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.
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…
A few weekends ago, I happened to see a Tweet about Chef Kevin Gillespie (of Woodfire Grill and Top Chef fame) doing a cooking demo with okra at the Morningside Farmers Market. Since my husband is ALWAYS trying to get me to cook more okra, and since we are both fans of the show, we decided to walk the puppy down to the market and see what the chef had to teach us (read: me).
The seating area was already pretty crowded when we arrived, but it wasn’t the madhouse I expected. Before beginning the demonstration, Chef Kevin meandered about the market, picking up his ingredients and chatting with the different vendors. He really seems as affable and gregarious in person as he does on television.
After being introduced, Chef Kevin launched into his demo. He talked about okra’s roots in various cuisines, and reinforced that it’s more than just something to fry or throw in a stew. He was extremely focused on the food that he was preparing, but he was simultaneously quite engaged with his audience. He dished out tips about shopping for and prepping the ingredients. He told an adorable story about how he still uses his granny’s recipe for grits. He took questions, even when they were the annoying TC inquiries that he contractually couldn’t answer. One interesting question was whether he would have preferred to cook for the French chefs (rather than eat with them, an honor he earned by winning the escargot quickfire challenge). The answer was an emphatic YES, since those chefs heavily influenced his cooking and his career, and he wanted to show them what he could do (he also did not enjoy hearing the harsh critiques of his fellow contestants’ dishes).
While he is clearly very knowledgeable, Chef Kevin isn’t afraid to fess up when he isn’t sure about something; I asked him if he had any tips on freezing okra (since I love using it in soups, but it is not a cold-weather plant), and he looked up quizically and said, “You know, I have no idea!” He then told me to try it out and then give him a call to let him know how it worked out.
After he was finished cooking, Chef Kevin passed out samples of his dish. It was absolutely delicious, almost surprisingly so when you take into account the fact that he was working on a fold-out table with a Coleman camping burner. I suppose his ability to make fabulous food in less-than-ideal circumstances is one of the reasons he is still wowing the judges on Top Chef. Jason insisted that I try to recreate the dish for dinner the following night, so I bought all the ingredients and gave it my best shot. It came reeeeeeally close, but it just seemed like it was a little off somehow. I just think it was missing the spark and charm that Chef Kevin Gillespie brings to his food.
Here is a slightly edited version of Chef Kevin’s recipe. Enjoy!
“Sauteed okra with grits and chili tomato sauce”
Brown the bacon in a large skillet until most of the fat has been removed. Add the onion, sweet pepper, and garlic to the pan and allow to soften over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add tomato, orange zest, fennel pollen, and a pinch of salt. Add the chili oil (note: there was never an amount given, but this is an oil-based sauce and the chili flavor is imperative, so don’t be stingy). Allow the mixture to lightly fry in the fat until the sugars begin to lightly caramelize. Remove from heat, re-season and hold until ready.
Coat a heavy skillet with olive oil; over high heat, quickly sauté the okra until a deep color is achieved. Season and spoon over grits (prepared according to that brand’s directions). Top with tomato sauce.
As the mainstream media tells us countless times every day, these are tough times we’re living in. Incomes are low (if you even HAVE a job, that is), expenses are high, and people everywhere are struggling to get more and more out of every dollar. While I’m fortunate to have a stable job, and while I think I make fairly responsible decisions regarding money, I still find myself wondering how I can do better and keep more of my hard-earned cash in the bank.
Food is always a tough area to cut from the budget. After all, I love to cook new and interesting things for my friends and family. I make every attempt to prepare healthy and delicious everyday meals. I enjoy eating out and then writing about my experiences. Let’s face it: maintaining a food blog is NOT an inexpensive undertaking. The fact is, however, that I make conscious choices about my food-related spending. Plenty of people don’t even have the opportunity to THINK about such choices, as their available funds are so low that eating represents a difficult necessity rather than a pleasurable activity. More specifically, the amount of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) money received by the average individual equates to just over $3 per day.
Earlier this year, one of my favorite Atlanta food bloggers (the lovely and talented Tami of running with tweezers) wrote about her $30 project, in which she attempted to curb her food budget and still prepare nutritions, satisfying meals. She came up with some really great recipes, and she also shared some wonderful insights about her food habits. There were a number of other bloggers who took part in the experiment, and it was so thought-provoking that Tami decided to do it again during the week of October 11 and open it up to whomever wanted to participate.
Due to planned travel and a couple of other hiccups, I will be attempting the $30 project (actually, it is the $60 project, since there are two adults in my house) this week and then blogging about it during the week of October 11. Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, the point isn’t to truly put myself in the shoes of someone receiving food stamps, nor to make light of the devastating hunger situation in the United States and around the world, nor to get up on a soapbox regarding the availability of local, organic, free-trade food for all people. The point isn’t to make one big meal on Day 1 and then eat it for the rest of the week. The point is to be as creative and healthy as possible on a limited budget, and to therefore put more thought and work into my food choices.
I really look forward to sharing with you all. If you’re interested in other folks’ takes on this project, you can click on Tami’s link above (or on the blogroll) and/or visit the lovely Lemmonex. I’m sure more folks will take on the challenge, and I will be happy to update my links accordingly. Feel free to comment/email if you’d like to participate or want more information.
A while back, I made a really bad pesto sauce. It was arugula-based, which isn’t patently offensive, but there wasn’t enough “other stuff” to balance out the bitterness, and it was pretty much inedible. So, when I suggested pasta with pesto as a side dish for a dinner I cooked for friends this week, Jason was understandably concerned.
This time, though, I followed a very classic, tried-and-true recipe (this specific one came from Bon Appetit magazine, but there are thousands of variations). The results were much, much better! I made it the night before the dinner and then covered it in oil, which preserved the moisture very nicely. I also added a small amount of the pasta water to the sauce before adding the linguine, which helped everything to combine better. The sauce was delicious–slightly sweet from the basil, slightly salty from the cheese, and just chock full of fresh flavors. There’s no reason to buy pre-made pesto sauce when you can throw this together in mere moments!
Combine first 4 ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt; blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.)