Monday, January 31, 2011

Swiss & Pot Roast Slider Melts

2 C. pot roast ($.75)
4 T. minced yellow onion ($.05)
6 slices swiss cheese, cut in half diagonally ($.85)
6 egg hamburger buns, sliced in half ($1.92)
1/4 C. mayo ($.25)
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning ($.05)
1 tsp. moho de ajo ($.10)
2 T. margarine ($.05)
1/2 tsp. parsley ($.05)

1. Lightly shred the pot roast and toss with onion. Heat in a small pan over medium-low.

2. Melt margarine and add moho de ajo and parsley. Brush on buns and lightly grill until just golden.

3. Mix mayo with Italian seasoning in a small bowl.

4. Stack 1 cheese triangle, 1/3 C. shredded pot roast, 1 more triangle cheese. Brush top bun with seasoned mayo. Repeat with remaining ingredients to make 5 additional sandwiches.

Yields = 6 sliders
Cost: $4.07
Cost per slider: $.59

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Triple Cheese Steakhouse Burgers

2 T. Worchestshire sauce ($.10)
1/2 tsp. each cumin, onion salt, and garlic powder ($.10)
2 T. bread crumbs ($.05)
2 T. moho de ajo ($.15)
1 lb. 93% lean ground beef ($1.69)
6 slices munster cheese ($.25)
3 slices swiss cheese ($.40)
3 slices smoked gouda ($.50)
3 T. minced yellow onion ($.05)
1/2 C. sauteed mushrooms, optional ($.25)
3 egg sandwich buns ($.59)
1 T. margarine ($.05)

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine Worchestshire, seasonings, bread crumbs, moho de ajo, and ground beef. Mix well. Form into 3 large, slightly flattened patties.

Add patties to a large, nonstick pan over medium high heat. Cook 3-5 minutes per side, until meat is browned and burger reaches your desired doneness. Top with onion and mushrooms, then top each with one slice munster and one slice swiss.

Brush bun with margarine and toast. Place a slice of munster and a slice of Gouda on the bottom of each bun. Top with burger.

Yields = 3 servings
Cost: $4.19
Cost per serving: $1.40

Chicken Scampi - Copycat of Olive Garden's Recipe

1 tablespoon butter ($.10)
2 tablespoons flour ($.05)
3/4 cup milk; hot ($.05)
salt and pepper, to taste ($.05)

3 T. butter ($.20)
2 T. garlic, crushed ($.10)
2 tsps. Italian seasoning ($.10)
black pepper to taste ($.05)
1/2 C. white wine ($.55)
1 3/4 C. chicken broth ($.45)
2 T. lemon juice ($.10)

1/2 lb. angel hair pasta, cooked al dente and drained ($.35)
1 large bell pepper thinly sliced ($.20)
1/4 lb. mushrooms, thin sliced ($.25)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin ($.05)
1/4 C. moho de ajo ($.60)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves; pounded thin and sliced into thin strips ($1.15)
2 T. parsley ($.05)


For white sauce: Heat butter in sauce pan, add flour and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Heat stirring constantly. slowly add 3/4 cup hot milk (hot so it won't get lumpy). Set aside. (Make sure that the white sauce is hot when adding to the scampi sauce).

For scampi sauce: Heat butter over low heat and add garlic, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes on low heat. Add the wine, lemon juice, and chicken broth and stir until combined over medium-low heat. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the white sauce and cook until slightly thickened.

Chicken: In a large skillet, saute chicken and mushrooms in moho de ajo until nearly done. Add peppers and onions, saute until chicken is done. Add the sauce. Saute until everything is warmed. Toss pasta with sauce and garnish with parsley.

Yields = 4 servings
Cost: $4.55
Cost per serving: $1.14

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Classic Bean Dip

16 oz. can vegetarian refried beans ($.69)
2-3 T. water (free)
1/3 tsp. chili powder ($.05)
1/3 tsp. onion powder ($.05)
1/4 tsp. garlic salt ($.05)

Mix well beans, seasonings, and 1 T. water. Mix in additional T. of water - to your desired consistency.

Serve with corn or tortilla chips.

Yields = 6-8 servings
Cost: $.84
Cost per serving: $.14

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chicken & Shrimp Fajitas

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, julienned ($1.50)
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, deveined and peeled ($2.79)
2 tsp. vegetable oil ($.10)
1/2 lb. white button mushrooms, sliced thin ($1.39)
2 large red bell peppers, julienned ($.75)
1 large green bell pepper, julienned ($.55)
2 medium yellow onion, sliced thin ($.25)
1/2 C. Mexican Chile & Lime marinade (free after coupons)
1 tsp. cumin ($.10)
2 tsp. minced garlic ($.20)
cilantro (optional)

In medium bowl, marinate chicken, add cumin and garlic. Allow to marinate 1 hour.

In large skillet, add oil and mushrooms - cook on medium-high for 6-8 minutes. Add in chicken, garlic, and onion. Cook on medium high for 6-8 minutes until mushrooms are tender and chicken is no longer pink. Add in bell pepper strips and shrimp - cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until shrimp is opaque.

Serve with tortillas, shredded cheese, salsa, cilantro, sour cream, rice, and beans.
Yield = 3-4 servings
Cost: $7.63
Cost per serving: $2.55

Beer Battered Chicken Strips

1 egg ($.10)
2/3 C. beer ($.46)
1 C. flour ($.05)
1 tsp. baking soda ($.05)
1 tsp. salt ($.05)
1/2 tsp. black pepper ($.05)
1 tsp. garlic powder ($.05)
1 tsp. onion powder ($.05)
1/4 tsp. paprika ($.05)
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves ($1.79)
1 C. vegetable oil ($.05)

Beat the egg lightly with a whisk. Beat in the beer, then beat in all the dry ingredients, whisking until mixture is smooth. Cover and let stand for 25 minutes.

Cut chicken into thin strips.

Heat oil in 10" skillet over a medium-high heat until oil reaches desired temperature of 350 degrees.

Using tongs to hold the chicken strips, dip in batter and allow excess to drip off. Remove and carefully lower into the oil - one strip at a time. After one minute, turn strips over in oil. Continue to turn the strips occasionally until they are golden, cooking for a total of 4-6 minutes.

Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray. Pat dry.

Serve immediately with barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, or honey mustard.
Serves: 3-4 people
Cost: $2.75
Cost per serving: $.92

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil or Mojo de Ajo

3 C. olive oil ($2.25)
6 heads of garlic, peeled ($1.75)
1/4 C. lemon juice ($.20)
1 1/2 tsp. salt ($.05)

Lightly crush each clove of garlic, add to olive oil.

Roast at 350 for 45 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice, return to oven at 350 for an additional 15 minutes.

Using a fork, crush garlic and stir well. Store in an airtight container.

Cost: $4.25

Use on:
Toasted bread
In pasta sauce

Pasta with Garlic Marinara

1 lb. pasta ($.50)
3 T. butter ($.30)
1/8 C. garlic-infused olive oil ($.75)
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes ($.89)
3 T. tomato paste ($.20)
2 T. parmesan ($.10)
2 tsp. basil ($.10)

Cook pasta according to package directions - cook to al dente.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add olive oil and crushed tomatoes. Stir in tomato paste. Simmer over medium-low for 5-10 minutes.

Toss with pasta cooked and garnish with parmesan and basil.

Yields = 5-6 servings
Cost: $2.84
Cost per serving: $.57

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pear & Garlic Salsa

1 medium Anjou pear ($.45)
2 cloves garlic, crushed ($.10)
1/4 large red bell pepper ($.20)
3 T. lemon juice ($.10)
1/4 red onion ($.15)
salt ($.05)

Mince onion and bell pepper. Remove core of pear and chop fine. Toss together all ingredients - adding salt to taste.

Serve chilled.

Yields = 1 1/2 C.
Cost: $1.00

Monday, January 17, 2011

Herb Roasted Chicken

4-5 lb. whole chicken ($3.18)
1/2 C. lemon juice ($.10)
1/4 C. Italian salad dressing, fatfree (free after coupons)
1 T. salt ($.10)
1 tsp. sugar ($.05)
2 tsp. black pepper ($.10)
3 cloves garlic, crushed ($.15)
1 tsp. oregano ($.05)

Clean and pat dry the chicken. Whisk lemon juice with salad dressing, pour over chicken. Combine all remaining ingredients in a small bowl, rub directly onto chicken.

Bake in a greased baking dish, uncovered, at 325 for 1 hour 30 minutes. Chicken is done when internal temperature reaches 165 and skin is lightly golden.

Yields = 8 servings
Cost: $3.73
Cost per serving: .46

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Citrus Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary

I love the tangy bite that citrus gives. From sweet to savory, each member of the citrus family has a certain sweet-and-tartness that livens up a simple dish. From simmering dried cranberries in orange juice to pineapple-infused marinades to lemon or lime marinaded beef and chicken, citrus packs a potent punch in the kitchen.

3 oranges or tangerines ($1.00)
2 T. olive oil ($.15)
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper ($.05)
2 tsp. salt ($.05)
3 lb. pork roast ($2.95)
1 tsp. rosemary ($.10)
1/2 C. water (free)

Cut 1 orange or tangerine in half, squeeze juice into a bowl. Whisk in olive oil and salt and pepper. Rub roast with dried rosemary and place in a greased roasting pan. Pour juice mixture over meat and let set 2 hours. Peel and quarter remaining oranges or tangerines and place on top of roast.

Bake at 300 uncovered for 1 hour 25 minutes. Meat is done when internal temperature reaches 165 and juice run clear. If meat is browning too fast, cover when meat reaches desired brownness and continue baking.

Let meat rest 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Serve with your favorite roasted veggies.

Yields = 6 servings
Cost: $4.30
Cost per serving: $.72

Leftover Makeover Ideas:
1. Sweet Pork Tacos: Shred remaining meat and serve with tortillas, cilantro, lime wedges, and onion.

2. Tangy Pulled Pork Sammies: Shred and top with your favorite BBQ sauce (whisked with a little lemon juice for tang) - top with your favorite slaw and serve on a bun.

3. Flatbread Pork and Pineapple Pizza: Shred 1/2 C. pork and sprinkle on prepared pizza crust. Top with monterey jack & provolone cheese and some well drained pineapple chunks, thin-sliced red onions (if desired) and dust with a little cilantro or parsley and you've got a party on a plate!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Turkey and Havarti Panini with Baby Spinach

Skip the pricey panini press, grab a heavy duty grill pan (I've got the Bobby Flay one that weighs about 15 lbs.!) and let's put a spin on a weeknight grilled cheese. I love finding a way to sneak in a little extra veggie, so caramelized onions, lovely, peppery arugula, or sweet baby spinach tend to find their way into my sammies. So much variety, all with a few basic ingredients...and it doens't hurt that I have a bread store nearby and bought 2 loaves of Sara Lee Honey Wheat for only $1. That means sammies will be on the menu for quite a few lunches this week!

4 slices honey wheat bread ($.05)
4 thin slices havarti ($.20)
6 slices oven roasted deli sliced turkey ($.15)
8 leaves baby spinach, stems removed ($.15)
1 T. light mayo ($.05)
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning ($.05)
1 T. margarine ($.05)
1/2 tsp. parsley ($.05)

Melt margarine, add parsley. In a small bowl, combine mayo with Italian seasonings.
Brush one side of each slice of bread with margarine. Brush one side of 2 slices of bread with seaosned mayo.

Place mayo-topped bread buttered side down, top with 1 slice havarti, 3 slices turkey, 4 leaves of spinach, top with 1 slice of cheese and additional slice of bread, buttered side facing up.

Repeat with remaining ingredients to build another sammie.

Grill over medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side, flipping over when bread is golden and cheese is starting to melt.

Serve with salad.
Yields = 2 sammies
Cost: $.75
Cost per sammie: $.38

Monday, January 10, 2011

Saving $$: The Lazy Way

With the new year upon us, everyone is doing their best to make good on their new year's resolutions. For me, my resolutions are simple: eat a little healthier, eat a little less meat, and always, always, always - watch my spending. What makes this easier for me, a little planning. Only 10-15 minutes worth of planning per week keeps me focused, less stressed, and keeps my spending in check. How do I do it?

Meal planning.

Let's imagine it's 4:30 and you're just now thinking about what to make for tonight's dinner. We've all been there...unless you're independently wealthy and you can pay someone else to do your meal planning and prep for you. For the rest of us, that little bit of time is worth it's weight in gold, or our case, dollars and cents.

After reviewing the weekly ads that come Wednesday, I plan my meals based on a few things: produce on sale, my stockpile, my freezer, and my schedule. Knowing what I have on hand is as important, if not more so, than knowing what's on sale. No point in buying something if I already have it and bought it at a better price. I spend 15-20 minutes per week organizing my stockpile, rotating items so nothing gets expired, and making mental notes of what I'm low on. I'm a bit of a slave to produce deals - only so many things can get frozen for use later on (berries - I'm talking about you). Sometimes you just need some fresh bananas, a whole pineapple, or some killer salad.

Once I've eyed the ads and perused what I have on hand, I typically ask hubby what meal or two he'd like to have during the week. (Less back and forth later on about what we'll be eating.) I try not to duplicate one meal more than once per month. I find the better variety we eat, the less we are likely to want to go out for dinner or grab takeout. Not that we don't enjoy those treats, but I like to keep them as a treat.

I like to plan my meals one week at a time, because that's the approximate shelf life of the produce we tend to buy. There are some people that meal plan for 2 weeks to a month at a time, but for me, weekly is perfectly manageable. It allows enough flexibility to make small changes, without disrupting the entire system.

For this week, I've created 2 new recipes based around my meal plan, mostly to use up odds and end in my fridge. I like to track my new recipes to see which ones will keep popping up over and over in my repertoire. It's always interesting to see what becomes a standard mealtime favorite and what just falls by the wayside. I try to plan my meals according to my schedule, leaving off time-intensive meals for during the week and making bigger dinners on the weekends.

Tell me, how often do you get to the dinner hour and start wondering what's for dinner?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bacon, Red Pepper, and Provolone Omelet

5 slices bacon, chopped ($.25)
1/2 small red bell pepper, minced ($.15)
4 whole eggs ($.40)
2 egg whites ($.20)
1/3 C. shredded provolone cheese ($.15)
salt and pepper to taste ($.05)

Fry bacon pieces in a large nonstick skillet. Once bacon is tender, add pepper and cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until pepper is just fork tender. Scramble eggs with egg whites, season with salt and pepper. Add egg to pan, cook over medium high heat. Add cheese and flip half of egg over other half of egg mixture. Reduce heat to medium low, cook an additional 5 minutes, or until the middle is fully set.

Top with additional cheese, if desired.

Serve with juice, toaste, hashbrowns, fruit salad, or your favorite breakfast sides.

Yields = 2-3 servings
Cost: $1.20
Cost per serving: $.60

Garlic & Herb Butter

I love flavored butters, oils, spreads, and more! This looks so incredible, anyone would think you'd spent time slaving in the kitchen to make such a (simple) delicacy. All you need is 5 minutes, 4 ingredients, and the ability to take all the credit for this simple treat.

1/4 lb. butter (or margarine - I won't tell) ($.40)
1 tsp. basil ($.05)
1/4 tsp. oregano ($.05)
1 T. garlic powder ($.10)
1/4 tsp. salt ($.05)
1/2 tsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley, optional

Soften butter, then mix well all ingredients. Refrigerate.

Serve hot as a dipping sauce for breadsticks or serve chilled and sliced.

Yields = 12 servings
Cost: $.65
Cost per serving: $.05

1. Use on grilled cheese sammie for a little kick
2. Perfect on baked potatoes
3. Saute shrimp for instant shrimp scampi - just garnish with parsley
4. Toss with roasted veggies or pasta
5. Use in mashed potatoes
6. Serve with corn bread, baguettes, or your favorite artisan bread

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sweet & Tart Apple Salsa

A fun recipe to make when apples of all varieties are in season, this twist on a classic salsa is a huge hit with kids, while getting them to eat fruit and veggies. I came up with this recipe when fresh tomatoes were too expensive in the stores, the garden had long since been harvested, and apples were ridiculously cheap. You can try variations on this recipe using fruit that's in season.

1 small Granny smith apple, cored ($.14)
1 medium Gala apple, cored ($.11)
1 small onion, minced ($.05)
2 cloves garlic, minced ($.10)
1 bell pepper, any color, minced ($.20)
1/2 medium banana pepper or jalapeno, optional ($.20)
3 T. chopped cilantro ($.10)
2 T. lemon juice ($.10)
1-2 tsp. salt ($.05)

Leaving peel on, chop apples very fine. Toss apples with lemon juice and stir in all remaining ingredients except salt. Season with salt 1/2 tsp. at a time, until the flavor is to your liking.

Serve on: tacos, tortillas chips, tostadas, quesadillas, or your favorite dish.

Yields = 8 servings
Cost: $1.05
Cost per serving: $.13

Thursday, January 6, 2011

5 Easy Ways to Save $$$ on Food

If you've started the new year with a goal to save money - and I'm sure most of us have - here are a few quick tips to save dollars on your food spending. While we all have to eat, I don't think grocery spending should exceed $100 per month/per person. A family of 4 should spend $400, a couple should spend $200, etc., etc.

1. Be your own baker. It's as simple as baking your own cookies, cakes, pies, and sweet treats. With a dozen basic ingedients, half a dozen extracts and spices, and a little flair for the creative - you'll be churning out bakery-style goodies in no time at all.
Avoid: premade cookie dough, premade pie crusts, frozen cakes and pies, and most baked-goods found in the frozen food section.
Buy (on sale or with coupons): flour, sugar, brownie mixes, cake mixes, oats, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate, a few spices and extracts, and baking powder/baking soda. I included brownie and cake mixes because of the affordability factor - when brownies mixes are on sale, I get them for $.11 a box and cake mix for less than $.50 a box. Check on line (or browse my recipe collection) for some ideas on recipes using premade mixes.

2. Cut out the convenience. Skip the frozen food section of your grocery except for a few items: juice, veggies, and the occasional deal on frozen meat (meatballs, ground turkey, etc.) By forgoing some of the convenience, you'll be able to control what goes into the food your family eats, and you'll be doing your wallet a huge favor. This also goes for canned foods as well. Skip canned beans and cook your own. Ounce for ounce, you'll save more than 50% and you'll consume less sodium. Packaged mixes like seasoning packets, cookie mixes, pancake mix, and premade spice blends can easily be made from scratch. I buy those items only when I can get them for pennies or free! after coupons.

3. Beat the butcher and get deals on deli meat. Buy meat uncut and chop it yourself. I just bought boneless beef round steaks and spent 10 minutes chopping 4 lbs. of it into bef stew meat and beef strips. This will be a huge help when it's time to make stirfry and fajitas. Take a boneless roast (beef or pork), season well, and roast. Slice the meat thin for flavorful, hand-crafted deli meats at a fraction of the cost found in grocery stores. The best part for me: I roast 2-3 roasts at a time in the oven (saving $$ on utilities) and it's easy. Roasting meat is one of the easiest way to prepare and very non-labor intensive.

4. Cook once, eat twice. Brown twice the amount of ground beef/pork/turkey/chicken and use the meat in 2 different recipes during your week. This isn't limited to meat, though. Boil up a double batch of pasta and turn a leftover pasta night into a wow night by topping pasta with sauce and cheese and bake. Look at the ingredients that pop up in your recipes week after week, there are always ways to precook basic ingredients so you'll have them ready for later in the week.

5. Eat in. Let eating out be the treat it used to be. Brown bag your lunch, schedule a date night or a night out with friends and let that be your splurge. By eating in, I mean no takeout, no deli-counter stops, and only allow yourself one exception per month. That will let you feel like it's a treat to have takeout, while keeping your eye on your budget.

Let's see how eat of these tips will affect your financial bottomline.

White Chocolate Spice Biscotti

1 pkg. white cake mix ($.45)
2 eggs, minus one yolk ($.15)
1/2 C. unsweetened applesauce ($.25)
1 3/4 C. flour ($.15)
2 tsp. cinnamon ($.10)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
1/8 tsp. ginger ($.05)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract ($.10)
1/2 tsp. brandy extract ($.10)
3/4 C. white chocolate chips ($.35)

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix well all ingredients except white chocolate chips. Stir in chips. Divide dough in half and form each half into a 9x3" log, flattened on top. Dust with cinnamon-sugar, if desired.

Place on greased cookie sheet, bake 20-25 minutes or til tops of logs are golden brown and firm.

Cool 5 minutes, remove from cookie sheet, and cool 10 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut cookies into 1/2" to 3/4" slices.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or til cookies are just crisp. Top with drizzle.

1/4 C. powdered sugar
1 T. milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix well all ingredients, mixture should be thin.

Yields = 3 dozen
Cost: $1.75
Cost per biscotti: $.05

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

EggNog French Toast

I was looking for ideas on how to use up some leftover eggnog from the holidays - and since breakfast for dinner is always such a big hit in my house, I thought....EggNog French Toast. Since I have an extra loaf of break on hand - this is going to become tonight's dinner!

1/3 C. eggnog ($.15)
2 eggs ($.20)
1 T. brown sugar ($.05)
1/4 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
1/8 tsp. vanilla ($.05)
8-10 slices bread ($.15)

Whisk together eggnog, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla. Dip bread into egg mixture on both sides, then fry on a wel-greased, nonstick skillet or griddle pan over medium high heat, turning over after 1-2 minutes. Fry evenly on both sides until
bread is golden brown.

Serve with cut-up fruit, sausages, and juice.
Yield = 3 servings
Cost: $.65
Cost per serving: $.22

Cranberry Cream Cheese Spread

Have any leftover cranberries from all the holiday festivities or are you like me and love cranberries so much that you buy a few extra bags when they're on sale to use throughout the year? I grabbed some Sara Lee bagels at the bread store for $.75, but all they had left were the plain ones, so I needed to come up with something to give them a little extra zip.

Don't get me wrong - plain bagels make a great base for a breakfast sammie, but some fruity cream that's a heavenly way to start your morning. This quick recipe is also a huge hit for a weekend brunch or a weeknight breakfast-style dinner.

All this takes is 5 ingredients, lesss than 5 minutes, a bowl and fork, and a willingness not to eat a boring bagel (or piece of toast, or...well, you get the idea) ever again.

1/4 C. cranberries, rinsed ($.25)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened ($.35)
1 T. honey ($.15)
2 tsp. brown sugar ($.05)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg ($.05)

Give cranberries a rough chop.
Add all ingredients to a bowl, mix well to incorporate.
Chill and serve with your favorite bagel, toast, scone, muffin, bread, etc.

Yields: 4-6 servings (depends on how much you eat straight out of the bowl)
Cost: $.85
Cost per serving: $.22

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Beef Stirfry with Ginger

Looking for a stirfry recipe with pantry staples that you can have on the table before you could order takeout? This simple, classic recipe has very basic ingredients and can be on your table in under 30 minutes!

1.5 lbs. cubed beef stew meat ($2.50)
3/4 C. soy sauce ($.10)
1 tsp. ground ginger ($.10)
1 tsp. minced garlic ($.10)
1/8 C. lemon juice ($.10)
2 T. canola oil ($.10)
2 medium dry yellow onions, chopped ($.10)
1 red bell pepper (or green, if you prefer), julienned ($.15)
salt and pepper ($.10)

In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and lemon juice. Season meat with salt and pepper, add to the marinade and let marinade 2 hours to overnight.

Heat canola oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the onions to the pan and cook until they have carmelized. Add beef and remaining onions, cooking over medium-high heat until meat is browned, then reducing heat to medium and cooking until beef reaches desired doneness. Then add bell pepper strips and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until pepper strips are just tender.

Serve over rice or noodles.

Yields = 4 servings
Cost: $3.35
Cost per serving: $.84

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 sticks margarine ($.25)
1 heaping C. brown sugar ($.20)
1/2 C. granulated sugar ($.10)
2 eggs ($.15)
1 tsp. rum extract ($.15)
1 tsp. vanilla ($.05)
1 3/4 C. flour ($.05)
1 tsp. baking soda ($.05)
1/2 tsp. each Chinese cinnamon and Mexican cinnamon ($.15)
1/8 tsp. Korinjte cinnamon ($.10)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg ($.05)
3 1/2 C. oats ($.40)
1 C. raisins ($.40)

Heat oven to 350. In large mixing bow, beat margarine and sugars til creamy. Add eggs and extracts - mix til well blended. In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, spices. Slowly add dry ingredients to the large mixing bowl - stirring til well blended. Stir in oats by cupful, then fold in raisins.

Drop cookies by spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 9-10 minutes for soft cookie, 11-12 minutes for a crunchy cookie.

Yield = 36 cookies
Cost: $2.10
Cost per cookie: $.06

Simply Cinnamon - A love affair with a common spice

I've long been a fan of cinnamon, from cinnamon rolls to snickerdoodles, from a lovely spice cake to a hearty, robust apple pie. Even from my early "picky-eater" years, cinnamon was a commonly known and completely wonderful spice, but it wasn't until the last few years that I've truly been able to appreciate this beautiful spice.

This crazy love affair started when I stumbled upon a spice shop in Milwaukee during one my visits there with my husband. I didn't realize that there were different varieties of cinnamon - each with a distinct scent and flavor. It was in that crowded little shop on a sweltering August day that I truly learned my cinnamons.

First, I smelled the China (Cassia) cinnamon and loved its mellow, balanced flavor. Not very sweet, but a little tangy, I could tell from first sniff that this was going to find it's way home with me. Next, I smelled Mexican cinnamon - which is the predominant one found on grocery store shelves in this country. This was the scent of Thanksgiving and apple pie making - very sweet, very delicate - this is the cinnamon I grew up knowing and loving.

Next, I smelled the Korinjte (Indonesian) cinnamon and that just blew me away! A very bold, strong scent - it almost has a hint of peppery-ness to it. Much more dominant than any cinnamon I had ever encountered, this has become my "secret" ingredient in more than a few recipes. Finally, I moved on to the last cinnamon in the line-up, Saigon cinnamon. Similar to the Chinese (Cassia) cinnamon, this was mellow, but with a hint more sweetness. Naturally, I bought a small jar of each and when I came home, I started to experiment.

I've blended a special cinnamon blend just for apple pie making. My mom and I still make all our apple pie filling from scratch and look for deals on apples throughout the fall - last year I scored a 40 lb. box of bruised apples for only $2! With a blend of dark and light brown sugars, flour, and cinnamon - we painstakingly transformed that box of discarded apples into 17 qts. of apple pie filling. The most time consuming part of that job - peeling the apples. But the reward for all that hard work - the best apple pies, cobblers, and crisps I've ever had.

Next, I moved on to perhaps my most well-known cookie recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I added rum extract to the recipe years ago (to amazing success), but when I added a pinch of Korinjte cinnamon to the recipe - I cemented my cookie-baking0queen status with friends, family, and co-workers alike. I've shared this recipe dozens of times - it's probably my favorite cookie recipe (well, if you add dried cranberries, too).

My cinnamon journey has meandered far and wide - tossing in a pinch of cinnamon to a stirfry here to adding cinnamon to a basic biscotti dough and stirring in a handful of chopped dried cranberries there. My favorite pairing quickly became cinnamon and chocolate. I couldn't help myself, that's all I can say in my own defense. And I'm glad my substantial lack of willpower worked for me.

Initially, even I was skeptical that cinnamon would pair well with chocolate - but it enhances the flavor of chocolate. It's brilliantly simple: a 1/8 tsp. of a mild cinnamon (Mexican or Chinese do nicely) in a batch of chocolate-based cookie dough makes a world of difference. You don't taste the cinnamon really, you taste a bright and smooth chocolate flavor. For a simple twist, add 1 tsp. cinnamon to a cookie dough where you're stirring in white chocolate chips, the cinnamon and perhaps a pinch of two of ginger (or even nutmeg) definitely give you the wow factor. Then, I had a idea...

I've scored so much free hot cocoa, why not play up the flavor in Swiss Miss with a pinch of cinnamon? In my delicious experimentations, I've discovered I like the cinnamon on top of the marshmallows - it smells heavenly! The cinnamon stirred into the hot cocoa comes across very mildly, and I'm addicted to strong, bold flavors. Maybe when my free supply of hot cocoa finally runs out, I'll craft my own blend of hot cocoa mix...using cinnamon, of course. But, until then, I'll be enjoying my hot cocoa topped with marshmallows and cinnamon, and remembering that hot August day when my nose led me to the sweet scents of cinnamon and a new appreciation and love of the classic seasonings I remember from my childhood.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Italian Sausage Seasoning

I love Italian sausage, but I rarely see sales for it - so I've done the next best thing - I've created a way to make my own sausage using pre-ground meat (or sometimes, grinding my own meat) and adding a perfectly balanced blend of spices.

3 T. dry minced garlic ($.20)
1 T. dry minced onion ($.10)
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (increase to 1 tsp. for hot Italian sausage) ($.05)
2 tsp. fennel seed ($.10)
4 T. basil ($.25)
1 T. oregano ($.10)
1/4 tsp. cumin ($.05)
1 tsp. chile powder ($.05)
1 tsp. salt ($.05)

Mix well all seasonings. Store in an airtight jar for up to 6 months.

Yields = 1 batch of seasoning
Cost: $.95
Cost per tablespoon: $.09

Directions: Add 1 T. seasoning to every half pound of ground poultry or pork or add 1 T. per pound of ground beef.

To make a great Italian marinade, simply add 2 T. of seasoning to 3 T. olive oil, 1 T. lemon juice, and 1/8 C. water and blend well.

Rotini with Italian Turkey Sausage Ragu

1 lb. rotini pasta, cooked according to package directions ($.69)
1 lb. ground turkey ($1.39)
2 T. Italian sausage seasoning ($.20)
1 medium onion, chopped fine ($.10)
1 red or orange bell pepper, chopped fine ($.25)
1 can crushed tomatoes with basil ($.99)
2 tsp. minced garlic ($.10)
1 T. basil ($.10)
1 tsp. oregano ($.05)
2 tsp. parsley (for garnish) ($.10)

In a large, nonstick skillet, brown ground turkey with Italian sausage seasoning. Add minced onion and garlic and cook until onion is fork tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes and bell pepper, add all remaining seasonings except parsley.

Bring sauce to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, simmer 8-10 minutes. Add cooked pasta to sauce, toss to coat well. Top with parsley.

Serve with parmesan, salad, and garlic bread.

Yields = 5-6 servings
Cost: $3.97
Cost per serving: $.80

Pineapple Rum Bars with Coconut Frosting

1 pkg. yellow cake mix ($.35 after coupons)
2 eggs, minus 1 yolk ($.15)
1/4 C. unsweetened applesauce ($.20)
1/4 C. pineapple juice ($.15)
1/3 C. brown sugar ($.10)
1/2 tsp. ginger ($.10)
1 tsp. rum extract ($.10)
1/2 C. golden raisins, roughly chopped ($.25)

1 container vanilla frosting ($.25 after coupons)
1 tsp. coconut extract ($.10)
1/2 C. sweetened coconut flake, if desired ($.20)

Preheat oven to 375.
Grease a 13x9" baking dish.

Mix well cake mix, eggs, brown sugar, applesauce, juice, ginger, and rum extract until well combined. Fold in raisins. Spread evenly into bottom on prepared baking dish - mixture will be very thick.

Bake for 24-27 minutes.
Cool completely. Combine vanilla frosting with coconut extract. Frost bars and top with shredded coconut, if desired. Cut and serve.

Yield: 24 bars
Cost: $1.95
Cost per bar: $.08

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Apple Raspberry Crisp

8 apples (mix of varieties works best), peeled and cored ($.80)
2/3 C. flour ($.05)
1 C. brown sugar ($.20)
1/4 C. granulated sugar ($.10)
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon ($.10)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg ($.10)
1/2 pint raspberries ($.75)

3/4 C. flour ($.10)
1/2 C. oats ($.10)
3/4 C. brown sugar ($.20)
1 T. cinnamon ($.20)
1 tsp. nutmeg ($.10)
6 T. margarine, cold ($.10)

Grease a 9" round or an 8x8" baking dish. Heat oven to 350.

Mix well apples, flour, sugars, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp. nutmeg. Pour half the mixture into prepared pan, top with raspberries, then add remaining apple mixture to pan.

Topping: combine all ingredients until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Sprinkle topping over filling.

Bake at 350 until topping is golden and filling is bubbly - approximately 35-40 minutes.

Serve hot - serves well with ice cream, whipped cream, or without any garnish.

Yields = 8-10 servings
Cost: $2.85
Cost per serving: $.26

** 2-3 cans apple pie filling can be used in place of the apple mixture **

Easy Cheesy Refried Bean Dip

16 oz. refried beans ($.65)
1/8 C. salsa ($.15)
1/4 tsp. chili powder ($.05)
1/8 C. shredded pepperjack or quesadilla cheese ($.25)

Mix well all ingredients and heat through (on low heat on the stove for 5-8 minutes or microwave in 60 second intervals until cheese is melted and all ingredients are fully incorporated).

Serve room temperature or hot.

Yields = 8 servings
Cost: $1.10
Cost per serving: $.14

Pineapple Pepper Chicken

1/2 C. lemon juice ($.10)
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper ($.05)
1 tsp. lemon pepper ($.05)
1 tsp. salt ($.05)
2 T. molasses (or honey) ($.20)
2-3 T. soy sauce ($.10)
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), cubed ($2.48)
2 T. canola oil ($.10)
13-15 oz. can pineapple chunks (in juice) ($.69)
2 red bell peppers or 3 ancient sweet peppers, julienned ($.49)
1 small yellow onion, chopped small ($.05)
1 tsp. minced garlic ($.10)

Whisk together lemon juice, cayenne, lemon pepper, salt, molasses, and soy sauce. Marinade chicken in mixture for 2 hours.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Remove chicken from marinade (do not discard marinade) and add chicken, onion, and garlic and fry over medium high heat until chicken is golden. Add pineapple in juice, pepper strips, and heat through.

Serve over rice.

Yields = 4-5 servings
Cost: $4.46
Cost per serving: $1.12