Most of us are cooking at home these days thanks to self-quarantine. And like everyone else who has been to the grocery store lately, I am having a hard time finding some of the foods I usually like to cook. Although grocery stores are scrambling to safely restock and replenish their shelves, these shortages are a reminder to get creative and not to waste a thing.
I already look for ways to cut costs at the grocery store, and now it is even more important. For example, I always make my own broth using vegetable scraps that I keep in a labeled bag in the freezer. I also save bones in my freezer. I have separate bags for chicken, pork and beef. Using scraps and bones for stock costs you nothing extra, and your broth will be delicious -- much better than store-bought and much thriftier, too!
You may already do this, but if not, immediately start economizing by saving your vegetables scraps. You know -- those trimmings from vegetables that you usually throw away. Instead, start keeping onion skins and roots, carrot peelings, celery leaves, parsley stems, stripped rosemary and thyme stems. Again, I emphasize scraps. Don't sacrifice whole carrots, celery or onions -- use those for side dishes and soups.
But back to the main challenge -- dining during self-quarantine.
I love the idea of "eat and repeat." There is something wonderful about meals that are both simple and comforting -- and a good meal is often even better on the second night.
I am sure you already have a few meal strategies to extend the food you prepare. Pots of beans and green chile stew, trays of lasagna and layered enchiladas, meatloaf and mashed potatoes -- these are all great choices for main dinners and appetizing leftovers. And aren't we are all eating more leftovers than usual?
But I am also interested in using basic ingredients to make a couple of different meals over several days. This practice is penny-wise, provides more variety and saves time. So, I would like to share one of my favorite menus that can also serve your family something new for several dinners versus simply a repeat of leftovers. My menu revolves around versatile and nutritious chicken.
Try to snag a whole chicken next time you shop. Since you can usually find carrots, onions and celery in the vegetable department of your supermarket, these are all the humble ingredients you need. In fact you may already have a supply in your refrigerator.
What you will especially appreciate is that you can easily double and stretch these recipes if you have a larger family. If you run short on chicken, add more vegetables and feel free to substitute. Use cut-up chicken parts if you cannot find a whole bird. This is your chance to be inspired rather than daunted.
The first night, roast the chicken in the oven and serve it with lots of sautéed carrots, celery and onions on the side. Later, strip the carcass and make a pot of broth from the chicken bones, the skin and the saved frozen vegetable scraps.
For your second dinner, take the leftover vegetables and the stripped chicken meat. Place in a pot with two cups of the homemade broth, reserving the rest for later. Top with homemade parsley dumplings and simmer until done. Comfort food personified!
Finally, the third day, use the remainder of the broth and add whatever you may have on hand, including leftovers from the chicken and dumplings, canned beans, green chile and frozen corn, or any other vegetables you may have, to create a hearty and nourishing stew that is both easy and a bargain to make.
Three nights, three meals, one main ingredient. Menus that are simple to execute, and comforting and appealing to you and your family. Give these recipes a try at your house. "Eat and repeat" is my mantra during this time of self-quarantine. Perhaps it will also be yours.
1 4-5-pound whole chicken
Salt and pepper
2 sprigs of thyme
1 clove of garlic, smashed
Heat oven to 425 F.
Season the chicken generously inside and out with salt and pepper. Place the smashed clove of garlic in the cavity along with one of the sprigs of thyme.
Place chicken breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until back is browned and skin is crispy. Using a long tongs, carefully flip the chicken over to its back. Place the remaining sprig of thyme on the breast, and continue to roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until the breast is browned. Test for doneness by piercing the thigh with a fork. If the juices run clear, the chicken is done. Total cooking time is 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on your oven and the chicken.
Remove to a carving board and allow chicken to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
If desired, deglaze the pan drippings with a cup or so of boiling water. Reserve for making chicken stock for extra flavor.
CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS
2-3 cups leftover chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 cups rich chicken broth
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE DUMPLINGS
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Heat the oil and the butter in a 5-quart Dutch oven. Add the onion and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the carrot and celery, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken and stir until glistening. Add the bay leaf, the broth and the water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over low heat.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, and mix well. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or two knives. Slowly add the milk until a soft dough is formed. Cut in the parsley and gather the dough together.
Measure out 1 tablespoon balls of dough and drop into the simmering chicken stew. Continue until all the dough is used up. Cover and continue to simmer for 12 minutes.
Serve in bowls.
2 cups vegetable and herb scraps (carrot peels, celery leaves and ends, onion skins and roots, garlic skins, rosemary and thyme stems, parsley stems)
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
1 or 2 bay leaves
10-12 cups water
4-5 cups chicken, beef or pork bones
Place vegetables, spices and bones into a stock pot. Add 10-12 cups of water, or enough to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to lowest setting. Simmer for at least 4 hours, adding more water if needed to keep vegetables and bones immersed. Skim off scum occasionally if needed. Cook down the broth to about two quarts for a more concentrated flavor.
When the broth is rich enough, allow to cool. Strain and discard all the solids. Pour into several smaller containers. Cover and refrigerate or freeze for later use.