Thursday, April 6, 2017
Eating On A Tight Budget: April's Basics Challenge
I pondered options for this month. I could set a dollar amount and do as I've done in the past three months making out a menu for two for 21 meals at that set point was one option. Frankly I've proven to myself I can do it and I was ready for another challenge.
I looked over two wartime thrifty meal plans in vintage Woman's Day magazines and contemplated following one of those for a week, though I wasn't sure it would be half so 'thrifty' as it was considered then. I do admit though that it's an intriguing idea, despite the liberal use of liver sausage in one of the menus. Pretty sure John wasn't going to be on board with that!
I kept coming back to doing a basic ingredients challenge. I'd said once before that you could make just about anything with the same basic ingredients just by changing up the seasonings and adding in a few minor ingredients. So this challenge is about basic items in the kitchen and creating a variety of meals from them.
In my scenario, I'm taking a chicken, a bunch of celery, a bag of carrots and a bag of onions and I'm going to show how those same ingredients can be used in a variety of ways to make different meals. Now this is far more economical than you might think, because while I'm not limiting anyone to just one chicken or one bunch of celery, etc., several of the meals can be made from just that one chicken.
Pot Roasted Chicken may not be something you commonly think of but I've made this on more than one occasion. You can do this in the crockpot or slow roast in the oven. I leave the chicken whole and then chop some carrots, onions and celery and place them around the chicken. I have often added potato chunks and apple chunks to the pan and it's really delicious!
Chicken Pot Pie uses the same basics and you can add peas if you'd like. I like to add them because it reminds me of the old Banquet pot pies that used to make up supper some nights in my child hood home. Cooked chicken, sliced carrots and celery, diced onion and peas, make a gravy and pop a crust over the top. I love chicken pot pie and will often order it when I'm eating out with Mama. It is the very epitome of comfort food as far as I'm concerned.
Chop Suey. Cooked chicken can be used or you can quickly stir fry chunks of chicken until just done, celery, onions. Most chop suey recipes do not call for carrot but a little shredded in will add color to the dish. Add broth, a little soy sauce, a little cornstarch and a can of drained bean sprouts and serve over Chinese noodles or rice.
Almond (or Cashew or Peanut) Chicken. Again you can start with cooked chicken or cook it especially for this meal. After the chicken is just done, remove it from the pan. Stir fry sliced carrots, celery and onions. Make a simple brown sauce using soy sauce, corn starch and broth poured into the pan. Add in the cooked chicken and the almonds (or nuts of choice) and serve over rice.
Chicken Fried Rice. This dish requires cooked chicken. I scramble an egg in hot oil and then set it aside. I like to add a variety of vegetables to my fried rice but I always have carrots, onions, and celery in the dish. It's perfectly tasty with just these vegetables. I season with garlic and fresh ginger. I add in chicken, cooked rice and a splash of soy sauce and then mix in the scrambled egg and cook for a minute or two until everything is hot.
Chicken Soup. Whether you make it with rice or noodles, these truly are the only vegetables needed to make a good chicken soup.
Chicken Stew. Same as chicken soup but with thick fluffy dumplings added in the last twenty minutes, covered and allowed to steam. Stew chicken in water until tender and cooked through. To make an all in one pot meal, I'll often saute the onion, celery and carrot then add some green peas, green beans and diced potato into the broth. Toss in cooked, boned chicken and make thick fluffy biscuit type dumplings to steam in the pot.
Chicken Loaf. This dish is made with diced cooked chicken and carrot, but the celery and onion are chopped and added in uncooked. The chicken and carrot are put through a food grinder or chopped in a processor. Add egg, bread crumbs , milk and seasonings. This mixture is put into a loaf pan and baked until firm. Then you slice it and serve.
Chicken Salad. Chicken salad begins with cooked chicken diced. You'll want to add less onion than you might to a cooked dish, and the grated carrot again would be just for color. Sliced celery and mayonnaise, a hard boiled egg and chopped pickles, and mayonnaise with salt and pepper to taste.
Chicken Strata. The original recipe calls for leftover turkey, but leftover chicken would do as well. Saute diced celery and onion, a little grated carrot and some red bell pepper until just tender. Mix diced cooked chicken with the vegetables,4 cups of bread cubes, 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I suppose just because it's a Kraft recipe but I'd bet that Ranch dressing would taste really good in this), 1 cup milk and 3 eggs. Pour into casserole and let sit at least a couple of hours in the fridge then bake. This is really a nice savory bread pudding and is a great stretch meal when the budget is a little tight.
Now do you see how those four basic ingredients morphed into 10 separate dishes?