Showing posts with label cooking class. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking class. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cooking class: Chicken stock

Good stock is the foundation of flavor for any good soup. If you ask most folks where stock comes from, they'd say the grocery store. And for too many folks, this is the truth. Stock isn't too hard to make, and it uses the whole chicken.The ingredient that seems to be the greatest limiter is time. I tend to do my longer cooking projects on the weekend, but if even that it asking too much of your schedule, try making your stock in the slow cooker. You start the stock after dinner and it is ready before work the next morning!

My dad is the best soup maker. Immediately following thanksgiving dinner, he is working on his stock. All of the extra meat is removed from the turkey bones and set aside. Once the stock has simmered for a few hours, he will set the pot on the back porch to cool. This draws the fat to the surface and allows it to be skimmed off easily.

Chicken Stock
  • Bones and left-over bits from 1 or more roasted chickens or turkeys
  • 1-2 onions - no need to peel
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic - no need to peel
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and chopped into a few chunks
  • 2 carrots, chunked
  • Herbs, if you wish: parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Fresh and dried are both just fine
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a large pot, add the chicken carcass and bit. Add your veggies and herbs. Add enough water to barely cover everything and bring to a boil.
  2. For the first hour, occasionally skim off any gunk that come to the surface occasionally. Continue to simmer for another 2-3 hours and then let cool. 
  3. Pour broth through cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer to remove all solids from your broth.
  4. As for storage, we tend to use quart jars. Pinterest has many more ideas though - muffin tins, ice-cube trays, plastic quart freezer bags, etc. Think about what you will use the stock for and see what makes sense for your kitchen. Make sure to label and date your stock. 
These veggies are flavor!
Use the whole chicken

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cooking class: How to roast a chicken

The thought of a roast chicken dinner can bring to mind a Norman Rockwell lickity split. It is a bit old fashioned in today's cooking that tends to focus on boneless skinless chicken breasts, and it is a meal that intimidates many, but it doesn't need to!

Roasted chicken is delicious and is the beginning of several meals: a roasted chicken dinner with roasted vegetables, chicken stock and lemon chicken soup. By eating the entire chicken and using the bones to make broth, we waste less food and lower our "food-print".

Roasted chicken
  • 1 whole roasting chicken
  • flavoring - onion, garlic, lemon, herbs 
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Twine or skewers to truss the chicken
  1. Preheat oven to 425 and grease the dish you're going to bake the chicken in - I used a 16-inch cast iron skillet, but a glass baking dish or large casserole diss will also work beautifully. 
  2. Rinse your chicken and remove any odd globules of fat and any remaining pin feathers. Pat dry and place in prepared pan. 
  3. Stuff cavity of chicken with something flavorful - I used a quartered lemon, but onion wedges, fresh or dried herbs and whole garlic cloves are other good options. 
  4. Rub the outside with more flavor - I drizzled the chicken with olive oil and a seasoning blend that included rosemary and oregano. I also sprinkled on some salt and pepper. 
  5. Truss the chicken. The idea here is to tuck in the legs and wings so that the chicken is pulled together tightly. If the chicken isn't trussed, it may cook unevenly - parts will be dry and other parts under cooked. Most folks use string, but you can also try reusable skewers. 
  6. Place in the oven and bake for about an hour or until done. The chicken is done when juices from a slice into the bird run clear, the skin in crispy and well browned and a thermometer reads 165. 
  7. Remove the chicken from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing.
Note: I served my roasted chicken with roasted vegetables. About half way through cooking, I put a casserole dish with chopped sweet potato, potato, carrots and onions and roasted them right next to the chicken. 


Do you have left over chicken? Try cubing it and making it into my apple almond chicken salad and take it for lunch!

Save the chicken bones! We're going to use them to make chicken stock.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cooking class: Take chances, Get Messy, Make Mistakes

Cooking in any capacity can be intimidating. You might not know the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, how to know if a pear is ripe or how to safely hold a knife. Simple tasks such as chopping an onion, scrambling an egg or blending a smoothie may strike you with fear. But, what are you afraid of, really?

I have been cooking - recipes from books and my own creation - for as long as I could remember. When I was three I had a toy kitchen that my parents put it in a sunny spot in the yard. One afternoon I tried to cook noodles in the toy sink. I stirred the raw noodles in the sun-warmed water, but they were never ready to eat. Generally, my parents encouraged and fostered our creative pursuits, but even my mother was hard pressed to allow me to mix every condiment in the fridge when I asked her one afternoon.

There are many benefits to be had from developing even a basic cooking set of skills. Folks who cook and eat at home are likely spending less money and eating healthier meals. Kids who eat dinner with their parents regularly are at lower risk of obesity, more likely to do their homework, and are less likely to drop out from school. We remain in an economic downturn and many families have a tight budget. With the drought we've had this summer, food prices are going to shoot up. There is no time like the present to grab your spoon and jump in the kitchen.

"You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces -- just good food from fresh ingredients." -Julia Child

So, how do you learn how to cook? My mom did give me a fantastic foundation of practical skills - but more importantly, she fostered the confidence to try things that were new. The first time I baked chocolate chip cookies, I burnt every single one except for the last six. I was devastated, and thought that I’d never be able to bake. When my mom checked to make sure that the house wasn’t burning down, she encouraged me to try again. I very clearly remember the first cake that I made from scratch - I was puffed with pride down to my black converse shoes. If I hadn’t tried again, I would think, to this day, that I can’t bake.

Cooking, chopping vegetables, meal planning, baking - they're all skills that are developed over time with practice. You can't learn how to do something well, with confidence, until you practice. You didn't learn how to walk or crawl the first time, or the first several times, and cooking is no different. If you screw up, brush yourself off and try again!

As Miss Frizzle would say on The Magic School Bus,
“Take chances, Get Messy, Mistakes”.
Not all of your kitchen trials will be successful - but some will! The more you try, the more you learn, and the more confident you’ll become in your kitchen. Part of learning to cook is reading recipes from books and online, but that can only get you so far. Learning to cook is about the smell of banana bread when it is done, the sound of hot oil in the skillet and the change in color as onions sauté. You’ve got to try it to learn it!

We recently celebrated the would be 100th birthday of kitchen master Julia Child, and so I’ll end with some words of encouragement from her;
"Learn how to cook -- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun."

Reader Poll: Who taught you to cook? What is your most hilarious kitchen disaster?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cooking class: the principles of pumpkin

How do you eat seasonably in the winter?

You store the produce when it is ripe. Today's lesson: cooking pumpkins!

Last weekend I spend a glorious Sunday with three friends picking apples at Green Truck Farms in Markham Virginia. Four girls, one zip car, an iPod full of tunes and before we knew it, we were taking in the glorious weather amongst the apple trees. I had never used the picking tool that we were provided, but it did make it easier to reach the fruit! But... I also had to climb the trees too (of course!)

The farm was not limited to apples - throughout the season they have blackberries and raspberries and the owner told me that they just planted 18,000 (eighteen thousand!) strawberry plants which will be producing fruit this spring. They also had a HUGE pumpkin patch with all sorts of pumpkins and other winter squash. I was originally scouting the field for a pumpkin to carve until I realized just how many different kinds of squash they had...and then my thoughts wandered to the kitchen.

I met Brian, the farmer, and he was able to help me distinguish between the carving pumpkins (edible, but not tasty) and the different "food" pumpkins - pie pumpkins are the little baby pumpkins, the reddish, disk shaped ones in the back are called Cinderella pumpkins and the bluish one is called a jarrahdale. All are winter squash, meaning their skin is tough and they will store well, as is, for several months. This is in comparison to summer squash, like zucchini and yellow squash which spoil quickly. 
As pretty as they are to look at on my table, I am thinking with my stomach and can't wait to try eating them. I tried three different ways to cook the pie pumpkins and have them documented to share with you.

I was curious just how many pounds of pumpkin I had purchased (when my friend dropped me off, she looked in the trunk and gasped.."tell me those are not all your pumpkins!", yes?)  but when I plopped  the small pumpkins on my bathroom scale they didn't register. So, I used the trick that comes in handy when you're trying to weigh a wiggly toddler - I weighed myself, weighed myself holding the pumpkin and subtracted the difference.

For any of these cooking methods, the start is the same. Wash off any dirt with water (no soap needed). Using a serrated knife, hack the pumpkin in half using a sawing motion. This is a good workout for arms, and a good stress reliever if you pretend the pumpkin is that person's head. You know who.

Using a heavy ice-cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out the seeds and guts until the cavity of the pumpkin is smooth. The seeds can be saved for roasting (healthy snacks!) or if the pumpkin is an heirloom variety, they can be saved for planting next year.

Method 1: the microwave

I cut the pumpkin into small wedges and tucked them into a large, glass, microwave-safe casserole dish with a lid. This felt like tetris getting all the pieces to fit. (If you don't have a casserole, try a large microwave safe bowl with a plate on top; should work just as well. But, keep your eyes peeled at the thrift store or garage sales for your own casserole dish). I added 1-2 cups of water and microwaved (with lid on) for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin was very soft when poked with a fork. I checked the pumpkin after 10 minutes and added on 5 minutes at a time until it was soft. Let cool until you're able to handle.

Method 2: the slow cooker

Take your pumpkin wedges and arrange in the slow cooker so that you can get the lid on. Add 2 cups of water, or enough to have about 1/2 of an inch of water in the bottom. Cover, and cook on low for 4-8 hours, or high 2-4 hours or until very soft. Every slow cooker is different, and it will depend on how thick the pumpkin flesh is and how big the wedges are. Poke with a fork - when very soft, they're done; spread out on a plate to cool.

Method 3: roasting in the oven.

Take large wedges and slice into smaller, more manageable slices. Using a very sharp chefs knife, cut the peel off the outside edge of each piece of pumpkin (you can also do this after the pumpkin is cooked - your choice!). Place on oiled cookie sheet and roast until soft. I added some salt and pepper to the roasted pumpkin (not to the slow cooker or the microwave). Your oven can be anywhere from 350-450. When are they done? You have three clues:
  • texture: the pumpkin is very soft when poked with a fork
  • smell: your nose will tell you something magical is happening in the oven
  • sight: the edges will brown a bit
My wedges that were about 1 inch wide took about 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Roasted! I tried peeling when raw and roasted and prefer cutting the raw pieces.

So you have some cooked what?

I pureed my pumpkin so that I can use it instead of canned pumpkin. I used a soup spoon to scoop the pumpkin flesh into a large bowl and then tried a potato masher and an immersion blender. If the pumpkin is really soft, the potato masher works just as well. If the pumpkin is a bit or firm, or is a bit stringy, the immersion blender works better. If you have a food processor or regular blender, those are good choices too. When the pumpkin is smooth, it is ready to be used in recipes or can be frozen for future use. I portioned 1-cup of puree into labeled zip top plastic bags. Expel any air, seal and stack. They take up minimal space in your freezer.

Another option? Baby food: freeze in an ice-cube tray and you have baby-sizes portions to thaw out for your little one.

Was cooking pumpkin three different ways super fast? No, but I enjoyed it. I was listening to the new Mumford and Sons album, hanging out with my roommate and thinking about my weekend on the farm. I'd spend my time in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV any day. Just think: if we cancelled our cable, used that money to buy vegetables and spent the spare time cooking, how much healthier would we be? 

Reader question: Do you have any ideas of how to store pumpkin puree without making more trash? I don't love using plastic bags, but these take up the least amount of space.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cooking class: how to hard boil eggs

I like to store boiled eggs in a mini loaf pan b/c it fits nicely in the fridge
Hard boiled eggs are a fantastic thing to have available in your refrigerator. They can be quickly peeled and sliced onto a sandwich, whipped up into an egg salad or simply dipped into some pepper and snacked on. The protein is very high quality and it is loaded with nutrients like choline and omega-3 fatty acids; both needed for healthy brains, nerves and moods.

Hard boiling is one (rare) case where we don't want the freshest eggs; fresh eggs are much harder to peel once boiled. Choose older eggs that have been in your fridge for a few days.
  • Place eggs in the bottom of a saucepan and add a splash of white vinegar
  • Cover eggs with water and cover; turn stove to high setting and bring to a boil
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes --or-- if you aren't in a rush, once eggs come to a boil, remove from heat let eggs cool on their own. By the time the water has cooled, eggs will be perfectly cooked
  • Place eggs in a bowl or bread pan and pop in the fridge. Don't put back in the carton because you won't know which eggs are raw and which ones are hard boiled.

Egg issue
Egg-cellent solution
Yolk is green after boiling
Boil for shorter time next time; green color comes from iron in the egg yolk. Safe to eat, just not very pretty
Egg is hard to peel
Eggs were (gasp!) too fresh; older eggs are easier to peel
Egg cracked during boiling
·         Add vinegar to boiling water to slightly soften the egg shells
·         Reduce heat to low; rapidly boiling water can jostle eggs too much causing them to hit the bottom of the pan

Lower heat when boiling to prevent cracking

Have your hard boiled eggs ready? Try my avocado egg salad. 

Pop quiz: which eggs are healthier; brown or white?
Answer: Neither; they just come from different breeds of hens. The nutritional quality of eggs depends on what the hens ate; hens that have a varied diet produce more nutrient dense eggs than those only eating chicken chow.

Most hens that produce eggs in this country aren't treated very well. Look for eggs at your farmers market so that you know the conditions in which those eggs were produced; you'll be supporting happier hens and get better quality eggs too. Or, raise your own. As Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm would say;  

"Replace the parakeet. Raise two chickens instead. They won't make as much noise, and they'll lay eggs."

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