Monday, January 3, 2011

Food Budgeting Part Three: Piggyback Meals

Ha, funny post title for a family that eats no pork?     ;-)

Here's something I'm still learning, but that cooks like my grandmothers and most of the women today I know who have years of frugality under their belts are well-honed in...the art of making a few items into multiple delicious dishes.  Or in our house, what's known as "using every part of the chicken but the cluck."

It starts with some goals such as utilizing those QUALITY foods that are really good for us, but that often we need to stretch into more than one meal for the sake of frugality or lack of waste.   It means taking a few basic ingredients and using them as the basis for several very different dishes, some to be frozen, others to be assembled a day or two later.

We're not eating meat as often as we did last year, but even so, I'll give the example roast beef.  I found that I got the best price per pound at Sam's Club for bottom round roast...a boneless cut of meat that I could get in a pretty good size for $2.68/lb.   We do not have a good source for cleaner more organic meat...this was what we did as a second option.  I decided to try reducing our portion sizes of the beef, but Jack still wanted some beef because of the physicality of his job and amount of time spent walking during his work shifts, about 5 or so miles of walking per 8 hour shift.  Without some occasional beef, he ran out of steam a lot quicker.

My shopping corresponded with the weekend, so on Sunday, I filled up a big roasting pan with the roast seasoned with sea salt, garlic powder, and pepper and added around it whatever root veggies/tubers/squashes, etc, I wanted to roast along with varied each time, but I really filled that roasting pan up and then sealed it off tightly with foil.  As long as there were plenty of potatoes, onions, carrots, whatever else, in there along with the roast, it isn't necessary to add any liquids.   I'd slow roast/bake it at 350F for several hours, since I'm usually home at that time, or while we ran errands if we'd be back a bit later.  Instead of baking it till the roast was pull-apart tender, I'd take it out just before that stage, while it was still firm and slicing it would hold its shape.

Roast/Meal One...that night, was roast beef and some of whatever veggies we'd roasted alongside.  Always can add a salad and/or fresh fruit to round things out.

Well, that was a big roast.  I'd let everything cool in the pan.  When cool, I'd take the veggies and bag them in  a gallon ziplock bag or put them in a separate container of some sort and put them in the fridge.  The roast got cut into 4 or 5 big chunks and bagged/contained separately, and refrigerated.  The pan juices, when completely cool, got poured, scraped, into another container and also refrigerated.  After a few hours of cooling, it will separate into a jellylike aspic and a layer of hard white fat.

What meals had I planned for the week?   For meals involving meat, I already had it cooked, portioned, and ready to be put into use...just slice, dice, cube, or chop.  

Meals Two through...a lot more:  What meals can piggyback roast beef?  

Shepherd's pie, roast beef sandwiches (hot or cold), BBQ, sliced beef w/sauteed mushrooms and gravy, curries, vegetable beef soup, chili, tacos, enchiladas, stroganoff, casseroles, beef in wine sauce, tostadas, beef and potato hash (breakfast), beef and beans (especially black beans, yum), stir fries, sloppy joes, spaghetti or other sauces, beef stew...and so on.

I'm sure you have your own beef favorites.  The point is, the portions were already determined and the meat was already cooked...and it was very quick to arrange other meals from it.  Or to freeze some of the portions to be used later in the week. 

For the already cooked veggies, they became "fast" foods...the cooked cold potatoes easily are cubed or sliced for crisping in a skillet as hash browns to serve with eggs (fast!), to dice into curries, to cube and add to soups, to slice and reheat in a skillet and serve as a side with some melted cheese, etc.  The cooked onions are pureed and added to soups or pan gravies...delicious!

The pan drippings, after being refrigerated, had separated into a hard layer of white fat (beef tallow) and a congealed aspic that is dark brown and very concentrated with all the seasonings and flavors.  This is brown is beef bouillon times ten!   I break off the fat, wiping all the bits of the brown gel back into the container, and throw away the fat (but if I were saving it for soapmaking, I'd probably at this point freeze it.)  The cup or so of remaining pan drippings is THE seasoning I use as a soup starter, seasoning for a pot of beans,  flavoring for some curries, and anything else you want to add a very concentrated beef flavor to.

I can get a week's worth of meals off that one roast, and I didn't have to slave at anything.  The other good thing is that it's flexible...I have some basics already ready and can add the fresh veggies and fruits around it a-plenty, tailoring the rest of the week's meals more around seasonal things than being locked into this dish or that.  After all...almost anything can become soup :)

I used the example of beef.  The same goes for chicken, and depending on the cut or type of chicken (roaster, fryer, stewing hen, leg/thigh pieces, etc) it can further be used by boiling it or boiling the carcass and bones with some sea salt and optional veggies for an incredible chicken stock...which again can be used in most anything.  It's amazing how much meat can be gotten off a single chicken and refrigerated and portioned for further meals, and the stock is lovely in so many things even without the addition of the meat.

The same goes for other meats and types of foods except those that spoil quickly, like fish.  I hardboil eggs in quantity sometimes when I find a really good sale, to keep in the fridge for adding to cold meat salads, tossed salads, garnishing greens, dicing into soups, etc.

Baking or chopping up and leaving raw and then storing in the fridge quantities of veggies, or roasting large portions of winter squashes and pumpkins or sweet potatoes are also sometimes good for later use.  I reheat baked sweet potatoes without the skins for use in curries and stews (pureed),  as a side item (whipped with a tad of cream, maple syrup, toasted nuts), sliced and heated as a non-gluten base to serve chili or black beans over, or jazzed up a bit and used instead of pumpkin in my favorite pumpkin pie recipe, sans crust, for a sweet dessert.'s preference paired with necessity, but instead of a once-a-month monster quantity cookery (which I never mastered and have no space for) it's more of a weekly piggybacking of spinoff meals originating with a couple of quantity ingredients.

Yes, and I'm SURE most everybody but me has already been doing this!   But it sure did simplify things for me, since I do like to cook most of the time but am not so enamored with it that I feel supercharged spending more of my free time there.  I LIKE being able to reach into the fridge on a given week and knowing that I have ready portions to turn into a meal in about 20 minutes...and can then utilize my fresh greens and veggies and fruits around them and vary things a lot.

Now we're getting more away from using meats, but evenso, when I cook them, this way has now become a habit that seems to work for me pretty well.

What meals do you enjoy "piggybacking" and stretching to the Nth degree?  Got any favorite spinoffs that have become your family's favorites?   If we ever get a grill, THAT will become another "quantity" cooking type I'll enjoy serving "reruns" from  :)


Bethany said...

I do a couple things similar to what you were saying and another comment on the last post... I will buy several pounds of chicken, whichever is cheapest, and then I cook it until the meat falls off the bones. Separate out the meat from the bones and freeze it in 2-cup increments. I then throw the bones back into the pot, add some more water and seasonings, and simmer them for hours until I have a nice rich stock. I can the stock using my pressure canner.

Which brings me to the main way I piggyback meals - my pressure canner. There are many things you can make and safely pressure can - soups, marinara sauces, etc. One of the easiest things to do (and you get a homemade convenience food from it too) is to double the amount you make and then can the extra. Marinara/spaghetti sauce especially, it is such a versatile ingredient. We even like it over rice. You can't do this with everything but many things you can safely can using the pressure canner. I generally just serve up dinner, leave it simmering on the stove, then when we're done eating I can the rest and clean up. It just makes things so convenient in the long run.

I think the important thing is to plan the shopping every week so you already know what you are going to make. This way you can plan your meals around particular ingredients... like how many uses are there for cooked chicken meat? Millions!

Robbyn said...

Bethany, welcome! Yes, we do that with chicken, too...I just brought up the roast as an example, but we LOVE c hicken and do the same thing with the bones and making stock. But a pressure canner...has been on my WISH LIST for a few years now! I can't wait till we're able to get one and can learn to can up batches ...I do usually make larger quantities when cooking almost anything, but we end up freezing some of it instead...which is not always the best way to go. Thanks for your input and feel free to keep it coming!

Paulette said...

I LOVE this idea, and I try to do it to some degree but don't quite have it perfected yet. Probably because I haven't taken the time to plan it out well, but you've just motivated me! Great post!

Irma said...

My all time, hands down favourite thing to make for "piggybacking" is turkey. Less expensive than any other meat, and really not a lot of work. (People only think it's a lot of work bcause we generally only make turkey on high pressure holidays!) Talk about ending up with a lot of future meals in the freezer....

fullfreezer said...

We do the piggyback meals here as well. I love that name BTW. We called them "planned overs". Even for a family of 5 we can get at least 3 meals off a chicken- and that's with teenagers eating! In fact, we just had the last of our Saturday night chicken last night. Dressed up in different ways it doesn't get boring.