Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Freezer Chef

My friend and co-host of this blog, Katy, recently bought a book titled "Fix it, Freeze It, and Feast," or something of the like. You can pretty much get the concept by the title. It basically takes large catering style proportions and organizes family style meals into freezable sections which you can prepare ahead of time, store, and then take out and cook up in a matter of minutes. I'm excited to add this as yet another resource in my never ending quest for healthful, convenient, tasty, and economical cooking.

The idea of buying in bulk can be a great strategy for stretching a budget, but only if you are smart about how you apply your purchases. For instance, Costco, has excellent prices on fresh meats and produce. But unless you're having a lot of guests over, you usually can't eat the produce before it goes to waste (not exactly a money saver). And the meat, while it certainly is competitive at price per pound, it's typically proportioned much greater than an actual serving requires. In the future, us girls are hoping to get together and have some freezer cooking parties with Katy's new cookbook where we all make a few recipes, divide them up amongst each other and then take home our spoils. In the meantime, it has inspired me to do a little prep of my own, and have compiled some weekly menus that stretch the budget, capitalize on bulk items, and can be easily portioned off and frozen for a better shelf life. I hope you enjoy.

Plan #1 - The Thigh Master

This plan is a great way to make use of an entire pack of boneless skinless chicken thighs from Costco. They typically come in packs of about 6 pounds, and can usually be purchased at around $2.00 to $2.50 a pound. The Brunswick Stew and Chicken Thighs Braised in Garlic and White Wine are both delicious comfort food dishes that reheat well so can be cooked up over the weekend and then divided into individual servings to be refrigerated or frozen and eaten throughout the week. The Asian Barbecue Chicken is one of my all time favorite marinades. I recommend mixing the marinades as soon as you get home from the grocery store and then tossing together with the chicken in one or two ziploc bags depending on how much chicken you have left and how many people you plan to feed. Then store in the freezer to pull out later for a convenient weeknight meal.

Chicken Thighs Braised in Garlic and White Wine

2 teaspoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper
8 small chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 small yellow onions, quartered
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 jarred hot cherry peppers, seeded and roughly chopped, plus 3 tablespoons of the brine
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup long-grain white rice

In a small bowl, combine the oregano, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, season with the spice mixture, and dredge in the flour.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and brown the chicken, 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pot and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cherry peppers and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the pepper brine, wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the package directions. Divide among individual bowls and spoon the chicken and sauce over it.

Yield: Makes 4 servings

CALORIES 675 (37% from fat); FAT 28g ; CHOLESTEROL 113mg; CARBOHYDRATE 64g; SODIUM 960mg; PROTEIN 31g; FIBER 2g; SUGAR 5g

Real Simple, SEPTEMBER 2007

Brunswick Stew

From 19th-century Virginia, this stew originally included squirrel meat (we opt here for chicken). Although the stew is sometimes thickened with stale bread cubes, this version uses flour to give it body and features garlic bread on the side. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

Cooking spray
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
1 (10-ounce) package frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans, thawed
6 (1-ounce) slices Italian bread, toasted
2 garlic cloves, halved

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add bell pepper, onion, and celery to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add oil to pan. Combine flour and chicken in a medium bowl, tossing to coat. Add chicken to pan; cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Gradually stir in broth; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through lima beans) to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

Rub bread slices with cut sides of garlic; discard garlic. Serve bread with stew.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 cup stew and 1 slice bread)

CALORIES 319 (26% from fat); FAT 9.2g (sat 2.2g,mono 3.5g,poly 2.6g); IRON 3.2mg; CHOLESTEROL 50mg; CALCIUM 58mg; CARBOHYDRATE 38g; SODIUM 596mg; PROTEIN 22.4g; FIBER 5.8g

Cooking Light, OCTOBER 2007

Asian Barbecue Chicken

"This is a recipe I love to make for family and friends. I usually serve it with roasted sesame asparagus and a sesame-noodle salad. Let the chicken marinate overnight for best results." -Jen McDonald, Centerville, VA

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 (6-ounce) chicken thighs, skinned
Cooking spray
Lime wedges (optional)
Green onion tops (optional)

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add chicken. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 4 hours, turning occasionally.

Prepare grill.

Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Place marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute.

Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 20 minutes or until done, turning and basting frequently with the marinade. Garnish with lime wedges and green onion tops, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 thighs)

CALORIES 297 (23% from fat); FAT 7.7g (sat 2g,mono 2.4g,poly 1.9g); IRON 2.7mg; CHOLESTEROL 161mg; CALCIUM 39mg; CARBOHYDRATE 16.1g; SODIUM 706mg; PROTEIN 39.2g; FIBER 0.4g

Cooking Light, MARCH 2002

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