Our family eats together

Last night we all huddled in our house, listening to the wind tearing at the trees and scattering debris across our roof.  We were surprised to wander out this morning and find everything was still standing, if a little disheveled. Tiny sticks and and flowers from trees litter the ground.

Nothing beats back the gloom like a hot meal, eh?

Chicken Piccata is really simple, you can keep the ingredients around the house.

Plenty of leftovers for sandwiches.  Chicken Piccata is really simple, you can keep the ingredients around the house.

Chicken Piccata is easy – chicken, butter, a light coating of flour and spices, lemon juice, about a half cup of white wine or chicken broth, capers, and my husband likes to add diced prosciutto.  We crisp the prosciutto in the pan, remove that, and then brown either boneless thighs or breasts coated with a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and sugar in a frying pan. Remove the chicken from the pan to make a savory sauce of the remaining ingredients, and then lay the chicken back in there for a few minutes and ladle the sauce and capers over it. Serves up great on a bed of brown rice or noodles.

We eat a lot of chicken at our house.  It’s high in protein and easy to trim off the fat. It’s a better deal than red meat, especially if you do something crazy like my husband and I did yesterday.

When we found out our older dog is diabetic, we realized we have to quit feeding the dogs so much garbage food. Almost all kibble is garbage, it has too much corn and other grains. Grains are okay in small quantities, but I believe meat should really be the largest part of a dog’s diet. After some of the dog food scandals, we also feel more comfortable knowing exactly  what’s in our dog’s food.  We’ve made our own food using chicken, rice, oatmeal and peas since we had another diabetic dog. I did a lot of research back then and that’s the only recipe I could come up with.  There’s better information online now – I found out, oatmeal is a little high in sugar, so I decided to add more meat and cut the oatmeal out.

Wow, I’ll tell you what, that’s a lot of chicken.  As we’ve added more meat to our dogs’ diet, our grocery bill has reflected the steeper price of chicken at the grocery store. I remember when boneless chicken used to go on sale at Safeway for as little as $1.89 a pound – those days are over. $2.99 a pound starts to hurt.

So we buy bone-in as much as possible, but it’s not as easy to cook, and you end up with a lot of waste in the form of excess fat and skin. Whole chickens are a great deal as long as you know how to cut them up and cook them. They take longer, and you have to use your imagination to use the whole thing. In past we divvied those up between ourselves and the dog food, but it’s not every night you want to spend a couple of hours standing around the grill.

So we realized we had to find a cheaper source of boneless chicken than the regular grocery store. For a long time we’ve patronized Cash and Carry, the restaurant supply store. Their name says it – they don’t take checks, it’s cash only. For some products you have to buy impractical amounts for a normal household, but they also have regular deals, like a four pack of avocados, or a jar of peanut butter or jelly. Bananas are only 46 cents a pound, compared to 68 cents at Safeway and  Raleys.

We finally decided to look into their bulk meat deals. We found boneless chicken breasts at 40 lbs for about $52.  That comes out to about $1.30 a pound, compared to $2.99 at Safeway. But oh yeah – 40 pounds of chicken breasts, frozen into roughly 10 pound lumps, wrapped hap-harzardly in plastic bags, inside a sealed plastic bag, inside a wax carton.

Looking closely, we saw, it’s all very clean, very good looking chicken. Frozen as solid as Pluto. We had to think about it.

Back home, cooking $2.99 a pound  chicken, two breasts at a time, one meal for us and about a day and a half’s worth of food for Badges and Biscuit  – Biscuit is mostly on the special canned diet from the vet.  At $2.99 a can, she is ordered to eat 2 and  a half cans a day until she can finish her antibiotics. Of course it smells like slop, really nasty, and she’s turning her nose up at it. So, I sprinkle on the food I make for Badges, with hot water to make a broth, and I wheedle and I coax.  It works – she’s finally finishing the required 2 and a half cans and then snooping over to lick out Badge’s dish.

One more week on the antibiotics. From the way her appetite’s increased over the last couple of days, it looks like it’s working. When the infection is gone, it will be easier to figure out her insulin dose, and diabetes will become affordable for my family. So far the doctor bills have eaten about  $1,000, a vast broadside at our pet emergency account.  But, the needles and insulin are not really that expensive, once we get to the management part, it will just be another part of the budget.

But the chicken started to add up fast. We went back to Cash and Carry and my husband came out with that huge waxed cardboard box.  Once home we set it on the dryer in the garage, inspecting it to find one  solid rectangular lump of frozen chicken. Forty pounds never felt like so much lead. We knew we had to thaw it out enough to separate it without thawing it too much. My husband grabbed the big heavy blue plastic bag in which it was sealed and toted it upstairs to the apartment.

It fit perfect on one end in the kitchen sink. We cut open the sealed bag, to reveal a mass of breasts all stuck together. They were partially separated by the smaller plastic bags in which they had been measured, but those are dumped into the bigger bag open, and some of the breasts had fallen loose, frozen stuck to the outside of their measuring bag.

It was imposing, all that raw chicken and plastic, mish-mashed  together. We’ve been trained to think that raw chicken is worse than smallpox, like you get chicken juice on yourself and it will absorb through your skin and give you a deadly case of e-coli poisoning. It is sticky and icky feeling on your skin. It’s really gross when you get a little drip in your flip-flop, know what I mean?

At 10 am we walked away from that frozen lump and busied ourselves with other tasks.  It was dumping rain outside, so I set the dogs up in the house with their beds and toys and went about routing the closets.

At noon or so I was standing over that lump of chicken with a butter knife, trying to find the separation between the smaller bags inside the big bag.  Suddenly I noticed a big piece of meat was coming loose, so I grabbed it with my hand and gently pulled it loose. It was a really nice piece of chicken, a huge piece of boneless white meat. I trimmed off a piece of fat and set it in a baking dish to thaw the rest of the way. Soon I was able to pry another piece loose. And then a whole bag came loose. I was able to wrangle this into a heavy duty freezer bag and my husband took it down to stow it in our chest freezer. One down, looked like two more bags to go.

These had more meat in them, and took the rest of the afternoon to thaw sufficiently to separate. I couldn’t count the pieces of meat, I wanted to get them back in the freezer before the meat actually had the chance to thaw. We shoved them into a couple more bags and stowed them away too.

I had two whole, huge breasts and a couple of spare pieces of rib meat that had come loose, so I put them in a glass dish and baked them at 350 for about 40 minutes, turning them over about halfway through. I was not surprised when they came out juicy and delicious.

You know, if you eat in Chico restaurants, this is probably the chicken you get. It’s delicious. I ground half of it with brown rice and frozen peas, and took one breast aside to make some chicken salad.

A good dish to have in the refrigerator for a quick pick me up.

A good dish to have in the refrigerator for a quick pick me up.

I cubed the chicken and made a dressing of mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, honey, salt, pepper and garlic, added diced celery, and then some cooked twirly macaroni. Rich in protein, low in fat, tasty too!

It’s starting to rain again, I will have to throw that chicken piccata back in the oven for a repeat.





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