Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chickens rule the roost

Whenever I see whole chickens on sale, I usually buy four.
The largest and plumpest I roast Zuni Cafe-style, which makes a pretty good dinner for three or four people.
The other three I cut up and divide thus: chicken wings (tips go into the stock pot); skinless chicken thighs (perfect for mole or gumbo); skinless whole breasts; livers, to be sautéed and then saved for Cajun boudin or dirty rice; and everything else goes into the stock pot.
To make a good rich stock, about 3 quarts from the trimmings, I season the pot with a little salt; peppercorns; a bay leaf; the middle of a celery stalk, with leaves; and a carrot or two; then cover with water. This is brought to almost a boil, then turned down low to simmer, usually overnight, or until the meat is close to falling off the bones. After cleanup from the Zuni chicken, I throw the drippings and whatever bones are left into the pot, too.
I usually drain the stock while it is still warm, but don't strain it through cheesecloth until I need to for certain recipes. I chill it and skim off the fat (I save the schmaltz for a while, in case there's some cookbook recipe that calls for it, but I usually end up pitching it, since I limit the amount of animal fat in my diet). I measure out the broth in several size containers: 1 cup, 1.5 cup, 2 cup and 3 cup; then I label and freeze.
Then comes the most time-consuming part: I pick out any choice meat that's left, which is usually about a quart bag full, and label it for a later chicken soup. That goes into the freezer, too, unless I'm making soup that day.
If you aren't taking out your garbage in the next couple of hours, put the remains in a bag and freeze it. Then dump the frozen bag in the garbage when you take it out.
I've tried to get my cat interested in the gizzards and hearts, but so far, no luck. I use a lot more of the chicken when I have a dog.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ben Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl - RIP

Ben's Chili Bowl is a bit of DC Americana that no one should miss - but we sure will miss the founder, Ben Ali. The link to the Washington Post behind-the-story blog on him is here and there's a link to the full obituary on that story as well. The photo at right is of my husband Jim on one of our visits to Ben's.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eggs-actly what do these terms mean?

A repost today, but some very good information about some confusing terms. I like eggs that come from chickens who are allowed to forage: Their yolks are a richer color, and they are generally bigger. I stopped paying more for brown eggs a while back when I heard that cage-free and free-range terms had been modified to mean that the doors were open to the chickens, but since they were raised the first few weeks inside, they preferred not to forage once the doors were opened. Why pay more for eggs that look the same as those by the huge egg producers? But these terms give those of us who don't have chickens (yet!) good news to use.

And an apology for not posting the last few days - I had company, company who loves to cook, and that's what we've been doing! Right now, there's a yummy bread pudding in the oven for breakfast. Since we have to roll out of here in about a half-hour to go to the Richmond airport, no bourbon sauce, but some pure maple syrup.
By Monica Eng
Chicago Tribune

Few food purchases can scramble the brain like buying eggs these days. With choices that include organic, free range, Food Alliance certified, brown, white, natural, fertile, American Humane Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, vegetarian fed, omega-3, pasteurized and cage free, a consumer could be forgiven for cracking in confusion.
These labels have implications for the way the hen was treated, fed, housed and even colored as well as how her eggs were processed after they popped out. But sometimes the labels don't mean much at all.
To help hunt down the best eggs, we've compiled a guide to the wild world of egg labels.
Natural: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service defines "natural" as not containing "any artificial or synthetic ingredients, and it must be minimally processed." By this definition, almost all eggs would be considered natural.
Free range: Indicates that hens have access to the outdoors, but there are no regulations on the duration or quality of their access.
Pasteurized: Eggs that have been treated with heat to eliminate salmonella bacteria and make them safe to eat raw or undercooked.
Pasture raised: This unregulated term implies that hens are raised outdoors and moved regularly in mobile hen houses to different grassy lots on the farm. This gives them access to a variety of foods found on the ground — bugs, grubs and other small creatures — as well as chicken feed.
Fertile: Hens are raised in barns that also house roosters. The term is unregulated but implies that the hens are uncaged.
Food Alliance certified: According to the Food Alliance, its certification requires "healthy and humane treatment of animals, safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, pest and nutrient management, protection of wildlife habitat and other agricultural concerns."
Animal Welfare Approved: Hens must be kept cage free and allowed to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching and dust bathing. Outdoor access is required at all times, and forced molting and beak cutting are prohibited. Certifies mostly family farms.
American Humane Certified: Hens must be kept uncaged, but access to the outdoors is not required. Space requirements allow for natural behaviors. Forced molting is prohibited, but beak trimming is permitted in some cases. AHC has certified about 85 percent of cage-free eggs in the United States.
United Egg Producers Certified: This certification allows hens to be caged, does not require access to the outdoors and does not prohibit beak cutting or forced molting. It does require that hens have "access to clean water and are fed several times a day." The UEP literature suggests caged hens are safer and healthier than uncaged birds.
Certified Humane Raised and Handled: Hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and may have access to the outdoors. Includes space requirements for hens to perform natural behaviors. Forced molting is prohibited, but beak cutting is permitted.
USDA organic: Hens are kept uncaged in barns or warehouses, are allowed access to the outdoors and are fed an organic, vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. Forced molting and beak cutting are permitted.

SOURCES: USDA, Humane Society of the United States, Food Alliance, United Egg Producers, American Humane Certified

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Everybody likes pie

Sorry, Mrs. Smith, but it really does make a difference when your apples come in fresh from the orchard. We've been enjoying a pie we picked up from Carter's Mountain for a couple of days now. The apples are unbelievably crunchy, sweet but not cloying, and packed with the goodness of the harvest, wrapped in a flakey crust with a touch of cinnamon. Yum!

To be fair, Mrs. Smith does make a fine pie of the frozen variety, and my partner and I depended on her consistency to do so when we delivered monthly pies to Trinity Cathedral newcomers. But next to homemade, a pie from an orchard wins every time.