Take STOCK in This: A Souper Sensation

Making my own stock is something I have been doing for a short time.  I can’t figure out for the life of me why I haven’t been doing it forever and why everyone doesn’t do it.  It’s easy, free, useful, and so much better than any stock or broth you’ll find in a box on a shelf.  It might be the best kept secret of family kitchen history.  Well, I’m blowing the lid off this secret.  You deserve to know.

During a casual conversation with my friend Penny, who you might remember from this post, she mentioned throwing her chicken parts and some veggies into a crock pot to make stock.  I had a light bulb moment.  I thought, “I have chicken parts”, “I have veggie scraps”, “I could do that!!!”.  I asked a few questions about what to put in, how long to cook it, etc, and went home to cook a chicken, just so I could make stock from it’s “parts”.  For months, I have been in a complete state of stock shock.  I cannot believe I have never done this.  I went straight to my mother and asked her why we never did this.  She had the same light bulb moment I mentioned having and, instead of giving me an answer, went to cook a chicken.

I keep whole organic chickens in my freezer all the time and put them in the crockpot whenever I plan to make soup, chicken and dumplings, chicken salad, etc.  I literally just run the whole chicken under the water in the sink long enough to thaw the outermost layer so I can remove the packaging, then put the whole thing in the crockpot, still frozen.  Sometimes I spray the crock pot with oil first to theoretically make clean-up a little easier, but I have no idea if it makes any difference.  I do add a little salt and pepper to the top of the frozen chicken before I close the lid and turn it on.  That’s all I do.  How easy is that?  I cook it on low until it’s done, which I would say is usually around 6 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.

This used to be where the story of my chicken ended.  I would separate the meat from the skin and bones, then toss all of the non-meat “parts” in the garbage.  NO MORE!!!!  Now I toss those “parts” right back into the crock pot for round two.  This is what I call the “trash into treasure” phase.

On top of the chicken parts, I add vegetable parts that I would likely have thrown away otherwise.  Be sure to wash all vegetables well.  First comes the root end of a bunch of celery.  I just chop off the stalks and throw in the big ball of ends stuck together at the root.  I also might chop off the ends and throw them in.  I wash my carrots well and peel them.  I toss in the ends and peels of the carrots.  I also like to peel a few onions and put in the ends or a few of the less paper-like outer layers that I would debate keeping otherwise.  Sometimes I do put in the good parts of the veggies too, but lately I have been keeping a bag of usable scraps in the fridge so I rarely have to use anything we would eat.  It ends up looking something like this before I cover it all up with water.

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Veggie scraps on top of chicken parts. Carrot peels, celery ends and leaves, fennel sprigs, and onion. Be sure to wash all veggies thoroughly before peeling if you’re going to use the scraps.

After adding the veggies, I just fill the crock pot up with water to the tippy top and add a little salt and maybe some garlic powder and celery seed.  You can put in anything you like.  I set it to low and cook it overnight or all day.  I store it in the refrigerator if I know I will use it within a couple of days.  Otherwise I freeze it for later.  It’s the best chicken stock I have ever had and everything I cook with it turns out better than ever.  I can get so much out of one chicken, and it’s virtually free since most of the ingredients would be thrown away if not used in this way.  Also, it makes me feel that much better about spending the extra money on organic chickens and vegetables, knowing I’m getting so much out of every part of them.  I cannot believe how much money I have spent on those cartons of organic broth in the past.  Never again!!!!

Be sure to strain it well.  The bones get pretty soft and small pieces can be hard to separate.  I always run it through a mesh strainer just to be safe.

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This is how it looks after cooking all day or over night. Now it just needs to be strained and it’s ready to use.

One thing I have learned is that there will be a thin layer of grease that solidifies on top of the broth after it cools.  I just wait until the first time I pull in out of the refrigerator to use it and spoon it into the trash.  The broth will be very dark and rich and the flavor is amazing.  This photo doesn’t do the color justice, but I wanted to show the thin layer of fat I mentioned after refrigeration so you won’t be weirded out when you see it in yours.

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I hope I’m not the only one who was in the dark on this.  Give it a try if you haven’t done it before.  You will be cooking chickens left and right, just so you can make your own stock.  If cooking whole chickens is not in your usual repertoire, use whatever kind of chicken you usually eat. Honestly, you can even just throw in the parts from your store bought rotisserie chicken.  It will work just the same.  Do yourself a favor and turn your own chicken parts into liquid gold.  It’s like printing money.  Stop buying stock.  Use your liquid assets.  I could do this all day.

If you want a more specific recipe, check out this one from 100 Days of Real Food.  This blog is fantastic.  If you don’t follow it already, you’re missing out.  It is geared towards good clean healthy eating and living.

Also, one more thing.  I always wondered what the difference is between stock and broth.  Since I went to the trouble to look it up, I thought I would share what I found.  Stock is made with bones and parts, like I have described here.  Broth is made with actual meat.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same.  In theory, you could get a richer flavor from broth since you are using the meat, but it’s hard for me to believe it could be any richer than this.  Does anyone have opinions on stock versus broth?  I would love to hear what you know.

July 4th Treats: Top 8 Allergen Free

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Here is what we will be bringing to our 4th of July celebration this year.  These are free of the top 8 allergens and are also oh so yummy.  With just a few tweaks on the classic recipe, these are the perfect allergy friendly patriotic treat.

Ingredients:

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10 cups Rice Krispies Cereal or Gluten Free Rice Krispies Cereal, depending on your needs

6 tbsp. Soy Free Earth Balance Spread

8 cups miniature marshmallows

Mix ins:

1 cup dried blueberries

1 cup dried cranberries

2 cups miniature marshmallows

That’s it!  These are so easy.  All you do is melt the Earth Balance and 8 cups of mini mallows on medium heat in a large pot.  I mix everything in the same pot, so I use a really big one.  When it looks nice and smooth, remove the pot from the heat and mix in the cereal.  I have found that a giant spoon-ula works best.

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When you feel like the cereal is well coated, just throw in your mix ins and give it another stir.  It gets a bit stiff, so you can count this as your daily workout.  I do.

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Spoon it all onto a big jelly roll pan.  You can grease your pan with Earth Balance, or just line it with parchment paper like I did.  If the “stuff” sticks to your spoon-ula, just give it a little spritz with safe cooking spray.   I like to put another sheet of parchment paper on top and just press it down with my hands until it’s all flat and smooth.  Then let it cool for as long as your will power allows and cut it into squares.

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The pot can be a nightmare to clean, so it helps if you have a few little kitchen dwellers who are willing to remove the stuck on bits for you.  Mine are always willing.

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The blueberries don’t look super blue, but they have blue in the name, so it totally counts.  Hey, it’s better than eating neon blue food dye, right?

Have a safe and happy 4th!

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New Recipe for Cinco De Mayo!!!

Turkey and White Bean Tacos with Fresh Avocado Salsa

Ingredients:
1 medium onion
½ fresh jalapeno (save other half for salsa)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 can great northern beans (or other white bean of your choice)
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
8-10 large flour tortillas (or corn tortillas for gluten free tacos)
3-4 cups shredded lettuce

Fresh salsa ingredients:
2 medium ripe tomatoes
½ fresh jalapeno (aren’t you glad you saved it?)
½ small onion
1 clove fresh garlic
1 large avocado
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. sea salt
½ cup fresh cilantro

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a skillet over med heat. Chop onion and dice jalapeno (remove seeds if you’re a wimp like me).  Remember to reserve ½ of the jalapeno for your fresh avocado salsa.  Add onion and diced jalapeno to oil and saute until onion becomes translucent.  Add ground turkey to the pan and cook, breaking apart, until meat is just brown.  Turn heat to low.  Drain and rinse beans.  Add beans, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and thyme to the pan and stir.  If mixture seems dry, add a few tablespoons of water.  Allow to simmer on low for a few minutes before assembling tacos.  Spoon desired amount of turkey/bean mixture, fresh salsa (recipe below), and shredded lettuce into tortillas.

Fresh Salsa:
Chop tomatoes, onion, and avocado and add to a medium bowl with diced jalapeno.  Mince garlic and add to mixture.  Chop cilantro and add to bowl.  Mix all ingredients together gently so the avocado stays in chunks.  Add salt and cilantro and stir gently.  Your salsa is ready for tacos or for scooping onto tortilla chips.  Double batches are never a mistake!!!

Halloween Success!!!

My last post outlined my carefully laid plans for Halloween night.  We had a pre-trick or treating party at our house, which was my way of controlling our environment without foregoing the fun and excitement of the most frightfully fun night of the year.

We had a lot of fun with the menu for our party. Everything was free of dairy, egg, peanut, and tree nut ingredients. Our goal, as always, was to create a safe worry-free environment for Elena in our home.

 
 

The cupcakes were made from a safe chocolate cake mix, a can of pureed pumpkin, and 1/2 cup water. That’s all!!! We decorated with safe candies (hint: Jelly Belly brand candy corn and jelly beans contain no egg, dairy, or nut ingredients). Rold Gold pretzel rods made excellent branches.

 

 
 

These smiley apples are made from a dab of Wow butter (soy) and candy eyes I found at Michael’s.  Soak your apples in water and lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.

The Veg-O-Lantern makes for fun presentation of raw veggies.

This skeletal veggie man was fun and easy to put together.  His head is a bowl of safe hummus, which is our go-to veggie dip.  Kids do love dipping.

The snake is filled with a mix of ground turkey (seasoned with cumin, chili powder, and oregano), rice, and salsa.  He was our main course.

With a belly full of safe food, we headed out for some trick-or-treating fun.

The excitement of trick-or-treating is all over her face.  She loved every minute and, luckily, never tried to remove any candy from her bag.

At home, we sorted her candy into a safe pile and an unsafe pile.

Then we used the unsafe pile to fill bags for the goblins.  I read the ingredients to her and when she heard one of her allergens, she put the candy in the appropriate bag.

Is it crazy that I was nervous about letting her touch the outside of the wrappers?  I did decide to let her place them in the bags herself, but I can’t say it was comfortable to watch.

I don’t even think she realizes that this isn’t what every other kid does when they get home after Trick-or-treating.  Filling bags for the goblins was as much fun as the rest of the night.

 

In the end, we had a great, fun, safe night. The goblins brought gifts in exchange for the candy and Elena never asked about missing confections. In fact, we ended up trading in most of her safe candy at Earth Fare for a free kids meal and a prize. Safe or not, who wants their kids having that kind of sugar access?

Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet, Give me Something Safe to Eat

Ahhhh, Halloween.  When I think of what Halloween meant to me as a kid, I think of two things:  costumes and candy (not necessarily in that order).  The feeling of your bucket getting heavier and heavier with perhaps the most treasured substance known to child.  I remember looking forward to getting home and dumping it all out just so I could marvel at my bounty.  There would be the piling of the candy, maybe a few bartering transactions among siblings, and finally, the bag would go to a well thought out hiding place to keep my brothers and parents from raiding my stash.

I remember warnings regarding dangerous candy.  If I remember correctly, the suggestion was that there might be crazies out there who would inject your sweet treats with toxic substances that could only be detected by the naked eye of a parent who should check all candy before you partake.  I’m sure this was a real risk for some, but in my small town where I personally knew every resident whose door I knocked on, it was a bit out there.  How could my trick or treats be contaminated with anything dangerous?  Please!

It’s interesting how quickly your perceptions can change.  Every piece of candy that goes into my daughter’s trick or treat bag this year will require examining and most will not pass inspection.  We will be removing any item with peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, any other tree nut, egg (including nougat, candy corn, many candy bar fillings), dairy (goodbye chocolate and anything creamy), not to mention coconut.  We will undoubtedly be left with a small pile of safe sugary sweets and a very large pile of offenders.  After wiping down the wrappers of the safe candy to ensure that nothing touched a partially open offender while in her trick or treat bag, we will anxiously let her choose something to try, Benedryl and Epipen in hand.  Talk about a good time!

The question is, how do I make this fun for her?  So far, it hardly sounds like the foundation for fond childhood memories of one of the most exciting days of the year.  Since this will be our first year of true greedy unadulterated candy seige on the neighborhood, I need a plan. 

What better accessory to a great Halloween plan than Goblins?  Here goes.  We will be visited by four Goblins on Halloween night.  You guessed it!  One for each allergen.  We will divide the candy into bags to be left out for each of these goblins, trying to make them as even as possible since many candies will contain multiple Goblin delicacies (i.e. allergens).  We will leave out the bags, clearly marked, for the Goblins and we will expect some kind of compensation.  I’m not sure what these Goblins will be bringing yet, but I really hope they know what they’re doing.  A child’s Halloween memories are at stake.