Category Archives: Budget Friendly

White-Bean, Zucchini, Tomato & Parmesan Salad for Grilling

Just in time for your Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day celebration! This quick, easy salad is packed full of flavor, healthy ingredients, and versatility. This will serve four as a side dish, and goes well with a simple grilled steak, salmon, or even chicken.  Originally inspired Martha Stewart’s  White-Bean Salad with Zucchini and Parmesan, I felt that adding one simple ingredient and a little more oil sent an already-delicious recipe over the top.  Perfect for people on South Beach Diet, or for anyone trying to eat healthier.

Admittedly, when I first read Martha’s version, I wasn’t sure how I’d like raw green beans and zucchini in a salad.  But, as the Iron Chef says: “with an open mind and empty stomach”, I recalled that I once had the pleasure of attending a cooking class offered by Chef Charlie Trotter, now known for his involvement in the raw food movement just before his book was published, Raw, (co-authored by Tim Turner). I’d also had the pleasure of dining at Trotter’s restaurant in Chicago  – and despite the big-ticket it came with – my socks were knocked off.

All of my doubts disappeared the first time I made Martha’s recipe, and as often is the case, I was inspired to make it even better.  This easy yet impressive recipe serves 4 as a side dish. I double-dog dare you to eat raw!

GATHER THIS:

  • 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2  pound zucchini (1 large), trimmed, quartered lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • about 3 ounces green beans, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal (2/3 cup)
  • 2 good, ripe plum tomatoes, seeded & diced
  • 2 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

DO THIS:

In a medium bowl, place cannellini beans, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, Parmesan, basil, lemon zest and juice, and oil; season generously with salt and pepper. Toss to combine.  I love this with grilled salmon or steak and a crusty Italian bread to soak up the extra dressing.

Note: The texture of the Parmesan in this dish makes all the difference.  I used Stella Parmesan, and crumbled it in my Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus for perfect tiny bites of cheese flavor.  Shavings or grates just aren’t the same – and, at the risk of sounding like a foodie snob, if you are the canned Parmesan type… this recipe probably isn’t for you 😉

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Filed under All Other Recipes, Budget Friendly, Grilling, Healthy Recipes, Italian-inspired, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1

Spaghetti Bolognese (Bolognaise) for the Busy Mom

A classic dish, Spaghetti Bolognese was difficult to categorize in this article, because its origin is arguable.  While the concept of this meat sauce originated in Northern Italy in the “Bologna” region, the French would often take food influences from bordering countries and adopt their own recipes, still naming the dish by its inspirational region.  While it’s not exactly “quick”, it’s definitely easy, and much of the time is simmering.

Clearly, the idea of saturating food in wine is French.  I could spend more time and research to ascertain which came first – Bolognaise, the French spelling, or Bolognese, the Italian spelling – but this is a cooking site and not a history blog.  So, to make everyone happy, I’ve put it both categories. And now, on with our favorite family recipe!

This version of a classic recipe began with my mom-in-law, a French native and a fabulous cook.  Made traditionally, it simply was not palatable for my American kids.   I don’t give up easily, and want them to be exposed to all tastes – so they can grow up to be foodie aficionados. 🙂  Here, I’ve reduced the amount of wine and chopped up the veggies finely enough to appeal to the kids, but have not lost the integrity of the sauce.

The most important element of this recipe is that the meat is added AFTER the sauce is almost done – this is the family secret I am sharing with you – and the results are over the top.  Don’t be afraid of not browning the meat first – it will be completely cooked in the sauce.  You will note by the photo, there is no problem getting those kiddos to eat this company-worthy spaghetti recipe.  And if you own an awesome Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus that you can get at my store,  (I use it almost every day!) you can have all your veggies chopped in a minute and have this sauce prepped in no time.  After you have poured yourself a glass of wine to begin cooking, do the following to serve 4-6 people:

GATHER THIS:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (plus more for thinning, if needed)
  • 1 cup medium-bodied quality red wine, such as a Cabernet sauvignon
  • 1 15-oz can tomato puree, or diced tomatoes run through the processor
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 1-1/2 pounds good-quality ground beef (preferably organic, but at least sirloin)
  • coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
  • White shredded cheese of your choice to serve: French like Swiss for this dish, Italians like Parm – you decide!

DO THIS:

In a large sauce pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, carrots and garlic to the pot; saute for a few minutes until softened.  Add the mushrooms; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Stir in the tomato paste.  Add the stock, wine, tomato puree, seasoning, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, follow the directions on the pasta package for cooking the noodles.   I prefer my noodles a minute or two after al dente, as usually recommended – just do them how you like – people are funny about texture.

While the pasta is cooking, begin crumbling tiny pieces of the ground beef into the sauce with your fingers.  Don’t worry about making anything symmetrical; the pieces of beef will shrink with cooking and just be tiny bits of meaty goodness.  Avoid large chunks of meat. This will take a couple of minutes, and will be done about the same time as your pasta, so it works out well.  Stir all the meat into the sauce until it’s incorporated.  Cover the pot; simmer another 10 minutes.  Longer is not necessary and will toughen the meat; thereby defeating the purpose of adding it at the end.

Drain your pasta, and return it to its pan.  Spoon one ladleful of sauce into the noodles. Toss to coat.  To serve, pile noodles into bowls.  Top with additional ladles-full of sauce; top with shredded cheese and minced parsley.  I like it with crusty bread and olive oil for dipping, a green salad, and an abundance of red wine!

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Filed under Budget Friendly, French Recipes, From My Own Kitchen, Italian-inspired, Kids Favorites

5-Minute Broccoli Slaw for Grilling

It’s grilling season! I’m always looking for new side dishes that interest me more than the usual cole slaw and potato salad.  When you’re in a hurry, throw this great 5-minute broccoli slaw together and wait for friends and family to ask  for the recipe!  Kid-friendly, and healthy too. Great with grilled burgers, fish, and pork,  or alongside Mexican-inspired main courses.

GATHER THIS:

  • 1/3 cup Hellman’s light mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup Daisy light sour cream
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 green onions, tops pulled off, trimmed, and sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • juice of 1 medium lime, freshly squeezed
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
  • coarse salt and fresh black pepper to taste
  • 10 oz. package of broccoli slaw mix (I like confetti slaw: red and green cabbage, broccoli, carrots)

DO THIS:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients.  Toss in the broccoli slaw mix.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately, or chill for up to 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld.  Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

What I like best: quick, easy, delicious – and not too sweet – though you can use more sugar or some honey for a little more sweetness if desired.  For South Beach Diet Phase I, substitute Splenda for sugar.

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Filed under Budget Friendly, From My Own Kitchen, Grilling, Healthy Recipes, Mexican-inspired, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Pancetta & Lime

Think you don’t like brussel sprouts?  Think again!  These are made so differently, you’ll think you’ve been missing out after all these years.  A great side dish for St. Pat’s or Easter – finally, something other than the old standbys.  Easy, bright and flavorful – this serves about four.  My husband is a brussel-sprout convert because of this recipe!  The texture of the shredded brussel sprouts makes all the difference.

Gather This:

  • 4 slices of  bacon, cut crosswise  into 1/4 inch strips, or 4 slices of pancetta, cut in half and then into strips
  • 15-18 brussel sprouts, rinsed, bottoms trimmed, and sliced thin lengthwise
  • Juice of 1 small lime (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • coarse salt and fresh black pepper to taste

Do This:

In a large, non-stick skillet, saute the bacon over medium heat until crisp.  If you are using especially lean bacon and it appears to be dry and sticking, you can add a teaspoon of olive oil.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

In the same skillet with the bacon fat, cook the brussel sprouts; about 3-4 minutes, or until bright green, and softened but still slightly firm to the bite.  Stir in the lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately, with the bacon crumbled over the top.

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Filed under Budget Friendly, From My Own Kitchen, Healthy Recipes, Quick & Easy

Fabulous Meatloaf with Italian Cheese & Mushrooms

What, you say?  “Fabulous” and “Meatloaf” seemingly don’t belong in the same title.  Once you try this, you’ll change your mind.  It’s EASY, but actually on my list of company-worthy – one I intend to serve to French guests that are expected in July. It’s a wonderful blend of  U.S. meets Euro.  My camera failed me on this one, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was nice to look at, too.  Not counting the 45 minute cooking time – thrown together in a few minutes.

The original recipe was this:  Turkey Meatloaf with Fontina and Mushrooms .  Martha’s people, as usual, rocking my culinary interests.  But for me, I needed to make it a bit more kid-friendly, and the ingredients a little more budget-friendly and mainstream. The result was even better!

Gather This:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/2 pound white button or cremini mushrooms, chopped fine so the kiddos don’t recognize it
    • Coarse salt and ground pepper
    • 2 small leeks, white and light-green parts only, cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise, washed, dried
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend, such as mozzarella, provolone, romano, parmesan, asiago)
    • 1 slice day-old bread, crumbled into coarse crumbs (no canister crumbs here!)
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
    • 1 1/2 pounds ground meat, I use a combination of pork and beef.  If you use turkey, make sure it’s the higher fat ground turkey to get the best flavor and proper texture.

    Do This:

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high. Cook mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; transfer to a large mixing bowl.
    2. Return skillet to medium-low and add another tablespoon oil.  Add leeks and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add to bowl with mushrooms and let cool.
    3. Add cheese, bread, egg, and sage to bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Mix in ground meats, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a ceramic or glass casserole (I use one that’s about 8×11), use your hands to form the mixture into a 10-inch loaf. Bake until cooked through, about 45-50 minutes. Let rest , loosely covered with foil, 10 minutes before serving. Drain off any fat and slice in 1/2 inch portions.

    Serve this the traditional way – with green beans and mashers, but when company comes (and yes! I definitely serve this meatloaf to company) I kick up the green beans and do French haricots (tiny whole green beans) and toss them with butter, lemon zest, pine nuts, and lots of salt and pepper – and then I drizzle the mashed potatoes with a little truffle oil.   You won’t need gravy, because the meatloaf is so flavorful and moist.  But if you must do anything, use just a light red-wine based juice deglaze type sauce – a heavy beef gravy would just destroy it.  You could possibly use a very light tomato sauce because it would be in keeping with the Italian influence of the dish.  But unless your guests are under 10, NO KETCHUP ALLOWED!

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    Filed under Budget Friendly, From My Own Kitchen, Italian-inspired, Kids Favorites, Quick & Easy

    Tilapia Tacos with Cilantro Slaw

    Tasty, impressive,  healthy, budget-worthy, kid-friendly!  I gathered ideas from a few different recipes and made it into my own.  Every time I make it, yums and ahs abound.  Next time your family is screaming for tacos – see what happens with this.

    GATHER THIS:

    • 1-3/4 pounds tilapia, about 4 fillets, cut into 2″x1/2″ pieces
    • 1 cup fresh bread, panko, or cracker crumbs, or a combination (I used 10 saltine crackers and 2 pieces of whole wheat bread this time)
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1 teaspoon creole or taco seasoning (I like Emeril’s Essence)
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
    • 1/4 cup light sour cream (Daisy is the best)
    • juice of one small lime (fresh only please!)
    • 2 teaspoons white sugar, or sugar substitute – more or less to taste
    • 3 cups loosely packed shredded coleslaw, romaine, iceberg,  or a mix of any of these
    • 4 scallions, tops removed, sliced 1/4″ diagonally
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    • Warm corn tortillas, about 8 (see note below)

    DO THIS:

    Place the breadcrumb/saltine mixture in a shallow dish.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, water, and taco seasoning.   Pat the tilapia pieces dry with a paper towel, and then season them with salt and pepper.  Working with a few pieces at a time, first dip the fish in the egg, letting the excess drip off; then coat the fish pieces well with the breadcrumb mixture.  Place the coated pieces on a clean plate. Repeat until all the fish is coated.

    Try and use one hand for dipping the fish in the egg mixture and the other for the bread; this will prevent a gooey mess on your fingers (or the fish pieces). I read this over and over on all the recipes ever done with breading, but inevitably, I wind up with goo somehow!  One day I will master this coordinated effort…

    Now heat two tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot enough to sizzle from a drop of water, add half of the coated fish pieces to the skillet.  Fry the fish pieces for about two minutes on each side, until golden and crispy.  Transfer the cooked fish to a warm plate lined with paper towels.  Cover loosely with foil while you fry the second batch.  Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, if needed, and repeat the process with the remaining fish pieces.

    While the fish is cooking, you can be preparing the slaw topping:

    In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the coleslaw, green onions, and cilantro.

    To serve, assemble tacos with two or three pieces of fish in a warm corn tortilla, topped with a tablespoon or two of the slaw topping.   On the side I always serve black beans with some grated Mexican cheese called cotija, but crumbled parmesan or romano works equally well.  And, if you want the kiddies on board (my kids love the fish tacos, one of them without the slaw..) serve with refried beans topped with shredded cheddar.  A great way to get them to eat fish that is not processed!

    TORTILLAS: Two ways to warm!

    For over-the-top excellent taste and texture, use your non-stick skillet with a tiny bit of oil to toast the tortillas – then stack them in tin foil to keep them warm for serving.  This takes a little time, but is so much better than the alternative!  Seriously, you made these great fish tacos, don’t shortcut the wrapping.

    But, if you’ve absolutely had it and time has run out –  the alternative is:

    Wrap about 8-10 corn tortillas in damp paper towels; heat in microwave for 20 seconds.  With this step, I could put this recipe on the “quick and easy” category or tag list, but I chose not to, if you really want it to be great spend the extra five or ten minutes!

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    Filed under Budget Friendly, From My Own Kitchen, Healthy Recipes, Kids Favorites, Mexican-inspired

    Super-Quick, Fantastic Greek Chicken Cutlets

    We are South-Beaching it for a few weeks here at the homestead.  After the Super Bowl every year, my husband and I go on our “annual diet” – because we tend to pack on the poundage during the holidays.

    We don’t have a regular recipe rotation in our house.  But there are a few recipes that I make, repeatedly – when the mood strikes – because they are just great and easy to make when you’re in a hurry.  This one is on my top ten list.  Best of all, it’s great for high-protein dieting and the first phase of South Beach.   This recipe was originally printed in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine in April of 2007, one of my favorite cooking magazines, recipes from which you will see me blog about frequently.

    GATHER THIS:

    • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
    • 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
    • 4 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled (1 cup)
    • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
    • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • Coarse salt and ground pepper
    • 1 1/2 pounds thin chicken cutlets (about 8 )

    DO THIS:

    1. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, olives, feta, mint, and 1 tablespoon oil. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
    2. Heat a grill pan over high; brush lightly with oil. Season cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook, working in batches as necessary, until chicken is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Top chicken with tomato mixture, and serve.

    From Everyday Food, April 2007  – Serves 4

    What’s good about this is its simple sophistication, but you can easily set aside one of the cooked cutlets and serve it with some noodles and another veggie for the kiddos.

    In the first phase of South Beach, I am usually starving – so I bulk it up with some chopped cucumber and up the ratio of oil and sprinkle some lemon juice over the whole deal for added kick.

    For accompaniments, I serve it with good-quality hummus (I like Trader Joe’s, Tribe or Sabra) and some extra low-carb veggies for dipping.   If you’re not in the first phase, a good, healthy side dish would be some whole-wheat couscous cooked in chicken broth and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and some fresh chopped scallions.   This recipe will do alright with fresh parsley or cilantro instead of mint – but it will knock your socks off with the mint!

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    Filed under Budget Friendly, Healthy Recipes, Quick & Easy, South Beach Phase 1