Easy Homemade Take-Out

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I rarely (if ever) spend the money on take-out. Making it at home has many advantages – not only is it cheaper than that $10 bowl of rice an orange chicken you have a craving for, it’s also a great deal healthier to make these recipes at home. Asian take-out restaurants are notorious for loading their dishes with sodium in order to appeal to American pallets, which is a shame considering authentic Asian food is often full of bold flavors that do not require copious amounts butter and salt. However, if you’ve ever tried to look up how to make an Asian recipe from scratch, you’ll find that the recipes often contain numerous ingredients that aren’t readily available at your local grocery store.

In the past, I’ve gone to specialty Asian markets to acquire ingredients. If you have a store that sells these ingredients nearby, this can be a fun and rewarding culinary challenge. The problem is that going the strictly authentic route is  expensive, requires the extra time and forethought of going to a specialty market, and then actually going about cooking these dishes is often an involved project – not something you can throw together in 30 minutes.

So where is the happy medium for those who want to make these recipes at home but don’t have the time or money? Here are some of my favorite ideas for recreating take-out favorites at home with ingredients you can get at your local grocery store. I certainly don’t make any claims about these being strictly equivalent to the experience of eating authentic Asian food, but if you’re looking for a healthier and easier alternative to take-out, look no further!

Chinese Hot & Sour Soup

Chinese hot and sour soupIngredients:

Low sodium soy sauce
Rice vinegar
White pepper
Tofu (or pork or chicken)
Shitake mushrooms, chopped
Chicken broth
Onions, chopped
Dash of olive oil for sauteing
1 Egg
Scallions or cilantro leaves for garnish

Now, you’ll notice I did not include exact quantities of these ingredients. Before you start worrying if you’ll get it right, know that all of these ingredients can be altered depending on what flavor profiles you like. Start with one cup of chicken broth (per person), one tablespoon of the vinegar, and a half tablespoon of the soy sauce, and a few dashes of white pepper. Everything else from the mushrooms to the tofu is “to taste.” If you like it sour, add more vinegar, if you like it hotter, more pepper, broth-ier, more chicken stock.

If you are cooking with chicken or pork, you’ll need to cook that before you add any of the other ingredients. Saute any added meat with the onions until they are translucent. Add your cup of chicken broth and then throw in tofu and mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for 3 minutes. Then add your soy sauce, pepper, and vinegar. Taste test your soup and add more ingredients as needed! The last step is to lightly beat your egg, drop it into the soup, and stir on low heat. Finally, garnish with cilantro or scallions.

Indian Butter Chicken

IMG_3139Ingredients:

Chicken (substitute: tofu)
Onions, chopped
Mushrooms
1/2 cup Tomato sauce
1 small clove Garlic, chopped
1/2 cup Cream (substitute: milk with 1/8 tsp. corn starch mixed in cold water to thicken)
Butter (substitute: olive oil)
Curry powder and/or cumin

The curry powder and cumin are meant to imitate the earthy flavor of the garam masala, turmeric etc. in traditional butter chicken, and store-bought tomato sauce that you put on pasta can serve for the tomato-base in the sauce. You can get fancy and make your tomato sauce a garlic-herb variety to spice things up. Saute your chicken, garlic, onions, and whatever veggies you wish to include in butter or olive oil until the meat is fully cooked.

Add 1/2 cup cream (this is for one person – double for two) and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. The curry powder and cumin are to-taste, but if you need solid measurements try 1/4 tsp of each. If you choose to use milk instead of cream, you can thicken your sauce by mixing 1/8 tsp. of corn starch with cold water and then slowly incorporating it into the sauce. Caution: too much corn starch will make it taste “blehhh” so use very sparingly – incorporate it in small increments.

Serve with rice!

Healthy Eats

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Healthy Eats

While I don’t consider myself a vegetarian, the majority of what I make at home is vegetarian-friendly. The reason for this is mostly due to cost and the hassle of keeping meat fresh. I can buy a $2.99 carton of tofu (which I really enjoy) that I can use in various recipes throughout the week. A tub of plain Greek yogurt ($4.99) is also high in protein and usually keeps fresh for a few weeks. Since I only buy high-quality meat and fish when I do buy it, the expense is significantly more, plus I often have to go through the hassle of freezing and defrosting the portions that I don’t use immediately. “Hearty” vegetables like squash and eggplant are also a great way to make meals a little more filling even if they are vegetarian.

Mediterranean Eggplant with Artichoke Quinoa

This recipe is protein-rich and delicious, even though it involves no meat! If you want an even heartier version, you can add sauteed chicken or tofu. My recipe is for one person since I’m only cooking for myself, but the portions can easily be doubled for two.

Ingredients:
Large Eggplant
1/2 cup Quinoa
Canned and quartered artichoke hearts (about 1/4 of the can)
1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 small clove garlic
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Fresh Basil, julienne
1 tbls olive oil
1/4 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cumin
Fresh lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. I used a rice cooker for the quinoa – this is by far the easiest method. You just throw it in there (with the amount of water specified) and press “cook.” For other methods of making quinoa, refer to instructs on the box, but be aware that you need to keep an eye on it, or it will get mushy and/or burn on the bottom of a pan. This should take about 15-20min.
2. Slice the desired amount of eggplant into 1/2″ thick circles. This is where you get to choose your own portions; I ate 4 large slices, but it’s up to you! Brush the eggplant with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Saute the eggplant in a large pan on medium-high heat until browned on both sides. I like to “sear” the eggplant (about 3min on each side) so it still retains some of its firmness without getting mushy.
4. When the quinoa is finished cooking, take off the heat. If it is in a rice cooker, set it to “warm.” Add cherry tomatoes and quartered artichoke hearts. Julienne some of the basil and mix it in with the quinoa. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture and salt if needed.
5. Chop one clove of garlic and place in a small, microwavable bowl. Sprinkle a dash of sesame oil on the garlic (a little bit goes a long way!). Microwave on high for 30seconds.
6. Mix garlic with Greek yogurt, cumin, and the remainder of the basil.
7. Plate the eggplant with a dollop of the yogurt sauce on each circle. Serve the quinoa in the center and it’s ready to eat!

Why I Don’t Shout “Chief” Anymore at Illini Games

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Why I Don’t Shout “Chief” Anymore at Illini Games

If you know me or my family, we’ve been Illini fans for generations, beginning when my great grandfather attended the University of Illinois and played in the Marching Illini. Now, I’m a University of Illinois alumna and my sister is currently attending and playing in the marching band. University of Illinois traditions are not just about school pride, they are also part of my family’s history and culture. We do not hearken back to times spent in any European country or other continent – the American Midwest is our culture now.

So, it is not without a great deal of thought and reflection that I say that I no longer support any efforts to bring back the Chief. I feel uncomfortable now at the football games when I hear those around me shout “Chieeeeeef” in a low, guttural tone that almost sounds like a “booooo.” It is a condemnation, a protest that interrupts our school songs. I feel disappointed when I watch others around me get more excited about the presence of a student dressed up as the Chief in the stands than they are about any of the other ongoing traditions and fanfare on the field. Frankly, it’s a buzz kill. And most of all, I feel embarrassed that no one else seems attuned to the fact that we as a group are being called “racist” and “ignorant” across the country for our inability to let go of this one thing. Whether the “others” are right or wrong – the champions of social equality or an equally ignorant bunch of do-gooders obsessed with a political-correctness movement they don’t truly understand – it doesn’t matter. I’m embarrassed that so many people who are not University of Illinois alumni subscribe to the belief that we are racist, regardless of whether we deserve it or not.

There are two grounds on which I would like to defend my fellow Illini. The first is that at heart, the Chief was not meant to be a cruel, satirical, or even stereotypical depiction of Native American culture. The intentions behind the Chief were good and I believe the people who originated the idea truly meant to honor Native Americans rather than mock them. The second is that it is profoundly irritating that teams like the Redskins or the numerous other teams with Native American mascots are allowed to continue in their more blatant and heinous form of racism while everyone rags on the University of Illinois for what I believe to be a lesser offense. The question that remains is whether these two elements justify keeping the Chief. And my answer to that is unfortunately, no. These are not justifications, just excuses.

I’ve heard a number of well-intentioned arguments on how the University of Illinois could keep the Chief and honor Native Americans in an acceptable way. These include having a Native American studies class be a requirement at the University of Illinois, or getting some tribe in the area to sanction our use of the Chief. While these solutions are, as I’ve described them, well-intentioned, they presuppose that all Native Americans agree on what is offensive and what is not offensive and what ought to be done about it. The irony of the idea that students should have to take a class on American Indian Studies is that is was the AIS department and my American Indian Religious Traditions class that convinced me that the Chief mascot really didn’t do justice or honor to Native American traditions and that the university should give up the Chief. Giving up the Chief is a gesture of goodwill to the Native American community at large – not a concession made for the benefit of any one tribe or individual.

I also feel obligated to point out that all the shame and embarrassment is stalling an open and thoughtful debate over Chief Illiniwek. We fight against taking away the Chief, in a sense, because that would be akin to admitting that he was a symbol of racism all along. No one likes to associate their honored traditions with the bad and the ugly practices that are part of all human cultures to some extent. Being indoctrinated in the idea that an element of our culture is rooted in violence and imperialism is not new for American students. It is something we learn from the first “talk” we are given by an elementary school teacher about Columbus Day. Columbus Day is just one example of the American educational system’s constant apologies for its imperialist and racist beginnings juxtaposed with its unwillingness to entirely throw out the traditions upon which it was founded. Even Thanksgiving requires a footnote, stipulating that while it is supposed to be a holiday denoted for giving thanks, it actually celebrates our colonial ancestors’ eradication of an entire race to secure their position on the new continent. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a fundamentally good thing to give thanks for what we are thankful for now.

So, let me be clear: I’m not a fan of the footnotes and asterisks attached to everything we celebrate. I’m not a proponent of shame culture insofar as it prevents us from truly moving forward. Our history needs to be taught from the perspective of minority cultures, but there is an uncomfortable way in which “shame culture” teachings still portray minority cultures as the racial “other” rather than human beings who existed in a certain time and place and experienced many of the same struggles on the individual level as our colonial ancestors did. It teaches students to identify with a certain group of people because of skin color – not even necessarily a true biological or cultural basis – and then feel ashamed or vengeful accordingly. We are openly ashamed of our culture, but we don’t move forward.

Right now, we are stuck between two difficult and disappointing outcomes. Chief Illiniwek will forever stand for something that is not good or honorable from now on, no matter how hard we wish it would be the other way. We cannot go back. And the University of Illinois without any mascot will be a constant reminder of shame culture and how a group of well-intentioned people trying to show pride in their school were labeled as ignorant and racist because of an old American bias that found its way into the university system. The only good solution I can see now is putting all that energy spent on anger and embarrassment into efforts to create a new mascot with new traditions. No, it won’t be Chief Illiniwek. But if we would put the same love and pride that was used to found the original University of Illinois tradition into a new mascot that all future Illinois students can honor without any asterisks or stipulations, then at the least everyone can move forward together.

Zipcar

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So, it’s been a WHILE since I’ve posted because my executive position in my sorority has taken over my life. I have another blog that I do for the sorority now so that takes up most of my time and efforts *sigh*. The other issue is that my camera cord went MIA and so I haven’t been able to upload any of the pictures I took of new recipes.

However, I wanted to share something new I decided to try. Something that has been a big source of stress with apartment living has been not having a car. Cooking a variety of fresh, healthy meals every week comes with the caveat of having to go to the grocery store often. Sure, it would be easy to live on ramen and hot-pockets and rarely have to drive to the store, but cooking is both a hobby for me and a healthy life style choice. So…I must scavenge for rides. The past two years, I rarely needed to run out to the grocery store or Walgreens on short notice. However, this year it seems to be a daily occurrence. I’ll walk the mile round-trip to the County Market to get milk to and then get back and realize we’re out of paper towels now. I am currently in the conundrum of having come home from spring break to an empty refrigerator and have been trying unsuccessfully to find someone to drive me to the grocery store. Hello, Jimmy Johns.

So, I decided to give Zip Car a try. I thought of trying it earlier, but then chickened out when I thought I might have to take a bus to downtown Champaign to pick up the Zip Car. Then I noticed that there are Zip Cars in the Weston parking lot a couple blocks from my apartment. Bingo. The idea behind Zip Car is that you buy a membership for $25 annually and then you reserve the Zip Cars when you need them and pay by the hour to rent them – gas and insurance included. At $60+ a month for a parking spot in Champaign that pays for itself pretty quickly. The danger of course is whether a Zip Car will actually be available for me when I need it, but I can be flexible with timing of grocery trips since currently I am at the mercy of anyone who has a car to determine when I go. You get a ZipCard that will be programed to unlock the car you have reserved and then you just go to the location, pick up the car, and return it when you are done.

We’ll see how this works out. I’ve tried online grocery shopping and that didn’t seem to cut it for me, plus the delivery charge was $14.99 so for that price I could have the Zip Car for 2 hours. I will update after I reserve my first car to say how it went!

 

Mediterranean Pizza

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Looking for a quick and easy meal that has the feel of a nice cafe? I highly recommend this Mediterranean pizza recipe. It had some serious deliciousness going on – not to mention it was so easy! I used an individual sized pre-made pizza crust that you can get at any grocery store. From there, top with whatever ingredients strike your fancy, pop it in the oven and go! Here is what I used for a Mediterranean take on the classic pizza:

Pesto (as spread)
Artichoke hearts, chopped
Kalmata olives
Tomatoes, chopped
Mozzarella shredded cheese
Feta cheese, crumbled

Spread the premade crust with pesto (don’t be shy about it!). Then top with your preferred amount of the listed ingredients and cover in mozzarella cheese. Crumble a tablespoon or so of feta on top, it’s a strong cheese so a little goes a long way! Bake at 400 degrees for about 7 minutes or until the mozzarella is fully melted. Bon appetite!

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Generally Awesome Tso’s Chicken

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My friend Jasmine’s buzz article about General Tso’s Chicken inspired me to try my hand at homemade takeout. If you read her article, you’ll notice she tried baking the chicken instead of frying it, which is something I had hoped to do, but it did not turn out as hoped. I have avoided frying thus far in my apartment kitchen for a number of very valid reasons. 1. It looks like a huge, nasty mess I would have to clean up and 2. what’s more it’s not even healthy. Thus, baking was looking like the superior option until a good while of internet search yielded no solid recipe results. Boo.

Then, I found this picture on a cooking blog:

Wait…so I don’t need a huge vat of bubbling oil to successfully fry a few pieces of chicken? I was surprised, but I decided to give it a try. The main point is the chicken turned out AMAZING by frying them in a very shallow pool of oil.

So, I’m not sure how this happened, but I cannot find the recipe I used again! However, I did find a very similar one so if you are interested in recreating the recipe try this one: General Tso’s Recipe

 

 

At right is a photo of how the chicken turned out fried. The sauce and the chicken turned out great and made delicious leftovers! That being said, this isn’t meal for when you’re tired or in a hurry. It’s a lot of prep work and requires constant attention during the whole process. But if you’re ready to brave the frying oil, this is a great alternative to ordering takeout. Enjoy!