05 November 2011

Tilapia, Quinoa and Black Beans, and Salad

No homework done on Thursday night.  I was in denial about the sheer amount of work I had to do.  I used the time to catch up on school-related emails.  I love productive excuses!

Remember that extra quinoa I suggested you make?  I paired it with some leftover black beans from that same day (did you know 2 cups dried beans makes like 4 cups not-dried beans??) and frozen corn to make this wonderful Quinoa and Black Beans recipe (searching by ingredients on allrecipes.com is awesome!).

4 servings Quinoa and Black Beans recipe (net 2 – we ate 2 for dinner)


This whole meal took about 30 minutes start-to-finish once the fish was defrosted.  Please note that I'm starting with pre-cooked quinoa, so this changes how the recipe is put together entirely.

Start by defrosting the fish in the sink.  This takes about an hour, tops.

When you’re ready to begin, preheat oven according to baking directions on bag of tilapia (or 375 for 1.  Spray a oven-safe pan and place fish in.  Sprinkle with seasonings (I do all kinds of things with fish:  lemon pepper, Old Bay, garlic/chinese five spice/lime juice.  Thursday, I put on Tony Chachere's Famous Creole SeasoningGood flavor, but way too salty for my taste).

Anyways, while oven is still preheating, move on to beginning the quinoa.  First, heat the oil.  I used a Dutch oven because I hate getting pans that are too small by the time you add in all the ingredients..  While oil is heating, quick-chop onion (I used a purple onion for color and flavor and the fact that it was the only one I had in the house).  Sauté onions until just translucent.

When oven beeps, throw in tilapia and cook until done (if you’re timing this right, just when the quinoa looks done).

Back to the quinoa.  Add frozen corn to the pan and stir until thawed.  If you’ve used more than the recommended oil, this may spit, so be prepared.  Add garlic (lazy me used pre-minced… and a lot of it) and spices (extra on that too) and sauté until fragrant.

OK, this is where it gets really different from the recipe because I was starting with pre-cooked quinoa.  I dumped the rest of the left over quinoa (on or about 2 cups?) into the Dutch oven, adding just a little bit of water to help steam/fluff up the quinoa.  Then, add black beans and stir until the water gets soaked in.  Fold in chopped cilantro and stir a little bit more until the cilantro is just wilted.

Take tilapia out of oven.  Serve tilapia and quinoa  (sprinkled with lime juice!) with salad.


A quick note on salad:  you can make a large salad at the beginning of the week that lasts all week if you remember two things:
  • Put a paper towel on the top of the bowl of salad (I have a massive Tupperware bowl in my fridge that I use for salad).  This soaks up additional moisture.  Swap out towel as needed.
  • DO NOT add acidic vegetables to the salad.  This includes tomatoes and cucumbers.  The acid in these vegetables will cause the salad to rot faster.  Keep these chopped in separate Tupperware containers in the fridge or just cut up as needed.  We usually have a salad in the fridge that consists of:
    • 2-3 kinds of lettuce (some combo of green leaf, red leaf, romaine, spinach, and baby greens)
    • Julienne carrots (I buy the pre-chopped organic bags from Kroger because I’m lazy)
    • Diced fresh cauliflower
  • This combo will stay fresh for days, assuming we don’t eat it all!
And was the quinoa good?  Absolutely!  I may have just eaten some for breakfast… (Time-saver:  it takes 2 minutes to reheat quinoa and at least 10 to make a halfway decent [aka: not cereal] breakfast.  And I have a lot of reading to do today…)

03 November 2011

Black Bean Burgers, Butternut Squash Pasta, and Marshall McLuhan

On Tuesday, I had a lot of time at home and the hubby had a half-day, so we tried something new:  homemade Sweet Tater Black Bean Burgers (hat tip to Tegulator, who sent me the recipe).  We paired the burgers with an old standby in our house, Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta.  As all this was being prepared, I needed to get a book read, Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan.


  • 12 burgers (net 10 - we ate 2 for dinner)
  • 8 servings pasta (net 6 - ditto above)


Monday Night:  Soak 16 oz. of black beans in pot of water on counter (recipe calls for canned, but we had dried so we figured why not?).

  • 2:45 - Drain beans, refill pot with water, and place on stove.  Bring beans to boil.
  • 2:45-2:55 - Wait for water to begin boiling, find any means possible to stall from reading, drink a Coke as part of stalling (justify it by citing its mad caffeine content), try to find backpack to find book in attempt to act like I'm reading.
  • 2:56 - Actually start reading McLuhan.
  • 3:55 - Bookmark McLuhan (Page 40 - not too bad!)  Check beans (still not done - up the temp).  Preheat oven to 400 to roast butternut squash (cut squash in half length-wise and place guts-down on a greased cookie sheet, roast for 45 minutes).
  • 4:02 - Decide I'm hungry and heat up snack (The Grit's Split Pea Dal + Rooster Sauce = YUM!).
  • 4:04 - Check the oven.  Realize that while I set the temperature on the oven, I didn't actually turn the oven on.  Spit forth four-letter laced invective.  Turn on oven.  Check beans (still crunchy!), use anger at crunchy beans as an excuse to play on computer while eating snack.
  • 4:11 - Finish snack, check on food.  Get impatient and decide beans are done (they're not...).
  • 4:13 - Drain beans again; get impatient with not-preheated oven; say more bad words.  Stick squash in oven in spite of lack of heat.  Set timer to 50 minutes to allow for extra preheat time.
  • 4:20 – switch to OpenOffice because Word has frozen and lost this twice. Vow to get an updated (aka: not 2004) version of Office ASAP.  Get back to reading...
  • 5:05 – Bookmark McLuhan again (page 83).  Take squash out of oven.  Begin assembling rest of dinner.

    OK, this is where (if you've stuck with me) this blog (hopefully) gets interesting.  The most important part about effective cooking is multitasking.  As we were making two labor-intensive dishes, they would only be worth the time spent if they could be made relatively (think hour max) quickly.  Another important thing is to find foods that 1) can cook at roughly the same temperature and 2) can fit in the oven (assuming you don't have anything fancy) at the same time.

    FIRST, put a pot of water on medium-hot for boiling pasta water.

    As the burgers take longer, we started primarily with them.  I microwaved the cubed sweet potatoes (covered, little bit of water for some steam action) while simultaneously cooking the quinoa on the stovetop (made extra for quick entree later in week).  While the potatoes were cooking, I chopped the onions.  Hubby mashed the beans (yeah, they were still too crunchy--make sure they're approximately canned bean consistency first).  When the potatoes were done (5 minutes, stir, 5 more minutes), I heated the frozen corn (1 minute).  Hubby ground the oatmeal (Magic Bullet knockoff FTW), and then we got to mixing everything.

    The recipe lied (in the best possible way).  The yield was 12 large burgers, not 8.  Probably could have gotten away with 14 if we'd skimped a little more.  We put the burgers on a (sprayed) tin foiled cookie sheet and put them in the oven for 15 mins.

    During this 15 minutes, we quickly got the pasta together.  Instead of soft ricotta, we decided to use ricotta salata instead, crumbled finely.  We also used freshly grated pecorino romano instead of parmesan. Also, I added quite a bit more garlic and added cinnamon and dried thyme (recipe called for fresh) to the squash.  Anyways, after 15 minutes, we flipped the burgers and got both the burgers and the pasta back in the oven...
  • 6:13 – (Took longer than expected as old friend called and I was trying to help/cook while very distracted)  Go back to reading McLuhan.  Ask husband to actually serve up dinner, as I'm "trying to read!"
  • 6:35 – Dinner on table! Om nom nom! Bookmark on page 94 of McLuhan.

    The only thing I would change about this meal was the burgers.  While they were awesome, the cumin needs to be upped exponentially.  We ate them on sandwich thins, which was perfect for making the primary flavor the burger itself.

After eating, we netted 10 veggie patties (individually wrapped in freezer bag for quick reheat lunches/dinner) and 6 portions of pasta.  So approximately 1 hour of intensive cooking = 8-16 meal components (for time saving later!)

Components we were able to get locally/organically from Eats:  sweet potatoes, quinoa, walnuts, sunflower seeds, ricotta salata (sheep's milk and local), and pecorino romano. Plan to do better on buying local next time.

I was able to finish McLuhan with a full tummy and the assurance of many other study snacks in the future.  McLuhan's pretty cool.  For anyone interested in mass media, communications, history, or a view into the 1960s, I highly recommend reading him.

I also bought a Office 2011 for Mac today...

Gourmet Grad School

The goal of Gourmet Grad School is to help people who want to eat well while still getting work done.  I will attempt to explain my process of using quick and effective cooking as both part of structured breaks (you need breaks from any kind of work, not just grad school) and as a way to ultimately save time.  As such, many of the meals described here will involve multi-serving entrees, ensuring reheatable snacks and last-minute dinners for later dates.

For me, cooking is a form of stress release.  My great-grandparents owned a restaurant in Baltimore, at which both my grandfather and my dad cooked.  I've helped in the kitchen since I was very young and was raised eating mostly homemade meals.  I use cooking as a way to break up chunks of studying time, so this blog will be written from the point of view of a (hopefully) thrifty Ph.D. student.

A few disclaimers:
  • I am not a vegetarian, though I do make/eat a lot of vegetarian dishes. I usually do not cook beef or pork, so you will find relatively little here on that. When I eat meat, it is primarily chicken. I am also pro-seafood.
  • I am a big fan of the microwave. Using it will probably factor greatly into the time-saving suggestions on this blog.  I'm sorry if this offends you.
  • I like to cook a variety of foods, so don't be surprised if you see Indian, Italian, Jewish, or Middle Eastern foods pop up regularly.
  • Most of the time, I am cooking for myself and my husband. If he has helped prepare a meal, I will indicate that, as it might change how long you think it will take you to recreate the same dish.
  • If a dish is savory, you better believe I'll be adding garlic. Vampire-terrifying levels.  If a dish calls for cilantro, I usually triple it.
  • I love soup.  And cheese.  Not necessarily together.
  • Recipes will be cited properly. Plagiarism sucks. Don't plagiarize.
  • If I have not invented the recipe, I usually won't give step-by-step instructions on how to cook things.  The point of this blog is to show you how to cook effectively and quickly, not to rehash the work of other cooks.  I always link to recipes not my own, so you will have detailed instructions.
And just a little bit about me:  I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Theory at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!).  My husband and I live in Blacksburg, VA, and do most of our food shopping at Eats Natural Foods, Oasis World Market, the Blacksburg Farmer's Market, and Kroger.