The Newbie Cook
- 19,839 forkfuls since 16.Oct.10
Making everything for the first time
Chris gets annoyed when I don’t update my blogs for weeks at a time. He checks them regularly and I suppose it cheers him up to see my thoughts on virtual paper and that I’m writing instead of harassing him. 🙂 Or perhaps he just appreciates reading my posts.
A few weeks ago, I cooked yellow long-neck squash and asparagus stewed in Thai shrimp paste (that recipe will follow). I remember that Chris was pretty bummed because he picked the squash too late and the other half of it ballooned and turned into a deep yellow. We didn’t know then that we were supposed to pick it before it ripens — when the fruit is long and slim — so one can eat the whole creamy vegetable without having to take out the seeds. Of course, he cheered up when I put the stew in front of him.
This time around, the squash was picked at the perfect time.
My only complaint about this dish is that I could not replicate that perfectly smooth, whipped cream consistency for the ricotta blend as shown in the ABC site even when I whisked the cheese to an inch of its life. Maybe they used KitchenAid? Also remember not to overload on the sausage. I only added them to provide more taste and a little protein for my skinny husband.
We had to replace the car’s bumper this week because, er, let’s just say that I murdered a concrete trash can in a convenience store’s parking lot. So this month will be quite lean for us. But cheap does NOT mean bad food. It means enjoying healthy meals at home for less than 10 dollars instead of spending 20-40 outside. The only exceptions are Date Night Fridays and Chris’ Wing-and-Beer Wednesdays. Here is a breakdown of what this meal cost us:
1 lb dried pasta linguine – $1
2 Italian sausage patties from Botto’s – $1.5
1 cup fresh ricotta – $2
1/2 cup grated parmesan – $1
1 yellow long-neck squash – free from the garden
sprigs of fresh mint – free from the garden
That’s five dollars and fifty cents for four servings, a dollar and a half per person for a meal that could cost $10-12 in a restaurant! This is why Steffi McScrooge made the effort of learning how to cook, ladies and gentlemen.
For some reason, I thought I already posted a teriyaki salmon recipe. And then I remembered that I haven’t even made one yet. Doh, Steffi.
The recipe is really very simple. I remember a baby back ribs recipe I found online that made use of commercially-produced barbecue sauce. Although some criticized the cook’s decision to not use homemade sauce, the poster firmly stressed that if the barbecue sauce is well made, then there shouldn’t be any reason to not use it. Which is exactly why I used store-bought teriyaki marinade.
We swear by World Harbors Maui Mountain Teriyaki marinade. C and I have used this for a lot of other dishes and it is really good with salmon. As for the salmon itself, I cooked it the same way I cooked the trout: by braising. I tried simply searing salmon and baking it in the past. But braising locks in the moisture and you can check it often to see if it’s cooked. It also takes a lot less time than baking.
Instead of picking up the usual large bell peppers, I got a bag of cute little ones in ShopRite. I like it so much more than the big ones. There are no or very little seeds and you can stuff it with all sorts of filling. In this case, I used mozzarella cheese as the peppers would only serve as a side dish to the already sizeable salmon. Velveeta is also an excellent alternative.
Served with our favorite merlot of the moment — Vendange — the meal was absolutely perfect. At least according to my husband. He’s being really nice; it’s our half-year wedding anniversary after all. 🙂
I feel really lazy today. I have had to deal with a lot of things regarding my immigration, current job, possible future jobs, and worrying about the previous subjects. And there’s also a husband who has a cold and demanded that he should be babied. My only kitchen activity will be opening a jar of 7-herb Ragu, tossing in a head of minced garlic, half of a chopped onion, a small knob of butter and a bacon and mushroom topping. And, of course, pasta. Some might say that it’s still considered cooking but it just feels wrong to take credit for spaghetti sauce that I didn’t make out of scratch.
However, I was more diligent last week. Aside from cooking up a storm almost every day of the week (even when we were in DC), I managed to try three completely new recipes. One is the dish which I’m just about to talk about as soon as I finish my small talk.
When I was in Singapore five years ago, I ate in kopitiams (food courts) almost everyday. I was particularly addicted to crispy fried noodles and I would order it often. Since then, I tried to find a similar dish in several Southeast Asian restaurants but nothing came close to the inexpensive but lovely noodles in Singapore’s kopitiams. So, I figured that I may as well try making it myself.
The first time I tried cooking crispy fried noodles a month ago ended in disaster — it was not edible at all. The result of this second experiment was not as wonderful as the Singaporean version but it is definitely edible. Who knew that crispy fried noodles would be such a pain to cook?
The noodles I’m familiar with were loosely cupped over a bowl. This one is more like a noodle cake that was browned on both sides. I’m not perfectly satisfied with it yet so I intend to tweak it until I get it right even if it takes 50 more tries.
In the meantime, here’s the recipe. It’s another version of my this pork and broccoli stir fry noodles I made a while back. Feel free to tweak it yourself. One thing’s for sure: saucy stir-fries taste so much better over a bed of crispy noodles than soft ones.
I will never forget Tita Edith’s potato soup. She brought some at work last year and I loved it so much that I ate a lot of it. I wanted to replicate the recipe but failed miserably the first time I tried. When C got sick, I thought it was about time to try making this comfort dish again.
One essential tool needed is an immersion blender to get that smooth perfect texture. But if you want a chunkier version of the soup, you can just use a regular masher.
This recipe is very versatile. You can add any vegetables you like. Most use celery but since C hates it, I chose broccoli and carrots. Any type of precooked meat (ham, cold cuts, etc.) can also be used.
The soup can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated. For some reason, it tasted even better the day after.
I think it’s disgraceful that the small pack of Chinese noodles (or what my mother would call pancit canton) cost me $3.50 in Shop Rite. That’s more than three to four times the cost of perfectly good noodles in the Philippines. *grumbles*
The local grocery also had a very limited supply of Asian food stuff. The only Pinoy thing there was adobo seasoning. I mean, who the hell uses powder seasoning for adobo when one could make a perfectly wonderful dish with perfectly ordinary ingredients. Maybe I can ask Danielle if there is a nearby Asian store that at least has bagoong or alamang to keep me satisfied for the next few years.
I was craving for noodles so I naturally visited my Asian food guru, Jaden from Steamy Kitchen. I didn’t have lots of the fancy stuff needed for the recipe so I had to improvise and make something that is edible. If I need to convert my husband to becoming an Asian food-lover then I need ammunition.
Thankfully, there were no leftovers. Yay!
Yes, I’m back. Again. So what happened? Relocating, wedding, honeymoons (yes that’s more than one), and adjusting to married life. We’re still working on the last one and I have a feeling we will continue to do so for the next 100 years.
Thankfully, living with Dad got me used to cooking for two people. Some cook for an army and are often stuck with copious amounts of leftovers. In my (not so humble) opinion, leftovers are okay only for one additional meal. No one wants to eat the same leftovers three or four times in a row.
This is a simple meal that is rich in both protein and vegetables so one can have a healthy serving of each plus a touch of dairy and good carbs.
My dear husband thinks that the eggs and veggies in the pan look like a face or titties. I agreed with the first and violently reacted to the second. Seriously. Titties. Men.
It’s not that I haven’t been eating since May. I just haven’t been posting since May. I will offer no excuse aside from pure laziness. (Which means I would be posting stuff as often as I can this week.)
Anyway, since I’m here, I thought I could start with something healthy.
I really like the chicken salad with honey mustard dressing I used to eat in Starbucks when I was in college. Sadly, I can’t find it in Starbucks where I live right now. So I just decided to make my own.
It’s simple enough. I cut and tossed a few vegetables, cooked chicken breast strips in a tiny bit of olive oil, blended the dressing and it was done.
And here’s the recipe. 😀
I like to think of these as “healthy” muffins. Sure there’s still flour, but it’s whole wheat flour. Sugar is discarded in lieu of natural honey. There are loads of grated carrot involved. The only thing I can think of that’s not healthy is the butter. If you’re a real health nut, maybe you can substitute the butter for olive or canola oil but I don’t know how good the muffins would taste.
I made two batches a couple of hours before work when I woke up too early and decided I was bored. I tried grating the carrots the pioneer way: by hand like a boss! Sadly, I gave up even before the first carrot was done. My fingers were scratched, the carrot wasn’t faring much better, and seeing the number of freshly peeled carrots that were still waiting to be grated discouraged me.
So I asked my (very sleepy) dad to set up the grinder for me. The Moulinex is about 20 years old, possibly older, and has seen and ground a lot of stuff over the years. The carrots were grated perfectly and efficiently in 5 minutes tops.
The muffins baked very quickly. I used the old gas oven in Apartment #1, which can be tricky if you’re not used to these types of ovens. I’ve learned not to time baked stuff. I just use my nose, eyes and a toothpick. Meaning, (1) if the smell permeates the kitchen, it’s probably done or close to it, (2) open the oven a bit to check the color, and (3) pierce a toothpick through the middle of the cake to check if the doughy bits would stick or if it would come out dry. Take them out of the oven before the edges turn brown.
I really like the subtle bite of cinnamon and garlic in these muffins. So did Tita E, Fatma, and my brother. Jiko probably ate one whole batch all by himself. Please don’t invite him to dinner parties unless you’re sure that you have prepared XXXL servings for him. 😛
Do you know what my favorite side dish is? No, it’s not mashed potatoes. Actually, I don’t really like mashed potatoes though I’d eat it if it was served. Just like okra.
Now where were we?
Just like the title suggests, my favorite side dish is spinach in garlic. This is a very simple, 4-ingredient side dish that my mother taught me years ago. Mashed potatoes pale under the might of the tasty spinach!
This side dish is originally made with kangkong, but here in KSA, kangkong costs 10 SR a bunch while spinach costs 1 SR. And I’m a smart shopper. Plus I figured emulating Popeye’s eating habits couldn’t hurt.
Just like me, mom prefers to slice the bunch of leaves into long, thin strips. But unlike me, she likes to smash the garlic until there is nothing left but garlic juice. Me, I like the texture. So I just chop my bulbs.
We held a (belated) bridal shower for my friend, Janis, in Apartment #2. I love our reunions! We always talk too fast because we try to cram months of news within a few hours. 🙂
We had a MAJOR food fest. Ina and Chie brought steamed crabs, hot wings and yummy pork. Jovett brought the drinks. And I made heart-shaped strawberry milk cakes and a generous amount of the squash pasta pictured here.
We had a blast!
One of the many things I love about my friends is that we love eating. We set aside our diets during our get-togethers and just enjoy the company and the food. We never have “diet Cokes only” occasions!
The pasta also served as a pretty good brunch the next day. *licks lips* It can be a good side dish, part of a multi-course meal or can be eaten alone as a light lunch or dinner.