Making the most out of every ingredient has become a personal objective of mine lately. Applying that mentality to the kitchen and meal prep is just a natural extension of cutting costs and making healthier foods for my family.
This project requires pretty minimal effort outside of time, and no fancy equipment or knife skills. It’s also ideal for a weekend stuck at home with a sick kid or foul weather.
Whole chickens are currently selling for about $1.80/lb at our local grocery store. For under $9.00, you can acquire a hearty sized bird. Expect to pay more for organic, free range. For under $20 for all of the additional ingredients, there are dozens of complete meals to be made with this plan.
Vacuum sealing foods for freezer storage is a big deal in our home. We buy bulk quality meats at a discount at places like Costco, sealing steaks into individual bags, then thaw as needed. We use our FoodSaver every week or two, but liquids can be a hassle since the FoodSaver is an external, not a chamber, vacuum sealer. There’s a big difference, particularly when dealing with liquids.
Here’s a quick hack to use your external vacuum sealer to store and freeze liquids WITHOUT EXPENSIVE HARDWARE OR ACCESSORIES.
Background: Vacuum sealing liquids is wildly different than sealing dry-ish good like meats, cheese, fruits, vegetables. Sealers like FoodSaver are called “external” vacuum sealers. They remove the air from within the storage bag through the open end. A “Chamber” vacuum sealer removes air from the entire canister that contains the bag and contents, allowing you to cleanly seal liquids like soups, stocks and sauces. Unfortunately, chamber vacuum sealers are much more expensive than externals. If you have an external vacuum sealer, liquids can be a real pain.
You’ve used disposable party cups, enjoying adult beverages at social gatherings for years. They’re painfully inexpensive (as low as $0.06/ea. or less) via Amazon or Costco.
Instead of using expensive freezer containers, vacuum tubes or cup/lid combinations, pour your COOLED liquids or sauces into 16oz party cups and place them in the freezer! In 12-24 hours, you’ll have a solid block ready for long term storage after vacuum sealing.
Leave 1/2″ or so from the top of the cup to allow for expansion as the liquid freezes.
Hack Step 2: Peel the Cup, Vacuum Seal the Solid Contents
Make two cuts into the top of the party cup – about an inch or two apart – and carefully peel away the section of plastic. This will allow you to place the frozen block into an 8-9″ vacuum seal bag. Vacuum, seal. Done!
Label the bag with a permanent marker with the name of the contents and the date you sealed it. Your best bet is to store for up to six months, provided it remains frozen the entire time.
Optional Hack Step 3: Thaw and Shape
Stacking 16oz party cup molds of frozen liquids in vacuum sealed bags is a bit of a Tetris nightmare when it comes to storing in the freezer… at least for me.
I chose to thaw the bags back to liquid and then place flat into a storage container where they could be re-frozen into a more efficiently storage shape. Hey, I only have so much room in my freezer and I need to make the most out of it.
Now I can stack these flat or on their side, making the most out of every inch of freezer storage space!
Continuing our 4-part series of “Making the Most of a Whole Chicken”, we move on to part 3: Converting the remains of the chicken carcass from Chicken Noodle Soup to fresh Chicken Stock.
While the chicken noodle soup is cooking, return all of the remaining bits of chicken (bone, skin, fat, cartilage, internal organs… everything that’s left) back to the roasting pan. Add 12-16 cups of water, or as much as the pan can hold leaving an inch or more of space from the top of the pan.
Bring the pan to a low boil over medium high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp salt, plus pepper, reduce to a simmer for 1-2 hours.
After the large pot from the Chicken Noodle soup is clean, move the chicken stock base (everything in the roasting pan) to the large pot. Add another 12-16 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and let the pot simmer for 8-12 hours or as long as you have time for. Allow to rest off-heat for 10-20 minutes. Gently spoon away any fats that pool on the surface and discard.
Filtering the Stock
This step is important but we’re working with whatever tools you have in your kitchen. The purpose is to remove as much of the solid bits of meat, fat and vegetables as you can.
Use multiple steps and work your way from larger pieces to smaller bits, using whatever tools you have. Capture as much stock as you can while removing debris with each pass.
Start with your largest available bowl or pot. Cover with cheese cloth or colander as a “receiving filter”. Gently poor stock into receiving filter, careful not to splash or lose the prize liquid you’ve been working towards. Collect as much debris as you can and discard. Continue the process until your stock remains as free of “floating bits” as you have time for.
At this point you should have a lovely batch of golden or tan chicken stock. Be sure to taste frequently and add salt – as needed – to bring out the hearty flavors. It should be delicious enough to drink in a mug, strained and filtered enough to prevent any floating bits from affecting the drinking/cooking experience.
Continuing from our Whole Roasted Chicken recipe in step one, we move on the harvest all of the edible meat from the roasted chicken, the vegetables we set aside from that recipe and add 2 simple ingredients to make a delicious and easy chicken noodle soup from scratch.
Use the remaining ingredients from the whole roasted chicken above. Remove all of the meat from the chicken breasts, thighs, wings and legs and set into bowl. Return all remaining parts of chicken back into the pan that the chicken was roasted in. This will be the pan you start to make the stock in.
Heat a large pot over medium high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil until shimmering. Add chopped onion and sauté until soft (3-4 min). Add chopped celery, carrots. Mince garlic and add to pot. Continue to sauté for 4-5 min.
Add chicken meat, 1 tbsp salt and pepper to taste to pot. Add 12-16 cups of hot water and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour.
Set a second timer for 40 minutes. When this goes off, add the entire bag of egg noodles or the white rice to the pot. Allow to cook for an additional 20 minutes.
Optional: Mix cornbread muffin mix, spoon into paper lined cupcake tray and bake for up to 15 minutes until golden brown. This should be ready by the time the soup is done.
6 carrots – prep: peel and rough chop into 1/4″ pieces.
1 white or yellow onion, medium chopped.
6 cloves garlic – prep: peel.
1 whole white or yellow onion – prep: peel and chop.
3/4 stick butter – prep: soften by setting out or in microwave.
Herbs, dried or fresh:
1 tbsp or 2 sprigs Rosemary
1 tbsp or 2 sprigs Thyme
1 tbsp or 2 sprigs Sage
2 Lemons, cut into 4-6 slices each.
Salt and pepper to coat the skin of the chicken
1 tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper inside the bird cavity.
Pre-heat oven to 425F. Soften the butter and add to a small bowl. If you’re using dried herbs, add to butter and blend with a fork. Season with 1 tsp salt and pepper.
Dry the chicken, removing any internal organs included in the cavity and set them aside. Sprinkle 1 tbsp salt and 1/2 tbsp pepper inside the cavity.
In an oven-safe pot or roasting pan, sprinkle 1 cup of carrots, 1 cup of celery, 1 cups of onions and 3 cloves of garlic with 2-3 tbsp of olive oil.
Add internal organs, mix all pan ingredients with salt & pepper.
Place the chicken, breast side facing up, into the pan. Slide fingers under the breast skin to allow inserting 3-4 tbsp of herbed butter between breast meat and skin. Coat the outside of the chicken skin with the remaining herbed butter.
Roast chicken for 1 hour or until a probe thermometer reads 165F in the breast meat. Remove pan and allow chicken to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Quarter chicken, remove breast meat and any usable tender meat. Set skin aside.
At this point you have a delicious roasted chicken available to serve with roasted or steamed vegetables. If need be, you could stop right here.
Plated’s “Sausage and Squash Casserole” is bar none the best Plated dish we’ve had the pleasure of eating. This winter dish is the perfect balance of rich and savory flavor profiles, from the buttery butternut squash to the fennel in the Italian sausage. Topped with crumbed cornbread reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing.
This dish is the go-to for a cold winter night.
I made no changes to the recipe beforehand but I would recommend the following modifications:
Mix the squash, sausage and heavy cream in a bowl first. Then mix in the Gruyere cheese. Layer into the provided aluminium tin. Don’t clean the bowl, we’re going to use it next.
Mix the crumbled cornbread and olive oil in the bowl from above, absorbing the flavorful remnants into the cornbread.
The benefits of the two changes above are to bind the casserole together with melted cheese, which makes it easier to serve, and then to capture more of the flavors into the corn bread crumble topping.
You need to order this one the next time it appears in available options on Plated.
Good stuff, very filling. I have a bit of experience with out local empanada sources and these would compete with the more mediocre of the group.
I’m not entirely sure what qualifies them as “Cuban” because the spices were simply cumin, paprika and thyme.
A few notes and corrections on the recipe, though:
Pound the chicken thin before you remove it from the pouch and bag. This stands for all of Plated’s chicken-based dishes.
The recipe states to “roughly chop chicken and vegetables” but I disagree. Finely chop the chicken and vegetables. That way you benefit from a more consistent texture with every bite and your folded dough will have a smoother shape, instead of the lumpy version you see in my photo here.
Folding empanadas is a skill that requires practice. I havn’t practiced yet so don’t judge my example here too harshly. Your mileage may vary.
Use the whites from 2 small (or 1 large) egg and brush the entire surface of each empanada before baking. Why Plated didn’t mention this in the recipe is beyond me. It’s not just recommended, it’s required in my opinion.
If you have any chimichuri left over from a previous Plated meal, it would go great for dipping here. The lime crema is fine, though.
I mentioned that they were filling. The recommended serving size is 3 empanadas per person. That’s a LOT for the size of these. The wife and I both ate two each, along with the forgettable arugula and avocado salad, and we were absolutely stuffed.
The benefit is that there were two left over for lunch the next day. That’s always a score!
The flavor is fine for the entree and both sides. But the texture is just a wreck, namely for the meatballs. The chicken isn’t ground…it’s puréed so there’s no shape retention, just a liquid pile of mess. Then, once baked, they’re dense as slabs of concrete. I would fix this will Italian seasoned breadcrumbs in the mix before rolling the meatballs. And USE THE WHOLE EGG, not just the yolk.
Making the BBQ from scratch is fine but more work than necessary. It’s not like it tastes any better than anything pre-bottled.
The wife was thrilled with the flavor. I was considerably less enthusiastic.
There’s also a shit ton of dishes to do now, as well. 2 baking sheets, 2 skillets, and an array of hardware. The overall reward falls far too short of the effort it takes to make such an amateur meal.
Even when you know what you’re doing and you’ve read the recipe before starting, you still need to pay attention to what is happening while you’re cooking each ingredient.
First off, the recipe is technically wrong here when it states, “Preheat oven to 425˚F”… “Roast [mushrooms] until caramelized and crispy, about 15 minutes.”
What Plated may not anticipate is that I calibrate my oven. So when I set it to 425˚F, my oven heats to 425˚F, maybe +/- 5˚F. My mistake? Not second guessing the 15 minutes for the oyster mushrooms at that temperature, setting the timer and being distracted with work while I was also cooking. Man, that sucked because the mushrooms came off of the baking pan as bits of burnt earth. HOWEVER, those that weren’t burnt through were steeped in flavor so this definitely has potential! Start with 8-10 minutes and keep a close eye on them.
Next, the “Greek yogurt ranch” dressing. It is good…BUT… only use 1/4 of the portion to coat the romaine heart, not half, and just stop there. It’s far too much dressing by the recipe’s guidelines. Serve a ramekin with the remainder or refrigerate it for use within the next 2 days. It tastes great and appears to be a healthier substitute to traditional ranch dressing.
BAM! This monster of a serving is the first vegetarian dish we’ve tried and it was a beast!
Plated’s Fattoush Salad with crispy chickpeas has a flavor profile that spins around like a room full of toddlers chugging Mountain Dew. It’s robust and spicy, then soft and smooth, then a kick of heat and crunch. Every bite was a different flavor, a different texture.
Easy enough to make, though the directions could use some clarification. Would I make this again? Yes! But not as a “meal” unless I was feeding a vegetarian who wasn’t a food sissy…I know, oxymoron, but I digress.
I would, however, make this as a massive side salad and bring it to your summer pool party (you know, if we were invited to one). Instead of adding the feta and sunflower seeds to the mix, I would serve those on the side and let guests add them to their preference. Some, like Jaimi, aren’t a fan of the feta. I would toast the sunflower seeds, too.
This 2-person recipe was more than either of us could eat. Portioned out as a side dish, you should expect 6-8 servings.