Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another Thrifty Girl's Best Friend

So I know I've talked a lot about how awesome Goodwill is for finding kitchen stuff. I now want to disclose my other thrifty secrets: the Dollar Tree and my local Dollar General. I know what you're thinking -- The dollar store, really? But seriously Dollar Tree is a fantastic place to stock upon inexpensive staples and spices and Dollar General usually has a pretty good selection of cast iron cookware and other handy kitchen stuff.

Let me start with Dollar Tree -- this is the absolute best place to buy spices. The spice selection is almost as good as that of a regular supermarket and the spices are a fraction of the cost. For example, I cook with a lot of Cumin. I purchased my jar of cumin at Dollar Tree for $1, my boyfriend bought a smaller jar at the supermarket for close to $5. Even if you can't find some of the speciality spices, its great for Kosher salt, Italian seasoning, oregano, etc. (you know the basics)

Dollar Tree is also great for finding kitchen utensils and dishes (for that matter). They have a great variety of things like spatulas and wooden spoons and its actually really good quality. The same goes for their tableware section.

I find the same type of bargains at Dollar General. In fact this is my favorite place to purchase cast iron cookware -- there is ususally a pretty good selection and its the same stuff you'd find at a more expensive retailer but for a fraction of the price.

Hope this was helpful!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm so excited!!

I absolutely love McAlister's Deli Chicken Tortilla Soup and last night I made the decision to try and recreate one of my favorite foods and to my surprise it was a pretty good knock-off so here's the recipe!

1lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
2 cans of chedder cheese soup (I used Campbells)
1 can of chicken broth (low sodium)
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilis lightly drained
1 large onion chopped
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
2 carrots finely chopped
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 large flour tortillas choppped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon Emeril's Essence
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven combine chicken, chicken broth, onion, garlic, carrots, celery and spices. Add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cook until the chicken is done.

Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool. While chicken is cooling add diced tomatoes and chedder cheese soup to pot. Add the chopped tortilla. Cook over med. low heat until the chedder cheese soup is combined.

Tear apart chicken with your hands and add back to the pot. Bring to a simmer and allow the soup to thicken.

Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great if you're sick!

So I really do love Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup when I'm sick, but sometimes it seems like its all salt and not a lot of substance. When I'm sick of the canned goodness I make my own chicken noodle soup. It's actually quite easy and the recipe follows:

1 lb. bone-in chicken breast
1 onion chopped
2-3 carrots finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme finely minced
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon Emeril's Essence
1 tablespoon sage
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large dutch oven add the chicken. Cover with water and add all of the spices. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook the chicken until the chicken is done.

Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool. Do not discard the broth. While the chicken is cooling saute the onion, carrots, and celery in a skillet with the butter and olive oil. Cook until the carrots are almost soft.

Once the chicken has cooled, debone and discard the bones and skin. As you are deboning the chicken break up the meat with your hands and add back to the broth. Add the celery and onions and a good handfull of egg noodles. Cook until the noodles are to your desired level of doneness. Taste and adjust seasonings.


As a side note, when you are cooling the chicken, sometimes I place my chicken breasts in the freezer in order to hurry up the cooling proces.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dinner Party for 6 for under $20

I admit it, I love to entertain and try and do so as much as possible, but it can get pretty expensive. Last night I decided to cook dinner for 5 of my favorite people but with all of the recent beginning of new semester expenses (books, etc.) I needed to do so as cheaply as possible.

After scanning the contents of my fridge and assessing my guest list I decided to make my own version of Moe's so I set up a taco bar, which looked very cool and was just as easy to make as it was cheap.

Several of the ingredients for this dinner come directly from the supermarket so I'll list those first followed by the recipes for the stuff I actually had to cook. My taco bar consisted of the essentials for any good taco - homemade salsa (recipe follows), guacamole (brought by a friend), sour cream, black olives (just buy a small can at the supermarket drain and serve), shredded cheese, rice, black beans, chicken and grilled vegetables and of course tortillas. I also had a selection of beer and wine (I also asked the guests to bring their favorite adult beverage) and provided margaritas.

Now that I've provided an overview of what I made I'm going to provide the recipes for the homemade stuff:

Margarita Fajita Chicken:
1 lb. chicken breast tenders cut into small pieces
2 red bell peppers cut into small pieces
1 red onion chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of fresh parsley minced
Margarita Marinade:
- juice of 1/2 a lime
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 tablespoon steak seasoning
- 1 teaspoon of sage
- 2 teaspoons of Emeril's Essence
- 2 teaspoons of cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons granulated garlic
- 1/2 cup of Margarita Mix (any brand)
Enough cooking oil to cover bottom of pan

At the beginning of dinner preparation (or an hour or so before) combine all of the Margarita Marinade ingredients in either a large bowl or a large food storage bag. Add the chicken and place in the fridge until ready to cook. Make sure that all of the seasonings cover the chicken and add more if you so choose.

When ready to cook the chicken heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the chicken (w/o the marinade, try and discard as much as the marinade as possible when adding the chicken to the skillet) and cook over medium high heat until brown. While the chicken is cooking chop the peppers and onion. Place in a large bowl and add the thyme, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Add a little bit of oil and mix. Add this mixture to the chicken and let cook until your desired level of doneness. Adjust the seasonings and add the fresh parsley.

Serve with black beans, sour cream, salsa and tortillas.

Fresh Salsa (well kind of)
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilis lightly drained
1 can of diced tomatoes finely drained
3 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 red onion minced
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons Emeril's Essence
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 handful of fresh cilantro chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin

Add all ingredients in a large bowl (make sure it is NOT a metal bowl). Mix, taste and adjust seasonings. Place in fridge until ready to serve.

Black Beans:
2 cans of black beans drained
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chilis
1 large onion minced
3 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons Emeril's Essence
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (if you like things garlicky)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley or cilantro chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onions and garlic and cook till soft. Add the diced tomatoes and cook until the liquid reduces a bit. Add all of the spices except the cilantro. Cook for 1 minute and add the beans. Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Cook until all of the other taco bar components are done. At the last minute add the fresh cilantro. Serve with the chicken, sour cream, etc.

Make enough instant rice to feed however many people you are having over.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Thrifty Girl's Best Friend

I know I've talked about it before, but as someone with negative income who still wishes for nice things, I have recently become Goodwill's best customer.

Since this blog is about all things food related and thrifty I will not talk about all of the designer clothing I've purchased over the years at Goodwill; however, I will write about its typically awesome selection of all things food related:

First of all, Goodwill is a goldmine in terms of finding cookbooks. All books are typicall under $2 and you can find a huge variety of cookbooks from newer cookbooks by Food Network personalities to the classics from Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens. I recently purchased a classic, the Fannie Farmer Coookbook, for $0.75.. Seriously, even if Goodwill weirds you out, it is a must shop if you are on a budget.

Secondly, Goodwill is also a goldmine for cookware, dishes, appliances, etc. I have purchased some of my favorite pots and pans from my local Goodwill. My microwave, coffee maker, and my favorite Le Creuset braiser all came from Goodwill and were $10 or less.

I have also found that retailers like Target, etc. will donate brand new kitcheware, etc. to my local Goodwill. This is something to check out because you can often get brand new kitchenware for a fraction of the price!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More cold weather goodness

Well we finally got some snow here in Winston-Salem which is super exciting and made even more exciting by the fact that Wake Forest was on snow schedule today so I only had one class! In light of this freezing weather I thought I'd provide another one of my cold weather recipies -- Chili!

Here's my version of a basic:

1lb. ground turkey
1 can of kidney beans (lightly drained)
1 can of pinto or black beans (lightly drained)
1 can of diced tomatos with green chilies
1 can of crushed tomatoes (a large can)
1 bottle of beer (any kind, I like to use PBR)
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 handful of chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons of either Emeril's Essence or Mrs. Dash
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional: add some granulated garlic if you want a more garlicly flavor

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven and add the ground turkey. Brown and add the onions and garlic along with the red pepper flakes. Cook until the onions and garlic are soft and add the beer. Allow this mixture to come to a simmer and reduce the liquid by almost half.

Add the crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes. Add all of the spices except the cilantro. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer and let simmer for about 20 minutes or until you are ready to eat.

Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and corn chips if you'd like.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Since its cold outside..

I admit it, nothing is better to me than soup on a cold day. I love it and since its absolutely freezing outside I thought I'd share one of my favorite soup recipies. This is essentially my mom's recipe for potato soup that I've adapted.

Potato Soup:

1 lb baking potatoes washed, peeled, and chopped into small pieces
1/2 pint heavy cream (or an additional can of heavy cream)
1 can evaporated milk
Skim milk
1 medium onion minced
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash or Emeril's Essence
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme minced
2 tablespoons butter + 1 additional tablespoon

Place chopped potatoes in a large dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and continue to boil until potatoes are almost fully cooked.

While the potatoes are boiling saute the celery and onion in a small skillet with the 2 tablespoons of butter.

Once the potatoes are almost done drain the water off the potatoes and return to the dutch oven. Break up potatoes with either a potato masher or a fork. Add the celery and onions. Turn the burner onto med. low heat. Add the evaporated milk and heavy cream. Add enough skim milk so that the pot is about 3/4 full. Add seasoning and the additional tablespoon of butter.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and stir frequently so that the milk does not scorch and make a gross mess on the bottom of the pot.

Check the seasoning and adjust for your own taste.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Another Favorite Kitchen Appliance

In my previous post about Kitchen Essentials I forgot two essential things:
(1) a colander
(2) a wisk

I also suggest that you invest in a slow cooker. You can get a good one at any price point and both Target and Wal-Mart have a nice selection. Mine came from Wal-Mart and has a removable insert which I also suggest as it makes clean up a whole lot easier. But seriously, a slow cooker if awesome on days when you know you are going to get home really late because you can toss everything you need for a good soup or stew in the pot and its ready when you get home from class, work or whatever... I'll be posting my crock pot beef stew recipie later!

Great Cook Book

I just wanted to recommend a fantastic cookbook that is very on point with the purpose of this blog. Reader's Digest Quick and Thrifty Cooking is a fantastic cookbook with easy to follow recipies. This cookbook has been a staple in my family since I can remember. My mom has a copy of it and I found my own copy at a charity book sale last spring.

I checked on and it is currently unavailable so I think it may be out of print, but you may be able to find it at Goodwill in the book section, at a used bookstore, or at a booksale.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Favorite

Since I tend to eat my feelings, it's logical that I would love comfort food, which I do. Mac and Cheese is one of my all time favorite foods. I make several versions (some adapted from Rachael Ray recipies because her mac and cheese recipies are always so quick and easy) but I figured that I would first post my basic version.

1 box of short cut pasta
2 - 3 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 can of evaporated milk (either skim or regular)
1/2 pint of heavy cream (or another can of evaporated milk)
1/4 to 1/2 cup skim milk (if sauce is too thick)
1 package of shredded cheddar cheese (or any other kind)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of either Mrs. Dash or Emeril's Essence
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Fill stock pot or large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil Add butter to a dutch oven and melt over medium low heat. Add flour and cook for a few minutes. Add milk/cream (if using evaporated skim milk be sure to reduce the heat to low or else the milk will do this weird flaky thing) stirring constantly.

When the water comes to a boil add about 1 teaspoon of salt to the water and reduce heat to cook the pasta (at this point the pasta should be finished by the time the sauce is finished). While the pasta cooks add the mustard, Mrs. Dash, salt and pepper to the sauce which should beginning to thicken. Add the cheese a little bit at a time stirring constantly.

Once all of the cheese has been added continue to watch the sauce stirring occasionally until the pasta is finished cooking. At this point you can also make a bread crumb topping to top the mac and cheese. To make the bread crumb topping melt the butter and add the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Mix this with your fingers.

Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Remove from heat and add bread crumb topping. Bake at 350 until the topping is golden brown (usually about 15 min).


P.S. I really want one of those ShamWows they advertise on tv..

One of My Favorites

So some you you may have already discovered this great way to make a sandwich more interesting, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

I love Panini's but they can be quite pricey and in the current economic climate this is a great way to get a sandwich shop style Panini with stuff you probably have at home.

All you need is a George Foreman or some other type of tabletop grill.

George Foreman Grill (any size will do)
Bread (2 slices per sandwich of whatever kind you want)
Meat (I like Black Forest Ham, but your favorite kind will do)
Cheese (I use Swiss or Cheddar but again, personal preference)
Toppings (lettuce, onions, tomatoes, whatever you like)
Mayo, Mustard, etc.
Cooking Spray (like Pam)
Dill pickle spears (optional)

Heat grill.
Assemble sandwich and spray heated grill with cooking spray. Place sandwich on grill and close the grill. Grill until bread looks toasted and cheese is melted.

Slice sandwich in half and serve with a dill pickle spear.

You can also omit the meat and topings and use the George Foreman to make a kick ass grilled cheese.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My First Recipe

The recipe that inspired my blog:

Red and Black Beans and Rice:
1 package Red Beans and Rice Mix (I used Tony Chachere's from Dollar Tree)
1 can of black beans drained
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
5 slices bacon or 1 package Smoked Sausage (I used Turkey Bacon)
1 tablespoon olive oil (less if using real bacon)
1 tablespoon butter (omit if using real bacon)
Several springs of Fresh Thyme (to taste really)
Pepper (to taste)

Chop bacon and saute in a dutch oven or a large saucepan with enough olive oil to prevent the bacon from sticking. Chop the onion and garlic while the bacon sautes.

Add onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Mince the thyme while the onion and garlic sautes. Add to the bacon, onion, and garlic mixture.

Turn off heat. Add the black beans. Add the Red Beans and Rice Mix according to package directions. Follow package directions for cooking the Red Beans and Rice Mix.

Add some additional fresh thyme if desired and serve.

A Well Stocked Pantry

I think it would also be helpful to provide a list of ingredients that I always keep on hand in order to make pretty much any recipe I may post. Always have the following on hand because a combination of any of these ingredients can make a quick dinner any night of the week:

Canned Food
(1) Canned Crushed Tomatoes
(2) Canned Diced Tomatoes (have a variety, plain, diced with green chiles, Italian style, etc.)
(3) Canned Tomato Sauce
(4) Canned Tomato Paste
(5) Canned Beans (a variety -- Black, White, Kidney, Pinto, etc. but especially Black and Kidney)
(6) Canned Corn
(7) Canned green chilies
(8) Variety of Cream of Soup
(9) Evaporated Milk (both whole and skim)
(10) Chicken Stock
(11) Beef Stock

Dried Food
(1) Instant Brown Rice or Instant White Rice
(2) Short Pasta
(3) Fetucinne Noodles
(4) Spagetti Noodles

Flour, Oils and Spices
(1) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(2) Crisco (vegetable shortening)
(3) Canola or Vegetable Oil
(4) Self-rising All Purpose Flour
(5) Sugar
(6) Kosher Salt
(7) Pepper
(8) Cumin
(9) Steak Seasoning
(10) Granulated Garlic
(11) Italian Seasoning
(12) Oregano
(13) Basil
(14) Sage
(15) Mrs. Dash or Emeril's Essence
(16) Crushed Red Pepper
(17) Chili Powder
(18) Onion Powder

Vegetables (fresh and frozen)
(1) Onions (buy the bag of yellow onions, its cheaper)
(2) Potatoes (buy the bag and also keep some frozen hash browns on hand)
(3) Garlic
(4) Celery (fresh)
(5) Carrots (fresh)
(6) Parsley or Cilantro
(7) Frozen Broccoli
(8) Frozen Peas

Dariy and Meats
(1) Cheddar Cheese (either in preshredded or block form)
(2) Bacon (either regular or turkey)
(3) Parmesan Cheese
(4) Milk
(5) Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
(6) Ground Turkey

And that's about all... Look to the recipies for additional items!

A Few Basics

Before I start listing recipes I think it would be helpful to first provide a list of cooking utensils that I think are essential for any kitchen. This list can be accomplished at any price range and I find that Target is a pretty sure bet for finding everything on this list:

(1) Dutch Oven
First of all, every cook needs a good dutch oven. I love my dutch oven and it is the hardest working pot in my kitchen. I use it for everything from chili to pasta sauce to macaroni and cheese to soup to pot roast.

Because a dutch oven is so practical I recommend buying the best one you can afford -- it will be worth it in the long run because you will use it for years to come. A good dutch oven will be made of cast iron with an enamel coating. Mine is Le Creuset and if you can afford the $100+ dollars to buy one of these pots, I highly recommend purchasing one. I was lucky to find and entire set of Le Creuset cookware at an antique auction for less than $200 dollars. I have also found additional pieces at Goodwill for $10 or so (meaning that I highly recommend searchings places like Goodwill and yard sales for stuff like this)

However, if you are not a Goodwill shopper Target carries a variety of lines, including the Rachael Ray line that has a nice 3.5 quart dutch oven for $59.99
(2) A Basic Cookware Set
Every cook needs a good basic cookware set. I lucked out and got an Emerilware by All Clad set for free using my Westlaw points. However, if you are not lucky enough to use Westlaw on a daily basis like I am I suggest purchasing a mid grade set from Target or a similar retailer. The Rachael Ray cookware set seems to be a good choice; Calphalon also has a moderately priced line for Target. I have a large skillet from the Kitchen Essentials from Calphalon line and love it.

A good basic cookware set will have be either 10 pieces or 7 pieces and should have all of your basic pots and pans: various saucepans, a stockpot, and a couple of skillets, with all of the saucepans and stockpots having lids.
(3) A large nonstick skillet
Any brand will do, just find one that you like.
(4) A pizza pan
(5) A cookie sheet

Other Kitchen Essentials:
(1) A Good Knife
I cannot stress how important a good knife is. One good knife will be far more useful than an entire set of bad knives. I recommend buying the best one you can afford. I recommend a triple rivet performance chef's knife. I have three of these (all from Target and all were in the $20 price range) and I use them for everything from chopping vegetables to slicing cheese.
(2) A Variety of Silicone Spatulas
I like the ones from Williams-Sonoma because they have the apple green that I decorate with. However, Target, Wal-Mart and even Dollar Tree have a great variety of these so just pick out a variety in a color that you like and at a price you can afford.
(3) A Variety of Wooden Spoons
I recommend picking up a set of these at the dollar store or Wal-Mart. Seriously, a wooden spoon is a wooden spoon.
(4) A Large Plastic Cutting Board
Again, Target or Wal-Mart for this. I really like the Kitchen-Aid line of plastic cutting boards.
(5) Serving Utensils
I got mine at Dollar Tree and love them.
(7) Can Opener, Vegetable Peeler, Corkscrew

And that's about all I can think of for a well stocked kitchen.

So I finally figured out what I want my blog to be about..

Considering how boring my life really is, I decided that no one would really want to read about it, so I have decided that my blog will be about something that will hopefully be useful to all of the newly minted professionals, struggling students and everyone else out there who has to live on a budget..

Which brings me to the topic of my blog -- recipies that are both tastey and easy on the budget. As a broke and scared third year law student, I have decided to post some of my favorite recipies that cost pennies to make yet taste like they cost a whole lot more.

After years of watching the Food Network and watching my mom cook, I have learned some of the kitchen basics and thanks to Rachael Ray these recipies don't really take that long to make.

Taking a lot of help from Rachael Ray, I have learned that canned foods can taste less canned with the addition of fresh ingredients. The same goes for frozen products as well. Taking advantage of the canned and frozen foods section of my supermarket and supplementing these items with fresh herbs and produce that are inexpensive I (hopefully) have created dishes that are cheap, easy, quick and taste good too.