The following is a guest post from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship. Welcome, Katie!
When friends tell me they don’t like leftovers, I generally sort of gape openly at them and stand frozen for a few minutes, shocked, eyes wide in disbelief.
We eat leftovers for lunch almost every day.
Once I scrape my jaw off the floor, I usually find enough words to stammer, “Why not?!”
Most of the time, people don’t like the idea of eating the same thing two or three days in a row. They get tired of it. In contrast, our family loves leftovers. If I look in the fridge and announce that there are (“only”) two choices for lunch, everyone feels like they have been shorted, like we are practically out of food.
I’m always thrilled to Cook Once, and Serve Twice – that old C.O.S.T. acronym that freezer cookbooks in particular like to use. Typically C.O.S.T. means making a big batch of a meal and saving an entire meal in the freezer for later.
All photos by Katie
I love that little “gift to self,” too, but when I Cook Once, Serve Twice, it’s more like “connected meal planning,” my term for a series of meals that use some similar ingredients placed in the same week, so you can use up your perishables and save on prep time by using something from one meal for the next.
For example, when I buy a bag of spinach on sale, I take care to plan at least two meals that will use it so I don’t throw away a half bag of slimy spinach mush the following week. Throwing away food I’ve spent money on is just like throwing away money, so good planning makes good “cents.”
Connected meal planning also saves me time. Some from-scratch meals require quite a bit of prep, things like cooking rice or chicken before beginning a casserole, having homemade tortillas on hand for enchiladas, or using leftover bread for a crunchy casserole topping. If I planned each meal independent of the rest of the week, I could be spending two to three hours just to make a weekday dinner.
If I plan with connections, this is what might happen:
- Make chili and cornbread one day; a double batch of cornbread becomes the gluten-free topping for this Homestyle Crunchy-Topped Chicken Casserole (free printable recipe) the next day.
- Serve tacos one night and make extra homemade tortillas for chicken enchiladas a few days later; make chicken broth and chicken rice soup in between (extra broth and chicken for the creamy enchilada sauce and filling); also freeze extra taco meat and tortillas the first day to have quesadillas with bean soup the next week.
- Have a simple beef stir fry one night and make a double batch of rice, then grill chicken the next night and cook two extra breasts. Use the extra rice and chicken to make a really easy meal the third night, with chicken, rice, onions and seasoning all in one pot.
For those of you in the camp with my friends who don’t like leftovers, this is your ticket to a pseudo “leftovers night” that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re eating the same thing all the time.
- Cook once
- Include something for another meal
- Serve that component twice
- But in a totally new way
Let’s say I also had baked potatoes and steamed veggies with that grilled chicken in the example above. I bake a few extra potatoes and steam a double batch of veggies. That takes less than five minutes of my time.
I already have some cooked, shredded chicken in the freezer, leftover from the stock-making process in the second example, along with a few jars of broth, and now I can get “Easy Chicken and Biscuits” on the table with hardly any work.
|Easy Chicken and Biscuits||
- 3-5 Tablespoons butter
- ¼-½ cup chopped onion OR 1 Tbs. dried minced onion, optional
- ¼-½ cup chopped celery
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder OR 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½-¾ cup whole wheat flour (¼-½ cup arrowroot or corn starch for GF)
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth
- 1 ½ cups milk
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning (optional)
- ¼-½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½-1 teaspoon salt (more with homemade broth)
- ¼ teaspoon dried parsley
- Dash of paprika
- 1-2 large leftover baked potatoes, diced, OR 2 raw potatoes, diced
- 4 cups cooked cut-up vegetables
- 2 cups cooked chicken
- Homemade biscuit dough (or use your favorite recipe for biscuits)
- Prepare biscuit dough using your chosen recipe. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and sauté celery and onion, if using. Sauté and stir at least 5 minutes or until vegetables are limp, adding fresh garlic for the last minute. (If your other vegetables aren’t already cooked, get them going now.) Add flour (if using) and stir and cook on medium-high until you see bubbles, then one minute longer. Add the broth and milk all at once. Stir and add all the remaining seasonings, including dried onion and garlic, if using.
- GF adaptation: Reserve a half cup of cold milk when you pour in the liquid. Bring everything in the pot to a boil. Mix the starch with the cold milk and pour into the boiling liquid, then add the spices.
- Cook and stir often/constantly over medium to high heat, depending on how closely you can monitor the pot. Once liquid is boiling, stir for at least 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Watch for the “soup” to thicken, then turn heat off.
- Mix the cream soup with the chicken and cooked vegetables in a 9×13” baking dish. Place cut-out biscuit rounds or dollops of biscuit dough liberally over the top. Bake 25-30 minutes or until biscuits are golden.
I’m excited to share more time- and money-saving strategies, plus more variations on this recipe and some of the others I mentioned above, in Better Than a Box: How to Transform Processed Food Recipes into Whole Foods Favorites. Simple Bites readers are invited to save 25% HERE with the coupon code BITETHEBOX25 through 2/15.
Better Than a Box is available on Kindle via Amazon and Nook. The PDF download also includes the Kindle and Nook files, as well as free printable recipe cards, a freezer supply list, how to make chicken stock one-page printable and other handy dandy charts and tips.
How do you use meal planning to make your life easier?
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