Healthy and TASTY meals from a can? A special post on affordable cooking

pot pie

Let me start by saying food banks are wonderful. They’re a lifeline to put food on otherwise empty kitchen shelves, and keep hunger at bay when the budget doesn’t support a trip to the grocery store. At one point in my life, a box of typical food bank canned and boxed food that appeared on my porch was a lifesaving gift, so I know what I’m talking about.

But one of the biggest challenges facing people trying to use a food bank to survive is how to build healthy, tasty meals from canned and packaged foods. Even after my own financial crisis had passed, my single mom days were often filled with trying to make healthy, tasty meals for my kids and I from the case-lot canned good section of the grocery store, or even what was on the shelves at Dollar Tree. If you’ve never experienced that, let me tell you, it’s hard!

The Capital Area Food Bank here in Austin understands that struggle. That’s why they’ve asked local Canned-Food-Month-Badge-Featuredbloggers in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance to come up with a family friendly, low cost dinner using canned goods  likely to be found in a food bank. I jumped at the challenge, because I understand the need!

(Before I share the recipe, I need to let you know that even a meal as simple as this one is hard to make when you’re counting pennies. Food banks seldom include spices or seasonings on their shelves, simply because people don’t think to donate them, so making food flavorful is hard.  I chose to include them here, because the availability of bulk spices in local grocery stores like HEB makes it more affordable to get a small amount for under a dollar, and make a big impact on flavor. ) 

I started with a selection of canned good typical for a food pantry. Selecting a variety of vegetables means you’ll end up with a meal that’s heavy on nutrition. If low sodium versions are available, do select those cans.

canned goods

Vegetable (or Chicken) Pot Pie
6-8 small pot pies or one large casserole

Ingredients

Crust:

packets of biscuit mix

  • 2 packets biscuit mix (available at many food banks, or for .50/packet at HEB
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed)

Filling

  • 1 can peas, drained
  • 1 can carrots, drained
  • 1 can potatoes, drained (diced, if not already diced from the can)
  • 1 can corn, (do not drain)
  • 1 can green beans (do not drain)
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped

whole onion

  • 1/2 can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 can condensed cream soup (mushroom, potato, chicken, etc.,), low fat if available
  • 1/2 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can cooked chicken, tuna or turkey or one block tofu (optional)*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

poultry seasoning

  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  • In a bowl, combine biscuit mix with 1/2 can of evaporated milk (or 1/2 cup regular milk)
  • Mix and set aside.
  • In a large sauce pan, combine all the vegetables, broth, remaining 1/2 can of milk, 1/2 can of condensed soup and seasoning.
  • Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until onions start to soften

pot pie filling

  • Make an egg-sized ball of the dough and pat it into the bottom of a pot pie tin or small loaf pan (I bought a package of 5 mini-loaf pans at Target for $1.45)

OR

  • Pat one half of the dough into the bottom of a 9 x 9 baking pan
  • Fill pans to within 1/2 inch of top of the pan(s)

filled pot pie

  • Pat out remaining dough to cover each pot pie (or the large pot pie.)

unbaked pot pies

  • Make 3 -4 small slits in the top of the crust
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (or 45 minutes for a large pie)
  • Serve hot, in the pan or inverted onto a plate

Baked pot pieIf you have any leftover filling, as I did, mix the filling with the remaining broth mix and condensed soup. Add some extra milk, broth or water to make a nice cream soup to serve with another meal.

These pot pies freeze well. If you’re not planning on eating them immediately, assemble them, then freeze. Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, or until hot in the center.

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* I don’t eat meat, so I used vegetarian protein sources. Tofu, at about a dollar a package is a great choice for vegetarians on a budget who want to make this dish.

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Lasagna Meets My Favorite Dip (Taste of Austin Tuesday)

2014-01-022I was browsing Pinterest this morning, when I spotted what I knew HAD to be my supper tonight. It was a recipe from blogger Megan Brewer for Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna Bundles.

Lasagna AND Spinach-Artichoke Dip?  Oh, yeah! I’m there!

It had a lot of ingredients, but it sounded so incredibly delicious I had to try it.

Usually when I try a completely new recipe, I try to follow the directions pretty much as written. But for this one, I had to make one change. The recipe called for old-fashioned lasagna noodles, but all I had in my pantry were the oven-ready ones. I stopped at the store, but unless I wanted to pay for fancy imports ($5.99 for noodles? I think not!), all they had were the oven-ready, too.  So I adapted — the roll up directions became a stack. I also added some delicious zucchini and some fresh basil from my herb garden.

thin sliced zucchini

The result? Delicious!  Certainly messier than the recipe that inspired me…but the taste was all there, just as I imagined when I read the recipe.

So here’s my take on Megan’s recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, scrubbed and sliced thin, long ways
  • 2 large cloves garlic, pressed

heads of garlic

  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or 6 fresh basil leaves, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced small

chopped onion

  • 4 cups chopped spinach leaves (fresh, not frozen)
  • 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts (I used marinated…next time, I would use plain ones in olive oil or water)
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese

Fire-roasted tomatoes

  • 1 can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, strained, with the liquid reserved
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan/Romano cheese, blend
  • 8 oven-ready lasagna sheets

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • Lightly grease a large glass baking pan with olive oil
  • Place 4 lasagna sheets in the bottom of the baking pan
  • Set aside
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan.
  • Add zucchini, garlic and basil and saute for 3-4 minutes until tender
  • Remove cooked zucchini from pan, and keep warm on a plate
  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan, along with the diced onions.
  • Cook the onions until they become translucent.
  • Add the spinach and artichoke hearts and cook them until the spinach leaves shrink down and become limp
  • Add the salt, pepper, and 3 cloves of garlic, and toss the spinach-artichoke mix together.
  • Strain off any excess liquid, then add the cream cheese and stir until it has fully melted into the spinach mixture.
  • Place 1-2 thin slices of zucchini on each lasagna noodle
  • Top each with one-quarter of the spinach-artichoke mixture
  • Add a second sheet of lasagna on top of each stack
  • Top each row with 1/4 of strained diced tomatoes and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese
  • Pour the reserved tomato juice around the edges of the noodle stacks
  • Cover the lasagna with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the foil, add additional cheese and broil the top of the dish for an additional  2-3 minutes or until the cheese browns, bubbles and melts.

Serve hot, with a salad and crispy bread.

Baked Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna

Messy, yes. But oh so delicious!!!

Would I make these again? In a heart beat! My family loved it, too. I made a double recipe, and it’s all gone! But next time, I’ll wait until I can find regular lasagna noodles so I can roll them up. Thanks, Pinterest…and thanks Megan!

Vegetarian Tortilla Soup on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Vegetable Tortilla Soup

When we moved to Austin, I started seeing Tortilla Soup on menus all over the place. It sounded amazing, and when friends ordered it, it looked even better. But as a vegetarian, the chicken broth and chunks of meat kept it off my table.

But not one to be discouraged, I decided to experiment and create my own version. Just without the meat. And I’m happy to say, with endorsement from my resident meat-eater, I think I’ve finally got it right! The recipe is at the bottom of this post. But first, here’s the process.

I started the soup by making a pot of brown rice, and setting that aside to steam. I also put some cooked black beans into a pot to warm with some crushed garlic and lime juice.  You can use beans you’ve cooked from scratch, or use plain, unseasoned canned black beans. Your choice.

beans and rice for soup

The soup itself starts with coarsely chopped peppers and onion and several whole cloves of garlic, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.

peppers and onions cooking

To that I added my seasonings…cumin, black pepper, oregano and cayenne pepper. Once they had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I stirred in a can of diced tomatoes.

bowl of diced tomatoesNext came the broth. I used a Kosher vegetarian broth mix that has a chicken-style flavor, but you could use your favorite homemade or commercial broth.

vegetable broth mixAnd then the Morningstar Farms Meal Starter strips and a can of yellow and white corn.

morningstar farms vegetarian meal starter strips

Then in went some fresh cilantro.

cilantro

 I let that all simmer together for about a half an hour. It smelled heavenly!

When the soup was almost done, I sliced a couple of fresh, ripe avocados, and drizzled them with lime juice.

Avocado halves

I chopped a whole bunch of fresh cilantro (never can get enough!  I love cilantro!)

fresh cilantro

And then it was ready to assemble. I like to use large shallow soup bowls for this. First I added a scoop of rice, then topped it with a tumble of black beans. Soup was ladled into the bowl and then the whole dish was dressed with avocado and cilantro.

IMAG1243

I put the tortilla chips on the table for everyone to garnish their own dish (soggy tortillas are nasty!) I also put out a selection of hot sauces for people like me who like a little extra kick. And finally, I had my very own Austin-style, vegetarian-friendly Tortilla Soup!

Ready for your own? Here’s the recipe:

Vegetarian Tortillia Soup

Makes 4 generous servings or 6 side servings

2 cups cooked brown rice, warm
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large green peppers, coarsely chopped
2 large yellow (not sweet) onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled, but not crushed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, plain or seasoned
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cayanne pepper (or more to taste)
Generous amount of fresh ground pepper (at least 5 or 6 turns of the grinder)
8 cups chicken-style vegetable broth
15 ounce can white and yellow corn
1 package Morning Star Farms Meal Starter Chik’n Strips
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 large ripe avocados, halved then sliced
2-3 tablespoons lime juice
Cilantro for garnish
Tortilla chips or strips
Hot sauce for the table (optional)

Put the black beans in a pot on low.  Add the garlic, lime juice and water, and cover. Allow to warm slowly, stirring once or twice while cooking.

In a large, heavy bottom pot, add olive oil, peppers, onions and whole garlic cloves. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions just start to become translucent and peppers are slightly softened.

Add cumin, oregano, black pepper and cayanne and stir to coat vegetables. Cook for one minute.

Add canned tomatoes, broth, Chik’n Strips, chopped cilantro and corn. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Scoop rice into a ball at one side of the soup bowl. Top with drained black beans. Scoop soup into bowls but not over top of rice and beans. Garnish with avocado slices and cilantro. Pass tortilla chips and hot sauce at the table. Yum!

Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese on Taste of Austin Tuesday

Welcome to my first post for Taste of Austin Tuesday!

It’s February, and I’m learning that means spring is just about to happen here in Central Texas. I’m thinking gardens and picking out seed packets and eventually (hopefully!) harvesting the fruits of my labors.

And that has to include tomatoes, right? And there are bound to be at least a few green ones that need to be picked before the-blast-furnace-that-is-summer here lets loose its wrath, right?

So fried green tomatoes are a natural.

Basic fried tomatoes aren’t hard to make. But I wanted a recipe that was a little special, with a twist on the standard dinner fare version. And I found it on We Are Founding Farmers, a blog that celebrates the family farmer for all they give us, from the food to the wise stewardship of the land.

I tweaked the original recipe a tiny bit, like substituting finely pressed fresh garlic for the garlic powder in the original (never could stand the taste of the powdered stuff!). You might prefer the original, but we loved this version!

It also gave me a chance to mention one of my favorite goat dairies here in Austin (because everyone has a favorite goat dairy, right?)

Founding Farmers Fried GreenTomatoes with Goat Cheese

Makes about 8 slices: 

  • 3 green tomatoes, cored and sliced 3/8” thick
  • 1/2 cup panko and peanut bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1/2 cup dry tempura mix
  • 1/2 cup prepared tempura batter (you will have some left over)
  • 1 teaspoon pressed or very finely chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Founding Farmers Green Goddess Dressing (you have to go to one of their D.C. area restaurants to get this, so if you’re in Austin, use a local Green Goddess dressing instead. )
  • 1/2 cup goat cheese, softened*
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Instructions:   

  • Combine cornmeal and panko in a food processor or blender and blend until fine. Set aside.
  • Prepare tempura batter according to box directions, reserving the 1/2 of dry mix in a separate bowl
  • Mix the garlic and onion into the tempura batter
  • Add 1½” of vegetable frying oil to a large skillet and heat until very hot (preferably 350ºF)
  • Season the tomato slices on both sides with coriander, pepper and salt
  • Bread tomatoes in the following order:  dry tempura mix, prepared tempura batter with onion and garlic, cornmeal/panko mix.
  • Place each breaded tomato slice very carefully into the hot oil (using a splatter screen will reduce the oil splatter).
  • Fry until golden brown on one side.
  • Flip and fry until the other side is golden brown.
  • Remove from oil to a paper bag or to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Portion the green goddess dressing and soft goat cheese into small bowls or ramekins.
  • Arrange tomato slices on a plate and serve with dips.
  • Enjoy!

*The best source for amazing, fresh, delicious goat cheese around Austin is Swede Farm Dairies. Owners Tim and LeeAnn, and their hardworking kids produce some of the best goat cheese and goat milk I have ever had (you gotta try the chocolate milk!!)  The farm isn’t in Austin, but lucky for us, they bring it to local farmers markets every week. Check out their Facebook page, find them at your local farmer’s market (tell them Lindsay from A is For Austin sent you!) and watch for a full post about them soon!