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!

Advertisements

Quick & Easy Breakfast: Huevos a la Campesina

One of my husband’s and my favorite eateries from our college town is a Mexican breakfast joint where the walls are adorned with colorful paintings and the same friendly trio crowds behind the counter each morning. The food is so good our “usuals” migrated across the scrawled, wall-mounted menu: the best chilaquiles on the planet, topped with house-pickled jalapeños; huevos rancheros swimming in fresh salsa; Frisbee-sized blackberry pancakes mounded with whipped cream.

My go-to on most days, whether between afternoon classes or on a hung-over Sunday morning, was their version of huevos a la campesina.

When we’re unable to drop into one of the rickety mismatched chairs of our favorite campus café, we make this dish at home. It’s as fast as plain scrambled eggs, ten times as delicious, and it only calls for a few scoops of whatever salsa is hanging around the fridge and even the stalest tortilla chips from the back of the pantry.

I whip up a few eggs in a bowl while heating a skillet. When it’s nice and hot, I add some oil– coconut, vegetable, whatever– and coat the entire bottom and sides of the pan to prevent the eggs from sticking. Then I pour in the eggs. While they sizzle and begin to solidify, I loosely crumble in a good handful of tortilla chips and start stirring it up. A few seconds later as the eggs start to come together, I drop in a few scoops of salsa and keep stirring it up until the eggs are cooked.

The whole shebang takes a couple of minutes. No seasoning is necessary because of the salt in the chips and the flavors of the salsa. A sprinkle of grated cheddar or crumbled queso fresco is great but totally optional. I typically eat them with pickled jalapeños and a dollop of sour cream if I have it on-hand.

This is the perfect simple breakfast for a crowd, on busy mornings, or whenever chips and salsa are hanging around from the night before.

No-‘Poo Hair Care

I’m now four months shampoo-free and in love with the results! My hair has never been so soft, frizz-free, quick-drying and easy to brush out. It feels healthier, and if I do say so myself, it looks great.

Shampoo and conditioner were the last products in my shower rack loaded with carcinogenic chemicals. After a year and a half of struggling with acne–brought on initially by pregnancy hormones, and persistent after my daughter’s birth–I ditched the half-dozen expensive facial cleansers that seemed to sustain my skin woes and against all advice began to use our homemade soap on my face. The results were almost instantaneous– finally, clear skin. Add to that the knowledge that I was saving money and sparing my body the exposure to the proven toxins in bath and body products, I couldn’t be happier.

My hair is very, very thick, coarse, and wavy. Since I don’t blow-dry, washing it means hours of wet-head, and if I dare to put it up in a pinch, it will stay wet easily all day long. When I used to blow-dry, the process took at least 45 minutes to an hour and resulted in ultra-frizz. Even washing takes forever. Since I dread it so much, I wash about every 4 to 7 days.

The thought to try out an alternative hair care came late last fall. As cold weather set in, dry scalp was another annoying issue that I hoped a new method would solve. Fortunately, it was. I read an article in Tree Hugger about a baking soda and cider vinegar treatment, and I gave it a shot. With a few modifications, it’s what I do to this day and foresee no change. I’m hooked.

The moment the vinegar goes into my hair, I can hardly describe the silk. I can run my fingers through the coarse locks instantly, and combing is totally optional.

Here’s what I do: We keep a bottle full of cider vinegar in our shower rack, as well as an enameled metal camping mug. We keep a box of baking soda in a bathroom cupboard. When I’m planning to wash my hair, I grab the mug and shake about a tablespoon of baking soda in (that’s for my heavy-duty hair; my husband uses about a teaspoon). Then I put it back on the shower rack. When my hair is wet, I fill the mug– right under the shower head, so it gets mixed well– with about a cup of water and swirl it around to be sure none is stuck to the mug. (Reminder from third grade: residual baking soda + vinegar = volcano!) I squeeze a bit of water out of my hair to help absorb, and pour the baking soda right onto my scalp. I scrub a bit with my fingers, then rinse really well.

Next I add about 2 tablespoons of vinegar. (Again, considerations for hair quantity.) I mix with another cup or cup-and-a-half of water, give my hair another squeeze, and pour it over. I let it just drip down into my hair, then rinse immediately. Yes, it smells like vinegar at first. Expect it, and you’ll get over it fast. It doesn’t bother me at all. And run your fingers through and you’ll forget the smell. After a good rinse, there is zero residual odor, I promise.

When I do have any dry scalp or flakiness, the solution is simple. About an hour before I am going to wash my hair, I rub about a teaspoon or so of coconut oil into my scalp and give it a good brush to distribute and open the pores. Then I proceed as usual. Results are immediate.

It takes about five weeks for the natural scalp oils to regain their rhythm, which better prevents frizz. In the first couple of weeks, I used a tiny amount of coconut oil rubbed into my fingers to tame the fluff. It can be done wet or dry. But when I applied it wet, it tended to be uneven– some areas still fluffy, others visibly oily. Once the natural rhythm of oils returned, my hair stopped looking greasy, no matter how long I go without washing.

My new hair regimen is incredibly affordable. An 80-cent box of baking soda and few-dollar gallon bottle of cider vinegar goes a long way. And the coconut oil I’ve used regularly has amounted to probably a tablespoon or two at most. Plus, all ingredients are always on-hand at all times, at least at our house.

This post was shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

Comfort Food: Split Pea and Ham Soup

Split pea and ham is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s rich, delicious, and easy to make. It also uses the inexpensive ham hock and a short list of ingredients we usually have on-hand, so it’s a very cheap meal with plenty of leftovers.

The sugar in this recipe caramelizes the juices of the vegetables, perfectly offsetting the salty-smokiness of the ham, and creating a heart-warming comfort food. The vinegar brings a brightening acid.

Split Pea and Ham Soup

2-1/2 Lbs smoked ham hock, whole

4 qts water

1 bay leaf

1 T neutral oil, such as vegetable or avocado

2 large yellow onions, chopped medium

3 ribs of celery with leaves, sliced 1/4-in. thick

3 carrots, sliced 1/4-in. thick

1 T sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 Lb split peas, rinsed and picked through

3 waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold, in 1/2-in. dice

1 t dried thyme

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic vinegar

In a large pot, add the ham hock, water and bay leaf, and bring the water to a simmer. Reduce to very low, cover, and simmer for 2-1/2 hours. Remove the ham hock and place in a bowl to cool. Reserve the broth in another pot or bowl, and discard the bay leaf. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, pick the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the fat, skin, and bones.

Meanwhile, in the original pot, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and cook until they’re becoming translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the carrots and celery. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the sugar. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, for 15 minutes until a brown crust forms and the vegetables are tender. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Return the broth that the ham hocks simmered in to the pot and scrape the bottom well. Return to a simmer over medium-low, then add the split peas. Cook the peas until they are just tender, about 20 minutes. Then add the potatoes, ham and thyme. Cook until the potatoes are very tender and some of the peas are beginning to dissolve, thickening the soup. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve in bowls with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Leftover Spaghetti “Lasagna”

When we make a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs, we usually have abundant leftovers. I like to have dinner leftovers, because they make the best easy lunches and quick snacks for our toddler.

However, we don’t use a microwave, and some foods are more amenable to stovetop reheating than others. Some leftovers I just pop into the oven or toaster oven to heat; others I steam. Pasta tends to get mushy on the stovetop and dry out in the oven. So whatever we don’t eat cold, we like to make a baked spaghetti “lasagna” for a second dinner round.

This can easily be done with other pastas, like penne or macaroni, with or without meatballs. Pasta with hearty vegetables is great, and you can always fry up a little ground lamb or sausage or blanch some fresh veggies to layer in on whatever pasta you’ve got in the fridge.

We happened to have a nice selection of cheeses in the fridge last night, so we used a combination of sheep’s milk gouda and young asiago with a sprinkle of parmesan over the top. We’ve done it with cheddar or mozzarella before, too. Fresh ricotta would be a fantastic addition.

To assemble the casserole, we slice the meatballs into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. We spread a very small amount of olive oil over the bottom of a casserole or Dutch oven and tuck in about a 3/4- or inch-thick layer of sauced noodles. In go the meatball rounds, arranged in the next layer, and grated cheese goes over the top. We repeat these layers to fill the dish and sprinkle the top with parmesan and crumbled dried oregano.

The casserole bakes at 375 degrees for 20 or 25 minutes, until it’s heated through and the cheese is beginning to brown.

We serve it with a great heap of fresh salad greens drizzled with a simple vinaigrette or olive oil and vinegar for perfect balance.

As we ate dinner last night, we asked ourselves why we would ever go out. We rarely do, but even special occasions turn out best spent at home with real food, even if it’s just repurposed pasta and greens picked fresh from the backyard.

Burlap Checkerboard and Tic-Tac-Toe

These make great gifts and are dirt-cheap to make if you have a little paint lying around. They’re highly portable with the stones tucked away in little burlap sacks, so they’re fun to bring out for a summer picnic or for a winter fireside game.

Light and dark stones hold down the burlap when it’s wrinkled, but sets of any little cone or trinket would do.

Just paint the checkerboard squares or a simple cross-hatch (#) for tic-tac-toe over a newspapered surface and let the burlap lie flat to dry. Pile the center with the appropriate number of different-colored stones (5 of each for tic-tac-toe; 16 each for checkers), gather the corners, and tie closed to gift or store.