No Murders In The Rue Morgue

Last Minute Birthday
May 27, 2009, 12:55 pm
Filed under: barbecue, Cakes

My husband turned another year older yesterday. I’d arranged to borrow a charcoal grill from my neighbor to grill up some veggie burgers and kebabs for the occassion, since the birthday boy said he didn’t want to do anything. When I told him what I’d arranged, he was disgusted and told me that in America, y’all don’t barbecue without inviting people over (forgive me, I’m half-watching Cold Mountain while I write this), so we hastily invited over some friends, and I started throwing together some food and a birthday cake.

The birthday boy requested homemade veggie burgers and kebabs and corn on the cob, so I made a trip to the co-op for GimmeLean ground “beef” and a trip to the big, crappy Safeway for corn and kebab veggies. I made up some veggie burgers mixing the “ground beef” with some finely diced onion, sage, and a bit of tamari. Then I marinated the veggies (cherry tomatoes, sweet onions, yellow summer squash, pineapple, and mushrooms) in a bit of olive oil, tamari, garlic, and a touch of ginger. The corn was grilled in the husk. All in all, prep took about 40 minutes and produced enough food to feed about 8 people.

Next up: birthday cake! My husband told me after eating is birthday cake that he hadn’t had a cake in over a decade, so I’m glad I made it. I didn’t have a lot of time and didn’t want to spend a tonne of dough on ingredients, so I made two 8-inch vegan “wacky” cakes (the standard vegan chocolate cake – flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar) and a batch of Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s peanut butter caramel. I let the cakes cool and turned one of them out onto a platter. I spread it with the caramel and then turned the other cake out on top. In retrospect, I should have turned out the cakes onto a board and brushed all the crumbs off, but I didn’t, so I had to make do. Next, I whipped up a batch of peanut butter frosting. My recipe is close to all the standard versions but seems to be just distinct enough to warrant posting:

Jordan’s Peanut Butter Frosting (that’s not much different from anyone else’s)

2/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter (use natural PB that isn’t too grainy or separated – you want the stronger, truer peanut taste of the natural stuff, but you don’t want to grainy texture or the oiliness of the kinds that separate – check your grocery’s bulk bins)
1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/4 cup Shortening
1.5 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups icing sugar

Mix the buttery spread and shortening (both should be at room temperature) until smooth. You want to get all the lumps out (because lumps of shortening in the frosting is nasty!). Add the peanut butter and vanilla and brown rice syrup beat the shit out of it. I did this all by hand with a whisk. If you’re doing it that way, your arm should be good and tired before you move to the next step.

Add the first cup of icing sugar and beat until very smooth. Then add the remaining cup and beat again until smooth. The frosting should be smooth but fairly firm. The longer you beat it, the fluffier it will get. Electric mixers or beaters are great for this, but it can be done by hand.

I frosted the cake with the peanut butter frosting and threw it in the fridge for about half an hour. Next, I mixed up some quick and dirty ganache (about 1/3 cup of vegan chocolate chips melted in a double boiler with about 3 tablespoons of soy creamer). I had meant to borrow a pastry bag and tips from a friend (I know – it is lame that I don’t own my own yet), but I forgot, so my sole decorating tool was a spoon and a butter knife. In the end, I decided just to pour the ganache over top of the cake and go for the classic chocolate-dripping-down-the-sides-of-the-cake look.

Not my favorite decorating job ever, but it turned out okay and was devoured in about 30 seconds.

All in all, about $50 was spent on food and supplies, maybe 2.5 hours spent in the kitchen doing baking and prep work, and about 4 hours spent having fun! Not a bad investment at all if I do say so myself, and the birthday boy enjoyed his day immensely.

If I Had A Million Dollars…
May 22, 2009, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Cheapo, Cooking | Tags: , , , ,

… I would eat elaborate organic salads every day. As it is, my bank account is just barely holding on for dear life, so I find myself falling into the starch trap so familiar to my fellow bums. It makes sense; pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread (and the various configurations thereof) are cheap, so when times are tough, we eat lots of whites and browns, and not a lot of greens. Recognizing this habit in my husband and I, this summer I’m doing what I can to make sure the residents of Casa Sunburn (our humble abode) don’t get scurvy, and I’m starting with salad.

So yeah, buying a lot of fresh, organic produce can be expensive, especially when you take the fullness factor into account (veggies and fruits may fill you up for a while, but they don’t have the staying power of pastas and grains, which will keep you full all day if you eat enough). It’s hard to justify spending $20 on veggies and fruits that will feed you and keep you full for a day or two, when you could spend $20 on pasta, dried beans, rice, and canned tomatoes and feed yourself for a week, easy. However, with a bit of digging around and some smart shopping, you too can deliciously avoid scurvy!

1. My first tip is to shop in bulk wherever possible. Yeah, you can’t get kale in bulk (if only!), but if you save money by buying things like olive oil, pasta, rice, beans, and cereal in bulk (I recently discovered I could get a half litre of locally-grown olive oil from my co-op for under $3 – score!), then you have more available cash to spend on veggies and fruits. While you’re at it, do your best to limit your buying of packaged foods, period. Some things (Earth Balance, Vegenaise) are more indispensable than others, but I find that when I buy only bulk items, I spend a lot less, take home a lot more, and end up with healthier stuff.

2. Scope out what’s seasonal and what’s on sale. Things are cheaper when they’re in season, so take advantage of whatever happens to be plentiful where you are. I find I come home with more stuff if I head into the produce section with an open mind rather than a shopping list. This week, I noticed a decent deal on organic golden beets (my favorites!), so I grabbed a huge bunch. Had I only been looking for apples and cucumber (or whatever), I would have missed my favorite root vegetable!

3. Go to the farmer’s market. I wish I could buy more organic stuff, but with my current personal financial situation, I’ve had to prioritize actually eating vegetables and fruits over eating organic. Yeah, it’s not great, but shit happens. This is relevant to the farmer’s market because whereas the organic vendors at my local market tend to sell at prices comparable to the expensive co-op, the non-certified growers sell for dirt cheap. I’ve gotten $1 kale, $1 asparagus, and all kinds of crazy deals from the non-organic vendors at the market, and unlike the non-organic stuff at the local megamarket, at the very least, I know the non-organic stuff at the market is local (or local-ish). Plus, it’s often more-or-less organic but simply not certified. Plus, did I mention it’s cheap?

4. Shop around. I save lots of money by getting different items at the places where they’re cheapest. I go to the farmer’s market first and get whatever’s cheap there. Then I hit the co-op (which can be pricey) and grab what I can get for cheap there. After that, I hit the produce stands (which are dirt cheap and sometimes have cheap organic stuff too), and if I’m still looking for things, I hit the big, evil discount grocery. The strategy is to hit the expensive places first and snatch up the sale items and cheap but higher-quality stuff. Then you hit the less expensive places where you can get whatever you need for less than at the market or co-op. Yeah, it’s a bit of a pain, but I save a whole lot of money by being willing to walk a bit more.

Anyway, my point is that a bit of legwork can save you money (and, incidentally, can make you feel familiar and grounded within your community, which is nice).

The other thing that can be cheap is learning to love the simple things. Simple things like roasted beets.

I snagged a large bunch of golden beets from the co-op the other day, so today, again too lazy and broke to go out and buy more ingredients, I made a super simple roasted beet salad for lunch.

Roasting veggies is super easy and super delicious. For this salad, I peeled two very large beets, halved them, and then cut the halves into thin (1/8 inch) semicircles. I then tossed them with some olive oil, a touch of balsamic vinegar (on the suggestion of the lovely and wise Jess Sconed), and some salt, threw them in a pan, and chucked them in the oven at 400 degrees for around half an hour. Out of the oven, I put them on a bed of salad greens and topped with a simple olive oil/balsamic vinegar/dijon mustard (seriously, that’s it) dressing, and I got this:

Not bad, eh? The whole deal cost me about $3.50, with some greens and one gigantic beet (plus beet greens) left over. Sure, it’s not loaded with micro greens and pine nuts, but it was satisfying, healthy, easy, and cheap. What’s not to like?

Tea Cookies, Literally
May 21, 2009, 11:55 am
Filed under: Baking, Cheapo, Cookies
Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

Cookies and Easter Island Tiki Thing: A Still Life

I started this blog with the intention of posting financial-crisis-compatible recipes, so I thought I’d start off making something using only the stuff I had in my kitchen. I’m a grocery store junkie, so it was hard, but I was pretty pleased with what I came up with. All of the ingredients I’ve used are cheap and readily available (with the possible exception of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is a bit hard to find in the US – I imagine you can substitute brown rice syrup, agave, or even 1/4 cup brown or regular sugar with an extra 2 tablespoons of liquid added), so you should be able to make this recipe with very little investment.

Back to the creative process, I’ve found that the best way to come up with ideas to use up stuff you’ve already got is to lay it all out on the counter and look at it. Maybe it’s just me, but my brain comes up with way better ideas when I actually look at my ingredients than if I just think about what I’ve got. So, I laid all my stuff out on my counter and saw this:


The lemon/ginger/golden syrup combo screamed “Tea!” at me, so after a bit of mental gymnastics, I came up with the idea of a lemon ginger cookie with black tea ground into the flour. While next time I make these I’m going to experiment with giving them a stronger black tea flavour (I think I’ll substitute strong brewed black tea for the soy milk and perhaps add a bit more ground tea leaves to my dry mix), they came out pretty, pretty, pretty good for a prototype. I imagine these are the kinds of cookies Bruce Dickinson would serve me in bed every morning if we were married…

Lemon Ginger Tea Cookies

Cookies II


1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon black tea, finely ground (I used a mortar and pestle, and it worked perfectly)
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup golden syrup (you could probably sub 5 tablespoons agave for this if you don’t keep any Lyle’s on hand)
2 tablespoons soy or rice milk
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon grated ginger
juice of one lemon


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking sheet or two.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground tea in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

In a seperate bowl, whisk together the oil, syrup, soy milk, lemon juice and zest, vanilla, and grated ginger. Make sure to mix well; golden syrup is thick and will tend to clump up in the bottom of the bowl.

Add the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Don’t overmix or you’ll get tough little rocks, but make sure everything is combined.

Portion the cookies by the tablespoon onto the greased cookie sheet. These cookies don’t spread much, so flatten them a bit and form them into nice little circles. Bake for 8 – 12 minutes (I like my cookies softer, so I leave them in around 9 minutes). They’ll be a little soft in the middle still when you take them out, and that’s okay.

These are good on their own, but I was feeling fancy and added a bit of a frosting made just of icing sugar and lemon juice. They would also be great as sandwich cookies. I imagine a cooked lemony frosting would be pretty awesome… Best enjoyed listening to Iron Maiden’s “Killers” album and dreaming about flying your band around the world on your own private plane making metal history.

Cookies III

May 21, 2009, 1:05 am
Filed under: Housekeeping

So I really, really hated the name “Hope Sinks.” I’m not sure why I chose it (though I imagine it had something to do with the horrible, depressing turn my life had taken at the time I started it), and the only way to change it was to just start a new blog, so here it is. It’s named for my favorite Iron Maiden song, so it’s clearly going to be great, so without further ado…

Oh, and the old blog will still be available but won’t be updated.