Frugality Is My Actuality

Hard times have hit my kitchen as of late. I've been in the kitchen as usual, but I've been making dishes from items I already have. I'm embarrassed to tell you the last time I went to the grocery for my house. You know... I haven't been shopping since before my Mellow Yellow post and I mentioned the tomatoes were purchased two weeks prior to that.

I've been shopping for my cooking classes, but that food is separate from my household food. After class, I feel grateful if there's a raw piece of chicken, a leek, or cucumber leftover. I take these raw items home for testing purposes (no, really, I do) but I have to eat the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor, so it's been working out. What hasn't been working out is the barron land that once was my refrigerator/freezer.

You know how you stand in front of the fridge, mumbling,
"There's nothing in here to eat."
"I don't want pasta again."
"We have no milk. Or juice. Or [insert pantry staple here]."

It's like that at my house. Only worse.

I'm a cook. A chef. Food is my life. Life is my food. And there isn't much of it to go around right now.

I pride myself in being able to make something out of nothing. Today was no exception.

I admit, my pantry has items that non-foodies wouldn't have. But I'm also missing quite a few things, as well.

Chinese Stir-Fry Serves 2

I couldn't use onions because Certain Household Member(s) can't have onions due to acid reflux and/or don't like their texture. Otherwise, I would have added some scallions or diced white onions with the garlic below.

1 cup long-grain white rice
2 Tbsp oil, divided
1 1/2 cups water
1 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1 chicken breast, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup frozen peas and carrots
1 egg, lightly beaten with pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup Low-Sodium Kikkomann soy sauce

Soak rice for five minutes to get rid of most of the starch. Alternatively, put rice in mesh strainer and rinse until water is clear. Add rice, 1 Tbsp of oil, and 1 1/2 cups of water to a saucepot. Bring water to boil, stir, cover pot and lower heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Turn pot off and let rice sit for an additional 10 minutes, to steam. Fluff with fork when done.
While rice is cooking, cook chicken with small amount of soy sauce in a separate pan until juices run clear but meat is still juicy.
Add remaining oil to cold wok or pan with red pepper flakes. When oil is ready, saute/stir-fry garlic for 30-45 seconds. Add chicken, peas, and carrots to pan. Stir-fry for one to two minutes. Add cooked rice, soy sauce, and stir-fry for an additional minute. Add egg and cook until just set. Serve.

Here it is. Frugality at its best.

The chicken breast as mentioned above is ONE breast, not the two breasts together that look like a big heart in the package. Let it be known that we had only two eggs in the fridge. One. Two. And they've been in there since... LOL I don't know. I told you...hard times are upon us!

I usually don't make Chinese food because I can't make it taste like a restaurant. I mean...I bet I could if I tried, but I'd rather pay $6.95 for my chicken wing and lo mein special, and be on my way.

After filling our bellies with the rice, I had a hankering, as they say, for some cake. I don't need cake. I don't have any flour! How am I going to make a cake?

Well, I had some leftover soy flour from the dutch crunch bread back in late April.
No milk. One egg. There has got to be SOME kind of cake I can make.

Sure enough, enter Stage Right:

Three-Minute Chocolate Cake adapted from
Serves 2

1/4 cup soy flour
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 packets Splenda
2 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Water
1 Egg

In a serving bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, and Splenda. Add water, melted butter, vanilla and egg. Blend thoroughly with fork. Microwave on high 1 minute or until knife comes out clean. Cool slightly; Add whipped topping or icing. Serve.

I wish I could have taken a better picture :(

It was surprisingly delicious. The soy flour made the texture a bit grainy, but I was so astounded by the fact that I made cake with my meager ingredients, that I didn't care. Some people substitute nut flours, but I wouldn't know anything about that. I topped my cake with 1 Tbsp Pillsbury Reduced Sugar Vanilla Frosting while it was still warm.

Oh. My. Goodness.

The lessons I learned today:

#1 I need to find some $$ and go shopping.
#2 I did a great job with not much
#3 the Internet is a great source for on-the-fly recipes. I typed in soy flour cake and the cake recipe was the first one to show up in the search engine.

God is looking after me, right now.

**UPDATE (7/11/08): This post is dedicated to Frugal Fridays hosted by Jerry at Cookingbytheseatofmypants.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. Hey Nikki, rice and beans is a fugality I grew up on. Having any kind of meat made it a special occasion. These are the foods that memories are made of. Thanks for helping me remember.

  2. You know what Nik - this is way too funny. Because I cook OFTEN, I usually buy meats and what not and freeze them. I went looking this morning before I left for something "to take out" to thaw. Remember your mother doing that when you were a kid? Hilarious - I'm turning into my mother. Anyway, I've got some chicken breasts. I've typically only bone in and with the skin cuz you never know what you're going to make - I mean, the bone and skin is what adds flavor and moisture - although I'm sure you already know that.

    Anyway, I have some thin pasta - some type of angel hair and I have literlly about 1/3 cup of heavy cream at home. I have some milk too - I have some fresh garlic (I keep it on hand) - but no cheese - so maybe a garlic cream sauce over angel hair. I do have some basil - but it's dried. Yea, so I don't know.

    I'm thinking I'll fry up some chicken - no cornstarch though - LOL...but it's on my grocery list. I'm gonna put Ms. Sunny to the test! I've also got some frozen broccoli - a quick saute in some butter and garlic w/some salt and pepper and I think I may have a meal on hand.

    Oh well - who knows. And don't ask me why I just typed ALL THIS on your comment section - lol.

    Food is my life too and life if my food too. I love that don't mind if I steal it, do you?

  3. wow, you did a great job of cooking from what's in the pantry! I would have a hard time not going to the market once a week. Our CSA box has meant I can buy less but I still always need something.

  4. Nikki you did a great job. We are all going through some rough time with prices rising every day and someone creative as you are can do miracles.

  5. Hey you are busy! We know how to throw something together. Time and money are tight for me so I feel you! Check out Steamey Kitchen. I am learning some amazing techniques from Jaden for Asian food. Almost restaurant worthy!

  6. Just like Darius, I have a freezer full of everything from skirt steak and stew meat to chicken and pork chops. I ALWAYS forget to take something out to thaw and give it the E.V.O.O. treatment so I can cook those bad boys. I usually wind up with frozen pizza or trying to convince myself that Ben & Jerry's would make a sensible meal. It's either that or doctored up Ramen.

  7. Teresa: I'm happy to have stoked the memory fires within you. I get wistful nearly every day; something from my childhood appears at the oddest moments

    Darius: Man, you can type as many paragraphs as you need to! I get to know you better through comments, anyway. I don't usually buy bone-in breasts. I usually get the whole fryer and cut it up myself, because it's cheaper. I'll take a whole side of a cow if it's cheaper than a package of ground chuck.

    Your recipe ideas sound great. I guess if you crumble that dried basil between your fingers as you use it, it might do some good.

    I did Sunny's chicken the night before last, with some substitutions, but I haven't had time to post about it. I have a serious back lg of food I have yet to post. I need to type it all up and just let Blogger schedule it.

    You're more than welcome to stel my little phrase. It's straight from my all-purpose resume/cover letter.

    Kat: I have learned these past few weeks to live on less and still not feel as if I'm missing out or selling myself short. This is a life experience, I think. BTW, I think I've found a new affordable local CSA...

  8. Ivy: Thank you! I hope my little miracles will be able to help someone in need some day.

    Courtney: Yah, girl, it's a must! Now I know how my parents felt back in the day. They're flush now, but I've heard some stories. I've been fortunate that I've never had a beans and weenies kind of life, but I think I understand now.

    Complaint mgr: I used to have a freezer full of stuff, but WE ATE IT ALL lol. My pork chops from two weeks ago were the last of the Mohigans.

    There is a Ramen Noodle cookbook by Toni Patrick. It's great, Google it.

  9. oooooooooooh AND with Splenda too????????
    I am so going to make this.

  10. I love the stir fry. My favorite food on earth is Chinese and I'm like you, I just go buy it as opposed to making it, seems so much easier that way and mine never tastes exactly the same.

    I do like this recipe though and am very interested in the processes you went through with the rice!

  11. southern plate:
    washing the rice 1st, helps keep it separate when you stir-fry. The starch doesn't coat each grain, making it sticky. Instant rice could be used too, I suppose. Each grain is separate already.

  12. Ben: Thanks! I need to buy some beans to fill my cupboard. Big, giant bag of pinto, black, navy, and...I don't know..have any suggestions?

  13. I know all about that whole "we have nothing to eat or cook with" thing. In fact, that's what my blog is all about! It is such a wonderful ability to take the few things you have and make it into a delicious meal - obviously a talent that you fully possess! This meal looks delicious.

    And with dry beans, I love to stock up on lentils. They are a bit bland, but that can be a plus, since they can go with just about any type of flavor. Plus they cook up much faster - no soaking necessary!

  14. Stephanie: Just recently I've been buying small amounts of bulk lentils from Whole Foods to try them in different things. I need to go for the gusto and buy more!~ A whole lot more!

  15. Nikki

    First I wanted to thank you for coming by and liking the graphics on my page. I will try to keep adding new ones for you.

    Stir Fry is one my family'as favorites when there is not a lot in the house as far as food. We always have atleast one bag of frozen vegatables and some chicken breasts. We went shopping the other day but just might have to make it tonight just because it is so good.

    I have a recipe for Sesame Chicken that is just as good as any resturant. I still perfer to go get(or have it delievered) as opposed to making it.


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