This weekend was full of firsts. It was my first weekend with the new roommate. It was the first time I had my own personal wifi router placed in my home (I have not had wifi for 1.5 years, and I don’t own a TV. The end result? I have not watched videos in 1.5 years! This is so freeing!) It was the first time I decided to cook a three course meal. I made my first batch of salad dressing. I made my first batch of lasagna noodles. I made my first two batches of (purposefully, not accidental) ricotta, and my first attempt at a brown butter pumpkin sauce. This means that I not only made a lasagna for the first time this weekend by myself, but I flew by the seat of my pants, and adapted the brown butter pumpkin macaroni recipe from Brokeass Gourmet, and made it into a lasagna. So what, it looked like a pile of cheese because I didn’t stack it high enough. It tasted good! The garlic bread sticks were also a first.
Basically, while my roommate Dana oooed and awwwed over my constant stirring and whisking over the course of 36 hours, I had no idea what I was doing. Sure I looked competent, but in the back of my mind I was figuring out what Chinese restaurant to order from if I had to. Somehow the endeavor actually worked out. I pulled off a three course meal, where everything was served hot and fresh out of the oven. I planned on a maximum of 20 people, and paid about $90 for all the ingredients. This sounds like a lot, until you realize that 90/20 is $4.50 a person for a three course meal. All the ingredients (except for the brownie mix because my grandma gave that to me, but I bought like a $12 salt shaker on the below receipt, which is more than enough money for organic flour, bakers cocoa, and bakers chocolate for the ganache) were organic and local.
Therefore, without further ado, here is what I learned from the experience.
- From scratch carbs are your friend
The first time I made a lasagna, I had help. An ex boyfriend and I decided to cook together, and he knew how to make lasagna. We bought the pasta. We bought the noodles. We bought the cheese. All told, one batch of semi organic lasagna cost us $30. The pasta itself was $7 for a box. I made enough pasta for 2 batches of lasagna (and I even had extra that I cooked up and froze) for about $3. Flour is dirt cheap. Use it. One of the biggest hits of the night were the garlic biscuits and the second batch of breadsticks. Flour. A little garlic and butter. You’re gourmet! Especially if you are planning on serving lots of people with large appetites, the more you can carb centric the meal, the cheaper and more filling your meal will be.
- Never buy salad dressing ever again
So I am all about easy when I have to be. I bought pre mixed washed greens, did I not? But a basic salad dressing takes 5 minutes to make, and costs $3 or less organic. Just look up a basic balsamic vinaigrette online. All it is, is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt, and spices.
- If you must do large quantities of cheese….
Buy one expensive but highly flavorful hunk, then for the rest use a cheaper basic cheese. Ratio of about 50/50 unless you have some really powerful stuff. The expensive cheese I got was about $19/pound! It would have cost me an arm and a leg for four cups shredded of that stuff! However, 2 cups of that and 2 cups of an organic sharp cheddar tasted… still damn good.
If you need ricotta, that is one cheese that is easy to make. All you need are some lemons, whole milk, and about 30-40 minutes. That cuts the cost of organic ricotta from $8 to $3. Why does my organic milk look more expensive? Bottle deposit. I’ll get that back.
- The acronym is BYOB
BYOB stands for bring your own booze, and it is your friend. Every party needs good drinks, but going out and buying a variety is going to cost you. People also tend to like one particular thing or another. Therefore, have everyone bring a little something. You are cooking after all. Let them get themselves drunk!
- Pop some tags
DO NOT under any circumstances go to some store like Macy’s and spend $80 on table clothes, dishware, and centerpieces. The table cloth for this event I bought for $2. My 14 matching plates I scored for $6. Massive wooden salad bowl with wooded salad server tongs? $5. Cloth napkins to wrap the breadsticks in were $4 for 4. The placemats were about the same price for a set of 10. Just never go to Macy’s again, okay?
- Use your leftovers.
Last week I had leftover baguette from my thanks for helping me move meal, and I made a delicious strata that I ate all week. This week, I’m going to have leftover lasagna and salad, which means I don’t need to spend grocery money buying more flour and kale. I’m not making cookies because, why, when I have 7 brownies left over? You make a meal for friends, and half the time you finish the evening with a stocked fridge. Use it. Waste not, want not.
This week in updates:
WOW. Busy day and a half. I’m exhausted. Time for a lazy Sunday of cleaning and laundry and budgeting and eating leftovers. I was going to sleep in, but stupid me decided to wake up at 3. That’s okay though, because life in the new place is good. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be able to walk to my favorite grocery store! I can also walk to my YMCA! It was beautiful and sunny yesterday (gotta love California) so walking to and from my errands was a good way to take a break from all the cooking.
The recipe: Easy Scallion Strata
Strata, for all its exotic sounding name, is an American dish. Of course it is American! What is better than eggs, cream, and bread and cheese? A perfect way to use up left over baguette from your party. Freezes and reheats well too.
1 cup cream (for a healthier version, use whole milk)
1 cup milk or soymilk
4 chopped up scallions, or green onions
1 cup shredded cheese
2 cups leftover baguette, cut into slices or chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
Grease one large pan. Layer the bread in it. Whisk eggs, milk and cream until fluffy. Add the cheese, scallions and salt/pepper to the egg mixture. Pour the eggs over the bread. Cover, and let sit in the fridge for 8 hours. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes, until the top starts to look a toasty brown. Wait 10 minutes before serving.