Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Frugal Food: Making the Most of Your Produce - Oranges

Have you ever noticed how much of many foods we throw away? Even if you have a compost pile which puts your scraps to excellent use, most of us could still do a better job of maximizing our produce, and as a result our budgets. 

I have been doing a number of things to get the most from my produce which I want to share with you. We will start with citrus. Frequently when we peel an orange or juice a lime or lemon we just pitch the remains. But there is *so much flavor* in that peel that you are tossing. Instead, I've started taking a minute to peel off the zest and throw it in a labeled bag in the freezer. It is ready to go whenever I need zest for a recipe, even if I don't have whole fruit on hand. (When you peel the fruit do your best to only take the color and avoid the white pith as it is quite bitter.) If you need finely grated zest you can either chop it by hand or wiz it in your blender with a bit of something from the recipe you are making (sugar, flour, etc.). Or use it whole in the recipe below!

This is my favorite cranberry sauce. While I make it every year for the holidays there is no reason to limit your cranberry intake to just two months a year. Cranberries freeze beautifully, just toss the whole bag straight into your freezer. This sauce is sweet, but still tangy. It is based on this recipe, but I've changed the proportions considerably.

Simple Cranberry Sauce
This makes a little more than two cups. It is easily doubled and can be made well in advance and stashed in the 'fridge, which is always nice for holiday cooking.

4 cups (1 lb) whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 big strips orange zest
1 cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then back the heat down to low and let simmer 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should be thick and glossy. If you prefer a thinner consistency you can add more orange juice or water to your liking. Remove the cinnamon stick and peel before storing or serving.

This cranberry sauce is nicely balanced. You need not only serve it at the holidays. It makes a great topping for pancakes, biscuits, and ice cream or along side seitan cutlets any time of year. 

Cranberries are nutrition powerhouses. When consumed regularly they have been shown to prevent urinary tract and bladder infections and kidney stones, and show promise as an anti-viral and in helping lower cholesterol, among other things. This is a nice change of pace (and a healthier choice) from the sugar-filled cranberry fruit "cocktail" for getting you daily dose of cranberry goodness.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dinner in 15: Blender Black Bean Soup

I am someone who likes a fair amount of structure in my life. If I am not getting it from outside sources I tend to create it for myself. I tell you this because I have been toying with the idea of doing some semi-regular themes for posts. Mostly to help me organize some of my posts and ideas in a way that makes sense to me. A few themes I have come up with: Dinner in 15, Back to Basics, Frugal Food, and Cooking Now for Later. I would like to know what you all think. Does the idea make you all giddy with excitement? Do any of the categories in particular resonate with you? Are there any categories not present that you'd like to see? 

For the first installment of Dinner in 15 I give you: soup. Homemade soup no less. Quick meals are one of the best arguments for making enough that you have leftovers for later in the week. I made Cuban black beans and brown rice and a couple nights later we had this soup from the leftovers. I did not measure much while I was doing this. You should adjust the seasonings to your taste (remember - you can always add more!), since they will vary depending on how seasoned the leftovers are which you are working with. This can be made as thick (dip anyone?) or thin as you like.

Blender Black Bean Soup (from Leftovers)
Makes 2-4 servings

2 cups leftover black beans
1 cup cooked brown rice
1-2 fresh tomatoes
1/4 roasted red pepper
1/4 small red onion
roasted garlic cloves
1 raw garlic clove
chili powder (ancho, hot Mexican, etc)
squirt of vegan worcestershire sauce
squirt of ketchup or tomato paste
squirt of Bragg's Liquid Aminos
handful of fresh cilantro
veggie broth 
salt and pepper to taste

To Finish: juice of one lime

Possible Toppings: chopped tomato, chopped avocado, chopped cilantro, vegan sour cream, vegan cheese, corn or tortilla chips

Place all the ingredients in you blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Pour into a sauce pan and heat over medium until hot and bubbly, stirring frequently (or microwave for even faster heating). Chop toppings while soup is heating. Stir in lime juice, add toppings, and eat.
Just because you are eating leftovers does not mean they have to look exactly the same as the first time you ate them. If you are a reluctant leftover eater (I'm not naming names... Amy...) try transforming them. They can save you time and money and they can be very delicious. This is certainly faster than delivery and a heck of a lot healthier.


I'm sure many of you have heard of the fires that have been raging in Southern California. We live in north Orange County, less than 5 miles from several of the fires. Thankfully, both our families are safe, both in person and homes. However, the weather is hot, dry, and windy and we've had ash raining on us the last couple days. We're praying for rain - or at least double digit humidity - and cooler weather. The firefighters have been amazing.  

Anyway, given the weather (90 degrees in the middle of November is NOT reasonable!) and the perpetual smell of smoke (seriously - like sitting in a fire pit for two days straight) I've not been doing much cooking. If I remember my card reader I'll have something for you tomorrow. 

Hope you are all safe and sound and enjoying cooler weather than we are. Peace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tag, You're It

Bethany tagged me for the Random Facts Meme, so here it goes!
Link the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links.
Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. I collect turtle things. Not like in a weird, has-every-barbie-every-produced-still-in-the-box kind of collects, but my guest bath is turtle themed. Thankfully, since I don't point it out to people (on purpose!), only my mom really ever gets me stuff, which means I only get cool turtles carved out of wood and metal. They are just such neat animals.

2. My fear of failure keeps me from pursuing certain interests and/or goals. Actually, it is more the fear that the people I love and respect will be disappointed in me than the failure itself...

3. I like to go wine tasting. If you have any interest in wine, even "just" recreational consumption, you should go. You can find wine shops and tasting rooms all over, even if you don't live close to a wine growing region, although I bet you live closer to one than you think. It is a great way to learn what you like fairly inexpensively. Plus, there is great scenery if you go to the vineyards. Tasting is not just for pretentious wine snobs.
B and me in Santa Barbara at the beginning of October, wine tasting.

4. Although I like sweets, I can not think of a single one that I would consider "comfort food". Nope, give me  buttered and toasted sourdough bread any day. And a bowl of soup. Also, straight from the farm naval oranges (preferably peeled and doled out by Dad). 

5. I dream of having a big property with a huge garden and an orchard. I'd like to provide for all for all my family's produce needs one day. 

6. I would like to stay home with my hypothetical, future children (did I just lose all my feminists readers?). I have my master's degree, and I'd like to get a Ph.D. (I think... see fact 2...), but ideally I'd like to teach part time and be able to be with my kids. This would also theoretically give me the time to tend to the aforementioned garden, bake all our bread, etc. I don't think it is any surprise that Laura Ingalls Wilder was my favorite childhood author...

7. I used to think my mom was crazy for waiting until she was 30 to start having kids. When I was a teenager (who of course knew everything) I told her there was no way I was waiting that long. Now I just think she's brilliant (damn it - she is always right, always. It is so annoying.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Guess it is That Time of Year...

When I checked Hannah's blog this evening my first thought was "Shut up!" She posted a recipe for pumpkin ice cream, which is what I have for you today. I've definitely been upstaged by the queen of vegan confections. But our recipes are pretty different, so take your pick. Her picture is decidedly prettier!

Anyway, this came about because we had a couple friends over and one of them joked after dinner that he wanted pumpkin ice cream. Lesson 1: be careful what food-related things you wish for around me, you are liable to get it! I thought to myself "I can make that!" And since I store my ice cream maker bowl in my freezer it is always ready to go. I really like pumpkin, but I am not particularly fond of pumpkin pie so this would not be my first flavor choice for ice cream but Dirty (the friend who requested it - don't ask about the nickname) and B liked it.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
I topped it with dried cranberries for the picture and they were pretty yummy, they got cold and chewy and provided a nice tart contrast to the ice cream. If you don't want to use a whole cup of maple syrup (I was feeling reckless!) you can use 1 1/4 cups sugar heated in 1/2 cup water just until dissolved then cooled and add 1/2 tsp maple extract.

1 15 oz can 100% pumpkin puree 
1 12 oz box silken tofu
1/2 cup whole, raw cashews
1/2 cup water
1 cup maple syrup - Grade A dark, or Grade B
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of ground nutmeg

Blend all ingredients in blender until completely smooth (I can't vouch for how well this will work in a "regular" blender). Chill in freezer 40 minute or in 'fridge over night - I just stuck the whole blender container in there.  

Freeze in your ice cream maker per manufacture directions. Serve as is for soft serve consistency or transfer to an air tight container and freeze until solid.

Consume. This makes about 6 cups, and it's definitely healthy as far as ice cream goes!

I love Chocolate

In fact I love it a lot. I especially love that scientists say it is good for me. Woo hoo, a certified recommendation to eat more of it. 

The thing is, chocolate does not always love me back. I get migraines pretty regularly, which is a genetic thing (thanks Mom), and as with many migraine sufferers mine are sometimes triggered by certain foods. What triggers migraines is unique to each individual, but there are certain foods which appear to affect a large number of sufferers. Wine, chocolate, and cheese, especially the aged kind, citrus fruits, avocados, fermented foods, and nuts are all well known triggers (to learn more go here). So basically my favorite foods. Fantastic. Red wine and chocolate both trigger migraines for me, although chocolate only does it occasionally whereas red wine is much more predictable (damn you! So Mom and I drown our sorrows in white wine... only kidding... mostly). Anyway, the point of this is, if I am going to consume these foods I aim to make them count (what? You didn't actually think I was going to, like, abstain from these foods, did you?! Please.) 

Endangered Species chocolate is excellent and readily available - I found it at Target, and most of their chocolates are vegan (only the milk chocolates and the one dark chocolate with toffee are not). Plus it conforms to my rules.

This is a really good dark chocolate for the dark chocolate adverse. It is very smooth, and not overly bitter, yet not cloying either. One of the things I like about dark chocolate is that it takes very little to satisfy my craving. So while a half a bar is a serving, I am perfectly satisfied with a fifth of a bar. Perhaps not so good for the company, but much better for my waist :o)

Additionally, Endangered Species is fair trade, supports family farms, and donates 10% of net profits to "help support species, habitat, and humanity." So your taste buds and your conscious will be happy. Not everything they make is vegan, but it is all clearly marked, so you just have to look for the "V" in the heart on the back. They also have an organic line, and all their products are GMO free. 

Look at how lusciously dark it is. And yes, I ate it with peanut butter. Mmmmm.

Check back tomorrow for a new recipe. Happy Monday!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Shepardless Pie

This meal is super omni friendly (it was tested on real, live omni's - they went back for more), super yummy, and a straight from the larder meal if you have a reasonably well-stocked kitchen. If you use a cast iron skillet or another oven-safe skillet it will be a two-pot meal (one pot if you have left-over mashed potatoes on hand!).

I used some frozen burger crumbles that were languishing in the freezer, but you can use TVP or grated tempeh if you prefer. If you use TVP rehydrate it in no-beef broth.
Shepardless Pie
Serves 6-8 happy people. This recipe is easily halved, just use a smaller skillet. If you want to double it transfer the filling to a 13x9 baking dish before topping and baking.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 celery heart, or two stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups burger crumbles, rehydrated TVP, or crumbled tempeh
1/2 cup red wine
1 tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp Braggs liquid aminos
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp dried thyme
4 cups frozen mixed veggies (mine had corn, peas, carrots, and green beans)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups water mixed with 2 tbsp no-beef broth (or 2 cups veggie broth)
salt and pepper to taste
one recipe of mashed potatoes, below

The filling, prior to being topped.

Preheat oven to 375. 

Heat oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook 2 minutes, until they onions start to look translucent. Add garlic and cook one minute longer. Add wine and burger crumbles, cook until most of the wine is absorbed. Add the worcestershire, Braggs, ketchup, thyme, fresh pepper, and frozen veggies. Stir to thoroughly incorporate everything and cook a couple minutes until veggies start to thaw (yes I dumped them in straight from the freezer). 

Sprinkle in flour. You may need to do this in a couple increments to avoid lumps. Just sprinkle and stir, then repeat until you've worked in all the flour. When your done all the filling should be coated and you should not see the flour itself. Pour in the broth and stir until filling is uniform. Bring to a bubble and cook until gravy thickens.

Turn off heat and get your mashed potatoes. Dollop two-thirds of the potatoes over the filling and spread around until the whole top is covered, making sure work it all the way to the edge. Use remaining third of potatoes to cover any areas that look thin.

Place the entire skillet in the oven and bake 30-40 minutes, until filling is bubbly and potatoes are browned. If your potatoes are not brown enough for you after 40 minutes, you can use your broiler to finish them off but do NOT leave the kitchen. In fact, plant yourself in front of the oven. They will go from deliciously toasty to nasty burned in seconds!

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Serve to your adoring fans. 

As you can see the filling and potatoes did not completely fill the skillet to allow room for bubbling.

Mashed Potatoes
4 medium russet potatoes
2 tbsp earth balance (optional, I usually skip it when I'm just cooking for the two of us)
1/2 - 3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1-2 tbs yellow miso
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and dice potatoes. Place in a medium pot, cover with water and a tsp of salt. Bring to a boil and cook 10-15 minutes, until fork tender. Drain.

Mash potatoes. Add remaining ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. For shepardless pie it is better if the potatoes are a little on the dry side as they will absorb some of the gravy from the filling.