A whole chicken is a marvelous way to produce three (or more) meals inexpensively and with little time on your part. Here’s how we do it.

Night One: Roast Chicken Dinner

3.5-4.5lb chicken

2 Tbl pesto, OR

lemon and 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 tsp salt

Remove neck and innards; discard innards but put neck in the freezer for now. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

If using pesto: take about 1/2 Tbl in your (clean) hand and run underneath the skin on the breast up into the thigh area, smearing the pesto on the flesh. Repeat on the other thigh, then all over the breast area. Rub any remaining pesto on the outside of the chick, any where there is flesh. If using lemon: wash lemon and carefully pierce several times with a fork (this helps release the lemon essence while cooking). Place in cavity. Rub exterior with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. (I don’t like pepper, but you can use it if you do.) Its a good idea to tie the legs together with a bit of twine, it helps keep the moisture in the cavity and improves flavor.

Place in roasting pan on a rack (this keep the chicken from sitting in its own juices, which makes the bottom kind of soggy) and put in oven. Roast until done, about 60 minutes (check after 50 minutes though, because oven temperatures can vary widely).

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes (this is the perfect time to make a salad to go with the chicken). Carve, discard lemon (if used) and enjoy.

Night Two: Creamed Chicken with Grits alternative: Chicken Salad (for warm weather)

Now, having used up all of the meat, make Chicken Stock

Place chicken bones and neck (retrieved from the freezer, but you don’t have to defrost it) in a large heavy pan. Add water to just cover. Add a celery stalk, a medium carrot, and an skinned onion. (For a subtle flavor, push a clove bud or two into the flesh of the onion). Halve the vegetables if you need them to fit more easily in your pot. Cover and simmer over low heat for 4-6 hours until the liquid is reduced by at least 1/3. Let cool for 30 minutes, then strain and pour into wide-mouth jars or old yogurt containers. Cover and let cool for another 30 minutes.

If you want to reduce the fat, place in refrigerator overnight. The next morning, skim off the fat that has risen to the top and solidified. Label and freeze. Otherwise, just label and freeze.

Night Three: Easy Chicken Soup using Chicken Stock

1 c chicken, cubed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock,

1 carrot, chopped smallish

1 celery rib, chopped smallish

1/2 onion, chopped smallish

1 c egg noodles (or other pasta, adjust amount to suit the style)

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except noodles in a medium sauce pan over high heat until just coming to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 8 minutes at a low simmer. Add noodles and cook another 5 until carrots are crisp tender.

One chicken: three meals. That is a very frugal bird.

The other night I didn’t feel like cooking, but wanted to eat something based on berries. I was hungry, so I didn’t want to wait too long. Although a Dutch Baby would qualify (and yummily so), I didn’t have enough eggs. Time to be creative.

I found a box of cornbread/muffin mix (you know the brand, its the little blue box and is exceedingly cheap). I try to keep a box or two on hand because it makes the best topper for my chicken pot pie (and much healthier than pastry). It only required 1/3 cup of milk and a single egg — I had that on hand. In the freezer I found a bag of mixed berries from Trader Joe’s — 16 oz. of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

I put the frozen berries into an 8×8 glass baking dish and sprinkled 1/3 cup of sugar on top. I added 2 tsp cinnamon and 2 Tbl cornstarch, then stirred until the berries were coated fairly evenly. In a bowl I mixed the cornbread batter and increased the milk to 1/2 cup — I wanted the batter to be a bit thinner than usual. The key to this mix is to not overbeat it (which is true for all quickbreads) and I was careful to stop just before I thought it was completely mixed. I poured the batter over the berries, made sure the top was almost completely covered, and then baked at 400 degrees for 25 minutes (which is a little longer than the cornbread recipe calls for, but I figures the frozen berries would need more time. If using fresh, or defrosted, I’d cut the time to 20 minutes).

The berries were bubbling up on the sides (like they do with a good pie or cobbler) and the top was a pale golden brown. I let it sit for about 20 minutes to cool and then ate 1/4 of it with a spoon from a bowl.

It was SO good. A little sweet, but not like a dessert, and nourishing. It was pretty inexpensive (the mixed berries can be expensive, but I buy a bunch of them in the late summer and keep them in the extra freezer, so I saved there as well), and I’d have no problem serving this to company. It would be easy enough to make the cornbread from scratch, thereby making this 100% homemade.

A few weeks ago, I’d asked J. to pick up a mix of root veggies so we could have them with various upcoming meals. He got a couple of sweet potatoes, garnet yams, russet potatoes, yukon golds (about 1 lb) and a couple of butternut squash. The law of cooking being what it is in my household, we ate one butternut and just haven’t gotten to the rest.

(Yeah, I know “just haven’t gotten to it” is a very lame excuse. It’s only redeeming value is that it is also true.)

Yesterday morning I quickly glanced through our pantry and fridge to make sure we weren’t going to have a lot of rotting things greeting us when we return from SF. (Virgo, aka A/R, alert: We’re not leaving till Sunday, so this meant I could use up stuff over the course of 4-5 meals.) The sight of all that lovely starch made me very sad and I resolved to do my best to do something with all of it before we left.

At first I was tempted to just cook it and mash it, because $5 dinners did it. But then I realized I wasn’t sure how well it would freeze. So when I ran to the (fantabulous) Metro Market for lunch, I tried to think of something to make. A row of fresh-pressed apple cider caught my eye, and I decided to cook a pork roast with cider and use the sweet potatoes and yams (don’t you know its a fundamental precept of the universe that pork+cider+sweet potato = YUM? It is. Unless you’re a vegetarian.)

A quick chat with the lovely meat lady, and I was handed 4 pounds of pork shoulder. “Do you have anything smaller?” I asked, “it’s just my partner and I.” No problem, she just cut it in half. I added that cider to my basket and went home. (Lunch, if you must know, was lox, bagel, smoked gouda, and an apple.)

Once home I started looking for a recipe, but ended up combining two. One was a Pork & Pumpkin Stew (from Gourmet magazine, October 1991) and the other my old favorite Winter Squash and Chicken Stew with Indian Spices.

My recipe is this:

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups cider
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound garnet yams, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • In a cast iron Dutch oven heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Brown the pork, patted dry, in two batches, transferring it with a slotted spoon to a bowl as it is browned.

    Add the onions to the kettle, cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are golden, then stir in the garlic. (This keeps the garlic from burning.) Add the cider, the broth, and the pork with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Bring the mixture to a boil, and braise the stew, covered, in the middle of a preheated 350° F. oven for 1 hour.

    Stir in the sweet potatoes, yams, and spices. Continue braising, covered, for 45 minutes or until the yams are tender. Remove from oven and cool just enough to eat.

    This is a magnificent stew: rich, hearty, spicy and sweet. The starches have basically dissolved enough to make a rich ‘creamy’ sauce, and the pork is meltingly tender. So good. So very very good.