Monthly Archives

October 2013

mains, recipes

Hail Seitan!

Howdy, friends!  Today I want to talk to you about something very near and dear to my heart.  Seitan is single-handedly responsible for keeping Allysia and I sane through this month of frugal foods.  Don’t get me wrong, we love beans, lentils, and all forms of cheap, natural protein,  but sometimes you just need something different.  Something familiar and friendly, tasty and versatile.  All of these things describe seitan for me.

Obligatory gratuitous close-up shot
Maybe seitan feels so familiar to me because the last time I ate real meat was in 2012.  When done right, seitan seems to be the easiest way to reproduce some of the tastes and textures of meat.  Homemade versions won’t confuse current omnivores, but storebought versions could give a few people a challenge to identify.  Obviously we haven’t been splurging on pre-made seitan this month, but we have learned a lot about creating it ourselves.  With a little bit of experimentation I’ve developed a nice simple seitan recipe that serves as the perfect tabula rasa to twist and change into a great product every time.

Note from Allysia: I am generally a seitan-making failure, either making it too spongy or too dense, but Michael figured out this method that I love, and always eagerly anticipate eating – especially seasoned and fried up in a dry rub.

Blank-Slate Seitan
makes about 4 large-sized servings of seitan, or six smaller servings

Large pot of salted water, boiling
1 cup wheat gluten
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 cup water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oil (olive or neutral vegetable oil)
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or other acid)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper
Additional spices or flavourings (see below)

1. In a mixing bowl combine the gluten, nutritional yeast, and onion powder.  Mix the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl.
2.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir together until the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the bowl and knead like bread dough for about 3 minutes.  The seitan should be rubbery and soft.  Shape it into a wide flat log that will fit into your boiling pot.
3. Add the seitan to the pot, partially cover, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook the seitan for 45 minutes.
4. When the time is up, cover the pot completely and allow the seitan to cool in the fridge (while still in the pot).  Let it sit until room-temperature, or overnight.
Sliced seitan cooked with mushrooms and onions to make a sauce-y sandwich
Those who have made seitan before know that it can usually be boiled, steamed, or baked.  Boiled seitan is the most tender of the three, and also the easiest to make (steaming seitan can be quite finicky, and baked seitan can turn out dry). 
As made above, the seitan works well in applications where it is not the centre of attention: diced and added to pasta sauce, stir-fried with a sweet-and-spicy vegetable mix, or, a current favourite, smothered in blackening spices and fried.  If you want the seitan to have a little more of its own flavour you can add some additional flavour to the dough itself.  When using the seitan for pasta sauce I might add healthy amount of dried basil, oregano, and thyme.  An Asian-styled-spin can be given by removing some of the salt and beefing up the soy sauce, adding some toasted sesame oil, and grating in some fresh ginger.  Any flavours that you would add to a dish can be added to this recipe.  Since the seitan is boiled it won’t get so hot as to destroy any delicate flavourings.

Blackened seitan slices served with pureed cauliflower/potatoes and braised carrots
The real trick to using homemade seitan is knowing its strengths and weaknesses.  Since the seitan is fairly soft and moist, it won’t work well if served in a large slab.  It does, however, work great when sliced or diced before it hits a hot pan.  This allows the liquid to be removed from the individual pieces, leaving a great meaty texture.  After this month of frugality is over we may try to find a great baked recipe which may work better served in large pieces.  I don’t think I will be able to rest until I can say that I have made a great-looking, great-tasting seitan steak.  A lofty goal to be sure, but you’ve got to set your goals high.  Until next time.

One more sandwich shot for good measure.

Weekly Produce On a Budget

Hey guys, and happy belated Canadian Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving weekend is always busy for me, since my birthday usually falls on or around the holiday.  So now that the long weekend chaos has subsided, I wanted to show you my grocery trip from today – a fresh produce haul that will last us the week, in addition to our pantry staples.

This trip totaled $20.55, and our weekly produce budget is $25.  This is perfect, since we’ll need to buy more greens later in the week, as well as a can or two of tomatoes.  Starting from the top left and working clockwise, I’ll list what we bought, and the prices:

3 limes/$1.00
3 lb. carrots/$1.79
1 large pineapple/$2.00 (on sale)
4 large potatoes/$3.38
6 bananas/$1.74
1 huge head cabbage/$1.68 (this was on sale for $0.29/lb, which is a great deal)
1 large cauliflower/$2.50 (sale item)
3 lb. onions/$1.79
2 heads garlic/$1.06
1 large knob ginger/$0.34
1 bunch kale/$2.00
1 bunch cilantro/$1.29

Lately I’ve been keeping an eye on flyers to take advantage of sales and discounts, because the more veggies, the better.  We usually shop at a mid-priced grocery store (Loblaws) since it’s nearby – if we had a super cheap store nearby we’d probably go there instead.

This week we’ll post some of our meals using these ingredients.  I’m still not entirely sure what to do with that mammoth head of cabbage – perhaps a big batch of cabbage rolls are in our future.

See you guys soon!

Brunch, Budgeting, recipes

Banana Bread, and Other Eats

Good evening!

Today I wanted to share some more of our recent cheap eats with you (information on our budget goals being here), and so far so good!  I haven’t hit the point of feeling deprived yet, mainly because I still have a small stash of chocolate, and I scored some free kale this week… but also because we made some banana bread for sweet snacking, which came out great (more on that below).

First up is a cauliflower-chickpea curry with rice and lotsa seasoned and steamed kale.  Mike made the curry seat-of-the-pants style like he tends to do – he sauteed some onion, garlic and ginger with a bunch of spices (mustard seeds, curry powder, cumin, coriander, hing, salt), added a little water to the pan, and then threw in a head of chopped cauliflower.  That was cooked, covered, for 30-40 minutes until nice and tender, and then he added the pre-cooked chickpeas in the last few minutes of cooking time.  Once it was done cooking, a bunch of lemon was squeezed into it and we ate it with liberal amounts of Sriracha.

Since there were lots of curry leftovers, we enjoyed it on a rice bowl the next day.  Nutritional yeast was added as a garnish, and we enjoyed it with a generous helping of tahini sauce (tahini, lemon, garlic, salt) and some Sriracha for good measure.  We eat some variation of a tahini bowl about once a week, sometimes more – it’s our Old Faithful.

Another rice bowl we enjoyed was packed with black beans and pan-steamed cabbage, carrots and collards (I know you can’t see the rice and beans, but they’re definitely there), with a fantastic, cheesy sauce made from blending soaked sunflower seeds with a whole bunch of nutritional yeast, grainy mustard, lemon, garlic and onion powder, and salt and pepper.  We also ate this with plenty of Sriracha (are you noticing a theme?), as well as homemade ‘kraut.

I wanted a soup that was classy, super flavorful and brothy, so we made a white bean and greens soup with a LOT of garlic, minced but not too small, onion, and lemon zest/lemon juice stirred in at the end.  It was heavenly, and even better the next day as leftovers.  Plus, we used homemade veggie broth which was made from a giant bag of veggie scraps we accumulated over the week.

To accompany the soup, we had chapati, which is a super simple flatbread that can be thrown together in minutes and is made with flour (we used a mix of white and whole wheat), water, a little oil and salt.  It’s beautiful smeared with margarine, and is a nice alternative to bread if you’re too lazy for making that.

But dessert is the best part!  This banana bread exceeded my expectations, mainly because I “healthified” it – doesn’t taste health-foody though.  I’m just not a fan of quickbreads that are intensely sweet, and besides, overripe bananas are plenty sweet anyway.  Even with just 1/4 cup sugar, these are definitely sweet enough, and the banana flavor is very pleasant and almost floral.

Healthified Banana Bread
Makes 1 9×5 loaf


1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup neutral oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup non-dairy milk


1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a 9×5 loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder and soda, and salt.  In a separate smaller bowl, stir together the oil and brown sugar until combined, and then add the bananas and milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and even out the top.

3. Bake for 30-45 minutes – I know this is a big time frame, but I’ve noticed that I’ve been using a loaf pan that I thought was a normal size, but is probably larger than what most normal people use, so ours was done in 30 minutes.  Stick a toothpick in the loaf in order to see if it’s done.  Let it cool in the pan for 30 minutes or so before turning out on a cooling rack.

Since this loaf uses whole wheat flour, it’s best enjoyed within 24 hours, or up to 2 days, for maximum moistness.


First Round of Cheap Eats

Greetings, fellow foodies.  If you’ve read our last post then you will know that we gave ourselves a challenge for this month: can we feed ourselves (well) on as little as one hundred dollars per person?  We stocked up on some staples and started thinking of some recipes to make the best of what we had.

Since we moved to Toronto, our standard breakfast has taken the form of a bowl of steel cut oats mixed with banana, flax seed, a little bit of homemade milk (more on that later), and some cacao powder.  The great thing about this meal is that it is loaded with calories and nutrition, and costs almost nothing to make.  The cacao powder is a bit of a splurge, but it can be replaced with cocoa powder for a cheaper version.

For our first supper, we decided to make something familiar and comforting.  We had masa flour and a few fixings on hand, so we made tortillas and lentil taco “meat”.  The meat was made from boiled green lentils mixed with chili powder, cumin, oregano, and a few other seasonings.  We topped our tacos with some lightly cooked sweet and sour cabbage, a little diced tomato, and some avocado left over from the previous week.  Avocados are soon to be a rare treat, so we enjoyed our small indulgence.

Last night we enjoyed another great meal.  Our list of cheap fresh vegetables is mostly limited to cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and onions, plus a healthy amount of garlic and ginger.  We chose to mix these up into a few separate dishes.  The first was an Ethiopian-style cabbage and carrot dish made with loads of turmeric.  We have made a similar dish before, and this one worked out just as well.  Alongside that, we enjoyed a red lentil dal created with a little help from lots of spices: coriander, cumin, cardamom, garlic, ginger, and mustard seed.  Our third dish was a simple mixture of brown rice, chopped parsley, and lemon juice.  The whole plate was tied together with an ad-hoc apple chutney (not pictured).

All in all, I think we had a pretty good start to our frugal month.  We’ve been keeping a close eye on the grocery flyers and plan to pick up a few heavily-discounted treats for the weeks to come.  Hope your October is going as well as ours!


Eating On $3 a Day

Hello friends!

Well I don’t know about you, but I am happy to greet October.  I love the fall weather, the food, Thanksgiving (as a Canadian), and my birthday.  And now that our place is painted, furnished and purty, life can resume.

Before we get into the blog stuff and just for fun, I’ll show you around the place a little bit.

We have a tiny dining area, so a while ago Michael decided to maximize the space by building a shelf around the table.

Looking good, eh?  Maybe a little lonely and empty, though.

Not lonely and empty anymore!

While we were painting, our place looked like this…

The horror.  Oh, the horror.

But it was worth it!

Why hello there, music corner.

Hallo, comfy Kijiji couch.

Being settled is a good thing, I’m liking it.  I’ve moved at least 10 times in the last 10 years, so I’m eager to just stay put a while.  We’ll see how that goes.


As we all know, moving is expensive, especially when it’s across the country.  So in order to cut costs, Michael and I have decided to embark on a challenge this month – not eat at restaurants and spend only $200 CAD on groceries, which is $100 per person, which is about $3 per day, per person, so about $1 per meal.  Intense, eh?

So certain luxury foods are out, like storebought non-dairy milk, nuts, plant meats, plant cheeses, storebought bread, and so on.  What we did is budgeted about $100 for pantry staples, which will allow about $25 for fresh produce each week.

In case you’re curious about more details, we purchased about 7 quarts of dry beans and lentils, and about 15 quarts of dry grain (mostly brown rice and steel cut oats, but a few others for variety).  Other staples we purchased are yeast (haven’t adventured into sourdough yet), tahini, peanut butter, and sunflower, flax and pumpkin seeds.  All of those purchases came to about $85.  Since we already have stuff like apple cider vinegar, oil and tamari, we didn’t factor those in this month.  Same goes for vitamin D and B12 supplements, and a small calcium supplement since we won’t be consuming fortified milk this month (and we can’t afford to eat a crapload of greens).

We spent $20 on fresh groceries this week (who knows if they’ll last the week), which included 2 heads of cabbage (one for making ‘kraut), 3 pounds of carrots, some potatoes, bananas, parsley, lemons, ginger, cauliflower and two big bunches of collard greens.

Throughout the course of the month, we plan to experiment with things like bread baking, soy and rice milk making, and expanding our repertoire of bean/grain cooking.  Instead of thinking about this experiment like deprivation, I’m choosing to think of it like an opportunity to learn new skills.

The only exception to our frugality is Thanksgiving and my birthday – otherwise, we’ll be posting about our eats, trials and tribulations.  Hope it ends up being as educational for you as it will be for us.

See you soon!