Archive for the ‘Frugal Food’ Category

Super Simple Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

A few Thanksgivings ago, I thought I would be Miss Fancy Pants and make my own cranberry sauce to wow my guests.  Turns out, it was so easy and delicious that I will never go back to canned sauce again!

For simple Cranberry Sauce you need:

1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1 Cup of sugar
3/4 Cup of water

Wash the cranberries in some cold water and discard any bad ones that you see.

I like dumping my cranberries onto a cookie sheet and running my hands over them.  The bad ones are much easier to spot this way.

Throw the cranberries, sugar, and water into a saucepan, stir to combine and bring to a boil.  After it boils, reduce heat so it simmers.

 

 

 

After a few minutes, the cranberries will start to pop releasing its pectin into the mix.  Pectin is a natural gelling agent and as the sauce cools it will thicken.  Stir your sauce every few minutes.

After 10 minutes, most of the cranberries have popped.

After 15 minutes, you can remove the sauce from the heat and transfer to serving bowl.  I like to cook an additional 5 minutes or so to really break down the berries and boil off some of the liquid.

The sauce will thicken as it cools.  You can serve it warm and it will be more sauce like or you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge to firm up. 

This is our sauce after 1 hour in the fridge.  Perfect!  Not too sweet and not too tart.

Variations abound for this recipe. You can substitute orange juice for the water, add orange zest, cloves, cinnamon sticks, more sugar, less liquid, etc…  I haven’t found a recipe that I didn’t like so far!  Evelyn loves the simple version and eats it with her cottage cheese as a snack.

Ours lasted a week in the fridge.  Is it less expensive to make your own?  Well, a bag can cost anywhere from $1.50 (2 for $3) to $1.99.  There’s a few cents for sugar and you can make about 16 ounces.  A 16 ounce can costs around $1.50 during the holidays.  I’d say it’s about even cost wise, but flavor and presentation wise you cannot beat fresh cranberry sauce.

Shout Out to Cici’s Pizza

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

With everything going on right now, sometimes it is easier to run out and grab something to eat than cook up a meal at home.  With the four of us, its a little harder to find someplace affordable and tolerable for the kids.  Oliver and Evelyn don’t have the patience for a sit down restaurant and we don’t want them to become McDonald’s junkies.  Where do we go?

Cici’s Pizza!  We love Cici’s.  It’s an all you can eat pizza buffet with a salad and dessert bar.  It’s also amazingly affordable.  Two adults can eat and drink for less than $15.  Kids are free until 4 years old.  The buffet ranges from place to place, but it’s normally $5 or $6 dollars and the drinks are a little over $1 (water is free).

Oliver can down 3 or 4 slices of pizza (they are small) and a plate full of tomatoes and cucumbers from the salad bar.  The hubby likes to build a crust mountain and I get my fill of the sticky sweet cinnamon buns.

Evelyn’s too little to enjoy it yet, but she likes the atmosphere. :-)  In other words, her car seat fits perfectly in the booth so she can see mommy and daddy at all times.  We can get in and out in under 30 minutes, which is the perfect time for the kiddos before they start going nutso.

If you love pizza and haven’t been to a Cici’s yet, check out their website to find one near you.  When you get there, you can ask for your favorite pizza to be added to the buffet or you can have it brought to your table for no additional cost.  My fave is the BBQ pizza.  When I was pregnant with Oliver, the manager would pop one in the oven when he saw me waddle in and bring it to my table.  They aim to please and we are pleased every time!

Frugal Food: Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I must confess.  Chocolate covered pretzels is one of the easiest, quickest, and tastiest ways to show someone you care.  When I say easy, I mean E-A-S-Y!  It’s chocolate and pretzels.  That’s it.  The bag of pretzels cost $1.50 and the chocolate was $2.50.  I made about 150 pretzel treats, but could have made more.

Toss some of these in a parchment lined box or into a ribbon tied cellophane bag and give them to your favorite person (that is if you can avoid eating them all before wrapping them).  For that person in your life who is too “manly” to receive a box of chocolates, give them some of these savory sweet bites.  I brought in a bowl of these pretzels to a Christmas office party one year and they were gone within 15 minutes. 

I’m not going to list a recipe for how to make a chocolate covered pretzel – it’s chocolate and a pretzel.  However, I will give you some tips from my experience and some ideas for you to try at home.

Things you will need:  Chocolate Candy Coating, a bag of pretzels (I like the small ones), wax or parchment paper, a spoon/fork.

Things that are helpful: Wooden skewers, white chocolate morsels for decoration.

Start with a pound of Candy Coating.  The one that I bought came with a microwave safe tray to melt the chocolate in.  I prefer the double boiler method – put the chocolate in a metal bowl and set that bowl over a pot with 2 inches of simmering water.  Stir the chocolate a few times until it melts. 

One way to coat a pretzel is to do it one at a time.  Scoop some chocolate onto a plate and press the pretzel into it.  Flip the pretzel with a skewer and do the other side.  This will get the job done, but come on… I said this would be E-A-S-Y didn’t I?  You’d be there all day if you did a bag of pretzels this way.

The preferred method to crank out chocolatey goodness is to dump a handful of pretzels in the chocolate and then fish them out with a skewer.  Let them drip a few seconds and then transfer them to wax paper.

Here’s a trick I learned.  When you fish them out of the chocolate, the small pretzel holes will usually be globbed up with chocolate.  Pick a designated dumping spot on your wax paper and drop your pretzel there.  Immediately, pick it back up and move it to a clean spot to harden.  The extra chocolate sticks to the wax paper and you get a nicely coated pretzel.

For variation, I also like to coat just one side to cut down on the choco-overload.  Scoop some chocolate onto a plate or right on the wax paper.  Press the pretzel in, lift off with a skewer and place upside down to dry.

Even better yet, lay a bunch of pretzels out and drizzle chocolate from a spoon held high over the paper.  This really gives you a nice combination of salty, sweet, and crunchy (and it’s even EASIER than the other methods).

If you want to add that oh so special something extra, melt some white chocolate chips in the microwave to use for decoration.  Follow the instructions on the package precisely or you will get the chalky mess on the left instead of the liquid goodness on the right.

I like to decorate 1/2 of my pretzels and leave the other half plain old chocolate.  I think it adds a certain “pop” to the presentation and everyone else thinks you are a genius.  Mums the word here.

As a gift, I like to mix up all the methods and give them a variety to taste.  Couldn’t be easier, tastier, or more addictive!

Frugal Food: Con Queso – Meaty, Cheesy Chip Dip

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Just in time for the super bowl, a recipe for a meaty, cheesy, and hearty chip dip called – Con Queso!  This dip has been in our family for as long as I can remember.  We even ate it as a meal served over rice (it’s that good).  This was also one of the first recipes that I requested from mom and pop when I moved out on my own. 

After taking Spanish, I learned that con queso literally means “with cheese”.  This helped explain some confusion over the years as friends kept asking “What with cheese?”  Well my friends, con queso stands on its own – like Cher and Madonna, the name needs no further explanation.  Accept it, enjoy it, and eat it up!

ingredients

Ingredients:  makes approx. 6 cups of dip

8 oz ground hamburger
8 oz hot pork sausage
1/2 onion, diced
7 oz can mushrooms, diced
canned jalapenos, diced (the can shown here is 13 oz, you can use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
16 oz Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup

freeze meat

Here’s a handy tip to start out with:  Since this recipe calls for 8 oz of both hamburger and sausage, cut your packages in half and immediately pop 1/2 of each meat in a Ziploc bag for your next dip endeavour.  You might get a little more or less of hamburger depending on the total meat weight in the package (here it was 1lb 2oz).  That’s okay.

brown meat

Toss the hamburger and sausage in a pot and brown over medium heat.  I like using a wire wisk to break down the meat into uniformly small bits.  I run a fork through the tines of the wisk to clear out any meat chunks.

diced onions

While the meat is cooking, toss in the diced onions.  I like a large dice, because I like a chunky dip.  If you want a smoother dip, dice the onions smaller.  When the meat has browned (not raw and pink) and the onions have softened, drain any grease from the pot.

mushrooms and jalapenos

Throw your diced mushrooms and jalapeno peppers into the pot.  Again, the dice size is your personal preference.  You can try fresh jalapenos if you’d like, but they don’t have time to soften in this recipe and add a sort of grassy flavor.  The canned jalapenos are also pickled, which contributes flavor to the dip.  As for how much of the jalapenos to use, that is your preference as well.  I throw in the entire 15 oz and then some, but I like it hot!  If you and your guests have problems with fire-butt, you might want to take the heat down a couple notches and only use a couple oz of peppers.

chop velveeta

Cube the Velveeta cheese, so it melts faster, and throw it in the pot.

mix it all together

Lastly – the secret ingredient – toss in the Cream of Mushroom soup and mix all ingredients together.  Whenever I make this, people keep going back for more and they can’t figure out what makes it taste so good.  It’s the soup.  It tones down the cheese and mellows out the dip.   

con queso

Frequently stir the dip over medium low heat until the cheese has melted.  Serve warm with chips.  We love this dip with Frito Lay corn chips the best. 

This is a great dip to make in advance.  When left in the fridge overnight, the flavors meld together and the jalapenos have time to diffuse their spiciness.  Either warm the dip back up on the stove, or pop it in the microwave. 

Speaking of microwave, I’m going to pop some in right now and have myself a snack. I’ve been eating it for 3 days now since I made the last batch and it’s been hard not to down the pot in one sitting!

Frugal Food: Crispy Upside Down Roast Chicken

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Upside down roast chicken

We love roasting a whole chicken in the oven, especially when we’ve bought the chicken for 49 cents a pound! 

This family fave is a classic recipe turned upside down – literally.  Roasting a chicken breast side down in a rack and then flipping it halfway through cooking yields crispy skin all over and juicy white meat.  The recipe is my own design.  Feel free to experiment with your own spice blend.

Ingredients:

5 – 6 lb whole chicken – rinsed and patted dry with paper towels (Crispy secret #1)
1 Tbsp kosher salt (use half this amount for table salt)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
zest of 1/2 a lemon
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cooking time, 1 hr 30 min (45 min per side) for a 5-6 lb bird, 1 hr (30 min per side) for a 3-4 lb bird.

In a small bowl, mix together the spices and lemon zest.  Pre-baby, I used to add cayenne pepper to the mix for some zing.  In another bowl, whisk together the oil and lemon juice.

Most people season the outside of the chicken.  I like to season under the skin of the chicken as well.  This not only adds to the flavor of the breast and thigh meat, but it will cause the skin to crisp up nicely in the oven (Crispy secret #2).

Carefully slide your fingers under the skin over the breast.  Use your fingers to break the clear connective membrane holding the skin to the meat.

Gently lift the skin covering the entire breast and thigh area.  You can see in my photo the skin slightly split.  This is due to me being unable to take pictures with my left hand at the same time that I’m feeling a chicken up with my right.

Make sure your chicken is nice and dry (Crispy Secret #1).  If the skin is wet when you put it in the oven, it will take extra time for the water to cook out and the skin to dry before it will start to crisp.  Drizzle the lemon juice/olive oil mixture over the chicken and work it into the skin.  Make sure you do the back and get some juice under the skin and over the breast.

Spoon some spice under the skin and rub it into the breast and thigh meat.

Use the rest of the spice mixture to season the outside of the chicken.   Don’t be shy.  Rub it into all the nooks and crannies, the chicken doesn’t mind.

Crispy secret #3 – put the chicken on a rack in the roasting pan upside down.  Put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, pull the chicken out and admire the crispy behind.  Baby got some serious back!  

Carefully lift the chicken and flip it breast side up.  I have these large rubber heat resistant gloves from Ronco.  I’ve also used a wooden spoon in the cavity combined with tongs and also plain old (clean) potholders.  (Note: please wash the potholders before using again) 

After another 45 minutes, pull out your beautiful bird.  Yum! 

Use an instant read thermometer and make sure the thigh meat registers 180.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and tent with foil for 10 minutes.  Letting the chicken rest lets the meat cells close up to lock in the juices.  If you were to cut into the chicken right away all the juice would run out leaving you with dry meat.  Speaking of juices, you can make a gravy or pan sauce out of the drippings in the pan if you wanted.

And the final verdict?  Frugal – our chicken cost just under $3 at 49 cents per pound – and delicious – Oliver gave this 2 thumbs up –  it was frugalicious!

After you finish picking apart your bird do NOT throw away the carcass.  Stick that and the bones into a ziplock bag and throw it into the freezer for chicken soup.  I’ll be posting that recipe some other Friday.

Frugal Food: Chocolate Coconut Bonbons

Friday, January 7th, 2011

 chocolate bonbons

Over the holidays, I made some simple chocolate covered coconut bonbons to give to family and friends.  This recipe is super easy and fun to make.  My chocoholic friend says that these taste just like Mounds candy bars.  One of these days I might add an almond to some of the bonbons to make my own Almond Joys!

Ingredients: Makes 30-40 1-inch bonbons.

2 7ounce bags of sweetened coconut flakes
8 oz light corn syrup
16 oz chocolate candy coating

Other:

Wax or parchment paper
Cooking Spray to grease your hands
White chocolate chips
Toddler (Optional)

Day One:  Start by emptying the coconut flakes into a bowl or ziploc plastic bag.  If you have a toddler and are very brave, let him or her squeeze 1/2 the bottle of corn syrup into the coconut flakes.  (If you have just let your toddler do this, a very warm washcloth will clean up the mess no problem.)

Mix the coconut and syrup very well and then put it in the fridge to chill and firm overnight.  I like the ziploc bag for ease of storage in our fridge, but the bowl is easier to work with when rolling the coconut balls.

mix coconut and corn syrup well

Day Two: Break out your chocolate and melt it.  I used semi-sweet chocolate chips for the first trial and the resulting bonbons were subpar.  The chocolate coating was too soft.  This candy coating worked great.  Another option is to use baker’s chocolate and paraffin wax at a ratio of 1 oz of paraffin to 8 oz of baker’s chocolate.

candy chocolate

The candy coating could have been melted in the microwave in it’s own tray or in a saucepan on the stove over low heat.  I prefer the double boiler method to avoid burning or overheating the chocolate.  I put the chocolate in a metal bowl and set the bowl on top of a saucepan filled with 2 inches of simmering water.  Stir occassionally and don’t let the bowl touch the water directly.

melt chocolate

If you didn’t make a big enough mess yesterday, let your toddler help you coat the coconut balls today.  Strip the baby down for easy cleanup later. 

cover cococonut balls

Otherwise, take out a small spoon and dig out a scoop of coconut.  Roll it into a 1 inch ball with your oil sprayed hands.  Drop a few balls into the chocolate mixture and use two spoons to coat each ball by rolling the ball from one spoon to another.  Rolling the balls from one spoon to the other helps to keep the round shape.

use two spoons

Your first few balls will probably look like the one on the right.  This is because A) the chocolate is too hot and is melting the coconut ball and B) you just need to practice rolling the ball and dropping it onto the wax paper.  With a few more practice balls, they will start looking like the one on the left.

cool chocolate

Don’t worry too much about shape and form.  The beauty of a homemade gift is the uniqueness of every bite!  You can stop now or continue on to spruce the bonbons up a bit.

dump on wax paper

For that little something extra, I melt white chocolate chips and a few shavings of paraffin wax in the microwave.  The paraffin wax helps to smooth and thin out the chocolate, in addition to setting it up when it cools.

melt white chocolate chips and wax

Microwave the chips for 1 minute at 70% power and then stir.  Add increments of 10 seconds if needed.  If you nuke the chocolate too much it will go from velvety smooth to the crud on the left in an instant.

Spread out a couple bonbons on wax paper.  You can fill a small plastic bag with chocolate and make a small snip off the corner to squeeze out white chocolate.  You can also use your spoon to drizzle chocolate from 12 inches or so above the bonbons.  If you have a toddler in the house, chances are you will have a medicine syringe too.  I like sucking the chocolate up in the syringe and then precisely dispensing it on the bonbons.  If you use the syringe you can run hot water through it to get the chocolate out and then run it through the dishwasher in the utensil basket.

Have fun with your designs! Drizzle some lines, spin some spirals, or pipe on some decorations.  Mix them with your plain bonbons for a nice surprise.

Frugal Tip of the Day:  Making your own bonbons is a low cost way to sweeten up someone’s day.  It’s even more inexpensive if you use coupons or wait until after the holidays to stock up on supplies.  Our ingredients, if left unopened, last quite a long time in the pantry.

Frugal Food: Easy Chicken Parmigiana

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

We buy 6 or 7 packs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they go on sale for $1.99/lb.  After scouring the web for ideas, I got creative with one pack and came up with a super easy and quick chicken parmigiana.  What I like about my recipe is how flexible it is and how much less salt I used than most recipes.

Ingredients:

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from 2 – 4 lbs.
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs (I like Italian breadcrumbs)
1 cup of your favorite spaghetti or marinara sauce
6 – 8 oz of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup – 1 cup of oil for frying

1.  Trim excess fat from chicken breast, place between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, and pound to uniform thickness of about 1/2 inch.  Tip – Sprinkle water on both pieces of plastic wrap to make the chicken slide easier as it stretches out.  Use a rolling pin, cast iron skillet, heavy can, or even an old glass coke bottle to pound the chicken.  The chicken on the left has been pounded.

Pound Chicken

2. Liberally season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides.

salt and pepper the chicken

3. Dredge in flour and tap off excess.

4. Dip chicken in the beaten egg mixture to coat both sides and immediately press into the breadcrumbs.

5. Cover the chicken thoroughly in the breadcrumbs and set aside.

6. Heat up 1/4 cup of oil in frying pan over medium high heat per each batch of chicken that you will brown.  When oil is almost smoking, fry chicken breasts until golden brown – about 2 minutes per side.

7. Spread about 1/4 cup of sauce on each breast.  You can use more or less, depending on your tastes.

8. Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan evenly over the chicken breast and bake in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken is 160 degrees. 

9) When the chicken is done, turn the broiler on for a couple minutes to brown the cheese if you desire.  Watch the chicken carefully as the cheese browns quickly.

Serve with your favorite pasta and a nice side salad.  I used penne tossed with melted butter and parsley with a bag salad and fresh grape tomatoes.  From start to finish this takes me less than 45 minutes and that includes preparing the two sides as well.  And the best part – Oliver loves it!

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