Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meal Planning 101

Do you ever walk in the door at 5pm after a very long day and wonder to yourself what you will be making for dinner? We've all done it to ourselves. Planning meals is something that takes a backseat to all the other things that life throws at you each week. I've found a few strategies that make getting dinner on the table a lot easier.

Recycle your Food
If you pull out a whole chicken, you have several meals in your near future. The first is the roasted chicken. Maybe with mashed potatoes or rice and a few fresh vegetables. I usually carve off half the meat to serve for the meal. The rest of the bird is picked clean and the meat is shredded for a casserole or chicken salad. Then take the carcass and place it in the crockpot or large pot and cover it with water. Add a quartered onion, some celery leaves and let it cook for 24 hours. This will produce a nice chicken broth that you can turn into any number of soups, stews, base for dried beans or strain and can or freeze for later use. You can also do the same with a beef bone. For more on making beef broth, see this post.

Don't Waste Food
Don't throw it out if it can be repurposed. Turning leftovers into something else is a great way to end the monotony of the week and prevent it from ending up in the trash can. A pork shoulder can be roasted and served plain, then shred the leftovers and make bbq sandwiches or cook it some more with added spices to create a burrito filling.
If you have small portions of meat or vegetable, place it in a freezer container or bag and save it. When you have accumulated enough vegetables and meat, make soup! Some of my leftover soups, though unrepeatable as a recipe, have been our favorite meals.

Shop and Stock
While it seems like a nice concept, shopping for the week's meals on a budget is often impossible. I rarely see the ultimate sale on the right variety of foods to create the best menu. So when hamburger is on sale(a really good sale), I stock up. I often get a quarter to half cow in fact direct from a farm. The meat is either frozen in meal-sized portions or canned for later use. Then, when I plan a meal, I can pull from the "grocery store" of bargains in my home. The same goes for poultry, vegetables and any other staples that I need. My purchasing several meals worth of each item that is on sale, I have my own pantry full of options and can make the most economical meal possible.

Sunday is Recipe Finding Day
On Sunday's after church, I try to relax. One of my favorite things to do is pour over new cookbooks from the library, search on internet cooking sites or watch cooking shows. From that I can come up with new and exciting recipes to try.  If I am wanting to try a new recipe, I put any items I do not have in my pantry on the shopping list so that when it goes on sale, I can get it. I write down where the recipe is(if its in a book) and that makes it easier to find later, particularly if I am planning a few weeks out. If its a new recipe, I print it out and put it in my planner. If the recipe is a hit with everyone, it gets added to my cookbook, if not, I throw it away.

Putting it all Together
After I have a nice "database" of recipes, I pull out my trusty planning sheet. I use this to outline meals for each week. Sometimes I do this with a friend and we plan our weeks together. This makes the process much more fun of course! I start with the upcoming week and fill in the blanks. For the week coming up, I will add the things I need to do, appointments, any prep work for food later in the week and any missing items that I need to purchase.  If I found a ton of beef recipes, I might spread them out over several weeks and leave blanks for the non-meat and other meat days. I can fill them in later. The current week goes inside the cover of my binder for easy reference. If I don't already have the recipe in my binder, I note where the recipe is. Then, when my week begins, I am ready. I have learned that knowing ahead of time makes pulling out the necessary items to thaw, soaking the right amount of beans and starting the long-cooking items much easier to remember.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Seek and Ye Shall Find

We are all seeking something, aren't we? My dad is in a seekers "group" that meets monthly. We seek joy, blessings and peace. We seek purpose, fulfilling relationships, relief from pain and we seek happiness. The thing is, we mostly seek this in all the wrong places. We waste time and money on things and therapies and drugs and activities to make us forget the pain. We read self-help books and listen to speakers tell us how to get it. How to BE happy. All that energy wasted, really. Its all temporary and it all goes away when the real pain comes.

The source of all that you need is in one place. Its all in one person; Jesus. If we only seek Him, use our time and energy seeking Him instead of all those other things, we find those other things when we find a relationship with Him. Does that make sense? By pursuing Jesus, you find all you ever wanted in the way of joy and peace. Its so easy and yet for most, so hard. It goes against the logic of the world.

Stopping the world to get off and look for a relationship with Jesus is not necessarily all that easy and where I live, not very popular. You turn your back on everything that is whizzing by you. And it keeps whizzing, it doesn't wait for you. You have to ignore your to do list that chants in your brain as you try to focus. All those things out there to do aren't necessarily in His plan or His will. He may guide you in a completely different direction. I will say it gets easier with practice, but at first, its kind of hard. You sit in a quiet place and you read God's word and you pray and you wait and you listen. Did you know that pleases God? When you spend time with Him?

I bet if you don't believe or you don't have a relationship with Him at this point in your life, you probably think I am a whack job. Its okay. I can tell you He does speak. He may not speak every morning and He may not speak audibly to you, but He speaks. Without a question, He does. He will show you the way, He WILL fill you with a peace that I couldn't explain to you if I had all the days necessary. Its not possible to describe what it is like to have joy and peace in a situation that doesn't, in the furthest stretch of the imagination, warrant it. Its just there, descending on you and filling you with a warmth and relaxing feeling that you know the moment it arrives. It will get you through the toughest of days. That's what He does, you know. He gets you through those days that your friends can't. And He is always there; just waiting for you to come back.

Try Him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gluten Free Fried Chicken

Crispy on the outside, full of flavor on the inside. I use a meat tenderizer because I find that our pastured chickens can be a little tough for fried chicken since they run around the yard all day while they are growing. Store-bought, caged chickens are already tender and don't require this step.

1 pastured fryer, cut up
1 T papaya enzyme(meat tenderizer)
1/2 t sea salt
Seasoned Salt
2 cups Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free All Purpose baking mix
2 T paprika
1 T chili powder
1 t black pepper

1 T garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
Grass-fed lard

The How To's:
Place the cut up chicken in a large glass bowl and cover with ice cold water mixed with the tenderizer and salt. Refrigerate for the day.
When ready to cook, take a large cast iron skillet with a lid and put enough lard in the pan to make about an inch of hot fat. Heat the fat on a medium high burner. You want the fat good and hot before you start frying your chicken. Keep the lid on until you are ready to start frying.
Combine your baking mix, paprika, chili powder, black pepper, salt and garlic powder in a deep bowl. Whisk together to blend well and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking pan with a wire rack(I use one of my cake cooling racks) placed inside the pan. This allows the chicken to sit up above any grease that will drip off in the oven.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and drain well, leaving the chicken in the bowl. Sprinkle liberally with seasoned salt tossing well to get the seasoning well distributed.
Place a few wet pieces at a time in the flour mixture, tossing to coat. Make sure the chicken is well coated. Carefully place skin side down in the hot lard a few pieces at a time. *Be careful not to move a piece once you place it in the fat until the skin has browned well or you will lose your coating. Once the heat has recovered from adding the first few pieces, dredge and add a few more. Start with the biggest pieces as these will take longer to cook and then add the smaller ones as you can. Keep adding pieces until your pan is full. Do not overfill or chicken will be soggy and breading will fall off. Once the pieces start to brown, carefully turn with a pair of tongs. Brown all sides well and then remove to a baking pan with a wire rack placed inside it. Start additional pieces if you need to. Put the pan in a 350 degree oven until the chicken is done and juices run clear. Serve with your favorite vegetables.

To make a pan gravy:
Use two tablespoons of the drippings from your frying pan or the baking pan. Place in a sauce pan and place over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of either the remaining dredging flour or more of the gluten free baking mix. Stir with a whisk to absorb the drippings. Add 2 cups of chicken broth(or milk or water or a combination of these three) slowly, stirring to remove any lumps from the mixture. Stir frequently until the gravy starts to thicken. Then stir constantly until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste