Gourmet meal made from 99-cent-store ingredients

The New York Times's Henry Alford prepared a gourmet meal for a dinner party using ingredients he bought at $0.99 stores:
The four friends I served dinner to included two who had shopped for food at 99-cent stores and two who had not. Guests were met with an antipasto tray – pepperoncini, olives, artichoke hearts, crackers, very greasy salami and a hockey puck of Brie that I had softened by baking.

Disparate nibbling yielded several polite, neutral comments. My guests stared off into the mid-distance as if in the throes of Art Appreciation. But the compliments started flying when I served my chilled pear soup – nothing more than a mixture of Goya and Kern’s pear nectars that I served in beautiful Chinese bowls with star anise floating on top. (Mark: “I feel like I’m at a chic restaurant.” Heather: “I’ve cleaned my bowl.”)

Our entree of penne with peas and turkey bacon in a light cream sauce gave way to much conversation about frozen peas. I explained that food luminaries like Marcella Hazan and the Silver Palate women approve of them. Heather told us how she had used bags of frozen peas to help soothe her mother after her hip replacement surgery.

The flourless pecan torte that I served for dessert met with approval, but nothing like the semiriotous adulation inspired by my subsequent offering of a 3.5-oz. Toblerone bar. (Scott: “Wow!” Heather: “Nice!” Greg: “Airport candy!”)

Link (via Kottke)


  1. Cooking with crap from the 99center gets you on Boing Boing? No fair. I’ve been doing it for years.

  2. disclaimer, I have not read TFA
    That said, no one other than a farmer on the day of his pea harvest should ever think they’re being slighted by being served frozen peas. I used to work in one of the finest restaurants in Boston (name withheld because I left on less than amicable terms and don’t want to enhance their revenue stream). We were oft written up for our very very fine chilled pea soup with spicy shrimp salad. I prepare it at home regularly. For all but a few weeks a year, our Chef relied on frozen peas. Peas convert their sugars to starch very quickly the instant they are picked. There are two ways to handle this culinarily — eat the damn things no later than 24 hours after they’ve been picked, or freeze them within a couple of hours of picking. Freezing stops the sugar > starch conversion, and is certainly the best way for 95+% pf the U.S. population to enjoy the goodness that are peas year round. This is one of the prime counter-examples to the anti-processed food people. Except for those few parts of the country where you can get fresh produce the day they’re harvested year round, peas are best frozen (as is corn, and canned tomatoes).
    Reminds me of the old farmer adage about how to cook corn — First: Boil the water. Second: Pick the corn.
    Bonus factoid for anyone who has read the entirety of my bourbon-fueled post — if you ever have a pea soup in a restaurant that is a fantastic bright green color, it has probably been made with a good amount of blanched spinach. Even the slightest amount of heat will begin to dull the color of your peas, and spinach helps to offset that.

  3. I wouldn’t eat it.

    A few years back, I bought a dozen dinner plates at the 99 cent store (the one on Sunset near Lucile in Los Angeles). Got them home, went to wash them so I could use them (they were dusty). Then noticed they all had stickers on the bottom that said “WARNING: California law requires that we notify the buyer that the glaze used in this product contains lead.”


    I returned them.

    Michael W. Dean

  4. #7 : Hey, at least you’re lucky enough to live in California where they’re required to put that sticker on! I’m sure Virginia law requires no such notification (note to self: never buy off-brand dinner plates at dollar store).

  5. I do have to say that I would never eat anything from a dollar store. That because I have enough money. Dollar stores are a major conduit for counterfeit consumer products (eg: electrical parts with falsified UL stickers). Toothpastes,cosmetics, all foods….. not worth the risk.

    There is a REASON why it costs so little.

  6. The simple fact is, unhealthy foods are cheaper than healthy ones. Not to mention foods with loads of fat, sugar, and salt stimulate the “reward center” of the brain.

  7. I used to buy stuff there, even times when I had money to go elsewhere. I shopped there because it was fun, as well as cheap. But once I returned the lead paint dinner plates, I never shopped there again.


  8. Dude. If I were your friend and you invited me over to eat described meal, I would probably white lie my way through it politely, and thank you for sharing your food and company.

    BUT I would know I had not just eaten some chic, high end foodstuffs. See if you can get those folks over again next weekend.

    Sorry, but the difference between crap and the finest foods available is detectable by nose and mouth, not just the wallet.

  9. I’m sure it was interesting in a way, but I’d hardly call it fine dining. I’d much rather just buy my components at the grocery store and put something good together. At least then, I can be reasonably sure my food isn’t mostly made of pressed gelatin and chemicals like the junk at the dollar store.

    Better still are farmer’s markets. We have a huge one here in my part of Atlanta, where you can find just about anything you want from all over the world, as fresh as possible.

  10. Hey RJ I’ve been there! Like outside of ATL a little bit?
    I know I can tell Piggly Wiggly from Whole Foods…

  11. @Anthony

    Yeah, it’s actually on the edge of Decatur and unincorporated Scottdale, on the east side of town. I love that place.

    If you get a chance, try eating at the little restaurant in there. All kinds of great food from the various vendors in the building, and the prices are quite reasonable.

  12. I think this guy’s going to get pretty sick of peas…

    What is people’s obsession with sacrificing their health and the health of the planet for every last cent at the supermarket?

    :~( Sob…

  13. Ha! The New York Times are one step behind me. I do tried to cook a 3 course dinner party with only ingrediants from the 99p store (here in the UK).

    And this is my website about trying to survive only buying food and other essentials form the pound shop.


    I wouldn’t recommend it!!


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