Friday, September 24, 2010

Week of dinners:

Luke and I are continuing with our goal to spend $35 on a week's worth of meals. It's become sort of a weird obsession, not because we couldn't afford to spend more on groceries, but because the challenge is really fun. On Friday nights I spend almost an hour planning the menu for the next week, including an estimate for how much each item is going to cost, and then we go to the grocery store to buy everything at once (I remember a time when I'd get kind of sad if I didn't feel like I was being social enough on my weekends. Things've changed). It's become one of my favorite weekly activities (aside from Wednesday night quiz night) of the week.

This week was an especially good one for meals, so I thought I'd share the recipes:

On Saturday we had black bean soup with coconut milk and cilantro. My friend Drew had made it for a potluck last week, but ours turned out differently because we had the time to blend it and let the flavors simmer (he was in a hurry because all the potluck guests had arrived). Both ways were good. A creamy, spicy, vegan soup with a nice blend of flavors (would be good without the cilantro, too, for people like Whitney who don't like the taste).

Picture from Fab Frugal Food

On Sunday we had Asian chicken noodle soup, which was instantly a family favorite. We left out the mint, because we didn't want to detract from the lemongrass, ginger, and lime. Don't skip the sriracha- it makes the soup perfect!
Picture from Martha Stewart

On Monday we had caramelized salmon with mango salsa. So fresh and summery tasting, and not heavy. We ate it with tomato rice (rice + tomato bouillon in the rice maker), and it was a hearty (and very orange) meal.

On Tuesday we had tacos with homemade tortillas. For the tortillas, mix corn flour (buy a big bag of the Maseca brand for three dollars in the hispanic foods aisle of the grocery store) and water together until it's the texture of playdough. Roll out (I found it easiest to put a little patty between to pieces of seran wrap, and then smash flat (as opposed to actually rolling) with a cup), and grill. These simple tortillas are good with stuff in them, but if you wanted to eat them plain, you'd want to add salt to the dough. Soon we'll invest in a tortilla press, so we we can have round, perfectly uniform tortillas. I know it doesn't make them taste any better, but for some reason it matters to me.

Picture from Adventures in Shaw

On Wednesday we had grilled chicken gyros with tzatziki sauce. Rather than using pitas, we used a naan recipe my mom gave us (a favorite since our experiment with indian food). This dish was so good. So good!!! We changed a few things: 1) We didn't marinate the chicken for as long as we were supposed to, because we figured if we were cooking the chicken in the sauce, that was good enough. And it was. 2) We didn't remove excess water from the cucumber for the tzatziki sauce. We kept it wet, and eliminated the oil in the sauce. 3) we used cucumbers instead of red onion (partially because Luke doesn't really like onions much, and partially because the cucumber sounded better). This is one of those kinds of meals that if you ordered it at a restaurant, it would become the only thing you'd ever order there.

And last I didn't have dinner. I went to make dinner (at 11:30 p.m.)* and realized that I'd forgotten to get tofu.** Luke was getting off work at midnight and said he'd pick up some DiGiorno, but he ended up having a work meeting that kept him until two. I fell asleep around one thirty, waiting for pizza.

*One thing I find myself loving about it just being me and Luke is that we can eat dinner in the middle of the night if we want.
**Actually, I didn't realize it. I called up Luke at work, annoyed that the tofu had mysteriously disappeared (just like a can of black beans had earlier this week), and he reminded me that I actually hadn't gone to get it.


  1. As I've said before, I am so amazed and impressed you guys spend so little on groceries. How do you do it? Are coupons involved? Where do you shop? I know having meals specifically planned can be a big help, but I've still never been able to come close.

  2. Seriously? 35 dollars a week? That all looks so good. I wish you were my cook.

  3. Great post! I really enjoyed it. Everything looks and sounds so great.

  4. Heather and Rachael: Thanks!

    Chris: I think you would have even an easier time than us, because you guys don't eat meat. That's where we end up spending a big chunk of our $35 (and we only have meat about twice a week).

    Most of the shopping we do at Smith's, without any coupons. I think for us the key is to do it all at once and know exactly what we want. Any time we go into the store without a list or just to get one or two things, we spend extra money on soda or snacks that sound good at time.

    We also started this already having all the staples- flour, sugar, oil, spices, rice. It's not expensive to replace one of the staples when we run out.

    Often, a big part of our meals are built around inexpensive produce- tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers. I'm also trying to incorporate more legumes, since they're so healthy, cheap, and filling.

    Last of all (this feels really long-winded, but like I said, it's sort of an obsession), we get what we can at the asian store (I should check out the hispanic market, too, but I haven't yet). Tofu that would cost three dollars in the grocery store is a dollar there. A huge tub of curry (add some of that inexpensive produce and a 99 cent can of coconut milk, and you've got a very cheap meal) is $1.89- and it's enough to last us almost a year (and we eat a lot of curry). Lemongrass, ginger, interesting mushrooms, tea: all cheaper. It's heaven in that place.

  5. Umm, these recipes all look good! And we tried the gyro recipe last night for dinner and it was great! Up till recently here in Lagos we haven't been able to buy tortillas in the store. I just saw Old El Paso tortillas in the refrigerated dept. in a vacuum package for about $15 for 10. So I resisted buying them and will continue to make my own (when I run out of ones I've brought in in my suitcase). I have a tortilla press, but it still doesn't help me make them uniform roundness. And I'm not too happy with it because it doesn't press them as thin as I'd like. But I did find something that works better for me this last time I made them. Instead of Saran wrap, I put the ball of dough in between two small silicone baking sheets, press it in the tortilla press and then use my rolling pin to make it thinner. It comes easily off the slick silicone and then I cook it on my comal. I really wouldn't bother if I were at home in Texas, the land of cheap and wonderful tortillas from the store. I'm going to try the black bean soup next and the mangos are so wonderful here -- I'll make the mango salsa as well. I'm impressed you can keep your grocery bill so low!

  6. Aunt Carolee, I'm glad you liked the gyros! We liked the bean soup even more, so I hope you like it, too. Maybe instead of getting a tortilla press, I should get some silicone baking sheets- thanks for the tip.