Learning Project 2.0 – Recap and Reflections

This semester in ECMP 455 I chose to tackle the Learning Project for my major assignment. The purpose of the infamous Learning Project is to learn a skill that is significant and complex using online sources (i.e. videos, text resources, podcasts, etc.) and to document and share learning progression openly in an online space. I had the opportunity to do a Learning Project when I took ECMP 355 last year in the spring semester, and I enjoyed the assignment so much that I decided to do it again. For my ECMP 455 Learning Project (or Learning Project 2.0), I learned how to cook. Here’s a quick recap of my Learning Project experience this semester:

Learning Project Recap

Blog Post #1: Learning Project 2.0

  • Introduction and rationale for my Learning Project
  • Factors to consider: cost and nutrition
  • Goals for the end

Blog Post #2: Cost-Effective Cooking

Blog Post #3: Perfecting Pasta

  • Recipes:
  • Saving money by buying in bulk
  • Starting to realize the cost of living on my own  — going to need to put money into stocking up on basic, everyday ingredients and spices
  • Pictures showing progress

Blog Post #4: Beef, Broccoli, and Bananas

Blog Post #5: A Healthy Twist on Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Recipe:
  • Working with new ingredients
  • Critiquing resources: written vs. tutorial videos
  • Learning to be more adventurous in the kitchen — cooking becoming less of a chore
  • Pictures showing progress

Blog Post #6: The Breakfast Casserole That Took a Hundred Hours

Blog Post #7: Boomerang and Buttermilk Waffles

Blog Post #8: Crock-Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

  • Recipe:
  • Trying new appliances: crock-pot
  • Saving money by cooking in large quantities
  • Boomerang videos showing progress

Reflections on my Learning Project Experience

Going into my Learning Project, I didn’t really have a specific end goal in mind. All I wanted was to simply increase my cooking skills so that, by the end, I could make more than just pasta. Over the course of the semester, I feel as though I have learned a lot. I went from having quite limited cooking skills to mastering a ton of new recipes, working with new ingredients, trying new kitchen appliances, and learning how to cook on a budget — a skill that will be very useful to me once I move out and have to start being conscious of how much money I am spending on things like food.

If I were to do this project again, I would narrow it down, for example, to just learning how to cook different dinners or different lunches, just one type of cuisine, or just crock-pot recipes. One of the challenges that I continuously encountered in my Learning Project was the fact that there are literally thousands of cooking resources available online. This wasn’t necessarily always a good thing — it was overwhelming, and it made choosing what to cook each week very difficult. Even though I feel like I learned a lot from this Learning Project, I think I could have learned more, specific skills had I narrowed my project down. This would be something to consider for next time.

I also recognize that it was a privilege to be able to do a project like this. Even though budgeting was a factor that I considered throughout my Learning Project, I realize that my $25/meal budget was still quite a bit of money, especially when I was doing it week after week. I recognize that a lot of people cannot afford the luxury of buying fresh produce and that canned/boxed food is a reality for many people.

It may have not always been a smooth learning experience, but I can definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing about progress openly in an online space. Through my Learning Project, I was able to learn from and critically analyze a  variety of online resources, I was able to share my learning progress openly through my blog and through Twitter, and I was able to receive feedback and support from my classmates. Overall, I’m glad that I had this experience again. Thanks for following my learn-to-cook journey!

Crock-Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

To finish off my Learning Project, I decided to try out both a new recipe and a new kitchen appliance — I made homemade crock-pot chicken noodle soup.

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Pinterest had literally hundreds of different crock-pot chicken noodle soup recipes, which was handy, but also a bit daunting — it was difficult deciding which recipe to pick. I ended up choosing a recipe that was originally posted on the food blog Family Fresh Meals. This is a food blog that I have not used yet during my Learning Project, so I thought I would try it out. You can check out the recipe here. I did make a few changes. First, instead of using uncooked chicken breasts, I bought a pre-cooked whole chicken and shredded the meat ahead of time. This is a little trick that my mom taught me as a way to reduce the amount of work later on. Another change that I made was that I added some red pepper flakes to the soup to give it some spice.. I did this because I bought unsalted chicken broth which my mom told me tends to be a little bland. I also altered the cook time of the recipe. The recipe says to cook the coup on low for 6-7 hours. However, I don’t have 6-7 hours to wait for my soup to cook because I am a student nearing the end of my degree and I have about a million papers and projects to do still. I found a handy slow-cooker conversion chart helped me figure out that if I wanted the soup to be done sooner then I needed to it on high for 2-3 hours instead.

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I have never used a crock-pot before, so this was a fun adventure. Using the crock-pot made the cooking process extremely easy. The prep work, which was basically chopping up vegetables, took about 10 minutes. Then all I had to do was plug in the crock-pot, put on the lid, and turn it on. That was the extent of the work that I had to do for three hours — I was able to let the soup cook while I did homework and I didn’t have to worry about checking on it. After three hours, I lifted the lid, poured in the noodles, cooked the soup for an additional 10 minutes, and voilà — my soup was done. Super simple.

The soup was delicious. And as a bonus, it was relatively inexpensive to make. For just over $20, the recipe made a enough soup to fill a 4L ice-cream pail — roughly a week’s worth of lunches for two people. Here’s the breakdown of how much I spend on ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Chicken – $8.97 for 1 whole chicken
  • Carrots –  $1.88
  • Celery – $1.47
  • Yellow onion – $0.98
  • Bay leaves – $1.99 for a package
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Parsley – $0 (had at home)
  • Thyme – $0 (had at home)
  • Chicken broth – $3.96 for 2 cartons
  • Noodles – $2.47 for a box
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Pepper – $0 (had at home)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)

Total Cost = $21.72

Working with a crock-pot was cool. I can see it being beneficial when I am a teacher because I would be able to put the ingredients in the crock-pot in the morning before I left for school and come home to a fully-preparing meal at the end of the day. I am looking forward to exploring more crock-pot recipes — let me know if you have any favourites!

 

Boomerang and Buttermilk Waffles

After the breakfast casserole fiasco last week, this week I decided to follow through with my original plan which was to also learn how to make homemade waffles using my mom’s new waffle iron.

A few weeks ago I found a recipe for homemade buttermilk waffles on Pinterest. The recipe was originally posted to the food blog Sprinkle Some Sugar, which you can check out here. If you already have a waffle iron at home, then this recipe is rather inexpensive. There are only eight ingredients — most of which are basic, everyday items that you usually have lying around at home. Following this recipe, I was able to make four large waffles, which was perfect for my family of three. However, if you were cooking for a larger group, I would recommend doubling the recipe. Here’s a breakdown of how much I spent on the ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • All-purpose flour – $0 (had at home)
  • Baking powder – $3.12 for a 225 g container
  • Granulated sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Vanilla extract – $0 (had at home)
  • Butter – $0 (had at home)
  • Eggs – $4.82 for a carton of 18
  • Buttermilk – $4.53 for 2 L

Total = $12.47

This was my first time using the new waffle iron, so it took a few tries to produce a really good-looking waffle like the one in the picture above. For example, the recipe that I followed said to use about ½ – ¾ cup of batter per waffle, but because the waffle iron that I used is so large, that wasn’t enough batter to cover the entire iron. As a result, the first couple waffles came out slightly deformed. After some experimenting though, I found that 1 cup of batter per waffle was the best ratio to use with my waffle iron.

 

Aside from a few weird-looking waffles, this recipe was awesome — one that I would definitely make again. The waffles were light and fluffy but had a rich, buttery flavour. They were a big hit with my family. If anything, I would add a splash more vanilla to the waffle batter to make it a touch sweeter, but that’s just me being picky. There was also very little prep involved, so the recipe was super simple to make.

 

 

Lately, I’ve been trying to find new ways to demonstrate and document my Learning Project progress. Last week I used iMovie to create a Tasty-like tutorial video for the breakfast casserole that I made. While iMovie was quite easy to navigate, the whole experience of video editing was a disaster (you can read more here) — worrying about recording my Learning Project took the fun out of cooking. This week, I tried out Boomerang. Boomerang is a free app that shoots a burst of 10 photos and turns them into a mini video that loops back and forth. What I like about Boomerang is that it provides a simple but unique and creative way to document events and experiences. All of the videos that are included in this post I shot using Boomerang. You can check out all of the Boomerang videos that I made for this recipe on Twitter!

 

The Breakfast Casserole That Took A Hundred Hours

The theme of my Learning Project this week: breakfast.

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Photo credit: Riverside 

So far in my Learning Project, I have mainly learned how to make different main course meals like shepherd’s pie, vegetarian lasagna, beef and broccoli stir-fry, and spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs. I’ve also done a bit of baking. However, after Shania commented on one of my blog posts, I thought I’d branch out and learn how to make different breakfast foods. I wanted to try two different recipes this week, but I only ended up making one (but more on that later). The breakfast recipe that I did make was a sausage, egg, and hash-brown breakfast casserole. The recipe that I used I found on Pinterest, but it was originally posted on Gimme Some Oven — a food blog created by Ali Ebright. You can check it out here.

This casserole was delicious — it combines the yummy breakfasts foods that we all love into one, warm, cheesy dish. How can you go wrong? Both my brother and my mom said that it was my best dish so far. It was also quite inexpensive to make. I was able to make a 11×7 casserole dish for only $12.64 — under my $25/meal budget, plus we had leftovers! Here’s the breakdown of how much I spend on the ingredients:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Italian sausage, hot – $5.99 for 1 lb
  • White onion – $0.98 for 1
  • Minced garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Red bell pepper – $2.10 for 1
  • Eggs – $1.60 (I bought a carton of 18 for $4.82 and I used 6)
  • Milk – $0 (had at home)
  • Hash-browns – $1.97 for a bag
  • Shredded cheese – $0 (had at home)
  • Black pepper – $0 (had at home)

Total = $12.64

This week, I also decided to demonstrate my learning in a new way — rather than taking before and after pictures, I created a video that shows the process of me actually making the breakfast casserole.  I tried to model my video after the Tasty videos made by BuzzFeed. I’m not an expert videographer by any means, but I’m pretty proud of how the video turned out:

 

Here’s the thing: although the recipe was fantastic, the process was a nightmare. This recipe should have taken 50 minutes — 15 minutes for prep, and 35 minutes of cooking time. However, it took me over 3 hours to make this dish because of the videotaping! Like I said, I’m not an expert videographer. Because I was modelling it after the Tasty videos, I had to pause before and after each individual step to take a video so that I could piece them afterwards. I also often had to retake the videos because I messed up a step, or because someone coughed in the background, or because my cat decided that he wanted to make an appearance in the frame. It was very frustrating, and it took the fun out of cooking .

After I finally finished making the casserole and had shot all of the videos, I had to figure out a way to piece it all together to make one, complete video. This was also a disaster. I should clarify — I have never created a video on my own before using a video editing tool/app. We had talked about different video editing programs in class, so I first decided to try YouTube Editor. That was a mistake. First, I had to download all of the videos from my phone onto my laptop which took almost 45 minutes in itself. Then, sadly, I discovered that you have to upload every video individually to YouTube first before you can use YouTube Editor. Needless to say, I quickly nixed that idea and instead decided to try iMovie. I don’t have the program on my laptop, but my mom has it on her iPad. So, I had to send all of the videos from my phone to my mom’s iPad, save all the videos individually to her iPad, and finally, two hours later, I could begin the editing process.  iMovie was actually quite easy to figure out and use once I got the hang of it (and thanks to a few tutorial videos like this one). I’m sure it would have been easier on a computer, but I think the final product turned out well considering. My only criticism is the size and shape of the video — I took all of the videos while my phone was vertical, not realize how it would impact the final product. This is something that I can fix next time, though.

My plan was to also learn how to make homemade buttermilk waffles, but after this video-making gong show, I decided to save that for another week. Does anyone have experience making videos using video editing programs like YouTube Editor or iMovie? Do you have any tips/suggestions? I’d like to try making more videos, but I want to simplify the process.

A Healthy Twist on Spaghetti and Meatballs

Over the weekend, on kind of a whim, I learned how to make spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs — a healthy twist on a classic pasta dish. Up until this point, the meals and snacks that I have learned how to make I have planned out in detail ahead of time: first, I decide on what I want to make that week, then I spend quite a bit of time researching, trying to find a quality, but easy-to-follow recipe. Then, before I go shopping, I look through my fridge and cupboards, making a list of all the ingredients that I need. And finally, once I have all the ingredients, I start cooking. This meal, however, was very spur-of-the-moment. I was in the middle of grocery shopping with my mom when I across a Tasty video for spaghetti squash and turkey meatballs. I showed my mom the video and her response was “That looks delicious, you should try it!” So, we bought the ingredients, we went home, and I started cooking. That was that.

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti squash – $4.13
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Salt – $0 (had at home)
  • Pepper – $0 (had at home)
  • Marinara sauce – $1.47 for one jar
  • Ground turkey – $12.00 for 2 lbs
  • Parsley – $3.00
  • Onion – $1.97 for a bag (I used one)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan – $0 (had at home)

Total = $22.57

Overall, this meal was rather inexpensive (and under my $25/meal budget) compared to some other dishes that I have tried during my Learning Project. I did spend a little more than the $19 that the recipe says it will cost, but that’s because I ended up buying and using 2 lbs of ground turkey instead of 1 lbs. There are a few reasons why  decided to double the amount of turkey:

  1. There was a sale on ground turkey at the grocery store — 2 lbs for $12 as opposed to $7.50 per pound.
  2. My family is very busy during the week with work, school, sports, activities, etc. As a result, we often do a lot of cooking on the weekends so that we have lots of leftovers to eat during the week instead of having to worry about cooking every night.
  3. My brother loves meatballs — they’re one of his favourite foods. So, I knew that if I was going to make meatballs, I should make a lot of them.

I should note that I did not double the amount of spaghetti squash, only ground turkey (and in turn, some of the spices used to make the meatballs). Instead, I also made a pot of rice so that when the spaghetti squash was gone, we could eat the leftover meatballs with rice. By doubling the ground turkey, it made enough for dinner for my mom, my brother, and I, plus leftovers. If you were going to make the original recipe with the proper amounts of ingredients, I would say that it would be enough to feed two people.

Preparing this meal presented a few challenges/learning opportunities. First, spaghetti squash is an ingredient that I had never cook with before. It was a bit of a learning curve learning how to gut it and cook it, but it actually ended up being super simple to prepare.  Second, trying to follow a Tasty video to make this recipe was not easy. For those who don’t know about Tasty, it is a cooking video channel made by BuzzFeed. The thing is, there aren’t people talking in the videos, explaining how to make the recipe. There are actually no words at all — just a time-lapsed, sped up video of someone working through the recipe. Seeing as how I first learned about this meal through the video, I wanted to challenge myself by only following the video when making the recipe.  You can check out the video that I used here.

However, after re-starting the video about a hundred times because it was going so fast and I couldn’t keep up, I finally turned to the written recipe that accompanied the video. As a new chef, I’m still not completely comfortable in the working in the kitchen, and the video just stressed me out even more. I found it so much easier to use the written recipe because I was able to work at my own pace instead of having to rush to keep up with the video. Here is how the meal turned out:

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Overall, I thought the recipe was mediocre — I found it a bit underwhelming. The meatballs weren’t my favourite. It’s not that they were bad, they were just lacking something, although I’m not sure what that something is. It could have been that there were discrepancies between the recipe in the video and the written recipe; the written recipe that I followed didn’t call for paprika like the video did, so that could explain why the meatballs were a bit bland. I really enjoyed the spaghetti squash though. I was nervous at first about how it would turn out because the uncooked spaghetti squash smelled kind of like pumpkins, so I was worried that I would be eating pumpkin-flavoured pasta, but it actually tasted really good. And, once it was covered in the pasta sauce, you could barely taste the spaghetti squash at all. Has anyone made turkey meatballs before? If so, what do you add to them to give them flavour? I’d love to give them another try.

I’m noticing that at this point in my Learning Project, I’m starting to have fun when I’m cooking, and I’m feeling more adventurous in the kitchen. At first, cooking felt like a chore. This week though, I decided to try this recipe on a whim, unsure of how it would turn out, and I ended up having a lot of fun making it, probably because it wasn’t so planned and structured like all of my other meals. We’re almost half-way through the semester now. I’m hoping that over the next few weeks I can continue to grow as a cook and improve my cooking skills. Stay tuned!

Beef, Broccoli, and Bananas

Yesterday was Family Day, a statutory holiday here in Saskatchewan, and in honour of Family Day, I wanted to make dinner for my family. For supper, I ended up making a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry (I also did some baking, but more on that later).

I have been looking for a good beef & broccoli stir-fry recipe for awhile now. Beef & broccoli is a dish that I knew I wanted to learn how to make at some point during my Learning Project because it is one of my favourite Asian take-out dishes and I thought it would be neat to learn how to make a homemade version. It just so happened that I came across a recipe for a beef & broccoli ramen stir-fry on Twitter a few days prior to Family Day. The recipe was posted by Chungah Rhee, author of the food blog Damn Delicious. I decided on this recipe in particular for two reasons:

  1. I have used Chungah’s blog as a resource before when I was learning how to make pasta (and I connected with her on Twitter afterwards). I find that her recipes are always clear, simple, and easy to follow, which I appreciate as an amateur chef.
  2. Most of the beef & broccoli recipes that I looked at used rice. This recipe, however, called for ramen noodles. I have never worked with ramen noodles in a dish before (other than the instant Mr. Noodle bowls), so I thought it would present a challenge having to work with a new, unfamiliar ingredient.

Shopping for the ingredients for this recipe was very frustrating — I had a hard time finding some of the ingredients. For example, the recipe calls for refrigerated Yakisoba noodles, which are basically just a brand of ramen noodles. I checked three separate grocery stores and had no luck. I even tried a local Asian grocery store (which was a little out of my comfort zone, and it made me uncomfortable that I was uncomfortable, so I had to evaluate my privilege) where they finally told me that refrigerated Yakisoba noodles do not exist in Regina. Great. So, I ended up buying no-name instant ramen noodles instead, having no idea how they would work in the recipe.

Shopping for the ingredients was also frustrating because it ended up being very expensive. Up until now, I’ve lucked out with my recipes because my mom has had a lot of the basic ingredients that I’ve needed at home. However,  this recipe calls for a lot of oils and sauces which I didn’t already have at home like rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, and Sriracha. We also ran out of honey, so I had to buy a jar, which I discovered is like a bazillion dollars (okay, $8, but still). Here is the breakdown of how much I spent on this meal:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Ramen noodles – $1.20 (I bought a box of 24 packages for $4.80 and used 6 packages)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Beef – $16.38 for 2 lbs
  • Broccoli florets – $3.99 (I bought a bag for $7.98 and used roughly 1/2)
  • Sesame seeds – $0 (had at home)
  • Rice wine vinegar – $4.18
  • Sriracha – $2.98
  • Sesame oil – $3.28
  • Soy sauce – $1.88
  • Honey – $7.97
  • Beef broth – $0 (had at home)
  • Brown sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Minced garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Cornstarch – $0 (had at home)
  • Ginger – $0 (had at home)

Total = $41.86

Aside from the cost and my shopping frustrations, I have to say, this meal turned out great!

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The finished product — complete with sesame seeds.

My mom and brother collectively rated it a 9.75/10. Their only critique was that there was not enough broccoli, and I agree. I ended up doubling the amount of beef and noodles because I wanted to ensure that I had a lot of leftovers for the week, but I had trouble estimating the amount of broccoli that I needed. I used roughly 1/3 of the bag, which seemed like a lot when I was washing it, but compared to the beef and noodles, the broccoli ratio was definitely off. This was a quick fix though. To make sure there was enough broccoli with the leftovers, I simply stir-fried more broccoli in a separate pan and then added it to the beef and noodle mixture after it was done. I also made a slight modification to the recipe. I’m still not good at predicting how a certain ingredient is going to affect the overall taste of a dish, but my mom informed me that one tablespoon of ginger seemed like a lot, so I halved it, which I think was a good call because you could still taste the ginger but it wasn’t overpowering.

Overall, this is a recipe that I would definitely cook for my family again because of how easy it was. Plus, now that I have most of the basic ingredients, it won’t cost me nearly as much to make next time.

16807217_10154326871237393_2912163514471367280_nI also attempted some baking on Family Day. We had some overripe bananas in the house, and since I’m all about saving money in this project, my mom suggested that I try to find a recipe where I could use the bananas so they wouldn’t go to waste.  In the end, I actually found and tried three different recipes using the bananas. And, the best part: since I had all of the ingredients at home already, it cost me absolutely nothing to make these three recipes! This kind of made up for the fact that I was almost $20 over-budget with the beef & broccoli recipe.

First, I made two different types of banana bread — a regular banana bread and a double-chocolate banana bread. I found the recipe for the regular banana bread on a food blog called Eating on a Dime, which is another blog that I have already used in my Learning Project. The other recipe I found on Pinterest, which was originally posted to a blog called Just So Tasty. Both recipes said to bake at 350, so I tried to be efficient by baking both banana breads at the same time.

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Prior to going in the oven.

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This made the timing a little tricky — one recipe said to bake for an hour and the other recipe said to bake for 45-55 minutes. As a compromise, I baked the breads for 50 minutes and did a toothpick test to check for done-ness. For my first attempt at baking, I’m very proud of how the banana breads turned out; they looked delicious and tasted even better! In fact, my brother asked if I could start baking all the time (no offence, mom).

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The finished products. 

While the banana breads were in the oven, I started prepping for my third recipe: baked banana oatmeal cups. I found the recipe on a baking blog called The Merchant Baker. This recipe appealed to me because it’s a quick, convenient breakfast idea, and I often don’t have enough time in the mornings to eat before I leave the house which is a) not healthy, and b) dumb because then I’m starving at school. In addition, aside from the sprinkling of chocolate chips on top, the recipe is quite healthy which also appealed to me.

This recipe has very few ingredients and very few steps, so the prep work was extremely easy. I was a little worried about how the recipe would turn out as the batter was quite liquid-y after I combined the milk mixture and the oat mixture. However, the recipe assured me that this was normal, and sure enough, the oatmeal cups turned out just fine.

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The finished product. 

If I was going to make these again, I would add a touch more vanilla or cinnamon — something to give the oatmeal cups a bit more flavour. They were good, but a little bland I thought. Also, something that I noticed was that, depending on the size of the muffin tin, the cooking time varied. I used two different sizes of muffin tins, and the batter in the larger, deeper tin took a few extra minutes to cook fully.

In total, it took me about three and a half hours to make all four recipes.  One thing that I think I need to improve on as a cook is balancing my time in the kitchen — I’m not good at multitasking. According to New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman, there are four stages of teaching yourself to cook, and I am very much so in stage one: following recipes slavishly. For example, while making the beef & broccoli stir-fry, I followed each individual step one at a time — I started by making the sauce, then boiling the noodles, then cooking the beef, and finally combining all the ingredients and cooking everything together. Looking back, I realize that I could have saved time by doing multiple steps at once. I’m also really cautious in the kitchen because I don’t want to screw anything up — at one point while I was making the banana breads my mom laughed at how slow I was going because I was following the recipes so exactly. I wonder if I will get better at this with more time and experience in the kitchen?

Perfecting Pasta

The theme of my Learning Project this week: pasta.

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Photo Image: Jasmine via grazeme.com

The reason why I wanted to learn how to cook pasta is because pasta is such a versatile food — not just in the type of noodles you can buy but in the types of pasta dishes you can create. Pasta dishes, for the most part, are also relatively quick to make — pasta is an easy meal to whip up after work. I wanted to expand on the one, boring pasta dish that I knew how to cook (read: spaghetti and store-bought tomato sauce) and see what other pasta dishes I could learn. To help me decide what pasta recipes to try, I took requests from my family: my brother requested “anything with shrimp”, and my mom asked that I try making a vegetarian lasagna.

My brother’s request for “anything with shrimp” didn’t give me much direction, but I ended up picking a recipe for spicy parmesan shrimp pasta which I found on the Damn Delicious — a food blog created by Chungah Rhee which focuses on quick and easy meals for the everyday home cook. Here is the breakdown of how much I spent on this meal:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan cheese – $0 (had at home)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Brown sugar – $0 (had at home)
  • Soy sauce – $0 (had at home)
  • Red pepper flakes – $0 (had at home)
  • Shrimp – $10.63 (I bought a 1.7 kg bag for $31.99 and used roughly 1/3)
  • Penne – $1.88 for a box
  • Green onion – $0.21 (I bought a bunch (6) for $1.28 and used one)

Total = $12.72

On my Learning Project blog from last week, my ECMP 455 classmate Randi commented with some cost-effective cooking tips that I took into consideration when buying my ingredients this week. Randi suggested trying to buy my ingredients, especially the protein, in bulk whenever possible, so I bought the shrimp that I needed for this recipe from Costco. Overall, the bag of shrimp was more expensive then it would have been at another grocery store, but because I bought such a large bag, I was able to freeze the shrimp that I didn’t use and save it for another meal. So, in the big scheme of things, I ended up saving money (thanks, Randi!). I also had most of the ingredients for this recipe at home, so, overall, I didn’t spend much at all.

In terms of cooking, this recipe is super easy to make. I left the shrimp out to thaw during the day on Friday while I was at school, and Friday evening I washed the shrimp, took the
tails off, and made the marinade. Then, I left the shrimp to soak in the marinade overnight in the fridge.

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The shrimp soaking in the marinade (olive oil, Parmesan, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, & red pepper flakes).

Aside from that little bit of prep work, the whole meal took me 20 minutes to make on Saturday afternoon.  I had never cooked shrimp before, so that was a bit of a learning curve. According to the recipe, the shrimp are cooked when they turn pink, but to me, they always looked a bit pink, so I had trouble telling when they were done and had to sample a few to find out (which I’m not complaining about). Aside from that minor blunder, though, man, was this recipe delicious.

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The finished product.

Because the recipe is so easy to make, I was a little uncertain of how it would taste. But, it was incredibly flavourful and had a nice kick to it from the red pepper flakes. A word of caution: If you’re not a fan of heat, I would cut down on the amount of red pepper flakes — a little bit goes a long way. I used the amount the recipe called for and it was very spicy. My brother loved the dish, as did my mom and I, but sadly, he only rated it 8.75/10 because he wished that I used spaghetti noodles instead of penne noodles (thanks, bro.).

The other pasta dish that I attempted this week was a vegetarian lasagna. While I was researching a recipe, I was surprised to learn just how many different types of vegetarian lasagna there are. The recipe that I ended up choosing I found on another food blog called Eating on a Dime (which I found convenient considering the stipulations of my Learning Project).  Unlike the spicy Parmesan shrimp pasta recipe, I had to buy most of the ingredients for the vegetarian lasagna, so the meal ended up costing me a little more than anticipated:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Lasagna noodles – $3.85 for a box
  • Mushrooms – $1.56 for an 8 oz. container
  • Zucchini — $2.04 for two small zucchinis
  • Green bell pepper – $1.53 for one
  • Onion – $0 (had at home from when I cooked Shepherd’s pie)
  • Garlic – $0 (had at home)
  • Olive oil – $0 (had at home)
  • Pasta sauce – $3.97 for two 24 oz. jars
  • Basil – $0 (had at home)
  • Ricotta cheese – $6.28 for a 500 g container
  • Mozzarella cheese – $6.98 for a block
  • Eggs $0 (had at home)
  • Parmesan cheese – $0 (had at home)

Total = $26.91

When I started cooking, I was a little worried about how this dish would turn out. The recipe calls for two jars of pasta sauce, which is normal, but unlike a traditional lasagna,

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My soupy sauce.

there is no meat in this recipe to absorb some of the sauce, so when I was putting the layers of the lasagna together, it looked a bit soupy. The lasagna was still soupy when it came out of the oven, which made me even more worried that I had screwed up. However, the recipe calls for the lasagna to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, and I learned that there is a reason for that — the sauce sets during that 15 minutes, so the lasagna ended up being quite firm when I went to cut it.

Another thing that I was worried about was that, without meat, there would be no substance to the dish.  That did not end up being a problem, though. The lasagna was full of flavour and it ended up being quite filling with all of the vegetables — you honestly didn’t even miss the meat. In fact my mom rated it a 9/10 and said that she enjoyed it more than a meat lasagna.

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Right before going in the oven.

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The finished product.

That being said, if I were to make this recipe again, there are a few things that I would change. First, I would try sautéeing the zucchini by itself for a few minutes before adding the other veggies because the zucchini was still a bit firm in the lasagna. Second, the recipe called for a box of lasagna noodles, but I only used nine, so I ended up throwing out the rest which was really disappointing and a big waste of money. The recipe also seems quite adaptable, so if I were to try making it again, I would try adding other vegetables like spinach, squash, and maybe even some grated carrots.

Again, these were two meals that I was able to make for under $50 (less than $25 a meal), and we had tons of leftovers which will last us early into the week. However, the prices that I’m quoting for the meals don’t include the basic ingredients that I already have at home.  So, while these meals may be cost effective, they would cost more if I were living on my own. One thing that I’m starting to realize from this project is that when I move out, I’m going to have to put money into stocking my fridge and cupboards with basics, everyday ingredients like spices, condiments, etc. In addition, I’m already starting to see that when I’m living on my own it might be worth it to cook several large meals over the weekend and freeze the leftovers for lunches and suppers during the week. While cooking at home initially might be more expensive than eating out, the fact that I’m able to cook one meal and have leftovers from that meal saves me money in the long run.

With the February break coming up, I’m hoping to do a lot of cooking. Any suggestions on what I should try next? Let me know in the comments!

Cost-Effective Cooking

I really didn’t know how to start my Learning Project. Last weekend I did some initial research and started sifting through recipes to try and figure out how I wanted to structure my project, but I was so overwhelmed by the number of cooking resources available online that I couldn’t decide what to cook first. My boyfriend and I had plans for supper Tuesday evening, and that’s how I finally got started. One of our favourite restaurants is Earls, and every time we go we both order the Cajun blackened chicken. I thought that for my first meal, it would be cool to try making a homemade version of this dish for our dinner.

After deciding on what to cook, I turned to Pinterest to find a recipe. I love Pinterest, but I do admit that it can be a bit daunting. For instance, while I was browsing, I typed in “Cajun chicken recipes” and literally hundreds of different recipes came up — it was hard to know which one to pick. However, one of the neat features of Pinterest is that you can rate a recipe that you have tried and leave comments or tips which other people can view. As a newbie chef, I find this feature very helpful because I can read what other people have to say about a particular dish before I try it for myself.

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I ended up choosing a recipe for baked Cajun chicken breasts that was originally posted on galonamission.com — a food blog created by Chelsea Haga. In addition to the chicken, I decided that I would make mashed potatoes (because they are my all-time favourite food) and green beans as sides.

Next, I went shopping for my ingredients. As I mentioned in my first Learning Project post, one of the factors that I want to take into consideration during this project is cost, so while I was shopping, I kept track of how much I was spending on all of my ingredients. One of the big things that I noticed while I was shopping is how expensive spices are — I had to buy a jar of paprika for my recipe and it cost me over $6. Luckily, my mom had most of the spices and herbs that I needed for the rub at home. Overall, for this recipe, I ended up being a little over the $25 budget that I had set for myself; however, if I had to buy the majority of the Cajun spices, I would have been way over budget. Here’s the breakdown of how much I spent:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts – $16.08 for 6 large chicken breasts
  • Green beans – $2.40
  • Potatoes – $5.97 for a 10-lbs bag (I used roughly a third of the bag)
  • Spices – $6.19 for paprika; everything else I had at home

Total = $30.64

The actual cooking went relatively smoothly — the recipe was clear and concise making it easy to follow. I did, however, have to make a slight adjustment to the recipe. First, the recipe that I was following was for baked Cajun chicken, not blackened Cajun chicken. Blackened chicken is the result of a quick cooking over very high heat.  This is a technique that I have never tried before, so I found a short YouTube video that taught me how. It ended up being very simple — basically, before putting it in the oven, you have to sear the chicken in a smoking-hot frying pan for one minute on each side to char the spices from the rub.

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Prior to blackening


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While blackening

 

Overall, I was very pleased with how the meal turned out — the chicken was delicious (my boyfriend gave it an 8.5/10)! I did make the rookie mistake of forgetting to take the chicken out of the freezer ahead of time, so I had to wait close to 45 minutes for the chicken to thaw before I could start cooking. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it did add extra time to the meal prep, so we didn’t end up eating until really late. It was worth the wait, though.

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The final product

As I mentioned before, this meal ended up costing more than $25; however, after supper, we had enough chicken leftover to have three more meals over the next few days, so I got my money’s worth.

I also ended up trying out another recipe last week. I had a ton of leftover mashed potatoes from my Cajun chicken meal, so my mom suggested using the extra potatoes to make a shepherd’s pie. Since I’m trying to be cautious of cost during this project, I liked the idea of being able to turn the leftovers from one dinner into a whole other meal, so I decided to try it out. While searching for a recipe, I came across a website called Simply Recipes, founded by Elise Bauer. The recipes posted on the website are neatly organized into categories. I conveniently found the shepherd’s pie recipe that I used in the “budget” category. The recipe was very budget-friendly; I had most of the ingredients at home, so I hardly had to spend anything:

Cost For Ingredients:

  • Potatoes – $0 (I used the left over mashed potatoes from my previous recipe)
  • Onion – $1.97 for a 3-lbs bag (I used one onion)
  • Butter – $0 (had at home)
  • Ground beef – $8.50 for 1.5 lbs
  • Mixed vegetables – $2.97 for a 1 kg bag (I used half a bag)
  • Beef broth – $0 (had at home)
  • Worchestershire sauce – $0 (had at home)

Total = $13.44

This recipe was super simple to make — there was very little to it! I did make one tiny adjustment to the procedure: I cooked the beef separately in order to drain the fat that was released before mixing with the veggies (a little tip that I got from my mom).

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I made shepherd’s pie for dinner for my family on Friday night, and everyone really enjoyed it. All in all, I think it was another successful meal. What I liked best about the shepherd’s pie recipe was how inexpensive it was to make — I liked that I was able to save money by using the leftovers from a previous meal. In addition, the recipe was large enough that, after supper, we had extra shepherd’s pie leftover!

 

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Right out of the oven


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The final product

In the end, it cost me $44.08 for the full two meals that I made this week. I set a goal for myself of $25 per meal, which means that I was under budget, and I had leftovers from both meals. I’d say that’s pretty cost-effective cooking.

Now I’m looking for my next cooking project. For starters, I have created a “food board” on Pinterest where I have started to pin different recipes that I come across that I think are interesting and might want to try throughout my Learning Project. Do you have any go-to favourite recipes? Share them with me in the comments!

 

Learning Project 2.0

For my major project this semester I have chosen to tackle the Learning Project…again!

For those who don’t know about the infamous Learning Project, the purpose of the assignment is to learn a skill that is significant and complex using online sources (i.e. videos, text resources, podcasts, etc.) and to document and share learning progress openly in an online space. I had the opportunity to do a Learning Project when I took ECMP 355 last year in spring semester (check out my project here), and I enjoyed the assignment so much that I have decided to do it again — this time in ECMP 455. That being said, after much deliberation, I have decided that for my Learning Project 2.0 I am going to learn how to cook!

Let me start off by saying that I’m not a terrible cook — I can work an oven or a stove-top without burning the house down. However, my cooking skills are quite limited in the sense that I only know how to cook a few, very basic dishes like spaghetti with store-bought pasta sauce and, my signature, pan-friend chicken with a side of Minute Rice. 32029451061_85c921e18e                                     Photo Credit: guiapopular Flickr via Compfight cc

Cooking is something that I’m really interested in (fun fact: cooking shows are a guilty pleasure of mine) and have always wanted to get better at, I’ve just never put in the time or effort. Though, now that I have 40+ available for this project, I finally have the time to learn. Over the course of the semester, my goal for my Learning Project is to simply increase my cooking skills so that, by the end, I can make more than just pasta and one kind of chicken. However, there are a couple factors that I want to consider during my project: cost and nutrition.

I currently live at home, so I have the luxury of not having to worry about buying groceries. I often don’t have to worry about cooking for myself either — my mom typically makes meals for my family. However, I am in my final semester of university and don’t plan on living at home forever. Once I have a job and am living on my own, I’m going to have to be conscious of how much money I am spending on things like food. That being said, budgeting is something that I want to consider during my Learning Project, so I am going to focus on learning budget-friendly meals that I can make for under $25. In addition, while I’m not a health-nut, eating healthy is relatively important to me, so I’d also like to focus on finding nutritious meals that I can make.

Please follow my Learning Project journey on my blog and on Twitter. Time to get cooking!