Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Groceries & Cooking

One thing that I am: a foodie.
One thing that I am not: a cook.

And I never have been. I've always made simple meals, nothing extravagant. I really don't know HOW to cook! But slowly, I am making attempts. In college, my favorite recipe came from the back of a Campbell's soup can (a takes-5-minutes-to-prepare-and-45-min-in-the-oven "chicken bake"). It was usually fairly bland, since I knew (and know) nothing about spices...

However, I aboslutely LOVE food! I am a constant snacker and I just love to eat. Especially when it comes to any/all ethnic foods* - I am the happiest person on the planet.Having already traveled to many countries at my ripe age of 22, I cannot get enough of foreign foods. (This is why I should live in New York City!) It would be the easiest thing in the world for me to just dine out every night at all the ethnic restaurants that my city has - but of course, that would ruin my budget and I would deem myself unworthy of being a pf blogger! But yes, as you can tell, food is one of my weaknesses.

Recently, I have been making potatoes au gratin (from a box) with some edamame and a pork chop, just fried in a skillet. I like meals that are easy to put together, don't take too long to cook and (usually) cover all the food groups, or at least contain some protein/veggie/starch. Today, I needed to go grocery shopping, as I was out of almost everything in the fridge. So, I went to the nearby Henry's (a health/natural food store located in Southern California - they have AMAZING fresh and cheap produce!) and Ralph's. I had picked out a few recipes that did not seem too difficult from CheapHealthyGood as well as from Allrecipes.com. Since I am attempting to cook more, and make enough for leftovers (esp. for lunch at work), I am starting out with a grocery budget of $150 per month. Today, between the 2 stores, I spent $43.52. Not bad in my book! I purchased a bunch of spices (very cheap in bulk!), an assortment of canned goods (chickpeas, green beans, corn, water chestnuts, etc), some chicken breasts & thighs, spaghetti and produce (green grapes, asparagus, romaine lettuce, kale and broccoli) plus some deli meats. I created a list from a few recipes I am planning to try and I stuck to it very well! (A list certainly helps when going to the grocery store, though it is annoying when I just seem to wander aimlessly and want to buy it all! Self-control is key. I am getting better.)

Anyway. Tonight I made my first dish - but realized I forgot to write down 2 ingredients. Thus, my attempt at a Green Bean Casserole was nothing to write home about. There was no bacon in it nor french fried onions on top to give it that extra crunchiness. It was more a thick slop of cheddar cheese soup mixed with lots of green beans and water chestnuts, lol. But, there are leftovers! Which means lunch at work tomorrow! Next recipe/attempt: either a chicken provencal or butter chickpea curry. I think the chicken dish is a bit safer of an option...

Do you have any simple yet hearty meals that you make? Any suggestions for a freshly-starting-out cook?

*Thai and Indian are by far and wide my favorites - pad see eew and mutter paneer, respectively. :)


DiningonCents July 8, 2008 at 9:11 AM  

I just started reading your blog, it sounds great. I'm also in your position- I just graduated from a great state college, and am starting work for a big investment company. I have been fine-tuning my cooking skills for a year now, and my friend and i write about our recipes and our budgeting problems! As for cooking, I try to do simple things too. Roasting chicken every week and slicing it up is a great way to have some protein for salad or pasta during the work week!

Penny July 8, 2008 at 9:54 AM  

I doesn't sound like you bought any fruit? or anything to eat for breakfast?

Anyway, I really like to make fettuccine alfredo with chicken, squash, zucchini and carrots. I use penne noodles and if you make the whole box you use 3 chicken breasts boiled and cubed. The vegis are steamed. It's super easy and if you make all that it will last the whole week OR you can freeze small containers of it to reheat later. And it's really good cold.

Oh and I usually throw in about 2 teaspoons of minced garlic, italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.

But I love noodles, and vegetables...so yeah.

SavingDiva July 8, 2008 at 10:01 AM  

I'm also a horrible cook! Good luck learning to cook! :)

Money Maus July 9, 2008 at 12:49 AM  

@diningoncents - Thanks! I just started reading your blog, too. I will definitely use some of your tips from your blog!

@penny - I bought some grapes and I was going to buy raspberries but they are still a bit pricey. I didn't buy breakfast foods b/c my company provides complimentary bagels/pastries in the morning! :)

@savingdiva - Thanks!! Hopefully I'll become an 'okay' cook soon ;)

stackingpennies July 10, 2008 at 12:32 AM  

I'm learning how to cook too, slowly I actually really like it, but I'm not talented.

Did you find the "Single Servings" section of allrecipes.com? I've been meaning to link to it, but you should be able to find it. I like that because they are geared for one (or two) rather than big family meals.

Produce is expensive and goes bad quickly, so I don't buy a ton either. Frozen veggies are easy to steam and eat for a side dish.

I don't have much advice though. Just keep trying new things.

I read a few food blogs, but they are pretty much out of my league.

Sorry for the novel, but thanks for the shoe tip. I looked them up, very cute (but I'd want to try them on in a store first)

Distar July 15, 2008 at 2:57 PM  

oh I remember those days... Actually I didn't cook until after I got married at the age of 25 and the husband served as the perfect guinea pig for my random experiments. I think the secret to being inspired to cook is having an audience to cook for or a inspiring farmers market/green grocer. I love all the "ethnic" grocery shops in my city - they always inspire me to try new things...

as for easy recipes- try moussaka- it seems much harder than it actually is- and its healthy! (i make it with ground turkey- which mimics lamb well, but healthier/cheaper).

Joy July 26, 2008 at 11:56 AM  

So I'm catching up on your blog - I actually just wrote my last entry on my Italy blog! :)

Anyways, I need to start cooking more too - II'm now a subscriber to allrecipes.com (as of a couple months ago)!

Hmm If you're in the mood for Korean - try Korean bbq - marinate some beef in Korean bbq sauce, saute some scallions (green onions) with the sauce in a pan, add a bit of garlic, then add the beef, some pepper & broccoli. It's yummy with rice! Really simple, but real good at the same time! :)

Saving Cent July 31, 2008 at 2:22 PM  

I don't know how you feel about vegetarian fare...but I own a few amazing cookbooks and find that they inspire me when I am in a cooking rut and offer some gentle guidance: The Rebar, The Moosewood New Classics and Deborah Madison: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I tend to alter recipes quite a bit - but anything out of those three books is going to be awesome, even on its own.

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