Friday, October 25, 2013

MoCOO Day 25: Almond Cookies

Whenever my sister and I went to the grocery store with my mom as kids, she'd always let us pick out a candy bar at the check-out counter. I think a lot of parents do that as an incentive for their kids to behave. I'll save my musings on food-as-a-reward-leads-to-dysfunctional-eating for another day and just say that I still haven't gotten over the instinct to buy a bag of peanut butter M&M's every time I'm at the grocery store. Now that Kroger has Justin's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, that instinct is often actualized. BUT since it's Month of Cupboard Clean Out and I'm not buying groceries OR prepared food, I had to indulge my sugar cravings in a more creative way. While flipping through Veganomicon, I noticed that I had all the ingredients to make Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies. Except walnuts (an arguably key ingredient), but I figured almonds would make a decent substitution.
These are your basic vegan cookies. You mix (a ton of) sugar with oil, add flax seeds and non-dairy milk for a binder, and dry ingredients. The dough was a little sticky to work with, but my cookies came out looking less deformed than usual, so that's a win.
These were really, really good. They had the perfect combination of chewy and crispy textures and the almonds were a great flavor against the chocolate. I ate a few and froze the rest. Then ate the frozen cookies over the next two days. Oh well, at least I tried!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

MoCCO Day 24: Ch-ch-ch-chia

You can tell a lot about someone by his or her reaction to the mention of chia pudding. If you hear "I love that stuff", you know that person eats like a hippie. A reaction of "yeah, I keep hearing about that", means that person reads a lot of blogs. If you get a blank stare followed with "you mean like a Chia Pet?", you know you're talking to a normal person. If you're not familiar with chia pudding (because you're a normal person), when soaked, the chia seeds absorb the liquid and get a texture similar to tapioca pudding. They're supposedly a super-food and provide a caffeine-like buzz. I can't confirm the latter because any "buzz" was masked by the four cups of coffee I drank this morning.

Excluding the [not so] occasional binge on Nutter Butters or Cocoa Krisipies, I eat a fair amount of hippie food. My jar of chia seeds has been sitting in the refrigerator for over a year, though, largely because the pudding needs to sit for a few hours and I never plan that far ahead for breakfast. But in the spirit of Cupboard Clean-out, I forced myself to spend two minutes prepping last night. I did buy a few groceries for this: a pint of raspberries for $1.25 and bananas for $1.46, bringing my monthly grocery spending to $17.76.

I mixed 3T of chia seeds into one cup of unsweetened almond milk before bed last night. In the morning, I mashed in a banana then added a handful of raspberries.

This tasted pretty good. It only took a few minutes to throw together and was a lot healthier than Cocoa Krispies. I still have soooo many chia seeds, so I'll probably be eating similar concoctions over the next few months.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MoCOO Day 23: Garlic Mac

I took a little break from my MoCOO rule of not buying prepared food this weekend. In my defense, I ran a marathon on Sunday, so I figured I was justified in eating anything I wanted. I used all the energy I had to pick up Buddy's Pizza for dinner on Sunday, because, hey, I just burned 2500 calories, so why not consume that in pizza? And Monday, during a painful errand to Radio Shack, I made a stop at Easy Like Sundae and tried the newly added Creme Brulee vegan fro-yo topped with strawberries. It tasted like frozen custard and was worth ever penny of the $2.68 I spent.

Friday was also a marathon of sorts, i.e., an evening at Valentine Vodka Distillery. I love everything about that place. I normally have little interest in talking to strangers at bars, but every time I've been there, I've met amazingly interesting people. Friday was no exception, with Kellee from Wine, Spirit and Soul offering a great perspective on craft cocktails. The downside of enjoying my time there so much is that it's a black hole -- I don't think I've ever spent less than four hours sitting at the bar. It should come as no surprise that I stopped at MiChigo for a Chicago-style vegan pizza on my way home.

So after $45 in fast food and way too many calories, I'm back on track. (Even more so because I just bought in to the work boys' club weight loss challenge, but more on that later.) The only vegetable I have left is garlic (which I don't really consider a vegetable), so I cooked that up with some olive oil and added elbow macaroni.

I topped with a little vegan parmesan and it was ready to go. Fortunately, my sister bought me really good quality olive oil for my birthday. It helped mask the Mueller's pasta and general blandness of the dish. This is a true Cupboard Clean-out dish... it's edible calories and not much more.

Day 23 meals:
Breakfast: raw oatmeal
Lunch/dinner: garlic mac

Thursday, October 17, 2013

MoCOO Day 17: Shepherd-ish Pie

Cleaning out my cupboards continues to be delicious, economical, and surprisingly easy. I did, however, run into a dilemma last weekend when I ran out of coffee. I love coffee and drink a lot of it. I don't think the caffeine even affects me that much, I just love the ritual and the taste of strong, black coffee. I only make it at home on weekends (because we have a Keurig at work), so I had a few days to decide whether replenishing my supply should be considered a "grocery" purchase. Ultimately, I decided it's not. My rationale is that coffee is like shampoo or deodorant, i.e., I don't NEED it, but it's best for society if I have it. So excluding coffee, my October grocery spending is still $15.05.

Day 17 meals:
Breakfast: raw oatmeal
Lunch: Clif bar (forgot to bring anything, so I had to break into my emergency stash)
Dinner: shepherd-ish pie (see below)
I had some Yves Ground Round and frozen peas and corn collecting ice crystals in the freezer. While lamenting my lack of mashed potatoes and inability to make shepherd's pie, I had a moment of genius: top it with frozen hash browns!
This was incredibly easy. While the hash browns were cooking, I set out four dishes and put a quarter of the Yves and vegetables in each one. I then topped it with this brown gravy recipe and the hash browns. 
It would be better with mashed potatoes and my favorite gravy, plus carrots and onions, but this was still pretty good. And it emptied three half-used bags in the freezer, so I'm satisfied.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MoCCO Day 16: Raw breakfast surprise

Month of Cupboard Clean-out continues! I did buy some apples for $0.99, so my October grocery spend is up to $15.05. Restaurant and bar spend is in line with normal months, but "fast food" (i.e., food I buy out of boredom or laziness) is still at zero. Meal run down:

Saturday (Day 12)
Breakfast: rice pudding
Lunch: peanut and kale salad at Seva
Snack: Spiced Chai Shortbread cookies at Small Craft
Dinner: veggie burger at J Alexander's (I'm skeptical the bun was vegan, but I wasn't about to second-guess the bartender)

Sunday (Day 13)
[slept through breakfast... oops]
Lunch: tomato soup and too much freshly baked bread (thanks PAB!)
Snack: Act II Butter Lover's microwave popcorn (somehow this flavor is vegan)
Dinner: Awesome muffins and cookies at my sister's Walking Dead premiere party

Monday (Day 14)
Breakfast: rice pudding
Snack: apple
Lunch/Dinner: leftover Rice Bowl

Tuesday (Day 15)
Breakfast: rice pudding
Lunch: Loco's for Taco Tuesday
Dinner: leftover J Alexander's

Wednesday (Day 16)
Breakfast: raw surprise (see below)
Lunch: Mediterranean veg Potbelly's sandwich (at Book Club meeting)
Dinner: homemade apple pie, brought to work by my lunch/hiking/drinking pal

For breakfast today, I decided to throw together some random healthy ingredients and make something akin to raw oatmeal:
I soaked about 1/4 cup of oat groats overnight. I threw them in the mini food processor with some almonds, shredded coconut, raisins and a splash of water. Then I shredded an apple (which is much more difficult than it sounds) and mixed that in with a dash of cinnamon.

I know you can't tell what it is from the picture, but trust me, it was delicious and surprisingly filling. It took about 5 precious minutes to make this morning, so I might try making it ahead. If that doesn't work out, this just might be worth one less round with the snooze button.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hoarder Alert: October Small Craft

In my opinion, one of the coolest things in metro Detroit is Small Craft, a group that puts together a (roughly monthly) skill share social crafting event. They also put on Craft-A-Way Camp, which I was fortunate enough to attend this summer. It was honestly one of the most fun experiences of my life: a weekend of crafting and drinking and vegan food in the woods. I can't think of a better combination of activities.

In addition to being awesome and fun, the October Skill Share had a fill-a-bag for $2 of craft supplies that had been donated/accumulated over the years. Even though I don't need ANY more fabric or craft supplies, the temptation was too strong. I borrowed $2 from my sister (because I intentionally didn't bring cash to avoid buying anything) and filled up a bag with fabric, beads, and sewing notions. Here's my haul, along with the paper skeleton I made.

Their next event is a second anniversary party next month. If you're able to attend, I strongly recommend it!

Friday, October 11, 2013

MoCOO Day 11: Breakfast pudding

I'm very surprised by how well MoCCO (Month of Cupboard Clean Out) is going. The food I've made has all been delicious, I've kept my October grocery spending to $14.06, and my fast food purchases to $0. Here's how my week has gone:

Monday (Day 7)
Breakfast: oatmeal
tomato soup
Snack: grapes
Imperial for well-deserved margaritas and vegan Sonoran hot dog

Tuesday (Day 8)
Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch: tomato soup
Field Roast tacos

Wednesday (Day 9)
Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch/dinner: veg curry from
Rice Bowl

Thursday (Day 10)
Breakfast: oatmeal
Lunch: tomato soup
Dinner: Field Roast Tacos

Friday (Day 11)
Breakfast: brown rice pudding (see below)
Lunch/dinner: mujadara wrap at
CK Mediterranean Grille

Circa 2005, I made
Brown Rice Pudding from the Candle Cafe Cookbook. I've been thinking about it ever since, but never got around to making it. Since I was finally out of oatmeal, but not raisins, I thought it would make a good breakfast. Because pudding + breakfast = great idea.

The recipe is super simple. Total active time is probably 5 minutes. You just mix cooked brown rice with a milk/arrowroot mixture, then add a little maple syrup, cinnamon and salt. The recipe called for 1/4 cup of raisins, but I need at least one in every bite, so I added about 3/4 cup. Bake for an hour, stir in a little more milk, et voila! Breakfast for the next few days:

The recipe said it serves 8-10, but I made it into four servings (ha!). I figured the one cup of brown rice, one tablespoon of maple syrup and <1/4 of raisins is 350-400 calories, which makes a pretty good meal to keep me going through a run and morning at work. I don't think it's sweet enough to serve as a dessert, but makes a slightly decadent breakfast. And it's good hot or cold, so I don't even have to wait 60 seconds for the microwave before eating it. An all-around MoCCO win!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mission: Bathroom appliance organization

Last week, I realized that my roommate keeps her bathroom products neatly put away, while I left mine sprawled all over. To be courteous, I bought a few fabric boxes and organized everything. I'd seen these hair dryer / flat iron holders made from PVC pipe on Pinterest and decided to give it a try. This is not a tutorial, but might give you some pointers if you have any interest in making something similar. Here's the finished product, serving its function well:
The project cost about $12 in materials. Here's what I used, in non-plumber terms:

4" Y-shaped sewer pipe
Drain cap (fits inside the pipe)
Two sheets of textured scrapbook paper
One sheet of accent scrapbook paper
1/8" wide satin ribbon

Craft paper/newspaper/scrap paper
X-acto knife
Epoxy/Mod Podge/Tacky glue & foam brush
Similar to most aspects of my life, I don't often think projects through all the way. I first made this with 3 inch PVC pipe. The barrel of my hair dryer fit, but the attachment I always use was too wide. I made a few mistakes with the first one, so I didn't mind a chance to re-do it. I made a few mistakes with the second, too, specifically not sanding the raised spot in the middle and not drilling the holes first. If you do make it, drill before you start attaching things!

First I glued the drain piece in. I used some epoxy I had from a failed attempt to glue the side mirror back on my car (haha, fortunately my dad is more handy than I am), but I think any kind of glue would work. Then I made a pattern by ungraciously wrapping, drawing and cutting repeatedly. I ended up cutting the scrapbook paper into pieces where the two pipes meet, but it was probably easier to start with one piece.
Then it was time to brush, glue, brush, glue. I found it easier to use Tacky Glue for this part because it's stickier than Mod Podge.
After the main paper was glued, I trimmed the edges with an X-acto knife. You could make a more precise pattern and skip this step, if you have more patience than I do.
I cut the accent paper into strips and glued it on, wrapping it over the edges and pressing down the angled side. Then I coated it with Mod Podge, since it will be in my unventilated bathroom.
The edges were a little bumpy so I glued some narrow ribbon over the seams. Then the power tools came out (not that a drill and Dremel are really "power tools"):
I started with small pilot holes, then worked up to 1/4" for the top. I was going for a keyhole shape, so I added a 1/2" hole right beneath it. The top one worked perfectly but the bottom was a little off. I brought out the Dremel and it took care of everything right away.
As I said before, drill the holes before you start anything else. Since I had the front side down while I drilled, it got scuffed and torn. Not bad, but enough that I had to patch it. The paisley pattern is pretty random so it's not very noticeable, but still. I also really wish I'd had the foresight to sand down the raised circle on the front. The Dremel would have smoothed it in a matter of seconds. Oh well.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

MoCCO Day 6: Modular Tomato Soup

I love tomatoes. I ate every single cherry tomato that grew on my plant this summer as soon as it was ripe. I've lived on "spaghetti" made by pouring a can of diced tomatoes on pasta. But I do not like tomato juice. I can occasionally stomach a Bloody Mary (made with vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, of course), but V8 or regular tomato juice makes me want to gag. I feel the same way about tomato soup, except when I'm dipping a grilled cheese sandwich into it. A can of tomato soup made it into my pantry a few months ago (long story) and has been taunting me ever since. Because I'm supposed to be cleaning out the cupboard and not buying food, I elected to spruce it up rather than buy Daiya and bread. I did buy kale for this dish (which I'm pretty sure the cashier rang up incorrectly because it only cost $0.93), bringing my October grocery bill to $14.06.

Canned soup, white beans (which were intended for yesterday's tacos, but alcohol got in the way), brown rice and kale:
Not pictured: vegan parmesan and vegetable bullion

I call this modular soup because (1) it has multiple components and (2) I made it in successive steps in the same pot. I was working on a craft (post coming soon, stay tuned!) adjacent to the kitchen, so didn't mind stopping in every 15 minutes. Plus, now I only have one pot to wash (by "wash," I mean using up a full shelf of the dishwasher rather than spend 45 seconds washing by hand). I first cooked the beans in my pressure cooker, then the rice (without the pressure, but I'm sure I could have used it), then steamed the kale. My last step was to pour in the soup and mix everything together. I realized at that point that I didn't have nearly enough soup. It was slightly wetter than a pilaf. So I added two cups of vegetable broth and it was perfect.

After I portioned it out for lunch this week, I thought a parmesan topping would add a little more depth. Plus, I've had this stuff for 2 years and really need to use it up.
Up close:
Oh, and I'm also still going strong on my plan not to buy prepared food. That's especially impressive considering I came within 1/2 mile of Whole Foods Saturday AND Sunday. My MoCCO Day 6 meals:
Breakfast: oatmeal w/raisins
Dinner: TBD (but will be at my parents' house, so it will be free)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

MoCCO Day 5: Less is More Tacos

Month of Cupboard Clean Out is going surprisingly well. I've held my monthly grocery spending at $13.13 and haven't bought any prepared food. Fortunately, I have no problem eating the same thing day after day. Here's how my meals have worked out since my last post:
Thursday (Day 3)
Breakfast: oatmeal w/ raisins
Snack: dark chocolate (left over from S'mores cupcakes)
Friday (Day 4)
Breakfast: oatmeal w/ raisins
Lunch: (veg) tuna salad sandwich
Dinner: blueberry pancakes
Saturday (Day 5)
Breakfast: oatmeal w/ raisins
Lunch: (veg) tuna salad sandwich
Snack: grapes
Dinner: Field Roast tacos (see below)
I had a random jar of salsa verde in my cupboard. I bought it a year ago to make some recipe, then never did, and have moved it to three kitchens since. I already had Mexican Chipotle Field Roast sausages and corn tortillas, so tacos were the obvious solution (aren't they always?). 
I soaked navy beans and planned to make some sort of cumin-flavored refried white bean concoction to add to the tacos. But after a few (too many) beers this evening, I wasn't willing to do that much work. Instead, I chopped up the sausage and browned it, put it atop two warm tortillas and spooned on some salsa. 
These were great and so, so easy. It's good to be reminded that sometimes the most simple dishes taste the best.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

MoCCO Day 2: Pancakes

At the beginning of this year, I made a budget for the first time in my 27 years of life. I don't always stick to it, but it definitely helps me make more rational spending decisions. So rational, in fact, that I've paid off over $15,000 in debt since January. This is a food/craft blog, not a personal finance site, but in case anyone is looking for ways to save money or get out of debt (aren't we all?), I strongly recommend checking out the Spending Fast. I didn't go on a 'fast', but I did go on a 'diet'. And like all diets, I get off track and binge occasionally, but it's generally been good. And if you're not using it already, Mint is magnificent. I understand the privacy concerns some people have, but I figure my information is all over the internet already.

The point of all of that was to say that I keep track of two categories of dining spending: "restaurants" (meals with other people, which can be at fast food restaurants, but there's a social element) and "fast food" (prepared food I buy out of laziness/gluttony, whether it's sitting at a restaurant by myself or buying chips from the vending machine). I spend about $100 per month on fast food, which isn't terrible, but it really should be closer to zero. So as part of MoCCO (Month of Cupboard Clean Out), I'm also trying to avoid buying convenience food.

Here's how MoCCO Day 2 went:
Breakfast: oatmeal w/raisins
Snack: grapes
Dinner: blueberry pancakes (see below)

I never realized before how incredibly inexpensive pancakes are to make, or how pantry-friendly. I'm always nervous making them though, because I invariably overmix the batter and undercook the pancakes. Today I vowed to be more conscious. I made my go-to recipe, Perfect Pancakes from Vegan Brunch.
I left the batter really, really lumpy, and guess what? It was fine! My pancakes weren't gummy and the giant lumps of flour magically disappeared while they cooked. I added a ton of (frozen) blueberries, then topped them with Earth Balance and the Blis vanilla maple syrup my sister got me for my birthday.
Even if I knew how to use my camera and this picture wasn't taken at night under fluorescent overhead lights, I don't think these would look appealing with the slimy syrup and melted margarine. But let me tell you, they were AMAZING! Who knew that cupboard clean out month could be so delicious?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October is Vegan MoCCO: Month of Cupboard Clean Out

It's the start of a new month and the end of Vegan MoFo VII. I didn't quite achieve my goal of cooking from all 24 of my cookbooks, but I did use 18 of them, so I'm pretty happy. MoFo forced me to cook and try new things and got me out of the cereal/take-out rut I'd been in for a year. And I hate to admit this, but my theme of using a new cookbook every day made me realize I don't need to buy any more. I already have too many great books that I don't use.

With MoFo over and my September grocery budget blown ($215 vs the usual $150), it's time for a cupboard clean-out. Once a year or so, I stop going to the grocery store and only eat the food I have at home. (I make a few exceptions for vegetables and ingredients that are key to a dish.) After 3-4 weeks, I'm usually out of everything except condiments. I'm oddly obsessive about keeping a mental inventory of everything in my kitchen, so doing this keeps the stock manageable. Now that I have a blog, I thought it might be interesting to chronicle my cupboard clean-out concoctions and grocery spending this month.

October 1
Grocery purchases:
almond milk $2.44
celery $2.29
raisins $4.49
grapes $3.91
total $13.13

Breakfast: blueberry smoothie
Lunch: Loco's for Taco Tuesday 
Dinner: tuna salad sandwich (see below)

And now, my first MoCOO dish: I saw Meatless Select Fishless Tuna at the Natural Food Patch for $1.29 a few weeks ago. I have an inexplicable affinity for mock seafood and buy every new kind I see. I had planned to use it to veganize a pregan guilty pleasure: Kraft mac & cheese with peas and tuna. (Yes, it's equally delicious and disgusting.) But I'm out of nutritional yeast and had a loaf of old bread to use up, so I opted for mock tuna salad sandwiches instead.
Somehow, I didn't have pickle relish (see, too much food in the house and my subconscious can't keep track!), but fortunately I had Tartar Sauce. Looking at the ingredients, it's mayo, pickle relish and Worcestershire sauce so I used that instead of mayo and relish. With a ton of celery and a little mustard, I had a delicious tuna/celery salad.
And here is my super ghetto looking (but environmentally conscious!) reused bread bag, packed with sandwiches for lunch at work:

Granted, it's been a long time since I ate tuna salad, but this seemed pretty close to the omni version. On its own, the tuna tasted decent and reminiscent of the real thing, but the texture wasn't quite right (I had my omni roommate taste it to affirm my conclusions). Similar to my feelings on most new faux meat products, this tasted fine and I enjoyed the novelty, but I won't be ordering it by the case. I love having the option, though!