Archive for August, 2009

Making Your Own Menu

Today lifehacker linked to KitchenMonki, a site that generates grocery-lists for you based on the recipes you choose  (Here’s the lifehacker post, complete with a cute scripted video about how to use KitchenMonki.)

It sounds excellent – you should be able to just decide what recipes you want to make for the month, click the ingredients needed, and then get a grocery list created by the site.  Much smoother than the method I use, which is filled with tallies and annotations and a lot of things crossed off by hand as I change my mind about recipes.

That said, it might suck, I don’t know.  I think it’s a Great Idea Whose Time Has Come, and I’ll definitely be using it when I do my OAMC next week.  If you experiment with it, please let me know how it goes!  I’d really be interested in whether it lets you add rarer items like nutritional yeast or tempeh.  I’ll probably post my results with it next week sometime, but it would be cool to see what other people think.

(Unrelated:  It turns out that I don’t like gazpacho.  I probably should have thought of this before making and freezing 5 servings.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but I think cold tomato soup is really just not my cup of tea.  It’s super nice to be able to reject a meal and pull something else out of the freezer, though.  Mexican Gumbo for dinner!)

August 25, 2009 at 5:38 pm 4 comments

Menu A Progress Report

Ratatouille

I really like the Ratatouille – especially the eggplant.  I don’t know if I got a really awesome eggplant or what, but it’s fantastic.  (Posting pictures of my food on the internet makes me painfully aware of how often I use the same side dishes – but making rice and peas is easy, darn it!)

Also, I’m getting a better feel for what needs to be thawed the night before (anything where more liquid would be unappetizing – i.e., lasagna and the veg curry) and what can be chucked in the microwave for 14 minutes on 30% power at a moment’s notice (so far, everything else.)

My sister even microwaved a bunch of the mac & cheeze straight from the freezer – no problems, and she really liked it, she’s been eating it for lunch all week.  I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of having any more of it – I’m just glad there’s a vegan mac & cheeze recipe that she’ll eat!

The semester has started and I’m bringing lunch to school now.  I grab a black bean burger/chickpea cutlet from the fridge, put it in the microwave for 2 minutes, and make a sandwich to take with me.  When I do my OAMC next month, I’ll be making like a 5x recipe of burger patties, since at this rate I’ll be running out of them next week.

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the change in how much I’ve spent in groceries.  So far this month, I’ve spent $130 – but that’s including a skillet, a lasagna pan, and beer (all of which I’ve shoehorned nicely into my “grocery” budget.)  I’m not going to get into what I’ve spent in months before this, because man, $130 is a serious improvement – especially considering that my sister is also counted into that, at least partially.   I’ll probably buy another box of cereal at some point, but I’m happy with how this is going!

August 21, 2009 at 7:36 pm Leave a comment

Un-Beef Stew

No problems heating up the Un-Beef Stew from Menu A – I moved two servings from the freezer to the fridge on Sunday night, and heated them both up in the microwave for 2 minutes yesterday.

Unbeef Stew

Unbeef Stew

This tasted just as awesome as it did before I froze it, and the omni boyfriend loved it.  He was surprised that the meaty chunks were tofu, and he’s definitely no stranger to tofu.  (Glad that all of the tofu prep was worthwhile!)

I turned on the rice cooker and steamed some frozen peas for side dishes, but I could’ve gotten away without the rice.  The stew was really thick and it could’ve functioned as a meal on its own.

I’m totally going to make it every month.

August 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm 2 comments

Unthawed Success

I came home a few days early, popped a thin frozen rectangle of Veg Curry into the fridge around 8pm, and spent the day running errands.  When I came home around 5pm, the curry was completely unthawed, and I microwaved it for about 90 seconds to warm it up.   It tasted great – couldn’t tell the difference between it being out of the crockpot the day I cooked it and now, having been frozen for about a week.  I love curries.

Veg Curry

Veg Curry

I’m clearly going to have to work on my camera skills if I’m going to keep posting pictures of food here –  every other vegan blog on the net puts me to shame.  But hey – at least this time I paid attention to the background of the photo (as opposed to setting the dish down on, say, the stove burner.  What can I say.)

Yesterday I unthawed the Mexican Gumbo, and I actually had some of it for lunch today – it, also, was great.  It was a bit spicier than I expected, but the red bean base with the texture was amazing.  I’m partial to anything that has rice cooked into it, honestly – it means I don’t have to set my rice cooker.

Tomorrow, the Ratatouille!

August 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm 2 comments

Menu B: Grocery List & Instructions

I’d hate to give anyone carpal tunnel from excessive scrolling, so I’m just going to put these up as Google Doc files.  A few notes:

The Barbeque Tofu recipe is cooked overnight, although the recipe specifies that it should be cooked on low for 4-6 hours.  I’ve assumed you have a crock pot capable of cooking for 8 hours on a lower heat setting than it uses for 6 hours.  If your crock pot doesn’t work like that, you may want to change the order of recipes around (unless you normally sleep for only 4-6 hours).  The Pinto Beans & Rice crock-pot recipe is supposed to be done around 3 hours after you put it in, so you can just start the Barbeque Tofu right after the beans are done instead.

The Eggplant Pomodoro recipe also calls for making a sauce to put on the eggplant rounds.  I really don’t like thawing sauces, and it’s an easy tomato sauce, so I haven’t included the ingredients in the grocery list.  If you’re up for making it, check out the recipe and add it to the list.

Link:  Grocery List for Menu B  (doc file)

Link:  Instructions for Menu B (doc file)

Let me know if you find any mistakes.  I’ve been through them both a couple times to check, but as I haven’t actually tested the instructions, I haven’t had the chance to come face-to-face with anything glaringly wrong.  Hopefully you won’t either!  (Comforting, right?  Seriously though, I think it’s all in order.)

And finally, instead of chopping things into bowls, you could use ziplock bags or even grocery sacks – it would save on counter space, since they’re condensable, and there would be about 14 fewer bowls to clean (always good!).

August 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm 5 comments

Menu B: Recipe List

This is more ambitious than Menu A, mostly because it just plain makes a lot of food:  66 servings total.  If you’re cooking for 2, you’re covered for a solid month, and if you’re cooking for 3 and have a few spaghetti nights/dinners elsewhere, it should still work out.

Also, since Menu A requires two sometimes hard-to-find ingredients (the nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten), this menu won’t use either one. 

There was almost an accidental world theme where every recipe would have clearly been from a specific country.  I ended up ditching a French Lentil Soup recipe (okay, I don’t think that’s actually from France, but still.  Cute.) and an Enchilada recipe because they were too similar to other things, but I’m much happier with what I replaced them with, and hey – now there’s no accidental world theme!  I love international food, but I think that’s one of those things that sounds great until you actually announce it to your roommate (“Hey!  Guess what?  Every dinner you eat for the next month will be a recipe themed on a different country!”)  If I tried that stunt, my sister would either kill herself or me – not sure which, but I don’t like my odds.

Of course, if you’re into the world cuisine idea, the last two recipes still give you enough latitude to claim it. 

Grocery list and instructions to follow.

August 13, 2009 at 5:38 pm 2 comments

Game plan

I’m visiting my family for the week, but next Monday I’ll go home and start living off of the month’s meals.  I’ll be sure to post the reheating results.  I feel optimistic about things tasting fine (my mother did a lot of freezer cooking when I was growing up, so it’s what I’m used to), but I’ll be interested to see how things hold their shape!  I tried to pick recipes that would be fairly safe bets on looking good dethawed, but I have a gut feeling this won’t be one of the vegan blogs with beautifully plated food.  I expect this to be more of the vegan equivalent of TV dinners (albeit healthier, much lower in sodium, and way cheaper.)

My boyfriend is planning on doing a VOMC breakfast session and a dinner session – he’s in medical school, so he seriously doesn’t have time to cook.  I’ll put what I can of that menu and plan up here as well.  He loves the sausages from the Vegan Brunch book, so he’ll definitely be doing a few batches of those.  I might just copy him on that – they’re fantastic! They require almost no time, and it’s so simple to just boil them.  If you’re reading this, you’ve probably frozen tofu before to get that heavier texture, and I imagine freezing those sausages will be a lot like that.  We’ll find out!

I’ll also be posting a Menu B in the next week.  Since my freezer is full, I won’t be doing the actual run of a new menu for awhile - but I feel strongly that it would just be helpful to get more ideas out there so other people interested in VOAMC can have a few different ideas of how to get started.  As always, let me know if you have any suggestions – or your own menu!

August 12, 2009 at 12:30 am 2 comments

Freezing Food, Part 1: Chemistry & Containers

While I’m new to VOAMC, I’ve been freezing leftovers for awhile.  The only experience I’ve had with freezer burn was a carton of soy ice-cream that was left in for too long – turns out cardboard is lousy at keeping out air.  Go figure.

Still, here’s what I do know:

Label the freezer bag FIRST.  Before the food is in, label the bag with the name of the dish and the current month.  I know it seems obvious, but I kept catching myself ladleing hot stews into unlabeled freezer bags – and trying to label a bag of liquid legibly is difficult.  (You can reuse the container later by removing the label with a sponge and some baking soda.)

Leave some room at the top.  Water expands in volume by about 9% when frozen, and cooked food is made up of varying degrees of water.  Soup will expand more than, say, a veggie burger – but you can’t go wrong with leaving at least 10% of the container empty.

Get the air out.   If the food is exposed to air below zero degrees farenheight, water in the food can actually subliminate directly to the vapor phase, leaving the area still safe, but all dried out – freezer burn.  But without exposure to air, this isn’t a problem.

If it doesn’t say ‘freezer’… Freezer bags, freezer tape, and freezer containers are great.  But as awesome as it is to recycle soy yogurt and margarine containers, they’re not built to effectively work in the freezer, and they aren’t worth the risk of freezer burn.

Arranging the freezer bags:

  • Get them horizontal.  Once they’ve frozen in a flat, rectangular shape, you can either stand them up like books on a bookshelf or keep them stacked.  Either way, they freeze faster and it saves a lot of space.
  • If in doubt, double-wrap.  I normally don’t double-wrap things in the freezer, but some people recommend putting several quart-sized freezer bag inside of a gallon-sized bag if you’re worried about freezer burn.  If I’m using aluminum foil, I’ll always wrap it twice, but that’s about it.
  • Use wax paper to keep bags from sticking.  There are probably other ways to keep them from sticking, but I thought it was easiest to just put a sheet of wax paper between each bag while they froze.  I removed the paper the next day.
  • Give them enough room so that the air in the freezer can circulate around the bags.  I made 2 columns of freezer bags that had an inch or so free behind them, between them, and in front of them.  If you have a stand-alone or chest freezer, this may be less important – but it seems to be a good idea for refrigerator freezers, which are sometimes less capable.

The USDA has a good site on the safety of freezing food:  Focus On Freezing.  While a lot of their advice doesn’t apply to vegans, it’s worth reading for random entertainment value (i.e., when they warn you not to freeze eggs in their shells.)

Do you have any other freezer tips or advice?

August 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm 1 comment

The Tiny Freezer

I moved the bags of flour and flax seed to airtight containers in the cabinets, we stopped using the mixing bowl as an ice resevoir, and then rearranged the shelves on the freezer door to hold more of the frozen veggies.

The lasagna isn’t in there yet (still in the fridge), and if it weren’t for dinner last night and lunch today there’d be at least twice the amount of mac & cheeze, but it looks like there’s room for everything!  Awesome.

August 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm Leave a comment

Menu A: Cooking Day Adventures

I didn’t start cooking until 1:00 yesterday, but I was finished with washing all the dishes and cleaning everything up at 8pm.  I wasn’t in a big hurry because I was watching shows on Netflix, which slowed me down some, so I’d bet you could get everything done an hour or so earlier if you really wanted to.

I tried a lot of the meals as I went, since this was my first time making a lot of these recipes – and I can tell you right now, the Un-Beef Stew is AMAZING.  It ranks on my top 3 favorite dishes EVER.  I didn’t want to freeze any of it at all – I just wanted to keep it out and eat it all day.  Getting even three bags of it in the freezer was a definite accomplishment.  I’ll be making it all the time from now on.

My boyfriend and I had the Vegan Mac & Cheese for dinner – I guess most OAMC books recommend going out to dinner after taking a full day to cook, but we really wanted to try the Mac & Cheese – and it was great!  He’s an omnivore, and he loved it.

I forgot to get pictures of the Chickpea Cutlets, but I’ll try to remember when I unfreeze them.  You can tell the Lasagna got a little burnt – I didn’t put enough sauce on top – and the picture of the gumbo is terrible, but life goes on.

I’d definitely recommend having a TV or some music going while you cook, since it makes the hour or so of chopping a little more interesting.   Overall, I was really happy with how everything went.

August 9, 2009 at 6:02 pm 1 comment

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