Monthly Archives: August 2012

Get Stocked!

Do you ever notice how the Food Network chefs recommend using homemade chicken stock when possible? If you check out Ina Garten’s cookbooks or watch Tyler Florence, you’ll quickly discover their recipes calling for ‘chicken stock, preferably homemade.’ Even if you’re not a fan of the Food Network, you may have heard the praises of homemade stock sung by non-celebrity chefs or family cooks. At first, if you’re like me, you may react with general indifference. Who really has the time? Who really has the chickens? The store-bought varieties must be close so why bother with ALL that work?

Well, you may be surprised just how simple making chicken stock is and how much better the taste can be. Sure, it takes a commitment upwards of four hours or more, but the resulting product really makes the simple work worth your time and effort. Okay, you might still be wondering about the chickens. The recipe I use (Alton Brown’s) calls for 4 chicken carcasses, and that’s a lot of chicken bits and pieces you may not have sitting around the house. There’s an easy solution to this problem! Do you ever buy rotisserie chickens at the grocery store? At our house, we love a rotisserie chicken. It’s quick, easy, and provides multiple meals fresh from the container or repurposed into chicken salad, soup, or enchiladas. Bonus! They can also fulfill the chicken stock base requirements. Once you’ve exhausted the chicken’s usefulness (ie. all that’s left are skin and bones), wrap up the leftovers in some aluminum foil and toss them in the freezer. Repeat this process until you have collected 4 chicken carcasses, about two months of grocery shopping for us.

Now that you have your chickens, all you need is a few vegetables, herbs, a bunch of water, and a big stock pot. I typically wait until I know I’m going to be around the house all day to make the stock because you do need to skim the film off the top of the boiling goodness every 15-30 minutes throughout the cooking process. I would post the recipe I like in my blog if I wasn’t concerned about copyright infringement and breaking the law. So, just pop on over to Alton Brown’s recipe (courtesy of the Food Network) for specific ingredients and instructions. I will say in advance that I have altered Mr. Brown’s recipe slightly. Before plopping the chicken carcasses into the stock pot, I roast them in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 350-degrees to wake up the bones and juices. I can’t really say what kind of difference this makes if any, but I figure the extra roasting can’t hurt. And don’t let the 14-hour and 30-minute time scare you off. I’ve successfully made chicken stock in as few as 4 hours using the same recipe.

When all is said and done, you will be stocked (ha, ha – very punny, I know). What might you do with a gallon or more of chicken broth? One of the obvious choices is to make chicken noodle soup. Believe it or not, a quart of homemade chicken stock also makes a great gift. Think about using chicken broth in place of water, too, because as Alex Guarnaschelli often says, “water does not add flavor.” This proves especially true in recipes where any extra bit of flavor helps, such as with any form of rice or rice-based dish. There are even recipes for French Onion Soup using chicken stock instead of beef stock. The possibilities are endless, and with a freezer full of such homemade yumminess, you may never go back to store bought chicken broth again.



My Minnesota Home (Conclusion)

Days 6-12 (6/29-7/5): When I began the project of sharing the wonderful experiences Bryce and I had on our road trip to and from Minnesota, I originally planned to blog a day-by-day recap in about one week. Well, it has been more than a month since we’ve returned to Harrisonburg, and I’m still a few blogs short of the intended 12-day ode to my Minnesota home. I haven’t even reached the half-way point. Fail. Rather than drag on the Minnesota-centric entries for another six weeks, I decided to wrap the story up in this one last post.

Friday morning of our first week in Minnesota, Bryce and I jumped back into the old Altima and left the bustle of the Twin Cities behind for the much more relaxed environment of my parents’ place in rural, western Minnesota. In just over two hours, we traded the interstate corridors for county roads and skyline for shoreline. Alexandria, Minnesota is one of those picturesque midwestern communities on the edge of the prairie – think “A Prairie Home Companion” – surrounded by farms, lakes, trees, and resorts. Looking back on my childhood, I realize I took the beauty and charm of the area for granted. I wanted nothing more as a teenager than to grow up and move out. Now, I treasure the time I get to spend at home with my family.

We arrived in Alexandria ahead of schedule, so my parents thought they’d surprise everyone by not sharing that information. When my sister (Amy), 5 year-old niece (Monroe), and 3 year-old nephew (Sully) showed up early that same afternoon, they were just as ecstatic to see us as we were them. The little ones ran in to give us hugs, and once things calmed down a bit, Monroe put her hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me, “I’m happy you’re here.” My heart melted at that very moment, and I could not have been happier to be home in Minnesota.

Over the next few days, we spent all our time with the family. Friday night we headed ‘into town’ for drinks, karaoke, and more batter-fried cheese curds with my mom (Carrie), brother (Brad), sister (Melissa), her husband (Rick), recent high-school graduate nephew (Jordan), all-growed-up niece (Brittani), her beau (Blayne), and several friends we’ve made over the years while singing our hearts out at karaoke. We spent Saturday afternoon with Amy, her husband (Jim), Monroe, Sully, and my dad (John) tooling around Lake Mary on a rented pontoon. Bryce and I then took Monroe and Sully to see ‘Brave’ in the local movie theater later that day and came back to a campfire cookout for dinner, complete with s’mores for dessert. Yum! The entire clan met up at my parents’ farmhouse Sunday to celebrate Brittani’s 22nd birthday. Yikes, I’m old! We consumed our weight in homemade tacos (shells and all), guacamole, and Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake before fulfilling our promises to Monroe and Sully to have a water balloon fight. Though, I must confess, we utilized buckets of water and the hose in addition to the water balloons. The greatest part of Water Wars I? Everyone participated, bringing our glorious family weekend in Alexandria – one of the best we’ve ever had – to a bittersweet close.

Monday afternoon we bade our family good-bye as we left the countryside for the metropolis once more. We returned to St. Paul just in time to catch a concert hosted by One Voice Mixed Chorus (for which Bryce was the guest conductor the fall before we moved to Virginia). If you are presented by an opportunity to attend a OneVoice concert, my advice is to take advantage as soon as you can. The chorus works hard to build community in the Twin Cities, creates awesome music, and definitely deserves your support.

Bryce and I then made our way to the Burggraaff residence, our friends’ home in Rosemount, where we finished out our stay in Minnesota enjoying great company, delicious food, and top-notch wine. The Bruggraaffs (Maggie, Dave, Mazie, and Addie) play host to us often, and we appreciate their endless hospitality. Maggie and I became fast friends while in college at the University of Minnesota Duluth. On many occasions, we skipped boring classes to go out for much more exciting meals. I know she blames me and calls me a bad influence, but I didn’t ever have to twist her arm too hard. Besides, we wouldn’t be the friends we are today if it weren’t for those seized opportunities to share a meal.

For lunch on the Fourth of July, we met up with Karly and Dustin at The Cheesecake Factory, friends we made while I worked there. I know, I know. Another chain restaurant. I’m not ashamed to admit, though, that I enjoy the food at The Cheesecake Factory (they serve some of the best hamburgers, no joke), and Bryce and I dine there when given the chance. And, we don’t always order cheesecake. Is that a crime? On a completely unrelated side note, do you ever meet someone and feel as though you’ve been friends for years? That’s how I describe the friendship I built with Karly. It’s like we already knew each other before we met. The world works in mysterious ways, and I’m glad it brought us together.

As the day burned on, and I mean burned – another 100+ degree scorcher, we stayed indoors. Maggie cooked an amazing BBQ Rib dinner which we devoured before watching fireworks. Due to the excessive heat coupled with our impending drive back to Virginia the next morning, we decided to forego the local Minnesota fireworks for the ones broadcast on TV from our nation’s capitol. When you think about it, watching the capitol fireworks in Minnesota was slightly backwards and a little funny since Bryce and I now live just two hours outside of Washington, D.C. You might say we drove half-way across the country to watch some nearby fireworks. But that would be a gross understatement, because the fireworks were the least important thing we did. More importantly, we celebrated our family and friends in the best ways we know how – by spending time together, sharing meals together, and enjoying the best my Minnesota home has to offer.

Pictures courtesy of Bryce. 🙂