Friday, September 2, 2011

Menu Planning: Chicken Stock and Brown Rice Pilaf

Meal planning is something I am still researching, so I was browsing the interwebs and came across this wonderful blog- Word of Wisdom Living.  It's a reference to the Latter-day Saint doctrine of the Word of Wisdom and I am blown away by the amount of information he provides- everything from scholarly journals to life experiences.  I was posting in a discussion over there on menu planning (and wrote a TON) so I thought I'd share what I wrote. :)

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I have only been menu planning for about 6 months, but I have a few things I'd like to share.

First things first- get to know what your family eats.  Write down meals that your family considers "normal."  This will save you a lot of brain-wracking trauma and will keep you from getting overly ambitious with changes and burning yourself out.

When getting ready to go shopping the first thing I do is check my inventory, especially what I have left from the previous week in my fridge- the fresh stuff that needs to be eaten right away. I start getting some ideas for what I'd like to use my ingredients for and check the circulars. 

I live in Southern California like Skip [the blog author], so I shop at similar stores (Costco, Sprouts/Henry's, and Stater Brothers) and look for the best deals. I look for cheap cuts of meat that can be used in lots of ways.  I know some people are more picky about their meat, but I try to serve it to my family conservatively and it's not an issue for us (at least not right now). I really like using whole chickens because you can get a lot out of them for .80-.99/lb.  I like to cut them up myself and make stock from the back and gizzards though most grocery stores will cut them up for you free of charge (but not all).  I use the stock whenever I make rice, gravy, soup, or sauces. 


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Crockpot Chicken Stock

Chicken Parts (back, bones, gizzards, etc)
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 onion, cut in half

Place chicken parts, carrot, celery and onion in crock pot.  Fill with water, leaving about 1-2" space at the top.  Cover and set on low.  Cook about 10-12 hours. Take out crock, take off lid and allow to cool.  Pour through a sieve into a bowl, discarding parts and vegetables (or you can eat them), and place stock in your fridge (you don't want it too hot or it will have adverse affects on the temperature of your fridge).  Loosely cover and allow to cool until fats solidify on the surface.  Skim away fats and store. (We keep the chicken fat and use it to cook with.  Beware- don't put it in an already hot pan or it will sputter like crazy.)
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Get to know prices for items.  We use rolled oats a lot and, believe it or not, the best price was a bulk bag at the regular grocery store and not at Costco like I expected.  I am working on a pocket-sized notebook to keep track, but for now, it's all memory (or little notes in my planner).

I made a template on my computer for my grocery planning and print it out each week.  It keeps me focused on what I need to plan for and makes menu planning that much easier.  I plan on Tuesday nights (So my weekly list is Thursday-Wednesday) because that's the day the circular arrives.  You don't have to plan Monday-Sunday.

Lunches are hard in my house because my husband comes home for lunch and doesn't like sandwiches.  I have a hard time coming up with something that's quick and healthy, and usually one of those criteria gets sacrificed.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

We recently switched from white rice to brown rice, a decision my husband still occasionally scoffs at (though I will admit, white rice is just so fluffy).  I like to make kabobs and rice pilaf- we use peppers, onions, and pineapple.  We use 1 cubed chicken breast to feed our family of 3, though it doesn't feel skimpy when served with our brown rice pilaf:

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Brown Rice Pilaf

2 T butter (or olive oil)
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c brown rice
2 1/2 c chicken broth, vegetable broth or 2 1/2 c water + 1 t salt

In a medium size skillet (with a lid) melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and sautee until translucent.  Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute until rendered (you can smell it).  Add rice and sautee, making sure it gets coated, about 1-2 minutes.  Add broth, season to taste with salt and pepper, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 45-50 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Check occasionally and add more broth or water if needed.
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I went a little crazy with this post, but menu planning is a point I firmly believe in.  We have saved SO MUCH money by planning, it is ridiculous.  We cut our grocery bill nearly in half just by planning our meals.

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So that's what I shared over there and I wanted to make sure I shared it with you, too.  Happy meal planning!

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