Friday, September 23, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: The $20 Meal

The recent deal on Social Living that offered a $20 Whole Foods gift certificate for $10 spawned a whole lot of comments about what someone could buy at Whole Foods for a measly $20. Some were sarcastic, some were serious, and most were amusing.

I started thinking about what I could do with a $20 budget at Whole Foods. Well, I could buy a pretty nice hunk of cheese. Or a fancy steak. Or some expensive condiments.

But could I buy enough to make a meal? I decided to make it a challenge. Make a meal for $20. For at least two people.

I set a couple ground rules for myself. Anything that was a major component of the dish, I had to buy. Minor things that you'd expect someone might have in the pantry or fridge, I didn't buy. I used a couple optional ingredients that I happened to have on hand and that anyone else might happen to have as well. And if not, well, they're optional.

I spent a total of $20.77. So, a little over budget. But ... I also didn't use everything I bought. That should make up for the spare change. I mean, really, I bought a bag of flour, but I had plenty left over. And I could have bought a smaller amount in bulk and been under budget.

Obviously, prices vary, and it probably would be impossible to buy items that weigh exactly the same thing ever again. But maybe next time it would be a little bit less, right?

Here's the shopping list:

1 chicken $7
2 parsnips (.37 lbs) $1.48
Couple hands full of sugar snap peas (.38 lbs) $1.90
1 large onion (.77 lbs) $.77
1 large yukon gold potato (.87 lbs) $1.73
5 carrots (1.28 lbs) $1.91
1 package fresh marjoram $2.99
5-pound bag all purpose flour $2.99

The pantry ingredients I added were olive oil, salt, baking powder, milk, and vegetable oil. The optional ingredients I added were celery and parsley.

You could cut the expenses by skipping the fresh marjoram and using your favorite dried spice from your pantry instead. The parnips were also just a tad expensive, but I included them because they're an under-used vegetable. You could easily eliminate those. And the snow peas? Yes, an indulgence. You could use frozen English peas instead, probably for less money. Or substitute green beans, and cook them along with the rest of the vegetables.

Of course you could customize this until doomsday, but this is what I made:

Chicken and Dumplings

1 chicken, cut up, breasts reserved for another recipe.
2 celery stalks
5 large carrots
2 parsnips
1 large onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yukon gold potato
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Couple hands full of sugar snap peas
1/4 cup loosely packed parsley
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

I bought the chicken whole and cut it up myself, but you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you. For this recipe, I only used the legs, thighs, wings, and the back. I didn't use the breast, and I kept it whole for use in another recipe.

Put the chicken backs and wing tips in a crockpot (or you can use a dutch oven, but then you need to keep an eye on it). Wash and peel the carrots. Put the peels and the ends of the carrots into the crockpot with the chicken. Peel the onion and chop roughly. Put the peels (if they're clean) and other scrap bits into the crockpot with the chicken. Chop the celery stalks and add them to the crockpot. Add water to just barely cover the items in the crockpot. Set the crockpot to low and cook for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Remove the solid bits from the crockpot and strain the rest of it though a fine strainer to catch the odd pieces and set the liquid aside for a moment.

Peel the parsnips and slice them into pieces about the same size as the carrots. Peel the potato and cut it into bite-size cubes.

Heat large, heavy-bottomed pot (a Dutch oven is ideal) over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot - not smoking, just hot - add the legs, thighs, and wings from the chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides, then remove it from the pot.

Add the carrots, onion, parnips, potato, and 1 teaspoon of salt to the pan, and cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables soften a bit - about 10 minutes. Add the marjoram leaves and the chicken, with any juices that have collected. Add the liquid you reserved earlier (that you made in the crockpot) to just under the level of the chicken and vegetables. If you don't have enough liquid, add water. If you've got too much liquid, refrigerate it - you might need it later, or you can use it for another recipe. Stir to combine and bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables and chicken are tender - about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the pea pods diagonally into 1/2 pieces. Roughly chop the parsley.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine, then add the milk and vegetable oil. Stir until you've got a soft, wet dough.

Oooh! Fluffy dumpling!
Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and keep warm. Add the peas and parsley to the liquid remaining in the pot. You should have at least 2-3 inches of liquid in the bottom of the pot. If you don't have enough, add any left over liquid from the crockpot, or add water. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.

Dip a large spoon into the hot liquid, then use it to dollop the dough mixture onto the top of your boiling liquid (keeping it hot helps release the dough.) You should have 8-10 lumps of dough on top of the liquid.

Reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering, cover the pot, and let it simmer, undisturbed, until the dumplings are fluffy and cooked through, about 13-15 minutes.

For family-style presentation remove the dumplings from the pot, then add the liquid - now nicely thickened to a gravy consistency thanks to the dumplings - along with the peas, to the other vegetables and chicken. Arrange that in a serving bowl or platter, then place the dumplings on top.

So there we go - dinner for at least two, with lots of vegetables and pillowy dumplings for just about $20, and left over flour, chicken and herbs for another day.

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog, and at Cooking Boulder. It's a fun project.


Anonymous said...

Delicious! I love Whole Foods and there are ways to save $$ there, if you take your time and compare brands, especially with their 365 brand. Well done!

Donna Currie said...

Yup, there are some items that are consistently less expensive at Whole Foods than at any of the other chain stores around, and when something is on sale, it's usually a decent bargain. Sure, you can go crazy on expensive meat or a hunk of cheese or some crazy-fancy condiments, and I do that as well. But this was a lot of food for $20 and that breast I didn't use will be another dinner for us and maybe with leftovers, depending on what I serve with it.

onepercent99 said...

Those dumplin's look freakin delicious!!

the Gardener said...

This looks so comforting and delicious! I often refer to Whole Foods as "whole paycheck", but then again, I like to buy the weird/special stuff when I'm there (pom-pom mushrooms and white pomegranates, anyone?)

Donna Currie said...

Oh yeah, I can go crazy there, too. That's easy.

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