Monday, January 25, 2010

My favorite cooking blog

So, just so y'all know, The Pioneer Woman Cooks is totally my favorite cooking blog. Her recipes are usually really easy, super delicious, and don't usually use crazy ingredients that you would never have on hand. Everything is extensively photo-illustrated, and recipes now come with handy printable versions. Personally I just bring my laptop into the kitchen, and leave it perched precariously on the coffee maker.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wonton Soup

If I do say so myself, I make a mean wonton soup. I don't make the wontons myself-- so much time and effort for a bowl of soup! But if you can find decent frozen wontons, homemade wonton soup is just a few minutes away.

chicken bouillon (I actually prefer Better Than Bouillon)
ground ginger
soy sauce (I use low salt, but whatever you like)

hot sauce, like my favorite, Sriracha
white pepper
sesame oil
green onions (optional but awesome)
noodles (optional but also awesome)

Boil your dumplings in cold water, following package directions. Scoop them out when they're done with a slotted spoon or tongs, and put then in a bowl. 
Add or subtract water from the pot according to how much broth you want. (i.e., how many people are eating, how hungry are you? etc).
Bring it back to a boil. Stir in some chicken bouillon, about two glugs of soy sauce, a little hot sauce (it goes a long way and you can always add more later!) You don't want the broth to turn red. Stir in pepper and ginger.
Add noodles and boil until they're done, if desired.

In a soup bowl, add 3-5 drops of sesame oil. It should be about the size of a nickel on the bottom of a flat bottomed bowl. Add the dumplings to the bowl, and pour broth and noodles over it. Garnish with green onions for maximum awesome.

Total cooking time: 10 minutes.

Molten Chocolate Cake

So, I made these last night. They really were fantastic. I cannot claim any credit for them at all, except that I followed the recipe. So here's the recipe!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beans part 1

Ah, the miracle fruit.

So easy to make, but pretty tricky to make delicious. But they're cheap, and they're easy, so they may as well enter your pantry. They also keep well, so you can keep them around for rainy days when you just can't bear to make a grocery run.

Some kinds require soaking, others do not. The bag will tell you. You can also buy beans by the can, which is moderately easier, a bunch quicker, and lot more expensive. You can get two servings of canned beans for the same price as a whole bag of dry beans, which will feed you a lot longer.

But a can of black beans and a package of Knorr's "Spanish Rice" and a little onion and garlic or salsa can make a quick one-pan meal...

In a saucepan, follow the package directions for the rice.
Chop up the onion, and whatever other veggies you have.
You can also brown some chicken if it's handy.
When the rice is almost done, throw in a can of black beans, and the veggies. Let it simmer until everything is warm, and the texture you like.
Throw it onto a plate. Garnish with salsa, or cheese, or both.

I usually find that this makes two meals for me, even without the chicken added. And total cost is somewhere around $3, even with the onion (and without meat).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Harness the power of steam

Steamed things can be quite delicious. Veggies steam quickly, and don't get as mushy and gross as they do when you boil them. Dumplings are meant to be steamed. Potatoes, I discovered today, also steam up really well. (A friend suggests steamed potato pieces mashed with coconut milk. Sounds awesome!)

You can get a metal steamer basket or a bamboo steamer really cheap. Then you set whatever it is (bamboo or metal) over a pot of boiling water. With a bamboo steamer, you set the wooden tower in already boiling water. You can even season the water for a nice aroma! You can do more than one food at a time, and even steam delicate things like fish. Line the basket with lettuce, cabbage, or other leafy greens. Or parchment paper, or a ceramic plate. Just leave room at the edges for the steam to get through.

A metal steamer is not quite as versatile, but it'll also do anything in small pieces-- veggies, or dumplings for instance. With the metal steamer, put it into cool water in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, and cover the saucepan with a lid, and voila, steam.

In both cases, you want the water to be below the food, even as it boils and bubbles. But you can't let your pot run out of water. That'll burn your bamboo or start your pot smoking (hehe) and that is not good for the taste of your food.

You can also get a basket insert for your rice cooker, if you have one, which does the exact same thing at the same time as it cooks your rice. (Or doesn't cook your rice, if you're not having rice. Just be sure to get the water hot before you start timing.)

Steam for as long as you like, but you can overcook with steam. Small veggies can take as little as 3 minutes. Here's one suggested table of cook times.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Spice Tip

When you're cooking something savory, you use the process to get spices to open up.

Many recipes ask you to start by sauteeing something (i.e. onions) or browning your meat. When you add and heat the oil/fat/butter in your pan, add some spices then. The heat helps them release their full flavor and aroma.

For example, when I make Italian meals, I almost always do the following:

1) heat olive oil in a skillet/frying pan
2) add crushed red pepper flakes, stir for 30 s
3) add onions, stir for ~1-2 minutes
4) add minced garlic, stir until onions are translucent (i.e., cooked)

You can use this same process with cumin, coriander, etc. It works best with ground spices (chili or curry powder, for example) or even cinnamon or nutmeg. Really, almost anything!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


As a graduate student, or otherwise on limited budget, you may have noticed that meat is pretty expensive. I've noticed that I have cut down on my meat-intake just based on this alone. (There is evidence that this is both good for your health and good for the environment. But don't get me wrong, I love my meat. I just love it less when I have to purchase it.)

White meats tend to be the cheapest-- chicken and pork. Because of swine flu or other fluctaions in food prices, pork seems to have been really cheap recently, so I've been eating a lot of pork.

Chicken is pretty reliable-- I like the ease of fresh or frozen chicken breasts. I can slice them or cook them whole, or butterfly them.

Beef is the most expensive-- except perhaps ground beef. One can only eat so much ground beef, but if you love beef then it's a good way to eat it on the cheap. Plenty of options there-- tacos, chili, meatballs...

Fish is best fresh; I've never had any luck with frozen fish. But fresh fish is tricky. So that's for another time.


Sometimes fancy recipes ask you to "deglaze" your pan. That sounds pretty complicated, but it isn't. Basically, to deglaze a pan, you pour cold liquid into your hot pan.
That's easy!
Why?  To make a sauce, or to otherwise catch all the flavorful stuff on the bottom of your pan.

You can use this in one of my favorite "whatever happens to be in the fridge" concoctions.

chicken breasts, or pork chops, or fish, or whatever
onion, minced
garlic, chopped. fresh is best but a jar works too.
spices like basil, thyme, marjoram, "Italian blend", etc
salt and pepper
red wine
chicken broth (or chicken bullion dissolved in hot water)
other veggies, if handy. For example, I use green pepper, chopped into 1" pieces.

1) heat olive oil or butter in a skillet
2) heat spices until "aromatic", i.e., until you can smell them. try not to burn them.
3) add onion, stir for a while (1-2 minutes)
4) add garlic, sautee until the onions are clear
5) add meat, and cook it until it's done (depends on the type of meat)
6) add about a glass of red wine. be careful-- it's best to add alcoholic liquids away from open flames or heat sources, so take it off the stove. But leave the stove on medium high.
The wine should boil fast; let it. Stir it, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to get all that good stuff on there, and stir it into the sauce. This is two fancy things: deglazing the pan, and making a reduction!
7) Let the wine cook down for a few minutes. Add chicken broth if you want a thinner sauce, or just more of it. Let it simmer together for a while. Add the other veggies if you want.
8) Let it cook until the sauce looks right, and tastes right. Serve with a starch-- rice, pasta, couscous, polenta, baked potatoes, whatever. Yum.

Time: ~30 minutes, if you have defrosted your meat.


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