Pasta Bake with Sage Sausage

Pasta Bake with Sage SausageGenerally, when hubby offers to go to the grocery store, I make a specific list of items. Sometimes, though, I just say something like, “Get whatever is on sale.” The results can be interesting, and challenging, to say the least.

This last trip was one of those times. He came back with sage sausage. Now, I grew up eating this type of sausage for breakfast. Only for breakfast. What to do with it now?

Sage is not a spice that I generally use, and so I looked up foods and other spices that might complement it. I learned that oregano, tomatoes, and artichoke hearts go well with sage. So….a pasta bake!

I browned the sausage first in a saucepan and then threw in the rest of a bag of frozen peppers and onions. After all of that was nicely cooked, it went in a baking pan with some melted butter. I added a jar of premium Bertolli sauce along with artichoke hearts, a handful of Italian spice blend, as well as some garlic powder. After a bit of mixing, it went in the oven at 350 while I cooked the pasta. Once the pasta was cooked, it went in to the baking pan and cooked for about an hour, with my stirring the ingredients about every 20 minutes or so.

The result? It was well received by all. It had a subtle flavor that wasn’t too spicy. Plus, my husband and his daughter decided to mix in some cheese, and so that made it all the more family friendly. It was a definite winner!

Sometimes surprises can be good!


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For the Love of TVP

tvpA long, long time ago, for a recipe far, far away, I searched high and low for an elusive ingredient: TVP. Having just begun my frugal journey, I had heard about this awesome vegetarian substitute for meat. It provided the protein and taste of meat, and yet it was much, much cheaper. It sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, none of the stores in my neck of the woods knew anything about it. I became disheartened, thinking that my burgeoning love affair with TVP would meet an end before it had even begun.

And then I asked about it in our local health food store. They directed me to the dry goods aisle, where I found a bin full of what appeared to be dry cereal. I purchased a small quantity, hoping that it would allow me to make frugal, protein-filled meals for my family.

My relationship with TVP grew but also met some bumpy spots. Here are some things that I discovered as I substituted TVP in my recipes:

  • Using TVP is quite simple. As I said, it appears to be a dry cereal, and so you will need to soak the TVP in hot water to reconstitute it before you add it to something like a meatloaf. It is perfect to use in soups, though, as the process of cooking the soup will give the TVP time to plump up.
  • Plain TVP can be flavored by using sauces or condiments. However, I have found that getting it to take on and keep that flavor can be difficult. Despite my use of spices and flavorings, everything still turned out bland.
  • Although I thought that the granola recipes using TVP would be great, they weren’t. My family couldn’t stomach the granola no matter how sweet it was. I decided to stick with oat-based recipes from then on.

Although my impression of TVP was a bit mixed at that point, I still continued to use it. Then something happened that would forever change my relationship with TVP. I found flavored TVP online. It was a gamechanger. This TVP was much easier to use and required no addition of spices or condiments. Too, it helped me to create tastier meals for my family.

Whether you add TVP to meat to extend its use or make a recipe all vegetarian, TVP can be a useful ingredient to have on hand in your pantry. It is a frugal way to add protein to your family’s meals, and it can be stored easily in its dried form. Maybe you too will find a love of TVP!


Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

spicybutternutsquashsoupThis morning I decided to bake a huge butternut squash that we purchased last weekend. As it was a rather large squash, I knew that we would be able to use it for multiple recipes. And what would be the first dish to utilize the cooked squash? I decided that it would be a spicy butternut squash soup, just the thing to warm us up in the cooler weather.

I began with the basic recipe for Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup Recipe. This seemed like a great beginning for our own soup, but with some alterations that fit our pantry—as well as my energy level. The result? It turned out to be a hearty, spicy soup that brings out the best of the squash.

Changes I Made to the Recipe

As I had already cooked the squash itself, I spooned the flesh of ½ of it into a crockpot. I then sauteed the carrot, ½ of an onion, 2 chipotle peppers in sauce, and garlic until tender. That was put in the crockpot as well.

I didn’t want to bother with a blender, so I knew it would be more of a stew than the creamy soup pictured in the recipe. I therefore added to the crockpot the following ingredients: 1 can fire roasted tomatoes (undrained), 1 can kidney beans, and broth. I also added some additional seasonings, such as garlic pepper, salt, and mixed herbs. All of that combined will cook in the slow cooker until we’re ready to eat.

Perhaps I’ll find one of those handy submersion blenders at the thrift store one of these days. Until then, I probably won’t bother putting soup in the blender just to make it creamy. To be honest, it’s just not worth the cleanup.

So is this frugal? You betcha. The only fresh ingredients—butternut squash, onion, and carrot—were all very cheap in the grocery store. Taking advantage of vegetables and fruits that are in season is certainly a great way to celebrate the cooler weather as we approach fall. And with some homemade bread, this soup will make a great dinner.

Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup

slowcookercheeseburgersoupIn my house, I try to make food that will satisfy a few criteria:

  • It must be frugal.
  • It must be filling.
  • It must be appetizing.

I would add “healthy” to that list, but that can be an iffy thing at times. When I saw the recipe for Slow Cooker Cheeseburger Soup, I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed to fit my family’s tastes but also required ingredients that we generally had on hand. I did, however, make a few adjustments to make it a bit more frugal and make up for those ingredients that we didn’t have in our pantry.

Here are the changes that I made:

  • 1/2 pound of breakfast sausage instead of the ground beef
  • Omitted potatoes
  • Added 1/2 box of small shell pasta
  • Added remainder of bag of frozen broccoli and cauliflower
  • Powdered beef base with water instead of canned chicken broth

This produced a rich soup that didn’t require spices added at the end. Too, it was readily eaten by even my husband’s daughter, who is an extremely picky eater. Unlike many soups that are not so good the next day, this soup actually retained its appeal, and so everyone enjoyed the leftovers with no complaints.

The changes that I made followed some rules of frugal cooking:

  • Use a small amount of expensive ingredients, such as the breakfast sausage.
  • Fill out the meal by using less expensive ingredients, such as the pasta.
  • Use up what you have on hand, making adjustments in a recipe if necessary.

All in all, this was a great soup, with just some changes to make it more frugal. Once you learn the basics of improvising in your cooking, it’s relatively easy. And with cool weather coming our way, who doesn’t like a nice, hot soup for dinner?


Easy Whole Wheat Cinnamon Cookies

easywholewheatcinnamoncookiesLately I’ve been feeling mighty poorly, and when I feel poorly, I want some comfort. For our afternoon coffee today, I decided to attempt to make something I remember from childhood, cinnamon cookies. My grandmother made these tasty treats from leftover pie crust, and they were perhaps my favorite cookie, even if they were possibly the simplest thing in the world. Pie crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar…what could be better than that?

As we use freshly ground wheat in our home, I searched for a quick recipe for whole wheat pastry crust. I used that basic recipe with the following modifications:

  • 1/2 cup freshly ground pastry flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Changes noted in the comment on the recipe

After mixing up the dough, I melted two tablespoons of butter and poured about half of it on a cookie sheet, spreading it around a bit. I then pressed the dough in the butter, flattening it evenly. The rest of the melted butter was spread over the top of the dough. Brown sugar and cinnamon were then sprinkled over the dough. It baked at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. I then briefly removed the pan and cut the dough with a spatula into strips. The dough baked for another couple of minutes while we prepared our coffee.

And the result? It was a lightly sweet cookie with a good texture. They made a nice addition to our afternoon coffee, and with so little time involved in their preparation–perhaps 15 minutes–there wasn’t any reason not to make them. They may not be fancy tea biscuits, but they’ll do. My husband certainly ate his right up and then finished off mine. The cookies turned out simple and comforting, two things that I certainly love in a recipe.

Family Revolts Against Leftovers

familyrevoltsagainstleftoversMy husband revolted today against the continued tyranny of the chicken and dumpling leftovers. In a small family, leftovers are always a potential problem and source of dissatisfaction. Even halving a recipe can result in leftovers that last too long, leaving family members dreaming of a hamburger. Yes, folks, my husband wanted a hamburger, and I was prepared to give it to him. Lacking bread or buns, I was ready to make some quick homemade hamburger buns, but we were out of eggs, with neither of us wanting to venture out during rush hour for one ingredient. Enter improvised cooking to save the dinner hour!

During my last trip to the grocery store, I picked up some Progresso Recipe Starters on a whim.  Although they are a bit more expensive than store brand soup or a homemade mix, I had an inkling that they might come in useful during the coming week. As my husband’s daughter hates any spices, I purchased the Creamy Three Cheese variety, along with a few others. Staring at the can, I thought of a few possibilities for meals, but I eventually decided to improvise based on a recipe on the can label. I cut the recipe in half and substituted small shells for the penne, marbled colby for the cheddar cheese, summer sausage for the bacon bits, and the remains of the French bread loaf for the bread crumbs. Doing this allowed us to have dinner and give new life to certain ingredients–particularly the French bread–that were possibly on their last legs.

parmesanmonkeybreadAs an added bonus and incentive not to revolt against me, I quickly made up some Parmesan monkey bread. Luckily, I had purchased too many cans of biscuits for the chicken and dumplings recipe, and so I was able to use those tonight. While I broke up the biscuits into pieces and coated them with Parmesan, I melted a stick of butter in the bottom of a Bundt pan. The biscuits pieces were then put in the pan on top of the melted butter. The bread cooked at the same time and temperature as the casserole: 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

When  a meal plan doesn’t quite work out, improvised cooking can preserve the peace in your house, just like it did in ours. Everyone ate up the dinner, with no complaints from anyone. It’s always nice to have a happy ending, even without a hamburger.

Quick Guide to Using Wheat in Recipes

ImageSeveral years ago, scooping out the flour for my recipes, I rarely thought about the flour itself. At that time, I was primarily focused on learning to bake and finding the right recipes for my family. I was simply doing well to bake the various muffins, breads, and cookies. Cooking from scratch was an accomplishment at the time, and so I thought little about using anything other than all-purpose flour.

That was, until my husband told me about his family’s experiences with grinding their own flour at home. “What?” I asked. “You know that stuff comes ground already, right?” That’s how it ended for the moment, but I continued to think about the concept and the benefits of grinding our flour at home. After several months of cogitating on the topic and researching it, I decided to give it a try. I ordered a grinder as well as some wheat berries and waited.

When the big day came, I excitedly opened the packages, revealing the shiny, new wheat grinder and dipping my hand into the wheat berries. I was new to the process, but I was ready to give it a try. I was so enthusiastic that I quickly ground the flour and began baking some biscuits for myself and my husband. The result? Well, the result was less than tasty. The biscuits were more like hard little pebbles of wheat. Not exactly the best way to begin a new method of cooking.

With all of the information out there on wheat and its use, it can be a bit overwhelming to get started. That’s where I come in. Even if you are as thrilled to get started with grinding your own wheat as I was, you don’t have to make the same mistakes. Too, I have since done the reading necessary to use the flour effectively. No more wheat-y pebbles for us.

So what do you need to know to get started with wheat right away? Here are some tips:

  1. You will see hard wheat and soft wheat when you are shopping. Hard wheat can be used for making breads, and soft wheat can be used in recipes for muffins, cakes, cookies, etc.
  2. White wheat is often more palatable than red wheat. Red wheat is a bit nuttier in taste than white wheat, and so the latter is better to use in the beginning if you’re used to the taste of all-purpose flour.
  3. Only grind a small amount of wheat at a time. You can store spare flour in the freezer to prevent spoilage.
  4. You cannot use your freshly ground flour in just any recipe. Learn from my biscuit mistake! Look for recipe books that specialize in recipes that use freshly ground flour, usually food storage cookbooks. One of my favorites is Wheat Cookin’ Made Easy.
  5. Go slow on introducing whole wheat into your diet. This will help ease your digestive system through the change.

So does this mean that you must throw away all of your recipe books? No, it sure doesn’t. Let’s say you have a favorite bread recipe that uses three cups of store-bought, whole wheat flour. This store-bought, whole wheat flour is much different from what you will grind at home. To use your freshly ground flour in this type of recipe, simply use half of your own freshly ground flour, with the remaining half being all-purpose flour. By using the half and half method, you can use your own fresh ground flour in any recipe that specifies whole wheat flour.

And that’s it! These are the bare bones of what you need to know when using whole wheat in your baking. If you’re impatient like me, you often like to dive in to something without doing a lot of research beforehand. By learning from these quick tips, then you can get started with grinding your own flour and forgo the mistakes that I made so long ago.