Tuesday, November 30, 2010

10 and 10

I picked this idea up from Cheap, Healthy Good. Here are two lists: one of ten things we spend (almost) no money on, and one of ten things we are willing to splurge a little on. Neither is in any particular order.

10 things we don't spend money on:
1) Bottled water. We just drink tap water.
2) Restaurant meals. We go out very rarely (less than once a month on average when we're not traveling), although when we do, we don't worry about trying to get the cheapest things on the menu. Not going to restaurants much
3) Coffee/tea from coffee shops. We make it at home, although occasionally we go someplace with friends, and this year I have occasionally gone to a local tea place to spend the day working and studying.
4) Books. For the most part, we utilize libraries. We are both fortunate to be affiliated with universities with well-stocked libraries and generous lending time frames, and we take advantage of it.
5) TV and internet. We use the internet at school, but we do not have it or TV in our home. In addition to costing money, we find that it can be a huge time suck. We are able to have our attention undivided when we are together at home, and that is very important to our relationship. It is sometimes inconvenient not to have internet access at home, but we have gotten used to it.
6) Shoes. We do, of course, buy shoes, but we make do with just a few. I wear my trusty Birkenstocks most of the time (with socks in the Houston "winter"-I am a mathematician, after all) and have a couple nicer pairs for church or going to concerts.
7) Shampoo. Once again, I do buy shampoo (I go for mid-range brands), but I only wash my hair every five or six days, so it goes a long way. I think my hair is healthier, and it cuts down on my shower time.
8) Jarred spices. When possible, we buy spices in bulk at Central Market. Every once in a while we go to Penzey's for a treat or gift for someone, but it's pretty cool to see how 20 cents of something will fill a jar that originally cost $4.
9) Fancy phones. I am using a friend's old one, and Jon got the cheapest model he could when we switched phone companies in August. We also don't have text messaging or data plans, and so far we are pretty happy with that.
10) Meat. Well, I don't spend money on it. Now that Jon lives on his own, he eats it a little.

10 things we splurge on:
1) Air travel. We live apart right now, and seeing each other is a big priority. When we do live together (only 6 more months, hopefully!), we enjoy going on trips, and we usually try to get more convenient itineraries, even if they cost a little more. We also live far away from many family members, and we like to see them.
2) Good cheese. Ever since going to France in the summer of 2009, I have been willing to buy the really nice imported blue cheese because I realize that the difference in quality is worth it. An added bonus, however, is that I only need to eat a little bit of the expensive cheese to feel satisfied, so it goes a long way.
3) Good olive oil. Central Market has some nice stuff that isn't super-expensive but is a lot more than the cheapest we could get.
4) Good gin. I enjoy my Gordon's cups and Tom Collinses, so we keep Hendrick's and Bombay Sapphire on hand.
5) Fabric stores. I can't help myself. When I go to a fabric store, I invariably leave with patterns I didn't plan on buying, remnants I don't need, and fabric that was too pretty to pass up. I am trying to cut back on my fabric buying, at least, and just use my stash, but it is hard to resist.
6) Concert tickets. We are lucky because as a student I often get good discounts, but I enjoy going to the symphony, theater, and opera, and I am willing to get nice tickets when I go. I don't let money be the reason I don't see a group perform a piece of music I really like.
7) Rent. I am still living in the two-bedroom we have been in for over two years, and Jon has his own apartment in Chicago. We didn't want to go through the hassle of moving, and emotionally, I think it's nicer for Jon to be able to come home to a place that is both of ours.
8) Good chocolate. Self-explanatory, I think.
9) Grapefruit juice. Whole Foods has some absolutely amazing fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. It's $7.50 per half gallon, but I love to have it with breakfast. I rationalize it by noting that it is less expensive than wine (a half gallon is more than two bottles) but gives me more happiness.
10) Painting with a Twist. It is one of those places where they have canvas and paint for you, and an instructor walks you through a particular painting. I feel a little embarrassed, but I really love going there and coming home with a pretty picture. Jon and I have gone together twice, and it's fun to see the similarities and differences between our paintings.

Probably the splurges outweigh the frugalities right now. Splurges 1 and 7 are pretty big but should decrease when I graduate and we are living together again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Braised tofu in caramel sauce

This was one of those recipes that seemed so unusual that I just had to try it. It comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I am not very familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, but he says that this sauce, which is caramel with lots of black pepper, is typical Vietnamese fare. It is really good! The caramel is sweet but a little bitter, and the salt from the soy sauce balances out the sweetness. 1 teaspoon of pepper is quite a lot. We aren't used to pepper being so integral to the taste of the dish. It's really nice.

The one thing I plan on changing next time is to add some vegetables. I am a vegetarian in part because I love to eat vegetables, and a meal of rice and tofu with brown sauce is not veggie-laden enough for me. The first time I made this, I made a side of kale, and it was really good. We had some spinach on the side last night when we had it, but while we were brainstorming, we decided that next time we're going to add some cubed eggplant to the sauce itself while it's cooking. I also think carrot and broccoli might stand up well to the sauce and be good additions. We'll let you know how it turns out.

Braised tofu in caramel sauce

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp dulse, optional (makes the soy sauce taste a little more like fish sauce)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 lbs. tofu, pressed if you have time, and cut into 1-inch cubes

Cooked brown rice for serving

Put a large, deep (we used a Le Creuset pot) skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and 2 tbsp water. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan and/or stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar liquefies and darkens. Turn off the heat.

Combine soy sauce, dulse, and 1/2 cup water. Very carefully, add the soy mixture to the caramel. It will bubble furiously. Don’t let your skin be too close to it. It’s a little scary. When it has stopped bubbling, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring, until caramel has all dissolved into soy sauce liquid. It should only take a minute or so.

Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add black pepper, lime juice, and tofu. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tofu is heated through and seems to have taken in a lot of the caramel mixture. If you can’t tell, five minutes should be about right.

Serve over brown rice with a side of kale or other veggie.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill

Nothing major here. Just sharing a nice oatmeal alternative for chilly mornings. We call it Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill because we started eating Bob's Red Mill 5-grain cereal instead of oatmeal a while back. It's about $3/lb, but we discovered we can buy the rolled grains in bulk and have a similar experience. I think what I like about it is mainly that the rolled grains are thicker than regular rolled oats. I figure the mix of grains is probably healthy, too. The Whole Foods near me has these grains in bulk for prices ranging from $1.19-1.99/lb, so it's significantly cheaper than buying the packaged one. I think I've seen rolled triticale and quinoa in addition to the grains below, but they didn't have any on my most recent trip.

Here are the toppings I've been using recently:
-1/4 cup frozen blueberries, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp ground flax seed, 10 chopped hazelnuts
-8 fresh raspberries, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tsp whole chia seeds, 10 chopped hazelnuts

I really like having the cold fruit because then I don't have to wait very long for the cereal to be cool enough to eat. The flax seeds and chia seeds add omega-3's and extra fiber. I'm not usually into supplement-ish food, but I saw these on sale, and I figure it can't hurt. Plus I like to feel like a weird health food nut every once in a while.

I hope I don't seem to be callously undercutting Bob's Red Mill. I find it to be a good, if sometimes slightly expensive, brand, and I often buy their whole grains and flours. It's just good to know there's a cheaper alternative to this particular product, and this is really what we've started calling it.

Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill
This is just a suggestion. Any combination of rolled whole grains would be good.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup rolled wheat
1/2 cup rolled rye
1/2 cup rolled barley
1/2 cup rolled spelt

Stir together. Store in a sealed container at room temperature. To cook, bring 1 cup water to a boil and add 1/2 cup grains. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water has boiled off.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Job application food

I am in my final year of my Ph.D. program, so I am applying for jobs right now. It is somehow difficult, tedious, and scary all at the same time. That, combined with the fact that Jon is not here most of the time, means that I haven't been cooking a lot of blog-worthy meals. I noticed that I've been going to the egg+grain+green formula quite a bit on busy days. I find it very comforting. Here are two incarnations, both of which I found very good. By the way, if you're thinking about hiring a mathematician, let me know!

Egg and kale sandwich

Butter for frying an egg
1 egg
2 slices of bread
A few shaves of parmesan cheese
2 leaves of kale, thick stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped

Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. When it's hot, crack the egg into it and fry it. (I cook it for a while on one side and then flip it and cook for just a little bit on the other side.) While you're doing this, you can toast your bread. Place the egg on one slice of bread with some shaves of parmesan and a healthy helping of za'atar. In the remaining butter, saute the kale until it's wilted. Put it on the sandwich and close it up.

Bulgar and mustard greens with poached eggs
This will make extra bulgar. I got a total of three meals out of it.

1/2 tsp salt
1 cup bulgur
Vegetable oil for sauteeing
1/2 small onion, diced
1 bunch mustard greens, thick stems removed, leaves chopped
1 egg
1 lemon slice

Heat 1 1/2 cups water and salt to boiling. Stir in bulgur, turn off heat, cover, and let cook for about 30 minutes. It's no big deal if the bulgur is a little wet, as long as it's tender enough. In a saute pan, heat the oil over medium. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the mustard greens and cook just until wilted. It's OK if they're not all the way wilted because the bulgur will wilt them the rest of the way.

Combine bulgur and greens in a large bowl. Put a blob of it on a plate.

Poach egg. I'm not an expert egg-poacher, so you should probably just do it your own way, but here's how I poach an egg. Fill up a medium saucepan with water. Heat it until it's close to boiling but not quite there, and try to somehow keep the temperature there. There should be little bubbles coming up and the water should look active. (Good luck.) Crack the egg into a small bowl and dump into water. Don't touch it for a while. After about 3 minutes, loosen it from the bottom and see if the white seems to be all the way cooked. Once it is, remove it with a slotted spoon and put it on top of the bulgur.

Squeeze some lemon juice and sprinkle some za'atar over the bulgur and egg.