A pita-riffic dinner idea

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been buying cheap whole wheat pita bread from the Food Basics that my friend has taken me to a couple of times–$1.69 for 6 huge pitas. Turns out they’re a great replacement for tortillas. I think they’re tastier too, and more filling.

So tonight we had sort of a Tex-Mex burrito/fajita/wrap kind of dinner, which could have been very inexpensive if it hadn’t been for the red and yellow peppers that each cost $3.99 a pound. It was around five dollars for just two peppers! But if you can get your peppers cheap, this would be a very tasty, filling and inexpensive meal. I should also mention that this turned out to be another accidentally vegan meal!

One thing with using pitas rather than tortillas is that they do tend to get soggy faster. I suppose one could use a lettuce leaf to hold the fillings to protect the bread from the moisture, or possibly skip the salsa, or at least squeeze the juice out of it. I just went with it, and then gobbled my wrap quickly before it fell apart.

I’ve never had much luck eating tacos neatly either 🙂

Pita Fajitas

four large whole wheat pita breads, split into rounds

one onion, sliced lengthwise

two red, yellow, orange or green peppers, or a combination, sliced

chili powder


refried beans


2 avocados, sliced lengthwise

other optional additions: sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, guacamole, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, chopped green onions, etc.

Saute the onions in olive oil until dark brown in places. Remove from pan and set aside. Add peppers to the pan and season with chili pepper and salt. Saute the peppers until blackened in places.

Build your pita fajita with generous spoonfuls of refried beans, avocado slices, onions, peppers, salsa, and any optional condiments you choose. Wrap and enjoy.

Serves four.

~ / ~

One of my next projects will be to make my own refried beans. I’ve got the pinto beans–now I just need a good recipe. Any recommendations?


Home Made Peanut Butter

Making peanut butter
Making peanut butter

My favourite peanut butter is the freshly ground kind from the grinder at the health food store. But I recently read that conventional peanuts are usually grown as rotation crops with soy–one of the biggest pesticide loaded crops of all. That got me a bit paranoid about conventional peanuts. The only problem is that bulk organic peanut butter is $12 something per kilo–more than double the price of conventional.

Luckily the bulk organic roasted peanuts are only $8 something. While still expensive, it’s cheaper, but now I have to grind it myself.

My first attempt at making my own peanut butter, I just chucked the peanuts into my food processor and ground away until I thought it was done. Unfortunately I didn’t process long enough and the texture was gritty and wouldn’t spread on crackers or bread.

For my next attempt, after doing some reading on the internet, I tried adding 1 tsp of oil per cup of roasted peanuts. I used some olive oil and some coconut oil (which is a liquid now since it’s heated up here!). I also decided to process it longer.

And it worked! At first, the blades were clearly chopping the nuts into tiny pieces, and it sounded like it. Soon, however, it started sounding smoother, and a ball of stuff formed inside the machine. That was the point at which I stopped last time. This time I let it keep going. Soon, I could see a smooth creamy layer forming at the bottom of the food processor. I let it keep going and shortly the whole bowl was full of creamy peanut butter.

It’s pretty tasty, and certainly spreadable. While it’s a bit more work, I’m planning on sticking with the organic. And now that the peanut butter has worked, I might try my own almond butter too!

A-mayonnaise-ing Cupcakes

As it turns out, I’ve made quite good progress working through my giant jar of mayo. And it’s all thanks to this recipe for my “A-mayonnaise-ing” chocolate chip cupcakes. It’s adapted from a America’s Test Kitchen recipe for “Emergency Chocolate Cake” which is both SUPER easy, and also takes a full cup of mayonnaise. I’ve added chocolate chips for extra-chocolatey flavour, and made it into cupcakes so I can freeze most of them and ration them out to myself during those long afternoons (defrosted for 25 seconds in the microwave).

A-mayonnaise-ing cupcakes

2 cups flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups water

1 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin very well or line with cupcake papers.

Sift together flour, sugar and baking soda. Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together cocoa powder and water until smooth. Add mayo and vanilla and again whisk until smooth.

Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until combined. Then portion into the cupcake tin. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into one of the interior muffins comes out with only a few crumbs attached. I have had a tough time taking them out of the cupcake pan, so if you have any tips, please let me know. Cup liners might be preferable (though my current strategy of eating all the crumbs–er, chunks–that fall off or stick or smoosh off is working pretty well for me).

I eat them as-is but you could probably ice them if desired. To freeze, I wrap each one in a square of wax paper and then store two wrapped cupcakes in a ziplock baggie (I actually use an empty milk bag, but have recently learned that Ontario is the only province that sells milk in bags. Seems unbelievable, but apparently is true).

In any case, I’m hopelessly addicted to these delicious things. I just might buy another big tub of mayo just so that I’ll “have to” make batch after batch of chocolate chip cupcakes.

Another Recipe: Granola

As you can imagine, I’ve been pretty busy lately. I hardly have time to check my email let alone post a blog entry. But this recipe has been screaming out for posting lately. Which is because I’ve been making it alot. Which is because we’ve been eating it alot. In fact, the only problem with this recipe is how quickly it gets eaten around here! I’ve actually been known to take spoonfuls out of my husband’s bowl because he has taken “too much”! He didn’t like that.

I love this granola: it’s easy, fairly low-cost, and absolutely delicious. It’s based on the recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant’s New Classics cookbook, but with a few modifications. Here you go:

Moosewood Granola

4 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

1/2 cup each sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coarsely chopped walnut pieces, sesame seeds, wheat germ, large flake coconut (sweetened or unsweetened–it’s up to you) or combination of any of those

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup liquid sweetener (maple syrup, fake maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, golden syrup, etc.) with 1-2 tbsp molasses added to total 1/2 cup.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients including cinnamon and stir until everything is well distributed. Add oil first and then liquid sweetener, and stir until well combined.

Pour out onto a large rimmed cookie sheet and place in oven. Bake for a total of about 20 minutes, stirring several times during the cooking to prevent burning and promote even browning. I used to stir every 5 minutes but found I can bake it in 3 bursts of 7 minutes instead. Try it on the cautious side to see how your oven behaves. You don’t want to burn it!

Some notes: I never worry about the “ratio” of dry ingredients to oil and sweetener. No matter how much or little I add, it always turns out. Also, see how I’ve cleverly changed the recipe to use only one dry measuring cup. If you measure the oil first, and put the liquid sweetener into the same un-rinsed cup, it just slides right out! Oh, and my favourite version has been with the cheap fake 15% maple syrup pancake syrup! I’ve never done a cost analysis of this, but it seems to me that it is cheaper than the store-bought variety. In any case it is better and healthier, and pretty easy to whip up if you need a quick treat. I eat mine with raisins and milk, but dried cranberries are also delicious! Vegan if made with anything but honey.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I mentioned a few posts ago that I didn’t have a good chocolate chip cookie recipe I can rely on. This has been a sad state of affairs, as I LOVE chocolate chip cookies. I remember my neighbour making incredible chocolate chip cookies when I was really young. They were fantastic–soft, with a crisp exterior, especially magical just out of the oven on a cool fall day after running around the back yard playing freeze tag for the better part of an afternoon. I wanted a recipe like that!

I’ve finally worked out a pretty good chocolate chip cookie recipe, based on the one in Deceptively Delicious, but with a few modifications. This is the recipe I imagine my kids might miss when they move away from home. It makes nicely spreading cookies, rich with chips, and with just a little extra flavour & texture due to the 1/2 cup oats thrown in.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups chocolate chips

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter with brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides as needed to ensure an even mixture. Add chocolate chips and mix on low until combined. Mix dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, and add all at once to butter mixture. Mix on low until a thick dough forms, again scraping down bowl as needed.

Form balls of dough by tablespoon on a cookie sheet covered with a sheet of parchment paper. Flatten slightly. Bake until just set–do not over-cook–11 to 13 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

As with all cookie recipes, I like to make 1 dozen of these, and freeze the other dough balls so I can have fresh cookies another day. I freeze them individually on a cookie sheet and then put them into a zip-lock baggie for longer storage. When baking cookies from frozen, reduce temperature to 325 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes.

I FlambĂ©ed! Red Clam Sauce Extraordinaire

I’m not sure exactly why, but I decided to add a flambĂ© step to my experimental red clam sauce. And I’m not sure exactly what it added, flavour-wise, but it was amazingly fun. Also, the sauce was delicious–much better than my previous attempt at making clam sauce. I totally recommend flambeing to anyone who wants to add some flair & excitement to their day. It was so exciting to stir down those 2-foot flames that suddenly whoooshed up in my kitchen! Just make sure to stand back so it doesn’t take off your eyebrows 😉

It’s a pretty frugal meal too, and definitely good enough to serve to company.

Frugal Urban Red Clam Sauce Extrordinaire

2 slices bacon (or more), cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 oz gin (or other dry hard alcohol 40% or higher)

2 cans baby clams, with their juice

1 can of tomato paste

1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh, minced)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp (or to taste) hot pepper flakes

salt and pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon pieces. Once they give up a bit of their fat, add in the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions start to brown and bacon starts to crisp. Add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Remove your cooking utensil from the pan (especially if it’s made of wood!) and make sure there are no flammable materials overhead or nearby, and then with a barbecue lighter in one hand at the ready, tip in the alcohol with the other hand, let it warm in the pan for maybe 5 seconds, then light the pan on fire. Whoosh! Let it burn for a few seconds and then start stirring down the flames.

Once the fire has gone out, you can add the remaining ingredients. Tip in the baby clams, including their juices, and then stir in the tomato paste. Add the thyme, bay leaves and hot pepper flakes, and then bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered, until the sauce thickens and the flavours marry. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

We enjoyed this over capellini noodles (but then again, I enjoy just about anything over capellini noodles), but Linguini or Fettuccini would probably work even better for others who don’t share my obsession with teeny tiny noodles.

Fruit Crisp

[photo to come] I was writing up this recipe for my friend Holly, but it fits the bill for the blog as well. It is cheap, easy, and delicious, especially when it takes advantage of seasonal fruit. I made this yesterday with most of a 3-Litre basket of peaches that I got for $3–and that was at the overpriced grocery store near my house!

I actually doubled it in 2 dishes, and froze one with an aluminum foil “sling” so I can remove it from the baking dish, and then take it out and plunk it back in the dish when it comes time to bake it later. I’m hoping to be able to bake it from frozen–maybe for longer at a lower temperature?–but I will have to look into this more.

The recipe is from my good ole’ Five Roses Cookbook. It’s basically just a crumbly sweet oat topping over chopped up fruit. The fruit really compacts as it cooks so if you have it, I suggest really filling up the dish with fruit and then topping it. Also, I added sugar as the recipe called for, but then I found it too sweet. In the past I have usually just put fruit on the bottom and with the topping, found it sweet enough, so that is what I am going to instruct here. If you want to add the sugar, the recipe called for 1/3 cup sugar or brown sugar, depending on the fruit, so you can decide for yourself.

Oh, and a vegan alternative would be to use margarine instead of butter, or another recipe I saw called for chilled coconut oil . . . sounds tasty especially with the addition of shredded coconut in the mix!

Fruit Crisp

2/3 cup flour

2/3 cup oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup soft butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Cut in butter until completely incorporated. A food processor would make short work of this in a few pulses.

Prepare fruit as indicated below and spread in the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Sprinkle oat topping over it and bake about 30 minutes until top is crispy and fruit is soft. Delicious hot with vanilla ice cream, or cold with yogurt for breakfast.

Fruit filling instructions

Chop fruit, peeled or unpeeled as you wish, core or pit removed, until it rises a good way up the side of baking dish. The fruit will shrink substantially during cooking. Add sugar if you wish, to desired sweetness, and mix with sliced fruit. You may also want to add lemon juice or grated lemon rind, especially for apples.

Suitable for: pears, apples, peaches, blueberries, rhubarb, or apparently canned pie filling . . . though I wouldn’t recommend it!

Super Economical Black Bean Soup

I kinda regret making this today, with the humidity at 80%, but it is super cheap, super easy, and pretty delicious. And with its wholesome list of beans, tomatoes, corn, lime juice and cilantro, it fits the nutrition bill too! It can also be vegetarian or vegan depending on the broth and additives you choose.

This comes in under $3 for the pot, and will feed our family of three for at least 2 meals. Whoever said eating beans was cheap, was right on!

Black Bean Soup

1 onion, diced

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp chili powder

1 green pepper, diced

1 tbsp garlic, crushed (1 large or 2 medium cloves)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can black beans, rinsed

1 cup fresh, frozen or canned corn niblets

2 cups chicken or veggie broth

juice of 1 lime

Toppings (optional, depending on what you have on hand)

chopped cilantro

sour cream

shredded cheddar cheese

crushed corn chips

Heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and chili powder and cook until onion is soft. Add green pepper and cook until onion is somewhat browned. Add minced garlic and stir until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomatoes, beans, corn and broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes until tomatoes start to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Serve with toppings on the side so everyone can add what they want. This would be delightful with quesadillas or toast, depending on what kind of day you’re having.

Fish Cakes, Fish Cakes, rolly polly Fish Cakes

fish_cakesNow that I’ve got that song in your head, here’s a great little recipe for delicious and easy salmon cakes. (I also love a version made with canned salmon and leftover potatoes; but this one is just a little bit fancier.)

Pan-Fried Salmon Cakes

1 1/2 lbs fresh salmon (I never use fresh.  Canned is acceptable and very frugal–use 2 cans–but frozen is even better, and easier to chop too! I usually use 1 lb.)

1 1/4 cups breadcrumbs

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated onion

2 tbsp minced fresh parsley

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3/4 tsp salt

1 lg egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil (for frying)

lemon wedges

I don’t have one myself, but you can do all this in a food processor. The instructions here are for doing it by hand. Finely chop the salmon (or mash if using canned) and add 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and the mayo, onion, parsley, lemon juice and salt. Mix together well and form into patties. Depending on how much fish you’ve used you might get between 5 and 7. Put patties in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm up before breading and frying.

Place flour, egg and remaining breadcrumbs separately into 3 bowls. Working with 1 patty at a time, coat in the flour, then douse in the egg, then cover in breadcrumbs. Once you’ve breaded all the patties they are ready to fry.

Heat 1/2 cup of veg oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium to med-hot until quite hot. Place the patties carefully in the pan and cook until browned, flip over and brown on other side.

Serve with lemon wedges. I also like a simple sauce made with a mix of mayonnaise, grainy mustard and tangy dill relish. Add a salad and a glass of wine, and you have the makings of a lovely light summer dinner. My somewhat picky toddler enjoys these for their “mild flavour”–sans lemon, sauce & wine of course!

My Favourite Summer Soup

It’s green–the colour–and also very eco-friendly if you choose local organic veggies. I made this soup on Sunday after finding zucchini, cilantro and garlic at my favourite stall at the farmer’s market, Waratah Downs. Not that I came up with the idea this Sunday–I’ve been making this fabulous soup for years–but it has never been so good as it was using fresh local veg.  We had it for dinner with some grilled cheese sandwiches, and I froze enough for another dinner some time in the fall.  (Have I mentioned I LOVE my new freezer??)

So here is the recipe:

Zucchini-Cilantro Soup

1 tsp veg oil

1 onion, diced

approximately 1 lb or more of zucchini, sliced

1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (fresh if you can get it)

4 cups broth, or enough to cover the zucchini

large handful of cilantro, minced fine

Brown the onion in the vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Add the zucchini and let it get nice and brown in spots. Add the minced garlic and stir so it gets fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broth. Let the soup bubble gently until zucchini is soft, about 15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and then add cilantro.

Blend in a blender or with a hand blender–in a regular blender the zucchini will become very fine and the soup will take on a beautiful bright green colour. With a hand blender, it won’t mix in quite so well, but the soup will be just as flavourful.

Stir in some plain yoghurt if you like. Also if you are a lover of tofu, you can blend in some silken tofu, though don’t add too much or the flavour will dominate.

Enjoy with some grilled cheese sandwiches for a light and easy weekday supper.