I finally planned out the Easter menu, because procrastination is apparently my thing this Spring. The days are flying by this year, for sure.
While I know that ham is traditional on many a southern Easter table, we usually opt for lamb. My family goes bananas for my grilled lamb chops, and with such easy prep and a fast cook time, I’m not juggling cook times and oven space as I often am on other holidays. I also aim for dishes that I can prep ahead, then just toss in the oven or on the grill come lunch time. I’d rather be hanging out and visiting with everyone than stuck in the kitchen on a holiday.
As for dessert, I will probably whip up a carrot cake, assuming my lost motivation shows up sometime soon. Or maybe break with tradition and do a chocolate fondue-type spread. Now, here’s hoping that I can actually get my hands on everything I need, as the grocery store has been looking a little on the lean side lately.
After spending a lot of time in Utah last year, my husband got really into what he calls “fry sauce.” While I usually just throw a bottle of ketchup on the table when I make fries, I decided to be less lazy and up my burger-night game.
This recipe comes from Pirate’s Pantry, first published by the Junior League of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and was submitted by Mrs. Edwin DeWeese. It was originally listed as a salad dressing, but I modified the recipe a bit so that it ended up being a perfect sauce consistency (see notes below). This sauce offered a great balance of creamy, slightly sweet, tangy, and savory. I whipped it up, and the entire crew gave it a resounding thumbs-up.
Ok, I have a confession to make. With the exception of post-Thanksgiving, my family will rarely eat leftovers. I don’t know what it is about this clown car of a household, but these peeps act like a “leftover night” is more of a punishment than a valid meal option. As such, I’ve gotten pretty adept at meal planning and portioning, but when I heard about the premise of this book, I was intrigued.
Cyndi Kane, otherwise known as Ree Drummond’s best friend, has long been featured on Ree’s blog and TV show, so I was familiar with her in that capacity. However, I don’t follow her on social media, so I didn’t realize she was venturing into her own cookbook publishing.
This book aims to provide a weekly meal plan where components of certain dishes are reimagined or repurposed into different meals later in the week. For example, Sunday’s Ham shows up in Jambalaya and Ranch Beans later in the week. I will say that, to that effect, this book holds very true the premise. The weekly meal plans are diverse enough so that the “leftover” components appear as entirely newly imagined dishes. It reminds me very much of how I aim to transform Thanksgiving leftovers beyond the turkey sandwich. However, rather than rambling, I’m going to break down my review into neutral notes, pros, and who this book is or isn’t for.
This book has ZERO photographs. Instead, there are lovely watercolor illustrations throughout, but if you judge a cookbook on the photo situation, be aware that it’s 100% artwork. I know people can be damn picky on this front, so the disclaimer is important.
Cindi is self-described mother, wife, homeschooler and home cook. She focuses on family-friendly meals that are somewhat healthy and budget-friendly. As such, she includes an occasional supermarket shortcut like a commercial seasoning packet, jarred sauces, Bisquick, and jarred garlic. The recipes are very much aimed at a home cook. If you are averse to a few processed ingredients or are on a special diet, look this over to see if it goes against your current approach to food.
The author admittedly grew up in the low-fat, diet/crazed/weight watchers’ culture of the 80’s. Occasionally, this shows in some of the choices and language in her recipes.
This book really is accessible for home cooks. The recipes are all straightforward and approachable, with no complicated techniques or hard-to-find ingredients in the average US supermarket.
The meal-plan menu approach is budget friendly, reduces waste, and does lean toward a good mix of home cooking with a healthy-ish direction here and there. If you want to open a cookbook and have a week’s worth of meals planned out, this IS for you.
The author includes timelines, lunch ideas, and “getting ahead” tips that I appreciated.
Even if the meal plan approach isn’t for me some weeks, there are still some solid recipes I will be trying on my selectively picky eaters.
The writing is conversational and aimed toward home cooks, and the layout is visually appealing and easy to use. I especially chuckled at the way she talks about “biohazard” chicken.
This book is for:
Home cooks who want family-tested recipes that are approachable/accessible.
People starting out in their next chapter of life (newlyweds, college students/graduates, anyone jumping into the deep end of home cooking/planning with no or rusty experience).
Budget-conscious cooks who value using up ingredients to their fullest.
People interested in streamlining meal planning and prep.
Busy homemakers short on time and interested in a ready-made weekly game plan.
Really, this reminds me of the old-school Junior League/church cookbooks from my childhood. Uncomplicated recipes that are designed for busy families with supermarket ingredients.
Pass on this one if:
If you are into “chefy” or “authentic” or coffee-table cookbooks.
If no photos in a cookbook is a dealbreaker.
If you are a hyper-foodie and get a thrill from test-driving complicated techniques or bold flavors.
If you are on a specialized diet or a food philosophy, including paleo, whole 30, are a vegan, or keto. (I’d still look it over, though)
If you have such severely picky eaters to the point that you can only see using one or two recipes out of it.
Overall, I’m glad I bought the book, and I have earmarked several recipes to try on weeknights. Knowing that dinner will be a little easier after escaping the fifth circle of hell (otherwise known as school carpool line), made it well worth my twenty bucks.
If you are looking for a new, easy, and delicious snack for your big game party, have I got the recipe for you. These tamale-inspired meatballs combine the sweetness of cornbread with the spice of enchilada sauce, while the cumin comes in to punch up the flavor. My family devoured these meatballs at the Christmas party and have already requested them for our game-day spread.
While this recipe calls for ground beef, you could use ground pork or a combination of the two. I have not tested these with ground chicken or turkey, but commonsense tells me that, should you attempt it, I think they would end up on the dry side so take that for what it’s worth.
If you want more spice, use the spicy enchilada sauce, or add some hot sauce. I stuck with mild to make sure the gaggle of kids at the party could eat them, but will use the medium this weekend since it’s just the five of us.
To make portioning easier, I use my one-inch cookie scoop, and spray my hands with a little non-stick spray, but that’s because I truly suck at eye-balling portions.
I whipped up a box of the Jiffy Corn Muffin mix in an 8×8 pan as a shortcut, which was the perfect cornbread portion for this recipe.
So, overall, this ended up being a stupid-easy recipe that wowed the crowd, and I’ll take that kind of victory any day (especially one that gets me out of frying some damn wings come Sunday). Whip up a batch of these this weekend and you will become everyone’s new best friend.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it lightly with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, combine crumbled cornbread, 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce, and salt, stirring lightly to combine. Add the beef and mix well, but not to death. Shape the beef mixture into one-inch balls and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 18 minutes.
While the meatballs are baking, spray a 9x13 casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine remaining enchilada sauce, tomato sauce, and cumin, stirring well to combine.
Remove meatballs from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Transfer meatballs to prepared casserole dish, and pour sauce mixture over them, being sure to coat meatballs evenly. Place casserole in the oven and bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
Top meatballs with cheese, and return to oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
The husband is home this week, so I finally tackled a cooking challenge that I’ve been putting off for awhile: Eggs Benedict. This is hands-down his favorite brunch choice, but since the kids and I are not fans of poached eggs, he usually only gets it when we are out at a restaurant. When a bad storm forced us to cancel our lunch date, I thought, “Why the hell not give it a try?” and headed to the kitchen.
For the recipe, I just browsed Food Network for something that looked fairly straightforward and basic (standard toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, poached egg, and the sauce). While I think some people are intimidated by Hollandaise sauce, I’ve made Béarnaise sauce before, which is basically Hollandaise with tarragon added, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
The poached egg, however? I think I was traumatized by the egg scene in the film Julie & Julia, and convinced myself the process would be complicated and fraught with missteps. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that I can cook, and cook well. After browsing other recipes, I did up the vinegar a little bit in the poaching liquid, and what do you know? Poaching eggs is a piece of cake if you chill the f@&k out and follow directions. The husband loved it.
So, what did I learn in this impromptu cooking adventure? I think sometimes we build up certain dishes or techniques in our minds as intimidating or too difficult. Just taking the time to experiment and practice privately can transform the way you see those challenges. Would I suggest trying a new technique while your judgemental in-laws watch and critique? Of course not. The pressure to preform takes the fun out of mastering something new (hence in my Thanksgiving posts, I say that holidays are NOT the time to try out a complicated new dish). But this little experiment reminded me that I don’t need to approach every meal as if it has to be flawless or agreeable to every picky palate. I have more fun learning and exploring than repeating the same catalogue of meals endlessly.
Also, at some point, picky eaters are gonna pick. If you don’t try new dishes because you know you are gonna hear griping, then you rob yourself and them of the opportunity to learn, grow, and expand culinary horizons. As any southern mama would say, “You get what you get, and don’t throw a fit.”
Actually, that’s the nicer way to put it. Pretty sure my mom would say, “Shut up and quit your bitching.” Just keeping it real.
So, it’s no secret that I am a cookbook hoarder, so I figured I might as well start sharing my reviews so you can make up your mind whether a potential purchase is worth the cabinet space.
This week, I picked up Come on Over by Food Network personality Jeff Mauro. Now, as part of a mini-disclaimer on this review, you should know I love watching the show “The Kitchen” every Saturday, so that definitely influenced my purchasing decision. I’ve made many of Jeff’s recipes from the program over the years, so I was especially interested in seeing this book. I’m going to break my review down based on the key components that I look for in a great cookbook. To start, just know the premise of the book is geared toward entertaining, or get-togethers as we say here in the south. The chapters fall into the category of occasion, rather than course.
The Real Disclaimer: Before you even read this review or purchase the book, you need to know that several of the recipes in this book are dishes that have already been featured on “The Kitchen” or “The Sandwich King.” Now, some have small tweaks since their Food Network debuts, but if you watch the shows and are expecting all new recipes, yes there are some, but a few are not.
Appearance/Layout: This book gets a “thumbs up” in this category. First, the images are well-shot, and nearly every recipe has a picture, which is a big plus for me. I’m not a fan of books that are all flat-print with a limited photo page insert of a few recipes in the middle. Additionally, the pictures are beautifully styled, but not in the so-over-the-top manner that plagues a lot of popular food bloggers nowadays. The images are appealing but not unrealistic. As for layout, it’s clear, concise, and makes sense. The chapters are divided into themes/occasions, and the page layouts are comfortable to read and navigate. You won’t have to flip back and forth a bunch.
Readability/Story/Context: I enjoyed reading this book, as Jeff is a seasoned storyteller with a wonderful sense of humor. So, rather than skipping over the recipe intros and anecdotes, I took the time to read them with pleasure. I enjoyed the family stories and history. The sprinkles of nostalgia help showcase a slice-of-life of an Italian-American family, but also how Jeff merges past, present, and various travel inspirations in his recipe development and food life.
Recipes and Cookability: This book embodies great variety and broad appeal, even for picky eaters. I don’t feel as if any of the dishes were too complicated. If I had to rate it for cookability, I can safely say that an advanced beginner would have no problem with any of the recipes. From past experience, the Greek Lemon Chicken and Orzo Bake and General Tso’s Chicken Sandwiches are already staples in our house. I’m going to try his dry-brined turkey for “Friendsgiving” next weekend, which, if it works, would be a welcome change from my gallons-of-brine-ordeal that is my traditional Thanksgiving turkey. I also placed the Citrusy Honey-Tequila Shrimp on deck this week as well. I think that the words “tasty” and “accessible” dominate my opinion of the majority of these recipes, though the dessert/baking chapter was not my favorite.
The Verdict: If you don’t watch The Kitchen, this is a definite buy. If you already watch the show, it’s worth flipping through at your local bookstore to evaluate if you are going to be bothered with a few of recipes being repeats (even with the small tweaks). As a fan, it still was a good addition to my library, so final verdict is a “thumbs up” all around. Worth the time and dinero.
**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**
During what would have been Mardi Gras Break, we ended up taking a quick trip up to Utah with the Heathens. Which coincidently, we made it up to the snow just as Snowmageddon hit Louisiana. With G-Man in college, it’s rare that he gets a break that coincides with his siblings, so we wanted to do something as a family when we could. I’m not too familiar with Utah at all, nor do we have any experience with winter sports/activities, so we just kind of winged it. Here’s a rundown of what we did, where we ate, and what we learned.
I felt wayyyyy too intimidated to try and plan a ski outing on our first trip. We would need (I think) equipment, lessons, and as warm-blooded southerners to the core, I already had to spend the big bucks on cold-weather gear. Seriously, the heaviest coat I own is a fleece hoodie, so outfitting everyone with coats, boots, pants, etc. was a project. But seriously, skiing seems like something that you don’t just try on a whim, and we probably would have needed the “complete idiots guide” or something. When you have never even driven in snow, hurtling down a mountain and busting my uncoordinated ass didn’t feel like the best way to start the vacation.
However, we still had a blast in Park City. We started the day at Park City Peaks, where we went on a two hour snowmobile excursion. The ranch is located about a 20-25 minute drive from town, and their trails are amazing. We started by driving to a practice area to get the feel of the snowmobiles. G-Man drove one by himself, I drove one with Bear riding on back, and the husband drove the third with Bean. (We did let Bear and Bean drive a little in the practice area, but not on the trails or up the mountain). If you have never driven one, I will say it took a bit of strength to steer and keep on course, and we certainly felt some soreness the next day. We went through backwoods trails, up the mountain and back down again. Two hours was PLENTY of time, and felt longer, but everyone had a blast. We were careful to dress appropriately in multiple layers, waterproof boots and outerwear, gloves, and googles. They provided helmets and the guide was super-nice. I’d definitely do it again.
After a quick lunch, we then moved on to Woodward Park City to go snowtubing. This destination also has skiing, snowboarding, and such, but I just purchased a two hour pass for the tubing. Luckily, they have a conveyor belt type of escalator to help you get to the top of the hill, and also a smaller hill available for younger kids. We loved it, especially going down the hill together as we held onto each other’s tubes. I wish I had pictures, but I was more focused on keeping my gloves on and my hands warm.
While we wanted to eat dinner in Park City, and even had reservations, we were worn out after tubing and headed back to the hotel. However, if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend planning dining reservations in advance. Even with almost two weeks lead-time, most of my “first pick” dining options were booked up already, or only had super-late seating available. In fact, this was pretty much the case for most places we went on this trip.
SLC and Surrounding Areas
Beyond our snow adventures, we did some exploring around the SLC area. The kids loved K1 racing, which was basically indoor go-carts on steroids, and I enjoyed the Natural History Museum. We also checked out some record shops (Sound & Vison Vinyl was the favorite), yarn shops (Blazing Needles was awesome and welcoming), and the City Creek Center for shopping.
As for food, here’s a quick summary:
We dined at the Red Iguana, which has been featured on Food Network. We enjoyed it, and I will definitely go back. They had a menu full of authentic Mexican dishes, but also plenty of options that are more familiar for those who expect “Tex-Mex”, *cough, cough* like my kids. (In Louisiana, Tex-Mex dominates, so I loved experiencing new-to-me flavors and dishes). Again, get reservations in advance, because they stay packed.
We checked out the Strap Tank Brewery and Squatters Pub Brewery, both of which offered typical pub food. Both had plenty of options for our diverse group of eaters, like sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, steaks, etc.
The kids and I had a hearty breakfast at Black Bear Diner, which is a chain I was unfamiliar with. It had a large menu of typical diner fare, and is a good spot for families. I really liked the waffle.
For date night, the husband and I went to Cultivate Craft Kitchen, which we love. The menu is creative and seasonal, and we sampled the Toffee Brie, English Chips, Risotto, and great cocktails. Highly recommend, but probably not a good place for kids, hence the whole date night thing.
After loving Cultivate, we all went to its sister restaurant, Cliff Dining Pub the next night. This is more family friendly but still has an upscale atmosphere. Everyone really enjoyed this spot, and we will be back.
So, overall, the trip was a fun break for us, and I can see giving skiing a try next time. I think the area is fairly easy to navigate, though be prepared to walk forrrr—-evvvvv—errrrr in the new airport. That was a workout! For this Louisiana girl, the liquor laws are a head-scratcher, but everyone we met was soooo nice. If you have any must-see/do/eat suggestions for next time, please leave a comment. We only hit up what I threw together in a quick google search, so I’d love to know what to add, especially in warmer weather seasons. I highly recommend getting dining reservations in advance, as well as attraction tickets (the Natural History museum is on limited entry, so you have to buy tickets in advance).
Now, it’s back to virtual learning, spring cleaning, and knowing that just when we get settled in, Daylight Savings Time will be here to mess it all up again. Send margaritas, stat!
**Just a reminder–This post is not sponsored, and any included links are NOT affiliate links. My blog is not monetized, and these are places I went and spent my own money.**
Oh man, it’s been a week, a no-good-very-bad week. While we all knew Thanksgiving would be different this year, I never saw this one coming. The Hubs caught the ‘Rona and was diagnosed this weekend. Cue an immediate two week (maybe longer) quarantine for our family, and the challenge of keeping him strictly isolated from the rest of the house in hopes of preventing it from spreading to me and the kids. (‘Rona+asthma=no bueno). So much sanitizing…so much hand washing…it’s a process. He is feeling pretty crappy, and we are missing him, but I know it could definitely be worse. The rest of us seem symptom-free so far, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we just might get lucky.
So our scaled-down Thanksgiving will now be even more so. I worked with the Heathens to edit the menu we had planned, though admittedly, it could still feed a very large crowd. If Thanksgiving feels lonely and less-than-special this year, they at least get to have their favorites stay on the menu. I already bought the 24-pound turkey, and I’m not giving up my Honey-Baked Ham, so the leftover game needs to be especially strong this year.
Since my last leftovers post, we have incorporated a few more recipes into the mix and I have other ideas to try.
I took this idea for Thanksgiving Tamales and ran with it. I did them with dressing, turkey, cheese, and spiced-up leftover cranberry sauce with sautéed jalapenos. And to make life easy, I steamed them in the Instant Pot. There are plenty of tutorials for cooking tamales both traditionally and in the Instant Pot.
I make Turkey a la King using this recipe. But instead of the cornmeal waffles, I take leftover dressing and add an egg or two to really help bind it together, then cook it in the waffle maker until golden brown. This is fabulous.
One thing I surprisingly never thought of is a classic Kentucky Hot Brown. Most of the ingredients are things I already have on hand from my Thanksgiving prep. I’ve also seen a ton of recipes for Hot Brown casseroles if you want to go rogue.
While we usually do the paninis I talked about in my last Thanksgiving leftovers post, I saw Jeff Mauro do this chimichanga of awesomeness on The Kitchen this weekend. Same principle as the paninis, just deep fried into pure joy. I will say that the size of the tortilla he used is not commonly found at the average Louisiana grocery chain, so I’m hoping to be off quarantine by then to pick some up from a local market.
I forgot to link my recipe for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot last time. I always leave a good bit of ham on the bone before I toss it in the freezer. It’s a great rainy day meal.
I mentioned switching out turkey for chicken in recipes last time, but here are some specific ideas: Classic King Ranch, King Ranch Mac and Cheese, Fajita Chowder, turkey tacos, Thai turkey wraps, and a classic chicken noodle soup made with turkey, pictured above. For ham, consider classic ham biscuits, omelets/ scrambles, you can easily add chopped ham to this hash brown casserole to make it a main dish, and to a simple pasta alfredo with peas.
So there are some leftover ideas. I’ll probably be posting a lot to Instagram this Thanksgiving week since I’m still cooking, but not hosting a 20-30 person holiday. So, if you have questions, comment here or there. Quarantined is more fun with commiseration.
Finally, if you are a frontline worker, I want to personally say thank you. I can’t imagine how difficult this year has been for you, and it’s probably going to get worse based on the indications. I want you to know that you are what I am most thankful for this year.
So, I mentioned on the blog yesterday that I was going to start posting some recipes and ideas just in case they may help people navigate the ways quarantine is limiting our abilities and pantrys. Chicken Alfredo Pizza was something I made frequently when the boys were young. It’s fast, easy, cheap, customizable, and can stretch two smaller chicken breasts to feed a family of 5. This week, I made two versions: one with caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes added, and one with just the chicken, garlic, sauce, and cheese for the picky peeps. Before I list the recipe, here are some ideas to customize it or hack it if the grocery store is still a wasteland:
You can use any cooked chicken or turkey, or even brown up ground chicken and crumble it. When all the meat was gone this week at Kroger, there was a whole wall of smoked turkey legs. In a pinch, you can remove the meat from those and use it.
Who says it has to be chicken? Our store still had plenty of frozen shrimp in stock. Just sauté some until just under done, because they will finish cooking on the pizza.
Pizza dough: Making your own is easier than you think, and as long as you have flour and yeast on hand, you can do it. Alternatively, buy the tubes from the refrigerator case, which is what I did up until the Heathens were no longer tazmanian devils 24/7. My Kroger also sells fresh balls of pizza dough in baggies, which is in the deli section where they store the pre-made soups, salads, and take-home entrees.
While this recipe calls for the caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes, you could add bacon bits, sliced peppers, red pepper flakes for spice, toasted bread crumbs for texture, spinach to sneak in some veggies, or finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.
Just remember, until life settles down and our grocery stores can catch up, not every meal is going to be a Pinterest moment, nor is every recipe going to be a favorite of everyone in your household. I will say, though, that I think both experienced and less-confident cooks are going to come out on the other side of this having learned something new about the ways we shop and eat.
**Note–I doubled this recipe to make two the two pizzas seen above**
Start the onions first: Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onions and a small sprinkle of salt, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they reach your desired level of caramelization.
While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
Dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour and roll out your pizza dough to fit your pan, then transfer it to the pan. Bake the pizza dough for 11 minutes, then remove from oven.
Spread the Alfredo sauce evenly over the pizza dough, starting with 1/4 cup at first and adding more as needed. The amount of sauce you will need will depend on the size of your pizza and your preferences. You want a nice even layer of sauce, but try not to drown it.
Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Ok, I think we can all agree that food media and culture as a whole has changed in the past 20 years. We now have easy access to blogs, recipes, information, and research. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan and other researched-based advocates opened our eyes to the less-than-desirable aspects of processed foods and ingredients. We get to be seasoned foodies without ever having attended culinary school.
But the reality is that many people do not have the luxury to be selective about ingredients and methods, pandemic or not. They may live in food deserts with no access to fresh products (what would you do if the only store you could reach was Dollar General?), they may have inadequate funds, limited equipment, and lack the basics we take for granted, like reliable internet access for help.
When I first got married, I had recently birthed the Demon-Baby. My husband worked endless hours of overtime to keep us afloat, and I stretched our meager budget as far as it would go. And you know how I did that? Lots of processed products, canned products, protein stretching, and shortcuts. No shame in my game.
Those meals represented my efforts to provide us some semblance of “homecooked” meals, even if it was just a medley of frozen and canned ingredients hastily tossed together. Even before we got married, our college garage apartment produced many memorable bargain meals that we still recall with fondness: Bisquick cinnamon rolls and casseroles, sautéed chicken with Rice-a-Roni pasta, cheese omelets, and that time my husband and one of his best friends learned that splattering hot oil next to boiling liquid was a very, very, very bad idea.
As we all face uncertain weeks ahead, I thought I would dust off some of those meals and ideas. They are not really recipes per se, but ideas based on how I stretched our budget, made the most of processed foods, fresh food, and managed not to kill any of us.
Easy and Cheap Chicken Pot Pie: Stir together 2 cups cooked chicken (I often only used one chicken breast), 1 can cream of celery soup, 1 cup milk or half-and-half, 1 tsp. seasoned salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1 can drained peas, and 1 can drained corn. Using a box of refrigerated pie curst, line the bottom of pie plate with 1 roll of the crust. Pour in chicken mixture, top with the other roll of crust, crimping edges. Cut a hole or two in the top to vent. Bake at 400 F 35-40 minutes until top begins to brown. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving. (Or use any combo of canned veg you have).
Under $5 Corn Chowder: Stir together 1-1/2 cups milk or half-and-half with one can of cream-style corn into a saucepan over low heat. (The regular size can of corn, not the 7-oz baby size). Add 4 slices chopped ham from the deli (or 1/2 cup chopped diced and browned smoked sausage, or some cooked bacon), 1 can of sliced or diced potatoes, drained, 1 can whole kernel corn, drained, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 10-15 minutes, and stir in 1 cup grated cheddar until melted. Serve with bread or rolls if you can.
Chicken Squares: Combine 6-oz of room temperature cream cheese with 6-oz of room temperature margarine, 4 TBS milk, 2 chopped green onions and add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Add 3 cups shredded cooked chicken, mixing well. Separate two tubes of crescent roll dough into eight squares (which is two of triangles still together for each). Press the perforated seam of each square together firmly to create a solid square of dough. Place a spoonful of the chicken mixture into the center of each square. Bring the dough corners to the center, pinching all the edges to seal. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Pantry Spicy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: For the soup, combine 3 cups Spicy V-8 juice, 1 can condensed tomato soup, 1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup, and 1 tsp. dried basil in a saucepan. Heat on medium, whisking occasionally until hot and combined. For the sandwiches: Combine one can of condensed nacho cheese soup with 1-1/2 cups fiesta blend shredded cheese. Spread a couple of TBS of cheese mix between two slices of bread, and brush outside of sandwiches with melted margarine or butter. Cook the sandwiches grilled cheese-style until golden. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the soup. *If you can get your hands on a baguette or sausage buns, make mini sandwiches for optimal dipping, which makes picky eaters happier. They like to dip stuff*
My Spaghetti Casserole was a staple and continues to be a go-to. I would serve it with frozen or canned green beans that I seasoned with what I had on hand. You can make garlic bread using the ends of a bread loaf or sandwish bread you need to use up. Brush bread with a couple of TBS of butter mixed with a 1/4 tsp. garlic powder and 1/2 tsp. dried parsley. Toast in the oven.
Chicken Fajita Chowder relies on mostly pantry-ready ingredients and you can reduce the chicken to stretch it further (the beans add plenty of protein). If you don’t have chips, cornbread is a good side, or even crackers.
You don’t get any more affordable than Salmon Croquettes. We would serve this with boxed mac and cheese and canned peas.
When I Was in a Bind: I often would throw together a couple of diced, cooked chicken breasts with sautéed diced onion and minced garlic, add a can of cream of celery soup, 2 TBS. lemon juice, 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup of milk, 1 tsp. seasoned salt and one 1 tsp. paprika. If I had any dried parsley or thyme, I added some. I’d simmer it for a bit and serve over wedges of cornbread.
Top Some Potatoes: Potatoes are affordable, and last if you store them properly. If you can bake potatoes, you can top them endlessly, like with shredded chicken or beef, BBQ sauce, and cheese (maybe chopped onion or even slaw for the adults). How about cooked chicken, broccoli, and cheese sauce (maybe with some bacon bits)? Cook frozen breaded chicken strips, dice them, toss with ranch dressing, top potatoes, and drizzle with hot sauce (and sprinkle of blue cheese if you can find it). Try potato tacos, with all the usual ground beef and taco fixings on top. Potatoes are the ultimate affordable canvas to stretch protein.
Bisquick and other pre-made mixes are often very cheap, and versatile for pantry cooking, especially if you are short on time. I’ve made many a casserole from on-hand cans and a mix.
Combo meals that combine proteins with starches and/or veggies allow you to stretch ingredients further. Think pot pies, Shephards Pie, casseroles, breakfast scrambles, hashes, stews, soups, etc. Eggs are the often least expensive per-serving protein there is.
Nearly anything can be transformed into hand pies/meat pies. If you need to clean out the fridge of leftovers, use refrigerated pie dough or frozen bread dough to create a “sweep the kitchen” hand pie night. Use leftover protein, starches, and vegetables, and convince your kids it’s like personal pizza night, but better. Same goes for grilled sandwiches/panini.
Ask yourself if what a recipe calls for is TRULY necessary. It may call for three cups of shredded chicken, but you could probably fake it with two. Out of fresh ginger? You could probably scrape by with a fraction of that amount of ginger powder. Will it be just like the recipe? No, obviously, but it could help you try and hit closer to the flavor profile than nothing at all. I frequently substitute fresh herbs with dried (decreasing the amount by half). Some skipping and substitutions can get you by, but remember, don’t be that butthole who goes onto a website and gives terrible recipe reviews after you do so. While being a pantry MacGyver can keep your family well-fed, it’s not fair to compare a hacked recipe to what the writer intended.
The good-looking chicken breasts in the refridgerated case are going to be the most expensive. For now, I’d go for the frozen bags (which are often smaller and less-than-neatly cut), or if you have the time, grab the cheap cuts like legs or leg quarters and cook and shred the meat for later.
When in doubt, trust dishes like Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya, Stewed Chicken and Rice, Beef Tips, Meatloaf, etc. They are classics for a reason.
So, these are just some basics from the early days extreme budget eating that I hope inspire anyone struggling under quarantine frustration or scarcity. If you have questions about this post or how to stretch what you have, leave a comment, or if you prefer to ask a question privately, drop me an email (check my profile for the address).