Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Peanut Corn Chowder: Comfort Food for the College Cook

This was one of my post-Thanksgiving meals. My two college student eaters flipped out. It was hard to get them to share. If you are a stove cooker, you can see that this is an easy recipe. If you are a rice cooker cook, you can see that this is easily adapted.

For rice cooker cooks, you can probably leave out the celery and just use the frozen chopped onions I recommend. Don't add the cream till the end, after the soup has stopped boiling. Otherwise, it can curdle.

Confession: I used milk because I didn't have the luxury ingredient.

Isn't it great to know that you can make comfort food yourself? Without the overly-solicitous parent?


2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups canned corn, drained
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
Salt to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped celery and onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until it has melted.

Return the pan to the heat and gradually stir in the stock and corn. Bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sim­mer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the cream or half-and-half and heat gently. Add salt to taste.

Ladle into warm bowls, garnish with celery leaves and serve.

From The Best American Recipes 1999 edited by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin (Houghton Mifflin). Originally copyrighted 1998 by Trisha Meckler and published in More White Trash Cooking (Ten Speed Press).

Remember: ask Santa for a rice cooker!

The recipe, incidentally, is from More White Trash Cooking.This is a wonderful book, a work of folklore, in fact, that should be studied by every student. While I wouldn't eat the potato chip sandwiches, I would eat some of the other recipes. It's a great read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gifts for the College Cook

I start thinking about gifts for my two College Cooks way ahead, because it's hard to think of good--or even halfway decent--ones. Example:

Me to Miss Em: What do you want by way of presents?
Miss Em: More burritos and soy milk for next semester.

Do frozen burritos and boxed soymilk count as presents? Of course, we are happy to provide them, but presents are fun for the giver.

I have a few plans for my College Cooks, but will not divulge them at the moment. If you ARE a College Cook, here is what you should request. And, parents and other relatives, these are gifts that will be used.

First up, I will recommend the little pdf or ebook Frugal Son and I put together.

This is a virtual stocking stuffer, I guess. Trust me, it's very helpful. If your giftee wants the Kindle to read it on, you can get it from Amazon. If you are sans Kindle, check out the pdf. It's only $2.99, the lowest price permitted by Amazon.

The Kindle has gone down in price, I think!

As for cooking equipment, this is not the time to go for Global knives or Calphalon pots. So cheap but good is my motto. I have recommended these items before, but they have proved their worth in my family.


Rice Cooker (everyone is surprised by how cheap these are):

I don't think you need to have recommendations for measuring cups and the like. For dishes, I would go for Corelle. I've started using these myself because they are light and unbreakable (or almost).

Wow! Under $60.00 for the whole shebang. Under $30.00 if you skip the dishes and let your student use the remnants of various sets that may be inhabiting your cupboards.

Any other gift ideas for the College Cooks in your family?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

College Cooking: First-Hand Experience

Mr FS and I took a long-planned trip to visit Miss Em, our very own college cook. A few days before our visit, we received an email: I need 35 more burritos and some frozen ratatouille. We were happy to oblige.

It was our first visit since move-in day. We realized that the kitchen area is soooo tiny and so hard to work in that preparing ANYTHING is an ordeal. We realized that our cookbook WOULD be great: mix some stuff in your rice cooker and voila: a meal. Yes, we were wise to rely on chopped frozen onions and peppers.

Still, as I've mentioned before, Miss Em has used her rice cooker for rice and oat groats, both of which she cooks in quantity and refrigerates. The bean and cheese burritos have made her first semester as a college cook so easy.

It took us (Mr. FS, really, since I fell asleep early that night) about an hour to make the 30 burritos. Talk about a good return on time investment.

If you don't have a family willing to make and transport a semester's worth of bean burritos, make them yourself. OR check out the cookbook Frugal Son and I put together, which makes college dorm cooking possible and maybe even enjoyable.

From Amazon, if you have a Kindle. Or from us (see upper-right)if you want a pdf.

We even tell you how to make burritos in the book. See the recipe here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eggs for the College Cook

EGGS just seem to be in the air these days. On the College Cooking front, I have this report. Always on the lookout for stove-free cooking options, I discovered this little item.

Really, this is silly. However, I spotted one at Goodwill for 99 cents, so I bought it. It's definitely worth 99 cents. I put some of the beaten egg for a pasta frittata I was making in each side, cooked for a minute, added some cooked pasta and cheese, and finished it up. Then I folded it closed: tada! a very pretty fake omelet.

I think this would actually be good for microwave-only cooks: there is little clean up, really; it produces an attractive item (so important for solo eaters); it can accommodate all kinds of leftovers, and so on. Next time I use it, I'm going to try beating the eggs IN the contraption, for even less clean up.

Can you think of any other uses for this little item?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Migas: More Corn Chip Cuisine

A few days ago, we posted our recipe for egg-filled burritos. No stove required. Amazing to learn that you can cook eggs in your rice cooker. That recipe is also in our ebook (see above right to order), which outlines our whole system: 20 ingredients, some condiments, 14 meals, no stove, no chopping, (almost) no mess. If you have a kindle, you can order from Amazon!

Here is a recipe not from the book: it uses one ingredient common to the college dorm that is not among our crucial 20: the humble corn chip.

Have you ever heard of migas? I learned about them from one of Martha Shulman's cookbooks. Maybe this one.

Migas are eggs scrambled with corn chips. Easy and good.

2 eggs
handful or more of corn chips, stale OK
Cooking oil
¼ cup frozen chopped onions
¼ cup frozen chopped peppers
½ cup cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste

Two large eggs will make a large serving. Start by adding one to two teaspoons of oil to the rice cooker and let it heat up for a minute. Add ¼ cup onions (more if, like me, you love onions) and then add ¼ cup frozen bell peppers to the oil and let them cook. Season the vegetables to taste with salt and pepper or, as always, use Cajun seasoning. When they have cooked for a few minutes, crack your eggs directly into the rice cooker and stir thoroughly (be sure to use a wooden or plastic stirrer to protect the non-stick coating) until the eggs have cooked through.

Before the eggs are done, throw in the corn chips and, if you want, salsa. Stir a bit more, then serve. No matter how you do this, it's good.

If all you have are eggs, salsa, and chips, it's still good. Remember: salsa has onions and peppers already. the work's been done for you.

Do you cook with corn chips?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thomas Keller Soup Favorite in Your Rice Cooker

Oh, what a deceptive title. It is all over the blogosphere: Thomas Keller likes Progresso lentil soup. The source of that rumor (or fact) is Food and Wine: Keller's partner, Laura Cunningham, describes what they eat at home:

I wish I could say we cook at home, but we've been too busy; oatmeal, bread and cheese, yogurt and Progresso lentil soup have been the favorites this past busy year.

Isn't it great to know that you can eat what the great chef and restaurateur eats--and you don't need a stove. So, get some Progresso lentil soup and heat it in your rice cooker.

To add some bulk and nutrition, throw in some noodles or rice and some frozen spinach. You might need a bit of water or broth too.

This is what it looks like, courtesy of Amazon:

I've seen a lot of the lentil recently at Big Lots and Dollar Tree for a dollar or a little more. Don't tell Thomas!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Roger Ebert's Rice Cooker Book: Disappointing, Alas

Don't even read beyond the title. I am sooooo disappointed. I requested that the library order this book and I got a call when it came in. Opened with anticipation....and there's just not much there. Most of the (mediocre)recipes are on his blog, and recipes make up only about 20% of this short book.

You do get Ebert's wit and wisdom, but that too is mostly stuff from his blog. I will desist, because you can read the reviews on Amazon.

I wasn't going to mention this at all, but I did write about the book several times.

So, if you want a rice cooker cookbook, the best is probably

If you're looking for a simple system to begin cooking in a restricted situation (like a dorm), check out our little tome. There are a number or rice cooker recipes there.

P.S. I still love Roger Ebert.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Egg and Cheese Burritos for the College Dorm Cook

We call this an assembly-only recipe. That's sort of, well, not true. You have to cook your eggs. Believe it or not, you can scramble eggs in a rice cooker. We ate these for breakfast every day when we visited San Antonio. They're good any time.

2 eggs
2 or 3 tortillas
Cooking oil
¼ cup frozen chopped onions
¼ cup frozen chopped peppers
½ cup cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce

OK. Not quite assembly-only. For our first rice cooker meal, you will scramble some eggs. Yes, you can scramble eggs in a rice cooker! Please take our advice and buy a rice cooker with a nonstick coating; the added expense will more than pay for itself in saved clean-up time.

Two large eggs will make enough to fill 2-3 tortillas. Start by adding one to two teaspoons of oil to the rice cooker and let it heat up for a minute. Add ¼ cup onions (more if, like me, you love onions) and then add ¼ cup frozen bell peppers to the oil and let them cook. Season the vegetables to taste with salt and pepper or, as always, use Cajun seasoning. When they have cooked for a few minutes, crack your eggs directly into the rice cooker and stir thoroughly (be sure to use a wooden or plastic stirrer to protect the non-stick coating) until the eggs have cooked through. Remove the eggs from the rice cooker and spoon about three tablespoons of filling into each tortilla and top with a tablespoon of cheese. Top with Rotel or hot sauce, and then pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds and enjoy.

Lagniappe (something extra, Louisiana-style): Try mixing some beans into your egg burritos for a hearty and simple huevos rancheros style breakfast. You’ll only need about two tablespoons of eggs and one tablespoon of beans for each one. Arriba!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homemade Meals for the College Cook: No Cooking

Recently, I asked our College Cook what she's been cooking. After all, it was her decision to get a tiny meal plan and learn to cook in her stoveless kitchen that inspired Frugal Son and me to develop an easy, cheap system for the College Cook.

I haven't cooked yet, said Miss Em.

Have you used the rice cooker, I inquired.

Only for hot cereal.

How could this be? Well, because we made Miss Em about 50 bean and cheese burritos, packaged for the freezer. Then, we made maybe 15 freezer packages of this ratatouille-like concoction that she likes.

So between those items, plus hot cereal, plus peanut butter on crackers, plus 4 weekly meals in the dining hall, plus tuna, plus yogurt, plus various free meals from barbecues and babysitting, plus a few meals in restaurants, well, there hasn't been any need to cook.

I think it's a good idea to do similar meal prep AT HOME where it's easy. Then package and freeze enough for the semester. There are some great possibilities: lasagne, enchiladas, stews, soups, and so on.

These are frozen dinners that are actually good. Plus, if you make the food you grew up with, it will rings your comfort food chimes. What could be better?

While you're planning your cooking, check out our labor of love: on pdf above right or, for Kindle, on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese in Your Rice Cooker

As a child, I LOVED Stouffer's macaroni and cheese: creamy and sharp, with brown crust. What's the problem? Well, it's kind of expensive, for one thing. Two, the portion is a bit small for a mac and cheese fiend like myself.

I spent many years trying to replicate my favorite mac and cheese. I discovered that the secret is using relatively little cheese, which keeps it creamy, and very sharp cheese, so you don't need a lot, but still get a sharp taste.

What is below is not the ultimate mac and cheese, but it's still very good. Since it's not baked, you sacrifice the crusty top, but, hey, you can have it every day in your dorm kitchen. You can do it in your rice cooker!

Recommended cheese: Cabot extra-sharp cheddar or Crackerbarrel extra-sharp cheddar.

By the way, I don't think I ate boxed mac and cheese till I was in my 20s. It is not in the same league with the real thing, though I recognize that, for some of you, it may evoke a childhood comfort food.

Rice cooker macaroni and cheese

¼ cup frozen chopped onions
2 cups macaroni
1 cup broth
1 cup water
¾ cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup cheese, preferably sharp cheddar
Red pepper flakes

Everyone needs comfort food and in that respect this recipe, inspired by Wolfgang Puck, delivers in spades.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the rice cooker, switch to “cook” mode and let the oil heat up. Add ¼ cup frozen chopped onions and sauté, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups macaroni, 1 cup broth, and 1 cup water. You may need to add a little extra water; there should be enough to just barely cover the pasta. Put the top on the rice cooker and be sure it is on “cook” mode. If not, just flip the switch. When the machine switches to warm, test a piece of pasta to be sure it is soft enough for your liking. If not, add a little more water and switch to “cook” again. There’s no need to drain the pasta because any residual water will be loaded with starch and will help thicken the sauce. When the pasta is done, switch the rice cooker to warm and add ¾ cup milk (do NOT add the milk when the rice cooker is on “cook;” the milk will most likely curdle), 1 tablespoon butter, and ½ cup cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and formed a creamy sauce. Taste the sauce—you may need to add salt—and add red pepper flakes if you desire.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

College Cooking With a Plan: Why You Need our little Book

By Frugal Son

Stage 5

Cooking with a plan

We can already imagine our poor readers biting their nails with fear and wondering what they were getting themselves into by trying to learn how to cook. Fear not! College cooking nirvana is actually EASIER than all of the aforementioned stages and your friends / enemies / classmates will think you are some kind of genius when they see what you can do with a few “humble” ingredients and less time than it takes to watch one episode of “Lost.” In fact, you can cook our recipes while you’re watching the episode. In addition you’ll have variety—no more Chinese take-out three nights a week—and the food will be healthy, tasty, AND cheap, a rare combination of attributes indeed. Best of all, you won’t have to think about what to cook or what to do with leftover ingredients because with a system, all the puzzles use interchangeable pieces.

Typical Scenario

It’s been a long day and you’ve just finished a test so you’re pretty much zonked out. After getting back to your room and plopping down on the bed, you start to hear the familiar grumbles of your stomach. But what to eat? At first, you think about going to get a sandwich downtown but then you remember that you’re trying to save some money for a mini-roadtrip / concert this weekend with some friends. Fast food? No way! Thanks to your simple, but well-stocked pantry, you’ve got everything you need right at your fingertips. You do the simple preparation, turn the rice cooker on, and then check your email, read a magazine, WHATEVER until you hear the rice cooker click to warm automatically after about 30 minutes. Satisfied with your meal, all that’s left to do is clean out the rice cooker and one plate. Voilà! Simple, easy, cheap, and fast! We definitely have to give bonus points to this stage because not only is this a great way to make friends (“Hey, want to come over for dinner and I’ll cook you . . .”) but the friends you already have will like you even more! The amount of time and cost vary by recipe, but we’ll say, all included, about an hour of time and on average $4 for a meal big enough for two people (or leftovers).

Truly, no kidding. See our ebook at the upper right. Or see us on Amazon for Kindle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

College Cooking Without a Plan: Why You Need One

Another amusing entry by Frugal Son, which portrays very well the situation of the hapless College Cook. Actually, this describes well the situation of many cooks, some middle-aged and beyond. No wonder people hate cooking! Imagine doing this every day.

Cooking, but with no plan

Some daring individuals make it this far only to scurry quickly back to the safety of the dining hall after spending hours making a meal that, while good, wasn’t worth the effort. Cooking without a plan means that you have to custom buy the ingredients for each recipe and this is time-consuming, expensive, and wasteful. You will be left with tons of opened and half-used containers of stuff that will just sit and go to waste on your shelves. Also, even if your meal was a success, you have to start all over from scratch the next day by picking out a recipe, going shopping, preparing, and so on.

Typical Scenario

After four weeks of home cooking over Winter Break, you’ve decided to make your mom’s famous chili so that all your friends can try it. You painstakingly follow the recipe to a T and spend an hour hunting down all the ingredients at the local supermarket. Since you’ve never done any cooking before, you need to buy all the spices (expensive) even though you only need a tiny bit of them. With heavy bags but wallet considerably lighter, you make it back to the dorm. You go into the communal kitchen for the first time and, horror of horrors, there are only two piddly electric burners and a tiny, dented skillet. You forgot all the cooking supplies you’d need! After calling up some friends, you manage to rustle up the necessary items and you start cooking. Finally, it’s ready and your friends have all arrived (and your friends agree that it is the best chili in the world) and after eating, you all do the dishes together. You plop down in your bed ready for a good night’s sleep and vow to yourself that you’ll NEVER cook again because it’s way too hard. All told, you had to go shopping, get tools, cook, AND do the dishes, so a conservative estimate of time would be about four hours. The cost of ingredients can vary from almost nothing (red beans and rice) to incredibly expensive (filet mignon and asparagus), but we’ll just say you spent about $20 for you and three other friends.

Is this you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

College Cooking Stage 2

More on the stages of College Cooking from Frugal Son. This time, he looks at convenience foods, somewhat cheaper than restaurant dining, but still expensive, and not very satisfying.

Stage 2

Convenience Foods

Convenient and that’s about it.

Typical Scenario

After going for your afternoon run, you come back to your dorm and you’re STARVING. You pull some microwaveable frozen lasagna out of the fridge, pop it in the microwave and voilà, dinner is served. Very little prep or clean-up time but you have to go to the store every time you run out of stuff and, unless you have a full-size fridge, that’ll be fairly frequently. The reason this food can taste good is because of the massive amounts of salt and fat that mask the taste of preservatives. Negative bonus points for environmental reasons: a lot of waste is generated when you have to throw out all the plastic and cardboard the items come in. Convenience food CAN be cheap, but the portions are small, and name-brand items (Stouffers, Kraft, Lean Cuisine etc.) are pricey. We’ll say $5 per meal.

Check out our little ebook: cheap, easy, convenient, and NO STOVE required.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Ultimate Free Food for College Students: Dinner with Poets

Ah, free food. A blessing for college students. I myself have never never recovered from college and graduate school poverty. Hence I find it hard to resist any free food opportunity, even if it is some velveeta on a ritz cracker.

Frugal Son has for the first time availed himself of the weekly offerings of various religious groups on campus. He is supposed to be writing a post on that.

Meanwhile, Miss Em recently had an amazing opportunity: to go to a dinner at a restaurant for a visiting poet. She was nervous.

I told her about the time Gary Snyder came to my English class in college. We were all so in awe of him, not to mention that he was way hipper than any of us, that we sat dumbstruck. A classmate ran into Snyder years later; Snyder said "Were you in that terrified class?" UHHHH. Yes.

To help Miss Em out, just in case she had to ask a question, I told her the best question I ever heard a student ask a visiting poet: "How do you know when a poem is done?" You are welcome to use that question in your own academic lives.

I can't remember the name of the poet visiting Miss Em's school, but I did ask about the meal.

mahi mahi, blackened
this squash stuff with cheese and breadcrumbs
mustard greens
fried green tomatos
a dessert platter
it was insaaaane

See what I mean about Gary Snyder being way hipper than, well, everyone?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

College Cook Wannabes: Stage 1 (or why you need a plan)

Frugal Son wrote some (to me, his doting mama, and I hope to you, his objective reader) spot-on and amusing scenarios for the College Cook wannabe. Stage 1: going out to eat.

Needless to say, this can get expensive! Many of you have been on-campus for a while now. The thrill of return is wearing off; the work is building up; and, no doubt, you overspent in the first few weeks.

Here is the Restaurant option for the College Cook.

While few fall wholly into this category, many college students are overly reliant on restaurants, be they fast food joints or four-star establishments, for their nourishment.

Typical Scenario

After finishing class at six, you grab some pasta from the Italian restaurant just across the street from campus. A few breadsticks, some pasta, tax and tip later, you’re satisfied but you’ve been there for an hour and a half and you’ve spent $15 . . . and the next time you’re hungry again you’re back to square one. $15 is about two hours of after-tax income from a minimum wage job so your total “time” spent on this meal is 3.5 hours.

So: you need a plan. We will be posting more recipes here, of course. For the complete plan--20 basic ingredients, plus some condiments, will yield two weeks of meals, no stove or chopping required--check out our ebook in the upper-right.

OR, if you have a Kindle, check out the Amazon version.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tortilla Soup: A Stone Soup Recipe with Corn Chips

OK, College Cooks. What to cook when the cupboards seem bare? There's a wonderful book that I have at home somewhere called What to Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat. Isn't that the greatest concept?

This is a situation that afflicts most people at one time or another. But for the College Cook the situation is particularly acute: nothing may really be (almost) nothing.

Surely, College Cooks can usually rustle up some chips and salsa, right? Well, those two ingredients are the basis, not only of the chilaquiles I wrote about yesterday, but of tortilla soup.

You can do this in your rice cooker, or, if you haven't yet gotten one, in a big microwave-safe bowl. As befits a stone soup recipe, amounts are flexible, as are ingredients. The more ingredients you have, the better this is.

plus water or stock
plus corn (frozen? canned?)
plus beans (do you have a can? refried beans would work too)
plus rice (already cooked is OK)
plus cheese (put on top when done)

If you have some sour cream for topping or, omg, guacamole, this is sublime. Oh, does one of your friends have a few scraps of cooked meat (chicken or even meatballs)? Throw it in!

Basically, you can have dinner out of the leftovers from tailgating or game night.

I hope you college students read Stone Soup in your youth. It is a favorite from my own childhood. I was thrilled that the version I read was still available for my own children. It is available even today. A classic.

Four of the suggested ingredients are among the basic 20 ingredients in our little ebook! Check it out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chilaquiles: What to Do with Stale Corn Chips

This recipe was featured on my other blog a while back. It is so easy. It doesn't require a stove. It takes only a few ingredients.

In fact, most of the ingredients are from the COLLEGE COOKING CRASH COURSE list. You do need some corn chips. It occurs to me that stale corn chips are thrown out by the bagful in college dorms and apartments. Here is your chance to save the environment.

So here is a 15 minute meal. The one thing you have to do in advance is have some cooked beans; otherwise, use canned. No recipe necessary. At least, I've never used one. Looks ugly, tastes great.

Chilaquiles for Tex-Mex Lovers Only

Rotel tomatoes or salsa
Corn chips
Beans spiced with whatever (we use a Cajun blend with black beans or pintos)
Grated cheese (cheddar, muenster,jack, whatever)

Do this as many times as you have room for and then top with sour cream. The original recipe called for baking, but I've discovered that you can heat in the microwave.

The original of this recipe was in the Greens Cookbook. It called for a spicy tomato sauce, spiced beans, frying corn tortillas, and a bunch of other stuff. I think the sauce was thickened with nuts. I was telling a friend that I wanted to make it, but that the recipe was too time-consuming. He was shocked and said, "It's a convenience food. Use chips."

I never looked back.
Bon appetit.

Just in case: but the recipes are mostly a bit fussy, typical of restaurant-based cookbooks.

Here is my easy cookbook for Kindle-owners. See upper-right for access to the pdf version.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Augmented Soup for the College Cook: Clam Chowder

From my rice cooker hero Roger Ebert, i got the idea of ADDING things to canned soup. It's a good idea: adding less processed food minimizes the oversalted CANNED taste.

I found two ideas for canned clam chowder in some cookbooks. White clam chowder is what you want; I used the Progresso brand. I would link to it on Amazon so you could see the can, but Amazon sells it for such a ridiculously high price! This soup is often on sale for a dollar or a little more: keep your eye out at your grocery store or even at your CVS or Walgreens.

Andrew Schloss, author of Almost from Scratch, suggests the addition of canned white beans plus red pepper flakes and garlic. Almost from Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine

Pretty good! And white beans are healthy. Don't forget to drain the can. i can't remember if Schloss said to use the liquid, but I always drain canned beans. I added some additional milk too.

Then I decided to add to Schloss by way of the famous San Francisco foodie Nancy Silverton.

I didn't do exactly what Silverton said (add garlic, shallot, and 40 snipped chives--yeah, right). I did add what I had around: some spinach, some corn, and more milk. I didn't follow her measurements either.

This can be heated in the rice cooker, of course. But, lacking that, you can mix all the ingredients in a big bowl and heat in the microwave.

One last thing: Silverton wants you to add bacon. I heated up a piece in the microwave. It did add some flavor, but would not be essential.

This took no time at all, ended up including veggies, and is cheap, cheap, cheap.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Equipment for the College Cook: Besides a Rice Cooker, You Need a Knife

I'm not going to bug you about the rice cooker, at least not for a while. YOU KNOW YOU NEED ONE. At least, I know you need one.

What else? With what did we send our College Cook off to her stove-less dorm suite?

A knife. We got the Kuhn-Rikon paring knife.

Then, since we liked it so much, we also got the Kuhn-Rikon chef's knife.

Since we are frugal types, I will let you in on a secret. We got our first Kuhn-Rikon paring knife from Amazon, but the other ones (yes, we are a 3 paring knife family) were found at Marshalls or TJ Maxx. They were around half the Amazon price, which is, in itself, reasonable.

You can get your Global knife (recommended by Anthony Bourdain) when you are settled after college. In fact, we have promised one to Frugal Son after graduation.

I have a Wusthof, which I hate. I find myself using the little Kuhn-Rikon all the time.

We did have a little tiff about who got which color of the Kuhn-Rikon. We worked things out. Peace once again reigns in our frugal family.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Do You Own or Would You Buy a Fasta Pasta?

Here I am, trying to figure out how the College Cook can survive without a stove. It's funny: the College Cook for whom I am doing this work has not cooked anything so far. That is because we sent her off with many, many frozen burritos, which she has been enjoying.

Today I came upon this weird device: the Fasta Pasta. This supposedly is great for cooking pasta in the microwave.

It has zillions of ecstatic reviews on Amazon. I even watched an amiable fellow test it on Youtube.

Should I buy one for "research"? Or is it just too tacky?

I've decided that I will test karma by seeing if one shows up at Goodwill over the next month or so.

Does anyone own one of these things?

Monday, September 13, 2010

What To Do With the Leftovers: Spinach and Ricotta Burritos = Stuffed Pasta

While you're making the Spinach and Ricotta Burritos we posted about yesterday, you might as well make some extra. Why? Because you can turn it into another dish.

If you can fill 4 more tortillas, go ahead. Put them in an oiled microwave-safe dish (preferably square or rectangular), top with tomato sauce and cheese, cover with some wrap or a plastic top slightly askew, and heat.

What you will get ends up tasting quite a bit like stuffed manicotti. No joke! The flour tortillas turn--as it were--to pasta.

Three meals at least from a minimal effort. Are there any other magical recipes out there?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Easiest Assembly Only Recipe for the College Cook

This is a favorite. If you haven't bought your rice cooker yet, this is for you. It is a "throw together" recipe, made with just a few ingredients. It can be Mexican or Italian, depending.

Spinach and ricotta burritos two ways

1½ cups frozen spinach
½ cup ricotta
2 or 3 tortillas
Shredded cheddar to top
Salt and pepper to taste
Rotel OR Canned tomatoes

The ratio for the ingredients in this recipe is 3:1; that is to say three units of frozen spinach for every unit of ricotta. With this ratio you can easily scale up, or down, this recipe to cater to your needs. To make two super filled—and super filling—burritos or three not-quite-bursting-at-the-seams burritos defrost 1½ cups of frozen spinach in the microwave for about 40 seconds. Mix this with ½ cup of ricotta, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper to taste, and then split the mixture evenly between your tortillas. Top the burritos with some of your shredded cheddar and microwave for about one minute, or until the cheese is melted and the filling is hot all the way through.

For a Mexican twist, top with Rotel (salsa); to go Italian, just add a little tomato sauce.

This is a taste of the recipes in our little ebook (see upper right): College Cooking Crash Course.

If you have a Kindle, you can get it on Amazon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Extreme College Cooking: An Electric Kettle

The title, which I think is quite snazzy, is somewhat inaccurate. Frugal Son refuses--on environmental and clutter grounds--to take a dorm fridge we ALREADY have or to get a microwave. So his attitude is somewhat extreme.

His eating situation is not particularly extreme, because he has a hefty meal plan. He just gets hungry a lot. Having rejected the above-mentioned appliances, he surprised us by requesting an electric kettle. With an automatic shut off (CHECK--not all have this feature), this is a safe appliance, allowed in many dorm situations (BUT CHECK your rules).

I had amassed some microwave-free snacks: crackers, peanut butter. Now what? With the electric kettle, you can make instant coffee, hot chocolate, instant oatmeal. Not to mention the ubiquitous ramen packet, which is OK now and then, as long as you don't think salt, msg, oil, and noodles constitute a nutritious meal.

Frugal Son requested instant grits. He said Cajun seasoning mix (now widely available) is all that is required to jazz up the bland base. All of the above would seem to suffice for the late hours of hunger or caffeine deprivation.

Other ideas are couscous, which can be reconstituted with hot water, and those powdered soup mixes, some of which are not too vile. We will report back if we try them.

Frugal Son decided to buy a stainless steel electric kettle because many people complained about the "plastic" taste of water boiled in plastic. We have a plastic one at home, but have never noticed an off taste.

Any other ideas for boiled water, no refrigerator cuisine? An interesting problem to be solved.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Everything College Cookbook: Review

Warning: This is my first negative review of a cookbook or even of anything. Why am I bothering? Because I got this book at Goodwill today, so I feel that the forces of karma are telling me to discuss this book.

So, what's the problem? First, as some Amazon reviewers point out, this isn't really a cookbook for COLLEGE STUDENTS. One points out that most of the recipes require lots of "counterspace, extensive preparation, and a large number and variety of ingredients." Another notes that the title is "offbase": the reviewer can hardly imagine a student chopping up the ingredients for a stirfry or putting together a quiche. Neither can I.

My own scientific evaluation of a cookbook involves the following: open the book at random and write down all the recipes that I want to make. Don't laugh (too much). This method has led me to some wonderful cookbooks that I never would have otherwise come upon, like this one by Ronald Johnson, who turns out to be a poet. The book is so obscure that Amazon doesn't even have a picture of the cover!

Anyway, back to the College Cookbook. Here are the recipes I randomly turned to.

Chili: Why would you saute fatty beef in butter? Why would you add sugar?

Tuna Melt: This involves first making ANOTHER recipe ("Easy Egg Noodles"), 1/4 cup onion, frozen peas, cream of mushroom soup, milk, velveeta, tuna. There are at least three things here that I'm not going to mention again.

Crab Rangoon (under date night recipes): This involves putting stuff in wonton wrappers and deep-frying. This does not seem an auspicious activity for a date.

OK. Why beat a dead horse? I did not find a single recipe I would make even after several more flips.

Meanwhile, check out the little ebook I put together with my son (a genuine college student) for my daughter (also a genuine college student, living in a stove-free dorm suite).

So what would we say for the student who wants chili? Without a stove, cooking ground beef is a pain. We would suggest Louisiana red beans instead. We wrote about this a few days ago. You can do this either with a rice cooker or with a microwave, both of which are permitted in most dorms.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

An Idea from my Rice Cooker Hero, Roger Ebert: Augmenting Canned Soup

Oh, Roger Ebert, how I esteem you! The famous movie critic, who, because of surgery, can no longer eat or speak, is about to publish a rice cooker cookbook. I can't be the only one eagerly awaiting its September 21 publication.

When I was first struggling through my early rice cooker efforts, I was lucky enough to come upon his blog, which sings the praises of what he calls "the pot."

Here is one good idea for the College Cook. Take a can of soup. I know, canned soup is vile. I seldom eat it: too salty, not substantial enough--all around fake tasting. Ebert suggests using the canned soup as a base for a better soup.

I tried this: I had Progresso beef and potato soup. I added a can of tomatoes, a can of drained beans, a handful of macaroni, and some water (or you could use broth). Put all in rice cooker. Turned on the rice cooker and let it bubble for a bit. Checked the macaroni for doneness. Turned it to Warm. Threw in a handful of frozen chopped spinach.

Those are all among the 20 ingredient pantry list of our little etome (see the upper right for ordering info). Anyway, thanks Roger Ebert: the soup was pretty good. Also easy. Also cheap. And pretty "good for you," especially given its sodium-laden base.

Check out my hero's forthcoming book. I know I will.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not Your Mother's Microwave Cookbook: A Review

I love reading cookbooks. There's a famous blog called 101 Cookbooks. I probably have more than 202 cookbooks.

Now that I have this blog, I can view my cookbook reading as an important and useful endeavor: I have to help the college cook or anyone who doesn't have much time, money, and so forth.

I recently inspected the newest book by Beth Hensperger.

She has written similar tomes on slow cookers and rice cookers. I really like her books because they are problem-solvers.

The reason I was interested in this one: what if the college cook has not yet gotten a rice cooker? Can you cook in the microwave? By cook, I don't mean Lean Cuisine or hotdogs.

There are lots of yummy sounding dishes: Coconut Chicken Soup with Bok Choy, lasagne, and others. Some of the yummy-sounding recipes--like one for black bean soup--involve mixing some ingredients and heating in the micro. The ones mentioned above involve multi-steps (add this, cook 2 minutes, add that, cover with wrap, add something else). You have to be very motivated to try this. Most college cooks of my acquaintance are too lazy.

So yeah, you can cook rice in the micro, but why would you, when it is easier to buy a rice cooker, which is MADE for cooking rice.

I did try one very easy recipe: Individual Veggie Tortilla Pizzas. All you have to do is heat your flour tortilla, add toppings, let stand, and cut in wedges. Easy.

So I made it. I discovered that my microwave takes twice as long as hers (do I need to replace?); I discovered that the tortilla remained kind of soft, so it was hard to cut. It was good...but was it pizza? No, it was not. In future, I will roll it up and call it a wrap. Do you need a cookbook for this recipe? Not really.

This book is good for ideas. I will try some more and report back. Sadly, the book doesn't come with the Search Inside feature that enables you to test-drive recipes.

So...please buy a rice cooker and then you can get her other book.

This one has a lot more recipes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Red Beans and Rice for the College Cook

This classic should be in everyone's repertoire: it's easy, cheap, and good. I was perusing the preview of the Publix ad, and saw that kielbasa is on sale for $2.50 a pound. Kielbasa is precooked sausage that adds a ton of flavor to whatever you use it in. So, Miss Em and friends, red beans and rice should be on the menu.

You already have the basic ingredients (basic in our College Cooking Crash Course pantry): canned kidney beans, frozen onion, frozen bell pepper, and, of course, hot sauce! Do you need a recipe? Not really.

Combine a few cans of drained beans, a handful each of pepper and onions, and however much sliced kielbasa you want in your rice cooker. Cook till hot! You might want to add a little water because beans sometimes stick.

Oh! No rice cooker yet? Combine all of the above in a biggish microwave safe bowl and heat up.

Serve on rice you have already cooked. Hot sauce to taste.

Red beans and rice freezes well. Rice freezes well. Make enough for a few meals.

PLEASE: get a rice cooker.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Burritos: Assembly-Only for the College Cook

Oh, how we love burritos. I learned to make them back in graduate school in the 70s, when I cooked them to please my California-raised beloved. It may be hard to believe, but in those days, people who lived anywhere besides California, Texas, or Arizona, may never have eaten Mexican food. In fact, in those days, you could not even buy salsa in the average grocery store. No kidding.

We love burritos in and of themselves. Not even counting the fact that they are cheap and easy. I asked Miss Em the other day if she had begun to use any of our recipes from College Cooking Crash Course.

"No," she said. "I'm still eating burritos." Yes, along with sheets, towels, shoes, and the like, we brought 30 frozen burritos to the college freezer. We make them assembly-line. If you didn't carry your burritos to college, you will have to make your own.

Here is a recipe from our cookbook, also available at the right in a pdf version. It uses 6 ingredients (plus a few condiments) and requires only a little heating in the microwave.

Bean and cheese burritos

1 can of beans, drained
6-8 tortillas
1½ cup cheddar cheese
Rotel tomatoes
Frozen chopped bell peppers
Frozen chopped onions
Cajun seasoning mix or chili powder

One can of beans, drained of liquid, will provide you with about 1½ cups. Mash the beans in a bowl using a fork. Depending on your fore-arm strength and preference of consistency you can mash them into a smooth paste or leave it rather chunky; either tastes equally delicious. Add a bit of Cajun seasoning mix if you want to add some spice to your beans, but be wary of over-salting. For variety, you can also add about a tablespoon of onions and / or bell peppers to the beans. Split your bean mixture evenly among the tortillas and top with cheddar cheese. Then, roll up your burritos, heat them in the microwave for about 30 seconds, and garnish with the Rotel.

What have you been cooking?

Friday, August 27, 2010

College Cooking and Economic Trends: Coffee

I will admit it: a main reason (if not THE main reason) for having Miss Em purchase a small meal plan is money. At around $8.00/meal, the dining hall is an expensive choice.

Of course, you're not saving money if you purchase prepared food in your grocery deli: that gourmet wrap may equal the cost of your dining hall lunch, without the variety.

Still, college students can't--and shouldn't--run all over town trying to get the best deals on food. Nevertheless, when you spot a deal, buy more than one.

The Wall Street Journal tells us that food prices are going up: coffee, in particular, is on the rise. It just so happens that Miss Em, who is fast becoming an addict, like her parents before her, inquired about coffee. It turns out that the wonderful instant coffee we learned about will not suffice.

No, she wants real coffee too. Well, my local grocery has coffee and chicory on sale this week for $1.99. I was planning to buy 20. Maybe I'll buy 50, and save some for Miss Em and her roommates.

I noticed that Amazon has Louisiana coffee at a very good price.

This is only a teeny bit more than a local sale price! I called Miss Em, but it turns out that no one in her suite has a P.O. box, so I can't have Amazon send it yet. I told her to get a box forthwith.

Warning: Louisiana coffee is very strong.

Any thoughts on stocking up?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not Ready for Prime Time?: Go little book

From Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde: "Go, little book, go, little myn tragedye"

From Spenser's Shepheardes Calender: "Go, little book: thyself present"

Of course, these writers whose works I have been studying for,lo, these many, many years, knew quite well the merits of their not-so-little books.

Our cookbook truly IS little (only around 25 pages), and, in a sense, it doesn't exist REALLY, except in a pdf file, whatever the ontological status of a pdf file may be.

Whatever: you can check out our useful little book by purchasing a pdf through paypal: see the little button on the upper right. There are still a few typos, so if that will bother you, wait a bit.

OR--and here you must be very brave--you can purchase an ebook for kindle through Amazon. We have not had a guinea pig/friend test run this yet. The same typos are in this one. Fixing those will take a little longer.

Look at that snazzy pic taken by Frugal Son. His identity is now revealed, if you look. Not to mention, MY identity.

The ebook gives you recipes for 14 meals, based on 20 ingredients, predicated on a no-stove situation. We will start adding other recipes here as our whimsy takes us.

So, as always, I leave you with this: get a rice cooker.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's Cooking? Or Will Be Soon, I Hope

In a moment of madness, I decided to help my dear daughter transition to dorm cooking by putting together a few recipes for her. I figured it would take a few days. As I worked on the list, I realized that, like all cooking, College Cooking consists of several interlocking parts--shopping, cooking, cleaning up. Each part has difficulties attached, for College Cooking, only more so: shopping is difficult, storage is difficult, and, oh yeah, no stove.

Then I decided that lots of students might be interested. So we decided to start a blog.

What I came up with, after several false starts, was this concept: rice cooker and microwave only; 20 ingredients, some condiments, 14 recipes. That way, the College Cook could shop once and eat for two weeks.

We created a coherent system, with all the interlocking parts. But a system like that isn't really best suited to the bit-by-bit format of the blog. It's more suited to a book.

Needless to say, something of the scope we developed doth not maketh a book. But I realized that neophyte cooks would be overwhelmed by a normal size cookbook. Then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how Amazon has made it easy for self-publishers to self-publish for Kindle.

Of course, I could not do this alone, and so enlisted my whole family, for help in writing, cooking, testing, editing, and so on. We learned many things. My style is too terse; Frugal Son has an aversion to commas, stuff like that. We learned that recipe-testing is hard. Things seldom come out quite the same way twice. We learned that authors of some rice cooker cookbooks must not test all the recipes, because some we tried did not come out. AT ALL.

I'm hoping that in the next few days our Tech Authority aka Frugal Son will be able to figure out how to set the whole thing up. Meanwhile, after a zillion proofreadings, I'm sure there are still mistakes.

Wish us luck.

From Shakespeare's Henry 5:

Still be kind

And eke out our performance with your mind

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cookin' once, cookin' twice, cookin' chicken soup with rice

You may have noticed that Publix, my dear daughter's grocery of choice, had rotisserie chicken on sale. Even if rotisserie chicken is NOT on sale, just at regular price, it's a good deal for the College Cook. That's obvious to anyone, right?

The key to cooking ease for anyone, of the College cohort, or even of my middle-aged working person cohort, or even of MY mother's retired, hate to cook cohort, is to get more than one meal from your efforts.

So, cookin' once. Get that chicken. Eat some, accompanied by, well, anything. How about making some rice in your rice cooker? Put in 1 1/2 cups and 3 cups of water. You will have about 4 1/2 cups of rice. Eat a little with your chicken. Maybe have a salad or some other vegetable. Whatever. Save the remains of the chicken and the rice.

cookin' twice. Take a bit of chicken (leave some!) and a cup or two of cooked rice. You can use your rice cooker: mix some of the chicken and rice with some onion and whatever veggies you have. OR, you can mix all the aforementioned ingredients in a bowl, and heat in the microwave. If you top with soy sauce, you have Chinese food, sort of.

cookin' chicken soup with rice.Surely, this was inevitable. If you didn't read the Maurice Sendak book Chicken Soup with Rice, let me just say, it's never too late. This is the hardest part of your journey. But the previous days have been so easy. You must use the carcass for stock. You simply must. It will improve anything.

This is messy. Squoosh the carcass, including all scraps (maybe taking the nice meat off first), jam it into your rice cooker. Add water. Cook for an hour or so. Using a colander, drain the stock into another pot. You will have to wash the colander. Throw away the bones. It's better to discard OUT of your dorm room, because bones can get smelly.

The yucky part is done. Now you can make chicken soup, using some left-over rice, maybe your left-over veggies. I bet you have enough for 2 servings.

Lyrics to Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice , with music by Carole King, here.

Any other chicken soup ideas? Don't you love Maurice Sendak?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mommy, What's BOGO?: How to Save Money Stocking the College Kitchen

Even though superfrugal shopping is not the MAIN aim of this blog--why not save money when you can? The key to ease in meal preparation is to have what you need: with a can of tomatoes, an onion, pasta, cheese, a vegetable, you have dinner. Add eggs and you have a different dinner. Add tortillas and you have yet another dinner.

The key to saving money in your kitchen is to have what you need, acquired at good prices.

There are various ways to accomplish this end. The one that gets the most press is couponing. I don't do this myself (too messy) and I think for singles like college cooks, it would be a real time suck. Another way (my personal fave) is Big Lots. But for the college student, this isn't the best: not everything is well-priced and you can't count on finding what you need. The warehouse stores are, in theory, excellent, but, except for cheese, I haven't found the prices that great. Plus, they are often out of the way. Plus, items are sold in huge sizes that would prove wasteful for the single or college cook.

So, we are back to the local grocery. Obviously, shop sales. How do you shop at the local place and save money? If you need something, you need something. Still, you should SHOP THE ADS. Most stores have ads on-line, which is how I checked the Publix prices for my beloved daughter.

Publix seems enamored of the BOGO. "Mommy, what's a BOGO?" Glad you asked. It means BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. So, College Cooks, if you see that you can get canned tomatoes that way, and pasta, why not buy 2 of each? That way, when you need to restock, you'll already have what you need, thereby saving a trip.

With things like canned tomatoes and pasta, I'd probably buy 4 of each--or even 8.

Any other tips for saving money on food shopping?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shopping for the College Cook: Publix edition

Well, Miss Em is ensconced in her suite. So, what happens when a pathologically frugal mother has a somewhat frugal daughter who is poised to start eating in her suite kitchen, sans stove?

Well, it is not worth said student's time to be PATHOLOGICALLY frugal, to seek out the absolutely BEST prices on food items. Still, besides home cooking, the best way to save money on food is to plan your eating AROUND the sales, and to buy an extra one or few of an item on sale.

The grocery store right off campus is PUBLIX. It is an easy and relaxing walk. What should Miss Em think about buying? Remember, these are not SUPER-LOW prices, but they are very good to pretty good. Note that the first list covers today and tomorrow. The second list covers the next ad, with the week starting Wednesday.

For 8/16-8/17

peaches 99/lb
red grapes 1.69/lb
publix salad 2/4
strawberries 2.50/lb
wesson oil 48 oz 2/4
ronzoni pasta bogo

For week beginning 8/18

Lots of good stuff! However, in the interest of healthy eating, I am not mentioning things like tuna helper and ice cream sandwiches and the like, even at good prices.

Fiber 1 cereal 4.29 bogo
barilla pasta bogo
hunts diced tomatoes 1.39 bogo
planters peanuts 12 oz can 2.71 bogo
nature's bread organic 3.49 bogo
starkist 4 pk albacore 5.99 bogo
peter pan peanut butter 2.09 bogo
dannon activa yogurt 3/6
publix cottage cheese 24 oz 2/4
eggland eggs 2/4
cracker barrel cheese 2/6*
very good xsharp cheddar
publix yogurt 20/8*
i.e. 40 cents each, math students
rotisserie chicken cold 4.99
medium shrimp 4.99*
only if peeled! too messy, otherwise
plums 99/lb
white grapes 1.69

Friday, August 13, 2010

Yet another good deal for students: LLBean Backpack Sale and Free Shipping

We at the Frugal Homestead will not be taking advantage of this DOUBLE offer, but IF you need a backpack, this may be the time. LL Bean, maker of the ubiquitous backpack and profferer (??) of the famous lifetime guarantee is having a 20% off all backpacks sale. That's pretty good, given the guarantee.

Frugal Son and Miss Em have backpacks--many years old now--so they are set.

I got an LL Bean visa card for the express purpose of free shipping and monogramming on said backpacks. Now you can get free shipping any old way and use whatever credit card you want.

FRUGAL RULE: Don't buy something just because it's on sale. ONLY IF YOU NEED IT.

As a little bonus, let me recount a frugal horror story. One of my students had 4 kids and ordered them ALL LL backpacks with monogramming. She was a frugal pal of mine. We often collected old student folders and distributed them--me to my students and my student to her children. Imagine my horror when she told me about the order! She was less pathological than yours truly. She did promise that if she ordered anything else, she would get the credit card or give me cash and let me order.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Two Good Deals for College Students: Amazon Prime and Sam's Club

Sam's Club offers college students a $15.00 gift card with its regular $40.00 membership. Math majors: This makes the membership $25.00, right? You have to get this in-store, I think. Miss Em is going to join, with a parent as a co-member.

We don't buy much there, but it's worth it for cheese. Most of the goods are sized too large for college students.

Meanwhile, Amazon is working towards world domination by offering students free Amazon Prime. Needless to say, this is designed to get you to purchase your textbooks from Amazon. Prime means you don't need to get to $25.00 for free shipping. Plus, you get 2-day shipping.

So, students, in addition to whatever else you need: remember your rice cooker.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People

I've talked about this book now and again, but I've never actually cooked anything from it--till now.

This book is fun to read. It is from a small Louisiana press and the author is the publisher (or the publisher is the author). He does not claim any cooking expertise: he likes to eat (he's a Louisiana boy, after all); he wants things simple, the usual. The reason this is fun to read is that it reflects Louisiana homecooking. Along with exquisite fresh seafood (shrimp and crawfish, mainly), there is an abundance of processed cheese and canned cream soups. And, of course, an abundance of Rotel tomatoes.

So every time I thought about trying something, I was put off by one of the dubious ingredients. How could I put processed cheese in a pot with my beautiful Gulf shrimp? What a wimp I am!

Today, I made one of the real oddities: stuffed baked potato. Chicken fajita stuffed baked potato, in fact. Why weird? Because the potato is not a whole potato, but a quantity of frozen French fries! Mixed with chicken, some veggies, broth, seasoning,and butter.

Today I was in Dollar Tree with Miss Em and saw that they had frozen French fries for $1.00. I had the other ingredients at home. I tweaked the recipe (poached the chicken breasts in micro, rather than sauteeing in pan) since I want to keep to the College Cooking no stove path.

Bertrand said the recipe took 40 minutes; my cooker popped to warm after only 20. Inside, the frozen French fries had turned to mashed potatoes. The chicken and veggies tasted not like fajitas, but like Grandma's chicken...on mashed potatoes.

I ran it by my future College Cook. Miss Em said, "It's good, but why can't I make a baked potato in the microwave and top it with something?"

Good question. But I LOVE mashed potatoes and hate the prep. I'm going to experiment a bit more.

I haven't seen this potato trick in any other rice cooker book. If you can ignore the weirdness of putting a bunch of defrosted frozen French fries in your rice cooker, then a good thing will emerge.

I give Mr. Bertrand--or Mr. Neal, as we say in Louisiana--points for being so ingenious. I found some marked down processed cheese dip in a jar in Big Lots, so maybe I'll even screw up my courage and try his shrimp fettuccine.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ingredients from UPS? A Good Idea?

I am a frugal, from scratch kind of cook, so it has been an education for me to think in terms of cooking for the college student. Obviously, a dorm- or apartment-dwelling student doesn't have the time, space, or incentive to cook the way I do.

So, frugality needs to be second to convenience. After all, if it's not convenient to cook something, you can always pop in a frozen dinner or go out for fast food. Not that good--or good for you, but easy and cheap.

I have been perusing Amazon's grocery offerings of late. I found a few things that would be worth buying. These all get free shipping if you spend over $25.00. Maybe it's worth it to have your ingredients delivered to your door.

Item 1 is polenta.

I make my own polenta, natch, for about 1/10 this price. But the price on Amazon for the pre-prepared is about the same as at my local grocery. You can slice polenta and use it as a base for various toppings. You can layer it with cheese and tomato sauce for a kind of lasagne. Only downside: you have to buy a dozen, so make sure you like polenta.

Item 2 is tofu.

This too is about the same price as in the stores in my area. I'm sure it's cheaper in an Asian grocery. You can stir this into soup. In fact, if you stir it into the ubiquitous ramen and throw in some frozen spinach, you've got a pretty healthy meal.

As a last example, my favorite tomato sauce.

I got a year's supply at my fave store Big Lots a while ago--for $1.00 a can. Still, this is great stuff on pasta, pizza dough, and so on. Unlike most canned stuff, it doesn't taste like metal.

Do you think it's worth it to pay more for food that is delivered?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Other College Expenses: Now Laundry?

Work goes on apace as we work on our project College Cooking Crash Course, which will save you time and also money in your daily eating activity.

As we all know--or as you are about to know--there are loads of other costs as well. I read something the other day on the incidental costs of college. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I read it, so I can't provide a link. Suffice it to say that some ridiculous enormous sum was floated. I mean ENORMOUS. I can't resist what is perhaps an OT view of one expense: laundry.

My daughter--AKA Lucy Marmalade--is proud to say that she didn't do her laundry in the dorm a single time last year. Don't recoil in horror! It just so happened that she visited us sufficiently (dirty laundry in duffel bag) to avoid the laundry room. Perhaps this is a family tradition. Her late Nana Virginia recounted sending (yes, MAILING) dirty laundry from Carleton College in Minnesota to her mother, Faith, in Chicago. Nana Faith sent it back, ironed and folded.

No one does that anymore, right? In fact, a commonly proffered "good gift for graduates" idea is laundry bag, bundle of quarters, and detergent. This may also be archaic (kind of like the typewriter for graduates of yore): I think most college machines take student plastic cards now.

Still, some parents must worry about how their scholars are keeping up with laundry. Yesterday, I received in the mail an offer for the University Laundry Service. Smiling (CLEAN) students are pictured: Saving Students up to 120 hours a year, says the brochure.

The brochure lists a 10 step-process that must be akin to what Nana Faith did, including pulling socks straight, pairing socks, immediately removing clothes from dryer and meticulously folding, folding socks, and, finally, shrink wrapping in plastic. Well, Nana Faith didn't do that. This partial list includes all the things I don't do, having slacker laundry habits. Of course, I don't spend 120 hours a year on laundry.

So, what is the cost for this service? 10 pounds a week is $324/semester or $598/year. The MOST POPULAR 20 pounds a week is $374/semester or $698/year. And the grand 30 pounds a week plan is $424/semester or $798/year. PLUS TAX.

Note that a year is a school year, maybe 8 months? With the MOST POPULAR PLAN, including tax, you are spending almost $100 per month on laundry.

The little slogan is "STEP BY STEP of our MOTHER'S TOUCH." Of course my frugal kids burst out laughing at that one: this is way more luxurious than their mother's touch. PLUS, they noted, why MOTHER'S?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Thoughts on the Rice Cooker

by Frugal Son

The beauty of the rice cooker is its elegant simplicity; but even so, for the “uninitiated” the first steps on the road to becoming a rice cooker king or queen are, of course, understanding how it works and learning how to use it. After you’ve bought your first rice cooker, or better yet fished out the unused one from your parents’ kitchen, take a look at it. Quite simple, right? Your rice cooker consists of two basic parts: the receptacle—which has the cord, cook / warm switch, heating element etc.—and the pot—which is where you’ll be doing all the cooking. Once you’ve plugged in the rice cooker and flipped the switch to “cook,” the electric element will begin heating the cooking pot and whatever ingredients are inside. One of the greatest features of rice cookers is their “auto-off” or “auto-warm” feature that will keep you from burning your food and, more importantly, setting fire to your room! Once the temperature of the cooking pot begins to heat up much hotter than the boiling point of water (212 degrees F or 100 degrees C), a thermostat trips the switch to “off” or “warm,” which will stop or reduce the amount of electricity flowing to the heating element. There is also a spring-loaded sensor in the base of the rice cooker receptacle, which will trip the off / warm switch if the cooking pot is removed. For this reason, rice cookers are very forgiving to the debutant cooker and perfect for those who are particularly prone to distraction or forgetfulness.

Now that you understand what’s going on electronically, it’s time to get down to the more edible aspects. A rice cooker is, as the name implies, primarily intended for cooking rice. Simply add one unit rice (cups, pounds, bowlfuls, whatever you want), two units water, and a bit of salt. Then put on the top, plug in the machine, flip the switch to cook, and come back in about 30 minutes for perfectly cooked, steaming rice. It really is that simple! All of the recipes in this book will follow this same basic technique. Rice cooker cooking is inherently simple because of the limitations of the machine: only one button to press! For some of our recipes you may need to check back to flip the switch to cook again but other than that, no special skills required.

This is the one we use

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Secret of the College Cook: Frozen Chopped Onions

Hmmmmm...some dissonance between the first part and the second part of the title there! Seriously, though, my onion breakthrough is second only to my rice cooker breakthrough.

To recap: out of love for my daughter, and a general frugal bent, I have been trying to figure out how college students can cook easily, cheaply, and well--without a stove.

Nearly every recipe--including those in rice cooker cookbooks--begins "Chop an onion" or include "large onion, chopped" in the ingredient list. How could we cook without onions?

Let us look at the labor behind "chop an onion":
--you have to buy an onion
--this required a trip to the store
--either you have to go to the store NOW or you have an onion, hopefully not too old
--you have to chop it
--so you need a knife and a cutting board
--then you have to wash off the cutting board and knife
--then you have to suffer with the smell of onion on your hands and in your cooking area
--and the knife

And now, you have your "onion, chopped."

Let us look at the College Cooking Crash Course philosophy of the "onion, chopped."
--you went to the store a while back and bought FROZEN CHOPPED ONIONS
--you measure out a cup

And now you have your "onion, chopped."

If you are a daredevil cook, you don't even need the measuring cup, thereby eliminating one step.

Oh, how trivial this may seem! But to the College Cook, having that "onion, chopped" is the result of many small, time-consuming, annoying tasks.

One of the fun parts of testing recipes for you, College Cooks, has been my discovery and use of frozen chopped onions. I have not chopped a single onion for, well, weeks. With the time I've saved, I've read a novel: Dead Souls, by Gogol. It is, in my opinion, a masterpiece.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook

I talked about this briefly over on frugalscholar, but I checked this out of the library again and would like to talk about it some more.

I haven't yet seen the much-awaited rice cooker book by Roger Ebert.

So far, of the ones I've seen and worked with a bit, I have to say that Ultimate is the best.

I judge a cookbook by how much it makes me want to jump up and start cooking. My first trip through this didn't have that effect: the first two chapters are kind of tedious, perhaps because so detailed. But 17 pages on rice cookers, followed by more than 40 pages on how to cook every kind of rice you've ever and never heard of,,,well, not inspiring to me.

This time, I looked at chapter 3, which to me makes the book worth its relatively low price: Simple Everyday Rices and LITTLE MEALS. This is the chapter that is of most use to the College Cook and to the harried home cook. Here are some of the ideas: Greek Lemon and Dill Rice with Feta, Mexican Rice and Beans, Chinese Sausage and Rice, Indonesian Rice Bowl.

Some of these are a little multi-step for the College Cook, but all can be simplified. All could be augmented as well. For instance, the Greek rice could become a complete dinner with the addition of some frozen or fresh spinach. And it would be fine without the dill.

This book has the Search Inside feature, so you can test drive the Greek rice and whatever else strikes your fancy.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Meal Plans

By Frugal Son

In many ways, I am fan of college dining halls. They offer a convenient, healthy,
and, increasingly, tasty option for students living on or around campus. As dining
halls approach the quality of restaurants, however, prices have followed suit;
all that soft serve ice cream and the lovely fruit arrangements aren’t free! At
some universities, I would hazard a guess and say most, freshman living on
campus are required to purchase a meal plan, and since these can cost upwards
of $1,000 per semester, it definitely pays to do a bit of research. Case in point: At LSU, where I go to college, several meal plans were offered, each with a different amount of meals and “Tiger Bucks” (a cash equivalent that could only be used on campus).

My meal plan was paid for by a scholarship, but even so I wanted to do a little
research on the prices of meal plans. I thought that it should stand to reason
that the bigger the meal plan, the cheaper each individual meal should be;
economy of scale, right? WRONG! The largest meal plan was actually about 50
cents per meal more expensive than one of the middle ones. After noticing this
inconsistency, I decided to delve a little deeper into the devious world of meal
plan pricing. My shocking find was that it was actually CHEAPER to purchase
individual meals and use a “customer loyalty” card—every 11th meal was free—
than even the cheapest of the meal plans.

Flash forward a few years and, finally, the incongruity has been fixed: now
individual meals range from about $5.50 / meal (with the largest meal plan) to
nearly $8 / meal (with the cheapest). Order has been restored to the universe;
however, this goes to show that it can pay to take the time to do some simple
math. Another question you can ask yourself is whether the price of a meal plan
is justified AT ALL. Two meals a day for a school week at $8 / meal comes to
$80…that’s a lot of groceries! The average meal listed in this cookbook requires
only $2.50 of groceries…for two people!

Of course, the convenience, ease, and quality of dining halls—not to mention
that, in my experience, it was a social center—is not to be underestimated, but
by reducing your dependence on them you can save a lot of money and learn a
skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life AND make you a sought after
commodity for your cooking “genius.”

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What is College Cooking Anyway?

College Cooking seems to be a somewhat amorphous term. So let me explain what OTHER PEOPLE mean by College Cooking and then what I mean by it.

If you search the term on Amazon, some cookbooks come up. Here are the first 3:

I randomly selected this recipe: Chicken Tetrazzini, which you can find via the Search Inside feature. This calls for poaching some chicken breasts--in a pot, on a stove. Cooking a pound of spaghetti, in another pot on the stove. Draining both. Cutting up the chicken. Adding some canned soup and mushrooms and other stuff. Then baking in a casserole.

Verdict: several pots, colander, draining, chopping, baking. Big mess.

Here's another:

Another random stroll yields Spinach Quiche-adilla. This involves chopping and sauteeing an onion, adding spinach, adding tomatoes, removing much of the concoction and saving for another use and then scrambling eggs in the remainder. And so on.

Verdict: 1 pot, messy chopping, leftovers, etc.

Our last sample is

This book has similar recipes, but also includes a glossary of college slang, including the "15 minute rule," which means that if your teacher doesn't show up, you can leave after 15 minutes. NOTE: This is apocryphal. There are variations, for instance: you only wait 10 minutes for an Instructor, but 20 minutes for a PhD. Anyway, I'll skip the recipe analysis because you get the idea.

The college-themed cookbooks on the market generally are BEGINNER cookbooks. In that, they are no different from other beginner cookbooks: they provide lengthy pantry and equipment lists, definitions of cooking terms, and other tips. What makes them COLLEGE, besides the title, is the tone.

Still, most of these books assume you have a KITCHEN. WITH A STOVE. Hence the title of a cookbook recommended in a comment:

This is a cute book, by a mother-son duo. It has some helpful "Mom Tips." The recipe for Onion Soup, predictably, calls for chopping and sauteeing onions, adding canned broth and other stuff, and topping with toasted bread and grated cheese.

Verdict again: chop, at least one pot, toaster, etc.

The operative word in all these is STOVE. And KITCHEN. Not all college students have stoves. My daughter, for instance, will be living in a suite with a kitchen area, which has NO STOVE. If she wants a stove, she has to venture down the hall or to another floor, where there is a communal stove. I asked if she would leave to get to the stove: she said "Not unless I have to."

So our ebook will take seriously the situation of the dorm-dweller, for whom a stove is a distant or a non-existent dream.

Why not buy a stove-substitute? Because such appliances are dangerous and often prohibited. Here is the blurb from one college:

No open flame instruments are permitted; this includes charcoal or gas grills, George Foreman-type grilling appliances, candles, toaster ovens and hotplates.

Also, it's hard enough for a so-called adult (like me) to get dinner on the table: shopping, prep, and clean-up are all a major pain. The recipes above are not hard, but they will leave you with multiple things to wash and hands that smell like onions. Oh, and your little kitchen area will smell like onions. And no, you can't use a candle (see above) as an air-freshener.

SO, our ebook will be a no-stove book, with little shopping, little prep, clean-up, or onion-chopping. NO KIDDING.