Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Frost

We are expecting the first frost tonight here in Upstate New York and while I was outside all day picking and rescuing all of the basil and green beans I could, I was for the most part on the farm by myself.
For those of you not familiar, I am a member of a CSA and part of my share is produce that is too labor intense to be picked, so we have the opportunity to pick for ourselves. Sometimes the yield of certain crops is just so phenomenal in a particular season that the farmer will just open fields to everyone to pick unlimited amounts. Needless to say that that is an immense bargain right there, because you can truly pick to your hearts content and freeze anything that you can’t use right away for the winter months.
What is a bit strange is that in my experience with different CSAs over more than 10 years now, there is usually just a core group of members that will pick produce themselves, the rest never take advantage of this bargain. In my 200 member CSA - I would venture to say there are about 40 people more or less that will pick, and I think I am being generous here - the rest would rather not. Why? I have no idea!
And that brings us to a rather solemn point - whilst writing this there are literally 100s of pounds of green beans that will die tonight and the amount of basil that will freeze tonight would make enough pesto to supply all the restaurants of Manhattan for a month. Why does it have to go bad - I guess nobody really appreciated the amount of work and the resources that went into producing their share of basil and green beans - so they just let it rot…..

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vegetarian on the Cheap - The Book

After an extended summer hiatus - at least I have something to show for myself. Vegetarian on the Cheap - The Book is ready for takeoff. I will post the link for an e-book version as soon as I have it ready but I thought I give you a preview of what will be featured:

Here is the index:

Chapter 1: Introduction: Why “vegetarian”, How “on the Cheap?”
A brief outline of vegetarianism in all its incarnations, from the timid occasional vegetarian to the die-hard raw food vegan. Is being a vegetarian even healthy for you? How you can save money going veg, when chicken substitute is three times more expensive than actual chicken.

Chapter 2: The 10 Secrets of the Bohemian Vegetarian.
Pst - don’t tell - this could actually be fun. Where do we go wrong and how can we do better. All about seasons, being your own boss in the kitchen and getting out of cooking the same old budget zapping meals over and over.

Chapter 3: Planning: Where and How to Shop to recharge your Budget.
Shopping - a tutorial. You are on a mission, ditch your hubby, your kids and your chatty friend and get to shop well. The bulk food section, your place of worship.

Chapter 4: To eat, or not to eat - Which foods give you the most bang for your buck.
Whether we like it or not some foods are just healthier than others. Yes, even fruits and vegetables have their nutritional superstars, whereas others merely fizzle. Find the 15 most affordable veggie super foods, the 10 fruits not to be missed and the 10 most affordable protein sources.

Chapter 5: Ye old protein myth - or how you’ll learn to stop worrying and love tofu, tempeh and seitan.
Yes, I will try to get you to embrace seitan. Also, what to do with tofu and what on earth is tempeh? Where will you get adequate protein, that won’t cost a fortune but will taste great?

Chapter 6: Carbs - Not the Enemy? The best carbs for your cash.
Carbohydrates are good for you, as long as you indulge in the right ones. A hit-parade of the most delicious and affordable grains from around the world from amaranth, buckwheat and corn to wheat and wild rice.

Chapter 7: Love food - hate waste. How to properly store and preserve your food.
What a bummer that organic spinach from the farmers market committed suicide right in your fridge! What did you do to it? Nothing? That is exactly your problem! Learn once and for all how to store your food. We will look at which foods should never go into your fridge and which ones will be fine in there for months?

Chapter 8: “Organic? You gotta be kidding! I can’t afford that!” - Wrong!
In an ideal world we all would eat only organic foods, right? Wrong - some foods are actually always organic, even if the label does not say so, and others are a bargain even if they are not organic! Find out who is who.

Chapter 9: Rent-a-farmer: All about getting your veggies on the cheap. Do something amazing for yourself, your kids and the local economy all whilst getting your veggies 50% off. Here is how. Where to find farmer’s markets, local farms and buying co-ops, and why they are such an amazing deal.

Chapter 10: Crock pot - the best pot you’ve ever had!
This is zero effort cooking. In spring, fall or winter this inexpensive kitchen appliance never leaves my counter. Make elaborate meals in minutes and save in the process. Recipes and tips on getting cooking done, even while you leave the house!

Chapter 11: Putting it all together: How to save money immediately!
Let’s start right now. All you need is a pencil! Answer a few questions and fill out this chart, and you will be ready to plan out the next two weeks worth of eating vegetarian on the cheap. We will incorporate new foods slowly, shop with confidence and eliminate dead end shopping, working with what you already have at home.

Chapter 12: A sweat deal: cookies, cakes and candy.
You have to have sweets! Recipes for world-class cookies, homemade candy bars and easy bake muffins and such.

Chapter 13: Kinder-garden - how to get your kids to go veg!
15 tips on making this change easy on your kids - you may be in for a surprise, being a vegetarian is considered quite cool in the kindergarden to high-school world!

Chapter 14: Around the world in eight cuisines: become a spicy recessionista and make something out of nothing!
Pack you bags, we are going Indonesian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian, Moroccan and Caribbean, right in your kitchen.
Nothing screams “sophisticated” louder than exotic dishes from around the world. The big secret is that so many of them are super cheap to make. Learn about spices and how to make your own spice mixes in minutes, and impress your family and guests with flavorful meals that won’t make you smash your piggy-bank.

Chapter 15: Cosmetics, cleaners and the rest: Insane and Unheard-of Ideas to save.
Other ideas that can eliminate money hogs from your grocery list. The nitty gritty on cleaners, cosmetics and keeping you and your home clean for less.

So, I was able to go into depth in how we can really save some money - while being good to our bodies and to our planet. I have included a great number of recipes to get even the most timid cook started - all are no-nonsense no hard to find ingredients and no gimmicks recipes which get you well on the way - eating a varied, healthy and affordable way.
I am excited the book is finished and can't wait to hear some feedback!



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who would like a great Vegetarian Cookbook for 1 cent?

Book Review: Vegetarian Four Seasons - Rose Elliot

I have been meaning to write a review on this book for a long time - among all the cookbooks I own and have owned - I have to go through a purge every so often or they would take over my kitchen - this one is of the kind where the pages are splattered, the book is coming apart by the seams and yet I keep coming back to it time and time again.
Rose Elliot strikes an amazing balance between simple and elegant recipes and slightly more daring ones.
The photographs are amazing and very inspiring. I have found that I rarely use cookbooks that don’t have nice pictures in them, and the recipes I use most often are usually the ones that are featured in the pictures.
One of the best features of this book is that it is organized by seasons - so if you shop at your local farmer’s market or you are a member at a CSA this book really comes in handy.
Also quite useful are the full menus for special occasions, for example the spring section features suggestions for a Late Spring Picnic and the Fall section features a hearty full menu for a Halloween party for twelve.

Outstanding recipes include:

Mango and Cardamon Parfait
Salad Nicoise with New Potatoes and Scallions
Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Gratin
Spaghetti Squash with Gorgonzola and Walnuts
Pear and Almond Tart
Christmas Wreath with Cranberries - a great holiday vegetarian main dish

and many more.

And how can you buy this marvelous book for a cent you ask - well Amazon of course: Link

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What’s in season now: May & June

Gas prices are going up again - I know we all remember last summer too well - and immediately the price of produce creeps up as well. It pays off to shop local - the farmer’s markets are about to open in the Northeast and it also pays to shift over to recipes that use what’s in season now.


Fruits: apricots from California, first berries(careful), Florida mangos, citrus(end of season - careful), fresh figs, pineapples from Hawaii (end), cherries (end of month maybe! - really short season - so grab!)

Veggies: green beans, bell peppers (first), cucumbers, summer squash, celery, sugar snap peas, vidalia onions, asparagus (end - careful!), endive (end- careful!)


Fruits: Cherries (short season - grab!), berries, cantaloupe, apricots, plums

Veggies: green beans, bell peppers, carrots, beets, garlic, summer-squash, swiss chard, basil

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The trouble with flaxseeds and how to find a way to love them

By now I’m sure you have heard it numerous times: we should all eat more flaxseeds. They regularly are featured in the top ten lists of foods to include in a healthy diet.Their healing properties curing everything from constipation, arthritis, cramps, skin problems, heart disease and many other ailments are widely proclaimed. They are the single richest source of the ever elusive Omega 3s, contain lignans which function as antioxidants and also provide us with 60 other essential nutrients. However, the trouble is - they taste absolutely awful. When you chew flaxseeds they become somewhat mucusey and their overall taste is nothing to write home about.
Flaxseed oil is not too bad tasting - a bit nutty maybe, but if you want the full benefit of what flaxseeds have to offer you, the actual seeds are the only way to go. Ground up in a coffee grinder and sprinkled over oatmeal, granola or salad works quite well but is a bit boring. The absolute ultimate flaxseed recipe I have come across can be found in the Raw Food cuisine: Flaxseed crackers.
A lot of crackers claim to have flax seeds in them - which is usually in a forgettable amount and at that point absolutely useless since it has been toasted, baked or fried to high heaven, but RAW flax seed crackers keep the omegas and all the other nutrients intact and make an absolutely delicious powerhouse of a cracker.

They are featured in many raw food books and I have tried many different recipes but I think the simplest crackers - with just three! ingredients are the best.
The technique sounds a but complicated at first but once you have the hang of it you can whip up a two week supply in 15 minutes, which is the crackers other great feature -unlike other raw food concoctions these keep really well.

Raw Flax Seed Crackers:

You will need:

3 cups flaxseeds
½ cup sun dried tomatoes - soaked in hot water to soften - about 10 minutes
1½ tablespoons nama shoyu - or soy sauce - low sodium is fine I use the wheat free version

1. Grind about ¾ of your flaxseeds in a blender. They grind up very easily and a couple of pulses should do.

2. Empty your ground seeds into a bowl and mix in the un-ground seeds.

3. Blend the softened sun dried tomatoes - add a little of the soaking water and reserve the rest of the soaking water.

4. Mix the ground sun dried tomatoes with the flaxseeds and add the soy sauce. Stir and let sit for a couple of minutes. Because of the oil in the seeds the mixture will be quite gooey. You could also add herbs or garlic at this point, but that’s optional since they taste quite fantastic without any additions.

5. Meanwhile prepare your baking surface - if you have a dehydrator this is easy - if not an oven will do - just put it at its absolute lowest setting and leave the door propped open to lower the temperature. It should not go over 125º. If you have teflex sheets for your dehydrator, they work really well for this otherwise use parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper to line your dehydrator trays or cookie sheets and oil slightly with some quality oil - coconut, olive or flaxseed work well - use very little and spread over the paper with your hands or a brush.

6. Here comes the tricky and ingenious part - after doing this many times I found a way to make crackers so thin you can almost see through them. Using one oiled sheet (teflex or parchment) as a bottom spread a good handful of the dough and place a second oiled sheet on top of the dough. With a rolling pin - spread the dough evenly working towards the edges. Once you have a nice flattened square of cracker remove the top sheet - it will peel right off and place in the oven or dehydrator.

7. Repeat until all the cracker dough is used up. It will take anywhere between 5 to 12 hours to fully dehydrate your crackers - it depends on the humidity in your house, whether you use a stove or a dehydrator and also on your personal preference - some like a more flexible cracker others want theirs bone-dry. So experiment and have fun!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Love Food - Hate Waste!

How to store food is truly a science. Supermarkets spends billions a year to improve food storage. They know every head of lettuce that wilts before they were able to pass it on to you means money washed down the drain.
It is really frustrating to go through lengthy planning, careful choosing only to have to toss that unrecognizable heap of mush into the bin. I know I absolutely hate it.
It is estimated that the average American family throws away nearly $500 worth of produce a year.

What can we do to prevent you from having to throw out one more piece of fruit, vegetable or any other food item. Let’s look at storage and educate ourselves.

A couple of points to consider:

1. If you routinely throw out lots of food - you may be buying too much. Slow down at the store and try to make a plan before you shop. Guesstimating costs an awful lot of money.

2. In your plan-making, leave gaps. I don’t know about you, but I know that if my plans are not flexible they won’t work for me. A big part of cooking well and on a budget is all about using leftovers and there has to be space for these in your menu for the week. So leave some meals - lunches and dinners blank and that is where your leftover meals will fit.

3. Also make a point of positioning dishes that use produce items that spoil quickly at the beginning of the week. Example: it does not really matter whether you make a potato salad on Tuesday or on Saturday - if you do your shopping on a Sunday - but if you are planning on a spinach salad I would not want to wait all the way until 6 days later to eat raw spinach that is now clearly past its prime.

4. If in doubt how to store an item imagine where and how it was located in your local supermarket when you bought it. Onions will never be refrigerated and neither will be potatoes - how about green peppers, lettuce or broccoli? Close your eyes imagine - the answer for the above items was one: no refrigeration, two: yes three: yes - and that is how it should be!

5. The refrigerator is your biggest helper when it comes to food storage - but it has to be clean - and you have to see what is in it! If your fridge is so full that you have no chance of seeing everything you also have no chance of using all that food. A refrigerator should be cleaned once a week - yeah not a typo - every week before you go shopping you have to know what is still in there from last weeks shopping! So, everything has to come out - things that have to be used immediately go in a crockpot or soup pot and while you clean out the fridge - wiping everything down - takes about 15 minutes really - you can already put together your meal for when you get back from your shopping trip - convenient and cheap!

6. One spoilt apple will spoil the barrel! So true and not only for apples. There are people in the supermarkets constantly picking over the produce trying to pick out the rotten apples and such. Another reason to clean out your fridge once a week - germs spread and infect other food. Spoilage needs to be nipped in the bud.

7. Store bulk grains in airtight glass containers - old spaghetti sauce containers work great. Grain moths can be a rather persistent problem - store a small dried habanero pepper in the glass jars, but don’t forget to remove it before cooking otherwise you will have a spicy surprise!

8. Raw nuts - which are by far the best nuts your money can buy - should ideally be stored in the refrigerator. Make sure they do not become humid - you use container with a tight seal and buy only as much as you can use up in a month. Do not waste your money on broken nuts - they will almost always be all rancid and severely lacking in nutrients. Also nut flours are easily made in a blender - it literally takes seconds to grind up nuts.

9. Dried fruit can be kept in the fridge and stays fresh longer that way - zip-lock bags work great.

If we divide our fruits and vegetables in sections:

+ Always refrigerate

+ Never refrigerate

+ you could refrigerate - especially once fully ripened

+ ripens nicely on the countertop - in a brown bag

+ eat asap - won’t last no matter what you do

Let’s start with fruits:

Always refrigerate:

Apples - put in a bag - paper with a plastic bag inside, always choose apples that smell good and have no bruises - check on them often since one apple does indeed spoil all the others

Cherries - refrigerate immediately - and use asap - you only have a couple of days to enjoy them at peak flavor - and cherry season is horribly short!

Coconut - both fresh Thai and brown - should be refrigerated where they will last a couple of weeks - a bit less for the fresh ones

Grapes - should be refrigerated in plastic - but should be dry - wash them only immediately before eating.
 They can last for a week in your fridge

Never refrigerate:

Bananas - they will turn dark brown instantly - just arrange in a fruit bowl and buy at various stages of ripeness to have a constant supply - don’t throw out overripe bananas but freeze them for smoothies

Mango - never - it will kill the flavor

You could refrigerate: 

Citrus - if you are trying to make it last more than a week - otherwise it would be fine on your countertop

Kiwi - if you are trying to hold on to them for up to a month - otherwise they will be good on your countertop

Melon - if they are whole, refrigeration is optional - especially if they could use a little ripening - keep them on the countertop until they develop a bit of aroma (water melon excepted which will not have any scent) - then you can refrigerate, cut melon of course has to always be refrigerated and should be eaten asap

ripens nicely on the countertop - in a brown bag: 

Apricots - can be bought hard - will ripen on countertop - if bought ripe enjoy immediately or keep in fridge for couple of days - tops

Nectarines - can be bought hard and ripened at home - in a day or two - when fully ripe you can refrigerate them and they will last another day or two

Papaya - if you bought it green - leave on your counter until they have color and aroma then you can transfer them to the fridge where they will keep another couple of days, but should be used asap

Peach - same as with papaya - will ripen well on the counter in a brown paper bag - once you have the characteristic aroma you want to eat them asap - but you can refrigerate for another day or two

Pear - another one for the countertop - if you want to slow down the ripening process- refrigerate 

Pineapple - looks beautiful on your counter and that is where it belongs - until you get the wonderful aroma which could take a week or longer - then cut it up and store it in the fridge in a closed plastic container - it will pick up other aromas and will last only a few days

Plums - will ripen in a brown paper bag - once ripe they will keep in the fridge for a few days

Pomegranates can be kept at room temperature for a week or longer, but can also be refrigerated where they will last several months

eat asap - won’t last no matter what you do:

Berries: I know you can refrigerate the hardy blueberries or blackberries for a couple of days - but buy local, go crazy when in season and eat right away and stay away from all not local berries the rest of the year and go for frozen if you have a craving. Out of season berries - are simple tasteless and never worth the money. Never wash fresh berries until absolutely ready to eat and berries will never ripen after they are picked!


Always refrigerate:

Artichokes - up to one week - choose firm globes, stay away from opened leaves

Asparagus - couple of days tops - look for tight and dry tips and a bright, fresh green color throughout

Beans - string or snap - in a plastic bag, do not wash until you are ready to use them - if they are slightly wilted you may be able to revive them in a bowl with ice cold water

Beets - buy with tops only - cook with a bit of stem and cut only after cooking, to not lose the nutrients into the cooking water - use the greens like salad greens

Broccoli - stores well right in the plastic bag it came from the store - make sure there is a little moisture - like from the misting that happens in the store - keeps well for at least a week

Brussels Sprouts - keep well in the fridge for at least a week

Cabbage - will keep for many weeks in your fridge - when you don’t want to use the entire head of cabbage at once - it is worth to simple peel off the outer leaves and leave the rest of the head intact - the rest will keep for another meal that way 

Carrots - will keep in the plastic bag you bought them - if you bought ones with the top on - twist it off - it will draw the sweetness out of the carrots - and use carrots with green tops sooner - you can revive limp carrots in an ice bath

Cauliflower - store in the plastic bag it came in keeps well for a week and beyond - watch for black spots and use immediately if they appear

Celery - refrigerate - will keep crisp for at least a week

Celery root - will keep for many weeks in your fridge - in a plastic bag to keep in moisture

Cucumber - refrigerate only for a couple of days 

Eggplant - will store in plastic bags for several days 

Ginger - will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge

Leeks - will last a week or more - store dry in a plastic bag

Mesclun greens - will store well if refrigerated - however if you purchased them loose by the pound - transfer them out of the loose plastic bag into a plastic container - tupperware works - otherwise splurge on a mesclun mix in a hardshell plastic container and keep that for repeated use since it was designed by the growers to keep loose leaf lettuce, it does a fine job in keeping your greens fresh - always keep them dry and pick out any wilting leaves immediately

Whole lettuce heads - should be kept in a plastic bag and should be slightly moist - it will keep three to five days at peak freshness

Mushrooms - never store them in a plastic bag - paper bags only and add a slightly damp sheet of paper towel - use asap they really don’t last

Peppers - should last up to a week - dry in a plastic bag - wash right before use

Spinach - store in fridge right away - do not wash until ready to use, but even if stored perfectly you will only get a couple of days - so use it soon

Sprouts - parish quickly - store in refrigerator and use within a couple of days

Summer Squash - store in unsealed plastic bag

Swiss Chard - store in open plastic bag in the fridge - will keep for a week

Never refrigerate!:

Garlic - moisture is an absolute killer - keep it in a dark, cool place on your countertop - and don’t waste your money on the pre-chopped stuff

Winter Squash - unless it has been cut - store in a dry dark place and winter squash will keep for a couple of months

Tomatoes - never ever refrigerate! - even if ripe - it just kills the flavor - make gazpacho and salsa if you have too many ripe ones

You could refrigerate: 

Corn - but only for a short time and you should really eat it asap

Onions - some people recommend refrigeration others condemn it, I guess it depends on how good your storage is outside the fridge - you want a cool, dark, dry place away from potatoes and apples

Potatoes - other than the very thin skinned new potatoes - potatoes usually do not need to be refrigerated they should be kept in a cold, dark, dry place

And - that's all folks!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How about a really good burger?

Oat Tofu Burger:

Oats really lend themselves well to giving a meatless burger consistency.

You will need: (for about 10 burgers)

1 package tofu = 1 pound

½ cup steel cut oats
 - pour 2 cups boiling hot water over them and let sit until absorbed - about 1/2 hour
1 onion - minced
1 cup carrots - minced
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 egg (optional - vegans just omit or replace with a tablespoon wheat germ)
1 tsp oregano, marjoram, basil or a combination
2 tablespoons oil

1. Set up oats and meanwhile drain the tofu and crumble with your hands in a bowl - chop and add all other ingredients and shape into 10 burgers. For them to hold together well it helps to refrigerate them for half an hour especially if you don’t want to use the egg.

2. Brown your burgers in the oil and serve or store in the fridge for later. They are quite delicious eaten cold.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Organic produce, organic produce on the wall - who is the fairest of them all?

Our friends at the Environmental Working Group have updated their “Dirty Dozen List” of the most polluted and pesticide laden fruits and vegetables brought to you by the friendly and concerned folks at Mega Bucks Agriculture - so if you want to indulge and make sure you have the maximum exposure to pesticides please choose only from these twelve foods, and while you are at it work on your tan at noon not wearing any sun screen whilst sipping Coca Cola out of a PBA lined plastic bottle (which you will not recycle).
If you are one of us - however - and feel you should have some say in which poisons you will subject your body or your children’s bodies to - pay attention - you should be able to rattle off these twelve fruits and vegetables flawlessly even if I came to your house and woke you up in the middle of the night.
There are pediatricians and nutritionists out there who will go as far as recommending NOT to give any of these fruits or vegetables to your children ever, period!

I will give you the list at the end and the link to the full list can be found here, but for those of us who have been using this list faithfully for years after some research I was able to figure out what had changed.

Dropped from the twelve most contaminated list:
potatoes - dropped to #15

spinach - dropped to #14

raspberries dropped to #20.

Newly on the watchlist:

Kale!!! at #8 - way too high for my taste - and will be bought organically from now on

Lettuce - at #9 - not much of a surprise for me - has been on my private watch list forever

Carrots - at #11 - they just moved up from #13 so they were too close for comfort anyway - not such a big surprise and if you buy the big 5 pound bags the price difference between conventional and organic carrots becomes almost negligible.

Also, on the other side of the spectrum - the twelve safest fruits and vegetables - there was a bit of a shakedown - Broccoli, Cauliflower and Bananas, all were pushed out of the twelve least contaminated produce slots and seem now a little less safe at slots #13, #24 (!) and #21 respectively.

On the bright side - Pineapple - Cabbage and Eggplant have taken their spots.

Here are the lists:

Dirty Dozen: Most Pesticide Contaminated Fruits & Vegetables:

You should buy only organic: (from worst to best)

1. Peach
2. Apple
3. Sweet Bell Pepper
4. Celery
5. Nectarine
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Grapes - Imported
11. Carrot
12. Pear

and just for completion sake: if the money allows!

13. Collard Greens
14. Spinach
15. Potatoes (used to be much higher on the list)
16. Green Beans
17. Summer Squash
18. Pepper - (hot ones - I presume)
19. Cucumber - ( I usually buy the English variety - at least they come sans wax)
20. Raspberries

The consistently clean conventional produce - buy these non-organic: (from best to worst)

1. Onions

2. Avocado

3. Sweet Corn - Frozen

4. Pineapple

5. Mango

6. Asparagus

7. Sweet Peas - frozen

8. Kiwi

9. Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomatoes ( now if they only tasted like tomatoes…)

15. Sweet Potatoes ( great alternative for regular potatoes - cheaper and more nutritious)

Also, a quick reminder - know your PLU codes = Price Look-Up codes - that is the code that the cashier will put in before they weigh and price your produce. It will either be on the sticker, on the rubber band holding the produce together - like in broccoli bunches or sometime tattooed on the fruit itself.

PLU Code Type of Produce:

4060 4 digit code - conventional broccoli
94060 5 digit code starting with a “9” - organically grown broccoli

84060 5 digit code starting with a “8” - genetically engineered broccoli
( why do we worry about mouse genes in our oranges - well, it is all the rage in Europe… read up here)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Flexetarian Vegetarian Conundrum:

After being a vegetarian for almost 20 years I have been every kind of vegetarian you can think of.
From the occasional vegetarian - I guess that is how most of us started out - some teenage rebellion combined with a disdain for everything ordinary - I went through a couple of try-outs, that would go really well for a few weeks and than fall flat.
Than later came the ovo-lacto phase, which morphed into years of being a happy vegan, which morphed into years of being a happy raw food vegan to - right now.
Where am I right now? Well, to be quite honest - I am back to square one - being an ordinary ovo-lacto vegetarian. How did I end up back here? Not that there is anything wrong with being just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill kind of vegetarian, mind you!
The economy has a lot to do with it for me.
Going back to organic eggs and organic milk seems to be cheaper when in a severe crunch, and so a dedicated vegan is sent back three squares and becomes a regular vegetarian once again. At least for now.
Especially in winter - when produce is available to me almost exclusively in the supermarket or health food store - at a high price and so-so quality, I cannot imagine trying to be a raw fooder on a limited budget.
Now, I know that some of you manage it somehow - I would love to hear how you stick to your vegan, raw fooder or other guns in times of economic distress.
Comments anyone?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Who is ready for spring?

For all of you who are sick and tired of citrus, winter squash and collard greens - I am so with you on this.
I can’t wait for spring and thought it may be a good idea to peek a little into what’s to come.
March is a great month in the produce department because after three months of relatively little variety ( citrus, citrus, citrus and winter squash ad nauseum) new things are all of a sudden in season. It hasn’t quite happened in my local stores but for me the absolute indicator for the change of seasons and the arrival of spring are the aptly named “spring onions”.
So let’s see what we will be able to purchase for a reasonable price:


Fruits: pineapple, Mexican mangos, citrus (especially Valencia and Blood Oranges), rhurbarb

Veggies: spring lettuce, endive, artichokes, mustard greens


Fruits: pineapples from Hawaii, asparagus, avocado (haas), rhurbarb,mangos, first strawberries (careful!)

Veggies: asparagus, spring cruciferous - especially broccoli, first summer squash, spring onions (with green tops), garden peas, romaine lettuce, artichokes, new potatoes, spring carrots, spinach

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seitan Bourginon

This is a lovely recipe - which is simple, yet elegant and a cheap treat for yourself or when you have guests coming.
I will give you two variations - one is the quick approach - the other is the “no work at all since I am going to dump everything into the crock pot” approach. Either way very tasty!

For either version you will need for 4 servings:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 small onions peeled, 2 minced and two cut in fours

5 medium carrots roughly chopped in rounds

2 sticks celery roughly chopped

1 cup whole mushrooms - any kind will do - or omit if you are not a mushroom fan
1 cup leafy greens - kale, collard or spinach work well - or omit
3 cups homemade seitan - if using store bought - one tub will do
 if you need a refresher on how to make your own seitan check here
1 tablespoon tomato paste - diluted in ½ cup water or broth
or use canned crushed tomatoes ( which you will have to drain) about ½ cup total
2 cups potatoes quartered - or left whole of they are small

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 cup heavy red wine 

1 bay leaf - can be omitted or substitute dried basil, oregano or sage

3 cloves garlic - grated

1 teaspoon thyme dried - or ½ teaspoon fresh thyme

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped or omit but rather nice if you have it at hand

salt and fresh pepper

two tablespoons flour or instant mashed potato to thicken the sauce

Crock pot version:

1.Add all ingredients into crock pot, except for the fresh parsley and flour/ instant mashed potato.

2. Cook on medium for 6 - 8 hours. Add the fresh parsley and let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer into serving dish - draining some of the liquid. Thicken the drained liquid with some of the flour/mashed potato and mix back in with the rest of the dish. Serve with side of potatoes and wilted greens or a green salad.

On the stove version:

Can be cooked in under 30 minutes - and is still a great dish.
Adjustments to be made - you want all the veggies to be chopped finer.

1. In a steamer basket set the potatoes to steam over water.

2. Saute the onion, carrots, celery and garlic until soft and aromatic.

3. Add the drained tomatoes, mushrooms, seitan, parsley, spices and soy sauce and saute for another two minutes.

4. Add the red wine, and season with salt and pepper - cover and simmer for another 10 minutes over low heat.

5. Check on the potatoes - pierce with a knife to ensure they are soft all the way through - set aside and let cool.

6. Transfer the bourginon to a serving dish - draining the liquid. Mix the liquid with just enough flour or instant mashed potato to give it some substance then mix it back in with the veggies and serve with the potatoes rubbed in a bit of sea salt.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Insane and unheard of ideas to save money - Make your own deodorant!

The reasons why you want to make your own deodorant are many. Saving money seems to be almost trivial compared to the many health implications regular use of main stream brand deodorants has.
The aluminum chloride omni present in all the big brand deodorants has been linked to Alzheimer's and breast cancer and even though the industry spends billions of dollars trying to disprove any connection of their products with any bad effects on health - I remain skeptical. After all how thorough and truly truth finding can an industry sponsored study be?

Our friends at the Environmental Working Group point out a staggering array of chemicals in deodorants that promote endocrine disruption, allergies, mutation and growth of cancerous cells in the lab.

So, the answer would be to switch to the natural brands of deodorants proudly promoting their Aluminum hydrochloride free bliss - only two problems - first they are not all as wholesome as they seem - I was shocked to find Jason’s deodorants as one of the worst offenders in the EWG’s cosmetic database and of course even the good ones come with a staggering price tag.
Shopping for my son’s favorite deodorant at Whole Foods the other day - I simply could not stomach the $18.95 !!!! price tag and I had had enough. What are these magical ingredients that make up this 1.7 oz of elixir - is liquid gold part of the concoction?
Of course reading labels is always enlightening, amusing and infuriating all at the same time!

So, comparing three different brands Weleda, Dr.Hauschka, and Crystal,
the most common ingredients seem to be - not surprisingly - some form of alcohol, mineral salts - can you say table salt?, fragrance = a couple of drops of essential oils and lots of water.
So, here is my recipe for homemade deodorant - as always - experiment wildly and have fun creating your own!

Deodorant recipe - you will need:

Some form of alcohol
a spray bottle or reuse and old roll-on deodorant bottle

1. Some form of alcohol - just like for making perfume - vodka works well - you could even try flavored - I am sure citrus would give it a nice base tone. You don’t need a whole lot since you are going to cut at least two parts water to one part alcohol.

2. Salt - add a tiny bit of regular table salt - should neutralize the bacteria a bit, but salt is a very optional ingredient.

3. Fragrance - a couple of drops of essential oil - whatever you have at hand. You could produce you own - by squeezing citrus peel or infusing flowers or bits of spice in your deodorant - add a small dash of ground ginger or cinnamon - costs cents.

4. Add water - just enough so it will flow but not too much to make it runny - you will have to play around with it.

5. A nice addition which I use instead of alcohol is Thayer’s Orginal Witch Hazel Formula which has alcohol in it and works really well as a base. The Aloe Vera formula is very nice for sensitive skin.

6. All you need now is a bottle - The insanely expensive Dr.Hauschka deodorant at least buys you a reusable glass bottle that looks very nice and can easily be refilled. Most plastic bottles cannot be reused. In that case a little spray bottle should do.

Please check out the list of harmful ingredients in deodorants here. may be that will give you the inspiration you need to make your own.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No-Crash Risotto:

A quick and filling dinner - that doesn’t have to be expensive, and doesn’t have to make you feel heavy and drained of energy - Mushroom Risotto.
A big misconception about risotto is that you have to buy a special kind of rice to make authentic risotto and that it takes hours to cook. Yes, most gourmet chefs will go on and on about arborio rice being the only official risotto rice. In my opinion arborio rice, which is almost always white, is super starchy, extra expensive and nutritionally akin to bleached paper napkins kind of rice.
I have been super successful with short grain brown rice, which nutritionally is the only acceptable type of rice in my book and it is really not that expensive. It cooks beautifully to a nice creamy consistency in about 25 minutes and since it is not overly starchy it gives a nice “No crash risotto”.

The other ingredients of your risotto are highly seasonably adjustable. Mushrooms and leeks are some of my favorites.

No-Crash Risotto - for four servings you will need:

0.5 pounds short grain brown rice 0.5 lb @ $1.39 = $0.69
½ bunch leeks - can be two small stems or one thicker one = $1.20
1 tablespoon coconut oil or oil of your choice = $0.50
8 oz mushrooms, coarsely chopped = $1.50

1 tablespoon of dried porcini mushrooms - 0.02 lb @ $39.49 = $0.79
2 tablespoons of grated percorino romano - 0.04 lb @ $6.49 = $0.26 (or omit)
1 tablespoon soy sauce = $0.10
½ tablespoon dried - rosemary, sage, marjoram or thyme or use fresh if available + $0.05

Total cost for 4 servings: $5.09

1. In a large pot bring brown rice to a rolling boil with at least three times its volume of water. Use a big pot and be generous with the water. After it reaches the boil - turn down to a simmer and let it bubble for 20 more minutes with a lid that is slightly askew.

2. Reconstitute the dried mushrooms with about ½ cup of very hot water.

3. Wash the leeks throughly - two or three times if necessary - separating the leaves - they can trap quite a bit of dirt. Once clean cut into ringlets and lightly saute in a bit if oil. Add the soy sauce and the mushrooms - cover and let soften over medium low heat. About ten minutes. About midway through - add dried mushrooms with their soaking water.

4. Check on rice - it should have absorbed lots of water and be really soft and creamy. Make sure it does not stick and cook a little longer if necessary.

5. Once rice is cooked - mix with the wilted vegetables add some cheese and serve.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Essential savings tool: The address book

How many of you comparison shop? In these economic crisis times who can afford not to? One problem though is, that comparison shopping - which I whole heartedly endorse and practice - becomes a major mental exercise. The moment you spot a sale, you have to immediately recall what said item is going for in all your other shopping haunts.
I don’t know about you, but I often have trouble recalling exactly what a five pound bag of organic potatoes goes for in the health food store, so I could actually compare and see if the sale of organic potatoes per pound in the big chain supermarket is really such a good deal. And I only shop at two stores - health food store and big chain supermarket - which are conveniently located next door to each other. I know that some people actually run or more accurately drive from store to store picking up items here and there. I don’t know how they do it!
So, to take the mental exercise out of the comparing I have started using an address book. I know this is a little goofy - but it really works. You can find an address book for a dollar at the dollar store and you will make up that dollar the first time you use it.
Simply enter each food at the appropriate spot - designate one line per store - for me big chain supermarket prices take the address line, whereas health food store prices go in the phone # line, and take down quantity, price and maybe specifics such as organic - non-organic, sales price etc.

Surprises for me after using it for the first time:

Organic coconut milk is 25 cents cheaper per can in the health food store, than the non-organic one in the big chain supermarket.

The same brand potato chips in the health food store - are twice!! as expensive as in the supermarket, since the bag is almost twice as big - who knew - I just never noticed - there is so much air in these bags

Grated Percorino Romano cheese is $3.00 more per pound in the supermarket than in the health food store - and the one in the health food store smells, looks and tastes fresher!

Agave nectar is $1.00 cheaper per same size bottle in the health food store

These are just some of the revelations in the first couple of weeks of writing down prices. I am sure there are more to come...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Main Dish: Super Easy Bean Chili + Leftover Recipes!

I know you all have a favorite chili recipe. This is the bare bones version - a great way to stretch a budget and an awesome cornerstone for a whole week’s worth of dinner, dinner variations and lunches. After all, chili is not just a main dish, but also an ingredient in dishes such as tacos, fajitas, burritos and can easily be made into a soup. There are not many recipes that are that versatile.

Super easy Bean Chili:

 For about six servings you will need: Cost from $6.31

½ pound dried beans - prepared the Romanian way - or substitute two cans if you are in a rush = $0.90 for dried or $2.00 for canned

vegetable oil of your choice - $0.50

1 28 oz can tomato - you can used crushed, or whole peeled or sauce = $1.79

2 large onions - chopped roughly = $1.10

2 large carrots - diced = $0.35

2 green peppers - chopped ( can be omitted if organic green peppers are too expensive) $1.00

about two cups corn - frozen works well ( highly optional) $1.00

1 head garlic - cloves roughly chopped - or if you must substitute, one generous tablespoon garlic powder $0.37

1 small can green chilies or 1 fresh chili pepper - (believe it or not those are optional) =$1.25

1 tablespoon cumin = $0.10

1 tablespoon chili powder = $0.05

hot pepper - dried or liquid = $0.10

2 tablespoons salsa ( can be omitted - but rounds up the flavor nicely) = $0.25

fresh cilantro - really nice when you can add it, but optional = $0.50

Salt and pepper = $0.05

1. After you have prepared your basic beans or opened two cans of beans, chop onions, carrots and green peppers and gently sauté in two tablespoons of oil.

2. While your veggies are sautéing prepare your fresh garlic - roughly chop or finely grate with a cheese grater and add to the sauté. Move everything around - the garlic usually makes things sticky, and once you see the onion softening add a tiny bit of the tomato sauce.

3. In about half a cup of tomato sauce - dissolve your spices - cumin, chili powder, garlic powder( if you use it) and stir to dissolve - add to your saute and once stirred in, add the rest of the tomato sauce.

4. Add beans, corn and chilies and turn heat down to simmer. Let simmer for about 35 minutes. Mix occasionally, taste and add salt towards the end, also add hot peppers to taste.

Potluck variation chili:

When I take this recipe to a gathering of non-veggies, I usually add some sort of vegetarian version of ground beef to disguise my chili. Peoples jaws drop when after they lapped it all up they are told they just had vegetarian chili. So, to add extra protein you could use TVP- texturized vegetable protein - the best brand in my opinion is made by Heartline Meatless Meats - their products absolutely rock! You could also use their vegetarian jerky which they sell in little lunch box bags - they are under a dollar - the jerky cut into little strips would dress up any chili.

A more expensive option is ground beef style crumbles found in the freezer section by Boca Burgers or Ground Beef style quorn. But do keep in mind that none of these products are needed and they make this dish considerably more expensive!

Ideas for leftovers:

Leftover chili is awesome!

Leftover recipe 1: Burritos

You will need:

Leftover chili

One package whole wheat tortillas

½ jar salsa

Cheese of choice - optional of course

1. Heat oven to 375º. Heat up your leftover chili in a pan.

2. If you have an electric stove - rejoice - perfect for heating up tortillas - just heat on very low setting and then put the tortillas directly on the coils. Warning this is a major fire hazard - so watch them like a hawk and leave them on there only for about ten seconds. If you don’t have an electric stove, either omit this step altogether or heat up your tortillas in a pan over low heat for a couple of minutes. Basically, you want to heat them so they become nice and pliable and not to be ice cold straight out of the refrigerator. (Yes, I keep my tortillas in the fridge - they last longer that way)

3. Scoop some chili into each burrito, add some shredded cheese and a small scoop of salsa, roll up and arrange in a slightly greased baking dish our better yet in a large cast iron pan.

4. Use up all your tortillas and your chili - and layer your burritos in the pan. Top with salsa and some more cheese and put in oven for about 10 - 15 minutes. Not really to cook just to heat everything well through.

5. For my vegan friends - the cheese is absolutely optional - the meal tastes equally good without it - if you want to splurge on vegan cheese you can but it is certainly not necessary and a tad expensive.

Leftover Recipe 2: Bean Soup:

Takes minutes and is phenomenally delicious and filling.

You’ll need:

Leftover chili

1-2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes - or any style that is on sale - break down large chunks if necessary

1- 2 cups of basic beans - either prepared the Romanian Way - or canned

dried herbs

salt and pepper

Sorry I am a bit vague with the the number of cans of tomatoes and beans, but it really depends on the amount of chili you have left over. You want the chili - tomato ratio to be equal, maybe leaning towards the chili a bit. But again my recipes are merely suggestions, I am sure you can make a stunning soup that would be much heavier on the tomatoes.

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and heat.

2. Taste for seasoning - you probably will have to add - salt, pepper, and any dried spice (short of mint) should lend itself well - oregano, marjoram, sage, basil will all work well. You can add extra chili powder and adjust hotness according to your wishes.

3. You may top with a tad of shredded cheese - just before serving - for extra impact.

Cheap Vegetarian Food: Beans

There is simply no other food available that will feed you and your family as variedly, deliciously and cheaply as beans. I know some of you have some major reservation regarding the musical fruit - but cooking beans is certainly not the magic trick some people make it seem. With very little prep - how hard is it really to soak something overnight in water? - this should absolutely be an easy part of the way you eat.

To put is more bluntly - the more bean and lentil dishes you can cram into your weekly menu, the cheaper - and many times better, you will eat.

Beans come in two forms: dried and canned. Since we are talking affordability, dried beans are the better option - obviously. But canned beans do have their place. They are a great emergency staple - dips, main dishes, soups are all of a sudden available in a matter of minutes, whereas the dried beans do take some forethought. However, always keep in mind that money wise the canned bean manufacturers really charge for their pre-cooking services. Also, for those of us with delicate digestive systems, dried beans prepared according to the method explained below may be gentler.

Beans - the musical fruit:

Beans prepared poorly can be quite unpleasant. In my family we all have quite sensitive stomachs when it comes to beans and I have tried many methods of preparation, until I found a way to make eating beans an enjoyable part of a meal. Here is what I have found out:

A - Lentils are generally gentler than beans - they are a slightly different type of legume and are an excellent way to get started.

B - soaking is both easy and necessary. I don’t know why some people make such a big deal out of pouring a cup of beans into a larger cup with water.

It literally takes two seconds and I think the beans look like little jewels submerged in the water. It puts me in a good mood knowing that in a couple of hours time they will be ready to feed me and my family. Even though most people say you don’t need to soak lentils - I soak all legumes and would recommend you do the same, especially if you are a bean novice. I like to err on the side of caution. I find overnight soaking to be the most convenient. If you have to dash off to work in the morning - just change the water - and give your beans an extra soak - so they are ready to be cooked when you come back. But generally overnight is all the soaking that is needed.

C - we are all different when it comes to digesting beans - some lucky people never have a problem and others have to be more cautious. There is even a difference within different types of beans from person to person. Someone, who may have a harder time with black beans could chose to make a chili with Navy beans or lentils, because their digestion will be easier on them. I personally see very little difference when it comes to the taste of bean types - what changes is mainly color, shape and texture, when cooked. So substitute wildly and take advantage of sales. Chili for instance, can be made with pretty much any bean or lentil - the texture of the dish may change every so slightly, but the taste and nutritional profile will certainly remain unaffected.

Nutritionally they are all little miracles. Beans are packed with protein, contain impressive amounts of fiber, help lower cholesterol, help regulate blood sugar levels and contain a wide array of phyto nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Now comes the cooking. I call this the Romanian method - since I observed it first from my Romanian nanny, not paying much attention then, but when I heard it referenced again as the bean cooking method of Romanian peasants, I remembered 
it and so it shall be the “Romanian method”.

 The Romanian Method for cooking gas free beans:

 This will also work for lentils - but be careful not to overcook them or they will fall apart.

Basically all you need to do is gently boil the beans three times.

* First chose the amount of presoaked beans you want to make - you should make more, rather than less because they keep well in the fridge - which gives you access to instant beans just like from the can only for a fraction of the cost, and also if you make too much, beans freeze well. At most I would want you to have to prepare your basic beans only once a week.

* Combine your presoaked beans with a lot of fresh water - somewhere around 3 to 4 cups of water to every cup of bean.

* In a large pot over medium heat bring to a gentle boil - that can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes depending on your stove.

* Once boiling, turn off the heat immediately - and carefully drain your beans - rinsing off all the cooking water. Clean the pot well - scrub off any stuck-on foam and continue.

* Repeat the process - once again filling the pot with beans and fresh water in 3:1 ration and again over medium heat bring to a very gentle boil. Note: do not add salt. That will not help and leads to tough beans.

* Once the boil is reached, turn off the heat and carefully pour off the water - rinse your beans and repeat once more.

* Now we are at our last step - again submerge your rinsed beans in a generous amount of fresh cold water and bring them to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat down to a simmer. The beans should simmer covered for anywhere from 15 minutes for little lentils to 45 minutes for some heartier beans. Timing really depends on your stove and the freshness of the beans in question. Also if you will continue cooking your beans you can leave them just al dente since they will be exposed to more heat. Therefore the chart below is only a very general guideline.
The goal here of course is a creamy, soft bean that is neither mushy nor broken and certainly not hard or chewy. Practice makes perfect. It helps to take notes - so you will have your own magic bean formula for next time.

Now you will have a couple of cups worth of basic beans - some of which you can use immediately in your recipe of choice - the rest should be stored in the refrigerator to be used within the week, or frozen in one cup increments to be kept for a lot longer.

Bean chart: 
Soak all beans at least overnight. You can soak them longer, just change the soaking water every 12 hours and soak them in the refrigerator, when it is very hot so they don’t go sour. If little white sprouty buds develop at the end of your beans,rejoice, that means your beans are fresh and alive! Cook these sprouted beans extra gently and for a shorter time.

Bean name: approximate cooking time - after two times boil a la Romanian method

Adzuki Beans 30 minutes

Black-eyed Peas 45 min

Chick Peas 50 min

French lentils 35 min

Green lentils 45 min

Green Peas (Split peas) 30 min

Kidney Beans 50 min

Mung Beans 45 min

Pinto Beans 50 min

Red Lentils 20 min

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Easier than Pie! Make your own Granola Bars!

Why spend $2 or even up to $4 on granola bars with very questionable ingredients if you could make some that are actually nutritious, tailored to your taste and cheap?
Standard granola bar template:

A - Grain base: Most often rolled oats, but could also be puffed rice or millet or combination of grains. This accounts for about ⅔ of your granola bars substance.

B - Nuts and seeds - unless you are allergic - in which case you just omit - this is what gives the granola its nutritional value. All nuts are fine - almonds are always my favorite nutrition-wise. Suggestions: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds - all should be unroasted, organic if affordable and sugar free.

C - Fun stuff - that’s where the customization comes in - anywhere from chocolate chips to flaxseeds - you can either go sweet or nutritious - it is yours to chose. Of course you can also make compromises and add a little bit of junk and lots of good stuff. The list here is pretty long: shredded coconut, TVP(for extra protein), chocolate chips, carob chips, white chocolate chips, pretzels, yogurt covered raisins, bits of leftover cereal, mini marshmallows etc

D - dried fruit - again anything goes - if the dried fruit is a bit big chop down to about chocolate chip size - scissors work best. Suggestions: raisins, figs, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, apples, apricots etc

E - glue - otherwise know as sugar. Actually what you want is a combination of sugar or honey or agave nectar with a certain amount of nutbutter - peanut or almond work really well - tahini or sesame seed butter is really nutritious as well

F - flavorings: a touch of salt is essential to bring the flavors together, cinnamon, vanilla, orange zest all works well - for more unusual flavors try hot cocoa mix or paprika, sage and chili mix - Who says granola bars cannot have a savory flavor?

So, pick one or several favorites from each group and get mixing. The recipe I used is geared towards my son’s taste - notice the absence of dried fruit. Go ahead make your own and share your favorite combinations.

Granola Bars: makes about 20

3 cups rolled oats = $1.38
½ cup shredded coconut = $0.30

½ cup pumpkin seeds = $0.48
1 cup walnuts = $1.89
½ cup almonds = $0.79
¼ cup flaxseeds = $0.12
1 teaspoon sea salt = $0.05
1 teaspoon cinnamon = $0.09
¼ cup agave nectar = $0.64
¼ cup peanut butter = $0.68
¼ cup dark brown sugar = $0.03

Total for 20 granola bars: $6.45 or $0.32 per granola bar

1. Heat oven to 325º. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange oats, nuts, seeds and coconut shreds and toast for 15 minutes.

2. Combine the wet ingredients - agave nectar and peanut butter - with the flavorings salt, cinnamon - leave out stuff that would melt such as chocolate chips - and combine with the sugar - stir over a low heat until the sugar melts.

3. Combine the dry toasty ingredients with the guey ones and mix well. Spread out in a baking pan - so the mixture comes up about ¾ of an inch on the sides. If you like your granola bars thinner use a bigger pan or a smaller one of you like them chunkier. Press down well so there are no air pockets. Bake for 30 minutes.

4. After the baking sheet has cooled down completely - cut with a very sharp knife - pressing down with your weight to produce clean cuts. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Easy lunch or superfast dinner: Beans a la paprika:

This works with any bean white, black, lentils or chickpeas - it is quite addictive and if using canned beans, takes all but five minutes to prepare. How about for a quick lunch? Can also be assembled and eaten cold - if you have to bring lunch to work. Go easier on the garlic then or omit all together!

Beans a la Paprika - Total cost: $8.65 serves 3 ½ - or add another can of beans (no need to up the other ingredients) and for an extra dollar it will serve four comfortably. Of course this is a bit of an extravagance in the winter, when in summer this dish would easily be 2 or 3 dollars cheaper - but I had a craving!

You will need:

2 cans beans or equal amount prepared dried beans = $2.00
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes or if those are off season - 1 cup cucumbers chopped - or both! = $1.79 for organic cuke - ouch! plus $2.16 for the organic tomato - sigh!
1 onion - chopped finely = $0.55
2 tablespoons olive oil = $0.60
1 cup plain yogurt $0.90
2 - 3 cloves fresh garlic, or as much as you can handle and the people around you will let you get away with - it will not cook, so it will be quite strong - proceed with caution = $0.10

fresh parsley - only if you can get it cheap, otherwise omit - dried parsley is a waste of money in my opinion =$0.40
1 teaspoon - cumin seeds - if you don’t have seeds, powder will do, but you need to add it later - not directly into the oil or you will have a clumpy mess = $0.05
1 teaspoon paprika - kind of essential - if you omit, you will have to come up with a new name = $0.05
salt and pepper = $0.05

1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seed over low heat. When they start jumping and crackling immediately reduce heat and add the onions. Saute lightly until the onions soften. Add the chopped tomatoes if you are using them. If using cucumbers add them at the end. Add the drained and rinsed beans.

2. In a bowl mix yogurt with the freshly grated garlic (cheese grater works best) some salt and pepper and the paprika.

3. Chop parsley roughly and add to beans - this would be the point where you can add the cucumbers. Season with salt and pepper and stir to make sure everything is mixed and heated. Turn off the heat and fold in the yogurt sauce - again mixing thoroughly. Serve immediately with some crusty whole wheat bread.
This can easily be made vegan - simple omit the yogurt - obviously and use tofutti cream cheese or vegan sour cream.I for one am not a big fan of vegan yogurt, but love vegan cream cheese!

Monday, February 2, 2009

TVP Sheperd’s Pie

I love this one - it is quite heavy, but really filling and so affordable. It is not your standard sheperd’s pie - this one is really the deluxe version nutritionally speaking. A bit elaborate for a week day meal - although you could easily pre-prep all the way to step 9 - and then just pop things in the oven, but I actually see this more as a center of a Sunday meal, when you have friends or family over.
Regarding the TVP ( Texturized Vegetable Protein) - found in your health food store’s bulk bin - or slightly more expensive pre packaged by Bob’s Red Mill. I know some people are a bit hesitant about soy in general and TVP in particular. I think it cannot be ignored as a cheap protein source for vegetarians. I would not make it the only source of protein and I would not eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for months on end, but I think it is much smarter to buy soy protein this way rather than plunking down a fortune for meatless crumbles made by Boca Burger and company with a hefty 75% mark up. “Morning Star Crumbles” for instance goes for $3.99 for 12 oz - which means you would have to use at least two packages for this dish, turning it from a $9 into a $16 dollar dish. That is a bit much and the nutritional value does not change either way. Also chances are, you are consuming TVP whether you like it or not - it is found everywhere from burgers to power bars. Every time you read “soy protein” it means TVP.

Sheperd's Pie:

Serves six: Total cost: $8.94

You will need:

¾ pound of potatoes - scrubbed, but not peeled = $0.80
¾ pound of sweet potatoes or yams - scrubbed, but not peeled = $0.80
6 tablespoons vegetable oil of your choice = $ 2.00
1 large onion, chopped= $0.55
2 large carrots, chopped = $0.35
1 other root veggie chopped - parsnips, rutabaga, celery root ( or omit ) = $0.40
1 bunch leafy greens - spinach, kale swiss chard etc cleaned very well and chopped roughly = $1.69
3 cups dry TVP = $1.47

2 tablespoons ketchup - or two tablespoon tomato sauce with a teaspoon sweetener=$0.20
½ teaspoon salt = $0.05
½ teaspoon oregano ( you may omit one of these dried herbs if you are out - but try to use at least two) = $0.05
½ teaspoon marjoram = $0.05
½ teaspoon ground sage = $0.05
½ tablespoon garlic powder or 4 cloves fresh garlic - be generous here, you could even use a whole bulb = $0.18
2 tablespoons soy sauce = $0.20
2 tablespoons milk - any kind will work $0.05
1 tablespoon flour or potato starch $0.05

1. Preheat your oven to 400º. Fill a large pot with about 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile dice your scrubbed potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Put your cubes into a steamer basket and suspend over your boiling water - cover with a lid and steam for 10 minutes. Alternately, if you don’t have a steamer basket - just use more water and boil the potato cubes right in the water.

2. Submerge you TVP in twice the volume of boiling water and add the ketchup or tomato sauce - and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Cover and set aside.

3. In a pan saute the onion, carrots, root veggie in about two tablespoons of vegetable oil over a gentle heat. Drain the TVP and reserve the water.

4. Add the drained TVP and the remaining soy sauce to the vegetable saute and use about ½ cup of the TVP soaking water to dissolve all dry spices.

5. Add the spice water to the saute and grate your garlic and add that as well if you are using fresh. Make sure you have a nice simmer going, up the heat to medium if necessary and cover with the lid askew - you don’t want an airtight cover or your saute will dry up.

6. Check on your potatoes, pierce one with a sharp knife - they should be soft. Drain them or simply remove the steamer basket from the pot and put them laid out on a plate to let them cool.

7. Add your green leafy vegetables to your saute. Mash the cooled potatoes with the 4 remaining tablespoons of vegetable oil and the tablespoons milk - season with salt and pepper and set aside.

8. Check on your saute - the veggies should be soft - the greens wilted. Remove the greens from the top. Add a little flour or starch to the saute to thicken the water - stir and turn off heat.

9. In a greased, rectangle baking form arrange the saute veggies then top with the greens and finish with the mashed potatoes. Rake with a fork gently through the top layer of your mashed potatoes to form little peaks and valleys - makes the top look pretty.

10. Bake for 30 minutes until the potatoes have taken on a golden brown color. You can also broil for the last minute for extra browning - just watch it like a hawk.

Ideas for leftovers:

Leftover recipe: Croquets

You’ll need:

Leftover sheperd’s pie
 & oil

1. Preheat oven to 375º. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush with a high quality vegetable oil.

2. Basically you will shape little bits and pieces from your sheperd’s pie into croquets. Remember you are in charge as to what your croquets look like. There is no wrong shape here - and the taste certainly will not be affected by the shape or your croquets. With a tablespoon take a scoop of sheperd’s pie and with wet hands shape into a round or oblong small shape. Make sure that you have a bit of everything in your little ball - a bit of the veggie bottom and a lot of the mashed potatoes. The outside of your croquet should be mainly potatoes - with the veggies forming the inside. You may have to chop the leafy greens with some scissors - otherwise you may have long, dangly unruly strands. Arrange croquets on your cookie sheet.

3. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown - think Hash Browns for color.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Red Lentil Dal

Total cost for four servings: $5.92
Cost to transform leftovers into 1 soup and 1 dessert: $3.04

One of my absolute favorites. It cooks a lot faster than you would think and it is such an elegant dish. You can adjust the hotness by upping the amounts of spice.
Both the crushed tomatoes and the coconut milk are optional and either or. I usually add neither since the dal is creamy enough without them and use the tomatoes or coconut milk for transforming leftovers of this dish into an amazing soup.

Ingredients by order of importance:

1½ cups red lentils - about $3.29 per pound - for 0.86 lb = $2.83
1 onion - non organic yellow - $0.99 per pound - for 0.56 lb = $0.55
coconut oil - 1 tablespoon = $0.50
½ head garlic - non organic - $0.37 per head = $0.17
curry powder - 1 tablespoon - $15.95 per pound = $0.32
½ teaspoon salt = $0.05
guaram masala - ½ tablespoon - $18.99 per pound = $0.25
ginger, fresh grated - 1 tablespoon - $0.25
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes = $1.29 (optional)
or 1 13 oz coconut milk = $1.99 (optional)

½ pound brown rice, as a side dish - $1.39 per pound = $0.70

¼ tablespoon coconut oil = $0.25
pinch of cardamon = $0.05

1. In a pot wash the rice thoroughly and with about three times its volume in water set to boil.
2. After rinsing the red lentils, set with twice their volume in water and also bring to a boil.
3. Meanwhile, dice the onion and peel the garlic cloves and mix your spice with about 1 ½ cups water.
4. When the lentils are foaming turn off heat and carefully drain in colander in your sink and rinse. Turn down the heat for the rice to a slow simmer.
5. Over low heat melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil and saute the onion until golden. With a cheese grater grate your garlic cloves and add to onion. Keep things moving so nothing sticks. Add pre boiled red lentils and water with dissolved spices. Add another cup of water ( or the crushed tomatoes or the coconut milk instead), salt and grated ginger and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Taste to make sure lentils are very soft. The rice should be done as well by then - taste to make sure it is soft. Drain the rice and mix with ¼ tablespoon coconut oil and a pinch of salt and cardamon.

Serves four with leftovers. Cost: $5.92

Recipe for leftover dal:

Indian soup:

If you have at least 1 cup leftover dal - blend with either the crushed tomatoes or coconut milk to create a stunning velvety soup for lunch or as a starter.

Recipe for leftover rice:

Rice pudding;

2 cups cooked rice leftover
1 can coconut milk $1.99
1 teaspoon vanilla extract $0.25
1 pinch cinnamon $0.05
½ cup agave nectar $0.75

Put all but ½ cup of the rice in blender and blend quickly. Add unblended rice and taste to adjust sweetness.

Recession Recipes a la Vegetarian on the Cheap!

First day of the second month of the new year - time to launch “Recession Recipes”. Every day until my birthday - March 31st - I will feature a recipe that can help you get out of any financial crisis, while still being healthy and delicious. Most of the recipes will be for dinners, but I will also feature delicious and affordable breakfasts, snacks and desserts. 
Many of these recipes will be staples - but some may be new to you. If there are any favorites you would like to have featured - send me a quick e-mail with your recipe (and a picture would be awesome too!) at
In each recipe - I will let you know which ingredients are absolutely essential - we are not going to be able to make Indian Dal without lentils obviously - but some ingredients will be optional a la - “If you have in the house great, but don’t run out to buy it”.
Also I will list the cost of the ingredients - according to how much I can get them for here - upstate New York in the middle of winter in 2009, so the cost may be slightly different for you.
Generally I will gear the recipes towards four servings, I always have leftovers( especially since switching to smaller plates), which I can never afford to waste - so each recipes will come with leftover ideas as well. That is usually how I see lunch - as a chance to use up what’s already in my fridge.
I hope that at the end of March will have a nice cache of recipes to build our weekly menus around. Let’s get this show on the road!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why I hate sales and coupons:

Yep, you have read correctly - the resident vegetarian on the cheap is anti sales and anti coupons! Now let me tell you why:
I have written before about the importance of an eating plan for the whole week before you go out shopping. There is simply no way to make intelligent shopping decisions when you don’t really know what you will have to cook the rest of the week. The more you plan, the better your shopping experience will be. Events such as soccer practice, attending a dinner potluck, having to work late one night - all have to be factored in since they have a huge impact on what you will be able to cook or eat that week. If you also consider other influences such as, what is in season or how fast some produce will spoil - you realize why it is a good idea to sit down at home and devote 10 minutes to actually write down what everybody in your family will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner that week.
And here it often comes - “But how will I know what is on sale at any given week - if I am supposed to plan my week at home?”
Well, quite honestly the more you make your own buying decisions, the better off you are. Sales are nothing more than gimmicks. Supermarkets are not our friends - quite often you almost feel like they are the enemy. A sale is not a friendly offer to pass along the discount the big chain supermarket was negotiating on our behalf - you wish!
A sale or a coupon is a marketing tool. Nothing more. It is supposed to get you to come to the store and separate you from your money.
I know there are people out there who are the coupon queens and kings but what they don’t realize is that they are still being told what to buy, when, where and how much.
I never use coupons and furthermore most of the foods I buy are never on sale or featured in coupons. You will rarely find a sale in the bulk bins, and store brands not only rarely are featured in coupons, but are almost never more expensive than the brand name item, coupon and all. The coupon madness has finally also arrived in the health food stores, since many of the smaller mom-and-pop manufacturers have been gobbled up by the multinational mega corporations that also own the big chain supermarkets: Stonyfield Farms is owned by Danone, Kashi by Kellogs, Boca Burgers by Kraft Foods.
So, where does that leave us when we are trying to feed our families as intelligently and efficiently as possible?
My rule is this: if something that I had on my shopping list is on sale hurrah! If one item is an easy substitute - cheddar over mozarella or cauliflower over broccoli - fine, but if a sale would prompt me to buy something that I would not usually buy, or have never bought before, I simply pass.
 This way I am still making my own buying decisions and take comfort in the fact that I don’t fall prey to the mass manipulation that is the coupon game. Any thoughts?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Forever Lemon!

I am very careful when I endorse any product. First of all because most items that would be worthy of endorsement come without marketing or hype - broccoli, onions, quinoa etc. But once in a while I find something that makes a difference especially in my budget and then it’s time to share.
I am big fan of citrus - if you missed my enthusiastic endorsement - read it here. To keep lemons and limes fresh is not as easy as one would think. First of all, I find that regular lemons at 3 for two dollars - this week at the local supermarket - are really a rip off and second these lemons rarely make it past two weeks in the refrigerator - so really not a good deal. On the other hand a squirt of lemon makes so many things more tasty. For instance if you are trying to cut back on your salt intake, nothing works better than a squirt of lemon in your stir-fry or salad dressing to wake up the flavors. And here is the other problem - whereas uncut lemons last at least a couple of weeks - a cut lemon is do or die. If you don’t use all the juice - the lemon will not last more than a day or two in the fridge.

When I came across the little yellow and green bottles in my health food store’s produce section I actually was a bit turned off by the fact that they managed to come up with yet another plastic product - but since actually having had a chance to use them I have to admit that I am hooked. These little marvels are extremely convenient - the juice is from organic lemons - usually way out of my budget range - and they last forever. On the container the advertised expiration date is 6 months - and I am pretty sure they could go even longer. There are no preservatives other than citric acid and you do have to keep them in the refrigerator - always a good sign - if something has the ability to spoil it means it is not quite dead.
For about 2$ you buy yourself two months worth of lemons - even if you use as much as I do. Like I said: I am hooked!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Free soup!

One of the challenges I have set for myself for 2009 is to never again buy pre-fab stock for my soups. The buying of big containers full of flavored water for up to $3.50 per 32 oz has always irked me, but I never really took the plunge to make an effort to end this travesty.
If we look at the ingredients of the stock pictured above, the first one listed is “water” - and of course water accounts for about 98% of what is in that $3 container, all the rest of the ingredients onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, salt, spices, oil and garlic are represented as mere trace elements floating in water.
To get to make your own stock for free I followed the advice of a dear friend and restaurant owner, who makes the best soups far and wide. His secret lies in the compost bin - or rather the things he will not throw in, in order to make soup. Kitchen scrap soup - I am pretty sure that was also my grandmother’s secret for her fantastic vegetable soup. Basically as you chop veggies for stir fries, curries or any other vegetable dish, have a separate container ready to collect all the bits and pieces that even though they are not good enough - or sometimes merely not attractive enough - for your stir fry - they are perfect for cooking over a slow simmer and giving you that flavor that we are looking for in a good broth. The obvious candidates are: the tough core of a cabbage, the woody ends of broccoli, the butts of carrots, the outer layer - not the skin - of onions, the stem of kale etc. All these should go into your soup stock container and keep in the refrigerator for two or three days - after that - if you are eating enough veggies - as you should - you will have a full container of cookable scraps. Put up a large pot with water, salt and spices and simmer - after about an hour you have wonderful and free stock! Enjoy!
It freezes great and lasts almost indefinitely!