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.