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, I love French Onion Soup. Like really, really love it. But, I never get to eat it.
See, my favorite restaurant that made my favorite French Onion Soup went out of business, and in Louisiana, the soups in restaurants trend toward seafood bisques, gumbo, potato, ham bean, or the occasional tomato basil. So I know what you are thinking: Why don’t you make it yourself, weirdo?
Well, as you know, I live with some of the pickiest damn eaters on the planet and not one can tolerate even the thought of a soup based on deliciously decadent caramelized onions. Even trying to sell them on the cheesy toast aspect failed miserably. So, I just never bothered to make it, because I’m not going to make two dinners just so I can have some freaking soup.
But earlier last month, the husband was out of town, and I decided f—-it. I ordered pizza for the Heathens and made myself some dang French Onion Soup (and sent the rest to my neighbors, so they could bask in the awesomeness as well). I adapted a recipe I found online, tweaked it, and the result was rich, gooey, cheesy, brothy, warmth to my semi-bitter soul.
This recipe is easy-peasy, but you really need to take the time to caramelize the onions over low to medium-low heat (depends on your stovetop). This can take like 30-45 minutes, but that’s what gives the soup the depth of flavor you want.
6 cups thinly sliced sweet onions (basic yellow or Vidalia)
1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dry sherry (like from your local liquor store, not that "cooking wine" crap found on the vinegar aisle)
5 cups beef broth
6 springs fresh thyme, tied into a bundle with food-safe kitchen twine.
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
12-16 1/4-inch thick baguette slices (basically you want enough bread slices to cover the top of your soup bowls)
Kosher salt and pepper
Olive oil spray, non stick spray, or other method to toast your bread
In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions and a 1 TBS of water, and season them with about 1/2 tsp. of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally until they caramelize, about 30-45 minutes. If the onions cook too fast, lower the heat so they don't burn.
Add the flour and stir to coat the onions. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the sherry. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, then add the beef broth and thyme bundle. Bring to a low simmer, and cook 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the soup is cooking, spray your baguette slices on both sides with olive oil spray and season with a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper. Toast the slices on both sides in a skillet over medium high heat.
Preheat your broiler. Place your 4 soup bowls on a rimmed baking sheet. Remove the thyme bundle from the soup carefully, and test the soup for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if desired.
Ladle the soup into the bowls, and arrange toasted baguette slices on top for full coverage. Sprinkle cheese evenly over each bowl (about 1/2 cup per bowl).
Broil the soup until the cheese is brown and bubbly to your liking. Enjoy!
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.
Day five gazillion of quarantine. We’ve been plodding along, and thank bejesus, today is the last day of school. Homeschooling did not bring out the best in me, and poor Bean deserves a teacher who is not brought down by the devil otherwise known as “Common Core.” While this past week has been an exercise in patience, I did have a bright spot:
I took a quick drive down to the strawberry farm to pick up a couple of perfect flats. (Before you side-eye me, it was contactless pickup). Despite it being the spring from hell in terms of storms, hail, and tornados, the crops managed to thrive. When I arrived home, I immediately launched into a full afternoon of canning.
Ok, maybe I went a little overboard. But in fairness to me, I think a lot of us under quarantine feel the need to fall back to, or learn, some fundamental skills of self-sufficiency. My social media feeds are full of sourdough starters, homemade breads, pantry recipes, and ideas to stretch items further. People are also tackling things that they would normally outsource, like birthday cakes, haircuts, and even pet grooming.
I totally get it. We see supply chains breaking down, and I think that we are all getting the reality check that it takes mere weeks to go from abundance to scarcity. If you told most of us on New Years Day that, by May, we would be rationing meat, toilet paper, and cleaning products, we all would have laughed hysterically. Especially if you told us yeast turned into one of the most coveted commodities. But now, we all have the uncomfortable knowledge that we are more vulnerable than we think, and so we turn to the kitchen, garden, sewing machines, and other tools that help us feel more in control of our lives.
So yeah, I canned a crap-ton of strawberry-jalapeno jam, and you can to!
A Sweet-Spicy Jam That Makes the Most of Fresh Strawberries
This should make about 8 half-pints, but I don’t think I’ve every made a recipe that did not go either over or under expectations.
If you are new to canning, I highly encourage you to purchase the Ball Blue Book to learn the basics. I posted a few thoughts in this post for those considering giving it a try. Canning is not hard, it’s just understanding a few basic principles.
When canning, ideally use commercially bottled lemon juice. I know that stuff is gross as all get-out, but the reason professionals recommend it is that it has a consistent acid level. The acidity of fresh lemons can vary greatly, and the acidity is key in safe water bath canning. Remember that canning is about food safety, so the experts want to ensure we all have consistent results and not death by botuluism.
Take the time to skim the foam well.
You will probably still have strawberry solids that float to the top of your processed jars, giving your jam an uneven appearance. As mine cooled, I would occasionally turn the jars upside down, let them cool for a while, turn them right side up, cool for a while, repeat. Toward the end of cooling, I have them a good shake to ensure any solids distributed evenly in the jelling syrup.
If ever there was a time to tune into the food supply and learn an essential skill, this is it. Go for it!
Well, after having a not-fun-at-all Easter thanks to the storms (no power equaled no Easter lunch, and no sleep to boot), we spent most of last week continuing the work-from-home/homeschooling grind.
However, I’ve been in the kitchen more than ever, and if you follow on Instagram, you’ve seen this bit of deliciousness:
I decided to try something new, and boy did it pay off. I started with a basic choux paste, which is a cooked dough that is used to make cream puffs or eclairs. Then, I messed around with what I affectionately call my mom’s “Cheaters Custard” method, incorporating a lone vanilla bean that was hanging out in my pantry, and finally topped the whole mess with chocolate ganache. I swear, the kids went bananas for these, and my neighbor was over the moon. (Don’t worry, we don’t break quarantine, we do contactless meal delivery to her).
Anyway, even though this recipe seems like a lot of steps, the whole process is really easy. I think people new to the choux paste concept might be a little intimidated at first, but once you go through the steps, you will be like, “Oh, ok, that was no big deal.” So, not only can you have an impressive, delicious dessert worthy of a special occasion, but you can also bask in the complements from your lucky eaters.
Eclairs with Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard and Chocolate Ganache
1 vanilla bean (alternatively, you can use 1 TBS good quality vanilla extract OR 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste)
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces heavy whipping cream
ProcedureChoux Paste/Éclair Shells
Preheat oven to 400 F. Get out a couple of sheet pants and line them with parchment paper or baking mats. In a medium sauce pan, place milk, water, butter, sugar, salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring often, ensuring the butter is completely melted. Add the flour all at once, stirring quickly and vigorously until the flour is thoroughly incorporated. Cook about 45 more seconds and remove from heat. Transfer mixture to a bowl (ideally use a stand mixer with paddle attachment or hand mixer for the next step).
While the dough is still hot, add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition (start with the 5 eggs only). After you have added all 5 eggs, test to see of the texture is right. If it seems too thick, add the last egg. I only needed 5 eggs. The dough should be a good consistency for piping while maintaining it's structure.
Transfer dough to a Ziploc bag and cut a corner so that you will get about a 1-inch diameter hole. Pipe the dough onto your prepared pans into logs about 5 inches long. (If you have piping equipment, go for it fancy-pants, but a Ziploc will do, I promise). *note, I did not do it, but if you want to, you can give the eclairs an egg wash before baking*
Bake eclairs for 15 minutes at 400, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 10 minutes more until they are golden brown and feel hollow. Keep an eye on them the last 5 minutes of baking. My convection oven cooks hotter than a standard oven, so I had to pull mine out sooner than I expected. Set the pastry shells aside to cook completely.
Stupid-Easy Vanilla Bean Custard
In a medium saucepan, add milk, butter, flour, sugar, egg yolks. Slice vanilla bean in half and scrape the vanilla caviar from the bean halves into the pot, then toss the scraped pod halves into the pot as well.
Place the saucepan over medium heat, and mix it thoroughly with a whisk. As it heats, it will begin to thicken and bubble. Keep stirring, and once it is bubbling consistently, let it cook for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat, and using tongs, fish out the vanilla pod halves and discard them. Transfer custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the custard surface (this prevents it from getting a "skin" on top). Refrigerate until cold and thick.
Place chocolate and cream in a heat-safe bowl, then place the bowl over saucepan of simmering water (medium-low heat), making sure the water isn't touching the bowl directly. Stir frequently until the chocolate is completely melted and incorporated into the cream, and is smooth and shiny.
Place custard in a Ziploc bag for piping, and snip a corner to make a 1/2-inch diameter hole. For each éclair, cut a small slit in the side of each pastry, and then pipe the custard into the center making sure you get good coverage on both ends. Finally, dip the top of each éclair into the warm ganache and place on a baking rack to set. Refridgerate until ready to serve!
With Easter coming up this weekend, social distancing means that the usual celebrations will be very, very different this year. No hanging out with the family and no Easter baskets for the kids. I figure that the grocery pick-up/delivery services are busy enough with real needs, and that shopping for chocolate bunnies and trinkets is a waste of their time and resources. We have candy and plastic eggs in the house already, but will forgo dying real eggs because I just feel like it’s wasteful in a time of scarcity (before you get offended, no one in this house will eat hardboiled eggs, so it really would be wasteful for us).
But, I’m still planning a good meal that will make us at least feel like it’s a special day, even if we can’t watch my sister and kids throw plastic eggs at each other.
I don’t usually cook ham at home, because HoneyBaked Ham is totally my jam, but I’m not in the mood to spend that kind of money for just the five of us. I saw this recipe on Food Network last summer, and decided to make it when we went on a family vacation. It got rave reviews, so I decided that I will bake one up this weekend, along with my Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole, roasted asparagus, biscuits, carrot soufflé and a carrot cake (or maybe red velvet). Also, the bone and scraps will be repurposed for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot, and if we have an leftover casserole, I may try to transform it into something new.
So, we will cook, eat, celebrate, and be grateful this weekend.
1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff, not the pancake syrup from the dollar store)
2 TBS butter
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
Preheat oven to 375 F.
In a roasting pan with a rack, place ham on rack, fat side up. Using a small knife, lightly score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Add a 1-1/2 cups water to the bottom of the ham, place ham in oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the glaze. Combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy.
Brush the ham with half of the glaze, then continue baking, while glazing ham every 15 minutes until it's reached an internal temp of 130 F (about 45 minutes to an hour).
IMPORTANT: The ham should get very brown, but the amount of sugar in this can start to burn. If you think your ham is geting there, cover it with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick spray (lest you rip off all that glaze). Once the ham is done, let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
Ok, I know we are all supposed be cutting down on our processed food consumption. But we are in the middle of a damn quarantine, going to the grocery store is not the best idea, and even if I did, pickings are slim. Oh, just order groceries, you say? I don’t even want to into get into how well that is NOT working out. My husband kept wondering why my phone dinged 50 times yesterday, and I had to explain that was the Instacart shopper refunding all of the items Kroger did not really have, despite what the app said.
So, as every planned dinner idea crapped out with each successive ding, it was time for plan F. I pulled a chuck roast out of the freezer, dove into my pantry, and settled on…*gulp* canned cream of mushroom soup.
Keep your judgements to yourself there, Karen. We all know you secretly have a crush on that Tiger King guy.
Anyway, this recipe only takes about 5 minutes to throw in the slow cooker, and other than the chuck roast, uses ingredients that you probably have on hand. If you don’t have sour cream, cream cheese or Greek yogurt would work in a pinch. I served it over egg noodles, but you can make do with other pastas as well. The Heathens love it, it’s easy, and while it probably takes my foodie street cred down a notch, there’s no shame here.
2 (10-1/2 oz) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 tsp. seasoning salt (like Lawry's or Morton's)
1 tsp. black pepper
2 TBS Worcestershire sauce
4 TBS ketchup
1 cup sour cream
egg noodles or pasta for serving
Cut chuck roast into cubes (about 1-1/2 inches). Add onions and chuck roast to the slow cooker.
In a medium bowl, combine soup, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup, whisking to combine. Add the soup mixture to the slow cooker, and stir until the meat is coated. Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 8 hours, or until the beef is super-tender.
Just before serving, stir in the sour cream. Check for seasoning, adding more if needed. Serve over egg noodles, and if you are feeling extra-fancy, garnish with a little parsley.
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).
So, I’m firing up the smoker for the holiday weekend, and here’s the skinny on the menu:
I’m smoking several racks of ribs in The Beast, using an adjusted pork rub recipe (see that recipe at the end) and this BBQ sauce recipe from Burnt Finger BBQ. I really love the addition of the thyme and the oregano in this sauce, as helps develop a more complex flavor that goes beyond the traditional too-sweet or too-vinegary commercial brands. It is one of the most balanced sauces I’ve tried in terms of flavor.
Baked Beans from Pioneer Woman’s A Year of Holidays cookbook. Unfortunately, I could not find an original link for this online. Her first recipe on her site from 2009, as well as the recipes you find on Food Network, are different from what appears in this book. This version was the one I tried several years ago and Husband will accept no deviations.
This coleslaw recipe is as basic as it gets, which is exactly why I love it. I make plenty of specialty or spicy coleslaws depending on the menu, but this one is dependable and plays well as an accompaniment to the bolder flavors of a traditional BBQ menu. Also, one bag of corner-cutting coleslaw mix is perfect for this amount of dressing. This is a minor step-up from KFC but close enough to appeal to all.
I’m experimenting with this corn salad recipe, also from Food Network. Bean loves corn like I love my Diet Coke. But, there’s only so many times I can Instant Pot corn on the cob before I want to tear my hair out. Hopefully, this will be a compromise. I’ll post a final review after I feed the horde.
Moving along to the current version of the pork rub I use, which is essentially Melissa Cookston’s recipe with a minor variation. Not only is Melissa a BBQ goddess, but out of the 25 BBQ cookbooks I own, her seasoning profiles are the ones I keep coming back to when I need a starting point or inspiration. I use this for ribs and pork butt.