The Approach

The Approach

Menu planning
I used to leave for the grocery store with a meal in mind: I’m going to make Artichoke Pasta. I’d write the ingredients down on my list and off to the store I’d go. I still do this, for special events and recipes I’m dying to try. But this is not the way to eat on $5 a day.

People often ask me if I rotated through the same meals when I was working as a sea cook. I admitted that I often made pasta Bolognese on the days I provisioned. I tended to get in breakfast ruts and run through a similar repertoire of pancakes, dutch babies, scrambled eggs and sausage gravy and biscuits. But I tried to shake it up. And I often had to, because if I didn’t use the leftover corned beef and make a hash, it was going to go to waste. So, no, I didn’t make the same meal very often. Unless they really loved it.

The way I provisioned for my crew is how I now provision for myself. I make a rough list of things I’d like to make and many of them have question marks beside them: tacos; cauliflower (?) curry/wok; sausage & egg sandwich; salad; soup; banh mi; pizza?; pasta?; rice and beans.

When I went to buy the groceries for this project, I bought broccoli because it looked better than the cauliflower. I found a Kabocha squash – a fun and unusual find at the dollar store; and I checked ‘soup’ off my list. I think the bánh mì was the only thing I was really set on making and I knew I’d find everything I would need.

Here’s the resulting menu for those who want to follow along:
1. Red Beans and Rice
2. Open-faced sausage, egg and tomato jam sandwich
3. Spinach salad with baby spinach, dried cranberries, toasted almonds, and curried eggs
4. Vietnamese bánh mì Sandwich
5. Broccoli and Rice
6. Cheesy Potato Tacos
7. Squash soup with biscuits

Prep Day
Okay, so you just got home from grocery shopping. And you’ve got an extra hour to make a few items that will save you a ton of money and stock your fridge with gourmet ingredients. Making these things now will also make it easier for you to prepare meals later on in the week.

Home-made cumin mayonnaise 
If you’ve never tried it, don’t be afraid. Make sure to use the canola/olive oil blend I mentioned or it will taste astringent.

2 T. lemon juice (roughly the juice from one nice, squishy lemon)
1 T. vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg yolk
1/2 t. to 1 t. cumin, you can always add more later to your liking
1/4 – 1/2 salt (always a good idea to add later, to taste)
1  c. oil  cup oil (if you didn’t get the blend at the dollar store, make sure to use part canola or sunflower, and part olive oil)
A pinch or two of sugar, to taste
Black pepper to taste.

Take an egg yolk, reserve the white (it will keep for a while in the fridge and you can just add it to your scrambled eggs in the morning). Put it in the food processor with everything but the oils. Blend. Then add the oil slowly through the top, while processing. I like to hit the pulse button repeatedly rather than run the machine solidly for the whole time. The mixture will start to emulsify and look the mayonnaise you know and love.

What? You don’t like mayonnaise? A lot of my friends don’t (and they should all be attending some sort of reverse rehab for this deficiency.) Mayo is an integral ingredient on a banh mi. That’s why you’re making it. The sandwich won’t be the same without it, but I will propose substitutions.

picklesRefrigerator pickles
I love having pickles around. They are great to put on the side of a curry dish and great on sandwiches and salads. You can actually wait until the same day, but if you have more time on the weekend to prep, it’d be easier to get this out of the way.

6 small cucumbers
2 carrots
1 red onion
1 jalapeno

1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 t. salt
salt

Put the vinegar, sugar and water on the stove and heat until the sugar is just dissolved. Remove from heat.

Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. If you don’t, it’ll be okay, but the pickled will get pretty watery. If you have time, slice them thinly. If not, it won’t really matter how you slice them. Slice the carrots thinly or chop them up in little pieces. The thinner or the smaller you cut/slice the carrots, the shorter time required for them to pickle. Slice the onion very thinly if you can. Slice the jalapeno lengthwise, de-seed (this is really easy to to with a paring knife) and thinly slice. If you want hotter pickles, keep the seeds.

The pickling liquid should be room temp by now. Place veggies in an airtight container and fill to cover with the liquid. Refrigerate for minimum of one hour. They should last about a week (unless you eat them every night).