A Peaceful Pantry Christmas!

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) – so now, I’ll turn it over to you Kim!

Jamie, Kasey and Kelly have been talking a lot about a Peaceful, Purposeful Christmas.  If money is tight this year, or you’re working extra hours just to make that extra money to cover Christmas, there is nothing wrong with using cookie mix to ease your burden a little bit.  Nobody will judge you; heck, they won’t know if you don’t tell them–and you don’t have to!
I had an office party a couple of weeks ago, and that’s what I did.  I even told, but then again, a lot of folks in my office are couponers and we talk about our bargains around the water cooler.  Way better than trashy “celebrity” gossip!
Last fall, a friend and I were shopping at Opry Mills in Nashville and I noticed several shops had these cute little pretzel rods coated in chocolate.  The chocolate on some of them was molded into shapes; others were decorated with sprinkles and such.  They wanted $2 for one pretzel rod!!  I thought, “I can do that, and a lot cheaper, too!”  I bought a kit for under $10 that had the molds and some small bags of chocolate discs for melting.  (You can get these and extra discs at most superstores such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target, as well as craft/hobby stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels.)  I also bought some assorted sprinkles and stuff, plus the pretzel rods.  All totalled, I spent maybe $20 and made a bunch of cute little treats for a lot of people.  I put mine in little treat bags I got at the Dollar Store.
They’re super easy–just melt the chocolate in a rectangular dish in the microwave, put your sprinkles or whatever in another dish, roll the top half of the pretzel in chocolate, then roll in sprinkles, and place on waxed paper to set.  The molds come with instructions.  (I just found this: They have 30 decorated rods for $26.95 + 6.95 shipping.  My $20 bought twice that, and I still have the molds to re-use again and again.)

Thanks to Hershey’s for  these next two recipes!  The first one is one of my all-time  favorites–my Dad got some of these for Christmas last year.  He loves  all things Reese’s, so he’ll probably get both of these this  year….shhhhh, don’t tell him!

Peanut Butter Blossoms:

  • 48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup REESE’S Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Granulated sugar
Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. About 4 dozen cookies.  **tip: If you really want cheap and easy, use some of that Betty Crocker Peanut Butter Cookie mix if you bought it on sale, make according to package directions, and then follow the directions from “Shape dough…”  You can do the same with:

Reese’s Peanut Butter Temptations:

About 40 (13-oz. pkg.) REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups Miniatures or 12 (0.8 oz. each) REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups, quartered
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup REESE’S Creamy Peanut Butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from candies. Line mini muffin cups (1-3/4 inches in diameter) with paper liners.  Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, peanut butter, egg and vanilla until light and fluffy in large bowl. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place one in each prepared muffin cup. Do not flatten.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes until puffed and lightly browned; remove from oven. Immediately press peanut butter cup or piece onto each cookie. Cool completely in muffin pan. About 3-1/2 dozen cookies.  **Another tip: if you’re watching your calories or cooking for a diabetic, I have made peanut butter cookies using Splenda for both the white and brown sugar.  The cookies are a tiny bit more crumbly but other than that, no one could tell a difference.
So you can make either (or both!) of those recipes and use up either cheap peanut butter or cheap cookie mix–how’s that for double duty??
My favorite fudge recipe is here .  It also makes a great gift.  Last year, several of us in the office gave out homemade treats as gifts.
I searched “Gifts in a Jar Recipes” on Swagbucks and found this site. I didn’t have a lot of time to play around there, but it looks as if they have some great things.  It’s all free but we are legally prohibited from reprinting it – so you must go there and get it yourself.  It’s not just gifts in a jar, either; there are all kinds of free craft projects and such there, too.
Here’s one last treat that uses cereal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips, all of which have been on sale recently.  It’s from the folks at Chex, and it’s really, really good.  Make a double batch–one to keep and one to share!

Chex Muddy Buddies (AKA Puppy Chow):

  • 9 cups Rice Chex®, Corn Chex® or Chocolate Chex® cereal (or combination)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.

In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.
Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Manic Mealplan Monday: Pecan Chocolate Chip Pie (YUM!)

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 Weekly Sales- from Laurie’s collection over at PassionatePennyPincher. Today’s Manic Monday Deal is:

Pecan Chocolate Chip Pie

(AKA: Derb*y Pie. See, we can’t actually say “Der*y Pie, because the people who make it have a copyright on that name and the same family still makes them to this day! Seriously, you can watch more about them HERE)

My brother-in-law makes this Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie every Thanksgiving, and if it were up to me I’d bypass the turkey and dressing completely, and gobble down this fabulous pie first (in fact I often do!) This recipe is from Patti’s Restaurant in Western Kentucky (also home to the famous Boo-Boo Pie, and the largest Pork Chops you’ve ever seen), so you know it’s gotta be good! Here’s the recipe . .


* 1 cup sugar – $.98 at Bi-Lo (See HERE) or use $0.40/1 Domino Sugar 11/14 RP
* 1/2 cup all purpose flour Gold Medal Flour – On Sale Publix $1.49
* 1/2 cup melted butter (it’s not as good with margarine) -Land O Lakes Sweet Cream Butter$2.50, use $0.50/1 PRINT or from 10/24 SS
* 2 eggs, slightly beaten
* 6 oz. package chocolate chips (I’m betting you stockpiled those last week :)
* 1 cup chopped pecans (If you find a deal on them I’d love to hear about it!)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla – Use $0.25/1 McCormick 11/7 RP
* 9 inch unbaked pie shell Pillsbury Pie Crusts On Sale $2- Use $0.50/2 PRINT


1. Preheat oven to 325.
2. Mix together sugar and flour. Add melted butter and blend well.
3. Stir in eggs, chocolate chips, nuts and vanilla.
4. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake in oven for one hour or until golden brown.
5. Pie will wiggle a little when done; but will continue to set as it cools. Serves 8.

Enjoy! (I promise you’ll love this one!)

Looking for more bargain menu ideas? Check out Passionate Penny Pincher’s weekly meal deals, including Slow Cooker Brown Sugar Ham, Stuffed Pasta Shells, and Homemade Chex Mix.

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 www.bettycrocker.com 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….