The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas, XI

Today’s meal was inspired by Thanksgiving leftovers. Through a combination of laziness and laziness, I haven’t purchased any extra food besides milk and bread since Turkey Day.

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We actually had two Turkey Days this year. At the second one, we also baked a ham. My children have informed me that, if they have to eat another meal with ham hidden somewhere in it, they will voluntarily fast.

Slightly before that point, I used ham slices as a side for a new recipe I discovered over at Genius Kitchen: Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes.

Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes

Ingredients

2 cups mashed potatoes (approximately)
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
Salt and Pepper
Dried onion flakes or powder, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Oil or butter, for cooking
Toppings: sour cream, shredded cheese, or ketchup

Supplies

Mixing bowl
Mixing spoon or electric mixer with beaters
Griddle or skillet
Spatula

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients except oil and toppings together in a bowl. If stirring manually (or using mashed potatoes that were a tad lumpy), use a potato masher.
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  2. Preheat griddle or skillet to 325°. Add a small amount of oil or butter to surface.
  3. Pour about 1/4 cup batter in a round shape in the oil or butter. Repeat to fill griddle or pan.
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  4. When one side is browned, flip and cook the other side. If too thick to cook the inside evenly, press down slightly with the spatula. Repeat with all pancakes.
  5. Set aside and serve with toppings.

I hadn’t made these before and felt pleasantly surprised at how they turned out. My kids all ate them (win!) and only complained mildly (a midway win).

I thought they tasted like hashbrowns with extra substance, and preferred eating mine with ketchup. When eating them for leftovers breakfast the following morning, I tried the sour cream and cheese and thought that tasted more like baked potato.

This is a great meal for using up leftover mashed potatoes, for keeping things cheap and easy, and for serving a dinner that’s fairly healthy as well.

The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas, X

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I’m cheating a bit with tonight’s meal by not using an actual recipe.

Sometimes we get a bit hassled ’round dinner time and decide to go out to eat. Since we have four children who are too old to eat off our plates anymore, these trips end up costing $60 or more each time. Yowza!

Ever since a memorable night at Olive Garden when I was last pregnant (2013), I have always opted for something at home instead. Surely, I figure, for $60 we can think of an alternative meal.

I usually make a dinner from my list of meals I’ve shared on this blog. When not in the mood for one of those (again), I have a few quick and easy meals I can get from one grocery store visit.

Cue this meal! I think of it as Sausage with Rice-A-Roni. We’ll keep working on the name.

The cost is definitely worth it! One box of Rice-A-Roni is less than $2. The broccoli: $2. The sausage? $2.50. We’re talking a meal for the entire family for $11 (because I bought two of the meat and rice). ELEVEN DOLLARS!

Polish Sausage with Rice and Broccoli

Ingredients

1 pkg your favorite variety of Rice-A-Roni
1 full link sausage of your favorite variety
A head or two of broccoli (or a family serving of frozen)
Butter or oil
Water
Salt and Pepper

Supplies

Skillet
Saucepan
Microwave-safe bowl
Wax paper or EPA-safe plastic wrap
Knife for cutting broccoli
Cutting board
Spoon
Wood Spatula or tongs

Directions

  1. Prepare Rice-A-Roni in the saucepan according to directions, using the butter and water.
  2. Follow directions for frying the sausage in the skillet.
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  3. Rinse broccoli. Cut main parts of stalk off and discard. Place in microwave-safe bowl with some water in the bottom. Cover with wax paper and microwave for 4-5 minutes.
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  4. Serve together. Season broccoli according to taste.

My kids made a face about this meal, so we may try different varieties next time. I think I’d have great success with Li’l Smokies, for example, but that raises the cost.

In all, however, making a meal for under $20 and in less than half an hour is a win in my book!

The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas, IX

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Tonight’s fare is an oldie but a goodie: French Dip Sandwiches.

frequently have nights where it’s just about dinnertime and I need a meal, quick. Or, I have days where I finally squeezed in that grocery store trip and need to think up a week’s worth of dinners.

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This recipe has very few preparation steps. Maybe you’re thinking it’s hardly a recipe idea at all, but I appreciate that I can make it with few ingredients and with little time.

French Dip Sandwiches

Ingredients

Hoagie-type rolls
Sliced roast beef
Cheese, if desired
Butter
1 packet Au Jus Gravy mix
OR 1 recipe homemade Au Jus Gravy
Water

Supplies

Skillet or toaster oven
Bread knife
Cheese knife (if using cheese)
Spreading knife
Whisk
Small pot

Directions

  1. Prepare Au Jus Gravy according to packet or recipe, by whisking it into water in the small pot and heating to boiling.
  2. While the gravy dip is heating, cut hoagie rolls in half lengthwise. Apply butter to each inside part, then fry over medium heat in the skillet. Set aside.
  3. Heat roast beef slices over low heat in the skillet or in the microwave.
  4. Top one half of the hoagie roll liberally with roast beef and a slice of cheese (if preferred).
  5. Serve each sandwich on a plate with a small cup of Au Jus.

Not all of my kids liked the taste of dipping their sandwich into Au Jus, but they were willing to try it. In the end, my pickiest eater took the roast beef off the roll and ate everything separately.

I like serving this quick, easy, cheap meal with common, healthy sandwich sides: carrot sticks, apple slices, olives, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.

The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas, VIII

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This dubious bunch of battered pieces is Vegetable Tempura, or Tempura Vegetables. It’s tasty! When we’ve had a run of a lot of meat for dinners and I want to pretend to eat a healthy meal, this is my go-to.

When I’m preparing for it, I pick up our favorite vegetables at the store: zucchini or yellow squash, 2 red potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, an onion, and carrots. My on-hand items are eggs, the batter ingredients, baby carrots, and rice.

I use the recipe included in my copy of Deseret Recipes, and usually double it.

Tempura Vegetables

Ingredients

1 egg
1 tsp soy sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup water
Oil for frying
Vegetables, peeled and sliced: broccoli, carrots, potatoes or yams, mushrooms, onion, zucchini or squash

Rice, to serve vegetables on top of

Soy sauce, as topping and/or dip

Supplies

Glass bowl for cooking vegetables
Mixing bowl
Fork
Deep fry pan
Serving plate
Paper towels for draining

Directions

  1. Prepare vegetables. Place in microwave-safe bowl with a little water, cover, and cook for a few minutes to soften. Drain.
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  2. Beat together egg, soy sauce, salt, sugar, flour, and water in mixing bowl with the fork.
  3. Heat 1-2 inches of oil in fry pan to 375°.
  4. Dip each vegetable piece in the batter, then fry all sides in the hot oil.
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  5. Drain on paper towels on the serving plate.
  6. Serve over rice, with extra soy sauce for dipping.

My first time making this took awhile, because I was shy about how many battered veggies I put in the oil at a time. Now, I run like an assembly line and have the double batch done in about half an hour.

So, looking for healthy? Quick? Easy? Cheap? Look no further than this fried, crispy meal. Even our picky eater loves it!

The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas VII

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Today, we’re going to make a dang quesa-dilla!

Like the recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches, most people know about making a quesadilla. At its most basic form, this quick meal is two tortillas and grated cheese. Gourmet chefs then cook, microwave, grill, or fry their Mexican-style sandwich till the insides melt.

Quick, easy, cheap, and mostly healthy -What more could you want besides some salsa and sour cream to dip in?

Quesadillas are our family’s standby. When feeling fancy, we add actual meat pieces and fried peppers and onions with fancy cheese, stuffed between homemade tortillas. Middle-fancy: refried beans and sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack. One the low end, we’re partial to my standby frozen shredded cheese on the cheapest tortillas at the store.

Quesadillas

Ingredients

Flour tortillas (2 per quesadilla)
Grated cheddar cheese
Refried beans; or cooked and cubed chicken, pork, or beef
Oil for frying
Salsa, sour cream, guacamole for dipping

Supplies

Frying pan or griddle
Spatula
Cheese grater, if not pre-shredded
Knife for spreading refried beans
Pizza cutter or knife

Directions

  1. Heat oil in skillet or on griddle.
  2. Lather one tortilla with refried beans and place in pan on oil. If using meat, place tortilla on oil and sprinkle with meat.
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  3. Liberally sprinkle grated cheese over beans, meat, or tortilla half sitting in the oil.
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  4. Top with second tortilla.
  5. When the underside is brown and the cheese is melted inside, use the spatula to flip over the quesadilla. Cook till both sides are browned.
  6. Cut into pieces and serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, or tomatoes according to taste.

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Lately we’ve been getting a bag of tortillas for $1 at the store. Since I already have beans and cheese and salsa on hand, the whole meal costs us that $1. Not bad, huh?

So if you’re short on time and feeling peckish, whip up your own quesadillas today!