Sunday, January 18, 2009

Meal Planning Part III's the final post in the meal planning series. I didn't intend for it to really be a series but it just felt like too much info for one post.

Let me try to answer some of your questions:

1. What is your method for cooking all that chicken.
So simple, really. I just throw the chicken breasts into a pot with some onion, celery, garlic, carrots, salt and pepper (really, whatever you have on hand) bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a couple of hours. I don't even cut the veggies up well...just halve an onion, cut off a few stalks of celery (leaves and all), and chunk 'em in your pot.The longer you simmer at a low temp, the more tender your meat will be. Then, just let cool and shred the meat (I use my fingers), divide up into your meal sized portions and freeze. We're not talking rocket science here!

DON'T throw away the broth! It's so good and flavorful! I divide it up too and freeze it in ziploc bags or rubbermaid containers. I seem to freeze it in 2 cup amounts...seems like that's a good amount for soups and other recipes.

I buy whatever kind of chicken is on sale, but I'm partial to boneless, skinless breasts. The bone-in kind were .99/lb not long ago so I stocked up (bones give your meat/broth a better flavor). I don't enjoy pulling the meat off of a whole chicken so I usually only buy those when I'm planning to roast one, but I think they might be cheaper. Don't know because I don't buy them often enough.

2. What is the time commitment for pre-cooking your meat?
I've gotten in the habit of doing this as I'm cooking dinner. For example, I did my grocery shopping last Saturday. We had spaghetti soup for dinner that night, so as I was browning the ground beef for the soup, I just browned the beef for the other meals. A day or two later I made chicken spaghetti for dinner, so I prepped all my chicken at that time. 

It's a minimal time commitment if you multi-task, and the pay-off is HUGE!

3. What's the deal with Tillamook cheese?
I don't's just my favorite brand. It is more natural than some of the other brands (no artificial orange coloring) and it tastes great! I buy either the medium or the sharp cheddar.
I do NOT freeze my shredded cheese. Some of you asked me that, but I think you misread my text. I use my food processor to grate it all at once and keep in ziploc in the refrigerator! 
The two pound block lasts us at least two weeks, and oftentimes longer. 

It's such a time-saving step. I don't know about you, but I can't even begin to count the number of times I'd get everything ready for tacos only to realize I hadn't grated the cheese! Argh. 

4. What about leftovers?
I count on having leftovers. 

John and I usually eat leftovers for lunch each day. I really don't like sandwiches and I prefer something hot for lunch.

Sometimes I find myself with lots of leftovers accumulating in the fridge and we'll have "Leftover Night" which usually means that we each eat something different and I get the night off from cooking. If we don't end up eating everything, I freeze what I can for another meal. I try very hard not to waste food.

At the end of the two-week meal plan period, if there are meals I haven't prepared, they just get added to the next two-week rotation.

5. Do you ever double the recipe and freeze for later? 
Absolutely! Soups, chili, and casseroles are easy to freeze.

Here is a GREAT tip for freezing casseroles for later use. I got this from a Southern Living magazine years ago:

Line your baking dish with heavy duty aluminum foil, leaving 4-6 inches extra on the sides of dish. Pour casserole into foil lined dish. Seal the foil tightly. Freeze. When frozen, remove frozen casserole in the foil and return to freezer. When ready to bake, place thawed casserole (in foil) back in dish and cook. NO CLEAN-UP--just throw the foil away!!!

6. Any great crock-pot recipes to share?
Here are some slow cooker recipes from my recipe blog. Susan posted one last week for black bean chili that I can't wait to try, and Carrie posted one for cranberry chicken that sounded good too. Most soup recipes can easily be adapted for the slow cooker. If you have loads of time on your hands, you can sort through the 100+ links at Boomama's Souptacular Crockpotalooza.

If you have a great crockpot recipe you want to share, leave me a link in the comments.

7. What kitchen tools do you think are essential?
That's hard. SO many to choose from. 

I use my large, heavy, non-stick skillet (Calphalon One--a gift from John a few years ago) almost every day. 

My large stock pot sees lots of use too.

Good, sharp knives and cutting board(s).

Garlic press.


Kitchen shears.

Ali asked about the food processor...honestly, I really only use mine (pictured above) to shred cheese and to crumble cornbread when I make cornbread dressing. It's nice, but not necessary.

What about you guys...what is essential in your kitchen?

If you're just now finding this post, you can read Part I here, and Part II here.


*carrie* said...


I have really appreciated these posts, and am so glad you took the time to write all of this out!

I would like to try your method for cooking chicken, and I think saving the broth is brilliant. Another blogger recently gave me the idea of cooking a big batch of chicken breasts in the crockpot, and I tried that (loved how easy it was), but the meat tasted a little funny to me. She does not add anything to the pot, however, so I'm even wondering about combining your ideas and doing this in the crockpot with water and veggies. Hmmm . . .

I've been thinking that I need to plan ahead better and double more meals (to freeze later for when the baby comes), but I just never think about that. Maybe this post will help inspire me to make that part of my system, even once a week!

Stephanie Kay said...

Great post!!

I may have to try your method with chicken. I usually just brown it in a non-stick skillet but I'm not really thrilled with that method.

Essential kitchen tools for me are: my Pampered Chef batter bowl- large & small, cutting boards, PC chef's knife, PC flat stoneware, 12" stainless steel skillet (I bought a whole set for our 10th anniversary. The cheap-o's from Walmart were just done!).

Last week I froze enough left overs for several meals. I love knowing I have meals in the freezer if I need them!

Lisa said...

Excellent recommendations for cooking for a family. We are always finding new ways to save money and make things go farther.

Lisa Q

Brenda said...

I didn't realize that about Tillamook cheese. I'll have to look into that.
I'd rather spend a little more for chicken breast than cut up a whole chicken. Don't like doing that at.all!
The gadgets I like are my garlic press and my apple slicer both from Pampered Chef.
I enjoyed your series.

Moriah @ Please Pass the Salt said...

Speaking of food processors... The other night I made a huge pot of veggie soup, which lasted us 3 days. The first night, however, Adelaide would hardly touch it. She and veggies aren't the best of friends.

So the next two times, I put her portion into the food processor, which pureed her veggies into a thicker soup, and she gobbled the whole bowl, none the wiser. :) I know, I'm tricky.

Anonymous said...

My fave kitchen item is my 7 1/2 qt. Dutch oven for slow cooking and my super sharp Henckels knives.

I buy whole chickens when I can. I just bit the bullet one day and learned how to cut 'em up - hence, the knives. I also buy bone-in breasts when they go on sale for boiling/shredding.

Amber said...

I don't like to But I love to bake. I could spend all day in the kitchen if it involves a baking pan and lots and lots of sugar!! :) But, since my family can't live off chocolate cake and cookies, I've had to learn to cook some. I opt for EASY EASY recipes, because I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen cooking all night. I'm still loving your method of cooking all the meat and freezing it....isn't it terrible that I haven't cooked enough in the past week or so since you posted that tip to even try it. I'm so pathetic!

Gretchen said...

Let's just put it this way...all my new recipes are from "Mer's recipe blog". My kids are beginning to like you a whole lot.

Capital idea about the frozen casserole in foil.

Jenn said...

I am going to come back and read your meal planning series!! Thank you for taking the time to post it.

*carrie* said...

Don't want to clog your inbox =), but had to tell you I tried this today. I was able to make 2 big pots of soup (one chicken and rice, the other creamy chicken and wild rice) using just one 2-pound ($2!) chicken! I was so excited. I diced the veggies and put them in the pot with the bone-in chicken breast to form the base for both soups. Love it. My only other question is about skimming the fat off the top once the meat is cooked--what's your method?