Friday, February 27, 2009

Toffee-Topped Bars (and other cookie recipes!)

I have had this recipe in my recipe binder forever. I came in one of those "please buy our recipe card collection" packets. The ones where they give you some sample cards and then want you to pay lots of money for more card, you know? I didn't buy the "more" cards, but I kept the sample ones.

I've been meaning to try this recipe for years and somehow it just never made it to the top of the to-do list. Last week I needed a recipe to take to a gathering I was going to and these just seemed like the ones.

I would make these again, they were very good, and my whole family (as well as the women at my gathering) liked them. However, I am not sure why they are called "toffee-topped" bars. There is no toffee anywhere! I thought, as I was making them, that the part you sprinkle on would melt into a toffee type layer. No such luck. I'm thinking adding some toffee chips would be a good addition - I felt cheated!

In a large mixing bowl mix together:

2 c. packed brown sugar
2 c. all purpose flour

Using a pastry cutter or two knives (or your stand mixer) cut in:

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter or margarine

When it looks like coarse crumbs, remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside.

To the mixture in the large bowl, add:

1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Lightly beat in:

1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 c. milk

Continue beating until a smooth batter forms. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 pan.

In a small bowl combine:

1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. flaked coconut (optional)

Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over the batter in the pan. Sprinkle with the chocolate chip mixture. Using a long flat spatula, spread topping evenly over the top of the batter in the pan.

Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool bars completely before slicing. (yeah, right, like that's going to happen!)

These were better the second day. Seems like a lot of bar type recipes are like that. Not that there is much left the second day at my house!

Here are some links to other cookie recipes I have done.

Apple Berry Bars are truly wonderful and I can even trick myself into thinking that they are healthy, too.

We made Celebration Chocolate Revel Bars to celebrate the the inauguration. You don't have to wait for the next inauguration to make them. Celebrate Tuesday, just cause you can.

If you, like me, love caramel, try making the Caramel Frosted Brown Sugar Drops. We made them again for our Superbowl party. They are still cookies to die for!



Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bread Recipes I've Done Before

I have posted a LOT of bread recipes in my blogging life. I decided to gather all the links together in one post. It will make it so much easier for all of you to find the bread recipe you are looking for. Aren't I nice?
Actually, I have a really sick little girl and re-posting is faster than making up new stuff so I'm going to take the easy way out today.

Monkey Bread is one of my families favorite treats. And man, is it good! And no, I still don't know why it is called Monkey Bread.

Whole Wheat Pan Rolls is one of my favorite bread recipes. It makes a lot so we always have left-0vers. They are so good toasted with butter and honey on them!

Quickie Biscuits really saved my bacon during my Month of Nothing. This is such a quick, no-brainer, addition to any meal. And so cheap, too!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread is my new favorite bread recipe. So healthy!

We love our recipe for Over-Night Waffles! I almost never make them any other way.

If you have never made bread before, check out my post Bread Making 101. I walk you through bread step by step.

There are also a lot of cookie recipes on this site! I'm posting a new cookie recipe tomorrow so I'll add all the links to the cookie recipes then. I'm off to administer Motrin to the little sick one. This is day four of a fever over 100 degrees. But the coughing, aching, sore-throat are the worst. The other kids had a similar thing and it takes four or five days to really get over it. Man, I hope I don't get it!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Soft Breadsticks

Sometimes while I'm fixing dinner I suddenly realize that this meal would really benefit from having some bread on the side. Only, it's 15 minutes until the food is done and I haven't started any bread!! Arrgh!

Then I take a deep breath and start making Soft Breadsticks. And 15 minutes later, we have bread with dinner. All is right with the world.

I got this recipe from Taste of Home magazine years and years ago. I have used it many, many, many times since. It is just that easy and that good. Try it and you'll see why we make it so often.

Soft Breadsticks

In a small bowl combine:

1 1/4 c. flour
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Stir to combine well. Add

2/3 c. milk

Stir until a soft dough forms. This is kind of like biscuit dough, you don't want to be too tough with it or the breadsticks will be tough. Roll the dough out to a rectangle approximately 10" x 5" and about 1/2 " thick. Cut it into 12 breadsticks.

In a 9x13 pan melt 3 Tbs. of butter or margarine. Place the breadsticks in the pan, flipping to coat both sides. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and place in a 450 degree oven for 14 -18 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

  • I almost always need less milk. Don't add it all at once, you can always add more, but it is really hard to take it out if you used too much!!
  • Sometimes I sprinkle them with garlic powder and sesame seeds. You could do poppy seeds or a combo also.
  • We always double this recipe. I have a half-sheet cake pan that fits the doubled recipe perfectly. You could use two 9x13's if you don't have a big pan.
I don't have a picture of this recipe because we always eat them too fast. Yeah, it's not because I forgot, it's because they were gone so fast.

If you want more recipe ideas, hop on over to The Grocery Cart Challenge and check 'em out!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Artisan Bread at Home

Have you every gone to a really, really good bakery and come out with a loaf of just plain, incredibly delicious bread? Or been out to eat and they bring the bread out first and you forget all about the main course you ordered because the bread is what you really want to eat all night? I have figured out how to make it at home.

I adore bread. My oldest daughter asked me the other night, "Mom, if you made a new best friend, would they have to love bread to stay your friend?" It was an odd question (she is the queen of odd, off the wall questions), but I finally said, "yes, I think they would!"

I love to eat bread, and I love to make bread. However, I have had trouble getting my bread to taste like those artisan breads at the bakery. I discovered that the secret is a long, slow rise - and very little (or no) sugar. The trick to a really crisp crust is to add steam to the oven as the bread bakes.

This recipe comes from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, one of my favorite cookbooks. I have reviewed it before, but this is one of my favorite recipes. I don't make this near often enough, mostly because I don't think far enough ahead. This recipe isn't hard at all, it just takes forethought. It literally takes days to make, but 99% Linkof that is just waiting time. Don't let this throw you. Just toss the stuff together and set in in the corner. Add a few things now and then and then bake when ready. Seriously, it is SO worth it! It is named after the authors' son Dom. It does make a really big batch (four huge loaves) feel free to half it, it works fine.

Here is how it goes, this is my very condensed version, the book has much more detailed instructions:

Dom's Large Batch Italian Boules and Focaccia

Put in a bowl:

3 c. water
1/4 tsp active dry yeast

Stir to dissolve, then add:

3 c. all purpose flour

Stir until a smooth batter forms. Cover and let sit 8 to 24 hours, whatever is most convenient.

Add to the batter:

6 c. lukewarm water

Stir then add:

2 c. whole wheat flour
4 c. all purpose flour

Stir until smooth then cover and set aside for 4 to 12 hours as convenient. Then add:

7 to 8 c. all purpose flour

Stir in bowl until you can't stir anymore then turn out to floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour. The dough should be smooth, soft and almost sticky. You really don't want to add too much flour. Put back in the bowl, cover with plastic and let rise 3 1/2 to 4 hours (or over night in a cool place).

To shape the loaves, cut the dough into four equal parts. SEt aisde loosely covered with plastic. Line three 8 to 10 inch round shallow wooden bowls or baskets with cotton clothes (such as tea towels) and flour the cloths well.

On a lightly floured surface, tuck the sides of 1 piece of dough under all around to make a large round boule. Pinch together underneath. Transfer the boule to a bowl or basket seam side up. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Let rise for 1 1/2 hrs, covered loosely with plastic wrap.

Forty-five minutes before you plan to start baking place a baking sotne in the oven. Preheat to 500 degrees.

When it is risen and the oven is preheated, transfer the bread to the baking stone. Transfer it to a peel that has been dusted liberally with corn meal first if that helps. With a really sharp knife, slash three cuts in the top. Spritz the loaf liberally with water and then throw some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven. Shut the door! The ice and the water will add steam to the oven and you don't want it to escape! You can spritz it with water a few more times in the first 5 to 10 minutes.

Bake until darkly golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on a wire rack.

While it is cooling, you get to hear the bread "sing." This is my favorite part (other than eating it!). As the crust cools, it crackles quietly. It means it is going to have one of those fabulous crusty crusts. Yum!

If you can't fit all the loaves in at once, don't sweat it! Just bake them in batches, the longer rising time won't hurt them.

You can also make focaccia out of this dough. Before baking, press it out flat and let rise 45 minutes or so. Dimple the surface with your fingers and brush liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs (basil and/or rosemary are good). We always do garlic too!

Seriously, if you are a bread fan, you have got to try this!


Monday, February 23, 2009

Oatmeal Pancakes - Yum!

I'm not sure if pancakes count as "baking" but they are a bread-type item. Plus, we had this recipe for dinner tonight and they were so good! And really healthy and surprisingly easy.

This recipe comes from the book The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. If you are at all interested in vegetarian cooking (even if you are only looking to do it once a week or so) I highly recommend this book. It is a big one - 1110 pages!! But it is cram-packed with recipes, tips, recipe variations, and suggestions. There are some really, well, left-wing recipes. But there are lots and lots of "normal" food that just doesn't happen to have meat in it. This recipe is one of those examples.

Ethereal Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes

In a medium bowl combine:

3/4 c. old fashioned rolled oats
2 c. buttermilk (I used regular skim milk and added buttermilk powder to the dry ingredients)

Let the oats and milk sit for 1/2 hr.

Add to the oat/milk mixture:

1/4 c. buckwheat flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour (I couldn't find buckwheat flour so I used 1/2 c. whole wheat flour)
1/2 c. unbleached white all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 egg yolks

Mix together, if the batter seems excessively thick, add a little more buttermilk (or in my case, milk).

In a separate bowl beat until stiff peaks form:

2 egg whites

(I used my KitchenAid stand mixer and it was really fast and easy) Fold the beaten egg white into the oat/milk/flour mixture. Cook on a non-stick pan until bubbles appear then flip. When they are done, serve with butter and syrup!

Next time I think I'm going to add some blueberries. I think they would go well with this recipe. We all ate them up and they were great.


PS If anyone has a miracle cure for the flu - you know, the high-fever-aching-headache-chills-coughing-feeling-miserable flu, please send it to me asap! The whole family has come down with it one by one. Darling Daughter number 3 came down with it this morning. Thus far, I'm the only one that hasn't gotten it. (knock on wood!) I really, really don't want to get it (however, Darling Daughter number 2 lost 6 lbs in 4 days, I wouldn't mind that!). The whole school has got it - one class last week had 10 kids absent in a class of 22! Going to wash my hands now, for the 145th time today!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Baking at Home Edition

This week on Frugal Feasting we are going to be talking about something that saves me a ton of money - baking at home!

I almost never buy cookies, snacks, or most kinds of baked goods. I do buy sandwich bread because I have yet to perfect sandwich bread. But a loaf of French bread? Ha! A bag of dinner rolls? Never! A tube of refrigerated biscuit dough? Are you kidding?!!

Join me this week as I share some of my favorite (and a new one or two) recipes for baking at home!

For our meals this week, we are trying a few recipes from my new cookbook The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. I'm excited to try them but we have to mix it up with a few tried and true ones so the family doesn't revolt!

  • Homemade bread toasted
  • oatmeal with berries
  • leftover pancakes (from dinner)
  • cereal
  • leftovers
  • whatever else we come up with!
  • Falafel (from the new cookbook), pita bread, salad
  • Spanish Tortilla, steamed veggies
  • Smothered Seitan (from the new cookbook, I've never tried Seitan so this could be interesting!)
  • Our favorite potato dish (a creamy, scalloped potato type dish)
  • Ethereal Buttermilk-Oatmeal Pancakes (from the new cookbook), sausage, hashbrowns, fruit
Come on back this week and check out the baking recipes!

If you want more menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie!


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lentil and Brown Rice Casserole

In our house, we have a very simple but much loved lentil and rice dish that we call, amazingly enough, Lentil Rice Casserole. This dish is prepared on the stove-top and I have never been able to figure out how to make it with brown rice, I always use white.

While perusing over at the Grocery Cart Challenge (a site I would really recommend if you are looking to help lower your food budget), I came across a new recipe for lentils and rice.

This version is baked in the oven and uses brown rice and some Italian seasoning but otherwise is very similar to our version. I decided to try it out the other night, at the very least it requires less fussing than my recipe.

The original version is posted over at RecipeZaar, I have of course, made some changes already.

Brown Rice and Lentil Casserole

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine in a 11x7 pan (I used an oval casserole dish):

3 c. stock or broth (we used half vegetable boullion and half chicken)
3/4 c. lentils
1/2 c. brown rice
3/4 c. chopped onion (I used dry minced onion)
1 tsp Italian seasoning (I didn't have that so I used 1/2 tsp basil and 1/2 tsp oregano)
1/4 tsp garlic powder (I used lots more than this because we love garlic)

Cover the pan tightly and place in the oven. Bake 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with:

1 c. grated cheese (I used cheddar but mozzarella or a blend would be good - I also used more like 1 1/2 cups)

Return to the oven (uncovered) and bake 20 more minutes. Serve.

  • I had a hard time getting all the liquid to be absorbed. We ended up draining off the extra at the end. I'd do 2 1/2 c. stock next time and see if it made a difference.
  • This was very, very tasty and everyone liked it.
  • How cheap is this? VERY! Bulk lentils and rice are super cheap and the only expensive thing is the cheese but you are only using 1 c. or so. This whole casserole comes out to less than $2.00! Add a salad and a loaf of bread and dinner for under $5!
  • I would change to temperature to 325 degrees next time, maybe that would help with the liquid problem.
Give this one a try, you might just like it!

Guess what I bought myself today? A couple of new cookbooks. One from Borders called The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon (I've been drooling over it and had a 40% off coupon), and one I found at Goodwill called Bread for All Seasons by Beth Hensperger. I'm sure I'll be posting some new recipes soon!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bread and Cheese Soufflé

Another really cheap and meat-free meal that we have recently discovered is Cheese Souffle. This recipe also came from my friend Kari. It is really good. Not particularly low-fat but so yummy!

Bread and Cheese Soufflé

6 eggs beaten
2 1/3 c milk
1 small can green chilies
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick melted butter
1 loaf fresh French bread
Grated cheese (save for last)
Mix eggs and milk, add milk, chilies, onion powder, garlic powder salt and butter.
Add bread - just the inside not the crusts. I get out all the bread I can. You just rip or cut it into cubes. You don't have to have it perfect because you won't be able to see the shape in the end anyway!

Pour half of mixture into a greased pan approx 9 1/2 x 11 sprinkle approx. 1 cup cheddar cheese over that. Pour last half of mixture over cheese and then on top of that approx. 1 more c. cheddar cheese. Bake 325 for 50-65 min. (Until knife comes clean in the middle.) I cover it for the first 30 minutes or so then uncover. It will puff up and be really beautiful when you take it out of the oven. Call everyone over before you pull it out. It deflates really fast and you want everyone to "ohh" and "ahh" over it first!

I served this with salad and fruit and we ate every last little bit. I even took the outsides of the bread and buttered them and broiled them as a side dish. Yum.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole

I have mentioned this recipe a couple of times in the last week. I have gotten several requests for it, so here goes!

When I first heard the ingredient list for this recipe, it seemed to me that it would not work. How would it set up, I wondered? If I had read this recipe in a book or online, I never would have tried it, it just sounded too weird. But a good friend of mine suggested this recipe to me and told me it was one of her family's favorites. She'd given me some good recipes in the past so I decided to take her word for it.

I'm glad I did. This recipe bakes up sort of like a quiche and everyone in my family liked it (my 16 yo went back for fourths the first time I made it!). It is incredibly easy to put to together can almost be a complete meal in itself. We usually serve it with some bread and some fruit. The other thing I like about it is that it uses up my eggs. My chickens are laying in abundance these days and I actually have to plan things to use the eggs up!

Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole

Thaw one 16 oz bag of frozen chopped broccoli. Squeeze out any extra water (you don't want a soupy quiche!)

Mix together in a bowl:

the thawed broccoli
6 eggs
2 lbs cottage cheese (I use the low fat kind)
6 Tbs flour
1/2 lb grated cheese (I used cheddar and used about a cup and a half or so)
1 stick melted butter (I used a half a stick - 1/4 c. and it was great)

Mix everything together well, making sure the eggs get well incorporated. Throw it in a 9 x 13 pan that has been greased. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out almost clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

As I'm writing this, it sure doesn't sound low-fat. However, using my modifications and keeping in mind that it makes about 8-10 servings, it isn't all that bad. And tons of protein!



Monday, February 16, 2009

Meatless Cooking to Save Money

One of the things that my family does to save money on food is that we eat meatless several times a week.

Saving money isn't the only reason we eat meatless. We also do it to save the planet - the UN has suggested that people eat at least one meatless meal a week to help curb greenhouse gas production.

We also do it to save our health. A vegetarian diet (one in which meat is replaced with high protein/high fiber foods - such as lentils, beans, whole grains and of course, vegetables) can help improve heart health. Of course, if you just replace the meat with lots and lots of eggs and cheese it probably won't help all that much.

We also do it because two of my children have decided to be vegetarian for a variety of reasons. I fix meatless meals sometimes because I'm just too lazy to fix two meals.

Even when we do have meat meals we use meat as an ingredient rather than a dish. By this I mean I do chicken soup instead of roast chicken, beef stirfry instead of steak, etc. I buy very little meat for this family even though we do eat meat several times a week.

Ok, whenever I explain to people my food philosophy and how I spend so little, when I get to the low-meat part people always freak. "My family would never allow this!" "I'd have to make twice that much meat to keep my hubby happy." "My kids would never eat vegetarian!" "My family would mutiny if I tried that!"

Here's my question - who's in charge of food here, anyway? Who's the grown-up?

Ok, with your husband I guess he has some say in the matter, but with your kids? If your kids pitched a fit if you didn't serve Twinkies at every meal, would you give in? What if your family demanded filet mignon three times a week, would your budget allow you to oblige them? What if they would eat nothing but the most expensive cereal for breakfast? Would you continue to buy it or would you eventually say, "Tough, I'm not buying it more than once a week. There is other cereal or you could have toast or scrambled eggs. Deal with it." Of course you would!

Somehow we have convinced ourselves that meat is required, and to deny our family of meat is cruel and unusual punishment. It isn't!! Having a vegetarian meal once and a while is not only frugal, it is healthy and "green," too! Stand up to your family and serve a vegetarian meal once and a while. They will adjust, I promise.

To aid in the transition, may I suggest some meals that are meatless that we don't think of as "vegetarian."

  • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup
  • Bean and Cheese Burritos
  • Cheese and onion Enchiladas
  • Breakfast (pancakes, waffles, etc with hashbrowns, fruit, etc - but no bacon!)
  • Swiss Cheese Quiche
  • Taco Soup (without the hamburger, of course)
  • Homemade Mac and Cheese
  • Pasta with Marinara Sauce (no meat)
  • Good Ol' Rice and Beans
  • Bean and Vegetable soup
  • Cheese Fondue
  • Cheese Pizza
I have lots of other recipes that I'll be posting later this week - Cheese Soufflé, Broccoli Cottage Cheese Casserole, Brown Rice and Lentil Casserole, and a maybe another one.

So take the plunge - try a vegetarian meal - it's good, really!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Meatless Meal Edition

This week on Frugal Feasting we are going to be talking about meatless cooking. This is one of the ways we save money on our groceries. We have meatless meals at least twice a week (and sometimes more).

We all have meatless meals sometimes and I'm going to give you a list of meals that will work for even the most ardent meat lover. And I'm also going to give you some of our favorite meatless meals.

This week we will be eating meatless also, although not every day.



So, come back tomorrow and check out my post on meatless meals!

And if you need more great menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review - Moosewood Cookbook

Remember a long time ago when I said that I was a nanny for a year with a family in Washington DC? Remember when I said that the family was vegetarian and I was in charge of cooking dinner for them during the week? Remember when I said that I loved that year and found some of my favorite cookbooks? Well, if you don't remember me telling you that the first time, just pretend you do.

One of those cookbooks is the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. Today, just about everyone has heard of the Moosewood cookbooks (there are nine of them put out by the restaurant), but back in 1988 when I received it, I had never heard of the books or the restaurant. A couple of the recipes that I cooked for the family came from this cookbook and I really liked the recipes. The Benton's (the family I lived with) bought me a copy for my birthday. Twenty-one years later, I'm still awfully glad they did.

This book is a vegetarian cookbook and so, of course, has no meat recipes in it. There are a lot of recipes that could easily be adapted, by adding cooked chopped chicken or beef, to be meat-ish. But most of the recipes are perfectly satisfying the way they are.

One of my favorites from this book is the recipe for Swiss Cheese and Mushroom Quiche. We make this all the time. Sometimes I substitute bacon for the mushrooms (a classic Quiche Lorraine) and sometimes I just add bacon to half of it (so my veggies can eat the non-meat half). This recipe is a good way to use up all those eggs I have from my chickens.

Swiss Cheese and Mushroom Quiche

Make your favorite pie crust recipe (or buy a pre-made crust) You will only need a bottom crust, not a top.

Place the crust in a pie tin. Cover bottom crust with 1 1/2 c. grated swiss cheese.

In a pan, saute in butter:

1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped
salt, pepper to taste
a dash of thyme

Cover the cheese with the above mixture.

Make a custard by mixing together well:

4 eggs
1 1/2 c. milk
3 Tbs flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard

Pour the custard over the mushroom layer.

Sprinkle with paprika and bake at 375 degrees 40 -45 minutes or until solid in the center when jiggled.

  • substitute cheddar for swiss
  • use fresh tomato slices instead of mushrooms (tomatoes don't need to be sauted first)
  • substitute 1 cup chopped scallions for the onion
  • add 1 tsp prepared horseradish
  • add chopped cooked meat - bacon, chicken, ham, etc

And remember, real men do eat quiche.



Thursday, February 12, 2009

Book Reviews I've Done Before

Everyone here at my house is sick. Just last week I congratulated myself on our lack of sickness this winter.

"Oh, we must be practicing good handwashing skills. We must be eating healthy and getting enough sleep. We are so good."

Pride goeth before the fall, as they say. We are all sick. A really bad winter cold - snuffles, coughing, sore throats, sneezing, the works. That'll teach me to get all self-righteous!

Needless to say, I'm not very motivated to do blog posts. But since recently someone told me they get mad when I don't update (you know who you are!), I'm posting something.

I've done several book reviews in the past so I thought I would gather them together and update them.

I did More With Less this week.

Another book I have reviewed is Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. I don't actually own this book but I've checked it out of the library enough that I really should just buy my own copy. We really like the Garlic Lime Chicken and the Polenta Casserole. I need to check it out again (or just buy, sigh), and get some new ideas. Especially new ideas for bean recipes. They are so healthy and cheap and high in protein that I'm really trying to add more to our diet. This book had tons of bean centered recipes. I'm doing it this weekend, I promise.

One of my all time favorite books is Cheap Fast Good by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. This book is such a great book for a beginner cook or someone who just really wants to branch out but doesn't have a lot of time. Tons of recipes from soups to pastas to sides - all ready in no time. One of the recipes we use a lot is Mindless Meatball Minestrone. So good and if you have frozen meatballs in your freezer, goes together in under 25 minutes.

Mindless Meatball Minestrone

Heat in a large sauce pan:

1 can (or 2 cups) chicken broth
1 can (or 2 cups) beef broth

While it is heating, add:

2 c. frozen mixed vegetables
1 can stewed or dices tomatoes
20 or so already cooked meatballs
1/3 c. pasta (spaghetti broken in 1 to 2 inches lengths, macaroni, shells, etc)

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. When it boils, uncover and stir well. Add:

1 can light red kidney beans (or other kind of beans)
1 tsp dried italian seasoning
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Continue to boil until the pasta is tender and the meatballs are heated through. Serve with grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

You can of course, soak your own beans and make this for a lot less, but I usually use the cans because they are so fast and the point of this recipe is for it to be "Mindless" right?


So now I come to the end of my "I'm really sick but Ilene gets mad if I don't post" post. And I'm off. Maybe I should make some soup tonight. Soup is good for a cold, right?



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

One of my favorite cookbooks is my More With Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. I did a lengthy review on it before and I would recommend reading the review (not just because I wrote it, but also because it has a lot of information about why the book was written). This book is such a great book for people looking to save money on groceries.

I recently went back to my More With Less Cookbook to get a new bread recipe to try. I was looking for something easy, using whole wheat flour and able to use as a sandwich bread. I thought I would try the recipe for Honey Whole Wheat Bread. Man, I'm glad I did! It ends up soft but slices well. It makes two loaves of bread which is good because the first loaf goes really fast!

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
makes 2 loaves

Combine in a mixer bowl:
3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. nonfat dry milk
1 T. salt
2 pkg dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp yeast)

Heat in saucepan until warm (or in microwave):

3 c. water or potato water
1/2 c. honey
2 T. oil

Pour warm (not hot) liquid over flour mixture. Beat with electric mixer 3 minutes. Stir in:

1 additional cup whole wheat flour
4 - 4 1/2 c. white flour

Knead 5 minutes, using additional white flour if necessary. Place in greased bowl, turn, let rise until double in bulk. Punch into loaves. Place in greased 9x5" bread pans. Cover and let rise 40-45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Let it cool and then slice. It is hard to resist it when it is hot because it smells so good!

This is a very sweet bread, perfect for toast with cinnamon sugar or jam. When we served it with soup it was a little too sweet. If I was going to serve it with soup again, I'd reduce the honey a bit (and probably let it rise a little longer). I make this primarily as a breakfast food and like the extra bit of sweetness. You decide.

Check out the More With Less Cookbook for even more cheap meals.



Monday, February 9, 2009

Why Good Cookbooks are Essential

In my quest to lower my food bill, one tool has been invaluable: cookbooks!

Let me first state that I'm addicted to cookbooks. My husband laughs at me because I read them like novels. I check them out from the library and read them at night before I go to bed. I've almost always got a cookbook "going" beside my bed - a big bookmark about half-way through. Most cookbooks are good for just that, one read through. They give me ideas and new ways of thinking about food.

Some cookbooks need to be in my cupboard! My rule is that if I have check-out a cookbook three times or more, it should be purchased for my collection (from at the lowest price possible, of course).

No matter if you are addicted to cookbooks or not, there are a few kinds of cookbooks everyone who is serious about saving money should have in their cupboard.

A General All-Purpose Cookbook
Everyone should have a general cookbook in their cupboard. My personal favorite is my The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook which was a wedding shower gift from my now mother-in-law (thanks, Mom!). There are other options out there for a general cookbook: The Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker Cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the old red and white checked one your mom probably had), etc.

What you look for in a general cookbook is, well, general recipes. You want a recipe for pie crust, a basic cake, pancakes from scratch, fried chicken, how to prepare different types of vegetables, a basic bread recipe, a corn bread recipe, a frosting from scratch recipe. Not specific special stuff, just basic recipe that you would learn in home ec (if schools still had home ec!).

I go to my general cookbook all the time - you can tell by the warped pages and tattered cover. I use this for my pie crust recipe, my pancakes from scratch recipe, my crepe recipe, my basic cake recipe - lots of things. And when I buy a vegetable that looked really good at the farmer's market but I'm not sure what to do with it, I look it up in Good Housekeeping and they tell me what to do!

One of the biggest ways to save money on groceries is to stop buying prepared foods and make stuff from scratch (we're going to talk more about this next week). How do you learn how to do that? From your cookbooks! A prepared pie crust costs anywhere from $2 to $4. A pie crust from scratch costs about 60 cents. Pancake mix is pretty spendy but a from scratch batch of pancakes costs less than a dollar (and doesn't have preservatives and artificial gunk in it). A good basic cookbook will save you tons.

A Baking Book or Two

I love to bake. I love baking even more than cooking - mostly because I love bread so much. I have several (ok, lots) of baking cookbooks. I don't think you need to go that far, but a good baking book will serve you well. Recipes for muffins, scones, quick breads, different kinds of yeast bread, cookies, etc will give you lots of ideas for cheap, healthy snacks and sides for your family at a fraction of the cost of buying prepared.

Some of my favorite baking books are The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads, Bread for Breakfast by Beth Hensperger, Home Baking by Alford and Deguid. There are tons of great baking books out there. Check them out of the library until you find one that makes you say, "oh, I should try that" at least every 10 pages.

A General "Cheap" Cookbook

I like having a couple of "cheap" cookbooks around. You know, the kind that use ingredients you've actually heard of that don't cost $6 for a 4 oz jar! Most cheap cookbooks also have lots of tips and tricks in them that change your way of thinking about food.

Some of my favorites are: The More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, Cheap Fast, Good by Mills and Ross, The Tightwad Gazette, and Miserly Meals by Jonni McCoy. I've also heard good things about Not Just Beans by Tawra Kellam, but I've never actually read it.

Having a source for really cheap recipes that are family friendly if so great. When I'm sick of our cheap meals, I turn to one of my cheap cookbooks and browse through to get some new ideas.


There are lots of other cookbooks I own, because they are valuable to me. I own several mega-cooking books, some crockpot books, a cookbook put together by the ladies at church which includes several of my favorite recipes, and a couple of vegetarian recipe books because of my veggie girls. I don't think everyone needs these types of cookbooks, but I do. You need to just check different kinds of cookbooks out of the library until you find the kind that speaks to you. Yes, my cookbooks speak to me. I've talked to professionals, they assure me I'm not a danger to others.

So, go to the library and have fun. Read them like novels and when one speaks to you, go to and find it for the lowest possible price.



Sunday, February 8, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Cookbook Edition

For the past several weeks I have been doing my Frugal Feasting series. With these tough economic times, it seems that everyone is trying to save money on everything - especially food. So far in the series I've posted about Cooking in Bulk (Mega-Cooking), Buying things only on sale, avoiding eating out, and buying in bulk.

One of the most important tricks for saving money in the kitchen is having a few good cookbooks. Having access to good, reliable recipes is essential. This week I'm going to talk about what kinds of cookbooks I think are necessary to have around plus I'm going to do reviews (with recipes) from some of my all-time favorite cookbooks! Come back and check it out!

The menus this week are easy and warm - I'm busy this week and the weather is supposed to be cold.

  • Baked oatmeal (I swear I'm going to make it this week!)
  • "homemade" instant oatmeal with berries
  • Homemade bread toasted with jam (I'm posting this bread recipe this week)
  • scrambled eggs with toast
  • Pb&j's
  • bagels with cream cheese
  • hummus with pita bread and carrots for dipping
  • leftovers
  • Broccoli cottage cheese casserole
  • Ham fried rice
  • Winter Minestrone with Pesto (I'll be posting this recipe this week)
  • Toasted Cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
  • Swiss and Bacon Quiche (recipe posted this week)
So come on back for lots of great recipes this week and a sneak peek and some great cookbooks!

And hop on over to Organizing Junkie for some more great menu ideas!



Friday, February 6, 2009

Quick Meals I've Done Before

I keep thinking of all these quick meals that we do around here to post for the "avoid eating out" week. Every time I think of something I say, "no, done that already." Finally I decided that I would post links to some of my quick meals that I've "done before."

So here, in no particular order, are quick meals I've done before.

One-Eyed Egyptians

This is a fabulous breakfast, lunch or dinner. I told my kids the other night, "If there is ever a famine, this is what we are going to be eating - one-eyed Egyptians made with homemade bread." (Our chickens will give us the eggs, I have LOTS of stuff to make bread in my Crazyville Food Shoppe). My oldest child's response was, "Let's pray for famine!"

Ok, I don't think they really want a famine, but they really love One-eyed Egyptians!

Ham Fried Rice

This meal does require a little forethought. You need to make the rice ahead and refrigerate it. Once you do this (the night before? in the morning before work?) it takes about 10 minutes to get it to the table. I love this recipe for after church. I make the rice in the morning and when I get home (starving), we can all eat 10 minutes later.

Best Ever Waffles

These are so fun to have for dinner. I serve them with fruit and some hashbrowns if I have the time and energy. They do require forethought. You mix up the batter the night before or in the morning then let it rise all night/day in the fridge. Baking them takes some time but if you have a big family size waffle maker like I do, it goes pretty quick. Make sure you make extra the next time you make these and have them in the freezer.

Sloppy Joe's or Tacos

If you have the meat already cooked and seasoned in your freezer, these are a snap. Just toast the buns and throw some frozen french fries in the oven - ta-da! Dinner in 20 minutes. And for tacos? Just grate some cheese and slice some lettuce and you are ready to go. The meat for both of these re-heats beautifully in the microwave. We have these all the time and really enjoy them.

Good Ol' Rice and Beans

If you use white rice for this recipe (and canned beans, which are a very wise thing to have in your pantry), this takes 20 minutes to the table. Plus, it is healthy and super cheap (even with the canned beans!). Serve with a salad or some fruit and you have a complete meal.



Thursday, February 5, 2009


Quesadillas are one of my go-to meals when crunched for time (or energy). My sister calls these "flat bean burritos" because they have all the ingredients of a bean burrito, just flat! I almost always have a package of tortillas in the fridge or freezer and a can of refried beans in the pantry. I can almost always whipped these up in a flash.

You can put whatever you want in these and use up left overs at the same time. A win-win in my book!

I'm sure lots of people do some version of this, but it just is good to be reminded of all our options, right?

Here's how we do it:

Take two tortillas for every person. Spread refried beans on one of the tortillas, sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese and rice. Top with other tortilla and fry in a pan. We usually lightly butter one side of the quesadilla, but you don't have to.

This is how we usually make it, but feel free to add chopped cooked meat, cooked vegetables, sliced olives. Marinated artichoke hearts (chopped) are a fantastic addition (but not a favorite with the children - more for me!!).

Fry until the cheese is melted and the filling is hot. We cut these into pie-shaped wedges and dip them in sour cream, salsa or a mixture of sour cream and salsa. You can top them with home-made pico de gallo if you have time and energy to do it.



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chicken Tetrazzini

You remember in my last post when I said that I have a meal or two stashed in my freezer that only take 15 minutes in the microwave before they are ready to serve? This recipe is one of them. It is a kid-friendly quick meal that saves me from the local drive-thru.

It is a freezer meal, which means you have to do some work to have it ready in the freezer. Thankfully, it doesn't even take all that long to prepare the first time. I always do at least x4 of this recipe when I mega-cook, and I've been known to do x6.

Here's the recipe. Think about taking some time this weekend (Safeway has boneless-skinless chicken breasts on sale this week!), and making some for your freezer!

Chicken Tetrazzini
(This recipe makes one meal's worth. Feel free to multiply as needed.)

Cook in a pot of salted water until tender:

spaghetti noodles (use as much as will feed your family. The recipe says 8 oz.)

Drain the noodles, and set aside in a really, really big bowl!

In a pan, saute:

3 Tbs margarine or butter
1 c. chopped green peppers (or a mixture of red, yellow and green- it's prettier!)
1 onion, finely chopped

When the onion is transparent and the peppers are tender, add the mixture to the pasta. Add:

4 c. grated cheese (use whatever kind you have. I don't usually use this much cheese)
2 - 10 3/4 ounce cans cream of mushroom soup (or one can cream of chicken and one can mushroom, or substitute cream of celery)
1 soup can full of milk
5 cups cooked chopped chicken (I don't usually use quite this much chicken, mostly because I'm cheap!)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and put in a gallon ziploc bag. Label and freeze. To serve, defrost and place in a casserole dish. Top with buttered bread crumbs if desired. Bake until bubbly.

Or, you can do it the way I do. Microwave til hot and serve.

  • You can use mixtures of cheeses with good results.
  • I almost always make this with whole wheat pasta, it adds to the nutrition.
  • Feel free to make your own white sauce instead of the cans of soup. I don't use canned "cream of" soups very often but it just makes it so easy. My sister hates mushrooms so she uses all Cream of Chicken. We like it half and half. It is very forgiving.
  • The amounts of cheese, pasta and chicken are very flexible! I usually use about 3 c. chicken and I measure the cheese in "handfuls" - just keep adding til it looks right!


Monday, February 2, 2009

How Do We Avoid Eating Out?

We have heard a lot about ways to save money lately. It seems like even the news stations, like CNN and MSNBC, and newsmagazines like Time are doing stories about how to save money. Things like brewing your own coffee, brown bagging your lunch and cooking dinners at home get mentioned all the time. So we all know that one of the best ways to save money on your food budget is to eat out less.

But we are so busy!! My family is typical - Monday is play practice, Tuesday is play practice, Wednesday is piano, dance lessons, church youth group and play practice, Thursday is girl scouts and play practice, Friday is play practice (oh man, will I be glad when this play is over - except for it ends just when track season starts!). How do we find time to cook a full dinner?

The sad truth about my family is that we almost never go out to eat. My kids think they are deprived but with a family of 6, eating out, even at Taco Bell, is expensive! During my month of nothing I was limiting myself to $50 a week for groceries (and eating pretty well I might add), we splurged and went out to dinner with some friends to Red Robin. Even with sharing entrees our bill was $38.00! Well over half what I was spending for a week's worth of groceries!

But with a busy schedule, I've had to come up with ways to make dinner time easy - and have to have a few tricks up my sleeve for those really crazy nights! Here's what works for us:

Menu Planning

I cannot tell you how planning my meals helps me not go out to eat. On Sundays I sit down and plan meals for the week. I make my shopping list from this list of meals. When I go shopping on Monday, I get all the things I will need for the list of meals. For the rest of the week, I have all the ingredients for those meals. At least I can make those meals!

I try to look at my list of meals in the evening, I like to get an idea of what we will have the next day. That way, if I need to defrost something, or put something in the crockpot in the morning, I'm prepared. Thinking about dinner before 4 pm is essential!

Mega Cooking

I did a couple of posts about mega-cooking last week, but I wanted to mention it again because it is one of the best ways to keep us from going out to eat. Knowing that there are meals ready to be thawed and heated, keeps me sane!

I have several meals that only require 15 minutes in the microwave and they are ready to eat. These are my life savers. Several more need a few minutes of fussing then 45 minutes in the oven - leaving me time to fix a quick salad, slice some fruit and put my feet up for 15 minutes.

"Fast Food Meals"

We have a couple of super quick meals that I almost always have the ingredients for and take 20 minutes or less. One-Eyed Egyptians are one of these. Burrito Bowls are another.

Burrito Bowls

Cook enough rice for your family (brown rice is best but white rice cooks in 20 minutes). When the rice is done and still hot, toss it with butter, lime juice, and salt. I use the lime juice in the little plastic limes, I just keep one in my refrigerator.

Meanwhile, open a can of black beans. Pour them into a bowl and add some cumin and some garlic powder. Stir and microwave until the beans are hot. Set aside.

Grate some cheese. Chop tomatoes if you have them. Get out the sour cream and the salsa.

Line up all the ingredients on the table (we do it on the counter and do it buffet style). Give everyone a plate and let them pile them on. We do it in this order: rice, beans, cheese, salsa (tomatoes), sour cream.

My family loves this meal! You could dress it up with cooked chicken or beef, or taco meat, but we really like it just like this. You do all the beans and cheese in the time the rice cooks and the whole meal is ready to eat in 20 minutes.

You should try to have at least one meal that you always have the ingredients and everyone will eat, that only takes 20 minutes. Some ideas: pancakes, waffles, microwaved baked potatoes with canned chili and grated cheese, toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, spaghetti (sauce from a can). I'm sure there are others. What do you use for your super quick meals?


Having a meal in the crockpot when I get home means that I won't have to go out to eat. We have a couple of really great meals that we like, but I really need to expand my crockpot list of meals - have any good ones? I need to go to Crockpot 365 and check it out.

Putting a meal in the crockpot does take some planning ahead but it saves you so much time in the end that it is worth it. You can even put it all together in the crock the night before and put it in the fridge over night. That way all you have to do in the morning is plug it in and plop the crock on. Ta-da! Dinner is done!

Sometimes it is a hassle to make dinner instead of going out. Sometimes I think that I "deserve" to go out to eat. But when I get to the end of the month and there is still money left and I'm not stressed out about finances? That sense of peace is what I really deserve!


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - The Eat-In Edition!

The point of my series, Frugal Feasting, is to help us save money on groceries. So far, we have talked about buying in bulk, buying things on sale, and mega-cooking (including some tips for really Mega-Cooking). This week we are going to talk about the thing that saves me the most money of all - not going out for dinner!

We very rarely go out to eat. When we do, it is a special occasion, and we usually split entrees. I'm sure that waitresses hate us, but we do try to tip good. I don't always feel like cooking but I have some great tricks for those nights I just can't do it. We are going to talk about those this week and give you some good recipes (especially our favorite - Burrito Bowls).

So this week I'll be eating some yummy recipes and some really easy ones.

  • homemade oatmeal
  • Baked oatmeal (with the leftovers to be used as snacks)
  • eggs in some way (we have a lot of eggs right now - maybe One-eyed Egyptians?)
  • homemade bread toasted with jam (found a new recipe for Honey Whole Wheat, yum!)
  • lunchmeat and cheese sticks, veggies, crackers
  • pb and j sands
  • leftovers
  • bagels
  • Burrito Bowls
  • ham fried rice
  • soup and rolls (we have this at least once a week)
  • bread souffle
  • Italian chicken and mashed potatoes
  • quesadillas (I got a new gridle and I can do lots of quesadillas at once!)
Tune in this week for all kinds of tips and tricks for avoiding the "oh, heck, it's 5 o'clock and I don't have anything planned so let's go out to eat" trap. Check back in!

If you need more menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie.