Dinner for Three-Caprese Salad with Homemade Mozzarella

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Simply delightful

Well, it seems that I am still a completely unreliable blogger. Some things may never change. Since my last apology for not posting often enough, my wonderful boyfriend and my almost as wonderful best friend and cooking partner have gotten an apartment together. Which leads to the introduction of a new series here at Engineer Food, Dinner for Three, in which me and Larry and sometimes Will prepare a recipe (often from Bon Apetite or the NY Times) and tell you what we think. This being the first installment, however, I feel no need to stick to an established pattern. I’m funny like that.

This time I am going to tell you about a fantastic birthday present that Larry gave me:

Clearly, I was planning on being part of this documentation as evidenced by my wearing an over-sized t-shirt

That’s right folks, a very fancy, Williams-Sonoma cheese making kit. I meant to take pictures the whole way, but I was completely occupied with the whole making mozzarella thing. Sue me. While I was separating my curds and whey and slowly cooking in the microwave. Larry sliced up some tomatoes and bread and retrieved basil from the fridge.

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So damn pretty

Anyway, about 50 minutes after that horrific picture of me was taken, one gallon of whole pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized) milk was turned (with the careful addition of citric acid, rennet and some cheese salt)  into one pound of mozzarella cheese.

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Alright, the texture was a little off but it tasted right.

For Caprese Salad:

  • 2 Ripe Jersey Tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 Loaf of Bread, sliced
  • 1 Sprig of Basil
  • 1 lb Mozzarella Cheese (Making it at home optional)
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Difficulty Level-Extraordinarily Easy

Before eating, generously salt and pepper the tomato slices.

Cut each slice of bread in half, if they are significantly bigger than the tomatoes. On each half, place several small pieces of mozzarella, a tomato slice, some basil and drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Eat with a fork and knife or be a savage and just dig right on in. Enjoy with a light white whine (chilled Chardonnay pictured above).

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Legume Week Day 2-Bowties with White Beans and Carrots

Hello, and welcome to day two of my semi-annual Week on the Cheap! This year the ingredient is Legumes!

The Rules:

  1. Each meal must come in at under $3 a serving
  2. Each meal must be bean based
  3. Each meal must be healthy (This one is easier with beans than it was with Ramen.)

Today’s adventure is Bowties with White Beans and Carrots at $0.60 a serving. This is a fast recipe because I had all of an hour to get home from class, cook, eat and get back to class. At the same time, it would be a great lunch for kids because the beans give it a nice buttery texture and the carrots give it a nice sweetness.

For Bowties with White Beans and Carrots:

  • 1/2 Box of Farfarelle (Bowtie) Pasta-$0.88
  • 1 Carrot, peeled and diced-$0.15
  • 1 Can White Beans, drained-$0.75
  • 1 tbs Olive Oil, and a pinch each of garlic powder and salt-$0.2

Look at all those ingredients

Total cost for 3 Servings-$1.80

Difficulty Level-Junior High Student

Time required-20 minutes

Start boiling water for pasta. Put the white beans in a pot with some salt, olive oil and garlic powder and heat over medium heat. In a microwave safe container, nuke the carrot bits for 5 minutes or until tender. Add the carrots to the beans and allow to cook until the pasta is finished.

Eat quickly and run to class.

Tune in tomorrow for Day 3-(Almost) Vegan Chili

Legume Week Day 1-Lentil Barley Soup

So as some of you are aware, I am a college student. Finals week has just passed. This means, for those of you who don’t remember, that I have spent the entire last week eating at pizza and burger joints. because studying had left me with neither the time nor the energy to cook. That means that this week, I am a poor college student! That’s right kiddies, it’s my Week on the Cheap. Last semester I did Ramen Week. This time, it’s Legume Week!

For those of you who don’t remember, I have 3 rules:

  1. Each meal must come in at under $3 a serving
  2. Each meal must be bean based
  3. Each meal must be healthy (This one is easier with beans than it was with Ramen.)

My first foray (my warm-up, if you will) was a delicious and hearty Lentil Barley Soup coming in at a whomping $0.75 a serving.

Cheap and Satisfying

For Lentil Barley Soup:

1 cup Lentil Beans-$0.60

1 cup Barley-$0.50

1 (large) can Spiced Crushed Tomatoes-$1.79

2 Carrots-$0.30

1 Small Onion-$0.35

3 Celery Stalks-$0.20

3 Sodium-Free Beef Boullion Packets-$0.75

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder and Red Pepper Flakes-~$0.02

Get them

Total Cost for 6 Servings: $4.50

Difficulty Level-College Student

Time Required-60 minutes

In the heaviest pot you have, heat 2 tbs Olive Oil and as much of each of the spices as your little heart can bear over medium heat.

Now chop up those vegetables

Like so

By the time you finish chopping, those spices should be turning a nice golden brown. Throw them veggies in on top. While you are waiting for them to cook, boil some water for your barley.

This is a good time to read the barley package for cooking instructions

Go back to your veggies, are they soft yet? Awesome. Throw some canned tomatoes and about two cups of water all up in there.

Starting to look like some goddam soup

Let that come to a gentle simmer. Then add not one, not two but three whole beef boullion packets. and mix that shit in.

Oh the beefy goodness

Meanwhile, look: your water is boiling! Measure yourself a cup of barley, dump it in, cover it, turn it to low and go do something else for 20 minutes.

Back? Good.

Now measure yourself a cup of lentils and dump that in to the soup. Go ahead, don’t be shy, mix it in! Now go back to what you were doing for another 20 minutes.

Once you are drawn back by the tantalizing scents coming from your kitchen, throw the barley in the soup and suddenly:

deliciousness

Tune in tomorrow for Pasta with Canneloni Beans!

Roasted Red Peppers

Everyone has a list of things that they simply will not pay for. If roasted red peppers aren’t on your list then they should be. You can pay up to $10 for a bottle of them OR you can make them yourself for the cost of red peppers (~$1/lb around me). Your call.

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For Roasted Red Peppers:

  • 2-6 Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • 3 tbs Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place rinsed and dried peppers a hot, dry pan on high heat and cover. Turn every 5 minutes or so until peppers are evenly blackened (about 20 minutes). Place the peppers on an aluminum lined cookie sheet in the oven for one hour.

Do Laundry or some other productive thing (I watched Myth Busters).

Remove the peppers from the oven and place in a brown paper bag until they are cool enough to handle. This allows them to steam a little bit (yay residual heat). Once they have cooled, remove the skin by gently rolling the pepper between your hands and peeling it off (similar to a hard boiled egg).  Pull the pepper apart into strips and carefully remove any seeds. Put finished strips in a bowl with olive oil and garlic. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Will keep, refrigerated, indefinitely (I don’t actually know how long they keep because I usually eat them all right away).

 

Fried Hearts of Romaine and Broiled Brussels Sprouts

What do you know. Apparently posting three times in one week and having three tests in two leaves me with no time to cook and make new posts for you lovely people. I finally had time the other day to make a quick dinner of Hearts of Romaine fried in an olive oil mixture.  It was super simple and super delicious and, for those who need to eat on a budget, it comes in at around $0.70 a head (no pun intended).

You need:
One Romain Heart per person (Half if this is part of a larger meal)
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Onion Powder and Red Pepper Flakes to taste.

Slice the hearts in half hotdog style, so that you have two pieces, each with the heart at the bottom intact. Combine the oil (enough to coat all of the romaine) and seasonings in a bowl and mix thoroughly and brush the mixture evenly over all sides of the romaine and place face down in a medium sauce pan over medium to medium high heat, turning regularly, until leaves have wilted. Serve with bread to soak up the extra oil.
I wasn’t able to get a photo before my boyfriend decided he needed to try it…

I was also able to try a recipe that a friend of mine gave me ages ago for broiled Brussels Sprouts. To all of you nay-sayers out there, here me out.  Brussels sprouts can be delicious, you just need to cook them long enough that they stop tasting like sprouts.

To make Brussels Sprouts that don’t taste awful:
Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Slice the sprouts in half so that the stem is split. Lay them one layer thick in a cooking sheet, flat side up and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Put them in the oven for two hours or until they are tender and the hearts are easily pierced with a fork. Eat them hot and enjoy the crunchy goodness.
 
What is your favorite, slightly different way to cook a green thing? Leave me a comment!
Coming later this week: Itailan Style Gravy (Like Grandma Used to Make!)

Ramen Week Day One: Ramen with Spinach and Tomato Sauce

Whelp, it’s that time of the semester again. Midterms have forced me into a temporary hiatus from blogging. So, now I’m back, sick of engineering optimization, heat transfer theory, differential equations and applied motion. Time for cooking!
Unfortunately, eating out and ordering in while I was studying for all of my tests has cut a pretty deep gouge into my budget. You know what that means. It’s my semesterly Ramen Week! 
Yay?

 Here are the rules:

  1. Every day for one week, I must have at least one ramen based meal. 
  2. I refuse to use flavor packs 
  3. The meal must be healthy
  4. It must cost under $5.00 per serving
Today I made Ramen with Spinach and Tomato Sauce
My price list, for two lunches:
  • 1/2 Package of Spinach (The other half to be used for a salad for dinner): $1.25
  • 4 Chicken Tenders (From a package of 22 purchased for $7.26): $0.70
  • 1 Can of Chopped Tomatoes: $1.25
  • 2 Packages of Ramen: $0.36
Total: $4.26 for two meals (One for me and one for boyfriend)

First thing’s first. Put a pot on to boil for your ramen packets.

While you are waiting for that, steam your spinach by putting a large amount of it in a pan over medium heat and cover it tightly until the spinach is thoroughly wilted.

Actually yay. I love spinach.

Once that is achieved, put in to the pan a healthy dollop of olive oil and the can of tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, a touch of lemon juice and, if you are a fan of spicy, some red pepper flakes and sriracha (rooster) sauce.

Easy? Yes. Delicious? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Bring that to a boil and then bring it down to a simmer until the rest of the meal is complete. While that is happening and you are waiting for the ramen to cook, pull out another pan and throw in some chicken with olive oil. Once that and ramen are finished, throw everything in a bow and enjoy!

Pretty colors, shitty presentation.

Tomorrow: Ramen and Steak Stir Fry

Peanut Sauce for reddit

I put out an offer on reddit last week to create a blog post based on any requests that redditors had to offer. The first response was  from user nicksterluv:

What about a (cheap) peanut sauce? My favorite thing to order at the local Thai restaurant is a vegetable curry with peanut sauce, but I don’t get to eat it as often as I’d like since it’s expensive

Well, nicksterluv, your wish is my command.

Unfortunately, I had never before cooked anything even remotely Thai, so my next few days were spent in frantic searches for online recipes to get a general idea of what the hell goes into peanut sauce. Since the first order of business for this sauce was inexpensive, I was forced to immediately discard almost all of the websites I glanced at. (So much coconut milk!) In the end, I pretty much had to completely invent a recipe from scratch based on the two or three times in my life I have ever had peanut sauce. On the plus side, it gave me an excuse to go to a delightful little Thai hole-in-the-wall in the Village.

Ultimately, I tried to use only things that I had in my pantry. The full ingredient list ended up reading as follows:

  • peanut butter
  • ginger powder
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • cinnamon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil 
  • white wine vinegar

As it turned out, I had to buy the first three ingredients on that list, but, thanks to Shop Rite, I only spent about $8 on the whole lot and now have enough ginger and cumin to last me a good while.

To make the sauce, I created a double boiler set-up with two pots. (For those to whom that meant nothing: If you nest your ingredients pot inside a pot of just simmering water, you can heat the ingredients more evenly and keep the peanut butter from burning. This is also useful whenever a recipe calls for melted chocolate, which burns like a California wildlife preserve.)

Melt two hefty scoops of peanut butter in the upper pot and add just enough oil so that it could be considered whisk-able and then about two to three shots of vinegar (it was the only measure I had handy…). Then, tasting after each addition, drop in some cumin, garlic, ginger, pepper, salt and the slightest bit of cinnamon. How much of each you add will depend strongly on your personal preference and, honestly, I tweaked the amounts so much during the adding of them, that I have no idea how much of each I ended up putting in.

When it is seasoned to your satisfaction, pour immediately into a bowl and serve hot. I sauteed some chicken breasts and shrimp and set out some pita and humus.

So…if you are reading this from reddit, or even not from reddit, shoot me an email, pm, text, comment, reply or smoke signal about what you want me to cook next!