Words & Photos by Anson Yu
Recipe by Ed Bugia
Part 2 and conclusion to this recipe here.
For many of us, the 24-hour convenience store is an essential part of daily living. We go there on our way to work to get breakfast on the go. We stop by after work to pick up some beers and snacks. We rush over when we’re in the middle of cooking, and realize we’re out of vinegar, cooking oil, or soy sauce. It was one of those times while I was looking at this limited selection of basic groceries that I began to wonder: What would an experienced chef do if I were to challenge him to create recipes from the basic selection of ingredients found in these stores?
Before we proceed, I have to clarify that the point of this exercise isn’t about replacing your favorite supermarket and weekend market with convenience stores. Neither am I trying to do away with slow cooking and fresh food with short cuts and pre-processed food. But I want to show that one of the most important elements in cooking is imagination–that even with limited resources, one could come up with tasty meals using one’s creativity. Fellow DCF writer and chef Edward Bugia liked the idea of this challenge and was game to collaborate. We then set up two criteria for the recipes: First, it would have to be easy to do in your own kitchen. Secondly, each dish would use no more than five ingredients that you can pick up in a convenience store.
I was already thinking of recipes. Among those that I came up with was Japanese rice balls stuffed with corned beef or tuna. Another was a shakshuka-inspired dish made with spaghetti sauce and poached eggs. Admittedly I was basing my recipes on what I read in food magazines or saw on cooking shows. Which is why I was glad to be working with Chef Ed, whose judgment and experience would decide whether a recipe would work or not. While he shared my enthusiasm for this project, he wisely curbed mine to wait and see what was available at the convenience store that day.
Upon entering the store, we put on our thinking caps. We scanned the shelves to see what were available, and ideas and recipes were brought up and threshed out. We then refined and edited our ideas further ‘til we narrowed it down to three recipes that fit our criteria. So we got a basket and began filling it up: canned tuna, instant noodles, eggs, catsup, corn chips, canned chili, sliced bread and canned chili.
Back at Ed’s kitchen, the ingredients were subdivided according to recipes, prepped and photographed. We began first with my idea for the shakshuka. Chef Ed felt that instead of using spaghetti sauce, why not turn it into chili instead and make it into a shortcut version of the huevos rancheros? It was as simple as opening a can of chili on an iron skillet and the poaching eggs in it.
Since the convenience store didn’t stock Mexican tortillas, we flattened sliced bread with a bottle and grilled it lightly with butter. This dish was so quick and easy to do that in less than ten minutes we were back in the dining room taking pictures of the first dish we prepared.
Then came the crucial part which was tasting. At the first bite, we smiled at each other. It was good! It tasted like we slaved over the stove for hours just to prepare this dish. This dish was good enough to be served to friends or family as an elegant brunch dish.