Hoisin Chicken

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hoisin Chicken

Hoisin Chicken

I think this might be my favorite recipe.

For Christmas a few years ago I gave my mom a little recipe box with some recipes I like and I think this turned out to be their favorite too, they eat it all the time. But my mom puts whatever meat and whatever vegetables she has around in it, so I’m not sure if it’s ever the same recipe twice, or if actually bears any resemblance to the original.

This recipe comes from a cute little cookbook called The Goodness of Garlic, which was part of a series — I also have The Goodness of Olive Oil; The Goodness of Beans, Peas, and Lentils; and The Goodness of Root Vegetables. I think my dad gave them to me for Christmas. They have short, simple recipes with nice little watercolor illustrations and are sweet little cookbooks. They’ve survived numerous cookbook cullings to remain on my main cookbook shelf.

Chicken with Garlic and Hoisin Sauce

4 chicken breasts, skinned and cubed
2 tsp sesame oil
3 fl oz/6 Tbsp peanut oil
1 Tbsp Shaohsing wine or dry sherry
salt and pepper
2 green chillies, washed
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 spring onions (scallions), washed
1 large carrot, peeled
1 stick of celery, washed
2fl oz/4 Tbsp hoisin sauce
3 oz cashew nuts

Combine the chicken in a bowl with the sesame oil and 2 Tbsp of the peanut oil, and half of the Shaohsing wine or sherry. Season, mix, and leave to marinate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the green chillies. Chop the garlic and slice the spring onions thickly, separating the green and white parts. Slice the carrots and celery thickly at an oblique angle.

Heat the remaining peanut oil in a wok or large, steep-sided pot, put in the green chillies, garlic , and white spring onions and stir. Then add the carrots and celery and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Then tip in the chicken. Stir it around for 2 minutes, then add the rest of the Shaohsing wine. Stir. Add the hoisin sauce and cashews and heat thoroughly. Sprinkle with the green spring onion and serve with plain boiled rice.

Now here are my comments…

This is sort of a big one. This recipe says to put the chicken in without cooking it separately. I think you can do this but it will take the chicken a lot longer than 2 minutes to cook and it’s hard to tell when it’s done. So instead, I usually do it like a regular stir-fry, where you cook the meat first, then add the cooked meat to the cooking vegetables. I actually think that’s what they meant.

I used to mix the hoisin in like the recipe says but hoisin is basically sugar and salt and I’m cutting back on sodium, so lately I’ve been adding it separately at the table afterwards so I can keep track of how much I use per serving. Either way will work.

I bought a bottle of Shaohsing wine at the Asian Grocery and had it for many years before recently deciding it was time to get a new one. It keeps pretty much indefinitely.

If I have peanut oil, I’ll use it, otherwise I use Canola oil or whatever I have around.

For the sesame oil, I use toasted sesame oil. Not sure if that’s what they meant or not.

Other than that, I stick to the basics. I often omit the scallions, and sometimes I forget the cashews but it’s always a sad day when I get home from the store without the cashews. I usually use a serrano chili for the pepper, I think any pepper would work fine. Generally I make it with two chicken breasts, saved from a whole chicken that I’ve cut up and I double the vegetables (two carrots and two sticks of celery). So I think my proportions of vegetables to meat are quite different from the original recipe.

I think this would also be good with shrimp or tofu.

I usually get three pretty good meals out of this recipe, plus one small meal. This is one that I like so much I tend to ration it, eat a lot the first night then split the leftovers up into smaller and smaller portions for subsequent meals to stretch it out.


Spring Cleaning

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

DIY Cleaners

DIY Cleaners

In this world, the passage of time brings increasing order. Order is the law of nature, the universal trend, the cosmic direction. If time is an arrow, that arrow points toward order….

In such a world, people with untidy houses lie in their beds and wait for the forces of nature to jostle the dust from their windowsills and straighten the shoes in their closets. People with untidy affairs may picnic while their calendars become organized, their appointments arranged, their accounts balanced. Lipsticks and brushes and letters may be tossed into purses with the satisfaction that they will sort themselves out automatically. Gardens need never be pruned, weeds never uprooted. Desks become neat by the end of the day. Clothes on the floor in the evening lie on chairs in the morning. Missing socks reappear.
–from Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

This is not my world.

I’ve been thinking lately about cleaning, and I was hoping to have something useful to say but alas I do not. But maybe I will eventually.

In the meantime, I do make my own cleaning products, and I occasionally teach a class on making cleaning products at The Scrap Exchange. The next one is this Thursday 4/22. If anyone is in the area and would like to come, please call the store at 682-2751 to register.

For those of you in other lands, I’ll give you the only recipe you really need.

It’s for an all-purpose spray cleaner, like Formula 409 or Fantastik or one of the $8 Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products. It’s great on kitchen counters, appliances, vinyl floors, walls, baseboards … pretty much everything. I’ve used it to clean mildew off of blinds that I thought was permanent, and it works great on the bike tire smudge marks that always end up on the wall behind the rack that holds my bikes.

My friend Cathy called me four times when she was cleaning her house after moving in to tell me how much she loved it. Last week I was talking about the upcoming class with a friend, and she said she and her sister bought the recipe cards I put together to sell at the Scrap, and when they’re out of cleaner, they get together to make more. She said, “It cleans better than anything I’ve ever used!”

It’s good stuff.

The recipe is from Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond. She writes at Care2.com and also has her own website.

All-Purpose Spray Cleaner

1 teaspoon washing soda
2 teaspoons borax
1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent
up to 1 teaspoon antiseptic essential oil (lavender, tea tree, clove, cinnamon, lemongrass, sweet orange, rose, birch, eucalyptus, thyme, rosemary)
2 cups hot water

Combine the ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to dissolve and blend the minerals.

You can get washing soda and borax in most large supermarkets. They’re in the laundry aisle, usually in the “laundry aids” section, with fabric softeners and things like that. Washing soda is sometimes harder to find than borax. They both usually run around $3 to $4 a box. The essential oils are optional but make it smell nice. I do not put in a teaspoon, I usually just use a few drops, usually lavender because it makes cleaning the house a lovely, soothing experience. For the liquid detergent, I use Ecover, which is what I use for my dishes. Any mild dishwashing detergent would work.

I calculated the cost at one point and I think it was less than 5 cents. If you really want to save money, stop worrying about food and start making your own cleaners.

Week Thirteen

Monday, April 19, 2010

Short, short, SHORT!

You don’t need my life story. Here’s Week Thirteen (4/12 to 4/18).

One shopping trip. Wednesday 4/14. To get stuff for Hoisin Chicken with Garlic, truly one of my favorite recipes ever.

If I were telling you my life story, I’d tell you about how the first time I made it was on New Year’s Eve, for my friend Christine who hates New Year’s as much as I do. (And this was when we were young and fresh, and had friends, and jobs and money and everything. People think it’s cause we’re old and bitter that we hate New Year’s but not true. We’ve always hated it.) I figured a recipe with eight cloves of garlic would be perfect for an anti-New Year’s party. And it was. And it was an epic evening.

But I’m not telling you my life story, just my grocery list.

I had chicken breasts in the freezer from the previously dismembered chicken, and scallions, carrots, celery, and hoisin sauce from prior purchases. (Scallions were from Break Week, for anyone who is going over this with a fine-tooth comb and doesn’t remember seeing that before — there were three left, and they looked mostly still edible. Hoisin sauce is like ketchup, it’s one of those things that is always there.)

Week Thirteen

Week Thirteen

So I bought some bulk cashews, a head of garlic, and a serrano pepper that was rung in initially as a jalapeno until I told them what it was and the cashier rang it in again.

Total $2.45.

I was busy with work and taxes so had another week of not-so-great food.

I had four meals of cereal (Bryant’s granola mixed with cornflakes — I decided winter-storm season was safely over and I could break into the cereal stash from January ) with milk accompanied by fruit: strawberries and/or apples and/or orange juice.

Three meals of Hoisin Chicken over white sushi rice. Recipe to come.

Two meals of leftover dip and tortilla chips, and then the rest of the chips went in the freezer. And I now remember why I pay more to get an eight-ounce bag of tortilla chips instead of a 16 ounce bag. One person should never have 16 ounces of tortilla chips in the house.

One meal of brown rice and a baked potato with cream cheese. (Thanks to the commenter who gave the tip about cream cheese in a potato, it was great!)

One meal of peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana.

One meal of pasta with olive oil and garlic, and a Sahlens hot dog, and green peas. (Yes, weird meal. It was late. That’s what I wanted. What can I say.)

One meal of fried eggs, cheese grits, sausage, english muffin, and fried apples.

Snacks: hard-boiled eggs, really really big bowl of popcorn, dried fruit, tortilla chips.

Desserts: Girl Scout cookies! And a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Milk and Cookies ice cream, which does not come out of the food budget as it is an entirely optional purchase. No apologies for that, I think everyone should consider their ice cream purchases the same way they consider renting movies or going out for beers. It’s entertainment, not food.

Is that the right number of meals? Oh, and some fabulous pollo tacos from the place at the corner of Club and Roxboro. Those are some good tacos.

That’s what I got. Take it or leave it.

Week Twelve

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Week Thirteen had tax day in the middle, and Week Twelve started with the culmination of Duke’s fabulously surreal National Championship run, followed by two days of wall-to-wall work and then another work episode and some volunteer work and Full Frame and a natural cleaners demo. All of which meant that the Week Twelve write-up did not happen in a timely fashion. So sorry. You get what you pay for.

So here, without further ado (adieu? hmm…), is Week Twelve (April 5 – 11)

I had been working on a project that I hoped to finish up over the weekend but didn’t. However I’d finally gotten to the point where I was close enough to being done that I figured if I could ignore everything else and just work on that, I could get through it and send it off. So that’s what happened Monday and Tuesday, I tried to ignore everything else — except basketball, which is not ignorable in April when Duke is still playing — and worked worked worked.

This also meant that I needed to eat what I had on hand, and the good news (for me at least, probably not so good for the blog) is that when I’m working working working, I’m generally not hungry. Or tired. I just work, nothing else is there.

So on Monday for breakfast I had oatmeal and an apple and a soft-boiled egg, and a piece of toast with peanut butter. For dinner, I pulled some canned salmon from the freezer and made a little salmon salad with celery and mayonnaise and onion. I had one (1) red potato from a weeks-ago purchase and decided to make a mini-potato salad, since I had everything I needed for that, celery and mayonnaise and eggs. So dinner was half a bagel toasted with salmon salad and some potato salad, and a devilled egg.

While moving things around in the fridge, I discovered a yogurt container with one serving of yogurt still in it. Who knew. So for dessert I had strawberries with yogurt. And some Easter candy.

Tuesday was work work lunch nap work work work. Lunch was more or less the same as Monday dinner: toasted bagel with salmon salad, potato salad, apple, Easter candy for dessert. Nap was fabulous. No second meal. Who needs food when you have Filemaker. Project sent 1:15am. Hooray.

Wednesday probably would have been another day of salmon salad however I discovered when I went into the kitchen on Wednesday that I had been so caught up in work work work on Tuesday that I failed to put it back in the fridge. I’m willing to break a lot of food safety rules in the name of not throwing things away, however even I will not eat a mayonnaise-based food item that has been sitting on a kitchen counter for 18 hours. So no more salmon salad.

For breakfast I had oatmeal, egg, strawberries, toast with peanut butter. Tried to get caught up on everything I didn’t do Monday and Tuesday, including a trip to the grocery store.

Week Twelve, part I

Week Twelve, part I

I was planning on making empanadas so picked up about half a pound of ground beef (80/20 Ln Grnd Chuc) and a jar of salsa (Fresh Tomatillo Sa). When I was almost home, remembered that I was supposed to get flour. Doh! So no empanadas for Wednesday.

I also got some fruit — strawberries (Berries Straw 1# P) , bananas, and a kiwifruit that was at my price point — along with some green beans to have with the empanadas.

I had a 4:30 phone meeting that got delayed and then I got caught up with other stuff and decided I needed to just finish the project I was supposed to have finished on Tuesday, that got pushed back because I didn’t finish the project that was supposed to be done on Monday until Tuesday. Sent Tuesday’s project off at about 11pm Wednesday and felt very happy. And suddenly very, very hungry.

So I made spaghetti with bread crumbs and also ate a Sahlens hot dog that my mom brought down when she came — which are really nothing like hot dogs you get other places, I don’t even want to call it a hot dog, they’re really good — and had some carrots with hummus while everything else was cooking.

Thursday tried to regroup.

Had the week’s standard breakfast — oatmeal, toast with peanut butter, and a little fruit salad with strawberries and a banana. Got dropped off at King’s after my 4pm tax meeting and picked up a five-pound bag of flour so I could make the previously deferred empanadas.

Week Twelve, part II

Week Twelve, part II

Walked home, made the empanada filling, started to make the dough and remembered that I was also out of baking powder. Doh! So a quick ride to Compare for some baking powder.

Week Twelve, part III

Week Twelve, part III

The empanadas were really good, though not hugely healthy — lots of flour and shortening. I can give the recipe if anyone wants it, it’s from More-with-Less. It’s definitely a loaves and fishes recipe, you get a lot from hardly anything.

Had those for dinner along with steamed green beans.

Then I procrastinated for a while and then talked on the phone and then finally got around to trying to deal with the other work things I’d been ignoring while doing the deadline things on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Due to a series of complications that you really don’t want to hear about, I ended up working very late, not even finishing everything, and then not sleeping well either, which seemed especially cruel. It seems like if you go to bed four or five hours later than you normally do, the least you can expect is to actually fall asleep.

But I did not, so I started Friday in the hole, and had to try to finish the things I should have finished on Thursday, before heading out to Mebane to help my friends at stone circles get ready for their fundraiser on Saturday.

I had a banana and some empanadas while working and then had a lovely afternoon in Mebane chopping vegetables. I also had a nice visit with the resident chickens, who I have to say really don’t look exploited at all. They look pretty darn happy to me. Vegans can say what they will, but I say we should all be so lucky to live like a chicken at the Stone House.

I brought home some eggs from the happy chickens, along with some extra lasagna noodles that didn’t fit in the lasagna that was being made for Saturday.

On my way home I realized that it was later than I thought, and my choice was to eat lasagna noodles for dinner, to stop and get something and eat on the way home, to not eat at all, or to skip my Full Frame film.

Skipping the film wasn’t an option. If I had had a normal week of eating — or even a sort of normal week of eating — I probably would have gone for the lasagna noodles or not eating. However I’d had a week of really not eating right at all, so by this time, I was hungry and decided not to pass up a golden opportunity for some junk food.

So I stopped at Wendy’s in Hillsborough and got a Frosty and a spicy chicken sandwich (which used to be called the Spicy Cajun Chicken Sandwich — I’m always fascinated when things change name like that, did not enough people know what Cajun meant? Did the Cajuns threaten to sue? Did someone complain that it wasn’t really Cajun?). It hit the spot.

Saturday resumed the downward slide.

I was not at all prepared for the demo I was doing at Chapel Hill’s Earth Action Day so I had to spend the morning getting things ready for that, and the thing I thought would take twenty minutes took an hour so I didn’t get out there until two o’clock and then ended up not eating anything while I was there and helping my friend Muriel with the recycling before helping pack up the Swap. So a long day with no food. Otherwise known as Intermittent Fasting.

I’d planned on having a leisurely morning and getting to Southern Village at about one and going to Weaver Street and getting a sandwich or something for lunch, so I was sort of in Weaver Street mode, and even though the lunch didn’t happen, I decided to stop on my way out and get something for dinner.

I was going to see the soccer movie at Central Park, which I’d been hearing about for about three years and was really excited to see, so didn’t have a lot of time but by now was very hungry.

Week Twelve, part IV

Week Twelve, part IV

This was sort of a classic instance of shopping when you’re hungry, which is never good.

I couldn’t decide exactly what I wanted and was going to get a sandwich or something to eat in the car but since I was actually going home I couldn’t talk myself into $5 for a sandwich or $3 to $5 for any of the prepared dips.

Instead I got some grapes (grape white seedless), and some crackers (Crackers Og Rosemary) and a Kind bar (Bar Fruit Nut Deli) and a sparkling lemonade (Sanpel Limonata) to have on the way home. But then my eye was caught by some bread reduced from $3.99 to $2.25 for quick sale. So I got a loaf of that (Reduced Multigrain) and some almond butter (almond butter freshl) (plus $0.25 for the container, Non-foods) to eat with the bread on the way home, instead of the crackers, which were rosemary and would not go well with the almond butter. And then I forgot about the Kind bar, so had grapes and bread with almond butter while I drove. Will save the Kind bar for future use.

For dinner I decided to have this nacho dip that I really love but don’t make very often because the start-up costs for it are huge, I have to buy everything and everything needed for it comes in a large size so it’s almost always $15+, which is normally more than I spend in a week, it just feels totally ridiculous. Also it’s all super high sodium, so it’s really been off the table lately, and not necessarily something I want to eat a bunch of days in a row. But whatever, that was what I wanted.

So I got a package of cheese (A & E Blocks Colby J), a can of spicy refried beans (Refrd Beans Og Pinto), a large bag of my favorite Nana’s Cocina tortilla chips (Nana Cocina Tort Chi), a jar of Green Mountain Gringo salsa (Gr MT Medium Salsa), two roma tomatoes (tomato roma), a jalapeno (pepper jalapeno), and a green pepper (pepper bell green). Total for those is $17.88 (!), and while it is enough for more than for one meal, unlike most of my meals, it’s not a meal I feel good about eating for three or four days in a row. So I really only make this for special occasions. Apparently one of which is when I’ve had a really long week with not very many good meals and I only have an hour to fix dinner and eat before I go out again.

So anyway, I went home and made the dip, which is basically chopped vegetables mixed with salsa, on top of refried beans, with shredded cheese over the top, heated in the oven until everything is hot and the cheese is melted. Eat with tortilla chips. Do not serve to anyone on a low-sodium diet.

(And, for the record, for my own personal accounting, I counted that receipt as $23.97 for food and $6.78 for outside meals, which has a separate budget. But I’ll leave everything together on the Expense Summary Page totals, which I finally updated, so as to not confuse people and make everything hopelessly complicated.)

Then I went and watched Pelada which I totally loved, especially the part where they showed pickup games all over the world being interrupted for things passing through the field — people and donkey carts and chickens — which totally reminded me of when I lived in DC and we played pickup in front of the Capitol and tour buses would let people off on the street in front of where we played and instead of walking around on the sidewalk to get to the building, they would just walk right through the middle of our field like the game wasn’t even going on. Hello? Just one more thing for us to hate the tourists for.

Sunday it was really time to regroup, as most of my deadline stuff was done and I had now been eating from the freezer and pantry for weeks and it was getting to be slim pickings. And I finally had a chance for a shopping trip that wasn’t in the middle of something else.

Week Twelve, part V

Week Twelve, part V

So this was pretty much straight staples reload trip: two bags of pasta (Spaghetti Pasta 16, Fusili Pasta), milk (Whole Milk 32oz) plus bottle deposit, fruit (Yellow Bananas CV, Apples Granny Smith), bulk popcorn (Organic Popcorn), dried fruit (Bulk Organic Pitte), whole wheat English muffins (English muffin whe), a potato (Russet Potatoes), and some seltzer water, which I wanted to mix with the orange juice I had in the freezer from a few weeks ago. I was feeling the need for some potassium to balance out the crazy sodium chips and dip.

When I got back from the store, I had the rest of the grapes from Saturday and a bowl of fresh granola from Bryant, and some strawberries. For a snack I had a very large bowl of popcorn and some seltzer and juice. For dinner I had bacon and scrambled eggs from the happy Stone House chickens and an English muffin with jam.

Overall I think this was probably my worst week in terms of healthy food, and definitely in terms of spending — I spent a total of $66.11, which is a lot! But most of that is making up for really limited purchases for nearly a month.

Also I feel like it was a short-term sacrifice, I felt like if I could just get some of the work out of the way I could try to get back on track again after that was done. And, as I said, once I get into work mode, that’s all I think about. It’s only when I’m done that I start to think about the fact that I haven’t slept or eaten or showered in days.

This was just a bad combination of a work-mode week coupled with other prior commitments — plus procrastination and technical difficulties. And Full Frame. And basketball! At least not all of it was bad.

And I’ll try to get the Week Thirteen report up quickly to get caught up again. But no promises. Life is hard these days.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

In college I lived in a house with six other people — seven people in a five-bedroom house, it was an adventure every day — and one of the reasons we managed to make it through the year with seven people in a five-bedroom house is because we all share a similar sense of humor. This has also allowed us to not talk to each other for weeks, months, years at a time and have no problems at all picking up where we left off when we do finally see each other again.

While we were living together, we spent a lot of time sitting around our kitchen doing more or less nothing and laughing really hard at things that didn’t sound funny at all when we tried to explain to other people what we were laughing about.

We’ve had fairly regular reunions over the past two decades, and one of the ones I remember most was in 1993 or 1994 when we got together in Raleigh in a house that two former housemates were living in together. (We’ve actually had a fair number of combinations of us in various cities living together again; never quite the same as when we were all seven of us together, but made reunions easier for a while.)

For that reunion, the weather wasn’t great, which was actually fine because we didn’t feel like doing anything anyway — we usually don’t — so we ended up hanging around the house and eating bad-for-you food (mmm, hamburger dip) and reading newspapers and magazines. When one of us came across something interesting or funny, we would read it out loud.

My friend Sarah was reading the Utne Reader and there was a little piece called The Jean Paul Sartre cookbook by Marty Smith, reprinted from the Portland, Oregon, alternative newspaper Free Agent, which I thought was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard.

It was an imagining of the diary of a young Jean Paul Sartre, “obsessed not with the void, but with food.”

I keep creating omelets, one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese.

It was so funny that I cut it out and saved it. It included a recipe for Tuna Casserole:

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely.

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

I was thinking today about how I was due to put up a recipe, but that I hadn’t actually cooked anything in quite a while, so I wasn’t sure what to put up, and I still need to finish work and finish tax stuff and everything is still kind of a mess. And it made me think of the Jean-Paul Sartre cookbook.

So no recipe, other than the above Being and Nothingness Tuna Casserole, and this, for your amusement.

October 25
I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.

Week Eleven

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I think I’ve said this before, but when some people get busy, they get take-out and eat junk food. When I get busy, I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and raisin bran. I actually think that’s not all that bad of an option, given the alternatives.

Other favorites when I’m busy are deviled eggs (well, any kind of eggs, really, but with deviled eggs you get a lot for the same amount of work as a few and they are so good), any kind of fruit, oatmeal (my new favorite breakfast), nuts, dried fruit, chickpeas (as hummus or just on their own), and good easy raw vegetables like carrots and grape tomatoes. I also like to cook up a bag of edamame in the pod — they taste good and they take a while to eat, so you feel like you’re eating more than you are.

Other good options (that I happened to have cut out are recently) include olives (not so cheap, but a good snack and a little goes a long way), preserved fish like smoked salmon and pickled herring, and cheese and crackers. Whole Foods used to have this smoked tofu that I liked a lot but they haven’t had it in a while. But I decided to restrict my sodium intake so all of those things went right out the window.

If you bring home a can or two of beans (black beans or refried beans), some cheese, some salsa, and some tortillas, you can have dinners for a week — beans and rice, beans and rice in a tortilla, quesadillas, scrambled eggs and black beans in a tortilla … the list goes on and on.

Basically when I’m busy, I’m even less inclined to try for variety than I am under normal circumstances. As long as I’m not hungry and don’t feel gross from eating gross processed food, that’s all I really care about. Every meal doesn’t have to be a party.

So I’ve been more or less in sustenance mode the past few weeks while trying to finish three or four projects that all seem to need to be done at the same time. About a month and a half ago. Eggs, peanut butter and jelly, cereal with milk, fruit and raw vegetables have been the order of the day.

In terms of my reporting, I’m skipping two weeks and starting fresh with last week, 3/29 to 4/4. (The week before that I was away, and the week before that, I had leftovers from my mom’s visit and three work-related meals, and then I left town, so there wasn’t much to report for that week anyway.)

My plan was to start back and have some good stuff but when I walked in to Whole Foods at 4pm on Monday 3/29 with all those people and all that food, I realized I didn’t have the energy for it and needed to stay low key until I actually finished getting through some things . Also I had some food left that I decided to try to use up: half a loaf of Arnold wheat bread, half a box of Kellogg’s raisin bran, some chickpeas, some cooked brown rice, most of a jar of salsa, and some sliced jalapenos. Also some thing that weren’t going to go bad and I knew I’d use, but that I’ll report on in the interest of full disclosure: most of a jar of Whole Foods crunchy peanut butter and half a bag of Midel ginger snaps. As if the Girl Scout cookies weren’t enough, I had to stop and pick up more cookies

For breakfast on Monday, I had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a bowl of oatmeal, and some raisins. Later that afternoon, I went to the store.

Week Eleven, part I

Week Eleven, part I

I picked up a quart of milk for the raisin bran (plus the bottle deposit, which I will get back), a bag of carrots because I couldn’t remember whether I had any or not (I did), bananas, a lemon to make the hummus and a cucumber to eat with it, a bag of mini pink lady apples, and a half gallon of orange juice, which was twice as much as I really wanted but I figured I could freeze half of it (I did).

When I got back from the store, I made hummus using the things I had on hand already (garlic, tahini, olive oil, chickpeas) plus the lemon I had bought. For dinner, I had that with some pita bread that had been in the freezer (thawed and heated in the toaster oven), and carrot sticks and an apple. Then I had a bowl of raisin bran with milk for dessert along with some cookies and some chocolate covered espresso beans.

Tuesday I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with banana and milk and ginger snaps for my first meal, and a mix-and-match dinner of rice with salsa, bagel with cream cheese, hummus with carrot sticks and an apple, and cole slaw I made from the cabbage in the fridge from a few weeks ago. Cabbages last forever. And you can’t go wrong with cole slaw. Then I had some cookies for dessert.

I decided I was likely to forget about the salsa and have it go bad, so I put it in the freezer along with the jalapenos. So those I’ll have for later.

Wednesday I continued with the theme of raisin bran with milk, a banana, and a glass of orange juice, but I think this was not a good first meal as I was starving about halfway through the day. Too much carbs, I think, and not enough fat and protein.

I had some cucumber and hummus while getting dinner ready, then had ham and bean soup with corn muffins with peanut butter on them (which I know seems like a bad combination with ham and bean soup, but I really like peanut butter on my leftover cornbread, what can I say) and cole slaw, and an apple, but I still felt hungry so I had a bowl of cereal with milk and then I totally od’ed on cookies. Many too many cookies. I’m blaming the bad breakfast.

In an effort to take control of the cookie situation, I put the ginger snaps into the freezer. The first box of thin mints are gone so I don’t have to worry about those any more, and I think I can resist the siren call of the peanut butter sandwich cookies. As long as I don’t start, I don’t think about them, it’s just hard to stop once I’ve started. And no more cereal and oj for breakfast, unless I have an egg or something along with it.

On Thursday I was out in the morning seeing a client, and I considered stopping at Cosmic on the way home so I could have a burrito and not have to worry about what I was going to eat later but I was really tired and wanted to take a nap and decided that if I went straight home, I could have a quick sandwich and still make it under the wire for nap time. So that’s what I did — pb&j and a banana and a glass of milk followed by a 4 hour nap where I dreamt that the project I’ve been working on was going to cost the client $4 million dollars so they stopped it. (This has not yet come to pass.)

On Friday, I worked in the yard for a few hours and then fixed some scrambled eggs and an English muffin with jam, and a smoothie made from a frozen banana (my last one), orange juice, and frozen cranberries. When I was done working, I wanted the burrito I had forgone on Thursday, so I walked to Cosmic for dinner, and stopped at Whole Foods on the way home.

Week Eleven, part II

Week Eleven, part II

I picked up some strawberries and some eggs, and when I got home, I had a nice bowl of strawberries for dessert.

On Saturday, I was helping a friend with her taxes, which gets me several free meals. This one was a Bloody Mary for starters (we’ve found that alcohol greatly improves the tax process) along with some artichoke dip, and then a very good tuna burger with not so good fries at Broad Street Cafe. I watched basketball when I came back from that, and ate jelly beans and easter candy, and never got hungry for dinner.

On Sunday, I had a nice Easter brunch of scrambled eggs with an English muffin, and a sausage patty, and a bowl of strawberries with milk. And more jelly beans and chocolate easter eggs. And I had had grand plans for a nice Easter dinner, lamb chops or something, but on Friday at Whole Foods I couldn’t decide what I wanted and then on Saturday I forgot all about it, and on Sunday, I ended up starting work right about when I should have been starting dinner, so I didn’t eat until late and at that point all I felt like was an apple and some oatmeal. So that’s what I had. Maybe one of these days I’ll get a good Easter dinner, but not this year. At least I had a good breakfast.

So that’s my week of cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I realize is not going to impress anyone who is looking to spend less on food — I can just hear the chorus of, “Sure, it may be cheap, but who wants to live like that?” now — but the alternative this week was not mixed baby greens with grilled salmon and dill sauce, but Doritos and Pop Tarts, as I had no energy at all to put toward food, and eating something I like and don’t have to think about at all was what I needed.

In theory, I will eventually be getting a handle on work, and will be able to cook myself a nice dinner, but I’m not exactly sure when that’s going to happen. The fact that it’s suddenly 90 degrees I think is also contributing to my lack of hunger. It’s just too hot. But I’ll get used to that eventually too. So hopefully there will be something more interesting to report soon. I the meantime you’ll just have to live with this.

American Chinese Cooking

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chinese Cook Books

Chinese Cook Books

I have some Asian cookbooks are more or less “authentic,” or try to be, at least — they don’t give recipes for chicken heads or suggest ants as a condiment (my friend Cathy was in China last year and was in a store that sold packages of dried ants, I told her she should have brought one back for me, I would have loved to see that) but they recommend specific Asian ingredients and things you probably need a specialty store for, black tree fungus and things like that.

But I also have some cookbooks that are older and don’t try at all, they just use basic American ingredients to make Chinese foods. I actually like these more, because they’re so much easier, and the food may or may not be quite as good, but it’s good enough.

I have two Sunset cookbooks from the late ’70s (though one of them says 16th printing 1997, so apparently the copy I have hasn’t been around as long as I thought), and I have no idea where I got them — probably my dad picked them up in a used book store and gave them to me — but they have some good Chinese food recipes that don’t require anything more exotic than soy sauce.

The Hot and Sour Shrimp I made for the little dinner party I had when my mom was in town came from the Sunset Chinese Cook Book and it’s one of my favorites.

I usually substitute green pepper for celery, because I don’t love celery and half the time I don’t manage to use it up before it goes bad, and I often don’t use the green onions because I can’t always talk myself into spending $1+ for something that seems to me to be completely optional. If I have something else I want to make with green onions or if they’re less than a dollar, I’ll go ahead and get them, otherwise I skip it.

But basically it’s a pretty straight-up stir fry and I think you could use pretty much any vegetables you want

Here’s the recipe, which, other than the aforementioned vegetable substitutions, I make as is:

Hot & Sour Shrimp

1 pound medium-size shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 Tablespoon dry sherry [or Chinese Shaoshing cooking wine]
Cooking Sauce (directions follow)
3 Tablespoons salad oil
3 cloves garlic
1-1/2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 large stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup sliced bamboo shoots
2 whole green onions, thinly sliced

Toss shrimp with sherry. Prepare cooking sauce and set aside.

Heat a wok or wide frying pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the oil. When oil begins to heat, add garlic, ginger, and red pepper. Stir once, add shrimp, and stir-fry until they turn pink (about 3 minutes). Remove from pan.

Heat the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons oil. Add celery and bamboo shoots and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir cooking sauce, then add to pan along with shrimp and green onion. Cook, stirring, until sauce bubbles and thickens.

Makes 3 or 4 servings.

Cooking sauce. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 5 teaspoons sugar, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch.

It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s good. It uses things I nearly always have around (everything other than the vegetables are things that I consider freezer/pantry staples) so I can buy celery or a green pepper and be good to go.

Can’t beat it.

[Oh, and I am aware of the myriad issues surrounding the eating of shrimp — farm raised vs. wild caught vs. imported vs. local — but I’ve given up trying to untangle them. I buy Whole Catch at Whole Foods and pretend that that’s okay even though I don’t know if it is. For those of you interested in staying on top of sustainability issues with regards to seafood, please check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.]