Bertrand Chemel looks concerned. The chef at 2941 in Falls Church, who’s originally from France, accepted the Frugal Foodie challenge and agreed to cook a French-themed dinner for two in honor of the new Beaujolais Nouveau, typically released on the third Thursday of November. The catch? The bill can’t exceed $10 (wine and standard pantry items—olive oil, sugar—not included).
The problem, as Chemel explains it, is that groceries cost significantly more in the District. And although Chemel had priced out the meal at a Virginia grocery store, we’re standing in the produce section of a supermarket from the same chain in Logan Circle.
In Virginia, bananas were 29 cents a pound. Here, they’re 59 cents.
There, shiitake mushrooms were $2.99. Here, they’re $3.99.
There, pork loin was $5. Here, it’s $8.99.
And so Chemel swaps apples for bananas. I throw him a bone and tell him I have a package of white button mushrooms left over from making soup. He smiles and starts quizzing me about what else is in my pantry. As we make our way through the store, he conducts political-style negotiations over what constitutes a pantry item.
In the checkout line, the bill comes to $9.36. In my kitchen, Chemel raids the fridge. He pulls out the promised mushrooms as well as eggs, butter, and milk. He asks for oil, and I show him which cupboard holds the food.
“Do these count?” he asks, pulling out flour, sugar, and vanilla. Yes.
“This?” he asks holding up a head of garlic. Um, sure.
He spots a bottle of red wine with just enough left for a glass and grabs it. “This?” he asks smiling. I blame it on the French accent and relinquish the wine. I’m quietly relieved that I haven’t gone shopping in ages.
However, beyond the mushrooms and splash of red wine, everything else he uses to whip up dinner really is things I keep in my pantry. And after digging into a scrambled-egg-and-mushroom appetizer, a pork loin topped with a red-wine reduction sauce with a side of crisp, salty pommes rissolées, and a pancakelike apple matafan for dessert, I reconsider who really won our negotiations.
Next week, Vermilion Chef Anthony Chittum cooks Thanksgiving dinner for four for less than $25. Tune in to Dishing It Out on Federal News Radio (1050 and 820 AM) this Sunday at 11 AM to hear his take on the challenge.
Which Beaujolais Nouveau Should You Choose?
The release of each year’s Beaujolais Nouveau comes at the strike of midnight on November 20. Stefano Cappelli, 2941’s sommelier, offers some tips on picking a great bottle: “Georges Duboeuf is credited with making the Nouveau release the event it has become; it’s the most famous producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, the most widely available, and the one I usually recommend,” he says. It’ll work well with Chemel’s menu, too: “The berry notes will balance the first course of creamy scrambled eggs and earthy mushrooms. Its light body will also work well with the light flavor of a white meat like pork, and the sweetness of the honey and apples in the dessert will draw out the sweet nature of this young wine.” For those wine drinkers looking for a higher-end alternative, there’s Beaujolais-Villages, which is made from the same Gamay grape as the Nouveau. Cappelli recommends the Beaujolais-Villages from Joseph Drouin or Collin Bourisset. “Their wines are similar to a good Burgundy,” he says—medium bodied, slightly tannic and more structured.
Scrambled Eggs With Mushrooms
2 pats butter
1⁄2 cup sliced mushrooms
Whisk two eggs in a bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add a pat of butter. Add the eggs and whisk continuously until they have a light, custardlike consistency.
In a separate pan, melt a pat of butter over medium heat and sauté the mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes.
Serve the mushrooms over the scrambled eggs.
Pork Loin With Red Wine
2 pork loins, about 11⁄2 to 2 inches thick
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 shallot, diced
1 pat butter
1⁄4 cup red wine
Salt as needed
Season the pork with salt.
Heat the peanut oil in a pan set over medium-high heat. Cook the pork for about 3 minutes on each side.
Remove the pork from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the shallots with a pat of butter. Sauté until soft.
Add the wine and let it reduce for 3 to 5 minutes.
Serve the pork with the wine sauce.
2 Yukon Gold potatoes
1 cup peanut oil
Salt as needed
Peel the potatoes and dice into ¼-inch cubes. Rinse in cold water.
Heat the peanut oil in a pan at medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and fry for about 10 minutes or until light brown in color.
Drain the potatoes, salt generously, and serve.
1 cup flour
1⁄8 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
1 pat butter
Honey as needed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, 4 tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder, and vanilla. When the mixture is damp, slowly pour in the milk, whisking, until the mixture has consistency of pancake batter. Set aside.
Peel and evenly slice apples into thin crescents.
Heat a pat of butter in saucepan set over medium heat. Add the apples and sprinkle with 1⁄8 cup of sugar. Cook until tender.
Pour the batter into the pan. Cook until the batter on the pan side becomes firm and starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Put the pan in the oven and bake for 5 minutes.
Drizzle with honey and serve.