When my friend Jess lived in Ann Arbor, he’d host these “Potcooks” at his apartment. Unlike a potluck, where people bring a dish to pass, a gathering of friends would come over with whatever ingredients they had on hand and everyone would create a meal together. The idea was that no one would have to spend any money, and it’d be an easy way to clean out the fridge at the end of the week. Potcooks were a hit, and have lived on since his departure from the city.
Another friend, Aubrey, had the innovative idea of hosting a huge dinner party to raise the funds for her trip to Italy one year. She wanted to travel around the Italian countryside and learn about food. She invited everyone she knew to her parents’ home and, with help from some friends, cooked a fabulous, multi-course Italian meal, charging everyone a flat fee and accepting donations, as well. Through this one venture she raised enough money to make her dream trip come true.
When Patrick worked at Zingerman’s with me he was a newly wed with a small child and a small budget. He and his family had a huddle once a week during which they tracked and discussed their finances. He told me once, when times were tight, that they’d decided to keep Arborio rice around as a staple for their meals; he said they ate risotto at least a few times each week and that it was amazing because it was so delicious and so cheap. I was inspired by his happy resolve in keeping with his budget.
Each of these friends used the resources they had as creatively as possible in order to live as fully and richly as possible. They found freedom within constraints, and inspired those around them to live autonomously, too.
Patrick taught me that not only are budgets useful, but they actually can be pretty fun, too. Bill and I enjoy budgeting for our groceries because it forces us to cook creatively. Take tonight for example: it’s the end of the week, we’re out of grocery money and out of whole leftover meals…
What we had to work with:
1 russet potato
lots of yellow onions
half a bag of Yukon gold potatoes
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 chicken thigh
1/3 cup cooked farro
½ cup spaghetti sauce
½ cup gravy
2 frozen venison backstraps
1 lb. frozen ground lamb
5 slices of bacon
1 English muffin
a couple of grapefruits
What we did with it:
You’ve heard of turducken, right? Or maybe, turkhamlamb? The basic idea is that meat tastes good with meat. Based on that principle, here’s what we cooked for dinner:
Chicken Fried Venison
Pound your piece of meat to 1/3-inch thickness.
Mix 1 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 2 ½ tablespoons black pepper, and ¾ tablespoons cayenne pepper in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat 1 large egg with ¼ cup of milk.
Dredge the meat in the egg mixture; generously coat in the flour mixture. Set on a rack to dry for 15 minutes.
Pour vegetable oil into a cast iron pan to ½-inch depth. Heat the oil to approximately 350° F. Cook for 1 minute on each side for a medium rare steak.
Serve hot; drizzle with chicken gravy.
Eat it on its own or with whatever else you have on hand (in our case, Pecorino Romano mashed potatoes and Balsamic oven roasted onions).