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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 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 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 not tested any of them.

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, 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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Applesauce Oatmeal Cake with Orange Glaze


This is an old-fashioned cake that is just right for a chilly autumn evening or weekend dessert. It goes together pretty quickly, all in one saucepan, and the fragrance it will bring to your house--amazing!

As I've noted before, I like to keep orange juice concentrate in the freezer for recipes like this. The contrast of the orange glaze and the apple-y, cranberry filled cake gives a great depth to this really pretty simple dessert.

Applesauce Oatmeal Cake with Orange Glaze 
1 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c old fashioned or quick oatmeal
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c butter
3/4 c brown sugar

1 t vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg

2 T melted butter
2 T orange juice concentrate, thawed slightly
enough powdered sugar to make a very thin glaze--about 1 1/2 c at most

walnuts--about 3/4 to 1 cup, coarsely chopped or broken

1.  Pour the applesauce into a pan large enough to hold 5 to 6 cups of batter- quart and a half saucepan will be a good size. Heat the applesauce to just below boiling on medium high heat, stirring to be sure it does not stick on.  


2.  Stir in the butter, oatmeal, and dried cranberries and let the mixture cool, about 10 to 15 minutes.

3.  Stir the brown sugar, vanilla, and egg into the applesauce mixture. Sift the dry ingredients together and gently stir into the batter. Stir just until thoroughly mixed. 

4.  Pour into a 7 X 11  pan  that has been well-oiled or sprayed with cooking spray. Immediately put into oven and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

5.  While the cake is baking, mix the butter, orange juice concentrate, and powdered sugar. (Note that I just lightly rinsed the saucepan used for the cake batter; this is truly an easy clean up cake, with one pan for each step!)


As soon as the cake is done, remove it from the oven and spread the glaze evenly over the top, poking it in lightly with a cake. 

Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the top. Serve warm or cold.

Microwave version:

Put the applesauce in a 2 quart mixing bowl in the microwave. Cover loosely (to avoid spatters) and heat until just below boiling, about 2 to 3 1/2 minutes. Proceed with the recipe as above.