Cooking in our Paris Apartment on a Budget

One advantage of staying in an apartment is being able to cook for yourself. I love eating out, and when we vacation that’s what we do (although we usually eat grocery store meals twice a day–even then). Eating out is expensive, time consuming, and fine for an occasional treat, but too rich and salty for every day.

My mother insisted that I learn to cook. I started with baking when I was about 11 years old and slowly branched out. By the time I was a teen I could make a variety of meals for the whole family. I read cookbooks like novels and I have quite the collection. After many years of cooking, I am able to concoct a variety of things without recipes. Thanks, Mom! That skill has come in very handy this last week!

Last week was a little bit of a strange week budget-wise because we had to buy many things that were one-time or infrequent purchases, like laundry baskets, cleaning supplies, and pillows. But we still managed to have 20 Euro left over from our grocery/household budget as we headed into this week! So, go us! It also helps that the dollar is strong against the euro right now! It has been at parity or better since we arrived. Last week, we took the bus to Aldi and stocked up on some canned goods and basics like EVOO and salt. We made trips to the three main grocery stores in the area–the Franprix, Carrefour, and Monoprix, and determined that the Monoprix has the best selection and prices, and hit an outdoor market for fresh produce. We also made daily stops for bread as it is a staple here, and also because Bryce is quite a bread baker and wants to sample ALL THE KINDS. Baguettes are price controlled here, and cost about 1-1.30 euros. We have at least five boulangeries in easy walking distance, with one being out the door and around the corner from the apartment. One last thing I should disclose: we prefer to eat vegetarian. We are not opposed to eating meat if it is served to us (I try not to be a jerk), and sometimes we will get it when eating out. But overall we eat very little meat. That saves a TON of money since meat is so expensive. So, last week for dinner I managed to make:

  • Roasted root vegetables with dill-butter green beans
  • Lentil soup with bread (from bakery–not gonna even try to make that while here)
  • Mediterranean couscous salad with chickpeas, feta, and veg
  • Mushroom ravioli with a loaded veggie tomato sauce and steamed cauliflower
  • Baked omelette with fresh herbs and potatoes, salad, and avocado tartine
  • Pesto pasta salad with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

For breakfasts we are mostly having:

  • Tartines (just sliced bread, baguette, or toast with stuff on it! Could be butter, jam, cheese, nutella)
  • Oatmeal with fruit
  • Fresh cut fruit
  • Plain yogurt with honey and muesli
  • Croissants and Crio Bru (we splurged a few times)
  • Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and herbs

Lunches are a little hodge-podge. Lots of leftovers, baguettes with cheese, carrote râpée (an amazingly delicious carrot salad that is super cheap at Monoprix already made but I am hoping to make this recipe soon!), raw veggies, sliced fruit. So far, so good!

I thought for this week I would share what groceries I found and my accompanying menu. First, we went to the Thursday market in our neighborhood. We were able to pick up seasonal produce, bread, and some incredible spreads for tartines like salmon dill and eggplant “caviar” from a Greek restaurant vendor. Then I came home and laid everything on the counter and repackaged as needed for storage. I also took an inventory of any food we had leftover from last week, and then I made a menu and list for Monoprix. That way I am taking advantage of lower produce prices by working with what is in season, and just buying what produce looks delicious! By the way I am in PLUM PARADISE. The only good plums I get every year are the ones on our own tree. So it is a treat to have so many varieties! This week they are yellow, purple, and red.

Our dinner menu this week:

  • Roasted carrots, eggplant, and onion with couscous & “cuminy” chickpeas on couscous with a yogurt lemon dill sauce
  • Vegetable bean Curry with basmati rice
  • Grilled halloumi with roasted potatoes and steamed green beans
  • Pasta with mushrooms, green onions, and parmesan and green salad
  • Vegetable bean soup and bread
  • Tartine night (what we had tonight, because we splurged in the Marais and got falafel for lunch today, and needed a light and quick dinner)
  • Roulette night! (Look and what we have on hand, and come up with something! Use bits of leftovers!)

Here are the groceries I found at Monoprix. I’ve had a few surprises, but for the most part I’ve been able to figure out what everything is by deduction, pictures, the French words I know, and if needed–Google translate. Ha! I wish I could have picked up French, but when was I going to do that? Sadly, it was not in the cards. (As a side note, I keep battling this weird impulse to answer people in German. It’s like my brain just goes NOT ENGLISH and out comes GERMAN. Not particularly helpful, brain).

You’ll notice we also grabbed a few extra items if they were on sale–like two different jams, and a stack of little biscuits, and extra beans to add to salads.

So, we spent 50 euro at the open air market, and 50 euro at the Monoprix. And I think this will *easily* feed the three of us for all three meals this week, plus snacks. Of course, we will pick up fresh bread and croissants as needed. But spending that much allowed us to grab lunch and ice cream out today on our adventures, which was really fun.

A few observations:

  • The stores have aisles labeled by the meal, like “petit déjeuner” (breakfast) or “goûter” (snack, around 4:30-5 pm).
  • Milk and cream often come as shelf stable, and juice too, but the bigger stores will have them in the refrigerated section as well.
  • The CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE CHEESE. So much cheese. Cheese heaven. AND IT IS SO AFFORDABLE. A generous slab of brie is 1.19 Euro at Monoprix. THERE IS AN ENTIRE AISLE THAT IS JUST CHEESE.
  • Eggs are sold on the shelf? Not refrigerated? Apparently they are coated with something to keep them fresh?
  • Fresh, healthy foods are reasonably priced. Junk food–not so much, and the packages are much, much smaller. What an idea! The most reasonably priced junk food snacks are little lightly sweetened biscuits/cookies.
  • The amazing FRENCH JAM that is always so expensive in the states is just a few euros a jar.
  • CANNED LENTILS. Why can’t we have canned lentils? Ok I know a lot of people would not be excited about this, but we love lentils and eat a lot of them. They can be tricky to get soft at our altitude sometimes. Canned is SO CONVENIENT. When winter comes, I’ll pick up dried beans to cook, but right now, I don’t want beans simmering when its 80+ degrees out.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m working on a post in my head about some of the beautiful art we’ve seen, so I will be posting about that soon! Let me know if you have any menu ideas from my grocery display! Or if you’ve been to France, what are your favorite grocery items? Favorite meals?

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