Friday, July 29, 2011

Lots & Lots of Steamed Kale

A week ago at the farmers' market near my house on the Northside, I bought three heads of kale for $5. The woman had to give me a large trash bag to hold the giant heads. Once home, I had to clean out the fridge to fit all the kale.

When my husband got home and wondered why we had a trash bag taking up the whole fridge, I told him I'd just bought kale. He peered into the full bag and said, "There's no way you can eat all that before it goes bad." The challenge was on!

For the past week I've eaten kale for every lunch and dinner. Mostly I've simply steamed it and made sauces or gravies to go with it. There are a bunch of great gravies in the new Happy Herbivore cookbook that's coming out that I was lucky enough to recipe test for. So I've been making Miso Gravy (my favorite), Chickpea Gravy, and Mushroom Gravy, ladling it over the kale, and topping it with baked tofu or seitan and some brown rice or quinoa. I know gravy doesn't scream "summer," but hey, these simple meals are delicious, easy, and cost next to nothing.

I also bought the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook and made a few great recipes with kale. The first was Tahini Lemon Rice and Beans with Kale and Seitan. For this recipe, I made seitan for the first time. Seitan is, basically, dough balls made from vital wheat gluten and boiled in veg broth. I know, it doesn't sound very good. But it is!
The first time I made it I used the Appetite for Reduction recipe, which has wheat gluten, veg broth, soy sauce, lemon juice, and garlic. It was so good, I couldn't help eating it right out of the pot.The Tahini Lemon Rice & Beans was absolutely amazing. It may be one of my all-time favorite recipes. The sauce is lemony without being overpowering, and the tahini makes it rich and buttery. Black beans, rice, kale, and seitan all taste delicious with the sauce.
I also made Lime Peanut Noodles with Seitan, Kale, and Carrots from Vegan Yum Yum. This too was amazing. The lime juice gives the peanut sauce a little something different. For this recipe, I made seitan from Veganomicon. It was good, but I didn't like it as much.Today I'm going back to the farmers' market. Though I ate kale out the wazoo, I still have some left, so I'll try to refrain from buying a bunch more, but I'm not making any promises. I love kale too much!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pad Thai Salad

Who said salads have to be boring? The Pad Thai Salad from Appetite for Reduction I made this week was a really different, spicy salad. The salad itself has romaine lettuce, bean sprouts, red onion, carrot, and peanuts. The Peanut Lime Dragon Dressing that goes with it is made from a puree of peanuts, lime juice, shallots, agave nectar, and hot sauce.

I really liked it. The book recommends beefing it up by adding some red thai tofu (another recipe from the book), so I'll add tofu next time. But just by itself, it was great. Here's the recipe.

Veganomicon Lentil Salad

This Lentil Salad from Veganomicon is easy to make, light, and refreshing--perfect for summer. It's delicious served over salad greens; the tarragon gives it a unique flavor. Add some brown rice or quinoa, and it's a complete meal. Lentil Salad (from Veganomicon)
Serves 4

  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 or 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils (I used brown)
  • 1 small red onion, chopped very finely (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 small tomato, seeded and diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 radishes, grated (I didn't use these)
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemnon)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  1. Bring the broth, thyme, bay leaves, garlic cloves, tarragon, and salt to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. Add the lentils and bring again to a low boil. Cover the pot with the lid tilted, allowing a little room for steam to escape. Let cook for 20 to 25 minutes. The lentils should be soft enough to eat but still firm enough to not lose their shape.
  2. While the lentils cook, stir together the dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  3. Drain the lentils in a mesh colander. Let cool, giving the colander a few shakes every couple of minutes so they drain and cool faster. Once the lentils are lukewarm (about 15 minutes), remove the bay leaves, chunks of garlic, and thyme. Add the lentils to the dressing along with the onions, tomato, radishes, and carrots, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and chill for at least half an hour.
  4. When chilled, serve over lettuce with oil and vinegar on the side.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Project Food Budget: Lessons Learned

For the past 25 weeks, I participated in Emily’s Project: Food Budget, where I and other participants tried to make and stick to weekly food budgets. It was a great experience! Before I started this project, I often bought ingredients for a single recipe, used half, and forgot about the rest. I would also go grocery shopping and buy things willy-nilly, and sometimes produce would rot before I could get to it. What a waste. I went from an average of $150 a week to about $85 a week. These are the biggest lessons I learned.

  • Plan weekly meals that use the same ingredients. Isn’t it sad when you throw away a $4 package of limp, brown thyme that you used for only a single meal? Or cook up some brown rice for one recipe and remember it’s there a week later after it went bad? That used to happen to me a lot. Now I plan meals that use the same ingredients so that nothing goes to waste.
  • Make only one or two ingredient-intensive meals a week. If you’re like me, when you get a new cookbook, you flag 100 recipes to make and immediately buy groceries to make 10 of them. But who has time to make 10 new recipes in a week? I’ve learned to taper my enthusiasm and make only a few new big meals a week. The rest of the time I rely on quick and easy meals that use few ingredients, like a bowl of brown rice, steamed greens and veggies, beans or tofu, and a gravy or dressing. Salads and tofu scrambles are my other fallback quick meals.
  • Shop at ethnic stores. I now rarely buy herbs and spices at the grocery store. They’re so much cheaper at Indian groceries! Likewise, Asian ingredients are always much cheaper at Asian markets. I bought a 10-pound bag of brown basmati rice at an Indian grocery in week 7 for $14.99. I cook rice nearly every week and still have most of the bag left.
  • Stock up on pantry staples on sale. There are many staples I use every week, like whole wheat flour, maple syrup, cocoa powder, and nutritional yeast. If they have a long shelf life and are on sale, it pays to stock up. I am on bottle two of three bottles of organic tahini I bought back in February that was nearly half off.
  • Make food from scratch. I now bake my own bread every week, cook my own beans, and make my own vegetable stock, dressings, gravies and sauces, vegan cheeses, etc. I try to avoid packaged foods and only buy them if making my own is a crazy amount of work (two packaged foods I still buy are soymilk and pasta). Not only does homemade food taste better than store-bought items, but it’s healthier because I control the ingredients, and it saves money. Here I show that I save more than $16 by baking my own bread.
  • Buy from bulk bins. It’s much cheaper to buy nuts, seeds, dried beans, and nutritional yeast from bulk bins. You can buy only what you need for a recipe.
  • Shop around. I used to only go to Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh’s biggest grocery chain. Their sale items are great, but their produce and other items are expensive when not on sale. So I tend to shop at GE only for sale items. Trader Joe’s has the best prices for olive oil (1 quart for $5.99), oat bran ($2.89 for a huge bag), organic maple syrup (12 ounces for, I think, $5.99), lemons and limes ($.39 each), vegan chocolate chips, cocoa powder, frozen organic strawberries, garlic, and bananas. Pittsburgh has a very small Trader Joe’s, so they don’t have a huge selection and I can’t do all my grocery shopping there. Whole Foods’ own line of items is mostly inexpensive, and they have a good selection of locally grown produce. But I don’t shop there often…I was there recently, but that was the only time in about a year. That time, I bought a bag of oranges, and ¾ of them rotted in a few days (I didn’t keep the receipt so didn’t return them), and the organic peaches I bought there also immediately went bad. I haven’t been back. And the East End Food Co-op has mostly astronomical prices. Of course, now that summer is here, I’m shopping at farmer’s markets a lot. It’s more expensive, but for me it’s worth it to buy locally grown, organic produce.

I posted some additional lessons learned here and here.

I’m grateful to Emily for inviting others on this journey with her. I will use what I learned to eat healthy, delicious, vegan meals on a budget. Thanks, Emily!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homemade Clif Bars (No Bake!)

I made these energy bars for our road trip to West Virginia this past weekend. They were dynamite! These were like pimped-out rice crispy treats, with lots of wholesome ingredients. I think kids would really like these too.

Homemade Clif Bars (see original recipe and variations here at the Enlightened Cooking blog)
Makes 16 bars (3 WeightWatchers pointsplus value per bar)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (e.g., raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.) (Note: I omitted this)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped nuts or seeds (pepitas are great)
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/2 cup nut butter (preferably natural, well-stirred, but creamy is fine, too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine the rice cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, and nuts in a large bowl.

Combine the syrup and nut butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until melted and well blended (alternatively microwave in small microwave-safe bowl 30-60 seconds until melted). Stir in vanilla until blended.

Pour nut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated (use a wooden spoon at first, then mix with your hands). Press mixture firmly into a greased 8-inch square pan using a large square of wax paper (really tamp it down). Cool in pan on a wire rack and chill at least 30 minutes to help it set. Cut into 16 bars. (Wrap bars tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mountain Made Treats from WV

This past weekend my husband and I headed down to West Virginia, one of our favorite places. We rented this house near Davis and Thomas (two really great small towns), with views to the mountains and ski resorts (Timberline, Canaan, etc.)Because the drive was only about three hours, we filled a cooler with food. I cooked up some chickpeas and made a dressing and brought lots of lettuce for salads. I also made some hummus and whole-wheat bread, and brought pb & j. While walking through Davis, I saw that Hellbender Burritos had both tofu and homemade seitan options! I wished I hadn't brought so much food, but now I know for next time. If you're ever down that way, The Purple Fiddle in Thomas also has veg options.
Our rental was about 15 minutes away from Blackwater Falls. Beautiful!The viewing area for the falls was 218 steps down. The majority of people we passed while we were walking down were acting like the walk back up was equivalent to a marathon. They were nearly crawling up, out of breath and clearly out of shape. But the worst was an older Indian woman in a full-length sari that we passed on the way down. Granted, she must have been hot, but by the time we went down and back up again, she was nearly passed out on a bench half-way up. I'm wondering if, two days later, she's made it up yet. 218 steps is not a big deal. I went up as quickly as I could and was barely out of breath. I think it just shows how out of shape so many people are! I don't think everyone needs to be ripped, but I do think people should have a basic level of fitness to walk up some steps.
We also went up to Spruce Knob, the highest point in WV. It was windy and a little chilly, so that's why I look a little like Matrix with my long, black, blowing sweater!I got the necklace I have on in that photo from Mountain Made, which sells handmade arts and crafts from West Virginia artisans. I also stocked up on homemade nut butters, jams, and salsas. My favorite is the smoked almond butter--delicious!