We have been focusing on New Year’s resolutions. Today we wrap up our week on simplicity and transition to getting your financial life in order. This post covers both areas perfectly and deliciously! What could be simpler and more budget-friendly than making one chicken last seven days?
But before I launch into the how, I should explain the why. First off this is NOT a cooking blog and will never be a cooking blog. I love to cook but am not uniquely innovative in the kitchen. I make home-style food that my Midwest hubby loves. Usually my cooking consists of tossing things together – a pinch here and a dash there – not really measuring ingredients but somehow the meal comes together.
So the inspiration for experimenting with making a chicken last this long came from a financial need. My husband is a contractor for a federal government agency. When the government shut-down happened last year he was out of work for a few weeks. I am sure in the rest of America it was business as usual, but in Washington DC the world stopped. He did complete several “honey-do” projects but we were without his paycheck for half a month.
When the shut-down ended, Congress approved back-pay for all the days employees did not work but contractors were not paid. So it was tight around our household. We could have easily purchased inexpensive food, which usually is prepackaged and less healthy, but due to my son’s dietary needs (read about the Feingold Diet that helps with ADHD) we needed to stay with whole-eating.
So I turned to Google and found this blog post on Heavenly Homemakers that inspired me to experiment with the same concept. I came up with the following recipes that are more than enough to feed our family of three adults and two kids:
- Day 1: Chicken Noodle Soup
- Day 2: White Bean Chicken Chili
- Day 3: Chicken Alfredo
- Day 4: Chicken Pot Pie
- Day 5: Chicken Taco Soup
- Day 6: White Chicken Pizza
- Day 7: Leftovers
On Sundays we stop by a local farmers market and pick up a whole chicken – usually it is about 8 pounds and costs approximately $16.00. At that time I also pick up two dozen eggs, carrots, onions and celery along with more veggies for salad and fruit. At home I put the chicken in an oversized stock pot, throw in an onion (cut in quarters), three chopped carrots (no need to peel, just wash and cut the ends), and three stalks of celery cut to 3 inch pieces. Sometimes I have random veggies to throw in for extra tastiness – like the green onions in this photo.
Then cover the chicken with plenty of water – I can fill up my pot with 25 cups. Trust me, you are going to want to use every drop of that delicious chicken stock. Add 2 tablespoons of poultry seasoning and 1 tablespoon of salt. Add more if you like, but since I season the recipes I try to keep the stock as simple as possible.
Set on medium-high heat and simmer all day. I keep it cooking for about five to six hours and check on it periodically to skim off the foam.
When ready, take off the heat and remove the chicken. It can be a bit difficult to pull out the chicken so I use a combination of tongs and an oversized strainer.
Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, I pull off the skin and remove the bones. This takes about 10 minutes and you get faster the more you do it. There are all sorts of little bones and cartilages in a whole chicken, so take your time. Strain the stock and place the chicken bones, skin and veggies in a pot, cover with water to make another 10 cups of stock out of it. I promise it is good!
The finished stock should go in the refrigerator and the next morning you can skim off the hardened layer on the top to remove the fat. I keep one third of the stock in the fridge for immediate use and put the remainder in oversized mason jars and freeze. Remember that liquid expands so do not fill the jars to the top or they will crack. You can also use plastic containers.
I used to be weirded out about making more stock from the skin and bones. But I promise it is yummy. Plus you mix it in with the other stock. And because you skim off all the fat, the finished product is super healthy. I unexpectantly lost 7 pounds after we started eating like this on a regular basis (and I was a healthy eater before our chicken obsession started).
The remaining chicken can be divided into ziploc baggies and put into the freezer to keep fresh. I usually divide it into thirds, keeping one-third in the refrigerator for immediate use. It is super easy to defrost chicken in bags.
So here is where the recipes come in. Usually on the first day, while I am cooking the chicken, I also make the Chicken Noodle Soup. I carefully scoop broth from the pan after the chicken is cooked and spoon out any fat that rises to the surface. Pair this with cornbread and a salad and you have a great meal. Sometimes we substitute fun shaped pastas for the egg noodles. It is a quick and healthy meal. And although my family are not huge soup lovers, once a week isn’t too much for them to handle. Note that I keep the chicken in the soup at a minimum since you are getting nutrients from the stock.
Day 2 is one of our favorites – White Bean Chicken Chili. It is another budget conscious and healthy meal since it includes tons of beans. You can even reduce costs by using dry beans. The crockpot is your friend since you dump all the ingredients in the morning and have a yummy meal for dinner. My son can’t get enough of this chili and leftovers are better the next day.
You are getting a two-fer with day three’s Chicken Alfredo. The recipe yields more than enough to save and freeze for the White Chicken Pizza. We usually make peas and serve the sauce over whole grain pasta.
Oogy-gooy chicken stew in a flakey crust? Yes please! Day four’s Chicken Pot Pie is quintessential comfort food. The cream cheese crust is super easy and amazing. I usually make double the crust recipe and keep half in the freezer. For some reason my kids will eat anything if I throw a crust on top of it. A crisp green salad pairs perfectly for a filling meal.
Day five’s Chicken Taco Soup is another super easy recipe. Since this is towards the end of the week, I usually pull out a left over salad and only make a side of cornbread or warm tortillas to pair with it. If I am feeling really ambitious and they are in season, I will slice an avocado to top the soup.
I saved the best for last. White Chicken Pizza! The night before, I pull out the frozen Chicken Alfredo sauce to defrost in the refrigerator. We make our own crust but you can easily use a story bought one. If the sauce is a little runny, just heat it up while whisking in a pan to thicken – you can even add a little flour or cornstarch to help thicken. Spread that saucy-goodness on the crust, add mozzarella and you have a great pizza! You can even go a little crazy by topping with broccoli or sautéed spinach and garlic. We serve this for our weekly “Pizza Movie Night” so usually I put a plate of cut-up veggies in front of the family and we munch while the pizza is cooking.
So that is our week. Fortunately my family loves these recipes, which is good since I make this menu twice a month. It saves us money and totally simplifies my cooking. Because most of these meals include beans, carrots and celery we only need a handful of other items at the grocery store. Plus the meals are large enough that we often have enough leftovers for lunch….and we are a family of eaters!
In the coming weeks I will work on a shopping list – so check back for the addition.
Let me know if you try this out. I would love to hear any suggestions you have for improvements or your favorite recipes to make chicken last as long as possible.