Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Gabriella tells you how to make your regular takeout order at home.
American Chinese food is incredibly good at inspiring nostalgia.
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Every time I see a white takeout box and a menu with poorly photographed photos of food, I start to reminisce. I think of how date night with my high school boyfriend usually involved going to our local mid-level restaurant for General Tso's chicken. I get a little misty-eyed about the place in Boston (with metal bars protecting the ordering window) that'd serve my college friends and me steaming hot scallion pancakes at 3 AM.
But it's easy to forget how the food can make you feel -- an MSG hangover is no joke. So avoid it -- and save some money -- by making your favorite takeout dishes at home. Chinese grocery stores are also one of the best places to shop on a budget: you can stock up on all sorts of sauces, pickled things, and fun snacks with minimal damage to your wallet. Just make sure you pick up chopsticks and fortune cookies to complete the meal.
Asking me to pick my favorite food is like asking me to pick my favorite person. That said, dumplings are definitely in my inner circle. And they're easy to make when you start with pre-made dumpling wrappers. Make a savory filling from fridge vegetable scraps, or throw in some ground pork or chicken if that's your thing. Steam them if you want to, fry them if you're like me. Serve them with Deb's Simplest Dumpling Dipping Sauce: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil, and a small clove of garlic. If you have some sticky rice around and want a more substantial meal, try your hand at Shu Mai.
Fried Rice Fried rice is how you clean out a fridge correctly: Cook up some finely chopped leftover vegetables. Add leftover rice and some diluted soy sauce, let cook together for a few minutes, and then push it all to the side. Crack an egg in the pan, and once it begins to set, mix it into your rice. Top with sliced green onions and extra soy sauce, and eat it when it's just out of the pan. If you're feeling fancy or need to whip up an impressive last-minute meal, try Jean-Georges' Ginger Fried Rice.
Lo Mein Thirschfeld makes stir-fried noodles seem easy -- because they are. Follow his lead and you'll have a steaming plate of noodles with endless variations of vegetables and protein in no time.
Bok Choy, or Chinese Cabbage, is an affordable alternative to other leafy greens like kale or chard. Cook it up with a ton of ginger and garlic and use it to top rice for a light and flavorful dinner. Meanwhile, green beans can get treated two ways: heavy on the garlic or dry-fried and spicy. And scallion pancakes count as a green, right?
Tell us: what are your favorite American Chinese dishes to make at home?
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).