Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bulk Up!

     I posted an Amazon Listmania list this past weekend that included budget gluten free items. I found pancake mix for $2.55 per box, bags of oatmeal under $4.50, and cornbread mix for $2.27 per bag! I was so impressed with the prices there. I know the overall price of a bulk purchase is more than what is normally budgeted for a particular item, but doing one purchase every two weeks or every month is still a great way to save a few dollars on your grocery budget.

     There are so many ways to save money on the monthly grocery budget, but so few options are regularly taken advantage of. Not everyone clips coupons and not everyone has access to larger grocers or specialty stores. For these people, and many others, finding discounts online is becoming a more popular and mainstream option. Colleges are encouraging students to order foods online now in bulk to help save money on their meal plans, and households are turning to online bargains to shave dollars off the monthly food budget.

     Dig around and you'll be surprised at what you can find. Be ware, however, of those home delivery services. Several of our friends were thinking how neat it would be to have fresh produce and groceries delivered to your door, but after the company tacks on fees for fuel and delivery it makes the services too expensive to remotely consider.

     A step down from the grocery delivery is the food share program or CSA programs available in most parts of the country. Check out for CSAs near your location as well as a myriad of other farm goods that are deliverable to your door. CSAs consist of a specified amount of vegetables each week or every other week for a certain amount of time. Pick ups are the general rule and little supplementation is needed to get you through a week filled with produce. These can be a bit more expensive than just buying produce, especially if you do not use all of the produce each week.

     Buying larger amounts of an item is generally a sure-fire way to get a discount. Whole Foods regularly offers a 10% discount for buying a case of an item. It may seem silly to buy an entire case of canned Indian food, but when you eat it at least once a week and can save .47c per can – that's a $5.64 savings on your groceries just by purchasing one item in bulk.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Commitment Free Lasagna

      Making traditional lasagna is a commitment of at least three hours. I don't know about you, but I don't even have kids running around, unless my cats and rabbit count, and I find it hard to come up with three hours to make dinner on most days. Sure, there are some lazy Sundays with afternoons just begging to be used by the oven, but most days are full of better things to do than stand over a counter and stove for the good part of an afternoon.

     Now there comes a problem into sight: I love lasagna.

     I have always loved lasagna. I was not raised in an Italian family with tables filled with foods and family, so it's not that kind of love, but my family would rock the frozen lasagna from the grocery store. Plate it up with salad and garlic bread, and you have one of my absolute favorite meals in the galaxy. That lasagna was the epitome of Italian for me. Rich tomato-y sauce, firm, frilly noodles with four or five kinds of cheese, and slightly well done to make the cheese extra crispy on the top layer.

     After I went gluten and dairy free my cravings for lasagna did not subside. My food tastes have developed a bit since the days of frozen-in-box and I still long for deliciously rich lasagna. 98% of the time when I'm converting a recipe to suit our food habits I do not have a problem, but once in a blue moon I will have a bit of a challenge put before me when I'm trying to figure something out. Lasagna was one of those moments for me. Most of you know that my household is vegetarian, so meat and meat sauce are both out, and I can't do dairy, so cheese is also out.

      “So what's left” I would tell myself; I pretty much gave up on the idea before I even tried it and went lasagna-less for about a year and a half or so.

      I dabbled in lasagna for a while before I came up with this recipe that I follow pretty closely now. It's right at an hour start to finish for me to prepare, cook, and serve. This cut in time made it a very accessible recipe for me to incorporate into the rotation of meals. With most of my cooking I do not use recipes for exact instructions but for ideas and inspirations. With that theory, I hope that you use this recipe as a base for you to spring from.

Commitment Free Lasagna
6 lasagna noodles
½ pound baby spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
1 jar artichoke hearts, chopped
½ C water + stock cube or ½ C liquid stock
tomato sauce to taste
shredded basil

Bring large pot of water to a boil and add lasagna noodles one or two at a time until al dente. When the noodles are done, lay them out on a plate to cool. While this process is going, heat skillet over medium heat and add artichoke hearts and onions, cooking until onions are translucent. Add stock, tomato sauce, and basil to onions and mix well. Place spinach on top of onions and place lid on pan until spinach has wilted and can be easily incorporated into the onion mix.
Once the spinach is incorporated, the stove can be turned off and the oven preheated to 350*F. Using a spoon or fork and starting about half an inch from the start, line the center of a noodle with a small amount of filling. Roll the noodle up starting from the end with no filling and place into a baking dish. Continue in this manner until all the noodles have been used and top the dish with the remainder of the filling.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until filling and noodles are hot and any cheese added has melted.

Served with garlic bread and a salad, this will generously serve two or three people, depending on appetites.

      For variations, try making a white sauce or pesto sauce to use in place of the tomato sauce, adding zucchini or mushrooms, experimenting with shredded carrots, or using vegan cheese to give it some extra body.

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