Supermarket sticker shock

Boulder chefs divulge cooking hacks to beat the skyrocketing cost of dinner

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John Lehndorff

I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but you’re not alone when you experience sticker shock at the supermarket. I’m stunned weekly as I walk the aisles in search of bargains.

The Associated Press reported that last month alone food costs climbed 1.4%, the most in nearly two years. With high gas prices, you can expect food prices to rise, as well as the cost of having groceries delivered. Restaurant menu prices are also climbing.

How can a poor cook stand such times and eat well?

I put the question to four Boulder culinary professionals: Jim Smailer, Paolo Neville, Aaron Lande and Kate Lacroix. 

Go whole bird: Jim Smailer, the recently retired veteran executive chef at Boulder Cork, is now catering and cooking at home. “Food prices really are rising and my wife and I are trying to be more frugal. I have to tell myself to use the last of something before I buy some more. Chicken is one solution. Buy a large, whole, locally raised chicken. Pat the outside dry, rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle dried thyme inside. In a deep roasting pan, place sliced lemons, carrots, fennel and/or onion, plus garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 325 degrees for about an hour until dark meat is well cooked. About 20 minutes before it’s done, add about one cup of white wine to the pan. 

Later, take the chicken carcass and remaining vegetables out. Add a cup of water or broth to the pan to get the browned bits to loosen. Strain and save for soup. Remove all the meat from the chicken and put the carcass in a big pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for several hours. Strain the broth and set aside. Skim the chicken fat and save. 

To make chicken soup, saute a cup or so of mirepoix—fine-chopped celery, onion and carrots in a few tablespoons of chicken fat. Add pan drippings and broth. Bring to a simmer and add pieces of chicken and wide egg noodles. Taste and adjust seasoning.”

Three meals, one chicken: Longtime Boulder chef Aaron Lande owns Eridu Farm Dinners. 

“It’s relatively easy to make three different meals out of one chicken, small turkey or other birds. Buy them whole and cut them up or use whole bone-in, skin-on pieces. Leg thigh quarters can be braised with wine in a hot oven to go in dishes like coq au vin or chicken mole. Dark meat lends itself well to cooking low and slow with stock, wine, vegetables, herbs and garlic. 

White meat chicken breasts dry out and become tough in a braise, so utilize those in quick stir-fry dishes. Try cutting breast meat in chunks or slices, dip in egg and bread crumbs and pan-fry in until crispy. Be careful not to overcook. 

The bird carcass is your source of stock, and stock is the lifeblood of good food. It can become soup, be part of a sauce or used instead of water to cook rice and grains.”

Never less than a gallon: According to Paolo Neville, executive chef at 95A Bistro & Sushi in Lafayette, if you’re going to cook and make a mess of your kitchen, you might as well go big and save money.

Kate Lacroix

“As a chef my job is to manage the cost of ingredients, especially with food prices rising every week. If food is wasted, the restaurant doesn’t survive. I love making soups and stews using all the leftover ingredients in the refrigerator. I never make less than a gallon. After it cools, freeze soup in plastic containers in meal-sized portions. Recently, I made a bean stew with sausage and used up some extra spinach before it went bad. I pulled a pint out of the freezer for breakfast, simmered it until thick in a saucepan, poured beaten eggs and a little cheese over it and put it in the oven to make a frittata. The possibilities are endless.”

Get even with a pot of beans: Culinary veteran Kate Lacroix founded First Bite Boulder and runs Stocked, a Substack that helps women save money on their grocery bill and invest the savings. (Details: stocked.substack.com)

“My simple hack to get through a week of meals inexpensively is to make a big pot of beans. Google a basic dry bean recipe that includes citrus, herbs, onions and garlic. I like using Rancho Gordo dry cassoulet white beans because they are sturdy but creamy. Buy a crusty loaf such as Moxie Bakery’s Farmhaus loaf, and then go through a week’s bean-y menu. 

To start, serve a bowl of beans with garlic bread—butter or olive oil, lots of garlic and herbs. Next, spoon heated beans on buttered toast with jammy eggs for breakfast. For lunch, try beans pureed in a food processor on bruschetta—thick-sliced bread toasted, olive-oil brushed, topped with herbs, garlic, and veggies like chopped tomato. One dinner idea is to simmer cooked beans with dry pasta, chunks of Italian sausage and sautéed kale topped with brown butter-sauteed breadcrumbs. Another is poor man’s cassoulet: cooked beans baked with pre-roasted bone-in chicken legs and vegetables.”

Got a great dollar-saving meal? Share your best, simple, practical, money-saving ideas to: nibbles@boulderweekly.com

Local Food News

Boulder’s coffee culture is being refreshed. January Coffee recently opened at 1886 30th St., and McDevitt Taco Supply has opened Heady Coffee Co. next door in the Meadows Shopping Center. … Coming soon: Brasserie Ten Ten, long-shuttered by the pandemic, is set to reopen in June. Also: Death & Co. (where The Med was located), Maria Empanada and Mason’s Dumpling House in Boulder. … The menu on the cool FED Boulder food truck recently included this dessert: red algae vegan caramel tarts with cinnamon chestnut mushrooms and sprouted cashew cream. 

Words to Chew On

“How could we have advanced from Stalingrad and Kursk on to Berlin without American aid and foodstuffs? We had lost our grain-producing area (Ukraine). … Without SPAM (from the U.S.), we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army.” —Former U.S.S.R. leader Nikita Khrushchev 

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, kgnu.org).

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