Friday, September 9, 2011

The Dear Abby of the Food World

I am sharing this very sweet letter in it's entirety as well as the recipes and budget I came up with.

Dear Karl,

I know you are not the Dear Abby of the Food World but I am hoping you can help.

I am a student and my husband has finished school and is working now. We have no money as you can guess.

His family is Italian and his mother has welcomed us into their home many times for some amazing meals in the past year since we were married. Friends gave us the nicest plank dining table which we normally use as my desk with dining corner but in a fit of madness (I was drunk) I invited my in laws to dinner and now I have less than a week to prepare. With the whole family I am cooking for 8.

In the pantry I have ramen and some great olive oil my husband's Uncle sent over from Tuscany and I made the idiot mistake of asking my father in law what is favorite foods were and he said Veal and started naming all the veal dishes he loves.

My husband says they will be happy with spaghetti, garlic and oil and not to worry but I am worried.

We set a budget of 25.00 and how am I going to feed 8 people for 25.00 but since you are good at budgets can you help?

Who could say no to this stressed and breathless woman? Not me.

First of all, relax. If they invite you over often they probably like you and they would be happy with a bowl of pasta. Every Italian I know is happy with a pasta, but I understand you want to do more, but let's keep it simple.

Have you ever been to a hotel brunch buffet? The ads always show crab legs on ice but when you get there the first table is always bread and pastry and bagels and you can't resist. Then when you finally get your 5th plate you turn the corner and finally you spot the crab, but you are so stuffed you barely take anything.

Learn from the hotels. Fill 'em with cheap carbs and then bring out the meat.

Ask for help. Say to your Mother in law..."You always serve the nicest wine, I've no idea what to serve to you can you give me some advice?

She will offer to bring the wine, let her.

Call up the other guests when someone asks if they can bring anything ask for a dessert. People love to bring things, allow them to help.

Now let's plan a meal.

You are going to need.
Bread 1.99
Garlic 1.00
Chickpeas .99
2 lbs pasta 2.50
1 bunch swiss chard 1.99
2 lbs veal stew meat 14.00
1 large can peeled tomatoes 1.49
4 carrots .79
4 celery stalks .99
2 onion .40
Bottle cooking wine 2.00
Total 28.14 In full retail San Francisco prices. Careful shopping can probably bring this down a bit. Can you make it work?

Puree the chickpeas with a little oil and garlic, a touch of salt and some red pepper flakes and serve with thinly sliced bread. Easy.

Make two pounds of spaghetti with garlic and oil and put in the chopped swiss chard. Serve family style.

Now a Tuscan Veal Stew
2 lbs veal stew meat, cut into small cubes and dry the meat.
4 carrots
4 celery stalks
4 onions all cut into pieces.
2 garlic cloves chopped
A little fresh or dried Rosemary if you have it
1 can tomatoes chopped
Bottle of Red (two buck chuck is a fine cooking wine)
Olive oil, salt and pepper.
Warm the olive oil and brown the meat. Then toss in the garlic, onion and vegetables. Saute for a few minutes then the wine and tomatoes. Let it reduce a little. Cover the saucepan and cook very gently until the meat is tender, about two hours.

It is that simple. Your guests will be carb filled and a small portion is all they will need. You might even get the veal for less, ask your butcher.

If you can squeeze out a few more dollars add a salad.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Sounds like a great menu! I love to entertain but we're on a budget too. A big key is asking people to bring stuff! I never hesitate to ask--dessert and wine are perfect choices, but I will even ask people to bring specific side dishes (i.e., a green veg, a salad, etc) if they can handle it. Another key is seeing what's on sale the week before your party. If you REALLY have nothing in the house it is more difficult to buy all the ingredients (once you make that initial investment for some pantry ingredients you'll have them for next time), but if you buy what is on a good sale or regularly inexpensive you can make the money go farther. Take a few minutes to peruse the ads for whatever grocery store(s) you have access too--most stores have them online now. If you're a confident cook by all means cook whatever, but personally I don't get too hung up on cooking my guests' favorite foods. Those are THEIR specialties and I'm not going to be able to outdo them. When cooking for my in laws I always stay away from the things my mother-in-law does really well and stick to what I do well. If you have an awesome (cheap) recipe for meatloaf or mac and cheese, or grilled chicken, or whatever and know you can nail it, consider making that! You can be confident that your money won't go to waste if you stick with what you know. Finally, try not to be embarrassed. You're not the first couple who's struggled with money, and I bet your in laws know things are tight for you. They may not know how tight, but they're probably not clueless. Do the best you can and serve whatever you serve with dignity. Unless your in laws are majorly ungrateful (in which case you probably won't win no matter how much money you spend), they will appreciate whatever you make.