Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Belated Holiday Post

This would have been a better post at the beginning of the month, but I forgot to do it. It's been weird that Easter has been right at the beginning of the month and now the Derby is on the first. There's hardly enough time to realize a holiday is coming until it's already here. Well, just keep this in mind for next year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinners

I am a little tired of all these recipe books, newsletters, websites, articles, etc. that talk about feeding your family. Do the people writing these things have families? I think they mustn't if they are writing recipes all day. I'm talking about on a budget, have young children, want to eat well families. People I know want to feed their families quickly, healthily, inexpensively, and most importantly, deliciously (from a kids' point of view, no less!) but rarely do any of the aforementioned outlets consider more than one or two of these necessities. Sure I could make this casserole in twenty minutes, but the fact that it calls for a Campbell's cream of gross soup and an entire brick of cream cheese makes me think, "no." Or yes, that Japanese recipe sounds fantastic, except for the fact that I don't have the kind of money to go out and buy six different types of oils and everyone in my family a huge slab of tuna (mmmm tuna tartare....). So what do classy cooks like us (yes, go ahead and laugh- I invite you to!) who also happen to be somewhat "financially challenged" do about dinner?

I don't actually pretend to have an answer. I'm on a quest for an answer. But let me start with the one thing I know of that meets almost all of the criteria. Roast Chicken- it's the one! The thing about whole chickens is that they are shockingly inexpensive. You can get a whole chicken for less than a dollar a pound almost any week at almost any grocery store. There are some times that they aren't on sale, so when they are, buy extra and freeze them. I was at Dierberg's last week (for dollar avocados) and ran into the butcher when I was looking at chicken (I knew Schnucks had the 79 cent a pound special going so I was wondering what Dierberg's was doing to compete with that). The butcher was marking the chicken down from the big meat sale from the previous week to 49 cents a pound! The date was a week away still, but he wanted to get rid of them. I think I may have stumbled onto a secret for us. The day when the sales change (Sunday for Schnucks, Monday for Dierberg's) is a good time to check and see if the meat that was on sale last week doesn't go even lower. Anyway, get you some chickens. We're going to use the whole chicken so let's get started.

I usually roast two at a time in my turkey roaster, and I have even roasted up to four small ones before (my mom always used a giant foil pan for turkeys, by you can get a real Caphalon roasting pan like mine at Bed Bath and Beyond for $20 or so- actually, I just checked and mine is listed for $100! I know I did not pay that much. Wait until they go on sale around Thanksgiving, use your 15% coupon that always comes in the mail, and get you a nice pan- you can get one exactly like mine for $60 without the swanky tools even without waiting for a sale). If you don't have a roasting pan of any kind, and are just planning to cook one bird, I have even used a pyrex casserole dish successfully. You're going to do this economically, healthily, and deliciously, but on the front end, you are going to have to have a little bit of time. The best part though is that there is absolutely no prep (so while you do need time, you don't need energy)! Just open the package, pull out your bird, rinse it and pat it dry (pull the bag with the neck and giblets out if they're in there- also, sometimes there's no bag, yuck!) sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper, and stick it on your roasting rack. This is the part that requires time- there's no work involved, but your presence is needed. You will want to do put the birds in the oven about two hours before you plan to eat, and you really will need to be home (or someone will) for those two hours. If two hours is never going to work before dinnertime, roast the chicken(s) when you do have time and store them, after they have cooled, in ziploc bags in the fridge until you need cooked chicken pronto. I do that all the time. This recipe is for 3-3 1/2 pound chickens, when I have bigger birds, I add about ten minutes to every step for every pound (I am totally guessing to give you a jumping off point- do not take that as a precise formula).

Roast Chicken
- Start your chickens in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
- Turn your oven down to 200 and cook for another hour
- Get your oven back up to 400 degrees and once it is heated, cook chicken for another 15 minutes
- Let rest for 20 minutes (I almost never let them rest this long)

I serve the breast meat with pasta and any combination of the following- fresh spinach (it will wilt nicely when mixed immediately with drained pasta), parmesan, toasted pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, sliced fresh tomatoes, chopped fresh basil, and (always) kosher salt and olive oil. Or sometimes serve it with pasta and alfredo sauce*. Or sometimes I cut the meat up for soup. You could use it for a casserole- I have used it often in a chicken pot pie*. Chicken salad*? And today, I even sliced some for a panini (a post of its own, but I can tell you that today I had roast chicken, fresh basil leaves, and sliced mozzarella- yum!) Basically, whatever you can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts for, you can use the breasts from your roasted chicken for, and the chicken will be tastier!

And, this is exciting! I have finally figured out a really great use for the dark meat, the part my family will never eat! It's super quick, economical, healthy, and delicious- it meets all the criteria!!!! When I made it for the first time a couple of months ago, August said "I think I might want this on my birthday!" It's really nothing glamorous, just taco salad. But the dark meat really holds up to reheating without drying out and is given a better flavor with the mexican spices. I made this up just on a whim ("what am I going to do with all this leftover dark meat?") and have decided it's good enough to share. The recipe below is for the chicken part. In addition, you will need lettuce, cheddar cheese, black beans, avocados and tomatoes (better yet, guacamole* or salsa*)- really whatever you like! Some of us use sour cream for the "dressing" but ranch dressing mixing with the salsa is perfect to me. Don't forget the tortilla chips! Oh, and beer. You'll want more beer!

Chicken Taco Salad
chopped dark meat from 1 3-4 lb. roast chicken
1T butter
1 recipe Annie's Taco Seasoning
1T chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder,
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1/2tsp. salt
half a bottle of pale beer (Hurray! You get to drink the other half!)
- melt butter in skillet and toss in chicken.
- add spices and mix to disperse and coat chicken
- pour in beer and let cook for five minutes or until desired moistness (remember, your chicken is already cooked)
- meanwhile chop lettuce, tomato, avocado, etc. for salad and grate cheddar cheese
-if doubling, double the meat and spices, but you may not need much more butter or beer.

Save your bones! I have bags and bags of chicken carcasses in my freezer! What am I saving them for? To be boiled all day with parsley, thyme, carrots, celery, onions, and garlic for stock! I also have blocks and blocks of frozen chicken stock in my freezer (freeze them in 2-3 cup tupperware containers and them pop them out once they are frozen and store them in a ziploc bag). If you don't have thyme in your garden right now, go get you some. You can find it at any garden center, or probably even the produce section of your grocery store. Parsley and the other veggies are inexpensive enough to buy as needed, but thyme is one of those expensive herbs that you often just need a sprig or two of anyway. Who wants to pay $3 for a sprig of something? And thyme will last you way into the winter after everything else is done. I know I went out on my deck in freezing rain this winter and got some thyme (who knows what could have happened if I had just brought the plant inside?!). While you're buying herbs, I also highly recommend basil. You should have it right outside your door. You will save tons of money. If you don't have a garden, just buy a pot and stick the thyme on one side and the basil on the other. That's what I do. Anyway, your stock will need to be on a low boil for eight hours so it's not the sort of thing you can make on a day when no one is home. But it's great to get going on a Sunday afternoon or on a day when you plan to just be home. Like with the original chicken, there's nothing to do after everything goes in the pot but just check on it from time to time and make sure the house doesn't burn down.

Chicken stock
bones from two chickens, covered with water, in an eight quart pot
4 carrots, each peeled and cut into several big pieces
4 stalks of celery, each cut into several big pieces
1 onion, quartered
fresh parsley sprigs (8?)
fresh thyme sprigs (8?)
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled (I don't always put this in)
salt and pepper
-bring to a boil and then keep everything just at a simmer for about 8 hours
- add water if needed to keep everything covered- it should just keep falling down lower as it cooks so that even when water evaporates, everything else is sort of collapsing.
- strain stock (you can allow it to cool to room temperature first) into a tupperware and place in fridge overnight.
- scrape fat that has risen to the top off and discard. stock will be gelatinous- gelatin is actually made from proteins in animal bones!
- freeze stock in recipe friendly quantities (1-3 cups as opposed to a quart!). once frozen, stock can be popped out of containers and stored in freezer bags to free up your tupperware.

I am so sorry for all you details people. I am just not made from that stuff that allows a person to think in terms of specifics. On the other hand, I rely on it in others when learning something new! I am sorry I am not very reliable. Feel free to ask questions. I will try to get to the recipes for all of the starred dishes in the near future. I know I always say things like that and then forget, but I really will try.

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