Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Classic Mexican Red Rice and Frijoles

You can always judge a good Mexican restaurant by the strength of their rice and beans. They shouldn't be too ostentatious; after all they're supposed to be sides, second fiddles to the big fat spicy something that you really want. The beans must be simple, creamy, and savory; the rice should be nutty and subtly sweet. At home, it's easy to open a can of refried beans and make a box of spanish rice mix, but you'll be missing out if you do. (Besides, it's Cinco de Mayo, so it's worth the extra effort!) These two also-rans are muy muy delicioso when piping hot, fresh and homemade. And don't always pigeon-hole them as sides. They make a delicious dinner, side by side with a light sprinkling of cheese, a generous salsa soak, and a dollop of sour cream. (They make a good breakfast, too. I couldn't resist the leftovers this morning...)

Classic Mexican Frijoles
Estimated Cost: $2.00
Note: After you cook the beans and before you start smashing away, you might want to take out a couple cupfulls and freeze them whole. They'll be all ready for chili, soup, stew, and even for more frijoles in a few weeks.

1 (16 ounce) bag dried pinto beans
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves, garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth, stock, or bouillion
3 cups water
Optional: 2 tablespoons bacon grease, corn oil, or butter
salt and pepper to taste
cheese for serving

Rinse beans in a large pot of water and soak overnight. Drain well. Add onion, garlic, broth, and water. Simmer uncovered for 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours. Add fat, if using. (I leave it out and I don't miss it.) When beans are softened, mash with potato masher, immersion blender, or fork until desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a small sprinkling of cheese.

Classic Mexican Red Rice
Estimated Cost: $1. 50

Note: If you don't have homemade salsa, you can use tomato sauce. Reduce the quantity to four tablespoons and add it with the broth only.

1 tablespoon olive or corn oil
1/2 white onion, minced
1 cup long grain white rice
1 and 3/4 cups chicken broth, stock or bouillion
6 tablespoons salsa, divided (USE THE FIRE ROASTED TOMATO SALSA HERE)

Heat oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and rice and saute until rice is toasted, about five minutes, stirring often. Add broth and 3 tablespoons salsa. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in remaining 3 tablespoons salsa. Let rest for five minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

I used to think that you could only make good salsa in July and August, when tomatoes were at their juicy red best. The rest of the year I would mope at Mexican restaurants and wonder how come they had great salsa all year round. I reasoned that they imported fresh tomatoes at their peak from some well-guarded farm near the equator. Well, I wanted some of that secret stash too. So I started to snoop and ask questions. Finally a nice little lady cashier at one of my favorite southern California whole-in-the-wall taco stands filled me in. "Oh, honey... they're just canned tomatoes." When I finally got over my shock, I went home, fiddled around, and made 897 gallons and I haven't stopped making it since. Then I started blabbing my recipe all around town. It's been years and I still can't keep quiet. "Did you know you could make this great salsa at the WINTER?" Not only is this salsa unbelievable on it's own, it's the base for countless Mexican dishes. I'm going to show you a few this week, so get started with this salsa recipe. Betcha can't wait for Cinco De Mayo. You can leave your salsa testimonials (and recipes!) in the comment section. STAY TUNED....TOMORROW IT'S CLASSIC RICE AND BEANS!!!
Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa
Estimated Cost: $2.00
A couple of notes: I'm making the salsa today with canned fire roasted tomatoes for a little extra smokiness. They are a bit pricey, so if smokiness isn't your thing , you can substitute plain canned diced tomatoes. The easiest way to make this is to get diced tomatoes with green chiles and you won't even have to add in a hot pepper.
1/4 medium white onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 hot chile pepper, such as serrano (you can use just a tiny bit if you don't like too much heat)
1 (14 ounce) can diced fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup cilantro, leaves and soft stems
juice of one lime
sea salt, to taste
Place the ingredients in the bowl of a blender or food process in the order listed. Process until smooth, or chunky, depending on preference. This salsa tastes best within the first two days it is made. After that, you can use it in cooked recipes for up to a week.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cinco De Mayo Shopping List

Hay Caramba, it's almost time for Cinco de Mayo. I hardly need an excuse to glut myself on Mexican food. I'm loco for the stuff. (It should really be loca since I'm a girl, but I didn't want to confundir/confuse everyone.) I'll be making Mexican favorites for the next five days, from chips and fiery tomato salsa, to grilled flank steak tacos with cilantro slaw, classic rice and beans, and pineapple-orange-raspberry sherbet for dessert. (By the way, the picture is from my recipe for Salsa Picante on Here's what you'll need from the grocery store if you want to follow along. It's going to be fantastico. No le va a costar mucho, tampoco. (It's not going to cost you too much either.) See how much you're learning over here at Prudence Pennywise? Think how much money you're saving on your Spanish lessons!
4 white onions
1 head garlic
4 hot chili peppers, either jalapenos or serranos
2 fresh tomatoes
1 big bunch cilantro
3 limes
1 large Haas avocado
a very small banana (please don't tell my sister Leslie-she'll cry)
1 lb. flank steak or skirt steak, or premarinated carne asada or meat of choice (or grill some mushrooms and go veggie)
1 (14 ounce) can fire roasted tomatoes
lots of chicken broth
1 lb. sack dried pinto beans
1 cup long grain rice
olive oil
corn tortillas
tortilla chips
6 ounces angel hair cole slaw (in a bag)
8 ounce can crushed pineapple
frozen raspberries
4 cups orange soda
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

Mini Barbeque Chicken Sandwiches

Sometimes I wish dinner was at 6 AM. I could get up extra early and be ready for it. Instead, it intrudes rather inconveniently at 6 PM, right in the middle of lessons, practice, homework, little neighbor visits, play dates, telephone calls, performances, recitals, and worst of own sense that the work day is done. Sometimes I try to ignore dinner. I act casual and go about my business, and even pretend that I'm not hungry. I try to convince the kids and famished husband that they just ate a big lunch. When they are finished laughing, they position themselves at the table, ready for battle. After I admit defeat, I roll up my sleeves and make something snappy. There's no time for 30 minute meals on nights like these.
This is a toothsome recipe for just such an occasion. It takes two minutes of effort, is healthful, satisfying, and surprisingly yummy. You can use any fully cooked chicken, but I use my leftover spice rubbed chicken again. Keep some around and when six o'clock rolls around, you'll be armed and ready. Serve ice cream cones for dessert and you'll be a hands down hero.
Mini Barbecue Chicken Sandwiches
Estimated Cost: $3.50
4 English muffins, preferrably whole grain, split and toasted
2 tablespoons mayonnaise or ranch dressing, regular or low-fat
8 paper thin red onion slices
2 cups fully cooked chicken, (USE YOUR LEFTOVER SPICE RUBBED CHICKEN)
8 tablespoons smoky barbecue sauce
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Preheat broiler. Line cookie sheet with foil. Spread toasted muffins with mayonnaise and place on prepared baking sheet. Top muffins with onion slices and chicken. Drizzle each half with a tablespoon of barbecue sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spice Rubbed Chicken Salad with Grapefruit and Strawberries

This is what happens if you make extra Spice Rubbed chicken. Lucky you. Your neighbors are probably having Dinty Moore canned stew tonight, but not you. You get something crispy, crunchy, sweet, tart, juicy, nutty, healthful and scandalously good. Lucky you.
With grapefruit and strawberries, this salad straddles the calendar between winter and spring. As always, use the fruits and vegetables that you have on hand...BUT I really love the refreshing pink grapefruit here. Cut a grapefruit in half and slice out each section like a piece of pie, leaving the white bitter pith behind. Squeeze the empty half cup into a bowl and you'll have the beginning of a sweet and tart dressing. I also threw in some leftover brown rice for a nutty contrast. Go ahead and give it a try!
Spice Rubbed Chicken Salad with Grapefruit and Strawberries
Estimated Cost: $6.00

2 pink grapefruit
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 (10 ounce) bag baby spring mix
1 cup cooked brown rice (optional)
2 cups fully cooked chicken (Use your leftover Spice Rubbed chicken)
1 cup strawberry slices
2 ounces parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons sliced almonds
4 tablespoons chopped mint, cilantro, or basil

Cut grapefruit in half. Using a small, sharp knife, remove the fruit only in small sections, leaving behind the bitter white pith. After removing the fruit, squeeze the juice from the shell into a small bowl. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil. Taste dressing with a leaf of lettuce to make sure it's sweet enought; adjust seasonings if needed. Set dressing aside. On four separate plates, layer greens, rice, chicken, grapefruit, berries, cheese, nuts and herbs, dividing evenly. Drizzle with dressing and serve. Serves 4.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Super Fast Spice Rubbed Chicken

It happens at least once a week. I'm desperate for dinner, short on time, and my inspiration seems to consistently fade right around 5:45 PM. This is why I try to plan ahead, but at least once a week, my menu hits a snag. Somehow the whole family knows when I'm floundering at dinnertime. Some little someone is usually reminding me of how hungry they are, and that they will soon need a ride to violin, or piano, or ballet, or some other wonderful something that requires a full stomach for maximum creativity. Thankfully, my husband has learned not to ask if there will be anything for dinner. Those words have been the cause of at least 372 major world battles, I'm pretty sure. If you're like me, you need this chicken recipe. It's as fast as lightening and absolutely mouthwateringly good. Basically you're going to slap on some spices and grill, pan fry or broil that chicken, searing the outside with all the pungent spices. And please make extra. Two nights from now you're going to have chicken sandwiches, or chicken tacos, or chicken pasta, or chicken salad or chicken pitas or....chicken sundaes. All right, maybe not chicken sundaes, but the point is, cook extra now. When your grocery store has boneless skinless chicken breasts on sale, (mine has them for $1.77/lb.) please buy as many are your freezer can fit. Then pray that you never have a power outtage.
Super Fast Spice Rubbed Chicken
Estimated Cost: $2.25
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken (breasts, thighs, tenderloins)
1/2 teaspoon each:
chili powder (you can use chipotle for smokiness)
paprika (you can use smoked for more smokiness)
garlic powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Ideally, you're going to add all your spices to a bowl, mix them up and sprinkle them on the chicken. I said ideally. What I really do is grab the spices out of the cupboard, sprinkle them on one side of the chicken, rub it in, flip it over and repeat. Please don't measure and use your favorite spices, of course. Now, preheat a grill (indoor or outdoor) a saute pan or the broiler. You want a good high heat. Spray your cooking surface with no stick cooking spray, or add a bit of oil. Grill or saute for about 6 minutes per side. Broil on a foil lined cookie sheet about six inches from the source for about five minutes per side. Always check the center to be sure it is no longer pink. Let rest for five minutes.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Crispy Chicken Salad with Sugared Pecans, Blue Cheese and Pears

I've created many, many recipes for various cooking contests. I've worked hard at inventing dishes that are satisfying, delicious, and beautiful. They almost feel like my offspring. So, I should love them all equally, shouldn't I? Shouldn't I? But I don't. (The recipes that is, not my offspring.) Some of them I will never make again. Don't worry-I won't post them here. I'll save my rah-rah-rah favorites for my loyal readers. I don't mean to be partial, but I especially smile upon this recipe. It wasn't a first place winner (5th place, green ribbon), but by golly, it sure is good. I love the pears, blue cheese, and spicy pecans together, but you should feel free to use any seasonal fruit with a nice strong cheese of your choosing. You might as well double the spiced pecans and dressing; I'm sure you'll be making this one again before you can say "Scandalously Good."

Crispy Chicken Salad with Sugared Pecans, Blue Cheese, and Pears
Estimated Cost for 4 servings: $9.50

1 pounds chicken tenders
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 eggs, beaten
1 cups panko
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 bags (10 oz.) mixed baby greens
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Bosc pears, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup Danish blue cheese, crumbled (2 oz.)
Dressing: recipe follows
Sugared Pecans: recipe follows
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In medium bowl, place eggs. In another bowl, place panko. Place oil in large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Dip chicken first in eggs, then in panko. Add to pan and cook until brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove chicken with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. In large bowl, toss greens, onion, pears and cheese. Add just enough Dressing to coat well. Arrange greens on 6 plates. Top with chicken tenders and Sugared Pecans. Drizzle with additional Dressing and pass remainder. Makes 6 servings.

Dressing: In blender container, place 1/4 cup chopped pecans, 1/8 cup maple syrup, 5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. Process until creamy; transfer to small bowl and set aside.
Sugared Pecans: In medium frypan over medium high heat, melt 1/4 cup sugar. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans. Stir until nuts are well coated, then transfer to plate lined with wax paper coated with cooking spray. When cool, break into pieces and set aside.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chicken Piccata with Summer Vegetable Pasta

Cooking Light magazine hosts an annual Ultimate Reader Recipe Cook Off. I was a 2005 finalist in the entree category with this light version of chicken piccata. If light cooking isn't your goal, and you want the dish to be a little more decadent, you can always increase the butter by a little. It's actually wonderful as is, in its healthful, hearty, and low fat state. Although this recipe calls for vegetables that are inexpensive and readily available in the summer, it would be equally good with other seasonal vegetables, like asparagus in the spring, or squash in the fall. Feel free to adjust. Here's a dinner that the whole family can feel good about, and there will be PLENTY left over for a yummy lunch tomorrow.

Chicken Piccata with Summer Vegetable Pasta
Estimated Cost per Serving: $10.00 for four dinners, plus lots of leftovers

Olive oil-flavored cooking spray
1 cup (1/4-inch) strips red bell pepper (about 1 medium)
3/4 cup thinly sliced onion (about 1/2 large onion)
1 1/2 cups matchstick-cut zucchini (about 1 medium)
1 1/4 cups matchstick-cut yellow squash (about 1 medium)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces uncooked whole wheat blend spaghetti
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided object2
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, trimmed object
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon butter
Preparation: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add bell pepper and onion; sauté 8 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown. Place onion mixture in a large bowl; keep warm. Return pan to medium-high heat. Recoat pan with cooking spray. Add zucchini and yellow squash; sauté 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add tomatoes and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add squash mixture to reserved onion mixture. Keep warm.
Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta and reserved cooking liquid to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and basil; toss to combine. Keep warm.
Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Place the flour in a shallow bowl. Dredge chicken in flour, turning to coat; shake off excess flour.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Add olive oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add chicken, and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm.
Add broth, juice, and capers to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add green onions, butter, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; stir until butter melts.
Arrange about 1 cup pasta mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1 chicken breast half, 1/4 cup sauce, and 1 tablespoon remaining cheese. Serve immediately.

Salsa Verde Turkey Burgers

In February of 2007, I had the suprising opportunity of appearing on the Rachael Ray show, as the winner of her first annual "Burger Bash" contest. The contest stipulated a maximum of ten ingredients-but if you don't mind using eleven, I recommend adding an egg to the turkey mixture. If not, go a little easier on the green salsa. They're firmer and easier to work with that way. You're going to love these burgers, especially if you have some green tomatoes in the garden! They are juicy, cheesy, slightly spicy and absolutely scandalously good!

Salsa Verde Turkey Burgers
Estimated Cost: $6.50 for four

1 avocado, halved and pitted
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 pound ground turkey thigh meat
1 egg (optional)
1/2 cup salsa verde
4 slices pepper Jack cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 kaiser rolls, split
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1. Scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl. Add the mayonnaise and garlic and mash with a fork until well combined but chunky. Season with salt and set aside.2. In a medium bowl, combine the ground turkey, (egg, if using) and salsa. Divide the mixture to form 4 patties.3. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook the patties for 4 minutes on one side. Flip and top each with a slice of cheese; cover and cook for 4 minutes more.4. Spread the avocado aioli on
2 small green or red tomatoes, sliced
the split side of each roll bottom and cover with 1/4 cup cilantro. Top with a patty and 2 tomato slices; set the roll tops into place.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Molasses Walnut Mini Loaves

This morning, my two little charges requested homemade bread for dinner. I'm not sure if they want homemade bread because they want to eat it, or if they simply just want to play around with the dough. I'm happy to indulge either activity. Mostly, I'm hopeful that they will have memories of kneading and stretching in the kitchen with their mother and that will help them forget the times when I am a frazzled housefrau. Bread baking doesn't require an immense amount of labor, but you do have to be around the house at the right moments.
Incidentally, this is isn't any old homemade bread. It's rich with molasses, studded with walnuts, and hearty with oats and whole wheat. If you are baking a special type of bread, like this one, you will be paying about a fourth of what you'd pay at the bakery. Today I'm baking the loaves in 6 disposable miniature loaf pans. Despite their "disposable" convenience, I reuse them over and over again. Making mini loaves means that we can share our healthful bread with the neighbors. If I've timed it right, we'll have hot homemade bread to eat with out supper tonight.

Molasses Walnut Whole Wheat Mini Loaves
Estimated Cost per 6 mini loaves: $2.75
1 cup boiling water
1 cup old fashioned oats
1 tablespoon butter
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup molasses
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active rise yeast
1/2 cup very warm water
2 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 cup chopped walnuts
a bit of butter and oats for the tops of the loaves

In a large bowl, combine water, oats, butter, salt, and molasses. Stir and set aside until warm, about 30 minutes. In a separate small bowl, proof yeast with water. (Basically, mix the two together and make sure the yeast has risen significantly after ten minutes. You can throw in a pinch of sugar for good measure.) Add yeast mixture, and flour a little at a time to molasses mixture. A free stand mixer with a dough hook is handy here, but not necessary. If you're making the bread by hand, stir in as much flour as you can, then remove the dough to a board and knead in the additional flour to form a smooth dough. When the dough is still slightly sticky, add in the walnuts. (I usually separate the dough at this point into two separate batches, since my children aren't nuts about nuts and I am. Oh, yes I am.)
Place the dough in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 and 1/2 hours. Punch down dough, transfer to 6 lightly greased miniature loaf pans. (You can use 2 standard sized loaf pans; bake for one hour.) Let rise, covered for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and remove from pans. Brush the loaves with butter and sprinkle with a bit of oats. This bread is at it's best warm with butter and honey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nantucket Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

If you've ever visited the "Little Grey Lady of the Sea," otherwise know as the island of Nantucket, then you know that it is famous for its cranberries. I first went to Nantucket on my honeymoon, and even though I was hopelessly devoted to my husband, I was forced to divide my affections between him and the cranberries. Sadly, I won't be jetting off to the island anytime in the near future, but I can (and often do) replicate the little cranberry white chocolate cookies that we purchased repeatedly at a little beachside bakery. I paid more for one cookie then you'll pay for this whole batch! Here's a little taste of Nantucket for the next generation.

Nantucket Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Estimated Cost for Batch: $2.30
1/2 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 and 1/2 cups flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 cup natural pistachios, shelled and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla, and orange zest. Stir in salt and soda. Add flour and then oats. Mix in white chocolate, cranberries, and pistachios if desired. Roll into generous 1 inch balls and bake for 8-10 minutes. Makes about 26 cookies.

Cinnamon Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies

I hope you haven't forgotten all about your old pal butterscotch. When is the last time you had a "scotchie" or pudding or even a hard little butterscotch candy? Just as I thought. Poor butterscotch. He gets overlooked because of show-offs like pushy caramel and diva chocolate. Let's show butterscotch that we still love him, even though it's been ages since we've written or called. It's time to rediscover a wholesome old favorite in a classic (and easy on the budget oatmeal cookie with a new little cinnamon twist. And next time butterscotch chips are on sale, buy a few bags and keep them around.
Cinnamon Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies
Estimated Cost per Batch: $2.00

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 and 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butters and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add cinnamon, powder, soda, and salt, stirring well. Add flour and then oatmeal, a little at a time. Stir in butterscotch chips. Roll cookies into generous 1 inch balls. Roll in cinnamon sugar and bake on cookie sheets for 8-10 minutes, or until puffy and light golden brown. Makes about 24 cookies.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Black Pepper-Parmesan Meatballs

Remember the band Meatball? You do? Well, forget all about them and get a load of these.
Meatballs are enjoying a newfound popularity on the upscale dining scene. Finally this much-loved homey food is getting its due respect. Fortunately, you don't have to pay a hefty sum to enjoy a heaping plateful tonight. Meatballs are inexpensive ( a great way to strech meat servings) and easy to make at home. Make up a giant batch and freeze whatever you don't need immediately. I prefer to freeze them raw and cook them later; thus preserving their tender texture and meaty flavor. Keep the flavoring on the basic side and you will be able to use the meatballs in a variety of ways. Think big here! Meatballs are not only sensational in spaghetti. They make a perfect party appetizer, and can be used in soups, sandwiches, stews, or tucked into tacos or pitas, or over rice, polenta, grits, barley, couscous or even speared on a skewer. Believe me, if you have some in the freezer, you'll find new and amazing uses for them. If you have any little ones around, make sure they help you roll the meatballs and you'll be cranking out meatballs in no time.

Black Pepper Parmesan Meatballs
Estimated Cost Per Batch: $4.00
1 lb. lean ground meat (beef, turkey, veal, chicken, pork-whatever you like)
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/2-3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or parsley
1 tablespoon cooking oil

Gently combine mixture with your hands. Add more breadcrumbs as needed to keep meatballs moist but not overly sticky. Shape into 1 inch balls. (If you plan to freeze any meatballs, place them on a cookie sheet and freeze for one hour. Slide them into a bag and freeze for up to 2 months.) Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add meatballs and brown well on all sides. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook until meatballs are no longer pink in center.

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Fudge Brownies

There are two schools of thought when it comes to brownies. Some like them cakey, others prefer fudgy. I'm a fence sitter. Some modern brownies can be so dense that they resemble a decadent candy more than a baked good. Some old fashioned ones are so cakey that they lack the intense chocolate flavor and texture that serious brownie lovers demand. I've twisted and toyed with brownie recipes for over a decade until I finally had my Aha! moment. These brownies are cakelike with a tender crumb (thanks to the buttemilk) but have pockets of dense chocolate (thanks to the chocolate chips). Make them tonight and you'll never be tempted to make one of those pricey, vapid boxed mixes again!

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Brownies
Estimated Cost Per Large Batch: $5.75
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 and 1/2 cups flour, plus 1/4 cup, divided
generous pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups chocolate chips, preferably milk chocolate
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (optional)
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish. In a large microwaveable bowl, place chocolate and butter. Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Stir to combine. Repeat process until chocolate and butter are melted and smoothed, being careful not to scorch chocolate. Stir in sugar and mix well. Add eggs, buttemilk, and vanilla and mix until well combined. Stir in 1 and 1/2 cups flour and salt. In a separate small bowl, combine chocolate chips and remaining 1/4 cup flour. Pour chocolate chips (and any flour from bowl) into brownie mixture. Mix until just combined. Pour brownie batter into prepared baking dish. (If using nuts, sprinkle them over the top.) Bake brownies for 28-33 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center has a few fudgy crumbs. Let cool for at least ten minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve. Want another reason to make these brownies tonight? Check out Little Cowboy with his spoon.