Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Conversation with the Chef: Six to Save

Last week was my personal Great Chicken Challenge. Through Money Saving Mom I found this post on stretching a chicken to make six meals. Laura says she cooks one hefty chicken at a cost of $15 and makes six meals. The question was begging to be asked, "What can I do with $15 worth of chicken?"

I began with bone in chicken breasts, which were on sale for $1.49 a pound. I would love natural, fresh, wholesome chicken, but it's not readily available here. I like to joke that if it is not at Walmart, we can't have it. Or we could do it ourselves, but I can't. I just can't. So I began with about $16 of bone in chicken breast. I failed to explain the game to Bryan before he shopped for me. Although the list clearly stated "$15 worth of chicken," there were convoluted reasons why he came home with less. I am at fault. I should have explained the game. If nothing else, Bryan is always ready for a challenge. I made a second trip to the store.

Next I planned six chicken meals. I did not exactly copy Laura's six. Although the Alfredo sauce was good and the Black Bean Taco Salad immediately earned a slot on out long term meal list. The dressing was amazing. I began with her simple principle: make the chicken a smaller part of the meal. Here's what we ate:
  1. Chicken Tortilla Soup with chips, avocado and jack cheese. Come back tomorrow for the recipe.
  2. Chicken Noodle Soup. Unfortunately the night I made this I didn't feel like eating chicken noodle soup and liberally doused my bowl with habanero sauce. Too liberally. But I could not taste the soup. These are the sacrifices I make to save a penny.
  3. Alfredo Noodles with Chicken.
  4. Black Bean Taco Salad. Try her recipe. Add generous portions of avocado. That is, if avocado is on sale. Then I started thinking how easy it would be to substitute an Asian Salad, or a Chef's Salad. Thinking creatively, there is a lot of flexibility.
  5. Chicken and Veggie Quesadillas. I looked at Laura's recipe, then went in the kitchen and cooked up something similar.
  6. White Chili. I make mine with lots of broth and Great Northern Beans.
I began by simmering the chicken with vegetables all day, making that lovely stock which is the basis of so much goodness. Then we shredded the chicken and stored the stock in smaller containers. I tried adding shredded chicken to the Alfredo noodles. You know what happened, don't you? It shredded. It was grainy and lost in the noodles. In the future I decided to take off some breast meat, freeze it in marinade, and broil the chicken for pastas and salads.  We did it that way for the Taco Salad and it was just right. Then I will cook the bones with the meat left on them and use that for soups or chili.

When the week was over all six eaters had eaten all six meals. We had a total of nine servings of leftovers for lunches. I froze ten extra cups of chicken broth for future use. And we had one bonus meal of Chicken Salad sandwiches, because, frankly, there was a lot of chicken. I count 51 servings of chicken.

When the week was over we had eaten too much chicken. Next time, I will not plan more than three chicken meals in a week, even if chicken is a complementary ingredient. Today I noticed chicken breasts on sale at Kroger for 99 cents a pound. I can save even more! But I will freeze it and try again in a couple weeks.

That's what I can do with $15 worth of chicken.

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