Chicken Soup with Fregula Sarda

March is always a welcome relief to the many months of winter, with its hints of warm, spring days. But it also seems to be the month in which my family develops the last great sickness of our cold season. This week has proven to hit my family hard in the viral department, with my son bringing home some unwelcome germs, then my husband contracting the disease, and now, finally, my daughter. Fortunately, while I type this post, I have not yet come down with this bad cold, and I am extremely happy about that, because as any other mother knows, if mamma falls ill, the whole ship goes down with her!

There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup when you aren’t feeling well. You can feel the warm liquid nutrients working their magic as they pass into your body, working their sickness-healing magic. Science has now confirmed that chicken soup actually helps to break congestion and contains an amino acid called, cysteine, which inhibits white blood cell production and the triggering of the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and phlegm. I guess grandma did know a thing or two.

For this chicken soup, I decided to use some fregula sarda I had in my pantry, which is an Italian pasta, originating from Sardinia. The pasta dough is rolled into tiny balls, resembling Israeli couscous, and toasted twice, which promotes its pleasant nutty flavor and golden colors. If you aren’t able to purchase fregula sarda, then Israeli couscous (or another type of small pasta) would be an excellent substitute for the following soup.

Of course, this soup is delicious whether you are under the weather or sailing atop clouds of health. But if you find yourself with a bit of a cold, this soup will definitely hit the spot. Stay healthy and happy eating!

1-1.5 lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
1 small onion, whole
4 stalks celery, cleaned, halved and chopped into small pieces*
5 md. carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into small pieces**
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
small bunch of fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
12 cups water
1/2-3/4 c. fregula sarda
small bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped

In a pot, large enough to accommodate 12 cups of water, add the chicken thighs, one carrot, one celery, the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Be sure not to add too much salt at this time. You can add more before you add the fregula sarda. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any fat that floats up to the top. Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the base of your soup to continue cooking for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, and discard the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. I find it works best to do this with a large, cook’s spoon that has holes. Remove the chicken thighs, and allow them to cool slightly before you remove the meat from the bone. Place the chicken back into the pot, along with the chopped carrots and celery. Bring the liquid back to a slow boil. After about 15 minutes, add the fregula sarda, along with about 1.5-2 cups of water. Allow the fregula to cook through, about 8 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the finely chopped parsley. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

*Leave one celery stalk whole to make the soup base
**Leave one carrot whole, unpeeled to make the soup base

Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

Crab and Corn Chowder

Once you learn the basics of soup-making, it becomes fun to experiment and come up with new creations. And I like to make soup for dinner about once a week, for several reasons — it’s an easy meal that can be made ahead of time, a good way to use things up that might otherwise spoil, extras can be frozen for a later meal, and, lastly, I just love to eat soup! The recipe below is an original creation of mine that has become a favorite in our house. This soup is easy to make and most definitely restaurant quality.  It has a little thickness to it, but it’s not as rich (er, full of fat) as its cream-based counterparts.

1 quart homemade fish stock from shell fish (recipe below)
olive oil (about 3 Tbsp.)
1 cup chopped red or white onion
1/2 cup chopped red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. Emeril’s Essence (click to get the recipe)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 pound crab meat, picked over for shells

To make the stock:

The stock that I use for this recipe is made from crayfish shells, but stock from lobster or crab shells will do, too. Simply save the cleaned shells from 1-2 pounds of crayfish (each pound will yield about one quart of stock). Cover the shells with water in a large pot and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes. While it’s cooking, leave it alone, except to remove any foaming at the top with a spoon. When done, remove and discard the shells, then strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve. Then strain it again through the sieve lined with a coffee filter. Use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for another day.

To make the soup:

Heat a large soup or stock pot over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan — then add the onion, pepper, carrot, parsley, and one tablespoon of Essence.

***Let me just take a moment here to talk about Emeril’s Essence.  I use this in my cooking a lot and always have some of it around. It’s a really good spice mix for fish, meat, roasted vegetables…whatever. I know that it is available to purchase, ready-made, but it is very simple (and, I bet, a lot cheaper) to make on your own, and it requires only a few basic spices that many people regularly have on hand. My one alteration is that I omit the cayenne pepper — I have a 3-year-old that doesn’t take too well to heat — but if you like it spicy, cayenne away!***

Ok, back to the recipe…cook the vegetables and spices for about 6-7 minutes, adjusting the heat, if necessary, so that nothing burns. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir the tomato paste around with the vegetables for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. (Note: pre-heat the stock before adding it to the pot so that the soup doesn’t stop cooking.) Taste, and add up to one more tablespoon of Essence to the soup for flavor. Simmer, covered, for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Remove the soup from heat and, with a wand blender, puree the broth and veggies until smooth. If you don’t have a wand blender, you can leave the soup chunky or use a regular blender, but be very careful not to burn yourself if transferring the hot soup out of the pot. Return the soup to the stove and add the milk. Bring back to a simmer, then add the corn and crab meat. Simmer for about 5 more minutes, and it’s ready to go!

Serve with some croutons or crusty bread. Delicious!

An Easy Borscht

Beets are a lovely addition to your winter diet. There is something about their bright hue that seems to add a touch of color to a dreary, grey day. And usually anything with color is a welcome addition to a child’s diet. My toddler daughter likes to call borscht “strawberry soup.” Beets are rich sources of potassium, iron, and vitamin-C. Their lovely red juice can be a blood purifier, may lower high blood pressure, and can aid in the breakdown of kidney stones. In fact, beet juice has been touted to counteract anemia and iron deficiency, and has even been credited to help defeat cancer in some patients.

There are numerous versions of borscht; some with meat and some completely vegetarian. But I think I could safely say I prefer a vegetarian borscht, that is, unless I have some leftover roast lingering in the fridge. If at all possible, buy organic beets, since they are root vegetables and readily soak up pesticides from the ground, as well as from above ground, exposing your body to more chemicals that I’m sure you would like to keep far, far away. This soup is fairly easy to make and extremely uncomplicated. Just be sure to wear an apron and a set of gloves while preparing the beets, or you may just become bright red from head to toe!

4 medium beets, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
2 Tbl. fresh dill, finely chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 tsp. sugar
salt, pepper to taste
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
olive oil

Prepare the beets and other vegetables, separately; set aside. In a large saucepan or small stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and then the grated beets. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the 2 Tbl. of dill, chicken stock, and water. Stir everything together. Turn down the heat to low and cover. Be sure that your soup does not boil too rigorously, or else you will have little spouts of beet juice just about every where on your stove top and over your floor. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve warm with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt or sour cream, and a small handful of freshly chopped dill. (The cooked dill will become dull in color, and adding some fresh dill boosts the soup’s overall appearance.) Alternatively, you could serve this soup chilled for lunch.

Winter Chicken Stew

Every Wednesday I try to browse through the Dining section of the New York Times, looking for interesting recipes and other food-related news. Last week I came across a recipe for an Italian-style rabbit stew, and since I thoroughly enjoy rabbit, I tore out the article and tucked it into my stack of “to try” recipes. As I was planning my upcoming week’s dinners, I decided to pull out the rabbit stew recipe and give it a whirl. I placed a call to one of my local grocers, who specializes in carrying wild game, to make sure they had some on hand. I had never had a problem ordering rabbit in the past, but after three days and still no rabbit, I gave in, settling for some organic, free-range chicken instead. I must say, I was pretty happy with the results, and I hope you will be, too.

9 whole chicken legs (preferably organic), skin removed
olive oil
flour, for dredging
2 md. onions, finely diced
3 leeks, cleaned and finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbl. rosemary, leaves removed from stem and roughly chopped
8 oz. baby Portobello mushrooms (or a mix of wild mushrooms)
1 c. chopped canned tomatoes
1/2 c. beer
1 c. unsalted or low-sodium chicken broth

Prepare all your vegetables; set aside. (Be sure to remove all the silt and dirt that tends to accumulate between the layers of the leek. This is most easily accomplished by slicing the leek in half, chopping it into pieces, then thoroughly rinsing the pieces inside a colander.) Season the pieces of chicken with salt and pepper; set aside. Prepare a large Dutch oven, or other oven-proof dish with a lid, with about 1/4 of an inch of olive oil on high heat. Prepare some flour onto a large plate and dredge each chicken leg, shaking off any excess flour. When the oil is hot, lightly brown the chicken on both sides, working in batches of about 3 legs at a time. Remove and set aside on a large plate.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Lower the heat to medium and add the chopped vegetables and rosemary to the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cook for about 4 minutes. Be sure to add a bit more olive oil if the vegetable mix becomes too dry. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the tomatoes and beer. Allow the liquid to reduce for about 2-3 minutes. Add the broth and adjust seasonings to your liking. Place the chicken legs into the pan, spooning the mixture evenly over top. Cover the Dutch oven or dish you will be using in the oven. Place it into the oven and allow it to cook for about 1-1.5 hours. Serve with a side of rice or pasta of your choice, or even a simple, crusty baguette.

If you would like to try the rabbit version that inspired this dish, you can find the NYT recipe here.

$8 Meals: Use it or Lose it Soup

We are back with another fine $8 meal. (Actually this dish may come in under $8, considering that you aren’t going to be buying any ingredients you don’t already have lying around in your fridge.) “Use it or Lose it Soup” is composed of all those slightly neglected veggies on the verge of spoiling in your fridge. Please don’t freak out on me…I am certainly not asking anyone to use slightly moldy, slimy veggies. Perhaps slightly wrinkly, but certainly not squishy! I often am an overzealous shopper at the farmers market, leaving me with a few vegetables or fruit that need attention by mid-week.

The last time I made this soup, I happened to have a zucchini, some mushrooms, a few carrots, a few stalks of swiss chard, an onion, and some garlic on hand. But feel free to experiment. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you have on hand. I also incorporated some amaranth, which is a tiny, high protein grain. I love to add it to soups and stews because it retains its crunchiness even when cooked in liquid. If you have some chicken stock handy, it also makes a nice addition to this soup, but it certainly can be left out, creating a strictly vegetarian dish.

I also added some turmeric, which provides a lovely rich yellow color to the soup. Turmeric is a natural cleanser of the body and an immune system stimulator, and may even aid in a faster metabolism. Just make sure that you wipe up any drippings while cooking, as turmeric does stain clothing and countertops easily. While it does provide color, its taste is minimal, making it a great healthy addition to many recipes without compromising taste. Of course, if you like the taste of curry, it is another great addition to the “Use it or Lose it Soup.”

1 large zucchini, grated
3-4 mushrooms, finely chopped
3 large carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 stalks swiss chard, de-veined (remove the thick stalk) and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 bay leaves
1 heaping Tbs. turmeric (or other spice of your choice)
salt, pepper to taste
10-12 c. water
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil

Heat a stock pot, or large casserole dish on medium-high heat. Add the oil. Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic. Stir to coat with oil and allow the veggies to soften, about 3-4 minutes. If you plan to use turmeric or curry, add it to the cooking vegetables, as these spices need to sauté before adding any water. Add any grain you may be using, giving another good stir to the pot. If you are using grated zucchini, add it to the pot. Add the salt, pepper, swiss chard, and bay leaves. Add the water (and  optional chicken stock). I usually boil my water prior to adding it to the soup so the cooking process doesn’t halt in any way. Give the pot another good stir or two, cover, and bring down the stove range to low. Allow the soup to gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.

When the soup is finished cooking, taste it to make sure the seasonings are to your liking. You can always add more salt at the end, but if you put too much in at the beginning, you most certainly can not take it back out! Feel free to add some chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro, which gives the soup another great dimension of color and flavor. Serve with some warm, crusty bread and a cheese of your liking. Happy, healthy, (and slightly cheaper) eating!!

Vegetarian Chili At Its Best

As a vegetarian, I’ve tried quite a few versions of veggie chili in my days, and this one is my absolute favorite.  It holds such depth and complexity in the flavor, and it makes a super satisfying meal, even to the meat-and-potatoes crowd.  It’s easily adaptable for vegans (just a couple ingredients to omit), and this recipe is great for parties because it makes enough to feed a crowd.  Freeze half for a quick meal another time — it’ll taste even better than the first time around!

Hearty Vegetarian Chili

(recipe based on Mike’s Black Eye Chili from the Marlboro Cookbook: Chili Roundup)

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 oil (olive, sunflower, or canola work well)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 large red onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 cup dried black beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried pinto beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried red kidney beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup dried garbanzo beans (or 1 1/2 cups cooked, or one 15-ounce can)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • 1/2 cup dried lentils
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (or a 28-ounce can)
  • 1 12-oz. bottle of beer — use whatever kind you like to drink, however, I don’t recommend beers that are very light or very dark.  My favorite in this recipe is Yuengling.
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1-2 cups water
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Spices:  alter this according to your tastes.

  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • pinch of ground red pepper (cayenne)

For Garnish:

  • sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
  • chopped cilantro
  • avocado slices
  • fresh lime juice
  • chopped scallions

Directions:

Pre-cook any dry beans that you are using.  First soak them overnight in salted water.  Drain and rinse them.  Then cook them in water at a 3:1 ratio of water to beans for about 1 hour.  A sprinkling of salt and a splash of oil can be added to the cooking beans, if you so desire.  The salt will enhance the flavor, and the oil will help prevent the beans from foaming and boiling over while cooking.  Test them to be sure that they are almost done.  It’s okay if they’re not completely cooked because they will finish cooking in the chili.

Prep all your vegetables.  Measure out all your spices into a small bowl and stir to combine.  Heat oil in a large soup or stock pot.  Add garlic, onions, and 2 teaspoons of the mixed spices.  When the onions have softened slightly (after 3-5 minutes), stir in the wine, and allow the alcohol to burn off.  Add the jalapeño pepper, bell peppers, and carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes, beer, honey, lentils, one cup of water, beans, corn, and the rest of the spice mixture and bring to a slow simmer.  Stir in the chocolate and cilantro.  Taste and add more seasoning, if needed.  Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes.  Stir the chili occasionally, and add more water if it gets too thick.  Remove from heat, and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to properly mix.

Eat this alone or over rice, and add the garnishes as you see fit.  If desired, add more heat by using 1 chopped habañero pepper, or by adding more cayenne powder.

Tip:  there is no one ingredient that will make or break this recipe.  Only two varieties of bell peppers or beans instead of three?  No biggie.  No beer?  Just add more water and increase the spices.  Conversely, you can add more of any ingredient that you like.  This chili is very adaptable.

Background:  I found this recipe in a book called the Marlboro Cookbook: Chili Roundup.  Somehow I was fortunate enough to get on a mailing list during a chili recipe contest being conducted by Philip Morris around 2000 or 2001, and I was sent this book for free.  The book contains 50 of the top recipes that had been submitted by people from all over, including 7 that are vegetarian (see the photo of the index page below).  If you come across this book online, don’t hesitate to buy it, or if you want more info about it or a copy of one of the other recipes it contains, contact us at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.


Chili (with ostrich)

A while back we posted a piece about ostrich meat, and in case you are still hesitant to try it, here’s another recipe incorporating this delicious “red” poultry. Of course, if you don’t have ostrich meat readily available to you, beef would work just as well. Usually chili is a bit too heavy for me, and that is why I enjoy making it with ground ostrich, instead. The texture and taste remain, but there’s certainly a lighter quality about using ostrich. I am also not a huge fan of large quantities of beans in my chili, but that’s just me. If you prefer, you can certainly add more quantity, and variety, of beans to your chili. The heat, or spiciness, is also up to you. I suppose my favorite aspect of chili is that it is one of the few meals which tastes better as left-overs than the day I originally made it. And as a busy mother of two, that’s always a good thing!

2 Tbl. olive oil
1 md. onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 lb. ground ostrich, or ground beef
1/4 c. chili powder
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
1 28-oz. can tomatoes in juice (I prefer fire roasted ground tomatoes)
3 c. chicken stock
1-2 c. water, you may want to add more or less while cooking

♦ 1-2 15-oz. kidney beans (black-eyed peas or lentil beans work nicely too)

chopped cilantro & Greek yogurt for garnish

Add oil to a large, heavy pot on medium heat. (If you are planning on using beef, add the meat first and begin to brown prior to adding the onion.) Add onions, garlic, and optionally, jalapeño; allow to cook until onions begin to soften. Add oregano and cumin. Stir in chili powder, salt, and cinnamon, if you choose. Add tomatoes, stock, bay leaves and water. (You need to add enough water to allow the chili to stew on the stove top without becoming too “concentrated.” If you check every 30 minutes, or so, you should be able to see whether or not more water is needed.)

Bring the chili to a low boil, then turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Allow the chili to slowly bubble (cook), uncovered, for 3 hours. If you don’t have this much time to cook your chili, it is possible to reduce the cooking time to about an hour, however, I will warn you that the flavors really don’t come together in that short amount of time. About 10 minutes prior to the end of cooking, add your ostrich meat. Ostrich cooks extremely quickly, and if you overcook it, the meat becomes too dry and chewy. Remove and discard bay leaves. Optionally you can remove the whole cloves of garlic, but thoroughly enjoy eating them in the chili.

Serve with chopped cilantro and a dollop of Greek yogurt. This dish also pairs nicely with some warm, crusty bread.

♦ If you are using pre-cooked beans, make sure to rinse and drain the beans before adding them to the chili. Alternatively, you could use dried beans. Just be sure to soak them in a few inches of water for 3-4 hours prior to cooking.

TDB Homemade: Chicken Stock

Making your own stock is a good way to make the most out of your food.  And it’s great as a base and flavor enhancer for things like soups, sauces, and rice dishes.  It is not particularly complicated or difficult to do.  It requires time, but very little actual work – just a little forethought and planning, and you can have a constant supply of homemade stock at your fingertips.

A stock can be made from a variety of things leftover from your normal cooking — chicken, vegetables, lamb, lobster, and fish, to name a few.  The kind of stock that is called for most commonly in recipes is chicken stock, so that is what is being explained below in six easy steps.  Keep in mind that the process can easily be applied to make any kind of stock you want.

CHICKEN STOCK

Save it! Start by saving the bones from your chicken dishes.  Some purists or restauranteurs suggest that a good stock should be made from raw meat and bones purchased solely for this use, but I just use the scraps from dinner with great results.  If you normally eat boneless chicken breasts, consider buying the bone-in split breasts or whole roasting chickens instead.

Unless you have a large family to feed, it’s unlikely that you will accumulate enough bones in one meal to make the stock, so I suggest keeping a gallon-sized zippered storage bag in the freezer (or some other suitable storage container), into which you can toss the bones and any leftover meat that never makes it onto a plate.  Fatty skins can be discarded, especially ones that have been grilled, crusted or coated.  The unused parts of some vegetables can also go in this bag.  Onions, carrots, and celery (also known as the Mirepoix in French cuisine) do a great job at adding flavor to stocks, so I save my unused peels and trimmings from those, too.

Cook it! Once your storage container is full (with about the equivalent of two entire chicken carcasses), you can make your stock.  Place all your reserved trimmings in a large pot (at least 6 quarts).  Cover the contents with just enough water that everything is completely immersed, about 4-5 quarts.  If you have room in your refrigerator, this step can be done 8-12 hours ahead of time (or overnight), which will reduce your total cooking time by about an hour.  Place your pot on the stove and slowly bring the water to just under a boil.  You can add a few peppercorns, a couple bay leaves, or other dried herbs, if you like (such as thyme or rosemary) for flavor.  You do not need to add salt.  As it heats up, a white foam may form on the surface.  This comes from fat and impurities, so scoop it off carefully with a spoon and discard.  Once it is steaming, with just a few small bubbles breaking the surface, and the foam seems to have subsided, cover the pot, turn the heat to the lowest setting and let it cook for 3-4 hours.  You don’t want it to come to a full boil, or even a heavy simmer, because more impurities will be released, which will cloud and pollute your stock.  Check the pot on occasion — add more water, if needed, to keep the contents covered.  Your house will begin to smell divine!

Strain it! Turn off the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes.  This allows it to cool just slightly so that you won’t burn yourself terribly.  Using tongs, or a large slotted spoon (I have a large wire scoop meant for fishing items from a fryer that works well), remove all the large bones and vegetable pieces and discard them.  Don’t worry about squeezing out every drop of liquid because that, again, can add unwanted impurities to the stock.  Next, carefully pour the remaining contents of the pot through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl (you may need more than one bowl).  A second pass through some cheese cloth, a coffee filter, or the sieve again is a good idea, to remove the small particles and clarify your stock as much as possible before cooling.

Cool it! Next is the trickiest part of the process — cooling the stock quickly enough to avoid bacterial growth without heating the contents of your refrigerator to the point that everything spoils.  If the weather outside is 40° F or below, and you have an outside location that is clean and isolated from pesky intruders, cover or seal it tightly and put it outside to cool off.  Otherwise, cool it slightly before placing it in the refrigerator by bathing the bowl in ice water or surrounding it with some reusable ice-packs.  Replace the ice packs / ice bath as needed until it is just warm (not hot) to the touch.  Try not to disturb the stock (by shaking, stirring, etc.) while it is cooling.  The fat contents will rise to the surface, and it’s best to leave that process uninhibited.  Let the stock cool overnight in the refrigerator.

Skim it! Once the stock has completely cooled, you will find a white layer coating the top, which is fat (sometimes called the scum or the schmaltz).  This needs to be carefully removed with a spoon.  Sometimes it coagulates as you skim the surface — just scoop it up and discard it before it sinks.  The stock itself may be gelatinized from, well, the gelatin in the chicken bones.  This is fine because it will liquefy as soon as it is heated.

Store it! Unless you intend to use your stock to make a large pot of soup right away, it is best to store it in the freezer.  I find it convenient to freeze stock in 3 different amounts.  One-ounce ice cubes are perfect for adding to sauces, stir fry, gravy, etc.  One-cup portions are perfect for adding to savory grain dishes, such as rice.  One-quart sizes are great for soups and stews.  Be sure to store each in a baggie or container that is designated for the freezer (breast milk storage bags are perfect for the one-cup size).

The stock will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator and at least 3 months in the freezer, but a batch never lasts much more than a few weeks for me.  It’s one of the easiest ways to infuse flavor into your meals.  Below are a few ideas for how to use chicken stock.

Mushroom Wheat Berry Pilaf Recipe by Alton Brown – There’s a lot of depth to the flavor of this recipe.  I’ve served this several times to family and friends, and people always go back for seconds!

Italian Wedding Soup Recipe – I have tried a lot of recipes for Italian Wedding Soup, and this is very good.

Lentil Soup – One of our Two Dancing Buckeyes favorites!

Chickpea Chorizo Soup

While on vacation this past February, my husband ordered some chickpea chorizo soup, of which I had the opportunity to sneak a few spoonfuls into my mouth before the entire bowl was rapidly consumed. Needless to say, it was extremely yummy. I quickly jotted down the soup’s contents to the best of my ability and tucked it away so I could try to recreate the dish when we returned home. So without further ado, I give you my version of chickpea chorizo soup…….

3 Tbl. butter (you can substitute with olive oil)
3/4-1 c. dried chickpeas*
1 md. yellow onion, finely diced
2 lg. carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, cleaned, trimmed, and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 md. potatoes, peeled and chopped into approx. 2″ cubes (you don’t have to be too exact, any shape will do!)
1/2 stick of dried chorizo sausage, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
1 Tbl. (or more) of sweet paprika
2 lg. bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
8-10 c. water, depending on how watery you want the soup
Greek-style yogurt, for garnish (may be omitted)
chopped parsley or chives (optional)

In a stock/soup pot, on medium heat, melt butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the drained, soaked chickpeas, potatoes, chorizo, salt, pepper, and paprika. Give it a good stir and let it cook for 2 minutes. Add bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to low and cover pot, allowing soup to slowly simmer for about 1 hour. Test for seasonings. Discard bay leaves. Serve with yogurt, chopped parsley or chives, and a sprinkling of paprika if desired.

*Either overnight, or approx. four-five hours prior to cooking, cover the dried chickpeas in 1″ water and allow to soak.