Cooking Basics: Homemade Chicken Stock

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Homemade chicken stock-not as difficult as it sounds, although it takes some forethought.  Next time you roast a chicken or make chicken wings or anything like that, clean and bag up those bones and throw them in the freezer!  The more bones you have, the better and richer your stock will be.  I made today’s batch with just one bird – all bones including the neck.  It wasn’t perfectly clean (meaning there was still some skin/meat on the bones) but with just a little extra straining and skimming, it turned into amazing stock and made more than a gallon!

Step one: get a large stock pot, add vegetable oil to the bottom, get it smoking over medium high heat (like a 7 out of 10) and roast the bones for about 10-25 minutes until deep brown, stirring to ensure it doesn’t just burn:
brown and roast the bones
While the bones are roasting, chop carrots, celery and onion:
roughly chop the vegetables
After the bones are really good and roasted, add in the vegetables. You’ll notice I didn’t peel the carrots.  Keep it simple – you won’t be eating these vegetables – they’re just for flavor!  A rough chop should do it.  I threw in three garlic cloves, too, just for fun.
roast the vegetables and bones together
Let the vegetables roast with the bones until the carrots begin to soften.
create your herb packet
Make a bouquet garni (a little herb packet).  Don’t have cheesecloth?  Use a coffee filter!  I added thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns.  Tie it all up with string and throw it into the pot along with enough water to cover everything by about 4 inches:
tie up the packet in twine
Let it simmer for a long time.  Bring the whole pot to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer and let it sit there all day.  Four or five hours.  When it’s done, strain out all the vegetables and anything that escaped your herb packet.
strain and strain and strain again
Strain again.  And again.  And again.  I got crazy and strained through a coffee filter.  This took way too long…
strain
Be smart like my husband and chill the stock in the fridge and the fat will rise to the top and solidify and you can just scrape it off.  Genius.  That’s why I keep him around.
Homemade Chicken Stock
Voila – beautiful chicken stock!  And very very little sodium.  I didn’t salt this stock so all the salt you add to your soups can be YOUR doing and not hidden somewhere in the stock!  Like I said, this batch made over a gallon and I used it for soups, pan sauces, pasta dishes, risotto, etc.  You can freeze in large muffin tins that hold a cup each and take out a cup each time you need it!  Ours doesn’t last that long, but if you don’t cook with stock really frequently, you might want to freeze it, as most stocks will last about two weeks before getting funky.

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A Week in the Life

I did something different this week.  All last week, I took very low-key, not styled, not properly lighted pics of most dinners we had (otherwise known as iPhone pics), as well as a few breakfasts and side dishes.  I was asked by a couple of people to talk about the more day-to-day things we eat.  So I stripped everything down of any pretension and decided to show you exactly what we ate for a little over a week.  If you will hover over each image, you will see a description.  Lunch pics are not mysteriously absent – we eat leftovers every. single. day. for lunch and I really only took a pic of one of the lunches because they are literally a repeat, usually, of the night before.  My goal for the end of the week is to have a clean fridge, and for the most part, I achieve that goal.  And the other absent pics are from when we went out or had dinner at our church or whatever.  I vowed a while back to stop taking pics of my food at restaurants.  You should do everyone a favor and do the same.  Some recipes make a large portion like the brown sugar ham – made a TON!  So I used it in savory crepes yesterday for lunch, diced up with cheese and chives.  Voila – a simple lunch and CHEAP.  Breakfasts are really low key.  I make Olive some type of oatmeal about twice a week, yogurt at least once or twice, the other week days are usually “baby beetos” (scrambled egg burritos) and then Saturdays, I nearly always make something a bit more fun and indulgent like waffles, pancakes, crepes, whathaveyou.

Some of these pics look downright unappealing.  But in reality, this is what our plates look like!  Never picture-perfect, bad lighting in the dining room, no one styling our food, etc.  I plan on blogging about a few of these recipes (the pea puree – oh my word, it was awesome), but for now, I’ll leave you with exploring the descriptions and getting a peek inside a typical week around here!  
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Domestic Goodness – The Day to Day Matters

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“Keep your work space clean”

This was my mom’s mantra in the kitchen.  Every time I’d help her with cooking a meal, she would say this sentence at some point during our work.  She has no idea how important this lesson truly is for any home cook, professional chef or really, anyone in any professional field, ever. Professional chefs refer to the order of their kitchen, or their cooking station as their “mise en place” – everything in its place.  This refers to the ingredients they cook with, primarily, but it also refers to the pots and pans and knives and towels and, well, everything.  This concept is so important that many cooks get fired for being messy or leaving their works place a wreck.  The reasoning makes sense: if you know where things are, you will cook more efficiently and get your work done quicker and with fewer errors.  There will also be a higher standard for what you put on the plate as the place it came from was clean and professional.  Sure, we all make messes while we cook, but as my mom would tell me, we should clean as we go.  Not only does it leave less for you to do after dinner, but it helps you feel more in control.  And when you have a toddler climbing up your pants as you stir a pot on the stove, it’s good to feel like you have some control over the situation.

I’ve been rocking the stay at home mom thing for a few months, now.  My photography business has happily slowed down since December while I’ve launched this blog and thoroughly enjoyed my time at home, managing the house, planting a garden, cooking a LOT and getting to experience the wonder that is Olive.  I will get back to doing weddings more frequently, but I’m honestly in no rush.  Wedding photography is a very demanding job, one that I love, but I believe things come and go in seasons and right now, this is my season of being less busy.  Even though I have something to do nearly every minute of the day, I feel on top of things.  I’m going at my own pace.  I used to not love staying at home, but I think that’s because I was bad at it.  I didn’t find joy in the mundane, the every day tasks.  But I’m beginning to.

Not every day feels this way.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep a happy face while I fold microscopic socks while keeping Olive engaged so she won’t put all of Cash’s food, piece by piece, into his water bowl.  But for the most part, I’ve embraced the beauty of the mundane.  The happy calm from a home in order.  It’s not mundane, anymore.  It’s sacred.  It’s sacred because God is in all things and is constantly working through all things. Even the laundry. In your life, if you constantly say “what’s next?” or “I’m “just” a mom, but later, when the kids are in school, I’ll try to figure out what I’m really meant to do”, you’re selling yourself short.   Newsflash:  You’re meant to do exactly what you’re doing right now.  Whatever it is.  And you should find ways to do it with joy.  Even if it’s a job you hate or a situation you find beneath you.  I read a quote the other day that said, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”  And although that sounds so cliche, it’s so right.  Do you want to spend your days, your life, waiting for something better to come along?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t work toward new goals, but maybe we should all start doing a better job at being thankful and making the most of our “right now”, with whatever we’ve been given, in any situation we find ourselves.

A way that I chose to have joy in my seemingly-mundane current station in life was to revamp the place I spend a lot of time: the utility area.  So utterly boring, right?  I agree.  And it’s usually the most cluttered, messy, thrown-down room in the house.  In our house, that area has our pantry, our washer and drier, a craft area, a place to iron, a storage area, and Cash’s food and stuff.  That’s a lot of crap to cram into two, tiny, hallway-sized rooms.  And that’s a lot of time spent in a place that is ugly and thrown-down and messy.  Here’s a before pic – the view coming through the garage door:

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What if THIS greeted you every time you came home?  Would you feel like working?  All those things hanging on a curtain rod are aprons.  Yeah, I have plenty.  I gave a lot away and kept the ones people made for me.  De-clutter! I’m the antithesis of a hoarder.  If it doesn’t get used in a year, it gets given away or thrown out.

And here is the new view coming into the house:

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Much, much better.  As you can see, the craft area is still junky, but it’s SO hard to keep it not-junky if you actually craft.  And I do.  I’m currently making World’s Ugliest Lampshade.

Below, you can see how the pantry has order, however imperfect.  But I know where everything is, and that’s what matters.  I put a cute light switch cover on the wall, then put two hooks in the openings for our keys.  Right below is a hook for my purse.  Which my purse currently isn’t on – it’s in the car where it shouldn’t be.  But you get the idea.

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Then, I ordered a super cute ironing board cover and hung my iron on the wall as domestic-style art.  This really has become a peaceful area to iron, my most hated domestic duty.

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Then, I got all Pinteresty and made a laundry-folding area.  My mom used to yell, “Come get your stacks!” (of clothes) and now, I can yell, “Come get your basket!” and hopefully have the same results.  I made four shelves because I’m pretty sure we’re not done having children.  But for now, Olive gets both because that girl has more tiny outfits than one would ever need in life.  Good thing they cycle out of clothes every 3 months!

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From the craft area looking into the laundry/pantry area – I’m proud of my lampshade rigged light.  Just hung it against the ceiling on little screw hooks.  Magnets on the side of the drier for Olive to play with.  They usually end up in Cash’s water bowl, too.

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This looks messy, but that’s because they’re currently in use.  Three planter boxes – one for items that need repair, one for “projects” and one for items that need ironing.  Plus, a cute pegboard painted with the same paint for all the tools.  I love that I don’t have to go hunting in the garage for these things, anymore.

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My most Martha-moment – putting stuff in these jars.  I love the OCD appeal and I love how all the colors show through.  You can see here: beans, rice, pasta, feuilletine (it’s a candy additive thing you’ll make if you own Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook long enough), cocoa and cake flour.

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I also hang the super heavy pots here – we use these about once a week, so they don’t need to be in the kitchen with the daily use stuff, taking up space.  Those awesome teal Ball jars are at Target, currently!  Go get some!  The drawers below are for spices that won’t fit on my magnetic spice rack (or that I’ve stopped caring enough to buy spice cans for), extraneous and random flours, weird baking items like straight up glucose (I’m not scared) and baking additions like chocolate bars, cocoas, nuts and baking chips.  Then, a tupperware full of dried chilies that we never use but it makes us feel prepared, and two boxes (the pink ones) of cake and cookie decorating things.  All items that clutter up kitchen drawers!  This area is my favorite part of the redo.  Obviously 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed the tour!  And I hope that if there’s a room in your house that you use all the time, but simultaneously makes you feel depressed by being in it, that you would at least reorganize!  I really didn’t spend much on all this – I had all the storage units and I just bought the paint and the laundry shelves, which cost about $25 total.  Just rearranging things and painting the walls can make a world of difference!

And remember: whatever you’re doing in life right now is what you’re supposed to be doing.  So find the joy in whatever small ways you can!  You matter and what you do matters, even if it’s not flashy or expensive or even if you don’t get acclaim for doing it.  I wish I’d learned that years ago…

Homemade Salted Butter with Fresh Thyme

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Since we found Pereira Pastures Dairy a couple months ago, I suddenly had access to raw cream and milk, which fulfills my dream of having a milk man.  It doesn’t arrive on my porch in cute, glass bottles, but it does come from a friendly man in Abernathy who does his best every day with the land and beautiful Jersey cows God gave him to make the best product he can.  He treats those cows so well and it shows in his product.  I ordered a couple bottles of cream over the past two weeks and I’m telling you, this cream is legit.  There was only a half inch at the bottom of the bottle where the cream had separated from the rest of the milk.  THAT much raw cream just screams to be made into butter.  So, after being inspired by a story in the May issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine about Diane St. Clair, who makes butter for the French Laundry and Per Se, I decided to make my own.  I went a simpler route than the recipe featured in the magazine and just basically whipped the cream into oblivion until it separated into buttermilk and butter.  I then kneaded it, washed it (washing it makes it last longer) added some salt and sprigs of fresh thyme from my “garden” and voila – I had made my very own compound raw butter.

Making compound butters (essentially butter with stuff mixed in to flavor it) is really easy.  When the butter is at room temp, simply mix in herbs, seasonings, whatever you want and then wrap it up in plastic wrap and chill until firm.  Then, like my salted thyme butter, use it on fish or chicken or just bread for something really wonderful.  Sure, buying butter is so much easier.  And less expensive.  And less messy and time consuming. However, I think doing things from scratch offers a natural inclination for satisfaction and moderation that you just can’t buy.  How much slower you’ll eat butter you made than stuff you can scoop out of a tub!

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First, dump cream (I used two cups) into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Then, whip on medium high until whipped cream forms.  Then, really, just let that sucker whip until it suddenly separates.  This process can take anywhere from 10-15 minutes of solid whipping.  You should have something that looks like this:

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Strain the buttermilk out and save it to make pancakes or biscuits!

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Then, gather the butter solids and knead them in your hands under running water, squeezing the excess buttermilk out.  Then, you can either leave it alone for plain butter, or mix in salt and herbs, like I did here:

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Then, transfer to a sheet of plastic wrap, form into a log and refrigerate until firm.  Or leave it out on the counter if you’ll be using it right away.

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And for a simple approach, just slice it and eat it on a cracker 🙂

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