ALEX COHEN, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. Back in March of last year, I met Christiane Jory. She is the author of the "99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook." Now, given the economy, we thought we'd reheat this piece and serve it up again. Christiane was kind enough back then to prepare several inexpensive creations for me. We begin with the menu.
Ms. CHRISTIANE JORY (Author, "99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook"): Chicken pot pies, is such an - really exciting - individual chicken pot pies. We have a scallop potato, which we're spicing enough with a roasted diced green chilis, and then a homemade apple pie.
COHEN: It sounds delicious. It smells delicious. I think I can smell the apple pie. So talk us through this. How do you cook a 99 cent meal?
Ms. JORY: OK. Well, we're going to start. First, I want to take the pie out of the oven because I planned it just so it'd be ready. I went this morning, and I had planned on cooking little tartlets, but they had pie crusts, frozen pie crusts. And I've had these Fuji apples I bought last week that are canned, and I thought, oh, there's got to be a way. And then of course, I always go online, because they didn't have nutmeg, but it's so easy.
You just go, nutmeg substitute, and there's a zillion suggestions. So I added, of course, cinnamon. But then, instead of nutmeg, there's a little ginger, a dash of clove.
COHEN: It sounds like there's a lot of improvisation involved when you do the 99-cent cooking thing.
Ms. JORY: Yeah. There has to be. When I start cooking this book, they didn't even have milk. So you'd get evaporated milk and then add water, you know? You would just have to be really flexible.
COHEN: For example, the crust on the chicken pot pies, they came from a can of refrigerated Pillsbury biscuits, rolled out thin, and layered into ceramic dishes known to chefs as ramekins.
Ms. JORY: Ten biscuits will definitely - if you use some elbow grease, will give you your four pies. If you want to cut down on calories, you can just cover it with the biscuit, but it's so good with the biscuit all around, and you butter the ramekin, so they pull away really nicely.
COHEN: For the filling, Christiane uses chicken from a can, spinach from a can, veggies from - yeah, you guessed it, and adds it to a base concocted of other 99-cent ingredients.
Ms. JORY: So I have dried diced onions, and what this is is I soaked them in the liquid from the can of mixed vegetables, which we're going to use, and then I added three tablespoons of wine, which, yes, I'm going to make you all try a sip before...
COHEN: Is this 99-cent wine?
Ms. JORY: Ninety-nine cent wine, which I bought, and I haven't opened it because - and I'm glad, because now you're here, and I needed it for this.
COHEN: In fact, it was a bottle of discount wine that started Christiane's career as a truly frugal gourmet. She is not on the 99-cent store payroll, but she has been a loyal customer there for years. At first, she went just to buy sundries but then, one summer day, a few years back, something happened.
Ms. JORY: I was broke, and I like my wine, and then I saw this woman buying wine, and I was like, no way. And she even had fancy shoes on. I looked at her. She's like, it's really good. And so, I was like, so that's when I bought a Sauvignon Blanc. And I was like, I got wine for the summer, thank God. And that was when I started thinking, maybe there's food here too.
COHEN: Turns out there was lots of food. Most of it brands she hadn't heard of before or in boxes that were slightly misshapen or discolored, but what was inside tasted just fine, she says. And with a bit of creativity, Christiane realized 99-cent ingredients could turn into truly delicious dishes.
Ms. JORY: I'm really hoping that people are going to use this as an opportunity. I think the economy is going so downhill, and I think there's a way to just kind of keep a smile on your face and find cheap ways to still have fun. I hate it when people say, oh, I don't have money, so I can't do anything.
COHEN: How much culinary expertise do you need? Is it good to have some basic cooking backgrounds before you take on the 99-cent cuisine?
Ms. JORY: Why? You know, if you've screw it up, what? You, like, lost 99 cents or $5? I mean, that's money. I'm not saying that that's not important, but God, when I use the cooking - when I lived in New York, it's like, if I screwed up, it was $30 down the drain.
COHEN: Many of Christiane's recipes come from her own imagination. Others are adaptations from culinary classics like the "Joy of Cooking" and "The Moosewood Cookbook." She says she realizes the low-budget nature of her book may not be appetizing to all palates. The 99-cent price tag does have a bit of a stigma.
Ms. JORY: I feel the same way sometimes. I'm a snob. I'll admit it. And so, you know, sometimes if I cook it, I'm like, oh, I'm pulling the ham out of the can. I don't know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: And maybe it's the ham, maybe it's not.
Ms. JORY: Yes. So my friends come over, I'm like, here, eat it. It's great. But I don't know if I'm going to eat it, or I'll like it - hear if they like it.
COHEN: Without warning, I sat down to my meal. The pot pie looked like something Martha Stewart whipped up. And served in her mother's best china, Christiane's potatoes au gratin with green chilies could've been an expensive appetizer at a fine restaurant.
Mm, mm. Oh my gosh. It's really good. It's kind of got like that Tex-Mex flavor to it, like jalapenos...
Ms. JORY: I think if you don't add the chilis...
Ms. JORY: I think the chilis just give it that je ne sais quoi.
COHEN: I ate the entire serving, most of the chicken pot pie and a slice of apple pie. All remarkably yummy. To top it off, we poured a glass of that 99-cent vino.
Ms. JORY: Foggy Bay American white table wine, cellared and bottled by Iron Oaks Vineyards. Do you want to toast?
Ms. JORY: All right. Is this your first bottle of 99-cent store wine?
COHEN: I think it is.
Ms. JORY: Oh my gosh!
COHEN: I think it is.
Ms. JORY: This is a huge day.
COHEN: To cheap dining.
Ms. JORY: Thank you.
(Soundbite of wine glasses clinking)
COHEN: That was Christiane Jory, author of "The 99 Cent Only Stores Cookbook."
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