Think you have nothing to fix for dinner? As long as you have a few potatoes in the pantry, you have at least one option—bake potatoes and call it dinner.

Whether topped with a pat of butter or loaded up with broccoli and cheese—or a big scoop of hearty chili—baked potatoes really are an easy, no-brainer meal. The bonus is that potatoes are both nutritious and cheap.

Russet Potato Perfectly Baked in Instant Pot, Ready to Eat with Butter, Salt and Pepper

While you can bake just about any kind of potato, Russets are the best option. The skin on a Russet is thicker and the starchy inside has a sweet flavor that gets extra fluffy while baking. Russets are typically larger, which makes them ideal for a dinner entree.

Here are four easy ways to prepare baked potatoes—in your Instant Pot, in the oven, microwave, or slow cooker. Read more

If you’ve ever stood in the supermarket wondering if paying more for chicken that is free-range, antibiotic-free, no hormones added, farm-raised, natural, and organic is going to make you healthier, wealthier, wise—or just a better person—you’re not alone. 

Recently, as I was doubting myself on my chicken choices I decided to get to the bottom of what all of this really means. It’s not what I thought.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a cabinet-level agency that oversees the regulation of food-grade chicken and is responsible for the claims on packaging and labels.

And despite all of the hype and fluff, there is only one label—organic—that guarantees specific standards and for which you might consider paying more. 

Briefly here is what all of it means—or doesn’t mean—according to the USDA.

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Just the other night I suffered a kitchen disaster. I hate when that happens. I ruined an entire pot of pasta because I got busy and was not paying attention. By the time I realized, the pasta had cooked way beyond al dente, all the way to total mush.

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It killed me to dump the whole thing down the disposal, but there was no way to undo that disaster.

Thankfully, that’s not true for every cooking mistake. This is a list you’re going to want to keep handy just in case.

Too much salt

It’s a common cooking mistake. If you’ve added far too much salt to a sauce or soup and you have enough ingredients, double the recipe or make more by half, then mix it in with the salty batch a bit at a time until you’ve reached your desired flavor.

Another trick is to add a bit more unsalted water to the mix, provided this will not also dilute the flavor.

Burnt toast

Don’t toss it until you’ve tried this neat trick: Use your cheese grater to quickly scrape off the burned layer. Works like magic!

Undercooked cake

The first sign of a cake that’s not done is that sinkhole in the middle. Once cooled you cannot re-bake it. But don’t worry. This is not a hopeless kitchen disaster.

Break the cake into pieces (even those parts that are undercooked) and combine them with whipped cream and fresh fruit to make dessert parfaits or one large trifle

ENJOY: 25 Items Under $25 to Help Organize Your Life

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A popular restaurant  Hugo’s, in West Hollywood, Calif., has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, Pasta Mama.

The first time I heard about it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get Pasta Mama. But they do, insisting, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

A plate of gourmet pasta from Hugo's Restaurant, West Hollywood, Calif.

 

I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is.

But I don’t drive to Hugo’s to pay $14 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead, I make it myself, from scratch, following my copycat recipe. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes from start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about $1.50.


RELATED: Simple Tips to Stretch the Food Budget 


At that price, you have little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it.

In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

 

A plate of gourmet-quality Pasta Mama from Hugo's Restaurant, West Hollywood, Calif.
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Pasta Mama

People drive for many miles to enjoy Pasta Mama at Hugo's, the famed restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif. Here is a quick, easy and super cheap way you can save the trip and make it yourself in under 20 minutes.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 5 oz pasta dry or fresh, like fettuccini or spaghetti
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground oregano
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp seasoning salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1 tbsp hot water or pasta water
  • 1 tbsp grated Parmesan

Instructions

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions (or use any kind of leftover pasta).
  • While pasta is cooking, mix seasonings together in a small bowl and beat the eggs in another bowl. Set both aside.
  • Pour oil (or melt butter) in a 10-inch saute pan. Add minced garlic and the entire amount of seasoning mix (should be 1 teaspoon total).
  • Saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add parsley; add hot pasta right out of the cooking water along with one tablespoon of hot water. (If you are using leftover pasta, make sure it is hot!)
  • Add the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly, tossing it in the pan using tongs.
  • Add Parmesan. Toss and allow to cook for an additional 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Notes

Pasta Mama has as many variations as you can imagine. To make it Pasta Papa, add any vegetables you would put in an omelet—other cheeses, sausage, bacon, chicken; adjust seasonings to taste. Enjoy!

 

MORE: Soups to Soothe the Soul and The Budget


Question: Is there a dish you make at home that’s a dead ringer for a popular, pricey restaurant dish? Oh, please share!

PREVIOUSLY: This is the Best Car Trash Can Ever


Original 2-13-2015; Updated 3-29-2019

If you’ve been hanging with me for any length of time, you know I’m pretty wild about making Gifts in a Jar, now a free downloadable ebook. I’m talking about glass canning jars with screw top lids. Seriously, you can stuff just about anything in one of these amazing containers and come up with a unique, lovely gift.

Over the years we’ve made Cookies in a Jar, Light in a Jar, Garden in a Jar, even a Journal in a Jar (instructions for all in the ebook). I have no idea why I’ve never embraced what is quite possibly the most practical use of a jar—Salad in a Jar.

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I didn’t think of this, but I’m pretty much in love with the person who did. Simply brilliant and so practical.

Basically, you assemble the ingredients for a fresh, healthy salad by layering them in a wide-mouth glass canning jar.

If you do it right, you can make up a bunch of jar salads on Sunday, put them in the refrigerator and having your lunches made up for the entire week. Prepared well, a jar salad kept in the refrigerator will be as fresh up to a week later as it was the day you assemble it. And no vacuum-sealing necessary.
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I remember my grandmother saying, “If we didn’t need food, we’d all be rich!” This may be true. But then, a life without food would be a little less pleasurable.

Still, there are so many ways to make great food cheap, make perishable food last, and the grocery budget stretch like nobody’s business.

Enjoy today’s tips, filled with practiced wisdom for practical solutions to make cooking and brewing coffee fun and rewarding for you and your family. Bon appétit!

One lovely cuppa

If you love coffee as much as I do and have never tried a gadget called AeroPress you are in for a delicious surprise.

Aerobie is manual and the cheapest, easiest, fastest way to make a really great cup of coffee. And yes, I do mean just one cup of perfectly brewed coffee at a time—or up to three cups.

Aerobie is small enough to store in your desk drawer at the office and another at home. Can’t break the $4-a-day Starbucks habit? This could do it.

Heat the mug

Tired of that first morning cup of steaming hot coffee cooling off too quickly? Do this:

As your coffee is brewing, fill your coffee mug with water and heat it to boiling in the microwave. Pour out the water into a dirty dish or pan that needs to be soaked, and replace with hot coffee. You’ll be amazed by how much longer the coffee stays hot.  Read more

Cream. It’s coffee’s perfect mate. And when that creamer comes flavored in a handy bottle from the dairy case, even more perfect, right? Oh, but so pricey!

Generally, popular brands like Coffeemate, International Delight, Dunkin Donuts Extra Extra and Natural Bliss retail for $.10 to $.30 per ounce. Ouch! But you can make it yourself for a fraction of the price—and it is so easy. The hard part will be not using it all at once. Bonus: You’ll know exactly what’s in it and you can control sweetness and the flavors, too.

Stored in the refrigerator in a glass bottle or similar container with the tight-fitting in the refrigerator, homemade coffee creamer is good for at least 10 to 14 days.

Generally, homemade coffee creamers start with a base to which you add sweetener and flavor. There are two ways to make coffee creamer base—one that starts out sweet (Base Recipe #1)  and one that is not sweet to start (Base Recipe #2).

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I may be the only person in the world for whom this happens, but I doubt it. On a whim, I invite a bunch of friends over for Sunday Dinner. Or the phone rings and just like that I need to get a meal on the table in a big hurry because guests are on their way.

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Those are the occasions that I run to an amazing recipe that is easy to prepare, delicious to eat and quite impressive, too. Think: Italian restaurant in a pan. While it’s in the oven I make a big salad and we’re good to go.

This is a recipe that kids love as well as adults. It’s just amazing and I bless the day that the folks at Pillsbury came up with the idea. I, of course, have tweaked the recipe bit, but I give credit where credit is due.

Because life is uncertain, you will always find a bag of Italian meatballs from Costco and several loaves of Italian bread in my freezer, a big jar of marinara sauce in my grocery stockpile and cheese in the fridge.

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