99 Days at the 99¢ Store, WEEK ELEVEN: A Dollar-Store Recipe Bonanza!

What do you eat when you're trying to shop exclusively at the dollar store? You're about to find out.
Publish date:
March 20, 2013
money, dollar stores

Thanks to an awesome reader suggestion and the depths of my restlessness at this point in the experiment, this week is all recipes, all cheap, all for you. First, a little peek into my typical sustenance––


Guys, this is just French for cereal and milk. Some of you probably took French or are French and already knew that. Or you knew that I used a janky online translator because my phrasing was off.

Anyway, for this one you just pour cereal into a bowl – like as much as you want and will fit in the bowl. Then you pour milk on top: enough to make your cereal soggy – or mouillé (???), for you Frenchies – but not enough to drown out the crunch. I do this two to three times per day, but use your own discretion.


1. Open box.

2. Remove plastic.

3. With oven preheated to 350°, bake for 10-12 minutes OR nuke for 3 minutes if desperate or seeking confirmation that your life is in shambles.

Hot, filling, and easy, this has been my go-to dinner option of the challenge. That is, until Danielle recently broke news of her discovery that one of the brands we’d both been devouring at breakneck pace was made with artificial cheese. I had been wondering what the hell was going on with my dish sponges; they’d been tacked with a gummy substance for weeks, but I’d failed to make the connection. I’m obviously going to be a great mother.

My 99¢ Store standards also include: everything bagels with cream cheese, sometimes cinnamon raisin bagels with strawberry cream cheese, no sugar added rice pudding, mac ‘n’ cheese (usually TV dinner style), microwavable popcorn, occasionally kettle corn, pineapple, and Lay’s Stax (aka poor man’s Pringles). I know it’s not the perfect rotation, but I went into this a really adept restaurant and fast food orderer with virtually no food prep skills.

Let me reassure you, not every single meal on the 99¢ experiment has been so synthetically charged. The first week of the experiment my boyfriend Jesse and I (mostly Jesse) made vegetable marinara over penne. At our dinner party a week and a half later, we (again, mostly Jesse) prepared and served all the fixings for build your own tacos and burritos.

Recently my best friend Danielle made baked potatoes, tofu accented dinner salad, and garlic bread with 99¢ Store potatoes and tofu to celebrate her new refrigerator (one that she can actually store food in).

However this week, at the request of a reader, we took our kitchen dabbling to a whole new level. Behold!

NACHO DINNER – Friday 2/1

My girlfriends Danielle and Erika spruced up our Friday night in with one of the best dinners on the planet. Nobody needs a recipe for this, right?

Cook up some black beans and tofu. Spread a layer of tortilla chips on a pizza tray. Cover with black beans, tofu, and cheese. Bake until ready. Top with chopped tomatoes, avocado, salsa, and sour cream – or whatever trips your particular trigger.

TOFU FRIED RICE – Tuesday 2/5

Our tofu skills have been steadily improving since our first venture last week, but this time Danielle and I decided to get legit and actually look up a recipe for fried tofu:

1 block firm or extra firm tofu

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes

2. In a small bowl, combine the tofu with the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and toss gently to coat the tofu well. Or, place all ingredients in a zip-lock bag or covered container and shake well.

3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the tofu. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and lightly crispy.

We did a very loose rendition of this recipe. First of all, we didn’t have nutritional yeast, so we left it out and used a bit of soy sauce instead. We also baked the tofu before frying it in with the veggies. Also, Jesse told me that if you freeze tofu and then thaw it out, it gets spongy. We tried that but didn’t have quite enough time to let it thaw out on its own, which may have compromised the full effect.

We cooked up some brown rice. Cut up and fried the veggies (broccoli, shredded carrots, mixed pepper and onion mix) in oil and soy sauce. Fried some eggs separately, then added them to the veggies. Fried for a minute or two, then added the tofu. The last ingredient was the brown rice. No wok required!

FRENCH TOAST – Thursday 2/7

I was excited to finally spend some time with my baby for French Toast Thursday! As my better half, Jesse already had a list on a torn out sheet of his comedy notebook when we went to buy the ingredients:

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

12 slices bread

3 eggs

pinch salt

1 cup milk

¼ cup flour

1 teaspoon vanilla

How you do it: Mix everything but the bread together into an even consistency. Dip bread slices in the mixture before frying.

I’m not even sure where this recipe came from, but it was definitely a goodie. The only thing you have to keep an eye out for is portion control. If you can restrain yourself to 3 slices, you should be able to avoid a heavy brick-like feeling in your stomach.

As we got into the checkout line at the 99¢ Store, I’d spotted some frosted cookies and we scooped those up for dessert. No, they’re not homemade, but they are delicious. Of course, we nibbled on each other for a little bit of sweetness, as well.


The culmination of recipe week was a two-tiered menu of breakfast for supper AND dessert. We had a ton of leftover rice in Danielle’s fridge from Tuesday and we’d been reminiscing about how delicious homemade rice pudding was when we were kids, so we decided to take a stab at it.

We freestyled on the omelettes, but our girlfriend Erika was over and she’s watched many an omelette made on set. She knew how to patiently tilt the pan around, giving all the egg a chance to firm up. It turns out flipping is reserved for once the toppings are in and the omelette is folded.

The proper recipe we followed-ish for the rice pudding is:

2 cups cooked whole grain brown rice

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup maple syrup or honey

1 to 2 cups dark raisins (optional)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg or allspice

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, milk, syrup (and raisins, if applicable), and bring them to a boil.

2. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cinnamon.

4. Garnish with additional cinnamon if desired.

Prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay good week, right? I mean, especially considering my prior hands-off approach to the kitchen. Almost all of these ingredients came from the 99¢ Store, except when we already had a seasoning or staple (flour, oil, etc.) on hand.

This week I spent $72.82 at the 99¢ Store, $55.38 of which was on food. I also spend more than usual on dog chews for Georgia since I’m leaving her out of the crate now. My two non-99¢ Store purchases were a full tank of lowest grade gas and a bottle of Trader Joe's brand wine for one of our dinners.

Now you guys: What is your best recipe for feeding yourself on the cheap? I’ve heard a couple good reader suggestions already – give us what you got!

Au revoir!

Follow me every penny-pinching step of the way on Twitter @courtneykocak and Tumblr.