Budget Kitchen Fundamentals: Hail Seitan!

One of the big ticket items that pushed us over budget this week was a five dollar bag of vital wheat gluten, which we use to make seitan (a.k.a. wheat meat, but that sounds kind of gross). Despite the series of decidedly sketchy pictures on seitan’s Wikipedia page, it is a delicious and versitile vegetarian protein source. At our coop, you can buy a pint container of pre-made seitan (about 3 servings) for about two bucks. Not terribly expensive. But it’s the extra step of making the stuff at home that makes seitan a frugal kitchen fundamental for us.

There are two basic methods for making seitan: from scratch (i.e. from whole wheat flour) or from vital wheat gluten (this is the recipe we use). A little background info on wheat itself will highlight the difference between the two. SCIENCE!

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If you click on that thumbnail, you’ll see a big diagram of a wheat grain, including parts like the germ and the bran that you often read about on cereal boxes or muffin labels or whatever. You’ll also notice that while we may think of wheat as a common source of starch carbohydrates, all the major parts of the grain also have protein. The process of separating out the starch so that you are just left with gluten (the protein part) is what you skip if you buy vital wheat gluten in the store. If you start with flour, the process of making seitan involves several rounds of kneading and washing a ball of wheat dough until the starch dissolves, leaving your with a ball of gluten.

Now, it’s true that we advocate for from-scratch processes as a rule, but in this case I’m not sure that the economics of flour vs. gluten show either option to be substantially cheaper (you pay for the gluten and the starch when you buy flour, and then you wash all the starch down the drain when you make the seitan, yielding a relatively small amount of seitan) and starting with gluten saves you a considerable amount of labor and water. It’s worth noting, however, that there are probably some industrial processes involved in the production of store-bought wheat gluten that you avoid by starting with flour, so the latter may in fact be the most environmentally sustainable option.

Making seitan from vital wheat gluten still takes some time, but relatively little labor. Basically, you’re making a dough from the gluten and then boiling that dough in broth for a while. The type of broth that you use is going to determine the base flavor of the seitan, which will of course have to coexist with whatever recipes you eventually make. This recipe from Epicurious provides a good starting point, but we encourage tinkering to determine your own version.

We usually find that two cups of vital gluten will yield approximately one basketball (or two human brains) of seitan. Ultimately you’ll use half of a $5 bag of gluten, plus maybe $1 worth of broth-related ingredients, and you’ll wind up with upwards of fifteen servings of delicious mock meat. We use it in place of beef or chicken in stir fries, or just fry some up in a skillet to have as a steak with brussel sprouts or potatos. Or, for bonus points, we have seitan steak and eggs for weekend brunch. Put the extra in tupperware filled with broth and freeze it. Easy, efficient, tasty.


Keeping it Real?

With our budget over $8 due to our New Year’s Eve festivities, I’m wondering if we should try to only spend $22 next week. Comments?


Can’t Win ‘Em All

Being gone for the holidays last week left us with a substantial $19 of weekly budget left over to combine with this week’s $30. Normally, this would be pretty luxurious, but it so happens that we are having a bunch of folks (maybe about 10?) over for dinner on New Years Eve and we needed to get some extra food. We’re making chili, which is generally an extremely economical meal – and one that I’ll post about separately when we actually make it – but when you’re serving that many people, a couple of the more expensive items add up quick. On top of that, we were out of coffee and also needed wheat gluten flour to make a batch of seitan – again, a very economical process in itself and one that we’ll write about soon, but the gluten tacked on about $6 to our already strained grocery bill this week. Anyway, I present to you our first undeniably overbudget grocery receipt. It clocks in at $57: eight bucks over even our expanded budget.

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The silver lining is that if you take out all the stuff that we bought specifically for the chili, we get down to $34.16, which is way within our budget if you take into account the money left over from last week.

Money left over: Wah-Waaaaah


Triumphant Post-Holiday Return

Having spent some time out of town for the holidays, we’ve been a bit lax on the site. However, we are back in the swing of things now and are ready to start posting. After almost a week away, our pantry is looking pretty bare, but we still have a bunch of money left over from last week’s small grocery bill, so we’ll probably be stocking up on staples like dried grains and beans.

Also, we’re going to be putting together a menu for a medium-size New Years Eve potluck and will post those recipes and I’ll be doing a tag-team post on the chili night that has become a New Years tradition for us and is a great way to feed lots of people on the cheap.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a recipe for the amazing Basil Lime Sorbet that my aunt and cousin put together as a Christmas dinner palette cleanser.


A Healthier Latke

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A little pre-Chanukah fun, we made some latkes on Friday night to have with some french onion soup.  I used two recipes to come up with some crispy and delicious latkes that weren’t deep fried.

The recipes I used were one that I bookmarked on our del.i.cious page and one from the NYT’s.  I used the ideas in the first recipe (using less oil to fry them and baking them), but followed more of the recipe from the Times.  Here is the hybrid.

A Healthier Latke

Ingredients

2.5 pounds russet potatoes (peeled)
1 onion (I used half red and half regular)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp salt
4 tablespoons flour (or better yet, matzo meal)
vegetable oil

To Do:

Grate potatoes and onions in a food processor fitted with a grated plate or shred with a grater. Use your hands to squeeze out the liquid as much as you can and place in a big bowl. Add the salt, pepper, flour and mix with your hands. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Put about a tablespoon or two of oil in a large frying pan and wait until it gets hot. Grab a handful of the latke mixture, squeeze out the liquid and form into a patty. Place in frying pan. Continue with more of the latke mixture, but don’t crowd the pan. Lower the heat to medium and flip the latkes after about 4-5 minutes. Once each side is browned, place on a foil lined baking sheet. Continue until you fill up 2 baking sheets and place them in the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes or until they all are very brown and crispy.  This recipe should make about 12 pretty large latkes.

Serve with applesauce (preferably homemade, it’s quick and easy) and sour cream.


Mid-Week Receipt

Gonna be making some gingerbread this weekend, hence all the ginger.  I also spent $1.99 on Trader Joe’s soy chorizo and $1.89 on a big can of tomatoes.  Grand total left for the week: $6.03

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Chick Pea Soup

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As I was walking home last night, snow collecting in my scarf and stinging my eyes, I thought that soup was in the cards for supper. Luckily, I had made a batch of chickpeas in the crockpot a few days ago and stored them in the fridge. I also had some homemade vegetable stock that I made Monday night and a recipe from The Silver Spoon Cookbook that I’ve been meaning to try. I didn’t make the soup exactly, so I will just post what I ended up with.

Creamy Chickpea Soup (adapted from The Silver Spoon Cookbook)

Ingredients:

1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup cooking water from chickpeas (or 1/2 cup vegetable stock)
1.5 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
half large onion, chopped finely
2 large carrots, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
.5 tablespoons minced rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

To Do:

Place chickpeas and 1/2 cup cooking liquid (or vegetable broth) in a blender or food processor and blend until chickpeas reach a creamy consistency. This is not hummus, so add more liquid if you need to.

Heat olive oil over medium heath in a medium sized pot and add the rosemary and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the carrots and onion. Cover and let the mixture sweat for about 5 minutes over low heat. Add the chickpea puree and bring mixture to a boil. If it seems too thick, add more vegetable stock until it becomes the soup-like consistency you desire. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer for a few minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with croûtons if you have any. Serve with some crusty bread.


This Week’s Receipt

Pretty slim for now, but Phil had to go to the Coop anyways to buy a Christmas present.  Can’t post it, but I wish someone would get me one for Christmas!  The total got cut off from the food, but it’s: $11.05.  That means we have: $24.13 left for the week.

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More Holiday Gift Ideas (and more $ spent)

Just a few links on holiday gift giving from the kitchen:

Over the week/end, we spent a total of $7.60 on soy milk, coffee and some bread, so we have $5.18 coming into this week. Which is excellent because we will be having a special guest staying over for a couple of days.


New Favorite Brussels Sprouts Recipe?

We’ve been hooked on our roasted brussels sprout recipe for a couple years now – pretty much ever since sprouts entered regular veggie rotation. Now it seems like we might have a serious contender for our first string recipe.

Blame can be assigned to the Piedmont Review of Food, where JKD posted a recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts as part of his Thanksgiving spread (scroll down for the sprouts recipe). His preparation takes a little bit more effort, as the sprouts must first be lightly boiled and then sauteed, with the walnuts cooked separately, but the end product is rich and juicy in a way that might be pretty difficult to achieve with roasting alone.