The Main Menu: Cheap, cheerful and filling

Happy 2012! After the expenses of the ‘festive season’, you may have decided to re-evaluate your spending, In fact, you may want to tighten your belt in more ways than just financial! With that in mind, and with the advice of friends, I have come up with some dependable recipes that are inexpensive to prepare and have a comforting quality so desirable during this drab season. I hope they slim the pocket book – as well as the figure – to produce a truly happy New Year.

Baked Stuffed Potatoes
My friend Jacqui Humphrey was the inspiration for this recipe. As she said, “When the cupboard is bare, baked potatoes are filling and cheap to make.” Nutritionally, a baked potato is a good source of fibre (skin on) and a source of vitamin C. Although it is nice to use the special, more expensive baked potato variety, the more common and cheaper bagged potatoes work perfectly well too.
4 large potatoes of even size
3/4 lb (175 g) lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp (15 mL) all purpose flour
1/2 – 1 cup (125-250 mL) beef stock
1 tsp (5 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper
Optional Additions: sliced mushrooms, celery or carrot
Scrub the potatoes well and prick the skins with a fork. Bake in a 425˚F (230˚C) oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until soft. Cooking time will depend on size of potatoes and type. Alternatively, arrange in a circle in a  microwave and microwave on high for 12 minutes or until soft. Let stand covered with a tea towel while preparing the filling.
Filling:  In a frying pan over medium high heat, brown beef, stir in onion and garlic; cover and cook until onion is tender about five minutes. Sprinkle flour over beef and stir to combine. Gradually stir in half the beef stock to moist but not runny consistency adding more if necessary; stir in Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Stir in other ingredients if using. Taste. Adjust seasonings.
Cut a deep cross in each potato and squeeze to open; divide filling equally among the potatoes and spoon over the top. Serve immediately.

A frittata is an Italian baked omelette, easy to make and nutritious. You can adapt the recipe with any number of ingredients you find in your kitchen and your own personal likes; use the suggestions here as a guide. Serve frittata with warm bread and a good green salad.
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup (250 mL) grated old cheddar, (you can substitute other cheeses)
1 cup (250 mL) freshly made soft breadcrumbs (2 pieces of bread) You can tear into small pieces or use a food processor to make breadcrumbs.
1-2 cups (250-500 mL) finely chopped ham, turkey, bacon or sautéed vegetables such as mushrooms, leeks, onion, peppers
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each, nutmeg, salt and fresh black pepper
Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Spray pie plate with baking spray. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, cheese, bread crumbs, ham, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour into prepared pie plate and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until eggs are set. Let stand 10 minutes; cut into wedges and serve immediately.

Fish Chowder
After the indulgences of rich food, a steaming bowl of this hearty fish soup/stew makes a welcome dinner. It only requires a roll and a salad as a complete winter meal.
1 1/2 lb (350 g) fresh or frozen cod or haddock
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter
1 large onion, diced
3 tbsp all purpose flour
3 cups (350 mL) chicken stock
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tsp (10 mL) tarragon
1/4 tsp (2 mL) each, thyme, salt and pepper
1 can (370 mL) evaporated milk
Cut fish into large chunks about 2 x 1 inch (10 cm x 1.5 cm). Put aside. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in onion; cover. Cook until softened, about five minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Gradually stir in chicken stock and cook until slightly thickened. Add potatoes, garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaf, tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender about 15 minutes. Stir in fish; discard bay leaf and continue cooking about five minutes or until fish flakes easily. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and cook stirring until heated through. Serve immediately.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer

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