DIY Dinner Life

I’m taking a brief break in my graduate school-induced hiatus from this here blog as a way to procrastinate on some major assignments that are due this week. Because graduate school! I’m graduating in LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS and then my brain will have room for crafting and home projects and cocktails once again.

Anyway, my life is mostly taken up by reading, writing, and thinking about what I’m going to eat and drink next, so I thought I might share some of my favorite recipes. Especially those that are #1 appropriate for winter times and #2 really excellent substitutes for eating out. One of the top reasons we are able to live as cheaply as we do is that we very rarely go out to eat (2x/month, if we’re doing well). One of the top reasons my cravings are still satisfied is that we make lots of international food. Also, we live in a small town, have few friends, and actually love cooking. Both of us! YMMV, obvi. I think if we lived somewhere that had more to offer culinarily-speaking, it would be more difficult to stay in as much as we do. This kind of lifestyle takes a lot of effort, but it works for us partly because we still eat fantastic food, have gotten used to the effort and planning ahead, and over time we have been able to see how much we save as a result.

Oh! Also, most of this happens to be vegetarian, if not vegan.

Indian: Lentil Tikka Masala from Naturally Ella

I’m actually on a quest to find the perfect chana masala recipe, but this one is a really excellent tikka masala. The first time we made it, we made a bunch of adjustments by accident: using an entire can of coconut milk instead of just a cup, using all of the masala paste we made instead of 1/3 cup, using a can of crushed tomatoes instead of 1 cup of stewed. Love you, Naturally Ella, but I really don’t want to open a can just to only use half. I always want more tomatoes. It is a spicy dish when you use all of the masala paste, but it is wonderfully warming and satisfying when served over rice or with chapati. Toasting and grinding whole spices is really worth it for this recipe.

Veggie burger: Olive Lentil Burger from Post Punk Kitchen

I love it when we have veggie burgers on hand because they satisfy my burger/fast food cravings and can be extra delicious. We’ve tried a lot of different recipes and I think there’s a chickpea burger out there somewhere that is also a winner, but I distinctly remember loving these. They’re very handy for camping days and I always wish we had made more. Roast up some potatoes and you’re all kinds of set.

Comfort food: Mushroom Bourguignon from Smitten Kitchen

I recently made this as a YAY I LOVE FALL dish and it was absolutely fantastic. I did make an adjustment to increase the broth quantity (beef is excellent, good quality veg will do) and add a cup of lentils to cook along with the sauce. Because apparently all we eat is lentils! I swear I haven’t had lentils in like a week. Anywho–the butter/flour/fork magic she details at the end is actual magic.

Broccoli is on sale: Roy Finamore’s Broccoli Cooked Forever from Food52

We’ve made this a couple of times now and I’m always so pleased. Basically you’re making broccoli confit and you best have some delicious bread or fancy crackers on hand for eating time. It takes a while, but it is the perfect dish for a cold and rainy weekend afternoon.

Smoky, tomato-y Italian: Tagliatelle con i Ceci

Tagliatelle con i Ceci

I found this video while searching for a copycat recipe for a soup we had in Perugia when we were there last spring. The video and the man who made it are an excellent example of just about everything I love about Italy. He measures tomato puree with an espresso cup! For those who have no Italian, this recipe from Food52 comes pretty close to the mark. Only difference is that we add a bit of bacon and don’t puree the chickpeas. Without the puree step, the recipe is more like soup, which we like. It’s top notch comfort food that takes very little time or effort.

Mexican: Spicy, Citrusy Black Beans from Simply Recipes

We found this recipe ages ago and have made it at least once a month since. It’s a great way to use dried beans and we eat them in tacos or over rice, with all the toppings. Is very good.

N.B. about dealing with dried beans: see this explanation for why we brine our beans when we soak them. We usually do two cups of dried beans at a time, soaked in two quarts of water and 1 1/2 tbsps of Kosher salt for about eight hours. We set the beans to soak in the morning and then cook them at night, rather than any kind of overnight wrangling.

Bonus MexicanSecret Ingredient Refried Beans

So this recipe is actually embedded in a recipe for sweet potato and refried beans burritos, but since I’m not the world’s biggest sweet potato fan, we tend to just make the beans portion. Of course we make the recipe using dried beans we’ve cooked up ourselves, but canned works too! Spoiler alert: the secret ingredients are soy sauce and mustard. We’ve used these to make homemade crunch wrap supremes (because sometimes fast food cravings crawl up into my brain and won’t leave) and also fantastic bean dip.

Asian Noodles: Dan Dan Noodles from Alton Brown

Once I had mastered this recipe, I began to riff on versions of Asian-flavored dressings + noodles + veg = ❤ but this recipe gives you a good place to start. Ramen is a handy noodle because it is ubiquitous and cheap, but we tend to go for rice or soba/udon noodles now. When I make dressings or sauces like this, I tend to use the same theories I keep in mind when I make salad dressing: vinegar (rice), sweetener (honey), salt (soy sauce and/or miso paste), mustard, aromatics (garlic and ginger), and oil (usually a combo of olive, sesame, and chili).


As mentioned above, I am finishing up my graduate degree and my brain can only do so many complicated things and cocktail decisions have fallen to the bottom of the list. That fact, combined with the fact that it has been Oktoberfest beer season, beer has been my go to beverage lately. And, since we’ve never really talked about beer on yon blog, I thought this might be a nice chance to share some of my favorites, aka what I would buy if I had the money. Many of these are regional to the South, but may be obtainable beyond the Mason-Dixon line.

Westbrook One Claw: Charleston, SC

This is a rye IPA and essentially a grapefruit in a can, but without the sweetness of other gross grapefruit-y beers. It was one of my gateway IPAs and I’m super not mad about it. Also, most other beers put out by Westbrook are pretty stellar.

Melissa loves Dale's

Hello! says the kitchen chicken.

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale: Brevard, NC

I like a lot of what Oskar Blues puts out, but their pale ale is a solid brew. I also give high marks to their Pinner Throwback IPA. Also, they just so happen to be located in an extremely convenient spot for stopping in their tap room after a hike on the Blue Ridge. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth an hour or two of your time.

Avery Brewing Ellie’s Brown Ale: Boulder, CO

I’m a big fan of brown and red ales, especially in the fall and winter, and I’ve seen this one in some widespread locales. Bonus points: the chocolate lab it’s named after is on the can.

Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ale: Greenville, SC

Greenville brewing ventures benefit from the town’s proximity to Asheville’s many excellent offerings and Thomas Creek is no exception. Like I said, I love a red ale. We had another truly exceptional red ale a few weeks ago in a make-your-own six pack, but I can’t remember the name or brewery :(((

That Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout that RJ Rockers won’t be selling commercially: Spartanburg, SC

A few weeks ago, I tasted a mere half pint of this ambrosia, which was brewed specifically for an event in town. It was the perfect blend of bitter and smoky and spicy, with only the barest sweetness. Sadly, I have a feeling this will be one of those things that I only had a few tastes of, but will remain seared upon my memory for years to come. Just like that single bite of mascarpone gelato I had nine years ago.

With all of that said, go forth and cook! And drink! And let us know your favorite recipes/brews if you feel so inclined!

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