A New Staple: Veggie Burger Salads

If you have read my review on Amy’s (vegan) Veggie Burgers, then you already know how the veggie burger bug caught on in our household.  To summarize, after we ran out of hamburger buns, I took AllergicGirl‘s burger salad lead and whipped up some lunchtime veggie burger salads.  My husband liked them so much, that he has begun requesting these meat-free salads a couple of times a week.  He stated how much lighter and better he felt after eating them.  The words “we might want to try out a vegan diet for a little while,” even left his lips.  I was truly speechless.  While we have not yet made the full conversion, meat is definitely making less of an appearance each week, acting more like a “garnish” than the base of the meal. 

So… I couldn’t resist continuing the veggie burger trials.  With a $1.00 off coupon for Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burgers (from the Mambo Sprouts coupon book), I picked up the Tex Mex variety at my local Trader Joe’s yesterday.  End price was $2.29 for the four patties.  Of course, with all of the wonderful things I have heard about the Trader Joe’s brand Masala Veggie Burgers ($2.49), I couldn’t resist throwing those into the cart as well. 

Masala Veggie Burger

We arrived at home with bags full of groceries, yet when I offered my husband a veggie burger salad, he responded “that sounds great!”  I opted for the Masala burgers first, lightly cooked in some coconut oil (you could use whatever oil you like) on the stovetop for about five minutes.  I chopped them up, and sprinkled the bites atop a bed of arugala along with chickpeas (garbanzos) and mushrooms on my husband’s salad, and chickpeas, carrots, and green onions atop mine.

Masala Veggie Burger

The burgers were good, they were full of flavor and had a nice warm spice that added some interest.  They were quite different from the other burgers we have tried, as these had a definite mashed potato base.  They held their own, not too soft and squishy, but my husband said he still preferred the Amy’s brand.  I was also a bit disappointed to discover that canola oil was the second ingredient, since this is a common GMO oil, and there are so many better options.  While these might go well bun-style, I think they may be a bit too soft.  Nonetheless, if you do opt for these during a barbecue, I would dress the bun with nothing more than some mayonnaise or vegannaise, as they have a wonderful Indian spice flavor that should not be overpowered.

Today I busted open the Tex Mex Veggie Burgers from Dr. Praeger’s.  First comment, they really could use some packaging consulting.  Well, the packaging itself was great, individual servings, resealable box, etc…. but the name “Dr. Praeger’s” coupled with a very frumpy looking, frowning doc pictured on the back, plus a less than stellar use of overall color kept me from even considering these veggie burgers in the past.  It was the coupon in the end that enticed me.

Dr. Praeger's

Really, these seemed to be the veggie burgers I was looking for.  They are non-GMO, wheat-free (contain oat bran and oat fiber, and made in a facility that handles wheat) and really they were mostly veggie based, no textured soy protein in site.  In fact, whole little bits of vegetables and black beans dotted these “burgers.”  I did like the tex mex flavor, which was rather sedated, calm, and influential, lacking the barbecue sauce flavor of Amy’s Texas version.  They were generally tasty, yet something was keeping me from shouting, “wow.”  I think my husband stated it best when he said that the Amy’s veggie burgers taste richer.  I really wished some avocados had been on hand, as I think some sliced avocado along with our black beans and green onions atop some greens would have enhanced these burgers quite a bit, adding a touch of indulgence … but really, at $1.50 per avocado, I was definitely holding out for the season!

Dr. Praeger's

Considering they are also made with organic ingredients, I think the Amy’s brand is still on top in our household.  More specifically, we voted for the Quarter Pounder for actual veggie burgers (bun and all) and for the Californian and Bistro (gluten-free) burgers for general veggie burger and salad chomping.

Of course, true to my frugal nature, next on the horizon is making homemade veggie burgers!  In fact, I almost turned the falafels into a burger style.  It seems I was preparing.  There are two veggie burger recipes in Vegan Vittles.  I plan to give one of these a shot, but am still on the lookout for a more veggie-based, or even a mushroom-based burger.  Let me know if you have seen a good one!

New Toasted Crackers – Free Sample

NabiscoThough I seldom have many good notes to post about the big corp products, some tidbits do occasionally come my way.  Nabisco has launched a new line of “toasted” crackers that seem to measure up well compared to other standard varieties on the market.  They are free of hydrogenated oils, and boast a relatively easy-to-read label (there are some obvious preservatives, colors, and “natural flavors” and such, but the ingredients seem to be well stated).  The main reason I am posting about them though is that they are shipping out free samples.  Head to the Garden Harvest website and enter your address, they will ship some product to you within 4 to 6 weeks.  These do contain wheat, but appear to be vegan (please double check), dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free (definitely call the company to verify if cross-contamination issues are a concern for you or someone you love).  While a haven’t purchased crackers in years myself, as they are rarely a virtuous bunch, I must admit, the flavors are quite intriguing (banana, apple cinnamon, tomato basil, vegetable medley). Warning: the website is obnoxiously loud, and the intro takes a few seconds to skip, so turn that volume down!  If they say “all gone” just hit the website up the next day.  I guess they have a daily quota for free samples.

Don’t Forget the Coupons

My husband and I used to pride ourselves on our insanely low grocery bills.  Filling our fridge and cupboards for just $25 a week, we put even our Costco-loving friends to shame.  By most people’s standards, our diet was even considered quite healthy.  Yet, in the past few years, we have taken food quality to the next level for our health and my food allergies.  Needless to say, while the food we eat has propelled upward, so has our grocery bill.  Though my coupon-clipping skills aren’t as useful as they used to be, both my husband and I do manage to find discounts in various places:

Don’t toss that paper.  We did stop purchasing the Sunday newspaper, as both the price and waste of each paper just kept going up.  However, my parents share the coupons from their newspaper with us each week.  True, there usually aren’t very many I can use, but products like Silk (soymilk, yogurt, etc.), Barbara’s Bakery (cereals, snacks, and cookies), Hain Celestial (soups, non-dairy beverages, etc.), and Florida Crystals (organic sugar) do make appearances.  Likewise, I often find great coupons for olive oil, and our standard household needs.  Even brands like Seventh Generation and Jason’s are known to make an offer or two in those circulars.  If you really like the coupon idea, go online and find a coupon train to trade with and multiply your benefits.

Just for natural foodies.  A little company called Mambo Sprouts has been creating a natural food coupon book.  Often discretely placed by the weekly add at natural food stores (including Whole Foods & Wild Oats) these free little booklets house a couple dozen different coupons each month.  On occasion, Wild Oats times their sales with the coupons, making for double-y good discounts.  When the $.75 off coupons for Almond Breeze emerged, and the store had it on sale for 3 for $5 – well, lets just say I stocked up!  Actually, if you like Rice Dream or Soy Dream frozen dessert, Mambo Sprouts has a $1 off coupon (book or online), and Wild Oats has both labels on for a very low price.  I think you could walk out with a pint of frozen dessert for under $1!

Printable coupons.  Mambo Sprouts actually has printable coupons as well that may be worth a look.  Many grocer’s websites link straight to other printable coupon sources as well.  Check out your grocer’s website, you may be surprised by what you find.  Even my local natural food grocer offers printable coupons each month. 

Go direct to the manufacturers.  Are there some products that seem to make your shopping list each week?  Is there a new cereal you are dying to try?  Go straight to the manufacturers website, cruise around for any discounts, and sign up for their newsletter if they have one.  Annie’s frequently sends printable coupons to newsletter subscribers.  I signed up on the Luna Bar website, and they mailed me a coupon for a free product and some additional coupons.  Turtle Mountain just loves giving away coupons.  In fact, I would never think of purchasing their delicious frozen dessert without a coupon in hand.  Sometimes the companies are even seeking people to test out new products for them, so this is a great way to find out.

Pick up a free magazine.  Every grocery store I go to, big, small, obsessively organic, whatever – has their own free magazine.  Don’t miss these, they are awesome!  Filled with recipes, an interesting article or two, and of course advertisements.  But food advertisements often feature a clippable coupon or two.  So enjoy the writing, recipes and some penny-wise bonuses all in one free little store gift!  I often find them located at the register, by the bagger, or on a stand near the store entrance/exit.

Obviously the above coupon ideas are for packaged goods or baseline foods (sugar, olive oil, etc.) when purchased in stores (more about where to shop on deck!).  While I do try to buy mostly whole food items (to be addressed in other posts as well), the pre-packaged are a convenience I find necessary from time to time.  However, I certainly won’t let these little luxuries eat up my grocery bill! 

I realize this blog is relatively new, but to all you who are already on board, comments and ideas are more than welcome! 

Tomorrow… back to cooking!

Fast & Inexpensive Meals … Finally, a Cookbook I am Actually Using!

I truly love perusing recipes … in fact I used to be a recipe-clipping addict.  Luckily, my frugality kept me from purchasing every cookbook in sight, especially considering I have only trialed about a dozen recipes from the little cookbook collection I am already housing.  Clipping, marking, and emailing recipes is one thing, but actually making them… for some reason that was always my stumbling block.  But a cookbook I recently received sparked something in me.  At long last, I was venturing new foods in the kitchen! 

The magical book? The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook … true, the name may not sound enticing to some, but the recipes within were so simple, so intriguing, and so filled with ingredients that I typically buy anyway, it was really a natural fit.  As someone who hadn’t tried a new recipe in months, I made guess how many recipes in just over a week… okay, I can’t hold it in… six.  That’s right, I tried six new recipes just like that.  Okay, I am counting the chocolate covered raisins and the saffron rice, but I gradually became more adventurous.  Here is what else I made…

First (or third if you count the first two recipes) up was Raf’s Cuban Beans & Rice.  These slow-cooked black beans were easy to prepare, as I left them to simmer for about 2 hours, stopping by to stir occasionally.  I drained the beans, assuming this step was required, but perhaps not. The honey can easily be replaced with maple syrup for a vegan pot of beans.  Serve with rice (I steamed a mix of red rice and brown rice) and a salad for a full vegan meal.  For my meaty husband, I served the beans and rice alongside some freshly made Italian sausage (on sale for $2.99/lb) and a serving of steamed broccoli. (sorry, this first pic is horrible, they do get a bit better!)

wholefoodsblackbeans5.jpg

Second up was the Penne with Cauliflower and Olives.  This was a very simple but tasty recipe.  I opted to stay vegan on this entrée, “beefing” up the penne with some extra sautéed veggies.  Our brown rice pasta had some issues, not cooking and sticking badly.  That was the only bummer of the whole meal.  Basically, you steam up the cauliflower and mash it with a fork for a chunky, clingy ingredient.  Add in the finely chopped olives (I recommend the canned pre-chopped olives, they are actually cheaper ounce for ounce, and easier), some fresh parsley, olive oil, garlic, and season with crushed red pepper flakes and salt to taste.

Penne with Cauliflower

Third up was the Falafels.  This was a fun one; I had never made falafels.  These are actually baked, rather than fried.  Lacking pita bread or even a tortilla, I served the little patties overtop a bed of jasmine rice and lightly steamed caught-it-just-in-time organic spinach.  While the author (Cybele Pascal) recommended her tahini sauce, I was lacking in tahini.  So I made a hummus sauce (I had some pre-packaged Trader Joe’s hummus on hand – picture is pre-sauce).  Really, this was an easy, tasty, and vegan entrée, that even my meaty husband positively loved.  I will be making these again!  As a side note, the recipe calls for oat flour.  A cheap and easy shortcut is to grind regular old oats in a spice grinder ($9 at the grocery store, best investment I have ever made) for about 30 seconds, until a nice flour develops.  Gluten-free consumers can by “safe” oats and make oat flour using this method too.

Falafel

Fourth up was the Creamy Avocado Chicken Salad.  I give this one a not bad.  Really, our fridge was running low.  No bread for a sandwich and no lettuce for a salad, so this chicken salad went atop quinoa.  The avocado dressing was a bit sweet for my tastes, but overall it was pretty good.  The chicken tenders were actually on for a cheaper price than the chicken breasts (always keep an eye on this) and they made for convenient preparation.

wholefoodschickensalad.jpg

The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook is free of the big eight allergens: milk, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, eggs, fish, and shellfish.  While there is a good-sized “meaty” section, I wouldn’t write Whole Foods Cookbookthis one off completely for vegans.  The egg-free, dairy-free nature makes for many excellent vegan baked goods and desserts (note: occasional small amounts of honey that look easily replaceable with another liquid sweetener), salads, dressings, snacks, and as you can see from the recipes I trialed, entrees and sides.  Actually, the vegan options easily won out taste-wise in our household.

So what was the damage?  Well, aside from a whole pile of dishes, I calculated that each full meal cost less than $3.00 to serve (and satiate) two of us, just $1.50 per full individual meal, or less really.  While I love eating out, I must admit this is quite a good deal for some easy recipes.  Thanks Cybele!

The Infamous First Post

Hello, it seems the easiest way to start a blog out is with that first “about me” post, however awkward it may be!  
 
You may have seen me elsewhere on the net, as I founded (and maintain) the informational website, Go Dairy Free.  Born and raised in the northwest (with a milk allergy), I now live with my husband and our loving cat in Las Vegas, close to my family.  While we had only planned to stop in for a month or two to visit before heading east, we both somehow fell in love with the activities of desert living and decided to stick around for at least a little while.  While I don’t miss the rain, I do miss the farmer’s markets and the abundance of fresh summer produce, but you can’t have it all I guess.
 
Though I do have a whole other site out there, I was really jonesing to write about some things ever so slightly outside of the strict dairy-free realm.  So why frugal foodie?  Both my husband and I are insane value shoppers.  From eating out, to groceries, to entertainment, we really, really can’t stand paying a penny more than we have to.  Every purchase we make is well thought out, weighing the quality of what we are buying quite equally with the price.  We are those mental people who browse in grocery stores for a good hour with ease. Since so many people loathe grocery shopping, I am happy to share my finds!
 
As this is a food-oriented blog, here are a few of my personal food notes:

  • I do buy organic when it “matters,” but I don’t pay too much for it.
  • I love to eat out, but it has to be worth it.
  • Since my husband seems to have given up cooking (he is an awesome cook), I am now learning to cook.
  • I have always loved to bake, but I am a fledgling cook.  Some of my meals turn out great, and some … well, they’re edible.  All of them still take me waaaay too long to plan and prepare. 
  • I am not the quickest or tidiest cook.  However, I am proud to share my successes, and will gladly share my failures in exchange for some suggestions. 
  • Obviously, I prefer dishes that are easy to cook and have lots of flavor.  Appeal to anyone?
  • We eat an “all-natural” diet.  I purchase very few processed foods.
  • I was born with food allergies, which means “cheap food” is not an option.  Lucky for you  … and me.  No canned raviolis or hydrogenated, calorie-loaded fruit hand pies will be recommended on this site, simply because they are dirt-cheap.  Really, dirt is probably healthier.  
  • My milk allergy persisted into adulthood, so you may notice that I offer notes and recipes suitable to most diets (dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, etc.), as I love to experiment with whole foods. No worries though, sacrificing taste is not an option, we eat well!

As a foodie side note, while I moved from the northwest many years ago, my “green” roots persist, even here in the desert.  I chastise myself whenever I forget my reusable grocery shopping bags and cringe as they put one or two items into each plastic bag, quickly letting out a not-so-friendly snap.   Like everyone else, I am not perfect, and have my wasteful shortcomings, but I recycle obsessively, and do my best to reduce waste whenever possible.  So, you may come across some food-related, waste-preventing tips or questions here and there on this blog.  I would love to hear your ideas too.  Sound good?
 
Okay, more than enough about me.  Feel free to say hi, or just stop by occasionally, as I have a pretty good track record with updating websites regularly!