Thursday, October 29, 2009

$276 Worth for 1 Penny!

I've been in the kitchen lately cooking up more pasta (of course!), stir-fry, grilled chicken and veggies, and breakfast. Cheap and pretty nutritious meals, but nothing that you haven't heard or know about! Nothing too groundbreaking. It's been costing me (if I hit the sales right and stretch meals to the max and making rice and beans when I'm low on other options) to do those meals for about $150 a month which can feed about a family of four. Wednesday and Thursday nights (because of our schedules and savings which come from it) tend to be our leftovers or rice and beans nights.
One idea I'd like to share when making your rice and beans is to mix in a can of tuna. This makes the meal stretch even further, adds that extra protein, and may sound disgusting, but if you like tuna it's actually good. Top with hot sauce and no joke it really hits the spot! A filling meal for a couple of bucks.
My meals haven't been too groundbreaking as I mentioned earlier; so the reason I must speak to you is the inspiration I got this morning on "Good Morning America" that truly is groundbreaking! I was flabbergasted when I saw this married mother of two and the way she grocery shopped! I am going to try to learn her method. I mean she could make millions on her technique if she wanted to; it is incredible! Some of you may have seen her.
I call this blog "The Pennyless Cook" for a reason. I hope to challenge myself and others to make inexpensive, but still delicious meals on a small budget, but what this woman has done is on a completely different level! She feeds her family of four on literally pennies a week! I am not exaggerating! Her monthly cost on groceries is roughly $4.00 a month! And she's even buying seafood when coupons allow! It's not just Ramen Noodles, because even those are $0.28 a piece. On her shopping trip that aired this morning she bought $276.00 worth of groceries, and with the many coupons she handed the cashier the price continued to drop with the speed of light. The final total was (drum roll please)..... 1 penny! Did you hear me?!?!? 1 PENNY!!!! CRAZY!!!! My mouth dropped wide open when I saw this! That happened to be a record-breaker for her. As I stared at the piles of groceries crowding the trunk of her vehicle I just could not believe what I just saw!
Some of the methods she uses includes finding out the rules for all stores on double-coupons, rules on combining double manufacturer coupons and store coupons (CVS allows this for example), and buying free or close to free items such as 1/4 pound of seafood which costs $1.00 with a $1.00 off coupon. She works hard at this and goes to the grocery without children, I noticed, so she can concentrate and calculate with accuracy. Check it out on Happy shopping! And happy it will be if you can master this skill! Let me know if you do.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Butter Make Everything Better

Okay, Okay yes I am still feeding my family, but here's what has happened since the last time we talked. We had planned a trip to Atlanta and then a long weekend with the family; so from October 1 till now we ate all the food that was going to expire, and stretched all the groceries from September through the first week of October till our trip. The food that I concocted during those weeks was kind of scary and not fit to even tell you about, but it was definately the "pennyless" way and then some Taco Bell $.89 tacos as well. Now I am finally back in the kitchen!
After grocery shopping at the esteemed, brand new Super Target (they have whole wheat pasta for a buck)we now have a fully stocked fridge and pantry. Tonight I stuck to another simple pasta dish, which was at tribute to Julia because of the key ingredient, and a thank you to Rachael Ray for the sauce. Pasta is such an incredibly affordable dish and it will continue to show up on The Pennyless Cook. Not only does it cost a couple of dollars for an entire dinner it actually can be easily eaten for two meals and is extremely filling, and can be quite nutritious.
Tonight was Angel hair pasta in a brown butter sauce with roasted vegetables. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter (sounds like a lot but it's for a pound of pasta) on low to medium heat with 2 teaspoons of salt. Keep a close eye on the butter, stirring for about 5 minutes until it browns. Be sure not to burn the butter I overcooked the sauce myself just a bit. Then add 1 teaspoon of fresh sage chopped. Any herb would be good here I used thyme. When butter has browned add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, which I replace with whole milk and take immediately off the heat. Toss in pasta until sauce is absorbed and add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. We ate with a side of roasted red peppers, carrots, and artichokes tossed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, salt and pepper. This dish was divine! I wanted sit on the couch in my sweat pants with the entire pot of pasta, a fork, and a spoon in my lap! My son though, didn't ask for seconds....he asked for thirds! Julia would have been so proud!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mac and Cheesy Goodness

I was craving macaroni and cheese so I combined in a casserole dish cooked spiral pasta, a 15 ounce can of drained chopped tomatoes, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of oregano, and black pepper to taste. I baked the pasta at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Served with a side of broccoli and all I gotta say is tasty!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Potato, Patoto, Frittata, Frittato

Last night I made yet another pasta dish made in the garlic-and-oil sauce, but added broccoli for a healthy kick. Tonight to stretch the leftovers of that same pasta dish I made a frittata. A frittata is an easy egg dish that you can put practically anything in it.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In an oven proof skillet melt a tablespoon of butter. Whisk enough eggs together to submerge the leftover pasta. Add pasta and egg to the oven proof skillet, top with Parmesan cheese and bake for 10 minutes or until brown. Serve with a spinach salad. This is a great meal for none other than the "penyless" cook.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not your boring ole' beans and rice....

Leftovers were filling our fridge, so that's been filling our plates the last few nights. Tonight though it was back to the kitchen. I've had some requests for more beans and rice recipes so that's what I cooked for tonight's dinner.
Beans and rice is one of the most inexpensive meals you can make. When you work with a tight budget for groceries like we do this is my go to meal, but just beans and rice can get kind of boring if you have it every night. So here's yet another way you can make this money saving meal.
It's so simple, sautee in Extra Virgin Olive Oil garlic, two onion, and two green peppers until soft and carmelized. Cook two cans of beans in Extra Virgin Olive Oi with Oregano, Cumin, and black pepper. Mash the bean as they cook down; this makes the beans thick and meaty. Cook 2 cups of rice according to directions. Top rice with beans and vegetables, and my version of Mexican alfredo cheese sauce*. Serve with chips and salsa and you have the perfect change up to a typical beans and rice dinner. It's heavy on flavor, but light on the pocket book!

*See older story below for exact recipe.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dig Deep

At the end of some months I have to get creative in menu planning. Depending on what our lives looked like that month or how well I planned. This month is one o those months where I am going to have to be very creative and dig deep into our pantry. That's what I did tonight with what I call Southwest Pantry Soup.
Start with a large pot on medium heat and add a couple of tablespoons of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Next, add a 1/2 tablespoon of chopped garlic, 2 medium chopped carrots, 1 small onion and let sautee for about 10 minutes or until tender. Next add 32 ounces of chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes with juice, 2 cans of black beans drained, a can of corn drained, a couple dashes of hot sauce, 1/2 tablespoon of oregano, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Top with sour cream and you have a soup that is great for any season and any budget, oh yeah and tasty.
Try searching your own cabinets and fridge to make your own pantry soup. When you think you don't have anything to cook you probably have a fabulous creation just waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Scary little fish

Since I'm obsessed with pasta I made it again. Don't be scared when I share with you the special ingredient that makes this particular sauce stand out above any other pasta I've had....anchovies! Thanks to Rachael, Rachael Ray that is, I made another sauce that I can't take credit for, but I can share with you. This is one of her favorites and it has quickly become mine.
I know anchovies, you're thinking ewwww gross! You're thinking the smell makes me want to gag and there's no way I'm making this, but I promise if you tough it out and give it a chance you will come out of that kitchen an anchovy lover. When you cook these tiny fish they take on a completely different flavor; almost like a nut.
So to begin boil a pound of spaghetti in salted water till al dente. While pasta is cooking, heat a skillet on medium heat with four big splashes of Extra-virgin olive oil. Lower the heat and add six anchovies to the hot oil, eventually the anchovies will melt right into the oil. Add six cloves of chopped garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Stir the sauce occasionally to let garlic cook a minute. When pasta is cooked, add a cup of the pasta water to the sauce. Let simmer for another minute or so and add a couple handfuls of chopped parsley. Drain pasta and toss in sauce. Stir until sauce is absorbed and add more black pepper. I topped it with Parmesan, but it's not necessary.
For those of you skeptics my two-year-old son asked for seconds! Seconds! For pasta with anchovy garlic-and-oil sauce! I on the other hand had thirds.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I am a pastaholic! It's something I just crave and have to have sometimes. So thanks to some recent recipes from the magazine Everyday WITH RACHAEL RAY I discovered so many different ways to serve up pasta. Some of my favorite sauces that I have tried lately are surprisingly the simplest, which usually interprets to inexpensive as well. This is definitely cooking 101 the "pennyless" way.
One way you have got to fix pasta is tossed in an oil-garlic sauce. Boil salted water with pasta till just at al denta*. While pasta is cooking in a small skillet combine 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic and a pinch of salt over medium-high heat. When the garlic starts to sizzle the sauce is ready. I actually didn't have in parsley, but I did have spinach that I chopped finely (any fresh herb would be great). I tossed the sauce and whole wheat spaghetti together; topped it with Parmesan, and then out of my two-year-old's mouth I heard "MMMMMMMM!". Not kidding, he practically licked his bowl!
I cannot tell you enough how inexpensive, easy, healthy and delicious this meal is. The key to making any pasta dish is making sure to cook your pasta properly and making a simple sauce. In Italy they tend to say they like pasta with their sauce, not sauce with their pasta. A rule to live by when cooking pasta. Ciao!

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Friday, September 18, 2009


Potluck tonight at our dear friends' Amanda and Stuart's home. Good food and even better company. Tonight I brought a dish to the party I thought would be a great way to end summer, a Corn Cobb Salad. I got the idea from Rachael Ray and anyone can make this take on a Cobb Salad. It's 3 cans of corn or corn on the cob boiled, red peppers, sliced avocado, chopped bacon, bleu cheese, salt, pepper, and a vinaigrette dressing. Let it chill for several hours. I let it chill for close to two hours and it was not long enough, it needs to sit at least three hours in the refridgerator; it would be best overnight. I also suggest going light on the bleu cheese or use a milder cheese in it's place. Any cheese would work. I love bleu cheese so I put quite a lot in it, but it was just a little overpowering. People seemed to enjoy this dish despite the experimental miscalculations. It was a perfect match for my taste buds, but next I may try using feta cheese just to change it up a bit! Try it out your next potluck! By the way, why is it called a potluck?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Add Shrimp

I always plan my monthly menu by the sales at all the grocery stores. This month there was a sale on frozen shrimp at Meijer so tonight I used that shrimp in a Shrimp Casserole. I got this recipe from my friend Amanda and she got it from her mother-in-law. It is an easy recipe, and a great way to get almost all the food groups.It may sound like an odd mix of ingredients, but they all work really well together and make a great dish that can last you a couple of nights.
You simply layer 2 cups of cooked rice, a bag of frozen shrimp, a small bunch of asparagus (any green vegetable would be good; we had green peppers tonight) a mixture of one can cream of mushroom soup with 2 tablespoons of chopped pimentos and black pepper, and then top it with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake on 400 degrees for 30 minutes. It comes out bubbling and oh so tasty! It's great for kids too!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bring the Funk

I have a guilty pleasure....I hate to admit it....but....I watch Oprah. Really I switch back and forth between Oprah and Ellen, but still I watch it. The other day I was watching her show and saw chef Jamie Oliver. He was making what he calls Funky Spaghetti.
I made it for dinner tonight, and it totally brought the funk. It's a great way to use up the last of your tomatoes from your garden or from your neighbor's garden, and the only cooking that has to be done is to the pasta.
His recipe calls for spaghetti, a bunch of cherry tomatoes cut in half, 6 splashes of olive oil, salt, pepper, basil and marjoram. I cut up steak tomatoes that I had, and used basil and thyme instead. After the pasta cooks, simply toss all the ingredients in the spaghetti and smash some of the tomatoes to make a very light, translucent sauce. This simple, healthy, and inexpensive dish was to surprisingly flavorful. We topped it with Parmesan and all had seconds, including my two-year-old!
Check out for the actual recipe, but I think you could toss pretty much anything in this spaghetti and it would be good. Try it out, it's perfect for the busiest of days.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Feeling Cheated On

My kitchen has definately been neglected the last few days. I need to give it some nourishment and love here soon or it might leave me if I'm not careful! It's just been a busy life lately. Sunday, church was an all day event for us, and then family has been in town the last couple of days. It's been a crazy, but joyous last few days; unfortunately that means someone is not getting the attention they need and that is my kitchen. The most it's seen of me is for some scrambled eggs and some beans and rice.
Let me share with you a little tip with you that makes all the difference when making what can be a mundane meal. You can save a ton of money each month if you simply add in beans and rice to your monthly menu. We have it about every week just in different variations. You can take a tour around the world simply through rice and beans, and it saves you at least fifty dollars each month.
The real trick to cooking your beans so you get as much flavor out of them as possible is by using an iron or non-stick skillet, good cooking oil, and garlic. After sauteing the garlic for a minute cook your beans on medium heat while stirring till tender. Once tender let them simmer for at least ten minutes, add spices and smash them. This gives the beans a creamy and meaty consistency. When finished cooking, simply spoon over rice (I usually buy a big bag of whole grain brown rice for the fiber, which can cost a little extra*; one bag lasts our family 5-6 weeks).

*See: Tips to Cook or Eat By

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mastering the Art with Just Pennies

If you want to be entertained come by my apartment a little before dinner on Friday nights and watch as I try to cook intensely from the Masterng the Art of French Cooking cookbook by the one and only Julia Child. Today was the day I finally got to test my culinary skills as a "pennyless" cook striving to cook like a master.
After a pursuit across town searching for this 3 pound bird I finally discovered it at Kroger for $0.88 a pound. So this entire French gourmet meal cost me under $7.00 to make!
One hilarious task that I had the horror of mastering was the trussing of the chicken. I forgot to buy string and a long needle to truss*; so I had to be extremely creative. I found some ribbon, that said Merry Christmas I might add, and poked it through each part of the chicken with the end of a meat thermometer. I poked and prodded till it looked like the diagrams. It probably took twice as long as it should have.
I barely could leave my kitchen during the roasting time, basting the chicken in rich butter and it's own fat every 8 minutes, but when I pulled the chicken out of the oven it was as if it was singing. There it was, sitting in the pan surrounded by a chorus of caramelized carrots and onions, shining in all it's wonderful glory. Brown and crisp just waiting for the perfect moment to be carved as the juices cascade down it's side. I had accomplished it, what every great restaurant and cook is judged on....the perfect roast chicken!
Paired with this miraculous bird was sauteed potatoes and buttered peas. The aroma of this meal filled the kitchen, and the taste of this authentic French cuisine daintily danced on my tongue. An orchestra of flavor that is simple, yet perfectly and indescribably delectable. Merci Beaucoup Julia!

*The art of tying a chicken into the perfect roasting or rotisserie position.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A different take on rice and beans

Beans and rice are a staple in the McDougal household. We've gone through months where that is our dinner four or five times a week. That kind of repetition can get kind of boring, so I've learned to change the same ole' beans and rice into something interesting and different. This is my go to meal when the budget for groceries is run out for the month, or when there's nothing else in my kitchen left to eat.
Beans and rice can be created in so many ways so here's the version I made tonight for dinner.

Black Beans
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 small onion
1 green pepper
2 cans of black beans
1 tbsp cumin
1 bay leaf

Saute garlic, onion, green pepper until caramelized. Add beans and spices. Cook for 15 minutes on medium low and simmer for 15 minutes.

Yellow Rice

1 cup rice
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves garlic
2 tbsp Turmeric

Cook rice according to package directions with water. During cooking time add garlic, 1 bay leaf, and Turmeric. Add Cilantro at end of cooking process.

Roasted Corn Salsa
4 tbsp olive oil
1 small chopped onion
8 small chopped fresh tomatoes
1 can of corn
1 bunch of cilantro leaves
2 tbsp cumin
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a small roasting pan in olive oil. Toss in onion, tomatoes, corn, salt, pepper and drizzle on more olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes. Place roasted vegetables in blender and add Cilantro, cumin, and more salt and pepper. Blend and add more spices to taste.

Serve Rice and beans together and top with salsa, place tortilla chips on side. Have cheese sauce, sour cream, and Sriracha Chili Sauce available for garnish.
Be prepared for clean plates. My two-year-old even cleaned his!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lunch with a friend

Lunch with my pregnant friend Shanon today got me thinking of an easy, delicious, and healthy meal I could whip up for her. So I made her and her baby vegetable stir fry. Nothing special, but it met all of my qualifications, and as long as there wasn't any seafood present, it met her qualifications as well. She asked how I made it so here it is....
It's similar to my Chicken Fried Rice, but with only vegetables. I cooked the rice separate in chicken broth. I then scrambled two eggs in oil and set them aside on a warm plate. Then I sauteed onion, garlic, and carrots in oil and added some frozen vegetables. The rice is mixed in once the vegetables are cooked through. Cook the rice till brown and add a mixture of chicken broth, terriyaki sauce, fresh ginger, and two tablespoons of water. I then add a splash of white wine and one tablespoon of butter. Cook for five more minutes over medium heat and enjoy!

I added more rice and sauce to the leftovers to stretch this same meal for our dinner. Smart an economical!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Night Made of Memories

Date night.....dinner, thanks to an Olive Garden gift card, $5 movie night at Tinseltown, and a dear friend who babysat. Couldn't have asked for a better night with my husband, good food and laughs; sometimes I wish nights like that could last for ever.
While we were eating at Olive Garden I couldn't help, but think of ways to recreate some of their recipes, and that made me think about one of their dinners that I recreated for my family years ago. It's a favorite and extremely inexpensive.
Their Capellinie pasta in an olive oil sauce with fresh basil and diced tomatoes is on their menu as a lighter item and one the waitress had suggested as a healthy favorite. My version is made with whole wheat spaghetti. Garlic and onion are sauteed in olive oil and a can of diced tomatoes is added. Then spices like oregano and basil are added. Let simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes. Toss in spaghetti, add a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. It is fresh and simple, yet filling and flavorful. Bring restaurant quality to your home for less than half the cost.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Perfect Pancake

What a day! It started off with the perfect, made-from-scratch pancake*, and ended at my mother's house with one of her brilliant meals and with my son running around happily on her 5 acres of land.
This Labor Day weekend ended up being a fun and busy one, and I still can't find that 3 pound bird I need to get started on becoming a "master" cook; so here's a taste of my perfect pancakes.

The Pancake

1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp sugar (granulated or powdered)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 cup of milk

Heat non-stick skillet on medium heat with non-stick cooking spray. Sift the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, spices, and salt. Separate egg whites and yolk in two separate mixing bowls. Whisk egg yolks, milk, vanilla and oil together. Using an electric mixer mix egg whites into stiff peaks. Pour egg yolk mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in egg whites. Pour 1/4 cup of batter in skillet and cook until you see small bubbles form, and flip. About 2 minutes on each side and place on a warm plate until ready to serve with your favorite topping. What a great way to start a holiday!

See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Spending time with family and a wedding rehearsal made it impossible to cook dinner tonight, plus the fact the grocery didn't have my 3 pound roasting chicken that I planned on cooking for lunch today. Roasting a chicken, according to Julia, is the mark of a true cook. Though the actual roasting is simple, it takes precision and patience. To make it truly perfect it is quite difficult. I plan on testing my culinary talent this Labor Day weekend, once I find the 3 pound bird of course.
Grocery shopping is usually frustrating enough with a rambunctious 2-year-old who is trying to stand up every 3 seconds, or screaming, or trying to jump out of the cart; but to not find my 3 pound roasting chicken in order to become a "master" of French cooking was so disappointing. However, I did hit up on some of the sales that Meijer was having.....

Frozen shrimp close to $2.00 off
buy 1 get 1 free fresh salsa (cheaper than making it)
buy 1 get 1 free tortilla chips
9 for $5.00 Yoplait yogurt
Clearance on 8 rolls of Bounty paper towels

I'll find out tomorrow if Kroger has a 3 pound chicken and also what sales there are to be taken advantage of.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Essence of Summer

With hot summer days coming to a close I found it to be the perfect opportunity to make a dinner with the remains of what summer brings. There is nothing more that speaks the essence of any season than soup. It brings warmth and a reminder of homegrown summer vegetables. It gives comfort and endurance during the long winter months. You can see the color of autumn in every bite while the leaves are falling off the tree, or you can smell the freshness of spring as the steam billows from the bowl.
Soup reminds me of childhood; when family was together and still strong with the smell that would brush my face as I entered the door after soccer practice.
In celebration of the summer's end and autumn's begin I made the soup that speaks summer, and that soup is corn chowder.
Corn chowder is filled with summer flavors of sweet corn and fresh vegetables like green pepper and potatoes. Here's my version of corn chowder inspired by the day.

Corn Chowder with a Kick*

4 pieces crispy, chopped bacon
1 medium sweet onion finely chopped
1 large green pepper finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely minced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock
3 medium potatoes peeled and chopped
1 cup milk
1 15 ounce can corn (frozen or fresh can be substituted)
1 1/2 teaspoon
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
2 tbsp butter

Cook bacon until crispy and set aside. Saute onion and green pepper in the bacon grease until translucent. Add garlic for 1 minute and then add flour until cooked through. To a simmering pot of chicken stock add potatoes and vegetable mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk, cayenne, the bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes and stir in butter before serving. Serve in a bowl and top with chopped bacon. After this chowder you won't want summer to end.

*Inspiration for Corn Chowder with a Kick came from Gina and Pat Neely

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Creativity Doesn't Always Mean Yummy

It was just grilled pimento cheese sandwiches and homemade tomato soup on tonight's menu. I mean, remember this is The Pennyless Cook, not The Gourmet Cook so we had an inexpensive, simple, and filling meal.
To make really delicious tomato soup the key is having fresh, canned tomato juice*. Simply bring two jars to a boil, add two cups of milk, a stick of butter, a little salt, and when the soup is at a rolling boil a pinch of cornstarch so the milk doesn't curdle. Next, bring the soup to a simmer for about 15 minutes.
The pimento cheese is from the well-known southern lady Mrs. Paula Deen. Check out for her recipe, but make sure to not over mix; I made that mistake and broke down the cheese a little too much and had to add some more grated cheddar cheese at the end.
I then used the pimento cheese to make grilled sandwiches. Grilling it, of course, melted the cheese and made it really rich and creamy. Honestly, I was trying to be creative, but I really didn't like the taste because it was warm and the texture was odd. Oh well, I wouldn't have known if I hadn't tried, but it was delicious cold and on a cracker with the hot tomato soup. It ended up being a great dinner, minus the extra effort of grilling the pimento cheese.
We rushed to Bible Study after dinner and when I excitedly arrived back home I plopped myself in front of the television to the premier event of the new show Glee, which I am obsessed with already, and some tortilla chips and homemade salsa and homemade jalapeno cheese dip. The perfect ending to my busy, but fulfilling day!

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Eat the Pennyless Way

I made chili and macaroni cheese for tonight's entree. The combination may sound kind of scary, but if you think about it they're actually a perfect compliment of each other.
Now this chili was made the "Pennyless" way. I had some left over hamburgers* that I chopped up finely and let them saute in oil with onion, garlic, and green pepper. I added two cans of chili beans, tomato juice, and one diced tomato. Then the spices were added; salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and oregano. This was brought to a boil and then left to simmer for 30 minutes. While simmering I prepared the macaroni and cheese. I had Rigatoni noodles in my pantry so I let those boil as I prepared the cheese sauce which was 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of cream, 2 tablespoons of butter and salt and pepper all whisked together. I then added 1 1/2 cups of cheese and mixed it in the mixture. The noodles were then placed in a greased casserole dish with the sauce poured over the noodles. The last 1/2 cup of cheese was then spread on top to cover the casserole. Paprika was then sprinkled on top for color. The macaroni and cheese was baked on 325 degrees for 30 minutes.
Place a pile of macaroni on a plate, top with the spicy chili and there you have Pennyless Macaroni with Chili. The perfect combination of cheesy, creamy and spice.....delicioso!

*The hamburgers were reused and nobody knew the difference; plates were delightfully cleaned and tummies were full in the McDougal household tonight!

Monday, August 31, 2009


Tonight I cooked up what I'm calling a rustic country hash with a twist. It's simple and inexpensive that anyone can easily do. I heated oil in an iron skillet and cut up about five medium potatoes. I let the potatoes fry up while I then cut up one onion and two green peppers. Everything was thrown in the skillet with the potatoes to cook for about 20 minutes. Then a spicy cheese sauce was prepared. In a sauce pan I boiled 2 cups of milk, two jalapenos, a mixture of equal parts flour and melted butter*, and two cups of shredded American cheese. That boiled till thickened and then simmered until the vegetables were cooked. Place mixture on top of fried tortillas or rice and top with cheese sauce. That's it, and it's so good! My mouth is watering while I'm writing this.

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Friday, August 28, 2009

Stretching Pennies

OK so tonight's dinner was all about stretching your pennies. We had a simple pasta dish by using a jar of organic spaghetti sauce. I used Meijer brand because it happens to be one of the cheapest organic sauces I could find, but of course you don't have to use organic. To stretch this simple and inexpensive sauce I added fresh vegetables (I had green peppers, mushrooms, and an onion), garlic, red wine, and dried oregano and basil. After I let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes I happened to have mascarpone cheese (almost like and Italian cream cheese which can have a bunch of uses*) that I added at the end to make the sauce slightly creamier and richer. I tossed in whole wheat spaghetti, and that was the meal. This meal gave us 5 large helpings.
Take this idea to stretch a jar of spaghetti sauce; it's an easy, healthy, and yummy way to feed your family or to make for a romantic dinner.

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Richness and Thoughtfulness in Every Bite

Tonight's dinner was an unexpected and extremely thoughtful surprise from a good friend. She brought over chicken stir fry and chocolate chip banana nut bread. The dinner was an incredibly special treat, and the banana bread became the star of the meal. Eating the soft, chewy, rich banana bread reminded me of my momma's and the days where I would smell it baking in the kitchen when I came home from school.
Baking my momma's banana bread always reminds me of my childhood; when I would eat it for a late night snack by warming it up and smothering it in cream cheese.
Whenever you happen to have leftover bananas that are too ripe to eat don't ever throw them away. My momma's recipe will put those bananas to good use. You have got to try this it makes a great breakfast, desert or snack!

Momma's Rich Banana Bread

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups of bananas smashed (6 fully ripe)
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup sour cream
3 cups four
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ingredients in order listed, mixing after each addition. Beat one minute. Bake in two greased and floured 9x5 loaf pans for 1 hour.

The difference between my momma's banana bread and my friend's is the sour cream that adds to it's richness, but the chocolate chips would be a nice, sweet addition which she uses.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Still Yummy

Though I have been studying "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law Mary Lea, I don't plan on cooking from it till next month. So till I begin to try to "master the art of French cooking" as "The Pennyless Cook" I will continue to cook "pennyless" meals till the month is done.
Tonight's meal came from my good friend Emily and here it is....

Stuffed Pepper Explosion

2 large bell peppers, any color
1 med. onion
1 garlic clove
6 roma tomatos
6 oz ground beef
1 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup grated parmesean cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Chop peppers, onion, garlic and tomatoes. (cut tomatoes in half). Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute beef until mostly cooked through, about 2 mins. Add peppers, onions and garlic. Saute until tender, about 5 mins. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, rice and half the cheese. Place mixture in a 9-by9-inch baking dish, cover with foil and bake 30 mins. If your skillet is oven safe, you can cover and bake in it. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake uncovered 15 more mins.

serves 4

My version, due to my absentmindedness, left out the rice and for flavor added basil, salt, pepper and hot sauce. After that we placed the meat mixture on buns and served them up as as sandwiches, similar to a Sloppy Joe. Even without the rice this version was still cheap and yummy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dirty, Dirty

Yesterday we celebrated the life of Granny Mac; a woman, that as the pastor described, had a wealthy life that lived out Proverbs 31. We had laid her down to live on that Monday, under the warm sun, where she was surrounded by her wealth. I could have celebrated her life forever with my husband's warm, hilarious family, but today it was back to life, and now a life that is remembering her.
We traveled back home where I would go back to being the stay-at-home mom, and where my husband would go back to working hard at ministry. Along with life back in Louisville is my comfortable spot in the kitchen where I started another meal for my family.
Tonight's meal was something that anyone could easily cook up with, leftovers or whatever you have in your pantry or fridge. I made dirty rice, and it was filling and delicious. I used the leftover roasted chicken that I cooked up last week and browned it in an iron skillet with canola oil, onion, salt, pepper, and chili powder. Rice cooked in chicken broth and and then more vegetables were thrown in the skillet (I happened to have a tomato, green pepper, and jalapeno). I poured in a half cup of white wine and let that cook out. Then the cooked rice was poured in the skillet with 1/4 cup of chicken broth and cooked until rice was browned. Then sprinkle in parsley and oregano. Next thing you'll notice is a clean plate!

Guess what!?!? An incredible sister-in-law and even better friend bought me "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". I will be studying the book the rest of the month and cannot wait to integrate "The Pennyless Cook" and Julia's masterful recipes! Stay tuned for next month's menu....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Not Julia, but Grandma Mollie

Without the coveted "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" cook book Julia hasn't entered my household yet, but other "masters" of their own art are teaching me in the meantime, like Grandma Mollie.
Leftovers were tonight just as I planned, but for a little treat we had her homemade Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies. I'm not the best baker in the world, but I'm learning. These cookies are pretty straightforward and easy to make, but getting the baking time on my stove was the challenge. Some ended up a little overdone and burnt on the bottom, but with mistakes come the "mastering" of cooking or baking....eventually.
So this recipe, which came out of Country Living, made about 40 cookies. The top rack of cookies I baked came out perfect, chewy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The bottom rack, however, should have been taken out of the oven earlier because they were definitely not perfect.
The recipe called for a 15 minute cooking time, which would've been correct for the bottom rack, but the top rack would've been undercooked. I ended up cooking the entire batch for 19 minutes. It's always smart to just consider your first baking adventure on a recipe a test run.
These cookies aren't incredibly healthy, but they make a good energy snack or a sweet end to a savory meal with a tall glass of ice cold milk. They also can make a tasty, cute gift* for friends and family.

Grandma Mollie's Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies
"Reader's Recipe" Karen Lelbowitz of Stony Brook, New York

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened*
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Stir in eggs until well combined. In separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients, plus raisins, walnuts, and chocolate chips. Add dry mixture to wet mixture and stir to combine. Stir in milk. Drop dough in heaping tablespoonfuls, about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and slightly crunchy, about 15 minutes.

This was an original recipe of a Country Living reader. If you have any original recipes that you're proud of please share them with me and you can also go to

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Mix of Giada and Rahael Ray

Tonight's meal came from the inspiration of Rachael Ray and Giada de Laurentiis. For the main course I did my own take on Rachael Ray's "Lemon-Glazed Roast Chicken" from The Rachael Ray Show. I happened to have in my freezer two large chicken breasts, on the bone*, that I paid $2.32 for at Meijer. I placed those in a roasting pan and covered in salt and pepper. I sliced a lemon, garlic, and onion and put that on top of the chicken. I drizzled on oil and threw in bay leaves. With the oven preheated to 350 degrees I covered the chicken and roasted it for an hour. Than I made a sauce of honey, white wine, and lemon zest which I poured on top of the chicken and roasted for another 15 minutes.
For my side dish, Giada came to my rescue with her "Rigatoni and Vegetable Bolognese". To get her exact recipe check out
Both are delicious. The chicken dish is juicy and tender, with the brightness of the lemon. The pasta dish is exceptionally meaty, though no meat is in the dish, and creamy because of the wonderful addition of mascarpone cheese and the nuttiness of the Parmesan.
The pasta would be great as the main course, which is what we will have tomorrow night for dinner with a mixed green salad. Always try to creatively stretch your leftovers into a meal for the next day. Enjoy!

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Sweet Asian Meal

Asian was the theme on tonight's menu for the "pennyless cook". The recipe is a simple vegetable stir fry. What makes this certain dish so unique is the the sauce, which was given to me by my dear friend April. This sauce takes only four ingredients: soy sauce, fresh grated ginger, pepper, and low sodium chicken broth. You make the sauce first and let the flavors mingle while you saute your vegetables. This Chinese dish is easy, inexpensive, healthy, and flavorful. Although stir fry is well-known it is made original in this dish with this special sauce that is cooked in at the end with the vegetables and already cooked rice for about 5 minutes.
You can use fresh vegetables or stock your fridge with frozen. You can even add scrambled eggs and meat, which is what I sometimes do (depending on budget for the month). It is excellent with Siracha Hot Chili Sauce* (you can find in the Asian food isle at your local grocery store) and juicy, sliced oranges for dessert, which Chinese eat at the end of meals to signify a sweet life.

*See: Tips the Eat or Cook By

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pantry Pie

My kitchen had a much needed rest for the weekend, but it was back to work full force today. Without the much treasured cookbook "Master the Art of French Cooking", I got inspiration today from my favorite design magazine "Country Living". There was a recipe that grabbed the attention of my taste buds, and also got my mind searching for a way to make this certain recipe my own with ingredients I would already have in my pantry. So for lunch we set down to what I call a "Pantry Pie". Here it is....

Prepared pie crust thawed and baked
4 large tomatoes
1 medium onion finely diced
1 cup lite mayonaise
1/2 cup freshly grated parmasean cheese
6 slices of deli sliced Harvarti cheese
1 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice, thinly 1 tomato for garnish and set aside. In a mixing bowl mix mayonaise, parmasean cheese, and lemon juice together. Chop up rest of tomatoes into wedges. Line the bottom of the baked pie crust with half of the tomatoes and half of the diced onion. Sprinkle salt and pepper and basil on the top. Spread half of the mayonaise mixture on top of that layer, then three slices of the Harvarti cheese. Repeat layers again starting with tomatoes, onion, salt and pepper and basil, mayonaise mixture, and three slices of Harvarti cheese. Top the pie with the tomatoes for garnish and more basil.
This pie was delicious and fed our family for lunch and dinner. It costs next to nothing, was extremly filling and was great with a side salad. The neat thing about this pie is (hence the name) you use whatever you happen to have in your pantry. As long as you make layers and have some sort of cheese and mayonaise mixture you can put whatever you want in the pie. Any vegetable or even meat would be great in it, and if you don't have a frozen pie crust you can make your own; most everyone has those ingredients on hand. Try it out, it's also a great way to use up leftovers!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Closer to Paris

I didn't "master the art of french cooking" tonight (still don't have my hands on that cookbook), but I did start on my passport for my trip to France. The beginning of my passport was tonight's dinner, which was something you might enjoy in a Parisian cafe; a Croque Monsieur with a side salad and vinaigrette.

A Croque Monsieur is a hot, open-faced sandwich of ham and Swiss cheese with a Dijon bechamel sauce, a sunny-side up egg and fresh thyme. The side salad was a simple mix of greens, but what makes it special is the homemade vinaigrette of olive oil, minced garlic, balsamic vinaigrette, honey mustard, salt, pepper, and the surprise ingredient is a splash of soy sauce.

This meal is also an absolutely perfect lunch, late night snack, or even a late night meal for a casual dinner party, and it is extremely friendly on the bank account. Couldn't we all use some assistance when comes to budget friendly menu planning....I mean how cheap are eggs? This entire meal; Croque Monsieurs and cafe salad cost around about $7 and could easily feed a family of four.

For complete recipes check out under Rachael Ray and Mellisa d'Arabian.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Little Richer After This Poorman's Dinner

Still haven't gotten my hands on that sacred cook book. So as I foresaw, after an evening of swimming with the family we sat down to leftovers, but not just any leftovers, I kicked up last nights casserole just a little. With freshly chopped jalapenos and freshly grated* Parmesan cheese, this Cheesy Macaroni Mushroom Casserole tasted like a different meal. It had just the right amount of heat from the peppers and saltiness from the Parmesan that it was a simple orchestra of flavors. On the side was my grandparent's homegrown tomatoes again. For dessert I must give credit to Food Network's newest addition Melissa d'Arabian for her Applesauce Granita with Maple yogurt that cooled us down on this hot summer night. You have got to try this meal. It is so inexpensive it's not even funny; for our family of three we will have three meals from it, and it is so simple. Here it is.....

Cheesy Macaroni Mushroom Casserole
(Here's my own lighter version of the recipe, and with bigger flavor)
3 cups of boiled whole grain macaroni
1 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup of sweet onion
1 large can of mushroom with juice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups Swiss cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 jalapeno finely chopped
1 sleeve of whole wheat Ritz crackers finely crushed
6 tbsp of butter melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix macaroni, mayonnaise, mushrooms, soup, and Swiss cheese together in a large bowl. Pour in a large casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Mix crackers and butter together and cover the top of the casserole. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and jalapeno on top for a finishing touch. Cook for 25 minutes and let sit for 5 minutes.

Applesauce Granita with Maple Yogurt
check out under Melissa d'Arabian
(only 5 ingredients which you probably already have in your pantry; so simple and refreshing)

*See: Tips to Eat or Cook By

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poor Man's Dinner

Already ran into my first dilemma and I haven't even started cooking yet.....I can't find this Julia Child cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" anywhere for a decent price! Actually I can't find it at any price for that matter. Any suggestions?

Dinner was poor man's style cheesy macaroni and mushroom casserole with homegrown tomatoes thanks to a friend for the recipe and my grandparent's garden for the tomatoes. Later it was Gelato in one of my favorite places, Norton Commons, and than back home to make some fresh guacamole with blue corn tortilla chips for a late night snack. The casserole was good, but it was no Julia Child recipe. I have got to find that cook book because tomorrow night is going to be leftover cheesy macaroni and mushroom casserole which is economically ambitious, but not culinary.

I'm not for sure if Julie or Julia would be proud of tonight's dinner, but what's a servantless cook supposed to do without her beloved cookbook?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mirror Image

Okay, so I think doing this blog has been predestined or it's like destiny or something. My husband and I just saw the movie Julie & Julia the night of August 11th, which is the exact date that Julie Powell started blogging through Julia Child's infamous book "Master the Art of French Cooking"! Very weird if I must say so my self so.....I have come to the conclusion, that with no certain deadline, I will buy her cookbook and work my way through French cooking for the servantless cook.

I saw myself completly in Julie Powell; I felt like she was living my life right in front of me. We both live in an apartment, we both love to write and don't feel like writers because we're not published, we both are married to wonderful men, we both absolutly love food and love to eat it, and we both want to follow through with something for once in our lives!

Thanks to my friends and readers for more inspiration in unexpected places I have been totally and utterly encouraged to do this! This, meaning cook my way through Julia Child's cookbook and blog about it. Saying this is a large feat in itself because of the well known fact that I never finish anything; I mean NEVER excluding my plate at dinner of course. I know Julie Powell did this exact same thing, but I want to learn how to cook the way the French do, and I did take four years of French in high school and traveled to France after I graduated. Maybe this is why? Is it weird that I'm doing what was just done and what an entire movie is in the theater about this very thing which I drew inspiration from? I guess it doesn't really matter. It's what I want to do, and it's now a goal I have, at this very moment the same date several years later that started Julie Powell's quest for salvation through the art of cooking.

What better way to celebrate two of my top five loves writing and food (the others are none other than God, my dear husband, and my son). Writing and food give me such a sense of joy and contentment. With the right meal all is right in the world.

So tomorrow I will venture to a used bookstore to search for this cookbook and begin cooking. I will strive everyday to write about my adventure and journey through her book, but for now Bon Appetite!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Inspiration in the Unexpected

For so many years I have longed to mesh my passions together and share it with the world. Beyond my passion for Christ, my family, and the treasures of motherhood there is one passion that flows from my mind to my fingertips and the second from my mouth to my stomach....writing and food. From my childhood I have loved the two and have dreamed of fusing these two together. To have the title of food critic has been a life long dream, but that's all it has been-a dream and I am no closer to that dream then when I was a child. I get jealous when I read food reviews or see cooks and chefs on the Food Network and wonder how they got to where the are. Most is originality, good ideas, and hard work, but there always seems a special ingredient that I still have not figured out.
Today I am filled with joy because of the life I have today, but there is a small part of me that aches. I want to give to my family and others my love of food and writing. In whatever form that is I want to release that passion for these two that is inside of me.
I have been inspired by the new movie Julie & Julia. The idea of cooking through a favorite cookbook and writing about it may be overdone especially with the arrival of this new movie this month, but I am dying to pursue my passion by going on a journey through cooking and writing about this food that I find so much emotion mixed throughout.
What should I write about or cook? I have no answers any of you? How are you pursuing your passions currently and how can I pursue these two passions regularly? Please give your feedback!