Salad Days (How to Make Coleslaw for 25 cents a serving)

It’s hot.  The idea of turning on the oven when you just escaped from baked sidewalks and marinated in your own juices in the streets really has no appeal.

Don't lose your head: cool supper and lunch options are ahead!

Don’t lose your head: cool supper and lunch options are ahead!

Solution? Salad. Yeah, opening that box of pre-washed lettuce or spinach is all you’ve got energy for…but you want more.  Some protein, something with crunch, something sexy.

Personally, I can’t get worked up over lettuce. I see those leaves as just a vehicle for dressing; a supporting role for the main act of protein whether it’s fish, chopped up leftovers or something like beans and nuts.

Good news for us with frugal but fine palettes! You don’t have to use lettuce.  As I write this post, it’s early September, and kale, spinach and cabbage are coming in to season. This means your discount bins at the grocery or farmer’s market stall are stocked with really affordable and healthy greens.

Shred that cabbage and make yourself some coleslaw. Grab that box grater if you don’t have a food processor, and you’ll have a heaping pile of DIY coleslaw any way you want it.

boxgrater

If you like it creamy, make your own mayonnaise and add it to the mix with some grated onion. If you’re trying to stay away from high-fat dressing, just add some lemon juice and a bit of olive oil to keep it from drying out, and there’s your no-effort coleslaw.

Spices: Add some caraway seeds, chili, try some zatar for a bit of an exotic kick.

Protein: Open that can of tuna. It deserves so much more than a tuna casserole. If you have any other fish on hand, go for it.

Fruits and Nuts: Have an awkward amount of raisins or granola hiding in the back of your pantry shelves? Toss that last teaspoon of cereal into your salad. Peanuts, sunflower seeds and almonds are terrific, too.

Spoon serving sized portions of plain chopped salad or ‘slaw into single serving sized containers. Just before you head out, add your dressing, some fish, some nuts and you’re good to go: Salad on the run.

Cost: A head of cabbage is currently available from 99 cents a head to $1.27.  Broken down to five servings, that comes to a 25 cent portion serving (without the toppings.)  Try buying a single serving of coleslaw for less than $3 – this DIY version is fresher, tastier, and way more affordable.

Chickpeas: One Can, Three Dishes

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If you’ve read the “about” section on this blog, you’ve probably heard about how I was inspired by a co-workers over-priced grief about chickpeas.  She bought one salad that was closer to compost than salad, and was charged through the nose for it.  Her Take-Out takeaway?  “I could have done the same job with a can of chickpeas and some salad dressing.”

It doesn’t have to be that tasteless, and definitely not as expensive.  Chickpeas were on sale the other week, a hearty 750ml can for 77 cents. Chop up an onion, find some hearty vegetables in the discount bin at your grocer, and BAM! You’ve got chickpea salad.

What if I told you the leftover chickpea salad can be recycled into dip? That’s right – dump whatever you’ve left behind into a blender, and you have a modified hummus.

Too much hummus? Add some chicken stock, or some instant soup, and you now have a hearty soup.

So here’s a couple of the best ways to turn 77 cents in a great lunchtime investment.

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Chickpea Salad

  • 1 cup (250ml) chickpeas
  • Juice of half a lemon or two tablespoons of red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
  • Lemon zest (if you don’t have it, don’t sweat it)
  • Four tablespoons of any of the following kinds of oil: olive oil, grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • Finely chopped onion
  • Finely chopped vegetables found in your discount bin (Recommended: celery, peppers, fennel. or finely grated carrot)
  • Fresh herbs – if you have ’em, use ’em: Parsley, oregano
  • Dried Sumac, smoked paprika, black pepper to taste

Mix them all up: There’s your salad.  You can put them in a mason jar with a tight fitting lid, and you’ll have salad for the week ahead, or portion it off into smaller containers.

Keep in mind, if you’re hunting for veggies to put in your salad, think about what would taste good as a dip or a soup.  This is the base of the two other options, so choices like radishes may not taste as good as soup – but could be interesting as a dip.

The great thing about this salad is its versatility.  Never heard of Sumac? Don’t worry about it, but you may want to try it.  Buy a small amount in a bulk store and try it in the salad. If you hate it, skip it. Use whatever herbs or spices you like.

When you’re starting to get tired of your chickpea salad, it’s time to dump it all into your blender or food processor and turn it into…

Option Two: Hummus

For extra creaminess you could try adding some sesame paste, better known as tahini, but I heard that some schools and institutions are banning nut and seed butters.  You can go without, just add a bit more oil to give it body.

Try it with crackers, raw vegetables, or just slathering it on a pita with some roasted veg.

When you’re sick and tired of hummus,  it’s time for…

Option Three

try adding some soup stock: A vegan friend of mine had some leftover tomato soup, and she blended it a few spoonfuls into her hummus.  The result: Pasta sauce.

If you’re not into pasta, just add some vegetable stock and you have a thick hearty soup.  It’s truly a versatile legume.

Roasted Garlic: Vampire Deterrent, Roommate Repellent and Excellent Hors D’Oevre

Sorry about the late blog entry:  It started out about chickpeas, but I had to add a little something about its most vital secret ingredient: roasted garlic. That’s when this post took on a life of its own. Poor garlic – it’s the most shunned foods of all date menus, but you just know that a meal without garlic is somehow missing something.

Garlic: The “stinking rose” of the culinary world

 

The summer before I moved to Toronto, I visited with my friend Arielle, who was rooming in a house not far from the U of T campus.  The evening I came to visit, we decided to cook together, a quick cooking stir-fry that would leave the rest of the evening for the important business of friendship: drinking and giggling.

The recipe called for some paltry amount, I think it was one or maybe even (gasp!) two whole cloves for a meal for two.  We rolled our eyes.  Did the recipe author even like garlic? What’s the point of putting such a small amount in the recipe, we mocked.  “More garlic!” we shrieked – and we tripled the amount of garlic.

In short, that fifteen minute stir fry used up a whole head of garlic, and caused the owners of the house to come down to the kitchen to check if the paint had peeled itself off the walls.  According to Arielle, we were dubbed “The Garlic Girls” by the rest of the house for the duration of her stay.  One roommate joked that Arielle and I would be vampire-free for the next couple of days, and the other roommates just avoided us entirely.

Fresh garlic, or partially cooked/stir fried garlic is always way more potent than cooked garlic, so for those alliumphobics out there, don’t worry. Roasted Garlic – AKA The Best Secret Ingredient Ever –  is actually pretty tame.  However, it is the gateway drug to a full-on addiction to garlic. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The great thing about roasted garlic is that it can be used in almost anything from soups, dips, salads – even just as its own as an hors d’oeuvre, served with fresh bread or crackers.

Roasted Garlic – The Ultimate Secret Ingredient 

Keep this stuff in your fridge for a maximum of two weeks, or else freeze it.  Roasted garlic does pose a risk of producing botulism toxin, so don’t store it in oil, like a fancy-looking salad dressing.  When you’re adding it to your chickpea salad or dip, keep it refrigerated until just before you serve it. If you can’t finish all the roasted garlic, wrap in foil or a BPA-free plastic container, and store it in your freezer.

  • 3 heads of roasted garlic
  • Enough aluminum foil to wrap the heads
  • Olive oil, brushed generously over each head.
  1. First, preheat your oven to 350F.
  2. Remove one layer of loose papery skin from the head; you don’t want to peel it completely, just get the extra stuff out of the way.
  3. Turn that garlic on its side, and cut off the pointier, stem end of the garlic head.  This will help get the olive oil in between the cloves and help caramelize the cloves as they roast. The flat bottomed, often woody base will hold all the cloves together as it bakes, so don’t cut off that portion.
  4. Set the head down on a cookie sheet with a length of aluminum foil, and brush it generously with oil.
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Photo by “Darnok” of Morguefile.com

 

The cut side should look like the photo above; just put the cut side up, and leave approximately one or two inches of space between each head of garlic.  Loosely fold up the ends of the foil, keeping a few inches of space . You want the garlic heads steamed in their own juices, so leave a little room for air to move around inside that foil package.

Bake in the oven for an hour, take it out of the oven and let it cool, if you’re going to use it in a dip or as a condiment.  If it’s still warm, it’s amazing on fresh bread, and makes an amazing appetizer. Make sure your date and/or table mates get in on that roasted garlic action, too: Garlic breath is un-noticed when shared.

Cost Breakdown:

  • 5 heads for $1, so three heads only cost less than .20.  Because my math skills are poor, let’s round it up to 20 cents per head of garlic, or say it’s a full buck if you’ve decided to save time in your near future and have roasted garlic on hand like the fancy pants foodies out there always seem to have at the ready.
  • 3 tablespoons of Olive oil – if you’re fancy:  Longos Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil at $14.99 for 500ml, or if you’re me:  The No Frills 3 litre metal jug bought on sale for $17.

The Final Product, Tallied and Compared:  

Fancy Pants EVOO* (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) Version:$2.33, net

$1.33 for 3 tablespoons + $1 for five heads of garlic = $2.33 total.(Note that I didn’t calculate the cost of aluminum foil here.  How do I know you’re not an Extreme Hoarder who saves every scrap of used foil, and re-uses toothpaste?) Still, it’s more affordable than going to that restaurant with the unpronounceable name and a year-long reservation waiting list.

Cheap-Ass Real Life Version: $1.83, net.  My hubby the math whiz, tallied it this way: 3 tablespoons of the No Frills olive comes to 0.83 cents total for all three tablespoons.  So, not counting the cost of electricity to use your toaster oven for an hour during off-peak hours, added to the cost of the buck’s worth of garlic, this is the cheapest you’d get for roasted garlic.

Store Bought Version:  $8 for a single head of roasted garlic from a restaurant in downtown Toronto that I’m not allowed to name. (You’re paying for the chef’s time, skill and the venue’s hydro bill, presumably.)

* EVOO sounds like a cow affecting a posh accent to impress lesser bovines.  “Darling, ‘moo’ is so passé.  Any cow who is anyone is lowing ‘evooooo!’ now.”

Forty Cent Muffins That Taste Like A Million Bucks

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Chocolate-chip, dried cherry muffins.

 

Muffins – quick to make, easy to pack or eat on the go; What’s not to love? Maybe the fact that they’re the biggest cash grab for fast food chains, cafés and groceries. If you buy them in bulk, sure, you may save more money than picking up a fresh one every morning at the local coffee stand. Even if they’re stored in the freezer to prevent staleness, you’re likely still stuck with one batch of a dozen-plus muffins in the same flavour.

What if I told you there’s a way to save money, make it healthy(ish) and not suffer from Flavour Boredom?

Here’s the punchline: They’re cheaper than store-bought muffins, too! Here’s the breakdown:

At date of publication, the cost of a dozen muffins from Metro comes to: $4.99 for a package of six muffins. That’s $10 for a full dozen, and they contain preservatives, additives and some ingredients that may just not be the freshest. Depending on the size of your bulk ingredients purchase, you can make each muffin for as low as 40 cents each, if not less.

Think about it: A ten kilogram bag costs anywhere from $8 to $12 dollars, and if you’re using simple syrup instead of maple syrup, you reduce the cost further.  It only gets expensive once you’ll start adding posh ingredients (and if you’re buying in bulk, you might not even get too shocking a price.)

I promise you that it takes fifteen minutes to assemble, and cooking time is only 20 minutes on my slow oven.

Fast preparation, no appliances and the closest thing to high technology in this recipe may be the Silpat muffin molds.

(If you don’t have a silicon muffin mold, this still works for people using paper cupcake/muffin liners and metal pans.)

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Maple syrup, table syrup* or simple syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (or canola oil, or grape seed oil. Basically, any oil except olive oil or diesel fuel will do.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts.

First, turn your oven on to 350F if you’re using Silpat/silicone muffin molds. If not, set the oven to 375 for metal pans, but line them with paper cups, first. You’ll want the oven good and hot while mixing the batter. Pour the flour in to a large bowl, and add your baking soda and baking powder. Feeling fancy? Grate some lemon or orange zest into it, but if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it. Stir it all up.

If you have a large measuring cup, pour your water, vanilla, vegetable oil and syrup all in to it. If you don’t have maple syrup, and making simple syrup sounds like wasting time you don’t have, go with table syrup. Pour it all in to the dry mixture and stir. It may seem runny at first, but it thickens with time. Here’s the trick to making really moist whole wheat muffins: Let the batter sit for at least 10 minutes. (If you’re pressed for time, don’t panic. They’ll still turn out fine.)

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Plain whole wheat muffin on the left, and chocolate chip muffin on the right. Other flavours in the cups included dried cherry, cherry-chocolate and blueberry.

 

Here’s where the fun begins. Fill your muffin cups halfway with batter. Then, add a tablespoon of whatever filling you like. You want blueberry muffins? Dump in enough berries to make the batter rise to the 2/3 full mark. (They need room to rise without overflowing.)

Here are some great flavour combos:

  • Chocolate chips and dried cherries
  • Dried cranberries and candied lemon peel
  • Walnuts and dried apricots
  • Blueberries and sliced blanched almonds (who keeps that in their cupboards?)
  • Sliced up fruit or leftover fruit cocktail.

Make two or three cups the same flavour, that way throughout the week, you’ll be guaranteed a change in muffin. If you really don’t have time for diddling around with all the varieties, stirring them individually in to cups, I don’t blame you. Just dump it all into your bowl and stir with your spoon until it’s all incorporated. Use a ladle, and pour your mix into the muffin tins.

Bake it all for 20 minutes but check on them; if they don’t bounce when tapped lightly then put them in the oven for another few minutes.

*Personally, I try to stay away from HGFCS (High Glucose-Fructose Corn Syrup) for numerous reasons, but if you want to try it on this recipe, go ahead, and post your results. We’re aiming for a low-cost and portable breakfast, so if a bottle of pancake syrup works, go for it.

Simple, Simple Syrup

Ever come across a recipe that calls for simple syrup or bar syrup? Some cakes use it as a glaze to seal in the cake and prevent the icing from softening the pastry. Cocktails often use simple syrup as a sweetener and/or filler.

Frankly, when it comes to Happy Hour, momma doesn’t have time for that.  Let’s get to Happy Hour, and under five minutes, please.

My cocktails have two qualities: Little to no fillers and they must take less time to assemble than to drink.

Every now and then, I’ll come across a posh looking cocktail and think to myself, “now, wouldn’t Slava and I look great drinking this?”  (Okay, so my cocktails have a third quality: They make great colour-coordinated accessories.) Like I said, I don’t have either the patience nor the time for fiddling.  Let’s make Happy Hour last longer than an hour, and I’m not referring to the aftermath of dishes.

Without further ado, here’s the fastest, easiest recipe for Simple Syrup:  Equal parts granulated sugar and water.

That’s it.

Well, we’ve all seen blogs that feature a vintage, blown glass bottle stoppered with an antique cork to store your syrup…but this isn’t that blog.

Here’s the breakdown:

That’s all there is to it, folks. 1/2 cup warm water, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

 

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar (the stuff health nuts beat you over the head with a rolled up newspaper, should you publicly confess to buying or -gasp- eating.)
  1. Pour the water into a mason jar.  They have tight fitting lids, and fit easily into the door of most refrigerators.
  2. Add the water and stir.  If you’re super lazy, and don’t want to bother with rinsing the spoon, just put the lid on the jar and shake. Just stir until you can’t see individual gritty grains at the bottom.
  3. Put it in the fridge, and affect a smarmy tone about how you “never buy store bought bar supplies,” or how you’re “always prepared for cocktail emergencies.”

In a pinch, you can heat it until it turns golden and pour it over pancakes.

Once the syrup looks clear and doesn’t have cloudy sediment on the bottom, you’ve successfully made your simple syrup.

 

No, This Is Not Another Lifestyle Blog.

Ever bought a three dollar muffin and thought to yourself, “I could make this stuff at home for a fraction of the price?”  Did you ever roll your eyes at those earnest ‘It’s-so-easy-to-retire-at-thirty ‘ articles, or cringed at posh lifestyle blogs that used ‘artisanal’ or ‘vintage’ every other word?

This is not that blog.

I hope to update once a week, and feature real-life food, and ways to save money on your groceries, entertainment and maybe even your wardrobe.  Maybe.  I’m not a lifestyle guru, a fashion stylist nor a “homemaking maven,” whatever that is.

I’m your pal.  The one who knows that sometimes, you get tired and overfill the tub, flooding the floors below. The time you would have spent in making a gourmet, Parisian-style picnic contained in an antique wicker basket for your lunch was shortchanged into mopping everything in sight, then passing out cold in your work clothes on the sofa. Upon waking, you had a weird crick in your neck from sleeping in a pretzel pose all night.  You toddle slowly, like a baby Quasimodo, through your morning routine.  You barely had enough time to pick clothes off the floor,  cram yourself into clean clothes, and try to make it to the bus on time, much less make an Instagram-worthy lunch.  All this leads to you buying limp and unexciting salads from the deli at work the next day.

Could happen to anyone.

I’m the blogger who’ll stagger to the coffee machine in mismatched pyjamas, and stare into space for five minutes as her toast burns.   I don’t have cute stories about pets (allergies) so I borrow my neighbour’s cat.  That’s right, I’m a second-hand Crazy Cat Lady.  I do, however, have some great ways to make your lunch un-boring.  I promise not to use the word “artisanal” and I don’t carry my lunch in a handmade vintage pannier from France.  But your lunches will be affordable, and will likely taste better than any mouldering leftovers at the grocery store.