A Mom's Guide to Saving on Groceries

Woman of Culture 09/06/2008

I have become a woman of culture… well, make that cultures! Specifically: S. thermophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and L. casei.

Ever since I found this recipe on another site (listed below), I’ve been like a mad scientist in the kitchen, nurturing my little colonies of beneficial bacteria. Yes, that is how yogurt and cheese are made! Don’t worry about making a mistake and poisoning your family, because if something goes wrong, your effort will be smelly and obviously inedible.

For me, it worked the very first try, and I’ve really had a blast with this recipe. I’ve lost count as to how many jars I’ve made, but some surprising things have happened:

First, I seem to be losing weight. Maybe I’m eating so much yogurt that I’m not craving heavier foods? Dunno.

Second, I discovered by accident that having a glass of yogurt before bed really does make you sleepy. I’d heard that it works, but never had the urge to slurp dairy (other than ice cream) before bed. This, come to think of it, could possibly be a partial explanation of the weight loss.

Here’s the recipe:

1 qt milk (4 cups). I use 1 packet of nonfat milk plus 1/2 cup of Nido whole milk (or an additional 1.2 cup of nonfat dry milk) and boiling water. Use your magic bullet or blender, fill with with about 1 cup of the hot water, add a little cold to it (so it doesn't build pressure inside and splat you when you open it) add both powdered milks and blend. Put it all in a 4 cup measure, add enough boiling water to make 4 cups.  OR

heat 4 cups of milk to scald. But then you have to wash the pot.

I use a cooler, and put the hot milk in a jar inside. Wait an hour or so until it's about 110 degrees. Warm, not hot, same as for bread. Add 4 TBSP of store-bought yogurt with live cultures, shake it up and put back. Put two jars of very hot water in with it, and leave it alone for 8 hours. I actually like to make 2 quarts at a time. Can take 6-10 hours, so do it at night before you sleep. Resist the urge to keep checking it, because you will let the heat out. But you can refill the hot water jars as needed.

I make plain, then flavor later, but you could flavor it before it sets if you want. Use syrup, vanilla, jelly, preserves, what about cooked apples with cinnamon? When it's done, it's just about solid, but then if you stir it, it's like a luxurious milkshake. To make thicker, put coffee filters in a colander, and strain to remove some of the whey.  You can do that in your cooler to save space in the fridge, and put in two bottles of ice cold water, to keep cool.

Another way is to pour into several layers of cheesecloth, bring ends up and twist to secure the top. You'll have a "ball" of yogurt in there.  Put it in a jar, and put the lid on, leaving the ends of the cloth sticking out so it is suspended and the whey can drain into the jar in the fridge.  If it drains all the way, you have something very like cream cheese, less fattening.

I got this from
www.hillbillyhousewife.com, fun site.

Some ideas:

add a little whipped cream to make a mousse (great with lemon or chocolate). Try 3 parts yogurt to 1 part whipped cream (hey, mostly air!) to keep it healthy.

mix 1/2 an envelope of unflavored gelatin with 1 tbsp. hot water, let cool, strain (to catch any little globs) into yogurt and stir up. Put into custard cups.

Use some of that lemon syrup (recipe in the recipe section) and drizzle over cubed cantaloupe on a baking tray, and broil very close to flame to carmelize the fruit. You want it close, so it happens fast and doesn’t cook your cantaloupe (yuk). Drizzle with your favorite version of yogurt.


Bagels: I can go from cold dough to finished bagel in 30 minutes. You can too, once you get the hang of rolling the bagels out .

Also, every bagel recipe I’ve ever seen says to let rise and then put them in the water to boil.  It's nearly impossible to manage that without deflating them.   It was my sister that discovered that you can put the cold dough right in the pot. We let them rise on the sheet, and they do it right away thanks to the hot bath.

Take ½ recipe regular dough (not sweet) from the fridge. Set a pot on the stove with water to boil. For a nice brown shiny crust, add a couple tsp. of baking soda to the water. Divide into 6 or 8 pieces, and roll just a bit into short cylinders.

On a clean work surface, lay one cylinder down long-wise and smash that puppy flat. I don’t use flour, but if you do, use just a little. You don’t need it, though. About a ¼ inch should do it. You will end up with a bigger rectangle.

So here’s where it gets interesting: you can fill that up with cinnamon, onion, whatever. Rolling away from you, take your plain or filled dough and roll it up like a jelly roll. Like play-doh, you roll and elongate this into a little snake about 1 inch in diameter, maybe 8 inches long. When I’m making onion bagels, I roll in dried onions (fine for filling, too, and very instant), at this point.

Now, wrap it around your hand with the seam on your palm, and roll to seal. Any way you do it, you want to end up with a donut shape and a hole that is about 1½ inches. Do all of them at once. Get a baking sheet ready with a sheet of parchment or one of those silicone liners. Me, I’m parchment girl. Silicone makes me nervous- petroleum product.

By now, the water is dancing in the pan for your entertainment pleasure. Drop one bagel at a time in there, and poke it with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick. It should pop up like a dumpling within 30 seconds (no longer, or you'll kill the yeast!). When it pops up, use the hole to pluck it out with the handle of your spoon. That, by the way, is the reason for the hole! This is a lot of fun to do. Place each directly onto that baking pan lined with parchment. Give them space because they are going to double.

I top mine with coarse salt, or onion, or sugar, whatever, while they are wet. Sneaky, eh? Then put them into a cold oven. Turn it on to 375 degrees F. Wait until your mouth waters, and the bagels are golden, and there you have it. I think it’s about 10-15 mins. They will rise and double in the process of baking.

Here in the rural South, most people I’ve met have either never had a real bagel, or only had the frozen kind for breakfast. To me, that’s just sad… You haven’t lived until you’ve had a bagel sandwich. So for your Southerners out there, you gave me Pilau, squash fritters and hush puppies. I’m giving you bagels! Try putting meats, cheeses, various toppings, and condiments and dig in. Heaven. My personal favorite is roast beef or turkey with onion, tomato, cheese, pepperoni, and mayo, salt and pepper.


More Bread dough… and things to do with it.

First off, if you take that first dough, and make a couple of changes, you can have a sweet dough that is out of this world, and lasts the same way as the other dough I gave you. Make it, divide it in half, put each into a gallon zip lock bag or a large container (dough will double in size in the fridge), and store for a week. When you need it, take it out, proof it, and poof!

I must confess something right now. I’m feeling guilty! Over the summer, I’ve bought bread. There, I said it, it’s out. But while convenient, it wasn’t bread to me. So now that it’s cooled down some, I’m back to making bread. And cinnamon rolls, bagels, pizza pockets, hot dogs, sausage sandwiches.  

This sweet dough is just richer, that’s all. You can use it for sandwiches, and rolls, and sweet rolls and coffee cakes. Here are the substitutions.

Essentially, we are sticking with the same 2 cups of liquid. In this case, milk, scalded and cooled.

I hate scalding milk, and I don’t do it. Because I have that cool whole milk powder, I use boiling water, add 1 stick of butter (you can use ½ canola, too), let it melt, then add the 6 tbsp. of milk powder. I whisk this, until it’s cool enough to add the packet of yeast. You want warm, not hot.  After melting the cold butter, it doesn’t take long. See? No extra pots.  If it's taking too long, I set my mixing bowl in some cool water in the sink and whisk to cool. 

I put about a half cup of sugar in there, to make it multi purpose. By sugar, I mean: white, brown, molasses pretty strong- do that ½ and ½ with the others), honey (very nice). Sometimes, if I’m going to make donuts out of it, or beignets, then I up the sugar and add some nutmeg. But those things can be added later, and I need my dough to multitask, like me.

You can add 1 or two eggs, or not.  You will need to use the dough faster, in that case.  I'd say within 3 days.  Proteins like eggs will go bad if left for long.

Follow the same instructions with the salt (in this one, about 2 tsp)… not at the beginning, but after some flour has gone in.

I hope you are beginning to see how malleable this is. Follow the other recipe from here.  This is the basic dough, but adding other flavorings is easy to do.  Cheese bread comes to mind- just stir in some cheese.  If adding anything heavy, like olives, nuts, whole grain flour, just double your yeast for insurance, and plan on maybe having a more compact loaf.

On either dough, if you want a finer texture and even more rise, more elasticity, then it takes an extra step. In daily life, I skip it, but for holidays, etc., I take the extra time. Here’s the secret: The Sponge.

By adding enough flour to the wet ingredients to make a batter, and letting that rise by itself, you are creating what is known as a sponge. This allows the gluten to really develop, and give you a finer texture. I use quick rise yeast all the time. But when yeast are allowed to do their thing slowly, you get a much better flavor and texture. So if you do the sponge, then once that’s risen, continue from that to make the dough, put it in the refrigerator to rise overnight, you will be rewarded with even better bread. You can take bread from “good” to an absolute art form if you have the time and inclination.


In my restaurant, we had a proofer, which was basically an enclosed rack with shelves and low heat to which you add water so you have steam. There isn’t one reason you can’t make this in your oven at home: Turn it on to the lowest setting just until you feel some heat (like, 1-2 minutes!). Turn it off, or you will kill your yeast- you want warm, not hot. Put a pan on the bottom rack, pour boiling water in there, and voila, add your bread to your new proofer. I leave the pan in when baking for extra moisure, which gives it a nice crust.


Note:  08/30/08:

I made these this morning, before having coffee.  I accidentally put in half the flours.  What I got was a dense(in the way of poundcake), moist muffin, with a chewy top.  Happy accident, no frosting required, or butter either.  The other recipe gives you a lemon cake consistency, and rises much higher.  Both are good!

It's the height of blueberry season over here. I was lucky enough to come across a U-Pick farm not long ago, and picked about 2 gallons for $8. What a cool thing that was! Well, actually it was hot! I'd have given the farmer $20 for a bottle of water when I was done. The South is like a huge convection oven, with steam. Then that sweet man just gave me some water.  He was probably worried that the woman with the scarlet face was going to pass out on him.  :)  I am constantly surprised by the sheer niceness of people in the South.

So. All you REALLY wanted to know, was how to make a darn blueberry muffin, huh? Here goes:

Blueberry Muffins Marlena's Way......

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cream together:

1/2 c. butter & 1 c. sugar

While the butter and sugar are beating (you want that fluffy pale yellow- about 5 mins.), blend up 1 cup oats to make oat flour (so you can sneak it past your kids). Set aside.

Add one egg at a time to the butter/sugar mixture, (you will need 2) and beat until whipped and very pale yellow.

Now, add zest of one lemon, juice from one half of it.

Next goes in: 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. baking powder…That’s right, I put it right into the liquid. Yep. I went there, and I knew I wasn‘t supposed to. What can I say? I‘m a rebel.

Now you need either ½ c. milk, or 2 tbsp. whole milk powder and ½ c. water. If using the milk powder, add just the powder to the wet ingredients and mix. (see my post on powdered whole (it does exist!) milk in “How to Save Big” in the categories on the right). 

Alright: Now the flours, oat and Self Rising (this flour should have a superman “S” on the front- it’s my hero).

Dump in your oat flour, mix, then half of the milk or water. Wait until that’s incorporated, then dump in the self-rising flour ( 1 C), mix, then the other half of the liquid. Batter will be thick and like a cake batter.

You will need about a cup of blueberries.

The Thing About Blueberries: They turn your batter purple. Or worse, grey. Even if you are using frozen or canned, and drain and rinse (eek, watery berries!) like the old mixes instruct you to do.

How to avoid this: dump a couple tablespoons of the same flour you are using on them and stir them up. Then you fold them in by hand.

Okey, dokey! Use an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups or tins (greased) almost to the top, and pop them into that hot oven. This will make the tops rise up the way you want them to.

After 5 minutes, lower the temp. to 375 F.

True to form, I didn’t time these. I don’t even own a timer… my nose does that job for me. When they are golden brown, take them out. The smell is like - oh, I don’t know- heaven. That’s another indicator they are done. Your teenager will even come out of their room. So you see, you won’t burn them. I’m guessing it takes 12-20 minutes (what? You mean other recipes don’t have a +/- factor of 8 minutes?).

Cool them on racks, or leave ‘em in the pan to cool, and while that’s happening…

Take the juice of the other half of that lemon, ½ tsp. vanilla, 1 tbsp. butter, and ¼ c. cream cheese. This is going to shock you, but I don’t measure my cream cheese- I cut it into cubes and eyeball it. Why put it into a measuring cup, when you have to pry it back out? Yuck. Mix together and add enough powdered sugar to make frosting. No, I don’t really know how much that is….. Lots, though. About 1 ½ cups, or 2? You know when you have it right, because it looks like frosting.

Please do not buy that goo in a can they call frosting.  It's shortening.  With artificial flavors and preservatives.  And powdered sugar.  I think the trend towards instant foods is apalling- unhealthy and expensive.

Frost while the muffins are still warm… I garnish sometimes with candied lemon peel. But the kids just pull it off, so mainly, that’s for me. Try sprinkling some granulated sugar on top for fluff.

I actually ended up with 10 muffins, but you can stretch to 12. I just LOVE muffin tops, and I wanted them big.

Did you notice that half of the flour was whole grain (oats)? The kids never knew the difference, the muffins tasted like lemon cake with blueberries- same rich, dense but fluffy flavor.  And the muffins are… gone!





Forget about buying pancake mix. Pancakes are easy and fun to make! Here’s my basic recipe, with add-ins listed at the end. In another section, I mentioned organization: I like to do a Rachel Ray move, and load everything into a bowl before I begin. It also keeps me from forgetting things.

Making the batter takes 5 minutes. Let it rest for 5 more, while the griddle heats, and you will be rewarded with fluffier pancakes. The only time I ever sift anything, is when I am making certain special cakes. I just throw everything together and it still works just fine.

2 eggs, beaten

½ c. yogurt, plain or vanilla (you can use sour cream, too, or in a pinch, leave it out)

¼ c. canola oil, or melted butter

3 tbsp. sugar

3 tbsp Nido dry whole milk and 1 cup water, OR 1 c. milk

With a wisk, or a fork, beat these together.

Now add in 1 c. self-rising flour, and stir just until moistened. If it’s not thick enough, add more. Too thick, add a little water. I like mine pretty thick, because when you drop blueberries or bananas in, it just holds them well.

The trick: Don’t over-mix your batter. Think biscuits.

Bake on a griddle at about 350 degrees (when water jumps around on the surface for thermostat challenged individuals). When bubbles form, and the top is a little opaque, flip it- you can peak underneath to make sure the color is good before you flip.

Here’s the thing about butter on the griddle: nonstick doesn’t need it, and just a light glaze (nearly or no oil) will work. You’ll get “perfect” pancakes this way.

Lots of butter: funny-looking pancakes that taste amazing. The butter browns, and the sugars in the batter caramelize, and the surface is splotchy. But really, really, good.

Pick your poison… Add-ins:

Fruit of any kind: blueberries, any other berries, bananas, apples

What about nuts? Spices like cinnamon or nutmeg (only grate that fresh- it’s amazing the difference it makes)… Chocolate chips.

I add flax meal to mine, and sometimes wheat germ, and oats. Quick oats will melt right in, or you can grind any kind of oats in a magic bullet to make oat flour, and substitute for some of the white flour. If you do that, add a 1/2 tsp. of baking powder with the flour.

Top with maple syrup, or something resembling it (unless you have a maple tree), or cinnamon sauce. I have to check with my mother before I give you that recipe, or she will never forgive me. It’s actually a very big deal. Forget I even mentioned it, okay?

Something cool:  If you add applesauce, or mashed bananas and cinnamon to the leftovers if you have any, you can turn those into muffins.  You can also cover and keep in the refrigerator and make more pancakes in the next couple of days.





Cupcake Night 07/24/2008

We have a weird new tradition in the family: Cupcake night. It all started with a conversation between us, the Cinchi Moms. Incidentally, the Cinchi-EZ-Bib started out the same way, along with a lot of other stuff. But essentially, this is how it went:

We were talking about macaroni and cheese. I mentioned to my sister, the other Cinchi Mom, that we were doing the one-pot creamy version (no fake box mix!) because I didn't want to take the time and effort to bake it. Really, that's not it. I didn't want another pan to wash. We got to talking about the yummy crunchy topping you put on top when you do the baked version, though.

"It's so not fair that everybody eats up the crunchy part before you ever get to the dish- that's my favorite part," my sister said. She was talking about the way that moms always end up with the dregs in the dish, or the burnt toast, if you will. Then, "Hey!" she said, you should put the mac and cheese in cupcake holders! That way, everybody gets the same amount." Leave it to my sister to think of something so cool...

"Yeah!" I said, "Only it's a pain in the butt to wash those pans (of course, this was what I thought of). How 'bout putting them in the paper or foil liners first?" And so it began. Mac and cheese, some with crunch topping, some not (for the persnickety ones). Individual meatloaves, mashed potatoes, reincarnated left-overs. Freeze them and pull them out when you need them.

And Cupcake night: those nights when you are too tired to cook and you have all these left-overs, which usually go over like a lead balloon. Food looks festive this way, and everyone has fun picking and choosing. Just load them into the cupcake pan and heat with foil on top, removing to brown up the tops at the end. Add some garnishes, and poof! Instant fun!


I'm going to debunk the idea that bread is hard to make. I'm also going to debunk the idea that it takes a long time! Time is something it seems we are always pressed for. As caregivers, employees, etc., we need to be multitaskers. So what if I told you, I have someone (or something) that does all the work for me? Actually, I have two somethings. A stand mixer, and yeast.

When I make bread, folks, I break all the rules. And it works! What I discovered: yeast don't care about anything but sugar, moisture, and temperature. Salt kills microbes, making it a great preservative, but an enemy for yeast, which are living, single cell organisms. With this knowledge in hand, I set out to prove that I could make bread for my family, and not spend all day doing it.

Okay, some of what you are about to read was an accident. Well, alright, a whole bunch of accidents: forgetting my bread, killing my yeast, all kinds of stuff I do not want you to experience!

But if you mess up, just try again. You have to have a couple of failures, and if you are going to fail at anything, it might as well be bread, because sooner or later you will master it, and there isn't much that's as useful as being good at making bread.

Think of all the ways it is peppered throughout your family's diet. Now imagine not having to buy all of these things, and have them anyway, only better than storebought. There is nothing like the smell of home-baked bread!

Do you know that Subway sandwich shops bake their bread in the store for the sole purpose of having you smell it? It's true. It would be cheaper to have it ready-made, and it would still be "fresh." They want you hungry. Smelling bread does that, and makes you feel... happy! And it leaves you with the perception that all is fresh, all is well with the world. If I owned a bakery, I'd literally pipe that smell into the air with an exhaust fan.  I am absolutely not kidding- I never kid about bread.

Here's the dough:

Water: 2 cups
Sugar or honey: 2 tbsp.
Yeast: one packet of quick-rise yeast
Bread flour: I have no idea how many cups I use- it's something in the neighborhood of five.  Even if I measure precisely, the actual amount will change every time with the amount of moisture in the air- it's true!  I do know I get two or three batches from a $3 standard package of bread flour. You want bread flour for the higher protein content, or the gluten. You can use regular flour in a pinch, though there is no doubt that bread flour is better.

Salt: 1 tbsp.
Oil: 1/4 cup (
or two dollops), of canola or olive oil, depending on the use. For multipurpose, and for daily use, I go with canola. For pizza, or focaccia, I use olive, though canola works fine here, too.


One cup of oat flour, which retains moisture, is good for you, undetectable, and makes the bread chewy. If you can't buy this, grind up oatmeal in a magic bullet or food processor until you have flour. This is how I do it. This is one of my "secret ingredients" for moist, delicious bread.

Flax Meal: 1/3 cup. Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and great for digestion. Makes a great dough conditioner, as well.

Wheat germ: 1/2 cup .  This is the best part of the wheat, it's light, and doesn't weigh down your dough  The kids to eat it, too. At this small amount, it doesn't affect the dough, and the kids accept it.

Let's make bread!

Put warm water into your mixer bowl with the paddle attachment. It's much faster and easier this way.  Add honey or sugar, and yeast. Whisk (using a whisk or a fork) together to combine. You have to really get those yeast dissolved in the sugar and water.

Water should feel warm, slightly warmer than you are, but not hot. Until you get the hang of it, stop here and wait for bubbles, about 5 minutes. This indicates your yeast are alive and well.

Next, add the oat flour and flax, or if you are skipping those, just add about 2 cups of flour, turn on the mixer, and mix until it's like paste. Add more flour, until it gets sticky. NOW, you can add your salt, and oil- your yeast are insulated. Add more flour, until it's a dough.

Switch to the dough hook.

With the mixer on, let the hook knead the dough. If it is sticky, or not wrapped around the hook after a minute or two, add more flour, a little (like a spoon) at a time. Keep doing this until the dough is elastic and not sticky. Let knead for about ten minutes, to develop that gluten (stringy stuff) in the bread dough.

If you are using it now: just leave it in the bowl, with the dough hook still attached, cover with plastic wrap, and put a towel on top. Let rise until double, about 45 minutes. Turn on the mixer for a moment, to deflate the dough. Did you notice there were no additional bowls, no greasing, no fuss, no muss?

Use in your recipe. This makes two loaves, 4 pizzas, 12 bagels, amoung other things like pigs in blankets.

What you don't use right away: Put into a container that can handle double the volume of dough and put it covered in the refrigerator. I put a piece of plastic over the top of mine, to keep it from drying out, then put the lid on. It will rise in the refrigerator, so don't let that upset you. It will also stay good for a whole week, and be "ready when you are."

I typically use half of the dough to make a loaf of french bread, or 2 medium pizzas.  A large pizza would be about 1/3 of the dough.  Refrigerate the rest.


Whipping up a dinner-in-a-box… With no box!

If this recipe doesn’t freak you out, you are going to do fine with this .  I use the term recipe loosely, because I’m going to give you approximate measurements.  Some things, like baked goods, require more precise measuring.  But dinner should not.  When I’m cooking, there generally isn’t any measuring at all.  For you, I measured, to give you a framework to start.  Let’s just jump in!

With these one-pan pasta recipes, you literally simulate the results of one of those dinner-in-a-box mixes.  With one exception: when you make this recipe, you have enough to feed the entire family, usually for less than the price of one box of prepared mix.  And with no preservatives or additives.  

We are going to use the starch in the pasta water to thicken our sauces.  Simple as that.  Additionally, we are going to customize the recipe to suit your family’s tastes, and any dietary restrictions, because you are in control of what is in that pan.

Pasta “Alfredo”

Alfredo sauce is basically, butter, cheese, and cream.  And it’s all about those things, in perfect proportion.  This pasta sauce is really quite lean for a cream sauce, and can be skinnied up a bit more if you like.  Interestingly enough, once it cools, it remains creamy, and makes a perfect pasta salad base.  

PASTA:  1 lb of any kind.   My favorite is radiatore, but linguine or fettucine are wonderful, too.  Your favorite will work just fine!

WATER:  Fill a large pot with water, add 2 Tsp. salt, and a dollop of olive oil.

MILK:  9 TBSP dried  whole milk powder.  Use whole milk, or it will be too thin.  I use a product called Nido, found in the Hispanic section.

SPICES:  Approximately 1 tsp. of each one (then add more to taste if necessary).  Garlic or garlic powder, basil, sage, thyme or any other herb your family likes.  Keep it simple: one or two compatible herbs.  I like garlic and basil, and it’s a hit with the kids.  Lemon zest (grated peel) and thyme is also spectacularUse fresh herbs if you can get them (if you grow them, they're practically free).

Butter is for taste, as well as binding with the starch so the sauce is smooth and velvety. 

I use the shredded Italian Blend cheese as a rule, which has 5 great cheeses in it.  You can always shred your own, and the blend is up to you.  You can add more or less to suit your own tastes and dietary restrictions.  A trick: hard cheeses are more fatty than soft, but much more flavorful.  This means you can use less and get good flavor.

* As a foodie, I would never do this to Parmesano Reggiano.  I'd just eat it!  But you can always us an inexpensive domestic parmesan and grate it yourself.

MEAT (optional):  This sauce tastes wonderful with chicken, beef, or fish.  You can use any left-over grilled, roasted, poached or pan-seared meat.  Slice or chop while your pasta is boiling.

How to:
Bring salted water with oil to a rolling boil, add pasta and cook until done.  With these, you want to get almost to “al dente,” which means, “to the bite.”  Traditionally pasta is always cooked until just barely done, so it will absorb the delicious sauce.  Ours is going to cook in the sauce a bit, hence leaving it a tad undercooked.

As an aside, this is the perfect time to get your vegetable dish going, while you are waiting for the pasta to do its thing.  

Time to drain, BUT DON’T GET RID OF ALL THE WATER.  When I drain the pasta, I use a colander, in case any bits fall out of the pan, but I do not try to measure the drained water.  That would make it complicated, and I don’t do complicated in every day life.  You want to drain just enough water that it is nearly level with the pasta.  There should be pasta sticking out of the water, by about ¼”.

Now, add your milk powder directly to the water, which should be approximately (no worrying allowed) 3 cups, along with the butter, and your spices and stir.  The water should now look like milk.  If it looks thin, you may need more milk powder.  On the spices, I do not measure, but you might want to the first time.  The idea is to shake them directly into the pot, though.  Easy, remember?  Garlic is important to this dish.  You’ll want about two chopped up cloves of garlic (you can add to the water in the beginning to cook it if you want to), or ½ to 1 tsp. garlic powder (NOT garlic salt).  Add other spices to taste.  DO NOT ADD SALT YET.  There was some in the water and there is salt in the cheese.  There's even salt in the milk (naturally).

At this point, your sauce is going to look like milk, and be just as runny, so don’t panic!  Bring it to a simmer.  The sauce will thicken up once it cooks just a bit (about 3-5 minutes).  Thickened sauce will still be a bit thin, but will coat your spoon.  Now add your cheese, let it melt in, and taste it.  What does it need?  More basil? How about the salt?  Adjust accordingly.  Throw in your meat, and you are done.  Sauce will continue to thicken as it sets, mainly because the pasta will continue to absorb the water in it.  Want it to be even creamier?  Add a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, or a splash of half and half.  

As mentioned earlier, this pasta recipe makes a terrific pasta salad.  You don’t have to do anything at all to it except let it cool, but you could add vegetables and or beans (including the green beans or spinach left over from dinner) for a balanced salad/meal.  I don’t add the creamy stuff at the end of the pasta, but might add a smidgeon to a salad.  What I mean to say, is that you will do it your way, according to your taste.