Saturday, August 27, 2011

Mexican Cornbread Casserole

Mexican food's great, but it's essentially all the same ingredients, so there's a way you'd have to deal with all these stupid questions. "What is nachos?" "...Nachos? It's tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables." "Oh, well then what is a burrito?" "Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables." "Well then what is a tostada?" "Tortilla with cheese, meat, and vegetables." "Well then what is a...."  Jim Gaffigan

Do you remember those JIff boxes of blueberry and apple muffins, assorted cakes, and cornbread sold in the bakery aisle right next to the flour?  When my kids were growing up, I regularly included these in our food budgets to make little treats for them. Back in the day, I could purchase a Jiff box for $0.33 per box plus a little water and maybe an egg.  My kids thought they were delicious.  I loved the convenience and ease of using them in a variety of ways to make our meals more interesting.  Hence, today's recipe of Mexican Cornbread Casserole.  It is a yummy, delicious, vegetarian meal with Mexican flavoring and convenience of a Jiff cornbread box.  In our house, this casserole does not last long.

1 clove garlic
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small can green chilies, chopped
4 cups canned kidney beans, rinsed, drained, and mashed
1 6.5 ounce package cornbread mix (think Jiff, though any will work)
1 small can peas, drained or a handful of frozen peas, thawed
I can Enchilada sauce
1 can cream of celery coup
Olive oil


Very convenient to use this little gadget!
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  If using fresh corn, cut kernels using a small, sharp knife or a corn kernel cutter for lack of a better name.  Set aside. ( Check out the above pictured corn kernel cutter from Pampered Chef.).  As an aside, if you are eating fresh corn on the cob, you can always cut the kernels off any uneaten cobs and freeze to use for recipes later.  Very Kitchen Economical.

3.  In a small bowl mix enchilada sauce and soup til blended well.

4. In a large skillet over medium heat add two tablespoons olive oil, onion and garlic.  Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, stirring occasionally-about 4-6 minutes.  Add the corn bell pepper, green chilies, and peas.  Cook stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.

Mashed Beans
5. Reduce the heat to low, stir in the mashed beans.  Stir in the enchilada mix.  Heat thoroughly for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. While the bean mixture is heating, prepare the cornbread mix according to package instructions.

7. Pour the bean mixture into a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish.  Spread the cornbread mixture over the beans.  

8.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cornbread is golden.  Check frequently after 20 minutes so as not to burn the cornbread.  Cut into squares to serve.  You may serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on the side to garnish.  Serve with a large green salad with homemade croutons.   Enjoy!

Serves:  4-6
Cost per serving:  $1.85

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jewell of a Pasta Salad

"They want to have their pasta, but they're willing to eat a sensible portion with lots of vegetables."
Keith Ayoob

"Life is too short, and I'm Italian.  I'd much rather eat pasta and drink wine, than be a size zero."  Sophia Bush

When you start to write a food blog, you find that you are always on the look-out for recipes that you can tweak to your own style.  So it was that I found myself sitting at my hair stylist waiting for the color to set and doing some heavy reading from one of my journals, aka People magazine, when her cell phone rang.  She took the call and I heard her rattle off some ingredients, which seemed to be pantry staples, and offered a few cooking suggestions.  When she finished her call, I told her that I was not eavesdropping, but happened to have overheard her conversation and asked her about the recipe she had just shared.  She told me that at every family event she is asked to bring this pasta salad because no one else can make it the way she does.  After a few shared tricks of the recipe I figured this could be a vegetarian pasta salad bonanza with just a little tweaking.  I have already served it several times with rave reviews.  So next time you need to bring a dish to a family event or would like a light, vegetarian pasta salad to serve your family on a hot, summer night do not hesitate to hook yourself up with this delicious, simple, inexpensive, yummy vegetarian food!


1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1/2 package cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 green onions, white and green parts sliced thin
1/3 green pepper, diced
1 can large black olives, sliced in half
1/4 head broccoli, chopped
1/2 package frozen corn
1/2 package frozen peas

1 box tri-colored rotini, cooked to package directions
1 bottle Ranch dressing, lite ore regular
1 package Ranch DIP packet
2 soy Italian Sausages, cooked according to package and sliced thinly

1/4 cup shredded cheese

1.  Slice and Chop veggies according to ingredient instruction.

2.  Prepare noodles according to package directions.  After cooking, rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.

3.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Season to taste.  Sprinkle top with cheese.
"I wonder if anyone ever successfully mixed anti-past with normal pasta.  I bet the reward for that would be huge, possibly interdimensional."  Joel Zimmerman

*Note, you can use any combination of vegetables you may have on hand.
**Be sure the packet is for Ranch Dip, not Ranch dressing as it will affect the final taste.
***Recipe adapted from Angela Jewell of Mango Bay Spa.  She is the greatest hairstylist in the world and she makes an awesome pasta salad!

Preparation Time:  30 minutes
Servings:  4-6
Cost Per Serving:  $1.80

Cheesy Potatoes and Sausage

"My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato and someone to share it with."  Oprah Winfrey

My twenty-one year old son recently told me told me that he missed my good ole' fashion cheesy potatoes.  It got me to thinking about comfort food, those recipes that are made in traditional ways and filled with nostalgia.  We often turn to comfort foods when we are yearning for a time gone by, something in our past.  Comfort foods are often flavorful and of a softer consistency and frequently filled with higher  levels of fat and less fiber.  Apple pie, macaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, potato salad, cheesy potatoes.....  

"Also, with men, there's a preference toward comfort food that's a little more healthy, like meat, pasta, and potatoes.
Women choose things like chips, cookies, chocolate and cake."  Brian Wansink
So I thought about cheesy potatoes and decided it was time to turn it vegetarian and make it a meal.  The result was this delicious combination of comfort food with a vegetarian twist.  A new standard for comfort food in our house.  It is yummy, delicious vegetarian fare.

"Comfort food is absolutely moving upscale."  Danny Meyer


4 large potatoes, cubed into bite size pieces
2 onions, chopped into bite size pieces
3 ribs celery, sliced thinly
3 carrots, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
handful of mushrooms, halved

1 fresh bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

6 Veggie Italian Sausage Links

1.  Place olive oil in a large heavy skillet.  Saute onions, celery, carrots, green pepper, garlic and herbs til they are soft and fragrant.

2.  Add potatoes to skillet and cook til they are soft and heated through, folding potaoes frequently.

3.  Combine mushroom soup and milk in a small bowl.  Add soup mixture to potatoes, folding in gently.  Cook 2 minutes.  Add mushrooms and heat thoroughly, folding gently.

4.  Salt and Pepper to taste.

5.  Heat veggie Italian sausage links in a small pan until heated through.

6.  Place potato mixture in an oven proof pan.  Set sausages on top of potatoes.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Broil a couple of minutes to melt and brown cheese.  Watch carefully when potatoes are under the broiler so as not to burn them.
"This recipe came to me like a lightning bolt out of the blue.  I think it is a great way to enjoy well-known comfort foods with a unique and interesting twist."  Ann Ginsberg

Servings:  4-6
Preparation Time:  30 minutes
Cost Per Serving:  $1.86

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bok Choy Japanese Stir Fry

Do you remember Chicken Chow Mein out of a can.  Actually, two cans.  One held the meat and sauce and the other held the bean sprouts.  You heated each can in saucepans over the stove, then combined them.  The topping was fried noodles and soy sauce.  We served it over hot, white rice.  At one time, this was considered eating "Chinese".  We thought it was delicious and original at the time.

We've come a long way since those days.  Many homes have woks, the special pans often used to saute stir fries and chow mein.  If you are in the market for a wok, they can be picked up fairly inexpensively at your local thrift stores.  I have purchased many there over the years.  Taking vegetables, a little oil, and toss it in a wok to create delicious, inexpensive, vegetarian stir fry.

In stir frying, as with any cooking style, there are a few techniques to remember when preparing this type of meal.  First and foremost, prepping your veggies is absolutely essential as your first step in stir frying.  Prepping the veggies takes the longest part of meal preparation in stir fry.  The actual cooking of the vegetables is rather short.  Be sure to cut your vegetables in small, bite size pieces.  Lastly, fry your ingredients in a large pan over high heat while stirring constantly to preserve the flavor, color, texture of your vegetables.  This is important.  Mushy veggies in stir fries just is not as delicious.

Having said all of this, stir fry dinners are easy and economical.  Spouses and children can get in on the meal preparation action by helping with the vegetable preparation to cut down on time spent in the kitchen. Stir fries are the quintessential ingredients as a guideline type of recipe.  Do not be afraid to add whatever veggies you have available to the wok.  It is gonna taste great!

Bok Choy Japanese Stir Fry

1 chopped small onion
2 sliced carrots
1 cup chopped broccoli
1/2 green pepper sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup canned sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 cup canned bean sprouts, drained
1 large head bok choy, trimmed and coarsely chop to about 4 cups
1 small container tofu, cubed
1 small can fried noodles
2 cups hot cooked white rice
Soy sauce

1.  Pour olive oil in a large skillet or wok and heat on medium high heat until the wok is hot.
2.  Add the garlic and ginger to the oil and heat for two minutes, stirring frequently.
3.  Add the prepared vegetables:  onion, carrots, broccoli, green pepper.  Cook until heated through and translucent, stirring frequently (about 10 minutes).
4.  Add the water chestnuts, bean sprouts, and tofu.  Cook for 5 minutes more, stirring frequently.
5.  Place a steamer basket into the bottom of a pot.  Add water to the pot to come just to the level of the steamer.  Bring to a boil.  Add the bok choy onto the steamer basket over the boiling water.  Cover the pot with a lid.  Steam until just tender, about 4 minutes.
6.  Add the bok choy to the wok and gently stir into the cooked vegetables.
7.  Serve over rice with fried noodles and soy sauce.

Ole' Fashion Zucchini Bread

There are some recipes in the world that should just not be changed to make them supposedly better than they were.  They can be different, but not better.  Zucchini bread is one of those foods.

Moist and flavorful are its trademarks.  It actually takes a few ingredients already found in most of our pantries and zucchini.  Now when you head to the market for the zucchini, bear in mind that smaller is better.  Many of us, in wanting to get the most bang for our buck, will grab the largest zucchini in the pile.  You know, the one that is the size of a small child's baseball bat and as round as your thigh.  Well, cooking with that honker is going to lend a bitter taste to your bread.  Find the nice, smallish zucchini that will lend a tender taste to your bread and not overpower it.  If you must use a larger zucchini, be sure to de-seed it before shredding it for your bread.
When I was growing up, we had family friends that were more like family than actual friends;  Bud and Mary Lux and their six kids-  Mary Jo, Tina, Debbie, Anita, Denny, and Ed.  They were Fun with a capital "F"!!  With six kids, we could always find Mrs. Lux in the kitchen cooking something delicious.  The following is her recipe for zucchini bread.  We use to spend snacktime sitting around her kitchen tables eating this bread with loads of real butter or fat full cream cheese and whatever canned jam she had opened up.   It was wonderful!

Ole' Fashion Zucchini Bread


1 cup cooking oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla

1.  Combine oil and sugar in large mixing bowl.  Blend well.
2.  Add eggs.  Beat well.
3.  Sift dry ingredients together and add them to egg mixture alternating with zucchini.  Beating well after each addition.
4.  Add vanilla.
5.  Pour into 2 greased pans.
6.  Bake at 350 degree F for 1 hour.
7.  Eat and enjoy!!  Do not plan on leftovers.  There will not be any....

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vegetable Broth from Scraps

"Being economical connects you to your food on a very deep level.  Kitchen economy is all about making the most food with the least amount of money.  It's about being conscious of where food comes from and the care it took to grow it.  It's about appreciating every last bite, minimizing waste, and considering your carbon footprint.  Kitchen economy speaks to both a richer bank account and a richer connection with your food and the environment.  It does not mean clipping coupons or driving around town for the best deal.  Grandma said it best when she said, 'Waste not, want not.'  That's the best kind of economy we can hope for."  Urban Pantry, Amy Pennington.

Vegetable broth from scraps
Kitchen economy is the ability to use our food to the very last drop (Amy Pennington, Urban Pantry), extending the life of it to serve more than one purpose is at the heart of kitchen budget mindedness.  It is the very simple ingredients which we are most likely to find multiple uses for and which will make the most impact on our cooking budget.  Today's blog explores making vegetable broth from the cast-offs, vegetable trash which in the past we may have tossed away, without realizing that there was a little more life to be had from this "so called" trash.  With grocery bills rising through the roof in a very lean economy, food banks not being able to keep up with the demand for more food from those who once would never consider frequenting such a place, and food shortages with starving children around the world, it is time we became aware of how wasteful we might be and make amends.  In the United States of America, we waste approximately 27% of our food, sending it to landfills throughout our country.  In other words, we waste one pound of food for every American every day.  Think about it.  So let's look at a way we can be thrifty with our "cast-offs" in an effort to make amends for this atrocious statistic.

Vegetable scraps from Mock Sausage and Apples with Sweet 'Taters.

Vegetable broth from scraps is the easiest recipe to make simply from scraps of the vegetables you use everyday.  For the next week you need to begin to collect in a plastic bowl or gallon bag your vegetable cast-offs.  This includes the random vegetable not eaten at dinner, the peelings from veggies you cooked for a meal, any left over stems from your herbs in which you have deleafed for cooking or the unused soon to go bad vegetables sitting in your pantry.  Within a few days, you will be surprised at how much healthy vegetable cast-offs you have available for your broth.

This evening, I made broth from several stems of herbs (oregano, parsley, thyme, and basil), carrot peelings and carrot ends, sweet potato peelings, onion skin, mushroom bottoms, and one garlic clove.  The broth is fragrant and flavorful for future recipes.  

In a large stockpot, cover the bottom with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  Heat oil over medium heat.  Add the vegetables to the stockpot and allow to sit quietly in the olive oil for at least 10 minutes.  Try not to stir the veggies too many times.  We want them to heat up and carmalize a little.  You might toss in a splash of vermouth as Amy Pennington does in her recipe or add a little water and deglaze the pan by stirring.  Add 10-12 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Allow to simmer for at least 30-45 minutes.

Allow the broth to cool completely.  Strain the broth of vegetable scraps and put in clean jars or plastic container with lids.   Allow 1 inch headspace in the jars, as the broth will expand as it freezes.  Place the broth in your freezer and use within 4-6 months or in your fridge and use withing 3-4 days.

Compost scraps after broth has been strained out.

This delicious broth can be used for a number of recipes including soups and stews, stuffing, etc.  Use it in place of chicken or beef broth if cooking vegetarian.  Remember that you can use any combination of vegetable cast-offs.  I try to make broth every few days so that peelings and such are reasonably fresh.

For more kitchen economy ideas, please take a look at Amy Pennington's Urban Pantry.  It is full of ideas for a green, abundant pantry that will enable you to create delicious food for your family.

Mock Sausage'n Apple Dinner with Spicy Mashed Sweet 'Taters

 Mock Sausage'n Apple Dinner with Spicy Mashed Sweet 'Taters

"Why do we need so many kinds of apples? Because there are so many folks. A person has a right to gratify his legitimate taste. If he wants twenty or forty kinds of apples for his personal use…he should be accorded the privilege. There is merit in variety itself. It provides more contact with life, and leads away from uniformity and monotony." -- Liberty Hyde Baily

If you are looking for delicious, simple, inexpensive vegetarian comfort food, this is the dinner for you.  It has the taste of spicy sausage, soft apples, toasty croutons, and mashed sweet potatoes.   All the tastes of dinner that mom may have made you as a child.  However, we will be tweaking it with a vegetarian twist and filling it full of herbs to spice it up a bit.  

Now you may be wondering about one ingredient in particular, the sausage.  How in the heck can you have sausage in a vegetarian meal?   Well, cooking vegetarian does not mean we have to give up all of our favorite tastes.  There are a number of delicious "soy based" meatless products that taste very similar to the real thing.  MorningStar Farms has vegetarian sausage links that are savory and sizzling with herbs and spices.  With a wonderful taste, they can be used in recipes like this one.  Keep in mind, that in eating vegetarian, we are flavoring our meals with the meatless meat alternative flavor, so this can be an easily affordable addition to our recipe without breaking our dinner budget.  Additionally, soy meat alternatives are an excellent source of high quality protein, vitamin B, and iron.  Being low in fat and high in fiber, these meat alternatives are a healthy, high quality protein source.


-4-5 cups farmhouse-style bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
-6 tablespoons butter
-4 apples, chopped into bite size pieces
-2 onions, chopped into bite size pieces
-3 carrots, sliced thinly
-3 ribs celery, sliced thinly
-1 bay leaf
-1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-1 teaspoon dried basil
 -1 teaspoon dried oregaon
-10 links vegetarian sausage
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 can vegetable broth
-1 handful of chives and dill, chopped


1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees F.  Scatter bread cubes on a baking sheet.  Season bread cubes with parsley, thyme, basil, and oregano.  Bake to toast bread for 10-12 minutes.

2.  Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots, celery, apples, bay leaf, chives, and dill.  Saute til soft.   Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Fold in dried breadcrumbs to apple/vegetable mixture.  Moisten with about 1 can vegetable broth and 2 tablespoons olive oil.

4.  Heat veggie sausage links according to directions on package.  Put heated links into apple/vegetable mixture and fold gently.  Heat mixture on low heat for 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.  Be gentle with the veggie sausage links as they are more fragile than actual meat links.

5.  Prepare Spicy Mashed Sweet 'Taters.

Spicy Mashed Sweet 'Taters


2 pounds sweet potatoes, 2-3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/4 cup orange marmalade or lemon preserves
Salt and pepper
Couple of dashes tabasco sauce (optional)

1.  Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Cook potatoes for 12-15 minutes until tender.

2.  Drain potatoes.  Return pot to stove and warm broth in pot over medium heat.  

3.  Whisk in butter and marmalade.

4.  Add potatoes and mash them in the marmalade infused broth.

5.  Season with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of tabasco sauce.

Mock Sausage'n Apple Dinner with Spicy Mashed Sweet "Taters

Serves:  4-6
Preparation Time:  30 minutes
Cost per Serving:  $2.66 for 6 servings

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Citrus Beans and Rice

When I was a youngster, I had a rather eccentric aunt whom I thought hung the moon.  I remember one winter evening after eating a dinner of my mom's homemade chili with lots of tomato, ground beef, chili powder, and of course kidney beans, Aunt Mary taught me a little jingle about beans to my proper mother's chagrin.  You may have learned this jingle as well.  It went something like this, "Beans, beans, the musical fruit.  The more you eat the more you toot.  The more you toot, the better you feel.  We have beans at every meal."  The jingle has to do with the beans capacity to contribute to flatulence because of the way in which the bacteria in our large intestine digest certain sugar in beans.  Naturally, it is now known that there are ways we can combat bean flatulence, including soaking dried  beans overnight before cooking them, cooking beans with anise seed, coriander, or cumin, or simply taking Beano.  If you have been eating beans for awhile, you may find that your digestive system has adjusted and you can eat them without undesirable  digestive consequences.  Since beans need not be the musical fruit that they were back when I was a kid, they can easily be "what's for dinner."

Flatulence aside, beans, or legumes as they are otherwise known as, are one of the most nutritious and economical food sources we have as vegetarians.  They are brimming with fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron. The soluble fiber found in legumes has been found to decrease blood cholesterol, which is definitely a perk for many of us battling the cholesterol numbers game.  Depending on the type of bean, one cup of these little yummy nuggets has anywhere from nine to thirteen grams of fiber.   Eat your beans with rice for a complete protein.   Who knew they were so healthy?    

Citrus Beans and Rice is one of those bean recipes that is both refreshing and filling.  The aroma is delightful as the herbs cook in the olive oil.  Then there is the feta cheese which melts over the warm beans and imparts a rich, creamy texture to this delicious gathering of tastes.  Interest peeked?  Then head straight to the kitchen to rustle up a pot of this delicious, simple, inexpensive and yummy vegetarian food for your family's dinner. 

When your children ask "What's for dinner?", you can answer, "Beans!" with a smile on your face as you remember my Aunt Mary's little jingle.  Feel free to teach the jingle to them around the dinner table.  Trust me, they will giggle and laugh when they hear you singing the word "toot" to your significant other's chagrin!


1 can red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 inch ginger, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons lime zest
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Salt and Pepper
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one lime
10 large olives, sliced
1 cup rice
2 cups water
1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles (optional)

1. Prepare 1 cup rice with 2 cups water according to directions on package.

2. Put beans in a colander and rinse well.  Set aside.

3.  In a medium pan, saute shallots and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil from measured amount until soft, about 1-3 minutes.
4. Add herbs and ginger to shallot mixture and saute for 1-2 minutes to release aroma from the herbs.  Be sure to gently stir the mixture to prevent scorching the tender herbs.

5. Add the juice and zest from the lemon and lime and the beans to the saute pan and toss gently.  Heat the bean mixture thoroughly, 5-10 minutes while giving it a gentle stir now and then.

6.  Add in sliced olives and remainder of measured olive oil.  Stir and heat another 2-3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serving Suggestions:

To serve, place a serving scoop of rice in the bottom of a bowl.  Add a generous serving of beans on top of the rice.  Sprinkle cheese on beans.  Enjoy!

Serve with an old-fashion salad of iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes and a large bowl of orange slices. A delicious, simple, inexpensive and yummy vegetarian meal!

Preparation Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  4
Cost Per Serving:   $1.50