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Chicken Night (Save the Chickenbodies!)

I know, I know, we should be eating less meat, and I keep blogging with all these meaty recipes on all these non-Mondays…

But in our household Thursday nights are beyond insane–I direct a choir that goes till 4:30, then I have to pick up the kids, and my husband has to come home from work, and my daughter has to get into leotard and tights, and somehow by 5:45 we have to be out the door again to take her to dance class, having already eaten dinner.

I get through most of life without resorting to many pre-prepared foods, but given all this and the fact that Thursday nights at Whole Foods the rotisserie chickens are only $5.99, it’s a pretty good deal all around.  While I get the kids and the table set and the bread and veggies–usually raw carrots or cucumbers at the moment–on the table, in between yelling at my daughter to get her dance clothes on and yelling at my son to put down the wii and finish his homework, my husband stops at WF and grabs a chicken.  He walks in at about 5:20, and we have a leisurely 25 minute dinner. Or something like that.

Not really blog-worthy, I know–so big deal, we pick up a rotisserie bird once a week. I’ve done that occasionally for years. But the cool part–what I discovered recently as we made this a regular thing is that I can take the carcass (which otherwise would stink up my garbage can till Tuesday when we take it out) and freeze it, and then once a month when I’ve collected 4-5 chicken-bodies I can toss them into the crockpot, fill it with water, turn it on low, and promptly forget about it till dawn.  And then I have several quarts of beautifully seasoned chicken stock, since the chickens were usually herb-and-garlic, or lemon-roasted, or some combination of treatments.  Enough salt that I don’t have to add any, but–well–not so little that I have to add any.

(Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know about this little trick. Save and freeze the chickenbodies, avoid buying bland and tasteless chicken broth in difficult-to-recycle-tetrapaks.  News to me.)

Friday is my day off.  I can strain the stock and make soup for dinner that night, or freeze it in quart containers, or cook it down to a really strong concentrate and freeze it in ice cubes to reconstitute later, or do any of the dozens of things one can do with good stock.  If I had any veggies-on-the-verge in my crisper drawer I’d toss them into the pot too–why not, right?

So, for about $24 (4 chickens, one a week) we have 4 total meals for 4, at least 4 extra lunches worth of what didn’t get eaten at dinner, and some good soup makings.

Not a bad deal for the Chicago burbs. I highly recommend it.  Don’t throw out your chickenbodies.  Save them and make pasta fazool for dinner tomorrow night.

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Meatless Mondays: Easy Pasta Fazool

Why not?  About time I got on the Meatless Mondays bandwagon, and after doing the Curried Lentils and Rice last week, I might as well make it an actual trend.

Pasta Fazool is my favorite “garbage soup” recipe–I go through the crisper drawer to see what’s starting to turn, and chop it up and throw it into the soup. It’s also one of the easiest variations on my staple “can of diced tomatoes plus can of broth plus whatever else equals soup” recipe. (The one I call “ur-soup.” Honk if you know what “ur” means.)

It doesn’t have to be meatless–from time to time I’ll throw a handful of chicken or a chopped up sausage in there, but usually only when there’s leftovers that need eating–it’s just as good from a purely veggie standpoint.  And you could use any other grain in lieu of pasta, or just leave it out; my kids are constantly not finishing their pasta for dinner, so we periodically have little containers of not-enough-pasta-to-do-anything-with, so I toss them into the soup.

Of course, if you leave out the pasta, I guess it’s not pasta fazool any more…

Easy Pasta Fazool

  • In a saucepan, saute a chopped onion in a little olive oil till soft; add a clove or two minced or crushed garlic and saute till golden and fragrant. (I love it when recipes, in the context of garlic, talk about doing something to it “till fragrant.” Is garlic ever not fragrant?)
  • Add other veggies as desired–cut up bell pepper, squash, eggplant, carrots, celery, whatever. (NOT spinach!) Saute till just softening.
  • Pour in a can of diced tomatoes and a can of broth; whatever broth you like is fine. Heat to simmer
  • Add a can of white beans, drained.
  • Season with a pinch or two each oregano, thyme, and/or basil. (NOTE: If you like the taste of Italian sausage but want to go veggie, take about a half-teaspoon fennel seed, crush or chop lightly with a knife, and add. This gives the soup that “sausagy” flavor!)
  • Let simmer 10-30 minutes, depending on when you feel like eating.
  • 5-10 minutes before serving, add a cup or so cooked pasta. Also a good time, if you wish, to dump in 1/4 cup or so prepared pasta sauce; this thickens and corrects the seasonings nicely, but is not essential.
  • 3 minutes before serving, if desired, add a handful frozen spinach and/or a tablespoon prepared basil pesto sauce.
  • Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan, if desired.

Good stuff–like I said, it’s one of our essential “staple” meals through autumn and winter.  This is our first time since last spring eating it, since summer doesn’t feel like soup weather–but it was nice to get back to an old friend.

Pasta Fazool–the cure for what ails.

I have the flu again. I wish I knew why every time a new bug hits the neighborhood, it immediately seems to go, “Hey! Party at Jenn’s!” and comes over to trash the place with all its friends who proceed to reproduce in my bronchial tubes and sinus cavities.

I have a great spouse–he’s been amazing about taking care of the kids, keeping things moving, and giving me some peace and quiet to rest and hopefully heal.  His culinary abilities are a little limited, though, and I wanted soup. So I did seriously the absolutely easiest soup recipe I’ve ever tried, largely out of my freezer.

I love my crockpot.

Yesterday morning I found a quart of frozen turkey broth in the freezer.  (By the way, I washed my hands thoroughly before I touched anything in the kitchen.) I threw it into the crockpot.  I threw a bunch of sliced-and-quartered frozen zucchini from the summer in there, too, and four “bean muffins”–when I made beans I put them into muffin tins in half-cup portions, froze them, and then transfered them to a bigger bag so I can now pull out half a cup of beans whenever. So, about two cups of beans…half a bag of frozen bell peppers.  Two big spoonfuls of diced minced garlic (what we call “jarlic” around here, since I seldom actually dice my own real cloves and rely on the jars).  A can of diced minced tomatoes.  Moved the frozen-quart-cylinder thing of broth around so I could close the lid.  Turned it on low and forgot about it. Went to bed. Watched a lot of really bad TV.

By early evening, I threw some leftover cooked pasta in that the kids hadn’t eaten; I could as easily have tossed some dry stuff in instead, though it cooks up sort of slimy in a crockpot if you do it that way.  Half a jar of spaghetti sauce, a few teaspoonfuls of various italian spices like oregano and basil and thyme, and I always do fennel too (because it makes me think there’s sausage in there–fennel is the main Italian sausage seasoning).  Forgot about it for another hour.

Hit the spot.  This was really good soup, especially with a little Parmesan sprinkled on it.

I love my crockpot. I love my husband. Not in that order.