I bought a new apartment in a new neighborhood in late 2017. For safety reasons the gas company does not turn on the gas until 75% of the apartments are occupied. For various reasons it took nearly a year for the apartments to become occupied. During this time I spent a lot of money at restaurants and on takeout. After I finally had the gas turned on, and I had purchased a bigger better oven than I had before, I was able to start cooking my own food. I really had no idea how much extra money I was spending. The amount of money one can save by cooking at home is astronomical. As I learn to cook more and more foods, I'll post them here along with what it costs me to make it compared to what it would cost to eat out. I will include links to the recipes so that you too can experience the joys of the kitchen.
Stephen's Supermarket Now Open
A few friends have asked me where I get my western ingredients because many of the items we use for everyday cooking (or just general eating and drinking) in the west are not readily available in China: taco seasoning, cheeses, pasta sauces, Dr. Pepper, etc. for example. I purchase most of my items online. I have been here for 9 years, so I have had plenty of time to figure things out. The problem for most expatriots is that they have not been here very long, and thus their language abilities (especially reading Chinese) are limited. They find it difficult and frustrating, if not downright impossible to navigate the Chinese online markets. In order to help my compatriots, I have started an online supermarket catering to westerners in China. Here is a link to the site (Stephen's Supermarket). Currently there are about 125 items available with new products being added each day. Purchases can be completed using WeChat Pay or Alipay by scanning the QR code on the checkout page. It usually takes less than a week to receive the products. If your Chinese is limited, you can give the number of a student or friend, so that when the post office or express mail service calls to let you know the package has arrived, you can be informed of where and when to pick up your package. If there are any items you would like to see added to the inventory, send me a message using the contact tab on the homepage, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's hoping we all have a pleasant and wonderful experience in China.
Not much can make you feel like a kid on a Saturday morning than a good ole helping of cinnamon toast. It is extremely easy to make, and not in the least bit expensive. Simply put some butter, sugar, and cinnamon on a slice of bread and broil it in the oven util it is a golden brown and all the butter, sugar and cinnamon have melted into a blissful puddle of deliciousness. Pour a little milk over it and enjoy the euphoria of a bygone era.
Peach Granola Bars
Recently I posted about making fresh apricot bars. Today I had some extra peaches, and so I took the original recipe and tweaked it a little to make peach bars. While I did not enjoy them as much as the apricot bars, they were nonetheless very tasty. What I liked about the apricot bars was the contrast of sweet and tart from the sugar and the apricots. The peaches were a little milder in flavor, so there wasn't that kick I got from the apricots. Perhaps I'll make them again and add some cranberries. Anyway, here is the recipe and some pictures. This cost about $3. Roughly $2 of that was the butter. (Dairy products tend to be expensive in China.)
- 2 cups peaches (1 large or 2 small)
- ½ cup sugar, or to taste
- 2/3 tablespoon caramel syrup
- 2/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/5 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 2/3 cup oats
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C. Butter a 9" casserole pan.
- Combine the peaches and sugar in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the peaches are soft. Stir in the caramel syrup.
- Puree the peaches in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour into a bowl and set in freezer to chill while you make the crust.
- In a bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda. Pinch in the butter pieces into the flour mixture (or cut them into the flour with a pastry cutter), until it resembles coarse sand. Pinch in the oats until well combined.
- Press 2/3rds of the crust mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish (if using a tart pan, press the crust mixture up the sides too). Spread the peach puree over the crust bottom. Sprinkle the remaining crust over the top of the peach puree.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
- Allow to cool; slice and serve. Store in the refrigerator.
Rice Pudding From Extra Zongzi
Zongzi ([tsʊ̂ŋ.tsɨ]; Chinese: 粽子) is a traditional Chinese rice dish made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves,generally of the species Indocalamus tessellatus, sometimes, with reed leaves, or other large flat leaves. They are cooked by steaming or boiling. In the Western world, they are also known as Chinese Hallacas, rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings. The Chinese trade zongzi every year during the Dragon Boat Festival. As my students, friends, and their families are wont to do, they always give me an excessive amount, so I am unable to eat all of them. Not one to be in the habit of wasting food, I usually freeze the extra ones and use them later throughout the year to make a type of rice pudding. It is simple to make. Just unwrap the rice dumpling and place it in a sauce pan. Add milk (about 1 cup), sugar, butter, and cinnamon (all to taste) and boil until it comes to a nice porridgy consistency. The ones I get usually come with dates, so I do not normally add anything else, but a few ingredients you can add to enhance the flavor would be nuts, raisins, granola, or just about anything else of your choice. (For clarification, this picture is not mine. I started this blog after I had used up all my zongzi. Next year I will include an original picture.)
Fresh Apricot Bars
Living in China, I get excessive amounts of various traditional holiday foods each year, and every year I tell my students, friends, and their families to give me limited amounts because I have so many acquaintances that even if they each were to give me only 2-3 pieces of each item it would still be too much. They never listen. Each student will bring me 20-30 dumplings, 20-30 glutenous rice cakes, or 20-30 moon cakes. There is no way I can finish them. During June my students give me apricots. And as is common, they always give me more than I can eat. It does not help that fresh apricots have such a short shelf life. One simple dish that can be made is apricot bars. The ones I made did not turn out looking as beautiful as the picture from the recipe website, but they were delicious anyways. (The original recipe calls for orange liqueur. I substituted it with caramel syrup.) I made this in a 9X9" pan. Total cost was less than $2. You cannot buy this in China, but the equivalent amount of Quaker or Nature Valley granola bars would cost about $15.
The original recipe can be found here.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Typically, a chicken cordon bleu with dijon mustard sauce plate will cost anywhere from $10 to $20 depending on the restaurant and the location. I was able to make this plate complete with mac & cheese and a salad for $2.20. It was actually too much food. Next time I'll make it with half as much chicken. That lowers the price to $1.80. Either way, that is much better than $10-20.
The recipe can be found at recipetineats.com.
3 pieces of French toast at IHOP: $7.25. Homemade French toast with bacon: less than a dollar. The recipe calls for 4 slices of bread, but I use 3 because I like more flavor.
The recipe can be found at mccormick.com.
Who doesn't like a good old-fashioned pepperoni pizza? Nobody in their right mind. Whenever I order pizza from the mall down the street, I can expect to pay about $10 plus delivery. I ordered this kit (comes with pizza crust, pizza sauce, and mozzarella cheese. The pepperoni and tomatoes were extra, but even with those added, the total price of my homemade pizza was only about $3.
It only takes about 10 minutes to prep, and 15 minutes to cook. Not only is is a third of the cost, it tastes 3 times better also.
(Update: since I made this pizza I have bought a bread machine. I now make my own crusts at an even greater savings. I'll add updated pictures in the near future.)
This is a really simply recipe for chili. It is not always easy to find tomato paste here, so I use a recipe that calls for diced tomatoes instead. I used ground pork, but beef can also be used. Takes about 4 hours in the crock pot on high, but definitely worth the wait. I cook for 1, so I use 1/2 lb. of meat, and diminish the other ingredients by 1/3. This costs me about $1 to make. Recipe can be found here: https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/easy-chili
Crustless Spinach Quiche
This crustless spinach quiche is simple to make, and easy on your budget. Because I live in China, and because cheese is expensive here, this dish costs a little more to prepare here than in America. I made this in a 9X9 inch pan. Total ingredients cost about $6.25. About half of that was the cheese. I served a 3X3 inch piece with a grilled chicken breast seasoned with olive salt, and topped with a fried tomato. Canned baby oranges finish the plate. The whole dish cost less than a dollar. The recipe can be found here: Crustless Spinach Quiche recipe.