Frugal Homemade Meals

We all get there ... those few days at the end of a month before the paycheck comes in, when there are still a few dinners or breakfasts that need to be made based on slim pantry or freezer staples.  You never have that problem?  Just me?  Well.  Alright then.  Just me.
For my own benefit then, I've compiled a list of a few budget-friendly, easy, homemade meals that make appearances in the last few days of every month.
You'll see there are a lot of bean dishes.  If you don't like beans, you're outta luck.  I have nothing for you.

Whole wheat muffins
Baked Oatmeal
Scones with dried fruit
Dutch Baby Pancakes

Light Dinners and sides:
Spanish Tortilla (Potato Omelet)
Favorite Nachos
Spicy Sweet Potatoes
Front Porch Salad

Tortilla Soup
Black Bean Chili
Easy Tomato Soup
Curried Squash Soup

What are your end-of-the-month frugal meals?


Who's Who?

Wow, time flies!
These are pictures taken right around the same time, of each of our girls.
Who's who?

PS.  They look like the Mister, no doubt about it ... 


Food I Can't Stop Making: Homemade Flour Tortillas

A Pioneer Woman recipe
Makes 8-10 tortillas

1 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 Tbsp. lard or shortening
1/4-1/2 c. hot water

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large wooden bowl.
Add spoonfuls of lard or shortening, then use a pastry cutter to combine the ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Slowly pour in hot water, stirring to bring mixture together.  (rhymeswithsmile note here: start with just 1/4 cup of water, then add more a little at a time.  I found that the first batch I made was too sticky with the entire half cup  You want a soft dough, but not a sticky mess of goo).  Lightly knead dough 30-40 times, or until it becomes a cohesive ball of dough and is less sticky.  Cover with a tea towel and allow dough to rest for at least an hour.
Roll into 8-10 ping pong size balls, place on a tray, cover with a tea towel, and allow to rest for another 20-30 minutes.
When you're ready to make the tortillas, heat a dark or cast iron griddle to medium/medium-high heat for 5 minutes.  One by one, roll out balls of dough until very, very thin (rhymeswithsmile note here: roll as thin as you can, then keep rolling.  Seriously ... think thin.  The thinner the better).
Throw tortillas, one by one, onto the griddle.  Cook on each side for 20-30 seconds, removing while tortillas are still soft but slightly brown in spots.  (You want the to be pliable, not crisp.  You'll notice a slight color change as they are cooking.)  Remove and stack tortillas, and cover with a towel to keep warm.  Serve immediately or allow to cool before storing in a container.  Tortillas can be re-warmed in the microwave or wrapped in foil and placed in the oven.

I know what you're thinking, because it's exactly what I thought about people who made their own tortillas ... until I had made some myself.  Sure, it's a little extra work.  Sure, there are a lot of other things going on.  Sure, lard is one of those things that I hope other people don't find out I cook with.  But really, these are incredibly worth it!

And if you make them, maybe your friends will forgive you for having lard in your kitchen.

(We had these for dinner last night with some Oven-Baked Fajitas)


Food I Can't Stop Making: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies, from here

3/4 c. unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy and light in color.  Add egg and vanilla and blend in.
Mix in flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.  Stir in chocolate chips.
Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until barely golden brown around the edges (the tops will not brown, but do NOT cook longer than 10 minutes!).
Let cool on the sheet on a wire rack for five minutes.  Remove from baking sheet and let cool completely.  Makes approximately 3 dozen.
Seriously, the best chocolate chip cookies I've ever eaten
Sometimes I get in a rut with food, where I make the same things over and over because I can't think of anything else to do.
Sometimes I get in a groove with food, where I make the same things over and over because I can't get enough of them.

These are "groove" cookies.  I've made two batches in six days.  Calculate it: yes, that's over 60 cookies in a household where I'm the only one who eats dessert.  In my defense, I've shared and given most of them away (I actually used a dozen as an excuse to meet a neighbor I've been stalking eyeing wanting to meet for the last few months), but I've also eaten my fair share of them.  I even hid an offer of these cookies in a recent blog post because I'm so crazy about them (I guess the offer still stands.  I'd be up for making more).

Enough of me talking.  Put down whatever you're doing right now that you think is important (like reading some silly blog post) and go make some cookies.  And let them bake for only 10 minutes, max - that's how you get such delicious cookiness, ya'll.


Bread Machine Pizza Dough

Makes 2 pizza crusts

1 1/2 c. lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbsp butter, melted
3 1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. active dry yeast

Pour the water into the bread pan of a standard bread machine.  Add the melted butter.  Sprinkle the flour over the liquid to cover.  Place the salt and sugar in 2 corners of the pan.  Indent the flour in the middle without exposing the liquid and add the yeast.  Set the bread maker to the pizza dough or dough setting and press start.

Remove the finished dough from the pan.  Knock back gently on a lightly floured counter and divide in half.  Roll out each piece of dough into a 16-inch circle and place on greased pizza pans or baking sheets.  Push up the edges slightly.  Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

For the toppings, spread desired sauce over each circle, then sprinkle cheeses and add toppings.  Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, until sizzling.

Our bread machine is one of those kitchen things that we got as a wedding gift and I thought I'd never be able to justify keeping it around.  It's big, and heavy, and takes up valuable shelf space.  Turns out, it's one of four kitchen appliances that I'd replace in a heartbeat if it stopped working (first one to correctly guess the other three gets a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies sent to you).

This is my go-to pizza dough recipe these days.  I have tweaked it a bit from the original source (a handy book called "Bread," by Parragon Publishing), but I've used it over and over with really good results.  It's a soft dough with a chewy crumb.  As the picture reveals, I don't usually get it into a good circle.  Our pizzas are pretty wonky around here, but that's all the better for me because the crust is my favorite part anyway.

If you wanted to make this dough but don't have a bread machine, you can still do it!  Look up a recipe for homemade pizza dough, and follow the conventional directions but use the ingredients and proportions of this recipe.


18 Minutes of Productivity

In this house, we measure productive activity by the TNU, or Toddler Naptime Unit.  A TNU is the amount of time that a parent or caretaker has in a day to attend to anything that is "extra."  By law, the TNU does not involve words that end in -y (such as "potty"and "sippy") or songs about animals or daily routine.  The TNU is usually in the afternoon after lunch and storytime, but it may also spontaneously occur some mornings or early evenings too.

A few important notes about TNUs: first, as soon as they are planned into the parent's day, they will be shortened by 75%.  They must be recognized as a likely daily possibility, but never counted on with certainty.  Second, a TNU is not a specific amount of time, but rather a mindset.  Parenthood requires some adjustment to this philosophy of operation.  Third, the tenuous nature of the TNU would suggest that the adult never try to squeeze anything extra into that TNU period.  ON THE CONTRARY, the TNU is the perfect time to tackle a project that may be picked up, put down, picked up again, and put down again for multiple TNUs.  (Projects that can't be set down are for when the kids are at Camp Grandma).

During my TNU today, I finally got to do something with a burlap coffee bag I've had around for a few weeks. I'd been throwing around a few ideas, but when I saw this post over at the Scrappy Love Blog I had my answer.  Re-cover the chair!  I had snagged this very sturdy chair on freecycle a few months back (if you don't know what freecycle is, you should check it out.  I'm pretty crazy about it ...).  It's sturdy as far as chairs go, but somewhat plain.  And since I kinda like things in my house to have a story behind them, I knew this was the time.

At the beginning of today's TNU (approximately 12:59 PM), I gathered my supplies: chair, screwdriver (to unscrew the seat from the chair frame), coffee sack, and staple gun.  

1:02 PM - Unscrewed the screws from the chair seat and laid it upside-down on half of a coffee sack.
There was some flipping and adjusting so I could get the image on the sack where I wanted it on the seat.

1:06 PM - Pulled out the staple gun (that I got at a yard sale for $4, woohoo!) and stapled with abandon.  OK, not with abandon, but it wasn't the prettiest job in the world.

1:11 PM - Folded under the raw edges and stapled again.  Burlap is prone to shedding, and so I figured a little extra precautions wouldn't hurt.

1:17 PM - Fit it back in the chair!  Something I didn't see coming - since I just put the sack over the existing upholstery, the cushion was really snug in the chair frame (by that I mean I had to work to get it back in).  I did have the bonus of not having to re-screw it in, though.

And now, I have enough time left in my TNU to blog about the project, drink some hot chocolate, and marinate in the sunlight that's streaming in the corner of the window.

Don't be fooled.  Most days, the TNU is taken up with some kind of normal chore.  But every so often, somehow, it's an unspoken-for Toddler Naptime Unit.  And when that happens (like today), I'm excited to have some project to tackle.

What does your TNU look like today?


Snow Day

Friday afternoon - the snow is falling.  Little Girl is excited.
This is what the Mr did with all that rope, the PVC pipe, and the sled.
He's a handy man, alright.
She approves of the chariot
Look at them go through the wilderness (of the backyard)!
That black dot in the middle of the picture is the side mirror of our car
Front yard (hedges just outside the window are completely covered)
Snow at the front door 
The sledding crew in the backyard
The Mr. and Little Girl hanging out in the snow cave
Just a little fire pit action in the front yard 
Sheltered from the wind (sort of)
Little Girl and me!


A Plain Yellow Cake

Sometimes I want to bake just so she'll wear her hat
From The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
Serves 10-12

2 1/2 c. flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c. butter
1 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1 1/4 c. milk

Grease and lightly flour two 9" round baking pans or one 13"x9" baking pan.  Set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add sugar and vanilla; beat till well combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each.

Add dry mixture and milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just till combined.  Pour batter into the prepared pan(s).

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.  Cool layer cakes in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans.  Cool thoroughly on racks.  Frost with desired frosting*.  Serves 10-12.

*Or don't frost with frosting.  The Mr. doesn't like frosting on cakes really, and so when I make one of these I don't frost it.  It's just delicious as a simple cake without frosting.  And it makes it a lot easier to justify eating leftover cake for breakfast (with coffee, of course.  Coffee cake, anyone?)

Well, we're ready for the winter storm of the season.  But instead of doing things that normal people do in preparation (like making sure that the snowblower is in working condition), we are planning a breakfast brunch and igloo building party tomorrow.  So we ran to the store twice for supplies for that.  And right now, the Mr. is in the basement tinkering with a sled to make it into a tow-behind sleigh for our girls to ride in while we cross-country ski around the neighborhood.  I'm not sure what exactly "tinkering" means, but I do know it involves about 10 feet of PVC pipe (I'm not kidding), a 50-ft. bundle of 3/8" nylon rope, and a plastic buckle from REI.  If it's successful, I'll post a picture of what he came up with.  What the heck ... I'll probably share a picture even if it's not successful.

Earlier this week was the Mr.'s birthday, which is the occasion for the cake above.  He had to work until 7 on his birthday night, but he came home to Little Girl's "Happy Birthday Daddy-o" that we had practiced all day, and promptly got sent on a scavenger hunt for his presents.  Birthdays are way more fun with 2-year-olds around.  She's been going around singing the birthday song since about mid-December, so it was fun that she could sing it with actual intent.

What else have we been up to, you ask?
A lot of watching this:
 And doing this:
And copious amounts of dress-up (she hopes to be the world's first hobo ballerina)
 Naptime usually ends up with something like this:
And most days have at least one of these:
 So, yeah.  We're staying busy.

And guess what?  I won the giveaway I posted about earlier in the week!  Hooray!  If you haven't had a chance yet, go check out Cindi's blog and shop to see what I'm so excited about!


A Friend's Etsy Shop (And Giveaway!)

Now it's my turn to point you to a giveaway ... my friend Cindi has just opened an Etsy shop and I think you should go take a look!  She also has a bunch of great ideas on her blog (she's a DIY-er with a   beautiful, simple style).  And, you can enter her giveaway to win a set of heart cards, just in time for Valentine's Day!

So, go check it out!