Monthly Archives: April 2012

Money Saving Monday–Eat it Starbucks

Readers, I’m not going to lie, I really, really like coffee.

I’m not one of those bloggers that’s going to tell you to abstain from God’s way of telling us he loves us and wants to wake up and have a good day…or afternoon pick me up…or a good study session…all nighter…etc… In fact, I love it exactly as much as I love tea, which says a lot because I ADORE tea! If I could find some hot water I’d be drinking some tea right now!

But this isn’t about tea. It’s not even really about coffee.

Starbucks has this creation that it calls a blended “coffee” drink. It’s not coffee. It might have a teensy bit of coffee, but it’s almost entirely not coffee. It is full of cream, chocolate, and other “goodies” that will set you back AT LEAST a meals worth of calories, fat, and sugar. It will also cost you AT LEAST five bucks. Boo!


Yeah, that’s right, Frappuccino, I’m talking about you. You’re disgusting!

Guys, I don’t really care if you count your calories or sugar intake or any of that. I don’t and I’m much happier this way. But if you’re going to drink something that sugar laden and icky, you should at least get some nutrients. Or some coffee.

A Much Better Blended Coffee Drink
1/2 cup black coffee, room temperature or chilled
1 frozen banana, in chunks
1/2 to 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (some may need to dilute the coffee more)
4-5 ice cubes
maple syrup or other sweetener to taste (I used 1 tsp)

In a blender, add all the ingredients except the ice. Blend until smooth, then add the ice cubes, one at a time, until your drink has the desired consistency.

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Well would you look at that. I may have just put Starbucks out of business.

(I didn’t mean that Starbucks. I really like your soy vanilla lattes. Shhh. Don’t tell my readers.)

Seriously though, if you absolutely need something sweet and caffeinated, you can’t beat this. You’re getting the health benefits of coffee that all the doctors are raving about right now, the health benefits of cocoa (doesn’t get much darker than that), the health benefits of almond milk (hello readily absorbed calcium!), and the health benefits of bananas (potassium is a go)–and it’s DELICIOUS!

Go ahead, have a “venti” one. You’ll feel fancy and all your friends will be jealous of your barista abilities. And you’ll save yourself a few bucks, to boot.

Drink and be awake, readers!


I Really, Really, Really Love Chinese Takeout

I mean it readers, I do! In fact, EVERYONE in this house loves Chinese and would eat it every meal of every day if it weren’t for the penchant of American Chinese cuisine to fry everything. Are there veggies? Yes. Are there nutrients? Yes. Did the tofu soak up it’s weight in grease? Yes.

Some food, such as Indian, I’m willing to splurge on fairly regularly. Part of that has to do with the fact that in Columbus there are two 100% vegetarian Indian restaurants, so while I’m getting some extra oil, they’re very, very clear about what is and isn’t vegan, and I’ve never accidentally ingested meat at any of them. I wish I could say the same for the Chinese restaurants in the area.

Unfortunately, since we aren’t regulars at all of our favorite restaurants (I mean, it’s all you can eat vegan Indian food or a single order of General Tso’s Tofu for the same price, which would YOU pick more often?) they don’t memorize our dietary concerns. Also, sometimes the language barrier is just a little too tricky. I’m almost positive the “vegetable egg roll” I ordered last time had some pork in it. My body paid for that slip up dearly.

Most concerning, however, is Mike. Mike has an anaphylactic reaction to shrimp and other shell fish. Naturally, since we don’t eat anything that used to breathe or move, this isn’t usually a problem unless we’re at a restaurant that also serves seafood. Even then, most of the time a simple, “Hey, he has a shellfish allergy,” is enough to alert the kitchen staff that they need to cook his food on a different surface. No chef in his right mind is going to risk a lawsuit. Luckily, we’ve never had to use the Epipen I keep in my purse.

Sometimes, however, Chinese food can scare us. At least once a waitress has come back and said, “Oh! I forgot, that contains crab meat, but it’s just a little, you can barely taste it.” or “Oh, we cooked that in the same pan as the fried shrimp, but there’s no ACTUAL shrimp, so we’re cool, right?” No, no we are not cool and you’re lucky I don’t strangle you to death right now! Once, the item was nearly in his mouth when she reminded us. Needless to say, we don’t go to that restaurant anymore.

If we ever hoped to have Chinese food again without Mike needing an Epipen (or a defibrillator for the heart attack that waitress gave me), I needed to come up with something just as yummy that we could eat at home. And why not make it super cheap, healthy, and vegan while I’m at it?

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Vegan Fried Rice
4 cups cooked brown rice
1 lb soft tofu
1 12 oz bag of frozen stir fry veggies (you can substitute fresh if you’d like, and you can DEFINITELY add more vegetables if you want! The more the merrier!)
1 tsp Canola Oil
1 tsp garlic
2 tbs lower sodium soy sauce, or tamari
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs maple syrup
1 tbs rice (or plain, if you don’t have rice) vinegar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ginger
pinch of red pepper (optional)

For those of you not familiar with the preparation of soft tofu, you’ll be delighted to find out it’s actually much easier and quicker than firm tofu. Simple drain the water out of the package, take a hunk of the tofu in your hand, and squeeze as much excess liquid as you can out. Repeat with the rest of the tofu, and crumble into a bowl. Tada, you’ve just pressed the tofu.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet (wok if you have one) over medium high heat. Add the crumbled tofu and saute until heated through (about five minutes). Quite a bit of the excess water will disappear at this time. Add the frozen veggies, and saute until ALL the excess water is gone and the veggies are cooked through.

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While you’re cooking the veggies, whip up the sauce. Whisk together the garlic, soy suace, sesame oil, maple syrup, rice vinegar, ginger, black pepper, and red pepper (if using). Set aside.

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After roughly ten minutes, the veggies will be cooked and look like this:

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Add the rice, reduce the heat to medium, and stir in the sauce.

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Cook for about five more minutes, adjusting spices as you see fit. Perhaps you’d like some more fresh pepper? Or a sprinkle of sesame oil (I could drink that stuff, it’s so yummy. But you shouldn’t because it’s definitely oil!)? Personally, I like a bit more soy sauce, but since Mike does not, I add that privately to my own bowl.

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Yes, it’s as tasty as it looks. I totally didn’t slip pork or shrimp into it, either.

Tada! You now have Mike’s go to order at every Chinese restaurant! The tofu replaces the eggs (I mean it; even the texture is similar) and combined with the veggies makes a complete meal. Plus, it’s tasty!

We still had to put it through the ultimate test, though. I sent it to our resident expert on Asian cuisine for review.

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It’s a hit!

(Please ignore the pile of dirt from our seedlings that’s on our dining room table. It seems to not only be the food/craft/homework area of the house, but the only flat surface that receives a good amount of sunlight.)

Olive devoured her bowl in a matter of minutes, broccoli and all, and asked for seconds. Hooray!

This is easy, cheap, and really good dinner/packed lunch. Try it out the next time you find yourself reaching for a carryout menu. If nothing else, it won’t cost you ten bucks plus delivery, and it certainly won’t be grease soaked or shrimp tainted.

Happy cooking!

Money Saving Monday–This Blog is Bananas

Readers, do you love bananas? You really should. Bananas are a naturally sweet treat full of vitamins and goodies such as potassium. Also, they’re CHEAP AS CHEAP CAN BE! Perhaps you’re sick of eating bananas every day for breakfast (Be honest, did I just peg you? I’m pretty sure I did.). I can understand that. I was a morning banana person for a long time, too. Bananas are so much more than just a breakfast side dish, though. In fact, they’re a staple in my house and probably the most versatile food I use with frequency. Here are ten ideas that will turn this cheap fruit into the superstar of your household.

1. Mash overripe bananas and use them whenever a recipe called for applesauce, or eggs. Just mix it with the oil the same way you do applesauce. The banana adds a really neat flavor. Super yummy!
2. Slice one into your pancake batter. When the pancakes cook, you get this lovely creamy texture on the inside. It’s like having a cream filled pancake, but healthier!
3. Peanut Butter+Bananas=Joy
4. Freeze some cut up bananas. Then, do one of the next few ideas!
5. Take three bananas worth of frozen bananas and throw them into a food processor. Let that bad boy go and you end up with soft serve. Add a tablespoon of cocoa if you want chocolate ice cream. 🙂
6. Bananas taste good in smoothies with the following fruit: Mangoes, Peaches, Blueberries, Strawberries, Blackberries, and Cherries. Throw in a handful of spinach and some almond milk and you have yourself a pretty darn awesome beverage.
7. The best post workout treat EVER–1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 cup frozen cherries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/2 cup water, 1 handful of spinach, and 1 tbs cocoa powder. It tastes like a chocolate milk shake, and yes, you will drink the whole thing. 🙂
8. Dip the frozen banana chunks in melted chocolate. Eat. Share only if you have to.
9. Add a banana to any food you’re trying to sweeten. My personal favorite? Mashing a super ripe one into mashed sweet potatoes. Super yummy!
10. 1 sliced banana + fresh berried + fresh sliced fruit + vegan whipped cream = most appetizing dessert for four year olds ever. Seriously. She loves that stuff. In fact, the cream is optional, since she doesn’t seem to miss it when I don’t have it.

Those are some of our favorite banana tricks in the crunchy house. I’d bet you guys have some awesome banana concoctions too, though. After all, you are my readers, and you’re all pretty resourceful people. How do you guys eat bananas?

My Cupcakes, and Why You Should Be Glad I Like to Share.

Readers, you would have read this last night, but sadly I hate to write a midterm. It was about American literature between 1890 and 1920, involved a lot of race and gender inequities, and left me feeling dirty afterwards. Had we any muffins left (Olive…) I’d have reached for one as solace. Sadly, we had nothing left but cupcakes.

Well, I guess I’ll eat one, if I have to.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup vegan semisweet chips (Ghirardelli’s are vegan, and very yummy!)
1 Recipe “Vegan Frosting of Joy”

Preheat oven to 350F.

As per usual, you’re going to want to mix the dry ingredients together. This still includes the sugar. In fact, you’ll find this recipe is a lot like the muffin recipe. Higher ratios of the good stuff (fat, sugar) is what differentiates quick bread from cakes. That’s boring. Let’s mix some applesauce with oil!

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Whisk the applesauce and oil together till emulsified. This will be trickier than with muffins, because there is much more oil. Do the best you can. After that, stir in the milk. Gently add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do this in as few strokes as possible.

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You can leave this next part out, but I wouldn’t.

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Gently fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick (who am I kidding, fork) comes out clean. You can make mini muffins, too, just bake them for ten minutes instead. They are an amazing bite sized treat! If you want to make this as an actual cake, that’s fine, too. This will fill one standard, round cake pan–double the recipe if you want a layer cake. Bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean, then bring me a piece. Please.

Let cool completely before frosting.

Oh, did you WANT frosting?

Vegan Frosting of Joy
1/4 cup vegan margarine (like Earth Balance) or coconut oil (if you can afford that stuff)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-3 tbs unsweetened almond milk

This is actually really simple. First, with an electric hand mixer, or really, really great biceps, beat the margarine till soft.

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From this…
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…to this.

Then, add vanilla, powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the milk. Beat until the consistency is fluffy and dreamy, adding additional milk as necessary. It will look like this:

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Whatever you do, do not skip this next step!

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Mike wanted one, but I growled at him when he reached for it.

This is actually firm enough a frosting that if you wanted to pipe it onto your cupcakes or make semi-fancy designs, you could. Unfortunately, I didn’t let my cupcakes cool enough, so that lovely piping melted. Still tasted good, though.

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These cupcakes are NOT health food, but they are better for you than anything you’ll buy at your grocery store bakery, and definitely better than anything you’d get out of the box. You’re getting whole grains and considerably less fat and sugar than any commercially made product. At that, you can pronounce the names of the ingredients, which is a definite plus. They’re extremely easy, as well. Plus, the ingredients are fairly inexpensive. Also, did I mention that these are some of the richest cupcakes I’ve ever eaten? They’re absolutely to die for, and Mike, his coworkers, Olive, and my bandmates ate these like it was their last meal.

Make these. They’re amazing.

I Bring You Muffins

Readers, if there is one single food that I screw up every time I try to “create” it’s bread. Don’t get me wrong, I do ok sometimes, but a good portion of the time I screw up proportions and get a dense, chewy, gluten-y mess. I wouldn’t feed this to my dogs. (I did however, let Mike eat them. His standards are lower than theirs, go figure.) This is because I didn’t fully understand the science of breads and cakes. I got that you needed leavening, and I understood that you shouldn’t over mix your batter, but I had for so long been trying to completely cut out the fat to make you a healthier, vegan baked good for your consumption.

Guys, that was a mistake, I’m so, so, sorry.

Some of you are probably alarmed because I just used the “f” word (Fat! Gasp!) but you just can’t have a proper baked good without it. Same goes for some form of sugar. The key with muffins is to not let them turn into cupcakes by raising those proportions beyond reasonable measure.

I did some research, some experimenting, and some soul searching, and when I came down from the mountain, I arrived with these:

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Cinnamon Raisin Muffins
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup canola oil (or other liquid fat. Melted Earth Balance works fine)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

First things first, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl.

The next step I’m going to hold your hand for, because I hadn’t been doing it, and I totally should have. Instead of simply adding all the wet together, add the canola oil and apple sauce to a small bowl.

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Now whisk the crap out of it till it’s emulsified. It will look like this.

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The applesauce adds some extra moisture, but mostly it’s necessary to act as an egg. In most recipes, the egg evenly distributes fat, but for a vegan baked good pureed fruit works just fine. You just need to whisk it together first. After that just stir in the almond milk.

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Lovely. After that, it’s simple. Add the wet ingredients to the dry bowl and stir JUST to combine. See if you can do it in under 15 strokes. The batter will be lumpy, oh yes, but so long as there aren’t massive pockets of dry ingredients, you should be good. Gently fold in the raisins. Easy.

Now just pour that goodness into some muffin cups. Go ahead, fill them up. Big muffins taste better. 🙂

**With any muffin recipe I feature you can just easily make a loaf of bread. Just pour the batter into a bread pan instead and increase the cooking time. I’d say 30-40 minutes should take care of it. I just really, really like the convenience of not having to portion them out, so I don’t make much bread.**

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Bake for 20 minutes and tada!

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Muffins! How easy was that?

The correct answer is “super duper.” I would also accept “redonkulously.”

You know what else? They’re really good, contain very little fat and sugar (especially compared to that monster you’ve been buying from Starbucks. Gee whiz! That thing’s awful!), are scrumptious, four year old approved (Olive has been begging for more since she took her first sample taste this morning), and perfectly acceptable as a breakfast, snack, or even part of lunch (I totally ate one for lunch). You really can’t buy a more nutritious muffin, and you shouldn’t anyway because it tastes better fresh. Also, this recipe is really adaptable–expect new and interesting ingredient combinations here in the future…and in my kitchen (Mike, Olive, I hope you’re hungry and don’t mind eating muffins three times a day for the next few months).

The best part, though? Learning how to make muffins taught me how to make cupcakes.

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To be continued…

Money Saving Monday–Dinner When You Can’t Be Home

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At three fifteen today, Mike came home and found that on the counter. Naturally, he was very confused.

But, before I get into what’s in that pan I’m going to explain why it’s there. Twice a week I’m not home for dinner. Sometimes I’ll have something in the slow cooker, others they’ll reheat something I cooked earlier in the day, and on rare occasion they’ll eat leftovers. Unfortunately, I leave the house at 1:30 PM on those days and won’t be back again until 10PM (since I hit the gym after class, most nights). Sure, it’s only twice a week, but they can’t eat that much slow cooker soup happily, I don’t particularly feel like spending my few free hours preparing a meal I probably won’t get to eat, and Mike usually has thirds of whatever I cooked so we almost never have leftovers. As a result, a lot of the time I leave Mike to fend for himself.

Mike has come up with a few strategies to deal with what has become known as “bad dinner night.” One of them is beans and rice and a steamed whatever vegetable we have on hand. If he’s feeling fancy, he’ll throw some soy sauce on top of it. According to Mike, this is what they eat most nights I’m not home.

Except Olive always rats him out later and tells me that they had what she assumes is “Daddy’s favorite food.”

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This isn’t a picture of their dinner. This is actually a picture of the dinner we had for our two year anniversary. Make of that what you will.

Nice try, Mike.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as fast food goes they could be doing a lot worse than Chipotle. They would also, however, be spending a LOT less, so a solution had to be created if I wasn’t going to spend an hour preparing an entire meal for them and he wasn’t going to spend our life savings (and lifetime quota for sodium) in one quarter.

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I had to get a bit creative.

Obviously, I didn’t have time to prepare much and I didn’t want to leave something simmering on the stove at 1:30 PM for him to come home to and feel obligated to eat that very instant, but I had time to chop some veggies.

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And leave some instructions.

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Naturally, when he got home he was confused.

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But he figured it out.

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I’m sure you probably wouldn’t have had to actually put the spices in a container with the other ingredients, but I know Mike. They had to at least be in the vicinity of his cooking space or he’d have forgotten all about them, instructions or not. This had the added benefit of teaching him a few basic cooking skills without me hovering around the whole time, ready to “save the meal” at any given moment.

For someone who doesn’t cook often a recipe from a cookbook is a giant, foreboding, mess. Half the time they don’t have the insight necessary to know they need to read ahead in the recipe. This way, each ingredient had a number and an instruction and he could literally go from A to B without needing to prepare something. He also didn’t have to blow a gasket trying to remember how to dice carrots. Yes. This is actually a legitimate concern.

Moms (and dads who cook for that matter) have to work, it’s a natural part of life for most people. Even if they don’t, sometimes they just can’t be home. Why shouldn’t their families still eat well when they aren’t able to be there? I see this as a perfect solution for both the kitchen inept spouse and the pizza ordering babysitter. This time I used soup, but I could see this working really well with casseroles and other foods. Put out a container of cooked rice already measured, some spices with instructions, the proper amount of fake cheese, nutritional yeast, veggies, etc, and a dish with the heating instructions written on it, and within a few minutes you have it prepared, and they can have it cooking. Cooperation goes a long way in a busy, crunchy, and broke house. Though it does hurt the hip factor quite a bit.

After ten minutes Mike had this simmering on the stove, with no help from me at all (that would have been cheating, and this was for science!), and you know what? It turned out pretty good.

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Especially with the cornbread I whipped up. (Yes, that’s a teaser.)

What’s that? You want the soup recipe, too? Ugh, you whiners.

Split Pea Soup of Spousal Assistance
1 lb split peas
8 cups vegetable broth
1 dash liquid smoke
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp poultry seasoning (minus the bird, of course)
1 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped

In the bottom of a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions and saute until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, of until peas are soft, mushy, and heavenly.

I promise, you won’t miss the ham, especially since we added some yummy smoke flavor. It tastes like happy.

And now, Mike totally knows how to make it without my help.

I think this is a win for household cooks everywhere, yes?

12:15 PM

It’s the absolute worst time of day if you haven’t had time for a snack mid morning, or lacked the foresight necessary to pack one. I lacked the foresight.

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I’m not sure what Mike’s excuse was.

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It was clear that for either of us to be good parents, sustenance was necessary. Mike, lying starving on the floor, enlisted help.

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She made a pretty good effort, but she’s only a little girl.

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Summoning what little strength he had in his poor, malnourished muscles, he did his best to pull himself along.

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He almost made it, but sadly, salvation lay just out of reach.

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Good grief. Clearly this was up to me.

This was no ordinary hunger. This needed real, heavy, hearty food. I thought long and hard about what various leftovers or sandwich materials we might have on hand but all I could think about was nachos.


But wait! I don’t want fake cheese today! I’m tired of fake cheese! I need nutrients! I need protein! I need to make my own damn nacho sauce!

So I did.

Black Bean Queso

1 cup cooked black beans
1/2 cup diced tomatoes (I used canned)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chilli powder, more if you want more kick
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 cup of water
dash or two of hot sauce

Throw the ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour the sauce into a pan.

Ok, so it’s black. I sincerely hope that’s not a problem for you because it’s delicious and will taste delightfully “cheese”-y. Heat the sauce through, adjust spices as necessary:

Yes, this WAS necessary.

and keep warm on low while you prepare your nachos.

Nachos can be as complex or as simple as you like. I could see the sauce being a good dip at parties, or as a snack, but as I said, this was an EXTREME hunger. So I started with a serving of chips (just because I’m hungry doesn’t mean the whole bag is up for grabs. Unless I say so. But today I didn’t say so.):

Added an ample amount of spinach:

Added my delicious queso sauce:

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Threw on some grated carrots. (Sweet potato would have also been delicious.)

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My favorite Salsa:

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And my favorite fruit:

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For fun, see if you can match the other plates to the other members of my household!

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Hmmmm….huge serving, different salsa, spinach used sparingly, heavy on the avocado…I wonder…

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Small serving, refused a green fruit thrown on top, and demanded the same salsa as “Daddy.” Must be Mike’s 🙂

I placed our plates on the table, and within instants they were massacred. It’s amazing someone didn’t lose a finger.

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Yep, everything was all better.
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But don’t worry. I took one last picture before destroying them.

@#%$ you, 12:15 PM!