Thank You Mr. Bird

There’s a skeleton in my icebox..and in my freezer. I guess you can say I’ve had a habit of collecting them for quite some time now.

Okay no need to fear, I haven’t committed any crime. My only offense is making rich and delicious stock. For the better part of a year I’ve been studying, cooking, and tasting anything and everything regarding the skill of making homemade stock. I truly believe it is one of the most useful skills that can be learned in the kitchen, and it is worth every minute of the work it requires. So that being said and with the holiday season in full swing I know many of you will be stalking your local grocery store to buy those last-minute ingredients for your families Thanksgiving meal. Well I am here for you! With my user-friendly recipe and tips you can save yourself a trip to the grocery store, some major cash (commercial stock can be up to $5 per quart!), and best of all your sanity. And for that you can be truly thankful this Thanksgiving!

So why go through all of the trouble? I realize this may be a completely new venture for some of you. I am always a bit surprised and flattered by the reaction I get when I mention my stock-making to friends and acquaintances. The end result sounds like it should be extremely complicated and difficult. I know I was a bit overwhelmed with the thought of it before I actually tried it. The truth is when you learn the basics of it, it is actually pretty simple. It does take some time in the preparation department, but the yield makes it completely worth it. Cynthia Lair states in her book Feeding the Whole Family that, “Stock is the secret elixir that can change soup from a humble lunch to fine dining, from meal to medicine.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. So without delay, here is my simple tips on how to make the perfect stock.

1) Use the bones/carcass of a previously cooked turkey or chicken. This not only utilizes every part of the bird and saves prep time, but using cooked bones gives your stock a darker color and stronger flavor. This is what you are looking for in a good quality stock. I recommend roasting (I’m not a fan of the boiling method) your bird a couple of days ahead of time, serve it for dinner, refrigerate leftovers and then the next day separate the remaining meat& bones. You would then have cooked and sliced chicken/turkey to use for a second meal and the bones you need for stock. That’s a lot of value for one bird.

2) Maximize the flavor of your stock by using  Alliums. Alliums are vegetables like onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. They are known for their strong flavor, nutritional benefits, and versatility. The addition of these will really enhance your stock in many ways.

3) Use vinegar to add calcium and other beneficial minerals to your stock. When you add a bit of vinegar (I use Rice Vinegar) to your stock as it is cooking, the beneficial minerals will slowly leech from the bones of your chicken/turkey to your stock broth. You won’t even be able to detect its flavor as it will be lost in the stock, and you will get the added bonus of nutrition that you cannot receive from boxed stock.

4) If possible, use whole spices. This is optional, but using whole spices are great because they are more concentrated than ground spices and can give a stronger flavor and make straining the liquid much easier.

5) Leave it on the stove. It’s very important to simmer the stock for at least a couple of hours. The longer you allow it to simmer, the darker, richer, and more flavorful it will become. It requires no supervision, just leave it on the stove and check back occasionally. Patience is a virtue.

Anise Spiked- Chicken Stock

I love the depth that star anise gives my classic chicken stock, but if you do not care for it’s flavor or do not have it readily available, feel free to use the spices you enjoy. Turkey bones can also be substituted to make a turkey stock.

– olive oil
– 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
– 10 cloves garlic (2 Tbsp. minced), peeled and smashed open with a knife
– sea salt
– bones& carcass of a cooked chicken (previously roasted, meat and fats removed)
–  2Tbsp. Rice Vinegar (or other clear vinegar)
– additional spices: 2-3 bay leaves, 3 star anise, & small handful black peppercorns (ground black pepper also works)
1) Heat olive oil in a deep soup pot. Salt then saute onion wedges and garlic for a few seconds till they render their juices and become softened. Fill pot with water leaving a little room at the top. Add the chicken bones/carcass, rice vinegar, and all other spices. Bring pot to a slow boil, then reduce to a simmer.
2) Allow to simmer, undisturbed for a minimum of two hours. Then check, salt, and taste. If you wish for a darker more flavorful stock, keep it on the stove until you are satisfied.
3) When stock is to your liking, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Strain well (several times) into a gallon pitcher or large container or several glass pint jars. The stock will keep refrigerated for a week or more, but if you wish to freeze it keeps much longer.
My method for freezing is to pour stock into plastic ice cube trays and when stock cubes are completely frozen, pop them into a large gallon sized freezer bag. The ice cubes melt quickly and don’t require defrosting. (In case you’re wondering how they measure out, 8 cubes= 1 c. stock.) This method has proved successful for me, but feel free to explore other options that are more convenient for you.

Harvest Quinoa Bake

There’s just something wonderful and inviting about this time of year. The weather is just starting to get that crisp Fall chill to it, beckoning all of its victims to add another layer or two. It’s when the hubs and I begin our ritual herbal tea and cider drinking and spend our precious Sundays snuggled up with stacks and stacks of books. I am nearly giddy while adding Butternut and Acorn squash to my grocery cart, dreaming up all the wonderful ways I will pay tribute to their golden goodness this season. And of course who can ignore the glowing orange pumpkins that seem to be everywhere you turn. So with all of the tastes, color, and textures as my inspiration, I dreamed up this little creation, I call it the Harvest Quinoa Bake. I first made a variation of this for a friend’s birthday potluck (which is a genius idea for a Fall b-day) mostly on a whim and because everyone enjoyed it so much I decided to try to re-create it using some of this seasons delicious varieties of squash. This recipe sounds much more laborious than it really is, let me assure you that after you get through the peeling and hacking of squash it becomes quite simple. So try it out and let me know what you think!


Harvest Quinoa Bake

Note: A common problem I find with Quinoa is how to enhance its flavor and keep it from being bland. The method I use slightly toasts the grain in an onion infused olive oil, giving it a deeper and aromatic nutty flavor. This takes a bit of extra time but is well worth the effort. All of the vegetables can be prepped/chopped ahead of time to reduce the cooking time.

– 2-3 c. Butternut squash (about 1/3 of whole squash)
– 1 sweet potato
– 1/2  Summer squash (yellow variety)
– 1/2 yellow bell pepper
– 1 carrot
– 1/2 large Granny Smith apple
– 1 small bunch fresh parsley
– 1/2 yellow onion
– 2 c. Quinoa
– extra virgin olive oil
– 3-4 c. or less freshly grated Parmesan
– 1/2 c. Feta
– handful dried cranberries
– spices: several sprigs of fresh (or dried) Rosemary, dried Thyme, Sea salt & cracked pepper

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

With a cleaver (or other very sharp heavy knife) chop off the top third of the Butternut squash, remove seeds if any, and then peel skin with a vegetable peeler. Once peeled, cut squash into 1 inch cubes.

Peel sweet potato, and cut into 1 inch cubes as well. Toss Butternut squash and sweet potato in a small bit of olive oil and arrange on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with generous amounts of Rosemary, Thyme, and sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until fully cooked and slightly crispy on the edges.

2) While those are roasting in the oven…

finely dice the onion and parsley, and coarsely chop the yellow squash, bell pepper, carrot & apple. Set aside, but do not mix together.

3) In a medium-sized pot, saute the onion in a small amount of olive oil till softened and translucent. Add in the Quinoa and allow to toast for about 30 seconds, then add 3 c. hot water to the pot and bring to a boil. When water comes to a rapid boil, lower the heat and allow Quinoa to simmer (much like you would steam rice).

Meanwhile… in another deep skillet or pot saute the remaining vegetables and apples in a small bit of olive oil. When they are almost cooked, stir in the parsley and cook for a few seconds until wilted yet still bright green.

4) In a 9×12 casserole dish layer the cooked Quinoa and onion, next add the sautéed vegetables & parsley, then the roasted Butternut squash & sweet potato, and finally top with Feta, Parmesan, & cranberries. Salt & pepper and bake for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.


Homemade Tomato Sauce

Is it a fruit or a vegetable?  That’s the question I often ask myself while sorting freshly bought produce in the crisper bins of my icebox. I always seem to be momentarily stumped when I get to the tomatoes. Yes, they are technically classified as a fruit..or at least that’s what I’ve always known..but on the other hand, they are not eaten like a fruit, they are prepared and used like a vegetable. When I’m feeling rebellious, they go in the vegetable crisper with an indignant thump. When I’m feeling like being a perfectionist, they get safely tucked away in the fruit crisper. And on those days when I just can’t muster up the energy to think it through, they go wherever they will fit. And that’s that.

I have recently grown to love tomatoes. When I was a little girl, I wouldn’t touch them. But as I grow older I am learning that the many many things I turned my nose up as a girl, are resurfacing one by one and rocking my world in a completely new way. So as a result I have been eating a lot of tomatoes lately. Tomatoes are widely available in Texas and come in such a variety of species that they are virtually always in season. Another perk is that they are very versatile to cook with and can (when prepared cleverly) take on numerous tastes and textures. So with my new-found love for tomatoes and a few pounds of beautifully ripe Roma’s and Vines, I set out to make this tomato sauce. My first ever, and I must say I’m very pleased with how it turned out. I’d love to know, what vegetables or fruits you have come to love as a grown-up?

Homemade Tomato Sauce

My recipe is seasoned by a garlic and red pepper infused olive oil (we like it spicy), but you can easily add your favorite dried herbs during cook time. I recommend keeping it simple so you can use it for a wider variety of dishes.  

– 3-5 lbs. ripe tomatoes (Roma’s work well  for a thicker sauce, but Vine tomatoes also give it a hearty flavor, so I used a mixture of both. Feel free to use whatever grows well in your hometown!)
– extra virgin olive oil
-4 cloves garlic, minced
*(optional) dried red pepper flakes
– sea salt

1) Thoroughly clean/rinse your kitchen sink. Fill one side of the sink with HOT boiling water (from a tea kettle), and the other with COLD water and ice cubes.

2) Soak tomatoes in the hot bath for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to the ice bath. Let tomatoes soak until the skins crack and begin to peel. This will help loosen up the tomato skins so the skins can be easily removed with a small pairing knife.

*If the skin does not crack within about 5 minutes of being in the cold bath, return to hot bath and repeat this step again. Make sure your water temperatures stay hot/cold.

3) Peel skins completely and chop tomatoes in quarters. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Careful not to over-blend or it will liquefy.

4) In a deep stew pot, drizzle olive oil to coat and form a thin puddle, when hot saute garlic and red pepper flakes. Add pureed tomatoes,sea salt to taste, and cook on low heat for 1-2 hours until the sauce is fully concentrated and thick. Cool and store in jars.

Recipe yields approx. 8 cups or 64 oz. Extra sauce stores well in the freezer for future use.