January 11, 2012

Value meals, not the fast food kind!

These days I'm all about being frugal and finding value in every crook and cranny of our lives.  I am learning to appreciate how far we can stretch a dollar, or more!  For the first time in a while, both Dave & I have full time careers that we love and enjoy, which means we are re-learning the whole budget thing.  We want to pay off debt, and be able to save, and on top of that we like to LIVE like go out to eat and travel all over and you know...go on the occasional, but always frugally based, shopping spree;) 

Therefore, I love meals that I can get A LOT out of and so far the best "bang for my buck" is making a whole chicken in my trusty crock pot.  Not only is it super frugal friendly, but its so darn easy!  Sadly I don't have any pictures, I'll add them next time I do this - I JUST made this last night and I am kicking myself for not snapping a few! I 've been doing this meal(s) for about 5 months now - and I usually make this every other week.  Another reason I love it is that I can prep it at night, throw everything in the fridge, and then pop it all in the crock pot early in the am and let it cook all day while I try to counsel the young minds of Harford County.

BTW the crock pot or slow cooker is your best friend if you want easy, simple, frugal meals!  I can't wait to get our chest freezer so that I can take a Saturday and make around 20 meals for it and freeze them.  Life is easier with a slow cooker, I promise!!

Crock Pots =   love love love;)

Whole Chicken in the Crock Pot

1 small whole chicken (I usually use the 3-4lb ones that I can get on sale or clearance from Safeway or Shoprite)
1/2 bag of baby carrots
3-4 stalks of celery
1 small to medium onion

Rub: I usually just throw this all together and don't really measure it...play around with it and tweak to your tastes!
garlic salt

Clean and dry your chicken.  Chop all your veggies in to bite sizes.  Put the veggies on the bottom of your crock pot and place the chicken, breast side down, on top.  Stuff the chicken with some of those veggies and even a lemon if ya want.  Then, I rub mine with some olive oil and then sprinkle the rub all over, and put some inside, season it up right nice!  You do not need any liquid to this, I promise, it creates all it's own!  Put the lid on, set the time for 8-9 hours on low and leave it alone, go to work, go shopping, clean the house...whatever it is you want to do for that long and when time is up, you have a fully cooked, fully yummy chicken for dinner!  I serve with mashed potatoes and green beans, and I scoop up the veggies and serve them too.  SO good. 

It doesn't end there!!!  After dinner I may save a few meaty pieces for the hubs to eat again (he's always eating again!) and then I pick the chicken clean of all meat.  It's the grossest thing I've ever done and every time it makes me want to be a vegetarian...I try not to think too hard about it.  After I am done I have a bowl full of shredded chicken and then all the bones and juices from the chicken left in the crock pot.  I leave all the leftover "junk" in the crock pot and fill it about halfway with water.  I add a little salt and pepper, and a bay leaf, and then put the lid back on and turn it on to cook overnight.  In the morning you have a huge crock pot full of homemade broth!  Without all the crap that usually goes into broth.  Cool it down, skim the fat, and freeze it.  I freeze it in containers or bags in 2 cup quantities.  I get around 4-6 cups from each chicken.  Crazy right?  Saving money right there!

But wait!  There is still more!!  Aren't I just like a cheesy infomercial?  With the leftover shredded chicken, I make chicken soup.  Oh, its so yummy, so so yummy.  I learned from my MIL, her soup is awesome.  Actually, its her mothers (Grammy!) recipe.  I don't really use their exact recipe, I don't know it.  I stumbled onto it when I made my very first batch about 5 months ago and Dave said it was almost like his moms/grandmothers, minus the potatoes.   Well, now...I add potatoes too:)  Here is that recipe, I promise you won't be disappointed:

Chicken Soup: (can be tweaked easily if you need more or less)
Shredded chicken - I just use whatever is leftover
2-4 cups chicken broth (I always use my homemade broth for this - I use a 2-4 cups from the previous time I made all this, because the broth from THIS chicken isn't ready yet...if that makes sense)
1/2 bag of baby carrots, diced
3-4 stalks of celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 can of diced tomatoes, drained
2-3 small potatoes, diced
2-3 cups of egg noodles
Lotsa pepper

In a big pot (I use my lovely green Martha Stewart dutch oven, it's my FAVE piece of kitchenware) toss in all the fresh diced veggies, and 2-3 cups of broth.  Cook until the veggies are nice and tender.  Then add the diced tomatoes and the chicken, and add more stock if needed (depending on how much "stuff" you put in there, you may need more).  Mix it all together and give it time on the burner to macerate (lol...let the flavors mix) and then throw the egg noodles in there.  I usually let it all simmer together for at least 20 minutes and then I season to taste with salt and pepper.  We like it peppery around here.  Sometimes I add a few red pepper flakes too for a little zing.  My recipes are usually my own measurement, so really live it up here and do what you like, add more or less veggies or different ones if you want, and season to your liking.  It could be better, but we love it just the way it is.  So so yummO;)

This soup is delicious.  We eat it for days and days.  That is why I love this meal!!  I get a whole meal just from the roasted chicken, and it's always a nice meal - sometimes I break out my lovely Kate Spade wedding china.  Then, I get a lot of broth/stock out of it.  THEN, I get 2-3 days worth of chicken soup from it.  You can't beat that for value!  Let me know if you do this too, or if you try it and love it.  I'm sure you will.