Ms Betterhome

Stocking the freezer
August 25, 2012, 3:12 am
Filed under: budgeting, Menu planning, vegan eating

I was lucky enough to get some ‘work from home’ days last week, and took advantage of the time saved by not commuting to get our freezer restocked with some of our staples. I had time to soak all my beans & legumes, so I made: a batch of slow cooker baked beans (with cannelini beans), a double batch of chickpea cutlets, and a huge batch of lentil walnut burgers.

I also made a batch of Terry Hope Romero’s red steamed seitan (from Viva Vegan), and used it in our fave Moosewood sweet potato roti, and some Millennium vegan paella. This week I stayed on a roll, and made a batch of slow-cooker spicy blackbeans for tacos.

Stocking the freezer up with all these goodies means we have the basics for a ‘fast food’ dinners on nights when we get home late from work. We ran out of our ‘processed’ alternative ingredient, Sanitarium veggie sausages, this week, and bought a couple of them at full price. Usually we stock up when they’re on sale, but we rarely go to Coles or Woolies anymore, and we keep missing the markdown. MrB remarked that they now cost $20 a kilo, so they’re not exactly a budget item (though we will still keep a pack or two on hand for times when we’re invited to friend’s BBQs).

The dried legumes I buy in bulk cost more like $3 a kilo, and I get at least 4 serves from 250 grams of dried beans. Even when we’re using tins, we get around 250 grams of drained cooked legumes for 89 cents, and we get 2 servings from that. I do like the odd bit of commercial fake meat or fake cheese, but I’m certainly very motivated to keep making my own. No mystery ingredients, no packaging to throw away, I know exactly how much fat and sugar I’ve added, and my fast food’s so much cheaper.


Sydney Costco adventure
June 16, 2012, 5:31 am
Filed under: budgeting, food | Tags: ,

After much planning and plotting, my friend Fluffy & I went shopping at Costco this morning. We split the cost of the membership, and considered the trip to be part shop, part adventure.

We weren’t convinced that a DINK & a single girl would find huge savings in the land of Big Family Bargains, but we were pleasantly surprised. We were both determined NOT to buy anything that we didn’t need, wasn’t cheaper than elsewhere, and/or wouldn’t store well over a period of months.

My good buys included

– a 3 pack of Rinse Aid for the price of 2;

– 300 gm packs of Australian goat cheese for the price I’d usually pay for 200gms. These were good til October, so I bought 4.

– a catering pack of baking paper;

– a 4 pack of Calvin Klein Boxer trunks (for Mr B) for the price I used to pay for 1 pair;

–  organic salsa and small tins of Ayam Malaysian satay & curry sauces ( a good quick dinner option);

– a bulk pack of freezer bags;

– a 1.7 litre bottle of Smirnoff vodka for just $10 more than the cheapest 750ml vodka I could find locally ( this is the base for next year’s batch of Christmas Pudding Vodka).

Fluffy’s big bargain included big boxes of clumping kitty litter $5 cheaper than she usually buys, a BIG block of haloumi, a big tub of yogurt and a big bag of muesli, and some lovely  new pillows. We split a big bag of walnuts between us ( I bought a big bag of pecans, too).

The verdict: we will definitely get our money back on the membership. We’ll go back, though probably not SOON. Mr B & I have discussed hosting his family Christmas this year. If we do, we’ll certainly head to Costco to stock up on party food.

Slow cooker seitan pot roast experiment
May 30, 2012, 1:20 am
Filed under: budgeting, food, learning, vegan eating | Tags: ,

I was thumbing through Robin Robertson’s Vegan on The Cheap, and her Seitan Pot Roast caught my eye. I’ve made seitan by the ‘boiling on the stove’ method before, and I found it a bit fussy. I have also made oven baked and steamed seitan sausages, but they have a very dense texture, and are less chewy than ‘classic’ seitan. The seeming ease of a slow cooker ‘roast’ intriqued me. However…

I am a fan of seitan, but the omnivorous MrB is more ambivalent. Still, we had all the ingredients, so I thought I’d give it a try (there’s a slightly less ‘on the cheap’ variation of the recipe here).

The dish only took 10 minutes to put together. I made a few substitutions – fresh thyme from our garden instead of dried, sweet potato rather than carrots, crushed fresh garlic instead of garlic powder,  flaked chillis instead of pepper, and a tablespoon of barbeque sauce instead of ketchup. I have a smaller slow cooker, so I used a quarter cup less vital wheat gluten flour than recommended, and fewer veggies than the large cooker version.

I also cooked it for the recommended 8 hours, but could have gotten away with 6 or 7, I think – my slow cooker is pretty warm, even on ‘low’.

The veggies were a bit mushy at the end, but I solved that by tipping them into a bowl and mashing them with a little soy milk instead of presenting them whole. I also tipped the cooking juices and beautifully soft and caramelised onion slices into a pan, added a little red wine, reduced them a touch, and served them as a gravy over the seitan slices. Even with the extra steps at the end (including throwing together a salad), the whole process was very easy, and it’s definitely a dish I’ll cook again.

MrB approved (though he will probably never request seitan, he is willing to eat this dish again), and even though we ate all the veggies, there was plenty of leftover seitan for my lunch the following day, and even more for the freezer.

The verdict – this was a tasty, simple, high protein ‘meat and potatoes vegan’ winter dinner with a short prep time.  Robertson estimates the ‘on the cheap’ version is about a dollar a serve, & I think our dinner would have come in under $2 (especially as I used our home grown herbs and lettuce). I declare the experiment a success, and I’ll certainly cook it again.

Slow cooker blackbean chilli (vegan)
May 6, 2012, 11:36 pm
Filed under: food, vegan eating | Tags: ,

I have been making chilli with dried black beans ( aka black turtle beans) for a few years. The beans are not common in Sydney, so I used to buy 5 kilo bags from the Fiji Market in Newtown whenever I spotted them. Now we no longer live in Newtown, my spotting opportunities are limited, so I buy them online from Honest To Goodness ( again, in 5 kilo bags).

Black beans have a great, earthy flavour, and they’re quite high in protein ( around 14 grams per cup). I used to make the chilli in 3 stage process, that involved soaking overnight, precooking the beans, then cooking again with veggies & seasonings. However, this process was a bit fussy, and often led to slightly runny chilli, because the beans were so well hydrated when they went into the slowcookerfor the last time ( slow cookers trap condensation, so you often get extra liquid in the meal as a result).

Emboldened by an experiment with slow cooker baked beans that used pre-soaked but not pre cooked Cannellini beans, I decided to cut the precook stage from my chilli recipe. It was a great success, and the process will be simpler forever more.

My new recipe (based on the approximate amounts I use in my smaller slow cooker) is:

Pre soak about 2 cups of dried blackbeans overnight or longer

Add drained, soaked beans to the slow cooker with:

2 onions, 4 cloves of garlic and one chopped red chilli, sautéed in olive oil

One chopped red capsicum ( no need to pre cook)

One tin chopped tomatoes

Veggie stock to cover bean/veg mixture by about 2 cm

Seasonings to taste: I used a harrissa spice mix and about a teaspoonoff cumin seed. Sometimes I add smoked paprika and/or dried oregano

Optional: a 2-3 cm square of  kombu sea vegetable. This is an old macrobiotic trick for cooking beans. It adds minerals and flavour to the broth, and increases digestibility (ie reduces farting).

cook on low for at least 10 hours.

I freeze in 200 gram portions, and we get about 4-5 taco dinners for 2 out of this amount… It makes about 2 litres of chilli in my 3 litre slow cooker.

Seedlings, and a timely taro tasting
March 19, 2012, 3:06 am
Filed under: food, gardening | Tags: ,

The weather has been delighful so far this Autumn… much better than our grey, miserable summer. We’ve still had a lot of rain, though, & the black taro is thriving in the back yard (though it doesn’t look quite as good as this stock pic yet!).

Having planted so much taro we thought we’d better try some, so we bought a tuber from the fruit and veg market. We roasted it in our usual pumpkin/potato/sweet potato combo, with olive oil, salt and pepper. It tasted good, & was super fluffy inside, but was very dry… the outside of the cubes toughened up while roasting, rather than crisping or caramelising like the other veggies. We speculate a sauce or gravy might be needed next time – though we’re still a long way off a harvest.

We also planted broccoli, collards, fennel, parsley, beetroot, coriander & leeks in seed trays; and more rocket, turnips & beetroot seed direct in the beds. So far the collards & broccoli are ramapging along, the rest is creeping along.

Revisiting the FatFree Vegan blog
February 5, 2012, 6:03 am
Filed under: food, vegan eating | Tags: ,

It’s been a while since I visited Susan Voisin’s blog, but I’ve been browsing it a lot lately, as I’m trying to lose a couple of kilos. I’ve been tracking my food & exercise using the myfitnesspal app for about 3 weeks, and while I haven’t actually weighed myself yet, I am feeling stronger & a bit leaner, and I’ve lost a couple of centimetres from my hips & waist. Last week, though, there were a few days where I really over-snacked, and I’d like to cut back on that.

I discovered a couple of good tips on Susan’s blog; including her recommendation to make up a huge pot of veggie soup for snacking. I love soup, and we’re having a mild, wet summer, so there are lots of days where a cup of soup makes a good alternative to veggie sticks.

The other new feature on the site (which has probably been there a while, but is new to me), is the ‘Recipe Box’ function, where I can favourite the recipes I like while I’m browsing. So far the chickpea crackers and low fat version of Annie’s Goddess Dressing (a delicious, but very rich dressing, not actually sold here in Australia) are my faves.

Menu for the week
February 3, 2012, 10:21 pm
Filed under: food, Menu planning

MrB gave me a hard time last week, because we wrote up a plan (on paper), and then I messed with it. But really, I do the planning as a guideline… It’s not ironclad. If we have the ingredients for an alternative meal in the pantry, I will cook it if I change my mind 🙂

But… having the menu plan helps me organise our shopping list, and it saves me having to be creative when I’m tired from work. So here’s this week’s version.

Saturday: Veggie shepherd’s pie ( with a couple of leftover helpings for my lunches)
Sunday: Roast veggie salad & fresh bread (baked in the bread maker for my toast during the week)
Monday: Chickpea cutlets, roast veg, salad, mushroom gravy
Tuesday: Veggie ‘quiche’ made with silken tofu ( with more leftovers)
Wednesday: Rice paper wraps
Thursday: Edited to acknowledge our new (second hand) barbecue. Mr B scored this on Gumtree for $100. It needed some bolts tightened ( and a bit of a cleanup), but it looks (and functions) just fine now. So Thursday is a veggie & soy sausage fest on the new beast.
Friday: We’re out on the town, dinners will be foraged as we go.