Cheap Eats! Baking Powder Biscuits

Baking Powder Biscuits

My great grandmother grew up on a farm in the late 1800’s.  When she was around 9 years old, it was her job to get up before dawn and make over 100 buscuits every day.  She was so small that she stood on a big wooden box to roll out the dough and cut all the biscuits that would be served to the farm hands before they started work.  She grew to about 4’10” as an adult and had something like 11 kids (might have been 13, I can’t remember for sure).  She was lovingly called a “ball of fire”.

We had biscuits with breakfast every weekend and sometimes during the week with dinner when I was growing up.  It is a Southern thing, even though I was raised on the West Coast, both of my parents are from the South.  My mom makes biscuits without measuring.  She just scoops the shortening and flour with a spoon and they always come out perfect.  I have to follow the measurements from the side of the “Clabber Girl” baking powder can because I don’t make biscuits very often.

Baking Powder Biscuits

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Lightly grease a cake pan or cast iron skillet.

1/3 cup shortening

2 cups flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk

This is how my mom made biscuits:

Cut the dry ingredients with the shortening until it resembles corn meal, then slowly add the milk and continue to cut in the milk a little at a time until all the milk has been added and the dough forms a ball.  Put about a handfull of flour on top of the ball and knead the dough for a few seconds to combine any flour from the bottom of the bowl.  The flour on top helps keep the dough from sticking to your hands.

Next, take out a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball and roll it SLIGHTLY to make it round.  It’s ok if the dough isn’t perfectly smooth because it is better if you don’t handle the dough very much.   Place each ball in the pan about 1″ apart, or just as evenly spaced as you can get them.  Next, press all the balls down to about 3/4 of an inch thick and let the sides of the biscuits barely touch.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the top of the biscuits are slightly golden.

Serve hot.

Cheap Eats! Pita Bread

I recently made Gyros.  Well not really, but more like chicken with tzatziki and feta and some veggies served in a pita.

For the most part, the main ingredients for making gyros can be found for pretty low prices.  For a meal that covers all the food groups  meat, veggies, dairy, grain and has just all around good taste, gyros are nearly perfect.  Nearly.  So here’s the problem, pita bread costs over $3 for a small package.

Pita Bread that I actually made!

Many people have tomatoes, cucumber and greens in their gardens this time of year. The fresh veggies are also available at farmer’s markets or the grocery stores for reasonable prices. Chicken can be found for $3.00 per pound for boneless, skinless breast meat and other cuts are even less. You only need a pound of chicken to feed 4-6 people (depending how generous the serving is). But those pitas again…

So I got this idea that I would try making them. Guess what? They are super easy! I rarely make bread and I did some things wrong, but even with my mistakes, the pitas came out great.

The recipe I used can be found here:

I missed the instruction to knead the bread for 15 minutes, so I just kneaded it for about 5 minutes and tossed it into the greased bowl.  The dough didn’t rise the full 3 hours because I started making the bread late – so after two hours it looked close enough to double for me.  I reduced the time in the oven to about 3 minutes on one side and just over 1 minute on the other.  But even these short-cuts and oversights didn’t ruin the pitas.

The touch time is about 15 minutes to make the dough, unless you knead it for 15 minutes and then it would be around 25 minutes.  The elasped time is the issue for this recipe, around four hours!  With my mistakes, the total elasped time was probably closer to three hours.

The warm water, sugar and yeast mixture has to rest for 15 minutes and then it just takes a couple minutes to combine with the flour, salt and extra water.  After the dough had risen I think it took about 1/2 hour to finish making 10 pitas.

These pitas opened into pockets just like the bread I bought at the store but they tasted better, they were yeasty and chewy around the edges.  They would be excellent with just a little butter, garlic and salt baked on the side of them or served with hummus.

One of the dough rounds was used to make a mini cheese pizza for my picky eater and that was a hit.

I Just Brokeup with the DSCC

I should have done it a long time ago. I surely get enough spam for girls in Russia wanting to be my pal, on-line viagra sales and of course – the DSCC. Well now my spam is reduced by email from the DSCC.

It wasn’t easy, they have a labyrinth style dialog where they want to be super sure you meant to unsubscribe.  I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to be solicited for money every day by the DSCC or various politicians? 

After I made it through, gosh, I don’t know how many pages of:  “Are you sure?”, “Really, really sure?” I arrived at a small dialog box asking me to explain the breakup in 250 words or less.  Actually, it didn’t say 250 words… I might be exaggerating a little.

Here is what I wrote in the little text box:

Count all the votes, stand up for democratic principles, don’t compromise on the rights of women, minorities or the poor.  You can look for my support when you DO what you were elected to do – not just talk about it.

I’m pretty sure this will land in a bit bucket somewhere, but it did feel pretty good to just say it.

Cheap Eats! Pho

I’ve decided to try my hand at Pho (pronouced Fuh – in case you wondered) because I found lemon grass at the H-Mart, the local Asian market, for a great price. They had great prices on all sorts of produce. Made me sorry I’d payed for organic cilantro at Kroger!

Anyway, I can be inspired by the silliest things. I was already planning to make a ginger chicken soup for dinner but couldn’t find the noodles so, of course, a trip to H-Mart was required… then I spotted the lemon grass.

I read a bunch of recipes to figure this out, but I don’t have all the right ingredients. Here is my “American kitchen” version (with lemon grass!).

I am using 2 lbs of chicken, mostly thighs and a skinless breast and I’ve chopped through the middle of each thigh bone because I read that you want to open the marrow to make better broth. It’s worth a try. You should choose the noodles you like and prepare them ahead by soaking or boiling according to the package instructions.

Put all ingredients into a large pot:
2 lbs chicken pieces
about 3 1/2 quarts of water
about 3″ of ginger root, sliced unpeeled
a large clove of garlic coursly chopped into chunks
the tops of a couple stalks of celery
the ends from a bunch of cilantro
2 stalks of lemon grass coursely choped

Boil the broth and add:
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp clove (or 4 whole ones – I couldn’t find them)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt (may need more)

Reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours. Now, either strain the soup or use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetable and chicken. The broth is supposed to be very clear and very flavorful. Pick out the chicken and tear it into small pieces. The torn up chicken can be added back to the broth or served on the side to be added with the fresh vegetables. I put the chicken back in and I added three thinly sliced carrots.

Prepare vegetables:
Coarsely chop cilantro leaves
Thinly sliced red onions
Mung bean sprouts
Thinly sliced red or green pepper
sliced green onion

Probably even zuchinni or snow peas would be good.

Pour the hot broth over the noodles and serve with vegetables. Asian hot pepper sauces and soy sauce are good on the soup too.

I know, this probably isn’t *exactly* a proper pho, but it turns out pretty good and even my picky eaters enjoyed it.

Baked Salmon with Red Peppers and Basalmic Vinaigrette

This isn’t really cheap-cheap, but the local stores have started selling fresh wild caught salmon for reasonable prices.

I was in the mood for red pepper too, so I made up this recipe… it doesn’t have a nam

1-1.5 lbs salmon filet (I usually ask for filets near the tail, there are fewer bones)
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 small sweet onion (vidalia or walla walla)
1 red pepper

Drizzle a little olive oil in an 9×11 baking dish and place the salmon filet, skin side down on the oil. Combine the vinegar, oil, garlic, salt, pepper and basil in a separate small dish and then drizzle over the salmon. Cut the onion and red pepper into thin strips and lay the onion on the fish and then the red pepper on the onion.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until the fish is done. The peppers and onions will still be crisp-tender.

Crossposted at Corrente.

Cheap Eats! Donna’s Chili Bean Dip

This is a very easy hot dip.  The ingredients keep well, so you can buy them on sale and have them around for last minute social gatherings where you should bring something.  I bring this to poker and football parties because it goes well with beer.

Donna’s Bean Dip

Layer in a 8×8 glass baking dish:
1 8oz package of softened cream cheese
1 can of chili con carne with beans (probably meatless chili beans would be good)
1 small can of roasted green chiles
1 small can sliced black olives (optional)
1 small seeded, diced tomato (optional)
2-3 green onions thinly sliced (optional)
top with shredded cheddar cheese

This dip can be made ahead and put in the refrigerator over night or bring the cans and toss it together when you arrive at the party.  If I have olives, tomatoes or green onions, I add them but most of the time I skip them because they take more time.

I microwave the dip for about 5 minutes or until the middle of the dish feels warm on the bottom.  Serve with tortilla chips and be sure to scoop all the way to the bottom!  This dip can also be served cold, although I’ve never tried it that way.

It is good served with tortillas and eaten as burritos with lettuce too.

I used to work with Donna some years ago.  She also provided the Sex in a Pan recipe.

Cheap Eats! Boxed Brownies Made Fancy

Here’s a cheap, almost homemade, solution to needing to bring “something” to a gathering:

1 family size box of brownie mix and requisite eggs, oil and water. Around here, I can find one brand or another family size boxes for $.99 on sale. I buy several and keep them handy for those “Oh crap! I forgot I needed to bring…” moments.

I also buy chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch, etc… when they are on sale too. Store brands work great.

Make the brownies according to the package for the “cake like” version. Then fold in two kinds of chips, about a generous 1/2 cup of each. If you have walnuts or pecan pieces around, put a handful of those in too.

Line a 11×9 banking pan with a piece of parchment and spray the non-stick stuff around the sides. Pour in the brownie mix and bake according to the package instructions.

When they are done, turn the brownies out on a cutting board and remove the parchment. Cut them into squares and go!

That’s it. Leave some at home if you want any left because you will bring home an empty plate. When I take these anywhere people always ask for the recipe and I never have any left. I don’t even frost them!

Crossposted at Corrente.

Cheap Eats! Sex in a Pan

Years ago I was given this recipe at work with the name covered with white-out tape. Really! I’m not sure how many people it was passed through or where it even came from. The friend who gave me the recipe would only tell me what it was called in person rather than risk somebody finding it laying on her desk.

Sex in a Pan

Layer 1:

1 cup flour
1 stick soft butter or margarine
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Mix like pie crust. Spray a 9 x 11 glass pan with non-stick spray and press the crust into the bottom. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Let it cool.

Layer 2:

1 – 8 oz pkg cream cheese (softened)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 of 12 oz container of whipped topping

mix together and spread over layer 1.

Layer 3:

2 small packages instant chocolate pudding (any kind is ok)
2 cups milk

mix together and spread over layer 2.

Layer 4:
spread remaining whipped topping over layer 3.

Drizzle chocolate syrup around the top and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Crossposted at Corrente.

Cheap Eats! Mom’s Fried Rice

Fried rice! My mom made this when I was growing up and I always loved it. I’ve adjusted the recipe a little because we have more fresh ingredients available than when I was a kid. It is easy to make and you can use any leftover rice, vegetables or meat you have. I’m thinking this is probably not a “low fat” dish.

This isn’t the stuff you get at Chinese restaurants.

Mom’s Fried Rice

  • About 3-5 cups cooked white rice (I use “sticky rice”)
  • 2-3 slices of bacon cut into “bits”
  • 1 small onion diced
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbls minced ginger (powder is ok if you don’t have fresh)
  • 4 eggs scrambled with a teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoons canola oil
  • white pepper to taste
  • soy sauce to taste
  • sliced green onions
  • 1/2 pound of meat cut in very small pieces (chicken, pork or beef, I’ve never tried shrimp but I think it would be good)
  • 1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1-3 cups your choice (diced in small pieces): celery, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, snow peas, frozen peas, zucchini, shredded cabbage, pretty much anything handy. The quantities can vary based on what you have around and how much rice you start with.

Using the biggest frying pan you own, cook the bacon over medium-high heat. When it starts to sizzle, add onion and ginger. Cook another couple minutes and then add the meat and garlic. When the meat is almost cooked through, add the diced carrots and any vegetables that take longer to cook. While those cook, scramble the eggs with soy sauce then push everything in the pan to one side. Pour in the eggs on the other side of the pan. I let the eggs set up and then stir them gently to have visible bits of egg in the fried rice.

Next add the rest of the vegetables and the oils. Stir all the eggs, meats and vegetables together and cover with the rice. Let the rice sit on top for a few minutes and sprinkle soy sauce around the top of the rice, directly from the bottle, then stir the meats and vegetables from the bottom into the rice and add white pepper. If things seem too sticky, add about 1/4 cup of water to loosen the rice and help mix everything.

Now it can be tasted to see if more pepper, ginger or soy sauce is needed. Once the flavor is adjusted, it is ready to serve with green onions on top.

This is a one-dish meal and I have never had any side dishes with it, just a glass of milk.

I’m sure anyone who knows how to make *real* fried rice is cringing at this one, but my friends always wanted to stay for dinner when my mom made it and my family hovers when I make it.

Crossposted at Corrente.

Cheap Eats! Grandma’s Navy Bean Soup

Simple Navy (great northern) bean soup – the way my Grandmother made it. She doesn’t cook much these days, but I’ll never forget the very simple creamy soup my grandmother made for me when life seemed too hard. She didn’t measure… Of course!

Did I mention this is very simple?

1/2 bag dried great northern beans, rinsed in a strainer
1 cup of cubed ham
salt and pepper to taste

Place the rinsed beans in a large dutch oven and fill with water to about 3″ from the top. Boil the beans until they pop, the outer skins will pop and they will get a little soft. It seems like it takes about 1/2 hour to get the beans to start to soften. Continue to boil them but reduce the heat a little so they don’t boil over. Put the ham on a shallow baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes or until it just starts to brown, you want the juices on the pan to look carmel-like. Pour the ham and any juice into the boiling beans and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add salt (maybe a teaspoon, I put a dime to a quarter size puddle in the palm of my hand and then taste it after a while to see if it needs more) and pepper and continue to simmer until the beans are very soft and the broth looks like a cream sauce.

I’ve added diced carots without changing the flavor too much. I’ve also added canned crushed tomatoes, onions and garlic and it was good too – but it wasn’t grandma’s soup.

Serve with a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce (like Red Devil or Tobasco) and cornbread, of course! Fresh mellon makes a nice side dish.

I am sure this could be made in a small batch if you don’t want to eat the stuff for a week. Here’s a trick with cornbread if you live alone or don’t need to eat the whole thing: make it in muffin tins and freeze the corn muffins you don’t need. They thaw out on the counter in an hour or less.

Cross posted at Corrente.