Are you ready, Greatists? We're just about done. It's almost time to take off the training wheels and keep up this healthy and cheap plan all on our own. To be honest, the weekly challenge updates and daily blog posts have kept me accountable— I'm not sure what I'll do without the check-ins!

Before I get too sentimental, let's get down to the nitty gritty: this week's budget breakdown. Alex and I spent $67.58 on groceries this week and $20.56 on two bottles of wine (some for cooking, some for drinking). That's $44.07 for my half, plus I picked up a box of Trader Joe's Oatmeal Dunkers cookies for $4.79. (I strongly recommend them, but only if you have willpower of steel.) That comes to a total of $48.86, which is $11.14 under budget!

So far in this challenge I’ve assumed everyone has some cooking know-how, and maybe that’s not true. I'm far from a chef, but some of the recipes I’ve picked require basic kitchen tools and techniques. My own editor told me she ran screaming from the sound of the goat-cheese-stuffed chicken a couple weeks ago. So here's my (personal) no-nonsense guide that will help you cook almost any recipe.

  • Basic tools. Here's everything you need:

Knives: About three of 'em, big, little, and serrated.

Pots and pans: Two pans or skillets (the wide, short kind) of different sizes and two or three pots (the taller kind) of varying sizes. And while you're at it, get pots and pans that are oven-safe and all have lids. I choose nonstick because they are more versatile and allow you to cook with less fat.

Other utensils: A spatula (the plastic kind if you have non-stick pans), a wooden spoon, a slotted spoon, a whisk, a set of tongs, a grater, and a meat thermometer.

Extra equipment: A large baking dish (around 9 x 13), a couple mixing bowls, a rimmed baking sheet, high-quality, microwave- and freezer-safe Tupperware, a knife-sharpening block, and a cutting board.

  • Knife skills. Contrary to common sense, sharper knives cause way less damage than dull ones— less violent hacking at the offending produce and more skillful, controlled cuts. Watch YouTube videos whenever you're unsure of how to cut a new fruit or vegetable, and practice, practice, practice. Buying pre-chopped items saves time in the short run, but good knife skills save far more in the long run.
  • Hot, hot heat. Pans need to be hotter than you think. If there's no sizzle, the pan isn't hot enough. If there's smoke, it's too hot. Pretty simple. Changes in texture and color are key to recognizing when something is cooked through— recipes almost always tell you what to look for. In the case of meat, always use a meat thermometer; with time you'll start recognizing the texture of meat that's properly cooked, but until then you'll sleep better knowing your chicken isn't full of salmonella.

And that's it! This week, the menu is entirely made up of my Greatist Challenge favorites— so everything here I've made at some other point this month. If you've been following along, you'll already have almost all these ingredients!

Sound off in the comments and tell me which recipes you loved (or hated) most.

Meals for the Week:

Butternut Squash and Parsnip Baked Pasta (I'm making the full recipe and freezing half.)

Turkey Frittata with Chard (I'm making the full recipe, because last time I wished I had leftovers.)

Honey-Soy Glazed Salmon with Chard (I'm substituting chard for spinach and cooking it according to Turkey Frittata instructions.)

Pasta, Beans, and Tomatoes (It’s my new go-to for something quick and easy.)

Blackened Tilapia with Kale-Walnut Pesto Pasta

Produce 1 small butternut squash
2 small bunches Swiss chard or 1 large
½ bunch kale

Meat 10 oz. salmon
10 oz. tilapia
1 lb. ground turkey

Dairy 1% milk
4 eggs

Grocery ¼ cup walnuts
1 15 oz. can white beans

I Have/You May Need 2 onions
2 small parsnips
1 lb. uncooked penne or other short pasta
1 lb. uncooked rotini or other short pasta
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
Mango chutney
Fresh basil
Low-sodium soy sauce
Crushed red pepper
Bay leaves
Dried sage
Dried parsley
Curry powder
Blackening seasoning
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
Cooking spray
Olive oil

Photo by Kelly Fitzpatrick

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