Apparently, I don’t spend ENOUGH time on the internet, because I’m adding a new feature to TNS: Cheap Ass Monday. My grocery bills have, uh, been nudging ever so slightly upward for the past few months; I have no idea why that might be. No matter the reason, I need to figure out a way to offset some of the more obscene Smackdown costs, and I know lots of us are looking for quick, less expensive meals so we can save our money for blowout trips to the French Laundry. Or, you know, to pay the mortgage or utility bill (thanks a lot, heat wave).
So Monday will no longer merely be “Monday” but “Cheap Ass Monday,” where we endeavor to make a tasty dinner for two gluttonous adults for $5 or less. Play along at home! The rules are:
- You (me) have to actually MAKE dinner out of actual whole, fresh ingredients. The Wendy’s 99-cent menu does not a Cheap Ass Monday make. I mean, technically it does, but that’s not gonna fly around here.
- Normal pantry items that right-thinking people should have in their homes (salt, sugar, olive oil, etc) do not count toward the $5 limit.
- I am the arbiter of what constitutes a “normal pantry item” and reserve the right to stretch the definition thereof in order to meet my self-imposed dollar limit.
- Some Mondays may be skipped without prior notice if I am feeling lazy.
Cheap Ass Monday kicks off with a refreshing, raw cucumber and peanut salad. Not only is it too hot in New York to even think about entertaining the idea of considering turning on the oven, it is also too hot for humans to effectively digest complex foods. Also, the knobs on the stove may well be too hot from the ambient temperature to touch; I can’t say for sure because I didn’t want to chance it.
I at first toyed with the idea of chopping up some peppers, carrots and baby bok choy and tossing them with a creamy peanut dressing, but the very concept of “creamy sauce” made my stomach turn a little in the heat. I wanted something light, refreshing and crisp, so I went with a combo of cucumber, radish and Asian pear with peanuts for protein and fat, all simply dressed with rice wine vinegar and mirin.
Bag of radishes: $0.99
Luckily, I’d stored my knife in a dark, cool location* and the kitchen counter is closer to the AC unit, so I was able to dice all the ingredients comfortably.
I’m sitting in my living room with the AC on, and am getting a little sweaty from typing this. Just thought you should know. Thank god for homemade ice cream.
Asian pear: $1.99. A splurge item!
There was a lot of chopping. Chop chop chop. I can’t make everything interesting for you.
Half of a $1.58 container of peanuts: $0.79
When I was little my parents and I would take lots of road trips, most frequently a 9-hour trek to West Virginia where my sister’s family was living while my brother-in-law went to culinary school at the Greenbriar. My mother would always bring a big jar of peanuts on these trips, correctly thinking that they’d be a good hunger-sating snack for road-weary travelers. I always thought the peanuts were just a prop she used to justify refusing to stop for yummy, greasy road food; I don’t remember ever actually eating any of the peanuts. Looking back, it occurs to me that they may also have been a prop to justify her (entirely rational) fear of stopping for anything in West Virginia.*
Anyway, I added peanuts here because (1) I didn’t want to be hungry again in 7 seconds and (2) peanuts taste good. Cashews would also be acceptable, albeit pricier.
*Sorry, West Virginia, but you make it too easy.
One-tenth of a $1.66 knob of fresh ginger: $0.16.
Sugar, salt, rice wine vinegar and mirin are all normal pantry items as far as I’m concerned; if they’re not for you, they should be. I also tossed in some cilantro from the backyard. If you want to be picky, it was one-fifth of the growth from a seedling that originally cost $1.99 but which has not been appraised to determine it’s current worth given the ensuing growth. But I’m counting it as “free” because now we’re getting into complex math. There’s a reason I studied philosophy, religion and law, and it’s not my love of a good equation.
Final cost: $4.46, or $2.23 per serving.
The finished product was everything I wanted it to be. Crunchy from the cukes; fresh from the cilantro; a little salty from the peanuts; a little sweet from the mirin, pear and sugar; a little tingly from the fresh ginger; a little bracing from the vinegar and radishes. Every ingredient was wonderfully crisp in a slightly different way. The crunch and texture made it satisfying to eat, and it was perfectly suited to this meltingly hot day. Methinks I will turn to this often as the summer wears on, either as a stand-alone like this or as a side dish.
And now, a Monday bonus:
It’s Brian’s grandma!
Just kidding, it’s cake. I mean, it’s true that Brian’s grandma is in the photo, but I know that all you care about is cake. I made this ice cream for her 88th birthday, and I must implore all of you to immediately make an ice cream cake featuring layers of chocolate and Vietnamese coffee ice creams from David Lebovitz’s Perfect Scoop. Do you not have this book? That’s a serious problem.
Here’s an actual conversation I had with Grandma:
Grandma: Michelle, I washed the pan from the cake. (a springform pan)
Me: Oh, you didn’t have to do that; I would have made Brian do it!
Grandma: Well, I was licking it.
Me: In that case, thanks for washing it.
Grandma is awesome.
Cucumber & Peanut Salad for a meltingly hot day
Keep all the ingredients in the fridge prior to prepping this to make it extra-refreshing
1 cucumber, seeds removed
1 Asian pear, core hacked out
1/2 c. roasted, salted peanuts
2 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp. mirin
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. cilantro
Dice the cucumber, radishes and Asian pear into evenly-sized chunks and dump into a bowl. Mince or finely grate the ginger over the bowl (I recommend using a microplane). Add the peanuts, vinegar, mirin, salt and sugar and toss to combine.
Finely chop the cilantro and sprinkle on top. Adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.
That’s one deliciously crisp-looking salad. I’ll have to try it when the sun deigns to show itself again in my part of the world… which judging by the current weather pattern, should be for two days in August.
And speaking as someone whose great-grandpappy was a West Virginia coal miner… W.Va. really does make it too easy. Here’s an actual conversation a couple of friends overheard a few years back in a W.Va. diner:
Young man (pointing to Name the U.S. States placemat): Maw~ma, whut’s thay~ut?
(Marginally) older woman: That, son, is ed~y~cay~shun.
Eff you and your hot weather. I am gaining weight from all the stews and braises I’ve eaten to warm myself in the pouring down rain-cold ass weather we’re being punished with here.
But I love this whole new TSN series. Hey man- times are tough. You are providing a much needed service.
Can’t wait to see the cheap-ass meals to come.
Your CAM salad looks delicious! You poor East Coasters. Sorry about the weather. I grew up in that stuff (the humidity) which is why I don’t live there now. It got down into the 30s overnight here, but even so – I ate watermelon for dinner tonight 🙂 Hope it cools down soon.
That salad looks so crunchy and refreshing. I am loving radishes right now. I like the concept – light salad with an ice cream cake chaser.
You bet your sweaty ass I’ll be playing along. Where to start? Let’s see….1/10th of a pound of foie gras……shit, this isn’t working out so well.
I’ll look forward to your next challenge….hey, I know….how about White Trash Tuesdays??!
LOVE this new concept. Especially since you practically have to take a loan out to make macaroni cheese in this neck of the woods (saw 800g of cheddar for $19 today, nearly fainted). That salad looks gorgeous, love that it has peanuts in it, will have to remember that for when it’s summer…oh and I love your description of your soul 🙂 don’t know if it’s accurate, but it’s definitely brilliant!
LOVE this new Cheap Ass Monday idea! And what a way to kick it off…that is one beautiful salad…Asian pears? Peanuts? Cilantro. Yes, please! 🙂
Great idea with these rising food costs. That ice cream cake looka amazing.
Happy Birthday Grandma! You’re 88 – so celebrate!
With ice cream cake.
I like this cheap Monday idea. Maybe we should play along with you. I like the idea of this salad. I really want to make something similar to it. I bought some Thai basil that would go well.
All I’ve eaten for the past 4 friggin’ days is salads. They’re delicious and crispy and cool, but seriously, I’m ready for a sandwich, or some noodles.. *shakes fist at sky* Enough already!! It’s too damn hot!
Yes, it is too damn hot and my stomach is yearning for something heartier than lettuce, albeit your salad looks fabulous. I am going to go on a salad bonanza tonight. Cheap Ass Mondays are a welcomed addition. Thank you for keeping my non existent food budget in mind!
Grandma rocks! I love the cake.
I like your new idea and I like your salad. Had I been sane, I would have done something similar for dinner last night. Instead I made fried chicken.
You would have loved a comment made by a former coworker of mine (who originally hailed from W VA, so she was entitled to make jokes like this). “Virginia is for lovers. West Virginia is for cousins.”
brittany, the grass is always greener, y’know?
jen, we’re looking at another 100-degree day here, and watermelon for dinner is sounding pretty fucking good.
LiR, i hear you on the radish love. i was going to bring some to work today for a snack with a little container of butter and some sea salt so i could feel all frenchified, but it’s still too hot and the butter idea isn’t working for me.
bb, that would probably have to involve velveeta at some point, and i am morally opposed to velveeta.
laura, you’re not kidding; that freaking mac and cheese cost like $30.
canary, gracias! we can all use a little cheapassitude.
courtney, it tasted SO MUCH BETTER than it looked!
em, you should play along! the thai basil would be a nice addition. i contemplated mint, too.
ann, i ate a sandwich yesterday – while sitting in my air conditioned office – and i still couldn’t quite make it through. i may just give up and eat ice cream for dinner tonight.
CK, you’re welcome! and this salad was SO much more satisfying to eat than lettuce.
rachel, grandma does rock. of course, i have to take her love of my cooking with a grain of salt, because this is the woman who once called a trip to the chinese buffet in a NJ strip mall “heavenly.”
That ice cream cake looks so good right now. From where I sit in my office. Where there is no a/c. 😦
Damn, I picked the right State to live in. Tampa, FL is warm, but it’s not sweltering like you guys are right now.
Love the salad. I make a simular one, but add Jicama to it. Very cheap veggie.
Grandma is VERY cool. Of COURSE she licked the pan.
right now from where i’m sitting, that looks like the best thing i have ever seen in my life. i’d kill for that salad…
I love the new idea when it comes to cheap, good food. I think it totally identifies with the poor college student (which makes up some of us), and proves that delicious doesn’t have to be expensive.
The best thing about salad is that it leaves room for cake too. True story.
I love the idea of cheap ass Monday. My grocery bills have been creeping up as well!
This is awesome. New York City is melting in a heat wave right now- I’m totally going to try this!
oh! what a great idea! how about cheap ass tuesday, wednesday, and friday as well? I could go for that completely!!!!
and holy hell, we have nasty ass heat and humidity here, but apparently up north (in my small florida-born-and-raise-head is anything north of Orlando) nobody believes in a/c in the home. so holy hell i feel bad for you guys!
i think it’s been nice here, except, I haven’t left the 78 degree a/c kept house all day, and pretty much all week 😉
What’s the deal with the heat? I think I could have slow roasted/steamed a pork but outside yesterday. My shoe actually got stuck in a patch of newly filled pothole last night on 8th st.
all of us food bloggers need to get together and do this… maybe it should be cheap ass August.
jodi, and they’re keeping you there? harsh.
urban, i love jicama – it would be a great additional to this, or could replace the asian pear (their textures are so similar).
claudia, it’s vegan, it’s raw, it’s got nuts – can’t you eat it?
adam, and poor working folks!
kristen, play along at home!
olivia, let me know how you like it.
christey, who doesn’t believe in AC in the home? everyone i know has that shit CRANKED.
marc, seriously. *i* felt slow-roasted after walking around outside yesterday.
evil chef, good idea! maybe people could take turns hosting.
Cheap Ass Monday… lol! I’m lazy, I’m broke, but it’s 50 degrees in here MI 😦 One of the many joys of living in the North. I could only be so lucky to see a heat wave. This looks amazing though, if it gets hotter you know what I could be making. 🙂
Haha, love this new feature! Cheap is what I am about. And grandma sounds hilarious! 🙂
I had company from The Netherlands and Switzerland last night. Poor guys – they drove up from the Keys in a non-air-conditioned van. They looked like cooked lobsters when they arrived.
A quick shower – and then they sat down to this salad, Indonesian Grilled Chicken and Lemony Couscous – plus COLD COLD Micro-brews. They were very chill-happy boys by the end of the meal.
They send many thanks for your creation.
I am so with you on this one, Michelle! I have been having cheap ass everyday! LOL! But I am going to enjoy checking out these recipes! I love cukes and radishes together!
And both Grandma AND that cake sound just FABULOUS!
I can already tell I’m going to love this feature (I just like the term ‘cheap-ass’. Fortunately for me) XD. Looks gorgeous, and dsjfksjds I want that cake.
“Grandma: Well, I was licking it.
Me: In that case, thanks for washing it.
Grandma is awesome.”
That warms me right down to my dark, cool location.
I love the Cheap Ass Monday idea. I need to quit spending so damn much!
And in case you can’t tell, my WordPress problem got fixed. Yay for me.
bobby, 50 degrees…i can only dream of such a thing.
danny, way to publicly proclaim yourself as cheap.
mittany, i’m very glad they enjoyed it!
jen, they are fabulous! if you get a grandma’s good side, she’ll take you into her bedroom and share the secret candy stash she keeps in the closet.
indigo, let me tell you, that cake got sucked down in no time. and it was a big sucker, too. grandma is a light eater, but when it comes to chocolate she can pack it away.
melissa, yay, you’re back!
Do like me, become a private chef so the grocery bills are paid directly by your employer. Just bring your camera to work. 🙂 You might need to hire a psychiatrist after a while but that’s another story. Your salad is just what I need for this damn hot NY weather. It’s perfect.
What a great looking summer salad. Fresh and crisp! I love all of your pictures!
Salad looks great. We also have been breaking lots of heat records here, so I think I’m gonna give this a shot.
I already love your grandma. I can just see her licking that spring form pan. Treasure those moments. They will be gone before you know it.
Delicious, crunchy and cool – love it!
that’s a great idea. i have the same problem since like forever because i never stick to my shopping list and i buy loads!
i’ll look forward to your posts and hope to try a cheap ass monday myself sometime soon!
I made the salad this week with grilled salmon as the entree. It was yummy! I did substitute unsalted peanuts cause you know all of that salt just makes you bloat.