Hunger Action Challenge Day 5: Aloo Gobi and Wine

Yes, I realize food stamps do not pay for wine. That’s why this is a simulation. With $7.71 cents left in our challenge, B and I went to Trader Joe’s for a bottle of wine. Picking out a bottle of $3.99 Carminere, I started to the check out counter. B dragged me over for a second bottle, A Charles Shaw Merlot for $2.99. Yup, Two Buck Chuck. Ugh, B! “But we have the money, right?” he asked. We do. We did. We bought the two bottles and headed home for dinner. After another breakfast of lentils and the leftover casserole for lunch (with olives, grapes and a banana), I was ready for something fun and tasty for dinner.

I improvised a little Aloo Gobi, boiling some potatoes while I wokked jalapenos, garlic, ginger, onions and cauliflower. When they were almost ready, I tossed the potatoes, a little water, salt, pepper and curry powder into the wok and let the whole thing stew for a little while. Meanwhile I also prepared the last two artichokes with roasted garlic aioli. The artichoke truly might be the perfect food. By the time dinner was ready and B was off the phone with the Tivo repair people, we started the second bottle of wine.

“Gosh, that dollar really makes a difference in the wine quality” I commented

“Yeah. Living on a budget is hard”–B

Okay, yeah, that is not really appropriate, but it was funny. That said, there ended our hunger challenge. We’re getting up Saturday morning to resume eating at restaurants, being inspired by the food and flying by the seat of our pants instead of planning ahead. You can see my overview write up here of the whole challenge, in which we spent $59.98 of our $60 allotment for the week.

Sorry to be so brief. We drank two bottles of wine. That’s my only excuse!


Hunger Challenge Day 4: Risk Taking

The first thing I noticed in shopping for this challenge was that I took less risk in shopping. Normally I pull anything of the shelf and figure out what to do with it later. With the limited amount of money, I was more careful. I’m not really sure why, as I’ve never run into an issue with experimentation, but it was a reaction to the challenge. Yet as I prepared my dinner for Thursday (I did so Wednesday evening) I took a risk and made a new dish.

imgp4282Knowing that I had a soccer game at 7pm on Thursday, I prepared dinner Wednesday night. With a fridge full of leftover roasted chicken and a ton of masa left from the tortillas, I knew I had to do a take on my usual casserole. And it was darn easy. Even if I forgot it in the oven so there is a brown yolk. If you remember to take it out of the oven at the right time, you won’t have this problem.

Leftover Chicken Casserole

2 cups masa
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chicken fat (or lard if you have it)
1/3 of a leftover Chicken
2 jalapenos
4 eggs
4 stalks Cilantro
4 cups chicken stock

Mix the masa, water and chicken fat (I had some leftover from making the stock) and whip, so that you get a nice, light dough. In a 9in square baking pan, shred the chicken and arrange it in a layer, then sprinkle 1 jalapeno over it. Pour chicken stock to just cover it. Pat the masa into flat circles and arrange in a single layer, as close to completely covering the chicken as possible. Make another layer of chicken and jalapenos, repeat with the stock and then crack the three eggs, trying to get them all spread out. Another layer of masa, add a touch more stock for moisture and the fourth egg on the top, in the center. Mostly for show. Into the oven at 425 for an hour and you’re all set. Sprinkle with cilantro. I also served this with leftover cucumber, lime and jalapeno salsa.

For lunch we simply had the leftovers of last nights dinner, as it was so incredibly good. I now live for pork cheeks. Bacon is so last year. Breakfast was again lentils.

Hunger Challenge Day 3

When we woke up this morning, in addition to making our usual lentils for breakfast, I had another thing to prepare–our Holy Sh*t Pork Cheeks for tonight! When you’re on a budget and buying cheap cuts of meat and plan to come home hungry, the slow cooker is a girl’s best friend. It turned out to be a nasty rainy day and I was coming down with some sort of illness, so sitting at work all day remembering the deliciousness boiling away at home made me very happy.

Lunch was another Chicken Bahn Mi–I was going to branch out and use the leftover steak, but B liked these so much, and I figured we had plenty of chicken, so I tossed the rest of the ribeyes and fixed up another Chicken Sandwich. To go with it we had some leftover grilled bok choi, leftover grilled masa cakes, oranges and bananas. That was the end of the fruit, and I knew it would not due to run out of fruit–B would give up the challenge instantly, so I ran down to the farm market by my office and spent another $4.22 (Total: $52.29) to pick up four more bananas, a pound of grapes and a bag full of potatoes. Reason for potatoes? Umm, yeah, this is why I’d be bad at living on a budget. I just bought potatoes for absolutely no good reason. Yes, I’m still well within the budget, but there was simply no reason to buy them. I probably won’t use them before the end of the challenge. I just like potatoes, so I got them.

Okay, so back to dinner. In addition to the pork cheeks–which I made with roasted jalapenos instead of chipotle peppers, since I hadn’t bought those and it was easy to roast the peppers, I made a salsa of jalapenos, cucumbers, lime juice and cilantro. Aside from being horrifyingly spicy, it was delicious. After realizing I may have over done the spice there, I made a big batch of caramelized onions and garlic to cool off our tacos. Then I made my homemade tortillas.

I don’t own a tortilla press, I love making mine the way the little old ladies in the markets in Guatemala do–by slapping them back and forth in my hands. They end up a little more rusticly shaped and a little smaller, but they are way more fun to make and they taste delicious!

All in all, day 3 was another breeze, other than the end of the fruit, though I think that problem is solved. I made a casserole for tomorrow nights dinner (you’ll hear about that tomorrow), so I really only have one dinner left to go and a fair amount of food–mostly vegetables, so we’ll see how that goes. As for the $7.71 left? I could buy some meat for Friday, but it’s more likely I will put it toward a bottle of wine for that night.

Day 2 of the Hunger Action Challenge: Impulse Shopping

Worst Budget Shopper EVER: I bought rib-eye steaks. Okay, I’ll be honest, they weren’t that expensive and I didn’t go over my budget, but it just felt ridiculous. Also I’d been sent to the store for tofu. And came home with steak. I might be the only girl whose boyfriend would complain in this situation “but I’d been looking forward to a nice meal of tofu and vegetables!” I’m dating freaking Vince the vegetarian here!

imgp4275With a day like today’s in Seattle, there was no question that we wanted to bust out the grill, so I was off to the store for tofu. I took a little wander by the meat department, and well, you see what happened next.

For the rest of the meal, I want to back up a minute. When I took this challenge, I understood that everything had to be bought specifically for the challenge. Since then I’ve seen a lot of fellow participants using groceries from their cabinet and just charging for them selves. In fact Cook and Eat had a good little discussion going about this practice. Because I had it in my head that this wasn’t allowed, I’m sticking with my plan not to use anything I previously owned. I think it is a little more challenging, but also more realistic. I know, if I were on food stamps for a long time I probably would already have flour, oil, etc. but on the other hand, I also wouldn’t be buying espresso, no matter how cheaply it portions out to be. So I’m sticking with my way–though I don’t necessarily think there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way. I think it is probably for the best that there are people doing various different methods. 

So tonight we grilled the two steaks, a pile of baby bok choy and grilled masa cakes, which basically were thick tortillas with extra salt for flavor, grilled. I chose masa as my starch because I don’t have a ton of time and it is easy to make various things with the masa without waiting for it to rest or rise, as if I’d bought a flour for breads or pastas, especially since I’d already bought the bread for the week.

For lunch today we had Chicken Bahn Mi on a baguette, with the homemade mayo, cilantro, thai basil, jalapenos and cucumbers. Also: olives, orange, banana. Breakfast was lentils.

For the record, here’s what we’ve spent so far and what we have to pick from:

Dong Hing Market–$17.46
Pork Cheeks (6)
Garlic (4 heads)
Ginger (1 knob)
Cilantro (1 bunch)
Korean Roasted Seaweed (3 bags)
4 Oranges
6 bananas
1 large bag of baby bok choi

Grocery Outlet: $10.40
4 baby artichokes
2 large cucumbers
1 jar of salad olives
1 5 lb Chicken

South Sea Grocery (Indian Convenience Mart): $11.36
Olive Oil
Curry Powder
Garam Masala
Sardines in Tomato Sauce

ABC Supermercado: $7.10
2 rib eye steaks

Seattle Deli: $1.75
4 Baguettes


Total Spent so far (of $60 for the week): $48.07

Hunger Action Challenge Day 1: Delicious, Can we do it again?

My first day on the $12 a day budget thing went pretty well, despite a few snafus. Last night, I came home and made mayonnaise, but I wasn’t feeling very well, and wasn’t paying attention, and so this task, something I’d done a million times before, I sort of screwed up. Definitely still usable, just a little runnier than my usual mayo. It will be showing up all over the place.

My illness continued into today, so my appetite wasn’t really up, so I’m going to tell you what B ate as his share. This morning I woke up and made my favorite lentil recipe, a quadruple batch, which might have been overkill. I normally eat them for breakfast everyday, so as lame as I feel having the same meal every morning, it is how I normally do, so I’m not switching it up.

While the lentils were cooking, I ran down to the local Vietnamese market to pick up some baguettes and was dismayed to find that the price had almost doubled! It used to be 4 for $1, but apparently they are now $1.75. Argh, oh well. I bought them anyway and made 1 baguette into two egg salad sandwiches. Mixing the mayo with 3 hard boiled eggs and a little bit of onion, I spread them on the sandwiches. I sliced up half a cucumber and split it between the two of us. We each took and orange and a bag of Korean roasted seaweed, one of my favorite snacks. 

Oh, were you waiting for the food porn?

imgp4267I sauteed some garlic in olive oil to make sort of a quick aioli, mixing it with the mayo, and cooked up two of the four artichokes that I got for $1.99. Some of the deals I found were truly ridiculous, such as that one. I had also picked up a nearly 5 pound chicken, which was bigger than I needed, but since it coast $5.27, I wasn’t too worried about it. I made it into Thomas Keller’s Roasted Chicken, which. was. Unreal. Un-freakin. Real. Crispy, delicious skin, juicy meat sliding off the bone. Ingredients? Salt. Pepper. Chicken. That is it.

imgp4260Needless to say, from this 5 pound chicken we had a lot of meat leftover. I shredded it up and put it in the fridge, for later uses. I also have the bones simmering away for stock, because if I knew anything coming into this, it was that it would be a rough week without any stock.

I haven’t priced out each day, because I think it is easier to just do everything in totals, but so far I’ve spent just under $45, so I have $15 left to play with for the rest of the week, and probably plenty of food to get through it. Perhaps I’ll get us a nice bottle of wine with the leftover money. 

 All You Can Eat, Cook & Eat, Eat All About It, Eric Rivera’s Cooking Blog, Favorite Freezer Foods, Foodista, Julie Jams, Live To Eat, Mirch Masala, Musings on the Path to Frugality, NOMalicious, Savory Sweet Life, Self Rising Flour, The Curious Domestic, 1. Family Friendly Food, What’s For Dinner

Hunger Action Week

hawheaderWith all the awesome free stuff, opportunites and great things I’ve gotten from writing this blog, when have I ever done anything to give back with it? Erm, uhhh, well, never. So when an email landed in my in box asking me to participate in United Way of King County’s Hunger Action Week, I thought about it. Excuses flowed to my head: Well, I have events to attend, I have reviews to do, I get free food at work.

And then I checked my calender: Nothing for those 5 days. And then I checked my reality: By spending the limited amount on all our meals, I would probably still save money. And I could squeeze the reviews into the rest of the month, right? It was sounding more and more doable.

By this point you’ve probably realized I agreed to participate. B and I will be eating on $12 dollars a day for 5 days, the 20th-24th of April, and I’ll be blogging about it right here. Why $12 a day? That is the maximum ‘Basic Food’ aka food stamps that a household of 2 people get to have.

When I first looked at it, I said, well, why do we get the max, wouldn’t it make more sense to do the minimum? But I now understand that if you are getting the minimum, you have more money, if you are getting the maximum, likelihood is that you are spending only that amount on food and no outside money.

I know it is terrible to say this sounds like fun, but I am excited to be a part of the challenge, and excited to share delicious, low budget recipes with everyone. I get to use salt and pepper from my cabinet, but everything else will have to be bought (rebought) so my first big decision is what type of oil to use–Veg for the price, Olive for the flavor or Sesame for being in between and useful?

I think I’ll plan on doing half of my shopping at the beginning of the week ($30 worth) and then keep the other $30 for various expenditures throughout the week. Expect to see me at Dong Hing Market for various seafood, meat and produce, at the Thanh Son Tofu Factory for the cheapest, freshest Tofu in town, and at the South Sea Grocery for various bulk spices and random fun goods, all walking distance from my house, and at Tony’s Market for fresh produce, across the street from my office.

What’s on the menu? I’ll definitely be eating a little of my red lentil dal, as that is my favorite breakfast. Expect to see me braising some tough cuts of meat in my slow cooker for tender stews, and I think you might see a little fresh pasta coming out of the machine, topped with cheap and tasty fishies like sardines and anchovies. Mmmm, my mouth is watering already!

How can you get involved? I have seen a number of other bloggers getting this up too, I would love to see them comment here so people can click to their sites too, and I can add them in to my other posts. And for the general public, sign up here.