Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is It Possible to Make Dinner for $1?

That used to be my goal when I got my first job and was just feeding myself.  Obviously that was quite a while ago, and it was a goal I could usually meet.  My dinner was not a lavish three-course meal, but it did include a main dish and at least one side dish. 

Most of my kitchen experiments were bland because I grew up with bland: meatloaf, hamburgers, boiled chicken and brisket   However, I did try to make Egg Foo Yung, the oddest dish I’d ever eaten before I left home.  It was exotic and strange yet somehow familiar.  My date had ordered it at a restaurant and gave me a bite.  I recognized an egg taste, but only later did I discover what it actually was--a Chinese omelet filled with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, sliced cabbage, scallions and water chestnuts.  Maybe there was some kind of meat in it.  I don’t remember.

That first year on my own I tried making Egg Foo Yung, using the recipe in my new Joy of Cooking.  Judging by the notes I wrote in the margin, it was not a success.

But I was on the right track for making a meal for under $1.  Eggs may be the cheapest protein in the supermarket.  Today a plain two-egg omelet can cost about 35 cents.  Add a bit of cheese, part of an onion and a few mushrooms and you’re up to 75 cents.  Throw in a baked potato and you’ve reached your $1.

(Clockwise from left): Chopped Onions, Cheddar Cheese, Mushrooms

(Top): Cooked Mushrooms  (Bottom): Cooked Onions
Easy Two-Egg Omelet – serves 1 (adapted from Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room)   
2 large eggs  
Dash salt  
Dash black pepper  
1 teaspoon olive oil  
Possible Fillings:   
1 cup mushrooms, sliced and sauté
1/4 cup onion, chopped and sautéd  
1/4 cup ham or leftover meat, chopped 
1/4 cup grated cheddar or jack cheese  
If you plan to have a filling, prepare it before making the omelet.  
Choose a frying pan at least 7 inches wide at the bottom, preferably with slopping sides so that you can slide the omelet right out onto the plate.  It’s important that the omelet doesn’t stick while it’s cooking, so use a nonstick pan if you have one and be prepared to slide a metal spatula under the omelet as it cooks to keep it from sticking.  
Break the eggs into a small bowl and mix lightly with a fork just until the whites and yolks are combined.  Add dashes of salt and pepper.  
Heat the oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat.  Tip the pan so that the oil covers all the inner surfaces.  When you think the pan is hot enough, flick in a bit of water.  If it sizzles, the pan is ready.  
Pour the eggs into the pan.  They will begin to cook immediately.  Use a metal spatula to lift the edge of the already cooked portion to permit the uncooked egg to run underneath.  Tip the pan to speed this process.  All this should happen in about 30 seconds.  
When the top of the omelet is still slightly runny, sprinkle on any filling.  Then fold the omelet over on itself, using a metal spatula, to make a half-moon shape.  Transfer it to a plate and serve immediately.

For easy-to-make recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"

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