Saturday, October 03, 2009

My Vegan Budget Foods

Do I even have to expound on why money is tight? Everyone has their own story, mine is currently the story of a woman working an hourly wage at a temp job. The upside for me is that I have the option of working for paid overtime if and when I want. My client currently has more than enough work to go around, and would love to have me there on Saturdays chipping away at the immense amount of data currently pouring in.

My current job is entering, managing, and reporting on flu vaccinations, eventually to include H1N1 vaccinations, and eventually to include data concerning suspected and or confirmed cases of illness. It's not where I thought I would be if you asked me 6 months ago, but I love working with data and building reports. It speaks to my science background.

Unfortunately since I'm an hourly worker, I don't get paid if I don't work. The past 2 weeks have been really hard on me. I started getting sick on September 17th, and tried to push through it. That was a mistake. I ended up seriously sick, in bed, with what was diagnosed as sinusitis (when I finally decided it wasn't going away and I needed to see a doctor). I relented my anti-antibiotic stance and now after a full course of little pink pills I'm feeling more like myself.

The lesson here is two fold. First, if I don't work, I don't get paid, and it's harder to pay the bills let alone buy groceries. Second, If I'm sick with anything worse than a cough and sniffle, and especially with "flu-like symptoms", then I'm stuck at home and can't go to the store to buy the things I need. In fact that last one is an important reminder to anyone who isn't used to getting sick. For public safety you shouldn't be going around passing your disease along to other people. No one wants your swine flu. What this really means is that you should have at least 2 weeks of food and provisions (better to have a whole month just in case). I lucked out in that my husband was well and could go out and run errands for me. But it was still a burden for him as he was also trying to pick up shifts to cover our expenses.

Also if you are the primary cook in the house (like I am) or live alone, it's a good idea to have foods you don't have to work for. This is one area that I failed miserably at. We had lots of food in the house, but most of it was "challenging" foods that take more than a few minutes to prep and/or need constant stove-side tending. Think easy-prep crockpot or casseroles. Better yet, stockpile a few already assembled casseroles in your freezer, sort of like a mini-pregnancy without the fun party and gifts. Soup is good but after the first week I didn't want any more salty broth. Gatorade. I don't drink gatorade "recreationally" ie. when I'm not sick, so it's not something I tend to have around, but over the past couple years I've had a stomach bug and now this last round of sick that made it a challenge to keep myself hydrated. It also helps with calories and electrolytes when you can't bring yourself to cook or eat anything else. So buy some gatorade, put it in a closet, and forget about it.

Today was my first day out of the house since visiting the Dr. and my first trip to the store since I started getting sick. I bought at least a month's worth of food. I'll admit that I tend to stockpile anyway, in order to take advantage of sales, but I bought a lot of things that never go on sale and never have coupons like dried beans - which are cheaper per bean than canned, even when the canned are on sale. I'll cook and cool the beans in the crockpot, batch by batch. Once the beans have cooled in their cooking liquid I transfer them to 2 cup deli containers draining most of the liquid and freeze them. Each container is roughly equivalent to a can. Really it's a compromise between cost and convenience. Cooking them in the crockpot is a background task that takes no real work at all and frozen beans are almost as convenient as canned. Onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and winter squashes will keep well for a month or more if stored properly. Frozen veggies are convenient and a good bargain since they won't suffer if I don't use them right away. Tofu, tempeh, and soymilk keep well unopened in the refrigerator. And of course grains and pastas are always on the shelf. I think the only thing I added for flu season is my favorite bland cracker. Oh and maybe a frozen treat like popsicles, sorbet, or dairy-free icecream.

So I now have more than a month's worth of food in the house, especially if you consider that most recipes feed 4-6 and there are only 2 of us. I like leftovers for lunch and even breakfast, so I never cut the recipes down.

The following is a very rough sketch of a menu plan... really it's more like a list of options that we'll choose from depending on our moods day to day. The meals based on fresh and fragile ingredients are the starred at the top, and the rest are pantry meals. I feel pretty good about it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vegan soy-free omelets

Ever since I saw this blog post, I've wanted to try it out. Last night we did just that. It turns out to be amazingly easy, and amazingly tasty. The essential recipe is equal parts chickpea flour (besan) and water, salt to taste and a dash of turmeric for color. I recommend cooking them in non-stick if you have it. I made mine in my cast iron skillet and they stuck even though I used a generous amount of oil. I also found that I could skip flipping them, which only broke them apart completely, because the undercooked batter was just as tasty and lent a bit of authenticity to the "omelet". Instead I cooked them until mostly set, added fillings (or not, plain is just as good), and rolled each edge over into the center and flip onto a plate. The taste sort of reminds me of the eggs laid by the corn-fed ducks we raised when I was growing up. And surprisingly my favorite condiment on the omelet is piccalilli relish which seems to be the best combination of sweet and tart to compliment the earthy omelets.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spinach and Leek Quiche

This recipe is very loosely based on Bryanna's Vegan Bell Pepper and Mushroom Quiche. Obviously one difference is the vegetables, but I also substituted EnerG egg replacer for the cornstarch and agar, as well as increased the tofu and vegan parmesan and decreased the soymilk. I did try Bryanna's recipe as written, but I found that the blended mixture sat on top of the vegetables and was a little too pudding-like for my taste. I also lowered the temperature to allow the filling time to become dense before the outer surface forms a crust. The changes I made produce a pie that is closer in consistency to the quiches I remember from my pre-vegan days.

1 9" pie shell
1 Tbs olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
2 Tbs EnerG egg Replacer powder
1-1/4 cup soymilk
1 tsp vegetarian chicken bouillon (amount needed to make 1 cup broth)
1 dash of turmeric
1 dash nutmeg
a pinch of salt and pepper
1 cup firm tofu
1/2 cup Galaxy Foods Vegan Soy Parmesan
a dash of paprika

1. Bake the pie shell at the temperature indicated for a no-bake pie filling. Err on the side of undercooked. My pie crusts called for 425 F for 11-16 minutes, so I baked mine at 425 F for 10 mins. Once the shell is baked, cool completely and set the oven to 350 F.

2. Sweat the leeks in the olive oil until translucent (I used a covered cast-iron skillet).

3. Add spinach to the softened leeks and stir uncovered until most of the moisture is gone and the spinach is almost dry. Patience and a med-low heat are needed here.

4. Once the spinach is almost dry, remove from the heat and let the mixture cool while you blend the rest of the ingredients.

5. Add the EnerG powder to a medium-sized bowl, and slowly whisk in the soymilk until it is a smooth but thick liquid. Whisk in the bouillon (pulverize with a fork first if you're using a cube instead of a powder or paste), turmeric, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Use enough turmeric to give the mixture a nice egg-y color.

6. Whir the tofu in a food processor or blender before adding the EnerG-soymilk mixture and blending the entire thing a few seconds until smooth.

7. Stir together the blended mixture, the soy parmesan, and the cooled spinach mixture before filling the cooled pie shell.

8. Smooth the top of the unbaked quiche with a spoon or spatula and lightly sprinkle with paprika before baking in a 350 F preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the filling is firm and has started to crack.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cornstarch: Good or Evil?

I just finished off my first ever box of cornstarch. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I bought it years ago before I was married. There's a picture of Martin Yan on the back from his Yan Can Cook! days. I have a feeling that he was probably a large part of why I bought it in the first place. I gave up on Cantonese-style stir-fries a long time ago. I've since used it in a few desserts and most recently in experimenting with vegan quiche.

The question is should I buy a new box? There has been a lot of media attention on corn in the past year or two: corn syrup, corn starch, GMO's. Now granted my corn starch is so old it was probably pre-GMO, but it's not exactly health food. There are supposedly healthier starches out there, and then there's the crowd of people eating to live beyond 100 who are eschewing starches and processed foods altogether. I, personally have a dear friend who has a sensitivity to many things, corn starch among them. Am I better off not replacing my box? What should I use instead? Kuzu? Potato? Tapioca? Arrowroot? Rice flour?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Auntie X's No-Knead Bread

Every weekend I make a batch of No-Knead Bread, sometimes I make extra dough and freeze it for later. I really love the flavor and texture that the long, slow rise gives the bread. My recipe is based on the NY Times recipe with a few changes.

1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon instant dry yeast (I just eyeball it in the palm of my hand)
1 to 2 teaspoons raw/turbinado sugar (eyeballed)
1 to 2 teaspoons salt (again, I just eyeball it)
1-5/8 cups warm tapwater

1. In a big bowl mix all the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until all the flour is wet, don't stress over having everything incorporated because the long rise will cover a multitude of sins.

2. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit on top of the fridge or in some other warm, draft-free place for 12 to 18 hours.

3. About a half hour before you're ready to bake the bread pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go: 500 F if yours will allow, mine tops out at 450 F. Liberally flour your countertop, much more heavily than you would for other breads or cookies... if you see any spots of countertop the dough will stick. Basically the dough is a very wet dough. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula. Don't try to knead the dough, just fold it into thirds from both directions, flour the top, then cover with the plastic wrap off the bowl, and let rest for 30 minutes.

While your dough is resting, prep your loaf pan. First I take a large piece of aluminum foil, about twice as long as the loaf pan or longer:

Place the loaf pan in the middle of the piece of foil and first fold up the long edges against the outside of the loaf pan:

Then squeeze the ends together at each end of the loaf pan:

Then lift the short end of the foil up against the ends of the loaf pan and crimp to secure:

Now take the loaf pan out of the foil, and presto, you have a perfect mirror image that will keep the steam in, allowing the bread to rise to its maximum height before crusting.

I use Earth Balance or Soy Garden to lightly grease the loaf pan:

Once the dough has rested for 30 minutes, drop it into the loaf pan, it doesn't much matter how un-gracefully you do this, because it pretty much evens out in the oven.

Next, cover the loaf pan with the tinfoil tent and squeeze the edges tightly to the pan for as close a seal as possible:

Next pop the loaf into the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, use tongs to remove the aluminum foil and bake another 20 minutes to brown the crust.

The beauty of this recipe is that it is so forgiving.

Monday, April 21, 2008

FFtVSC: Lentil Soup with Kale Ribbons

This is a good solid work night dinner. It is a delicious, nutritious, and uncomplicated recipe. I give it a thumbs up.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring-Thyme Linguine for one

We've had a few really warm days, and the nights have stayed above freezing for most of them, so Paul and I decided to take full advantage of this beautiful sunny weather. Yesterday we took a picnic dinner out to the local state forest and hiked a bit. Today while Paul has been at work, I've been raking away the protective winter mulch and death to reveal the new buds of spring. The thyme in the herb garden is doing so well, you'd hardly think that winter had happened. Consequently, this lunch was born.


1 generous serving of linguine, cooked but still damp with cooking liquid to prevent sticking
1 T olive oil
3 large porcini mushrooms, sliced
6 small spring onions, greens chopped into larger pieces, whites sliced finely
1 clove garlic, minced if you don't own a garlic press (though every garlic-lover should!)
1 small splash of white wine or rice wine vinegar
1-2 T fresh spring thyme, leaves slid off the stem
salt and pepper to taste

For this recipe I used my well-seasoned cast iron skillet.
Add the olive oil and mushrooms to the skillet and toss vigorously over high heat so that all of the liquid escaping the mushrooms evaporates. Stir-fry until the mushrooms have lost most of their water and started to brown, but haven't yet reached the crispy stage.
Reduce heat to med-low and add the green onions, toss until the whites of the onions have softened. Squeeze in garlic clove and continue stiffing for about a minute. Add linguine and white wine and toss. Turn off heat and add fresh thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

Bon Appetite!