Monday, March 7, 2011

Save Money with Whole Grains

Mondays are always hectic. After the slower pace of the weekend, the first day of the week can really knock the wind out of me. Furiously packing lunches, making sure the boys have something clean to wear and just getting basics checked off my weekly list. One of the tasks on my Monday list is always preparing our whole grains. But really the work begins Sunday night.

soybeans, great northern bean and quinoa

As the weekend comes to a close, I already have the next week's meals on my mind. We eat plenty of beans and other whole foods like quinoa and brown rice. What they save in money, they take in a little bit of time. Sunday evening I set out my grains for the week, although sometimes the supplies need to be replenished midweek. I give myself a silent high five every time I can push myself to get this small step of soaking or rinsing done the night before.

Dried beans are probably the most significant whole food ingredient in my pantry. I used to burn through the canned stuff but when I discovered that dried beans weren't so intimidating after all, I left my addiction for canned beans, cold turkey. Dried beans need to be soaked in cool water for eight plus hours, so overnight from Sunday to Monday works perfectly. First thing in the morning, I throw the beans in a large pot, cover them with a few inches of water, add some cloves of garlic, a couple teaspoons of olive oil and a grind or two of pepper and let them simmer for two hours. Then they are strained, rinsed and kept in the fridge, ready for any recipe. We love them in tacos, combined with an equal amount of ground meat. They usually make another appearance in a weekly soup or served over pasta or rice. Two cups of dried beans usually make about 6 heaping cups of the cooked stuff. That is a ton of cheap protein. Its a great way to supplement or replace meat. And buying organic dried beans is not much more than conventional.

Also on my list is a fresh batch of soy milk. Yes, you can make your own soy milk. A couple years ago I purchased a soy milk maker. It has paid for itself many times over. Making a pitcher of organic soy milk costs pennies, literally pennies. A batch is about one and a half quarts.
The kids don't care much for the taste straight out of a cup, probably because there is not a bit of sweetener, flavoring, or any kind of artificial stabilizer or thicker. I use the milk in recipes, like pancakes, because it is cheaper than organic cow milk. It substitutes cup for cup without any noticeable difference. If you exchange almonds or rice for the soybeans you can make other milk alternatives too. Nothing tastes like fresh hot almond milk! With a hint of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon, it is certainly enough to be considered a dessert. The ingredient for the milk needs to be soaked overnight as well which is why this is on my Sunday night for Monday morning list.

quinoa blueberry muffins sweetened only with stevia

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is all over the food world recently in health news and recipes. It been a staple in my kitchen for years. I have found the grain to be so versatile. It has made its way into soups, salads and even blueberry muffins. Quinoa is a whole grain that cooks like white rice but looks a bit like couscous. Once made, the springy grain stores well in the fridge ready for a impromptu recipe idea. This morning it was served as a whole grain breakfast cereal. It was cooked with diluted orange juice, almonds and cranberries and served with just a drizzle of honey. I would love to have some time this week to see if I can convince this grain that it needs to be a part of some homemade granola bars. Again, this is high in protein and doesn't make me feel guilty eating it while I still consider it mainly a carbohydrate. Quinoa makes it on my do ahead list because it needs to be rinsed before cooking. While running the cool water over the grain takes only seconds, the last thing I want in the morning is one more step. Plus amidst all the confusion that morning brings, I would probably forget about my scrumptious breakfast cereal if it were not staring me right in the face.

So there you have it, saving money and my sanity by getting it together early. These beans and grains serve so many purposes in my kitchen and buying them in their whole unprocessed state keeps more change in my pocket to maybe splurge on a few things. My most recent indulgence? A five pound bulk bag of organic whole bean Columbian coffee, which is also ground and ready to go for a nice way to greet my kitchen any morning.

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