I got game.

I sometimes have the privilege of trimming duck breast at work.  As fun as that is, I don’t get to eat it, and that’s terribly frustrating because duck is a fine, delicious meat.  I can’t bring duck home, but I can bring home crispins and duck fat.  There’s always lots of fat left over from trimming the breast, and rendering it is easy.  (Sorry there’s no photo.  My coworkers ate it all.)  You can do the same thing with any kind of poultry skin, and it’s just like frying bacon:

Preheat a non-stick pan on medium heat for a couple of minutes.

Add the fat/skin.

Turn the heat down to low and stir occasionally.  Turn the pieces a couple of times so they brown evenly.  It could take up to half an hour.  Keep the heat low, or the fat will smoke and burn.  When it’s done, you’ll have delicious, crispy bites (“crispins”) and  a couple of tablespoons of fat with which you can, perhaps, roast potatoes:

Aw, god.  This was good.  Not as good as roasted duck, but a serious upgrade from plain roasted potatoes.  To get them crispy,cut them in good-sized wedges, and leave the skin on.  You don’t want them too small.  Boil them in salted water for a few minutes until they’re almost done.  Drain really well.  Then toss them in the duck fat, sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs (I used rosemary),  and roast in a single layer at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes until they’re nice and crispy.  I like mine with dijonnaise (2 parts mayo, 1 part dijon), or as we call it in my house, mustardayonnaise.  This photo represents a reasonable, American Dietetic Association-approved serving size.  I would  need a panoramic camera to capture all the fries I actually ate that night.

Another perk of my job is working with a guy who shares the venison he processes himself.  Environmentally speaking, deer is probably the best meat you can eat.  With few natural predators and a taste for home-grown vegetables, deer are major pests around these parts.  It’s really a meat-eater’s duty to thin them out.

The meat is very lean, so it can be tough if it’s not slow-cooked.  That’s why Johnny the Deerslayer processes his into stew meat and ground chuck.  The chuck, I discovered, is perfect for meatloaf and not the least bit greasy.

Meatloaf’s a great way to stretch a meal, and you don’t need a recipe, just some ratio guidelines.  What you do need is a meat thermometer.  I don’t care how good of a cook you are, there’s no way you can eyeball a meatloaf and know it’s 155 degrees internally.  With wild game especially you can’t fool around.  Here is a basic recipe for a four-serving meatloaf made in a 6-inch loaf pan.  You can easily increase this recipe for larger loaves, or to make layers for a meat cake.  (You’ll need to double the recipe for each 9″ layer.)

1 pound of ground meat

1 egg

1/2 c. onion (I recommend sauteeing them first, but that’s optional)

1/2 c. crumbs (bread crumbs, panko, crushed crackers, or ground rice-based cereal for gluten-free)

2 Tb. spices (any combination you like; good ones are parsley, sage, thyme, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, etc.

1/2 c. grated cheese (optional)

2 Tb. milk or yogurt.

From here you can add just about anything you want.  If you don’t quite have a full pound of meat, throw in some vegetables like diced carrots, peas, cooked potato or sweet potato, or sauteed mushrooms.  Garlic, worcestershire, soy sauce, canned chipotle, and diced peppers are good seasoning options, depending on your flavor theme.

Mix everything well, using your hands.  Pack it tightly into the loaf pan.   Then invert the loaf pan onto a sheet pan to dump it out.  (Baking  it without a pan will keep it from being too greasy.  It’s also easier to check it’s temperature properly. If you’re making a meat cake, do bake it in a pan.)  Brush with ketchup, if you’re feeling old school.

Bake for at least 40 minutes, or until the thermometer reads between 155-165 degrees.  To check the temperature accurately, insert the thermometer into the long side of the loaf, just above the horizontal center, until the tip is in the middle.

Say it with Carbohydrates

The Aquarii and Capricorns in my life have been keeping me in constant birthday celebration mode.  For me, this means baking.  For P.B., this means flour and food coloring on every surface of the kitchen.  (An epileptic Stevie Wonder frosting cupcakes during an earthquake would make a smaller mess.)  For the folks at the Amish creamery who make those  fantastic 2-pound logs of butter, it means they can finally afford those new rims for the buggy.  That butter is dank.  Most butter from the grocery store, organic or conventional, is around 60% fat and 40% water.  (You’ve probably discovered this is you’ve ever tried to substitute butter for oil in a recipe and ended up with dry-ass brownies).  For one batch of buttercream frosting, I typically use 12oz of conventional butter.  If I buy Amish butter, I only have to use use 8oz of butter.  I’m not going to do the math, but that’s a pretty significant fat difference.  Plus, it’s cultured so it’s creamier and more flavorful than other butter, and NC-made, and thus worth an extra $1 per pound.

Cake is my favorite gift to give.  It’s temporary, unlike, say, a squirrel figurine covered in glitter, the recipient isn’t compelled to keep it around out of guilt if he or she hates it.  I can make them personal.  Really personal.  So personal you couldn’t look the clerk in the eye if you had to pick it up from a bakery. Even if it looks like of whack (see He Man’s face below), people are always touched and impressed by the effort.  And, okay.  I kind of get a little satisfaction from showing up the sad confetti cake in a foil pan that somebody else brought to the party.   Speaking of that, let me just rail on cake mixes for a second.  First, they’re full of chemicals.  Secondly, how much time does it really save you?  You’re already dragging out the mixer, pans and measuring cups.  Is it that much harder to mix together dry ingredients?  And frosting in a can?   That stuff is made out of Crisco, corn syrup and melted Barbie dolls.    One reason people are always so impressed by my cakes is because they don’t know what real cake and frosting should taste like.

Speaking of good taste…

  I found this Wilton He-Man shape pan in a junk shop a couple of months ago, and just knew I’d find a reason to use it.  My friend Adam’s 31st birthday seemed the perfect opportunity.  If anyone appreciates homoeroticism in cake form, it’s Adam.  I was so pleased with this that I think I might make He-Man cakes exclusively, no matter what the occasion. I can easily adjust for gender and ethnicity, and transform that sword and shield into any number of things….

After giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome by piping tiny stars all over the He Man cake for two hours, I made these cupcakes for a friend who’s moving to South Korea.  I blame the whackness on fatigue.  For a country whose people don’t eat dairy, it might be a giant insult to replicate the flag (poorly) in butter.  No offense intended.

One of my finest achievements, my teammate Pickle’s birthday cake.  This is actually a rolled cake, the same orange-almond spongecake recipe I use for my yule log.  It’s about 12 inches long.  The “chips” are sugar cookies.  I made them by forming dyed shortbread dough into logs, rolling them in green sanding sugar, and slicing them with one of those wavy cutter things.   I realized this style of cake lends itself to many shapes when the 60-something Scottish lass I work with said, “It looks like a wee dick with gangrene.”  Wee?  They must grow ’em big in Scotland. 

Regrettably, I’m not able to do much in the way of baking for my vegan friends.  I have a decent vegan chocolate cake recipe, but I’m at a loss when it comes to frosting.  Anybody out there have any good vegan frosting recipes that will take icing color?

Oh right…the blog.

Remember back in September when I was unemployed and broke and created this blog to indulge my narcissism and maximize ass-on-couch time?  Distracted by shiny new things in my world, I had nearly forgotten about Gin and Candy.  If not for some gentle nagging by my three readers, this blog would have gone the way so many of my brilliant, dead-end pet projects including:

the time I was going to make my own bread/cheese/beer/pickles,

the time  I was going to become a butcher’s apprentice,

the time I was going to make all my panties out of old t-shirts,

the time I was going to build a biodiesel reactor in my basement,

the time I was going to build a moonshine still in my basement, and…

the time I was going to stop smoking weed so I could follow through with one thing, just ONE DAMN THING, in my vastly disorganized life.

“So what’s with the delay?” you’re probably not asking yourself.  First, there was Ashton and Demi.  I mean, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep…it’s like the world is a different place now.  Then, I got a job.  Hey, don’t blame me.  It’s not like I was trying.  I begged P.B. to let me be a housewife, but for some reason he didn’t think taking pictures of food and dog tumors was a fair contribution to the household.  The universe decided it was time for me to get off my ass, and she dropped this job into my lap.  As far as jobs go, this one’s pretty dank.  I’m the kitchen manager for a small business owned by a maniacal but benevolent Frenchman that offers personal chef services, cooking classes, and in-home catering.  SoI cook, I plan menus, and I get to brush up on my French, which I knew at one time but had buried in my memory beneath celebrity gossip, reality tv, and bong hits.

One thing hasn’t changed: I’m still broke.  My wise decision to earn a degree in food science so I wouldn’t end up working in a kitchen has left me with loans I haven’t even started to pay back.  I’ll be paying for the two surgeries I had last year until I hit menopause, and my ancient, raggedy-ass car has three months of life left in her, tops.   At work I’ll spend my day trimming organic beef tenderloin and Scottish Loch Duart salmon, and cutting up $400 wheels of Gruyere.  I’ll come home, inspired and ready to cook dinner, look in the pantry, and…beans.  I don’t care what you do to beans, they ain’t beef tenderloin.

Before I had a job, I’d gladly spend all day in the kitchen.  But after work often times I’m just burned out and don’t feel like cooking dinner.  We can’t afford to eat out, and if I leave it up to P.B. it’ll be ground beef every night.  So the challenge I’m facing now is how to make easy weeknight meals using whole, local, and economical foods.

Needless to say (notice how I proceed to say it anyway), it’s a challenge to manage my time.  Between 45-60 hour work weeks,  derby, and maintaining a marriage, there’s less time for junking and crafting, and the blog may take a slightly different direction.  I’ve considered changing the name to Shit my boss says so I can document such gems as, “Buying Jell-O makes me feel like a whore,” or “shit en merde ,” which translates to “shitty shit.  But I think keeping this blog food-centric will help me focus on cooking the way I want to, and there will always be room for cat statues and skin tags.

Cheap Eats: Stoner Nachos and The Endless Chicken

P.B.’s out of town, so I had a little one-woman slumber party last night.  I watched a Jenny McCarthy movie, dressed the pets up like my friends and locked them in the room with me, and made this pile of cheesy deliciousness/abomination:

Cooking with Doritos: Gilding the lilly, or lipstick on a pig?

I feel like I should justify this.  First of all, I ordered this dish (same name, different toppings) from Bimbo’s Cantina in Seattle, and it was really good. Secondly, I was using leftovers from P.B.’s birthday party, where people brought him no fewer than five bags of Doritos, one of his favorite delicacies. (I’m not much of a junk food junkie, but even I love Doritos.) I tried to keep it as healthy as possible by restricting the portion to the suggested serving size (11 chips), adding black beans for fiber, and substituting plain, non-fat yogurt for sour cream.

There was almost no cooking involved.  I drained and rinsed the beans (I rinse becausecanned beans are so freakin’ high in sodium) and mixed in a little cumin and minced garlic.  I put the chips on a pan, topped with chicken, beans, and cheese,then stuck it in a 350° oven for about 7 minutes.    Then I topped it with salsa, yogurt, green onions and jalapenos.  Of course by the time I was finished taking pictures of it, it was cold.  These days I hardly ever get a hot meal.

It was definitely protein heavy, and it would have been perfectly satisfying without the chicken, but I was trying to use up leftovers. I swear, this chicken in my fridge is like that lamp in the temple the Jews talk about. It just never runs out. I bought a whole chicken 4 days ago, and stewed it to make nearly 4 quarts of stock and about 4 cups of pulled chicken. I’ve made a stir-fry, two omelets, soup, nachos, and a couple of bowls of grits with the stuff and will finish off the rest tonight in a chicken pot pie. All servings counted, I’m getting about 16 meals out of one chicken. It was local, a little more expensive than a grocery store bird, and I was a little miffed that it didn’t include the neck and giblets, for gravy’s sake.  But overall it has been a wise investment.

The curried butternut squash soup was a total success, but I’m not quite ready to post a recipe.* My friend Paula couldn’t even be bothered to reheat it, let alone put it in a bowl. I didn’t mind because she looked so cute eating something that coordinated with her outfit.

For stretching dollars, buying whole cuts of meat is the way to go. It takes a little extra time initially, but then you have the leftovers on hand all week. There are a thousand ways to make stock, but basically two schools of thought, depending on whether you want more flavor from the stock or the chicken. The first method is to put the chicken in the pot (whole or cut up), with cold water, and add vegetables near the end of cooking. This makes a more flavorful stock, but less flavorful chicken. The other way is to cook some vegetables in the pot first to develop some flavor, add water and bring to a boil, then add the chicken. Putting the chicken into boiling water kind of sears it. This helps to seal in the flavor, making for tastier chicken and a weaker stock.

I’m more inclined towards the latter method, with the added step of browning the chicken. First, I cook about 2 cups of chopped vegetables (your standard mire poix of carrots, onions and celery) on medium-high heat until the onions are translucent  in a mix of butter and olive oil**. Then I add the cut-up chicken, and turn it until it’s browned on all sides. I take the chicken out of the pan and deglaze it with either white wine or mirin, stirring while pouring it to dissolve the brown bits, where the flavor comes from. I then add up to 10 cups of water, add salt and white pepper, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 1-2 hour

When it’s done, strain the stock into another container and pull the chicken off the bone as soon as it’s cool enough to handle. For safety purposes, it’s best to cool the stock as quickly as possible. I stir it with one of those blue plastic freezer blocks that go in lunchboxes to keep foods cool. Then I pour into glass jars, leaving 1 inch of head room, stick one in the fridge and the rest in the freezer. The refrigerated stock will keep for a week, the frozen stuff for a couple of months. After it has been chilled or frozen, you can scrape the fat off the top and discard or use it to make gravy.

The pulled chicken can be kept in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week. The downside is that it dries out quickly. You can add a little bit of the stock to the storage container, and this will keep it moist and flavorful, but reduces its shelf life by a couple of days.

*I hold onto my recipes like memaw holds onto her purse.  Unless I get a book deal, you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands.

**Olive oil is an monounsaturated fat, and is preferable for heart-healthy cooking, but has a lower smoke point and is more likely to burn. Adding a little saturated fat (butter) raises its smoke point and adds flavor.

Special Things: Cat Statues

My friend Riannon tried to sell this magnificent piece at a yard sale, but it seemed to call out to me like a long lost friend.  (P.B. said it was because I had given it to Riannon in the first place.)  I brought it home and placed it atop one of the speakers flanking my t.v., real classy like.  It reminds me of my cat Sativa, who also has a  bit of a durr-face.  (Note: spellcheck recognizes the word “durr.”) And since the statue is hollow, I can fill it with her ashes when she kicks.   Then it’ll really be folk art.

The bottom is marked “Carolyn 1977,” identifying it, as if there were any doubt, as an artifact from the ceramics crafting craze.  Oh, Carolyn.  I have so many questions:  Was this a project from an art therapy class?  Was this a cat you knew?  If so, what was wrong with its tongue? Did you actually give this to someone?  If so, how long did they wait til they schlepped it off to Goodwill?

Thankfully most of the hideous crafts I force on my loves ones are small enough to be hidden in a drawer.  I would hope that the recipients of those various glittered nightmares would have the decency to destroy my crafts rather than risk my seeing them in a thrift store and holding it against them forever, because I don’t want someone else to enjoy them.

Whenever I see something handmade in a thrift store, it kinds of hurts my crafter’s heart a little.  Yeah, maybe somebody made that bean and pasta mosaic to decorate their kitchen, but most people make crafts to give away.  I guess people can have good reasons for getting rid of handmade gifts, like death or homelessness.  Or maybe Carolyn was a real bitch, and gave the cat to her son-in-law as an office decoration, and looking at it every day gave the giftee a nervous tick?  These are the kinds of stories I like to imagine when I find any old junk with clues about its creator or previous owner.   Even though I judge them mercilessly, I’m thankful for the people that throw out their crafts.  Without them I’d be short numerous cat effigies, a string-art owl, airbrushed Elvis clock, and countless other treasures.

Special Beasts: Gwen’s Skin Thingy and Cat Pee

awaiting the next onslaught of amateur homeopathy

awaiting the next onslaught of amateur homeopathy

I was hoping it would go away on its own, but it has only gotten worse.  The dog has a pedunculated papilloma, a benign skin tumor that doesn’t seem to cause her any pain or discomfort but is freaking me the hell out.  It’s all floppity and starting to grow hair.  I fear it will grow teeth or claws soon, and quite frankly, it makes her a little harder to love.

From my careful internet research, which includes such sites as thedailypuppy.com and earthclinic.com, and poking at it, I have learned that this thing can’t simply be cut off because it has nerves and blood flow…and quite possibly a developing brain.  Word on the cyberstreet is that a vet can remove it by a “simple procedure.”  No “simple procedure” at the vet costs less than $150, and we just dropped a wad for the damn cat’s last visit (more on that later).  I have a friend who takes her dog to the vet just to be weighed and have its nails clipped.  P.B. and I tend to be D.I.Y. pet owners.  (Hell, Papa Bear doesn’t have insurance, and if the thing were on him, I’d give him a shot of whiskey, numb it with an ice cube, and hack it off with an Xacto knife.)

The net suggested all kinds of nonsense, from iodine to aspirin paste, but this thing has a pulse.  Since Memaws are always the most reliable source of folk wisdom, I consulted my own.  Not only is she a retired nurse, but she’s also a tough-as-nails mountain woman I have seen pick up dead rodents with her bare hands, and it just so happens she had removed one of these from my Papaw years earlier.  Her suggestion was to tie a piece of cotton string around the base of it until it shrivels up and falls off on its own.  Gwen doesn’t seem to notice, and today it seems to have changed colors.  I’ll keep you updated.  (You’re welcome.)

Tumor, or fifth leg?

And then there’s the cat.  She has a urinary tract infection.  No avoiding the vet on this one.  We knew she had a UTI before we took her, what with her straining to squirt pee on everything upholstered and hard to clean in our house.   The vet told us what we already knew: “She has a UTI and needs antibiotics. Also, she’s fat.  That’ll be $200.  Come back in a week; that’ll be another $100.”  I don’t begrudge the vet. When you have pets, you have to be prepared for things like this.  It’s just that I’m never prepared for things like this.  That’s something people with savings accounts do.

I buy premium food for the cats, which is really more than I can afford, to prevent health problems like this.  But does the cat appreciate it?  No.  In the morning she eats three bites of her ra-sha-sha, grain-free, human grade food, then the little fatty goes next door and gorges herself on the neighbor’s cat’s Meow Mix.  The vet thinks this could be the cause of the UTI.  I wonder if it could be the water she’s drinking?

The City of Greensboro recently changed its water disinfectant from chlorine to chloramines because apparently after 40 years of treating microbes with the same thing, they develop a tolerance for it.  As far as pets go, I only have anecdotal evidence that our water causes kidney and urinary tract problems, but I’ve heard enough to be concerned from pet owners that I know.  I also read a couple of scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals (okay, I read the abstracts and conclusions) that show that the byproducts of water disinfectants like chlorine and chloramines can increase the risk of kidney disease and bladder cancer in humans, as well as other types of “genotoxicity.” 

I have 1001 things to be paranoid about, and until now water wasn’t one of them.  I’ve always scoffed at people who were afraid of drinking tap water.  “In a world where millions of people don’t have access to potable water, we are fortunate to live in a nation where it’s available instantly and abundantly,” I would proclaim. (I have a travel size soapbox that fits in my purse).  But, as I have recently become painfully are, we also live in a nation without astronomical health care costs.  Prevention, education , and belief in conspiracies are our own responsibilities.  Just because the EPA says it’s safe doesn’t mean our government isn’t lying to us.

So well water and purified water it is, for everyone in the house, and hopefully kitty will be UTI-free until she chokes on Meow Mix, or keels over from a massive coronary or a diabetic attack.  Fortunately my mom has a well, so I can fill up containers at her house.  The other option is to fill my own containers at a health food store for a pretty small price.  The cheapest five-gallon containers I’ve found are in sporting goods stores in the  camping aisle.  Here’s to urinary tracts!

Meat Cake for a Beef Cake

The perfect cake for making vegetarians feel unwelcome

This is a birthday cake I made for my friend Trey, a first attempt. I made two pans of meatloaf in 10″ round cake pans, using a total of 4 lbs. of meat (2lbs. each of beef and pork). I “iced” the cake with curried mashed potatoes, the thought being that the curry powder would help keep the potatoes from browning. You can use any trusted meatloaf recipe. Make sure you pack it in the pans as tightly as you can. You don’t want it falling apart when you slice it. You might want to line your pans with parchment paper so it comes out clean.

The cake was a great success at the party, and held together beautifully when sliced. In fact, it looked so much like a carrot cake most people didn’t know it was meat at first.

If you’re planning on serving one of these, there are some things to keep in mind.
1) Temperature control. For safety purposes, it needs to be held either below 40 degrees or above 140 degrees. I made it early in the day and kept it in a warm oven all day. Once it reaches its destination, it needs to be eaten within a couple of hours or refrigerated.
2) Cut the first slice. This is good advice for serving any kind of cake. You can set the serving size standard that’s appropriate for the number of guests while discouraging barbaric, willy-nilly cake-hacking of your masterpiece.
3) Not a summertime food. It’s heavy, y’all.
4) It’s heavy, y’all. We’re talking at least 8 lbs, so don’t try to carry it on a paper plate.
5) Can you make a vegetarian version? Yeah, I guess you can, but it would involve a whole lot of that salt-tastic fake meat crap, or some kind of bean loaf, which just sounds sad, and vegetarian guests would probably rather have a real cake instead.

Leftovers are great for breakfast. Smash it up and pan-fry it, corned beef hash style, and serve with eggs over easy and hot sauce.

Cheap Eats: Chinese Food

Chicken Stir-Fry (Gluten-Free)

"Basic Stir-Fried Chicken 1" from Miller's The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook

Papa Bear and I realized we’d been dining out way too much, and at least one of us (moi) has tried to amp up the cooking.  This is easier said than done since I am a control freak in the kitchen and tend to treat P.B. like a chromosome-deficient (I promised a friend I’d stop saying “Down-y”) sous chef.  For P.B. cooking is drudgery, so when forced to cook on his own, his meals turn out as greasy bowls of sadness.  Together we tend to enable each other’s laziness, and come dinner time, things go a little like this:

Me: What do you want for dinner?

PB: I dunno.  I’m tired. [Flick. Sizzle. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.]

Me:  We’ve got some ground turkey in the fridge…. [Flick. Sizzle. Gurgle, gurgle, gurgle.]

PB: I’ll buy you a pizza.

Me: Alright.  Can we get pineapple on it?

The trick is to make a dinner plan early in the day, and I think best when I’m hungry.  I find a recipe or search my inventory, and as the day goes on I get more excited about it, so that when P.B. comes home I cannot be deterred.

Cooking at home can get expensive too, especially if you’re trying to buy local or organic ingredients.  I try to incorporate as much local and organic food into my diet as I can and not beat myself up about the rest.  That’s the problem with mindful, or ethically-guided, food choices.  It seems like an all-or-nothing lifestyle.  (Ever known a vegan who didn’t constantly remind you that they were one?)   Considering how many food choices we make in a day, it’s easy to understand why people are so quick to define themselves by their diets, but labeling yourself as a vegetarian, vegan, locavore, flexitarian, etc. can put you in a bind, financially and ethically, and place harmful restrictions on your diet.

Obviously, it’s important to know where your food comes from, and the more educated you are, the better choices you can make.  I say buy the best you can afford.  There are some things I am committed to, even on a strict budget: fair-trade coffee, local eggs and dairy, and local sweet potatoes. (Note: in North Carolina, sweet potatoes are grown and harvested year-round.) With the exception of coffee, the other items’ higher cost relative to their conventional/non-local counterparts is negligible in terms of their quality and socioeconomic impact.  Local meat is expensive.  We’re talking $16 for a whole chicken, when you can buy a USDA organic,  certified humane bird for less than $10.  I have no plans to drop meat from my diet, but I have learned to eat less of it and to cook cheaper cuts, which are often more flavorful.

This is why authentic Chinese food is so appealing.  It uses meat sparingly, but in ways that extract the most possible flavor.  Ingredients are cheap and easy to come by, as most large towns and small cities have Asian grocery stores.  In these stores, basics like soy sauce, mirin, chili paste, dried mushrooms are often less than half the price of what you’d pay in the “international aisle” of a supermarket.  The variety can be overwhelming.  Last night as I was facing no less than 20 brands of soy sauce, I hung back until other customers came down the aisle and watched what they bought.  Another strategy is to shop in the mid-range (I suspect the fancy, $10 cooking wine with lots of English on the bottle is a trap for the hapless white folks comme moi) and see what stock is getting low, since this is probably the most popular.  Here’s a partial shopping list from the Super G Mart on West Market Street:

Fresh garlic: $1.39 for 6 bulbs

8oz bottle of mirin (rice cooking wine): $2.99

Baby carrots: $1.49

“American” celery: $.99

Taco choy (cabbage): $1.03 for 0.8 lb.

Fresh ginger: $.33

Scallions: $.33

8oz bottle of sesame oil: $3.49 (I know this is $6.99 at Harris Teeter)

Snow peas, 1lb: $2.33

Tamari Soy Sauce: $2.99

I know some of you are clutching your pearls right now: Some of that is imported from China!  Indeed, some of it was.  Some of it was grown in California.  I’ve got news for you: a lot of the meat and produce from your local grocery store is from the same distributors.  Let’s take fish, for example.  In theory, whole fish can be shipped frozen, as-is, from China to an international grocery store in the U.S. and labeled “product of China.”  That same fish can be shipped to California, filleted, then repackaged and sent to your local Food Lion.  Now it’s labeled “Product of the USA.”  U.S. food labeling laws are incredibly lax.  If an imported food has been altered in any way, even simply repackaged, it can be labeled “product of the USA,” as long as the alteration was performed stateside.  You can now release your pearls so that you can write your congressional representative about the need for more stringent labeling laws.

Moving on, I’d call my first attempt a success.  It was flavorful and satisfying, took 15 minutes to prepare and the average cost per serving was about $1.25.  I’m expanding my culinary repertoire and improving my knife skills, which are almost as bad as Rachael Ray’s.  I’m not sure if I can legally post the recipe, although I did credit the source.  The following is less a recipe than a method, as you can pretty much put any kind of meat and vegetables in a stir-fry:

1) Mix equal parts minced ginger and garlic, and one Tb each of cornstarch and mirin, sherry or some kind of sweet cooking wine.  Toss thinly-sliced meat or tofu in the mixture and let sit while you chop veggies.

2) Chop up about a pound of whatever vegetables you want. (I used garlic, cabbage, snow peas and matchstick-cut carrots) For harder, longer-cooking vegetables like carrots or turnips, the thinner you slice them the better, to shorten the cooking time.

3) Cook the meat in a little bit of oil over medium heat until browned.  Remove from pan.  There should be some pan stickage here; you’ll take care of that in a minute.  Add a little more oil if you need to and throw in the veggies.  Sprinkle with soy sauce to taste (start with 1 Tb).  Cook them just for a minute or two, til they’re kind of “glazed.”

4)Pour in enough stock or water to just float the veggies, but not totally submerge them, scraping the bottom of the pan while you stirl.  Put the meat/tofu back in.  Scrape the bottom of the pan while you stir, and bring it quickly to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for no more than 15 minutes.  You want the veggies to remain crisp.  Steam some rice and serve.

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