Thursday, February 10, 2011

Making It Cheap and Easy

I'm sure you've noticed that the price of food has been rising steadily over the last few years, and in these tough economic times it's getting more and more challenging for many families to cook healthy meals that taste good-- affordably.

I've always been a thrifty person, probably due to my mother's influence. She grew up during the Great Depression, and her rule of thumb in life was "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." (Not so great when you're a kid forced to wear your older sisters' hand-me-downs to school, but that's another story...)

The woman could cook, she could invent her own recipes depending on what she had around, she could improvise at the turn of a dime, and nothing ever went to waste. (The invention of the garbage disposal was a sacrilege to her!) I learned a lot from my Mom.

So this week I'm going to give you a few easy ways to waste-not-want-not, to save money by making your own stuff instead of paying a premium at the stores, and to improve your health by not using all the preservatives usually present in commercially made products. I hope you'll find them both helpful and fun! I'm going to start off with homemade Cream of Anything Soup mix.


A lot of recipes call for cream of chicken/cheese/asparagus/etc. soup, and over time buying all those cans adds up. With this recipe you can forego that expense by using it any time a recipe calls for "cream-of" soup. It’s quick and easy, and it lasts for about a year! Use your imagination here (for instance, you can add grated cheese during the cooking stage...)

  • 4 Cup powdered milk
  • 1 1/2 Cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 Cup instant chicken or vegetable bouillon granules
  • 4 tsp. dried onion flakes
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tsp basil – crushed dried
  • 1 tsp. pepper
Measure all ingredients and pour them into a container with an airtight seal; a Tupperware-type container or even a large freezer bag will work. Store in a cool dark place, or can refrigerate if you want to.

To Use The Mix:

For the equivalent of one can of soup, combine 1/3 cup of the mix with 1 cup of water and heat it over medium low heat in a small saucepan until it starts to thicken. Then use it in whatever recipe calls for it. Great for Mac & Cheese, for instance, or the requisite holiday recipe of green bean casserole. Use your imagination!


This is so easy I'm almost embarrassed to mention it. You know all the uneaten veggies (and their juices) that are left over after a meal? Instead of grinding them up in the garbage disposal or putting them in the fridge until they mold, put them into a large container in the freezer and save them. On a rainy day, or whenever you feel like some nice hot soup, empty those leftovers into a soup pot, add some store-bought broth (chicken, beef or veggie), maybe some leftover meat, canned or leftover beans-- whatever you've got, whatever you like-- and turn it into soup. (Or save it as stock for future use!) Use it up! This goes great with stuffed bread, which is next on the menu.


Stuffed bread is easy to make, everyone loves it, and there are endless ways to fill it. You can use frozen bread dough from the supermarket, or pizza dough, even puff pastry or Crescent Roll dough. Save leftovers from dinner (including veggies) for the filling, or make up your own. Served with a nice soup, this is a complete meal.

On a baking sheet, roll the dough of your choice into a rectangle with the long edge facing you. Don't roll it too thin; when you heap the filling down the center you want just enough dough left on either side to fold it over the filling.

Having said that, heap the filling into the middle of the dough, shaping it into a thick log running lengthwise down the center of the dough. Fold one edge of the dough over the filling, then fold the other half over to seal the filling inside the dough. Fold the ends in, using water or egg yolk to make sure it's sealed. Turn the stuffed bread over on the sheet pan so the seam is on the bottom.

Alternatively, spread the filling out evenly on the dough, leaving about half an inch all the way around, then roll it up tucking in sides as you roll. In either case, bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. (Baking time will vary if you use pizza dough, Crescent Rolls or puff pastry)

Fill it with anything that floats your boat, from barbecue to pizza toppings; ham and cheese; leftover roast beef and veggies; artichoke hearts, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes-- let your imagination run wild!


Yup, you can make your very own, quickly and cheaply. No preservatives.

  • 8 cups flour (4c. Unbleached flour and 4c. Whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup double-acting baking powder
  • 4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 and 1/3 cups dry powdered milk

In large bowl, blend together: 4 c. unbleached flour, salt, and baking powder. Add shortening and cut in with pastry blender until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in powdered milk, then whole-wheat flour. Store in an airtight container or heavy duty Ziploc bag. Because there are no preservatives in this, it keeps about 2 months. For longer storage, you can freeze it.

Makes about 1/3 Cup

If you're watching your salt intake you're probably familiar with the Mrs. Dash line of seasonings. They're very good, but not cheap. Make your own, instead!

  • 1 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp dried savory
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp ground dried grated lemon peel

Combine cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley flakes, savory, mace, black pepper, sage, marjoram, and lemon peel. Mix well. Place in a glass airtight container and store in a cool, dark place up to four months. Note that you can easily multiply this recipe.

Use it on steaks, burgers, chicken, pork, stew, soup-- any savory foods at all! You won't even notice the absence of salt!

That should hold you for a while. Let me know how it turns out if you try any of these!

Buen provecho!

If you have a favorite recipe for a Mexican or Mexican-inspired dish, I'd love to add it to our recipe box! email (and put "recipe" in the subject box so I'll know what it's about)
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain