Editor’s Note: After going over budget on groceries one week, the Casa San Salvador community decided to take a creative approach to meal planning.
Living in a house with 12 people has been quite a unique experience, particularly in the realm of cooking.
One week, the community tried a different approach to meal planning: Chopped week.
If you haven’t seen the show Chopped on Food Network, it’s definitely worth checking out. But to provide some background context, the show features four chefs competing against each other. There are usually three rounds: appetizer, entree, and dessert. In each round, the chefs have a certain amount of time to create gourmet dishes. The catch? They have no idea ahead of time what their ingredients will be. They are given a closed basket and no matter what is inside the basket, they have to incorporate it into their meal somehow. Sometimes the ingredients are fairly standard, but sometimes they’re incredibly bizarre.
This idea came about since we’d recently gone over budget for our community groceries…by a significant amount. And so, we decided to get creative with the dinners for the upcoming week.
That jar of apple and cabbage that had been in the cabinet since Vatican II? Perfect time to use it. The leftover dipping sauces from Papa John’s? Absolutely.
We wrote down an assortment of ingredients on slips of paper and put them into a bowl. These ingredients were either a) simple and cheap or b) had been in the cabinets for far too long.
Next, each community member teamed up with a sous chef and selected four slips of paper for their four ingredients. We decided to eliminate the time aspect of the challenge (we were all going to have the eat the end result after all.) All of the ingredients had to be used in some fashion, only a two dish maximum meal, and no desserts.
An example of some of the pairings:
- Soy Sauce
- Garlic dipping sauce from Papa Johns
- Bulgur Grain
- Cabbage-Apple Mixture
And so, the week began. Everyone rose to the occasion and although a lot of us started out a little skeptical, we had some really incredible meals that week.
Aside from being a lot of fun, the week was also a great exercise in community building. We purposely paired up with someone we hadn’t cooked with yet. It was a great chance to bond and laugh over a bubbling pot, as we nervously added as many prayers as ingredients and hoped we wouldn’t be shunned from the community when all was said and done.
The experience was a lot of fun and forced us to think outside the box a little more. And no matter what the outcome, everyone was supportive and at least tried every dish (even when potato soup with a nice popcorn garnish turned into pea soup with soggy popcorn floating around in it.) And after this experience, we’ve stayed on budget almost every week.