Monday, June 8, 2009

Dinner for Days

My name is Jessica Rodrigo and I like to think of myself as a foodie. I enjoy cooking food, eating food, looking at food and learning about the many different realms of food: desserts, entrees, properties of food, appetizers, salads, raw foods, unsuccessful foods – you name it, I'm interested. I grew up watching the Food Network Channel with my parents for our 'quality time' together. My siblings and I used to help out in the kitchen when we were young; starting with the dishes, then moving our way up the ladder to washing the rice for the rice cooker and onto separating the spring roll wrappers so that my mom could make lumpia. Eventually we got more capable of handling the kitchen chores and started cooking the meals.

I have lived on my own for just about five years now and have taught myself the basics of cooking and taken a few classes in some advanced techniques like cake decorating and chocolate work. Having grown up in New Mexico where burritos and enchiladas are the kings and queens of the restaurant menus, I naturally had a curiosity to explore gastronomy on a personal level. I tried new recipes, cooked things I've heard of but never tasted such as mole (mō-lē) or Cornish game hens.

Recently I moved to Martha's Vineyard for an internship at a local weekly and money will definitely will be on things-to-monitor list along with my dirty laundry and the rising tide when I'm at the beach – swimming is not on of my stronger traits.

After a long afternoon walking around what is referred to as "Up Island", I returned to West Tisbury where I am currently staying with a baker and also, local business owner. It just so worked out that he works in a kitchen for a living and I love the kitchen – its my favorite part of any house. Being that the owner of the house owns a local deli, his kitchen is equipped with a gas range (a dream come true), a super-sharp set of kitchen knives and a great set of cookware. It has been wonderful to cook things in his kitchen.

Knowing that I have a limited budget I could only spend money on things I know I will eat. This is what I bought:
• a bundle of parsley
• a pint of grape tomatoes
• a head of garlic
• a pound of pasta
• a pound basmati rice
• a can of diced tomatoes
• two cans of tuna
• a pack of butter
• half a gallon of milk
• half a gallon of orange juice
• a bag of spinach
• raspberry and walnut vinaigrette
• three chicken breast halves

• a box of wheat thins
• a loaf of bread
• a package of sandwich meat (turkey)

All that was roughly $50 – breaking it down to $3.14 an item. It hurt just a little, considering I went from the Las Cruces, New Mexico cost of living to the Martha's Vineyard-summer-getaway-hot-spot, Massachusetts cost of living. I had to plan it where everything I bought, could be used in combination with each other.

I could use the pasta, bread and rice as my bases; the tuna, sandwich meat and chicken were my proteins; and the vegetables could be used interchangeably. I was set for days – a week or so at most.

My first meal, prepared a few days ago, was a very simple pasta with sauteed garlic, grape tomatoes and parsley. I cooked a large serving of spaghetti (saving some in a bag for later in the week), strained it in a colander and melted some butter and olive oil in the same pot. Then I put in the garlic and the grape tomatoes, which I cut into halves. After the garlic became aromatic, I threw a portion of the noodles back in and tossed in the chopped parsley. Seasoned with salt and pepper to taste – it was done.

Today I made a similar pasta dish with chicken. I prepared
my chicken breasts before freezing them so that I had each portion cut and prepared for cooking. I had two quarters in the refrigerator ready to go, so I used one. I seasoned with salt and pepper and prepared a small, pint-sized All-Clad pot on the stove. On low heat, I measured about a tablespoon of olive oil and coating the bottom evenly. I cooked the chicken for a few minutes on each side and removed it from the pot. I replaced a little bit of olive oil in the pan and put in chopped garlic and half of the can of diced tomatoes. Once the tomatoes could cook down a little, I sliced the chicken into chunks and placed it back into the pot to finish cooking. In went the parsley, just before the noodles from a few days ago and ta da – there was dinner. It was simple and delicious.

And this is how most of the dishes I prepare this week will look; just exchange pasta for rice, chicken for tuna and parsley for spinach. It is all in what you can do with what you have. Bon appétit.

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