I think it's really important, if you want to save money, to have some fast, easy, weeknight dinner recipes. Some good places I've found these, are with those Food Network folks, Rachel Ray and Melissa D'Arabian. They both often have quick, easy meals. Melissa's show is 10 Dollar Dinners and well worth DVRing and watching.
With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of my "go to" meals, for a fast, easy, hectic weeknight dinner. Disclaimer: I cook by sight and don't really measure, so my measurements are not exact. Play around with the recipe, if you like it, add more, take out some...
Polenta with Chili and Cheese
This one is super simple and tastes good.
Make polenta according to directions on label. (Now I do change this up a bit. If it says to make it with water, I'll delete the salt and throw a couple of bullion cubes in the water while boiling, before adding the polenta. Then I use 1/2 cup less water and add 1/2 cup of milk instead, to make the polenta creamier). A lot of folks think polenta is hard to make. It isn't. It's just ground corn meal and it only takes minutes.
When the polenta is cooked, pour it into a casserole pan.
Open a can of chili. Any type, whatever you like and spoon that on top of the polenta.
Get some grated cheese and sprinkle liberally on top. Sometimes I'll grate the cheese, sometimes I'll buy it pre-grated...doesn't matter. I'd say I use about half a cup, but I never measure.
Pop it into a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve.
I add a side of veggies (like the canned peas) or a fresh salad and that's dinner.
Pasta with Whatever and bacon or sausage (like that name?)
Pasta is cheap...you can get it on sale for 88 cents a package and it's easy to make, just throw it in boiling water. But what to do with it, after it's cooked????
Be creative and use what you have in the house. One of my favorite ways to serve it is with bacon or sausage and tomatoes, olives and onions.
Here's what I do:
In a pan, pour about a tablespoon of olive oil and heat up....add half a chopped onion and let it sweat for a minute or 2. Add sausage at this point, if you are using it and cook through. If I use bacon, I'll pre-cook the bacon in the microwave for 3-4 minutes then dice it up and throw it in to finish in the pan. Then I chop up a couple of fresh tomatoes (we grow these so often have them in the house), I chop up cilantro or parseley (whatever you have that's a fresh herb) and open a can of sliced olives. All of these I throw in. Then I add some salad dressing. I'll add what I'm in the mood for....italian dressing tastes good, but so does greek or honey mustard. I'll add about 1/4 cup of the dressing and turn off the heat. Pour all of that over the pasta and serve. That's it. That's dinner. It's fast, inexpensive and tastes good.
You can serve it with fresh fruit, if you like, or some bread on the side but you don't have to.
Both of these recipes are so much cheaper than stopping for fast food and I have the ingredients in the house. It's ok to be creative, too. Don't have tomatoes? No problem...add half a can of diced tomatoes. Don't like olives? No problem, leave them out or use some capers to add flavor.
Build up your pantry, so you have items you can use for quick, easy meals. Watch for the bacon to go on sale, buy it and freeze it, it does fine. Watch for canned, diced tomatoes to go on sale ( you can get them for less than a dollar a can), same with olives.
Side note: You can easily cook with frozen bacon. Just open the package and cut 1/4 inch all the way across the end of the bacon...there you go, bacon bits. Throw those right into the pan and cook them up. They add great flavor. Put the rest of the frozen bacon in a freezer bag, pop back into the freezer and use the next time you need to add quick flavor to a meal.
You can do a similar type of thing with breakfast type sausage. Just pull out 1 or 2 frozen sausages, cut them frozen and throw them into the pan. Put the rest back into the freezer in a freezer bag for future use.
I find bacon on sale for $2.99 a pound and buy 2. Then I keep it frozen and cut off bits as I need it. NO WASTE!!!!
I use salad dressing to add flavor to meals often. The premade kind, you can find on sale and often add a coupon on top of it, getting a good deal. For example, about a month ago, Ken's Steakhouse brand salad dressing was on sale for $2.00 a bottle and I had a save $1 off 1 coupon...so I paid $1 for each bottle of dressing. I bought Honey Mustard and Greek dressing and both add good flavor to a dish like this. It also keeps it from getting boring...changing the flavor of the dressing changes the flavor of the whole dish.
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