2 Cheap Chicks & $20: Operation Trader Joe’s

The Mission: To create a 3 dish meal, company worthy, for $20.

With food costs soaring my friend Rindy and I created this challenge for ourselves. Could we do it? Create a meal special enough for company for 20 buckeroos? We created a few rules about the challenge, an important one being that we could use pantry and refrigerator staples to enhance our dishes but not be the star of the dish. Like don’t make a custard for dessert using all your eggs from the frige. We took the challenge and met at our first spot: Trader Joe’s.

The Challenge:

I entered this challenge Iron Chef style. No lists, recipes, or even a thought in my head about what to make. Rindy on the other hand came prepared with a list, recipes and a plan B, just look at her purse, did she have mini chef in there as well? I was in trouble indeed.

Now you are thinking, 20 bucks, no problem, some burgers, done. But the clincher to this is to create something a little more gourmet, fancy schmancy so to speak. Unlike Rindy who went for the Joe’s O’s and called it a day!

The Shopping and Decisions:

1. My first stop was the ground beef section. I knew I could pull something off with ground beef but I needed to fancy it up some. Then a thought popped into my head. I would stuff it and roll it. I figured some nice sauteed spinach and feta cheese would be great. I will call it Mediterranean Stuffed Beef.

2. Now for dessert. But I was already at $12.80 and needed to be careful. I remembered the classic dessert Peach Melba which is peaches, vanilla ice cream, raspberry sauce and whipped cream. I wanted to keep a modern twist on the old favorite by serving fresh peaches grilled with the raspberries in a raw state and all topped off with an alternative sweetened cream as TJ’s Vanilla ice cream would blow my budget. I tried the Mascarpone and Ricotta but both again out of my price range if I was going to have three dishes. The 7 ounce container of plain 2% Fage Greek yogurt won the contract.

3. My third dish could only be potatoes and TJ’s had a wonderful 28 ounce bag of Baby Confetti Potatoes. Perfect for roasting with my garden rosemary.

Here are the groceries that made it into my cart. I had to put the baguette away and exchange my cheese choice a few times before finally settling on the yogurt. Did I make it, was it $20.00?

The Results:

You betcha I did! And with change to spare! Now for the second challenge, creating a tasty meal out of this small arsenal of groceries.

The Meal:

Mediterranean Stuffed Beef
Confetti Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
Grilled Peach Melba Fruit Salad

Deconstruction and Recipes:

All ingredients in bold are what were purchased at Trader Joe’s.

My main dish was scrumptious and beautiful. Iron Chefs eat your heart out! Moist and juicy and full of flavor this off-the-top-of-my-head recipe is now in the Big Red Kitchen rotation, a definite keeper.

Mediterranean Stuffed Beef
one pound 85% lean Ground Beef
1 egg
1 t. Kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t. fresh oregano, chopped fine
7 oz. container Mediterranean Herb Feta cheese
1 -6 oz. bag fresh baby spinach
1/8 t. nutmeg
2 T. olive oil

In a large bowl mix together the first 6 ingredients. Set aside. In a large pan over med high heat, heat oil and saute spinach and nutmeg for 2 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Drain well. Set aside. Line an 9×11 jelly roll pan with foil then a piece of plastic wrap. Spread beef out into a rectangle on top of the plastic wrap. Spread spinach over top of beef then sprinkle with 1/2 container of the Herbed Feta cheese. Starting at the long edge roll the beef with the help of the plastic wrap. Seal edges and remove plastic. Bake in 400° oven for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160°. Slice into 3/4 inch slices and serve. Serves 4-6.

Not the most creative dish but Confetti Roasted Rosemary Potatoes is always a welcome side! Look at those bright colors.

Confetti Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
28 ounce bag Baby Confetti Potatoes
4 T. olive oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped fine
1 t. Kosher salt
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper

Wash and cut potatoes in half. Place in a quart sized casserole dish and toss with oil and seasonings. Bake in 400° oven for 45 minutes or until fork tender. Serves 6.

I could not pull this off as a dessert as it is hard to pass yogurt to my family and call it dessert! So it ended up as a lovely side dish which I thought was refreshing and delicious.

Grilled Peach Melba Fruit Salad
4 ripe peaches
1 small container fresh raspberries
7 oz. container plain 2% Fage yogurt
shallow dish of 1/4 cup brown sugar
2 t. honey plus more for drizzling
1/8 t. vanilla extract
mint leaves for garnish

Wash and cut peaches in half and pit. Dip flesh side into brown sugar and grill sugar side down on hot grill for one minute or until slightly caramelized. Remove to a platter. Mix yogurt with 2 t. honey and vanilla. Place a small amount into each peach. Decorate with raspberries and top each peach with a mint leaf. Drizzle with honey and serve. Serves 6.


1. Was this a meal worthy of company? I think so! But I do think I would have to dip into my staples and create a dessert from scratch just to round things out. I also missed my bread! I didn’t think to try TJ’s pizza dough until too late. But would that have made me go over? Maybe, but I have to have my bread!

2. Trader Joe’s is tricky. They do not have sales due to their already low, low prices and it is impossible to purchase things individually such as certain fruits and vegetables. So that dings up the cost a bit when you just need one item but must purchase a bag. I don’t think I compromised the Peach Melba by substituting yogurt for ice cream, it just changed the dish from a dessert to a salad. So flexibility is key with limited funds.

3. All in all with a little brain power, creativity, flexibility, and planning it is possible to create a Fancy Schmancy meal from Trader Joe’s with just $20.00 and a good pantry!

Where are we off to next Rindy?

Go to Kitchen Klique to see the fantastic meal Rindy created with her $20.00.

For Wednesday 9/24 in BRK: Supper Club Western Style. Sally on in and see what the Wranglers and Lil Darlin’s cooked up. It was Rootin’ Tootin’ that’s for sure. YeeHaw! Oh and a video to boot! Get it Boot? Ya.

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  1. Rindy R
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 6:58 AM | Permalink

    Great Job! I can’t believe you made that cart of goodies into that gourmet meal! If I could do that I wouldn’t have needed a plan B. Fun day – can’t wait for our next Mission Impossible!

  2. RecipeGirl
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 8:00 AM | Permalink

    What a fun challenge to do with a friend! I loved seeing what you chose. I’d have to come armed with a list and a plan for sure!

  3. Joan (culinista)
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 8:31 AM | Permalink

    You did a great job and each of the meal components looks delicious! Isn’t this fun? I’ve been doing Family Food Fights a la Iron Chef for more than a year and now that I’m food blogging, I plan to post the results – starting later this week. OK, now I’m off to Rindy’s blog.

  4. Lisa
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 8:50 AM | Permalink

    What fun! And a nice dinner you made. I just love Trader Joe’s!

  5. Bobi
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

    Your Mediterrainean Beef looks just superb and as always you have a fun and interesting
    way to describe your food, friends and family.
    You keep going girl!

  6. Laura
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 1:33 PM | Permalink

    I am very impressed. I could not have done that–not the money part so much as the coming up with it all while shopping!

  7. _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 1:40 PM | Permalink

    What a cool challenge!

  8. Tanya
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 2:03 PM | Permalink

    Great work, Robin! The dinner looks delicious. I think I’m going to try those beef rolls.

    The peaches look like dessert to me! I love plain Greek yogurt that I can sweeten myself with anything I want.

  9. Veronica
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 4:21 PM | Permalink

    Very impressive! What a great idea for a challenge, I really like how your beef rolls look! I love Trader Joe’s.

  10. Shannalee || Food Loves Writing
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 9:59 PM | Permalink

    I just thought I’d pop over one more time… That was so much fun to read, and you are very creative! I’d be impressed to eat this meal at someone’s house! Well done!

  11. That Girl
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Permalink

    I was really looking forward to this post! And it met all of my expectations. I love Trader Joes.

  12. Alexa
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 10:37 PM | Permalink

    Oh, my… How fun is that?!!! I love what you came up with and I love the concept. I wish I were in your area to play too. 🙂 And look at those pictures… Amazing.

  13. Grace
    Posted September 23, 2008 at 7:53 AM | Permalink

    i’m incredibly impressed by your creativity, robin sue! never in a million years would i have thought this meal cost less than $20–it looks better and more elegant than many restaurant dishes i’ve been served. bravo!!

  14. Kristen
    Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:27 PM | Permalink

    You are such a smartie. I love this challenge and I love the sophistication of this meal! Well done!

  15. dobetter
    Posted September 23, 2008 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

    What a great idea! And I would have never thought to stuff ground beef. I’m going to have to try that one!

  16. Robin Sue
    Posted September 23, 2008 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    Rindy- It was some much fun can’t wait to do it again!

    Recipe Girl- Thanks so much. I think next time I will bring a list!

    Joan- Would love to hear about your food fights!

    Lisa- Trader Joe’s Rules!

    Bobi- Thanks so much, it is always fun with Rindy. I’ll keep going!

    Laura- you are so creative, your blog is great, you could do this with your eyes closed!

    TS- Thanks!

    Tanya- give the rolls a try, they are very tasty!

    Veronica-Thanks, it is a fun challenge and we will do it again soon.

    Shannalee- Thanks so much and welcome to the BRK!

    That Girl- That is the best compliment, thanks it means alot to me!

    Alexa- Thanks it was alot of fun and the folks in TJ thought we were some famous people or something the way we were giggling and taking pictures!

    Grace- Wow elegant! That is a sweet compliment! Too bad you weren’t there to hear my famliy complain about the green stuff in the meat and how come you are giving us yogurt! Pains.

    Kristen- Thanks so much, it is good for a challenge, it kept me on my toes, that’s for sure.

    dobetter- Try the beef it is really delish!

  17. Larissa
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 12:43 AM | Permalink

    I love the food challenge! I buy those potatoes from TJ’s ALL the time, and am now inspired by your dishes.

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