Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Much Ado About Chicken (and Kale Soup)

In a surprising twist of self-fulfilling prophecy (sarcasm), I have failed to consistently update my grocery budget spreadsheets since the second week of January.  My promise to blog about our grocery budget with money saving tips has also failed seeing as how my last post was January 22nd, and we are now in the middle of March.  Oops.

However, I can tell you that our grocery spending has gone down significantly since the first of the year and why. And I can tell you how we get our money's worth out of our chicken. :) 

Waste not, want not
Gone are the days when a whole chicken could feed my family for three meals via the "rubber chicken" method.  (Dinner 1: Whole Roasted Chicken, Dinner 2: Chicken Burritos, Dinner 3: Homemade broth to make soup)  I roasted a chicken for dinner the other night and all that is left is enough to make soup.  Two meals is still better than one, but this hasn't been the most efficient plan for our family.

This is the method that works best for us now, and allows my husband to play with sharp objects.  (See photo right.) We buy two whole chickens (or more if we want to stock up) from a meat market that sells free range chicken.  Ben cuts the meat into parts which yield 4 breasts, 4 legs, 4 thighs, and 4 wings--for us, that's two-three meals, plus the wings go to a bag to use as meat in soups or for chicken wings when we have enough accumulated.  The carcasses (fun word) go into a stock pot with water, vegetables, herbs, and 1 Tablespoon of vinegar to make around 15 1/2 C of chicken broth which we can and store in the pantry.  After the broth is made, we pull the extra meat off of the carcasses (there's that word again) which leaves us with 3 1/2 C of cooked chicken which we use to make soup, chicken salad, or burritos--another two meals.  All together, that's 4-5 meals, plus a little extra meat (wings), and 6-7 jars of oh so yummy homemade broth. 

Use what you have on hand
Inspired by a couple of other blogs I've been reading (and a lack of motivation to grocery shop), I started substituting and tweaking recipes and menu plans to fit what we had in our freezers and our pantries.  I've always done this to fit what vegetables we get in the coop, but never to this depth.  Here is what amazed me: we didn't go to the grocery store for three weeks in a row and still had plenty of food to eat.  We did still have our every-other-week fruit and veggie coop and dairy/meat run.  The result of shopping at the grocery store less? (drum roll, please) Our grocery bill went down an average of $140 a month from last year.  No joke.

Below is an example of how to tweak a recipe to fit what you have on hand.  The other night I wanted to make a chicken and kale soup.  I couldn't find one on the Internet that fit what I wanted, and I had a recipe for White Bean and Kale Soup which gave the option of including sausage. By the way, I actually liked this version better than the original, and the family devoured it.

White Bean and Kale Tomato Soup (from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook)
Transformed to Chicken and Kale Soup

Three 14-ounce cans vegetable broth (changed to two jars of homemade chicken broth and 14 oz water)
One 15-ounce can tomato puree (two fresh tomatoes blanched and pureed)
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 C converted rice (changed to 1/2 C orzo added the last 10 minutes)
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (changed to two cups cooked chicken)

1. Combine the broth, tomato puree, beans, rice (omit), onion, garlic, and basil in the slow cooker, season with salt and pepper, and stir to blend. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 7 hours. (I cooked mine on the stove for around 30 minutes.)

2. Stir in the kale and sausage (chicken), if using, cover, and continue to cook on LOW until the kale is limp and tender, another 20 to 30 minutes. When you add the kale, it will fill the cooker at first, you can add it in batches if you need to. (On stove around 15 minutes or so. Add the orzo with 10 minutes left.)

3. Ladle the coup into bowls and serve hot with Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. (I omitted the olive oil.)


  1. Soup sounds delish! And I love your substitutions.

    1. Thanks, it was really, really good. :)

  2. Don't know if I would like Kale or not. All else sounds good. Like the new kitchen chairs.

    1. Kale is actually quite good and extremely good for you. That picture is actually old; I have been saving it for just such an occasion. We don't have those chairs anymore.