Summer Aside

26 Jun

Summer!  I can’t believe it’s almost July!  I want to make sure that I eat lots of dinners outside, make plenty of homemade iced tea, and take after dinner walks.  Summer is gone as quick as it starts, so I want to enjoy every minute.

Photo Jun 14, 4 59 42 PM

Oh, also on my summer to-do list: planning a wedding and buying a house!!  It’s exciting times in these parts.  I’m pumped for wedding planning and house projects.  So, maybe you’ll see some frugally wedding ideas and frugally house project ideas too?

Turkey Quinoa Chili

9 Dec

This chili is the perfect alternative to all of those appetizer-laden holiday parties and cookies at every turn.  It’s healthy and tasty and makes great leftovers.

In other news, I got a new job!  It’s been keeping me busy…it’s totally different from what I was doing before, and I love it.  Anyway, back to the food!

The original recipe called for a half pound of ground turkey and a zucchini.  I subbed in a whole pound of ground turkey because I didn’t have the zucchini and it’s pretty out of season in my neck of the woods, and the turkey was on sale big time.  You could definitely use a half pound of ground turkey and sub in some other veggies.  Carrots or a frozen mix of veggies might be a good option at this time of year.  The original recipe also called for a whole cup of quinoa, but I thought that would make the chili too thick for my liking, so I only used a half cup.  Feel free to increase the amount of quinoa if you want a thicker chili.

Turkey Quinoa Chili

Turkey Quinoa Chili


  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2-2 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • Cilantro, cheddar cheese, scallions, avocado, or any toppings of your choice


In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa and 3/4 to 1 cup of water to a boil (I use less water in my quinoa because I like it a little chewier, but for a softer texture, use the full cup, or just cook according to the package directions).  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes until water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a separate large saucepan/soup pot, brown the turkey with the onion, red pepper and garlic until meat is cooked and vegetables are tender.  Drain the mixture if there is excess grease – my turkey was very lean, and I didn’t need to do this.  Stir in the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon; cook for 2 more minutes.

Add the black beans (you can also use a mixture of beans – I used one can of black and one can of garbanzo beans because it’s what I had in my pantry), tomatoes, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, bay leaf, oregano, salt pepper and remaining water.  You could also use low-sodium chicken broth here for a flavor boost.  You would probably want to eliminate the excess salt if you choose to do that.

Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir in corn and quinoa and heat through.  Discard the bay leaf before serving.  Spoon chili into bowls and add toppings of your choice.  Enjoy!

Source: Slightly adapted from Taste of Home Healthy Cooking 2012 cookbook

Budget Breakdown

  • Quinoa: $0.80
  • 1 lb turkey: $1
  • Onion: $0.70
  • Red pepper: $0.69
  • Garlic: $0.40
  • Beans: $2.00
  • Tomatoes: $1.00
  • Chipotle pepper: $0.67
  • Corn: $0.25

Total: $7.51

We really enjoyed this recipe with some cornbread for dinner and again for lunches throughout the week.  Soups and chilis are also easy to make in big batches, put in the freezer and pull out on a busy night when you want a home cooked meal.

I also recently went to a soup swap with some of my friends, which was an awesome idea for stocking the freezer with homemade soup for the winter.  We all walked away with 5 new quarts of soup and 5 new recipes!  I had a few favorites that we ate promptly after the soup swap – they barely had time to get frosty in the freezer.

Classic Basil Pesto

24 Aug

I was so happy to have a bumper basil crop this summer after last year’s early demise of my basil plant.  Actually, this year, we are growing a basil tree!  So, what better thing to do with all of that basil besides make tons of fresh pesto and freeze it?  I can’t think of a thing.

This a classic, simple pesto recipe.  Perhaps the only non-classic thing I do is use walnuts in place of pine nuts.  I’ve really, truly tried very hard to like pine nuts in a variety of recipes, but as it turns out, I just can’t stand the taste.  Plus, as an added bonus, walnuts are much less expensive than pine nuts, so it totally works out.

Classic Basil Pesto


  • 2 cups basil leaves, packed
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


The beauty of pesto is that it is SO easy to make.  The most annoying part of the whole process is taking the basil leaves off of the stems.  Combine the basil leaves, garlic, cheese, and walnuts in a food processor.  Run the food processor until everything is chopped into pretty small pieces and gets a pasty texture.

Pour olive oil through the spout on the top of the food processor with the processor running until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.  I almost never use a full 1/2 cup of oil in my pesto because I like it to be a thicker texture, more like a spread than a sauce.  But, the great thing about pesto is that it is easily customized!  You can add more or less garlic, more or less or no cheese, different types of nuts – and it usually turns out pretty tasty no matter what you do.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you’re freezing your pesto, I recommend freezing it in small (1/2 cup or less) sized containers so that you can defrost one container at a time as you need it.  I usually top my pesto with a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap before closing up the container to protect it from freezer burn, but if you’re going to use it pretty soon, there would be no need to do that.

Budget Breakdown: $2.07 for a full recipe of pesto

  • Basil: free! The plant originally cost $6, and I think we’re going to get at least 3 huge batches of pesto out of it, not to mention all of the other awesome summer foods that basil makes better (think caprese salad, margherita pizza, pasta salad, etc).  I’m pretty sure one big bunch of basil costs $3 at the farmer’s market, so I consider our investment in the basil plant to be a money-maker.
  • Parmesan: $1.13
  • Garlic: $0.30
  • Olive Oil: $0.64 (for a 1/2 cup)

Quick and Easy Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes

9 Aug

I love to bake from scratch, but sometimes (the horror!), I only have time for boxed cake mix.  And boxed pudding.  And, you know what?  It tastes just fine … to be completely honest, sometimes boxed brownies even taste better than the real deal.  There, I said it.

Baking from scratch is probably the more frugal route for basic cakes most of the time, but let’s not forget that time and stress have a cost, too, so if you want to use boxed cake mix sometimes, I say go for it.  Sometimes the grocery store even has them on sale for $1 per box.  So, without further ado: quick and easy, but fancy-looking cupcakes!

Quick and Easy Boston Creme Pie Cupcakes


  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • Eggs, oil and water (plus other ingredients, if needed) in quantites as directed on your cake mix box
  • 1 box instant French Vanilla pudding
  • Milk, quantity indicated on your pudding box (mine took 2 cups of cold milk)
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 24 maraschino cherries, stemmed


Preheat your oven to the temperature indicated on your cake mix box – I used Duncan Hines SuperMoist and the oven temperature was 350 degrees F. Grease two regular sized (12 muffin wells) muffin tins well with butter or cooking spray.  You won’t want to use baking cups here because you’ll be chopping your cupcakes in half, which will waste your lovely baking cups.

Mix your cake mix with water, oil, and eggs plus any other ingredients indicated in the directions on your cake mix box.  Pour your batter evenly into your muffin tins so that you fill all 24 wells with equal amounts of cake batter.  Bake cupcakes for the time indicated on your cake mix box – mine took about 17 minutes.

Remove baked cupcakes from the oven and let cool.  In the meantime, mix up your pudding filling by mixing your pudding mix with cold milk – my Jello boxed mix used 2 cups of cold (cow!) milk.  You will probably have just enough pudding to put a generous helping in the middle of each cupcake using one box of pudding mix.  As an aside, I tried to use almond milk in my first batch of instant pudding, and that did NOT work.  As in, never became pudding despite my best efforts at stirring and chilling and being patient.  So, to be safe, you should probably stick with dairy milk for your instant pudding mix, unless you find one somewhere that is specially formulated to work with non-dairy milk or something.  Is that something that everyone else knows, but I somehow missed out on?  That you have to use regular cow’s milk in instant pudding?   

To make the ganache, combine 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 3/4 tbsp of light corn syrup in a small saucepan.  Warm the mixture until just before it boils – tiny bubbles will appear around the edge of the pot.  Don’t let the cream boil.  Remove the cream mixture from the heat and pour it over the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Stir the mixture until the chocolate melts and the ganache looks smooth and shiny.  Let the ganache cool slightly while assembling the cupcakes.  If it gets too cool and begins to harden, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds and then stir to warm it up.

To assemble the cupcakes, cut each cupcake in half horizontally.  Place a tablespoon of pudding filling on the cut side of the bottom half of the cupcake and replace the top of the cupcake.   It should now look like a cupcake pudding sandwich.  Spoon about one tablespoon of ganache over the top of the filled cupcake, letting it drip down the sides.  Make sure to dry the extra syrup off of the maraschino cherries, and place one on the top of each cupcake.

Place the cupcakes in the refrigerator for a half hour to set before serving.

Source: inspired by this recipe, which I will probably attempt to make from scratch at some point.

Budget Breakdown: $9.23 for 2 dozen cupcakes

  • Yellow cake mix: $2.09
  • Oil: $0.32
  • Eggs: $0.42
  • Instant pudding: $1.25
  • Milk: $0.68
  • Cream: $1.00
  • Semisweet chocolate: $2.35
  • Maraschino cherries: $1.12

While this might have been slightly less frugal than making it completely from scratch, I still declare it a frugally foodie success.  It remains much less costly than buying gourmet cupcakes, which can for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.50-$3.00 each, and is even less costly than those 6 packs of cupcakes at the grocery store bakey, which go for between $4.00-$5.00 per package.  Using this recipe, you’re getting a whole dozen of cupcakes for that price.

Also, because I took some shortcuts, I was able to whip these up pretty quickly for a special, last-minute birthday surprise that provided much more enjoyment than spending another 45 minutes or so making these from scratch.  So there!

Garlic Roasted Green Beans

6 Aug

I had never thought to roast green beans before, especially in the middle of summer, but E hates green beans.  So, I made it my mission to make green beans that he likes, and I’m proud to say that these do the trick!  I love any fresh vegetable, with very few exceptions, and would eat them steamed and plain all day long, but I have to say that these roasted green beans are mighty, mighty good.  And, they’re ridiculously easy, but fancy-tasting.  My favorite combo.  They’re even worth turning your oven on for in the middle of summer.  Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Garlic Roasted Green Beans


  • 1 lb fresh green beans (or other similar beans, like the purple spotted ones seen in the photo)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rinse and drain green beans.  Trim off the ends of the beans, or snap them off with your fingers.  Toss the beans in a large bowl with the olive oil, garlic cloves, and salt and pepper.

Spread the beans on the parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake the beans for approximately 12 minutes, stirring once halfway through.  The beans should have browned edges and be slightly wilted when they’re done.  Eat and enjoy!

Source: Eileen, inspired by many roastings of vegetables in my day

Budget Breakdown: $3.60 for 4 side-dish servings

  • Green Beans ($3/lb at the farmer’s market): $3.00
  • Garlic: $0.60

My beans actually came from my CSA, so I scoped out the farmer’s market price for my dear readers.  Have I told you how much I love my CSA?  I probably have.  It’s true – because the veggies are so delicious, and I get a ton of them for $12/week.  The end.

Spicy Peach Salsa

2 Aug

This peach salsa is a perfect summer collaboration of sweet, spicy, and refreshing.  Peaches are abundantly available at farmer’s markets all over town right now, and they are those perfectly plump, medium-sized peaches that get ripe in a day and melt in your mouth.  You get the point – I’m obsessed with peaches.  In fact, all of the food that I made last weekend was peach-themed.

I served this salsa both with shrimp burgers (which were amazing, and I’ll tell you about them soon) and with quesadillas.  It would also be awesome on its own with tortilla chips and would make a great topping for other fish dishes, I suspect.

Spicy Peach Salsa


  • 3 ripe peaches, about 1 pound
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (we left the seeds in ours for more spice, but you could also seed the pepper for less spice)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • Kosher salt, to taste


First things first: peel the peaches. This is a much, much easier process if your peaches are ripe.  Peeling unripe peaches is a pain and results in tiny little flecks of peach skin being painstakingly picked off.  If your peaches are ripe, the skin should come off in two or three big sheets.  Also, they’ll taste better.  Just a tip!

To peel your peaches, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop the peaches into the boiling water for approximately 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the peaches and immediately submerge into a a bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking (and so that you don’t burn your fingers when you peel the peaches!) Gently peel the peaches using your hands.  Chop the peaches into small cubes.

Combine the diced peaches, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice. Season with a pinch of kosher salt. Chill the salsa for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to blend (if you can resist digging in immediately).  Enjoy!

Source: slightly adapted from this recipe on The Kitchn

Budget Breakdown: $2.50 for about 2 cups of salsa

  • Peaches (buy them at the farmer’s market for the best price and quality this time of year): $1.50
  • Red Onion: $0.25
  • Jalepeno (also from the farmer’s market): $0.25
  • Cilantro: $0.50

Making salsa at home is probably a pretty good deal in the summer when fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful and reasonably priced.  I’d venture to guess that this salsa would be much more expensive to make in the winter, unless you used canned or frozen peaches, which might be ok.  But, it definitely wouldn’t taste as awesome as fresh!

That’s a frugally foodie tip for you – eat with the seasons.  It’s probably always much less expensive to eat produce that is in season than trying to procure ingredients when they aren’t in season and have to be shipped halfway around the world to reach your grocery store.  Of course, if you live in California, you might be much happier about eating with the seasons than those of us in the Northeast!

I hope you enjoy this delicious, summery salsa as a topping on many dishes to come!

Cherry Sorbet

13 Jul

Here it is, the first concoction in the new kitchen.  My ice cream maker bowl was in the freezer the day I moved in because I had been eyeing this recipe up for a few weeks and didn’t have a chance to make it in all of the hustle and bustle of moving.  It’s a perfect recipe for this time of year because cherries are in season, meaning they’re plump and sweet, and also much less expensive!  Produce that’s in season is always the best buy at the supermarket or farmers market.  And, who can resist a sweet treat like this with the sweltering heat we’ve had in Pittsburgh lately?!

The hardest part of the recipe is pitting all of those cherries.  I don’t have a cherry pitter, and I actually don’t even know what it is.  I guess I could google it.  But, I pitted my cherries with a knife and my hands, and it took forever.  The whole time I was saying to myself, “This damn sorbet better good after all of this work!”  I’m happy to report that it is very good!  I’ve been enjoying it all week.

Cherry Sorbet


  • 2 lbs cherries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp almond extract


Remove the stems and pits from the cherries. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cherries with the water, sugar, and lime juice, and cook until the cherries are very soft and cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.  Once the mixture has cooled, add the almond extract.

Puree the cherries and their liquid in a blender or food processor and put the mixture in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly before freezing in your ice cream maker.  A few hours should do the trick, though chilling overnight always seems to be convenient for me.  You can also strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve before chilling, but I chose to keep the cherry chunks in my sorbet, and I enjoyed having them in there.

Once the cherry mixture is chilled, freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions and enjoy!

Source: Barely adapted from Skinnytaste

Budget Breakdown: $3.35 for 8 servings

  • Cherries (2lbs @ $1.59/lb): $3.18
  • Sugar: $0.17

This recipe tastes gourmet for a fraction of the cost.  It makes a large quantity – about 2 pints – so you’re getting 2 pints for what you’d pay for one at the grocery store.  I found my cherries on sale at a local grocery store for $1.59/lb, which is the best price I’ve seen so far this season. If you’re near a Whole Foods store, today’s One Day Deal is cherries for $1.99/lb, which is also a pretty good price!  So, run out, get yourself some sale cherries, and make this sorbet so you have a tasty weekend treat waiting for you in the freezer.


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