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!