You may remember Matilda Polu Togiai and her blog Little Mom That Could from my Liebster Award post a few weeks ago. Matilda and I have forged a cross-country friendship between Delaware and Hawaii, and I couldn't be happier to share her blog with you!
When she's not working full-time, attending classes for her doctorate, or caring for her family, Matilda occasionally takes off her Superwoman cape to write on a variety of interesting topics, but it was her love of creative, family-friendly food that pulled me in. When we started talking a few weeks ago about collaborating, it seemed like a food post would be a fun diversion from my typical posts about ...
In six months, I have never had a typical post.
They're really pretty random.
Anyway, here is Matilda's guest post about getting creative to turn basic kitchen ingredients into delicious meals for big, hungry families. I hope you enjoy it, but more importantly, I hope you'll go check out her blog!
This post is dedicated to that part of our lives where we are the entire kitchen staff all rolled into one. As executive chef, sous chef, line cook, prep cook, butcher, porter, and dishwasher of our kitchen domains, we are completely responsible for the planning and executing of all meals that are consumed in and sometimes outside of the home.
Wouldn’t it be great to just make delicious meals appear magically without worrying about the cost? Ha! That was a trick question by the way! But for a second, let’s imagine that cost were not a factor. I would beat out speed dial every day calling up for take-out or delivery. But unfortunately, money rears its ugly and inconvenient head into our food-making efforts.
With this said, I bring you Stretch Meals.
Growing up poor, Mom and Dad learned a million and one ways to stretch a box of frozen chicken or a can of fish to feed our family of eight. Money was always tight, and seemed to be needed for so many other things that my parents had to get creative with what little food they could buy.
Stretch meals were born out of those hard times. Today I am fortunate to not have to struggle nearly as much to feed my own family, but I still carry on this tradition because:
- It is a great reminder for my family that we must never take anything for granted, and
- Life won’t always be peaches and cream. Sometimes life will give you canned fish and when it does, I want my kids to be ready to take that canned fish and turn it into something delicious. It might not be fancy, but it is sure to fill your belly and rock your taste buds.
My parents used every bit of whatever little protein they had to beef up our meals, sometimes enough to feed all eight of us twice over. Using what I learned from my parents, I added my own twist to this and coined VGS. It is a tribute to my childhood, but also a collaborative effort that has fed my family for years. And it will feed your family too.
V is for Vegetables.
G is for Gravy.
S is for spaghetti (or any pasta).
VGS is inexpensive, economical, and easy. Assuming you have all your regular spices and seasonings, the only bit of money you need is for the protein itself. I like to use inexpensive cuts of meat, like bone-in chicken thighs, skirt steak, and pork shoulder. Buying them from a warehouse store like Costco gets you even more for less! Always pay attention to the price per pound on your meat selections and go for what fits your budget.
Now, let’s break it down!
I absolutely love vegetables. I try to get them into my husband and children any way I can. The V is my contribution to Stretch Meals:
- Fresh or frozen.
- Whatever is cheap.
- Buy them in bulk.
That’s it. Simple, right? The trick to getting the vegetables “drool-worthy” and “taste buds approved” is by adding tons of flavor. And when we talk flavor, we are talking about seasonings, herbs, and your spice rack.
Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper are your best friends. Chicken or beef stock are the supporting actors. Seasoning each layer of ingredients as you cook is the key to creating the most flavorful dish: remember to season well, and season often.
The G belongs to my mom.
She is the queen of gravy. She makes the absolute best!
With a little butter/oil, flour, water (she doesn’t even use chicken or beef stock!), and some good ole salt and pepper, my mom’s gravy can easily compete with gravy that comes out of professional kitchens.
And she wasn’t shy about it either. She turned everything into a gravy dish:
- Gravy chicken
- Gravy mackerel (it really IS good…don’t knock it ‘til you try it!)
- Gravy beef
- Gravy pork…
What our food lacked in meat, the creamy and flavorful gravy more than made up for. We never left the table hungry, ever. Mom’s stick-to-your-bones-gravy was a food group in itself and is my favorite part of Stretch Meals.
And S is from Dad.
I can’t remember when it was exactly, but I do remember it tasting like something that came out of a restaurant. The day that Dad invented “Chicken noodle” is also the day the S in VGS was born.
By cooking the protein first, then adding in par-cooked spaghetti noodles to soak up all of the yummy pan juices, the result was noodles tasting like the meat that it was added to. So the few and far between pieces of chicken that were actually in the dish? Well, let’s just say that they were neither noticed nor missed.
To this day, Chicken Noodle is a family favorite. Oh, and so is Beef Noodle and Pork Noodle. Dad hasn’t made Canned Fish Noodle yet, but I won’t put it past him.
Until next time, thank you for joining me.
Happy Eating, Happy Stretching, Happy Meals to you all!