Be prepared for lots of Italian inspired meals in the next several months, as I am studying abroad in Florence this semester! Living in Tuscany is a food lovers dream; every morning there are street markets with beautiful fruits and vegetables, the wine is perfecto (and inexpensive), and the smell of good cooking can be found rolling out of every restaurant and home. However, being raised in the states, where we are supplied with large appliances and microwaves, cooking can be a bit of a challenge here. I’ve decided to take on this challenge to learn how to cook simply and learn new, authentic Italian recipes. I’ve started going to the market nearly every day, and rather than planning meals, I allow my meals to be inspired by the freshest meats and produce at the days market. While this new method of shopping and cooking has been challenging, it is also making me a better cook, who can think on my feet and quickly find substitutes for ingredients. Even if you aren’t living in Italy, I challenge you to try this sometime. Believe me, you will be amazed at what you come up with.
In the mean time, you can also try the recipes that I create, like this Mushroom Ravioli with Balsamic Tomato Dressing.
- 1 8 oz. package of mushroom ravioli
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
- 1/2 cup sweet onion; sliced
- 1/2 red bell pepper; chopped
- 1 clove garlic; minced
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt and Pepper; to taste
- Fresh basil
- Boil a large pot of water.
- While water boils, heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; saute for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and bell pepper; saute for 4 minutes or until tomatoes are tender and onions are translucent. Add the garlic; cook 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant. Add the remaining oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; saute for two more minutes, allowing tomatoes to soak up the vinegar. Remove from heat.
- Add ravioli to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.
- Dish ravioli evenly among 2 plates and top both with tomato mixture. Garnish with fresh basil if desired.
During my winter break I had time to experiment with new lunch recipes, including this stuffed portobello mushroom. I found it in a weight watchers cook book and it has now become one of my favorite lunches. The meal is actually so filling it’s hard to believe it’s only 300 calories!
- 2 portobello mushroom caps
- 1 link Italian turkey sausage
- 4 oz canned artichoke hearts; drained and sliced
- 1/4 cup red onion; diced
- 1/2 red bell pepper; diced
- 1 Tbsp seasoned bread crumbs
- 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 Tbsp shredded Parmesan cheese
- Cooking Spray
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
- Cut off mushroom stems and remove the veins. Place in baking dish, bottoms up, and bake for 10 minutes until mushrooms are tender.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add sausage, artichoke hearts, onion, and pepper; sauté for about 5 minutes, or until sausage is browned.
- Mix in bread crumbs and 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese.
- Top each mushroom with sausage mixture. Return to oven for another 10 minutes.
- Add the rest of the parmesan to the top of each mushroom; return to oven for about 1 minute or until cheese has melted. (makes 2 servings)
My first attempt at homemade chow mein was a success! I think it was so good it could be compared to take out chow mein noodles (minus the added fat and oil). I’ll also say the leftovers were just as good, if not better than when the dish was freshly cooked.
Just a little forewarning, this makes A LOT of food. Not saying that’s a bad thing, especially since you will love it so much you’ll want to eat it again the following night (or for tomorrow’s lunch).
- 1 cup matchstick carrots
- 1 cup snow peas, trimmed and cut in half
- 2 (6 oz) packages chow mein noodles
- 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil, divided
- 1/2 skinnless, boneless chicken breast
- 3 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce, divided
- 3/4 cup fat-free, low sodium chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp oyster sauce (if you’re like me and don’t want to buy this, combine 1 Tbsp Hoisin with 1 Tbsp soy sauce and splash of Worcestershire sauce)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 cup pre-sliced mushroom
- 2 tsp fresh ginger
- 1 cup green onion, sliced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
- Boil a large pot of water. While water comes to a boil, slice snow peas and mushrooms. Also cut chicken crosswise into thin strips.
- Cook noodles, carrots, and snow peas in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Heat 2 tsp oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and 1 1 Tbsp soy sauce to pan; stir-fry 3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.
- Combine remaining soy-sauce, broth, oyster, sugar and pepper, stirring well. Heat remaining 1 tsp oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and ginger to pan; stir-fry for 3 minutes or until mushroom have softened. Add broth mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add noodle mixture and chicken to pan; cook 1 minute, tossing to combine. Sprinkle with onions and peanuts. (makes 4-5 servings)
This recipe costs around $12.00 total or only around $3.00 for one serving! I highly doubt you will ever find take out chow mein anywhere near that price!
I have to apologize for the long time between posts. My increasingly busy schedule combined with the decreasing amount of sunlight in each day makes it difficult for me to find time and appropriate lighting to take photos of my food endeavors. Never-the-less, my blog must go on! And so tonight I present you with Enchilada Casserole, a simple, delicious, and healthy dinner (perfect for an extremely busy college student).
Once again, I have to give Cooking Light props for this recipe, although I did add my own little flair by spicing it up with some Renfro’s.
- 1 lb ground sirloin
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp all purpose flour
- 1 cup fat free, low sodium beef broth
- 1 Tbsp taco seasoning
- 1 (8 oz can) no salt added tomato sauce
- 1 Tbsp Mrs. Renfro’s green salsa (optional)
- 4 (8 inch) whole wheat tortillas
- 1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- Preheat oven to 400°. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and onion to pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring to crumble. Set aside.
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broth, taco seasoning, and tomato sauce to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 1/2 cups tomato mixture to beef mixture; reserve 1/2 cup tomato mixture. Add Renfro’s salsa to beef mixture if desired.
- Place 1 tortilla in a 9-inch pie plate. Top with 1 cup beef mixture. Repeat layers, ending with tortilla. Spread reserved tomato mixture over tortilla. Top with cheese. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until cheese melts. Cool slightly. Cut into 4 wedges.
Not only is this recipe easy to make and gentle on your waistline (especially for Mexican food), but it’s also easy on your wallet. The total cost of this recipe comes to about $10.00 or only about $3.00 per serving! You could easily spend $10.00 on just one Mexican dish at a restaurant. Even fast food Mexican restaurants like Chipotle or Qudoba cost around $7.00 for just one serving. Not to mention the fact that you would be eating at least twice as much fat, calories, and sodium if you ordered a similar dish at a restaurant.
Being the health nut that I am I’ve decided to start including the nutritional values of my recipes…or at least those that I speak of as being healthy. I feel it necessary to prove that I am not lying to you when I say a recipe is good for your wallet and your waistline. In this case, one serving of Enchilada Casserole is only 459 calories and with only 193 of those calories from fat! I challenge you to find a main dish at a Mexican restaurant that even comes remotely close to that. Good luck.
Calories 459 (193 from Fat), Total Fat 21g (saturated 9g, polyunsaturated 1.5g, monounsaturated 6.1g, trans 0.6), Cholesterol 99mg, Sodium 790, Total Carbohydrates 30g (Fiber 4.2g, sugars 4.6g), Protein 33g, Vitamin A 10%, Vitamin C 15%, Calcium 46%, Iron 24%
This was my first try at homemade fried rice and it was a success! This recipe is super simple, and it’s easy to adjust the size of the recipe to make the correct number of portions. The measurements that I am providing makes two dinner servings.
- 1 bag of boil-in-bag brown rice
- 5 oz frozen peas
- 2 large eggs
- Cooking Spray
- 1 Tbsp Canola oil
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 Tbsp bottled fresh ginger
- 6 oz medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp dark sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Dash of crushed red pepper
- Cook rice according to package directions. Drain. Remove rice from bag and return to pan. Add peas to pan, stirring well. Cover and keep warm.
- Coat a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add eggs and cook 1 minute or until set. Remove eggs from pan and coarsely chop.
- Return pan to heat. Add canola oil and swirl to coat. Add onions and ginger, sauté 1 minute. Add shrimp to pan, and sauté 2 minutes or until shrimp are done.
- Add shrimp mixture and eggs to rice mixture; stir well.
- Combine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and crushed pepper; stirring well. Drizzle vinegar mixture over rice mixture; stir well. (makes 2 servings)
This two serving recipe only costs about $9.00, or only $4.50 a serving! Order shrimp fried rice at a Chinese restaurant and you’ll pay anywhere between $5.00 to $12.00 for a plate.
I love gyros, but they can be very fattening and expensive. My solution? Make my own healthy version! Now I will admit these aren’t as satisfying as an authentic lamb gyro from Wally’s in Dinkytown, Minnesota, but they are still very good.
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 regular cucumber, peeled and seeded
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Salt and Pepper
For the Chicken
- 2 tsp garlic, minced
- 2-3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (one lemon)
- 2 tsp red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
- 1 1/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Pita bread (4 pieces)
- 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- Red onion, sliced very thin
- Shred cucumber or chop it in a food processor. Wrap in a towel and squeeze to remove as much water as possible. Mix together, the yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
- To prepare the chicken, combine the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt, oregano, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk together until well mixed. Add the chicken to the bowl and mix well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Heat a grill and set to medium-high. Grill the chicken 4 minutes per side or until fully cooked. Transfer to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut into strips.
- Heat pitas according to package directions. Top with Tzatziki sauce, chicken, tomatoes, and onions and enjoy!
If you were to purchase a chicken gyro at Dino’s Gyros it would cost you $6.50. How much did it cost me to make this entire recipe? $6.42! That means if I were to walk down the street to Dino’s Gyros to purchase one gyro I would be spending more than what it costs me to make 4 of my own gyros. That, my friends, is a frugal dinner.
- Design Mom’s Fresh Tzatziki Recipe (potterybarnkids.com)
- Slow-Cooker Sunday: Gyros (pintertesting.com)
- chicken gyros (experimentalhousewife.com)
It’s back to school, and that means back to fending for myself! And no access to a grill (sad face). But that won’t stop me from eating delicious food! I take it as a wonderful opportunity to try making new things that my family would otherwise avoid. The first on my list of new meals for the new school year: Light and Creamy Mac ‘n Cheese. My mom would never choose to make mac ‘n cheese for dinner because it’s too heavy and there isn’t enough protein or veggies. I would usually agree with her, however, I found this delicious and light version of a creamy homemade mac ‘n cheese. A side of vegetables that have been roasted with garlic, salt and pepper adds color to the plate and completes the meal.
- 10 ounces rotini pasta
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 1/4 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1/2 cup 2% reduced fat milk
- 8 tsp all-purpose flour
- 4 oz Neufchatel cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Set aside
- Preheat broiler to high
- Heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add oil to pan, swirl to coat. Add garlic to pan and cook 3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant, stirring frequently. Stir in one cup chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute.
- Combine remaining 1 1/4 cups stock, milk, and flour. Stir with a whisk until flour dissolves.
- Add milk mixture to garlic mixture, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil and then cook for 5 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Remove mixture from heat and add cream cheese, stirring until smooth. Stir in salt and pepper.
- Add cooked pasta to milk mixture, tossing to coat. Let stand 5 minutes. Pour pasta into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle cheddar evenly over pasta mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. (makes 6 servings)
I have to warn you, this recipe makes A LOT of food. The plus side is that it keeps well in the fridge, so it’s perfect to have as a lunch the next day or to save for a night you don’t feel like cooking. Usually I am not a fan of left over mac ‘n cheese, but this mac ‘n cheese tastes almost as good reheated as it does fresh out of the oven.
So here is the break down of the cost:
The recipe cost me about $6.23. I’ve gotten six meals out of it, making each meal only $1.04! That’s about the same, if not less than, a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese. And, might I add, this tastes way better than that processed powdered cheese. If you decide to complete the meal by adding roasted vegetables (i.e. broccoli and red bell pepper) it only adds about $1.33 to the cost of each serving.
A quick side note; all of the groceries for this meal were purchased at a Walmart Superstore. If you have not tried shopping at one yet, I highly recommend it. The prices are amazing and the food is of the same quality as a generic grocery store. Believe me when I say, it will save you a lot of money.
- Mac and Cheese Grows Up (thenakedchip.wordpress.com)
- Stacked Mac (and Cheese) (blogthebackyard.wordpress.com)
- Creamy Low-Calorie Fettuccine Alfredo (weightloss.answers.com)
I have to give credit to Food Network’s Giada for this amazing, melt in your mouth recipe. Giada suggests making the beef pops for an appetizer, but I like them so much that I just make them for a main dish. They are perfect with a side of wild rice or fingerling potatoes and a green salad.
For the Marinade
- 3 cups fresh flat leaf parsley
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp crushed red chili flakes
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
For the Beef Pops
- 1 1/2 lbs beef fillet, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- 1 pineapple, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Marinade
- In a food processor, blend together parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar, chili flakes, sugar, salt, and pepper until smooth. Keep the machine running and gradually add the olive oil.
- Place half the mixture into a medium bowl. Place the remaining mixture into a small bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Beef Pops
- Place the beef into the medium bowl with the parsley marinade. Toss well until the beef is evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.
- Preheat the grill. Skewer beef and pineapple onto grill skewers, alternating beef with pineapple. Grill skewers for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Season with salt and pepper.
- Beef pops can be served on plates with the skewers or they can be removed from skewers. Drizzle with the remaining parsley marinade and enjoy! (This recipe makes about 20 skewers, or about 6 servings)
It may be a surprise, but I used to be one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever known. My parents would have to feed me Nutter-butters just so I could get some protein, and the closest thing to fish that I would eat was frozen fish sticks. Now I’ll try just about anything, and I love sea food (besides oysters, I have yet to develop a taste for those slimy things). The first dish that really got my to love sea food was these amazing fish tacos from a restaurant in Pewaukee, WI called Kahuna’s. Sadly, Kahuna’s ran out of business about three years ago, leaving us fish taco-less. We have yet to find a restaurant that makes fish tacos as well as they did. In the meantime we have been on a search for our own recipe that can stand up to Kahuna’s. After many trial and errors, we came up with this recipe for Grilled Fish Tacos, which has become one of my favorite meals. It is ALWAYS on my food list when I come home since I don’t have access to a grill at school (believe me, it tastes way better grilled than baked). Serve these tacos with a side of coconut rice and you’ll feel like you’re eating at a beach-side dive in the Caribbean.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
- 2 tsp lime zest
- 1 1/2 tsp honey
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp seafood seasoning
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tobasco
- 1 lb tilapia fillets
- 1 (8 oz) container light sour cream
- 2 Tbsp adobo sauce from chipotle peppers
- 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (juice of 1 lime)
- 2 tsp lime zest
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp seafood seasoning
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Corn Tortillas (8-12, depending on how much you stuff your tacos)
- 3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1-2 cups cabbage slaw
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 Tbsp coconut flakes, toasted
- To make the marinade, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, lime zest, honey, garlic, cumin, chili powder, seafood seasoning, black pepper, and hot sauce in a bowl. Place the tilapia in a shallow dish or zip-lock bag. Pour the marinade over the fish and refrigerate 2-3 hours.
- To make the dressing, combine the sour cream and adobo sauce in a bowl. Stir in lime juice, lime zest, cumin, chili powder, and seafood seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until it’s needed. (This makes a lot of dressing and we always have leftovers. We use the left overs on quesadillas and sandwiches, otherwise you can just cut the recipe in half if you don’t want leftovers.)
- Preheat the grill to high heat and lightly oil a grilling grate. Set the grate 4 inches from the heat.
- Remove fish from marinade, drain off excess marinade and discard. Grill the fish about 9 minutes, turning once. The fish should easily flake with a fork.
- Grill the tortillas for about 1 minute on each side or until they are lightly toasted. (This just prevents them from falling apart when you eat them)
- Assemble the tacos! I like to spread the chilpotle dressing on the tortilla first, then add the fish, then the tomatoes, cabbage, and cilantro. Sometimes I’ll put a spoonful of coconut rice inside my tacos as well. This recipe makes about 4 servings (two tacos each, depending on how full you stuff the tacos).
- Start the rice at least 15 minutes before grilling the fish to be sure it’s ready when you want to assemble tacos. If you leave the rice covered it will stay warm for a long time.
- To toast coconut, cook coconut in a non-stick pan, over medium-high heat until it starts to lightly brown. Be sure to stir constantly, as it cooks very quickly. Once it starts to turn a golden brown, remove pan from the heat and set aside. You may need to remove the coconut from the pan completely if it continues to cook too much.
- To make the rice, combine rice, water, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce heat to the lowest setting. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes or until ready to serve.
- Before serving, stir in toasted coconut.
Fish is often thought of as an expensive meal, however, it is possible to eat fish and not spend a ton of money. Tilapia is a very inexpensive fish, especially if it’s purchased frozen and in bulk. If you freeze fish, especially tilapia, it will keep for several months. Just be sure to thaw it completely, either in the fridge or under cold water, before cooking it!
This recipe costs around $14.60, or only $3.65 per serving! If you ordered fish tacos at a restaurant it would cost you somewhere between $10 and $20 for a plate. I can attest that these fish tacos are just as good as, if not better than any restaurant’s tacos.
I used to work at an Asian restaurant called Lemon Grass that made the most amazing fresh spring rolls. Since I stopped working there I’ve wanted to try making them myself. Finally, three years later, I am taking on the challenge! This particular recipe is a melding of something I found online and what I can remember of the spring rolls from Lemon Grass. I also made up my own peanut dipping sauce to go along side.
- 8 8-inch spring roll wrappers
- 8 leafs of green lettuce
- 8 oz cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp, chopped
- 4 oz dry vermicelli noodles
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 1/2 Tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 Tablespoon lime juice
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup bean sprouts
- 2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
Peanut Dipping Sauce
- 1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon chili garlic paste
- warm water
- 1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
- To make the peanut sauce, whisk together peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and chili garlic paste. Then add the hot water until the sauce has reached your desired consistency (I like mine to have a similar consistency to heavy cream: not too runny, but runny enough that you could drink it). Sprinkle peanuts over the sauce just before serving (reserve 2 tablespoons of the sauce before adding peanuts; it will be needed for the spring roll mixture)
- To prep the vermicelli noodles, pour 4 cups of boiling water into a deep baking dish and stir in 1 tablespoon of salt until it dissolves. Add the vermicelli noodles and soak for 2 minutes, or until soft. Remove the noodles, keeping the water, and transfer the noodles to a clean bowl. Toss the noodles with 1/2 tablespoon of lime juice and soy sauce.
- In a large bowl, combine shrimp, carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro and 2 tablespoons of the peanut sauce; tossing to coat.
- Prepare each spring roll one at a time. First place the wrapper in the warm water for about 15 seconds. Then place the wrapper on a clean, damp wash cloth. Along the center of the wrapper, place one lettuce leaf, then a handful of the vermicelli noodles, then about 1/4 cup of the shrimp mixture. Fold in both ends of the wrapper and roll up. Cut each spring roll in half and serve with the peanut dipping sauce
I know it’s been a while since I’ve actually broken down the frugality of my recipes, so I figured I would boast about the frugality of these amazing spring rolls! At Lemon Grass, just two spring rolls costs a whopping $6.00! These homemade spring rolls only cost me $7.45; that’s only $0.93 per spring roll or $1.49 per serving! Not to mention, my spring rolls served four people rather than one and the shrimp provides extra protein to make them work as a dinner rather than just an appetizer.