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How to feed your family on $10 a day

| Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, 9:03 p.m.
Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with a salad made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012

Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Skillet Chicken Pot Pie with a salad made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012 Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Roasted Chicken, Buttered Redskin Potatoes with Garlic Green Beans made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012

Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Roasted Chicken, Buttered Redskin Potatoes with Garlic Green Beans made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012 Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pan-Fried Pork Chop, Garlic Smashed Potatoes and Succotash made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012

Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pan-Fried Pork Chop, Garlic Smashed Potatoes and Succotash made by Olga Watkins on Sunday September 9, 2012 Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Budget meals illustration cheap dinner. Hands working knife and fork over dinner plate of cash and coin
 Julie Notarianni color illustration/The Seattle Times/MCT
Budget meals illustration cheap dinner. Hands working knife and fork over dinner plate of cash and coin Julie Notarianni color illustration/The Seattle Times/MCT

News reports regularly remind us that gas prices are rising. When fuel costs more, food costs more. It's a simple concept.

But understanding why something is happening doesn't make it any easier to deal with in practical terms. If your paycheck isn't growing in tandem with these rising costs and you have a family to feed, grocery shopping and meal planning can become the source of great frustration. Budgeting is one of many challenges for working parents, as is time. Convenience foods are expensive and often lacking nutritionally. Most families can't afford to hire a personal chef or eat in a restaurant every night.

So, what's the answer? How can you prepare wholesome, delicious meals for your family without spending hours in the kitchen and breaking the bank?

One approach is to take a few minutes each week to look at the Sunday newspaper's sale flyers. If a grocery store has roasting chickens for 79 cents per pound, as was the case when I shopped for the products in today's recipe, then top your grocery list with that item.

Look for other sale items at the same store in order to save the time and expense of running from place to place.

When I decided to buy a whole chicken, I knew I would be able to make one roasted chicken dinner, and still have enough chicken leftover for another family meal and probably for a pot of chicken soup, too. That made the rest of the weekly meal plan easier.

After deciding on the chicken, I added a pack of pork chops to my shopping cart at $1.99 per pound, some frozen and fresh veggies and a few kitchen basics like flour and garlic. After I incorporated a handful of staples from my pantry at home, I had the ingredients necessary for four, simple, tasty, family dinners, plus leftovers, for less than $30, averaging $10 per day for dinner.

If you need to spark your creativity, decide what your first entrée item will be, as in the case of the roasting chicken. Then, grab your favorite cookbook or go online for recipe ideas.

Search the weekly sale flyers for main-course items such as fish, beef, chicken and pork that are priced at less than $2.99 per pound. For a family of four, you'll need an average of 3 to 6 ounces of raw, cut, boneless meat or fish per person per meal. To help determine how much you need to buy, remember that a quarter-pound burger is made from 4 ounces of raw meat. Your 5-year-old probably wouldn't finish a burger that size, but your 15-year-old can easily put away two. With that in mind, you can judge what portions are needed accordingly.

After you find a starting point, look for basic, “home-style” recipes that don't require a lot of time or a long list of ingredients. If you can use similar ingredients in more than one of your weekly meals, like onions or carrots, you can buy bigger quantities, which usually means less cost per ounce. The accompanying recipes will each feed 3 to 5 people.

Olga Watkins is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

Day One Menu

Roasted Chicken

Buttered Redskin Potatoes

Sauteed Garlic Green Beans

Timing note: Start your potatoes when you take the lid off of your chicken. Start the green beans just before you coat the potatoes, and your food should be ready to serve at the same time. You can always turn your oven to “warm” to hold the carved chicken or finished potatoes while you make the green beans. This whole process will take less than 2 hours with a lot of time in between steps to attend to other things.

Roasted Chicken

1 (5-pound) roasting chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 to 4 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

1 cup water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pat the chicken dry. Remove the package containing the neck and organ meat from inside the bird; rinse, pat dry and set this aside in the refrigerator. In a deep-roasting pan or Dutch oven, drizzle 1 teaspoon of the olive oil on the bottom of the pan. Place the chicken in the pan, breast-side up. Sprinkle the lemon juice, then drizzle the remaining olive oil on the surface of the chicken adding a little of both to the inside of the chicken, as well. Liberally sprinkle the surface and cavity of the chicken with Old Bay or your favorite poultry seasoning.

Cover the pan with the lid or with aluminum foil. Place in the center of the oven, and set a timer for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove the cover from the roasting pan and set the timer again, this time for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees and set the timer again for 15 minutes. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, you can baste the chicken for juicier breast meat.

After the chicken is finished cooking (it should be 185 degrees at the thickest parts of the chicken, closest to the bone), allow it to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving. Carefully remove the cooked chicken from the pan and transfer it to a cutting surface before carving.

Add 1 cup of water to the roasting pan. Then, set the roasting pan aside for later, reserving the rendered fat and juice.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Buttered Redskin Potatoes

I purchased a 5-pound bag of redskin potatoes that I intended to use for all three dinners. For this dinner, clean 1 average-size redskin potato per person, cut into 1 inch cubes.

4 large redskin potatoes

Cold water

1 teaspoon salt, plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup hot chicken stock (reserved from the Roasted Chicken pan)

Optional seasoning, if desired:

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon paprika

Place the cut potatoes in a stock pot, cover with cold water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and set on high heat without a lid. As soon as the water comes to a boil, set a timer for 10 minutes.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, add the ½ cup of hot chicken stock that you've reserved in the roasting pan, butter, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper. You also can add the optional herb seasoning. Whisk the stock and other ingredients together while your potatoes are boiling. After 10 minutes, drain the hot water from the potatoes. Transfer the potatoes into the mixing bowl with the stock and seasoning, and gently fold until the potatoes are coated. Serve right away.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Sautéed Garlic Green Beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-size clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed and cleaned

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in an 8-inch or larger sauté pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the green beans to the pan and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to sauté for 6 to 10 minutes.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

What to do with your leftover chicken

After dinner, separate the leftover chicken meat from the bones. Set the bones and other undesirable bits aside. Reserve about 3 cups of the pulled chicken meat for later in the week to make the Skillet Pot Pie. Refrigerate the pulled chicken meat.

Place the chicken roasting pan on medium-medium high heat on the stove top. When the chicken drippings are hot, add the saved chicken neck and organ meats to the pan and brown on all sides. Add the bones and other bits to the roasting pan. Carefully add 12 cups of water, 1 tablespoon salt and turn the heat up to high. The water will come to a rapid boil. Allow it to boil for 10 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to low and allow it to simmer until it's reduced by 13 or more. It will take about 1 hour for the stock to reduce.

After an hour, turn off the heat. When the stock has cooled to room temperature, strain the liquid into an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator. Discard the bones and other bits.

Wait to strain the stock, and transfer it into your fridge until it's at least cooled to room temperature. Otherwise, it could cause the ambient temperature of your refrigerator to rise, thus, potentially compromising the quality and safety of your other refrigerated foods. We will use the chicken stock on Day Two and Day Three.

Day Two Menu

Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Pan Gravy

Smashed Garlic Redskin Potatoes

Succotash With Dill

Timing Note: Start your potatoes while you're finishing the pork chops. Place the pork chops in a warm oven. Make the gravy while the potatoes are boiling and set it on a warm spot on your stove or cook top while you finish preparing the meal. Cover your potatoes as soon as you're finished mashing them, leaving them in the stock pot and immediately start the succotash. Start to finish, this dinner will take about 40 minutes to prepare.

Pan-Fried Pork Chops

1 (2-pound package) of bone-in pork chops (5 chops in this instance) or 1 (1 12-pound) package boneless chops

1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning

12 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons meat, pork or poultry seasoning of choice

¾ cup safflower, corn or vegetable oil, divided

Rinse and pat dry the pork chops. Salt and pepper each chop on both sides and set aside. In a wide mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper and seasoning and mix well. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour for your pan gravy.

Heat a 10-inch or larger sauté pan on medium-high heat with ¼ cup of oil. When the oil is hot, dredge one pork chop at a time in the flour mixture, covering it completely, lightly shake off any excess flour and carefully place the pork chop in the pan. Only add as many pork chops as will fit the pan comfortably, leaving plenty of space in between.

For pork chops that are ½-inch to ¾-inch thick, cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Then, flip again and cook for another 2 minutes per side. The pork chops should be golden brown and cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

Hold the chops in a warming oven (150 to 170 degrees) while you finish cooking them in batches. After the first batch of chops is cooked, add another ¼ cup of oil to the pan, allow a few minutes for it to heat and repeat the cooking process.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Pan Gravy

1½ cups of water

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons reserved seasoned flour

After the pork chops are cooked, return the pan to the heat. Add the water, salt and pepper to the pan. Use a whisk to scrape the pan drippings off the bottom of the pan whiles the water heats. When the pan drippings are loosened and the water begins to boil, add the butter pieces. Continue to whisk the liquid in the pan until the butter is melted. Slowly add the seasoned flour into the pan by gently shaking it through a fine strainer or sifter, a little at a time, whisking continuously, to avoid lumps.

As the flour is incorporated, the pan gravy will begin to thicken. Leave the pan on the heat until the gravy reaches your desired level of thickness, then remove it from the heat. Serve immediately.

Smashed Garlic Redskin Potatoes

3½ pounds medium-size redskin potatoes

Cold water

1 cup chicken stock (from Day One)

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup milk, or half and half

2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh or dried chives

Clean and quarter the potatoes. Add the potatoes to a stock pot and cover completely with cold water. Add 1 teaspoons salt. Turn the heat on high and bring the water to a boil. After the water reaches the boiling point, set a timer for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, drain the hot water from the potatoes and return the potatoes to the stock pot. Add the chicken stock, butter, milk, salt, pepper and garlic to the potatoes. Use a hand masher to mix the potatoes while you smash them. Reserve 3 to 4 cups finished mashed potatoes for Day Three Skillet Chicken Pot Pie. Serve the remaining smashed potatoes immediately.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Succotash With Dill

2 tabelspoons corn, safflower, soybean or vegetable oil

½ cup chicken stock (from Day One Menu)

1 bag (14 to 16-ounces) frozen corn and baby lima beans

2 teaspoons dried dill weed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oil and chicken stock in an 8-inch or larger sauté pan on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the bag of vegetables and dill. Sauté or stir the veggies repeatedly in the pan for about 8 minutes. Take a lima bean out of the pan and taste it for doneness, then, season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Day Three Menu

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

Tossed Salad

Timing Note: Total prep time is 15 to 25 minutes, with a total cooking time of 25 minutes.

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

For the dough:

½ tablespoon vinegar

1 beaten egg

¼ cup water

2½ cups flour

¾ cup shortening or butter

1 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 bag “Classic Blend” frozen veggies of cut green beans, corn, carrots, peas and lima beans

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cups pulled chicken meat (from Day One)

3 cups chicken stock (from Day One)

3 to 4 cups leftover smashed and/or buttered redskin potatoes (from Day One and Two)

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

¼ cup flour

Tossed salad, for serving

To prepare the dough: Mix the vinegar, egg and water together and set aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl, cutting the shortening into the flour until dough balls have formed. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and use your hands to form into a large dough ball. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and as long as 5 days in advance, if the dough is tightly wrapped.

To prepare the Skillet Pot Pie crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out ¾ of your finished pie crust into a circle on a floured surface. Lightly grease an 8-inch cast iron skillet with a little oil. Line the skillet with the pie crust covering the bottom and the sides of the skillet completely. Tuck under or cut any crust that sticks out above the top of the sides of the skillet. Use a fork to poke a few holes in the bottom and around the sides of the crust.

Return the pan to the refrigerator for 10 minutes while you assemble the rest of your ingredients. Par-cook the crust for 12 minutes, then remove the partially cooked crust from the oven and set aside while you make your filling.

To prepare the filling: In a 10-inch or larger sauté pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the whole bag of frozen veggies to the hot oil and season with salt and pepper.

Toss the veggies in the hot oil until they begin to heat, for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chicken to the pan, season with more salt and pepper and continue to toss the chicken and veggies in the pan until heated, for another 3 minutes. Spoon or pour the heated veggies and chicken into the partially cooked crust.

Return the sauté pan to the burner to make the gravy. Add the chicken stock. While the chicken stock is heating, spoon the potatoes into small piles, evenly over the top of the chicken and veggies in the skillet. Leave about 1 to 2 inches between the crust on the side of the pan and the layer of leftover potatoes.

When the chicken stock begins a soft, rolling boil, add the butter pieces, whisking constantly until it is fully incorporated into the stock. Use a fine strainer or sifter to add the flour into the liquid a little at a time, again whisking constantly to avoid lumps. You will see the gravy begin to thicken in the pan. Continue to add the flour and whisk the gravy until it has reached your desired degree of thickness, then turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Slowly pour the gravy over the potatoes, chicken and veggies, giving it time to settle into the nooks and crannies.

After the gravy is added, place the skillet back in the oven After 25 minutes, remove the cooked skillet pot pie from the oven and serve immediately.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

Add a simple tossed salad to your menu and dinner is complete.

Bonus recipe, bonus meal

After preparing the three days of meals, you will have some homemade chicken stock left and possibly some odds and ends of vegetables, chicken and even pork chops. No budget-conscious cook likes to waste food. With this recipe, you can reuse everything but the kitchen sink and get another meal out of these leftovers in the form of a big pot of soup. Serve it with salad or biscuits or grilled cheese sandwich, and you've got another family-friendly dinner out of the initial purchase.

Super Simple ‘Kitchen Sink' Chicken Soup

¼ cup vegetable or corn oil

½ medium-size white, yellow or red onion, ¼-inch dice, if desired

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced, if desired

1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and finely diced, if desired

Leftover cooked veggies ( Add any other leftover or soup-friendly veggies you want to use. If you're using leftover cooked veggies, make sure they are less than 5 days old. Discard any veggies that are older than that. Any fresh veggies you use should be chopped, diced or sliced into small, bite-size pieces.)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Any leftover chicken and pork chops, cut or pulled apart into bite-size pieces

2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

4-6 cups or the remainder of the homemade chicken stock

4 cups cold water

2 cups cooked rice or small egg noodles, if desired

In an 8-quart stock pot, heat the oil on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add any fresh veggies you wish to use; onion, carrots, celery, garlic, cabbage, etc. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft. Add any leftover meat you wish to use and season again with salt and pepper. Stir the meat in the pan until it begins to heat, for about 3 minutes. Add leftover veggies to the pan and cook them until they begin to heat, for about 3 minutes. Now, add the Old Bay and stir it in so it's mixed thoroughly with the veggies and meat. Add the leftover chicken stock, stir the contents of the pan to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom and turn the heat up to high. Add the cold water to bring the total amount of liquid to about 6 to 8 quarts. Season with salt and pepper, and wait for the liquid in the pot to come to a boil, stirring occasionally.

When the soup reaches the boiling point, set a timer for 10 minutes. After it has boiled for 10 minutes, turn the heat on low and allow it to simmer for at least 30 minutes before serving. The volume should reduce by about ¼ at this point and make the flavors of your ingredients a little more concentrated. Adjust the salt and pepper to your taste before serving.

If you choose to add leftover cooked rice or pasta, do so just as the pot reaches the boiling point.

Makes 3 to 5 servings.

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