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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Cranberry Applesauce Mini Muffins/Cakes

In this time of holiday gatherings, office potlucks, and a desire to share home-baked gifts, finding recipes that are fast, relatively inexpensive, and even just a little healthy (or at least less unhealthy) can be a challenge.

Enter mini-muffins.

These bite-sized morsels are especially good for times when we want to try all the foods on offer at the buffet and can easily over-indulge as a result. Using unsweetened applesauce and reducing the amount of fat in the original recipe ups the nutrition, as does the inclusion of lots of cranberries and walnuts. The added step of dipping each one in melted butter and sugar and cinnamon does add some calories but lifts these little bites into the dessert category.

They also stretch the budget at a time when spending on gifts and trappings of the season take priority. I found cranberries marked down the week after Thanksgiving--a common occurrence most years--so that helped reduce the overall cost of the recipe. The original recipe was for a single loaf of a basic cranberry bread that would have yielded no more than 16 or so slices. Making mini-muffins results in almost 5 dozen of these little nuggets, yet another way to stretch the budget. 

Best of all, these are easy to make yet make a lovely addition to any tray of mixed cookies and candies. The blend of tart fruit and sugary topping is a good counter point to the many super sweet choices that can become overwhelming.

A processor is the best tool for chopping the cranberries, though a blender could also work. After they are chopped, the batter comes together very quickly. Even the final step of dipping each little muffin in the butter and sugar and cinnamon is a pretty easy task. Best of all: you should have some of both the butter and sugar and cinnamon left after dipping--just right for making some cinnamon toast for breakfast tomorrow morning!

Applesauce Cranberry Muffins

3/4 c sugar
1/3 c canola oil
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
 2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t  cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
2 c fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped


1/2 c butter, melted
1 c sugar
2 to 3 t cinnamon, to taste

1.  Put the cranberries in a blender or food processor and process until well chopped. Set aside.

2.  Combine the sugar, oil, egg, vanilla, and applesauce and beat well.

3.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stir into the applesauce mixture. Stir just until completely blended.

4.  Fold in the cranberries and walnuts.

5.  Prepare mini-muffin pans by oiling well or spraying with a product like Pam. (Even non-stick pans will benefit from this step.)

6.  Spoon the batter into the pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 13 to 15 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans about 5 minutes before turning on to a cooling rack.

7.  While the muffins are baking, prepare the topping. Place the melted butter in one bowl and combine the sugar and cinnamon in another. 

8.  Place each mini-cake top down into the butter and then into the sugar cinnamon mix.  


 This recipe makes about 5 dozen mini-muffins/mini-cakes.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Upside Down Apple Pumpkin Cake

Over the years, I watched the Pillsbury Bake-off reward bigger and bigger prizes, often for what seemed like easier and easier dishes to make.

It would be fun, I thought, to have a recipe that would just get me to the final bake-off, a room full of cooks and mocked up kitchens, chaotic and fragrant and, well, just plain fun.

As the contest's emphasis on mixes grew, I decided to try a recipe that would be a "can't fail" entry. From the first time I baked my "million dollar cake" recipe, it was a hit with everyone who tasted it. I even got serious enough about this that I laughingly said I wouldn't share the recipe until I was sure it was/wasn't going to make it.

The testing was done, the recipe had been tried over and over, and I was ready for that year's bake-off. Not having seen any paper entry forms as in years past, I checked the Pillsbury site and discovered they were now running the contest only every two years, so I would have to wait. I continued to make the cake for various gatherings and meals and continued to hear compliments and, yes, of course you need to submit this!

So I waited. Finally, it was time to get my entry in. Imagine, then,  my chagrin when I discovered that Pillsbury cake mixes were no longer eligible products for the contest!


A little research and here is what I learned (as summarized on everyone's favorite research site, Wikepedia):
"Pillsbury is a brand name used by Minneapolis-based General Mills and Orrville, Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Company. Historically, the Pillsbury Company, also based in Minneapolis, was a rival company to General Mills and was one of the world's largest producers of grain and other foodstuffs until it was bought out by General Mills in 2001. Antitrust law required General Mills to sell off some of the products. General Mills kept the rights to refrigerated and frozen Pillsbury products, while dry baking products and frosting are now sold by Smucker under license."
So, Pillsbury cake mixes are not really "Pillsbury" products at all. Or rather, the "Pillsbury bake-off" is really the General Mills (ie, Betty Crocker!) bake-off. Really!?!

Whatever the corporate decisions, what this meant was that my wonderful million dollar cake would never make the grade as an entrant in this high power contest. 

I wasn't exactly crushed, but it did take the fun out of making the cake for awhile. Then, when I was stirring it up for an event this week, I realized that I had not even included the recipe here on my blog. What a strange omission, since the cake really does fit into the frugal, fast, and fun criteria:
  • Frugal? This is the season to get the best buys on apples and canned pumpkin (or for making your own pumpkin puree from the last of the Halloween pumpkin decorations). 
  • Fast? If you don't spend too much time agonizing over the arrangement of the apple slices, the cake goes together pretty quickly, and there is no need for making frosting. 
  • Fun? It really is fun to make this relatively easy dessert that turns out so beautifully. In fact, this could be a great cake to make with children--and they may have a lot more patience in getting the apples arranged just so. 
So here it is, just in time for the last of the "harvest" kinds of desserts before we fully move into Christmas cookies and breads, is the recipe. A couple of hints:
  • Though you start out with a cake mix made for just a 9 X 13 pan, you will want to use the larger pan size(s) to emphasize the apple part of the cake. Using round pans gives an especially elegant way to arrange the apples.
  • I prefer to use glass pans, just because I can see, in step 6, when the apples have completely dropped off the pan and onto the tray.

Million Dollar Upside Down Cake

1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar
1 1/2 t cinnamon
approximately 1/2 to 1 c broken walnuts
4 to 5 medium apples, cored and sliced (about 12 slices from each apple)

1 yellow or white cake mix
2 eggs
2 c pumpkin puree (15 oz can)
1/3 c water
2 t cinnamon
1/2 to 1 t ginger, depending on how much you like ginger
1/2 t nutmeg

1.  Melt butter and stir in the brown sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Spread the mixture evenly in the bottom of a 12 X 15 cake pan (or two 7 X 11 pans or two 9" round cake pans).

2.  Arrange the apple slices in rows (or in a circular pattern for the round cake pans) over the butter/sugar mixture so they cover the pan with as few spaces as possible. Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the top and set aside.

3.  Combine the cake mix and all remaining ingredients together, stirring with a mixer just to combine. Then beat for the length of time noted in the cake mix package directions. The batter will be quite thick.

4.  Drop spoonfuls of the batter evenly over the apples. Then use a spatula or knife to spread the batter evenly.
It is important to do this gently, to avoid moving the apples around and undoing all that careful work you put into arranging them so beautifully!

5.  Bake at 350 degrees (325 for a glass pan) for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Have a tray or serving plate ready.

Place this over the top of the pan and then quickly invert the pan and tray. The cake should easily drop on to the tray; leave the pan on top for a few minutes, perhaps even shaking slightly if a few of the apples continue to cling to the pan.

Hint:  As soon as the cake has dropped on to the tray and you remove the pan from on top, use a spatula to scrape off any of the caramel-y layer from the pan and spread it over the cake--this is way too good to leave in the pan!

 Serve the cake warm or cold.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Golden Clam Chowder

I love clam chowder, the white and creamy New England style, so the beginning of winter weather this weekend was a great time to make up a batch.

Now it happens that I also have lots of butternut squash and am always looking for ways to add this sweet, high vitamin and fiber ingredient to old standard recipes. Why not make that creamy chowder just a little richer, a little more colorful, and even a bit healthier?

Voila. Golden clam chowder.

I had found some bargains on seafood stock and canned clams so had the makings of a reasonably priced chowder. Add in the specials on evaporated milk, celery, potatoes, and onions in preparation for Thanksgiving feasts, and this became a pretty frugal and nutritious main dish.

With the over-eating many of us may be anticipating on Thanksgiving, an evening meal of chowder, applesauce, and crackers (oyster crackers, of course!) could be a good choice. Note the variations if you have pescatarians (vegetarian plus seafood diets) in the house or if you don't regularly have seafood stock on hand.

Golden Clam Chowder

  • 3 slices lean bacon, diced
  • 1 T canola oil  
  • 1 large onion, chopped--about 1 1/2 to 2 cups, depending on your taste
  • 3 large ribs of celery, sliced
  • 10 to 12 oz butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes
  • 1 1/4 lb diced potatoes--do not peel
  • 1 quart seafood stock
  • water
  • 1/3 c flour
  • 1 12 oz can fat free or regular evaporated milk
  • 12 oz canned clams, including liquid
  • salt and pepper to taste--start with about 1 t salt and 1/2 t freshly ground black or white pepper

1. Place the bacon in a large pot along with the oil. Add the onion, celery and squash and saute over low heat until the onions are golden and the squash is just starting to soften.

2.  Stir in the potatoes and about a cup or so of water along with half the stock. Cover and allow to simmer for at least 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes and squash are quite soft.

3.  Blend the flour and 1/2 c water (or milk) until smooth. Gradually stir into the chowder and continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken.

4.  OPTIONAL STEP: If you prefer a very smooth, creamy chowder, put about half of the mixture in a food processor and blend until smooth. You may also use an old-fashioned potato masher. Return the processed mixture to the pot.

5.  Add the remaining stock, clams, and clam liquid and simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

6.  Reduce the heat and stir in the evaporated milk, along with water as needed to reach the desired thickness. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

This is very good reheated. Note that, as with many creamy soups of this type, a thin film or "skin" may form on the surface. You can usually just beat this in without any problem. The quicker you cover and refrigerate any leftover soup, the less likely this is to occur.


Omit the bacon and use 3 to 4 tablespoons of canola oil.

If you don't have access to seafood stock, you can substitute vegetable or chicken stock (purchased or homemade) and use an additional 6 to 12 ounces of clams.

Add about 1/3 to 2/3 cup dry milk powder to the water you add in step 4 and mix well before stirring into the chowder.

12 to 16 oz of frozen corn may be added with the evaporated milk. If you really want to be non-traditional, you could also stir in 8 to 10 oz frozen chopped spinach or kale at this point as well.

For a gluten free chowder, omit the flour and increase the amount of potato by another 4 to 8 ounces, mashing the potatoes as in step 4, to achieve a chowder-y thickness.

If you really, really, really don't want to see those pieces of potato peeling in the chowder, you can peel the potatoes...but before you pick up that peeler, think of all the extra work and reduced nutrition!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spinach Artichoke Dip--Frugal?

Over the years there have been recipes I have not even tried because they contained ingredients that didn't fit my tight budget. That wonderful spinach artichoke dip, as delicious as it can be, was full of  too expensive things like artichokes, sour cream, and "real" Parmesan cheese, so I just enjoyed it when it was part of a potluck.

Recently, I was able to get some artichoke hearts marinated in oil on a really good sale, so I decided it was time to see if I could find a way to make a "frugal" dip from them. The following recipe cut costs and, as a nice side effect, resulted in a healthier dish,  lower in calories and fat and higher in protein. Some of the changes:
  • No mayonnaise or sour cream; instead I used plain, low fat yogurt and low fat cream cheese (while some recipes include Greek yogurt, I used "regular" yogurt, simply pouring off the whey that separates out).
  • Parmesan from a jar--it was a store-brand and about a quarter (or less) of the cost of the deli counter Parmesan and worked out just as well.
  • Reduced somewhat the proportion of artichoke hearts from most of the recipes I looked at.
  • The chiles had been purchased on sale; if you can't get these at a "reasonable" price, you could substitute hot sauce OR finely chopped fresh jalapenos (usually the least expensive of fresh peppers available here).

This is great served with homemade pita or flat bread wedges.

Want to make your own pita bread? Check this out:

And then, here's a great recipe for an herbed flat bread that works well for making your own "pita chips":

Spinach Artichoke Yogurt Dip

8 oz Neufchatel (low fat) cream cheese
2 c lowfat, plain yogurt
1 T oil from the artichokes (optional)
1 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1 c artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (about 9 oz)
1/4 c chopped green chiles--about half a small can
12 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/4 c finely chopped onion
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

1.  Combine the cream cheese, yogurt, oil (if used), and Parmesan cheese in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and beginning to bubble around the edges.

2.  Press the spinach through a strainer (or just squeeze it out with your hands) to make it as dry as possible.

3.  Stir the artichokes, chiles, onion, garlic, and drained spinach into the bubbling cheese mixture. Continue to cook until heated through.

You can serve the dip at this point, though it will be relatively liquid. My preference is to continue on to step 4 for richer flavor overall. Sometimes, though, you just won't be able to wait any longer before trying it out.

4.  (The preferred method) Pour the dip into an oiled casserole and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 25 minutes, until bubbly and just starting to brown.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bean Flat Bread

Our local Aldi started carrying dried kidney beans, at a very attractive price, so I bought a few pounds and then cooked up two pounds of them for a weekend of chili making--two large crowd events with three batches of chili would call for a lot of beans.

Not, however, quite as many as I had thought. Do you know how many cups (quarts!) of cooked beans you get from two pounds of dry beans?

A lot.

So, even after all that chili, there were still beans left. I was definitely done with chili as an option. I made one batch of the Depression era salad I occasionally enjoy nostalgically, but there were still a couple of cups of cooked beans in the refrigerator.

Yes, I could have frozen them, but I was looking for something new and different to try. Dessert? Bread? I started some internet searches and found lots of bean recipes, but the distinctive color and generally firmer texture of kidney beans didn't include them in most of these unique uses. I did, however, find some breads made with cooked beans that were intriguing.

Thinking that the kidney beans would leave telltale dark flecks in whatever bread I would make, I started to think of ways to disguise this, and herbs were an easy solution. Then, looking forward to an event when I would be making some kind of dip and dippers, I considered making this into a flat bread that could be made into something like pita chips.

The result? A wonderful new recipe that provides a great sandwich bread (part of the recipe was shaped into a typical loaf) as well as flat breads that can be used whole or toasted into chips for dipping, the original plan.

And one more side benefit, besides using up those extra beans:  this is a vegan bread that has boosted protein from the beans.

 Kidney Bean Flat Bread
2 c cooked, drained kidney beans, prepared without salt (see NOTE if canned beans are used)
2 c water and drained bean liquid
1 t garlic powder
1 t Italian seasoning
1 t black pepper
1 pkg dry yeast (2 1/2 t)
2 1/2 t salt
1/4 c sugar (or less--see NOTE for canned beans)
3 T olive oil)
approximately 4 1/2 to 5 1/2c bread flour

1.  Drain the bean liquid into a 2 cup measure and fill the measure to the top with water. Heat this mixture in the microwave until very warm.

2.  Put the kidney beans and one cup of the water/bean liquid in a processor, using the metal blade. Blend until the beans are very smooth.

3. Add the oil, herbs, salt, sugar, and yeast along with the rest of the water and about 2 cups of flour. Process until smooth.

4.  Continue adding flour, one half cup at a time, processing each time until blended. If you have a large (about 14 cup) processor, you can probably add all the flour, processing until the dough makes a smooth dough. However, with a more standard size processor (mine is an 11 cup processor), you will need to stop after about 3 cups or so have been added. DON'T overtax your processor's motor!

5.  Turn the dough into a floured bowl, adding more flour as necessary to develop a "kneadable" dough. If you were not able to finish the kneading in the processor, knead the dough now, until it is pliant and slightly resistant to pressure.

6.  Oil the top of the dough ball lightly and allow to rise until doubled.

7.  Shape the dough into flat rounds about 1/4 to 1/3" thick. Place on an oiled sheet and allow to double in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.

8.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned.

9.  Remove from oven and brush with olive oil or butter for a glossy surface.


You can substitute a 15 1/2 oz can of kidney beans. Be aware that almost all canned kidney beans are prepared with both sugar and salt--even the organic varieties! If you are using a can of these beans, reduce the sugar to 3 tablespoons and the salt to 2 teaspoons.


Instead of shaping the dough into flat rounds, shape it into 2 to 3 loaves. Place the loaves on pans that have been oiled and sprinkled with corn meal (I use masa harina). Cut slits in the tops of the loaves and allow to raise until double. Bake at 350 degrees. 

Other beans can probably be substituted for the kidney beans, but I have only tested this with kidney and black beans. For the latter, do NOT use the liquid, as it will give the dough a not so attractive gray color overall.

You may use your own favorite herbs in place of or in addition to the Italian seasoning.

Flat Bread Chips for Dipping

1.  Cut the flat bread in half horizontally, as you might for a sandwich. Then cut each into triangles.

2.  Spread the triangle chips across a tray that has been lightly oiled. Spray the chips with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt--coarse salt is good, but seasoning salt, garlic salt, etc., may also be used.

3.  Bake the chips at 280 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn and continue baking another 12 to 15 minutes until they begin to turn golden and are crisp. Allow to cool before serving. 

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

Several of us were asked to bring a Chicken Enchilada Casserole for a large gathering recently, so I volunteered to make a vegetarian version. The organizers wanted all the casseroles to have the same appearance so they had provided a recipe to follow and asked that I make my vegetarian contribution to look as much as possible as the original. I have included that recipe at the end of this post, just for comparison purposes. As you will see, the revisions I have made are quite a bit lower in fat and higher in vitamins and fiber, a nice side benefit.

One problem:  When I have made vegetarian enchiladas in the past, they have always had the tomatoe-y sauce that is what most of us think of when we imagine enchiladas.

To produce a flavorful substitute, not only without tomatoes but also without using cream soup was going to be a challenge, that's for sure. But I was up to it and worked out the following recipe that is even tastier than the original and, not incidentally, a whole lot lower in calories and fat.

Creamy Vegetarian Enchiladas

olive oil
11 to 12 oz diced butternut squash, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups
1/2 c (1/2 medium) onion, diced
4 oz can mushroom slices or pieces--do not drain
1/4 c flour
1 c plain low fat or nonfat yogurt
2 T McKay's seasoning or other vegetable bouillon base
1 t garlic powder
1 t cumin
1/2 c low fat sour cream
10 oz frozen chopped kale or spinach, thawed but not drained
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans--drain but reserve liquid
4 oz  diced green chiles, including liquid
1/4 to 1/2 c chopped cilantro, to taste (use stems as well as leaves)
about 1/2 to 1 t salt, to taste
6 to 8 flour tortillas
14 to 16 oz Mexican mix grated cheese (or all cheddar or cheddar/jack mix)

1.  Put just enough olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan to cover the bottom with a very thin layer.
Add the squash and onions and saute over medium to high heat until the squash is soft and the onions are golden.

2.  Stir the flour into the liquid from the mushrooms, adding a bit more water or milk to make this a thin paste. Gradually add this mixture with the mushrooms and yogurt and stir just until the mixture is thickened. Add the seasonings and sour cream and stir until smooth and beginning to thicken.

3.  Add the kale or spinach, garbanzo beans, and cilantro. Taste and add salt as needed.  

 4.  Lightly oil a 9 X 12 pan and spread with a single layer of tortillas. Tear the tortillas as needed to cover the entire bottom. Spoon about one third of the garbanzo bean mixture evenly across the tortillas and then sprinkle with about a quarter to a third of the cheese.

5.  Repeat layering tortillas, bean mixture, and cheese two more times. Make sure the top is completely covered with the cheese.

6.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees (325 if using a glass pan) for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Serve with salsa and/or hot sauce.

Some changes you may want to make:

Mushrooms:   I didn't have any fresh mushrooms so used canned, but sauteeing fresh ones (and maybe as many as 8 oz.) near the end of step 1 would be even better.

Tortillas:  As mentioned, I prefer corn tortillas, and you could substitute those for the flour tortillas here. If you stay with flour tortillas, choose whole grain tortillas for more texture and nutrition.

Garlic:  Fresh garlic is always good to use if you have it, but bottled or frozen garlic could also be substituted for the garlic powder. Still, garlic powder is a good ingredient to have on hand if you are in a hurry and/or you want to have a very well-blended garlic flavor in a sauce such as this.

Squash:  Butternut squash puree, either freshly made or pureed, can be substituted for the fresh squash.


For comparison purposes, here is the original recipe that was used for the evening's meal. It was definitely a well-received dish and could be something you might want to make if you still use canned cream soups.

Chicken Enchiladas                  
1 dozen flour tortillas
Mix next 6 ingredients:
  • 4 COOKED skinless, boneless chicken breasts ( can use whole fryer instead)
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 1 small onion - chopped
  • 1 can green chopped chiles
1 pound grated cheddar cheese

Layer in a 9x13 pan:
Tortillas ( rip tortillas in sections to allow single layer coverage of pan)
Chicken mixture
Repeat layers (ending with grated cheese)
Bake uncovered at 350 for approx. 35 minutes or until bubbly.
Serves: 8-10

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Busy Day Three Ingredient Meat and Potato Main Dish


Sometimes there are times when you get home late from work or kids' after school events or meetings, and the refrigerator just doesn't have a lot of ingredients for a "real meal." Before you reach for the phone to order take out, what if you could put together some home-cooked food in less than 45 minutes? And without needing to refer to a recipe (even though I'm going to give you one)!

Yes, there is a bit of advance preparation, but that will be at the grocery store, whenever you see some  boneless chicken or pork on sale. (Bone-in meat can also be used; it just takes a little more prep. I'll be putting up another entry on making stock from bones in the next few weeks.)

While it would be possible to use this method with cubed beef, the cuts of beef that will remain tender with this approach are not usually very budget-friendly.

You can cube the meat before you freeze it or just wait until time to serve--in case you decide on a different way of preparing it.

You will also need to have the other two ingredients on hand: potatoes (which, for a really frugal cook, should almost always be in the pantry)

and a favorite oil and vinegar typed dressing.

I rarely buy purchased salad dressings, but I do like to keep one of the vinaigrettes in the refrigerator just for marinades. I prefer Costco's Kirkland Balsamic Vinaigrette, but choose whatever is your favorite, whenever it is on sale.

You may also want a little olive or canola oil and added salt or other seasonings to fit your tastes, but these too should be staples that will be readily at hand. Because many prepared dressings are already quite high in salt, be cautious about adding more until you taste the finished product.

One thing to keep in mind: most prepared dressings will have some sweetener in them, and in fact this will help finish with a nicely browned and caramelized dish. However, you do need to keep the heat low enough that the browning doesn't turn into blackening--this isn't a "blackened" Cajun kind of meal! Medium to medium high heat should be just fine. 

With these basic ingredients, you are ready to make a main dish that will be faster than you might imagine, with a relatively low cost if you watch for sales on the meat.  The key is to keep the vegetable and meat pieces not too large so that cooking can proceed quickly. Using enough dressing for the marinade will avoid drying out the meat in the short time you will be cooking it.

...and that's it. The flavors of old-fashioned pot roast with roasted potatoes in a fraction of the time.

Meat and Potatoes Main Dish in Minutes

Per person to be served:
4 oz boneless chicken or pork, cut in about 1 inch cubes
purchased oil and vinegar style dressing
1 medium potato, scrubbed but not peeled,
olive or canola oil (optional)
added salt or other seasonings, to taste

1.  Place the chicken or pork in a small bowl or plastic bag and pour over just enough dressing to cover. Stir thoroughly to be sure every cube is covered. Set aside for about 15 to 20 minutes, while preparing the potatoes and any other sides you may be making. (If you need to marinate the meat longer, you should return it to the refrigerator.)

2.  Pour any excess marinade from the meat into a large enough pan so that the meat can be spread in a single layer. Don't try to use too small a pan, as that will lengthen the time needed to prepare the food and will reduce the browning.

If there is very little marinade available, add a little oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat on medium high for a few minutes, until the marinade/oil barely begins to sizzle.

3.  Spread the meat cubes evenly across the pan and allow to cook, uncovered, for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the bottom side of each is well-browned. Stir to brown all sides of the meat.

4.  Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into thick slices (about 1/2 inch thick). Spread the potato slices across the pan and stir them in so that they are all coated with the browning marinade. If necessary, add a tablespoon or so of water to be sure all the meat and potatoes are being steeped in the pan juices--just don't add too much. You want to keep the mixture sauteeing, not poaching! 

5.  Cover the pan and continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the potatoes and continue to cook another 6 to 8 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. Taste for seasonings and serve.


Cut carrots into 1 inch chunks--or use baby carrots--and add those with the potatoes. Onions, garlic,  and/or celery could also be cut coarsely and added with the potatoes.

The per serving cost of the dish can be cut further by increasing the proportion of potatoes to meat.

Frozen vegetables--broccoli, peas, corn, etc.--can be added. Cook the meat and potatoes until just done and then add the frozen vegetables (no reason to thaw), cover the pan, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, until the entire mixture has returned to full heat.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pumpkin--Turning Jack-o-Lanterns into Frugal Meals

Have you ever wondered how to use those jack-o-lantern pumpkins after they have served their purpose as decorations? Do you want to avoid having THIS happen to your perfectly good pumpkins?
(Thanks, friends, for allowing me to share this.)

Even though the "jack-o-lantern pumpkins" may not be as sweet as "pie pumpkins," they still can provide a lot of nutrition and flavor, if you plan ahead.

A few things to keep in mind if you want to be able to use the pumpkin for food after its decoration life is over:
  • Keep the pumpkins from freezing.
  • Don't carve your pumpkin too early; if it starts to wilt or sag, it probably is too late to get any meals from it.
  • If you put a candle inside, just cut out any smoke-blackened sections (and of course, cut out the wax drippings!).
  • Don't paint the pumpkin, like the blue one in this picture. Even if you try to cut off the painted sections, you will likely find too little to use, and the effort will be so tedious, you'll never try to save a pumpkin for food again.
  • On the other hand, if you use a marker for the features instead of cutting out eyes, mouth, etc., just cut those sections out.

And, whatever you do, please try to save the seeds--they are a wonderful snack and really easy to prepare. 

Now, for the good part! Here are some links to hints on preparation, along with some recipes you may want to try. If you were planning to just scrap the pumpkin, you can even think of this as "free" food!

First, some thoughts on preparation:

Thinking of only dessert uses for your pumpkin? How about some soup?

Or bread? This recipe calls for butternut squash, but you can easily substitute pureed pumpkin in recipes calling for pureed butternut squash. This one is a bit of a surprise but it's always well-accepted.

The next two are related, again showing how easily squash and pumpkin can be substituted for each other.

And finally, there is the recipe from my friend, Arlene, cookies that are always gobbled up as soon as her famous cookie tins show up at a dinner or potluck:

Hope these links will get you started on some great uses for your "Great Pumpkin."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Apple Raspberry Cupcakes...or Muffins? You Decide

Many years ago, muffins were pretty straight forward, basic quick breads with relatively small amount of fat and sugars, good while warm but quick to dry out after the first day. In these "olden days" before cake mixes were widely available, there were also a lot of basic cake recipes (often categorized as "one egg cakes") that were sweeter and with higher fat content than muffins but still pretty quick to make.

Today of course we have muffins piled so high with added ingredients--especially sugary toppings and lots of fatty ingredients (more butter and oil, nuts, coconut, etc.)--that they often rival and even surpass the calories in some of the equally overindulged cupcakes available at bakeries and coffee shops. Sometimes about the only difference seems to be that cupcakes are frosted and muffins have some kind of rich crumbly topping.

What sets these cupcakes apart is the rich caramelization of the fruit. Except for that slow cooking of the apples, the cupcakes are quick to make. My recommendation? Double (or triple) the fruit preparation ahead of time. Then you can also use it for an ice cream topping or a second batch of cupcakes later in the week.

Frugal, with raspberries in the batter? Well yes, if you have access to your own raspberries. If you don't, then strawberries or blueberries could be substituted when they are the most reasonably priced fruits. Dried cranberries (probably only 1/2 to 3/4 cup) might even be a substitute for the raspberries.

Apple Raspberry Cupcakes

Fruit mixture:
3 small to medium apples, about 12 oz or 2 1/2 cups
1 T butter
2 T sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ginger
1 c raspberries

Cake batter:
1/3 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 3/4 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t ginger
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 c milk

1.  Fruit mixture:
  • Core the apples and dice them into small pieces--no need to peel.  

  • Melt 1 T butter in a non-stick pan and stir in the 2 T sugar, spices, and diced apples. 
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the apples are very soft and caramelized. 
  • Remove from heat and stir in the raspberries. Set aside to cool.
2.  Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Stir in the egg and vanilla and blend well.
3.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the butter mixture alternately with the milk.
4.  Gently fold in the cooled fruit mixture. Spoon the batter into a muffin pan lined with cupcake papers.
 5.  Bake at 350 degrees about 15 to 20 minutes.

 Spread with a basic cream cheese icing when cool.

 This will make approximately 12 to 15 cupcakes.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Crunch-Top Applesauce and Apricot Bars

Many years ago I found a recipe for some simple applesauce bars that were pretty basic. Adding dried apricots and almonds adds a special burst of flavor. 

The topping is a little messy, but that never seems to keep these cookies from being perenially popular. Cornflakes are an inexpensive way to stretch the crunch of the nuts, so I buy them when on sale just for these bars. Substituting bran flakes can add just a little more nutrition if desired.

 Crunch Top Applesauce and Apricot Bars
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar 
1/2 c soft dried apricots, diced, and enough unsweetened applesauce to fill a one cup measure (see Step 1)
1 t vanilla
1 t almond flavoring
2 c flour
1 t soda
1 t nutmeg
1 1/2 t cinnamon

1.  Place the diced apricots in a one cup measuring cup and pour applesauce over them, filling to the one cup measuring line. Make sure all the spaces between the apricots are filled with applesauce. 
If your apricots are quite dry, you can put the applesauce/apricot mixture in the microwave for a minute or two and then set aside to cool.
2.  Blend butter and sugar; stir in the applesauce-apricot mixture along with the almond and vanilla.
3.  Sift the dry ingredients together and add. Mix just enough to blend evenly.

4.  Spread in a greased 15 1/2 X 10 1/2 jelly roll pan and sprinkle with the topping mixture.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool before cutting into bars.

Makes about 4 to 5 dozen.

1/2 c almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T butter
about 2 to 2 1/2 c cornflakes, crushed to make a cup of crumbs

Mix all except the corn flakes. Stir in the crushed cornflakes until well blended.