In the spirit of Sandra “Semi-Homemade” Lee, this “Budget Eats” entry focuses on taking things you can easily find in a grocery store (dry mixes, spice packs, sauces, and even pre-cooked meat products like chicken sausage) and turning them into something totally dynamite. Can you do it? Can it be done on a budget? Heck yes.
I’ve constructed this post with 3 categories: Mixes & doughs, meat products, and sauces. Each has its own tips and ideas for how to use those products in a pinch for dinners, desserts, snacks & more. Please (seriously!) feel free to leave comments with other ideas — this is a place to share what we’ve all learned, especially the shortcuts that keep us sane on a hungry weeknight!
MIXES & DOUGHS:
- Take a standard mix — Bisquick, Jiffy mixes, etc — and play around with their use. Bisquick, in a pinch, is a killer ingredient in a single-breaded or double-breaded chicken dinner. And Jiffy mix? Jiffy is a whole nother ballgame of multipurpose cooking. My favorite use for Jiffy mix is Savory Corn Muffins — Prepare Jiffy mix as noted on box; add garlic powder, frozen corn kernels (up to 3/4 cup), chopped fresh chives & freshly grated black pepper; bake as usual and serve with chili, tacos or other Tex-Mex cuisine. See the above picture, or this one:
- Biscuit dough — like Pillsbury Grands — is incredibly versatile. For example, you can make Easy-Peasy Cinnamon Donuts with a tube of Grands biscuits: Separate and lay biscuits out on a baking sheet; Using a shot glass or medicine cup, cut circles out of the center of each biscuit; either bake as directed or deep-fry in vegetable oil until browned; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. NOM NOM! Here’s a great recipe (with actual measurements) from Make and Takes.
- Pizza dough — either Pillsbury or a store brand — can be used for its obvious purpose (pizza, kiddies), or for calzones, strombolis, or even mini-pizzas. Or, try these Holiday Hors d’Oeuvres — Cut the pizza dough into 1″ X 1″ squares; top with pesto, chopped roasted red peppers, and feta cheese crumbles; bake as directed for pizza dough. (These also make a great light supper.)
- Got Spice Cake Mix and a jar of pumpkin? (Of course you do, lovely GKG readers — you wouldn’t go anywhere without your trusty can of pumpkin!) Combine the two, bake according to the cake mix package’s directions, and poof. Instant Pumpkin Cupcakes. Top with store-bought cream cheese frosting with a splash of maple syrup mixed in, and WOWZA.
Image sourced from baltimorecrab.com. This may or may not currently be in my freezer …
- Those bags of frozen Tilapia filets? Seriously your best friend. Use them to create Single Serving Foil Packs — stuff a packet of tinfoil with Tilapia, a splash of cooking liquid (broth, oil, butter or white wine), sliced veggies & spices to your liking; bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until fish and veggies are cooked through. Win! This method also works for chicken and beef equally well.
- Got frozen chicken nuggets? How about turning them into Chicken Parm Bites? Top individual nuggets with tomato sauce and dried basil, baking according to package directions; then, add shredded mozzarella cheese on each nugget and return to the oven for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and brown. Mmm!
Image sourced from seriouseats.com. So much tasty!
- Pre-cooked chicken sausage is incredibly versatile. Use brands like Al Fresco to whip up a Healthy Pita Pizza: Top individual Greek-style pitas with pesto or tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, sliced chicken sausage, and shredded kale (thawed and formerly frozen is great!); Broil for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and sausage is heated through. Mmm!
The players in Operation: Sauce Doctoring — fresh or dried herbs work well here.
- Got jarred tomato sauce? Doctor up that boring blend with a few extras that you may have hiding in your pantry or spice cabinet: dried basil, dried oregano, dried parsley and a bay leaf. Add sauteed chopped mushrooms and peppers to create an instant Cacciatore sauce for chicken and spaghetti. Or, stir a little store-bought pesto into a jarred tomato sauce. Serious good eats. (I even used this method on my chicken parm! Shhh. Don’t tell the aunts and grandparents! 🙂
- I’m counting mayonnaise as a “sauce” here, because it’s one of the most versatile condiments on the planet. Add some Sriracha for Spicy Mayo; stir in some pesto for a dee-licious Pesto Mayo on your panini; or crushed cloves of garlic (use a sprinkle of salt and a fork to turn garlic into a mushy, incredible paste) and a drizzle of olive oil to DIY your own aioli. Mmmskies.
- If we count cake frosting as a “sauce,” too, then your possibilities are pretty much endless. As I mentioned above, add a drizzle of maple syrup (and a dash or two of cinnamon) to frost fall desserts. Or, try stirring mashed strawberries or raspberries into a whipped vanilla frosting for a light, fruity flavor to top your cakes and cupcakes. I’m also experimenting with adding — you guessed it, lovelies — some jarred pumpkin. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.
Here’s to getting creative! Using some pre-made, store-bought ingredients can save you time, energy and money. Wallet-friendly and fun? Sign me up! What are your favorite ways to add to what you’ve already found at the grocery store?