Frugal Dinners with Chicken

This past week I bought one of those delicious-smelling rotisserie chickens from our local grocery store. I’ve always wanted to try one, but was never sure exactly what I would do with all that meat. I had visions of Thanksgiving-style leftovers, which are great, but not for every week. It was late and I’d forgotten to defrost anything for dinner again, the price was reasonable and not fast food, so I bought the bird.

The first night I decided the chicken needed to be re-heated a bit, so I tossed it into my cast-iron skillet with some red potatoes that I’d only cut sections of the skin from. I rolled the potatoes in garlic and olive oil, and hoped they would pick up more flavor from my chicken. For sides I warmed up a can of green beans, put fresh grapes into a bowl and added tossed salad.

I have strange kids, who love salad, but no one likes theirs the same way. I decided this week to indulge everyone: radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes for the 4-year-old, carrots and olives for the 6-year old, mushrooms and bacon bits for my husband, and peppers, nuts and cheese for me. This turned out to be a brilliant success as I put the cheeses into Gladware ( http://www.glad.com/containers/gladware_containers.php ) bowls, and the veggies into a veggie serving tray like the rectangular Chillzanne one at Pampered Chef (http://www.pamperedchef.com/our_products/catalog/product.jsp?productId=7924&categoryCode=ET). Not one person complained about the salad and the kids even tried some new things!

That night, I divided the left over chicken into two containers and threw all the bones and bits of meat still clinging after I stripped the carcass into a big pot of boiling water with bay leaf and some sage. I usually use about 2 cups of water for every hour I intend to boil the bones for stock. Before bed, I let the stock cool, discarded the bones, and poured the cooled stock into a covered bowl for the next day.

The next day I had the day off, so I decided to make chicken and dumplings. I put the stock, and one container of the chicken into a big pot and put it to simmer on the stove. I added basil, onion, and a bit of soy sauce and let it simmer away for a couple of hours. About 2 hours before I intended to have dinner, I added 2 red potatoes, unpeeled, and a handful of chopped carrots. After another hour, I made up a dough of muffin mix, basil, rosemary, and milk to make dumplings. Before adding the dumplings, I stirred in Ã?¼ cup of milk and a teaspoon of cornstarch in to thicken it. Then I added dollops of the dough until the top was covered. With dumplings you have to make sure they don’t all stick together, so I came back several times to stir it and separate the dumplings. Paired with a salad and more grapes, this was a smashing success for dinner. I had enough left over to freeze for another meal some other day or to save for left-overs later this week. This is a more time-consuming dish, so try to plan to make it on a day when you have a few hours to be in the house (but not necessarily the kitchen).

Wednesday night I threw together some tomatoes, cumin, onion, garlic and chili powder and added about 2 cups of fairly finely chopped chicken. I sautÃ?©ed green and red peppers in a different pan (mostly for myself) and made up a pan of rice. No one in my family likes Spanish-style rice, but you can add salsa to give your rice some zip. I served this with applesauce and the salad lettuce, cheese (but no salad) and sour cream (plain yogurt for me) for tacos or fajitas. So far no one has complained that we’ve had chicken three nights in a row. This frugal chicken is working well!

The fourth night, Thursday, I decided to give myself a real break, and take about half the chicken that is left, put it in a bowl along with some defrosted frozen corn (you can cook it lightly if you prefer), all the other salad fixings and some grapes. We’re having chicken salad with some warmed pita bread.

Friday night is pizza night at our house, but Saturday was chicken again. This time I made a simple white sauce and served creamed chicken over the left-over rice from Thursday. Sunday I have the option of serving the left-over chicken and dumplings, or I could go for something else. We opted for plain old chicken pita sandwiches with the little bit of chicken left. The kids had a blast adding grapes into their pitas (and then chasing them around the table), while my husband topped his with barbeque sauce and I opted for more yogurt with some garlic on mine.

A single rotisserie chicken can last, through a little careful meal planning and some small additions, and entire week and feed a family quite nicely. This week’s dinners cost my family less than $30, although that price will vary somewhat depending where you live and shop.

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