Easy Ways to Elevate Your Recipes

Fresh Herbs

People are always asking me about my recipes, how I make them, how I make everything taste so CHEFFY.

Well, it’s actually just a few little tricks that you’ll see in pro kitchens ALL THE TIME, but not as much in the home kitchen.
Fresh Herbs
Here is my short list of how to many any recipe taste more professional!

– Use fresh herbs. Most home cooks rely on dried herbs and the difference is pronounced when you simply use a fresh herb rather than a dried one. Both have places in cooking: the dried herbs are generally more intense and work best when put in early in the dish so they get some cook time; the fresh herbs are generally more bright and fresh and work best when added at the end of a dish, so as not to cook out the flavor. Even adding a little freshly chopped Italian flat leaf parsley can make a meh dish come alive. Try it!

– Use more citrus. I’ll qualify this one by saying that Americans don’t use enough citrus. Most non-European, warm places use citrus liberally, mainly because it’s grown there. Try adding some lemon or lime zest to your next veg dish. You can add zest midway through cooking, but don’t add juice until the cooking is done or it will turn bitter on you. You’ll even start to find places where you prefer one citrus over another when you start using it regularly.

– I’ve said this before, but it’s still an issue I see a lot: season your food as you cook it. Salt is not evil. Salt is necessary for life and necessary to bring out the flavor of foods. Even bakers put just a little salt in sweets to bring out the sweet! Season the parts of a dish as you cook it, and check for seasoning once the dish is combined and/or done. Also be aware that potatoes suck up salt and you’ll need a LOT more than you think! Also, refrigeration will change your seasoning levels, so if you’re making a cold dip, check the seasoning before you serve it.

– Toast your bread and char your tortillas! When serving bread with dips, always toast it. Same for sandwiches. It seems like a small thing, but it gives more texture. I always put tortillas over a gas burner to give a little char to them. When I say char, I don’t mean burn them, I mean, just little bits of color with a touch of actual char. It definitely matters to toast tortillas. Even if you put them in a pan, just get them cooked!

– Roast your veggies! Roasting is my #1 goto for vegetable prep. It concentrates the flavours and is another restaurant trick. I make roasted veg for many recipes that don’t call for it, such as caponata. My caponata is SO flavorful because I roast the veg rather than simply sauté in pan. If you’ve never had a roasted beet or brussels sprout, I encourage you to try them! Totally different veg than boiled, I assure you.

It’s been my experience that many MANY foods that people tell me they dislike is actually due to the preparation. I feed people things they think they hate OFTEN. I take it as a personal challenge to get people out of their preconceptions and comfort zones with food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve served something (usually a vegetable) to someone who ate it all, then they tell me that they’ve never liked [insert veg], but now they do! So, go back to the veg you think you dislike and try it again prepared in a different way. You just might surprise yourself!

That’s it! These things will make a big difference in your recipes! Give them a go and feel free to let me know how it goes!

Vegetarian/Vegan Mediterranean Buffet

Mediterranean Buffet

Mediterranean Buffet
Vegetarian Mediterranean Buffet

Since the Mediterranean spread I did at the condos was such a hit, I thought I’d share some of the recipes that were especially good! The whole buffet had dolmathes, couscous, white bean hummus, tsatziki, cilantro pesto, feta, lemons, olives and pita. Here are the recipes for my vegan dolmas, tzatziki, vegan couscous and vegan white bean hummus (some are not as large as what I do for catering; they are geared for the home cook). ENJOY!
dolmas and tzatziki
Dolmathes and Tzatziki

Vegan Dolmathes
**this will make about 20 dolmas**
Grape leaves (jarred, in the pickle aisle or the ethnic aisle)
1 cup basmati rice
1 cup red lentils
2/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
4 cloves minced garlic
2 Tbl minced dill
2 Tbl minced mint
1 Tbl Cilantro (optional)
zest and juice of 2 large or 3 small lemons
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Olive oil
S/P

Bring 1.5 cups water to boil with 1 tsp salt. Add rice and cook for about 7-8 minutes. Add lentils and raisins and cook another 5-7 minutes. Rice should be done, but still have a little tooth. While rice/lentils are cooking, sauté onions and garlic with olive oil in a skillet to soften. When rice/lentils/raisins are done and all water is absorbed, add sautéed onions and garlic and the rest of the ingredients, combine. Add 1 Tbl olive oil to this and check seasoning.

While the filling is cooling, unjar and rinse the grape leaves. Carefully unwind and separate them and trim off any long stems. To fill, lay leave stem+vein side up, with stem towards you. Add in about a teaspoon of filling for smaller leaves, up to a tablespoon for large leaves. Compact the filling and roll like a cigar once, then fold in side leaves and continue rolling. You’ll get a feel for this after a few. Pile the rolled dolmas into a dish and top liberally with olive oil. Serve at room temperature. Serve with tzatziki if you’re not vegan.

Tzatziki
1 cup Greek yogurt (I use Fage full fat for best taste)
2 small Persian cucumbers, diced
1 Tbl garlic paste or 3 cloves very finely diced garlic
1 Tbl minced dill
1 Tbl minced mint
zest and juice of 1 large or 2 smaller lemons
S/P

Mix together, season to taste, let sit for at least a half hour for best taste.

roasted veg
Roasted Veg for Couscous

Israeli Couscous and Roasted Vegetables
1 cup Israeli couscous, prepared (do not use butter if vegan)
2-3 small golden beets, peeled, small (1/4-1/2″) dice
2 small eggplants (Chinese are good) or one large one, small dice with skin
2 small zucchini (or one large) small dice with skin
1 large red bell pepper, small dice
1 med red onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest and juice of 2 small or one large lemon
2 Tbl minced parsley
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
S/P
Olive oil

Prepare Israeli couscous as directed. Preheat oven to 400F.

Put beets, eggplant, zucchini, pepper and onion on a baking sheet, coat liberally with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for about 20 mins, or until the veg is soft and has some colour. Put couscous in a big bowl while still hot and add garlic, zest and juice of lemons, parsley and cinnamon. Add in roasted veg and combine. Add about a Tbl of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temp.

White bean hummus and sides for mediterranean buffet
Hummus and sides for mediterranean buffet

White Bean Hummus
2 cans great northern beans, one drained, one drained about half
3 Tbl tahini
1 Tbl garlic paste (or 3 cloves garlic, finely minced/pasted)
zest and juice of one large or two small lemons
2 tsp zatar spice blend (optional)
olive oil
S/P

Put beans, tahini, garlic paste, zest/juice of lemon and zatar in blender. Start blending and stream in about 2 Tbl olive oil. If it’s too tight, you can add a little water or extra lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Catering and Private Chef

Caprese Salad

I’ve been doing a catering gig for a condo building in Buckhead since August 2019. I do their Friday night cocktail parties. I have done Korean, Puerto Rican, Indian, Italian, Mediterranean and other cuisines for their constantly changing menus. I write all the menus and design all the recipes myself.

tailgate catering spread
Cocktail Party catering

I also help a food truck guy with his food truck prep, making HUGE meatloaves for his grilled cheeses!

I am looking to add a couple more catering or food prep or even private chef clients to my roster, so if you or someone you know is looking for help, keep me in mind!

I’ve set up a section of the IndigoDragon site with my chef info and pix of my food – hop over there and check it out!

Caprese Salad
Caprese Salad

You can get ahold of me via email (misangelaspam at gmail dot com), FB or IG. I can’t put my phone number here, but if you have it you can call or text me! Thanks!!

How to Adult Well

I wrote a completely different post, but then decided that rather than whine about how shitty things are, I’ll write up some tips for how to adult well with little money and little energy. :)

Everyone knows about our shitty 18 months and our losses and CC debt. It’s pretty massive. Nick has a shitty job paying $17/hr and I’ve got a couple of catering gigs. Even so, we are treading water and barely making ends meet. The payments on the CCs are negated by the high interest rates. So, not all that great. But despite all this, we still keep ourselves and our house clean, take care of our cars, eat good food and generally live pretty well.

How do we do it?

Well, it’s a multilayered thing. First, we’ve got good habits that carry us when we’re tired or stressed out over everything. That is the #1 most important key to adulting: good habits. Most people who live like animals wallowing in their own filth just don’t have any good habits to fall back on, other than ignoring the filth. Or ignoring the bills. Or ignoring the myriad other things that need attention.

Bad habits are the root of all failures to adult properly.

So, yes, we adult quite well. We have lots of good habits. We are grateful for that. But what can you do? You can be thrifty and you can learn habits to keep your home and self in tip-top shape!

Here is a list in no particular order of things you can do to stretch your money farther:

•Use coupons at the grocery store. I’ve done this for decades! I’ll bet I’ve saved enough for a house by now! LOL You can do digital ones (with your loyalty card at Kroger) or paper. I use both. The valuable ones from Kroger are always paper.

•Buy staples on sale or from the clearance shelves. We found bacon bits and dijon mustard on the markdown shelf for 1/4 the original price. We bought all of them. I rarely buy meat/chicken that is not marked down. Which brings me to the next item.

•Buy a chest freezer if you have space and can afford it. You can buy sale protein and freeze it. I’ve always got a ton of proteins in the freezer.

•Buy a vacuum sealer system to repackage the proteins for freezing. These things really do work.

•Join a warehouse club if you can justify the amount of stuff you have to buy at once. We ditched Costco because it was not working for a 2 person household, BUT I just reinstated it because it helps with catering. Choose wisely.

•Learn to cook. You don’t have to be a fucking chef, but learn how to make several things you like. This is where that discount protein comes in handy. And this will give you leftovers for your lunch.

•Pack your lunch. Nick has always taken lunch to work. We usually have leftovers and if not, I buy the frozen meals (on sale, of course!). Fast food is not only nasty, but pricey. Learn to LOVE YOUR LEFTOVERS. People who won’t eat leftovers drive me CRAZY. (Many chefs are like this, I’ve found. GAH! Not me, man!)

•Shop at discount stores.** Big Lots, Ollie’s and Dollar Tree are all great for certain things. Big Lots has several staple food items we use, disposables for my catering, and they usually have a good selection of brand name cleaning products discounted. Dollar Tree has my favourite trash bags (vanilla!!), plastics for catering and glassware. The cleaning products from Dollar Tree are typically not very good. Ollie’s is a true discounter, so you never know what you’ll find there. They had a ton of drug store items for a while, so we stocked up on our favourite toothpaste. They also had a ton of graphic novels for $3 ea, so we stocked up on those, too. :)

•Do the maintenance on your car. If you can’t afford the big stuff, just make sure the oil is changed on time. That alone will keep your car much healthier. If your car breaks down, that will impact you in terrible ways, so keep your car maintained. If you’ve got 100k miles on it and never changed the timing belt…you’d best find the money to get that shit done. A broken timing belt can kill your car. Allocate your money wisely.

•Should be obvious, but comparison shop. Compare store brands to name brands. I buy a ton of Kroger brand products that are equivalent (or sometimes better) than the name brand. Sometimes those bulk deals at Costco are NOT really a great deal. For instance, their 12 pk of tissues is more expensive than the Kroger brand 12 pack. Pay attention to prices, quality and convenience. It’s not really a deal if you make a separate trip to fetch it! Also: learn how to calculate per unit pricing. It is sometimes on the shelf at Kroger, but not always accurate.

Those are my shopping tips. Now, for some living tips:

•Clean as you go. I can’t stress this enough. CLEAN AS YOU GO. If the bathroom sink has some funk, keep cleaning wipes under the counter so you can grab one and swab the sink. Keep a toilet brush handy and swab the toilet when it gets gross. It takes 30 seconds! Same for putting dishes in the dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, then do the dishes ONCE A DAY. EVERY DAY. Break up cleaning into small tasks and you’ll get it all done. I think people who live in filth get overwhelmed and can’t see a way to get ahead of the mess. Break it into small tasks then DO THEM ONE AT A TIME. It will work. You’ve just got to be diligent.

•Give everything a home. I think this is the one thing I see the most in filthy homes: everything is strewn about and nothing has a home. NO your fucking tampons DO NOT live in the kitchen. NO your fucking clothes DO NOT live on the floor. If this is your problem, then get a labeler and LABEL EVERY STORAGE AREA with what lives there (the visual cue will help you remember to put things away). Then PUT THINGS AWAY. When you get home from the grocery, put that shit where it belongs. After you cook a meal, put the ingredients BACK and wash pans. Get into the habit of returning things to their homes. It’s amazing how this ONE HABIT can eliminate much of the clutter piling up.

•Speaking of laundry. DO THE LAUNDRY. Do not wear the same clothes 15 times. Do not let laundry pile up. When you have two loads, it’s time to do laundry. This is also linked to the clothes in the floor thing. If your clothes are strewn on the floor (clean AND dirty) then you never know when it’s time to do laundry. GET A HAMPER and USE IT. Put your clothes away directly after you get them out of the dryer and FOLD THEM. Do the whole task, not part of it.

•Clothes aren’t the only thing that needs regular washing. TAKE A FUCKING SHOWER. This seems to go hand in hand with the dirty clothes habit. People who wear the same clothes 15 times and don’t do laundry seem to be the same people who don’t shower regularly. SHOWER EVERY DAY. I know this sounds basic, but I’ve seen this behavior over and over. When you go to a home and it smells of rank human? That’s because of dirty clothes and not showering. It gets into everything and makes your whole house SMELL. Trust me on this.

•Don’t forget to change/wash your bed linens once a week (or every other week if they don’t get smelly). And your towels. It’s the same thing: your stank gets into these things and will make your whole house smell of rank human. If your place is filthy, you will likely not notice this smell. That commercial about being nose blind? IT IS TRUE. You get used to it and it permeates everything. But trust me, other people smell it and it is gross. CLEAN YOUR FUNK OFF YOUR CLOTHES, LINENS AND FURNITURE. Learn to use Febreze when you clean.

•Febreze is NOT an equivalent to washing your clothes or cleaning your home. Use it WITH cleaning, not instead of it. You’re a hooman. We stank. Gotta be clean to stave it off!! Just remember: you shed skin cells on everything you touch or wear. Now think of all that funk in your stuff if you don’t clean it. Yeah. It’s gross.

•If you have a hard time remembering to do things, MAKE A TASK LIST and post it prominently. Check off what you’ve done. You’ll feel more accomplished and you’ll get things done, too. Do the WHOLE task, not part of it. It doesn’t count if you wash the clothes then throw them on the floor.

So, there ya go. A primer on How To Adult. All these items are things we do without even thinking about it, because we’ve trained ourselves with good habits. That’s all this is: HABITS. If you need to adult better, then print this shit out and use it as a guide.

Even the journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step. Just do one thing at a time and you’ll get there.

I always say we’re cheap bastards, and we are, BUT we use it strategically. I call us THRIFTY! This is how we keep our standard of living pretty high even when we’re broke. We cut out ALL extraneous expenses (pedicures, non-essential Dr visits, etc.) and we shop smart. We clean as we go, every day. IT WORKS.

**About discount stores. Not all products are created equal. Cleaning products are definitely in this category. Spend the extra money and get a good laundry detergent (Percil is the best I’ve found). If you want to stretch your Percil out, then get some Purex and alternate. I’ve found that a good detergent really is important to keep clothes fresh – especially if you do sweaty work. I’ve also found that dish soap and dishwasher detergent needs to be brand name. The cheap stuff simply does not work as well. I don’t use off brand shampoo, soap or toothpaste but I use coupons and/or buy at discount stores. This comes back to comparison shopping and using what works best – which is sometimes NOT the cheapest. Don’t fall into buying cheap shit all the time just because your budget is limited. Look for deals and discounts! I PROMISE you that the cheap laundry soap from the $1 store is NOT going to get your clothes clean. Spend a little more and it will raise your quality of life. TRUST ME.

Sleep Supplement Recs by an Insomniac

Insomnia is a very common issue. People do not get enough sleep or enough quality sleep these days. I’ve struggled with insomnia for literally decades. I’ve tried every aid out there and I’ve got a list of aids that work well. I alternate them depending on how I feel before bed. I take supplements every night.

We use various supplements to get sleep because we are notoriously bad sleepers. Here are some tips from long time insomniacs:

– DO NOT take a shit ton of melatonin! 3mg or less ONLY. Melatonin can turn on you if you take too much.
– Do not look at electronics before bed. If you do, get a blue blocker screen cover or use NIGHT mode.
– Same for when you wake up at night. This is one reason why I keep paper books! I try to avoid screen use when I’m struggling with sleep.
– Don’t bother with Rx shit like Ambien. It’s too much and overkill IMO.
– Be cognizant of your pre sleep habits! No caffeine, nicotine or alcohol.
– Get enough sleep. When you sleep badly, you’ll need MINIMUM of 8 hrs in bed, even if you toss and turn. We generally require 9 hrs to get enough REM sleep to feel refreshed, so give yourself enough time!

Sleep Supplements
Sleep supplements from Vitacost.

There are tons of supplements out there, just be careful of the amount of melatonin in them. Here are some that I’ve personally used and how they work for me:

Nature’s Plus Sleep Assure: I’ve used it forever, it’s got herbs and 3mg melatonin. Great stuff.
Herbs, Etc. Deep Sleep: all herbal, no melatonin. Great stuff, hella expensive.
OTC sleep aid Doxylamine Succinate (NOT diphenhydramine aka Benadryl) this works well, I’ve used it for years.
Synergy Sleep Support (Vitacost brand): Herbs and 3mg melatonin. Works very well!
Superior Source GABA melts, 100mg: GABA helps you fall asleep.
Bluebonnet Sleep Support: herbs and 5HTP. It has been working well.
Enzymatic Therapy Sleep Tonight: all herbal and VERY good! We are liking this one a lot!
Irwin Naturals Power to Sleep PM: no melatonin. This one has GABA and 5HTP, but overall doesn’t seem as effective as some of the others.
Jarrow Formulas Sleep Optimizer: This one has GABA and tiny bit of melatonin. It’s ok, but the ET is better.

Here is the list over at Vitacost, I highly recommend them for supplements, they have great pricing.