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Drink, Food, Recipes,

How to Make the Perfect Sangria

A couple weeks ago, my company had a “Sangria Off,” where participants were charged with trying to create the best sangria amongst competitors. I studied abroad in Spain, and although I drink sangria whenever I have the chance, I’ve never actually tried to make it.

While doing some research, I came across an awesome infographic that breaks down the different steps and ingredients to creating the perfect sangria, with several options for each step.

How to Make the Perfect Sangria

Source: http://missouriwine.org/blog_build-your-best-sangria/

Here are my suggestions for each step of the process:

How to Make the Perfect Sangria

Red Wine:

If you’re making real sangria, you’ve got to use red wine. From Spain. Suggestions are:

  • Tempranillo
  • Garnacha
  • Merlot

If you want to make a white wine sangria (aka, a totally different drink), I’d suggest Cava. It’s a mix between a champagne/non-bubbly white wine, and is made in Northern Spain. Also goes great in mimosas!

Liquor:

Brandy is the standard. Honestly, I didn’t want to have brandy sitting around after this contest, so I got light rum. I guess it depends on your tastes – and how committed you are to winning.

Sugar:

Sangria has a LOT of sugar. I used a mix of honey and sugar to get a more interesting taste.

Mixer:

I used tonic water with lime. I think seltzer or ginger ale would produce very similar effects, so go with what you like.

Juice:

I added in fresh squeezed orange juice to my sangria. I think fresh squeezed lemon juice would play well with the refreshing nature of the drink as well. Depends on personal preference. Would’t hurt to add both!

Fruit:

The last but critical step – you can’t have an awesome sangria without fresh diced fruit. I added peaches, apples, and oranges. Berries would also make an excellent addition. Again – it’s all about what tastes good. The important thing to note is that you should dice the fruit up small for a visually-appealing effect.

How to Make the Perfect Sangria

Garnishes:

I didn’t put any garnishes on my sangria, but I think putting mint leaves in each glass would’ve sealed a win for me. Definitely something to think about for next time!

Finally, if you want to win at sangria making – make sure you let the sangria sit overnight! Trying to make it the day you serve it will not give it enough time for the flavors to fuze together.

How to Make the Perfect Sangria

 

Have you made sangria before? What’s your favorite recipe?

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Food, Recipes,

Buy A Slow Cooker And Add A Tiny Bit Of Happiness To Your Meaningless Existence

Lunchtime. Yay. Week-old roast beef and mustard on sourdough with stale pita chips. Only 12,774 lunches left on the interminable, slow, plodding path to death we all walk together. Might as well head back to your desk and pretend to work for the rest of the day, stomach grumbling, wearing that same emotionless face you wear every day of your life.

Now, I’m not saying that a slow cooker will relieve the existential dread inherent to a consciousness that is able to grasp how truly insignificant it is in the true scope of things, but, at the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy your lunch more.

Most of you probably know how a slow cooker or crock pot works—you plug it in, throw a bunch of stuff in there, and then go do whatever until it’s done. If you don’t have a crock pot and are in the market, however, it’d probably be best to look for one that’s relatively big, and at least has multiple heat settings and a programmable timer. I’m lucky enough to have access to this Hamilton Beach model that my roommate owns, so I didn’t even have to buy my own, but it’s only 50 bucks, and comes with a probe if you ever want to make some fancy roast beef or London broil. It’s also big enough to accommodate a big ol’ pork shoulder for whenever I want to make barbecue, but get something that’s right for you. You really shouldn’t be paying more than $75 for something with all the bells and whistles that you most likely don’t even need.

This is usually the point at which I give you recipes, which yeah, I’ll do that, but the great thing about slow cookers is you can really just kind of jam whatever you have in there and you’ll normally get something that tastes great. Broccoli rabe, canned tomatoes, crappy wine, bay leaves, and 5 pounds of chicken thighs? Pop that in there for a few hours, serve over pasta, season with salt and pepper, and you have a meal fit for a dinner party attended by more people than your tiny apartment can reasonably fit. Seriously, with the possible exception of mustard greens and collard greens, both of which turn into a gooey mush in a slow cooker, just fill it with things you like, and by the time it’s done, you’ll like the result.

That said, here are some guiding principles. For leaner cuts of meat, like chicken breasts, thighs, or really any other already-sliced meats, keep the timer down around 4ish hours and cook on low. You don’t want to overcook anything in a slow cooker, because believe it or not, they will dry out even if they’ve been swimming in whatever conglomeration of sauces you’ve thrown in there. Conversely, for thicker cuts of meat like pork shoulder or really, anything you’re planning on shredding, you’re going to want to let that cook for a while on low heat, probably around 8 to 12 hours. I usually like searing these cuts first as well, just to add a bit of flavor and textural interest to the final dish.

In terms of usage, again, the slow cooker is a utilitarian tool fit to multitask. I use mine primarily to prepare healthy lunches for the week ahead of time using lean meats and plenty of vegetables. As a sidenote, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms are wonderful flavor sponges and turn out great in any slow cooked dish. Most recently, I threw a pork shoulder in there with Brussels sprouts, long-cut green onions, ginger, soy sauce, and duck sauce, and I was rewarded 12 hours later with not just all my lunches for the week, but also the ability to make irresponsible choices on weeknights without having to worry about fixing my lunch for the next day.

If you want to get fancy and get some roast beef going, heat some oil in a pan until it screams, then throw a big cut of beef on there to sear it on all sides. I prefer top blade or top round roasts, but use your favorite. This’ll work for brisket too. Once the meat is seared, grab some of those small red potatoes, chop some leeks into slices, and quarter a few onions. Toss all that with salt and pepper, and spread them across the bottom of your slow cooker. Put your roast on top of that and pop the lid on. Skewer the roast with the probe, and set the slow cooker to stop cooking when the roast reaches 120 degrees in the middle, making it perfectly rare. Invite your friends over because the unbearable lightness of being is best shared, and carve them all a few slices before topping with some horseradish. The onions, leeks and potatoes will absorb the roast’s juices, making them soft and unctuous, so make sure to stiff your friends on those and hoard them for yourself.

Again, the whole point of the slow cooker is to be able to take a bunch of random stuff out of your fridge, put it in the cooker, wait, and suddenly have a whole bunch of food that, yeah, is actually surprisingly okay. And while it may not solve the problem of finding meaning in a life we all know could end at any moment, well hey, what do you expect? It’s just a slow cooker, and I’m just a blogger. At least it’ll make meal time a little better.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Food, Recipes,

Crunchy Cashew Thai Quinoa Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing

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Each Sunday I dread the idea of starting another work week and preparing the same boring food. I’d rather just go to Protein Bar and get a delicious salad, but that’s an easy way to quickly drain your bank account.  When I came across this recipe on the Ambitious Kitchen (http://www.ambitiouskitchen.com) I was so thrilled to find something new I could prep for the entire week:  Crunchy Cashew Thai Quinoa Salad with Ginger Peanut Dressing.  Bonus:  it’s gluten free AND vegan.

INGREDIENTS
For the salad:
  • ¾ cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1-2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 cup shredded or sliced carrots
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • ¼ cup diced green onions
  • ½ cup cashew halves or peanuts (I like both for texture and saltiness)
  • 1 cup edamame or garbanzo beans
  • Fresh lime, for a bit of tang

For the dressing:

  • ¼ cup all natural peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 3 tablespoon soy sauce, gluten-free if desired
  • 1 tablespoon honey (use agave if vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame or sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Sriracha for spice
  • Water to thin, if necessary
Start with making the dressing, it’s better to let this sit and allow the ingredients to blend.  The prep can take some time so I chopped while the quinoa was boiling. 
Screenshot_2015-07-28-12-26-17 
  1. To make the dressing: Blend the peanut butter and honey or agave to a medium microwave safe bowl then heat in microwave for 20-30 seconds. Next, add your fresh grated ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and oils. Stir until the mixture is creamy and blended.  If you want a thinner dressing, slowly add water or more oil.
  2. I’ve never cooked quinoa before so this was new to me but its similar to making cous cous.Start by rinsing quinoa with cold water in mesh strainer, if this is difficult don’t worry – it’s not crucial. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 ½ cups of water to a boil. The water to quinoa ratio is very important for the texture. Then add in quinoa and bring mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all of the water. Remove from heat and fluff quinoa with fork; place in large bowl and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. This will yield a little over 2 cups of quinoa.
  3. Once the quinoa is cooled add your dressing.  Add as little or as much as you would like.
  4. Finally, fold in your vegetables.  Sprinkle cashews and/or peanuts then squeeze a bit of lime for zing and Sriracha for spice.
 
This recipe gave me exactly five lunches, with all the protein and vitamins it’s a great solution to a new lunch to rotate into your routine. 
Nutrition Information:
  • Serving size: 1/6th of recipe
  • Calories: 260
  • Fat: 13.5g
  • Carbohydrates: 27.7g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 4.3g
  • Protein: 8.6g
Prep time:  10 mins
Cook time:  15 mins
Total time:  25 mins
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Food, Recipes,

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup with Garbanzo Beans

This is my first time doing a step-by-step cooking post, so bear with me! This one comes to you originally from NaturallyElla.com, which I’ve modified very slightly.

The reason I’m including this post is because it’s an affordable luxury. The tomatoes are probably the most expensive component and will cost about $3-6, depending on whatever specials are happening at your local grocery store. Garlic, garbanzo beans, and vegetable stock will each set you back between $0.20 and $2.25 a piece. The only cautionary tale I have for this soup is that the original recipe only serves two… consider doubling it to enjoy this soup for more than one meal.

This soup is vegetarian by nature, but packs a protein punch in the form of garbanzo beans. Here’s the step-by-step process to pulling this together:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Start with a head of garlic. Chop off the top.

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Once you’ve chopped off the top, brush it with olive oil all over.

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Wrap the garlic in foil. At the same time, spread your grape tomatoes on a baking sheet. Cover the grape tomatoes with another layer of foil. You’ll cook the garlic for about 20-30 minutes, the tomatoes for an additional 10 minutes.

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In the meantime, chop up a medium onion. I like the red ones, but you could use yellow ones if you prefer.

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The tomatoes will look pretty awesome when they’re done.

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Start cooking up the onions in some olive oil. I use the spray to cut down on the fat.

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Add the garbanzo beans (I added a full cup instead of a half), tomatoes, and roasted garlic. You’ll have to squeeze out the garlic. Be careful, it’s hot!

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Add in the veggie stock, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste.

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Once the complete mixture has simmered for about 20 minutes, throw it in a blender and pulse until smooth.

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And there you have it! The perfect soup that packs a nutritious punch.

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Original recipe available on NaturallyElla.com.

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Drink, Food, Recipes,

I Threw Some Fruit Into A Mason Jar With Vodka And Now All My Friends Think I’m A Fancy Mixologist

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Put that shit down.

You heard me. Yeah, you with that bottle of birthday cake flavored vodka. Put it down right now. You make me sick. Though, not as sick as you’re gonna make yourself when you down it all in one night and wake up the next day with a high-fructose-corn-syrup-induced hangover to end all hangovers.

Do not allow BIG ALCOHOL to dictate your flavored-spirit whims. You can make your own flavored liquors at home, and it’s super easy, not to mention the fact that it makes you seem like some fancy microdistiller hipster.

Cocktail Infusions

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dinnerseries

Which, well, isn’t necessarily a good thing. Just don’t go buying a fedora or anything.

Anyway, all you really have to do to make flavored spirits is to buy a big ol’ thing of cheap-but-not-undrinkable liquor, a mason jar, and whatever you want the spirit to taste like. Then you chop the flavoring agent, whether it’s a fruit, vegetable, or a handful of raw shrimp (do not do this) and throw it into the mason jar. Cover with the spirit of your choice, and just, like, leave it in the fridge for a few days. Taste and shake the jar every day, and when you think it’s done, strain it through a cheesecloth and label it. It’s really that easy.

Let’s do some math. Depending on what kind of spirit you get, a big bottle of cheap liquor will cost somewhere between 15 and 25 bucks. That’ll be enough for you to make 4 decent-sized infusions. Throw in the cost of fruits, vegetables, and whatever else you want to use to flavor your hooch, and the total cost will average somewhere around 30 bucks for a whole bunch of delicious flavored spirits. Compare that to the $19.99 per 750mL that Smirnoff charges for their whipped cream flavored vodka.

In terms of specific infusion recipes and strategies, feel free to get creative, but I would be remiss if I didn’t give you a few tips to start you off on this wonderful boozy journey.

Usually, it’s best to infuse vodka. It’s relatively tasteless, so it absorbs flavor well. It’ll go with pretty much anything. Rum is similar, but with a sweeter flavor. Generally, the lighter the spirit is, the better it will take to other flavors. Once you get into spiced rums, bourbons, whiskeys, and aged tequilas, you should be careful when infusing, because you run the risk of overpowering the spirit’s natural taste.

Some combinations that I’ve found work well include:

Mango Habanero Vodka (use 1 small habanero, and leave it whole for this recipe.)
Cucumber Lime Gin (when using citrus, you can choose to either just use the peel for a more bitter, zesty flavor, or cut the citrus into rings for a more juicy flavor.)
Vanilla Whiskey (split the vanilla bean lengthwise and pour the whiskey on top. Strain after a day. Vanilla is a very strong flavoring agent.)
Kiwi Coconut Rum (getting the flesh from a fresh coconut sucks. I know. Trust me. It’s worth it. Get a fresh one, crack it, and toast it in the oven before infusing.)

Now, before you get started, a few words of warning.

Infusing with chocolate can be dicey. The resulting cloudy liquor will be difficult to strain, and sometimes can take on a sour taste. Be very careful here. Infusing with caramel, however, is delicious, despite the fact that it also takes hours to strain. When coming up with your own flavor profiles, think of things that complement the nature of the spirit itself. Herbal vodkas work quite well, but herbal gins are a trickier proposition given the floral and herbal nature of the spirit itself.

At the end of the day, though, if you mess up, it only cost you like, 7 bucks, and hell, it’ll still get you drunk. Plus, now you know firsthand not to try to infuse gin with a handful of raw shrimp. Maybe you should listen to me next time. Don’t worry. I’ll call the ambulance for you.

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Drink, Food, Recipes,

Cooking Tips For City Living: Sell All Your Possessions And Buy A Wok

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I see you.

I see you watching the Food Network on weeknights, laughing every time someone forgets an ingredient on Chopped. I hear you mutter to yourself “I could do better” in between bites of reheated Chinese take-out. I feel it when you roll your eyes at Rachel Ray, Alton Brown, and at Bobby Flay, wondering why they’re famous and you’re not. Then you finish your microwaved meal and continue picking Dorito crumbs out of your belly button, just like you do every day.

No more.

Today, we embark on an adventure. Throw away your microwave. Clean out your freezer. Set your “instant” foods ablaze and never look upon them again. Today, my friends, we cook.

And hell, it’s not as hard as you think.

If you live in the city (of course you do, why would you be reading this otherwise), you most likely have a few, but not many, cooking vessels and implements for stovetop use. Maybe a skillet and a few pots.

You don’t need them.

No, friends, the only tool you will need to boil, sauté, steam, and deep fry is a wok. I recommend ones made by The Wok Shop in San Francisco—I own one, and I couldn’t be happier.

When choosing a wok, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important thing is to get something light, preferably made from carbon steel. You want something that will get hot fast, and be manageable enough to toss over the heat. Oh, and also, if you have an electric or induction stove, you’ll need a flat bottomed wok. Otherwise you’ll be forced to balance the wok on its end while you cook and that just sounds like the most terrible thing. If you’re cooking with gas, you can get either a flat bottom wok, or a normal round-bottomed one and mount it on a wok ring.

You’ll also want a wok with some texture to it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the whole point of a wok is that parts of it get super-hot, while parts stay relatively cool. The texture on the sides of the wok allows you to push cooked food up to the cooler sides of the wok to avoid burning while other food cooks near the bottom.

You shouldn’t pay more than 40 bucks for a nice big wok, and you really can use it for pretty much any kitchen task you can think of. You can scramble eggs in it, cook pasta in it, deep fry in it, steam vegetables in it, or, of course, make yourself a stir fry.

Oh, but you don’t have any shelf space! Where are you going to put this gigantic wok? Aw, jeez. Sorry, guys. My bad. Go return it.

Or you could just hammer a nail into your drywall above your stove and hang the wok from there. Woks actually look really good hung up in a kitchen, and despite their size, will be both out of the way and readily available there.

So you have your wok! Time to start cooking!

Hah, just kidding. Nah, you’re not ready yet. And neither is your wok. You gotta season it first. The Wok Shop has a pretty great video guide for a few different ways you can season your wok, but if you’re pressed for time or just don’t want to watch a video, here’s how I seasoned mine.

First, you’re gonna want to wash the wok thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then dry it by setting it on high heat on your stove until all the moisture evaporates.

While this is happening, chop a whole bunch of scallions, and mince a big ol’ handful each of ginger and garlic. Open a door or window. Things are about to get really smoky.

Keep the wok on the stove, and turn the heat all the way up if you haven’t already. You want the wok to be screaming hot. You’ll know you’re ready for the next step by flicking some water at the wok. If the wok hisses loudly at you like an angry cat, you can move on.

Take the wok off the heat and pop a couple tablespoons of a neutral fat (canola or vegetable works here, but traditionalists like to use lard) in the wok and toss it around so that it coats the bottom and sides. Throw the scallions, ginger, and garlic in there.

Burn the fuck out of them.

I’m serious. Burning these elements until they are carbon-black will release an enzyme that will keep the food you cook in the wok from tasting ever-so-slightly of, uh, metal. While you stir-fry, make sure you get the oil and aromatics up to the sides of the wok.

Continue tossing until the color of the wok starts to change. You’re looking for just a slight tinge of yellow or orange in most cases. The wok will also start to look a bit glossy. Again, make sure that this change happens on the bottom as well as on the sides of the wok. Discard the burning hot oil by throwing it at the invaders trying to scale your castle walls, or alternatively, by waiting a few minutes for it to cool and dumping the aromatics and burnt oil into the sink.

Wash your wok with hot water, and use a paper towel or brush to knock away any burnt-on residue. You’re done!

Your wok is still new, though, and boiling water in it, or cooking with heavy acids like lemons or vinegar will damage the coating, so wait on that until the wok gets a nice, broken in brownish black hue around the bottom and sides.

Luckily, the recipe I’m about to share with you is perfect for a new wok. It’s healthy, quick, and perfect for getting rid of random stuff in your fridge. It doesn’t taste half bad either.

Simple Shirataki Stir-Fry (serves 1)

1 package Shirataki Noodles
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 Onion, diced
1/2lb Pork Loin, cut into cubes
Garlic
Ginger
Red Pepper Flakes
Soy Sauce
Sambal
Peanut Oil

Before we begin, a note on shirataki noodles. These are inexpensive, super low calorie noodles made from a Japanese yam that are packed with fiber and take very well to surrounding flavors. You can buy them at Jewel—they usually run around a buck or two per pack. They come (usually) packed in a liquid, and will need to be drained and thoroughly washed in order to remove the earthy, briny, and fishy odor of the liquid.

Here’s how this is going to work. Right now, before you even start reading the rest of this recipe, you’re going to season your meat with salt and pepper and cube it, dice your vegetables, and mince your garlic and ginger, okay? Because this is going to get real fast real quick. Once you turn the heat on under your wok, there’s no going back. Ready? Okay. Let’s get started.

When cooking with a wok, dishes are enhanced by flavoring the oils used to stir-fry ingredients. Traditionally, this is achieved by throwing a clove of minced garlic into the oil with some red pepper flakes and a healthy amount of minced ginger. Turn the heat all the way up under your wok, and coat it with peanut oil. Before the wok gets too hot, wipe the oil up and around the pan with a paper towel, removing the excess oil and spreading it up to the sides. Throw the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in there and toss with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Make sure your door is still open.

Test to make sure the oil is hot using the same water method as when you seasoned the wok, then throw the pork in there. Make sure to toss and stir often so that it cooks evenly. As soon as the outside is cooked move the pork to the sides of the wok and throw the noodles and veggies into the middle. Toss the veggies and noodles together—you want the veggies cooked to the point where their flavors are brought out in the oil while still retaining their crunch and brightness. When the pork firms up and starts to brown in the wok as you toss it with the rest of the ingredients, you’re done. Pour the stir fry out onto a plate, and dress with sambal (a hot chili paste available in the international section of the grocery store) and soy sauce to taste.

Dig in!

Hah, no, kidding again. Your wok needs some love first. Run some warm water in your sink and wipe off all the stuck on food with a brush or wet paper towel after the wok has cooled off enough to touch. Put the wok back on the flame to dry. This will prevent rust, and should be done right after cooking.

Now you can eat.

I know, you’re full, and you don’t want to think about wok maintenance, but here are some quick rules for you to ignore. Don’t use soap on the wok. Warm water and a paper towel or brush should be enough to loosen any stuck food. The more you use the wok, the more seasoned it will be. In essence, be good to the wok, and the wok will be good to you. It really is impossible to ruin your wok. Even if the seasoning deteriorates, all you have to do is scrub with steel wool, wash with soap, and re-season. It’s as loyal as your family dog, except you can also make delicious food in it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some marauders scaling my apartment complex so I have to go heat up some peanut oil.

chicago cheap ass (3)
Food, Recipes,

Work Salads – An affordably healthy lunch

This post isn’t specific to Chicago, but when I started this blog, I told people I wanted to incorporate tips for money saving in general. This one also happens to revolve around health.

About 2 months ago, a coworker and I decided to try an experiment. We’re both fairly health-conscious and recognized a need to offset holiday over-indulgences. Seemingly simultaneously, we decided to each buy and prepare a set rotation of salad ingredients. Here’s what we decided upon and split up:

Produce

  • Peppers
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Onion or Scallions
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots (shredded)
  • Avocado

Protein

  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Cheese (we choose feta, although occasionally I use mozzarella)
  • Almonds

Extras

  • Craisins
  • Salad Dressing

Obviously, what you pick is based on taste preferences. My coworker and I luckily like the same things on our salads. Sometimes we rotate items week over week to keep it interesting.

Other solid ingredient suggestions:

  • Beans (Black, Garbanzo, Lentils)
  • Kale or Brussel Sprouts for additional green superfood powers
  • Quinoa to add some carbohydrates
  • Different types of cheese to rotate flavors
  • Different types of nuts (though use sparingly as they pack a lot of calories)

The produce and meat we buy have to be replaced/refilled on a weekly basis. The rest of our supplies last two weeks to one month.

If you work in the Loop, you can easily spend $10 a day on lunch. On average, I probably spend about $10 each week or less replacing what’s been used. Since produce goes bad quickly, you should try to partner up with a coworker who likes salads and can be content eating them everyday. That’s the hard part. But once you get started, you’ll save money and lose pounds.

What other ingredients do you use to keep your salads interesting? Let me know in the comments.