Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Making tzatziki -- Greek cucumber dip -- a little bit of a different recipe

I use tzatziki for everything. I love it. Dip, salad dressing. Mix it with salsa for dip or salad dressing. It's easy to make, low in fat and calories and it tastes pretty darn good.
However, without sour cream it can be a little bit too tangy. I thought and thought what could I do to change my tzatziki recipe just a little bit to make it a bit smoother in taste?

The answer? Just a little bit of whipped salad dressing! You know, like Miracle Whip? Some will say ewww...all junk. Well, it works and I don't use that much so I can life with it.
Add a little whipped dressing in your tzatziki
For every cup of yogurt use 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon of whipped salad dressing in the above recipe (follow the link). And let me know what you think.


Trying a new recipe -- low-fat blue cheese dip or dressing

I found a great recipe for low-fat blue cheese dressing! I don't eat a lot of it mainly because there are way too many calories in it, but...this one I may have around more often!
Yummy low-fat blue cheese dressing or dip

The original recipe comes from but I, as always, made a few tweaks. 

Instead of Greek yogurt I used plain yogurt. I strained it through paper towels to make it thick. Worked perfectly!

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

Straining the yogurt to make it thick

Covered with paper towel to help absorb liquid

The other change I made was I used white pepper instead of black pepper.

I used whipped salad dressing instead of light mayo

I used plain white vinegar instead of white wine vinegar. I found I needed to use 2 Tablespoons instead of 1 Tablespoon to get the flavor I wanted.

Same thing with the lemon juice, I needed 2 Tablespoons to get the desired taste.

I also didn't mash the blue cheese too much. We like our blue cheese dressing a bit on the chunky side.

The longer this sits in the fridge the better it tastes and it thickens up quite nicely.

Loved this and we will make it again...often.
Voila -- low-fat blue cheese dressing or dip!
What you will need to make low-fat blue cheese dip or dressing:
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese crumble
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, strained
  • 1 Tbsp. whipped salad dressing
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
How to make low-fat blue cheese dressing and dip.
  • In a small bowl, mix together blue cheese, strained yogurt, whipped dressing and mash it up a little bit if you like your blue cheese dressing chunky. If you like it smoother, mash it more.
  • Stir in the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. 
  • Mix until well blended. 
  • Refrigerate at least an hour before serving to get the perfect taste
  • Yield -- about 1 cup

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Guacamole, sort of, with no carbs, low fat, low calories -- the secret ingredient is....

I love avocados and I'm supposed to eat them for the good fats. However, I don't think I'm supposed to eat an ENTIRE avocado for lunch. I had to come up with a way to enjoy avocados without eating the entire thing.
It's sorta-guacamole!
What did I do? Here we go!

1 cups steamed cauliflower florets
1 small/medium ripe avocado
Lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

steamed cauliflower
Mash the cauliflower in the bowl.
Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop out the avocado into the same bowl with the mashed cauliflower.
Add some lemon juice (1 to 2 tsp.) a pinch or two of salt, pepper and some garlic powder.

An avocado -- 69¢ at Aldi last week
Mash it all up until it's smooth, or the texture you desire. Add more lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder to suit your tastes.
And...done. And...delicious!
That's it. This makes a great spread or side with the salmon patties/salmon burgers I posted earlier.

Salmon patties made from frozen salmon fillets --- What's for dinner Mom?

I have been tired of the same old baked salmon fillets and a member of my Facebook recipe group Common Cent$ Recipes suggested making salmon patties. Salmon patties with frozen salmon fillets? This was interesting!
Salmon Patties made from frozen salmon fillets!
Salmon patties have negative memories for both my hubby and I. Growing up either a grandmother or mom would make them with that God-awful canned salmon (apologies if you like that stuff) and salmon patties were something to be dreaded rather than enjoyed. Much like tuna casserole or liver and onions (again, apologies if you enjoy those).

I set out to make these salmon patties from frozen salmon fillets, which I buy at Aldi for $3.99 per pound. First, I baked the defrosted salmon at 350*F on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray for about 8 to 10 minutes. I let the fillets cool just enough to put them in a container and refrigerate them overnight.

The next day I made the salmon patty mixture with the cooled salmon, liquid egg whites, chopped onion, flavored bread crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

I sprayed a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray and preheated the oven to 350*F. Then I shaped the salmon mixture into patties and pressed each side into a bowl of panko bread crumbs. The salmon patties came out looking more like a salmon burger than a patty. I got 8 nice size salmon patties (or salmon burgers) out of the mixture.

I placed each one on the cookie sheet and then sprayed the top of them with cooking spray also. Popped them in the oven and baked on one side about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Carefully flipped them and baked them on the other side 10 to 15 minutes. Again, until they were golden brown. When you flip them spray them again with cooking spray. This helps get that really nice golden brown color. And the panko will give these salmon patties (salmon burgers?) a nice crunchy crust.

Remove from the oven and cool just long enough, maybe a minute or two, to remove with a spatula to plates. Serve your salmon patties (salmon burgers?) on a roll with tartar sauce or just on a plate with a slide of sliced tomatoes or some cauliflower-avocado dip/spread.

Enjoy -- and thank you again Cindy for the idea!

What you will need to make salmon patties/salmon burgers with frozen salmon fillets:

1 pound of frozen salmon fillets -- they don't have to be expensive
3/4 cup egg whites or 2 whole large eggs
1/2 cup flavored bread crumbs
3 to 4 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Cook and cool the salmon. Flake the cooked and cooled salmon into a bowl
Cooked and cooled salmon -- flaked in bowl

To the flaked salmon add the egg whites, flavored bread crumbs, chopped onion, salt pepper and garlic powder. Mix well to incorporate all the ingredients.
Salmon patty/burger mixture
In a small bowl mix together the panko bread crumbs and flavor with a little salt and pepper, just a dash of each.

Panko bread crumbs, salt, white pepper
Roll the salmon mixture into balls, use approximately enough salmon to look like a small tennis ball. Not quite as big as a tennis ball though. Then flatten each as you would a burger. Place the patty into the panko bread crumbs, both sides. They don't have to be completely coated, just enough on each side. 
uncooked salmon patty/burger dipped in panko
Place the salmon patties/burgers on the prepared cookie sheet. Spray the tops with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350*F for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Fully cooked salmon patty/salmon burger
Carefully flip the salmon patties/burgers, spray them again with non-stick cooking spray. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool a minute or two before serving. 
Fully cooked salmon patty/salmon burger
Yield: 8 salmon patties/burgers. Depending on appetites this could feed 4 adults, 2 adults and 2 kids or 8 kids. Either way, you get 8 salmon patties/salmon burgers from a one pound of frozen salmon fillets, some bread crumbs and some eggs. Not bad!

Friday, September 19, 2014

How to poach an egg - not as difficult as you think it is

When I had my surgery my husband filled in for me in the cooking department. He also filled in with recipes and how to instructions!

This morning I told you I was making Rachael a poached egg on an English muffin half with some wafer thin sliced turkey, cheddar cheese and spinach. They turned out very delicious and now she insists I share the recipe with you. 

Before I share the recipe I want to tell you how to poach an egg. When I was typing up the recipe I put poach the eggs in the instructions. Miss Know-it-all said, "you know, some people might not know how to do that. You need to tell them how to do that!" Okay! 

You'll need a small pot, a slotted spoon, some white vinegar, 2 large eggs -- or whatever size you want to use -- and some salt. And water, you'll need water.

Put a few inches of water in the small pot, not too big. It's really best to poach eggs one at a time, but you can do two just be careful. Add a bit of white vinegar, maybe 1 teaspoon -- that should be enough. DO NOT USE TOO MUCH because your eggs will taste crappy. The vinegar helps the eggs keep their shape (Rachael told me to tell you that).

Do NOT boil the water, just bring it to a simmer. You want very hot water, but not boiling water because then the delicate egg will break -- and you don't want a broken yolk.

Break the egg into a small dish and then slide the egg gently into the middle of the simmering hot water in the pot. Using a rubber spatula, gently move the egg around to make sure the egg white and yolk stay together and the egg white doesn't go all stringy in the pot on you.

It will take a few minutes for your egg to poach all the way through, watch it carefully! Some people like a really runny yolk, some like a more firm yolk, some like it somewhere in between. Your choice, but make sure the white is cooked or you get that slimy gross white uncooked stringy bit and that's nasty.

Scoop the egg out with the slotted spoon and let as much water drain off as possible. Place on top of your toasted and buttered bread or English muffin.

And that is how to poach and egg. Now for the recipe! Here it is -->

Friday, May 9, 2014

Making ‘refried’ beans from scratch – a lot less fat and sodium and they are easy to make!

Do you know most canned refried beans are full of lard? That’s fat we do NOT need in our bodies! On top of that, they’re full of sodium. Yeah, they’re cheap, but do you realize that buying a bag of dried pinto beans is actually cheaper? A pound of dried pinto beans makes a lot of cooked beans – and 2 cups of cooked beans will make a lot of homemade ‘refried’ beans – without any lard and very little salt.
'Refried' beans made from scratch with pinto beans
This recipe is so easy it doesn’t need a list of ingredients or directions. Buy a bag of dried pinto beans. Cook them according to package directions. This will make a LOT of beans, so you may want to only cook half a bag the first time.

Once they’re cooked and nice and soft, drain them, but save about ½ to 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Mash the beans up in a big microwave safe bowl with some of the cooking liquid using a potato masher. No potato masher? Use a metal or wooden spoon. They don’t have to be mashed completely, they’re better if you leave a few whole ones and half mashed ones. If you like your refried beans thicker, don't use as much liquid. If you like them a little on the soupier side, use more cooking liquid.

Add some shredded cheese, cheddar is good, so is pepper jack – whatever you have on hand. Add a teaspoon of butter or margarine. Put the bowl in the microwave for a couple of minutes until the cheese and butter melt. Stir in a few dashes of Frank’s hot sauce (or whatever hot sauce you prefer) and salt to taste. Mix it all up, top with a little more shredded cheese, if desired.

Use with burritos, tacos or use as a dip, whichever suits your fancy!

Grandma’s homemade lentil soup: Poor man’s lentil soup recipe

You've got dried beans -- from wherever -- food outreach program, WIC or you bought them because they were inexpensive. Now what? Here's an easy recipe, yes, I promise it's easy. If you have a soup pot, a knife, water, salt and a few veggies you can make this lentil soup.
Lentil soup made easy -- you don't need to use a beef or ham stock -- water will do just fine
This is my Grandma’s homemade lentil soup recipe, or as Grandma used to call it, Poor Man’s lentil soup. 
I’ve made a few tweaks over the years, but the basic recipe has stayed the same. This makes a LOT of soup so you may want to make only half the recipe. My family loves lentil soup and it doesn't last long around our house.

One thing all of my Grandmothers’ taught me was to waste nothing. I make my own vegetable broth from scraps and peelings. Any time I trim celery or peel carrots or remove the peel from an onion it goes into a bag in the freezer until there is enough to throw into the crock pot (or a pot on the stove) and cook down for vegetable broth.

Pump up the nutrition factor without adding too many calories or spending a lot of money, add 4 ounces of chopped frozen spinach that has been thawed and drained (squeeze all the water out) to the soup the last 20 minutes. Stir to incorporate. This will thicken the soup up a bit and you may find that you need to add more water and increase the heat to medium-high to get it hot and bubbly again.

No frozen spinach? Use a can of drained spinach. No spinach? Use a can of drained mixed vegetables. Remember the key is, use what you have, and don’t be afraid to experiment with what YOU have on hand.

If you decide to use a can or two of mixed vegetables you can skip the celery and carrots in this recipe.
This lentil soup recipe will make about 10 to 12 one-cup servings, at the average cost of about 15¢ to 20¢ per serving.

This lentil soup makes a delicious and nutritious meal all on its own or you can serve with any kind of sandwich. Try tuna, chicken salad, turkey, ham, grilled cheese, whatever you have in your kitchen.

Grandma’s lentil soup recipe
Ingredients for Poor Man’s Lentil Soup:
  • 8 cups water or vegetable broth
  • ½ cup celery, diced
  • ½ cup carrots, diced
  • ½ cup onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced OR 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil or 1 Tbsp. margarine or butter
  • 2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over to remove any stones
  • salt and pepper, to taste

How to make Grandma’s lentil soup:
  • Add oil to a 4 to 6-quart stock pot and heat on medium-high heat.
  • Add onion and garlic and sauté until softened, but do not let get brown.
  • Add carrots, celery and water, or vegetable broth.
  • Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then add the lentils and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 45 to 50 minutes, until lentils are soft and soup is thick.
Rachael's recipe notes:
  • You may need to add more water about halfway through cooking, so keep an eye on the pot. If the pot starts to boil, reduce heat from medium-low to low and uncover.
  • You want the thickness of this soup to be between a soup and a stew, that's what makes it hearty.

Dried beans -- I've got them, NOW what do I do with them?

Dried beans of all sorts, black beans, lentils, split peas, Great Northern beans, can all be purchased at any supermarket in the dried bean section. You should be able to find them for $1.50 or less per pound.

It has come to my attention that there are a lot of Moms out there who don’t know what to do with these lentils or any of the dried beans that they receive. I’m hoping a little help from me will encourage you to use them in your cooking. 
Brown Lentils
Many times struggling families receiving assistance from food outreach programs may find a bag of lentils or pinto beans or black beans when they receive their groceries.Those receiving WIC benefits may also find themselves with a lot of lentils, as well as other beans.
Dried pinto beans
Dried beans are an excellent source of protein. Getting your family to eat them can be a challenge, but once you get them to try something new, just a small taste or two, you might be surprised what they will eat. AND…your grocery budget will stretch even further!
Dried black beans
I'll start with some simple recipes, things you can start off as side dishes and then slowly progress to main dishes as your family enjoys them more and more.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why won’t my crock pot…or slow cooker…cook vegetables and other crock pot dilemmas

Thanks for responding to my question – do you have a crock pot or slow cooker or at least a good pot for making soup? A Facebook friend said that she doesn’t like to make soup in her crock pot because the veggies don’t cook. The meat cooks just fine, but not the veggies! Why?
What's wrong with MY crock pot or slow cooker??

I’ve had every size, brand, etc. of crock pot and slow cooker there is. West Bend, Hamilton Beach, Rival…in every size, shape, color – removable and not removable crock. I even had one in burnt orange from the 70s. Yeah…from the 1970s.

My oldest one – a West Bend that was probably also from the 1970s – never cooked evenly for me. If directions said to cook something 6 to 8 hours on low it took my West Bend 8 to 10 hours. And if I tried to cook something on high? Forget about it! It would burn the heck out of whatever I was making. I ended up using that one primarily for making vegetable broth or other meat stocks for soups and stews.
I have also had issues with my crock pot not cooking vegetables properly for soup. Not since I bought a brand new Rival crock pot, but in the past, even my newish Hamilton Beach gave me problems. I found I had to pre-cook the veggies just a little bit. I had to make sure that vegetables like carrots and potatoes were cut into as close to the exact size as possible or they would not cook evenly. Some would be fine, other’s would be hard as rocks.

If your crock pot or slow cooker is old, or if you purchased it at a thrift store or garage or yard sale, consider replacing it. Wait for sales – Walmart and Target are great places to watch for deals – especially when they offer rebates OR Target offers gift cards for purchasing something. The BEST time to buy a brand spanking new crock pot or slow cooker is during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday frenzy. You can get a decent sized Rival for less than $15 if you watch carefully – and check out your favorite store’s website. I’ve seen Walmart put Rival crock pots on sale on their website but not in-store. And you can get free site-to-store shipping.

The best brands for slow cookers are West Bend and Hamilton Beach, in my opinion. And there is only one brand that can actually call it a crock pot – and that’s Rival. They may be a little more expensive, but they are worth every penny. The one I had in burnt orange from the 1970s? Yeah, I still have it! It’s small and I usually only make dessert in it, but it is still very reliable and I love it!

Everything I learned about cooking I learned from my Grandmothers'

I'm Italian -- and Sicilian (no, it's NOT the same thing as Italian!) also German, English, French, Welch, probably a little Russian and Polish too. And one thing I learned from my Grandmothers' (one great-grandmother, two grandmothers) -- don't you DARE waste anything!
Let's talk the basics of cooking! What do you want to know?
Everything I learned about cooking I learned from them at an early age. By the time I was 16 both my Nonni (Sicilian great-grandmother) and my Nonna (Italian grandmother) were gone, but in the short time I had with them I learned a lot. I also learned a lot from my English/German grandmother -- who grew up in the Amish/Mennonite/Quaker community. She and my Grandpa raised 4 children on a super-tight budget, tighter than any budget I ever had to work with.

I've been cooking my entire life. By the time I was 12 years old I was making dinner for our little family of 4 -- both my parents worked full time. But I realized something recently, not everyone grew up with someone to teach them how to cook. Not everyone has the kitchen appliances I have access to. Not everyone knows what the heck to do with some of the food that's out there. So, let's talk about the basics of cooking.

Post your comments here, email me directly at and let's turn the world around with some delicious and better-for-you home-cooking. Let's break the processed food and junk food habit. And let's do it together. Ready?

Monday, May 5, 2014

How to make French dressing -- more make your own salad dressing recipes!

As I said in the post with the recipe for Greek dressing, you can probably get bottled French dressing cheaper on sale with coupons, the label. I rarely, if ever, buy bottled salad dressings anymore. I have the ingredients on hand to make them because I buy those ingredients to make other things or to use with other foods!

Homemade French dressing -- more mayo than ketchup
I usually take a quiet Sunday, the day I do my coupon clipping and grocery lists and do-ahead cooking for the week, and make up whatever salad dressings anyone has asked for that week. Sometimes I just make up Greek dressing and French dressing for the month and unless someone asks for something different, I just leave those two in the fridge. The basic oil and vinegar is another one I'll make up once a month, too.

My husband usually makes this one up -- he's the one who likes French dressing the most. He says to add the ketchup and mayonnaise (he likes Miracle Whip instead) until you get the color you desire (he likes it a very light orange -- more Miracle Whip than ketchup) but this is his basic recipe.
French salad dressing recipe
Ingredients for French dressing
How to make basic French dressing:
  • Add ingredients to medium-sized container with with tight fitting lid.
  • Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  • Add more lemon juice if you want a bit more tang. Add more garlic powder, if desired.
  • Yield: approximately 1 cup

French dressing will keep in the fridge for at least 2 weeks, even up to a month.

Greek dressing recipe -- stop buying bottled and make it yourself!

Make your own Greek salad dressing at home -- it's not complicated and it tastes delicious. Yes, you can probably buy bottled Greek salad dressing cheap with sales and coupons. However, look at the ingredients. Even the fat-free and reduced fat kinds aren't good for you, especially if you have health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. The sodium, sugar and carbohydrate numbers on bottled salad dressing are staggering!
Homemade Greek dressing -- easy and healthier than bottled
So, make your own! A good basic oil and vinegar dressing is a great place to start (you can find the basic
oil and vinegar recipe here) and then give this homemade, make it yourself, no funny ingredients you can't pronounce Greek dressing recipe. 

I make this up in batches (about 3 cups at a time) and refrigerate it for up to a month, sometimes up to two months. Note: the better quality of the olive oil you may notice that the dressing "freezes" up in the fridge. This is a GOOD thing -- a high-quality olive oil will do this (I learned that on Dr. Oz!) because it is real, honest to goodness olive oil, not olive oil blended with God knows what.

Basic Greek salad dressing recipe
Ingredients for Greek salad dressing:
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. crushed oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. dried dill weed
  • Pinch black pepper

How to make Greek dressing from scratch:
  • Add ingredients to jar with tight fitting lid.
  • Shake or stir well to combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
  • Shake or stir well before each use.
  • Yield: 1 cup
  • The dressing will turn a light color with a creamy texture as the oil and vinegar combine.
  • Greek dressing will keep in the fridge for at least one month, maybe even two, so feel free to double or triple the recipe if you have a large enough jar or container.

And of course -- with your Greek salad give Steak Pitas with tzatziki a try for a quick weeknight dinner!
Yummy steak pitas with tzatziki -- 30 minutes or less!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mom, I live in the dorm! How do I save money with coupons?

Dorm rooms are small, and when my son shared a dorm room with three other people there was barely room to sleep let alone keep extra shampoo or deodorant or laundry detergent. So, what do you do when you’re a college student, living in the dorm, or sharing an apartment with one or more people, and you want to save money using coupons?
How can I save money living in the dorms or a small apartment with roommates??
The most effective way is to talk to your roommates. Talk about your needs when it comes to things like personal care items, laundry detergent, etc. If you’re roommates are hesitant to discuss their finances with you, find like-minded individuals in your classes at school OR in your dorm. Form a “club” and shop together, pooling your resources, time and coupons. Make lists, with your friends, of the items you need and want to buy.

The next thing you want to do once you’ve found a few friends to pool your resources with, talk to your parents. Find out what coupons mom may have to share with you. Mom may belong to a few groups on Facebook or in the neighborhood and may be able to offer up advice on where to shop, when to shop and what coupons to match to what sales. Moms have been teaching their children for years, everything from learning to talk, potty training to your ABCs and 123s.

Because we have access to the Internet, Skype, email, Facebook and Twitter, now more than ever, parents and children can stay in touch. Why not use resources you already pay for to communicate with mom about couponing and saving money?

The next step is finding time to match up sales to coupons. It’s not as difficult as you think and I’ll post more ideas and information for you in another blog post, so check back soon.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Teaching your child the difference between "want" vs. "need"

It's never easy to say no to your child when they want something. But children need to learn the difference between a "want" and a "need" and how to earn the things they want.

Don't let a whining child guilt you into something you cannot afford

How do you, as a parent, do this? Teach by example. Yes, we all want a nice brand new car and a big house with a pool. But if you're going to struggle every month to make a car payment, pay more for insurance because you have a car loan, is it worth it?

Sometimes as parents we have to say "No, I'm sorry, we cannot afford that." Being open and honest with your children about your family's finances helps them understand why you are saying no. You need to reach your children on an age-appropriate level. The older your children get, in my opinion, the more honest you should be about how much money comes into your home each month and how much goes out. If your child can understand what their parents earn, what the household expenses are, how you balance your household budget the less likely they are to fall into debt when they move out and live on their own.

As your children get older take the time to explain the taxes that come out of your weekly (or bi-weekly) paycheck. Teach your child how to work and earn and save for that special item they may want, but not need.

Remember, the example you set as a parent is the most important standard by which your child will follow. In a world where the United States government cannot balance its own budget without raising taxes or cutting services, children need to learn that there is only so much you can do with the money you earn.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Split pea soup recipe – use the stock you made from the leftover Easter ham

Split pea soup is a quite satisfying soup and when you serve it with a delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and a salad it makes a great lunch, or even dinner!
Split pea soup with grilled cheese on sourdough - YUM!
Dried split peas can be found in the dried bean aisle in almost any supermarket. They keep on your cupboard shelf or in your pantry for months, even years! Expect to pay between 99¢ and $1.49 per pound for them. A pound goes a long way!

Before you use the split peas to make soup, you’ll want to rinse them and pick through to remove any stones. I haven’t discovered many stones in my split peas in years, but if I skip that step that’s the time I’ll find that stone – in my bowl of soup!

Gather up your ingredients – how much of each will depend on how much soup you want to make. This recipe is based on dinner for a family of four with leftovers for lunch the next day and maybe a little more. Depending on appetites your serving size may be one cup or it may be two.

This recipe will make a LOT of soup, and it can be halved if desired! You're going to use the ham broth you made from the leftover Easter ham in this soup

Here is a list of ingredients you’ll need to make split pea soup:

1 pound green split peas, rinsed and picked through for stones
couple of medium-sized white potatoes, peeled and diced and cooked, about 2 cups
couple of medium-sized carrots, peeled and diced, about 1 cup, maybe less
1 small onion, finely chopped – about ½ cup, maybe less
2 ribs celery, diced, about ¼ cup
1 Tbsp. olive oil or butter, whichever you prefer
6 to 8 cups ham broth made from your leftover Easter ham and a cup or two of leftover Easter ham, if you have it
4 cups water
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or 2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

How to make split pea soup:

In a stock pot at least 6-quarts but not more than 8-quarts because then it will be too big, add the oil or butter and heat over high heat until hot (or melted). Add onion, garlic, diced celery and diced carrots. Reduce to medium-low heat and cook until carrots begin to soften.
Add ham broth, water and split peas. Please note: you may need to add more broth or water during cooking.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes until split peas begin to soften. Stir soup, add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and continue to simmer on low until soup gets to a cream soup consistency. Stir in diced, cooked potatoes. Cover and cook on low for another 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure during cooking that you stir soup often to keep from burning.

 The soup should take about 60 to 90 minutes to fully cook and should be somewhat smooth in texture with a few stray peas that didn’t get all mushy in the soup. That’s fine, it’s like homemade mashed potatoes…there are supposed to be some “lumps”. If the soup gets too thick during the cooking process add more water or ham broth, whichever suits your taste.

Most of all enjoy! Please leave a comment or email me at if you have questions. Feel free to email me if you are searching for a recipe – I have hundreds and will be happy to share them with you.

You can find more of my recipes and frugal living advice in my Cooking and Frugal Living columns

Friday, April 25, 2014

Creamy Grape Salad recipe makeover --- just a little bit better for you than the original

My favorite coupon goddess asked me to take a look at this recipe for creamy grape salad to see if I could make it a little bit healthier. As always, I came up with some ideas. I have NOT made this yet but The Spend Less, Shop More coupon and saving guru had the original at her bridal shower and said it was awesome.
Yummy grapes for Creamy Grape Salad -- the makeover!
From experience, I’m fairly confident that the changes I have suggested won’t change the flavor too much. It may not be as sweet, but I think you’ll still get an awesome dessert – great for potluck suppers, bridal showers, baby showers and summer picnics.

No one needs to know it’s better for them! This is the link to the original Creamy Grape Salad recipe from Taste of Home

And here are my suggestions to make the Creamy Grape Salad just a little bit healthier!

  • Substitute Neufchâtel (reduced fat cream cheese) for the full fat cream cheese
  • Use light sour cream – but find one that’s made with cream and skim milk, NOT one with fillers like lotus bean or modified food starch. Daisy Light is a good brand. If you use one with fillers you might as well use regular.
OR you could:
  • Substitute plain Greek vanilla or low-fat vanilla yogurt that has been strained so it’s thick for the sour cream completely. Watch the sugar though and make sure there isn’t any modified food starch – you’re better off with the Daisy Light sour cream than something with a lot of sugar. You can sweeten the plain yogurt. If you want to save money – don’t buy Greek yogurt – use plain 1% milk fat (or fat-free) yogurt. Strain the plain yogurt so that it is thick and then use that. Again, watch out – don’t use anything with modified food starch because it’s not good for you and it won’t thicken.
  • I’d reduce the amount of sugar – way down. Personally I’d skip the brown sugar on top all together and just go with the pecans or even walnuts. Seems that the salad itself will be sweet enough already!
  • I’d add just enough sugar to the cream cheese mixture to make it sweet. It seems that the grapes would be sweet enough to not need a whole lot of sugar.
  • Of course, if you insisted, you could use Splenda or some other sugar substitute, but I am NOT a fan of artificial sweeteners for reasons that are pretty well known to anyone who knows me! I’d rather have a little of the real thing!
In case you missed it -- here's how to strain plain yogurt to thicken it up so you can use it like Greek yogurt.

Please make sure to check out the recipes in this blog and also please check out my Cooking column AND my Frugal living column. You'll also find recipes from me and lots of other great frugal cooks in our Facebook group How to Cook Anything

Even if you're a beginning cook and you're not sure what to do with what you have or receive you'll be able to get a lot of tips and recipes that are easy, delicious, better-for-you and don't require a lot of ingredients.

Come join the adventure! And never be afraid to ask a question or make a comment! Email me at and I'll try to respond to you directly or I'll answer your questions in a future blog post.

How to make ham stock from the leftover Easter ham bone

There aren’t a lot of things you can do with ham bones. Cooking them down and making a nice ham stock for different kinds of soup is the best way to get more bang for your food dollar. And, it’s easier than you think.

When I make my Easter ham (or hams) I save the bones with some meat on them. I put them in a plastic shopping bag and put them in the freezer. They’ll keep that way pretty well for a few weeks. When you are ready to make your ham stock pull them out and just follow these easy directions.
Use the bone from your Easter ham to make ham stock!
Put the ham bone (or bones) in a large stock pot, preferably one at least 8-quarts. Peel a couple of onions and throw them in whole. Peel a couple of garlic cloves and throw those in whole. Peel a few carrots and throw the peelings in – save the carrots for later.

Cover the whole thing with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium or medium-low, just so the pot of goodies is at a good slow simmer. Cover and leave it alone for about 30 to 45 minutes. 
Check to see if any more water needs to be added, you don’t want it to cook down too much. You’ll want to make sure you bring the stock back up to a boil over high heat each time you add water. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, just so it simmers.

Keep doing this for about 2 hours, or until the ham that was left on the bone is falling off or easy to just pull off. Remove the pot from the stove and allow to cool to room temperature, enough so you can handle getting the bone out of the stock pot.

Place a colander in a very large bowl or in another stock pot. SLOWLY and CAREFULLY pour out the stock into the colander. The onion and peelings will be left in the colander. You can mash up the onions and add them to the stock, but discard the carrot peelings.

I allow this to cool, covered, in the fridge overnight and then skim any fat off the top the next day. I package up the ham stock in quart bags, about 2 cups per bag. Label it, date it and put it in the freezer OR go ahead and make split pea or lentil or potato and ham soup. Yes, recipes to follow

Please make sure to check out the recipes in this blog and also please check out my Cooking column AND my Frugal living column. You'll also find recipes from me and lots of other great frugal cooks in our Facebook group How to Cook Anything

Even if you're a beginning cook and you're not sure what to do with what you have or receive you'll be able to get a lot of tips and recipes that are easy, delicious, better-for-you and don't require a lot of ingredients.

Come join the adventure! And never be afraid to ask a question or make a comment! Email me at and I'll try to respond to you directly or I'll answer your questions in a future blog post.

Make your own vegetable broth from scraps and trimmings - save money, eat healthier

Many families find themselves tightening up their grocery budgets more than ever, but do not want to eat a lot of processed or canned foods. One way to save money and avoid highly processed or high sodium foods is to make your own vegetable broth from trimmings and scraps.
Vegetable broth made from trimmings, scraps and peelings
Save all the vegetable peelings you have from vegetable preparation, like peeling carrots or trimming up celery or zucchini, squash, tomatoes, onions, etc. Vegetables like cucumbers or lettuce do not work, so do not bother with those vegetable trimmings. Some people do not like to use trimmings from cabbage or Brussels sprouts or broccoli because it makes the broth too "gassy" but I've used them with no problems.
I use vegetable broth to make a variety of soups and I also use it in a variety of recipes. One of my favorite soups is a very cheap and easy soup to make -- white bean soup. Here's a link to the recipe for the white bean soup
White bean soup made with vegetable broth
Some people use a pressure cooker to make the vegetable broth, but I do not have a pressure cooker and I do not want one. I used to use my old crock pot, but the temperature gauge on that one wasn't working right so I had to get rid of it (it was about 15 years old!). Then I used my good crock pot but I gave that to my son when he went back to Indiana after his dad died. Now I just use this crappy Paula Dean stock pot that isn't good for anything else (Good thing I only paid $8 for it!).

I store all the veggies trimmings in the freezer in bags. Save more money – use the plastic grocery bags or plastic bags you use to in the produce department. Even the bag that carrots or celery come in will work. When I have enough put all the trimmings and scraps in the pot straight out of the freezer and cover with water. If you use the crock pot set it on high for the first hour then reduce it to low and let it "cook" overnight - about 8 to 10 hours.

If you use a stock pot -- I think mine is 6 to 8 quarts -- I add the vegetable scraps and trimmings and water, get it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 4 hours. You may have to use a slotted spoon to push the trimmings down a few times. I cover it the last couple hours and simmer on medium low.
The color of the broth will vary based on what veggie trimmings you put in. I notice I get a deeper color when I have a lot of carrot peelings.

That's about it! I strain it with the mesh strainer in the colander just to make sure any seeds from bell peppers don't slip through, but you don't NEED to do that! I measure the broth out into good zip locking bags -- about 2 to 3 cups per bag -- label and date. I make sure they're zipped tight and lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet and then put that in the freezer until they're frozen solid. They're easier to stack when they're flat like that.

Another great way to store some of the vegetable broth is freeze it in ice cube trays. When its frozen solid, pop them out and put a few in small zip locking bags, label and date and then you can use one or two at a time in recipes. These are really good to use when pan cooking chicken or pork chops – use it instead of butter or oil.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Corn chowder recipe: Simple and delicious kid-friendly lunch or dinner

Corn chowder was always a favorite with my kids were younger. One of my boys went through a “white food” phase when he would only eat food that was white. Corn was included on that list for some reason. So, he would eat corn chowder without an argument.

If you choose, you can omit the ham from this corn chowder recipe.

Corn chowder recipe
Ingredients for corn chowder:
  • 1 cup cooked ham, cut into small cubes
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 large potatoes, diced, approximately 3 cups
  • 1 large onion, diced, approximately 1 cup
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • ½ cup finely diced carrots, optional
  • 1 to 1½ cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) cream-style corn
  • 1 can (15 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained OR 2 cups frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk

How to make corn chowder:
  • In 6-quart stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high and then stir in potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and celery. Cook over medium heat for approximately 2 to 3 minutes, until onions begin to sweat.
  • Add 1 cup water, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until soft.
  • Add the whole kernel corn, cream-style corn, ham, both milks. Cook on medium-low temperature until heated through. Reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning.
  • If the corn chowder is not thick enough, you may need to make slurry with the ½ cup of water and some flour or cornstarch.

Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy!  Yield: about 4 to 6 servings of approximately 2 cups each.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Using leftover ham from Easter – Use the bone to make soup – start with making ham stock

Don’t let anything go to waste from your Easter ham, not even the bone. Make a ham stock to make either split pea or lentil soup – it is economical and tasty. Split pea or lentil soup served with a sandwich of any kind makes for a nutritious lunch or dinner.
Use up the ham bone and the ham left on the bone from Easter
Where to start? Start by putting the ham bone in either a 6-quart or larger stock pot or crock pot. Peel a couple of onions and chop into quarters and put them in the stock pot or crock pot. Add a celery rib or two, and then add a peeled carrot or two. Cover everything with water.

Making the soup is much easier if you have a crock pot because you won’t have to watch it. If using a crock pot, turn on LOW heat and let it all simmer for at least 12 hours. This is good to do overnight.

If making in a stock pot you’re going to have to watch this. If the water boils down you’re going to need to add more water. Once any meat starts falling off the bone, it’s done. This should take about 2 to 3 hours, maybe less.

Once you have cooked down the ham bone, let the stock cool for a bit, maybe an hour or so. It may take longer for the crock pot to cool down.

Carefully remove the bone, meat, carrots, onions and celery from the stock pot or crock pot. Let the stock cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning skim off any fat that has risen to the top.

Dice up the ham and veggies and pack up in a zip locking bag to use when you make soup. Make sure you label and date the bag.

Freeze, or refrigerate if you’re going to use the ham stock right away. Make sure to label and date the packages if you are freezing. Put the veggies and meat together with the stock in the freezer so you can just grab to both bags when you’re ready to make split pea soup.

When you’re all done, discard that ham bone, but not until you have used up all the meat that was left on it from your Easter dinner.

Carrot cake made with canned carrots -- and cream cheese frosting recipe

Many years ago someone challenged me to come up with recipes using stuff they got from a food pantry. A lot of canned carrots my friend told me. And of course, she, nor her family, liked canned carrots. Fresh carrots were fine, but canned? NOPE!
Well, here's my recipe for making carrot cake with canned carrots. And a cream cheese frosting recipe! Look for sales on the cream cheese or buy the store brand.
Carrot cake made canned carrots -- and cream cheese frosting
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
Ingredients for the carrot cake:
2 cans (15 ounces each) canned carrots, unsalted if possible
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1½ cups granulated white sugar
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ to ¾ cup raisins
1 cup shredded raw carrots

Ingredients for cream cheese frosting:
2 (8-ounces each) packages cream cheese or reduced fat cream cheese
1½ to 2½ cups powdered sugar

How to make carrot cake:
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Spray a 13x9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
Drain the carrots and mash them or puree well. You can use a potato masher or a mixer or a food processor or a blender. If your blender is small, puree the carrots in small batches. Add pureed carrots to a large bowl.

In another larger bowl, using your mixer, blend together the eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar, applesauce and oil. Fold this mixture into the pureed carrots and mix well to incorporate
In another large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder.

Gradually fold in the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add cinnamon and still or mix well to make sure everything is incorporated.
Stir shredded carrots, raisins and half the walnuts into batter, if desired.

Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place in preheated oven and bake approximately 25 to 30 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely and frost with cream cheese frosting.

How to make cream cheese frosting:
Bring cream cheese to room temperature. Add to large mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until it becomes very soft.

Slowly incorporate powdered sugar on low speed until it is all added. Mix on medium speed for approximately 2 minutes until frosting is smooth and creamy. Adjust the powdered sugar to make it as sweet as you like.

The frosting can be refrigerated but bring to room temperature before frosting the cake. When you frost the cake, sprinkle the rest of the walnuts over it.

 Yield: about 12 to 16 2x2-inch squares.

Thanks to Becky, Joanne and Anne for the photo from yesterday's Easter Brunch!!! 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Make Your Own Pancake Syrup recipe

You probably have all the ingredients to make your own pancake syrup right in your pantry or cupboards. Sure, it may be less expensive to watch sales and match up coupons, but in a pinch you can make sure the kids have something to put on their pancakes or french toast!

How to make your own pancake syrup 
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. maple flavoring or extract
Combine white and brown sugar in a saucepan. Add salt and water.
Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat. Add maple flavoring or extract, stirring to mix in. 
Cool and serve. Keeps in the refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to 6 months.
Recipe Notes:
If you don't want maple flavor, use pure vanilla or almond extract, or don't use any extract at all.