Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Food Files: What I've Been Cooking (Warning: Long)

I've been cooking a lot more lately to help manage our food spending and such. Chris is paid fortnightly, so I plan out the meals I want to make for the next two weeks and do a big shop for it. I'm actually really enjoying the process of meal planning and making shopping lists. It probably helps that we do our big grocery hauls from Coles.com.au and have them deliver, so I get to research, plan, and shop all at my leisure. For a delivery fee that is only a couple bucks more than major pizza chains charge you, it is so worth it to have two weeks worth of groceries delivered right into my kitchen.

I also have been enjoying trying my hand at cooking new things! I went through a big soup phase for a while, because soups are generally one-pot meals and you can make enough for days of leftovers. Great for meals on a budget. Plus, soups get Chris to eat veggies he normally wouldn't try. It's kind of fun seeing what I can get him to eat. Soups are still on the menu, with the weather turning colder every day, but I'm branching out to try other sorts of meals I've never made before.

I apologise for not having awesome photos documenting things for this post. I will try to take more from now on, but I didn't think of it at the time.

So, I started off with a classic last week, French Onion Soup. I used this recipe from Girl Cook in Paris, which also provides great instructions on making your own beef consommé. However, because of costs, I totally cheated and bought a box of Campbell's Beef Consommé. I would definitely like to try making my own, some day. But I've been really pleased with Campbell's box of stocks in my soups, so far, and so I was willing to give their consommé a try when it would provide a large part of the flavour of the soup. I'm certain homemade would taste better, but Campbell's didn't disappoint, either. I thought it was interesting that this recipe calls for a long sweat of the onions, but not true caramelisation, as many French Onion Soup recipies instruct. Since I didn't want to take forever making the soup, I sweated the onions for the prescribed hour. The soup was great, especially with the tasty Gruyère croutons, but I will try caramelising the onions next time to see how that changes the flavour. This recipe passed the Chris Approval taste test, too. Thankfully, he really likes onions.

Next, I made gyoza! Chris, despite not liking anything with noodles, loves gyoza. I haven't explicitly told him that gyoza skins are basically the same thing as noodles, though, so SHH. I didn't use a specific recipe. Mostly, I made up proportions of stuff based on what I like and looking at a few recipes to see what normally goes inside the dumplings. I used chives, spring onions, a LOT of coriander (I loooooove coriander), a few cloves of garlic, some splashes of sesame oil and a tsp or two of corn flour, salt and pepper, and mixed all that with 500g of pork mince. That made about 50 gyoza, and I don't normally like tedious cooking like folding endless amounts of dumplings. Luckily, I have a handy, dandy gyoza maker from JList!

I love this thing!

Gyoza-making was pretty speedy for doing it all myself. I've got about 30 of the suckers stashed away in my freezer now, too. I love food you can easily store for later. So the gyoza themselves turned out pretty well. The only change to my recipe for next time will be to add some soy sauce to the mince for a bit extra saltiness and flavour. I didn't mind them too much, since I eat my dumplings with a dipping sauce (I mixed together soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and, lacking sake, a dash of dry sherry). But Chris eats his plain, so I think the added flavour would help a lot. But I'm pleased with how they turned out for my first time.

And look, so pretty!

I cooked them with a traditional steam/pan fry combo. Delish. I don't have any photos of them cooked, cause we ate them all up too quickly.

Later in the week, I wanted to try something different for breakfast. I was looking up ideas to dress up my porridge in more interesting ways, and came across this recipe for Apple Cinnamon and Oatmeal Pancakes. (By the way, Closet Cooking is an amazing treasure trove of recipe ideas. I'm basing most of my meals next pay period on things I've found on that blog.) I made the pancakes pretty much to the letter of the recipe, except for adding apple sauce, since I just plain didn't have any or enough apples to make some. But I'm lucky Chris likes to have granny smith apples around to chomp on (he eats them raw, ew!), because I always have a good cooking apple handy. Can I just say that these are the best pancakes I've eaten in a long time? Cause THEY WERE. I ate them straight out of the pan, while I was cooking up the rest of the batch, so they weren't around nearly long enough for me to stop with a camera to shoot a picture. I just topped them with a bit more maple syrup and they were good to go. Yum. Also, I got to eat them all myself, cause Chris hates pancakes. Sometimes his weird food habits are to my benefit!

Last night, I tried my hand at teriyaki chicken for the first time ever. I knew the sauce was a simple one, and honestly, most of the ones you get premade from a bottle are pretty terrible. Apparently the sauce is extremely simple! I used the most basic recipe I could find: equal parts soy sauce and mirin (I used the low alcohol one you can get in any supermarket), with a couple tablespoons of sugar. Most recipes also call for sake, but that is way out of my price range for cheap, easy dinners. This dinner was the most disappointing one I've made in a while, though, but not because the sauce was bad, at all. The teriyaki sauce turned out fantastic and super delicious! But, even though I really should know better, the raw chicken thighs had been sitting in my fridge for about half a week. Let's just say they were a tad on the funky side. Not gone off, not nearly, but enough that even a coating of delicious teriyaki glaze couldn't get rid of the slight funkyness. I really DO know better, and next time, unless I'm cooking the chicken in the next day or two, it is going straight into the freezer. Chris didn't mind the tinge of funk and declared the teriyaki chicken a great success. (Guess who is eating leftovers?) I, however, had a nice dish of stir fried veggies on rice with teriyaki sauce. Could be worse! Also, as a last note, I will cook the thighs a bit differently, too. They were pretty thick, so even though they were cooked through from pan frying, they were still a tad under for our taste. I am used to being careful with chicken breast, because you need to get it to that just perfect point of cooked but not overcooked so that it stays juicy. Thighs can take the abuse and the texture is a bit soft if they aren't cooked thoroughly. I'll probably brown them in a pan and then finish them in the oven, so the heat really penetrates. This is exactly how I cook steak, and that never fails. But part of the fun of cooking is learning what to do better next time!

Lastly, I found myself today with some leftover rice. I love leftover rice. It means I get to make fried rice!! Normally, I make it very simply, with egg, rice and soy sauce. My grandmother used to make me fried rice and egg this way very often as breakfast growing up, and it brings back all sorts of great memories for me. However, I have extra seasoning and things lying around, so I decided to fancy it up a bit. I added in chopped  spring onion for a bit of green, and I cooked it in a mixture of olive and sesame oils. Also, I added a splash of mirin with the splash of soy sauce, to round out the flavour.


That massive plate of rice did not last very long. You're lucky I stopped to take a photo. The added flavours were amazing. Nothing is better than a great plate of fried rice!

So, those are my food adventures recently. Upcoming menu items are: baked potato soup, chili con carne, pot roast, corn chowder, and maybe irish stew!


  1. I read it all!

    I'm actually doing _all_ my own cooking for the first time (had friends I ate with pretty often when I was living on my own before) so I'm always interested to see what other people are cooking. Might add gyoza to the rotation...

  2. Thanks, Kate! :) The internet is a great place for finding and sharing food adventures. I love it!