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How I Got 3 Meals from 2 Chicken Breasts and 4 Sweet Potatoes

img_5225I know. The title of this post is akin to the miracle of the fish and the loaves. However, no miracles were performed. Instead, just some thrifty stretching of food with my trusty slow-cooker. Also, I want to hasten to add that these 3 meals were for Clif and me, just the 2 of us. Yet even with this qualification, 3 meals from 2 chicken breasts and 4 sweet potatoes come under the heading of pretty darned frugal, which can only be a good thing during this very cold winter. And tasty, too, if I do say so myself.

Here is what I did. I took 4 medium sweet potatoes and cut them into large cubes. (I didn’t peel them.) I sprinkled salt and pepper on them and added a cup of water. I put two large chicken breasts on top of the sweet potatoes and seasoned them with more salt and pepper as well as thyme and sage. (I didn’t measure. I just sprinkled liberally.) Then I added two cloves of minced garlic. Onion lovers could certainly substitute or add onions as well. I set the slow-cooker on high and let everything cook for about 4 hours.

On night 1, we each had half a chicken breast and some sweet potatoes. Clif and I could have eaten more, but we refrained, which meant that we had both leftover chicken and sweet potatoes. Also, there was a lovely broth from the water and the chicken. I removed the chicken and sweet potatoes from the broth, and put them into separate containers.

Because I have a large refrigerator, I left the broth in the slow-cooker’s crockery and tucked the whole thing in the refrigerator. The next day, I used this as the base for meal 2.

I put the crockery with the broth into the base of the slow cooker, and turned it to high. I added 4 cups of water; 1 whole onion, peeled; 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped; 1/2 teaspoon of salt; and 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper. (Actually, I didn’t measure the pepper. I just ground some in.) If I had had some celery, I would have included a rib or two in the stock, but I didn’t.

I let the stock bubble on high for about 5 hours.  Then, I removed the onion. Into the slow cooker, I added the sweet potatoes, with the skins removed, and using my immersion blender, I pureed the sweet potatoes into the stock. Right there, I had a lovely, creamy soup that would have been fine just as it was.

However, Clif likes his soup to have ingredients, and if we do have a creamy soup, he loads it with crushed saltine crackers. Knowing his preference, I usually add ingredients to most every soup I make. So into the sweet potato soup I added the leftover chicken, chopped into large pieces, and 2 cans of black beans. In the refrigerator, we had leftover couscous, and I added that as well, but any small- or medium-sized pasta would work. (Because pasta and couscous have a tendency to swell, the next time I make this soup, I would add warm pasta or couscous or even rice to the bottom of each serving bowl and ladle the soup on top.)

I made some biscuit muffins to go with the soup, and Clif was a happy husband.

The third meal, of course, was leftover soup and biscuit muffins.

Now, this kind of meal could be amended in a couple of ways. For those living alone and who have a small slow-cooker—yes, Megan, I am directing this at you—the ingredients could be halved, and you would get at least two meals from this. For those with a bigger family, load that slow-cooker right up. In fact, maybe even have 2 of them going.

However it is done, you will still have 2 or 3 thrifty meals, perfect for this time of year when the nights are long and oh so cold.

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A Variation on a Theme: Slow-Cooker Chicken One Night, Chicken Soup the Next

img_5078Last week at our local grocery store, chicken was on sale, and chicken was what I bought. They were little roasters, and I picked up 2 of them, one for the freezer and one for immediate use. Usually, when I buy roasters, I, well, roast them in the oven and then make soup with whatever is leftover. This time, however, I decided to do everything in the slow-cooker, which has become my favorite small appliance. (If I had children at home, I would invest in 2 slow-cookers so that I could make twice as much and have leftovers.)

For meal 1, I cut up some carrots and potatoes—I wish I had cut up more—and put them in the bottom of the slow-cooker. I sprinkled salt and pepper on them and added 3/4 cup of water. On top of the vegetables, I put the little chicken and sprinkled more salt and pepper along with some dried thyme and sage. (No, Shannon, I didn’t measure.) At this point, onion or garlic could have been added, but I wanted the meat and vegetables to be mellow, so I left them out.

I set the slow-cooker on high, and four hours later we had succulent chicken and tender vegetables made so tasty by the broth that they didn’t need butter. (The skin is the weak point with chicken in a slow-cooker. It is slimy rather than crisp, but as I told Clif, we shouldn’t be eating the skin anyway.) There was a nice amount of broth at the bottom of the crockery, and as I have a big refrigerator, I just put the crockery with the broth on the top shelf. The leftover chicken went on a plate of its own.

The next morning, I skimmed the fat from the broth in the crockery, put the crockery in the slow-cooker, and turned it on to high. I added the leftover chicken and bones; 4 small cloves of garlic, cut in half; 1 whole onion, peeled; 2 ribs of celery, cut in big chunks; 2 big carrots, unpeeled and cut in big chunks; 1 small bay leaf; 3 whole cloves, stuck in the celery; a teaspoon of salt; some ground pepper; and finally, water to cover the bones. I am letting this simmer for about 5 hours.

As I write, I can smell simmering soup. I’ve tasted the broth, of course, and it tastes exactly the way it should. In a little while, I will strain the soup and pick the meat from the bones. As we ate most of the potatoes and carrots I cooked yesterday, I’ll boil some potatoes and carrots to a add to the soup. (Next time, I will indeed cook more with the first meal.)

“Corn bread or bran muffins to go with the soup?” I asked Clif.

“Bran muffins.”

So we’ll have chicken soup with bran muffins tonight, and it’s my guess there will be enough leftovers for another meal of soup and muffins. Not bad for a 5-pound bird.

In fact, I would say it was down-right frugal.

 

Squash Bread, Moroccan Stew, and Ginger Snaps. Oh, My!

img_4976Yesterday, the itinerary went as followed:

Item: Make squash bread—using Farmer Kev’s squash—and freeze. This will be one of our Christmas morning treats.

Item: Make Moroccan vegetable stew in slow cooker so that supper will not be a worry.

Item: Take the dog on a two-mile walk through the woods. Very cold but very beautiful.

Item: Tea and a snack on the couch while I read some of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. (A wonderful book!)

Item: Make a double batch of gingersnaps—some for Clif’s party at work and some for a library party.

Item: Two very sore knees at the end of the day.

But what a good feeling to get everything done that needed to be done.

Next on the agenda: Ice cream pie, peanut butter balls, pie knots, and some kind of cookie. Stuffed shells and cheddar cheese soup.

Christmas is coming.

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The Walk for Hope 2013: Includes Recipe for White Chili Stew

The crowd surges toward UMA
The crowd surges toward UMA

Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day for the Walk for Hope, which is a benefit for MaineGeneral’s breast care program. This year Team Good Eater—my daughter Shannon, our friend Alice, and me—really outdid itself. Thanks to the outstanding generosity of family and friends, the three of us raised $1,215 for the breast care program, and this surpassed what we raised last year—$1,075.  Holy guacamole! As I wrote ungrammatically in a recent email to Shannon and Alice, “We done good.” Many, many thanks to all who donated to Team Good Eater.

The Good Eater Gang (Liam is there, too, but he was hiding by Clif.)
The Good Eater Gang

Team Good Eater was joined by Alice’s husband, Joel; my husband, Clif; our friend Debbie Maddi; and the two dogs, Liam and Holly. (Shannon’s husband, Mike, had to work. We missed you, Mike!) We walked with well over 1,000 other people—men, women, children, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, sisters, daughters, sons, and brothers as well as many dogs. What family hasn’t been affected by breast cancer?

Spiked pink hair and high spirits
Spiked pink hair and high spirits

In a mass of pink, we flowed from the Sam’s Club parking lot and walked the trail at the University of Maine at Augusta. We saw many people that we knew, and the mood of the walk was as fine and as beautiful as the day. I am always impressed with how upbeat the tone of this walk is because, let’s face it, there is nothing upbeat about cancer, breast or any other kind. Cancer is always scary, even when it is treatable.

Pretty in pink
Pretty in pink

But on we all went on that golden October day. Many of us—including me—have already had breast cancer. Others were there to support the ones they loved. Down the hill we surged, through the woods at UMA and back up the big hill to Sam’s Club, where we were greeted by cheerleaders, complete with poms-poms. I must admit, I have never been cheered before, and it felt great. When I mentioned this to the cheerleaders, I got another loud and enthusiastic cheer.

After the walk, those who had walked for Team Good Eater came back to the little house in the big woods for a hearty meal of white chile stew, bread from Slate’s bakery, and a salad made primarily with greens from Farmer Kev’s garden. For dessert we had a moist and very tasty German apple cake that Alice made.

Oh, we were all good eaters. The three-and-a-half-mile walk whetted our appetites, and at the end of the meal, there was only a scraping of soup left in the Crock-Pot. I made the soup from a recipe I found online, but I fiddled with it so much in the making that I can now call it my own and share it with you. It’s a hearty stew that tastes even better if it is made the day before.

I served the salad in a pink drizzle bowl that belonged to my mother. Somehow, that bowl seemed very appropriate. Pink is the chosen color of most breast cancer organizations, and my own mother had breast cancer, too. She did not die from it, and she faced it bravely at a time when the breast cancer epidemic was just getting started—1974—long before there were any support groups to help women deal with this terrible disease.

Mom's pink bowl
Mom’s pink bowl

I walked for her as well as for myself and for all women who have had or will have breast cancer.

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Two for One Crock-Pot Meal: Chicken with Diced Tomatoes and Italian Chicken Soup

img_3342This year, in Maine, spring is certainly dragging its heels. The weather has been cool and the skies rather gray. I’ve begun hanging laundry on the line, but I have to plan carefully, keeping a watch for rain as well as following the weather reports. Still, the ice has melted from the swampy swamp up the road, and the peepers have begun singing their spring song. They are joined by the quacking wood frogs, and the two voices join together in pleasing harmony, one high and ethereal, the other deep and steady.

In my gardens, all the perennials seem to have survived the cold winter, and the bright green of the new growth is always a heartening sight. Irises, lilies, phlox, and liatris will soon be joined by balloon plants, hosta, and sweet woodruf. In some ways, early spring is my favorite time in the garden. While it’s true there are few blooms—instead there are various shades of green—everything looks so new and fresh, so full of promise. The slugs and snails, a huge problem for plants at the little house in the big woods, haven’t come out yet. Ditto for the Japanese beetles, and this means the plants can grow freely without the menace of munching, marauding jaws.

Between the gardens and the yard, there is much work to be done, but I don’t mind a minute of it. I love being outside, and, to me, time spent outside is always good, even if it involves hauling wood or raking or tending the gardens. It’s funny how work outside is so much more enjoyable than work inside.

During this busy time of year, before it is really warm enough to use the grill, it’s handy to have plans for simple meals for those fine days when yard work takes precedence over cooking. Not long ago, I stumbled across a neat little trick, a two-for-one crockpot meal, and both turned out so well that I’ll be making them again soon.

One week, both chicken thighs and Hunt’s diced tomatoes were on sale. The tomatoes were seasoned with rosemary and oregano and came in 14.5 ounce cans. Meal number one couldn’t have been easier. (So easy that I’m not going to give a formal recipe for it.) Place 8 chicken thighs in a Crock-Pot, add two cans of the diced tomatoes, a teaspoon each of garlic and onion powder, and let the whole thing simmer until the chicken is tender—high for about 4 hours and low for 7 or 8 hours. Fresh onions and garlic could be added, but I wanted to see how it would turn out with minimal intervention. The chicken was all that it should be—succulent, tender, and nicely flavored by the tomatoes.

To reduce the amount of fat, I had removed the skin from the chicken. This was a very good idea because just before dinner, when I removed the chicken from the Crock-Pot, I noticed a lovely tomato stock was left behind, and it wasn’t swimming with fat.

Was the stock good enough to save? A quick taste told me that indeed it was. Here was the making of a soup for another meal. I have a large refrigerator, and there was room enough for the Crock-Pot’s stoneware crock, which meant that the next day all I had to do was remove the crock and put it back into the Crock-Pot base to begin the second meal. (I could also skim off what little fat there was, which rose to the surface when the broth cooled.)

Below is the basic recipe for the soup, but need I add that this is just a starting point, that other vegetables—onions, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms—could be added? That rice could be used rather than pasta? There are so many ways to make soup, which is one of the things I love about it.

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Carol’s Anything Soup

img_3291We are a family that loves soup. We can happily eat it one, two, three, even four nights a week, and a good thing, too, as we live in a state where it is cool enough 9 months of the year to eat soup. (If June is rainy, the way it often is, make that 10 months.) Soup also pairs very well with my cooking style, which tends to be a bit improvisational at times. I am happiest when I can tinker with a dish and add a little of this and a little of that as well as make some substitutions based on what I have in my larder. Because I have been cooking for so many years, the results are at the very least edible, and sometimes they are even “pretty darned good,” to quote my Yankee husband, Clif.

Therefore, when my cousin Carol recently told me about her Anything Soup, I was extremely interested. It’s a squash-based soup made with onions and chicken broth, and from there the variations are many. Carol agreed to email me her instructions so that I could post them on this blog. Carol wrote, “In a 2 qt saucepan sauté 1 medium onion, 2 stalks of celery and 2 sliced carrots until celery and onions are softened. Add one can chicken broth, 1/2 cup cooked and mashed buttercup squash and 3/4 to 1 cup of vegetable pasta or vegetable spaghetti broken into smaller pieces. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook until pasta is done. This is the base of the soup. I have changed it up by adding one or all of the following when I add the pasta. You could add any vegetable you like. Great way to use up leftovers.

2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1/2 cup cooked turnip
1/2 cup black beans
leftover cooked chicken”

Yes, indeed, and in my freezer I had 2 cups of cooked squash, the last from Farmer Kev’s garden. Because I had more squash than the recipe called for, I decided to increase the other ingredients so that we would have even more soup. I liked the idea of black beans, and as I had plenty of dried beans waiting to be soaked and cooked, I decided to go with them. I also had some kielbasa—bought on sale—in the freezer, and I decided to go with that as well.

When Carol and I had talked about the soup, she had mentioned that the tomato paste gave the soup a bit of an Italian taste. Well, I thought, why not go one step further and add some oregano? And how about some garlic, too? (I wasn’t kidding when I said I like to improvise.)

Readers, the results were so good that even though I have only made it once, this is one of my favorite soups. In fact, it’s tasty enough to buy fresh squash at the supermarket especially to go in this soup, and I’m tempted to try canned squash to see how it will turn out. The soup is slightly sweet, but not too sweet. It has a rich, full flavor, and it is thick enough to be called a stew. It is smooth and nourishing, just the thing for the end of a busy day full of chores and meetings.

Thank you, Carol!

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Spicy Cabbage Soup for a Cold Spring Day

IMG_3212 Here in central Maine, even though it is spring, the ground is still covered with snow. In my refrigerator sits a great green cabbage purchased for 39 cents a pound before St. Patrick’s Day. What to do with this formidable vegetable on a cold day? Why, make soup of course, which is just what I did yesterday. And because my day was busy with a meeting, I made the soup early and put it in my crockpot so that it could simmer away while I was at the meeting. As a bonus, the house smelled spicy and good when I came home. Now, cabbage does not have the best reputation for smelling good when it cooks, but this soup somehow incorporates the flavor of cabbage without the traditional—ahem—pungent smell.

The soup itself is all vegetables and would certainly be fine as is, but my husband, Clif, and I like a little chew with our soup, so I cooked some small pasta to add to the bowls after the soup had simmered most of the day. Pasta can be mixed right into the soup for the last 45 minutes or so, but a funny thing happens to pasta in leftover soup. It swells and swells and swells like some kind of science-fiction creature until it gets too big and soft. Clif and I have decided that we like pasta and rice in soup much better as last minute add-ins.

Clif went back for seconds—always a good sign—and gave it his Yankee rating of “Pretty darned good.”

On a less  upbeat note…at the meeting I went to—a board meeting at the Winthrop Food Pantry—I learned a sobering statistic. Maine ranks with Mississippi and Louisiana for its number of hungry, food-insecure children—18 percent. I was shocked and so were many of the other board members. I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked. In Maine, wages are low, and the cost of living is high. It only stands to reason that families would have a hard time buying good, nutritious food for their children. But still!

This cabbage soup is made with basic ingredients, which means not only is it spicy, warm, and nourishing, but it is also a very frugal dish, even when you use Muir Glenn tomatoes—purchased on sale—as I did.

This soup has a lot going for it—healthy, low-cost, aromatic, reasonably low in calories, and tasty. Eat up!

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