Dollar Store Challenge: Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins Recipe

When I was doing the Dollar Store Challenge last week, I had the chance to get a good look at the non-junk-food ingredients that the store had to offer. I was inspired to try to make another meal from the ingredients, this time a to-go, prep-ahead breakfast or lunch. I was inspired by some of the pancake mix muffins I’d seen on the Internet, but of course I had to make some serious adaptations to adjust for what’s available at the Dollar Store. As a bonus, it’s also vegetarian (although not vegan), and can be made nut-free.

What I bought was:

1 x Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix @ $2.50/ea
1 x Fruitropic Peach Halves 398mL @ $1.00/ea
1 x Fruitropic Coconut Milk 398mL @ $1.25/ea
1 x Unsweetened Apple Snack Fruit Combo Applesauce 452g @ $1.25/ea

Subtotal: $6.00 + tax
Total with tax: $6.00

(None of these food items were taxable.)

When budgeting for this meal, keep in mind that there will be leftover pancake mix, coconut milk, and applesauce that can be used in additional recipes.

After having made the muffins, next time I would probably add a spices for inexpensive added flavour and some chopped walnuts for crunch and weight. I didn’t see either of these ingredients at my local Dollar Store, so it wouldn’t strictly conform to the challenge, but you could easily stay under the $10-to-serve-four-people mandate by buying small quantities of both at the grocery store or Bulk Barn. Of course, if you’re allergic to nuts or you want to send the muffins to a nut-free environment like an elementary school, just skip them!

Here’s the recipe:


I didn’t use spices in this batch, so if you follow the recipe, the colour of your final product will be slightly darker.

Pancake Mix & Peach Muffins
Makes 14-16 muffins

Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
In a large mixing bowl, combine:
2 1/2 cups pancake mix
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 cup canned coconut milk*
113g single-serve cup of applesauce
Open a:
398mL can of peach halves**
Drain the syrup from the peaches into a measuring cup. Top up the syrup with water until the combined liquid measures 1 cup. Add the liquid to the mixing bowl. Mix until batter is smooth.

Chop the peaches roughly and fold them into the batter. Also fold in:
2/3 cup chopped walnuts***

Grease a muffin pan or spray with baking spray. Ladle batter into cups about 2/3 full.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into one of the muffins comes out clean. Turn them out of the pan immediately and place them right-side-up to cool on a wire rack. Muffins may be eaten right away or cooled completely and then stored in a sealed container at room temperature.

*Canned coconut milk tends to separate, so stir it well before measuring.
**Other types of canned fruit or fruit mixes may be substituted, so long as they are in a light syrup.
***Walnuts are optional.

Dollar Store Challenge: Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

One of the culinary challenges I’ve heard people talking about is to make a meal out of ingredients bought entirely from somewhere that doesn’t specialize in food. Gas stations, convenience stores, discount stores, that kind of thing. Here is the rules that I’ve seen:

1) Ingredients must all come from a single location. Exceptions can be made for water, small amounts of salt, pepper, oil, and commonly-available, inexpensive dried spices.
2) Ingredients purchased must come in under a certain budget (I chose $10.00 before tax).
3) The meal should feed at least four adults.
4) There must be some actual cooking involved. You may combine ingredients from instant meals or canned goods, but they can’t be served as-is with no changes.
5) The meal should be as healthy as possible; it should not be able to be mistaken for a dessert.

There is a lot of food available at the local Dollarama, but most of it is junk food. Chips, candy, chocolate, soft drinks, that kind of thing. There is a small section near the back of regular food, but nothing is perishable. I wanted to include some fruit and/or veggies in the meal, and preferably a bit of meat if possible, so that narrowed my choices even further. I was tempted to make spaghetti with tomato sauce (there was both pre-made spaghetti sauce and canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and Italian spice mix), or canned soup/stew with Bisquick dumplings, or pancakes with canned fruit (there was pancake mix, coconut milk to replace cow’s milk, canola oil and applesauce to replace the eggs, and a couple of kinds of canned fruit as the topping). However, I finally decided on a tuna noodle casserole.

My ingredients were:

2 x Pacific Pride Flaked Light Tuna in Water 130g @ $1.00/ea
1 x Fruitropic Coconut Milk 398mL @ $1.25/ea
2 x Aylmer Vacuum-Packed Whole-Kernel Corn 341mL @ $1.00/ea
2 x Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup 284mL @ $1.00/ea
1 x Buongusto Macaroni 900g @ $1.00/ea
1 x Old Dutch Original Potato Chips 40g @ $0.50/ea

Subtotal: $8.75 + tax
Total with tax: $8.82

(Only the chips were taxable.)

I was very happy with the end result, which I based on the Campbell’s® Tuna Noodle Casserole from Allrecipes.com. Of course, I had to make changes for the available ingredients, but I had to start somewhere. For example, I replaced milk with coconut milk, frozen peas with canned corn, egg noodles with macaroni, and the dry bread crumb and butter topping with plain crushed potato chips. Even so, it worked really well! I think that I will probably make this recipe again, but not in challenge-mode, so that I can use frozen corn instead of canned since I greatly prefer the taste of frozen.

As a bonus, it’s a great meal for camping (cooked in a pot instead of baked), cottaging, or when trying to clean out the pantry, since all of the ingredients are non-perishable. And at $2.21 a head (assuming it serves the minimum four people), it’s pretty darned affordable. Out of challenge mode, with a bit of bargain shopping at the supermarket, it could be made even cheaper. Around here, I know that cans of cream of mushroom soup often go on sale for $0.50 each, coconut milk is about $0.98, a big bag of frozen corn often costs about $2.00, and dried noodles sometimes go on sale for less than $1.00 a bag. This is all assuming you don’t buy the big name-brand version stuff, of course.

So here’s the recipe:

Dollar Store Tuna Noodle Casserole
Serves 4-6 adults

Fill a medium-sized pot three-quarters of the way with water. Add:
a pinch of salt
Bring the water to the boil on the stove on high heat. Add:
2 1/4 cups dried macaroni
Turn the burner down to medium-high. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
In a casserole dish that holds at least 2 quarts (1.9L), add:
2 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup canned coconut milk*
2 x 341mL cans of whole-kernel corn, drained and rinsed OR 2 cups frozen corn
2 x 130g cans of tuna packed in water, drained and broken up with a fork
Mix well. Add the drained pasta to the sauce mixture, stirring well to evenly distribute the ingredients. Put casserole into the oven uncovered. Bake for 30 minutes or until warmed through**.
Remove casserole from the oven. Open and crush in the bag:
1 40g bag of plain potato chips
Stir the casserole. Sprinkle the crushed chips onto the top of the casserole and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.

*Canned coconut milk tends to separate, so stir it well before measuring.
**If you are cooking this on the stove, heat mixture gently in a pot until it is warmed through and sauce is slightly thickened. Skip the next baking step, and instead garnish each individual serving with a sprinkling of crushed potato chips.

Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread Recipe

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while, but I like to accompany my recipes with a picture, and my family keeps cutting into the loaves before I get a chance to take a photograph! This recipe is for a fluffy, high-rising loaf that stands up well on its own, but really shines when it is speckled generously with fresh or dried herbs. As a bonus, this bread is also dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian, and can be made vegan with the proper sourcing of ingredients. Because of the herbs, it is a very savoury bread, and pairs well with eggs and meats — especially as toast with dipping eggs, and as sandwich bread for leftover roast or cold cuts.


A 2lb loaf made with rosemary.

Herb Bread
Yields one loaf

A note about loaf size:
Quantities for a 1.5lb loaf are in bold, quantities for a 2lb loaf are in bold purple. However, this loaf is very light and fluffy — so it expands a lot. Use the settings for a 1.5lb loaf if your machine goes up to 2lbs; only make a 2lb loaf if your machine has the capacity to make a loaf that is 3lbs or greater.

A note about bread machines:
Every bread machine comes with an instruction booklet (most of which are also generally available online) that will specify the order that ingredients should be added. Mine says that liquids should be added first, then flour, then yeast. When preparing this recipe, the instructions for your specific bread machine should take first priority, so if your manual says to add the ingredients in a different order, do so.

Into the bread machine pan, pour:
1 1/4 cups (1 1/2 cups +3 Tbsp) water
2 Tbsp (2 Tbsp) olive oil
Over the liquids, sprinkle:
3 cups (4 cups) all-purpose flour*
Ensure that the flour covers the liquids entirely.
Into opposite corners of the pan, add:
1 Tbsp (1.5 Tbsp) sugar
1 1/2 tsp (2 tsp) salt
Create a well in the flour at the center of the bread pan, being sure not to go all the way down to the liquid. Into the well, add:
2 tsp (2 tsp) active dry yeast
Over the entire contents of the pan, sprinkle:
2 Tbsp (2 1/2 Tbsp) dried OR 4 Tbsp (5 Tbsp) chopped fresh herb of choice**

Set the bread machine to the basic/normal/white setting, with a light or medium crust to your preference. Press start. Running this cycle should take about four hours.

Remove the bread at the end of the baking cycle. Turn it out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool, making sure that the kneading paddle(s) are removed from the bread. Serve immediately (being careful to cut gently when it is warm), or when cool. Do not wrap the loaf or put it into a container until it is entirely cool, or it will become mushy.

* For a healthier loaf, substitute half of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour. A whole wheat loaf will not rise as high, however.
**Suggestions: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, chives, thyme, or sage.

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup Recipe

Last night I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to make for dinner, and I really didn’t want to head out of the house again to buy ingredients, especially dragging the kids with me. It’s not really that big of a deal to get groceries with my kids, but it inevitably takes twice as long — or more — than shopping on my own. I looked at a couple of pancake recipes in my cookbooks, but nothing was exactly what I was craving. I wanted to make some kind of spiced pancake that paired well with chopped apples, which were the only fruit I had left in the fridge. Apples are a staple around here, since they winter well and can last months if kept properly. For those reasons, they’re also relatively inexpensive all year long. (Berries, which I generally prefer, get ridiculously pricey in the winter since they all have to be imported, and they begin to spoil after only a few days.) I started by combining about four different recipes; I made so many changes after a while that I knew if I didn’t write it all down, I’d never be able to duplicate my results.

In the end, I’m extremely happy with what I came up with: Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup. We had it for dinner, but it would make an equally tasty breakfast or even a dessert. The pancakes are also great on their own and can be served with the more traditional butter/margarine with syrup (preferably maple), honey, or jam, or fruit butter (apple butter would be divine).

Here’s the recipe:

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup
Yields 10 to 12 five-inch-diameter pancakes (approx.)*

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
In another large bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp 2% cow’s milk OR almond milk OR soy milk**
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp canola*** oil
1 egg, beaten

Whisk together wet ingredients until they become a smooth mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Beat mixture with an electric or hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to remove lumps.

Cooking the spiced pancakes uses the same technique as my buckwheat pancakes. Lightly coat the cooking surface of a heavy, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on the burner, turn the heat on to just a little bit higher than medium heat, and immediately pour a single ladle-full of batter directly into the center of the pan. (Never preheat an empty nonstick pan.) The batter will spread out without help to its optimal thickness. Watch the cooking pancake carefully for bubbles to appear on its surface. When the bubbles pop and leave little craters behind that don’t immediately refill in with batter, it’s time to flip the pancake. Have patience when cooking pancakes; better that they be cooked on a low temperature and finish slowly than to have them burn. Once the batter has started to solidify, you can peek underneath the pancake to check its colour. Cook each side until it is golden brown.

While the pancakes are cooking, core and roughly chop:
4-5 medium-sized eating apples****
Place the apples in a bowl to serve alongside your pancakes, if they are to be topped at the table. Beside the apples, place:
caramel syrup*****
whipped cream (optional)******
finely chopped walnuts

When the pancakes are cooked, serve immediately or stack on a warm plate which is covered by another warm plate when not being dished onto. To keep the pancakes warm, it helps to cover the top plate and edges with a tea towel or two.

My preferred way of plating the pancakes is to place one or two on a plate, mound with chopped apples, (optionally) dollop on a bit of whipped cream, and drizzle with caramel syrup. Lightly sprinkle each dish with chopped walnuts for added crunch and flavour.

Enjoy!

*This recipe can easily be doubled (or more) to serve a larger crowd. My family of four generally eats about a batch and a half of pancakes, and the leftovers go in the fridge to be reheated the next day.
**I used almond milk.
***Canola oil may be replaced by another light oil such as sunflower or vegetable oil.
****My favourites are Ambrosia and Honeycrisp, but whichever you like is fine. Use your best judgement about the size of the apples and how much the people you’re serving are likely to eat; my family likes their pancakes loaded with fruit, as pictured, but yours may differ. Since the apples are a topping and not a baking ingredient, having an exact quantity is not as essential.
*****Store-bought is fine, but you can also make your own. I got my recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 849, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), but you could just as easily use the Caramel Syrup Recipe from Martha Stewart, as they are virtually identical. They’re both essentially cooked sugar and water. Optionally, you can add a splash of vanilla for additional flavour. I’d recommend preparing this in advance, since it takes a while to cool down enough to eat. Also, I burned my first batch because I was trying to do too many things at once and forgot about it for about twenty seconds. That was all it took to make it completely inedible. The second batch was supervised nonstop and turned out well. Please learn from my mistakes!
******Real whipped cream, canned whipped cream, and non-dairy whipped cream substitutes are all grand.

Pear & Honey Jam Recipe

As I wrote about before, I had a lot of cooking pears that needed to be used up recently. All of this excess meant that I had a chance to experiment with making a jam of my own devising. Pears are a naturally acidic fruit, which makes them perfect for hot-water-bath canning with a bit of sugar. It took me a couple of tries to get this recipe right, since since I didn’t want to use like ten cups of sugar (with would generally produce and easily firm set), since I wanted to taste the fruit and the spices more than the sweetness. In the end, I had something that I am quite proud of. Next year, when pears come into season, I think that I will make this the main pear jam (although I did really like the Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app). Maybe next year I’ll have a yield of more than four pears off of my baby pear tree, and I’ll be able to make more things from fruit I’ve grown myself!

Pear & Honey Jam
Yields six 250mL (1 cup) jars

Prepare and sterilize six 250mL (1 cup) jars (or twelve 125mL (1/2 cup) jars) and matching lids as per manufacturer instructions. Keep jars and lids warm until it is time to fill them.
In a Maslin pan or other non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot, combine:
1.5 Kg (3.3 lbs) ripe/slightly overripe pears, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
350 mL (1.5 cups) honey*
700 mL (3 cups) sugar
60 mL (1/4 cup) lemon juice
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground allspice
5 mL (1 tsp) ground cinnamon
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Run the mixture through a blender or food processor until it reaches a smooth consistency, being extremely careful as the ingredients will be very, very hot. Return the mixture to the pot and bring it back to a boil.
Add:
one 85 mL (2.9 oz) package of liquid pectin
Bring mixture back to a boil. Stir constantly as mixture boil hard for an additional minute.
Ladle the jam into the prepared jars, leaving a 5mm head space. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Top jars with lids and screw metal rings into place until fingertip tight. Place jars on top of a canning rack inside a boiling water canner, being sure that none of them touch the sides of the pot or each other. Jars should be covered by at least 2.5cm (1″) of water, so add hot water if necessary. Bring to a rolling boil and process for 15 minutes, starting your timer once the water is boiling.
Remove jars from canner and place them on a cooling rack, not touching each other. Let them rest for 24 hours before touching. Label if desired. Jams may take up to 48 hours to set, so do not open them until this time has passed.
This jam may be kept in a cool, dark area for up to one year.

*It’s really not worth it to use unpasteurized honey here, since all the additional benefits are lost when the honey is cooked.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta Recipe

I did manage to finish Thing 2’s skirt last night, as well as doing a bit of Christmas shopping. That being said, Candy Cane reminded me today of another task that I really have to complete.

It says something about your ability to procrastinate when your Christmas elf can sit on your Halloween pumpkins. The squash are still in good shape because they haven’t been cut, and they have been set on holders off of the ground so that air flow underneath keeps them from rotting. They’re actually more likely to dry out than decompose at this point. I started by cooking the first of the first of my four pumpkins today. I used the same technique described on Elana’s Pantry, but the pumpkin was so large that each half took about an hour and a half to cook. Then I scooped out the roasted pumpkin flesh and blended it smooth it in the food processor. These pumpkins are going to yield a lot of pumpkin puree, but that’s fine by me! It freezes well, and I still have two cookbooks worth of pumpkin recipes to try.

Having all that pumpkin puree on hand meant that I really wanted to incorporate it into dinner. I went with my tried-and-true Pumpkin and Sage Pasta Sauce, which I have modified many times over the years to accommodate both food preferences and allergies/sensitivities. I’m very happy with the latest iteration, as is my family. The sauce tastes more of sage, garlic, and onion than it does of pumpkin (which itself has a rather mild flavour). Instead, the pumpkin is what creates the creamy texture without using any actual cream. These days I make a non-dairy version, but if you prefer it can be made with milk and topped off with a bit of sour cream. Also, if fresh pumpkin puree isn’t available, canned is perfectly fine.

Pumpkin & Sage Pasta
Serves 4 adults

Into a deep saucepan or heavy-bottomed pot, pour:
2 Tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oil, then add:
1 medium white onion (100g peeled), diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
On medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in the olive oil, being careful not to let them brown.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and add:
200g ground pork
200g lean ground beef
Fry the meat until it is browned, breaking it up as it cooks so that there are no large lumps. Drain the excess fat/oil.
Add:
2 cups pumpkin puree
250mL chicken broth
60mL 2% milk, almond milk, or soy milk
1 tsp ground sage or 3 tsp fresh sage, chopped fine
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp fresh parley, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Stir together and simmer gently to reduce slightly for about 10min. While the sauce is simmering, cook as per package instructions:
400g fettuccine*
Drain the pasta, then return it to its cooking pot. ** Pour the sauce over the noodles and stir to mix. Serve, optionally sprinkled with:
grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, to taste

*I’ve found that an equal amount of penne works as well.
**If you want to add sour cream to the sauce, stir it in at this point. You will need anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on your personal taste. I recommending starting with 1/4 cup and seeing how you like it, then adding more if necessary.

Meemaw’s Cookie Recipe

I have a number of friends and family who are huge fans of the television show The Big Bang Theory, and I don’t mind the show myself. I thought that, since Christmas is coming up, I might try to make a show-based recipe that has been floating around the Internet for a while. It’s for a type of cookie purportedly baked by Meemaw (Sheldon Cooper’s grandmother). My Google-fu has failed me and I haven’t been able to find the original source, else I would link back to it to give proper credit.


Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) holding a cookie baked using his Meemaw’s recipe, as baked by Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik) in The Big Bang Theory, season 8, episode 11.

The recipe I’ve found is a cookie press or spritz cookie, although from the reference photos I’ve found that the final product looks more like something made with a cookie cutter. Or possibly they started with a flat cookie and created the tree design on top using a pastry bag filled with dough? Granted, you don’t see the cookies in the show for very long, and I could totally be wrong. I thought I’d try the spritz version anyway.


Thing 1 and Thing 2 being very serious about getting the cookie dough just right.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 did most of the work this time (okay, mostly Thing 1), so it’s definitely a simple recipe to follow. The kids really like working with the caulking-gun-like cookie press, and they also love to add the sprinkles. Of course, this meant that the final product looked far from perfect, but who cares so long as they had fun and it tastes great?

In the end, I was really happy with this recipe, even though it may not be a hundred percent screen accurate. Here’s what I did:

Meemaw’s Christmas Cookies
Makes about 8 dozen small cookies

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Beat together until creamy:
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp almond extract*
Beat in, about a third at a time:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Insert any shape of disk into cookie press (the ones in the show are tree-shaped, but any shape will do). Press dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet one inch apart. Alternately, use a pastry bag with a wide tip to create designs.
Decorate with:
coloured sugar or sprinkles
Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until firm and very slightly browned.
Remove from cookie sheet onto a cooling rack. Serve immediately, or place into a container once they are cooled, where they can last up to a week.

*If nuts are a problem, vanilla extract may be substituted (although the flavour will change a little bit).