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Eating on a budget

Tammy at Running With Tweezers just finished a $30 a week challenge, an interesting eating project. Reading her attempt to stay within a $30 eating budget each week made me think about my own spending habits. I calculated my own eating expenditures for February and was shocked. The bulk of my paycheck goes to two main things: food & baking ingredients. Go figure, right? That’s the price you pay when you live in your kitchen. It’s pretty easy to spend more than you planned when you buy quality ingredients too. But after reading Tammy’s experience on this spending diet, I realized that you can make cuts in your diet while still eating an array of dishes. Sure, they might not be exotic, but they get the job done. 

Also, I spent about $100 on food, not including groceries, in one week! That is insane! I never realized how often I went out to dinner. Appetizers, drinks, late night frozen yogurt runs… It all adds up. With all that money spent, I could have bought myself a new mustard handbag, or some wonderfully strappy shoes. You know, the important things in life…

I don’t know if I could cut my weekly food budget to only $30, but I can try. You know where I spend the bulk of my money? Happy hour drinks and appetizers. The hours between 4-7p.m. are deadly, wallet-wise. All those yummy Pyramid Apricot Ales, Greyhounds and pints of Stella Artois (yes, I drink chick beer, deal with it) can really add up. And if you factor in some tasty pub fries or baked brie dip, you are looking at an expensive night. But, what if you could cut that bill in half, and still remain socially active?! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, I did it, and so can you. 

Come, walk, talk with me…

Everyone loves finger foods and dips so when I was told to bring a special appetizer to a cocktail party a couple of weeks ago, I knew exactly what kind of dish I wanted to bring. Colorful, flavorful, and deceivingly easy to prepare. Enter Martha Stewart’s Hot Spinach Dip. This recipe comes from the great Every Day Food collection which has some of the best budget-friendly recipes on the internet nowadays. Pillows of cream cheese melted with chopped spinach with mozzarella cheese browned slightly on top. Sounds like heaven on a dish, right?

Well, it was. Everyone hovered greedily around the dining table, diving in to my hot dip while leaving the storebought cheese tray in the cold (ha, take that Safeway!). I don’t know about you, but hot spinach dip is best served on a warm baguette or whole-wheat thick crackers from Trader Joes. If you are really pressed for time, you could bake off the spinach dip earlier in the night and then leave it in the oven until your guests arrived. but I prefer a warm, bubbling dip over a room temperature one. 

In total, this dip only cost me about $7. With dairy prices still high, the cream cheese and mozzarella cheese cost me the most. I got a deal on the frozen spinach (2 for $2) and you can choose whatever crackers/bread you’d like. My favorite chip to go with this dip are the organic blue corn chips from Trader Joe’s. Talk about highly addicting…

All in all, it was a budget-friendly appetizer that everyone enjoyed and didn’t break the bank. If I had gone to Whole Foods or even Trader Joes, I would have spent just as much, if not more, on an appetizer. Last time I looked, a tub of dip from Whole Foods can cost 6 bucks, and I don’t know about you but those small tubs barely feed a normal sized crowd, let alone a group of hungry young boys. 

So, the lesson here is to pay attention to what you spend. And when in doubt, make it yourself. You will be surprised when you realize that your homemade dish tastes ten times better than the storebought stuff. Plus, you will feel good about saving some extra bucks. You know, so you can spend it on the important things in life (makeup, shoes, rent, etc).

Hot Spinach Dip
Origin: Everyday Food
Yield: Makes 3 cups
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 to 55 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

● 2 tsp. olive oil, plus more for baking dish
● 1 medium onion, diced
● 2 garlic cloves, minced
● 2 lb. spinach, cleaned, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
● 1/2 cup milk
● 6 oz. reduced-fat bar cream cheese
● 3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
● 3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco
● 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
● Coarse salt and ground pepper
● Baguette slices, breadsticks, or crackers, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; cook until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add spinach in two additions, letting the first batch wilt before adding the next; cook until completely wilted, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a colander; drain, pressing to release all excess liquid.
In the same pot, warm milk over high heat. Whisk in cream cheese until melted, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and 1/4 cup mozzarella; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a lightly oiled 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.
Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot with accompaniments, as desired.

Printable Recipe here.

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March 20, 2009 - 3:52 am

Christina - Looks delicious, and much healthier (i.e. less creamy/cheesy) than restaurant spinach dips. Plus, very inexpensive! Well done.

March 20, 2009 - 8:56 am

whitneyinchicago - Looks super yummy. I am going to have to start watching my food spending. I don’t really eat out much, but I like to buy socially responsible ingredients which are of course more expensive. It is just about making things stretch.

March 21, 2009 - 7:11 am

Kaitlyn - That dip looks 10 times better than Whole Food’s pre-made spinach dip. This is a much more impressive dish to bring to a party!

March 21, 2009 - 1:06 pm

snooky doodle - yummt nice recipe :)

March 22, 2009 - 4:33 am

Helen - Hmm it looks delicious, I love spinach and cheese things. Because I still live at home I spend most my money on baking ingredients! I keep thinking I should work out how much a cake costs to make though.

March 23, 2009 - 11:55 am

carolyn - cheesy spinach dip is amazing! yours looks absolutely great

March 27, 2009 - 4:02 am

Tish - I love the recipes from Everyday Food. This looks really good, I’ll have to keep it in mind if a potluck pops up soon. Actually, I just bought some artichoke spinach dip and it was almost $5, a little tub. It was so oily, eck. I just need to start making it at home!

April 5, 2009 - 11:14 am

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November 22, 2010 - 1:08 am

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