Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Asian Sesame Noodles: Pot Luck Offering for the College Cook

Miss Em has made (i.e. opened three cans) black bean salad/dip for two pot lucks. The dish has been well-received, but she is feeling a bit guilty because it's so easy. Recently, I received an SOS asking for another idea.

Asian sesame noodles: this is one of those dishes that people can't believe you can make yourself. There are zillions of recipes for this dish on the internet and in cookbooks. They are all good. They call for a little of this and a little of that, as each recipe writer tries to come up with the BEST version of the dish.

Not so for the College Cook. For the College Cook, we seek to discover just how minimal you can make the dish and still have it be good for a pot luck. After all, the College Cook may have no stove, no car, no time. Plus, the College Cook does not want to amass all sorts of ingredients that will languish unused in limited storage space.

So, here is the minimal version. I wanted Miss Em to use her sesame paste (tahini) that she acquired to make hummus a while ago.

NOODLES: I used half of a 12 oz bag of angel hair. I cooked the pasta in the rice cooker, in minimal water. Then I forgot about it. OOPS! All the water was sucked up, so no draining, which is good, but a lot stuck to the bottom. It is now soaking. So, if you can do this on the stove, it is a lot easier. Use between 6 oz and a pound of pasta. Any shape is ok.

PASTE: I used about 6 TBS of tahini. This turns to glue in the jar, so I dug some out and heated with Asian flavorings in the microwave. Just a little! You want it to blend with the noodles.

ASIAN FLAVORINGS: Miss Em doesn't have soy sauce. She does have some hoisin sauce I packed in her back-to-school box. I used about 2 TBS and mixed with tahini.

VINEGAR: I used about 1 TBS.

Mix the Asian sauce with the noodles and you have a decent basic pasta salad--good warm, room temperature, or cold.

SUBSTITUTIONS: If you don't have TAHINI, you can use PEANUT BUTTER (or both). If you don't have HOISIN, use SOY SAUCE (or both).

How to jazz it up: add chopped scallion. Add frozen peas. Add shredded cooked chicken. Scallions alone make it pot luck worthy; the other two additions are purely optional.

I like to sprinkle with hot pepper flakes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vegetables for the College Cook: Cabbage

Here is the email I sent my College Cook earlier today. I wanted to let her know what was on special this week at Publix.

grapes 1.69
pears .99
cucumbers .50 (good for gazpacho!)
bag coleslaw 1.29
bag baby carrots 1.29

Starches are easy for the College Cook: you can make your rice and pasta in the rice cooker; you can bake potatoes, white or sweet, in the microwave.

Vegetables are a pain, however. They require messy chopping, for one thing. That is why Frugal Son and I recommended frozen in our little ebook: onions, bell peppers, spinach can all be found for about a dollar a bag. All you have to do is throw them into whatever you are making.

Still, one craves variety. In the Publix list is a hidden gem: cole slaw mix. You get a pound of shredded cabbage, with a few carrots, for little more than a dollar. NO CHOPPING!

In addition to cole slaw (make the dressing with a little mayo, oil, vinegar, and a bit of sugar), you can throw the cabbage in your rice cooker with some soy sauce, making an Asian dish. If you put it in a flour tortilla, perhaps mashing some tofu in, you can eat a reasonable facsimile of mooshu take-out.

You can cook the cabbage in your rice cooker and top with some kielbasa (which will flavor it). Serve on a starch with mustard.

You can throw it into soup, making your dish healthier.

If you have a stove, you can saute the shredded cabbage, with or without onion, and mix into cooked egg noodles. This is a famous Eastern European dish, Jewish comfort food, which I first had at the home of my high school friend Gloria. Her mother, Eva, was an eccentric of the first degree, who, after her divorce, had fallen right out of the middle-class, at least economically. Eva and Gloria lived in a large falling-down house, where you could write phone messages on the kitchen wall and find unwashed dishes piling up over the weeks. The cabbage and noodle dish was, perhaps, my introduction to the food of the poor, which exists wherever there are poor people.

The thing about the food of the poor is that it is cheap and good. Perfect for the College Cook or anyone, really.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What to Bring to a Potluck: Beans, Of Course

We just got off the phone with Miss Em. She is going to a potluck dinner. Since she lacks a kitchen, she thought she'd go buy some cookies at Publix. YUK!

I pointed out that she could mix a can of the black beans (drain and rinse them!) I just sent her via Amazon with a can of Rotel tomatoes (don't drain), which I sent with her to school. All she'd need to get would be some chips.And--if that proved too difficult--she could count on their being an overabundance of chips, as there generally are at potlucks.

She was very happy with this idea and pointed out that she could add a can of corn (drain that too). Yes indeed.

Now, what if there are leftovers? You could scramble beans and salsa with eggs and chips making the famous dish migas.

Or egg-free, you could mix chips with the leftover beans and salsa, top with cheese, and heat in the microwave. This is a dorm version of chilaquiles.

Can you think of other easy potluck dishes for the college cook?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Leftover Frittata with Beans in a Tortilla: Third Meal!

It seems to me that the key to easy cooking is transformation. Like Proteus, the sea god, things turn to other things, involving very little in terms of time, mess, or cost.

So far, a simple rice concoction involving 4 ingredients turned into an egg dish, either a frittata for the lucky dorm cook with stove access or a simple scramble for those with only a rice cooker. In both cases, you have another possibility: Tex-mex or maybe Dorm-mex.

Take the can of beans stashed under your bed, mash up a few and put with egg stuff in a tortilla. Heat in microwave. Or not. I've seen many cookbooks suggest feta in Mexican dishes, so you're still within the borders of authenticity.

Of course, you'll add some hot sauce.

4 ingredients plus eggs plus beans plus tortillas plus hot sauce. Eight total and you still have some of everything left for your next adventure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Add some eggs for another meal: frittata

Remember how I suggested you make some extra of the 4-ingredient meal? You can, of course, reheat in a microwave.

But how about making something different? If you have a stove, you can make a frittata (an Italian egg dish): mix up a few eggs (2-4, say). Heat some oil in a non-stick pan. Mix your leftover rice concoction into the beaten eggs. Pour into your pan and turn the heat to low. Cook till cooked through. You might want to put a cover on the pan so the top gets cooked. It is quite a trick to flip the frittata.

Oh no! You are a dorm cook and only have your rice cooker. What to do? Well, it won't be as pretty, but you can scramble the mixture in your rice cooker. You may have to keep flipping the switch to cook.

Note that you have hardly made any mess at all. The first meal required only 1 pot or a rice cooker. No chopping. Second day: you have to mix up the eggs.

Save a little for tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

4 ingredient meal for the college dorm cook: rice, olive oil, feta, spinach

My dorm cook is still going from potluck to potluck, so no dorm cooking yet for her! Just in case you need a recipe, try this. Proportions aren't exact.

For your 4 ingredients: rice, frozen chopped spinach,feta cheese,and olive oil.

Make your rice: proportions are 1 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water for white; 1 cup rice to 2 cups water for brown. I would use a rice cooker, but if you haven't spent your $15.00, try to dig up a stove somewhere.

Start the rice. While it's cooking, take a handful or so of the frozen spinach and put it in a bowl. When the rice is done, stir in the spinach. The heat of the rice should warm up the spinach. Throw in some feta. Sprinkle with olive oil.

Try to save some for tomorrow.

Frugal Tip: the best place to get feta is at Sam's Club or Costco. Feta also freezes pretty well.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More Pantry Items from Amazon: Coffee for Caffeine and Tahini for Hummus

My College Dorm Cook has not yet cooked anything other than oatmeal. The first few weeks of school are full of FREE FOOD OPPORTUNITIES. Seek them out, College Cooks. It seems that Miss Em has a barbecue almost every evening. Otherwise, she's been eating the burritos we assembled here at home.

She did send an SOS: I didn't bring enough coffee. So we had Amazon do the shopping. This is Louisiana coffee: try it. It's cheaper on Amazon (if you put in the code and do Subscribe and Save0 than it is here in Louisiana.

The second SOS was about how to make hummus. Yes, you can make hummus. I shocked someone my age with this info once at a party: she looked at me as if I had announced that you can do brain surgery in your own kitchen. So it is no wonder that college students don't know that hummus is easy to make yourself. It is way cheaper than the stuff in the store. Miss Em had some cans of chickpeas we presciently slipped into her suitcase. But we broke the news: you need tahini. (Tahini is ground sesame paste--kind of like peanut butter, which I would not use as a sub). She bought some at Publix, but I found it on Amazon also, for way cheaper than at my grocery.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes


1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 3-5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the center of the hummus.

Add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil in the well. Garnish with parsley (optional).

Serve immediately with fresh, warm or toasted pita bread, or cover and refrigerate.

Miss Em and her friend made the hummus with a fork. It is possible!