Homemade Chicken Broth

I’ll be honest: We’re not exactly the thriftiest cooks when it comes to using scraps and leftovers.

Trust me, I wish we were. Aren’t farm wives supposed to be skilled at saving every last hunk of bread or scrap of meat and turning it into comforting bread pudding or savory stew – or, at the very least, throwing out the scraps to the chickens in the yard? (Alas, we no longer have chickens to throw scraps to – but even when we did, I was quite forgetful about sharing my scraps with them).

While we’re quite adept at weekly meal planning and try our best to limit our waste, we are too often guilty of throwing away parts that could be reused in another way. One way we’ve learned to improve in this area, however, is by freezing scraps of meat and vegetables and making our own broth.

If you’ve never made homemade broth, you’ll find it’s so simple you’ll wonder why you ever made soup any other way. All you do is take water and add beef or poultry bones (or keep it purely vegetable-based for a vegetarian broth) and add a variety of vegetables and herbs and seasonings – onions, garlic, carrots, celery, leeks, shallots, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, black pepper, red pepper flakes, etc. – and then let it simmer all day. The longer you let it sit, the more flavor, color, richness and aroma it develops.

One favorite trick we’ve learned is to take a large freezer bag and put any clean vegetable scraps in there – peelings from carrots and potatoes, leftover herbs that need to be used before they go bad, onion skins, parsnips, celery leaves and any other kitchen scrap that I can find that wouldn’t taste out of place in a basic broth. Stay away from vegetables that might make your broth taste bitter – I’d leave out cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower, for example. Keep these frozen until the bag is full; then it’s time to make another batch of broth. We do the same thing with the bones from the meat we cook – just keep the bones from different meats separated in individual bags.

After you’ve put together your broth and let it simmer long enough, don’t forget to drain the liquid into a bowl, not the sink! One thing I’m always afraid I will do is get distracted and discard the liquid and keep the solids, as we so often do when we use a colander. Be sure to pay attention, or you will left with wilted vegetables and lose all of that delicious liquid you waited so long to get.

Now that your broth is prepared, it’s time to use it. One of our favorite soups to make with this chicken broth is a flavorful chicken noodle soup. Now, this is nothing like the salty, processed chicken noodle soup you will find in cans at the grocery store. No, this uses plenty of hearty fresh vegetables, perfectly roasted meat and thick noodles (we like to use the Amish Kitchen extra-wide egg noodles, but anything will work here).

And don’t forget, broth can easily be canned or frozen to save for future use. To freeze, just pour into freezable containers or fill small freezer bags mostly full with broth, removing any excess air before sealing it shut. Lay bags on a cookie sheet and freeze for several hours until firm, and then stack in freezer as desired.

You can also freeze the chicken noodle soup. Just prepare the soup but leave out the egg noodles, lemon and parsley. Freeze in the same manner as the broth, then when ready to use, thaw, and proceed as the recipe dictates with the remaining ingredients. Season to taste and serve.

Ultimate Chicken Broth

Broth
Ingredients

2 medium-large yellow onions, unpeeled, halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed a little
2 large carrot
2 celery rib
4 qt. water
2 lb. chicken bones (from about 2 carcasses leftover from a roast or rotisserie)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
½ tsp. dried thyme or 2 tsp. chopped fresh
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 bay leaf

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a large (6-8 qt.) stock pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, skim the foam and cover. Simmer for 2-8 hours. Using a fine mesh colander, drain broth into a large bowl (NOT in the sink!) and then return broth to pot.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
Broth from above recipe
Better than Bouillon (optional)
Meat pulled from one rotisserie chicken (or 3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, cooked)
5 large carrots, peeled and diced or 1 large carrot and 1 large parsnip, diced
2 large leeks, trimmed and sliced into ½-inch segments
4 celery ribs, chopped or diced
6-9 oz. egg noodles or soup noodles of your choice
½ lemon (or 1 full lemon, depending on your taste)
2 Tbsp. finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions
Sauté diced vegetables in olive oil until slightly softened. Add warm broth and a spoonful of Better than Bouillon to pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, until firm-tender. Add soup noodles and cook to package instructions (usually 6-10 minutes). After noodles are cooked, return to soup and simmer for 2 minutes, until heated through. Squeeze in fresh lemon juice and stir. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Season to taste and serve.

Modified slightly from: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2015/01/my-ultimate-chicken-noodle-soup/

A Baby on the Way!

Harvest is rapidly approaching, but here on the Cwach farm, we already have our eyes set on March, when we’ll be waking up often in the middle of the night to check on our spring calves – and a new baby.

Yes, Farmer Dan and I couldn’t be happier to share that we’ll be welcoming a new addition to the farm in early spring. For the first time ever, I’ll be joining the farmer in getting up every few hours, bleary-eyed, to check on new life, and will experience firsthand the utter exhaustion that accompanies nightly rounds.

And I couldn’t be more excited for that experience. After being diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and struggling to conceive for nearly two years, pregnancy is a blessing I was not always sure I would experience. The journey to get pregnant – which I always imagined would be fun and exciting – instead turned arduous, with numerous rounds of pills, shots, ultrasounds and check-ups, as well as plenty of tears and prayers. Achieving ovulation became a science, and treatment plans and progress became practically dinner table conversation amongst my closest family and friends. Though uncomfortable at times, being open and honest about my struggle to get pregnant proved helpful when I learned that so many of my friends and family members experienced the exact same diagnosis or struggled with infertility themselves.

Finally, however, the day came when a pregnancy test came back with the faintest of lines – the kind where if you squint and close one eye, you can perhaps make out the trace of a second line. Though I had intended a romantic pregnancy announcement for Dan, my plans were abandoned as soon as I saw that indistinct line. Instead, I raced up to him, shoved the test excitedly in his face and asked if he too could see a line. Not wanting to disappoint, he responded with an unconvincing, “Maybe if you look in this light… but don’t forget that I have bad eyesight.”

Undeterred and possessing little (if any) patience, I took a handful of tests each day until the day when a digital test gave me the conclusive answer I was seeking. At last, our family of two would become three!

In the three months since that day, we’ve talked about nothing but baby – and in that time, I’ve learned that having a baby with someone who raises livestock makes for very interesting conversation. As we tried to figure out what the due date would be, Dan insisted it should be two weeks later than a due date calculator predicted, as the “bull dates” (as he calls it) were nearly identical and cows and humans apparently have very similar reproductive cycles. (As it turns out, the gestation period is slightly different. It was the first, but not last, time that I told my farmer, “Cows and humans are not the same!”)

Similarly, our conversations of labor and delivery have led to lots of laughter and a few warnings. After Dan recounted his experiences of pulling calves and helping his heifers (first time moms) through labor, I (only half-kiddingly) warned him that I had better see his hands at all times during labor and at no time was I to see the metal calf jack anywhere near me.

Still, despite the light-hearted teasing and pregnancy comparisons that inevitably come from somebody who deals with cattle all day, there’s tenderness and strength that comes from a farmer that is difficult to match. Even today, as we went through a minor scare at the doctor’s with an abnormal measurement (something that thankfully proved to be nothing), I felt comforted being with someone who starts every day knowing that we are ultimately not in control – not of the weather, or the crops,  or health or life. Nobody knows this as well as the farmer, and I couldn’t be happier to have a farmer to lean on during this exciting, terrifying, life-changing time.