Cheap and Cheerful: Three Meals for Two People from One Rotisserie Chicken

One chicken, three ways -- with a bonus at the end.
"Cheap and cheerful" is a phrase I picked up while traveling in northern England, used to refer to a quick, inexpensive and tasty meal. I immediately pocked the phrase, loving the connotation that cheap meals don't have to be depressingly awful (i.e., most fast food and frozen dinners).

One of my favorite cheap and cheerful methods of cooking at home is to buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and stretch it into three meals that can easily feed two people. The roasted birds are typically between $5 and $7 each, depending on your local supermarket, and easily pair up with fresh produce and healthy side items that are equally inexpensive.

Here's how I make one rotisserie chicken feed two people for breakfast, lunch and dinner:

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Broke Meals, Ramen Hacks and Food Snobbery

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Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Not very haute; all kinds of happy.
Last week at work, I ate shitty mall food court Chinese food for lunch. I relished every bite of it. As I walked in the room with that Styrofoam container, several of my coworkers looked on incredulously. They were surprised that I would deign to eat from such a place. I was surprised at their surprise. They called me a food snob. They were being good-natured about it, and I suppose I can see where they were coming from, but it rankled a bit.

It rankled because my attitudes about food have always been about happiness, pleasure, excitement and sharing. It rankled because I've spent a lot of time talking about food with my coworkers, sharing restaurant recommendations and recipes, running the gamut from authentic Japanese Omakase in Ohio, to how to replicate Chik-fil-A sauce. I've cooked for them out of The French Laundry and Alinea Cookbooks, but I've also made them many of the simple, staple meals of my youth, like sausage and sauerkraut. It rankled because I don't think of myself as a snob.

The comment did get me thinking about my history with food, and about how my attitudes have changed over time, shaped by my upbringing and my adult life in equal measure. Through a childhood with three brothers and not a lot of money, to my first few years as a married adult and not a lot of money, thrift has always informed my cooking and eating habits. The ways in which that manifests itself have shifted over time and with changing means, but I'm still the guy who takes every scrap of leftovers (even from fancy restaurants) and who uses every scrap of everything in some way. Don't throw out that 1/4 cup of leftover rice, I'll use that in something!

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Ingredient of the Week: Spam

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Photo by John Suh
Spurkey? (Spam: the turkey version)
Ah, yes, that mysterious block of meat housed in the blue and yellow can. In 2007, the seven billionth can of Spam was sold. On average, 3.8 cans are eaten every second in the U.S. alone. Since its inception in 1937, Spam has become part of American pop culture--it has acted in films, been acquired by the Smithsonian, and now even has a museum of its own. Indeed, Spam is a rock star.

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Forget Turkey Sandwiches: Make Leftover Gumbo

Thanksgiving is over. If you're fortunate, you were surrounded by family and buried in a deluge of smoked, broiled and baked meats with side dishes stacked to the ceiling. You likely ate at least two celebratory meals at two family locations due to dysfunction or marriage. When all is said and done, you're sick of food and looking for an easy way out from under Leftover Mountain. Gumbo is the exit you seek, pilgrim.

Contrary to word on the street, making gumbo is not a lot of work. Sure, it's not as easy as toast or creme brulee, but it's not liking making paella. In fact, making a roux is the most effort-intensive portion -- stirring, watching, stirring, watching, drinking - part of the process. The rest of gumbo cooking involves a low flame, occasional stirring and sitting on the couch watching football.

Five Things to Remember When Making Thanksgiving Leftover Gumbo
It's all about the pot. Cooking gumbo is a long process involving slow cooking of hearty ingredients until they are so tender you can suck turkey through a straw. A large quantity of liquid is needed to achieve this state, which means you need a large stock pot. A 12 - 16 quart capacity should do the trick.

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How To: Cut a Whole Chicken into Pieces

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Photo by Brooke Viggiano
It' as easy as 1,2...5.
Sometimes you feel like breasts, sometimes thighs, sometimes just the tip...the wing tip! Get your minds out of the gutter, people - I'm talking about chicken here.

When I'm grocery shopping, I'm always on the hunt for the best quality food with the best deals. And with the rising prices these days, that seems to mean buying a chicken whole (I got it for $.98/lb) and chopping that baby up myself. That way, I can use the breasts for a stuffed roast chicken one night, use the legs and thighs for a stew another, throw the wings in a freezer bag and save up enough for some Sunday Football hot wings, and keep the backbone for use in a delicious homemade stock. I can even save the excess skin and fat to make rendered chicken fat (the holidays are coming up and I'll need some schmaltz for my matzoh balls!).

Once you get the hang of it, butchering a chicken is easy...and fun. Actually, I never realized how much fun it could be; I mean playing with knives is awesome, right? I enjoy it. Anyway, the key here is to get to know your chicken. Usually I give mine a name and talk to it throughout, a little Dexter-like, but to each their own. Sorry if this is the creepiest post ever, but it's Halloween so whatever.

There are a lot of ways to go about cutting up a chicken, but here's how I do it:

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How To: Freeze Fresh Herbs

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Photo by suavehouse
Frozen parsley cubes
I love fresh herbs. I love the fragrance of fresh herbs. I love the flavor of fresh herbs. I love the pop of color fresh herbs bring to a dish. I want to wear one of those "I ♥ NY" T- shirts, except I want it to say "I ♥ Fresh Herbs."

But what I don't love about them is buying an entire bunch for a recipe that only calls for two sprigs and watching the rest slowly die in my refrigerator. Or starting a marinara sauce only to realize, "Shiiiite, I forgot the basil!" (Don't even get me started on dried basil -- I just can't do that to my beautiful, fresh sauce). Fortunately, in true I-have-way-too-much-time-on-my-hands fashion, I've stumbled across a solution on the interwebs: my freezer.

Freezing fresh herbs is amazingly simple and, even better, the flavor will keep for months. I like to freeze herbs with high water content, like basil, parsley, chives, tarragon and mint, in an ice cube tray. That way, when I need a punch of flavor for soups, stews, or sauces I can pop my pre-portioned herbs right into the pot. Harder herbs like rosemary or thyme can also be frozen. All that's needed is a freezer bag.

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Discount Dining: La Fendee Grill

Beef Kabob Entree
I live close to La Fendee Grill, and I love Mediterranean food, but I hadn't been to La Fendee in more than three years. And even when I did go to La Fendee, I don't think I ever ate there. The few times I visited were spent on the patio overlooking Westheimer, taking advantage of the BYOB policy and free wi-fi while smoking strawberry-flavored tobacco.

Groupon was offering $10 for $20, and I took this opportunity to try the food. As I pulled in, I remembered one of the reasons why I tend to overlook La Fendee: the tiny parking lot. During peak hours the lot fills up quickly, as do the spaces in the neighborhood.

The casual atmosphere of the family-owned restaurant is one of the reasons why I would come back to La Fendee. A few tables inside were occupied by patrons drinking tea and typing on their laptops, and at a few tables outside couples were happily drinking wine and sharing appetizers. The owner greeted me cheerfully and directed me to sit wherever I liked.

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Discount Dining: Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria

Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a meat lover. A dry-aged, medium-rare ribeye would probably be my requested last meal. So when a Living Social deal arrived in my inbox for $30 for a rodizio dinner for two at Pradaria Steaks & Churrascaria, I jumped on it. At $17.95 for lunch and $29.95 per person for dinner, Pradaria is already one of the city's less expensive churrascarias. Located on Westheimer in the Westchase district in a former Ninfa's, Pradaria is not as formal or fancy as other Brazilian restaurants in town, but it's a comfortable atmosphere with friendly service. And really, isn't that all you need when you're about to gorge yourself with meat?

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Ingredient of the Week: Hot Dog Buns

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Pepperidge Farm
Turn those buns into crumbs.
I know what you're thinking: all that smoke from Fourth of July grilling has gone to my head, and now I'm grabbing the first thing I see in the barbecue aftermath and pretending it's worthy of an "Ingredient of the Week" post. But hear me out before you judge.

At every barbecue I've hosted or attended, I've noticed there are almost always leftover hot dog buns. Sometimes it's an issue of the bread company packing more in each bag than what the franks company is willing to put in theirs. But oftentimes, you've got some jackass guest (whom you probably didn't even invite in the first place but who tagged along with your cousin's friend's boyfriend) who likes to pile two wieners into each bun or, even worse, is on a low-carb diet for swimsuit season.

So when you end up with a bunch of buns, don't be disheartened. More importantly, don't discard. Hard times are upon us, folks; let's put those buns to good use.

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Discount Dining: Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

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Grilled whole Trout, Brussels sprouts and rapini
Last month, Nicholas Hall found out that Giacomo's Cibo e Vino is surprisingly kid-friendly. I never would have thought it would be, considering wine is in its name. With a $40 voucher in hand from Houston Entree and an idea of what I wanted to order, I was eager to try it after having driven by this ever-changing location so many times.

During the early evening, the restaurant was still empty, with just a few tables occupied. I was glad about the restaurant's switch to table service, since I like to have a seat and be able to relax and peruse the menu at my own leisure. And this is one menu you want to read through. Although the prices seem low, the little tapas-style dishes do add up. Ordering wisely can definitely stretch $40, and two people can leave more than satisfied.

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