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.