Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Precooked chicken, the supermarket deli, and other veggies to steam

Well, I've been pretty busy this past week preparing to leave for the Labor Day weekend. Work, of course, has been busier because I need to do the same amount of work, I just need to get it done earlier. This, of course, has played havoc with my cooking. However here are some tips I try to follow:
- make a sandwich for dinner
- buy already cooked chicken and steam some veggies
- buy already cooked veggies to at a supermarket deli

Earlier I posted about steaming asparagus. Other good vegetables for steaming include green beans (~12+ min), sugar snap peas (~8min), and broccoli (~??min). All of these are very tasty. Good luck with eating healthy, and I'll try to post again while I am in Chicago.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Wag's $40 day dining around SB

So at the last minute I realized that it was the deadline for Becks & Posh's Be Rachael Ray for A Day: Dine & Dish #4. So here I am, so why not try to enter it. I was very disappointed in Rachael Ray's $40 a day in Santa Barbara. While I approved of her lunch choice, the other choices, especially dinner, were no good. So here we go:

D'Angelo Pastry and Bread. Every weekend morning I walk over to D'Angelo's to grab a ham and cheese croissant ($3 including a $.25 tip). Its one of the best ham and cheese croissants I've ever had. Its made with Gruyere cheese, sharp and nutty. Yum! Make sure you get there early, because these sell out quickly. Also good are the plain croissants, sour cherry danishes, and pretty much everything on thier sit down breakfast menu. While nibbling on my croissant on Saturday mornings, I make way over to the farmer's market 4 blocks away.

This is the only thing I agree with Rachel on. The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company at the end of Stearns Wharf is the best seafood deal in town. Delicious fresh food for reasonable prices. I get the fried Calamari, Oysters, and Shrimp ($7.75) and an Ice Tea ($1.50) for a total with tax and tip of $12. Mmmm, a heart attack in a basket, but its so yummy.

I happen to be out in Goleta and I stop by Anna's Bakery and pick up a double chocolate chip cookie. This is my daily dessert on workdays. Its $0.85, and has both chocolate and white chocolate chips.

I love sushi, basic good sushi. For dinner I choose Ichiban Sushi up on the Mesa back in Santa Barbara. This is a local favorite, off the main drag. They have a great dinner deal, the Sushi Combination which includes 7 pieces of nigiri sushi, a tuna roll, miso soup, and rice for $14.95. I like to stuff my face when eating sushi so I also get a spicy tuna hand roll for $3.50. With tax and tip it comes to a total of $24. I get off a little easy with the drink here since I prefer just water with sushi.

All told I spent $39.85, and ate well! Take that Rachel! When she did her Santa Barbara show, she went to a friend's (or friend of a friend's) place for dinner. I've eaten there, and it just isn't that good. Sorry. They have really excellent lime mints. That's the best thing I can think to say about them.

Asparagus- steamed

Along with my Jambalaya the other night, I cooked up some asparagus. I use to steam Asparagus in a pot that I bought for boiling pasta. Its a large stock pot with a big strainer insert and a smaller steaming insert. The strainer insert really does not work well for pasta. I find I have to put in a lot of water and that the pasta gets stuck in the strainer holes. But the pot was pretty good for steaming. I use either insert and place the asparagus into it. But now I've upgraded. For a long time I wanted to buy a bamboo steamer, but they were always just a little too expensive. Finally I went to a Chinese restaurant supply store and found what I wanted. But it turns out the models available in stores work just as well. I have a cheap old wok which the steamer basket fits nicely into.

Banboo Steamer @Amazon

Asparagus - steamed
1 bunch - asparagus

Prep and clean the asparagus but running in under cold water. Then grab the base of the stalk with your index and thumb of one hand and then grab with the other hand further up the stalk. Bend the stalk until it snaps at a natural place. If your asparagus is really thin you might not need to do this step. Instead just chop a little bit off of the base. Place the asparagus into your steamer. Place half an inch to an inch of water into the bottom of your steaming vessel. Turn you stove to medium heat and let it steam. Depending on this size of your asparagus and how done you like it, it should steam for 6-10 minutes. It should be a bright green color. Serve immediately. If its going to be some time before eating, you might consider running the asparagus under cold water or plunging it into an ice bath for a few seconds to stop the cooking and lock in the nice color. I usually eat all the asparagus I cook, but when I don't I store leftovers in a zip lock bag and use them to top salads, inside of wraps, or even on top of pizza.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bayou Magic

So not everything I will write about comes from scratch. In order to prepare good food in a short amount of time, it is always a good idea to know some short cuts. I grew up in Louisiana, and back home when we want to cook Jambalaya or other cajun foods at home, sometimes we would slave away making it from scratch, but often we would just used Bayou Magic mixes. They are really tasty. My favorite is Jambalaya, but I also enjoy Black Eyes Peas and the Red Beans, but really all of them are good. They are really simple to make, although they do require a little bit of time. Leftovers are easy to store and reheat.

Bayou Magic Store

Jambalaya(directions from back of pack):
chicken - I typically buy a 1.5lb pack of boneless skinless chicken breasts.
5 cups - water
1T - cajun seasoning

1 package - Bayou Magic Jambalaya Mix
1 can - cream of celery soup
1 can - french onion soup
1 small can - chopped/diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1lb - smoked sausage

Place the water, chicken, and cajun seasoning in a pot and boil for 15 minutes. While boiling, cut the sausage into small bite size pieces. Also open the cans. Remove the chicken from the water and set aside to cool. Add the remaining ingredients to the water and bring to a hard boil. Reduce to low and cover for 15 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. While the rice cooks, cut the chicken into small bite size pieces removing any skin, fat, and/or bones depending on the type of chicken used. After the 15 minutes, add the chicken and mix. Leave uncovered on low for 20 more minutes. Remove the bay leaves and serve. Cool leftovers and place into storage containers. To reheat, portion out a serving into a bowl and place a moist paper towel over it. Heat on high in the microwave for 3 to 3:30 minutes. You might want to stir at least once while heating.

- sometimes I use chicken thighs or a whole cut up chicken instead of just chicken breasts
- use different meats (crawfish tails, shrimp, game)
- use spicy sausage or andouille (cajun sausage)
- when adding the rice, soup, and sausage, add a good amount of hot sauce (I use about 1/2t of Dave's Insanity Sauce - this stuff is not for the weak - do not taste by itself)

Dave's Insanity Sauce @Amazon

Other notes:
- Jambalaya is excellent with cornbread
- I have a friend who would eat it on top of salad (which I usually serve it with)
- If I don't serve a salad, I usual serve asparagus with Jambalaya
- It really is a pain to find smoked beef sausage without a pork casing

I love my new Citrus Press

A friend who I play beach volleyball with has a lemon tree in her yard which produces too many lemons for her to use, so one day she came to the beach with three bags of lemons. I took two bags, about two dozen lemons, with the goal on making lemonade. I don't have a citrus reamer at home, but I've juiced lemons by hand before. The trick is to microwave them for 5 to 10 seconds. Then take the heel of your palm and press down on the lemon as you roll it back and forth. Then cut and half and squeeze. I found I needed about a dozen lemons to make 2 cups of lemon juice. It took forever! And afterward I was covered in lemon juice, although I did smell nice for a long time after. Needless to say after I did this two more times, I decided I needed a tool because I wasn't about to stop making tasty lemonade. So I considered many options:

- Citrus reamer: handheld device which you insert into the flesh and press out the juice. Also there is the other type which fits over a glass or measuring cup and you press the citrus down onto it.
- Manual citrus press: you see these at bars. Its like a giant nut cracker, except for citrus.
- Electric citrus press: you press the citrus down and the reamer spins, extracting the goodness.
- Highend manual press: the silver type where you place the citrus in, grab the metal handle and pull down

I decided to go for an electric model. The highend manual presses are just too expensive and I don't have room for one. And while a manual press or reamer has some appeal, for some reason this seemed like the perfect problem for the electric model to solve. After some research I settled on the Krups FSD3. It seems to have the best quality for the money. I almost bought it at Amazon, but I have a gift card from Williams Sonoma, so I bought it there for about the same price (it was on sale, and was cheaper in store than on the website, odd). So far I have really enjoyed it. I was able to get 3 cups of lemon juice and pulp from 10 lemons. And it took a fraction of the time.

Krups Citrus Press @Amazon

Lemonade syrup:
2 1/2 cups - lemon juice
2 cups - sugar
2 cups - boiling water

Boil water (electric kettle, stove kettle, microwave) and measure out 2 cups. In a medium bowl, poor water over sugar and stir until sugar melts. Allow mixture to cool. Add lemon juice and mix. Pour into storage container(s) and store until ready to use.

Lemonade syrup

Fill glass with ice. Pour lemonade syrup into cup. Add water and stir. Typically I add about 1/2 cup of the syrup and then top off the glass with water then mix. I use a small crush ice and a largish cup. Basically what I'm trying to say is you'll have to play with how much water to add till you get a good combination.

- Keep lemon juice and sugar syrup separate. Then you can control how sweet or sour your lemonade is in each glass.
- Use mixtures of sugar. I like to use at least 1/2 cup of raw sugar, it just added a nice taste. I have a friend which uses maple syrup to make her's. You could also use Splenda, honey, or any other sugar alternative.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Perfect oatmeal ready for you when you awake in the morning. I'll admit, I got the idea for this from Alton Brown's Good Eats. It really does work well, and is a little full proof. I use to not like oatmeal, then a friend cooked me steel cut oats. They are so much nicer, although it had been so long since I had rolled oats, I have no idea if I'm really correct, I just think I am. Alton Brown uses both milk and water, and adds dried fruit and nuts. However I really just like them plain. First you need a crock pot. I have one that I use to use about once a year. Now I use it about once a week. Second you need steel cut oats, also known as irish cut oats. You can find them either in a metal tin, or in the bulk section of your local grocery store (haven't really looks at Safeway, etc, but Whole Foods and such definitely have them). Plug in the crock put and turn it to low. Add one cup of steel cut oats and about 4 1/4 cups of water. I use a four cup pyrex measuring cup and just fill it up a little past 4 cups. Mix together so the oats are relatively distributed across the bottom of the pot and cover. Set a timer for 8 to 9 hours and then go to sleep. I know, its not good to leave kitchen appliances on over night, but that's what smoke detectors are for. Heh. I'm not too worried about it, its not boiling, no moving parts, just make sure its on a stable surface and nothing is touching it. In the morning, wake up, turn off, and unplug the crock pot. Sometimes if they look a little dry, I add up to 1/4 cup of water. Either way stir the oats, and cover again for 5ish minutes. This allows for any oats which have dried and stuck to the bottom edge to rehydrate. Take the spoon and scrape them into the oats (it just adds texture) and mix. Eat 1/4 of them, and let the rest cool partially and place into a plastic storage container and stick in the fridge. For leftovers, use a spoon to cut a 1/3 wedge of the oatmeal and place into a bowl. Microwave for 1:20 and enjoy. You might want to add a little water as it will be a little gummy, but I like it. Soak your crock pot while you are at work and clean it that evening.

Easy Oatmeal (4 servings; minimal prep; keeps well; easy to reheat)
1 cup - steel cut oats
4 1/4 cup - water

Place oats and water into a crock pot set on low. Cook for 8 to 9 hours. Unplug the crock pot and add a little more water if needed. Stir the oats and let them sit for another five minutes. Portion out 1/4 for breakfast, and place the remaining 3/4 into a storage container to cool and then refrigerate for up to 4 to 5 days. On following days place 1/3 of leftover oats into a bowl and microwave for ~1:20. They will probably hold thier wedge shape, so if you find this unappealing add a little water and stir.

- Add up to 1/2 cup of milk
- Add up to 2 cups of dried fruit, adding a little more water for the fruit

Monday, August 15, 2005

Farmers' Market

I really enjoy going to the farmers' market. Its what I do on Saturday mornings (plus there is a great bakery on my walk there). I am lucky to live in a place which features markets six days a week in various locations. Lately I've been buying at least five pounds of peaches and a pound of green beans a week. Also I will pick up, from time to time, potatoes, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, and basil. Farmers' markets really do provide the freshest and best quality produce, often pesticide free. Please find one in your area and support local farmers. But I will give my warnings. Always check your produce before you buy. I have found vendors who's green beans wilt after a few days, while others last for a week or longer in my fridge. Check your peaches and other fruit carefully, look for soft spots, especially near the stems. Don't buy too much, nothing is worse then spending a lot of money to watch it rot in the fridge. Buy what you think you can cook. Buy things that you are curious about. Buy things which will make you want to cook at home instead of grabbing fast food after work. Finally shop carefully. There are some items which are just overpriced. But as an example of good prices I offer the price of lemons. At a local grocery store they are charging 79 cents a lemon. I can get lemons at 6 for $1 at the local farmers' market. (Although there is a store on Mission st. in SF where you could get them for 10 for $1).

My farmers' markets (current and past):

A Start

Hi Everyone,
I've had this idea in the back of my head to write a cookbook for single people. The idea is to feature simple recipes that are easy to prepare, don't take long to cook, and make good leftovers or are easy to do in small portions. Also I'd like to feature a guide to what to stock your kitchen with, including basic ingredients, utensils, appliances, and pans. Finally I'd like to cover how to buy produce and how to prep food, but in a simple way. I really enjoy cooking but can get frustrated cooking just for myself. I have some recipes that I find really useful, and hope to develop and/or collect others. Please feel free to share comments, suggestions, and recipes.