Easy Slow Cooker Chicken or Beef Stock

chicken stock

My favorite way to add extra flavor to any dish is to use chicken or beef stock anytime a savory dish calls for water.  Making your own stock is simple and gives you a much tastier result than store bought stock.  When you cook from scratch you control the quality of the ingredients.  With this recipe you get a low sodium stock.  If you find the stock lacking in flavor you can add extra garlic or a little bit of salt.  I normally will skip the salt and add it to my finished dishes as needed.

Easy crockpot chicken or beef stock

Ingredients:

  •         3 to 6 oz of cooked bones (chicken or beef)
  •         1 onion – leave the skin on the onion if you want a darker colored stock
  •         1 carrot
  •         3 cloves of garlic
  •         1 celery stalk

Instructions:

  1.       Remove fat skin and meat from the bones.  You don’t need to have perfectly clean bones, a little scrap of meat and fat here and there will add flavor.  You want the bones to come from cooked meat so this means you would use the bones from a roasted chicken or from bone-in steaks, roasts or beef ribs.  If you want to use raw bones it requires a little more work.chicken bones
  2.       Put bones in crock pot along with the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.
  3.       Fill crockpot to the top with water
  4.       Turn crockpot on high and let cook for 8+ hours.  The longer it cooks the more flavor you will get in your stock.  I will usually set this up after dinner and let it cook over night.  Do not cook longer than 18 hours or your bones will start to disintegrate.
  5.       Carefully pour stock through a mesh strainer into a large bowl.bowl of chicken stock
  6.       Let come to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight
  7.       Using a spoon, scrap the excess fat that has floated to the top and solidified
  8.       Now your stock is ready to use.
  9.       Storage:  Refrigerated stock needs to be used within 3 days.  Frozen stock will be good for 6 months.  I freeze my stock in an ice cube tray and then put all of the cubes in a gallon size storage back in the freezer.  When adding stock to a recipe 8 ice cubes is about 1 cup.

Ice cube tray of chicken stock

Ice cube trays are my preferred tool for storing liquids.  It gives you about a 1 oz portion per cube and allows you to utilize your freezer space a bit better than if you were freezing cup portions in plastic containers.  I’ve tried using portion bags in 1/2 cup size and the bags tend to leak a bit prior to freezing completely.  They don’t fit into my door compartments as easily as the cubes and sometimes you want less than 1/2 cup.

chicken stock ice cubes

I am always using chicken or beef stock in my cooking.  Here are some simple preparations using the stock:

Brown Rice – 1 cup dried brown rice, 1 ½ cups chicken or beef stock, ½ salt, 1 Tablespoon dried thyme.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Barley – 1 cup rinsed barley, 3 cups chicken or beef stock, ½ salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Marsala Cream Sauce – Chop 1 clove of garlic and 1 shallot, fry in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil for 3 minutes, add ½ cup marsala wine and cook for 5 minutes, add 1/3 cup heavy cream and ½ cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes.  This sauce is great on scallops, pork and chicken.

White Wine Cream Sauce – Chop 1 clove of garlic and 1 shallot, fry in a skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil for 3 minutes, add ½ cup white wine and cook for 5 minutes, add 1/3 cup heavy cream and ½ cup chicken stock and cook for 10 minutes.

Chicken Soup – Combine 2 chopped celery stalks, 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped onion and 2 Tablespoons of olive oil into a stock pot over medium heat.  Stir occasionally for 5 minutes.  Add 6 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper.  Cook over medium heat until veggies are tender.  Add cooked noodles right before serving if desired.

 

Why I make my own baby food

Homemade Baby food

Baby food seemed like one of those things that you just have to buy, because how else would your baby get solid foods?  When my baby was ready to start exploring solids, which we knew because she started opening her mouth like a baby bird when ever we were eating, I started out with a couple of jars of the pureed baby food.  I spent about $0.80 per 2 oz jar or $0.40 per oz of blended green beans.  They didn’t taste that good.  You might think that I’m weird for tasting the baby food, but I don’t want to feed my daughter anything that I’m not willing to at least try.  Anyway, after the first couple jars of food I started to see all of the empty jars in our future, and all of the money that we’d be wasting on expensive blended vegetables.  I started to do a little research on how to make your own baby food.  I was surprised to see that it was quite simple to put a meal for baby together with the equipment that I already had.

A lot of the veggies I’m buying are around $0.99 per lb and will make about 16 oz of food or $0.06.  If my baby is eating 8 to 12 oz of food per day this means that we save $2.72 to $4.08 per day or $81.60 to $122.40 per month.

What you need:

Food – We started with sweet potato, green beans, and peas when she was about 5 to 6 months old.  Now that she is around 8 months old we also give her lentils, zucchini, yellow squash, barley, potatoes, beans, and yogurt.zucchini

Something to cook the food in – a pot with boiling water, a steamer basket or the microwave has been used for several of our different baby food preparation sessions.

Something to process the food – You can use a food mill, food processor, or blender.  I have a Nutra-bullet because – hey I like smoothies (and other blended drinks) so this is what gets used to blend the baby food 90% of the time, mainly because it’s easier clean up than the food processor.  You can smash the food with a fork if you have a truly minimalist kitchen, you might need to peal your veggies if you’re using that method.

Zucchini waiting to be blended

Something to store the food in – We have little glass dishes that hold about 4 oz of food.  I like using the glass dishes because they’re safer to microwave than plastic and you can easily see what is in them.  I also freeze extra baby food in ice cube trays so that I only need to make baby food once every 2 or 3 weeks.  I like being efficient with my time and think batch cooking is a life saver.

Baby food in ice cube trays

Things that I’m figuring out while feeding my daughter:

I’m not afraid to give my baby texture.  I’m a believer that exposing a child to a variety of different colors, flavors and textures will help them keep an open mind in the future.  We shall see how my theory works out since I’m mostly flying by the seat of my pants right now as a first time parent.  I hear that kids don’t get picky about food  till they’re about one year old – so we shall see 🙂  Right now we mix shredded chicken into vegetables, we have lentils with chopped up carrots, onion and celery (which she loves) and I’m starting to chop foods into small bits instead of blending everything.

Gagging will happen, this is different from choking.  I don’t leave my baby unsupervised while she’s eating.  But if she starts to gag a little bit I let her work through it and only hook a finger in her mouth if it goes on more than a few seconds.  I try to stay calm when things like this happen so that I don’t startle my child.

Before we started feeding solids I wanted to try baby led weening.  As we all know, things don’t always happen as planned.  My baby doesn’t really put things in her mouth, which is awesome when there is dirt on the floor but not so awesome when I want her to put some beans in her mouth.  So we are using a spoon and when she gets tired of the spoon, and wrestles it away from us to happily bash on the high chair tray, she eats food from our fingers.  This is more of a ‘go-with-the-flow’ technique than any sort of baby feeding method.  It’s working for us so we’ll continue to flow.

Holiday Wreath for under 5

Wreath pin
Nothing makes your home look more festive than some holiday decorations. A classic way to show your holiday spirit is with a fancy pants wreath for your front door or window. I wanted to create a wreath that could be easily modified for the season. I chose red and white for this wreath because those are two colors that will sync up with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day & 4th of July. I picked up all of the materials for this wreath at the dollar store but you can find similar prices on Amazon.

Materials:

10 yards of Decorative Mesh Ribbon 6 inches wide, or 5 yards of 2 different colors

1 Wire Wreath Frame

3-6 yards of foil garland

 

 

Step 1: Take your wire frame and paint it the same color as the lightest deco mesh that you are using. This reduces the appearance of the wire through the mesh. Spray paint is easiest but you can also use craft paint.

wire wreath

Step 2: Once the paint is dry cut 10 inch pieces of either embroidery or crochet thread and tie the strings to the wire frame. Use a color that matches one of the colors of your mesh ribbonYou want to alternate using the inner and outer parts of the frame to allow the colors to spread.

Step 3: Take the end of your deco mesh and thread your string through the end. Tie it securely against the wire frame.

Step 4: Gather the deco mesh and pinch it to create a loop in the ribbon.

pinch

Step 5: Tie the ribbon to the metal frame using a square knot.

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Step 6: Continue gathering the ribbon and securing it along the metal frame. For this wreath we used an alternating pattern going from the inner > middle > outer > middle > inner > etc

start gathering

Step 7: Once you have gone around the wreath frame secure the other end of the mesh ribbon by threading the string through the ends of the ribbon. Repeat with your other colors. For this wreath we went around about 4 times.

coming together

Step 8: Once you are finished tying on your ribbon, clip the excess string.

Step 9: Attach one end of your foil garland to the back of your metal wreath frame.

finishing touch

Step 10: Wrap the foil garland around the wreath and attach the other end to the metal wreath frame.
finished wreath

Establishing Good Habits

It’s a new month and a clean slate.  My little one is on the verge of crawling so now more than ever do I want to keep my house in order so that I can spend my time watching her learn and grow instead of worrying about her putting random things in her mouth.

I break up every cleaning task into small twenty minute sections.  Vacuuming all the carpets in my house?  20 minutes.  Doing the dishes?  20 minutes.  Cleaning the toilet and scrubbing the tub?  20 minutes.  Doing chores with this mindset helps me stay motivated because I’m not investing a lot of time to make my house look awesome.

I’ve found that maintaining a clean house each day is a lot easier than waiting till the end of the week and cleaning like crazy for a few hours. I’ve gotten in the habit of doing some light picking up while spending time with my daughter.  I’ll talk to her but I’ll also be putting things away at the same time.  This makes cleaning seem like less of a chore and just more of something that I do as I walk around the house.

Habits that I established in May:

– Make the bed every morning
– Do a load of laundry in the morning when the basket is full
– Sort through mail immediately when I get home
– Pick up everything off the floor every evening
– Water the plants every day

Goals for June:

Career
– Study for CMA for 1 hour for 3 times a week
– Seek out new clients for 30 min once a week (I’m hoping to pick up some work doing some freelance bookkeeping/accounting for small businesses)

Organization
– Post 1 item to sell per day on craigslist/facebook/ebay (I have a lot of yard sale stuff left in the garage)
– Organize one area for 20 min every week
– complete 2 cleaning tasks per day (laundry, dishes, floors, dusting, counters, landscaping, etc)

Me Time
– 30 min of exercise per day
– 1 hour of general me time to relax, read, blog, etc.
– Spend time outside each day with the baby, weather permitting

Community
– Check my towns Buy Nothing Group pending list once a day (I’m an admin)
– Check our towns website for events and add to calendar at least once a month

This list looks a bit overwhelming in it’s current form so I’m trying to break it up into manageable chunks.  For example, if I post 7 things on Craiglist on Sunday then I don’t need to worry about it the rest of the week.  I’m also trying to use my google calendar to organize my life a bit more.  I’ve been putting my appointments and commitments in there already so I’m going to see how I like using the “goals” function that it offers.  It might be TOO much scheduling but I’ll see how it goes this month.  I’m committed to at least trying it out.

They say it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a habit which is exactly how many days are left in the month.  I’ve gotten in the habit of exercising before but don’t stick with it for longer than a few months.  Don’t we all wish we could be super devoted to our health?  I know I do.  We shall see how this latest clean slate motivates me.

Exploring Bread Making

home made bread

Baking bread has been one of those elusive skills for me (like keeping plants alive)  It doesn’t seem that hard to do, since I can follow instructions pretty well.  And yet, when I try to make bread it just doesn’t turn out how I imagined.

I already figured out that one of my problems was the type of flour that I was using.  Bread flour has higher protein content then all purpose flour.  Ah!  Science!  I can understand that!  The protein allows the gluten to develop in the dough.  Gluten is what is produced when the yeast does its magic and what gives bread its chewy texture.  This all makes sense.  My previous attempts at bread making yielded some crumbly spongy weird bread.

Like any ambitious amateur baker I sought out some information from people that new what they were talking about.  Off to the library!  I found My Bread by Jim Lahey, he has a way of explaining the basics that clicked with me.  His method of creating a tasty loaf of bread promised to be less muss and fuss than the traditional kneading and rolling techniques.  You pretty much mix all the ingredients together to make kind of a doughy soup.  You cover and wait a long time.  He recommends 18 hours but for me it was closer to 24 because of work.

bread dough rising

 

Once the blob of bubbles and flour had morphed into a alcohol-smelling-thing I scrapped it out of the bowl with a spoon and formed my round blob that would very soon bake into my loaf of bread.

The finished loaf of bread

I set my oven to a temperature super hot and it started to smoke a bit.  I have a large dutch oven and that served as the “inner oven” for the loaf of bread.  This part is pretty genious since it allows you to have a more controlled temperature.  The way ovens normally heat is they will kick on and raise the temperature and then it will fall to a certain point and then the oven will kick on again.  So the temperature normally fluctuates which is fine for most cooking but not so good for bread I imagine.

home made bread

I am pretty pleased with the end result of this baking experiment.  My husband even liked it, and I know he won’t sugar coat it if something I make doesn’t turn out quite right.

Here is the recipe I used for this bread.  If you want more detailed direction check out Jim Lahey’s book My Bread.  This book also gave me my latest pizza dough recipe.  I’ll be checking this one out from the library again soon.

Ingredients:

3 cups (400g) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoon (8g) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1g) dry active yeast
1 1/3 cup (300g) cool water
additional flour for dusting

Instructions:

  1. In large bowl combine dry ingredients and mix.  Add water and stir for 30 seconds. Cover bowl and wait 12-18 hours.
  2. Dust work surface with flour and scrape dough out of bowl.  Pull edges of the blob to the center to create a round blob. Sprinkle with flour.
  3. Cover with cotton dish towel and let raise for 2 more hours.  30 minutes prior to the end of this time preheat your oven to 375 and place a large dutch oven, my 6 quart dutch oven seemed to be the perfect size.
  4. Remove dutch oven from oven and carefully invert the dough into the pot seam side up.  Cover and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove lid and bake for additional 10-30 minutes until bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt.

I was surprised how little yeast was needed for this recipe.  A packet of yeast is about 2 teaspoons.  A big part of why so little is needed is the amount of time you let the dough rise.  18 hours is the longest that I’ve seen in a recipe.  Bread making is a time commitment.  Most of the work is in the waiting.  If you will be around your house for a few hours while the dough goes through it’s second rise and baking, it is well worth the time invested.

The Price of home made bread:

bread flour – (Assuming you purchase a 5lb bag for $3.99, you can get this cheaper from a bulk supplier) = $0.77
salt = $0.02
dry active yeast (Assuming you purchase a 2lb bag for $4.94) = $0.01
electricity to run the oven = $0.16

Total for this loaf of bread = $0.96

I’ll definitely be making this recipe again.  Happy baking!

Starting My Backyard Garden #3

My garden is really starting to come together since I started my first 2 little plants a month ago.  I have planted the peas outside against a makeshift trellis made out of wooden stakes and embroidery thread (I might need to redo this if it doesn’t hold up).  I planted some green onion, kale, and lettuce directly into the ground and they are just starting to come up.  I have one lettuce plant from the first bit of plants I put outside.  That guy is scrappy!  Hey I’ll take it!

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I started green beans last week and they look amazing.  I’m trying to decide if I want to put them in a planter on my deck and let the plants grow up along the railing, or clear more space in my flower bed and set up another trellis.  I’m leaning towards the easier route.

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My tomatoes…still look a bit sad.  How long are they supposed to stay in the seedling phase?   At the suggestion of a reader I added a heat lamp above my egg carton seed starters and have been keeping it on while I’m at home and turning it off during the work day because I’m a bit weary of fire hazards.  It’s been over a month and they’re not really growing.  I’m almost ready to throw in the towel and get some slightly more mature plants from the store.  I’ve tried growing tomatoes in the past and haven’t had much luck.  In fact, I’ve never gotten a single tomato from any plants that I’ve tended.  I’m working hard to make sure this is the year that I’ll grow something edible!  Wish me luck!

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Two plants that grow like weeds outside of my house are chives and mint.  I planted chives in a planter box about 6 years ago and they keep coming back every year.  This is great news for my potato loving self.  This mint grows everywhere in my back yard.  It is all over my flower beds and growing up between the paving stones of my patio.  What do I do with so much mint?  All I can think of is tea.

 

I’m so glad that several of the things I’ve planted are still alive and look like they might give us some stuff to eat!  I’ve made a habit of turning on the sprinkler and setting a timer for 20 minutes in the evening.  I just need to keep at it and visualize green.

So what should I do about these tomatoes?  Should they go in the ground like this?  Should I just call it a day and accept that there will be no red fruit in my gardening future?  Let me know what you think!

Happy Memorial Day!

Today is a low key day for us.  Daycare is closed and we are both off from work so we’re having a family day.  This weekend has been full of BBQs, yard sales and just enjoying the weather up until today where it’s rainy.

I found this metal wreath from the dollar store and wanted to use it on my front door.  I found some red, white and blue decorations and put this together. This cost me about $4 all said and done.  Have a happy holiday!

finished wreath

Starting My Backyard Garden #2

I started my seeds for my backyard garden a few weeks ago and they are doing well, as in they are still alive!  I am not known for my green thumb so this is a huge accomplishment for me.  I planted a new egg carton with Green Beans.  I hope to have another egg carton empty by the end of the week to start some Kale.    I’ve been rotating the cartons so that they grow evenly and not just leaning one direction.

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The tomatoes look a little sad.  I’m hoping that they continue to grow and remain green.  I have tried to grow tomatoes in the past but haven’t had much luck with them giving me any fruit.

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The peas are looking awesome!  I’ll be transplanting these outside pretty soon.  It says on the seed packet that they need support so my plan is to run some string between two stakes and have them lean against that.  I’m just hoping that we don’t have any more frost after this weekend.  Wish me luck!

Seedlings in Egg Cartons

I was shopping at the dollar store yesterday and saw that they were selling seeds for $0.25 each packet.  So naturally I thought, what a small investment to possibly bulk up my garden.

I had some left over egg cartons that I re-purposed into my seedling starters.  If I can avoid buying something new and adding to my personal carbon footprint I’m all for it.  Plus, if I’m reusing something that I already have that’s saving me money and scratching that frugal itch that I have.

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I started some Pea and Tomato plants in some seed starter soil.  I had the soil on hand from a couple years ago.  If I didn’t have the special soil then I probably would have just dug some up from the garden or back yard.

The first plants that I started this year I just threw a whole packet of lettuce seeds in a pot and started watering.  This time I’m separating the seeds into the individual cups to help facilitate easier transplanting.  I think I might have killed my lettuce when I transplanted them outside last weekend.  I’m still watering them and crossing my fingers that they will survive.  So far they are looking pretty pathetic.

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I have 6 more variety of seeds to plant.  I’ll either need to eat more eggs or sow my seeds directly outside.  I’ll probably do a variety of both and see how it goes.  This gardening thing seems like one big science experiment to me.

 

Starting My Backyard Garden

Over the past 10+ years of adulthood I’ve dabbled in growing things.  As in plants in a pot that I water (when I remember to) and edible food stuff grows!  I’ve had moderate success with simple herbs like chive and parsley.  One year I tried to grow tomatoes and that was just a disaster.  I think I had the wrong kind of pots and the soil didn’t drain well so it was just a big vine sitting in water that gave me no produce.  Well this year will be different!   This is the year where I get some food from the earth.  I will turn my sweat and tears into something I can put on the dinner table!

I finally found the time to clear out  one of my flower beds along the back side of my house.  It’s funny that I was too busy or couldn’t be bothered to do this before when I was a carefree, childless adult.  But now that I have a baby and should technically have less time to garden, I’m making it a point to find the time.  I guess my priorities have shifted.

I didn’t do my normal amount of research before starting my plants.  I took a small pot, added dirt, seeds and water and set it up on the window above my kitchen sink.  Amazingly I remembered to water the pots.  In the past I have killed many plants through neglect.  Perhaps it’s the new Mommy instincts kicking in.  So I had a pot of lettuce seedlings growing on my window and yesterday I cleared out the flower bed and planted the lettuce.  I separated the little green leaves and planted them in 2 rows along the back of my house.

This could be another disaster.  There are so many things that could go wrong with a garden.  I could forget to water the plants.  Rabbits, bugs and other critters could eat the plants.  It could rain too much and my plants could drown (that happens, right?)

I’m starting off small this year with lettuce, basil, chive, green onions and a couple of tomato plants.  I do have grand plans of gardening in the future and hopefully being able to grow a lot of food.  But for now, I think I’m better off only planting what I can handle.  Cross your fingers and send me your positive thoughts as I try not to  kill these plants.