November 24, 2003

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The potato misadventures

Eric accompanied me shopping today. He was thinking about living on
his own, so he was quite curious about my CookOrDie project. He seemed
particularly flabbergasted by the fact that I’m not working from any
cookbook or website. I haven’t run across a site that dealt with my
particular constraints:

- Microwave and oven toaster
- Cooking for one
- Can’t have too many left-overs because I might forget to eat them

We checked out the meat shop I’d noticed on the way to school. It’s a
small meat shop across the street. Quiet place. Unfortunately, they
don’t sell meat in quantities of less than half a kilo, and I don’t
trust my cooking or planning skills enough to get that much food at
any point in time. So I guess I’ll have to get all my protein from the supermarket.

On my way to the supermarket, I remarked that this quandary would have
me become a vegetarian out of necessity. Then again, sausages aren’t
all that bad.

Eric carried my basket as I described my experiments. I read about a
pita recipe involving lettuce recently and I’d always liked the nice,
crisp lettuce in salads, which I eat on its own or with a bit of bacon
and cheese, as I don’t like salad dressing. I picked a few leaves of
yummy-looking lettuce and had it weighed. At 22.75 for three leaves,
it was kinda pricey, but I figured I’m supposed to have leafy
vegetables in my diet.

I peered at the marble potatoes rack and found that they were
significantly cheaper than the regular potatoes I had been buying
before. Although they came in rather large bags, the store personnel
kindly opened a bag for me and allowed me to measure and weigh an
equivalent portion of marble potatoes. The extra time spent washing
the potatoes was time I could spend thinking about my class the next
day, I reasoned, and the small savings would nonetheless contribute to
my monthly bottom line. I was rather pleased to see this come to a
total of P 3.00 for a decent number of potatoes.

At the meat counter, I described to Eric the sausages I’d tried – how
Hungarian sausages pleasantly offset tomatoes and cheese in my first
pita experiment but are lost when mixed with reheated fried rice, how
the delicate taste of veal bratwurst went well with potatoes (although
the potatoes might need a bit more seasoning).

Having sampled almost all the sausages and seeking more variety, I
found myself drawn to the ground beef and ground round sections. Some
inquiry revealed that I could get portions as small as 1/8th of a
pound; for someone cooking for 1 with scant freezer space, this was
very good news. I asked if I could cook this meat in the microwave or
oven toaster, though, and the supermarket people thought it was not
advisable – so back to sausages it was. I selected a Schu:blig
sausage as I had not yet tried that variant.

I returned to the dorm and flipped through the microwave instructions,
which informed me about the grill function of the microwave and
cautioned that this must be used at least once a month to reduce the
risk of fire. As part of the routine maintenance of my microwave oven
(and to try out the grill capabilities which may prove useful in the
future), I decided to try to cook the sausage in the microwave,
heating it under the grill for around 10 minutes. While the sausage
cooked, I washed the marble potatoes and pricked the skins with a
fork.

Testing the sausage revealed that it was not as warm as it should have
been, although parts of it were nicely browned. I popped it into the
toaster for some quick and sure cooking, setting the timer for 5
minutes. Meanwhile, I added a knob of butter to the potatoes and
microwaved the whole for 4 minutes, reasoning that the whole marble
potatoes would take somewhat longer than the thinly sliced potatoes
cooked in a small container last time.

Small popping and fizzing sounds from the microwave alarmed me and I
paused the microwave to check on the potatoes. Apparently, pricking
the skins with a fork was not enough to prepare the potatoes for
microwaving, and the expanding air popped out of the potatoes. Slicing
the potatoes in half revealed a rather strange pattern of compressed
potatoes, so I sliced all the other potatoes in half and returned them
to the microwave for a few more minutes of uneventful cooking.

After the sausage was cooked to my satisfaction, I took one of the
pitas from the freezer and toasted it. The bottom part of the pita was
crisp while the top part was soft, which made a very interesting play
of texture. I suspect this would be very nice with some kind of
filling or dip.

The potatoes were acceptable, although not awe-inspiring. The sausage
was pleasantly flavored, reminding one vaguely of hotdogs and
frankfurters. It was a pretty filling meal for approximately PHP 55.

I nearly forgot the lettuce, but I realized I hadn’t used it while
writing this blog entry. I washed the lettuce leaves carefully (there
were a few bugs), and for lack of ideas for preparing lettuce, just
ate it as is. In retrospect this was probably a bad idea, as the
leaves tasted unacceptably (and quite logically) like plants. I
suppose I’m used to lettuce being crunchy and tasting like, well,
water; this was neither, and it left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
I diligently chomped and swallowed one mouthful, but my gag reflex
kept trying to trigger on the second, and I gave up on the lettuce.
(Update: Martin suggested returning it to the ref for a few moments in
order to let it crisp.)

Conclusion: Sausages and potatoes can form a basic, inexpensive meal -
just adjust proportions of potatoes and sausages to meet
carbohydrate/protein ratios and budget constraints. However, I need to
experiment with other kinds of food soon, and I suspect that I’ll need
a pan for that. A simple skillet or other kind of pan that would fit
on my electric stove would be very much appreciated; I suppose I can
obtain one of these from home. I’ve added sausages and potatoes to my
basic repertoire; I know that as long as I have an oven toaster and/or
a microwave, I should be able to prepare myself an acceptable dinner.
I would like to experiment more, though. I think I’ll try more
vegetables next.

Potatoes P 3.00
Schu:blig sausage 52.45
Green coral lettuce 22.75

CookOrDie

Useful teaching and learning resources

http://www.cetl.gatech.edu/resources/publications.htm