Thursday, March 31, 2011

Grocery Shopping in the Final Stretch: Stockpile Marathon

I've used up the sausages languishing in my fridge, made dinner with double leftovers, not died from possible sausage issues, and applied to a job posting expiring at 11:59pm.

I am now free to blog.

Never mind the vital assignment details that may be lurking under one of the many piles of papers keeping me from enjoying my large L-shaped desk. I'm kicking back and relaxing on the bed, though it requires avoiding one of the aforementioned piles of paper. The best thing about switching to a double bed from a twin was how much more space I got to put stuff on.

To move to less shameful aspects of my housekeeping - I'm starting to work on reducing my pantry before I have to move out of residence at the end of April. Naturally, this endeavour started with buying $80 worth of groceries to cover the month.

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I bought lots of veggies and canned tuna (regular and flavoured!), some juice, canned tomatoes, applesauce, bread, beans, chicken, tofu, broth, 2 cheeses, cottage cheese, Campbell's, a yoghurt drink  that I ended up giving to the homeless man outside... okay you got me I have no idea how the grocery bill got that high either. There wasn't much more to the groceries, not that I can remember. I did restrain myself from buying the $6 ginger ice cream, difficult as that was.

The reason for this consumer madness is that my dad has gone to Malaysia until the week I move out (you better believe I asked for awesome Asian dry goods to be brought back). So, when my boyfriend came to visit, I wanted to get my month's grocery shopping in all at once so I wouldn't have to shop without car access. Having gone 3 weeks without grocery shopping before, I knew I'd be able to go for one last stretch if I could just get a good trip in now.

I don't usually intend to go for more than two weeks without groceries, so arming myself with foreknowledge helped me be more conscious in my buying, I think. Plenty of fresh fruits & veggies to last the first two weeks, then cupboard ones, dried, frozen and tinned for after. I can get milk at the gas station once I run out.

Between my tendencies to hoard and experiment, however, I have a pantry (ok, a microwave cart) with a fair amount of food already. Now that I'm into the end of school, I'm going to be cooking more to procrastinatedistract myself or get a break from studying; Scraping the bottom of the barrel should be interesting to blog about, provided I am motivated enough to go that extra step.

At any rate, I may have to start waking up early enough to eat a proper breakfast rather than grabbing a cereal bar or two on the very late way out the door. Not that my cereal bar stockpile doesn't need extreme culling as well... my mum gives me a box every time she sees me (and now I've actually asked for another! Why? Why did I do that?).

If all else fails, I guess I'll be throwing a dinner party in the study lounge after all. The real question is how I will use up tuna, crackers, beans, extreme amounts of cheese, my crazy sauces, and weird random stuff in cans.

It's starting to sound exciting already.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Living Without a Full Kitchen is Not That Hard

It's interesting seeing the kind of perspective that people have when it comes to what is enough. Whenever I read discussions/articles about housing, people seem to consider anything under 1,000 sq ft (~93 sq m, for anyone using that system) small. Why is that? It's perfectly enough space for a family.

I've spent at least half my life in spaces that size or smaller, and there were 4 of us. I even sometimes had to SHARE A ROOM, although I guess that's nothing compared to when I had to sleep in my sister's closet (it fit a mattress) for months after the basement flooded. When I went to visit my relatives in Malaysia, we ended up having 10 of us (1 was a baby) staying in a 2-bedroom apartment that was smaller than 1,000 sq ft.

I guess this perspective must be a Western thing.

Anyway, this comes up because I've started investigating the rental market; both my boyfriend and I will be moving within the next few months, hopefully together, so I wanted to see what was out there. Until I know where my job is going to be, I can't look for real yet, unfortunately, but I did want to be prepared. It's a lot less fun searching for a job than for a hypothetical apartment, and results thus far have proved just as successful.

Anyway, at one point, in a penny-pinching fit of desperation, I searched for phrases like "without a kitchen", "kitchenless", and "no kitchen". Surprisingly, there weren't many options, but it did lead to an interesting moment of introspection because I had expected that living without a full kitchen - or, you know, anything without a range with burners/oven - would be a transitory state that I would emerge from like some sort of beautiful butterfly or grumpy moth.

Come to think of it, my mum was the only person I knew who had an oven in Asia. Granted, I was hardly an age to discuss ovens with my peers (Spice Girls, Tamagotchi or the pattern on our face masks - we had a lot of smog incidents at the time - were more the topics du jour. I never did get my Tamagotchi, so life still feels complete. The trial Tamagotchi app I downloaded on the iPod touch my parents eventually got me after university just didn't feel the same, despite the iPod being way more awesome.).

So, I didn't think I would want to continue my demikitchened state, but I've never had a hard time preparing food. I mean, there was the time that the chocolate cake started to smoke when I tried to finish it off in the toaster oven, but I don't like chocolate much any (it was for a potluck). When you have a microwave, kettle, toaster oven, slow cooker and rice cooker, food is never an issue as you are both well-equipped and clearly a food freak in the worst way possible. With creative storage on a cart or on the fridge, they all only took up around one sq ft of the footprint of the floor, anyway.

I guess I'll do a full post later on, when I move out (oh sad day!) at the end of the school year (oh terrifying and unknown day!) to go over *how* I actually go about making stuff. By then, the kitchen willl finally be clean enough to take a picture of... right?

Just trying to hold off on all the things I need to get done before I can party with a free conscience on ST PADDY'S DAY at this point, haha.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rice Noodles and Crockpotting - So-called Stroganoff, Pho Ga

Back in the saddle again, I guess. Right now, I'm thrown off my sleep schedule due to spending all day Saturday recuperating from an awesome party involving half a bottle of Bailey's, among other poisons (and St Paddy's is still to come... ack), so I'm up right now and just put food in the cooker.

So that Saturday, I was really craving some stroganoff but didn't have any egg noodles or sour cream. The former I always balk at the unit price of, deliciousness aside, and the latter I always have to throw out but never seem to have when I want it. What's a girl to do? Well, I started with this crockpot delight, which I found while browsing the 2-ingredient section of Just Slow Cooking Recipes - because I may add 50 things to it myself, but that's my kind of recipe.

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So-called Stroganoff
1 sandwich bag full of stewing beef (who actually weighs/measures their meat? Idk, 0.5-1 lb)
1 can mushroom soup
1T red wine (would've added more, but was concerned it had turned to vinegar and it smelled too awful to try given my nausea at the time)
1/4c dried mushrooms, cut up with scissors
boiling water
tapioca
frozen peas
seasonings
rice noodles/pasta

So I dumped in the 1st 3 ingredients and turned the slow cooker to High. In the meantime, I poured boiling water over the mushrooms to sit for 10 minutes - I should've just added enough to immerse (probably wouldn't have needed the tapioca then), but I went for a whole cup and needed to shake in some tapioca in a few hours to thicken.

It cooked for 3.5h, and then I added frozen peas. My bag of frozen peas tastes horrible, so I keep adding it in small amounts (never small enough, believe me) to things that will mask its awfulness while I try and get rid of it. It's the cross I bear.

In the meantime, I decided to try it with rice noodles, having just bought a bag of dried ones when I went shopping for chocolate cake ingredients. I wanted a third of a pack, but that proved impossible when I started to break the noodles and they turned into unyielding thorny stalks with sharp missiles. Being clear and small, the shards that shot off are still cunningly lurking in the kitchen until whenever I crack and sweep. I followed package instructions and poured boiling water over top for 10 minutes before draining.

Maybe it's because I was nursing a grudge at that point, or the fact that due to their diamond-like nature, I was unable to cut the noodles down to size, but I wasn't very happy having the stroganoff with rice noodles. I tried it again with pasta later, and that worked better. It's my school lunch tomorrow, and I put together some mini-potatoes with rosemary for that. Only thing I haven't tried yet is rice, which probably would've been the best (but annoying to make, what with having to clean the cooker... I really need to make a batch to last the week like my dad does).

Taste-wise, it was good enough, I guess. I don't think I'm going to repeat the experiment until I can do it up right. Two substitutions in a recipe with twice that number of ingredients is too many.

Anyway, I'll using up the rest of those deadly noodles in the pho that's brewing right now.


Pho Ga - Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (in the process)
I used this recipe as a bit of a springboard, although they used broth from the start and I just stuck in chicken backs. The aforementioned backs are, according to the package, from November, but they've been in the freezer the whole time. I ended up with that unusual cut because meat just seemed really expensive that day so I cheaped out and got my 0.6kg for $2-something.

Pho Ga
2 chicken backs (see, this is how I think most meat should be counted. Anyway, ~0.3kg or 2/3lb)
2.5c water
many shakes of 5-spice powder (was running out of spoons by that point)
2t minced ginger
1/2t sea salt
2t honey
2t fish sauce (probably too much, but more came out than I intended)
1.5t lime juice
1/2t sesame oil
5 or 6 balls (pods?) of coriander
4 or 5 peppercorns
1/4t cumin seeds
rice noodles

Wash chicken - take out any organs you see (I wasn't really sure what I was looking for and may have forgotten, so let's hope this works out.
Put in slow cooker on Low along with other ingredients.
Cook for... not sure yet, but based on my schedule it'll probably be there for 6.5h.
Take out backs (I guess?), pour over rice noodles, wait 10 minutes to eat.
I may also add a can of chicken, we'll see...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Microwave cooking: pasta, eggs

Well, I've tried it again, and it worked, so my hopes are up that it isn't a fluke. I'm going to miss this microwave when I leave residence now that I have recipes figured out in it. I think it's 900W, maybe I'll look for a similar one. So here are my methods, written here so I don't forget:

Microwave Pasta
pasta, water, salt, big bowl, cover

Boil water (you can use the microwave to boil the water you'll want - but follow safety advice so it doesn't blow up in your face, literally; I boil it in the kettle).
Put your desired amount of pasta in the bowl, along with some salt for flavour and enough water to cover it by a few centimetres, then stir. Make sure the pasta & water fill less than half the bowl (it's probably going to bowl over anyway).
Cover your bowl (see previous bracket) and microwave for 3 minutes. Stir.
Microwave for another 3 minutes. Test for doneness - mine is done at this point, although Kraft Dinner says it'll take 9-12 minutesl just continue at 3 minute intervals, or whatever feels right for the pasta.
Drain and enjoy :)

Microwave Scrambled Eggs
2 eggs, ~1T milk, pepper, oil/butter (optional), cover

1. Crack eggs into bowl, add other ingredients, and whisk with fork.
2. Microwave, covered, for 1 minute.
3. Whisk with fork again.
4. Repeat steps 2-3.

Microwave Poached Eggs
egg, splash of water, seasonings

1. Crack egg into bowl/ramekin (for better shape) with a splash of water.
2. Microwave, covered, for between 55 and 70s, depending on how you like your yolk (me: solid but moist!).
I like to prepare this in a bowl and then put instant noodles in over top (though I only partially cook it, for ~40s, for that).

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Loving Spoonful of Peanut Sauce

I don't know why I always get so intimidated to post. The reason I do it is to ascribe a method to my madness that I can refer to later when I want to duplicate results.

I have some takeout kway teow (flat rice noodles) with beef here and thought it needed some jazzing up, so I came back to my Malaysian roots and wanted PEANUT SAUCE.

Somehow it didn't end up being as vegetarian as one might think... but it did end up being DELICIOUS.

It's hard to find micro-recipes for just that one or two spoonfuls necessary to coat a bowlful of noodles. I ended up looking up a few and putting in ingredients I liked the sound of using a fork. I used my many delightful memories of eating satay to decide how well the actual taste ended up.

Peanut Sauce
2-3T peanut butter (used crunchy)
2t minced ginger (don't know exactly how much, but every time I sampled it, it cried out for more)
1/2t soy sauce
1/2t rice vinegar
1/2t sambal ikan bilis
dribble of lime juice
sea salt to taste

Combine ingredients in bowl, microwave for about 15-20s (until peanut butter is melted), ignoring sizzling sound, and stir.

Sambal ikan bilis is a Malaysian chili paste with dried anchovies and what is keeping the sauce from being fully vegetarian. It is my new favourite addition to everything; I didn't even notice my garlic butter had gone missing again until last night. I feel it in my eyes and nasal passages right now (my relatives would laugh) and it makes me feel alive!

Other recent projects include microwave 10-minute stew (almost daily, when I have veggies), microwave/blender squash soup, slow-cooker soup mix, rice-cooker beans, overnight oatmeal, microwave refried beans, ice cream from frozen bananas, black bean salad. and... I forget. Many eggy delights to come, though; I have almost a full carton and it's expiring in a week. There's always Pancake Tuesday... never made pancakes before.

Also, my recent set of groceries was milk, bread, juice boxes, and vegetables. I love when I manage to keep it unprocessed, small, and relatively cheap. Naturally, the next time I go, I need a whole whack of other stuff, especially after my bean-making day yesterday. But those in-between weeks of virtuous thriftiness are always nice.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Accidental Split-Pea Soup in the Rice Cooker

This past month has been pretty tumultuous. September and October were busy in a way where I could give myself long, extended cooking breaks while taking refuge in the fact that my time was being spent virtuously. I still use that excuse when it comes to taking dinner breaks to eat with friends (combining guilty-pleasure social time with non-guilt-inducing sustenance time). Now, however, I've been too busy - exhausted, really - such that most of my precious little downtime is spent in recovery, i.e. staring slack-jawed at the computer screen until I notice the time and wonder what I've been up to. This is generally followed by forgetting to pack a lunch and getting Tim Horton's. Timmie's gift cards are on my Christmas list now out of sheer necessity.

I have tried a few good recipes since my last update, like ratatouille, squash fries or squash seeds in the oven; or the gumbo, cream of carrot soup or excellent beef stew that I made in the Crockpot. The ratatouille and gumbo, along with mujadara, tend to be go-to recipes for me, although I've no idea how my cooking got so exotic (or soupy). My roommate, a meat & potatoes girl, is always wondering about my food experiments.

My 22nd birthday was earlier this month. I got an ang pow from my parents for $50, and, fortuitously, this happened the same week that Canadian Tire had their $90 Kitchenaid Handheld Immersion Blender on sale for... well, you can guess. I was kind of conflicted, since I usually don't spend that much on one item in one go (I'm cheap), but in the end it was KITCHENAID. You win this round, Canadian Tire. I used it for my carrot soup, to which I added a roasted red pepper, ginger and coconut milk, and it worked like a charm. An aggressive charm (like Tyler Durden!), and one I was worried might crack the Crockpot, but still.

 I've not done groceries for the past few weeks, so I didn't have the lentils I needed for mujadara. I'd just thoroughly burnt a batch of caramelised onions in the Crockpot and wanted to prove to myself it was worth it after all. A site told me that split peas could be substituted for lentils in a pinch...

And that's when the madness started.
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There were a number of factors behind how I ended up staying up last night cooking several pounds of beans. The first thing that needs to be said is that I'd just napped from 5 to 10pm and so wasn't going to sleep for a while, anyway.

My waning supplies also had a lot to do with it. As a hoarder, I'm not likely to run out of food for another 2 weeks if I really want to push it (I don't... well, maybe just a little). I'm low enough on vegetables that my fruit & veg needs are down to tomatoes, frozen juice, and tinned fruit for the next little while. Ironically, I had tons of protein anyway due to all the meat I never bother to defrost. But beans it was going to be, durnit. At any rate, I was starting to get a craving for hummus.

And I was tipsy. This generally plays out in two ways once I get back to my room: ordering pizza or whipping up something weird. This time, I did both. You better believe the pizza was weird, too.

Rice-cooker beans are super easy, more so than slow cooker beans, in my opinion. You wash a cup of beans, throw them in, and then add water 2.5-3" (higher is better) over those. I was adding a strip of seaweed to them at first, mostly because there's not much you can do with stale seaweed, but it tasted better without it. I also added a couple coriander seeds and peppercorns, and little bits of bay leaves.

These are the batches of pulses I made:
  • chickpeas - 2h
  • Navy beans (labelled "white pea beans")- 1h - 1h15
  • black turtle beans - 80 minutes or so
  • split peas - 45min
After they were done, I added salt and let them sit in their broth on the 'Warm' setting of the rice cooker for about 30-60min.

By the time the split peas came around, I was ready to cede defeat and go to bed... until I tasted them and it transported me back to Newfoundland in my memories. They were freaking amazing. They tasted like they were on their way to becoming split-pea soup.

So I decided they could be - but it could wait. I put the rice cooker on 'Warm' and went to sleep 'til noon and only polished off the soup just now.

To shorten my long story, here is the recipe. I devoured most of this just by myself, so it may be a bit small quantity-wise.

The Easiest Split Pea Soup You Can Accidentally Make
1c yellow split peas (this is the kind my grandmother uses, so other kinds are dead to me)
broth/water to fill rice cooker up to the 4 cup mark
a splash of olive oil to keep the liquid from foaming over
a plastic spoon to stick between the lid and the pot when the liquid keeps foaming over anyway
2 coriander seeds
2 peppercorns
1/2 bay leaf
salt (I use a sea salt grinder) to taste

1. Wash peas before putting into rice cooker. Throw out any floaters or weird ones.
2. Fill the rice cooker with all other ingredients except salt.
3. Cover most of the way, using the spoon to create a gap between lid and pot.
4. Turn on cooker, and cook for 45 minutes. Stir, and add salt to taste (~1/4 to 1/2 t)
5. Continue to cook for 15-45 minutes, depending on what you want the texture of the peas to be like; I like it when it gets mushy, so I cook it longer. If it become too thick (it totally did), just stir in broth.

This, like the first time I used juice in making overnight oats, had me rolling my eyes back in my head going "OMG it's so freaking good", though a bit more profanely. Screw using ham hocks, I don't even know what a ham hock looks like. This dish was made even better by the fact that this was just a random bag of split peas that had been sitting at my parents' for at least a year, and I hadn't even been sure it would work.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to call my mum and gloat compare notes. Maybe figure out how to make doughboys to really get my Newf on with this soup.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Slow Cooker Veggie Stew

You know what the ultimate problem with my mad-scientist cooking ways is? I just can't seem to leave well enough alone. Many a dish has been saved from the brink of disaster with a timely addition, only to be sent screeching over the precipice and through the ground like Wile-E Coyote because I decided that if one thing made it taste good, it would taste even better with two things!

Also, I can never quite seem to make a proper chicken soup. When my mum can manage something in the kitchen that I can't, it's pretty galling.

So I was supposed to be making chicken stew for tonight, but when all the chicken was still perched merrily in the freezer this afternoon, I realised that the chicken component might have to come from the broth only. Technically, I've been saving up chicken & turkey bones that I guess I could've used to make it extra chickeny, but that's still not going to satisfy the carnivore in me is it? So I locked away said carnivore even deeper while ignoring the moans of neglect, and pulled some pintos out of the freezer.

I really need to get veggie broth soon.


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Slow-Cooker Vegetable Stew

1 potato, minced (I was too lazy to dice it so I gave it a whirl in the food processor)
1 onion, minced (ditto)
1 softening pear, thrown in halfway because I forgot I needed to get rid of it
1c prepared pinto beans
1/2 can kernel corn (will probably make creamed corn in the micro with the other half)
1/2c frozen peas
enough chicken broth to make the veggies' eyeteeth start floating a few inches
1/2T thyme (maybe this is why my chicken soups are always so herby)
couple shakes of paprika
1 bay leaf
1 peppercorn (just cause I felt like it)
pepper to taste

Bastardised roux:
2T margarine
1T peanut butter
3T flour

And then the remedial ingredients, added after to taste (probably better to add 1T of each beforehand, then more later to taste):
red pepper flakes
chilli oil
soy sauce
lemon juice - if all else fails, just add more of this

I may be forgetting one or two of them.

1. Throw everything but the peas in the slow cooker on High for 3h, after which point add the peas and let it cook another hour.
2. In the meantime, start making the roux (here is where I started experimenting) of sorts, melting the margarine & peanut butter together in the microwave - ~45s - then whisking in the flour. At this point I stuck it back to microwave, but that was a bad idea since it turned into a paste. Oh well, it worked out eventually.
3. Add the roux to the stew and mix it all up. Add anything else that is desperately needed.

And there you go, another explanation of the twists and turns of my cooking. One thing I liked was that the stew worked out nicely according to the Canada Food Guide, getting in protein, fruit & vegetables, and grain (the corn). I'm hoping the stew gets thick enough to slather on toast. I may stick it on a pita, grate on some cheese, and do a pizza-type thing with my many leftovers.

Wow, I'm on the biggest lemon kick lately. I think it's because tomato's fortunes have been falling lately with me - either that or the soon-to-be 3 weeks without groceries has me hoarding canned goods. So my sour tastebuds have been feeling a little deprived. Time to make some lemonade.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lemon Mujadara in the Rice Cooker

If I'm wrong for adding lemon juice to my mujadara (pilaf-like rice + lentils + caramelised onion), I don't want to be right.

Recipe, while I'm still eating it before I forget:

Rice Cooker Mujadara

1c uncooked rice (technically, I just used a small cup because my measuring cup was in the sink already. Proper volume to be calculated some other time)
1c lentils (~1/2 can)
2 caramelised onions, sliced (I just sawed at them with my rice scoop)
1/4c liquid from caramelising onion
1c water
1t cumin seeds (I don't have ground)
1/4t cinnamon
[1-2T lemon juice]

Wash rice, add ingredients together in rice cooker and cook. The cooker may not manually turn off because of the oil involved, so keep an eye on it.

I actually added the lemon to my second serving, squeezing until I decided it was enough, along with salt, pepper, and ungodly amounts of parsley and chili flakes to taste. Considered adding raisins instead. Maybe for lunch tomorrow. But man, I could eat this all night.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Busy Times

Whew! My program's been busy, and I haven't gotten as much cooking in as I'd like to. Here are some of the things I've been trying in the past month:
  • chicken noodle soup - ended up the herby-brothy kind, not quite how anyone would've liked, but we added stock packets until it was more 'right'. I made it in the slow-cooker but the chicken wasn't done, so we grilled it and popped it back in. The noodles I made in the rice cooker. There was too much of both and it led to a long series of leftovers that just got finished today.
  • jambalaya-ish rice using the aforementioned soup leftovers with tomato soup leftovers and shrimp & sausage. That's the part that got finished today.
  • Marcella Hazan's famous tomato-onion-butter pasta sauce, several times. I don't make it how it's supposed to be made, with the San Marzano tomatoes and actual butter, but I add a spoonful of sugar to make it work, and the 3 other people who've tried it with me liked it. This is where I used up the noodles from that soup.
  • lots of salad (I get the romaine mixes in the bags) paired with a chicken thigh - the last ones I did in the toaster oven were honey-glazed. I have trouble finishing the bags, and with eating vegetables in general, so I've been trying to commit to this one.
  • leftover spicy honey garlic pork from my new fave Kitchener restaurant, Cameron Chinese Seafood Restaurant, wrapped in a tortilla with salad. So delicious!
  • hummus! I'm going to have to dump the Skippy for natural nut butter (I don't think I could get through much tahini) because the fake PB's too hard to add to things because of all the sugar.
  • salsa - tried grinding things in the food processor and made a soupy mess. Tasty, but watery and gross-looking. Next I trying dumping together a can each of black beans, corn, and chili-spiced diced tomatoes. My sister and I liked that.
  • that awful/decadent cheese-salsa-cream cheese dip. It's the kind of thing that, like a fast food burger, will make you want to cry as you chew it.
  • crustless quiche lorraine
  • baby-eggplant (the big ones are too much for me) parmesan. The boyfriend and I both liked it, though it was a huge mess LOL.
  • roasted butternut squash with parmesan and olive oil. It was a filling lunch! I need to stock up on my squashes.
  • roast tofu - it is AMAZING once you get the right sauce on it. I used hoisin sauce because I'm a little obsessed with it. My friend and I found it a success.
  • toast with salsa and peanut butter. Hey, don't judge, it's delicious AND a complete meal.
Other dishes that have been made have phone/actual pics of them and probably deserve their own posts, since they involve actual recipes. One thing I need to work on is having proper things ready for breakfast in the morning, since I need a full meal that I can trot off with. After all, I can eat while walking, but I can't sleep while walking. It's not an issue this week since Dad got me a pack of cha siu pao (BBQ pork buns).


What I've been overspending on
So my groceries tend to cost more than I expect. The first week was $140, giving me an eternal hatred of Zehrs, and the following weeks were $10, 25, 55, and now 40. It averages out to around $54/week, or $212/month, although I suppose the first week is always going to be an outlier. If I don't include the first week, it's closer to $3x/week.

Technically, I have probably have enough food to last me the month. Would it be healthy? Hell no. It would come down to meat, rice, pasta, and whichever potatoes haven't vomited in despair after being neglected for a month. Once the frozen vegetables, which I have a habit of ignoring so I can buy new shiny fresh ones, were done, anyway. But I like to soothe myself with thoughts of famine preparation when I start getting antsy once I'm down to 2 cans of beans or tomatoes and decide I need 3 more.

I also can go through a litre of milk in a day, which keeps me stocking up on the 4Ls of skim. I'm sure it'd be a handy thing if I was breastfeeding, but in my current state it's led to no magical powers, more's the pity. That's really why I grocery shop, for milk and vegetables. Also because I discover more strange and wondrous things that *neeeed* to be bought each week, like vegetable broth or smoked Spanish paprika or tofu or garam masala or sesame seeds or chickpeas or non-quick-cooking oats.

I keep sneaking oddities like that into my groceries each week so that I will have the best kitchen in the world by the end of the year. That may make it hard to move... hopefully my co-op will be in the city, so I don't have to bother with moving until after it's finished and I either have a proper job in the province or need to swan off to Asia to teach English.

I'm working on eating 1-2 meatless meals per day now (partly because I'm lazy to defrost and prepare meat), but I have to make sure to have awesome vegetables and proteins for it to work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Guacamole with Naan

Why would I mix those two, you say? Well... they were there. And they were delicious together.

A trip to Costco meant that I finally got my avocados. Yay! Apparently, this year is a bumper crop. I got my hankering for them after I went to a Latina friend's birthday party and her mum served little ones. I don't know much about avocados, but the ones we got were practically twice the size (huge!) and not as flavourful. Will have to investigate. I find that smaller varieties of fruits are tastier than the larger ones; berries are the most marked example.

Maybe it's the Asian in me, but I don't feel like enough people talk about prices online. Personally, I was surprised to find out that a bag of 5 avocados (Peruvian) was $ 5.49 (Canadian). I guess I expect veggies to be cheaper than $1.10 per. I'm finding, though, that I have expensive taste in vegetables. I knew a chef who didn't eat meat because her buying priorities leaned more to things like portobello mushrooms (she made burgers with them, it was awesome); I think I may follow her lead on that one. So many vegetables, so little time, y'know?

When I checked avocado prices online (mostly American, which doesn't help much because their stuff is so much cheaper), it didn't seem like we'd gotten a bad deal. There were all the crowers getting them for 50c, but prices went as high as USD 2 - 2.50, so I'm grateful for the price we got. Especially since it led me to this recipe for roast avocado and couscous salad. Vegetarian and delicious! I'm hoping my sis 'll be my partner-in-crime on that one, though I'm not sure how she feels about couscous.

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Tonight, my sis aided and abetted in the making of guacamole. Only 3 avocados left now. The links above have so many recipes that we're going to run out quickly!

Easiest Guacamole Ever
2 avocados, 3 4T fresh salsa, 1T lime juice (or juice of 1/2 lime)

1. Halve the avocados, dig out the pits, halve the halfs, and peel the skin away from the flesh (may not be possible depending on the cultivar of avocado).
2. Mash it!
3. Mix in the salsa and lime juice.

Everything was so much easier than I expected, the cutting and the peeling especially. Avocados are the best! They even put a halt to my trials with our ridiculously-acidic pico de gallo; turns out it mixes perfectly with avocado, and it added to the flavour of the guacamole.

Once we had the whole thing, we heated up a piece of naan bread (again, Costco is to thank) and tore off pieces and spooned guacamole on top. I think I like using naan even better than tortilla chips; my sis took the rest of the bowl with her when we finished the naan, LOL, and ate it by the spoon for a while, then remembered the tortilla chips and ate it with those. But there's something about the thick chewiness of naan that made it incredibly satisfying to eat with fresh guacamole, especially since one was hot and one was cold.

That much guacamole costs between $5-8, from what I've seen (which isn't much). Our was 2x$1.10 avocadoes, $1 worth of salsa, and maybe $0.20 of lime juice, so $3.40. Budget win!

Just checked the nutritional data for 1 avocado. Oh crap. Should not have let the sis abscond with that much of it. On the bright side, it's probably the best way to get 45% of your daily fat intake at once? No wonder it costs a dollar each.

I'll have to save it for any days all I'm eating is rice and veggies (hey, it happens). I'll figure something out to work it into my diet because damn it is too fantastic to give up!

So yeah, second opinion, from my sister, was favourable. My parents didn't like avocado, so they wouldn't even try the guacamole.

There's a 4-pack of red peppers that's been in the fridge for a week that I think my dad's counting on me to use up, so I'm planning on cooking them tomorrow. I'm thinking 2 as roasted red peppers to stuff in the other ones (cannibals!), maybe with avocado. I have tomato paste and brown rice that I can fill them with, too. We'll see how that turns out.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chili Ranch Toast & Ice Cream with Papaya

I stumbled upon this scrumptious-looking appetiser the other day and had no choice but to ruin it for my own purposes:

Chili Ranch Toast

I bear an unholy love for mixing ranch and anything flavoured with chili powder, so the pot of chili heating on the stove was on my radar right away.

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This is what my own version, Chili Ranch Toast, consisted of:
butter, bread, ranch dressing, cheddar, chili from a can

1. Melt 1t butter and spread it onto bread (I used the ends, no other way to salvage those as delicious).
2. Toast the bread until crunchy.
3. Add 1T ranch dressing and spread onto bread.
4. Grate cheddar on top until bread is covered.
5. Bake in oven for 350F for 5-10 minutes (my sis was waiting to do nachos in the toaster oven, so one of my slices didn't get much time; the longer the better).
6. Drain chili (with a spoon) and layer it on top of the toast.

The ranch does a great job of keeping the chili and bread apart, which makes things less messy. As you can see by the pic, it wasn't as drippy as one might expect.

Improvements for next time: use actual baguette; less ranch, more cheese; addition of parsley (as in recipe) and 1t chili powder; add tomato/avocado/guacamole under the topping; cook for longer, possibly broil for a bit.

Otherwise, it made a great meal/snack. The second opinion, from my sis, was favourable. We'll probably do it again sometime.

I put avocado on the grocery list last week, so I was a little surprised when Dad came back with this green American-football-sized thing that he kept comparing to a papaya. Long story short, turns out that's what it actually was. I think the grocery store had their labels somewhat mispositioned.

Never a family to turn down our tropical fruits - not after so many years living where they were plentiful - we chopped it up and have been eating it. Tonight I mixed papaya with french vanilla ice cream over top. After a week of sitting on the counter, the papaya was fairly soft; getting it and the ice cream in the food processor/blender for a short whirl would yield some pretty delightful papaya ice cream, I think.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Got that Eggy Sambal Pasta Goodness on... with Pics!

I actually wanted to make these fish tacos today, but it turns out we already ate our leftover fish. Bummer. If there was one thing I should've gotten in the States, it was definitely a fish taco. So I made that sambal with pasta I'd been thinking about ever since I made it with rice. My ancestors are probably not thrilled.

So I finally brought the camera to the table, looking like a freak and all. Apparently, I've had flickr since 2007. Who knew?

Sambal Pasta with Egg

Also, I finally used that mythical object that had been but a distant memory to me: the stove. If there's one thing I never want to cook in the microwave, it's pasta, not sure why. I think it's because it's in there for so long, and I've learnt that anything in the microwave for over five minutes at a time will explode. The automated nature of hopping up every minute and punching another minute in again is no fun, either. I guess you could say it compares to having to check your stove stuff just as frequently, but doing that's more spontaneous and fun.

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I do plan on using my rice cooker to make pasta, though. Apparently, you don't even have to drain it!

You know, one of the things I adore about Malaysian cuisine is the indiscriminate use of eggs in, like, everything. Fried rice and noodles just aren't the same without it! My fave fried rice here is Yang Chow fried rice, just for that eggy kick. So it was guaranteed that I was going to use egg. Especially once I came across this comment on Allrecipes from Leo in NJ:

"Leo in NJ
Apr. 30, 2010 11:50 am
Cheaters' "poached" eggs: I make them this way whenever I want eggs sunny-side up. Break eggs into a buttered skillet as for fried eggs (med-low heat). Sprinkle seasonings quickly, then add 1-2 tsp water and cover. Steam over very low heat until whites glaze over the yolks. Much less trouble than poaching."

I've never, ever been able to poach an egg; how could I resist?

Unfortunately, I don't think I waited long enough for the butter to heat up, though it melted, because the egg spread across the entire pot. Still delish.

So without further (and further. and yet further) ado, let me skip back to the beginning and explain my one-pot dish.

Eggy Sambal Pasta
1 egg, single serving of pasta (1-2 handfuls), 3T sambal paste, 1T ranch dressing, 0.5T t hoisin sauce (added too much), 0.5t butter, 1T water
  1. Cook and drain pasta (preferably in non-stick pot). Lay aside for now.
  2. Put butter in pot on med-lo heat and wait until it is melted and sizzling.
  3. Crack an egg in, add 1T water, and cover. Add sambal after 1 minute.
  4. Once egg is done, remove from heat and break it up. Add the pasta back in.
  5. Add ranch and hoisin sauce. Serve when hot.
Second opinion: Mum said it "wasn't bad" - her top compliment for family members - though she thought it was spicy.
My spiciness rating (this sambal's not that strong): 1 bottle of water, 15 minutes for burning in mouth to stop.

I added the hoisin sauce to mine while eating, actually:
Sambal Hoisin Pasta with Egg

The dish needed some sweetness to it, and I didn't want to use sugar or cross cuisines even further. Good thing I wasn't daring enough to add our ridiculously sour pico de gallo at the beginning! Maybe pico de gallo + hoisin sauce can be my next sauceperiment. I love hoisin sauce; I added it to plain chicken wraps (this was at my boyfriend's, where there are never any cooking basics like tomato sauce) and it was fantastic and got me craving Peking duck ever since.

I added the ranch for creaminess, though coconut milk/cream is really what you want to use. I just like ranch and didn't want to open a full tin or, you know, gain a pound in one sitting.

I really like the fusion of pasta and Asian sauces. I made a neat peanut butter-salsa-Kraft Dinner (it adds smokiness somehow) sauce that actually tasted Thai. If I revisit it (and find a way to cut out the KD), I'll post it. But yeah, this dish was a success. Only thing it needed was veggies. We're sort of low on vegetables right now. I considered roasting some red peppers to go with but ultimately didn't want to bother.

Vegetable thoughts for next time: sautéing any of onion, eggplant, pumpkin, and/or spinach with the sambal would be great (maybe lentils, too). The aforementioned roasted peppers. Adding frozen mediterranean veggie mix. Mushrooms. Avocado (even more fusion, haha). Corn or one of the more stringy/liquidy squashes in place of the hoisin sauce for sweetness. Um.... I don't think I know many vegetables. I better start hanging out in the fruit & veg section of the supermarket.

Microwave Mug-Brownie & Thaw Soup

Today, I made microwave brownies in mugs for my sister and I. My mum was interested enough to want one too, but she lost patience with me making my sister's. Maybe another time. I don't like there to be too much sugar in it, so this is the recipe I use, though I find it needs a longer heating time in our 700W microwave. We spooned french vanilla ice cream on top.

This would've been the perfect dish so far to snap a pic of, but after setting up 16 GB of photos onto my previously-unopened digital photo frame (and them still not all showing up!), I'm pictured out.

Thaw soup is what I came up with to describe a special heating (I don't think I'm audacious enough to call it cooking) method of mine. Sure, you can boil quick-cooking/precooked frozen stuff in a bowl of hot water in the microwave like you do in a pot, but frankly, most of the stuff you do that with looks gross wet, and is usually less appetizing that way. Plus what do you do with the water? It has nutrients you don't want to lose but looks gross, too. Yeah, for someone so blasphemous about food I get weird peeves.

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My scientific approach to these dilemmas is to let the frozen food cook suspended in a bowlful of soup/broth, which will boil anyway in the amount of time it takes to heat up. This principle extends to my instant noodles, which are truly my masterpiece, but they deserve a post dedicated solely to their magnificence.

So I start with condensed soup, usually tomato because cream soups are lumpier and fattier. I don't add the full can of water, if only because eating an entire can (you can try half, too, but there's less fluid to heat in) of soup, especially tomato, is tiring. Then I plop in whatever frozen premade stuff is in the freezer. This includes:
  • frozen tortellini/ravioli (thanks again, Costco!)/pierogies
  • precooked shrimp
  • frozen vegetables: I like Meditteranean/Spaghetti mixtures. I'm picky when it comes to veggies.
  • fresh vegetables (I just heat everything for longer)
  • Chinese dumplings: the pastry ones, not the palm-leaf ones... Ten Ten Dim Sum is our regular brand, but Google's not forthcoming, so I'll have to take a pic sometime. Regular flavour is pork & shrimp/veg.
  • pinto beans:  got a big container of them in the freezer
As you can see, there are lots of choices. Personally, I find Chinese dumplings much tastier than the European ones. Much more generous filling : flour ratio. And yes, I know I'm testing a bunch of frozen processed foods against each other, and I'm biased. Chinese ones still win. Ravioli is more fun to play with and dip, though.

Then, I microwave the soup for at least 3 minutes, with a paper plate on top to avoid splatter (microwave covers are short, get in the food, and suck). Whatever you do, read the instructions on your frozen food and try to follow cooking times. It's less important if there isn't meat in it, but if there is, you can't always be certain that it's cooked. Frozen chicken nuggets (not that it would ever occur to me to have them in the house, let alone stick in soup. They can be tasty, though) are usually uncooked.

So heat for as long as it says. Then again for another minute or two. Our usual Chinese dumplings are precooked and only need 2 minutes to boil, and the tortellini I use is the size of my thumbnail, otherwise I never would've come up with this method of making them at all.

Whew. I was never this concerned with our 1200W microwave, but now we're on a 700W one. Whenever I need to buy my own, you can bet it's going to be a powerful sucker.

Nachos & Banana Split

Gee, I really experiment a lot, don't I? Part of it is that my mum doesn't enjoy cooking, but also my little sis encourages me. She's always up for more food and takes a special interest in vegetarian/piscitarian meals (we don't have much variety in them otherwise). Also, I like to try and get healthier food into her diet, like vegetables or fibre.

You'd think someone who's mainly vegetarian would be eating lots of veggies, but you'd be wrong. My sis eats lots of pasta salad and frozen pierogies. On the slightly-veggied up side, she also has pizza and nachos. She actually really likes the kind of giant salads you get at A&P, though.

In order to get more veggies in her diet, I raided CostCo for some solutions earlier this year. They have 1-pound tubs of bruschetta, around CAD 8, and tubs of fresh salsa that are almost 1-litre (ain't Canadian measuring great...ly inconsistent!), around CAD 9.

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Another thing I incorporated into our household was pinto beans, though no one was a fan outside of my sis & I. I cooked them from dry in the slow cooker, no pre-soaking or anything, then froze them. One $2 bag of beans filled three 500g (~1 lb) tubs. I'm so keeping up with my beans in college.

And this is where the nachos come in. I also get the huge bags (these ones I measure in kilograms!) of Kirkland Organic Tortilla Chips. I like that they're organic, although the ultimate factor in choosing which tortilla chips to get was price/volume, I'll be honest. But they seem less salty and more robust than Tostitos, and I like them. My sister must too, because we always run out sooner than I expect. They're really big bags.

So we microwaved nachos last night. You know how I talk about things best done in the microwave? This is not one of them. But I didn't feel like getting out the toaster oven. We'll do it that way next time.

We laid out 2 layers of chips, pinto beans, salsa (1T), chilli powder (1t), and cheese (indiscriminate amounts). Then, we zapped it until the cheese melted. The beans were still a little frozen, so we just stuck it back in for another minute.

The next bout we tried had more salsa and wasn't as good because of that. For one, this one's too spicy for my sister (that's why there was only 1T the first time). Also, this isn't our regular kind. This was Peggy's Pico de Gallo, and we usually get Jack's Fresh Salsa. Or something. I like to imagine Costco trying to push starcrossed lovers Peggy & Jack into divorce over the bitter stress of the salsa biz.

The problem with this one is that it's hotter and a lot more sour/vinegary. Last time I added it to pasta, I had to add a spoonful of sugar to make the salsa go down. It's due to the jalapeño, I'm pretty sure. Whenever burrito places (at least in Canada) serve pico de gallo, they neglect that certain apparently-important ingredient. I have a love-hate relationship with jalapeños, and you can guess what side of the divide this falls on for me. My boyfriend loves jalapeños, though, so I think the lion's share of this batch of salsa will fall to him.

Since the nachos were so hot - and also because we bought 2 things of ice cream yesterday - I made a simple banana split for after. I didn't feel like going down to the deep freeze for the strawberry ice cream (our family's buying habits are such that when it rains, it pours), so I stuck with french vanilla.

Weird thing I find with me and dairy is that they taste better when they're in glass. Is that just me?

Anyway, I pulled apart the banana with my hands and lay each half at the bottom of the dessert dish, then I spooned the ice cream on top and squirted caramel syrup over it. Quickest assembly ever. No idea why places charge an arm & a leg for this.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

To America and Back Again (+ Rice & Beans, Breakfast Shepherd's Pie)

Back from the States! I was with people who wanted clothes and electronics, so I didn't always get all the time I wanted to look at housewares, but they were pretty patient with me dragging them to the opposite end of the store. Most of the relevant things I got were from the Dollar Tree. Here's what else I got for the household:
  • collapsible storage ottoman, damask pattern, from Bed, Bath & Beyond for $20
  • 24-pc set of Tupperware from Wal-mart, $10
  • 2-qt Crockpot from Wal-Mart, $10
  • hanging file storage from Target, $10
We had a fine time. Going to White Castle was a shock, though; I wouldn't have been able to imagine a burger at any size being that awful. The meat was only 1-2mm thick, the bun was porous and doughy, and the cheese wouldn't melt. Harold and Kumar lied! Then again, it felt like one would have to be high to be willing to ingest one of those things.

Other food experiences in the States were mainly pretzels. Overall, getting food out was well-priced, but I wish it had come with half the amount for a cheaper price. There was always more than I expected, and it was always too much for me to finish - and if my strange cooking has taught me anything, it's how to be a champ at finishing my food.

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I bought Wal-Mart's $3 wine to try (Oak Leaf White Zinfandel). Travelling with Europeans meant that no one else would drink it, so I valiantly made it through the whole bottle solo. It smelt kind of like rotting fruit, but fortunately I have allergies so it didn't hinder my experience. The prevailing taste was water, which I found pretty awesome for something with 12% alcohol. Wines often taste like petrol to me, so I have to be careful and pick sweet ones (hence getting the zin).

I've continued my food dabbling now that I'm back. Last night, I made rice and beans: Minute Rice made using beef broth, with pinto beans, onion and cooked frozen shrimp all in the bowl with it. I added chili flakes after. We used brown rice, so my parents didn't like it, but my sister and I did. My sis is vegetarianish (piscitarian, really), so eating it like that suited her fine, but I added a sausage to it, which added a lot of flavour.

After my field course in the Bahamas, I'm in love with rice and beans, but I can never make it properly even when I'm actually cooking. At least I have this sham version, which is still good. Maybe I'll have Caribbean next time I eat out.

This morning, I made a total mang of a breakfast shepherd's pie. There's really no good way to describe it, and it kind of looked like vomit. It was:  leftover potato, salsa, egg, cheese and bacon. I mashed the potato with a pat each of garlic butter and cream cheese. Then, I made my one mistake and added milk (too liquidy). I added the salsa, cracked the egg over top, covered it with plastic wrap and cooked it in the microwave. Then I added crumbled bacon and shredded cheese, burst the yolk, and stirred it all together for a glorious feed.

It tasted really good, though no one else in the house would try it. This was sort of a trial-run for college breakfasts. I've been planning a potato-salsa-egg-cheese mix (all the food groups!) that could mostly be done the night before. I'm big on breakfasts, if not mornings, and I like starting the day with a big meal more than finishing that way.

Four-and-a-half hours later and I'm still kind of full. Maybe I'll have one of those anti-engineered soups in our cupboard - you know, the ones where they have as few calories as possible? They're a bit silly, but I really like soup. Saw a neat recipe for Creamy Broccoli soup on Martha Stewart that uses oats as a thickener instead of cream. I like that idea, though I'd probably food-process the veg & oats before adding, rather than puree after.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Microwave Corn on the Cob, and Dollar Store Trip

I constantly delight in adding to my list of things that cook better in the microwave. It's pretty much just fruit & veg, but still. There's another category of things that cook more quickly and easily in the microwave, like eggs or frozen dumplings or puddings, but that's a story for another post.

Tonight, for my 'midnight meal' (I'm a night owl), I made corn-on-the-cob in the microwave. It's in season here in Ontario and selling 5 cobs for $2, which calculates to about 40c/cob. Cheap and delicious!

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I have to ask, though, am I that much of a plebe or is there really something wrong with our household's butter? It always tastes and smells sweet in a baking kind of way. My mum's sodium paranoia means that we don't have salted butter, so I'll get that variety in college and test. We take a long time to get around to using butter (Mum is also paranoid of fat or frying) in my house, so it may be that the quality has deteriorated? I may be too used to margarine at this point, although I'm wondering if I should switch back.

Maybe I'm strange, but there's so much variation in recipes for any given dish that I like to survey a lot of them and follow the most common methods, or average thereof. I guess it's ingrained on me from writing research papers for university to use multiple sources, LOL. I find the strangest school habits stay with you over the years.

Microwave Corn-on-the-Cob
1 cob of corn, husked; butter; pepper

  1. Wash the cob - some recipes suggested seasoning/buttering it at this point, will try that some time - and wrap it in wax paper and twist the ends like a candy wrapper. Set it on a dinner plate.
  2. Microwave (times given for 700W power) for 2 minutes. Watch out for steam when you open the microwave door!
  3. Rotate the corn and microwave another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Unwrap corn carefully, preferably with a utensil. Don't count on this paper if you like reusing stuff, it'll be soggy and tear easily.
  5. Cut thin slices of butter onto the plate you used for the corn (it should melt on its own).
  6. Affix pronged utensils on either side of the cob, roll on your buttery plate, and enjoy!
Cooking the corn within its husk is probably better; I just didn't have enough husk to work with, so I removed it and began afresh. Tasted like regular corn-on-the-cob in the end, which is to say scrumptious.

I just figured out this method of corn-buttering today, and I'm definitely a fan. My old, shameful method was rolling the corn directly in the butter. I'd cut the top off and dump it on my last cob... I can never eat just 1! I'd say this is an improvement, if not as satisfactory to that part of me that wants to chomp into massive turkey legs, lick fruit juices off my fingers, smell a barbecue sizzling, or spit out bones & seeds.

C'mon, everyone has that part of them, right? Well, they do in Asia at least, where molluscs and crustaceans are served within the shell. Ostensibly for flavour, but mainly because everyone has a hell of a time with all the cracking and sucking and wrenching. I 'fess up to being a little more fastidious than that, but that's just because I wasn't as skilled and am too lazy to deal with the seafood that way sometimes. Plus, I had a hard time finding things to clean my dirty, fishy-smelling hands with. Came across a pack of paper soap (like the Listerine tongue-papers, but hopefully more foamy) in Dollarama today that promises to be a Godsend.

[PTA: remember, sanitising your hands doesn't remove the dirt on them. You need to scrub that away with soap and warm water for at least 20s. Sing 'Happy Birthday' twice, or play a ringtone in your head.]

There were a lot of great finds in the dollar store. I would recommend going there as a first rather than last resort for a lot of household items. For example, I'd bought a nesting set of microwaveable glass bowls, plus lids, at a Chinese houseware shop for $6. I found it today at the dollar store for $2! Certain clothespins my mum bought at the aforementioned store were also at the dollar store. So much for our 'finds' from that 2h trip to Toronto.

I decided that I'd better wait until I'm in the apartment to see what I needed before going all-out on a dollar store spree, fun as they are. I was sad not to find another $1.25 iPod Touch case, since I wanted to stock up. Cooking-wise, I just got a silicon 6-muffin pan, the perfect size for my toaster oven. I'm considering some of the bakeware, too, but I'm anxious. Of all the things I don't want shattering on me, it's glass. Hot glass with hot food in it. One time at my grandmother's, we made a dish that ended up being known as "Exploding Chicken" because the casserole dish shattered when placed on the stovetop counter. Hence my possibly-abnormal trepidation. I think I'll stick with low-end stuff not meant to stand up to rigorous activity. That, and their grinders.

Also went to Bulk Barn and drooled at all the grains and spices they had. Most of the spices were around $1/100g. It seems like it would be pretty easy to get a nice collection of spices there. Grains were mostly around 45c-60c/100g... I may stick with rice, at half the price.

I'm going to the States this long weekend. I'm excited to see what wacky finds they have there... especially at their dollar stores.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rice with Sambal

Sambal is a chili-shrimp paste that is used in a lot of Malaysian dishes. It also has ginger, garlic, shallots (green onion to me), and tamarind (assam to me) in it, the last of which provides the nice sour taste that is prevalent in Malaysian cooking. I'm using a canned version that simply says "Singapore Sambal", so no idea if it's sambal oelek or what.

Rice is probably one of the best ingredients that can be part of bizarre rangeless experiments due to its absorption factor. Plus, living in a partly-Asian household, I always have leftover rice around ready to be rehydrated and abused. Some people say rice doesn't reheat well, at least not without steaming. I find as long as you don't reheat it naked - it needs liquid or covering of some sort - it's fine. In fact, some of my best discoveries came from reheating it with different fluids involved.

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I also like Minute Rice for this factor, as well as budget. A large box of Minute Rice only costs around $6, if that, but it provides many meals that are easy to prepare. I like to get the brown rice kind, since my rice cooker is very slow so regular brown rice takes way too long for me.

If I manage to keep up with my blog, I'll be rolling out a lot of my rice dishes.

It occurs to me that maybe I should do pictures, but that would inspire no one since my food tends to look like amorphous upchucked masses. If I take the plunge and get free picture messaging, I guess I can send pix from my cellphone. I don't take my camera to the table with me; I rarely even have a bra with me. Anyway.

This dish was inspired by the amazing Malaysian dish known as nasi lemak ('creamy/fatty rice'). I'm working my way up to that one - it involves coconut rice, dried anchovies, and sambal paste that doesn't come out of a can.

So here is my first so-called recipe, which is really more a description of what I did with leftovers using a numerical list.

Rice With Sambal (nasi sambal?)
4 oz diced tomatoes, 1-1.5c cooked rice, milk, 1-2T oil, 3T sambal, peanuts (to taste) and 1 egg

Rice:
1) unfroze leftover diced tomatoes and zapped it (~4min full power on 700W)
2) spooned leftover, already-cooked rice into the container, which was half-full, until it was full
3) covered container and heated for 2 minutes
4) stirred, poured in milk (skim) until the container was almost full
5) recovered and heated for 2 minutes

Meanwhile... sambal:
I followed the instructions on the can (ish) to let the sambal heat in oil, though I think I'd skip the oil next time. So during step 3-5 of the rice -
1) poured ~1-2T canola oil into bowl, heated for 2 minutes
2) added 3T sambal
3) heated for 2 minutes
At this point I tried to sample the sambal. I can still feel the scalded bit of my tongue.

Bringing it all together:
I scooped the container of rice mixture into the bowl with the sambal mixture and stirred it all up. It was still too liquidy, so I added more rice. Then, I added one of the typical nasi lemak ingredients, peanuts (mine were BBQ). I considered adding dry shrimp, but it was pretty tasty already. Other considerations were Chinese 5-Spice, coconut flakes (though that would've worked best at the beginning) or minced garlic.

Since everyone else in the house is kind of wary of my concoctions, there were leftovers. I cracked an egg over what was left, covered the bowl (except for one little vent) with plastic wrap, and cooked it in 30s intervals for 2mins in the microwave. Then I popped the yolk and mixed it up. Awesome.

Household verdict
Mum - refused to try
sister - good, but spicy (it wasn't really, but she's not so used to spiciness)
Dad - "Not bad."
me - I liked it. It wasn't nasi lemak, but I may be on a sambal kick for the next little while... I wonder how pasta will taste with it?

I *do* make weird food.

Well, here I am starting yet another attempt at blogging. This time, however, it will be a subject near and dear to my heart as opposed to rambling whines about my life (what? the two are different things, I swear):

FOOD EXPERIMENTATION

I should let it be known now that "mang" is a Newfoundland term for a weird food mixture, or at least it is when my mother refers to what I'm cooking at the time.

I make food in as lazy a way as possible; the less chopping, prep, or washing up there is, the better. This leads to a lot of cooking in the microwave, based on the cunning realisation that there is no pot to wash if you make your food directly in the bowl.

Any food purist or gourmand has fainted by now. What can I say? I eat and like food from Tim Hortons, Pizza Pizza and sometimes even McDonalds. If I didn't enjoy crappy food, which is what most of my life consists of, then my existence would be joyless. Also I wouldn't be such a tub.

I'm moving into residence in the fall, where I'll have a kitchenette with microwave and bring along my toaster oven and rice cooker. Also aiming for a food processor (told you I hate food prep) and slow cooker. Am taking this chance to experiment before I'm bogged down with school once more.

If it helps anyone's nausea, I did work at a caf part-time for a few years, so I do know food safety rules and try to follow them (this made it very hard to find food to eat in Taiwanese street markets). I'll probably do a post on it at some point.