Friday, November 8, 2013

I Hate to Cook Chicken! and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

Thanksgiving specials are starting to appear. The problem is, you never know whether they’ll get better as we get closer to the big day. My guess is that turkey and ham prices will go down, but that’s just a guess. Other things, maybe, maybe not.

Aldi has Butterball turkeys for 99 cents a pound, and hams ranging from 99 cents a pound to $1.99 cents a pound. Fresh sweet potatoes are $1.49 for a 3 pound package, or 50 cents a pound. Celery is 89 cents a head. Candied yams are 99 cents for a 16 ounce can, and yams in syrup (not as much sugar as the candied yams) are $1.29 for a 29 ounce can. Watch the blog and the Hub for a handout on fixing your own yams and sweet potatoes, that are cheaper and healthier and, if I do say so myself, better! A 14 ounce can of cranberry sauce is 89 cents, but, again, watch for my handout for how to fix your own. Canned pumpkin is 89 cents for 15 ounces, which is a good price, and cheaper than if you have to go out and buy a pumpkin to make your pie out of. Pie crusts are $1.49 for two, but they’re not hard to make yourself. All they take is butter (or lard or margarine) and flour.

Other advertised prices at Aldi - Red onions are 99 cents for a 2 pound bag, or 50 cents a pound. (Regular yellow onions were $1.99 for 3 pounds, or 67 cents a pound.) Baby carrots are 89 cents a pound. (Regular carrots, the kind you have to peel and cut yourself, are usually $1.39 for two pounds, or 70 cents a pound.) Cream cheese is 99 cents for 8 ounces, which they say is the new regular price. A pound of butter has come down from $2.49 two weeks ago to $1.99 last week and $1.69 this week! Their holiday catalog says that they have cream of mushroom and cream of celery soups for 49 cents each. (See last week’s blog for how to make your own from CREAM OF WHATEVER SOUP MIX.) Pineapples are 99 cents each.

This seems to be Aldi’s week for bargains. They still have eggs for $1.29 a dozen, and their 8 ounce blocks of cheese (Colby; Mozzarella; Cheddar in mild, medium, sharp or extra sharp; Swiss; and I think Jack) have come down from $1.79 each to $1.49. I got the impression from the signs that this is the new price for cheese, though I don’t know for sure.

For the holidays, Marsh has Norbest or Honeysuckle All Natural Turkeys for 99 cents a pound, and 40 ounce cans of yams for $2.50 each. They also have eggs this week, $1.99 for 18 eggs, or $1.33 per dozen. Butter is 2 pounds for $4.00. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound for a “family pack.” One pound bags of frozen vegetables are 48 cents each if you buy $30 of other stuff.

Kroger has boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs for $1.97 a pound. There are several things that are a pretty good price if you buy at least ten mix-or-match. Mostly these are brand names, if that matters to you. It usually doesn’t matter to me. Among these are Hunt’s or Ro-tel tomatoes for 49 cents a can (watch the sizes as the cans vary from 10 to 15 ounces), Campbell’s Cream of Chicken or Cream of Mushroom Soup for 69 cents a can, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce for 99 cents a can, Swanson broth for 49 cents a can (but it’s better if you make your own), and Green Giant green beans for 69 cents a can. They also have bags of various frozen vegetables for $1 each, but they’re only 10 to 12 ounces per bag.

There really isn’t much here to work with when it comes to planning inexpensive meals, unless you want to start eating turkey now. I was going to go ahead and do that, but I just can’t bring myself to talk about turkey and turkey leftovers this close to Thanksgiving! So I’ll go with the ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters that Walmart has for $5.90 a bag, or 59 cents a pound. This comes to about 59 cents (let’s call it 60 cents) a quarter, or about 60 cents per cup of cooked meat. I’ve talked about chicken several times already, here and here and here and about turkey breast, which can be used interchangeably with chicken in most recipes that call leftover or cooked chicken. I talk about chicken a lot because it’s about the cheapest meat there is, on a regular basis. (Though I just this morning realized that I got about two and a half cups of cooked hamburger per pound of 73% lean ground beef, which cost me $1.87 per pound, and that comes out to about 75 cents a cup, which isn’t all that much more than the chicken, and I think it has more calories (energy dense foods are good, as long as they are also nutritious) and nutrition than the chicken. I’m going to have to reconsider my idea that chicken is cheaper than ground beef! But that’s for another day.)

I don’t know if it was real or not, but they used to say that a lot of families had a pretty regular rotation of menus. Maybe a roast on Sunday, chicken on Monday, spaghetti on Tuesday, pork on Wednesday, meatloaf on Thursday, fish on Friday, and pizza on Saturday. Or whatever. We didn’t, when I was growing up, but I have seen cookbooks built around this theme. It wasn’t always exactly the same – there might be two or three different recipes for spaghetti or maybe it would be lasagna instead sometime – but “Mom” had a lot of the meal planning down pat. A similar type of arrangement that I’ve heard about more recently is to come up with 28 menus and then to rotate them. You’re eating each menu once a month. Or sometimes it’s only 14 menus, and then you’re eating each one every two weeks. Whichever way it goes, people have been eating the same thing over and over and over for a long, long time!

Anyway, here are some ways of cooking chicken that you probably never even thought of. The first couple are from Peg Bracken’s The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. Most of her recipes are very easy and (almost, at least) fool-proof, even for you who don’t like to cook or don’t know how. The problem that I have with her recipes is that a lot of them use processed foods. Which makes sense, of course. If you hate to cook, you’re going to want to take shortcuts where you can. Unfortunately, those shortcuts usually involve processed foods with lots of unpronounceable ingredients and too much salt and sugar. For all of these recipes, you can pull the skin off before you cook the legs, if you don’t like flabby skin on your cooked chicken. Because all of these cook in sauce and/or are covered, you’re not going to get crispy skin. If you do pull of the skin, be sure to make GRIBENES out of it.

5 MINUTE CHILI CHICKEN calls for a fourth of a jar of Chili Seasoning. Or you can make your own CHILI SEASONINGReally, the only significant cost is the chicken, if you make your own seasoning mix. Those tiny dabs of herbs and spices will cost next to nothing, and the same with the vinegar. (Be sure to buy the herbs and spices at either Walmart or Aldi. You can get most of them at Walmart for 64 cents a jar, and the others you can get at Aldi for 99 cents a jar. And a jar will last a long long time.) Let’s say 65 cents for two pieces, a thigh and a drumstick. How about half a can of green beans (49 cents a can at Aldi, or 25 cents per serving for two servings) and some COLESLAW to go with it? The cost of the meal per person comes to about $1.20, and it’s a lot of food. Or use your own favorite coleslaw recipe, or just lettuce with some dressing. It should come to about the same cost per serving.

The next recipe, COCA-CHICKEN, also from Peg Bracken’s The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book, sounds even more unlikely. But we’re looking for something different, right? Anyway, it’s cheap and it’s easy and you probably have all the ingredients on hand, except for the chicken. Sorry, but I don’t know of any way to make the Coke or ketchup this one calls for! How much is a can of Coke these days? A lot, if you just buy a single can, not so much if you buy a case or a liter bottle. Let’s say 50 cents for the Coke, shall we? And about 20 cents for the ketchup ($1.29 for 40 ounces at Aldi, the last time I looked), plus 60 cents each for the leg quarters or $2.40 for the chicken. So that’s a total of about $3.10 for the whole thing, or just under 80 cents per serving. We’ll just call it 80 cents per person. And what do you serve with Coke and ketchup besides French fries, which we’re not doing? Darned if I know! How about green beans again, and lettuce with Thousand Island dressing? Or whatever kind of dressing you have on hand. 25 cents per person for the green beans, and another 30 cents each for a quarter of a head of lettuce, and another 10 cents for the dressing brings it to $1.45 per person, though you could probably get away with smaller servings of the lettuce. Depends on how big the heads are.

Why not go all the way with Peg Bracken? One more recipe from that same book. Which, incidentally, is really a conglomeration of The I Hate to Cook Book, Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book, and The I Hate to Cook Almanack. Hence, The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book.  SOUPERCHICKEN is a more conventional sort of recipe, calling for condensed soup. There are a lot of recipes like that out there. Her recipe calls for 2 to 3 pounds of chicken pieces, a can of condensed mushroom soup, a can of condensed onion soup, and 2/3 cup of dry white wine. I’ll give my own version of it, making my own condensed cream of mushroom and cream of onion soups.

The chicken comes to $2.40, plus another 50 cents or so for the sauce, assuming you use homemade chicken broth and use water instead of wine. Figure another 50 cents if you’re using canned chicken broth or wine. Say $3.40 for it all, or 85 cents a serving. You’re going to get a good 4 cups of sauce out of it, by the time the juices cook out of the chicken, so a thigh, a drumstick, plus the sauce will be a lot of food. You’ll want something to go with it, though. How about serving it over a bed of broccoli? Half a pound of broccoli per person is 50 cents (99 cents at Walmart for a pound of frozen broccoli cuts), which brings it to a total of $1.35 per person.

So there you have it. Three new ways to cook chicken legs, plus a recipe for Chili Seasoning (which you can make ahead and have on hand for making chili) and three menus for big, satisfying, healthy (mostly!) and nutritious meals for between $1.20 and $1.45 per person.

Happy cooking and eating!

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