Holiday Nostalgia & Traditions

The wonderful and slightly romantic thing about being newly married is that your life experiences are intermingled in such a way that each new memory you create is a shared one. Each person in a marriage grew up with some sort of family tradition (albeit good or bad) that they have somehow kept alive over the years and now as an “adult” (we use that term pretty loosely around here) they continue to light that torch of family tradition into their marriage. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being propped up on a kitchen chair to help my mother with her holiday baking. I remember feeling so grown up, though I could hardly see over the counter, as I carefully mixed the pecan halves into the pecan pie filling and pouring it into the pie crust. Pecan pie, is and always will be a Thanksgiving tradition for me. When Sam &I first started dating, (just before Christmas of 2008) the Linvilles invited me over for dinner and I brought them my mother’s famous pecan pie…and the rest as they say is history! I have been baking it for them ever since. And who can forget Christmas cookies. I’ll never forget the way my mother patiently instructed me to roll peanut butter cookie dough, and then dust the cookie balls in sugar, and finally smash the formed dough crosswise with the tines of a fork (as an artistic kid I loved that part). So last year in all my newlywed zeal, I set out to experiment with several different kinds of holiday cookies and lined the kitchen counter tops with dozens and dozens of cookies. The hubs, of course, loved this as he got to be the executive taste tester (who wouldn’t love that job?!). And this year I hopelessly continued the tradition, adding new and different recipes to the arsenal. They were the perfect holiday party tray and worked very well in gift baskets (don’t worry the hubs still got first tasting privileges). I love the thought of combining each of our favorite holiday traditions and also adding some new ones of our own. This Christmas I was able to visit my husband’s home town in Oklahoma, and see the famous Chickasha Festival of Lights, one of his families annual traditions. It was really beautiful. We also got our first Christmas tree this year, a beautiful Douglas Fir (which I am sad to say will meet his untimely fate with the wood chipper very soon) and have started a new tradition of buying Christmas ornaments each year to decorate the tree with little by little. So despite the holiday rush, it really has been a wonderful Holiday season. I can only smile at the year to come and hold the ones that I love close to me as time pulls us forward.

Advertisements

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.