Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fresh Basil Plant

I've used fresh basil in a variety of recipes posted on this blog, so it's not really a new ingredient. However, this is the first time I've showcased the plant. (You like that "showcased" bit? I do!)

Previously I've purchased basil plants, usually small ones from "regular" grocery stores like Stater's and Ralph's. And they subsquently die within a matter of a few days. This one I picked up against my better judgement from Trader Joe's -- I couldn't help it, the basil smelled so freakishly good and looked so gorgeous!

We'll see how long it lasts before I inadvertantly let it die in my generally poorly lit apartment.

Giant basil plant, available at Trader Joe's for $1.99.

Trader Joe's Traditional Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce was called for in a new recipe I was ready to prepare. As time was of the essense, I opted to purchase a marinara rather than research, find, and execute a marinara recipe for the first time.

The ingredients weren't out of control, and nowhere did I see HFCS in the statement, so this was a winner.

Available at Trader Joe's at $1.29 for 18 oz.

American Fries with Onions

So I was getting hungry and tried to figure out what to eat. Likely-stale Honey-Nut Cheerios with some more-than-likely spoiled milk? Nah. The bread is old, been around since before Rodney went to MI. Chicken with Black Beans and Rice? For breakfast? NO.

Navigating in the fridge, what did I see? A foil-wrapped baked potato, glory be! It was left from when I prepared the second of two rib eye's Monday night. I removed the potato from foil, peeled it and sliced it as thin as I could with a paring knife.

Then I melted some butter, about 2 tbsp, in my largest cast iron skillet, which is only about 10" across the top. Once the butter was melted, I shoved the potato slices into the buttered skillet.

The skillet was shaken to evenly distribute the potato slices. Once distributed, some diced onion, salt and pepper was dispensed over the potato slices.

After a few minutes, the potatoes were flipped, to yield only a couple nicely browned slices. About every 5 minutes, the potatoes were flipped until the majority of slices were nicely browned and just crisp, yet tender.

I slid the crisp-tender potatoes onto a plate, sidled some scrambled eggs next to them and sprinkled those eggs with Mexican-Blend cheddar. Then came a nice squirt of high-fructose corn syrup ketchup* in which to dip the fries.

*Of all the foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), it is ketchup I love the best and will miss the most.

The American Fries were fantastically delicious. I should bake extra potatoes regularly just to have American Fries more frequently. I do need to work out the onion:potato ratio -- the onions could've had a little more presence. Otherwise, they were perfect.

Cost: For the potato, um, $0.20?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cost of Take-Out Lunch, Week Ending 073010

This week I brought leftovers from home every day but Friday:

  • Jack in the Box, Chicken Fajita Pita: $4.23

Total: $4.23. I will not be eating another set of irons for lunch over the next few months!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rib Eye Steak Salad with Fresh Corn

The other day, I prepared the leftover steaks to top salad. The first steak salad I had for dinner that night. Tonight, I'm having the remainder of the steak on another salad.

Since I had an ear of corn, I thought I'd do a marvelous thing by "grilling" it on the cast iron grill pan. Well, that didn't work out too well and I wound up baking it in the somewhat charred husk.

Turns out, baking corn in the husk works out very, very well.

My salad consisted of romaine lettuce, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, fresh corn from the cob, steak and then a sprinkle of Italian dressing, cheese and the last of the croutons from the cupboard.

It was a salad for true carnivorous folks like me and I enjoyed it, very much so.


  • rib eye steak half: $2.60
  • corn-on-the-cob: $0.59
  • romaine: $0.30
  • mushrooms: $0.50
  • tomato: $0.21
Total: $4.20. Still beats any restaurant salad and honestly, there was enough for two, though I managed to pack the majority into my gullet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chicken with Black Beans and Rice, Take 2

While I'd originally planned on using an entire bird for Honey-Baked Chicken, I didn't feel like dealing with making it AND the sides to accompany. So I conjured memories of chicken recipes from the past with sides included, remembering way back when to October of '09, when I made a dish from Better Homes and Gardens, essentially an entire chicken in a casserole.

And so I made that Chicken with Black Beans and Rice dish. After all, I had the ingredients and once wrote that most of the time was waiting for stuff to cook rather slapping things together over a stove continuously.

Well, it seems that my palate is much more refined now. I won't say that this dish is bad. It just isn't that great. While edible, there was no boom-chicka-wow-wa about it. No flavor explosion. I will maintain the fact that it runs circles around Bittman's Chicken and Rice as that stuff was a major let-down. Sorry Bittman, but the truth should be told.

The chicken coating was a little too much. Granted, that was my fault for doubling it in the first place when I made it the first time, but beyond somewhat flacid, over-spiced skin, the chicken was too dry. The rice however, was fantastic. I loved it. At first, it seemed a little too much on the spice side, but as I ate less of the chicken and simply enjoyed the rice, the more I really liked it. The rice components of beans, corn, and the rice itself made me happy for having made it. That certainly made up for the inadequate chicken. And it seems that was my take on it the first time around.

While my palate seems to have become more refined, my preparation experience over the last year has also come into play as I shaved off a quarter hour from the entire recipe. Mise en place is a genuinely good rule to follow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rib Eye Salad

Last night I had the second of two steaks I purchased when shopping. Last night's steak was the big one, weighing in at 1.49 lbs! I ate a good portion of it with a baked potato. Mmm.

So I have the better part of two steaks leftover, which means to me a good time for some beefy salad.

Each leftover portion of steak was bias-cut across the grain into about 1/8" slices.

One sliced steak was returned to the fridge, while the other was used to top romaine, button mushroom slices and fresh Roma tomato chunks. A little bit of Italian dressing was used for lube.

Steak on salad is so good.  I could eat it every day. The amount of beef was a little much, but still very tasty.

  • steak leftovers: $2.50
  • romaine: $0.30
  • mushrooms: $0.50
  • tomato: $0.21

That makes tonight's huge salad about $3.50. Best of all, dinner was on in less than 15 minutes.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pan-Seared Rib Eye, Take 2

When I was at the store doing my shopping, I purchased two steaks. Originally, I was going to get one, but priced $7 off normal price per pound, I couldn't help but get two.

This is the first one, the small one, weighing in at 1.28 pounds. Last time I cooked a rib eye, it was a skinny one with less than half the weight. Tonight's steak is a thick one, thus I'm going to utilize the entire Alton Brown steak prep, oven and all.

The steak was removed from packaging, slapped onto a plate and generously salted and peppered.

Then it was oiled with some canola, just enough to give it a nice shine on both sides as well as the edges.

Meanwhile, my biggest cast iron skillet was becoming blazing hot in a 500°F oven. Once the steak was ready for heat, the cast iron was placed over a medium flame.

Steak, meet skillet. You should hear the sizzle.

After 30 seconds, the steak was flipped.

I see that 30 seconds isn't really enough -- next time, a minute for sure.

Before going into the oven 30 seconds later, the steak was flipped again. And then it was baked for 5 minutes.

Five minutes later, the steak was flipped and returned to the oven for an additional 5 minutes.

Now on a plate, this steak was ready to rest under a foil tent for 10-15 minutes before I worked on devouring it with a side of steamed broccoli.

Hello, this was a slice of heaven! Certainly 1.28 lbs was way too much for me to consume and there was a pretty good bit of beef leftover. It will go very well on salad. Next time, I'll remember to increase the searing time from 30 seconds to a full minutes.


  • bone-in rib eye steak: $4.47

I'd say that I ate about half of the meat, making it about $2/serving. After all, there was a bone in there. And I know, I know, the recommended serving side of flesh is 4 oz.  Yada, yada.  I was craving some iron and I got it.

The remaining half is on a plate, chilling in the fridge.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Food Plan and Grocery List, 072410

This past week I ate chicken wings for dinner, nearly each and every night. Last night I had a wonderfully, glorious rib-eye steak. Today I made a point of making a grocery list so I wouldn't be stuck eating the same thing day in and day out.

Here's the line-up:
  • Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna
  • Steak and salad
  • Basil and Ricotta Chicken of some sort -- TBD
  • possibly a Take 2 of the Alabama BBQ chicken
  • Honey Baked Chicken II
So I bought:

from Stater Bros.:

  • Dannon vanilla yogurt (no HFCS!): $3.99
  • Ralph's ricotta cheese: $4.49/30 oz
  • Frigo parmesan cheese: $2.79/5 oz
  • Ralph's shredded mozzarella cheese: $4.59/16 oz
  • Barilla no-cook lasagna noodles: $2.29/9 oz
  • 2% milk: $1.49/qt
  • diced tomatoes with puree: $1.29/28 oz
  • broccoli: $1.58/1.60 lb
  • sliced mushrooms: $2.99/8oz
  • organic basil: $3.59
  • onion: $1.37/0.69 lb
  • garlic: $0.50/bulb
  • corn-on-the-cob: $0.59/ear
  • cantaloupe: $0.88/melon
  • cherry tomatoes: $2/pint
  • broiler chicken: $2.41 @ $0.59/lb
  • broiler chicken: $2.60 @ $0.59/lb
  • ribeye steak: $4.47 @ $3.99/lb
  • ribeye steak: $5.20 @ $3.99/lb
  • Johnsonville mild sausage: $3.99/lb
  • TOTAL: $53.10 - $10 coupon = $43.10
Trader Joe's:

  • Marinara Sauce: $1.29
  • basil plant: $1.99
  • TOTAL: $3.28
Grand Total: $46.38. For one person, that's a lot. However, the lasagna, chicken and steaks will go a long way if I don't goof it up.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna

While the image of this particular portion of lasagna is primarily out of focus, know that taste-wise, focus was much, much better.

Tired of chicken wings and opting not to eat steak daily, I recalled when I was single before entering university, back when I made lasagna often because it was easily frozen, thawed and reheated in single-serving portions.

Living alone once again, I decided to prepare a lasagna and searched for a new recipe.  Utilizing the Epicurious ap on the iPad, I found one that appealed to me.  This recipe doesn't call for extreme ingredients or time.

Sausage, Cheese and Basil Lasagna
adapted from Epicurious

2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground Italian sausage
1 c chopped onion
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 (14 1/2-oz) can diced tomatoes Italian-style with basil, garlic and oregano (do not drain)
1 1/2 c (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 (15-oz) container plus 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
16 oz mozzarella cheese, divided into 2 cup portions
5 oz grated Parmesan cheese, divided into 2/3 an 1 cup portions
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
no-boil lasagna noodles from one 9-ounce package (some will be left over)
Nonstick olive oil spray

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.

Add sausage, onion, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper; sauté until sausage is cooked through, mashing sausage into small pieces with a spatula, about 10 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with juices to cooked sausage. Bring sauce to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper.

I noticed straight-away that the sausage plays a key in flavors.  If you have a sausage you know you like, use it!!

Using on/off turns, chop fresh basil leaves finely in processor. Or, if you are like me and don't have a processor, coursely chop the basil with a knife of your choice.

Add ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, 2/3 cup Parmesan, egg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Using on/off turns, process filling until just blended and texture is still chunky. Or, if you are like me, simply mix the entire thing well with a giant spatula.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread 1 1/4 cups sauce in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

Arrange 3 noodles on sauce.

Drop 1 1/2 cups filling over noodles, then spread evenly to cover.

This was sort of tough as I'm accustomed to spreading cheese over warm noodles, which is easily done as the cheese becomes quite softened due to noodle heat. Here, imagine you are smearing cheese over a few crackers. Take care, but know you can be a little rough. Don't let the noodles sliding around on sauce intimidate you.

Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Repeat layering of sauce, noodles, filling and cheeses 2 more times. Top with remaining 3 noodles. Spoon remaining sauce atop noodles. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses.

Spray large piece of foil with nonstick olive oil spray. Cover lasagna with foil, sprayed side down.

NOTE! At this point, you should consider placing a sheet of foil under the rack to catch drippings. I found my lasagna leaked sauce like a fresh fruit pie! Since my oven is already filthy, I didn't worry too much. Just lookin' out for those of you with clean ovens.

Bake lasagna 40 minutes. Carefully uncover.

Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Bake until noodles are tender, sauce bubbles thickly and edges of lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 minutes.

Puffed is right! I couldn't believe how puffy this thing became -- it stood half-an-inch over the edge of the glass and while hard to see in the image, there were definite raised areas, evidence of pasta puffed-ness.

Let lasagna stand 15 minutes or more before serving.

By this time, the pasta had shrunk a little in height, so that overall, it appeared as a regular lasagna would.

The flavors were good -- I particularly enjoyed the sausage-y flavor. The basil wasn't as dominimant as I'd anticipated.  Some might say that the meat content wasn't enough, but I found it sufficient.  If you are meat-dependent, you might consider buying two packs of sausage. 

As far as sausage goes, it plays an integral part in overall lasagna flavor.  I went with mild because I didn't know Johnsonville fresh sausage.  Next time, I'll certainly use the "hot" rather than the mild.  By no means am I saying the lasagna was wretched, but it could've used a little more kick.

The noodles were interesting.  After they puffed and shrunk back to "normal", the texture wasn't much different than what I'd expect from a typical dry lasagna noodle.  The advantage is that you don't need to waste any time cooking the noodles before lasagna assembly.  However, it should be noted that the noodles need to be covered completely in sauce, or possibly wetted before assembly.  Any dry noodle parts will stay dry and thus yield crispy lasagna noodles.

Overall, this recipe was worth my time and effort.  I'll prepare it again, using hot sausage.  Now let's see what this sucker cost to make.

  • sausage: $3.99
  • onion: $0.70
  • garlic: $0.25
  • tomatoes with puree: $1.29
  • tomatoes, Italian style: $1(?)
  • fresh basil: $3.59
  • ricotta: $4.49 (with some leftover)
  • mozzarella: $4.59
  • Parmesan: $2.79
  • egg: $0.18 
  • lasagna noodles: $2.29 (with some leftover)

TOTAL: $20.57 or $2.06 for each of ten servings. The price is a little higher than I'd expected, but there is leftover ricotta and noodles. And I won't have the expense of purchasing take-out for lunch or dinner (8x) with these slabs stowed in the freezer.

Barilla No-Boil Required Lasagna Noodles

Lasagna noodles from a package is not a new concept for me. However, "no boiling required" is most certainly something I've yet to try.

Apparently, being rolled flat like homemade is a good thing, so I went with it. I would've anyway since the lasagna recipe I'm going to try calls for no-boil lasagna. Flat, wrinkly, I don't care. From what I understand from reading different sites and comments, these are supposed to be quite like fresh pasta. Personally, I won't know if they are like homemade/fresh because to my knowledge, I've only enjoyed the dry stuff from boxes.

The image of lasagna on the box didn't really appeal to me, but what do I know about lasagna and flat, no-boil lasagna noodles. I'm a Korean-American from upper-mid-west US displaced to southern CA due to the crap economy (before CA's economy started tanking). Italian probably doesn't even make up a portion of my mutt half.

Available at your local Ralph's, aka Kroger for those back east, for $2.29/9 oz. package.

Update, 101711
I used the no-boil noodles in Sausage, Cheese, and Basil Lasagna and gave feedback on the post about what I thought of the lasagna and the noodles.

Then I learned a marvelous trick from Lasagna Man who had a recipe for lasagna that is to die for, the aptly named, Number One Best Lasagna. Since I executed that trick and found the results to be outstanding, any thoughts of purchasing no-boil noodles was immediately tossed out.

Since then, I've executed on that trick when making the following lasagnas:
Do the trick. It's awesome.

Johnsonville Italian Sausage

I found a recipe I wanted to try and I picked up the ingredients, including Italian-style pork sausage. The recipe called for links, but the fresh links at Ralph's had ingredient statements including corn syrup solids and high-fructose corn syrup. Uh, yuck.

So I picked up this Johnsonville pack of ground, fresh Italian-style pork sausage because of the ingredient statement:

In case you are blinded by the 23% daily value of saturated fat per serving in the nutritional facts, the ingredients statement is this:

Pork, water and 2% or less than: salt, natural sugar, spices, paprika, and natural flavors.

The choice at that point was hot or mild. Not knowing how hot was hot or how mild was mild, I slam-dunked mild into the cart.

Cost: $3.99 per 16 oz. package at your local Ralph's, aka Kroger back east.

Look, Johnsonville updated the back label on their mild Italian sausage -- it's gluten free (red arrow).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Pan-Seared Rib Eye Steak

In need of something other than chicken, I made a stop at the grocery store specifically for steak and a green side (which turned out to be broccoli) after work.

Remembering Alton Brown's rib eye steak directions from a YouTube video once observed some time ago, I selected the smallest rib eye in the case. Priced at $6.99/lb, this 0.45 lb steak cost me $2.70.

Normally, I'd avoid something that cost so much for what would essentially be a single serving. But did I mention yet that I was sick of eating chicken?

Steak in hand and a head of broccoli later, I was out of the store.

Alton Brown's pan-seared steak directions calls for a steak with a thickness of about 1.5". That's a thick steak. The one I bought was barely half-an-inch thick, if that.

Alton recommends to salt, pepper and oil the steak before searing it on both sides and then baking it for a few minutes in the oven, yielding a crust on each side of the steak with a perfectly cooked interior.

With such a skinny steak, I followed Alton's directions but opted to skip the oven step. My steak was a third of his.

So I heated a cast iron skillet over medium heat until it was nuclear reactor hot. Meanwhile, I salted and peppered each side of the steak; then I rubbed each side with a little bit of canola oil before throwing the steak into the skillet.

The resulting sizzle made me foam at the mouth like a rabid dog.

After a couple minutes of searing without disturbing it, the steak was flipped to yield a nice brown crust.

A couple more undisturbed minutes later, the steak was removed from the skillet and placed on a plate, which was then covered loosely with foil. While the steak stood, I sauteed some mushrooms (left in the fridge destined to go bad otherwise) in butter in the steak skillet and steamed the broccoli.

The steak looked perfect especially when adorned with such beautifully prepared sides!

Unfortunately, the steak was a little bit too rare for me. I wound up throwing it back in the skillet for a minute on each side, yielding a perfect medium rare.

Delicious, simply divine. Why don't I eat steak every single day from now on?!

  • boneless rib eye steak: $2.70/0.45 lb
Total: $2.70 for one generous serving. 

As I said, I normally wouldn't go this route for a single serving, but I had to do something nice for myself after eating chicken, chicken, more chicken, chicken and even more chicken.  I was going to lose my mind.