Monday, July 7, 2008

Another Cooking Challenge

Lots of Kids and Cooking with Anne are putting on a second cooking challenge. At first, I was going to pass on this one. Then I decided to do it. Once I made the meal, I decided again to pass on it, but after we ate it, I decided again to do it.

So here's the premise of the challenge (as posted at Lots of Kids):

Our second challenge was originally given to Chef Eric Ripert, who cooks at one of the finest restaurants in New York City, He was recently put up to the challenge of creating several dishes on a budget with food purchased from the Dollar store. We've decided to take the same challenge and see what everyone comes up with. Your challenge is to go to your local Dollar Store to shop on a budget with no more than $15 to create a meal that could be served to four people. The meal should consist of an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Here are the rules/restrictions:

You must use dry goods and pantry items only. Some Dollar Stores have cold cases and freezer sections, however those items will not be eligible. Canned foods count as pantry items, so you may use those.

There have been other versions of this challenge on other blogs/sites which allowed participants to shop at discount food stores. We're being a bit more sticky her--it must be a Dollar Store type store, or any other general merchandise store that sells discounted food products (if you don't have a technical Dollar Store in your area).

This must be a whole meal, including appetizer, entree and dessert. It must feed for 4 people. Nobody will get extra points for making their $15 stretch to feed more than 4 or for adding another course. It MUST be three courses for 4 people only.

Contest runs June 4 through June 30, 2008

Since everyone is busy this time of year (kids home, vacations, etc...) the deadline was extended. Along with the extension came a couple of rule changes as so:

The premise is the same, $15 to make a meal for 4 (appetizer, main course/side, and dessert), but you are allowed to use things you have on hand in your own pantry...provided you could reasonably get them from a dollar store. An extra allowance is that you are not restricted to dollar stores, you can purchase the items from any discount grocer (such as Aldi). Again, just be fair and pick items you'd be able to get from a Dollar Tree or similar store.

Easy enough. I happened to be near a Dollar Tree store, so I stopped in and purchased 1 can of Treet (similar to Spam), 1 can of bread crumbs, two cans of green beans, 1 package of country gravy mix, 1 package of instant potatoes, 1 pound cake, a 4-pack of chocolate pudding cups, 1 jar of raspberry preserves. Total cost $8. But when I got home and reread the rules, I saw I forgot about the appetizer. I looked in my pantry and found a can of garbanzo beans and a bag of tortilla chips. Add another $2, and I'm still within guidelines.

First I made the bean dip. I drained all but about half of the liquid from the beans. I blended the beans and the rest of the liquid until smooth using a stick immersion blender, adding a little pepper from the pantry. It turned out rather bland, so I looked in the cabinet for a package of taco seasoning mix, but found only ranch dressing mix. That's ok, because I think I could find dressing mix at a dollar store. I blended about half a package into into the beans. Voila! Bean dip for tortilla chips. It was a little salty. If I were to make it again, I'd cut the ranch mix to about 1 Tablespoon.

Next, I opened the cans of green beans and poured them into a saucepan. I added a little pepper and a pinch of sugar from the pantry, and set them on a burner over low heat.

Then I opened the can of Treet. You know that congealed broth (aka, ham Jell-O) surrounding the Treet and left inside the can? I gathered all of that up with a rubber spatula and added it to the green beans for seasoning. I also sliced off a very thin slice of Treet, diced it, and added it to the green bean pot. This is very similar to the way I normal cook canned green beans; I usually use bacon fat instead of ham Jell-O.

Meanwhile, I sliced the remaining Treet into 6 slices. Assuming two adults and two kids in a family of four, the adults will get two slices of meat, while the children each get one. I coated each slice of Treet with cracker crumbs. This might have been better had they first been dipped in beaten egg, but I didn't want to cheat by using a refrigerator item. Once the slices were breaded, I pan fried them in a little olive oil until golden brown. I removed them from the pan and set them in a warm oven until I was ready to serve them.

I got out two more sauce pans and made the Butter and Herb mashed potatoes and the country gravy according to package directions. Each required only the addition water; no refrigerated items were needed. The package made a lot of gravy; enough for biscuits & gravy later this week.

I served the gravy over the potatoes and slices of Treet, with green beans on the side for the main entree.

For dessert, I sliced the pound cake into slices about 1/2" thick. I spooned some chocolate pudding over each slice. Then I quickly zapped the opened jar of raspberry preserves in the microwave and drizzled the preserves over the pudding and cake. This was too, too, too sweet! And it was UGLY! We ended up scraping off as much of the preserves as we could and just eating the cake and pudding.

The verdict? The green beans were good. LOL!

Seriously, though, it wasn't that bad. Was it a healthy meal? Not at all; the sodium count must have been sky high. Was it a thrifty meal? Not especially, but if you were in a bind, such as having your refrigerator quit working, and had nothing else in the house to eat, this meal wouldn't exactly break the bank.

Of course, I'd prefer real ham, real mashed potatoes and homemade gravy. The one redeeming quality, I think, was that the dollar store meal mimicked that kind of homestyle meal. For what it's worth, the three of us had clean plates, and finished up that phantom fourth plate as well.

However, I don't think I'll be making this meal again.


Dave Morris said...

So there is an off-brand Spam???

One of my favorite Spam recipes is:

Butterfly the loaf of spam, cutting about 2/3 of the way down. Separate each piece, spreading a little peanut butter inside and dropping a marachino cherry into each slot. Sprinkle brown sugar lightly over the top and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Despite the way it sounds, it's actually not too bad. It'll feed two people, although honestly I couldn't find anyone willing to share it with me.

Annie Jones said...

Treet is just a Spam wannabe. It'll never really be Spam. :)

Cool recipe. Do you think they have all of those things at the dollar store?

Anne said...

Annie, this whole challenge just crackes me up--my own was SO GROSS no matter what I tried to do. Well, the pears were good, but the rest was rather icky.

Good job!

kathryn louis said...

I agree...gross. I'd much rather eat real food (lentils, rice, cabbage, carrots,etc.) since it has some taste and is actually good for you. I can feed a whole family of four for way less than $15.