Food

August Challenge: Week 2

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

Week 2 started off quite strong. And by strong I mean, people kept giving us food!! Jimi had to go in to the office on Friday (August 7) and they catered a meal for all the employees. He came home with a giant tray of leftover Greek food for us (he truly understands my love language).

We feasted on spanakopita, beef skewers, and hummus over the weekend. On Sunday morning, I decided to go beyond a quick nuke in the microwave and instead made omelettes with leftover baked potatoes, lamb, and some freshly shredded cheddar cheese. Comfort food at it’s finest.

On Sunday evening, I drove out to Lancaster to do some work on our rental units and pay a visit to the in-laws. After several hours of painting, changing out door knobs, and fixing baseboards, my mother-in-law called me over for dinner. Marlene is one of the most outstanding cooks I have ever encountered. She can turn scraps into feasts and leftovers into Michelin-star meals. That night she had made chimichurri chicken, potato wedges, and a balsamic salad. Her husband, Steve, who has taken up cooking as a quarantine hobby and is a fastidious sous chef, put together a corn casserole dish. It was a hearty and heartening meal after working all evening.

And, of course, Marlene always sends us home with leftovers. Not only did I get the extra chicken and casserole, but she had prepared Milanesa Napolitana just for me to take back to Jimi. If you have never had this mouthwatering dish, think of it as pizza… but with meat instead of pizza dough.

While I can’t tell you Marlene’s precise recipe (she never writes any of her dishes down), this recipe is a fairly good approximation.

We got through the weekend without a grocery run! On Monday, I did stop by the store to pick up a few things: tomato sauce (I’ve got all those frozen meatballs still), peaches (get ready for more whiskey cocktails), and a few things to make carnitas.

I bought some pork shoulder a couple weeks ago and stuck it in my freezer, waiting for a day when I had the time to slow roast it in the oven. Monday afternoon seemed to be that day! I pulled out the pork shoulder to defrost while I did my grocery run. Carnitas are a new one for me– I had never even considered making them until quarantine expanded my horizons. After my first attempt, though, my husband made it clear that I should make them on a regular basis. The pork turns out so tender and juicy, it’s really cheap, and you can use it in a variety of ways: quesadillas, lettuce-wrapped tacos, and (with a little bbq sauce) pulled pork sandwiches!

I’ve experimented with a variety of carnitas recipes this summer. I’ve braised the meat in wine, chicken stock, and citrus juice. I’ve added lots of spices and I’ve just tried salt (with unique toppings added to every individual meal). This carnitas recipe is my personal favorite at the moment, but I am open to alternatives. If you happen to have a delicious recipe, please share– I’d love to give it a try!

Between the leftovers and the carnitas, I didn’t do a lot of cooking this week– but that didn’t mean I stayed out of the kitchen. I baked up a storm… causing my husband some serious consternation.

“I thought we were trying to eat healthy,” he said with a mouthful of meringue.

“I’m trying to perfect my French pastry skills!” I explained, piping another row of meringue onto a baking sheet. “What do you think of it?”

“It’s got a weird flavor. Like it’s good… but it doesn’t taste like what I grew up with.” We later determined that traditional Argentine meringue was exclusively egg whites, water, and sugar. The French recipe that I followed included vanilla. I was pretty impressed with my husband’s taste buds.

Aaaand speaking of vanilla, I ran out of Vanilla Extract this week. On my first shopping trip, I decided to cheap out and buy “Imitation Vanilla Extract” for $1.47. Guys. Don’t do it. It was absolutely awful. Thankfully, since I didn’t have to spend much money on groceries this week, I splurged on a bottle of the real stuff at Costco. My baking supplies are completely restocked for the foreseeable future!

Here’s my spending breakdown from August 8-14:

FoodCost
Butter Lettuce$1.25
Blueberries (2)$2.50
Limes (4)$1.00
Oranges (3)$1.44
Peaches (3)$1.92
Cilantro$0.79
Marinara$2.79
Chicken Broth$1.99
Ginger Root Powder$2.80
Imitation Vanilla Extract$1.47
White Vinegar$1.17
Sausage (1lb)$1.99
Pure Vanilla Extract$24.99
Eggs (2 dozen)$3.79
Total $49.89

And here are all the glorious baked goods I made this week:

Macarons with French Buttercream

Preppy Kitchen has an amazing recipe tutorial for Macarons. Mine turned out… ok? They didn’t really puff up, so there’s a few tweaks I want to try next time. French pastry is all about precision which is so not my style. I played a little fast and loose with this recipe and definitely regretted it. Also, the French Buttercream was basically straight butter. I’ll go with a more traditional frosting in the future.

Meringues

I fell straight down the Preppy Kitchen rabbit hole and tried Meringues next. These were super fun to make– and quite lovely to eat. I definitely want to practice my piping and try out other flavors in the future.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

This is such a fun alternative to chocolate chip cookies. The bars stay so gooey in the center, but the edges get crispy. There’s a little something for everyone in a crowd! You can add some M&M’s on top for a festive touch (this batch was from July– I forgot to take a picture of this week’s version).

I think Week 3 will be a true test of will. My fridge is completely empty and my pantry is starting to look a bit sparse. Let’s see how it goes!

Food

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:

FoodCost
Milk$3.99
Cheese$3.99
Coffee Creamer$1.79
Flour$3.99
Brown Sugar$2.49
White Sugar$5.39
Onions (4)$3.17
Rosemary$1.49
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


Total$57.18

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

Appetizer: 

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!

Dinner:

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!

Dessert: 

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!