Nourishing Chicken Stock

Makes 8 C

chicken stock

Fall is here.  Yes, even in the desert.  It’s not quite like what I’m used to.  There isn’t a crisp chill in the air, there aren’t any changing colors of leaves and there isn’t that clean, cool smell in the air.  Instead temperatures are leaving the 100s on a regular basis, the beautiful sunset is coming earlier, and mornings are cool and resemble spring. Still the cravings for nourishing soups, everything apples, pumpkin and squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, those are the same.  Fall lives in me apparently.

The basis of all soups and most meals should be a beautiful stock.  Not only will this foundation of flavor elevate your dish, it’s also a great way to get some serious nourishment into your (already nutritious) meals.  There’s a lot of talk about stock, broth, bone broth, what’s the best way to do this or that.  Everyone has their own version and that’s the reason there are so many answers.

The distinction between a stock and a broth is usually salt.  Stocks by their virtue simply provide a base from which all other foods and flavors can spring from and come to life.  You will add salt and other seasonings to your dish, so there doesn’t need to be any in the stock.  Also, as the stock reduces, so does the concentration of salt and this becomes difficult to control.

Broths are seasoned.  You can drink them on their own or use them like you would a stock, but carefully.  There is such a thing as too much flavor in a dish and you don’t want a lot of competition going on, on your tastebuds.  Stocks are meant to be balanced yet neutral. Broths are meant to impart a bolder flavor of their own.

You want the most wholesome ingredients going into this base.  It’s what good cooking is about.  And, good cooking refers both to tasty and healthy.  Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew that instinctively, so they chose whole and fresh vegetables and bones from animals of which they’d already consumed the meat.  (Back then, it wasn’t labeled organic or grass-fed because everything already was those things!  For our times though I would recommend starting your dishes off well and going with as much organic as possible and definitely, grass-fed, pastured, free-range, farm happy animals.)

Bone stocks provide nutrients from the bones of the chicken, beef, fish, whatever you’re using.  There you will find minerals such as calcium (bone-building), phosphorus (regulates intracellular pressure) and magnesium (regulates over 300 enzymatic reactions).  The latter of which is a mineral most of us (in the U.S.) are chronically lacking.  Equally important are the cartilage and gelatin found in bones.  These goodies literally moisturize our joints and skin, aid in repairing of bone and our own cartilage and help our digestion along.  For more in depth info, I found this page at The Jade Institute to be really informative.

Ingredients need not be limited to the ones below.  You could throw in leeks, mushrooms, parsnips, squash, tomatoes, etc.  Stay away from cruciferous vegetables for stocks and also spinach.  They don’t do so well in stock company.  This is a simple stock, so simple you can easily throw it together weekly.  There are many lovely stocks with earthy or sweet flavors, fish or curry flavors, or the roasted flavor of mushrooms.  Yum.  Those recipes to follow…eventually!

Stock up and enjoy!

You’ll need:

  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 red onions, quartered
  • 3 carrots, chopped in 2″ pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped in 2″ pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat side of your knife
  • 2 potatoes, quartered
  • 1 sweet potato, quartered
  • 1 bunch of parsley (or stems)
  • 1 2 square inch piece of kombu
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 1/4 t fennel seeds
  • 1 chicken carcass
  • 10 C filtered water
  • large container of ice

To make:

  1. In a stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add all the vegetables.  Saute for a few minutes, just so the vegetables are coated and starting to brown.
  2. Add parsley, kombu, spices, and chicken carcass.  Then add water, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and partially cover.
  3. Simmer for 4 hours.
  4. When stock is done, strain the chicken and vegetables out as soon as you can.  Then place the pot in an ice bath (a larger container filled with ice) to cool it quickly.  Divide stock into containers to either refrigerate or freeze.

*If refrigerating, use stock within 5-7 days.  If freezing, stock will last at least 2 months.

Guinness Stew

Serves 4

guinness stew

Slow cooking does wonders for 2 things:  1. tougher cuts of meat* and 2. slowing YOU down.  December is certainly a merry and jolly month, but hidden in the merriment there can be found the stress of keeping it all together.  You know, the grab-bags, the after-work parties, the planning, the traveling, and, and, and.  We all forget to slow down and breathe until January rolls around and our resolutions are staring us in the face.  I’m convinced there are better ways to end the year…and to start another one.

Tough cuts of meat are also easily forgotten, if not completely ignored.  It takes too much time to turn them into the tender, tasty bites that is their inherent potential.  We’ve also gotten spoiled with more tender cuts.  Filet mignon, anyone?  Rib-eyes, NY Strip Steak…nope, I won’t say no to those, but to ignore eye-rounds, chuck roasts, short ribs, to name a few, would be a BIG mistake.  Good things take time and even in this day and age when everything goes so much faster than even yesterday, it still holds true.  Once in a while you’ve got to stop to smell the roses, or in our case, to stew a classic Guinness stew.

Braising is a combination of cooking techniques.  First, the meat (veggies can also be braised:) is seared on all sides.  It’s then cooked in liquid, about 1/2 way up the meat, usually covered, either stovetop or finished in the oven.  It’s an old school way of cooking and anytime my husband cooks a stew (or other braise) he always talks of a connection he feels to a long line of cooks before him, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all partaking in this careful but loving way to prepare a meal for your family.  It’s wonderful to feel connected and it’s wonderful to get that feeling from cooking, from preparing a meal and then sharing and eating it together.  It’s nourishing on every level.

By the way, the only thing classic about this Guinness Stew is that it’s become a classic in our home.  With these chilly days that have found us, I hope that you find this dish as warming and satisfying as we do.

*Most of you know this already, but just in case:  Whenever I cook or eat animal protein, I do so because it’s sourced from local farms that treat their animals with respect and kindness.  Cows graze on grasses and roam the fields, chickens hang out by the cows eating all kinds of things we’d rather not think about.  Still, it’s their native diet and what’s better for them is better for us.  No antibiotics or growth hormones, no chemicals or funky diets made out of whatever is cheapest and most readily available.  Happy, healthy animals that come from farms where the farmers love what they do…that’s where I get my meat from.  

You’ll need:

1 lb. eye round, cut in 1″ cubes, all fat trimmed and seasoned in sea salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt and pepper)

1 T organic canola oil

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

1 (largish) yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 celery stalks, diced

6 sprigs fresh thyme

1 T spelt flour

1 T tomato paste (optional)

1 can Guinness

1 C vegetable stock (+ more depending on how things go!)

3-4 red potatoes, 1/2″ dice

2 carrots, 1/4″ rondelles (fancy way to say sliced ;))

1/2 C frozen peas

1 T red wine vinegar

2 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

(Preheat oven to 325°)

1. Heat canola oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le Creuset dutch oven is amazing for this) over high heat and sear meat on all sides till nice and brown.  You may need to do this in batches and it will take 7-10 minutes per batch.  Resist the urge to move the meat around TOO much or too soon.  You’ll know when it’s time to roll them over!

2. Reserve the meat and juices in a bowl and set aside.

3. Add olive oil to pan over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, celery and thyme and a pinch of sea salt.  Cook for 4 minutes, stirring often.

4. Add tomato paste (if using) and flour and cook for 2-3 more minutes until it becomes like a fragrant paste.  Then add Guinness and stir.  Add 1 C of vegetable stock and let it come to a simmer.

5. Add meat and juices (can’t let all that flavor go to waste) and bay leaves and let it come to a simmer again.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.  (You can either clean up a bit here or go and relax…you deserve it…and you’ll be back!)

6. After an hour has passed, add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour to hour and a half.  Check that the liquid is about 1/2 way up the meat and vegetables.  At this point it should start looking stew-y.

7. Place sauce pan/dutch oven on the stove and remove the bay leaves.  Add the frozen peas and red wine vinegar, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

8. Top with fresh parsley when ready to serve.

9. Enjoy with sourdough bread, over noodles or rice or just on its own!

Garlic Confit

Makes 1 C

The very word confit conjures images of haute food, ultra gourmet, inaccessible restaurants, maybe even a dress code?  It does sound fancy but it’s often the simplest things that are the most prized.  I guarantee you will climb a few ranks as a gourmand with this confit sitting in your fridge.  I also guarantee that once you try it, you’ll find it makes a great staple, too.  Don’t be surprised if you’re making batches of this weekly and/or giving some away.  There’s something about sharing something delicious.  It’s like sharing joy.

Confit is the fancy way of saying ‘cooked for a long time, submerged in broth or fat, for flavor and preservation’.  Back in the good ol’ days before refrigeration, people had to get creative about preserving food.  (This is really interesting to study as different parts of the world used different methods best suited to their environment.  Thank goodness because the flavors are bold and the nutrients multiplied!)  Confit originated in Southern France and was a way to preserve meat.  Do yourself a favor and try duck confit.  (Remember I was vegetarian for nearly a decade, so such recommendations don’t come lightly!)

Garlic.  Oh Garlic.  It’s got a smelly reputation that apparently repels vamps.  That’s not all this member of the allium family is capable of.  Here’s the rundown:  Garlic is anti-carcinogenic (especially good for colon cancer), anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal.  It is amazing in reducing blood pressure. (Click here for a great explanation on the contraction and dilation of blood vessels explaining blood pressure.)  It is also a blood sugar and cholesterol regulator.  It reduces fever and helps combat colds and flus.  Have you ever tried garlic lemonade?  It’s a great home remedy to add to your repertoire.  (Recipe coming soon via my sister.)  Garlic is great at eliminating toxins from the body.  For some, it is considered an aphrodisiac and therefore verboten in the diet for Buddhist monks as well as strict followers of Hinduism.  That’s a lot range for a little bulb.  That explains why it’s used universally as seasoning and as a home remedy…pretty much since the beginning of time!

So, what to do with all that confit you’re cooking up?  It’s great to season soups, vegetables and meat.  It makes a great addition to marinades and salad dressings.  And, it’s great alone, smeared on a crispy piece of country bread.  Yum!

You’ll need:

2 heads garlic (roughly about 1 C), cloves separated

1 C (approx) extra virgin olive oil

+ water and ice for blanching and shocking

To make:

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  In the meantime, fill a bowl with water and add 2 C of ice.  Blanch the garlic – Add the cloves to the boiling water and let stay for 30 seconds.  Promptly remove cloves from boiling water.  Shock the garlic – add it to the ice water.

2. Peel the skins off the garlic and trim off the root ends.  Let cloves dry in a clean kitchen towel.  (I also cut the fatter cloves in half for evenness in cooking.)

3. When dry, add the cloves to a saucepan and add the oil.  The oil should fully cover the garlic.

4. Heat over low-medium heat until small bubbles start to form and then reduce heat to low.  Skim any skins that come to the surface and stir the cloves so that they cook evenly.  Your confit is done when the gloves are a golden color and look soft.  It should take about 40 mins.  Let cool in saucepan before adding to jar.

5. Store in an air-tight container for 7-10 days.  Don’t forget to use the oil, too!  You’ve worked hard at it!

6. Enjoy!

Curry Chicken Salad

Serves 4

Adapted from The Cancer Fighting Kitchen

My husband’s current obsession, besides our daughter’s belly laugh, is curry.  He seems to be leaning more towards the Thai curries but he’s happy with any curry really.  Curry is a mystery.  And that’s just because it means so many things to so many people in so many places.  Even in Japan, a common lunch was curry rice which I always thought surprising since curry isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine.

There is the curry leaf, which until recently I didn’t even know existed.  My mother-in-law planted it one year and the strong aroma quickly took over her herb garden.  It is used quite commonly in India and imparts a distinct curry taste, the original I guess!  The more well known is curry powder; a blend of varying spices that mimic the flavor of the curry leaf.  Curries are unique to each family and region, much like German towns each have their own delicious microbrew.  It’s one of the more amazing things about food.  A dash of this here and a bit of that there and you’ve got a completely new dish.  It’s beautiful and it keeps us and our tastebuds always wanting more.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of Ayurveda in this spice.  Ayurveda is a traditional medicine practiced in India for over 5,000 years.  It recognizes 6 tastes; sweet, salty, sour, astringent, pungent and bitter and they’re all found in curry powder.  Under Ayurvedic principles, eating all 6 flavors in one meal is both balancing and satiating.  If you feel balanced after a meal, you’re not likely to go searching for dessert (sweet) or any other flavor.  You’ll feel completely satisfied.  If you haven’t enjoyed an Ayurvedic meal, I highly recommend it, if only for the experience and then you can decide for yourself.

The superstar in curry is turmeric and I’m glad to finally get to write about this spice.  Turmeric is pretty ridiculous when it comes to its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial powers.  Turmeric is used to heal many conditions, one of which is cancer.  According to Rebecca Katz in The Cancer Fighting Kitchen, when eaten with a cruciferous veg (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.) the curcumin present in turmeric has been shown to reduce the growth of prostate tumors as well as to keep tumors from spreading to other parts of the body.  It is used to heal wounds and is good for conditions such as arthritis.  It’s also a wonderful digestive aid.  And, it’s one of the highest known sources of beta-carotene.  Move over carrots!  Or better yet, sprinkle some of this spice on some roasted carrots!  Hmmm, sounds like another dish in the making.

You’ll need:

1 lb roasted chicken (I used legs and thighs), shredded

1 C seedless red grapes, halved

1 stalk celery, sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 C cilantro, chopped

2 t fresh ginger, grated

1/2 t sea salt (or more to taste)

1 T curry powder

1 t lemon zest + 1 t fresh squeezed lemon juice

6 oz. Greek yogurt

To make:

1. Combine the chicken and the grapes and set aside.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Add chicken and grapes and mix well until chicken is thoroughly dressed.  Let it sit for 15 minutes in the fridge to let the flavors mingle and blend:)

3. Serve over a crisp bed of greens such as romaine lettuce or stuffed into pita bread:)

4. Enjoy!

*Vegetarian option: Substituting extra-firm tofu for the chicken is a great vegetarian option.  I would cook the tofu as in this recipe, for a bit more added flavor, crunch and aesthetic, but it’s definitely not necessary.  Enjoy!

Grass-fed Burger

makes 4 1/4 lb.  burgers or 6-8 sliders

I used to be vegetarian…for nearly a decade.  I loved my vegetarian diet; it very much became a part of my identity.  It was hard work but I believed I was doing the best for my health and the planet.  It turns out that what’s best for your health changes as you change and change isn’t a bad thing!  (As for the planet, eating grass-fed meat is ideal.)

My journey to consuming animal protein began before culinary school, but being in school, studying food and being surrounded by a wonderful group of supportive people pushed me over the delicious edge.  It was indeed love at first bite…after bite, after bite.  I was surprised to feel more grounded, bolder and much more optimistic after just a few days of careful bites.  I was somehow becoming a new me.  I had been so concerned about the physical effects of eating or not-eating animal protein that I had forgotten about the very real emotional, mental and spiritual effects.  Those were the first changes I noticed.  Slowly my physical health also improved as my system was reaching more balance.

The grass-fed burger is so delicious you really don’t have to do much to it.  And that’s the whole point of great cooking!  Source the highest quality ingredients and let those flavors shine through!  To quote Michael Pollan, “eating a grass-fed burger when you can picture the green pastures in which the animal grazed is a pleasure of another order, not a simple one, to be sure, but one based on knowledge rather than ignorance and gratitude rather than indifference.”  You really can taste the pastures and the sun and the rain.  It is quite sublime and you can’t help but feel a deep connection to the Earth and a deep respect and gratitude for the animals raised for our consumption and the farmers who love and tend to them.

Nutritionally, grass-fed burgers are superior in every sense of the word.  Grass-fed beef is free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, stress, sickness!  It is much higher in Omega 3 fatty-acids (think brain and heart food,) than its grain-fed counterparts.  It is high in Vitamin E and abundant in CLA or conjugated linoleic acid, which may be one of the greatest defenses we have against cancer.  Grass-fed beef is often lean so it is lower in fat and calories and can actually reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

Being an omnivore again is good!

For more information on local and grass-fed meats, please visit www.eatwild.com.

You’ll need:

1 lb. Grass-fed ground beef

1-2 T parsley, rough chop (totally optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

hamburger buns (if you really want to glam it up, brioche rolls are a nice touch;)

Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved

Mesclun greens

To make:

1. Assemble the burgers: Place beef in a bowl and season liberally with sea salt and pepper.  Add chopped parsley if using and assemble into patties 1/4lb thick.  (They’ll shrink a little after cooking.)  Set aside as you heat a cast-iron stovetop  grill…(or a gas grill!)

2. In a small sauté pan, heat oil and caramelize shallots until crispy and golden in color.

3. To cook burgers; this is a tough one since it’s more of an art than a science since there are so many X factors that affect it.  On our stove-top cast iron “grill”, I (or my husband more commonly!) usually cook for about 4-5 minutes on the first side until it looks like the meat is being cooked through.  Flip it over and cook for 3-4 minutes.  This should produce a lovely medium burger.

4. Dress it up!  We added Parmigiano and shallots this time and it was a winning combo.  So much so that it will be repeated in our kitchen!  Add some fresh greens and a pickle on the side.

5. Enjoy!

P.S. By getting your meat from a local farm, not only are you ensuring a million health and planet and animal and farmer benefits, but you’re also guaranteeing that your yummy burger came from 1 cow, not various parts of various cows from Texas, Virginia, Argentina, just to name a few places…oh, and no pink slime either, thank you!

Black Beans with Shredded Chicken and Apple Salsa

Serves 4

I really fell in love with this bean, also known as the turtle bean, when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were in Costa Rica for some time.  (Long story short, we came back home married, much to everyone’s surprise:)  Their ubiquitous “gallo pinto” is served as a side with everything and it is highly addicting!  The versatility of black beans gives them high marks in my kitchen.  They hold up well in veggie burgers and yet can be velvety smooth as soup.

Why eat black beans?  Well, there’s protein and fiber in a magical combination that supports digestive health, blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health.  Then there are all those antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients…just eat them!  And if you can, do so regularly!

This particular recipe was in Bon Appetit not too long ago.  I deviated from it as usual, but rest assured that whatever variations you bring to the dish will surely be successful.  The stars of this show are the beans and the contrast of the apple salsa, so as long as those are full of love and flavor, this one will be a hit with almost everyone!  Even kiddies! (Vegetarians – seriously, omitting the chicken will not affect how delish this dish is!)

Pura Vida!

You’ll need:
for the rice and beans:
1 C brown rice, soaked in 2C water + 1T lemon juice overnight
1 C dried black beans, soaked overnight (alternatively, you could use 2 cans of organic black beans)
1 1″piece of kombu
1 bay leaf
4-6 C vegetable stock or water
1 large red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 t cumin seeds, toasted (optional on the toasting)
1/2 t ground coriander

for the chicken:
1 lb chicken (I like to use thighs and legs)

some fresh lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

sprinkling of ground cumin

for the salsa:
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
2 T cilantro, chopped (or more if you love it!)
2 scallions, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime (or lemon if you don’t have limes)
sea salt to taste

To make:

Preheat oven to 350.

1. Cook the rice- Add a pinch of salt and set on high heat until it reaches a boil. Then reduce to simmer and cover.  It should take about 40 minutes.  (Yes, you are cooking the rice in the same water it soaked in.)
2. Cook the beans- Discard soaking water and rinse beans.  Put beans in a pot with water (or stock), kombu and bay leaf over high heat until it reaches a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are tender.
3. Get the chicken in the oven- Once rinsed and dried, sprinkle with salt (be generous), pepper and some cumin and add lemon juice.  (Sometimes I add a touch of olive oil for good measure.)  Let roast in the oven until done, about 40 minutes depending on cuts used.
4. In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and add onions.  After about 5 minutes, add the garlic, cumin seeds and coriander.  Caramelize until tender and slightly browned.
5. When beans are done, add beans to onion mixture with just enough liquid as you would like.  Over low heat, let cook to allow the onions to soak the beans with flavor.  In the meantime, shred the chicken.
6. To serve- Place rice and beans on plate and top with shredded chicken.  Top that with the apple salsa and serve with extra lime wedges.
7. YUM!

P.S. There are ways to make this seemingly involved dinner easier such as using canned beans and buying a rotisserie chicken.  But to be honest, it takes me about 20-25 minutes to get everything prepped and cooking.  Once it’s on the stove/in the oven, dinner’s pretty much done;)