Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Lost Art of Stock

One of the easiest things you can make from scratch in your kitchen is stock, or "broth" . Chicken and beef broth are both cheap to make, good for you, and taste infinitely better than the crap you buy at the store! No MSG, no artificial coloring or flavors... and if you're confident of the source of your ingredients, you can support an organic/happy meat claim on the finished product.

You can use your stock to make soups and gravies, you can add it to things like mashed potatos or use it to cook your rice, vegetables and pastas. YAY FOR FLAVOR! And all your friends and family will be so impressed with how "domestic" you are! haha.

This is a "time heavy, labor light" endeavor. You need either all day or all night to make a respectable stock.

So, lets get started.
Equipment- Large stock pot (or slow cooker) with lid, big spoon, ladle, big knife, big bowl, stove (or electrical outlet), colander,  and about 6- 1qt containers with lids (we're gonna freeze ours, if you want to pressure can yours, go call your mother for help).

Ingredients- one whole chicken carcass, (or turkey carcass, or 2 lb beef bones), one whole onion with skin, a bunch of celery with leaves, one whole head of garlic with skin, some carrots with the tops,  half a bottle of (really cheap) white wine (red wine if you're doing beef stock), salt, pepper, assorted spices... (now, when it comes to spices, I like to open the container and if it smells right, I add it).

Put the Turkeysaurus Rex in the pot. If it doesn't fit, take the big knife and make it fit, you have to be able to put the lid on in the end. Quarter the onion and toss that in- skin and all (onion skin gives your stock a nice color). Hack up the celery and add that. Chop the crap out of the garlic and add that. Kill the carrots into a manageable size and throw them in- include the greens too. Pour in the wine- no that wasn't for you to drink! Salt and pepper the hell out of it, add some assorted spices :)

Add water until everything is just covered and start cookin'. If you're using a slow cooker, turn it on low and walk away for 12 hours. If you're going stovetop, turn it on and bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat until it's at a steady simmer ( high enough to keep it simmering, low enough that you can leave the lid on without it starting to boil over). Now, I'm not comfortable walking away from a lit stove for hours at a time, especially with gas, so I make this when I can be home for the day and keep an eye on things. So simmer and ignore for the day...

At the end of the day, when your house smells awesome, remove from heat, carefully remove the carcass/bones and discard (make sure you don't leave the trash where the pets can get at it... unless you're trying to do in the neighbor's dog...) Put the colander right into the bowl and pour everything in. Slowly lift the colander and turf the rest of the solids- after 12 hours, they're all cooked to crap, it's not a waste.
Ladle your liquid gold into containers and let it cool for a few hours- you could put the whole bowl in the refrigerator and then pour into containers. Oh, and LEAVE THE FAT IN!!! Don't skim off the fat! Apparently (particularly in chicken fat), the fat is where all the cold-fighting good for you is! LEAVE. THE. FAT. Phew.

So when it's cooled, secure the lids and pop it in the freezer. I like to stick a piece of tape on each container that has what it is, and the month it was made... not like it's ever around long enough to go bad...

And enjoy! You just made something from scratch!

Monday, October 18, 2010

"It's all Gravy" or "The Secret's in the Sauce"

For some people, gravies and sauces are second nature; for others, they are a mystery. I remember discovering how wonderfully simple it was to make sauces from scratch- that was a long time ago. Since then I have suffered much dismay over how easy it was to TOTALLY SCREW THEM UP!

Have I ever told you about the "Rancid Pork Fat Incident"?

A long long time ago, my husband and I were newly married, and cozily living in our first apartment. I was so pleased with myself and my Mashed Potato Prowess, and my Shake and Bake Chicken Domination. I even knew how to make Gravy from Scratch! Anyway... One night I was making dinner and getting ready to whip up some amazing gravy. I pulled my frying pan out of the oven (we had like one cupboard) and noticed there was some grease in it. I didn't think much of it, in fact I don't think I thought about it at all. I left the grease in the pan and made the gravy. With dinner ready to serve and the gravy simmering in the pan, I decided to have a taste. OH GOD WHAT IS THAT! Whatever it was, it was not edible, it tasted like, rancid something... rancid... Oh! Right! Pork Chops! I had done pork chops like 4 days before. Obviously the grease in the pan had gone "off". GROSS! So I abandoned the gravy, dished myself up and warned my hubby NOT to eat the gravy "It's NASTY! DON'T EAT IT!!" I said.

Before I caught on, he had drowned his plate in the toxic sludge and was shoveling it in his face at record speed.  I begged him to stop, but he insisted it was fine and continued eating. I think he was sick for like 3 days. When I asked him "why the hell would you eat it after I told you it was bad?", he replied "because you made it".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feeding Time

Those of you who know me, know that I am not just a mom of one. My Baby Lust has caused me to add to my brood in a most unusual way. I quit my "JOB" job last December for a number of reasons; lack of affordable childcare being closer to the top of the list. Now I AM the childcare!! I have 6 kids. 3 boys, ages 5, 7 and 7 (and another one whose mom is taking time off for awhile), and 3 girls; ages 5, 7 and 7.

 This "babysitting" business all started when my good friend became dissatisfied with the arrangements she had for her 4 year old daughter. So after thinking about it for a few seconds, I told her "well, I'm not working, I don't have any plans to go back in the near future, why don't you just send the girls to me?".....

One kid led to another, and another, and OMG where did all these children come from!! My home has turned into a ZOO.

And nevermind where they came from, what on earth am I going to feed them?

The palettes of these wee critics are amazingly diverse. One will refuse to eat any kind of fruit whatsoever, but will happily sit down to a plate of raw vegetables and munch all day. Another won't eat fruit unless it's in a smoothie. Most of them will turn their noses up at meat (except of course the tubed variety), and oddly enough, they will usually refuse any kind of sauce or dressing (excluding my own "ketchup headed" son).

So here's a list of what I try to keep in my fridge to get through the twice-a-day piranha attack!

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Hot Dogs (ack)
  • Peanut Butter (NOT in the fridge!)
  • Broccoli
  • Celery (and cheese whiz)
  • Baby Carrots
  • Mann's Sugar Snap Peas
  • Mac and Cheese (yeah baby)
  • Gallons and Gallons of Juice
  • Sliced Deli Ham
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Frozen Chicken Nuggets
  • Mini Pizzas
This list is what typically covers Lunch and Afternoon Snack... Dinner time is where I put my foot down; "I am NOT making 6 different dinners for 6 different kids!". And whoever is still here at dinner time can either eat what's served or go hungry until their parents come to take them away. Sounds cold I know, but I assure you, all of the kids are very well fed overall, and there is no danger of scurvy or rickets.

 I don't support all day grazing, demand feeding, and I'm not known to be easy to bargain with- So how do I get the little primates to eat?

The "Options A and B" approach- they think they have some control- if they try for "Option C", they are informed that the only alternative to A and B is nothing at all. That usually settles it.

So kids, you can have carrot sticks and grilled cheese, or ham sandwiches and broccoli. Invariably there are one or two monkeys who like to go against the flow and ask for whatever the other kids didn't want.... I claim the ultimate power of veto. Never, under any circumstances ask the following question "Hey, what does everyone want for lunch?".

Some method to the madness- as follows

  • Yes, kids still think hotdogs cut up in the mac and cheese is awesome. One of the kids hates the cheese sauce so I set some plain pasta aside before adding the magic orange powder.
  • Make a HUGE platter of cut up fruits and veggies, serve on the front porch picnic-style
  • Cut the grilled cheese into finger strips for the "Dip Kids"
  • Serve the veggies before the main dish "you can have your pizza after you eat your carrots"
  • Offer water only at meal times, they seem less likely to chug their whole drink and decide they're too full to finish dinner.
  • Blackmail, Extort, Bribe! Do what you have to do, but be prepared to follow through!
  • Whenever possible, get them to help prepare the food with you, they seem to like it even better when they had a hand (or just a dirty finger) in making it. One of the BEST (maybe one of the messiest) lunches I've done is to get some mini pizza shells, some deli meat, a can of pizza sauce and a bag of grated cheese. They get to build their own pizzas!!
Even the pickiest eater here has come around over time. He tries new things, has finally stopped gagging at the table (this under threat of bodily harm), and does a lot less complaining in general. Yes, he's gone home on an empty stomach a few nights, but he hasn't really suffered for it, and his mother continues to be surprised at the things he's started eating. 

Some days I do two entire dishwasher loads. Some days I just close my eyes on my way through the kitchen. But nobody can ever say they starved to death at my house!