For less than a dollar a pound, flour is the key to any frugal chef's pantry if you know what to do with it. Cooking with flour may be a lost art, but it's not hard to learn. Even if cooking and baking isn't your thing, you can do more than you think. Let's go beyond treats and sweets, and see how you can stretch your dollars with these great dinner ideas.
Biscuits are more than just a breakfast food or a side (though you can certainly use them for that!) Make a big batch of biscuits, cut and freeze the dough, and you're set. You can flatten thawed biscuit dough and then top with pizza sauce and your favorite toppings for mini pizzas. Take your favorite chicken pot pie recipe and modify it with biscuits. Put the filling in a 9x13 pan, top with about a dozen biscuits, and bake. Yum! You can also make tuna or chicken popovers using biscuit dough. If you have a stash of frozen biscuit dough rounds in the freezer, dinners like this are quick and easy. The following biscuit recipe is easy, fast and makes a lot, so it's ideal for freezing.
(Recipe may be cut in half)
6 c. flour
3 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 c. milk
2 sticks butter or margarine
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, melt margarine in the microwave. Stir in milk. Add liquid to dry ingredients and stir until just combined. (Don't over handle the dough or it will get tough.) Place dough on a floured surface and roll or press with hands until desired thickness. Cut 1" rounds. To bake, place in a 400-degree oven for 12 minutes. To bake frozen, pre-cut dough, place in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. To bake frozen, pre-baked biscuits, place in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes, or microwave on 50% power for a minute or two.
Cream of Chicken Substitute
Do you have a casserole or similar recipe that calls for a can of cream of chicken (or mushroom, or what-have-you) as a binder? You can save money by making this simple replacement instead. I promise you won't be able to taste the difference!
3 Tbsp. margarine
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. milk (or chicken broth, or a combination)
Melt butter over medium to medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Add flour and salt, cooking and stirring with a whisk until bubbly. Stir in the liquid and cook until thickened. Because this thickens up, these ingredients will yield enough to replace one can of cream of chicken. You can add in bits of chicken or mushroom if you like, but if you're using this as part of a larger recipe, that's usually not necessary.
Indian Fry Bread
If you live in the Southwest, you'll be familiar with this delicious, fried flatbread served at fairs and found on reservations. Top it with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese (tostada style). For a treat, top it with honey and powdered sugar. Fry bread is very filling and an inexpensive way to feed a crowd. This is my go-to recipe when we have a lot of people over for a get-together.
If you're not familiar with Indian Fry Bread, don't let that scare you off. It's easy to make and hard to go wrong. Give it a try!
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 c. water
Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Heat oil in a fryer to 400 degrees, or alternately in a large, deep frying pan as hot as you can get it. (If you use a pan, save the oil after it's cooled so you can use it next time. You can make several batches before you need to change the oil.) Remove a ball of dough, and roll or flatten with your hands on a heavily floured surface (dough will be sticky). Make it at least as big around as a tostada shell, but you can make it larger if you want. This is a very forgiving recipe. It doesn't have to be perfectly round and the thickness of the dough is up to you. Whether you roll it thin (double the thickness of a tortilla) or as thick as the depth of your finger, it will still taste delicious. Feel free to experiment. Carefully place in the hot oil, cooking for a minute or two on each side until golden. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to allow it to drain.
You may want to double or even triple these ingredients depending on how many people you're feeding, how thick you like to make your bread, and whether or not you'd like leftovers. This is so quick to make it's easy to whip up more dough if you need it, so don't worry.
Yeah, you knew that was coming right? With this easy recipe, you can have hot bread in only one hour and it makes two loaves. That means you can have one loaf as a side with a pasta dish one night, and the next night cut the other loaf into slices and top with sauce and toppings for mini French bread pizzas. Bread is an inexpensive filler and assuming you have a quick, easy recipe like the one below, a great addition to your regular fare. Please note that this recipe is called a French bread recipe more for the shape and size of the loaves (no bread pans needed) and less for its taste. It has a very delicious homemade white bread flavor.
2 1/2 c. very warm water
2 Tbsp. yeast
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
5 1/2 to 6 c. flour
Combine first three ingredients in a small bowl and let sit 5 minutes (it will be bubbly). Stir lightly. Combine salt and flour in a large bowl, then add yeast mixture. Knead 5 minutes (or 2 minutes using a dough hook on your Kitchenaid). Cover the bowl with a towel, then let dough rise 15 minutes in a warm place*. Divide dough in half and roll into a rectangle. Roll up lengthwise and tuck the ends over, to create the shape of a French loaf. Repeat with other half of dough. Place loaves on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, make four diagonal slashes in the top of the loaf (optional), cover with a towel and let rise 15 minutes. Remove from oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Bake 12-15 minutes until just golden. Immediately after you remove your bread, brush with melted butter for a soft, tasty crust. For a crunchy crust, brush with egg whites just before baking.
* To prepare an oven for dough rising, turn the oven on for 2 minutes at 200 degrees, then turn off. Then you can put in the dough (in a bowl or on the cookie sheet). You only need to preheat the oven like this once, not each time the recipe calls for the dough to rise.
Once you get the flour bug, you'll have your eyes out for more recipes. There are many things you can do with flour. Muffin recipes abound, which are great for an inexpensive alternative to breakfast or a snack for the kids (be sure to double the batch and freeze some). Homemade tortillas are generally thicker than store-bought tortillas (and therefore more filling and worth the effort) and they taste much better! Don't be afraid to find ways to use that flour. Your wallet will thank you for it!
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