Saturday, September 21, 2019

Three new articles on MoneyCrashers

After a long dry spell, Money Crashers has just put up several of my articles at once. Here's a quick rundown of what you can learn about:

A Consumer Protection Law That May Hurt More Than It Helps

With interest rates for consumer loans climbing even as interest on savings plummets, some legislators think the solution is to bring back usury laws - this time on a nationwide scale. But the proposed Loan Shark Prevention Act could backfire. By ending high-interest loans, it could cut off all sources of credit for low-income borrowers - or drive them into the arms of genuine loan sharks who operate outside the law. Learn what this act does, how it could affect the lending sphere, and what other alternatives could do more to help low-income borrowers.

Loan Shark Prevention Act – What It Is and How It Would Affect You

A New Way for Scammers to Target You

Ever had some nice people from "the power company" knock on your door, eager to help you save money on your utility bill? Yeah, sorry to disappoint you, but that's a scam. And it's just one of several utility scams making the rounds now. Utility scammers woo you with the promise of lower bills on your water, gas, or electric service - or threaten you with having it cut off. Learn how to recognize these bogus promises and threats for what they are.

6 Home Utility Company Scams to Beware Of (Water, Electric & Gas)

The Best TV Shows About Money (Including YouTube)

Have you ever read a book or an article on personal finance and felt like you just weren't taking it in? Maybe the problem was the format. When your information comes with a healthy dose of entertainment, you're more likely to pay attention and remember it afterward. That's what makes videos (on TV or YouTube) a good way to learn about money. Whether you're interested in choosing investments, starting a business, or just managing your personal finances, there's a show that can help you and keep you entertained at the same time.

7 Best TV Shows to Watch to Learn About Money, Finance & Business

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Recipe of the Month: Pasta Romesco With Spinach

Last month, I got an e-mail from my dad with the subject line, "Delicious vegan recipe." This is not a phrase my dad utters often, so it caught my attention. He said he had signed up for an email newsletter from the Washington Post that delivers "vegetarian or near-vegetarian recipes" to your inbox, and this was the latest one. He found it not only very tasty, but "surprisingly satisfying, for a meal with no meat, fish, or cheese."

The attached recipe was Pasta Romesco With Spinach: a pasta dish with an interesting sauce made from roasted red peppers, roasted almonds, tomato paste, salt, and smoked Spanish paprika. All this gets whirred together in the blender and tossed with pasta (the recipe calls for fusilli, but says spaghetti is also acceptable), spinach sauteed with garlic (it calls for baby spinach, but my dad said chopped adult spinach worked just fine), and fresh basil. My dad also modified the Washington Post recipe by cutting the olive oil, as he is wont to do; he used just one tablespoon to cook the spinach and didn't add any to the sauce, instead thinning it with the reserved liquid from the red peppers.

Well, as luck would have it, the most exotic ingredient in this dish, the smoked Spanish paprika, was something we happened to have on hand. Brian had picked some up on a whim on our latest visit to Penzeys, and he still hadn't really thought of a good way to use it, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. And, since we're well into the harvest season now, we had plenty of fresh basil in the garden. The only ingredients we had to buy were the roasted red peppers, which we found at Trader Joe's, and the spinach, which we picked up for a buck at Shop Rite.

Since my dad recommended the recipe based on his own modified version, we decided to go with that for our first rendition of it. We substituted linguine, the only long pasta we had in the house, for the fusilli and thinned the sauce with the juice from the peppers. Despite this addition, the sauce was still rather thick, and it took a bit of work to get it to coat the noodles. Brian thinks it would probably work better with the full amount of olive oil, so he's inclined to try it that way next time.

And there will certainly be a next time, because this pasta, as advertised, was very good. The smoked Spanish paprika is a key ingredient; there's only a teaspoon of it in there, but it lends a distinct, smoky undertone to the entire dish, complementing the mellow flavor of the roasted peppers and the earthiness of the almonds. Although the recipe says it only makes three servings, we were able to get dinner for both of us out of it, plus a lunch each from the leftovers. And despite the shrill injunction in the last line of the recipe to "serve immediately," it was just as good the next day.

So this little baby is definitely going into our regular repertoire. In fact, we're going to make a point of keeping a jar of roasted peppers on hand in the pantry from now on, so that we can make it whenever we feel inclined. So we'll add that to our list of things to pick up whenever we hit a Trader Joe's, along with almond milk and toilet paper.

Money Crashers: How to Negotiate Financing on a Car Loan

Unlike most Americans, I've never actually had a car loan. I've bought two cars in my life, and I paid cash for both of them (though my parents loaned me some of the money for the first one). So I've never been personally subjected to the array of sneaky tricks the dealers use to maximize the total amount you pay them for the car, like focusing exclusively on the size of the monthly payment while stretching those payments out as long as they possibly can. And I'm very grateful to have been spared this experience, since just reading about it was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.

If you'd like to escape this ordeal next time you buy a car, my newest Money Crashers article can help. It explains how you can save money on your car loan by shopping for the loan before, not after, you find the car, and offers specific tips for reducing the total amount you pay, such as:
  • Shopping around for a loan
  • Comparing lenders online
  • Making sure your credit report is accurate
  • Comparing loans by APR
  • Choosing a shorter loan
  • Making a bigger down payment
  • Using online loan calculators
  • Always reading the fine print

Get the details here: 6 Tips on How to Negotiate Financing on a Car Loan (Interest Rate)

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Why we broke up with IKEA

This year, Brian and I decided to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary with a trip to IKEA. We'd enjoyed the trip we made there for our tenth anniversary, and this time around we actually had a large item we wanted to look for: a sideboard for our downstairs room. For the past year or so, we've been setting up a little card table in that room every time we have guests over for games, so we can keep snacks and drinks ready to hand without cluttering up the game table. The little folding table served the purpose okay, but it didn't look great, so we figured we had two choices: try to build a nicer-looking piece of furniture to fit the space, or see if we could pick up something suitable for a reasonable price. And since IKEA was our go-to store for any furnishing needs, and since we'd both taken the day off from work for our anniversary, this seemed like a perfect occasion to go have a look. Even if we didn't find anything, we figured, we could at least enjoy a nice, inexpensive lunch at the restaurant.

Our trip got off to a promising start. After a bit of fooling around, exploring the model apartments and bouncing in the POÄNG chairs, we found a little kitchen cart called FÖRHÖJA that looked like it would fit just right in our space. The price was $110, which Brian considered a reasonable amount to pay to avoid the hassle of trying to build something himself. So we cheerfully jotted down a note about where to find it in the warehouse section, and headed off to the restaurant for lunch.

That was the point at which things started to go downhill. The first sign we noticed that something might be wrong was that, even though it was noon, the store had opened up only one of the two available lines at the lunch counter. At first we thought maybe that was just because it was a weekday, but as we drew nearer we noticed something more alarming: all the glass cases where the cold food is normally stored were empty. There were no salads, no sandwiches, no wraps, no fruit, and no desserts. They were serving hot entrees and nothing else. Instead of the marinated salmon and green salad I'd been looking forward to, I had to get the salmon meatballs, which turned out to be fairly tasteless, accompanied by mushy vegetables. Even the coffee was watery. They didn't even have real utensils to eat it with, only plastic forks and spoons. And when I got out my phone to try and figure out what was going on—a power outage that had caused all the fresh food to spoil, maybe?—I couldn't get the wi-fi to work.

This cast a bit of a pall over our anniversary outing, but I tried to cheer myself up with the thought that at least we'd found the piece we needed for our downstairs room. Until we headed downstairs to the warehouse, went to the bin where it was supposed to be—and found it empty. A quick check on the computer confirmed that this particular item was out of stock, expected to be back some time next week.

Well, after the disappointing experience we'd had on this trip, we weren't very enthusiastic about coming back again a week later. In fact, as we stood in line with the few items we'd found to purchase—a few chocolate bars, a couple of folding shopping bags, and a scratching mat to keep our kitties from clawing up the leg of the dining table—we were inclining toward the view that, really, there was no reason for us ever to come back to this IKEA again. It's a half-hour trip each way, it costs us nearly six bucks in tolls on a weekend, and the store itself keeps letting us down. They no longer carry my favorite coffee, their LED light bulbs are feebler and more expensive than the ones at Home Depot, and we can't even count on getting a good meal there anymore. There's nothing much to tempt us there anymore except lingonberries, and we can always swing by the Indianapolis store during our annual visit to my in-laws to stock up on those.

Fortunately, this story does have a happy ending. After our unsuccessful trip, Brian started working on a design for a DIY sideboard for the downstairs room, but he wasn't enthusiastic about it; considering the amount it would cost him in materials and the amount of time it would take to build, he kept wondering if it would be a better use of resources to just go back to IKEA and get the FÖRHÖJA. So I started wondering if there might be another alternative, and I decided to check the postings on our local Craigslist group. And that's where we found this baby.

This piece is better in almost every way than the one from IKEA. Its traditional style is more in keeping with the rest of the furniture in that room. It's got more usable storage space: two good-sized drawers and two cabinet sections, instead of two dinky drawers and a couple of open shelves that are only good for storing things you don't mind looking at all the time (and having to dust regularly). It was already assembled (but not too big to fit in the back of our hatchback). It was available for pickup a mere 15 minutes away, with no toll roads. And the cost was $40, instead of $110.

So, bottom line: After a long and eventful relationship, we're dumping IKEA for Craigslist. From now on, it's the first place we'll look when we need anything for our home, from a microwave to a blender to a decent used bicycle to replace a new one that's been stolen. Even in the unlikely event that we someday have to outfit an entire room from scratch, we'll do our best to find everything on Craigslist and only go out to IKEA as a last resort. It's clearly the more ecofrugal option, since buying secondhand on Craigslist is both cheaper and greener than buying new for nearly anything. And if we want to treat ourselves to a nice lunch after our shopping trip, we'll just stop by the local Dish Cafe.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Brian versus Big Cereal

For most of the years we've lived together, Brian has had a cutoff price of 10 cents per ounce for breakfast cereal. Any more than that, and he just won't buy it. We set this limit back when we were first married, based on the estimated cost of our main alternative, homemade granola. I worked out that a batch of granola made according to the recipe from The Tightwad Gazette weighed about a pound and cost about $1.60 to make, so we concluded that if the boxed cereals from the store could beat that price, they were a good deal.

Although prices have risen in the years since, we've never adjusted our benchmark price, because it made the math so easy. Unfortunately, what's not so easy anymore is staying within this price limit. For the past six years or so, Brian has relied almost exclusively on the raisin bran from Aldi, the only cereal that reliably met his target price—and last year, the price of that finally rose above the limit. Since we'd joined Costco by that time, we were able to make do for a while by stocking up on Kellogg's Raisin Bran whenever Costco happened to have it for $1.52 a pound. But the last few times we've gone there, that hasn't been available either. We were able to find a bargain once on Life and once on Honey Bunches of Oats, but neither of those is as healthy as Brian's usual breakfast—and on our last trip, they weren't available at our required price either.

So, at this point, Brian had three choices:
  1. Accept that prices have gone up and raise his benchmark price;
  2. Find something other than cereal to eat for breakfast; or
  3. Attempt to come up with a homemade cereal recipe that would be cheaper than the boxed stuff.
Now, the only kind of cold cereal it's reasonably easy to make at home is granola. However, most homemade granola recipes, including the one from The Tightwad Gazette that we based our benchmark on in the first place, are pretty heavily loaded with sugar and oil. Brian has attempted to make a healthier granola before, but even that recipe, though it doesn't taste particularly sweet, still has more sugar in it than he wants to consume every morning at the breakfast table.

This time, however, Brian had a new idea. Based on his experiments with using a flaxseed-water mixture as an egg substitute, he thought he might be able to use this same mixture as a binder to hold the granola together without a lot of oil or sugary syrup. And this worked...sort of. The granola did in fact stay together, but it was awfully tough and chewy. Also, the two tablespoons of sugar he'd included in his mini test batch weren't enough to give it any discernible sweetness, and he was reluctant to increase the sugar much beyond this point.

So, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts at this flaxseed-based recipe, he decided to try a different tack. He'd use a more standard granola recipe, but then he'd cut that with plain oats when eating it, the way he currently does with his raisin bran. This way, the total amount of sugar in one bowlful of cereal would stay the same, but the sweetness would be more concentrated in the granola chunks instead of spread across the entire bowl, so it would be easier to taste. And this would also allow him to ditch the flaxseed mixture and go with a more standard sugar-oil base.

So he whipped up a small batch like this, and found that it was indeed much tastier than the flaxseed stuff. In fact, it was so tasty that he feared he would be tempted to snack on it, which would (a) not be very healthy and (b) not leave him any for breakfast. I suggested fixing this problem by cutting the granola with plain oats immediately, as soon as it was cool, rather than doing it by the bowl every morning. This would also save him time in the morning. Brian liked this idea, since even if he did snack on the cereal, in this form it would be healthier than most other things he might be inclined to snack on (such as his current favorite indulgence, peanuts with chocolate chips).

After a little more tinkering with the recipe to adjust the sugar and oil as low as possible, Brian came up with his current version, which I'm calling
BRIAN'S LOW-SUGAR COCONUT GRANOLA, VERSION 3.0
Combine in a bowl:
  • 4 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 c. wheat bran
  • 1/4 c. flaxseeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil
Spread the mixture out in a baking pan and and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Take it out, stir it around, then bake another 5 minutes. (Remove promptly, or it will burn.)
Stir in:
  • 1 c. raisins
  • 5 c. rolled oats
Store in an airtight container.
This recipe is both tasty enough and healthy enough to make a reasonable substitute for Brian's usual breakfast mixture of raisin bran, oats, and flaxseeds. The question is, how does it compare price-wise?

According to my calculations, at the prices we currently pay, an entire batch of this contains $1.26 worth of oats, $.62 worth of walnuts, $.20 worth of flaxseeds, $.90 worth of honey, and $.70 worth of coconut oil. That's $3.68, which we can round up to $3.75 to account for the cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. And Brian reckons it's enough for eight bowls, so that works out to about 47 cents per bowl.

His current breakfast is: $0.39 worth of raisin bran (at its new, higher price), about $0.05 worth of oats, and about $0.03 worth of flaxseeds. (This doesn't include the cost of his homemade walnut milk, since he'll use an equal amount of that with either breakfast.) So the raisin bran breakfast comes to...47 cents per bowl, exactly the same as the homemade granola.

So, cost-wise, the two breakfasts are equal. It's all a question of which Brian finds more tiresome: going to Aldi for raisin bran, or baking granola. For now, he's enjoying the homemade granola, so he plans to stick with it for a while. But if he ever gets tired of making granola every week, he can go back to the Aldi raisin bran at its current price of 11.7 cents per ounce and not feel like he's getting ripped off. And, moving forward, any time we find an interesting-looking cereal at Costco for under 12 cents per ounce, we can go ahead and snap it up, knowing it compares reasonably well to what we're eating now.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Money Crashers: 3 Home Phone Landline Alternatives That Save You Money

Based on the stuff I read online, I had the impression that Brian and I were practically the only people left in America who still had a landline phone. Turns out, that's a bit of an exaggeration. According to the National Health Interview Survey, we're in the minority, but it's still a pretty good-sized minority: about 45 percent of adults and 35 percent of kids in the country have a landline phone at home. But that's still a big drop from the 85 percent of all households that had one as recently as 2007.

So are we behind the times? Is the day of the landline over? Or does this old-school technology still serve a useful purpose?

For us, we've concluded, the answer is yes. Unlike most of our friends, we still rely on our landline as our primary phone and use our cell phones only for emergencies. This enables us to get by with only the barest-bones of mobile plans: $10 a month for my still fairly new smartphone, and $3 a month for Brian's dumb phone. Add $36 a month for our landline, and we're paying a total of $49 a month for phone service. If we had to rely on our cell phones as our primary phones, we'd need to upgrade to unlimited talk-and-text plans, which would cost about $15 a month for him and $20 for me. So we'd save around $14 a month, which sounds good...but there are some big downsides. For one, we'd have to keep our cell phones switched on all the time and actually check them every time they ring (rather than ignoring them while we're at home, because everyone who actually knows us knows to try the landline first). We wouldn't be able to share a phone call by using two extensions. If my phone rang upstairs while I was downstairs, I'd have to run up and grab it instead of just picking up the downstairs extension. And worst of all, we'd have to give out our cell phone numbers to everyone who requested our number. Not only would this open us up to even more robocalls than we get now, it would expose all our accounts to the risk of SIM hacking—a scam in which hackers get hold of your cell number, switch it over to a new phone that they control, and instantly gain access to every account for which you've used a phone number for verification. So, yeah, we're willing to pay an extra $14 a month to avoid that nightmare.

Now, there are other alternatives that we've looked into from time to time. For instance, with a device like MagicJack or Ooma, or a cheap VOIP service like VoIPLy, we could reduce our bill to just a few bucks a month. But every time I've grown frustrated enough with our current provider to look into this, I end up backing down because of worries about voice quality and reliability. Since our landline is our main phone, I want to make sure calls we make on it will come through loud and clear.

However, just because keeping the landline is the right decision for us doesn't mean it is for you. If you're on the fence about dropping your landline, my new Money Crashers article can help. It goes into the three main alternatives to landlines—going mobile-only, VOIP, and ATA devices like the MagicJack—and weighs their pros and cons. This can help you figure out what will work best for you in terms of cost, call quality, and convenience.

3 Home Phone Landline Alternatives That Save You Money 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Cow-free cheese experiments, part 2: Homemade vegan mozzarella

As part of our ongoing effort to reduce our dairy consumption, Brian and I have been experimenting for several months with vegan alternatives to cheese. We discovered that straight-up nutritional yeast, or a mixture of nutritional yeast and salt, makes a very decent alternative to parmesan, and that replacing the Monterey Jack in a burrito with sliced avocado makes an equally agreeable variation in flavor and texture. But the cheese we use most is mozzarella, and we had a lot of trouble finding a decent substitute for that. Of the two non-dairy substitutes we found at Trader Joe's, one had almost no flavor, and the other had a flavor and texture that both of us found disgusting. It seemed like if we wanted a decent mozzarella substitute, we'd have to make it ourselves.

I found a recipe on It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken that billed itself as "The Best Vegan Mozzarella," and if the chef's description was to be believed, it deserved the title. According to her claims, not only were the flavor and texture just like real mozzarella, it would also melt like the real thing, something most vegan substitutes had stubbornly failed to do. The process was simple: just mix everything in a blender, pour it into a mold, and chill until set. And most of the ingredients were things we could easily pick up at the supermarket.

The only weird ingredient in this recipe was kappa carageenan, a seaweed-based powder that's apparently the key to its successful melting. Some people claim that carageenan causes inflammation of the digestive tract, but according to the nutritionist in Scientific American, "the vast majority of individuals" can tolerate it just fine. For those who happen to be sensitive to it, there's an alternative version of the recipe that uses agar-agar, but this version isn't as easy to make and doesn't melt as well. Since neither Brian nor I have any reason to think we're carageenan-sensitive, and since we wanted our cheese to melt as well as possible, we decided to go with the carageenan form of the recipe.

Hunting down this ingredient proved a bit difficult. They didn't carry it at the Whole Earth Center, nor at any of the supermarkets where we shop. I ended up having to order some online from Walmart (which I'm no longer boycotting) for $8. The other ingredient we had a little trouble finding was tapioca starch; our local supermarket regularly carries this at Passover, but not, it turns out, at other times. So we had to go to Shop-Rite and pick up a bag of the pricey Bob's Red Mill stuff for $3.29. This will be good for several batches, and next year we can stock up on the cheaper stuff when Passover rolls around.

The rest of the ingredients were easily available. We already had some refined coconut oil in the pantry thanks to a lucky find on Freecycle in June, and nutritional yeast and garlic powder in the spice cupboard. We picked up a pound of silken tofu at H-Mart and a jar of sauerkraut—the secret ingredient for giving the cheese its fermented flavor—at Aldi, and we were ready to cook.

After a little initial confusion sorting out the instructions for the agar-agar version from those for the carageenan version of the recipe, this proved to be just as easy to make as the author claimed. We just put all the ingredients in the blender, in order, finishing up with the boiling water, and blended it until it was completely smooth.


Then we poured it into one of our bread pans...


...and chilled it for about an hour. The finished product wasn't quite as firm as a real block of mozarella, but it sliced and grated just like the real thing.


We each tasted one of the shreds and found that its flavor was, to all intents and purposes, identical to real mozzarella. The texture, again, was perhaps a little softer, but much better than any other substitute we'd tried.

We stirred a cupful of this into a batch of Pasta a la Caprese and found that it didn't melt as easily as real mozzarella in this recipe. Normally, when you stir the cheese into the hot pasta, it melts immediately, and you get strings of molten cheese blending in with the pasta and the fresh tomato sauce. In this case, the shreds stayed more or less intact and melted only slightly. But Brian thought this was an improvement in some ways, since it made the cheese easier to distribute evenly throughout the pot of pasta. The texture wasn't quite as exquisite with mostly-solid shreds of cheese instead of strings of melted cheese, but the flavor left us nothing to complain about.


We both had some more of this pasta for lunch the next day. Brian ate his cold, and he reported that when consumed this way, the vegan version was actually superior to the original. As he put it, the non-melted cheese stayed separate from the sauce, instead of "turning into a goo." As for me, I reheated mine in the microwave and discovered that, after a minute on high, the fake cheese actually did melt; apparently, it just needed a little more heat than it could get from merely being sprinkled on hot pasta. Melted, it was actually quite a bit more molten and oozy than real cheese; it doesn't have the same stretchiness, so it just turns into a liquid rather than a stretchy semi-solid. But this experience gave me high hopes that the other half of the cheese we'd made would melt properly on a pizza, unlike the substitutes we'd tried before.

We tried this experiment last night, and sure enough, it worked. Here's how the pizza looked fresh out of the oven. As you can see, the faux-zarella didn't brown like real mozzarella, but it melted just fine, covering the entire surface. The only problem with it was that, once again, it was a little more liquid than the real thing, so it had a tendency to slide off the pizza a bit. But once we'd let it cool, it was pretty much indistinguishable.



Here's how the leftover pizza looked this afternoon, after a whole night in the fridge. Cooled, the faux-zarella didn't hold its shape as well as real mozzarella—probably due, once again, to its lack of stretchiness. Instead of staying stretched over the surface of the pie, it condensed as it cooled, leaving patches of the crust uncovered. But the texture of the cooled cheese was not off-putting, and the taste, as before, was fine. We've certainly had pizzas made with real cheese that weren't nearly as good.


We have one more experiment left to make with this cheese; Brian whipped up another batch of it just to make sure we had enough for the pizza, and he has stuck the rest of it in the freezer to see if it can be frozen for later use like real cheese. If it can, that will make this stuff even more useful to us. But even if it can't, it's a much better substitute for mozzarella than anything we've found before, and should work in just about any recipe that calls for it.

Although we plan to keep using this stuff regardless of the cost, I decided to calculate it anyway, just to see how it compares to the alternatives. The ingredients are:
  • 1/2 cup soft or silken tofu. A pound of silken tofu costs $1 at H-Mart, and 1/2 cup is about a quarter of it. So, in theory, it costs only $0.25. However, unless it turns out to be possible to make this cheese in bulk and freeze it, we'll have to buy $1 worth of tofu every time we want to make just one batch of cheese, so we might as well call the cost of this ingredient a dollar. (We'll also need to figure out some more recipes that use silken tofu so none of it will go to waste.)
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch. We paid $3.29 for a bag that claims to contain 15 1/4-cup servings, so that's another 22 cents.
  • 1/4 cup refined coconut oil, melted. We got this as a freebie, but it costs about $6 for a 14-ounce jar at Target (it's more expensive than the unrefined stuff we get for $4 a jar at Aldi). The jar contains 27 tablespoons, so a quarter-cup is 89 cents.
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast. We got this from the bulk bins at the Whole Earth Center, but neglected to write down the price. I recently checked the price at the George Street Co-Op and it was $11 a pound, which Brian is sure is more expensive, so at a guess, we'll say it was $9 a pound. A 5-ounce bag from Bob's Red Mill contains 9 1/4-cup servings, or 36 tablespoons, so that's about 115 tablespoons per pound, making it another 16 cents for two tablespoons.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kappa carrageenan. I bought a 2-ounce bag on Walmart.com for $7.95, with free shipping. It contains a mere 16 teaspoons so 1 1/2 tablespoons (4.5 teaspoons) is a little more than a quarter of the bag. That makes this the priciest ingredient, at $2.24. But if we start making this stuff on a regular basis, I can start buying the kappa carageenan in a larger package and cut the price to about $1.41.
  • 1 tablespoon sauerkraut. We bought a 24-ounce jar, which contains eight 1/2-cup servings, for $1.69 at Aldi. That makes the cost of one tablespoon less than 3 cents. Of course, like the tofu, a jar this size will give us a lot left over, but it should keep for a good while.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. I've previously estimated that this costs a penny or less, so call it 1 cent.
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. We also buy this in bulk at Whole Earth, but we haven't checked the cost. Since we used so little of it, I'm going to say that this costs 1 cent as well.
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Essentially free.
Add that all together, and you get a cost of $4.56 per batch. A batch makes two cups of shredded cheese, which is the equivalent of about half a pound of real mozzarella. So this works out to about $9.12 per pound. That's a lot more than real mozzarella, but it's less than Daiya ($11.50 a pound), the only other vegan mozzarella we've found that was anywhere close to acceptable, and it works a lot better. With a cheaper source of kappa carageenan, it would be still cheaper: about $3.73 per batch, or $7.46 per pound. That's barely more expensive than the two alternatives we tried from Trader Joe's, which were both flat-out awful.
Our success with this homemade vegan cheese has made me wonder if perhaps we can cook up acceptable vegan alternatives to some of the other animal products we haven't found good replacements for yet. For instance, we've never found a good veggie version of Polish-style sausage, so when we (regretfully) quit buying kielbasa at the Amish market, we figured we'd just have to give  up this treat entirely. But maybe something like this vegan sausage recipe would allow us to enjoy grilled sausages once more. Or maybe these homemade vegan seitan tenders would work in our favorite chicken and rhubarb recipe where commercial chicken substitutes—usually sold in the form of breaded nuggets or patties—would not. Anything is possible!