Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pork Stew-Simple Delicious!

Sometimes when I just make a meal "off the top of my head", it comes out the best. Monday was my birthday. I had taken out boneless pork ribs for dinner but my husband decided to take us out to dinner. We don't go out too much anymore, so that was a big treat. The meal was great!

I put the pork ribs in the refrigerator for last night. It was cold last night, so instead of pork ribs, I cubed them up for a stew.

Here's what I did:

Cut up about 1.5 lbs of pork into cubes and saute in a little oil
Add 1 chopped onion, 2 ribs of chopped celery, 2 chopped carrots (I did not have carrots but if I did, I would have added them) and 3 cloves of minced garlic.
Saute for a few minutes.
Add a splash of wine (1 cup), water and a few bay leaves
Cover and simmer for a few hours.
About 30 minutes before it is done, add 1 cup of cubed butternut squash (I used some frozen leftovers) and 3 medium cubed potatoes.
Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

I also served this with some dumplings that took about 20 minutes to cook in the stew. I just use the dumpling recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

This was delicious! It tastes even better for leftovers the next day for lunch. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Easy Skillet Meal

One of my favorite things for dinner is to just open up the freezer and pantry and see what happens. Last night I took out some boneless chicken thighs to defrost. I had no idea what I would make with them but I figured I could make something my family would enjoy.

At 3:45 pm, I realized that my daughter had to leave at 4:30 to work with some friends on a project. I wanted to make sure we had dinner before she headed out the door. This is a little earlier than we normally eat but it was Saturday, so we did not have to keep to any schedule.

Here's what I came up with:

1 lb boneless chicken (I used boneless chicken thighs)
1 can of diced tomatoes with juice (14.5 ounce or more)
1 onion, diced
1 cup or more green beans (I used frozen)
3 minced garlic cloves
splash of olive oil
1/2 cup wine (I used white because that's what I had)
1 packet of Goya Sazon (I use the one with Annatto)
fresh ground pepper
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown whichever you have)

Dice chicken and saute with onions and olive oil until no longer pink. Add minced garlic, Goya packet and can of tomatoes with juice. Bring to a simmer and then add wine, green beans and ground pepper to taste. Simmer and serve over rice.

My husband and I loved it! My picky eaters thought it was OK. I did not have it over rice, I ate mine like a soup. Simply delicious! It only took me about 20 minutes, start to finish. I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, November 23, 2009

After Thanksgiving Casserole

Every November, my cooking class at the Council on Aging centers around what to do with leftover turkey. Last year I made turkey paninis with cranberry mayo and caramelized onions. They loved it! This year, the group wanted a casserole made with all the makings from Thanksgiving dinner.

I decided to put a layered casserole together and it was a big hit! Here is the recipe.

After Thanksgiving Casserole

Green Beans (or any leftover vegetables)
Sliced turkey
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Shredded Cheddar Cheese

The size of the baking dish will depend upon how many leftovers you have. Layer stuffing on the bottom of the baker. Top with any leftover vegetables. I used green beans. Top the vegetables with sliced turkey. If you would prefer, dice the turkey for easier handling. Add the gravy. Mix some Cheddar cheese with the mashed potatoes. Spread potato/cheese mixture on top of casserole. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake in a 400 degree over until cheese is bubbly.

I think this could be frozen and served at a later date. The guests at the class loved this recipe. I hope you enjoy it too!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pasta with Little Necks

Each year we purchase a shellfish license from our town hall. It costs us $25 each year and pays for itself over and over again. Just going out once for a basket of clams or little necks (quahogs) will more than pay for the license.

We had a small basket of little necks last week. When I am fortunate enough to have the clams, I usually do one of three things with them: clam boil, chowder or pasta.
With this batch, I made chowder and a pasta dish.

The pasta is a quick, simple dish with really no recipe. This is how I made it:

Boil spaghetti to al dente and drain.

Meanwhile, saute one onion in olive oil. Once soft, add one can of dice tomatoes and about 4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced; pepper and salt. Add a splash (or more) of wine. Simmer and add the little neck clams. Cover and cook until the clams open. Serve over the pasta for a fabulous meal.

I put about 18 little necks in the sauce. You can adjust this for your tastes or the amount you have.

I love this meal because it is quick and delicious. Enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Baking Snacks for Your Family

My food bill is about $60-$70 per week for my family of 4. One of the reasons is, I bake all our snacks. I don't like the preservatives and additives manufacturers put in our food. By baking our own snacks, I can customize them with no additives and I can add whole wheat flour, flax seed, oat flour and other items which would cost a lot in the "healthy" section of the supermarket. Unhealthy snack foods are really cheap. You can get a bag of bargain cookies for about $1.00 at the Dollar Tree. But if you want whole wheat anything, you may be paying a lot more.

Last night, my daughter and I decided to make oatmeal cookie squares. I like to make the squares, because they do not take as much labor as cookies. It took us a total of 5 minutes of hands-on time...the time in which a commercial was on during our favorite Sunday night show. Here is the recipe:

Oatmeal Cookie Squares

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/2 cups oatmeal (I have used quick or old fashion with great results)
1 cup whole wheat flour (if you want some flax meal, I have substituted about 1/4 cup of flax meal for the same amount of whole wheat flour)

Mix the all ingredients except oatmeal and flour. Add flour and oatmeal. Put into an 8 x 8 inch pan and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

I hope you enjoy this!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Linguica Sauce

My family and I love pasta! I make pasta at least once each week. It's fairly fast and economical. My husband and daughter like meat sauce but I don't cook or eat beef..maybe I will write about that sometime. I usually make my sauce with either turkey meatballs or linguica sauce. My husband says my turkey meatballs are not meatballs, even though he loves them. Sometime I will post my recipe for the turkey meatballs. But today I am posting my recipe for linguica sauce. I love linguica in tomato sauce. The flavor and spices really infuse the sauce and make it taste so great. So here it is:

1 can tomato puree (if you like diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes you can use them)
1 small chopped onion
1/2 lb ground linguica (if you buy bulk linguica just grind in food processor or food chopper)
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup wine
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed with garlic press
1-2 tbs Italian seasoning (or just sweet basil)
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and linguica and cook for about 1 minute. Add the tomato puree, wine, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Stir and simmer. The longer this cooks, the better but you can just cook this quick while the water for the pasta boils.

This is also a great sauce for your lasagna. Instead of putting beef or Italian sausage in the lasagna, you can put linguica for a great flavor. Enjoy!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sometimes You Lose!

I decided to stretch some meat last night and make a stir fry. I had four, thin pork cutlets. I sliced them into thin strips and stir fried them in a little oil. I added onions, garlic, and broccoli to the mix. I had a bottle of Thai Peanut Sauce which I added to the pan. The last addition was some cooked spaghetti. I figured this would be a Chinese type noodle dish. The Thai sauce added a nice kick to the dish. I liked the meal a family did not. My daughter said it was OK. My other daughter did not even try it and my husband opted for no Thai sauce in his. He is not a peanut butter lover and thought it may contain too much peanut butter flavor.

Not a big hit in my house...even though I liked it! I even had it for leftovers. My lesson here is to try new meals. Just take some ingredients and throw them together to make dinner. Or try a new recipe. Sometimes you have a winner...sometimes you have a loser. You will never know unless you try! The worse that will happen is you all eat cereal for supper.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Corn Chowder

I love Chowder! We get a shellfish license each year and harvest quahogs for steaming, stuffing and chowder. Sometimes though, I just want a nice corn chowder. My husband likes quahog chowder better, but last night my daughter really wanted to have corn chowder, so I made it for dinner with a salad. Here is my recipe. If you want quahog chowder, substitute quahogs for the corn and the claim juice for the chicken stock.

Corn Chowder

2-3 medium-large potatoes diced and boiled until tender, drain
Saute 1 medium onion with about 2 tablespoons of butter and 4 strips of chopped bacon.
Cook until onions are tender and bacon is crisp.
Add about 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for a few minutes.
Add a can of chicken stock or homemade stock.
Stir. This should be fairly thick.
Add the potatoes, a can of drained corn and a pint of half and half, cream or milk.
Heat through and serve.

If you like the chowder thicker, add more flour and butter to the onion/bacon mixture.
If you like the chowder thinner, reduce the flour and add milk instead of cream or half/half.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Surprising Pumpkini Bread

This is the ongoing saga of the pumpkini. With the success of the Pumpkini Pie, I ventured into the area of bread. We love quick breads for a fairly healthy snack. I don't buy a lot of prepackaged cookies and goodies. With all the chemicals and preservatives in prepackaged foods, I opt to bake them myself. Sometimes, I can add ingredients like whole wheat flour or flax seed to boost the nutrients.

Since I followed a pumpkin pie recipe for the pumpkini pie, it only made sense to follow the pumpkin bread recipe. I settled on my old standby The Betty Crocker Cookbook. I received this book some 22 years ago at my wedding shower. It is a well worn copy and my most referred to cookbook in my collection.

The recipe listed 4 eggs...unfortunately I only had 3. Not to be deterred, I put in 3 eggs and added a little more oil to the mix. Substituting in the pumpkini, I noticed that the color was a little lighter than a normal pumpkin pie. Not to worry, I knew it would probably be fine.

The recipe made 2 loaves of bread. It came out more than fine. It was fantastic! I gave a few pieces of the bread to my mother and my husbands grandmother in the hospital. They loved it! In fact, my husband's grandmother requested more from my mother-in-law, so another batch will be in the making.

Sometimes experiments with an unfamiliar ingredient or vegetable does not come out as we hoped...sometimes they come out with amazingly good results! Try something different, you may have some surprising (and fabulous) results.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chill in the Air--Soup Day!

It's 58 degrees in my house. It's a little cold here. As I was trying to get myself geared up to clean the house, I thought I would cook a big pot of soup.

I always store miscellaneous chicken bones in the freezer for a cool day. First, I sauteed the frozen chicken pieces with a little olive oil and onion. Once nicely browned, I added water, a carrot, parsley, leftover lettuce, peppercorns, bay leaves and let it simmer. The house smells wonderful!

Once the stock is done, I will strain and discard all the bones and vegetables. To the stock I will add another carrot or 2, assorted beans, onions, parsley, maybe some green beans, zucchini (or pumpkini), garlic and whatever else I need to use up or feel like adding. I may add a potato or 2 during the last 1/2 hour of cooking.

Maybe I'll serve it with some homemade bread, biscuits or dumplings. Good eating! You can't get that from a can or package!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Can you make a pie with Pumpkini?

My father-in-law plants a large garden every year. He always puts in pumpkins for the kids and zucchini for me. This year he grew what he thought were two zucchini plants. He ended up with one zucchini plant and one that was a little different. He started getting a vegetable that looked like a fat zucchini/watermelon. He did not know what to do with these, so I got them.

At first, I did not know what to do with them. I stir-fried, boiled, made zucchini sauce, etc. with these strange vegetables. A few of them ended up getting so large, I was not sure what to do with them, so I just stored them. They started to change. They started to turn orange like a pumpkin. Seeing this, I decided to investigate. Googling strange zucchini, I found that we may have pumpkini...a cross between zucchini and pumpkin.

OK, now I know what I have. What do I do with it? Since I have made pumpkin pie and squash pie for the holidays, I tried to put this vegetable in a pie. I baked a cut and cleaned out squash until soft. Not sure how this was going to turn out, I scooped out the flesh and pureed the pulp. I chose a recipe from an old Farm Journal Baking Cookbook. I used my own recipe for a one crust pie: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup oil, 1/4 cup of milk, dash of salt.

Apprehensively, I put the pie in the oven for about 1 hour at 400 degrees. Upon taking it out of the oven, I noticed it was much lighter in color than a pumpkin pie. Tasting the pie was going to prove if this experiment was a success. Well, it was! It tastes like a pumpkin/custard pie. I am very pleased with the outcome. When you think about it, there really was not a reason to worry. What would happen if it did not come out OK? We would throw it in the garbage and try again. Now I know I can make a very respectable pie with my pumpkini. But, can I make bread with it? We will see!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Too Busy to Cook?

Life can get busy. Work, kids, husband, mother in hospital, Dad in Florida, In-Laws in Hawaii, homework, housework, gardening... There is so much to do. Dinner can get lost. It's so easy to go to a drive-thru, restaurant, or open a can. No one in my house really cooks except me. My daughters know how to cook a little. They know how to make turkey burgers, mac and cheese, pasta, pan fried fish. In other words, they know how to make the easy stuff. But a full dinner, they have not mastered yet. I am working on giving them lessons.

My mother just had her knee replacement surgery on Monday. I was gone for the entire day to be with her in the hospital. Knowing that my family would go to the drive-thru or a pizza place, I had a plan. I used my trusty crock-pot. I needed something that would be done when they got home and did not need anything else except maybe opening up a can of cranberry sauce or vegetables. A pork roast seemed like it would be the answer. A simple meal that everyone would enjoy. The meal was assembled in about 5 minutes before I left in the morning. Peel a few potatoes, slice up an onion, season up the pork roast and turn it on. Done! All they had to do was warm up some green beans and open a can of cranberry sauce. They were happy. I was happy.

Had I been at home, I would have roasted the vegetables and pork in my Covered Baker. It would have been better but the crock pot is the next best thing.

I had some leftover pork. How to use it up? I put it in a slow simmered tomato sauce. With whole grain pasta and a salad, it's a great meal and I used up the leftovers.

What's for Dinner, Ma? It's not takeout and it's not drive-thru. It's a real meal and it's good!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What's for Dinner

I read The Frugal Girl blog everyday. I love her writing and her approach to saving money. I am a little frugal too. I feel it's a game to cut my food bill down without my family noticing or revolting. As long as there is no mutiny and they are healthy/happy, I'm good. Every week, The Frugal Girl posts her menu for the week. This allows her to stay on budget, with no last minute dash for dinner because everyone knows what they are having.

I love the idea of menu planning but I have never been able to make it work. I have decided that my lifestyle and personality dictates a fly by the seat of my pants approach to meals. Most days, I decide what we are having for dinner based on what I have in my freezer and pantry, what my family has requested, the leftovers in my refrigerator and our schedule for the day. I'll give you an example of this week:

Sunday was rainy and we were home all day. I watched the New England Patriots, so I was basically home puttering around the house. This was a perfect day to roast a chicken. We had roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and salad.

Monday was Jewel's birthday, so I asked what she wanted: chicken pot pie or Shepard's pie. She requested Shepard's pie. I thought she wanted chicken pot pie, so that's what we had. She was not disappointed. Chicken pot pie is one of her favorites.

Tuesday is normally an office day for me, so I made something quick. We had pan fried fish, Quinoa with chicken stock and a tomato salad. My in-laws have tomatoes from their garden and they need to be used up. Nothing beats a fresh tomato salad!

Wednesday Victoria requested tacos. The tomatoes were put to good use with the homemade salsa. My husband and I had taco salad. The girls opted for regular tacos with all the fixing's.

Tonight, Jewel will have her Shepard's Pie. Ground turkey, mashed potatoes with either corn or green beans. I will most likely use both corn and green beans in the Shepard's pie...or I will serve the green beans on the side.

Friday...who knows...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wild Grape Jam

I have always wanted to make grape jam. I once made cranberry jam. It was easy and came out fantastic. I had some cranberries from a neighbor and made the jam with the free berries. I have not had free cranberries since. I will need to find a source for free or reduced cranberries this year, if I want to make additional jam. It should not be too difficult since I live around many bogs.

Getting back to the grape jam. I harvested about 3 pounds of wild grapes for my jam. I searched to web for an easy recipe but found most contained pectin. I did not want to buy pectin and knew that I could make them without the added ingredient. I stumbled onto the National Center for Home Food Preservation's website ( and found directions on how to make the jam. They have recipes with pectin and without. The process only took about and hour and a half to complete the jam. This included washing, sterilizing, cooking the grapes and the water bath. When I was finished I had 5 half pints of jam.

Having accomplished this, I feel quite proud of myself! I know there are many people who can 100's of jars each year but I have only done this one other time. I thought it would be very time consuming but found that I could do other things while the pints were in the water bath and multiple steps could be done at the same time (sterilizing the jars and boiling down the grapes). Will I do this again? You bet! Next time, I will start a little earlier in the season collecting my grapes, so the birds don't eat them all. Maybe next year my cultivated vine will produce some grapes which will add to my harvest.

This year I still have apples to think about. My daughter works at a pick-your-own apple orchard. I will have her ask about drops. If I can get a large crate of drops for a low price, I may make some applesauce to can and also freeze apples for my Thanksgiving pies.

My in-laws have about 30 eating pumpkins that they will split amongst the family. I wonder what I can do with those? Pumpkin seeds, pumpkin puree...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wild Grapes

Last week I decided to pick the wild grapes growing in my yard. Wild grapes are different than cultivated grapes. The wild grapes tend to grow sparsely...not in nice tight bunches. Also, the wild grapes are not normally within easy reach. Not deterred by this knowledge, I went out into my yard with my Kitchen Shears and a bowl to harvest the grapes. I waded into the weeds and overgrowth and harvested a small bowl of grapes. My thoughts ventured to grape jam...dozens of 1/2 pint jars of the delicious spread. I knew I did not have enough for my vision.

Who has wild grapes growing in their yard...or along the roadside? My in-laws! In fact, they have a grape vine in their backyard. The perfect place to stop! Off the girls and I went to visit Vavõ and Vavó. My mother-in-law said their vines did not produce anything this year. Not daunted, I went into the yard to check. Sure enough, the vines were empty. Then I detected the faint aroma of grapes. I looked up and spied some wild grapes. But how were we to get them?

My father-in-law seeing the four of us deep in thought, came over to help. Being the Portuguese farmer that he is (not really but a fabulous garden that is the envy of everyone in the neighborhood), he knew just what to do. He went into the shed and came out with a ladder and a fruit picker with a long handle. Armed with these tools, we climbed and pulled down the grape vines to fill up a bag. At first, my daughter complained about the bugs and debris falling from the vines. But, after picking a view grapes, she quickly got into the process. She insisted on climbing the ladder and pulling down the vines. Resisting the urge to keep her protected and afraid that she would fall, I swallowed my fear and let her climb the ladder and go at the vines. She had great success and fun pulling down the vines while her sister and I picked the grapes off the downed vines.

We had a really fun and productive time which yielded a small bag of grapes. In total we had 3 pounds of grapes. Now how to make some jam...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Family Celebration

My mother turned 70 yesterday. My sister thought we should go out to a restaurant to celebrate this milestone. I thought we should celebrate at home where we can relax and linger at the table. In addition to being more relaxed, it would be a better budget decision to have it at home. Volunteering my home, I set out to make a nice meal that I knew my mother would love.
The Menu
Cheese and Crackers

Stuffed Mushrooms: Sautéed onions, garlic, cheese and homemade bread crumbs
Boneless Pork Roast: Slow roasted for 3 hours with a rub of olive oil, seasoned salt and crushed garlic
Roasted Potatoes and Onions: Cubed potatoes (both red and white) and coarsely chopped onions seasoned with garlic, seasoned salt and olive oil. Cook in the pan with the roast about 1 hour before the roast is done.
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce: Sautéed broccoli with homemade cheese sauce
Turtle Fudge Skillet Cake with ice cream: Chocolate cake cooked in the skillet, frosted with melted chocolate and caramel.

The cost breakdown was about $40 for 13 people. In addition, we have leftovers which were split amongst the guests. The cost to go out to the restaurant would have been about $20 per person.

It did take a little bit of work on my part. I estimate that I spent about 1 1/2 hours of hands on time to make this celebration work. In my mind, this was a priceless celebration: very relaxed and fun time with my family. Instead of going out to a restaurant or function hall to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries, try doing the celebration at home.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Peppers and Eggs

I have not posted anything in several months. I am sorry and I will try to post on a weekly basis.

I am cooking at the Council on Aging today. This will be my Incredible Egg show. I love eggs and eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner (not in the same day). Today I will cook a Eggs and Peppers Sandwiches. This is something my mother used to make a lot when I was young. My husband loves egg sandwiches with linguica, peppers and onion.

How I make it: just saute onions, peppers, and garlic in a little oil until soft. Whip some eggs with a little milk, salt and peppers. Pour into saute pan. As the egg starts to set, tilt pan and lift egg to let the liquid egg flow under the solid egg. Cover and put on low heat. Once it is firm but still a little wet, add shredded cheese. Once cheese is melted, serve on french bread or rolls. I usually serve with a small salad.

I hope you enjoy this. This recipe is super quick and tastes great!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pizza, Pizza!!

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me she had a craving for pizza. She requested that I make pizza for dinner. Since I only had a marginal plan for dinner, I thought this was a great idea. I quickly got out my Kitchen Aid and made a ball of pizza dough.

While that was rising, I made a quick tomato sauce.

1 can whole tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup wine
2 tsp Italian Seasoning
salt to taste
1 pinch of sugar

For a smooth sauce, put in a blender or food processor. If you like a chunky sauce, crush tomatoes with a spoon or fork. Simmer in a sauce pan.

I made two different pizzas. I have a daughter who does not like sauce. On her pizza, I drizzled olive oil, sprinkled Italian Seasoning, topped with Mozzarella cheese and a frozen broccoli and cauliflower mix. On the second pizza, I layered the sauce, mozzarella cheese and linguica (Portuguese sausage). Both were baked in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

This pizza only took me about 20 minutes of hands on time and only about 1 hour total. I am writing about this because it illustrates why I do not have a menu plan for the month or week. I certainly do not know what my family will want to eat for dinner on any given night and I sometimes have leftovers that I need to deal with on a daily or weekly basis. I decide what we will have for dinner, sometime in the morning or afternoon. By having staples and a full pantry on hand, I can adapt to what I have decided to make for dinner. I also only buy meat when it is on sale, then package and freeze. I change my meals depending upon what I need to use up and what was on sale at the store. My family has found that this flexibility works for us. By having a well stocked pantry I can make quick meals at a great price. This keeps us eating at home instead of the drive-thru and keeps my food bill at a thrifty rate.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thrifty Vacation

I have not been able to post anything over the past 2 weeks due to our family vacation. We are used to vacationing in style. My family is fortunate enough to earn a free vacation each year with my business. However, my husband and I decided to take our free vacation alone this year, much to the displeasure of my children.

Since we did not go on a family vacation, we decided to once again, drive to Florida for our spring vacation. This is a budget vacation for us since we have family in Florida. Last year was our first experience driving to Florida and since it worked out well, we felt like trying it again.

This is what we did. The day before we left, I baked cookies, bought water and snacks and made oven baked chicken. All perishable foods were put in a cooler and off we went. The kids made sure they had DVD's to play on their portable players and I made sure I had 2 Harry Potter books and my Hetty Green book for book club. My husband just made sure he was well rested.

Off we went. The first stop at 5:00 am was in Myrtle Beach, SC. We were invited to stay with family at a condo they rented. We re-energized by the pool and on the beach. My kids had fun with their cousins. We decided to stay in for lunch and dinner that day, so we bought sandwich meats and food for dinner. The total cost was around $25. Lunch and dinner out would have been much more.

We were off again the next morning at 11:00 to our next destination, which was my father's house in Florida. We arrived at 11:00 pm which was much later than my father stays up but he made the sacrifice for his darling daughter and gorgeous grandchildren. The next day we visited and saw some sites. We did not go to Disney, since we have been there before and are going for free next year. This was all about seeing my father. We had breakfast and lunch with my father. My kids were very happy because they got to go shopping. Grandpa gave them money to buy something. We took the family out to dinner and paid only about $60 because we hit the early bird special. Those of you who are familiar with Florida know that if you go out to supper before 6:00, you receive a discount.

That night, we left to go to my sister-in-law's house for my kids to be spoiled by their aunt and uncle. They have no kids and adore my kids and the feeling is mutual. We arrived at their house around 11:00 at night. This is where we stayed for the rest of the week. We swam in their pool, went to the ocean, went on site seeing expeditions, shopping (for my kids, of course) and visited with our family. Again, we decided to buy food to cook at their home because we can be as loud as we want and talk at the dinner table without anyone wanting the table.

When it was time to leave, again we packed our cooler with food and other supplies to keep the expense of buying out down to a minimum.

I have described this because many people just don't think they can afford to go on vacation because they can't spend $400 each for airline tickets, $200 a night for hotel rooms and $200 a day for food. I understand, that is why we choose to take a less expensive approach to our spring vacations. If we did not have family to stay with, we would still have gone to an inexpensive hotel with some type of cooking facilities. The large cost associated with vacationing is sometimes the flight and then the food you need to buy along the way. If you drive to your destination and then cook many of your meals, you can drastically cut the cost of your vacation.

When we went to Disney one year, we bought a large bag of oranges, a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, snacks and water bottles. This cut the cost of lunches and any type of drink out in the park. When traveling to the Bahamas, we packed a cooler with waters and snacks because water by the pool was about $4.00 and snacks were very expensive. This significantly cut down on our expenses.

Plan well before you leave and you can have a great but inexpensive vacation.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No More Cereal

Breakfast...we all know it is the most important meal of the day. So, why are so many of us relying on sweetened cereal in the morning for our first meal of the day? I know if my family only had cereal in the morning they would be very hungry by 10:00 am. Plus, cereal is very expensive compared to other options.

With all our busy schedules, how do we make a good breakfast for our families in record time, without breaking the bank? How do we stop running to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks for a quick breakfast and coffee? Not only is it full of fat and wasted calories, but also very expensive.

Here are some ideas for breakfast that may help you and your family:

French toast: Made with fresh eggs, milk and whole grain bread or sweet bread (my family loves the sweet bread french toast)
Pancakes: There are so many whole wheat mixes or you can make your own mix the night before and just add the wet ingredients. I make the pancakes from the Betty Crocker Cookbook or the whole grain mix from Bob's Red Mill. I sometimes add flax seed meal into the mix.
Muffins: Mix up the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients in separate containers the night before. When you get up in the morning just combine and spoon into muffin pans. These can bake in the oven while you take your morning shower.
Eggs: My kids and husband love an egg in the morning with whole wheat toast. When I make this, the protein in the eggs, keeps them full for the entire morning. If you are particularly ambitious, you can make a breakfast strata with eggs, bread and meat or fruit the night before and just slip it in the oven right when you get up in the morning. There are some great recipes for strata on
Smoothies: I make a smoothie every morning for my daughter. I just mix up a banana or a handful of frozen berries with vanilla yogurt and some type of juice or milk.

Instead of stopping at your favorite coffee chain, why not measure the coffee out the night before and simply flip the switch for the coffee pot when you get up in the morning? You will save yourself at least a couple of dollars each day if you buy a thermos to bring your coffee with you to work.

Finally, I have the best muffin recipe in the world. I know, everyone says that! I always had trouble making muffins. They either came out too sweet or not sweet enough. I did a cooking show about 8 years ago and met a chef. I mentioned to him about my trouble with muffin making. He gave me his recipe for the perfect muffins. Every time I make these muffins for an event, many ask for the recipe. Here it is, I hope Henry does not mind:

Henry's Fabulous Muffins
3 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp baking powder
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yoke
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup of milk
1 tsp - 1 tbsp vanilla extract, to suit
Mix with favorite add-on like chocolate chips, blueberries, carrots, squash, coffee cake top, etc. If you decide to add something wetter, adjust the milk amount. Spoon into a muffin pan lined with paper liners or greased. Bake at 400 until done. This makes about 12 muffins.

I make this in the morning and then send the extras in the lunch boxes for a treat. I hope you enjoy these.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring is in the Air

There is a big joke in my house at this time of year. Mom wants to plant a garden. I think all winter long about what I want to put in my garden. I cook a lot, so gardening seems to me to go hand in hand. I dream about plump tomatoes, fresh peppers, small zucchini and beautiful green beans all winter long. I dream of where my beautiful garden will reside in my yard.

I have had my garden in different locations in my yard. In the front was the best place to have the garden but my husband did not like the "look" of my garden in the front. I have had it in the back yard among the flower beds, in a raised bed running along a terrace and last year on a terrace above my pool. No spot has been really great except for the area in the front.

The reason my husband and family joke about my garden is that I like the "idea" of gardening. I love the planning and the planting. That's it. I hate to weed. I even forget to water and harvest.

Right on queue, a few weeks ago, I mentioned where my garden was going this year and that I needed it tilled. My family laughed and said, no way. They had decided that a flower garden was going above the pool because my garden was an "eye soar". I asked my father-in-law if he would till a space for me in my yard. He said, he would plant what I want in his garden. His garden is always beautiful and not full of weeds.

Knowing when I have lost a battle, I decided that I would start a container garden. I will plant tomatoes and peppers in attractive containers and put them in the pool area. Since I spend most of my summer working around the pool (working with my laptop and phone), I will be able to monitor and water my plants and have some sort of harvest. The rest, like zucchini and beans, my father-in-law will plant in his garden and will keep me fed with fresh veggies all season long.

It's a compromise but I think it will work out this year. The spring is always a time of renewed hope.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Yesterday I did a cooking class at the local senior center. I cook once a month for about 20-30 people. The threat of torrential rain kept the numbers to about 20. This is my favorite cooking class of the month. Why? I learn as much or more from my guests as they learn from me.

I met a women who is 90 years old. She has a wonderful attitude and lively eyes. She mentioned that living by herself, she just does not cook like she once did. When cooking for her family of 3 girls, she would cook big roasts on a Saturday and use it all week long. She would also bake 4 loafs of bread on the weekend and that would last for the whole week. She talked about a man she knew who made the best rye bread and she could not get the crust on her bread as crunchy as on his bread. He told her the secret, he baked it on stone tiles in his oven. During the last 15 minutes, he added some water to the oven to create the steam to make perfect crust.

So many of my generation (forty something) do not know how to cook. They have learned to drive-thru, go to the supermarket pre-made section, or open a package for dinner. We have lost the art of preparing a nourishing meal for our families. So many think of cooking as a chore instead of a family building activity.

However, I do see a change happening. My cooking classes are getting larger. People are looking for a way to get back to a simpler time and save some money. That is one of the reasons I started this help. I hope you find some information to help you get dinner on the table for you and your family.

By the way, I made a pork and pineapple stir fry over rice at my cooking class. Take a boneless pork roast and cut it into strips. Saute in vegetable oil until no longer pink. Add red onions cut into strips and a package of frozen California Style Vegetables or Sugar Snap Peas. Meanwhile, make a sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar and apricot preserves with a little corn starch. Add to skillet. Heat until the sauce thickens. Serve over rice. My guests loved it! When I make this at home, I add a handful of cashew nuts. I hope you enjoy this with your family.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Can I have that recipe?

I have done many cooking classes in my career. During each cooking class, I mention many quick and easy recipes my guests can make using everyday ingredients. These recipes are fast, easy and very economical. Many use up leftovers from a roast chicken or a roast. While my guests always have access to the recipes that I make at the class, the recipes which are just mentioned during my presentation are just "in my head". One such recipe is detailed below.

I often roast a large chicken for dinner once a week. I normally choose the largest chicken I can find. My Nonnie always said to buy the largest chicken because the bones of the chickens are all the same size. As you go up in weight, each pound is actual meat. I routinely have leftover chicken after we eat the roasted chicken.

One of my family's favorite meals from leftover chicken is a BBQ Chicken French Bread Pizza. Shred the chicken. Mix in your favorite BBQ sauce and shredded cheddar cheese. If you like onions or peppers, chop and add to the mixture. Spread mixture on an open french bread and top with shredded cheddar cheese. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 400 until browned and bubbly. Serve with a salad.

See if your family likes this as much as mine does and use up your leftovers for a nice simple, fast meal.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose

Well the title says it all. Last night I made a Pork Chop Dinner. My daughter said, "Please don't make this again."

In the morning I took out a package of frozen pork chops and decided I would make those for dinner. It was a very busy day with tennis, softball, Destination Imagination practises and my author day at the library. We finally made it home by 5:00. We normally eat dinner around 6:00. So I had an hour to work magic. Plenty of time!

With no plan in place, other than the pork chops, I viewed the contents of my pantry. I spotted a box of pork flavored stuffing mix which I think I have had for awhile. I remembered a recipe I had cut out of the newspapers along time ago before I had kids that included these ingredients. Working on memory, I spread the stuffing mix on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baker and placed the pork chops on top. I remembered that the recipe had Cream of Mushroom Soup poured on top. I hardly ever buy any of the cream of soups. So on to the stove top to make a cream type sauce. I made a roux with butter and flour; added water, powdered milk and chicken stock crystals. Meanwhile, I discovered a 1/2 used bag of frozen corn in the freezer and sprinkled that on top of the pork. The cream sauce went over the entire baker. I covered it and put it in the oven at 400.

What went wrong. I needed to add some liquid to the stuffing mix. I mistakenly thought the juice from the pork and cream sauce would make it down to the stuffing mix. Mostly it did, but there were some dry spots.

Having said that, we did eat all of it for dinner. Nothing went to waste, but it was not my best. Maybe I should have used the recipe instead of relying on my memory. However, I read cookbooks like others read novels. I don't follow recipes while I am cooking, only while I am baking. Even with baking, I will sometimes substitute ingredients or add a healthier ingredient. I have more successes than failures in the kitchen. But really, who cares if you have a failure! Cooking isn't brain surgery. If you make a mistake, no one dies (usually). So go experiment and have fun!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

To Bake or Not To Bake?

Today I have an author chat at my local library. All Library Friend's Members who are attending were asked to bring a snack to share. Last night, as I thought about what to bring, I decided I had a choice. My husband and kids were out for the night. I could call them to buy something at the supermarket bakery...or I could bake something myself. Did I really feel like baking? It takes some time and it messes up the kitchen.

Obviously, the frugal choice was to bake something. This is also the healthier choice. No preservatives and I control what goes into my creation. So I shuffled to my kitchen to take inventory. I always have basic supplies; flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, yeast (bought by the pound and stored in the freezer), cocoa powder, etc.

Perusing my kitchen, I noticed some spotted bananas. My husband only likes greenish bananas (yuck) and my daughter has a smoothie every morning with bananas. I just bought another bunch of green bananas that day for next week. The decision was made...banana bread! Going to my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook (someone bought me it at my wedding shower 22 years ago); I went to the well worn page with the Banana Bread recipe. Stained with oil from many, many years of use; I viewed my favorite bread recipe and got to work.

Fifteen minutes later, my bread was in the oven. With the addition of Flax Seed Meal and oil not butter, my healthy and delicious bread was doing its magic in the oven. But banana bread takes 50 minutes to cook and is in a very small loaf pan. My family will be walking in and smelling the bread and wanting some. There is a problem. I am taking that bread to the library tomorrow.

Grabbing my recipe box, I knew I needed something for them when they walked in the door. I went to my mother's recipe for Wowie Cake (also know as the Crazy Cake, Depression Era Cake or Cocoa Vinegar Cake). This cake is the best chocolate cake! Everyone who has tried this cake has wanted another piece. It is my "go to" cake. In 10 minutes, I was able to get the chocolate cake in the oven with my banana bread.

In less than 30 minutes of hands on work, I was able to get two treats in the oven. As expected, my family walked in the door and immediately went to the kitchen and all ate a piece of cake while telling me about the events of the evening.

Everyone needs a few "go to" recipes to whip up quick meals and quick treats with little work. Look over recipe books and recipe sites (my favorite site is You will be glad you have an small inventory of quick, easy favorites.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Linda's Kitchen

This blog is my attempt to chronicle my frugal cooking practises. It is my hope that I will help someone with my experience in cooking...especially cooking and eating well on a budget.

A little about me: I am a forty something mother of two. Wife of a very spoiled husband. He knows he is spoiled with everything I cook and bake for him. My children don't know how truly spoiled they are. Wait until they leave for college!

I have a busy career and my children are involved in many activities...which means my husband and I are taxi drivers. No mini-van for me, so if you think I am a mini-van/SUV driving soccer Mom, your wrong. I don't drive a mini-van or an SUV. I am a sedan driving soccer mom!

I volunteer at school, the local senior center (I do a cooking class once a month!) and I am always helping out at the local library. I am an avid reader of just about any book and cookbook.

I hope you learn something from this blog and I hope I learn from you, too!

Well, what did I cook today? It was a very easy day. Some people make weekly menus to keep things simple and frugal. I just have a hard time being that rigid. I don't know what I am going to feel like cooking on Monday. So, I usually decide what I will cook the night before or in the morning.

Tonight I made a simple Roast Chicken Thighs with Potatoes, Onions and Carrots. My family eats this often. It's easy, inexpensive and my family loves it. We tend to eat dark meat chicken. My family really does not like white meat because it is too dry. That suits me just fine because dark meat is much less expensive. The recipe is as follows:

4 Bone-in Chicken Thighs
4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, cut in eighths
seasoned salt to taste
Italian Seasoning

Put chicken on a oiled baking sheet with sides. Arrange vegetables around chicken pieces. Add seasoned salt and Italian Seasoning to vegetables and chicken. Bake at 425 for 40-50 minutes until chicken is cooked. You can set the broiler for the last 5 minutes, if you want crispier chicken and vegetables.