Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cooking for Bachelors - Week Two

So after week one, you've learned the basics of cooking - stove and oven use, the joys of leftovers, and how best to do a few basic tasks. There's nothing too crazy on tap for this week, we're just going to expand your repertoire a bit, and try to burn down some of that budget deficit from the setup costs last week.

Also, one slight change I want to make. The grocery website I was using last week is brutally overpriced. I sort of knew that before(it's a Longo's brand, and they're not a cheap store), but I couldn't find better. But I went looking around a bit more, and I found much better options. As a result, I've switched to Walmart's "order online and pick up" service for my price checks. Last week's grocery bill fell from $79.11 to $55.17 as a result, and it's been edited accordingly. This is why shopping at cheap stores when you can is such a good idea - the savings can be huge. I'm not assuming that you will use the same specific stores I do - prices vary, and you should use whatever option makes sense for you. But if you have the choice between FancyCo and CheapCo, you'll often save far more than you would ever expect by shopping at CheapCo.

Milk - $4.27
Pancake Mix - $2.47 (Get the stuff that needs milk and eggs, not the "just add water" - it's not as good)
Table Syrup - $2.16 (You can get real maple syrup if you prefer, but I'm a bad Canadian who likes the fake stuff)
Chocolate Chips - $2.22
Boneless Pork Chops(x6) - $10.00
Boneless Ham - $10.00
Pineapple Rings(1 can) - $1.67
Minute Rice(large box) - $5.47
Large Freezer Bags - $3.97
Soy Sauce - $1.88
Vegetable Oil - $2.97 (Any sort of vegetable oil is fine - "vegetable", canola, sunflower, olive, etc. are all good)
Perogies - $1.78
Sour Cream - $1.97
Instant chili(1 can) - $2.97
Potatoes(10lb bag) - $3.97

Total for the groceries is $48.29, but we'll also need a bit more equipment.

Milk Pitcher - $2.27 (Non-Canadians can skip this one, because your milk isn't in bags)
Can opener - $5.37
Knife Set - $28.99
Cutting Boards - $13.99

With tax, that's an extra $57.20, for a total of $105.49. Again, we're over budget this week, but you can see how the savings on the grocery side will pay it off over time. Sadly, there's a lot of startup costs for having a serious kitchen, but we're definitely past the worst of it now.

A note about the knives - knives vary in quality more than you'd expect, and the cheap ones are more likely to break, dull, and/or get rusty over time. It's actually worth spending more than this on knives if you want to be cooking for quite a while, but a cheap set is enough to get you off the ground. The set I linked seems like the best of the cheap sets, but if you pick up cooing as a serious hobby, you may drop a couple hundred on top-notch knives down the line. 98% of what you need can be done with a large chef's knife, a small paring knife, and a serrated bread knife, plus steak knives to eat with. If you already have some steak knives kicking around, consider a set like this one instead - it's about the same price for a lot fewer knives, but they're better-quality, and those are the only knives you really need.

We're following the same basic plan as last week - do most of the cooking on the weekend, then eat mostly leftovers during the week. Because there's less need for simple recipes to show you the ropes, there's only 4 things to cook this week instead of 6.

Saturday lunch: Chicken strips and perogies. Cook up half a dozen chicken strips just like last week(parchment paper on cookie sheet, ~400F/205C for ~20 minutes), but also include about a pound of perogies on the same sheet. This is two meals worth. Serve the strips with BBQ sauce and the perogies with sour cream - just put a bit of each on a plate and dip, this is finger food. Save the other half as a leftover.

Also, while you're waiting for this to cook, you want to do a bit of prep for dinner. Open the can of pineapple, and pour the juice into a large freezer bag, then add roughly the same amount of soy sauce and perhaps half as much oil. Don't worry too much about exact proportions. Then put in the pork chops - try to spread them out so they're not stuck together, you want their surface to be in the liquid. If there's not enough room, split the stuff between two bags. Squeeze the bag(s) until almost all of the air is out, then seal them up and put them it in the fridge. This is marinating, and it helps make the meat more tender and flavourful - the liquid you use is called "marinade", rather confusingly. Also, put at least four of the pineapple rings in a tupperware container(so they don't dry out), and put them in the fridge too - the rest you can snack on. (Food safety note - if you spill some of the marinade while sealing the bag, treat it like raw meat - clean it up with soap and water, and wash your hands afterwards. The raw pork contaminates the liquid. and it's unsafe until you cook it)

Saturday Dinner: Pineapple Pork Chops. Take your chops out of the fridge, and put them in a large pan with about half the marinade. Dump the rest of the marinade down the sink. Put them on medium, and fry them for about ten minutes, flip them, and fry them for another ten. When you flip them, start your rice - you want to take a large glass(about two cups, ideally), fill it with water, and boil the water on high heat in a small pot. When the water hits a boil, fill the same cup with Minute Rice, pour it in the pot, turn off the heat, and cover the pot. About 5-10 minutes later, the rice should be dry and cooked. If they seem cooked from the outside, take the biggest one and cut it open - it should be cooked through fully, no pink left. If the biggest one is cooked through, they all are. Put about a third of the rice on your plate, plus two pork chops, and serve with BBQ sauce if it seems a bit boring.

Save two leftover pork chops, two leftover pineapple rings, plus half the rice in a Tupperware - that's the material for another similar meal. The two extra pork chops have another purpose you'll see tomorrow. Likewise, the rest of the rice is for a meal during the week

(Side note: You can use regular rice instead of Minute Rice. The instructions are almost identical, except you want two measures of water to one of rice instead of 1:1, and you should expect it to take 20-30 minutes to cook through. Because of the added time, you also want to leave the burner on low heat instead of turning it off entirely)

Saturday Dessert - Goddamn Dishes. The dishes from today's meals will be needed tomorrow, so give them a quick wash. There's only a few, so it should be fast. 

Sunday Breakfast: Chocolate Chip Pancakes. Spray a medium/large pan with cooking spray, and put it on medium heat. Follow the instructions on the box to make pancake batter - generally, it's a cup of mix, a cup of milk, an egg, and a splash of oil in a large bowl. Mix the batter thoroughly with a fork, then pour about half of it into your pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top. As with the omelette last week, wait until the top is dry(~5 minutes), then flip it. Give it another minute, then put it on a plate, and drizzle it generously with syrup. Save the leftover batter in the fridge for another day - it'll separate and look a bit gross when you pull it out, but re-mix it for a minute and it's fine.

Sunday Lunch: Pork Chop Sandwich. Those two leftover pork chops from dinner last night? There's a reason I didn't include pineapple there. It's time for the king of sandwiches. Take your pork chop, microwave it until it's hot, then add a slice of cheese and some BBQ sauce, and put it between slices of bread. It's a bit tough to chew cleanly through, but it's fantastic.

Sunday Dinner: Maple Ham with Roast Potatoes. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C, and place the ham in your parchment-lined baking pan. Drizzle maple syrup over it, and put a bit of water in the pan as well(perhaps half an inch deep).

While that's starting, take about 10 normal-sized potatoes(or equivalent), and wash them - scrub them with your hands briefly in a stream of warm water, and set them aside. Using your chef's knife(or a mid-size utility knife, if you have one), cut them into cubes about 1/2" to a side - generally, a single cut along the long axis, then set them flat side down on a cutting board, and cut in the other two directions. Exact size doesn't matter too much. Put the pieces on a parchment-lined cookie tray, give them a light coat of oil(either with cooking spray, or with a drizzle of vegetable oil plus some hand-mixing), then toss them in the oven with the ham. About 20 minutes later, re-drizzle the ham with maple syrup, and mix around the potatoes a bit to ensure they cook evenly. It should be ready about 20 minutes after that.

Knife Safety Note - A good knife is a sharp knife, and a sharp knife is one you can hurt yourself with. Keep your hands away from the blade and away from where the blade will be at all times, and never cut towards yourself. Remember that knives can sometimes move in slightly different directions than you expect, so keep a safety margin as well - if I can, I like to keep my hands at least an inch from the blade. Also, don't cut like you're in a samurai movie or any stupid shit like that. 

Like most other starchy foods, the potatoes will be ready when they're lightly browned. Ham is pre-cooked, so it just needs to be heated through - both should happen around the same time. The leftovers from this meal should be good for at least three full meals, and you may well have extra ham over and above that - if you do, cut it thin and use it for sandwiches in future. (In a couple weeks I'll be leaving gaps in the schedule for you to repeat your favourite recipes, so save it until then - it'll keep in the fridge)

Sunday Dessert - Goddamn Dishes. Yes, this is still necessary. Sorry. Just remember, any other person teaching you to cook would tell you to do dishes seven times a week, not twice. 

Meals for the Week: You should have 7 leftover meals - one of chicken strips and perogies, one pineapple pork chop dinner, one spare pork chop, one pancake, and three of ham and roast potatoes. Toss in your one fast food lunch and one restaurant dinner, and you're still a meal short. This is where the leftover rice from Saturday comes in. Open the can of chili. pour it on top of the rice in a bowl, and microwave until hot - the rice adds bulk and texture, plus it's a really cheap way to stretch your chili into a bigger meal. 

We were $210.70 over budget last week, and spent $105.49 this week, on a budget of $65. That leaves us $251.19 over budget. Again, I promise that will start dropping soon. On the time side, you spent 20 minutes shopping, 10 minutes on the chicken strips plus prep time, 15 minutes on the pork chops, 10 minutes on the pancakes, 20 minutes on the potatoes and ham, 20 minutes on dishes, and 20 minutes on prepping leftovers. That's 115 minutes, which is 15 minutes faster than fast food. (And on my word count promise, this is less than half the size of last week, so I was close there too)

Come back for Week 3, where I introduce you to the wonderful world of actually giving your food a bit of flavour.

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