Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Crockpot Black Bean Soup

My neighbors invited us over for dinner on Saturday and made black bean soup in the crockpot. Which was delicious. And inspiring. So that's what I made yesterday/today.

Yesterday, I had to cook up the beans in the pressure cooker. And I did the quick soak first. Which never really works well. The beans end up broken. If you ever want to make beans in the pressure cooker, the best way is to soak several hours, then cook. You can do the quick soak. You can cook without soaking. BUT the results just aren't as good.

I also sauteed the vegetables. My soup was vegetarian, a recipe I adapted from "125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes" by Judith Finlayson. It was heavily adapted. I didn't have some of the veggies she uses, but I had others. Still it was tasty. Her recommendations for sauteing the veggies and using some whole spices are great. But...not as good as the neighbor's soup (which wasn't vegetarian). Mine was a little watery, so I pureed some of it at the end and added alphabets at the last minute to thicken it up. It tasted a little smoky, probably from last year's roasted poblanos.

The bad part about the soup (and the roasted kale), is that summer has arrived. Yes, after a summer of learning to swim in the frigid Pacific, where the ocean was about 59 degrees (instead of 65+), and it was so foggy that we could barely see the buoys on most days - now, in late September, it reaches over 100 degrees. 103? 108? When I checked it at 5 pm, it was 100.1 at home. It's days like these when I am happy that the previous owner of our home painted and nailed the windows shut and installed AC. The heat is not terribly surprising, as September is usually the hottest month. Generally, it's around labor day though.

The good part about the soup is that I've got a 4 cup portion for the freezer (for a future Friday night's dinner), and enough for a couple more mid-week meals.

Crockpot Black Bean Soup
1 lb dried black beans, cooked, with about 1-2 cups cooking liquid: 1.29
1 small onion, diced: 0.20
2 small green peppers, diced: free from a coworker
3 cloves garlic, pressed: 0.15
2 Tbsp chopped roasted poblanos: 0.20
2 ears corn, steamed and cut off cob: 0.80 (corn is not cheap here, and not as good as in PA)
1/2 small can tomato paste: 0.17
2 Tbsp cumin seeds: 0.25
1 tsp thyme: 0.10
1 Tbsp oregano: 0.10
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 vegetable bouillon cube: 0.38
5 cups water
3.5 oz alphabets: 0.20

Total: $3.84 for about 12 cups, $0.32 per cup. Served with tortilla chips, kale chips, and some avocado and sour cream.

To prep the night before: cook the beans and put in the fridge.

Saute the onions and peppers until soft. Add the garlic and spices and cook for about two minutes. Add tomato paste and blend well. Put all of this stuff and the corn and bouillon in a different container. Or the same one as the beans if it's big enough.

Before heading off to work in the morning, combine all the ingredients except the alphabets. Cook on low 8 to 10 hrs.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender a little bit. Add the alphabets and cook another 30 minutes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pressure Cooker Brown Rice Risotto

You see, I googled that exact phrase. And found...nothing. I found other questions about it. I found comments like "you can't make risotto from brown rice" and "you can make risotto from short-grain brown rice, but it needs more time and more liquid". But nothing about doing it in a pressure cooker. I love the pressure cooker, because you can do regular risotto in 5 mins at high pressure.

So I found a chart that said brown rice needs 18 minutes at high pressure. And I have several risotto recipes in Lorna Sass' Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. So I decided to wing it.

And it turns out - you CAN make pressure cooker brown rice risotto. Sure, it's not like the real thing, but it's still pretty good. Just don't forget the salt. I usually use vegetable bouillon instead of stock, and the last time I bought my bouillon, the store only had unsalted. Okay, everything is coming out under-seasoned.

Pressure Cooker Brown Rice Risotto:
1 Tbsp canola oil: 0.03
1 small onion, chopped: 0.20
1 small zucchini, diced: 0 from a coworker
1.5 cup short-grain brown rice: 1.13
1 vegetable bouillon cube: 0.38
4 cups water
1 cup frozen peas: 0.40
2 oz goat cheese: 0.80
handful parsley, chopped
sprinkle parmesan: 0.25
salt and pepper to taste

Total: $3.19 for about 8 cups, or 0.40 per cup.

Saute onion and zucchini in oil until soft. Add rice and stir until coated with the oil. Add water and vegetable bouillon. Close pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure. Reduce heat to maintain pressure and cook 18 minutes. Release pressure using quick-release method.

Stir well and let thicken a bit. Add parsley, salt, pepper, peas, and cheeses.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

World's Cheapest Breakfast

Yep, oatmeal. Okay, maybe not the world's cheapest. But, pretty cheap and pretty good.

Today, we were out of homemade bread. That's okay. Because I have oats. I haven't eaten much oats over the summer. A few mornings of oatmeal, some granola. Today, there was a nice big ripe banana on my counter, and Kath's Banana Whipped Oats were talking to me.

Kath's Banana Whipped Oats (serves 2.5)
2/3 c. old fashioned rolled oats: 0.10 (0.79/lb!)
1/3 c. dry milk powder: 0.17
1 1/3 c. water
1 Tbsp 9-grain cereal: 0.04
1 banana sliced very thinly and chopped: 0.19
pinch salt
1/4 tsp vanilla: 0.02

and for my topping (boys don't like it): 1 tsp sunflower seed butter: 0.03

Total: $0.55 for 3 servings!

Mix water and dry milk powder. Put milk, oats, banana, salt, and cereal in a pot. Cook, stirring constantly, until desired doneness (5-9 mins). I like the cereal in there because it adds some chewy parts. When done, remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Note that there is no sugar in this recipe. With a nice ripe banana, it's not needed.

Now, truly, this isn't going to "stick" with my husband all the way until lunch. So his serving of about 3/4 cup or $0.21 would need supplementation. Nuts if I could get him to add them (I don't think he likes them). An egg. More fruit. I could make it more filling by increasing the total amount of oats to 1 cup (and increase liquid to 2 cups), and that would only increase the total to $0.71 (basically, increase everything except the banana and the sunbutter).

Other things on the menu this week: I tried my hand at Zucchini fritters from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I don't think I squeezed out enough water, but they were good! We also made breakfast burritos for dinner. Work was really crazy this week (I worked very late and hubby cooked twice) because my equipment has been broken for two months and we finally got field service in to work on it. After all that, I figured out the problem. Talk about STRESS.

Today is the big local quilt show (which I did not have time to enter...boo!) It's today and tomorrow, but I am going today. After I go for a walk and take my son for a flu shot. Tomorrow is the Carp Tri, and I am going down and taking pics and cheering on my friends and partying after.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Zucchini Bread

Wow, that zucchini bread is amazing. I think I'll make more of it this week. Lest you think I've lost my mind on the "healthy" part -you can follow this link for the recipe.

But here are my changes:
subbed 1 cup all purpose flour with whole wheat
added 2 Tbsp wheat germ
replaced half of the oil with applesauce
cut the sugar in half (2 cups??), and will reduce a bit more next time (to 2/3 cup probably)
replaced one of the three eggs with 1 Tbsp ground flax seed and 3 Tbsp water (free range eggs aren't cheap!)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tonight's Dinner, brought to you by the color GREEN

Or really, last night's dinner.

Sesame Cashew Noodles, Sauteed Green beans, and some diced avocado.

It was a pretty busy week (when aren't they?) I had a great evening out with my fellow mom-friends on Thursday. And Friday, I had a great meal of leftover Beef Bourguinon, homemade bread (from the bread machine, that my husband made), and more sauteed zucchini. I'm loving this shredded zucchini thing. I got a pound from the CSA this week, and then probably another 3 lbs from some great coworker. Or two. They just show up in the lunch room. Also showing up this week? Apples.

I recently impressed a couple of friends with my meals. On a Friday, how on earth did I have beef bourguinon, homemade bread, and zucchini? Well, it's all about planning. And...I'm not always perfect with the planning and execution. For example, Thursday night (when I went out), I could have done better planning dinner for my family. But I was tired. I'd donated blood the night before, swum in the frigid Pacific that morning...so I said "you can heat up this stuff here, or you can get pizza." Pizza won (and we had leftovers for lunch for a couple of days too!).

But Fridays, I'm pretty tired. And I've GOT to plan for leftovers, if I want to avoid the lure of the overpriced and disappointing restaurant meal. I've said it here before - when I cook, I cook A LOT. I aim to make a big dish of something that's at least 10 cups, every weekend. On good weekends, I make two things. I have these Pyrex dishes that are 4 and 6 cups. Each weekend, I try to put one 4-cup item in the freezer. A 4 cup item will feed us for one meal, sometimes 1.5 meals.

Now, you don't HAVE to freeze things. If you don't mind eating the same thing over and over, like the folks at Path to Freedom, then you can just eat 10-16 cups of something for lunch and dinner for 4 days. But I think my family would revolt if I did that. And, I get bored also.

Recent things that have made it into my freezer (and later, onto my plates): split pea soup, beef bourguinon, red bean gumbo, plain cooked read beans, and caponata. If I plan to pull out leftovers for Thursday or Friday dinner, it's a late-in-the-week "treat". What I make over the weekend is generally gone by Weds lunch. So Weds and Thursday tend to be quick and easy - grilled cheese, veggie burgers, etc.

Other things that I've been making this week:
Tofu and veggie stir fry with rice and quinoa
Mango-banana smoothies
Zucchini bread

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thank you Lori

Just when I wasn't sure what kind of veggie I was going to make with my veggie burgers, I arrive at work to a bag with 5 huge zucchinis sitting on the lunch room table, saying "take me".

I took 3.

Sauteed zucchini. We ate all three of them for dinner last night. Yum!!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Homemade pizza last night and tonight. I could not figure out why my dough didn't rise yesterday. I forgot to do the second kneading, so I did it - but late. My flour is pretty new, but I did use extra whole wheat. Hmmm...am I losing my touch?

And then, as I was crawling into bed, it hit me. I forgot the yeast. So, my tip for the day, friends, is - don't forget the yeast, or you get flat pizza crust.

But the homemade sauce was awesome. I hid a bunch of onions and peppers in it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


So, here I am on Sunday morning. My hubby's not playing tennis today, so it would be the perfect opportunity for yoga. But not today. Today, I am supporting my friends.

Little tidbit about me: I have done 3 Breast Cancer 3-day walks. 2001, 2003, 2005. That last one, I was pregnant, so I only walked about 51 of the 60 miles. Nowadays, you have two long-distance choices: the Avon 2-day walk and the Susan G. Komen 3-day walk.

The Avon, ironically, is here this weekend. They walked past our house (which is rare, but I guess when you are walking 26.2 miles, you have to weave in and out all over town). I wasn't here but we put up balloons, my husband and son cheered them on, and they let one lady use our bathroom. My hubby knows, especially from the one where I was pregnant, how important bathroom stops are.

The group of people that I did the 3-days with continues to ebb and flow, and walk. Mary Anne is our leader, and has walked one walk every year since the start in 1998. They are walking in San Francisco this year, and this is the big back-to-back weekend. They are walking 18-20 miles Saturday AND Sunday, to get used to that before the big weekend.

So today, as I've done before, I am meeting them at their big beach turnaround, with snacks and drinks. I made raisin bread in the bread machine. I have electrolyte water, cheese sticks, and I'll probably pick up some gatorade on the way. We've got the balloons from yesterday.

So where does breakfast come in here? Well, there's a nice restaurant at the beach. I was thinking that it would be nice to go early, eat, then cheer them on. I looked up the menu, and some reviews. The reviews said that it wasn't good for children (though I figured breakfast would be okay). And it's pricey. But I do like a good breakfast.

As I looked at the average price ($12.95) and the cost of a breakfast burrito ($8.95), I got to thinking. That breakfast would cost us about $36-37 for the three of us. My husband was still asleep (he's been working late and on weekends). My son was watching TV (the only way I could get him to let my husband sleep). So I started cooking.

Even with the local, organic, free range eggs from the farmer's market ($4.50/dozen), the Niman Ranch bacon ($4.49 for 12 slices), etc., I managed to make breakfast for three for under 5 bucks.

Breakfast burritos:
1 lb organic potatoes: 1.00
1 Tbsp canola oil: 0.05
chopped green onion and small pepper: 0.25
3 eggs: 1.13
3 slices bacon: 1.12
3 large tortillas: 0.90
1 slice American cheese: 0.13
1 teabag for iced tea: 0.15

Total: $4.73 for 3 burritos, plus extra potatoes on the side

Steam the potatoes and fry up in the oil with peppers and onion.

Microwave bacon until crispy.

Scramble the eggs and top with the cheese.

Wrap in tortillas and enjoy!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Keep Fighting the Good Fight Folks

See article on Fruit and Vegetable consumption here.

A few tidbits:

Recommended minimum fruit/veg consumption for Americans over 2:
2 servings fruit
3 servings vegetables
(though I have seen smaller serving recommendations for children under 5 elsewhere)

One serving is 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens), 1 small piece fruit. Grand total: 2.5 cups. That's not a lot folks.

As of 2009:
Percentage of Americans meeting the minimum:
Fruit: 32.5% (40.1% in California, second only to DC)
Vegetable: 26.3% (highest consumption by any state is ... Idaho)

We hit the minimum almost every day (though my son maybe gets 3-5 servings - he doesn't always get 5). It's a rare day when we don't. Like today, when we're out of fruit. We've got dried fruit and one peach to share 3 ways. But my son gets fruit at school.

My biggest tips for getting enough fruits and veggies:
Fruit: eat one for breakfast, one lunch, if you are a 3-meal-a-day person. Or, if you are a snacker (like me), have one for breakfast and one or two for snacks. I get my fruit at the morning snack and afternoon snack. Sometimes at breakfast and/or lunch.

Veggie: At least one serving at lunch (though 2-3 is more normal). That means a main dish should be veggie heavy (veggie soup, stew, pasta, stir-fry). If it's not, then a side of veggie. A frozen mixture to throw in the micro, edamame, carrot sticks, a salad. I've been known to throw a few radishes, some tomato, and a cucumber in a bag and slice it up into a salad at lunch. Last night's veggie was celery sticks with peanut butter (yesterday was CSA day, our fridge was getting bare). Tonight's dinner is split pea soup - the main dish IS the veggie. And our dinners generally are based around veggies, so it's easy to get 3 servings.

This week's veggies were:
celery and peanut butter
sauteed zucchini
Baked limas with tomato
pasta with cherry tomato and zucchini
split pea soup
red bean gumbo

Upcoming week:
green beans
cherry tomatoes
plus some frozen veggies to round it all out (stir fry, broccoli, cauliflower)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Fresh limas with garlic, tomato, bread crumbs, and cheese.
Stuffing. Because despite my attempt to keep control over the bread heels, I found 5 bags of them in the freezer.
Roasted Potatoes (because they are cheaper than Whole Foods' hot bar at $7.99/lb).
Sauteed zucchini. Because it's the season. I was doubtful about the tastiness, but again Perfect Vegetables did not fail me.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Red Bean Gumbo

I got this new cookbook for my birthday from my mother in law. Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I've had some difficulty choosing vegetarian cookbooks. Everyone has their own favorites, and I was tempted by this one and by Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Anyway, I finally got to try a recipe from it. I chose the recipe because I was rummaging through the pantry and found a bunch of red beans that I'd forgotten about. I searched through the cookbook and found the gumbo recipe. The only thing that I didn't have was bell peppers. Now, I hate to shop for things *just* for a specific recipe. I am impressed by broke foodie's ability to shop only once every three months (I'd love to shop less, but for me, that would mean once/week, not once every three months). I figured that bell peppers aren't too terrible.

In any event, this recipe was delicious! A little heavy on the prep - cook the greens, soak and cook the beans, make the roux, add the veggies...but it made a huge pot and was very tasty.

And since it's a soup, with beans and vegetables, it is very budget friendly.

I served this with herb roasted potatoes. We ate them so fast that there was no time to take a picture.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Perfect Vegetables

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this cookbook? Because I do. It's one of those cookbooks where every recipe I've tried has been a success.

When you belong to a CSA, and you find yourself with an abundance of vegetables, sometimes, you just need help finding a good recipe. This is where I turn.

Being that Perfect Vegetables is from the folks at Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen, the recipes tend to have many steps. But they are always successful.

Last night's dish was Pasta with cherry tomatoes, capers, summer squash (which is the vegetable I was trying to use up), and goat cheese. There was lemon in there too, and fresh parsley. Recipe called for shallots, but I used onion.

I won't post it here (you'll have to buy the book or join their on-line club or borrow the book from the library). But despite the 2-3 steps required, and tons if little bowls used in making it (mise en place, anyone? Hey, that's a French term I *didn't* learn in high school French.) - it was a real winner, worth the extra effort. I've gotten quite adept at pasta of late (with homemade pesto), but it's nice to just follow a recipe and know the seasoning will be correct.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Minimalism and Books

Awhile back I read a post by Everett Bogue from Far Beyond the Stars.

About the only thing he and I have in common are my interest in simplicity and minimalism. He's a vagabond who can literally pick up and live anywhere. I'm a 40-year old married woman with a husband, job, house, and kid. And I like it that way.

I do love to read his blog. This particular post was about books. How to divest yourself of your library. I've been thinking about it for a long while and decided it is time to write about it. I'd meant to write about it earlier, but my not-so-simple life with a job, child, traveling husband, and my first triathlon has kept me busy the last few weeks.

Books can wreak havoc on a frugal and simple life. But boy. I love books. I've always loved books. My husband and I used to go on our weekly "dates" to bookstores. We read. A lot. I've run the gamut from romance (not anymore) to mystery (still love them) to food and food ethics. And cooking. I have a bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks. My spouse also reads mysteries and sci fi/fantasy. And we both enjoy "how to" books (we're engineers, what can I say, woodworking, cooking, landscaping, crafts...)

Everett states:
Physical books are a thing of the past.

They’re expensive to produce, difficult to distribute, and it’s hard to get one published. More importantly, the publishing industry does not compensate writers nearly enough for their time and impact on the world

I can see his point on not properly paying authors, and the difficulty in getting published. While I don't have personal experience, a few of my friends do. This is one reason that if I can buy a book directly from the author, I do.

He also points out the impact on the environment. This is a very good point. One that I have thought about time and again as I've tried to divest myself of 15 year old college textbooks. Nobody wants them. You can't recycle them. What a complete and utter waste of resources, not to mention money. I can see why some professors I know are going entirely to just their own "notes" that you can download from class websites. I enjoy borrowing books from the library (which limits the environmental impact). However, then you have the problem (again) of supporting the author. Fewer books sold = less money.

He also states:
7. Knowledge over ownership.

The information in the book is in you after you read it. The information, if valuable, becomes a part of your brain’s knowledge-base.

Why keep a physical reminder of the ideas?

Truth be told most or us will never read a book twice, so why are we keeping books around for our entire lifetimes? To me that’s just silly. Read the book and get rid of it. Alternatively, just buy digital on Kindle or from indie authors and read on a device or computer.

For many books, I have to disagree. There's only so much room in my brain. For how-to's, like cooking, crafts, or a combination of tips like in "The Complete Tightwad Gazette", I must have a hard copy. And these books, I read over and over again. There are other books that I just loved so much that I kept. These are slowly finding their way out of my house. The mystery novels that I do re-read, I keep. The others, I loan out, then, donate. My husband actually keeps books that he read in high school. He's slowly but surely paring down, but he rereads books even more than I do.

And a computer or kindle isn't the same as a book. This is where I show my age. While my 20-something coworkers are using their Iphones, computers, texting, etc., to track data, keep in touch, schedule appointments...I simply need paper. It's how I absorb information, learn new things. I write. With paper. And pens or pencils. I think, maybe, I'm a bit of a dinosaur. I'm trying to use less paper (that pesky environment thing again). But at some point, you have to recognize your own abilities and needs. And there's nothing like curling up in the couch with a good book. Or turning pages in Goodnight Moon when reading to your kid. To heck with a laptop.

(But he does make a good point about Shakespeare. I do have his complete works. Leather bound. I'm not going to read them. Last time I put them in the donate pile, my hubby took them out. Now, the copy of Walden, I'll keep. It was my dad's personal copy, and he loved it.)

And of course:
3. Declare yourself free from the idea of the physical book.

Once you’ve embraced the idea of information abundance, you can basically do anything you want. Travel for five weeks in the Australian outback, hike up to Machu Picchu, or perhaps sit on the beach in Nicaragua for seven weeks. The possibilities are, as always, endless.

This is a nice little reminder of the sheer differences between my life and his. While I can learn a lot from him to simplify - truth be told I can't travel in the outback with a 4 year old. Unless it's during summer break. Which is winter in Australia. Brrr.