Swift Tamale Pie

Earlier this year, the prevalence of vinegar in all aspects of our canned goods began to wear on me. Pickles it turns out, can only take you so far. Without a pressure canner, one is pretty much confined to canning fruits and veggies with enough acidity to preserve the contents. I was ready for the next step.

I gathered my courage, did a tremendous amount of research, polled my Facebook friends, and landed on a very industrial looking pressure canner for our home.

It arrived one Wednesday afternoon, and sat dejected in a corner of the dining room for several weeks, still in its box. I even wrote “use pressure canner” on my to do list to try to get myself going. To no avail. Finally, Ranger diligently unpacked the contraption and read through the manual. A little teamwork was exactly what I needed to approach this legendary and slightly terrifying steamer bomb-waiting-to-happen.

Lacking things to can, with the exception of a bowl of pinto beans that I’d been soaking for 18 hours and really needed to do something with, I decided that beans it was! My first pressure canning experiment.

And what beans they were! I don’t imagine that everyone will want to go to the trouble of pressure canning a pint of pintos for swift vegetarian tamale pie, but if you’re feeling particularly homesteady, this is definitely the way to go. (They are the best beans I’ve ever had.) I did a little bit of reading in the Ball Blue Book, and ultimately settled on this process from Simply Canning.

Regardless of where you get your beans, Swift Tamale Pie, adapted from the excellent EatLiveRun version, comes together very quickly on a cold winter night, sure to satisfy plunging blood sugar levels in the most dire of moments. Not too dry, not too runny, the pie holds together well, despite all of the ingredients. The filling is also freezable, so you can make most of this ahead of time.


1 tube polenta, or you can make your own following the recipe for the polenta pie crust from Moosewood Cookbook

15 oz pinto beans

1/2 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup corn, fresh or frozen

2/3 cup salsa

1 tsp cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt (add another 1/2 tsp if beans are unsalted)

1/2 TBSP chili powder

Optional: cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa, chives, for the top


1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Mix all filling ingredients and spices together, except the polenta. If freezing, put all ingredients into a quart size ziplock bag and place into freezer.*

3. Cut up polenta log into 1/4 inch rounds, and layer across the bottom of a greased 9×9 or 7×11 baking dish. If using fresh made polenta, spread polenta across the bottom, approximately 1/2 inch thick.

4. Spread filling across the top of the polenta. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese as desired.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered

*If you plan on freezing this, you have a few options. You can put it in a ziplock bag, and then defrost it before you make this dish. Alternately, you can spread it into an 9×9 baking dish and freeze that (defrost before using). If you follow the baking dish method, you’ll need to put your polenta (or cornbread) on top of the filling when you bake. Your choice.

Notes on Dollars:

This is an extremely cheap vegetarian tamale pie, depending on how you shop. We used home-canned beans, homemade salsa, and store bought polenta. Making your own polenta significantly reduces the cost of this meal. That said, polenta tubes are really handy, and can sit in your cupboard until you want to use them.

Death Valley Veggie Quinoa Chili

A few years ago when we were still living in the middle of the Mojave desert, a few coworkers started an annual chili cook-off. After a valiant first attempt at a prize winner in the vegetarian category (fail – crunchy beans that did not cook all the way through), I was determined to prevail in year two.

A little bit of internet research and several trial runs later, I’ve decided that this recipe, adapted from the lovely Two Peas and Their Pod number, is worthy of any competition. And yes – it won the Death Valley Chili Cook Off 2012 First Place in the Vegetarian Category. This recipe works perfectly with a crock pot, and is freezable after cooking for easy lunches, served with cornbread, poured over a baked potato, or along side chips.

Serves 10

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 8 hours (with a crock pot)


  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 gloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • 1 large carrot, scrubbed and chopped (I do not peel mine)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 15 oz (1 1/2 cup) black beans
  • 15 oz kidney beans
  • 15 oz garbanzo beans
  • 45 oz diced tomatoes
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

(non)Optional Toppings: sour cream, avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, fritos


  • Place all ingredients in a large crock pot, and cook on low for 8-10 hours
  • Wow your friends and family with party ready, healthy, low-fat, vegetarian, crock pot chili no matter how hectic the work day
  • If freezing: cool chili to room temperature, and divide into servings that make sense for you. For great lunch bowls that freeze well, I recommend these. Otherwise, a few gallon size freezer zip lock bags will do nicely for a family serving size.

November 2014 in the Cookery

Ranger and I have been contemplating how much we spend on groceries lately. It’s just the two of us, and depending on our culinary and canning inclinations, we can spend between $500-$1000 depending on the month. Yikes!

I am determined to develop a vegetarian meal plan for the two of us to eat on $400 a month. Preferably less, since there will be the spring CSA bill in February and our late summer/fall canning extravaganza as well. Next year, I hope to find lots of produce to put up for free, but that’s a strategy I’ll have to work on as the winter months progress.

This month, the snow is getting ready to fall, and we’re striving for a healthy vegetarian freezer friendly meal plan that’s still interesting and winter satisfying.

Here’s what’s on the menu – we plan on eating each of these dinners 2-3 times, lunches and breakfasts much more frequently.


Black bean, tempeh, and sweet potato soft tacos

Stuffed spinach and ricotta shells

Vegetarian spicy quinoa chili

Vegetarian freezer lasagna

Swift tamale pie


Easy bake pasta primavera with corkscrew noodles

Light Veggie Shepherd’s Pie

Tofu marinades four ways



Tomato Lentil Barley Soup

Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

Black Bean and Rice Bowls

Bean Burritos – for Ranger


Egg McMuffin Sandwiches