Snowed In Meal #2: Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

tomato soup 8
Another day, another snow storm. Currently in central New Jersey we have over a foot (more than 30 centimeters) with more on the way. Again no work for me- my husband, a degreed meteorologist, is out in the elements being filmed for a TV segment. So it’s just me making lunch, which he’ll be able to enjoy once he’s back! Here’s our back deck:
  
snow 2-13-14
 

I knew the storm was coming, so I figured I’d head to the store on my way home yesterday (along with everyone else in the entire state!) Once I got there, it was clear- I would be relying on my own pantry and fridge again to make food- the shelves were EMPTY. And I mean EMPTY. There was barely any fresh produce. Here are some pictures of the onion bins and parsley baskets (notice the ONE bag of carrots left under the parsley)

onion bins parsley bins
 
And the bottled water section, always a favorite to show during a storm:
  
water shelves
 
No problem- I knew I could make something tasty out of ingredients already in my home. Once home, I looked through everything and saw half a carton of organic tomato soup staring at me- what is more perfect for being snowed in than tomato soup and grilled cheese?! I’d used the tomato soup as part of another recipe and it had been in the freezer ever since. Plain ol’ tomato soup wasn’t going to get it done if I’m dipping my grilled cheese in it so I knew I’d be using other ingredients around the house to jazz it up.
  
Moroccan-Spiced Tomato Soup
 
  • 15 ounces (an ounce more or less wont matter) of low-sodium organic tomato soup- one can or half a 32 ounce box will work just fine!
  • half an organic onion
  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 can organic beans, any kind will do (I had dark red kidney beans, so that’s what I used!)
  • 1 tablespoon salt-free organic seasoning blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic coriander
  • pinch of organic cinnamon
  • pinch of organic red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
Grilled Cheese (I made mine with cheese and turkey bacon, you can simply make garlic bread- just as delicious!)
  
  • 8 pieces Ezekiel bread, thawed (I use Ezekiel because it is sprouted and really healthy- you can use whatever bread you have on hand)
  • organic cheddar cheese (however much you like- I prefer less cheese, many prefer it oozing out of their bread!)
  • 3 pieces of organic turkey bacon (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons organic vegan buttery spread (you can use butter if you have it instead). You may want to use more, I chose to use as little fat as possible
  • 2 tablespoons organic olive oil (again, you may want more!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon organic garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon organic onion powder
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Dice organic onion and add to the pot when the oil is hot. Cook until onions start to become translucent.
  
tomato soup 1
 
Add the can of diced tomatoes, cook with the onions. My diced tomatoes happened to be larger than I’d like, so I used a potato masher to break them up in the pot- this is totally your call.
  
tomato soup 2
Add the organic seasoning blend- mine is salt free so I can add a large a mount. If yours is NOT salt free, use much less and taste- you don’t want it to be too salty!
  
tomato soup 3
 
Rinse and drain the can of beans, add to the pot. Once they’ve cooked for a few minutes, use a potato masher to break up the beans- they should still be chunky, you just want to release some of their starchiness to thicken the soup.
  
tomato soup 4
 
Add the spices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.
 
Add the tomato soup- mine was frozen, so I added the frozen brick right to the pot and turned up the heat. If yours is not frozen, just go head and add it and stir.
   
This is the brand I used:
  
tomato soup carton
  
Salt and pepper to taste (this will depend on how much salt your canned/boxed soup already has in it- I use low sodium so I needed to add a pinch of salt.) Reduce the heat and let the soup simmer as you prepare the grilled cheese.
  
I used Ezekiel bread, which comes frozen.
  
ezekiel bread
I thawed 8 pieces- as they were thawing, I melted the vegan buttery spread in a small bowl. I use Earth Balance Organic Natural Buttery Spread- great stuff!!! (it’s the only “butter” I bake with, too!)
  
 
vegan buttery spread
Add the olive oil and spices, stir, and put in the fridge to harden/thicken a bit.
  
If using bacon or turkey bacon, cook the three slices until slightly crispy- it will crisp up even more once removed from the pan.
 
tomato soup 5
 
Once cool enough to handle, break into small pieces.
  
Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees F. Warm the thawed bread for just a few minutes and remove from the oven. Take the chilled spread from the fridge and spread evenly on 4 slices of bread. Take the broken up bacon if using, and arrange the pieces on the slices.
  
tomato soup 6
Put the cheese on these four coated slices- use however much you want. I used relatively little- my store just started carrying organic shredded cheese, so I picked up the organic white cheddar (they didn’t have yellow). I compared the price of a block or organic cheddar and the bag of shredded- the unit price was only a few cents different so I bought the shredded. Often shredded is much more expensive than a block, but not with this brand! I bought the cheese for a different recipe, so this was a perfect way to use up more of it.
  
Heat a little olive oil or vegan buttery spread/butter in a pan, add the four cheesey pieces cheese/bacon side up, and top them with the other four slices of bread. Lightly cook the four sandwiches on each side until bread is slightly toasty or golden brown.
  
Because I used so little fat in the ban, the bread wasn’t golden brown, but just nicely toasted- that’s how I prefer it- you can make a traditional style grilled cheese with more spread or oil if you’d like!
  
tomato soup 7
 
Once the outsides looked how I wanted them to look, I wrapped the sandwiches in aluminum foil and put them in the toaster oven to finish melting the cheese.
  
Once the cheese is fully melted, remove the sandwiches and slice in half. Serve with the tomato soup and enjoy!
  
tomato soup 9

 

This meal cost around $5.00 to make- even if you have to purchase items to make it, you will not use all of each item- meaning, you will not use the full package of cheese, you will not use the whole loaf of bread, the whole tub of buttery spread, etc. It costs out to about $5.00 to make using the amounts stated above AND I even have enough soup leftover to have for lunch tomorrow! Eating organically doesn’t have to cost as much as you think!

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Produce: The 14 items you MUST by organic and why

organic produce
Photo courtesy of sell-buy-machines.com
 
If you can’t purchase all organic produce, you should absolutely try to avoid certain conventional fruits and vegetables.
 
It’s true, organic produce is more expensive than conventional. However, you really get what you pay for when you buy it. Organic produce is grown without pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals that are toxic to both our bodies and our environment.

“Yeah, but I wash and/or peel my conventional produce, so it’s fine.”

This could not be more false. The chemicals penetrate the skins of fruits and veggies and get into the flesh itself. If it’s in the food, it ends up in YOU.

Some produce carries little risk of carrying pesticides/herbicides, as few are needed when crowing these crops. These include thicker skinned fruits like mangoes, avocados, cantaloupe, pineapple, and papaya, as well as heartier vegetables like cabbage, asparagus, and onions. Other conventional produce that use fewer pesticides include peas, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, kiwi, grapefruit, and eggplant (please note that even though they contain fewer pesticides, this does not mean they are not genetically modified.)

Unfortunately, the above are the rare exception. Also unfortunate is the price you have to pay to avoid chemicals being sprayed (and then absorbed) on your food. Organic produce is on average 40-50% more than their equivalent conventional alternatives.

The biggest problem is the fact that it is nearly impossible to avoid non-organic produce unless you only only eat the organic versions you buy for yourself every single time you eat fruits or vegetables- conventional crops are literally everywhere we go. In an ideal world, this would never be an issue, but the reality in the United States is that eating organically for every meal every single day is not an option, unless you NEVER go out to eat, never go to a party, a friend’s house, or on vacation. Like I said- conventional produce is EVERYWHERE!

There are many reasons that people are not eating organic produce 100% of the time, the two main being: 1. Limited access to organic produce due to a number of factors (mainly, what your local grocery stores carry) and 2. It costs too much!!
 
(I will be writing a post about what to do if you have no access to organic produce because it is not in any stores around you- keep a look out!)
 
So what can we do to help protect ourselves if we can’t do organic all the time?
 
Pick and choose your battles wisely. If it is not possible to buy everything organic, these are the fruits and veggies you absolutely SHOULD buy organic versions of:
 
Dirty dozen plus
Photo courtesy of joyushealth.ca
 
The above are the fruits and vegetables  are known as the “Dirty Dozen Plus,” named the Environmental Working Group, the organization that did the data analysis. These were most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals (in the United States).
 
 
“For the past nine years, EWG has scrutinized pesticide-testing data generated by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. These sources are the basis for EWG’s signature Dirty Dozen™ list of foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides…This year [2013], as in 2012, we have expanded the Dirty Dozen™ with a Plus category to highlight two crops – summer squashes and leafy greens – that did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic pesticides.”
 
A summary of what they found, taken directly from maximizedliving.com:
 
  • Apples. The dirtiest of the bunch. Ninety-nine percent of apples contained at least one pesticide.
  • Sweet Bell Peppers. One of these was as contaminated as a single grape.
  • Celery. At worst, a single sample revealed 13 pesticides.
  • Cherry Tomatoes. Similar to celery, one sample also contained the residue of 13 different pesticides.
  • Cucumbers. The third most contaminated vegetable, these should always be peeled and rinsed before eating.
  • Grapes. “A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides.”
  • Hot Peppers. Previously not on the list, recent tests showed these contain the seventh greatest amount of pesticide residues.
  • Nectarines (Imported). Every imported nectarine tested was shown to contain pesticide residue.
  • Peaches. Contained the fourth highest amount of pesticides among all fruits tested.
  • Potatoes. “The average potato had much higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop.”
  • Spinach. After celery, the second most contaminated conventional vegetable.
  • Strawberries. Ranked as the second dirtiest conventionally grown fruit on the market.
Therefore, you should definitely try to buy the entire list from the “Dirty Dozen Plus” in their organic forms as opposed to conventional.
 
If you don’t know where to look, here is a great resource for finding stores that sell organic produce in the United States: Organic.org Store Finder. Of course, check your local farmers markets or Co-ops too!

Now, how much will it cost to eat these if you purchase organic versions?
 
Here is a chart I made of the “Dirty Dozen Plus” with both their average conventional and organic prices (in the U.S.):
 organic produce chart
 
The prices were taken from a variety of sources through the internet, and were from a variety of years- there is no database that compiles all such yearly data (that I could find after hours of research!) Also, many of the prices reflect when the produce is IN SEASON. To get the best price, purchase organic produce when it’s in season.
 

GMO Note: The most genetically modified (GMO) crops used for produce in the U.S. are corn, soy, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and papaya (specifically Hawaiian grown). To avoid GMOs, purchase these items strictly in their organic forms.

Tip to being able to afford more organic produce: Give up something small in your everyday life that you don’t NEED. If you go get a daily cup of coffee on the go, maybe cut it down to every other day and use the dollars you save to put towards purchasing organic produce. Or if you like to go out to eat twice a week, make it once, and put what you saved towards your grocery bill. There are many little swaps we can all do to help us afford these (if not all) organic fruits and veggies.

To sum it up, I’ve taken the following paragraph from the same maximizedliving.com article as was used before:

“A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that eating organic produce can significantly reduce bodily toxicity. The study provided five consecutive days’ worth of organic food to children who typically ate a non-organic, conventional diet. After just five days, almost all pesticides had disappeared from the subjects’ urine samples. ‘This shows there definitely is a beneficial effect of eating organic produce,’ said study leader Dr. Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology.”

 

Now you have all the facts- it’s time to decide for yourself!

 

Money-Saving Meal Method: How you can afford to eat organically all week

Let’s face it- food is expensive. Food is even more expensive if you buy organic and/or non-GMO products. I’ve made the decision to go all organic, and thus I have to make up for the extra cost in order to stay within my budget.

I am not a vegetarian, though I find myself eating less and less meat. I don’t eat any red meat at home because my husband doesn’t. He eats poultry and fish so I make and eat those. I don’t miss the red meat at home- it’s expensive and not as healthy for you. So I’m definitely not complaining!

 
I have a system I use for stretching my dollars and it’s been working extremely well. The method is: eat a “whole piece” of chicken or fish only once a week, use one pound of ground turkey/chicken (or beef) stretched over two meals, organic sausage for one or two meals, and vegetarian options for the remaining meals.

Vegetarian for two or three nights?! Yes. It’s so easy and satisfying. Vegetarian doesn’t mean no protein. It means proteins that didn’t come from animals. It means INEXPENSIVE proteins. Beans and lentils are my go-to. A 15.5 ounce can of organic beans at my local grocery store costs $0.99. A can of organic lentils is $2.19, but I avoid those if possible because I can get a much better deal if the lentils are dry and I re-hydrate them myself (but that takes planning ahead- canned lentils work well in a pinch and are still a fraction of the cost of meat). Dry  beans are also cheaper than canned and are a great if you plan ahead (which also saves you money!).

Here is a sample weekly menu:

Sunday: Organic pizza night. I love Amy’s organic pizza. Frozen pizza that uses only organic ingredients and is in the process of getting non-GMO certified. They also make vegan and gluten free pizza options! I take organic chicken sausage and dice it to add on top of the pizza, along with some fresh (or frozen) organic veggies. The package of organic sausage has 6 links- I’ll use three here and save the other three for later in the week or freeze them for another time. The pizza makes four slices, 2 for each of us and is very filling. If I go light on the veggies or if I don’t use sausage, I’ll also make a salad.

pizza

Monday and Tuesday: (I make enough for both days on Monday) Meatloaf or meatballs made from organic ground turkey or chicken and organic veggies. There are a ton of great recipes I use-many to be posted soon! Organic veggies or a salad on the side.

meatballs

Wednesday and Thursday: (I make enough for both days on Wednesday) Veggie burgers- I have a dozen different ones I make so we never get tired of them. They are so good- I eat them without a roll, my husband often puts his on a roll with cheese and condiments like a real burger. I just eat mine with a knife and fork. Sometimes I put a little organic goat cheese and vinegar on top. Organic veggies on the side. If I don’t use sweet potatoes in the burger I sometimes make baked sweet potato fries- again, recipes to come!

veggie burgerFriday: Pasta. I buy sprouted organic pasta, but it can be expensive, so I sometimes go with 100% whole wheat organic.  I’ll use some of the fresh veggies left over from the other meals, or if I have any left over ground turkey/chicken or sausage links I’ll add them to the sauce to make it nice and hearty. I often do my sauce with just veggies. Makes more than 2 servings, so the rest go to our lunch the next day.

Pasta

Saturday: Whole protein night! Organic chicken breasts or fish/seafood, depending on what organic seafood my grocery store has. Sometimes they have none- when that happens, we go with chicken. Organic veggie, and an organic starch, like rice or potatoes. Sometimes I’ll cut up two whole chicken breasts to make a stir-fry.

stirfry

This is just a sample menu- the possibilities are endless. The more organic ground meat you use in place of “whole” proteins, the more you save. If you make more vegetarian meals that week, you save even MORE. It’s really up to you.
 
Can it be an adjustment to go from meat, vegetable, starch every night? Sure. But with good recipes it is easy, delicious, satisfying, and very budget friendly. A win four times over!

Restaurant Wars: What to order when you go out to eat

vegetarian or meats

I LOVE going out to eat. I worked in restaurants for nearly half of my life and love being on the other side (that is, being part of the people who actually get to sit and eat as opposed to serving the food). However, going out is expensive. You also don’t know what you’re eating unless you’re at a restaurant that specializes in “farm to table” or “local,” but even then, you really don’t know what’s going in your food. The word “local,” in terms of food, by definition means that the item came from 400 or fewer miles away. 400 miles is not local at all! There’s not much we can do about that, other than eating in certified restaurants. According to the Non-GMO Project there are currently only two Non-GMO certified restaurants in the country, one in Berkeley, California called “Nature’s Express” and one in Seattle called “Mighty-O Donuts.” Other than going to those two, it’s up to us to make the best choices possible when eating at a restaurant.
  
There are many others that say they try to avoid GMOs in their food- use Google or the Organic Food Database or Non-GMO Organic Restaurants to look up restaurants in your state or country.
  
The choices: Meat, poultry, and fish that may be genetically modified, injected with hormones, steroids, or antibiotics (or all of the above) or vegetarian meals that may contain genetically modified ingredients.
  
I personally go with the “lesser of two evils”- vegetarian options. By choosing vegetarian dishes I can eliminate some of the chemicals and/or substances I’m trying to avoid. If I can, I avoid corn, soy, papaya, alfalfa, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and sugar beets since they are almost certainly genetically modified (GMO).
  
I personally just don’t know where the meat, poultry, and fish are coming from. A lot of seafood comes from overseas and is not thoroughly inspected. Cows, pigs, and birds (chicken, turkey, duck) are given genetically modified feed because it is cheaper to feed the masses this way. Don’t be fooled by “grass fed” beef- yes, grass fed is better than grain fed, but there is no guarantee that antibiotics and/or steroids weren’t given to those animals.
  
Other than most likely being the healthiest option, ordering vegetarian dishes are much cheaper than meat, poultry, or fish based dishes.

  • Pasta/Rice Dishes: Sure, the markup on pasta is ridiculous (think about it: it costs only a dollar or two for a box of pasta and one serving is sold for $10+ at the average restaurant) but for me it’s the safer choice. Just remember that regular pasta has bleached flour in it and the chemicals used to do so have been linked to organ failure- try to order 100% whole wheat pasta if you can. Same goes for bread and all other grain based dishes- order 100% whole wheat when you can (less than 100% whole wheat means the product uses a combination of whole wheat and regular white bleached flours)
  • Veggie burgers: They’re cheap and if made in house are great because they often contain beans or lentils which are big on protein but don’t contain the aforementioned additives that a beef or turkey burger would. Just remember that the bun is probably made with bleached flour. Ask if they have whole wheat buns! Also, think about the fries. The oil they’re cooked in is most likely GMO.
  • Veggie Stir-Fry: Great option, but ask what oil they use. If it’s vegetable, soybean, or canola, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be GMO. Peanut oil is less likely to be so, but peanut oil is a risk for restaurants based on allergies. (olive oil is not used in stir-fries, besides flavor, it has a lower maximum cooking temperature that stir-fries exceed)
  • Salads are great options, but consider the add-ons: cheese (from GMO cows/milk), dressing (GMO oil if the dressing is a vinaigrette), tortilla strips (GMO corn AND GMO oil), etc. Just be aware that even though vegetarian dishes are most likely better for you than meat/poultry/fish dishes, they are not necessarily “safe.” The safest way to eat is to buy your own ingredients and cook at home (even more so if they are USDA Certified Organic and verified by the Non-GMO project!)

  
If I’m going to a really nice restaurant I will more likely order a meat, poultry, or seafood dish because at smaller, higher end places (ie non-chains) the quality is usually much higher. I’ve worked in very high-end kitchens and can say that this is true, at least in the places I spent time in.
  
In general though, vegetarian at restaurants = better for you AND cheaper; a win-win!
 
If you want to avoid GMOs and are looking for a quick bite you may be in luck- Chipotle announced that they will be removing all GMOs this year (2014). Check out the article here.

What these seals REALLY mean

Organic Non-Gmo

Seen these on food or products but don’t know what they really mean? Check out the new pages that will be permanently displayed on Two Peas & A Wad so that you can refer back to them at any time. Learning about your food can be confusing- I’m here to help!

Why Go Organic?     and      What Are GMOs?