Have you heard about the woman who cooks gourmet meals using items that cost just 99 cents, a friend asked me one day? I hadn’t but as you can guess, I was intrigued. I went online to do some research and found that the woman in question was Christiane Jory who shopped at The 99 Cents Only store and made gourmet meals from items she found there. In fact, she got to be such an expert that she’s even written a book called The 99 Cents Only Store Cookbook. http://the99centonlystorecookbook.com/ Pure genius I thought and knew I had to chat with her to find out more.
Budget Smart Girl (BSG)-Like me, you were a budget smart girl before this whole economic downturn started. Have you always been budget-minded or did you see prices going up and started to look for ways to trim your budget?
Christiane Jory (CJ)-Actually, I began to write the book ages ago when I had moved back to Los Angeles and was introduced to the store. This was around 2001 and funny thing is, I was REALLY broke but it seemed everyone else around me was doing very well. I had no idea the economy was going south and I believe that was still too far off in the future to predict even when the book became represented and picked up by the publisher
BSG-Had you always shopped in the 99 cent store? Where you ever hesitate about trying the food in there?
CJ-I always liked discount stores, since they tend to have oddities one can’t find other places. Plus, if you need some retail therapy and have no money they are the best places to browse. I really wasn’t an avid 99 Cent shopper until I moved back to Los Angeles and was introduced to this chain. It blew my mind and now I search out 99 cent stores everywhere I go.
BSG-Maybe some people are nervous about buying cheaper food because they think something’s wrong with it. Maybe you can put everyone’s mind at ease by telling us why they sell the food at these low prices.
CJ-People think that discounted food must be past its expiration date. As far as I know, it is illegal to sell food past that date. Isn’t that the point of the date? Either way, I can totally understand why people would be hesitant. I didn’t necessarily stay away from the food aisles, it just simply never occurred to me to buy food there. I tell the story of the mind changing epiphany in the book so I won’t bore you here. In fact most people’s reaction to my book is “I didn’t know they sold food!?!”
Some of the reasons the food is there at all are packaging/printing issues and size. Sometime a brand will put out a larger version for the same cost. You know the labels that say “Now 20% more!” well what do they do with all the older, smaller, not as good a value versions? They can’t be sold side by side at the grocery store. So the store has to get rid of them to make room. Also, sometimes the color on the packaging didn’t come out right from the printer. Apparently it’s cheaper to dump food than to pay for man hours to repackage. And lastly, we have a sick amount of surplus in this country, which makes it shameful that people are going hungry, and I believe now that 99 Cent Only stores and stores like them are readily available to most people because these big manufacturers know that they will always have a place to move their excess products. You’ll find some brands are as reliable at the 99 Cent store as they are at the grocery store.
BSG- I love your Web site, it’s almost addictive. When did you launch it and was the design your idea?
CJ-I Love it too. I was the project’s producer, but I can’t take too much credit for it. The art is from the book’s cover done by Boris Zlotsky, web design was done by John Starr and Jeremy Nelson and all the great Flash programming was done by Jeremy Nelson. Everyone at my day job helped me collect the sound bytes for the tabs.
BSG-I don’t have a 99 cent only store where I live. Any tips on finding alternative sources for bargain foods?
CJ-I do believe everywhere one goes they are bound to stumble upon a type of 99 cent store. Whether it is my chain, the Dollar Tree, or any of the independent under a dollar stores. Though I do believe the 99 Cent Only chain is hard to beat, it can never hurt to explore a place that boasts low prices. Worse case you walk out empty handed. My two tips for making ends meet have always been: 1. go to the farmers markets as they are closing. Most vendors do not want to pack everything up and there is a good chance they won’t be able to sell that same produce in a week. 2. Make friends with your butcher. I had a great one in New York and when I would come in with a recipe I wanted to make and find that the meat it called for was very pricey, he would show me other cuts that were much cheaper and just as tasty.
BSG-Do you have any money saving tips for every day cooking and your specialty…entertaining on a budget to share?
CJ-Shop in advance. This way you can buy just what you need and get anything you may have forgotten with plenty of time to spare. I tend to overbuy to make sure I have everything and this leads to an overflowing pantry. Also, especially with entertaining. It is money saving and energy saving to make things that can be prepared a day in advance. I am sometimes so tired form cooking all day for a party that I don’t have the energy to enjoy it. Most recipes can be fully or partly prepared in advance leaving just oven time for the day of the event.
(This way you’re also not scurrying to clean up in time for your guest’s arrival.)
BSG-Do you buy all your groceries from the 99 cent only store. If not, where do you look for other bargains? Are you a coupon clipper too?
CJ-I stock up at the 99 cent Only store but I shop everywhere. I try to clip coupons but I always loose them. I find that basing my meals around base ingredients that I can buy cheaply balances the occasional splurge on an ingredient that is only available at a fine market.
BSG-You were a guest on the Rachael Ray show recently. That had to be so much fun. What was that experience like, were you able to offer Rachael any great tips?
CJ-It was a whirlwind! You can check the clip out on my website. Rachael was surprised to learn wines have a shelf life. Some wines, yes, they are aged for 50-100 years. But most wines don’t stay drinkable forever and that is why you find the best deals at the 99 Cent store. I have run across wines that are currently at another store selling for 20-40 dollars. Why are they at the 99 Cent Store? Because they may have only six months left before they become iffy. The winery has already sold all they will to the other stores and they may have up to 100 cases that still need to be moved. That’s when I swoop in! (And sometimes this is the catalyst for next dinner party)
BSG-Would you like to share one of your favorite recipes with us?
CJ-I have so many and all my co-workers are currently yelling their favorites! but if I have to pick one it is the Pinot Noir Poached Pear Tart. I also love to reduce the extra sauce to a thick jam, which is delicious when served with a cheese plate. Everyone loves it!!!
BSG-Anything else you’re working on right now?
CJ-I am currently writing two more books, one of which is another cookbook. But in all honesty, with the state of the world right now, I am grateful to have a job and to have written this book when I did. I am truly practicing what I preach and I am thrilled to have supplied a light hearted solution for others.
If you want to check if there’s a 99 Cent Only Store in your area, here’s their Web site.
www.99centonly.com And I’m definitely going to try this recipe…
Pinot Noir Poached Pear Tart
Servings: 8 Cost: approx. $4.00
(Note: this can be made with frozen pie crusts as well and it will be less super sweet. Just thaw 2 crusts, invert and remove from pie tins. Let one rest and slice the other into rustic strips. Place the intact thawed pie crust into a spring form pan. Add the strips around the circumference to build up the sides. Fill with the poached pears and bake according to package instructions.
2 frozen uncooked pie crusts
2¼ cups sugar
2 cans/jars pear halves (about 16)
1 cup red wine vinegar
½ bottle Pinot Noir (or red wine of choice)
1½ tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon cinnamon
First “make” the crust. Invert frozen pie crusts on to a piece of parchment or wax paper. As they thaw the crusts will pull away from the tin and they will fall to the paper. Do not turn them over, leaving them upside down will lend to the rustic shape of this dessert. Move one of the thawed upside down crusts to the base of an 8 or 9-inch spring-from cake pan, (if you have used parchment paper this can be placed in the pan, making the move much easier). Roughly slice the remaining pie crust into strips and build up the sides of the crust in the cake pan. Put aside. Drain pears well. In a saucepan large enough for pears and liquids add wine, vinegar, sugar, rosemary and cinnamon. Bring to a boil stirring often, until a thin syrup forms, about 5 minutes. Add pears, reduce heat to medium and gently boil turning them in the syrup for about 5 minutes. Watch closely, since these are not fresh pears and mushy is to be avoided. Turn off flame and let pears sit in syrup until cooled. At this point you can place the pears covered in syrup in an airtight container and let them marinate for up to a week. You may also move forward with canning these and they will last up to a year. They will be a much dark color if you prepare these in advance. Otherwise, remove pears to a separate bowl with some of the syrup. Return remaining syrup to a boil and cook until it thickens to the consistency of a nice drizzling glaze. Remove from heat. Carefully slice the pears lengthwise and layer nicely into uncooked crust and bake according to crust package instructions for a filled pie. Serve warm or at room temperature.