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19 Cheap and Easy Tips to Make Over Your Next Meal

This post started as a list of ways to use hummus. Then it evolved into a bit of a foodie braindump. All these great tips and tricks have been floating around my brain for the past few months. It's time I shared these quick, affordable kitchen tips and healthy eats with you! I hope you find them useful and inspiring.

  • Make your own nut butter. It's so much cheaper, and there's no added salt! Toast raw nuts until they're barely fragrant, then run through the food processor. I start by running them through the slicing attachment, then put in the chopping blade and let them break down, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add cinnamon, maple syrup or dark cocoa powder for extra special treats.

  • Poached eggs are delicious: atop a bowl of pasta and tomato sauce, on a salad, and on a bowl of savory oatmeal. The broken yolk makes a delicious, creamy sauce. Trust me. It's life-changingly delicious, especially atop the pasta.

  • Shredded carrots tossed with hummus that's been thinned with a tablespoon of water is a wonderful side salad. I grate a bag of carrots (using my food processor) every week and use them in stir-fries, casseroles and salads.

  • Hummus is a secret weapon:

    • Add it to tomato sauce instead of cream or milk.

    • Hummus and salsa is even better than cheesy Mexican dip. Warm it for an over-the-top guiltless treat.

    • Use hummus instead of mayo. More flavor, less fat!

    • Hummus makes a great salad dressing, and you can even thin it with broth or water to make a dressing for pasta salad--great with peppers, onions, cucumbers, olives and other Mediterranean staples.
    Posted 5/10/2010  2:14:36 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 112 comments   27,545 views
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Speedy Suppers: Coach Nicole's Mini Frittatas

Judging from last week's response, you like the new Speedy Suppers blog series we've started.

Our Skillet Lasagna was last week's most viewed post.

We're going to continue to bring you Speedy Suppers each Thursday, and we need your help. Post your suggestions in the comment section below. Your recipe must be on, so if it's not already, upload it soon!

This week's Speedy Supper comes from our very own Coach Nicole, who has been making these mini frittatas for years. The recipe calls for tomatoes, goat cheese and broccoli, but you can use any cheese or vegetables you'd like.

I know she shakes up the recipe from time to time, and I've made it myself a few times. I swapped red peppers for tomatoes, feta for the goat cheese and spinach for the broccoli. You really can't go wrong!
While she usually makes them for breakfast, I thought they'd make a great dinner.

Each frittata has just 71 calories (I usually eat two), and it's great paired with salsa or a green salad and whole-grain toast.

Posted 6/18/2009  12:15:51 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 103 comments   8,718 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: A Medley of Meatless "Meats"

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins. This is the final blog in the Meat-Free Friday series. View the rest of the series here.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the adage applies to food. When you know you can't or shouldn't have a food, do you crave it all that much more? Since Lent started, have you had any Friday cravings for meat?

Sure, I've offered plenty of meat-free alternatives, but what are you to do when a craving for a hot dog, chicken nuggets or a turkey sandwich hits? Must you hold off until Saturday?

Nope. You can indulge your cravings for all your favorites--pepperoni pizza, BLTs and even sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches--even when you're on a meatless diet.

Welcome to the wonderful world of… meat analogs.
Posted 4/10/2009  6:20:11 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 123 comments   11,470 views
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Speedy Suppers: Pizza Gets a South-of-the-Border Makeover

I love Spinning class. For me, it's a great workout--and 45-60 minutes of letting someone else tell me what to do. Compared with my other favorite form of fitness--yoga--Spinning requires less immediate focus and allows more time for contemplation. Through rolling hills, sprints and grueling jumps, I focus on the finish line--and quite often the delicious dinner I'll make once I get home.

I have been inspired to make plenty of new recipes while on a bike--both on the trail and in the Spinning studio. Sometimes they turn out so-so (a strange lasagna using root vegetables and collard greens in a vegan cream sauce--what?) and other times they rock my world!

The idea for this Mexican pizza came to me just a week ago, and my boyfriend is already asking when we'll be having it again.
When I was a kid, my parents were big fans of Chi-Chi's--the only thing resembling Mexican food we could get in southeastern Ohio. My palate wasn't quite as adventurous back then, so I'd always order the kids' Mexican pizza--ground beef and cheese baked on a tortilla and served with salsa. My tastes have changed--and so has my Mexican pizza.

I wanted a real pizza crust, something whole-grain and substantial enough to hold the plethora of produce I wanted to throw on top. Pizza crust is often dusted with cornmeal, so why not make a cornmeal crust?

I often struggle with dough. Too sticky, too dry, too chewy, too crispy--it's hard to achieve the proper balance. I hit gold with a variation of my mom's whole-wheat pizza dough. It's sturdy and chewy without being too doughy. It crisped up nicely, especially when I parbaked it in my cast-iron skillet. (The secret, I think, is plenty of fork holes to allow steam to escape the 3/4" crust.)

The crust, I realized, would make two pizzas. There would be food for tonight, tomorrow's lunch and snacks over the weekend!

The crusts rolled out and set to bake for a few minutes, I moved on to toppings. What would crown my Mexican masterpieces?

Posted 4/8/2009  12:26:18 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 103 comments   5,624 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: Time to Try Tempeh

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins. Read the rest of the series here.

So I converted some of you to tofu lovers likers a couple of weeks back. Are you ready for your next assignment?

This week, I’m going to introduce you to tempeh.

What is tempeh (pronounced tem-pay)?

Tempeh is a fermented product made from soybeans that's especially popular on the Indonesian island of Java. Before you wrinkle your nose, know it's not pungent like sauerkraut, kimchi, or natto.

But before we talk about how it's made, let's look at how we eat it. Trust me, it's tasty!
Posted 4/3/2009  11:56:09 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 107 comments   10,276 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: Black Beans--the Best Beans!

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark is featuring a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

My boyfriend could live on black beans and rice. He actually said that Wednesday night. He got home late, and I had gone out to dinner with a friend. He opened a can of beans, doctored it with olive oil, garlic, curry and a strange assortment of spices and heated up some leftover brown rice. He added some smoked gouda and a handful of fresh spinach at the end (If I'm not eating it, I don't comment on the conglomerations he creates.) and his dinner was ready.

"I could eat this every meal of every day and still be happy," Fred said.
While I don't love black beans quite as much as my boyfriend does, I am very fond of these beans. They're cheap (I get a conventional 15-ounce can for 89 cents, an organic 15-ounce can for $1.29, and a pound of organic dried beans for about $1/pound.) I cook a big batch of dried black beans each week and we eat them throughout the week. We add a half-cup per serving to vegetable stir-fries, soups, stews and pretty much any other dish.
Posted 3/27/2009  4:06:37 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 102 comments   26,529 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: Tofu--Tasteless Blob or Tasty Protein?

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark is featuring a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

Few foods are as polarizing as tofu.

Say the word and watch as noses crinkle or mouths water.

I fall on the tofu lover side of the spectrum, but I think we might be of the minority.

Tofu, also known as soybean curd, is made by soaking, boiling, blending and straining soybeans, then adding a coagulating agent and pressing it. Think of it like this: Cheese is to milk as tofu is to soymilk.

Really whets the appetite, doesn't it?

Scratch that.

Think of tofu as the other white meat. Like chicken, it's a versatile protein, a blank canvas on which to test your culinary prowess. I substitute tofu in just about every chicken recipe I have.

3-4 ounces grilled chicken
3-4 ounces sautéed or grilled tofu


I've got a few tofu tricks and tips. I'm pretty sure I can convert you. In fact, I bet you a SparkGoodie that you will at least like, if not love, tofu after you try some of these tips. (P.S. Did I mention that it's cheap? A 15-ounce package yields five servings for under $2! That's enough of a reason for this frugal foodie.)

Posted 3/20/2009  6:04:01 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 181 comments   13,565 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: What in the World is TVP?

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

It looks a bit like cereal, but it smells saltier and tastes more savory than sweet. It's a cheap, versatile and incredibly easy to use protein source that is sometimes hard to distinguish from ground meat. It's TVP. Textured Vegetable Protein. (TVP is in the front of the photo of soy products accompanying this article.)

Let's demystify this vegetarian protein, which can be used in everything from chili and meatballs to tacos and shepherd's pie.
Posted 3/13/2009  3:01:01 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 136 comments   15,980 views
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Meat-Free Fridays: Lenten Lentils

Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

Lentils are a cheap and versatile protein source--I buy lentils for about a dollar a pound in the bulk bins at my local supermarket. On nights when I'm pressed for time, I throw some lentils in a pot, along with a bit of onion and garlic. I add twice as much broth as lentils and let them simmer for about 15 minutes. I steam some broccoli or spinach, heat up some brown rice (I precook rice in batches and freeze it in single portions) and drizzle on a bit of curry or tomato sauce. Dinner's on the table in less than 20 minutes!
Most people limit lentils to lentil soup, but these legumes have a lengthy list of uses.

  • Mix cooked lentils into meatballs, meatloaf or burgers. Add a cup of lentils and a cup of water when browning ground beef or turkey.

  • Add pureed lentils to chili, soups or stews to thicken.

  • Toss cooled French or green lentils with vinaigrette and some chopped peppers and onions for a quick salad. Or add lentils to your favorite pasta salad.

  • Substitute lentils for half or all the ground beef in your favorite pasta dish. In meat sauce, lasagna or stuffed shells, the texture is the indistinguishable.

    A half-cup of lentils have 115 calories, less than half a gram of fat, and 366 mg potassium. They contain 9 g each of protein and fiber (about a third of your recommended amount of fiber), and 45% of your Daily Value of folic acid. Lentils are frequently included on lists of the world's healthiest foods.

    Find out more about this healthy, cheap and versatile legume!

    Posted 3/6/2009  5:52:24 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 88 comments   28,073 views
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  • Be Flexible during World Vegetarian Month

    October is Vegetarian Awareness Month.

    Have you ever thought about giving up meat? If you're not interested in going vegetarian, have you ever considered flexitarianism?

    While about 3 percent of American adults are vegetarian, about 10 percent are mostly vegetarian (occasionally indulging in poultry or fish).

    One in four Americans follows a "flexitarian" diet, according to the American Dietetic Association, meaning they eat meatless meals at least four days a week.

    Posted 10/20/2008  12:22:02 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 84 comments   4,990 views
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    Want to Eat Less Meat? Here's How.

    Long ago, meat lost its starring role in my diet. Like many aspects of my life, my diet was profoundly influenced by the year I spent teaching English in South Korea.

    There, meat could be found in almost every dish, but it wasn't a dominating ingredient. A sprinkling of pork flavored spicy kimchi stew, dried fish added depth to broths, and a lone clam sank to the bottom of the tofu soup I ate almost every day for lunch.
    Posted 8/15/2008  10:45:41 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 46 comments   5,604 views
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