Thursday, January 19, 2012

Inexpensive and Creative Meals with Chicken and Rice

I love putting my cooking skills to the test. The past couple of weeks I have been in the kitchen with my mom creating plan-ahead meals that are both simple to prepare and economical.
The protein of choice was chicken. For $6.30, I got 4 on-the-bone chicken breasts. You get so much more chicken for the money compared to buying skinless and boneless chicken breasts. As I was deboning two of the chicken breasts, I showed my mom what is called the chicken tender. If you don't know, there is a slim piece of chicken located under the breast which is called the "tender".

Using the two breasts, I cubed the raw chicken and then marinated them in Indian spices. I put a little Southern twist to the marinade by using buttermilk instead of yogurt. The inspiration for this dish came from a trip to Little India in New York; I was with my mom and we had eaten at a wonderful Indian restaurant on the recommendation of an acquaintance. Afterward, we discovered a spice market near the restaurant. I was like a kid in a candy store and couldn't resist buying several spices and spice blends. I used a Chicken Tikka Masala spice blend for this recipe. The spice blend cost $6 for a 3 ounce package. I only used 2 Tbsp. for this recipe which at the most is 1/6 of the package, about $1 for the 2 Tbsp. The spices in the packet included the following: paprika, coriander, red pepper, cardamom, onion, garlic, cumin, black pepper, ginger, mace, and fenugreek leaves. Fenugreek leaves have a celery like flavor. I am gradually building a spice collection so that I can put together more of my own blends (I love to be creative and make them my own.) Also, even though these sound like a lot of spices to make an Indian dish, these same spices are great to use in marinating proteins and seafood. In addition, many are used in my own blackening and BBQ spice recipes. After researching fenugreek leaves, I learned that the flavor was similiar to celery. Sometime in the future, I am going to try cutting the leaves off of celery stalks and drying them to use instead of fenugreek leaves. (I will let you know how it turns out.)  To save money on spices, search discount places such as Big Lots, Ross, TJ Max, and Marshalls. World Market offers a large variety of spices at a reasonable price. 
Chicken Tikka Masala
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 Tbsp. fresh finely grated ginger
1/2 Tbsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. tikka masala spice blend
2 chicken breast, deboned and cubed about 1-1 1/2"

Combine all of the ingredients together in a plastic zip-top bag. Refrigerate for about 2 hours.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained *regular diced tomatoes can be used
1 Tbsp. spice blend
2 Tbsp. chicken broth
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 Tbsp. ground almond *optional
marinated chicken
In a large cast iron skillet, saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, spice blend, and chicken broth. Reduce the heat to med-low and cook for 8 minutes. Stir in cream, half-and-half, ground almond, and chicken. Cook for about 16-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste and serve.

The tomato cream sauce is so good! I understand how naan bread is used to eat many Indian dishes. My family and I wanted to sop up the sauce (it was finger licking good).  In the South, a type of gravy or sauce can be seen served over rice.  My mom and I decided that a rice cake, similar to a grit cake, would be a unique way to serve the rice.
Crispy Rice cake
1 ¼ cups vegetable broth
1 ¼ cups chicken broth
1 cup Jasmine rice
1 large egg, beaten
Pinch of Sea salt and ground pepper

Panko bread crumbs
Pinch of Sea salt and ground pepper
Canola oil

Bring the two broths to boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked.
Pour the rice into a medium bowl. Add the beaten egg. Stir. Add the salt and pepper.
Form the rice into about 3-inch patties.
Pour the panko bread crumbs onto a plate and season with salt and pepper. Coat the patties in the panko.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add enough canola oil to barely cover the bottom of the skillet. Once the skillet is sizzling hot, place the panko coated patties into the skillet. Cook one to two rice cakes at a time for about 1-2 minutes on each side. Carefully transfer the rice cakes onto a paper towel-lined plate. Add more oil and repeat the process with more rice cakes.
Be creative with mix-ins such as diced mushrooms, chopped green onion, etc.

Rice is a great item to add to any meal because it is cheap. It doesn't have to be just rice though. With a little creativity, my mom and I have transformed boring rice into a crispy rice cake.

To accompany this meal, I cut broccoli crowns into florets. My mom then cut the stalks into strips. (Tip: The stalks are often thrown away, but if they are peeled and cut, they are great to incorporate in dishes.) To prepare, heat a non stick skillet over medium heat. Add 3 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, crushed, broccoli, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the broccoli just becomes fork tender.

This whole meal cost about $9 to prepare. I already had the spices. I used half of the package of chicken which cost $3.15. I already had the rice and I only needed 1 cup of the jasmine rice. The individual broccoli crowns were cheaper than buying a large head of broccoli.
My family loved the meal! My sister and my dad were able to prepare their lunches for the next day with the leftovers. So the $9 meal fed 4 ppl dinner and 2 lunches.

I added spices to the other two raw on-the-bone chicken breasts, drizzled olive oil over the chicken, and added chicken broth to the bottom of the glass baking dish. I baked the chicken that night to use for dinner the next day.


  1. Wow Whitney, I had chicken tikka masala for dinner today :D By the way, traditionally its made in a KHADAI and the drie tikka is made on the "tandoor" which is Grill.
    How come you did not use Garam Masala? Its a mixture of spices! Used in almost all Indian dishes.

    We make a little more gravy and then enjoy it best with garlic naan. "stuffed garlic+green chillies" or Rice.

    Lovely recipe by the way. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. It sounds great. I like to use bone in chicken. Not only is it cheaper, but it tastes better when you cook with it. Boneless/skinless chicken tends to dry out faster.

    I love to use Indian spice mixtures and Asian spice mixtures for variety. I also prefer to mix and grind my own spice blends. Freshly ground spices make all the difference.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I will be trying it out!