Friday, June 6, 2014

Chicken Thighs, and the Weekly Specials with Mary Anne

It’s getting harder and harder to come up with complete suppers for $1.50 per person. I’m still shooting for that, and I’m still going to focus on supper, but I’m going to include either one breakfast or one lunch meal each week, too. I call it supper, because that’s what we called the evening meal when I was growing up and that’s what I still call it today. “Dinner” to me is a special meal that can be served either at noon or at night, like Thanksgiving Dinner or Christmas Dinner or sometimes a special dinner when there’s company. But for just the family, it’s supper.

The average food stamp benefit in Indiana in 2014, after the 5.5% cut the end of 2013, is about $4.15 per person per day, or $125.00 for the month. “They” usually put that in terms of just under $1.40 per meal, but that seems silly to me. The way most of us eat in America, the meals just don’t cost the same. Instead, I figure $1.50 for supper, $1.25 for lunch, and $1.00 for breakfast. That comes to $112.50 for the month. The extra $12.50 is to cover the cost of things that you have to buy more of than you need that month, like the whole jar of mayo when you only need part of a jar.

I’m going to shoot for no more than 50 cents per person for breakfast and no more than $1.00 per person for lunch, which would leave some extra for supper when there just isn’t anything on sale. Or for a snack some days, if you’re so inclined. At least to start with, I’m going to stick with not including breads and other starches, like I do for supper. That means I won’t say to just eat a bowl of oatmeal, or a peanut butter sandwich. You already know that you can eat cheap meals that way. My breakfasts and lunches will be eggs, meat, cheese, veggies, and sometimes other dairy and/or fruit.

But, since I do still rely on the sales – such as they are! – for my recipes and menus, here they are.

First of all, don’t forget the Farmers Market, especially if you have Food Stamps! You can double your Food Stamps by converting up to $18 a week of them into Market Bucks. You get two Market Bucks for each Food Stamp dollar, up to a total of Market Bucks per week. Then you can use the Market Bucks to shop anywhere at either the main Saturday market or the Tuesday market. Food at the Farmers Market isn’t cheap when compared with grocery store food, but it is healthier, supports the local producers and is better for the environment. And the Market Bucks makes the Farmers Market prices competitive with the conventionally produced, less fresh and frequently shipped thousands of miles food you buy at the grocery stores.

Aldi has mangos for 39 cents each, multi-colored peppers for 50 cents each in the three packs ($1.49 per pack), Tomatoes on the Vine for 99 cents for 24 ounces, or about 65 cents a pound, and blueberries for $1.49 per pint. These prices are good through Tuesday, June 10.

Marsh has chicken drumsticks or thighs for 87 cents a pound in the family packs. There’s more meat on a thigh (less waste) but there’s something extra satisfying about gnawing on a drumstick. I guess the kid in me still hasn’t grown up. Sour cream is $1.39 a pint after a 50 cent ecoupon. Prices are good through Wednesday, June 11.

Kroger has Roma tomatoes for 99 cents a pound, limes for 79 cents each, and two bunches of cilantro for 99 cents. Eggplant and English cucumbers (the long skinny “seedless” kind) are 99 cents each. Prices are good through Wednesday, June 11.

IGA has whole boneless pork loin for $1.99 per pound, and they’ll cut and package it for free. There’s a limit of two “with additional purchase” but it doesn’t say how much that additional purchase has to be. The special on pork is only good through Saturday, June 7. They also have salad dressings four for $5.00, or $1.25. This price is good through Sunday, June 8.

This week’s supper recipes and menus will feature the chicken thighs for 87 cents a pound from Marsh. Two average thighs, including bone and skin, run about three-quarters of a pound, or twelve ounces, according to something I read online, which would be three pounds for a family of four. They vary considerably in size, though. I’m going to figure on about a pound of raw chicken thighs, with bone and skin, per person. That should be between two and three thighs and something over a cup of boneless skinless cooked chicken. However, I’m also going to give myself some leeway because I’ll be figuring the costs based on four pounds of chicken instead of three.

The first recipe, GARLIC LIME CHICKEN, combines garlic, lime juice and herbs to make a tangy marinade. Chances are you have everything but the lime juice and the coriander (and the chicken, of course) on hand. Get the lime juice in the bottle, like ReaLemon, only lime. There should be a store brand that’s cheaper the ReaLemon brand. Either one will be cheaper than fresh lime juice, which would of course be best. Kroger has fresh limes on sale this week for 75 cents each, and there’s about two tablespoons of juice in a medium lime. That means that it would take about four limes, or $3.00, to get the half cup of juice that the recipe calls for. (That’s according to, by the way, a site I use a lot. It usually doesn’t make a lot of difference how many cups or tablespoons or ounces in a piece of produce, but sometimes it does, like here where we’re relying on the lime juice for a big part of the flavor. Or when I’m trying to figure out how many cups of cabbage I’ll get from “half a medium head of cabbage” – which is four cups of shredded cabbage, or eight cups from a medium head which is two pounds. In case you’re wondering.)

The chicken is going to cost about $4.80, which only leaves $1.20 for the rest of the meal. A can of green beans is 49 cents at Aldi, and half a head of lettuce is 55 cents, also at Aldi, the last time I checked. Two tablespoons of salad dressing per person, or half a cup total, is 35 cents at Aldi. That comes to a total of about $6.20, which is just a bit more than my goal of $1.50 per person, or $6.00 for a family of four. But then the chicken thighs will probably run a bit less than eight ounces each, so there should be a small savings there. It should come in at right about $6.00.

Mark Bittman is perhaps best known for his How to Cook Everything: 2000 Simple Recipes for Good Food. It’s a huge book – 1056 pages, and the shipping weight, according to Amazon, is 4.6 pounds! The next recipe, DEVILED CHICKEN OR PORK CHOPS, comes from a smaller cookbook, his The Best Recipes in the World, which is only 768 pages, with a shipping weight of only 3.9 pounds. The original recipe calls for EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), but pure olive oil is cheaper and I can’t tell the difference. If you have EVOO and you want to use it, I’m sure Mark Bittman (and Rachael Ray) would approve.

The olive oil and mustard will run about 50 cents, and the chicken will run between $2.60 and $3.50. Let’s say $3.00 for the chicken, bringing the total cost of the dish to $3.50. How about an ear of corn each ($1.34 at IGA through Sunday, or $1.49 at Aldi through Tuesday), to go with it, and MANGO SALSA, which, with mangos and cilantro on sale, should be about $1.00. Total cost for the meal – right at $6.00, or $1.50 per person.

Have you ever read those articles in women’s magazines about dishes you can whip up from things you always have in your pantry, fridge and freezer? I don’t know whose pantry, fridge and freezer they’ve been looking in, but it seems like there are a lot things that “everyone” has that I don’t have, and sometimes never have had. Anyway, The $21 Challenge is a lot like those articles. The idea behind the book and the website is that most of us have enough bits and pieces in our pantries, fridges and freezers to feed our families for a week with just $21 and some creativity. They give several recipes using those things that “we all” have on hand, including this recipe for FRENCH ONION CHICKEN. The original recipe calls for a packet of Onion Soup mix, and you can use a packet if you have one. Or you can make your own for a fraction of the cost of the commercial mix. Don’t forget that you can buy most herbs and spices a lot more cheaply by buying tiny dabs of them from Bloomingfoods than by buying the cans or jars at the grocery stores.

Using four pounds of chicken thighs (don’t forget to save the skin to make CHICKEN CHIPS) and homemade Onion Soup Mix, a batch of this will cost about $4.75. Serve it with COLESLAW for another 20 cents per person, or 80 cents. And you’ve got the tomatoes and onion that the chicken cooked in that you can serve as a hot vegetable. You might want to add another can of tomatoes to the sauce and cook it just long enough to heat it through. You may need it, and then again you may not. If you do, it will cost another 59 cents (at Aldi) and bring the total to about $6.15, or to right about $6.00 if your chicken thighs are bit less than 8 ounces each.

Budget Breakfast – Breakfast for 50 Cents per Person

And now for the inexpensive breakfast. I’ll keep it really simple since this is the first week. Three eggs scrambled in 2 teaspoons of butter comes to within fractions of a penny of 50 cents and is a filling and nutritious breakfast. Eggs are supposed to be cheaper during the summer, but it sure hasn’t happened this year. They were 79 cents a dozen at Aldi around Easter (admittedly, they were on sale then) and they’re $1.69 a dozen now. Almost double. They’re still a good source of protein and lots of other nutrients, though, and they’re very flexible. I go through a lot of them.

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