Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Herbed Sandwich Spread

The Topic: Carb Counterpart

The Dish: My favorite food would probably have to be carbs. Okay, I realize that's not exactly one food, but seriously, what's better than fresh-baked rolls, tortillas, crackers, bagels—I could go on forever. Forget low-carb nonsense—give me my bread. Not only do I love them because they're delicious, but also because they serve as the perfect medium for my second favorite food group: condiments. While my fridge is full of favorite standbys (including at least three kinds of hot sauce), sometimes I crave a fancy upgrade. The perfect catch-all condiment? This awesome herbed spread crafted by my favorite chef—Mom, of course. It comes together in no time, uses simple ingredients, and is much cheaper than buying pre-made varieties.

Herbed Sandwich Spread

What You Need:
1/2 box silken tofu
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon herb of choice (parsley and chive work great)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese (optional)

What You Do:
In a food processor, add tofu, garlic, oil, lemon juice, herb of choice, pepper, and salt. Process until smooth, and transfer to a small bowl. Add onion and cheese (if using), mix well, and cover. For best results, refrigerate overnight to let the flavors combine.

The Final Word: Use this spread to spruce up a veggie burger or as the perfect dip for sesame crackers—I'll pretty much eat it on anything. Like all recipes, it's super versatile, too. Try adding basil and walnuts for a pesto-style dip. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a sandwich to make.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vegan Lunching

The Topic: Back-to-School Spirit

The Dish: Despite the fact that it has very little to do with me, I still get insanely nostalgic and excited during the back-to-school rush. Sure, I know lots of students might not agree with my happy attitude, but who can resist fresh notebooks and pens? On top of that, I loved taking my lunch—better food for less money, and I was nerdy enough to get a thrill from picking out an awesome lunch box. Today, there's an even wider range of sweet lunch carriers (including this one by PlanetBox up for grabs as this week's giveaway) that are long-lasting, eco-friendly, and, most importantly, pretty cute.

I was prompted to dig out my own while grabbing lunch to-go at a nearby café. One freaking bagel with hummus set me back almost $5—talk about a rude awakening. To think, I had just felt guilty for spending $3 on a bag of five bagels at the corner store. I don't even need to do the math for you, do I? Adding insult to injury, I'll be real with you: One bagel isn't going to fill me up. Packing my lunch means I can have a more balanced meal, and one that's actually filling.

The Final Word: Spending extra time at the store and in the kitchen will save you a major headache when blood sugar is low and you need a food fix before you Hulk out and start stealing your coworker's snacks. Need ideas? This week's VegWeb newsletter is full of them. Oh, and if heating up a vegan grilled cheese every day sounds likes heaven, don't forget to vote in the Veggie Awards—you'll be automatically entered to win a year's supply of Daiya.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheap Drinks: Iced Coffee

The Topic: Cheap Caffeine

The Dish: Coffee beans have always been a food group in my family, which has certainly carried over into my adult life. While I love going out and ordering an Americano or perhaps a fancy latte, nothing depletes my bank account in such a sneaky way as coffee houses. And while I have some friends who see no problem dropping $4 on foam-topped espresso twice a day—you know who you are—I can't swing that. Obviously the solution lies at home, but what's the best way to get great coffee without wasting your money?

I have a small, inexpensive coffee maker that generally does its job well, and with San Francisco's cold summers, it's been nice to have a hot cup of coffee in the AM. But for some reason (my constant tardiness, perhaps) I never have time to finish it before I'm out the door, and then down the drain it goes. I tried to save and reheat it, but couldn't stomach it. I hated pouring money down the drain, and wanted something delicious that wouldn't cost me as much as three batches of biscuits.

Yesterday I ventured outside without a heavy coat for the first time in weeks. Added to my boredom with black coffee, the sunshine reminded me of a forgotten but much-loved alternative: Toddy. Toddy, also known as cold-brew coffee, is a delicious, liquid-gold coffee concentrate you can brew at home (with just a little time commitment). It also lasts up to two weeks in the refrigerator, eliminating the waste factor. Cold-brewing lowers the acidity of the coffee, too, making for a really freaking delicious iced coffee. In a tall glass with ice, add 1 part toddy, 3 parts cold water, and a splash of nondairy milk if you like. Mix well, sip it, and enjoy the best drink ever.

Making toddy at home is easy, and doesn't require the special Toddy machine, taking up counter space and stealing your dollars. If you already have a coffee maker, then you're all set. Here's how I do it.

True-Love Toddy

What You Need:
Coffee carafe
1 cup ground coffee
2 cups cold water
Filter basket
Tall glass or jar

What You Do:
  1. In the carafe, add coffee, then slowly pour in water and stir thoroughly. Now the hard part: Let the mixture set for 12–24 hours.
  2. Place filter basket with filter over a glass or jar it can sit on comfortably, and slowly pour mixture into it. The liquid will drain through into the jar, leaving just the grounds behind. Let it take its time, and add a little pressure with another filter on top if needed. Store Toddy covered in the refrigerator, and enjoy anytime!
The Final Word: A French press will also work for separating the grounds and concentrate, if that gadget is already in your kitchen. And of course, if your coffee maker has a reusable filter, then you get eco-friendly bonus points. Still craving something fancier? Invest in your favorite flavored syrup and go crazy. I'll take a shot of hazelnut in my cup, thanks.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cheap Eats: Oatmeal!

The Topic: The Cheapest Breakfast Around

The Dish: Sitting down and tallying up how much I actually spend on eating eating out (hello, sandwiches and Thai food), it seems overwhelming to think of cutting my food budget to an actual budget. I have friends attempting to spend only $21 a day who report struggling; I can't begin to imagine eating on a dollar a day. But there are plenty of versatile staples that cost pennies, and my co-worker Liz recently reminded me of a tried-and-true favorite: oatmeal. Skip the boxed variety with its excess packaging and budget-breaking sticker price. An 18-ounce canister of quick oats goes for $4.09 at my local Safeway. Grab a bag and fill up at the bulk bins—you can take home a pound for only 99 cents, which is about 11 servings. At less than 10 cents per serving, that's hard to argue with, especially considering oats have magical staying power to get me through midmorning snack time.

If you're a plain oats type of person, that's one cheap meal. Even if you like to jazz things up, throwing in what you have handy or investing in a few add-ins from neighboring bulk bins won't raise your cost too much. Personally, I'm a peanut butter and raisins fan. Liz's signature bowl takes things to the savory side, which I had never through of before (surprising, considering my love of savory breakfast dishes). A touch of salt, pepper, and 1/4-cup nutritional yeast is all you need for a filling breakfast.

A final tip for the best oats ever? Skip the microwave. I'm not here to lecture you on its potential dangers or domination of counter space. In my opinion, I just dig oats made on the stovetop more. Start with this simple base for the best breakfast ever.

The Best Stovetop Oats
This water-to-oats ratio makes for a more porridge-like base, so feel free to adjust the liquid to your liking.

Serves 1

What You Need:
1 cup water
1/2 cup rolled oats
Salt, to taste

What You Do:
In a small pot, bring water to a boil. Add oats and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pinch of salt, sugar, or any other add-ins, and enjoy!

The Final Word: Oats are also great for bulking up morning smoothies to keep you full longer if that's more your morning routine. Any way you have them, they're a cheap, healthy way to start the day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Amazing Aldi

The Topic: Less Frills, More Food

The Dish: There are quite a few things I'm nostalgic for when it comes to my hometown. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, especially for a Missouri native who is used to 100-degree summers, family cookouts, and discount groceries. Surprised food made it onto my list? You shouldn't be! A big piece of the Midwest puzzle that I miss is Aldi. While I love the deals at Trader Joe's, Aldi has a special place in my heart with its quarter-operated carts, five-cent shopping bags, and warehouse-like stacks of cheap, awesome, vegan-friendly staples.

While those unaccustomed might be thrown off by the locked-up carts (don't worry, you get your quarter back) and minimalist interior, it only takes one trip to get hooked on its inexpensive goods. Beyond what you'd expect to find at a typical mainstream grocer—fresh produce, canned goods, cereals, and so on—Aldi stocks veg essentials such as soymilk, vegan margarine, convenience foods, and even Boca burgers from time to time, all at really low prices. Most items I buy don't cost more than a couple bucks. Between the frozen fruit, off-brand granola bars, and dark chocolate, I'm pretty much set. I can easily fill a cart with an embarrassing amount of food and pay a fraction of what I would at one of the big stores. Oh, and don't forget to check out their skincare and beauty line, which isn't tested on animals.

As an added bonus, having to pay for paper bags is a pretty good incentive to remember and bring those reusable totes, don't you think?

Aldi also runs weekly specials on featured items, including kitchen appliances and housewares. Keep an eye on the ads, and grab a rice cooker if you get a chance (I also scored a small slow cooker for $10 once).

The Final Word: According to its website, they have more than 1,000 stores from Kansas to the East Coast. Check Aldi's store locator and see if you can count yourself among the lucky. In the meantime, I'll be writing a strongly worded letter in hopes of bringing one of my favorite chains to California.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Veggie Awards!

The Topic: VN's Annual Awards and Amazing Prizes

The Dish: Shameless self-promotion time! In case you've somehow missed the announcement, VN's 2010 Veggie Awards voting is in full-swing. Our annual awards honor the best veg people, places, and products of the year, and we couldn't do it without you. Voting for readers' picks has opened, and you have until August 31 to make your voice heard. Whether it's vegan cheese, cookbooks, or blogs you're passionate about, you have a chance to show your support by voting. The competition is already heating up, so rally your friends and get your favorites a Veggie Award!

So what does this have to do with being savvy? How about the seriously amazing prizes we're giving away just for voting? Believe me, if I could enter to win, I would've done it days ago. Just make sure you fill out at least 50 percent of the survey, as well as your contact info (we've had potential winners in the past who didn't even put their name or email—devastating), and you could take home one of these prize packages:
  • Grand Prize: Global Getaway. Join VN for a free VegNews Vacation of your choosing! We're headed to India in February, and will announce new tours soon. Take me with you, okay?
  • First Prize: Year Supply of Daiya Cheese. Think of all the pizza you can make. And quesadillas. And lasagna. I'll stop now.
  • Second Prize: Vegan Marshmallow Smorgasboard. Sweet & Sara make some amazing gourmet marshmallows, and this package has not only all of the flavors in mass quantity, but also other delicious marshmallow-y treats.
  • Third Prize: Veg Cookbook Collection. I love Robin Robertson, and this set of five cookbooks authored by the former Veggie Award winner is a must-have for anyone.
  • Weekly Giveaways: TofuXpress. Don't laugh—this kitchen gadget will change your life. And by life, I mean the quality of your next stir-fry, which is essentially the same thing.
The Final Word: Again, voting closes on August 31, so do it now before you forget! If the prizes aren't enough of a reason, do it for me. As a friendly reminder, if you win the supply of Daiya, I expect some sort of cut.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cheap Eats: Popcorn!

The Topic: Snack Attack Savvy

The Dish: For me, three square meals a day do not suffice. I need my snacks, but bags of potato chips and Newman O's aren't the healthiest things in the world, nor are they the cheapest. One of my favorite evening snacks growing up was popcorn, but the prepackaged variety is inexplicably overpriced—not to mention, often laced with animal products and mysterious chemicals (my hypochondriac side will never forget the report of toxic chemicals and microwave popcorn). I've ditched the microwave and made a truly amazing (and penny-pinching) discovery—I can pop that stuff on the stove.

With a little bit of oil—whatever I have handy—a touch of heat, and some vigorous shaking, in no time I have an embarrassingly large serving of this movie-time favorite, ready to be covered in Tapatio. Since I'm the queen of condiments, it's easy to vary up the flavor—sea salt, kelp flakes (don't knock it 'til you try it), cinnamon sugar, and homemade fake parmesan rank high on my list. The only combination I'm not willing to try is something equivalent to "popcorn cereal" I discovered on VegWeb, but hey. Never say never.

If you're concerned about using oil, air poppers are an affordable solution at about $10–20 each, although how often you snack on the stuff might determine if it's a necessary purchase (probably not). You already have all the tools you need, so ditch the microwave, grab a pot, and get popping.

Dirt Cheap Popcorn

Serves 1 Abby

What You Need:
1–2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
Hot sauce
Nutritional yeast

What You Do:
  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. Place a few kernels in pot and cover. Once all kernels have popped, dump in remaining kernels, cover, and begin to lightly shake pot over the burner. Once popping has slowed down to around 5 seconds between pops, remove from heat.
  2. Add a generous sprinkling of hot sauce and nutritional yeast, mix, and serve. Enjoy!
The Final Word: An overwhelming trend in my life has become "DIY over store-bought." Seriously, just put in a tiny bit of effort and you'll get so much more for your money. What's your favorite popcorn topper?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Twitter Deals

The Topic: Tech Tips

The Dish: When you're on a tight budget, saving money can feel like a full-time job. Frugal living shouldn't be a constant worry, and I'm working on making my methods habit rather than chore (Yes, even I succumb to convenience-store snacking and weeknight events more than I should.) Thanks to fancy modern technology, finding a network of like-minded people is easier than ever. If you're a Twitter fan, like millions of other people, near-constant updates on hot deals and useful coupons has never been easier. I've briefly mentioned the benefits of Twitter before, but now I have to share a few great sources.

In addition to keeping up with the dribble of your favorite celebs and, more importantly, the latest news in veganism (from VN's lovely tweets to your favorite veg companies), there are a number of accounts devoted to tweeting savvy steals. Vegancoupons is a great place to start, doing the dirty work of weeding out the irrelevant, non-veg updates. Mambosprouts isn't exclusively veg, but for natural food products, it's a great resource. Ever seen those little coupon books at your local health food store? That's Mambo Sprouts, and they put out some great discounts on delicious veg products. HealthyLifeDeal also focuses on whole foods, including Trader Joe's tips, free Rice Dream, and more. Sign me up.

The Final Word: Frugal tweets are many on Twitter, on everything from travel deals to grocery steals. A little digging can help you find lots of amazing resources, and a quick "follow" guarantees reliable updates. Just remember to check it daily! And by daily, I mean every five minutes, because it's crazy addictive. Are you a twitter fiend? Who are your favorite tweeters?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Guest Post: Cheap Traveling with Laura Beck

The Topic: Tight-Budget Traveling

The Dish: Today's special guest post is brought to you by everyone's favorite—and VN columnist—Laura Beck. To be honest, I go to her with the majority of life's tough questions, including where in San Francisco to get the best deals. She mysteriously knows all (which explains her gig as VN's prized advice-giver in "Ask Laura"), and is ready to share a bit of her travel savvy with you.

I’ve made it a habit of living beyond my means for as long as anyone can remember. My mom says I came out of the womb waving a platinum Am-Ex, and I haven’t looked back since (because ew, gross!). However, having chosen a career in non-profits that doesn’t exactly leave me living la vida Scrooge McDuck, I’ve had to curb my spendy ways. It sucks. The only place where I refuse to compromise is traveling for vegan food. If I can’t have road trips to Portland or weekends in New York City, I’ll seriously go Firestarter on everyone’s asses. I’ve found the best way to eat tons of food in exotic (to me) locales is travel on the hella cheap. The more you save on travel and accommodations, the more you can spend on Seitan Chimichurri at Candle 79, you feel me!?

Here are some ideas in list form because I am very helpful.

  1. Sign up for TravelZoo’s weekly Top 20. You’ll get a weekly email with all the steal and deals for getting pretty much anywhere in the world. I’ve seen $600 Round Trip flights from SF to Tokyo and $100 4-star hotel rooms in Chicago on this thing. Seriously, the deals are ridiculous.
  2. Kayak is a search engine that scours hundreds of travel sites at once. No more going to Orbitz and then Priceline and then Expedia, ad infinitum. Kayak takes care of them all in one click of the button. I love technology.
  3. A great site that’s specifically for plane flights is AirfareWatchdog. It keeps you up-to-date on the lowest cost flights everywhere. Bonus: sign up for the newsletter, which gives you the latest info on cheapy flights leaving from your closest airport. Right now there’s a round trip flight from Portland to Maui for about $300. Let’s go!
  4. The freaking coolest thing on the planet right now is Airbnb, an online marketplace allowing private residents to rent their homes (or lofts! Or apartments!). So cool. You can find deals that are way cheaper than most hotels and you’re staying in someone’s adorable home. To lessen the sketch factor, people can leave reviews of their stays. That way, you won’t be tricked into a staying in a shit box with the Manson family! You can search by price, space, and location to find your perfect home away from home. Looking for a loft in LA? Or a bungalow in Oahu? Airbnb will make it happen! Hotels are so 2009.
  5. To go super cheap on accommodations, there’s always couch surfing! CouchSurfing is a pretty rad service that hooks you up with folks in other cities who are willing to let you crash on their couch (or floor, extra bed, etc.) for free. You can also pay it forward by offering up your couch too. The best part is, you can search by specifics, so you can even find fellow vegans to stay with! It’s even been known to breed love—the couple behind Cinnaholic met through CouchSurfing! True story.

The Final Word: Now, go forward and conquer the vast world out there, fellow vegans! Spread your message on compassion throughout the world (or just eat all the delicious vegan food! Whatever, I’m not judging you!). Just don’t forget to bring me back some vegan doughnuts from Ronald’s in Las Vegas (eclairs, preferably).