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Want to have a cheap meal that everyone will love?
Institute a weekly Soup, Salad, and Bread Night. Serve a hearty soup, a fresh, crisp salad, and a crusty bread. It's a simple meal and full of variations. It take a little time to prepare, but it's cheap and good! And it's great for a crowd, or just for a few.
I've reduced the hands-on time to make such a meal by using my favorite kitchen helpers: the crockpot and the bread machine. If you have these two appliances (both can be found inexpensively at thrift shops), you can make a soup, salad, and bread night even if you're not at home for most of the day!
Here's what I did to have a Soup, Salad, and Bread Night recently:
In the morning, I placed a 3-lb whole chicken in the crockpot along with some sliced carrots, celery (including the leafy tops), and onion. If you have herbs like parsley or dill on hand, throw in a few sprigs. Add some whole peppercorns if you have them as well. Don't add salt yet; wait until the end to add it. Fill the crockpot with water until it covers the chicken.
Cook on Low for 8 hours or more. You should have thoroughly-cooked chicken and a light broth.
Strain the soup and return the liquid to the crockpot. Slice the breast and thigh meat from the whole chicken and place it in the crockpot. Keep the rest of the meat, the bones, and the cooked vegetables for later.
Add more very thinly sliced fresh carrots and celery to the crockpot, and pour in 2/3 cup dried small pasta, such as alphabet noodles or ditalini. Or you could add some uncooked rice or other whole grains if you like. I also added matzah balls to my soup, which I had made separately.
Cook on Low for one more hour, add salt if needed, then serve.
After dinner, store any extra soup in the refrigerator. Then place the chicken bones, the rest of the meat, and old vegetables in the crockpot. Cut up some more carrots, celery, and onions and put in the crockpot, as well as herbs and pepper if you have them. Add 3 quarts of water. Cook on Low for 18-24 hours. Strain the soup. You'll get 3 quarts of hearty chicken broth, perfect for using in recipes (freeze some in ice cube trays to make it easy to add while you're cooking) or as a base for a future soup. Fish out any leftover cooked chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches for lunch the next day.
Of course, you can make any soup you like! I'd make sure that there is some protein sources in the soup, whether it be chicken, beef, or perhaps a bean soup like minestrone. I would definitely avoid using canned soups, though. If you make the chicken broth ahead of time, you can use that as a base for soups when time is tighter.
Salad: Because I made such a fuss with the soup and the bread, I kept the salad to a simple tossed salad with lettuce, carrots, celery, red pepper, and tomatoes. All of the veggies were bought on sale either at ALDI or at Penn-Dutch, a local grocery store which has a $2 off $10 coupon each week in my paper. If you want, though, of course you can make a fancier salad - try my Romaine and Orange Salad, for instance.
Bread: It was Friday night, Shabbat, at my house, so I served homemade challah. I make the dough for bread in my breadmaker, which I purchased for $5.00 at a thrift shop. (It was originally $9.99, but I bought it at at 50% off sale. I've never gotten around to cleaning off the price - it reminds me of the great deal I got. And it has paid for itself hundreds of times over.)
After running the ingredients through the dough cycle, I shape the bread or put it in a loaf pan, allow it to rise once again, then bake in the oven. I prefer this to baking bread in the breadmaker itself - I don't like how the bread is baked in my breadmaker.
If you're not at home during the day, you can put the ingredients in the breadmaker, then set the timer for it to start up so that the dough cycle is done when you get home. Just don't use a bread recipe that has dairy or eggs in it - you don't want those ingredients to sit out unrefrigerated.
The challah was delicious, but I think a whole-grain, crusty bread would be better for a soup, salad, and bread night. For instance, you could use my recipes for Whole Wheat French Bread or Coconut Oil Whole Wheat Bread would be very good. A rye or pumpernickel bread would be great as well.
Hope this helps you institute your own Soup, Salad, and Bread Night!
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