Chocolate Gnocchi with Strawberries: A savory take on a Valentine’s Day favorite!

chocolate gnocchi 13
 
My husband and I have quite the Valentine’s Day joke.
 
6 years ago I told him the only thing I wanted for Valentine’s Day was chocolate covered strawberries. I told him this around Christmas when the fruit came up somehow, but the two months between the two holidays led to him forgetting unfortunately.
 
The next year, I reminded him in February- still no berries come the 14th! This went on for TWO MORE YEARS!!! For whatever reason, my very considerate/loving/attentive husband could not remember to bring me chocolate covered strawberries even when I reminded him in February!!! He’s truly the most amazing husband I could have ever imagined, it was honestly mind boggling that he couldn’t master Valentine’s Day = Chocolate Covered Strawberries.
 
I had to wonder if he were doing it on purpose- how could a person forget year after year?! He even put it in his Google calendar a few years ago and reminded himself in time to order them, but it magically didn’t happen again. Instead of being angry, it just made me laugh- I honestly could not believe it. He would give wonderful cards (one year it was hand made!) and thoughtful gifts. But alas, no berries. Last year HE REMEMBERED (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and we enjoyed them as we laughed.
 
About two weeks ago, he said “Would you like chocolate covered strawberries this year? I want to get them for you but I don’t know where I will find them with organic chocolate and organic strawberries.” Now this was sweet- he knew I wouldn’t care for them now that I eat only organic foods (conventional strawberries are one of the most pesticide-sprayed fruits in the United States).
 
I would make an exception on a holiday (or the rare occasion we go out to eat) but the cost of buying conventional chocolate covered strawberries is insane when you can make them organically for less. He made them (using conventional ingredients) for me our first Valentine’s Day in 2006 so buying both organic berries and chocolate and making them here did come to mind- but I told him not this year.
 
This year I was going to give HIM some chocolate and strawberries- I made DINNER (not dessert!) using organic chocolate and strawberries. I bet you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about. With a little creativity and imagination, ANYTHING, including Valentine’s Day dinner, can happen!
 
Chocolate Gnocchi with Strawberries, Peas, Candied Bacon, and Rosemary Balsamic
 
  • 2 organic sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more)
  • 1 tablespoon organic chocolate syrup
  • 1 egg white (or you can use a teaspoon or two of almond or cashew butter to make these vegan)
  • 1 3/4 cups organic flour (I used sprouted whole wheat)
  • 2 tablespoons organic cocoa powder
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (use closer to 3/4 cup if you like your pasta saucier)
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar, maple syrup, or honey
  • 1 teaspoon chopped dried rosemary (if using fresh remember to use about half!)
  • 6 organic frozen strawberries
  • 3 pieces organic turkey bacon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup for candying the bacon, if using
chocolate gnocchi 1 
Peel and slice the sweet potatoes and boil in salted water until they are soft enough that they almost fall apart when stabbed with a fork. Drain and return to the same pot. Mash them with a fork or masher until there are no lumps.
 
chocolate gnocchi 2 
Add the spices, salt, and organic chocolate syrup. I used Alaska brand. I have this on hand for when I want mocha as opposed to plain coffee- it’s really quite good and is free of all of the chemicals and additives- it’s USDA Organic AND Non-GMO verified! Stir until incorporated.

 

Ahlaska Chocolate Syrup 

Taste the mixture at this point (before adding the egg!) to assess the spice/saltiness. Sweet potatoes vary in size and water content so each batch can be different. If you want more spice, add a little of each until you think it tastes just right! I DO NOT recommend adding extra salt because you will be boiling them in salted water which will add saltiness. Do remember though, that you will be adding a lot of flower and cocoa powder which don’t have spice in them so make sure the potatoes have good flavor.
 

chocolate gnocchi 3 
Once it tastes flavorful (you may not need to add any extra spice- I didn’t!) add 1 cup of flour and the 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Stir and add 1/4 cup of the leftover flour at a time until the mixture can be picked up and isn’t gummy in your hands.
 
chocolate gnocchi 5
 
Use a little flour and cocoa powder to dust a cutting board. Make sure to spread the flour/cocoa powder mixture very thin- leave a pile off to the side that you can take from if you need more. Take a small handful of the dough and roll it into a log  on the floured cutting board.
 
chocolate gnocchi 4 
Lightly roll the log into a snake, being careful not to squish the dough. Repeat making logs and snakes until all of the dough is used.
 
chocolate gnocchi 6 
Cut the snakes into pieces that are about the same width as a finger.
 
chocolate gnocchi 7 
I place the cut gnocchi on a cookie sheet and freeze them until I want to use them, even if it’s for only a few minutes (preferably about an hour, minimum). When the dough is room temperature, it can disintegrate and/or become too mushy. These cook in seconds so it is important that they are firm when they go into the boiling water.
 
chocolate gnocchi 8 

Thaw the strawberries in a bowl or help them by placing frozen with a teaspoon of water in a small pot and heat over low heat. Set aside.
 

chocolate gnocchi berries 
In a small sautee pan or pot, heat the balsamic vinegar and sweetener over high heat. I also poured in the liquid that came off of the strawberries when they thawed.Chop the dried rosemary (warning: this can be messy, the pieces like to fly everywhere so try to cover with your hand) and add it to the balsamic. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer- let simmer until the mixture begins to thicken (10 minutes or so).
If you would like candied maple bacon lardons (slices) in your dish, this is the time to cook the turkey bacon in just a tiny bit of olive oil. Lightly brown the slices  on both sides. Add the maple syrup, making sure the slices are coated. Continue cooking the bacon, flip the slices after a few minutes. When nearly all of the maple syrup is gone from the pan, remove the bacon slices and let cool.
 
chocolate gnocchi 9
 
Heat a larger sautee pan with a little olive oil.
 
Salt a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Cook the gnocchi in 3 batches once the water is boiling- they will cook in 30 seconds or less. Don’t wait for them to float to the top- they may be done already. After a few seconds, take one with a fork and taste it- if it’s heated through and doesn’t taste like raw flour, you’re good to go. Using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi and place them in the sautee pan.
 
Shake the pan to coat the gnocchi with the olive oil. Repeat the process until all of the gnocchi are cooked. In the pan they should all be barely coated in olive oil and slightly crisping up.
 
chocolate gnocchi 10 
Heat the peas in a small sautee pan in a little water. Set aside.
 
Heat the strawberries briefly in the same pan until just heated through- you do not want them to disintegrate.
 
Stack the bacon slices if using and cut into small pieces.
 
chocolate gnocchi 11 
Plate desired amount of gnocchi on a plate. Drizzle with the balsamic and top with bacon and peas. Top with the whole strawberries. Enjoy!!
 
chocolate gnocchi 12 
This meal is a savory dish- it is not sweet even though you are using chocolate and strawberries. It was a very inexpensive way to cook something unique and special for Valentine’s Day. The only ingredient of expense is the balsamic vinegar (organic cocoa powder can be expensive but used in such a small amount only costs a few cents). The vinegar costs about $7.00 for a 16.9 ounce bottle- twice the price of conventional balsamic. If you use half a cup it only costs $1.64 (3/4 cup would be $2.46).
 
My husband looked at the plate and said “Wow!” I asked for more details for what “wow” meant, and he continued with “captivating, interesting, unique, colorful!” I told him what we were having and he laughed. After trying everything he said “unexpected, textural, complex, surprising, bursting flavor, scrumptious!” I’ll take it! Happy Valentine’s Day from our home to yours!
 
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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!

Snowed In Meal #1: Asian Lettuce Wraps (without having to go to the store!)

lettuce wraps 9
 
Last week in New Jersey we had a snow storm from early-morning Sunday into Monday. Work was canceled, the driveway and our cars were both covered, and it was freezing out. I didn’t want to go ANYWHERE. So I didn’t! But I knew I had to rely on making dinner from what I had on hand. They key to this type of meal is making sure it doesn’t taste like it was just thrown together to use up ingredients in the pantry or fridge.
 

Before I started brainstorming on Monday night, I asked my other half if there were something in particular he wanted. His request: “lettuce wraps, if you can.” Challenge, extended! I browsed the contents of our shelves and found that this was totally doable- he had previously purchased a head of organic iceberg lettuce for his lunch sandwiches, I had a container of organic non-GMO tofu that I was planning on using in a different recipe later in the week, and  I had leftover raw cauliflower. Done!

I love having leftover ingredients- especially when they were inexpensive to start with. A few days before, I bought a head of organic cauliflower for $3.99 (conventional was $3.49- only 50 cents less!)

cauliflower comparisonI used 1/5 of the head for my vegan cauliflower “meat” balls and now had 4/5 left in my fridge- how exciting! The cauliflower would definitely be going in these lettuce wraps, along with the lettuce and tofu mentioned above.

As for the sauce, I have a go-to Asian sauce that is so simple to make and can be made with basic staples in your kitchen. A well stocked pantry is the key to successful re-purposing of ingredients- I will be making a post about what I keep in my pantry in the very near future. All you need for my simple Asian sauce is organic soy sauce (PLEASE go for organic if you can- there is not a huge difference in price, but the quality of what you’re putting in your body is night and day- soy is one of the most genetically modified crops in the United States), some sort if citrus juice, and your favorite nut butter of choice.

I had some almond butter I wanted to use up, but you can use peanut, cashew, or even tahini (sesame seed butter). I didn’t have any limes, my preferred citrus for this sauce, but I did have orange juice- a perfect substitute.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

  • 1/2 package extra firm organic non-GMO tofu (found in the refrigerated section)
  • 1 chicken breast (if you are going vegetarian/vegan, simply omit the chicken and make the full package of tofu!)
  • 1/2 head of organic cauliflower
  • pinch of ground mustard
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • Asian seasoning blend (you can use the same three spices above with a pinch of garlic powder and onion powder and add sesame seeds if you’d like)
  • 2 tablespoons organic almond butter (or other nut butter of choice)
  • 1 tablespoon organic orange juice (more if you like a thinner sauce)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of organic soy sauce, depending on desired flavor/saltiness
  • 1 tablespoon of orange marmalade or mango chutney (I used mango chutney because I had an open jar)
  • coconut oil for cooking
  • 6-8 leaves of lettuce for wrapping (iceberg is recommended for crunch, but any lettuce can be used)
Optional but HIGHLY recommended:
  • 1 organic scallion, chopped
  • organic peanuts or almonds
  •  organic pickled radishes/cucumbers/ginger
Slice the tofu into thin slices and let drain on paper towels placed on a baking rack. I flipped the tofu and changed the towels three times- there is a lot of water in tofu!
 
lettuce wraps 1
 
Heat a skillet with a little coconut oil over medium-high heat. Chop the cauliflower into small bite-size pieces and add to the pan. Cook until mostly cooked (you can taste test if you’re unsure!) Add the pinches of mustard, ginger, and allspice and finish cooking. Remove from pan and set aside.
 
Heat a little more coconut oil and when hot, add the drained sliced tofu. As the first side cooks, sprinkle with Asian seasoning. Always read your labels to make sure seasoning doesn’t contain starches or oils to prevent sticking. If you cannot find a good Asian spice blend, make your own with a pinch of mustard, ginger, allspice, garlic powder, onion powder, and optional sesame seeds as mentioned above in the ingredients list (unless the spice is USDA Certified Organic, the added oils are most likely genetically modified, or GMO.)
 
lettuce wraps 2
Flip tofu when the bottom side is golden brown and season the top side as the bottom cooks.
 
lettuce wraps 3
Remove from heat when golden brown, place on paper towls on baking rack so that any excess oil is absorbed.
 
lettuce wraps 4
While the tofu is sitting, reduce the heat and melt the marmalade or chutney in the same pan. When the tofu is cool enough to handle, stack the slices and slice into thin strips.
 
lettuce wraps 5
Add the strips to the melted marmalade/chutney and stir to coat the tofu. Remove from pan and set aside.
 
lettuce wraps 6
 
If using chicken, raise the heat, dice the chicken breast, and cook in a little coconut oil. Remove from pan and set aside.
 
Use the same pan to make the sauce. Lower the heat and melt the almond butter and add the orange juice. Stir to incorporate. Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and stir thoroughly. Taste the sauce to assess the flavor and saltiness- add another teaspoon of soy sauce if desired. Add the cauliflower to the sauce, stir to coat. You can now either mix in the chopped scallion, put it on top of the cauliflower, or wait until plating.
 

Move the cauliflower to one side of the pan, add the tofu (and chicken if applicable) to the pan in separate sections so that all components can reheat separately without having to heat three pans.

lettuce wraps 7
 
As ingredients heat back up, place peanuts in a small bowl if using them for a crunchy addition to the wraps (you can use almonds here if you prefer!) If you have a pickled veggie on hand, such as radishes or cucumbers, or a jar of pickled ginger (sushi ginger), dice them up into bite-size pieces and put in a small bowl for serving. I really love the pickled flavor in this recipe, I highly recommend using them if you have them or can find them. Sushi ginger can be found in the Asian aisle of your food store- it comes sliced in a jar!
 
I just happened to have some pickled radishes on hand because a while ago I had a huge raw bunch of left over and didn’t want to throw them out so I pickled them and threw them in the fridge- they last FOREVER! I use them in recipes as needed or even on top of a salad- delicious!
 
lettuce wraps 10
Take your lettuce and carefully separate the leaves. Place on a plate for serving. Once everything is warmed through, place into separate bowls so you can pick and choose the ingredients and amounts you’d like. Assemble as you wish and enjoy!
 
lettuce wraps 8This meal was created based on what I had in my pantry and fridge- you can throw whatever veggies or proteins you want in the wraps, whether they were leftover, or cooked just for the purpose of using them in this recipe-be creative!
 
Lettuce wraps are an economical way to eat all organic- this meal cost me $3.50 for the organic chicken breast, $2.00 worth of cauliflower, $1.00 of lettuce, $1.25 for the tofu, and a dollar or two for the scallion, spices, oil, peanuts, and radishes for a total of around $7.75 worth of ingredients for a 100% organic dinner for two (without having to venture out into the cold!)
 

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!

 

$5 Organic Dinner for Two: Vegan Gluten-Free “Hummus” Burgers

hummus burger 6

I call these “hummus” burgers because they have the same ingredients as hummus: chick peas, lemon, garlic, and tahini paste. They are easy to make, delicious, vegan (without the cheese on top), gluten free, and kind of like a kitchen sink for leftover veggies. Whatever you have leftover you can throw in- I recommend broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, mushrooms, peas, corn, or any other solid non-leafy veggie that could be served warm as a side dish (i don’t recommend celery, radishes, tomatoes, or leafy greens like lettuce, though heartier greens like kale and spinach could work if finely chopped).

  • 1 can organic garbanzo beans/chick peas (my cans are 15.5 ounces, a little more or less wont matter)
  • Zest of one organic lemon
  • Juice of one organic lemon
  • 1 clove organic garlic (or one teaspoon chopped jarred organic garlic)
  • Fresh, raw vegetables: I used 2 organic carrots, a handful of chopped organic portobello mushrooms, 1/4 organic red onion
  • Handful of frozen organic peas
  • 2 tablespoons organic unsalted tahini paste
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon grill seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon organic quinoa flour (almond, rice, or any other flour would work well here too)
  • 2 tablespoons organic coconut oil

Rinse and drain the chick peas, put in a food processor with the lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Pulse until the chick peas are broken into pea size and smaller pieces. Scoop into a medium mixing bowl. The mixture should look chunky:
hummus burger 1

No need to clean the food processor- add the veggies (unless using frozen peas, hold off on adding these now).
hummus burger 2
Pulse until the veggies are about the same size as the broken up chick peas. Use the same colander you used for the chick peas and run the peas under a little warm water just to take the frost off. Make sure all excess water is gone and add them to the chick peas and veggies:
hummus burger 3
Add the tahini paste and stir thoroughly (tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds.) Add the grill seasoning, starting with just 1/4 of a teaspoon. Taste the mixture (there are no eggs, this is safe to do) and assess the seasoning. If your grill seasoning has salt in it be extra careful. If your seasoning is salt free, you may choose to add a pinch of salt to bring the flavors out. If your tahini is NOT salt free, do not add any extra salt or use grill seasoning that has salt in it. Stir to incorporate. I use this tahini paste from the Woodstock company:
tahini
Add the quinoa flour, starting with just the one tablespoon. You may need more- it all depends on what vegetables you used and their moisture content. Stir everything together. I use Bob’s Red Mill quinoa flour:
quinoa flour
Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet. Divide the mix into 5 equal parts and form a patty out of each:
hummus burger 4
When the oil is hot enough, place the patties in the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown (I like mine on the darker, crispier side). Flip and cook the other sides to desired color.
 

I wilted some kale and spinach together as a side. I topped my burger with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.

.hummus burger 8

My husband had a bun with his and put brie and red onion on top. He added ketchup after the picture was taken.

hummus burger 9I made this meal for about $5.00 for two ($2.50 per serving). Every single thing was organic- organic chickpeas for $0.99, leftover organic vegetables ($2.50 worth), $1.00 in spinach and kale, and 50 cents for the coconut oil, spices, and quinoa flour. If you chose to do this recipe with conventional ingredients you will spend less, but $5.00 for organic?! Why not try it even if you’ve never done it!

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.