A tale of two chickens

I have to say, I am obsessed with food. Thinking about food does occupy about 75% of my time, and if I were really being honest, I think it would go higher than that. That’s why it’s easy for me to plan what we’ll be eating all week. In fact, it would start to make me distinctly nervous if I couldn’t say what the options are for the following seven days worth of food. I’m not saying my obsession is normal, nor am I advocating that everybody starts to day dream about tomorrow’s dinner whilst eating yesterday’s breakfast, but I do think that if we did allow meals to take a little more of our thinking time we would be half the way there to cutting our food bills, reducing all the waste and actually allowing ourselves to spend less time in the endless supermarket/ dinner trap.

So here’s an example of how I make it work. This Sunday we had roast chicken. Now there are six of us, and we were also having two people over to lunch, so I roasted two, as usual. However, this could all be applied to one chicken, if there are less of you. I spent £18 on two corn fed, free range, organic chickens, but I am sure that the price may vary depending on where in the country you are. You can also buy two chickens for a lot less money than that, but they always look unappetisingly anaemic and have obviously not been raised under the same conditions. As I have said before, spend a bit more, and make it go a bit further. Apart from anything else, you’ll notice it in your gravy.

After we finished eating, we did the usual. Firstly, pull all of the leftover meat off the carcass, and put it in a bowl in the fridge. Then take the carcass/ carcasses and put it/them into a large saucepan (or stockpot if you have one) along with all the leftover veg and gravy. I always roast chicken with an onion stuffed into it’s cavity, and a load of fresh herbs, so they all go it too. Finally, I have been known to drop the stuffing in too, if I really can’t eat anymore, which is not often. Bring it to the boil there and then, turn it down to a low simmer and then you can go off and do what you will. Leave it until the carcass starts to fall apart. Just remember to turn it off before you go to bed and stick it in the fridge.

Do not forget the health benefits of making your soup/ broth like this. We all know the one about chicken soup being like antibiotics, but it is true. Chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine, which has been shown to break up congestion, so it really will help if you are bunged up with a cold or the flu. Not only that, but boiling down the cartilage releases glucosamine and chondroitin sulphates, will will reduce joint pain and inflammation. It is easy to digest, with high levels of calcium and magnesium, due to the gelatin (hydrophilic colloid) which not only holds liquids so easing digestion, but also makes your hair and nails look healthier. Besides that, I really have never met anyone (who wasn’t a vegetarian) that didn’t like home made chicken soup.

So having done all of this, on Monday night you have several options, but these are my two favourites- chicken noodles, or chicken fricassee (a recipe pinched from my german mother in law and easily adaptable to what you have around)

Chicken Noodle Recipe

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Start by crushing your garlic and leave to one side (remember, we want to let that anti- cancer allicin develop)

Next grate about 2 cmd of ginger and chop one red chilli.

Then slice up whatever veg you are using into stir friendly thin pieces. Remember, DO NOT dash to Tescos to get my list, use what you have. This week we used 250g mushrooms, 2 peppers (one red and one yellow) about 100g of tender stem broccoli and two good handfuls of frozen petit pois.

Firstly, put a large pan of slightly salted water on to boil for the medium egg noodles.

Then stir fry off your mushrooms, peppers, ginger  and chilli for a few minutes, then chuck in your garlic with the rest of the veg.

Stir fry for another couple of minutes. When they are cooked to your taste, add one tablespoon of fish sauce, two tablespoons of orange juice and one to tow tablespoons of soy sauce, depending on your tastes. Remember you can’t take it out again, but you can add more at the table if you like. Then add the remaining chicken and stir through a ladle or so of the broth you made the night before until you have enough of sauce for your noodles. Bring to the boil and then take off the heat when the chicken is heated through properly, until your noodles are cooked. Mix the noodles in the wok with the stir fry/ sauce, sprinkle over a lot of fresh chopped coriander and there you have dinner. It literally takes 10 minutes.

German Chicken Fricassee

 This is real comfort food, and the children always love it.

Start by softening an onion and a couple of sticks of celery or a leek in a couple of table spoons of olive oil. Add a finely diced carrot or two if you have them.

After ten to fifteen minutes add a tablespoon or so of flour (I use spelt) and turn the heat up a bit so that it starts to cook for a minute or so. Then gradually stir in 600 ml or so of a mixture of some of the chicken broth you made form the roast and milk. When it is all incorporated, bring to the boil whilst stirring to prevent any lumps forming. Simmer it for a few minutes, then check your seasoning. Add some water if the sauce is too thick.

Stir a couple of handfuls of frozen petit pois and the rest of the chicken that you saved. Once that is heated through, serve.

If you want to be authentic, serve over a bed of rice, with a nice green vegetable, but we also serve it with orzo or jacket potatoes, depending on what’s around.

Chicken Soup

Now, on Monday night, all you have left to do is to take out the chicken bones from the broth that you made. Pull off any extra meat that is still hanging on, to return to the pan and add a couple of sticks of celery chopped, a carrot or so and whatever else you have. Swede is good here, as is kohlrabi. Butternut squash would add a nice sweet hint, and I always feel that a green veg is needed. But it should be whatever needs using up before you start planning next week’s meals. A tin of chickpeas makes it go that but further, and a good trick I learnt is to also add a couple of cardamon pods (crushed and with the husks removed) from a Jamaican lady years ago. As her chicken soup really was amazing, I saw no reason to argue. Finally, I do like to blend mine with a stick blender, so that you have a very thick cream of chicken and veg soup, but that is purely personal taste and not at all essential. Once that is cooked, you are done, and you can stick it in the freezer for later in the week, or have it the next night if you are not done with chicken by then.

Two chickens, three meals.

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