"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:
Note: Be sure to save all the parts of the rotisserie chicken you don't use. These will come in handy later.
Dinner: Chicken with pasta, peas and Parmesan
Meal one begins when you bring the chicken home from an evening shopping trip. I want something quick after spending time running errands and battling grocery store crowds. This take on chicken carbonara is fast and somewhat healthier than the original.
Carve one breast off the rotisserie chicken. I promise that one breast is sufficient to feed two people -- especially the giant ones found on these chickens. Chop it roughly into bite-sized pieces and set aside. (I shouldn't have to say this, but put the chicken in the fridge when you're done; don't leave it out and let it get off-temp, which can go very wrong.)
In a large pot, boil well-salted water for pasta. Use whatever pasta makes you happy; I've been using Ancient Harvest's colorful Garden Pagodas and Veggie Curls a lot lately because they're pretty (the pastas are dyed with red bell peppers and spinach) and because I like the flavor. They're made with quinoa and corn and happen to be gluten-free, but you'd never tell.
When the pasta is nearly cooked through, throw in a good handful of frozen peas. Strain both the peas and pasta when cooked, then return to the pot. Add a few pats of butter and a good glug of olive oil. Again, this is all to taste. When butter is melted, add the chopped chicken. Top with grated Parmesan cheese, fresh-cracked black pepper and/or crushed red pepper flakes.
I like to serve this with a side salad or some steamed broccoli, but the pasta servings are typically large enough to suffice for a full dinner.
Breakfast: Spicy chicken breakfast tacos with avocado
Carve the other breast from your rotisserie chicken the next morning. Roughly dice or shred into small pieces. Place chicken in a large skillet over medium heat and top with three to four tablespoons of your favorite salsa. Let the chicken warm up and absorb the salsa, stirring a few times to coat all pieces. When the chicken has warmed up, move it to one half of the skillet.
In the other half of the skillet, melt a small pat of butter. Beat three eggs, add salt to taste and pour into the other half of the skillet. Scramble eggs, stirring frequently. It's okay if the chicken and/or salsa gets into the eggs; it'll taste better that way.
Meanwhile, slice one half of an avocado into slivers and warm up two to three flour tortillas or three to four corn tortillas (in the microwave or on the griddle, your call). You'll want to save that other avocado half for lunch, so Ziploc it up.
When eggs are cooked through, add chicken and eggs to tortillas and top with avocado slices. Add shredded cheese, sour cream (I prefer fat-free Greek yogurt, personally) and more salsa if so desired. I like to serve these tacos with a few sliced up tomatoes on the side.
Lunch: Chicken picnic with red potatoes and a spinach salad
I personally love cold chicken, just like I love cold pizza. If you don't share this predilection, take a few minutes to reheat your rotisserie chicken before prepping lunch.
First, boil well-salted water for potatoes. Cut two large red potatoes into big chunks and add to water. Boil potatoes until soft. Drain and set aside.
While the potatoes are boiling, carve the remaining meat from your chicken. It should be all the delicious dark meat like wings and thighs and drumsticks. Go nuts, then set aside.
Tear up some spinach and throw it into a bowl. Top with the rest of the avocado, sliced or diced, and whatever else you have on hand: I like unsalted sunflower seeds and a little Parmesan cheese for this super-simple salad. Dress the spinach lightly with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Take warm, drained potatoes and toss with a few squirts of Dijon or other spicy mustard, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt and fresh-ground black pepper for a fast version of a warm potato salad. Alternately, you can just butter and salt the potatoes if you want to leave out the acid.
Pile your dark-meat chicken, potato salad and spinach salad onto a plate. Take it outside if you want to get literal with this picnic meal. I like to serve this with some sliced sweet onions and -- again -- tomatoes. It's the East Texan in me.
Bonus: Chicken stock
Take all those lovely bits that you didn't use in your meals and boil then down in some well-salted water to make a quick chicken stock. Before you do, cut up some onion, celery and carrots and gently saute them in butter. I also like to add in anything else that may be left in the crisper drawer, like shallots and leeks, as well as fresh herbs like tarragon, thyme or parsley.
Next, add your chicken bits to the mix and cover with water. Boil until bubbling, then turn down to a simmer and let the stock cook for a few hours. Remember to skim the top of your stock every 20 minutes or so to get rid of the scum that you don't want in your nice stock.
When it's all done, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer. It will store in the fridge for two to three days, or in the freezer for up to three months. Just bring it to a boil before using to reincorporate all the parts that separate out when the stock cools, et voila: fresh chicken soup!
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