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!