Making tasty and nutritious meals can seem like a lot of effort with all the planning, food shopping, the time spent cooking and then the pile of cleaning up. But what if there was a way to enjoy some homemade Chicken Soup, the ultimate ‘heal me’ food and it took 5 minutes to put together from your freezer?
I think so.
When I started looking at what foods I was eating and how they affected me, I naturally had to become a lot better at cooking. It wasn’t as easy to eat out while I was eliminating some foods and reintroducing other ones and sorting it all out. While it was socially a bit stifling, it did put a booster on learning how to cook well and experiment with ingredients. Now, I find it both relaxing and affirming that I can throw things in a pot or adapt a recipe to my needs and make delicious food. With food intolerances, becoming a great cook really gets in the way of any so called deprivation. Learning to cook well for your taste, requirements, budget and lifestyle is a brilliant way of looking after yourself and developing a new skill.
A bit of thought ahead of time means you are getting the best of both worlds – good nutritious food and it seeming like a convenience when you need it most. For the most part, this means allocating a little bit of time every now and to get ahead later. Taking the opportunity to chop and steam some veggies, boil some rice and put the slow cooker on while you go to work all day, means there will be some easy but tasty meals coming your way via your freezer for weeks to come.
I grew up with a treasure trove of leftovers in the freezer and so it has always been part of how I cook and how I view leftovers. If you didn’t grow up in this way, the freezer can seem like just a really good place to store ice cream and ice cubes for gin and tonics and the idea of eating leftovers seems boring, repetitive and for some people a bit gross. Each to their own, but if you’re a bit busy but also have good intentions of taking care of yourself then it’s worthwhile staying open minded to leftovers. If you want to save your ubereats money for special occasions, then it pays to make friends with your freezer.
I wanted to share a bit of a cadenza of recipes that came together to make some seriously great nourishing soup when the daycare bugs had a firm grip on me. Alone they are simple and useful but also just a starting point for a bit of experimenting depending on your mood and what you’re feeling like. Together these recipes combined to make a ready-in-5-minute-soup that was exactly what my virus laden body needed during our recent Sleeping Beauty season.
The Best Chicken Stock – the base of so many meals
- Buy a chicken, rinse it out with water and plop it in the slow cooker with a roughly chopped carrot or two, some celery, a roughly chopped onion, some apple cider vinegar, peppercorns, parsley, bay leaves and cover with water until it’s about 2 centimetres above the chicken.
- I bought a pack of V wings for some extra knobbly bits of cartilage that break down perfectly into gelatin and all the extra bones it will yield. Chicken necks any leftover drumstick/thigh bones you have are all great too. All the bones become the perfect round two of this chicken stock, truly the gift that keeps on giving.
- Cook on high for 5 hours or low for 10 depending on your circumstance. Pull the chicken out with several pairs of tongs as it will be falling apart and let it cool on a plate. Throw out the veggies and miscellanea and cool the leftover stock in a bowl.
- Pull apart the chicken and shred it with two forks, while keeping every bit of of cartilage and bone you can find in a separate bag. Divvy up the chicken into little glad bags or containers so it’s about a handful or two per bag. I got 9 bags from mine, one for the fridge and the rest go straight in the freezer.
- Let the remaining stock cool in a big bowl and then when cool enough to handle, pour into glad bags, containers or these awesome silicone giant ice cube trays from Kmart. I used these for baby food and then wondered where they had been all my life! One cube about 1/3cup, once frozen they can be popped out and transferred to a glad bag in the freezer to save on room.
- Keep the bone bag in the freezer for next time you’re making chicken stock and add any veggie scraps (carrot peels, celery ends, onion skins etc) to the bag so you can literally just throw it all in the slow cooker and begin again.
Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice
Cooking grains in bulk and freezing them is a great trick when you get home and you’re hungry for good food but also wanting the convenience. It defrosts quickly and well and can be added to an already cooked curry, stir fry, made into a quick rice pudding with milk/coconut milk, a quick fried rice or thrown into soup to bulk it up a bit.
Soaking your brown rice is always good as it breaks down some of the phytates which is like a protective layer on the outside of the rice. It is thought that this makes the rice more easily digestible as it’s been ‘activated’ (I still struggle with/dislike that word and ALL the connotations that come with it!) You could say it makes the rice well prepared and softer. I don’t discount it and I believe anything we can do to improve our digestion and therefore assimilation of nutrients from our foods is brilliant. But if you didn’t leave your brown rice out to soak during the day because you forgot, or were not that organised or you had better things to do then don’t despair, just cook your brown rice fresh and it’s still damn good for you!
I used to be a bit inept at cooking rice, it always turned out a bit gluggy and stodgy. I battled between the absorption method or the rapid boil my mum favoured but then I read about Gwenyth’s (yes that Gwenyth’s) Perfectly Cooked Brown Rice and I followed it to the letter, and it really does work every time. I like easy and I like reliable.
1 cup short-grain brown rice
1 3/4 cup of water
pinch of salt
- Rinse rice through a fine mesh strainer until the water runs clear.
- Put the rice, water and salt in a pot over high heat, bring it to the boil, then lower the heat until its just barely simmering (the lowest setting on my stove) and cover with a lid for exactly 45 minutes. The liquid should all be absorbed by then and the rice cooked nicely through.
- Take off the heat and lay a folded clean tea towel between the pot and the lid to absorb all the extra steam for at least 5 mins. (This is good to do when you cook Quinoa too.)
- Fluff with a fork, portion out in glad bags 1/2 cup at a time or use some big silicon ice cube trays from Kmart and cool a little, place in the fridge to cool further and then straight into the freezer.
Steam those Veggies
Steam those greens, pack them up into the freezer and you can never say that the broccoli has gone off in the fridge again. Organic broccoli on special or reduced to clear, buy up big, cook and into the glad bags it goes to get thrown into any and every meal I fancy.
I was having this discussion the other day side stage during our tech call of Act 1 Sleeping Beauty about the best way to cook your vegetables, you know the really battling out the important things in life while Baby Aurora was being christened. We were talking about the boiling versus the steaming versus the microwave. Short story – any way you cook your vegetables that means you then eat them is a good way by my standards.
This is an example where I feel like things can get a bit pretentious “What do you mean you use a microwave?” I read on a mother’s forum the other day, that a new mum starting her baby on solids was about to throw out all the puree she had made for her baby because she had boiled the veggies and not steamed them. She said she felt so terrible because the vegetables clearly had no nutrition left in them as all the nutrients were in the boiled water instead. I just thought how wonderful that her baby was getting such great simple food that her mum lovingly prepared for her. Leave the pretension aside and make your veggies how it suits you and how you will eat them.
So it’s not rocket science but this is how I do it:
Chop up some broccoli, put it in a pot with some water, cook it until it’s bright green and strain it away. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and they will stay nice and green too, cool and then into the glad bags they go ready for the freezer. Ditto for carrots, peas, corn or any veggie that holds it shape.
In terms of eating these freshly defrosted and heated by themselves, I tend to find them a bit soggy. But to add to a soup, stir fry, curry etc they are perfect.
Ready in 5 Minute Delicious Chicken Soup
- From the freezer get yourself a bag of chicken, break off some broccoli or any frozen veggies, a couple of cubes of brown rice and about 4 cubes or 1 cup equivalent of chicken stock.
- Put in a saucepan with perhaps a little extra water to get it going and defrost on medium low. Bring to the boil for a minute then simmer until you’re ready
- Add some freshly grated ginger, any extra veggies, some chopped spinach. I like adding some sesame oil right at the end to give it a nice little Asian kick.
- Voila! That would be your super nourishing Chicken soup that you helped to lovingly bring to life a few weeks ago and it’s on the table in 5 minutes.
Delicious, good for you and convenience. I guarantee you it will be in your belly before your Ubereats driver could make it to you.
Other ideas for these basics in your freezer:
- Quick fried rice with the frozen rice and veggies, whisk up a little omelette to fry up with some ham, add some soy sauce and sesame oil and it’s done.
- Brown rice pudding – defrost the brown rice then cook with some milk or dairy free milk alternative, cinnamon and a bit of maple syrup for a few minutes for a quick and yummy dessert or breakfast.
- Making a curry but don’t have any veggies in the house? Add them straight from the freezer and straight into the curry.
- Defrost a bag of chicken and mix with some mayonnaise for a nice chicken sandwich or add to your taco seasoning for a quick taco session
- Drink your chicken stock in a cup for extra healing and soothing benefits – your tummy will thank you as will your skin, hair and nails from all the gelatine goodness and extra minerals. I add some sea salt to mine as homemade chicken stock is much less salty than bought stock so a little is nice if it’s good quality.
- Quick chicken noodle soup – boil some stock cubes on the stove and add some quick cook soup pasta (the tiny strips or shapes) Thin rice noodles are also good.
As you can see, I’m pretty passionate about looking after ourselves through cooking and feeling confident to cook food that nourishes us but also works in with our lifestyle. I get home from a performance at 11pm so I rely a lot on getting creative with what’s in the freezer. Being able to throw together good meals in my opinion is more valuable than being able to cook that stand out Masterchef inspired banquet. Because it’s the everyday part that counts and anything that makes our every day better is always a winner with me.
So get creative and let me know what you come up with, I’m always up for new inspiration!