Tuesday, August 28, 2012

5 Meals, One Chicken

This is a plan for making 5 simple, nutritious meals using one chicken plus pantry items.  The chicken is the only meat.  These meals feed three people plus enough for leftovers (or a surprise guest).  I purchase a 4-5 lb. chicken at Aldi for about $4-5.  I keep it in the freezer until I'm ready to cook it.  On a day that I'm home, I put the chicken in the oven at 325 and cook it about 4 hours (I don't thaw it first).  Depending on the time I have and my mood, I sometimes place the roasted chicken right in the fridge in its cooking pot.  Other times I pull all the meat off then while it's hot.  It's easier to remove the meat when it's hot.

Day One, I slice one side of the chicken breast (or shred it, depending!).  I put pieces of rye bread down on a baking sheet, spread them with pesto sauce or ranch dressing, lay the pieces of chicken on top, cover the top with swiss cheese, sprinkle with paprika, and place under the broiler on low for about 8-10 minutes.  Obviously you can change the cheese, seasoning, or spread, but the basic formula remains the same.  Half a good-size chicken breast will make 4-5 sandwiches.

Day Two, I chop up the other side of the chicken breast and use it for chicken pot pie.  I never liked chicken pot pie because I always had frozen ones.  Homemade is much better and not much harder.  I line a pie pan with premade pie crust (the rolled kind from the refrigerator section; they taste better than the frozen ones).  I put chicken, a can of mixed vegetables, and about 2-3 cups of white sauce.  I make my white sauce from scratch, but if this is a hurdle for you you could use 2 cans of condensed cream soup (cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc).

Day Three, I use the meat from the legs and thighs for chicken tacos (or enchiladas).  My daughter doesn't care for standard taco seasoning, so I use a seasoning from Penzey's called Arizona Dreaming.  It provides a nice flavor that she enjoys also.  Depending on what I have, we also put black beans, grilled veggies, avocado, tomato, lettuce, and/or cheese on them.

Day Four, I place the chicken carcass and all of the bones I've been picking into the pasta insert for my big pot.  I fill it with water and boil it for several hours.  I get nice clear soup because I can simply lift the pasta insert out of the broth and it takes all the bits of chicken and stuff with it.  I then pick through this and usually can get close to a cup of meat out of it.  Sometimes I put this meat in the broth and make chicken or chicken-vegetable soup.  Other times, I freeze this meat and use it for quesadillas, or for a small meal for just me and my daughter.  If I save up this "extra" meat from two rounds of chicken, I have enough for an extra meal for all of us.

This provides us with a lot of flexibility and makes budgeting much easier.  I spend much less on groceries than I did in the past.  I also never have to wrestle with a raw chicken (I never quite got the hang of that, and plus I feel like my kitchen is germy afterward).  I pick my frozen chicken and just go from there.  I never have to worry it's spoiling on me because it waits for me in the freezer.

Sometimes we have the roast chicken for dinner the night I make it, which will still give you multiple meals, but probably more like 3.

For an even easier version, you can get several meals from a pre roasted chicken that you can buy at the deli.  These chickens are smaller, and you pay a premium for having it cooked, but if you only cook for one person it might get you almost as much mileage.  The soup made from a well seasoned rotisserie chicken carcass is delicious!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On Being Home

The last time I posted to this blog, I had a job I loved and I had no idea that in less than a week I was going to be told my hours were being cut and the conditions of the job would become untenable.  I had no idea that I would choose to stay home rather than find another job.  I had no idea at all.

It has certainly been a period of adjustment.  In a world where most people have two incomes, our income and a half meant that we were pretty thrifty to begin with.  I didn't imagine we could make it on less without drastic changes.

So far, however, it's been okay.  I had always heard that working costs money.  While I agreed with the theory, I figured it didn't apply to my situation.  After all, I only drove 10 miles a day so I didn't really have a commuting cost.  I ate my lunch at mom's and I didn't need a professional wardrobe.  Most significantly, my mom did my childcare and so that was free as well.  Oddly enough, however, I realized there were costs I didn't realize were creeping in.  Since I was spending 5 hours a day in a job where I didn't always have 5 hours of work to do, I did a lot of shopping.  Browsing online gets expensive, even when you are really really good at finding the best deal.  Having friends who make lovely things makes you visit places like Etsy and end up buying lovely things.  Finding hobbies like Blythe dolls costs a lot of money as well.

Since I didn't work that many hours, I didn't figure I was really subject to things like "you end up relying on convenience foods and restaurants".  But I was, and way more than I thought.  Even though I didn't work too many hours, I got home at the same time as my husband and I was HUNGRY.  Usually it was much easier to say "screw it, we'll go out" than to prepare something.  That also meant we wasted a lot of food, as I always bought enough on the weekends to prepare dinner every night, and then we would go out and not use it.

In addition, my reduction in hours pushed me to finally check out Aldi.  Let me tell you, I am a convert.  I can buy a week's worth of groceries for less than half what I'd pay for the same items at a regular store.  I can afford to buy a few convenience foods, which are good for those nights you'd rather go out.  And there are far less temptations like fancy cheese, the deli counter, etc.  The food is basic and simple but good.  I can do more than 90% of my shopping there, and I have only found one item I don't care for that I regularly buy.

So now that I'm home, I can more easily organize my shopping, cooking, and preparation so that we have dinner on the table every night.  I am able to keep up on my cleaning.  I am able to keep up on my garden.  I had to give up my gym membership, but I have found that I am actually losing weight because I am not spending 15 hours a week with my butt in a chair......and then plopping down when I get home because I'm so mentally exhausted from the boredom.  I feel like I found a new reserve of energy somewhere.  And I found I don't really need that gym membership after all.  Cleaning, gardening, home projects, and walking Maggie to school is all the exercise I need!

In short, I'm doing okay.  I am angry at the people I worked with for treating me like a number rather than a human being.  But I am mostly over it, and I believe they actually did me a favor.  I am happier and less stressed, even with the cut in pay.  I have time to be more creative in coming up with solutions like thrifting and cooking.  Heck now I can make 5 meals from one chicken!  Now that is an accomplishment.