I can't remember the last time I did a $21 Challenge, it was a very long time ago. I mean my budget isn't exactly huge anyway. Last time I worked out a budget a couple of months ago I came out with the princely sum of $52 leftover each week for food, petrol, medical expenses and so on. I supplement this wherever I can by selling everything except the kitchen sink on my local Facebook Buy, Sell and Swap page. Growing my $52 a week is an ongoing mission of mine but it will take me a couple of months to get there as I have to spend money first to save money, if you get what I mean. Anyways, I digress...
A lot of confusion has always surrounded the $21 Challenge. It was only ever intended to cover food only, not toilet paper, cleaning products and all manner of other things. Even after all these years many people think that this sum has to cover EVERYTHING and do their challenge accordingly, which is absolutely fine. I've never had to do one this way before but this week I do, as my $20 is quite literally all there is.
Having decided to do my $21 Challenge yesterday afternoon, my first choice of dinner was relatively easy. I had taken two chicken breasts out of the freezer yesterday morning and planned to make Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken, which everyone loves. This recipe is the shizzle, it's so delicious, yet uses only the most basic of pantry ingredients. Sorted! Until I went to make it, that was and discovered I didn't have enough sugar, cornflour or cider vinegar, all three of which were essential to the recipe. On top of that, Ali asked if his girlfriend could stay for dinner and I only had two chicken breasts. Going to the supermarket for more chicken and the missing ingredients wasn't an option; the chicken alone would have taken a big chunk of our $20! A rethink was necessary - and fortunately it didn't take long for me to find.
In an old, well-thumbed playgroup fundraiser recipe book, I came across the rarely made but very delicious 'Chicken Potato Slice'. Don't be fooled by the boring title, this recipe is delicious and the total opposite of boring! I had pretty much everything I needed on hand and could substitute what I didn't have, such as regular onion for spring onion. As an extra bonus, it would also use up the half a cup of cream that was in the fridge. The thing was, I only had two chicken breasts and the recipe called for four. What to do, what to do? In desperation I opened the freezer - and saw a bag of cooked, shredded roast chicken I had saved from a couple of weeks before after reading a Simple Savings tip from a lady who buys cooked chickens when they're on crazy special and portions them all out and freezes them in bags. As it turned out, the couple of breasts I already had turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought once defrosted and once poached and added to the other cooked chicken, I had the perfect amount, woohoo!
I was already feeling pretty pleased with myself for thinking outside the square and reducing the cost of dinner by so much. The only thing I didn't have now for my recipe was white wine, and having eaten this dish before I knew that even the measly third of a cup required did make a big difference to the flavour. What could I substitute for wine in the recipe, could you even DO that? Hang on, didn't we include an alternative for wine in the substitutes section of the $21 Challenge book? A quick flick to the back of the book and I grinned to myself - there it was! To make one cup of 'wine, all I needed was a cup of water, three tablespoons of lemon juice (I have masses of lemons in the garden) and three teaspoons of water. In inwardly thanked Fiona for insisting we write the substitutes section in the first place and divided the quanties by three to get my third of the cup. You wouldn't believe how well it worked! Seriously, I never need to buy wine for cooking again!
Before I knew it, my dish was done, it looked and smelled just like it was supposed to and thanks to the huge bag of carrots I bought last week and an abundance of frozen vegies from my mum's garden, there was dinner. Being vegetarian myself, I made Sophie Gray's Red Lentil Bolognaise (which you can also find in the $21 Challenge book) and made enough rice to go with it so that I have at least two more meals at my disposal for lunches or dinners during the week.
'What's for dinner?', Ali's girlfriend Hayley asked, tentatively peering into the oven. 'Ohh, it's some chickeny bake thing', I waved towards it vaguely. 'We're doing a $21 Challenge this week!' 'I know, my dad told me, he saw it on Facebook!' she replied somewhat nervously. 'Oh don't worry, most of the time you eat even better than normal on a $21 Challenge because you have to plan everything so well and use everything up!' I assured her. As it was, the chickeny bake thing was a hit. 'That was good! I need more!' she grinned, bringing her empty plate back to the table. Even though I had made the dish before I was much relieved to see everyone happily tucking in!
So Day One is done and dusted and I was pretty proud of myself, not least to have come up with not one, but two main meals. In case you're thinking 'oh she's obviously got heaps of food on hand, she's stocked up', you are very much mistaken! I may have a few vegies on hand and some fruit but I am already really lacking on a lot of basics such as milk, butter, onions and all those little essentials which are in most recipes to make them work or taste good. I've run out of dog food so today I'll be foraging through the freezer to see what I can make for Minnie the spaniel and today I also need to do my inventory (better late than never) to plan the rest of the week's meals. Breakfast for me is toast spread with tahini as I need to save the butter! Now if I can just find a $21 Challenge substitute to help me avoid buying toothpaste until Thursday. Wonder if I can get the rest of the family to clean their teeth with baking soda? I don't like my chances!
If you would like the recipe for the very not boring 'Chicken Potato Bake' and 'Sophie's Red Lentil Bolognaise', you can find them on my Facebook page here.