Food + Wine

“Stretch your Chicken”

(The following was written on my iPad and many of you know that Google and Apple do not play nice, so doing what I do on any of my ‘i” devices is extremely difficult.  Even though I have gone back and changed a few spacing issues, I left everything else as messy as it was before because it just didn’t seem fair to perfect it.)

Today I began a little experiment in my kitchen. I am far too excited for this experiment and many of you may think it silly but I do not care. This is exciting. And cool. (insert tongue sticking out face here). I realized that lately I have been caught up in the habit of shopping for and cooking new ingredients for each and every meal. I have been planning out my meals, usually with a different protein for each night, with fresh produce and the likes, for so long that I forgot the reason why I started cooking and planning the way I do…the reason why I actually started writing this blog in the first place. I began writing recipes and sharing them with people because, after I had my son and I decided to stay home with him, my husband and I needed to cut back on our spending. He had just started a new job, at the basement floor level, and was suddenly the only one providing for his new family of three. I took on the challenge of spending only $100 or less each week, including food, gas, diapers… anything and everything that we needed to buy on a regular basis was included in that under $100/week budget. I discovered coupons, a new way to shop and meal plan, and I discovered how to stretch a dollar. I began coming up with these fantastic recipes, using things I never would have put together, just because I happened to have it on hand or it was on sale that week.

Then…somehow, somewhere along the way I got wrapped up in the recipe development part of my job and I forgot my roots. I was still freezing the giblets from my chickens for soup, I was still hoarding Parmesan rinds for sauces and making my own bread but I wasn’t cooking from the ground up every week. So I decided to give myself a challenge. I just got back from a week long vacation where everyone slept too little, spent too much, and ate too many things with labels on them. So I decided that once we returned I would cook up one of the chickens I had in my freezer, and base an entire week’s worth of meals using only the things I have in my cupboard, fridge or freezer and that one little chicken. I knew we wouldn’t be eating poorly, as it may sound, but rather, we would be eating smartly. And shouldn’t we all be thinking more about how to cook and eat more mindfully?

Not every meal throughout the week would have chicken in it, but that one chicken would supply something for almost every meal. The best animal protein I can think of to stretch is the chicken. Not those factory pressed pieces of chicken you see in grocey stores and refrigerators across America, but the whole chicken, intact, bones and skin actually included. One of my favorite meals is a simple roasted chicken with fat-glazed root vegetables cooked along side, but all you are left with after cooking your chicken that way is the carcass for which to make soup. For this challenge I needed all the help from this little bird I could get. So I decided to poach my bird. Then I would have the meat, the stock and the carcass to help me throughout the week. I also knew I would be relying heavily on grains to round out the meals so why not cook them all today as well? I’m turning the oven on, the burners on, getting out my knife, so why not make use of all of that energy?

Today was a day filled with cooking many different things, with as much frugality as possible. I treated today as if there were no store to drive to and no money in the bank and it was quite fun.

Each day I plan on writing about what we ate and how it was stemmed from another day’s cooking. I shouldn’t have much more real cooking to do for the rest of the week, more of just assembling. But here is a quick run through of what I did today. I pretty much know now what our meals will be, but I will leave you surprised. This was my morning…

*Placed 1 small chicken (4-5 lbs) in an extra large stockpot filled with water, added 1 onion, 2 celery stalks, 2 large carrots, and 2 bay leaves. Seasoned the pot with a large handful of kosher salt and a healthy sprinkling of ground allspice. Brought to boil, reduced to slow simmer, covered and cooked until the chicken legs were barely clinging to the body. Removed chicken and veg, leaves, etc and allowed stock to cool before placing into covered containers to be refrigerated (I have 8 quarts of stock in my fridge right now) and removed skin and bones from chicken. Chicken was placed in covered container for the fridge, carcass placed in freezer zip bag for freezer.

*Boiled one box of whole wheat angel hair pasta in large pot of salted water. Removed pasta before al dente and removed 1 cup of the pasta water for tonight’s dinner. Allowed pasta to cool before separating into half, one half for tonight’s dinner, the other for something else in the week. Kept the rest of the pasta water in the pot, tasted for salt content (if the water was too salty, I would have cut it with fresh water. Mine was fine.)

*Added 2 cups of barley to pasta water (soon to be barley water). Cooked barley, removed to cool but saved water for yet another ingredient. Stored barley in covered container for later in the week

*Added 2 cups lentils to barley water (soon to be lentil water). I needed to add about a cup of fresh water to the pot first. Cooked lentils, removed to cool and stored the remainder of the Lentil Broth for something later in the week. (I had 3 cups of wonderfully starchy and insanely flavorful broth left over.)

*Roasted two trays of vegetables for tonight’s dinner, saving the cobs from the corn, the cabbage core and onion tops for some type of soup or broth later in the week.

Dinner tonight was nothing chicken-based, but I am rolling over many components of it to other meals this week. I made a slightly different version of my July Pasta with shredded cabbage added to the roasted veggies. Here’s the recipe link: 

So now my refrigerator is filled with meal components for at least a week and I barely spent two hours on it and used the smallest amount of water and energy possible, I feel I really did something useful and smart…mindful. This is going to be fun.

(Fast Forward to Day 2 to see what I made first.)

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  • Reply Gail June 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Abbey, I try to think of meals as a series of on-going links; nearly every meal I cook contains some re-purposed element or other of the meal before (whether it's just chicken stock from the carcass of teh bird or extra roasted vegetables saved for a breakfast frittata or leftover beets used the next day for a summer borscht or odds and ends of yesterday's berries folded into a coconut milk baked custard or a clafoutis.) Repurposing saves time and money and can be as satisfying, certainly as creative, as inventing each new meal from scratch. And yes, I agree with you, having little zip lock bags of roasted vegetables in the frige, especially, is like money in the bank. 🙂

    • Reply Everyday Champagne June 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

      I used to be more like this too, Gail! And I just got wrapped up in the excitement of 'new'. I love that you cook like this all the time, and I have always been very frugal but I needed a restart! This has opened my eyes and made me rethink it all, all over again. Thanks so much for your comment! I always love hearing your input, you have wonderful ideas

  • Reply Gail June 20, 2012 at 12:17 am

    By the way, Abbey, if you are cooking your starches ahead of time, do try black rice (nothing like gummy brown rice, sometimes labelled Forbidden Rice, because it was said to have been so precious and delicious that only the royal family of ancient China was allowed to eat it!) It has the highest protein of any rice (and the lowest glycemic index, so even persons curtailing their inflammatory foods [that should be everyone with arthritis or joint pain!] can eat it. It has a fabulous nutty flavor–and is perfect for serving with fish or chicken, when you want a contast with your white food. But the best thing about black rice is that it tastes as good a day or two or even three days later as it did the moment you took it off the stove. That can not be said for most rices–or most starches for that matter.

    • Reply Everyday Champagne June 20, 2012 at 12:23 am

      I love forbidden rice! And you know what? I don't have any! Now I will get some for sure, thank you for reminding me about it..and the info about its refrigerator life. We used to it it a lot with salmon I believe, and back in LA, at the restaurant I worked in, we served it with squid and squid ink..double black! It was gorgeous. Thanks Gail!

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