearts. Flavor wise this dish was fabulous, but I just could not get over the soggy bread. Why would you wet the bread, Rachael Ray?? I will not rest until this question is answered. Finally, the Lemon Coconut Angel Food Cake receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Talk about a strong finish! This dessert was light and airy, yet sweat and satisfying. I could eat this all day every day (I’m a sucker for fruity desserts) plus it was super easy to make! I loved it!!

It felt great to get back on the EVOO train, but also bittersweet considering this is the last EVOO in my first NYC apartment. Don’t worry, now that I’m back, I’ll be evooing every week. But where in the world will the next blog take place? You’ll find out next time! Thanks for reading!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

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Italian Stick-To-Your-Ribs

There are some nights where it’s in your best interest to have a big carb-filled meal…usually it’s best to have a meal like that before you go out to party. This menu includes the perfect pre-party feast, and good thing I’m going out after this! On tap for tonight is Italian Mini Meat Loaves with Mac ‘n Three Cheeses, and Seared Greens with Red Onion and Vinegar. Let’s get cooking!

My adventure started on Wednesday at none other than Trader Joe’s. I knew that my grocery bill would be expensive…which I was dreading. I also knew I would definitely not be able to find everything I needed at Trader Joe’s…double the dread. I walked out spending a whopping $65. I think that’s the most I’ve ever spent at Trader Joe’s at once. I also spent $15 at Fairway. All I’m saying is these dishes better be worth the money.

Fast forward to Saturday. All of my friends and I were gearing up to head over to Hoboken for a party. What better way to prepare than with some homemade mac & cheese, am I right? Well, almost everyone works on Saturday. Guess who almost cooked alone again…me!! Luckily Saoirse got off work around 6:30 and cooked with me.

We began how we always do by chopping. There wasn’t much to chop which made everything a lot easier.

I created the meatloaf patties first by throwing meat and a secret concoction of stuff together in a bowl. I formed 4 little patties and placed them in the oven.

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Saoirse cooked the pasta since I still have yet to figure out how to cook pasta effectively, and then I got started on the cheese sauce. It was so beautiful to watch the cheese melt together in the pot. Cheese is perhaps the most beautiful creation on this earth.

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In the middle of cooking we got the notification that the party was canceled…looks like this was turning into just a regular cheat meal.

While the mac & cheese finished baking, we made the seared greens — they smelled delicious.

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This 30 minute meal actually felt like 3o minutes because before we knew it, it was time for the moment of truth. 3..2..1… MAC & CHEESE HEAVEN YES! The mac & cheese was to die for. Homemade mac & cheese is a million times better than store bought. Wow, so freaking good! The meat loaf patties were yummy as well..and (kinda) healthy with all the veggies in them. Finally, the greens added a nice flavorful punch at the end.

Now time for the rating. Italian Mini Meat Loaves receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. The thought of meatloaf has always freaked me out…maybe that’s why I couldn’t give it 5 hearts? No the actual reason is I just don’t like tomato paste, and although there was only 3 tablespoons of it in there, the flavor was a little overwhelming for me. The Mac ‘n Three Cheeses receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Mac & cheese is another thing I didn’t really like growing up. Currently, I usually only like it with lobster but this mac & cheese made me a believer that all mac & cheese is good. I can’t wait to eat this for dinner all week. Finally, the Seared Greens with Red Onion and Vinegar receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. Also super good, but something about it was just a little too healthy for me on this night (I know I’m weird).

Although my plans for the night ended up being a bust, this meal was definitely not! I am now a firm believer in all things mac & cheese. I also encourage everyone to make homemade mac & cheese because it doesn’t even compare to the boxed crap.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

What a Face!

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving because of all the delicious food. Why is it that all of that food (turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes etc.) is only made once a year? Why not have a Thanksgiving feast once every few months? Well, Rachael Ray came up with an amazing menu for anyone who just wants to celebrate Thanksgiving all year round. On tap for tonight is Open-Face Hot Turkey Sammies with Sausage Stuffing and Gravy, Smashed Potatoes with Bacon, and Warm Apple-Cranberry Sauce. Let’s get cooking!

After a long 7 hour train ride back to New York the first place I wanted to go was Trader Joe’s…yes, seriously it was Trader Joe’s. It had been so long since I last went grocery shopping, and I actually missed it — this must be what adulthood feels like. I arrived at Trader Joe’s around 7pm on Thursday night. That was by far the busiest it has ever been, and a majority of the customers were very cranky — must have been the after work crowd. Luckily I was able to pick up all but two items for this recipe, and I was able to pick up other weekly grocery needs for under $50! This is why I love Trader Joe’s — it’s always so cheap.

I decided to skip over Fairway and just buy the last 2 items on Friday. Not getting all my shopping done at once was so out of the ordinary for me, but I was going out Thursday night and wanted to make sure I had enough time to get ready. Priorities, am I right?

Fast forward to today (Friday). Martina offered to pick up the last ingredients, and once I picked up a rotisserie chicken we were ready to cook! It was a little difficult to convince Martina and Ashley to help me cook, so I did most of the work myself.

I started out chopping the onion. I pulled out some sunglasses to shield me from crying…but the glasses let me down. I was bawling from the stupid onion, and my makeup was halfway down my face. Onion – 1, Mary – 0.

Once I chopped everything and put the potatoes on to boil, I moved on to the stuffing. I removed the casing on the sausages, but they were still pretty difficult to crumble. I guess I’m just not a professional sausage handler yet.

When the potatoes were done, I demanded Martina to come help. It wasn’t much to ask: all she had to do was crisp the bacon in the microwave and mash the potatoes. The bacon was already precooked, but she refused to touch it with her fingers. I was like girl, quit being a wimp its cooked meat…her response was “I need to make enough money one day to always eat out.” She mashed to potatoes on the floor like a child, but they still turned out pretty good so I can’t complain.

Ashley opened the can of cranberry sauce for me, and I quickly heated the applesauce and cranberry sauce together, and made the gravy. The gravy was the last thing to be prepared, and soon after I assembled the sammies.

Although this meal was supposed to be turkey sandwiches, I knew it would be too difficult to find a rotisserie turkey, so I settled on chicken instead. I carved some of the chicken breast, dunked it in the gravy, and plopped it on some bread. Then, I topped the chicken with a big pile of stuffing and more gravy. I gave myself a bowl full of mashed potatoes (I hadn’t eaten all day, I was starving) and a little bit of cran-apple sauce. Finally it was time for the moment of truth.

3…2…1… It was like the heavens had started a joyful song in my mouth, most likely because it was the first bite of real food I had had all day (earlier I had 3 and a half bowls of cheerios…eating good!!) It was like a mini Thanksgiving feast for Martina and I. The whole open faced sandwich idea was interesting, but still good none the less. The chicken and the gravy meshed together perfectly…and the potatoes, man potatoes are always perfect. The cran-apple sauce was a nice touch as well.

Now time for the rating. The Open-Face Hot Turkey Sammies receive ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. I honestly could’ve done without the bread and just had the chicken and gravy, but it was still good either way. The Sausage Stuffing receives ♥♥♥ (3) hearts. I had an image of what this stuffing should’ve been like (my mom’s) but it did not turn out like that at all. The bread was too soggy and the sausage was not crumbly enough, it was still pretty tasty though. The Gravy receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Let’s be real, you can never go wrong with gravy. End of story. the Smashed Potatoes with Bacon receives ♥♥♥♥ (4) hearts. These potatoes were a little lumpy, but other than that they were delish. Finally, the Warm Apple-Cranberry Sauce receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. The perfect subtly sweet addition to this Thanksgiving-ish meal.

Thanks to this gourmet menu, anyone can reminisce Thanksgiving as many times a year as they please. I really think Thanksgiving should be changed to a semi-annual holiday. Everyone agree? That’s what I thought. I’ll see you all here for the next Thanksgiving feast!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

The Three R’s

When the cold weather comes along it means two things. 1. It’s the time to stay inside. 2. It’s the time to get fat and eat as much comfort food as you like! I really like cold weather for the second reason. I’m very excited about this recipe because anything pasta equals an instant cold weather favorite. Tonight on the menu is Rigatoni, Rapini, and Ricotta Salata Pasta. Let’s get cooking!

This adventure started yesterday (Sunday). I was a bit hesitant to go to Trader Joe’s on a Sunday because I figured it would be the busiest day. Luckily the store wasn’t as packed as I thought it would be, and the line was shorter than usual. I didn’t have to pick up many ingredients for this recipe (only 5!) but of course, Trader Joe’s didn’t have 2 items that I needed. I figured last week’s one-stop shopping trip was one in a million, but I was still pretty disappointed. I made my way to Fairway for rapini, aka broccoli rabe, and ricotta salata. I found both items pretty easily, but there was a catch… the 2 items were $15. Why is Fairway so expensive ): After that purchase I sulked all the way home.

Fast forward to today (Monday). I was hoping for a big turnout for tonight’s dinner, but per usual people weren’t able to make it. Ashley was my right hand chef tonight even though she couldn’t eat the meal since there was chicken broth in it…what an angel for helping.

There wasn’t much prep work for this recipe — the only things that needed chopped were the garlic and rapini. There were two HUGE bunches of rapini, and Ashley & I chopped it all. Although, when it came time to cook the rapini, it was impossible to get all of it into the pan. I decided to save some for another time.

The most annoying part of this meal was the thyme. Thyme leaves must be stripped from the stems, and that is a very time consuming job. I let Ashley handle most of that while I combined everything else and crumbled the cheese. Once we tossed it all together it was time for the moment of truth.

3..2..1…The first bite was good, but the second and third…not so much. The pasta was very bitter, I’m guessing because of the rapini. I ate around most of the it, and instead just ate the cheese and noodles.

Now time for the rating. Rigatoni, Rapini, and Ricotta Salata Pasta unfortunately receives ♥♥ (2) hearts. I had such high hopes for this dish, but it was quite difficult to eat. I thought that the bitterness of the rapini would be cooked out but I was very wrong. Major *sigh*

Even though this was not the most delectable meal, I am going to have to suck it up for the rest of the week since I have two very large tupperware containers left of it. Rachael Ray’s pasta dishes don’t usually disappoint, but when they do it’s similar to the feeling of Donald Trump winning the election. Hopefully next week’s dish will be better.

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus

Rainy Night Relief

On rainy days (or in this case snowy days) the best thing to do is curl up in a ball, watch a bunch of movies, and eat comfort food. Throw some friends and family into the mix and it’s sure to be a memorable day. Now if only my day was like that…. at least the comfort food part is! On tonight’s menu is Sausage, Beans, and Broccoli Rabe “Stoup,” and Italian Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches. Let’s get cooking!

Since I am home for winter break, I figured it would be the perfect time to get the original EVOO crew together. Josh, Tabitha, Emily and I made plans to cook together on Wednesday at 6:30. I had work until 5, so afterwards I quickly rushed to Giant Eagle to pick up some ingredients.

I didn’t want to be late so I was running around the store like a mad woman trying to find everything. Of course two very important ingredients were not available. Emily came to the rescue with basil, but I had to substitute broccoli rabe with collard greens. I only spent 20 minutes in the store which definitely has to be a record time for the shortest grocery trip ever!

Once I arrived home, Josh informed us that he missed his train from Pittsburgh…so this cooking adventure fell apart pretty quickly — we simply couldn’t cook if one of us was missing! So instead Tabitha, Emily, and I went to Applebees and I decided to cook Thursday night with my family.

Finally Thursday came around. I got off work an hour early at 7, came home, and got straight to cooking! Dad picked up the last of the ingredients needed, and as always we started by chopping everything up. I assigned dad the onion, and before anyone calls me a bad person for doing that he has glasses that shield his eyes from crying so HAH. He did most of the chopping while I browned the sausage for the stoup.

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It was a little difficult to brown the sausage for three reasons. 1. My stove at home stinks! Only the back 2 burners work, and one of them only works on the highest setting. 2. I forgot how long it takes electric burners to heat up. 3. I forgot to remove the casing on the sausage so they were near impossible to crumble. Once Papa Honk chopped the sausage a bit we put the rest of the ingredients in and let the stoup simmer while we made the grilled cheeses.

The recipe for the grilled cheese called to drizzle some evoo in the pan with garlic, and then let the bread soak it all up. Dad was worried that the bread would become soggy from the oil, but it actually became crunchy and toasted beautifully. I loaded each sandwich with provolone, tomatoes, and basil, then I let dad take over with the flipping. He made some mighty fine looking grilled cheeses.

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Once the sandwiches were ready, mom joined us and we scooped some stoup into bowls, finishing each bowl off with fresh parmesan. We were so ready for the moment of truth.

3..2..1… Completely delicious! The stoup was so simple yet so flavorful and satisfying. The vegetables softened up nicely, and even though the broth was so simple (just chicken broth) it packed a flavorful punch. We all finished our stoup pretty quickly. The grilled cheese was out of this world! The first thing that came to my mind was the Melt Shop, which is a gourmet grilled cheese shop in New York. This sandwich was just like a Melt Shop sandwich…no, it was even better!! Dad just couldn’t get over the bread and olive oil. He mentioned it after every bite.

Now time for the ratings. Sausage, Beans, and Broccoli Rabe “Stoup” receives ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts. Not only was this stoup delicious, but it was also filling. I am not a big fan of beans, but they were not overpowering whatsoever. All of the ingredients meshed extremely together and left all three of us full and happy….and it left dad and I sleepy. I fell asleep on the floor, and he fell asleep in a chair about a half hour after we ate. So worth the drowsiness, though. The Italian Grilled Cheese and Tomato Sandwiches receive ♥♥♥♥♥ (5) hearts as well. This was like a grilled cheese on steroids. The trick is really in the bread. Don’t use pre-sliced bread — go for the freshly baked Italian bread. Now instead of ordering a sandwich from the Melt Shop, I can make my own gourmet sandwich in the comfort of my home. Talk about a win win win!!

Even though the original EVOO crew didn’t cook together, it all worked out in the end. While cooking with friends is fun, cooking with family is the best. Don’t worry though, the original EVOOers will be making an appearance soon to cook up a *hopefully* delicious meal!

Until next week!

-Mary Honkus