Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Cooking Gourmet with 99¢ Food

These days, the idea of making a three-course meal for a family of four for less than $20 can seem impossible.

Unless, that is, you shop at the 99¢ Only Stores. There are more than 200 of them throughout the West — not to mention other bargain variations like the Dollar Store — true to their name, everything costs exactly 99 cents.

Christiane Jory thoroughly embraces this fact in her book, The 99¢ Only Stores Cookbook. The idea may sound silly, but the book is filled with recipes for gourmet items like gruyere beignets, salmon souffle and Pinot Noir poached pear tarts. Many of the recipes have been adapted from culinary classics like the Joy of Cooking and the Moosewood Cookbook.

Curious and hungry, I went to visit Jory at her home, where she prepared chicken pot pies, scalloped potatoes and apple pie, entirely with ingredients that she purchased at the store.

Relying entirely on 99¢ food requires serious creativity. As I watched her create crust from Pillsbury biscuit dough and dump chicken, spinach and other veggies from cans, it was hard not to be skeptical.

Jory can relate. Although she has been a long-time fan of 99¢ Only Stores, the idea of purchasing something edible there only came to her after many years of bargain shopping, she says. (Yes, she does have an extreme affinity for this particular line of bargain store, but there's no official endorsement involved.) The cheapo-food epiphany was inspired one random summer day, she recalls, by a seemingly classy lady.

"I was broke, and I like my wine, and then I saw this woman buying wine and I was like, 'No way!' And she had fancy shoes on and I looked at her and she said, 'It's really good.' So that's when I bought a sauvignon blanc. And I had wine for the summer, thank God. And that's when I started thinking maybe there's food here too," she says

Indeed, there was plenty to eat in the store — most of it brands that she had never heard of, in boxes that were misshapen or discolored. But the contents tasted just fine, she says. And with a bit of innovation, Jory says, she realized 99-cent ingredients could turn into truly delicious dishes.

Indeed, the bargain pot pie that popped out of the oven during one particular meal, as she shared these frugal tales, looked like something worthy of Martha Stewart. Served in her mother's best china, the potatoes au gratin with green chiles could have been served at a fancy restaurant. Washed down with a glass of 99-cent vino, it tasted suprisingly yummy.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Alex Cohen
Alex Cohen is the reporter for NPR's fastest-growing daily news program, Day to Day where she has covered everything from homicides in New Orleans to the controversies swirling around the frosty dessert known as Pinkberry.