Sunday, February 26, 2012

New to the Kitchen

This past month we've made a few upgrades to our kitchen. The first thing we've added is a brand new 7 quart slow cooker. Our old one had a chunk missing out of the ceramic. This new one is larger and has a timer so we can set it and leave.

The best money can buy. At K-Mart.

We also invested in an immersion blender. After my borsht explosion a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time. So many good soup recipes call for pureeing to finish, it'll be put to good use.

No more beet juice everywhere.

And last but not least we got a great new cookbook. At the suggestion of our friend Kim, we purchased a copy of The Vegan Slow Cooker.

There are so many good recipes in this book, we can't wait to try them all. Last week we enjoyed Indian tofu saag. Right now I have sweet potato white bean soup cooking. We'll be working through this cookbook for many months. Thanks Kim!

Tofu saag. Tastes better than it looks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Too Much Chocolate Cake

I made this cake weeks ago, for New Years. I haven't gotten around to posting it, but really, what's a better day to post a delicious cake like this? It's Mardi Gras a.k.a. Fat Tuesday! It's the perfect day for a delicious Too Much Chocolate Cake!

So chocolately. So delicious.

All my ingredients. Note that the recipe calls for chocolate chips and because a review I read, i used mini chocolate chips. Good idea.



And more mixing.

It was a THICK mixture and I plunked globs of the stuff into this bundt pan. (Fun fact: got that pan from a yard sale.)

Out of the oven. Mike eyes the cake. "Hey," he says, "should you cut the excess off the top so the cake sits flat?" Well, no, because I had put the cake on a plate (which is a bit concave) instead of a cake platter (which, I assume, is flat).

Insert sad face here. He wanted to eat the extra bits o' cake. :)

I held a mesh strainer over the cake and poured the powder sugar in. It made a nice dusting on top of the cake.

And voila. Delicious NYE cake. And me, before I got ready for our little party. (Here's an after. ^_^) 

What I would have done differently? Nothing. It was amazingly delicious. Rich, but not too rich that I couldn't cut myself a huge slice. It stayed nice and moist for several days until it was gone.

I probably ate half that cake and it was nice.

You can find the recipe here. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Beans, Beans, Beans

Cold February weather means it's time for chili and wintery sorts of beany soup. I hate going to the grocery store and buying so many ingredients in tin cans (and paying the price), so I've been learning to work with dry beans. It's pretty simple really:

  1. Soak the beans 12-24 hours. Make sure they've got a good amount of water, they'll need lots to absorb.
  2. Rinse the beans once or twice and change the water. This will help remove the oils from the beans that result in upset stomachs and unpleasant smells. 
  3. After soaking, put the beans in a pot, bring to a boil, then simmer until they are tender (probably an hour or two). Don't add salt because it keeps the beans from softening. If a colored foam collects on the top, skim it off and discard. That's just more of that beany gas stuff.
  4. When the beans are tender, scoop the extra into zip-lock freezer bags and freeze for later.  A couple minutes in the microwave and they're ready to use. I usually soak the entire bag of beans and have lots to freeze for later.
I've observed store-bought beans taste a little different, I think due to them often including salt and even sometimes sugar. I like the idea of saving money, eating less sodium and producing less waste.

Here's a great article about cooking vs. buying canned beans.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Something we're quickly learning is when our favorite foods are in season. And then of course how to store them for later. This past year, we've been hooked on avocados. They're great, but at $2 each, a little pricey. Fortunately, February marks the beginning of avocado season in California. I don't know about elsewhere, but Publix here in Greenville has been flooded with Hass avocados for less then $1 each.

We've eaten about all we can stand, but we're attempting to freeze some for later. We'll see how this goes, hoping for fresh tasting guacamole in months to come.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


This month, just for fun, I'm exploring recipes from places I've traveled around the world.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to take a mission trip to Odessa, Ukraine. We spent most of our time doing construction work on a camp site overlooking the Black Sea just north of the city. In town, we stayed with a very kind Ukrainian family. We had several dinners with them and got to hear their stories of growing up under communism and generations of struggle to practice their religion. The wife recalled her mom smuggling her into church hidden beneath her mother's large winter coat. When we visited, almost ten years after communism fell, they were still beaming with joy at their new freedom. 

Perhaps due to years of making due with very little, the husband had planted almost every square foot of their property (about 1/4 acre) with every kind of vegetable and fruit bearing plant he could grow. They still had very little, but heaped great portions of food in our bowls. Every dinner the main course was the same. Borsht. Consisting mainly of beets and typically seasoned with dill, borsht is a dietary staple for them. There's many variations across Russia and Eastern Europe, but I wanted to make a very simple recipe like the one they shared with us. 

I used the recipe from this video. Also a fantastic video series, a delight to watch. A few things I'd do differently: I wouldn't bother roasting the extra beets, they're nice but not worth the extra work. Also, invest in an immersion blender. It would have been cheaper than replacing the shirt and kitchen towels I stained. Dill is one of my favorite herbs. Beets are just ok, but they're super good for you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

January Challenge: Final Thoughts

Well January seems like the distant past, but I thought I'd recap how our challenge turned out. We ended the month spending about $180, twenty bucks less than our goal. We had the added benefit of holiday leftovers and frozen vegetables which saved us $'s. Here's a few things we learned.

Tiff made roasted salmon, long-grain brown rice and steamed vegetables. Yum!

1. To save money on healthy food, you have to plan ahead. Buying pre-made healthy meals at Earth Fare, Fresh Market, or even Publix is a good way to burn through a grocery budget real fast. To eat organic and local, you have to prepare many months in advance and learn to preserve those items.

2. Freeze everything you know you won't eat the next day. We've learned, if it goes into the fridge and we don't eat it the next day, it will probably go bad because I can't stand to eat the same meal three days in a row. So freeze it and have a nice easy lunch weeks later.

3. Many of us are addicted to our own food cravings. I used to go to Publix almost every day to get that food item I was craving. Being on a very tight budget made me realize how hard it is to deny myself and eat a meal made with things we already had. Having that special item is a great way to treat myself, not a good way to live.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I realized this past month is that with our tight grocery budget, we actually noticed a sharp decrease in spending across the board. We spent less in gas. We spent less shopping. We didn't have any of those "off" budget items. There's a good lesson here that has something to do with being content with what we have and not having to drive all over town spending money on things we don't need.

So this month, we're not doing the $200 grocery thing. But it's very much on our radar to assess what we have on hand and we've learned inexpensive and tasty recipes. Did you try it as well? We'd love to hear anything you might have learned as well.

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