I’ll admit there’s a lot of anxiety around COVID-19 and some of it is justified. It’s not just that a frightening virus is making its way around the world, but also that our cornerstones feel as if they’re crumbling. Schools closing, sports on hold, people hunkered down, groceries tight, churches live streaming their services, restaurants and stores shuttered, long-planned trips and weddings postponed. 24-hour news cycle repetitions without meaning to, frighten us a la 9-11 and more. We’re missing being with the people we love and like — if we’re staying home more as we’re advised — and that’s a hard row to hoe, friends, despite it being for our own and the common good. Feels a little like a world war to me, though of course it’s not. Right?
So first a little about what I’m thinking for staying sane, in touch, and active. Because we need that to be able to cook! — for sure. Next, a couple of ways I’m using odds and ends in my kitchen this week–just for ideas about wasting NADA. Then, I’ll get to that chicken and lots of ideas for cooking–and if that’s your first priority, scroll down immediately. Read on…
There are ways to combat the fears because we must. It’s in our own interest to remain calm, stay healthy, and be aware and awake for what’s ahead. Anxiety and I are old friends, and perhaps you, too, occasionally suffer. I long ago learned I lost bits of life, abilities, and intimacy by letting it get the best of me. Recognizing its appearance or working ahead to offset it, is most helpful--much better than landing in the ER with a panic attack or facing the doc and requesting meds unless you must. Calm = healthy and self-sufficient. (Imagine a jet pilot who was a nervous wreck in an emergency? You get it.) There are a wide range of techniques and strategies you can employ, and while I’m definitely not a doctor, I can share that my number one go-to’s are EXERCISE and simple MEDITATION or CENTERING techniques. If you exercise on a regular basis, you feel more capable and in charge– and the physical results are immensely gratifying. You needn’t invest in Zumba classes or a gym membership, it’s simply helpful to walk–even in the house– have a stretch routine, and lift some weights a couple of times a week. Anything will help. I adore the treadmill as it gives me an excuse to watch tv or see Scotland from above on youtube, though lately I’ve done a slower walk that includes a short repetitive prayer repeated to the rhythm of my feet for 25-30 minutes at a time. If that doesn’t suit you, there are mantras to walk or run or breathe to like, “I breathe in peace; I breathe out anxiety. I breathe in health; I breathe out fear.” Those can be done sitting on the sofa, too, or while listening to quiet music. Google meditation techniques and see if anything appeals to you. There are also several apps for your phone like CALM, the Apple award-winning meditation app.
Try Walking with Leslie Sansone on YouTube. There are a wide variety of walks available; look at a few before you choose one. Even if you just walk in place, you’ll be ahead!
Other anxiety-reducing activities for me include the attempt to cutdown my screen time and only read or listen to the sources I know I can really trust. Leaving the cable news on would be a no-no for me. It only makes everything bigger and bigger-sort of like watching the planes strike the Twin Towers over and over again. Those immense red maps that seem to keep growing make my heart pound. Do other things, or as I heard a doctor say, “Do anything to get out of your head.” Read, watch favorite movies, play games, clean your closets, scrub your oven, straighten the garage, sing out loud to your favorite music, and dance. Plan a trip for a year from now–you can visit museums on line today to think about where you want to go. Listen to the METROPOLITAN OPERA if you’re a fan. They’re steaming, for free, a different opera every night next week. (We just watched “Carmen” today. OMG!!) Put on the sing-along version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Being alive in our own lives instead of letting images someone else chooses drive our existence is what counts.
We can also look ahead and consider longer-term activities: learning a new language, taking bridge lessons on line, ordering yarn and looking up knitting videos on youtube, writing that book we were going to write, refinish an old table, learn to play that piano in your living room, paint the house, plant a garden (order seeds now +/or plant in pots), and _________________________, _____________________________, ____________________________. Fill in the blanks. Tell me in the comments if you like. I’ve brought up my free YALE DIVINITY SCHOOL Introduction to the Old Testament videos and am going to start it again as I never finished it. You?
above: St. Pat’s Day drink in the driveway social distance style. We set up our chairs and placed cans of Guinness around the driveway. Neighbors brought chairs and had a beer with us! The new normal.
When this is over–and it will get over sometime– there are some things that I think will happen to us. We will be forever changed in ways we can’t imagine. Here are a few thoughts that come to mind that are not great big issues like what the government or economy will look like, but simply some every day kind of ideas:
- We’ll never use too much toilet paper again
- Having a drink or coffee with a friend will bring tears to our eyes
- We won’t waste food. Even now I’m eating less wondering how long my supplies must last. If I have one egg, they’ll last twice as long, etc. I’m not dieting. Let’s not do that.
- We won’t laugh at older relatives who reuse aluminum foil or plastic bags or put leftover soup in cottage cheese containers in the freezer
- We’ll never take a kiss or a handshake or a hug from anyone (but mostly my kids and grandkids) for granted any more (How is dating going to look after COVID-19? “You better have gotten dry-cleaned before you kiss me!”)
- A night out in a restaurant or a theater will forever seem like a humongous treat, not an everyday occurrence
- Falling asleep on the couch watching a ball game will be a sweet treat
- Our hair will be our natural color for the first time in _________ years. Maybe we’ll like it and not dye our locks anymore. Sorry, Jen 😉
- Plane rides won’t feel ho-hum boring…sit, sit, sit watching the sky go by… … …when will we get there?
- If there be vacations ahead, they will appear like extraordinary, long rock concerts after having sat inside four walls like this
- Dinners with friends will be manna from heaven
- I will love sitting in the church pew with my fellow congregants for the rest of my life. Even when they drive me nuts.
- No more complaints about any family holidays or buying and wrapping Christmas gifts.
- We won’t ever forget to wash our hands and will consider buying stock in lotion companies. (We have a water main break today and are on bottled water for eating, washing ourselves, etc.)
- We won’t ever think farming is hoaky or driving a grocery–or any– delivery truck is an easy job
- Grocery store, medical, garbage collectors, and emergency workers will forever be our heroes.
- Money or success won’t be as important as life. Finally. Thanks, God.
- ____________________________________________________ (Add yours–put it in the comments if you like.)
above: my good friend and excellent cook Jeannie making Spicy Cucumber-Feta Soup at one of my cooking classes featuring no-cook soups
What I don’t hear experts say much about is cooking to relieve anxiety or soothe the soul. Cooking is wondrous therapy. There’s just nothing like taking care of yourself by cooking a healthy meal — or, even better, baking a favorite treat like Irish Soda Bread. You can bake this without currants or raisins and use it for plain bread. Easy. No yeast. I like to divide the recipe in half and make two smaller loaves baked free-form on a rimmed baking sheet. It gets done more quickly and thoroughly and you can freeze one loaf for later.
How about the wondrous product to look at when we’re done! In today’s world, we must waste nothing in our kitchens even if we don’t know how to do that. Necessity is definitely the mother of invention, and you’ll see, too, if you work at it, how to make every ounce of cheese and slice of stale bread count. No dieting now, folks.
Here are a couple of things I’ve made in the last week to use up dibs and dabs and have something tasty to eat. What are you using every tiny bit of?
So Let’s Say You Had Some Cheese Beginning to Mold. A few slices of stale bread lying around. You could chomp it all down or you could make a SMALL STRATA (aka as breakfast casserole) ON THE FLY! I chopped up the cheese finely, beat together 3 eggs with a cup of milk, diced up 3 small slices of bread, and mixed it all together with salt, pepper, and a little dry mustard. A few nearly-sad mushrooms were sliced and put on top. I could have tossed in some leftover cooked asparagus, added onion or peppers, and so on. I let it rest a few minutes and then baked it in a greased 9-inch square pan for about 35 minutes at 350 and — hello! there was breakfast for a few days. Not only did I have several meals, but I didn’t throw away the cheese or bread. In a pinch, I could have used dry eggs and powdered or evaporated milk. We needn’t have the ingredients for a specific or fancy recipe in order to cook; we just need to understand methods and we can conquer the kitchen, feed ourselves and our families, and not throw food away any more. In this case, the method was one for a strata—or layering eggs, milk, and bread together for a casserole.
Read this for more info: HOW TO MAKE A BREAKFAST STRATA WITHOUT A RECIPE (Epicurious)
above: a big strata I make at holiday time, favorite family recipe from my mother-in-law, Lorna. You probably make something similar.
So Let’s Say You Had A Few Apples Wrinkling and Puckering on the Counter or in the Fridge. They’re looking a bit sad to eat of hand, but you’ve flour, butter, sugar, and milk or even evaporated milk, so you could make APPLE COBBLER, which is just sweetened apples topped with a biscuit crust. Many recipes are for a 9×13 pan, but you can cut those in half for a 9-inch square pan or a pie plate. I used an old FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK recipe, but this Land O’Lakes one will work just fine. Some bakers prefer an Apple Crisp to a cobbler so they don’t have to make biscuits. Your choice!
My guess is the next few weeks will force us to be very careful with everything in our kitchens. As we eat more and more at home, we may be eating more pantry meals and perhaps eating less than we have in past years. If you’ve got a chicken (YES WE’RE GETTING TO THE CHICKEN!) — or even pieces of chicken — best idea is to roast it or grill it first with vegetables and use the leftovers in a couple of different ways. Time to stretch our food, loved ones.
STRETCHING THAT BIRD TO FEED YOU ANOTHER TIME OR TWO:
BASIC DIRECTIONS FOR ROASTING CHICKEN–WHOLE BIRDS, BONE-IN BREASTS, OR BONELESS BREASTS/THIGHS: First of all, you needn’t worry about a recipe or lots of ingredients for a roast chicken, though go ahead and use one if you like. To just get the bird cooked: Salt and pepper it inside and out, drizzle and pat down with oil–or not! Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for a half hour. Turn it around. Roast for another 30 minutes and begin testing. It should be about done with an instant read thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees F. Roast for 10 minutes more and test again–rinse, repeat. How long it takes depends on the size of the bird, whether or not it’s a bit frozen, and the accuracy of your oven! A 4-pound bird typically takes at least 1.5 hours in my oven at altitude. If you have bone-in breasts, prepare them the same way, but roast for 45 minutes at 350 degrees F. Boneless breasts: prepare in same way and roast for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees F, flipping halfway though the roasting. If you want –and it’s available –go with a rotisserie chicken from the store. Boneless thighs: prepare in same way and roast about 20 minutes at 425 degrees F, turning halfway through.
RECIPES USING CHICKEN are myriad, but you’ll want to choose yours based on ingredients at hand, cooking ability, number of mouths to feed, your own druthers, and so on. If you’re feeding four, you may only get a second meal PLUS chicken broth for soup if you’ve roasted a whole bird. Two of you? Your chicken may stretch quite a bit longer. It’s good for 3-4 days well-wrapped in the fridge if you have cooled it and stored it right away after cooking it.
You can also freeze it:
- To further extend the shelf life of cooked (rotisserie chicken), freeze it; freeze in covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags, or wrap tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap.
- How long does cooked (rotisserie chicken) last in the freezer? Properly stored, it will maintain best quality for about 4 months, but will remain safe beyond that time. (courtesy stilltasty.com)
How long can you store any food in the fridge or freezer? Look it up on STILL TASTY DOT COM.
THE RIGHT WAY TO FREEZE EVERYTHING (Bon Appetit)
So following are six thoughts for using chicken, including how to make chicken stock and soup from that. You’ll have some ingredients and you won’t have others. It’s definitely that time in life when you learn to punt. (See TIP below for substituting ingredients.) Perhaps none of them will hit the spot for you, but reading through may give you some ideas for making something else and that is just perfect, too. There are 11 years of recipes on this blog. You can put just about anything into the search box and come up with an idea for a meal. Other things that come to mind are Chicken Spaghetti, Chicken Salad, Chicken Tacos, Chicken and Rice Casserole (spoiler–uses Cream of Chicken soup!), Omelets with Chicken, and so on. Check this out: CHICKEN LEFTOVERS RECIPES FROM ALLRECIPES.COM.
TIP: Any of these can be made with turkey instead of chicken–just in case you have that in the freezer.
IDEA NUMBER ONE: MAKE CHILI. TEQUILA WHITE CHICKEN CHILI — or another one you like.
Changes/Ideas For TEQUILA WHITE CHICKEN CHILI: Instead of using the ground chicken, shred roasted chicken and use that; increase beans and vegetables as necessary. It will not be as meaty as if you used the two pounds of ground chicken, but it will taste good and fill tummies. If you have ground turkey in the freezer, you can use that instead of the chicken, too. Again, ramp up vegetables and beans in place of some of the meat to stretch the meal.
TIP: Mashed beans can always stretch a pound of any ground meat; you’d never guess they were in there.
IDEA NUMBER 2: Use the INSTANT POT OR STOVE to make a dry bean stew like TUSCAN WHITE BEANS WITH SAUSAGE, CHICKEN, AND GREENS
Changes/Ideas for TUSCAN WHITE BEANS WITH SAUSAGE, CHICKEN, AND GREENS: Skip the first part of the recipe where it says to brown the chicken, etc. if you’re used pre-cooked bird. Instead, begin with the beans, follow the directions (skipping sausage or greens if you have none) to the end, and stir in a cup of shredded or chopped roasted chicken. Put the Instant Pot back on sauté for a few minutes to heat everything through. If you have no tomatoes in a can, increase the water by 2 cups to make sure there is enough liquid to cook the beans. No Instant Pot? Cook the beans on the stovetop until nearly tender, add the other ingredients (cook the Italian sausage separately first), simmer for 30 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings, and toss in a cup of shredded or chopped leftover roast chicken for last 10 minutes to heat through.
TIP: 18 Most Common Ingredient Substitutions (Food Network Canada)
TIP: STRETCH THIS MEAL BY LADLING SMALLER PORTIONS ONTO HOT BROWN OR WHITE RICE.
IDEA NUMBER 3: CHICKEN SHEPHERD’S PIE OR ENGLISH MUFFIN CHICKEN POT “PIES”
While I made this without a recipe, I don’t expect you to do it. Try this one from FOOD AND WINE. This is basically a sort of chicken pot pie filling topped with mashed potatoes, baked, and then run under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the potato. You can used fresh mashed potatoes, dried and reconstituted potatoes, pre-made mashed potatoes, etc. I had a 10-pound bag of potatoes that were sprouting all kinds of eyes. I made a big pot of potato soup with half (ate some/froze some) and cooked up the rest into a tasty tub of mashed potatoes we ate with chicken, fried up into potato cakes and ate with eggs, and more! I used cooked roasted chicken instead of the fresh thighs in the recipe and added it in after I cooked the fresh vegetables, added the cooked vegetables, and made the sauce. Any broth will do and if you’d rather, you can even use milk and water or half broth and half milk or even some wine. I added ground thyme, rosemary, and fennel to mine as I love those flavors. You could consider oregano or basil or marjoram, etc. Any vegetables will work. I began with onion, carrot, etc., and after they softened, added leftover broccoli and cauliflower and mushrooms. Leftovers heated well covered and baked at 350 degrees F for a half hour or until bubbly. Keep in mind how old your cooked chicken is before storing for one more day. You might be better off to eat it all or freeze a portion or two.
WANT SOMETHING SIMPLER? Try my English Muffin Chicken Pot Pies. Can be made individually, in a pan, with English muffins or any other bread.
TIP: FREEZING FRESH ONIONS–SURE! UNL Food.
IDEA NUMBER 4: TWO CHICKEN SALADS….not like your mother used to make
These two salads are worth grilling fresh chicken for, but will also give you a few ideas or thoughts about how to use chicken you have cooked in another way. They’d work fine with leftover sliced pork tenderloin or chops, beef, canned chicken or tuna or even salmon, too. In today’s world, the fresh ingredients may not be available, but use what you have, substituting canned green beans for the fresh greens, carrots for the cucumbers, sautéed frozen spinach instead of fresh basil, and so on. Time to put our creative hats on.
IDEA NUMBER 5 AND 6: MAKING CHICKEN BROTH AND OH-SO-EASY CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE
below: my broth made with everything but the kitchen sink. You’re needn’t have all these ingredients and can use just the carcass or bones instead of a whole bird
We are so used to buying quarts or cans of chicken broth that many people never think of making their own. Anytime you have a roasted chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken, you could make a pot of stock (stock is made with bones; broth is made with meat) that is healthier and gives you at least part of another meal. I’m including GOOD HOUSEKEEPING’S recipe for making chicken broth, but I’ll also say that it’s easy to make your own. The ingredients aren’t written in stone and Asian broths include almost NO vegetables as does our European version made with onions, carrots, and celery. I use odds and ends of vegetables I’ve frozen for just that use—the heavy greens from leeks, ends of celery bunches, ends or peels of onions, struggling bunches of fresh herbs, etc. If you have cruciferous vegetables, you can use them, too, but add them at the end for just a couple of minutes or you’ll have broth tasting hugely of cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower. So throw your chicken carcass or any chicken bones (necks, gizzards, wings, hearts–no livers) into the biggest pot you have, cover it with water plus a couple of inches, give it a tablespoon or two of salt and peppercorns, dried (bay leaf is great) or fresh herbs if you have them, add whatever veg you have on hand, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and let cook –adding more water if needed to keep the bones covered — for at least an hour and more if you like. You can also do this in the slow cooker. Strain the stock into another large pot or bowl through a fine mess strainer. Discard solids, cool broth, and use immediately or refrigerate for 3 days/freeze for 4-5 months.
After your broth is made, you can make your favorite soup, but OH-SO-EASY CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE is one of mine. Leftovers freeze wonderfully for great lunches. Read through the recipe, including the notes, to check out modifications and substitutions you might need.
Sending love and light, health, peace, and a chicken in every pot to each of you. I have no answers, but I do have food. Thanks, God.
all photos copyright Alyce Morgan. all rights reserved.