Tag Archives: vegetarian

New series: Highlights from my favorite cookbook

This week I was very excited to get in touch with my favorite cookbook author, Sarah Fritschner. She has written many cookbooks and worked as a food writer for several newspapers, most recently as the food editor for the Louisville Times and Courier-Journal. Since 2009, she has served as the coordinator for the Louisville Farm to Table, created to bring together area farmers and their locally-grown foods with Louisville consumers in their homes, schools, restaurants, and workplaces, bolstering the local food economy.

My favorite cookbook of hers is “Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook,” We use it several times a week and love the simple, easy-to-prepare recipes that involve 10 ingredients or less. The cookbook includes recipes for main dishes, sides, desserts, soups, pizzas, and more. We eat vegetarian on most weekdays (due to cost mostly, but it does benefit our health, too) and so this cookbook has become indispensable!

I originally bought this cookbook back in college when I had often thought about going vegetarian. Who would have guessed it would be my favorite cookbook for my family of six? We have had this book so long and used it so often, that the pages are turning yellow and we have many post-it flags to mark our favorites! Unfortunately, it is out-of-print. However, you can get it used from various sellers on Amazon, or possibly from your local library.

Since starting this blog, I have wanted to share some of the recipes from this cookbook. Thankfully, I got permission this week from the author to do this! So starting next week, I hope to feature one recipe a week from this great cookbook. I will include pictures of the finished recipes, too!

For more ideas on menu planning and great recipes, check out my posts:


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Earth Tip: Buy organic and local

A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

As part of my “Countdown to Earth Day” series, I wanted to highlight even more ways that you can take actions to help our planet. Today’s tip is to buy organic and locally produced foods.

Now, I realize that buying organic can sometimes be more costly than other choices. We used to buy almost everything organic, but have had to cut back drastically with the current economy and our current salaries. If you have to pick a few to buy, check out this article: “The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic.”

However, as we continue to promote the demand for these products, eventually prices will come down. Even buying one or two items each week can make a difference. There are many advantages to buying organic and local (to list just a few):

  • Fresher food for your families
  • No chemicals, pesticides, etc.
  • Less travel time for products from farm to market (which produces less pollution)
  • Protects our ecosystem
  • Promotes fair treatment of farm laborers and humane treatment of animals
  • Focus on sustainable life for farmers
  • Helps local businesses stay in business

To find out where to get locally grown or organic food in your area, here are two resources:

Eat Well Guide:

This is a free online directory for anyone who wants locally grown and sustainably produced food in the United States and Canada. It lists thousands of family farms, restaurants, farmer’s markets, grocery stores, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, U-pick orchards, and more. You can search in a variety of ways: by location, keyword, category, or product.

Local Harvest:

This is another directory geared for just the United States. They maintain a directory of small farms, farmer’s markets, and other local food sources. Their website also features an online store, a forum, a listing of events, blogs, and a newsletter. It is a great resource for learning about ways to get involved, how to use your “local harvest,” and more.


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First canning experiment: Apple butter

For years I have wanted to try canning. My husband wasn’t so excited, but went along with it. He has experimented with many spaghetti sauce recipes and has a great refried beans recipe. We always thought it would be great to be able to can them to give to others or to store for later. It also is a great way to save money. However, we have never invested in the equipment to do it, thinking it would be too expensive to start.

However, I recently found a Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit on Amazon. For $10.57 (and free shiping with my Amazon Prime) we got a silicone basket, 3 pint jars, and a recipe booklet to start canning. No expensive pot needed; you can use your own stock pot. So here are the details from our first canning experiment. (The kit is currently out of stock on Amazon, but they have it from other retailers.)

We decided to try apple butter since apples are in season and the recipe seemed simple. Boy were we wrong! The recipe was simple to do, but very time-consuming.

The first attempt was 2 times the recipe and made 7 half-pint jars. The second go-round was 3 times the recipe (3 batches) and made 10 half-pint jars. The recipe itself did not specify a yield.

(From the “Ball Beginner’s Guide to Canning and Recipe Booklet”)

4 1/2 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and quartered
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/8 t. ground cinnamon
3/8 t. ground cloves


1. Combine apples and apple cider in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft, about 30 minutes.

Note: Buy big apples because the peeling can be very time-consuming with small apples (which we got). If you are making more than one batch at a time, make sure you have a large enough pot to cook them in. Three batches filled an 8-quart stainless steel pot.

The chopped apples


Cooking the apples

2. Transfer apple mixture to a food mill or a food processor fitted with a metal blade, working in batches, puree until a uniform texture is achieved. Do not liquefy. Measure 9 cups of apple puree.

3. Combine apple puree, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves in a clean large stainless steel saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and holds its shape on a spoon.

NOTE: This stage seems easy, but takes forever! It took us at least 8-10 hours of cooking time. We had to do it over several evenings.

After food processor


Getting thicker


Finally thick enough!

4. Prepare stockpot/canner and jars as directed in step-by-step instructions. (These depend on if you are using a pressure canner or the beginner’s kit like we did. They are included in the beginner’s guide.) We sterilized our jars in the dishwasher.

5. Ladle hot butter into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; re-measure headspace. If needed, add more butter to meet recommended headspace. Wipe rim; center lid on jar. Screw band until fingertip-tight.

NOTE: You need a non-metallic spatula small enough to fit into the jar to do this. We didn’t have a small enough one, so we used a small plastic knife.

Getting out air bubbles

6. Process filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. (This means placing the silicone basket with jars inside a pot of boiling water. See guide for more instructions.) Remove stockpot lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store. The guide recommends you let them cool for 12 hours.

NOTE: We cooled ours on a baking rack in the sink to catch the dripping water.

The silicone basket


Processing the jars


Cooling on a rack


Now we are ready to add a label and a bow and our holiday craft for this year is done! We still have a lot of jars left, though, so we plan to try another recipe soon! Details to come. 

For more recipes and great tips on canning, visit Ball’s website.


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What’s for lunch?

We are always looking for healthy ideas for things to put in our lunches. My husband and I often take leftovers from the night before, but there often isn’t enough for our older son and he wouldn’t be able to heat up any of it. We are fortunate that right now our three youngest get lunches and snacks at their early childhood center. So I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of specific healthy lunch and snack ideas. Feel free to comment with any of your suggestions so I can add them, too.

Our rule of thumb is to pack the following types of food for our son’s lunches:

∞ Protein: sandwich (sunflower butter and jelly, Morningstar Farms burger, tuna or egg salad), yogurt, cheese and crackers, pita and hummus, etc.

∞ Vegetable: either fresh or leftover frozen or fresh veggie from the night before

∞ Crunchy starch: crackers, veggie straws, pretzels, chips, etc.

∞ Fruit: Fresh, canned or dried (see below). He often gets more than one because we send snacks as well.

Here are some specific ideas that fall into the last two categories (crunchy and fruit):

∞ Graham crackers: The healthy brand that we like is New Morning. We buy them in bulk from Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program. You can get cheap ones from Wal-Mart and Aldi, but they are not very healthy.

∞ Crackers: I used to love getting crackers at Whole Foods, but the way we go through them I couldn’t afford to get the healthy brands there anymore. Now we have found two Aldi versions of Triscuit and Wheat Thins that are cheap and not too bad health-wise. Cheez-its and Kashi crackers also go on sale and occasionally have coupons in the Sunday paper and online.

∞ Granola bars: Nature Valley, Target Archer Farms Simply Balanced, and Trader Joe’s seem to be the cheapest and healthiest I can find.

∞ Pretzels and veggie puffs: We have yet to find one brand that works best for this. The healthy ones like Snyder’s Organic and Newman’s Own are expensive and don’t have much per pack. We end up buying whatever is on sale and we have a coupon for. However, Trader Joe’s cheese and veggie puffs and very cheaply priced and we to get them when we can.

∞ Applesauce: Target seems to have the best price around. We buy the large size and divvy it up into small Gladware containers.

∞ Fruit leathers: Target (Archer Farms brand) seems to have the best deal on kosher and healthy fruit leathers. There is another kind by Clif that is sold at Sam’s in bulk, but they are a bit more expensive.

∞ Raisins and other dried fruit: Wal-Mart has the cheapest pack of kosher bulk raisins. Aldi comes a close second. Aldi also carries other cheap dried fruit like dried bananas, mango, blueberries, and other berry mixes. Sam’s Club has the best price on Craisins.

∞ Pudding: I have yet to find a good cheap healthy option for this. I hate seeing that long list of chemicals and artificial colors and flavors on many brands. The only healthy kosher one around is Kozy Shack, but they are much more expensive and have fewer flavors than other brands. We sometimes get a larger one and divvy it up, but it sometimes goes bad before we eat it all.

We ideas on how we package everything, see my post “Switch over your disposables!”

Any ideas that you like? Please share in the comments section.


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Stretching your dinner dime… dollar

Large Dollar Bill 7500x3200

There are some weeks when money is tight and we try to plan the menu around what we have in the house. Here is a sample of “go-to” recipes we like for cheap easy meals. Keep in mind these do require you to have a stocked pantry.

∞ Salmon hash: We try to eat salmon at least once a week for its health benefits. However, fresh salmon is very expensive. This simple recipe calls for canned salmon and just few other ingredients. We like to serve it with corn. Our kids, of course, love to dip it in ketchup.

∞ Caesar salad: My husband found this recipe for Caesar dressing and we love it. We serve the salad with fake chicken nuggets (or patties) and fruit. The fake chicken is not necessary, though. My husband makes his own croutons (different from this recipe).

Changes Brent made to this recipe:
Add 1 coddled egg to the dressing.
– Use 1 t. dijon mustard instead of dried mustard.
– Use wine vinegar instead of sherry.
– Instead of the directions as shown, put the first 6 ingredients and the coddled egg in the food processor. Process until smooth. Slowly pour in the olive oil.
– Double the recipe so you have leftovers for another meal. 

∞ Eggs and toast: We love scrambled eggs and toast served with applesauce or fruit. We go through a lot of eggs, though. Occasionally if we have extra cheese from another recipe, we throw it in the eggs. We usually make scrambled, but occasionally my hubby makes his fried or omelet style.

∞ Morningstar farms: This meal is not as cheap, but often does in a pinch. We like to buy these patties at Target and keep them on hand for lunches and occasional dinners. We serve them with bread, a frozen vegetable, and jasmine or brown rice.

∞ Pasta and homemade tomato sauce: We have tried out different tomato sauce recipes that call for white beans, tofu, fake ground meat, etc. We do like using the fake ground meat, but it can be costly. However, our new favorite is “Spaghetti alla Ceci” from Rachael Ray’s “Express Lane Meals” cookbook. It works well because it adds a protein that our kids can’t pick out. We serve it over spaghetti. Sides: salad and a veggie like green beans or broccoli. We also like the premade Trader Joe’s pasta sauce. It comes in hand on those nights we don’t have time to make homemade sauce. We don’t use the red pepper flakes and it still tastes great.

∞ Chick pea and broccoli stir fry with soy teriyaki sauce: This is a recipe we got from Wild Oats years ago. I will try to post it later if I can get permission.

∞ Pancakes: Served with fruit and hash browns (homemade), this makes for a fun breakfast for dinner meal (we don’t do it very often, though). Best to make the hash browns in the morning, so you don’t have to prep both before dinner.

∞ Chick pea pitas: We love these pita sandwiches. We top them with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and schug (for my husband). We serve them with steamed cauliflower. This recipe is from our favorite cookbook (that we use at least once a week), “Vegetarian Express Lane Cookbook” by Sarah Fritschner. It is out of print, but definitely worth buying used. Our copy is well-loved! I am going to try to request permission to post some of her recipes.

∞ Beans and Rice: We have lots of recipes using different types of beans. You can use jasmine rice or brown rice for a healthy meal. We keep both in the house. Our favorite recipes for this meal come from the above cookbook. 

Another one of our favorites, but which can be a little more expensive is:

∞ Salmon stir-fry: All this one takes is canned salmon, oil, stir-fry vegetables, thick teriyaki, sesame oil and ginger. We serve it with brown or jasmine rice.

** For advice on creating menus ahead of time, see my post “Menu planning.”


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(More) Make your own…

There are many store-bought products that are quite expensive if you consider how much cheaper it would be to make your own. They also often have chemicals and preservatives in them that we would rather not eat. When our boys (all four of them) were babies, we made our own homemade baby food by cooking, blending, and then freezing the food in ice cube trays. It worked great and saved us a bundle. We had a variety of baby food cookbooks and got the boys used to a variety of foods.

Since then we have made our own:
– applesauce
– baked beans
– hummus
– hamburger rolls
– granola bars
– taco sauce
– refried beans
– corn bread muffin mix
– onion soup mix
– hot cocoa
– and more.

Some things like taco sauce and refried beans we make on a regular basis. My husband has created his own refried beans recipe that is “out-of-this-world.” He makes a big stockpot worth and we freeze it in “Gladware soup and salad” containers and take out one pack as we need it. We make burritos, chilaquiles and other recipes with it. They make a great easy meal! (However, he admits the beans themselves does involve a lot of work. But kosher refried beans are expensive and not so good!)

One great website that has lots of good homemade ideas is Budget 101.

Related posts:


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Making your own challah

My husband and oldest son (when he was 3) making challah.

Making challah can be a very fulfilling mitzvah and is one of the major mitzvot for women. I admit, though, that during the last year with me working full-time, I barely got to make challah at all. However, every time I do, I am so glad I did. My whole family loves homemade challah so much more than store-bought. It also saves us a lot of money. I have always wondered how much, though. Well, today I did the math! If you want to see the breakdown, click on this link: Challah recipe price

Basically, I figured that it costs $5.91 to make one recipe of my challah. I use the Whole Wheat Challah from the Spice & Spirit cookbook. At a yield of approximately 8 medium loaves that = $.74 per loaf.

Savings per challah:

– In comparison to buying $4 store-bought challahs = $3.26
– In comparison to buying $5 store-bought challahs = $4.26


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