2007_03_cathy_erway.jpg One of the greatest gifts in life is that of being given a nice, cooked meal. An arguably better gift (and downright city survival skill) is the ability to cook for oneself. Last August, armed with a handful of basic kitchen tools, some moxie and a typepad account, writer Cathy Erway began to document her endeavor of not eating out in New York, which is, not coincidentally, the name of her blog. Erway has given up truffle tasting menus and egg sandwiches alike, all in the name of figuring out some elusive truth of dining in. Not Eating Out in New York reads equal parts cookbook, diary, and notes from an elaborate science project, especially when Erway posts “brownie points,” or nutritional ratings in the form of little brownie graphics, at the end of recipes. What’s more is that each recipe is usually very cost effective, and flight-tested in Erway’s Fort Greene apartment kitchen. Last weekend, Gothamist had the opportunity to catch up with Erway to talk about her experiment-in-progress, which has been going on now for seven months.

How did you get started Not Eating Out in New York? Your website says that you got bored with local brunch.
Well, I guess I just started the blog last August after getting frustrated. I had been to the same brunch places, probably maybe ten times, in my neighborhood and some other neighborhoods. I just got sick of paying $10 for two little poached eggs. So while I kind of miss brunch sometimes, I just wanted to make a project out of making the best things I possibly could, as an alternative to eating out.

Do you cook brunch at home now?
I do. It’s kind of different because I don’t try to make a frilly presentation of it. So much about brunch when you go out to a restaurant is about the food presentation- the sauce being perfect, and all that stuff. Mine aren’t that great.

But don’t you have to take pictures of everything you eat?
Well, there are a lot of photos that get discarded if they don’t look good enough. It makes sense because I post an average of three times a week, and obviously I eat a lot more than that.

Do you carry a lunchbox?
Pretty much.

What’s in your freezer?
Frozen Chinese dumplings; peas. There’s some frozen bacon back there, somewhere, too.

A lot of people will go out and spend 50-60 dollars at Fairway on one or two meals that they plan to make, and then be stuck with a lot of scraps. Any advice on that?
Definitely to not be afraid of trying new things. I always use leftovers when I have them. That’s why some of my recipes sometimes come out a little funky, because I’m always trying to use the leftovers. It leads to creativity, I think. People shouldn’t be afraid to substitute ingredients more often; then they might come up with a recipe that maybe they’ve never heard of. It makes for a better go of grocery shopping.

What are some of your favorite places to shop for raw ingredients?
I shop at a lot of different grocery stores. Sometimes on my way home from work I stop at a nice bodega, the kind with good, fresh produce. I’ll also go to the Fort Greene Farmer’s Market, or the Union Square Greenmarket, sometimes Fairway. I also shop at the local Associated Supermarket.

On your website, you write that you’ll basically try most any recipe people throw at you. Have there been exceptions?
I wish there were. I don’t have a really strong turn back for that feature. There hasn’t been anything I won’t try. A lot of times people will recommend a recipe to me, saying, “Oh, it was in Gourmet,” and I’m like, “that’s not really your recipe, but okay, I’ll try it.”

Does your boyfriend taunt you with stories of eating at all kinds of restaurants, or has he joined the cause?
No, I like to hear about it in any case, but it doesn’t particularly bother me, or bother him anymore. I definitely try not to hold him back from eating out.

You’re not looking to convert people-
No, no.

How long do you plan to keep not eating out in New York? Do you have an end date?
I have no idea, really. It’s going strong, so I’m just going to keep doing it until I find it not worthwhile for some reason or another. I want to see what I gain from it, or what other revelations come up through it. I don’t think it’s lived it course yet, so I’ll see.

Go-to ingredient for home cooking?
One ingredient? Garlic. Also frozen peas.

Indispensable piece of kitchen equipment?
Not really. I have a blender and a food processor, but I don’t have room for that much stuff in my kitchen.

Were you to break your “not eating out” pledge tomorrow, where would you go out to eat and what would you have?
Maggie Brown on Myrtle Street. It’s a really great restaurant.

Where do you see Not Eating Out in New York going?
While it is a solo mission, I hope that it would give other people some practical advice, and I get a lot of emails from readers saying, “I’m so broke, and I want to not eat out, so I appreciate reading your site.” That’s what keeps me going, and justified. I wish I could do more with it. Sometimes I feel like the blog is not quite enough, and wish I could do more projects with it, like some kind of community cooking class- in some ways it would be kind of like a party. Hopefully more ideas for projects will come off it.

Better Tuna Noodle Casserole
Cathy Erway
(makes about 3 servings)

When leftover veggies like halves of onions and 4 or 5 mushrooms begin to crowd your fridge, this dish is an easy, fast way to throw them all together. Plus, mushrooms (unlike most things) have more flavor the less fresh they are.

½ box shaped pasta or egg noodles, cooked
1 Tb butter
1 Tb flour
¼ cup frozen peas, thawed
1/8 cup finely chopped onion
4-5 button mushrooms, sliced
1 scallion, chopped
½ can white tuna
1 cup milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream or sour cream (or 1 1/2 cups milk)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Handful fresh chopped parsley

Turn on broiler or just turn oven to 500 degrees. Melt butter and sauté onions and mushrooms on medium low heat for a few minutes (until they begin to smell wonderful). Season with salt and pepper. Add flour and stir for a minute. Add milk and stir until it boils and gets bubbly. Add cream if using. Taste for seasoning. Turn off heat, and stir in tuna, peas, scallion, parsley, and a little bit of the parmesan cheese, if desired. Fold pasta into mixture and pour into a medium casserole dish. Sprinkle a layer of parmesan cheese on top of casserole and broiler for approximately five minutes, checking that it doesn’t burn. Let cool a minute, and serve.