Sunday, October 7, 2007

Rice and Mushroom Mutter

So my officemate, a miracle-maker in his own right, recently brought in a microwave rice cooker. I didn't know such things existed, but they do, and they rule! In under twenty minutes, one can cook rice. In an office. Oh, it's a beautiful thing.

The rice might be hard to get exactly right, but it's the perfect side dish to very nearly everything, and thus, it doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Countless times I've been eating Indian food, and one of my Indian colleagues walks up and says that in India, they don't just eat Punjabi Chhole by itself. And now, neither do I!

So tonight saw a relatively low-protein, but high deliciousness meal consisting of rice and mushroom mutter (curried mushrooms and peas), purchased at my local Indian store, and presented in a very, very sketchy can. Imported from Punjab, it tastes authentic, in that "this is delicious, but I think I might die" sort of way. Anyway, with a rice cooker that works in the microwave, I think I might be able to start cooking lentils, garbanzos, and other delicious things that normally come in cans.

As for why I haven't been posting on here, it's related to me eating the same thing over and over again. Can of vegetables, ramen, can of tuna. Although I did put some awesome Berbere in the last batch of ramen, throwing away the "mushroom chicken" flavoring. Actually, in a true microwave miracle, I microwaved the flavor packet along with the ramen (whoops!) but nothing awful happened. Thank you, office-kitchen gods.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Trader Joe's: Saviour of Men

So anyone who's ever eaten food on the fast and cheap before knows that Trader Joe's is totally ingenious. Their food is of a remarkably high quality, and they do a good job of keeping it interesting. They lack a lot of the staples of my office cuisine, particularly canned vegetables, but I don't mind hitting a few grocery stores at a time, so it's all good.

Tonight's dinner employed one of my favored TJ's discoveries - the Marinated Bean Salad. It's just a bunch of beans soaking in what amounts to a light salad dressing, but in one can you get 630 calories - not bad for $1.50 or however much it actually costs. I cleverly discarded the price prior to dinner today. Whoops!

Anyway, beans go remarkably well with couscous, which, as we know, cooks like a dream in the microwave. 3 minutes, a can of corn and beans later, and you've got a tasty, incredibly filling, and relatively high-protein meal.

There are variations on this which are super delicious at the ever-wonderful RecipeZaar. The problem is that unless you fancy chopping green peppers or you've got cumin next to your microwave, you've really got to keep it simple. Fortunately, the bare minimum is plenty for a balanced and delicious meal. Let's round it up!

Beans: $1.50?
Corn: $0.30
Couscous: $0.15

Total: $1.95

Ah, the taste of scrumptious poverty.

If you want a more professional take on this college eating thing, definitely hit up RecipeZaar's Guide, which looks fun and useful. I'll even look at it myself!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Indian Ramen

Ramen is probably the cheapest way to find calories, period. The problem with Ramen is that the local American brands seem to focus on Asian flavors, which frankly, I am really not a fan of. "Mushroom Chicken" flavoring? Yikes. Fortunately, there are alternatives, namely Indian ramen, which comes with these little joyous spice packets that pack a pretty good punch. I haven't tried many flavors, but the Curry Smoodles and Maggi Masala Noodles are both spectacular.

A four-pack of imported Indian noodles will vary in cost at your local import store, at Kashmir in Coolidge Corner, I think it's about $1-$1.50. It's well worth the extra change, as your noodles are spicy and wonderful. My present meal consists of one noodle serving, a can of tuna and half of a can of peas.

The only trick to making ramen in the microwave is to make sure you don't add too much water. I hate when my noodles are too soupy, and am a much bigger fan of just regular old noodles. So I use only about 1/2 cup of water for one noodle block, and that leaves only a little bit of watter at the bottom. Make sure you microwave your ramen and water together, and don't try and boil water in your microwave first. If you put water and nothing else into your microwave, you risk superheating your water, which is really pretty cool, but not the sort of thing you want to get up close and personal with.

Let's round it up!

Noodles: $0.35
Tuna: $0.85
Peas: $0.33

Total: $1.53

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cow Peas?

Tonight's fabulous dinner is focused on curried cow peas, called lobia. Cow peas are, as far as I can tell, a lot like other peas-that-are-more-like-beans, like black-eyed peas, but mine are a little smaller. Of course, it doesn't help that they come from the ghettoest can of food I've ever purchased, some company called Sohna, which I've never heard of and seems to have no information online. Regardless, it's good protein for a single can (52.5g) and is quite well spiced. It's not gourmet (it came from a freakin' can) but it gets the job done.

How come more things don't come curried in cans? It's not much more expensive, and it's super-duper delicious. A can of lentils, whatever, but a can of curried lentils, now we've got something we can work with.

Anyway, I made this with couscous, another life-saver in the office eating department. It cooks in like 2-3 minutes in the microwave, and for once you get the benefit of using the same stuff in your kitchen as in your office. In other words, you don't have to pay quadruple for a single serving that takes a third of the time to cook.

The unfortunate thing about couscous is that it's basically just bread. It's not rice, it's more like pasta, which is a bummer when you want rice. Apparently my logic is, I want rice, couscous is not rice, therefore couscous is not good enough. Still good, though. I really have to figure out how to make rice in my microwave, though, this is an important step in my development as a graduate student.

Anyway, for this dinner I threw in the rest of that veg-all can, which, with its little chunks of potatoes really compliment the rest of the meal nicely. I'd be a little sad if I got this at a restaurant, but it's pretty decent for an office dinner.

Can of Lobia: $1.50
Veg-all remainder: $0.67
Whole wheat couscous: $0.15

Total: $2.32

I think I may soak some chickpeas tonight for use tomorrow. Excitement grips me!

Annie's + Additives

So today I went the less adventurous route, and instead of trying how to make lentils in my microwave, I just made the basic Annie's. Of course, regular old Annie's is fine, but I need to spice to up to make it a miracle.

To get my protein up to "work out all the time" levels, I added my wonderful can of tuna, because I am fancy I added Veg-all canned mixed vegetables, and then because I am smart I added Sriracha. It's perfect for the office-kitchen for a few big reasons. For starters, it goes with pretty much everything. It turns mac and cheese from a boring every-day item to a creamy-spicy bastion of deliciousness. Delicious on beans, too! I haven't put it in a sandwich yet, but you just wait! Anyway, Sriracha is also really cheap and lasts forever. One bottle is a few bucks and you use so little each time, you're likely to lose the bottle before it's empty. You can also dispense with your minifridge, because it's got enough preservatives to survive the nuclear holocaust. Maybe if you eat enough, you will, too!

So let's do the tally.

Annie's Instant Mac: $0.50
Tuna: $0.85
Veg-all (1/3 can): $0.33
Sriracha: $0.01

Total: $1.69

42g Protein, 400 calories. Delicious.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Elbow Macaroni

So, what's the difference between "cooks in 9 minutes" Elbow Macaroni and "cooks in 3 minutes" Annie's instant macaroni? We're about to find out.

1/2 Cup Elbow Macaroni
1/2 Cup Water

So I'm going to put the ingredients in my trusty pyrex bowl and microwave uncovered for 3 minutes and see what happens.


OK, as it turns out, "cooks in 9 minutes" Elbow Macaroni is like, mega al dente after 3 minutes in the microwave. Who knew? I think maybe if one pre-soaks the macaroni, or uses less power in the microwave, things will be OK. Because my microwave has no functional display, it makes changing the power difficult. Right now, I'm going to keep adding minutes until the macaroni is soft enough to not make crunching sounds when I eat it. Mmmm.


One more minute was enough for there to be no more water, and it is no longer crunchy. Just really, really tough. Next time, I'm going to use 2/3 cup water. Microwave for 2, let sit for 1, and then microwave for 2, and maybe we'll be getting there.

Even so, it's edible, and super cheap!

1/2 cup elbow macaroni: $0.125
(1 can tuna: $0.85)
1 serving pasta sauce/1 serving Parmesan: $0.25

Total cost: $0.375 ($1.225)
Equivalent cost for Annie's: $0.50

So Annie's is slightly more expensive, but really pretty tasty. Mine, well, I think there was more of it because the pasta wasn't so thin that it could cook in 3 minutes, but it was never quite the right pasta feel. Even so, I now have an entire box of pasta with which to experiment, and I'm sure I'll stumble onto something delicious sooner or later.