admin / November 18, 2013

It’s Meatless Monday-Sweet Potato and Black Bean Risotto (Plus Arancini)

There’s nothing I like better than cooking once and eating twice. It’s saves time and money and I think this week’s Meatless Monday double feature fits the bill. The first dish is a risotto and using leftovers you turn it into a tasty treat that’s great as a meal when combined with a salad, or even an appetizer for the upcoming holiday season. I used canned chipotle peppers. They’re hot so a little goes a long way and leftovers I keep in a container in the freezer and use when needed.

For the Risotto
1 cup Arborio rice
4 cups vegetable stock
1 medium size sweet potato cut into small cubes
1 onion, finely diced
1 cup cooked black beans
1 tablespoon chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
Good pinch of salt
2 tablespoons oil

For the Arancini
Leftover risotto (I used 2 cups)
½ cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs, Panko style makes a nice crust
Oil for frying
Optional for a dipping sauce- 1 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 tablespoons mango chutney

To Make the Risotto

In a large saucepan and over medium heat, heat oil and then add the onion and cook for a few minutes until slightly softened.

Add the sweet potato and cook for a few minutes and then add the salt and chipotle pepper and continue cooking for about 5 minutes or until the sweet potato is softened and slightly browned.

Add the rice and stir well.

Make sure that the vegetable stock is warm and slowly begin adding ½ cup at a time. Once it’s incorporated, add another ½ cup and repeat the process until all the stock is used. The rice should be cooked by now but check and if necessary add more stock.

Serve immediately.
Serves 4

For the arancini
Take the leftover risotto and roll it into balls (slightly smaller than golf ball size)
Place on a plate and put in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

On a plate spread flour, on another plate, place the beaten egg, on a third, the breadcrumbs.
Roll the risotto balls first in the flour and then then the egg, and finally the breadcrumbs.
Set them on a plate and then put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

In a heavy skillet, heat oil (you need about a couple of inches of it or you can deep fry these too)
Add about four of the arancini at a time. They cook quickly, just a few minutes. Remove from pan and place on a plate onto which you’ve put a paper towel to soak up excess oil.

Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

Serves 4

admin / April 22, 2011

Fresh, Frozen or Canned?

One section of the supermarket with steadily rising prices and yes, less than top notch quality is the produce department. So should you ever feel guilty about opting for frozen or even canned veggies? Most health experts say as produce is usually frozen or canned as soon as it’s picked we shouldn’t worry too much because the vitamin and mineral content remains intact. I have to admit I used to feel really guilty if I relied on too many frozen and canned vegetables, but seeing how some of the produce doesn’t look that great I now base my decision on the following-

Buying in Season

Wouldn’t it be great if all our favorite fruits and vegetables were available year round? My rule of thumb is when a certain produce is in abundance buy the fresh version. Once the season winds down I start to take a different approach. I look at what’s available, how much it costs and compare it to what’s in the freezer section. Another thing to consider is what’s on sale. Most stores have some type of promotion on frozen vegetables at least once a month, so even in summer buying frozen often makes more sense. Another plus to buying frozen or canned is there’s no waste. Everything’s trimmed and prepared, so you know everything is going to be eaten, no more broccoli stalks or corn husks to toss away.

What Type of Recipe Am I Making?

I have lots of pasta recipes that use peas as one of the ingredients. I don’t know why but fresh peas aren’t something I see a lot of in the produce section so I’ve got no alternative but to use the frozen kind. The taste of the dish never seems to be compromised and it’s sometimes cheaper too.

How Does the Price Compare?

One dish I at make least once a month is vegetable lasagna and one of the main ingredients is spinach. For those of you who always buy the fresh variety you know that when spinach is cooked it becomes the incredible shrinking vegetable. The first time I used frozen spinach for this lasagna I did feel guilty, but now I know it makes perfect sense. One box of frozen spinach goes a lot further than a bag of fresh spinach and it cuts the preparation time in half. The bottom line is you still get a healthful meal and sometimes for pennies less.

Remember the Five Fruit and Vegetable A Day Recommendation

Do you sometimes skip making meals with fruits and vegetables because you haven’t got time to clean, peel and cook them? If that’s the case then definitely opt for the frozen or canned varieties.

I’m Throwing Away the Veggies

I don’t know anyone who’s not guilty of buying fresh produce only to let it sit and rot in the refrigerator. Frozen and canned foods have a longer shelf life. And having to toss away spoiled produce isn’t saving you money.

Sometimes the Taste is Better

One vegetable I really prefer in the canned variety is asparagus. I don’t know why, but the fresh version just doesn’t impress me. And if you have children who are picky about eating their veggies, you can add a few canned vegetables to the odd dish or two without them even knowing. Even frozen mixed vegetables can be added to things like casseroles and soups and usually children won’t complain.

I Don’t Have Those Ingredients

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve started to make a recipe and realized I don’t have a particular ingredient. One thing I always fall back on is my pantry supply of canned foods. Canned mushrooms is one that comes to mind. And in the middle of winter I always keep a couple of cans of peaches and cherries on hand.

Still Keep It Healthy
I do have one concern about canned foods and that’s their sodium and sugar content. For fruits I usually opt for the ones packed in their own juices and with beans and vegetables I make sure I give them a rinse with cold water. It won’t get rid of all the sodium but at least cuts down on some of it.

admin / February 25, 2011

How Not to be a Boring Cook

I have to admit I enjoy eavesdropping. A few weeks ago I heard a lady complaining to her friend about how tired she was of cooking and eating the same meals day after day. It’s not only people who are trying to stay within a budget that get bored, but it happens to everyone at some point. We get busy so we reach for our favorite standbys or we get stressed and make the same comfort foods. When we’re on a budget there’s a tendency to go around the store in automatic drive putting the same old boxes of this and that into the cart instead of taking a chance on something new. Every so often I find myself in this food rut and here’s what I do to snap out of it without going over budget-

When was the last time you looked through the cookbooks sitting on your shelves? Or how about the cookbooks you use on a daily basis? Are you just sticking with the same recipes and not being adventurous enough to try something new for your family?
Even picking up a new cookbook can be just want you need to zap you out of a slump. And no you don’t have to buy new books… although many bookstore chains do have some great buys in their bargain sections. Why not take a trip to the local library, bring home a few cookbooks and spend an hour or so looking through them. Sometimes that’s all you need to get some inspiration.

Shop Somewhere Different
I have a very upscale supermarket close to where I live and while I don’t go there more than a couple of times a year when I do, I head to their deli. I might buy the odd item or two but mostly I go there to get ideas for dishes I can make at home but at half the cost. So if you have a similar market in your area stop by and see what inspires you the most.

Even the Not So Upscale Supermarket

I stick with my local supermarket because I earn points and get a discount when I buy gas. However, yesterday I wanted to buy some of my favorite tea and knew only one supermarket in town stocks it. I decided to do some grocery shopping and it’s amazing what switching stores can do for your creativity. I found some spices in the international section that I’ll be using in soups I plan to make next week. Take a trip to a new to you store and see what new ideas you can come up with.

Take a Cooking Class

Don’t think you have to be a master chef or have lots of money to take cooking classes. Where I live there are several community education programs that offer numerous cooking classes for all levels of experience, plus they’re fairly affordable too. If you’re not that confident about doing actual hands on cooking you can opt for a demonstration only class. In both cases the teachers usually give you a pack of recipes to take home. Not only will these new dishes get you rethinking dinner, but just seeing someone else do some cooking will also spark new ideas.

Go on a Restaurant Tour

No, this one isn’t going to cost you a penny. With the help of the Internet you can find the Web site for just about any restaurant and most sites offer a complete list of their menu items too. Peruse it and see what inspires you. Maybe challenge yourself to come up with something similar but within your own budget. Just before the holidays I saw a flyer with a menu for a restaurant that was just about to open. I noticed they had bread pudding. When I checked out the description under the listing I saw they used cinnamon rolls instead of bread. That got me thinking. I often make bread pudding and always looking for ways to make it different. I gave the cinnamon rolls a try and have to say it was the best bread pudding I’ve tasted. Switch just one ingredient in a recipe and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Web sites

While you’re checking out restaurant Web sites there are plenty of cooking and food related ones that can help you put together new dishes. Here’s a site with links to many-


admin / October 8, 2009

Why A Budget Smart Cook Loves Stews

When the temperature dips there’s nothing better to eat than a bowl of hearty stew. It’s comfort food at its very best. Meat, vegetables and a savory liquid that are simmered together for hours on top of the stove to create a meal to take away the chill of a fall or winter day. It’s not too surprising that just about every cuisine in the world has its own version. But the best thing about a stew is, apart from the fact it tastes so good, it’s the budget smart cook’s best friend and here’s why.

Great Cooking Skills Not Required
Stews are one of the easiest of dishes to prepare and there are just a few simple rules to follow. I know lots of people say you can skip browning the meat before you add it to the saucepan, but I’ve always got the best results by doing just that. I take a freezer bag and add flour, some salt and pepper and mix everything together. I then add the cubes of meat to the bag and shake until everything’s coated well. Next I heat oil in a skillet over a fairly high heat and add about five cubes of meat at a time. Don’t rush this part and be tempted to add all the meat at the same time because if you overcrowd the pan the meat doesn’t brown as well and that’s the whole point of going to all this trouble. Turn the meat until it’s browned on each side, remove and put in the saucepan and continue with the rest of the meat.

They’re Made with Low Cost Ingredients
Here’s one of the best things about stew, you can make it with cheaper cuts of meat. In fact, less expensive cuts of meat work the best with this slow cooking process. Plus, while the stew simmers the meat soaks up the liquid, making it even more tender.
And as most people make stews during the colder months, root vegetables, which make ideal partners for the meat, are usually at their cheapest during fall and winter. And if you use your own homemade stock, that’s basically free, but even if you resort to store bought ones, it’s not going to put a too big a dent in your budget.

They Can be Made in One Pot
I can’t think of an easier meal than a stew, everything cooking together in one pot. Apart from preparing the meat and chopping the vegetables, and of course checking everything now and then, it’s a snap to put together. I almost feel lazy on the days I make a stew. Although my preference is to serve a stew with mashed potatoes, I sometimes add the potatoes or dumplings to the stew for the ultimate one pot meal. And if you want to cheat even further or you want a ready cooked meal when you come home from work, opt for cooking your stew in a slow cooker.

Stews Freeze Really Well
Soups and stews are some of the best dishes to put in the freezer. You can make up two batches, eat one and freeze the other. Or, and I know leftovers aren’t a common thing when stew is served, but you can easily freeze what’s left. Talk about the ultimate cook once, eat twice dish.

You Can Give Them Your Own Unique Spin
Even if you’ve got a favorite recipe for stew you can add your own touches and family favorites to a stew. Nothing can basically go wrong with adding a bit more of this or that. If you want to stretch your budget even further you get add more vegetables and cut down on the meat, or you can add things like pulses. My grandmother always added pearl barley to beef stew. And when it comes to seasonings once again you’re in charge. One thing I never leave out of a stew is a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
And don’t think you have to use only red meat because I only used it as an illustration for this article. Other meats like pork, poultry and fish can be used, just remember they don’t need to cook so long. And if you what to go meatless, vegetables and beans like garbanzos make a really inexpensive but great tasting stew.


Italian Fall Vegetable Stew
This is a great recipe for the slow cooker. It’s one of my favorites when the weather turns cold. And a special treat when you’ve been outside raking leaves.

(Serves 4 as a Main Dish or 6 as a Side Dish)

•1 ½ cups dried lentils
•3 cups of water
•2 cups chopped butternut squash
•1 cup chopped sweet potato
•1 26 oz. jar of Classico Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic pasta sauce
•1 small onion, chopped
•1 cup chopped zucchini
•1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
•½ teaspoon dried basil
•½ teaspoon dried thyme

1.Rinse lentils and place in at least a 3-quart slow cooker with the three cups of water. Add the squash, sweet potato, onion, pasta sauce, basil and thyme and stir together.
2.Cover and cook either 8-10 hours on high, or 4-6 hours on low. About an hour before serving stir in the chopped zucchini and just before serving stir in the garbanzo beans. Fresh chopped basil is a nice addition sprinkled on top when the dish has finished cooking.

You can serve this as a vegetarian dish with crusty Italian bread, or as a side dish with a grilled chicken breast or pork chop.

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