This post is part of an ongoing series called Fresh and Frugal, in which I share practical ways to make it easy to eat well on a budget. Eating well can be thought of from a lot of different angles, from good health and nutrition, to mindfulness about the environment, to supporting local economies. We should be able to accomplish all of this without sacrificing pleasure or breaking the bank, and that is what these posts explore. _____________________________________________________________________
With the mercury rising, our thoughts turn to how to get dinner on the table without the aid of oven or stove. We don't have a grill, so I like to cook in bigger batches once a week. If I'm heating up the oven, I'll roast a chicken, bake a bunch of potatoes, and roast some veggies. These simple staples can be reinterpreted for a week's worth of interesting and delicious meals.
I use a very simple method for roasting. I season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper, and stuff with a quartered onion, a quartered lemon, and a few smashed garlic cloves, then rub the outside with about a tablespoon of softened butter and season it well with salt and pepper. I roast it in a 425 degree oven for a relatively short time (depends on the size of the chicken, but I use this as a guideline); the high heat ensures a crispy, golden skin and tender meat. There are plenty of variations, but I find this simple way to be the most conducive to reinterpretation.
Dinner #1: juicy chicken, baked potato, and whatever vegetable is in season.
When the chicken is cooled, I remove all the meat and store it in a container in the fridge. I then put the carcass, stuffing and all, in the crock pot with a bay leaf and a handful of rough chopped vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, whatever's in the crisper), cover with cold water, and set on high overnight. Strain the stock in the morning, cool, and freeze for another use. The last time I made stock, I had a quart plus an ice cube tray (which I will use one at a time to add to baby food or in recipes that call for a splash of stock).
Dinner #2: Roast chicken sandwiches: toast two slices of bread, and spread one with mayonnaise. Layer some chicken on the mayo, and top with a crunchy piece of lettuce. Season with salt and pepper and top with the other slice of bread.
Dinner #3: Use chicken as a pizza topping!
Dinner #4: Chicken tacos or quesadillas.
Dinner #5: Toss chicken and roasted vegetables with cooked pasta.
Dinner #6: Big salad topped with chicken.
Obviously the number of meals you get from a single chicken will depend on the size of the chicken and the size of your family, but you can see that it's not hard to stretch your food dollar when you start out this way. And at $2.69/pound at Trader Joe's (as opposed to double that for boneless, skinless breasts), buying sustainable meat becomes a real viable option, no matter your budget.