Instant mashed potato gnocchi

It’s been a slow MoFo week for me—I won’t bore you with excuses but I would like to tell you about these gnocchi I made the other day. Gnocchi are one of my favourite foods and as homemade pastas go, they’re pretty easy to make (especially if you don’t mind if they’re all different shapes). While looking for tips on low-budget eating, I came across this post on North South Food with an idea to make them even easier: use instant mashed potatoes. Now, I don’t think I’d ever made instant mash before so I was a little apprehensive about this, but I admit it was convenient not to have to peel and mash the potatoes first (hate peeling things!). I’m still not sold on the flavour, though. Even incorporated into the pasta, I thought it tasted a little off—it kind of reminded me of Pringles? Though I guess if you like Pringles, that may be a good thing!

I’m also not sure that the instant mash necessarily saved me a lot of money in this dish, as I’d just bought a big bag of potatoes on sale and I think the same amount of fresh potatoes would’ve been just as inexpensive. On the other hand, if you can get instant mash on sale you can stock up and it won’t start sprouting as my potatoes inevitably end up doing. In any case, I prefer the flavour of fresh potato gnocchi, but this short-cut definitely makes it easier to make them quickly and without planning ahead.

I served the gnocchi with homemade pesto (which can be reasonably inexpensive if you grow basil in your windowsill—and it’s certainly cheaper than shop-bought pesto) and roasted tomatoes. No picture of the finished dish because when I have a plate of fresh gnocchi in front of me, I want to start eating!

Roasted carrot dogs

Carrot dog
I felt very, very vegan eating this. Replacing sausages with carrots, really? Of course, you can’t compare the two nutritionally or taste-wise or frankly in any way other than their shape, but these carrot dogs were actually pretty satisfying. I kept it simple and roasted some hot dog-sized carrots with olive oil, smoked paprika, cumin, and sea salt, but I’ve seen recipes that use more elaborate methods and marinades so I’d like to try some other variations—I really like the concept. Because carrots are one of the cheapest vegetables, these are easy on your budget, as well: I had two of them on a home-made bun with a little mustard and diced onion and it was less than €0,20. You’d need something on the side to make it a full meal (maybe some lentil or split pea soup for protein) but I also liked them as a snack.

Plum jam and oat thumbprint cookies

Thumbprint cookies
A while ago, I got to taste a few organic plums from my parents’ veg box and then some more from a neighbour’s tree, and I think they may have spoiled me because the plums I bought at the market just didn’t taste very good on their own. I wasn’t too disappointed, though—home-made jam was on my food resolutions list and I figured this was the time to try it! I have no experience with preserving and canning, but I just cooked the fruit with a few tablespoons of sugar and a little lemon juice until it reduced, thickened, and turned a beautiful dark red. The jam is a little tart and just sweet enough, and I’ve really been enjoying it on top of my porridge in the morning.

I know budget eating strictly doesn’t allow for many treats, but I just love baking every now and then and I couldn’t resist using this jam to make a batch of thumbprint cookies. They had rolled oats and brown sugar and cinnamon and I think they’re only about 3 cents per cookie, so that’s not too bad! The jam itself cost around 65 cents for about a jar’s worth, which makes it a little cheaper than supermarket jam and it’s a lot more delicious, in my opinion. I only made a small amount so I didn’t use special jars or bother with boiling and sterilising, but maybe someday I’ll learn about those things as well. For now, I’ll definitely be making more small batches of fruit jam when I find good deals at the market!


Edit: Because someone asked in the comments (thanks koreanmutt!), I’ve added the recipe for the cookies below. Now, I don’t have an oven thermometer (I know. I know! but I’ve known my oven for a very long time and I feel like we’ve developed an understanding) and ovens run differently so the baking time of these may vary—I’d check on them after ten minutes to see how they’re doing and take them out when they’re starting to brown at the edges.

I adapted the recipe from the PPK’s chocolate chip cookies. Those are my go-to American-style cookies, but I kept making little changes when I wanted something different and ended up with these. I just looked at some other recipes and noticed most people add the jam after baking rather than before, so maybe I’ll try that next time, but I kind of like how the jam melted into the dough here.

Plum jam and oat thumbprint cookies (makes 10-12) (Nederlandse versie)
25 g (2 tablespoons) brown sugar
12 g (1 tablespoon) white sugar
60 ml (1/4 cup) sunflower oil
15 ml (1 tablespoon) water (or soya milk if you have it) plus a little more if needed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (you can omit these for budgeting purposes!)
50 g (1/2 cup) rolled oats
65 g (1/2 cup) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground nutmeg and cloves
a few tablespoons of jam

Preheat the oven to 180° Celsius (350° Fahrenheit) and line an oven tray with baking parchment.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugars, oil, water, and extracts until more or less emulsified. Add the dry ingredients (not the jam!) and stir to combine. The dough should be pretty thick but not dry; add an additional tablespoon or so of water or soya milk if necessary. Now drop tablespoon-sized balls of dough on the baking sheet (I use a measuring spoon to scoop and shape them) and use your finger or the back of a teaspoon to make little indents in the middle of each cookie. Then fill the wells with jam—a generous teaspoon each.

Bake for about 12 minutes until the edges start to brown and let cool on the baking tray for at least a few minutes before serving.

Homemade vegetable stock

Homemade stock
Here’s a pretty easy budget tip I never put into practice until last week: make your own vegetable stock! I used the broth bag method from the PPK 100 list, which means I just collected all my vegetable scraps and kept them in the freezer until the bag was full and I needed to make room for beans and seitan, then boiled them for a few hours until I was left with a pot of beautiful fresh stock. I mostly used bits of onion, carrot, leek, and a few parsley stems, but I think I’ll add different vegetables and more herbs if I have them next time. I know that stock cubes aren’t very expensive to begin with so this isn’t a huge money saver, but it’s made from things you would otherwise throw away so it’s almost free food!

Roti and curry

Happy second week of VeganMoFo! :) Over the weekend, the weather here has gone from nice and summery to gloomy and cold. Here’s a meal I made last week, when my kitchen was still sunny:
Roti! Surinamese roti with curry is a popular take-out meal here in the Netherlands. It’s great because there’s often a vegan option, but for some reason I don’t think I’d ever had it, and I’d definitely never made it at home. When Alynda posted about her home-made low-budget version last week, I was inspired and decided to finally give it a try as well. I mostly followed this recipe by Martine from Vegetus (in Dutch) and it was easier than I’d  thought! The curry has onions, garlic, seitan, chickpeas, potatoes, green beans (I used kouseband), tomatoes (I used a tin of peeled ones), and Surinamese masala curry powder. This part of the meal doesn’t require much effort, especially if you use frozen green beans, and it has to simmer for a while so it leaves you with plenty of time to make the bread. The roti is a simple flatbread dough filled with a spiced split pea paste.  It was a little tricky to roll out the dough while keeping the filling sealed inside so some of them had holes in the middle, but overall I’m happy with the results. Together, the whole pan of curry and the 8 flatbreads cost about €2,40. It was pretty filling, though, so we got five servings out of it. I could try to make the meal more budget-friendly by leaving out the seitan and using more legumes (though I liked the extra texture from the seitan), and I’d love to try it with tempeh as well!

Courgette butter

I was looking for something savoury to spread on my toast when I came across this recipe for courgette butter on the Kitchn. I love it because courgettes/zucchini are almost always inexpensive and apart from a bit of grating and stirring, the recipe requires very little work: just grate your courgettes and sautée them over low heat with a pinch of salt and a few cloves of minced garlic until it all cooks down into a delicious butter. I used two large-ish courgettes, cooked them in a mixture of olive and sunflower seed oil for over an hour and got a generous cup of the spread for about €0,50. Courgettes are one of my favourite vegetables, and I love the mild buttery flavour of this spread; I really enjoyed it on top of bread and hummus.
Courgette butter

Three budget dinners

For this budget-themed Month of Food, I’ve been trying to keep track of the cost of my meals. It’s harder than I’d expected, though, especially when I cook recipes with a lot of different ingredients! Still, it’s interesting to compare recipes in terms of cost, and sometimes I’m surprised to find that certain ingredients can make a dish much more expensive than I’d thought. Below are a few meals I made this week.

Morroccan chickpeas & veggiesOn the left is a plate of the Morroccan chickpeas and zucchini from Appetite for Reduction with a few extra veggies thrown in. This type of recipe recipe is great for budget eating because you can use whatever cheap vegetables you have on hand—I made it to use up some spinach and cauliflower I still had in the freezer. The stew itself was around €0,50 per serving, and we had bread and hummus on the side.

PizzaOn the right: Pizza! I always use a mix of plain and wholemeal flour and make the dough from Nonna’s Italian Kitchen, which costs €0,35 for two large pizzas (we always make a few smaller ones). My toppings weren’t the cheapest, though, so my entire pizza was about €0,70. It was mostly the spinach that made it expensive – a big bag of it seems cheap, but when it all wilts down there’s not much of it left.

I topped the pizza with a sprinkle of the chickpea parmigiana topping from Vegan Eats World, a clever recipe that uses mainly chickpea flour, olive oil, and lemon juice. It costs around €0,35-€0,45 depending on the type of oil you use, but you’ll only use a little at a time so one batch will probably last a long time. This topping doesn’t taste very cheesy to me (mostly just salty and lemony) but it could work as a budget-friendly alternative to nut cheeses or nutritional yeast for sprinkling on top of soups and pastas. Maybe next time I’ll try to add some miso or herbs for a bit more flavour. For this pizza I added the topping just before serving, but I prefer to add it before baking.

Broccoli & potato mash with soy-tan cutlets and chickpea gravyMy boyfriend loooves potatoes, and I got 2,5 kilos of them for €1 so we made ourselves some mash. This plate has mashed potatoes & broccoli with the silky chickpea gravy from Appetite for Reduction and a soy-tan dream cutlet from 1000 Vegan Recipes. Cost: €0,55. Not bad!