No Murders In The Rue Morgue


Plum overload!

My good friend Erika has a plum tree in her back yard that has been off the hook lately, so I found myself with a windfall of fresh, delicious plums. I normally buy the larger black plums when they’re in season, but Erika’s tree bears Santa Rosa plums, common in California, so I branched out to a new variety this time around.

Back in Canada, I have a box containing all my cookbooks, including one that I looked at and drooled over all the time but never used much: The Moosewood Dessert Book. I have a love/hate relationship with all the Moosewood cookbooks. I love many of their old standby recipes (the Six-Minute chocolate cake helped many people bake vegan before baking vegan was cool, and the menestra, while the name sounds like some kind of menopause drug, is delicious and one of the first things I ever cooked for people), I don’t like the reliance on eggs and dairy and much of the language the recipes are written in. Regardless, I love the style of the dessert book – delicious cakes and confections without all kinds of cutesy nonsense. One of the recipes I’d been meaning to try for ages was the Plum Upside Down Cake. I never got around to it, partly because plums were often so expensive back in Canada, but when Erika handed me the 9-pound bag of beautiful Santa Rosas, I knew I had to finally make it. Unfortunately, my book was still in the box in Canada, so I had to find another recipe.

Inspiration came, as it so often does, in the form of Alton Brown. I’ve got a bit of a crush on Mr. Brown, and I’ve been very into his book, I’m Just Here For More Food lately. That book contains a recipe for pineapple upside down cake, so I figured with a few tweaks, I could veganize it, substitute plums for pineapple, and be off to the races! While I’m not 100% satisfied with the result, it is a gooey, tasty, plum-y treat that, with a little more work, will be a real winner!

Plum Upside Down Cake

Gooey Plum Topping
8 tbsp Earth Balance
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup plum cheeks (the sides of the plum, sliced parallel to the pit from either side of the plum)
2 – 3 tbsp pomegranate juice

Cake
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Egg replacer for 3 large eggs
5 tbsp water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract

Put the Earth Balance in a cast iron frying pan and melt it over low heat. Add the sugar and cook until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir to make sure it doesn’t burn. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and press the plum cheeks, cut side down, in circles into the sugar mixture in the pan. Pour the pomegranate juice over the top of the whole thing.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine the wet ingredients and whisk together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix, and stir until combined. Don’t overmix!

Pour the cake batter over the sugar mixture and plums in the cast iron pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.



Cheap and Easy
June 20, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: Cheapo, Easy | Tags: , , , , ,

I recently had my mom and little brother leave after a pretty epic visit, during which I more or less sucked my bank account dry. If I’m going to make my rent next month, I have to tighten my belt, but I refuse to survive on ramen and veggie dogs. I may only have $5 a day for the next little while, but I’m still going to cook… and bake! First up? Chard soba.

Noodles

My favorite cheap and easy go-to standard is soba noodles with greens. You can use whatever kind of greens you feel like, but on this day, I used rainbow chard. I love chard, but right now, I love it even more because it’s $1 for a big, leafy bunch of the organic stuff at my local farmer’s market. If kale or collards or spinach are cheaper wherever you are right now, use those! You may have to adjust the cooking times slightly, but you’re all big boys and girls and can totally handle it.

To make this dish, you’ll need a package of soba noodles (or enough of a package to feed two people), some sesame oil, tamari (regular soy sauce or even Braggs works too, but it tastes better with tamari), red pepper flakes, white pepper, and (if you feel fancy) some toasted sesame seeds. If you have some ginger on hand and are feeling feisty, you can grate some of that in too, but it’s good without it too.

First, wash off your greens and roughly chop them. Set the greens aside, and grab yourself a big pot of water. Bring it to a boil, and throw in your soba. Soba cook quickly (around 5 minutes, though I know my package says 3 – 5, which I think is a lie), so don’t leave the room or anything. After 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, toss your greens into the pot (unless you’re using spinach, then you only want it in the water for maybe 30 seconds), cover, and let cook for another 2 minutes or until both noodles and greens are tender. Strain everything and put back in the pot.

Now, I tend to not measure things very exactly, especially with dishes like this, so forgive me. Add to the noodles and greens in the pot about 1.5 tablespoons of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of tamari. Shake on however many red pepper flakes you desire and some sesame seeds and some white pepper to taste. If you have grated ginger, now is the time to add it to the pot as well. Mix everything together well, dish up, and eat!

All told, this dish costs around $3-$5 to make, depending on what you’ve got on hand, and feeds two people (or one starving person).



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?