Cooking at Home- Your Ticket to Culinary Independence

     Good evening, friends and neighbors!

I love restaurants.
No kidding, right? I work for them, I dine at them, I review them (in my own off-hand, fanboyish, ineffective way,) and some of my best friends work in them. My parents taught me how to behave in restaurants when I was very little. In a way, they are like a form of performance theater to me. Granted, I can eat the props, but still….

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This has not happened to me… yet.

I used to write my blog entries from them all the time. It was a once-a-week treat to myself- find a nice bar/restaurant, order a drink, get some grub, type up an entry, throw it on to the net when I got home.
Recently, however, I’ve been a little more cautious about where my money goes. While a delightful experience, restaurant-going is pretty expensive. Given the situation in Atlantic City (where my 9-to-5 is), and the fact that my girlfriend and I are plotting to move in together soon, in recent months I’ve been looking for ways to trim up my budget and cut spending where I can. Yay for being a grown-up!
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“Don’t bother me, I’m working!”

Sadly, on going through my spending records, I found that a pretty good amount of my spending money after necessities was going to restaurants, and I could only look forward to that spending money total shrinking in the future.

Nothing for it- restaurants had to become a special treat.

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Oh Hell….. *dramatic music*

Fortunately, several things are working in my favor!

  1. I’m comfortable in the kitchen and can cook for myself (someone said that was ‘women’s work‘? They’re probably hungry right now.)
  2. I have a girlfriend who loves to cook AND eat out as much as I do. (Yay, I’m bragging. Friggin’ winner right here.)
  3. Given my health goals and lifestyle, eating in helps me eat healthier!
  4. There are plenty of recipes and ideas out there to stretch a few bucks of ingredients into meals for a week.
As a honorable (heh) denizen of the internet, I am also a fan of webcomics and other comedic web-based malarkey. Thus, when two members of one of my favorite comedy troupes, SMBC Theater, decided to start a YouTube cooking channel called “Broke Eats” and a show called “Hand 2 Mouth”, I dutifully contributed to their Kickstarter.
In each video, James Ashby and Marque Franklin-Williams teach their viewers basic recipes, and how to come up with healthy meals on a truly shoe-string budget. I highly recommend watching the videos and picking up a thing or two. 
Hopefully not from James, though- seriously, don’t stick a meat cleaver in a running blender.

Given my work schedule, one of the toughest things to get around was the fact that, when I get home, I’m friggin’ TIRED. I don’t want to cook, I want FOOD. In my FACE. NOW. In the past (and every now and then when I’m feeling like it, honestly), this has led to me pulling down a can of soup, or a frozen burrito, or whatever instant meal I had grabbed and tossed into my pantry/freezer. 

While wonderfully convenient, the sheer amount of preservatives that can be found in some canned goods and frozen foods is mind-boggling. In addition to that, buying ready-made stuff still isn’t fiscally reasonable all the time. If you want ready-made stuff without the hideous amounts of weird science in it, it will cost you- big time.

Nope- more often than not, good ingredients and a little time is the way to go. What’s more, some recipes can keep remarkably well. One night of cooking can provide a hungry man with non-crap lunches and tasty post-work dinners for a week! 

To help you on your way, here’s a couple of my favorite recipes (inspired by the guys at Broke Eats!) that have been feeding me well for the last few months, and helping me save my budget!

Ham and Lentils

This is my little twist on split pea and ham soup. It’s more like a lentil salad (or a porridge if you supercook the lentils on purpose) than a soup though. The great thing about this is that lentils (green ones in particular) are packed with protein, and a one pound bag is dirt cheap at most stores. Rock it out with some ham and spices, and you’ve got a meal!

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients
2 cups green lentils
4 cups water or broth
1 lb. ham (I used cheapish pre-cooked ham from the supermarket, but you can use whatever you want.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Herbs/Spices (I used paprika, Israeli pepper, black pepper, and celery salt.)
2 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 tbs Apple Cider Vinegar

Method

  1. Rinse the lentils in a collander or strainer under cold water. Be sure to pick through them for pebbles or other inedibles that may have gotten in there.
  2. Put the rinsed lentils in a saucepan or pot and pour in the water/broth. Dump in your garlic and spices, except for salt or anything with salt.
  3. Place on medium-high heat until the water comes to a rapid simmer, then drop it down to medium low or low for a very gentle simmer. You should see only a few small bubbles. Let simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Add water as needed to make sure the lentils remain covered. While this is going on, cook/cut up your ham into smallish cubes. If you want really mushy lentils for a porridge, let them cook longer.
  4. When the lentils are ready, take them off the heat. Dump the lentils into a collander/strainer and strain well. Toss them back into the pot and stir in the ham, salt, and whatever salty ingredients you had.
  5. Toss in the olive oil and vinegar, serve and enjoy!

The BHB’s Favorite Fried Rice

At the casino I work in, my bake shop is right next door to the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. A guy named Jun does the morning prep work, and twice a week he makes an insane amount of fried rice that gets sent throughout the house to a number of outlets. Every time he makes it, he drops off a big plate of it right in the bake shop.
I was never much of a fried rice guy(or even much of a Chinese food guy) in my life, but when you have been laboring over an oven full of cheesecake all morning, you’re starving to death, and you can leave till those cakes are DONE- the arrival of a simple plate of fried rice to munch on is as close to a miracle as I can think of.
These days, thanks to Jun, fried rice is becoming a little bit of a comfort food for me. I wanted to learn to make it myself, and Broke Eats did a Hand 2 Mouth episode. Watch and learn to make this delicious, filling, and simple dish.

Ingredients
2 cups cooked rice (some say the cooked rice should be a day old, others fresh. Whatever texture you like) 
1 medium sized onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small cans of peas and carrots, or leftover veggies of any kind you like- just cook them first.
2 eggs, scrambled
1-2 tbs. vegetable oil
Spices/seasonings (I like Chinese Five Spice, Chili Garlic Paste, Black Pepper, and a little bit of sesame oil)
Soy sauce

Method

  1. Heat up a large frying pan or wok over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add in your oil and swirl to coat the bottom.
  2. Once the oil starts to shimmer, toss in your garlic and onions. Cook them for about 2 or 3 minutes, till the onion is translucent and somewhat browned.
  3. Next, in goes your other veggies. You’re going to stir-fry these until they are well-heated.
  4. Time for the scrambled eggs! Pour them in and stir fry. Make sure all the egg gets cooked, as the veggies will get coated.
  5. When the eggs are all cooked, in goes the rice. Toss it up well and make sure everything gets well mixed. Apply your seasonings and toss everything evenly.
  6. Last but not least, in goes the soy sauce. The soy sauce will burn quickly, so make this last thing you add in, just before you serve.

Note: This is more a method of stir-frying grains than an actual recipe- feel free to use any cooked grains and leftover veggies you have lying around! My girlfriend and I used chopped onion, peppers, and garlic to make fried quinoa. See what you have available and go nuts!

Got some favorite recipes of your own? Something you love that feeds a lot, for less?
Drop some tasty knowledge in the comments!
In the meantime, I’ve got some more “work” to do…

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Yeah, you like the fez.

Stay Classy,
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