In the Kitchen

The Frugal Gourmet

Get Smart: Use Everything

Part of every professional chef’s training involves being frugal with food. Waste is expensive, careless and totally unnecessary. Using every part of a vegetable, either for the dish being prepared or using the scraps to flavor soup or stock, not only makes sense financially, but it also adds flavor and complexity to the food served. Saving the unused portions from a main course such as a roast and making soup or stew the next day is always smart.
Today, with the economy in such turmoil, it makes even more sense to apply this philosophy to your family food expenses. Many families are looking to save money and buy as intelligently as possible, and for some these decisions have become not just prudent but absolutely necessary. Food expenses are a big part of every budget, and being cautious with food dollars saves you more than you might think. Just remember, being thrifty does not mean being cheap; it means being wise, creative and thoughtful in planning meals, buying, preparing and serving food.
One food that is economical, flexible in preparation, nutritious and very tasty is chicken. You can cook a whole chicken one day and then use the leftover portions in limitless ways. Many times I have made three, four and sometimes even five different and delicious meals from one cooked chicken. This came in very handy when I had young children and very little money to spend on food. The challenge with children is to make the food seem “different” even when it contains the same basic ingredient. Even though I had no culinary training when my children were small, I developed ways to make leftover food nutritious, tasty and with enough variety to make meals interesting.
The accompanying chicken salad recipe is a dish using leftover cooked chicken that I fixed often for my family because it was a favorite with my children; it was easy to make; and I also liked it. The flexibility of using any variety of apple, any color seedless grapes or your favorite nuts, and the ability to use either white or dark meat add to the ease and simplicity. The celery, cheese, citrus and other flavoring make it seem like something special. Curry paste or powder in place of chipotle makes for yet another variation. After you use all of the meat from the chicken, just throw the carcass in a pot with some aromatic vegetables (carrots, celery and onion), cook for an hour or so, strain, and you have the basis for a delicious soup or sauce.
The next time you want to stretch your food dollars, try cooking a whole chicken, and then see how many other dishes you can create with the leftover portions. Experiment with herbs and seasonings your family likes, and you will find many delicious meals can be made from this single main ingredient.

Chicken Salad

3  cups of cooked chicken (white or dark meat), diced
2  cups seedless grapes (any color), halved
1  apple (any kind), cored and diced; leave the peeling on
2  cups celery, diced
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup regular mayonnaise
1  tablespoon minced chipotle chili with sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
4  cups of mixed seasonal salad greens
1  cup blue cheese, crumbled
4  tablespoons toasted pine nuts (or substitute any toasted nuts)

In a large bowl toss the first four ingredients. Add the lemon juice, mix thoroughly and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise and chipotle together until well blended. Add the flavored mayonnaise to the chicken mixture, and mix them together until everything is well coated. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed, with salt and pepper. Arrange the salad greens on individual plates as a bed for the chicken. Place one cup of the chicken salad on the lettuce leaves. Sprinkle the blue cheese and toasted pine nuts over the salad and serve. Serves four to six.

This article appears in the March-April 2009 issue of Alameda Magazine
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