Welcome to Frugal Fridays! This is the first in an ongoing series of posts where I'll discuss some surefire ways to keep cash in your pocket.
My very first tip? Buy your chickens whole and use the whole chicken.
Though I'm pretty tight-fisted, I never bother to buy cheap food. It might be less expensive at the cash register, but in every other way, cheap food costs us - environmentally, health-wise, taste-wise, and in the (in)humane treatment of animals. We eat a lot of delicious lentils, of course, but when we splurge out on animal products, I like to make it as cost-effective as possible.
The price of a skinless, boneless organically-raised chicken breast at our local food co-op is somewhere between $8 - $11 dollars. The price of an entire chicken is about $20 - $25. In the summertime, we buy our chickens fresh and hack them to pieces in our very own kitchen, but in the winter, we roast the chicken with lots of garlic and a lemon stuffed up the cavity and revel in leftovers.
After picking all the meat off the bones and boiling down the carcass (and vegetable peelings!) for stock, I generally have about a pint's worth of chicken pieces and several cups of very thick stock. I sometimes use these separately, but on wintery weeks like this one, our whole family looks forward to chicken soup and dumplings. This was my grandmother's dumpling recipe and I remember calling up my dad and getting him to read it to me over the phone after I moved out.
Here's what you need:
For the soup
- two or three cups of stock
- two cups of chicken pieces
- four or five carrots, chopped
- half a dozen potatoes, peeled and chopped
- a couple of onions, peeled and chopped
- half a stalk of celery, chopped
- salt, pepper
- a bit of white wine (if you don't use wine, you need a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to "brighten" the taste)
- water to cover
Note that giving amounts is a little odd because this recipe really works on proportions. You're looking to have approximately the same amount of each major ingredient and enough liquid to make it soupy. If you didn't roast your original chicken with more than twenty cloves of garlic (don't knock it til you try it), you might want to add a couple of minced cloves to the soup.
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer on the stove for several hours. (Of course you can throw all of this in a crockpot in the morning or cover and put in the oven. But you must bring the soup to a boil on the stove to make the dumplings. Fair warning!)
*** Don't saute the onions and garlic or try to brown anything as a first step. The long, slow simmer will make everything meld together anyway and throwing everything in and leaving it is far, far easier.***
For the dumplings
- 1 cup flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons oil (I just skip the oil entirely -- sorry, grandma!)
Make sure that your soup is looking fairly liquid-y, as the dumplings will thicken it as they cook. (Adjust with water if you need to.) Bring the soup to a boil. Whisk the dumpling ingredients together until a batter is formed (a little thicker than pancake batter). Drop the batter, by spoonfuls, into the boiling soup and cover with a lid. Turn the stove down to medium heat and leave for 10 minutes. Don't peek! The dumplings need to steam in order to be fluffy.
When the timer goes off, yell for all of your kids, carry the soup to the table, and break up fights about who had the most dumplings.