Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Few of my Tricks

Ok, so I haven't cooked in nearly a week. The taco pasta toss lasted for like 3 days, then we've had kids with activities, so we've eaten out of the freezer. Tonight (since it's nearly 2:30 am), Kyle is going to make a roast for us. I will then take the leftovers and make beef stew. It's always nice to stretch a $10 roast into several days of dinners.

One of my biggest secrets is shopping the grocery ads for whole chickens on sale. I cannot claim this as original, as it's one of those that I learned from my mom (thanks Dude!). When I can find them for $0.79-$0.89 per pound, then we get a plethora of them and start boiling them up. I add an onion (quartered), a carrot (cut into a few pieces), a celery stalk (cut into a few pieces), garlic, pinch of salt, pepper corns, and parsley for flavor. This makes the BEST chicken stock. After cooking the chicken through (usually about 45 minutes to an hour), then cool the stock. I usually put it in a pitcher and cool overnight. This way the fat congeals on top. Spoon off and you have nearly fat free stock. The little amount of salt also makes sure that it's a low sodium stock as well. I measure it out and put 2 cups into freezer bags and freeze. I can't remember the last time I bought chicken stock. The meat is also frozen in 2 cup increments. This is used for those recipes that call for "chopped cooked chicken". If you really want to be anal, you can freeze the dark meat and breast meat separately and use the breast meat for sandwiches or a quick salad when last minute company comes over. Holiday ham gets the same treatment. Leftovers are sliced up and frozen in usable quantities so that when I make beans & rice or jambalaya, they are ready to pull out, cut up, and use. We get the bone in ham and make split pea soup as well. One of our local stores does a special at Thanksgiving and Christmas where if you buy the ham, you get the turkey for free. Turkey meat can be substituted for chicken in nearly any recipe.

Broccoli is an interesting case. I took a page from Rachael Ray's playbook on this one. After using the florets, I saved the stalks in a freezer bag and froze. After accumulating enough of them, I made soup. Not having to buy the broccoli made the soup cheap (since I had already gotten the broccoli for something else). All I really had to get was cream. The rest of the recipe was staple items.

There is also no excuse to ever throw away bananas. You can either send them to my daughter, who will gobble them down, or you can do any of a number of things with them. The ones that are almost black are great for banana nut bread or freezing for a smoothie. When I freeze them, I put them into a snack size ziplock bag.

There are lots of times where the frozen veggie aisle is my BFF. Some grocery stores now have chopped onion, chopped green bell peppers, and various blends of veggies to make life easy. I have used a package of chopped onion, celery, and carrot to make chicken stock. One of my local grocery stores also has an onion/celery/bell pepper blend that is very nice for my Cajun dishes. The stir fry options are also plentiful. Some come with sauce, some don't. I make my own sauce, so that part is irrelevant to me.

Well, it's now 3:15 in the morning. I really need some sleep! Hopefully some of these tricks will make your life easier. I'll do another post in the next few days about cooking with leftovers.

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