Before I get into those thoughts, something amusing from earlier this evening. I took my sisters to dinner before they went shopping (dresses for a wedding, or something). During the course of dinner, one conversation went something like this as they were talking about the MTV Movie Awards – or was it music? In any case…
Sister 2: You know, the guy with the voice.
Sister 1: Like James…James Earl Grey?
Sister 2: (Gales of laughter)
Sister 1: Jones! James Earl Jones!
Sister 2: James Earl Grey Morning Blend. (More laughter)
It was probably something you had to be there for in order to appreciate the true hilarity of mixing James Earl Jones and a tea.
But on to the more serious issue: food.
By now you have read the loose ground rules given by the issuer of the challenge. But I have a few base rules of my own.
Rule 1: I’ll be shopping at Costco, Publix, and a couple of produce places (Cal’s, mainly, I’m guessing, if you’re at all familiar with the area). I’m not a huge fan of grocery stores other than Publix, mostly because they just seem so…dirty, and the staff is usually bored high schoolers, it seems to me. So, while individual items may be slightly higher in price at Publix, you can make mental adjustments for wherever it is that you shop if you know the price differences between the two.
Rule 2: I’m not considering this a challenge to eat dirt cheap. I am, however, considering this a challenge to eat as cost effectively as possible while retaining taste and nutrition. That means that it will not be hot dogs, ramen, Kraft dinner, and beans and rice on an ever-rotating basis (although I will admit a certain fondness for Kraft mac and cheese, as there’s something about that nuclear orange cheese packet). It does mean that there will be a good rotation of beef, chicken, and pork in the menus. I’ve never really considered vegetarian meals, since everyone for whom I cook is a meat fan, but I did receive a request to try and work at least one in there somewhere, so I will make that effort.
Rule 3: My own dietary needs, as regular readers of this blog are aware, are quite different than most peoples’ needs. This means that yours truly will continue the ice cream and other high-calorie/high-fat foods for snacks and between meal eating, although I will also be eating whatever amount I can of the food I cook for others.
Rule 4: I will be doing some things that are either anathema to or impractical for other people. For instance, I will be making some bread. I priced bread at Publix today, and their white bread is .89 a loaf (Nature’s Own White Wheat is 1.99 a loaf), their honey wheat is 1.39 (Nature’s Own Honey Wheat, which is what the fam eats, is 2.29). I also intend to make various pastas. I don’t expect that most people will be interested in making their own bread, and many would probably not want to make their own pasta – although it doesn’t get a whole lot easier than various mixtures of flour, salt, water, egg. I don’t expect people to do these things, but I will, and will attempt to break down the costs associated with these.
Rule 5: Speaking of breaking down costs: I will not be including any acquisition costs in the breakdowns. That is to say, I will not include the time spent shopping or the gas it takes to go from place to place or the cost of cleanup items, and so on. This is strictly food because that’s what interests me. If you want to add it up for whatever it is you do, be my guest.
Rule 6: There are some things I will not buy, even though they are cheaper substitutes of sometimes-regular ingredients (for me). I refuse to buy the parmesan in the green can, for instance. You know what I’m talking about, as I bet almost everyone reading this has a can of the stuff in their fridge, the bottom of which has solidified into that chunk you have to get loose by tapping it on the edge of the counter. My parmesan is a chunk of parm-reg that I grate as needed for whatever I’m making, and this will not change. Likewise, I’m not going to buy meats that are past the sell by date, dead end produce, and things of that nature. This isn’t about scrimping the bottom of the barrel, but about being sensible while being healthy.
Rule 7: When possible, I will create my own recipes for things. Some recipes, though, I use because they work quite well compared to other recipes or things that I have done – several recipes from The Bread Bible come to mind, for instance. I imagine that the recipes I use will be those for baking rather than savory cooking, as for the latter I usually use other peoples’ recipes as inspiration/jumping off points and I can’t remember the last time I exactly followed a non-baking recipe to the letter. That sort of inspiration-driven cooking is, I believe, the goal.
Rule 8: There may be special occasions where I leave the bounds of the base rules, as the next holiday is July 4, and I’ve been asked to smoke a big batch of ribs for the party my aunt is having and which we are expected to attend. I don’t think there’s much sense in cooking another meal that afternoon, so I’ll break things down as much as possible for that meal, but it’s not going to be as accurate as whatever I do myself.
Rule 9: There will probably be things here and there that some people simply will not eat. One of my friends, for example, refuses to eat mashed potatoes. One of my sisters doesn’t eat cooked mushrooms. One doesn’t eat meat on the bone. On those occasions, you’ll have to do whatever it is that suits your eating preferences. Likewise, there are some things that will never appear on any menu of mine, because I can’t stand them. Liver, or any other kind of organ meat, offal, or sweetbread, for instance, no matter what animal they’re from, will never make an appearance. If you like these types of things, more power to you. I’m sure you can find recipes for these you can live with and price out on your own.
Rule 10: I am not a professional chef. I have no professional training as a chef (pity), I do not run a catering company (you never know), and I have no training as a sommelier (that would be fun). Therefore, if some of the menus seem like odd pairings, or if I list some wine that we’re tasting/drinking (if I’m ever able to taste wine properly again, that is) and you don’t think it belongs with whatever it is we’re eating, you’ll have to get past it or make your own adjustments. After all, you’re the one who knows what those around you will eat, just as I know what those around me will eat, and the entire point is to get people to eat something out of your kitchen rather than someone else’s, is it not?
That’s all I can think of at the moment. As you might have guessed, I’ve decided to take the challenge and see what I can do with it, and today I did a little shopping and comparing, which I’ll write about in another entry.