August Challenge: Week 1

Goal: Spend only $50/week on groceries for my husband and I.

Well, nothing went quite as expected this week. Last Friday (July 31), I found out that we were going to have company over for dinner on Saturday evening. I definitely didn’t budget for guests!! So, I went grocery shopping on Friday for that specific meal and didn’t count it towards my August budget— that’s not cheating, right?

Other than that slight exception, here’s my spending breakdown and some of the fun recipes I tried out this week:

Coffee Creamer$1.79
Brown Sugar$2.49
White Sugar$5.39
Onions (4)$3.17
Lemons (5)$1.99
Asparagus (1lb)$3.49
Cucumbers (2)$1.00
Roma Tomatoes (1lb)$1.00
Russet Potatoes (3lb)$2.36
Shallots (3)$0.78
Garlic Powder$4.30
Orzo Pasta (1lb)$0.98
Dried Basil$0.62
Polenta (1lb)$1.34
Chicken Thighs (3lb)$6.04
Ground Beef (2lb)$6.98


SO close to my budget of $50. Also, I’m being extremely honest and including all the baking goods I stocked up on, even though they were mostly supplies for the cheesecake I made for our guests. Here’s a few meals that I concocted this week:

Dinner Party, Saturday, August 1, 2020


Spinach and Artichoke Dip— I blended everything in advance, then popped it in the oven a few minutes before our guests arrived. Hot, cheesy dip was a perfect way to start the evening.

Rosemary, Garlic Bread — I timed this to come out of the oven just before I popped the dip in. Unfortunately, it didn’t get a good rise on it, but the intense flavors and yeasty texture were great with the cheesy artichoke dip!


Ground Beef and Cheese Stromboli — I made homemade pizza crust this time and it ended up being a little soft/loose. I would definitely do it with store-bought pizza dough next time. Quite tasty, though, and great for a group!


New York Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce — Wow. This giant cheesecake (slightly taller than my springform pan!) has the perfect texture, the perfect flavor… it’s just incredible. I did spice up the crust with some cinnamon and nutmeg, but other than that I let it be. I made a simple strawberry sauce and poured it over each individual slice. Our guests (and my husband) were absolutely smitten. 

Note: I spent just about $45 on this specific meal. It’s wild to think that I blew almost a full week’s “budget” on one meal, but I made three courses for four people— which breaks down to $11.25/each. Way cheaper than a fancy meal out!

Dinner, Monday, August 3, 2020

Polenta with Homemade Meatballs — I had some leftover Stromboli filling to use up, so I decided to use it as a sauce for a polenta dish. My mother-in-law got me hooked on ooey, gooey polenta and I used my mom’s meatball recipe— quite the family affair! Here’s our family meatball recipe:

  1. Soak 4 bread slices in ½ cup water 2-3 minutes
  2. Add 2 eggs and mix well
  3. Add 1lb. of ground beef, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp sniped parsley (fresh) or 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp salt, ¼ tsp dried oregano and dash of pepper
  4. Mix with wet hands
  5. Form mixture into small balls (about 24 per # of meat)
  6. Brown slowly in t tbsp of hot oil (Canola) in skillet.
  7. Fun Fact: These freeze really well. I almost always make a double batch.

Dinner, Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sheet Pan Lemon Rosemary Dijon Chicken and Potatoes with Feta Goddess Sauce Quite the name. But quite the dish. I loved how easy it was to throw everything onto a sheet pan and get a beautiful blend of flavors. The feta goddess sauce was quite tart (with the Greek yogurt, feta, and lemon all on the sour end of the spectrum) so I might play around with that in the future. All in, this dish costs about $10 and we had enough leftovers for three meals! 

Cocktails, Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Penicillin — Mid-week cocktail time! I watched an interesting documentary called “Neat: The Story of Bourbon” on Hulu and was inspired to do a little whiskey mixing. The recipe I settled on called for Scotch Whiskey, but I swapped it for the Four Roses Bourbon I had on hand. Does that mean I get to call this Debby’s Penicillin? Regardless of whether this will be my new claim to fame, the smoothness of the bourbon and honey paired with the tartness of the lemon and the spiciness of the ginger… it just sung. Jimi is not much of a drinker, but even he couldn’t resist this concoction!

Breakfast, Thursday, August 6, 2020

Turnip Omelettes— Yeah, I know it sounds super weird. Let me give you the backstory. After our honeymoon in Thailand, Jimi and I became obsessed with finding the best Thai food in LA. On our search for those spicy, nutty, warm flavors, we stumbled across a restaurant called Ruen Pair. The reviews were stellar and they all mentioned one truly superb dish: the turnip omelette. We went for dinner one night and waited 45 minutes for a table. The smells coming from the kitchen were unspeakably delightful. When we were finally seated, we ordered half a dozen dishes— including the omelette. We could have just ordered half a dozen of them. It was amazing: salty, sweet, greasy… just all of the late-night flavors you crave. We have brought many of our friends here and they are always blown away by what seems like such a weird dish. I recently found a recipe that attempts to mimic the omelette and while it’s not quite the right flavor or consistency, it’s on the right track. Since the ingredients are cheap, I’ve been experimenting with it on a regular basis. I’ll write a post once I perfect it!


Quarantine Cocktails

Soo… there’s a good chance that you’re treating the COVID blues with booze. At the very beginning of the crisis, “U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55%… according to market research firm Nielsen. Spirits like tequila, gin and pre-mixed cocktails led the way, with sales jumping 75% compared to the same period last year. Wine sales were up 66% while beer sales rose 42%” (according to The Associated Press). Wooo boy.

Day-drinking is officially the norm now. And with all this hot weather, I’ve taken it upon myself to find the perfect summer cocktail. While I am no mixologist, I have dug through the internet archives to uncover the most refreshing concoctions. Here’s my three faves:

1. Rosemary Gin Fizz

My romance with gin began on the Greek Peloponnesus. After 18 holes of golf at Costa Navarino, my golf partners and I would retire to the clubhouse patio for gin and tonics. They were zesty and strong, cooling us down and reviving us for an evening of revelry. G&Ts were essentially our version of pre-gaming.

Over the years, I’ve gravitated more towards bourbon-based cocktails. COVID was the perfect excuse to revive my interest in gin. I bought some Beefeater last week and began experimenting. I looked into some grapefruit-forward recipes and I liked the citrus notes, but none of them felt quite balanced enough. Then, I came across the Rosemary Gin Fizz. I had fresh rosemary on hand and decided to make some homemade infused simple syrup. The Rosemary Gin Fizz is essentially lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, and gin, topped with club soda and a garnish. The flavors complement each other so well. My husband, who is not a big drinker and really doesn’t like the flavor of gin, had to hand it to me– “Oh wow, this is actually really good.”

2. Brown Derby

I was determined to make the ultimate grapefruit cocktail– primarily due to the fact that I had purchased an enormous bag of grapefruit at Costco. Bourbon is my typical alcohol of choice and I had a nice bottle of Four Roses in my kitchen (also from Costco– don’t judge me). A quick Google search of “bourbon + grapefruit” led me to the Brown Derby. After testing a few variations, I determined that my preferred sweetener is honey simply syrup— it just seems to mix better than sugar or honey from a jar.

The Brown Derby is described as “Old Hollywood in a Glass” and it does feel like that. It’s classy, rich, and smooth, like a hot summer night in Los Angeles. The citrus gives it a summery feel, but the bourbon and honey give it more warmth– a certain coziness. This might be my favorite cocktail of all time.

3. Strawberry Summer Sangria

What is summer without sangria? We had some friends over for dinner the other night (members of our tiny COVID-bubble) and I knew our friend, Jon, loved a good sangria. I had some ripe stone fruit on hand, so I started hunting for recipes. When I stumbled across the Strawberry Summer Sangria, I knew it was a winner. All of my favorite fruits, plus red wine and agave nectar? ALL the “yes”.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Grand Marnier so I subbed in a generic brandy for that extra boost of alcohol. I sliced up all the fruit, doused it in a bottle of wine, and put the pitcher in the fridge to sit overnight. When our friends came for dinner, I scooped the fruit into glasses, poured in some of the wine, and topped it off with a little seltzer. I was savoring my second sip when I looked over at Jon’s glass — it was empty. “Jon! Do you want some more?!” I said, startled at his speed. “I think I should slow down a bit,” he said laughing, “It was just so easy to drink with the seltzer.”

Yes, this sangria is dangerous. But it is also incredibly delicious. (Side note: I apologize for the lack of pictures– it was literally gone before I thought of snapping some.)

What are you drinking during quarantine? Send me your tips and tricks!