Sunday, April 5, 2015

Holy Costco!

One of the major complaints I hear about veganism is how expensive it is, for any number of reasons, ranging from "I need to restock my pantry" to "vegan food just costs more." Personally, I have found that going vegan is actually a money saver. Meat is expensive! While vegan processed food can often times cost more (although I push back on this, too, as more mainstream places like Target have started carrying numerous brands at good prices), if you tend towards a more whole foods, plant-based diet, you will find that purchasing vegan staples is actually quite inexpensive, without needing to rebuild a pantry from scratch with exotic ingredients.

Now where you purchase those ingredients makes a difference, of course. For example, if you get fresh in season produce at a farmer's market, your bill will certainly go down. When things are out of season, I lean very heavily on frozen organic produce, which is of excellent quality with a great price to match.

Of course, where you buy your food will make a difference, too. I unabashedly love to shop at Whole Foods, and I truly believe you can do well there, pricewise. Greg is not as entirely onboard as I would like. However, when he goes to other grocery stores, I'm not convinced he's saving much money, and he's rarely finding things I like and need, like frozen organic produce or BPA-free cans.

And then, like a beacon of light, we found the place that settled the score for both of us: Costco. I've heard the stories about how great Costco can be for a vegan, and frankly, there are other blogs that have done a great job of breaking down how wonderful Costco can be. I think East Meets West Veg probably has my favorite post on this topic, so I will direct you there for the best guidance. But after Greg visited Costco with his dad to do a little reconnaissance work, I just wanted to regale you with some of our tremendous finds to show why we joined (and finally take full advantage of our deep freezer), in short order!

Most people associate Costco with the Kirkland brand - and no shame there, as Kirkland has great stuff. But Costco also has tremendous name brands. Behold: Muir Glen Tomatoes! Six cans for $6.89, my friends. And there were other great brands, too. I have Mori-Nu Tofu and Gardein coming out of my ears!

Definitely do not eschew the Kirkland brand, however. Otherwise, you would miss out on one pound of vanilla for $6.99.

Or, our most amazing purchase of the day: 48 ounces of minced garlic for $4.49. THAT IS NOT A TYPO.

Did I mention Costco's amazing fresh produce selection? I love me some cherry tomatoes, and we got this huge package of them for $3.99.

These veggies patties are just the best! Pick up 12 for $13.99, just like we did. A bit of a splurge, yes, but they are really tasty without any weird franken-ingredients.

And Costco's organic frozen selection is simply amazing as well. Our freezer is full of broccoli, corn, peas - you name it, we have it! We also picked up this neat organic quinoa and kale mix. Part of the reason I don't cook with quinoa more is I often forget to prepare it ahead of time and have it ready to go. Not only is this quinoa easy to zap...

...but like many Costco frozen items, that giant bag is actually comprised of five smaller bags, so you can prepare reasonable portions as you need them. SWOON!

So what can I say, except get thee to Costco and get saving on your vegan diet, pronto!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Planning Ahead for the Work Week

I have confessed in the past that I understand the virtues of planning meals ahead of time but that my execution is lackluster at best. Now that I'm back to work, I will admit that I am still uneven in this area, but I have found that the weeks where I plan ahead make all the difference in the world - especially for lunch.

What is it about lunch that makes or breaks things? I love eating out, but my bank account surely does not. Yet when I'm in a time crunch during the week, my creativity simply evaporates and I start to consider an ascetic lifestyle where maybe I don't have to cook so much.

But then, my wonderful friend Sonjmarie came over one day on maternity leave, cooked us a ton of food, and left it in our fridge. Both her company and the delectable meals she left behind were delightful. One of the things she prepared for us was baked ziti, which was both marvelous and flipped a light switch in my head - hey, why don't I make a pan of ziti over the weekend and either freeze it or bring it in for lunches during the week? And a cheap week's worth of meals was born!

The nice thing about baked ziti is that it super adaptable for both palates and wallets and continues to be super easy to make. For example, I love to make it with Daiya shreds, but Greg doesn't like any cheese (vegan or otherwise), so I leave it out of his portion. I also tend to use Beyond Meat lightly seasoned chicken, particularly because my local Whole Foods regularly offers $1 off  coupons for it, but if you don't like that or it's a little expensive, simply use something like beans or veggie-based mock meat crumbles that's on sale - or nothing at all! I promise, it will still be delicious.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but frankly, this is so easy to whip up and pull together, that I didn't want my lack of illustration to stop me from posting and slow down your own weekly meal planning. :)

Baked Ziti
Serves: 4-6

Spray oil
1 pound of dried pasta
1 jar of tomato sauce (I like 365 Brand Roasted Red Pepper)
Approximately 14 oz of protein - optional (Beyond Meat chicken (diced), Gardein or Boca crumbles, or beans all work well)
One bag of shredded vegan cheese - optional (I like Daiya - you can be creative! Use mozzarella for a more traditional take or pepperjack for something spicy and fun)

1)Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2) Prepare pasta according to package directions.
3) Mix in jar of sauce and other mix ins if you prefer (add the protein and approximately half a bag of cheese)
4) Spray a 9x13 pan and pour in the pasta mixture.
5) Top with remaining cheese, if your prefer.
6) Bake for 20-25 minutes (until cheese and/or pasta starts to brown).
7) Serve and enjoy, or cool down and portion into containers for a week's worth of lunches!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter Bunny Cake, or a Foolproof Way to a Festive Dessert

I am, admittedly, not a very crafty person. I love to bake and make a ton of cookies for the holidays, but then have my sister arrange the plate. I attempt to make cute cards and such for Greg, but really I am pretty sure he holds onto them because he has a big heart; he certainly doesn't keep them because they look good. Every time I see a Pinterest "fail" meme, I quietly nod to myself and realize those "disaster" photos perfectly encapsulate any project I've ever attempted.

So with that introduction, I give you - the bunny cake!

Yes, this adorable piece of Americana was actually baked, put together, and decorated, by me! Several years ago, my mom found a Betty Crocker ad that explained how to create this wonder and passed it along to me, and we have had an annual bunny cake pretty much ever since then - the only difference is that the cake is vegan now, but the concept remains the same.

I realize lamb cakes or even lamb butter is usually all the rage this time of year, but that usually requires special molds of some kind, which is not in keeping with my mantra of keeping things easy and cutting down on the special equipment you keep in the house. The beauty of the bunny cake is that nothing extraordinary is required - just a knife and cutting board.

First things first - one layer of a cake! Or, if you have a cupcake recipe (like the one I used from  Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet), prepare the equivalent of 12 cupcakes but pour in a round pan instead.

Once the cake is cooled, cut it in half.

 Then frost the bottoms of the bake and push the two halves together. (Full disclosure: I did not frost this cake because I needed to freeze it  for later use! But I hope you can see where I'm going.)

About a third of the way up of the semicircle, cut out a notch.

Place the cake that you cut out at the end of the semicircle. Now, you have a head, body, and tail!

Another angle of the bunny masterpiece.

And then frost! Basically, I use a vegan buttercream frosting - think the Domino Sugar buttercream frosting recipe, but to make it vegan, sub Earth Balance, non-dairy milk, and organic powdered sugar (to make sure the sugar is vegan); I also usually leave out the salt. (Okay, I just realized typing that I pretty much have my own riff on the Domino Sugar recipe, but still - it works!)

Frost the entire creation, then coat with shredded coconut to give your bunny a fluffy coat. You can create a face using vegan chocolate chips or Starburst jelly beans or Jolly Ranchers jelly beans, since those are vegan. Then I usually cut out ears from a sheet of paper (just two long ovals, with one of the ends cut bluntly so they stick flat behind the head), stick those in the notch, and you're done!

For bonus points, you can also put some coconut in a disposable container, add some green food coloring, and shake until the coconut is green. Put it around the bunny for grass, put on extra jelly beans as eggs, and you have a cute and delicious Easter dessert, ready to go!

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I hope all of you enjoy the holidays, spring, or whatever makes you happy!