Chicken Little

Is your grocery budget feeling the effects of the economy? I'm thankful I learned how to stretch the food dollar back when I had three little ones to feed. I scoured the store ads, came up with a menu, made a list, clipped my coupons and then headed out with the kids in tow, sometimes to as many as four grocery stores. Admittedly, gas was cheaper back then.

When chickens were 39 cents a pound, I loaded up my cart in triumph. It didn't take much  to make me happy in those days. Once home, I cut them up and packaged them strategically, boning the breasts for a company meal, freezing the wings until there was enough for Buffalo wings, cooked the legs and thighs that night, and then made the backs and scraps into chicken stock. I felt rich as a queen knowing what was tucked away in my freezer.

I still work the chicken magic; the other day I bought  boneless, skinless chicken breasts from Aldi – there were three half breasts in the package, total cost was around $4.49. With a wave of the chef's knife I transformed those three breasts into three meals for my husband and I.

The first night I threw together a meal that surprised me when I stopped to consider how inexpensive and tasty it was and with a few tricks, also totally suitable for guests. I started by pounding out the breasts then cutting them into four cutlets, dredging them first in flour, then eggs, and finally bread crumbs I made out of leftover homemade corn muffins. I sauteed them quickly in a dab of butter and oil. Here's the chicken before plating:

I served the chicken with rice and black beans. The cost of the rice is hardly worth calculating – I buy 20 pound bags from the neighborhood Mexican market, and it lasts forever. The beans, canned and already seasoned (yes, I make them from scratch sometimes, but hey, it was a Wednesday night and I'd just had a fight with my husband – he was lucky I was cooking at all) came from Aldi's too, and cost $.59 a can. I jazzed up the presentation a bit by molding the rice in a custard dish and centering on the plate. Here's what the finished dish looked like:

The whole meal took maybe half and hour.

The next night I used another breast for a Thai stir-fry dish and then marinated and grilled the final breast to top a main dish salad the following day. All with one little package of chicken breasts.

Nothing earth-shaking here, but any of these meals could easily have been served to company. All three were all simply and easily prepared without recipes, and doable on even the skimpiest budgets. Personally, I'd be happy with just the rice and beans, but I've got a MAN to feed.

What magic tricks are you performing in the kitchen these days?

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