Eat, Drink & Be Happy


A Romantic Dinner

With the hectic holiday season upon us, we sometimes forget about the special people in our lives. This quick and tasty dinner takes only 30 minutes to make and costs less than $10! This year, instead of exchanging gifts, invite your special someone over for a romantic, homemade dinner and a holiday movie. Most likely, they’ll appreciate the time and effort you spent on creating the meal more than a gift!

On the menu: Vegetarian Pasta, Toasted Garlic Bread and Classic Fudge

A slide show of the meal preparation:  A Romantic Vegetarian Dinner

Vegetarian Pasta

Using a boxed dinner as a base for this recipe cuts the expense and time of purchasing and preparing pasta and sauce separately. 

A hearty pasta ready in less than 30 minutes. Photo: Emily Thomsen

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 – 20 minutes

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 box lasagna hamburger skillet dinner

1 medium zucchini, chopped in half and sliced

1 14.5 oz can Italian style diced tomatoes, drained

1 6.5 oz can pieces and stems mushrooms, drained

2 ¾ cups water

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

  1. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Sauté zucchini pieces over medium-high heat until slightly browned. Add drained cans of diced tomatoes and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in 2 ¾ cups water and pasta and pasta sauce from lasagna hamburger skillet dinner box. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. After boiling for approximately one minute, reduce heat to simmer and cover skillet.  
  3. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the lasagna noodles are tender. [Optional: When there are a few minutes of simmering time remaining, stir in ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes.]
  4. Turn off heat and let the covered skillet stand for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened to desired consistency.

Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese if desired.

Toasted Garlic Bread

Toasted Garlic Bread is a good accompaniment to any pasta dish. If you don’t want to deal with an oven, put a couple of slices of regular sliced bread into the toaster, spread with butter and sprinkle with garlic powder for the same effect with minimal effort.

This bread tastes like you spent all day making it, but it's ready in 10 minutes. Photo: Emily Thomsen

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes 

Ingredients:

1 loaf French bread

Garlic power

Butter or vegetarian butter spread

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300°.
  2. Slice the desired number of servings from the loaf of French bread. If slices remain, store in pantry or freezer for later use.
  3. Coat both sides of each slice of bread with butter or vegetarian butter spread and dust lightly with garlic powder.
  4. Bake for 5 minutes. Flip slices. [Optional: Sprinkle tops with grated parmesan cheese.] Bake for an additional 5 minutes or until desired texture is achieved.
  5. Cool slightly and serve.  

Begin preparing the bread after the Vegetarian Pasta has started its 15 minutes of simmering. That way, both the Toasted Garlic Bread and Vegetarian Pasta will be ready to serve at the same time.

Classic Fudge

(Recipe from Kraft Foods)

A holiday dinner calls for a traditional holiday treat: fudge. This quick and easy recipe can be made one to two days before the dinner. As an additional bonus, leftovers can be gifted to friends and coworkers or shared at a holiday party!

A holiday favorite, this recipe is created with the help of the microwave. Photo: Emily Thomsen

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Refrigeration: at least 2 hours

Serves 24

Ingredients:

2 packages (8 squares each) semi-sweet chocolate (a common brand is Baker’s)

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:

  1. Line an 8-inch or similar sized pan with tinfoil. Let ends hang over the sides of the pan.
  2. Microwave chocolate and milk in a microwaveable bowl on high for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir the mixture and break up any remaining chunks of chocolate. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until all of the chunks have melted and mixture is smooth. Do not over cook – chocolate burns easily!
  4. Stir in 2 tsp vanilla. [Optional: stir in walnuts.]
  5. Spread into the tinfoil lined pan.
  6. Refrigerate for 2 hour hours until firm. Use the tinfoil to remove the fudge from the pan before cutting into pieces.

For a vegan fudge recipe, visit this site.


Red, White & Orange Salad

A salad is one of those meals you feel good about eating and takes less than five minutes to prepare. Plus, they’re easy to pack and carry with you until lunch time rolls around. Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans) are a good ingredient to include in any salad because of their protein and fiber levels. And at 9 cents per1/4 cup serving – from a 15.5 oz can costing $0.66 –  it’s an inexpensive ingredient to add!

A salad is a colorful way to brighten any lunch time. Add nuts for a crunchy texture. Photo: Emily Thomsen

Prep Time: 5 mintues

Ingredients: 

2 cups washed spinach

¼ cup washed and drained chickpeas

½ cup canned mandarin oranges drained of syrup

2 Tb dried cranberries

1 Tb feta cheese

 Directions:

Combine ingredients in bowl and top with 1 to 2 Tbs of your favorite salad dressing.

For dressing, I use a homemade concoction: 1 tsp honey mustard mixed with 1 Tb red wine vinegar. I’m sure it sounds strange, but I like its tangy flavor and the fact that it is not so creamy that it takes over the salad. As a suggestion, use a lighter dressing, such as a raspberry vinaigrette, instead of a thick dressing like ranch or creamy Italian to keep the salad light and not over power its flavors. 


Fruitty Oatmeal

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Days I go without breakfast and two cups of coffee are brutal. So I thought it was only appropriate to start my blog with a recipe for breakfast. Quick, easy and microwave friendly, Fruity Oatmeal is a healthy, filling, colorful and tasty way to start any day. Plus, a serving from a 42 oz container that costs $2.24 is only 7 cents—meaning I will happily enjoy my cheap breakfast!

Oatmeal is a quick and easy breakfast anyone can prepare. Mix it up by trying different toppings like syrup, bananas, nuts and raisins. Photo: Emily Thomsen

Prep Time: 1 minute

 Cook Time: 2 minutes

Ingredients:

½ cup whole grain quick oats

½ cup frozen fruit (I use a bagged mixture that includes strawberries, raspberries, blue berries and black berries.)

¾ cup water (If you prefer your oatmeal to have a runny consistency, use 1 cup.) 

Directions:

Place oatmeal, frozen fruit and water in a medium microwave safe bowl. Cook for 2 minutes.

Stir and enjoy!


A Trip to the Grocery Store

Like many other college students, my grocery-shopping budget is small. I often buy the least expensive product from the collection of offerings and frequently use coupons.

Most of my shopping is done at the local Hy-Vee and Wal-Mart. I thought it would be beneficial to compare the two stores’ prices on basic staples I need as a vegetarian. Five hours later, this is what I found:

– Overall, Wal-Mart has lower prices. However, Hy-Vee has a greater selection of items within a product category. For example, Hy-Vee has a large number of spices available, while Wal-Mart has a smaller assortment.

– Hy-Vee has a small section devoted to vegetarian foods. I couldn’t even find tofu at Wal-Mart.

– Most often, prices from the two stores were within pennies of each other.   

My tips for grocery shopping:

  1. Make a list and stick to it as best as possible. More times than not I come home with extra items, but a list helps keep the number of those extras down.
  2. Set a total for how much you are willing to spend, and keep track of the cost of items as you place them in your cart so you stay aware of your budget. Always round items to the nearest fifty cents—it makes keeping track easier and will help to cover the additional cost of taxes at the checkout.
  3. Set a time limit. The longer I shop, the more likely I am to add extra items to the cart or reason with myself to increase the budget. By limiting the amount of time in the store, you’ll limit your chances of buying too much.

For more grocery shopping tips, visit this site.


A Blog for Vegetarians and Students on a Budget

Eat, Drink and Be Happy is a blog documenting my experience as a vegetarian college student living on a budget.

A born and bred Iowa farm girl, meat has always been a staple in my diet. It is the star of every Thomsen family dinner, and my favorite meal back home is the twelve-ounce prime rib from a local restaurant. However, that is about to change.

With recent information published about the health implications of eating too much animal protein and byproducts and coming to the realization that I rarely eat meat, I have decided to experience the vegetarian lifestyle.

In order to feel secure in this decision, research was in order. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) maintains that a vegetarian diet is healthful and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned. The ADA also states that vegetarian diets are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, as well as lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and rates of hypertension.

Through research, I learned there are four types of vegetarianism:

  • Vegan: no consumption of any animal products
  • Lacto vegetarian: consumes dairy products
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: consumes dairy products and eggs
  • Flexitarian (semivegetarian): occasionally consumes small amounts of meat

I decided the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet was the best for me.

With this knowledge and the help of the Vegetarian Times’ Vegetarian Starter Kit, I began my experience as a vegetarian. But I needed to go grocery shopping first…