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Monday, November 29, 2010

Cheap Add-Ons - #2

Sometimes I get a hankering for dill pickle. I guess it's a taste you have to appreciate. I don't understand how you can't enjoy that biting, sour tone - it makes me pucker up and hum in happiness. Or maybe it's just me.

Dill pickles pack a punch for the price. Add them to a salad or sandwich for an extra zing and crunch, and cut back on the croutons and chips (carbs and calories!). The tang of the pickle plays off nicely against the slight sweetness of mayo (light!). Am I the only one who enjoys the combination of sweet and sour together? The Chinese food industry certainly profits off of it.

The best part about the dill pickles, if the nutrition label is to believed, is that it's 0 calories. All that flavor and no calories sounds like an amazing deal to me. The only number that isn't 0 is the amount of sodium, which is to be expected as it is a pickle.

Photo Credits

There's no space to post a disclaimer, so here it is:

All images, unless otherwise marked/indicated/labeled/indicated, are taken by and the property of Simi/simtara/ (previously substitutecooking). These images are not "free to use" without permission, regardless of whether or not they are marked with a copyright on the image itself. Please respect the information and work posted on this blog.

Nothing like fresh food

I've become a recent fan of farmers markets. I wasn't really sure of what to expect, but recent experience turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.

The local farmers market brings in farmers and home-gardeners a central place. It was stall after stall of fresh, organic, cheap vegetables. A piece of culinary heaven. Everything was ripe and ready to use and boy did I want to use everything there.

Sadly, with winter settling in the season for this particular farmers market has come to an end. Luckily for me, there's a fresh foods store in the same vicinity. It operates like a farmers market (same fresh, organic veggies) with a little upgrade in the pricing since they provide things that are out of season as well.

My kitchen is limited to an electric skillet and a microwave or I'd be all over the ready-to-eat ingredients.

I really recommend doing your grocery shopping at farmers markets. You're guaranteed to get the freshest in-season fruits and vegetables at a severely discounted price ($1 for a pound of zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers at 50 cents each, etc.). It's a delicious bargain that supports your health - and the local economy.

As the seasons change, so does this blog.

Culinary Endeavors of a Med Student - where Cost, Taste, and Worth take precedence over Nutrition and Calories ;)
Not quite average and not quite gourmet - simple recipes for food that will fill you up and leave you satisfied.

Ever since I've moved back to mainland USA, the above description doesn't fit the scope and direction of this blog anymore. This is especially true since I am making a conscious and concerted effort to be more healthy in all aspects of my life.

As such, the name of this blog must also change, and so we go from 'Substitute Cooking' to 'By Chance Bawarchi' - not to self-applaud, but I do get a good response to my cooking in real life.

It was going to be Accidental Chef, but it turns out there's a whole flock of them on the net. Bawarchi is Hindi for Chef, so the new name is just a play on words.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cereal Stuffer

So eating healthy isn't always tasty. Whole grain and whole wheat taste especially nasty to me; no one can convince me they don't taste like cardboard. But it really is better for you.

I can't bring myself to switch over completely, so I found a compromise.

Until recently I wasn't a big cereal person. I stuck to Special K Chocolate cereal, probably because of the sweetness of flakes and the deception of the fake chocolate. Then I switched to Honey Nut Cheerios (or Honey Nut Spins, the Walmart brand, for the price difference) and became addicted.

The guilt kept nagging me until I gave in and also bought a box of Toasted Whole Grain Oat, the healthier brother of the Honey Nut Spins. Considering my aversion to whole grain, I decided to trick myself. Here's how I have my cereal now:

1 part whole grain cheerios
2 parts honey nut cheerios
1 banana
1 - 1.5 cups 1% milk

Chopping a banana into my cereal ensures at least 1 serving of fruit in my day. You can also thrown in your favorite nuts like almonds or walnuts; both are excellent for your health. Beyond that, if you're brave enough to experiment, you can try things like raisins, dried cranberries or some other fruit instead of bananas. But for me, the above formula works just fine.

This breakfast (or lunch, or dinner, or snack) fills me up and keeps me going till the next meal. It takes less than 5 minutes to prepare, so it's definitely on my top-10, go-to meals list.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Honey Glazed Walnuts: Pick Me Up Snack

I caught Video: Maple Glazed Walnuts on FoodNetwork while flipping through channels and thought it was a good idea.

This new health kick I've been on (trying anyway), made me think honey would be a better substitute for the maple syrup. It has far fewer calories and no sugar. Not to mention it only takes 5 minutes to make.
2 cups walnut halves
1/3 cup honey
pinch of salt

1. Heat a skillet/pan on medium heat.
2. Add the walnuts, honey and a pinch of salt.
3. Stir for 3 minutes, allowing the nuts to roast and the honey to caramelize.
4. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
5. Store in an airtight container or zip-lock bag.

This makes for a healthy snack, since the walnuts have a high content of Omega 3 fat and the honey is low in calories and sugar. You can use other nuts, such as pecans and peanuts, as well. You can also add raisins, dried cranberries, dried fruits, dates, etc. to add more texture and health value to this snack.

Nuts are a great source of energy so make this snack in bulk and store it in the fridge (to prolong the shelf-life of the nuts). Grab some and take it with you to work/school to keep you going. Go for these honey-glazed walnuts when you're hungry, instead of the chips and cookies.

This is so good I ate half a batch as soon as it was cool enough to pick off the plate! This would make a fabulous topper on an ice-cream sundae, even better than regular nuts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cheap Add-Ons - #1

Salad Olives are a great condiment to keep in your fridge. They're fantastic in salads of course (salads with leafy greens, pasta salads, potato salad, etc.). They're also wonderful in sandwiches, soups, on your baked potato, in your lasagna, etc.

You have to watch out for the salt content in your recipes. Bottled olives are preserved in a salty solution and retain that saltiness. You can rinse off the salt a bit by running it under some cool water. However, there is still plenty of salt in the olives. Adjust the amount of table salt you put into your recipe based on the amount of olives you add to your recipe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Welcome to the Hotel California ... kinda

Well it ain't such a lovely place, but it's not all that bad either. I'm at a hotel-turned-dorm for the next few months. 2 weeks into my stay, I'm really glad I brought an electric skillet. The room already came equipped with a mini-fridge and microwave.

I also brought along a toaster and Microwave Rice/Pasta Cooker.

Of course I also have a Brita Water Filter with me. After having lived on an island I don't trust tap water unless it's at home.

Some people opt to get a hot plate, but then you also have to cater for various pots. Also, the hot plate is heavier than the electric skillet (and when you're flying, every ounce matters).

I prefer my electric skillet. I can pan fry, sauté, boil, and even bake in the non-stick pan. The temperature settings are a little tricky to get used to, but once you get the hang of it you can make an omelet, fry up some bacon, "grill" a steak or bake a cake (haven't tried that one yet).

There's a 7" option for the electric skillet. It's more convenient for things like boiling eggs or potatoes, frying an egg or making a single-serve lasagna. The heat distribution is a bit more even throughout the pan in the smaller skillet. The edges of the bigger one take longer to heat up to the same temp as the center because the heating mechanism is about 2 inches smaller than the pan itself. However, I prefer my bigger skillet as it makes sautéing and making things like stir fry easier. If I can get my hands on a cheap 7", I'll definitely invest in that as well. (psst - if you travel a lot for work, and have to stay in hotels, get this 7" skillet .. it's a lightweight investment that'll save you from endless take-outs and fast food that's bad for you)

The microwave rice/pasta cooker is great for making rice and pastas of course (and marginally cheaper than the electric rice cooker). It can also be used to steam up veggies in the micro - and with a dash of lemon juice and ground pepper or whatever other seasoning you prefer, steamed veggies are really great. I haven't been too adventurous with my micro rice cooker, beyond its obvious uses. However, I'm sure with a little experimenting and googling you can do much more with it. I know a person who uses her electric cooker to boil eggs and potatoes. Throwing in some veggies, seasoning and even (cooked) meats in either options can lead to some good one-pot meals.

The only other cheap gadget I'd invest in for hotel/dorm/crappy apartment living would be a George Foreman Grill. It'd be great for grilled meat, veggies and even paninis.

The best thing about all these gadgets is that they are useful long after you leave the single life-style. They can be incorporated into your daily family life and make things much easier in the kitchen. The skillet would be handy if I'm ever crazy enough to do so much cooking I need a fifth burner. The two skillets are also good introductory cooking gadgets for young kids with a keen interest in helping mommy (or daddy) in the kitchen. If they scratch it up...well it's given its moneys worth to you a long time back, so don't feel bad.

The micro cooker speeds up some of the cooking process. The Brita filter can continue to be used as a filter or even as a pitcher (sans filter top). The Foreman Grill would definitely be a great way to get a quick and healthy meal together.

I lied. I might also consider a Magic Bullet (cheaper alternative). But I haven't had any experience with it, so I can't verify whether it'd be a worthwhile addition to the kitchen arsenal. If the infomercials are to be believed, it would certainly speed up chopping veggies or making a quick snack/smoothie. Any one got a Magic Bullet they'd like to lend me?

Stick to the Dollar Store or Walmart (can you tell how much I love this store?) for cheap miscellaneous items such as serving spoons, plates, bowls, condiments, etc..

You won't exactly be "livin' it up at the Hotel California", but life will definitely be a lot easier (and palatable) with these inexpensive and worthwhile gadgets.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Italian Dressing Tilapia

Not the most innovative of recipe names, but the end result is good. Tilapia and Italian dressing may sound like a strange combination, but it makes for a quick and light meal that fills you up.

Prep time: 20-25mts, Serving: 1

1tbsp oil
1/2 small onion chopped
1 tilapia
1/2lb spaghetti
1 pat butter
2-3tbsp Italian dressing
Hot sauce to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Salt to taste
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper

1. Boil spaghetti per instructions on the box.
2. Season the tilapia (whole) with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
3. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions to a light brown. Push them to the side of the pan and add the tilapia to the pan. Add a pat of butter as the fish cooks.
4. Flip the tilapia and add the Italian dressing, hot sauce and lemon juice. Once the fish cooks through, add the spaghetti to coat it in the sauce and heat everything through.

The tanginess from the Italian dressing and lemon juice plays off well against the mild sweetness from the slightly caramelized onion.

You can avoid the butter, but it adds a hint of richness that this otherwise light meal appreciates.

PS - the attempt was to keep the tilapia whole, but, obviously, mine ended up in pieces. Oops! ;) And that's less than 1/2 lb spaghetti since I'm trying to cut back on the excess carbs (I say this after eating a slice of the lightest, fluffiest cake I've ever made).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jazz It Up! - Ramen/Maggi

Maggi is the Indian equivalent of Ramen - both are kid-friendly, college-student-pleasing meal in packet staples. But after a while popping a bowl of noodles, water the mystery powder in a packet gets boring and unappealing. There's a hundred websites dedicated to adding variety to your standard Ramen meal.. here's my go to version of a 'jazzed-up' Ramen/Maggi.

1/2 small onion - rough chop
2-3 pieces frozen grilled chicken strips
1/4 cup frozen vegetables
1 pkg Ramen/Maggi
2 cups water

1. Saute onion until it gets a little color on it. Add frozen vegetables and continue sauteing.
2. Once the onions become translucent, add the chicken strips. The chicken is already cooked, so this step is only to get the frozen taste out of it and give the chicken some color.
3. Add 2 cups of water. This is a little extra for the Maggi (which calls for only about 1cup of water), but I like my noodles soupy. Adjust water amount to your personal preference.
4. Once the water comes to a boil, add the noodles and powder packet of seasoning. Let the concoction simmer for 2 minutes (or until the noodles are cooked through).

Voila! A little added nutrition and flavor to an otherwise same old package of Ramen/Maggi.

If you're using Oriental or Shrimp flavored Ramen, substitute shrimp for the chicken (remember not to over-cook the shrimp or it'll be rubbery). Also, substitute the mixed vegetables (I prefer the standard peas-carrots-corn/beans) with water chestnuts, sweet pea, etc. Throw in a dash of soy sauce as the noodles simmer to add to the Asian flavor.

If you don't have Maggi on hand, but want that Indian flavor... grab a chunk of frozen masaala and defrost it in pot with the sauteing onions. Mix the frozen vegetables and chicken with the masaala so the flavor infuses with everything. If you have curry powder or Indian pickle on hand, add about 1/2 tsp of it when the noodles are in.

I've never taken a picture of my Ramen/Maggi creations since they've always been a quick-fix meal for me.. but the next time I need a 5-mt dish, I'll remember my camera so I can share the results with you all.