Sunday, March 29, 2009

Recreating The New York Times Kitchen Smackdown

For those of you who stop by here regularly (and thank you to you all), you may remember that I was forced, in the Great Debt Wrecking Blitz of 2009, to give up my New York Times delivery. I have survived although it hasn't always been easy. Amazingly, they let you read it for free online. It's not really the same but I'm training myself to like it.

My favorite sections are the Wednesday and Thursday Dining and Styles. I am well and constantly aware that the world is going to hell so I no longer feel guilty for turning to the fluff first. Last week the editors challenged two food writers, Kim Severson and Julia Moskin to create a dinner party for six for less than $50. This didn't include drinks which were provided by guests nor did it include random pantry items like olive oil and butter or spices. The results were judged by Frank Bruni, head NYT restaurant critic, on consecutive weekends. Both writers are accomplished home cooks but not chefs. This was an interesting way to look at pampering guests in two different ways without feeling like you've broken the bank. Some of you may be saying that $8.50 per person is way too high and you could feed six very well for half that. The other half of you are probably thinking there's no way you could turn out a dinner party for that little amount. The point is, no matter which way your thinking goes, it never hurts to set limits on money while going hog wild with creativity which both these women did in spades.

Although both looked fantastic my favorite of the two dinners was Severson's Mexican fiesta. She served carnitas, lime-cilantro slaw, & beans with ceviche and spiced peanuts for an appetizer and a molasses cake with dulce de leche for dessert. Her thinking went that her opponent was better versed in French cooking and would probably go that way so she opted for a spicier, more festive meal. She drug it out through several courses and put in some hands-on touches like homemade tortillas. I decided to replicate the majority of her meal for guests last night. Here is what I did:

I worked Saturday morning. This means I haul my ass to work at 8 am which may surprise you to know is late for me, and work until noon, which means almost one before I get out of there. Anyway, I hied it to the Whole Foods right after to pick up their excellent guacomole that is made in-store. I figured at $5.99 that would be my biggest splurge. While there I actually found some bargains. They had a good-sized jar of tomatillo salsa for $2.69, thereby reducing the need for me to make it, and a big can of spiced peanuts for $3.69. I also bought a tub of pico de gallo and a container of red pepper hummus which was made in-store and on sale for $2.49. I was going to make a chipotle red pepper hummus from scratch so there was another time-saver. Tortilla Strip chips were $1.67/bag so one more thing off the list.

Next was a trip to the ValuMarket. This is a local grocery chain in Louisville that caters to the various immigrant groups that populate our city. Their produce is like a trip to a foreign country as is just the experience of walking around the store listening to all the different languages being spoken. Their hot bar sells a cuban sandwich that is a guilty pleasure all its' own and also empanadas and yucca. The meat section always has goat and chicken feet. It's heaven. I purchased Mexican oregano (.99), Canuela, or Mexican cinnamon (.99), smoked paprika (1.49) and whole cloves (.99) Bargains all! That coupled with a 7lb. Boston Butt Roast for $7.15 and 24 tortillas for $1.49, a bunch of cilantro (.99), a bunch of radishes (1.49) and a Napa cabbage (2.49) and I was set.

Home to cook and nap. I cut up the butt in one-inch chunks like this:

Then added in all the orange zest, garlic, mexican oregano, canuela, etc. like this:
And after several hours of cooking it looked like this:
And it was good. To accompany it I made the Lime-Cilantro Slaw:

And a box of Goya Mexican Rice. Cheating, I know, but I had to fit the nap in somewhere. All together, dinner looked like this:
A rousing success! And a bargain. The guests brought the Corona which was fitting and I made a banana pudding for dessert just because it sounded good. What would you make for your $50 dinner?


Tatersmama said...

Here in Australia, I would have to up that $50 to closer to $100!
8 people eating at McDonalds, would cost almost 50 bucks!

But Oh My... your meal looks so good! I could eat just the Carnitas alone... all on their lonesome!

Treehouse Chef said...

I read about that $50 challenge in the NYTs. I was a bit disapointed with the menus chosen. Yours looks a whole lot better!

Treehouse Chef said...

BTW--Awesome photos!!!!!!

Robynn's Ravings said...

What an appetizing array and a lovely presentation!! Ima be checkin' this one out! And hey! Good to see you. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, this looks great but not as good as the Indian Food we had at your place. Please send me the recipe and tell Travis that we said Hi!! Love reading your blogs keep up the great information.

Frugal Maven said...

Thanks girls! Tater, you'd probably spend $50 on Crisco so your numbers could be inflated!

Tracy, Thanks! Glad you're reading. The Indian recipe is in the blog somewhere. I'll send it though. We loved seeing you all. Come back soon!

Anonymous said...

Every time I'm hungry, which is often on WW, I check out the Frugal Maven & drool.
Can't wait to see you next week!!

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