Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How To Make Something Out Of Nothing- Part 1

In the past 5 years I've been on my own and away from home, I have learned many tricks of the trade when it comes to cooking for one, or for many, on a fixed income, or with no income at all! Here are a few tricks to making a little bit of food go a little bit further.

1) A piece of meat can be enough for a family, if you cook it down in a pan, deglaze with a bottle of beer (or water, if you have nothing else) slice it into little pieces, simmer in the liquid, add frozen veggies (doesn't matter what kind- I do not advocate using canned veggies because they tend to disintigrate), and finish it off with a packet of ramen noodles along with the seasoning packet. Voila! Soup! And the MSG in the soup will make it taste all the better. And if you have no chicken or beef, you can also use cooked bacon crumbles. Add them when you add the ramen. You can also thicken soup with a little bit of instant potato (flakes or pearls). YUM! (and lemme tell you- beer soup is FANTASTIC!)

2) A way to make one chicken breast feed a family, is by cooking the meat in a fry pan, shredding it, and the making a simple white milk gravy in the same pan using milk, adding water with flour dissolved in it. Stir constantly until it thickens. Add the shredded chicken back to it. In a bowl, add instant mix (like pancake, Jiffy, or Bisquick) with a small amount of water (adding more if needed) and stir until it is the consistency of biscuit dough. Then take a baking dish (whatever you have) and pour the chicken gravy into it. Take the biscuit dough and spread it over the top. Bake at 425 until the dough "crust" is golden brown. You can also make it even yummier by adding any veggie you like to the gravy, or serving it on the side.

3) A can of fruit can be jazzed up! Make a cobbler! Dump the can of fruit into a baking dish, add brown sugar and cinnamon, and then in a separate bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, rolled oats (even instant flavored oatmeal packets will work), and cinnamon together. Put it over the top of the fruit. Then add 1/4 cup of melted butter (or margarine) to the top. Bake at 375 until the fruit bubbles and the topping gets brown. Serve warm with ice cream or kool whip, or as-is. :)

4) You can make a tasty omelette with eggs, cheese, and bologna. Yes, that's right. Or any kind of sandwich meat, actually. Pre-cook it in a hot fry pan. You don't need oil or anything- there's plenty in the meat to begin with. When it's browned and crispy, it's done. Then cut it up small and put it in your omelette before you add the cheese. Delicious!

5) Fear not the Spam. My grandma taught me the yummiest way to eat the stuff. Now, I have trouble digesting "pork products" so I buy the turkey spam, which tastes better, IMHO. First you hard boil 3 eggs, cool, and peel them. Then you take a cheese grater and grate the eggs and the spam into the same mixing bowl. Then add dill relish, a little mayo, and mustard to taste. Mix. Done. This stuff makes amazing filling for sandwiches for a picnic. When I was a kid, we used to make this and bring it on long road trips from CT to VT. Even my picky husband will eat the stuff.

6) Invest in a bread machine, yeast, sugar, oil, and flour. With these ingredients, you can make a simple but versatile dough for anything! I can make a loaf of bread, or pizza dough, or calzone dough, or rolls, or cake, or WHATEVER using the bread machine. Just dump the stuff in the pan according to manufacturers instructions, set it to the proper setting, and walk away. It's so easy!!! And there are some really awesome recipes online for different kinds of bread you can make using your breadmaker. It comes out to cost less that $0.30 per loaf. When it costs more than $2 at the store to buy a loaf of heavy sandwich bread, it's obvious which way is best.

7) Latkas are not just for Hannukka anymore! My husband's family makes a mashed potato breakfast cake which is good plain, or with anything you want added to it. Mix 1 cup instant potatoes, 1/2 cup flour, 2 eggs, water, and salt to taste until it resembles pancake batter. You may need to keep adding water- I always do. Then heat a pan (on medium) with 1/4 inch of oil in the bottom, until a drop of water tossed in sizzles. I use a measuring cup to add the batter to the oil. Cook each one until they are brown on both sides. You can eat them with sour cream and bacon bits, or jelly, or peanut butter, or "Heather style" as Tony calls it- I melt cheese on them, add sour cream and salsa.

8) Strapped for ideas for breakfast? Make a coffee cake out of pancake mix. Add water until it resembles cake batter, and then pour half into a greased cake pan. Then add a layer of "crumble" following the same instructions as how to make the cobbler topping. Then add the second half of batter, then the rest of the crumble on top. Pour 1/4 cup melted butter on top, bake at 425 until a fork inserted into the center comes out clean. You can serve it with a little butter on top, or make a simple frosting using warm water and confectioners sugar poured over the top. It will harden as it cools.

9) Cookies are so easy! Cream equal parts butter and sugar together. Add a flour to make a dough. Make cookies. Bake at 325 until brown. You can frost these "shortbread cookies" with the frosting listed above. Everyone likes them!

10) Chili con carne is the easiest thing to make in the world. Soak beans overnight, and then change the water and boil for a couple hours until tender. Then drain again. In another pan, brown hamburger and pour off extra grease. Add chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Add a can of stewed tomatoes and let it cook down. Add the beans. Cook on low heat for a couple hours. You may need to keep adding chili powder to taste. Then you can serve it with some shredded cheese over the top and it's great to eat with saltine crackers. :)

I'll add more recipes later. Why don't you try one of these for dinner tonight and let me know how it turned out? I'd love your feedback!

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