Sunday, May 07, 2006

Too busy for a real post.

So I shall share my latest grocery purchases from Trader Joe's.

Persian cucumbers.......................... 1.59
Columbus pastrami......................... 3.99
Quart of 2% Milk.............................. 0.89
12 oz. Apple-Carrot Juice................ 1.59
1 lb Strawberries.............................. 1.69
Plain Greek Style Yogurt................. 1.99
Milton's Whole Grain Bread............. 2.89
Grated Parmesan.............................. 2.89
Alfalfa sprouts.................................... 0.79
Lancaster sweet onions..................... 1.29
Total Damage.................................. 19.64

The plans:
  • a simple pasta with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flake, and parmesan
  • tzatziki sauce for consumption with pan-roasted chicken thighs
  • vegetarian sandwich of tomato-flavored hummus with cucumbers & alfalfa sprouts
  • gratin of russet potatos and sweet onions
  • monster pastrami sandwich with tons of mustard

Friday, April 07, 2006

Comfort food, Khmer style.

It has been a tough month so far, in terms of emotions and money.

Thus, we find a place for rice porridge. Not the seasoned congee, loaded with bits of chicken and garlic and onion, but just rice boiled in a lot of water until pleasantly mushy, and ultimately comforting.

I've been poor, lazy, and busy, so I found myself eating the porridge with just pepper and soy sauce this morning. It's a bit pathetic, so here is the plan:

Comfort food, slightly more sexy-fied.

- Boil chicken thighs in chicken stock (from the many quarts I'm sure are in the freezer, anticipating)
- Mince about half a head of garlic and fry in oil until golden brown (drain the oil off, use for sauteing fish!)
- Add a touch of both soy sauce & fish sauce to the broth to taste, and salt/pepper if you don't go for the fish-ness
- Chop a bit of cilantro, slice some lime, slice scallions
- Cook vermicelli rice noodles (the traditional) or flat egg noodles in boiling water and drain
- Ladle broth and chicken onto noodles, add a spoonful of fried garlic, and sprinkle with cilantro, lime, and scallions

Simple and satisfying.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The pleasure of whole chickens.

Whole Foster Farms Young Chickens went on sale this past week at Stater Bros. markets all over Orange County and like any smart home chef, I pounced on those 67-cents-per-pound little beauties like they were filet mignon, all the while gleefully celebrating the addition their bones would make to my "stock bits" collection in the freezer.

Let me tell you, there is little more a gal like me can ask for than to come home with two 3-ish pound chickens for under 6 dollars.

The only thing to decide was what exactly to do with the chickens. I want to attempt Alton Brown's recipe for pan-fried chicken in vegetable shortening, but the thought of soaking chicken in all those transfats is a bit unsettling. This past quarter I took a class called "Biology and Chemistry of Cooking" that is largely based on Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking (The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), which goes into fabulous detail about food that most people don't care to know and which tickles me to no end.

A note on transfats - they happen during hydrogenation, which is what manufacturers do to veg oil to make it solid at room temperature. The hydrogen overdose changes the structure of the fats into a form that takes exponentially longer for the body to break down-- thus, margarine heart attacks.

I ended up boiling one of the chickens (after cutting it apart) with a large onion, some garlic cloves, a single bay leaf, and some whole peppercorns. I didn't add much else because I just wanted to cook the chicken through without any overpowering flavors so that I could use it for wraps and ramen additions during the week. I fished out the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks, took the bones out and added them to carcass remaining in the pot, and continued to simmer it for a few more hours while I watched Mr. & Mrs Smith with the girlfriend. I only made maybe a quart or so of "stock-ish" liquid, so it was easy to chill it down-- I just poured it through a strainer into a small pot nestled into a larger, wider pot filled with water and ice packs.

In the morning, I removed the lovely layer of shmaltz (chickeny fatty goodness) and wrapped that in foil, then stored it in the freezer for making cream of chicken soup among other goodies.

Since I don't think the broth has quite enough flavor yet, I'm going to boil the other chicken in it, too, this time with carrots, celery, more garlic cloves, a stalk of fennel, and the other bits of chicken carcass I've been saving for stock-making (as well as a bit more water of course).

This stock-making is an exciting business!

While the stock was bubbling, I was preparing orzo with roasted red onions and tomato and filets of salmon with garlic chunks, but that shall have to wait for the next post.

In the meanwhile, go buy some whole chickens!

Friday, March 31, 2006

First encounter with Gelson's.

I made my first trek to Gelson's Market today in search of anchovy and tomato paste in tubes. It's a bit out of the way but the grocery stores within a two-mile radius of my apartment don't seem to experience enough demand for the products to warrant stocking them. ::shrug::

Upon entering the store, I was overwhelmed by the immaculate configuration of everything, from the fruit to the cans and bags lining every aisle, and by how brightly lit the store was. I'm accustomed to going to ethnic grocery stores where most everything is virtually flung into bins and the lighting is either harsh flourescent or dim energy-saving. I walked the aisles for a few minutes just admiring all the products and mentally comparing the prices with my usual grocery haunts (Trader Joe's, Albertson's, Asian markets). The produce was absolutely beautiful and most weren't more expensive than TJ's or Albertson's, and while they were much more expensive than what I would find at an ethnic market, much of it looked far fresher. I eyed the perfect green onions enviously-- then I thought of the green shoots I've seen sprouting from the cuttings I planted only a week ago and my envy cooled.

Anyway, I managed to find both tubed tomato paste, anchovy paste, and unsweetened Ghiradelli cocao at Gelson's, which means I will probably take a leisurely stroll down the aisles again very soon.

The damage:

Reese anchovy fillets (2 oz tin) ______________________ 1.59
Valabon Double Concetrate Tomato Paste (5 oz tube)____ 2.99
Giovannie Anchovy Paste (2 oz tube) _________________ 1.79
Ghiradelli Unsweetened Cocao ( 10 oz canister) _________4.99
__________________________________________Total: $ 11.36

Looks like I can allow myself to buy goodies for the girlfriend's birthday dinner and not much else for a while. My finances are in a most dire state as of late. Ah well, the pantry is well-stocked with pasta and rice, the freezer is full of frozen and portioned chicken legs, frozen veg (and some butternut squash gnocchi I made last weekend), and I've miso paste, thai red curry paste, and Khmer fermented lime in the refrigerator.

I'll live (and eat).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Roasted garlic soup.

Whenever I bake anything in the oven, I cut the top off of a head or two of garlic, shmear it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, wrap it in foil, and toss it in to get all caramelized and lovely. I keep them wrapped in the foil in the fridge for use in anything from a salad dressing to serving popped out of their skins next to roast chicken to just spreading onto toast.

I was at work trying to figure out what to do with all the two heads of roasted garlic that have been waiting to be used for 4 days. Well all the chicken I have is frozen at the moment and I am ashamed to admit that I have no bread for toasting-- to make matters worse, I've already used up all of my grocery budget for the next week. Hence, my pantry to the rescue! While I don't have any roasted meat or even a humble loaf of bread, I do, however, have onions, potatoes, dried thyme, chicken broth, white wine (cheap), butter, and milk-- the makings of a creamy soup starring my roasted garlic!

I sneaked in some finely chopped carrots into the onions when I started the soup, the reasons being twofold: 1) I have way too many soon-to-be-dry-and-useless carrots left in my refrigerator, and 2) I wanted to trick my carrot-phobic girlfriend into ingesting just a little vitamin A and betakeratene. It worked as I think she was too distracted by the garlicky soup to notice the bits of orange carrot still floating in it even after a couple of rounds in my blender.

My blender sucks. My soup was perfect until I had the genius idea of adding two cloves of fresh garlic to the blender-- it made the flavor way too sharp and so overwhelming that even my garlic-addict girlfriend was put off by it.

Lesson of my adventure in roasted-garlic-potato soup: know when to stop!

Thursday, March 23, 2006


I have been blogging online for years, but this is my first blog to have a concrete purpose other simply the expression of my innate (I think human) self-absorption.

Instead, this blog is about my absorption with grocery shopping, food, and cooking. I knew that I needed some sort of outlet for my food musings when I caught myself pondering recipes that I could whip up from my well-stocked-for-a-college-student pantry and filling my personal blog with recipes. Since moving out of my parents' home into an apartment with friends, I've discovered a great fondness for cooking... well, after my initial months of eating out-of-the-box pasta dinners and baking brownies from the box, anyway. There were the usual beginning-cook mishaps of over-seasoning, under-seasoning, over-cooking, under-cooking, and simple ineptitude, but with the help of my (and my faithful roommates' and friends') willingness to be guinea pigs, I've acquired some of the basic skills and techniques for cooking and am thirsty to learn more.

I must live on a budget, and at this point I am ready to go beyond the dry pasta with garlic and parmesan, the home-made tomato sauce, and the roast chicken. I am making slow excursions into the realm of foods that I've not yet been brave enough or had enough time to attempt to make. I like learning how to make things from scratch that people would usually only get from a jar or order in a restaurant. I also like making things that are edible--
these are sometimes mutually exclusive when put in my hands.

I love perusing the aisles of different markets looking for good deals and looking for inspiration for things to cook in the ingredients I find on the cheap. And actually, I must admit that just walking the aisles of a grocery store tends to make me pretty happy-- hence the blog's title.

And here I am.