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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Meal Morphing Planned Use of Leftovers, Cooking Ahead and other Kitchen Preps

I've been getting more and more interested in ways to do kitchen preps for more than one day at a time.Its a great way to make sure you never waste any food and it goes well with my work schedule.

Before I share how this worked for us this week, I will share a few tips that have helped me in general in the kitchen.

1. I use the freezer above my fridge to keep small portions of ready to use foods--small packs of pre-cooked chicken in strips or chunks, sausage, individual soups or leftovers for lunches, jalapenos, chipotles and such like to use as needed.

2. I keep an area of the small freezer clear for 'flash freezing' I have a tray I usually use when I do this and keep an area on the top shelf big enough for this tray empty--this way I can always be flash freezing something--small containers of soup, sausage patties.. leftovers.. whatever.

3. I use my small chest freezer to store bigger portions of foods--either uncooked or pre-cooked. Its like the frozen pantry.

4. In the fridge Hubby and I keep some things on hand all the time. Fresh cut veggies for snacking--carrots, celery, sometimes broccoli or cauliflower or peppers. We also keep pre-chopped shallots and peppers for cooking.

5. I keep jars of soup base in my fridge to use for 'instant stock or broth'. I generally have a chicken base, a beef base and a ham base. **Yes.. I know.. homemade stock is healthier and all that**.. but I have a job and all sorts of things that need my attention--like our new house! I just do not find time to do homemade stock very often. Perhaps someday I will morph it into my routine but right now I choose to do other things with my spare time. I use Tones in my kitchen because when I compared it, it had less sodium than most canned broths and it is MUCH less pricey. I get mine at Sam's club and it is just a couple/few bucks for a little container that lasts me several months. One teaspoon makes a cup of stock or broth. When I figured out the weight watcher points-- it was 0 points per cup. So I figure its 'good nuf' for my purposes. Tone's base is made of chicken--it is very flavory and easy to use. The soup always tastes great! This base is one of the reasons I can so easily make homemade soup so often. Compared to canned soup--well--there's no comparison--its just way better.

6. On the counter I keep fresh herbs in little vases of water--when I have them. Right now I have rosemary, sage, lavendar and oregano. The garden froze this week, so there may not be much more for awhile but its nice to grab fresh herbs and use them when cooking.


All these things helped me meal morph my way through the week this week and it was just alot of fun too!


Here's how I did it this week:

On Saturday I made a trip to Sam's Club and happened to get 6 pounds of chicken tenders for a low price.

On Sunday I ground up the chicken tenders and made 6 pounds of chicken sausage, 4 pounds peppery hot italian sausage, and 2 pounds of maple flavored breakfast sausage. Sunday I also shredded some mozarella and cut up the big blocks of cheddar and mozarella I had purchased at Sam's so I could vacuum seal and freeze them.

On Monday
some of the italian sausage was used for homemade pizza. I use spaghetti sauce for my pizza sauce usually, there was about 1/3 of a jar left after making pizza. The pizza turned out pretty good, it wasn't as good as usual mainly because I had made the dough the day before but events got in the way and the dough ended up spending the night in the fridge.

On Tuesday
I took some more of the chicken sausage and used it in a soup with the leftover spaghetti sauce. I cut up lots of shallots and peppers. Hubby cut up some carrots and celery and put them in a bowl of water to grab quickly. I used some of these chopped veggies in my soup along with chicken soup base and a can of kidney beans and some chopped spinach. I made a loaf of bread to go with the soup and it was a great meal. I also froze what was left of my sausage in 1/2 pound packs or in patties so I can use it later.

On Wednsday I grabbed some of the chopped shallots and peppers and celery and chopped up some tomatoes and cilantro and made tacos, salsa and spanish rice. I also cut up some corn tortilla shells and Hubby deep fried them so we now have about a gallon bag of homemade tortilla chips. I also pre-cooked a few cups of dry black beans yesterday. I used a method I read about in "How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I got a used copy of that at our library booksale. He doesn't bother pre-soaking dry beans at all, he says it doesn't make that much difference. He also suggested cooking them in soup stock--so I used some chicken soup base in my water--I didn't add the base until the beans had already been soaking awhile as some folks say not to cook them in salt and it does have salt. My beans took about 3 hours. According to Mr. Bittman, younger beans do not take as long to soften as older ones--I guess mine were not as fresh as they could be. He says buy them in fall for the freshest ones and buy them from a store that sells lots of them--a health food store or a Mexican grocer. I'll remember that next time. I got mine at Food Lion--and the one near me seldom fails to disappoint. :( Anyhow though the beans are fine, they just took a little long to cook. I put them in the fridge for the next day.

Today is Thursday
--(the next day) I am going to take some of my pre-cooked beans, some corn-frozen or canned works, I'm probably using frozen today. I will use the black beans, the corn, a little of my salsa from yesterday and put them on a salad with lettuce and probably spinach --since I have some-- and I will add a few croutons and some bacon bits and eat it with a Ranch dressing. :) I work this evening so the guys are on their own--but there is plenty for them to eat--leftover tacos, rice and soup.

On Friday this week I am not working--I plan to use some of the black beans again--this time for a Tex-Mex style soup. I will make this soup with the same pre-chopped shallots/onions and peppers that are already in the fridge--possibly some celery--probably not any carrots this time. I'll use the soup base again for flavor and also leftover salsa. I will pull a little portion of pre-cooked chicken chunks out of my freezer to use in this soup. I have several 1/2 pound packs of that which I made a few weeks ago when chicken was on sale. The soup will be served topped with crumbled tortilla chips.

Another possible meal using the leftovers from the tacos could be Tex-Mex Chicken wraps--this would use the pre-cooked chicken from the freezer as well as the leftover spanish rice, salsa, lettuce, black beans, corn, and perhaps ranch dressing.

On Friday I will also freeze whatever is left of the pre-cooked black beans in small packages so I won't have to cook them the next time or two I need them.

Saturday I am working all day this week and Hubby will probably do the cooking. He will have plenty of soup if he likes--I'll freeze what is left of that soup on Sunday. Most likely he will use his little George Foreman grill to make some spicy chicken for sandwhiches and have a salad with it or a rice dish, perhaps he'll make a stir fry? I don't know--it is his day and he does as he likes, generally raiding the pantry, fridge and freezer to come up with something pretty good. I will eat what he makes when I come home.

Sunday I'll plan next week's meals. I like this meal-morphing thing. It works well for us and I never end up throwing away much that is leftover anymore, plus its fun to figure out how to do it each week. :)

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