Friday, April 9, 2010

Five Dollar Plate: 'I'd Like the Chipper Chicken'

Ever since I was laid off, I've been finding ways to save a little money here and there. I shop less at Macy's and more at Old Navy. I've learned to comb through consignment shops for great deals on designer labels - think Marc Jacobs vest for $13 - and I've all but abandoned Barnes & Noble in favor of my local Friends of the Library bookstore, where I can pick up paperback mysteries for a buck and Jacques Pepin Celebrates for $4.

When it comes to food, I try to be inventive with the ingredients already in our fridge so we waste less and save more. Once, when I was in charge of dessert for a family birthday party, I did a quick inventory of my pantry, then poured through all my recipes and whipped up a Chocolate-Espresso Mousse Cake without a single trip to the grocery store.

Every penny we save allows us to spend more on quality ingredients such as fresh, organic fruits and veggies, preferably from our Farmers' Market because everything there just tastes better.

I also love Trader Joe's because I can get rBST-free cheeses at reasonable prices, nitrate-free lunch meat and bacon, as well as organic eggs, milk, juice, peanut butter, flour, granola, etc. Every so often I hit the national grocery chain near my house for stuff I can't get at TJ's and deals on meat. A few weeks ago I hit the Mother Lode - packages of five chicken breasts for a little more than $5, and six thighs for just under four bucks!

That night I made my mom's chicken and donggu (dried shiitake mushrooms) stir-fry with organic Chinese broccoli I'd picked up for $1 at the Farmers' Market. As I was cooking, I realized the total cost of dinner was somewhere in the neighborhood of $5. Beat that Melissa d'Arabian! Emi loved it, and we even had leftovers for the next night.

I was inspired. I decided to challenge myself to come up with more Five Dollar Plates and make it a regular Mixed Plate feature. (My Curry Lentil Soup recipe comes pretty close to being a Five Dollar Plate: $2 bag of lentils, $2.50 head of organic cauliflower, plus a couple more bucks for an onion, bacon and a carrot.)

Next, I tried David Lebovitz's Roast Chicken With Caramelized Shallots. I love his blog. Not only does it have awesome recipes, but I get to vicariously live the life of an American in Paris. When I read his yummy-sounding recipe for a new twist on roast chicken, I just had to try it out. Lucky for me, I had a freezer full of chicken thighs.

Ultimately, this recipe was more than $5. The shallots cost as much as the chicken - $1.99 for a package of two at Trader Joe's. I also made mashed potatoes using veggies leftover from our St. Patty's Day corned beef boil, and sauteed about 1/2 a bag of organic baby spinach ($1.50 for a 6 oz. bag) in a little bit of olive oil and garlic.

Still, I decided to include it because I think you can trim the cost a bit with some savvy shopping. For instance, substitute thighs with drumsticks ($2.
50 for five drumsticks at Trader Joe's) and look for shallots at a discount grocer. Plus, I really needed some photos for this post.

UPDATE: I just bought a pound of shallots from Safeway for $3, and 4 shallots weighed less than 1/2 a pound which brings the total for this dinner less than $5.50.

This recipe was as delicious and effortless as its creator claimed. One thing I'd do differently: skip turning over the chicken. The skin stuck to the dish, leaving some of the tastiest bits inaccessible.

Chicken and Donggu Stir-Fry with Chinese Broccoli

1 chicken breast, sliced into thin strips roughly an inch long
2 lap cheong (Chinese sausage), diced
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch of Chinese broccoli, chopped into 2-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. oyster sauce
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. peanut oil

Combine chicken, soy sauce and garlic and let marinate for two hours.

Soak mushrooms in hot water for several minutes to rehydrate. Drain, and squeeze out excess water, reserving a few tablespoons for later. Slice the mushrooms and set aside.

Heat oil in a pan on medium high heat and add lap cheung, rendering out the fat. Throw in the chicken and stir frequently. When chicken is completely cooked, add mushrooms, broccoli and oyster sauce. Mix thoroughly. For a thicker "sauce", dissolve 1/2 tsp. of cornstarch in a tablespoon of water and mix with the chicken and veggies.

Serve with rice.

$1 - chicken breast
$1 - broccoli
$3 - sausage, mushrooms, rice
$5 total

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