Let me start by saying: I’m not an Iron Chef. I’m a big fan of frozen meals, re-heating my leftovers, and just eating out all together. I also suck at being thrifty. So taking on the challenge of making dinner for two with just $15? I was literally thrown right out of my comfort zone.

I knew whoever I cooked for had to be family, as they would already be painfully aware of my food preparation shortcomings (thanks to the Thanksgiving disaster of ’08). I called my sister-in-law, Amy, for a bit of sisterly bonding over grown-up grilled cheese and quick-and-dirty oven fries. And some smoothies, to be fancy (my Magic Bullet is actually magical).

We start at Trader Joes for supplies. There’s a guy in front of us in line, nervously holding a bouquet of fall flowers. A toddler waddles by, pushing a miniature cart. It’s like a Nora Ephron film in here.

Photo by Amy Etz

There was a bit of awkward haggling when our $2.99 strawberries ring up as $3.29. We went through the whole song-and-dance with the cashier, complete with me trying to explain the $15 price limit. I was embarrassed. The cashier wasn’t amused.

We finally get the strawberries for $2.99 —mwahaha — but we’ve still managed to go 30 cents over our budget. Damn.

Photo by Amy Etz

Finally, I get cooking. Check out how seriously easy the oven fries were to make:

1. Prep the cookie sheet with aluminum foil (for quick cleanup) and grease with olive oil.
2. Slice the potatoes — we used two even though we bought three, greatly over-estimating our fry intake potential — and scatter them on the prepped sheet.
3. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and into the oven they go.

Next, the sandwiches. The humble grilled cheese is favorite go-to of mine. While I love a classic with American cheese, things got fancy  when both mushrooms and truffle oil got involved. Here’s what I did:

1. Slice up half an onion (yellow is preferred).
2. Throw the slices in a frying pan with a little olive oil.
3. Chop up a couple mushrooms and throw them in.
4. Add a bit of garlic — go for freshly diced.
5. Butter two pieces of bread (we used Italian), then pile on the finished onions and mushroom slices.
6. Add lots of Swiss cheese and a bit of the truffle oil (a little goes a long way).
7. Grill in a skillet (we used my mini-George Foreman) for a few minutes.

Photo by Amy Etz

Lastly, we whipped up strawberry smoothies, which go with everything. For this one we combined yogurt, sliced strawberries and a dash of milk in my Magic Bullet.

Photo by Amy Etz

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Finally, we eat. And much to our surprise, $15 bucks actually tastes pretty amazing.