Monday, January 27, 2014

Smoky Baked Beans

I create a weekly menu to help save money on food.  I check my pantry first and this week it was a toss up between white beans and French lentils.  I had lots of millet and quinoa, too. Since our meals are vegetarian, main dishes include grains, pasta, tofu and tempeh dishes. I choose vegetables in in season, and I always have a few selections from the farmers' market.

Though beans are a weekly staple in our house, they have a bad rap.  Beans can cause digestive disturbances and they're often referred to as "the poor man's meat."  They aren't paleo, but neither am I and if you want to be economical, maybe you should reconsider beans. They are filled with nutrition so for just pennies, you can be totally satisfied.  I once did a demo at a food bank because the manager said, people will take peanut butter over beans,  most people just don't know how to cook them.  If you aren't used to beans, add them slowly.  Add a few to salads or soups and gradually increase your intake.  

Here are some tips on digesting beans. 

Let me add one additional tip: if you get this year's bean harvest (at the farmers market), they are much more digestible.  Cooking old beans is like trying to soften gravel from the driveway.  Those beans that have been in the back of your cupboard for years--get rid of them, pronto.  

Farmers' markets may be more expensive but you know when the crop was harvested and often the flavors are amazing.

But if you're on a budget this year like me, I get that too.

A friend asked what I was having for dinner yesterday and when I said Baked Beans, Corn Muffins and Coleslaw, she said,  "Are you kidding me, that sounds like prison food."  I don't take myself very seriously so I thought it was funny.  Maybe people think of canned beans when you mention baked beans, but I started wondering if my whole weekly menu was similar to prison fare.

Here is my weekly dinner menu for this week:

Smoky Baked Beans, coleslaw with carrots, corn muffins
Tortilla Soup, tempeh taco sliders, green salad
Quinoa Fritters with salsa, vegetable stir fry, corn tortillas
Tofu-Shiitake Mushroom Scramble, tempeh bacon, whole grain toast
Cuban Red Beans and Rice, sauteed garlic and kale, carrot salad
Orzo Pasta with Spinach and Pine Nuts, marinated beets, green salad

I only write enough for six days because one day is bound to be leftovers, sandwiches or veggie burgers.  Or we may go out to eat, but this is my year of living frugally.   I'm not sure it's prison fare--I think they must get cheap subsidy stuff from the government.  You wouldn't find pine nuts or quinoa fritters and you might not even find vegetarian options there.

It's probably more expensive to use canned sweet potato puree.  I actually saved this can and used a real sweet potato that I found for 79 cents a pound.

Smoky Baked Beans
(Serves 4)

1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided 
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 or 2 dried chipotle chiles
1 cup white beans, soaked overnight and drained
2 cups water
4 or 5 strips tempeh bacon, cut into 1-inch strips
1 can sweet potato puree
Sea salt to taste (optional)

Saute onions in half of canola oil until browned.  Remove from heat.  Stir in molasses, prepared mustard, brown sugar and garlic. 

Place in a pot with drained white beans and water.   Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for one hour or until beans are tender.  Saute the tempeh bacon in remaining canola oil until browned.   Stir sweet potato puree and tempeh bacon into the white beans.  Continue to simmer until you want to serve the beans.   Season with sea salt, if desired.  Remove the chipotle chiles before serving. 

Excuse me, but we'd like a second helping.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Chimichurri (Argentine Parsley Sauce)

One of my favorite cookbooks is The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac.  That's where I first found Chimichurri, an Argentine Parsley Sauce.  As sauces go, it's a bit like pesto without any grated cheese or pine nuts.  Some people serve it with meat.

I never have, but I've used it with plenty of other dishes.  It makes a great addition to rice, quinoa or potatoes.  Whatever you decide to use it, taste as you add it because this sauce has a tangy bite to it.

I'm adding it to the $100 a week category because it's also economical.  Just seventy-nine cents for one bunch of it.  A bunch that can stretch over many dishes--soup, casseroles, stews, pilafs.  And remember parsley is one of the most nutritious vegetables around. 

Parsley is worth putting on your weekly food list because for pennies, it keeps adding nutrients to dishes.

Most of the time I don't even need to buy parsley because it grows like a weed here in the Northwest. It's hearty, and it keeps coming back no matter what.

Add plenty of garlic to this sauce and you've added even more nutrients.

(Makes about 1 cup)

2 cups finely chopped parsley
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon oregano (dried)
2 teaspoons basil (dried)
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place parsley in a strainer and pour boiling water over the parsley.  Place parsley in a bowl and add apple cider vinegar, sea salt, garlic, oregano, basil, Mama Lil's and olive oil.   Refrigerate for one hour.  Whisk before serving.

My Cooking Assistant sometimes can't help himself!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Smoky Split Pea Soup

This soup is perfect for Meatless Monday, and I have to confess, I ate it for breakfast. For the Soup Project (where every week was a soup recipe) I paired celery root with split peas in this soup.  It was grand and so creamy with the celery root, but you can't find celery root right now.  And the split peas will make it thick enough.

But celery is always available and since it's on the list of Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen (most pesticide laden), it's best to look for the organic label.  It's actually one of the more expensive items in my budget this week, the entire head of celery cost over four dollars, but the flavor is better and with organic you don't need to worry about eating pesticide residues.

This recipe is budget friendly, even if you get high end celery. You don't need to buy organic, but I find it creepy to eat conventional vegetables and fruits if it harbors more pesticides. 

The split peas came from the Grocery Outlet, however, and cost less than a dollar, and I still have half left. That means the main ingredient was less than 50 cents.  

And potatoes. . . well, you know you can find always find potato bargains.  And even at the farmers market, potatoes are a bargain.  (Plus the potatoes from the market taste better, and organic is hard to beat.)

We always have carrots on hand. Big bags of them, and the reason is My Cooking Assistant.  He doesn't demand much, but he's a vegetable snob. If he doesn't have a carrot a day, he might get cranky. It's often less expensive when you buy larger quantities of foods. And if you like carrots (and aren't allergic) they can go in just about everything. If you don't have carrots, sweet potatoes or squash will also do.

I found the savory smoky maple tempeh bacon at a local natural foods store.

Finish with lemon juice. You don't need to use the whole lemon, but adding lemon is like a sunny day without the sun.  But then maybe you only get that when you live in the Northwest.

Smokey Split Pea Soup
(Serves 4)

1 cup shiitaki mushrooms, though stems removed, sliced
1to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onon, medium dice
1 carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
4 strips tempeh bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 or 2 red potatoes, diced
1 heaping cup split peas
4 cups water
1 dried chipotle chile pepper
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest
1 cup almond or coconut milk (optional)
1 or 2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
Sea salt to taste
A drizzle of agave nectar (optional)
1 cup chopped parsley

1. Heat a soup pot over medium heat.  Add shiitaki mushrooms.  Stir and cook until they soften.

2. Add olive oil, onion and red pepper flakes.  Stir and cook until onions begin to brown.  Add carrot, celery and pressed garlic.  Stir and cook for a few minutes, then add tempeh bacon and cook until it browns. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in potatoes.

3. Add split peas, water, chipotle chile, bay leaf, and lemon zest.  Cover and simmer on low for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add almond or coconut milk, if desired.  Season to taste with lemon and sea salt.  Add a drizzle of agave nectar if desired to balance the lemon tones.   

4. Sprinkle with parsley before serving. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Nutty Cinnamon Granola

I officially declare that 2014 will be my year of living frugally. 

I'm paring down the things I spend money on, and saving for things I want. I'm also padding our emergency expence fund, because last year, medical bills were dicey and shocking.  Hopefully "Affordable Healthcare" will really be affordable this year, but  I think what's easier than worrying and stressing about bills, is to learn how to live frugally now rather than panic when big bills happen.

Living frugally doesn't mean giving up good healthy breakfast, eating mush for a year or dining on store brand cold cereal.

It doesn't mean cutting back on great calendars either. Check out the variety I got this year.  

I thank everyone who sent or gave me one, they are all so different and interesting. The only problem is finding a space for all of them.

One of my favorites is from Ayers Creek Farm in Oregon.  Check out this post about the bobcat and chicories on their farm.  Anthony and Carol Boutard have a bee theme for their calendar this year, and each photo and paragraph tells a little the bees on the farm.  For example, January's photo is a photo of an Oregon junco foraging.  Boutard writes, "Among the debris left from the harvest, our native bees and other insects take shelter until springtime."

A scientist for the USDA-ARS Pollinating Insect Research Unit identified many of the wild bees around the farm--the black tail bumbleee, yellow-faced bumblebee and the fuzzy horned bumblebee--and that's just the bumblebees.  They mention the death of 50,000 yellow-faced bumblebees by a neonicoitinoid insecticide in a Wilsonville shoping center last May that planted the idea of a bee theme calender this year.

Each month tells a mini-story about bees and wildlife on the farm.  As calendars go, it's a keeper because it tells me things I don't know about bees. It's interesting how we take food for granted and don't often give thanks to the bees who help make our fruits and vegetables abundant.

In my last post I mentioned I'd like to have more breakfast recipes. Let's face it, most people, including me, tend to choose the same things for breakfast.  It can get boring, and I plan on branching out this year, sampling new options.  Yet my first choice granola is quite traditional, but making it instead of buying can save some money, and here's why:

Many of the ingredients to make granola--oats, nuts, dried fruit and even honey--are already in your pantry.  Sure you can make it with maple syrup but it's not a product you'd necessarily see in a frugal shopper's cart and compared to honey in the cupboard, it's going to be an expensive purchase. 

Walnuts from Grouse Mountain Farm
Rule #1 for frugal foodies:  Eat what you already have before you shop for special ingredients. 

Another tribute to bees?   Who knows but I found a jar of Tahuya River honey that I'd gotten a few years ago and I decided to use it.  Tahuya River was one of my favorite places to stop at the U-District farmers market.   Roy the beekeeper shared compelling stories about beekeeping, and later  his son Josh took over selling and he always had a smile and jokes to tell.  They sold amazing beewax candles, which I still have also. The scent of these candles is heavenly.  One year Tahuya River lost a lot of hives from vandals, and in another year they lost bees to a disease or virus.  They wern't anywhere near agriculture but hard being a beekeeper when replacement costs eat into your bottom line. Tahuya River still has this website with wax and candles but no honey. 

You can put whatever you want into granola. Some varieites at the store had yogurt chips, coconut flakes and chocolate chips.  Some were as pricey as almonds or pecans per pound and none were actually in "frugal" territory.   If you have raisin, cranberries, or any kind of dried fruit, you can use it. Pistaschios and almonds?  Go for it.  I cut up dried nectarines and added banana chips that I had leftover from our Thanksgiving trip to Pismo Beach last year.  

I found pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the freezer.  I didn't use them all, but I made a note about them, so I can use them in future recipes.

I'm learning is more about how to not spend and how to look for bargains rather than clipping coupons.  Add a bit of soymilk, a cut banana and you've got a better cereal than any packaged cereal.  My local grocery store sells cut bananas for 37 cents a pound and often you can find cut organic bananas tossed in with the non organic bananas--anything for 37 cents.  It's quite a bargain for the organic label.

(Makes about 7 cups)

1 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds
5 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dried chopped fruit (apples, apricots, pears--no raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix wet ingredients together in a saucepan. Heat gently until well combined and very liquid.

2. Combine nuts, oats, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, flour, sea salt and cinnamon, while wet ingredients cook.

3. Pour honey-maple syrup mixture over oat-nut mixture. Spread on baking sheets, and bake for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then return to oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. Mixture should be lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before transferring to a bowl. Not stirring encourages plenty of big clumps. Carefully mix in dried fruit.

4. Enjoy for breakfast, snacks or as a topping for coconut sorbet.