Five Frugalities for Family Feasting

We all know about the economy (it’s lousy), and that we can’t go back to being spendthrifts (fun while it lasted, but now too scary).  There just can’t be the supposition any longer that there will always be a job, always be money, always be some way of getting more cash flow.  Sacrifices will be made.  But if you stay home, more than likely you are already making sacrifices.  In our family, we keep our cars forever, and we don’t go on vacations.  There may be a teensy (or perhaps not so teensy) part of me that is glad–I like to sleep in my own bed–but I know a change of scenery would do us all good (and a new car would be plain fun!).  However, as I believe Austin Powers would say, it’s just not in the cards, love.

The trick to being thrifty is to do it so that it doesn’t feel like thriftiness.  I remember reading a book on frugal living years ago, and one of the suggestions was to leave the scrapings of jam in the jar, pour milk in, shake it up, and you would have a delicious, fruity, milkshake type of drink.  I believe I will  have to pass on that concoction.  While it may be thrifty, it is certainly icky.  Shaken milk and jam sludge do not a milkshake make.  There was also a recipe for making your own sourdough starter, and thus your own sourdough bread.  The amount of time you must devote to the care and feeding of sourdough starter is negligible, and if you like to bake, baking bread is delightful.  It can become a hobby in and of itself.  It doesn’t even have to be sourdough—any bread is good bread.  It makes the house smell great, and it does give quite a sense of accomplishment. I love baking bread—for fun.

But baking bread isn’t really all that practical.  It goes stale quickly, you have to slice it by hand (which doesn’t sound like such an onerous task, but when you are making lunches at 6:00 in the morning, it’s kind of annoying), and of course, the convenience factor. There are good in-store bakeries that make excellent bread, with a nice crust and great flavor, for a very reasonable price, whether you go to Costco or Nugget or Raley’s or Safeway.  So while homemade bread is touted as thrifty, I’m not sure it’s such a realistic goal these days. Thrift has to be bigger than a homemade bread project taken on in the name of frugality that will surely grow tiresome and be abandoned, and it really doesn’t need to be as painful as, say, a jam scrapings milkshake.

I am careful with my food money. Aside from the mortgage, my biggest expense is food.  I don’t like to clip coupons, because then I end up buying something just because I have a coupon for it, not because it’s something I would have bought anyway. Coupons also tend to be for premade or processed foods. Now I don’t have a huge problem with processed foods—I love Cheetos as much as the next person.  But the bulk of your diet shouldn’t be premade stuff. It’s just not good for you. I think you should be making mashed or scalloped potatoes from, well, potatoes.  And 10 pounds of russets is usually pretty cheap—certainly less than $4 for 10 pounds—and lasts quite a long time.  Try this:

Recipe #1: Oven Potatoes

Cut potatoes (about one 3” potato per person) into 1” chunks, place in a bowl, toss with some canola oil, and sprinkle generously with salt.  Spray a baking sheet with Pam (otherwise they stick terribly), and using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking sheet.  Cook at 425 degrees for about 30 to 35 minutes.  Delicious! This is a quick, easy, and inexpensive side dish that goes with roasted or barbecued meat, and it requires no babysitting. No need to flip the potatoes or anything.

And speaking of roasted meat, an extremely economical meal is roast chicken.  If you wait until whole chickens go on sale for 99 cents a pound, you can stock up, put them in the freezer, and eat really well.  You can make several nights worth of dinners from these two humble chickens. Whenever I make roast chicken, I always roast two of them—my roasting pan is large and the two chickens snuggle up together in the v-rack. Now, these directions work for one or two chickens, about 5 to 7 pounds each, but since I have plans for the second chicken, I’ll assume you’re making two as well.

Recipe #2: Roasted Chicken

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Unwrap the chickens, and take out and discard all the messy bits and pieces inside. (Yes, it feels yucky and yes, you will get messy.  You’ll be fine.)  I don’t know that you have to rinse whole chicken before you cook it, but I always do.  Dry the chicken thoroughly on paper towels that you’ve placed on a cookie sheet (makes cleanup so much easier).  Place the chickens, breast-side-up, on a v-rack in a  roasting pan. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the chickens.  Cut a lemon in half and put a half in each chicken.  Cut an onion in half and put a half in each chicken. You could put an unpeeled, halved clove of garlic in each bird, if you want. If you have rosemary or thyme growing in your garden then put a sprig in each bird, but for heaven’s sake don’t go buy any—it tastes just fine without it.  Now, spread the breast side of each bird with softened butter (use your fingers—easier), about a tablespoon or a bit more per chicken, not forgetting to butter the legs, too.  Generously salt and pepper the outside of each chicken. Pour some water in the bottom of the roasting pan, not touching the chickens, maybe an inch deep (keeps the spattering down and the oven clean). Place chickens (in the pan, on the rack) in the preheated 425 oven and roast for 1 ½ hours. Now would be a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine. You may feel like Julia Child at this point. Oh!  For the last ½ hour you could scoot the roasting pan over and cook the potatoes (above) on their own baking sheet, at the same time as the meat. After you have carved the meat, save the carcass and any bits of leftover chicken—you’re making soup later in the week. Make a salad, and this is a great weeknight meal. You could also proudly feed this meal to company. The chicken will be a beautiful golden color, the meat will be moist and flavorful, and you will not feel thrifty in the least. You will feel like you are feasting.

After dinner, don’t forget you have another whole cooked chicken lying around the kitchen. Put that one in a Ziploc or a Tupperware or Gladware or whatever until tomorrow.  We will be having shredded chicken burritos (or tostadas or tacos) for dinner.  Here’s what you do tomorrow night (or in a few nights—the meat will keep just fine in the fridge for a few days):

Recipe #3: Mexican Shredded Chicken

Discard the lemon and onion in the cavity of the chicken. Use your fingers and a knife to pull all the meat off the bones. Again, save the carcass. Use your fingers and a fork to shred the meat.  You can shred the skin along with the meat or discard it—up to you. Place the shredded chicken in a saucepan, and add about a cup and a half to two cups of chicken broth to the shredded chicken. Broth should completely cover the chicken, but how much broth you need depends on how much chicken you have. (Obviously.)  Add chili powder, a little cumin, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to the chicken and broth.  Take about 2/3 cup additional broth, mix in a small bowl with about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and set aside. Bring the chicken and broth to the boil over medium heat.  Stir the cornstarch and broth mixture in the small bowl and then pour into the saucepan. Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly.  When the mixture has thickened reduce the heat to just simmering and taste (careful—hot! Do I really have to tell you that?). Do you want more chili powder? Garlic? Salt? Pepper?  Now you have delicious shredded chicken that took you about 20 minutes to make. Gather tortillas, refries, lettuce, salsa, cheese, etc., go about your business, and make the Mexican food of your choice (well, tostadas, tacos, or burritos). Truly cheap, truly delicious.

Finally, remember you saved the carcasses of your two chickens. Wrapped well, they will keep for a couple of weeks in the freezer. Use them to make an excellent chicken broth.

Recipe #4: Chicken Broth

Place carcass in a stock pot, cover carcass with water by about an inch, add about a teaspoon of whole peppercorns, an onion cut in half, maybe a couple of sticks of celery cut in thirds, and a carrot or two, cut in half. Bring to a boil, then let simmer gently ‘til slightly reduced. Taste then add salt and pepper, then taste again. Strain broth and freeze in one-cup portions and use whenever you need broth. Alternatively, use all the broth to make chicken noodle soup.  So now you have yet another night of dinner!  It’s amazing!

Recipe #5: Chicken Noodle Soup

In a stock pot, slowly sauté an onion, a chopped carrot or two (depends on how carroty you like your soup), two ribs of celery, and salt and pepper in oil until vegetables soften. Add the broth (about 4 to 5 cups) and two cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmering for about 30 minutes. Next, add chicken left over from the roasted chicken or from the carcass itself. Bring the soup to the simmer again and add about 2 cups of uncooked egg noodles (or whatever pasta you have on hand) to the broth.  Let the noodles cook right in the broth, about 8 minutes.  Add a pinch of dried thyme and a big pinch of poultry seasoning. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper or more poultry seasoning if needed, then taste again. Done!

See? Thrifty doesn’t have to mean 89 cent boxes of macaroni and cheese all the time. Instead, you can take a lot of pride in cooking simply and well, and feeding your family nutritious meals that don’t seem like you are scrimping at all.  Say you spent $12 on the two chickens. Well, the roast chicken will serve four, the shredded chicken will probably make about 10 burritos (or about 12 tostadas or tacos), and the chicken noodle soup would serve 4 to 6. It’s a lot of food for not a lot of money.  The thing is, you have to be willing to do a little work and a little planning. But the results are definitely worth it.

Now…what are you going to read while you’re waiting for that chicken to come of the oven?? (We’ll talk later.)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. marollison
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 20:46:47

    Frugal and fabulous.


  2. Carolene
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 16:34:21

    Please keep the recipes coming! You are a wise and witty woman!


  3. Debbie
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 08:39:38

    I swear we were brought up by the same mother.
    Lots of good ideas and a very nice visit!


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