Cheap. Fast. Good!

From Cheap. Fast. Good!
by Alicia Ross

Hot Dog & Baked Bean Soup
Serves 4
Start to Finish: Under 30 minutes

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 regular or reduced-fat beef frankfurters
1 large can (28 ounces) baked beans seasoned with onions, bacon and brown sugar
2 cans (about 14 ounces each) vegetable broth or fat-free chicken broth, or 4 cups homemade vegetable stock or chicken stock
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
½ large green bell pepper (for ¾ cup chopped; optional)

1. Heat the oil in a 4½-quart Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Cut the franks into ¼-inch-thick slices and add them to the pot. Cook until the franks start to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add the baked beans with their juice, and the broth, chili powder, and mustard. Stir well. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium to maintain a moderate boil.

3. Stem, seed, and coarsely chop the green pepper (if using) and set it aside. Continue to boil the soup to blend the flavors, about 10 minutes. Add the green pepper (if using) to the pot in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Serve at once.

Amazing Baked Potatoes
Makes: 10 Baked Potatoes
Prep Time: 5 minutes

10 large (8 to 12 ounces each) Russet baking potatoes (or more if desired)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

2. Scrub the potato skins under cold running water and pat dry. Prick each potato twice with a fork. Bake, uncovered, directly on the oven rack (no baking pan needed) for 1 hour.

3. Using oven mitts or tongs, carefully remove the potatoes from the oven. Serve immediately or let the potatoes rest until cook. For later use, place the potatoes in a zipper-top bag or covered container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Do not freeze).

Moroccan Meatballs over Couscous
Serves: 6
Start to Finish: Under 25 minutes

3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups (10 ounces) plain couscous
36 already-cooked meatballs, fresh or frozen
2 large onions (about 2 cups chopped)
1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced, or 2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
1½ teaspoons sugar
1 fresh jalapeno pepper (or about 2 tablespoons minced)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground (dried) ginger

1. Bring 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil to a boil in a covered medium-sized saucepan. When the water boils, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the couscous. Cover the pan and let it stand until the meatballs are ready to serve. Just before serving, fluff the couscous lightly with a fork.

2. If the meatballs are frozen, run them under hot water so you can remove the packaging. Place the meatballs on a microwave-safe plate and microwave, uncovered, on high power for 2 minutes to partially defrost.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat (or use a 4½-quart soup pot). Peel and coarsely chop the onions, adding them to the skillet as you chop. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Add the garlic and sugar to the skillet.

5. Seed and finely chop the jalapeno. Add it to the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, while you rinse and chop the cilantro and parsley (if using). Add them to the skillet. Then add the cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and meatballs (fresh or partially defrosted). Cover the skillet and cook until the meatballs are heated through and are beginning to absorb the sauce, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately over heated couscous.

NOTES: Wear rubber gloves when mincing the jalapeno, or else wash your hands thoroughly afterward, and do not touch your eyes for at least 24 hours.

Bacon Bits

It’s easy to make bacon bits whenever you have a slice or tow of leftover breakfast bacon. Just place the bacon on a cutting board and use a sharp chef’s knife to chop it finely.

Pour the bits into a freezer-weight zipper-top plastic bag and write the date on the bag. Stored in the freezer, the bacon bits will be useable for up to 3 months. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To use the bacon bits, scoop out the amount you need and place them on a microwave-safe plate that’s lined with a paper towel. Cover them with a second paper towel and microwave on high power until crisp, about 10 seconds per ¼ cup. Now they are ready for use.

Parmesan English Muffins
Serves: 4
Start to Finish: Under 10 minutes

2 English muffins
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the broiler (or use a toaster oven).

2. Split the muffins in half. Place the halves on a baking sheet, split side up. Drizzle ½ teaspoon of the oil over each muffin half.

3. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon of the garlic powder and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese over each muffin half. Spread the cheese evenly to the edges of the muffin.

4. Toast the muffins until the cheese has melted and they are beginning to brown around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve at once.

Flexible Cheese Crescents
Makes: 8 rolls
Prep Time: 5 minutes

1 package (8 ounces) refrigerated crescent roll dough
16 teaspoons (5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) shredded Cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Separate the dough into triangles and place them on a clean work surface. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the cheese over each triangle. Roll each triangle up loosely, from the shortest side to the opposite point.

3. Place the rolls, point side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Serve at once.

Quesadilla Roll-Ups
Serves: 4
Start to Finish: Under 10 minutes

2 large (10- to 12-inch) flour tortillas
¼ cup taco sauce
1/3 cup shredded Mexican-blend or Cheddar cheese

1. Place the tortillas on a clean work surface. Spread 2 tablespoons of the taco sauce evenly over each tortillas, spreading it nearly to the edge. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the cheese evenly over each tortilla. Roll the tortilla up tightly.

2. Place the tortilla rolls, seam side down, on a microwave-safe plate and microwave, uncovered, on high power until they are heated through and the cheese has melted, about 1 minute.

3. Remove the tortillas from the microwave and cut each roll in half. Serve at once.

Pesto Mayonnaise
Makes: About ¼ cup
Prep Time: Under 5 minutes

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons prepared basil pesto

Spoon the mayonnaise into a small bowl. Stir in the pesto. Serve at once or refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 week.

Garlic Mayonnaise

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 cloves fresh garlic

Spoon the mayo into a small bowl. Peel the garlic and squeeze it through a garlic press directly into bowl. Stir well to blend. Serve at once or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days.

Herbed Mayonnaise

¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh herb leaves, such as parsley, cilantro, basil, thyme or tarragon

Spoon the mayo into a small bowl. Finely mince the herb leaves and stir them into the mayonnaise. Serve at once or refrigerate, covered, for up to 2 days.

Curry Mayonnaise

¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon curry powder

Spoon the mayo into a small bowl. Stir in the curry powder. Serve at once or refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 week.

Bananas Foster
Serves: 4
Start to Finish: Under 15 minutes

2 ripe bananas
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup rum, brandy, or Cognac
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

1. Peel the bananas and cut them in half, crosswise. Slice each half lengthwise, and then cut those pieces in half lengthwise again. You will have 16 pieces. Set them aside.

2. Melt the butter in a 10-inch or larger skillet over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar, rum, and cinnamon. Stir to mix well. Cook until the mixture comes to a boil, 2 to 3 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium and cooking, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2minutes. Add the bananas and cook, stirring constantly but gently so as not to break them up, until the bananas are heated through, 1½ to 2 minutes.

3. Remove the skillet from the heat. Serve the warm bananas and sauce over scoops of ice cream.

NOTES: Bananas that are ripe, but still white (not bruised) and firm are best for this dish. For a nonalcoholic sauce, substitute orange juice for the alcohol.