Thursday, May 30, 2013

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans ( Szechuan Green Beans )

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans ( Szechuan Green Beans )
I just LOVE those Green Beans that are so often served at Chinese Restaurants.  A huge plate of those Green Beans over Rice makes a great dinner!

They seem to be cooked in a lot of oil, and they are often seared & have charred bits here and there on the outside. I braise mine (steam them in a tiny bit of water, then stir-fry with sauce), which reduces the fat content.

This is my home version, adapted from Simply Vegan . It's a LOT cheaper to make these at home than to order them in a restaurant. They're quite easy to make - and you can avoid the excessive oil in Chinese Restaurant food - as well as the temptation to load up on Fried Eggrolls & other appetizers & desserts.

Szechuan Green Beans
In a large Skillet or pot, put
2 Pounds Frozen Fancy Green Beans ( I find these beauties at Aldi for $1.49/pound, year round : )
1 cup water
Cover with lid, and cook on medium high to high till desired tenderness (usually about 10 minutes or so) stirring occasionally.*
When the Beans are done to suit you, drain any remaining water, and add sauce
2 Tablespoons Garlic (I use the jarred kind)
1 Tablespoon  fresh ginger (I use the jarred kind)
1 Tablespoon Dark Sesame Oil
5 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
Toss to coat and warm.
If desired, for an authentic touch, you can top these with chopped 
Pickled Cabbage,
which can be purchased at a Chinese Grocery. Chinese Pickled Cabbage is particularly tasty - I would find it easy to polish off a can before it even touched the Green Beans!
These are best served over a Short Grain Rice, such as Calrose - but whichever rice is your favorite will be great.

*Alternately, you can simply toss the frozen beans in a hot skillet, stirring them every few minutes- till desired doneness. No oil, no water : ) This can give them the seared appearance you're used to at restaurants, if you like. But, it's a little more time consuming, and may be hard on some nonstick skillets.

If you're feeling super-rushed (or lazy), you can steam the green beans in the microwave, and simply toss them with the sauce ; )

Tip for Dining with Omnivores: Some Beef or Pork goes well with this meal - especially if you can prepare it Chinese-style.  I sometimes serve this with Teriyaki Beef Strips over Rice.

This is being shared on Healthy Vegan Fridays and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Everyday Entrees for Around $5., Mums Make Lists
Food on Fridays 
Food on Fridays Stir Fries

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Make your Own Microwave Popcorn!

Home made Microwave Popcorn
Popcorn is a healthy whole grain food, and a great snack.

Microwave Popcorn on the other hand, has so much added junk (generally speaking - I haven't researched every brand), that I tend to think of it as a heart-attack-in-a-bag. Add to that the price that is many times what it costs to make at home, and the added environmentally-unfriendly packaging . . . Well, let's just say I'm really glad I found out how to make my own!

Homemade Microwave Popcorn Bag, ready to go in Microwave

In fact, saying I make my own is a bit of a stretch. Actually, my little daughter insists on doing most of it : )

Microwave Popcorn
Open a new paper lunchbag
Put in 1/4 cup dry, unpopped Popcorn
Tape shut with non-metallic tape (like masking tape or freezer tape)
Lay in microwave, and turn on High for 2 minutes or "Popcorn" setting if you have one.
Stay nearby and listen. When popping slows so that there is 2 seconds between pops, turn it off.
(This seems to burn a little more easily than
the commercial stuff, so watch & listen carefully)

Open carefully so as not to burn yourself with steam.
Pour into bowl & eat.

You can season after popping if you desire. I usually spray on a bit of Olive oil from my fill-your-own sprayer, and add salt.

This is being shared on The Thrifty Home's Penny Pinching Party

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What to do with that #10 Can

My Reused ( Upcycled ) #10 Can
I happily admit it. I live under a rock. I don't have cable (or even TV!) and usually have no idea who those folks are who do all the cooking shows. And, I'm pretty frugal. So, I don't like buying silly stuff just because it's endorsed by someone I've barely heard of.

Imagine my surprise when I was shopping one day, to find a rather pretty large melamine bowl (that's a fancy, plastic-like substance). It was marketed by some cooking "Personality" and priced for 19.95 (which, here in the Midwest, is a LOT of money for a plastic bowl!) The purpose of this bowl? Why, to collect trash on your kitchen counter when you're cooking. A TRASH BOWL for $19.95?! Are they serious?!

Well, shortly thereafter, I was preparing a "Vat O' Yachni" and found myself looking at an empty #10 can that seemed "too good to throw away" - and an idea was born! It would be my new "Trash Bowl" - and I could not only save $19.95 (like I would have spent that anyway!) but I could also "Save the Planet" (so to speak).

And, I have found it to be quite useful! So much so that I wouldn't want to do without it. I use old bags (such as produce bags) to line it - although you could easily give it a rinse now and then if you prefer. When I get an extra bag, I put it in the bottom of the can for storage, so that when I pull out a full bag, the next one is waiting to be pressed into service.

These DO need to be replaced now and then, to ensure that they don't rust and stain your countertop.

Actually, a kitchen counter garbage receptacle of some kind is a great idea. I originally read about it in The House that Cleans Itself . It has a few advantages:

1) If you're like me - a bit of a slob - and tend to put things like the foil packet from your tea bag on the counter - well, it becomes a little more natural to be less slobbish.

2) If you're chopping vegetables, you don't have to walk to the trash can with every onion skin & pepper stem. That makes things more efficient when you're cooking, and meals come together more quickly & smoothly.

3) Most importantly, since you're not walking to the trash over & over, you're not touching the germy lid to the trash can, and having to wash your hands constantly (or, unthinkably, just putting those germs on the food)

Best of all, Reusing is even better than Recycling! It takes NO extra energy : )

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lentil & Rice Salad

Lentil Rice Salad
This is a substantial & nutrient-packed salad to serve as an Entree or as a Side Dish during the Spring & Summer. It can be super-easy & convenient if you keep cooked lentils and cooked rice on hand in the freezer, as I do. This recipe was inspired by one in The Convenient Vegetarian, if I recall correctly. It has delicious flavours, and is very versatile, according to what produce you have on hand.

Lentil Rice Salad
2 1/2 cups Cooked Brown or Green Lentils*
2 1/2 cups Cooked Rice - any kind
5 Cups of assorted fresh Chopped Veggies from among the following: Tomatoes, Scallions, Broccoli Florets, Cauliflower, Snow Peas, Sugar Snap Peas, Bell Peppers, Snow Peas, Carrots, Celery, etc.
Mix Dressing and pour over above mixture, tossing to coat
Lentil Rice Salad Dressing:
1/3 cup Seasoned Rice Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper to taste

This is best served at room temperature. If possible, serve it immediately after assembly (so the rice doesn't get stale). If that's not possible, try to allow it to return to room temperature before serving.

*Lentils -I like to use Whole Masoor Dal in this recipe because they hold their shape so well for salads and are inexpensive and tasty, but French Puy or Beluga would also work here if you prefer.

Convenience tips: Keep Cooked Lentils and Cooked Rice in the freezer so you can make this and other salads on a moment's notice. For veggies, you can buy a fresh bag of pre-chopped, assorted "Stir Fry Vegetables" from the Grocery's produce section so that this salad is very easy to assemble (and, some times of year it is actually cheaper to buy the vegetables this way than to buy the whole ones!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why I Love Burner Covers

Stove with Burner Covers
When I was a kid (which was not last week ; ) Burner Covers were a kitchen fashion. All the cool Moms had them. I was pretty disappointed that my Mom wouldn't join the cool Moms and get us a nice set. Then she broke it to me that you could only use them when the burner was off (heat destroys the paint) and you had to move them every time you wanted to cook - and their sole function was beautifying your rangetop. I was never into pointless decorations - not even as a kid - so that ended my fascination with them. And, while I'm not a Home Interior Fashion Slave, I rather suspect that these aren't the height of fashion that they were back-in-the-day.

So, why on earth would I have them in my kitchen NOW when I thought it was a silly idea then?

Well, it all started a few years back when an aquaintance told me the tragic story of his then-toddler sister's severe and permanant brain damage that happened when she pulled a pot of boiling liquid from the stove onto her head. In mid-life, the sister was still only able to function at a toddler's academic level as a result of that tragic accident.

Then, I had my own daughter, and decided to take seriously those warnings about not using the front burners of your stove when you have a little one. But, knowing how absent-minded I am, I knew I would forget if I didn't put something there to remind myself not to turn on those burners. So, I got a nice, cheap pair of burner covers from the dollar store, and put them on the front burners as a reminder. And, I began cooking on the back burners. It took a few days to get used to it - then it seemed natural.

Then, I began to notice that when I dropped food, it no longer fell on a burner and through the heating element, making an impossible to clean mess. And, as a result, there was one less fire hazzard in the house when I turned on a burner today that had oil spilled on that spot yesterday (I can just pop the burner covers in the dishwasher if I want).

And, I had space to chop an onion or set a (non-flammable) container of food while I waited to add it to a boiling pot, or rest a stirring spoon without making a mess. And in a not-huge kitchen, a little extra counter space is a blessing!

So, the stove is safer for children (and for clumsy adults like me!), safer from fire, easier to clean, and I have more counter space! What's not to love?

Now, my little one is big enough that I probably could safely cook on the front burners (and if I need more burners, I occasionally do) I like my burner covers and have decided to keep them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vegan Breakfast Sandwich

In America, there are often two kinds of breakfast - Sweet with lots of sugar, and Savory with lots of meat, eggs and dairy.

Now, I enjoy a sweet breakfast as much as the next person - fruit or oatmeal, perhaps, but from time to time a savory breakfast is in order. In a Greek household, Cucumbers & Tomatoes (as well as Olives, of course)  are breakfast food!

This is a sandwich that I enjoy often on Saturday mornings:

Vegan Breakfast Sandwich
Homemade Naan
 (it can also be made with White Bread Dough, as in my picture)
wrapped around
Drizzled with
Greek Tahini Sauce

Tip for Breakfasting with Omnivores:
Serve a Breakfast Tray with Olives, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Naan or Pita, Tahini Sauce, Eggs, Cheese & Breakfast Sausages or other desired meat. Let each Breakfaster assemble his or her own sandwich or  plate.

This is being shared on Healthy Vegan Fridays

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sesame Broccoli

Sesame Broccoli
This is an easy way to give your Broccoli a bit of a boost & add a little variety to your veggies. It's quite tasty - in fact, I have to say this is my #1, go-to method for making cooked broccoli lately. If you're looking for variety in your veggies without much work, and are looking to get out of the butter rut - this one is a good one.

I adapted this one from Vegetarian Times Cookbook

Although I usually use this sauce on Broccoli, it could also be good on sauteed leafy Greens, Cauliflower, or Green Beans.

Sesame Broccoli
Steam a bunch of Broccoli (drain off any water, if necessary)
Drizzle the following over steamed broccoli, toss and serve:
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger (I use the kind from a jar)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (I use the kind from a jar)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
If you like, Garnish with a little Lemon Zest, or Sesame Seeds.

If you find you LOVE this seasoning, you can of course quadruple (or more) the sauce ingredients and keep them in a jar in the fridge- ready to go for any number of non-starchy steamed veggie dishes. It would be good with: Cauliflower, Carrots, Snow Peas, Green Beans, Asparagus, etc.

Although the seasonings here are often associated with East Asian cooking, this dish is also yummy as a side for any number of basic, all-American meals. It doesn't have to be served with an Asian meal to be tasty!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Omnivore Menu that also Accommodates a Vegan

Perhaps your family is mostly Omnivore, but you have ONE Vegan family member. You want to be able to cook for everyone, but not have a lot of extra work to feed that one Vegan. It's not an unusual situation - especially when a teenager decides to go Vegan.

 If in your family, meat is in the middle of the plate, here is an idea for a Week's menu that can make everyone happy!

There are two mindsets about what makes a "complete" Vegan menu. One is the Vegan Four Food Groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains and Legumes. The other is the McDougall method - a Starchy Main Course with Nonstarchy Vegetables and some Fruit (See The Starch Solution for more information). It is my view that either method is fine, and I follow them interchangably, depending on my mood. If you're worried about "getting enough protein" check out this post."

Sunday Dinner after Church is our big meal for the week, so that is the pattern I'll follow here.
In our house, it is a given that dessert is fresh fruit - unless otherwise specified.

Rosemary Potatoes
Appetizer: Hummus with Raw Veggie Dippers and Chips.
Roast Beef, Rosemary Potatoes, Green Beans Vinaigrette, Salad, Homemade Bread, Fruit, Homemade Vegan Cookies.
(I have two slow cookers, and make the Beef in one and the Potatoes in the other, but of course you can also use an oven or a roaster for your Beef)
Hummus Appetizer
Homemade Vegan Cookie Variety

Grilled Chicken, Orzo Pilaf, Peas, Salad

Orzo Pilaf with Peas & Salad

Grilled Pork chops, Dijon Potatoes, Edamame, Sauerkraut, Slaw, Pickled Beets.

Dijon Potatoes


Pad Thai with optional Shrimp

Pad Thai

Fill Your Own Tortillas with Sauteed Strips of Beef or Chicken & Shredded Cheddar for Omnivores.

Fill Your Own Tortilla

Tandoori Chicken with Indian Lemon Rice with Peas and Salad.

Lemon Rice and Peas

Kabobs or Souvlaki & Mushroom Kabobs on the Grill, Greek Inspired Baked Fries, Salad, Pita Bread, Hummus.

Greek Inspired Baked Fries

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Black Bean and Corn Salad
This is a super-easy recipe that is also super-delicious! We enjoy it regularly at our house, and it usually meets with rave reviews from guests - and is usually devoured at potlucks.

 It is so easy, and requires so few ingredients that it lends itself well to those situations when cooking is difficult or impossible: college dorm cooking, hotel cooking, and military barracks cooking.

I think this with a few lettuce leaves would make a nice filling for a wrap, too!

Black Bean & Corn Salad
Mix all together & enjoy:
2 Cans Black Beans, drained & rinsed (or 3 cups home cooked)
3 Cups frozen Corn, thawed (I rinse mine in a sieve under warm water)*
2 Fresh Tomatoes, Chopped
1/4 cup Lime Juice
3 Tablespoons Taco Seasoning (or add purchased Taco Seasoning to taste - about 1 1/2 pkts)
*Optional ingredients, add any of the following if desired: Diced Avocado, Diced Bell Pepper, Scallions, Fresh Chopped Cilantro (Avocado is our favorite)

*I think that canned corn would also work here for those who like it. It's just not my thing.