Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baked Spaghetti

What I loved about this meal was it lasted my husband and I 3-4 days and it tasted great every day.
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 55 min
Ready in: 1 hr 15 min

Aluminum Foil
1 (8 ounce) package spaghetti, cooked
2 tablespoons butter OR margarine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 (24 ounce) carton ricotta cheese OR cottage cheese
1 pound ground beef
1 (25.75 ounce) jar Spaghetti Sauce
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with Aluminum Foil with non-stick side toward food.
Combine hot cooked spaghetti with butter; stir until butter melts and coats spaghetti. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese; stir to coat. Arrange spaghetti in an even layer in foil-lined pan. Spread ricotta cheese over spaghetti. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Brown ground beef, drain; add pasta sauce and heat until bubbly. Spoon over cheeses. Top with mozzarella cheese and remaining Parmesan cheese.
Cover with non-stick foil. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil cover and continue baking 15 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tip: Here's the easy way to line a pan - turn the pan upside down and press Aluminum Foil (non-stick side down) around it. Remove the foil. Flip the pan upright and drop the foil inside. Crimp the edges and you're ready to cook!

Cinnamon Syrup

I bought some really cheap syrup at the store and my husband hated it! So I started searching for some recipes for syrup that I actually had all of the ingredients for. This recipe is really easy, cheap and it tastes great!
-about 8 servings

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup water

Stir together the white sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Stir in vanilla extract and water. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Continue to boil and stir until mixture thickens to syrup consistency. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes before serving.
  • It stores well in the fridge

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lentil Soup

I've been browsing the internet looking for ideas on inexpensive meals, and I kept coming to beans and lentils. So I decided to try my hand at a pot of lentil soup and... it was delicious! This recipe calls for Italian type seasonings, but there are other variations. Some of these variations use curry or are spicy and involve cumin. If Italian isn't your style, do an internet search for lentil soup and choose one with flavors you like. But I promise you that if you use this recipe, you will not be disappointed!

Lentil Soup

1 cup each dry lentils, and chopped carrots,celery,onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each dried basil,and oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 14 -1/2 oz can Italian style stewed tomatoes

Rinse lentils , place lentils, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, and bay leaf in cooker. Stir in broth and undrained tomatoes. Cover and cook 12 hours on low or 5-6 hours on high (I think these times might be a little long, so if you're cooking on low, check it at around 8 hours and if you're cooking it on high, check around 3 or 4 hours). Disgard bay leaf before serving. Enjoy! Makes about 6, 1 cup servings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Alfredo Sauce

Pasta sauces can be expensive to buy, but there's really no reason for buying pasta sauces. They are so easy to make. This is a recipe for Alfredo sauce. We eat it over fettuccine, and sometimes we mix in some coarsely chopped broccoli tops.

**Just to warn you, my family has always called this "heart attack on a plate" so you probably shouldn't have it once a week or more.**

1 stick (1/2 c.) butter
2/3 - 1 c. Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. cream (or milk, I've even used skim for this, and it's a little healthier)
1 egg, beaten
ground pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter over medium heat.
2. Add Parmesan to melted butter while stirring with a whisk.
3. Turn heat to low, and stir in milk.
4. Stir in egg and add pepper.

That's it! This makes enough for about one pound of fettuccine. If you only have a couple mouths to feed like I do, I suggest making a whole batch and saving out half of it in a mason jar or something for next time. It'll hold in the fridge for two or three weeks.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tips on Creating Budget-Friendly Meals

I found these tips on frugalcooking.com, and they are a lot of what I try to do in creating inexpensive meals and to stay under $200 every month with my food budget, so I thought I'd share them with you.

#1- Choose less expensive meats, such as whole chicken and whole pork tenderloin

#2- Add grains and legumes to stretch out a meal

#3- Go vegetarian a few times a week

#4- Stick with simpler recipes and avoid buying expensive spices you won't use again

#5- Cut down on food waste by freezing and cooking leftovers into new recipes

Homemade chicken broth

The other day I tried my hand at making some homemade chicken broth. It's really easy to do and requires little supervision. The best part is that it is practically free to make!

Homemade chicken broth

1 chicken carcass (Or you can use the bones from bone in chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks. It'll work better if you have more than just 3 or 4 bones, so if you need to, save some bones in the freezer until you have enough- probably around 10 or 12)

1 onion, quartered

3 or 4 sticks celery with greens

2 cups or so baby carrots or 3-4 regular carrots

2 bay leaves

about 6 cups of water

salt to taste

Put chicken carcass into crockpot stoneware and add onion, celery, carrots, and bay leaves. Add water until it reaches 2 inches from rim of crock. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Remove vegetables, leaves, and chicken bones from broth. Add salt to taste. Spoon into ziploc baggies by 1 or 2 cup portions (I used sandwich bags, and they should not be filled with anymore than 2 cups each- 1 cup is probably more ideal). Place in refrigerator to cool. Once cooled, skim fat off of top of broth and discard.

To store, freeze (It's best to lay the baggies flat on a baking sheet until they're frozen so you can conserve precious freezer space. You can remove the sheet once the baggies retain a flat shape and then use the baggies to fill whatever nooks or crannies you have in your freezer.)

Honey butter

Honey Butter

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4-1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup honey

Mix the butter, sugar and honey until well combined. Will resemble cake frosting when finished. Serve with warm cornbread.

***Please note that the above amounts are estimated. I actually never measure anything but the butter (it's just a stick), so make it to taste. I'm just trying to give you an idea of how much you'll need.


Cornbread is such a wonderful accompaniment to warm homemade soups and chilies. We like to serve it with honey butter.

Cornbread Mix

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups instant nonfat milk powder or dry buttermilk powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbl baking powder
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl baking soda

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir with a wire whisk until evenly distributed. Pour into a 10-cup container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dry place and use within 10 to 12 weeks. Makes about 10 cups corn bread mix.

Corn Bread

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup water
2 Tbl butter, melted (I used 2 Tbl oil)
1-1/4 cups corn bread mix

Preheat oven to 425 F. Butter a 5" x 3" loaf pan. In a bowl beat together egg, water, and butter. Stir in corn bread mix until moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 1 loaf.


1 recipe of the above corn bread
1 box Jiffy yellow cake mix*** + ingredients called for on back of box

Combine the corn bread batter with prepared cake batter. Place in 8" x 8" cake pan and follow the directions on the cake mix box for baking, keeping in mind it will need more time to cook since it's twice as much batter.

***If you'd rather, you can use 1/2 box of Pillsbury/Betty Crocker/Store brand/etc. yellow cake mix, or use the whole box of cake mix and double the cornbread recipe. Just be sure to use a bigger pan if you double it!

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie is an old standby at our house and is one of those recipes I remember my mom making a lot when I was growing up. It's a nice comfort-food meal that's easy to make and it's not too bad for you.

Shepherd's Pie

4 medium potatoes made into mashed potatoes (we boil the potatoes until fork tender, add 1/2 to 1 cup melted butter and some milk, and then use a hand mixer until smooth)
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (you could also use sliced cheese)
1 pound ground beef
1 can corn (you can use any vegetable you have, and if you're using frozen veggies, use 1-2 cups)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or make the equivalent of white sauce)

Brown ground beef and drain. Combine browned beef, corn and cream of mushroom soup. Place in the bottom of an 8" x 8" casserole dish. Spread potatoes on top of beef mixture. Finish by sprinkling cheddar cheese over the top of the potatoes. Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and warmed all the way through.

White Sauce

White sauce can be used as a substitute in dishes calling for "cream of" soups. I was in a hurry the other day and didn't want to make a large batch of it, so I found a recipe that is equivalent to 1 can of "cream of" soup (I can't remember where I found the recipe though). I'm also including a larger batch that you keep in the fridge and use as you need it. I like the idea of using white sauce in my cooking instead of the traditional soups because I can control my sodium, I can control the flavor better, it helps use up food storage items, and is inexpensive.

Basic White Sauce
yield: about 1-1/2 cup or the equivalent to 1 can of "cream of" soup

2 Tbl flour
dash of salt
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 cup cold water
1 Tbl butter/margarine

In a covered jar, combine first four ingredients and shake until blended (I didn't have a jar, so I used a ziploc baggie and it worked fine). In a saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in water and flour mixture. Cook over low heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Season with your favorite spices (I used salt, parsley, and pepper). You can use this in any of your favorite recipes in place of 1 can of "cream of" soup.

White Sauce Mix- from the Make-a-Mix cookbook
yield: 1 quart white sauce mix or the equivalent of 8 cans of "cream of" soups (about 1-1/2 cups sauce per can)

2 cups instant nonfat dry milk (or you can use 1-1/2 cups regular nonfat dry milk)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup butter/margarine

Combine dry milk, flour and salt. Mix well. With a pastry blender, cut in butter or margarine until mixture resembles fine crumbs (you could also use a fork to cut in the butter/margarine if you don't have a pastry cutter). Put in a large airtight container and store in refrigerator. Use within 2 months.

To reconstitute white sauce mix:
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup white sauce mix and 1 cup cool water. For thinner sauce, decrease white sauce mix to 1/4 cup. For thicker sauce, increase white sauce mix to 3/4 cup. Cook over low heat until smooth, stirring constantly. Season with pepper, herbs and spices, if desired. Makes about 1-1/2 cups sauce.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pita Bread

This is a wonderful recipe that you can use the bread machine for. Just make sure you use a dough setting instead of one of the loaf options. This pita bread is really soft and is so much better than regular store bought pita bread. It puffs up perfectly so that it's easy to cut slits in and it can hold a lot of filling!

Bread Machine Pita Bread

1-1/4 cup milk, warmed in microwave for 1 minute
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour**
1 teaspoon rapid rise yeast**

Add ingredients, in the order listed, to your bread machine pan. Set bread machine to dough cycle and wait for the dough to be done. Dough should be soft and almost spongy. Remove dough from machine, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest for 10 minutes (this helps the dough shape easier).

On a lightly floured surface divide dough into 8-12 balls (depending on the size of pitas you want- more balls = smaller pitas) and roll each ball into a flat disk about 1/4" thick. Cover dough and let rise until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.

Place 1/2 of pita rounds on a greased baking sheet (I used an upside down cookie sheet) and bake in the bottom of a 450 F oven for 4-5 minutes, or until bread is puffed (The dough doesn't really brown, so don't wait for browned pitas- they'll be burnt). Remove from oven and repeat with remaining dough. When cooled, cut a slit in the side of each pita, fill with your favorite filling (we like to use chicken salad) and enjoy!

** Note: Bread flour and rapid rise yeast are essential to making homemade bread, especially when you are using the bread machine for part of all of the process. These two ingredients help ensure a fluffier product than if you used regular all-purpose flour and a different type of yeast. You can use other flour and yeast, however, you're bread will turn out more dense.

Chicken Salad

I skeptically made this dish a couple weeks ago. I didn't think that fruit would taste good mixed with chicken in some mayo. But it was delicious! Who'd have thought? We serve it on homemade pitas as a sandwich spread with either fresh fruit or salad on the side.

Chicken Salad

2 1/2 cups diced and chilled, cooked chicken meat (about 2 breasts)
1 cup chopped celery(optional- I didn't use this, but all it would do is add crunch to the salad )
2 green onions finely diced (I diced the green and white part of the onions)
1 cup sliced, seedless grapes (I used apples instead- granny smith are our favorite so far)
1/2 cup sliced almonds (I didn't use, but again would add crunch)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tsp dried parsley, which is what I used)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mayonnaise (I found that 1 cup was too much for my taste. When I remade it I used 3/4 cup and it tasted better to me.)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

In a medium bowl, whip cream to soft peaks. Combine meat, celery, green onion, grapes/apples, almonds, parsley, salt, and mayonnaise with whipped cream. Chill and serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

How to cook dried beans

Here's another money saving tip for you. Instead of buying canned beans from the grocery store, buy dried beans. Although it takes more effort and a little more planning, dried beans cost about 1/4 of what the canned variety do. I have not perfected my dried bean cooking, so if you have experience, please comment! This information came from Central Bean, Co. and the back of a dried bean bag I bought at Walmart.

How to Cook Dried Beans

Dried beans can be cooked in a saucepan or pot on top of the stove, in a pressure cooker, in your oven, or in your microwave.

The basic principles of cooking dried beans remain the same no matter which method you use. Dried beans require water or other liquid, oil or other fat and salt. Any acidic ingredients called for must be added at the specified time.

Water or other liquid is needed to soften the beans as they cook. There must be enough liquid to keep the beans covered so they will cook uniformly. Any beans not covered during cooking will dry out and be inedible.

Oil or other fat is used in the cooking of many foods to lessen the possibility of the cooking water boiling over. Vegetable oil, butter or margarine, lard or bacon is usually added to beans to help prevent boil-overs. The oil or fat used in the cooking also adds flavor to the beans.

Salt may be necessary to give beans flavor. There is some controversy as to when is the best time to add the salt to the beans. Some cooks add the salt only after the beans have been softened in cooking. Others prefer to add the salt to the cooking water with the beans. Our experience is that adding salt at the beginning of cooking results in more flavorful beans and does not significantly influence the cooking time or tenderness of the beans. For average taste, 1 teaspoon of salt in the cooking water for each cup of beans is about right. Note: You may want to hold off or cut down on the amount of salt used if salty meat is going to be added.

Approximate Bean Cooking Times

Beans (soaked)


Pressure Cooker*

Black beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 8 minutes

Garbanzo beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 7 minutes

Great Northern beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 7 minutes

Lima beans, large

45 to 60 minutes

Not recommended

Lima beans, baby

1 hour

Not recommended

Navy or small whites

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 8 minutes

Pink beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

6 to 8 minutes

Pinto beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 7 minutes

Red beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

6 to 8 minutes

Red Kidney beans

1 to 1 ½ hours

5 to 8 minutes


3 hours

12 to 15 minutes

Beans (not soaked)


Pressure Cooker*

Black-eyed peas

1 to ½ hours

Not recommended


30 to 45 minutes

Not recommended

Split peas, green

30 to 45 minutes

Not recommended

*at 15 pounds pressure

Soaking beans:

First of all, keep in mind that 1 pound of dried beans makes 5-6 cups of cooked beans. If you cook up a whole pound of dried beans, you'll probably have lots of left over beans, which isn't necessarily bad if you use beans a lot in your cooking. It is ok to modify the recipe to make less beans, i.e. cut it in half to make about 3 cups.

Rinse 1 pound of beans (about 2 cups) and remove any foreign material. Place in a large pot and cover with 6-8 cups of cold water. Let the beans stand overnight, or for at least 6-8 hours. Drain soaking liquid and rinse beans again before cooking.

Or if you’re short on time, rinse and sort 1 pound of beans. Place in a large pot and cover with 6-8 cups of hot water. Bring to a rapid boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the beans from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain soaking liquid and rinse beans again before cooking.

Saucepan method:

Cooking beans on top of the stove is a slow process that allows the flavors of the beans and seasoning to intermingle, creating the hearty flavor you expect from bean dishes. The disadvantage of this method is that it requires you to be present, although not continuously involved, while the beans are cooking.

To cook beans on your stove-top, combine soaked or dried beans, water, oil or fat, and seasonings in a saucepan or pot of appropriate size. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat, then cover and simmer until beans are tender. This takes 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the bean variety. Check the beans occasionally to see if they are covered with the cooking liquid. If there is so much liquid absorption and evaporation that the top of the beans becomes exposed, add very hot tap water to the pot to cover the beans.

When dried beans boil, a foam forms on the top of the cooking liquid. This foam is water-soluble protein released from the beans and it will be absorbed back into the bean cooking liquid. It is not necessary to remove the foam. (To keep the foam down when cooking beans, add 1 Tablespoon of butter, drippings (consider flavor), or vegetable salad oil, for each cup of beans.)

Pressure Cooker method:

If you have a pressure cooker, take advantage of it to prepare beans in a matter of minutes.

Pressure cookers are especially designed cookware of aluminum or stainless steel. All models have a lock-on lid and a vent over which a weight or pressure regulator, is placed. Most pressure cookers are designed to be used on top of your stove, but at least one model has its own electrical heat source.

Food is cooked by the high temperatures inside the cooker. This high temperature is made possible by raising the pressure to a point greater than atmospheric pressure. Fifteen pounds of pressure will raise the temperature in the cooker high enough to cook soaked beans in 3 to 8 minutes. Cooking times given above are based on 15 pounds of pressure. If your cooker uses only 10 pounds, double the cooking time. (Before cooking beans in your pressure cooker, read the manufacturer's instructions.)

***EDITED 5/2/09*** I think I've finally mastered cooking dried beans. Janet Huff from eatwheat.com came and did a food storage class for my ward at church, and she said to get beans to be soft when you cook them don't add anything except water and beans. So I tried it and... IT WORKS!!! You still need to soak your beans for 6-8 hours (or overnight), but then when you cook your beans, put them in a pot, cover them with lots of water (at least 2" over the top of your beans) bring them to a boil and let them simmer for as long as needed. I've noticed that the simmering part of cooking is where the beans actually "rehydrate" and cook, so DON'T leave the beans at a boil! Bring them to a boil and then simmer them (putting a lid during the simmer on your pot would also help if you have one). Then when the beans are done you can season them, which you'll want to with at least salt.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Oh-So-Easy Pizza Sauce

Buying sauce in a jar is expensive, and when you are just going to top off all that "gourmet" goodness with more veggies, it kind of loses its flare. So, here's some easy pizza sauce.

1 (8 oz) can of plain tomato sauce
garlic salt
Italian seasoning

1. Mix all to taste.
Yield: enough for one 12" pizza crust.

Mama Conner's Pizza Crust

If your family is anything like mine, pizza is probably a weekly thing. There's no reason to spend money to order it when homemade pizza is BETTER. This is my mother's recipe, which makes 4 to 5 crusts. Since my husband and I don't eat as much as my 7 siblings and I do, I make it all at once then divide it into about 5 and freeze them until I need them. I let them defrost in the fridge the day before and over night, then take them out and set them on the counter about an hour ahead of time so they can warm up to room temperature. (This last step isn't absolutely necessary, but it definitely makes rolling the dough out much easier!)

4 c. flour
4 c. HOT tap water
4 tsp. yeast
2 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 c. olive/vegetable/canola oil
1 tbsp. salt

1. Mix together flour and water. Stir in yeast. Add brown sugar, oil, and salt. Mix well.
2. Add flour a 1/2 cup to a cup at a time. Do this until the sides of the bowl start to come clean of the dough.

THIN CRUST: Divide into 4 or 5 loaves. Roll out, and top immediately. Bake at 500 degrees until golden brown.
THICK CRUST: Roll out, and let rise 15-30 minutes. Cut into 3 loaves. Roll out again. Top it. Let rise on pan while oven preheats. Bake at 500 until golden brown.

Note: You can bake this on any pan. I've made it on a shallow cookie sheet or cake pan before. However, baking stones work best. They're run from $15 to $30 at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
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