Hello There, Solid Food.

I am recovering from the noro virus that’s been going around lately. Now that I’m back among The Chewing, I felt like some baked tofu. Because I’m tired (and lazy?) I just threw some random things into a bowl for a marinade, swirled it around a few times, and poured it over some sliced lite firm tofu. Results? Chew-riffic.

Nice mild flavor, if a bit salty. I think I baked them at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, on a lightly-oiled glass casserole dish. I sliced half of the brick into 3 pieces, and the other half into 4 pieces. Thinner slices turned out chewier, a texture that I prefer.

A rough list of ingredients:

  • soy sauce
  • splash of seasoned rice vinegar
  • squirt of agave nectar
  • few drops of dark sesame oil
  • few dashes of garlic powder
  • pinch of crushed red pepper

Slice tofu, press, and marinate for about 1/2 hour. Bake at 375 degrees on a lightly oiled, foil-lined baking sheet or until brown and crisp on the edges, turning at least once.

The tofu was great by itself, but even better in a sushi roll (with shiitake mushroom, cucumber, and cilantro).

Red Curry Vegetable Soup

The first drive home after the switch to non-daylight savings time is always rough. You leave work in twilight, arrive home in total darkness, and feel like crawling directly into bed. Although today was relatively warm (71 degrees!) for early November, a quick and tasty soup still felt appropriate. Here’s a quickie made with leftover coconut milk from the very successful African Peanut Soup we had last week. (Which disappeared almost instantly.)

Red Curry Vegetable Soup

1 cup coconut milk
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp red curry paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper (or yellow, or whatever you have on hand)
1/2 cup thinly-sliced carrots
1/2 cup frozen peas

Saute onions over medium heat in a bit of water until slightly soft. Add garlic and remaining vegetables. Stir in curry paste and cook briefly. Add vegetable broth and simmer until vegetables reach desired doneness. (I like mine a little crispy.)

Add coconut milk and heat through for about 5 minutes. Makes about 2 generous servings.

Cilantro Haters: Not for You.

I love cilantro. Everyone in my house loves it too. We can’t get enough of the stuff. But I know it’s a very polarizing herb, and there are a large number of (unfortunate) people who think it tastes like soap. Whatever. That means more for me!

Lately I have taken to buying more than one bunch at a time. If it starts to go bad, I make Cilantro Lime Rice. Just chop up some cilantro and toss it into some rice that you’ve cooked with salt and lime juice. (Do not use the ironically-named “RealLime” stuff – only fresh-squeezed juice, or Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice will do.) This rice is fantastic in burritos, especially with Chipotle Black Beans.

I also puree the cilantro with onions, garlic, other herbs, etc. and freeze it in plastic bags or ice cube trays for a near-instant sofrito.

Like most other fresh herbs, cilantro likes to stay dry. I can keep it for about twice as long if I remove it from the produce bag when I get home, pat it dry, and place it in a plastic container lined with a paper towel. A leftover plastic salad container works well for this.

The most recent recipe I tried, Ginger-Cilantro Rice with Green Onion and Sesame from Kalyn’s Kitchen, was a crowd-pleaser. I should have doubled it because it is great the next day – hot or cold. The sesame oil adds a rich flavor that I always like, and the cilantro is refreshing, as always. I used basmati rice, and veggie broth (of course). I think next time I would add more chopped ginger near the end, to get that spicy sensation of biting into an occasional ginger bit.

I’m Roasting Everything in Sight

It’s the season, you know?

I started the week with roasted yellow and red potatoes seasoned with sage. Then I roasted a large quantity of red peppers (on sale 10 for $10, 11th free, at Meijer). Mmm.

Tonight I roasted some root vegetables: parsnips, sweet potatoes, red beets, and a miscellaneous red and white striped beet – the last of the CSA produce (*sniff*). Seasoned simply, with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mmm.

roasted root vegetables

Next up: butternut squash.

Seitan Chorizo

I can barely live without having these in my refrigerator at all times. They are seriously tasty. The texture and flavor is just right. I think they might even fool a meat-eating chorizo lover if you tucked them into a breakfast burrito with some black beans and rice.

I’ve varied the recipe from mild to extra spicy. I like to use smoked paprika, and add a little extra. One thing is always the same: I have to put it away promptly or I’ll end up eating it all, right out of the pan. It sounds like I’m not the only person with this problem. I recommend doubling your batch.

Seitan Chorizo Crumbles

Thank you, Celine Steen at “have cake, will travel“. You rock.

Spicy Indian Cauliflower

I love this Spicy Indian Cauliflower.

spicy indian cauliflower

It’s so delicious, I could eat the whole recipe. I would probably regret that later. I use less oil than the recipe calls for, about 1/2 tsp just to make the mustard seeds pop. Then I add a bit of water to help distribute the spices. I would serve this with basmati rice, or as a side dish to Crockpot Channa Masala. It would also be good stuffed into some naan or pita bread for lunch.

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 6

Today is my last day on the SNAP Challenge. I look at food a little differently. $5.00 for a coffee drink? Really? The 5 Dollar Footlong… that’s 2 meals, right? (What about breakfast?)

Breakfast today was on the run, with a little convenience food. I would not have eaten the relatively small breakfast pita at this price (nor would I have bought them unless they were 30% off) had I not had so much money left over for the week. It was not a good choice for the price… not filling at all. I also ate a slice of wheat bread with peanut butter. No fruit or vegetable.

  • muesli breakfast pita: .49
  • 1 slice homemade wheat bread: .08
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter: .09
  • Breakfast total: .66

Lunch was a near repeat of last night’s dinner, Spiced Cauliflower.

  • 1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
  • onion, garlic, spices: .17
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
  • red pepper chutney: .32
  • wheat bread: .08
  • 1/2 cup applesauce: .16
  • Lunch total: 1.81

I’m fortunate to have a microwave and refrigerator at work. If I didn’t have these resources, what would I bring? I think I would be more tempted by convenience foods. I can’t believe the amount of pre-portioned, over-packaged food in the store. I appreciate the time it saves for a busy family though, especially if you had to plan all these costs per serving like I’m doing, and using my own containers. But they’re still outrageously expensive, and the amount of waste is outrageous too. My son just started Kindergarten, and I recall the outlay for reusable lunchbox containers.

And what would happen if I forgot my lunch? I couldn’t run over to the cafe for a $4.75 hummus wrap like I normally would. Or order Jimmy John’s with the rest of the office.

Speaking of Jimmy John’s, that’s what the rest of my family had planned for dinner before we were to leave for a weekend road trip. Not for me. I carefully calculated the money I have left over for the week: $4.50 for today + $1.31 surplus for the week, subtract breakfast and lunch, and I guess I could go without the apple I brought for a snack… equals…

Not enough – $3.37 left. Short of the $4.45 I would need for the Vegetarian, hold the cheese and mayo to make it vegan. (Do you think a person on this budget would throw away the cheese?) It’s worth noting that a “Plain Slim” is $3.25 (bread + cheese and meat), so I guess I could buy that, throw away the meat and cheese, and eat a plain loaf of (very expensive) bread.

My dinner was a taco salad, and it was a lot better than a plain loaf of bread.

  • 2 cups spinach (not baby or organic): .83
  • 1/2 cup Chipotle Black Beans: .16
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels: .12
  • 1/4 cup salsa: .31
  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk: .50
  • apple (afternoon snack): .60
  • Dinner (and snack) total: 2.73

Day 6 total: $5.20 (up $ .64 for the week)
Calories: 1,075

Did I get enough nutrients?

I used the free tool at Sparkpeople.com to track nutrition information for the last 6 days. Here’s a summary.

NUTRIENTS: GOAL 9/4 9/5 9/6 9/7 9/8 9/9 9/10
Calories: 1,449 1,058 1,261 1,014 1,262 1,118 1,075
Fat: 32 – 56 32 25 15 23 17 32 26
Calcium: 100 – 150 18 20 35 12 17 48 57
Fiber, total dietary: 25 – 35 33 27 18 26 28 32 33
Iron: 100 – 150 54 58 51 40 53 38 56
Sodium: 0 – 2,300 1,349 1,305 361 539 1,192 1,411 1,149
Protein: 50 – 62 39 48 29 35 42 48 40
Carbohydrates: 300 – 375 271 169 269 175 258 167 185

I did not eat enough calories to sustain a 33 year old woman of my height and weight, resulting in 1.5 lbs lost since the beginning of the challenge, despite exercising less this week.

  • Fat is low, but I believe the recommended guidelines for fat in a diet are too high, so I’m ok with this.
  • I never met my calcium requirement during the week. I usually eat more broccoli, cereal, and tofu than this.
  • Plenty of fiber here, thanks to a big effort to get plenty of fruits and veggies.
  • Iron and carbohydrates are low on most days.
  • Sodium looks great. Probably from a low amount of processed food.
  • Protein is ok, but could be a bit better on some days.

If I had been eating more calories, most of these numbers would have improved.

I learned a lot on this challenge. I’m glad it’s over, because I was hungry all the time. I did my best to eat good food, but I think I needed more of it. I have a new appreciation for being able to choose my meals at will.

The planning time it takes to get by and eat healthfully on such a small budget is intense. It was difficult at times to get a variety of fruits and vegetables. But I think there are many healthy foods are not more expensive, if you’re willing to do some cooking and shop around for deals. It matters what is available in your area. And it seems that luck sometimes helps, too.

SNAP Hunger Awareness Challenge: Day 5

Planning seems to be getting easier, but still takes so much time. I miss strawberries and red peppers. I have a stack of recipes I can’t afford to make. I do have some money left over again today, but we have plans to go out on Friday night. I might want a coffee drink, or to eat at a restaurant. But I don’t think I’ll have quite enough for that, especially for vegan options. (WHY is a salad more expensive than a burger?)

I baked some whole wheat bread last night, from frozen loaves I bought at a 30% off sale – which has turned out to be quite the windfall. It might not be less expensive than an ordinary store-bought loaf, but it’s probably less than the $5+ sprouted grain loaf that I usually get. I added some peanut butter and a cup of store-brand organic vanilla soy milk for protein. The cup of black coffee was free at a work meeting.

  • 2 (generously-sized) slices homemade wheat bread: .16
  • 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter: .09
  • 1 cup Meijer organic vanilla soy milk:
  • black coffee: free
  • Breakfast total: .25

Lunch was leftover scrambled tofu with Chipotle Black Beans I cooked up over the weekend. With 2 sprouted grain tortillas, some lettuce, and a bit of guacamole, it made a nice taco salad. Plenty of protein and fiber kept me full until dinner.

  • 2 sprouted grain tortillas: .44
  • scrambled tofu: 1.00
  • 1/2 cup black beans: .16
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .21
  • 1 tbsp guacamole: .13
  • Lunch total: 1.94

I wonder if my meals reflect the American average. I don’t think so. The proportion of processed foods is low. I did some batch cooking last weekend, which takes more time than a busy family often has. I wonder about the quantity, and how it compares with the average. Would it keep a construction worker going all day?

The other two people in my family have different tastes, and I think their meals are more typical of the American diet. I priced out an example dinner, similar to what they ate tonight:

  • 2 hot dog buns: .26
  • 2 Oscar Mayer all-beef nitrate-free hot dogs: .75
  • ketchup, mustard, onion, relish (very approximate): .32 (?)
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce: .27
  • 3 tbsp italian dressing: .13
  • Dinner total: 1.73

It’s close in price to my own dinner, below, but it’s more processed, and I’m sure it contains fewer vitamins and minerals. All of the above items were on sale. We purchase condiments in large containers and refill smaller bottles. Spices are usually purchased in bulk at a local ethnic grocery store. I save a lot of money this way. My dinner:

  • 1/2 head cauliflower: 1.00
  • onion, garlic, spices: .17
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil: .08
  • red pepper chutney: .32
  • wheat bread: .08
  • kiwi: .33
  • Dinner total: 1.98

I still have “extra” money, but I was full tonight, so I’m not using it. I’ve been craving the Indian Spiced Cauliflower dish, which happens to be relatively inexpensive. Would the average person be satisfied with a big plate of cauliflower? I would expect more hot dogs.

Day 5 Total: $4.17 (+ $ 1.34 for the week)
Calories: 1118
Fruit/veggie servings: about 7

Tomorrow (Friday) will be my last day of the SNAP Challenge. I would encourage everyone to try this challenge when it officially begins on September 19-25, even if it’s just for a day. Hunger is a grave concern in this economy, especially in Illinois. You can learn more at FeedingIllinois.org.

Although I like a challenge and I found this interesting, I do not take this experience lightly. It has opened my eyes and my heart. Approximately 1 in 10 families in Illinois experience food insecurity. It could be a friend, a neighbor… even yourself.

There but for the grace of God [or what/whomever you believe in], go I.

Chipotle Black Beans

Put some beans in a large bowl (or big pan) of water before you go to bed. Cook them up for breakfast or dinner (takes about an hour) the next day.

CAUTION: The chipotle-scented steam will make your house smell fantastic, but DO NOT inhale it from directly over the pot! I speak from experience.

1 lb dried black beans
1 dried chipotle pepper, broken into chunks
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

Soak, drain, and rinse beans as directed on package. Add beans, chipotle, garlic, cumin, and bay leaf to cooking water in a large pot. Cook beans as directed, about 1 hour. Add salt after cooking.

Remove pepper chunks after cooking, or smash and blend into the beans for extra spice. These are even better the next day.