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Cheapskate Gourmet: Salad Dressings

If you think eating well means eating out, you may be feeling the effects of restaurant dining in your pocketbook as the price of restaurant meals continues to soar.

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The truth is if I can make the leap from being a diner-in-debt to making irresistible meals at home that often taste even better than those in a restaurant—at a fraction of the cost of eating out—you can, too.

For many years (long before there was a Food Channel), I was uniquely privileged to sit under the personal tutelage of world-famous gourmet cooks the likes of Julia Child, Christopher Kimball, Martha Stewart, Martin Yan and Jacques Pepin. Every weekend I had standing appointments with one or more of them. They came right into my home and demonstrated unique techniques while I assumed a prone position, curled up in my favorite blanket, first-row-center in front of the television. They sparked confidence in me. From that start, my love for making great meals economically has grown.

Today, I want to share my basic recipes for what I consider to be gourmet salad dressings. So easy! Tasty, too.

Taco Seasoning Mix and What to Do With It

Seasoning packets from the supermarket may be convenient, but they have drawbacks—not the least of which is they’re expensive! I just checked Lawry’s Taco Spices and Seasonings—$1.89 for one packet! I just hate to pay that much for so little. And I don’t have to because I’ve got a great recipe to make taco seasoning mix myself, using ordinary spices I have already.

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The recipe that follows is for the amount of seasoning you would find in the typical supermarket seasoning packet. This recipe makes about 4 1/2 tablespoons of mix.

While you could make the amount you need as you need it, a better idea is to make a bunch while you’re at it, then keep it tightly sealed in your spice rack. It’ll come in handy more times than you can imagine. The recipe multiplies well.

Enjoy this simple mix and two recipes that follow, for Tacos and Enchiladas. Yum! 

When 58 Days of Pumpkin Spice Lattes are Not Enough

It was 2003 when Starbucks first tested its now famous autumnal beverage, Pumpkin Spice Latte. Sales of the drink exceeded all expectations, prompting the company to offer it in all of its locations the following year.

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Since then, Starbucks has sold more than 200 million Pumpkin Spice Lattes during its very limited annual PSL seasons.

Each year, Starbucks’ PSL season begins in September and ends in early November. In 2015, PSL lovers had only 58 days to enjoy their delicious, albeit pricey, fall beverage. Did you miss out? Are you mourning the passage of yet another very short PSL season? Well, dry those tears. Now you can create your own PSL season anytime you want—fresh, delicious and for a fraction of the price!

Perhaps the most important ingredient in PSL is “pumpkin spice.”  Curiously, pumpkin spice has no pumpkin in it at all. It is simply a mix of the spices used to make pumpkin pie. Available as “pumpkin spice” in the spice aisle of most supermarkets, it’s not exactly cheap.

To pull off this DIY project, you need two recipes—one for the Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix and the other for Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Dump Chicken STILL Gets Rave Reviews

Some of the most requested recipes I get asked for are for ‘Dump Chicken.’ For those who missed it, and for those always asking, here are the latest recipes again – along with a link to the original. I think I know what I’m making for dinner!

About a year ago I was introduced to Dump Chicken and could not wait to share the idea and recipes with you. Loads of positive feedback confirmed that many of you are fans, too.

I must admit that originally, I was somewhat put off by the name. Dump Chicken doesn’t exactly bring to mind something that is easy, ingenious and flat out delicious. But it should, because that’s what Dump Chicken is.

By way of review, you dump chicken pieces and your choice of sauce into a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer. When you’re ready to eat it, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator, dump it into a pan and bake it. That’s it.

The genius part of this whole thing is the variations. In the original post, I gave you Russian Chicken, Teriyaki Chicken, Spiced Citrus Chicken, Spicy Sweet Glazed Chicken, Sticky Chicken, Honey Sesame Chicken and Pepper Lime Chicken. And in a minute I’m going to give you even more choices.

When You Need a Quick Fix: “Homemade” Soup!

It’s cold outside, you’re running late and it’s time for dinner. Sounds to me like you could use a quick fix. That’s exactly what I have for you today—fabulous recipes that take only minutes to prepare and are guaranteed to bring rave reviews. The secret is these hearty soups are only somewhat homemade (shhhh!).

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Chicken Pot Pie Soup

This is a terrific way to use up that leftover chicken and at the same time disguise those cans of soup you bought on sale. You won’t believe how good and “from scratch” this soup is.

  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken breast meat
  • 1 16 ounce package frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
  • 1 10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of potato soup
  • 1 10.75 ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • 2 cups skim milk (or 2% if you want it creamier)
  • 1 large potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (optional)

In a medium sauce pan combine chicken, mixed vegetables, cream of potato soup, cream of chicken soup and milk. Heat through over medium high heat and serve with crumbled crackers on top. Optional: Add cubed potato and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potato cubes are fork tender. Serves: 4. Multiplies well. Hint: In place of crackers, place a hot biscuit on top of each bowl of soup.

Fabulous and Fit for the Freezer

Ever had one of those days when you arrive home exhausted only to realize there’s nothing to fix for dinner? Happens to me all too often. I know, I’m supposed to be the quintessentially prepared person who never runs out of anything, always has a plan in place with menus and meals all ready to go. Don’t believe it. I struggle with overload and too-much-day-left-at-the-end-of-the-energy as much as anyone.

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And that’s exactly what happened to me not too long ago. Worse, I’d invited a neighbor for dinner. A recent widower, he didn’t hesitate to accept a home-cooked meal and the company. I’d had a busy day and about the only thing I could think of making for dinner was  “reservations” but eating out was the last thing any of us wanted to do.

I went to the freezer to see if anything had materialized in there since my last desperate search for dinner. Of course I knew better, but thought I’d peer into the frozen abyss anyway. And, would you believe, way in the back I found a dinner-sized portion of Baked Ziti? Eureka! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

Last August 20 (I know because I wrote the date on the container), I made this pasta dish for the sole purpose of freezing it in one-meal portions to assess if it could hold up in both texture and flavor for a good, long time. It does, and I knew this because we’ve enjoyed it several times since I made it. And I was surprised out of my mind that we’d not eaten all of it. (Clearly, I need to make one of the freezer door Table of Contents lists one reader shared with us recently.)  

Gift-Worthy Gourmet Caramel Corn that Won’t Break the Bank

Sometime during the fall of 2010 (who am I kidding here, it was exactly Oct. 2, 2010 at 4:32pm), I wandered into (actually I was sucked in against my will by the seductive aroma) Popcornopolis in South Deerfield, Mass., (curiously, located inside the Yankee Candle Village Store) and walked out with the most amazing gourmet caramel popcorn.

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As an admitted lover of good caramel corn, I have to say a few things about this gourmet popcorn. These people know how to make caramel corn!

With its rich depth of flavor, Popcornopolis Caramel Corn is about as close to perfection as I have ever tasted. But as wonderful as it is, it is also very expensive.

For years, I’ve tried to make caramel corn, without success. It was either too soggy or too chewy. Or the caramel turned sugary. Once, I needed a hammer and chisel to get the stuff out of the bowl.

I’d really given up until my encounter with Popcornopolis. I had to figure this out―I had to find a way to create a reasonable facsimile in my kitchen that would hit the mark without breaking the bank.

I am excited to let you know is that I believe I have.

Tasty Treats Make Great Gifts

Whether you have five or 50 teachers, students, neighbors, co-workers, family friends, kids’ friends, classmates, cousins, uncles, aunts, employees or service providers on your gift list this year—don’t panic! You do not have to be crafty or know how to cook to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen.

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You’ll never go wrong giving a consumable (read: edible) gift. It does the job without contributing to your recipients’ stuff-factor.

You will need containers for these gifts and the possibilities are endless. Our favorite: Clear cellophane bags online for about 6 cents each (you’ll pay a bit more for bags like these that are printed with holiday motifs). Or find similar at craft stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Stores and Hobby Lobby, and at cake and candy supply stores.

Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line and let the fun begin!