Kittnen blog

  • How to Make Chicken Stock

    So earlier I mentioned that I'm going to start trying to save more money. I've been meaning to do this post for awhile, but hadn't needed to restock (hurrr) my chicken stock for awhile. So now I'm finally getting around to writing this.

    I like to use broth or stock when I'm making brown rice or quinoa, it adds a really nice flavor to them both. But I'm also really sensitive to MSG and all of the alternate names that shit has. There are certain name brand broths that claim to "not add MSG", but when you're me, you have to really investigate all of the ingredients on the label to see what other names that could be hiding in. (I don't fall into the camp of "Food manufacturers are the devil grrrrr", but c'mon, autolyzed yeast extract is the same fucking thing as MSG.) There are organic brands that don't use MSG (again, a lot of research to figure out which ones those are) but those can run upwards of $5 for a carton. Um, no. So, crafter's motto: "If you can't find what you want, make it." 

    I've been making my own for awhile now, so I've managed to figure out the science. A few notes: The way that I did it this time didn't really save money. Like, at all. But that's because I was in a rush when purchasing the chicken and I wasn't really paying attention. Normally I buy 3# rotisserie chickens for around $6-7, but alas, my grocery store was out. I had to run down the road to another grocery store, praying they had some in stock because I was running low on time. Luckily they did, and even though it was a little pricier than I'm used to, I still bought it. It wasn't until later when I realized it was a measly 2# chicken, and it was kind of dry too. So, I didn't get nearly as much stock out of this batch, let alone much meat off the actual chicken. Also, buying a whole raw chicken on sale for 99 cents a pound and roasting it yourself is going to be the cheapest way to do this. I just have a major problem dealing with whole birds before they've been cooked. I did try it once, but the chicken turned out super dry and kinda gross. So, I pay a bit extra and let the store do it for me.

    So, rant done, let's do this. You will need:

    Leftover chicken carcass

    5-6 peppercorns

    2-3 tbsp or cloves of garlic

    2-3 bay leaves

    Salt (optional)

    Various vegetables and scraps

    You will also need a large stock pot, several Pyrex measuring cups (or one that you can pour into several bowls) and a large mesh strainer that fits over the Pyrex measuring cup, as well as Ziploc bags if you plan to freeze the stock.

    The thing I love about making stock is you don't use much in the way of new ingredients. It's mostly stuff you would have thrown away anyways. So grab that onion that has a bit of green starting to poke out on top, those potatoes that are giving you a wayward glance, that celery that has gotten old and is never going to be as firm as it once was, and toss it all in here. I keep a bag in the freezer for various scraps from the ends of veggies that are typically a little rough but still have tons of flavor. This time around I had a bunch of leek tops from a potato leek soup I had made previously, plus a couple carrots too. Next time there is a stalk of broccoli that will make its way into the batch.

    If you haven't pulled all of the meat off the carcass yet, do so now. We usually eat one meal off the chicken, me taking a drumstick and my hubs eating a breast (heheh), and then I pull the rest of the meat off and use it for various things the next few days. That's why this chicken seems a bit lopsided. 

    Personally, I keep the skin to go in the pot when I make broth. If you don't eat it all, I suggest you do as well, it has a lot of flavor packed into it. If you're concerned about the fat in the skin, then you should really do the next (optional) step: roasting the bones and skin. Spread the remains of the carcass out on a baking sheet and roast for 30-40 mins at 375 degrees. This adds a nice depth of flavor to the bones themselves, and also draws a lot of fat out of the bones and skin.

    Once your bones are ready, toss them in a large stock pot. Roughly chop up the veggies and toss them in there too. (They really don't need to be any smaller that 1" chunks.) Add peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic, and salt to taste.

    Next you'll add your water. There is a bit of science as to how much you add. This was a smaller carcass than I'm used to. Typically I do 5-6 cups of water per pound of chicken. If you don't have a lot of time to cook it, use less water for a more concentrated flavor. After about 3 hours, half of your water will most likely have cooked out of the stock.

    Once everything is in the pot, turn on the burner to medium heat and bring to a boil, then turn down a bit and let the whole thing simmer for 2-3 hours. The longer you go, the more concentrated the flavor will be because more and more water will evaporate out. Also, the more concentrated the stock is, the more likely it will become gelatin once it's cooled. I wouldn't suggest going longer than 4 hours unless you want chicken Jello (least appetizing dish at the church potluck).

    When the stock has reached a color that you like, take the pot off the burner and allow it to cool for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile, set up your straining station in the sink. I have a nice large mesh strainer that has a base that fits into my Pyrex measuring cup. 

    Slowly and carefully pour the stock into the strainer, aiming for the measuring cup. Inevitably, you will end up with some outside of the cup (which is why you should do this in the sink) but do your best to get it all in there.

    Switch out your measuring cups and other containers as needed, and once you get to the bottom of the pot, pour out everything into the strainer and let all of the liquid drain off the bones and veggies.

    Put the stock in the fridge for at least 2-3 hours, or overnight to let it cool.

    Magic lighting change!

    Using a spoon, skim the fat off the top of the stock, and then store.

    To freeze:

    Typically I freeze the stock in 1 cup quantities because it's easy to thaw that way. Prep 1 quart Ziploc bags by labeling them with the date and quantity of each bag.

    I'm slightly OCD because all of the bags in my freezer are labeled the same way.

    Grab a coffee mug with a wide top to prop the bags open by folding the bags over the top of the mug. I use my delightfully classy "Hangover Helper" mug for this purpose.

    Using the measuring cups, pour 1 cup of stock into each bag.

    Pull the bag out of the cup and lay it on a flat surface, making sure the zipper is slightly higher than the rest of the bag so that the stock doesn't spill everywhere. Gently zip the bag up, pressing out as many air bubbles possible as you go.

    Stack the bags on top of each other in the freezer, laying flat.

    Once they are frozen, you can slip them into any crevices in your freezer, they fit nicely. To thaw, simply run the bag under warm water for about 5 mins.

  • Save Move, Spend Less in 2014: Moving Forward With Goals

    Hubs and I are planner-types. There's always been a plan for our life ever since we got married in June '10. This has included:

    1) Move back to our hometown

    2) Get better paying jobs

    3) Replace our old college beater cars

    4) Buy a house

    All of which leads us up to our main goal: BABIES. 

    We weren't always sure that we wanted kids. And once we finally decided that we did want them, the answer to "When?" was always, "NOT NOW." But now we're taking huge steps towards getting ourselves to that goal. So far, our accomplishments have been:

    1) Move back to our hometown

    2) Get better paying jobs

    These two we were able to do simultaneously. I was offered a good job in our hometown in May 2012, which meant hubs had to find a job very quickly. While he was looking, I was offered an even better job that I wasn't even looking for but ended up taking. He found a position that started out part time and barely paid above minimum wage, but because he's 20 different kinds of awesome he was quickly promoted to a full time position with much better pay. We had to live with my parents for a couple of months while we got back on our feet, but then we started renting an adorable little house from a friend of the family. Everything pretty much fell into place and put us where we needed to be, which I'm still in shock over. I remember at the beginning of 2012, I told hubs that by our 2 year anniversary (which was June of that year) I wanted to be living in our hometown again. He said that was a nice idea, but because of the economy was unlikely. I really put my nose to the grindstone though, and on June 19, 2012, we sat in our favorite hometown restaurant, celebrating 2 years of marriage, and I had to try really hard not to say, "Fuckin' told you so!" 

    3) Replace our old college beater cars

    I graduated from high school in 2005 and spent that summer working overtime at Subway saving up for a good car to get me from my hometown to my college town 3 hours away. I bought a '98 Chevy Lumina with 130k miles on it for $3000 that I affectionately referred to as B-Dub for the next 8 years. Hubs had a '95 Pontiac that he bought in high school and finally replaced in 2011 for his dad's '04 Pontiac. That may seem old still, but we haven't had any problems with that car since buying it 3 years ago, and I'd never owned a vehicle that had less than 100k miles on it before. (It still only has 65k on it despite it being 10 years old.) Last year we finally replaced B-Dub with a gorgeous brand new Subaru. I loved B-Dub dearly, but with the Subie, it's totally lust for this car. In a few years when there's a car seat in the back of my mom-mobile, I hope I still feel that lust while plowing through 3 feet of snow. 

    4) Buy a house.

    Aye, there's the rub. We're pretty good about setting aside money to save, but then we end up needing to spend said money. First buying hub's car, then moving back home, then buying my car. Life costs money! And while I wouldn't say we waste money, we're not as careful with it as I would like to be.

    So this year, we're making big changes. Ideally we would like to buy a house in the fall/early winter. We have a very distinct goal set for ourselves that involves saving a set amount of money out of each paycheck, rather than just putting a bit aside anytime we had some extra cash (which is what we used to do). We're actually almost halfway to our goal already even though it's only February, but that's because our tax return was rather generous. The second part of our goal isn't going to be quite as easy, but it's doable. That doesn't mean we'll be going without, we have set aside some money for going out occasionally and other extras, and hopefully we will be able to still make weekend camping trips in the summer. 

    I would like to share some of the money saving strategies I have along the way, whether it be how to save money on food costs, or how to score the best deals at the thrift shop. (I'm also trying to lose weight, so I have a feeling a lot of my new wardrobe will be coming from there.) These are things that aren't just going to help me now, but also later when there's an extra mouth to feed and I'm either a SAHM or only working part time.

    I feel like I should explain the picture up top. This was taken in April ‘12 when I was driving home to interview for the job I would be offered but ultimately not take, and it was the biggest step I had taken thus far in getting us home. The 3 hour drive from our college town is a treacherous drive, and I had just driven out of the worst of it when I saw the rolling hills that I associate with home. My hometown has some of the best sunsets around, and the sun was just starting to sink below the horizon when I shot this picture quickly with my cell phone. You can see what's behind me in the side view mirror, where I came from. And in front of me I was driving towards everything I wanted in life. That’s how I think of my life, moving forward through a series of long journeys taking us where we need to be.

    This year will be the next big journey in our lives, and I hope that you will join me on it!

  • Buffalo Chicken Cups

    Guys, I don't care about sports. I can't even say that I hate sports, I just have no reason to watch them or root for any team. They hold no interest to me whatsoever. I only know who is going to the Superbowl because of Facebook, but I won't be attending any parties. (However, if someone wants to throw a Puppy Bowl party, I'd be all about that shit.) 

    However, I gotta say, sports fans have got shit figured out when it comes to gameday food. Seriously, I look at the spread of most Superbowl parties and drool starts to fall out of my mouth. But making delicious food needn't require me to be bored out of my mind for 4 hours, should it? Nay, I say! (Sorry, the above meme made me start speaking like an obnoxious British stereotype.) So I made buffalo chicken cups for lunch yesterday, and I gotta say, they were pretty amazing.

    To make 12 individual cups, you'll need:

    2 cups chicken, cooked and diced (I used leftover dark meat from a rotisserie chicken, but you could certainly use breast meat instead)

    12 wonton wrappers

    1/4 cup hot sauce (I think this was the store brand version of Franks)

    3 oz of bleu cheese

    2 scallions/green onions

    Thinly sliced celery, for garnish (optional)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Start by lining a muffin tin with the wonton wrappers and then tossing them in the oven for 5 mins, or until stiff but still slightly malleable. (That's what she said.)

    Mix 1/4 of hot sauce (or more to taste) with the chicken, and dice up the green onions.

    Spoon a large heaping spoonful of chicken into each cup, and top with green onions and bleu cheese.

    Bake at 350 for 10 mins, or until the chicken is warmed through and the bleu cheese has become nice and melty.

    Oh yes.

    Serve up with celery slices on top. I also had steamed corn with it, but you could also do a salad. Or just eat them by themselves. I won't judge.

  • Quinoa Salad

    So we're almost 3 weeks into the new year, and it's that wonderful time of the year when we promise to be better to ourselves. Just a couple more weeks until falling off the wagon for another 11 months until next New Years and we swear we'll do it for real this time. Before doing that, why not make a delicious and healthy salad?

    This recipe is great because it's highly customizable to your own tastes. I can't wait to make this in the summertime with lots of garden produce. Alas, I had to use shitty grocery store produce this time around. Boo-urns. Also, I ate it both warm the night I made it and cold the next day, and it was still delicious. So this would be a great meal for any brown-baggers out there who can't heat up meals at lunchtime, or to bring to a potluck or barbeque.

    1 cup quinoa

    2 cups chicken or veggie broth

    1 large tomato, diced

    2 scallions/green onions, diced

    1 avocado, diced

    2 large stalks/leaves of kale, torn into small pieces (could also use spinach)

    4 oz feta cheese

    1/2 cup crumbled bacon (either cooked on the stove or the lazy way out of a bag)

    1 tbsp lemon juice

    Dash of salt as needed

    If you've never cooked with quinoa before, the biggest secret to good quinoa is rinsing it really well. I use a mesh strainer that gets the grittiness out but leaves the grains intact. My basic method is lightly tossing it while the water runs over it. (And yes, since this is a salad recipe, that means I'm tossing salad. Heheh.)

    You can see the effects of getting your hand caught in a mandolin slicer in this picture.

    Put it on the stove in a smallish sauce pan with 2 cups of broth. (It's the typical rice/grains ratio of 1 part grain/2 parts liquid.) Bring to a boil over mediumish heat; once boiling turn heat to low and cover. Let cook for 15-20 mins or until the liquid is mostly absorbed.

    (I should also mention here that normally I would use homemade stock instead of the cartoned stuff, but I didn't have any on hand and I had leftover broth that I needed to use up. I will do a blog post soon about making your own chicken stock because seriously, that shit is so simple, delicious and economical.)

    While the quinoa is cooking, dice up all of your veggies and tear the kale leaves up. I rinsed them off in the strainer too because kale is notorious for getting a bit gritty at times. When the quinoa is almost finished cooking, leave the pan on the stove and add the kale to the top, then re-cover the pan. It may seem like it's overflowing, but it will shrink down. Leave in the pan for 2-3 mins and let the kale steam over the heat from the quinoa. Alternatively you could cook the kale in the microwave with a splash of water, but why waste a dish?

    You'll know it's finished when it's bright green and tender and delicious and my god I need to clean the wall next to my stove.

    Put the quinoa and kale in a large mixing bowl. Add the diced tomatoes and onions and toss to combine, then let it sit for a few minutes to allow the hot quinoa to soften the veggies up a bit.

    Next add your feta cheese (you could also use goat cheese, but I would reccomend adding it later once the dish has cooled down some more to prevent excessive melting) as well as bacon. As a member of the Internetz, it's my solemn duty to inform you that bacon is all that is good and holy in this world. Especially if you actually cook it on the stove and don't just buy the lazy bags of it from Sam's Club. 

    Lastly, add the avocado and a tbsp or so of lemon or lime juice (basically just to brighten the flavor a bit and also make sure the avocado doesn't get brown and gross). Toss well to combine. (Heh)

    Like I mentioned, I had this as leftovers the next day and didn't warm it up at all, and it was still pretty amazing.

    #foodstagram #hashtagstotallyworkinblogsright? #imdoingthiswrong

  • Best Podcasts For Work, Part 3: Education Shows

    Part 1: NPR Shows

    Part 2: Comedy Shows

    (Sorry, this was going to get posted earlier, but then I decided slicing my hand open with a mandolin slicer and needing 8 stitches sounded like a better idea.)

    Part 3 of my podcast series features the shows that I think teach me something. They include:

    Savage Lovecast To anyone who has read my blog, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I fucking LOVE Dan Savage. This is an advice podcast where people call in with problems and Dan answers their questions and/or makes fun of them. At the top of the show he always has a rant about an LGBT issue or some other current event (usually involves a religious bigot who, surprise!, enjoys sodomy). I put it in the education category because he discusses lots of methods of safe sex, relationship strategies, or when to just DTMFA (dump the motherfucker already).

    Skeptics Guide to the Universe As I’ve mentioned before, I'm a skeptic and I love listening to skeptic podcasts. SGU is probably the best produced of the ones I've listened to. Lots of great well reasoned arguments on scientific issues and current events. Plus, I love playing along to "Science or Fiction?". They have well done interviews and the hosts are very amusing.

    Skeptics with a K  This one comes from across the pond. Hilarious podcast from a few British gents who talk about current events and then point out ridiculous they are. Always has me laughing.

    Skeptoid This is a great podcast if you want short, concise information about a variety of topics. Not much fluff, just good research and facts. There are almost 400 episodes that I’m just starting to make my way through.

    (Edit 2/6/14: After reading this article from Skepchick, I can no longer in good conscience recommend Skeptoid. Ugh.)

    StarTalk Neil deGrasse Tyson is my homeboy, y'all. I've always said that I thought he was my generation's Carl Sagan, and I am so freaking excited for March to see what he has done with the Cosmos series. Just under 45 minutes of listening to him rattle off science facts on a weekly basis? Love it.

    Stuff Mom Never Told You There's a whole host of "How Stuff Works" podcasts, but SMNTY is by far my favorite. They tackle lots of issues from a feminist perspective and always make me think critically about how things affect me as a vagina haver. Plus, the hosts are a couple of ladies that I think I would probably hang out with irl. 

    What podcast are some of your favorites? If I do another list like this, what should I include next time?