Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seasoned Pinto Beans

I've had a few requests for this recipe to be posted in particular, because it's a great substitute for refried beans.  You could go to the work of actually frying the cooked beans to make them more like what you get for regular refried beans, but I've found that my family loves the taste and texture of the beans more if I just cook them down a little bit longer and mash the beans up with a little of the cooking liquid.  These can be used in burritos, nachos, taco salads, or just as pintos and rice.  Sometimes I use leftover beans in Monterey Bean Skillet or in Turkey Chili.  Get creative...if there are too many leftovers for your smaller family, freeze the beans and a little liquid in freezer bags to make up some quickie burritos another time.  That's about as complex as my own freezer cooking goes!

Seasoned Pinto Beans

1 lb. pinto beans, soaked according to package directions
7 cups water
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed, OR 1/2 - 1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 Tbs. each salt, cumin, oregano

Simmer all ingredients in a large pot 5 hours.  Uncover and cook 1/2 hour to desired thickness... OR put it in your crockpot high for 5-6 hours, low 8-9 hours.  (Don't forget, each slow cooker cooks differently, so adjust if necessary.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cilantro Rice

Okay, for those of you who are in favor of that loveable restaurant, Chipotle, this will seem a little familiar.  It is my knock-off of their rice.  Adding in the lime really brightens up a burrito.  You might actually notice that the rice has a flavor, instead of ignoring it as plain filler.  Here we go.  Of course, adjust the amounts to be practical for your family, and if you can afford a nicer rice, like basmati, that would be fabulous.  You could also sub in the healthier brown rice here if you increase the cook time to 45 minutes or so.

Cilantro Rice

1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups water
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste

Over high heat, add to a pan the rice and half of the lime juice.  Saute lightly for a minute or two.  Add in the water and bring to a boil.  Put a lid on and reduce the heat to low.  Steam for 18-20 minutes.  Remove from heat for about 5 minutes, keeping the lid on.  Fluff the rice with a fork.  Add salt to taste, cilantro, and additional lime juice to taste. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Feasting, 'Mexican' style

I've had a few requests for this meal that I sometimes make.  It's easy, but has lots of parts.  Here is the total synopsis, and I'll be posting the recipes over the next few days.  These are basically burritos with whatever you'd like to put in them.  Here is what we put in ours:

large tortillas
cilantro rice (recipe to follow later this week)
seasoned pinto beans (recipe to follow later this week)
seasoned grilled chicken (recipe to follow)
Pico de gallo
cheddar or Mexican mix cheese
additional store-bought salsa

Sometimes instead of the cilantro rice, we'll make up some of this Easy Spanish Rice.  It sounds like a lot, I know, but is a very cheap, but very tasty feast.  Keep tuned in for the follow up recipes!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Cheapskate Review...liquid fabric softener

I found myself in a bit of a predicament yesterday morning.  I ran out of liquid fabric softener, and had no car to hop up and get more.  Now, as a general rule, I dispense with the liquid softener and just go for a sheet in the dryer, but this time of year is clothes line time for us.  You can save a good bit of cash by hang-drying your clothes instead of using your dryer, especially when you're already running the AC.  One year (when I only had two children's worth of laundry), I tracked the savings.  Depending on the weather...we saved anywhere between $35-$50 per month on energy alone.  That, for us, is a budgetable savings.  However, when you hang dry your clothes, it is a good idea to use a liquid fabric softener so your towels don't stiffen like boards.

I googled some recipes for homemade liquid fabric softeners just out of curiosity, and discovered that I had what it takes to make up a partial batch.  I made 1/4 of the recipe, and it was enough for 1/2 of the empty Gain bottle.

Now, here's what we thought about the fabric softener.  It was easy to make.  Easier, in fact than homemade laundry detergent.  I had everything here, so there was really no initial expense...also a plus.  It worked somewhat well, suprisingly.  It isn't as good as Downy or Snuggle or Gain, my preferred clothesline brands, and really had no scent at all.  But, it definitely worked as well as one of the generics.  I will definitely try this again when I can't find a good deal on the good certainly worked well enough for us to get by on.  There is another online recipe that uses only vinegar and baking soda which I may try out, and if I do, I'll review it for you.  Here's the recipe that I got from

Liquid Fabric Softener

2 cups hair conditioner, any brand
3 cups vinegar
6 cups water

Mix together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.  Use the same amount you would use with your normal fabric softener.

****Note: My 1/4 recipe was 1/2 cup conditioner, 3/4 cup vinegar, and 1 1/2 cup water.  According to the usage from my previous bottle it is enough for 33 loads of laundry.  Also, the mixture will separate over time, so it was really nice to have the old bottle to shake it around in before using.

Let me know if anyone else tries it out!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Note for Dishwashers

Did you know that most dishwashers are made to run using a rinse aid?  Well, you probably did, but I just figured this out within the last year.  So when my glasses started majorly clouding up, I was shocked into the reality of rinse aid costs.  Do you know how much money you fork over for that stuff?  Eeek!

An inexpensive way to get the same results of a rinse aid is to use vinegar instead.  Yes, yes, I know, I've already disavowed using vinegar as a cleaning product, but here it's really helpful.  It really won't make your dishes smell, I promise, and it also has the added benefit of de-scumming your dishwasher during the rinse.  Try it out before you buy more jet dry.

And for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, go to your dishwasher.  Open the door and look for another place to put liquid other than your soap dispenser, labeled 'rinse aid'.  How did they get this by me for so many years?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Homemade Meat Sauce

If you ever have the time, it doesn't take much expense to make a lovely homemade meat sauce from scratch.  Note:  This recipe is a bulk recipe!    I often will make a really big batch like this, then freeze what we don't use that night in ziploc bags for the next spaghetti night.  This bulk recipe makes enough sauce for about 3 lb. of spaghetti or other pasta.  We buy the huge can of crushed tomatoes from Sam's Club, but I've seen them at regular grocery stores in the bulk canned aisle.

 This sauce is very hearty, and really makes spaghetti seem special.  Who doesn't love a sauce that's not from a can?

Homemade Meat Sauce

1 lb. Italian Sausage, casings removed if you buy the actual sausages
3/4 large red or orange pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 bulk can crushed tomatoes (6 lb. 6 oz...we buy Angela Mia brand)
1/8 cup sugar
1 Tbs. salt
3/4 T. garlic powder
Pepper to taste
1 tsp. dried parsley, or 2 Tbs. fresh parsley
1 tsp. basil or 2 Tbs. fresh basil

Over medium high heat, in a stock pot or other large pot, cook the sausage with the pepper and onion.  When the meat is browned through and the vegetables are tender, add in the crushed tomatoes.  Add in the seasonings and mix thoroughly.  Careful with the salt...when it reduces some, it will taste saltier than it does at first.  Boil briefly for a minute or two, then cover and reduce heat.  Simmer until the sauce thickens and the flavors mellow least an hour, more if you can.  Serve over pasta with fresh grated Parmesan.  Freeze leftover sauce.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pork Loin: A Healthy Eat

I don't know if you know, but there is a lean healthy meat that's practical for cooking every day other than boneless, skinless chicken breast.  It's Pork Loin.  You can buy it in a roast or cut up as pork chops, thick or thin, which cook up really fast.  In fact, we just had some last night.  It's seriously a ten minute meal start to finish.

photo via www.

Here in Cincinnati, aka 'Porkopolis', we have ready access to pork loin.  I know it's not that way everywhere, but it's definitely worth looking into.  One pork loin chop has more than half an adult male's daily requirement for protein, while still maintaining low fat.  In fact, nutritionist Ellie Krieger regularly subs pork loin chops in for chicken breast to mix things up a little.  They are also very high in zinc (good for immunity) and the B vitamins (good for metabolism and nervous system function, among other things).  All around, considering its normally reasonable price, it's well worth learning to cook it well!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Church Windows

I don't know about you, but this recipe brings back memories from childhood.  My Mom used to make these every now and then, and I remember being in awe at how beautiful they were.  They're also easy and Mom is smart!

Try these out if you need a fast chocolate fix.  They also freeze well, so stash one in the freezer for unexpected entertaining, or, like I said, a fast chocolate fix.

Church Windows

1/2 cup butter or margarine
12 oz. pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 large bag colored marshmallows
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, optional

Melt butter and chocolate chips tegether, stirring constantly.  When melted, add marshmallows and nuts.  Shape into logs and wrap in wax paper to chill or freeze.  Slice to serve.  If desired, you can keep it as one large roll.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baked Garden Rotini

Okay, I know that's a pretty lame title, and it doesn't sound very exciting, but trust me...this pasta bake is really yummy.  Just a head's up, it's also really hearty, so make it when your family is super hungry.  The cheapie green-can Parmesan is best in this, so feel free to pinch the pennies here.

Baked Garden Rotini

1 lb. garden rotini, cooked
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup heavy cream or 1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
15 oz.  Spaghetti sauce (I use half one of those big Hunts cans, and save the rest for pizza sauce)
6 to 8 oz. mozzarella cheese

Cook and drain the pasta.  Melt margarine with the cream over medium heat.  Add the garlic powder and heat until just boiling.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the pepper to taste, Parmesan, and Spaghetti sauce.  Mix with the pasta and spread into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.  Top with the mozzarella.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just beginning to brown.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

At Last!

The happy day has finally arrived for me to slice into the first of my Beefsteak tomatoes.  There is nothing like the feeling of harvesting your own home-grown juicy tomato!  The only problem I have now is how to use it.  Beefsteaks are notoriously large, so there are a lot of possibilities.

Should I make some fresh pico de gallo?  A tomato-basil salad with fresh ricotta?  Chop it in a salad?  No...for this first one, I think we'll just slice it and eat it as is...home grown is yummy enough without any adornments!

photo courtesy USDA images

Monday, August 15, 2011

Donut Muffins

This is a great muffin to make when you don't have anything special in your pantry.  It has a similar taste to a white cake donut only not oily...very yummy.  I've reposted this recipe from here: Hillbilly Housewife.  Just an FYI, it's a great resource if you really have to cheapify your budget, but the recipes can be very time-consuming.  If you ever want a good starting place on how to start making things from scratch, though, it's a great site to visit.  On to the recipe...

Donut Muffins

1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup. melted butter or margarine

Mash together the shortening and sugar.  Add the egg and whisk until smooth.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.  Pour in milk and whisk until smooth.  Fill 12 greased or paper-lined muffin cups 1/2 to 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon.  When the muffins have cooled some, dip in the melted margarine, then the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Repurposing...salad dressing

I had the most amazing sandwich for lunch yesterday.  I had heated, leftover corned beef, sliced with smoked provolone on rye bread.  I added German mustard and a small slathering of Hidden Valley Ranch Hickory Bacon and onion salad dressing.  Salad dressing?  Yes! And it was the perfect touch.

To be perfectly honest, I bought that salad dressing pretty cheaply (I think for 50 or 75 cents).  I was excited by the brand name and the deal, then I tried it.  On salad and veggies, it was way too almost brought tears to my eyes!  Not even the kids liked it, and they're pretty flexible. 

Sometimes a product will just not work out the way you hope.  When that happens, it's time to get creative, so you don't completely waste the money.  Try using it for something else.  The Hickory bacon salad dressing is fantastic in a savory sandwich or wrap.  I've  also had some Asian Ginger salad dressing that had way too much kick for salad, but it makes a fantastic marinade for chicken or seasoning in fried rice.  Mix it up a little and try to repurpose!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Whipping cream is one of those lovely items to happen upon in your refrigerator.  You can use it in almost any way, but here's one that's really handy for dressing up desserts.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs. powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

If you think ahead enough, it pays to put your beaters or mixing bowl in the freezer for a little bit before beginning.  If not, it'll just take a little longer.  Pour cream into mixing bowl.  Begin beating with electric beaters or, if you're lucky like me, your KitchenAid.  Gradually add in sugar and cinnamon.  Beat until soft peaks form.  It'll take a few minutes at top speed, but be sure to watch carefully.  If you overbeat, you'll have cinnamon-sugar flavored butter!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blueberry Peach Crisp

As you can tell, there is still a supply of frozen peaches in my freezer.  I had thought about making peach pie, but wimped out when I thought of all the work of the crust.  Here was the happy alternative.  It was very yummy and summery, and most of all, easy.  Make sure you partially defrost and drain any frozen fruit you use.

Blueberry Peach Crisp

2 1/2 cups sliced peaches
2 cups blueberries
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter or stick margarine, softened
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Cinnamon whipped cream (recipe to follow tomorrow!)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease the bottom and sides of a square pan with shortening.  Spread peaches and blueberries in the bottom of the pan and stir together to mix.  Mix remaining ingredients except cream; sprinkle over fruit.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and fruit is tender.  Serve with whipped cream.

adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pasta Pointers

I was browsing through a magazine my wonderful Mom-in-law gave me this morning, and found something really helpful.  Here are a few tips on dealing with pasta.  Pasta, homemade or boxed, is one of the all-time great cheap eats, of course, but I've found that how you cook it makes an enormous difference.  Here's the snippet I pulled out of Every Day With Rachel Ray.

"Pasta Myths--Debunked!

Breaking long pasta into shorter pieces makes it easier to eat. 
     If spaghetti were better short, it would have been made that way!  Plus, broken strands are hard to  eat  since they're not long enough to twirl onto a fork.

Add olive oil to the cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking.
     Pasta shouldn't stick when properly cooked.  If it's cooked with olive oil, it will actually coat the noodles and prevent sauce from sticking.

Throw the pasta against the wall--if it sticks, it's done.
     The only way to know if it's done is to taste it!  It should be al dente, or firm to the bite.  The more pasta cooks, the gummier it gets, so if it sticks to the wall it's probably overdone.

Rinse pasta after cooking and draining.
     This will make the pasta cold and rinse away the starch that helps bind the sauce to it.

It's all about the sauce.
     Italians will tell you it's pasta with sauce--not sauce with pasta!  Too much sauce buries the flavor of the pasta and overwhelms it."

taken from Every Day with Rachel Ray, October 2009, page 92.

Hope that's helpful!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

Sweet potatoes are not really one of my favorite foods, but they are so so so good for you, I've been trying to find ways to use them.  Then I went to the store and found a 3 pound bag of sweet potatoes for a dollar.  It was all the extra motivation I needed to give it a shot.  At my wonderful in-law's house we had sweet potato fries, which I really liked, so here is my cheapie version that is actually really wonderful!

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

sweet potatoes (about one per serving needed)
canola oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into french fry shape.  (We cut in half horizontally, then half  each piece horizontally again, then cut into's about the size of regular fries.)  Put fries in a bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Drizzle enough oil to just coat and toss the fries thoroughly.

Put a metal cooling rack on a cookie sheet.  Spread the fries on the cooling rack in a single layer.  Bake for around 20 minutes.  Oven temperatures vary, so check after fifteen minutes, then every five minutes until you get the desired crispness.  You could add a little nutmeg or cinnamon with the seasoning, if desired.  We kind of like them a little better with more of a savory take.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rosemary Pork Chops

Pork chops are one of those things that can be sublime or completely tasteless and leathery.  The trick to making them wonderful is less with the seasoning than the cooking method.  We had these pork chops along with the veggie kabobs posted yesterday.  They were the perfect match!

Rosemary Pork Chops

pork loin chops, thick cut (If you get the thin cut, reduce the cooking time and watch them carefully)
rosemary, dried or fresh, roughly chopped
Vidalia onions, optional
butter or margarine, optional

Rub the pork chops with rosemary, salt, and pepper, and leave them on the counter while you begin the other steps.  It's a good thing for the meat to not be ice cold when you slap it on the grill.  If you're into the carmelized onion thing, start this up.  Slice your onion into strips.  Melt about 1/4 cup butter in a non-stick pan.  Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Season them with salt and pepper, and if they aren't tasting sweet by the time they are getting tender and golden, add a pinch of sugar to help with the carmelization process.  Cook until the onion are browning around the edges and tender through. 

Meanwhile, preheat your grill to 325 degrees.  You can also use a griddle, if desired.   When the grill is up to temperature, rub a little oil on to prevent sticking.  Begin the pork chops by holding the fat on the side directly on the heat for a moment, until it begins to brown a little, then cook the pork chops three minutes per side.   You may need to brown along the edges if your chops are very thick, but be careful not to over cook them.  Also, don't turn them until the three minutes are up.  Remove the chops to a plate, cover with foil, and let them rest for 5 minutes before cutting into them.

Serve them with carmelized onions on top and some additional rosemary sprinkled on top, if desired.  Enjoy the juicy wonderfulness!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Veggie Kabobs

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law have been to visit this week!  It was awfully fun to see the kids play together and to hold their new sweet little one, Elise.  While they were here, I made Kathi cook some veggies, and she had a great way to cook some of my plentiful zucchini and summer squash.  Here's what she did...

Cut these into rough cubes:

summer squash
red onion

Put them on skewers and season them with:

garlic powder

Drizzle with oil.

Then pop them on the grill until they're done!  They were absolutely delicious.   We were using an indoor grill and the temperature wasn't quite high enough, so she finished them in the broiler.  I suppose you could pop them in the broiler to begin with if you don't mind the heat.  Using the kebabs sure amps up the visual appeal, too.  I think some grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes on, too would have been divine!  I'll try it again soon.  Thanks, Kathi!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Confessions of a blogging Coffee-holic

It's Christine here from and I have a confession for you.  I am a coffee-holic.  I started my love affair with coffee in late high school.  We were in an on-and-off again relationship for over a decade.  The great dedication of true love did not come until my third pregnancy.  Yes, I started drinking coffee on a regular basis while I was pregnant.  Something changed.  Some might call it exhaustion.  With my first two babies, I swore off all caffeine, except for the "occasional" chocolate treat.  This time around was different.  I needed backup.  It came in the form of one cup of coffee a day.

One cup led to two, which led to three . . . you know how it goes with addiction.  I have since (the exhaustion has subsided now that "the baby" is one) cut back to two small cups of 1/2 calf coffee a day.  The thing that prevails through my coffee drinking is that I like it sweet.  I also like it tan.  By tan, I mean that I drink a little coffee with my milk. 

I do think that I would really like those fancy coffee drinks sold all over town.  The thing is, I can't fathom paying for them.  I also know that if I started with them, I'd have a really tough time stopping.  Instead, I make my own "specialty" coffee.  If you are interested in cutting back on expensive coffee specialty drinks, you can try this at home.

Brew coffee at home at your own favorite strength.  Meanwhile, put sugar or other sweetener (I use liquid stevia), one flavoring (imitation vanilla and almond extract are my favorites) and milk in the bottom of your mug.  Then pour your steaming coffee over them.  Mix.  Smell.  Savor.  Enjoy.

I know these may not stack up to the expensive offerings of shops all over town, but I'm too cheap to find out.  If you crave an iced coffee, mix it, store it in the fridge and pour over ice later.  The options are endless.  I even mixed in some hot cocoa mix once for an extra special treat.  Try it, and see if it will satisfy your coffee craving, too.