Dandelion Pesto Pasta Recipe and My Favorite Parent Pay Day

dandelion pasta

Dandelion Pesto Pasta

Pesto pasta with weeds?

I was surprised at how delicious dandelion greens are when lightly sauteed. They’re healthy and  they’re FREE, so what’s not to love? There are adventurous food bloggers out there who have embraced this weedy ingredient, so I figured, why not? Heavy hitter David Lebovitz even made a pesto out of these weeds, after all.

The sight of the green weeds with frothy balls of fluff growing in my yard always brings back fond memories.

My husband and I call them Parent Pay Days. One of my favorite Parent Pay Days is one with little fanfare: Your muddy preschooler with a burst of preschooler enthusiasm tracks mud all over your clean carpet with a fist full of dandelions and a preschooler hug. “Mommy, I picked them for YOU!”

Those were the days, my friends. Little kids with little problems and relatively inexpensive needs. I miss those days. I miss the phrase “I love you, Mommy!” I miss the unconditional love often expressed making all the sacrifice worthwhile. I miss snuggling up and reading books. I miss camping in the back yard. I miss pretend tea parties. I miss it all.

Luckily, I now have a grandbaby nearby to cuddle at least 2 or 3 times every week. I can’t wait for her to get old enough to bake cookies with! And I am praying she will love me enough to bring me dandelions every spring.

Ruby blessing

This is my newest darling grandbaby, Ruby. I know. I just had to share. You’re Welcome.

— posted by Donna

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Cinnamon Red Hots Candy Canned Pears

Canned Pears 500 x 749

Cinnamon Red Hots Candy Canned Pears

Remember the retro candy you ate as a kid that turned your teeth pink – Cinnamon Red Hots? When I was a young bride just learning to do canning in the early 80’s, my neighbor invited me over for a day of canning. I was amazed and impressed when she set out last season’s canned pears on her counter – they were PINK! We lived in Hood River, Oregon, where pear orchards blossomed on every hill – and pears were free for the gleaning to all us locals. She had been adding the candies to jars before adding pears or apples and hot simple syrup, turning them spicy and cinnamony – and a beautiful ruby color!

These little spicy/sweet red gems add a flavor punch to pears not like anything you’ve ever tasted. I swooned the first time I had a bite. They are divine ~ pears with a flavorful burst and zing in your mouth.

So, when my neighbor brought me a bag of pears a few days ago, I had no choice. I had to make these. They did the trick – they transported me back to the early 80’s and the Hood River Valley.

All you do is follow your favorite pear or apple canning recipe – or follow mine below, and add cinnamon red hots to the bottom of the jars before filling with fruit and syrup. I promise come mid-February, you will be grateful for a pear flavor burst in your mouth.

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How to Make Your Own Tomato Paste

Homemade Tomato Paste

I had to. I had no choice. I saw red spots peeking at me from between the leaves of our tomato plants, and I had to take action. When I took a bucket out to my garden, I came back into my kitchen and took count: 97 tomatoes. Yikes! Large and ripe and juicy. Drastic measures were necessary!

I wanted to try soemthing new, not just the usual cutting up chunks and freezing them in zip lock bags, or last summer I made roasted tomato sauce for the freezer. Then, I saw this idea in Saveur magazine: make your own tomato paste.

So intriguing. I followed the directions they gave, but substituted soy sauce for the salt, in order to add umami as well as a salt element.

This is by far the most delicious tomato paste I have ever tasted. The olive oil and the soy sauce make this paste rich and so, so flavorful. But, I have to admit it is a lot of work, especially for about 1 1/2 cups of paste. If you have a massive amount of free or low-cost ripe tomatoes, I highly recommend making your own paste. And then cross making tomato paste off your culinary bucket list!

— posted by Donna

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Could YOU Live on Food Stamps? Take the Challenge with Our Mahogany Chicken Thighs Recipe and a Day of Frugal Foods

Mahogany Chicken 500x500

Mahogany Roasted Chicken Thighs

I just realized that I am lucky. Very lucky. I have the luxury to be able to dash to the grocery store frequently and rarely think of the cost of groceries, unless I’m splurging on an item like crab or shrimp. But a hunk of Parmesano Reggiano? No problem – just grab a hunk and head home.

So when I saw a news article recently advertising a “Food Stamp Challenge,” I was intrigued. Only $4.00 per day per person??? Could I really live on cook delicious food with that??? Not just live on drive-thru food-like substances, but make real, healthy, delicious, actual food?

I decided to take the Food Stamp Challenge and find out. Next week the state is challenging folks to try to eat with the same amount of money as folks who live on food stamps November 8 though 14. That’s $4.00 per person per day. It almost goes without saying that this is incredibly hard to do. Even chicken thighs, a very frugal cut of chicken, are about 75 cents per thigh, which is half of the allotment for one entire meal.

It was hard – very hard – to come up with even one day’s menu – let alone come up with a week – or, Heaven Forbid, a lifetime – of menus that fit the challenge.

My heart goes out to all the folks who live this as a way of life and not just a limited and obviously artificial challenge – especially the single moms who work hard, nurture kids, pinch pennies and deal with all the stress that comes with poverty. Years ago a very close lifelong friend of mine had a period of extreme poverty with an unemployed husband and five small children. She said to me “When you’re poor, you can’t do anything else but Be Poor – all your energy, your whole being is focussed on survival, and you have room for little else in your life.”

Here is a touching account by a single mom that moved me to tears and should move us all to want to reach out. And check out food blogger Diana at Dianasaur Dishes and her fabulous post.

So, here is my small token of empathy – a day’s worth of meals with a recipe for Mahogany Roasted Chicken Thighs – at approximately $4.00 per person per day.

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Easy Never-Fail Pie Crust Recipe

A pie crust so easy, you don’t even have to roll it!

Never Fail Pie Crust

No rolling necessary – just pat in the pan!

I have hated making pies my entire life because of one thing: pie crust. Believe me, I have tried all of the “tricks” – which contradict each other, by the way- – – Keep the water ice-cold. Use boiling water. Don’t touch the crust with your hands. No, no – Use your hands to smear the butter into the flour. Whatever you do NEVER use a food processor. NO, no – Whatever you do ALWAYS use a food processor. Use vinegar. Use vodka. Use egg yolks. Use egg whites. Use only butter. Use only lard. Use only shortening. Use only oil. Use a combination. Freeze the fat. Freeze the bowl. Freeze the flour.

Oh. My. Gosh.

No matter what I tried, my crust never turned out. Until now.

I watched America’s Test Kitchen make a pie crust that looks and feels like play-dough and IS NOT rolled, but you just pat it into the pan. Yes, you read that right. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ROLL OUT THIS CRUST!  This pie crust works because of the fat plus a little dairy keep the gluten from toughening the crust.

Yes, I know. This is not a low-fat recipe. My advice: IF YOU WANT SOMETHING LOW-FAT, DON’T MAKE PIE. Make a salad or some broccoli. But if you’re going to make pie, put lots of fat in the pie crust and then savor every bite.  As The New Cookie Monster says, this is a “sometimes food.”

These days, if you come to my house for the holidays, you must eat a piece of pie. The crust will be perfectly soft, perfectly seasoned and flavorful. If you don’t believe me, come on over to my house. Or, try this crust recipe.

Either way, it will change your life. Or at least your pie making.

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Roasted Tomato Sauce for the Freezer

Freezer Tomato Sauce Square

Roasted Tomato Sauce – for the freezer

Tomato plants in are in high-production mode and they are calling out to me from my garden: “HEY! We’re Ripe! Do something quick!”

Of course, I have made a few gallons of salsa to bring to work and pass out to friends, neighbors and co-workers. They don’t call me the Salsa Fairy for nothing!

But, still more red ripe tomatoes! What to do?

I decided to make a tomato-basil sauce that can be frozen and then thawed in the dead of winter to savor the days of eating fresh tomatoes right off the plants – brushing off the dirt first, of course!

This method is ingenious! You roast the tomatoes, and while they are still hot, you add in the garlic and basil, which cooks them just enough but still retains their freshness. Genius!

Now I will have a reason to smile in February!

Happy End-of-Summer Harvest, Everyone!

— posted by Donna

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Fab Frugal Friday: The Ultimate Foraged Frugal Food Source

Even in our highly industrialized, largely factory-farm-dependent world, plenty of people still crave venison and hunt for deer. One of the most classic, beloved forms of paella includes rabbit among its myriad meat ingredients. And the delicacy we usually refer to as “squab” is, essentially, pigeon.

So why let a plentiful food source go to waste, just because the source happens to be accidental in nature? Foraging for plants has totally made a comeback, whether it’s wild herbs, mushrooms or other vegetation, so why not, in essence, “forage” for meat? I propose a revival of an overlooked classic. Roadkill Pie- it’s not just for hillbillies anymore!

Let’s start with this simple delight, just to get you started on the concept, adapted from a recipe by Rita Van Amber.


1. Soak pieces in salt water; drain.
2. Add fresh water and boil until tender.
3. Fry in heavy cream and season to taste.

I say wrap that up in some dough and you’ve got yourself some Roadkill Pie! What could be cheaper?…

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Fab Frugal Friday: Grow Your Own . . . Eggs!

Checking out the goods at Portland's Urban Farm Store

It’s no great revelation that growing your own food is by far the most affordable thing to do whenever possible. Most of the time, when this comes up, people are talking about gardening, of course, but there’s an ever-growing trend that takes it a step further: that of the backyard chicken.


Chickens may be par for the course for people who grew up on or around farms, but for us urban and suburban types, we take it for granted that we get our eggs from the grocery store, turning a blind eye to the significant markup in price as well as the less than optimal source, in terms of health and humane treatment. (Even with eggs labeled “free-range”, your mileage may vary dramatically.)

So, one of the very best things about moving to Portland is the abundance of urban chicken husbandry! Among my close friends, three out of three households all have chickens in their backyards, eating their kitchen scraps and providing free, healthy, beautiful eggs! Also? Great toddler entertainment. (Lily literally says “Hi chickens! How’s it going?” every time we go out to see them.)

Hey, chickens! Come back here!



They don’t lay nonstop year-round, and the chickens at my own place belonging to my good friend/landlady (The Urban Luddite) are just now starting to ramp up their production, but still, just imagine, for most of the months of the year, your eggs are basically free, with the cost of a little upkeep. There’s some startup involved, of course, with buying a coop and possibly a run, plus the feed and such, but wow, does it ever pay for itself and then some.

The flavor and vibrancy of the couldn’t-be-more-fresh, couldn’t-be-more-local eggs is just beyond compare. And I love that my daughter gets to see for herself exactly where her food is coming from, and will grow up with a direct experience of that.

Free-range parenting



Do you have backyard chickens? Have you ever thought about it? What have your experiences been?


Weeknight Chicken Saute Recipe with Beets, Walnuts and Pea Pods

This easy weeknight saute will be a go-to!

Chicken Beet and Walnut Saute

I love dishes that are frugal, fabulous and on the table in five minute or less with a minimum of processed foods. Here’s our latest – a huge hit with my family. My husband was raving and licking his plate – I just let him believe I had slaved for hours – I did not dare tell him it took only five minutes.

Rotisserie chicken is one of my favorite grocery store buys. I love them. I buy a couple of them every month for use in entrees, sandwiches, late-night grab-a-bite fridge snacks.

I came up with this simple saute just throwing five of my favorite things in a saute pan. This is a fab food combo – such great flavors! And the canned beets are delicious and so very handy. You can serve this with or without a starch – we are watching carbs at our home these days, so did without. I added a dash of vinegar at the end, which mingled with the sweet beet juices and added wonderful rich flavor.

This will become one of my go to quickie meals.

And don’t worry – we’ll keep these fab five-minute miracles comin’!


Total Time: 5 minutes

Serves 4

1 cup rough chopped walnuts
2 cups snow pea pods
2 cups bite-sized rotisserie chicken meat
1 can (15 ounces) sliced beets, drained and rough chopped
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar (or other favorite vinegar)

Heat a large saute pan to medium high heat and spray with a little cooking oil. ((NOTE: I didn’t count a light spray of cooking oil as one of my five ingredients, since it is one of the staples I always have on hand and I used just a tiny bit to keep things from sticking to the pan. If you don’t have spray, just use a tiny bit of vegetable oil.)) Add walnuts and stir and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.

Add pea pods and cook about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until pods are softened.

Add chicken, beets and and vinegar and cook just until heated, about 1 minute.

Serve immediately.


Try some of our other fab easy chicken recipes:
Weeknight Chicken Posole
Chicken Thighs with Mustard, Molasses and Maple Syrup
Stacked Chicken Enchiladas

Here’s some other fab easy chicken dishes out there:

Easy Citrus Chicken, Bitchin’ Camero
Easy Chicken Stir Fry, Home with Mandy
Easy Chicken Hash, The Perfect Pantry
Honey Mustard Chicken, Eclectic Recipes
Baked Chicken Pesto, Kalyn’s Kitchen
Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Everyday Southwest

–posted by Donna

Fab Fast Food – Pesto Pita Pizzas Recipe for Our First ‘Fab Five’ Feature


Real life sometimes involves “grab-and-go” eating when you’re running out the door.But, we ask: Can that food be healthy and affordable and fabulous at the same time?

We here at FFF know the reality of busy lives. Anne is a busy mom of a preschooler. Enough said. I myself have a stressful 50-plus hour a week job as a prosecutor handling child abuse cases and sex crimes, plus volunteer work that takes about 10 hours a week and adult children and a hubby that regularly need my time and attention. Not to mention co-blogging on two food blogs. Whew!

Yes, we are slow foods advocates here at FFF. We love the luxury of leisurely cooking, hopefully with a loved one. We try to do this as much as humanly possible. I believe strongly deep down in my bones that cooking and eating together regularly as a family is one of the most important things we can do for our well-being – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  But. There are times when you just need to get something into everyone’s mouths pronto.

Today we begin a new feature- Fab Five. We take on the challenge of making dishes that use only FIVE ingredients and take only FIVE minutes from grocery bag to table. And, here’s the real challenge: with healthy ingredients and as few processed foods as possible!

These pita pizzas fit this bill perfectly. You just throw them in the oven right on the racks slathered with a three cheese mixture and then drizzle pesto on top. Fabulous in Five. What’s better than that?

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