Cooking for Singles: Is it more expensive?

As a single, when I began my cooking journey, I frequently asked myself if I was saving any money or if I was simply wasting a lot of time for the same price than a takeout meal. I want to address that concern in today’s post and share how I cook great meals for a budget.

Before I begin, I would like to share one more series of Youtube videos from Epicurious with you. This chef, Dan Giusti, is genuinely inspiring. He shows creative ways how to use budget ingredients to prepare fantastic meals. Unfortunately, there aren’t many episodes to binge on!

I began cooking a bit more seriously when I moved to the US about six years back. At that time, I gained substantial exposure to foods from different countries, and I was fortunate to afford them. Thus, I realized there was a world of improvement in my cooking that I had to make. Also, I gained access to ingredients I hadn’t seen before because they’re not present in the Argentinian mainstream markets. All in all, every time I tried out a recipe, I ended up spending $10 to $15 in 2016 dollars. Of course, that’s not cheaper than a restaurant meal, but I had to do the prep work and the dishes and bare with the high chance of screwing up.

Then, there is the problem of the leftover ingredients. What should I do with them? Of course, if you’re someone like me who thinks they know a lot when they don’t, you’d also toss out the ingredients after sitting in your fridge for way too long. Or, in the best-case scenario, you’d try to cook something that doesn’t end up tasting quite nice.

Unfortunately, knowing what to do with leftover ingredients, especially those you’re not familiar with, doesn’t come out intuitively for most people. Here is where the cost starts building up. If you spent, let’s say, $20 worth of ingredients, and you end up cooking one meal, then that meal effectively cost you that, plus the electricity or gas you used to cook with, plus the materials to clean your cookware, and so forth. This way, it’s easier to think that cooking is comparable to takeout.

Stewed chickpeas tacos with homemade tortillas.

If you have already watched any of Dan Giusti’s videos, you might know that you can eat well by spending only $3 to $4 per meal. So here are some of the things I think of when making a recipe:

  • Can I scale it down? I dislike eating the same thing repeatedly, reheated where it has lost its texture, crunch, and color. Most grocery stores offer bulk sections where you can buy the quantities you need instead of packages that serve much more than you alone can eat.
  • Do I know in advance how to use the ingredients? Maybe I could cook something else by getting one or two additional items.
  • Do the ingredients freeze well? Let’s imagine that the recipe yields four portions; then, you could do your prep, fraction the elements and freeze them.
  • Can you grow some of the ingredients in your kitchen? This idea follows the previous one, and you can combine it with prepping and freezing. Many fresh herbs, alliums, and others stay fresh if you simply put them in a pot or a glass of water.
  • Are the cuisines that you pick too different? Cuisines from various regions typically use the same set of base ingredients. It might be worth picking a given cuisine and preparing several dishes that share ingredients instead of cooking one recipe on a one-off basis if you’re experimenting.
  • Can you incorporate exotic ingredients into your everyday cooking? Try experimenting with those bamboo shoots, guanciale, or barberries and add them to your dishes. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your secret chef’s ingredient.
  • Finally, are you leveraging your shelf-stable pantry in a creative-enough way? Canned tomatoes and beans can become many things. I will talk a bit more about this later.

Now, I will share some examples of meals I cooked with these ingredients. One large can of tomatoes, some spaghetti, a head of garlic, a bunch of Italian basil, a bag of Indian eggplants, one piece of parmesan cheese, a head of purple cabbage, a pack of chicken thighs, and a pack of asparagus.

I placed my bunch of basil in a glass of water, where it would get the most sun possible so it would remain happy and doesn’t wilt too soon. You can keep your herbs like this for way longer than it’d take you to eat them.

  • Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato sauce. This one is quite simple; I cooked a few Indian eggplants in the sauce and then blended everything with some pasta water using my hand blender, finishing the dish with torn basil leaves.
  • Chicken and Rice. I made a single serving of chicken and rice using the garlic and some of the tomato puree from the can as my aromatics, and then I also incorporated some of the parm for umami.
  • Chicken Tacos. I made a salsa with garlic and tomato. I had got some masa harina from the bulk section of my grocery store to make fresh tortillas. Finally, I used the purple cabbage to give color to the dish. It ended up delicious.
  • Stewed Chickpeas. Chickpeas, tomato, eggplant, garlic, basil, and spices always go well together, so why not make a grain bowl?
  • Mediterranean Tacos. I had some leftover stewed chickpeas; thus, I made some more corn tortillas and had these fantastic tacos. I added some asparagus and purple cabbage for crunch and freshness.
Chicken tacos with purple cabbage, tomato salsa, and chipotle mayo.

Then I repeated variations of these dishes, adding or removing whatever I had left from the ingredients. I spent about $22, and I ate about ten times with it. Not too bad, right? These dishes tasted one order of magnitude better than what I’d get in a restaurant.

To close up the post. Eating well on a budget is possible and better, not only for your wallet but also for your body and the planet, as you can choose fresh and seasonal ingredients. Don’t worry too much if you get an expensive piece of cheese or charcuterie, as they have many applications, and you can use them sparingly to enhance many dishes. Finally, pushing yourself to learn about the ingredients you have and using them in diverse ways will bring you closer to becoming the expert home cook we all aspire to be.

How Minimalistic Can you Go?

I realized that it was this website’s first anniversary as I began writing these words. I’m pretty excited about it! I managed to keep the commitment to myself by posting once a week, and it helped as a way to think creatively about the content. Thank you all who follow this blog.

Moving is not fun, at least not to me. However, I’m currently in the process of packing everything I have and storing it while I spend some quality time with my family in Argentina. Packing my stuff forced me to open every drawer and cabinet to find things that I thought I needed, but I hadn’t used in forever. So, since I had to spend a week or two moving stuff, I decided to go bare minimum with the cookware and see what I could and could not make.

My barebones setup included two spoons, and this small pan, among a few more items.

My barebones cook set consists of a tiny nonstick fry pan, one small saucepan, a few Tupperware, one cutting board, my budget Komachi Santoku knife, one paring knife, and two spoons. A few days into the experiment, I was about to take a pair of disposable chopsticks from a restaurant, but I decided to get bamboo ones. That’s it! Let us take a closer look at what I could make.

Tagliatelle and Ragú

Minimalistic cookware was not the only challenge I took on; also, how to use every leftover ingredient I had. For example, I had about three portions of tagliatelle, some frozen peas, frozen corn, and other goodies, including a large can of peeled tomatoes. Since tagliatelle goes well with chunky sauces, I decided to do a “whatever there is” sauce, which turned out to be fantastic.

My “Everything I Have Left” Tagliatelle recipe turned out fantastic.

Talking about cookware, I managed to cook the pasta in the sauce by breaking it up slightly. Ragú sauce is a robust, chunky sauce that can keep simmering for longer, thus allowing time for the pasta to cook. For this cooking style, though, I would pick smaller kinds of pasta like orzo.

Arugula For the Win

Another thing I had in abundance was arugula. I got it to make dressings and eat it as a salad. However, I used it in other creative ways, like greens for an udon soup and herbs for my “chickpea cacio e peppe,” inspired by Ottolenghi’s cookbook ‘Shelf Love.’ I was pleasantly surprised by how versatile this ingredient was.

This chickpea “Cacio e Pepe” with Arugula was off the charts.

To make delicious arugula and parmesan salad, I emulsified a vinaigrette using a bit of tahini that I had to finish, white balsamic vinegar infused with grapefruit, and lovely olive oil I bought in Mendoza. Then with my knife, I shredded some parmesan cheese. The knife will replace a box grater or a Microplane just fine in many cases.

Bread with a Fry Pan?

Many of those who know me would ask me how about making bread in this minimal setup? If you choose your pans well, you can get them into the oven; you want to ensure they have a metallic handle. Another ingredient I had in abundance that I tried to use was flour—whole wheat, all-purpose, bread flour, etc. Before moving, I made a lot of flour tortillas, but now I had to think of something else.

I cooked this Saffron Flatbread in the pan on the stovetop. Saffron flatbread pairs fantastic with eggs.

While my experiment lasted, I made two kinds of bread, eggplant focaccia and saffron flatbread. With the saffron bread, I made an egg and vegetable scramble. I had barberries which I could soak in a yogurt container. It’s incredible seeing how handy those containers are and people toss them left and right. Go green! Don’t toss those!

Soup, Anyone?

The last thing I want to highlight as a complete success was an udon soup with homemade chicken stock. It turns out that a small saucepan works excellent for making a small batch of chicken stock made from the bones of a thigh and a leg; just add a few aromatics, and you have something special. Then I added some mushrooms, cooked dried udon in the broth, and seasoned the entire thing with fish sauce and some lime juice. I know that fish sauce is not Japanese! I was trying to go through what I had in my pantry, ok? I also put arugula to have something fresh and voilá, delicious Frankenstein Asian soup.

This udon soup shows how easily you can turn a dish that cooks in many pots into a one-pot dish.

My Takeaways

Having a minimal cook set made it possible to cook 90% of the things I make daily. Truth, I did miss the convenience of some of my other tools, but if I lived in an even smaller space with even fewer cooking options, now I’d feel confident that it’s still possible to make fantastic meals. This experiment also highlights that when you’re building your kitchen toolset, it’s best to spend a little extra, even if that means having fewer items, because you gain in versatility and counter space. Speaking of sustainability, I saw myself washing and reusing containers before tossing them out; I particularly enjoyed yogurt containers to proof the dough for my bread. Finally, I think that figuring out other ways of cooking my everyday items brought me closer to becoming a better chef.

Three Quick Breakfast Recipes

In my journey to a healthier lifestyle, I learned to love breakfasts. Every day I wake up excited and thinking of what to make. Breakfast is an important meal that helps set the tone on how your hunger and eating patterns will be for the rest of the day. Before the pandemic, I typically didn’t have much time to cook, so I preferred to either have something quick or prepare batches to eat throughout the week. Today I’ll share three of my fast breakfast classics.

Avocado Toast
Avocado toast, made the way I like it.

Banana & Peanut Butter Oatmeal

I hadn’t tried oatmeal until I was 35 years old. It started as a convenient and nutritious backpacking breakfast, but it made it into my weekdays and ended up becoming my go-to choice, mostly because it has everything you need to keep going in the morning: carbs, sugars, protein, healthy fats, etc.

This recipe has only 356 calories, a good quantity for a breakfast item. Most days I also have a hard-boiled egg on the side. You can make this recipe even more interesting by switching the peanut butter with tahini.

Banana & Peanut Butter Oatmeal

  • Servings: 1 bowl
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Yet another hot oatmeal recipe.


Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup Almond Milk
  • 1 tsp cane sugar (or another sweetener like date syrup)
  • 1/4 cup Quick Cooking Rolled Oats
  • 80 g Banana, smashed.
  • 1 tbsp Peanut butter
  • 6 Pecans, broken into small pieces.
  • Ground cinnamon.

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the almond milk to a simmer.
  2. Add the sugar and the oats, stir and cook for 3 minutes
  3. In a small bowl, combine the smashed banana and the peanut butter.
  4. When the oatmeal is done, transfer it to the bowl with the peanut butter and banana mix.
  5. Add the pecans, and mix with a spoon the ingredients together.
  6. Garnish with some ground cinnamon. Enjoy hot.

Ricotta Omelette

One thing I like about meals rich in proteins and fats is that they keep you satisfied for a long time. This recipe is something I often make on the weekends before outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, or snowboarding. You can enjoy it with greens on the side, or maybe avocado or fruit.

The omelette itself is 272 Calories. I like to have it with some whole grain rice on the side, or maybe whole wheat bread with jelly, etc.

Ricotta Omelette

  • Servings: 1 omelette
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Easy to make omelette that will make you feel satisfied and fueled throughout the morning.


Ingredients

  • 2 whole Eggs.
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk.
  • 4 leave Basil, Finely Chopped.
  • 1/4 cup Green Onion, Finely chopped.
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced.
  • 1 tbsp Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Directions

  1. Whisk the two eggs with the milk in a small bowl, then add the basil and season the mixture with a dash of salt.
  2. On a small non-stick pan over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering then cook the green onion until soft, reserving some for garnish.
  3. Once the onion is cooked, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  4. Pour the eggs and milk mixture in the pan and cook evenly until it’s not runny.
  5. Shake the pan to make sure the omelette is not sticking to the pan. If it is, you can use a spatula to gently losen it up.
  6. Place he ricotta cheese in one of the sides of the omelette, fold it in half and transfer to a plate.
  7. Garnish the omelette with the green onions and some freshly cracked black pepper.

Avocado Toast, My Way

Avocado toast is a millennial thing, trendy in California. To me, there are very few better breakfast items than Avocado Toast. I like mine with a runny poached egg on top.

This toast has about 350 calories, and you can have it with a number of sides. My favorite combination is a simple salad of spring mix, a Roma tomato, with balsamic dressing.

Avocado Toast

  • Servings: 2 avocado toasts
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

Yet another avocado toast recipe.


Ingredients

  • 2 Whole Eggs
  • 1 tbsp Vinegar (Any kind is good.)
  • 2 slice Sourdough Bread
  • 1/4 cup Spring Salad Mix
  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Hass Avocado (Medium Sized)
  • 1 tsp Lemon or Lime Juice
  • 1/4 cup Spring onions (Finely Chopped)
  • 1 pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 pinch Salt

Directions

  1. Fill a large saucepan to 3/4 with water and bring it to boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the vinegar and stir.
  3. Crack one egg into a small bowl.
  4. With a Woden spoon, stir the water vigorously to create a vortex.
  5. Let the egg drop in the center of the vortex, so the white wraps around the yolk. This is a tricky step and requires practice. Let cook it for about 4 to 5 min.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, take the egg out and place it into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
  7. Poach the second egg following the same procedure.
  8. Toast both slices of sourdough bread until slightly browned and crispy.
  9. Transfer each toast to two plates, place a layer of the salad mix over.
  10. Mash the avocado and mix it with the lemon juice, olive oil and spring onions, season salt to taste.
  11. Add a layer of the mashed avocado to each toast over the greens.
  12. Finally, place the poached eggs over each toast.
  13. Garnish the toasts with Cayenne Pepper.

With this, I close my post. I hope these recipes inspire you to make your own breakfast and become part of your journey towards a healthier lifestyle. Bon Appétit!

Recipe: Buckwheat Galette with Peanut Butter & Blackberry Preserve

Buckwheat galettes are a staple in northern France cuisine. These crepes are typical of the region of Brittany, and I loved them from the first taste. Buckwheat flour gives such an interesting flavor to the crepe that it works well with savory fillings. But, when I visited Montreal in Canada, I also saw sweet versions of these galettes, which made me curious. Even though I didn’t have the chance to try them, I got enough inspiration to develop this recipe.

I will apologize in advance for the photos and the post’s brevity. I have been working intensely on another personal project, and also I sold most of my furniture since I’m in the process of moving. However, I didn’t want to start slacking on the blog.

This recipe makes 2 to 3 medium crepes or two large. I got pleasantly surprised by how well the peanut butter pairs with buckwheat, and the blackberry preserve rounds up the flavor and transforms this into a sweet preparation. I have to say, then, that this would be a hybrid French / American item that’s perfect for breakfast.

Finally, if you’re single, this batter also stores exceptionally well, and you can make ahead for two or three times, maybe one savory for dinner and another sweet for dessert.

Buckwheat Galette With Peanut Butter & Blackberry Preserve

  • Servings: 2 galettes
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

My take on this french classig, adding American elements.


Since buckwheat flour doesn’t have gluten, please be extra careful when flipping the crepe as it might break easily.

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Egg,
  • 100g buckwheat flour.
  • Salt, to taste
  • 200g water.
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter.
  • 1 tbsp blackberry preserve.
  • Leaves of fresh mint.

Directions

  1. Combine the egg, buckwheat flour, and salt using a food processor or whisking in a large bowl. I used a small food processor to get a very uniform batter.
  2. Add water until the batter is runny, about 2x the weight of the flour. But, please adjust the quantity until its pourable but not too watery.
  3. Place a large skillet over high heat, no oil is required, but you could if you fear sticking.
  4. Pour enough batter in the pan to coat the bottom by tilting it in all directions.
  5. After 2 to 3 minutes, you should see the crepe releasing from the pan. Carefully flip it over and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Spread the peanut butter in the center and wait until it softens. Then, add the preserve and transfer to a serving plate.
  7. Fold the edges with your hands to look squared (like the photo), and garnish with the mint. Serve warm and enjoy.

Book Review: The Laws of Human Nature

The laws of human nature, by Robert Greene, is a masterpiece that, I believe, everyone should read. I stumbled upon this book by chance, through video recommendations on Youtube. And I decided to give it a go. In this post, I will share a summary of what the book is about and the videos for you to get the gist of the book.

The Laws of human nature tells stories about notorious people through history, like Coco Chanel or Howard Hughes. The author analyzes these stories through human nature and uses them to explain the various topics in great detail. Even though each chapter is quite long, it offers detailed explanations in non-technical terms that will help you understand yourself and others.

I have to admit that I found it hard to make progress on this book, and I haven’t yet finished it, but still, I have read enough to support my recommendation. One funny fact about it is that lately, I’ve been through changes in my life, and every chapter I read somehow connected to the situation I lived in at the moment.

To close this brief post, I leave you the two 45-minute long youtube videos that made me want to read this book intensely. Enjoy!

Do Carbs Make You Fat?

More often than not, when I engage in conversation with someone, and I mention my interest in nutrition, I hear about how carbs are so bad for you. It feels like groundhog day, almost, but is it the case? Let’s try and find out. Also, here is my disclaimer saying that I’m not a health professional, and thus, my knowledge or coverage could lack the required depth.

Carbs, Proteins, and Fats

Simply put, everything we can put in our bodies will fall into one of three categories. And, throughout history, ever since dieting started, the players that sell weight loss put their blame on one of the three. I still remember trying the hyper-proteic diet a decade back, cutting both carbs and fats. Atkins and Keto declare war on carbs, but chatting with my grandmother, she’s still stuck with some war on fats that happened during the 90s. I recently read about the anti-diet culture that sells books by declaring war on diets! That’s hilarious, at least to me.

In plain English, let me quickly say a single sentence about what our body does with each of these macro-nutrients.

  • Carbs: The body uses them as quick energy, and they help our muscles get the water they need to work.
  • Proteins: The body uses them to repair muscle tissue after workouts. We don’t need too many of these.
  • Fat: The body uses fat to store excess energy. Therefore fat has nine calories per gram instead of the 4 in carbs or proteins.

That’s all there is to it. But the implications are pretty substantial.

Weight Loss or Gain

Let’s talk about weight. I’m discussing this here first to build an intuition about what could lead people to buy into various beliefs. First, weight and BMR are terrible ways of measuring yourself. Are you measuring body fat or muscle weight?. Just think that ancient science created both metrics when doctors still tried to code things in binary into normal or not. Who gets to say what is normal? It turns out that water, which by the way, has no calories, plays a significant part in how heavy you are on a given day. I prefer to measure myself on whether I can use my body in the way I intend to use it or not. I hypocritically admit that I still weigh myself often, but I’ll soon tell you why.

Speaking of the Devil

As I just mentioned, carbs help you distribute water throughout your body, so your muscles have what they need for working out. Funnily enough, our body uses additional water to break down proteins and fats, thus making us urinate more often. This fact is one of the reasons that could lead people to think that carbs make you gain weight. When I was doing keto, I felt thirsty all the time and drank a lot of water, but my body didn’t retain much of it.

When it comes to feeling full, proteins and fats process slowly. The body can use fats as energy through ketosis, but breaking down fats takes time. So let me repeat this sentence as it applies to stored body fat: breaking down fats takes time. So, then, after eating a high-protein or fat meal, we feel full for a long time.

When it comes to satisfaction, not all carbs are the same. Our palates find highly processed simple carbs delicious because we process them quickly, delivering energy spikes. So, what happens when our reward center receives something very intense that fades out rather quickly? You guessed it! We want more of it! So, for this reason, people tend to find it more challenging to control themselves with carbs; think of your sweet tooth. And we have reason number two that could point in the anti-carb direction. But the solution is rather simple, have items with more fiber and lower glycemic index.

Finally, one rather infamous element present in many high-carb treats is gluten! Gluten is both an allergen and believed to promote inflammation. Inflammation makes one’s body look a bit swollen (chubbier?), and, of course, that’s one more reason not to eat carbs!

Food is Just Food; It’s All in Your Head

As you may have noticed, the previous section shows how easy it is to demonize something based purely on your perception of it. But truth be told, if you eat the right amounts, then you will never gain or lose body fat weight, be it based on white bread or bacon brussel sprout salads. The key component is to understand your body and its fullness cues, precisely what the intuitive eating movement preaches (and more people trying to sell you stuff). But, there is some truth to it. Learning how your mind works is as important as knowing if you’re full or not. Do you use food to cope? Is it easier to eat less some days than others? What are things that influence your motivation? And, here is why I weigh myself every day; it symbolizes the intention I have to take care of myself, helping as a motivator to make choices that align with my goals.

To Close Out

The diet and body image industry leverages our insecurities to sell us products. And the players in the industry leverage the psychology of the masses by painting a common enemy and an easy-to-follow cause to steer us to one product or the other. Then, finally, there is us, who feel guilty if we decide to eat a demonized item one day. Don’t get me wrong; I sometimes feel guilty when eating a croissant, even after a long bike ride and knowing I’m in a calorie deficit. But, unfortunately, we’re all victims of years of bad culture, with untrue beliefs deeply grounded, and it will take some time before we heal as a society. In the meantime, just relax and allow yourself to have those carbs, remember that a content person can find strength more quickly to take actions that have long-term positive effects. Please let me know your experience with all of this in the comments section.

Making the Perfect Sandwich

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with recipes and their structure. I believe this site’s posts reflected that obsession in one way or the other. There is, however, a reason for my obsession; I’ve been tirelessly working for months on a project that involves helping people cook better at home. Also, I got the inspiration for this post from the ‘Pro Home Cooks’ YouTube channel where Mike G created a sandwich series. I admittedly binged on that series over a weekend or two. If you’d like to watch it, I leave you the link here. In combination with a fascination for Banh Mi’s that I had during 2018, that series awoke a scientific interest in sandwiches.

So, what makes a perfect sandwich? Let’s dive into it. There are five key components that every decent sandwich must have. Some of these components are optional; others, like the bread, aren’t. You can, however, place anything you like between two pieces of bread, but would that be called a sandwich? The main components to any sandwich are:

  • The bread.
  • A protein or two.
  • A condiment.
  • Greens / fruit vegetables.
  • Pickles.

These components must strike the perfect balance of flavors to yield a sandwich that surprises the palate. So let’s dive into each element.

The Bread

Any of the components I outlined between two slices of bread would make a basic sandwich. But not all bread is created equal. There are some considerations when choosing bread for your sandwich. When it comes to texture, you want something sturdy enough to support the ingredients you’ll put in but soft enough not to hurt your mouth. So, a balance between toughness and chewiness is critical. Also, nobody likes hurting their mouth while eating a sandwich; thus, the bread shouldn’t be too crusty.

Flavorwise, I like to select neutral-flavor bread. I try to match the flavor with my ingredients if I have a flavored one like rosemary focaccia.

Common bread choices for sandwiches are baguette, ciabatta, dinner rolls, potato rolls, pita, or focaccia. But every culture has a staple or two.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you toast at least the side of the slices facing in before assembling the sandwich. Toasting will harden the platform for the ingredients and introduce the extra caramelized flavors from the Maillard reaction. Most chefs toast their buns with mayonnaise or butter.

Proteins and Fats

Proteins and fats are arguably the second most important ingredient of any sandwich. Think about this, how often do you eat a lettuce sandwich versus a burger? When choosing your proteins, consider the texture. There’s hardly something worse than biting into a steak sandwich and ending up with the bread in your hands and the whole steak dangling from your mouth. Tough proteins have to be cut or pounded, making them easy to bite. Flavorwise, consider the seasoning of the other ingredients and maybe season a bit differently than when you’re cooking the protein alone. Finally, consider the combinations of proteins you’ll put in—for example, tofu and eggs, ham and cheese, steak and egg, and so forth.

A Banh Mi made from scratch as taught by one of the most knowledgeable Vietnamese people I’ve met.

Condiment & Dressings

It took me long to draw the parallel between a sandwich and a salad. They’re the same thing in many ways but with the ingredients prepared differently. Bread is optional in salads too. However, they’re more similar than different, at least in my mind. Following the line of the previous recommendations, think holistically about the flavors you’re putting in. Condiments moisturize the sandwich, so you don’t feel like you’re swallowing cardboard; also, fat distributes the flavors better in your mouth, so condiments like mayo will make your sandwich taste better almost by default. You probably know the common condiments for a sandwich, mayo, ketchup, mustard. But also, think of salad dressings as condiments; an emulsified vinaigrette, caesar dressing, etc. These are great hybrids between condiments and dressings. For example, Vietnamese Banh Mi’s have Maggi Seasoning that packs so much umami.

Greens or Fruit Vegetables

Yes, tomatoes are fruits, so do cucumbers, get over it! Both greens and fruit vegetables deliver freshness and crunch to the sandwich. Without them, the sandwich becomes rich and feels a little heavier. Season your greens and veggies before putting them into the sandwich; most people don’t do it. I’ll share a story, last year I visited Montreal, in Canada, and I got one of the best paninis I’ve ever tried. The panini was this traditional chicken and arugula panini, but the arugula was pre-dressed in a light balsamic vinaigrette, and that itself made the sandwich so much better! Until then, I hadn’t realized how dull a sandwich with undressed greens is.

Pickles

The final component of the perfect sandwich is pickles. The sour and acidic flavor from the brine helps brighten the entire sandwich and adds a layer of flavor to balance out the richness that might come from your proteins and condiments. I know many who don’t like pickles in their sandwiches, but I urge everyone to give it a try. You might end up pleasantly surprised.

Putting it All Together

Sandwiches are great on-the-go and convenient snacks, but not everyone pays attention to them. When assembling your next sandwich, I hope you think about the components and what each element brings to the final dish. Remember that some have multiple functions, like cheese that acts both as protein and fat, or pickles that serve as a dressing and a fruit vegetable. Please let me know which is your favorite sandwich in the comments section below.

A glorious Porchetta sandwich from a restaurant in Montreal, also called Porchetta.

Cooking For Singles: Chicken Breast Roast, Three Ways

I find it sometimes challenging to cook diverse and nutritious meals as a single. But then, I often find myself looking at the restaurant industry for inspiration because we share the same challenge: cook a-la-minute single-serving dishes. In this post, I will share one of such inspirations and conclude with a recipe that I found delicious.

Thinking in pure business terms, I asked myself: How can I buy ingredients that maximize the yield and minimize the cost per serving? One item that met the criteria was a large bone-in and skin-on chicken split breast; I got one that weighed about 18oz, intending to get at least three servings from it. And sure enough, this breast served as a foundational component for three meals.

First, we convert the chicken into a component. For this, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, lightly oiled it, and roasted it for about 30 minutes at 380ºF. Also, I used the opportunity to roast alongside some radishes and prepared a nice tahini sauce with lemon juice and garlic. Finally, I rested the chicken breast and sliced about 6oz of it, including the skin, to build my first dish; Roast chicken breast with Radishes and Tahini.

Juicy roast chicken beast with radishes and tahini sauce.

The following day, I came back to my leftover chicken. I cut about six more oz of it and shredded the meat with my hands. I also took the roasted bones. I placed about a cup of storebought chicken stock in a small saucepan and threw in the bones and the white part of one green onion. I let the preparation simmer for about 30 minutes. Then, I removed the bones and seasoned my sock with fish sauce and palm sugar. This preparation was the base for delicious chicken pho; it just took cooking some vermicelli and assembling a bowl with the shredded chicken and some herbs.

Finally, I had some chicken left to make tacos. These tacos were so delicious that I decided to share a detailed recipe but before that, let me close the post with a final reflection. Cooking for one might look like a daunting task, and takeout might look increasingly attractive. However, let me share that the total cost for each of these three meals was about $3. When inflation creeps in and eating natural and minimally processed meals seems utopic, some small hacks might just be what brings you closer to both your financial and weight goals.

Chicken Tacos with Chipotle Mayo

  • Servings: 2 tacos
  • Difficulty: Medium
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You can make and save many of the components of the tacos for more batches of tacos later in the week. This will speed up prep and make it even more convenient a dish.

Ingredients

  • Salt and pepper.
  • 60g flour (white, whole wheat), or masa harina.
  • 10g butter.
  • ½ shallot, sliced thinly.
  • 1 tbs lemon juice.
  • 1 tsp sumac.
  • 1 sweet pepper.
  • ¼ dried ancho chile.
  • ¼ dried chipotle chile.
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds.
  • 6 oz roasted chicken breast, shredded.
  • 1 tbsp mayonnaise.
  • ¼ tsp cumin.
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp tomato paste.
  • 4 leaves of Belgian endive.
  • Cilantro.

Directions

  1. Make your tortilla dough by combining in a bowl the flour (or masa harina), a pinch of salt, the butter, and enough warm water to make the dough come together and become pliable. Leave it to rest in a bag or a sealed container while preparing your other components.
  2. Place your shallot slices, lemon juice, and sumac in a small container. Mix thoroughly and let it pickle until you assemble your tacos.
  3. Toast your dried chiles and sweet pepper in a very hot skillet. Leave the pepper in the skillet, turning it occasionally until the skin looks burnt and the flesh softens. Remove from the heat, let it cool off, peel, and discard the burnt flesh. Finally, thinly slice it.
  4. Grind your toasted chiles and coriander seeds in a spice grinder, or using a mortar and pestle, this spice mixture will serve as the base for the chipotle mayo and season the chicken.
  5. In a small container, mix the mayonnaise, a teaspoon of the chipotle spice mixture, and some water to thin it out. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. In a small skillet, heat some olive oil, add your chicken, add the tomato paste, 1 tsp of the chipotle spice mixture, ¼ tsp cumin, and ½ tsp paprika cook for 3 or 4 minutes, adding some water to build a sauce.
  7. Divide your dough into two balls of about 50g each. Press them with a tortilla press and cook on a scorching skillet, 1 minute on the first side, 2 minutes on the second, and finally 30 seconds on the first side again, so it puffs.
  8. Assemble your tacos by adding the endive leaves, chicken, pickled onions, roasted pepper, chipotle mayo, and cilantro.
  9. Don’t forget to enjoy!

Recipe: My Favorite Granola

I have a yogurt parfait for breakfast almost every day. This habit allowed me to explore at length the world of granola. So, in today’s post, I will share some of my exploration and what I learned from it to create my homemade granola recipe.

Why yogurt parfait? You may ask. Over the last year and a half, I’ve been pursuing significant improvements in my cycling. As part of this endeavor, I became familiar with sports nutrition, and one recommendation is to start your training day with carbohydrates of a low glycemic index. Oatmeal, yogurt, and most fruit fall into this category, so a yogurt parfait is a great choice.

I try to alter the recipe of my breakfast parfait according to the seasons and what fruits are available and reasonably priced. Initially, I tried every brand of granola and also variations of muesli. Finally, I settled to simple oat and honey granola for the texture, and it paired well with most fruit.

Then, I began exploring bakeries and specialty food shops; some of my favorite in the Seattle area are:

  • Cone & Steiner in Capitol Hill.
  • Rosellini’s in Ballard,
  • Macrina Bakery, in Capitol Hill
  • Fuel Coffee, in Capitol Hill

I especially liked the maple, oats, and pecan granola from Cone & Steiner. I like the flavor and the texture that pecans give. I also tried the granola from the Cheeseboard bakery in Berkeley, CA. They included flax seeds in it, and I loved it.

Many granolas pack some raisins and shredded coconut when it comes to inclusions. I find raisins quite dull, but they bring a wonderful natural sweetness to the parfait. However, I discovered the orange-flavored dried cranberries from Trader Joe’s some time ago. I always thought they’d be perfect if mixed in granola, so I decided to include them when I came up with my recipe. Those cranberries bring a citrus flavor that enhances every fruit I add to my parfait.

The final product.

So, to summarize, what I appreciate in Granola is crunch, nuts like pecans, texture from the seeds, and natural sweetness from dried fruit. With all this information, I present you with my “Juanola Granola” recipe, which became my absolute favorite to the extent I only have that one.

Juanola Granola

  • Servings: 20
  • Difficulty: Easy
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My favorite combination for granola



A note on the recipe: I don’t measure the quantities, so everything is approximate. I recommend you try and adjust the flavor as you go.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp honey.
  • 1 tbsp date syrup.
  • 3 tbsp olive oil.
  • 1 pinch of salt.
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar.
  • 2 cup of Rolled Oats.
  • ¼ cup flax seeds.
  • ¼ cup roasted pepitas. (optional)
  • ½ cup pecans. Broken into tiny pieces.
  • ¼ cup coconut flakes.
  • ½ cup Trader Joe’s dried cranberries with orange flavor.

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF
  2. Whisk and combine the oil, honey, syrup, salt, and sugar until uniform in a large bowl.
  3. Add the oats, seeds, pepitas if using, and pecans to the bowl. Toss to combine thoroughly, ensuring that the mixture coats every grain and seed.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the mixture in a thin layer.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and redistribute the mixture with a spoon.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes more, or until golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let the granola cool off.
  7. Once cool, mix with the coconut flakes and the dried cranberries. Store in an airtight container.

With this, I close the post. I hope you find this recipe helpful but take it as a template to alter all the ingredients and make it your own. Enjoy!

3 Ways Of Getting More from Your Ingredients

Ever since I started cooking, I end up throwing away leftover ingredients. Doing this always feels somewhat heartbreaking because I’m not only cheap and environmentally conscious but also that there’s flavor there I won’t ever experience. In today’s post, I will discuss three ways to utilize your ingredients in a different way to enhance flavor, minimize waste, and save you some money. Let’s get started.

Food Scraps Make Great Stock

As I got more into cooking, I discovered the difference it makes cooking with stock. With stock, you can make fluffy scrambled eggs, more flavorful rice and sauces, and of course, excellent soups. Therefore, I saw myself buying more boxes of ‘low sodium’ stocks from the grocery store. But then, one day, I saw Massimo Bottura making a stock out of his vegetable peels, and I decided to give it a try. The result was incredible. Then, I got the itches, and I decided to try everything before throwing it into the compost. Green onion roots, onion and carrot peels, root vegetable fronds, and more taste equally amazing! So before disposing, there’s no harm in setting up a pot of boiling water and boiling your scraps for stock.

The same principle applies to bones and skin. Have you ever noticed that boneless, skinless chicken pieces cost more than their bone-in and skin-on counterparts? So, why not maximize your yield while minimizing your cost by using a knife? Even better if you buy a whole bird! I will share more insight when it comes to skin.

Here I’m making stock with carrot fronds, unpeeled onions, and chicken bones and skin.

Take Advantage of By-Products

In the last section, I discussed buying a whole chicken. There’s so much you can do with it, even if you’re single. For example, you could break it apart and freeze its components to have them ready to go. Then, make pate with the liver, or quickly saute the heart.

Even if you don’t like to eat the skin of the chicken, you could render its fat on low heat in a pan and then use it for cooking the meat; this way, you avoid adding extra oil to your preparation and enjoy a much more pure flavor. This principle of rendering fats applies to many scraps, like steak or pork fat trimmings; instead of buying tallow or lard, you could quickly render it, strain it, and even store it for longer-term at room temperature. For example, I like to save bacon fat and add it when I bake sandwich rolls; it adds mystical flavor.

Finally, do you have fruit peels? While you can’t make stock with them, you can boil them in a little water, add sugar, maybe some pectin, wait until it thickens, and voilá, marmalade, or jam.

Here I’m making Yuzu Marmalade from the remainders of a Yuzu Lemon I had

Freeze or Dry Your Perishables

Many times, you buy herbs or other components that wilt quickly. While wilted herbs lose their visual appeal as garnishes, they still preserve the flavor. A quick 30 seconds in the microwave will leave your herbs in a dried state; then, you can grind them and save them for later flavoring. Other herbs that don’t dry well, like cilantro or basil, can be placed in ice cubes, and later on, you can use them in sauces or stocks. They will dissolve, but they will keep their flavor.

There are many delicate fruits, including all berries, that you can buy at peak ripeness and freeze before they lose their flavor. The same principle applies to peas, spinach, and other greens. Bread freezes so well too! Not ready to make stock? You can also freeze your food scraps and start accumulating them until you’re ready! The key message is to befriend your freezer.

Finally, if you invest in a food dehydrator, you get additional possibilities. Pit and dehydrate cherries, plums, pineapple slices, or citrus. Make jerky, and much more!

Closing Thoughts

Minimizing waste allows us to optimize our food budget while taking some small care for the planet. I hope you find these tips helpful, and you get to implement them while cooking.

I close my post with this, but I’d like to know your favorite ways of getting more from your ingredients. So please let me know in the comments section below.