Monday, November 10, 2008

Vegan Chef on a Shoestring

The other day, I went to the grocery store to get the basics, and really did get the basics, and walked out with a nearly $70 bill. That's for two people for about a week. I was outraged. Not just at the prices, but at myself. "I have a pantry full of food," I said (as the cashier looked at me funny), Why don't I use what I already have at home?"

Well, part of the reason is that I love fresh fruits and vegetables, but honestly, being a D.I.N.K. (double-income no kids), we have been used to buying what we want, when we want, when it comes to food at least. So, I have decided to make the rest of the calendar year (with the exception of Thanksgiving, of course!), "Meals on a Shoestring." This also involves using up items in my pantry, so I can still make more expensive meals, except the money has already been spent. With the economy the way it's going, this'll last into the New Year, I'm sure, but what's so wrong with saving money?

First, we have these cutie-pie mini muffins, made from bananas that were definitely overripe on our kitchen table. I NEVER throw out bananas, and since I had never used my mini muffin tins before, I thought this would also be a great way to finish up my New Year's resolution to try new things in the kitchen. Aren't they adorable?? I used the Delightful Banana Nut Muffin recipe from my new (also mini) cookbook, Vegan A Go-Go, by Sarah Kramer, seen here in my last post. They were sweet and nutty and fluffy and just perfect! One of the best muffins I have ever made. I substituted applesauce for the oil, and whole wheat pastry flour for the regular white kind, so they were even healthier. Regular muffins seem like monsters now, in comparison. I may never go back. Four stars!****

Next up, Pumpkin-Cranberry Soup, from New Vegetarian Basics. This had caught my eye a while back (like, three years) and I figured why not? I had a can of pumpkin in my pantry and a small container of soy yogurt in my fridge, about to expire. The only thing I had to buy was the dried cranberries, and I bought the smaller bag because it cost less (the bigger bags usually are cheaper per ounce, but I'm looking at immediate savings).

The yogurt and dried cranberries on top were a great, tart way to balance out the relative sweetness of the soup (it had apples and cranberries cooked into it) but overall it was too bland. I had to add quite a bit of salt and pepper to give it a savory flavor. Two and a half stars. I won't make this again, probably. I think I like squash soup better. It's just my preference - it wasn't that bad of a soup, really! And isn't it so pretty?

Normally, when a recipe like that soup calls for half a can, the other half sits in a Tupperware container in my fridge (yes, I know I should use glass, but I'm waiting until all my plastic wears out!), until it grows feet and walks away. This time, I used this recipe (minus the whipping cream, powdered sugar and orange - this was lunch, not dessert for goodness sake) to make a Pumpkin Smoothie. It was pretty good! I had to add some molasses and agave nectar to sweeten it up, because I had left out those other hideous ingredients. Great way to use up leftover pumpkin! Three stars ***

Back to the cupboard, I found I hadn't used red lentils in a while (and they are so good for you!), and I was craving something spicy, so Vegan A Go-Go came to my rescue with this super quick and cheap Cauliflower and Red Lentil Soup! It was really more like a stew, but no complaints here! The only thing I had to buy was the cauliflower (which is super cheap at B.J.s, compared to regular grocery stores!). I used canned tomatoes and vegetable broth cubes and I already had all of the spices. Oh yeah, and I had to buy some cilantro but that's wicked cheap.
My husband ate some too, and kept commenting on how good it was! The glare of the flash kind of makes it look freaky, but I agree - it was definitely Four Stars ****

At the last wedding we attended, my husband and I worked up the idea to start a Supper Club. We're not calling it anything like that, but that's essentially what it is. Three other D.I.N.K. (see above) couples are joining us for a monthly potluck at each other's houses. This month, the main food was chili, and our hosts graciously created a beautiful veggie chili that kicked the meat chili's ass. Four stars **** We brought along my first vegan cheesecake! It was the Birthday Cheesecake from Food Snobbery is My Hobbery, and man oh man, did it ROCK!!! It had a pretzel/peanut butter crust, then a layer of melted chocolate, then the peanut butter flavored cheesecake. It didn't have the exact texture of a real cheesecake, but everyone raved about it, and my husband hunted it down in the fridge for more helpings when we got home. Easy, beautiful, creamy, rich - like taking a bite of a peanut butter cup! I was so proud of myself for making this (almost as proud as I was when I unclogged the sink this weekend). I think this counts towards my New Year's resolutions, too. Best of all, I had all the ingredients in my pantry and fridge! (I've had the Tofuti Cream Cheese kicking around for months, but I was too afraid to try a cheesecake). Four Stars! ****

Of course, I never make a new recipe for a gathering without a backup. These Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance have to be the most delicious, chewy, fragrant, sweet cookies on the face of the vegan planet. I kid you not. These are my all-time favs. I make them all the time. They use a whole can of pumpkin, so no leftovers and the recipe makes a ton. Four stars, as usual ****
Well, that's it for this cheap vegan chef! I am PSYCHED beyond belief about the elections, but I don't have the energy now to post about it. I'll just leave you with this:
Pandora left Hope...


VeggieGirl said...

Great tips!! And I love the "D.I.N.K." term, haha :-D

Scott Carlson said...

I make Pumpkin Spice Pancakes from Vegan Planet almost every weekend. For my extra I usually make this:

Pumpkin Corn Muffins
Source: Make It Simple Entertaining
Servings: 12
1 ¼ C all-purpose flour
3 T egg replacer + 4 T water (2 egg-equivalent)
1 C Yellow Corn Meal
1 ¼ C solid pack pumpkin
1/3 C sugar
1/3 C soy milk
4 t baking powder
¼ C vegetable oil
½ t salt

Mix the egg replacer and water together well in a bowl.
Add the pumpkin, milk, and oil. Mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients until well mixed.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined.
Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes.

(Occasionally I use polenta which makes it crunchier.)

mysticxian said...

I understand about the whole using up what you got in your pantry, I'm currently trying to do the same thing. We keep going over budget when there is plenty of food at home that I have not even looked at that's been hiding for a while.
Good luck to you.