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Friday, July 11, 2008

Nourishing and Frugal: Main Dishes

Kimi is hosting a nourishing frugal food carnival as the first of two. Next week's will be hosted at a different blog and focus on side dishes/salads/desserts.

Feeding a family of seven (now eight!), I know how to make good meals for little money. I realized that the hardest part of this was going to be limiting what I listed here. Even when I was growing up, I was able to make a meal out of the leftovers or pantry remnants at home, so I knew then that I and any family I ever had would never go hungry.

There are far more recipes and meal ideas than the ones I've posted in this entry, but I thought I'd post a longer list here, rather than entering lots of different posts. Some of these have been posted before, so I'm just providing links, the rest are typed out at the bottom of the list. We raise chickens and ducks, so we eat a lot of egg dishes. These are frugal (even if you buy your eggs) and are nutritious, including much needed protein and the good cholesterol. Some of these recipes use cream, which may not seem frugal, but they help the meal stretch to feed more people/provide more servings, and therefore keep the protein quantities down to a minimum, which is often where the greater expense is. Lots of these allow you to use up leftovers or things that are hiding in your fridge, which also cuts costs.

Pinto Beans and Rice

I make pinto beans by starting them with about two inches of water over them in the crockpot and cooking on high for an hour, then reducing the heat to low. I cook for another three hours, then cook up some diced bacon until it is crisp (about half a pound), rendering the fat, add six stalks of celery, sliced thinly, a bunch of scallions, sliced and cook until the celery is mostly soft. I toss that into the crockpot, sizzling fat and all, along with a couple diced tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes. I also add an 8 oz can of tomato sauce. Let this cook for about another half an hour to an hour, and cook up your rice as you like. I check for salt at the end of the cooking time. I also make this vegetarian, using the same basic method, but cooking some onions, garlic, sliced celery and peppers in olive oil and toss those in with the beans along with a can of tomato sauce and a little salt.

Fiesta Casserole

This is a good nacho casserole with tortilla chips as the base. I cook up black beans, enough to make about two cups of it, and saute a diced onion, some garlic and canned tomatoes (if you have fresh, so much the better), in olive oil. You can add peppers if you like, or not, I usually do, then add the beans to this. I season it with chipotle powder, oregano, cumin and salt. I pour this whole thing over the chips in a glass baking pan, spread sour cream over the top, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese (or pepper jack or queso fresco or cotija), bake it for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts, and serve it with a salad. A variation on this is to make up the bean mixture as I describe, but put a little scoop in the bottom of your pan, layer tortillas, corn or flour, spread more of the bean mixture, and repeat the layers, ending with the beans. Top with the sour cream and cheese and bake.

Black Bean Quesadillas

Olive Oil
Sliced Bell Peppers (as many colors as you like)
Sliced Onions
Flour Tortillas
Cooked Black Beans (home cooked or canned)
Shredded Cheese (we generally use cheddar or pepper jack)

Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Swirl the olive oil in it and cook the onions and peppers, seasoned with oregano and salt, to your liking, at least getting the onions translucent. Set aside.

Heat another skillet over medium heat. Use this pan dry.

Scoop some black beans onto a tortilla and spread some onions and peppers over that. Sprinkle with the cheese and top with another tortilla. Fry these in a dry pan until each side is browned and crisp and the cheese is melted. Cut up and serve with hot sauce, sour cream, and/or lime wedges.

We eat these with a salad and fruit frequently for a good meatless dinner.

Fried Rice

This is a great way to use up leftovers and can be made with meat or without it. I use at least 4 cups of rice. Leftover is best, but you can cook some up for it. This is a loose method, not a strict recipe. You can change it as you wish.

Coconut oil/Sunflower Seed Oil
Vegetables (I always have carrots, peas, and scallions, and like to have onions, snow peas, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, I use other veggies that we have or that are leftover also, but never celery just because I don't like it in the rice)
Minced Garlic
Finely Grated Ginger
Leftover Rice (around 4-6 cups)
4 Eggs
Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil
Black Pepper
Oyster Sauce
Optional Leftover Cooked Meat like Chicken, Pork, Turkey, Beef, Duck, etc. diced up

Heat the oil in a large skillet and start cooking the vegetables, starting with the longest cooking to the shortest cooking time. I generally add things like the scallions and frozen peas at the end of cooking everything, including the rice and egg.

Beat the eggs with a splash of soy sauce, a few shakes of sesame oil and pepper. Move the vegetables aside in the pan and saute the garlic and ginger quickly, then stir into the vegetables. Slide vegetables to the side of the pan, add more oil if necessary, and cook the eggs. Chop up the scrambled egg a bit and toss them in with the vegetables. Add the rice at this point, breaking it up and stirring well to heat evenly. I sprinkle a little more soy sauce, sesame oil, some oyster sauce and lots of black pepper.

This is the point at which I add chopped scallions and anything like frozen peas and leftover meat. I give it another stir or two, make sure the peas are heated and we serve. I like to make a kind of Chinese green beans with this, but we sometimes eat it as is, with hot sauce passed on the side.

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Ground Beef
Green Beans
Sour Cream
Paprika (I love to use Spanish Smoked Paprika in this)
Black Pepper

Brown the beef in a skillet to render the fat a bit, add the onions and garlic and cook until they are translucent. Stir in green beans, I use frozen mostly, but fresh or even canned (drained) would work. Sprinkle the flour over the top and cook until you can't see flour bits. Stir in the sour cream, dill, paprika and a few gratings of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can thin with water, milk or broth if you wish. We make a salad and serve this with toast or egg noodles.

Tomato and Olive Pasta

Olive Oil
Onions, diced
Garlic, minced
Diced Tomatoes, Fresh or Canned with all juices
Kalamata Olives, pitted and chopped
Parmesan Cheese

This is a quick and easy dinner. Start the salted water boiling for the pasta. Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, add the onions, cook to your liking, then add the garlic and cook a minute or two more. Toss in the tomatoes and olives, and cook down while your pasta cooks. Drain the pasta, toss with the tomato sauce and top generously with grated parmesan cheese. I don't usually find I need to add salt to this because of the olives, cheese and how well I salt the pasta water, you may disagree.

Tuna Pasta Salad

Diced Tomatoes
Minced Parsley
Kalamata Olives
Olive Oil
Canned Tuna, drained
Chopped Scallions
Lemon Juice

Cook up some small pasta and drain. Toss with diced tomatoes, minced parsley, kalamata olives and capers and set aside. Heat olive oil in a pan and cook tuna, scallions and garlic in it. Add lemon juice at the end and toss the whole mixture with the pasta. You can eat this hot or cold as a salad.

Sausage, Cornbread and Gravy

This is a great breakfast for dinner idea. I brown up a couple of pounds of link breakfast sausage and mix up cornbread batter. I put the batter in a prepared 9 X 13 pan and get ready to bake as normal, but sink about half of the link sausage into the batter. While it bakes, I crumble the rest of the sausage, add flour to the fat to make a roux, then stir in milk and season well with salt and pepper. This gravy is a 1:1:1 ratio of one tablespoon of fat to one tablespoon of flour to one cup of milk. I let this thicken and serve over the cornbread with the sausage links in it. We usually eat this with a fruit plate or fruit salad of some sort. This meal is quite filling and feeds a lot of people.


I love frittatas, because they use lots of eggs, can be made with pantry staple vegetables, and are tasty, filling and quick to make.

For our family, I scramble about 10 eggs, add a cup or so of milk and whisk together with salt and pepper. I also like to add chives or fresh thyme to this mix. In an oven safe skillet, I heat olive oil or butter, and cook diced onions, potatoes, peppers/whatever vegetables we have around. It is really tasty with asparagus, onion and potato with goat cheese and fresh basil. When the veggies are cooked, I spread them around evenly and pour in the egg mixture. I sprinkle in feta cheese, goat cheese, shredded cheddar, pepper jack, diced fresh mozzarella, whatever kind of cheese we have that looks good. I cook over medium heat to set the egg, pulling the edges away from the pan occasionally and letting the egg run into the gap to set some more. Then I take it off the burner, sprinkle some grated parmesan over the top and put it under the broiler for a couple minutes to finish cooking the egg and melt the cheese a little. We serve this in wedges with a salad and good bread.

Scrambled Egg Burritos

This is basically as it sounds. Make scrambled eggs, I like to stir in salsa and cheese while I scramble them, fill a tortilla with the mix, adding things like shredded cheese, fresh tomatoes, hot sauce and sour cream to it. You can serve it with beans and rice, or not, if you add enough veggies to your burrito.

Italian Sausage Skillet

Olive Oil
1 lb Italian Sausage, we like hot, you can use sweet
1 Onion, diced
6 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 can Diced Tomatoes
1 Bottle Beer

Heat olive oil in skillet, snip the sausage into small pieces with kitchen shears and brown in the oil. Add onions and garlic and cook about 10 minutes, then toss in the tomatoes. Season with thyme and oregano as you like. Pour beer over the top and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes. Serve over rice or pasta, make a salad to go along with it.

Leftover Hash

Leftover Meat, diced up
Diced Onions
Diced Potatoes
Corn/Leftover Vegetables

Cook it all in either leftover rendered fat or butter or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. These vegetables are just suggestions. You can use anything that seems like a good idea to you. Adding cabbage is a nice touch, if you like cabbage. If you add enough vegetables, this is a nice one pot, one dish meal. You can add a salad to augment it, though. This can also be made with those rings of smoked sausage/kielbasa cut up into bite sized pieces, when I use sausage, I season with thyme as well.

Clean Out the Fridge Soup

This is a great way to clean out the limp vegetables in your fridge and make a nutritious meal. Saute onions, garlic, peeled and diced carrots and celery in olive oil. If you have other vegetables that need longer cooking, saute them with these vegetables. Peel and dice a few potatoes and toss them into the mix. Add a couple cans of diced tomatoes with their juices, or fresh tomatoes with their juices. Season with oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes. If you have quick cooking veggies, toss them in at this point. Shred some cabbage and add it to the pot as well. Cover and simmer another 15-20 minutes. If the cabbage needs a little longer to cook, you can cook longer, but it is best before it is mushy. Taste to check seasoning and adjust as necessary. Serve with a good whole grain bread or rolls.

Slow Baked Chuck Roast
Large Chuck Steak

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Season the chuck steak liberally with salt and pepper on all sides and place in a 9 X 13 baking pan. Cover tightly with foil and cook for 5-6 hours. The meat will be soft and easily shred, as well as producing a lot of liquid and fat that can be put over baked potatoes, rice or bread. Serve with one of those, as well as sliced tomatoes or a salad and a steamed green vegetable.

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So, though a local health food program for nursing moms and their babies, I'm going to be getting dried beans every week, as well as a bunch of other food. The beans change seasonally, and this season, the bean in question in lentils.

I've no idea what in the world to do with a lentil. I'm accepting suggestions.
The Mejeddarah recipe I linked above is a good way to use lentils, and my family really likes it. If you eat meat, lentil soup with sausage or bacon is very good, and when it is not 5:45 a.m., I will post a loose recipe for you.

Indian cooking uses lentils a lot, and we enjoy dals of various sorts. Dal and rice is also a nice mushy food for a baby just getting solids, if Lucy is at that stage yet.

A book I picked up at the library, and eventually plan to buy, is Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking. It is not some toned down Indian cook book, it was written by an Indian cook who is able to work with American market availability and tells you how to substitute and when it is better to leave things out.

The French make lentil salads that are quite good, as well. I'll try to think of more, but if you click on the button at the top of this post, there were a few recipes posted in the carnival which used lentils and looked good to me.
Okay Kristine, here are a few links to lentil recipes for you. I am going to try to post a rough recipe for lentil and sausage soup for you also in a separate post.



Scroll down for the lentil recipe.

I forgot to link to this one.
http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2008/07/frugal-food-carnival-dinners.html Scroll down for the lentil recipe.
Wow, Ranee, Thanks for the great post! You have a wealth of frugal recipes, thanks for sharing the new ones and linking to older ones. I will definitely browse through them all!
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