Cheapskate Chicken: Every piece has a purpose

Every time I turn around, it seems like groceries get more expensive and I’m getting less ‘bang’ for my buck at checkout. I have a set grocery budget that must feed six people and I only shop once a month. I’m always trying to maximize the amount I can purchase within that and spread the love to all my families’ meals. I love finding ingredients that can cheaply be used to make multiple things, especially things that are key ingredients in multiple recipes. It makes me feel all giddy. Call it an obsession of mine. I know, I’m weird, and I’m totally OK with that.

One thing in particular I know has drastically gone up at the stores is meat, and I use A LOT of meats. Chicken, especially, has seen a price hike and I haven’t seen great sale prices in quite some time. I’ve always preferred boneless, skinless breasts, simply because I am also lazy, and try to find shortcuts in the kitchen so that making dinner from scratch every night isn’t always an entire evening affair. I do have kids I have to attend to after all.  In seeking out cheaper alternatives, on a whim, I decided to buy a $3.00 pack of two bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts about a year ago. I kept them in the freezer for some time since the prospect of de-boning was rather daunting. Finally, I decided to try cooking them like I would a whole chicken, in the crockpot, and the results were life changing! Or at least revolutionary in my kitchen. Enter: Cheapskate Chicken!  Now, from only one $3.00 package of chicken, with minimal (and I mean bare-minimum) prep, and just a handful of other kitchen staples, I get enough chicken for 3 meals that will feed all 6 of us, am able to make about a gallon and a half of chicken stock/broth, two packages of carrots, celery, and onions infused with flavor and ready to throw in your homemade soups, and even have meat to add in with our dog’s dry food for 2 weeks at a time. Interested yet?! I’ve never encountered a simpler multi-step process. Here goes.

Cheapskate Chicken

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  • one package bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
  • salt
  • pepper
  • whatever other dry seasonings you prefer

Directions

  1. Rinse, and pat dry, both chicken breasts
  2. Place them into the crockpot, skin side up
  3. Liberally salt and pepper the tops of the chicken breasts
  4. Add whatever other dry seasonings you’d like to add a hint of flavor to the meat. I prefer Montreal Chicken seasoning from McCormick. Occasionally, I will add in some minced garlic.
  5. Cover, and cook on high for about 4 hours, on low about 6 hours, or until meat is cooked through
  6. For easier removal from the crockpot (it’s so tender it has a tendency to just fall off the bone) turn your crockpot off and let the breasts cool before taking them out.

Don’t worry about your chicken burning or sticking to the bottom since you haven’t added any liquid. As the chicken cooks, the moisture it expels will collect on the bottom of your crockpot and prevent it. Not to mention the ‘dry’ cooking leaves the skin incredibly crisp and delicious. My kids always argue over who gets to eat the skin when it’s done!

Step 2: Pickin’ your chicken

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  1. Remove both breasts from your crock pot and place them on a clean surface, cutting board, plate, whatever you prefer.
  2. Pull all the meat you can find off your chicken, making sure to remove any bones that may come away with it. Place any bones in a bowl, along with the skin if you haven’t gobbled it up already like I do.
  3. Any meat you don’t want, whether it’s dark, fatty, whatever, either add to the bowl with your bones, or if you have a furry friend, place it in a zip lock bag to save for him/her, again being careful to remove any bones.
  4. Once you’ve picked your chicken clean, package up the meat you’ve kept, either in tupperware for the refrigerator or in freezer bags for the freezer in meal-size portions.
  5. If the chicken isn’t shredded enough for you, give it one quick spin in the food processor, or until your desired texture is reached.

Step 3: Homemade Chicken Stock

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Your crockpot is really going to get a workout today. You’re all ready to use it again! For this step you will need a few additional ingredients which I’ve listed below.

  •  chicken bones, skin, fat
  • 3 cups of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • water

Directions

  1. Throw your discarded chicken bones, fat, and skin back in your crockpot.
  2. Add in the prepared vegetables.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste, and add in any other spices you think your stock might need.
  4. Pour enough water over the vegetables to fill your crockpot about 1/2 inch from the top.
  5. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours.
  6. When cool, pour the contents of the crockpot into a strainer that has been placed inside of a large stew pot. Preferably, one that can rest on the edge of the pot so it’s sits up out of the liquid that separates from the solids.
  7. After draining, remove the strainer from over the pot and pick out all pieces of bones, skin, and fat and discard them.
  8. Package up the veggies to freeze to use as sides for meals, vegetables for soups, stews, and other recipes. Their juicy flavor is incredible, and will enhance any meal.
  9. Add enough water to fill the stock-pot until the desired consistency is reached. Thicker, darker broth is considered ‘stock’ and is typically a little more potent, the more watered-down is broth. Both are good and you will never want to buy the store-bought versions again.
  10. Refrigerate or freeze your broth and use as needed.

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I typically keep some broth in the fridge and freeze the rest. I save any old plastic containers, such as yogurt, sour cream, ricotta cheese, etc, with their lids since plastic containers can be re-used, and also allow for the expansion of the liquid when it freezes without breaking, shattering, or cracking.

If you prefer a leaner broth, let the entire stockpot full of broth cool in the refrigerator before packaging until the fat has congealed, or hardened. Using a spoon, skim any fat off the top of the broth. Then package.

Now, sit back and give yourself a pat on the back. Your family will think you’ve slaved away in the kitchen all day and all night, and sing your praises, but (SHHH!) you, your crockpot, and your pocket book will know the satisfying truth.

Lasagna Soup

While I love a traditional lasagna, I don’t always have time for that. Luckily, this lasagna soup is there to save the day. A mixture of ground beef & sausage in a soup pot with lasagna noodles, and all the traditional seasonings- it tastes just like lasagna. Served with a hunk of crusty bread, it’s the real deal.

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Rainbow Pasta

As our 3 year old is getting older, we’re working much harder on things he should know for school, especially the basics, such as letters, numbers, colors. He also loves making things with his hands and craft time. I figured rainbow pasta would be fun to use for a wide variety of crafts: necklaces, picture frames, learning to use glue, and of course, reinforcing colors! His favorite color is ‘greem’ so, of course, we made green pasta and then the primary colors. Start to finish this took maybe 20 minutes and was incredibly easy. Since my 3 year old still thinks his middle name is ‘Hoover’ and tries to eat everything I didn’t want to use rubbing alcohol to set the dye, even though that seemed to be the most common method. Instead, I used white vinegar. Grayson picked out bow tie, elbow, penne, and radiatore pastas to color. He helped with the entire project and thought it was ‘wonder-bull.’ You can also substitute rice for the pasta with the same great results for sensory activities as well as crafts.

Rainbow Pasta

  •  gallon zip lock bag
  • 1 1/2 cups pasta (your choice)
  • 5 drops food coloring of your choice
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • wax paper

Directions

  1. Pour the vinegar into the zip lock bag and add the food coloring. Swish the mixture around to get the vinegar and food coloring combined
  2. Add the dried pasta and seal the bag
  3. Lay the bag down onto a flat surface, counter top or kitchen table, and smooth out the pasta so it’s spread out flat within the bag
  4. Flip the bag every 5 minutes for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes remove the pasta from the bag, I used a slotted spoon, but most of the moisture was absorbed already, and spread the pasta out onto wax paper
  6. Try to prevent noodles from touching each other or they will dry stuck together
  7. When it’s dry, you’re ready to create!

*If you wanted to dye pasta that is safe for consumption, just add a few drops of the food coloring of your choice to boiling water and cook the pasta per the packages instructions

 

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Being that we have all these boys and seeing as how I am cheap, I try to buy in bulk whenever possible. Notice I said cheap. I’m not even going to try and dress it up and label myself as frugal, thrifty, etc. I’m just cheap. As part of my cost-cutting, we have a membership to Costco and that’s where the majority of our groceries come from. That being said, almost every trip to Costco my kids manage to convince me to buy them lunch, a snack, an ‘I’m going to die right this very minute if I don’t eat’ something from the food court. Their favorite thing to order is the Chicken Bake. So when I came across this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread, I knew they would love it.

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread

I altered the recipe to the satisfaction of my tastes and those of my cheese-aholics. Notice I also changed the name. I could just imagine if I answered their ‘what’s for dinner’ question with something that included ‘garbage’ in its name. So I didn’t.

Buffalo Chicken Bake

Buffalo Chicken Dump Bread 2

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pizza dough (we used homemade and let it defrost in the refrigerator overnight)
8 oz. of shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce, divided
1/4 cup of ranch

Directions

1. Pre-heat oven to 425°F. Toss chicken with 1/4 cup of your wing sauce. You can add more or less depending on your desired spiciness. Stir to combine, the ranch dressing and remaining 1/4 cup wing sauce.
2. On a floured surface, or counter top, roll out dough into a long rectangular shape. Spread buffalo ranch sauce evenly across the dough. Add chicken and then top with both cheeses.
3. Pick a side and roll the dough up to form a log. Seal both ends (prevents ‘oozing’ while baking) and place seam side down on a non-stick or greased baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes. Let sit and ‘rest’ for 5-10 minutes before cutting into slices, then serve!

Easy Homemade Pizza Dough

This easy homemade pizza dough comes together with just a few simple ingredients. This tender homemade pizza dough is foolproof, every time, with basic ingredients and easy to follow instructions. l walk you through everything you need to know on how to make homemade pizza crust so you’ll be a pizza crust pro.

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