Rhubarb

One of the first things to pop up through the newly thawed spring ground is the perennial vegetable, rhubarb. I have to admit, the last year was the first time I had tried rhubarb. I saw it at the farmers market and decided to figure out later what to do with it. It turns out, rhubarb is a delightful addition to many jams!

One thing I quickly learned to love about rhubarb (sorry, friends, not a fan of the raw taste), was what a great “filler” rhubarb is for jams. Instead of using all strawberries or all blueberries, which can get costly, I used rhubarb to add some bulk and the perfect amount of tartness to the jams I made. I found a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam in this Ball Canning cookbook. The jam is a big hit in our household, so I will be making many batches this year.

The only thing I don’t like about rhubarb, other than the raw taste, is how early it’s ready compared to the fruits I wanted to use for jam. Fear not, my fresh preserving friends. I have a few solutions for this problem: use your freezer to help out. First, you can buy rhubarb in bulk and then freeze it until other fruits come in season. Or, if you plan well enough, you can buy enough fruit when it’s in season, freeze it, then have it on hand the next spring when rhubarb comes up. By some odd luck, this happened this year, which made me quite happy as I could start making some strawberry rhubarb jam while the temperatures were still mild.

If you’re wondering how to freeze rhubarb, wonder no more. It’s really as simple as rinsing, chopping and freezing. For the freezing part, put either some wax paper or a dish towel on a cookie sheet and spread the rhubarb into a thin layer. Make sure the pieces aren’t piled up, as they will freeze into a big ball. I like to use dish towels to save from wasting anything that will just go in the trash, especially because I put up a LOT of fruits and veggies every season. You can also use silicone baking mats like these for this as well, for another greener alternative to wax paper. Place the sheet in the freeze until frozen, then pop that frozen rhubarb in a Ziploc bag or another freezer safe container. (One caution though: the leaves are NOT edible. You will notice most places that sell rhubarb have already taken the leaves off for you. If you grow your own rhubarb or receive some from a kind friend, remove the leaves before chopping up the rhubarb.)

I’m still exploring the many uses of rhubarb, but I’ve come across some delicious looking recipes! Apparently you can make a drink with strawberries, rhubarb and gin. Yes, please! And others use rhubarb in pies, muffins and other desserts. As I try out more recipes, I will be sure to share them with you.

Do you have a favorite rhubarb recipe? Share in the comments below and I will add it to my list!

This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Making Chicken Stock or Broth

I delight in making my own home made chicken stock because it’s really like making something from nothing. And you really won’t believe how easy it can be. Like I’m pretty sure you can’t screw this one up. If you could, I would have by now, trust me. The closest I’ve come to screwing it up is forgetting about my stock that was cooling on the counters and not realizing it until the morning when it was too late. Several quarts of beautiful stock down the drain.

Before I begin with the how-to portion of this post, let me persuade you to seek out a locally raised chicken. I know, shock and surprise since everything I post is about local foods. But hear me out. The difference between an okay stock and an amazing stock lies in the quality of chicken you start with. You wouldn’t think the bones of an animal would be any different, but really, truly, a healthier, well cared for animal is not only much healthier for you, it’s also much tastier. We have many options for our purchasing local chicken in West Michigan. (Or you can be all-in like us and raise your own. Raising your own animals can be fun but it’s also a lot of work, so do your research. I mean, I never thought I’d be inside a chicken tractor, in the pouring raining, face to face with 10 unhappy muddy chickens, laying down as much dry bedding as possible while my husband dug a moat around the chicken tractor to re-route the water. Yes, this happened. And it’s part of the reason we never waste a morsel of chicken in this house.)

Now back to making chicken stock or broth. First, the difference between the two. Stock is made from bones, simmered for a long time, resulting in a more robust flavor and having more of the good-for-you gelatin from the bones. Broth is made with meat and bones. Like you can dunk the whole chicken in water, simmer for a long time and boom, have broth. In my world, the difference is whether I have the patience to cook up a whole chicken or if I say,”Screw it!” And throw the whole bird in the water bath. Each way is easy and will result in something beautifully delicious.

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker. Minus the carrots because I ran out.

Let’s start with the easiest, set-it-and-forget-it way. Get your slow cooker out. Add either your whole chicken or the chicken carcass. Add water to fill it up. Turn the slow cooker on low. And wait several hours (I’ve swiped some stock out of the slow cooker after 6-8 hours but the longer it cooks, the more it releases the good stuff in the bones). I generally get this started first thing in the morning and let it simmer in the slow cooker for around 10-12 hours.  It can be as easy as that. Just make sure if you’re using the whole bird, you use a meat thermometer and make sure it reads 165 degrees. And make sure if you’re using a new slow cooker, you don’t try to leave the slow cooker on for more than 12 hours because apparently some newer models turn themselves off after 12 hours, unbeknownst to the user resulting in a very sad and angry person in the morning. Not that that happened to me or anything.

But most people add some accompaniments for a tastier product. Throw in a few rinsed, roughly cut carrots, some celery stalks, garlic cloves and a quartered onions. Sometimes I add in a bunch of fresh parsley if I have it. But if you don’t, it won’t make or break the stock. You can add in salt at the beginning, but I like to add it in the end or not at all. I’d rather salt the dish I’m making with the stock. You can always add salt. You can’t take it away.

One tip I learned years back is to add some vinegar to the mix. Vinegar helps break down the bones. Don’t worry, your stock won’t taste like vinegar. I only add about 1 Tablespoon and it does the job. Just don’t be freaked out when your stock cools and it’s all wobbily like Jell-O. That’s a very good thing. That’s the gelatin from the bones and it’s very good for you.

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Frozen celery from the end of the season

Another super cheapo, corner cutting tip: You can freeze your kitchen scraps for making stock! After you rinse your veggies well, you can peel your carrots and freeze the peels to throw in your pot for stock. Sometimes I freeze the celery if it’s gone a little floppy (but obviously not moldy or anything). Make use of the leafy tops you don’t normally eat by freezing them. I froze a bunch of celery from our garden (see the photo above) when the stalks were too skinny for eating but the end of the growing season was near. You can even freeze your chicken carcass until you have time to make stock. Get this: you can even freeze that turkey carcass from Thanksgiving and make stock with that. Shut. The. Front. Door. There, I said it for you because that’s what you were thinking, right?

Moving right along. Now for the slightly more difficult version requiring a tad more of your attention. If you want to make a lot more stock at once, grab the biggest pot you have and get to work. We have a 5 gallon pot we use for everything from beer brewing to making pickles to boiling down maple syrup. You don’t need something that big but it helps when you want to make lots of stock at once. If you have a huge pot, you can add two bird carcasses and make some kick butt stock. The “recipe” is still the same: add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and some fresh parsley if you have it.

Cooking the stock on the stove has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is you can make more at once than you can in a slow cooker. The biggest disadvantage is that you will need to keep an eye on the pot. First, you will need to bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Once it’s at a boil, lower the temperature to a simmer. You will need to simmer the pot on a low temperature for at least 4-6 hours, preferably more. I generally let it cook for anywhere from 8-12 hours. It’s not like you need to stand there watching the pot the entire time. But if you filled your pot pretty full with water, you will want to make sure it doesn’t get out of control and boil over. Just check it from time to time to make sure you have a nice slow simmer.

I’m purposely not making this into a recipe, saying exactly how much of each to add. I literally just throw in a couple of each. Once the hubs didn’t add any vegetables, only a chicken carcass, to the pot, and it was delicious. Once I had no carrots and it still worked out. Really truly, it’s pretty fool proof.

Now for the messiest part, pulling everything out of the pot. Take your pot off the heat and let it cool. Then, I take two grocery bags, one inside the other, and use tongs to get the biggest chunks out of the pot. Next I get the smaller stuff out with a fine mesh strainer. Last, I ladle the stock/broth over another mesh strainer into a container. We buy big two quart containers (I think they were from Tractor Supply. I’ve seen them lots of places with the canning supplies). I generally fill up a few smaller containers to use when making rice or recipes that only call for one or two cups of stock. I will cool these off in the refrigerator over night then put in the freezer to store. If I’m going to use it within the next few days, I will ladle it into quart canning jars and put them in the fridge. If you have a pressure canner and the know-how, you can most certainly pressure can the broth. I’ve yet to do this, simply because we tend to use the stock up pretty quickly, so I don’t want to take the time to pressure can it.

 

Once you have some beautiful, homemade stock or broth, the possibilities are endless! The most commonly made soup in our house is chicken noodle soup. But my new favorite is the Bearded Man’s ramen bowl. To. Die. For. Other favorites are broccoli cheddar soup, cauliflower white bean soup or an incredibly easy minestrone. All very easy to make if you keep some basic (and local!) ingredients on hand.

If you enjoyed this post, leave some love for me in the comments section below!

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Homemade Granola

Today I’m sharing with you my favorite granola recipe that I’ve been making for years. Did I create the recipe? Nope! Why don’t I try making my own recipe? Because why mess with perfection? I’m a busy mom and when I find a good recipe that my kids will actually eat, I stick with it!

100 DAYS OF REAL FOOD GRANOLA <—Click Here for the Recipe

What I like about this recipe is it’s versatile and works with whatever you have on hand. You can easily tweak it to fit whatever nuts and seeds you have in your pantry. In fact, I’ve made this recipe completely nut free, instead doubling the pumpkin and sunflower seeds. And there are times when I haven’t had the right amount of spices so I subbed in pumpkin pie spice with no problems. Best part is this recipe makes a LOT, so you can make it once and have it on hand for awhile (if it lasts). This granola is super filling, so you won’t need much to feel satisfied.

After I make this granola, I employ a super secret mom trick: I put it in a half gallon canning jars with an easy to open lid and set it in plain view on the counter. Then I wait and watch as little (and big hands) snack on it throughout the day, pouring milk over it for breakfast, adding it to trail mix, sprinkling it over a yogurt parfait, made with some local fruit, of course. (Another unrelated super secret mom trick- the bread box in the top photo, also serves as a hiding place for the things I DON’T want to share, like my dark chocolate bars).

What does this recipe have to do with local eating, you ask? Quite a few ingredients can be sourced locally! Here’s the rundown:

Honey- I bought mine from B&K Bees of Hesperia. I’ve also purchased some from Crisp Country Acres before. The fun thing about trying different local honey is the taste changes depending on the plants the bees were frequenting! How cool is that?! Click here for my (growing) list of where to buy local honey.

Butter- My family loves the butter from Country Dairy! I may have gotten a funny look when I bought like three pounds of butter and several pounds of cheese at once. But we just freeze what we won’t use right away.

Nuts and Seeds– I shop at Montague Foods for my nuts and seeds. I love that they have these available in bulk. Less packaging waste that way. The bulk nuts and seeds are sourced by a company out of Grand Rapids named Ferris. I do understand that they are not grown locally. However, when it comes to items that don’t grow in our climate or aren’t readily available from a local source,I choose to at least buy them from a local store.

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Oats- Oats are like nuts and seeds in that it’s pretty difficult these days to find a local source of oats. I like heading out to Whispering Pines Country Store in Fremont, Michigan to buy bulk oats. What I like is you can buy small bags of oats or 50lb bags. They generally have a variety to choose from. Again, if I can’t buy a locally grown product, I’d at least like to give a local store my business. One note about Whispering Pines: bring a check or cash. They don’t take credit cards.

Hope you enjoy this recipe! If there are any ingredients listed above that ARE available from a local source, please let me know in the comments. I will update this post to include those local sources.

 

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission at no cost to you if you choose to make a purchase. 

One Whole Chicken, Four Meals

Most of us have grown accustomed to purchasing our meats in the exact cuts and weights we desire from a chain grocery store, with the most popular cut of chicken being the ever-popular boneless, skinless chicken breast. Having chicken so readily available to us, pre-cut and pre-packaged, means many people have no idea how to a) cook a whole chicken, b) cut up a whole chicken c) or  what to do with a whole chicken once it’s cooked. Fear not, my chicken loving friends! Today I will show you how to make the most out of a chicken, even making that chicken last for four meals!

Before I go on though, allow me to make the case for buying a locally raised chicken. Some might see the cost per pound of a locally raised chicken and see that as too expensive for their budget. Around here, the going rate per pound for a whole chicken is $3.50/lb. You can expect the average size to be about 5.5 lbs. This makes the total cost of a chicken to be around $19.25. Now let’s crunch some numbers and see how that $19.25 chicken can be affordable for a family of four:

$19.25 divided by 4 meals = $4.81 per meal

Now let’s break it down by serving:

$4.81 per meal divided by 4 people = $1.20 per person, per meal! 

(Spoiler alert: One meal doesn’t include meat. But it does use the broth made from the chicken. This helps stretch out the cost of the chicken. Don’t know how to make your own broth? People, it’s sooo easy and foolproof. Click here and I will show you.)

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Speaking of the cost of broth, let’s include that in the cost of the chicken. If you go to the store and buy, let’s say, organic store brand chicken broth, you’d expect to pay about $2.50-$3.00 for a quart. I contend you can make at least 4 quarts of broth with one chicken. Allow me to do that math for you: $2.50 x 4 quarts= $10 in chicken broth. That’s more than HALF the cost of your chicken already! However, just the other day, I used ONE whole chicken, put it in a huge pot, and got a little over 7 quarts of broth.

Of course this doesn’t include the other ingredients in your recipe, but generally speaking, we pay the most money for the meat we put on the table. (And if you keep checking back with my blog, you will see how you can buy produce in bulk and make these meals even more inexpensive).

Cooking the Chicken:

Some people are intimidated by the idea of cooking a whole chicken. If this is you, check out my post about making chicken broth in a slow cooker, because you can literally cook the whole chicken in the slow cooker and get meat AND broth at the same time. It’s very easy!

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Making a whole chicken and broth in a slow cooker

You can roast the chicken in the oven, put it on the grill, or, if you’re pretty grill savvy, get yourself a rotisserie attachment for your charcoal grill and cook it that way. With the power of youtube and Pinterest, you can find lots of tutorials for cooking a whole bird. Orrrr……ask your grandma. Really. I just had a conversation with my grandma about how once a neighbor called her over to show her how to carve a chicken before her mother-in-law got there. I laughed. But to be honest, I had NO clue how to carve a chicken until a few years ago.

 

Meal Ideas:

Meal 1: Chicken Soup and/or Ramen Bowl- My kids aren’t a huge fan of the ramen bowl. Instead we make a little of each at the same time. Chicken soup for the boys. Ramen bowls for mom and dad. All using about 2-3 quarts of the broth we make from the whole chicken.

Meal 2: Chicken Tacos with rice, beans and corn- Take the leftover chicken, dice it up, throw it in a pan with some homemade taco seasoning (Click for the recipe I use). Add a side of beans made in the slow cooker (Click here for bean recipe), rice (recipe coming soon!) and some corn. I freeze corn during the summer to have on hand all winter. Check the “corn” section this summer for tips and tricks for freezing local corn.

Meal 3: Chicken with noodles– This recipe is a crowd pleaser! It calls for 1 pound of chicken, but I’ve found it’s just as pleasing with less chicken. What I love most about it is you can buy a LOT of the ingredients locally: carrots, onions, mushrooms,celery, onion, butter, corn and even the half and half! Use of quart of your homemade stock and it’s even more local!! If you already have the chicken cooked and diced, this recipes is really easy to whip up and get on the table.

Meal 4: Vegetable Minestrone (using the stock or broth from the chicken) with fresh homemade bread, and side salad with homemade vinaigrette. (RECIPE COMING SOON!)

Okay, I know, you’re thinking, hey, the last one is meatless. But, this meal uses the chicken for broth, not the meat, making that chicken last a little longer. Trust me, the minestrone is ridiculously easy to make and very filling.

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Yep. That’s ketchup. A universal dip to my son. But hey, he eats his broccoli. Keepin it real, people.

Sometimes in our house, mom and dad get a fancy meal and the kids get this. A small hunk of chicken, steamed broccoli (I blanch and freeze a bunch during the summer to use all winter), and quick and easy to make home fries. Of course, with ketchup. And the broccoli is topped with that “cheesy” popcorn topping that’s really not cheese. Just trying to be real people. If my kid will only eat chicken with store bought ketchup and his broccoli with “cheese” topping, so be it. I pick my battles.

Other Meal Suggestions: white chicken chili, chicken “fried” rice, chicken stir fry, taco soup, chicken gyros, Asian chicken salad. 

Of course these aren’t the ONLY meals you could make with one chicken. The possibilities are endless, especially in the Pinterest age where you search chicken recipes and get thousands of recipes at your fingertips. But do you see what I did with the recipe layout? I didn’t serve the chicken plain, as the star of the plate. This might take some getting used to if you usually plan your meal around the meat as the center piece. If you instead first consider it as an ingredient in the whole meal, you can make that one chicken last a lot longer. Throw in some things on the side like homemade bread with your soup. Or don’t be afraid to think a little outside of the box and eat carrot sticks and apple slices with your chicken tacos. My kids aren’t always sold on beans and rice, so they always have the option of a piece of fruit and something like celery with peanut butter.

If you’re now feeling super inspired and ready to break out your apron and get cooking, first, CLICK HERE and learn where you can buy a locally raised chicken. Even if you just started with ONE locally raised chicken and give these recipes a try, it’s a start and it WILL help out that farmer. Every time we buy local, we’re voting with our dollars for how we want our food to be raised. And we’re pumping money back into our local economy. Buying local is ALWAYS a win!

ENJOY! If you liked this post, be sure to leave me some love in the comments below!

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.