Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chicken stock

There's nothing better in soup than homemade stock. Making your own stock is a great way to stretch a buck; you're using food that you've already bought and doesn't require any additional ingredients besides water and herbs. It's also delicious and easy!

Whenever I roast a chicken, or even part of a chicken that's bone in, I stick the bones, fat, extra juices from the roasting pan, skin, and any other non edibles into a plastic container and stick them into the freezer until I feel like making stock. Also, as I'm preparing vegetables, I always save the root and tip ends of onions I'm chopping, the tops of carrots, and the stems of mushrooms. You could really add any extra vegetable bits you want. I also store these in the freezer until I get around to making my stock.

On stock making day, I take out those containers and dump them into my big pasta pot. If you have a big stock pot, I'm sure that's fine too. I don't have one. This stock is missing carrots. I think stock is way better when you've got some carrot tops to add in, but husband isn't a huge carrot fan so we haven't had any lately. I think you have to have onions though. They add a lot to the stock. You'll want the bones of at least half of a chicken or more. I also added in some beef fat from a roast we had. Repeat after me, "Fat is flavor." I'm sorry if you're concerned about your triglycerides, stock is not the place to skimp on the fat. You're adding so much water into the other ingredients that it's really not doing that much damage.

I also like to add some fresh rosemary and bay leaves to my stock. There's probably some rosemary already in the containers because I usually add some to my roasted chicken, but adding fresh wont hurt anything. You can see I'm using the bottom of the bay leaf container here.

How much salt should I add, you might ask. NONE!!! You can add your salt when you make your soup. This allows you to control how salty each soup is. I use dried black beans a lot when I'm making soup, and they will not cook and soften properly if there's salt in the liquid.

Fill your pot up with water leaving about 1/2 inch of room at the top so it doesn't boil over. Cover. Bring your mixture to a boil, then turn down to medium high so that it will continue to bubble, but not boil over. I usually cook my stock for about 2 hours, but I was extremely exhausted when I made this and only let it go for one hour.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the big chunks from the pot and throw these away. I'm sure you've got a nice strainer in your kitchen, but all I have is a colander. I set my colander over my plastic container. I like to use those plastic containers from take out soup because if they crack in the freezer I'm not out any cash. Very carefully, ladle your stock into your strainer. IT'S HOT.

Let the stock drain into your containers leaving behind any chunks you missed before.

Even though I only let my stock cook for an hour, I still got an amazingly rick broth. Look at that awesome color!

Make sure you leave a centimeter or so of space at the top of your containers. The stock will expand in the freezer. You'll want to wipe off the bottoms of your containers because there's probably some condensation or excess stock on the bottom that you wont want in your freezer.

I can tell you for sure that the stock is good for at least 3 months in your freezer, but I've never kept any for longer than that. It makes for some amazing soups, stews, and chilies. I've also made seafood stock before from the tails of some shrimp I had saved. You can really be very creative with your stock.

*Update* since I've written this post I've saved up another batch of ingredients in the freezer. This one has mushroom stems and celery!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oh my god, I'm a hippie.

My husband and I went for a hike today. We went to a a park we'd never been to before. It was really nice to get out and stretch my legs. The whole park had these gorgeous flowers blooming all over the place.

I'm so glad spring is here! The weather was so warm and humid I broke a sweat. I'd say that that's unusual for Iowa, but no weather is unusual for Iowa. This beauty was at the trail head.

Hubby and I followed the trail to a dead end, and then kept going. Probably, we were following a deer trail for a while. We followed a creek for a ways until it turned and went towards the road. This is what we saw when we stopped to turn back.
I think you get a 1up if you eat it. (Just kidding. Unless you're Mario or Luigi, don't eat red mushrooms!)

We hiked through the steep terrain for about an hour, and then decided to eat lunch. As I sat there eating my peanut butter sandwich on homemade whole wheat potato bread, looking at my Honda Civic (that should have been my first clue), and thinking about how I'd rather spend my Saturday hiking than playing with my new iPad, I realized, "OH MY GOD, I'M A HIPPIE!" I've probably been one for a while, I just didn't know it until today.

We also saw a lot of these all around the park. Very pretty foliage. Anyone know what it is?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday night

So it's Friday night and you want some junk food but once again you're broke. It's time to make pizza. This is my sour dough pizza crust.

(NOTE: You must have sour dough starter to make this recipe. Starter is not something you can make right away, but takes about a week to ferment. Suzanne McMinn's post on sour dough starter is a great resource. Chickens in the Road Sour Dough Starter

One tip I would offer to you is that your house must be warm for the yeasties to ferment. I made a batch this winter that didn't work out because my house was too cold. However, if you turn on your oven light, your oven temperature will increase 10-20 degrees F higher than the rest of your house, which is warm enough for the yeast to reproduce.

Start out by proofing your 3/4 tsp (ish) of yeast in 1/3 of a cup of luke warm water with 1/2 a tbsp of sugar. Proofing yeast is the process where the yeast is allowed to "wake up" after it's hibernation in your refrigerator. I always give my yeast warm water and sugar so it has something to eat. You know your yeast is good if after 5 minutes there are bubbles on the surface of your water.

While the yeast is proofing, add 2 cups of flour to your work bowl. I always use whole wheat. You could go half W.W. and half A.P if you want. This is also the time to season your dough. Of course you want about 1 tsp of salt. I also like red pepper flakes for a spicier crust, or oregano for more of an Italian flavor. You can really add whatever you want. Just please don't leave it plain. Pizza crust needs flavor.

Make a dent or well in the middle of your flour and add 1/3 cup of your sour dough starter.

Add your water/ yeast mixture. This week I was trying to make a chewier crust so I added an egg. If you want a crispy crust, leave the egg out.

Finally, forget to add about 2 tbsp of olive oil until you've already started mixing the dough. Or you can be more organized than me and add it right away. Using your big ol' wooden spoon, stir your dough together until you have 90% of the flour incorporated. At this point you'll need to use your hands to work in the last 10% of the flour. And if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, STFU!

After all of the flour is mixed in, grease your bowl with some cooking spray and add the dough back to the bowl. Rotate the bowl so that the dough rolls around and forms a nice tight ball that is lightly coated in the oil.

Your dough is now ready to rise. Cover the bowl with a damp (not wet or dripping) kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise. It's not a warm day, so my dough is going in the oven with the light on just like my sour dough starter. In the summer, I'd find a patch of sunshine.

After rising in a warm place for an hour, your dough should be about double in size. It wont be as big if you're just using the W.W. flour. It's harder for the yeast to lift the denser flour. Generously, GENEROUSLY, flour yourself a flat workspace and a rolling pin. I like to let my dough have its second rise on the table, so if I don't use enough flour I will never get it off the table. Roll out your dough.

My dough was between 12 and 13 inches in diameter. I let it rise for 45 minutes.

After the second rise, I folded the dough in half so I could put it on my pizza peel to transport to the oven for it's prebake. If you're going for a crispy crust, you want to crank your oven up to at least 450 and let it completely preheat before adding your crust for about 4 minutes. This is going to give you a cracker like consistency. If you want a truly chewy crust, I'd recommend not prebaking at all. I prebaked this crust at 350 for 4 minutes and it was still crispier than I was craving. Bake it directly on the rack or if you're cooler than me, on your pizza stone.

After you prebake, or not, go ahead and assemble your pizza. I absolutely LOVE the store bought pizza sauce that comes in the glass jar. I heart it with a heart. We had a bacon and onion pizza this night. We were low on possible toppings. But how can you possibly go wrong with bacon? You can't.

Happy Friday dinner!