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chicago cheap ass (14)
Food, Reviews,

How to Make Easy & Delicious Meatballs

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It’s an old assumption that every Italian family has a sauce recipe and a meatball recipe.  I think my family lost both.  For years, I’ve been trying to make the perfect sauce and meatballs.  Recently, I came pretty close to the perfect meatball recipe.

Meatball Recipe:
Makes 8 meatballs
Ingredients:
2 lbs. Ground Beef
1/3 cup breadcrumbs or panko
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasonings
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
3 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 egg lightly beaten
8-10 oz. of pomodoro sauce
Fresh grated Parmesan, to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for pan
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Place all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir together until just combined
3. Roll each meatball into a ball about 4 tablespoons large until all mixture has been used
4. Add oil to a heavy bottom skillet and place over med-high heat (this skillet will go into the oven as well)
5. Add meatballs to skillet and brown all sides, 3-4 minutes
6. Place the entire skillet of meatballs into the oven for 7-10 minutes
7. Remove skillet from oven and drain as much access oil out of the skillet as possible.
8. Pour your pomodoro sauce over meatballs and simmer 10-15 minutes until warm
Top with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese, enjoy!
how to make meatballs
chicago cheap ass (5)
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.

chicago cheap ass (8)
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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chicago cheap ass (14)
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.

chicago cheap ass (3)
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.