Friday, September 26, 2008

Chicken Stew Takes the Hunger Challenge and I Get All Spicy about Seasonings

This recipe is part of the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge. It was created for a menu of meals for a family of four costing $21 a person for the week (how much a food stamp recipient would receive.) Ingredients in the stew depended on what sales and values I could find primarily at a local chain supermarket and an independent grocery discount outlet. For about my participation in the Hunger Challenge, my shopping list, other bloggers participating in the challenge and how to support the San Francisco or your local food bank, please click here.

Since didn’t figure out the cost per serving of every meal I cooked since I knew overall for the week I was on budget, but I do estimate that this stew cost about 85 cents a serving. (I have to say that this stew didn't know it was on a budget, it tasted full-flavored and was very satisfying.)
I paid $1.99 for fresh, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If those are not a good value in your area, feel free to substitute other cuts or meats. One tip, check the freezer case. Sometimes frozen chicken and meat can be a much better value than fresh.

A word about seasoning. Many dried spices and herbs are relatively expensive, so with the exception of chili powder for my chili (more about that in another post), I made them optional. Use them if you already own them. If you want the punch and flavor of a seasoning, for the best value, skip your supermarket spice aisle and look in the ethnic food section, were there are significant savings. Or buy just a tablespoon or two from stores (such as some Whole Foods) that sell bulk spices and herbs. The spices are usually cheaper to begin with, they are often fresher and since you can buy just the little bit you need, they are much easier on the budget. The discount grocery outlet was a great resource for most common seasonings, having small bottles of spices, herbs and seasoning mixtures for about 50 cents. (I did assume families had salt and pepper, though.) Adding flavor and seasoning helps make the food more enjoyable and add some variety into what is by the very constraints of the food stamp program not a very variable diet. I wanted the food I made on the challenge to not only be filling and nutritious but also as tasty and satifsfying as I could make it.

I couldn’t find a way to work fresh parsley, cilantro, basil and/or mint into the weekly food budget, however, and missed the dash of color, texture and taste they add to a dish. I compensated by using fresh onion, garlic and red jalapeno peppers, all relatively inexpensive and big flavor boosters. For example, the peppers cost me 20 cents for 10 of them.

In this dish I choose tomatoes that already had Italian seasoning such as basil added to help pump up the taste. You could also use Mexican, traditional (with bell pepper) or plain in the recipe.
If eight servings is way too much for you, the recipe works well the amounts cut in half.

Chicken Stew on a Budget
Makes Eight Servings

While this was good the first night, the second night it tasted even better. You can pump up the flavor by using more garlic and/or jalapeno peppers. I served it over rice. Other serving options are listed below.

Kitchen Note: Peeling is optional. I generally don’t peel vegetables I’m going to cook, I just wash them well. So I didn’t peel the carrots or potatoes. And I also didn’t core the cabbage; I just made sure the denser core pieces were thoroughly chopped.

2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ¾” to 1” cubes
½ cup of chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small red jalapeno pepper, minced (seed the pepper for a milder flavor)
2 large carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
16 ounces of chicken stock (store bought) or water
1 teaspoon of dried, ground herbs, spice or seasoning mix, optional. (Try Italian seasoning or maybe oregano.)
1 lb baking potatoes (about 3 small), cut into cubes about ¾”
¾ of a pound of green cabbage, chopped (That’s a little less than a third of a medium large head of cabbage.)
1-14.5 ounce can of Italian, Mexican, traditional or plain stewed tomatoes with juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, add the oil and heat over medium high. Brown the chicken cubes, working in batches if necessary so they brown, not steam. Stir them so they don’t burn or stick to the pan. When browned but still raw on the inside, remove chicken from pot and set aside on a plate.

Add onions to the pot, stir in the onions and fry, stirring frequent until they begin to turn a light golden brown. Add the minced garlic and jalapeno and continue to stir and fry until the garlic as turned a light golden brown. Add the carrots and celery pieces, and continue to fry for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the broth or water, stir well, being sure to scrape up and incorporate any little browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the optional seasoning, the potato cubes and the chopped cabbage. Stir well. Once the mixture returns to a simmer or very low boil, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. Stir the mixture frequently. Once the potatoes have begun to soften (about 20-40 minutes), add the stewed tomatoes with their juices. Using your cooking spoon or spatula, break up the stewed tomatoes into smaller pieces. Stir to combine and then add the brown chicken pieces with any liquid they may have released on the plate. Stir well. Cover, return to a simmer, stirring occasionally and making sure the mixture doesn't reach a full boil, until the potatoes and chicken are cooked through. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the stew has gotten too thick or if you would just like it soupier, add some water, stir well and return to a simmer once more before serving.

Makes eight, one-cup servings. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, polenta or noodles.
About the photo: Every house should have a chicken (stew) in a pot. Boy, did I miss that green bling parsley would have brought to this photo!


Amy Sherman said...

Your stew sounds comforting and delicious. Served with rice you could probably stretch it pretty far. Thanks so much for participating in the Challenge, I have really enjoyed reading your posts and comparing our experiences.

FJKramer said...

Amy, thanks for your bringing the Hunger Challenge to my attention. Plus without your "tweet" Tyson would have not been involved!