Melissa d’Arabian, the winner of the Next Food Network Star and the newest member of the FN family, promises to deliver a meal for four for under $10 in her show called, what else, “Ten Dollar Dinners.” A concept not too original, I must admit, but intriguing nonetheless. In this tough economic time, everyone can use some help in tighten up the belt.
I was really happy that she won the title of the Next Food Network Star, not necessarily because I thought she was the best cook out there, but because of her fighting spirit. In the beginning, no one thought she was going to win. I think many of us, myself included, discounted her, thinking that she wouldn’t last past first several weeks. But week after week, challenge after challenge, she unveiled a little bit of herself to knock nine other contenders out of the race. I took a major satisfaction in watching some of her fellow contestants attempt to throw her under the bus, only to be counter-attacked by Melissa’s culinary roundhouse kicks (don’t mess with stay-home moms, I’m telling you, they are fighters). Maybe I resonated with her because I too am an underdog in life, and it was impossible not to be inspired by someone who defeated all odds to climb to the top.
With that said, an FN personality is nothing without good food, so I decided to put her latest menus to the test, and to see if her recipes can truly live up to the delicious, $10 promise. The first attempt: North African Meatballs!
I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up the ingredients: ground beef, canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, lemon, chicken broth, cumin, parsley, and a bottle of white wine. I also picked up a box of couscous and carrots for side dishes. I already had other necessary ingredients like onion, garlic, cinnamon, brown sugar, and prunes (instead of dates) in my pantry which would be helpful to fit everything into $10 or less.
You can find the recipe for North African Meatballs here.
First, I cooked the onion and garlic in olive oil, and added chopped black olives, lemon zest, dices tomatoes, chicken broth and white wine and let them simmer in a pot in medium heat. Then I added cinnamon, brown sugar, salt and pepper. I added lemon juice (which the recipe didn’t call for) and two extra teaspoons of brown sugar because I wanted to really accentuate the warm sweetness of brown sugar and cinnamon. And wow, I never imagined that cinnamon and lemon zests go so well together!
While the liquid is simmering, I made the meatball by first mixing egg, tomato paste, and chopped parsley together.
I added a pound of ground beef to the paste, added cumin, salt and pepper, and made them into little balls. I totally forgot to mix the breadcrumbs … shame on me!
I cooked the meatballs in olive oil until they are golden brown on both sides. They don’t have to be fully cooked at this point.
Once browned, I put the meatballs into the liquid and let it cook for about 20 minutes.
I also cooked up the Couscous with Dried Dates to accompany the meatballs. Instead of dates, I used dried prunes I already had in my pantry.
Because dinner is not complete without vegetable, here’s Melissa’s Glazed Carrots.
The food was delicious and an absolute delight. I really never explored North African-inspired dishes before so this required me to get out of my culinary comfort zone (it’s my first time incorporating cumin into my cooking) but the outcome was superb. The combination of cinnamon, cumin and lemon brought out such unique and beautifully foreign flavors, and the juicy meatballs cooked in tomato sauce really excited my taste buds! I have a feeling that these dishes, especially the meatballs, will be making regular appearances at my dinner table.
As for the price (drum rolls, please) … the total of the entire dinner of North African Meatballs, Couscous with Dried Dates, and Glazed Carrots came out to … $12.32! Keep in mind that I did purchase the cheapest Chardonnay available (Two Buck Chuck, baby), and used lots of ingredients I already had in the pantry (and I didn’t even include the breadcrumbs that I forgot to use) so calling this a $10 or less meal is a little bit of a stretch … but I was able to make enough to feed about six people (instead of 4) so I guess that evens out the cost.
I hope you would try these simple but delicious recipes. They are much cheaper than dining out and they are sure to take your dining experience to a whole different continent!
I can’t wait to see what Melissa will cook up this week! 🙂