Penny Wise, Pound Wise
Bulk buying saves money but demands savvy kitchen tactics.
Perhaps your problem used to be that you didn't have enough time to make a homemade meal for your family or friends. In this new economy, if you're like everyone I know, you don't have the money or the yearning to eat out. Buying and cooking in bulk can save both money and time. Price clubs, and now grocery stores, sell boneless chicken breasts in bulk (usually 6- to 7-pound packages), but to be efficient, you'll need a strategy, which I have: In three short hours, you can transform your haul into Curried Chicken Salad for today, Newfangled Classic Chicken Noodle Soup for the next few days, and Moroccan Chicken for the freezer. To be truly industrious, head to a price club with a friend for, say, boneless pork, flank steak, or broccoli florets, and then trade finished dishes.
Curried Chicken Salad
I often add lightly toasted nuts, dried fruits, cucumbers, or pomegranate seeds, and tuck the salad inside pita for sandwiches.
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons low-fat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons mango chutney
1 tablespoon curry powder, or more to taste
2 celery ribs, diced or sliced crosswise
1 apple, peach, or mango, diced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro and/or basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
Place the chicken in a deep skillet or saucepan, cover with cold water (about 4 cups), and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Off heat, set aside for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over after 10. Remove the breasts with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool completely. Shred the chicken: You should have 3 ¾ to 4 cups.
Place the mayonnaise (and yogurt, if using), chutney, and curry powder in a medium-sized bowl and mix well. Add the chicken, celery, diced fruit, and cilantro and/or basil leaves, and mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 4 quarts
While the true classic is made with a whole chicken, here is a version that requires less time and effort but is still fabulous.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 Spanish onion, halved and finely chopped
3 celery stalks, sliced crosswise or diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced crosswise or diced
1½ teaspoons dried marjoram or 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh
1½ teaspoons dried rosemary or 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh
¾ teaspoon dried thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
3½ quarts chicken stock
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
¾ cup rice or small pasta (such as alphabets or orzo)
Place a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the butter or oil. When the butter has melted or the oil is hot, add the onion, celery, carrots, and -- if you are using dried herbs -- the marjoram, rosemary, and thyme. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low, add the chicken and cook, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and continue cooking the soup for 20 minutes.
When the chicken has cooled, shred it and return it to the soup pot. (The soup can be cooled and frozen at this point. To defrost: Place the frozen soup in a soup pot and cook over low heat until it has thawed. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then proceed with recipe.)
Add the rice or pasta, and if you are using fresh marjoram, rosemary, and thyme, add the herbs and cook until the rice or pasta is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
This subtly spiced chicken is superb served atop couscous with sliced almonds, mint, and cilantro.
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3 pounds), trimmed of fat and membrane and pounded to an even ½-inch thickness
Kosher salt and pepper
1 cup black Kalamata olives, for garnishing
1 well-washed lemon, thinly sliced, for garnishing
Place ¼ cup olive oil, garlic, cumin, ginger, turmeric, paprika, and cinnamon in a large bowl or a resealable plastic bag and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and mix again. You can cover or seal and refrigerate the marinating chicken for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days before cooking. Or you can freeze it (in which case, skip the step of marinating in the refrigerator) for up to 2 months. To thaw, simply leave the chicken-marinade mixture in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.
Discard the marinade. Dry chicken pieces. Sprinkle the chicken all over with 1½ teaspoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.
Place a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chicken breasts, skinned side down, one at a time, allowing the pan to reheat about 30 seconds between additions. Cook until the chicken is deeply browned and the juices run clear, 3 to 5 minutes per side. You will probably need to cook the chicken in 2 batches.
Serve immediately, garnished with olives and lemon slices.