Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Homemade Crockpot Chicken Stock

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been making a lot of things from scratch. See e.g. homemade pizza dough, this soup, and this soup, and sadly this attempt at roast chicken. For the past few months, upon the advice of my doctor, I have been watching my sodium intake. One of the ways I can control how much sodium I consume is by making foods from scratch and relying less on convenience foods. Plus it gives me a sense of accomplishment when I make something all by myself. And then there are also collateral reasons that might encourage some people to make their own food, such as being better for the environment, and the feeling of security by knowing exactly what is in your food.

So aside from my endeavor to make “grown-up” food when I attempted roast chicken, I had plans to make chicken stock from the leftover carcass. When I made the chicken, I deliberately only used a tiny pinch of salt, and relied on fresh herbs for flavor. Fresh herbs and aromatics are important when you can’t rely on salt to make food taste good. In this stock, I didn’t add any additional salt, but instead used fresh herbs, garlic cloves, and ginger. And personally, I think this stock tastes better than the stuff from the can. So all was not lost from my roast chicken disaster!

Homemade Crockpot Chicken Stock

Carcass of a roast chicken, and any leftover bones
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
2 stalks of celery, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
1 inch of fresh ginger root, sliced into 2 half inch coins
3 peeled garlic cloves
10 peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs of fresh poultry herbs, roughly chopped (rosemary, thyme, sage)
6 cups of filtered water (I read that it is better to use filtered water so that you don’t have chlorine and fluoride in your stock, but if that doesn't bother you, then go ahead and use tap)

Dump everything into the crockpot. Cook on low for 10-12 hours. Allow to cool. Discard solids and strain the stock. Refrigerate the stock for a few hours, (I put it in overnight). Strain again to separate the fat that has congealed on the top. Store the stock into freezer bags or ice trays. (What I do is I freeze some into an ice tray so that I have stock in neat little ice cubes, which I transferred to a freezer bag. This makes it easy to portion it out, especially when you only need a little for a sauce. )

Monday, January 17, 2011

Impatience and Roast Chicken

Roasting a whole chicken always seems like one of those “grown-up” things to do. Most of the time when I cook chicken, I use packaged, boneless, skinless chicken breasts that cook quickly and can be easily divided for a weeknight dinner for one. A whole roast chicken is more social dish, for feeding a family of four, or for dinner parties with a group of good friends. But I’ve always have been a bit intimidated by any meat with bones, since I normally do not have the patience to allow them to cook long enough and fear food poisoning. Usually past attempts to make chicken drumsticks, bone-in pork chops, or anything with bones ended up with some parts tough and overcooked and some parts still raw. But since roasting a chicken is one of those grown-up things to do, right up there with filing your own taxes, and balancing your checkbook, I endeavored to learn to roast a good chicken. A chicken that will not give my future houseguests food poisoning. After all, I made a 13 lb turkey before, how hard can roasting a 4 lb chicken be?

Sadly though, despite my previous handsome rewards of patience, this time I was not so patient. I prepared the chicken and potatoes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything exactly from the recipe. Except for this step:

“[...] roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 to 165 F. Total roasting time will be 50 to 70 minutes.”

I don’t have an instant-read thermometer, so I stuck my regular probe thermometer into the chicken. I had no idea where the “thickest part of the thigh” was so I stuck it somewhere in the middle of what I thought was the thigh. And since my oven door does not have a window, the only way for me to check the temperature was to keep opening and closing the oven, losing some of the precious heat. This probably slowed down the cooking time, and any ounce patience that I had left. After nearly 80 minutes of cooking time, ten minutes more than the suggested time, I saw that the thermometer hit exactly 160 degrees. Hungry and excited to take a bite of the fruits of my labor, I pulled the bird out of the oven. I let the chicken rest for a few minutes and poked it with a knife to make sure the juices ran clear. I’ve finally done it, I thought, I’ve finally made a roast chicken. I am now a grown-up.

Until I actually tried to carve the bird and found that the juices inside were still painfully red.

I put the chicken back into the oven for another fifteen minutes.

I pulled the bird out again, let it rest for a couple minutes, and attempted to cut it again. Chicken breast was plump and juicy, but the legs and thighs were still a bit raw.

So I hacked up the chicken into the pieces and nuked the legs and thighs in the microwave for two minutes, until the juices were no longer red, but the meat was rubbery and dry.

Roast chicken, you have eluded me once again.

Next time, I will roast until the temperature is a bit higher, maybe to 165 degrees to ensure doneness. But all is not lost, after I salvaged the still juicy parts of the bird, I used the carcass to make chicken stock in my crock-pot, which is now simmering away. More on that later this week.
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patience and Tortilla Soup

I love my crockpot. I love that I can dump vegetables and meat into the crock in the morning and have a nice tasty stew or soup for dinner. Ideally, I would go to work and forget about it all day, and then be pleasantly reminded when I get home of the meal I had waiting for me.

Except when I had a snow day last Wednesday and was working from home.

The hardest part about using a crockpot when you are home all day is resisting the temptation to eat it as it's cooking. The smells that emerged from the crockpot made my mouth water as I attempted to draft motions on my laptop. The soft gurgling of the broth simmering tantalized me, "Open me and just take a little taste." But I had read that by opening the crockpot while it is still cooking, can add as much as 20 minutes of cooking time.

So I was good, and was well rewarded at the end.

I got this recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking, with a few minor tweaks. I was very happy with the results, and hope to write about more tasty crockpot concoctions in the future.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quick and Easy Macaroni and Cheese

Forget the stuff from the box, here is a method takes just as a much time, and the results are way better. I first discovered this method from The College Cookbook, back when I was well, in college. And I haven’t gone back to using the stuff from the blue box since. I’ve tweaked it over the years, for a more “grown-up” taste, adding a handful of cheddar cheese and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a hint of spice. But the American cheese is still a key ingredient to get the creaminess that coats the macaroni. Using cheddar alone, I found makes it stringy and grainy.

Another advantage of this method is you can make as little or as much as you want. I found that using the box you confined to the 4-6 servings, and since I usually was cooking it for myself, I would be eating mac and cheese for several meals.

So try this method, using real cheese, and butter, and you may never go back to using the stuff from the blue box.

Quick and Easy Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from The College Cookbook

1 cup (a handful) of macaroni (I used “Celentani” here because it’s a fun spiral shape, but any tubular pasta will do)
1-2 slices American cheese
¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
A pat of butter
A few tablespoons of milk
Salt and pepper to taste
A pinch of cayenne pepper

Boil the pasta according to the directions. Drain the pasta and return to the pot and turn the heat to the lowest setting possible on your stove. Melt butter into the pasta and stir it so it is evenly distributed. Add cheese and milk and stir until it becomes desired consistency. (I add about a tablespoon of milk at a time and stir until it becomes nice and creamy). Season with salt and pepper and dust with a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. Serves one person as a meal, or 3 as a side dish.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Easy Mexican-inspired Breakfast

I wasn't sure what to call this dish. It was inspired by this post from Not Eating Out in New York, after I had thrown a small party several months ago and had leftover tortilla chips. And since Cathy called them Chilaquiles, I figured then that's what I would call them. But this morning, I did a thorough study on Wikipedia, and found that chilaquiles are frequently confused for Tex-Mex migas. After after reading this recipe on chilaquiles, and this one on migas, I concluded that my version is most like chilaquiles, which what I will call them. But really what I have is nachos with eggs. But they're tasty. And an easy, unfussy breakfast to make when you haven't your morning coffee yet.

Chilaquiles (or nachos with eggs, if you are a purist)

One handful of broken tortilla chips
1 egg
Black beans
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Fresh herbs for garnish, such as parsley, cilantro, green onions or chives

Other recommended garnishes (not pictured here)
Chopped onions
A few drops of hot sauce

Pre-heat oven at 375 degrees. Sprinkle a layer of chips in a small baking dish. Cook the egg, how ever you like to make them. I made scrambled, but you could make a fried egg over easy, medium, or hard, or even a poached egg would work. Lay the egg on top of the chips. Sprinkle salsa, black beans, and top with cheddar cheese. Bake in the oven for about 6-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Carefully remove the dish out of the oven and garnish with fresh herbs (I used parsley), a dollop of sour cream, and any other garnishes you like. Makes one serving.