When the going gets tough, the tough get cooking.
The economy is forcing many folks to rediscover their stoves in the interest of saving money. But rather than looking at cooking more meals at home as a chore and a sacrifice, consider it a good thing. Perhaps this will push more families into sitting down together and eating healthier food. You can better control the calories, salt and fat in something you prepare yourself than in take-out chow. The food is probably going to taste better, too.
An easy, frugal dinner doesn't have to mean Fill-in-the-Blank Helper or take a lot of time. You can cook once -- and well -- and turn that meal into other days of reinventions. Let's call it creative re-use, not leftovers.
Start with one of a home cook's secret weapon: roasted chicken.
Rotisserie chickens are a popular takeout item at supermarkets, and they're not a bad choice. But you'll pay about $7.50 for one small bird. Grocery store fowl are often highly seasoned, salty and overcooked to the point of dryness.
Your own roasted chicken will be much tastier, and you'll get more bird for your buck. You can prepare two fat, juicy chickens for less than the price of buying two store-cooked fowl and end up with lots of meal options for minimal effort.
So cook one for tonight and another, or several, for later. Try the recipes here and you'll end up with three flavorful main dishes for four people, all for about $35.
The large chickens labeled "roasters" take a long time to cook, and by the time the dark meat is done, the breast is overcooked. Instead, select two (or more) of the smaller chickens, called "fryers," and you'll avoid the dryness problem. Find two that are approximately the same weight so they'll finish cooking about the same time.
Pick a day when you have time to stay home for a couple of hours for the chickens to roast. Once you put them in the oven, you don't have to do a thing but enjoy the aroma until they're ready to eat.
After dinner, remove all the meat from the chicken bones, then wrap and refrigerate it.
Save the bones to make chicken broth. If you don't have time to make broth now, put the bones in resealable plastic bags and freeze them for up to three months.
Re-use No. 1: Chicken Pie.
Easy and filling, Chicken Pie can include chicken alone, or you can stretch the meat by adding vegetables.
Re-use No. 2: Chicken Enchiladas.
Packed with Mexican flavors, this dish uses prepared products to make cooking easy.
Other re-use options:
Combine the chicken with cheese and chilies for chicken quesadillas.
Make classic chicken salad.
Toss the meat into your favorite barbecue sauce and spread it on a premade pizza crust with cheese to make barbecued chicken pizza.
Shred it into vegetable soup.
Combine it with black beans, tomatoes and spices for a hearty chili.
Use the meat as a base for quick chicken curry.