The Frugal Foodie

Have I mentioned my love of food and cooking? My affinity for making food is relatively new. I actually used to dread it. My parents made my sister and me make dinner for the family once a week when we were in high school, and I thought it was the worst chore ever. I didn't like being responsible for making sure we had all the ingredients, finding the recipe, or somehow magically knowing when everything was fully cooked. Moving out of my parents' house prompted me to take a greater interest in cooking. I had already begun focusing on eating healthier food, which is easier to control when you're the one cooking your own food.

Cooking really became fun when I realized I could experiment with basic recipes, adding my own flair, swapping out ingredients, combining recipes, and the like. Once I felt comfortable mixing up basic cooking recipes, I tried my hand at baking. Of course, I had made boxed brownies and muffins before, but I wanted to be able to make healthier versions. It took a little more work to feel comfortable playing around with these recipes, since the ingredients have to work together not only to create the right flavors, but also to have the right chemical reactions and come out right.

I would not by any means consider myself an accomplished chef or anything, but I do feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen and enjoy challenging myself with new recipes regularly. I have an ever-growing spreadsheet of recipes to try, and I feel really good when I can take a recipe, tweak it based on what ingredients I have (strawberries instead of blueberries), what foods I like and don't like (sorry, no bacon for this girl), healthier alternatives (applesauce instead of brown sugar), and what other combinations I think might taste good (lemon and blueberry, anyone?).

Here are some of my favorite recipes, along with my notes/adaptations:

General Tso's Chicken-- I like to skip the cornstarch and just cook the chicken in the sauce, then add the veggies, so everything gets nice and coated in the spicy goodness.

Red Pepper Chicken Alfredo, which I combine with the alfredo recipe found here, substituting whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour. I use the milk and cheese portion of the second recipe, but the red pepper, garlic, onion, and pasta from the first.

Wild Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash. I first made this for Thanksgiving this year. Well, to be fair, I made it on Thanksgiving, but I didn't make it for Thanksgiving. I made it for myself. And it was amazing. I found the original quantity of herbs to be too much for me, but I made it again with a smaller amount, and loved it!

Blueberry Almond Overnight Oatmeal. This was great just following the directions, but I also liked doing an apple cinnamon version and a peanut butter banana version. I treat it like a solid overnight oatmeal base recipe that I can mix toppings into. I typically find myself adding more steel cut oats in, leaving me with oatmeal that's solid enough to cut into bars, which can then be eaten as such or heated with water to make a more traditional oatmeal consistency.

What are some of your favorite recipes? How do you put your own special twist on them?