Saturday, December 11, 2010

How I Make Home-Made Stock

Have you ever made home-made stock, either beef, chicken, or vegetable? It's so much more flavorful than the store-bought kind, but to be honest, I used to think it would be too much trouble to make. Every celebrity chef has their own recipe for chicken stock, but I always find it so wasteful. They often want you to use the whole chicken (or two, or three!)  and then just throw it away once you have strained the liquid. This offends my sensibilities. Waste a whole chicken???? What are they thinking? Likewise with the vegetables. Veggies are relatively inexpensive (only compared to meat and dairy, though), but I still find it bothersome to have to buy vegetables just to make stock.

At last I found a kindred in The Unplugged Kitchen, by Viana La Place. She suggests saving all your kitchen scraps: onion and garlic peels, vegetable peelings, tops, and stems, cheese rinds, and even bread crusts and making soup every week. Then, one of my friends wrote on her blog about saving vegetables scraps in the freezer and making vegetable stock with them. So I decided to try it. Voila! Luscious, dark, flavorful broth, made for free, out of the stuff you usually throw away. And it's super easy to do.

All week long, I save my vegetable scraps, and I mean, everything. Tops, peelings, and root ends of carrots, turnips, eggplants, sweet peppers (though not the seeds or core), celery, okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, stems of herbs, the tiny little garlic cloves that are too small to use, you name it, I save it. Because I'm using the scraps instead of throwing them out, I make sure to do an extra-thorough wash and rinse of everything before I use it. I put trimmings in baggies and store them in the freezer. We eat a lot of veggies in this house, so I end up with a lot of scraps. One day a week, I roast a chicken. Whatever day that falls on is the night I make stock. Before I go to bed, I ceremoniously dump the carcass and all the pan juices into my large crockpot (not sure of the actual capacity, but it's at least 6 quarts), then I dump all the frozen veggie trimmings on top, and cover everything with pure, filtered water. The only thing close to measuring I do is to make sure I don't over-fill the pot. I add the tiniest pinch of salt and two or three black peppercorns, put the lid on, turn the crockpot on low, and forget about it until the next day. Whenever I get around to it the following morning, I pour the liquid through a fine colander and into 3-cup-capacity Tupperware containers. I use a ladle to press and squeeze every last drop of goodness out of the scraps, then throw the scraps away. Then I label each container and put it in the freezer.

If you are only making vegetable stock, you could make your scraps do double duty by then throwing everything in the compost pile once you've strained your broth. If you are making a stock with meat in it, then throw the scraps away, as animal products are not supposed to go into a compost pile.

The flavor of the stock will not be consistent when made this way, as it would if you followed a recipe, but I have yet to make a batch that didn't taste good. And, I make mine almost for free with hardly any trouble, which is more than I can say for the Barefoot Contessa recipe (although I'm sure hers tastes fantastic). Oh, I do have to confess that I do not include beet scraps. The thought of red or pink stock is just not appealing to me.

And finally, I'll leave you with a link so you can read up on why broth and stock are so very good for for the body. Everyone's grandmother says that if you are sick, you need home-made chicken soup. Well, it turns out there is some actual science behind that old wive's tale. You can read about how good broth is for you here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weely Menu and Recipe: V-8 Soup

Here is my dinner menu plan for the coming week, plus my recipe for V-8 Soup. This was originally my mother-in-law's recipe, and it's a good one. There are so many ways to vary it to your taste! The recipe I'm posting here is not her original, but contains my own additions, like fresh root vegetables rather than canned potatoes. I like my soups to be so full of vegetables that it's almost a stew (or a "stewp" as Rachel Ray would say). Recently, I have learned that you should not stir ground beef as it browns. Instead, flip it once so it can brown on both sides, but other than that, leave it alone. My absolute favorite ingredient to add is orzo pasta, but since I'm cutting back on carbs, I've been leaving that out. If you do add pasta or rice, cook it before adding to the soup.

V-8 Soup
1 48-ounce can V-8 Juice
water- half a V-8 can's worth
1 family-size bag frozen soup vegetable medley (or two smaller bags)
1 10-ounce bag frozen sliced okra
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fingerling potatoes, washed and diced (I leave the peel on, but you could peel them if desired)
2 large turnips, peeled, tops and root ends removed, diced
olive oil, about a tablespoon, for sauteing the onion and garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds more. Add ground beef. Break the beef up into a thin layer, but then do not stir it while it browns! When it is thoroughly brown on one side, turn it over to brown on the other side. This allows it to build up more flavor.  

When beef is browned, add V-8 juice, then fill the can 1/2 way up with water (should be about 24 ounces) and add the water. If using turnips, add them next and bring soup to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes before adding potatoes and frozen vegetables. If you're skipping the turnips (and you're missing out if you do!), go ahead and add the potatoes and frozen vegetables and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and let the soup simmer for about 45 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. V-8 contains quite a bit of sodium, so start out lightly with the salt and add more as needed. If adding cooked pasta or rice, add 10 minutes before the end.

Weekly Menu, December 6th-12th
note: I don't actually plan what meal I'm going to make each day, because it inevitably changes. I just write out six or seven dinner plans, then usually decide each day which one to make. I've linked the recipes when applicable.

Roast Chicken (a la Alice Waters), Creamed Spinach, Orange-Maple glazed Carrots

V-8 Soup

Baked Ziti, Roasted Broccoli

Melissa's Chicken, Arugula-Corn Salad

Lamb Shank, Beet and Pomegranate Salad, Baked Sweet Potato

Broiled Salmon, Buttery Mashed Potatoes and Turnips, Peas

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Start of Disney's Newest Golden Age?

I'll get right to it: I loved Tangled. I felt like I was eight years old again! Sitting in the theater, a daughter on each knee, laughing and crying together---it was truly Disney movie magic. We all three loved it so much that we went to see a second time. That's big for me! It held up to a second viewing, too.

 Tangled has a fresh, modern feel to it. I can't decide whether it benefits from that or not. My biggest fear is that the modern feel will date it, unlike the other princess movies which are timeless. I could definitely see the John Lasseter moments, and the elements that were surely there to appease the board of directors. Still, I think it was all pulled together with a very deft hand. This film is very funny. It's got some great dialogue as well as a few slapstick moments (which I felt it could have done without), but they didn't take it too far. There were some great, emotional scenes as well. I think the flying lantern scene was magical. The music wasn't bad, either. Nothing was a catchy as Under the Sea or Be Our Guest, but that's a good thing, as it doesn't get stuck in your head. I don't think the music ever takes over, it gave it just the right touch. I really like the pace of the movie. There is a lot of action and adventure, but there are some great pauses for character development without it ever dragging on. Again, it was just right.

I felt Tangled was as good as a Pixar film, it was just completely different. Pixar would never have made this film, because this isn't their style. But that doesn't automatically put Tangled in a 'lesser' category. Pixar is much more off-beat, much more quirky. But Tanlged was just as funny and had a whole lot of heart, too. I like the idea that these two studios make completely different styles of movies. There are all kinds of stories to be told. Telling the story well is really all that matters.

Hopefully, Tangled and Princess and the Frog are the beginning of a second renaissance for Disney Animation. Now, I know they won't be making any more princess movies for the foreseeable future, but what makes these two films so good was not that they were princess movies. They were just great films. Hopefully, there will be more great films to follow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Fashioned Bean Bag

I don't know why, but I love to browse through fabric. If I find a pretty fabric on sale, I always buy a yard or two, even though I never sew since I had kids. Consequently, I have lots of pretty fabrics on hand. Sometimes I just pull it out and look at it, and it makes me smile. I love that it's still completely untapped potential. I can make it into whatever I want it to be. And I think, "Someday, I will start sewing again.
Well, that day has not come, but I did whip this adorable bean bag for my girls to play catch with.
pretty calico print

soft chenille

 My girls LOVE beanbags. Actually, they absolutely love to throw whatever is in their hands, and I prefer that they throw beanbags. Bean bags are perfect for small children, because they are easier to catch and throw than a ball. The fact that there is no bounce or roll means they don't have to go running after it, and more time is spent throwing rather than chasing.

This bean bag is about 6 inches square finished, and I used two squares of polyester batting to make it sturdier. It is filled with actual dried beans (because that's all I had on hand), so it is not washable, but if you filled it with poly pellets it would be. This is going to be a stocking stuffer for my kids. If you have ever sewn before, you probably already have everything you need to complete this project for free, as I did. It took me about half and hour to make it start to finish, and I'm just a novice seamstress.

I realize that this is a super simple achievement, but it is my super simple achievement, and so I'm excited about it just the same!


Here's a little holiday treat to kick off the season! I was a choir snob in college, and found myself singing along. My kids loved it, too. ;)