Tuesday, March 24, 2009

There Are Going to Be Some Changes Around Here

Well, I knew this would happen sooner or later, but life has gotten the best of me, and I'm not as able to keep up with this blog the way I was. I've taken on a leadership role in my local chapter of Holistic Moms Network, which is taking up a fair amount of my time. I'm also doing whatever I can now to prepare for the arrival of our newest family edition this summer, which involves some planning. I expect that I won't have significant time to devote to this blog until well after the baby is born.

For the time being, I will not be making the sort of mandatory weekly posts (weekly shopping lists, menus and recipes) that I was. I will still post recipes from time to time, and I may post some frugal tips and food commentary here and there. I hope you will stick with me through this somewhat thin time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Miso Soup with Wakame, Carrots & Tofu

Miso soup sounds like a daunting culinary embarking, possibly because it's something most of us have only had in restaurants. The reality is that it's about the easiest, and certainly the fastest, soup you can make. All of the work is done for you in the fermenting of the miso paste, so all you need to do is throw a few things together, boil water, and serve. Super simple!

My recipe for miso soup is loosely based on this one. I like to add wakame, a sea vegetable, to mine for a little authentic Japanese something-or-other. It also happens to be a very nutrient-dense food, particularly in iodine, which is essential for thyroid health. Wakame is a dry vegetable (so don't look in the produce aisle), and can be found in most health food stores, and even in many well-stocked supermarkets.

Many vegetables can go into a miso soup, traditional and non. One of the best ones is cabbage, particularly napa cabbage. Radishes (daikon) and turnips also compliment this soup well, but prepare them as I do with carrots (below). You could introduce fish or shellfish into a miso soup, as well.

Miso Soup with Wakame, Carrots & Tofu
8 cups water
1 1/2 pieces wakame (usually comes in 4-5" lengths), cut into bite-size pieces
1 Tbsp. unpeeled ginger (I use the little nubs on the root)
1 Tbsp. dry sherry or brown rice vinegar
1 carrot, cut into strips with a peeler, and then halved
1/2 c. white miso or brown rice miso (available in health food stores and Asian markets - refrigerated section)
2 scallions (green and white), sliced or julienned
4 oz. soft or firm tofu (avoid silken and extra firm), cubed

In a stock pot, bring the water, wakame, ginger and sherry to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the carrot (or other vegetables) and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Remove 1/2 c. of broth and dissolve the miso into the broth. Return this mixture to the soup. Turn the heat off. Add scallions and tofu to each bowl, as you are serving.

Serves 4-6.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Homemade Falafel

My daughter's peanut allergy makes it a little more necessary for us to avoid processed foods, but it's a good idea for everyone. Processed foods are full of all sorts of hidden ingredients that make them questionable for your health. Making food yourself ensures the best quality, and you'll know exactly what's in it.

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I usually do use a mix to make falafel, but the one that's peanut-free was not available this week, so I had to improvise. I think I may stick to this recipe in the future. It's less expensive than the processed version, and it's just as easy. Sometimes convenience foods aren't that convenient after all!

These can be deep fried, pan fried or baked. I baked them to avoid the extra fat.

Homemade Falafel
1 15 oz. can chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1/4 c. chick pea flour (available in the bulk section of many health food stores)
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsps. onion powder
1 1/2 tsps. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
salt, to taste
1-3 Tbsps. water
safflower oil spray

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, combine the chick peas, chick pea flour, parsley flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, coriander and salt. Puree. Add water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until the mixture is smooth, but still thick.

Spray a cookie sheet with safflower oil. Form the chick pea mixture into patties (or balls if deep frying), and place the patties 1 inch apart on the cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once.

Serve in whole wheat pita with Israel Salad and Tahina Sauce (recipes below)

Israeli Salad
3 plum tomatoes, cut into a small dice
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into a small dice
2 Tbsps. finely diced red onion
1/4 c. parsley, minced
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt, to taste

Toss all ingredients together.

Tahina Sauce
1/4 c. tahini paste
2 1/2 Tbsp. water
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.

Friday, March 6, 2009

This Week's Shopping List

I should be very happy with the low, low cost of this week's grocery bill, but it happens to also be the week we get our co-op order, and that means digging a deep, deep hole.

The menu for the week goes like this:

Lunch: Miso soup with carrots, wakame and tofu

- Homemade falafel in pita with Israeli salad and tahina sauce
- Chicken in Tarragon Cream Sauce with wild rice pilaf and steamed broccoli
- Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Spinach Sauce over Israeli couscous (large grain couscous)

Dessert: Hamantashen for Purim

I didn't originally plan to make my own falafel. This is one of those times that I usually opt for the packaged stuff, but that's always a complicated matter for us. So many processed foods have the potential for peanut cross-contamination, and given my daughter's allergy, we can't take that chance. The most available brand of falafel mix in the natural foods world is made by Fantastic World Foods, which processes in a facility that processes peanuts. So, that is out. There is also a mix by Casbah, which is less available, but is safe for us. This week, it wasn't available at all. So, I thought, hey, I'll buy some chick pea flour and see what I can whip up. And so, homemade falafel was born (in my house, anyway).

Here is the shopping list for the week (* indicates non-organic):

catfish* ($4.99/lb sale)
falafel mix*
Annie's worcestershire sauce
silken tofu
frozen mango
orange juice* ($1.69 sale)
whole wheat pita*
dehydrated corn
dried apricots
dried figs

There were only a couple of items that I could not get this week: the falafel mix and the dehydrated corn. The total for the groceries came to $82.28, which is $40.22 below our weekly budget. That would have brought our deficit down to $15, but ...

Our order from the Neshaminy Valley co-op threw quite a wrench into things. The bill for that was $137.52, which brings our total up to $152 ... eek! This order should hold us for a good few months, especially since we won't have the opportunity to order until May, at earliest. It included the following items: Annie's Whole Wheat Shells & Cheddar, Earth Balance Buttery Spread, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, Eden Kamut & Quinoa Twists, Ezekiel English Muffins, Stick & Twigs, Bulk Brown Rice, Lowfat Monterey Jack, Neufchatel Cheese, Shredded Parmesan, Santa Cruz Lemon and Lime Juices, Wesbrae Whole Wheat Lasagna. I stocked up on some of these just for regular use, but a lot is also for my daughter's birthday party in May.

It's times like this when perspective is hard to achieve. Yes, it's worth spending this money now, because it helps to save money later. Buying in large quantities means not buying these things very often. The initial blow can be hard to take, but little by little it helps bring the weekly food spending down. The reality is that we were very nearly out of the hole, with only $15 left to go. It's disappointing to have not gotten to see the black ink again, but we will ... in time.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Watercress Salad with Mango and Shredded Chicken

Having made chicken soup last week, I was left with about a pound of shredded chicken that needed a purpose. There are tons of ways to use leftover chicken. More often than not, I end up tossing it in tacos, chili or pasta. This time, I wanted something different. This salad is the result.

Watercress Salad with Mango and Shredded Chicken
1 lb. shredded, cooked chicken
2 Tbsp low-sodium tamari
1 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
safflower oil spray
2 bunches watercress, trimmed of thicker stems
2 scallions, sliced or julienned
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 c. mango chunks (frozen or fresh), or pineapple chunks
Ginger Sesame Dressing (below)

Marinate the chicken in the tamari, vinegar and sesame oil for 30 minutes to an hour. Spray a cast iron skillet with safflower oil and heat over medium high heat. Quickly heat the chicken in the pan, cooking for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Combine the watercress, scallions, carrots and mango, tossing to combine. Toss with dressing. Top the salad with chicken.

Ginger Sesame Dressing
2 Tbsps. grated ginger
2 Tbsps. safflower oil
2 Tbsps. water
1 Tbsp. low-sodium tamari
1 Tbsp. brown rice vinegar
2 tsps. sesame oil
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together until well blended.

Serves 5.

Note: On the label of my watercress was this - "Watercress is a better source of vitamins C, B1, B6, K, E,Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc and Potassium than Apples, Broccoli and Tomatoes ... What was Popeye Thinking?" I thought that was cute.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Homemade Veggie Burgers

I'm in the process of planning my daughter's third birthday party. Without getting into the specifics of it all, I needed a veggie burger recipe that would be vegan and gluten-free. No easy task to find, since many recipes call for eggs, and even those that don't, call for breadcrumbs. Now, I could have just substituted gluten-free breadcrumbs, but I thought, why not just come up with my own?

The burgers look very much like meat burgers, but the taste and texture are nothing like meat. So, if that's what you're looking for, I'd say look elsewhere. Without getting into textured soy or seitan products, most meat substitutes will not resemble meat. In fact, it's certainly arguable that even textured soy and seitan wouldn't fool a meat-lover.

But this burger will certainly fill you up, and it will give you a nice, hefty dose of protein, mostly from the lentils. The flavors are primarily Mediterranean, which I really enjoy. If it's a bit too much for you, just cut down on the mushrooms.

Homemade Veggie Burgers
1 cup green lentils
2 cups water
6-8 oz. cremini mushrooms
1/4 c. kalamata olives
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. artichoke hearts (frozen or canned ... not in oil)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsps. vegan worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. quinoa flour
1/4 c. teff flour
safflower oil spray

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small saucepan, bring the lentils, water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, or until lentils have absorbed all the liquid.

In a food processor, combine cooked lentils, mushrooms, olives, oil, artichoke hearts, salt, pepper, cayenne and worcestershire. Puree until relatively smooth (some bits and pieces are OK). Transfer to a bowl and fold in the flours.

Form the mixture into patties, each about 3 oz. Spray safflower oil on a cast iron griddle (or skillet), and heat over medium high heat. Cook the burgers about 3 minutes on each side, or until a browned crust is formed. Transfer to a cookie sheet, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve on a whole grain burger bun with whatever toppings you like. We did sliced tomatoes, avocado and alfalfa sprouts, with a little bbq sauce.