Category Archives: Less than 5

These recipes take less than 5 ingredients, less than $5, and/or less than 5 minutes

Mexican street corn


A trend that swept food magazines and websites for a while, I finally gave in and had to try Mexican street corn. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, this is a handheld side dish and/or snack comprised of cooked corn on the cob, mayonnaise, chili powder, and usually cotija (crumbly white cheese).

Very simple to make, it sounds unusual but I was pleasantly surprised. The sweet crispy corn mixes with the mayo and sharp chili powder spices in a cohesive taste. Try it and see how you like it.


  • 2 ears corn
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp crumbly cheese if you have it


Step 1: Cook the corn with the husk still on it. There are a few options here. Boil for 15 minutes, soak in water for 1 hour then grill 15 minutes, or microwave 8-10 minutes. Yes, you can microwave the whole ear, and the husk will steam the kernels.


Step 2: Carefully peel back the husk, leaving it attached. Corn will be hot. Smother it in the mayo, then sprinkle on the chili powder.


You can then use the end of the corn and the husk to hold while you enjoy your ethnic portable snack!


Less than 5: Quick Miso Soup


I am a huge fan of most all Japanese foods, especially sushi. As evidenced from my ill-fated attempts at Salmon Nigiri and Lazy Won-Ton Soup, I am by no means a Japanese chef. But I do try, so I feel like I get some credit for that.

This is my super fast and easy imitation miso soup. Keep in mind I had no miso paste, which kinda makes the soup… so if you do, add that! If not, this is sort of close. You will need some specialized ingredients, but honestly most common grocery stores like King Soopers are now carrying similar items in their “ethnic” section.


  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 tbsp duck paste (you can use chicken bouillon too)
  • 2-3 sheets seaweed
  • 1/2 block tofu
  • Optional: 1 pack ramen noodles


Step 1: Slice the tofu into small squares. Cut the seaweed into strips. Slice all the green part of the scallions diagonally.


Step 2: Bring the water to a boil and stir in the duck paste or chicken bouillon. Add the scallions, seaweed, and tofu. And that’s it!


This soup is delightfully salty and packs a heavy umami punch.


Add some glass or ramen noodles for extra filling power. You can have this soup as an appetizer, part of a light lunch, or as a whole meal. Quite healthy, if you’re ok with a high-ish sodium content… you can omit the bouillon but the taste will suffer.

PBB Sandwich – SNAP meal


When it comes to sandwiches, almost anything goes. And your options for frugal lunches is quite expansive. You have all the “salads”: tuna, egg, chicken. Probably more. You have lunchmeat, from bottom of the barrel bologna to the fanciest $20/pound roast beef. Then you have the endless options with peanut butter.

Peanut butter is a frugal food star because it is still pretty cheap per ounce, yet packs a big protein and caloric punch per tablespoon.

Peanut butter is great on its own. Or with jelly. Or with some nutella (brand or store brand ‘chocolate hazelnut spread’). Or mixed with some plain Greek yogurt. But this combo is my favorite: peanut butter and banana. If you have honey too, drizzle a little on for a full-blow “Elvis” sandwich.


  • 2 slices bread (or a tortilla)
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1/2 banana, sliced


Step 1: Spread on the peanut butter.

Step 2: Slice the banana about 1/2 inch thick. One banana can make two sandwiches, or you can put two layers of slices on.

This breakfast, lunch, or snack is quick to make, portable, and costs only $0.38 per sandwich!

Chicken, broccoli and potato dinner – SNAP meal


This is a super simple meal you can get together in about 10 minutes for under $1. You’ve got protein from your chicken, starch and carbs in the potato, and a healthy serving of veggies from the broccoli.


  • 1 chicken drumstick
  • 1 medium baking potato
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen broccoli
  • Garlic salt


Step 1: In a frying pan, cook the chicken for 10-15 minutes, until no pink at all when poked.

Step 2: Wash the potato and poke some holes in it with a fork. Microwave the potato 8-12 minutes, until soft.


Step 3: Microwave the broccoli 5-7 minutes, until soft. Serve it all with a dash of salt and enjoy. You can add whatever else you have to top the potato: butter, sour cream, cheese, beans, salsa…

Fresh Herb Salt


This idea came from an old “Midwest Living” magazine article I read while on vacation. In it they had several tips for making fancy kitchen condiments at home. Why buy expensive infused olive oil when you can make it yourself? Don’t let excess herbs go to waste, make your own seasoned salt to use long after summer is set!

A friend of mine has an herb garden that includes basil, so I asked for a handful of leaves and she kindly complied. A few cloves of garlic and some pink Himalayan sea salt, and I had myself the makings of a tasty seasoning! Adjust the type of herb and amounts to suit your own tastes.


  • About 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup sea salt, coarse


Step 1: Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse until leaves and garlic is finely ground.


Step 2: Spread flat to dry for 1-3 days. The leaves and garlic have moisture which will cause clumps if you don’t do this step.


Step 3: You can use as is, or grind the spices together one more time. Use a funnel to pour into a seal-able container.


And that’s it! Now you have a unique, fresh herb salt to sprinkle on chicken or fish, mix into rice dishes, or use a dash on garden-fresh tomatoes. Change up the type of herb and other ingredients you use for endless possible combinations.


Other ideas and recipes from the same magazine clipping. Can’t wait to try them all! They would all make a darling gift for someone if put into a cute little re-useable glass or plastic container with a bow.

Less than 5: Tuna Salad Puffs

On nights when you just don’t have the energy or time to cook a whole meal from scratch, these “less than 5” meals are the perfect solution. For me to title a meal as “less than 5” it must require less than 5 ingredients, and it’s an extra bonus if it also takes less than 5 minutes to make.
For this recipe, I had several cans of tuna I had purchased during a great sale weeks prior. I didn’t want the usual tuna-salad-sandwich, or tuna noodle casserole. So I looked in the fridge, and saw I had a can of biscuits. Viola, dinner inspiration!
1 can ready to bake biscuits (or croissants, any type of dough)
1 can tuna
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp relish
Salt & pepper if you like
Step 1: Open and drain the tuna. In a bowl, combine the tuna, mayo, and relish. Mix well.
Step 2: On a sprayed baking sheet, place each biscuit about 1-2 inches apart. Tamp down a small depression with your fingers or a spoon. Fill with 1-2 tbsp tuna mixture.
Step 3: Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown on top.
You can sprinkle these with whatever spices you have on hand, or a little bit of shredded cheese too.
They are great as appetizers, or eat several for a full meal! Feel free to add in other veggies to the tuna, like diced up cucumber or cooked egg, or lemon juice.

Creative leftovers: Cottage cheese & broccoli pasta

We all know the feeling: it’s time for dinner or you need to pack a lunch, but you don’t know what to make and have little to no time. Rather than caving and just buying a pizza or going through the drive-through, try this simple recipe. With less than 5 ingredients (3, in fact) and requiring little time (as long as it takes for pasta to boil) it is a tasty time-saver.
The ingredients are also something you are likely to have. Especially if you make pasta, make just a little more than you need for that meal, and keep the rest in the refrigerator. Pasta is very versatile in terms of just adding in a few other ingredients for a different, complete meal later.
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup frozen broccoli
Step 1: Boil 3/4 cup pasta in 1 1/2 cups water, lightly salted if you want. Add the broccoli after 5 minutes, and let boil another 5 minutes. Drain.
Step 2: Mix the drained pasta and broccoli in with the cottage cheese. And that’s it!
This shows you how very simple eating vegetarian can be. It is extremely frugal as well. Frozen broccoli often is on sale for $1 per bag or less, and you only need 1 cup. Pasta is a cheap staple, and the cottage cheese is an affordable protein. This meal is all-around healthy, frugal, and tasty.
You can of course add to it, such as cooked shredded chicken, ham cubes, shredded cheddar cheese, or drained and rinsed canned beans. Make it your own and save a few bucks a day by not going out for lunches or save hassle with this quick dinner.

Less than 5: Microwave Apple Crisp

Everyone needs a little sweetness in their lives, but not everyone has the time or inclination to spend hours baking. Microwaves to the rescue! There is an endless amount of baked goods you can make in the microwave. Rather than collect recipes from all around the web, I found Number 2 pencil’s post that does exactly that, a collection of over 30 mug recipes!

This recipe I came up with one night when I wanted something sweet but was too tired to cook an entire pie or whatnot. I had apples, so naturally wanted apple crisp. Apple crisp has always been a favorite of mine, it is perfectly balanced and sweet, and satisfies my sweet tooth every time. So with less than 5 ingredients and less than 5 minutes, you can have a bowl of your very own hot and fresh microwave apple crisp!


  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup quick oats
  • 2-3 tbsp butter/margerine
  • Optional: cinnamon and/or nutmeg
Step 1: Cut the apple into thin slices and place in a bowl.
Step 2: Mix the sugar, oats, and cinnamon if using. Pour over the apple slices.
Step 3: Dot the butter over the oats, and microwave for 2-3 minutes on high. Time will depend on the strength of your microwave.
Let cool just enough to hold, maybe add a scoop or two of ice cream, and enjoy!

Less than 5: Big-kid Ramen

Another in my “Less than 5” recipe series. All recipes beginning with that title will have less than 5 ingredients and/or cost less than $5. Bonus for ones that also take less than 5 minutes. =)
Ramen used to be the greatest after-school snack ever. Then in college, it was pretty much a daily staple. At 10-20 cents per pack, the good people of Ramen keep poor college kids worldwide from starving. When I started graduate school, and started taking this blog more seriously, I figured Ramen was no longer part of my life. I had graduated to frittatas, lasagna, and white bean chicken chili. Big kid food. 
But then in my masters study, my Taiwanese advisor had Ramen for lunch nearly every day. She just fancied it up by adding a handful of fresh spinach and an egg. Well of course I had to try it, as the chicken-salt smell of Ramen is hard to resist. Adding veggies ups the nutritional value (which previously was negative zero) and an egg or tuna will bump up the protein.

It turns out to make a decently healthy meal, for way less than a dollar per serving. Ever since then, when I have a random Ramen craving, I give in with the justification that at least it’s “big kid” Ramen. Now you can too!

  • 1 package Ramen noodles
  • 1 cup frozen mixed vegetables or spinach
  • Optional: 1 egg, thinly sliced meats, shrimp, tuna
  • Spices (I used parsley, parmesan, and red chili pepper for kick)

Step 1: Heat the noodles and 2-3 cups water for 3 minutes in the microwave, or pour in boiling water. Let stand for 3 minutes.

Step 2: Add the vegetables and egg. Break the yolk so it doesn’t explode. Microwave another 3 minutes.

Step 3: Stir in seasoning packet and spices, enjoy!

The chili flakes gave it a nice bite of heat, and I like the frozen mixed veggies because of the corn and carrots’ sweetness. You can get creative with this. Use tofu, beans, tuna, chicken. Any cooked vegetable will work well. I’m partial to the chicken flavoring only, but there are beef and shrimp flavorings too.

For 0.10 (noodles) + 0.10 (egg) + 0.10 (frozen veg) = $0.30 

Not a bad meal!

What do you put in your Ramen?


History of Limoncello

Limoncello is a traditional liquor of Italy, with competing areas laying claim to its origin, including Sorrentini, Amalfitani, and Capresi. Production began sometime in the 1900s, but the businessman Massimo Canale first trademarked the name “Limoncello” in 1988 (source: Taste of Sorrento).

There are many other competing stories, such as limoncello being used in coastal towns to fight the morning chill, or its use among monks in monasteries to keep them cheerful between prayers. 

Limoncello has been growing in popularity as people begin trying their hands at home-brewing all types of alcohols, from wine and beer to whiskey and kahlua. The beauty of this type is that there are only four ingredients: citrus peels, alcohol, sugar, and water.

It does not depend on a specific type of alcohol, rum will work just as well as vodka. It also can vary between which type of citrus peel you use. The steeping time is typically at minimum one month, but I’ve read up to a year. 

By soaking the peels in the alcohol, you are sucking out all the depth of flavor and aroma from the peel’s essential oils into the liquid. This infusion is what can then bring flavor to other beverages. It is claimed that limoncello as an aperitif before or after a meal is a great digestive aid, and it is also sometimes enjoyed when mixed with champagne.

Typical Recipes

Limoncello is made by soaking the peel only of citrus fruits, most often lemons, in liquor for an amount of time. It is then strained and to it is added sugar dissolved in water. The liquid is then cured a little longer. It is then ready to be drunk as an aperitif or added to cocktails.

According to Discover Italian Foods, the traditional recipe calls for: 13 Sorrento or Amalfi lemons, 2 L good quality alcohol (type not specified), 650 g sugar (2 & 3/4 cups), and 1 L pure water. Soak the peels in the alcohol in a cool, dark place for one month. Filter, then make the syrup by boiling the sugar and water. Mix and store in the freezer.

Keep in mind that all of these recipes calling for limoncello can also use any steeped liquor using citrus peels. You can make this with oranges, lemons, limes, tangelos, or grapefruit. As long as you make sure to only take the peel and not the pithy white inside, you’re good to go!

I decided to start small, and as I only had one gigantic grapefruit, that is what I started with. I scaled back the average recipe and made just one bottle of grapefruitcello.


  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 1 cup plain vodka
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ~time~

Step 1: Peel 1 large grapefruit and place peels in a glass jar. Pour the vodka over it and cover. Let sit in a cool, dark place. Mine only sat for 2 weeks rather than the traditional month or longer.

Step 2: Prepare the simple syrup by mixing the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Strain the liquor to remove the peels. Let syrup cool, then add to the filtered infusion.

Step 3: I’m storing this is the refrigerator for now. It probably won’t last too long!

This made about 150 mL of grapefruitcello. The taster shots were darn good, I can’t wait to mix up some tangy cocktails using this!

Limoncello cocktails

Limoncello can be drunk cold by itself between courses or after meals, you can use it in baking, or it can be added into cocktails for depth of flavor. This post from The Vintage Mixer is right up my alley in determining how to mix a cocktail.

Simply take 1 ounce limoncello, add 2-3 oz any complimentary liquid (juices, club soda, tea), add an additional liquor if you desire (1 oz gin, whiskey, rum), and garnish with something pretty! The website Limoncello Quest also has a massive list of creative drinks which use limoncello. 

I’m going to try a variation on a vodka cranberry and a lemon drop martini. Since I used grapefruit to make the grapefruitcello, I don’t need grapefruit juice. 


  • 1 oz grapefruitcello
  • 1 oz vanilla vodka
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/2 cup cran-cherry juice (or whatever kind you like & have)
  • Top off with sparkling water

Step 1: I had frozen lime juice cubes so I threw one of those in, as well as some re-freezable ice cubes so it didn’t get watered down. Add 1 shot (1 oz) of the grapefruitcello and 1 shot of vanilla vodka (bought pre-flavored or make your own by adding vanilla beans to plain vodka). Add in about 1/2 cup juice, and top it off with sparkling water.

I added a slice of lime wedge and a pretty stir stick, and my new signature cocktail is complete! Pretty and delicious. And with under 200 calories, about 15 g of sugar, and no fat, you can justify another one!

Have you made any homemade liquors?