Each season, I fall into a pattern with my cooking. Grilled meat and fresh veggies in the summer, chili as soon as it’s chilly outside, and roasted chickens at least once a week from September through May.
Roasted whole chicken is really the perfect food. Juicy and flavorful, a combo of white and dark meat (legs for me, please!), and the crispy skin that is better than any potato chip.
And, even better, it’s an entrée that you cook once and can eat multiple times. I’ll roast a chicken on Sunday, and we’ll eat some of it with simple sides like mashed potatoes and sautéed greens. I’ll pull the rest of the chicken, and then it’s ready for WHATEVER. Stir into soup; add to a green salad; make a panini.
What comes next is the magic part.
I didn’t take advantage of this magic for years, and I wish someone would have schooled me sooner. Until a few months ago, I would pull all the meat off the chicken carcass, and then I’d toss the bones.
What was I thinking?!
Now I know better. I put the carcass – bones, skin, and all – in the crockpot. I fill the crockpot with water. I turn it on low, leave it overnight or longer, and THAT’S IT. That’s chicken stock.
When I wake up in the morning, the whole house smells like a vat of chicken soup, and that’s not as gross as it sounds. It’s the best.
Even without adding any extra seasonings or aromatics, this stock tastes 10 times better than the stuff in the carton. And it’s FREE!
I’ll freeze half of it and put the rest in the fridge. Later in the week, I’ll use it to make soup. This one, with red lentils, butternut squash, and russet potatoes, is my current favorite.
MAGICAL ROASTED CHICKEN
Preheat the oven to 425. This is HOT, so anything on the floor of the oven will smoke. Turning on your hood fan is a good idea (I learned this the hard way).
Dry the chicken (around 5 lbs) thoroughly with paper towels. Put the chicken, breast side up, in a cast iron skillet. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Season heavily, inside and out, with salt and pepper.
Roast for 25 minutes at 425.
Reduce the heat to 350. Baste the chicken all over with olive oil.
Roast for 45 more minutes, basting with olive oil every 15 minutes.
Take the chicken’s temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thigh of the chicken (picture of what this looks like up top!). This is the thickest part of the bird, and dark meat takes longer to cook than white. The bird is ready to remove from the oven when the thigh registers at 165 degrees. The drumstick should also be very wiggly, like the bone will slip right out. This may take an additional 10 minutes or so.
Let the chicken rest, tented with foil, for at least 10 minutes while you finish preparing the rest of the meal. (The skin will lose some of its crispness when you tent the chicken, so eat a little first!)
I’m currently in fresh jammies, writing from bed. (Do you guys do this on lazy days? Get up, shower, and then get dressed, but in jammies? I do!)
This type of post format is all over the internet, but I’m particularly inspired by Shutterbean’s style of Currently post.
Watching: I’ve been very interested in royalty lately, both American and otherwise. I saw Jackie last night and loved it. It was much more intense than I expected, and the costuming was beautiful. The movie is framed around the interview for a post-JFK assassination interview Jackie gave to Life magazine, and reading more about that interview has been fascinating. I’m also keeping up my No Book-Buying pledge and reserved this book at my library to learn more about the Kennedys because once I get going on a topic, I cannot stop.
We’ve also been watching The Crown on Netflix, about the first years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It’s a little slow at parts, but watching the power dynamic between Elizabeth and her husband is so interesting and well-written. The costuming is also beautiful.
Reading: I read Needful Things by the my bestie Stephen King over Christmas. Excellent and just the right amount of scary. I immediately moved onto Rose Madder, also by King and also excellent, but not supernatural… at least not so far. It’s about an abused woman who escapes her husband, and the suspense level is crazy.
I’ve also been working my way through this best-of 2016 list that Rachel at The REWM compiled. Lots of good longform and a nice mix of light and heavy pieces.
Eating: Day five Whole 30, going strong. I still have a bunch of Christmas candy around the house that I need to toss. It’s not tempting yet, but I’m sure it will be.
I was really missing a glass of wine the other night while making dinner (I think I missed the ritual of sipping while stirring a pot more than anything else). I had an apple cider vinegar tonic instead, and — as you may have seen on Snapchat — it was terrible. But the bubbles helped me get over the craving hump.
Last night, I ordered a burger with grilled jalapenos, avocado, and bacon at my favorite place, but asked for it on greens instead of on a bun. Was it the same? No. But it was pretty damn delicious. I ordered fruit on the side, and they brought me fries by accident, and I didn’t even have one. 👍
Listening to: I’ve been really into ambient noise lately. Maybe it was the month straight of holiday music, but I’ve enjoyed the ambience and calm of the sounds on this site (listen, they even have various Hogwarts-inspired tracks). I’m very into Cozy Cottage, but with the grandfather clock and the purring cat muted.
Also, if you need some serious goal-getting motivation, check this amazing podcast: Making Oprah. It follows my girl from the beginning of her career to now, and it is so inspiring.
Inspired by: I got two awesome cookbooks for Christmas, and I have been reading them both like novels. Food52‘s newest cookbook, A New Way to Dinner, is brilliant. It has 16 weeks of meal plans, four for each season, that outline how you can get the bulk of your cooking done on the weekend. It. Is. So. Good. The pictures are lovely; the flavor combinations sound delicious. This one will be food-splattered very shortly.
I was also gifted Celebrations, from Danielle at Against All Grain. I am decidedly not against grains, but this cookbook has some good Whole 30 inspo. I am making the Curry Pumpkin Soup ASAP.
What are you reading, watching, listening to lately?
Goal-setting has never been a strength of mine. I over-estimate or under-estimate; I change my mind about what I want midway through. What I am good at, however, is intention-setting.
Since this distinction – goals vs. intentions – may be clear to me but unclear to you, here are some examples:
Setting a goal to lose 30 pounds isn’t my style, but setting the intention to exercise four times a week is.
Instead of picking an amount of money I want to save, I set the intention that I’ll stop spending money on a certain type of thing (ahem, see below).
I’d like to get better. I hear goal-setting is the bee’s knees, and I want to get on board. But I’ve got to take baby steps. I’ve learned that testing the waters first works better for me. Jumping in, feet-first, is scary and big, and I’m not quite there yet. (This is me, being very honest: Goals are scary because then you actually have to do them.)
What I can do, right now, is set intentions for the year. These intentions will help me to create the life that I want, regardless of the bigger goals I’m still working out.
1. Exercise every day.
Incorporating exercise into my daily routine has been a cyclical thing for me. Some weeks, I’m excellent, and some weeks, I barely get out my sneakers.
Making exercise a daily, non-negotiable task is a habit I’m going to create this year.
Doing the 30-Day Pilates Body Challenge via The Balanced Life really helped to change my frame of mind on this issue. The workouts on this plan are tough, and 90% of them are less than 10 minutes long. (HIGHLY RECOMMEND!)
While I’d like to make sure that I’m incorporating longer workouts, like hour-long yoga classes and outdoor runs, having the 10-minute workout to fall back on makes this intention feel doable. Now that I’ve finished the challenge, I’ll often combine two or three 10-minute workouts into a longer Pilates routine.
But even on days where I’m not feeling well, or I’m over-scheduled, or I’m visiting family, I can make 10 minutes for myself.
2. Continue to make the most of mornings.
Productive mornings are crucial to success for me. I am not a night owl, and I never will be. Especially in the winter, when it’s dark before I even drive home from work, my evening expectations of myself cannot be too high. All I want to do is make dinner (or heat up leftovers if I’m lucky), spend time with G, and decompress.
If my workout doesn’t get done in the morning, if I don’t do that load of laundry, if I don’t finish that freelance article, I will be kicking myself all day. Because I know that my relaxing evening will be interrupted by completing this task. And the anxiety of that impending interruption is almost worse than the actual interruption.
Is this anxiety emotionally healthy? Nope. Should I take a chill pill and treat myself with the same grace I reserve for others? Sure should.
And I’d like to work on that. I’d like to work on finding the balance between sleeping in when I truly need to and executing my Miracle Morning the rest of the time.
Right now, it’s all too easy for one morning of sleeping in to turn into a whole week of hitting snooze. Recommitting to a meaningful morning is one of my biggest 2017 priorities. (Expect lots of 5:30 AM emails, friends and colleagues!)
3. Be grateful.
I stole this idea from Ms. Rachel Hollis of The Chic Site. As part of her awesome New Year program, she is encouraging her followers to write down ten things they’re thankful for each day. They can be little things (warm stew on a cold day) or big things (financial stability), but I’ve found that this practice keeps me on the lookout for blessings all day, everyday.
I have a lot to be thankful for. Hashtag blessed, like Bruno Mars.
4. Buy no books.
I saved this one for last because it hurts.
It’s truly insane. I’m not sure that I can do it. And, HONESTY ALERT, I bought Oprah’s new cookbook online this morning. #CantBeTamed
I deleted the Amazon app off my phone as soon as I made this mistake. (I’m sure it will be a tasty mistake.)
This is an area when I justify my spending unjustly. I think that since the purchases are books – which are awesome and healthy and always a good thing – I can buy however many I want. But the truth is that I have approximately 8,000 unread books in various rooms of our house and that shit is out of control.
This year, I want to read that backlog, donate/gift what I’m no longer interested in, and cultivate a happier/healthier/more moderate book-buying attitude for 2018.
(Oh, and I will continue to buy books as gifts, because there is no more perfect gift, okbye.)
What are your goals and intentions for 2017? Let’s keep each other accountable!
The last half of my 2016 was crazy and hard and very full. Two of my closest family members got sick, I spent more time in hospitals and doctor’s offices than I ever imagined I would, and, oh yeah, I’ve been planning a wedding.
Blogging kept getting pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, but I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaack.
Life isn’t any less busy, but my family is on the path to wellness, our wedding is in <100 days, and 2017 is just a hangover away.
And speaking of hangovers…
I am in the depths of a carb and sugar coma that only a Whole 30 will pull me out of. Hospital cafeteria food turned into holiday eating before I knew it, with a whole lot of emotional eating in between. My skin looks like I feel — dull, heavy, and needing a cleanse.
I’ll be starting the Whole 30 January 1st like the true cliche that I am. No sugar, soy, alcohol, or grains. I’m going to keep eating legumes, though. That’s technically off-plan, but it’s my diet so I can eat what I want!
I’m writing today to tell you that I’m not gone, I was just resting. It may take me a bit to get back on track, but I’m HERE, I’m hustling, and I’m doing my damnedest.
Here it is, guys: a crash course in meal planning. This is what saves me time, money, and extra pounds every week.
Healthy eating means something different to everyone. To me, it means vegetables at most of my meals, grains at just a few of them, and plenty of protein. Convenience foods and restaurant meals — especially in the Midwest, where there are just fewer options — don’t easily facilitate this.
Time and expense are big, totally valid barriers to eating healthfully. Learning to plan meals and prep food ahead of time? Game changer.
Eating nutrient-dense meals is important, and the cheapest way to do that is to make the meals yourself. While swinging through the McDollar menu drive-thru on the way home may be cheaper than grocery shopping and cooking, the calories you’re consuming are totally empty. Buying a kale and romaine salad with chicken, chickpeas, bell peppers, and avocado could easily be $8-12. You can make it at home for WAY less money. You just may have to eat it for a few days in a row to use up all the ingredients.
Eating healthfully is more expensive. It just is. I talk about this issue here, but processed food is full of sugars and starches because those ingredients are dirt cheap. Leafy greens and lean proteins are costly, especially when compared to the $1 frozen T.V. dinner.
I am so fortunate to be able to afford nutrient-dense food. This does not escape me. Not everyone can budget for seven salads a week, because seven sandwiches will be cheaper.
Making a thoughtful grocery list can save money, as can shopping around to find the cheapest place for your staples. I rely on Aldi, a bargain grocery store, and have saved so much money shopping there.
Time is another factor in eating healthfully. It takes longer to grocery shop and cook than it does to eat in the cafeteria at work or hit Chipotle on the way home. I choose to spend multiple hours on the weekend planning, shopping, and prepping food for the upcoming week. I enjoy this, so it doesn’t often feel like work (although sometimes it does).
By carefully planning my meals, making an intentional grocery list, and keeping essentials on hand, I’m able to make (mainly) wholesome meals for G and I for the whole week.
Meal planning can be overwhelming and intense the first few times. It’s full of a dozen little mental calculations: how much rice do I need? Do we have eggs? What about bananas? Which nights am I working late?
I was terrible at first: buying too much, planning to make dinner every night of the week (ha!), forgetting to plan something for breakfasts or snacks.
What follows are the details of how I meal plan. Everyone does this process differently, and a million little factors determine what will work best for you. How many people are you cooking for? How many times do you eat out each week? Do you mind leftovers?
To help you answer those questions, I’ve made a meal planning worksheet. The instructions for use are at the bottom of the post, and you can download the worksheet here.
MY MEAL PLANNING ROADMAP
Friday: Over lunch, I plan meals for the upcoming week, Saturday-Friday. I save complicated or time-consuming recipes for the weekend and rely on old faithfuls and no-recipe meals during the week.
I also give thought to lunches and breakfasts. Grant leaves for work very early, so I pack breakfast and lunch for him every day. If I don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to run out of food mid-week.
By Friday, I typically have a pretty good idea of what our calendar looks like for the upcoming week (happy hours, doctor’s appointments, whatever), so I can plan around that.
Saturday: I review the meal plan I made the day before, check my fridge and pantry for the ingredients I need, and add what’s missing to my grocery list. I use this app. I don’t 100% love it, but it gets the job done. Similar items, like freezer and produce, sort by color-coding, and you can create different lists for different stores (Aldi, Hyvee, Trader Joe’s).
Quantities are one thing that really screwed me up when I first started meal planning. I never bought the right amount of produce — always too much or too little. Now, I have it down. Since I know that I eat one romaine heart for lunch every day, and Aldi sells romaine hearts in packs of three, I should buy two packs. Easy peasy.
I go shopping at Aldi first, getting as much as I can there. I follow up at Hyvee, which is on the way home, and grab the one or two things I can’t get at Aldi. This varies from week to week, but is usually a specialty item, like Larabars or kombucha.
When I get home, I immediately do some prep. I open packages of meat and divide them into fridge and freezer packs. If I need one pound of ground turkey for the coming week, but bought a three-pound pack, I’ll freeze two pounds and put the remaining pound in a container in the fridge.
Other examples of quick prep that I do at some point before Sunday evening: make big batches of rice or quinoa, freeze brown bananas for smoothies, chop squashes and other hearty vegetables, roast and shred chicken, make soup in the crockpot, and mix dry ingredients for oatmeal.
I put everything in glass containers (I have these), so I can see what’s in the fridge when I open it.
Planning our meals and prepping food on the weekend is the only way I can make meals after work while also leaving plenty of time for after-work plans, T.V. time, and more.
My commute takes about 45 minutes, and knowing what I’ll be making for dinner once I get home calms my mind and allows me to unwind more quickly. My non-office time is sacred, and I want to get the most out of the hours before bed.
This may seem like a lot of work at first, but it runs like clockwork once you’ve practiced a few times. Some of you probably think I’m crazy for devoting this much time/energy/thought to meal planning, but to each their own, dudes!
MEAL PLANNING WORKSHEET
The worksheet has three sections: planning notes, days of the week, and extras. They can be used any way you please, but I’ve listed some ideas below.
I use this space to map out what makes the week unique. Some questions I think about:
How many people am I feeding at each meal?My answer is almost always two, but sometimes we’ll have family over or Grant will be away for a meal.
Which meals am I packing to eat away from home?Lunches for work? Breakfast to eat after an early-morning exercise class? Healthy dinner before a cocktail party?
What do I want to snack on?
Which nights will I rely on leftovers?If I’m getting home late, or if there’s a T.V. show on I do NOT want to miss the beginning of, I’ll often plan to eat leftovers. That may mean that I double a recipe I’m making the night before, or I’ll plan on eating hummus, crackers, and veggies for dinner.
What’s the weather going to be like?Do you want to grill or eat soup?
Are there ingredients I need to use up? Leftover veggies from the week before? Meat that’s almost been in the freezer for too long?
What are my nutritional goals for the week?If the week before has been full of wine and cheese, I’ll plan a very veggie-heavy week of meals.
Days of the week:
I note what’s for dinner each night, accompanied by any relevant notes or reminders.
Here’s where I note which snacks are easy to grab and what quick lunch and breakfast options there are. Some examples: cans of tuna and garbanzo beans for topping salads, hummus and rice crackers, nuts, smoothie packs in the freezer, and baked sweet potatoes.
Happy planning! Comment below or tweet/snap/email me if you have questions or comments! My contact info is here.