In an attempt to save money and eat more healthily, I have started cooking more at home. Up until now this has mostly consisted of making a handful of stock dishes: grilled chicken, burgers, hot dogs, sausage, or fish, with a Knorr packaged noodle side and some sort of steamed vegetable. While this routine isn’t bad in terms of variation, after awhile it can get boring to cook the same way over and over. I’ve also been craving various types of food that I usually go out for, like Chinese or Mexican. Today I decided to plan ahead and make a Mexican-style meal.
I chose the following recipes from AllRecipes.com:
I also decided that instead of purchasing the salsa to be used for baking the chicken, I would make some from scratch. I chose this recipe:
The first thing I did was get two frozen chicken breasts out and put them into a dish in the refrigerator to thaw. I went ahead and put the spices from the Quick and Easy Mexican Chicken recipe into the dish and on top of the chicken.
My next step was to go to the store and grab some supplies–I needed the cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and lime juice for the salsa, the shredded cheese for the chicken (I chose a 4-cheese Mexican blend instead of cheddar), and the chicken broth for the rice. I already had tomatoes, onions, and cloves of garlic from the Marietta Square Farmers Market, and I keep frozen chicken breasts, brown rice, and various spices on hand.
I went ahead and did my shopping in the morning so I could prepare the salsa in advance, giving it time to sit in the fridge. It took me about half an hour to chop and mix everything. As I also spent time this morning on some freelance work, a personal training appointment, the grocery shopping, and of course my random desire to scrub my bathtub, it wasn’t until after noon that I started making the salsa.
The tomato, onion, garlic, and jalapeno were easy to chop, of course. The cilantro was technically easy too, I suppose, but I’ve always disliked chopping cilantro…it takes forever. Once I had everything mixed, I had to agree with one recipe reviewer that the end result seemed more like pico de gallo than salsa. Still, I figured it would be nice and fresh and good for the cooking. Though I scaled down the salsa recipe to one serving, it resulted in more than the half-cup needed for the chicken recipe. I put the rest of it out as a garnish alongside the sour cream, but neither of us ended up using it.
I started to actually make dinner at around 7 o’clock. I began with the rice, since it had the longest cooking time. After the rice had been cooking for about 15 minutes, I got the chicken out of the fridge to brown it in the skillet as per the recipe. Unfortunately, the breasts weren’t quite thawed, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Instead of cooking in the skillet until there was no pink left, I simply browned as much as I could of the chicken, removing it from the heat before the outside could get chewy. I transferred the chicken to the baking dish, topped it off with the homemade salsa and shredded cheese, then put it all in the oven. I ended up having to cook both the chicken and the rice longer than expected, finally getting them both done around 8:30.
Meanwhile, I warmed the refried black beans in a pan on the stove and three wheat tortillas in an aluminum foil pouch in the oven.
With the shopping, morning prep, and evening cooking time, this meal took about two and a half hours from my day.
Here’s what I spent on necessities for the recipes ($6.68 total):
- Cilantro: $0.50
- Jalapeno pepper: $0.05
- Kroger brand canned tomatoes: $0.67
- Kroger brand chicken broth: $1.99
- Kroger brand lime juice (bottle): $1.79
- Kroger brand shredded Mexican-style cheese: $1.68
Here’s what I spent on extras to go with the meal ($4.28 total):
- Bush’s refried black beans: $1.29
- Daisy sour cream: $1.00
- Wheat tortillas (8): $1.99
Together, that’s $10.96, or $5.48 per person.
It’s a little harder to add in the cost of the ingredients I already had. Unfortunately I don’t have the receipt for the frozen chicken breasts, which came from a 5-pound bag of frozen, boneless, skinless breasts from Walmart. I want to say that bag costs around $10, but I’m not sure. I’m also not sure how many breasts were originally in the bag, but I think it was at least 10. If so, that would add just $1 per person. As for the vegetables from the farmers market, I know I got four tomatoes for $3, so the one I used in this recipe adds $0.75 total, or $0.38 per person. I don’t remember how much the onions cost or how many I got. I have a feeling I had a basket of five or six originally, and that wouldn’t have cost more than a few dollars. If we pretend each onion cost as much as a tomato, that would put the total cost per person up to $0.75. The head of garlic is negligible; it contained many cloves.
A rough total including the frozen chicken and farmers market vegetables would therefore be $7.23 per person. This is an overestimate, as the chicken broth, lime, cheese, and tortillas were not all used today.
The Yum Factor
I was fairly happy with this meal. The main weakness, I’d say, was the pico de gallo “salsa”. It was all right, but not really my cup of tea. The rice was delicious, though, and so were the refried beans. The beans were actually Sean’s favorite part of the meal, which is kind of sad considering I had nothing to do with their flavor. Indeed, the part of the meal I spent the most time on was the least memorable, while the part I spent the least time on was the most.
Despite the weakness of the “salsa”, the chicken came out moist and tender, and I wish there had been a bit more of it–the breasts were rather small. I ate a tortilla with my meal, but Sean didn’t have any tortillas at all, so I may as well not have bought them. We did, however, both use sour cream.
Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d say this meal was worth the effort. If I try it again, I’ll probably buy the salsa instead of making it myself. I do think the price was good, though.
I may eschew the oven baking entirely and grill the chicken next time, then add a sauce when it’s done. Grilling is very easy with the George Foreman electric grill my parents got me for my birthday this year, and there’s no thawing required. :)