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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ category

I was reading one of the blogs I follow, The Frugal Farm Wife, when I came across a post about 8 Shopping Errors and How We Fixed Them. I was intrigued. Basically, she looked at some receipts from a few years earlier, and was amazed at some of the things she used to buy but didn’t anymore. Things like hot chocolate mix, tortilla chips, etc. And I was inspired to make a similar list of my own.

First, the things we have in common:

  • Tortilla Chips. I haven’t bought these for a long time. Up until this month, we have been using tostadas instead. They run a bit cheaper than the chips do, and seem to have less fat. But we’re giving those up too. Fears about genetically modified food have definitely been a factor. I can make delicious millet tortillas (which my corn-allergic son can eat), so we’re going to try that.
  • Canned Beans. I bought these sometimes in the first couple of years of our marriage. No longer. My mom bought me a pressure cooker, and I’ve never looked back. I used to can my own beans, but that turned out to be more work than it was worth (90 minutes of canning time was just too much). Instead of keeping a couple of cans in the pantry for emergencies, I choose to make double batches of beans and freeze the leftovers. In fact, just yesterday I realized I had forgotten to soak beans the night before, so I pulled some out of the freezer, thawed them, and served them. Simple. Delicious.

Things I think I buy less of now:

  • Cold Cereal. I have become concerned about the iron shavings in fortified cereals, and as such have quit buying almost all of them. I do buy Rice Chex, mostly because they are gluten free (and rice has yet to be genetically modified, last I heard), but other than that, I stick with Kashi cereals. They are certified GMO free, and some are even organic! And sometimes they are cheaper per ounce than similar name brand cereals (such as Shredded Wheat). I try to only buy 3 boxes of cereal a month, and make it last. Now that I’ve gone gluten free, I think I may only have to buy 2 boxes. That’s a lot less than we used to buy, I think. Or maybe not. But it has changed, anyhow.
  • Juice. I used to buy the ready-to-drink juice bottles. But the price kept rising. Your average 100% juice bottle (I refuse to buy the cocktails and drinks) is over $3 a bottle at the cheapest grocery store in town. That’s ridiculous! I probably wouldn’t bother buying juice at all (and didn’t for a long time), but it’s the best way to get wheat grass down. So I buy the frozen kind and make it up as needed. I put 6 in my pantry list, but I expect we’ll only use about 4 in an average month.

Things that have changed significantly:

  • White Flour. I can’t remember the last time I put white flour in something and served it to my family. The last time I bought white flour, I made muffins for my husband’s coworkers and playdough for the kids (which turned out to be a real disaster–the recipe calling for cornstarch worked much better and lasted a lot longer).
  • Whole Wheat Bread Flour. After getting a grain grinder for my champion juicer, I quit buying whole wheat flour for bread. I also discovered that I could get 25 pounds of wheat berries from Azure Standard for less than the price of wheat berries from WinCo–and the 25 pound bag contains organic wheat, as opposed to the bulk wheat at WinCo, which isn’t organic (and therefore probably is GMO). I grind 4-5 pounds at a time and use it to make the best tasting bread.
  • GF Flours. I have started buying flours from gluten-free grains like millet, teff, sorghum, etc. I also buy tapioca flour (starch, basically). These don’t affect the budget a whole lot, because I buy them in bulk quantities, such as 5 pound bags, or in the bulk section at WinCo. Most of them are not certified gluten-free, either, but in our family that isn’t such an issue as it would be in the home of someone with celiac disease.
  • Exotic Foods. In the early years of our marriage, we lived in south Texas, where things like yuca (cassava), plantain bananas, and other exotic foods were relatively cheap. So we ate them on a regular basis. Now we only rarely buy them. We have found frozen shredded yuca that my husband makes into patties for Manny, and occasionally if I find a few good plantains, I’ll cook them for the family, but rarely. Maybe 2-3 times a year–instead of every week. I also don’t use coconut milk on a regular basis.
  • Bulk items. When we lived in Texas, there wasn’t a good place to buy bulk items. Now, though, I buy things like cornmeal, rice, black and pinto beans, oatmeal, etc, in 25 pound bags and store them in buckets with screw-on lids. It really saves money; I can go to the store at times and spend $30-40 for a week’s worth of food–sometimes less–because I am only getting things that I need for that week; staples are always available. In fact, if we could do without fresh food, we could eat for quite a while with the beans and flours we have on hand.
  • Certain Fresh Produce. This summer we finally planted a garden, and for a few weeks I won’t be buying tomatoes, since ours have finally started to ripen. We have also been given much surplus produce from friends and church members–beets, green beans, swiss chard, etc–that we didn’t grow ourselves. We got some free apples from Freecycle, as well as other fruits either from the wild (wild plums, blackberries, etc) or from friends. So I pretty much just buy bananas for fruit. I have also started buying only organic of certain things–lettuce, celery, and other things. Those items tend to absorb pesticides and other things, more than fruits like bananas or oranges, because the skins are thin.
  • Soymilk. I like to keep a can of shelf-stable soymilk on hand, just in case we need it, but I generally make my own with a soy milk machine. It’s not the best tasting milk, but we’ve gotten used to it, and you can’t tell the difference in baked goods. And at $.25-.50 a quart, there’s just no comparison!
  • Pasta. I can get pasta in bulk at WinCo, and I won’t buy it on the shelf unless I am splurging on a special shape they don’t have in bulk. I also never buy white pasta. I also buy a significant quantity of rice pasta, since both Manny and I are eating a gluten-free diet. Thankfully, WinCo has rice pasta for about $1.50 a pound–probably about what you would pay for your average name-brand pasta in a bag or box on the shelf. The wheat pasta is around $1 a pound, give or take a few cents.
  • Nuts. I buy nuts in bulk at WinCo too. (I feel very sorry for people who don’t live in the states where WinCo has a presence–or who live far from it.) I don’t buy Brazil nuts or macadamia nuts or pine nuts, either. As my friend at Too Cheap for Pine Nuts so aptly put it, “pine nuts . . . are $60940909 a pound. . . . [and] we just couldn’t bring ourselves to spend that for a pine nut.” I have also noticed that cashews, which used to be cheaper than almonds, are now almost twice the price. I still buy them, because I like them in certain things (but I dislike the taste of them by themselves), but I have found that almonds work well in place of cashews in certain recipes, such as cashew-based gravy and cashew cheese. I find myself using cheaper nuts and seeds more.
  • Baby Food. For some reason, when my daughter was born, I thought making baby food would be too much work. I can’t believe I ever thought that. Sure, it’s nice to have jars of food on hand for trips to town or church or wherever, or for emergencies, but I can make a jar’s worth of food for pennies, and it tastes so much better than the stuff in the jars, especially in the veggie department. I just whiz whatever in the blender, freeze it in ice cube trays, and bag it for use later. Those metal cups work well for thawing small amounts of baby food over the stove (since we don’t have a microwave).

And other things that I can’t remember, because we don’t save food receipts.

It’s kind of a balance. I save in certain things so that I can splurge on others. My son drinks hemp milk. That currently costs $38 a case if I buy it from Azure Standard. It would be more if I bought it anywhere else. But it’s the only high-quality fat and protein milk he can drink (other than rice milk,which doesn’t have much of either), so I buy it.

Now it’s your turn. How have your buying habits changed over the years? What do you now buy that you didn’t before? What do you do without now that you used to think was indispensable?

Trying Raw

Raw food has intrigued me since I first heard of it about 11 years ago. But I never thought I would eat a raw meal other than when I had just fruit for supper. Never thought I would start to collect raw recipes. Well, now I am. And not only that, but I am amazed that my husband actually likes what I’ve prepared so far. He does. Raves over it, in fact.

For lunch today I made raw lasagna. It was a hit–with my husband and me, at least. I think it had too much garlic for Gislaine, but oh well. Next time I make it, I think I’ll add more veggies and see if I can get something to make better slices out of the zucchini, but otherwise it was delicious.

I also experimented with raw sprouted bread. I had sprouted wheat berries, and I was surprised to discover that they actually tasted slightly sweet (that would be the starches converted into sugars). I ground them coarsely, added a little salt and oil, and then dehydrated little cracker-like pieces until it was either crisp or semi-soft. Depended on the pieces. Anyhow, I think there is some potential, but they definitely need more seasoning. Maybe some Rosemary and chopped olives… I am definitely curious to see if I get the same allergic reaction to sprouted wheat that I get to regular cooked wheat (a mild, short-lived itch).

We are by no means going all raw any time soon, but I’m having fun experimenting with raw food dishes. The raw cherry tarts I made turned out delicious! I shared a couple with the neighbor, and when I told her they were rich and she would probably only want one at a time, she said she wouldn’t be sharing them in any case! I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of them.

Sunday I plan to make a raw corn chowder okay, so the corn itself might not be strictly raw (I think frozen corn is blanched first), but hey, the rest will be raw. Thankfully I now have a Vitamix, which can actually heat up the soup. Believe it or not. Or I could use the dehydrator to warm it. Or since it’s supposed to be warm that day, we could eat it room temperature. Who wants hot soup in the summer anyway?

Sometime when it’s not so late and I’m not typing on my iPod, I’ll post some links to favorite recipes. Until then, I’ll be stuck with my iPod while I feed the baby, who is definitely benefiting from all the raw food I’ve been consuming lately!

If there is one thing that makes me happy, it is finding ways to simplify my life. One of those ways is using parchment paper.

Maybe you’ve seen it in the store next to the aluminum foil. Maybe you’ve even used it to bake cookies. But I’ve found several uses for parchment paper beyond the obvious use of lining my cookie sheets to cut back on oil and save scrubbing later.

In fact, the thing that motivated me to first purchase it was not for baking cookies. It was for making lasagna.


Yes, lasagna.

Let me explain.

When making a lasagna, you are supposed to bake it covered. But unless you have a glass or metal lid for your casserole dish, you probably just use aluminum foil. But there is a problem. The acid in the tomato sauce eats at the foil. So unless you use a really deep dish or make a shallow lasagna, you need something to protect the foil.

I worked for a couple of months in a cafeteria, and I learned that they would cover the pans with plastic wrap before adding the foil. This effectively protected the foil, and it wasn’t hard to remove later.

So I did that. Until my husband pointed out that the hot plastic was probably just as bad as the aluminum.

This left me with few options. Until one day I had the brilliant idea of using parchment paper! I cut it to fit the top of the pan and covered it with foil, and presto, problem solved!

Of course, I started using the parchment paper to line my cookie sheets, and was pleased that I didn’t need to use the oil spray that my husband didn’t really like me using in the first place. I wasn’t so worried about cutting back on the little bit of fat, but those sprays are actually not good for you, being processed and refined and mixed with aerosol.

I also discovered that recipes for kale chips say to line the baking sheet with parchment paper. After making them, I can see why. Oh, and if you haven’t ever had kale chips, get some kale and make some! They are delicious. Even my son likes them! Too bad he is allergic to kale.

Here’s another use for parchment paper. I like making my soy souffle once or twice a month, but it is always a bear to clean the pan afterwards. Greasing the pan does nothing. It sticks something fierce, and no amount of soaking will make any difference in the amount of elbow grease required to remove it. And I hate scrubbing and scrubbing.

So I got creative. I decided to try lining my baking dish with parchment paper.

And you know what? It worked! Yup, by cutting the paper to fit and creasing it a little, I was able to make it sit in the pan while I poured in the batter. Then I baked it as usual. The result? I still have to wash the pan, but it takes about as much time as it does to wash a plate or bowl. See?

Now, I probably won’t line all my casserole dishes with parchment paper for every use. But of course, most casseroles don’t stick half as badly as my soy souffle.

Have you ever tried parchment paper? Have you found any creative uses for it? Please share!


This post is participating in the link-ups at The Modest Mom and Works for me Wednesday.

Lately, my son has gotten tired of the same-ol’ beans and cereal day in and day out. I don’t blame him. That’s nearly all he has eaten for 2 solid years. Add to that the fact that he seems moderately allergic to beans, as well as the facts that we are a vegetarian family, and that he is allergic to eggs and dairy and nuts, and, well, you have a problem.

That is, a protein problem. Granted, grains like quinoa and amaranth are complete proteins, as is hemp, which he drinks every day (but not a lot, because it’s expensive). But he doesn’t get quinoa and amaranth every day. And I don’t want to give him the same foods every day, because that will just make him more susceptible to sensitivities to them.

So I’ve been working on new ways to fix his food. Of course, cooking a batch of cream of rice or amaranth or millet cereal in the morning and adding several cubes of pre-cooked and frozen beans is very simple and easy, but I always knew I would eventually have to start actually cooking and baking for him. Well, the time has come.

The first grain to get changed into something other than cereal was Teff. I invented a recipe for teff pancakes. I’m sharing that recipe on my eczema blog.

We also decided, after much deliberation, to add a little meat to his diet. Right now, that looks like chicken once a week added to shredded yuca (cassava). I am also sharing that recipe on my eczema blog.

However, there are several recipes that I have found that he likes. I love the simplicity of some of  them!

This Baked Amaranth Cracker/Flatbread is made from the grain, not amaranth flour, and is very simple to make. I mean, very simple. I added a little basil to the mix, since he can’t have the topping (I’ve never tried pumpkin seeds, but I’m really afraid to). I still need to come up with some kind of topping for them. That is hard, since nuts and avocado are all out, and those make the best creamy vegan sauces. But he will eat these, and he likes them. I served it with some slices of cucumber, and he enjoyed the meal very much.

This GF Biscuit recipe was a real hit. Since he can’t have eggs or egg replacer, I used quarter mashed banana, because I only made a half a recipe. You can use 1/2 a banana plus 1/8 tsp of extra baking powder for egg in baking, but I didn’t think 1/16 of baking powder was really necessary! I wanted to use a little less starch, so I replaced 1/4 of the starch with sorghum flour (doubling the sorghum called for). They turned out better than the last batch did (where I put in too much banana and otherwise followed the recipe, and now have more whole grains in them. I also threw in a scant tablespoon each of chia seeds and hemp protein for extra protein, and he didn’t even notice. Chia seeds are a complete protein and really a powerhouse. Research them sometime. I am very excited to discover that my local WinCo carries them! Manny will eat chia seeds by the spoonful (2 or 3 baby spoonfuls), and they have very little flavor. I think they actually improved the texture as well (since they tend to gel, kind of like flax seeds).

When you can’t have wheat or corn, tortillas become almost impossible. Rice tortillas leave much to be desired, as do most GF tortillas you can buy. But these millet tortillas are so easy, especially if you have a tortilla press. I do, but it’s in storage, so I improvised with a flat-bottomed skillet. It worked almost as well. Unfortunately, Manny only liked the first two, and then he didn’t want more. If there was something I could dip them in or roll inside of them… maybe beans? I’ll have to experiment. But he’s not very good at eating stuff with toppings… he just licks off the topping! We might make them once in a while for ourselves, though, and they are perfect for those who can’t have gluten or corn!

And for dessert, well, this Blueberry Crumb Cake was the bomb! My husband said he couldn’t tell it was gluten free! I used the banana/baking powder trick in place of eggs, and it rose beautifully. I made two batches: one as a cake, and one as muffins (which of course cooked in about half the time as the cake). It’s good with and without the topping. This site also has many GF cooking and baking tips (it’s where I learned about the banana-instead-of-egg idea). I highly recommend browsing it if you are on a GF diet. Many of the recipes are vegan (because the author cannot tolerate casein), though some do include meat (usually with vegetarian variations). She makes GF look so easy! Indeed, this cake was my first attempt at GF baking without a boxed recipe (Betty Crocker has about 3 GF mixes that you can buy at most grocery stores, and I made a couple at a friend’s house once), and I really expected it to flop. Instead, it turned out lovely, and my son had a delicious cake for his birthday, and muffins for dessert once a week since!

Lastly, there are these delicious GF Molasses Cookies. Manny wasn’t terribly fond of them, and I think it was mostly because of the ginger (which he can’t seem to tolerate in the quantity that is in the cookies). They turned out perfectly, though, and I took a dozen to a friend whose son has a lot of allergies. The whole family tried them, and she informed me they are better than store-bought cookies. I totally agree. Granted, they aren’t super healthy. I mean, 3/4 cup of shortening (palm oil, not hydrogenated oils) is quite a bit of fat. Maybe I could cut it down by increasing the applesauce. But I usually like to do a recipe the way it says the first time–especially baked goods. Then experiment later. I think Manny would like them better without the ginger. He loves molasses, after all.

I tried split pea soup on him, but he seemed to react to the peas. I had suspected that he would, being legume and all. But he enjoyed it a lot. I think I could make a veggie soup with quinoa using the same seasonings I used in the pea soup (garlic, sweet basil, marjoram, bay leaf, salt). I’ve been avoiding onions, because touching them and then rubbing his face made him break out. Whether that was an allergic reaction, or simply sensitive skin, I don’t know. But for now, I don’t feed them to him directly. Though he did eat some carrots I had cooked in a stock made of scraps of veggies used to make dinner (I put 3 baby carrots in the stock for variety), and he loved them, as well as the bits of zucchini my husband didn’t eat from his salad. They were cooked with onion, and he seems fine with it. So maybe he is okay. I’m going to play it by ear at this point!

What simple GF recipes do you use? I’d love for you to share them!

Well, about a week ago I decided to make rye sourdough. I found a very simple sourdough starter recipe, and after about a dozen exchanges of emails with the author of that site, I came up with a starter that I had to refrigerate last Thursday because Manny had a doctor’s appointment Friday morning and I knew I wouldn’t have time to work on it.

Without going into all the details of exactly what I did (just read the instructions in the link above if you want to know), I mixed up more flour and water and a little salt with a portion of the starter that I had revived by doubling it, kneeded a bit (which was hard, because it was a VERY stiff dough), then divided it into roughly half. You see, I wanted to compare how it would look and turn out in a round loaf verses a bread pan. Half went into the bread pan and half onto a cookie sheet (I would have used a clay stone or pizza stone if I’d had one).

About 3 hours later it had risen a little, but it was almost 9:00 pm, so I gave up and baked it for half an hour. Knife inserted in the middle came out clean, so I knew it was done inside. The round loaf came off the sheet right away, but the one in the greased glass bread pan didn’t want to come out right away. I had to let it sit a few minutes before it would release without sticking too much (in spite of all the oil I smeared the pan with before putting in the dough).

Oh, you want to see pictures? But of course! This first one shows a bird’s-eye view of the two loaves, plus a portion of the 100% rye bread I made a few days ago (yeast-risen–this recipe). The pan I used to bake both that and the sourdough to the right is on the far right.

Top View - Middle loaf is not sourdough

This picture shows the sides of the three loaves, with the bread pan in the back for size comparison. The funny edges on the top of the middle one are because it overflowed the pan and I had to break those pieces off, so it looks a little funny. It was a 4-cup loaf of bread, but surprisingly rose well–melting butter soaks through because it is so light, comparatively. I’m not exactly sure how much flour went into the other two loaves in cups–it was somewhere around 700 grams, if that means anything.

Side Views - Sorry, but I ate them before I got the camera!

Now, for crumb views. Sorry the flash makes it so bright, but I don’t have optimal lighting nor a fancy camera, and I was too much in a hurry to dig up the tripod. Click on pictures to enlarge.

As you can see, the first two, the sourdoughs, didn’t rise much, but they did rise some. The last one was yeast risen and really rises a lot. It has a very wet dough, too wet to kneed, but very stiff to stir (which is what you are supposed to do with it anyway). I should try baking it in my bread machine pan sometime, just to see how much it will actually rise (because it likes to overflow the glass bread pan, which is much shorter). I couldn’t possibly kneed it in the bread machine, though!

Yes, I didn’t get pictures of the loaves before cutting. Why? I was hungry. I had baked it the night before and taken it out too late to eat any. So as soon as breakfast rolled around, I ate several slices. Yummy! It has a nice sour taste that reminds me of the kefir bread I made over 2 years ago. It’s even better toasted. It’s been a long time in coming, but now that I have a working starter, I can keep working with it, so I can make all the sourdough I want. Yay! Whole grain and wheat free.

Now if I can just get it to rise a bit more… But if not, I can use the yeast rye bread for sandwiches and this for, well, all other bread cravings. Wonder if it would go over well at potluck once I perfect the recipe… which means getting a better scale that weighs in at least 5 gram increments and is more accurate than the one I have (which could be off by as much as 20 grams or more).

Yeah, making bread by weight is a whole new level of breadmaking. But I like it. It means I don’t have to worry about having or doubling a recipe–because weights are accurate–if the scale is.

Okay, enough. Go make a starter. Or come visit and I’ll share a slice with you. If there is any left!

Rye Sourdough

When I first tried sourdough many years ago, I fell in love with it. The tangy flavor really appealed to me. I especially liked the crusty edges (even though I rarely eat the heels of regular bread). Unfortunately, most sourdough is 100% white flour, and I have been trying to avoid white flour as much as possible. In fact, I managed to go 4 or 5 months here in Aloha without it. When I did buy it, it was for a recipe for my husband to take to work for his coworkers. And with the leftovers, I attempted to make playdough (that turned out to be a failure–the recipe with cornstarch was much more like the real thing). But now I’m rambling…

Since I have developed an allergy to wheat, I try to avoid it for the most part. That means no more bread at potlucks, for instance. So all the fancy sourdoughs that show up there don’t show up on my plate. And I don’t buy it, white or whole grain or otherwise.

But I thought, now that I’ve found a good recipe for 100% rye bread, maybe I could find a recipe for 100% rye sourdough, and a way to make a starter.

Sure enough, I found a site that explains exactly how to make a rye sourdough starter, and then how to make bread with it. Granted, the recipe it shows in those steps uses 50% wheat, but I wrote the author, and he shared a sort of recipe for 100% rye (something about 78% hydration, 1% salt and 1% caraway, I think it was). I still have a lot to learn, it seems.

But I can’t do anything until I have a ripe starter, and that will take the better part of this week, it seems, so I have plenty of time to figure that out. I had everything I needed except for distilled water and a kitchen scale. Apparently, the kitchen scale is very important, because the water and flour need to be mixed in equal weights–such as 50 grams each–and it’s very difficult to be accurate with measurements. And when it comes to actually making the bread, the only way one could figure out 78% hydration, which means more flour than water, so that instead of 50:50 rye:water it’s now 100:78. It seems I’ll get to use some math for the process–my favorite subject it was, so that will be nice.

Anyhow, I stopped at the Goodwill on my way home from shopping today and found a small kitchen scale for $1.99! I also found a number of other things I hadn’t planned on buying and ended up spending over $25, but that’s okay, because they were all things we more or less needed. Okay, the $10 family-sized swimming pool probably wasn’t really needed, but then, the neighbors loaned us their kiddie pool, and it got a big hole and it’s not fixable, and it was worth $10, so now we can replace it, so I guess it was needed after all.

Oops, I’m rambling again. Sorry…

So I picked up a gallon of distilled water and mixed up 50 grams each of 100% organic rye flour and water in a widemouth canning jar, screwed on a lid (a plastic one–not too tight), and set it in the kitchen.

My only concern is that the temperature of the house fluctuates dramatically. Right now it is about 80 degrees (the A/C doesn’t work), but this morning it was 65 (thanks to all the open windows). I hope this doesn’t negatively affect the culture. Maybe it will just slow it down at night.

Anyhow, I can’t wait for morning to see if it has any bubbles. I’ll take a picture then–it’s late now and I’m ready for bed. It’s been a long day!

All I can say is that a rye sourdough starter looks a whole lot easier to make than a wheat one, so maybe it’s a blessing I became allergic to wheat. And there’s nothing better than rye bread with caraway. Unless it’s more rye bread with caraway!

If you have any interest in rye sourdough, I would encourage you to take a look at the site I found. They have a lot of interesting information, including pictures of the bread they have made. It looks so good!!!

This is the blender I use.

It’s not even noon yet as I sit down to write this, and I have already used my blender three times. I use it more than any given pot or pan, more than the toaster, more than just about anything else. Granted, if my son weren’t allergic to so many things, requiring me to make things for him, I would probably not use it quite as often. But I use it almost every day.

And today happens to be one of those days when I use it extra.

Let’s see… I started out by blending up some black beans I had cooked for Manny, right before I poured them into ice cube trays to freeze for later.

Then I blended the quinoa I had cooked for Manny’s breakfast. Because he doesn’t chew stuff much yet, I find it better to grind his grains. Most of them I grind before cooking, but since quinoa needs to be rinsed, it’s easier to blend it up afterwards.

A little later, I used the blender to make teff milk, which is very similar to the rice milk I demonstrated on YouTube, except that I use a little less teff than rice (otherwise it gets too thick), and I only cook it for 1 hour instead of 2 1/2, because the grains are so tiny.

When I finish with this post, I will make cashew cheese for haystacks.

After lunch, I will make nut milk with the nuts that are soaking on the window sill right now.

So that makes five times today that my blender is getting used. I honestly don’t know how I could live without one! Anyone want to get me a VitaMix for Christmas? Or my birthday? Or just because? Anyone? 😉

But seriously, please share how you use your blender–if you have one. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have you noticed that food prices have been going up? Even with all the bulk buying that I do, it seems that it is getting harder and harder to stay within my budget. Some months I have to supplement a few dollars of my personal money to get us through the month–or ask my husband for a little of his.

There are certain meals that are rather popular in our family, but some of those are a little pricier than others. For instance, we all like scrambled tofu on sweet potatoes, but sweet potatoes are not cheap. I almost always buy them for my son, who is on such a limited diet that I get him whatever he can eat even if it’s not exactly cheap (and since he’s little, he doesn’t require large quantities, thank goodness!), but for the rest of us, I change things around.

So instead of tofu over sweet potatoes, I’ll cook some cornmeal the night before and put it into a glass bread pan. In the morning, I slice and bake. Voila! Baked cornmeal!

Another favorite meal is seasoned oven fries dipped in sunflower seed sour cream mixed with avocado. When avocados get too expensive, I use tomatoes and cilantro instead (if my daughter liked spicy hot, I’d throw in a serrano pepper, but she doesn’t yet). When I run out of red potatoes (the best kind for oven fries) and money is short, I cook a pot of savory oatmeal. That is, I use a powdered chicken or beef style powdered broth to make it savory, then pour the plain sour cream over it, and add some onion rings. These onion rings are sauted in little oil with a couple dashes of salt and a quirt of lemon juice. My daughter does not like onions, but she loves this style, because the lemon juice takes the oniony taste right out. She calls them worms. That makes a rather tasty and nutritious breakfast that sticks a little longer than the oatmeal/milk/fruit breakfast that most Americans eat. Of course, we still eat some fruit if we have it, just not in the oatmeal.

When I get tired of regular lentils, I grab some spices and change the flavor. Add curry powder, cumin, tumeric, and ginger powder to the fresh onions and garlic and celery that I would normally put in a pot of lentils, and suddenly they are Indian style lentils! I like to put some extra cayenne pepper on mine, especially on a cold day (of which Oregon has had a lot this summer). Serve over rice. I especially like to do this with red lentils, though it will work for just about any kind of lentil.

When I decide I can’t afford to buy tofu and I’m too busy or lazy to make it (right now I have a good excuse–my tofu mold is an hour’s drive away and I don’t have a car), I make a soy souffle. This I serve over millet or quinoa or buckwheat or whatever whole grain I feel like cooking up (those 3 are our favorites for eating with souffle, though I suppose you could use rice or Bulgar wheat too).

We like to eat eggplant sliced and breaded with pasta, but I only buy it once or twice a month. Pasta alone does not satisfy my husband–he needs more protein. So I found a delicious recipe for Italian white beans. My slow cooker is about 10 feet away from my tofu mold, so I just cook the white beans in my pressure cooker, add extra water and all the other ingredients, and cook on low for about half an hour or until my husband gets home. He is picky about white beans, but loves this style. I use dried tomatoes I get in a bin at the grocery store instead of the ones canned in oil, because they’re cheaper, so I find that soaking them in hot water for a while while the beans cook helps (and I can add the water to the beans too). I also use manzanilla olives instead of the olives they call for (because that’s usually what I have on hand, other than regular black olives, which would add nothing to the flavor!). Rice pasta (since I’m trying to avoid wheat) with a cheap pasta sauce doctored a little (usually extra onions and dried basil, maybe some mushrooms or olives if I feel like it) and these beans makes a complete meal.

In my quest to find a substitute for wheat bread, I discovered this tasty recipe for 100% rye bread. I use carob powder instead of espresso powder, but other than that, I follow the recipe to a T. It looks like a lot of work, but actually, you only have to stir it for about 3 minutes, then turn it into an oiled mixing bowl and let it rise twice before transferring it to a greased bread pan to rise again, then bake it. It actually rises quite nicely, and the flavor is, well, if you like rye bread, you’ll love this! It holds together well enough to work for sandwiches, and it rises enough to not be too heavy (for me, anyhow). Sure, it’s not gluten free, but I don’t seem to be bothered by gluten. Just wheat. Hasn’t stopped me from eating it entirely, but I do best if I eat it no more than once a week (of course, if I stopped eating it completely, I’d probably do even better, but I’m doing well enough to be content for the moment). I buy organic rye flour in the 10-pound bag, so it’s actually really good bread. And even though rye flour is not as cheap as wheat, homemade rye bread is cheaper than a good loaf of whole wheat–or rye bread, for that matter!

Well, I think the souffle we’re having for tomorrow’s breakfast has cooled enough. That means I need to get off, go brush my teeth, and hit the sack. I hope you enjoyed my musings, and hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas on how you can save money when the end of the month hits again in a few weeks and there seems to be more month than food-budget money. If you’re in the habit of buying cheap food in bulk, you’ll be sure to make it!

As I mentioned last week, my husband got tired of the plain tofu with chicken seasoning that I grew up with. So he got creative. This recipe is pretty much his creation. And you will have to forgive my estimates… I never measure for things like tofu–I just taste a bit to see if it has enough seasonings or not. This recipe is also gluten free!

My Favorite Tofu

1 lb tofu, diced
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin
mild chili powder to taste
2-3 tsp chicken seasoning
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
several squirts of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (soy sauce will give a different flavor, but would probably work)
salt to taste (if needed)
squirt of lime or lemon juice (optional)

Mix together in a bowl and set aside to marinate. I usually test a piece to see if it has enough salt and seasonings, adding whatever I feel it needs. In the mean time, chop or dice the following:

1-2 tsp coconut oil
2 roma tomatoes or more
1/2 yellow onion
bell pepper (as much as you wish of any color you need)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Heat the oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion and tomato. Saute until tender, then add the bell pepper and tofu. Add water as needed to make it “juicy,” as my husband calls it–I use the rinse water from the bowl the tofu marinated in. Simmer for a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to blend well, then turn off and add the cilantro. Serve hot.

This goes well in place of scrambled eggs… we eat it over sweet potatoes, diced potatoes, baked cornmeal, whatever we feel like. Last time we had it, we added sunflower seed sour cream. Was that ever tasty!

Note: I originally meant to post one of my favorite tofu recipes here, but I forgot to buy tofu and didn’t have time to make it when I realized I didn’t have it. So I couldn’t get pictures. Then I heard of a friend on Twitter who was thinking of going dairy free, and thought I should post this recipe instead. I will continue with the tofu theme next week.

I like cheese. I will admit that it is one of the hardest things to avoid when I am vegan. And many foods seem to require cheese. I mean, what would pizza be without cheese? Sure, I’ve eaten cheeseless pizza… but I don’t really like it all that well.

I should clarify that this recipe does not taste like cheese at all. Although I use it as a substitute, I don’t expect it to taste like cheese. I feel it should stand alone on its own value. And I must say, it’s downright tasty!

Cashew Cheese Sauce

Blend until smooth:

2 cups water
1/2 cashews
1 small jar pimentos (I sometimes use canned red bell pepper, because it’s cheaper)
1/4 cup heaping of nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

When nice and smooth, dump in 3 Tablespoons of potato flour. This will thicken it instantly. Use raw sweet red pepper and fresh lemon juice, and you have a raw food recipe.

If you don’t have potato flour, add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot and cook until thickened. Of course, then it won’t be raw. I prefer the first method, but have used the second on occasion, when I ran out of potato flour (or thought I had, because I couldn’t remember where I had stored the extra!).

Such cheesy deliciousness!

I grew up eating this once or twice a week on macaroni. Mac & cheese–my brother’s favorite food. Here are some other ideas good uses for it: pizza, tacos, haystacks*, nachos–the sky’s the limit!

So try it and let me know what you think!

*Haystacks, in my culture (religious culture), are layers of chips, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, cheese, sour cream, olives, and other related toppings–sort of like a big plateful of a taco on chips. They are a favorite at potlucks at my church.