Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Post: Robin Robertson, Part 2

The Topic: Cheap Cooking with Vegan on the Cheap

The Dish: So you've taken Robin Robertson's advice from her previous post and upgraded your grocery-shopping technique. Now that the kitchen is stocked and loaded, she's back to arm you with cheap cooking tricks to really make the most of it.

Top Five Savvy Cooking Tips
By Robin Robertson
  1. Big-Batch Cook and Freeze. Once a week, prepare large amounts of a few basic foods, then portion and freeze them for later use. Choose items that can be used throughout the week or portioned and frozen, such as a big pot of brown rice, beans, seitan, marinara sauce, or vegetable stock.
  2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods. From salad dressings to seitan, there are a number of ways to save money when you start making your own convenience items, such as mayonnaise, chutney, and peanut sauce.
  3. The Vegetable Chop. When it's time to chop an onion for soup, chop an extra one and also make chili or stew. If you need to wash two celery ribs for a recipe, take the time to wash the whole bunch and cover and refrigerate the rest until you need it. Peel and mince an entire head of garlic at a time, so it's ready when needed. Store it covered in olive oil in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Wash and spin-dry your lettuce as soon as you get home—it will last longer. If veggies are cut, cleaned, and ready to use, it saves time when you cook. It also encourages us to use and eat more veggies. Carrot and celery sticks, for example, can be stored in zip-top bags in the fridge to enjoy as a healthy snack or to chop up in your next soup. Tightly covered chopped onions will keep refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for three to four weeks. The same is true for bell peppers.
  4. Get Creative. Use leftovers in creative ways to transform them into a new meal. For example, leftover seitan pot roast can be used in a hash, stew, or skillet meal. Even leftover mashed or baked potatoes can be transformed—use extra cooked spuds to make shepherd's pie, potato pancakes, samosas, stuffed dosas, mac' and cheese, pierogis, potato bread, potato muffins, and more.
  5. Make Your Kitchen a "No-Waste Zone." Save vegetable scraps and odd bits of veggies for stock. Add leftover cooked veggies to salads or put them in the bottom of your soup bowls and pour servings of hot soup over them. If you can't convince someone in your family to simply eat that last apple in the fruit bowl, incorporate it into dinner. A sliced apple or pear makes a great addition to a green salad. Or, you can combine the fruit with other wallflower fruits, such as those grapes and berries or that last banana, and you'll have a nice fruit salad for dessert. If there's not enough to stretch, add a small can of pineapple and some dried cranberries.
Almost-Instant Chickpea Tomato Soup
From Vegan on the Cheap © 2010, John Wiley & Sons.

This rich tomato soup couldn't be easier or more economical. It's also delicious served chilled.

Makes 4 Servings

What You Need:
1-1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 or 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup plain unsweetened soymilk
Ground cayenne
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley

What You Do:
  1. In a high-speed blender, combine chickpeas and garlic and process until finely ground.
  2. Add tomatoes, cumin, juice, oil, 1/2 cup soymilk, salt, and cayenne, to taste. Blend until smooth.
  3. Add as much of the remaining 1/2 cup soymilk as needed to achieve desired consistency—not too thin or too thick—and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and cayenne if necessary.
  4. Transfer soup to a large saucepan over medium heat and stir, until hot, about 5 minutes. If serving hot, ladle into bowls, top with minced cilantro, and serve. If serving chilled, let the soup cool to room temperature, then transfer to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours. Then ladle into soup bowls and garnish with cilantro.
The Final Word: Want more of Robin's tips and tricks on being a thriving vegan with very little cash? Well, aren't you lucky! I have one copy of Vegan on the Cheap, and despite my initial inclination to keep it for myself, I'm going to share it with one of my awesome readers. It's easy—just tell me in the comments: What's your top money-saving tip in the kitchen?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guest Post: Robin Robertson

The Topic: Top Tips from the Cookbook Queen

The Dish: Robin Robertson is my hero. This incredibly talented, 2009 Veggie Award winner has penned more amazing cookbooks than I can hope to use in a lifetime, but you better believe I'm trying. That might be because every recipe she creates is freaking delicious and easy to create. So naturally, you can imagine how stoked I was when I found out she was releasing an entire book dedicated to living on a budget. Vegan on the Cheap is full of Robin's sage wisdom and practical know-how on living within your means without sacrificing good-tasting food—or your ethics. Today, Robin shares her savvy tips on making the most of your next grocery trip. And of course, one of her amazing recipes is included!

Top Five Savvy Grocery Shopping Tips
By Robin Robertson
  1. Plan a Menu/Make a Grocery List. When you plan your menu for the week, try to incorporate ingredients you have on hand, then write up your grocery list to include the remaining items you need to complete the meals, along with other items you may need. Then, when you shop, stick to the list to avoid impulse shopping.
  2. Shop Ethnic. Check out the ethnic grocery stores in your area for low-cost produce, rice, spices, and other items. In an Asian market, I found roasted peeled chestnuts for 99¢ in a vacuum-sealed bag that were selling in the supermarket for nine dollars a jar. And, you can usually find tofu for less than a dollar per pound.
  3. Support Community Agriculture. Whether you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group and receive a box of fresh produce each week, or simply shop at your local farmers' markets, it's usually cheaper than supermarket produce and tastes better, too. For a list of CSA farms in your area and to find out more about how it works, check out Local Harvest. If you don't have access to either in your area, check the classifieds in your local paper for produce stands and pick-your-own farms.
  4. Grocery Shopping No-Brainers. Take advantage of specials; avoid impulse purchases; don't shop when you're hungry; use coupons; buy generic store brands; buy seasonal produce; buy in bulk—bulk spices, nuts, beans, and grains can save big bucks.
  5. Postpone Grocery Shopping. See how long you can put off going to the supermarket by using up what you have on hand. You may actually be able to go nearly a week beyond your normal shopping day, cutting the total monthly grocery budget significantly. This also encourages you to rotate on-hand items such as frozen foods that are approaching their "use by" date and nonperishables from your pantry, as well as stray produce that might otherwise go bad. It also stimulates your creativity. I like to choose a few items from my stash and put them on the counter, then let my imagination take over how to combine them. For example, a can of white beans, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and a box of pasta have "yummy dinner" written all over them. Some rice or quinoa, walnuts, frozen peas, and an onion can make a flavorful pilaf—like this one.
Curried Red Bean Pilaf with Walnuts and Raisins
From Vegan on the Cheap © 2010 John Wiley & Sons.

Rice and beans make an economical and nutritious meal, and there are lots of ways to add variety to this dynamic duo. This recipe, seasoned with curry powder, raisins, and walnuts is one delicious way, but don't stop there. Variations can include omitting the curry in favor of other spice blends or herbs, using a different type of bean, and adding different vegetables.

Makes 4 Servings

What You Need:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 scallions, minced
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 to 3 teaspoons hot or mild curry powder
2 cups vegetable broth
1-1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup toasted walnut pieces
Salt and black pepper

What You Do:
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add onion, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add scallions and cook for 1 minute. Add rice and curry powder, stirring to coat. Stir in broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 35 to 45 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Stir in beans, peas, raisins, and walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot.
The Final Word: It doesn't have to be all white rice and mustard sandwiches if you're low on cash (What? You've never lived on that combo before?). Robin can truly help give your bank account a break, while helping you dine on dishes that taste fancy enough to warrant a restaurant price. Check back for part 2 of Robin's guest posting, when she goes from supermarket savvy to cooking in the kitchen.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cheap Drinks: Turbo Shandy!

The Topic: Warm Evenings and Cool Drinks

The Dish: Ok, I'm already lying to you a little bit. Here in San Francisco, the evenings aren't exactly what I would call warm, especially considering how hot the Midwest gets in the middle months (I miss you, scorching summer!). But I like to think that if I act like it's hot outside, the weather will follow my wishful thinking. Regardless, the city does have its warm spells, and just knowing that it's nearing the end of May makes me want to sit on a patio and enjoy a drink with some friends and a boombox. Red wine doesn't do it for me in the summer, and cheap whites often tend to not be vegan-friendly. Beer is
almost there with the satisfaction, but not quite. The solution? The Turbo Shandy.

My friend Lucy introduced me to this creation—a standby at her local watering hole outside of London, it apparently hadn't gained popularity stateside when she was visiting. She happily informed me that made of half beer and half Smirnoff Ice (stop laughing), the Turbo is a total hit. It might sound weird, gross, or like a blasphemous act towards your favorite beer, but trust me. If it's a cold, refreshing, summery drink you want, then throw together a Turbo Shandy and sit back. It's summertime!

Lucy's Turbo Shandy

For my favorite variation, I prefer classic Smirnoff Ice accompanied by the Champagne of Beers, Miller High Life. Big on Smirnoff's green apple flavor? PBR loyalist? Mix it up any way you like for a surprisingly delicious drink. Be careful with these babies—they go down easy and are more potent than they seem.

Serves 2

What You Need:
  • 2 tall glasses, chilled
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle Smirnoff Ice, divided
  • 1 (12-ounce) can Miller High Life, divided
What You Do:
Into each glass, pour half of the beer, careful to avoid the dreaded foam. Top off each glass with half of the Smirnoff Ice, and serve.

The Final Word: If springing for a 6-pack of each beverage seems too pricey, then go the budget-friendly route. When I'm low on cash, a 32-ounce of each sets me back around $5 (feel free to try a cheaper beer—the taste should be masked just fine), and automatically limits the total servings possible. Cheaper and more responsible? I'll drink to that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Post: Resale Shop Rundown

The Topic: Resale Shop Wardrobe Redux

The Dish: After you've purged your closet of the gems you'll never wear (if you haven't worn it in six months and it isn't seasonal, give it up!) via clothes swapping, there's always the option of selling your stylish duds to local resale shops. When it comes to trading in cast-offs for must-haves, no one knows more than Editorial Assistant Liz Miller. Clothes are to her as biscuits are to me, so you know she knows what's up. In a very special guest post, Liz shares the secrets to the resale retail industry.

5 Secrets for Selling Your Clothes
By Liz Miller

1. Case the Joint. Okay, so not in the 1930s-bank-heist way, but casing out a resale shop should always be the first step to crafting a discerning seller's eye. Every secondhand store has its niche, from name brand buyers to vintage purveyors. So, after performing an intensive wardrobe inventory, separate items by style and figure out which clothes will garner the most value from varying shops.

2. Buyer's Market. Vintage-friendly shops are less likely to care about retail labels, meaning that they want your cute Forever 21 party dresses as well as your grandma's old school Dooney & Burke purses, but have no use for your collection of J. Crew khakis. Save those for the brand focused boutiques, which look for current styles and routinely check the season/year listed (example: SUM08 indicates summer 2008) on the inside tag to determine value. Carefully cut these tags out of older, still stylish apparel.

3. Time of the Season. Most stores only buy by season, so it's crucial to call ahead to find out what items a store is currently buying. If you're set on making a dime on out-of-season items, save them until the appropriate season comes around.

4. Stealthy Shopper. If you've had bad luck selling clothes in the past, consider rethinking your strategy and scouting bargains to buy and sell. Use your shrewd sensibilities to shop for buried treasures at thrift stores, where nothing is off limits based on size or personal style—if it looks trendy, it's worth the investment. Remember to also keep an eye out for hidden high-end gems.

5. On the Mend. If some of your cast-off clothes need small repairs, take the time to fix them before hauling them away to sell. Sewing new buttons onto a cardigan or quickly stitching up a small hole are easy ways to upgrade old pieces of clothing. For super-faded items, buy a cheap box of RIT dye at Walgreens and give those dull duds a washing machine makeover.

The Final Word: It's all about understanding the resale shop at which you're trying to sell. If you make an effort to play the game, you'll be rewarded Mario-style with more than a few gold coins—or, more realistically, dolla' dolla' bills.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Wardrobe Makeover

The Topic: New Clothes for No Cash

The Dish: With May already speeding along, it'll be officially summer in no time. For this lady, that means the Cocktail soundtrack on repeat, extra naps on the beach, and new, summery clothes. While the first two are pleasantly free of charge (because who doesn't own that piece of musical mastery already?), the last bit can take a little work to keep cheap. But guess what? It isn't hard, and I can save some much-needed money—a girl's gotta eat (burritos).

The easiest way to score free clothes—and I know you've heard this before, but seriously—host a clothing swap
. Invite your stylish friends over, have them call their stylish friends, and so on, until you have a big game of clothes-swapping telephone going and your apartment is full of people and their fancy duds.

Once everyone shows up, closet rejects in tow, kick off the evening with some cheap snacks. (May I suggest some Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos and a bottle of Charles Shaw Shiraz? Go classier, if you must.) Help organize the articles by clear-cut categories (shirts, jeans, dresses, muumuus—the usual), and finally let the shoppers loose—watch those Doritos-stained hands! From here, it's up to you how to handle it. If it's just a few close friends, take turns picking and choosing favorites. If you've managed to wrangle in 20 style-hungry women and men (you're so popular!), working out a ticket system might be better to avoid wine-fueled fights over last year's designer top.

If there are clothing leftovers, guests can either collectively decide to donate them to a local charity, or each person can take her or his leftovers. If you have extras and want to try and make a little cash, hit up the resale shops in your city, such as Buffalo Exchange, Plato's Closet, and Crossroads. Keeping your earnings as store credit earns a bit more, so if it's truly new clothes you're after, this is a win-win.

The Final Word: Not having any luck with resale shops? Check back for a very special guest post on how to get the most cash for your cast-off clothes!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cheap Eats: Kale Chips!

The Topic: Replacing the Beloved Potato

The Dish: Lately, my savory-snacking side has trumped the usual gravitation towards sweets, sending me to the likes of my ultimate weakness, Salt & Pepper Baked Kettle Chips (a bag can be considered dinner, right?). Holy crap, those things are good. But, much like vegan cupcakes, they're neither a huge nutritional hero or very budget-friendly. The simple, tasty, two-syllable answer? Kale chips.

I don't know when I first tried a kale chip, but I know kale itself was completely foreign to me before going veg. And now, it's true love for the leafy green in all its forms. These crispy, healthier-than-potato chips are really making themselves known, from VegWeb recipes to retail launches. The VN crew saw a few varieties at Expo West (one of which may have made our
list of Best of Show winners), and I loved them. However, the price for prepackaged is definitely steeper than flat-out buying a bunch or two of kale, which is almost all it takes to make your very own at home.

This crunchy, savory, satisfying recipe hails straight from VegWeb, and it just took top honors in the VegWeb Recipe Showdown, winning as the Amazing Appetizer (pick up the
May+June issue of VegNews for the rest of the winners!).

Kale Chips
by yesterdaygirl

Serves 4

What You Need:
2 large bunches kale, washed and destemmed
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
Coarse salt, to taste, or seasoning blend

What You Do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop or tear kale into chip-size pieces. In a medium bowl, combine kale, apple cider vinegar, oil, and salt or seasoning. Mix to coat.

2. Onto a baking sheet, spread kale and bake for 10 minutes or until crispy. Serve immediately.

The Final Word: My advice? Take the serving size with a grain of salt. Personally, I could take down one—if not both—bunches of kale in one sitting. Again, that's dinner, right? The recipe is too simple not to make, and too freakin' tasty not to become a potato-replacing staple.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cheap City Snacking

The Topic: Easy Eats on the Streets

The Dish: Anytime I'm walking around the city, I get a major snack attack. Even if I've only been gone half an hour, there's something about being surrounded by feeding opportunities that, well, makes me hungry. Chances are that if I'm out and about, I'm shopping, which means I'm in bargain-hunting mode. Of course this carries over to my chow, which consequently tends to lean towards the junk-food variety. So without further ado:

Top 5 City Snack Attacks Under $5

  1. Starbucks Tall Soy Mocha Frappucino ($3.95)—I had never tried a famous Frapp before the brand-new and improved vegan-friendly version, but let me tell you: These are freaking good. I am a big coffee and espresso fan, so that combined with chocolate and a shake-like consistency equals a big, sweet win.
  2. Auntie Anne's Original Pretzel sans butter ($2.89)—So maybe even in a "big city" I find myself in a mall, and maybe sometimes I have nostalgic cravings for oversized, doughy pretzels dipped in mustard. This can be tricky since your timing has to be just right—catch the pretzels right out of the oven so you can wrangle one before they get dipped in butter.
  3. Banh Mi ($3.50)—I first tried one of these delicious Vietnamese sandwiches when I moved to San Francisco, and now I'm in love. One of the cheapest substantial eats you can get, these gems are also hidden throughout the city in a number of sandwich shops. Crunchy bread, marinated tofu, shredded carrots, and cilantro—it's a tasty combination.
  4. Jamba Juice Original Mega Mango ($4.75)—This smoothie is my jam. I heart Jamba Juice and all its veg-friendly ways (the website has a handy filter to help find all of its vegan offerings, including wraps, smoothies, hot beverages, and an apple cinnamon pretzel I didn't even know existed!). This filling snack makes me feel healthy(ish), while still getting in my daily requisite sweet.
  5. Convenience Store Duo ($3)—Believe it or not, there are stretches in the city (cough, my neighborhood) without a million restaurants. But you can always find a convenience store, and for that I turn to the ultimate snacks: Original Pop Chips and an Honest Tea. I've recently become addicted to both, and I'm making no apologies for it. The new Half & Half? Get out of here.
The Final Word: If you're out and about this month, Jamba Juice is running daily specials in honor of its 20th anniversary. I'm most looking forward to my beloved mango smoothie, which will only be $3 on Fridays. And as for the almighty vegan Frapps, Starbucks will be celebrating their official launch May 7 through 16 with a daily half-price happy hour, from 3pm–5pm. Consider yourself caffeinated.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Free Vegan Pizza!

The Topic: Cheap and Cheesy

The Dish: First off, thanks for everyone who entered the Mother's Day giveaway! Unfortunately, there can be only one winner—congratulations to Amy! Amy's plans include gifting her Mom not only a much-loved phone chat, but both homemade jam and a handmade card. Amy, send me an e-mail and we'll get your Lush gift pack in the mail ASAP.

Moving on to the cheap and cheesy part of the post. I have three words for you: vegan cheese pizza. As we may have (extensively) mentioned in both the magazine and on the website, it has hit the mainstream in a big way. It's a reality, folks, from the East coast to the West coast, you gotta, gotta, gotta go get you some 'zaa. Whether it's thin-crust freezer varieties (I'm looking at you, Tofurky) or deep-dish pizzeria pies, it's all delicious. And guess what? PETA is running a competition right now to win two 5-pound bags of Daiya cheese (my preferred choice for melty vegan cheese). Offer to host a vegan pizza party (get additional party-planning tips here), fill out a short form, and you're on your way to bringing home 10 pounds of magic-making cheese. Now by sharing this I'm totally screwing up my odds of winning, but I like you, and you deserve a shot, too. But believe me, I have quite the cheese party planned: Hawaiian pizza, every-veggie pizza, mac 'n' cheese, cheese biscuits, and quesadillas dipped in queso dip. If I win, my apartment will be vegan-cheese heaven. If you can dream it, you can do it.

Just in case you're not the lucky winner, another affordable option is ZPizza. Across the US, vegans can enjoy this pizza place's Daiya- and Gardein-topped vegan pies. They even have a gluten-free crust! There are also classic pizza-place specials, such as the buy-one-pie-get-one-half-off bargain—Daiya included. And if you fill out this survey, you'll receive a $5 coupon good for your next visit.

The Final Word: More and more pizzerias are adding vegan cheese options to their menus, so check with your local joints and see if they've wised up yet. If they're still on the fence, VN columnist Laura Beck has some excellent advice: "Just ask!" And considering the gaining popularity of Meat-Free Mondays, giving them a slight nudge to offer a nice Monday discount for veg dishes wouldn't hurt—even 10 percent is a welcomed bonus.