Thursday, March 1, 2012

New Series! Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinners (Chinese Chicken Salad)

As a grad student, time and money can be hard to find. However, I'm not willing to eat Ramen Noodles every night and I don't really order take out that often, so I need some other food options. Since I cook for one, if I can make a dinner even just once a week, I'll have fresh, homemade food for at least a few nights. Granted, most weeks I shoot for 2-3 times a week, but it really just depends. I decided to start doing a series of dinners that taste great and can be enjoyed for everyone, but have the wallets and clocks of college (cough sister cough) and graduate students in mind.

It just so happens the first installment is a recipe I've had forever. Literally, my mom has been making it for years. In fact, I told a friend about it the other day and went to show it to her on my blog because I assumed I must have shared it at some point. I know I posted about it way back when I first started my old site, but since that's been a while and this venue is all new, I thought I would do a new and improved version. Oh and PS- if you have suggestions or recipes that fit the cheap and easy requirements, please share!

Before we jump into the recipe, I wanted to share a few tips that I've discovered for keeping the cost of food down.

1. Buy in bulk. This tip may seem obvious, but there are pitfalls. A Costco or similar store membership usually costs around $50. If you have roommates or a close friend, I'd suggest splitting the membership. Usually two people can be on the account and each person gets a card. If you have more people in your apartment/house, just pick two to be on the account and make sure at least one of them goes with you. It may seem like a pain, but it's not like you are going to these types of stores just to pick up one ingredient.

While you are there, I really recommend getting things like chicken. They have these awesome deals where you can get an entire container of chicken and they have individual wrapping for two breasts. Pop the entire thing in the freezer and then just cut off a little section and defrost two breasts whenever you need them. It's so much cheaper than getting your meat at Safeway or a normal grocery store.

Just don't fall into the traps and buy things you don't need. While it might seem perfectly awesome to buy 50 breakfast burritos at the time, don't buy it just because it's a good deal. You'll probably get sick of them before you are through.

2. Try and have a well stocked pantry. Sure this recipe calls for a few different ingredients (rice vinegar, sliced almonds, soy sauce, etc.). The first time you buy them your grocery bill might be a bit more than usual, but they last for a really long time and you won't need to buy them again for months, if not longer.

3. Make the most of your leftovers! For example, this recipe calls for 1/2-1 head of Napa cabbage. If your grocery store happens to have massive heads of cabbage, use the whole thing, maybe add an extra chicken breast, another package of noodles and double the sauce. You end up not wasting the cabbage and you have extra leftovers. Win win! To make sure you use those leftovers and not impulsively buy lunch while on campus or at work the next day, package them up right after you finish dinner. I like to put some of the leftovers in a bowl (if I'm going to be home for lunch) and some in a tupperware container if I know I'm going to be on the go. If the food is already packed, I can't use "I'm in a rush" as an excuse and I'm much more likely to utilize my extra food.

Chinese Chicken Salad
Ingredients for Salad:

2 whole chicken breast- poached (you could also saute or roast if you wanted)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
½ to 1 head Napa cabbage- chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 package Top Roman noodles – crumble dry noodles (do not use              
seasoning)

Ingredients for dressing:
2-3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons rice vinegar

 When I first started making this recipe, it came with a completely different set of instructions, but I've altered it to suit my tastes and lifestyle. Feel free to make changes as well. I start by bringing a pot of water to boil for the chicken. While it's heating up, I chop the Napa cabbage and rinse it in a colander. Set aside and let dry.
 Once the water comes up to a boil, add the chicken and cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your chicken breasts.
 Meanwhile, chop up the green onions and crumble the Ramen noodles. Depending on the size of the cabbage, I might add another package of noodles. In this particular instance, my cabbage was small, so I just went with one. Also, toast the almonds and add them to the bowl.
 Then I make the dressing. Just whisk all of the ingredients together. The dressing needs to sit on the noodles and the cabbage for at least 30 minutes to soften the noodles and break down the cabbage. If I'm hungry and in a rush, I'll add the dressing to the noodles right away to get the process started.
 I pat dry the cabbage and add to the bowl and give it a good mix to let the flavors begin to settle.
 Once the chicken is cooked, I cut it into bite sized pieces and add it to the bowl. I add a little sprinkle of rice vinegar and soy sauce on top of the chicken (to get a punch of flavors into the meat) and then mix together. Once you have all of the ingredients in the bowl, take a look at the dressing to lettuce ratio. If you feel like it needs more liquid, go ahead and add a dash of soy sauce or vinegar. Usually I do one of both depending on the size of the cabbage.

Let the salad sit for about 30 minutes (or if you got the marinating process started early, about 15) and then serve. Feel free to adjust the flavors according to your own specifications. Bf always dumps a ton of pepper on his and makes himself sneeze, I lean towards more soy sauce and vinegar. Make it your own!

1 comment:

  1. If you're anything like me, you should take our dear blogger's warning about buying crap you don't need to heart. Seriously, if you have low will power or you go to Costco while hungry, you're in for trouble. We let our account expire for that reason -- the good deal on chicken just wasn't worth the risk of coming home with a package of eighty-four bagel bites. Yeah, that happened. Dark times.

    As for Chinese Chicken Salad, this recipe is awesome and I make it for myself from time to time (which says a lot). A lot of asian fusion restaurants carry this dish nowadays, but this recipe is much better and a lot more cost-effective than what you'll get at a restaurant.

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