Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Overpriced Pasta and Another Ode to Jungle Jim's...

So, sometimes when I sit down to blog, I have to do a check to find out how much I've ranted, raved or rambled about a certain subject. It seems that the last couple of months have been a little bit too much full of work. I also mention snow rather a lot but I'm afraid that's not likely to change. I love snow very much and will never get tired of writing about it. You'll notice that I've backed off Twilight and Stephanie Meyer. Having found out that there are some pretty fabulous snarky places out there that salute the awfulness of the book, I've found it cathartic to know I'm not alone. If you're bored, check out this fabulous parody. The illustrations are worth it alone but I couldn't have written anything quite so simply that nails Twilight the way this site does.

Anyway, I've also noticed that I blog a lot about Jungle Jim's. I don't think I can help that. I'm actually contemplating starting a new blog to replace my poor neglected TV blog. It's not that I don't like writing about TV but, lately, there's not much on TV to write about. Also, I watch more Food Network than anything else and I think that might get a tad boring. My new blog would take one of the new ingredients I bought at Jungle Jim's and detail what I did with it. I suppose it would be a bit Julie and Julia like except, well, it would have the Monkeypants spin. Also, I'd be completely honest if I accidentally dropped it on the floor and ruined dinner. Chances are, that blog would read:

Bought endives. Attemped to make a Batali recipe. Accidentally dropped endives and recipe contents on floor in dish. Dish=failure.
I went to Jungle Jim's tonight. I haven't been in over a week. It's shocking, I know. I received two lovely Mario Batali cookbooks for Christmas/my birthday AND I also got a great new copy of the Food Network magazine (if you don't subscribe, you should- it's excellent for recipes and tips). So, last night, I went through my cookbooks and magazine and picked out recipes I wanted to try. Then I made a list of what I lacked to make them- primarily fresh vegetables- in one of my handmade notebooks, courtesy of RadLinc Crafts that has bananas on the cover. Bananas are my secret symbol at work although my "sarcastic banana doodle" that was over my HP logo on my PC to parady the fact that I am the only one in my area to lack an Apple PC has mysteriously disappeared.

So, tonight, armed with my banana book, I went to Jungle Jim's. I was a good little Monkeypants and only bought three items that weren't on my list. I bought some chocolate covered Gingerbread pretzels that were left over from Christmas. They were only 99 cents. Also, I bought some salsify because, well, frankly, I was so excited to find it, I had to buy it. In case you're wondering, salsify is also called 'the oyster plant'. It is a root vegetable that has a faint oyster-ish flavour. I've never had it. To be honest, I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it but I saw it and I wanted to get some. The reason being...I saw it on Iron Chef America in the hands of none other than Mario Batali and I was fascinated. I'd never heard of it, you see. So, I did the Monkeypants thing and researched it. Immediately, I wanted to try it because it's related to the parsnip family. I adore parsnips. They're one of my favourite vegetables. If you've never tried them, let me know. I'll be happy to tell you how to use parsnips. They're a staple of the British traditional roast dinner.

The last item I bought was wine. My new budget favourite- Kenwood red table wine was on clearance! They only had a couple of bottles left. I was both excited by the reduced price and dismayed that I might have a hard time finding it in future. I bought the bottles they had left. How could I not?

Anyway, aside from the salsify, I stuck to my shopping list. Granted, it was quite a long list but it covered at least six to seven recipes. My shopping listed included cardoons which might not be familiar to you, as Lady Aero pointed out on my last blog. They're a bit spiny and they're related to artichokes. Last time I used them, I made a beschamiel sauce and fresh breadcrumbs, grated them with pecorino romano cheese and roasted them in the oven after blanching them in lemon water. It sounds like a lot of work but they were delicious and worth every minute. I have a couple of other recipes that use them so I got two bunches. I also got some beets to make some beet bruschetta. I bought fresh herbs, peppers and a radaccio lettuce. The nice thing about learning to cook is there are some pantry staples that you're never without so when it comes to cooking, the fresh stuff is the only thing you have to buy.

I can't believe I'm blogging about my shopping list. It's not that this is the only thing that I have to blog about, it's just that it's so much fun to learn to cook. Finding the ingredients is sort of, uh, thrilling although if you don't cook much, that probably sounds a little...scary...and odd. I can't help it...cooking is my new favourite thing to do.
Anyway, I digress...The only ingredients I lacked were small cipolini onions- Jungle Jim's only had the large- and the never-present fresh quail eggs. Ok, so I really didn't need the quail eggs but it's become a quest and Captain Monkeypants does love a quest.

The thing I was truly amazed at was that I didn't really spend that much money. I probably could make, without exaggerating, at least eight meals from what I bought tonight. I like to make a dinner and then have the leftovers at work for lunch the next day. Sometimes my attempts to cook aren't that successful but, for the most part, if I follow a recipe properly, it usually turns out pretty well. If you think about how much it would cost to eat something similar at a restaurant, it's a brilliant way to save money. For example, yesterday, I went to Romano's Macaroni Grill with the girls from work for my birthday lunch. Because I tend to prefer cooking Italian food, it always amazes me how much restaurants charge for a plate of pasta. For example, many of the weight-conscious girls ordered capellini pomadoro. Essentially, capellin pomodoro is angel hair pasta, basil, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and red pepper flakes. Retail cost of that, provided you cook enough to keep olive oil and pepper flakes around is, seriously, probably less than $4 per person. If you bought the ingredients, you could feed three people for what you'd buy in the store to make it. Total estimate would be about $6-$8 total to make it for three people. At the Macaroni Grill, it was $8.99 a plate or something like that. That's $27 altogether.

I know- sometime it's nice to go out to eat and not have to cook. I just find myself, more and more, figuring out how to make dishes I buy in restaurants. There are some things I just can't be bothered to figure out because I'd rather go out and get it. Yet pasta is fast becoming something I don't order because I resent the inflated price of it on a menu. Apparently, I'm not alone. Even after I started figuring out that pasta is one of the easiest and cheapest things to make, I read an article that interviewed chefs and what they expected when they ate out. Several of them said they refused to order pasta because it's so overpriced compared to the cost of making it.

That's not to say that if I went to a really good restaurant, I wouldn't order pasta. I might, if it was tempting enough but you better believe I want it to be homemade pasta that's something special. I admit, I even make my own pasta at times. It's really not as much work as people think and it tastes amazing. It takes time so I wouldn't resent paying for that in a nice restaurant. No, what I'm talking about is the Olive Garden/Macaroni Grill type of places that use Barilla pasta or whatever brand they prefer and serve it with pre-made sauces. They might taste nice but, trust me, you can make it at home for pennies compared to what they charge.

However, on the flip side, there are some things I'd rather get in a restaurant than make for myself but have no choice. Tonight, for example, I made Vietnamese pho soup. It's one of my favourite 'comfort foods'. When I lived in Los Angeles, there were pho places everywhere. You could get a bowl of pho- noodle soup with meats and herbs in a spiced broth- everywhere. It usually only cost about $5 for a bowl and I could never finish my helping. Here, in Cincinnati, it's hard to find. I've tried several places that claim to have it but it's just not the same. Thus, tonight, I tried a Food Network Magazine version. I have to say, it was pretty tasty. Not the same as the restaurants in L.A., of course, but still pretty nice. It wasn't that much work either. However, even though it tasted good, it just didn't give me that satisfied feeling that I always had when eating it in a restaurant.

So, there are two sides to every recipe, I suppose. Some are two easy and simple to make to merit paying restaurant prices and some are so hard and complex that it's just worth it to pay the price and eat it in a restaurant. For me, I'm still working on which is which. However, I'll keep trying new recipes. As long as I have Jungle Jim's to provide me with the ingredients, I'll happily keep experimenting. And keep shopping because, let's face it, that's just half the fun.

Happy Wednesday!

1 comment:

Fe said...

Thanks for the shoutout. Glad you like the notebook. :-) Oh, we got the Food Network mag this past weekend. :-) *thanks*. I didn't see the pho recipe... must look again tonight. We had pho about a week ago, charbroiled the pork, had the trimmings, and bought the noodles and broth. (yup, took the easy way out this time.) Tasty and healthy. Love it!