Category Archives: Cooking Cheap

Quick and Easy Kimchi Fried Rice for New Moms

"New mom kimchi fried rice." Using precut frozen peas + carrots as veg. Also has some finely chopped onion (optional) as well as cabbage kimchi (not as optional). Less than 15 min to make if u have the rice ready in a rice cooker.

This kimchi fried rice is in no way “authentic.” I’m Korean, but I’m going to bet that there are non-Koreans who can cook more “authentic” fried rice than this particular recipe. But it’s just the way I make kimchi fried rice, especially now that I’ve a newborn. Also, it’s got vegetables in it. Pre-chopped frozen vegetables, so you don’t have to chop stuff up. Vegetables are important. If you can only get one meal a day together, it might as well have vegetables.

Before you start–spoon out some rice from rice cooker. It’s best if you use some cold cooked rice from the day previous, but if you can’t have that, take the rice out of the rice cooker and put it in a large bowl to let off some steam and cool off before you fire up the wok/frying pan. Take out quite a big spoonfuls–like, as much cooked rice you could hold in your hands and then some.

And then…here’s the recipe

INGREDIENTS (you will need a big wok or the biggest nonstick frying pan you’ve got–if it’s a deep frying pan, all the better):

  • Big heaping pile of cooled, cooked rice. 5-6 cups, cooked.
  • 2-4 tablespoons cooking oil (corn/canola is fine)
  • handful of chopped pancetta (optional)
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1 onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 package (about 1 lb) of frozen pre-chopped vegetables like peas + carrots. Or peas + carrots + corn. Whatever you like.
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • about a cup of cabbage kimchi + juice

DIRECTIONS:
Mix eggs. You don’t have to whip it up a lot. Just make sure the eggs are mixed.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in the frying pan/wok.

(If you want to get fancy, you can saute pre-chopped pancetta and use the oil from the pancetta to scramble the eggs and fry the rice–if so: fry pancetta, then set pancetta aside and use the pancetta fat to cook things. then add pancetta back at the end).

Scramble the eggs lightly (not all the way cooked, but mostly cooked). Put the mostly-cooked eggs in a small bowl (can be the same bowl in which you whisked them), set aside.

In the frying pan/wok, heat up the remaining oil. Put heat on high. Add onions (optional). Sauté until onions are softened and golden. Add package of frozen veg. Sauté until vegetables are softened.

Add rice to mixture in pan. Mix + Saute for about 5-10 minutes until rice is coated in oil and “sizzling.”

Add the lightly scrambled eggs. (If you’ve cooked pancetta, add the pancetta now). Make sure they get a bit “chopped up” with your wooden spoon or spoonula, or whatever you are using to move stuff around in the pan.

With the heat still up on high, add a splash of soy sauce. Drizzle some sesame oil for flavor.

Add the chopped kimchi + kimchi juice.

Enjoy.

(you an also serve with a lightly fried egg on top).

Quick and Easy Meal: Sriracha Sloppy Joes

Sriracha Sloppy joes

The idea of making sloppy joes intrigued me, because the last time I had sloppy joes, I was nibbling them off a lunch tray in the multipurpose room at school. At elementary school. And we never ate them. Or at least, I never did. And neither did my friends. They were gloppy and disgusting.

But you can’t judge a dish when you only know it in the context of the school cafeteria.

And I thought I’d give it another try as an adult, especially since I figured I could whip this up pretty quickly as a new mom. Now I know one of the rules is “no chopping,” but you could skip the onions if you hate them–or you can pick up a package of pre-chopped onions from trader joes. Or you can put your kid in a high chair for about 5 minutes while you chop the onions and put garlic through a garlic press. (Or if you were really desperate like me–yes you can reach for the garlic powder–because when you’ve got a small baby, you can’t sweat the little things like fresh garlic versus powder. You’ve gotta figure out how to make food and EAT).

I looked up a few sloppy joe recipes, with the intention of finding one that was simple and quick. And then I decided to give it an extra kick with not the more traditional tabasco, but Sriracha. It was tremendous. Hope you enjoy. Recipe after the jump!

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Cincinnati chili now added to our household rotation

cincinnati chili 3 way

This dish has walked through my viewfinder several times, in increasing frequency, such that I just had to try it out.

I first heard about Cincinnati chili when I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode about Cleveland, where one of his best buddies, Michael Ruhlman, a food writer and BIG Ohio Fan, resides. They went to Skyline chili and tucked into this dish: chili atop spaghetti (yes you heard right), topped with cheese and beans and other goodies. Judging by the way they gorged themselves on this dish, I figured, “Wow, that must taste good.”

Cincinnati chili can be presented 3-way (chili, beans, cheese), 4-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions), 5-way (chili, beans, cheese, onions, sour cream…) and beyond. Wowee. It seemed bizarre and good, like Frito Pies are bizarre and good. I shelved the images in my mind. Must try this someday.

Cue the Whole Foods Budget Recipe Challenge, where Rachel of Coconut and Lime‘s Cincinnati chili recipe was showcased as a finalist. There it was again! It was like being in the know–and boy did it look delicious. I bookmarked the page.

And most recently, I got an email from Cooks’ Illustrated highlighting a Cincinnati chili recipe. I watched the video and became entranced.

You know how they say it takes people three tries to like a food? I guess after running into Cincinnati chili three times, I just gotta make it.

My husband’s a big chili lover and he was excited about me making chili (I’ve never made homemade chili before so sue me!). I announced my intentions on making Cincinnati chili on Facebook and was met with mixed reviews. “Ugggh,” they said, “Cue the Jaws music.” Why? I asked. Does it taste bad?

“No,” my friend replied, “It’s just not chili. It has COCOA in it! And it doesn’t have beans in it!” After pushing them further they said, “It’s an acquired taste.” Hrmmm. “You either love it or hate it.”

Oh. Did I mention that the chili has cocoa powder in it? I was astonished but reassured that it was indeed an integral part of Cincinnati chili. (And really, chocolate can only make things yummier, right?).

Still, I forged on, hoping that we’d be in the love it camp. I had to keep telling my husband, “This is NOT your Texas chili! Don’t expect it to be CHILI!” I wanted him to be in the “love it” camp, and expectation-setting, I felt, was key in preparation.

There are variations on this recipe–Rachel of Coconut and Lime sautes her ground beef. I chose to boil my ground beef, following the America’s Test Kitchen/Cooks’ Illustrated recipe more closely. Rachel’s recipe included cloves. The Cooks’ Illustrated recipe didn’t include cloves. I like cloves. So I added cloves. I tasted as I went, and the following is the recipe I came up with.

The result? It was a hit. The hubby said it was like a really interesting spaghetti. I took it to work and offered it to a couple of Ohio natives, who gave it a thumbs up.

We’re in the “love it” camp. Thank you, Ruhlman and Rachel and America’s Test Kitchen. 🙂

Update: Recently, we tried the chili atop poached eggs. Delicious; and if you like yolks, the yolks combined very well with the chili. Great lower-carb option to putting the chili atop spaghetti.

cincinnati chili over marin sun farms poached eggs

Recipe follows after the jump…

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red beans and rice

homemade red beans and rice

I looooove red beans and rice. If offered, I never pass up a chance at a big bowl of long grained rice topped with the savory saucy spicy beans. And it’s not just red beans and rice–I just love beans and rice, period! I knew a guy who lived on welfare in Wyoming as a child–he described an entire year spent eating solely beans and rice. He did not remember it fondly for obvious reasons and hated beans and rice. That’s just about the only scenario in which I would UNDERSTAND hating beans and rice.

Given how much I love this dish, you’d think I would cook it at home regularly.

But nope. Get this: I have NEVER made beans and rice at home! Not even in the form of chili (and yes, I’ll tackle chili next). Seriously. And it’s just the best comfort food, and the most straightforward thing to make.

Of course now that we’ve made the vow eat in more often (avoiding that restaurant sodium), I couldn’t just bolt out the door to a restaurant for red beans and rice. It was clear: I had to make some at home.

And dudes–I can’t believe I waited this long. It is the BESTEST dish EVAR. We’re making this again. And again. And again. My husband wolfed down the first bowl and ran (RAN!) back to the pot for seconds. Moreover, he-who-hates-leftovers also took some red beans and rice with him to work for lunch. Seriously.

It took me back to the first time I had red beans and rice–sometime in college, cooked for me by a friend from the South (oh how I loved the dorms for bringing us all together in a delicious nexus), feeling the pleasant burn of cayenne in my mouth. I fell in love. I imagine for my husband, it took him back to his Louisiana childhood with muggy bayous and crawfish boils.

It takes awhile to make–the beans need to soak overnight (and even with the quick soak method, they still take a few hours to prep). But the process is straightforward: everything goes into a pot and then gets boiled and simmered over a few hours. Great on a slow day or evening. Not so great if you need dinner on the table in 30 minutes.

Recipe follows after the jump

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Stretching a Chicken: do chua and banh mi

banh mi

The economy’s faltering and my doctor just told me to lower my sodium intake–bleah. The two situations sum up to more home cooking: save money, avoid sodium. Very pragmatic. Hrm. Prag.mat.ic. Prac.tic.al. I met the decision with a sigh. No more chip snacks, no more ramen, no more going out to eat on a whim, and no more avoiding cooking dinner by going out to eat…! The point being that I can’t monitor my sodium intake if I eat out regularly.

I don’t know about you, but even though I LOVE to cook, I hate to do it when it becomes a mandate. And here I am, facing a mandate of eating in. I say bleah!

But having no choice in the matter, I decided to find a way to motivate myself. I could…make this a fun culinary adventure. I could…maybe…take a chicken and see how much I can stretch it over meals! Make it a “how to eat more cheaply in the new economy” project. Making this mandate into a challenge has made the experience a bit more fun. And I imagine it will expand my cooking repertoire (and increase the blog posts on Muffin Top to boost).

Earlier this week, I made chicken soup with a whole chicken. In my case, I made a North Korean chicken soup. But you could just as easily make a consomme, your family chicken soup or Jewish chicken soup (one of our household favorites). Whatever involves poaching a chicken. (Phase 1…and I guess you could also roast a chicken just as easily as Phase 1)

When you make the soup, just be sure to set aside some of the chicken to save for later. In the case of the North Korean chicken soup, I only shredded half the chicken, and set aside the other side (not shredded) for future meals.

Enjoy the soup! And eye the saved meat and dream of future meals.

My point here is that you can still eat gourmet and stretch that chicken. An organic whole chicken (3-5 pounds) from Rosie’s is about $14 (cheaper if you’re eating a Foster Farms chicken).

Phase 2–how to use that cooked chicken (whether it’s poached or roasted). You can put it on top of a salad..you can make it into a regular sandwich…but my point is that you can still eat adventurously with leftovers…

I was on the brink of making chicken enchiladas with the leftover chicken, but then I saw Tea’s post on do chua, and I became determined to make a banh mi at home.

Banh Mi is an extraordinarily delicious Vietnamese sandwich, made from spiced pork, or liverwurst or chicken. It is the ultimate fusion food (French-Vietnamese) blending the two culinary traditions: French bread and the concept of a sandwich and Vietnamese flavor and spices. But despite what filling you choose to eat (pork, chicken, liverwurst)…every sandwich has some jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and the awesome do chua.

Tea has a great post on do chua–and in short it is a sweet and vinegary pickled mixture that is the signature of banh mi sandwiches.

If you’ve already got chicken, the do chua is the only other thing you’ll have to prepare in order to make this sandwich. Carrot and daikon radish are very inexpensive ingredients and the other sandwich ingredients include cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and mayonaise. Oh, and the bread: a french bread.

I was excited about assembling the sandwich and I couldn’t BELIEVE HOW EASY IT COULD BE. WHO KNEW IT COULD BE SO EASY?! I mean, my banh mi did not beat the magnificence of a banh mi sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches in San Francisco (on Turk and Larkin–and btw, they price the sandwiches super cheap! Way cheaper than Subway $5 sandwiches–the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwiches hover at a cost of about $3.50/each) but I love that I can now make one at home.

Annnd…I found a way to stretch that chicken.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Lunchtime Crunchtime

 

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

There’s been this strange economizing thing that’s come over me in the past few weeks – since my return from London, I suspect. I actually have found that the mantra my mate Marie used, “Credit crunch – packed lunch!” seems to have gotten stuck into my conciousness and the result is that rather than popping out for something to eat at lunchtime, I’ve been scouring my cupboards in the morning.

Trying to discover what strange and odd bits and pieces I can cobble together into something resembling a meal has become a bit of a daily habit. This particular day, cold yet sunny, I’d just had my organic box delivery with persimmons but I’d not had the opportunity to do much else with the rest of the lot. Leftover heels of bread from my weekly bake (another credit-crunch-worthy endeavour – keeps better and tastes far superior to any regular old plastic bagged loaf) with a tin of bargain-priced sardines in a mustard sauce. Quick toast of the bread, remove the spines from the fish, a quick mash on toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and lunch is had.

Quick note on the sardines… I never NEVER in my life suspected that I might be one of those people who actually willingly eat these little guys. I’d hated the thought of eating them – to me they were simply a treat for the cat! Until I moved overseas and my friend showed me the error of my ways. Remove the spines if you must, as I do, and the texture is simply lovely. Light and without any of the suspected fishy smell or overtly sea-like undertones. Its actually quite mild, a bit like tuna in that respect. If you’re a lady, you may decide that crunching the bones is a good source of calcium but I cannot in any good conscience recommend it. Oh, and a good Gourmet magazine to read is always a welcome companion.