Caprese Pasta

If you’ve never had a Caprese Salad, you’re missing out. Layer toasted french bread, thick slices of fresh tomato and mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette, and you have a simple and delicious summer treat.

I decided to adapt that idea into a pasta dish. I have a Basil plant which is on its last leg, some cherry tomatoes from my a friend’s garden, pasta in the pantry, and chicken in the freezer. All I had to buy is the mozzarella.

 
Ingredients:
1 boneless skinless chicken breast (omit for vegetarian)
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup pasta (garden mix rotini)
1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Handful of basil leaves, rinsed
1/4 cup mozzarella
 
Boil enough water to fully cover pasta. Once at a rolling boil, add in the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, melt a few tbsp butter in a frying pan. Cut the chicken breast into chunks. Fry on low heat until the chicken is fully cooked, no pink in the center. Add in diced garlic cloves and turn off heat.
Once pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes, drain and put back in the pan. Add the cooked chicken and garlic to the hot pasta. Use the now vacant pan and add cherry tomato halves, a little more butter, basil leaves and cheese cut in cubes. Stir until cheese melts and everything is well mixed. Pour over the pasta and chicken. Mix well and enjoy!
 
 

Homemade Minestrone soup

Fall is finally in the air. The temperature is cooling off but the sun still shines. The best season of the year, in my opinion, not too hot but not yet cold. It makes me want apple cider, bonfires, and pumpkin pie.

And my personal favorite thing about the weather cooling off is having soup and stew nearly every day! They are so easy to make, usually the cheapest recipes around, and have endless creative possibility! Look forward to plenty of soup recipes coming up.

So a few days ago, I took stock of my pantry and saw I had 1/2 box of mini shell pasta, a bag of frozen mixed veggies, some potatoes that need used soon, and a can of kidney beans. Add in some garden-fresh tomatoes from a friend’s mother’s garden, and we have inspiration for a minestrone soup!

You’ll need:
1/2 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup mini shells
1 can kidney beans
2 small potatoes
4-5 tomatoes
Garlic
Black pepper
Chicken bouillon cubes (or veggie stock)
6 cups water

Into a large soup pot, pour the water and about 3 chicken bouillon cubes and bring to a boil. Peel the potatoes and dice them finely. Add those in. Dice up the tomatoes, add those. Pour in the can of kidney beans, juice and all, and as much of the vegetables as you want.
Then add in the shells, season and simmer 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This made about 5 servings for me, 2 of which I ate immediately. The rest was put in the fridge in Tupperware for lunches and dinners throughout the week.
It can also be made in larger batches and frozen for days when you don’t feel like cooking. You can as always experiment with pasta shape, vegetables included, spices, add some tomato paste or basil. Make it your own and enjoy!

Chili cheese dogs

Well, now I am all moved in to a new apartment, and ready for a new semester. I will do my best to keep up with posting between teaching a different class, juggling 3 jobs and school, and as always trying my hand at anything and everything in the kitchen.

Now that the weather has taken a turn for the colder, it’s time to shelve the hazy days of summer and start enjoying one of the few benefits of fall/winter: chili, soups and stews! Most people gain a little weight over winter not only because it is too cold to run outside (because that IS the only reason we aren’t out there training for a 5K right?) but also because winter is stick-to-your-ribs type food to warm us up. Comfort food at its best.

And what better as a comfort food than chili? There are a million ways to tweak a basic chili to make the recipe your own, and I will put my own personal version up soon. However, I will first tell you what poor college kids do with left over chili: slather hot dogs with it!

The best way to fancy up an all-American winter treat:
2 hot dogs
1 cup of chili
1/4 cup (or more) shredded cheese
2 buns or pieces of bread

Step 1: Cut the hot dogs long ways, but not all the way through, so it’s like a hinge. Put them in a pan and cook about 4 minutes on each side, till they just turn brown where they touch the pan.

Step 2: Put the dogs on the bread or buns. You can also toast the bread/buns first in the pan. Pour the chili on top, and top with shredded cheese of your choice. You can make the chili yourself or buy a side from a fast food place. Relish, diced onion, or jalapenos optional.

Taco Salad!

When you’re hungry for Mexican but don’t want to go out, don’t have much time, want to eat healthy, or don’t want too many ingredients (or all of the above), you can’t beat a Taco Salad. Quick and easy, it can be as healthy or unhealthy as you want it.

Having just moved into a new apartment, most of my kitchen is not yet unpacked. Besides that, I don’t have an oven. I know, shocking. That eliminated about 1/3 of my cooking repertoire. However, this tasty salad requires only one pan, and little effort, so you can make it happen in under 20 minutes.

 
Ingredients:
1 head romaine lettuce, or 1 bag pre-cut mix
1-2 tomatoes
Doritos
Shredded cheese, preferably cheddar or Mexican mix
Catalina dressing
1 lb. ground beef
Taco seasoning
1/2 cup water 
Black olives (optional)


Step 1: Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain off the excess fat, and add 1/4 cup taco seasoning and 1/2 cup water slowly, stirring it all together. Leave on low heat for about 10 minutes to allow the seasoning to cook into the beef. 

Step 2: While waiting, chop up the Romaine and tomato and place in a large bowl. When all seasoning is cooked in, pour taco meat over top. Sprinkle on the cheese, crush up a few handfuls of Doritos, and douse with Catalina dressing. 

The Doritos give it a cheesy crunch and the dressing is just enough tang, while the sweet works with the spice of the taco seasoning. It is so tasty! Obviously, if you go heavy on the lettuce and tomato and light on the beef plus nix the Doritos and dressing, it is much healthier. But where’s the fun in that? 😉

What’s your favorite salad topping?

 

At-home stir fry, no take out required

 

One of my favorite super-cheap, super-flexible meals is stir fry. As a lover of all things salty, soy sauce in particular, stir frys are always a staple. You can use virtually any kind of rice, veggies, and/or meats.

This is what I had left in my freezer/cabinets:

1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup white rice
1 cooked steak (not sure what cut)
1 pint mushrooms
1/2 bag frozen edamame
Soy sauce
Garlic salt

While the edamame and rice were boiling (follow directions on box or bag) I put the veggies and mushrooms into a frying pan with about 4 tbsp. soy sauce.

I cut the steak into small chunks, and added that to the pan. Once the rice and edamame were done, I put all the ingredients in together with some more soy sauce and a healthy sprinkle of garlic salt.

After eating my fill, I had at least 3 meals left over to put in the fridge for the rest of the week.
A lesson I learned from this: don’t put oregano in it. I tried to get fancy with the spices, but then it tasted less chinese-inspired and more like messed-up pasta.

My favorite home cooked breakfast

While I am all in favor of cold cereal or granola bars, when one has enough time and energy to get up and make a ‘real’ breakfast I would recommend it. Not only because a healthy breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also because it is nice to start your day with a filling and delicious meal.
My all-time favorite is potatoes and red peppers with scrambled eggs. Simple, cheap ingredients and it takes under 30 minutes to cook and enjoy. Of course, there is ample opportunity for experimentation with ingredients.
You will need:
1-2 medium potatoes, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2-4 medium eggs
Salt
Pepper
(I also add paprika, and cheese to the eggs)
To make it quicker, microwave the potatoes for 5-8 minutes until soft. Put about 2 tbsp. oil in a pan and heat it. Add the potatoes to the pan, season and cook for about 5 minutes.
Once the potatoes start to turn brown and crispy, add the red peppers. Toss or stir the potatoes and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs.
Add cheddar cheese if you like. Once the potatoes are brown, and the red peppers are soft and beginning to brown, pour in the eggs. Mix the whole conglomeration until the eggs are cooked and to your desired fluffiness. Dump it all onto a plate and try to wait long enough for it to cool so you don’t burn your tongue on the first bite!

Desperate times call for creativity

As I’m sure you all know, sometimes in life a situation arises in which you are more financially pinched than normal. Even the best budgeters with decently padded savings accounts can’t anticipate things like home repairs, doctors bills, or car problems. Such is the situation I found myself in when a knocking sound in my car lead to one part needing to be replaced, which then lead to several other parts needing replaced, until the source of all the problems was found and I had to replace that as well!

All said and done, nearly $1000 later, even with parental help (bless their hearts!) my budget belt is tighter than it has ever been before. That, compounded with a soon upcoming move to a new apartment, meant a stock-taking of my fridge/freezer/pantry was in order.

The goal: By August 1st, have used up every edible in my apartment, purchasing as little extra as possible. This means the meals I will be eating will be sure to get interesting!

 

I have actually found that sometimes, the best meals are the ones where you just open a cupboard and say, ‘ok, what can I do with this?’ With a bit of inspiration from Allrecipes.com (one of my favorite recipe websites) I did just that, opened my cupboard and came out with:
1 can chickpeas
1 can diced tomatoes
Dried onion flakes
Chili powder
Garlic salt
1 cup white rice

Step 1: I boiled the rice, and meanwhile drained the chickpeas and simmered them with the diced tomatoes for about 10 minutes. I added about 1 tbsp of chili powder and 1 tbsp of the onions. For a bit of extra veggies, I threw in about 1 cup of frozen corn.
Step 2: Once the rice was done, I separated it into 3 individual portions and poured the mixture over the rice. And you know what? It was actually really delicious! Slightly Indian in taste because of the chili powder, the texture of the beans mixed with the tomatoes and sweetness of the corn was very satisfying. And I got 3 meals out of it!
This mission may be easier than I thought. =)

Stocking your pantry + Tortilla Soup

To make easy, delicious meals on the cheap and quickly, it is vital to have your pantry stocked with a few key ingredients. These staples are the things which keep for a long time and are versatile in many dishes, like grains and canned foods.

Here is a list of things I always try to keep in the house:

  • Rice (white and/or brown)
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta (various kinds, usually at least one straight pasta and 2 shapes)
  • Bread
  • Eggs

Canned:

  • Tomato sauce, paste
  • Pasta sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Beans (Black, kidney, chickpeas, chili)
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Salsa

One of the best, easiest Crock Pot recipes using cupboard staples I know is Tortilla Soup. It is perfect for a busy day, just open a few cans and throw them in the Crock Pot. You can let it simmer all day, then come home to a hot and filling meal!

Ingredients:
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can of chicken (optional)
1 jar salsa
1 cup cooked white rice
6 cups water
Literally, just dump all the ingredients in the crock pot. I added some dried onion flakes and oregano too. Then just let it simmer until you’re hungry!This tastes great with some cheddar cheese melted on top. You can also fry up some tortillas and put crisps on top. This does make quite a bit, so be sure to have some people to share with, or freeze individual portions for lunches all week.

Shrimp, broccoli, and carrot fetuccini

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I grew up with this dish, so it holds a special place in my heart and palate. It is so easy, but so perfect together.
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This is one of my absolute favorite quick & easy dishes because the flavors complement each other so well. Shrimp, carrot, & broccoli fettuccine with garlic butter.
You will need:
1/2 pound of noodles (I use plain straight pasta)
2 cups peeled and deveined shrimp
4-5 large carrots
1 1/2 cups broccoli
Butter
Garlic
Salt
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Step 1: Thinly slice the carrots (your choice to peel them or not). In a skillet over medium heat, melt about 2 tbsp. of butter and add the carrot slices. They will need to cook until soft to a fork, about 15 minutes.
This is my friend Aris putting his cut-up carrots into the skillet.
Step 2: While carrots are cooking, bring water to a boil and add the pasta of your choice. Amounts always depend on how many you’re cooking for. For one person, a 1/2 pound should be plenty with some left over.
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Step 3: When the noodles are about done (al dente = soft but not total mush. If thrown at a wall, the noodles should stick. Seriously. Try it.) and the carrots are soft when poked with a fork, add the broccoli to the carrots. Sprinkle on some garlic and salt to taste (or garlic salt, for those who are impatient).
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Step 4: If you have pre-cooked shrimp they are the fastest and the last thing to cook. Throw those in a skillet with about 2 tbsp butter to get nice and pink. When the shrimp is pink and warm throughout, and the broccoli has become tender to a fork, you can put all 3 into one skillet until the pasta is done and drained.
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Step 5: Drain the pasta, and pour the shrimp, carrots and broccoli on top. Add in as much butter, garlic and salt as your palette and stomach can handle, and enjoy!

Planned leftovers and getting creative

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One of the best techniques I know to save money and time on food is to plan your leftovers and get creative. There are so many dishes which are perfect for using up extra food, like casseroles, tacos, stir fry and pasta dishes.

If you have the time to plan a whole week of meals, I recommend it because that way you can make a whole chicken one day, then use it later in the week for soup, sandwiches, salads, and many other dishes. This saves you money by using one item in several meals.

For example, after Easter ham goes on sale becuase stores want to get rid of all the hams that didn’t sell. So I bought a 9-pound ham and cooked it in my crockpot with some brown sugar and pineapple juice. I had sliced ham and mashed potatoes and green beans the first day, and I also saved some cubes and slices in zip-loc bags and the bone and some slices went into the freezer.
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I ate the cubes as a snack, and made ham sandwiches later in the week. The frozen ham bone went into ham and barley soup several weeks later, and the slices I made into ham and scalloped potatoes last night. It is always a good idea to have grains and potatoes around because they are so versatile.
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Depending upon how many people you plan to feed with it, your ingredient amounts will vary. I planned to serve 3 from this.
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Leftover ham and scalloped potatoes:
6 medium potatoes
1 cup flour
2 cups diced ham
1 cup milk
1 cup cheese
Step 1: Thinly slice 6 medium potatoes with skins on and spread in the bottom of a sprayed 9×13 pan.

Step 2: Sprinkle about 1/2 cup to a cup of flour over top, and add about 2 cups diced ham. I added 1 cup of cheddar cheese on top becuase cheese makes everything better! Then pour in 1 cup milk and cover with tin foil.

I also sprinkled some salt and pepper over top before baking, it’s to your own taste preference.

Step 3: Bake at 375 for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart.

Assuming you buy a 5-lb bag of potatoes for about $3, and had the ham on hand, the whole meal costs maybe $5 total.3 of us had 2 helpings each, with a small amount left over for someone’s lunch later! Feel free to doctor it up with different cheeses, adding some kind of vegetables, using chicken broth instead of milk… get creative and have fun with the process.

The fusion of food, fun, frugality, and curiosity.