Ugh. I am finally returning to some semblance of life after two and a half days spent on the couch. The doctor said it was sinusitis due to allergies, but I know it was something more. At least, after I spent three hours at the doctor's office, sitting in a cold room with no fluids or rest, it became something more. I really wanted to write something about how our health care system makes no sense, but I'm still too fuzzy in the head for all that.
I started feeling sinus-y Sunday night, but it wasn't until Monday that it really came and whopped me over the head. I was at work, but decided around 11:00 that I should go home, for everybody else's sake. Unfortunately, I had carpooled to work, so didn't have transportation. Miss Chef to the rescue! Not only did she come fetch me (bringing the dog with her; how sweet is that?), but she also whipped up a huge pot of chicken-noodle soup.
There is nothing better than Miss Chef's homemade soups. She loads 'em down with veggies and noodles, but what really makes them special is homemade stock. We had just done a batch the weekend before, so she had plenty to work with. Talk about good timing!
Making stock has become an almost routine chore we do every month or two. I always thought stock was the provenance of seriously serious home cooks with years of experience. As it turns out, it's just plain easy. It is a long, though aromatic, process which will make your house smell even better than Thanksgiving.
I also used to think that even using stock required lots of know-how and mysterious skills. Really, all it requires is a desire for more flavor in the dishes you already make. That last batch we made gave us three and a half quarts of stock, and we're down to the last quart already. We used it in the soup, in sauces for chicken, and I used a bunch last night to make risotto. Any savory dish that uses water will be vastly improved with stock.
Now, you can go to the store and buy yourself a box or can of broth, and that's good. But stock is better. Broth is made from meat, while stock uses the bones. These give up their gelatin, which lends stock that lusciousness that makes you go "Mmmmm!" The soup that Miss Chef made for me sets up in the fridge, like a noodly aspic. That's the Yum Factor in there.
As I said earlier, making stock has become a bit of a routine for us. Miss Chef and I save the bones from every chicken we roast, bake, fry, etc. We've even been known to save the bones of the occasional grocery rotisserie chicken, and turkey legs from the Renaissance Festival. We just wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. Miss Chef also saves vegetable trimmings, herb stems, and anything green that's just past useful, but not yet spoiled. Into the freezer with all of you!
When the freezer gets too crowded, or we're running low on stock, we rummage through to pick them all out again. It helps when we label them; especially when looking for something else. "For stock" is not anything you want to defrost for dinner.
And here's the easy part: unwrap all your saved goodies, put 'em in the biggest, er, stockpot you've got, and fill it with water. You'll want to include a few stalks of celery, two or three carrots and some onions, if they're not part of your savings. Just chop them into two or three pieces and toss 'em in. Put it on the oven and bring it to a simmer. Not a boil; just a light simmer. This isn't a reduction; it's a concentration of flavors, and believe you me, you'll want every drop you can get.
Then just wait.
Last weekend, we started our stock around 11 am, and I didn't pull it off until after 9 in the evening. Normally the bones reach a crumbly stage that tells you they've given their all. When that happens, we strain all the goodies out of it, cool it down in an ice bath and pour it into one-cup and one-quart containers. Normally we'll freeze most of it, defrosting a cup or two for rice or sauces, or a quart for soup.
The first time Miss Chef made stock at home, I complained about the time, and the greasy mess (which is less messy now that we've established a routine). But I immediately started putting it to use. I was an instant convert. Why does rice at restaurants always taste so much better? Stock. How do they make those yummy sauces? Stock. I could go on, but I think I already did above. Plus, I'm starting to channel the Lion from the Wizard of Oz..."What makes the Hottentots so hot? Stock!"
Today's my first day back at work, after fortifying myself for two days on decongestants, rest and chicken noodle soup. I'm feeling hopeful about my survival, but last night Miss Chef felt like she was coming down with my symptoms from last Sunday. Just in time for the weekend push, too. Doesn't it always happen that way?
Lucky for her, we still have a quart of soup left! That's how I take care of her...I leave her some soup. Ain't I so sweet?
No, that's not Miss Chef's soup in the picture; I haven't gotten it together enough to do all that camera stuff. If I do, I'll be sure to update the picture. I'm sure it won't do it justice, though.