Need a go-to menu for a week when money's tight?
Back in the day, before modern food preservation, you didn't really have recipes that called for, say, 5 chicken breasts. What would happen is that you'd roast an entire chicken or cut of meat (or make it into a dish). If there were leftovers, they'd get made into a pie, what was left after that became soup or stock. Whole poultry or cut used, start to finish, in 4 days, tops. In the spirit of that tactic, I bring you my use-everything tactic, for those tight budget weeks.
Before the weeks starts, I usually pick a set of flavors for the week (French, Mexican, classic American/British, Japanese, etc). That way, the stock at the end of the week has all the right flavors for the food being cooked.
Save all vegetable peelings, onion and squash skins, carrot tops, etc, as you go. I keep a baggy in the freezer that I put them in. These will be used to make stock.
This is for a family of two adults, and two small children. If you have more(or less) then that, plan on about a half cup of chicken, per person, per meal. I know that doesn't seem like a lot of meat, but the point here is to have enough to add flavor and nutrition. Many recipes for dishes like casseroles or pot pies can have the amount of meat significantly reduced, and the amount of veggies increased with no real affect on the dish. Likewise, this can also be done with some planning and a large roast, brisket, pork shoulder, lamb leg, etc...once you get in the pattern, the sky's the limit.
The Night Before (usually Saturday night for me):
Brine the chickens. This is a very simple process, in which you leave the chickens in a sugar/salt solution in a bag in the fridge. The salt forces osmosis to occur, pulling water out of the bird. Then, the osmosis goes the other way, pulling salt and flavor into the cells of your bird. Alton Brown has some great visual aids to explain this.
Brine (for two birds)
1 Cup Kosher Salt
1 Cup Brown Sugar
5 cups water
Whatever seasonings work with your week's "theme": traditional herbs(sage, thyme, rosemary), citrus, a little soy sauce, garlic or onion, cumin, etc.
Day 1--Sunday Dinner
Roast chickens. Serve with seasonal vegetables, and a grain or potatoes.
Mexican Roast Chicken with Olive Salsa
Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
5 Spice Chinese Roast Chicken
Misoyaki Roast Chicken with Shoyu Onion Sauce
Cuban Roast Chicken
Simple Roast Chicken with Truffle Butter
After dinner, deconstruct both chickens. Refrigerate meat, and freeze carcasses, plus gizzards/organs if included with chicken, and skin, if you don't like to eat it.
Variation: If you have a "made dish" that calls for a cut-up chicken later in the week, and only want to roast one chicken now, remove the other from the brine, and refrigerate, or better yet, freeze for later in the week.
Next time, I'll get into days two and three--A casserole and a pie. Part Two can be found here.