Eat from the Pantry: Tex-Mex Bi Bim Bop Casserole

How much do you think your family spends on food each year? Family Green Me spent 2009 tracking our spending in Mint and we were shocked by the reality of our food spending.  I knew that we spent a decent amount on food and my estimate was pretty accurate for our dining out expenses, but my grocery estimate was about 1/3 of our actual expenses!!! (Ill let you in on how much we spent at the end of this post.)

Id like to attribute part of my massive grocery expense to the fact that I like to stock the pantry. In fact, if I didn’t look so human, you might think I was part squirrel (and or I watched the Crash Course one too many times) as I’ve accordingly acquired a huge amount of bulk, frozen and pantry goods since the summer months. With this in mind and I had already decided in December that we need to eat more from the pantry and buy fewer impulse foods or meal ingredients at the grocery store. And so, I was ready to bite when I saw a friend post a link to the Eat from the Pantry Challenge for January, which is being co-hosted by MoneySavingMom and Life as Mom.

We were actually pretty successful with our food budget and eating from the pantry for December and so I am quite excited at the challenge to really batten down the hatches and eat primarily from the pantry this month. The meal I made tonight was absolutely delicious and rescued multiple food items that normally would have been snugging up in my compost pail rather than my belly! It truly is immensely satisfying to have combined both left overs, frozen veggies and old veggies to make a delicious vegetarian meal!

Tex-Mex Bi Bim Bop Casserole (Food Fusion at its best!)

4 cups pre-cooked white rice

1.5 cups pre-cooked black beans (previously seasoned with cumin, allspice, bay and paprika)

1 small napa cabbage, chopped

1 small red onion, chopped

1 cup corn kernels

1/3 cup Veganaise

6 tortillas (I used homemade, gluten free)

12 oz tomato sauce (unseasoned or fire roasted)

1 tsp Kosher (or coarse) salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika

1 to 2 cups grated cheese (vegan or dairy)

Directions: pre-heat oven to 350F and pour 1/2 of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 913 casserole pan. Next, dump your rice, beans, corn, chopped cabbage and onions, and spices all into a big mixing bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup Vegenaise and stir all ingredients together until coated and evenly distributed. Lay 3 tortillas in bottom of casserole pan (you may have to break one in pieces to get full coverage). Spread mixture into pan and top with remaining 3 tortillas. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Cover with tinfoil or a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil or cookie sheet and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Cut and serve like you would a lasagna and enjoy!

I realize that this recipe sounds totally nutty; however, it was really, truly, delicious. Mr. Green Me even went back for seconds, a rare event in our household! Another bonus? This was a mostly local meal! The beans, corn, cabbage, tomatoes and onions were all grown in CO and either stored, frozen or canned before use in this meal! If you dont have identical ingredients on hand you should be able to keep spices, tomato sauce, rice and Vegenaise (I prefer the grapeseed variety) the same, but substitute celery, carrots, potatoes or any other kind of vegetable in place of the cabbage and the corn, and achieve similar results. I served ours with a side of turnips au gratin (left overs from the previous night).

This month we have already spent $126 on grocery stores and $54 dollars on dining out. However, for the rest of the month the goal is to spend $25 per week on groceries, netting out at $250 for the entire month. We are going to leave our dining out budget at $150 per month as that is generally not a problem and still brings our total Food Budget for the month to a very reasonable (IMHO) $400.

Goals:

  1. Spend $25.00 or less per week to purchase milk for Little Boy Green; some cheese; and, our weekly eggs. Green veggies or fruit may be included on an as needed basis.
  2. Eat and use leftovers until they are gone versus ignoring leftovers until they are fated to be reborn in the compost.
  3. Eat meat two times or less per week. Eat vegan or vegetarian 5 days per week.
  4. Use frozen vegetables, remaining vegetables from our CSA winter share (still have beets, squash, an onion and potatoes), and frozen fruit before buying new fresh fruit and veggies.
  5. Make bread or pasta from scratch with my vast bulk reserves rather than buying the pre-packaged kind.
  6. Use dried rice and beans until I start to make a dent in our bulk stores. I think we might have enough to get us through March on simply rice and beans!
  7. Send Mr. Green Me to work with leftovers for lunch rather than buying him stand alone lunch packing items.

Hopefully this post has inspired you to both join the Eat from the Pantry Challenge and also to take a look at your food expenses. Who knows, if you are like us, you very well might be able to afford that dream vacation (or solar panels or new windows or preschool for your kid) if you could reign in your food spending!

Dont believe me? While reviewing our year we discovered that we spent nearly 14% of our income on food (groceries, eating out, wine and beer, etc.) in 2009. Now, if you believe statistics, this percentage is on the high end of average. However, that would assume that our family income is also average, which it is not, so I am pretty sure that we spend way more on food than the average American. According to statistics our household income definitely puts us in the category of folks who live a pretty comfy life. My food goal thus for the year 2010 is to cut our food budget in half, while also donating to our local food bank on a more regular basis! Ill let you know how that is going as the year progresses!

Allergy Free Antioxidant Muffins

A few weeks ago I decided to use juice and flax seed to make a fruit based mini-muffin as a snack. We were hosting a play date for a baby sitting co-op that my neighbor is putting together. At the meeting I had guests with allergies to eggs and nuts, as well as, gluten and dairy intolerance. One of the guests may have also had an issue with soy.

To get around all these food issues I made a pumpkin muffin using rice flour and juice for the liquid. The muffin turned out pretty tasty, but it was not quite perfect and so warranted a little adjustment. Most of all I was pleased to discover that juice made a perfect substitution for milk in a muffin recipe and so I was quite thrilled this morning to find a box of POM juice on my front porch.

Earlier this fall Id been contacted by POM to see if Id like to try some of their juice in a few recipes. Ive been a pomegranate lover since I was a little kid and my husband and I were definitely early adopters of POM Pomegranate juice; however, in the last few years since having our son weve sort of fallen off the band wagon.

One issue with being gluten free or dairy free or really anything free is that folks who eat these diets are more prone to nutritional deficiencies due to limited food groups. Dairy free folks tend not to get enough calcium and vitamin D.  Gluten free folks can easily miss out on fiber and other nutrients found in wheat, rye and or barley. And, so not only is it fun to make a muffin focusing on increasing antioxidants and other nutrients, but it is also smart!

And so, with a box of POM juice in my kitchen I was inspired to make an antioxidant muffin. Pomegranate juice has been all the rage for the last few years not only due to taste and its rich color, but because the fruit is packed with more antioxidants than your average fruit or berry. To make this muffin I decided to combine the antioxidant power of the POM with some organic cocoa powder rich in polyphenols and some flax seed meal to add both fiber and lignans, which are yet another antioxidant powerhouse.

You will also notice that I used raw Agave and cinnamon. Some people like agave, some don’t. If you are in the anti-agave camp feel free to substitute an equivalent amount of honey for similar results. I’ve found that adding cinnamon to recipes with either chocolate or fruit rounds out the flavor. Furthermore, studies show that cinnamon may help reduce both blood glucose and cholesterol. These are not health issues for my immediate family, but they are for much of the population, so whether or not you choose to use agave, I do insist that you make these muffins with cinnamon!

Sift Together Dry Ingredients:

1 and 1/4 cups gluten free flour mix (I used Bobs Redmill)

1/4 tapioca flour

1/4 cup finely ground flax meal

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1.5 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

Add 1/2 cup mixed dried berries after sifting and stir to coat berries with flour.

Mix together Wet Ingredients separately:

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup Raw agave

3/4 cup POM Pomegranate Juice

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine dry with wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Lightly oil mini-muffin pan (makes 24) or line regular muffin tin with liners. Spoon batter into tin until just below the top of the tin – do not over fill. Bake mini muffins for about 18 minutes and regular sized muffins for about 22 minutes. Muffins should rise gently and be springy to the touch when finished baking. Remove from oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes gently remove from tin and cool on rack for another 10 to 20 minutes.

Serve immediately or eat within 24 hours. Freeze any muffins that are not consumed in 24 hours. Gluten free baked goods tend to taste better when frozen and reheated rather than being left out.

Substitutions:

  • You can easily substitute the gluten free flour mix with a regular whole wheat flour. If you do so, omit the tapioca flour and reduce the baking powder to 3/4 tsp.
  • You may substitute the ener-g egg replacer for one real egg. Add the egg to the wet ingredients and reduce the canola oil by 1 tablespoon.
  • You may could also increase the flax meal by one tablespoon and eliminate the egg replacer with no additional alternations.
  • If you do not have POM juice on hand you could use another juice; however, if you are looking for pomegranate juice read the labels carefully. In my own research Ive not been able to find another pomegranate juice that is 100% Pomegranate they all seem to be diluted with grape juice or other fruit juices. Also, POM juice is made from 100% California Pomegranates, which is important if you are concerned about clearing of forests elsewhere to grow pomegranate trees.

Nutritional Info for 2 Mini Muffins or 1 regular muffin (recipe makes 24 or 12): 180 calories; 7 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams protein; 3 grams fiber.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog did receive complementary POM Pomegranate Juice from POM; however, I have no other agreement with nor have I received compensation from POM other than to use the juice in recipes. I readily agreed to this offer as I am continually looking for healthy and tasty ways to mix up and inspire our everyday foods! Please feel free to add questions or comments below and I will respond as best I can!

Homemade Yogurt (vegan yogurt too!)

We’ve made many changes in our home over the past few years to reduce our consumption of plastic and make things from scratch. And yet, we’ve continued to bring single serve yogurt containers into our home on a weekly basis. We are able to recycle them, but that only reduces the waste created by this tasty habit.

Folks have told me I need to buy a yogurt maker, but I am hesitant to own single use appliances (outside of the coffee maker). I don’t own a bread machine nor do I own a yogurt maker. However, I do own a crock pot, so imagine my glee when I came a across a thread on the Mary Jane Farm message board regarding making your own yogurt and then a few folks suggesting a particular simple recipe for crock pot yogurt. I was literally jumping for joy!

Now as you all know I am lactose intolerant, so I generally do not join in the yogurt eating fun at our house, except when I decide to indulge in a non dairy yogurt. These days there are a variety of non dairy yogurts, but none of them are really up to the job or for daily consumption: soy yogurt (not satisfying), a rice yogurt (spendy and weird flavor), or the newer coconut yogurt (tasty, but SPENDY).

So, I decided to try the crock pot recipe with coconut milk for a nice vegan yogurt that is also dairy, casein and lactose free! Start up costs were not cheap with cans of organic coconut milk at $1.99 each (needed 5) and a starter coconut yogurt at $1.59. This made about 10 servings of yogurt for $1.15 each, which is still more expensive than your average soy or regular dairy yogurt, but much cheaper than the $2.59 coconut yogurt sold at Whole Foods ($1.59 at my local health food store). Now I have my own starter and just need to find a more affordable source of coconut milk if I didnt use organic for example, I could further reduce costs!

The important question however is: how did the yogurt turn out? Excellent! The flavor is delicious and only very mildly coconut. The texture is smooth and creamy. The consistency is thick, although more like yoplait than some of the almost jello style yogurts. I also used a table spoon of arrowroot powder in my cooking process in hopes that it would help thicken things up and although I dont know if that helped; perhaps next time I will use two tablespoons and see if I can get it a bit thicker. Nevertheless, my experiment was a success!

And, now that I know that I can make yogurt in a crockpot, I can also start to make some at home for my son and maybe even talk the husband into taking it in his lunch to work!

VeganDads Creamy Mac and Cheeze

Earier this week I came across a blog that really caught both my eye and my tastebuds! On Tuesday I was looking to make use of tofu, quinoa and sweet potatoes (In the name of Foodwaste Reduction), so I tossed the ingredients into Google and came up with this recipe for Cajun Quinoa.  Last night I made the Mac and Cheeze. Now over the years I have tried several mac and cheese recipes sans cheese and never found one that Id willingly make again. This time around I am super happy to have leftovers and this meal will definitely earn a place in our meal rotation!

I did make a few adjustments to the recipe as I used oat milk instead of soy (we try to only eat minimally processed soy products: tofu, miso, etc.) and no sunflower seeds, because we think Baby Green Me is mildly allergic to them. I also baked the recipe with some bread crumbs and vegan rella on top, as Vegan Dad said he thought this might be good, but hed not yet tried it baked. I love baked mac and cheese and had never myself baked any variety before and it was a definite winner.

What makes it a winner? Creamy rich flavor and both Daddy and Baby Green Me chowed down (both the quinoa and the Mac and Cheeze). I even used some of the Cheeze sauce for a veggie dip to hold Baby Green Me at bay while I was making dinner. I also love the variety of nutrients from proteins to good fats found in this Mac and Cheeze compared to your average mac and cheese recipe. To round out our meal we also had some ancient shitake mushrooms from the fridge (rehydrate in a cup of almost boiling water for about 20 minutes) sauteed with baby bok choy and a nice cool(and local) Dales Pale Ale from our storage room/beer/wine cellar.

On a side note, I think one of the things I love about Vegan Dads recipes is that he seems to put paprika in everything, which is something I never do, but that my grandmother has always claimed is her trick to delicious food. Whenever someone asks her why a particular meal is so good, her standard reply is oh, I tossed some paprika in!

I think that the next recipe I am going to try is the one for Ruben Sandwiches. I absolutely adore a good ruben and about ten or twelve years ago there used to be a vegetarian restaurant in Boulder that made a delectable one, but I havent had another since then!

Any who, I have added VeganDad to my RSS feed and if you are looking for lots and lots fo wonderful green and or vegan eating ideas you should too!

Iron Cupcake_007: Solaris – The Cosmic Coffee Cupcake

Here here! Solaris is my first entry into the IronCupcake: Earth Challenge. This out of the world cupcake takes its name from the one and only solar roasted Solaris Blend Coffee made here in Colorado. From the flour to the chocolate the ingredients are fresh, organic, and in a few cases, locally made all factors which add to the delicious nature of the Solaris cupcake. As its name implies, the delicate yet moist chocolate coffee cake is made with a double shot of Solaris Espresso, in addition to real orange extract and a hint of cinnamon spice. The cupcake is then finished with a chocolate Ganache icing and both are spiked with coffee liquor. The cake is then topped with a handmade candied orange.

The Solaris Cupcake is best eaten before 10 AM,
but delicious at any time of the day!

Many beautiful cupcakes are guilty of being either overbearingly sweet or deathly bland. The rich ganache and the tender cake of the Solaris are instead tempered by the bittersweet flavor of the candied orange and complimented by the cinnamon spice and orange extract. The resulting flavor of the Solaris neither overwhelms nor bores, but rather each bite of this delectable cupcake gently awakens and satisfies your senses. The cupcake is truly cosmic and absolutely perfect alone or with a rich cup of fresh coffee.

This was my first time in several years making a Ganache, so I followed the recipe found on page 143 of the best cupcake book on the planet, exchanging the maple syrup for agave and adding orange extract, coffee liquor and cinnamon. Id already planned to use orange extract in my recipe, but discovered after reading this Valentine post that the Solaris would not be complete without the flavor and elegance of a candied orange on top! As the VeganYumYum recipe is for an entire fruit I used this recipe from Food & Wine to candy my organic valenica oranges.

From start to finish you can see the process in the below collage (click on image to view full size). You’ll note that the cake has a hint of red, similar to what you might see in a Devils food cake. Interestingly enough, just a few hours after completing the Solaris, I read in The Science of Good Food that the addition of baking soda, which increases the alkalinity of cocoa to a PH 7.5 and turns the cocoa pigments dark red. I used only baking soda in this recipe (no baking powder) and cocoa powder, which likely adds to the color of my cake!

 

Ready for a dirty little secret? In addition to being cosmic the Solaris Cupcake is both organic and vegan! For the past few months I’ve been playing with my vegan baking recipes and I am finding that the addition of a small amount of finely ground flax seed and agave to a recipe tends to increase the moisture content of the cake, while adding to its springiness. I like springy moist cake, which is often difficult to achieve with a vegan recipe! I also like that adding some flax boosts the nutritional content of the cake and in combination with the agave, the flax allows me to cut back on the oil or butter without compromising flavor or moisture. I originally made this discovery when also trying to bake gluten free, but the trick works just as well with my everyday wheat flour!

My husband who is one of the most discerning food critics I know had this to say The cupcake was very, very good.  Moist.  The frosting was like a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange.