Recently, I’ve often found myself surprised by the fact the most edible thing I have in my fridge is olives. Then, I find myself surprised by my surprise when I realize I’ve been living off of the Cheetos and Gardetto’s my mom sent me a few weeks ago.

So, I decided to go grocery shopping.

I think all grocery stores close to campus rip off students who have no other alternatives, but to varying degrees. I truly think the University of Wisconsin should start a student-run grocery store co-op located on campus that conforms to the flexibility of students’ desire to purchase in small quantities while allowing them to purchase goods at wholesale prices. Business students, I’ll leave that for you.

If you’ve ever been to Woodman’s, or any other store more than a mile away, products (both fresh and otherwise) are significantly cheaper. That being said, I don’t really trust my moped to make it more than 10 minutes from my house and carrying multiple bags of groceries on it would challenge even the most coordinated person (even with my super sporty milk crate on the back). Nevertheless, I manage, and you can too.

This is a shameless plug: my grocery store of choice is Capitol Centre Market. Located at the corner of Mifflin and Broom, it provides convenience without all the added costs of being right on University Avenue. If you have a car, however, your most economical option is still one of the larger grocery store chains.

Capitol Centre has a very approachable, low-key vibe. The store is relatively small and does not provide many ready-to-eat food items, but for the purpose of buying groceries, it has most of the options of larger grocery stores at reasonable prices.

Additionally, they use FetchApp to make shopping interactive by allowing customers to build up points and redeem rewards. When comparing its cost to other stores, if I were to leave Capitol Centre with $30 worth of groceries, I would leave other comparable grocery stores on campus at $40 and Woodman’s at about $25. Obviously, it depends on what you’re buying. I don’t like that avocados are sold for more than a dollar, but I cope. End shameless plug.

One of my goals for this column is to teach people enough about cooking to go into a grocery store, assess the availability and cost of products and throw something together that looks and tastes good. If you feel like you’re not there yet, don’t be discouraged. It takes practice and the occasional failure to develop skill and make food without it taking two hours. But, you have me until then. Lucky you.

Let’s begin.

Steamed veggies and fish with (kind of) risotto

One of my favorite aspects of Capitol Centre is their fresh fish section. Though it’s extremely limited and they don’t always have product in stock, you can buy at least two servings of fish for anywhere from $3.50 to $7 depending on the fish. This dish is another one that can easily be prepared within a half hour. It does not contain any meat, so enjoy it with your pescatarian or vegetarian friends (like my sister who eats fish but still groups herself into the realm of vegetarianism).

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I chose to use yellow squash, tomatoes and spinach, but really any produce item in your fridge will do. After last week, you should all be produce pros. For fish selection, I chose cod because it was the only white fish available, but tilapia or any other similar fish would work just fine.

Finally, just a disclaimer, the “risotto” I’m going to walk you through is fraud risotto. Real risotto requires a lot of ingredients and a lot of time. But saying risotto sounds and tastes better than regular cheesy rice.

Ingredients for two:

One 10- to 14-ounce white fish fillet

1 cup risotto (or medium grain rice if you’re on a tight budget)

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes

1 large handful baby spinach

1 small to medium yellow squash

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese (don’t use the powdered stuff)

1 1/2 cups milk

3/4 cup water (or white wine)

2 garlic cloves

3 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons pepper

1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

In your medium pot add the risotto, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, water or wine, milk and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Bring it to a boil on medium heat because high heat will cause the milk to scald. Once the pot is boiling, turn the heat to low, cover the pot and cook the rice until it is tender (about 20 to 25 minutes). If at any point it looks dry, add a little water.

While the rice is cooking, cut your vegetables. Slice the tomatoes in half, slice the squash into moons or half moons and mince the garlic. I did all this with a butter knife (except I cheated by using pre-minced garlic). Preheat your medium pan for about 2 to 3 minutes on high, or until the pan is scalding hot. While the pan is preheating, lightly salt and pepper each side of the fillet.

Once the pan is sufficiently hot add the remaining olive oil and garlic. Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds and add the tomatoes and squash. Lightly salt and pepper the vegetables and continue sautéing for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until the vegetables start to develop a little color.

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Once the vegetables start developing color gently set your fish on top of them, cover the pan and turn the heat to medium. If you have any additional wine you can splash some in the pan before covering it.

Just a note: Fish is unlike meat in the sense it is much more fragile, so treat it as a delicate flower. Don’t move it around while it’s cooking and be sure to use a spatula when picking it up.

Steam the vegetables and fish for about 7 to 8 minutes, or until the fish is almost cooked. You will know this if it feels like it will flake apart. At this point add the spinach, re-cover the pan and turn the heat to medium. Allow the spinach to steam and the fish to finish cooking (it should flake apart).

At this point the rice should be cooked. Stir in the cheese until it’s melted and add any remaining salt and pepper to taste. If you want creamier rice add a little milk while melting the cheese.

Bang bang — steamed vegetables and fish with fraud risotto.

As always, let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions at [email protected].

That is all for now,
Chef Sogs