Stop me, before I eat out again
September 16, 2011 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I have resorted to eating at fast food places because after making the same 10-15 dishes over and over, I am out of food ideas. I am looking for healthy Vegetarian or Fish recipes you have found online this year that you like the best, and maybe some new spices.

Tools: I have a cast-iron skillet (fist pump), a steamer, and a blender. And a stove top and oven.

Some ingredients I tend to enjoy: fresh things like carrots, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, carrots, lettuce, morningstar farms food, noodles, bread.

"No, please" ingredients: mayo, green/red peppers, water chestnuts, red meat, pork.

I am trying to lose weight and I plan to step up my exercising, with runs of a couple miles and more focused weight training. So recipes that can be prepared easily when you are sweaty and tired are a plus.

I love to stare at the produce section of a grocery store and everything looks so nice and fresh, but I have no idea what to do with it. The added complication is that buying lots of fresh food inevitably ends up with a good portion of it getting spoiled because of being too tired or busy to prepare it all. What is a good way to limit this problem without having to go to the grocery store every other day? Wasting food is a big taboo round these parts.

Lastly, I know that a lot of boredom with food can be alleviated by having a varied group of spices. All I typically use is Mrs Dash, bayou blast, salt & pepper, and old bay. The cumin and paprika are up there, but damn if I know how to season food with them when I don't have a recipe. Is there a recommendation for a go-to general spice that tastes different than the ones I listed?

Thank you for any help. Hopefully the leftover fast food I just had for lunch will be the last I have this month.
posted by cashman to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a recommendation for a go-to general spice that tastes different than the ones I listed?

lawry's seasoning salt
garlic powder
onion powder

Buy a cheap aluminum pot. Probably don't need one bigger then 6 quarts. (Ikea sells a nice one for like $20 if you have on near you)

Once you have something you can boil food in, you can do things like mashed potatoes, stove top mac and cheese, and hard boiled eggs.

Make hard boiled eggs
  1. Put eggs in pot
  2. put enough cold water in the pot to cover the eggs by about one inch
  3. put on stove, set the heat to high, wait until pot boils.
  4. turn heat off, slap on lid.
  5. Come back after 20 minutes or more.
  6. Drain hot water out
  7. run cold water on the eggs
  8. peal and eat.

posted by royalsong at 11:24 AM on September 16, 2011

Best answer: My most recent discovery is these Aloo Tikki patties, which are basically very similar to Trader Joe's Masala Burgers. Potatoes, peas, corn, and indian spices, made into a patty and pan-fried, eaten straight (with ketchup) or on a bun, or on top of a spinach salad.

Sounds like you would get a lot of mileage out of half-scratch food, stuff from the freezer section that makes half the meal, and you spend 10 minutes heating it up and making the accoutrements. Like the veggie patties at Trader Joe's, or frozen ravioli (you can make jarred spaghetti sauce much better by dumping in frozen spinach as you heat it up, and always can stand more basil), or a frozen lasagna with a big fresh salad, or a big green salad with a scoop of deli seafood salad on top, or cook some noodles and use prepackaged frozen sauces (I'm thinking of Trader Joe's scallop cream sauce that I always add extra frozen peas to).

Also, basic beans and rice: start some brown rice cooking, chop up an onion and some garlic. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil, then add spices, salt, pepper, and a can of beans. Red pepper and cumin, a little oregano, with black or pinto beans, and it's "mexican". cumin and turmeric, or a curry blend, with chickpeas, lentils, or white beans and it's "indian". Your bayou blast mix with red or black beans makes it "cajun". Optional ingredients (depends on what you have, how fast you chop, how long it takes the rice to cook): diced carrots, chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), peppers if you liked them.
posted by aimedwander at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have the same problem with produce waste. What I've done to eliminate this problem is to plan out my meals for an entire week, based around whatever produce I'll be using. So if I have a recipe that calls for half an onion and 1/4 cup of cilantro, I'll find another recipe that will use up the remaining onion/cilantro. This also allows you to cut/chop/slice/dice all of your produce at once, so you don't have to do it every time you want to cook. If you'd like, I can memail you some of my past menus to get a clearer idea of what to do.

If you find yourself with too much produce and too many leftovers from your already prepared meals, you can make a simple dish, a casserole perhaps, and freeze it for later when you're too tired to cook. There are dozens of blogs devoted to 'freezer cooking' or 'once a month cooking' that will guide you in the right direction.

Worst case scenario, if you find yourself with too much produce, you can usually freeze it for later and use it for a vegetable stock.

I find a lot of my recipes via Cheap Healthy Good, Budget Bytes, and Tastespotting. I love Tastespotting because it's an aggregate site of thousands of recipes from hundreds of blogs.
posted by chara at 11:27 AM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

take a swing by the prepared sauces area and try some marinades and stuff. use those and some olive oil and a bit of sesame oil and cook up some protein and any number of veggies you like and serve over noodles or rice. also, salad dressing can fill the role of marinade, there.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2011

I was actually just going to suggest meal planning as a way to avoid wasting food.

Also I've been enjoying blackened tilapia with salad and wild rice as a meal option this summer. (There are a million recipes for blackening seasoning mix online. I don't remember which one I used.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:33 AM on September 16, 2011

Best answer: Our strategy for using up fresh veg:

- Go to the market and buy whatever looks fresh and tasty.
- Go onto foodgawker or tastespotting and run a search for each type of veg.
- Bookmark a couple of recipes for each thing in a weekly folder or pinboard.
- Buy any additional ingredients needed and try out the recipes as needed. Note those that justify repeat usage.

Pretty much any vegetable can be put into some type of quinoa salad, I've found.

One thing that will help a lot is some good curry powder. Try it in chickpeas with rice or potatoes with lentils.
posted by amber_dale at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'll put this and this down right here, in case you haven't seen them yet.

NY Times 101 Fast Recipes links. Lots and lots of good, quick tasty food there.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I made this last night, it was very tasty:
Spicy lemon sole with crispy potato wedges
It went really well with some minty mushy peas (cook peas, add some chopped fresh mint and a knob of butter, and roughly mash).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:47 AM on September 16, 2011

Best answer: You want fast? You want delicious? 2 cups of green peas, steam them with just a 1/4 cup of water. Put the fire low when the water cooks. They're done in a couple of minutes. Clean a small piece of ginger. Put in the pan with peas. Blend thoroughly and don't be shy with the salt. Heaven.
posted by ouke at 11:54 AM on September 16, 2011

Best answer: Tastespotting is good, as is Serious Eats (I love most of what Kenji Alt-Lopez posts) and The Kitchn. Salmon or tilapia (like this) dishes are easy to make even without specific recipes. I thought ceviche was exotic until I learned that it just meant dicing a mix of two or more of fish and scallops and shellfish, mixing it with onions and a little garlic, tossing it in a bowl of lemon or lime juice, and adding a bit of oil and chopped herbs. Refrigerate for 45min, and voila! Chickpeas are easy to roast or even fry, as are Brussels sprouts, just look those up on the sites mentioned in this and other posts. If you want to get some spices you'll use a lot of, get some cayenne, basil, oregano, and cilantro. And you're feeling a little bold, hit up a spice shop and pick up a tiny bag of Szechuan peppercorns. Just a teaspoon can add a nice kick to a dish, and the weird tingly feeling in your mouth is kind of fun.

Also: experiment with making sauces and dressings. You may not like Hellman's, but if you make your own mayo--or even better, related sauces like aioli or toum if you love garlic as much as I do--you may change your mind. When I eat out, I detest getting mayo, even on the side. But when I started making my own, I liked it a lot better. Hummus is easy to make with just a few ingredients, which you can add just about anything to. Most vinaigrettes are so easy you can probably make one in under 5 minutes, and aren't just for salads. Roasted garlic is insanely easy and can be mixed with just about everything, whether it's courses or sides.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A nice source of recipes is Cookstr which is where I get recipes when trying out cookbooks. Nicely curated and easy to use.
posted by jadepearl at 12:07 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a ton of delicious and easy vegetable recipes in this recent Askme.

Smitten Kitchen has never done me wrong. I especially love the Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte, this Ratatouille (if you have a mandoline this is so easy), and the Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon pasta.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Trout! These past few years I've been seeing small whole cleaned trout available in good supermarket seafood sections. Basically you rub a little salt & fat (butter or oil) on the outside, put whatever stuff you want in the cavity, stick it on a lined baking tray and bake the fish until it's a bit crispy on top and cooked through.

My favorite combination of things to stick inside a trout is this:

-small chunks of fresh ginger
-sliced shitake mushrooms
-cilantro (if you hate cilantro sub some other fresh green herb, thai basil might be nice)
-small pieces of tomato
-grated garlic
-sesame oil
-soy sauce
-sliced lemon

Toss all that nonsense (or whatever combination of veggies & aromatics & flavorings you want) together in a bowl, slap it in a fish, and bake in a fairly hot oven. If you can't get the fish whole, just get fillets and pile the delicious stuff on top.

As for different seasonings to kick things up, I suggest sauces. Since you don't like mayo, trend towards the vinegar based things. Having a variety of vinegars in stock is an amazing resource - rice, apple cider, sherry, balsamic, and malt vinegars all have vastly different flavors and uses, and they last in the pantry for ages. Mustards are fantastic as well though they don't always last as long, but they're wonderful with fresh veggies and good bread. Horseradish, not the sort mixed with mayo but the grated kind in a jar with vinegar, can be used all over the place to give a different kind of kick to many things, cooked or raw.

You can make your own flavored butters very easily to use up fresh herbs - just chop the herbs (or other flavorings like garlic) finely and smash together with a good lump of butter (or very slightly melt it and mix evenly.) Then whack it onto a piece of plastic wrap, and roll it up like a log, twisting the ends. Wrap that bit in freezer paper and keep it in the freezer until you feel the urge for chive butter or sage butter or whatever it is you might have made. Sure, slapping butter on things isn't the most healthy, but if a pat of tarragon mint butter is flavoring a whole bowl of green beans, I think it evens out.
posted by Mizu at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2011

Quick, easy veggie dish that's disguised as starchy comfort food:

1. Buy a spaghetti squash.
2. Stab it with a fork a few times.
3. Microwave for 5-7 minutes.
4. While that's happening, mix together your cumin, salt & pepper, and a bit of olive oil and butter.
5. When microwave dings, melt the butter/oil together in the microwave.
6. Cut squash in half. Don't burn your hands!
7. Using a big spoon, scoop out the seeds.
8. Using a fork, scrape the spaghetti-like strands out of each half and into a bowl.
9. Toss with #4.
10. Top with chopped fresh cilantro. Fresh only! Dried cliantro is crap.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:20 PM on September 16, 2011

Best answer: Did you know you can search the recipe archive at Vegetarian Times even if you are not a subscriber? It's awesome! The recipes I've used have turned out really delicious. I do recommend subscribing if you like it because getting the glossy color photos every month really inspires you to cook new things.

What I would recommend is trying out some various types of ethnic food recipes. I started off knowing nothing about any ethnic food cooking or spices, and now after trying a number of recipes found on Allrecipes and various places online, I feel comfortable with Italian (basil, garlic, oregano, sometimes thyme or rosemary), Indian (curry powder, garam masala, cumin, paprika, cayenne and many more), Mexican (cumin, cayenne, chili powder), and more.

I basically have some go to recipes that I enjoyed when I would eat at those restaurants when I would go out, like penne vodka, lasagna, ravioli in butter sage sauce, then for Indian we like tikka masala/"butter chicken", korma, chana masala, and for Mexican we make burritos, tacos, or quesadillas. We substitute Morningstar or Quorn for chicken or ground beef in these recipes, or use paneer for the Indian ones sometimes. As an intermediate step you can buy the sauces from the ethnic foods section of the supermarket that are pre-made (Patak's for Indian, I like Frontera for Mexican, etc) and then all you need to do is prepare the meat/paneer/tofu/fake meat and vegetable part.

Here is the "butter chicken" recipe that made me feel like I really could cook decent Indian food. I like this fish taco one too. Final thought: sometimes community education programs offer cooking classes and I would highly recommend trying one out!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:41 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not sure whether this has been covered yet but basil, tomato and anchovy pesto with pasta! (am eating it right now). Very fresh and very easy to make. Only snag is you need a hand blender or any type of blender.

Fresh basil is amazing with just about everything. I have two massive basil plants growing on my window sill; I help myself to it whenever I need it.
posted by moiraine at 12:41 PM on September 16, 2011

Ok, for some reason the link didn't show up. Here it is again: Basil, tomato and anchovy pesto.
posted by moiraine at 12:42 PM on September 16, 2011

One of my favorite meals:

Get a box of couscous, make according to the box (I get the olive oil and garlic flavored one). Dump in anything else you like. Tada! Quick and delicious. (My "anything you like" is typically a can of black beans, matchstick carrots, cut up cucumbers, shelled edamame, walnut pieces and feta cheese, but I've made this for my mom before with tomatoes, almonds - you could use your asparagus, broccoli, etc.)
posted by dearwassily at 12:48 PM on September 16, 2011

Soups and stews are excellent for leftover veggies. Lettuce doesn't really work but practically anything else will. Just chop them up, simmer with some stock until they're tender (sometimes you don't need stock with the right veggies like carrots and onion and cabbage), salt/pepper to taste, eat. You could have this as a side with a few meals or store in the fridge or freezer for longer.

Spinach is very tasty when steamed and then tossed with a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce. I tend to eat this with rice and salmon that has been coated with a mix of miso/soy/mirin/sugar and then baked or broiled. Search for "miso-glazed salmon" and you'll find a pile of recipes.
posted by that girl at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A fun way to use up produce and branch out to new things: pick two types of produce that you want to use up, and search for a recipe combining them (using google or any of the sites recommended here.). You're less likely to end up with recipes calling for stuff that you don't have, and you're more likely to be pushed in unusual directions.

Just tonight I googled "cabbage and basil", and my cabbage and basil soup is now bubbling on the stove. (Didn't end up following a recipe, actually, but seeing a few gave me confidence that yes, these things can go together in roughly this kind of way and taste good!)
posted by wyzewoman at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This recipe for Hazelnut-Crusted Halibut with Apple Salsa is a good one. We omitted some of the ingredients to make it less of a hassle. For example, the hazelnut crust can just be plain nuts chopped very finely or chopped in a food processor, and the apple salsa can be just the apples and mustard. Really easy and quick. Was able to reduce the whole ingredients list to fish (I used cod instead of halibut), hazelnuts, butter, apples, mustard and all turned out great.
posted by belau at 7:42 AM on September 17, 2011

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