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.


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.

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
frozen peas
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.