Couponing for the Rest of Us

Pantry Cooking: Mexican Food!

We frugal foodies have unique challenges that normal shoppers don’t.  This little segment aims to help by offering:

  • Stockpile-cooking ideas
  • Clever Casseroles in which to hide your leftovers from the hubby & kids
  • Kitchen tips & tricks
  • Freezer-cooking recipes & planning
  • And really, everything but the kitchen sink!

Our very own “Deal Detective Kim” has generously offered to take the lead on this one (aspiring food writer that she is) – but start thinking up a recipe YOU often turn to, because we’ll be asking for some contributions to keep this new weekly segment running! 
And now, I’ll turn it over to you Kim!

Mexican Food

Jamie promised you a Mexican-themed column, and I couldn’t think of anything for mine this week, so I blatantly STOLE her idea and beat her to the sangri…uh, punch!
I’m starting with one of my favorite go-to dinners, Chicken Enchiladas.  The original came from one of those recipe-a-day email sites, but I changed it here and there, and now it’s pretty much mine.

Chicken Enchiladas:

Once again, I must apologize for my seat-of-my-pants style cooking, because there ARE no real measurements–I taste as I go and add depending on how it tastes.  So the amounts are very much approximate, and as always, feel free to adjust based on your family’s likes and dislikes.  It is easy to adust for family size, too, which I like in a recipe.
  • A couple of cups of cooked, shredded chicken–use what you have, it doesn’t matter what part of the chicken it came from.
  • Sour cream–about a cup
  • Shredded cheese–about 2 cups, divided.  If you like it mild, one of the Mexican blend is good, I like to use Pepper Jack inside & mild Mexican blend on the top.
  • Diced onion, 1/4 to 1/2 cup.  If you want them really soft, cook it for a couple of minutes in a skillet with some oil.
  • Chili powder, cumin, and dried cilantro–about a tablespoon EACH. (Or you could substitute one of those envelopes of taco seasoning!)
  • Salt, to taste
  • A package of tortillas–I prefer the flour ones for this but it’s your food
  • A can or jar of enchilada sauce.  (These vary widely in taste and thickness.  Find what you like and stick with it.)
Preheat oven to 375.  Mix chicken, sour cream, cheese, onion and seasonings in a bowl until well-mixed–it should look kind of like chicken salad.  Take a tortilla, spoon chicken mixture into the center of the tortilla.  Roll it up and place seam-side down in a glass baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.  Repeat until you run out of filling or tortillas.  Pour enchilada sauce evenly over enchiladas.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes.  Remove foil, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese, and put back in oven, uncovered, until cheese melts.
**Notes: I can’t STAND black olives, but if you like them, I’m sure they’d be good in this.  If you like your food hotter, you could chop up some hot peppers and add those in.  You could also use beans instead of chicken for a tasty vegetarian option, or use browned ground beef if you prefer.  The possibilities are endless!

Make-Your-Own Taco Stand:

Have picky eaters, or maybe just one in your bunch?  (Whine: I don’t like sour cream…I don’t like my food touching…I hate black olives…)  Did you ever think of making a Taco Bar (instead of a Salad Bar) and letting everyone fix his/her own?  (Little kids will probably need help, but bigger kids will have fun with this.)  Take a soft taco dinner kit, a crunchy taco dinner kit, some cheese, some salsa, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, whatever you like/have and line it up on the counter for everyone to serve themselves.  I bought my mom a set of Tortilla Bowl molds and she makes her own Taco Salads at home!  How cool is that?  This could make for a really fun Family Movie Night starter.  And by baking the tortilla bowls, you save a lot of fat and calories (not to mention money!) over the fast food variety, which are generally fried.  If you found a really good buy on tortilla chips, you could make chili and have a Nachos Bar instead.  My Chili recipe is here and Jamie’s Rotel Cheese Dip is here: (can’t find link).

Mexican Lasagna:

Doesn’t this sound good?  Here’s the blueprint:
  • Brown 1 lb. ground beef and 1 medium onion, chopped, in a skillet.
  • Drain off any excess grease
  • add an envelope of taco seasoning mix, and whatever amount of water the envelope calls for
  • Cook it down as you would for tacos.  Meanwhile, spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Line the bottom of the dish with tortillas; you can either overlap them or cut to fit.
  • When the meat and taco seasoning is cooked down, add a DRAINED can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and stir.
  • Spoon half the mixture on top of the tortillas, drizzle taco sauce over it, then shredded cheese–either a Mexican blend, some cheddar, whatever you like/have.
  • Repeat the layers and bake until it’s hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes or so.
  • The following are optionals you could put in: guacamole, beans, black olives, jalapeno slices.  You could crunch up some tortilla chips right under the top layer of cheese.
That’s what I like about cooking–it’s very easy to make do with what you have if you know what flavors go together and aren’t afraid to improvise.  My Mom always says the garbageman doesn’t tell on you and it’s ok to have the dog keep a secret or two now and then, as well!!
**Tip alert!!  I keep saying this, but it’s so huge I can’t stress it enough.  The manufacturers pay people to come up with recipes using their products. If you have something you want to use, search for recipes using it on swagbucks and see what you find.  If it’s good, be sure to share!  I went to and they have a search function–type in one or more ingredients you have on hand and it will FIND things for you to cook with it!!  How awesome is it that Betty’s got our back like that?  I typed in “taco seasoning” and got over 200 recipes!!  (Since Jamie’s deal scenario means we all have plenty!)  I also found this: prizewinning Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie Recipe, since I don’t have a Mexican dessert of my own.   This was a 2007 contest using Betty Crocker cookie mix (how many of THOSE do you have laying around your pantry?) and they had 15 winners and gave away over $10,000!!!   So if you have a really good original recipe that you made up yourself, think about entering one of these contests.  Somebody’s got to win, it might as well be you, right?  I searched Swagbucks for “cooking contest” and found this list of contests and deadlines.  One is even an essay contest, so if you’re literate but culinary challenged, you can still win!  Just imagine yourself standing on a stage somewhere, being handed a check for doing something you do all the time…
I’m still hoping to do a “readers write back” column in the near future, but you guys have to WRITE me something before I can do that!    DealDetectiveKim at gmail dot com
Until next time….

Pantry Cooking: Shredded Cheese Recipes!

The weekends are a great time to brainstorm some meal ideas for the week – and we frugal foodies have unique challenges that normal shoppers don’t.  This little segment aims to help by offering:

  • Stockpile-cooking ideas
  • Clever Casseroles in which to hide your leftovers from the hubby & kids
  • Kitchen tips & tricks
  • Freezer-cooking recipes & planning
  • And really, everything but the kitchen sink!

Our very own “Deal Detective Kim” has generously offered to take the lead on this one (aspiring food writer that she is) – but start thinking up a recipe YOU often turn to, because we’ll be asking for some contributions to keep this new weekly segment running! 
And now, I’ll turn it over to you Kim!

Labor Day was soooo much fine, I’ve decided we need more!  (OK, not really, but fake it til ya make it, right?)  Today’s Pantry Cooking Recipes include Shredded Cheese – it’s freezable, so a great stockpile item when you can get it cheap!

Pigs In A Blanket:

Take those leftover hotdogs and canned biscuits or crescent rolls and turn them into pigs in a blanket!  It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, I promise.  Just heat up the oven to whatever temperature the biscuits/crescent rolls package says, roll ‘em out flat, wrap ‘em around the dogs, put ‘em in the oven, and they’re ready in no time.  A little mustard or ketchup for dipping, whichever your family prefers–maybe even both!–and you’re good to go.  It’s a great after-school or game-day snack.  You can also jazz them up by putting a little shredded cheese in before you roll them up.  Like relish or kraut on your hotdog?  Roll some up in the blanket, see how you like THAT!
Who still has leftover cheese from the Kraft deal a couple of weeks ago?  Or the Food Lion chunks a couple of weeks before that?  Who likes sausage balls?  Everybody!  In case you can’t find the recipe on the Bisquick box, it’s super-easy.

Sausage Balls:

2-3 cups Bisquick
1 lb. roll sausage (I like the sage!)
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Combine all ingredients, pinch off and roll into walnut-sized balls, and bake at 375 for about 12 min.  Makes approx 6 dozen.
A couple of tips: A relative gave me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and it is a Godsend in making these.  Remember those commercials where the Mom pretended Rice Krispy treats were so much work?  It’s like that!  If you have one, put on the dough hook attachment, put the sausage in first, then the cheese, then the Bisquick and let ‘er rip.  Then all you have to do is make the little balls.  Also, you can freeze these, cooked or uncooked.  If you freeze them uncooked, you can double the baking time and not have to thaw them.  Also, this works better with a name-brand sausage, the cheaper ones are why you would need more Bisquick.  I usually use Jimmy Dean or Tennessee Pride and 2 1/2 c. Bisquick is perfect.
We’re probably about to see the last of the summer vegetables, so get them while you can!  Here’s a favorite casserole of mine:

Squash Casserole:

8-10 medium or 5-6 large yellow squash
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese–can use more and it’s better!
2 sleeves buttery crackers (such as Ritz), crushed
1 egg, beaten
1 stick butter or margerine, melted
Cook squash and onion in water until tender but not mushy.  Pour into a colander to drain.  Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, mix together squash mixture, half the cheese, half the cracker crumbs and the egg.  Spread into casserole dish, top with the rest of the cheese, the rest of the crackers, and drizzle with melted butter or margerine.  Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.
Let me just say that I LOVE the way the cheese folks are mixing it up these days… Yeah, plain old cheddar and mozzarella are good, don’t get me wrong, but I love, love, love the Italian and Mexican blends.  We’re getting more sophisticated in our palates, and that’s always a good thing.
A couple of weeks ago I promised you lasagna to use up that leftover spaghetti sauce OR the jarred stuff you stocked up on with coupons.  And if you didn’t, Food Lion has Ragu 3/$5, Bi-Lo has Bertolli BOGO, and Publix has Barilla BOGO.  So there you go, no excuses!
First off, I use whole wheat pasta.  It’s a lot more fiber and most of the time, your family will never notice!  (It’s OK, be sneaky that way…)  And for those of you who still have picky eaters, despite your best effort, go here: .  I bought this little gem awhile back, and I just love it!  You can make **3** mini lasagnas and mix up the flavors or combos!!!


9 lasagna noodles, cooked (unless you get the no-cook kind)
leftover spaghetti sauce or pasta sauce from a jar
at least 2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 sm container Ricotta cheese
1 lg container Cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 additional cup of shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 425 and spray your pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Combine the cheeses and the 2 beaten eggs in a bowl.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of noodles–it should take 3.  Spread 1/3 of the spaghetti sauce over that.  Spread 1/3 of the cheese mixture over that.  Lasagna is a great place to hide veggies from your kids, so feel free to sneak in spinach, mushrooms, even finely shredded carrots or zuchini–they’ll never know!  Continue layering pasta, sauce, and cheese until your pan is almost full or you run out, whichever comes first.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake until hot and bubbly, about an hour.  If your pan is really full, put a cookie sheet on the rack underneath your pan to catch drips and save clean-up!  Once it’s almost ready, pull it out, take off the foil, spread the extra cup of cheese on top and put back into the oven until that melts–usually 5 or 10 minutes.  Let it cool a few minutes (if you can!  I have no willpower to resist the delicious aroma!) to make it easier to cut into.
Oh, and don’t forget the garlic bread, which is equally delicious with some of that cheese melted on it!
I’d love to hear your feedback, so email me at
Until next week….

FREE Chili Queso Dip + Homemade Version!

So, I definitely signed up for the FREE Chili’s Skillet Queso & Chips already – and I’ll be heading there with my husband on our next date night – but in the meantime, I’m craving some Queso Dip tonight!

My father-in-law is visiting us this week, and we’ll be taking in some a LOT of football games – so here’s the dip I’ll be making with all the Velveeta I just got at Publix:

You’ll Need:

1-lb Velveeta (I’m using the Mexican Kind)
1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 pkg Old El Paso taco seasoning
3/4 jar or 8 oz of Old El Paso taco sauce
1/2 can of tomato sauce (small can)
corn chips

Brown hamburger and drain
Mix all ingredients in crock pot
Cook on medium or high until cheese melts (about 90 minutes)
Turn heat to low for serving and Voila!

I also make an easier version with my canned chili stockpile:

  • Microwave a small brick of Velveeta (Cut up in chunks) along with a can of Chili.

And here’s another easy one using my Rotel Stockpile:

  • Microwave a small brick of Velveeta (Cut up in chunks) along with a can of rotel and a packet of taco-seasoning.

- Thanks to both ThriftyFun & TwoThriftySisters!

Manic Meal-Plan Monday: Southwestern Chicken Salad

When you need a cheap & easy family meal-idea in a hurry, we’ve got you covered! Each week we’ll be featuring one of the great recipes -based on Publix’s Weekly Sales- from Laurie’s collection over at PassionatePennyPincher. Make sure to visit her site each week for a full weekly menu-plan! Today’s Manic Monday Meal is…..

Southwest Chicken Salad

This is a nice, easy summery meal for those hot days when you don’t want to actually “Cook”!


  • Bagged Salad:  Fresh Express Salad Blend BOGO $3.99
  • Cooked Chicken: Tyson Fully Cooked Chicken Breast on Sale $3 (Use 55¢/1 from 5/16/2010 SS)
  • Tortilla Chips:  Tostitos on sale $3
  • Mexican Style Corn: We used a small can of Green Giant Southwestern Corn and it was PLENTY!
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing Ken’s Steak House Dressing BOGO $2.76 (Use $1/2 PRINT)
  • 1/4 cup BBQ Sauce:  Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce Advantage Buy $1.50 (Use 75¢/1 PRINT or 50¢/1 PRINT
  • 1 Tomato: Tomatoes on the vine on sale 79¢/lb.
  • Cheese: Not on sale this week – but Kraft Catalina makes great deals at Kroger/Bi-Lo/Food Lion this week!
  • Sour cream (optional): Daisy Sour Cream on sale $2 (Use 50¢/1 from 6/6 RP or PRINT)
  • Black Beans, Black Olives, etc. – Optional

Heat chicken according to package directions. Layer tortilla chips, salad mix, chicken, tomatoes, cheese, and corn. Mix together ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, & a little taco seasoning (if you have it) for salad dressing – drizzle over salad. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

Thanks again to the Lovely Laurie over at Passionate Penny Pincher! Make sure to check out her recipes for Baked Ravioli, Mushroom Smothered Burgers, Peanut butter Banana French Toast, & Blackberry Cobbler!