I cook for two these days. Leftovers are nice, but mostly I love to cook supper fast. (Of course, my favorite recipe is Olive Garden or Pei Wei, but that’s a pretty worn out joke…) So to accommodate a fast dinner, I almost always pre-cook the meat. Cooked meat freezes well, and I use it up before freezer burn sets in. Besides, I always feel comfortable asking one of our kids, with their brood, over for dinner. With meat already cooked I can have company stress-free-er. (Not going to be too bravado here…)
But before I share my Chicken Extravaganza, I have two heros I’d like to introduce to you today. One I knew very well. The other I only hope to meet. First, from way, way back in my early days of raising a family, my wonderful Frugal Comrade in Arms, Joann. She is the actual source of the Chicken Extravaganza. When Joann’s husband suddenly lost his job, for a while they were in shock. With five children at the time her husband felt compelled to go back to college to learn another skill. So what did my friend do? She rolled up her sleeves and tackled the job of feeding her family of seven. With unwavering energy, her demeanor remained, for the full extent of their heavy burden, at least five years, full of grace. And I was blessed to have had a front row seat.
Oh, the hours we spent in her kitchen! Not just discussing meals, of course. We sipped tea, ate homemade or “manager special” cookies, and pondered the bigger things of life– our parenting, cleaning gunk out of carpet, wifing, and mentoring other women in the Kingdom. But her thrifty methods of running her household greatly impacted me, and my already frugal mindset moved to a whole new level. One day she told me that a boiled (or rotisserie) chicken can make four or five meals, and also that a couple pounds of ground beef can do the same. Well, as a bonafide Frugal Feme Fatale, I believed her. I just didn’t know how. So she showed me.
Now, decades later, her oldest son continues to brag about how she fed the family for (not kidding) fifty bucks a month. Impossible, you say; but through food auctions and super sales, she did it! (I had never heard of a food auction before either, but she took me once, and it was good food, even though refused by classy restaurants due to dinged boxes or dents occurring in transit.) They didn’t eat prime rib, but they ate well. Even better than many of their friends. That’s a story in itself –and maybe one day I can get her to tell you herself. But right now, I’d like to share just a tiny bit of what she taught me– how you stretch that chicken!
First, my other hero.
About twenty five years ago, while I was learning from Joann, “The Tightwad Gazette” was born. Amy Dacyzn (You pronounce her name like decision.) confirmed what many had taught me about a frugal lifestyle, but she unpacked so much more wizardry. Her personal story, told with humor, peppered with her own artwork, was a goldmine of instruction. Her delivery? Witty illustrated monthly newsletters detailing what she had researched in her home. One day discovered by daytime radio and television, she was catapulted to fame, eventually publishing several years of her newsletters in a two-volume book set with the same name, The Tightwad Gazette, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Even husbands, mine included, determined to improve the bottom line, jumped on the bandwagon.
Creating the most lively conversations around our house were her essays, tucked among the recipes and snippets of practical advice. Here she mounted her soap box and hawked a philosophical defense of her madness– how we should and shouldn’t think about our money, our time, and the return on the investment of both. In the decades since, my husband and I have devoured her common sense and wisdom—leaving the paperbacks, quite ragged, for our guests, as if they were regular coffee table fare. If you can locate a copy over the internet, these are a treasure for any housekeeper. Just this weekend my husband found a brand new copy (I guess the owner had no idea what he or she possessed…) in a local thrift. You can imagine our joy to be graced with an undogeared copy.
So now that you’ve been introduced to my hero teachers, Joann and Amy, let me share the trick you’ve been waiting for: The Amazing Stretching Chicken Extravaganza. Here it is:
a. Buy the rotisseried or boil the whole chicken, (though celery is a no-no at my house add lots of onion and garlic) into about a gallon of water and cook until chicken is very tender.
b. While chicken cools, prepare shopping list. Carrots, potatoes, fresh green beans, broccoli, brown rice, potatoes, canned or dried beans, prepared or homemade pasta sauce, 2 cans of tomatoes and green chilies, any other firm veggies (like cauliflower). Don’t forget salad fixings, including dressings. Bread or chips if carbs are okay.
c. Pick meat off chicken. (Optional: simmer carcass on very low heat about an hour, for more pieces of meat. I don’t often do this, even as tight as I am…). Distribute meat into 5 baggies.
d. Go Shopping. Start cooking. Freeze bags of meat, and use as needed below.
Day 1- Chicken soup. Save about half stock, add chopped soup veggies to remainder, including two diced potatoes or 1 cup brown rice. (Rice soup will take longer, so if you have the time, cook rice separately and add last.) *If you saute the veggies first, the soup will be done in less than 30 minutes— just let the flavors meld. Add your first bag of chicken (unless you boiled the carcass, which leaves you with an extra bag of chicken.) Serve with whole wheat crackers and sliced cucumbers drizzled with salad dressing. If you have leftovers, keep for later casseroles and soup.
Day 2– Chicken spaghetti. Get a bag of chicken and add it to either white or red pasta sauce with a tiny bit of stock, simmer for 10 minutes, cook any pasta you choose. Prepare a salad and maybe a bit of French bread.
Day 3– Broccoli Casserole. Layer a bag of chicken on bottom of sprayed casserole dish. Add 1 cup cooked (or uncooked) rice. Mix well flour, milk, and plenty of spices -especially onions and garlic- to equal a total of 2 cups liquid. For fewer calories, use nonfat milk, water, or stock.
Put broccoli spears in small pieces all over top. Pour liquid over all. (will be watery). Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees for 40 min. or until rice is almost cooked. Remove casserole and let stand last 10 minutes while rice finishes cooking, still covered. Serve with salad and bread.
Day 4– Tortilla Soup. Use the rest of the soup from Day 1 plus your saved stock.. Add onions, green peppers and (to make this heartier) I always add a can of pinto beans and a cup of frozen corn. Toss in the next bag of chicken and your favorite Mexican spices, plus a can (or two if you like it hot) of tomatoes and green chiles. Add any leftover spaghetti sauce. This will give it more body and the green chilies do overpower the Italian flavor. (Believe me I have done this and it works). After simmering the soup for about 30 to 40 minutes add crushed tortilla chips and serve. Add a fiesta salad, salsa, and you are ready for another meal that will definitely have leftovers. Can you wait for tomorrow’s lunch?
Day 5– Your last precious bag. Tonight is (drum roll, please!) Chinese! (I didn’t mean for that to rhyme….) Chop all veggies that you would like in your stir fry. Make sure you include onions and green peppers and fresh green beans or something else bright green. Put olive oil in pan and get it very hot. Add veggies and any spices that you would like. Please, before the veggies are soft, add your bag of chicken, preferably warmed for a few seconds in the microwave. Keep veggies crisp! Finally, add soy sauce just as you serve the plates. Yum.
You did all that with one chicken and quite a few veggies. Wow! Have you got any amazing stretching food stories?