Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1 Chicken = 3 Meals

Everyone has, at some point, grabbed one of those rotisserie chickens they sell at supermarkets.  For $5-6 bucks a bird (mine was $5.79 for a 24 oz cooked bird), these can make a meal without anyone having to watch the oven or need a rotisserie.  I fell in love with them because I have no patience for longer-cooking meats if it won't fit in my crock pot.  Now, I realize that same 24oz of bird purchased raw could cost me as little as $1.20 (whole chickens go on sale for $0.79/lb), but I have learned to save myself time and use every bit of conveniently cooked bird.

The Price Per Serving Breakdown:
I can make 3 meals out of the bird I buy.  With the sale prices of the week, each meal came to between $0.63 - 4.00 per serving, or an average of just under $2.25 per plate.  This isn't crazy cheap (mom fed me home-grown suppers for .50/serving or less,) but I think it is still thrifty, considering the meals include lots of fresh vegetables and are still easily made in approx 20-40 minutes.  The average cost of a meal per serving in America ranges from $4 to $9.

The Meals:
Day 1: $4.00/serving + beverage

Lemon Pepper Chicken - $6
Fresh French Bread - $0.99
Steamed Broccoli - $0.99/lb

We eat what chicken we can cut off the pretty bird.  Half of the loaf of bread with butter we eat, the other half we store.  The broccoli we eat, then I finish off because I love the stuff.

I proceed to clean the meat off the bones, storing meat in the container and putting bones in the freezer with other scraps.

Day 2:  $0.63/serving + beverage

Arugula/spinach/lettuce  - $1.00 as half of 1 bag arugula, half of 1 bag salad mix @ $1.00/bag.
carrots and leftover chicken - negligble and leftover
Toasted French Bread Croutons - leftover
Blue Cheese Dressing - $0.24, at $1.99/16 oz (there are cheaper, but I go with pre-maid and without HFCS)

I toast the previous french loaf bread after cutting into cubes and have makeshift croutons.  I mix up salad greens (any greens work, romaine with veggie leaves are my stand by), and I shred a baby carrot for color and cube some leftover chicken.

Blue cheese dressing is one of two dressings open in the fridge, so we go with that (note: too many types of dressing opened at once and they all languish in the fridge.  I won't open a new bottle of any flavor until another is almost gone.)  The lemon pepper seasoning of the chicken is noticeable, but good.

Day 3: $2.11/serving + beverage, serves 2

bok choy - 1.00
wilted celery - .50, 1/2 of $1.00 pk
carrots - .25, 1/4 lb from 1.00/lb
red pepper - .33 ea
half-spent onion - .50
chicken - leftover
White Rice - .34, 1 cup of rice (7 oz?) from a $0.79/lb bag -
Crispy Chow Mien Noodles - $0.20, from bulk
Lean Cuisine Thai Egg Rolls - 6 in a pack, for $1.10 on sale
Seasonings: chili powder, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar - negligible

So, the bok choy I had to look up how to prepare, as I had never personally handled it before (I only bought it because is was on sale for $1/lb.) I cut off and save the bok choy leaves to feed to my lizard.  The celery, a few leftover stalks nearing the compost bin, have their leaves already fed to lizard.  I want to start using brown rice as it is healthier, but I got 15 lbs of white to use up, first!  I don't normally buy crispy chow mien noodles because that aren't very healthy and they often go stale quickly.  However, on seeing them in the bulk section, I was able to buy just a handful for each of us.  The Lean Cuisine egg rolls were a splurge, but I wasn't up for making my own egg rolls yet, and they are SOOooo good.

Use Up Everything:
Now, after I make those 3 meals, here's what else happens.  "And now, the rest of the chicken":

  • Once the meat is gone I add the bones to my chicken stock scraps in the freezer, where they accumulate until I can make broth.  The plastic cases they come in make great seed starters (with a taller see-through top then other leftover containers) and both the plastic case and paperboard carrying handle are recyclable with our curbside program (just thoroughly wash off any grease or dirt, please.)   The only thing I have to throw out is the string tying the chicken legs together, as this is usually an unknown plastic cord.  That's a pretty economical chicken for being 'ready-to-eat'.  

The other foods I try get mileage from, as well:

  • For the broccoli, I cut up the stem in small pieces so they cook well and aren't still tough, so they get eaten.  
  • When I have a whole uncut loaf of bread, I cut the whole thing into slices and brush all the crumbs into my jar of bread crumbs used for cooking.  
  • For certain types of dressings I will add vinegar/oil/water to the bottle to get a few more pours from it, shaking to get the seasoning from the sides of the bottle.  
  • Some dressing bottles I rinse out to store my own creations if I have time to make them.  
  • I keep greens in a salad spinner in the fridge (one for lizard, one for us) and they keep amazingly well in them.  
  • The bok choy and celery leaves aren't normally eaten or cooked in most recipes, but that is okay because my lizard appreciates the variety.  
  • The celery in a stir fry can be limp and not noticed, as long as there are other 'crisp' veggies there. The onion I had to peel quite a few layers off (it had been hiding in the back and bottom of the basket) and the center was starting to grow, but any bits I didn't use, as well as cut-offs from bok choy, celery, carrot and onion went in the freezer bag for making stock.  
  • Any other food scraps I would ideally compost, though haven't heard back from the MRF yet on my ability to start doing that where I live now.

Cooking More (Energy) Efficiently:
People think green and efficient and they think about gas mileage or appliances that are Energy Star approved.  How we use things like appliances is what actually makes them efficient.  Here are ways I save energy in my kitchen:
  • Well, the chicken was cooked in groups in a commercial machine, which I suppose is more efficient than everyone cooking a chicken in their own home unit.  
  • The broccoli I steam, making sure to have a lid on to keep the hot steam in the pot (I actually have seen people 'open top' steam things, I don't know if this is common, though.)  
  • I use the toaster oven to toast small pieces of bread, like croutons, because it is more efficient than firing up the big oven.  
  • The rice I cook 'economy' style, which means I put the rice and the water in the pot, then heat it up with lid on.  I open once to stir, and once it is boiling, I turn off the burner and let it cook.  I take a peak, and if the rice looks about cooked, I take the lid off and let it steam off any extra moisture.  This uses less fuel from my oven to achieve the same thing - cooked rice (though it is sticky rather than 'fluffy', I like sticky better.) 
  • The vegetables I cut small and thin as possible, which will increase how fast they fully cook, and shorten the time they need to be on the stove top.  
  • I wash dishes by hand if my arthritis will let me, instead of running the dishwasher. 
  • I think about and grab all the ingredients from the fridge, so I'm not constantly opening and shutting the door, letting out the cold air.  I try put them all back at once, too.  
  • I politely request of my S.O. to not open the fridge and stare into it with the door wide open while deciding what to drink.  (At least, I think I'm polite about it.  Judging by how fast he runs off, maybe I sound more irritated than I think.)
  • I don't microwave much, but for smaller servings, it is more efficient than heating up the whole oven.
And there you have it!  As wasteless, efficient, convenient and affordable as I can make my dinners right now.  The Efficient Cook may become a post series if there is any interest in it, so please let me know if you enjoyed this article, or if you'd have preferred a more typical recipe layout.  

Can't wait to see what I save you next time!

Image of rotisserie chicken courtesy of Flikr, (c) stu_spivack, with image overlays.

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