Andrew and I have often talked about how amazing the bakeries in Chinatown are. They have hands down the best pastries, at wonderfully affordable prices. They’re magical places.
And one of my favourite things to get? Coconut buns.
But sometimes you also just want to know how to make something at home, right?
Enter these bad boys. Inspired by the coconut buns I love, I can’t guarantee they’re going to be cheaper to make than it would be to buy. It’s also important to note that these aren’t exactly the same as you might expect from a Chinese coconut bun. They’re very much an approximation, and something I’ve been trying to make as an alternative dessert option so that I don’t feel like I’ve eaten a whole meal in one small pastry.
To make these, I adapted the dough recipe from Skinny Taste’s bagel recipe (which I’m pretty obsessed with), which makes the bun a bit lighter alternative to your standard sweet bun. Plus, using limited larder ingredients means these can be made at the drop of a hat, without having to venture out into the February cold. I’m delighted by them.
Here’s the recipe:
Ingredients: (Makes 4 buns)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup greek yogurt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons margarine (I used Earth balance)
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Quarter cup of dried coconut
1 egg, beaten for glaze
Extra coconut for sprinkling
- Pre-heat oven to 375F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and baking soda. Add yogurt and stir to combine. You’re looking for a doughy consistency that isn’t too wet – you want the dough to combine but not stick to your hands. Add more flour if your mixture is too wet.
- Using a blender, combine your margarine, sugar, flour, and coconut until you have a paste-like consistency.
- Dust a dry surface with a little flour. Separate your dough into four even balls. You’re then going to roll each ball out until it is a rectangle shape. Spoon your coconut paste into the centre of the rectangle and then fold the corners in until the paste is covered. You can then reshape by hand into a dough shape.
- Place the prepared buns on a lined and greased baking tray.
- Whisk one egg in a small bowl. Using a pastry brush, give the buns a light coating of egg, and then sprinkle coconut on top of your buns.
- Cook in the oven for 30 mins, or until risen and lightly browned.
And that’s it! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. In less than an hour you too could be enjoying one of these, fresh out of the oven.
Although you might not know it from the 20-degree weather we’re having up here in Toronto right now, soup season is definitely around the corner. Warm, comforting, delicious, seriously portable – soup is one of my favourite things about a long winter.
Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash
Of course, as with anything, you could take the humble bowl of soup and turn it into a pricey dish indeed. Organic veg, expensive spices, buying pre-made stock – that all adds up. Or you bypass making it at all and shell out money for a premade version from a carton. But, I’m a firm believer that you almost always have the makings of a good soup lurking somewhere in your kitchen, and that’s where this recipe comes from.
This one’s a classic of course – chicken noodle soup. Curer of colds, protein blast, and bringer of fresh lemony goodness. It’s a complete meal in a bowl, and it’s just so satisfying.
I always make my chicken soup from leftovers. Whenever we buy one of those rotisserie chickens (which, btw, in our neck of the woods works out cheaper or the same price as buying one of our own and roasting it) I know we’re never going to get through the whole chicken. So I always have the same plan: soup. The recipe is a little vague for that reason, but the joy of this kind of meal is you can make it a little bit different every time.
Continue reading “(Leftover) Chicken Noodle Soup”
New though this blog is, you’ve probably noticed a theme: my approach to building a more budget approach to my food involves making a lot of stuff at home. I’ve switched from buying bagels to making my own bread at home, I’m making yoghurt from scratch, I’m making granola, I’m rummaging through my leftovers to put together a meal, rather than reaching for the takeaway menu or a microwave meal.
Of course, there’s a cost included in all of these activities beyond the straight up dollars and cents I’m spending on raw ingredients. There’s the cost of production (electricity, water, heat, use of resources, etc). And then there’s time. Making bread requires that you’re around for a good couple of hours. Yoghurt takes more like 14-16 hours to process. This isn’t all active time of course, but there is an investment that I’m making here.
I’m lucky enough to work as a freelancer and I can organize my time to set some of these projects going and then wander back to my desk on the other side of the apartment while dough rises or yoghurt incubates. While I might be cash-strapped, I’m relatively time rich, and I know that isn’t a privilege that everyone (or even many people) share.
So what do you do if you’re working a 9-5 job + commute + family obligations + hobbies + social life + trying to get some sleep, once in a while? (Believe me, I’ve been there).
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself if you’re looking to balance convenience versus cost in the kitchen:
- What do you actually enjoy doing? There may be some home cooking projects that you already know you enjoy and you’d like to get back to. Maybe you’ve always had a thing for meal planning. Maybe kneading dough is a great stress relief for you. Maybe the idea of batch cooking and freezing meals for future-you fills you with joy. Start with what feels easy and what feels good.
- Look for small wins. Although some home cooking is time consuming, lots really isn’t. Take a look at your daily eating habits and see if there’s anything you could easily make for yourself rather than buying at inflated store prices. (Making your own granola or granola bars is a great example of this – super easy to do, cheap, and way more delicious).
- How else can you economize your food budget? It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to give up on all convenience foods. But are there ways you can cut down on their costs without making everything from scratch? Maybe you always buy brand name soda – could you switch to the store label instead? Do you find yourself stopping at the super bougie grocery store just because you happen to be passing – what if you tried to buy in bulk, or go on a trip to a local market on the weekend? There are lots of ways to cut down on food costs, not all of them involving hours spent in the kitchen.
Convenience isn’t the enemy – but it can sometimes eating up more of our grocery budget than we at first realize. What are your top tips for balancing cost versus convenience?
One thing I’ve thought a lot about since trying to be more budget-conscious with my cooking is the art of “what’s in the fridge” cooking. Now, I’ve always been more of a recipe follower than a “throw things together” type cook. My tendency when faced with a fridge full of ingredients which I don’t have a pre-set plan for is panic. (This is how I’ve ended up making some really weird concoctions in the past including my classic stir fry with peanut butter and honey thrown at it *hangs head in shame*)
However, the problem with always cooking to recipes is that without careful planning you can end up creating a lot of waste and spending more money than you intended buying speciality ingredients that you may only use once in a blue moon. (I’m looking at you, Yottam Ottolenghi – your recipes may be delicious but you have a lot to answer for in terms of my bulging spice cabinet!)
So while this isn’t something that comes naturally to me, I’ve been trying to think about what the secret to creating an AWESOME weeknight dinner from what just happens to be in your fridge/freezer/stock cupboard might be. Here’s some guiding principles I’ve developed so far:
- Take a good and thorough look at what you have. Have in an in-depth rummage, maybe even make a list of some of the things you have lurking in the fridge. Really slow down and think about what you have available. (Aka: don’t panic).
- Lean into your instincts. Repeat the mantra to yourself: “I am a good cook. I can do this.” Remember classic flavour combinations, think about core dishes you make often and then what substitutions can be made.
- Speaking of substitutions: don’t be afraid of them! Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, so if you don’t have something that you think your meal “needs” think through what might create a similar flavour profile. So, if you need an umami boost in your recipe for example, but you happen to be all out of soy sauce, maybe you have something else on hand that can give it that extra little punch. (For example: Worcestershire sauce, parmesan, tomatoes, etc.)
- Google! Google is your friend. Never underestimate the power of typing “chicken + celery” (or whatever it is you have to hand) if you’re really stuck for ideas. For the recipe lovers amongst us this might be the extra bit of hand holding you need to unleash your imagination.
Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, that picture above is my leftover chicken chilli that I whipped up last night – following this exact process. I went shopping in my fridge/cupboards, figured out a dish that could be assembled from what was there, did some googling for inspiration and even made a substitution or two. What you can see is: Frozen leftover chicken, a can of pizza sauce (we were out of tinned tomatoes!), chopped veggies that I just happened to have on hand, some spices, some stock, a tin of black beans, and a handful of frozen corn. Oh and a whole bunch of spices I just happened to throw at the pan. And there you have it, a perfectly delicious weeknight dinner (with enough for lunch leftovers) that I didn’t have to spend any extra money on. Perfect.
So, I’m curious – are you a whizz at whipping up leftovers into a culinary delight? What’s your process for making a delicious “what’s in the fridge” dinner?
I think I could easily live off granola bars. Those little dynamite sticks of instant energy and protein – perfect for breakfast, or packed to go hiking, they’re such an easy-peasy no fuss option.
A box of my personal favourite brand sets me back CAD $2.49 for 5 (Approx. 50 cents a bar) – and I wondered if I could achieve cheaper on my own.
Continue reading “Recipe: Easy no-bake granola bars”
1 loaf homemade soda bread: ~ CAD $1.86
Standard store sliced white loafs: CAD $3 – $4
When I first started my quest for cheaper grocery bills, bread was one of the first places my mind turned. Not because we eat a lot of bread in my household, but because when we do eat bread we eat the fancier stuff. It’s pretty rare that we buy a standard loaf of sliced white bread – a pretty common purchase is a bag of Montreal style bagels (which even on the day old special one of our local grocery stores is $3 pre tax for 5), and on special occasions we’ll often grab an outrageously good loaf from the local Italian bakery. Truly, we are spoiled, and I’m not really interested in eating tasteless white slices in the name of economy. If it’s a choice between that, and no bread, I’d rather go without.
Luckily, there is another option.
Continue reading “Adventures in Bread Making: Soda Bread”
Hello and welcome to Penny Gourmet: a blog focused on cost conscious cooking for food lovers.
Why did I decide to make this blog? Well, it’s simple. I love food. Maybe a little too much at times. I love the way food brings people together. I love the simple act of putting together a meal that puts a smile on a loved one’s face. I believe food can provide nourishment far beyond the simple nutrients and calories listed on the nutrition label.
Food lover on a budget
But, for a food lover on a budget, eating well can seem like an impossible task. Eating out? Forget it! Dining on delicious home cooked meals at home? Pshaw! Haven’t you heard of ramen noodles!? Our stereotype is that eating cheap means eating poorly – that good food is a luxury reserved for the rich.
I’ve fallen into that trap. Just recently I was horrified to see how much I was spending on groceries every month. Now, I am lucky enough to not be living on the breadline by any stretch of the imagination, but money can be tight. I certainly shouldn’t be spending hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on groceries every month. I felt a momentary panic. I was going to have to give up everything I loved and subsist on brown rice for a month! No more avocado on toast for me! (*Disclaimer: I don’t actually eat avocado on toast, sorry millennial-haters)
Continue reading “Welcome to Penny Gourmet”