Category Archives: Organic on a Budget

Snickerdoodles (Paleo, Vegan, Gluten/Cane Sugar/Egg/Dairy Free)

Greetings and Happy Daylight Savings Time for those of you who are participating. Even though winter continues to hang around, there are some small signs of spring. This week, we started hearing birds singing outside of our window early in the morning. And yesterday while the sun was out, the strength of the rays warmed my cheeks.

Today is going to be a baking day for me. SensitiveHusband and I were out and about for much of yesterday, so we are keeping things close to home today. The oven has already helped me to bake a batch of cookies. I think some more baked goods are in store for us today…especially since our heater is being a bit temperamental and having the oven on really heats the place up!

Speaking of cookies, I would like to share with you a recipe for Snickerdoodles that my sister-in-law found. We made them together, altering the recipe slightly, and combined our baking time with a cinnamon taste test. Cinnamon has been in the news lately because studies have shown that there can be health benefits but perhaps the reverse is true if too much is consumed over a long period of time. Feel free to read more about the health discussion here. How do each of the cinnamons taste? We decided to try a side-by-side comparison.

cinnamonThe spice called ‘China Cinnamon’ (often called ‘cassia’) was the same as the offering at a typical grocery store. The medium brown color and texture were pleasing, and the taste was like a ground-up cinnamon stick. Our sample of the ‘Ceylon Cinnamon’ provided a new flavor for us, one with hints of the typical cinnamon flavor but also with a smell and taste of citrus.

We baked half of the batch of snickerdoodles with the China Cinnamon, and the other half using the Ceylon variety. Both were delicious although we thought the Ceylon provided an extra bright and perky taste that was really pleasant.

Checking the costs online, the Ceylon cinnamon was slightly more than the regular variety, anywhere from $0.60 to $1.25 more per bottle.

snickerdoodlesIngredients: Cookies
2 cups almond flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup melted coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Ingredients: Cinnamon coating
2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar or maple sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line and grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium sized bowl, combine dry ingredients; mix together well. In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, maple syrup, vanilla and lemon juice. Add the wet ingredients to the almond flour mixture and mix until combined. Let rest for a few minutes – it will thicken up a bit.

Combine the sugar (optional) and ground cinnamon in a small bowl.

Scoop out the dough with a tablespoon, then gently form into a ball. Roll in the cinnamon mixture. Place the balls of cookie dough on the baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.

Gently flatten flatten each cookie using your hands or a jar. Dip the bottom of the jar in some of the sugar and spice mixture to help keep the cookie from sticking to the jar.

Bake for 8-9 minutes. Leave cookies on the cookie sheet while cooling. They may seem under-baked at first, but they will firm up to the right texture as they cool.

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The Egg-onomics of Cost Sensitive Chocolatey Cookies

Last week the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released national price data, which showed that egg prices were up 7.7% in December, and 10.7% over the past year. The American Institute for Economic Research attributes the price hike to two factors: (1) the avian flu in Mexico, which reduced that country’s domestic supply and increased demand for U.S. eggs, and (2) new regulations in California, the fifth-largest egg-producing state in the U.S., which now requires that hens have enough space to stand up and turn around, thereby increasing costs. Both of these reasons should make the increase in egg prices temporary, but for now, the egg cartons at the grocery store come with higher price tags.

Before you panic about the increasing cost of your omelette, there is hope! Especially if your ingredients include cheese or milk. That’s because the cost of milk is dropping. According to the Associated Press, milk sales set records in 2014 but due to overproduction the prices have fallen and are expected to continue to drop through 2015.

So how does all of this news affect the SensitiveEconomist Cookie Price Index? The price per batch in February 2015 is down 3% overall compared with February 2012. Prices for agave, whole wheat flour, and vanilla extract have decreased; while prices for the chocolate, all purpose flour, butter, local honey, and eggs have all risen. cookie_index_Feb2015

What’s a SensitiveEconomist to do with all of this information? Make cost-sensitive and refined sugar free cookies, of course! I used Ellie Krieger’s recipe for Triple Chocolate Cookies, with some modifications. I substituted the cane sugars with coconut palm sugar and maple syrup (agave would work fine here too). I avoided using honey because its current price is high relative to the other sweeteners, according to my price index. Since whole wheat flour was less expensive than the all-purpose variety, I used more whole wheat and less all-purpose. And unlike my Chocolate Chip Cookies, on which my price index is based, this recipe only calls for one egg. Enjoy the chocolatey cookies with a glass of milk…while the price of a gallon is still inexpensive!

cost sensitive chocolatey cookies

Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup oil (I like grapeseed)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 cup grain-sweetened chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl (or using a stand mixer), mash together the butter and palm sugar/maple syrup with a fork until well combined. Add the oil and egg and beat until creamy. Mix in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips and the (optional) pecans and mix well. Using a tablespoon, scoop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Chickpea Soup – One Way to Manage Your Produce Budget

Chickpea SoupRecently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projected that the lasting drought in California could have “large and lasting effects” on fruit and vegetable prices. Since California produces almost half of all U.S.-grown fruits and vegetables, their weather has budget implications for us all over the country. Experts are estimating that consumers will have to pay as much as 10% to 15% more this year for fresh produce than we paid in 2013.

A March 12 Hartford Courant article includes a host of ways to trim your grocery budget. One way to lower your expenditures is to use canned or frozen produce, which is something I tend to forget about doing. However, many supermarket brands offer organic options and low-sodium options, which are two of the main reasons why consumers avoid them. And then I thought about a chickpea soup that I just tried, inspired by a recipe in Martha Stewart Living from November 2013, and realized that this dish is a keeper for a few reasons. It was quite delicious, only took about 10 minutes to prepare, and was relatively inexpensive to create. This is a winning combination in my book! I omitted the garlic crisps and red pepper flakes, and substituted asiago cheese for parmesan. So if the higher produce prices start to pinch at your wallet, consider trying this chickpea soup as a tasty alternative that uses canned beans.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cans (about 15 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken broth (homemade if you have it)
1 cup water
Coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Finely shredded parmesan (or asiago) cheese

Preparation:
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook until oil is infused and garlic is just beginning to color (do not let brown), 2 to 3 minutes.

Add chickpeas to oil in pot, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until heated through and creamy, about 5 minutes. Smash some of the chickpeas with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Add broth and water; simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide soup among 4 bowls. Top with parsley and cheese.

Chocolate Beet Cake

Good day everyone! We are in the middle of our second week of our community-supported agriculture (CSA) program with a local farm. Each week, we pick up one box (a half share) of fresh produce. At this point in the season, our box has been bursting with greens including spinach, lettuce, kale, and collard greens. It’s exciting to discover what is in the box each week and a fun challenge to use all of the fresh ingredients in interesting ways. The CSA program works well for a farm because there is a consistent demand for the produce, and the program also benefits a household because the prices are lower than what is seen at the grocery store. If you are willing to try a variety of vegetables, a CSA is a fun and economical option.

This week we received two vegetables that we do not eat that often but are such a treat when we do: kohlrabi and beets. I roasted kohlrabi during the week with olive oil and asiago cheese…click here for my simple recipe. Roasted beets are also delicious as an accompaniment to a meal; however, they can also be turned into a sweet and healthy dessert!

chocolate beet cakeI found this recipe from The Simple Lens for Chocolate Beet Cake for Two. I immediately liked the recipe because it did not use any refined sugars and was vegan, which appeals to a number of my friends. I swapped lemon juice for vinegar to keep the acidity level the same. In addition, the yield is two small cakes, which is a nice option for a household that does not want a large amount of cake sitting in the kitchen, tempting people to eat it. This dessert is rich and satisfying and very chocolatey, without being heavy. The beets lend a subtle sweetness to the taste and a soft raspberry hue to the cake. Try this for a fun treat with some fresh beets. You will enjoy it!

Ingredients
For Cake:
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons applesauce (unsweetened)
1/3 cup beet puree (1-2 medium-sized beets)

For Chocolate Ganache:
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons (unsweetened almond) milk
4 tablespoons dark chocolate chips (dairy-free)

Preparation:
1. Prep beet puree: cook beet(s), let cool, process into puree in food processor.
2. Sift together dry ingredients (salt, baking soda, baking powder, flour, cocoa.)
3. Combine wet ingredients (lemon juice, vanilla, applesauce, maple syrup, water, beet puree).
4. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
5. Divide mixture between 2 well-greased ramekins.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes (or until skewer pulls back clean). Let cool for 10-15 minutes before removing from ramekin. (Or just eat right out of it!)
7. Prep ganache: bring milk just to a boil and then remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips and syrup.Continue stirring until chips are fully melted.
8. Plate up: Pour delicious, melty ganache over beet cake and serve. Makes 2 (ramekin-sized) cakes.

I am sharing my recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free.

Exclusive! Interview with Owner of Chocholistic

Greetings, everyone! A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Kenzie Harrick, a nutrition counselor and owner of a new chocolate company, Chocholistic, and sampling some of the creations. First of all, the chocolate is delicious! It has a creamy texture and satisfies my sweet tooth. In addition, the chocolate is Organic, Raw, Vegan, Non-GMO; and free from Sugar, Nuts, Soy, Corn, Wheat, Gluten, and Dairy. Wow!

I had the chance to ask Kenzie some questions about how she creates these healthy chocolates and her plans for the business. I think you will enjoy reading about this healthy chocolate.

How did your 2011 trip to Costa Rica inspire you to create Chocholistic?
My trip to Costa Rica really opened me up to the power of possibility and the power of ingredients.

When I went to Costa Rica to study with David Wolfe, I had just made a big career move by leaving my job as a Program Manager and Chef for a Raw Detox Center. When I left for that trip, I was really hoping it would give me some spiritual insight into what my next move would be. Chocolate was never in the picture. Until of course, I got there.

The retreat center I stayed at had a raw cacao bar in the middle of their tropical jungle. After seeing how everyone organized their day around trips to the cacao bar, and learning from David Wolfe about the powers of combining superfoods and chocolate, I fell in love with the idea of “chocolate as the answer” to health concerns.

When I got home, I started experimenting in the kitchen with different combinations of herbs and superfoods until my friends and family were pretty hooked. When I had the opportunity to sell them at a local event, I jumped on it, and Chocholistic has snow-balled from there.

What is one of the best outcomes to starting your own business? What is a challenge?
The best outcome of starting Chocholistic has been waking up in the morning passionate about what I do. I believe I’m creating a product that can help people. When you focus on that potential, you push yourself to make it the best. When you rise to the occasion and start seeing your vision unfold, you feel really empowered. And that gives you confidence to make the next bold move.

Of course there are challenges everyday: Having enough chocolate in the fridge, shipping in 100 degree heat, designing retail packaging, being behind schedule… But you have to have patience with the process of creating something you’re proud of and know when to throw yourself in high gear and just figure it out.

What is your creative process in developing new flavors for the chocolate?
When it came time to create new flavors for Chocholistic there were two main questions that led the way of the creative process:

What are the conventional truffle flavors that everyone is familiar with? And what are the most interesting, powerful superfoods everyone needs to be eating?

I enjoy the challenge of combining powerful health foods with delicious (also healthy) chocolate. I also love the challenge of allowing those superfoods to make the chocolate taste better: Like the smokiness of reishi mushroom, the tartness of goji berries, or the crunch of chia seeds. Chocholistic is complex; it’s rich. You take a bite and you feel it. Understanding how Chocholistic is supposed to FEEL helped me develop how the new flavors would taste.

In addition to being available online, one of your short-term goals is to have some stores selling your chocolate by September (hooray!). How do you get your product to retail outlets?
One of the biggest tools in reaching a larger market has been helping people know the power of Chocholistic Chocolate. It’s unlike most products out there… And that’s exciting for chocolate lovers and retail stores. Of course with a new product you start small: local markets and smaller health food stores.

I think it will be about sitting down with the shop owners and communicating how special a product it is and asking them to give it a shot on their shelves. There’s a need for thoughtful, healthy, delicious food. And so far I’ve gotten great feedback.

What is one long-term (1-3 years) goal for your company?
This question is fun! Chocholistic is in its infancy, so retail packaging and consistent online reach have been the goals so far. But looking forward, I want Chocholistic to be known in the national market. I think “health food” has been smaller, niche products and it’s time for everyone to know about really good food. I want people to EXPECT superfoods. I want people to know the importance of Non-GMO and Raw Nutrition and not feel like they have to search to find it. We live in a time where good food needs to stand up for itself. The best way to do that is to make it fun to eat. I think that gives Chocholistic the green-light for growth 🙂

Is there anything else you would like to share with this refined-sugar free blog community?
It means a lot to me that people get to learn about my journey as it’s unfolding. Everything is new and exciting, which means there will be a lot going on in the next six months. Please join me on Facebook or via our Chocholistic Newsletter. At the very least, live with passion today and be confident in every decision you make. Namaste.

Breaking News: Dessert Poll Results, Bite Taken out of Cookie Price Index, Favorite Flavor Survey

Happy June everyone! Or perhaps not so happy after yesterday’s unexpected jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor. Analysts were disappointed to see that only 69,000 jobs were created nationwide in the month of May and the unemployment rate rose to 8.2%. This information shows that the nation’s economy continues to recover ever so slowly from the recession that ended more than two years ago.

However, there is a glimmer of hope, particularly for economists who also like to bake cookies. I just calculated the 2012 Q2 SensitiveEconomist Cookie Price Index, which shows a drop of 17% from the previous quarter. Thanks to decreases in the prices for organic whole wheat flour, agave nectar, and grain sweetened chocolate chips, the price to bake a batch of my chocolate chip cookies declined from $13.37 to $11.40. The only ingredient that saw an increase in price (of 4%) was the local honey.

This price index result is running contrary to the latest U.S. consumer price food index, which saw a 0.2% increase in March. However, if we take a deeper look at the components of the U.S. index, there are similarities. The U.S. index saw prices for fruits and vegetables, cereals, nonalcoholic beverages, meats and eggs, and other miscellaneous items all increase – yet those foods (except for the eggs) are not included in the recipe for the chocolate chip cookies. The U.S. food index component that saw a decrease was dairy – which is included in my recipe as butter. The U.S. index does not track the prices of many organic or natural ingredients like agave nectar – so that is why the indices diverge.

Speaking of cookies…thanks to everyone who participated in my dessert poll, either at the CTVegFest or online. I tallied the 54 responses and have declared that Ice Cream is the favored dessert of the respondents, garnering 25% of the votes. This was followed by Cookies with 19%, Brownies with 15%, and Pie with 13%. For all of you ice cream lovers, there are two good recipes on this blog: one that requires an ice cream maker (Peach Ice Cream) and one that does not (Banana Chocolate “Ice Cream”). These are great to try as summer gets into full swing.

Now it is time for a new survey question: what is your favorite dessert flavor? Please participate by visiting my blog’s home page, clicking on your favorite dessert flavor, and clicking “vote.” Is chocolate really the king of dessert flavors? Or will strawberry, mint, or another fine flavor win in the end? I look forward to seeing what emerges from the data.

Being Naturally Sweet: Results from the CTVegFest

Greetings from a very happy CTVegFest speaker! The festival was a great weekend filled with exhibitors, raffles, cooking demonstrations and speakers. I spoke on Sunday, April 29 all about natural sweeteners. About 30 people joined the discussion “Being Naturally Sweet: The Costs and Benefits of a Refined Sugar-Free Diet.” When I polled the audience, I was quite impressed that the majority were already trying to limit the amount of refined sugars that they consume. I first talked about how I learned that I had food sensitivities, and that by listening to my body and consulting a second physician’s opinion really started me on the right path to adjusting my diet. We discussed how tricky it is to remove sugars from one’s diet, and the possible code words for “sugar” in an ingredient list – including, but not limited to, the following – dextrin, dextrose, glucose, saccharose, sucrose, and some syrups and sweeteners. By looking at cost comparisons we all agreed that the relative low expense of cane sugar is why it is the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers – it’s just less expensive to make foods sweetened with cane sugar than with a natural sweetener.

Yet do not despair! Even though I cannot have cane sugar, and choose to limit the amount of other refined sugars that I consume, desserts can still be enjoyed! We talked about how to substitute with natural sweeteners using sweet conversions. The question did arise about liquid versus solid sweeteners – I have not found any trouble with substituting liquid alternatives like agave nectar, honey and maple syrup instead of using granulated sugar in baked goods such as cookies, cakes and brownies. For puddings, however, I sometimes have to use a little cornstarch for its thickening properties.

The benefits of natural sweeteners are many – so that’s why many of us at the CTVegFest aim to be naturally sweet. I enjoyed discussing my journey so far with the audience, and I intend to continue the discussion right here on this blog. So thank you for hearing me speak, reading my blog posts, commenting with questions and ideas – it’s wonderful to be part of a supportive community.

At the close of my speech I asked everyone to answer a short survey. Since I am an economist, I just love to collect data! I now have the results prepared for you. The survey consisted of three questions involving rating favorite desserts, naming a favorite dessert flavor, and listing a favorite food. Thirty-one people answered the survey.

The results of the favorite dessert choices are shown in this pie chart. As for first choice selections, the group was evenly split between cookies and ice cream.
However, if the first, second and third choices are included, ice cream slightly edges out cookies.

When asked to list a favorite dessert flavor, the choice is overwhelmingly chocolate! Twenty-three of the respondents selected chocolate as their favorite dessert. I am certainly not surprised by that result! Vanilla was a distant second with three responses, and cinnamon came in third with two mentions.

And what were the respondents’ favorite foods? The answers ranged from green smoothies to pasta, and from filet mignon to chickpeas. However, eight of the responses involved seafood. Yum!

Would you like to provide your dessert preference? Please do in my first poll! All you have to do is click on which dessert category is your favorite and then click on “vote.” It will be interesting to see if the results are the same as or differ from the CTVegFest audience. The poll will be available on the front page of my blog for the rest of the month, and then we can check the answers.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in the CTVegFest! And thanks for taking my dessert poll!

The First SensitiveEconomist Cookie Price Index

I am sometimes asked to name my favorite economic indicator. Don’t get me wrong – this does not come up in conversation all that often, although sometimes when a group of economists get together they talk about these things. I am not sure that I could pick my absolute favorite indicator although I am partial to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Why? Well, the CPI measures the change over time in the prices paid for a “typical” group of goods and services. The CPI is a signal of inflation in the economy and is used for adjusting dollar values and cost of living calculations (including Social Security benefits).

In order to calculate the CPI, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys thousands of households across the country regarding how much they pay for items including food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication. It’s a good way to get a general sense of inflation, however I decided that it was time to add a SensitiveEconomist touch and create my own price index based on common ingredients that I purchase for my favorite foods.

I found inspiration from my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and used its ingredients to create the price index. Here is how it works (the methodology): I looked for the lowest prices for each ingredient on Amazon.com (except for the local honey, because by definition I buy it locally). Then I calculated how much of each ingredient I use in one batch and multiplied that ratio by the total price I paid for the entire container. Summing up the prices per batch of all the ingredients results in how much it costs me to bake one batch of cookies. Over time I can check the prices and see if the price per batch rises or falls. To see my calculations, view my excel file: Price Index 2012-Feb

The first Cookie Price Index shows that it costs $13.37 to bake one batch of these fabulous, delicious chocolate chip delights (about 32 cookies)! That’s less expensive than buying cookies from a bakery or specialty shop. It will be interesting to see how this tracks over time and if it corresponds at all with the federally-published price indices.

The VegFest and Recipe Request

Greetings! Back in November I interviewed the founder of Wholesome Creations and mentioned that she was also organizing a healthy living festival. Well, the details are out and I want to share them with you! The Connecticut Vegetarian and Healthy Living Festival is taking place at the Connecticut Convention Center from April 28-29, 2012. It will bring together people who want to live a healthy lifestyle with exhibitors and professionals who can help them achieve their goals. Whether you live in the area or not, there are ways in which you can participate. Below are a few ideas:

1. Save the Date! The festival will be held at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford from April 28-29, 2012. There is no entrance fee (wow!) except for a non-perishable vegan/vegetarian food item to donate to food banks and shelters. What a wonderful way to encourage event attendance and help those who rely on the generosity of others for their meals. You can stay up-to-date on the details of the event by visiting the web site, ctvegfest.org, following @ctvegfest on twitter, and joining the CT VegFest group on Facebook.

2. Participate! The CTVegFest is looking for people who are willing to volunteer – a little bit or a lot – to help make this event a success. Fill out the volunteer form on the web site to explore your options, or join the meeting on February 8, 6pm, at the Holiday Inn Express on Brainard Road in Hartford.

3. Share Recipes that are Great! A vegan (no animal-derived ingredients used) cookbook is being produced as a fundraiser for the festival, and we have been asked for our favorite recipes to be included. You can submit your dish online – I just shared a recipe for Golden Raisin and Apple Stuffing.

The CTVegFest is shaping up to be a great event. As more information becomes available I’ll share it, and I hope to see you there!

A Few Tips to Save as Food Costs Rise

A few weeks ago, I found some research about the price of peanut butter being on the rise. And now there are forecasts that other foods are going to see price increases in the near future. This article by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) provides some helpful hints on saving some cash while still enjoying a few of our favorite staples.

Bacon: Since the price of feed has been on the rise, the hog industry has decreased its production. In order to save on this food item choose those on sale and freeze the extras. A good substitute for the pork product is turkey bacon.

Beef: Increasing demand from China, Korea and Mexico is putting a premium on the price of beef. When at the grocery store, look for products that have a reduced price for a quick sale – you will want to eat or freeze immediately, but you can save some cash that way. You can also purchase cheaper cuts of meat and tenderize with a marinade or cook in a slow cooker.

Cereal: A portion of corn production is being used for ethanol, and the wacky weather has affected oat, wheat and corn crops. In order to save, check out online coupon sources such as smartsource.com or coupons.com. The increased corn prices will also affect popcorn prices – so buy in bulk now and store for use over a period of time.

Milk: Milk exports are at an all-time high because there is a growing demand from Mexico, Philippines and Egypt. In order to find a deal, buy on sale and freeze – thawed milk is best used for cooking but can be used for drinking too.