Dinner, Lunch, Recipes

10 Ingredient Vegan BLT Salad

We bought this sourdough.  Like crazy delicious, I could eat half this loaf right now, locally baked sourdough bread.  And Jazz really wanted BLT’s.  And that’s good.  That’s fine.  I mean, if you’re Jazz.  And everything you eat turns into solid muscle (I mean seriously….c’mon!).  Recently, I have been very mindful of what I eat.  I’ve upped the protein, upped the vegetables and started doing some strength training.  All of this has made me more aware of my hunger signals and more importantly aware of the difference I feel in my energy when I am putting good food in my body on a regular basis (like the difference between flopping on the couch after work from exhaustion and making dinner, cleaning the house, and writing a blog post after work and then feeling like I could go for a run).  And while a delicious crispy tempeh bacon BLT, a little mayo and some ripe organic tomatoes on the sourdough from heaven would have been divine, I knew it would throw a wrench in how well I’ve been feeling.  So I compromised (at least so I thought).  I made a salad version of the sandwich love affair I was hoping to have.

And then it was so good.

Ok, let’s be straight.  A salad…will never….be as good as a sandwich.  Just like froyo will never be as good as ice cream.  But you, guys, there is some seriously good froyo out there.  And it’s better for you. So, tit for tat and all that.

It’s quick.

It’s easy.

It’s like annoyingly healthy.

It’s crammed with flavor.

And I felt great afterwards rather than weighed down and fraught with guilt.

The tahini lemon dressing that goes with this is so simple.  You only need one bowl so clean up is a breeze.  I love using kale in this salad because it balances out the tempeh and tomatoes so well. And I didn’t even mention the pièce de résistance, the FRESH BASIL. Don’t worry, I didn’t deny myself entirely.  I took half a slice of the dreamy sourdough and made mother crunching croutons with it!  So [insert profanity] good!

I hope you like it.  And I hope it makes you feel really good about yourself.  Because that’s what I’m here to do.  And if not that, then hopefully my acting like an imbecile will help you realize that things could be worse.


Vegan “BLT” Salad
serves 1-2

2 cups kale, washed, destemed, and torn into bite size pieces
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp tahini
1/2 a clove of garlic, finely grated
6-7 slices tempeh bacon, crisped up in a cast iron or sauté pan
1/4 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup cucumber, diced
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade
1 slice of sourdough (or bread of choice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. In a medium size bowl, combine the kale, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  With clean hands (I know this sounds funny, but trust me it works) massage the kale for about 30 seconds.  Get rough with it.  This will really soften up the raw kale and make it a little easier to eat.  The lemon juice will make it nice and tender.

2. Let the kale sit while you prep the rest of your salad.  Put a little bit of butter on either side of your sourdough.  Cut into cubes and place on a small baking dish, like a cake pan.  Place in the oven and allow to cook 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.  While the croutons are baking, chop your veggies and basil.

3. Pour the tahini over the greens.  Grate in a little garlic.  If you don’t like a strong garlic flavor just use a little.  Toss in the tomato, cucumber and basil and toss to coat.  Place in a salad bowl and top with diced bacon and crunchy croutons.  Eat now!

Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash

It’s squash season!!!  Pumpkin baked goodies and butternut squash bisque and squash ravioli.  Mmmm.  Squash is delicious.

As we have been very mindful lately of how we spend our grocery budget, we have been turning to squash.  A lot.  We are currently paying $0.69 a lb at the grocery store for a variety of different winter squashes.  And a 3-4 lb squash has a large yield.  Not to mention the nutritional value of those vitamin dense, harvest season veggies.  To be short, it’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Growing up, my mom used to split an acorn squash and roast it with butter and brown sugar.  I was not a fan.  And (no offense to my mom) this is a lot of people’s experience with squash.  Just kind of boring mush.  While, now I like this boring mush, I have also learned how versatile a squash is.  Dont’ believe me?  Here look.

This is the 4 lb buttercup squash I bought at the store this weekend.  It has a deep yellow flesh with a rich, sweet flavor. We will use it for 2 meals this week, none of which will include mush, or most familiar squash dishes. Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

I preheated the oven to 350°F, cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  I put the squash halves facedown on a foil lined sheet pan and baked them for 50 minutes.  I let them cool to room temperature.  I stored one in the fridge to put in the 3 bean chili we’re having for dinner later this week.  I kept the other one to make these black bean and squash burgers, which completely rocked.Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

I have made black bean burgers with sweet potatoes before but the squash worked just as well if not better.  This recipe makes enough for about 8 burgers.  Whatever we don’t eat gets frozen and saved for when we need a meal in a hurry.Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean usually) veggie burger recipes turn out crumbly and fall apart.  But these hold together perfectly.  I served them on some fresh baked, whole wheat bread I baked yesterday with lettuce, tomato, avocado, goat cheese and Sriracha mayonnaise.  After I took some photos of this burger, I was cleaning up and turned around to find this little monster going to town.  Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow

This should be enough proof that it’s really good.

I hope this inspires you to experiment a little with squash.  You know, do something crazy you’ve never tried before.  Like squash in a burrito, on your pizza (oh yum, with goat cheese, shitake mushrooms, walnuts and a chive, arugula pesto!!!) or in your oatmeal (with cinnamon and maple syrup).  And if you don’t like it, that’s ok because it literally cost you cents to buy. So happy, healthy, hedonistic and frugal eating to you all.  I hope you love these burgers!


Frugal Food Series | Tip 7: Squash // Keeping Willow


2 cups cooked black beans (1 can)
1/2 of a 3-4 lb squash (butternut, buttercup, kabocha, or acorn will all do) roasted and cooled (directions above)
1/2 small onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup packed, chopped cilantro
1 cup oatmeal (old fashioned)
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (sub quinoa or millet if gluten free)
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
1-2 Tbsp pure olive oil

1. Scoop the flesh out of the skin of your squash.  Sometimes the skin peels right off.  Combine the beans, squash, onion, garlic, cilantro, spices and salt and pepper in a medium size mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher.
2. In a food processor or blender, grind up the oatmeal until it has a similar consistency to breadcrumbs.  Make sure to use gluten free oatmeal if you are making a gluten free version. Combine the oatmeal and breadcrumbs (or gf grains) to the bean and squash mixture.
3. Portion out the burger patties into half cup portions.
4. Warm up some of the oil in a cast iron skillet or frying pan on medium heat.  Cook the burgers on either side until they are golden brown.  Serve immediately garnished with your favorite toppings.

Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 5: Greens

In 2005, I spent a summer doing a culinary apprenticeship at a hotel in Scotland.  It was one of the more fun, hard and complicated things I’ve ever done.  I mean, the cooking wasn’t hard.  It was really everything else.  The homesickness, the lack of female co-workers, the drinking, the drama and the living situation.  The hotel provided their staff with accommodations, which were not much different from my freshmen dorm room.  No kitchen, tiny room with a dresser, a closet, and a shared bathroom.  Only, there was no cafeteria or Jimmy Johns close by to keep me fed and plump.  I worked 50 hours a week so most of my meals were taken from the kitchen.  Usually pockets full of shortbread and chocolate chips I took from the pantry.  Because we didn’t really get breaks, and dinner was usually eaten after your shift was over at 10 pm, I had to eat when I could.  It was no wonder with such sweet, buttery diet, along with all the beer I drank, that I gained 10 lbs that summer.  One particular day I was really feeling the extra weight, so I decided to make a beautiful, massive salad for dinner after my shift.  It was gorgeous, with loads of veggies, feta cheese, and a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.  I sat down by my co-workers and began to shovel salad into my face. After a couple minutes of silence, I looked up to see my colleagues all staring at me.  “What?” I said, with a extra long piece of lettuce still protruding from my mouth.  “What are you, a rabbit?” one of my co-workers replied.  Everyone started to laugh.

Apparently giant salads is an American thing.  Lesson learned: never eat a huge salad when you’re in Scotland.  Or maybe just go about it more attractively than I did.

I love greens.  They are a major staple of our family’s diet.  Willow has even grown fond of salad.  It is so good for you and tasty but the other great part is, it is frugal, frugal, frugal (the repetition of the same word, over and over for emphasis is called an epizeuxis.  Just because I wanted you to know that I know a big word). A giant bundle of kale costs a little over a dollar but adds so much substance and nutrition to your meal.  Many times, food considered “frugal”in our culture, are typically processed, boxed foods.  Although coupons and all that other “money saving” nonsense is typically for your packaged foods, I think they are a royal waste of your money.  With greens, you spend some change and the nutritional output is 100 fold compared to that garbage that food producers are making.  Oh, by the way, that boxed food, that is what makes grocery stores and food producers the most money.  Although it’s cheap, it would be so much cheaper for you to make it yourself.  And even if it’s not cheaper to make homemade mac and cheese, the most frugal foods are typically whole foods.  Ok, off my soap box.

We tend to eat a lot of kale 1) because we like it 2) because it keeps longer than other greens and 3) because it makes us feel better about ourselves [a little self-esteem boost couldn’t hurt].  Some other greens we tend to chow down on is swiss chard, spinach, romaine and arugula. The microgreens tend to be a little more expensive, but we indulge every once in a while.  And we have stopped buying boxed lettuces altogether.  They go bad quickly and are way more expensive per ounce than just buying a head of lettuce or bunch of spinach.

In honor of the green, I’m sharing with you one of our standard salad recipes that we really adore.  It is a vegan avocado, kale, caesar salad.  It is garlicky and citrusy and really gives the creamy dressing sensation that a traditional caesar delivers. It’s amazing. I hope you give it a try and tell me what you think.  Try to keep from shoving the entire salad into your face at once.


Frugal Foods // Greens-- Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad | Keeping WillowFrugal Foods // Greens-- Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad | Keeping Willow

Vegan Avocado Kale Caesar Salad

1/2 avocado
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1 clove of garlic finely minced or grated
2 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1 bunch of kale

1. The key to a successful kale salad are 2 things.  1. finely chop the kale.  2. massage the kale in the dressing (like, with your hands– please wash them first).  This keeps that choking sensation to a minimum and tenderizes the leaves.  Wash, dry, and devein your kale (hold the stem with one hand and pinch the other end of the stem where it begins to turn into the leaf.  Quickly drag your pinched fingers along the stem, toward the leaf, separately the leaf from the stem.)  Finely chop the kale and set aside in a large mixing bowl.
2. In another bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except the olive oil.  Whisk them together fiercely until you get a smooth, creamy paste. Slowly drizzle in your olive oil while simultaneously whisking.  Taste to check if you need to adjust the salt and pepper. [You can also do this in a blender.  I just hate cleaning my blender.]
3.  Pour the dressing over the kale and massage with your hands, firmly squeezing it, until combined.  Serve immediately with croutons or as is [this is not a dressing you will want to make ahead of time as the avocado will oxidize].

Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 3: Soup

This past week has pretty much sucked.  Both Willow and I contracted some super virus that kept us in bed with a fever for a good 5 days.  On top of that Willow has double pink eye.  The poor girl.  It makes me want to go all Hong Kong on public transit and wear a mask and gloves.  At any rate, this hiccup has caused an unwanted delay in posting this past week, so I apologize if the cliffhanger I left you from the last post has been keeping you up at night for the past 2 weeks (and by you, I mean all my beautiful aunts who are my only devoted fans).  Here’s a puffy-eyed picture of my little sicky to make up for it.

Frugal Food Series | Tip 3: Soup // Keeping Willow

Onto soup.

Soup is the best.  Of course I don’t need to tell you this, the warm, goodness of soup is not foreign to any of us.  It is such a versatile class of food, from rich to brothy and from tomato to cream.  Soup is so perfect in it’s ability to deliver a satisfying meal, while also taking your dollar and cents a very long way.  This is why soup makes it to my frugal food series. I mean, it’s a logical connection to combine tip #1 and tip #2, into the perfect frugal meal, am I right?  So I created a little soup recipe for you to try that is simple, delicious and is a mélange of all of my frugal tips thus far.

Frugal Food Series | Tip 3: Soup // Keeping WillowProcessed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

A Lover’s Stock Quarrel:
This weekend I was making stock (as described in tip #2).  We had so many vegetable scraps leftover from the week that we were able to make a double batch.  Our fridge is now filled with jars of golden liquid. At any rate, Jazz watched me throw a handful of dry herbs into the pot. “You put seasoning in your stock? Since when?” I looked at him with a nasty, stank eye.  “You don’t read my blog, do you?”, I said.  “Nope”, he replied.  I gave him a good hard look.  “Well, that’s ok, I don’t read yours either.” (This is funny because Jazz writes a philosophy blog that the average joe is not interested in– which is a nice of saying, I’m not the only one who doesn’t read his blog.  Ok, I’m being mean.  You can read some of his philosophical musings here.)  Anyway, enough of our super romantic, gushy, love talk.  Here is the soup!


Creamy White Bean, Kale and Garlic Soup

1 quart homemade stock
3 cups precooked white beans (navy, great northern or cannellini beans will work great)
1 Tbsp olive or butter
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp dry sage or 3 fresh sage leaves, minced
1 cup kale, chopped
1/2 cup 2% milk
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

1. In a large sauce pan, sauté the onion in your fat of choice until soft and translucent.  Toss in the garlic and sage.  Once you can really smell the aroma from the garlic coming from the pan, pour in your white beans and sauté 2-3 minutes.  Add stock.
2.  Bring the soup up to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Add kale and allow to cook another 5 minutes.  Taste the soup to adjust seasoning (it’s always easier to season soup before you blend it.)
3.  In a food processor or blender, carefully blend the soup until smooth and creamy (note: do not overfill the food processor or blender.  Pureé in batches.  I made this mistake making this exact soup and as I watched the liquid stream from the bottom of my food processor cup, so streamed a plethora of tears from my eyes.  What, cooking mistakes don’t make you cry?)
4. Return the soup to the pan and keep on low.  Add milk and adjust seasoning.  Serve with homemade bread or tears of joy.

Dinner, Lunch, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 2: Stock

I have NEVER worked in a commercial kitchen that did’t make their own stock.  It is a building block, dare I say a foundation, to the culinary craft.  And yet, most households buy their stock (or– gasp!– broth) from the supermarket.  I don’t blame anyone.  I have spent my fair share of money on a carton of stock.  It’s extremely convenient and demands no preemptive thinking.  But the amount of money you spend on a carton of stock compared to how much money it costs you to make it, is outrageous.  If you set up your kitchen to function in a strategic manner, making your own stock is just as easy and picking a carton up off the grocery store shelf.

If you look up a recipe for chicken or vegetable stock on the internet, it seems far too tedious to be worth it.  Face it, the taste of homemade stock does not trump the exhaustion you feel after a week, hard worked.  But what cooking channels and magazines don’t tell you is that in the commercial kitchen, stock is comprised almost entirely of trash.  Yep.  All the scraps leftover from prepping dinner that usually end up in the compost bin or the trash are what comprise a stock.  You think they do it for the flavor?  No way, they do it because it saves them a lot of money.  When I was in culinary school, throwing away the skins of an onion was committing a mortal sin.  Everything went into the stock.  There were huge pots, that looked more like cisterns you could play hide and seek in, that we filled to the brim with carrot shavings, potato peels, tomato seeds, meat bones, etc.  Almost everything went in.  While you can make a fancy ass stock, no doubt, I’m going to show you the smart way to do it.

In our kitchen we have a relatively large, plastic, storage container.  We take it out while we are making dinner.  All of the leftover vegetable scraps go into the container and then we store it in the fridge when we’re done.Frugal Food Series// Tip 2: Stock | Keeping Willow On Saturday, while little baby-kins is away in dreamland, we dump the scraps into our largest pot, throw in some seasoning, supplement any veggies if there aren’t enough, cover with water and cook.Frugal Food Series// Tip 2: Stock | Keeping WillowFrugal Food Series// Tip 2: Stock | Keeping Willow After it’s done, we strain it and store it in the fridge for that week’s cooking.  It takes no prep.  You just let it do it’s thing, while you drink a glass of scotch and read “A Game of Thrones”.  Frugal Food Series// Tip 2: Stock | Keeping WillowWe buy a huge bag of carrots, onions and a bunch of celery (that cost like $6 bucks total) in case we didn’t save enough scraps that week.  Don’t peel the carrots.  Don’t dice peel or dice the onions.  Just whack them into big chunks and throw them in the pot.  Don’t have any fresh herbs around the house? Don’t waste your money buying them.  While using dried herbs would constitute a slap on the wrist in culinary school, in my school, you use what you have.  So if you don’t have fresh herbs just use a blend you have in your pantry.  I won’t call the food police.

If you think you just don’t use enough stock to make it worth your while, you can either freeze the stock and use it when you need it or read my next post to see why stock is such an important component of frugal eating.  Until then, here is my basic vegetable stock* recipe to hold you over until next week.


Vegetable Stock
All of the food scraps from the week that you’ve saved in the refrigerator (about 4 cups)
2 bay leaves
10 black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
A handful of fresh herbs (thyme, parsley stalks, rosemary)
or 2 tsp dry herb blend (italian seasoning, poultry seasoning, herbs de province)
1-2 Tbsp kosher salt depending on your sodium convictions)
If needed: roughly chopped carrots, celery and onions (skins on)

1. Dump your veggie scraps into a large stock pot.
2. Put in your herbs and spices
3. Cover with cold water.
4. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 1 hour.
5. Turn of heat and let steep for 1 hour.
6. Strain and store.

*if you want to make chicken or beef stock just add your meat scraps and bones from the week or buy a soup bone from the store.  Also, very frugal!