Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's OK to Cheat...Once in a While

No, I'm not talking about indfidelity here, I'm talking about baking mix! I woke up bright and early this morning and couldn't fall back asleep so it dawned on me that I should make a nice hot breakfast to surprise the hubby when he wakes up.

Since we're leaving for California in a few days, I didn't really do a big shopping trip this weekend so the only thing I had available were eggs and baking mix...hmmm...pancakes!!! So suffice it to say, yes I do use a pre-made baking mix for my pancakes. I have tried the homemade from scratch versions (making my own buttermilk and all), and really I have to say I haven't found them to be all that much better than using a pre-made mix so why go through all the hassle.

I am actually quite pleased with the mix I can get at ALDI. It's cheaper than the Bisquick mix and you can use it for almost anything (pancakes, muffins, shortcake, bisquits, waffles, etc.). Plus if you look at the ingredients, you'll see that they are all the same as if you would make your own mix from scratch (no added junk). So I don't feel too bad about cheating in this area at least!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

One Chicken, Many Meals

In the past I've avoided trying to cook a whole chicken for a few reasons. First off, it's only the hubby and I right now so I didn't know what to do with all that leftover meat. Secondly, I've always been intimidated with the whole process of taking a chicken apart and removing all the meat (my cooking skills are a work in progress). Then a few months ago I was perusing the internet and found the slow-cooking method for cooking a whole chicken and now this is one of my favorite things to make.

Buying a whole chicken is far more economical than buying chicken breasts. Now there are still instances in which I might still prefer chicken breasts, depending on the recipe but ultimately the whole chicken is the way to go. I primarily shop at two different grocery stores Wegmans and ALDI. A whole chicken at Wegmans costs around $0.88/pound and at ALDI it's about $0.85/pound. That's significantly cheaper than the $3-4 a pound you can spend on chicken breasts.

When you cook a chicken in a slow-cooker you don't want it to just sit at the bottom of the pot or it will start to boil in it's juices after a bit. To avoid this you can roll up little balls of aluminum foil and put them in the slow-cooker and then place the chicken on top of them. If you are potatoe eaters like the hubs and I, you can even put some potatoes in the bottom of the crockpot. Just cover the potatoes in foil, put them in the bottom of the slow-cooker and place the chicken over them. Make sure to pat the chicken dry and season it to taste (you can choose whatever seasonings you prefer). Close the lid and set the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours.

When you pull the chicken out it will be literally falling off the bone, and will be super tender and moist, and the potatoes will be perfectly baked and soft. That's meal one. After dinner I pull off all the remaining chicken meat off the bones, which is very easy since it's falling off anyway. I will then choose another meal or two to make with the leftover chicken such as a casserole, pot pie, soup, etc and freeze those for another day.

After all of that, we're still not done. I still have a chicken carcass to take care of. This is the perfect opportunity to make some homemade chicken broth. In your slow-cooker you will already have the fat, juices and drippings from the cooked chicken as well as the remains of the carcass. To make broth you simply dump in some veggies (whatever you want, I've used carrots, onions, celery, even the leftover cob from corn on the cob), whatever you have left over and some seasonings (I usually use italian seasoning: orgeano, parsley, garlic) Then pour water into the slow-cooker until it's about 3/4 full. Set your slow-cooker to low for 8 hours. This is a great overnight project.

After your broth is completed you will want to gather a large bowl and a colander. Place the colander in/over the bowl and dump the contents of the slow-cooker into the colander and discard the contents of the colander. What will be left in your bowl will be a delicious and nutrient packed homemade chicken broth.

You can store your broth in either tupperware or zip-lock bags. I like to freeze 1 cup portions in a zip-lock bag and then freeze them laying flat to save space in the freezer. The broth can be used for many recipes. I love to use it to make homemade chicken gravy or white sauce for pot pies.