Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cooking on the Cheap

There are a lot of ways to save money on meals. One of the easiest ways is to buy meat in bulk. It is always more expensive to buy individual sized servings than to buy enough for several meals. I never buy less than 3 pound packages of hamburger meat. I also buy family packs of other cuts and break them down into meal sized freezer bags.

For chicken, the most economical way to buy it is whole. They are not hard to cut up and I can use 1 chicken for about 3 meals for my family of four. I will explain the process.

First things first. Wash the bird. You want to make sure that all of the bone meal and any possible contaminates from processing are washed off. Always use a sharp knife. You will be much more likely to cut yourself with dull knife than a sharp one. Cut off the wings at the shoulder joints. Pop the thighs out of socket at the backbone and cut it at the joint. Then bend the leg and the thigh. It will make a really thin spot at the "knee". Cut it straight through at that spot. You might get a little bit of the bone, but if your knife is sharp enough it should cut on through.

Cutting the breast at this point is very easy. the area between the ribs and the back is very easy to see. I generally use knives, but if you are less than confident with a knife, you can use kitchen shears to cut through the ribs to separate the breasts from the back.

Now that you have both halves of the breasts removed, turn them over, skin side down. You will be able to see the keel, or breastbone. Place your knife firmly in the center of the bone. Put your other hand flat on the back of the knife and push firmly down. It will be a little hard to break the bone but it will cut.

Now you have 2 wings, 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 breasts and a backbone. Depending on what meals you have planned, and how many people you are feeding, you should be able to make at least 2 meals, maybe 3 if you are careful. I will give examples for a family of four.

Meal #1. Cheesy chicken pasta. Take the chicken breasts and cut(or tear) them from the bone. Take the bones and skin and place them into a stock pot. More on this later. Cut the breast meat into 1/2 inch cubes. Saute the chicken in about a tablespoon of oil with 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning until it is no longer pink. Add 1 can(2 cups) of chicken broth and 1 can(2 cups) of water. Add a pound of egg noodles and salt and pepper to taste. When the noodles are done and most of the water is gone, remove from heat and add about a cup of shredded cheddar cheese or if you prefer, you can use Velveeta. Bacon bits are a good addition to this. (This is actually better than Chicken Helper and it doesn't have all of the preservatives added.)

Meal #2. Chicken stock. This is the way to really make a chicken go farther. The skin, bones, and wings, legs and thighs can all go into a stock pot. Add 6 to 8 cups of water, a couple of carrots cut into big chunks, celery cut the same way, half an onion, really anything you have hanging around in the crisper. Here is where you can salt or not, depending on your personal preference. As you boil the chicken, you will notice a brownish foam rising to the top. Skim this off, you won't need it. When your chicken is done remove it from the pot and let it cool off. Continue to boil the stock until it is reduced by about 1/4. Strain the broth and remove the veggies. Throw them away or compost them. Put the broth into the refrigerator over night. The next day, all of the fat will have solidified on the top. Simply scoop it off. You can use this to make soup or it can be reduced even further to make a richer stock for gravies and sauces. It freezes well in either a freezer bag or in ice cube trays for portion control.

Meal #3. The cooked meat needs to be removed from the bone, skinned and chopped. There is even a small amount of meat on the back so be sure to look for it. The chopped meat can be used to make soup, barbecue chicken sandwiches, used in stir fry or lo mein, or to make chicken salad.

Now that you have a general idea on how to portion up a chicken to make it go farther, keep in mind that you can do this with many different foods.

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