Category Archives: Frugal Eating

low cost, high flavor meals

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cornbread Cake

I hate recipes. Did you see my tagline? “…rarely follows a recipe…” This is another one of my Let’s See if This Works recipes. I had two apples that were starting to get a little wrinkly on the outside. Not really crisp enough to serve in my husband’s lunch but not soft enough to toss in the woods for a critter to enjoy. So I thought I’d try a caramel apple upside down cake. But being lazy and not wanting to follow a recipe I looked in the cupboard and had a little box of corn bread mix. Voila!

I mean... come on. SO YUMMY.

I mean… come on. SO YUMMY.

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cornbread Cake

Preheat oven to 350F and find a nice heavy 1 quart casserole dish or do like me and use your Pampered Chef 1 quart stone that you never used before and cross your fingers that it will come out.

Ingredients:

2 large apples, peeled (if you don’t like the peels), cut in half, cored and sliced semi-thinly (in other words, don’t use that apple slicer thingy that gives you 8 perfect pieces. It will not work here.)

4-6 tablespoons of light brown sugar – you’ll use one heaping tablespoon at a time.

2 tablespoons of room temperature butter, to be used to butter your dish and to dollop over the last layer of apples

lemon zest from a whole lemon

lemon juice from half a lemon

one box of Jiffy Cornbread Muffin Mix

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

Directions:

Place the apple slices, lemon zest and lemon in a bowl and toss to coat the apples

Butter the bottom of a 1 quart baking stone or casserole dish

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar in bottom, sprinkled over top of the butter

place the apples in a pretty design (this will be the top once you remove it from the pan)

top the apples with a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar.

place another layer of apples and top with another heaping tablespoon of brown sugar. Keep doing this until you run out of apples. I think I got three or four layers of apples.

Top with brown sugar again and about one tablespoon of room temp butter, just pinched with your fingers and dolloped around the top.

Place apples in the oven at 350F for 15 minutes to help soften them a bit. This step isn’t really necessary if you like a firmer apple. I’m feeding the Queen of Picky-land so I have to soften them a bit more than usual.

Prepare the cornbread batter by mixing the egg, milk, vanilla, cornbread mix, 2 tbsp brown sugar in a bowl.

Remove the apples from the oven and top with the cornbread muffin mix. Shake the dish a little to allow the batter to run down through the crevices.

Bake again for 30 minutes or until cake is done. (toothpick comes out clean)

caramel apple upside down cornbread cake RIGHT-SIDE UP! It's still pretty this way, too.

caramel apple upside down cornbread cake RIGHT-SIDE UP! It’s still pretty this way, too.

Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before sliding a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it. Then  flip the cake onto a serving platter. If your cake doesn’t come out cleanly just don’t serve it to your guests on the platter. Excuse yourself to the kitchen to plop big portions of it into bowls and top with whipped cream or powdered sugar or ice cream, etc. etc. No one will ever know it wasn’t perfect. Heck, I think it looks pretty right-side up or upside down! Oh and p.s. You can leave this cake on the counter for a few hours but it’s best to refrigerate leftovers.

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cornbread Cake

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cornbread Cake

Enjoy!

Savory Onion, Mushroom, Sausage, and Cheese Strata

I love bread. People that don’t eat bread? Sheww… I feel bad for them. French bread? Yes please. Italian bread? Sure thing. Baguettes topped with anything? Absolutely. Sliced sourdough packed with cheese and toasted on a griddle? MY FAVORITE. So when I go to the store and the bakery has discounted bread on the day-old rack, I stock up. Last week I made a bread pudding out of French bread and today I’m making a strata for dinner out of a stale baguette.

Today’s dinner uses the long, skinny, unassuming baguette. Crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside. Perfect for sucking up milk and eggs. Here you go.

Wipe the drool from your chin and read on, my friend.

Wipe the drool from your chin and read on, my friend.

Savory Onion, Mushroom, Sausage, and Cheese Strata

Ingredients:

  • one large Vidalia or sweet onion, chopped
  • 16 ounce container sliced mushrooms (white mushrooms are okay, baby bellas are better)
  • 1 tsp basil (dried)
  • 1 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 pound fresh mild flavored sausage (breakfast sausage or mild italian sausage)
  • 1 baguette cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 16 ounce container whole milk or heavy cream
  • 6 eggs, whisked in large bowl
  • sprinkle of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 7-8 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 7-8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions:

Place 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in large skillet and add chopped onions.

My one large sweet onion made 4 cups of chopped onion

My one large sweet onion made 4 cups of chopped onion

Sprinkle a pinch of salt over onions. Cook on medium heat 10 minutes.

sauteed onions

sauteed onions

Add sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over mushrooms. Cook 10 more minutes.

Add mushrooms to sauteed onions

Add mushrooms to sauteed onions

Add some cracked black pepper. Place a tsp oregano in palm of your hand and crush to release oils while adding to onions and mushrooms. Place a tsp basil in palm of your hand and crush to release oils while adding to mixture.

top with basil and oregano

top with basil and oregano

Stir mixture and allow to cook 20 minutes until softened and a bit caramelized.

stir to combine herbs and onions and mushrooms

stir to combine herbs and onions and mushrooms

While that’s cooking, whisk the 6 eggs and milk/cream in large bowl.

Whisk eggs and add whole milk or heavy cream.

Whisk eggs and add whole milk or heavy cream.

Add sprinkle of nutmeg.

Add nutmeg. If it's dried powder or fresh makes no difference. Just add some.

Add nutmeg. If it’s dried powder or fresh makes no difference. Just add some.

Whisk to combine.

Now remove the mushrooms and onions to a medium sized bowl and place the sausage in the pan and cook until brown and crumbled.

Remove the mushrooms and onions and place sausage in the pan and brown.

Remove the mushrooms and onions and place sausage in the pan and brown.

Now combine the sausage, mushrooms and onions back in the pan and toss to create a delicious pan of yumminess.

Combine mushrooms and onions with the sausage and allow to cook for five minutes more. TASTE IT! Adjust it with salt and pepper if necessary. Keep in mind the cheese will add a ton of flavor.

Combine mushrooms and onions with the sausage and allow to cook for five minutes more.

TASTE IT. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Allow to cook together for 5 minutes and then remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit.

Cut the baguette into bite-sized pieces.

My baguette made about 6 cups

My baguette made about 6 cups

And place the baguette in the milk/cream/egg mixture and toss to coat.

While bread is soaking, prepare your pan and finish cooking sausage mixture

While bread is soaking, prepare your pan and shred the cheese

Allow to soak while you prepare the pan and shred the cheese.

Spray a large casserole dish or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Shred your blocks of cheese.

Good cheese. That is all.

Good cheese. That is all.

I chose cheddar because it’s tasty. I added Gruyere to it because I like the melt-ability. I lucked out at the store because I found this one: APPLEWOOD SMOKED GRUYERE. Perfect with sausage.

Assembly:

Place some of the bread in the bottom of the pan.

Layer 1 - soaked bread

Layer 1 – soaked bread

Top with half of the sausage/onion/mushroom mixture.

Layer 2 - Sausage mixture. Layer 3 - Cheeses

Layer 2 – Sausage mixture. Layer 3 – Cheeses

Top with half of the cheese.

Layer the rest of the bread on top of that. And don’t waste that milk and egg that’s left in the bowl.

Layer the rest of the bread and milk/egg mixture

Layer the rest of the bread and milk/egg mixture

Place the rest of the sausage/onion/mushroom mixture on top of the bread.

Finish the whole thing with the remainder of the cheese.

Top with the rest of the sausage/onion/mushroom mixture and the rest of the cheese.

Top with the rest of the sausage/onion/mushroom mixture and the rest of the cheese.

Rip off a piece of foil and spray it with non-stick spray.

Prepare the foil with non-stick spray

Prepare the foil with non-stick spray

Place it over the strata and push down on the contents. Your goal here is to allow that custard mixture to soak into the bread cubes and the flavors to all marry together. Yum. Place in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight. I made mine midday and will eat it this evening for dinner.

When you are ready to make it, remove it from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350F. Allow to bake (foil on) for 45 minutes. Remove foil carefully

Remember when I had you spray the foil with non-stick spray? Yeah. That's why. None of the cheese gets pulled off the top of the strata. I'm pretty smart.

Remember when I had you spray the foil with non-stick spray? Yeah. That’s why. None of the cheese gets pulled off the top of the strata. I’m pretty smart.

and bake for 15 more minutes until bubbly and crusty. Allow 15 minutes or more to rest before serving.

Um what? I'm so distracted right now I forget what we're talking about.

Um what? I’m so distracted right now I forget what we’re talking about.

We had creamed corn in the freezer from last summer so that’s what we had with this hearty meal. It was nice to have something sweet and simple paired with this since it’s so rich. A nice glass of Pinot Grigio would be nice with this, too.

Enjoy!

French Toast Bread Pudding

BRINNER!!! One of my favorite go-tos when I’m menu-planning.

Breakfast for Dinner! Yes. Such a simple meal. No brainer!

But my husband makes pancakes with the kids every weekend so I wanted something different. Sausage patties, dippy eggs (I’m from South-Central Pennsylvania. Dippy eggs = over-easy eggs. I’m tired of pretending I’m sophisticated. I’m calling them dippy eggs.)

But what can I do instead of pancakes?

I have a loaf of French bread that I got at the grocery store in the bakery for NOTHING. Literally. It was on sale for $ .97 and it had a one dollar off coupon on it because it was baked yesterday. So I got it for NOTHING. Yeay me!

My mind starts racing. French toast? Ehh, that takes a lot of focus and attention. Baked French toast? Hmm… maybe. Bread pudding? Hmm…. maybe. Both? Hmm…. absolutely.

French Toast Bread Pudding

French Toast Bread Pudding

French Toast Bread Pudding

Requires 4 hours to overnight to soak so plan accordingly.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 cups torn pieces of French bread
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 C maple syrup (you may use any syrup you have but I highly recommend some HIGH QUALITY maple syrup.)
  • 1 C milk – I used vanilla almond milk which is sweetened so if you use whole milk, you might want to add a tablespoon of sugar to the milk.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 C chopped apple – I used Gala just because I had it. It was approximately half the apple. You can add more apple if you want. Or use another fruit. Blueberries would be good.
  • 2 ounces cold cream cheese
  • sprinkle of cinnamon

Directions:

Crack and whisk 4 eggs in large bowl. Pour in the maple syrup, milk, vanilla and pinch of salt. Stir well to combine. Prepare an 8×8 baking dish by spraying it with non-stick spray or slather it up with butter. I won’t tell. Now place chopped apple (or whatever fruit you choose) in the bottom of the pan. Top the fruit with the torn bread and then pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. Press the bread down into the egg/milk mixture. Now take the two ounces of cold cream cheese and just tear it apart with your fingers and dollop it over the top of the bread and egg/milk mixture. Sprinkle it all with cinnamon. Place foil on the pan and place in the fridge for 4 hours, or overnight.

When you are ready to bake it, bring it out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter while the oven preheats to 350F. Bake 30 minutes with the foil on and then remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes. Allow it to rest 15 minutes before serving.

We loved this. I especially love the different textures of a good bread pudding. I like the crunchy top layer but LOOOOVE the custard layer on the bottom. And the apples added a nice tart, flavorful, juicy bite. I was so excited about it that we sat there at the table and kept nibbling at it and then I was like, “Oh crudballs! I forgot to take a picture of it!” So this is all you get.

Oops. I ate all of it.

Oops. I ate all of it.

I hope you try it. It was such a great addition to BRINNER!

Ramen – My Interpretation

My version of easy home-cooked "Ramen" using store-bought Ramen noodles. Cheap, easy, tasty.

My version of easy home-cooked “Ramen” using store-bought Ramen noodles. Cheap, easy, tasty.

Most evenings I have a plan. But this one evening I did not. I ate leftovers for a very late lunch so by the time dinner rolled around I had no desire to cook nor did I have ANY clue what to make. Usually on nights like this the kids eat cereal and I make something special later after the kids are in bed for daddy and mommy. But this evening Josie asked for Ramen noodles. So I got out two packages. I had an idea!

My version of Ramen was born. Now, I am fully aware this is not a traditional Ramen noodle dish that you would eat in an authentic Asian restaurant. The broth and noodles are homemade in a true Ramen dish. This is simply MY version. Frugal, quick, and tasty.

Ramen – Jessie’s Asian Noodle Experience

MAKES TWO SERVINGS

Check your fridge for yummy goodies to add to the soup. I used sliced leftover baked sweet potato, which I reheated a bit. Very thinly sliced beef barely cooked in a bit of olive oil with a splash of  low-sodium soy sauce. (If you check the butcher case you can find thinly sliced ‘steak sub’ quality steak. That will be perfect for this dish.)

Bean sprouts would be good. Sliced mushrooms would be good. Slivers of carrot would be good. Finely diced jalapeno pepper or pickled banana peppers would be good.

  • Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan that has a lid.
  • Add 2 packs of Ramen, BUT ONLY ONE packet of flavoring.
  • Turn the heat to low and sprinkle in a handful of baby spinach and submerge the spinach so it wilts.
  • Add a tablespoon of fresh lime juice OR rice wine vinegar to the pot and place a lid on it.
  • Meanwhile, get two big bowls ready because this comes together quickly.
  • Poach or pan fry 2 eggs. You want that yolk to spill out into the broth.
  • Place the broth and noodles in the bowls. Top with the sliced sweet potatoes (or whatever veggies you have), the steak, and the egg.
  • Drizzle the whole dish with toasted sesame oil, a few shakes of red pepper flakes, and some prepared teriyaki wok sauce/marinade. (I have a bottle of prepared stuff. The prepared stuff is thicker than straight teriyaki and is often blended with other flavors like sesame or sweet chili or mandarin orange.)

This isn’t really as much of a recipe as it is a suggestion.

The end result is bursting with flavor and makes you think you are eating a fancy restaurant quality meal. Don’t forget to eat it with chopsticks! It’s Umami at it’s finest. That ‘fifth taste’ that is hard to describe. It’s rich, savory, deep, mmm…. so delicious.

ENJOY!

 

 

 

Jessie’s Creamy Chicken Lasagna

A few weeks ago my brother called me from the grocery store to ask me some questions about ingredients in my lasagna recipe. I thought he was referring to my sauteed mushroom and onion lasagna but no… he called it Jessie’s Creamy Chicken Lasagna and said he makes it all the time. I don’t have a very good memory (I know. My husband is very lucky) so I didn’t know what he was referring to. Long story short, I got the recipe from him and he told me to post it here. He said it is a go-to of his when he is looking for that comforting, warm, cheesy, creamy indulgent meal. So here it is. I have no idea when I came up with this. I’m guessing at least 6 or 7 years ago. Maybe longer.

I hope it’s as awesome as my big brother says it is! I can’t wait to try it. Because apparently I can’t remember it from the first time around.

***update***

I made it!! It started to come back to me as I was whisking the milk into the soups and adding the herbs. It was great. It was creamy and decadent. The fruit salad was a great side-dish because it helped cut the richness of the lasagna. Josie even ate a few bites after I explained to her that the lasagna tasted like cheese crackers and chicken nuggets. Thanks big brother for bringing this one back!

creamy chicken lasagna with a little bowl of fresh fruit salad. The fruit salad is great because it cuts the richness of the lasagna.

creamy chicken lasagna with a little bowl of fresh fruit salad. The fruit salad is great because it cuts the richness of the lasagna.

Jessie’s Creamy Chicken Lasagna

Ingredients:

  • 1 15 oz. container small curd low fat cottage cheese (cottage cheese melts and blends right in but it’s MUCH cheaper than ricotta. Try it. You’ll thank me for saving you the bucks AND still giving you the smooth, mellow, cheesy, creaminess you need.
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken – a rotisserie chicken is a great choice for this if you are in a hurry. Just pick it up at the grocery store along with the rest of the ingredients.
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 12 oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • hot pepper chili flakes to taste if you like that touch of heat.

Preheat oven to 350F

Stir the soups, milk, and herbs, s&p and chili flakes in a large bowl.

Spray bottom and sides of 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray.

Assembly instructions:

Coat the bottom of the baking dish with a big spoonful or two of the soup mixture. Place noodles on top of the soup mixture. Top with about 1 cup of soup mixture, half of the cottage cheese, 1 1/2 cups of chicken, 2/3 cup Mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat layers once. Place another layer of noodles on top and cover with remaining soup mixture, Mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese.

Cover with foil (spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray to prevent the cheese from ripping off the top of the lasagna when you remove the foil) and bake for 45 minutes. Then remove foil and bake until golden and bubbly.

Enjoy the simplicity of this lasagna! It freezes well and it is great to give to friends or family or neighbors that need a hearty meal.