Meal Planning on a Budget
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to cook for dinner, it’s easy to waste food, and there’s nothing worse than clearing out a fridge full of ‘past its best’ food on bin day. In this post I am going to suggest a meal plan that will give you four dinners for two without spending too much money. You can adapt it of course to include different ingredients, but it is based around a chicken and a packet of sausages. You can also add things that are in your store cupboard too, I’ll make suggestions as we go along.
Here’s the shopping list:
One fresh chicken – choose a large one
A pack of 8 sausages
Green veg – e.g. spring greens, silverbeet, brussels (get enough for leftovers)
1 regular cayenne chilli
Fresh medium sized mushrooms (about 12 of them – a regular punnet should do) wiped clean of soil
Potatoes x 8 (pick good roasters – Red, Royal blue, King Edwards etc.)
Half a butternut squash
A tin of chopped tomatoes
A tin of plum tomatoes
A cup of rice (regular basmati rice) cooked and cooled, (or a pack of ready cooked rice)
200g dried penne pasta
Vegetable stock powder
Cherry tomatoes (fresh) – optional
Store cupboard items like salt, pepper, vinegar, lard, butter, oil, dried herbs.
Optional store cupboard items – jam, cranberry sauce, white wine vinegar, cornflour, jars of olives, anchovies, capers, lemon, parmesan, tabasco, chilli sauce, sesame oil, dried fried onions, ketjap manis (thick sweet soy).
Meal 1 – Roast Chicken
As this is probably the most time consuming of the meals, I’d recommend making this for your Sunday lunch or dinner. It’s easy to do, it just takes at least an hour to cook depending on the size of your chicken. If you want to make it cook quicker you can ‘spatchcock’ it – this means taking the backbone out and squashing the chicken.
So first peel all of the potatoes, slice them in half lengthways (if they are huge you can quarter them) and parboil them in salted water. While they are parboiling set the oven to approx 180 deg C (fan) or a little hotter (185) if you don’t have a fan assisted oven.
Put 2 tablespoons of oil or lard in a roasting pan and put it in the oven so that the fat melts and gets hot.
Meanwhile wash the chicken, pat dry and season it. You can rub it with dark soy sauce if you have some soy in the cupboard, or if you prefer, you can use butter or other spread under the skin, season with salt and pepper, and lemon juice – just use whatever you have to hand. Stock powder is also a good seasoning that you can rub on the chicken skin. If you like garlic, peel and mash a clove and rub it over the chicken. Place the chicken on a rack and put 8 of the whole mushrooms in a pan underneath (this should be separate from the pan that you have prepared for the potatoes. If you’re not a fan of mushrooms, you can use slices of carrot and onion instead, but the chicken juices will drip on the veg below and that will be your basis for a lovely gravy. Put the whole pan and rack containing the chicken and mushrooms in the oven
Once the potatoes have boiled for about five minutes, drain them, give them a shake and put them in the hot pan. Shake them around the pan a bit to coat them with fat and put them in the oven.
Set the timer to an hour.
Now prep the greens and squash. If using spring greens or silverbeet I wash and shred them and place them in a saucepan of salted water. Brussels need a little trim and again can be placed in salted water. The squash can be peeled with a speed peeler (although peeling is not mandatory), the seeds should be scooped out with a spoon, then I halve the squash lengthways and slice it into large chunky pieces. Season the squash in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. The squash doesn’t need as long as the potatoes, so when the potatoes have been cooking for 25 minutes, shove them to one side of the pan and put the squash pieces next to them.
Place 1-2 cups of frozen peas in a small saucepan of salted water. If using brussels, you need to start cooking them about 10 – 15 minutes before the chicken is ready, silverbeet and greens should take about 5-10 minutes and frozen peas only take 5 minutes once they are boiling.
After 45 minutes of cooking check the chicken with a skewer and see if the juices run clear. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken and whether or not the backbone is in it. If you leave the backbone in, it can take up to 1.5 hours – this also depends on how efficient your oven is. If in doubt leave the saucepan veggies until the chicken is done and cook them while it rests.
Once the chicken is done, put it on a plate and cover it with foil and a few tea towels to insulate it.
Now you can make the gravy from the roasting pan. If you used mushrooms, add half a finely chopped onion and a little water to make a gravy. If you used soy on the chicken, this will season the gravy, but you may wish to add a sprinkle of stock powder and some jam/sugar/cranberry sauce to adjust the flavour. Add any juices from the resting chicken. Finish the gravy off on the hob while the potatoes and squash cook on in the oven. (If you used carrots and onion, instead of mushrooms, mash them up and add a sprinkle of stock powder plus a little jam/sugar/cranberry to balance the flavours). Sometimes a dash of vinegar (or white wine vinegar) works well too. The gravy might need straining to separate any mashed carrot.
The peas and greens should now be simmering too. As the green veggies cook you can add some of the cooking water to the gravy to enhance the flavour. If you want a thicker gravy, you can add a tablespoon of cornflour which has been mixed with some cold water.
When serving, serve a quarter of chicken for each person, and make sure that you keep some leftover potatoes, greens, peas and squash. I recommend serving a third of the veggies for each person and keep a third for leftovers. Pour the gravy over everything making sure that each person gets some mushrooms. The gravy also keeps if you want to have some gravy for the next meal. Place the leftover chicken in a bowl in the fridge covered with cling wrap. Do the same with the leftover veggies.
Meal 2 – Sausages, bubble and squeak, fried egg, tomatoes
Start off by gently pan frying the sausages, do all of them even if you can’t eat 8 sausages between you. You can also cook sausages in the oven if you prefer.
Chop up the leftover potatoes, squash, peas and greens into smallish pieces and mash them together in a large frying pan with a little olive oil. You can also add some finely chopped onion to them for extra flavour if you like. Just warm them through and mash them together as you go. You can add milk, water or leftover gravy to help bind them together. I love it when the bubble and squeak goes crispy and brown on the bottom, so you don’t have to do much with it once it is cooking and warming through.
Place the plum tomatoes in a saucepan and heat them through (you can also use a can of beans if you prefer).
When everything is almost ready, fry 2 eggs in a pan – you can also poach or scramble them, it’s nice to have runny eggs on top of the bubble and squeak.
Serve up 2-3 sausages each, half of the bubble and squeak, a fried egg and half of the beans or tomatoes. Serve with HP sauce. Reserve the leftover sausages.
You can also make this meal with a packet of bacon or vegan sausages if you prefer.
Meal 3 – Chicken pasta
Shred the leftover chicken. Chop half an onion, a chilli, and a clove of garlic quite finely. If you want the sauce spicy, leave the chilli seeds in, otherwise take them out. The chilli is optional anyway. Slice some leftover mushrooms. If you have any jars of capers, anchovies or olives in the fridge, take a few and chop the into small pieces.
Bring some water to the boil in a saucepan and add 200 – 250g of penne pasta to the water.
In a large-ish pan or wok, fry the onions and garlic in a tablespoon of oil until they soften. Add the mushrooms and fry for a minute longer. Add some dried herbs (about a teaspoon), and at this point add the capers/anchovies/olives if using them.
Now add the about two thirds of the shredded chicken stir around for a minute and add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
Season with salt, pepper and add a little stock powder if necessary. Taste to make sure the sauce tastes yummy.
Once the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, you can add a little of the pasta water to thin it out. Serve in nice bowls. Add some grated parmesan if you like.
Meal 4 – Special Fried Rice
This is where you use anything you have leftover. Chop up half an onion, a clove of garlic, some leftover sausages and slice any leftover mushrooms. Get some frozen peas ready in a cup. Beat an egg in a cup or jug – if you have any sesame oil in the cupboard add a drop to the egg, and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil, you can also add a chopped chilli or some chilli sauce if you like, but this is optional.
Now add the sausages, mushrooms and any leftover chicken and stir to warm through. After about 2 minutes add the peas and stir through. Once the meats are getting nice and hot, make a little space in the pan and add the beaten egg. scramble it once it starts to go opaque and mix it in with the other ingredients. If you’re like me you’ll have some fresh cherry tomatoes in the fridge – feel free to halve a few and chuck them in if you like. Now add the rice and warm through. Check the seasoning – you can add salt, pepper, soy, chilli sauce. Serve in bowls. If you have crispy dry fried onions, sprinkle them on top (you can also use chives or spring onions if you have them), a drizzle of ketjap manis on top is also good.