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That creamy sauce.

Every home-ec student of yore learned how to make white sauce. Chefs learn how to make bechamel sauce. The rest of us typically run to the store and buy a .99 can of Cream of Blech soup, the low fat version. But good heavens! Have you read what’s in the can? I’ve been delivered from Cream of Blech soup. Please let me deliver you from being a slave to the fake soup aisle.

White Sauce/Bechamel Sauce:
While your 12 ounces of pasta is bubbling on the stove, get out a saucepan.
Heat 3 tablespoons of real butter and while you are watching your butter glisten, heat up 2 cups of milk. Any kind of milk will do. If you need Timmy to milk the cow, you might want to start that before you start the pasta.
Your butter is melty–now stir in 3 tablespoons of flour and just stir long enough to thicken. You won’t be browning this flour. Pour in your hot milk and whisk. Cook until your sauce thickens.  I’ve found that using hot milk keeps the sauce from tasting gritty or lumpy. Add salt and pepper to taste. I love to add fresh herbs as well and just as it is finishing, a clove of freshly minced garlic. I’ve also added cheeses at this stage.
Drain pasta, pour back into the pot or into a big bowl. Pour your thickened sauce over the top and stir.

The bottom line:

Here is what you spend, here is what you save:
Cream of X Soup:  Open and go anywhere from .99 to $1.50. For that price you get the ready made convenience of dumping the contents directly into the pasta pot. You still have the  expense of adding in milk and cheese. You also take into your body all of the unpronounceable ingredients from the BPA lined can. Don’t forget the teensy hassle of rinsing out the can and putting it in the recycle bucket or the guilt of knowing that you just made the landfills one can taller.

White sauce: +1 on the hassle factor. Yes, you have to wash an additional pan. But here is what you get in return: 1) Most likely, you have butter, flour and milk on hand, so you are just minutes away from a smooth creamy white sauce. No need to run to the store to buy Cream of Mushroom soup and American cheese slices. 2) You know what you are eating. 3) Three tablespoons of butter is $ .38, three tablespoons of flour is $ .08 and 2 cups of milk will run you about $ .50. Have your second grader do the math on that one.  4) You can sing, “I’ve Got The Power,” as you whip up a pasta dish from scratch.

My kids beg for this pasta.  They love it. 


Easy Pasta With Beans

Easy Pasta With Beans:

We cook up 1 lb. of our favorite “big” pasta noodles–rotini or penne.  My current fave is the Ronzoni Smart Taste brand.  It has extra fiber, but it doesn’t taste gritty or as heavy as whole wheat pasta.  You can buy it at Walmart for $1.25 or at Kroger for $1.50.

While the pasta is cooking in well-salted water, I open up a can of kidney beans, rinse and drain.

Meanwhile, I borrow a fabulous little trick from Alice Waters and mince up a couple cloves of garlic–and a couple of stems of parsley if I am lucky enough to have it.  I measure out 1/3 c. olive oil.

As soon as the pasta is cooked to our liking, I drain it and pour it into a bowl.  Meanwhile, I pour my 1/3 c. olive oil into the pasta pot and heat it up a bit–then I add the garlic and parsley to the pan.  If the kiddos can handle it, it is so nice to add a few flakes of red pepper as well.  I will cook the garlic just long enough so that it starts to get soft and mellow out, but I don’t want to brown the garlic because it will taste bitter.  A very few minutes will do.  When all that is just right, I pour it over the pasta, add the can drained beans, and grate fresh parmesan cheese all over the top. The Butter Girl in the house is delighted when I supplement with a little butter.  Season with pepper.

The cost:  $1.25 for pasta, pennies for garlic and the seasonings, a couple quarters for olive oil, .80 for a can of beans, not more than $1 for the parmesan.  Add another couple $ for your veggie of choice.  TOTAL:  $5

If you have never used freshly grated parmesan, I beg of you to try it.  It may change how you cook.


Tuna and Noodles

He’s smiling AND he’s eating tuna noodles!  (And some pretty wonderful glazed carrots.)

These noodles are pretty quick and easy.  Here’s the shopping list:

$1.60   1 pkg. of egg noodles 12 to 16 oz.  “Noodle style” pasta also works well–they are just made with same ingredients as regular pasta (wheat and water).  Egg noodles from the store also have dried egg as an ingredient.  Eggs add protein, fat, and cholesterol, and of course, flavor.

$1    1 can of your favorite “cream of ______” soup

$1.40 to $2.25 for 2 to 3 cans of tuna (I used three for 16 oz. of egg noodles).

$1 for about a half package of american cheese slices

.20 for about 1 cup of milk

If the budget allows, I love to splurge for 1 8 oz. pkg. of FRESH MUSHROOMS.  To me they are expensive–about $2.60.  I just love the flavor, taste and texture of beautifully sauteed mushrooms.  If we can afford it, I really like to add them.  However, it does save time and money to skip the mushrooms.

For a side, I cooked up a 2 lb. bag of carrots (with a little butter).  The carrots are running about $1.50 it seems.    So, the total for mushrooms and all is about $7.50.  OK, so let’s overestimate and tack on fifty cents for the butter.  It’s an $8 meal, which will feed my 8 person family and still have a generous serving of noodles leftover for lunch tomorrow.  If it is $1 a person, I count that as a BUDGET MEAL, especially since I can stretch it to lunch.

Here is the how-to:

Cook the egg noodles according to package directions.  While you are prepping the noodles, slice and saute your mushrooms.  The basic premise is to heat a large skillet, add butter and toss in about half of the package of sliced mushrooms.  Don’t crowd the pan.  (Did you watch “Julie and Julia”?) They will brown, stir them up a bit and then when they look beautiful and done remove them from the pan and start the second batch.  Yes, this takes a bit of time.  I recommend getting some mushroom advice from the good folks at COOKS ILLUSTRATED or any other great teaching cook–Julia Child, for example.  One thing I learned from Cooks Illustrated is that mushrooms really don’t “need” to be washed.  Just wipe them off.  When you wash them, it just adds water to the pan and that is what you are trying to avoid.  Sauteed mushrooms are wonderful.  Boiled mushrooms, not so much.

After your noodles are cooked to perfection, drain and return to the big pot.  Add a bit of milk and keep the heat on medium.  Add in the can of condensed cream of ______ soup.  Add in the american cheese.  Stir and add more milk until your noodles achieve the perfect creamy consistency.  Add in your tuna and mushrooms.  Stir and serve!  You may ask why I have not written out exact measurements.  Well, it’s because this recipe is based on how many slices of cheese I can manage to find in the fridge, how many noodles in the pantry, etc.  Just start adding and adjust until it tastes great and has a creamy texture.  Of course, I have also used whatever cheeses I find available at the time.

Meanwhile (if you can juggle one more thing) cook up a veggie. We made glazed carrots.  I think chopping carrots and babysitting the glaze was  a little much for me on top of sauteeing mushrooms. Next time I will stick to frozen veggies on mushroom night.  This typically 30 minute meal took longer tonight, but even so, the divine carrots were worth the wait.   Wash, peel, and slice your carrots.  I just learned that carrot peel is bitter–how could I have not figured this out after 13 years of cooking?  Thank you, Alice Waters.  Steam cook with the lid on using just enough water (don’t cover them with water!)  and some butter.  When the carrots are tender, take off the lid and let the “juice”–the steamed carrot water and butter–reduce.  This reducing trick took me quite a while because I initially used too much water.  But eventually the juices did reduce down to a lovely glaze.  Can I just say that the carrots were SO SWEET.  Carrots, butter, and salt.  Even Ed commented, “Wow, these are good!”  I only wish I had made more than 2 pounds!  The recipe I used was from Alice Waters’ cookbook-“The Art of Simple Food.”  Again, THANK YOU Alice!  Thanks to Gretchen for telling me about this book and thank you Fletcher library–you are my favorite cookbook source!  I think, though, that you could find glazed carrots in most any good teaching cookbook.  Sternly ignore, however, any recipe that calls for sugars.  You don’t need it!  If you cook the carrots right, they will be as sweet as honey!

Pasta and sauce (but no hamburger?!)

Pasta is budget food that will feed our family.

Tonight we had a simple meal of pasta, sauce, topped with cheese and served with peas.

No hamburger?  Not tonight, anyway.  We like a ronzoni pasta with 6g of protein per serving–the peas also have 5g of protein.  Add in cheese and a cup of milk and I think it gives our family enough protein, especially if we have had meat at another meal.   The budget?  How about……

$1.45 for the extra fiber pasta

$1.25 for the kroger sauce

$2 for two bags of tasty frozen peas I bought on sale

$1 for a 1/2 bag of shredded cheese

That’s less than $6!!  Even if we have hamburger, that only adds another $2.50 to $3.00.  That makes this a budget meal for our family.

I think you know how to cook this, but just in case, I will share our simple method.  I cook up the pasta in a big pot, drain when cooked, and toss into a super handy glass casserole dish.  It’s round, which means it can easily go into the microwave to quickly melt the cheese or to reheat leftovers.  I heat the sauce, pour on top and then sprinkle a generous amount of cheese.  Our favorite is monterey jack.  I put on the lid, and into the microwave it goes–just long enough to melt the cheese.

A word about pasta and sauce:

I’m not super crazy about those “added omega 3” products.  Flaxseed can go bad really fast–I think I will pass.  We do eat whole wheat pasta on occasion, but generally I have come to prefer a lovely variety by Ronzoni.  It’s white pasta with added wheat fiber and calcium.  It tastes great AND it has fiber.  This makes the grade for my family.  AND now about sauce.  I read labels.  Vigilantly.  We try to buy the one with the lowest amount of sugars (that we can afford and that the kids will eat).  The $3.00 Classico or Bertolli brands both make sauce varieties that are low in sugars.  If you can spring for it, that’s what I recommend.  Do you really want your family eating pasta, tomatoes and loads of corn syrup?  However, in tighter budget times, I just go for the Kroger variety the lowest in sugars.  Honestly, that’s the one the kids like the best even though I like those pricy ones….

Pasta and tomato sauce is one of the most basic family meals.  Thank you, Italy!

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