Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Bird In The Hand is worth...?

Haven't yet read this week's mag, so 'trade secrets' will have to wait until tomorrow. It turned out yesterday was slightly busier (culinary wise) than expected, so forgot all about the mag.

Whilst finding shelf space in the larder to put some of my recent purchases, decided to take the easy route and suggest to B he might like some 'chunky' soup for supper, giving him a choice of Scotch Broth or Cock-a-leekie'. He chose the former.
We were out of bread, so I baked another loaf, this time adding extra strong flour, yeast and water to make one 2lb loaf and five mini-loaves, one (or more) of the latter to be served - freshly baked and still warm - with the soup.

While the oven was on decided to cook some sausages (both B and like sausages, even when cold), and as I found a small bag of crumble topping in the fridge, decided to make a small apple and cinnamon crumble for B. As well as....made a blackcurrant jelly, topping this up with the last little bit of blackcurrant concentrate in the bottle (Tesco's version of Ribena), Jelly and cream - with nothing else - makes a good 'dessert'. We like it anyway.

The small amount of whipped cream left over (after making those mini 'vanilla slices') I decided to turn into another dessert, this time folding in some of the recently made Toffee flavoured EasyYo yogurt. So B now had a choice of three 'puds', apple crumble, Toffee 'fool', and blackcurrant jelly. He had half the 'fool' (the rest of this AND the other 'puds' will keep well enough over the weekend through Monday), and he absolutely LOVED the soup. "Did you make it?" he asked. Had to confess it came out of a can.

Yes, I KNOW it is normally cheaper to make our own soup, but this was a Baxter's soup which is always good. I had bought six cans (three different flavours) because they were on offer. The soup was quite thick, so diluted it down slightly - thus making a really good serving for around 70p - which means the 'meal' cost a lot less than normally spent for B's meal (the lamb shanks he loves work out at £2.50 each and that doesn't include the veggies and 'tracklements').

Another advantage of using a really good quality (bought) chunky soup is that it can usually be extended to give another portion if we add a few more of the ingredients listed on the can - possible finely diced (and pre-cooked) carrots and potatoes, or some left-over cooked pearl barley (with the Scotch Broth). This lowers the cost (per head) considerably, yet we still get the 'quality'.

At one time I used to cost out each meal, aiming to (at that time) feed a three course meal for a family of four for a total of £1. As prices rose it would then be £1.50. and so on. Not so long ago the stores kept giving out free recipe cards (using ingredients bought in their stores) to make a meal for four that cost ONLY £5. They seem to have stopped that now prices have risen even further, although of course it is possible to feed a family of four for much less than that if we put our mind to it.

What I do now is to have a food budget, and spend no more. Often manage to spend a lot less due to taking advantage of some of the offers available at the moment. After that it is up to me to make the most of what I've bought. Savings usually go on buying 'special's (quality meat etc) but as they are 'saving' (usually deliberate ones) this does not take me over my original budget.
So - within reason - can serve B quite 'expensive' meals, alternated with 'reasonably priced' ones and 'downright cheap' ones. It all balances out.

What is important is making the food we buy go as far as possible without cutting down on the necessary 'nutrition' that we all need, so today my recipe 'topic' is chicken.
Buying a fresh chicken and portioning it out ourselves mean all the portions work out cheaper (by weight) than if buying them separately packed. It's always worth buying the heaviest bird we can afford as we then get more flesh on the bone.
Whatever the size bird, we will always get 2 chicken breasts, two drumsticks, two thighs and two wings. Plus the carcase. At the back of each breast there will be a finger-sized 'fillet' that can be cut away and cooked separately.
Myself prefer to remove the bones from the leg joints so they can be put into the pot with the carcase AND the wings to make stock. Also - if not leaving on - put the skin in the stock as well. It is the bones that help to give flavour. The skin gives added 'fat' that will set on top of the chilled stock and can be used for frying, and a minimum of 8 0z (225g) of cooked chicken can usually be picked from the bones (winglets also have a lot of meat) after the stock has been made.

So as well as the breasts, fillets, thighs, drumsticks, we now have a useful amount of cooked chicken 'shreds', and about 2 pints of chicken stock. As the stock is made by adding carrot, onion, celery and bay leaves to the carcase (the lot covered with water then left to simmer over the lowest heat for a couple of hours), the cooked veggies too can be saved after straining and then blitzed with some of the stock to make a creamy 'chicken and vegetable' soup. So that's a 'free' meal to add to anything else made with the chicken.

Normally the expectation is to serve 4 oz meat (in this case chicken) per person, but if a vegetable protein is also in the dish, we can reduce this amount. Likewise - if we serve a pudding made with eggs/milk, we are again supplying essential protein, so the amount of chicken we use can be quite small if we are aiming to make it go as far as possible.

Have just looked up Tesco's prices for chicken, and see that today (and possibly until the end of this month - but this needs checking - they are selling 'Market Value Chicken (1kg - 3kg) priced at £2.14p kg). Also Special Offer chicken (£1.35kg) where we can buy 4 chickens for £12 or 3 chickens for £10). Four chickens would give 8 chicken breasts, 8 chicken fillets, 8 drumsticks, 8 thighs, 8 wings and four carcases that would make enough stock to fill a bucket!
Work out how much it would cost to buy these separately packed, also how many servings can be made from the above (recipe suggestions given below) then you'll discover how low cost per portion it can work out.
Tip: when freezing chicken joints, wrap each separately so they don't stick together, then no need to thaw out a whole pack. If buying a pack of chicken joints (why?), open the pack, wrap each joint separately before freezing.

First recipe uses just one chicken breast to feed four. If the breasts are large, then so will be the fillets the back, and you could then use the two chicken fillets instead of the breast. Any leftovers can be chilled and eaten as a cold lunch the following day. If you have no harissa, then mix together half a tsp of chilli powder with the same amount of ground cumin and coriander.
Chicken Couscous: serves 4
1 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 chicken breast, diced
tblsp grated root ginger
1 - 2 tblsp harissa paste
handful no-soak apricots, halved
1 x 220g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
7 oz (2oog) couscous
7 fl oz (200ml) hot chicken stock
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened. Add the chicken and fry for 8 - 10 minutes until cooked through. Stir in the harissa paste until the chicken is coated, then add the apricots, chickpeas and couscous. Pour in the stock. Give a final stir, cover pan with lid (or foil) and leave over the lowest heat until the couscous has absorbed all the stock and has softened. Fluff up with a fork before serving.

This next recipe uses the cooked chicken picked from the bones after making the stock. By adding extra vegetables you could 'stretch' this dish to feed six. Suggested veggies to use for this dish are sweetcorn kernels, chopped bell peppers, broccoli/cauli florets, diced carrots - or any other veg you fancy. Dice small if using raw, or the veggies can be larger if using left-over cooked ones.
Chicken and Vegetable Pie: serves 4
2 oz (50g) butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 oz (75g) button mushrooms, sliced
1 tblsp plain flour
half pint (300ml) chicken stock
half pint (300ml) warm milk
salt and pepper
pinch nutmeg
pinch mustard powder
8 oz (225g) more or less - cooked chicken 'scraps'
6 oz (175g) mixed veg (see above)
8 oz (225g) shortcrust pastry
egg/milk for glazing
Fry the onion in the butter until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until these are softened, then stir in the flour to make a type of 'paste'. Cook for 2 minutes, then slowly blend in the stock and milk, add seasoning to taste, the nutmeg and mustard. Bring to the simmer, and when the sauce has thickened, add the chicken and vegetables.
Pour this mixture into a pie dish. Roll out the pastry to slightly larger than the pie dish, then place the pastry over the pie, trim off any pastry hanging over the edge, and crimp the edges to help seal to the pie dish. Brush top with beaten egg and/or milk, and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 25 minutes until golden brown.

We've used the cooked meat picked from the bones, we've used one breast (or two chicken fillets). Now we use the thighs and drumsticks (if boned and large, they could be cut in half to make them go twice as far). Incidentally - this freezes well.
Chicken and White Bean Stew: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
2 chicken thighs and 2 drumsticks (skinned and boned)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or half tsp dried thyme)
1 pint (600ml) chicken stock
2 x 400g cans haricot or cannellini beans
chopped fresh parsley
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the chicken until light golden. Add the veg and fry for a further 5 minutes, then stir in the thyme and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the veggies tender. Drain the beans, add them to the pan, cover and simmer for 5 minutes to heat through. Serve with the parsley sprinkled on top. Eats well with crusty bread to mop up the 'juices'.

An alternative to the above (again using the leg joints) is this spicier dish.
Indian Chicken with Sultanas: serves 4
2 tblsp sunflower oil
4 chicken joints (on the bone)
1 onion, chopped
4 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods, crushed
6 fl oz (180ml) Greek yogurt
fresh coriander, leaves and stems chopped
3 tblsp Korma curry paste
2 oz (50g) sultanas
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Place in the chicken and cook for about 10 minutes until golden all over, then remove from pan and set aside. Put the onion and bay leaves into the pan and fry gently for a further five minutes, then return chicken to the pan.
Mix together the yogurt, coriander, Korma paste and sultanas together. Put the chicken, onion etc into an oven-proof casserole, pour over the yogurt mixture, cover and cook in the oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for half an hour - by which time the meat should fall from the bone. Serve hot.

Final dish will make use of the chicken breast still not used. You could use one breast and the fillets. But whatever - the amount can be adjusted to use what you have.
Pasta with Chicken: serves 4
1- 2 chicken breasts
zest of juice of 1 lemon
1 tblsp chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper
2 tsp olive oil
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
10 oz (300g) tagliatelle (or similar)
Coat the chicken with the lemon zest and juice, tarragon and salt and pepper. Place in a shallow roasting tin, drizzle the oil on top and grill (high heat) for 6 minutes. Turn the chicken, add the tomatoes to the tin - cut side up - drizzled with a little oil, and grill for a further 6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and golden.
Meanwhile cook the pasta as per packet instructions, drain well (reserve some of the liquid), and return to the pan (off the heat). Cut the chicken into chunks, add to the pasta with the tomatoes, 4 fl oz (100ml) of the cooking water, and any juices in the roasting tin. Place back over the heat and toss together. Serve hot.

An alternative way with chicken breasts is to cut each in half, then bash each half thinly, coat in egg and breadcrumbs and fry. They will take only a few minutes to cook through. Called 'escalopes' these are good served with a side salad.

And that makes the most of one chicken. Certainly making at least five (or more dishes) each to to serve four (or more) for what I consider to be fairly low cost. What do you think?

Back again tomorrow at the usual time. Hope to meet up with you then.