Food & Drink

Twelve for $40: Chopped, on a budget

By From page A8 | September 18, 2013


Split pea soup can be chunky or smooth. CanStock photo

We’re big fans of the Food Channel show “Chopped,” in which four chefs are given random ingredients and must use them, along with pantry items, to make a dish in a limited amount of time.

The show usually features professional chefs, but a recent episode had chefs from soup kitchens and poverty programs. They turned out some very good dishes, but what really struck me was that the dishes they made didn’t make use of a lot of extra ingredients. These chefs turned out good food that used what they were given to work with, along with a bit of produce. Usually, “Chopped” chefs throw in plenty of bacon, cheese and truffle oil, because, well, that’s what people like, right?

Well, yes, that is what people like — but when you’re hungry and don’t have much money, you don’t add cheese just because you like it. You add potatoes or some other starch so you won’t be hungry, and save the cheese so you have protein for another meal.

Twelve for $40 menus, while they’re a little spare, aren’t nearly as frugal as all that. It’s important to bear in mind that what seems economical to us is pretty lush to much of the rest of the world. We’re lucky that we have such good food!

Planning is everything in sticking to a food budget, and we aim to help you with six days worth of menus, which should feed two adults dinner six nights a week* for around $40. These menus assume you already have some cooking skills, and own a basic reference cookbook.

Below the menus are tips for cooking, or for cooking ahead. If you see “In the fridge for future meals” then save those items from this meal for later in the week. That’s been included in the shopping list.

The menu

Turkey with Mushroom Gravy
Beet Greens
Little Potatoes
In the fridge for future meals: beets, cooked potatoes
Tip: Cook all the potatoes, save half for Wednesday. Stir fry beet greens with a little oil and garlic.

Veggie Triangles
Green Salad
In the fridge for future meals: biscuit dough, frozen vegetables, cheese, lettuce, green onions
Tip: Buy bulk yeast — a bag that will make dozens of loaves costs less than a dollar, about as much as one packet of the name-brand. The mixed biscuit dough will keep in an oiled plastic bag in the fridge for a day or two.

Split Pea Soup
Garlic Biscuits
In the fridge for future meals: sour cream
Tip: Melt butter and add a bit of garlic powder or a crushed clove of garlic. Roll out biscuit dough, brush with melted butter, cut into sticks and bake at 350 until golden.

Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese
In the fridge for future meals: cooked macaroni
Tip: Cook all the macaroni and save half for the Tuna & Macaroni salad. Drain well, then mix the part you’re saving for salad with a tablespoon or so of mayonnaise before refrigerating.

Pink-o Flannel hash
Tip: This hash is lovely with dilled sour cream on it – mix a bit of fresh or dried dill into sour cream and add a bit of lime or lemon juice.

Tuna & Macaroni Salad
Tip: Don’t care for tuna? Substitute chopped ham or smoked tofu.

Shopping list
Our shopping & recipes are scaled for two adults. Increase or decrease as needed to allow for your household. We shopped this list at the Co-op on September 15, 2013. We chose organic wherever affordable (marked “OG” on our list), and picked what we’d use at home – the best value rather than the absolute cheapest. We also assumed you had a few things in the pantry, which were not included in the shopping total. Our total: $36.14

In the pantry:
* bay leaf
* dried thyme
* dried oregano
* dry mustard
* salt
* pepper
* mayo
* prepared mustard
* soy sauce
* oil
* garlic
* flour
* sugar
* baking powder

* lettuce OG
* mushrooms, 8
* green onions, OG 1 bunch
* onions, OG 2
* carrots, OG 1
* small potatoes, OG 3/4 lb.
* beets, OG 1 bunch with greens
* celery, OG 2 stalks

Dairy & cheese:
* eggs, 4
* milk, OG 3 cups
* cheese, 8 oz.
* butter, 1 stick
* sour cream, OG 8 oz.

* frozen mixed vegetables OG
* uncooked pasta shapes, 1lb
* tuna, 1 can

1/2 lb. ground turkey

* bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp.
* yeast, 2 tsp.
* flour, OG 3 cups
* vegetable broth powder
* dried split peas, OG 1 cup (8 oz.)

The recipes

Turkey Patties with Mushroom Gravy
1/2 lb. ground turkey
2 Tbsp. bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 an onion, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 T. oil
8 mushrooms
2 T. flour
1 clove garlic
1 cup milk

Putting it together:
Mix turkey, bread crumbs, egg, onion, thyme and oregano together. Salt and pepper mixture. Form into two patties and drop into a hot skillet. Fry, flipping once until done – when patties have internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from pan and cover to keep warm.

Add oil and mushrooms to skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and tender. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms and stir. Crush or mince garlic and cook one minute. Stir in milk and let cook until thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve patties with gravy.

Riz Biscuits

2 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup warm water
2.5 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy, any fat content)
1/4 cup oil

Putting it together:
Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the middle and stir in yeast, milk and olive oil. Mix well – at least 40 strokes.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead a little until firm enough to handle, adding flour if needed (only a little, you don’t want it too stiff). Divide in half and put one half in oiled zipper bag. Refrigerate for another use. Use the other half for Vegetable Triangles.

Vegetable Triangles

1/2 cup diced cheese
1 cup diced vegetables
2 scallions, sliced

Putting it together:
Mix the cheese and vegetables together in a bowl.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Pat or roll each part out into a square about 4”x4”. Put 1/4 of the filling on half each square. Fold the top of the square over so it covers the filling. Press out any air in between the two pieces of dough. Press the edges of the dough together to seal all the filling inside.

Place on a baking sheet. Bake them at 350° until they’re puffy and browned, about 20 minutes. Good served with mustard.

Simple Split Pea Soup
Putting it together:

1/2 an onion
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup (8 oz.) dried split peas
1 carrot, diced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3-4 cups vegetable broth

Putting it together:
Sort peas and discard debris. Rinse and drain. Cook onion in oil until limp, about 5 minutes. Add garlic. Add remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer. Cook until peas are tender to the bite, 45-60 minutes. If you like a creamy soup, puree all or part of the mixture with a stick blender.

Pink-o Flannel Hash

2-3 small boiled potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
~ 2/3 cup frozen vegetables
3-4 small beets, steamed
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 egg (or 3 Tbsp. egg whites)
olive oil
kosher salt to taste

Putting it together:
Coarsely chop potatoes, onions and veg. Mash half of the mixture. Add egg and soy sauce to the mash, then stir gently into vegetable mixture. Chop beets and add to vegetables. Heat a large skillet and add olive oil to coat the bottom generously. Heap hash into pan and press into a tidy cake, salting if desired. Cook until bottom is brown and crisp, pressing down occasionally to compact hash. Add more oil as needed. Turn cake and cook until second side is browned.

Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese
Putting it together:

8 oz. uncooked pasta shapes
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1 cup grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Putting it together:
In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add flour, mixing well, and cook over low heat for one minute. Add milk in a thin steady stream, stirring the whole time. Cook over low heat until thick, stirring occasionally. Do not whisk or beat. When thick, stir in mustard. Cook macaroni, drain and return to pot. Add sauce and cheese. Let stand for 1 minute. Stir gently, season. Serve at once.

Tuna & Macaroni Salad

8 oz. uncooked pasta shapes
2-4 scallions, sliced thinly
1/4 cup mayo
2 tsp. prepared mustard
1 can tuna, drained
2 stalks celery, minced
1 small bell pepper, minced
fresh herbs if available
salt and pepper to taste

Putting it together:
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well and let cool a bit. Add remaining ingredients and season to taste.

Julie Cross

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