Kitchen Nightmares

Remember last week when I was like, “Hey everyone! I have run out of food ideas! Can you help me? K great, thanks!”

And then you came out in droves and you helped me?

And I promised to report back with a roundup of the “so awesome and helpful” suggestions everyone left?

That was funny, huh?

Well I finally got around to reading — not skimming, really reading — every single comment. And, in the aftermath of my “research,” I’m here to present my findings and thoughts.

First, let me address three very, very common, very popular statements that were made in response to that post:

  1. No, I don’t like smoothies. They taste fine, but I like to chew my food and just can’t get fully on board with drinking my meal, even if it is convenient and nutritious. Sorry that I’m a terrible healthy person.
  2. Yes, I have a slow cooker. Also known as a “crock pot.” One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year is to use it. It’s smaller than normal because a regular-sized crock pot won’t fit in a single one of my kitchen cabinets. But I have a bite-sized slow cooker and I plan to use it. To make a single meatball.
  3. No, I am not on Pinterest. So the advice about “finding cute recipes on Pinterest” was all sweet, but that website overwhelms me. It’s not something I’m looking to get into. Remember the other big Resolution for the year? The one about “spending less time online.”

There are people on Pinterest who are not engaged but have entire “boards” devoted to planning their dream weddings. That seems crazy to me. And maybe a little scary. (Brian, I promise I do not have a secret public Internet page where I plan our future together. I do, however, have a secret Oreo stash I will never, ever tell you about. I’ll wait here while you go look for it, but I assure you, you will come up empty handed and Oreo-less.)

THIS IS NOT ME. But guess what? This is a very popular “rehearsal dinner dress idea” photo from Pinterest, and at least two people email it to me every month saying, “This looks like you!!!” I think it’s very flattering. And the dress is cute.

Also also, did you know that I’m afraid to use my slow cooker? I was always taught “not to leave stuff on” when I’m not home. I even make sure the toaster is unplugged at all times. So naturally I’m convinced that throwing a bunch of chickens and sauces into a giant electric pot is going to set my apartment on fire while I’m at work writing about tutus and teenage things.

Brian, do we have renter’s insurance? We do, right? That’s what those statements are that come in those envelopes I throw away every month?

SO EXCITED TO SEE JERSEY BOYS!!!!!! Not so excited to learn I keep a secret junk food stash in our apartment…

Where were we?


Recipes. Food.

Food that is prepared fresh and fancy and that I can make because you’re going to help me!

Oh this? This is no big deal. Just a clementine, arranged nicely. And a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Pressed on my George Foreman grill circa 2003. I’ll give you the recipe.

The big takeaway from this post, other than having a slow cooker and playing on Pinterest, was that preparation is key. I can’t expect dinner to magically turn up on the table if I don’t grocery shop for it. And then cook it.

Actually, I can.

And it’s called

But that’s what we’re trying to get away from.

Just a little something I whipped up.
No, just kidding. Brian made this. Show-off.

So I have to plan. I have to make lists. I have to not “just wing it when I get home,” because that’s what drives me to the delivery boys on bikes.

I really do want to cook more, both simple stuff and more adventurous things, with ingredients like “cheese.” I’m going to study up, and I’ve added Smitten Kitchen to my Google Reader. It’s a start, right?

I also found these recipes that I want to make from other sites:

Here are a few of my favorite suggestions from my post that I swear I’m going to implement at some point in 2013:

I like the last part of this one: the suggestion to make tacos or fajitas. That sounds like something I could actually be capable of doing. Thanks, Lauren!
I love having breakfast for dinner. That was always, like, the biggest deal growing up. OMG PANCAKES AT NIGHTTIME! DOAEJWIGOJBKCL!!! So I can see myself having an egg creation while I watch “Wheel of Fortune.” Thanks, Rebecca!
Oh, Jen. You had me at “cheese.”
I am a big fan of taco night when Brian does it. I think I could do this. I want to do this. I can brown beef, right? It’s not hard. You just put it in the pan and make it hot and mush it around…until it’s brown…?
And finally…I can always count on Liz Heisler to speak my language.

And to all of you who took the time to chime in and help me out, thank you so much! Your knowledge is my gain. That doesn’t seem like a phrase that works, but you get it, yeah?

I want to read more food blogs. I think I like them. So feel free to throw more suggestions my way.

I love you.



48 Responses

  1. I love your blog and I’m totally with you on the Pinterest wedding boards. I do love Pinterest (you should get it) but planning your wedding when you aren’t even engaged or even in a relationship seems a little cray cray. Actually it’s cray even if you are engaged.

    Anyway, I’m always looking for fairly healthy, fairly quick dinners. Here is what I’ve been into lately (not all healthy):

    Chicken parm with pepperoni:

    Sweet potato and red lentil bisque (I use my blender to make it)

    Lighter sesame chicken (I suggest doubling the sauce and quintupling the rice)

  2. For a healthier dish you can make General Tso’s Chicken at home.

    Wash one package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut into bite sized pieces. Sauté chicken in 1/2 stick of margarine, add a dash of minced onion flakes and slightly less than a teaspoon of garlic. Wash and slice vegetables. I use one head of broccoli, one package of sliced mushrooms, one or two stalks of asparagus. Sauté vegetables in a separate pan with margarine. Season with salt and pepper while veggies cook. Once the chicken is carmalized and the vegetables are tender, combine vegetables and chicken. Add General Tso’s sauce. My favorite is the Panda Express Mandarin sauce. You can find it at grocery stores, another option I have tried is the Iron Chef General Tso’s sauce. Both of the sauces are mild, but the Panda Express Mandarin sauce is the mildest (I do not care for my food to be too spicy). Stir the sauce and the chicken and vegetables and mix well. This goes well with instant rice.

    *** Have you tried the P.F. chang’s meals for two that are found in the freezer section? You should try the General Chang’s chicken, it is wonderful.

  3. I hope you will like this Chicken Alfredo recipe.

    I use Butoni Alfredo sauce, this can be found with the Butoni ready made pasta in the refrigerated section. (I go to Kroger)

    Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees. Wash 3 boneless, skinless chicken recipes. Put on paper towels to dry excess water. Place the chicken on a baking pan and sprinkle with Italian seasoning. Bake the chicken for about 30 to 40 minutes (depending on thickness of chicken).

    While the chicken is baking, boil a pot of water. Once the water is boiling, put in one pound of bow tie pasta or linguini noodles. Cook noodles according to the package. When the chicken is done, slice. When the noodles are done and drained. Mix noodles and one or two containers of Butoni Alfredo sauce (I tried the reduced fat and the regular sauce and I like both). Add the chicken to the pasta and Alfredo sauce mixture and mix. If desired, sprinkle about 1/4 cup of parsley.

    This is a very easy recipe.

  4. Favorite food blogs that I have made easy recipes from with success: userealbutter, pioneer woman cooks, joy the baker, tasty kitchen, how sweet it is. Good luck!

  5. In the cooking department, one thing that works for me is to divide up cooking duty between my husband and me, based on what each of us likes to do. Or, more truthfully, I do the stuff I like to do so he has to do the stuff I don’t like doing (he has a higher sense of domestic duty than I do). For example:

    1. I like to shop online. So I order groceries from FreshDirect and wine from, so we have something to cook and drink.
    2. I work beside a Whole Foods, so I get WF-specific stuff. He works beside two good (but small) grocery stores – so he picks up the heavy stuff like milk.
    3. I’m often too tired to cook on workday evenings. And he’s good at looking in the cupboard and fridge and improving something based on what we have. So he does a lot of the weekday meal prep.
    4. I like to cook on weekend afternoons (when he likes to go to the movies). So I’ll find a recipe, order food online and whip up a big batch of something for dinner and the freezer. Then I can rest on my laurels on the weekday evenings.
    5. I hate washing lettuce (weird but true). But I like chopping stuff. So I make salad but only if he cleans the lettuce for me.
    6. I’m picky about the vegetables I eat and how they’re prepared. So I tend to buy and prepare the veggies, so I don’t gag. He seems to be able to stuff and roast things (turkeys etc) whereas I tend to forge to take the bag of giblets out and end up with roasted plastic yuck. So he often does the main and I take care of sides.
    7. I load the dishwasher. He washes stuff in the sink. Mostly because I won’t wash dishes and he has higher standards of cleanliness than I do.

  6. I get so nervous about leaving the slow cooker on too! But it really is so easy and wonderful after a long work day. Reading food blogs has given me so many ideas about healthy-ish food options.

  7. I don’t like to drink smoothies either but I make them so thick that I have to eat them with a spoon 🙂
    What I do is I use a very little amount of milk (3 tbsp or so), frozen/fresh fruits (a banana helps with thickening), protein powder, oatmeal with flaxseed, n/f cottage cheese, 10-15 chocolate chips, and a handful of nuts.
    The oatmeal really ads thickness and texture and so do the nuts and chocolate chips, which also give the smoothie some crunchiness.
    It’s so filling, delicious, and you have to eat it with a spoon and do some light chewing 😀

  8. OMG, I thought that was you in the pic and I would have emailed you too! Nope, no Pinterest for me – FB, Twitter etc is already taking up way way way too much time. I think casseroles are good ideas – a bit similar to the slow cooker ie dump a lot of things into the pan (at least that’s what I do). Looking forward to your 2013 culinary journey.

  9. I applaud you for trying to not use seamless. I swear I will “stop just ordering my dinner off the internet” and every night, like a moth to a flame…seamless. Its so easy. Point. Click. Poof. Dinner!

    Only thing easier is those 4 minute meals from fresh direct that you just pop in the microwave.

    I also need to buy a slow cooker so then I can use it.

    Man, I sound lazy.

  10. Dinner: A Love Story is good. I read frequently, and the Epicurious app is on my phone – the Weeknight Dinners and I Can Barely Cook sections get a lot of love

  11. Love your posts about cooking. I stay far away from food blogs though…they are entirely too intimidating to me and make me want to run from the kitchen instead of cook in it. Check out OK, so yes I mostly am using this website to cook for my kid but all of the recipes are awesome for adults too and she makes it all REALLY easy.

  12. I love really love the cookbook I mentioned in your previous post for quick, practically don’t need a recipe meals for nights when you can’t think clearly enough to “not need a recipe”. If you feel like trying something more advanced on a weekend, I love Annie’s Eats. Start with the Quick/weeknight meals since some of her’s are fairly advanced:

  13. It makes me happy that other people don’t get pinterest either. It’s just a bunch of links to other places and I already have one of those and it’s called a bookmarks bar and I ignore half of those already. The taco salad suggestion is gold, I pretty much make this once a week and eat it 4 times (cook 1lb of hamburger at a time). I even started buying lean hamburger for it so I can feel better about crushing up cheese doritos on top of it.

  14. I feel like…Smitten Kitchen is maybe not the best place to start. At least personally, my “not eating out so much” evolution looked like: stocking basics in the house to make easy (aka NO RECIPE) lunches/dinners –> making pretty things from food blogs once per week and then getting frustrated at the amount of time it took and not cooking for the rest of the week –> able to tackle recipes on a more nightly basis –> actually meal planning to plan to tackle recipes.

    This is all to say that I think the first step is just to figure out: what are your go-to meals that don’t require a recipe and what are the ingredients you need to make those. Those foods are your staples. For me, this tends to be: eggs, veggie burgers, oatmeal, stuff for salads, and stuff for a basic red sauce pasta. I make sure I have the ingredients for those in the apartment at all times. If you start there, it’s easier to build the habit of getting used to making B/L/D but without all the stress of meal planning/making big elaborate recipes.

  15. i didn’t read all of the comments others left for you, so i can’t be sure someone else hasn’t suggested it, but I feel like you would really like this blog:
    and her most recent post is on a make-ahead breakfast!

  16. Tacos and fajitas are staples in my house! Since it’s just my boyfriend and I we always have leftover meat (since we buy 1 lb at a time) and so we always do tacos one night and homemade nachos the next night that way everything gets used up. We probably do this once every other week and I never get tired of it. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with Mexican food. 🙂

  17. What about on the weekend making a soup or chili and freezing it in containers so you can pop it in the microwave at work for lunch or dinner? You can also make taco meat and then another day have burritos. Make a double batch of tomato sauce for spaghetti and then use the other batch for a lasagna that you can freeze? Roast a chicken and put the leftovers in a salad.

    Breakfast cut up fruit and top with yogurt/granola or almonds. Bread with peanut butter. I saw on Pinterest (ha!) where someone made a bunch of egg mcmuffin type sandwiches and then threw them in the freezer. Grabbed one and heated in microwave.

    I’m not too particular when it comes to lunch so I tend to eat leftovers or a salad or sandwich. Nothing fancy.

  18. I don’t usually post, but had to re: the crock pot! I too am petrified of leaving mine on when I’m not home. So far I’ve found two solutions: (1) cook things overnight (though my husband says this will likely just lead to a fire while we are home, but I think we would wake up when the fire alarm went off and put it out…) and (2) I bought a pizza stone to put the slow cooker on while it’s cooking. They are (obviously) very heat resistant, and it makes me feel a bit safer that it’s not just sitting on the counter (which seems to be made of plastic).

  19. I was one of the slow cooker suggesters, and my wife has the SAME fear. She freaks out if i leave it on and we leave the house. But she is also concerned about the oven and even the dryer for the same reason.

    My final recipe suggestion is Queso. Melt block of Velveeta, then add a can of Rotel tomatoes. Best ever. (If you want, brown a half pound of breakfast sausage and add it.) (This ‘recipe’ is now actually a Rotel ad.)

    I am not kidding, at any party, any time, it will be all gone.

  20. I don’t believe the girl in the photo isn’t you because the resemblance is uncanny. It is a cute dress too. But this also means you’re pretty much all over Pinterest by now, whether you want to be or not.
    Glad you decided not to hate food blogs anymore. I have one, and I actually agree with you: only a few ingredients, must be easy, and sometimes take advantage of crazy good knife skills…alright maybe not crazy good, but decent.
    Good luck with your eating.

  21. I find my best recipes at Food Network or Of course, having a husband as a Chef on the Las Vegas Strip doesn’t hurt either.

    As far as Pinterest – I think it’s nice if you have specific ideas you are looking for. Otherwise, it can be hard to manage and overwhelming.

    I am not a big fan of Pinterest, and I work as a Social Media Manager. I think it has it’s purpose, but I seem to see so much on Pinterest that is irrelevant.

    Experiment and play around with recipes and tweak them to your own liking.

    I like your blog, keep up the great work

  22. My all time fave food blog is Eat, Live, Run ( Jenna is absolutely adorable, she has lots of slow cooker recipes and her recipes are easy enough for anyone to make.

  23. My husband and I always argue over leaving the crock pot on during the day while we’re at work because I’m all “hello – dinner will cook while we are gone and all we have to do is walk in the door and eat!” and he’s all “no you can’t leave things on during the day our house will burn down”. And inevitably he wins out and we only make crock pot meals on the weekends. But hey, at least you still don’t have to do any of the work. Just chop stuff and put it in a pot! Lately we’ve been on a big soup/chili kick and every weekend we make a huge pot of whatever soup we are into that week. Cooking on the weekend means more time to cook, and having mega leftovers means at least two nights a week not having to cook anything. Whip up a grilled cheese to go with it and you’re pretty much gourmet right?

  24. HA! I still haven’t secured that live in cook yet… as it turns out, they are a bit pricey. So lame. I have a crock pot too, but it just collects dust.. I don’t like how i have to make SO MUCH food. I can’t eat the same reheated meal for 5 days in a row.

  25. Wow, I hardly believe that’s not you in the picture. And yes, it’s an awesome outfit, but I agree. I actually got Pinterest after my wedding so I missed out on its wedding planning potential. I know this is a basic website, not a cool blog, but I’m a huge fan of the ingredient search on because I can put in what I have at home and it will search for recipes that use those ingredients. It’s perfect for nights I didn’t have something planned enough ahead of time to go to the store. And usually things on there are pretty quick and easy because they’re submitted by real people, not chefs.

  26. I make the egg muffins every week. So easy and so filling.

    I am in love with my crock pot. Don’t be scared of it.. Use it and fallin love witha cooked meal when you walk in the door.

  27. I started menu planning a few months ago after scrambling for dinner ever night of the week. Menu planning is awesome because 1.) you shop for everything one time and don’t have to go back to the grocery store 2.) there’s absolutely no guesswork as to what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner 3.) it saves gobs of money.

    Menu planning sounds really Pinterest-loving/homemaker-y (both of which I am not), but I have to say that it has really changed my food life for the better.

    Maybe try it for a week and see if you like it.

  28. It took me a really long time to get comfortable in the kitchen and every time I think I have it end up messing up big time.. One of my favorite and easy recipes is thin slices chicken dipped in an egg and and a little fat free or whole milk.. Then cover the chicken with bread crumbs and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. It’s always a winner with my bf and so easy!

  29. First of all, I am trying very hard to get into Pinterest, and for some reason.. I still don’t get it. I just don’t. So, you’re cool. 🙂

    Secondly – I do the gigantic cheeseless frittata thing too. If you like eggs, it really is the perfect healthy, filling, make-ahead dish!

  30. I had the same hesitations about a slow cooker, but I haven’t had any disasters so far. Mostly I use it on the weekends so I don’t leave it on for an entire workday, just a few hours. Still scary though, no arguments there.

    One of the best recipe sites in my google reader is – simple, easy, healthy recipes that don’t intimidate me. And pretty pictures. Which is really the most important thing.

    Good luck in your kitchen adventures!

  31. That girl really does look just like you, wow. I’m not much of a help with food. Every morning I make some kind of hot cereal (spelt, quinoa, oats, brown rice) with almond butter, banana, cinnamon and chia or flax seeds. I really love it, but I do eat the same thing every single day. I don’t really cook dinner, sometimes Andy and I make a pizza which is easy if you buy the pre-made dough from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

  32. My favorites for weeknights are things that don’t actually require a recipe – who has time for all that? (And I’m usually starving and want something ready in 20 minutes…). So I’ve come up with lots of things that are pretty straight forward and don’t require a lot of prep. Just a little planning on the weekend, along with grocery shopping, and you’re good to go. Here are a few examples: last night we had grilled pork chops, green beans (boiled till tender crisp, then topped w/olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese – so yummy), and roasted potatoes (stick in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, season w/herbs, salt pepper). Instead of potatoes we sometimes do a microwavable “rice packet” – it’s organic and made by Seeds of Change – Quinoa & Brown Rice (w/garlic flavor). 90 seconds and it’s hot. Doesn’t get much easier than that. Another easy one (if you want a meatless meal) is lemon spaghetti. Cook your spaghetti (or whatever pasta shape you like…), and for the sauce mix equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (about 1/4 cup of each is usually good). Add in 1/2 -3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, stir till mixed/combined and add kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste. Once pasta is cooked, dump the sauce over top (in the pot is easiest, so you can mix it all up…). You can reserve a little of the pasta water as well, and add that to get the sauce consistency to your liking (I find that about 1/4 cup of pasta water is good…). Another idea is to grill some chicken on your trusty George Foreman (rub the chicken breast w/olive oil, season with salt and pepper) and put over your fav salad – we love arugula, blue cheese crumbles, apple, walnut, craisins, avocado and then a flavored balsamic vinegar (raspberry is delicious!) and a little olive oil. Serve w/bread on the side if you want a little extra something something…! The idea here is basic things that taste really good but don’t require a lot of thought to make. Reading a recipe slows me down, so I like things that are easy to “memorize” and I don’t have to think about. If you want more dinner ideas, feel free to email me – jfedoronko (at) 🙂 (or find me on FB, where I often post pics of my food for friends who are in the same boat as you and looking for dinner and lunch ideas – I’m Jennifer (Fedoronko) Kelley over there). Happy cooking!

  33. Smitten Kitchen is a great place to start, but I find that many of her recipes are a bit involved for weeknight dinners. I think someone mentioned it in your other post, but check out Putting aside the family dinner angle, they have lots of easy dinner ideas and strategies for fitting good meals into a hectic schedule. The cookbook is pretty great too!

  34. Pinterest is my procrastination haven. I mostly go on to look at rude ecards or funny pictures of cats! I think I’ve pinned one soup recipe that I’ve never attempted to make in my life…

  35. I wish I could help you on this, but I have a pinboard called “learning to cook” and I pin recipes that look deish, but never cook them. Funny story though, last night my personal chef aka fiance had these cute little taco cupcakes made for me- he said, oh I found them on your Pinterest board! See I knew that would come in handy!!!

  36. Totally with you on your fear of leaving the slow cooker on all day while you’re out of the house. The boy insists that it’s safe but I can’t be convinced so it’s been sitting in the cupboard for, hmm, a couple of years now. I kind of want to use it, though, because the one time I left a stew cooking in there for a whole day on a weekend, it tasted like little angel’s tears. Or something.

    Anyway, also on a quest to find delicious/easy recipes, here are a couple more sites I suggest you add to Google Reader: and

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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