17 Tips for Easy Homemade Broth

Chicken, vegetable, and other broths are some of the most versatile and easy-to-make staples in the kitchen. They turn a spent carcass or papery onion skins into one more meal– almost for free! Most importantly, homemade broth is dramatically superior to what you can buy in a can or box at the market, and without the additives and preservatives.

There are myriad ways to make great broth, and here are some tips from our kitchen.

Save bones and trimmings in the freezer. Keep separate bags for cooked and raw; different meats; and smoked or non-smoked, which impart flavors best for different dishes. Be sure to date your bags or containers, so you use the oldest first and within a few months of freezing.

Save veggies, too! Stick to aromatic leftovers, like onion skins and root, carrot ends and skin, celery trimmings, mushroom stems, pea pods, and corn cobs. Skins are the most nutritious parts of most vegetables, so broth salvages nutrients otherwise lost in peeling.

Season as you go. This can be contentious, but I’m a firm believer in producing a broth that’s immediately drinkable. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’ve got until the soup or dish is done. You can always omit salt from the final recipe. So salt the meat before cooking, salt the liquid, and adjust seasoning on the finished product. You don’t want “salty,” but you do want full flavor.

Sweat your meat and vegetables. The key is drawing out the flavorful juices from the meat, bones, and veggies. So if you’re using raw chicken, brown it in a little oil (or better yet, rendered fat) in the stew pot. Add the onions and brown those, too, then cover and sweat for 10 minutes over low heat. Don’t open the lid. At the end, the ingredients will be swimming in rich juices. Sweating is especially useful for a quick broth. If you’re using cooked meat or bones, or are making vegetable broth, sweat the onions– and mushrooms if you’re using fresh ones.

For a nice rich stock, break up the bones, keep it slow, and skim often. At the end of several hours over low heat, the resulting stock should turn to firm jelly when cooled. Skimming improves clarity.

For vegetarian broth, keep dehydrated mushrooms on-hand. Leftover stems are great, too. Fungi offer great umami and depth of flavor.

Don’t add garlic (until the end.) Garlic can turn bitter if cooked too long. Too much celery can do the same, as will brassicas, potatoes, and a number of other vegetables.

Plan ahead and vary flavors for different uses. For an Asian noodle soup I love to make, I add lemongrass and basil to the broth. For many others I add dried chilis or coriander. It’s a great way to inject flavor from something you don’t want winding up in your soup spoon, like a bay leaf.

On the other hand, for standard uses, stick to the basic recipe. I don’t add herbs or other special seasonings unless I know how I want my dish flavored. For basic chicken broth, I use chicken, onions, carrots, celery, peppercorns, and salt. That’s it.

Don’t peel your onions. Do wash them. When using whole onions, there’s no need to peel them since the skins have good flavor, too. Just chop them up like a potato before tossing in the pot. However, be sure to wash them since the outside can have germs and pesticides. On that note, for this use in particular, I highly recommend buying organic.

Grill the odd bits. If you remove the back or breastbone of the chicken when you’re piecing it, or if no one likes to eat the neck or giblets, cook them up anyway along with the parts for dinner. That way they’re ready to go for broth. Giblets and feet make great, flavorful broth. If your family isn’t into eating the offal, save them up in the freezer for this.

After skimming your broth, give the spent meat to the dog. Our dogs are always happy when I’m picking through the leftovers. They like the carrots, too.

Best of all, if you keep delicious homemade broth on-hand, whenever you’re sick (or hung over) it’s a piece of cake to make a lifesaving mug of spicy garlic broth. Nothing like it!

Dying Fabric with Berries

My husband and I married in a fun, lighthearted celebration on a grassy hill. I hand-stitched my own lacy gown, along with the bunting and other decor. Late in that perfect evening, while guests drank, danced, and played lawn games, I changed into a casual white sundress that I’d picked out a few days before.

During the night’s festivities, the dress was stained with who-knows-what (barbecue sauce? wine?), and, admittedly lazy launderer that I am, I never successfully removed the splotches. Yet over the years I have told myself I’d do something to salvage the garment and enjoy it again.

This week, as it so happened, I accidentally let a large bowl of wild berries and cherries go bad– I got to a couple batches of berry pancakes but never made the cobbler. Cringing at the thought of tossing them, I finally decided pull out my rumpled wedding dress and dye it pink.

Dying with Berries and Coffee Grounds

I filled a large pot with the 2 cups of blackberries, a handful each of raspberries and wild cherries, along with about 5 quarts of water. To achieve an earthier “dusty rose” hue, I tossed in a quarter-cup of coffee grounds.

Here’s the color I had in mind, from my daughter’s shirt:

I simmered the mixture for about 20 minutes, strained it, and returned the liquid to just boiling. Then I removed it from the heat and dunked in the white dress, saturating and turning it for even distribution, then covered and let it steep for about 10 minutes.

Using utensils, I placed the now-pink dress in a clean sink to gently squeeze the dye out. Then I dropped it into a bowl of cold water with a half-cup of dissolved salt and soaked it for another 10 minutes.

Finally, I again squeezed the dress out and hung it to dry. It held the color wonderfully, and I was very pleased with the hue, which lightened as it dried.

  

So if you’re inundated with blackberries or your strawberries grow mold, consider recoloring a blouse or dress rather than tossing them out! I’d rather wear pink than white, anyway. Many more dying experiments soon to come.

Shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

Making Mustard From Wild Seed

When the mustard flowers were flush and the fields bright yellow, we spared several patches when mowing for the benefit of the bees and butterflies. Then as the petals dropped and the plants grew brown and brittle, I decided to collect their seed and make the beloved condiment. My husband suggested making mustard a while back, and my retort was that mustard seed is more expensive than Grey Poupon! Not so with the gregarious wild stuff, though, so for the significant input of time, we yielded a worthy product. This mustard has the sweet, smooth flavor of dijon with the mouthy crunch of wholegrain brown. DSC02263 DSC02268 I gathered the dried stalks and crushed them over a flour sack towel to extract the dark brown and black seeds. Then I threshed and winnowed– the traditional practice of popping the seeds from their hulls and tossing into the air to allow the breeze to carry off the lighter casings. DSC02274 I continued to sift out brown matter over time, and for several weeks the jarful of seed sat and eventually made the trip with us to our new home. Finally, last week, I pickled the seed in vinegar and wine, then ground them into the final product. Overall, this project was time-consuming but pleasant, and the results were better than expected. To highlight its flavor with a celebratory meal, we rubbed a pork shoulder with mustard, brown sugar, and seasonings, then smoked it all afternoon. It sealed the success on another wild food project. Homemade Mustard 1-1/2 cups mustard seed 1/2 cup dry white wine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 1 t salt 1 t sugar Combine all ingredients in a jar and soak for a week in a cool, dark place. Then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor, including as much liquid as desired for consistency. Then refrigerate.

Pickled Cat’s Ear Buds

The population of edible plants growing from our driveway down to the creek and up the hillside is astounding and exciting– beyond the salad greens we eat almost daily to include vegetables for roasting and stir-frying, fermenting and pickling.

I have been topping our daily wild salads with dandelion buds for months, split in half to reveal their bright petal heart. Munched just atop the green leafy halo, they are sweet and palatable straight from the plant.

But as dandelion season wanes and now with an overabundance of cat’s ear shooting skyward, I knew I wanted to utilize them in a way that would aptly tame their bitterness. So I pickled a jarful. Among them I added the last of the dandelion buds as well as clusters of sow thistle and spiny sow thistle buds, all significantly less bitter than cat’s ear.

When gathering, keep in mind that all secrete a staining white sap, but cat’s ear is worst of all and will leave skin and clothing marked brown indefinitely.

Cat’s ear is widely mistaken for dandelion because their leaf rosettes are rather similarly shaped and their bright-yellow blossoms are indistinguishable from a distance (to the unfamiliar). Dandelion flowers tend not to stand as tall, nor are its leaves markedly furry as are cat’s ear. Both, however, vary greatly in their leaf-shape and size. Cat’s ear buds lack dandelion’s ring of small leaves just above the top of the stem.

Cat’s ear leaves on the left; dandelion leaves on the right for comparison.

   

The good news is that both are edible and highly nutritious. Cat’s ear buds along with the top several inches of stem are fantastically delicious cooked as asparagus– we roast them briefly with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Sow thistle and spiny sow thistle plants, for their due mention, are edible but unappetizing by appearance: one is armored with long spikes; the other is limp and milky. Their tiny drum-shaped buds, though, show the signs of palatability. They may be picked individually or in clusters.

Another important note for gathering edible wild buds: All of the above flowers open and then close into a bud form.  Only the pre-flowering stage is worth eating as the latter is turning to seed. Pick only tightly closed, blunt buds with no tip of yellow or browned petal clusters emerging at the end.

Pickled Wild Buds

This pickle yields a rainbow of flavors, from tangy to sweet to bitter at the end. The bitterness wanes over time, so if they are too bitter for your taste, let them brine for longer in the fridge. They are a nutritious snack and zippy addition to salads and sandwiches.

1-1/2 cups wild buds

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup water

2 T sugar or honey

1 T salt

10 whole black peppercorns

10 coriander seeds

1 dried hot chili, such as Thai chili — or — 1 t red chili flakes

3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

1 bay leaf

Rinse the buds in a colander to remove brown sap stain and any bugs. Drain. Then place in a clean canning jar.

Combine all other ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to a low simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Turn off immediately and cool to just-warm. Pour the contents over the buds and cool to room temperature. Seal with a lid (canning is not necessary). Place in the refrigerator for at least one week.

More wild food recipes for the weeds in your yard:

Superpowers of Stinging Nettles

Wild Greens with Polenta and Chutney Vinaigrette (And a Note on Foraging)

Sauteed Wild Mustard Greens with Dock, Garlic and Onions

Roasted Wild Mustard Buds

Eating Mustard Flowers

Meadow and Brown Field Mushrooms

Firsts Among Fungi

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

Making Plum Wine

 

After early blossoming, the plum trees already have surprisingly sizable fruit showing, and it has me thinking about last year’s wonderfully successful venture of country winemaking. Plum was my first attempt, and it’s been one of the best among apple, mint, nettle, pumpkin, mead, pomegranate mead, jujube, and rosehip.

Until last year, I was mostly unaware that wine can be made from pretty much any fruit or vegetable matter, from peaches to rhubarb, parsnips to zucchini, even nettles and flowers. And contrary to standard grape winemaking practices, the basics are, well, very basic.

Essentially: Prepare fruit or whatever you’re using; add sugar, yeast and (sometimes) water; ferment once; strain; ferment some more. There are other varying steps of straining or racking , boiling the fruit, and so on, depending on what your basis is, but for the most part, that’s the process.

The plum and other trees have faired poorly in the drought, and last year’s fruit failed to ever completely ripen.  The largest among them were tiny, greenish, and olive-like, many beginning to shrivel.

In spite of my husband’s skepticism, I picked the tree clean: six quarts of unappealing marbles. Then, while he was out of town, during our baby’s naptimes, I made them into wine.

Since  I gave absolutely no consideration to peeling and pitting the plums, I rinsed them and removed the stems, then dumped them into our 20-quart stainless pot. I poured in 14 quarts of water, then boiled them until they had plumped up like about-to-burst cranberries. I scooped many against the side to squeeze out the flesh, but didn’t bother with most. To my surprise, the aroma was wonderfully sweet and plummy.

I then waited a few hours, enough time to pop (start) the packet of liquid yeast that happened to have been sitting in our fridge and also have my husband purchase an enormous bag of white sugar. By then the plum mixture had cooled to room temperature, and I measured in 11 cups of white sugar and stirred it well to dissolve and aerate. Then I dumped in the yeast, stirred some more, covered it loosely, and set the pot on a large baking tray in an out-of-the-way place (a good choice, since it overflowed in a sticky mess as it fermented wildly).

I’d been worried that the yeast was too old to work properly, but after a day, the concoction came to life with frothy, foaming activity. It smelled lovely, and when I stirred it twice daily, a white fizz erupted from beneath the leavened plums.

Five days after cooking, the fermentation had slowed down slightly and I was excited to move along when my daughter went down for her afternoon nap. I filled a six-gallon brewing tub with no-rinse sterilizer solution and dropped in my stirring implements, strainers and syphoning hose. Then I syphoned the solution into a 5-gallon carboy.

Next, I scooped my plum must through a medium mesh strainer into the tub, pressing out liquid and depositing the solids into the chicken bowl (meanwhile wondering if the chickens would be staggering around with a buzz). I let the liquid sit overnight, covered.

In the morning, the surface looked like a freshly baked cookie.

At morning naptime, I again scooped the concoction through a strainer, our finer mesh conical style, and agitated it as the liquid slowly drained through leaving a saucy deposit that again went to the chickens. Then I added 10 more cups of sugar, the remainder of the 10-pound bag. I stirred it up and let that settle until afternoon naptime.

Finally, that afternoon, I syphoned the mix, keeping the hose below the surface but above the level of sediment at the bottom, into the carboy.

I racked the wine once more, after a month or so, then bottled it. The clarity had improved and the flavor was surprisingly marvelous– sweet, plummy, with well balanced alcohol. While I didn’t measure the initial potential alcohol and therefore could not measure the final product, I would guess by its effects that it contained as much as a strong zin: certainly a percentage in the high teens. When we drank it, we always used small glasses.

Plum wine was a wonderful inspiration that set me off into the world of country winemaking, and a fantastic lesson in the value of otherwise useless fruit.

Shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

Sloppy Joes From Scratch

We started making these as we worked through a supply of elk shared by my in-laws a few years ago. I was not raised on the canned mix that so many seem to recognize as a Sloppy Joe. In fact, I had my first one as an adult, made from a supermarket seasoning packet and whatever the recipe called for on the back. It was no life-changer, but I saw the potential that this meal can be more than a cheap, last-resort mess. Much more.

The great flavors stand up to even the gamiest of meats, and anything lean works well, from goat to venison to beef. Anything too fatty has to be drained very well. We enjoy things spicy in our home, but the sugars of this recipe take out a great deal of the bite, so taste often and adjust your seasoning– don’t be too intimidated by the chilies.

The Real Sloppy Joe

I like to serve these with a big green salad drizzled with a simple vinaigrette, or sometimes coleslaw. The recipe serves two and doubles well.

1 T vegetable or canola oil

1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine

1 jalapeño or 2 serano peppers, minced

3/4 Lb. ground elk or lean beef

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 t chili flakes

4 T ketchup

1-1/2 t Worcestershire sauce

1 T chili powder

1 1/2 T brown sugar

1/4 t salt

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

burger buns (something light and soft, like potato buns)

1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and pepper and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook while breaking it up well until no longer pink. Drain any excess fat as necessary.

2. Push beef to the outside of the pan, making a well in the center, and add the garlic and chili flakes. Crush with the wooden spoon for about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Then add the ketchup, Worcestershire, chili powder, sugar and salt. Stir to mix, then add 1/4 cup of water and mix again. If there is no excess liquid, add up to another 1/4 cup.

3. Reduce heat to a moderate simmer and let cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a sauce consistency, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

4. Heap half onto each bun to serve, or eat open-faced with a fork.

Homemade Hot Sauce

We have several bags of hot peppers in the freezer, which makes it easy to keep our favorite hot sauce on-hand.

This sauce has more than great kick– the flavor is well rounded and delicious. We use it on all sorts of foods in our home, from potatoes to tacos to scrambled eggs. Even our toddler loves it. It’s a piece of cake to make and would keep for many months but always gets used up long before it could ever go bad.

Wear gloves or use great caution with hand-washing when slicing the peppers, and use a fan or open a window while they’re cooking!

Hot Sauce Recipe

1 t neutral oil, such as vegetable or avocado

16 ripe (red) serano peppers, thinly sliced

2-3 habanero peppers, thinly sliced

1/2 large onion or 1 small onion, thinly sliced

5 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups water

1 t salt

1 t sugar

1 cup white vinegar

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high. Add the peppers, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the water, salt, and sugar. Adjust the heat to simmer for about twenty minutes, until the peppers and onions are soft and the liquid has greatly reduced. Cover and let cool for several hours or over night.

In a food processor, puree the pepper mixture. Slowly add the vinegar while running the processor. Taste and adjust the salt as necessary.

Put the sauce in a jar or bottle and allow it to age in the refrigerator for a week or more before using.

This post is featured at Natural Family Friday.