Category Archives: Vegan

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Remember my Salmon & Couscous salad that I was 100% addicted to for a few weeks last year? During a BOGO sale on salad dressing, I got a bottle of “Green Goddess”. How in the world, as a food blogger and obsessive reader of recipes, have I not heard of this thing prior to then? The world will never know.

The Green Goddess was amazing, perfect in every way. It was creamy, tangy, smooth, and light tasting. It made me feel like a goddess every time I drizzled it on a salad. And then I ran out. I couldn’t find it at the 3 stores I usually go to. So I decided to try to make it myself at home.

And then I read the ingredients.

Corn syrup, xantham gum, colorings, “natural flavor“, sugar, cultured skim milk, dried buttermilk… all kinds of things I’m trying to cut down on, and that I don’t 100% understand but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be eating.

So I went on a quest. A mission of sorts. To re-create a dressing just as tangy, creamy, and satisfying, but with a far less questionable list of ingredients.

Friends, this is the answer.

With a base of avocado and tahini for that rich healthy fat, spinach for that vibrant green color, garlic and green onions for a bit of a spring kick even in the dead of winter, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar for a note of acid, and a sprinkle of salt and dash of honey to balance it all out, this stuff is darn near irresistible.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Step 1: In a food processor, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.

Step 2: Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.

Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency and flavor.

The recipe is 100% vegan, but you can also mix in some plain unflavored yogurt, mayonnaise, or sour cream at approximately a 1:2 ratio for extra creamy flavor, and it tastes pretty radical. Though it is already good enough that I basically want to eat it with a spoon.

The awesome thing about this dressing is that you can customize it to your tastes too. You can easily sub half or all of the spinach for fresh herbs like dill, basil, parsley, or cilantro. The sweetener can be xylitol or stevia, maple syrup or brown rice syrup, or like I used, a flavored honey (whipped lemon, mmm mmm!). If you don’t care for tahini or it’s too expensive for your tastes, try almond butter, sun-butter or peanut butter instead.

The only limit is your imagination!

Plus, not only is this the best dressing of all time on salads, it is also great on wraps, sandwiches, burgers, baked potatoes, chicken, steak and fish. Basically, put it on anything and everything.

 

 

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup spinach or herbs, packed
  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or almond butter)
  • 1/2 tsp honey or sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 cup green onions
  • Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 4-5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste, I used about 1 1/2 tsp

Instructions

  1. In a food processor or blender, chop your garlic, spinach, and onions.
  2. Add the avocado, and all your liquids. Whip well, using a spatula to scrape down the sides, until smooth.
  3. Feel free to add the liquids slowly, and add more of the acids or even some plain water to reach your desired consistency.
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/vegan-green-goddess-salad-dressing/

Weekly Eating – New Year Edition! 1/1/2018

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Welcome to the first Weekly Eating of 2018! This series got a bit off track back when I decided to tackle my Holiday Weight Loss Plan for a Christmas/double 30th Birthday/NYE cruise. My eating got pretty boring for a few weeks. (Though, maybe that’s a thing readers want to know? Shoot me an email or leave a comment if you’d actually be interested in that).

For those of you who are used to being on the edge of your seats every Sunday morning, just waiting to drool over the BE family week of goodies, despair no longer, it’s back! There will be some twists this year though. As most people make “eat better” new year resolutions, the BE family will be tackling a big one:

Eat 80% Vegetarian in 2018!

*collective gasp from the audience*

But WHY?! You might think. What about all the flank steak, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, and bacon wrapped pork roasts? Won’t you develop anemia and deficiencies and die without eating 300 grams of proteins in the form of cooked animal muscles at every meal??

Well, dear readers. Let me first assure you that these are all quite common myths. There are some legitimate nutritional concerns to be aware of, such as getting enough vitamin B12. But on the whole, even a fully vegan diet can supply more than enough protein, vitamin and nutrients for an Olympic pro athlete.

My in-laws got me a book for Christmas which I’ve been desperate to read for some time: How Not To Die. It is a compilation of all the food science and nutrition articles, and what we know about the links between food and disease. And I’ve devoured it cover to cover in under a week. (My husband is not thrilled.) Between that book, Forks Over Knives and a bazillion other blogs, books, movies, and resources, I can fight it no longer.

Science says: to avoid, alleviate, and even reverse disease, it’s super simple: Eat plants. All of them. All the time.

So, that is what I intend to do. I rather like living, and particularly enjoy my hubs being alive too. (Sometimes he hates that I try so hard to keep him around). Unlike myself, who loves a good steak, but wouldn’t die without it, he really does love meat and might die without it in his diet. And he is allergic to vegetables*.
*not really, he just says that so he doesn’t have to eat them

A happy marriage is all about compromise, so to avoid the all-out war and depression announcing we are now vegan would cause, we settled on a bargain. 80% vegetables, 20% meat/dairy. I think we can both live with that, and live with it a whole lot longer to boot! 😉

Without further ado, here’s our first week of the New Year’s meals:

Monday: January 1, 2018

Breakfast – A fun souvenir from traveling is coming down with a cold! I spent the first few days of the new year sniffling and coughing and generally feeling suuuuuuuuper exhausted. I was too tired to bother with actual breakfast, plus we slept in a bit. (We also went to bed by 10:30pm on NYE, woooooo 30s!)

Lunch – Didn’t have the energy to make real food yet, plus the fridge was wicked empty from cleaning it out before traveling. So I just pulled a bag of mixed veg and a frozen bag of beans & rice from the freezer, boiled it together, and called it soup!

Dinner –I did manage to pull a pork roast from the freezer and soak some black eyed peas overnight, so that I could produce the required New Year meal of pork, sauerkraut, greens & black eyed peas. We definitely want luck and prosperity in 2018, so I made sure we had peas & pig for luck, and collard greens & sauerkraut for money. I added just a tiny bit of pork to flavor the greens, and the rest of the roast was just ‘around’ for whenever hubs needed meat.

I got a bit of an energy boost once the DayQuil kicked in, so I meal prepped for the week a bit by batch roasting a bunch of veggies and cooking a big slow cooker full of black beans. They will become lunches, black bean soup, and possibly black bean hummus.

Tuesday:

Breakfast – smoothie with banana, blueberries, and some spinach thrown in for greens

Lunch – black beans & rice, salsa, and roasted brussels sprouts

Dinner –Falafel balls served over rice with mushroom gravy. They were delish, though not quite the flavor I was looking for. I will keep playing with the recipe until I get it right, and then I’ll share it here.

Snack – RUM CAKE! Erin from ReachingForFI.com and I did a little holiday swap, my famous Cracker Cookies for her famous Rum Cake, and boy was it tasty! Sweet but not too sweet, with just enough rum to know it was there. It’s a good thing it was a small size cake, because I’d eat a whole one without a second thought.

Wednesday:

Breakfast – strawberry banana smoothie

Lunch – Leftover black eyed peas & collards with sauerkraut & a salad with radish sprouts. The greens and peas had a creamy earthy flavor, which was complimented beautifully by the salty tang of the sauerkraut. Plus, since I made it using red cabbage, it was such a lovely bright pink color! I’d eat this on the regular for sure.

Dinner –Veggie packed alfredo mac n cheese, using plain yogurt instead of milk. It gives it a nice tangy flavor. I added chopped collard greens and broccoli for extra veggies and fiber.

Thursday:

Breakfast – I wanted oatmeal with strawberries and goji berries, but we evidently had some pantry moths. Those little #&@*ers ruined a whole bag of dried goji berries. >:( So I ended up with chocolate maca peanut butter instead, which I managed a few bites of before my stomach was like “nope, you’re done.”

Lunch – I made a big batch of my best black bean soup with the crock pot black beans, and this was an awesome comfort meal on a cold day when also feeling sick. Quite filling too.

Dinner – Mushroom risotto with collard greens. I had a pint of mushrooms and another head of collards still left from NYE that needed to be used up. I also had some barley from the Indian spice store (more below), so naturally I was thinking risotto.

I found this recipe from Williams-Sonoma, and of course adapted it to what I had on hand. It turned out pretty tasty, but be warned, it makes a LOT of food! We each had 2 bowls and there is plenty left for at least another 3 lunches.

Friday:

Breakfast – I did my trick of putting jam in my yogurt to make natural fruit-on-the-bottom, and topped it with my homemade tropical granola. Delightful!

Lunch – Black beans & rice with salsa and a small sweet potato. I added turmeric to the beans, and cinnamon & ginger to the sweet potato for extra antioxidant power.

Dinner – Oh my goodness, so many leftovers!

Snack – A friend at work went home to S. America over break, and brought back fancy chocolates to share. I enjoyed her generosity with a blueberry chocolate bar.

The Weekend

This weekend will be low key since we are both recovering from traveling and being sick. I am searching for tofu & tempeh recipes that will convince the boy that plant based eating isn’t the worst thing in the world. Give me a shout if you’ve any to share! I’ve found several BBQ recipes I’d like to try, so there will probably be some experimentation going on in the kitchen.

We are out of frozen berries, so a grocery run is in order to procure that and some soy or almond milk. Also Kroger is running a 1 day only $0.99 sale on cheese… is it worth it? So torn… I want to cut down on dairy but also burritos are hubs’ source of strength in this world, and that’s a really great price point…

Food Total: $162.70

My first adventure of the new year was to visit an Indian grocery nearby to check out the goods. Many cultures around the world have thrived on a plant based diet for centuries, so I assume they know how to do it right. I plan to cook many more Asian, Indian, Ethiopian, Latin American, etc. dishes this year.

I spent $62.61 there, and for the money I got a total bounty! Plant based eating can be super cheap, y’all. The haul included: shredded coconut, soya wadi, sesame seeds, ginger & garlic paste, 3 types of lentils at 2lbs each, barley, bulgur, tahini, golden raisins, turmeric, beets, cloves, and Amla powder. Not a single thing cost more than $5. I would highly recommend checking out an ethnic grocery near you for cheap staples like grains, beans, rice, and spices.

The rest of the grocery shopping was from Harris Teeter, where I stocked up on tons of produce and other healthy staples. They had a surprise sale on tofu and tempeh, which is perfect timing. I also snagged Black Rice at a cheaper price than Amazon offers, along with crazy-cheap canned beans & tomato (4/$1!!). That should be enough produce to last us quite a long time, though I will still have to restock the things that spoil (like greens/spinach, frozen berries, almond/soy milk, bananas) weekly.

Lessons Learned

So I did basically double my target grocery goal, but I’m hoping that now I am pretty much set for all of January. Except for occasional re-stocks of fresh and frozen produce, yogurt for the boy, and nut milks, we should not need groceries for a very long time. We will see how that plays out in real life. I’m a notorious menace in the “mark down” aisle of a grocery store.

Also, an initiative I’m taking on for this year is to purchase at least one grocery item every week to donate to a food pantry. It blows my mind and completely saddens me how many people in our country do not know where their next meal is coming from. Especially when I am so blessed and spend 70% of my waking hours thinking about food and recipes and meal plans.

Given the hullabaloo of the #BombCyclone this past week, did you even think what impact that has on children and families that depend on free or reduced meals at school to make their weekly budgets work? After much research, I think Urban Ministries of Durham will be the place to which I donate. And hopefully, I will even get to go cook and serve some meals there at some point.

 

How about you guys, did you have a great week or a learning week?

Best Black Bean Soup

My whole life up to this point, I have thought “Bean soup? Why would anyone just eat pureed beans?” I’ve read dozens of black bean soup recipes and thought either that it sounded way too simple, so how could it possibly be tasty, or that it was too complex because “toast your cumin seeds lightly  until fragrant and then grind in a spice grinder”; ain’t nobody got time for that.

But then one day, I had a big batch of fresh slow cooker black beans and several jars of slow cooker chicken stock in the refrigerator at the same time. And I thought to myself, self, broth based soups are very good for you and low in calories, and so are black beans.

Why not give it a try?

Lo and behold, with some very simple staple spices, I put together a black bean soup that was out-of-this-world tasty. You can probably pull this together in minutes at any time with what you already have in your home. It would also be very easy to adapt to a slow cooker, just add everything and cook on low for a few hours. Additionally, it would freeze beautifully to be enjoyed at a later date.

I wolfed down half a batch, felt guilty, checked the calorie count, and felt guilty no more, because the whole thing will cost you less than 1000 calories total. And it’s super filling because of all the fiber from the black beans, so you can easily get 3-4 bowls from this recipe.

I used chicken stock that I made in the slow cooker from a whole chicken carcass. I recommend using homemade because you can control the amount of sodium, or add extra flavors you like such as bay leaves, lemon juice, or jalapenos to the broth while it cooks. If you want to keep it vegetarian, just make vegetable broth by putting a bunch of veggies in a slow cooker with some water for hours, and then strain it.

I also usually add a can of stewed whole tomatoes to my broth, and I loved that one tomato got added into this broth. I think it adds a nice layer of flavor, but your black bean soup won’t suffer without it. Feel free to leave that part out, or add more based on your taste buds.

This recipe makes a little more than a liter of soup, enough for 3-4 good sized bowls with some chunky bread and/or a salad on the side, or two really hearty meals. It takes approximately 10 minutes total, which does not include cooking time for the beans themselves or the chicken stock if you make that as well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups cooked black beans^
  • 2 cups chicken stock*
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 whole tomato, quartered
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don’t rinse. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.

Step 2: Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized.

And that’s all there is to it! Since I regularly cook up large batches of dried beans on the weekend, I think this will become a standby recipe in my repertoire. It is super healthy, low calorie, very filling and crazy cheap.

Price Breakdown

Black beans: $8.84 for 12 lbs
2 cups dried = ~.66lb = 4 cups cooked
$8.82/lb /12 lb * 0.66 lb = $0.48

Chicken stock: I consider it free because most people throw away the carcass after eating the meat. But if we consider the cost of the whole chicken just to make stock: $3.61 + maybe $2 of other ingredients (1 jalapeno, 1 can tomatoes, 1 onion, spices) = $5.61
This makes approximately 1 gallon stock, 1 cup = $5.61/16 = $0.35

Onion: $5.98 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $5.98/96 = $0.06

Garlic powder: $8.94 for about 96 tbsp
1 tbsp = $8.94/96 = $0.09

Whole chicken 5.47 lb 3.61
12lb Black beans 8.84
Minced onion 5.98
Garlic powder 8.94

 

Total: 0.48 + 0.35 + 0.06 + 0.09 = $0.98! Total!

Therefore, even if you only get 2 bowls, that’s $0.49 per serving. Not too shabby at all.

^You can use 2 cans of black beans, drained but not rinsed, if you don’t want to make them from dried.

*You can also used canned or boxes of chicken stock if you don’t want to make your own, or use vegetable stock, to keep it vegetarian/vegan.

 

Best Black Bean Soup

Yield: 4

Best Black Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 whole roma tomato, quartered
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp dried chopped onion
  • Optional: 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If cooking your own beans, soak them at least 8 hours, then cook them on low overnight or over 6-8 hours, and drain. If using canned beans, drain 2 cans but don't rinse. Add the chicken stock and the spices to your beans in a large bowl.
  2. Use an immersion blender or an upright blender to blend the soup to your desired thickness. I enjoy a few beans left whole, so I just pulsed it several times, but you can also blend the crap out of it until totally homogenized. 
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http://www.budgetepicurean.com/vegan/best-black-bean-soup/

 

Restaurant Review: Rock’n’Roll Sushi

Since it’s been a while since I’ve done a food review, I figured it was about time! I’ve been to several wonderful places now throughout the Triangle, including Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. Even a few far-flung places like Asheville and Sunset Beach. In case this is your first BE review article, I’ll remind you of the rules.

Food locations will be evaluated based on:

  • Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
  • Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
  • Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)

All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.

 

Today’s review is for a new sushi restaurant in Durham: Rockin’Roll Sushi Express! Located in a shopping plaza at 3405 Hillsborough Rd, Suite E, Durham, NC 27705, they are convenient to downtown Durham as well as the rest of the triangle via highway 85 & 147.

Y’all know I love my sushi, whether homemade or with a burger inside, and was a regular at my old favorite sushi place in Connecticut. Hubs and I have been known to take down plates of nearly 100 nigiri before. So now that I’m a Carolina girl, I had to find an AYCE place to satisfy my insatiable sushi cravings, without breaking the bank.

For only $10.99 each, this place fits the bill!

Not only is it quite affordable, and all you can eat, it is also free entertainment! The restaurant operates with 2 large conveyor belts on each side of the room, which rotate around several tables and chairs. There are little doors in the glass that the customer opens to pull out the dish they want as it rolls by.

According to the adorably named Get-Offline.com, “The conveyor belt sushi (Kaiten-sushi) is a Japanese fast-food style sushi concept. Initially invented so that sushi chefs could quickly serve customers with fewer servers, the “Kaiten-sushi” has since taken off as a fun and fresh way to dine out.”

The conveyor belt rolls by at a pretty decent clip, not so fast that you can’t grab the things that catch your eye but fast enough that by the time you polish off your third roll the thing you wanted seconds of is coming back around.

They have a good assortment of your standard expected rolls like California, Philly, Tuna and Spicy Tuna. They also have some pretty creative specialty rolls, like the Crazy Monkey Roll with fried bananas, or my favorites, the Naughty Crab and Volcano Roll.

Seriously, the Volcano Roll is deep fried goodness. I’d recommend you eat your fill first, because this bad boy takes up a lot of stomach space. They also have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, including a cucumber roll, avocado roll, and seaweed salad roll.

Obviously, as an all you can eat place, you cannot expect the most amazing delicacies of all time. You get what you pay for, folks, and this is pretty typical American style sushi. Though I must say, the nigiri slices are generous for the fact that you can have as many as you can handle.

If you’re like me and enjoy a light bowl of miso soup before digging in or in between courses, you’re in luck! There is a miso soup dispenser. Yup, you just put your styrofoam bowl underneath and press the button, and a stream of piping hot miso comes pouring out.

The down side is you cannot choose your volume, every pour is the same amount. But they do offer traditional toppings of tofu pieces and chopped green onion. Not to mention literal gallons of soy sauce, yum yum sauce, and teriyaki sauce.

There is also a salad and toppings bar that is included. This has goodies like seafood salad (which is apparently some of the best my grandma has ever tasted, and she is a bit of a seafood salad connoisseur so that’s quite a compliment!) regular green salad, edamame, pickled ginger, and seaweed salad.

I personally had at least 2 big helpings of the seaweed salad. Something about that slimy stuff, I just can’t get enough of the salty umami flavor. There are few dessert options, but they do have oranges and a strange cheesecake like thing. It isn’t very powerful, but it is somehow perfect after a belly full of fish, rice, and soy sauce.

I see this as a personal challenge now, every time I go I need to have more plates! The rolls come with 4 or 6 pieces, and the nigiri come as a set of 2. The plate colors don’t matter, because it is all included in the admission price. This makes me more willing to try things I’ve not had before, and I appreciate not losing out because I like the typically pricier raw fish pieces the best.

There is some soft rock and pop mix playing as you eat, and generally all the diners keep to their own tables. The decor is really fun, with bright photos and definitions of common words like unagi and kani salad on the walls. The bathrooms were quite clean, as was the entire restaurant. There is a self-serve trash area to clear the plates and put them in bins for washing. And you can see the sushi chefs behind the bar at the back, making rolls as fast as you can eat them.

Overall, I’d rate Rock’nRolls:

  • Taste: 7
  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Value: 10

White Bean Rosemary Hummus

 

Hummus is a wonderful thing. It is delicious and versatile, you can add it to sandwiches and wraps, stir some into soups to thicken it and add flavor, or eat it alone or with chips or crudites.

But hummus is so expensive at the store! you say. I know, I don’t love paying $3 for 8oz either.

Ever tried making your own?

It’s super easy, I promise. Do I look like a girl who likes complicated? (Well, maybe sometimes. It is fun to get a little crazy and make a giant Ethiopian feast every now and then. But mostly I like plain and simple, the cheaper and faster the better.)

One of the reasons hummus can get so expensive is the tahini paste. Marketed as a key ingredient, it helps give hummus that earthy umami flavor and smooth texture. But what if I told you instead of a $10 ingredient, you could use a $1 ingredient, and it would taste essentially the same?

Think about it. What is tahini paste? It’s ground sesame seed. Which is kind of like a nut butter. And guess what tastes similar? Other actual nut butters! I’ve used peanut butter and almond butter before, I think Almond Butter is my favorite!

Oh, and what if you don’t like chickpeas? Or think those are too over-priced as well? Good news! You can make black bean hummus just as easily, or try this amazing white bean recipe below. Each creates a slightly different flavor and texture, try them all and make a big dip buffet!

Ingredients:

  • 1 can white (cannelini) beans, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Dash of salt to taste

Step 1: Drain beans, add to blender. Add in the garlic, lemon, oil, almond butter, and rosemary. Blend well for about 1 minute, until it is a thick paste. Add some more oil or a dash of warm water if you’d like it thinner.

This recipe makes about 2 cups prepared hummus. I pack it into small containers and take it to work with diced up fresh veggies as my afternoon snack most days! It is also great for parties and potlucks.

 

Disclaimer: This blog is a part of the Amazon Affiliate program. Some links will take you to an Amazon page to buy those items. This does not impact the price you pay, but the blog gets a teeny tiny commission that over time helps pay the bills. Thanks in advance if you participate! 

Chocolate Chia Pudding

 

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to jump on the chia pudding band wagon! I’d read about so many uses for chia seeds, and how they are an amazing vegan source of omega-3s and fiber along with a host of other micronutrients, added chia to salads, smoothies, crackers, and bread recipes, and have made chia fresca and enjoyed it. But it took forever to try this!

Don’t make my mistakes people. Make this tonight!

Chocolate chia pudding ingredients

Chia seeds may seem expensive, but a little goes a LONG way! They absorb water and can swell up many times their size, creating a gel-like coating around the seed. It is a strange texture at first, but give it a try. The health benefits are worth it!

Chocolate chia pudding ingredients in bowl

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c chia seeds
  • 1 cup almond or coconut milk
  • 2-3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder

Chocolate chia pudding mixing

Step 1: Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with a whisk, or you can put it in a mason jar with a lid and shake it like you mean it!

Chocolate chia pudding ready to eat

Step 2: Refrigerate one hour or overnight. It will thicken as it sits. If you want it thicker, add more chia, if you want it thinner add more milk. It makes about 4 1/2 cup servings and should last a week in the refrigerator.

Chocolate chia pudding with strawberries

Top with granola and fresh berries for an amazing breakfast or anytime snack! The thick gel consistency of the seeds makes it almost exactly like pudding. And if you really love chocolate, use chocolate almond milk, or double the cocoa powder. It’s the healthiest treat that tastes like dessert I’ve ever had!

 

How to: Cook Dried Beans in a Slow Cooker

 

One of my all-time-favorite money-saving appliances is the handy dandy slow cooker. It is amazing at taking tough (cheap) cuts of meats and slow cooking them to tasty perfection. It is great for making wicked frugal soups and stews. It makes dinner a breeze on crazy weeknights, keeping me from just ordering a pizza or take out. And it allows me to make staple items, like beans, for literally pennies per serving.

Beans aren’t usually listed on “top 10s” of superfoods, but I think they should be. There are so many kinds, black, pinto, navy, chickpea, green… And they are a fantastic source of protein for a very pocketbook-friendly price, I can usually find them about $1 per pound. And since beans plump when you cook them, you get much more than one pound out of that bag. If you find a good sale or buy in bulk, that price drops even lower. You can’t beat that in a can!

However, you also can’t beat the convenience of canned beans. Just sitting on a shelf, ready and waiting for a taco Tuesday or a last-minute decision to make minestrone. All you need is a can opener and you’re in business.

But you’re paying a premium for that convenience.

Someone else took the time to soak and cook dried beans ahead of time, and stick them in that can. They also may have chemicals or preservatives or flavorings or way too much sodium in the can. When you cook your own, you are in control of all these things.

So here’s the big secret: You can cook your own dried beans at home, with just a few minutes of effort, and have delicious beans ready to toss into whatever any time! For, like, a dollar!

Enter the slow cooker.

crock pot black beans with nori

Almost every Saturday, I toss a half pound or a pound of either black, navy, chickpeas, or pintos into a slow cooker with water to cover them, and let them soak overnight. Then on Sunday, I change the water and add some spices and let it simmer all day. The finished product gets canned, separated by cup into individual bags and frozen, or put in the refrigerator for use that week.

That way I have a stock of frozen beans ready at a moment’s notice, and fresh beans for recipes whenever I want! Hello, black bean and egg burritos, white chicken chili, tortilla soup, or red beans and rice anytime.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beans
  • Water to cover
  • ~2tbsp vinegar (any kind)
  • Spices recommended: 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp fennel seed, onion, chili powder, or oregano. Choose 1-2 you like and see what happens
  • Optional: 1 strip of seaweed

Step 1: Cover your beans with water, and let soak 6 hours or overnight. Drain, and cover again. Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.

Slow cooker pinto beans canned

Step 2: You can keep the cooking liquid, or discard, up to you. I usually keep it, especially when canning or freezing the beans, and then drain just before using in recipes.

The beautiful thing is that now you have this super-cheap base to use to make your own refried beans, hummus, (did you know you can make hummus with black beans too!), vegetarian burger patties, or you can can them for later. (By the way, do use a pressure canner, or keep them in the refrigerator. We don’t want botulism now do we?)

 

Slow cooker dried beans

Slow cooker dried beans

Ingredients

  • 1 pound beans
  • Water to cover
  • ~2tbsp vinegar (any kind)
  • Spices recommended: 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp fennel seed, onion, chili powder, or oregano. Choose 1-2 you like and see what happens
  • Optional: 1 strip of seaweed

Instructions

  1. Cover your beans with water, and let soak 6 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain, and cover again.
  3. Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.
  4. You can keep the cooking liquid, or discard, up to you. I usually keep it, especially when canning or freezing the beans, and then drain just before using in recipes.
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Balsamic Berry Sauce

 

Fresh berries are nature’s candies. Bright and juicy, they are one of the most healthful natural foods. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, whatever the color they are super! If you want to use them for something other than snacking and parfaits, here is a great dessert sauce recipe!

This sauce is a perfect accompaniment to ice cream, or poured over angel food cake, or even by itself with some fresh cream. It would make a great sauce for chicken, duck, or pork as well. You may like it so much you just eat it from the pan with a spoon! Not that I would or did do that…

Frozen berries would work just as well, you would just have to cook it a little longer to evaporate the extra water. The longer you simmer, the thicker and more syrup-like this will become. You could even use it on top of pancakes! I used half blackberries and half raspberries, you could mix however you like.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

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Step 1: In a frying pan, mix berries with sugar, lemon juice and balsamic. Bring to barely a simmer, and cook on low heat for 20-25 minutes, until berries have liquefied and the mixture has become thick and syrupy.

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Step 2: Pour over some high quality vanilla or flavored ice cream, and enjoy warm!

This is delicious warm, and has a nice little tang from the vinegar. The lemon juice brightens it, but it is not absolutely required. You could try cherries too, I bet that would be the bomb diggity.

 

Spicy Green Beans

 

Ever try to get a child, or significant other, or friend, or yourself, to eat a new vegetable?  Sometimes, it is just fine. But most of the time, it does not go over well. You’re greeted with scrunched up noses, tongues sticking out, and a chorus of “ewwww!”.

Well, I have good news for you. I know of several tricks to get new vegetables to at the least be considered, if not openly adored. One involves trying it in a new texture. I’ve found that pan-frying or baking until crispy can render some normally off-putting veg nearly irresistible.

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The second trick is spice. Usually the hot kind, but also all kinds of spices. Familiarize yourself with different spices, fresh and dried, ground and whole. Peppers are a whole world of their own, from as innocuous as bells and jalapenos up through cherry peppers, poblanos, and serranos.

While they are in season, pick them up cheap at the store or farmer’s market (or better yet, grow your own, peppers are very forgiving and easy growing!) and they freeze or dehydrate beautifully for salsas and recipes all year long.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh green beans (or any pole bean)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground or fresh diced hot pepper
  • 1 tsp dried or fresh diced garlic
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp olive oil

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Step 1: Put the olive oil and green beans in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes, until beans start to brown.

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Step 2: Add the garlic, tomatoes, soy sauce, and hot pepper. You can use any kind of tomatoes, or forget about them and just cook the beans too. I happened to have a yellow pear tomato plant that just exploded with fruit so I used those. It adds a nice juicy, fresh taste.

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Cook until tomatoes burst, and most of the liquid is evaporated. Serve hot!

These come out crunchy yet easy to chew, with a very fun texture. If you let them cool slightly, they can be great finger foods. Obviously you can adjust the level of heat to the comfort level of whoever is eating them. Add extra hot peppers to convince a doubtful male to try it (Seriously, spice works to conceal a lot of “vegetal” tastes most dudes don’t love), or dial it back for those who are new to spices.

You can even omit the hot pepper at all for children, or people who are allergic or just don’t like hot pepper. But I’d suggest giving it a try, you’ll never go back to canned beans once you’ve tried this delish dish!

 

Freezer Smoothie Packs

 

We all know mom always said breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  But we all know that sometimes it is the hardest meal of the day. It’s too early, we don’t have time, we can’t think of anything that sounds good, you don’t want to cook… the list of excuses goes on and on.

It’s hard to come up with something that is tasty, healthy, and also can be made in the 5 minutes you have before you rush out the door for the day.

Don’t worry dear reader, I’ve got your back.

Smoothie packs ready for the freezer

Enter: the freezer smoothie pack.

Just a few minutes of prep ahead of time on a weekend and you can have a whole week’s worth of healthy, on-the-go breakfasts ready and waiting in your freezer. These little bags are such a simple yet brilliant answer to the morning breakfast rush. And boy, are they customizable! All you really need is a good handful of greens, a fruit or two or three, and some baggies.

In the morning, just grab one bag, toss it in the blender with enough liquid (milk, almond milk, coconut water, tea, juice, whatever you like), blend and go. And if you have the kind of blender that makes single servings and you drink right out of it, your morning could not BE any simpler!

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For each smoothie pack, you will need:

  • 1 medium zip-top baggie
  • 1/2 – 1 cup greens (spinach, beet greens, kale, collards, etc)
  • 1/2 – 1 banana
  • 1/2 – 1 cup chopped other fruits

You can try just about anything in these freezer bags. It makes a great answer to almost-mushy fruits in the fridge, halves of things left over, and whatever fruits are in season and on sale. I used peaches, pears, bananas, local blueberries, and avocado. I also had half a pineapple and some beet greens from my garden, so I tossed those into a few bags as well.

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Step 1: Wash, peel, and cut up your fruits as needed. You can also slice your greens into smaller pieces to make blending easier.

Smoothie pack and blender

Step 2: Toss your baggies into the freezer. That’s it! When you are ready for a super quick healthy breakfast (or lunch, or snack, or dessert…) pour the contents of the bag into a blender, and add your liquid of choice. I like green tea for a gentle caffeine kick, or almond milk for some creamy smoothness.

Enjoy!

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