Skeleton Recipes

Skeleton recipes are “bare bones” low-cost foods that are combined with other ingredients you already have on-hand to make fast food at home–without the guilt of low-quality, high-cost eating.

Here’s a cooking segment I did on WISH-TV to share the whole idea of skeleton recipes.

I also share some skeleton recipes in my book, Eat Cheap!, which is available at a special price on this website under “Books”.


Freezing Spring Produce on Indy Style

This is a segment from an Indianapolis-based talk show in which I demonstrated how to take advantage of local spring produce.

When produce is at its peak in freshness and nutrition, it is a cost-effective time to acquire bulk amounts to preserve for enjoying year-round.  While many people are hesitant to jump into canning, most spring produce can be preserved easily by freezing.  For leafy greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard, remove any woody stems, wash well, blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, then remove greens to an ice water bath.  When cool, place in a colander to drain.  After draining, put greens into a freezer container, being sure to label with contents and date.  These greens can easily be used in soups, lasagnas, smoothies or creamed in au gratin-type dishes  Asparagus uses the same freezing method, though it is helpful to spin or towel-dry the spears a bit before freezing.  This last step will keep quiches from getting soggy when using the asparagus after being frozen.  Strawberries can be washed, topped, sliced and frozen in portions that are conducive to making pies, smoothies or jams.  Rhubarb is also easy to freeze.  Just wash, dice and put in a freezer container in desired amounts for use in Victoria sauce, breads, jams or crisps.  Eating regional, in-season produce is a great way to save money, take in higher nutrition and support your local community.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

I got this recipe from my friend, Cyndee, last year.  With a hot cup of coffee, it is such a treat for breakfast!

The finished product freezes very nicely.


1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 1/2 cup flour

1 c buttermilk


Mix all together and add:


1 cup fine chopped rhubarb.


Put in 9×13 baking dish.


Sprinkle with following topping:


1/4 c brown sugar

1/4 c sugar

1 tsp cinnamon


Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

Turkey (or Chicken) Casserole

This is yet another recipe that demonstrates how handy it is to know how to make a basic white sauce.  Not only can this save you the cost of buying canned cream soups, but it can also provide healthier options since you can control the level of salt, sugar and preservatives.

This is what I call a “skeleton recipe”—a flexible recipe that can be a fabulous way to keep those odds and ends in the fridge from going to waste.  When you throw away food, you throw away money.  Plain and simple.

White Sauce (to use in place of two cans of cream soups):

¼ c. butter
¼ c. flour

Melt butter over medium-low heat, then add flour, stirring constantly.  Once bubbles form, cook and stir for another minute or so.

Slowly add the following to the butter mixture, whisking constantly:

3 c. milk (preferably not skim) OR broth.

Stir until it comes to a simmer, then allow to simmer for about half a minute or so until thickened.  Remove from heat.

Season to taste with:

salt & pepper
a couple of dashes of hot sauce OR 1 tsp. ground mustard or yellow mustard

Now comes the creative part!  Check to see what you have on-hand, then combine your white sauce with the following:

3 or so cups of cooked pasta or rice
3 -4 c. cooked turkey or chicken
1 c. or so of cooked veggies of your choice
1 c. or so of grated cheese, if desired

Pour into a buttered 9×13″ baking dish.

If you want a crunchy topping, combine the following:

1 c. fresh bread crumbs, cracker crumbs or even crushed potato chips
1-2 T. melted butter

Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, or until bubbling around edges.

NOTE:  This will freeze beautifully before baking.  Just allow it to thaw completely after you’ve pulled it out of the freezer and bake as directed.

Garlic Mac & Cheese

My daughter, Rachel, and I just made a batch of this as a practice run for tomorrow’s IndyStyle cooking segment, and all we want to do is eat it.  Since we don’t have enough time to make it and bake it on the air, this one is supposed to show the finished product toward the end of the segment.  I’m going to have to start smacking hands to keep my kids out of it!

It really is super yummy, and not hard at all to make.  This makes a huge batch, so feel free to halve it if you don’t want leftovers for a second (or third) meal.  Or, you can make two 8×8″ pans and put one in the freezer before baking.

In salted water, cook one 16-oz. package of elbow macaroni according to package directions; drain.

Cheese Sauce:

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour

Melt butter over medium heat, then add flour.  Whisking constantly, cook until bubbly; then, cook (still stirring) for another minute.

2 c. milk (preferably not skim)

Slowly add milk to butter mixture, whisking constantly.

Then, add:

couple dashes hot sauce
1 tsp. yellow mustard (or ground mustard)
2 cloves minced garlic

Stir until combined, then bring to a low simmer (sauce will be thickened, slightly less than a pudding).

Remove from heat, then stir in:

3 c. grated cheese (sharp cheddar is my favorite)

Stir until cheese is melted.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour over pasta; mix well.

Pour into buttered 9×13 baking dish.

Top with cracker crumbs, if desired.

Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes–or until bubbling around edges.

Rice & Bean Burritos

These are great to make ahead and stash in the freezer for quick, healthy, inexpensive lunches. This recipe is also VERY versatile. We have even added leftover corn, chopped peppers, shredded chicken, salsa and cheese to them when we have had them on hand.

8 c. cooked brown rice, slightly cooled
4 c. cooked beans (black, pinto or whatever)
1 onion, chopped
2 T. oregano
2 t. garlic powder
2 t. salt
1 ½ t. chili powder
1 t. cumin

Combine the above ingredients, adding more or less seasoning to taste. Wrap in flour tortillas and serve hot or cold.

Mini Cookie Cup Filling


This filling can be used to fill any brownie or cookie cups.

2 oz. chocolate (white, milk semi-sweet), chopped

2 T. milk

1 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened

¼ c. powdered sugar

1 c. whipped topping

Nuke chocolate and milk for about a minute until melted; stir until smooth.

In mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese and powdered sugar; mix well. Gradually stir in melted chocolate mixture. Fold in whipped topping.

Pipe filling (from pastry bag, decorator or even a zipper bag with the corner cut off) into mini cookie or brownie cups. Top with seasonal garnishes such as candies, chocolate chips, fresh berries or chocolate curls.