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       You may have heard that buying a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself is cheaper than buying chicken parts (legs, thighs, wings, breasts) separately. And most of the time that’s absolutely right – especially when whole chickens are on sale. But there are times when chicken parts are cheaper than a whole chicken (usually when they’re on sale and whole chickens aren’t).

       The question is: how do you know when you’re getting a good deal? Well, with some information from the More-With-Less Cookbook based on data from the USDA, here’s how to know when it’s cheaper to buy chicken parts instead of a whole chicken.

  • Breasts – Buy chicken breasts when their per pound price is equal to or less than 1.4 times the per pound price for whole broiler-fryer chickens.
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  • Drumsticks, Thighs, or Legs – Buy chicken drumsticks, thighs, or legs (the drumstick & thigh together) when their per pound price is equal to or less than 1.3 times the per pound price for whole broiler-fryer chickens.
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  • Wings – Buy chicken wings when their per pound price is equal to or less than 0.8 times the per pound price for whole broiler-fryer chickens.


How to Use This Information

       When you’re going to buy chicken, simply look at the per pound price for a whole broiler-fryer. Multiply by the appropriate factor (1.4, 1.3, or 0.8) and compare that to the price for the respective chicken parts (breasts, drumsticks/thighs/legs, or wings). If the price for the part is equal to or lower than the price you came up with, then the parts are a good buy. If not, you should buy the whole chicken.

       If you want several of one particular chicken part but they’re not on sale, then your best option is to buy several whole chickens, cut them up yourself, and freeze the rest for later. Now, I’m sure many of you have never cut up a whole chicken before, so if you need a little guidance I recommend this episode from Good Eats by Alton Brown:



       Another good option when whole chickens are on sale is to simply roast the whole chicken in your oven. The meat itself is often enough for two or three meals for a family of four, plus you get the bones for making chicken stock (very useful and tasty stuff). Again, some Good Eats episodes are quite handy for this. I’d suggest these two:


Your Tips

       Have you ever bought a whole chicken and fixed it? What are your tips for first-timers? Share your ideas in the comments below!

P.S. Thanks to The Digerati Life for reminding me to write about this!

The Value of Quality Cookware

Corey —  July 13, 2010 — 13 Comments

Quality matters when it comes to cookware. But how do you know when you need to buy quality and when the cheap option will do? Or how do you know when the price reflects the actual quality of the item you’re buying?

I’m a big fan of Alton Brown and his series Good Eats. One of his major tenets is to avoid unitaskers as much as possible. So when my wife and I were registering for our wedding (and later buying the rest of the cookware we needed), we consulted Alton’s book Gear For Your Kitchen. We wanted to make the right decisions about which items we should have to avoid a cluttered kitchen. There’s no use in spending money or space on something you’ll hardly or never use.

But the other reason we consulted his book was to learn where quality counts and how to choose the right tool for the job. This doesn’t mean always buying the “best” tool. It just means buying (or making) the tool that will get the job done well at a reasonable price for the level of quality needed. So we pored over the book and made a list of what we felt were the items we should have in our kitchen (that I didn’t already have before we got married).

We found that expensive kitchen tools aren’t always the right tools. For some pots and pans, it’s important to have high quality materials (which do cost more). But for others, the cheap option is just fine.

Choosing the right tools matters because cooking can be much easier and much more fun if you’re using the right tools. If you hate cooking, it could be because you lack the right tools. Or it could be because you have too many tools and no space to cook!

Having quality cookware in just the right amount is key to good, enjoyable cooking. You’ll be able to prepare your food easier and possibly even tastier (as you continue to improve your own skills). It’s also the key to having a frugal kitchen. Having tools that you don’t use or don’t need (because another tool can do that job) is simply wasteful. So I’m touching on two ideas here – the value of quality cookware and the value of having just the right tools (and not every possible tool).

If you want to learn about having just the right tools, you really ought to buy Brown’s Gear For Your Kitchen or check it out from your local library. One of the most useful aspects of his book is helping you know how to decide if you really need a tool or not and which features you need and don’t need. He also discusses the quality aspect and let’s you know when it’s best to go more expensive on an item.

The Problem with Quality Cookware

The problem with quality cookware is that it is often expensive. And that’s what keeps many people from buying the good stuff. I’m not saying you need to equip your kitchen with copper everything. But being frugal is not about being cheap. It’s about getting a good value for your money and making sure you get the best price you can at the same time.

It’s obvious that frustrating yourself with cheap, useless, or too much cookware will make for some miserable cooking. You know that quality cookware matters. The only part left is for you to figure out what you need and then how you’ll get it. (Again, I can’t recommend Gear For Your Kitchen enough for helping you figure out what you need.)

If you can’t afford quality cookware all at once, you’re better off picking a couple of the most useful items and building up your set of tools from there. In our kitchen, the 3-quart saucepan and the 5-quart Dutch oven get the most use by far. If I had to recommend just one pan and one pot to use, those would fit the bill. They can cover most of your cooking needs.

sweet iced tea in a mason jar by House of Sims on Flickr       Cut me and I’m likely to bleed sweet tea. My wife can testify that we almost always have a gallon pitcher of sweet tea in our refrigerator. Earlier in our marriage, she would have said this was completely my fault. But she says I have her hooked now – at least to my version of sweet tea. She doesn’t like the manufactured brands anymore. I can’t blame her. Lipton brewed tea is just about the only manufactured tea I can tolerate – and then only just.

       You see, I’ve never been one who likes water. I know it’s cheap and I know it’s healthy, but I’ve just never liked it. You could say I’m a “water snob”, though you’ll never catch me drinking Fiji bottled water. I just like my water to be cold and non-chlorinated with no funny tastes or smells. Our tap water doesn’t make the grade (plus it’s full of nitrates), so I tend to live on sweet tea. (This could have repercussions for my health though – diabetes, anyone?)

       But in terms of cost, sweet tea is much cheaper than soft drinks. It’s much healthier, too. Even with my version (which is fairly sweet), you’ll still be getting less sugar than you would in a soft drink. Before you tout diet soft drinks (which are still expensive), remember you can use artificial sweeteners in your sweet tea. I’d never use artificial sweetener in my sweet tea since I hate the taste, but it is an option. Some people forgo the sweetener altogether (artificial or not), but I’m not sure how they do that. Bleh…

       A gallon of sweet tea costs me just under $1.00 to make. That’s 50-70% cheaper than most soft drinks if you’re buying a 2 liter bottle. It’d be even cheaper if you’re comparing cans or 20 ounce bottles. Twenty ounces of sweet tea costs $0.16 and twelve will cost you just over $0.09. It’s quick and easy, too. It only takes me about 3 minutes of hands-on time to make a gallon. Here’s how I do it.

Paul’s Not-So-Top-Secret Sweet Tea Recipe

       Fill up a gallon pitcher nearly to the top (you want to leave some room for the sugar later). I use hot water from our tap because it duplicates the taste of sun tea but is faster. If you’re going to make sun tea, you can use cold water.

       Add 4 family size tea bags (I always use Lipton…my preference). Let it sit for a couple hours (longer if you’re making sun tea). It’s done when it looks like tea. Darker is stronger but that can mean bitter. However, it’s difficult to make your tea too bitter with this method. The water just doesn’t get hot enough for that to happen.

       Remove the tea bags. Add 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir until dissolved. Refrigerate until cold or pour over ice if you want to enjoy it immediately. No lemon, please. Serve in a Mason jar for added effect.

I Need to Drink More Water

       Despite my fondness for sweet tea, I know I need to drink more water. It may not be bad on my wallet, but it’s not good for my health. I probably have a good risk of diabetes based on family history alone, and my sweet tea habit isn’t helping. Anyone else struggle with drinking water? Have any tips on how to start drinking more? Let me know in the comments!

       Cheap meals don’t have to be unhealthy. They don’t have to taste bad either. By following a few simple guidelines, you can plan cheap and healthy meals that are delicious.

Beans & Rice: The Main Characters

       OK, this isn’t limited to just beans and rice. The point is that the main core of a cheap and healthy meal is usually going to be legumes and grains. Good legumes include navy, pinto, black, and kidney beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, lima beans, and soybeans. Good grains include barley, brown rice (not white!), buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, and whole wheat. You can pick just about anything in those two lists and they’re going to be pretty cheap and quite healthy (buy in bulk and raw – no instant rice or pre-cooked beans). You’ll want to combine at least one legume with one grain to get a complete protein.

       If you need inspiration for recipes that center around beans & rice (or other grains), consider ethnic foods from all over the world. Nearly every single culture has some kind of variation on this theme, which means you can find a nearly endless variety of cheap and healthy meals. One I like is sauce pois (bean sauce) with rice – common in Haiti. It’s basically just cooked, seasoned beans that have been pureed into a sauce served over rice.

Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts, and Seeds: The Supporting Cast

       To create a truly healthy meal, you’ll want to add vegetables, fruits, nuts, or seeds to your menu. Your “normal” vegetables and fruits can almost always be found cheaply. Check for fresh options first, then frozen, and finally canned if you must. Try to focus on the vegetables and fruits that are in season. Here’s a good list of cheap vegetables and fruits and when they’re in season to use as a guide, but you’ll probably need to adjust it for your area.

       You can’t go wrong with most fruits, but focus on the best vegetables to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. Broccoli and spinach are great examples of foods that can be quite cheap but have tons of health benefits.

       Don’t be afraid to go outside your grocery store to search for the cheapest options either. Farmer’s markets and pick your own farms can be great, cheaper alternatives to the supermarket.

Eggs, Dairy, Seafood, and Meats: The Intermission

       Eggs, dairy products, seafood, and meats are typically the centerpiece of the “American” meal. But if you want to eat cheap and healthy, you have to break out of this mindset. For complete proteins at a low cost, eggs are your best bet. For calcium, you’ll want to look to milk and dairy products. (I like cottage cheese for this. It’s fairly cheap but contains concentrated amounts of the beneficial stuff found in milk.) Finally, for B vitamins (especially B-12) and a few other things, seafood and meats are your friend.

       You can include small portions of the foods in this category and still keep your meals cheap. By using them to accent your main characters (the beans & rice), you’ll get flavor and nutrition while keeping it cheap and healthy. You don’t have to exclude these delicious foods to eat cheap and healthy, but you’ll need to use them with discretion.

Spices & Herbs: The Musical Numbers

       Spices and herbs will liven up any dish (especially the cheap ones) to help you create something tasty. Focus on those you use often rather than buying up a bunch of exotic spices you don’t like. Fresh herbs can actually be grown quite easily in small pots inside providing you with a cheap source of flavor all year round. Additionally, many spices and herbs have health benefits of their own, so that’s just a bonus.

Processed and Non-local Foods: Don’t Even Go There

       Most foods in this category are either bad for you or expensive. Yes, some processed foods are “cheap”, but it’s also possible to eat healthy while keeping your costs low. Considering the health risks of consuming mainly processed foods, it’s not worth taking your chances.

       Non-local foods have to be shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, thus increasing the cost. Most non-local foods are going to be more expensive than a local alternative with the exception of bananas and a few other items. (Though that’s probably due to the low-paid labor used to harvest them.) Many people also choose local foods for environmental reasons which can save on hidden costs we don’t quite see yet.

Your Take

       Do you have hints and tips on how to plan cheap and healthy meals? Share them in the comments!

Yummy Bread!       Few foods can top the smell or taste of freshly baked bread. But making it yourself is often time-consuming and requires skill if you don’t have a bread machine. And most of us don’t have a local bakery where we can pick up delicious bread at any time. Enter Blitz Bread – an easy recipe for a focaccia bread that takes 10 minutes or less of hands-on time. With this recipe, you can go from the mixing bowl to the table in less than two hours. And did I mention you don’t even have to knead it?! Just a good stand mixer will do.

       I’m not going to reprint the recipe here. You should go the the Blitz Bread recipe page to get it. But I’ll share some notes with you after making it myself.

       You’ll find a lot of helpful hints, pictures, and ideas on this page. Here are my tips:

  • The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of instant yeast. If you only have active dry yeast, use two packets (or 4 1/2 teaspoons) and make sure you proof it first. Proofing just means that you dissolve the yeast in some of the warm water that you’ll be using for the recipe along with a little flour. Give it 10 minutes and see if it’s bubbly. If not, throw it out and use some different yeast (because the stuff you had is dead).
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  • You can substitute your own flavors for the optional ingredients of pizza dough flavor, cheese powder, and pizza seasoning. For example, I made a rosemary garlic parmesan focaccia bread with 1 tablespoon of garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of rosemary leaves, and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan in the batter. I topped it before baking with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of rosemary leaves, parmesan, and kosher salt. But this is a versatile recipe, so try your own combination if you want. Next on my list is a sun-dried tomato and basil combination.
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  • Make sure you have a good mixer, because this is a tough dough to mix. It’ll kill your little wimpy hand mixer in no time, and I wouldn’t want to mix it by hand. It bogged down our KitchenAid Artisan mixer, which is pretty heavy duty.
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  • Make sure you give your pan a good coating of vegetable oil spray or shortening before you drizzle olive oil in the bottom. I didn’t spray enough and it stuck a little on me. I was still able to save the loaf intact though.
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  • Expect the dough to be very sticky. It’s normal. Just put some oil or spray on your hands before putting it in the pan or poking it prior to baking.
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  • Make sure you turn the bread out of the pan five minutes after you bring it out of the oven. If you don’t, the bottom will get soggy.
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  • It makes great sandwiches! (But it’s good by itself, too!)



       I really want to encourage you to try this recipe – especially if you’ve never baked bread before or if you’ve always had problems baking bread. It’s extremely delicious, extremely easy, and hard to mess up. It doesn’t take much time either, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the results.

       Try it out for yourself and let me know how it turned out for you! I’m especially interested in different flavor combinations, so let me know if you’ve got some good ideas.

       Do you want to eat healthier but you’re afraid it will be too expensive? I have three easy recipes you can combine to make a wholesome meal for less than $1 per serving. And it doesn’t taste like cardboard, either!

       These recipes come from the More-With-Less Cookbook, a collection of Mennonite recipes with a focus on affordable but nutritious meals. It’s also focused on moving away from processed foods and wisely using the world’s resources. I highly recommend you buy a copy if you don’t already have one. It’s a very affordable cookbook ($12.15 on Amazon) and a great value!

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup

Combine in soup kettle:

1 cup lentils
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cumin

Cook until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes), adding water if needed to maintain a soup consistency.

Heat in skillet:

1 tablespoon olive oil

Add and sauté just until yellow:

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced

Blend in:

1 tablespoon flour

Cook for a few minutes. Then add the sautéed ingredients to lentils and bring to a boil. After the soup boils, remove from the heat and stir in:

2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato Chutney

Combine in a bowl:

2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes (about two medium tomatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with fresh cilantro, if available.

Rice

I hope you already know how to make steamed rice… :)

Fix up about 5-6 servings (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups dry rice).

The Meal

       Serve the Middle Eastern Lentil Soup over rice and top with the Tomato Chutney. This should make about 5-6 servings. Total cost per serving? $0.80! (Assuming you drink water, of course.) You could probably add a vegetable for an additional $0.20-0.30 per serving (or less if you use fresh veggies or grow them yourself). You can easily prepare and cook this meal in about 40 minutes. (Rice is easy, and you can fix the chutney while the lentils are boiling.)

The Nutrition

       Lentils are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re high in fiber, folate, molybdenum, manganese, iron, and vitamins B1 and B6. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Serving lentils with rice ensures that you get the complementary proteins you need to match the complete proteins available in meats. The lack of meat, however, means that this meal is very low in cholesterol.

Eating Healthy for Less

       I plan to share additional recipes that will provide you with healthy meals at an affordable price. While this isn’t a cooking blog, it is about saving money. Saving money on your food bill shouldn’t come at the expense of your health. These types of recipes help you save money and eat healthier. In general, if you want to eat healthier and save money, follow these tips (from the More-With-Less Cookbook):

   Eat More:

  • Whole Grains- rice, wheat, barley, rye, oats, corn, and millet
  • Legumes – dried beans, soybeans, dried peas, lentils, peanuts
  • Vegetables and Fruits – inexpensive, locally grown, in season or homegrown and preserved
  • Nuts and Seeds – inexpensive, locally grown or homegrown

   Use Carefully:

  • Eggs
  • Milk, Cheese, Yogurt
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Meats

   Avoid:

  • Processed and Convenience Foods
  • Foods Shipped Long Distances
  • Foods Heavy in Refined Sugars and Saturated Fats