Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Whatever, post office

Apparently the USPS online postage thing now only sells Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express. The cheap options are all gone.

It still offers everything, including media mail, though Amazon or eBay seller accounts at least. But now I have to go to a post office to ship things to friends and family the cheap way? *sigh*

Monday, June 20, 2016

Not usually a superstitious type...

But it's like the universe knows I'm broke. I took a survey a few months ago, an academic survey that didn't pay except for entry into a lottery, which I took it because the research topic was one I wanted to support. I just got an e-mail that I won the (substantial) gift card. Nice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oh hey, the surveys on Swagbucks actually work now

I just took a bunch of surveys on Swagbucks and they all paid out and I got a $3 Amazon gift card for about 20 minutes of my time. The last time I tried surveys, probably a couple months ago, they were all collecting several screens' worth of data and then saying I didn't qualify or they'd reached the maximum number of participants (and presumably using my data anyway!) But that doesn't seem to be the case. Only one kicked me out, and it did it on the first screen and gave me 1SB for my effort.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Second of the meals with the pre-cooked stuff: veggie burgers

Today I formed some of the bread dough into ciabatta-type rolls for veggie burgers. This was completely an experiment, and it turned out pretty well. I used balls of dough that were about the size of golf balls, and flattened them quite a bit into disks. They barely expanded in diameter, but puffed up quite a bit, so these definitely did need flattening. Some of them stuck to the baking sheet and the bottoms got kind of crispy and the insides hollowish, so definitely make sure you flatten them in your hands with plenty of flour rather than letting them get pressed onto the baking sheet. All eight of them were usable though, which was what I was going for. I also baked a loaf of bread with some of the dough, partly because bread, and also so I could slice it and use it as veggie burger bread if the rolls didn't work out.

While that was baking, I made veggie burgers with some of the black beans and slow cooker oats. I didn't add any vegetables or anything to them this time, just basic seasoning. I pan-fried them since the oven was in use. They seem to turn out about equally well in the oven or in the pan; the only difference is that you have to give them more attention if pan-frying, so I prefer to toss them on a baking sheet and let it sit in the oven if possible. These also turned out really well; they turn out a bit differently every time, since the ingredients are ones where the texture can vary quite a bit even if cooked the same way each time. I've never had them turn out bad or not work though; they always will hold together just fine with some flour added or by freezing the patties if necessary.

Here's the assembled product. I ended up with eight of these, which probably cost me a dollar or two. (About a cup of cooked black beans, about a cup of cooked steel-cut oats, probably a cup of flour, pinches of various other pantry ingredients, plus lettuce from Fair Foods and cheese and condiments that I got with coupons.) Buying the veggie patties and rolls at the store would run a dollar for not-very-good dollar store rolls, or $2-$3 for this type of roll, and probably $4-$5 for two boxes of frozen patties. If you have the time and resources to cook from scratch, it's seriously cheap, not to mention healthy and better.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday-night-cooking-stuff extravaganza

I'm trying to get back into the habit of spending Sundays cooking some time-consuming dishes, or at least the time-consuming components of quick dishes. This cuts down on the whole problem of realizing it's time to feed these people, seeing that, as one of the kids puts it, "we don't have any food, only ingredients," and making macaroni and cheese from a box or pasta with jarred sauce for the millionth time. Not that there's anything wrong with those meals, of course, but I like to mix it up a bit with some healthier and more interesting fare. And we don't need to talk about the times I've been even less responsible and ordered pizza with a credit card when I've realized there isn't any food I can make quickly. So, yeah, I spent today making some big ol' vats of things, which can be quickly turned into various meals. I made the first of my quick meals tonight as well (pictured above).

Today I made:
  1. a huge vat of white rice
  2. a big vat of Spanish rice
  3. a medium vat of chili
  4. a slow cooker full of steel-cut oats
  5. a full batch of bread dough
  6. a vat of black beans
  7. three pounds of oven-baked tofu 
For dinner tonight, I used a small amount of the rice to make sushi. Sushi is actually ridiculously easy, and a great way to turn random veggies into an entree. You mix a cup or so of rice (white, short grain works best) with seasoned rice vinegar (available at Asian grocery stores for much less than at mainstream grocery stores, and lasts years in the fridge), slap it on some seaweed, put veggies on it, and roll it up. I had a cucumber from Fair Foods, and I made this using a quarter of it. (WTHDIDWTV: cucumber edition.)

Next, I used some of the baked tofu to make two types of Thai curry. I found coconut milk at Dollar Tree in Allston last week and stocked up on it; coconut milk is rarely on sale, rarely included in coupons, and can be two dollars or more per can.

The "recipe" for red curry is simple: sauteed onions, pre-made red curry paste (a little pricey, but store it in the freezer and it lasts forever, and it's cheaper than buying lemongrass and all that to make from scratch), lemon juice, brown sugar, soy sauce, basil, coconut milk. You can also add fish sauce or vegetarian worcestershire sauce if you like. Then add whatever you like -- I used baked tofu and cubed butternut squash. Oh, and the basil I used wasn't Thai basil, but it was basil I grew on my windowsill from an herb kit I got at Dollar Tree last year.

Jungle curry is essentially the same thing, but no coconut milk. Therefore, use less red curry paste, unless you like it ridiculously hot. I prefer red curry, but we have a household member who can't do coconut, so I made both. The jungle curry I made with zucchini and green beans from Fair Foods, and some of the baked tofu. Both dishes took 10-15 minutes to make since I'd already made the rice and tofu. We have plenty of leftovers for later in the week, and still have a ton of rice and tofu. (WTHDIDWTV: zucchini, butternut squash, green beans edition!)

Later in the week I'm going to use some of the oatmeal and some of the black beans to make homemade veggie burgers. The rest of the oatmeal will be for breakfasts of course, and the rest of the black beans will be eaten with the Spanish rice and some Trader Joe's guacamole that was left here recently during an evening of cards and three-buck chuck.

The bread dough is going to go toward some sandwich bread, veggie burger buns, and probably some pizza. The full batch is enough for all that, which is pretty amazing.

I made everything listed using things I had at home already. Everything was pantry ingredients, plus a few produce items I had. I'd say that all the food I made cost me under $10 total, because I got most of it with coupons/from Fair Foods/stocking up at Dollar Tree, but it could be purchased for under $20 if you just went to a store. That's pretty amazing for a week's worth of food. I may spend a few more dollars here and there to add some cheese, some salad greens, maybe fresh fruit for the oatmeal.

At the same time though, I'm always hesitant to post these sorts of food roundup posts, because I fear that they encourage the sorts of people who say that no one should have food stamps and no one needs to be buying processed lunchbox foods, because everyone should just cook a bunch of vegan quasi-ethnic food from scratch. Those people need to stuff it though, for a number of reasons.

So, even though our family is quite a ways below poverty level, we have a lot of privilege at the moment. We have the time, energy, and mental stability to be able to do things like spend all day Sunday cooking. We have stable housing and clean, working cooking facilities. We have basic cooking skills and utensils. We have a reliable fridge and freezer to store the stuff. We have me who is able and willing to tow this wacky family around to different ethnic grocery stores and to the Fair Foods truck, and who is frequently home when these things are open. We have the appearance of class privilege (due to speaking like educated people, work experience, not being young parents, to start with) so that if our kids pack weird lunchbox food or have friends over for homemade snacks, people assume we're health nuts or hippie artists instead of too poor to buy the usual snacks.

So leave people alone who feel the need to buy their kids individual bags of Doritos, OK? But if it works for you, I recommend trying this pre-cooking in large batches thing.