This post is the third in a series of posts sponsored by Microsoft Office. You should make this for dinner, then come back this Wednesday for a very very cool surprise giveaway (hint: it’s not a cookbook)
First there was silence, then he burst out laughing…
“You? Cook something on a budget?!” He was still laughing so hard he had to choke the words out.
I had just told him that I was going to use Excel to plan and cook an entire meal “on a budget.”
He was justified in his disbelief, of course. Though I am more proficient than the average cook with Excel (proficiency in actual cooking though is another matter entirely), I have never been one to create, use, let alone stick to a budget when it comes to food.
That’s not to say that I am not budget-aware. In fact, I am naturally, genetically inclined not to spend money. I haven’t bought new clothes in almost a year, and the last time I actually did buy something, it was a pair of jeans on deep discount, at a discount retailer, to replace the sole pair that I had owned for, I am not exaggerating, 11 years. I get alerts when I’m about to exceed the maximum minutes on my minimum cell phone plan. I buy whatever shampoo and conditioner is on sale at the drugstore. I trim my own bangs.
But when it comes to food, any sense of money, saving, costs, or value goes flying out the window like $10 bills from my wallet. $30 for a flat of the sweetest little strawberries from a local southern California farm? Naturally. $54.99 a pound for wild-caught, Alaskan king salmon? Sure. A chef’s knife that costs more than a pair of Louboutins? Sure.
So I gave up on the dinner budget, roasted a chicken that, by itself uncooked, cost more than an entire ready-cooked-meal-to-go for 12 people from some certain restaurants, and made a pan sauce with a very expensive bottle of Marsala wine that they couldn’t believe I used for cooking over drinking.
I’m not saying you can’t eat healthily and deliciously on a budget. It is absolutely possible! But I prefer to give myself total freedom in this one area of my life by smart budgeting in others.
Which is where Excel comes back in.
Microsoft has Excel templates for every type of budget you might need. Your entire household (minus the food in our case, of course)? Got it. Planning an event? Yep. Travel? Just fill it in. There’s even a Budget Planning template for Lawn and Garden expenses, which we love, even though technically for us, gardening is “food.”
Excel isn’t just for simple budgeting, either.
In a previous MBA-centered career, I was an Excel geek. I say Excel “geek” and not “expert” though, because I wasn’t necessarily creating complex financial workbooks with detailed, multi-worksheet dependent formulas and layered functions with cross-file macro calculations. In fact, I just threw all those words together not even really knowing if that sentence makes sense to anyone who actually uses Excel in such a savvy, sophisticated way.
I just “geeked out” with Excel spreadsheets to create calendars, forms, reports, and pretty much anything that required data, lines, and things formatted into neat little tables. And that’s what I do now. I use Excel to make lists — everything from simple grocery lists to the crowning glory of my food blogging career, a master list of every restaurant ever mentioned in critic Jonathan Gold’s List of 99 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants.
Roast Chicken with Mushroom Marsala Pan Sauce
Regular Chicken Marsala is made with breaded, fried chicken breasts and a sauce that is thickened with the flour from the breading or cream. We did neither of those things, opting instead for a whole roast chicken and a Mushroom Marsala Pan Sauce that just lets the power of the Marsala wine shine through pretty strongly.
Start roasting the chicken first. You can prep the ingredients for the pan sauce (mincing garlic, washing mushrooms, which takes forever, chopping parsley, drinking wine etc.) in the hour it takes to roast the chicken.
serves 4 to 6
whole roast chicken, roasted in an oven-safe pan, using our favorite method, Thomas Keller’s
¾ cup Marsala wine
½ cup rich chicken stock
2 tablespoon butter (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ pound mushrooms, washed and sliced
salt and pepper
fresh chopped parsley
Roast chicken, then remove chicken from pan to a serving plate, tray, or cutting board. Drain chicken fat, but take care to leave the regular chicken juice and drippings in the pan. If you have trouble, pour the entire contents of the pan into a tall, narrow (heat-safe) container and spoon the fat off the top. Pour the drippings back into the pan.
Return pan to stovetop and heat over medium. Pour in Marsala wine and rich chicken stock. Using a wooden spoon, stir and scrape up bits from the pan. Cook until wine and drippings have reduced to the consistency of a very light sauce. Pour the sauce off into a bowl.
Add about 2 tablespoons olive oil to the empty pan. Heat the pan over medium heat on the stovetop and add minced garlic. Lightly sauté until garlic is fragrant (but don’t let it brown), about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until cooked through. Pour the Marsala sauce back into the pan with the mushrooms. If you’d like to add butter, now is the time to whisk it into the sauce, though we didn’t. Season with about ¼ teaspoon salt and a few turns on a pepper mill to start. Adjust to your taste.
Carve chicken, plate, spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with fresh parsley.
Microsoft Office is sponsoring a series of TasteSpotting features. The first one, Oysters with Pomegranate Mignonette, is here, and the second one Guinness Stew and an Irish menu, is here. Over the course of next couple of weeks, we’ll be posting recipes and experiences supported by old favorites Excel and Word, and a new for us, OneNote. Stay tuned because we also have a very cool giveaway from Microsoft this week.