Stretching a buck and eating well: One man’s two-week menu

  • Jack Suntrup of Northampton makes One-Pot Sausage and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta, one of four dishes that formed the basis of his two-week menu. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Taking time to prepare meals rather than eat out has helped Suntrup improve his diet. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jack Suntrup stirs pasta in chicken broth and sun-dried tomatoes. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Careful shopping helps Suntrup eat well within his budget. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Broccoli is sauteed in olive oil and garlic. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • One-Pot Sausage and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 6/30/2017 2:39:10 PM

If an editor asked me three years ago to write a story about what I ate for two weeks, I would’ve written about sad turkey and cheese sandwiches, eggs, Triscuits and take-out from the sandwich and salad shop where I worked. And bananas.

These days, I’m 24, semi-fresh out of college and my eating habits have vastly improved. I don’t know exactly what changed, but my maturing in the kitchen probably had something to do with that restaurant job, and a few roommates who would spend week nights baking salmon or working the food processor to make hummus.

But I’m on a budget, so I have to get creative in stretching ingredients.

I judge and study grocery store displays, scanning ingredients and comparing brands. I don’t like dropping more than about $60 on groceries during any two-week span (a pay period). So, when I cook, I want to make enough of one thing to last at least a few days. And because of that, I want to make something I won’t get sick of, something that will entertain my taste buds.

I should mention this, too: I’m focusing on shedding weight. I work out three to four times a week and am paying close attention to serving size and calorie counts. I have tried to cut back on meat and increase the amount of fruit and vegetables I eat. I’ve dropped about 35 pounds since February.

Hitting the stores

Since moving here from Florida to take a reporting job at the Gazette in November, I’ve hammered out a rough grocery strategy. I start at Aldi, a discount grocer that promotes store brands and carries limited variety. I buy everything there that is bound to cost more someplace else. A tray of hummus is $1.99; a wheel of brie is $2.99; avocados are 99 cents; a box of off-brand thin-wheat crackers is $1.29.

Then I go to a typical grocery store — usually Stop & Shop — to pick up anything I can’t find (or don’t want to buy) at Aldi. Specialty stuff, and meat or fish.

For this article, I chose four recipes I figured would last me over the course of two weeks. One goal was to have enough food on hand to not be tempted to roll into a coffee shop for breakfast or a food bar for dinner.

I stocked up on things like mixed nuts, unripe avocados, granola bars and fresh fruit. But I centered most of my lunches and dinners around the four recipes.

The first two are based on two from the website, a site I stumbled on looking for things that would taste good but wouldn’t require dropping a ton of money on obscure ingredients. Yes, I realize these two recipes are not vegetarian. They just looked really good.

A little too good

I was drawn to the Easy Orange Chicken recipe. The sweet orange sauce was accentuated by a light spice from red pepper flakes. It hits all the right notes — so much so that the recipe that was supposed to last four days lasted two.

The recipe did not live up to its “easy” billing; from start to finish it took more than an hour to make. But orange chicken and I go way back to the days of childhood Chinese food buffets or last-minute runs by my dad to Panda Express. Making it myself, I was happy to know I was not eating mystery chicken bits tossed in a suspicious sauce pumped full of who-knows-what.

I used brown rice I already had as a bed and had to mince my orange peel, because I do not have a grater. I also forgot to buy the green onions.

The final product was just too good to last. Gluttony won. I did not wait to make the planned asparagus side before shoveling a serving, and then another, into my mouth in one sitting.

The second recipe was a one-pot sausage, broccoli and sun-dried tomato pasta dish. There is a vegetarian version available using feta instead of Parmesan, toasted walnuts and vegetable broth.

I used whole grain penne pasta and spicy sausage instead of sweet.

This recipe was easier, and I had enough ingredients left over so that the next week I made the same dish with asparagus instead of broccoli and without sausage. 

For the other two recipes, I drew from my college days working at Ingredient restaurant in Columbia, Missouri, making versions of two of my favorites: a black bean quesadilla and a turkey apple brie melt.

I chose the quesadilla because I had plenty of tortillas and sriracha hot sauce sitting in the pantry. The sriracha aioli is literally just mayonnaise and sriracha. It is the creamy component with a kick that punctuates this dish.

At the restaurant, we used to make this recipe with diced chicken, but I axed that just because this is already a hearty quesadilla. It was still super filling and pretty indulgent. Not diet food.

The last was a turkey apple brie melt that I served cold. I ate this for lunch a few times. I bought a half-pound of the sodium-free turkey from Stop & Shop, and instead of using ciabatta rolls I bought a loaf of the Nature’s Promise multigrain bread (though only about half of this loaf is thick enough for sandwich slices).

I layer the sandwich this way: a bed of mixed greens, four or five Granny Smith apple slices, turkey, two brie slices and a garlic aioli spread, made of garlic powder and mayo, across the top slice,

The snacks, other foods I had on hand and leftover ingredients — one chicken thigh and some sausage — carried me through the pay period.

I did eat out during a short visit to my hometown, St. Louis, but other than that I ate out just one other time — at Easthampton’s Food Truck Friday behind Abandoned Building Brewing.

My friend Emily Cutts and I each got a falafel sandwich from the Holyoke Hummus Co. food truck. It was flip-flop- wearing, beer-drinking weather, and I had no regrets about leaving my stuffy apartment and my two-week menu behind. Occasional treats with friends, in my opinion, are part of a well-balanced diet.

Easy Orange Chicken


For the sauce:

1 large orange

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1½ tablespoons brown sugar

½ tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 clove garlic minced

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ tablespoon cornstarch

For the chicken:

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 large egg

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch of salt and pepper

2 tablespoons cooking oil

4 cups cooked rice​ (I used brown rice)

Grate the orange zest then use the orange to squeeze out a half cup worth of juice. Combine the juice and zest with other sauce ingredients in a small pot. Whisk to make sure the cornstarch is dissolved and place over medium-low heat (about 3 to 5 minutes) until the sauce thickens into a glaze. Set aside.

Cut up the four chicken thighs (about 1⅓ pounds) into ¾-inch pieces, cutting off excess fat. Whisk together the cornstarch, salt and pepper and large egg. Toss the chicken bits in the mixture. Place in a skillet heated to medium or medium-high and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, turning once.

Toss the cooked chicken in the glaze and serve over rice.

One Pot Sausage andSun-dried Tomato Pasta


8 ounces spicy Italian sausage (about 2½ links)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ pound broccoli florets

2 cups chicken broth

⅓ cup sundried tomatoes

8 ounces whole grain penne pasta

Pinch of red pepper flakes

¼ cup grated Parmesan

Place the olive oil into a pot heated medium-high. Brown the sausage links, but don’t cook all the way through. Cut them into medallions and put them back into your pot to cook through. Place into a medium bowl.

In the same pot, saute the broccoli and minced garlic on medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Add the broth, sundried tomatoes, pinch of red pepper and penne to the skillet. Stir, place lid on top and heat to a boil. Reduce heat and cook covered until most of the broth is absorbed. Stir in the garlic, broccoli and sausage. Sprinkle on the Parmesan and serve.

Black Bean Quesadilla

For the aioli: roughly two tablespoons of mayo and one tablespoon of sriracha, enough to cover one side of large tortilla; should appear white-ish red

4-6 ounces of black beans

¼ red onion, diced

½ jalapeño, sliced

1 cup shredded cheese

1 large tortilla

1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix mayo and sriracha in a small bowl to make aioli. Set aside. Heat a skillet to medium-high and heat the olive oil. Place the tortilla in the skillet and spread the aioli across one half of the tortilla. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on top of it. Sprinkle black beans, onion and jalapeño on top of the cheese. Sprinkle another thin layer of cheese and fold over other half of tortilla. Cook until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is browned.

Turkey Apple Brie Melt

Two slices of multigrain bread

3 slices of deli turkey

4 Granny Smith apple slices, about a quarter of an apple

2 slices of brie cheese

A layer of mixed greens

For aioli: 1 to 2 tablespoons of mayo, and garlic powder to taste

Toast the bread. Place a bed of mixed greens on the bottom slice. Then place apple slices, turkey then brie on top. Broil or toast bottom half of the sandwich until cheese is melty. Spread aioli mixture on top slice of bread. Serve.

Can also serve cold, without toasting or melting.



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