Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Budget Friendly (and Delicious!) Holiday Dip

The Topic: Making a budget-friendly, super-simple, and super-good vegan hors d'oeuvre, fast, with Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: On the recent VegNews Vegan Yoga Retreat in Mexico, we left with more than just rejuvenated spirits, stretched-out bodies, and new-found friendships. With us came a recipe none of us were going to leave Mexico without. Each day at lunch and dinner, Executive Chef Hugo Gutiérrez started our meal with a pitcher of homemade agua fresca, a basket of baked tortilla chips, and a colorful vegetable-based dip that disappeared before we could say uno mas, por favor. All week long, we pondered what could possibly be in these smooth, vibrant dips—and waited patiently until the scheduled cooking class to learn the secret behind Chef Hugo's beloved appetizer.

To our surprise, these dips are an absolute cinch to make, and cost just pennies per serving. Perfect for last-minute company or a post-workday gathering with friends, you simply need fresh bread or vegetables to accompany the dip—and a bottle of Champagne or sparkling cider to wash it down. Salud!

Chef Hugo's Famous Vegan Dip
This simple-to-prepare dip takes on the color of the base vegetable you use. Want to really dazzle guests? Whip up a batch each of carrot, beet, and broccoli for a super-impressive orange, pink, and green combination. 

Possible vegetable bases:
Beet, carrot, eggplant, tomatillo, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, or bell pepper

What You Need:

2 cups desired vegetable, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 garlic clove, peeled
Juice of half a fresh lime
3/4 cup avocado oil or olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

What You Do:
  1. Steam or boil vegetable until soft and brightly colored. Drain water.
  2. When vegetables are still hot (very important), place in Vitamix or blender along with garlic and lime juice.
  3. Blend until smooth, and slowly stream in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The Final Word: This delicious dip is seriously that easy. Get creative and use whatever vegetables you have on hand, and try any combinations that pique your interest (red pepper-eggplant sounds superb). Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cheap Eats: Easy Baked Tofu

The Topic: Making the yummiest, easiest, cheapest tofu you'll ever eat with Assistant Editor Anna Peraino

The Dish: Savvy Vegan is almost two years old, and between posts about cheap and easy biscuits, soup, more soup, and peach pie, we've posted some really delicious, inexpensive recipes. While combing through our Cheap Eats one day looking for Abby's tortilla recipe (so good, y'all), I realized something quite disturbing: We don't have a recipe for baked tofu on here! Baked tofu! It's the vegan everyman's meal. The recipe you can whip up in three seconds. The vegan's infinitely more awesome baked chicken.

In order to right this wrong, I offer to you this incredibly simple and delicious baked tofu recipe. You'd think that working at a food-obsessed establishment such as VegNews would mean that I spend my evenings whipping up seitan Wellingtons and homemade ice cream with some two-cheese lasagna for dessert (what? I'm Italian), but alas, that's not my thing—we have Associate Editor Jennifer Chen and Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig for that. Most of my meals consist of the very baked tofu I am about to share with you. So, without further ado…

The Easiest Baked Tofu Ever

Serves 5

What You Need:
1 package extra-firm tofu
2-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 packet or 1 teaspoon stevia
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

What You Do:
   1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drain tofu and place on 2 paper towels
   folded in half. Cover with another 2 paper towels folded in half and
   gently press to remove excess moisture. Cut tofu into 1/2- to 1-inch
   2. In a glass baking dish, combine tofu with all other ingredients.
   Gently toss to combine.
   3. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until tofu seems firm to the touch and
   marinade has dried in pan.

The Final Word: As I mentioned before, baked tofu is a vegan's bread and butter. The best thing about it is its versatility, and it will only get better as you hone your flavor profile (fancy culinary phrase: $0) and figure out what you like best. And we want to hear about it! Please post your favorite everyday baked tofu recipe in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

5 Simple, Healthy Vegan Treats for Your Pooch

The Topic: Treating the special canine in your life with thrifty treats with Associate Editor Jennifer Chen

The Dish: With their floppy ears and soulful eyes, it's easy to spoil your canine companion animal with expensive treats and toys. Especially during the holidays, pet stores are packed with giant stuffed candy canes and special stockings just for Fido. If you're anything like me, you want to shower your lovable companion animal with an endless amount of things that they truly don't need (like yet another stuffed toy with a squeaker) because you love them to bits. But truth be told, they don't need a sparkly sequin sweater or a four-foot-long stuffed Santa to chew. What they need is you.

When my husband and I adopted Buddy two years ago, our then-five-year-old yellow Labrador, he was a whopping 118 pounds. So we went to work fast on our version of the doggie Biggest Loser and helped him shed the excess weight. I'm proud to report he's a healthy 90 pounds and he loves to play fetch—this from a dog who at first wouldn't budge from the driveway for walks. So I wanted to share the yummy, inexpensive treats and toys that I give Buddy so that his appetite is full and his figure trim.

1. Carrots. Dogs love to chew. So I grab a bag of organic carrots from Trader Joe's (approximately 89 cents a bag), trim the ends, peel, and give it to Buddy as a snack. He loves to lay down with his carrot "bone" and slowly work on it. And by slowly I mean chomp it down in 10 seconds. For smaller pups, try baby carrots. Our occasional office dog, Miss Jazz (VN contributor Jesse Miner's companion animal), a small Chihuahua mix, loves to nosh on little carrots. The vitamin-A rich snacks are low in calories, but high on crunch factor.

2. Pumpkin. Once when Buddy had, um, problems going to the bathroom, Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria recommended giving him canned pumpkin to ease his stomach. It helped. So when Thanksgiving rolled around and canned pumpkin was everywhere, I bought a bunch of cans to supplement his kibble. Pumpkin is full of fiber so it's filling but lightly sweet. Bonus, if you have to give your companion animal any medication, you can slip it in the purée without him or her even noticing.

3. Green beans and spinach. Frozen foods are a perfect way to sneak healthy foods into your companion animal's diet. I buy giant frozen bags of green beans and spinach for Buddy. Just before dinner time, I microwave them, let them cool or rinse in cold water, and add them in with his kibble.

4. Peanut butter. While peanut butter shouldn't be an everyday treat, when my husband and I go out for a few hours, we stuff a Kong (a dog toy) with some kibble and then seal it closed with a smear of peanut butter. We put the Kong in the freezer and let the peanut butter harden, so it takes him longer to eat it up. It's a good option for dogs who have separation anxiety because they'll be too busy licking up peanut butter to notice you walking out the door. I use roughly one tablespoon of natural PB.

5. Hide & seek. Buddy will eat his food in one fell swoop if he could. So when I feed him, I parcel out his food so that he slows down his pace of eating. One game I found that works is hide and seek. I take a cup of his kibble and hide it all around the house. Not only is this completely free, Buddy has to walk around and find his food, so I sneak in a little exercise too. I also have a Kibble Nibble ball that I fill with his dry food, and he has to push the ball around to get the kibble out.

The Final Word: For the special furry friends in your life, it's easy to get carried away with the vast array of treats, toys, and goodies available for them. But by giving them simple, healthy rewards, you'll keep their waistline and your wallet trim. And remember, this holiday season, the best gift you can give to your companion animals is your time and a good scratch under the chin!

On the left, our first day with Buddy, at 118 pounds.
On the right, Buddy today at 90 pounds.

Top photo courtesy of Barking District Bakery

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Save Big on Spices and Herbs

The Topic: Getting the biggest bang for your buck when cooking with herbs and spices with Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet

The Dish: With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I (like many) have cooking on the mind. I can’t wait to heat up my kitchen and fill my apartment with seasonal aromas and that pleasant sizzle of my favorite dishes on the stove top. Trying out new spices and herbs is one of the most enticing parts of cooking—unfortunately, it’s often one of the most expensive parts as well. But between regularly whipping up exciting dishes like Korean bibimbap or Brazilian feijoada, I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping seasoning costs low.

Bigger is Better

First, adopt my favorite three-word principle: buy in bulk. Last year, Indian food was the name of the game for my kitchen, and I couldn’t believe the price of saffron—just a few vivid threads rivals the cost of my college education. On a whim, I decided to check out the bulk section of the grocery store and I found a whole box of American saffron (which works just as well) for less than $10. So began my love affair with buying in bulk. If you’re buying international spices, check your favorite grocery store’s ethnic aisles, where you’ll likely find huge bags of turmeric, cloves, chili powder, and more, for a lot less than the tiny jarred versions in the spice sections. Or, head to cultural neighborhood stores for a similar experience—independent mom-and-pop shops tend to stock an even greater variety of herbs and spices for all your cooking needs.


No, not do-it-yourself—in this case, dry-it-yourself! The best time to find cheap herbs is when they’re in season, so ask vendors at your local farmers’ market when you can expect to see your favorites. Once you’ve found the tasty treasures, use what you can that week—nothing beats the scent and flavor of fresh herbs. Then, dry the rest before they rot. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has created a great guide on how to dry herbs using materials you probably already have. Using a microwave, dehydrator, or even a paper bag will help preserve your herbs for the rest of the year. I bought a hearty stem of sage, my favorite herb, and dried it by hanging it upside-down for two weeks. Now I can incorporate this earthy herb into my meals for the rest of the year, without the cost of buying a jar of the dried stuff.


Growing-it-yourself doesn’t require much of a green thumb, or a stuffed wallet. In the springtime, plant seeds in a window box and wait for the magic to begin—basil and mint require minimal care, grow like crazy in the right conditions, and will save you a lot compared with buying packs at the grocery store with just a few leaves at a time. Fear not if you missed planting season, as many grocery and gardening stores stock potted herbs during most of the year. The prices for potted basil are not much higher than the cost of packs of the fresh leaves, so why not put your money towards something that will keep growing the green stuff? In addition to providing fresh herbs year-round, potted herbs also add a touch of green to your kitchen, which is essential during the upcoming grey months.

Learn to Substitute
Amateur cooks tend to focus on every individual ingredient of a recipe, whereas the pros know what to use to make the final dish delicious, regardless of what the recipe may call for. Instead of buying every last spice on a huge ingredients list (and racking up a hefty grocery bill), reconsider what’s already in your kitchen. This guide to substitutions is a great place to start for using herb alternatives, such as parsley instead of cilantro, or substituting basil in place of mint. The Cook’s Thesaurus also has a handy guide for international spice substitutions. Bet you didn’t know you could use nutmeg instead of mace or allspice in place of clove! One final tip: If you don’t have a particular herb or spice that a recipe calls for, just leave it out—once you taste your home-cooked dish, you’ll forget that you omitted the coriander seeds (and your guests won’t even know!).

Cooking spicy, flavorful dishes doesn’t have to be expensive—by learning where to find the best prices, how to grow and preserve fresh herbs, and what works when substituting, using spices and herbs is as savvy as it is delicious.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

5 Veg-Friendly Deal Sites

The Topic: Becoming an online-coupon-user extraordinare with Assistant Editor Anna Peraino

The Dish: We are Savvy Vegans–we buy in bulk, we wait for sales, we DIY, and we are most definitely familiar with the coupon. With the onslaught of group-based coupons out there (Groupon, Living Social, Scout Mob, and roughly one bazillion others), it's never been easier to save 40 percent on a CSA basket or 65 percent on a haircut at a salon we'd otherwise never afford. But what happens with your daily coupon is to a steakhouse, or that salon uses products that are tested on animals? A major bummer, that's what. Luckily for us, many vegan- and vegetarian-friendly deal sites are popping up, saving us cash on cookbooks and dough on (vegetarian) dim sum. Make sure to subscribe to these five deal-givers to save on every aspect of your life (not to mention upcoming holiday gifts)!

1. Time to Veg Out. This just-launched deal site is pretty much the vegan version of Groupon. Featuring both nationwide and location-based deals (the site currently covers towns like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, with more cities to come), it's a great way to save. The site is still getting started, but we can't wait to see more.
2. Vegan Cuts. "Shop Vegan. Save Money. Save Animals." Is there anything better than that? Not really. Vegan Cuts helps you save on cookbooks, skincare, jewelry, purses, and basically everything else you'd ever need. (Tofu presses! Energy bars!)
3. Daily Gourmet. If you're obsessed with food, this is the deal site for you. While not 100-percent vegan, Daily Gourmet lets you choose what kind of deals you want to get in your inbox, including vegan, gluten-free, and kosher items (and nut-free, and soy-free…). The site's first offer was a dozen Cinnaholic buns. If that's not reason enough to sign up, I don't know what is.
4. Vegan Coupons. If you're on Facebook 24-7 like we are (side note: like us on FB!), you'll love getting Vegan Coupons on your news feed. Offering printable coupons on everything from cookbooks to loaves of bread, Vegan Coupons will help you out in all your spending endeavors. And don't forget to follow Vegan Coupons' sister site, Vegan Deals, on Twitter (not to mention VegNews on Twitter!).
5. Deals on Twitter. From free Rice Dream to natural foods discounts, Twitter is a great place to save serious cash. It's so effective, in fact, that we wrote a whole post about vegan coupons, tweeted. Click and save!

The Final Word: In this day and age, paying full price gets to be as infrequent as eating a bad slice of vegan pizza* and we couldn't be happier. Sign up, follow, and check these sites to save serious money and enjoy some really awesome vegan stuff. Do you know of other great money-saving coupon sites for vegans? Let us know in the comments!

*Just kidding. It is scientifically impossible to eat a bad slice of vegan pizza. Trust me. I'm a professional.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Thriftiest Thanksgiving Feast

The Topic: Vegan Thanksgiving on the cheap with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: In all of its decadent, feast-filled glory, Thanksgiving brings us together with our loved ones every year for a tasty celebration of everything deserving of our gratitude. Unfortunately, our wallets are sometimes less giving than we’d like. Whether you’re celebrating with your family, pals, or just reruns of your favorite TV show, the holiday would not be complete without at least a few of its memorable culinary traditions. Here are a few of the top ways to stuff your belly without unstuffing your bank account.

Seitan-ic Rituals
The centerpiece of a vegan Thanksgiving meal is the savory entrée that serves as a cruelty-free stand-in for our friend, the turkey. While any number of substitutes will suffice and satisfy, the most traditional option is a roast. Store-bought roasts (from brands like Tofurky and Field Roast) may seem like the easiest and most convenient choice, but they can actually be expensive and difficult to acquire in certain areas, and may require an hour or more of cooking time. We’re here to talk thrifty, quick, and easy. Fear thee not—making your own seitan is far easier than you think, and on the plus, super-cheap. All you need is vital wheat gluten, vegetable broth or water, and whatever seasoning or spices you desire. No joke. Check out Selfish Vegan’s ridiculously simple guide to doing it yourself. Key phrase: “pennies per serving.” Once you’ve made your own seitan, you can use it in any number of ways. Seitan Pot Roast and Where’s the Beef Stew? Both sound centerpiece-worthy to me.

Studly Stuffing and Groovy Gravy
Whether to top your DIY seitan, smash into your mashed potatoes, or to scarf solo, stuffing and gravy are crucial elements of your frugal feast.  You can amp up your recipes as much as you wish and your budget permits, but quick stuffing and gravy can be just as flavorful and enjoyable as their gourmet counterparts. Take VegWeb’s Thanksgiving Dressing, for example—a few sliced veggies, some cubed bread, and a few other inexpensive components make a worthy companion for your roast. Still sound too complicated? Quick Stuffing is as trouble-free as it gets—just mix premade stuffing bread cubes with dry vegetable soup mix and water or oil, and you’re good to go … almost. It still needs to be doused in delicious gravy. Mushroom Gravy uses our favorite fungi to bring heartiness and depth to your holiday mix, and is just a boil, sauté, and stir away. If you’re not one for ‘shrooms, try Super Easy Gravy and improvise on additions. Veggie ground beef? Red wine? Balsamic vinegar? Add a dash of any savories you desire to customize your creation. While it has a few more components than the aforementioned, I make Awesome Mushroom Gravy every year for my family’s spread—well, sort of. I follow the recipe as closely as possible, but experiment with replacements for anything that I don’t have on hand. Out of onion? I use garlic or shallots. When I don’t have Bragg’s Amino Acids, I sub in soy sauce. A little bit of improvisation can save a lot of time and money.

The Best of the Rest
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the two most highly anticipated dishes of Thanksgiving: potatoes and pie (mashed and pumpkin, respectively). As for mashed potatoes, they’re pretty much a wallet-friendly no-brainer, and I would suggest reading Mashed Potato Remix and whipping up whatever version you are drooling over the most avidly. Potatoes are cheap, and therefore rule. In the dessert category, I truly believe I have found the easiest-to-make, hardest-to-resist vegan pumpkin dessert everEasy Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake. Premade vegan cream cheese, premade graham-cracker crust, pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin, sugar—bam, pow, and wow. I made this last year, and it is the best thing in the world and took roughly zero kilowatts of brainpower. 

With one bag of groceries, you can prepare a Thanksgiving feast fit for a king. Don’t relinquish your holiday spirit just because you’re broke and lazy—march onward into the realm of royal roasts, magnificent mashed potatoes, and proper pies. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cheap Eats: Every Night Soup

The Topic: The soup you can eat every single night and never get sick of with VN Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: It's no secret that soup and I have sort of a thing. As someone who's forever freezing cold unless I happen to be in direct sunlight, there's nothing more satisfying than a huge bowl of piping hot soup for dinner. Bachelor Soup has long been a favorite of mine, and when I'm feeling homesick (OK, my parents live about 45 minutes away from me, but what can I say? I love them!), I bust out a vegan posole, one of my dad's signature dishes.

As trusty and tasty as these two staples are, there's a new soup in my life, and we are in love. I call it Every Night Soup, both because I eat it nearly every night, and because I'm really creative. Inspired by the ever-amazing Vietnamese pho, this totally inauthentic yet highly satisfying supper really hits the spot. The ingredients are things that I tend to always have stocked, and can easily be found for cheap. Plus, I recently discovered something amazing: frozen broccoli. Did you know that you can actually purchase broccoli and add it to meals without letting it sit in your fridge for too long and/or getting little tiny broccoli bits all over your kitchen when you chop it? True story!

Every Night Soup

Serves 2

What You Need:
6 cups water
1 tablespoon veggie bouillion
4 ounces dried rice noodles (I like the ones that are cut for Pad Thai best)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 cup cubed extra-firm tofu
1 cup frozen broccoli florets
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped scallions 
1 heaping tablespoon miso

What You Do:
  1. In a medium pot, bring water and bouillion to a boil. Add noodles, and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients, except miso, and simmer another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and wait until soup is no longer bubbling to add miso. Serve hot!

The Final Word: No scallions? No problem. Feel like tossing in some other veggies? Go for it. This soup can be exactly the same every night, or you can mix it up to your heart's content. I've made it with and without miso, with varying amounts of hot sauce, and with tons of chopped garlic, depending on how I'm feeling and what I have on hand.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Want to Eat Cheap? Learn to Cook.

The Topic: Rediscover cooking and eating at home (while saving money!) with VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland

The Dish: I recently read an astonishing statistic on how nearly half of Americans don't cook. Instead, people grab a bagel and coffee on the way to work, step out of the office for a sandwich or burger at lunch, and order in pizza or Chinese for dinner. And that doesn't include morning doughnuts at the staff meeting, the afternoon sugar fix, post-work drinks, and that bowl of ice cream at 10pm. Given the (sad) state of our health in this country, there's no question that high-fat and huge-portioned restaurant fare is contributing to our demise. I say it's time to take back our health and get cooking.

By preparing your own food at home, you can control the quality of ingredients (organic, local, GMO-free), the amount of salt and oil used (restaurants are notorious for using excessive amounts of salt and oil to flavor food), and the portions you consume (a one-serving plate of food at the local diner could serve an entire family in other countries). Think about how you feel after a home-cooked meal versus a typical restaurant meal. Whenever I go out, I overeat and feel full for hours. The food is always good, but I pay the price. 

Thankfully, delicious (and budget-friendly) meals can be made at home. But if you don't know how to cook, where do you start? Do we all need to spend $50k on cooking school to learn basic cooking techniques that are no longer passed down in our families? Absolutely not. Here are four ways to become a stellar home chef in no time flat. Your culinary education begins now!

Use Recipes
I am the first one to admit that I rarely cook with recipes. I like to make healthy meals fast, and I don't have the patience to plan my meals or follow instructions. But recipes teach you how to cook. Find a cookbook you love (check out VegNews for recommendations), and force yourself to make one or two recipes a week. Then make them again. After a few times, you'll no longer need the recipe and will have an arsenal of balanced meals to make at home. And you'll have learned the #1 trick in cooking: technique. If you know the technique behind a particularly type of food (curries, pesto, stir-fry, soup, etc.), you are 75 percent there.

Watch Cooking Shows
Unfortunately, there aren't many vegan friendly cooking programs to help you master your culinary skills, but if you find yourself drawn to a particular food personality or their cuisine, watch them. Seeing a chef julienne carrots and zucchini for an Asian dish will stay with you longer than reading that same instruction in a cookbook recipe. And, once again, you'll pick up on technique and start to understand the broad strokes of cooking so that you can then customize whatever it is you're making. Check out our cooking videos on VegNews TV for excellent visual instruction!

Take a Cooking Class
This is the most hands-on way to learn how to cook, and vegetarian cooking classes are easier than ever to find. Whether it's a course on Thai cooking or how to prepare a 10-course vegan Thanksgiving feast, nothing beats real-life practice. You'll always go home with recipes, and you'll want to keep making them while they're fresh in your mind. Soon, these new dishes will be part of your at-home repertoire to dazzle everyone you cook for.

Read About Food
Often times, I find myself inspired by food articles and recipes I read and work those ideas into whatever it is I am making. Let's say I am editing the January+February 2012 issue of VegNews and salivate over Gena Hemshaw's raw pad Thai recipe (this may or may not have happened). That night I am craving Southeast Asian flavors and whip up a salad with fresh lime juice, chiles, garlic, and soy sauce. Think of cooking as a college degree, and read everything you can about it. Peruse magazines, books, blogs, or anything that inspires you to cook.

The Final Word: Cooking at home is a joyful, therapeutic experience, and you'll save a lot of money in the process. Whenever I encourage friends to do more cooking, I offer this advice: 1) It's not how you start, it's how you finish. There are no rules in cooking, so as long as you enjoy the flavor at the end, you've succeeded. 2) Cook like crazy. The more you practice, the better cook you'll become. 3) Stock your pantry. You'll be more inspired to cook if you're kitchen is filled with fresh produce, a variety of pastas and grains, and spices you love. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cheap Eats: Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

The Topic: Baking up a fall-tastic breakfast with VN Assistant Editor Anna Peraino

The Dish: OK, let me break it down for you: I love fall. From crisp air that begs for sweaters, to football tailgates filled with screaming fans, to the beautiful colors of the leaves (so that doesn't really happen here in the Bay Area, but I remember the colors of North Carolina), there's really nothing that can beat this time of year. But perhaps moreso than the three things I just mentioned, I love the culinary changes autumn brings. Think the return of thick, belly-coating soups, hot cocoa, and apples everywhere. Oh, and did I mention pumpkins? Perhaps the best part of the season, this ever-delicious, ever-useful squash brings fall flavor to every meal. And I couldn't be happier.

As such, it's important for those of us who are pinching pennies to enjoy autumnal flavors morning, noon, and night without emptying our pocketbooks. Using four inexpensive ingredients (pumpkin included, of course!), you can start the sweater-weather days of October and November with the warming, tasty goodness of baked oatmeal. To save even more cash, buy your oatmeal in bulk, as you can usually get a pound for about a buck, which is roughly one dozen servings. One bite and you'll be hooked—trust me.

Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal

Serves 6 

What You Need:
3 cups old-fashioned oats (you can use the quick-cooking kind, but your oatmeal will be way less tasty)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1-1/2 cups nondairy milk (I like to use vanilla soymilk to get a hint of vanilla and sweetness in there)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice)

What You Do:
     1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients.
     3. Into an 8 x 8 baking dish, pour mixture and let stand for 30 minutes to overnight.
     4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until milk has been absorbed and oatmeal looks gooey.

Chef's Tip: I like to add a little more sweetness to my baked oatmeal by topping it with maple syrup. Mixed nuts and dried fruit are also tasty (but unfortunately, pricey!) topping options.

The Final Word: Autumn only comes once a year (unless you time a trip to the southern hemisphere really well), so taking advantage of everything it has to offer in creative, money-saving ways is pretty much my MO. So if you see me spending a morning wearing a thrifted sweater, eating baked oatmeal, jumping into a pile of leaves (leaves are free!) while watching a college football game (cable, not so much), don't be surprised.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Culinary Adventures

The Topic: Refining your vegan culinary skills without breaking the bank with VN Office Manager Lyndsay Orwig

The Dish: This month, I will be celebrating my 10-year anniversary of being vegan. It feels like just yesterday when I made the decision to no longer eat animal products when I was a junior in high school, but when I really reflect on the last 10 years, I realize that my diet has changed since that time. For about the first five years of being vegan, I subsisted for the most part on convenient, pre-packaged food. This was mainly due to my being in school with little time on my hands, but since graduating, my culinary skills have definitely made a major leap in the right direction, and I'm happy to say that nearly 95 percent of the food in my fridge today is whole ingredients, and I cook a meal almost every night of the week. This has really taken a load off of my wallet, and I'm also much more fulfilled with my vegan lifestyle than I was during the first five years.

With my new love of cooking, I have dreamt of going to culinary school in order to perfect my skills in the kitchen, but I honestly don't see that happening—I can't just pull 25 grand from my back pocket, no matter how hard I wish. Luckily, I have figured out some great ways to hone my skills without spending too much. Here are three ways to become a super chef in your own kitchen, on the cheap:

1. Stock Up on Supplies and Staples
OK, this is more about preparation, but if you're not prepared, then there's no way that you will improve on your skills in the kitchen. I know it may seem like a daunting task to build your spice rack and to increase the amount of kitchen appliances that you own—I know, I've been there! To make it less daunting, I have followed the motto, "Steady goes it." I have been working on my spice collection for the past four years, and it is finally well-stocked. I have also done this with my appliances, acquiring some as Christmas and birthday gifts, and sometimes just saving up my money. And even though Williams Sonoma is a pretty sweet store, I would suggest you go somewhere else in order to save some dough. Even better, check out garage and yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores—these could have some real treasures. And for spices and other staples? Repeat after me, "Buy in bulk."

2.Use Cookbooks as Your Guide
I have learned all my skills from my cookbooks, and just like with my staples and supplies, I have built my cookbook library steadily. OK, confession time, I am a cookbook fanatic, and in all honesty I have way too many. Seriously, they have literally taken over my small studio apartment, and I know my boyfriend is getting seriously annoyed with my cookbook-collecting ways. That being said, I won't give them up, because I have learned so much from them. However, you really just need a few to start with, and I would really suggest to get a more general vegan cookbook, which also contains a basic cooking skills section, such as Veganomicon or a 1,000 Vegan Recipes. If you don't have enough money to buy even a few cookbooks, then try the library.

3. Recipe Testing
This leads me to my next point—becoming a recipe tester! This is my newly discovered way of honing my culinary skills. I have been recipe testing for Robin Robertson for the last couple of months, and I have just started to recipe test for Joni Marie Newman's new cookbook. Excluding the great perks of recipe testing (being acknowledged, getting a free copy, and getting to know an awesome cookbook author), it's also a great way to learn new skills in the kitchen. Since becoming a tester, I have made a bouquet garni, and jam for my very first time. Unfortunately, the jam didn't turn out too well, but I was able to discuss the problem with the author, and received some good suggestions to succeed the next time I make an attempt. To become a recipe tester, check out various cookbook authors' blogs, as well as their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Final Word: You don't have to go to culinary school in order to perfect your skills in the kitchen. You just need to practice, practice, practice! Participate in local vegan potlucks, and occasionally cook for friends and/or family members. The ones closest to you are usually the toughest critics, and nothing will make you a better cook than constructive criticism. Finally, be sure to cook food the you want to eat. That way everything you cook will be a spectacular treat!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Animal Companionship on the Cheap

The Topic: Inexpensive animal companionship for those with a jet-setting, busy lifestyle with Editorial Assistant Joni Sweet

The Dish: As part of the VegNews staff, you can probably guess that I’m an animal lover. Cats, dogs, birds, even mice, I love them all! Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to adopt an animal since I was a kid, due to college dorm-life and limited funds. Also, given the opportunity, I love to travel for months on end, which makes me hesitant to commit to animal adoption, as I’d hate to bring stress upon my furry friend to find him or her a new home. Lucky for people like me, organizations across the US are here to help connect people with limited time, money, and ability to commit long-term with animal friends who need us just as much as we need them.

Raise a Service Dog

Teaming up with a service-dog organization, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind or The Guide Dog Foundation For The Blind, is a great way to build a relationship with a puppy while doing good for mankind. Typically, volunteers provide loving homes for puppies when they are between seven and nine weeks old for roughly one year. Puppy-raisers then socialize, educate, and complete basic training for the dogs, which includes lessons in obedience, traveling, manners, and appropriate behavior in a variety of settings. These go-anywhere service dogs are required by law to have access to many places, such as city buses, supermarkets, and other everyday settings, meaning that opportunities to bond with the pup are endless. As an added bonus, the service-dog organizations often cover all or most of the associated expenses, so the dogs only demand your patience, time, and love.

Foster a Sheltered Animal

The ASPCA, as well as most local shelters, depends on volunteers to help prepare special animals for adoption. Generally, fostered animals include very young puppies and kittens, mothers with newborn litters, animals recovering from injury or illness, and those in need of socialization. The ASPCA provides training for volunteers and covers all medical expenses, food, and necessary supplies. Fostering generally lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a couple months, so while that period of time provides ample opportunity to love and care for an animal in need, it also makes it easy for those with a passion for travel to leave town after their foster friend finds a home.

Make a Career Out of It

If you're unable to welcome an animal into your home, head into theirs—and get paid for it —by becoming a pet sitter or dog walker. Animal lovers can apply to work for pet sitting businesses, such as Chicago Pet Sitters or Southern California's The Pet Staff, and spend nights and weekends indulging vacationers' dogs and cats with a few extra treats and lots of playtime. Also, in cities particularly, busy office-workers constantly need reliable dog-walkers to exercise their pups during the long workday. If you can't find an organization in your area that's hiring, consider placing a personal ad on Craigslist or the local paper and working independently. Both of these jobs will allow you to connect with fun, friendly animals and provide you with bonus pocket cash.

The Final Word: Hardly any lifestyle, no matter how restrictive, frugal, or busy, can put you completely off-limits for making a new furry friend if you’re willing to give your heart and time. There are many organizations which rely on help from dedicated animal lovers, and volunteers get to provide the best part—the belly rubs!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vegan Traveling

The Topic: Traveling vegan on a budget with Associate Editor Jennifer Chen

The Dish: As I write this, VN Publisher Joseph Connelly and VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland are traversing thorough Thailand with 20 VegNews readers on VegNews first-ever Food Lover's Tour of Thailand. Now this may sound like bragging—I swear I'm not trying to make you feel bad—but I recently went to Kauai, Hawaii, for vacation with my hubby. It was my first real vacation in a long time, and while it was a celebration of our wedding anniversary, I still hate being too extravagant. A real splurge to me is the vacation itself and seeing as much of the beautiful island as possible. There are times to splurge (massages on the beach!) and times to save, so here are my tips for enjoying your vacation on a budget.

Peanut butter. I always like to carry a jar with peanut butter with me. This is leftover from my college days when I backpacked through Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. I usually pick up a jar wherever I am and paired with a loaf of bread, I have an emergency meal handy. A box of crackers or pretzels also works well. 

Airport eats. If you ever get to travel to San Francisco International's Terminal 2, consider yourself very lucky. It's a vegan haven. You can get a fresh green juice from The Plant Café. There's a whole section of vegan and raw snacks at Napa Farms Market. And if you bring your own water bottle, you can fill up at the filtered water stations. But since most of us aren't traveling through SFO Terminal 2 (darn!), here's what I do when stuck at an airport. Search for the nearest Starbucks. Not every airport will have vegan-friendly eats, but every airport will have a Starbucks. Now, I love supporting my local coffee shops, but I can count on Starbucks to have vegan meals like fruit salad, oatmeal with dried fruits, and bagels. For more travel-friendly eats, check out our web article on that very topic.

Free travel advice. I usually peruse through Lonely Planet guides before I end up at my destination and I love the in-depth information, but I found two great free resources: friends and travel brochures! Before I left, I asked friends on Facebook what I should do while I'm in Kauai and I got a lot of great tips on places my guide book never even pointed out. And the airport was teeming with tons of free travel brochures. While most of them are advertisements, I grabbed a few dining and activity guides and was able to find several health food stores and places that specifically listed that they were "vegan friendly." I found Island Tacos though an ad, and tried cilanto-lime tofu tacos that still haunt my dreams. 

Local health food stores. Like I mentioned, the travel brochures led me to several health food stores on the island. While not everything there is cheap, I was able to pick up dinner for two nights. The great thing about Hawaii is how culturally diverse it is—you can find Korean, Filipino, Japanese, and traditional Hawaiian foods. Health food stores are always guaranteed to have some vegan food. I sampled Korean scallion pancakes, chocolate silk tofu pie, and Vietnamese summer rolls from Papaya's Natural Foods. Compared to a fancy dinner out, my to-go meal was inexpensive.

Farmers' markets. I was surprised to find that Kauai has daily farmers' markets all around the island, so I made sure to hit one. I love fresh fruit and since Hawaii has so many fruits I can't have on the mainland, I went a little nuts. I got starfruit (three for $1), papaya ($1.50), pineapple ($4), Tahitian limes (four for $1), and a giant avocado ($1.50). I sampled a vegan coconut tapioca pudding made from a local bakery ($3) and a dark chocolate-covered banana topped with coconut shreds and nuts ($3.50). One thing I learned from a local farmer is that agricultural theft is a big problem for farmers, so when hitting a farmers' market she cautioned me to steer clear of anyone who doesn't have signage. The vendor may have stolen the fruits and veggies from a hard-working farmer for re-sell at the market.

The Final Word: If I've made you green with envy by now, my sincere apologies. But what I can offer is that you deserve to travel to awesome destinations (like the VegNews Vegan Yoga Retreat to Mexico). Create a savings account just for vacations and then travel to those must-hit countries and states on your bucket list. And when you do fly to a fancy destination that is a paradise through and through, it doesn't have to mean throwing frugality out the window.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vegan Baking As Cheaply and Easily As Humanly Possible

The Topic: Vegan baking for dunces on a budget with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: As a child, nothing mystified me more than watching my mother mix together a baffling concoction of powders and liquids in a giant bowl, pop gobs of the resulting batter in the oven, and reveal fresh chocolate-chip cookies in just a few minutes. Baking never gets stale, and making cookies, cakes, and brownies at home is beyond satisfying. Even better, it’s often less expensive—and tastier—than going store-bought, as vegan pastries are often attached to unsavory price tags. Working from scratch doesn’t have to mean bank-busting trips to the grocery store, and many traditional baking mixes can be veganized as well. A tray of fresh-from-the-oven muffins, cookies, or cupcakes is guaranteed to result in many pleases and thank-yous from bystanders, and doesn’t require loads of time or moolah. Filling your kitchen with the irresistible aroma of impending sweets alone warrants the effort.

Six Ingredient Wonders
If you’re baking from scratch, pick a recipe with a short ingredients list to avoid stress and waste. Whether for a friend’s birthday, an office party, or just a Tuesday afternoon, homemade cookies are always crowd-pleasers, and there are many recipes that only require a few things that are probably already in your pantry. When my wallet is barren but my resolve to bake is high, I stick to the six-ingredient rule, which dictates that whatever I’m making requires only six or fewer ingredients. Although this may sound challenging, it is oddly doable. For example, Super Easy Thumbprint Cookies require only vegan butter, sugar, vanilla, jam, and two kinds of flours, plus about 15 minutes of your precious time. As a bonus, their colorful fillings feign fanciness, so they make a sweet gift with the added value of looking time-intensive. VegWeb’s Best and Easiest Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies also have a mere six components, and resemble the childhood classics to a T. If you can’t be bothered with oven time, No-Bake Cookies are a delicious alternative that are so simple, you could make them in your sleep. Sleepwalkers beware, you might awaken face-first in a batch of these chocolaty delights. If you’re feeling ambitious and willing to go just one element beyond the six-ingredient rule, give these seven-ingredient blueberry muffins a whirl. Who can resist a warm blueberry muffin, spread with jam, agave, or melted Earth Balance? No one. That’s who.

(You Can't) Beat Box (Mixes)
Have no fear if you don’t have a knack for getting crafty, or if your funds are so limited that multiple ingredients stretch your budget; there is no shame in the boxed-mix game. Vegan baked-good mixes are plentiful and inexpensive, such as Wholesome Chow’s cake mixes, which will set you back a mere $4.50 and come in gourmet flavors like lavender and chai spice, in addition to classic chocolate and vanilla. Just add oil, nondairy milk, and vinegar. Or, try Cherrybrook Kitchen’s cake, cookie, and brownie mixes, which call for only margarine, oil, and water to make delicious vegan, nut-free, kosher creations. Surprisingly, Duncan Hines also has several vegan mixes, such as their Classic Yellow Cake Mix. As an amazing bonus, several of their frostings are vegan too. They even sport a recipe for vegan chocolate cupcakes on their website, decadently topped with their pre-made chocolate or mocha icing.

Sub Smarts
Learning to get down with substitutions is another crucial aspect of vegan baking. While the box or recipe may call for eggs, milk, or butter, cruelty-free replacements are available for virtually every need. Soymilk and almond milk are obvious choices for ditching cow’s milk, and bananas and applesauce are well-known as being great for replacing eggs. PETA recently released an Ultimate Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet that makes swapping ingredients a breeze, as it offers specific suggestions based on purpose. Even better, easy proxies may already be lurking in your fridge or cupboard. Looking for leavening? Puréed tofu is here to help. Want a denser texture for cakes or cookies? Instant mashed potatoes are a surprising egg-free way to achieve it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of vegan replacements, baking mixes that call for dairy are no longer a problem. 

The Final Word: Even if your bank account is sputtering and your baking talents are questionable, homemade or semi-homemade baked goods are not beyond your abilities or funds. Whether whipped up from scratch or out of a box, oven-fresh vegan cookies, brownies, cakes, and cupcakes are an easy and affordable way to treat yourself or your friends to a taste of cozy kitchen goodness.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top 3 Vegan Money Sucks

The Topic: Avoiding the three most-tempting money black holes with Managing Editor Elizabeth Castoria

The Dish: Sometimes, it's not about knowing how to save money, per se, but instead about knowing how to not spend tons of money. Maybe the distinction between the two isn't totally clear. In the words of Inigo Montoya, "Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up." Saving money involves getting goods for cheaper than the sticker price, either by buying in bulk, using coupons (such as today's Living Social Deal for $20 of Whole Foods groceries for $10!), or doing something yourself (like making your own almond milk, instead of buying pre-made). But! You know that moment that tends to happen right around 7:48pm, when it's been a long day at work and you know that you should probably eat something for dinner, so you wander dazedly into the grocery store and fill your basket with frozen peas, a block of tofu, almond butter, and peaches, only to get home and discover that those ingredients don't actually make themselves into a meal and you've managed to spend $28 dollars? That, friends, is where not spending money comes in. Here are my top three money sucks to avoid!

1. The Grocery Store. Yes, you have to go there to buy groceries. Avoiding this one all together might be impossible, but planning ahead can save you big time. Do your best Virgo impression, make a list before you go, and stick to it. Even if you happen to discover that the store stocks an impulse-buy section with vegan chocolate peanut butter cups and whole-wheat fig bars—walk on by!

2. The Salad Bar. It's so shiny! As someone who is about as attracted to shiny things as your average raccoon, this is a problem for me. Salad bars gleam with pre-chopped potential, artfully arranged add-ons, and mountains of maybe. You know that you can purchse all the ingredients for a salad at a lower cost by simply buying the vegetables and chopping them yourself. If you do get sucked in by the salad bar's siren song, remember to stick with light, space-taking items like romaine lettuce and grated carrots, and avoid pre-made tofu dishes like the plague.

3. The Bar That Has Great Vegan Food. First off, let's take a moment to be grateful that there are bars that have vegan dining options! Yay! Even teetotalers can find themselves at the local watering hole because of the novelty of finding vegan hot wings or nachos. As someone who has, possibly on too many occasions, told myself that I'd just go to Millennium for a couple drinks and maybe an appetizer, I've discovered something incredible: When you're drunk and there's awesome vegan food all around you, you're going to eat it, regardless of what your intention was when you walked into the joint. This is especially true if, like me, you go in thinking that your low tolerance for alcohol will make for an unexpensive evening. Just imagine your (read: my) surprise when lo and behold, sometime around drink number 1.4, you're ravenous and have suddenly ordered all of the appetizers on the menu, and the bill has now jumped from a mere $20ish to a whopping $600ish. (Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it's definitely how expensive the meal will seem.) How to avoid this pleasure trap? Either eat substantially before your evening out, or keep the food menu as far from your barstool as possible.

The Final Word: Money sucks are all around, but with a heightened awareness of their budget-busting powers, you can not only save money smartly, but also not spend money accidentally.

Awesome black hole image via NASA

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Money-Saving Smartphone Apps

The Topic: Using your smartphone to save money (because goodness knows we’re spending enough on our smartphones) by Assistant Editor Anna Peraino

The Dish: We Americans like our smartphones. A lot. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, iPhones, Blackberrys, and their Andriod-based fellows have found their way into every facet of our lives, from waking us up in the morning to helping us find our way across town to joining us at the dinner table (and at the movies, and in the bathroom…). Smartphones are so essential to many, in fact, that a recent survey found that a third of Americans would rather give up sex for a week than their smartphone for the same seven days. Without getting all inappropriate on you, let’s just say they’re here to stay.

In that case, we might as well be as savvy about these suckers as possible, right? Sure, a smartphone in and of itself is a pretty pricey venture—data plans and text messaging on top of your monthly cell-phone bill costs a pretty penny to say the least—but it doesn’t look like Americans are giving up any time soon. And that’s where I come in folks—to let you know how to make your smartphone work for you a little bit more: the app. Everyone has their Words With Friends, their Angry Birds, their Twitter and Facebook apps, but there are thousands of free apps out there just waiting to help you save money. Check out nine of my favorite mobile apps for fitness, food, and more, and save some major money—or at least save a portion of your phone bill.

1. Bethere Deals: This GPS-based app shows deals around you, from 25 percent off coupons at a wine store to $100 off sunglasses. The pins, which will show up throughout your metro area, include deals that are active and those that are coming soon.

2. ShopKick: By “checking in” at stores like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy, and more, you can collect “kicks” that will unlock deals, gift cards, restaurant vouchers, and more. Not bad for simply walking inside and pressing a few buttons.

3. Coupon Sherpa: This app features coupons for more than 5,000 stores such as Gap and Office Depot, and products such as Dell and Febreeze. No smartphone? No worries. You can use Coupon Sherpa’s codes online, too!

4. Nike Training Club: It’s almost like you have your own personal trainer with this app (I named mine Stacey, so I could have someone to yell at when being forced to do pushups). Workouts, audio guidance, rewards, and tracking are included, as well as a thriving online community.

5. Fooducate Nutrition Scanner: This super handy app gives any food with a barcode a grade based on its nutrition content. It will also provide alternative products in case what you scanned turns out with a paltry “C+.” Don’t forget to check ingredients lists!

6. Lose It: If you’re looking to shed a few pounds, this award-winning app makes it easy to log meals and exercise, track your weight loss and view progress reports (in handy pie charts, no less!), and get support by sharing your experience with others.

7. ShopSavvy: Want to know if you can get that new food processor for less at another store? ShopSavvy is on it. Find the lowest price for that Cuisinart by simply scanning a barcode. The rest is magic (or so I like to believe).

8. GasBuddy: I’m not a big driver (honestly, I move my car on street-cleaning days only), but for those of you who get behind the wheel daily, this app will help you find the lowest price per gallon in your general area. Seriously GPS, what did we do before you? Oh right, we used paper maps and got lost more often.

9. Yoga Relax Free: If you want to warrior II it up or tree pose for a bit, this free app provides relaxing music and high-quality videos to go along with its postures. To be honest, this is not the app for you if you’re looking for an intense yoga workout, but for a chill-out session, it’s perfect.

The Final Word: Whatever way you slice it, smartphones are a big part of well, the world. And since we’re all savvy vegans here, our phones should be no exception. If you have any favorite money-saving apps, let us know about them in the comments!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post: Melody Polakow of Melomeals

The Topic: In light of the upcoming first annual Vida Vegan Conference, I asked vegan blogger Melody Polakow of Melomeals, to share some tips with us on vegan cooking on a budget.

The Dish: My name is Melody Polakow and I’m thrilled to be contributing to the Savvy Vegan Blog! I have been blogging at Melomeals since 2006.  At the time I was married and cooking for my two teen sons, so I focused on big batch, frugal cooking from scratch for a family.  I have since divorced, and in late 2008 I was laid off from my job as a vegan and raw foods chef.  At the time I was sharing custody of my kids and money was so tight (my kids have since grown up and don’t live with me)—I only had $100 a month to spend on food! I realized that was around $3.33 a day, so the focus of my blog turned to creating healthy and delicious whole foods for $3.33 a day.

Fast forward to September 2010.  I had been working several chef jobs while creating more photography and I realized that I was ready to take a huge leap into working for myself. Melody Polakow Photography and Chef Services was born! Since I am working for myself and times are tough, I am still spending $3.33 a day and having a ball sharing my recipes and ideas via Facebook and my blog.

The way I cook has evolved over time into a system of preparation that is basically the same whether you are cooking for one or a family of 10! I utilize a pressure cooker and cook two pounds of dried beans from scratch and two pounds of grains. I make three sauces to have on hand: salsa, marinara, and a nutritional yeast-based sauce. I also clean out the fridge at least once a week and make a big pot of soup I call a “filler soup” which is eaten for several meals or snacks and frozen into two cup portions. You can see my blog for these various recipes. Having these bases on hand allows me to create healthy and delicious whole-food meals in less than 30 minutes! Here’s one of my favorite veggie burger recipes.

Simple Bean Burger

Makes 12-15 burgers, depending on how big you make them!
Note:  These burgers taste much better the next day

What You Need: 
3 cups hot beans (reserve bean liquid)
2 cups old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
3 tablespoons soy sauce
What You Do:
1. Mix everything together in a food processer. If you don’t have a food processor, mash really well with your hands!
2. Add reserved bean liquid as needed so the mixture isn’t too dry
3. Chill mixture for at least 4 hours
4. Form into patties; cook in a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium to medium-low heat for about five minutes per side.

The Final Word: Thanks Melody for the tips, and highlighting your great blog, which shows that you can eat vegan on almost any budget. And for those readers and bloggers who will be attending the Vida Vegan Conference this year, we look forward to seeing you!