Friday, January 31, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit

Any budgeteer will tell you how helpful beans are to a well-rounded diet. Not only are they low-fat and reasonably high in protein -- they're easy to store, cook, and blend well with a variety of foods, too.

A favorite here in Colorado: anasazi beans. These flavorful beans have a strange history. One story has them being found in Anasazi ruin sites by archeologists sometime in the 1950s; another says that they were growing wild near the ruins, and found by pioneer homesteaders. (Or both.)
     Whatever their origins, they have another positive: they're less apt to cause those gaseous emissions that bean-eating may (ahem) influence. (Other options are here.)

Anasazis -- from
 A wide variety of bean types are out there, and most can be used successfully in the following recipes. The only ones I wouldn't recommend -- black beans, which have their own genre of recipes.(We'll cover them later, anyways.)

I grew up with Michigan Northern beans -- and a very basic soup that the Mama still serves on snowy days.


1 pound (or 2 cups) northern beans, washed
1/2 cup chopped onion
at least 8 cups water (add more, if needed)

Cook at a low simmer, at least 5-8 hours. (Crockpots are perfect for this.) Salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! As a kid, I always ate this with a tablespoon or two of ketchup stirred in. It can take on any veggie you want to add, as well, including carrots, kale, tomatoes...or the items in the soup below. has a legislative version of Northern Bean soup -- it's been a favorite for decades in the U.S. Capitol Hill cafeteria. This one's great for using up leftover ham, as well -- just substitute a cup of chopped ham for the bone.


  • 1 pound dried navy beans or great northern beans, washed and drained
  • 1 meaty ham bone or 2 smoked ham hocks
  • 3 medium potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper


Cover beans with water and bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Drain bean liquid into a bowl; measure and add enough water or broth to make 5 quarts; pour back into beans. Bring beans to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours, or until beans are very tender. Add ham bone, potatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and garlic, and continue to simmer for another hour. Remove ham bone and cut up meat; return to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes about 2 gallons of soup.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Another bean option: Baked Beans! This dish has fed New Englanders for centuries. It was a special favorite for weekends -- the beanpot could be started in the banked ashes of Saturday night's fire, then finished off the next day for Sunday's noon meal. For housewives whose religion denoted "no cooking/i.e., 'work' on Sunday," it was a godsend.

This version of the traditional dish comes from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette, but is very similar to my own grandma's heirloom recipe. (Grandma's family, the Browns, originally hailed from Peterborough, NH.) Try it for Saturday night supper, with a slice of steamed brown bread.


2 pounds (4 cups) dried beans
     (Grandma used Northerns for this, but I substitute Anasazis. Amy uses Jacob's Cattle beans)
1 teaspoon soda
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 pound bacon or salt pork, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar (omit this if you don't care for a sweeter bean - Grandma did)
1/2 - 2/3 cup dark molasses
2  teaspoons dry mustard   (or a tablespoon of coarse-ground wet mustard)
1 teaspoon salt

Soak beans overnight in cold water; next morning, parboil them in water (soda added) until skin peels back when gently blowing on a bean.
     Put the onion and pork in a bean pot or casserole dish; mix in beans. 
     Mix the rest in a pint of water to make a sauce, then also mix into the beans.

Bake at 300 degrees for at least 6 hours -- or in the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours. Makes the equivalent of 6 large cans of baked beans, enough to serve 8-10 people.


Unless you're serving a regiment, you'll have baked bean leftovers. They're delicious reheated by themselves, mixed with hot dogs or sausage, or spooned hot and steaming over toast. Convert them into Sloppy Joes, or into this soup, which Amy Dacyczyn's mom served.


2 cups baked beans (or substitute a large can of pork & beans, if you don't feel much like cooking)
1 8 oz. can stewed or canned tomatoes
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 onion

Blenderize all ingredients, and simmer 20 min. (This is Amy's way, but I'd rather chop the celery and onion, then serve it chunky-style.) Serve with crusty bread for 'dunkin;' makes 4 servings.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Using Up Leftovers

Every January, I try to do some kind of Pantry Challenge. In other words, use as much of the foodstuffs in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer -- and keep purchases to a minimum. I usually only buy milk and butter -- and any Really Good Sale, clearance or scratch-and-dent items I can get my hands on.

This year, bad weather, dealing with the flu, and taking care of Daughter #1 have cut back any chance to go grocery shopping, let alone any desire to do so. That's meant that I take extra care to use what I've got.

Including leftovers. 

You know -- the spoonful or two of leftover beef...or the saucer of corn...or the small cup of soup. Or the stuff that wasn't that good, to begin with. (There's usually LOTS of that left.)

Here are some things I do --

*Get rid of the mediocre food -- either give it to the dogs on top of their food, or throw it to the chickens. Otherwise, it just takes up space in the fridge while it slowly goes bad. (I've learned this the hard way.)

*Chop up fruit, and use it in pancakes, waffles and on top of ice cream. (If it's apples, I just make a large batch of applesauce.)

*Chop up and/or slice veggies, then store them in a snap-top container with a little water. That way, they're ready to use at a moment's notice, for stirfry, soup or an impromptu snack.

*Mix soups together....especially if they have some kind of common denominator, like chicken broth. Add in any leftover veggies or starches, while you're at it. (Leftover rice, clam chowder and potato soup complement each other nicely, for example.)

*Chop up and grate the bits and pieces of cheese you've found, and use them for mac and cheese, a cheesy snack...or sprinkle on soups and stews for an extra protein and flavor kick. (Several cheeses can give a much better result than one, provided they're not one of the smelly types, like Limburger or blue cheese.)

Or try this dish, inspired by a recent doggie bag from a barbecue restaurant. It contained baked beans and a handful or so of pulled pork. (Dogs Charley and Abby scarfed down the french fries.)
     A few onion hamburger buns were in the fridge as well, along with a quarter-pound of sausage. Mixed together, they became:


1/4- 1/2 pound of bulk sausage (or hamburger)
a handful or so of chopped or pulled pork, beef (chicken or turkey should work, as well)
1-2 cups baked beans (or that half-can of leftover pork and beans that's been sitting in the fridge)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce (I'm partial to Baby Ray's)
tag ends of veggies, chopped fine -- onions and green pepper, especially
1 bun per person

Fry the raw meat, breaking it up as it cooks. (Add the veggies here too.) Add any cooked meats, plus the beans and sauce -- heat gently until bubbling. Spoon onto buns, and serve, along with a green salad.  (You should have enough to feed four easily.)
    If you've STILL got leftovers (!!!), spoon the mixture onto a bun, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Microwave for 1 minute, and you've got a good hot sandwich for lunch the next day. (Or wrap in foil and freeze -- bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 min.)

Or try this version, from just add extras

You might enjoy this earlier post on leftovers, via yours truly's 'other' blog. might just find that the leftovers are actually tastier than the original!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Pork Chops and Pork Steak

Chilly days and snowy nights mean a hot, savoury dish to warm your bones. Why not try it with pork chops or pork steaks, one of the most reasonably-priced meats nowadays? Pork sausages or bratwurst can also be substituted, with tasty results. An added bonus: these dishes can be quickly made, too.

These recipes serve 4 -- but can be easily expanded. Figure one chop, pork steak or a large sausage for each person.


4 potatoes, thin-sliced
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoons flour
4 pork chops, steaks or large sausages/bratwurst
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Pile the potatoes in a greased baking dish in layers; sprinkle each layer with a little each of the flour and cheese before you put on the next. Pour the milk over, then position the meat on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min.*


4 potatoes, chunked
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped mushrooms (or one small can pieces)
1 can mushroom soup, thinned out with a little milk
       (or omit the chopped onion, and substitute 3 tablespoons of onion soup mix)
1 apple, peeled and chunked
4 pork chops, steaks or large sausages

Mix all but the meat together, then position the meat on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min.*

*Or cook for 5-8 hours on low in a crockpot

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Your Budget...And Three Easy Cheesy Snacks (That Double As Lunches)

    Now you've hopefully taken some time to clear out your food shelves, and do an inventory. (Check the previous post, if you're wondering why I'm mentioning this.) Next on the docket:

     How much can you afford to spend on food each week?

It may be a little or a lot, depending on how much eating out you're doing. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to assume that you put outside dining in the entertainment category. (And honestly, unless you're on vacation, celebrating special occasions or working out of town, I'd assume that you're going to hold it down to the $60-or-less a month category. You can do this, if you're careful.)

    A good starting point; $30 per person, per week. if you're really in a pinch --whole families have eaten on $30 before...especially by cutting down on meat. (We've done this as well, during tight times.) if your budget allows $30 per person, though, that will give you extra leeway -- and help you stock up on sales, as well. With care, the Brick and I live on $60/weekly for food. That amount will often cover toiletries, as well, but not animal food. (Charley and Abby put away roughly a 40-pound bag of dogfood a month. Our 16 chickens dispose of 50 pounds of 'layer' feed monthly, plus 10 pounds or so of grittier 'scratch.')

Now take a look at the weekly sales flyers. What's on sale? It's probably not beef, which has been on a regular tear lately. Nor is it probably pork, which seems to be following beef's lead. (I'd say hooray for the farmers, because they're finally getting a better profit on their animal sales -- but am only too aware that most of these increased costs have come from the middleman, who processes and sells the meat.)
      Also -- what's regularly at lower prices? Whole chickens are generally reasonably-priced. So are cabbage, carrots and winter veggies like broccoli. (This time of year, anyway.) Early strawberries have well as other spring goodies, like asparagus. Potatoes, even at their most expensive, are still lower than other vegetables, and can be prepared in so many tasty ways. (They're filling, too.)

     You'll want to think about Food Away From Home, as well as meals prepared there. How are you going to cover your lunches away...or a sudden hunger pang...without spending extra?

 This came to mind today while I was sitting in a waiting room, waiting for Daughter's surgery to finish. A (very bad) coffee machine was nearby, but the only food in sight was at the surgery center's overpriced cafeteria. Based on the coffee, I could pretty much anticipate what that gustatory experience would be like.
     Daughter was due in the recovery room at any moment. My stomach was grumbling. What to do?
     Wait -- I had another option; SNACKS!  Thanks to a sale at my favorite scratch-and-dent store, I'd stocked up on power bars, plus some packages of imported cheese and crackers. A few of these were in my purse. And laptop.
     Crisis averted --with no bucks spent for overpriced food. I'd rather put the money into a Red Robin burger, anyways. (Eat half, set the other half aside for tomorrow's lunch -- and enjoy as many of the unlimited fries as you want. One meal won't hurt.)

Three snacks that have kept our family fat, happy and satisfied owe their goodness to cheese. I only buy it on sale, or in large packages that cut the cost down per pound. Grocery stores like Sprouts offer some kind of cheese on sale every week.

Cheese Guys (an easy version of quesadillas)-- Two of our pantry standards are corn tortillas and some kind of cheese. Cheddar and pepper jack work well, but so do mild cheeses like gruyere and mozzarella. Heat your oven to 450 -- put in three tortillas per person, sprinkled with cheese. (Leftover chopped vegetables and/or meat may be added.) Bake for 5-10 min., until the tortillas are crisp and the cheese bubbling. Serve hot; these make a nice addition to soup or a green salad.

Twice-baked Potatoes: Bake scrubbed potatoes for an hour at 350 degrees -- two per person. (These may be cooked the night before, if needed.) Split the potatoes in half, scoop out the potato from the skin, and mix with whatever you've got in the frig -- a pat of butter, a few tablespoons of sour cream or yogurt (or cottage cheese), minced herbs and a generous sprinkling of chopped or grated cheese. Mix in any leftover chopped veggies (broccoli, onion and mushrooms are nice) and meat (bacon and chopped ham are especially good). Or skip them, and stick with the dairy items. Pile the potato mix back in the skin and bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. Four potato halves per person are a filling lunch, easily reheated later on.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches:  Any kind of bread, any kind of cheese. Add a slice of ham, and you've got a Croque Monsieur. Spread your bread lightly with mustard and sprinkle with cheese (and meat, if you've got it, or a slice of tomato); top with another slice of bread. Sizzle butter in a frypan, and gently lay in the sandwiches. Cook for 5-10 min., flipping the sandwiches once. Cut in half diagonally and accompany with a crunchy pickle.

This is's version of this classic sandwich.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bare Bones Meals - Apple Crisp

I grew up in Michigan... the best apple country in the world. An orchard was just across the fenceline from my parents' farm, and wild seedlings grew on our land. During harvest time, apple crisp and pie was a regular on the supper table, and we drank cider by the gallon.

Oh, for those wonderful days..

Now apples are a couple of bucks a pound -- if you're lucky. But every now and then, they're marked down or on clearance, or you'll stumble across a tree, loaded with fruit. Then you can make a crispy, crunchety apple crisp for yourself.


5-8 apples (bruised or marred are fine)
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown or white sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
dash salt

Peel, core and slice the apples into a pie pan or 9" square pan. Mix the rest -- it will only take a minute or two -- and arrange on top.
     Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min., or until the topping is beginning to brown. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream for a special treat. Serves 4.

Or make another version of Apple Crisp - you'll find it here at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bare Bones Meals -- Starting Out

Welcome back! So you've decided to take the Pantry Challenge for a few weeks, and make your meals out of what you can find in the pantry...
     and the freezer...
         and the refrigerator.

Good for you! 

Before you can make much progress, though, you have to know:

    What you've got to work with.

That's the start: take some time to look.

    Root through the cupboards, mentally grouping veggies, sauces, fruit,starches,  meats and prepared meals. (It wouldn't hurt to group them on the shelves this way, either. Take a minute to wipe down the shelves with cleaner before you re-place them.)

    Now do the same through the freezer. Think about what you already found in the cupboards. Think about combinations. (For example: would that can of mushroom soup combine with the can of tuna, the bag of noodles...and the frozen peas in the freezer? Of course it would - and tastily, too.)

    Finally, go through the refrigerator. Clean out the crisper. While it's soaking, chop all the veggies there in chunks (for stews and soups) or strips (for appetizers and snacking). Put them in bags, or ice water.
    Do the same with any fruit you find; slice it for snacking (then store in water with a little lemon juice) -- or chop it for a crisp. (More on this in a bit.) Apples are lovely, cooked overnight on low in a crockpot -- the resulting applesauce will be a good sop if you're sick. (Or serve it over ice cream, sprinkled with chopped almonds -- yum.)

Start with a soup -- one of the ones from our soup series, or a mix of your available chopped veggies. (Add a few chicken bouillon cubes, a handful of rice or noodles, salt and pepper -- plus a beaten egg at the very last, a few minutes before you serve it. The soup will be very good.)
     Add a few biscuits or some banana bread, and you're on the road to more good, homemade food --

and saving money!

This food's going to cost peanuts! (P.S. Don't tell charley the dog I'm here.)

Bare Bones Meals Series begins!

The rich (and often expensive) foods of December are once again a fond memory. If you've managed to clear away the last about-to-be-stale slice of cake, and munched down the last sugar cookie...

Take a look at the cupboard. It's bound to be a little bare. 

Don't feel you need to rush out and buy more least not yet. Why not take part in what's become a favorite January tradition -- the Pantry Challenge.

In other words, try your best to cook out of the pantry -- and the freezer-- and the refrigerator -- for the next few weeks, while buying only the bare basics.

We'll be posting a series of recipes and ideas to help you through. Look for them through the end of January.
    And let February take care of itself!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hoppin' John -- For Good Luck During the New Year

Well, hi there. 

I had every (good) intention of adding lots of holiday recipes for you this just-ended season, but it didn't happen. Once the deadlines ended, the flu started -- and vice versa. 

Go figure. 

Instead, I'll be doing some January ideas that are frugal, yet tasty -- warm and rib-sticking. They'll get you through a cold, windy day, without stripping your pocketbook in the process.

Take Hoppin' John.

Wikipedia's version, with everything mixed in

The Brick grew up in North Carolina, with the Southern idea that black-eyed peas should be eaten for good luck during New Year's. My Michigan ties never talked about this...we had oyster stew, instead. (There is a lot of New Englander running around my genetic heritage -- my grandma's family came from New Hampshire. If you're thinking, "DAR, right?" Yes, yes, we are.)

Black-eyed peas are not 'peas,' so much as beans. They have a fine meaty flavor that is very appealing, and absorb other spices nicely. I like accenting them with a bit of ham. And wouldn't you know it, I've had a hambone waiting in the refrigerator.

HOPPIN' JOHN (The Country Way)

1 pound black-eyed peas
1 small chopped onion
1/2 chopped red or green pepper  and a handful of chopped celery (skip, if you don't have them)
2 teaspoons dried marjoram (or 1 tsp. marjoram, and 1 tsp. basil)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
a few shots of hot sauce
1 hambone, with some of the meat still on (or substitute a cup of chopped ham. Or bacon.)

Mix everything together, and cook on low (preferably in a crockpot) for 6-8 hours. Serve hot, ladled over rice.

Here's's version:

HOPPIN' JOHN (The Fancier Way)

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone
  • 2 medium onions, divided
  • 3 large cloves garlic, halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chile peppers, juices reserved
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 green onions, sliced


In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks, and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces, and garlic. Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Mince the remaining onion then add to the rice along with the peas, tomatoes, and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, Creole seasoning, thyme, cumin, and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and freshly baked cornbread.

    Now don't you feel lucky?