Now that we're on to Fall, I'm thinking of all the cozy recipes I want to make this season! I tend to cook more frugally during the cooler weather months, as I can bake my bread and fix my soups without roasting to death in the Arkansas heat and humidity!
Last night, I had a hankering for chicken and gravy on mashed potatoes. This is a super frugal and filling meal idea inspired by my mom---a woman who can put together a tasty meal with literally anything in her kitchen. Using a homemade gravy, I can feed this to my family of 11 (including five teenagers!) for about $6.00 (with leftovers!)
One frugal cooking tip I've learned is that I don't usually have to use the exact cut of meat a recipe calls for. When I shop for meat, I usually look for the most bang for my buck---cutting up a full chuck roast for stew meat, using ground breakfast sausage for pizzas, etc. I've found that the best chicken option in my area is this 10 lb. bag of thigh and leg quarters that I can buy at Walmart for less than $5. After deboning, this yields about 9 cups of chicken---plenty for several meals! With a little extra work, I'm saving a lot of money by cooking, deboning, and freezing this meat every month. Plus, I have more than enough chicken stock for soups, gravies, and more, when I save the cooking liquid.
I start by pouring the bag of chicken into a large stock pot. (I'm pretty sure this one is 14 quarts.) I like to hold the bag over the pot and cut the bottom. This is the least messiest way I've found to handle this juicy mess! I fill the pot with water to cover about four inches over the chicken. Then I put the lid on and let it boil on the stove for at least 60 minutes.
After about 45 minutes, I poke the chicken thighs in a couple places with a long fork and let them continue cooking. When they run clear after poking, I know they're done. I remove each piece with a long fork and lay them in a pan to begin cooling. I use a slotted spoon to remove any large skin, fat, or chicken pieces floating in the water, and then ladle the broth into freezer containers. I let the containers sit on the counter for awhile to cool before putting the lids on and putting them away in the freezer for later meals.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, I begin deboning it. This really isn't as long a process as it might seem. I set the pan of cooked chicken to the left, put a pan in the middle for the bones and skin, and put a bowl on the right for the chicken. I often turn on an encouraging video or Bible recording to listen to while I do tasks like these to make them not seem so time consuming.
At this point, I would normally use some of the broth to make a gravy like this: homemade chicken gravy. I'd recommend at least a half cup of gravy per one cup of chicken. Weirdly, I was out of salt---who runs out of salt?? Ha! Even more weirdly, I happened to have two jars of turkey gravy in my cupboard. I don't really even remember why I bought them, but I was thankful because gravy without salt is...gross.
I measured out into a bowl the amount of chicken I thought my family would eat and poured the jarred gravy on top. Then I took a little broth in each and swished it around to get the last dregs of gravy and poured that in the bowl too. I stirred it all up and set it aside to top the mashed potatoes.
While the chicken was cooking, I had Lynzie peel about five pounds of potatoes. That's how much it takes to feed this crowd, usually. When we have leftover mashed potatoes, Lynzie forms them into patties, dips them in flour, and fries them in oil, salting and peppering both sides. This is another yummy recipe she learned from my mom and it's one of her favorite breakfast ideas.
After the potatoes were mashed, we had a delicious and filling dinner, followed by a Bible study prepared by Daddy. What a great night!
I actually mixed all nine cups of chicken with gravy last night so we had a whole pan of leftovers for tonight's dinner. Jamie and I planned to order a special Mexican dinner for ourselves, so I picked up another jar of gravy to mix in and the kids ate it on bread tonight as open-face hot sandwiches. However, like I said above, nine cups of chicken is enough for several recipes. Here are some other recipe ideas that use any kind of chicken:
Chicken Garden Salad -- Toss with seasoning and top a fresh vegetable salad
Chicken Salad Sandwiches -- Mix with mayonnaise and diced celery for a quick sandwich option.
Fiesta Burritos -- I like making these a couple days after I've served tacos because we often have leftover toppings in small quantities. Fill a tortilla with chicken, beans, cheese, or other favorite toppings and warm in the oven a few minutes. Then add tomatoes, lettuce, olives, salsa, sour cream, and more for a filling lunch idea.
Dumpling Soup -- Save the cooking broth in the fridge for this one! Pour 8-10 cups of broth into a pot and salt as desired. Begin warming the broth while you mix up a dumpling batter. Mix 2 c. flour, 4 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 c. milk or water. Once the broth is boiling, drop the batter by spoonfuls into the boiling broth. It will only take a few minutes to cook the dumplings. If you want to add meat or vegetables like potatoes, carrots, or an onion, do so before dropping the dumplings in.
Chicken Pot Pie -- Mix chicken with gravy and frozen mixed vegetables. Pour into a dish and cover with biscuit batter. You can use a pre-made mix like Bisquick, refrigerated biscuits in a roll, or make a homemade batter like this one at Harvest Lane Cottage. You can add a little extra milk to make it runnier and easier to pour on your chicken mixture.