Christmas Cards Already?!

Hi, there, friends!  Lots of us only know each other online, but that doesn’t mean we care for each other any less than if we knew each other in real life.  And so, I need to ask you a favor. We really enjoy sending cards to the people we care about.  Even internet people!  If you received a card from us last year, I already have your address, but if you didn’t, and wouldn’t mind a Christmas greeting from a nice family in Kentucky, would you send me your name and address?  I just like to know you all a little bit in real life, too.

Click here to email!

Chicken Broth for Soup: A Recipe

We’ve gotten really good at chicken soup around here, what with all the stew birds that show up in our freezer. Today, I’m going to share how to make the broth and a simple soup, and later, I’ll share some variations.

You’re going to need a nice, big stockpot. Here’s an 8-Quart pot, if your family is smaller, and here are 12-quart and 16-quart versions if you’re cooking for a crowd. These are really nice stock pots, and they’ll last you a lifetime for a small investment.  I even have a 20-Quart pot, and I use it all the time!

Chicken Broth

Ingredients:

1 or 2 whole chickens
2-3 whole carrots, unpeeled, broken into chunks
1-2 onions, peels on, quartered
3-5 cloves garlic, unpeeled, cut or smashed to expose garlic
2-4 stalks celery, broken into pieces
2-3 bay leaves
8-12 peppercorns, whole
Salt, to taste

Instructions:

Use the smaller amounts for one chicken and the larger amounts for two. Put everything into the stock pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for three to four hours. Check it after an hour or so to make sure the salt is right.

When the chicken is falling-off-the-bone tender and the broth is richly colored and fragrant, it’s done! Remove the chicken from the pot, then strain the broth, discarding all the vegetables. Remove the chicken from the bones, and discard those, too.

Now you’re ready to make soup!

Notes:
You can use the leftovers from a roasted chicken, but the broth won’t be quite as robust. If I have roasted bones, I usually add an uncooked chicken, too, because it tastes better.

As your broth cools, the fat will rise to the surface. After it’s been refrigerated, it’ll solidify and you can scoop it right off. Also, your broth will most likely cool into a gelatinous substance. If it does, congratulations! That’s a really nutritious broth!

Salting the broth early and well is, in my opinion, key to making a really great soup. It just seems to bring out all the flavors in a way that later salting just misses, so don’t delay.

Do not try to reuse the vegetables! They’ve had all the flavor and goodness boiled right out of them.

You can also freeze your broth for later use in recipes. I usually do this in two-cup quantities, which is just about one can of chicken broth.

Basic Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

Butter or olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
sliced mushrooms, if you like
herbs for seasoning, perhaps Italian, or oregano, sage, or rosemary
8 cups homemade broth
vegetables of your choice, chopped
noodles, rice or beans, according to your desires, no more than 2 cups, but less is probably better
diced chicken from the making of the broth

Instructions:

Never, ever, under any circumstances, should you begin a soup without onions and garlic. Ever. So heat up some butter or oil and saute an onion and some minced garlic until very tender and just turning golden. Add mushrooms now, if you like them, and saute these, too, until they are richly golden. Add your seasonings, broth, and vegetables, and as it warms up, check to make sure the salt is right. Bring to a boil. Now add noodles, rice or beans and simmer until done. Stir in the chicken, and serve!

Excellent for chilly nights and under-the-weather days, and endlessly changeable.  I never tire of chicken soup!

Basic White Bread: A Recipe

I developed this recipe when I first started baking – for a bread machine! If you’ve never made bread, start here. This will make one loaf.

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cups of water (or combination of water, milk, eggs, whey…)
1 tsp yeast
2 tbsp sugar (or honey, but measure honey with the liquid ingredients)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp of melted butter
3 1/3 cups of flour (may not use all of it)

Instructions:

Add yeast to a small amount of warm water and stir to dissolve. Add a little bit of the sugar to yeast water and allow to sit till frothy. Fill measuring cup to 1 ¼ cup line with your choice of liquid ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine 2 ½ cups of flour with the salt and the rest of the sugar. Make a well in the center and add the melted butter and the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined or until you can’t stir anymore.

Use some of the additional flour on your counter or table and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle dough with more flour and begin kneading. Continue to knead, adding more flour as needed, until is soft and pliable, but not at all sticky.

Form into a ball and let rise, covered, in an oiled bowl until doubled, about 90 minutes.

Punch dough down and turn back out onto counter. Knead briefly to form a rectangle, then roll the dough into a loaf shape. Place the loaf into a greased pan, cover and let rise until dough reaches top of pan.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30-35 minutes, till loaf is golden.

Immediately remove loaf from pan and allow to cool before cutting. (I know that’s hard, but it’s very difficult to neatly cut a hot loaf!)

Here’s a handy-table of multiplied measurements, so you can make more than one loaf at a time:

Ingredient List – Multiplied
2 loaves 3 loaves 4 loaves 6 loaves 8 loaves
Liquids 2 ½ 3 ¾ 5 7 ½ 10
Yeast 2 tsp 3 tsp 4 tsp 6 tsp 8 tsp
Sugar ¼ cup 1/3 cup ½ cup ¾ cup 1 cup
Salt 2 tsp 3 tsp 4 tsp 6 tsp 8 tsp
Butter ½ stick ¾ stick 1 stick 1 ½ stick 2 sticks
Flour 6 2/3 cups 10 cups 13 1/3 cups 20 cups 26 2/3 cups

Additional Notes:

I prefer Pyrex/Anchor pans because they hold the heat very well and I can see quickly whether or not the bread is done.

You can use this same basic recipe to make a lot of different breads. Try exchanging up to two cups of white flour for whole wheat for more nutrition. Or double the sugar and use milk as the liquid for a sweet dough that can be rolled out for cinnamon buns. For cinnamon raisin bread, add a tsp of cinnamon per loaf and a half cup of raisins.

You can also make a 100% whole wheat loaf, even with coarser home-milled flour! Stir about 2/3 of your flour in and then let it sit for 15 minutes! This simple extra step allows the flour to hydrate better and produces a loaf just as light as one made with white flour. If it’s not as lofty as you like, try adding just a bit more yeast – or let it rise longer!

How To Make Bread From Scratch

Most people will tell you that baking bread takes too long, or that it’s too hard, or that it’s cheaper and easier to just buy it from the store. They’ll think you’re absolutely crazy for even bothering, but I have never met anybody who didn’t gush over the warm wonderfulness that is a fresh loaf of bread, and that, I think, makes the effort completely worthwhile. At any rate, those naysayers have got it all wrong anyhow. Homemade bread, worked entirely by hand, takes no more than half an hour of your time. The work of kneading is extremely pleasant and soothing and hardly strenuous at all. You will be able to use superior ingredients for a fraction of the cost of store-bought bread, and you will never have to run out in a snow storm to fight the mad crowds for the last loaf on the shelf. For basic yeast breads, the process is simple, and by changing the ingredients a little, you can make all sorts of wonderful breads that will delight your family and friends.

1) Dissolve the yeast in at least a small portion of the liquid, warmed to no more than 110°. It should feel pleasantly warm to the touch. A little bit of the sweetener added to this liquid will help wake the yeast, but it isn’t necessary.

2) Combine 2/3 of the flour called for with all the other dry ingredients in a big bowl. When they are well mixed, use a wooden spoon to form a well in the center.

3) When your yeast is dissolved and/or nicely foamy, add it and the rest of the wet ingredients to the hollow in the flour mixture and stir it up as best you can.

4) When it is well combined or you can’t stir anymore, sprinkle a good layer of the reserved flour on the table and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, too.

5) Begin kneading. Kneading is accomplished by folding the dough from the outside toward the center and pressing it in firmly. Then, turn the whole dough ball a quarter turn to the left so you have fresh dough to fold. With a little practice, you’ll be folding and turning simultaneously and it’ll all become second nature. Continue kneading the dough, adding more flour as necessary, until your dough is smooth and supple, but not the least bit sticky. You may need more or less flour than called for in the recipe; flour absorbs moisture from the air, too, and that will affect your usage.

6) Form the dough into a ball by pulling all the edges in toward the center and plop it into an oiled bowl. Turn it over so both sides are oiled, but so that the smooth side is on top. Then cover it with a clean towel and set it in a warm place to rise.

7) When the dough is doubled in size, which can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the dough and the warmth of your kitchen, it is time to punch it down. This is accomplished exactly as you think it is, and it’s quite fun.

8) Divide the dough and shape it according to the usage or the pan. Then cover it again and let it rise a second time, which will take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. It’ll rise more in the oven, so don’t let it get too high now.

9) Bake according to recipe directions.

10) Remove from pans and eat as soon as it’s cool enough to handle. You’ll probably need lots of butter.

There. That doesn’t sound so difficult, does it? Now, let’s make some bread!

Italian Chicken Squash Stuffing: A Recipe

This was just about the best squash stuffing I’ve ever made or eaten.  I had to make it up, because I couldn’t find the recipe I wanted.  :-)

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, diced
12 oz bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
approx. half a loaf of bread, cut into 1/4″ cubes
slices of mozzarella cheese

Instructions:

In a skillet, cook together the onion, bacon and garlic, until onion is soft and translucent and bacon is browning. Stir frequently! Remove from the skillet, leaving the drippings. Add the mushrooms and cook them until they are deeply golden. They’ll shrink a lot, but don’t substitute canned, please. Add these to the bacon and onions. Now pour in the two cans of tomatoes, undrained, and stir in the chicken and the Italian seasoning. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and let this simmer for about ten minutes to release the flavors. Add this to the bacon mixture, which you hopefully thought to put into a largish bowl. Add bread cubes to absorb the extra tomato liquid. We used almost half a loaf, but not quite. Fill the squash cavities and bake as recommended by someone other than me, because my squashes were underdone. About ten minutes before they’re finished, top with slices of mozzarella cheese to melt.

Notes:

This made enough to fill five or six squashes, so adjust accordingly. The bacon makes this dish man-friendly; my man, at least, will happily eat the lightest fare, as long as there is bacon.

And mozzarella. Oh, my goodness. We have been producing lately the bestest, most delicious mozzarella I have ever tasted. I just can’t get enough of it! If you are one of our shareholders, you can get some, too, but if you’re not, your results are going to be inferior. There’s no help for it, though, so, chin up!

Scripture Study: Isaiah

A few years ago, our parish – our whole archdiocese, actually – began participating in a small group study program called Why Catholic. Now, the whole Why Catholic program is terrible, all watered down and wishy-washy, but our group so enjoyed the fellowship and the food that we decided to keep meeting year round. We selected several other Catholic scripture studies to use in between the mandatory Why Catholic sessions, and we learned a lot. Just before Evie was born, though, knowing that babies are something to be savored and feeling like I just wouldn’t have the time to love her and prepare to lead this group, I handed the whole thing off to another woman. She’s doing a great job, but I really miss that immersion in the Word of God. I miss the conversations at the table, in the barn, in the car, since we were all thinking about the same passages. (Yes, the older children followed along, too!) I feel a little like a tiny ship lost at sea. :-)

So, in order to bring the Word back to the forefront in our lives, I selected a study on Isaiah, because we hear passages from this prophet so often, but – to me, at least – it all seems kind of cryptic! We’ll have a formal meeting on Thursday afternoons, with refreshments, of course, and I’d like to invite anyone who is reading this to join us. If you would like to participate online, we can have a discussion here over the weekend. :-)

The text we’ll be using is Come & See: Isaiah. I’ve used these studies before, and they’re pretty good. You’ll also need a bible (I recommend this one) and a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which seems to be out of print?! I’m flabbergasted!)

The first in-person meeting will be December 4th at 1PM, with an online discussion to follow that Saturday.  If you are interested in participating either way, let me know!  I need accountability. :-)

IMG_6375
The age-old debate: to post or not to post? Well, maybe it’s not age-old, but it is definitely a modern conundrum. I think Dy captured my plight perfectly in this post written a couple of weeks ago, right here. It’s just so hard to tell your family stories to the whole wide world when the children are older. It’s a disrespect to carry on as if they were still four, and so the blogs of us aging “mommy bloggers” go silent, or vague. It doesn’t help, either, that the modern trend toward reading on mobile devices seems to prevent easy commenting, thus making it feel as if no one is listening anyway. But that is an entirely different problem, and one I can live with.

I guess the trick is to find something else to write about, but then I also have to give up worrying about your expectations of what I’m going to write about. ;-) Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I must officially announce my retirement from the mommy-blogosphere. Fortunately, I have a wide variety of other interests and talents, many of which fall under the “farmstead” theme, so we’re going to go there. Since I can’t talk about my kids anymore, we’ll probably just cover things like cooking, crafts, farming, preserving, tools, books, various aspects of domesticity… that sort of thing.

And since I have a deep and abiding love of photography, there will be pictures. Some of them will be of the baby. :-)

8x10 IMG_6025

I like this image, because this is a frequent expression of hers. A note of warning, though: Do not give the baby a pine cone as a prop. It may possibly take you the rest of the evening to scrub all the sticky sap off of her. But you probably already thought of that.