Sunday, February 26, 2012

greenhorn gourmande is on a budget- Episode 1

Picture this:

The year- 2010, the place- a small town in upstate New York, the person- a stressed out college Senior trying to figure out how to feed herself for the first time in her life.  This individual, as most college students, found herself in a perpetual state of being broke.  It was time to buckle down, to be a grown up, to have a food budget!  So she proudly refrained from all of the 'luxury' goods at the grocery store and managed to stick to a very respectable sum of $60 a week.

Flash forward to 2012, a tiny (yet adorable) apartment in the middle of Brooklyn.  This same womyn, a little wiser to the ways of food, still finds herself with a respectable budget of about $60 a week.  Except now this budget is for two!  She's shacked up with a bottomless pit- the notorious Mr. greenhorngourmande.  How on earth has she managed to double (*cough-triple-cough*) the amount of food she buys in a city that has some of the highest food costs in the good ol' US of A?

One simple word friends: planning.

Well actually it's not really quite that simple, but planning is crucial to manage this budgetary feat.

Managing how much I spend on food (among other things) has been pretty crucial in my ability to support myself without a real job (temp work FTW!).  This week I am going to write a series about my budget, showcase the meals that I've planned out for this week, and give a run down of their cost.

Why am I doing this?  In part because I want to show that it is possible to have a healthy and varied diet on a tight budget.  There is a pervasive myth in this country that "junk food is cheaper."  I myself find this impossible to believe after six months of living on a strict budget- processed food is expensive as hell!  (If this topic is of interest to you please read this wonderful article by Mark Bittman.)  Of course I realize that I have a lot of resources that many others do not: a pretty good understanding of basic nutrition, cooking skills, a fully furnished kitchen, etc.

Okay, I'm stepping off my soap box.  Let's get to the details.

The photo listed above is of my secret weapon- my notebook of lists.  Each week (usually Friday or Saturday morning)  I come up with about six meals that I know I want to make each week.  Of course the selection of these meals themselves is quite important- no expensive meats, cheeses, etc. (more on this in later posts).

After I've figured out what I want to make I write down the ingredients and pantry basics I need from each store I go to.  (I shop at the farmer's market, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's- again more on this later.)

Then when I go shopping I STICK TO MY LIST.  This is probably the most important step- I mean what the hell is the point of making a list if you're going to buy a bunch of stuff you don't need and can't afford!

This is how this week's budget was spent:

I spent $14.91 at Whole Foods plus $44.20 at Trader Joe's for a grand total of $59.11.  Now obviously there are going to be some things in my pantry already (spices, oils, vinegars, etc), and leftover things that I have purchased in previous weeks.  All of these things were purchased within my budgetary constraints at one time or another, so they aren't to be considered 'extras'.  

Okay, so this post is getting rather unwieldy, and I haven't even mentioned what I'm cooking!  Tonight's recipe (or rather Saturday night's) is homemade pepperoni pizza.  

Pizza Saturday has become somewhat of a tradition at chez greenhorn.  It feels slightly celebratory, and it's easy enough after a day filled with errands i.e. grocery shopping.  I normally just buy the dough for the pie at TJ's, but yesterday they were completely out of dough, so I made my own!  It is absolutely delicious, and cheaper than the store's- which is really saying something since TJ's dough is a whopping $0.99.

In an attempt to be somewhat healthy we had this for an appetizer:

Organic beet greens and stems simply sauteed.  These beauties were atop the beets that I bought for a recipe later in the week.  The greens of beets (and many other root vegetables) are edible and actually quite tasty.  Since these were attached to the beets - I think they count as free!  Right? Right.  They were very delicious sauteed in a little olive oil, red pepper flakes, and lemon.

On to the pie!

Homemade Pepperoni Pizza 

I've actually written a post about this beloved pie, but I only shared my favourite sauce recipe.  This time I'll share the recipe for the dough, and attempt to cost out the entire pizza.  I had a lot of these things on hand (spices, pepperoni, etc.) but I will try and give a good estimate of their cost for the amount used.

1 sauce recipe- found <<here>> - $1.50
pepperoni- $0.75
1/2 pizza dough recipe- found below- $0.65
Total cost: $3.90


1.  Roll out dough and top with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni (or whatever toping you like).  Place on a slightly greased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 500F.  Let rest a few minutes before slicing.

Homemade Pizza Dough alla Mark Bittman

3 cups all purpose flour- $0.60
2 tsp salt- $0.05
2 tsp active dry yeast- $0.35
1 small clove of garlic, minced- $0.05
2 tbsp olive oil- $0.20
Total cost: $1.25

2.  Place dough on a slightly floured surface and briefly knead until the dough fully comes together and is smooth.  Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Set it aside somewhere warm and let it rise for an hour or so.
3.  Divide the dough (which should have about doubled in size) in two and form into balls.  Cover one ball with plastic wrap and let sit 20 minutes and wrap the other and freeze it for up to one month.
4.  Once the dough has rested roll it out with your hands or a pin until it is your desired shape and size.  Proceed with the Pizza recipe.

This dough is flavorful, soft, and gets a nice bake.  It's definitely worth the minimal effort.

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about meal budgeting and to see my Roasted Chicken and Vegetables!


  1. I am looking forward to learning your secrets to cooking on a budget!


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