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Tuesday Tips – Dried Beans

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Everyone knows that beans are a frugal source of protein. That is, dried beans are an inexpensive alternative to animal-based protein. Canned beans? Well, they’re often high in sodium, many cans contain BPA, and they’re really not all that frugal. Not to mention that they can contain additives (such as corn-laced salt) that can cause allergic reactions for those who are sensitive.

Here’s the analysis for those like me who have a driving need to whip out a calculator for conversations like these:

First, let’s be sure we’re comparing apples to apples. The volume doesn’t matter. If we’re trying to be frugal, we just want to know how many grams of protein we’re getting for our money. A can of beans has 1.75 cups of cooked beans, and 25-30 grams of protein (depends on the type of bean) at a cost of about $ .50 cents to $1.00. Four ounces of chicken has 28 grams of protein, and at $2.50/lb, that serving of protein costs about $ .63. Dried beans are about $1.25/lb, and that pound will yield about 6 cups of cooked beans, or 80 grams of protein.

The bottom line:

Chicken = $2.23 per 100 grams of protein

Canned Beans = $3.00 per 100 grams of protein

Dried Beans = $1.56 per 100 grams of protein

And there you have it. Canned beans are actually MORE expensive than chicken, and dried beans are half the cost of canned beans per gram of protein.

Ok, so dried beans it is. But remembering to presoak the beans for a specific meal would require more brain cells than I currently possess. I depend on a tried-and-true method that allows me to forget about the beans, and still have dinner on the table by the time hubby gets home from work.

The Crock Pot Method for Cooking Beans

First, pour a 1 pound bag of beans into a strainer and rinse thoroughly. One pound fits nicely in my crock pot, 2 pounds doesn’t fit. If you have a giant crock pot, feel free to try 2 pounds. Pick out any debris you might find such as stones, chaff, etc. Pour the beans into a pretty big bowl and add lots of water. The beans will really soak it up – make sure there’s LOTS of water in there.

Forget about the beans for a few hours or overnight. Or all day. Whatever. It really doesn’t matter.cook beans in the crock pot

Drain the water, rinse the beans if you like (this step removes the phytic acid and such like indigestible stuff), and put the beans into the crock pot. Add enough water to cover and turn on low.

Forget about the beans for a few hours or overnight. Or all day. You know, whatever.

The beans are done when they’re about ready to split their skins, but if you cook them for a few extra hours, it won’t hurt anything. Old beans take longer to cook, so if you’re cooking beans your grandmother bought during the war, it might take quite a while. Drain the water (save it for soup broth if you like), and pack the beans into 3 freezer bags, making sure each bag has about the same amount of beans. Label and date the bags and throw them in the freezer. When you have a recipe calling for a can of beans, pull out one of your bags, and thaw it. The beans thaw pretty quickly, especially when mixed into a pot of simmering soup.

So there you have it. A bag of frozen beans is almost exactly the same amount as a can of beans, and pretty much just as convenient with the added bonus of being BPA-free, low-sodium, and allergen-free. Oh, and ecologically friendly due to less packaging, and less carbon footprint and all that jazz. Yeah, this one’s a winner, all the way around!

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Tuesday Tips – Flash Freezing

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So you’ve made a big batch of gluten-free pancakes or egg-free meatballs and you want to save some for later. If you’re like me, you throw it in a freezer bag, maybe label it (maybe), then toss it in the freezer, hoping for the best. And then what happens? The meatballs stick together, the pancakes turn into soggy messes as they thaw and all your hard work to prepare and store a special allergen-free food is wasted.

The problem is steam. The beautiful, aromatic steam that looks so appetizing swirling up from the food on the table is your enemy in the freezer. It condenses and forms ice crystals on the outside of your food. The ice crystals freeze the pieces of food together, or melt into water as they thaw, drenching your breads into unappetizing sogginess.

flash freeze techniqueThe answer is “flash freezing”. Simply spread your food on a metal cookie sheet or jelly roll pan in a single layer, making sure the pieces aren’t overlapping (much), and put it in the freezer. Once the pieces are frozen, pop them off the cookie sheet and place them into a freezer bag. You can even put the food in the freezer while it’s still hot – it won’t matter. The steam evaporates into the freezer air, and your food will be dry on the outside.

It only takes a few hours or overnight at most for small pieces to freeze. I don’t recommend letting your food sit in the freezer for days on end still on the pan. That’s pretty much asking for freezer burn right there. Oh, and do label the freezer bag with both the contents and the date. Unless you’re an archeologist, you probably won’t enjoy discovering that what you thought were last month’s dairy-free biscuits are really vegan quinoa burgers dating from the Clinton Administration.

Restaurant Review: Nourish, Scottsdale, AZ

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I recently visited Phoenix, Arizona, and was able to visit Nourish in Scottsdale. I had, of course, checked them out thoroughly online, and perused their color-coded menu. I was really impressed by the menu – it was very easy to order food according to your food allergies, as everything is clearly labeled as to whether it is gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, etc. I was actually feeling pretty confident about eating there, so I didn’t call ahead as I normally would when going to a new restaurant.

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The valet parking was very nice, since I had to wrangle 2 children out of carseats and organize the visiting out-of-town relatives. We were there at lunchtime on a Saturday, but the restaurant wasn’t too busy.  The atmosphere was modern and bright. I was pleased to find that the staff is just as accommodating as their website advertised.   I spoke to the owner, Kirstin, and immediately found a kindred spirit, at least as far as food allergies are concerned.  She gets it, she really does, even to the point of understanding that traces of corn derivatives are still corn! The menu was extensive and creative, the food was delicious, and the prices were reasonable.  The entire experience was as awesome as a dining out experience can be when you’re dealing with a special-needs toddler and a baby.

The only negative comment I can even make is that the gluten-free, vegan muffins that we took to-go were pretty dried out and my toddler wouldn’t eat them.  But I’m more than willing to forgive them for that, since the rest of the food was so good.  Our family will definitely be returning to this restaurant.

Nourish on Urbanspoon

Tuesday Tips – All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix

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quinoa flourWhen I begin adapting a standard recipe for bread, muffins, pancakes or cookies to a gluten-free recipe, I use the following formula to replace the all-purpose flour:

– 1 part high protein flour, such as almond, coconut, bean (any kind), corn, quinoa or amaranth flours
– 1 part high starch flour, such as tapioca starch, arrowroot starch, potato starch, sweet white (or “glutinous”) rice flour or cornstarch
– 1 part “other” flour, such as brown rice flour, sorghum, millet, potato or buckwheat flours

Then add ¾ teaspoon of xanthan gum or guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour mix and an extra egg (see the Cheat! page for egg replacement options). This won’t be a perfect recipe, of course, but it will generally yield a product that holds together reasonably well.

After you make the recipe once, you can start to tweak it to your personal preference. For example, if the bread or other baked good is too heavy, increase the starch. Too gritty? Reduce or eliminate the rice flour.

Do you need help adapting a recipe for gluten-free baking? Feel free to email us, and we’ll do our best to troubleshoot the recipe for you!

Homemade Toothpaste

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Yup, you can totally make toothpaste.  Because of our food allergies, we had to buy expensive natural toothpaste.  When I ran out one day and my usual supplier didn’t have any, I started scrambling to find a recipe to make my own.  I stumbled on a recipe that needed only supplies I already had on hand, and I think it actually works a bit better than the $5 per tube stuff.

It turns out that making your own homemade toothpaste is simple, cheap, and you can flavor it any way you like.  It’s all-natural (no weird chemicals you can’t pronounce!), and allergen-free.  I seriously don’t know why I waited so long to try this.

Here’s the recipe I used from diyNatural:toothpaste mixture

2/3 cup baking soda

4 tsp fine sea salt (optional – gives paste extra scrubbing power, but is okay to leave out if the taste is too salty)

This homemade toothpaste is a snap to mix up.

1 – 2 tsp peppermint extract according to taste (or add your favorite flavor – spearmint, cinnamon, orange, etc.)
water (add to desired consistency)

I added a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil as well ‘cause that’s just how I roll. I think I’ll also add some corn-free xylitol the next time I make a batch.  I packed the mixture into recycled baby food jars, and we’re good to go!

Here’s the cost breakdown: http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste-recipe-easy-and-frugal/

Disclaimer: if you’re not used to natural toothpaste, you may be quite surprised by this concoction. It’s not quite as mild and may take some getting used to. I suggest trying not to taste it at first. However, after using natural toothpastes for a while, I find the other stuff too foamy and sweet now. I even got the kid to use this toothpaste, and he’s been afraid of toothpaste for his whole life.

Let me know if you try it!

Appeasing the Pancake Gods

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I lost my pancake mojo a little while ago. I used to be able to pour Pancakesa bunch of stuff in a bowl and whip up lovely gluten-free, vegan pancakes without measuring a thing. Pancakes are a forgiving food to make, and I was good at providing offenses for the pancake gods to forgive. We had a lovely relationship.

In a hurry one day, I threw together some pancake mix.  I was running low on a bunch of my gluten-free flours, so I just threw twelve cups of whatever I had left in there, counting on the forgiveness of the pancake gods to make it all work. (Yes, I make 12 cup’s worth of pancake mix at a time. It’s more efficient that way, and it’s the maximum my container will hold.) I don’t even know what flours I used; all I know is when I went to fry up the first batch of pancakes, they just wouldn’t cook in the middle. The outsides were scorched, and the middles felt raw. The texture was so soft, I couldn’t get my spatula under them to flip them. They just sort of wrinkled sadly instead. I tried microwaving them, just to make sure they were cooked through, and the texture remained the same.

Since the pancakes were egg-free, I served them knowing that even underdone, they would be safe to eat, but they were not exactly a hit. What? You don’t want wrinkled pancakes that are gooey in the middle? They’re fine. It’s your imagination. Here, have some more maple syrup.

My first thought was to blame the squash. My garden was in the midst of over-producing lovely yellow squash, and that squash had to go someplace, right? If I grate it finely enough and put enough maple syrup on top, the kid never knows he’s eating a veggie. The (free) squash stretches the (expensive) gluten-free flours, and, well, this particular offense had been forgiven in the past, so there was squash in the pancakes.

The next batch of pancakes was squash-free.

Same gooey texture.

Now I’m thinking that it must be the flour mix. Eying the more than nine remaining cups of mix remaining in my container, I knew I couldn’t waste the food. Besides, now I was nearly out of flour and the co-op order with more flour wouldn’t come for another 3 weeks. I made a single (1-cup) batch of pancake mix with a high-protein flour, mixed it into the nine cups of pancake mix, and assumed that would improve things.

No, not even a little bit. The pancakes had the same off-putting texture. I diluted the mix again. This time I made a special trip to the store and bought tapioca starch. Surely that special offering would appease the pancake gods? Nope.

By this time, the kid is telling me that he no longer likes pancakes at all, even with maple syrup, and I’m looking at the never-ending container of pancake mix wondering why the pancake gods have abandoned me.

Have you ever eaten potato cakes? The kind made with leftover mashed potatoes and lots of eggs? It turns out that if you should add potato flour to your pancake mix, it gives your pancakes the texture of mashed potatoes on the inside. This is unforgivable, apparently. For my penance, I had to eat gooey gluten-free, vegan pancakes for a month until the mix was gone. Only after all of the potato flour had been consumed were the pancake gods pleased to restore my mojo.

So just don’t put potato flour in your allergen-free pancake mix, ok? Don’t even think about it.  And, for the love of all that is good and right, do not confuse potato flour with potato starch, thinking that they can’t possibly be that different. The pancake gods will not be amused.

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