One of the things that I have been trying to do lately is make sure that we have a freezer full of tasty things that can be defrosted at need.
When you are dealing with an assortment of chronic illnesses – you need quick options.
For the meals where I am just feeding myself, I make sure to have salad stuff on hand, as well as hummus, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, miso, rice… Uncomplicated things. As even on the good days1 – I never really feel like putting much effort into feeding myself. On the bad ones I really need something I can pile on a plate or pour into a bowl – options that require minimal effort, as the actual act of eating will take too many spoons all on its own. On the really terrible days, I tend to just skip it unless someone else is dealing with it.
When I am feeding others, whether it be just Mister Tea, or a larger array of humans – I want to give something a bit more solid and interesting.
However, chronic illness complicates everything. As my conditions have progressed, I have had to realize that I need to make some hard choices regarding what I put my energy into.
I can no longer depend on my capacity to put together a proper meal from scratch every evening. It took me several years to acknowledge this, and longer to realize that maybe it wasn’t something I should have expected of myself to begin with.
The image of the 50’s housewife who keeps a perfect house, always has meals ready, and attends to the every need of those under her care is deeply entrenched in the national psyche – and in mine – though neither entrenchment makes the concept any less ridiculous.
It has been suggested for years that I make better friends with my slow cooker and blender, and I’ve been experimenting with making food in the former. (Blenders, for reasons I will not go into here, freak me out a bit.)
How does this connect to a rotisserie chicken?
A whole chicken makes a wonderful starting point for a wide variety of foods. By preference, I would rather start with cooking the chicken itself, but that requires a level of timing that I am not always capable of anymore. Usually that would start from frozen, and I can never be certain that I will have the spoons on the day it was finally ready to cook, or even before it would go bad due to extended neglect.
So, it is safer to start with a pre-cooked whole chicken, as a concession to chronic life, and go from there.
First step is to strip it down. Remove all the meat, trim off any oddments that you don’t want, but save all of that aside, in a bowl with the bones.
The meat from one chicken can make at least two full slow cooker concoctions, and those bones and weird bits are the basis for a wonderful broth.
Once you have the thing stripped down, you can begin to set up the beginnings of some slow cooker meals. Sometimes I will wait to start a marinade until I can make my own sauce, but Costco (which has been immensely helpful in the pursuit of manageable food stuffs) has several options for premade sauces that are clean and tasty.
For one, it is the only place we have found that has Soy Vey Teriyaki sauce in sizable bottles. At a price that isn’t near as terrifying as the smaller bottles you can find at a standard grocery store. It also has a relatively decent salsa that with a few tweaks makes a tasty sauce base.
A bit back we invested in glass snapseal containment objects – Costco has a set that pops up in their inventory from time to time that has a variety of sizes and shapes. Ranging from store-a-partially-cut-tomato to store-a-full-meal-for-several-people.
With our most recent rotisserie chicken I started with two of the larger containers. In one I alternated chicken bits, the teriyaki sauce, and some chopped up bits of dried pineapple. (We had some from our tea supplies that had gotten a bit too rock-like to be used in tea, but we hoped a pre-steeping in hot water plus some time in the sauce would soften them up a bit.) If I’d had more energy, I would have chopped up some random vegetables and added them in as well.
Honestly, next time we go with that option, I will make certain we have some appropriate vegetables on hand, as I was not entirely happy with the end result. Tasty, filling, but lacking… something. Not sure what the something was, exactly, but experimentation will lead me to an answer next time we try it.
In the second I alternated chicken bits and the salsa. Added a bit of Valentina (which is a hot sauce that I can actually consume without worry), some roasted ground cumin 2, and a bit of extra garlic. (We really love garlic in this house – both as a taste, and as a medicinal food.)
In a smaller container, around the size you could stick a sandwich in, I combined chicken and our favourite Caesar dressing. Quick and easy protein for salads.
Once those had all been popped into the fridge to marinate, I went back to the pile of bones and oddments.
Those went into our larger slow cooker with a sizable amount of water, and I set it to low and left it there for 12-16 hours. I came back to it the next day and strained it. We have an object meant for helping with deep frying that also works well for scooping things out of hot liquid. It has a finer mesh than any of the colanders we have on hand, and that is sorely needed when dealing with bone fragments.3
When I was done with that, I had a pile of miscellaneous bone, gristle, other connective bits, and some meat fragments that hadn’t been able to be separated prior. Due to my lack of desire for waste, and because the broth could do with some actual bits of meat in it, I settled to separate the pile into smaller piles. One was bits that were not edible for anyone – bones, primarily. The second was meat for whatever it was I ended up doing with the broth. The last was the parts the dogs would consider to be TASTY food, but humans would not like the texture of.
The bones went directly into the trash. The parts for the dogs went into a smaller tupperware, and I added them as a special treat to pupper food for a few days. The meat fragments went back into the broth.
Which meant I was left to decide what, exactly, I was going to do with the broth. As we already had a supply of chicken broth in the freezer, it needed to become an actual proper food stuff.
Much of the time broth becomes a “random stuff that needs to be used up” soup or stew. In this case I had a more specific idea that I wanted to try.
For reasons of sustainability and Mister Tea’s health, we have been decreasing the amount of beef and pork that we eat. Which means we’ve been testing out a variety of poultry based sausages. The process has been a bit hit and miss, but we have managed to find a good turkey breakfast sausage and a chicken Italian sausage that while tasty, wasn’t quite inspiring enough to eat sandwich style.
Since the broth was chicken, and I had these sausages I needed to use, I decided to rig up an Italian chicken soup.
Sliced up a couple of the sausages, added them to the pot. Couple of tablespoons of minced garlic, a couple diced onions, chopped up peppers in a variety of colours, some supplemental seasoning… basically enough vegetable matter to bring the density of it up to where it would be right after adding pasta, and enough additional spicing to make it suit our preferences for taste. Left it alone until the evening, where we tested it, and since it passed muster, packaged the rest up, labeled it, and put most of it in the “future food” section of the freezer. We kept one container in the fridge, and ate dinner from it for two or three days.
I had a couple of bad days after that – enough so that I was worried the chicken in the teriyaki sauce would have candied (a problem we had with a prior experiment involving raw chicken – it was tasty, but the texture was… interesting.) Thankfully, it hadn’t, so that went into the rice cooker to marry the flavours together and heat it up enough to put on rice and eat. Same process as the soup after testing. One container into the fridge for as-needed lunches and dinners, the rest into the freezer.
The last container of chicken, the one with the salsa, was the last project. The first time we experimented with it, I decided to try to make Mister Tea a concoction that involved beans and rice. Because he really likes beans and rice. I do not have a fixation on the substance, but I love the way he responds to it when it is done well.
One of the spiffy things about our rice cooker is that it has many functions that do not involve rice. Which means it doubles as an extra slow cooker for stews and soups.
I began by making rice in it. Two cups – enough to act as part of the base for the chicken and salsa. Once the rice was done, in went the chicken, a couple of cans of kidney beans, and most of the rest of the big bottle of Costco salsa. I let it stew for a bit, then did a flavour and smell check, which led to adding a bit more roasted ground cumin, and some more garlic. (Yes, more garlic is often a thing in this house.) It cooked up wonderfully, though we did learn on this particular iteration of this random food stuff that leaving things with rice in them to slow cook for eight hours is perhaps not the best idea. Still tasty, still eminently usable, but it became a sort of goo that was better suited to being inside a tortilla than being in a bowl.
One rotisserie chicken and an array of not-overly-pricey additionals – and we stocked near a month’s worth of dinners.
Slow cookers are awesome.
- Mister Tea, when proofing this for me, added a note to the side. “Good, really? When’s the last time you saw good. You might want to use ‘better’ here.” And he has a fair point, but I rate my days based on the best and worst available. So while my ‘good’ days may still be terrible, they are still my good days.
- Fairly quick to do. We use a tiny cast iron frying pan, set the heat to the lower end of medium, toss some cumin in, and just shake the pan occasionally until it smells and looks roasted. The grinding is a bit more energy intensive, but Mister Tea has a skilled hand with a mortar and pestle. I find the taste to be important enough that I will do the grinding on my own if I have to.
- I am ever grateful to an author I follow for some of the cooking implements and methods she has introduced me to.