Monday, August 1, 2011


by Xani

From July 1-July 28 2011, I conducted a little experiment.  I challenged myself not to eat any meals or snacks that I didn't cook myself.  No meals out. No prepared foods.  No grabbing a snack from the vending machine.  No purchasing food or beverages except in "ingredient form" from the grocery store or farmers market, unless absolutely necessary (more on that below).  This whole plan was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to seeing the credit card bill after I got back my my late-June trip to California, but I also thought it would be interesting to see if I could stick to the rules I created for myself  (right up until we went to NYC for the last weekend in July, where we ate EVERY meal/snack out!).

During the experiment, I home-cooked every meal, snack, and beverage (including soda), EXCEPT:
-Three mandatory work lunches where bringing my own food was not an option,
-One lunch out when I was "on the road" all day running errands,
-One delicious (and comped) press dinner at Chazz,
-One birthday lunch for EP, paid for by our lovely Mother,
-One Dunkin' Donuts coffee, purchased for my by my boyfriend (believe me, it was absolutely necessary), and
-One dinner of boyfriend's leftover buffalo wings, which I had to eat in bed since the entire first floor of our house was under construction (also absolutely necessary, as cooking was not an option).

And that's it!  When you consider I generally eat three meals a day plus a snack or two, that means I cooked/prepared about 100 meals/snacks, and only "cheated" the above 8 times.  Not bad!

Turns out, when you can't go out for any meals, your other option is cooking.  A lot.  But that was fine with me.  I ended up making some really yummy food this past month.  The local produce is great this time of year and I found myself going to markets Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays some weeks.  But the fresh ingredients really make a difference.  Here are some of the highlights from this month:

Peach & Goat Cheese Gazpacho: Barely adapted from this F&W recipe.  This was a MAJOR hit and I will definitely be making it again before summer (and peaches) is gone.  A little sweet, a little tangy, cool and creamy.  Yum.

Greek Zucchini Fritters with Feta:  Another great use of summer produce.  The texture reminded me of a crabcake, but the flavor was nice and fresh with the feta and dill.  Served with a little homemade tzatiki on the side.

Ratatouille: a summer classic.  Ate this for SEVERAL meals.

Phyllo pizza: Another big hit.  We liked it so much we made it again a few nights later (with the remaining phyllo dough) with some different toppings.  But summer tomatoes and fresh basil are a classic combo, of course.

Quinoa salad:  Made this in a few different iterations throughout the month.  Cooked, cooled quinoa (super-easy in the rice cooker), random veggies, herbs and legumes (looks like this one has edamame, radishes, red bell pepper, black beans, tomatoes, parsley) and dressing.  Sometimes I like to "match" the dressing to the ingredients (chipotle and lime in the dressing, with black beans, cilantro and avocado in the salad, etc) but most of the time I just used my standard vinaigrette, flavored with lemon juice. Tastes even better if you let it sit overnight.

PIES!!  So, this is a little off-point but I was super-excited to get the opportunity to make the pies for my dear friend Kim's birthday BBQ (actually, a grilled-pizza and bloody mary brunch, but when the grill is fired up and cornhole is being played, it's officially a BBQ).  I got some great tips from my blogger friend Sarah and ended up making a peach-blueberry pie with pecan crumble topping, as well as a sour-cherry with almond lattice crust.  They were SO.  GOOD.  I got all the produce from the farmers market and the flavors were just incredible.  Not to mention my tender, delicious crust that never fails me.

So, using (great program for tracking spending, BTW) I can see that, even with my increased grocery/farmers market costs, I still spent over $200 less on food and alcohol than I would in a normal month-- not bad!

Overall I'm happy with my experiment, and I think I've learned a few lessons about how to make dinner happen when I don't feel like looking-- going out is not the only option!

What did you cook in July?


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