Monday, August 31, 2009

Dinner Party Impossible?

Although we love food and friends, bringing them together can sometimes be a matter of stress and financial depression. Anyone who's thrown a dinner party knows that costs can often add up, tempers flair and there are the inevitable difficulties of matching wine glasses or napkins. But, I really want to believe it can be done differently, with more guerrilla style and rebellion. When I was barely old enough to walk, I was helping my grandmother plan menus and set up flatware. My grandmother hailed from a time when it was expected that young ladies would know how to entertain friends, bosses or family on the fly without breaking the house budget.

Now, just two generations later, that knowledge has started to fade. My mother is more likely to suggest meeting at a restaurant or hiring a caterer and Eric's mother is often overwhelmed and overspent at the end of each of her affairs. I know that my grandmother had style and creativity, but while she left me her china and silver, she kept the secrete to the perfect dinner party to herself. But, I know that if Eric and I put our heads together, we can summon up some of that old time party spirit and knock out some amazing dinner parties! Thus, we offer the following challange...is any dinner party really impossible?

Our first mission? Inspired by the new Applebee's advertising strategy of two courses for two people for $20, we wanted to see if we could do six courses for six people for less than sixty dollars! That's a mere $10 per person and $1.67 per person, per course! Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No...or at least we hope not...

Follow us over the next few days as we plan a menu, choose our guests, go shopping and dish it up all without loosing our minds or breaking our budget!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Home Economics 101

In light of the recent support we've gotten from Lisa Schmeiser of Dollars and Sense at The Chronicle, we've been talking a lot about why we started this blog (over a year ago!) and how things have changed since then. Loyal readers (who we love dearly) may remember that it was in fact not the most recent economic downturn that caused us to cut back. When Cody's closed in the summer of 2007 and Eric found himself without an immediate job, we knew that we had to do something. That was, luckily, when we started baking our own bread and discovering how much fun a Farmer's Market could be. Bread and fresh produce is one thing, but when you've grown up in our families you're going to be hungry for much, much more. We also realized that we were lucky, being a couple living in a city as abundant with fresh food as with foodies willing to offer a helping hand, or a tip on where to find the cheapest eats around. But still...we wanted to go one step further, we wanted to see if we could take Home Economics to the next level and make it as much about food and housekeeping as it was about budget, surplus and of course, the occasional windfall.
With this in mind, we're starting a new type of reoccuring post, Home Economics 101, that we hope everyone will enjoy and be able to use in their own homes. Each post will feature a tip or suggestion that we've had success with in our own kitchen, a sort of a road map to how we've cut our grocery budget in half and managed to actually increase the enjoyment of each meal! We encourage everyone to let us know what you think about our tips and suggestions (especially families, as we've got no clue what it's like to feed hungry teens!) You'll have to be patient with us, as we're both working nonstop these days and Tiffany's in her final semester at Mills College, but we promise if you keep checking in, we'll keep helping you bring it to the table, guerrilla style!
Our first tip follows, after the jump >>
Home Economics 101
Lesson 1 - Balance
If you are serious about cutting down on the costs of feeding yourself or your family, the first thing you will need to do is develop a sense of balance. Many households today run on a large surplus of items and yet, we still eat out more often than we ever used to! With this in mind, this week's lesson is simple. In order to have a successful budget for your kitchen and table, you must have a sense of balance. You must always strive to have an idea of what is neccessary versus what is desired. Keeping a budget, much like staying with a diet, is difficult and you will fall off the wagon. But, knowing how to bring yourself into balance will help you get back on the right track!
Homework: Take stock of your habits and question each item you're purchasing - are you buying this because it's on sale, because you want it or because you need it?
Extra credit: Keep a list of items that you purchase and make a note as to why you bought it. Was it for a specific recipe, on sale, because you really wanted it or for some other reason?
Keep checking back for our next Home Economics 101 post and remember to leave your comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We love links!

Many belated thanks to Lisa Schmeiser of Dollars and Sense at The Chronicle for featuring The Guerrilla Gourmet in her Frugal Eats post. And thank YOU if you are a repeat visitor that discovered our site through her!

Places we wish we had gone to...

...The San Francisco Street Food Festival This event, which was covered well by Beer and Nosh, KQED and SFist, was sponsored by La Cocina, a non-profit in San Francisco that "incubates" food entrepreneurs, especially women. They've ushered many women through the program, including Veronica Salazar of El Huarache Loco, who works the Alemany Farmer's market and whose Mexico City-style tacos (with bacon, grilled steak, and onion) are my favorite tacos anywhere! Anyway, it sounds like it was a bit less "street" than it might have been (Absinthe's house-made sausages made an appearance while the Bacon Dog and Tamale Lady were notably absent), but it sounds like it was fun anyway. I'm sad we missed it. Thanks to Jay Berman of SFist for the pilfered photo.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Octopus soup with chickpeas, chiles and kale

I've been going through an Italian phase recently, and the latest iteration has been some South-Italian dishes from Nate Appleman's A16 Food + Wine. A16 is the name of they highway that runs from Naples through Campania and over the Appenines into Puglia, and A16 is the name of the deliciously unaffordable restaurant here in the city that Appleman founded to celebrate the cuisine and wine of those regions. Half of the book is an illuminating guide to Italian wine, written by A16's sommelier, Shelley Lindgren, while Appleman's half covers the inventive "cucina povera" of the south. There's a lot of information that I've heard before (Italians love seasonal, fresh vegatables? No shit, really?) but a lot that comes as a surprise. For example, Campanian cooks believe that red chiles "cancel out" pepper, so they rarely use them in the same dish. (The same goes for garlic and onions). Octopus Zuppa with Ceci (Chickpeas), Kale, Chiles, and Garlic What's Guerrilla: Appleman's treatment of Campanian cuisine emphasizes techniques to bring maximum flavor out of a radically simple pantry. That's what the Guerrilla Gourmet is all about. Also, octopus and chickpeas are pretty cheap. What's Gourmet: When properly treated, octopus is deliciously tender, and with garlic and lemon makes a deeply satisfying broth. Materials: 1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then boiled for 1-2 hours, with their cooking water 4 cloves of garlic, smashed The zest of a lemon, in thick strips 1 bay leaf 1 octopus (about 2 pounds) two handfuls of kale, cut into strips, then blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced 3 or 4 red chiles, deseeded and chopped (or a teaspoon of chile flakes) Kosher salt Lots of olive oil A big soup pot Method: 1) Bring 1/4 cup of olive oil to medium heat in the big soup pot, then add 2 cloves of the garlic, all the lemon zest, the bay leaf, and a big pinch of salt and cook for a minute or two until the garlic is soft. 2)Place the octopus in the pot and flip it around to coat it evenly with the oil. The octopus should slowly start to release liquid. Add a little bit of water and cover the pot. Check the octopus every few minutes to make sure that it stays at a very gentle simmer. If there isn't enough of the octopus' own liquid to submerge it after 20 minutes, then add enough water to just cover it. You can use a plate or other weight to keep the octopus submerged. 3) Simmer slowly, covered, for 1 hour, then pull the pot off heat and let the whole thing cool for at least another hour. When everything is cool, pull the octopus out and place it in a colander set over a bowl to drain any extra liquid. In the mean time, wash the original soup pot out thoroughly. Cut the octopus into thickish slices and set aside for the final step. 4) Add another 1/4 cup of olive oil and bring to medium heat. Add the rest of the garlic, the celery, and the chiles (or flakes) and stir until everything is soft and fragrant. Add the beans and a cup of their liquid, then the octopus and all of its liquid. Add the kale, simmer for a couple of minutes, then serve with a squeeze of lemon, a splash of olive oil, and serve with bread.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fettucini Alla Disperata

A Desperate Woman's Fettuccine According to legend, this dish was created by a woman with both a lover and a hungry husband. After a tryst with one, she ran late preparing dinner for the other...and had only moments to do with what she had on hand (how guerrilla!) Being Italian and brilliant, she created one of the most delicious and surprisingly easy pasta sauces, and probably managed to keep her ruse going at least on another day or two... Since Eric decided to work late tonight, slaving away at the 826 Valencia Street annual scholarship dinner, I thought this was the perfect dish to indulge in! After having enjoyed it, I can also imagine that this is a great dish to have in your repertoire for last-minute dinner parties, late-night snacks and emergencies!
Here's a picture of tonight's dinner, and the recipe follows after the jump.
Adapted from "From the Tables of Tuscany" by Anne Bianchi
3 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil 1 clove garlic, whole 6 ounces peeled plum tomatoes (canned work just fine) 1/4 tablespoon dried oregano 1 dried red chile, crushed (a pinch of red pepper flakes will work too) 15 capers, rinsed and crushed 7 or 8 small white pickled onions, chopped 7 or 8 green olives, sliced 3-4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, mashed 1 pound dried fettuccine (or whatever pasta rocks your boat) 1. Place oil in a skillet and brown the garlic; remove the garlic and discard (or smear on bread like I did!) 2. Add the tomatoes, oregano and pepper; cook over low heat for 15 minutes. 3. Add the capers, onions, olives and anchovies; stir, cover and cook over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. 4. Cook the pasta according to package directions. 5. Add the pasta to the skillet; toss well to blend all ingredients and serve hot. Serves 4 *If you want to make this into a single portion, I still recommend making the full cup of sauce, because the portions of each ingredient are so small. You can put 1/4 cup of the sauce in a nice big bowl, boil up 1/4 lb of pasta, throw the pasta into the bowl and give her a big swirl. Buon Appetito!