An Exercise In Trivial Pursuits

Fatshion, Food & Frivolities – Life in Las Vegas & Singapore


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10 Things In Our Vegetarian Pantry

I’m often asked about the restrictions in my vegetarian diet but as I’ve proven in my varied meatless recipes, I eat a lot of different things even if I am by a far measure considered anywhere near being a good cook!

This post is inspired by my recent obsession with trying to bring our savings up to at least 50% per grocery run (extreme couponing is difficult when you tend to be brand loyal). I have a small pantry and we’re only a 2-person household, so stockpiling hundreds of boxes of the same thing is rather ridiculous for me as I don’t want to worry about expiry dates, keeping things dust-free and clutter around the house.

Here are a list of 10 things I stock up on and keep an eye out for coupons or sales. I try not to stock up more than 3 to 6 months of ANYTHING (including loo roll and toiletries) because I don’t want to so many things lying around collecting dust. Also I have better things to do than clean them, rotate them, keep an inventory. HAH!

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1. SILK Soy and Almond Milk

I would be happy to drink regular milk – anything that’s $2.99 per gallon or less. But T prefers the taste of Soy Milk, especially this brand. At our regular grocery store, this usually goes for about $3.60 – $3.90 for a half gallon carton so I don’t buy it that often. Recently though, I chanced upon another grocery store selling it at $2.99 AND I also had coupons for them. And since they last longer than regular milk, I bought up enough to last us for the next 2 months! However, because this other grocery store is further than the regular one we go to, I’m not sure if I’ll make the trip there just to buy soy milk unless I’m in the area or there are extreme savings to be had. (The Chocolate Almond Milk is mine btw. I’ll drink them when they’re cheap, if not it’s back to regular dairy for me.)

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2. TRUVIA

Truvia is a sugar substitute and supposedly much better than other alternative sweeteners because it’s stevia-based. I use them to sweeten hot drinks from time to time but mostly bake with them. They’re definitely a lot pricier than regular sugar so I bought a bunch of them when I found coupons and when they went on sale. As a diabetic, I do what I can even if I can’t keep my sweet tooth at bay. So far, we haven’t been able to tell the difference. I’ve baked for T, my neighbours as well as my in-laws! So yeah, it works!

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3. RAGU Pasta Sauce

I’m not brand loyal to pasta sauce but T is and this is his favourite. That is to say, if we do ever run out of pasta sauce and there’s something cheaper, I won’t buy RAGU but when possible, I will stock up so we won’t be in that uncomfortable situation where I want to stoically stick to my budget and T has to eat something he doesn’t like. I do make extra effort to buy as many bottles as I can (without being a hoarder) when they are about $1 each – clipping coupons, looking out for promotions etc. These keep well and I make pasta at least once every 7 to 10 days. There are many different flavours that are vegetarian-friendly, so that helps!

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4. BARILLA Whole Grain Pasta

I began the switch to whole grain pasta only several months ago and I wasn’t brand loyal at all. T has had bad experiences with other whole grain, brown rice and quinoa-based pasta so he wasn’t too keen on the switch till we tried Barilla. Unlike the other brands we’ve tried, this cooks well and doesn’t taste any different from regular pasta. I managed to stock up about 3 months’ worth of their whole grain pasta through couponing and crazy checking of sales. This is what’s left of it. The cheapest I’ve ever gotten them for is about 67c per box, which I think is rather decent especially when coupons don’t double here in Las Vegas and I don’t deliberately hunt for coupons other than the ones I get in my mail.

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5. MORNINGSTAR FARMS Veggie Meat Products

I try to keep at least a few varieties of soy meat in the freezer so we can have different sources of protein. They keep longer than tofu and they do help keep those junk food/meat cravings at bay. We always have the Grillers Recipe Crumbles (they’re like minced pork/beef) because T loves them in his pasta sauce (I make a vegetarian bolognese thing with it) AND my favourite are the Bacon strips even though there are so many things in their range that I really like. These things can get really pricey so I only ever buy them when it’s at a price point I want, therefore sales and coupons come into play again. If not, we can go months without touching them and only eat tofu and eggs for protein.

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6. BOCA Burgers

I’m married to an American man/child. How can we go without burgers (or pizza)? I find BOCA burgers on sale more often than I do other brands of veggie protein and burgers are so easy to deal with so I always have 2 to 3 boxes around. Just the other day, I came back from yoga and before I went to shower, I greased up a pan, popped a few patties into the oven while I refreshed myself. Then when I was done, I went back to the kitchen to grab some multigrain burger rolls, melt a slice of 2% American cheese on the freshly grilled patties, add some fresh veggies between the buns and that’s it. Lunch was ready in 30 minutes! Depending on what veggies are on sale that week, sometimes we have it with a slice of tomato, sometimes cucumber, sometimes lettuce and if we get lucky, we get to have an entire side salad AND steamed corn on the cob!

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7. GARDEIN

I love Gardein (garden +  protein – so clever right?) but they never last very long in our house – this is the last of my stash until it costs about $3 a pack again. I’ve used them for grilled satay (marinated in the teriyaki sauce), they’re easy to throw into a stir-fry (beefless tips and broccoli)  and I’ve done creamy “roast chicken” pastas as well as a “battered chicken” pot pie. So easy, so delicious! I wish I could afford them for every meal!

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8. Frozen Vegetables

We’re vegetarians, of course we eat vegetables at every meal. Unfortunately we live in Nevada, so even when we go to the farmers’ market, the fresh produce isn’t very fresh by the time we get them. Also, there are seldom coupons for fresh fruit and veggies, so I buy frozen ones most of the time. I’m not brand loyal but I do have a certain price point that I’ll work with. I’ve read that fresh vegetables aren’t necessarily always better because produce is flash frozen at the point when they are at their freshest and most nutritious. No shame in buying frozen vegetables – especially if you’ve been basically living off your savings for the last 10 months without a job in sight. I don’t spend more than $5 on fresh produce for both of us each week because while I think it’s necessary to get your vitamins from the source, I try to make-do with whatever is in season thus cheap.

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9. YOPLAIT Light Yoghurt

This actually started with my sister. Before that, I would buy whatever yoghurt was cheapest and always stick to plain vanilla (it’s also my go-to flavour for ice cream). When my family came to visit last December, my sisters went crazy when the Yoplait at our regular supermarket went on sale for 50c each. They stocked up on the WHIPS range and once I tried it, I liked it. I’ve been buying 10-20 each time it goes on sale because T loves the Banana Cream Pie and Boston Cream Pie flavours (which he says are really close to the real thing).

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10. KELLOGG’S Special K

Actually it’s between this and Cheerios – which are healthier. We used to always buy Captain Crunch because T loves the peanut butter flavour but ever since I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, I’ve been looking for alternatives. I stock up on General Mill’s heart-healthy Cheerios when they’re at a good price point but I buy Kellogg’s products whenever I can because I take part in their rewards programme (MorningStar Farms products also earns you Kellogg’s points for redeeming products, vouchers, coupons and partaking in sweepstakes). So if Cheerios and Special K are the same price – always Special K.

My meatless pantry is quite decent, right?


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Meatless Monday: Easy Cheesy Pasta Bake

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I made this for Sunday brunch yesterday. The day before, T and I went for a 2-hr long hike at Mount Charleston after I did a 1-hr Hot Yoga class, so I thought I could reward myself and eat something indulgent. This is indulgent for me because of the cheese and pasta – I’m diabetic and I’ve been trying to cut down on the carbohydrates. I got up at 10am and made this in a jiffy!

This is so easy anyone can do it! I swear, even as a meat-eater, you won’t feel like a rabbit eating this! Also 1 cup of Silk Soy Milk has 8g of Protein and each of the LightLife Jumbo franks have 13g of Protein – something that I’m always asked as a vegetarian is “where do you get your protein from?” This is where and how!

As you can see from the picture below, I used Barilla’s Whole Grain Rotini because compared to white carbs (breads and pasta) it’s better in helping diabetics steady their blood sugar, and the switch has been welcomed in our home as it satisfies just the same. These are of course optional, but I just thought it’d be good to clarify why I chose to use these products. (Not endorsed…)

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Easy Cheesy Pasta Bake

Serves 2 – 4. Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 20-30 minutes.

1 tbsp Olive Oil

3 Jumbo Soy Franks (or 2-3 cups of sausages of your choice)

1 tbsp minced garlic

2-3 cups water (for boiling pasta)

2 cups of dry pasta

1 3/4 – 2 cups shredded Mozzarella

2 cups Soy milk (or any kind of milk of your choice)

1/2 cup chopped green onions (for garnish)

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Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degF
  2. Boil pasta for 6-8 minutes until partially cooked (the cooking process continues in the oven)
  3. Chop up franks and fry them up in olive oil and minced garlic. Then set aside.
  4. Add 1 cup of cheese to the bottom of a greased baking pan. (I used a 5″x9″ that was perfect for the amount I cooked so experiment with your own cooking vessels if necessary)
  5. Add 1/2 of the partially cooked pasta on top of the cheese.
  6. Layer the franks & garlic over the pasta (save a few pieces for topping the bake at the end)
  7. Spread the rest of the pasta evenly over everything.
  8. Pour milk evenly over everything in the baking pan.
  9. Top off with the remaining 1 cup of cheese and “decorate” with some franks.
  10. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. (This depends on your oven.)
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10-15 minutes before garnishing with chopped green onions.

 


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Meatless Monday: Dhal Nat for Curry

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I like what I did with the name of this recipe and my friend Natalie Giacchi who gave me the original recipe thinks it’s dodgy. But since she countered that statement with some “hahahas” I take it to mean that it’s okay with her.

Dhal or Dal is the Hindi name for lentils. Lentils is a great source of very affordable protein. In the same vein as the Chickpea Curry from 2 weeks ago, a vegetarian can only eat that many eggs and tofu for protein before getting sick of it. Also, T loves Indian food.

After researching recipes, experimenting and talking to my Indian friends (hello Shridar Mani), I’ve come to the conclusion that cumin and onions are the key ingredients and you must remember to fry your spices before you add fluids.

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Dhal Nat for Curry

Serves 4 – 6. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour

1 cup lentils

4 cups water

2 medium sized potatoes (diced)

1 medium sized carrot (chopped up)

1/2 large onion (sliced)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon tumeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

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Method:

1. Boil chopped up carrots and potatoes until slightly soft. (About 15 – 20 minutes)

2. In a pan or skillet, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil then fry up onions and garlic. (I just use the enamel pot that I’ll be cooking the curry in.)

3.  Add all the spices into the hot oil and turn the heat up. Once everything is mixed and nicely browned, turn heat down to medium.

4. Add boiled potatoes and carrots into the oil and stir.

5. Add pre-soaked lentils (prepare the lentils according to your package) and 4 cups of water to cover the mixture and turn the heat up high.

6. Continue stirring curry and once it comes to a boil, keep it boiling for 5 minutes before turning it down to medium heat.

8. Simmer on medium for 30 to 45 minutes until lentils are mushy.

Yum!

This recipe makes for a rather mild curry and if you want more heat, you can add chili powder or more cumin – which is the spice that you normally smell when you eat curry. Also, if you refer a more diluted curry, add a cup more water.


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Meatless Monday: Chickpea Curry

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So I was hankering for some old fashion Singaporean street snacks in a paper cone just the other day… Growing up in Singapore, the Kachang Puteh man was a staple on street corners, even game arcades and most often at the cinema. If you were to ask me, it’d be very difficult to pick between having some tasty kachang puteh and some buttery popcorn – as a child of multi-cultural Singapore, I’d say I want both and all at once if possible. My favourite kachang puteh variety would be the steamed chickpeas (followed by the peanuts a close second) and this brings us to the perfect segue (or so I say), to today’s recipe – the chickpea curry.

T shared the original recipe with me and asked if I could make it. Chickpeas are great for vegetarians because they are high in protein, allowing us to take a break from eggs and tofu. I tinkered with it a little and what I’m sharing below is what we had for dinner. This curry I made has a little kick but is not too spicy. I’ll definitely be making it again soon!

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Chickpea Curry

Serves 2 to 4. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes

2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)

1 cup cauliflower florets (about 1/2 a small head cut up)

1/2 cup carrots peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion (diced)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons (meat) curry powder

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 can diced tomatoes (14.5oz)

1 1/2 cup coconut milk

1 can chickpea (rinsed and drained)

2 tablespoons butter (Optional)

Method:

1. Put peeled and cubed potatoes and chopped carrots in a covered pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender. Add cauliflower florets to the pot and turn down the heat for 5 minutes.

2. In a pot or pan, heat cooking oil. Brown the onions and garlic.

3. Add curry powder, garam masala, cumin, salt and ground ginger to the oil and stir for about 1 min.

4. Add diced tomatoes, coconut milk, butter and chickpeas into the browned spices. Stir over medium high heat.

5. Add potatoes, carrots and cauliflower last.

6. Stir and simmer for 10 minutes on medium heat.

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Mmmm… super yum! Served with steamed basmati rice and some crispy papadum! Protein, fiber and carbs all rolled in one meal!

ps. I bought 5 tins of Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) for 88c each! HOW CHEAP IS THAT?!??!?! Can’t wait to cook this again… YUM!

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Meatless Monday: Easy Peasy Pilaf



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What in the world is Pilaf? Does it sound fancy to you? Don’t worry!

It’s simply rice cooked in a seasoned broth and there are many variations throughout the Middle East, South Asia, East Africa and many other places. This is my version – fast, cheap, easy and flavourful!

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Easy Peasy Pilaf 

Serves 3 to 4. Prep Time: 2 mins. Cooking Time: 20 mins.

2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 cups water and 1 cube veg stock)

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup long grain rice (I used Basmati)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup of diced tomatoes (I used ready diced ones in a can)

1/2 teaspoon powdered nutmeg (optional)

1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon (optional)

5 cloves (optional)

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Method:

1. Heat up a pan and melt the butter.

2. Brown the rice in the melted butter. Stir occasionally. Cook for 5 minutes.

3. Turn heat up high.

4. Add garlic,  paprika, chili powder, powdered nutmeg, powdered cinnamon, cloves and diced tomatoes.

5. Turn heat down to medium-high when it starts to bubble.

6. Stir occasionally. Cook for about 10 – 15 minutes until rice has softened and all fluids absorbed.

7. Serve!

This dish is great served cold as leftovers the next day too.

I served mine with Gardein’s Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips – one of T’s favourite flavours of soy meats (we stock up when we find a good price with additional coupon savings). You can eat this Pilaf alone, or with side dishes – everything from some pan-fried tofu, eggs over easy or just lightly buttered greens!


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Meatless Monday: Cauliflower Mash

20131031-151802.jpgMashed potatoes are great. T and I love potato almost everything – he more than I do. This recipe came about because I was trying to cook something that would keep for a while, is easy to make and lower in carbohydrates (we eat a lot of potato, rice and pasta as vegetarians and T doesn’t like vegetables in general).

This recipe is just a little healthier using cauliflower than potatoes because it is a tad lower in carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean you should eat heaps of it because it still has stuff like butter, milk and cheese in it. I like that you can make a huge batch, then serve it as a side dish over several days and it doesn’t lose flavour or go bad. Also, I got to use my new favourite kitchen appliance – the Cuisinart Immersion Hand Blender.

20131031-152019.jpgCauliflower Mash

Serves 4 to 6. Prep Time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 20 minutes.

1 medium head of Cauliflower

1 cup milk

1 cup shredded cheddar (you can use any cheese you like)

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon butter

1 tablespoon dried basil

Method:

1. Chop up the cauliflower into florets and drop it into a pot of boiling water. Boil till the florets are soft enough to be pierced by a fork.

2. Pour out all the water and mix all the ingredients (except basil) in the same pot.

3. Use an immersion blender or a food processor to blend everything together.

4. Sprinkle dried basil as a garnish upon serving.

TAH DAH!! If you want to, you can make this recipe lower in fat by using skim milk or low fat cheese.


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Meatless Monday: Fearless Fried Rice

20131008-134521.jpgThere’s obviously nothing fearful about fried rice. In fact, it’s probably the easiest thing to start with if you want to start stir frying! Everything just works with it! I was trying to be funny with the title but I don’t think it really works. It is however really simple and everyone should try it!

You can use any ingredients on hand, especially leftovers. The rice that I normally use for fried rice is usually cold and hard from the refrigerator. It’s the best kind for frying – the rice grains don’t break and are easier to stir fry. Also, you can substitute any of the ingredients – don’t add tomatoes, tofu or peas if you don’t like them. Throw some other things in them. I usually prefer them to be of different NATURAL colours just so that it looks pretty and you know the different colours represent different vitamins and minerals.

Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to eat. Cherry tomatoes, ketchup, tomato paste – anything except tomato juice. I’ve been told that eating tomatoes give you naturally flushed and ruddy cheeks. I’m not sure if that works for me and I don’t care. I do believe that they are among the healthiest things you can eat when eaten fresh and anything that slows down aging (Antioxidants, baby!), I LOVE LOVE LOVE. I digress. And here’s the recipe below:

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Fearless Fried Rice

Serves 4. Prep time: 5 mins. Cooking time: 15 mins.

6 cups or 3 full chinese rice bowls of cooked white rice

1/2 slab of extra firm tofu (cubed)

1 cup frozen peas (or any other veggies you like)

2 large eggs beaten

1 medium tomato (roughly chopped)

1/2 tablespoon garlic

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon vegetarian oyster sauce (mushroom flavoured)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil (optional)

1 tablespoon cooking oil

Method:

1. Cut up tomatoes and tofu into large cubes or chunks. Then put aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon cooking oil in stir fry pan and brown 1/2 tablespoon garlic in medium-high heat.

3. Once garlic starts to turn light brown, add cubed tofu and toss gently so they won’t break.

4. Once cubed tofu turn brown on the edges, add frozen peas (I just rinse them in tap water).

5. Turn up the heat to maximum, then toss in cooked rice (I merely removed mine from the fridge without heating them) and stir carefully, breaking up any lumps.

6. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and stir into the rice, tofu and peas.

7. Once the condiments are more or less mixed it (there will still be white patches of rice), make a well and stir in the beaten eggs with oyster sauce. Let it sit and cook for about half a minute then mix the rice, egg, peas and tofu quickly.

8. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of curry powder then toss the rice some more.

9. Once the rice looks more or less evenly browned and mixed, toss in the chopped up tomatoes (these should still be firm to bite when served).

10. Stir fry for about 1 minute then plate to serve.

I don’t use any salt or pepper with this dish because the soy sauce and curry powder have already added enough flavour. Feel free to mix any other ingredients or remove them all. The key ones are minced garlic, the egg, soy sauce and rice, of course.