Sunday, November 11, 2007

40$ alla settimana

The title of my post is the same as Cady's blog: '$40 a week', where she posts about how to plan meals so that you can eat good food throughout a week and spend less or equal than $40 a person. Cady is hosting the 'Weekend Cookbook Challenge' this month, and she invites us to try the same experiment.
To be honest, at the beginning I didn't think I would participate to the event. I really don't like meal planning. What I usually do is: I go to the grocery store and buy the most inviting vegetables and fruits I see, and then pasta, rice, and canned goods which are running low in our cabinet, and tofu, eggs, milk, yogurt (and sometimes meat) which we'll need for the week. Then, during the week, Lucas and I alternate and make up a dinner which will have enough leftovers also for lunch, and that's it. I plan meals only if I know I'm going to have guests over, then I buy the ingredients I know I'll want to use for that special meal.
But, in the end, almost every week we spend $80 or less (for the two of us and sometimes this includes some guests), so we're always within that '$40 a week' that Cady is inviting us to try. So I decided I'll do a sort of flash-back post: instead of writing about the plan, and then go grocery shopping and cooking for a week, I'll tell you what we bought last weekend and how we ended up using this week. Hopefully Cady will accept this 'reverse' post!

So here is what we bought at Berkeley Bowl last Sunday, and their price in US$:
pinto beans 1.75
long grain rice 1.32
roasted sunflower seed 1.07
sugar 1.07
organic rolled oats .24
short grain rice 1.46
soy sauce 3.19
organic sweet potatoes 2.13
bakers chocolate 3.25
candles 1.35
flour 1.76
portobella mushrooms 4.60
cucumbers 0.79
chinese eggplants 0.99
yellow corn 1.18
mandarines 1.17
red bell peppers 1.39
avocado 0.99
tofu 2.50
long choy sum 0.80
zucchini 2.21
parseley 0.39
wine grapes 1.59
apples 1.22
fettuccine de cecco 1.89
eggs 2.19
cereal 'heritage' 3.75
total (- 3 bag bonus, + tax) 46.13

Interesting bill: the most expensive item were the mushrooms (still below $5, they were on sale), as one may expect. Then, the cereal box. I really don't like the fact that they charge so much for morning cereals, as I already expressed in a few posts. So, while in the past I was baking bread and having it with jam for breakfast, I recently decided to make my own cereals. I'll start the experiment next week with the sunflowers seeds and rolled oats I bought, plus sliced almonds, which I'm going to mix with a little cocoa powder.
To this bill, you have to add the stuff we bought in the shop close to our place ('Derby store'), not to have to carry it by foot from the Berkeley Bowl (it's a 20 min walk, which is fine if you don't have also milk and heavy stuff):
1 gallon milk 2.99
sparkling wine 7.99
chips 2.99
total 13.97
So, real total is $60.10. About $30 per person per week.

Here is what we ate during the week:

lunch: leftover from Sunday dinner (wild rice+beans+homini).
dinner: actually went out for dinner. But, after dinner we gave desserts and drinks to 6 people, with the chocolate cake that I described in this post, made with ingredients bought from the previous list + butter and some rum that I already had. The wine was the one mentioned above, bought at 'Derby store'.

lunch: still leftovers from Sunday (there was a lot of the rice and bean soup)
dinner: Lucas made a delicious pasta with whole wheat tagliatelle (we had a packet open at home) plus some of the peppers and zucchini we bought and some onions we already had at home. Too bad I didn't take a picture of it, it was the most delicious pasta I had in a while. We grated some of the parmigiano cheese that my mom gave us from Italy and that was a meal.

lunch: leftovers from Tue dinner
dinner: I made a Tofu/eggplant/long choy stir fry with rice. I'll give the recipe for this below.

lunch: leftovers from Wed dinner
dinner: leftovers from Wed dinner (there was a lot of the stir-fry too) plus a cucumber salad and some cheese and crackers we still had in the fridge from Italy

lunch: provided for both Lucas and Marta at two different meetings
dinner: tagliatelle ai funghi / mushroom tagliatelle (see recipe here). We had our friend Sonya over, too.

lunch: tagliatelle leftovers
dinner: we were invited at Yusra's. I brought a dessert made with apples, pomegranade (left from last week grocery) and amaretti (we had it at home) - I'll probably post the recipe in a future post

lunch: a few more tagliatelle leftovers (could have made a frittata but I was lazy), plus some of the delicious rice that Yusra let me bring back.
dinner: guacamole and chips as appetizer (made with ingredients from lists above), and pinto beans, mashed sweet potatoes, corn on the cob (see lists above) and a tiny piece of chicken we still had in the freezer (a thigh), cooked with the rest of the peppers that Lucas didn't use on Tuesday. This will be enough also for tomorrow lunch and we'll have some more cooked beans to make something else.

All the breakfasts involved milk, cereals and apples or grapes. Snacks included the mandarins and some oranges we still had in the fridge from last week.

So, basically, we still have some zucchini, parseley, a lot of rice and pinto beans, and a lot of eggs and chocolate, which will go for some of next week meals, and should balance out the fact that we used some pasta, onions, cream and butter bought in some past weeks.
Also, as you can see, some of our meals were given by either our work or friends, and one was bought at a restaurant. But on the other hand, we also had people over and brought stuff at dinners. So, all balanced, I think we still are within the $40 a week required. This happens almost all weeks for us (some weeks we spend less, like in the present case, some weeks more because we also buy olive oil, or vinegar, or some other staples). I'd say the most important things that factor in this 'achievement' are:
- buy a lot of fruit and vegetables that are in season
- keep an eye on things on sale
- eat what we prepare most of the time
- not buy a lot of meat, or pay attention to the type of meat you buy
These things altogether are not only good for your wallet, but for your health as well. Also, cooking is for me a lot of fun, and having people over and going to other friends for dinner is an essential part of our life.

Ok, so in order to give a recipe specific for this event, here is the dish I made on Wed dinner.

Tofu con melanzane cinesi e long choy in fiore / Tofu with chinese eggplant and blooming long choy
This is one of our standard week-night-stir-fry. This week, the ingredients were Asian-inspired, simply because the Chinese eggplant and the Long choy looked really good at the Berkeley Bowl. Here is how they look like, in case you don't know what they are:
Chinese Eggplant

Long Choy - I must admit, I bought it because the one they had was blooming and so pretty! So we had also some yellow flowers in our stir-fry :)

To make the dish, heat ~2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Cut 1 lb of tofu in small pieces and fry in the oil for a few minutes on high heat. In the meanwhile, cut the Chinese eggplant in small pieces, and add to the tofu. Cook on high heat for ~ five minutes, then add ~1 tbsp soy sauce, and ~1 tbsp vinegar. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, cut the long choy. Add the pieces to the pan, some salt, cook for another few minutes without lid, then add 2 tbsp light sour cream (and if you're lucky, you can use an onion-flavored version such as the one Lucas made as a dip some time before this dinner), let it melt and coat the veggies and tofu, adjust salt and pepper, and serve over hot steamed/boiled rice. Simple, quick and very good!


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Un great dish! Here food is extremely expensive and it is impossible to eat healthily if you cut too much on the expenses...



Deborah said...

This stif fry sounds great. I've been looking for the chinese eggplant, because I've never had it, but I'm not having much luck. Does it taste very different from the more common variety?