The Meal Planner

My grocery bill has been SKYROCKETING lately. What is the deal? I meal plan every week, shop the sales, go in with a plan and yet my receipts added up to astronomical amounts last month. In an effort to wrangle the budget back in control, I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite ways to make Something from Nothing.

One of my favorite children's books is by Phoebe Gilman titled Something From Nothing. It's all about being creative with what you've got. Each time the little boy's blanket, jacket, tie, etc gets worn and wrecked he exclaims "Grandpa can fix it!" and sure enough, Grandpa always finds a way to construct something new out of it. The last thing Grandpa makes is a button and it gets lost. The mother of the boy tries to console him and says "even Grandpa can't make something from nothing...." but crafty Grandpa creates a story for the boy to remember. So we CAN make something from nothing!

My first "Something" to share with you is a freezer chicken stock made out of the bones we normally throw in the garbage. Not just boiling a carcass after you've eaten a roasted chicken, but bones and pieces you've collected over time. Here in Canada boneless skinless chicken breasts cost a whopping $7-8 per pound! Even when there's a really good sale on the price only drops to about $4 a pound. We can can the big frozen boxes of chicken breasts for about $2.50 a pound but it's really not my favorite, as the breasts are usually flacid and pumped full of water. My trick is to buy bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and debone them myself.

It's one of the simplest things to do. The skin comes right off with a swift pull, and you need only slide a small sharp pairing knife down the breast bone and it's detached from the breast. Quick and easy. Maybe 30 extra seconds per breast is added to your prep time. And the price is much better....I'm looking at maybe $2 a pound for nice fresh, not frozen, not pumped full of water, chicken breasts. For an even better price, I'll buy bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. Deboning these take a bit longer and is a bit trickier, but still worth it for the price and flavor for me.

Okay, so now you've got a pile of chicken skins which can go in the garbage, a pile of meat to use however you'd like, and a pile of chicken bones. Take them bones and put them in a large Ziplock bag. Write on the bag "Bones for Chicken Stock" and the date you started the bag. Throw it in the freezer. Each time you have some more chicken bones, pop them into the freezer bag. I'll even throw in bones from cooked chicken thighs or legs that we've stripped the meat off of. When it's full, you'll be able to make a big pot of homemade chicken stock which will equal about 8 cups.

And my biggest tip for making a super rich and flavorful homemade chicken stock? Roast the chicken bones first. It gives it a full-bodied taste with a nice dark color. I've never had homemade chicken stock be so tasty until I started roasting my bones.


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Makes 8 cups

1 large ziplock bag full of chicken bones, defrosted
Oil
Water

Optional:
10 peppercorns
1-2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1-2 stalks celery, chopped


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pull the chicken bones out of the freezer and into the fridge the day before you want to make the stock so they aren't frozen. Put them in a roasting pan and drizzle with a little bit of canola or olive oil. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the bones and any bits of meat left clinging to them are lightly browned.

Remove the pan from the oven and dump all the bones as well as any juices into a large pot. Fill the pot with water, covering the bones completely (about 8-10 cups). Bring the water up to a boil, and then turn down to low and let simmer for 1-2 hours. You could also add the peppercorns, onion, and celery to this and let simmer with the bones.

Strain the bones and let cool. If you want to get rid of any fat, put the pot of broth in the fridge. When completely cooled you'll be able to take off the top layer of fat. Broth can be frozen or stored in the fridge for up to a week.

Or alternatively, strain the bones and return the broth to the heat. Chop up and add your choice of vegetables, spices, and/or noodles for a great homemade chicken soup.

Click here for printable version of Freezer Chicken Stock.

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THE RESULTS?
You can find a bag of chicken bones in my freezer year round. I love how I'm already saving money by buying chicken on the bone and then saving more money by turning those bones into broth. And the method of roasting the bones? It's totally revolutionized my homemade broths! I would simmer and simmer and simmer my bones for hours, waiting to get a really concentrated rich chicken broth, only to be disappointed with watery bone water. Roasting the bones first gives my broth that rich flavor I'm looking for.

Obviously, this same method could be used for other meats, like beef bones. Just make sure to label your bags and keep chicken and beef bones separately. Sadly, this doesn't work so well for vegetables. I tried. I was always saving my onion skins and ends of carrots and celery or other veggies and throwing them in a bag in the freezer. I found the broth was too bitter, so now I just stick with chicken or beef broth.

You'll want to use up your bones and make broth at least every 3-4 months. Any longer than that and you'll risk a freezer burnt flavor to your broth.

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4 Responses
  1. Jake Says:

    I do exactly the same thing. Nothing like homemade chicken soup. Or else I have stock for gravy, curry whatever!


  2. ToyLady Says:

    One thing I absolutely love to do is add washed leek tops (the dark green parts that usually get thrown out) to my "stock bucket" (that I keep in the freezer, too).


  3. Ooooh great idea about the leek tops Toy Lady! I never know what to do with those things...you are right, they always end up in the garbage.


  4. Anonymous Says:

    I do the same thing! I go one step farther, though, and whenever I peel carrots, chop onions, or cut celery, I throw the carrot peels, onion ends and skins, and celery ends and leaves into a ziplock bag and freeze it. That way, when I make stock, I don't have to take perfectly good vegetables and put them in. I just use the "junk" from other cooking. It works great! If I have parsley that I don't use up, I throw that in, too, because I love parsley in stock.