Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Make Chicken Stock

Today, I'm making chicken stock. I've discovered that whole chicken is so much better than frozen portions, for several reasons.
First of all, it's soo much cheaper. Usually I can get a whole chicken for about 99 cents a pound, which is much cheaper than other meats.
Also, I can cook and prep a lot of meat at once, then have it in the freezer all ready to toss in a meal. Easy!
Another benefit is that I find the texture of roast chicken to be so perfect. Tender and flavorful, shredded instead of cubed. Mmmm.
And lastly, you can make your own chicken stock. Homemade chicken stock is so much tastier than store bought, and practically free! I mean, you're using the bones of the chicken, that you would have just tossed out anyway. Thrifty! It's also super healthy.
What I try to do is buy several whole chickens at once and roast them in the oven. I like to pour melted butter on top, sprinkle with sea salt and cajun seasoning, then just let them roast for 20 minutes a pound. Then we eat roast chicken for supper, and I shred the rest of it and bag it for the freezer for later. I can usually get three or four meals out of a chicken, more if I try to stretch it.

To make the stock, simply put all your bones, fat, drippings, etc. in a large stock pot. Toss in a quartered onion, a few carrots, some basil, a couple crushed cloves of garlic, and anything else that sounds tasty to you. Fill up your pot with water (covering the bones by at least a couple inches.) Don't add salt at this point. There will already be salt from the drippings, and some of the water will evaporate, intensifying that. So, taste when you're done and add salt if you want. I usually just leave it as it is, so that I can control the saltiness of each individual dish as I make it.
Bring the stock up to a boil, then simmer on the stove for around twelve hours. I've been told that amount of time gets the most nutrients out into the broth. And your house will smell really good. :)
When it's done, just strain it all through a colander, to get the bones and things out. I use the cooked carrots to feed to my little munchkin. She likes the chicken broth flavor. After it cools, you can either pour it into ice cube trays and freeze them so you can take out however much you need at a time. Or, you can freeze them in small sour cream containers for one cup portions. Then you can use it to make things! Yummy things. Things like Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Soup...mmmm...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Coconut Oil

While I will never have the audacity to pretend that I worry too much about healthy when it comes to tasty food (pound cake anyone? : ), I have been thinking more about it in the recent months. Something about having a baby, and thinking about what I'm feeding her leads to thoughts about what we're eating ourselves. That, and the whole getting older, and losing that teenage edge where you can eat whatever you want without consequences...yeah. Anyway. I've been trying to work harder at making us healthier, balanced meals. Whole grain pastas, more whole wheat flour, more fruits, more fiber, more water, veggies at every meal...topped off with a Dr Pepper of course. I'm afraid that's one bad habit I don't even want to kick. ; )

I've been hearing a lot lately about the purported benefits of coconut oil. I can't personally vouch for any of these, but according to my research, here are a few of the benefits.

*It contains medium chain saturated fats, which are said to be necessary for a healthy body.
*Of those saturated fats, a large portion are lauric acid, which is supposed to help prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
*It helps raise your metabolism, aiding in weight loss.
*Improves digestion.
*Strengthens immunity.
*Aids in healing and infections.
*Prevents liver, kidney, gall bladder disease.
*Aids in stress relief.
*Helps control blood sugar levels.
*Improves the body's ability to absorb calcium and magnesium.
*In addition to all these health benefits, it's good for your skin and hair (I actually started researching coconut oil as an option for diaper rash cream.)

Basically, even if all these things aren't true, I've been convinced that it's worth giving a shot! I have many friends who have vouched for it as well, which has been even more convincing.

I also bought a jar of "Coconut Manna" which is the whole coconut instead of just the oil, and can be used as a spread, or in baked goods, etc.

My plan is to use coconut oil, olive oil, and butter for most, hopefully all, of my cooking for awhile.
I figure using healthier oils is just one step closer to giving my daughter healthier meals.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Smokey Sweet Potato Soup

I recently bought a bunch of sweet potatoes. My little one loves them (I mean LOVES them), so I bought them for her, and for us (because we are quite fond of them too), and for the fact that they are especially good for you. I roasted them all up in the oven. I have discovered that roasting is by far the most superior way to cook sweet potatoes. I used to boil them sometimes, but the slower process of roasting caramelizes all the natural sugars in the potato and makes for a richer, sweeter, creamier mash. I also used to buy canned sweet potatoes for sweet casseroles and things, but again- roasted fresh ones are SO MUCH BETTER.
Anyway. Suffice it to say, I found myself with quite the mess of sweet potatoes, and a need to be creative in my uses! There are only so many muffins and cookies we can eat in a week...
So, today, I decided to give a sweet potato soup a try. I wanted something savory, something smokey, with just a touch of sweet. In my humble opinion, the key to a smokey-sweet something is to make the heat level just enough to tickle the tongue, without even approaching a burn. And the sweet has to be just enough to balance the smokey heat, without being too candied. If that makes any sense. So, here's what I came up with! I used cream cheese and heavy cream to give it that silky smooth feel, potatoes and corn to give it texture, sausage for a savory, salty flavor, and a brown sugar spice mixture for the smokey sweetness. And it was yummy! I will most definitely be making this again.

Smokey Sweet Potato Soup

1 lb of sausage (I used Farmland's Pork and Bacon Sausage- it gave it a great bacony flavor)
6 roasted sweet potatoes
3 baked red potatoes
2 cups of frozen corn
4 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of heavy cream
8 oz cream cheese
1/8 cup brown sugar
olive oil
sea salt
Smokey chipotle spice blend- I used Penzey's Spices' Arizona Dreaming. It's a blend of ancho chile, onion, garlic, paprika, lemon peel, chipotle pepper, red pepper, jalapeno, cocoa and smoke flavor, and other spices. You can order it from the website if there isn't a store near you...I would highly recommend it! It's quite tasty!

Align Center
Brown the sausage in a large skillet until crispy. Remove the sausage and put aside, leaving the grease in the skillet. Chop the baked red potatoes and add to the skillet with the reserved sausage grease. Stir fry for a few minutes, until the potatoes start to brown, then add the corn. Sprinkle liberally with the smokey spice blend. Continue to stir fry until the potatoes have a touch of crisp to them. Next, chop the sweet potatoes into large chunks and arrange in a single layer in a baking pan. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, brown sugar, and a heavy layer of smokey seasoning. Broil for about five minutes, until the potatoes start to caramelize. Put the sweet potatoes in the blender along with the chicken broth, heavy cream, and cream cheese. Blend until silky smooth. Put this mixture into a saucepan, then add sausage and potato/corn mixture. Add more salt to taste (I had to add a significant amount at this point, as mine was rather sweet. However, I cut back the amount of brown sugar for the recipe, so hopefully this will adjust it enough.) Add more spice seasoning as needed, and even a dash of garlic powder and cayenne pepper if desired.