Thursday, October 9, 2008

dinner on the cheap: Mexican chicken soup

Having people over for a meal is one of my favorite things in life. I like planning menus and trying new recipes and putting out the flowers and candles and all that jazz. But most of all I love the luxury of an unhurried evening with my favorite people. No reservations, no overpriced drinks, and no rude waiters rushing us through a meal. Restaurants and bars have their place, but, really, I'd rather just stay in. I have to admit, though, that it's getting kind of expensive to feed eight or six or even four hungry people. In the larger picture, this is a pretty frivolous complaint when lots of people are having trouble putting food on the table at all. At the risk of sounding like a bad stump speech, whatever your circumstances, the rising price of food is one thing that touches everyone.

That's not to say I'm throwing in the towel. Now more than ever, you need your friends and family around you, good food, and strong drinks. (Especially after checking out your 401K. Eek.) On this note, I'm going to occasionally write about dinners on the cheap. Not Spaghetti-Os or a giant casserole that feeds 30 people for 10 cents each. Just normal, good, healthy food that's a bit more budget-minded. I like the challenge of doing dinner for four people for $10. Can it be done? Who knows? I'm game to try.

Our first installment, chicken soup, might be an obvious one, but soup is inexpensive, filling, and so, so good when made from scratch. A million times better than Campbells or the chicken broth out of a box. Michael Ruhlman, I finally see your point about stock. Soup is also great because you probably have half of the ingredients rattling around in your vegetable bin. In case you don't, here's the cost rundown plus a few optional extras I added in to give the soup a Mexican twist. (Prices are rounded up. Keep in mind these are New York City prices, which are exorbitantly, ridiculously expensive.)

Grocery list:
1 3 1/2 lb. whole organic chicken, $12
Bag of celery, $3.50
Bag of carrots, $3.50
1 onion, .50
1 bunch parsley, $3
1 bunch thyme, $3

Total cost: $25.50 ($4.25 per person when you are feeding six people)

Optional add-ins:
Green chiles

Mexican chicken soup
Dan said the scent of the broth reminded him of his mother's homemade matzo ball soup. The highest compliment a nice Jewish boy can give you.
(Makes 4 quarts of broth, serves about 6 people with additional broth leftover)

1 3 to 4 lb. chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, chopped
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs celery leaves
2 bay leaves
1 15 oz. can hominy
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 handful chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp. chopped green chiles
2 cups cooked rice
Salt and pepper

Cut the chicken up into quarters, leaving the bones intact and rinse it well. Place the meat in a large stockpot and cover it with sixteen cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and skim off the foam that floats to the top. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat down to a low simmer and leave it alone for 30 minutes, only skimming occasionally. While you're waiting, make your bouquet garni by tying together your herb and celery sprigs with a piece of kitchen twine (or use a twist-tie). After 20 minutes, toss in the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves, and the bouquet garni. Let simmer for 3 hours, then remove from heat. Let cool, then strain the broth through a fine sieve into a large pot or container. Reserve the chicken and vegetables, toss out the bouquet garni and bay leaves. Shred the chicken, discarding the bones and skin. Add the chicken and vegetables to the broth with the rice, hominy, cilantro, chile, and tomatoes. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes, then serve hot.

Serve with:
warm tortillas
chips and guacamole
Tomato and avocado salad
Key lime pie


Anonymous said...

That looks good! The nice thing about this kind of recipe is that you can substitute for anything that you have left over from a previous meal, or happened to pick up on sale.
Nice post!

Vanessa said...

My friend Karen is visiting and she just told me the tip of saving old carrot and onion tops, celery butts, etc. and freezing them. Then when you're making soup just throw it in and it adds flavor to the stock.

Daniel said...

This was Lisa's first homemade chicken broth, and I must say, it was freakin' delicious. I guzzled this soup for lunch this week.

Watching Lisa skim the fat off the top reminded me of the jar of schmaltz my grandmother always kept in the fridge. Couldn't convince Lisa to keep it, though.

Lisa said...

Thanks, all. Yes, soup is the best cheap meal, I think. More recipes to come...

Anonymous said...

Wasn't schmaltz the main ingredient in Jack Benny's routine? Or was that corn?

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I think I am falling in love with you. Tell this Danny guy to watch his back. Just saying.

Lisa said...

Oh, E...I mean, Anonymous #2.

krysta said...

it's finally getting cold so i can make soup. you can't believe how excited i am. thanks for the idea.

Lisa said...

you're welcome! I hope you blog about how it turns out.


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