Greetings from Salt Lake City! I’m over here in Utah, trying to stay warm in the snow (yes, snow…ugh). So, there will be no Top Chef recap till much later in the week, and posting will continue to be light. In the meantime, though, since it is almost time for Halloween, here’s a tasty and easy recipe for a very nice fall treat. The recipe came from Real Simple magazine, and the cupcakes were a hit both at the Eat on $30 wrap party AND my office luncheon. Enjoy!
Heat oven to 350° F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. Prepare the cake mix as directed but with the following change: Add the pumpkin pie spice and substitute the can of pumpkin puree for the water called for in the package directions.
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin tins and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until creamy. Spread on the cupcakes and top each with a piece of candy corn.
Normally, I can’t stay up late enough to enjoy Top Chef on its regularly scheduled Wednesday night slot. Mock me if you must, but mama needs her beauty sleep, ya dig? For Restaurant Wars, though, I made an exception and hunkered down for the super-sized episode.
Our first shot at the TC compound shows teeny tiny Jen in a teeny tiny (but super cute) bikini. Inside the house, we hear MORE about the Voltaggio brothers and their lifelong competition, and Ash is missed for the dynamic he brought to the group. At the M Resort, Padma and Rick Moonen greet the chefs for the quickfire challenge, which they describe as a tag-team cook-off. The chefs draw knives, and Jen ends up getting “First Pick” and Mike V. gets “Second Pick.” So, they are the “leaders” and get to pick their teams in that order. Jen wonders whether to split up the brothers or keep them together, but she ultimately picks Kevin, Mike I., and Laurine. That leaves Mike V. with Bryan, Eli, and Robin.
The tag team challenge involves each chef cooking for 10 minutes while the remaining chefs are blindfolded. Somehow, this is supposed to test their teamwork. I am confused, as I always thought that teamwork involved collaboration and communication (and the chefs are not allowed to talk to each other, making this a see no evil, speak no evil kind of situation). Anywho, on the blue team, Jen pulls and trims some black cod, starts a sauce, and heats some oil for poaching. Laurine unwraps scallops and looks perplexed for a moment before she figures out the whole poaching idea, but I’m not sure what she does besides that. Mike I. inexplicably moves Jen’s oil from the heat and starts a second pot of the same thing. Kevin ditches the whole poaching idea altogether and decides to butter-roast the fish in the pan. The final dish: sablefish (another name for black cod) with sauteed mushrooms, shitake broth, and radish salad. Moonen really likes it, though Jen mistakenly describes it as trout.
As for the red team, Eli starts out by grabbing tons of ingredients and just prepping the hell out of them. He also starts to sear some strip steaks. Robin comes in next and is impressed by what Eli was able to accomplish. She sees the available ingredients and thinks Caesar salad, so she makes a yuzu anchovy vinagrette to use with some shaved fennel. Bryan realizes he’s in the land of Asian flavors, so he blends some soy and avocado with the yuzu concoction. Mike V. comes in and finishes the plating. The finished dish: pan-roasted New York strip steak with whipped miso-avocado puree. He tells Chef Moonen that the whip is pretty salty, so the steak was underseasoned in order to counteract that. Moonen wishes the steak would have been cooked a wee bit more, but likes the dish overall. Forced to choose, the guest judge picks the blue team. Yay, Team Kevin! The winners will get a big advantage in the elimination challenge, but they also get $10,000 to split–OR, they can “let it ride,” and if they win Restaurant Wars, they EACH get $10,000. Clearly, the blue team opts to let it ride.
The teams do all their shopping and strategizing with relatively little drama. The red team is naming their restaurant REVolt, which incorporates the “R” from Robin, the “E” from Eli, and the “Volt” from Voltaggio. I think it’s adorable that they worked everyone’s name in there, and that they are focused on a food revolution. As you will see later, I am the only one who holds this opinion. They throw ideas around, and Mike largely poo-poos brother Bryan’s suggestions. Mike V. gives props to Robin and her winning apple crumble, suggesting that she refines it to create a pear pastry dessert. Bryan wants to make his chocolate ganache, but Mike V. is skeptical because it tanked before; he asks snottily if big brother could manage NOT to make it grainy this time. Seriously, the Voltaggio ‘tood is getting on my nerves. Eli volunteers to work the front of the house, and he proceeds to try on many ill-fitting suit-like garments. Such a mess, that one. The blue team is naming their restaurant Mission, blabbing something about architechture or whatever (yawn). Laurine is going to work the front of the house, which I think is the most horrible idea ever, since she seems to have the personality of a wet noodle. An occasionally cranky wet noodle. Mike I. is going to do two first courses, Jen is going to do two fish courses, and Kevin is going to do two meat courses. The team is opting out of dessert because they feel like everyone who does dessert ends up going home.
For the challenge, they are cooking at Moonen’s double-kitchened, two-story restaurant at the Mandalay Bay, and the “significant” advantage gained by the blue team is simply getting to pick first. Lame. They go to the fine dining area, leaving the red team to set up shop in the more casual eatery. Everyone is behind, everyone is in the weeds, and everyone is fussy. Mike V., in addition to being all of those things, is also a bossy asshole. Nonetheless, the prep time passes and it is time for service. The judges visit REVolt first, and immediately start bagging on the name (saying that it makes them think “revolting”). Seriously? My mind didn’t go there AT ALL. Eli seems to be an attentive and relatively charming host, and he brings out the first course, his smoked arctic char with beets and horseradish cream and Mike’s pressed chicken and calamari. The judges are not wowed by Eli’s dish, but they LOVE the chicken. Like, to the point where Tom and Padma are glaring at each other over who gets the last bite. Next comes Bryan’s duo of beef (short ribs and NY strip) and Mike’s cod with billi-bi sauce. The beef is good but not great, but the cod is very popular at the table. For dessert, the judges get Bryan’s chocolate ganache with spearmint ice cream and Robin’s pear pithivier. Both are very successful, with Toby stating that the pear dessert is Robin’s best dish to date. Generally, things seem to go smoothly, with the exception of some cursing and yelling between Robin and Mike V. in the kitchen. Oh, and the fact that Eli needs to tuck his damn shirt in.
Up at Mission, things are…not so good. Everyone seems like they’re off their respective games. Even Kevin appears to be stressin’ it, which is off-putting. Laurine is really struggling with the full restaurant and the fact that things are moving so slowly. The judges arrive and are given the first course, Mike I.’s arctic char tartare and asparagus and egg “salad.” Good thing they had menus to tell them what they were eating, since Laurine practically sprinted away from the table after putting the plates down. Neither dish impresses anyone, and Padma asks for salt. Gasp. Not a good start, and Mike I. knows it. There is a looooooooong wait between the first course and the second, which is Jen’s trout (really, trout this time) with hazelnut butter and a bouillabaisse with halibut. The halibut is beautiful, but the rest of the food is downright lousy–the trout in particular is just brown and unappetizing, and the accompanying sauce is broken and greasy. The third course is Laurine’s lamb with carrot jam and Kevin’s pork three ways. I don’t even remember what they said about Kevin’s dish, because mostly they were complaining about how the lamb was significantly undercooked and felt like Jell-O in the middle. Bleh. The judges also commented on the lack of dessert, and it wasn’t in a complimentary fashion.
Clearly, the red team ends up at judges table first, as the winners. Toby says that if he reviewed the restaurant, he would have made fun of the name and the host’s clothes, but then he would have given it three stars. There’s not a lot of negativity at all, except for Robin and Mike V. being all cranky with each other (there is passive-aggression and eye-rolling, as we have come to expect). In the end, Mike V. is declared the winner, and he receives an autographed copy of Moonen’s book and the $10,000 chip that the blue team forfeited. Mike V. asks the judges if he can split the money amongst the team, and they say he can do whatever he wants with it. In the stew room, Robin comments on how generous the gesture is, but Bryan pouts that Mike can keep his (Bryan’s) share of the winnings. Mike is all, like, “Are you pissed?” and Bryan is all, like, “No, but you won, so you keep it.” To the camera, Bryan admits that he IS pissed that Mike’s unprofessional behavior is being rewarded. Great, that means even more bro-on-bro conflict next week. I’m over the sibling rivalry, Bravo.
The blue team looks all kinds of defeated when they stand before the judges. Everyone admits that they had a bad night, and Jen even compares herself to her broken sauce. Mike I. seems to be safe because his dishes were neither bad nor good, but everyone else has major issues to deal with. For Kevin, it’s the poorly cooked lamb. For Jen, it’s everything BUT the well-cooked halibut. For Laurine, it’s bad FOH service and not taking enough responsibility for her lamb dish. Thankfully, Laurine is the one sent packing, though I do wonder about that whole premise of judging each chef on a week by week basis (rather than cumulatively).
How was this Restaurant War for you?
Because I did the challenge a week earlier than everyone else, it’s actually been over a week since I wrapped up the $60 project. I’ve had a lot of time to ruminate about what I learned and what I will take with me from the experience, yet somehow it is difficult to wrap everything up in one blog post.
I’m not ashamed to say that I was happy to be finished with the challenge. My kitchen was BARE when I came back from New York (with the exception of the apples I brought home with me), so I went to Kroger to stock up. I didn’t spend nearly as much time in the store as I did when I was hard-core budget shopping, but I didn’t blaze on through willy nilly, either. I shopped specials and sales and used coupons, and even though I had a triple-digit tab, I saved 21% with smarter shopping. However, I also felt a bit guilty and sad, because I knew that my “saving” represented, to an enormous number of Georgians, a level of excess that could never be contemplated, let alone acted upon.
More than 12% of Georgians live in poverty. In Fulton County, where I live, that number jumps to 25%. That is one in every four people. And those people have to choose between food and a roof over their heads, between food and heat, between food and medical care. My mom and I were discussing the challenge, and we both verbalized how lucky we felt to have never gone without food and to have always had a safe place to live. The truth is, while everyone has suffering in their lives, there is little that is more heartbreaking than the thought of a hungry child. And the other truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of children in our state (and all of the others, I’m certain) who live with hunger each and every day.
The lovely Tami of running with tweezers was the driving force behind Eat on $30, and she hosted a “break the fast” party at her place last weekend. While we were obviously fortunate to be surrounded by great food (BLT deviled eggs, “rat toes,” rosemary latkes, and gingerbread “chewies” were my faves) and wine, Tami and I chatted for a few moments about the harsh realities brought to light by the challenge. Sure, money is the primary issue, with many people being unable to obtain healthy food due to budgetary constraints. But the problem is much bigger than that. What about time? The people who were successful with Eat on $30 (and even those of us, ahem, who were somewhat less than successful) had at least a little bit of time to cook, to package leftovers, and to prep and shop based on the limitations. What about a single mother who works two jobs to support her children? And don’t think there aren’t people who work multiple jobs and yet still can’t afford good, quality food. They’re called the “working poor,” and they represent a large and growing group of Americans.
Then there are the issues of knowledge and tools. Cooking and eating together was always very important in my family, and what I didn’t learn from my parents and grandparents I was able to glean from other fairly common sources (books, magazines, TV, and the like). And, due to a steady job and some very generous gifts, I have nearly all of the gadgets and gizmos you’d ever need. Food processor, nice pots and pans, immersion blender, waffle iron, good quality knives, stand mixer, creme brulee torch, you name it, it’s probably available to me. But what about a family that can barely afford paper plates? What about a homeless individual who doesn’t have access to a kitchen, let alone kitchen tools? There is so much more to hunger than just food.
By the end of the party, we had raised a few hundred dollars for Project Open Hand, and we had discussed volunteer opportunities for those who wanted to give of their time. We may be a small group taking small steps, but we are passionate about food and see no reason why hunger shouldn’t be eradicated in our lifetimes. In terms of what I took away from the experience, I feel that I am a lot more aware of what I am purchasing and how not to waste it. I am reorganizing my priorities, in the sense that I am cutting down on junky impulse purchases and focusing more on wholesome, multi-tasking products. I am clipping coupons and scanning sale fliers with much more regularity. I am a food fanatic at heart, so there will always be some dinners out and some crazy recipes to test, but it’s not necessary to go that route every day, or even every week.
Yes, I am glad to be finished with Eat on $30, but I am also glad to have started it. Most importantly of all, I have made some great new friends through the experience, and together we can continue to open eyes…and maybe even a few doors.
When I woke up on Friday (Day 6 of the challenge), I knew we were going to go over our $60 budget. The only question that remained was, by how much? The fridge was definitely bare, but I was about to head out of town AND there was no money left in the till to buy any additional ingredients. We just had to hunker down and do the best we could.
For breakfast, I ate the leftover McMuffin that was stashed in my work fridge ($1.25), and Jason scarfed his usual energy bar ($1.08). For lunch, I really put my cholesterol levels in a tizzy and had two hard-boiled eggs ($0.16), two frozen waffles ($0.38), and yogurt ($0.25). Jason opted for another portion of the leftover sesame noodles ($2.00). I had a slice of Nutella cake for a snack ($0.79), and Jason ate an apple ($0.41). For dinner, I ate the last container of the leftover noodles ($2.00). As for Jason, he headed out of town after work for a weekend of free college football fun, so there was no more food to count for him. At the end of the day, my total was $4.83 and Jason’s was $3.49, which brought our overall Friday number to $8.32. That was the first time we came in under the $8.57 daily budget, but it still brought our week-to-date total to $63.30. Any pride regarding the accomplishments of the day was short-lived when the budget crossed that sixty dollar line.
On Saturday, I woke up SUPER early to get to the airport, and I was so tired and cranky that I didn’t eat or drink anything until I got to New York (I was visiting my grandmother on Long Island). Once I picked my grandmother up from her rehab center, we headed straight for the local pizzeria to grab a slice. Thankfully, granny decided to treat, so I got a break from the number crunching for one meal. I did pay for dinner for both of us, which consisted of made-at-home roast beef sandwiches and potato chips. My total grocery bill for that meal was $5.00. Again, Jason was out of town, tailgating on someone else’s dime, so the grand total for the Eat on $60 challenge was…
I have a lot of thoughts about what we did well, what we could have done better, and what we learned through participating in this endeavor, but I’ll post those ruminations separately, as I think they deserve their own space. It took a while to process all of the information gleaned from the challenge, but I can tell you, without shame or regret, that I woke up on Sunday, took a brisk jog, and then went to my favorite childhood orchard and bought about ten pounds of fresh, crisp, juicy New York apples to bring back to Atlanta. There are just times when excess is too delicious and nostalgic to pass up…
Thursday of the Eat on $60 challenge was a BAD day right from the start. I wasn’t doing as well with the money as I hoped to, I was REALLY tired of eating leftovers, and I was fresh out of coffee. That all adds up to one cranky Betty, and I weighed the shame of quitting against the delicious freedom that would come from it. Largely due to the fact that I am a good Jewish girl, the guilt won out in the end. But I’m not going to lie–it was a close call.
I wish I could say that I was a good person that day, and that thoughts of all the poverty-stricken people in the United States helped me to realize that my teensy tiny sacrifice would be worth any short-lived pain I was experiencing. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. I tried every trick in the book to remind myself of how fortunate I am, and to feel grateful for having never personally dealt with hunger. Unfortunately, altruism just wasn’t on my mind. I felt like a miserable failure, but I didn’t particularly care. Like I said, it was a bad day.
It was also a bad day because I walked right out of the house without breakfast, probably due in large part to my lack of caffeination. Right as I got onto the interstate, my stomach started grumbling and I knew what I had done. There was a string of expletives, believe you me. I racked my brain for options, but I knew in my heart that the fast food breakfast was the only thing that would keep me even CLOSE to on-budget. So, with many a grumble, I headed to McDonald’s and got two sausage McMuffins with egg for $2.50. I ate one for breakfast and put the other in the office fridge.
Betty – McMuffin ($1.25). Total – $1.25
Jason – energy bar ($1.08). Total – $1.08
For lunch, Jason got leftover soup while I cleared out a few mix-and-match items that were hanging around from earlier in the week.
Betty – baked potato ($0.20), broccoli ($0.43), chicken salad ($1.13). Total – $1.76
Jason – soup ($0.92), Nutella cake ($0.79). Total – $1.71
For some reason, I wasn’t really snacky. I was super busy at work, so I guess part of it was that I didn’t have time to think about noshing in the afternoon like I usually do. Jason had an apple ($0.41) and Fig Newtons ($0.37), for a snack total of $0.78.
By the time dinner came rolling around, I was all kinds of pissy again. Nothing was appealing to me, and the text that I got from Jason while he was walking the dog didn’t help my motivation (it said something to the effect of “OMFG it smells good at Fritti”). I thought about bagging the whole challenge, getting in the car, and indulging in a lovely Neopolitan style pizza. I even had a $25 Fritti gift certificate, as if to coax me into submission and justify my failure. Just when I was about to give in, I saw some bacon out of the corner of my eye, left over from a pound that I had previously bought on sale. I took a deep breath, regained my perspective, and opted to make grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches for dinner. Between the two slices of bread ($0.14), two slices of cheese ($0.50), and three slices of bacon ($0.90), the sandwiches came out to $1.54 each. We added baked potatoes at $0.20 each, just to make sure we were full so that temptation wouldn’t rear its ugly head in the form of dessert.
So, dinner was $1.74 each, and it was actually quite comforting. My total for the day was $4.75, and Jason’s was $5.31. Our final daily number ended up at $10.06, which is the lowest it had been all week. However, by the end of Day 5, we had spent $54.98 for the week, leaving us with just over $5 for two people for two more days. It wasn’t looking good, but I was determined to stick with it to see just how far over our $60 budget we would go.
Okay, children, just a few more mediocre chefs to weed out before we REALLY get down to business. Seriously, don’t you feel like we should be at the end of the season already? I guess that’s what happens when you start with seventeen thousand chefs.
The obligatory first montage at the Top Chef compound finds Mike V. not wanting to talk about being in the bottom (let it out, dude), Robin doing pilates on the lawn, and Eli talking to his mom. Who is also his roommate, as he still lives at home with his parents. Ugh. Sadly, this Oedipal theme (which I experienced with nearly every Jewish guy I ever dated, consequently) will reappear later in the episode.
In the kitchen, Padma and Charlie Palmer announce the quickfire challenge, which is to create a dish that pairs with one of the Alexia Crunchy Snacks that they’ve been noshing on at their house. Ah, product placement. Everyone scurries off to work, with the onion snacks appearing to be the most popular choice. The Voltaggio brothers, both of whom have worked with Chef Palmer, jaw about who he likes better. Ash mumbles something about cooking his own food. At the end of the quickfire, Chef Palmer announces his least favorites: Robin and her corn parfait (it sounded AND looked disgusting), Ash and his cucumber soup (which was overpowered by the BBQ crunchy snack), and Jen’s overcooked pork chop. The favorites are Eli’s potato clam salad with fennel and celery, Kevin’s riff on green bean casserole with confit tomatoes, and Bryan’s safe seared ribeye (though I give him props for cooking steak for Charlie Palmer). Eli ends up winning, and he isn’t the least bit humble about it. I love Team ATL and all, but Eli is really getting on my nerves. I am now exclusively on Team Kevin.
The elimination challenge centers around Charlie Palmer’s “Pigs and Pinot” charity event. The chefs draw knives to determine which part of the pig they will be cooking, and then they each choose a pinot noir to pair with their dish. Eli trash-talks about peoples’ wine choices and his AWESOME palatte. After the excursion to Whole Foods (they have $300 for 150 tasting portions), we see the chefs cooking dinner at home. Robin is a chatty cathy as usual, and everyone is not-so-subtly glaring at her and/or making fun of her. She tries to boss Eli around in the kitchen, and then gets passive-aggressive with him when he doesn’t clean up after himself. Eli, in VERY mature fashion, huffs away with his scallops saying, “You’re not my mom!!!” Sexy, dude. Really. All the girls are going to want you after this episode.
Time to eat pig! Mike V.’s root beer braised pork cheek goes over well, which is NOT the case for Ash’s chilled pork tenderloin. The judges like Eli’s braised pork belly, but they don’t think it’s a good pairing with the wine. HA. So much for that incredible palatte, mama’s boy. Kevin’s pork leg terrine is delicious and works well with the wine, and the judges think the dish was a really smart choice. Mike I.’s stuffed pork shoulder looks delicious, though the judges say that the orange flavor is overwhelming. Bryan’s ribs seem to garner a lot of praise, as does Jen’s pork belly (which gets an audible “mmmm” from Padma). Laurine’s rillettes…well…there is a cat food comparison. ‘Nuff said. Robin’s pork chops are not porky enough.
The favorites end up being the Voltaggios, Kevin, and Jen. TEAM KEVIN GETS THE WIN, WOO HOO! In his enthusiasm, Kevin shows the judges his piggy tattoo. Awwwww. For winning, Kevin will be a featured chef at the 2010 Pigs & Pinot event in Healdsburg, California. I wanna go!
As for the unfortunate bottom three, they are Robin, Laurine, and Ash. I was thinking to myself, THIS would be a great time to have a mass offing, as I could deal with all three of those chefs packing their knives. The chefs left in the stew room all seem to want Robin to go home. I guess I just don’t get all the hate. She’s no more of a hack than Laurine or Ash, in my mind. As for the judges, the criticism of Robin’s dish is that it didn’t have enough pig flavor and the sauce was gummy. Ash talks about the dish he was originally going to do, and Tom asks him why he didn’t make THAT dish. Oh, snap. Laurine is informed that she does not actually know how to make rillettes. At the end of deliberations, it is Ash who is sent home for his second-guessing. He quips as he exits about making his original dish as as restaurant special and inviting all of the judges except Padma to a dinner party. Hee.
Next week…Restaurant Wars!!! YAY!!! Maybe now things will start to get interesting.
Wednesday was Day 4 of the Eat on $60 challenge, and it was a relatively good day. I had some good leftovers to eat at work, and I had a decent idea of what I could throw together cheaply for dinner. For breakfast, I opted for the same egg sandwich I had enjoyed on Day 3.
Betty – egg sammy ($0.55), two cups of coffee ($0.24). Total – $0.79
Jason – yogurt and Smart Start ($0.90), two cups of coffee ($0.24). Total – $1.14
Even though I had to take my lunch while participating in a conference call (usually, I am REALLY hard core about stepping away from my cubicle and my work to eat), I very much enjoyed the leftover Asian noodles. And even though Jason was probably sick of chicken salad sandwiches, that’s what he got. He’s not always around a microwave or silverware or anywhere that is not his car, so sandwiches are the best option.
Betty – leftover sesame noodles ($2.00), Dannon immunity ($0.25). Total – $2.25
Jason – chicken salad sandwich ($1.27), crackers ($0.20), grapes ($0.69). Total – $2.16
Snacks were more of the same, with me nibbling on grapes ($0.69) and Nutella cake ($0.79) for a total of $1.48. Jason got an apple ($0.41) and an energy bar ($1.08) for a total of $1.49.
As for dinner, I had leftover chicken, a rudimentary stock that I had made (minus the usual expensive and tasty herbs) from the roasted chicken carcass, some beans and veggies, and some dried noodles that I had snagged on sale. The obvious choice? Make some soup! So, I just dumped everything into a pot: chicken ($2.35 for about 5 servings), a can of black beans ($0.69), four servings of frozen peas ($0.80), half the noodles ($0.74), and the stock (which I’m saying is free, because I have already accounted for the full cost of the chicken, and I didn’t add anything to it besides water). The entire pot cost $4.58 to make, and I split the soup into five $0.92 servings. It certainly wasn’t the best soup I’ve ever had, and it needed a little “oomph” of acid, but it was warm and filling. And, I knew it would get better as it sat in the fridge, as all soups tend to do.
All total, my food for the day added up to $5.44, and Jason’s added up to $5.71. Our combined total was $11.15, and it brought our weekly total up to $44.92. I was MUCH happier with how we did during Day 4, and I was certainly thrilled to have made it over the proverbial hump, but I still had a nagging feeling that we could do better. In preparation for the rest of the week, I baked some potatoes and wrapped them up for future meals. I also thought about an Atlanta event that comes up every holiday season, the Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry annual Thanksgiving dinner. The organization focuses not just on hunger but also on giving homeless indviduals the tools to rebuild their lives. The Thanksgiving dinner is held at Turner Field and is a HUGE production, so they are always looking for donations and volunteers. If you are interested in getting involved, visit the organization’s website: http://www.hoseafeedthehungry.com/default.aspx.
I woke up on Tuesday morning determined to eat well all day, but to take our final dollar amount down from Day 2. Specifically, I was really focused on bringing the cost of breakfast to a more budget-friendly place. Jason stuck with his usual yogurt and cereal, but I decided to make myself an egg sandwich and take it to-go. Two eggs at $0.08 each, two slices of wheat bread at $0.07 each, and one slice of cheese at $0.25 made a filling meal for only $0.55. It takes more effort than an energy bar, but it’s a lot nicer on the wallet.
Betty – egg sammy ($0.55), two cups of coffee ($0.24). Total – $0.79
Jason – yogurt and Smart Start ($0.90), two cups of coffee ($0.24). Total – $1.14
For lunch, I packed Jason his usual, and I decided to take the leftover pizza from the night before. It was too tasty to waste, and I knew it would keep me full enough that I wouldn’t snack as much as usual in the afternoon. I wasn’t planning on buying any yogurt for myself, but the stuff I like was on SUPER sale, AND I had a coupon, so I figured that I could have my own at a quarter per serving.
Betty – leftover pizza ($3.35), Dannon immunity yogurt ($0.25). Total – $3.60
Jason – chicken salad sandwich ($1.27), crackers ($0.20), Fig Newtons ($0.37). Total – $1.84
Snacks were pretty light for me, with crackers ($0.20) being all I needed to get me through a long afternoon at work. Jason, on the other hand, ate an apple ($0.41), some grapes ($0.69), AND an energy bar ($1.08). Again, the budget was particularly difficult while hubby was doing boot camp, since he still wanted to eat 5-6 times per day and get a good mix of proteins, carbs, and other nutrients. Which brings up an interesting point…
There are plenty of people who suffer from hunger who…well…don’t LOOK hungry. There is certainly a link between food stamp benefits and obesity, the obvious reason being that the cheaper foods tend to be the more calorie-dense, high-fat, processed, “junky” choices. But another factor is exercise, of course, and the fact that many people in the United States (and NOT just food stamp recipients) just don’t get any. While it is most definitely crucial to address hunger issues, making healthier food available to all is only part of the solution. I’d be interested to hear if anyone knows of organizations with a focus on fitness in low-income populations.
For dinner, I threw together cold sesame noodles with chicken and cucumbers, from a recent Cooking Light magazine. I cook with Asian flavors quite a bit, so I had almost all of the oils and spices required for the dish. I started calculating things out, but it truly started giving me a migraine. Math hurts, kids. So, I decided to estimate high and go with $5.00 total for the small quantities of rice vinegar, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce (which I bought on sale at Kroger for $1), ginger, and honey.
Total – $10.00. I split the finished dish into 5 servings, so each one was $2.00.
Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Combine rice vinegar and the next 5 ingredients (through ginger) in a large bowl, and stir with a whisk. Add noodles, chicken, and cucumbers to bowl; toss gently to coat.
I served the noodles with some Steamfresh frozen broccoli, which calculated out to $0.43 per serving. So, dinner was $2.43 per serving, which brought my total for the day to $7.02 and Jason’s to $7.59. When we added that $14.61 to the numbers from Days 1 and 2, our week-to-date total became $33.77. We were more than halfway through our budget, but not quite halfway through the week. Would we make it through the challenge with our budget intact? Only time would tell…
Monday morning brought a whole new set of challenges to our Eat on $60 experience. First, we had to account for ALL of our meals (not just dinner like the previous day). Second, with my husband participating in fitness boot camp, I had to pack him a lunch (and snacks) that would satisfy his metabolism requirements while complying with the monetary limitations. Finally, it was Monday morning, and I was groggy and cranky. You know how it is.
Before I launch into how we did on Day 2, let me throw some info at you. After all, this challenge is about more than just scrimping and saving for a week – it’s about cultivating awareness of hunger issues, both locally and nationally. Did you know that according to the 2006 U.S. Census, more than one in five Georgia children live in poverty. That’s 491,794 children under the age of 18 who face hunger issues as a part of their daily lives. I know food was a HUGE part of my childhood, so that really is a devastating figure for me. If you want to read more and learn about ways you can help, a visit to the Atlanta Community Food Bank website is a great start. There are some really cool events coming up that will raise money to address the very issues we are trying to bring to light with this challenge.
Okay, back to Monday’s eating. Here’s how it broke down…
Betty – energy bar ($1.08), coffee (2 cups at $0.12 each = $0.24). Total – $1.32
Jason – yogurt ($0.60), Smart Start cereal ($0.30), coffee (1 cup = $0.12). Total – $1.02
When I got to work and started crunching numbers, I smacked myself on the forehead when I realized how CRAZY expensive those energy bars can be. We eat them out of convenience, sure, but also because we usually involved in some sort of athletic pursuit (boot camp for Jason, triathlon training for me) and those bars are a great way to get nutrients while running/biking. My disappointment was evened out somewhat by the cheapness of our store-brand, made-at-home coffee. And it got rid of my morning crankiness just like the expensive coffee shop stuff!
Betty – 2 leftover pork chops ($1.96), leftover applesauce ($0.61). Total – $2.57
Jason – chicken salad sandwich (bread $0.14, chicken $0.47, mayo $0.66 = $1.27), crackers ($0.20), Fig Newtons ($0.37). Total – $1.84
Again, lunch made me smack myself upside the head. I didn’t really NEED two pork chops, but lunch is usually a pretty large meal for me (a habit I picked up in Spain), and I just didn’t think I would be satisfied with one. The applesauce was delicious once again. As for hubby’s meal, the crackers and Fig Newtons were already in the pantry before the challenge, so I divided out their total cost to a per-serving number, which was not as bad as I anticipated given that they were the individually wrapped variety.
Betty – Nutella pound cake ($0.79 per slice, breakdown below). Total – $0.79
Jason – gala apple ($0.41, on sale), energy bar ($1.08). Total – $1.49
The Nutella pound cake had been calling my name since I saw it in the most recent Food and Wine magazine, so I baked it up to see if it would fit into the challenge. It worked out to a pretty reasonable per-serving number, and it was really delicious. Nutella itself is pretty expensive, but thankfully, Kroger makes a store-brand hazelnut spread that worked out beautifully and kept the recipe cost much lower. Here it is:
Total – $6.32. There were 8 slices, so that works out to $0.79 per slice.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 seconds longer. Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan, then spread half of the Nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut the cake into slices and serve.
For dinner, I decided to make a pizza at home, based on this recipe from Cooking Light magazine. Unfortunately, the math somehow got messed up in my head, because once I added everything up and broke it down per serving, I realized that the dish didn’t quite fit within our budget. Grrrr. In any case, I got a store bought pizza crust ($2.59), put some pesto sauce down as the base ($4.49!!!!), and covered the pie with two servings of roasted chicken ($0.94), one cup of halved red grapes ($0.69), half a package of store-brand shredded mozzarella ($0.84), and a couple of cloves of garlic ($0.50). The total came out to $10.05, and we broke it down into three servings ($3.35 per serving). In hindsight, we probably could have broken it down to four servings. Lesson learned. The pizza was delicious, and I definitely want to make it again, but I will find a way to make it cheaper, perhaps by making my own crust and/or pesto.
At the end of the day, my food added up to $8.28, and Jason’s added up to $7.70. So, our total spent on Day 2 was $15.98 (making our total for the week-to-date $19.16). Certainly, that number is WAY less than what we normally spend, but it was significantly over the daily budget we were shooting for. We learned a lot, though, and pledged to alter our habits a bit on Day 3 in order to get ourselves more in line with the proper numbers. Did we succeed? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out…
On Sunday, October 3, my husband and I started the Eat on $60 challenge. For those who are unfamiliar, you can read my intro post here or you can visit running with tweezers for some further background and info. Basically, in order to draw attention to the food and hunger issues faced by many people in our so-called “developed” country, a bunch of bloggers are attempting to eat on $30 per person for a week. Most of the participants are actually DOING the challenge from October 11-17, but due to travel and other commitments, we decided to take part during the previous week and then post our experiences after the fact. The week was incredibly eye-opening, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for all of the stories. Here goes!
All weekend, I was thinking about Sunday the 3rd and what the strategy would be for the Eat on $60 challenge. It was a fairly low-stress start, as we were up at Big Canoe with my parents and were provided a huge, free breakfast to sustain us until the evening. But, we did have to plan our first (and quite possibly only) trip to the grocery store, so I spent part of the morning looking at the supermarket sale fliers and cutting coupons. We did our shopping at Kroger, since they seemed to have a number of items on special that I thought would be helpful for the week’s meals. Among the things we purchased were whole chickens, frozen veggies, potatoes, apples, grapes, cucumbers, eggs, some mixed bone-in pork chops, bread, and some assorted store-brand dairy and condiments/seasonings. Almost everything in our cart was on sale, or I had a coupon for it, or both.
Because I ended up using (and accounting for monetarily) a lot of items I already had at home, my total grocery bill for that trip is a bit misleading. However, I did note a couple of interesting things: 1) I spent WAY more time at the store than usual, because I really had to think about both the menu planning AND price implications of everything I purchased; 2) my cart seemed very empty, because I usually just throw items in there with reckless abandon and don’t worry about how they are going to be utilized; and 3) I spent less on that one trip to the supermarket than I think I ever have before, barring those quick one- or two-item trips for things I forgot. Also, at the bottom of my receipt, I noticed that the coupons (some of which were doubled) and specials had saved me almost $20.00.
After our shopping excursion, I set out to make dinner and calculate our totals for the day. I had seen a recipe in my most recent Cooking Light magazine for pan-fried pork chops and homemade applesauce, which they said could feed four for under $10 (the figure they gave was $2.43 per serving). The recipe called for bone-in center-cut pork chops, but those were $3.99 per pound! Instead, I bought 6 mixed-bone-in chops for $5.85, working out to $0.98 per chop. Instead of pan-frying them, I simply grilled them up with a little bit of salt and pepper (both freebies for this challenge, by the by). We had to cut a bit more fat off of them than we would have with the center-cut chops, but other than that, there was no noticeable difference in flavor. The homemade applesauce was REALLY good. Like, I will make HUGE batches of this when the challenge is over, good. The tart Granny Smith apples countered the sweetness of the sugar, and the texture was much less watery than pre-made applesauce.
Total for the whole batch: $1.82
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add apples to pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1/2 cup water, sugar, juice, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to pan. Cover and cook 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender. Mash gently with the back of a spoon.
We split the batch into three servings, so the applesauce came out to $0.61 per serving. Jason and I each had one pork chop and one serving of applesauce, and we both drank water, so the whole dinner ended up costing $1.59 per person. Not too shabby, and like I said, the applesauce was a delicious surprise.
Due to the kindness of my parents and a well-planned and well-budgeted meal, we rounded out the day having only spent $3.18. I went to bed that night feeling satisfied and confident. At least for the moment…