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How exactly did 2013 end so quickly?

The annual “year in review” by WordPress was inspiration enough to reflect back over the past year and all of the blog posts I didn’t do. Kind of an easy reflection when you consider all the times I thought of posting, but something else was always more important. So goes life.

Image2013 was a year like many, filled with both good and bad. The highlight of the good was most certainly my wedding – tying the knot (twice) – both legally in Washington State – and locally here at home for family and friends. After 15 happy years of cooking together, making a lifetime of it seemed like a safe conclusion to make. The bad (which no one ever wants to highlight) would be cancer diagnosis of a dear friend, a number of injuries to this aging body, and far too many meals of frozen dinners and packaged mixes.

While shopping for groceries just the other day I went to my blog to look up one of my favorite recipes for chicken chili. You see the local wedding of 70, catered by one of our favorite restaurants Smoke Shack, produced enough smoked chicken leftovers (now portioned out in our freezer) that we either needed to have another big party or I needed to do some serious cooking. Alas, said recipe was no where to be found. This is a quick recipe when it comes to chicken leftovers, and perfect for a very cold Wisconsin winter’s NY eve.

So here it is, my one blog posting to bid farewell to 2013 and usher in a year that I hope will mean more meals together at home with my spouse, a lot of great friends, and our most loved families. Happy New Year!

Kickin’ (smoked) Chicken Chili

2# cooked chicken (leftovers) or 2 grilled chicken breasts

5 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade stock)

16 oz. Tomatillo salsa (again, homemade if seasonal)

1 or 2 cans great northern or any white beans (for me – not from scratch)

1 cup chopped onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 peppers of your choice (jalapeño, poblano, dried chili, etc.)

1 green or red pepper (again, your preference)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

Remove meat from chicken carcass and shred into small pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add all chopped peppers and onion. Cook for 10 minutes until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, chopped chicken, tomatillo salsa, spices and sugar. Bring to a boil and then turn town to a medium simmer without a cover. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add one can of beans. If the chili seems to thin, add two. If too thick after two, add a bit more water. Simmer another 10 minutes or so until beans heat up.

Add cilantro to the entire pot, and serve. Image

52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 3 of 3

Cinnamon Dunkers - the most evil of all temptations.

Repeat after me – I am not a quitter – I am not a quitter. Well I guess “life” happened since my last blog post, as I have blissfully ignored the fact I haven’t yet completed my list of lessons. It’s not because I’m hard pressed to produce some cleaver or pithy responses. I’ve just been busy living through a summer with more time for work, projects and leisure, constantly tempted by the convenience foods that surround me. And I mean constantly.

And so, without any more excuses, I bring you my final list of conclusions.

26 – While you can save a bit of money by baking your own bread from scratch, the true cost-savings can be found when making your own corn tortillas. Packaged corn tortillas can cost up to ten times as much as the ones made from scratch. And they are the easiest thing in the world to make – just watch!

25 – I’ve made my own ranch dressing now quite a number of times. In fact I’ve yet to purchase any bottled dressing since I ended my challenge. What I love about this recipe is that if you really strain the yogurt until it’s super thick, you can use this recipe as a ranch dip, not just a salad dressing.

24 – Making your own tortilla chips – totally not worth it. Unless of course you’re going to deep fry the little suckers, maybe then you can get a nice thin chip that is full of flavor.

23 – Modern day small appliance manufacturers will try to convince you that you need their products in order to successfully produce something like yogurt (aka yogurt maker). But you don’t. Use a slow cooker and some bath towels to keep it warm. What about a $69 pasta roller? I made it through the year without one by purchasing a good $10 wooden roller.

22 – On the other hand, there are some kitchen products I couldn’t live without. If you’re baking any kind of hearth bread, pita bread, bagels – you need a baking stone. I bought mine at a restaurant supply store for about $50. It gives the best crust on all of those breads, as well as a crispy pizza.

21 – While I’m still on the topic of small kitchen appliances, I would have never survived the year with any amount of sanity if I didn’t have a food processor. I’ve had some people tell me they use their blender for everything and that a food processor is unnecessary. From my experience they just don’t give you the same results.

20 – Leftover food is priceless. When every eaten has to come from scratch you eventually learn to make enough to have extra food that can be frozen, or eaten again for lunch the following day. Duh!

19 – Okay I’m finally in the teens on the countdown. Keep a list of frozen meals on your refrigerator, lest you leave them frozen for too long and you lose either all that great flavor or texture to freezer burn.

18 – While I know I reduced the amount of packaging I would have produced in a typical year of buying convenient foods, I did use a lot of plastic bags, and I purchased a number of additional plastic storage containers for the freezer. Some of the bags I could wash out and reuse, while others didn’t hold up so well. Overall, my carbon footprint was probably smaller than what is typical.

17 – Blogging takes a bit of time. If you’re a blog reader versus a blog writer – maybe you spend as much time reading as those that are writing. But it’s not just the writing – it’s the editing, the photography, the tagging, and the subject matter. I was going to buy a better camera during the year and never quite got around to that.

16 – Okay I need a new camera. Food photography when you’re the one both cooking and taking photographs, means your camera ends up getting caked in egg, flour, grease, honey, etc. And you need a tripod, which I didn’t use, which means many of my photos were way too blurry.

15 – Freeze chicken stock in 8-oz bags or containers, then simply thaw for one minute in the microwave. Talk about economical!

14 – Ancho chili powder – where have you been all of my life? It has a smokier mild flavor that can be used in Mexican cooking, as well as in something like a dry rub for ribs. Oh, I have to post that recipe someday too.

13 – I spent a good part of the year watching cooking shows on the Food Network. One might think I’d want to escape all of the cooking, but I was really inspired by the amount of creativity you can put into food, and it gave me the confidence to try some new things along the way.

12 – Lisa, my partner, was a really great sport this past year. Thank you Lisa!

11 – In the year of inconvenience, I inconveniently gained weight. Damn.

10 – If at first you don’t like a recipe, try adding your own twist. I like making a recipe for the first time as it’s written, then changing it up to how I like it the second time. If a recipe has good structure don’t give up on it just because the flavor wasn’t right.

9 – Oh boy, single digits. This is hard work people! And that was lesson number nine…next.

8 – People have stopped me, mostly strangers when out in public, asking me if I’m still growing or canning all of my own food. Point made.

7 – Have I mentioned I really missed cold breakfast cereal?

6 – While I started the year cooking from a pantry full of cookbooks, by the end of the year I was getting most of my ideas and inspiration from other blogs or websites. Times have changed – and the iphone isn’t just for making phone calls.

5 – I regret not learning how to can this past year. Freezing yes, canning no.

4 – Blog stats can be addicting. I’ve been amazed at the number of followers of the blog, where they are coming from (I believe they represent four continents), what posts draw the most interest, and the incredible power of social media.

3 – Never would I have imagined at the beginning of this journey, that I would have written more than 60 posts, which have produced more than 38,000 views of my blog. Never.

2 – I spent a lot of time cooking last year. I mean a serious amount of time. While most of those chores became routine after some time, I didn’t realize how much time I spent in the kitchen until the past three months this summer when I wasn’t spending that time in the kitchen. I’ve spent more time with friends, with my gardens, with a good book, and… well working as well.

1 – At the beginning of this challenge what I wanted to learn most from it all was a true appreciation of food. Whether I grew it myself, made it from scratch, or tried to only buy it locally, I really wanted to connect to the energy it took to get that food on the table. And I did. I feel good about seeing it all the way through and not giving up when things got really stressful. And I still love to cook, in spite of my recent foray back to a frozen pizza and cheesy puffs. When all is said and done, this was truly and adventure of a lifetime. Thanks so much my fellow readers, for your inspiration and support!

52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

52 Weeks By The Numbers

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Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Weeks 48 & 49 – From Blur To Bliss

At this point week 48 is a blur. When you’re in a job where you can’t pass your work on to anyone else, preparing to take a vacation means you will really need it when the week is over. And so we move on to week 49.

From my experience a vacation in the southwest, specifically the mountains of New Mexico, is a total sensory overload. From the heat and flavor of New Mexican red chilies to the sweet smoky of the green, the clear blue sky in the daytime to the star-studded sky of the evening, the unmistakable aroma of the piñon fires to the short-term effects of the altitude – my senses were definitely on overload.

We began our adventure in Santa Fe at the local farmer’s market, with the purchase of red chili powder, fresh goat cheese with green chili, German butter potatoes, farm fresh eggs, a giant bunch of rainbow chard and multi-grain bread. I was having a blast. My last visit to a farmer’s market was this past summer when my biggest concern was how many fresh tomatoes could I buy in order to get me through the winter. But this time it was about the food and more importantly the food already made by others. My vacation rules allow for the convenience food already prepared by someone other than myself, so I pretty much had to contain myself from purchasing every roll, cookie or bread in sight. The market in Santa Fe was one of the better ones I’ve been to – very well organized, a great variety of options, and to carry on with my theme – total sensory overload (which believe me was a really good thing).

This vacation was yet another art retreat unlike any other I’ve taken or written about. The ten of us, all women (mostly retired) stayed in the Taos home of a local artist whose colorful artwork filled the walls of most every room, and whose sense of style created an atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. It was the perfect setting for creativity, in both art and food and as one of the designated cooks for the week I saw the opportunity to let my food love shine using the foods I purchased from the market. Leading with the two pounds of granola I baked before the trip (which our instructor joyfully claimed as her prize), I decided I would bake us some bread.

From my year’s experience so far I’ve learned enough about baking to know that things like heat, humidity, or even altitude can have a serious impact on the results. With iPad in hand, Lisa researched any potential precautions I should take in baking bread in the thin and dry air at 7,000 feet. Breads rise quickly at high altitude and the dough needs to be adjusted for moisture. Yes indeed, my English muffin bread that typically takes sixty minutes to rise took only 30 minutes to get to a stage of puffiness that kinda’ scared me a bit. The dough was beautiful and it filled the loaf pan looking like a professional had their hand at forming it. Ha – was I going to impress everyone with this bread! My next challenge was adjusting the baking time, not only for the difference in altitude but because I was using a convection oven. Okay, that meant I should lower the heat by twenty-five degrees and shorten the amount of baking time. Piece of cake… er bread. If I thought this bread looked beautiful before it went into the oven it looked even more amazing coming out of the oven. I couldn’t figure out what was the big deal about altitude adjustment? I was totally for this high altitude baking.

Well as you may have guessed that feeling of amazement and success of was pretty short-lived. The next morning I put on the pots of coffee and started to slice into my perfect loaf, setting up my cinnamon raisin “toast bar” for breakfast. The first slice was beautiful although not quite the usual texture. The second slice was equally as enticing to the on-lookers now forming over my shoulder and I couldn’t have been more proud of the treat I was getting ready for them. Onto the third slice, and the fourth which started to be a bit more crumbly with a slight hole in the middle. Well take a look at the photo because it wasn’t just a slight hole that had formed, it was a giant cavern right through the center of the bread. Needless to say we got a laugh out of it and toasted each slice in several pieces. Ah, my little lesson on baking in high altitude.

One meal that did go well was one I made using the fresh rainbow chard and potatoes from the farmer’s market. Fortunately for me I had convenience foods on hand, my first encounter with canned beans and a carton of chicken broth since last April. I served the beans and chard directly over the steamed German butter potatoes for a quick, simple, and delicious meal.

And what would vacation be without souvenirs? Many of mine, were of course, food related from sun-dried red chilies to smoky chitpotles. I plan on recreating the flavors of New Mexico at home, but I might wait until using canned beans are ‘legal’ after the year is through!

 

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

1 large bunch (about one pound) red chard or rainbow chard, rinsed well

½ cup shallots, sliced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup white wine

¼ to ½ cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 can (15 ounces) white beans, great northern, navy, or cannelinni (drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove a good portion of the stems from the chard, reserving as much as you might enjoy in the dish. (The reason you’re removing them is that they cook slower than the leafy green part, so they need to be cooked separately.)

Once the stems are removed, roughly chop the leafy green portion of the chard and set aside. Now dice up some of the stems, along with the shallots and garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, and add the shallots and diced chard stems. Sauté the mixture until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 8-10 minutes. The chard stems should begin to soften at this point. Add the minced garlic and stir for about one minute to release the flavor.

Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze it of any browning from the vegetables, and slowly add your chard greens allowing each addition to cook down a bit before adding more greens to the pan. Cook the greens stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Now add the white beans to the mixture, along with the chicken or vegetable stock. Cover the pan and let simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes, allowing a good portion of the liquid to absorb into the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

This can be served as either a main dish or a side dish. Serves 4.

 

Week 42 – Saving Money And Some Time

If you’ve been a follower of my blog over the past 41 weeks, you’ve seen my vintage garlic-keeper mascot in many of the photos.

He unfortunately passed away this morning, the result of what I expect was some kind of disagreement…

… over his place in the pantry and with this “innocent” creature named Olive.

RIP Garlic Man, I’m very sad to see you go.

 

When I first began this year of inconvenience it was springtime and I was filled with ambition and the spirit of adventure. That bubble was adequately “popped” a few weeks later as I struggled to figure out how to make the time I needed to get the food I loved on my table, and more importantly, into my freezer. Local tomatoes were not in season and I didn’t have a hint of anything that resembled tomato sauce, pasta sauce, chicken stock, soup, or tortillas in my freezer. To make these things for myself I was spending the majority of both weekend days cooking, which meant my “free time” was limited and the whole situation was making me (and someone else in my house) a little crabby.

So here I am now with those 42 weeks behind me and only 10 more weeks to finish the year. My freezer is pretty well stocked and I have my regular routine of bread or cracker or granola baking planned out so I’m no longer in any panic for food essentials. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about managing my time around food preparation, other than totally forgetting I had a bread rising in the warm bathroom last night – things are mostly under control.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with my readers, a time and cost comparison of the foods I hope to continue to make from scratch even in week 53. That’s the question I’m being asked now by a number of people, “when this is all over, what are you going to continue to make from scratch?” Besides a few more of my new favorites, these items are topping off the list.

Food Hands On Time Additional Cooking or Baking Time Cost Comparison
Corn Tortillas 35 minutes from mixing to pressing to cooking 8 tortillas None Holy cost savings – tortillas are the best value around! Only      3 ½¢ per ounce or 28¢ for 8 ounces compared to 89¢ for 12 ounces at the grocery store (7¢ an ounce)
English Muffin Bread 20 minutes to gather the ingredients and mix the batter 60-90 minutes rising time, 20 additional minutes baking time Organic cinnamon raisin bread costs me $2.77 to make a 16 oz loaf. The same size package of organic English muffins are $4.99at my co-op.
Pizza (crust and toppings) 65 minutes total, for crust and toppings (using frozen sauce I made) Crust rises for 30 minutes while prepping cheese and veggies. Bake for 15 minutes I obviously don’t know how much cheese is on the frozen pizza, I used 1/3 of a pound on my own. Cost is about 19¢ per ounce for homemade and 26¢ per ounce on the frozen as a cheese only pizza comparison.
Chicken Stock 10 minutes throwing everything into a large stockpot with water You need a slow simmer for at least 4 hours to get a rich tasting stock I use celery, carrot, onion, fresh thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns with my chicken carcass. I included the cost of the carcass when buying the whole chicken. No surprises here, at 3¢ per ounce homemade, 12¢ per ounce for Pacific brand.
Yogurt 20 minutes to bring milk up to temp, 20 minutes to let it cool down, add culture, wrap up in towel 8 hours or overnight unattended I didn’t think there would be much of a savings because the starter costs $1.16 a packet. However, using organic milk and starter, my homemade cost is only 8¢ per ounce compared to 11¢ per ounce of my favorite local brand, Sugar River.

I’m sure it’s not much of a surprise that things like chicken stock or homemade bread is so much more economical. What surprised me was that these things don’t take that much time and I can come home from work at 6:30 and still get a fresh-made, better than anything frozen, pizza on the table in just about one hour. I do believe I am becoming a convert of inconvenience. Except for beans… and pasta… and the occasional canned tomato imported from Italy that makes the best sauce ever. That is, until someone else can convince me otherwise.