Archive of ‘Eat on $30’ category

Gunshots & Making the Perfect Pizza


My husband and I have lived in our neighborhood for the last thirteen years.  I can't say enough wonderful things about it.  I love the old homes and how none of them look alike.  I love having a difficult time getting a good walk for exercise in because there are always too many neighbors to stop and talk to.  I love how everyone looks out for their neighbors.  Heck – I even love our Fellini Kroger!

Seven years ago, Marcus and I decided we wanted to buy a house here.  We wanted to stay in Old North but thought we were priced out.  So we looked in surrounding neighborhoods.  One gorgeous spring day, we ventured to another neighborhood in the area – one with gorgeous older homes but a little rougher around the edges.  

As we drove up to the house we planned on viewing, we noticed a couple of men arguing loudly.  As we walked up the steps, we heard gunshots from a couple blocks away, exactly where those two men had been yelling.  I distinctly remember watching the realtor's hands tremble as we tried to get the lockbox open – fumbling in his haste to get inside.  All three of us burst through the door, slammed it shut and proceeded to move out of the way of any windows.  The realtor quickly called 911 and reported the gunshots.

It was at the moment that the complete absurdity of the moment hit us.  All three of us looked at each other and all three of us busted out laughing at the same time.  We laughed and laughed so hard that I had to wipe tears from my face.  I turned to Steve and gasped out "Steve – quick question.  Is this the crappiest condition under which you've ever had to show a house? Do you win the office pool for this one?"  After we had calmed down, I remember Marcus turning to me and saying "We might as well check out the house" which set all of us off again.  The realtor asked "what the heck do we do now because I really think we should wait a bit before leaving" so I made the suggestion that we order pizza but of course we would need to have it delivered.  We all died laughing again and the concept of getting pizza delivered has been an inside joke in our family ever since.

Fridays are Pizza Fridays in our home.  We have some wonderful options for pizza in the area but my cheapskate nature keeps us from partaking of it too much.  For $1.06, I can make two pizza crusts and our pizza can have any toppings we want on it.  We've been making this pizza crust recipe for the last eight years but it's only been in the last two years that we've made it a tradition to have pizza on Friday nights.

I'm not going to get into a debate over what makes the perfect pizza.  Friends have been won and lost over battles such as those.  Instead, I'm going to tell you what I like in a pizza and you can make adjustments based on what you like.

Crust – I like a thin, crisp crust with lots of air bubbles.  Here's what we do to ensure that:

  • Make sure to heat your oven and baking stone for at least 45-60 minutes before you bake your pizza.
  • "Age" your dough for at least a couple of days in the fridge.
  • Don't glop on too many toppings.

Sauce - If we're using a red sauce on our pizza, we usually use one of two different sauces.  If we're in a hurry, we often will top it with Roasted Tomato Sauce which we've thinned with a little bit of water.  If we have a bit more time, we make a quick tomato sauce in the blender using canned tomatoes, garlic and dried herbs. 

You can use any kinds of topping or cheeses you want – over the next few months, I'm going to feature some of the different combination of toppings we use.  We love trying new combinations but we have several that have made it into our regular rotation.

McPhelps Standard Pizza Crust Recipe
 makes  2 crusts

3 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp yeast
1 cup water
2 tablespoon olive oil

I make this recipe using my Kitchenaid mixer using the dough hook but you can also make this recipe using a food processor or by hand.  If you're mixing by hand, you'll have to knead a while longer – usually around 8-10 minutes.

Add flour, salt & yeast to the mixing bowl. 


Turn mixer on low and slowly add water. Once water has been incorporated, slowly add 2 tablespoons olive oil.  


Let mix for 3-4 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. 


Cover bowl  with saran wrap and let it rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place.  Punch it down and separate into two pieces.  


Roll out on parchment paper until crust is your desired thickness – crust will approximately double in thickness once it's cooked.


To bake, turn oven to 500 degrees and put baking stone in oven.  Heat oven for one hour before baking pizza.  


Add desired toppings to pizza.  For this pizza, we didn't use a sauce – just thin slices of tomato.  We also added 3 ounces of mozzarella cheese, 1 ounce of feta, slices of hot and sweet peppers from our garden and plenty of oregano.


Slide parchment paper onto a thin cookie sheet and use this sheet to slide the pizza on the parchment paper directly onto the pizza stone.  Let bake 5-7 minutes depending on how brown you want the crust and the topping to be.  Use the cookie sheet to remove the pizza from the baking stone.


Leftover dough can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for 2 months.  I actually prefer the crust when it's aged a couple of days in the fridge.  This dough also makes a really yummy skillet bread.  Heat a pan over medium heat with 1-3 tsp of olive oil in it.  Pat the dough out into thin rounds that fit into skillet and cook 4-5 minutes on each side until brown.

Please click here for a printable recipe!

Quick pizza sauce:

1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen diced tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic
Herbs to taste (I use a mixture of dried oregano, basil & rosemary)

Drain tomatoes.  Add to blender or food processor.  Add 2 peeled cloves of garlic and herbs.  Blend until smooth.  I usually drain it again using a fine sieve or a coffee filter for 30-45 minutes.

Please click here for a printable recipe!

Welcome to Knoxville News-Sentinel Readers!

I'm really glad you're here!  If you'd like to read all of my posts about the Eat on $30 challenge, please click this link. I'll also be posting an in depth tutorial on making homemade pizza tomorrow.  Here are some of my other favorite posts:

Thanks for reading and please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions!

Snickerdoodle Blondies and wrap-up of the Eat On $30 challenge


It's been a crazy last few weeks work wise and I haven't had time before now to post my thoughts on the Eat On $30 challenge.  

First, here's a breakdown of the final numbers:

Breakdown of costs:

Breakfast: Scrambled free-range eggs, bread, fair trade coffee and local organic milk
Lunch: Homemade pizza with homemade sauce, cheese and turkey sausage
Dinner: French onion soup w/ swiss cheese and bread
Dessert: Snickerdoodle Blondies – 2

3 Eggs: 57¢
6 tbsp milk: 18¢
3 tbsp coffee: 33¢
Bread: n/a
1 organic local apple: 70¢
TOTAL: $1.78

TOTAL:  $0 because these were leftover from the previous nights dinner

1 pounds onions: 80¢
Organic beef broth: $2.50
8 oz wine: $1.44
Bread: n/a
4 oz Swiss cheese: 56¢
TOTAL:  $5.30 (with leftovers for the next day's lunch)

Snickerdoodle Blondies: 76¢
TOTAL: 76¢


What are my thoughts on this challenge?  First of all – a reminder.  This is in no way an attempt to mimic the life of anyone on food stamps or on such a limited budget.  There's no way to do that and this challenge was less about stepping into the shoes of someone in that situation and more about bringing attention to the issue of hunger.  I think the challenge was pretty successful in that right.  A lot of bloggers participated and lots of people have expressed interest in doing this challenge the next time it comes around.

With that being said, I guess what it comes down to is that I DID feel like a bit of a fraud doing this challenge.  There's just no way that what I do can mimic what's it's like to have to live with this on a daily basis.  I have way too many resources – too many stores within walking distance, too much cooking equipment, too much knowledge of how to cook and eat healthy – all of these are issues I covered in previous posts.  I'm so relieved to not have to do the endless calculations to see if something was in our budget.  I'm not talking about making sure to stay within a rough amount – I'm talking about the sheets of paper I filled out with the cost per ounce of lots of the foods we eat on a regular basis.  I'm grateful that I can pour a glass of cheap wine and not have to worry about how it will affect our budget.  Like I said, my husband and I are already very frugal out of necessity but I didn't expect how wearing it could be to constantly think about food, down to each and every penny.  I take my dollars seriously but I take those pennies for granted.

What did I learn from this challenge?  I'm already a pretty thrifty person.  We have to be to stay afloat in this economy.  Vegetable odds and ends go into my freezer so I can make vegetable stock.  I do the same with chicken bones and scraps.  I was surprised by the way one ingredient can make the price per serving skyrocket. I love my Penzey's double strength vanilla but I'll be saving it for recipes where the vanilla flavor really stands out.  We do a pretty good job with not letting food go to waste in our house but I'm being even more vigilant about using everything up.  I'm also watching my grocery spending.  I'm not going to break everything down into a price per serving but I am going to keep better track of how much we're spending.  I think a lot of people underestimate how much they spend on groceries – I know I did and I'm going to keep better track of my spending in that area.  I was also amazed by how $60 seemed like such a huge amount in the beginning but when I started adding up the costs, that money flew out of my hands.

What am I going to do differently next time?  I'm going to plan ahead of time so that my fridge doesn't have any leftovers that need to be dealt with.  I want to go into a store with the money I have for the week and buy what I'll need – no borrowing from my pantry and figuring out the cost per ounce.  I've thought about buying a box of food from Angel Food ministries and figuring out how to use that with the addition of a few staples – that would be a challenge because I'd have to come up with a menu based on what I got from there.

I'd also love to get a group of people in East Tennessee to do this challenge with me the next time. I'll post about the next challenge ahead of time and I'd be glad to have a party afterwords at my house.  We could collect food or money for a local food bank in our area.  This time, I'm going to be making a donation of $27.69 to Second Harvest Food Bank – that's the price of one of those Penzey's bottles of Double-Strength vanilla that I've been taking for granted.

I strongly urge you to donate either your money or your time to one of these organizations.  They do a great job helping the working poor in our community :
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee 
Fish Pantries

I also want to thank Tami of Running with Tweezers for organizing this great challenge.  She was a wonderful cheerleader and I'm grateful for her kind words and encouragement and for all the support I got from fellow participants, other food bloggers and my readers!  You all are awesome!

I'm going to end my posts about this challenge on a sweet note.  I'm a sugar junkie and for the sake of my husband's sanity, I knew I'd have to have some kind of sweet treat while doing this challenge.  Chocolate desserts were out – too pricey and I thought about making an apple crisp.  But then I saw this recipe on my friend Maris's blog and I knew we had a winner.  Snickerdoodles are my husband's favorite cookie of all time.  He's been known to inhale a dozen cookies in less than half an hour and he actually tested several recipes a few years ago to find his "perfect" cookie.  Because these are a bar cookie, they're much easier and while they'll never replace the actual cookie in my husband's heart, we both thought these were fantastic.

Snickerdoodle Blondies (Adapted from In Good Taste and Dozen Flours)


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt 
1 cup packed brown sugar 
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature 
1 egg, at room temperature 
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract 
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons & 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, divided

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8×8 inch pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Beat until smooth

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix until blended.  Don't over mix!  Spread evenly in 8×8 pan.

Combine the 1 1/2 tablespoon of white sugar with the 1 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake 25-30 minutes(this is what the original direction called for but ours were done at 23 minutes) or until surface springs back when lightly touched. Cool slightly but cut into bars while it's still warm.

Here is a list of the other wonderful bloggers who participated in this project! If you decide to follow along on Twitter the hashtag is #EatOn30:

Pizza as a Secret Weapon & Day 6 of the Eat on $30 challenge


Pizza – it's my secret budget weapon.  For $1.06 and the price of a pizza stone, I can make two large pizza crusts better than just about any I could find in Knoxville.  Friday nights are pizza night in our house and we do this for two reasons.  One – it's a fun tradition and it's a cheap one.  Two – homemade pizzas taste so freakin' good and they're fun to make.  I'll make a post next week with the pizza crust recipe we use and a couple of topping suggestions.  For the Eat on $30 challenge, we stayed pretty basic.  We went with a homemade sauce, mozzarella cheese, onions and homemade turkey sausage.


Thoughts on the food I ate yesterday:
I'm missing our usual sweet tea that we drink with most meals – a lot.  I also am having cravings for the crappiest candy imaginable – things like Laffy Taffy and Nerds.  I had a dream about Lemonheads.  I don't even want to try to interpret that.

Thoughts on the Eat on $30 Challenge so far:
Again – I'm using a pizza stone.  You can make pizza without it but I think the results are far better with it.  I also find myself skipping ingredients so I don't have to account for the cost.  I had no idea how much a garlic clove should cost because we grow our own garlic.  I didn't want to run down to Krogers just to see how much it cost so I left it out.


Breakdown of costs:

Pizza crust cost:
3 cups flour: 51¢
2 tbsp olive oil: 40¢
1 tbsp yeast: 15¢
Total Cost: $1.06 for two crusts

Breakfast: Scrambled free-range eggs, bread, fair trade coffee and local organic milk
Lunch: Hamburger Stroganoff over penne pasta
Dinner: Homemade pizza with homemade sauce, cheese and turkey sausage
Dessert: Snickerdoodle Blondie – 2

3 Eggs: 57¢
6 tbsp milk: 18¢
3 tbsp coffee: 33¢
Bread: n/a
1 organic local apple: 70¢
TOTAL: $1.78

Beef Stroganoff – 2 servings: $3.59
TOTAL: $3.59

Crust: 53¢
1/2 can organic tomatoes: 63¢
4 oz mozzarella cheese: 56¢
4 oz homemade turkey sausage: 26¢
2 oz onions: 10¢
TOTAL:  $2.08

Snickerdoodle Blondies: 76¢
TOTAL: 76¢


Here are a list of the other wonderful bloggers participating in this project! If you decide to follow along on Twitter the hashtag is #EatOn30:

I’m a cheater – Day 5 on the Eat on $30 challenge

I feel like I never have enough time in the day.  I'm horrible at time management so I'm sure that's part of my problem.  I'd love to be one of those women who wake up in the morning and have a list of things done by 9am.  Of course, that involves getting up by 8am so I may be reaching a bit in wanting that level of organization. 

I also have a lot of demands on my time.  I run my own business with my husband and while I love being my own boss, when you work from home, it's hard to delineate where work stops and home begins.  I own more cats than I'm willing to admit to most people, several who have medical conditions and I feel like I've spent weeks of my life just scooping litter boxes.  I have a rather large garden by urban yard standards and I try to produce and preserve as much of our food as we can.  This involves lots of canning.  We have a house that was built in 1894 that will one day be gorgeous.  Right now, it's missing things like walls, plumbing in some areas and is a bit decrepit.  Lots of time goes into fixing it up.  My husband and I talk about kids but I'll admit that I feel so crunched for time now and I know how much time kids take!

However, no matter how rushed I feel, I have an abundance of time when you compare it to a lot of people on food stamps.  I work from home so it's easy for me to let a pot of stock simmer all day.  Eating a meal of leftovers involves no planning.  No figuring out how to get it to work and heat it up.  I have time to bake my own bread and preserve my own food.  Granted – I make the time for that but I'm not having to work two jobs to get by.  It's not a choice between me baking bread or working an extra job so my kids can have clothes to wear.

I've got lots of ways to save time:   I make extra and freeze it. My freezer right now holds containers of gumbo, Hopping John, spaghetti sauce, mushroom-wine sauce, chicken stock, frozen pizza dough & a bag of breadcrumbs.  Whenever I make something that might freeze well, I usually double the recipe so that I have some to eat later.  I also have a list of quick, easy meals that are made from wholesome ingredients but come together in a flash. I always have pasta on hand and I make use of a slow cooker and pressure cooker.  But these tips might not be helpful to someone who doesn't have the extra money to buy food in bulk.  You have to first own a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. I bought a chest freezer so I'd have space to save leftovers – that was a serious upfront investment.

What it comes down to is that there's no way I could do this challenge and not cheat.  No matter how closely I count my pennies or follow my planned meal plan, there's no way this even begins to approximate the choices and considerations that someone who lives this budget on a daily basis has to deal with.  I knew that when I started this challenge but I don't think I really KNEW that.  It's become a lot clearer to me that no matter how strictly I follow this challenge, I can't really follow it because I'm not really living this life.  

PS – I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post.  My data card got corrupted and all my pics were corrupted as well.

Thoughts on the food I ate yesterday:
 I often make Beef Stroganoff with hamburger. It's a great way to use ground beef and make it different.  I've never really followed a recipe before but I had to with this challenge.  I needed to know the exact cost to make sure our budget could swing it.  So I turned to because I knew Elise had posted a recipe for this dish recently and I knew her recipe would be great.  It was wonderful.  Instead of winging it, I'll probably use her recipe in the future.  Normally, I'd serve this dish over egg noodles but since I had penne pasta and it was cheaper, I used that.

Thoughts on the Eat on $30 Challenge so far:
I've been thinking a lot about the time component of this challenge.  The amount of time it takes to make sure that we don't go over our budget – the calculating out every last thing.  But even though that's a pain, I'm lucky because if we do go over our budget, it just means I've screwed up this challenge.  It doesn't mean I won't be able to pay my electric bill.  Calculating out my costs isn't personal to me because the consequences aren't very dire.  Granted – I want to not go over my budget but if I do, all I lose is a little bit of pride. That's a pretty small price to pay in comparison to someone who doesn't have the leeway in their budget.

Breakdown of costs:

Hamburger Stroganoff:
2 tbsp butter: 24¢
1 lb local, grass-fed ground beef: $3.45
8 oz onion: 40¢
8 oz Bella Mushrooms: $1.67
1.25 cups sour cream: $1.19
1 tsp lemon juice: 4
3 oz penne pasta: 19
TOTAL: $7.18 for 4 servings


Breakfast: Scrambled free-range eggs, bread, fair trade coffee and local organic milk
Lunch: BLTs
Dinner: Hamburger Stroganoff over penne pasta

3 Eggs: 57¢
6 tbsp milk: 18¢
3 tbsp coffee: 33¢
Bread: n/a
1 organic local apple: 70¢
TOTAL: $1.78

bread: n/a
2.5 oz grass-fed bacon: 93¢
6 oz tomato: 60¢
1 tbsp mayo: 25
TOTAL: $1.78

Beef Stroganoff – 2 servings: $3.59
TOTAL: $3.59


Here are a list of the other wonderful bloggers participating in this project! If you decide to follow along on Twitter the hashtag is #EatOn30:

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