Recently a relative face-booked that he was eating Ramen. That got me to thinking about those times when you need to feed your family for only a few dollars a week.
Here's a week of seriously frugal dinners. They take some planning and forethought but you'll probably be able to spend less than $20 total. I'm going to include recipes for Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Noodle Stew, Red Beans, Fried Rice and a basic plan to follow. (Rico rice is on sale at Publix this week, three pounds for .99 cents.)
When you have time, roast the chicken (an hour or so); take the meat off the bones (half an hour--save bones); make the stock (an hour and a half); make all the white rice (half an hour); cook the red beans (and later, the pinto beans) in your slow cooker (soak six hours, then cook eight hours). Of course, very little of that time is active work.
Some of the things you will need:
3 lbs. of potatoes
1 lb. dry red beans
1 lb. dry pinto beans
2 lbs. white rice
1 lb. fresh carrots
1 bunch of celery
1 head of garlic
1 whole chicken
a few cups of all-purpose flour
a bag of frozen peas
a bell pepper (a frozen bag is often cheaper)
bag of noodles
*Potato soup and homemade bread (or from the bread store)--save a little boiled potato for Chicken Pot Pie.
Soup is a chopped onion and peeled and chopped potatoes, cooked in water, then mashed in the liquid to make soup, with salt and pepper. For added flavor, use a little milk or cream, or ham.
*Chicken Pot Pie (basic recipe follows)
*Red beans and rice (basic recipe follows).
--Make extra white rice (2 cups raw and four cups water, and refrigerate for Fried Rice later in the week.)
*Chicken Noodle Stew (basic recipe follows)
*Refried beans (made from dried pintos) in homemade tortillas with caramelized onions (pan-fry sliced onions in a little butter or oil until very tender add a diced jalapeño to the onions if desired). Link to a tortilla recipe
*Fried rice (basic recipe follows)
How to cook dry beans in a slow cooker: Rinse and pick through beans, discarding foreign objects. Place in a bowl (or crock pot) and cover with water plus two inches. Do not salt. Refrigerate if your house is warm so bacteria can't grow. Soak for six hours. Drain beans. Place in crock pot and cover beans with water plus two or three more inches. Cover and cook on low eight hours. If you do this overnight, cool and store cooked beans in the fridge until you are ready to use them. For refried pinto beans, smash tender beans with a fork or food processor and reheat with a little oil or butter and salt.
Roast the chicken: Remove giblet bag, place in a zip-top bag, label, and freeze for another use. Roast the chicken. Cool and take meat off bones to use in two other recipes. Save carcass for Chicken Noodle Stew, below.
Chicken Noodle Stew:
Boil the chicken carcass in a large pot of water (about 12 cups) with a carrot, a stalk of celery, half an onion, a bay leaf and a clove or two of garlic, and season with salt and pepper, and then turn it down and simmer for at least an hour. The point is to extract all flavor from the bones and vegetables. Cool for less than two hours (to prevent bacterial growth), then transfer to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate. The next day, take the chicken fat off the broth (it will be congealed on the surface). Save the fat (it freezes too) to use in the pie crust for chicken pot pie (instead of shortening). Strain the broth, carefully picking out the rest of the chicken meat, and discard the solids. Reserve two or three cups of broth for gravy for the Chicken Pot Pie.
In a large pot, melt one or two tablespoons of fat (vegetable oil, olive oil, bacon fat, or chicken fat) and sauté a chopped onion, two chopped carrots, a stalk of diced celery and a clove of garlic for six to ten minutes (don't brown). Pour the chicken broth and whatever chicken meat you just picked off the carcass into the pot. Season with salt and pepper (and a teaspoon of herbs such as thyme or marjoram, optional). Bring to a boil, add a package of noodles (wide egg noodles or thin, your choice). Reduce heat and simmer until noodles and veggies are tender. Serve with crackers or bread.
Chicken Pot Pie
Make a pie crust using the chicken fat: In large bowl, using fingers, a pastry blender, or two forks, mix 1 cup all purpose flour, half a teaspoon of salt and five tablespoons of cold chicken fat or shortening. (You can also use a food processor.) Mix in a tablespoon of ice water at a time, a total of two to three tablespoons. (If using processor, pulse in the water.) The dough should come together in a ball. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for a few minutes. Dust a board or waxed paper with some flour, roll out the dough thin and cut into strips, or squares if desired.
Melt a tablespoon or two of chicken fat (or other fat) in a large pot, and add one or two diced carrots, a diced stalk of celery, a diced onion, and two cloves of chopped garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, seasonings if you have them (such as poultry seasoning, sage, or thyme), and two or three tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly. Pour in the two or three cups of reserved chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, to thicken, which should only take five minutes or less. Add in the reserved chopped boiled potato and any other vegetables such as canned or frozen peas and canned or frozen corn. Add two cups of chopped, reserved chicken. Pour into a baking pan and cover with strips or squares of pie crust. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.
The secret is starting with cooked, cooled rice. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Stir-fry a finely diced carrot for a few minutes, and whatever additional vegetables you like, such as sliced celery, mushrooms, bell peppers, or broccoli. Add leftover rice and stir-fry until rice starts looking a bit dry and separated, and add leftover chopped cooked chicken to warm it up, plus some frozen peas and/or other frozen vegetables. Push rice to the side (or pour it into a bowl temporarily) and pour two beaten eggs to the empty side of the skillet, and scramble and chop them. Stir in rice mixture, some soy sauce, and a chopped green onion.
Slow Cooker Red Beans
Soak a 1 lb. bag of red beans in water to cover by two inches in the refrigerator overnight. Drain. Turn slow cooker to high, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil, bacon fat, or olive oil. Add a finely chopped onion and a finely chopped stalk to celery and two or three cloves of chopped garlic, and cook for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Options if you have them: bay leaf, thyme, parsley, teaspoon of liquid smoke, a piece of pork such as a ham bone, a pinch of cayenne. Add beans and cover with water by two inches. Cook on high eight hours. You may need to add more water, but the more you uncover the crock pot, the longer it will take. Add salt and pepper (or cajun spice) at the very end. Mash the beans and serve over hot white rice. It's really best to make this the day (or night) before and heat it up--that way if the beans aren't tender you won't have to wait all evening to eat.