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.”