Old Fashioned Chicken Stock

Originally published on 3-26-13 and moved here for easier mobile viewing.

I’ve seen several food shows that demonstrate how to make homemade chicken stock. While chicken stock has been a staple around the world for time out of mind, it’s still not the easy breeze a 30 minute TV show can make it seem. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’d like to fill in a few holes for first timers. This is going to be a lengthy recipe post with 19 pictures, and some think “overkill” while others weep with relief. THIS is how you make a really good old fashioned chicken stock.

Mine starts with a ceramic glazed cast iron stock pot that I ordered from Ginny’s ®. (NOT being paid to link that. I just really like this pot.) Best pot ever for super slow simmering. The heat distributes well, and you don’t get hot spots like you do with metal pots. If you prefer metal, try to use the thickest heaviest pot you can find so you can control the simmer not running away into a rolling boil on low heat over 2-3 hours.

If this is your first time, the first thing you do is schedule this adventure for a day where you’re not stressing against a time crunch. Do NOT plan the next meal around this, it’s too much work until you get used to it. People in the old days didn’t have technology and hectic lives, or this might never have been invented. I know, nothing like giving you a recipe that is arduous and time consuming, but it’s THE BEST chicken stock you ever tasted in your life. All your other recipes using chicken stock will benefit.

I like using Smart Chicken®.  It’s a little more expensive, but looks and smells almost as fresh as a farm chicken I butchered myself and froze back. Whatever chicken you buy, make sure it fits into the pot comfortably. I’ve made mini versions of this with a cornish hen in a large saucepan, whatever takes your fancy. If you don’t have a whole chicken, use a bunch of chicken pieces with the bones still in, wings and legs are good for this. Part of the flavor comes from the skin, fat, and bones, not just the meat.

Rinse your chicken very thoroughly under lukewarm running water, inspecting it carefully for wax (looks yellow), pinfeathers, giblets and/or neck hidden in the inner cavity, etc. Be careful of broken rib and backbones if you reach inside. (If you do cut yourself on a bone, stop immediately and wash your hands with soap and water and cover the wound before you continue. Getting an infection in your skin from raw meat sucks, and getting your blood all over other people’s food is gross.) I like to pull out the stringy goop and cut off the tail and the big wad of excess skin on both sides of the open cavity. After rinsing, place the chicken directly into the pot. Throw away all the extra stuff not going into the pot, and wash your hands and the sink with soap. I wash my hands a second time just to be sure. I grew up on a farm, and we didn’t know back then about raw meats and cross contamination. I threw up a LOT. Be smart and save yourself a bad tummy ache later.

After that is all cleaned up, it’s time to prep veggies. Use a fresh knife, not the chicken knife. Make it a habit to use different utensils for meats and veggies, even if you know it will all be cooked together. Why? Because, in this instance, you only want half of a large onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. Don’t contaminate what you don’t use right away with a meat knife. You’ll also want a couple of large carrots, peeled and cut in half. I like stuffing carrot and celery inside the chicken. Wash your hands immediately after touching the chicken again. Put the rest of the veggies into the pot.

I use 9 flavoring ingredients in my stock-
1 t. salt
4-5 peppercorns
1-2 bay leaf
1 T each of rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, and oregano
1/2 t. garlic powder

On TV shows they tie these up into sprigs and/or a little bag. Making chicken stock is a lot like making tea. Steeping the loose leaf herbs slowly with plenty of room for them to circulate and swell brings such a beautiful aroma and flavor that tying it all into a little bag seems like a crime. Doing that doesn’t really save you any time or work later, because you still have to strain the stock when you’re done anyway, right? May as well go for gold.

When all your ingredients are assembled into the pot, pour water over it all up to 1-2 inches from the top. You want to leave some room in case you walk off and it boils, which I’ve done on more impatient days. You’ll also need splash room, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Put the lid on and turn the burner on low. Trust me. If your chicken was already thawed, 3 hours will be about right on low. If it was frozen solid, give it 4-5 hours, but still keep it on low. If you are using chicken pieces instead of a whole chicken, or cooking a cornish hen in a smaller pot, maybe two hours is good. You’ll get the hang of it.

About halfway through the cooking time, one to one and a half hours for the big chicken, you’ll want to turn it over. It will cook through just fine without turning it over if you leave the lid on, but turning it gives all the meat steeping time in the stock for flavor and juiciness. Some of my biggest messes have happened while I’m turning a hot chicken over in a scalding stock bath, so be careful about burns. If you do get scalded, immediately get ice or at least cold running water onto the burn before it blisters. Your skin will literally cook from that high temp, and you must cool it quickly so it will stop the cooking. Heat denatures protein, breaks the molecular bonds, and the ice or cold water will stop that process. Never ignore a burn, even if it doesn’t hurt that bad. It will hurt bad later when your nerves recover from being cooked alive.

Here’s a good way to turn a chicken. Use a long handled heavy gauge slotted spoon and a very long fork, one in each hand. Guide the fork into the inner cavity while you brace the chicken with the spoon. When you have the fork inserted well enough to move the chicken, lift slightly (lifting higher creates a bigger splash if the chicken slips), and turn like a spit while you use the spoon to help maneuver it on over. Resist the urge to stand real close to the pot for better leverage or bracing or whatever, that is a mistake and you could wind up having to change your clothes and ice your chest and stomach. (Twenty years of experience…) Once the chicken is turned enough to go on over, use the spoon to ease it on down. Put the lid back on and walk away again.

Your chicken will be cooked through soon after, but it’s not ‘done’ until it easily comes apart when you press the spoon down into the mid back. When you’ve reached this stage, turn off the burner and let your stock rest with the lid on. You can take the chicken and veggies out now if you want, or you can let them cool a little in the stock. It will all stay hot for a good hour because the heavy pot is so efficient at holding the heat in.

After an hour, you need to go ahead and get the chicken out onto a plate. It’ll still be pretty warm, but you can cover it in plastic wrap at this point to hold in the moisture and cool on the counter for half an hour. Never put hot food into the refrigerator. Hot food can shatter glass shelves in the fridge, and can encourage mold growth in foods it touches or sits near, because they’ll become less cool being next to something hot and can take too long to cool back down again. Since your chicken just came from a long simmer, it is sterile coming out of the pot and won’t spoil while it’s cooling down on the counter, but don’t leave it out longer than a couple of hours. When it is cool enough to comfortably handle, I put the chicken into a gallon storage bag into the fridge to deal with later.

Strain the veggies out of the stock into a bowl using a slotted spoon, and keep spooning through until you’re pretty sure you’ve gotten the bay leaf and all the stray layers of onion that have floated off. Throw all that away. It might be tempting to think you can use it later somehow, but trust me, it’s not worth it. The flavor and nutrition have steeped out of the veggies into the stock, they’ve done their duty. Throw them away.

Straining stock isn’t hard. Some recipes say to strain through cheesecloth, which is expensive and way messier than this needs to be. Unless you are hoping to make a clear consume or broth, you just don’t need that extra stress. I use a large mesh strainer with a handle so it will sit over a bowl. I set the bowl in the sink so I don’t have to clean up what I spill, and from there it’s a matter of tipping the stock pot just right so all the liquid goes through the strainer. Then I carry the strainer to the trash, clap the crap out, and immediately wash it with soap so I don’t have to mess with it later. The faster you get that strainer cleaned up, the less you’ll hate straining stock. If you leave that strainer sitting around until the chicken fat hardens and the herbs dry, it will be impossible to clean and you’ll never make chicken stock from scratch again.

I really like using tupperware for that stock, put a lid right on it and set it into the fridge. You can leave it alone there up to 3 days, but after that you either need to cook with it or freeze it back. Stock spoils faster than just about any food on the planet. If you open it and it has spoiled, you can’t salvage it. Throw it out because it will only poison you now, no matter what you do. You can kill germs with heat, but mold is a molecular structure that can survive heat and wreak havoc in your body. (Grain molds can cause brain damage if bread is made from moldy grain. Don’t cook mold!!!!)

All the fat in the stock floats to the top, and in the fridge it hardens into a skim on top, which is very easy to remove while it’s still cold. Use a spoon to skim it off and throw it away. What’s left is technically an aspic and wiggles like Jello. It melts right back into stock as soon as you heat it up, and it’s now ready to go into your recipes. You can measure it out by the cup and freeze in ziplock bags. I froze this batch into a quart bag to use in stuffing next Thanksgiving.

The rest of the herbs that got through the strainer all settle at the bottom of the aspic, and will stay there as long as you don’t tip the bowl or disturb it as you ladle the stock into bags. When I get down to that stuff, I just pour the dregs down the sink and flush a little water after it. With the fat and other solids removed, this small amount won’t cause a clog.


I am a cake

I feel so Backstrom. “I’m you. I’m a cake. I have fluffy yellow frosting and my gluten free flour only makes people fatter because now they think I’m good for them.”

I have joined a writing prompt group on facebook, which gives out links to writing prompts on wordpress, and today’s prompt is Bake Me a Cake . (Go check that out for instructions, and join by all means jump into the group if it sounds like fun!)

Truth is, I have always wanted to splurge on a beautiful gigantic special order cake, and by the time I can actually afford to go order one for myself (no particular reason), I have developed so many food reactions that I don’t dare eat anything that can be cross contaminated with nuts, citrus, and now wheat, for crying out loud.

I had gotten good enough at my own cake baking that I started experimenting, changing recipes around, and even flops became gushed about like they were the best cake I ever made. I love the smell of cake, the feel of cake in my mouth, the canvas of cake that inspires all those insanely cool cake photos popping up all over the internet. And now I’m starting all over with different flours. Rice flour has taken a bit of getting used to. I can actually feel it in my mouth, no matter what state it is in, plain and raw or incorporated and cooked. Me and rice flour ain’t buddies. But once again, I am learning to embrace the cake.

So, I’m a cake. More like a cupcake so I can be held lovingly to one’s lips or secretly behind one’s back. And I am the most immaculately dark and dangerous blue velvet cupcake you ever saw. No, not like this.

 photo bluevelvet2.jpg

My frosting isn’t white. My frosting is like the galaxy.

 photo bluevelvet.jpg

Or even better, check out this chick’s site. THAT is the kind of cupcakes I’d be. All of those, depending on my moods.

 photo bluevelvet3.jpg     photo 1_2.jpg

 photo 3_2.jpg

 photo 4_2.jpg

Cinnamon Bacon Rolls

Mmm, bacon cinnamon rolls. You’ve seen them floating around facebook, you wonder how they taste, you’re not sure if you want to try it and it looks really messy…

Ta-da! As you can see, your first crucial step is to buy precooked bacon.

Your second crucial step is to buy parchment paper. Always keep parchment paper on hand. You can find it by the foil and cling wrap. Crucial. Now, pop that can open, carefully unroll the dough, line the dough with bacon, gently roll back up, pressing the cinnamon mixture back on if it falls off during all this manhandling. I hope you are preheating your oven as instructed on the cinnamon roll can.

Sweet. That only took a few seconds and barely messy at all.

Follow cooking instructions on the cinnamon roll can, and voila! Purty.

Frost and serve. YUM! 

molasses ~luv~ cookies

I played yesterday and wound up with these.

Scott and I have exchanged some sweet Valentine cards through the years, and he’s brought home beautiful flowers many times, but goodies like those cookies are what he likes getting back. Sweet and colorful gets him every time. Also through the years we’ve nailed down this recipe as his very favorite, so I make these the most often around holidays. I grew up making these cookies to hang on a live pine tree for Christmas, and a week later when we opened presents the cookies tasted extra special because they absorbed the pine aroma. The dough is very adaptable and keeps very well because it’s eggless, more like a spicy shortbread. You can roll the dough thin for crunchy cookies or thick for soft cookies, either way the flavor is pretty awesome. I didn’t get any more pictures, so here you go with the recipe. My mother got this out of a magazine way back in the 70’s and I’m not sure what it was called, but I have it written down as Molasses Cookies.

1 1/3 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar

Beat these till light and fluffy.

Add 1 c. sorghum (I prefer this over molasses)
1/2 c. boiling water

Beat till smooth.

Add 1 t. salt
1 T cinnamon
2 t. ginger
2 c. flour
(If you are very good with flavor adaptations, you could probably play around with cardamom, anise, and/or a dash of cloves, as well.)

Mix thoroughly.

Add 2 c. flour, mix, add 2 more c. flour, mix well. Total = 6 c. of flour.

Divide dough into workable batches and refrigerate or freeze in ziplock bags, pressing the air out. This dough keeps very well for 3 months in the freezer or a week in the refrigerator.

This dough does best being rolled out, and baked at 350. I’ve been able to construct gingerbread houses with it when I roll it thin and bake it hard, and it also makes a very nice soft cookie when rolled thick and pulled from a 350 degree oven just as the dough dries before it browns. Let cool before icing them.

For the icing I only use powdered sugar and evaporated whole milk and adjust the amounts until I get the consistency I want, but basically start with a cup of the powdered sugar and a T of the evaporated milk. It dries well but spreads a little thicker than using fresh milk, and lends a sort of old fashioned taste. Color your icing and decorate as desired.

I’ve not tried this, but this kind of dough might make a fun crust or bottom layer for something, like a cheesecake or a layered ‘heavenly hash’ with nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, marshmallows, and a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk and then baked at 350 till the cookie crust is done.

Have fun!

How not to screw up a Valentine pie

You heard me. I screwed up. And I have the pictures to prove it. So pay attention, you WILL be tested on this. And you can totally make a yummy Valentine pie while we’re at it.

It’s kinda crucial that you read through this entire recipe first before you spring into shopping action, don’t just go by the pictures, ok? Let’s make sure you know what not to do wrong!

This part is right. Drain a jar of maraschino cherries into a bowl, you wanna capture all that yummy juice.

While that is draining, separate five eggs, yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large mixing bowl. If you’ve never separated eggs before, it’s ok to use your hands, and don’t throw eggs out when you mess them up. Keep a third bowl around to toss the mess-ups in for scrambled eggs later. And it’s not absolutely crucial to keep every molecule of yolk from getting into the whites and vice versa, but it’s prettier and works better. You can see I keep a paper towel on the counter to help soak up my messes.

While the eggs come to room temp, measure into a medium saucepan 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir that up real good, it’s the same as sifting it together. By the way, this is all still the right way, so we’re good, keep going.

Remember that pretty juice you saved? Now it’s time to put it into a measuring cup. This pie recipe calls for 2 cups of milk, but we’re replacing some of the milk with the cherry juice to make the pie pink and give it flavor.

Now you add enough milk to that to bring the total fluid up to 2 cups. Yes, we’re still doing it right.

Now stir the pink milk into your dry mixture in the saucepan and turn the heat on to medium. Never go higher than medium with milk as one of the ingredients unless your recipe tells you to, because milk burns (scorches) very quickly and the flavor is too nasty to hide or recover from and you have to start over with all fresh ingredients.

This part is very important. DO NOT WALK AWAY. You must stand here and stir, stir, gently keep stirring and making sure the bottom of the pan is constantly scraped, and I’ll tell you why. If you walk away and come back, you might find the bottom half of the milk mixture has gone solid, or if you get bored and turn away to rinse a dish or something, you turn back and find big solid lumps. (Yes, I have learned the hard way.) You want a smooth texture in your pie, so tell yourself it’s not going to kill you to stand there for a few minutes and stir stir stir. I like using a wooden spoon for lots of this kind of stirring because the heat won’t hurt it. You’ll know you’re about there when the mixture thickens up and coats the spoon.

Keep stirring for about one more minute, then remove the pan from the heat.

This next part is also very important, so I’m putting in extra pictures in case you’ve never done this before. It’s called ‘tempering’the eggs so they don’t curdle up into scrambled eggs in your pie. You need the eggs to hold this filling together (and this is also how you make custard). I stopped to take a picture, but the whole time you drizzle that hot stream of pudding into the eggs you need to be whisking with that fork to keep the eggs moving so they can’t sit around and curdle up.

After you’ve drizzled and whisked in about three spoon loads of pudding, switch and now you drizzle the tempered eggs back into the pudding while you stir stir stir with the spoon. IF you wind up with a couple big lumps, just pick them out, as long as the rest looks smooth. If it’s all very lumpy, you might even need some kind of big holed strainer, maybe a sieve if you want to try rescuing your custard. Just don’t continue with lumps in the way unless you don’t mind eating scrambled egg Valentine pie. I’ve never had it get that bad, and as long as you really did pull the pudding off the heat to do this, we’re still doing it right.

Now put the saucepan back on medium heat. It won’t take nearly as long this time, just stir stir stir until it burps a big bubble or tries to simmer or something, then take it off the heat again. DO NOT WALK AWAY. Your custard will continue to cook and solidify on the bottom of the hot pan, so give it another good stir after you pull the pan off the heat and then pour the custard into your pie shells. Some of you more experienced cooks might be spotting what is wrong with this recipe now, but it’s ok, keep reading and I have a way to make it all better.

The very next thing you do is turn your oven to preheat at 350 on bake, and then rinse your dishes because that egg yolk bowl and fork will be a real bummer later in your life if you don’t. Same with the saucepan. After you do that, it’s time to make meringue. Into the egg whites measure 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar.

Get your mixer on that, whip whip whip, watch the color change and the bubbly froth get finer and finer.

When it reaches ‘soft peak’ stage it looks like this.

It’s not ready yet, but stop here and add some pink food coloring and measure out 6 T of sugar into a little bowl, then continue mixing while you add the sugar in a bit at a time.

The sugar glosses it up and makes it look like creamy marshmallow. Whip whip whip a little more till it holds its shape when you stop. This is called ‘hard peak’.

Spoon your meringue over your pies and spread it out till it touches all the crust on the side. Have a little fun sculpting and decorating it.

Meringue doesn’t take very long to brown, so watch this. I never set a timer because sometimes it browns quicker than other times, but you’ll have it in your oven anywhere from 7-13 minutes, most likely.

All righty, here is where I point out my egregious flaw. This is something I probably should have known because I am a very experienced cook, but it never hurts to learn something new the hard way. Let’s see what happened.

It’s still delicious, it just doesn’t serve out in the shape of a piece of pie because the crumb crust soaked up the moisture from the hot custard and weepy meringue and disintegrated. It still scoops out like a fun dessert, just not *pie*.

The first time I ever made this pie, I was taking a shortcut and thought why not use maraschino juice in place of part of the milk in an instant vanilla pudding and pie mix, and it worked beautifully, set up perfectly, it just wasn’t that great in a regular pie crust. This time I got it backwards, I tried that idea in a homemade custard, but put it into a crumb crust. NEXT TIME I either stick with instant pudding and pie mix in a crumb crust, OR stick with homemade custard in a regular pre-cooked pie crust. That really is the only flaw here.

If you want to run out and try all the quickie pre-made pie crust and pudding and pie mix (small mix box for one pie, large mix box for two pies, follow directions for pie except replace part of the milk with maraschino cherry juice), then I think you should also pick up a tub of pink Cool Whip for the topping. No baking at all, and refrigerate it so it holds its shape. You can still sculpt and decorate your topping.

I said you would be tested on this-
1. Did you read this all the way through before starting, or did you follow it to the letter and make the same mistake I did?
2. Did you find where I made my mistake? Did you find the answer to fixing that mistake?
3. Are you going to have FUN trying this?

Happy Valentine’s Day