Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Good creative people, I am not a Chef, {Part Duex}

I’ve never been to cooking school, I do not own an over-sized floppy white hat, and I positively refute the idea that every ingredient must be uttered with the inflection of its native tongue (motz-eh-relehha cheese being my one exception… I am Italian after all). That being said, I do know a thing or two about being poor. Gourmand status notwithstanding, this state of mind has led to more penny counting, and improvised meals than I’d care to admit.

However, I’ve always believed that blogs are not the socially acceptable places for modesty. If some of my tactics for keeping my head above water can help out a few of you, far be it for me to hold out the goods. So today, good creative types, I’d like to open up my kitchen to you all, and share a few tips about how your own kitchen just might be able to help you weather the poverty storm (regardless of how long this confounded recession lasts).

You know it’s funny

Not really funny, funny — as in the knee slapping, milk and nose squirting, or that friend with the mildly annoying piggly laugh sort of way — but more so in the ironic sense of the term, “funny”, that I’ve never before reused a title, nor an opening paragraph (or in this case, 2), but for this series I decided that I would, because… well… because it’s a series — which needed some sort of common thread — and yet, here we are a full year later and it all still makes perfect sense!

Sadly right on down to that bit about the recession…

But with a little luck we can hope to be removing that unpleasantness by sometime next year…


Now, before we get started

Because this is, after all, a series (and the first one I’m involved with where I’m the STAR! Just wait till I tell Mom — she’ll be so proud!!), you might find it helpful to first read the original post before we move on, as it sets the tone and lays the framework which I hope to build upon here, (and, from the looks of it, henceforth around every January 20th) and you might find it helpful.

And now,

without further ado,

I’d like to give to you all today,

the gift of the almighty SALAD!

Do not be afraid of this Isle. This Isle is your friend.

(Well that was a crappy reception…)

(To say the least.)

(Alright, I’ll give you one more shot — I want to hear you CHEER!)



(Nope, not going to work a second time either…)


Look, I get it — Grumplepuss — you’re not a rabbit. Lettuce just isn’t your thing, and, well, I can dig that. I really can. But that’s not all I’m aiming to fix here. After all, this is a post for the poor. And the first thing that you’ll want to do if you’re in a rut — either mentally or monetarily — is elevate your mood. And nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, can accomplish this task as effectively nor as deliciously as a few raw plants from good ole’ mother nature.

This is about Vitamins. This is about Minerals. This is about overall wellbeing. For there might come a day where a window out of your rut will open up to you, but if you’re not mentally sharp or physically fit on that day you’ll miss your chance to escape the poverty prison altogether. And once you’re caught,  the Warden’s not gonna give you another spoon to dig with…

So I say, grab life by the cajhones, live on the edge, be Manly — and have a salad.

Your brain, your mood, and your shrinking pant size will all thank you.

Besides, and more to the point of the post — salads are cheap!

All this was bought for less than 12$, and fed me for a week!

Take a look at this picture, what do you see?

If only a bunch of “Yucky” green veggies, you’re missing the point.

Want to know what I see? I see reduced doctors visits. I see greater mental clarity. I see more energy. I see deliciousness (Just wait, it’s all about the dressing!). I see less frequent colds, and shorter durations when you catch them. I see health, wellbeing, and longevity — and also a FAR diminished chance of catching any major disease, such as, oh, gee, I don’t know…  cancer!

Plus less face it, if you’re poor, you can’t afford to be without any of the things listed above anyway…

So let’s get going!

What you’ll need:

~~~~ VEGGIES ~~~~

– Feel free to buy whatever you feel like, whatever’s calling out your name (Get Creative!), but what I have in the picture above I can vouch for, as it made the salad in the pictures below, and they are; (clockwise from 6′ Oclock) *Green Squash, *Jalapenos, *Spanish Onion, *Garlic, *Red Onion, *Red Leaf Lettuce, *Mushrooms, *Salad Tomatoes, *Limes and *Kirby Cucumbers. (*Note at least 2 Limes, 1 garlic clove, and 1 tomato are essential*)

~~~~ A KNIFE ~~~~

– No, not that piddly little butter-knife from your Draw. That’s not a knife… I mean a KNIFE — And a long, sharp one at that. The longer the better, as it will help you slice and dice that green-gang (not to be mistaken with gangrene) hastily into submission.


– A-One for the money, A-Two for the show, A-Three to get ready, NOW GO… Er, um — no, that’s not right… One BIG BOWL, for the fixin’s, and one lil’ Bowl’ieta for the dressing. Which you’re going to make yourself. (don’t fret — I got you 😉 )


– Not really much to say about this one. Pretty self-explanatory that. I do happen to prefer the plastic flexible type, but really ANY will suffice, heck I don’t care if you cut on your counter, but I better not get any calls about me getting sued cause you’re some slob who caught salmonella, off my recommendation and some maggot infested unsuitable surface! You know what, scratch that — sue me. I’m poor, so there’s not really much to take, and I figure a courthouse might proffer a nice change of scenery.


And, well — that’s it, that’s what I’m looking for!

Now then, here we go!

Clean and chop


One of the more beautiful aspects of serving a salad is that you really can’t mess it up. There’s no timing involved, there’s no cooking, barely any seasoning — really, all you’re responsible for is cleaning up and slicing down your raw and healthy goodness into submission. At first this process might take you a good twenty minutes, but never fear, after around four or five rounds of making them (or if you grab a hubby, wife or a child to help share in the fun chore), the meal can easily be concocted in 5 minutes flat.

I don’t mean to brag, but my best time’s around a, 4.23 — I know, I’m kinda a big deal…

Now, the first thing you’re going to want to do is strip off about five leaves of lettuce from your bunch. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE WASH THEM, (along with everything else), as oftentimes produce isn’t kept in the most sanitary of conditions before you kidnap them and take them home (It puts the dressing on its skin!). Once washed, stack atop each other, and cut into ribbons, as depicted below. There are other methods to cutting leaves, but i find that this style really holds on to the dressing well and helps your fork to easily latch on — while still fitting inside your mouth with ease and not making it feel as if your stuffing a live squid with flailing tentacles into your mouth.

I know you know what I’m talking about 😉

$15 bucks for a little biddy thing that I wind up wearing on my face!

No thank you!

About 1/4 inch strips

Drop this in the big bowl

Now comes the rest of your veg!

Today I’d used skinned mature Carrots (as opposed to baby – duh!),

What's up doc?


Dont worry about him, he's a fun-guy

Green Squash,

Judo CHOP!

 Red Onion,

No joke on this one, just a warning... Red onions have a kick! I like this. You however, might not.

And Cucumber.

Please resist the temptation to wear these on your eyes. Save that for another bloggers post...

Please take note of the way I curl my fingers AWAY from where the blade will be. In this way I cannot possibly cut myself, and can still use my fingers to “Squeeze” the veggies in place — leading to safety, level and even cutting, and the ability for me to still count to ten.

All glory to the Hypnotoad Dressing!

(Wow, wayyyy too much java this morning… but what can I say — It’s my favorite part!)

Store bought dressings might claim to be home-style, but they might as well call themselves homely — as there’s nothing comforting or attractive about the ingredient list on most of em’.


Instead, make your own!

Traditionally homemade vinaigrettes are a citrus (acid), some oil, some mustard, a pinch of salt and sugar, and a whisk — but how blase. The way I look at it, if we’re clever, we can infuse the remaining ingredients with a powerful punch, and add to the flavor of our entire meal at once. Plus its super easy!!!

Step 1: Halve, and then dice your tomato,

Dig in first with the tip of your blade, as the skin can be slick and hard to cut

Then drop it in the lil’ Bowl’ieta

Also at this point add a bit of salt, as it will help to draw out the oil in the tomato, I.E: the flavor

Next, do the same to your garlic and your Jalapeno


Jose' Jalapeno, sans stick

And now, time to prevent Scurvy!

The Lime

The best way to juice a lime is not what you might think. I picked up this little gem from Cooks Illustrated a few years back, and it’s DOUBLED the juice I’ve gotten from these delightful little fruits ever since.

First, cut into a square…

(I’m serious — look for yourself!)

That's one... now the other 3...

Keep going…

There ya go, Sparky!

Next, squeeze all 8 walls (yes, 8 — that’s four sides, times two limes, Archimedes…) into the Bowl’ieta atop the veg already in there, and then slice the bulk of lime into two halves, right down the middle, and squeeze that bad-boy in there as well.

(They put the lime in the coke-you-nut…)

Don't worry about squeezing too hard, Limes are known sadists -- they enjoy the pain.

Finally add to this about a teaspoon of sugar, a healthy pinch of salt, a teaspoon of mustard (optional), and about 1/4 cup of oil — though all of this is to taste! Lately I have used no mustard at all because it’s just plain ole’ kick ass on its own.


after mixing with a fork,

as counterintuitive as this might sound,

nuke it for 30 seconds.


This will help all the flavors and the oils intermingle, and will truly create a unique dressing full of health and wellbeing.

(~~~~ Sidenote ~~~~)

* For Carnivores *

As of this point everything we’ve done is vegan, though I am, much as you are, decidedly NOT a rabbit — so here’s a tip. Fry up some Bacon — that’s right, I said fry up some mother F-ing Bacon — and when it’s deliciously crispy, crumble it into oblivion. Take 1/2 and add it to the Bowl’ieta before nuking, and suddenly your dressing is infused with magical baconey goodness!!! The other half can be crumbled atop your culinary masterpiece, and coupled with blue cheese — if that’s your type of schinding (I know it’s mine). I also like to fry pasta crispy and add it in, or even chicken or egg salad as well. It’s all about keeping EVERYONE HAPPY, and 4 OZ of bacon across two people never hurt no one — I’m Juss Sayin’!

OK, once All that’s done


You’re done.

Now, this is important. Before you eat: Go find another family member, or walk down the block to find a neighbor, or drive over to a buddy’s place, or fly out of state to visit a dear old friend — and ask for a pat on the back.

Have them then whisper softly into your ear, “Good Job” — and then get back home cause it’s time to eat!

If all’s gone according to plan, things should look something like this!

Kapow! And then THIS!!!

Then, that’s it — you’re done.

Poor or not, you are now in possession of something that anyone would desire: just about every vitamin in the alphabet, essential oils, handmade (pride inducing) dressing, and a meal that could (and should!), easily serve two of ya.

All sliding in at a plate cost of around $.75 per person!!!

Now, never again do I want to hear you, or anyone in your Fan-Damily, claim that, “they don’t eat anything green”, or, “salads are yucky”, or, “I don’t eat rabbit food”!

Wait. Scratch that. More for you.

Screw it, let them eat cake


Good creative people, I am not a Chef.

I’ve never been to cooking school, I do not own an over-sized floppy white hat, and I positively refute the idea that every ingredient must be uttered with the inflection of its native tongue (motz-eh-relehha cheese being my one exception… I am Italian after all). That being said, I do know a thing or two about being poor. Gourmand status notwithstanding, this state of mind has led to more penny counting, and improvised meals than I’d care to admit.

However, I’ve always believed that blogs are not the socially acceptable places for modesty. If some of my tactics for keeping my head above water can help out a few of you, far be it for me to hold out the goods. So today, good creative types, I’d like to open up my kitchen to you all, and share a few tips about how your own kitchen just might be able to help you weather the poverty storm (regardless of how long this confounded recession lasts).

Plate cost

You heard me, Plate Cost. And before you ask: No, I’m not speaking about the second mortgage that your Aunt Sally took out on her home in Maui (purportedly), so that she could buy you that set of china-wear dishes and cutlery, which you’d never asked for, and that you use on a daily basis rather than the recommended once a year guideline that she’d unfairly imposed upon you when she’d given you the gift (and before you’d unwrapped it even, she’s got some gall I tell ya!). I’m talking about the cost – to your pocket – for each plate that you put on the dinner table.

Aunt Sally on her day off

Plate cost is the first and foremost factor when it comes to saving money with your meals. Are you serving each guest at your table $10 Dollars worth of food, or are you serving them $2.50 worth? With three meals a day, over a seven-day week, that $7.50 discrepancy will add up to more than $150 Dollars in your pocket, Cha-Ching!

Contrary to contemporary thought, the production of good food at home does not have to cost as much as contemporary art (really? A million dollars for three vertical stripes of red?). The average dish that grazes the tables at Casa-De-La-DiCroce costs me about $2-3 Dollars, and if you’d ever been over here for dinner ( and you soon might… more on that later), you would know that i certainly don’t skimp on the flavor. This already incredible number is amazingly diminished farther by the fact that I always find ways to incorporate left over parts of meals past into wondrous, pre-flavored, tremendously character endowed offerings/aspects in subsequent banquets.

For example:  let’s say you get a craving to serve Mac-N-Cheese for a side-dish/diner one night. Should you buy the Kraft pre-packaged brand, which will last you for one meal (and – if your anything like me – one portion), or should you purchase some pasta, cheese, and milk separately, so that you might make your own and wind up with some left over?


OK your honor, I’ll admit it: I was leading the witness. But seriously, homespun Mac-N-Cheese is $.99 cents for the noodles, plus about $.25 cents worth of cheese, another $.25 cents worth of milk, and – if you’re feeling frisky – another $.25 cents worth of butter (plus about $.03 cents worth of seasoning). So let’s see, you go my route and the cost to you is less than $2 dollars – for roughly 8-10 servings of cheesy, creamy awesomeness. Or you can go Kraft’s route, and get (what they claim is)- 2 servings, of bland, powdered sugar and cheese underwhelmedness (yes it’s a word, I’m querying Oxford to appeal it as we speak). The numbers speak for themselves creative peeps, and the flavor is only limited to your imagination, so get creative… creative peeps.

What to do with your left overs?

Well since we’re already talking about it, and because I cant read all your minds (some not all, and in response to Gary in Wisconsin: no that’s not a good idea for your leftover PB&J: put away the sandwich, and tell the dog to go lie down), let’s stick with the Mac-and-cheese example.

Oftentimes with Mac-N-Cheese I will take my left overs, one portion at a time, and mix it in with stir-fried beef (Buy in bulk quantities, separate into patties, place in freezer safe bag – being careful not to overlap – suck out the air, seal, freeze, and you now have quick burger-sized meals ready to go in a flash. Re-use the freezer bags ad infinitum; another great way to save). Beef needs almost nothing in the pan with it to cook, and takes nearly no effort at all.


1-Place in pre hot pan

2- Salt and pepper to taste

3-Mash up with a wooden spoon, and ensure that nothing is sticking to the pan.

4-When it’s browned, it’s ready! Add to nuked left over Mac-N-cheese for a quick tasty meal.

I also enjoy adding taco seasoning to my meat to give it a good punch. I.E.; salt, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, and paprika (the basics), feel free to squeeze in a lime or lemon, toss in some steak seasoning or chicken seasoning, or even start onions in the pan before hand for extra added flavor.

How to eat out/in

Don’t let the state of your finances prevent you from indulging in the simple luxury of eating out or ordering in once in a blue-moon. There are plenty of places, that I’m sure you can find, with great prices, good portions, and ingredients that you can recycle again and again into subsequent meals. For me, It’s a local Indian place in the neighborhood called, Seva. Ordering from this amazingly tasty restaurant, which normally takes only about 1/2-hour to arrive, costs me $20 bucks, feeds me three full meals – and if you remember our plate cost talk, that’s only $7 dollars a serving – and the gratis leftovers, e.g. the mango chutney, their three sauces (sweet red, savory green herb, and yogurt white), give later meals that I cook irreplaceable, and, at least for me (remember I’m not a cook), unrepeatable flavor, which extends its life even further.

Poor Man’s cookbook

Now that we’ve talked extensively on WHY to cook at home, I would undoubtedly be bereft if I didn’t equip you with WHAT to cook at home.

This part of the blog is something that I hope to continue on writing for many posts to come. My basic idea behind it is this: I will provide you all with a recipe I’d recently used to create a cheap, delicious meal in my own kitchen. Later on (And god willing) I will have a friend of mine, who is a sous-chef at a respectable restaurant in NYC, come on the blog and “correct” my noobish mistakes, to tell you all how to turn average – into gourmet. This same person has expressed interest in writing guest blogs on the site, so in the comments below please tell me if that is something you’d all like to see in the future.

In either case, and whether or not I’m eventually joined in this exercise, I am now going to regale you all with a recipe that I’d recently concocted (and am presently eating… Yum): , which involves soup, some chicken, some spices, and a delectable turnout. (I promise to have pictures next time 🙂 )

You will need:

Protien~1-2 large Chicken breasts, thawed.

Vegetables~ 1 Large Vidalia/Spanish/White onion, a bunch of celery, 3 large carrots, 1 can of beans (optional), 1 can of corn (optional), and 3 cloves of garlic (optional).

Spices~ 2Tbsp Ground cumin, 2Tsp Paprika powder(the smokier smelling, the better), 2Tsp Ground Coriander, 1Tsp sea-salt, 1Tsp black ground pepper, 1Tsp cayenne pepper (optional as substitute or in addition to black pepper).

Also~3Tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive oil.


Start by heating a large pot (that has a matching lid) on your stove over high heat. Once the pot is hot, add 1Tbsp of Oil.

Meanwhile: Slice the onion, celery, and carrots into similarly sized pieces (no need to be professional here, just make sure that they’re small enough to get on a spoon later on), mince the garlic (cut this up too – just very small), and open the corn and beans, placing them to the side and out of the way.

By now: the oil in the pan should be hot, and you can lightly salt the outside of your chicken breast(s), and drop them in the oil, turning after 1-2 minutes on each side (you want it to brown a little bit in the bottom of the pan). Once this is completed, remove the chicken, and place it aside to rest, leaving the remaining  juices in the pot.

Now you should Take the other 2Tbsp of oil and add it to the pot.

Once the oil is up to temperature (slightly smokey), lower your heat to medium-low, add your onions, carrots, and celery, and cook them until they are translucent, around 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally (just so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan).

Once this is done, add the garlic for about 1 min (until you smell it), then add in all the spices, stirring them to coat all the veggies in the pan.

Once everything is gelling nicely, and the kitchen smells awesome, add back in the chicken breasts, fill the pot with water until it covers them in the pan (maybe more if you want, this liquid will be your soup), pop on a lid, and wait 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes has passed, remove the chicken and let it rest for at least 10 minutes (if you cut it open before then all its juices will run out), meanwhile add the beans and corn to the stew, and stir up the fixin’s from the bottom, replacing the lid when you are finished.

Take 2 forks and “pull” the chicken, using one to hold, and the other to shred it, until you have a nice cutting board full of tender delicious chicken tidbits. Once this step is completed, add the chicken bits back to the pot, and let everything simmer on low… as long as you want. The longer you cook, the more intense of a flavor you will get.

And then…

Be creative (it’s what you do best!). Feel free to heat up the fruit of your labors as a soup, use the liquid to flavor other dinners (as stock), or even to scoop out only the fixin’s to make taco’s. In the world of cooking, there are no rules, and the sooner you start experimenting, the sooner you will get the hang of it.

At the end of the day, “Poor”, and “Rich”, are merely states of mind. Always remember that your reality is only ever limited to your imagination, ingenuity, and proactivity.

That’s all for today folks. Come around again soon and hopefully we will have some great guest writers for you (fitness, health, and cooking are lined up so far), as well as the usual fun inspiring brain fodder you’ve come to know and love.

Now get in that kitchen and whip me up something nice (and cheap!)!