Cheap Lo Mein

A picture of sesame oil.
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I’ve never been a fan of making Chinese food.   It always seems to involve ingredients I don’t stock and several hours of prep work.   It’s not usually worth the hassle.   Several months ago, I began to notice that, when we went out for Chinese, all of my kids had the same favorite dish: lo mein.   It would be nice to be able to have the dish without having to pay restaurant prices, so I did some research and came up with a quick, easy, and cheap recipe for lo mein.  It takes 3 dishes and 20 minutes.

Lo mein has 3 components: noodles, sauce, and the rest.

Noodles

I use spaghetti noodles.   I leave them a bit al dente, because they will spend some time in the hot lo mein sauce, which will cook them a bit more.  1 box of noodles is enough for two meals for my family of 5.

Sauce

  • Chicken broth, 4 cups
  • Rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons
  • Sesame oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Red pepper flakes to taste, about 1 teaspoon
  • Soy sauce, 1/4 cup
  • Sugar, 1 teaspoon

Mix it all in a bowl, then wisk until the sugar is dissolved.  Nuke until hot.  I do this while the wok is heating up and the noodles are cooking, so the pepper flavor has a better chance to blend with the liquid.

The Rest

  • Sesame oil
  • Minced garlic
  • 1 Onion, cut to whatever size you like
  • Protein, chopped
  • Vegetables, chopped
  • Ginger powder, to taste

Chop everything first.  When you start cooking, you will be busy cooking, not prepping.

Get the pan hot.   Splash in some oil, then toss in the meat when the oil is hot.   I usually use chicken, but any meat you like–or even no meat at all–will work.

When the meat is almost completely cooked, add the onions and ginger.  Stir constantly.

When the onions are barely translucent, start adding the vegetables, in the order they will take to cook.    You can use any vegetable you want.   Broccoli, carrots, and peas work well.  Whenever the grocery store has a sale on stir-fry vegetable packs, we stock up for about $2/bag.   Just defrost  ’em before you start cooking, so it’s possible to chop them up, and they work great.   Otherwise, any vegetables you have on hand will work.   Add them, and stir constantly.

At some point, toss in a spoonful of minced garlic.  When depends on how much garlic you want to taste.  The earlier you add it, the tamer the flavor.

When it’s all cooked, spoon in some lo mein sauce and toss to coat.  Remove from heat.

Serve

Spoon the rest of the sauce over the noodles and toss.  You will have extra sauce, so don’t add it all at once.   You want the noodles coated, not floating.

Combine the noodles with the stir-fry and serve.

If you buy the noodles, vegetables, and meat on sale, this meal costs about $10 to make.  Like I said, that’s two complete meals for 5 people, 3 of whom have adult appetites.  The rice wine vinegar and sesame oil aren’t cheap, but you don’t use much, so the cost per meal is negligible.

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Taco Seasoning

A few weeks ago, Edward at If You Can Read, You Can Cook sent me a jar of his taco seasoning to try.

Yum.

He’s got four flavors:  hot, medium, mild, and sweet cumin.  Since I’m the only one in my family who likes spicy food, I asked for the sweet cumin.

This is a jar of pure taco flavor, without any of the burn.    Tacos, burritos, omelettes, or Rice Krispies,  nearly anything could benefit from a dose of this stuff.

Seriously, we’re done with the little paper packets from the grocery store.  From now on, Edward is getting our taco seasoning business.   We do large batches of tacos 2-3 times a month, so I’m looking forward to trying the other flavors, too.

http://www.ifyoucanread.com/if-you-can-read-you-can-cook-taco-seasonings-original-page-2/ I was not compensated for this post, other than getting a free jar to try.  It’s just good.

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Negotiating Superstar

Recently my son asked me for some money.

This isn’t rare.

He asks me for money on a regular basis.  He’s kind of greedy some days.

This time, however, he asked what he can do to earn some money.  Now, since I live in Minnesota and have the dog and we had the sixth snowiest winter ever this year, all my dogs little shoe-bombs have been buried for the last six months. It started snowing in early November and  as of this writing, on March 25, I still see two inches of  snow covering every thing. Last week, we had a thaw and got to see the grass.  We also got to see the dog’s business all over the yard.

I told him that I would give him $10 to clean up the yard.  He asked if a friend could help.  I said yes.  Then he asked if they would have to split the money or if I would be paying them $10 each.  I said that I’d be getting the same amount of work done, so they should split the $10.

He didn’t like the plan, so he negotiated his way up to getting seven dollars each.  Originally,  I was planning to pay $20, but got talked down by a friend.  I’d still be willing to pay $20.  What I’m trying to do is encourage him to start negotiating.  I am a lousy negotiator.  I want my kids to have better financial skills than I do.  I want them to grow up knowing how to negotiate and being comfortable negotiating.  That will make him a better financial adult.

So I encourage him. Sometimes I offer a lowball number and if he gets so upset walks away I ask him why he didn’t give a counter-offer.  If he just accepts a number that’s way too low,  or if his grandma offers him a shiny nickel to mow her yard, I tell him no. I tell him to reject it and offer something that he feels is more in line with what he would actually be doing.

Now, if I’m going to keep up these lessons I need to work on my negotiating skills too, so this is also a self-improvement game.

How do you teach a kid to negotiate? What resources are out there to teach yourself?

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Slow Carb Diet: How to Avoid Going Bat-**** Crazy

Space-filling model of the lipoic acid molecule

I received an email recently, asking “what kinds of things are you eating so that you don’t go bat-**** crazy?”

First, some background.

On January 2, 2011, I started Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb Diet and, as of 2/18/2011, I have lost 30 pounds. The first 11 or so were water weight, but I’ve still been losing 4-5 pounds per week.  This diet has a few—but only a few—rules.

  1. Eat nothing white.  That means no sugar(including fructose), no flour, no potatoes, no rice(even brown), and no milk(or any dairy).  Beer is white.
  2. Breakfast is high-protein.
  3. Cheat day once a week.  On cheat day, there are no rules after breakfast.
  4. Meals should consist of 40% protein, 30% vegetables and 30% legumes(beans or lentils).
  5. If you get hungry between meals, you didn’t eat enough at the last meal.

That’s it.  The rules are simple and don’t require that I refer back to the book for anything.

Here is a typical day for me on this diet:

For breakfast most mornings, I have 3 eggs and 2-3 sausage links.  I bought brown-and-serve sausages so this takes 10 minutes to cook in the morning.

On the way to work, I have a diet soda if we have any in the house.  If not, I skip it.  I like pop, but I’ve broken my caffeine addiction completely.

For lunch, I will either have leftovers from the night before or some stir-fry with beans and whatever protein is convenient.  I’ve been keeping pre-cooked brats(wurst, not kid) or polish sausages as a convenience food.

Several times a week, I make some stir-fry.  I use a basic, flexible recipe.

  1. Chop whatever vegetables are on hand.  We usually have onions, broccoli, a variety of peppers, and mushrooms.  If I have celery, asparagus, or almost any other vegetable.  Lettuce works poorly in a stir-fry.
  2. Put some oil in a hot pan.  I prefer sesame oil, but I’m not picky.  I’ll use whatever oil we have on hand.
  3. Cook the vegetables, stirring constantly.  Cook them in the order of how long they take to cook.  Onions are usually first.  Celery tends to be last..  While they are cooking, I sometimes sprinkle ginger powder over the top.
  4. If you are getting sick of eating beans, toss them into the stir-fry, cooked.  They mash and disintegrate, giving you the benefit and some flavor, without the mouth-feel.
  5. When the vegetables are cooked to your satisfaction, put them in a bowl.   They will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

I tend to cook the meat separately, as that lets me vary the meal more.  I’ll make some chicken or steak ready to toss in the stir-fry before I re-heat it.

I vary the seasonings, vegetables, and oil to get different flavors  I rarely make the same stir-fry twice.  The real trick to keeping the food satisfying is to experiment with seasonings.  They make a huge difference between bland and yummy. Seasonings can make or break a meal all by themselves.

If I don’t have any stir-fry or leftovers, I’ll bring some salad and a polish sausage. Most salad dressing is sugar-based, so I either go light on the dressing, or use balsamic vinegar.   I try to avoid doing this more than once every couple of weeks.  It’s boring and doesn’t taste that great.  It’s okay, but that’s all.

I try to always have cooked beans or lentils in the refrigerator.  They provide a significant part of my calorie intake.   Beans are kind of a necessity.  Vegetables taste better, but  are a low-calorie, bulky food.  You can’t stay full all day on nothing but lettuce.  Beans get old. I’ll usually toss a few spoonfuls of salsa to change the taste.  When I cook lentils, sometimes, I’ll cook it in beef broth with fried onions and garlic to make a tasty change.

For dinner, I have whatever vegetables we are cooking for the kids, a scoop of beans, and a protein that usually isn’t cooked for the family.

The protein source varies based on whatever was on sale when we went grocery shopping.  It can be steak, chicken, or anything else.  This week, we bought 16 chicken drumsticks.  We spread them out on a cookie sheet and seasoned them 3 different ways, just for variety.  Some got garlic salt, some got Italian seasoning, and some got a Greek rub.  After an hour in a 350 degree oven, we had a delicious meal.

If I feel a need for a snack, or a craving for sweets, I just take a spoonful of peanut butter.  It helps.

Exercise

I’m not doing any major form of exercise.  I wanted to test the diet on its own merits, first.  What I am doing is some timed exercises shortly before and 90 minutes after I eat, when I remember.   The exercises are resistance-based and 60-90 seconds in duration.  The purpose is to crank up my metabolism before the food gets introduced into my body, and then keep it up and running for a while afterward.

I use a mid-level elastic rehab strap, doubled-over twice.  I do 75 chest extensions about 5 minutes before I eat.   Most days, I forget to do them again 90 minutes later.  There are any number of other exercises that would work, including air squats or push-ups.

Supplements

I am not your doctor.  In fact, I am not a doctor in any capacity.  Similarly, I am not a nutritionist, a dietitian, or even a board-certified snake-oil salesman.  I have no qualifications here, in any way, shape or form.  Follow this at your own risk.

I take 5 supplements.

Policosanal.  This is an herbal supplement that is supposed to help with cholesterol, which is a helpful thing to do when you are on a low-carb, high-protein diet.  More importantly, a side effect is weight loss.  Hurray for helpful side effects!

Alpha-lipoic Acid(ALA).  This is an antioxidant that helps your body produce vitamins C and E.  It is also supposed to inhibit triglyceride and fat storage.  To quote from the book, “ALA helps you store the carbohydrates you ea in your liver as opposed to in fat.”

Decaffeinated Green Tea Extract.  This inhibits your body’s ability to store carbs as fat and it accelerates fat cell death.  The second bit means it should help prevent the rebounding so many dieters experience.

Garlic Extract.  This assists with cholesterol management and the inhibition of fat regain.

B Complex.  I take a B complex vitamin with vitamin C.  The B vitamins help balance out some of the things the rest of the supplement regimen does to cellular metabolism while giving your overall metabolism a boost.

I take the whole mess in the morning and again before bed.  Shortly before lunch and dinner, I take the ALA, green tea extract and garlic extract.

Ice

As a pure body-hack, I ice my upper back every night.  I have an ice-pack sheet that I place on my upper back for 30-45 minutes each night before bed.  This lowers my core body temperature, forcing my body to work harder to maintain 98.6 degrees.  That burns calories.  An additional benefit: getting cold makes you tired, which helps with my chronic insomnia.

This combination of factors has resulted in my losing an average of .7 pounds per day, without meaningful exercise.  It’s a violation of a number traditional dieting principles, but it’s working.  Is everything I’m doing necessary?  Useful?  Possibly not.  Over the next few months, I’m going to be experimenting with dropping individual pieces of the plan, to see if my rate of loss drops for any of it.

For now, it’s working, and doing so at a rate I like.   Dieting usually sucks, because the results are so slow.  This is much more satisfying.

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