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Farmer's Market Twenty Dollar Challenge

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We've heard it all before: eat more fruits and veggies. Incorporate more leafy greens into your diet. Veggies should make up 50% of your dinner plate. Keep apples and oranges around as snacks instead of potato chips and cookies. Blah blah green blah healthy blah vitamins blah. So you make up your shopping list, head to your local grocery store, and stock up. You figure you'll save a lot of money by cooking up your own meals using all this great produce, rather than gorging on those frozen/pre-packaged/canned meals. Right?

WRONG! The check-out stand tells a different story: all those fresh berries, vine-ripened tomatoes, avocados, fancy mushrooms, exotic citrus, Argentinean asparagus? EXPENSIVE! In fact, you've spent more money on those leafy greens than you would have on several economy-sized bags of HFCS-packed Doritos (aka Smelly Chips).

So what's a healthy-living veggie-lover to do? The answer is even cheaper and more fun than you might have expected: take twenty bucks in cash. Wake up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Head to your local farmer's market (of which there are MANY in this our most glorious city). Buy stuff until that twenty bucks runs out. See what you've got: enough fresh, local, tasty green stuff to get a household of two through two weeks of cooking.*

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Don't believe me? Check out that picture above: that's what I managed to buy for twenty bucks at the Studio City Farmer's Market yesterday. To be more specific: one pound of carrots, two pounds Maui onions, one pound broccoli, two large zucchini, three cute little pattypan squash, one bunch swiss chard, one bunch cilantro, one bunch sweet basil, five large jalapenos, one bunch rosemary, four pounds of yukon gold and red potatoes, three medium cucumbers. PHEW. That basil alone costs upwards of $5 at a supermarket; I got a nice big bunch for only $1.

Now that you've got these great veggies, what to do with them so they don't sit and rot in the bottom drawers of your fridge? Easy: make quick pickles. Whip up a big batch of soup and freeze into dinner-size portions. Fold them into calzone or top a pizza with them (also great for freezing). Saute them with butter and garlic and serve alongside pasta. Cook them in curry and eat with rice. Check out a few recipes below that will help you stretch your dollar and improve your health. You'll never shop for produce in a supermarket again.

Quick Summer Pickles
2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp crushed red pepper
Sesame seeds

Mix sliced cucumbers with kosher salt: let sit for twenty minutes so the salt will leach out all the cucumber's extra moisture (don't worry; they'll keep their nice crispy texture). Drain well. Mix in other ingredients to taste; stick 'em in the fridge to chill. They'll keep for a while, but most likely you'll eat them all up within a few hours.

Chicken Soup with Summer Veggies
1 lb chicken parts (breasts, thighs, whatever you've got)
8 cups liquid (chicken broth or water)
1 large onion
2 carrots
3 cloves garlic
Good pinch crushed red pepper
3 small yukon gold & 3 small red potatoes
1 medium zucchini
2 pattypan squash
1-2 cups broccoli
1 medium bunch swiss chard
Herb bundle: a few stems of rosemary, sage, thyme, peppercorns, dried bay leaf, whatever spices you've got around, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied off into a bouquet garni.

Chop up all veggies into bite-sized pieces. Saute the chicken pieces in olive oil until nicely browned. Take out and set aside to drain. Throw in chopped onions, carrots, and garlic: cook until just softened (about 5-10 min). Pour in half your liquid; add bouquet garni and other spices (salt & pepper, red pepper). Add chicken pieces back in to simmer for 15 minutes; take out chicken again and set aside until cool. Add potatoes, continue to simmer until they start to soften a bit. Chop up cooled chicken into bite size pieces, throw them back in. Add zucchini. In the last ten minutes of cooking, throw in broccoli, then swiss chard last. Fish out your bouquet garni, adjust seasoning. Serve with chiffonaded basil, grated parmesan cheese and toasty garlic bread.

*No, I did not buy fruit, because berries are still fairly expensive for a $20 budget. But big trays of strawberries are only about $5, and are a great investment if you're planning to bake or have a fondue party. Yes, that's right: I said FONDUE PARTYYYYYY!!!

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