If you’re trying to find the Two Fat Als on Sunday afternoon, the Upper West Side-dwelling duo better known as Alanna Kaufman C’08 and Alex Small C’08 are scouring the Fairway farmers market and Whole Foods, weekly meal plan in hand. What’s on the menu?

“Bone-in chicken breasts with roasted grapes and shallots, from Epicurious; broccoli rabe with chicken sausage over pasta; open-faced poached egg sandwiches with mushrooms and roasted asparagus; lemon gnocchi with spinach and peas and a tomato-barley dish,” Kaufman rattles off. Meal planning, she adds, “actually is something that we started this year, and it is our best money and time-saving trick yet.”

Together, Kaufman and Small—the couple became engaged in October—write a blog (www.twofatals.com) that was spun off in August into The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: 200 Gourmet Recipes for Any Budget (Adams Media). So when either Fat Al shares a money-saving trick, look alive. All the ingredients for the aforementioned meals—excluding pantry essentials like salt and olive oil—add up to a total of “about $7 per night for each of us.”

Kaufman and Small hail from Bethesda, Maryland and Easton, Connecticut respectively, and met as sophomores while working at The Daily Pennsylvanian. Kaufman, a double major in English and political science, was city news editor. Small, who was on the biological basis of behavior track with a minor in chemistry, was the photo editor at the DP and 34th Street.

“Alex cooked for me on our first date,” Kaufman remembers. “He came over to my apartment with bags of groceries and cooked salmon with mango salsa, a pear and Roquefort salad, and bananas flambé for dessert. I was so shocked that he was so young and such an amazing cook.”

“It was not as effortless as Alanna makes it sound,” laughs Small, who was put to work in the kitchen from an early age by his half-Colombian, half-Jewish “Jewtino” family. “For a week before the dinner, I was calling friends and family, researching online, and running through cookbooks trying to figure out something perfect to make. I brought over all of my own pots and pans and knives and cutting boards to Alanna’s ill-equipped kitchen.”

The bananas flambé—“an old family trick that we use to impress people,” according to Small—must have worked, because the couple began dating. “When our terms as DP editors ended in our junior year,” says Kaufman, “we started cooking together with all of our free time. We were also having lots of friends over for big dinners, so we decided to start a blog to keep track of our favorite recipes. From there, we got a lot more creative and passionate about the food.”

Sandwiched between a treatise on growing mint and a recipe for beer-can chicken, one of their first posts, dated July 24, 2007, sums up their mission: “We wanted to blog because we know how difficult it can be to cook in a collegiate kitchen. These recipes are meant to be healthy and cheap, and accessible for those preparing in limited environments such as ours.”

The recipes accumulated, fueled literally and figuratively by visits to Baltimore Avenue’s Green Line Café—medium black coffee for Small, small extra-hot soy latte for Kaufman—on their way to the Clark Park farmers market and field trips to the Italian Market and Reading Terminal. The couple honed their knife skills volunteering for two years at MANNA, a non-profit that does home-delivered meals for people suffering from life-threatening illnesses. “Nothing teaches you how to peel potatoes like having to peel hundreds of them.”

Their love of food grew. Together, they catered Small’s graduation party by turning it into a Top Chef “Wedding Wars”-style all-nighter involving more than 300 cookies and enough chocolate-dipped Rice Krispie treats to build a replica of Huntsman Hall. This past Christmas, they spent three days fabricating a jelly bean-shingled gingerbread house modeled after Mount Vernon. They cooked. They ate. And whether their meals included blueberry-stained focaccia, baba ganoush with from-scratch flatbread, fish tacos inspired by I Love You Man, or chocolate babka that would make Jerry Seinfeld swoon, the Two Fat Als kept eating well on a budget—the focus of every recipe posted to their blog.

During graduation week, Kaufman and Small were hosting a big brunch for their friends (“before the Walnut Walk bar crawl,” Small remembers) when they received an email from a New York literary agent. “She asked if we were interested in turning the blog into a book,” Small says of the Julie & Julia-esque encounter. “We did not expect anything to come of it, but three months later, she called us back with an offer from a publisher! Somehow we managed to assemble the book—all 200 recipes!—during the first year of law and med schools.”

The fruit of their labor, The Frugal Foodie Cookbook, includes the price per serving of every dish and other tips Kaufman and Small developed trying to finance their foodie habits as undergrads. They advocate starting a garden and freezing herbs with water in ice cube trays for easy access, buying seasonally from farmers’ markets, and taking a two-tier approach to ingredients like honey, vinegar, and olive oil. “We have a cheap honey that we use in vinaigrettes and for cooking,” explains Kaufman, “and a more expensive one that we use for drizzling or dipping apples. Use high-quality ingredients when it matters most.”

Starting your own herb garden is another tip. “In Philadelphia we had a beautiful window garden with cilantro, basil, thyme,” Kaufman remembers. They moved to New York after graduation, where they’ve traded their herb box for a kitchen with a dishwasher. “We miss Philadelphia though,” says Kaufman, “so we might sacrifice the dishwasher to go back in the future.” But for now it’s Columbia for Kaufman, Mount Sinai for Small—and chicken with roasted grapes for dinner. Adam Erace C’06

 

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