What can you just throw together to make a tasty side dish? Try this one:
A bag of frozen green beans, or about two cups fresh ones.
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 tbsp butter
salt to taste

Cover and steam. Stir to dissolve sugar. 
(You can also throw in two or three strips of cooked, crumbled bacon. Bacon makes everything better!!!)
Careful not to overcook. Vegetables should still be a little crunchy, but with a warm, sweet flavor via the butter and sugar.

Okay, I had NEVER made a pot pie before (?!?!!), but for my first try, this one was off the charts! I didn't want potatoes in my version, so I substituted chopped celery and grated zucchini. I also added 2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano. As far as salt and pepper go, I didn't really measure. I just did it "to taste". My husband said he could eat this twice a week, it was so good!
  • 1/2  cup  butter
  • 2  medium leeks, sliced
  • 1/2  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1  (14.5-oz.) can chicken broth (I used 1 1/3 cup chicken stock)
  • 3  cups  chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 1/2  cups  frozen cubed hash browns with onions and peppers
  • 1  cup  matchstick carrots (I grated my own)
  • 1/3  cup  chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground pepper
  • 1  (17.3-oz.) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1  egg
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add leeks, and sauté 3 minutes. Sprinkle with flour; cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Whisk in chicken broth; bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove from heat; stir in chicken and next 5 ingredients. (I went ahead and added diced celery and onion, too, to sautee.)

2. Roll each pastry sheet into a 12- x 10-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Fit 1 sheet into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate; spoon chicken mixture into pastry. Place remaining pastry sheet over filling in opposite direction of bottom sheet; fold edges under, and press with tines of a fork, sealing to bottom crust. Whisk together egg and 1 Tbsp. water, and brush over top of pie.

(For this step, I recommend baking the first pastry sheet  - while placed in the dish - for about 10 mins on the bottom rack. It was a little too doughy for me otherwise.)

3. Bake at 375° on lower oven rack 55 to 60 minutes or until browned. Let stand 15 minutes.

Grated Soap
     I'm looking to cut costs any way I can, AND cut out unnecessary ingredients in ANYTHING. Lately, I got interested in making my own laundry detergent. So I got online and found a page FULL of different recipes. For my first try, I did the one below. This is a LIQUID/GEL version. You can also do a dry powder version or try any of the ten recipes found here: http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/

1 quart Water (boiling)
2 cups Bar soap (grated) - I used ZOTE. Fels Naptha and Ivory are good ones, too.
2 cups Borax (also known as Boric Acid - Yes, the stuff you use to get rid of roaches! I know, it's weird, but boric acid is also a well-known detergent ingredient.)
2 cups Washing Soda (This may be a little harder to find. I found some on Amazon.com and at Walmart in a yellow box by Arm and Hammer.)
  • Add finely grated bar soap to the boiling water and stir until soap is melted. You can keep on low heat until soap is melted. It is important that you BOIL the water. Just hot water alone will not melt the soap.
  • Pour the soap water into a large, clean pail and add the Borax and Washing Soda. Stir well until all is dissolved. (while the soap was boiling in the pan, I went ahead and put the other ingredients in the bucket along with the 2 gallons of water... no harm done.)
  • Add 2 gallons of water, stir until well mixed.
  • Cover pail and use 1/4 cup for each load of laundry. Stir the soap each time you use it (will gel). I use a paint stirrer.

NOTE: You can make one gallon at a time if you like. I keep mine in a gallon jug. Boil about 3 cups water and add about 1/2-1 cup grated soap. Dissolve. Add your borax and washing soda and stir until dissolved.

Another tip: A load of laundry washed with this soap will sour more quickly. Be sure to switch clothes to the dryer within a couple hours of washing.
Melting the Soap
Finished product.
This is one of my throw-together-whatever's-in-the-fridge recipes. 

1-2 carrots, sliced about a 1/4 inch thick, on the diagonal 
a head of broccoli, florets chopped into bite-size pieces
1/2, 3/4 cup onion, chopped in big bite-size chunks.
a cup or so of red, green, yellow, orange bell pepper (not necessarily all, but the colors look so beautiful in this dish) 
chopped in big bite size chunks
a pound or two of chicken breast, pan-seared in olive oil, cut into chunks
(you can also add celery, but tomatoes typically don't go well in this dish...)
3-4 cloves garlic
about two tbsp minced fresh ginger
a tsp or two red pepper flakes
about 1-2 tbsp sesame oil
salt and pepper

Start with olive oil drizzled in a frying pan on medium high heat. Throw in broccoli, carrots and celery (optional) and sautee a few minutes, then add peppers... After five more minutes, add onion, diced ginger, diced garlic, and red pepper. You want to make sure everything is equally cooked to a certain "al dente" quality - still half crunchy. Now add the chunks of chicken and sesame oil.
You can add a splash or two of soy sauce if you want.
Serve over brown rice ('cause it's better for you than white rice!)
Anything I get to light on fire is gonna be AWESOME!!! Ed says this is his favorite recipe, that it takes a couple hours to prepare, but it's totally worth it. I can see why! It sounds incredible. I'm going to make this on Saturday, provided I can find the Madeira wine, otherwise, I guess I'll just substitute a Port wine... And about making the gnocchi, you MUST squeeze it out of some sort of bag. It's too mushy to consider shaping.
Side note: I ended up making two batches of gnocchi, realizing that the dough MUST be as HOT as possible before dropping in water. The second time around, I used a BIG stock pot instead of a smaller one so I could cook more at once. I think that refrigerating the pasta for at least an hour would be a good idea.All in all, great dish!!

1 cup milk 
7 tablespoons unsalted butter 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup flour 
4 eggs 
1 1/2 cups Tomato Coulis (recipe follows) 
1/2 cup heavy cream 
1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
Chopped chives for garnish 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Because you will need to cook the gnocchi quickly once the batter is ready, do the following before you begin the preparation. 
Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Have a large bowl of iced water nearby. 
Combine milk, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium-heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture is nearly solid, about 2 minutes. The batter should be the consistency of mashed potatoes and should clear the sides of the pan to form a ball. Remove from heat. Transfer to a large bowl and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. (An electric mixer is fine for this.) The batter should be very thick, shiny, and smooth. Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a large plain tip #8, with batter. Holding pastry bag over simmering water, gently squeeze out dough, slicing into 1-inch lengths with a paring knife. 
Working in 4 batches of about 20 pieces, cook gnocchi at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally, until they start to puff, about 5 minutes. They should resemble floating corks. To test for doneness, remove a dumpling and cut in half. The center should have tiny bubbles. 

With a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to the bowl if iced water to cool. Drain well in a colander. At this stage, you can store gnocchi in refrigerator up to 2 days. 
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. 
Bring Tomato Coulis and cream to a boil in a large ovenproof skillet or casserole. Add Parmesan, salt, pepper, and gnocchi. Return to a boil, sprinkle with cheese and transfer to oven. 
Bake until sauce is thick and bubbly and a slight crust forms on top, about 7 minutes. 
Garnish with chopped chives and serve immediately.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced 
3 mushrooms, thinly sliced 
2 shallots, thinly sliced 
1 small leek, white part, thinly sliced 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 tablespoon brandy 
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon Madeira 
1 cup chicken stock or canned broth 
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped with skins 
2 sprigs thyme 
1 bay leaf 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over low heat. Cook onion, mushrooms, shallot, leek, and salt until soft, about 7 minutes. Add brandy and 1/4 cup Madeira. 
Turn heat to high and light alcohol with a match. Cook over high heat until liquid is reduced by half. 
Add chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. 
Puree in a food processor or blender and strain. 
Return to pan and place over medium heat. Whisk in remaining tablespoon butter, broken in small pieces, and remaining tablespoon Madeira. 
Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Yield: 2 cups

Too, my husband isn't much for dishes without variety in texture. So next time, I think I'll FRY the pasta after taking it out of the iced water! Here are the directions for that, in case you would like to try it.,
Heat a couple tablespoons of clarified butter (or olive oil) in a large well-seasoned (or non-stick) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi in a single layer and toss to coat with the butter. Let them cook until they are golden brown on the bottoms and then use a metal spatula to flip the gnocchi. Cook until they are golden all over. Salt, transfer to a platter and set aside.

Coulis, before processing.
Chicken, cabbage, and cashews. This one is a diet specialty if you aren't eating carbs. I found the recipe years ago and made it my own by omitting a couple things and adding my "better" ingredients. The original said to add canned chicken breast, but I just use regular baked or pan-seared chicken. Too, the original said to use uncooked ramen noodles, along with the seasoning packet (the noodles soften on their own if you leave the salad in the fridge an hour or so). This was actually pretty good, but the seasoning has MSG, so I started doing my own seasonings. 

Three C's Cabbage Salad

4 cups shaved cabbage (I just slice thinly)
2-3 cups cooked chicken breast, cubed
1/4 cup green onions, diced
olive oil, about 1/4 cup?
spices (onion powder, garlic powder, ground red pepper, salt, parsley, oregano, Mrs. Dash's Tomato Basil Garlic...)
1/2 cup to 1 cup cashews (or walnuts)

Toss all ingredients (I use my hands to mix thoroughly) and sprinkle with cashews. You can also use walnuts. The only spice to be careful with is the red pepper. If you decide you've added too much spice, just shave up some more cabbage, add a little chicken and olive oil, and mix again.
Mmmm. Creamy, garlicky, herbed potatoes are definitely comfort food. Here are two recipes: one for mashed, and and one for roasted... I like to leave the skins on for deeper taste and more vitamins.

Garlic-Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
3-4 medium sized potatoes, cut into large bite-sized pieces, boiled and softened
3-4 tbsp butter
milk or half of half
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1-3 tsp fresh minced rosemary
salt and pepper
(you could even add parmesan cheese to this....)

After boiling the potatoes, drain water and use your masher to, uhh, mash. As you mash, add butter, tbsp at a time, and milk. Mash  and mix until creamy. Then add minced garlic and rosemary. Notice how GREAT it smells??!? Ahhhh... Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Garlic and Basil Potatoes
3-4 medium sized potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces.
olive oil
2-3 cloves minced garlic
dried basil (OR I like to use Mrs. Dash's Tomato Basil Garlic seasoning)
salt and pepper

Spread potatoes across a baking sheet or dish and sprinkle with olive oil and spices. As far as the basil goes, just sprinkle across the top and Mix up with a big spoon. (I use my hands.) Make sure olive oil and spices are evenly coating the potatoes.
Bake at 400 for 30-40 minutes. Check about half way through to make sure potatoes aren't sticking to the pan. If so, use a spatula to turn...

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